Why can’t I print from Google photos?

I love Google Photos as a means off backing up and sharing photos. On the Mac it requires minimal configuration and works without supervision and it is easy to share albums and photos. So I’m really puzzled why there is no way to print photos.

Google photos byline is “Free storage and automatic organization for all your memories.” and the software works! It appears to be written professionally – so perhaps a team from outside Google made it originally – I kid, I kid.

The auto uploader is easy to configure and non-intrusive. I tell it where my photos are and it silently looks for new ones, de-duplicates them and streams all my personal photos into google’s servers.  Wait. God! I just re-read that last sentence slowly. It’s too late now. … Anyway

Google’s statistical learning algorithms do some semi-useful things like image categorization and some cute things like animations with music which are nice but not essential or something I use often. I haven’t looked, but I assume that there is a way to bulk download if I ever need to recover the photos.

Update: Google photo is pretty much just a web only photo sharing service. The quality of the stored photos is OK for web viewing but does not stand up to closer scrutiny. I would only use this as a “backup” of last resort, a kind of cache in case all other real backups have failed. And I guess that’s why there is no print option – the quality is just too poor to really print.

Screen Shot 2016-10-22 at 7.56.10 PM.pngIn the example above the left image is of the google photos copy at 1:1 and the right is the original photo, also at 1:1. You can clearly see Google photo’s compression artifacts and poorer underlying resolution. There are also software glitches when viewing photos – the web viewer often gets stuck at a very low resolution of the photo, and you have to reload, or otherwise ‘jiggle’ the software to get it working again.

So, imagine my surprise and frustration when I went to print my photos and started to feel like Marcel The Mime stuck in that glass box. I tried to find the print button for two days, searching forums and stack overflow, convinced that it was just hidden and if I was just diligent enough I would find it, perhaps earning $100 in free prints at the end of it.

Once, I ran into a post that said I just needed to log into the Picasa webservice: I’d be able to see the photos I’d uploaded and then select for print. I went to picasaweb, and indeed, found my albums and found the print option. I was overjoyed. I started to collect photos to print. I then navigated away. A few days later I came back and discovered that the design had changed and I no longer had the “Print” button. I realized I was part of a giant psychological experiment which made the events in Gas Light look like kindness.

It was then that a bigger mystery began to occupy my mind. Why do this? Why fuck with your users like this? Why take a course of action that both leaves money on the table and angers users at the same time? I couldn’t stop thinking about it and this post is a form of therapy. I hope it works. So hear me out.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-7-34-10-pmNow, Google is desperate to make money from their services.

Whenever I do a search I see a string of ads above my search results that are either identical to my search results or considerably less informative.

Google is sacrificing search result accuracy and user convenience for revenue. Google was earning a healthy ad revenue before it started to advertise so luridly, and so it’s not clear to me why they’ve become so desperate.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-00-06-am

So, in this context the absence of any way to print photos from Google photos strikes me as particularly odd.

I’m not very experienced in product commercialization, but I imagine that if you create an online photo storage and management service, it’s a net plus to either offer a printing service yourself or, if that takes you too far outside your traditional domain of expertise, have an arrangement with an established photo printing service. Not letting your users print, and being ambiguous about it, is, on the other hand, a net negative.

So, is this lack of functionality malice or stupidity? Let’s take malice first.

When we upload our photos to google’s servers we are giving them intimate personal data. The images are being processed through statistical learning algorithms which can cluster faces and probably recognize backgrounds. We also give Google our personal and professional email. These data streams are a marketers dream. It’s the kind of information that allows Google to insert Ads for baby clothes in emails once you use the word ‘pregnancy’ in an email. In the future one can imagine that Google will insert such ads once you upload photos of your pregnancy to share with family.

Perhaps, though, that fear is overdone, as we can see from the clumsy state of targeted marketing; the brightest minds of our generation, thankfully and contrary to popular perception, have not been occupied in trying to serve ads to us (they have, of course, been occupied in borking our encryption algorithms and back-dooring our router hardware, but that is a matter for a different post) but an army of second rate minds have certainly been trying to productize our personal information.

So, from this point of view, as far as Google is concerned, we are the product and in exchange for some free storage we are giving google an even more complete peek into our personal lives so they can build a better psychological profile of us, so that they may judiciously prey on our deepest insecurities to sell us disposable razors. They don’t care if we can’t print, and they want this fact to be hard to discover. What they really want is us to upload our photos for their analysis.

 

What about stupidity? Google is a big company with many, many failed products. Most of the products failed not because of buggy software but because of a lack of imagination. A basic misunderstanding of what people want their computers to do for them. Like, say, print a bunch of photos into a photo book to give as a gift. The lack of a print facility is, under this hypothesis, just another example of product management sleeping at the helm.

There is of course another option – strategic insight.

Perhaps Google has decided for us that the vast majority of people no longer print photos. Perhaps they have seen into the future and it’s all digital, from the screens on our phones to the screens on our fridges. There will be no more eight-by-ten color glossy pictures of children and of wives and of parents and of halloween parties hanging on our walls, or inserted into albums (real albums, made of cardboard paper and cellophane) to be shown to relatives on thanksgiving. Perhaps we’ll be offering a guest a drink and instead of pulling out an album from our bookcase, we’ll swipe on our refrigerator and say ‘Hey did I show you our wedding photos?’

Well, that’s the future, and it ain’t here yet. I have relatives here and now that want photos of Mom and Dad, and I can’t waste half an hour downloading them and then uploading them to some other service EVERY TIME.

 

Things that stay fixed, and other fairy tales

One of the reasons I hear from scientists/engineers transitioning from wet work to “dry” work is that they would like to work in a field where, when things are fixed, they stay fixed. It’s not entirely clear to me that code, actual computer code that has to work in the field, completely fits that requirement and that folks should jump into computational work for that reason alone.

I have the opportunity, as part of the recruiting efforts of our company, to speak with folks at job fairs, conferences and during interviews. It takes me away from my desk, my plans and my deadlines, but it’s a nice change, and it’s one of the reasons I like working at the company (I get to wear different hats and I rarely have to wear one I don’t like, and I’ve rarely found a hat that I don’t at least want to try out – boy that hat analogy goes pretty far!)

I will often speak with folks who have an engineering or math background who are now doing wet work (experiments with biological systems) and want to transition out of wet work, and often out of academia, and into industry doing computational work. Been there, thought that, done that, very sympathetic to that.

Often the underlying reasons are complex (they were in my case) but sometimes they will manifest as a feeling of “I just fixed this rig YESTERDAY! Why doesn’t it record the data TODAY! Who $%#^ moved my ground wire?! Which #$%@^ idiot changed my filter settings?! I want to move to a field where, when I fix things THEY STAY FIXED!!”

Technically minded people who do both their own wet work and their computational/engineering (analysis, rig setup) work are falling prey to extinction. No, no this is not evolutionary extinction. This is “extinction” as a psychophysical phenomenon. This is when one stimulus is so salient (or you have a certain kind of brain damage) that it drowns out another stimulus, which exists, but is, for some reason, ignored by the brain, which focuses on the other stimulus.

In this case, technically minded people are magnifying the frustrations of working with biological and experimental systems over the frustrations of working on computer systems and this sometimes has to do with the nature of their setup.

In neurophysiology (and I imagine in most experimental work) we were pushing equipment to their limits. To the limits of signal transduction, to the limits of sampling, to the limits of their optics. As a result, they go beyond their engineering curve and become unreliable. The exact position of a ground wire starts to matter a lot more in your dreams (or nightmares) than seems reasonable. The fact that someone, two blocks away, is doing construction and is messing up recordings (by making a biological sample jiggle about 1 nano meter more than one would like) suddenly becomes a strain on a marriage. When you throw biological systems into the mix, well, that’s a whole another can of worms.

The computational aspect, on the other hand can be quite different. It’s challenging in the beginning, and in a good way. You need to write new code, debug it, (sometimes) test it with nasty looking data. You probably do it by yourself, so you know whats going on, you have it all in your head and it all flows out smoothly and creatively. It’s a lot of fun. And once you get it working, it’s a dream. It runs fine on your computer, and at most you may have to recompile it once to put it on your institution’s high performance computing cluster. It may be a few days work, because the software those jokers have on their machines is like a decade out of date, but in the end it is fixed, and it stays fixed.

In my opinion, this comparison is a little unfair to the wet work and it can be dangerous to draw too much by way of differences between wet work and dry work from this experience.

Computer programs that have been fixed stay fixed only when kept in stasis. You must never alter the hardware they are running on, you must never present them with new data and you must never let anyone use them. Real world computer programs don’t match this description.

One of the first things that will happen when you give this delicate, finely crafted, pure genius program that you have written to some one else, is that they will say “But it doesn’t work on WINDOWS! I spent all afternoon trying to download and compile HDF5, but it doesn’t WORK”.

In the off chance that it does work, you should never watch them trying to run the program. It’s a bit like being five and giving your favorite custom built LEGO model (of which you have no pictures and of course no plans) to your friend. The first thing they will do is drop it and it will smash into individual pieces all jumbled up on the floor. “So, I put in -1 where you asked for sequence length, and I got a core dump. Oh, it also erased <important data file>”

Then, this other person will come along, and want to work on your code. “It’s on <version control system>, right? I want to add <shiny feature>”. A few days later the program stops working. Or, even more likely, it works just fine, until this OTHER colleague comes along and says “My data look funny after they come out of your machine. Did you change anything?”

Writing test suites and documentation can be a chore. Why are you writing a test suite when you can be having fun throwing your machine at <big data>? Times-a-wastin. Why are you writing documentation and comments. If they are smart coders they’ll read the code and understand! It’s so BOOORING! I mean, it takes time away from other tasks.

Oh, and when everything is running and things are working fine, you’ll be asked to move your code to this big machine we have running in the cloud and everything will be going fine until you get this compilation error. And you have to spend the rest of the day looking high and low for which library needs to be updated to which version and which library has to be downgraded to which version before the the test suite passes. You have a test suite right? Because other wise a whole lot of OTHER people will be sending you email saying “My data looks funny after it comes out of your machine”.

The point is, none of these are unreasonable or improbable or malicious occurrences. They are a natural part of the process and if one does not like to deal with these aspects too, it will not be a joyful life.

Going back to the introduction and reasoning about career choices, I think, when figuring out what kind of work do, you should ask yourself, first, which matters more (and makes you happy): what you do or what you do it for? Is your job a means to an end, or an end in itself? Many people have judgements about this, all I can say is, everyone is different and you need to figure this out for yourself. Once you do this, the path becomes clear.

For me, working on computer code and algorithms has multiple pulls over lab work. The main ones are that I like learning new math and I LIKE wrestling with algorithms and bugs in my code. I like figuring out why my past me (the older the better) forgot a key aspect of how to tell the computer what to do, or forgot an interesting corner case that is now causing my program to fail in a baffling way. It makes for good war stories too. Compilation blockers can get annoying though …

Basically, I do it because I like the dirty parts as well as the shiny ones.

The three switches problem

The light bulb problem is a class of problem often presented at interviews as a test of lateral thinking. Here, in a mischievous spirit taken from the best subversive traditions we will attack this question by thinking a little too laterally …

There are different versions of the light bulb problem, but they rely on the same trick. Here is one version:

Your grand uncle lives in a rambling old house. He had an electrician over to wire a light in the attic but the electrician messed with the wiring and set up three switches instead of one. Your grand uncle wants to figure out which of the switches turns on the light in the attic. Problem is, you can’t tell from below whether the attic light is on or off. You can fiddle with the switches and then go up to the attic to inspect the light, but you can only do this once. The old coot says you can’t keep going back down and up the attic stairs fiddling with the light – apparently it disturbs the cat and he scratches the furniture.

The conventional answer to the question is to flip one switch on and leave it for a bit. Then turn it off and turn on another then go up to the attic. If the light is on, the last switch you flipped was the one. If the light is warm (Aha!) then the first switch you flipped is the one. If the light is off and cold, well is the remaining one. Let’s try and subvert the conventional answer to this problem by engaging in some mild subterfuge in the spirit of Calandra‘s “Angels-on-a-Pin“.

  1. Rapidly flip one of the switches on and off many times. Finally set this switch to the off position and flip another switch to on. Now go to the attic. If the light is on, it’s the currently on switch. If the light is burnt out, its the first switch.

  2. Call in your grand aunt, explain the problem to her, crawl up to the attic and have her flip the switches one by one. Yell when the light comes on.

  3. Flip a switch and inspect all the fixtures in the house, repeat and eliminate two of the switches. The third one is the attic switch. If none of the switches seem to be doing anything, where’s the problem? Just hit all three switches when you need the attic light on.

  4. Wait for a moonless night. Turn off all the lights in the house and draw all the curtains and blinds. Now flip the switches one by one. There will be a difference in the light level, however slight, from the attic light going on.

  5. Fly a drone up into the attic. Now you have eyes on target. Screw the cat.

  6. Take all bulbs out of their sockets and unplug all appliances. Now flip the switches one by one and watch the electric meter. This may take some patience.

  7. Open up the cover plate. Take a voltmeter and measure the drop in voltage as the switches are flipped. If only one has a voltage drop, that’s the one wired to the attic switch. If more than one have drops, throw stones into the attic until the light bulb is broken. Redo the measurements. The switch that now has no voltage drop (but did previously) is the one. Take a new bulb, go up into the attic and replace it.

  8. Flip each switch in turn and let the bulb warm up. Throw a bucket of water into the attic. If you hear a loud “POP” the bulb was on. Leave adequate cool down periods between tests. Take a new bulb, go up into the attic and replace it.

  9. Tie three strings to the switches. Go up into the attic with the strings. (Some will say this is subverting the question. Yes it is. Yes it is)

  10. Get all the shiny pots and pans your grand uncle has. Arrange them like mirrors so that you have a view of the attic from the switches.

As an aside, here is a problem I like better, as solving it actually teaches you some mathematical concepts:

Your grand uncle has passed on. In his will he’s bequeathed you an antique coin of immense value (so he says). He’s also left you with eight accurate forgeries of that coin that are indistinguishable from the original, except that they are just a fraction lighter. He’s also left you a balance, which can only be used twice before it breaks. So he says.

You are only allowed to take one of the coins with you. The original coin is priceless, the forgeries are worthless. So he says. You suspect all the coins are duds and the balance won’t break, but you take your Grand uncle’s will in the spirit it was meant, as a last fun puzzle to keep you busy so you don’t get too sad at the old codger’s passing.

A note on “The Worst Programming Interview Question”

Rod Hilton has a blog post where he argues against using puzzler type questions during an interview. I agree with him in spirit, but feel that puzzler questions have a place in interviews, provided they are used correctly.

Hilton’s piece is very well written and I recommend it, especially if you are in a position where you interview candidates. Hilton is strongly against Puzzler questions because he feels they add additional stress to an already stressful situation and only detect if a candidate has heard the question before and memorized the answer.

I generally agree with Hilton’s sentiments, but, if you form a Union of questions/strategies that different people consider unsuitable for judging job candidates, you will end up with nothing left to ask or look at. This suggests that interviewing is an art: a complex human activity that can be learned through observation and practice, but is probably hard to convey in writing.

When I was interviewing for jobs I experienced a variety of interview styles. I am lucky to report that I enjoyed every interview. I interviewed at three places, and only in one did I get a puzzler kind of question.

In one firm, in the first round I got a very easy ETL (industry speak for scratching out usable, neat data, from a raw data file) problem, which I solved in Python and guessed they were using to kick out folks who could not program at all. In the next round I gave a talk and faced a panel of interviewers most of whom asked me straight technical questions related to statistics (though one of the interviewers clearly had no interest in interviewing me and went through my CV in front of me and asked random questions from it).

At the next firm the first round was simply getting to know me and them (which I guessed they were using to kick out people who could not communicate/were socially unsuitable). The next round I found immensely enjoyable: they gave me some of their data and just let me lose on it with a very open ended question. I had a lot of fun playing with it and ended up making an IPython notebook of my results. They were very thoughtful in giving guidelines: they said they were looking at an applicant’s ability to condition data (detect and toss out bad data) and an applicant’s ability to present analysis.

This was the interview I enjoyed the most and I suspect the interview that took me and the company folks the most time to do. When I was done with my notebook I was very satisfied and happy and eager to go work for these folks. I was invited over for a site interview, but by that time I had already received and accepted a job offer. This brings me to the puzzler question.

The job offer that I finally accepted was from the company where I was presented with a puzzler question. It was a statistical puzzler, rather than a programming/algorithm one. It caught me off guard. I worked through it the best I could, but I could tell the answer wasn’t quite there. My interviewer would listen to me think, wait for my partial answer and then give me a hint. I used the hints to move forward, but I felt I was failing.

At the end, I was pretty sure I would not hear from the company again, so I was surprised when I was asked in for a second interview. This was a broader discussion of work and interests and I felt that went really well, and indeed, I received an offer shortly.

A few months into the job, I spoke about the puzzler question with the colleague who had interviewed me. His reasoning for the puzzler, which I found satisfactory, was that it was a way to test how people thought when faced with a tough problem and whether they thought at all, since the work we do if often difficult and often does not have clear cut answers. I also realized, on my first day on the job, that my colleagues had been reading one of my blogs (this one) and that formed part of their opinion about me.

Hilton’s points are well taken. I feel, however, that there is great value in seeing whether people are willing to think. When I was preparing for my Ph.D. defense one of my advisors told me that some questions during a defense are thrown at the candidate simply to see how they react. The panel assumes – the question being so bizarrely out of scope of the thesis – that the candidate doesn’t know the answer, and they want to see how the candidate thinks through novel situations.

When the job you are hiring for requires people to take initiative and solve problems on their own, given a minimum of guidance, it is very effective to be able to see how a candidate reacts to such situations: do they seem eager to tackle open ended situations, or are they unhappy when directions are vague and outcomes not clear? It is possible that a Puzzler question will be able to unearth some of these qualities.

If I were to use puzzler questions during an interview, I would open by being honest: I would say that this is an intentionally difficult question, it is not meant to test knowledge but rather approach. I would then pick a case from my own work that I had to think through, so I would be familiar with the topic AND it would be a relevant kind of puzzler question.

What, of course, you can not judge from this kind of puzzler question is staying power: the person was willing to spend 10min thinking about a problem, but will this person come back to the problem day after day, week after week, until they crack it?

There are also many other factors at work here: perhaps the person does not like to expose their vulnerabilities to strangers – when faced with the same question with familiar colleagues the same person that choked at the interview could be spectacular to brainstorm with.

Looking back, the interview I liked the most – the one where I got to play with some data analysis – was actually a puzzler question. It was open ended, it did not have a set answer and it was designed to see how I thought. But it was not a cookie cutter puzzler question that you would get out of an interviewing book – it was a real life test, that was relevant to the position they were interviewing for.

Taking this further, I think the only way firms should interview candidates is to have paid internships or trial periods where they get to see a person in their “natural” state, working through the kind of problems they would actually face, and interacting as they normally would.

The problem of course, like many other things we don’t do well, is that we don’t have that kind of time …

I’m puzzled by executive compensation

I find it easy to understand that Dan Brown makes $22e6 a year: He writes books, people buy them. He gets paid a percentage. I can even understand that Judge Judy makes $47e6 a year: she stars in a TV show that people (effectively) pay to watch. What I can not understand is how an executive at a big company can get paid $57e6.

I don’t read Dan Brown’s books and I don’t watch Judge Judy. But I can understand the cash flow. Privately, I think people could spend their time and money better, but that is a taste thing. I spend money and make people rich in ways that other people would not understand or approve of. Both Dan and Judy produce something that others consume and they get paid market rate.

I have not the foggiest idea of what it is that upper level executives in big corporations do to earn $57 million dollars a year. I realize that it is market rate in that lots of big corporations pay people amazing sums to work in an office, but I don’t know what it is that they produce.

I realize that corporations need management, just like they need engineering, but what kind of management costs $57 million a year? How many people do they manage? What intricate secret of management do they know that they can get more out of people than the manager at the local FedEx Kinko store doesn’t have?

Do they constantly meet with people and micro manage them. Do they have to think out work strategies for thousands of people and tell them what to do every day? That would be worth 57 million dollars because of sheer volume but I doubt any human can do that. What is it exactly that a highly paid “big” executive in a big company does?

It can’t be anything spectacular because organizations are pretty much inefficient and unresponsive and most companies with such enormous executive pay don’t really make any advance I would consider meaningful or provide any amazing service.

People who provide meaningful service to us on a day-to-day basis, like Doctors, Police, Fire, shopkeepers, teachers, professors all kind of have compensation within a order of magnitude. Everyone makes somewhere between $40000 and $250000 a year in general. Doctors go beyond that upper range (I know a doctor who gets paid $400000 or so in salary) and I kind of understand that, but again not really.

Personally, I would pay teachers, doctors, fire and police about the same. Those are very, every important things for me – and I think I would be happy if they earned about $150000 a year (using the Boston area in 2014 as a reference). I think that’s what they are worth. Teachers get paid far less and Doctors far more and I think this is strange.

In the end the ‘market’ decides the pay. I don’t think the ranking and disparity is ‘fair’ but that’s only a personal opinion and people vote with their feet to decide how much they will pay for the different services. I think, in the end, we kind of end up with a pay scale that, within an order of magnitude, makes sense given the services and products these professions generate.

What I can just not understand, is what is it that an executive physically does do take home $57 million a year? What is the product? What is the service? What do they produce each hour that some one eventually buys, that, when you add it all up, comes to $57 million in one year?

My conclusion is that it is basically hush money paid for inside deals done within the executive’s network.

What executives do in these positions is bring a ‘network’ of other people they can
a) Ask about important decisions in other companies or the government
b) Use to influence important decisions in such other organizations.

This kind of inside information allows the parent company to get ahead of the competition not by making a superior product but by rigging the customer’s decision process. The enormous compensation packages are paid not because they make something better. They get it because they are saboteurs destroying the ideal of the free market, where the consumer gets to see the wares and gets to decide what is better.

I am, at the core, an engineer type. I understand when some one builds something, repairs something or teaches something. I can even understand when someone manages a project. I understand this in the form of understanding how one guides a vessel. When it’s a small boat you can row and steer and decide where to go. When the boat gets bigger, you need an oarsman, a steersman and a lookout. They need to work together, so you need a captain. The best captain is one who has been, in turn, an oarsman, a steersman and a lookout. See, I’m no commie: I get management.

But I still don’t get $57 million dollar executives. I think I finally understand why they get paid $57 million dollars – it’s the same reason Dick Cheney is on the board of an oil company. It’s not that Dick knows a lot about geology and the use of machine learning to analyze oil field surveys. He knows something better than that: Dick knows people in the government who can effectively rig the price of oil. And that’s why, like all the other people in high places, he gets to be on boards and gets executive pay.

I don’t mean to pick on Dick in particular, but while I get executive pay, I don’t understand it and I don’t like it: it represents a grave inefficiency in our technologically driven free-market world.

The utility of wealth

Ubiquitous upward economic mobility is a flawed goal because wealth (and ambition) does not have the same utility for everyone.

The New Yorker (where James Thurber got his start) is still one of those places one can go to to think. I was browsing it this morning and found this article titled “The Mobility Myth“. The author suggests that we have never really been economically mobile and that, instead of trying to figure out how to make society more upwardly mobile, we should focus on raising the minimum standard of living.

I agree with the author’s overall statement. I have never quite liked loud arguments that we fix our skewed income/wealth distribution by chopping off the upper tail. The income equality argument has always struck me as jealousy in disguise. If there are a few people, like Judge Judy, who earn 500x more than Joe the mail man, I don’t think we are gaining that much by knocking down Judge Judy’s take home pay. I like rich people: they pay for my subway (though, often, they don’t and that is shortsighted).

I do think that we should make sure that Joe and his family gets affordable health care and his kids can go to an affordable school, where the teachers are engaged enough to make sure students stay in school and pass the requirements. By affordable, I mean that Joe and his family don’t have to make a choice between paying for health care and eating, or living in a safe neighborhood, or getting an education.

After such things are taken care of, I don’t think it is society’s business what Joe’s kids do. Upward mobility is often taken to mean that our kids will be richer than us. I’m not sure we asked the kids if they wanted that. It is taken as granted that the sole meaningful metric of personal progress is how much wealth an individual accumulates. Under such a metric society has failed if Joe’s kids end up in a lower (or even similar) economic bracket as Joe. This metric tells us that, if Joe’s kids become Postal workers or plumbers, society has failed (with a hint that Joe and his kids have failed too).

I think it is important to consider here that a person’s attitude towards wealth – material possessions – is shaped by the environment they are in. If Joe likes being a mailman, and if Joe’s family is happy with their lives it is likely (though not certain) that Joe’s offspring will be content to have what their parents had.

Many people would consider this a lack of ambition, and some people would say this is a vicious cycle, where Joe’s children, not having a role model for themselves besides Joe, never pushed themselves out of Joe’s socio-economic bracket. I might have agreed, a decade or so ago. But now, I rather think that Joe’s offspring have understood the meaning of life, which is to find what makes them content and to share that, if possible.

The feeling of being content is hard to measure, often even by ourselves. It’s not as spectacular as happiness, and it sounds so unambitious that it’s embarrassing to even study it so it doesn’t get measured. But I think, if the goal of society is to reduce the unhappiness of the population as much as possible, we should pay attention to the disparity of contentment – satisfaction with life – which is the goal, rather than wealth, which is only one of the many, many partial predictors of contentment.