Daily GUIDE-ance:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Math not Politics

There's a recurring arguement that I have had with various people over the course of my life that I would like to Win once and for all today.

Its one of these frustrating arguments where you know perfectly well that you are blindingly right but the truth is just too counter intutitive (or too counter the other guys predjudice) for the other guy to ever see the light.

(Oi!! What a sore spot these kinds or arguements are for smart people, such as myself, dooooomed as we are to live and interact in a walmart person world! They say we are all created equal but come on! You know that's not true!)

Part of the reason why this argument is so chronically annoying is, I think, because the other guy/gal earnestly believes we are talking politics or religon, but really we are talking mathmatics.

More later everyone... Right now I have to go to work!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Twelve

I think that if we all had 12 fingers instead of ten, we’d be better off. I think we’d all be smarter, and possibly a little more patient and kind, more enlightened, more generous, and less gullible, more skeptical in the face of stupidity, and less close-minded, less hardhearted in the face of truth. I think we’d all be better able to relate to the world, and definitely better at math.

Ok so some of that was an exaggeration, maybe.

But go with me for a second on this.
Thought experiment time. Suppose for a minute that you woke up in a world with nothing but left handed gear. Left handed scissors, were all that existed. Mouse on the other side of the computer, gear shift on the other side of the drivers seat. (if you happen to be left handed, just pretend that the world is as it is, but everyone is lefthanded.) And pretend with me that handedness matters more than it does. Like pretend that everything-pencils, cups, jugs, doorknobs, toilet paper, light switches, forks- are all designed subtly wrong. Everything works, technically but awkwardly, and awkward in ways that you can never quite put your finger on. And also pretend with me that there is some moronic force out there preventing anyone from ever inventing a right handed version of anything.

How would that world be different than ours? It’d be a clumsier, less efficient world for sure. Would it also be a grouchier world? A less creative world? I think so. If every time a person with the seed of a great idea has to write it down on backwards paper, while looking in the mirror, with a backwards pencil… How many awesome innovations are going to die before they can get started, or at least seriously slowed down? More interesting- what about that awesome synergy that happens when multiple great ideas begin sparking each other into life? How much less often will that occur? And how often will bad, short sided ideas thrive and spread just because they are easier (in the short term) than the better solution that takes a bit more energy to think through- energy that most people are wasting trying to do everything with the wrong hand? Will this be a world with a crappy attention span? Will people waste hours arguing about meaningless things while real problems go ignored because they are fundamentally frustrated at a level they don’t understand…

Wait- did I just describe Facebook? Did I just describe real world economics? Did I just describe our actual world?
Is there actually something fundamental screwy, (like everything being made for the other hand) about the way we see and interact with the world?

What if, in that imaginary world, every so often, someone got fed up enough to actually invent something right handed, but then somehow it always got screwed up? So that many of your house hold appliances came standard with adaptors that made them left handed, but that actually worked better if you went to the trouble of unscrewing the adaptors and chucking them.


Think about that, and then consider this.
Here’s a really odd statement that I heard recently:


“There are lots of ways of measuring time, but a really bizarre base 60 system is nearly universal.”

How the heck did that happen?!!!

12 hours on the clock. 60 minutes to the hour. 60 seconds to the minute. 12 months to the year. Why has no one suggested a metric system for measuring time yet? Better question, why did we ever start dividing the days hours minutes, years etc, up that way? Why not into tenths? I mean, clearly, base 10 math is universal in human culture for the obvious reason that we all happen to have ten fingers. (One might argue that base 10 is so deeply inherent that its not just a human trait, but it’s a primate trait, or a mammalian or a vertebrate trait because, except of course that snakes don’t do math) So why 12 hours?

I think I know why.

Suppose you are a guy (or girl) living in a preliterate society, where the only math that is ever done is the useful, practical kind of math that goes into, problems like "I have 8 fish, how does that divide among 11 people" or "I have 6 rocks, how many more do I need to fill in this hole?" Suppose you and a friend in this society are building a wall, or a house, or going on a trip or something like that, and need to talk about how long it is going to take. It won't take all day maybe, you agree, but roughly-and you start reaching, naturally, for fractions- half a day. Or maybe it's less than that: a third of a day, or a fourth of a day. You are going to use 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 alot: the first three fractions, the most useful, most common, and easiest to visualize of the fractions. 

Now this journey or job or whatever it is, is a repetitive task and you talk about it during the course of your work every single day of your lives. Its not hard to understand that before long you are going to invent words for these fractions.

It happens that 12 is the first number that conveniently divides by 2, 3 and 4. You wind up cutting the daytime into 12 sections, quite naturally, because you tend to think in these fractions and 12 is a very fraction friendly number. 10 isn’t. 10 divides cleanly by 2, but is not very good for understanding thirds or fourths. It allows for fifths which 12 does not, but 12 does allow for sixths which is just as good.

You also wind up with 12 inches in a foot for the same simple reasons. Also 12 pence to a shilling. We chop up the year into months similarly. Think of all the things we naturally count out in dozens- eggs, doughnuts, you name it. Someone even invented the word 'dozen' to describe this uniquely useful number. Notice that English doesn’t have any friendly nickname for the word ten. Or for seven, or nine, or six, or any other number besides twelve. Well, there's a 'score' I guess, for twenty, and a 'gross' which is twelve dozen- but the point is made.

What about minutes and seconds? Since you are not an idiot, you have already noticed that 12 is a factor of 60. 60 fits smoothly into base 12 reckoning, but notice also how many 12’s it takes to make 60. It's 5. The one simple fractions that 12 doesn’t divide easily into. Just as 12 is the first number that divides nicely by 2, 3 and 4, so 60 is the first number that divides nice by 2,3,4 AND 5.

So, when you want to talk about time more precisely than12 hours to a day, you get 60 minutes to an hour and then 60 seconds to a minute. 60 is also nice cause it fits clean(ish)ly into base ten.
For a similar reason you wind up with 360 degrees in a circle. '360?!?' one might ask 'Who was smoking what when they picked that arbitrary number?' It becomes a lot less arbitrary when you open your mathematical eyes and see that 360 divides crisply by 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,12,15,18 and 20.

While the humans are fitted with the ten fingers and are more or less doomed to think in base ten math, it seems that math itself would be more elegantly and cleanly described in base 12.

Groove on this for a minute:
The ten in Base 10 simply means (for those of you who don’t know) the number of symbols you use when counting. We use 10 symbols (0, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) then, to describe the next number, we have to add a digit (10). It’s a bit of a 'jump-over-your-shadow' to realize that there is nothing particularly special about TEN, as a numbe,r at all.  You could do math just as well with only four symbols (like DNA) or two (like a computer or morse code), or 26 (like the alphabet) or with11, or 9 or 12 or whatever. Tens, twenties, hundreds, millions, and no more or less useful to round up or down too than any other number, once you get past the notation and into the actual numbers behind it.

What would we use for the 11th and 12th symbols if we decided to switch to base 12?
I like U for ten and J for 11 because: 1 they would both fit on existing digital led read outs, and 2: because J starts my name out and I think I deserve some of the credit and blame for the idea. So we'd count like so: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,U,J. Twelve, of course, we would write out like this: 10. It’d be pronounced twelve. U would be pronouced 'ten' and J would be pronounced 'eleven'. The number 11 would be pronounced 'twelvety-one' (or maybe 'a dozen-one'- rolls off the tongue better, I think) and would mean thirteen.

Now this brings up a very very interesting point indeed.

Why do we have the word ‘eleven’? Shouldn't a base ten society pronounce 11 as‘one teen’ and this number (12) as ‘two-teen’ (or twain-teen or something like that)? Why do we have unique, non-derivative words for eleven and twelve but not for thirteen, fourteen and all the rest? 

Can you see that part of us desperately wants to work in base 12?! I had to invent the symbols U and J. But I didn’t need to invent names for them! We already HAVE the NAMES! It’s as if we took a base 12 verbal system and force mapped it on to a base 10 number system. Doesn’t that strike you as CRAZY? As in, literally, a bit mad? It’s just as weird as a world of right handed gadgets for right handed people, all with left handed adaptors tacked on.

Is it possible that the reason so many people dread math the way that others dread the dentist is because we are all left handed folk trying to get along in a right handed world!? Or rather that we are all base 12 people stuck in base 10 bodies?! Is it possible that we would all understand math a lot better if we were using a system in which 1/3 wasn’t a weird decimal that went on forever but was just 0 .4? Would gambling and credit card debit be more obviously a fools game if we all had better tools with which to think about math? Would we all be smarter shoppers if every division problem (5 lbs of meat at $12, is how much per pound) was easy to do in your head? Would the global economy shape up,  would people save for retirement, and budget etc; would fewer people go hungry if we could just do the freaking math?

What’s the take away from all this? I dunno that there is one. Do I think we should start a massive public campaign to change everything over to base 12? No. I think the change could happen and that with in a generation, base 10 would seem as weird and goofy as base 12 does now. But it’d be a lot of work, (although it’d be hilarious to throw a third system of measure into the mix with the English and metric systems, and I will get rich investing in a socket wrench company. Every poor sap of a mechanic will have to buy yet another set!) and all the benefits I have described are just a Saturday morning thought experiment. Someday, who knows, maybe we really will all convert over to base 12, but that sounds like long term scifi to me.

But maybe, next time you see 12 inches in a foot, you might do well to not pompously boast of the theoretical merits of the metric system, and your own personal superiority for preferring it, and instead spend some time understanding the practicality, reasoning and mathematics that went into the evolved, inherited units of measurement. And when the Earth is overthrown by a race of superior alien engineers, mathematicians, scientists and philosophers, and they all have six fingers on each hand (or three on each of their four tentacles?) remember that I told you so.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Heroes, Villains and Sheep

I recently watched a talk by Phillip Zimbardo, author of 'The Lucifer Effect'. I'll attach the talk later if I can find it. (It had alot of graphic visuals... as in the Abu Ghraib pictures of prisoner sexual abuse... I myself didn't care to stomach those visuals and skipped em, so fair warning. They come in a solid easily skippable chunk with plenty of warning ahead of time.) But the essence of the talk, as I took it was this:

There are three types of reactions a person can have to a stressful situation.
(As a student of LDS theology, I found the threefold moral division to be significant and interesting.)
Reaction 1: The Villain response. These are the murderers, rapists, thugs, cheaters... your all around scumbags.
Reaction 2: The response of permissive inaction. These are the folk who close their eyes, and do nothing, who passively allow evil to exist unresisted and unprotested. They do not commit crimes themselves, but do nothing to protect victims.
Reaction 3: The Hero response. Should need no explanation. Ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

Zimbardo, in his talk, tells a true story about a man who in a crowded subway station collapsed, fainted onto the tracks, with a train only seconds away. 70+ people on the platform, all of whom froze, watching this man about to die. All but one. A father, his 2 children with him, shouts to a stranger in the crowd to watch his kids, and throws himself onto the tracks. With only seconds to spare, he drags the unconscious man, a man he does not know, into the center of the tracks and covers him with his own body. The train passes above them, clearing the pair of them by just half an inch.

He took Responsibility.

Last post I wrote about freewill, and the strong tendency I have observed, of people to want to surrender, to get rid of, their own animacy. Loki (in the Avenger's movie) was partly right. People do crave subjugation. It is a natural human state. But! We can rise above Nature. That is what becoming a human being is all about.



The reason people want to surrender their freewill, the reason people crave subjugation is because we are terrified at the idea that we may be Responsible for own lives and actions.

Zimbardo also discusses a study in which 9 out of ten people could be induced to push a button that they believe delivers near lethal voltage to another human being- even while they watch and listen to the victim of their actions scream, writhe and beg for mercy- if only an authority figure assures them that this is all just part of the experiment and- Key- the authority figure is taking full Responsibility for their actions.

The good news? One in ten ordinary people had the courage to refuse participate anyway.
One in ten people are people. One in ten Pinocchios are real boys.

May I quote Dune?
"You dare to suggest that the son of a duke is an animal?
Let us say I suggest that he may be human."

Have I seen this in real life? Does this surprise me? Man. How I wish it did.
Nope. Doesn't surprise me at all. I have seen it far far too often.I have seen far too many people choose the passive permissive response. The response that ignores the bruises on a neighbor's child, that turns up the TV to drown out the beating next door. That doesn't want to be involved. Doesn't want to meddle.

The Villains are not the problem in our world. Its the Enablers.

I have also seen a few Heroes.
Heroism, Zimbardo says, is misportrayed. Heroes, he says, are ordinary people, who Choose to Act. Ordinary people, I would add, who chose to feel, who chose to chose.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Free Will

When I was young and impressionable, I read a quote from the scifi writer Phillip Jose Farmer (who lived in Peoria IL, poor devil) that impressioned me.

At the time I was interested (mind you I am like 14-15 at the time) in the idea that everything could be predicted. I didn't have any kind of background in physics at that age, but it made intutive sense that if you had enough information about the start of the universe and were smart enough, you could work out everything that was going to happen. Collisions, rebounds, recombinations of matter etc- the universe as one big billiard table. I think I got the initial inspiration for this line of thought from The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy- Deep Thought- the supercomputer that designed the Earth- had a line about how it was so smart that when it was first activated it started with 'I think therefore I am' got as far as deducing the existance of rice pudding and income tax before anyone could hit the off button. Fascinating idea, espcially at 14. Could that really be done? I wondered.

Well it offended my sensiblities, because I did not like the idea that I could be fully predicted like that. So it was a fascinating AND annoying idea- and that combination of traits is pretty much all me, so I thought it out for quite a while and pretty thoroly.

I was pretty sure that I was not just a meat robot. This conviction was partly backed up at church but also annoying undermined there, as some churchfolk said that God actually could and in fact had charted my every move beforehand. That had annoyed me as far back as I can remember.

I have a memory of me at about age 9 randomly hurling my bike down the porch steps once, just because it seemed like something that God would never have been able to forsee and I wanted to prove a point. Afterwards, as I was picking my bike back up, I think I realized that He might have anticipated the train of thought that lead me to shoving my bike down the stairs, and so I set my mind to thinking of something even more random to do.

I certainly didn't, and still don't, feel much like what I imagine a meat robot would feel like.

Anyhow. The Phillip Jose Farmer quote. It was something like this:

“I believe people have freewill, but don’t use it very much.”

That makes one schmee of a lot of sense.

Lately I have found it fascinating and… lets go with annoying again, although the truth is, annoying isn’t nearly a loud enough of a word… fascinating and annoying, the lengths to which people will go to avoid having to using their freewill. Some folk- the type A, eternally constipated ones esp- love to make lists and live their life by what they Must Do. Every hour and minute accounted for, planned and- this is the key bit- excused and no longer their responsibility! Their minute to minute choices neatly excised from their life. They would like life to be a fully automated ride in the passenger seat, the only choice ever made is the initial one to get on the bus. They want an instruction manual for every instance and eventuality. These people disgust me frankly. I used to be one of them, I am afraid. Thank God, He threw me curve ball after curveball though, until I finally realized the point. .

Life is not about being in a groove or a rut. Death- that’s all about being in a rut. The inanimate universe- where everything is just cause and effect, cosmic billiard balls smashing around, boring old (but awesome if you understand it) Newtonian physics- that’s what I call a rut. That’s what everyone calls it actually. I mean literally in Websters- the definition of animate vs inanimate- the animate makes choices. Some things act and some things are only acted apon.

There are some seriously inanimate people out there.

There really is a strong case for the meat robot theory. By default, that's all we are. But we can chose to be more.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Contact- by Carl Sagan

My parents gave me this book when I was 15 for Christmas. 431 pages of the weightiest Sci-fi I have ever seen. I suspect my mom’s hand in that choice of present. They encouraged Big Thoughts, they assumed I was smart, and went from there. Contact, By Carl Sagan. An unusual choice for a 15 year old?

I read it then, and I guess I liked it, although I didn’t have near enough life experience behind me yet to really appreciate this book.

I reread it when I was 20 or so- I had it with me in Nauvoo, rereading it, while I was rethinking the Big Questions of the universe. It helped a bit. It was with me, sitting on the side of the table at Subway, in fact, when Jerry Bench, the director of the City of Joseph pageant, took time out of his insanely busy schedule to take me out to lunch, offer his mentorship, and friendship, and to tell me that he had been watching me and could tell that I was not a jerk. To the 20 year old Mormon guy who was obviously not out missionary-ing and trying very hard to sort out the Big Questions of life under pretty much a ton of social and cultural guilt pressure, this kind, honest observation and gesture meant a lot.

It was the first movie I saw after my mission, some 3 years later, during which time Carl Sagan had passed. I saw it with Erik and Timpani, the family I wasn’t born into. Loved the movie.

The movie happened to be on TV during Liz and I's honeymoon, so we watched it.

Both covers have fallen off my copy long ago. The title and Carl Sagan’s name barely cling to the spine. Two pin holes in the upper left hand penetrate every single page of my copy. Carl Sagan’s face used to grin out at me from the back cover, back when my copy had covers. The pin holes are exactly where Carl’s nostrils used to be. My awesome sister Renae vandalized my book with a thumbtack at some point, as retaliation for me abusing some book or other of hers. Later, for no reason that I can think of, I decided to extend Carl Sagan’s nostril holes through the entire book. It took several iterations of sticking a pin as deep as possible starting on the page where the last set of holes ended, until the front cover had holes just like the back. Now, although Carl’s picture is no longer there, we still have his nostrils.

I’ve been rereading it again. I love it. Sagan’s dedication to intellectual integrity counterweighted by his sense of wonder and awe strike a resonant chord in me. His unwillingness to sacrifice the rigor of skeptical and honest thought or the love of the miraculous or the miracle of love… This book is like an old friend, like a toasty blanket, like a bowl of hot soup on a snowy day, like sitting over the heating vent, taking in big thoughts in small bites, a few days after Christmas, at age fifteen with a big life in front of you and parents who think you are smart enough to enjoy Sagan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drain it to Help!

Life is so wierd. Learning to see from alternative perspectives surely takes you to some interesting places, and makes you smarter in the process. This is one of the many techniques I have used to bring myself to my curennt pinnacle of intellectual, moral and spiritual greatness. Also grammatical greatness, and Polemic greatness. Also greatness of vocabulary.

Well crap. It turns out that Polemic is actually a word. 3 minutes and a google search ago, when I wrote that word above, I had thought it was a nonsense word that I had just made up. Well by thunder, it turns out to have a meaning. Drain it! Drain it to Help! Well, I'll let it stand as written. Its not hurting anybody.

So the point is that this last year on my Birthday, and event occured that somewhat was one of those wierd 'ah-ha, so THATs what its like to be someone else!' moments. The other person that I was 'being' was my foxy wife. Foxy beyond the lot of mortals. Its 3am as I write this. Allowances will have to be made.

Seeing 'something' briefly from her point of view, by extension and extrapolation, allowed me to see the same 'something' from alot of other peoples eyes.

Now let me tell you what to do, if you ever have the experience of looking out of another person's eyes, because its pretty much the only time you can ever do this, so you want to be ready and take advantage of the opportunity if you ever have it: what you want to do, when you look out of someone else's eyesockets is (be like me) and immediately look at yourself. Its the only time you can ever see what you actually look like.

Gosh this is taking me a long time to explain.

I'll just cut to the chase. In my family, the hardest person to buy gifts for is my Dad. I think that's universally agreed apon by all educated persons, surely? But, irritatingly, the evidence over the last couple decades, has begun to amass that the second hardest person to buy for is Me. Bah. Hard to beleive isn't it? But it seems like it must be so. In fact, I can do an interpolative calibration here, and infer that since I don't LIKE the idea of being hard to shop for, that it must mean that probably the situation is even worse than I think, which logically must mean that I MAY VERY WELL BE even harder than my dad to buy for!!! Holy Crap. I'm a nightmare. I'm like a monster.

So this is the 'something' that I saw for the first time, from the sexy wife's perspective, over my birthday.

Now the thing is, WHY do I suck so much to buy for? Its because... oh schmee that's too deep a subject for 3 am. Its because I was warped at birth and hate all humanity. Lets just go with that assumption for now, it'll be simpler that way.

Now Liz is a type of person that Loves to give gifts. So being married to me has its drawbacks that way. So basically, although my internal nature has always felt abhorance for the making up of lists of things you would really like- (aside: the logic there goes something like: if I am going to basically Tell you what to buy me, and then have a cultural obligitory gift giving holiday, then how the crap is this a gift and not a stick up? I dont Want to stick up the people i love. I like them.) -I basically turned 39 and realized Liz hates hates hates not knowing what to get me. Schmee, probably alot of my clan feels the same way!

I love being married. Its so fun, and hilarious. It goes like this:
"Here's a present, I love you Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks!"
"Do you like it?"
"Erm..."
"...? :( "
"I love you! Thanks for getting me a present!"

Anyhow. That's a long long long way to say, here's some stuff, a partial list that is, of things I like.
(Parenthetically I have to say that (its redundant to say parentheically in parenthesis isn't it!) clueless as this must sound to you all, that I just don't get how it is that I am so hard to give stuff to. I'm a simple guy!)

On with the freaking list, even though it goes against my whole nature to make this list. Its an act of love baby.

Books: I read some mindblowing landmark books this year that I would like to have around the house to reread at will over the course of my next chunk of life:

Guns Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond
The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins
The Art of War, By Sun Tzu
(and I seem to have misplaced my copy of Frederick Douglas's Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, which is possibly the best thing I have ever read. I'll be getting myself a new copy when the chance arises, but who knows when that will be.)

I started, but failed to finish US Grant's memoirs. They seemed good though, but possibly a long term proposition.

Jim Butcher's Cold Days is coming out soon.

But what I REALLY can't find and it bugs me to no end is all of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden short storys that have come out in the last year or two since Side Jobs.

I don't have Clockwork Angels or Snakes and Arrows.

Here's a couple links for inspiration:

http://www.endgameclothing.com/horsey.html

http://www.rushbackstage.com/rushbackstage/mens-apparel/rush-airship-black-t-shirt.html

This is hardly an exhaustive list, and I hate the idea of taking fun and creativity out of this sort of thing, you know, so please, schnaaa...

I'll add to this list as time rolls on.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The 3 Fat Pigs

By Jonni & Erik Sever
 Once upon a bacon strip, there were 3 fat pigs about to become ham and bacon. When they found out, they ran away and hid in giant piles of junk. The fattest pig hid in hay. The second fattest pig hid in dung. And the least fat of all hid in rocks.
Then one day a wolf who loved ham came along. He stomped on the hay and pretty soon he hit the fattest pig. Fat pigs can’t run fast so when he tried to run he only got 3 steps before he got caught and eaten by the wolf. The wolf did the same thing with the poop. The second fattest pig could run faster, but it was stupid. He tried to climb a tree but pigs can’t climb and pretty soon the wolf ate him too. The wolf devoured the last pig with no trouble at all. He was taking a nap and he was a really heavy sleeper. The wolf stomped the pig to death and ate him.
By now, the wolf himself was very, very fat. The next day he went exploring and met a tiger. The tiger thought that the wolf smelled good so the tiger ate the wolf. “Mmm…”  he said. “Tastes like bacon!”
And the tiger was happy.  

THE END
                                                     Or so we say…

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Here's a link to a little footage of Me, Todd Sever, and Renae Sever Eldridge crossing the finish line of last saturday's 5k. Todd crosses at 7:00ish on the video, I'm at 8:00 and Renae is at 10:20 or so. Fun stuff. First race I have done in a few years. 24:35, better than I thought I'd do.http://results.bazumedia.com/athlete/index/e/1902521

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Save the Unicorns

A while back, a friend and I postulated that, given the current trend in the world to "Save the ..." (insert popular species here), the prime survival factor for most animals is rapidly becoming how interesting that animal can make itself to human beings.

Its generally easier to raise funds to save cute animals like dolphins or koala bears than it is to save dung beetles or endangered species of mold. The prime evolutionary driver is becoming an animal's entertainment value.

What will this do given another half dozen centuries or so to play out? Will species begin to exhibit larger, more prominent eyeballs and longer eyelashes to increase their appeal to people? Will species become increasingly neotenized to trigger human female nurturing instincts as a defense mechanism? Will we be able to go for walks in the woods and be spontaneously entertained by juggling bears and dancing monkeys and parrots with elaborate stand up routines? Will dolphins and leopards learn to hold up their own "Save the dolphins" (or leopards) signs? Will critters learn to instinctively put on their own rallies and protests? Will horses evolve into unicorns because people like unicorns more? Will hyenas and other un-cute animals, perhaps compete for the underdog niche by developing Goth markings and punk hairdos? Will the natural world become one hilariously entertaining and human-o-centric theme park?

At the time, Paul and I thought it was an absolutely hystercial bit of imaginative silliness, (but of course only silliness), made all the more funny because, the more we joked about it, the more we couldn't find any logical reasons why it couldn't happen. We knew it was absurd anyway, naturally, even if we couldn't explain why.

Then I saw this video, and I have to wonder...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I really was planning on writing about the Supreme Court before this week happened. It was just one of those weird synergy things that this week happened to be the week that the president lashed out verbally at the Supreme Court and wound up getting smacked with a court order to publicly explain whether or not he understands remedial Constitutional principles.

I don't plan to talk a lot of current events here, but in this case, it makes sense.

The president used the term "unelected" to describe the Court and his context implied that this should diminish the authority of the court. The opposite is true.

The constitution creates a tripod government, in which each pillar held up less by its own strength and integrity, and more by being balanced and opposed against the other two pillars. Of the three branches, (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) the Judicial branch is the most reliant on the integrity of its own members for its stability. The Judicial Branch is the heaviest and most vertical of the tripod poles. That makes it the most dangerous pole to be underneath if it falls.

Of the three branches, the Judicial comes closest to being a backbone. If a professional politician is the least employable of people, a corrupt judge is possibly the most employable.

The reason the founders arranged that the courts would be unelected, was to insulate the courts from partisan pressures, to protect the objectivity and impartiality of the judges.*
Good Thinking, Founders!


If/When we get a chance to restructure the Constitution, we'd be smart to consider additional measures to armour the judges against impartial influences. Apparently, they need all the protection they can get.


This week's
Idea #1:

Currently, SC judges are appointed by the president whenever a vacancy happens to occur. This introduces an element of chance into the selection process that could be improved on.
I suggest a consitutional amendment that would create an 'on deck' pool of SC justices.

Each 4 year presidential term, the sitting president and Congress would appoint an SC Justice, even if there is no vacancy to be filled. That Justice would wait 'on deck', until a vacancy to occured. If more than one presidential terms passed with no vacancies opening up, then additional 'on deck' justices would be appointed.

The sitting president would never appoint more than one SC justice per term, unless several vacancies happened at once and the 'on deck' pool was not enough to fill them.

This would make the transition from Justice to Justice smooth and seamless; we would be less likely to see a Supreme Court understaffed. It would also put an element of distance and objectivity between the appointment/approval process, but more importantly it would create a more uniform presidential legacy of SC appointees. The current system has a small but potentially lethal leak here. Elected officials come and go, but Supreme Courts set precedents that last for decades.

The president also expressed concern about "Judicial activism". In other words, while the courts need to be protected from people like the president, everyone else needs to be protected from the courts. The president's recent statements show that there is strong bipartisan concern about this.

Idea #2

I see no reason why any court below the Supreme should have authority to overturn a State Constitution.

An Amendment to the US Constitution that protected state constitutions from lower courts would save a lot of wasted time and energy in the lower courts trying cases that will not truly be decided until they reach the SC anyway. More importantly, it would go along way to put the self back in self governance, by returning and affirming the sovereignty of the states. There's a risk of straining the SC in this but State Constitutions ought to mean something.

Idea#3

This is the most important of the three potential amendments that I am chewing over today. Currently there is no appeal from a SC decision. The president's concern that this unelected body might not always reflect the will of the people is not invalid. I am tempted to recommend an amendment that would allow an SC ruling to be overturned by a popular vote of the people. However, an SC ruling has binding power similar to Constitutional law. The founders were careful to protect the Constitution from dangerous, casual change.** So, instead, I suggest that SC rules should be overturned by the same procedure used to create new amendments to the US Constitution. 3/4ths of the State legislatures acting in concert could overturn any SC desision, either supporting the existing SC minority ruling, or writing a new one. This would make the Final court of appeals the people of the USA, or at least their local representatives.

*It would take a very dedicated dogmatism to interpret the president's statements as anything other than an attempt to interfere with the partiality of the court. I am forcibly reminded of the attitude demonstrated by Clinton after he was impeached by the House: the 'how-dare-you, who-do-you-think-you-are' attitude. Clinton, at least, had the restraint (there's a new phrase!) to wait until the after verdict had been rendered against before he went all hubrissy.

**Also, when there is an irregularity in a popular vote count (think Floriduh 2000) the courts must split the hairs and rule on election fraud. If a popular vote overrules the court, but the court must rule on an irregular vote, there is an infinite feedback problem.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Obvious (partial) Solution

Without trying I could rattle (oh. hi, by the way. Listen, I hope you'll forgive me. I really hate talking politics most of the time because usually there is so little said that isn't worldclass obvious anyway, and I hate saying the obvious. There are only three reasons to do so:





  • to insult the other person's intelligence


  • because you yourself are so dim that you don't realize that the obvious is obvious


  • because you are are the kind of person who likes to point out the obvious.


So its with irritation and regret that I have to, yet again talk... not exactly politics, I hope... maybe sort of a metapoltics, that avoids the obvious and possibly cuts newer turf. Its the only way I can get these ideas out of my head: writing them down some where. So here we go. Sorry!)

Without trying I could rattle off a long list of terribly important issues being decided in the political world right now. Should I run though some of the list? Just thinking about it makes me tired. Anyhow. About anyone of these issues I could put on my 1950's radio drama voice and say : "This could be the end of freedom and life as we know it!" It might be a little over the top if I did, but I could still say it.

But it would only be a little over the top.

But, even so...

I am starting to believe that all of these issues are a waste of time.

Why? Because:

Our current crop of Washington decision-makers are not exactly America's best and brightest minds. The last crop was nothing special either. Neither was the one before that.

It's tempting to think that we were better off with inbred, hereditary dictators. (We weren't).

Our current leaders simply don't have the mental or moral equipment needed to solve the critical issues before us.

And I am starting to believe that if we want to make any progress, we'd better first look at the process by which we wound up putting all these rather drab, uninspiring people in charge. Each election, candidates are drawn from the same blah pool of politicians as the last. Each election amounts to a just another shuffling of an old worn out deck. What we need are some new cards, and maybe a new game, if we ever expect to see a better hand.


The simplest, most obvious, and most bulletproof change that I know of is putting term limits on Congress.

The 22nd amendment limits the President to just two terms of four years each. Why don't we have a similar amendment to cap the amount of time one person can spend in Congress?

Its hard to imagine why anyone (other than a member of Congress) would oppose this fairly obvious concept. It's such an obvious concept, that its pretty hard to understand how we have gone this long without implementing it.

In the 90's the Republican party achieved a majority in Congress in support of just such an amendment, but irritatingly the Democrats (and the fact that this somehow became a partisan issue is a bit pathetic, if you ask me, as well as a pretty freaking good argument in favor of the idea that I have been pushing here, which is that the system has some fundamental flaws) were able to shoot it down because the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to initiate the amendment process. Needing not just a majority but a super-majority of Congress to simultaneously agree to fire itself in order for this basic improvement to take place is such a hilariously exasperating mistake, that if there were a Darwin award for this sort of thing, this error would surely win one. It also explains why we don't have this amendment yet.

Luckily, this actually is not a requirement. It turns out that there are two ways Constitutional amendments can be proposed and going through Congress is only one of them.

It turns out that if 2/3rds of the state legislatures get together and agree, they can propose amendments to the US constitution, and if 3/4ths of them ratify the proposed amendment, it becomes constitutional law, without the US Congress ever touching it. Good thinking, Founders!

I have this impossible fantasy of somehow keeping such an amendment secret from Congress until all the necessary states have signed off on it, and then springing it on the House and Senate as done deal.

I can't think of anything one less employable than a career politician in a representative system of government. Such a creature is inherently non-representative. The phrase 'career representative' is a contradiction in terms. It might be ok for a college professor or pastor to have never held any other kind of job, but in a leader its a pretty bad idea. There is, in fact, already a lot of support for Congressional term limits and I think everybody should check it out. Consider signing this petition, for one. I did.

What I'd like to see is a Congress made of a broad range of professionals and leaders with wildly differing skill sets, experiences and perspectives. I'd like to see the best of the best of American doctors, scientists, business men, religious, social and military leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, taking a short leave of absence from their careers (and adding one heck of a sharp line to their resume in the process) to advocate, create and lead. If America put all its best minds together, as a Congress, the potential would be wicked cool. But no one of any real caliber is likely to leave a successful career to become a career suit-pinhead. So who do we get instead? Lawyers. Not even practicing lawyers. Congress is made out of dead lawyers. Sharp term limits would go a long way towards clearing out the deadwood, making room for some new, intelligent growth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

America is Maxed Out

I'm currently a designer but before that I was a gamer. The two skill sets are not uncomplimentary.

There is a life cycle to designs and strategies. I'm sure that if I wanted to bother, it would be easy to find several websites with alot of boring corporate talky talk that would break "The Lifecycle of a Design" in to phases like "Concept", "Feasibility Evaluation", "Prototyping and Field testing" etc etc... any one who has ever developed a deck for MTG will recognize these phases, as will product designers... then there's finally "Combat Ready" (well, in the business world you'd call it "Production") and then "Tweaking".

There's a final phase after all these. I'd call it "Maxed Out". When your deck/strategy/design/product has been tweaked for all its worth, and can no longer be improved on, at least not without radical restructuring or starting over, its Maxed Out. A maxed out out strategy can still win games, and a maxed out design will still sell, but being maxed out is the first step towards being "Obsolete" if you have any decent competition.

America is Maxed Out.

Now get me not wrong, the Constitution is an amazing piece of work, and 200 years ago it was extremely bold, innovative and cutting edge. In terms of design, it was the new predator on the block, an awesome, out-of-the-box concept that took the world by storm and spawned imitators and rivals everywhere.


The fact that, after 200 years, it is still functional at all is a bit mindblowing. I can't think of any other design that hasn't been radically reworked in the last 2 centuries. Even the most basic technology: the wheel, the chair, metallurgy, even the way we use fire and speech- all have been hugely revamped since 1776. The fact that the Constitution is still here at all is terribly impressive. So when I say it needs a tune up, I am not saying it lightly, but it shouldn't be a shocking or terrifying or even surprising concept to anyone. It is a very old design.


How long has it been since anyone seriously thought words like: 'Bold, 'Innovative', 'Cutting Edge' or 'Out-of-the-box' applied to Washington DC? Don't laugh like that. But what about 'Moribund', 'Gridlock', 'Ponderous', 'Top heavy', 'Idiotic', 'Retarded', 'Imbecilic?' Even words like 'Corrupt', 'Injust', 'Psychotic' and 'Cruel' are frequently accurate. Most people are thrilled if Congress shows a temporary lapse in to ordinary common sense, but nobody looks to the government for leadership or wisdom these days. Among our leaders, mediocrity isn't the rule any more, incompetence has become the rule, and mediocrity is now exceptional


If that last paragraph is true (and it is so true that it has become a hackneyed cliche) don't we have to admit that America is in decline? There is an ostricheqsue instinct to avoid the obvious conclusion, but the cold facts indicate that the shark has been jumped. The design is maxed out. It is headed for obsolete. This shouldn't be a surprise.

But none of the founders ever thought the Constitution was perfect. They built in provisions for adaptation and evolution. Good thinking, founders.

With our 200 plus years of field test data, we are equipped to make some fundamental, constitutional level tweaks.

What needs to be tweaked? I'm interested in your thoughts but a few areas that seem obvious to me are these:



  • The Judicial branch has begun legislating. A check or a balance is needed here.

  • Our representative government is too frequently representing no one but itself and protecting no one's interest but it's own. We are developing a ruling class, disconnected from the ruled class.

  • There is a distinct tendency over time, in the present design, for the top levels of government to expand at the expense of the local levels. It rarely shrinks when shrinking is needed, but always grows if given half a chance. This should be addressed.

  • If there are historians 200 years from now, they are going to laugh at our national debt the same way we laugh at those hilariously backwards morons who used to think the world was flat. We simply have a massive cultural blind spot. We tend to think we are only stuck in the mud, but the numbers show that we are fully submerged. And everyone with a shovel digs down, all the while arguing about how fast we should be digging. Digging up is not even considered. If people actually understood how deep the politicians have taken us in there would be war in the streets. Some serious shoring up needs to occur here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

As Soup, they probably had their Finest Hour

Tim didn't have anything to recommend him; he was as coldly vicious as a guillotine. But Jock had some slight awareness of right and wrong, or he wouldn't have tried to justify himself. You might say he was just weak.

But I don't hold with the idea that to understand all is to forgive all; you follow that and first thing you know you're sentimental over murderers and rapists and kidnappers and forgetting their victims. That's wrong.

I'll weep over the likes of Peewee, not over criminals whose victims they are.

I missed Jock's talk, but if there were a way to drown such creatures at birth, I'd take my turns as executioner. That goes double for Tim.

If they ended up as soup for hobgoblins, I couldn't honestly be sorry- even though it might be my turn tomorrow. As soup, they probably had their finest hour.

-Heinlein, from Have Space Suit, Will Travel

Heinlein might have turned into a deranged old perv as he aged, but he got this right on. This is exactly how I feel.

A black widow spider can't help it, but that's the point.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Conformance and Rebellion

People are driven by two survival instincts. The drive to conform and the drive to rebel. From an evolutionary perspective, this creates an interesting conflict. Conformity is a very useful trait if you are potential prey. Herd animals, in larger herds, can afford to, and do, put less effort into watching out for predators than than do animals grazing in smaller groups. The reason they can afford to do this is because they conform. If suddenly the deer next to you starts sprinting, you don't need to see the attacking predator for yourself. You don't even need to verify for yourself which direction its coming from. You just conform. You run with the rest of the gang. The one or two rebel deer, who refuse to panic just because everyone else is doing it, but insist on seeing the mountain lion for themselves before they run quickly get Darwined out. Conformity saves lives.

But conflicting with that primeval instinctual programming, human beings have another instinct. The instinct to rebel. We are one of the few creatures who have had some success getting out of the box. All our really cool advances in technology, agriculture, etc began with one or two or more individuals not doing what every one else is doing. All our heros are innovators, outside of the box thinkers, trend setters. In fact, you could claim that the basis of all intelligence and thought is rooted asking 'why' or 'why not'. It would not be wrong to say that thought is the opposite of conformity, and conformity is the absence of thought. (The garden of Eden story, with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge only being obtainable via rebellion is an interesting ... corollary to this.)

So we have two conflicting instincts: Conformance and Rebellion. We tend to either deify the one and hate the other, or despise the one and worship the other. But this is a mistake. Both are valuable. Sometimes running like a panicked lemming is a good thing to do. Sometimes spitting in the face of tradition is a stupid thing to do. The trick is knowing when to do which.

I'm smaaaaaaaaaaaaart!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Forward

There once was this little lame boy who met a grumpy old man on Christmas Eve.

"Why are you so grumpy? asked the little boy.

"I dunno. Whay are you so lame?" asked the old man. "Haw haw haw! LAME! Your lame! get it!?"

"That makes me sad" said the little boy.

Just then a lost puppy walked by.

"If only an angel could show that lost puppy the way home" prayed the boy.

"Snif." said the old man. "Once I had a puppy alot like that. She was a Christmas Gift from my dead wife."

"dont worry, puppy" said the boy "Ill take care of you"

"here is some money" said the old man "Im sorry I called you lame"

"im sorry i said your were grumpy"

the puppy looked up at the two as if to say "I am glad that my two best friends are now friends on Christmas day"

then the puppy turned all glowing and shimmery and a mysterious voice seemed to say: "The True meaning of Christmas isn't about the toys or being lame and all that. Its about the Love that's in your heart."

"No Duh" laughed the old man. "Look I see a poor family in a broken down car just trying to get home for the holidays over on that corner. Why dont we give them the puppy?"

But the beautiful puppy was Nowhere to Be Seen.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Opposite of Thanksgiving

I really hate to write this because I believe, with Zaphod, that the main point of life is to have as good a time as possible...

I had a minor epiphany: Black Friday really is the OPPOSITE of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is about the following:
Being grateful for the Basics: Food, Shelter, Family, Warmth, Life.
It's a about reaching out from that simple gratitude, and inviting alot of people over to share a meal.
It implies that we are more than just Lucky, it hints at being Blessed. By celebrating the basics of survival, it reminds us that there is more to life than mere survival.
It's about enjoying what we have, and being grateful.

Black Friday is about freaking out over the things we don't have and being greedy.
Its about being materialistic. It's firmly grounded in the things ' that can't be taken with you.'

I hope people don't start treating Thanksgiving as just a Black Friday eve- that would be sad. If I were a religious person, I might suggest that some aspects of Black Friday are the devil's attempt to weaken Thanksgiving.

I sit out Black Friday, because I'd much rather relax at home enjoying my life, than battle crowds and lines all day. I really don't need much to be happy. Although one of these years, I keep promising myself, I am going to go to Walmart in a gorilla suit and throw poo at everyone, knock over a barrel of live snakes, loudly sight Elvis, etc. Because chaos is its own reward.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few people have mentioned that it is too bad that there is no Thanksgiving music.

See playlist at right:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Al-Qaeda Siege Bread

I have this recipe for something called Amish Friendship Bread. You throw some yeast into a jar with flour, sugar and milk, and let it breed. Every week or so you bake some of it into this cakey bread. My only problem with it is, when you do this you are also supposed to give away some of the goo to friends so they can do the same thing, like a virus. Well, I don't know anyone that I want to give some goo to, so instead I am just going to eat it all myself. Thing is, if I do this, the name no longer fits. It can't be friendship bread if I plan on not sharing it... its more like The Bread of Greed, or something. Antisocial Lonely Bread?.

So I need a new name, and I am calling on the internet community for help picking the right one.

I kind of like the theme of using an oddball religion/cult/philosophy in the name... gives it flavor. (I wonder if this recipe really originated with the amish?)

So far I have considered something starting with the following:

Klu Klux Klan
Nazi
Marxist
Voodoo
Wiccan
Pagan
Anarchist
Hammas
Orcish (I also thought for a second of just calling it lembas bread)

After I get a really great name with just the right balance of believability and startlingness (right now I like Wiccan) I will make a thematically correct instruction sheet (pentacles, evil looking goats, grim looking monkeys eating bread... the right theme will depend of course on the name that wins out) and I will paste this sheet onto a jar for this goo that will be a semipermanent resident in the cupboard, until I get sick of eating the stuff. It will be great for people to stumble on unexpectedly. (Satanic Zombie Bread???!!!! OMG, John's evil now!!!!) Things is, Satanic Zombie Bread is a terrible example, because it is not even remotely believable. This is why I need your help. I want something that looks like it genuinely orginated in some subltly evil subculture. (Jim Jones's Koolaid Bread?)

Now that I think on it, if I get a good enough name, it may make me defeat the entire purpose of the operation and start handing it out to friendly people in the church and community. I could give my kid's teachers recipes for Lord Voldemort's Horcrux Bread, along with bags of starter goo. That could be fun.

So, ideas?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Smart Monkey Breeding Program

Been reading about artificial selection...(as opposed to natural selection.) Its pretty amazing the way humans have sculpted wolves into dogs, dogs into mastiffs and terriers, horses into thoroughbreds, cows into milk machines... the list goes on and on. Most domesticated animals couldn't survive in a de-humaned world anymore. Most bulldogs are born by C-section nowadays. Their heads are too big for a natural birth.

(Heck. Forget animals. Look how we have selectively sculpted our own gene pool. How many modern humans are really physically suited to survive and successfully repopulate a completely 'natural' (by which I mean mainly just a de-technological-ified) world? I'd make it less than half, no question. Maybe a tenth?)

So what I think would be neat is this: Let's breed chimps for intelligence and see just how smart a monkey we can get. There are already talking (well, sign-languaging) apes with working vocabularies of 300+ words. What would 10 generations of selected breeding for braininess do? How close can an animal get to human intelligence?

(Better question: How close can humans get to animal intelligence? I was at walmart today. It's better than a petting zoo sometimes. What's the Dune quote?
Paul: 'You dare suggest the Duke's son is an animal?'
Reverend mother: 'Let us say that I suggest that you may be human.' I digress.)

A few million years back there were many species of large-ish brained, bipedal, tool-making apes coexisting on the same planet at the same time. (or so the fossil evidence suggests. Also we find their tools). Now there is only us.

What must it be like, having a 'sibling species'? What does a lion think when it runs into a leopard? ('Nice spots.' 'Nice beard.' 'Ee-chuta!' 'How rude!') Seriously... what does meeting a zebra or a horse tell a donkey about what it means to be a donkey? I think it'd... well, it would mess with your head for sure. It would make you think. But WHAT would it make you think? THAT'S what I wanna know.

People don't have any close relatives. All we've got are chimps... retarded second cousin Andy living in the basement... I don't think they count.

So, I think it'd be fascinating to breed a breed of really smart monkeys. What if they could learn to read? What if they could write books? Or even just maintain a lame blog or Facebook page. (Status update: "Thing is people, nobody really likes bananas.") What if they all turn out to be annoying morons?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I was skeptical about Herman Cain at first,

in the same way I am initally skeptical about a "great" new religious author or musician.

Because if they were really any good, you would expect them to be competing in the real world instead of in some minor niche market. And being a black politican can be like that. Hence, Obama.

However, I started reading Herman Cain's website this morning, and I have to say that I am quite impressed! I like it! Plus he doesn't belong to a cult.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've been rereading The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Douglas Adams's writings published after he died. (BTW, I recently tried watching the television version of The Guide. I felt I owed it to Douglas Adams to try. I made it through two episodes. When it's that low, can your really still call it a budget?)

One of the last segments in this book is a lament for Douglas Adams by his friend, the biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins. In it he shares a parable Douglas once made up about a man who believes that his television is inhabited by tiny people, living tiny sitcomish lives, competing in miniature sporting events, and bitsy reality or talk shows, all for his viewing pleasure. And engineer explains to the man about electricity and cathode ray tubes, transmission and receivers, etc. The man listens carefully to the engineer, agreeing with each step of the argument, and in the end the man says that now he is satisfied, and that he finaly understands how television really works.

Then Adams's punchline: "But I expect there really are just a few little men in there."

An equally valid punchline could have been: "Well, that proves it: Oprah is imaginary!"

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Below, John rants about politics and apologizes for it:

I hate Obama. No point in making a secret of it. I can't stand him. Personality-wise I find him smug, ignorant, arrogant, egotistical, obnoxious, stilted, awkward, trite, effeminate, impotent, and terminally predictable. He's a loud mouthed bore.

Philosophically?... Maybe the best way to put this is to say that his personality seems to be a derivation and extension of his philosophy.

I read the full text of his jobs speech. Here's some reaction:

"The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. "

Ah. So we don't have the money to pay for your plan. And you want Congress to find some for you. How is this a plan!? Shouldn't how you are going to get the money be at least as important to your plan as how to you are going to spend the money? You have an incredibly detailed plot of how to spend the money but only "I'm asking you to cover the full cost of the American Jobs Act" for a plan on getting the money? What a complete waste of space.


"In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own – that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America. "

Er? Heck yes, I wish you would do exactly that! Refund my money. Back the freak off. Get out of my face. Dismantle Obama 'care'. LEAVE ME ALONE.


"How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result? "


Yeah. We'd never have come up with computers or the Internet without Big Brother. Nobody but career politicians and bureaucrats would ever have the daring or foresight to invest in this technology on their own.

And geesh. Where would we be without Social Security? Oh yeah. That's exactly where I am going to be, come retirement. Only poorer. Every shrewd investor in my generation knows Social Security is totally solid.

Sorry about ranting about politics! I can't tell you how weird the 2008 election was to me. I mean sometimes, I have a hard time relating to other humans. The TV, the magazine headlines at the grocery check out, most movies, professional sports, everyone's obsession with beer, all seem to me like artifacts from an alien culture. I just can't get behind the mindset that apparently drives Joe Walmart. But usually I get along well enough by reminding myself that we can't ALL be super geniuses, and piously forcing myself to be charitable. (Until they are out of earshot that is. Then I howl unspeakably rude things and cackle madly at my own wit under my breath.) In short, I have mostly come to terms with having a significantly different (smarter!) drummer than regular people.

But not THAT much smarter. 2008 just about convinced my that I really don't belong on this planet. More than half the people voted for this crackhead ?!?!? It was and still is mindblowing to me. And since then, I pretty much quit bothering about politics in disgust. But now that the obvious has been painfully demonstrated with 3 years or so's worth of dramatic failure... I feel like maybe it might not be a total waste of my time and energy to talk about it again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Limitless (movie)

I thought this was an awesome story, translated to the screen very well. Liz, to be fair, disagrees. A renter, she would call it. Meh. She’s not a bigtime snob like me. (we both liked the soundtrack though. See Howlin' for you, currently stuck in my head, at right). Nicely written sci fi. Basic premise: a new drug gives you temporarily a super human level of intelligence. I enjoyed the thought and effort that the author put into trying to figure out how a person much much smarter than you would act and think. Made for some cool fights scenes. I do love a story about someone who wins with his smarts. Mr. Cooper in the lead role did very well indeed with it, playing the same character, but at varying levels of smart. That’s a solid challenge. Loved the big fight at the end. I also loved his last line to DeNiro.
A fun movie, but made you think. Stimulating. Out of the box.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mysterium (a book by Robert Charles Wilson)

I am utterly enthralled by this scifi writer. He puts the sci back in sci fi. I’ve compared him before to Michael Crichton, but with a better imagination, and better basic story telling skills. The basic premise: a small vacation town in the west one day vanishes into thin air, simply replaced by old growth jungle. Or from the point of view of the town: the world vanishes and is replaced by another Earth with an alternative history.

He just spins a great yarn, and makes you think.

Here's a quote from Mysterium, that sort of sums up a bit of why I dig this author:

"Do you ever wonder, Howard, about the questions we can't ask?"

"Can't answer, you mean?"

"No. Can't ask."

"I don't understand."

"We're sitting here asking spectacular questions, you and I. About the universe, how it began. And if we can ask a question, probably, sooner or later, we can answer it. So we assume there's no limit to knowledge. But maybe your dog makes the same mistake! He doesn't know what lies beyond the neighborhood, but if he found himself in a strange place he would approach it with the tools of comprehension available to him, and soon he would understand it-dog fashion, by sight and smell and so on. There are no limits to his comprehension, Howard, except the limits he does not and cannot ever experience So how different are we? We can ask many, many more questions than your dog. And we can answer them. But if there are limits to our comprehension, they would be as invisible to us as they are to your dog.

So: is there anything in the universe we simply cannot know? Is there a question we can't ask?"


More tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Latest media I have ingested

I actually don’t watch a lot of movies…no patience. I have no problem with watching 10 minutes and giving up, if it is registering too high on the retardometer to stand. Same with books. Some say this is not a good way to do things, but I say it is. Why waste my time on boring things? This wise ‘quit while I am ahead policy’ assures me of… well I dunno what it assures me of exactly, but at least I don’t have to watch dumb stuff. Like some people I could mention.

It also means, that because I don't waste my time plowing through the mediocre dung of commonplace lame books and movies, I have more time to watch and read ONLY THE BEST. I do love being a snob.

This summer, I’ve seen 3 movies that I really really dug, and gotten quite psyched over at least one book. All rate high on the unique, interesting, provoking and entertaining scales. At least I thought so.

In chronological order of how I saw/read them:

Super 8 (movie)
The thing about being 'out of the box', like this movie was, is how do you sell it? Have you ever watched the original trailers for Princess Bride? Its an awesome classic of a movie but the trailers made it look very stupid. Because it was unlike anything else out there, so there was no frame of reference that a marketer could relate it too. "Did you like _____? Then you’ll love PB!!" There was nothing to fill in the blank with. Super 8 is also out of the box like that. Which is awesome, because EVERY movie out there right now is either a sequel, or a remake, or a queer 80’s TV show.

OK enough ranting.

Super 8 (movie)
Genre? I guess you’d call it a Scifi/monster movie. It’s set in the early 80’s, which was a lot of fun. The main characters are all kids and they found a great, hilarious gang of child actors. Good story. Lots of good scary; not blood and icky scary; genuine suspense and surprise. Loved it. Saw it in the theater with Liz. We had a fight over where we were going to sit and who had to be forced to sit next to a stranger. I lost the first fight and won the second, but with bad grace. Liz like this movie just as much as me.


True Grit (movie)

Liz actually forced me to see this, which is quite weird… Liz twisting my arm to see a John Wayne remake? It’s like me bullying Liz into seeing Pride and Prejudice. But it turned out to be great. This movie also had a very fun to watch child actor (too bad she will probably grow up to be an addict) and old what's his name, the bad guy from Ironman, played the John Wayne role. Probably a lot better than John Wayne ever did. (Kind of like remaking a Johnny Cash song. You KNOW you can’t do it worse.) But seriously, old whats his name: he was a lot of fun to watch. Matt Damon was too, partly cause his character was such a dweebe. Its always fun when people lose their egos.

This post is Just about too long as it is. I'll tell you about the other movies and books on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011



Here's a couple shots of the little shuttle ship that I posted last time, docking with the larger craft. Note the funky "bi" shape of its mouth on either end of the shuttle, for docking with the larger ship or with other shuttles, or with other shuttles already docked to the big ship. The large ship is not shown in its fully finished form, because I haven't finished that yet.

If you look carefully you can see black sketch lines where tunnels connecting the core of the big ship to the rim might eventually be. Also the rim of black circles represents locations for rocket engines, which would provide acceleration and also maintain consistent rotation. The large ship is meant to rotate continuously to simulate gravity in the rim section of the larger ship. I worked this out once... the big ship is about 240 feet in diameter, spins at like something around 50 Mph (on the rim) or so to create 1 G on the main level. A funky effect would be that since the radius at the main floor is 100 feet, and each floor is 10 feet above the previous floor, it means that every time you climb a set of stair to the next higher floor your weight would decrease 10%. If I'm 200 lbs on the main floor, I'm only 180 when I go upstairs. 160 or so above that. 10 stories 'up' would put you into the center of the ship where zero gravity lives.

The funky mouth shape is to facilitate docking. Do you remember in Apollo 13 (the movie) when they show the LEM docking with the CM? There's a smooth female funnel shape to the LEM side of the port, to make it hard for the Command Module pilot to miss. The shape I am showing is intended to one up that design. In the Apollo moon missions every move, every docking, etc could be planned out in minute detail on Earth, and the vehicles maximized and specialized for their tasks. Little flexibility was needed because the missions were only a week long or so. Visiting Mars will be about a 2.5-3 YEAR commitment and it makes sense for the vehicles to be much more versatile. That means everything ought to be able to dock with everything. Hence, male/female docking systems are a potential problem.

I show a double set of freely rotating bearings between the main body of each craft and its docking ports. Since the ... sigh... MOTHER SHIPs (what else should I call them?!) are always rotating these bearings are important because they will serve as a sort of rotational shock absorber as two ships rotating at different speeds make contact. The shape of the duck mouth ports, I think, will create a self guidance sort of effect during rendezvous. (big word). I imagine a two step docking process: a physical docking that locks the two ships together with the quadruple (two on each ship) series of bearings allowing a smooth, non ripping each other apart, exchange of rotational inertia, and then a second internal docking- a connecting and sharing of air pressure- after the two ships are stabilized relative to each other.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Funk Monk Chocolate Chunk!