No less than Moore’s Law

I’m writing today’s post on the train and on my laptop*, though I doubt that’s obvious to anyone at first glance**.  Yesterday’s voice-to-text experiment was not a complete failure, but neither was it a success, at least from my point of view.  Also, correcting the weirdness created by the voice-to-text process exacerbated the arthropathy in the base of my thumbs, and I’ve been fumbling and nearly dropping more things than usual since then.  Also, writing on various paperwork at the office has been more painful than usual.  So, I don’t think I’m going to be doing that again any time soon—at least until the technology improves significantly.

Not that I ought to besmirch that technology too much.  It’s a bit like the old bit about the dog that walks on its hind legs (or talks, in an alternate version):  it’s not that it does it well, it’s that it does it at all that should impress you.

I can still remember when my Dad—who worked with computers his entire career, going back to when they were huge, gym-room-sized megaliths—got our family an Apple II+.  We were the first people I knew who had a computer at home (I grew up in a factory town, after all).  I remember my friend Andy saying he was so “ennnvious” of me.  He said it with a grin, though***, and he and I would soon spend many hours learning to program in Basic and writing games to generate characters for Gamma World, for instance, or calculating the conversion of mass to energy via E=mc2 or getting on BBS services with our 600 or 1200 baud modems.

That computer, which was state-of-the-art for home machines, had the expansion to 64K of RAM!  That was a big deal back then.  As far as I know, there wasn’t a home computer with more RAM than that, though I could be wrong.

By comparison, the little mini-laptop on which I’m writing this has RAM that’s just shy of a hundred thousand times larger.  It almost certainly cost a LOT less, even in non-adjusted dollars.  I don’t know what my Dad paid for our Apple, but I’m pretty sure it cost more than $30, which is about what the one I’m working on would cost in roughly-calibrated 1980ish dollars, assuming a constant annual inflation rate of 5%.

The hard drive in this device—and it is far from the state of the art—is a million times larger than the RAM was on that Apple II+, though comparing RAM with a disk drive isn’t really a legitimate comparison.  It’s like comparing Apples and Verbatims.

Speaking of drives, I’m often kind of blown away by some other effects of Moore’s Law.  I sometimes call people’s attention—when I am able to keep them from falling asleep—to the fact that, when I had finished undergrad in 1992, my then-wife and I had a Mac SE, and we bought an external hard drive for it.  She was going to law school and I was doing post-bacc work to get my med school requirements (having decided to go to med school at the last minute, so to speak), and working at the same time, and it was handy not to have juggle all those old, not-so-floppy 3.5” floppy drives.  It cost us a few hundred dollars, if I remember correctly, and it had its own plug for a power supply, and it had a capacity of—wait for it—one megabyte!  And it was amazing!  I still think fondly of it.

Yet now, I can get on Amazon—or go to an appropriate shop, even sometimes a convenience store, certainly many drug stores—and for twenty to forty dollars buy something that has 256,000 times as much memory as that plug-in device that was as big as the base of the computer—and the working portion of the modern memory device is as small as a fingernail.  Also, its memory is much more durable.

And, of course, for well under a hundred dollars—in modern money—I got an external SD drive for the office that has the memory of my old desktop hard drive squared.  A million million bytes (not square bytes, so I was being a little sloppy there), or a terabyte****.  And let’s not even get into processing speed.

Seriously, let’s not.  At least, I really shouldn’t.  I don’t know that subject well enough to have a very good discussion of it.  I know that FLOP is a “floating point operation”.  Also, apparently the Apple II+ could reach processor speeds of up to 8 Megahertz, whereas my current processor is 1.1 Gigahertz, so about 125,000 times faster.  Again, I’m sure there is nuance here, by it’s the rough idea with which I’m dealing.

The point I’m making, overall, is that I shouldn’t be too dismissive or disrespectful of the failings of voice-to-text technology.  It didn’t exist, as such, even ten or so years ago, at least not in any commercially available form.  Now it’s an automatic, included thing in texting and writing functions on the smartphone in my pocket—which is far from top of the line, but is vastly more powerful than even my Mac SE, let alone the Apple II+.

It’s also not an Apple, because I’ve long since become disenchanted with Apple as a company, though their products are surely still good ones.

Nevertheless, typing is still a more effective way to write a blog post, and that’s what I have done and am doing today.  Oh, and by the way, I did in fact record a little five-minute audio tidbit yesterday after finishing my first draft of the “written” post, before someone else arrived at the bus stop and it became a bit too awkward to keep talking out loud to myself in a way that—to me at least—was obviously not a phone conversation.

However, when I went to edit the audio, the traffic noise was just too intrusive.  It was still possible to hear and understand me, mostly, since I was much closer to the microphone, but the noise of cars and the occasional truck was just too much.  I did my best to reduce that noise using various functions of the program, but to make it tolerable, at least to me, led to my voice sounding as though I were speaking through a tight respiratory mask made of cardboard and papier-mâché.

It wouldn’t have made good listening, even though it was only five minutes long, and I certainly didn’t say anything profound enough to make it worth anyone’s while to muscle through it.  So, I don’t plan to upload that.  If I’m going to do audio blogs—or podcasts, if you will—I’ll do them indoors, or in an outdoor setting where I’m away from the noises of traffic and from passers-by who might hear me talking.

With that meandering, weird, tangential bit of fluff, I’ll call today’s blog post to a close.  I hope you all have a good day and a good remainder of the week.  Take care of yourselves, and if you’re fortunate enough to be sharing your lives with people who love you and whom you love, make the most of that.  I don’t seem to be very good at such things over the long term.  Being bad at and awkward and uncomfortable about connecting with people and keeping relationships working doesn’t mean someone doesn’t want to do so, of course—though there probably are such people.  But for those who do want to but are abysmally poor at the process, it can be very unpleasant.  So, if that doesn’t describe you, try to enjoy it.

*I’m sitting on a seat in the train and I’m using my laptop, to be more precise.  I’m not sitting on my laptop, though in the original meaning, a lap is sometimes an appropriate place on which, or in which, to sit.  Still, how could I sit atop my own lap?  Nor am I sitting atop the train, though I understand there are (or have been) places in India where that happens.

**Which is why I’m telling you.

***And it wasn’t terribly long before his family got an Apple III, if I recall, which was also great.

****A terabyte is a trillion bytes, and a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is a million time a million.  Just count the zeroes.  Now, I’m sure that there are fine points to the comparison, and the literal multiples are not exactly correct, and I’m sure some computer scientist out there could point out the subtleties, and that would be welcome, of course—learning is always a good thing.  But it wouldn’t really change my point.

Some blistering insights into soles like hobbits’ (and holes like ants’)

It’s Monday again.  Yippee ki yawn.  Aren’t you all just so excited?

I don’t have much interesting to report or discuss today, because I haven’t really done anything interesting to report or discuss, nor thought anything interesting to report or discuss since my last blog post.

I have continued trying to sort out different shoes and related footwear.  I walked home from the train station on Friday, but it turned out that the new blister on my right foot had not resolved itself very well during the two weeks since it had happened, which is quite annoying.  The blister on the left foot was fine; I had very carefully, and under effectively sterile conditions, poked a pin-hole in it the day after my very long trek, to drain the fluid, and it basically has now become just a thickened area of foot sole, and it gave me no trouble over the course of my five mile walk on Friday evening.

On the right foot, for reasons I don’t recall clearly, I had elected not to drain the blister—I think it just didn’t seem to have as much fluid in it—and a little more than halfway through my trek on Friday, it started to give me more trouble, as if I had something sharp stuck in my shoe.  I didn’t have any such thing; I checked.

Anyway, I rested on Saturday, during which my right foot was sore still, and I decided to drain that blister as I had the other.  I then walked about six miles (total) yesterday, and though the blister is still irritating, it’s better than it was.

Here’s my off-the-cuff hypothesis for why the course of the left and right blisters was different:

By draining the fluid from the left blister, I allowed the two layers of affected skin to re-adhere to each other, and through that process to become firmer and tougher—at least tougher than they were when the fluid of the blister was present.  On the right foot, however, even as it was recovering, there was still fluid in the blister—it never got completely reabsorbed, and the skin layers thus never re-adhered.  So, once I walked a long enough distance, those two layers of skin were effectively separate and lubricated, and began to rub back and forth against one another.  Just as pertinently, at the edges of the former blister, shearing forces pulled the aforementioned layers of skin further apart, causing new damage.  So, it was actually therapeutic to drain the fluid—as long as I protected rigorously against the risk of infection—than to allow the other to retain its fluid in this case.

As I thought about this, I wondered why such a thing might be the case.  Why would our evolutionary heritage saddle us with a process, on the base of our feet of all things, that would be counterproductive to healing?  Then it hit me*.  Our ancestors throughout almost all of evolutionary time did not wear shoes or boots or any such thing, and they certainly didn’t walk for long distances on paved roads.  They would have formed calluses on the soles of their feet, starting at an early age—presumably as soon as they were able to walk—and repetitive shearing forces, such as are produced by the rubbing of the sole of a shoe, would not apply.  They would have had the soles of hobbits, if you will, and those are pure, tough soles indeed.

So, in some senses, our footwear is detrimental.  Of course, in other ways, it’s extremely useful, and does protect us from sharp and hard objects on the ground against which even thicker skin wouldn’t have defended adequately.  Broken glass is certainly something one wouldn’t want to encounter with bare feet.

Then again, I recall that once, quite a while back, a Kenyan athlete won the Olympic marathon in bare feet, so there aren’t severe disadvantages.  It’s got to be pretty hard to do on pavement, though, and the next time that athlete ran, and won—if memory serves—he did wear shoes.

And you wouldn’t want to go walking through a snowy landscape without something on your feet, at least for warmth.

Still, it makes one wonder how many of the things we wear on our feet are relatively unnecessary and even counter-productive.  If I had gone barefoot a lot over the years, would I not even require footwear much anymore, living as I do in south Florida, where there is almost never anything close to snowy weather?  It’s certainly likely that the risk of fungus would be lower!  It’s interesting to wonder whether even the problems I have with my right ankle, due to an old severe sprain, would be fewer if I had not worn various types of footwear.

It’s also interesting to think about how much of the footwear industry is just a self-sustaining fiction, like so many other industries.  Just to be clear, though, I would not claim that this is any kind of conspiracy or evil plot by malevolent capitalists at Nike and Adidas and Reebok and New Balance.  That’s just a stupid thought, and if you seriously entertain it, you should probably slap yourself.

I’m sure there are worse and better people (by whatever criteria one might specify) at nearly all levels in such companies, as there are in the ranks of social services, as there are working in governments, as there are in charitable organizations, as there are in hospitals.  No, the footwear industry, at all its various levels, is just a big, spontaneously self-organizing system, like everything else about civilization.  There is no master plan, and there is no master**, any more than there is a planner, architect, CEO or Personnel office in an ant hill or a termite mound or a bee hive or a school of fish or a flock of birds.  Things happen, and the things that tend to be self-sustaining tend to sustain themselves***, while the things that don’t tend to do so simply fade away with relatively little fuss.

This is part of, or at least related to, why I hate people calling elected officials our “leaders”.  They’re not leaders, nor should they be, and they certainly don’t “run” the country or state or city or whatever.  They’re employees, managers, servants.  And believe me, they are just as fundamentally clueless as everybody else about what’s happening in the world and what to do about it.  They just sometimes pretend otherwise, even to themselves.  But just because they fool themselves, doesn’t mean you have to let them fool you.

That’s about it for today.  It’s been a weird progression of thoughts, but that seems appropriate, given the eventual topic of discussion.

caveman walk

*It’s just like what happened when I was standing in a park and wondering why a frisbee appears to get larger and larger as it gets closer and closer.

**Except the Time Lord called The Master.


From Cyber Monday to confidence mistakes

Well, it’s Monday now, and we’re “seeing how it goes”, I guess.

This is the last Monday of November in 2022.  The Monday after Thanksgiving is sometimes called “Cyber Monday”, but that’s really just a marketing gimmick* invented by companies that sell electronics and related things, to encourage people—preferably without making them think too much—to buy computers and phones and items in those categories as part of their Christmas (or other holiday) shopping.

I think the term Black Friday was something that happened more or less organically; it’s hard to imagine retailers and marketers deliberately choosing something that sounds similar to the names given to the dates of various stock market crashes and so on.  No, it was a term born of legitimate lamentation about just how unpleasantly busy malls and other commercial establishments become on the day after Thanksgiving, when a good percentage of people in the USA would have the day off, and would be unable to deny that the Big Holiday was coming, and that they hadn’t gotten much, if any, of their shopping for it done.

But, of course, smart marketers still took advantage of the term and began setting Black Friday sales and the like.  When there’s a source of available resources, of one kind or another, and a busy ecosystem, something will eventually arise to exploit the resource.

Although, to give full disclosure, apparently it took millions upon millions of years for fungi (and possibly other types of microorganisms, I’m not sure) to evolve that could break down the wood of the oodles of plants that had grown and died in the “carboniferous era”, and that’s why those wood carcasses just lay around, and got buried, and for quite a few million years sequestered that carbon, but were converted by pressure and time into coal and so on.  There was a lot of it, obviously, but it is finite, and we’ve gone through much of those millions of years of cellulose creation (from the very air), and returned a good chunk of it to the atmosphere from whence it came, in a precipitous fashion.

It’s going to take more than just tree planting, I suspect, to counter that, because we can’t plant (and grow) many millions of years of trees in the space of a human lifetime.  The solutions are going to have to be at least a bit cleverer than brute natural selection, and probably multifarious, or else brute natural selection will do what it usually does and eliminate a great many forms of life.

It remains to be seen whether the human race will be smart enough to survive for much longer.  The various faces of politics and social media and the like don’t exactly fill me with optimism, but it’s difficult to make reasonable predictions about such things, because we don’t have any good prior data from which to draw our conclusions.  There have been no previous technological civilizations on Earth, and we’ve found no evidence of any out in the rest of the galaxy or beyond, so we just don’t really know one way or the other.  Anyone who confidently make claims about the future (without explicit or at least implicit caveats) is overconfident, more or less by logical definition.

I’m not one of those people who is impressed by confidence, by self-assurance, let alone by dogmatism or arrogance—though back when I was a pre-teen and into my teens I held a spot of envy for such attitudes.  Honestly, though, now I think overconfidence is generally reprehensible.  Holding beliefs that do not scale with the evidence has been a source of some of the greatest atrocities the human race has ever committed, against other humans and the rest of the world.

Beware of people who are certain without adequate reasons for certainty.  And by “adequate”, I mean reasons that would convince a disinterested extraterrestrial of good intelligence and emotional restraint without any preconceived notions one way or the other, not that would convince some naïve group of humans, even a lot of them.

Overconfidence is truly dangerous, and most of the confidence that people tend to try to invoke or evoke or project is overconfidence.  It’s not a coincidence, nor is it wrong, that “con artist” is short for “confidence artist”.  I recommend against trusting anyone who wants you to trust them rather than to be convinced by their evidence and argument.  It may do you good to remember that “trust” is really always just another word for “calculated risk”.  Try to make your own risk calculations as accurate as you can make them.

Anyway, that’s my meandering blog post for today.  I don’t really have energy to write much more.  I had a particularly bad week last week, so I haven’t made progress on reviewing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, and I want to get a better review in before I write any more about them.  I also have a request—from my sister—to write something about the problems and dangers of sugar.  That’s something that doesn’t require nearly as much review, but I’m not up to doing it today.

I don’t feel much better than I did last week, if any at all; I’ll have to see how the day goes.  But it’s not as though the holiday season is over.  Also, the daylight is getting shorter and shorter, and will be doing so for more than three weeks—although, this being near a local minimum of the sine curve, the rate of change is shrinking, and will reach its minimum absolute value right when the daylight reaches its minimum.  Of course, that also means that even once days start getting longer again, the change is going to be very slow at first, and hardly noticeable.

I honestly don’t know how (or if) I’m going to make it through until Spring.  No one has yet given me any good arguments for doing so, certainly none such as might convince a  disinterested extraterrestrial with no preconceived notions on the matter.  And, as I’m the closest thing to an alien that I’ve ever met, I’m better at making that judgment than many others might be.

But I don’t know for sure.  I do know that I’m tired, and I’m sad, and I’m frustrated, and I’m lonely, and I’m confused, and I don’t feel well.  I also can’t seem to sleep very well at all, even for me.  My world is a miserable place, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better over the course of my life.  I don’t know whether the future is therefore likely to be better, or is more likely to be worse still, or what.

I do have my doubts that it’s worth much effort, though.  Again, I guess we’ll see.  Or, perhaps, we won’t see.  Maybe no actual answers will ever be forthcoming.  If so, that’s okay.  I’d rather be uncertain than have firm beliefs that don’t have good, sound, reasonable bases.  I hope you feel much the same.

*Like “non-GMO” and “organic” and “gluten free” are, for the most part, though for those with actual celiac disease, that last one can be a truly serious matter.

Nothing of worth can ever truly be “unconditional”

It’s Friday now, and for many it is the last day of the work week.  If you are one of those people, congratulations.  If you expect to work tomorrow, as I do, then, well, congratulations on having gainful employment.  It’s not a contradiction to consider both cases worthy of celebration.

I’m writing on my phone today because I didn’t want to take my laptop to the house with me‒I took my Radiohead guitar chords book home with the notion that I might actually get the acoustic guitar out and do some strumming, and the book and laptop together seemed likely to make my backpack unpleasantly heavy to carry.  Alas, the strumming part didn’t happen, but I couldn’t retroactively choose to take the laptop with me.

Because of that, I’m not going to write about Alzheimer’s and/or Parkinson’s disease today; I feel that I can deal with them better when I can type more naturally, and so I’ll address those things perhaps tomorrow.  Today, I’ll try to address a random, walk-in set of topics that crowded my head this morning for unclear causes.  The things that popped into my mind as I headed to the train station included the notions of healthcare as a human right, unconditional love, and free education (free anything, really), all loosely linked to something a coworker of mine said yesterday.

I’ll start with the middle one, because it presents itself (rather intrusively) in my mind in the form of the old song, Unconditional Love, performed way back when by Donna Summer and Musical Youth.  The chorus goes, “Give me your unconditional love; the kind of love I deserve; the kind I want to return.”

I may have written about this notion before, but do you spot the logical flaws there?  First of all, the notion that one can (apparently) demand another’s love, conditional or otherwise, is rather obscene and also unworkable.  But that’s a separate issue from the notion of “unconditional love”.  One big problem with this is revealed in the second line of the chorus:  that such love is the kind the singer deserves.  But if it’s unconditional, then‒to quote the movie Unforgiven‒”deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.  If love is unconditional, then everyone and anyone (and presumably anything) deserves it.  That’s what unconditional means!

Perhaps they might have meant something along the lines of “non transactional” love, but if so, they reveal hypocrisy in the next line, “the kind I want to return”, because they’re saying, openly, that their own love is not merely conditional but also transactional…I’ll love you if and only if you love me unconditionally.  Maybe that was supposed to be the message of the song, to ridicule such words and thoughts and attitudes toward love by revealing their absurdity, but it certainly didn’t come across that way.

On we go to the notion of healthcare as a human right.  This is something one sees at times brought up and bandied about by activists of various stripes, and I can readily understand and sympathize with the urge, but it is illogical.  One cannot have a right to anyone else’s skill or work or abilities or resources, and the provision of healthcare requires these in spades.

True rights are and can really only be rights to be free from things‒free from coercion, free from threats and violence, free from theft, free from censorship and from unjust imprisonment, that sort of thing.  To claim a right to the work of other people, especially if one claims that right precisely because that work is so important, is the opposite of any kind of right or freedom; it is coercion in and of itself.

Now, it may be that a society could decide that it is best for everyone, as a whole and as individuals, to provide (and therefore to pay for) healthcare for all its citizens without any at-the-time-of-service charge, since illnesses and injuries are often unpredictable, and they do not choose convenient times to strike.  A society may decide that taking away some of that danger, that threat, that uncertainty, will be better for everyone and anyone.  It’s not an unreasonable idea.  But that doesn’t describe any kind of right, even if one is a citizen of a society that has chosen that path.  Give it the credit it deserves and call it a privilege, and one that should be cherished, not a right.

This ties in nicely with the notion of other “free” programs or privileges, the main one that comes to my mind being that of “free college education”.  As with most positive, physical things, the notion of “free” simply doesn’t apply.  Air is free (for now), because it’s pretty much everywhere, and it doesn’t require any work apart from the effort of breathing.  But education requires many resources, including the information gleaned by the innumerable predecessors who worked to develop the knowledge that is being shared, and the time and effort of the scholars and teachers who are sharing it.

Some of this is getting cheaper and easier thanks to advancing computer and communications technology, but those things also required the efforts and resources of numerous people before they became available to so many others, most of whom do not have the knowledge or skill to recreate such resources on their own.

Again, this is not to say that it is not worth considering whether a society might be well-served by making education available without local charge to all citizens who wish to participate.  It may be well worth the expense and effort involved for the society, in the long or even the short term.  I’m a big fan of public primary and secondary schools, and I wish they were better funded and in a more egalitarian way, because there are untold numbers of people with great potential who have not been able to realize it because they had effectively no local resources available to do so.

This is truly a shame and a tragedy.  Who knows what scientists or artists or innovative business people (and so on) we have lost without knowing that we lost them?  But calling for there to be “free” education is silly.  Someone, somewhere, has to “pay” for every good thing that requires effort in transforming the world into a desired form, decreasing local entropy by expending energy and producing compensatory entropy increase through the efforts made.

This all ties in‒in spirit‒with the complaint by a coworker yesterday, who moans frequently about lack of money and a fear of being unable to pay rent, etc., but when the boss asked her to come in this Saturday to work, so she could make more money, said she just can’t work six days a week.  Of course, she doesn’t work six days a week, she hasn’t worked six days a week that I can remember.  I work six days every other week; if I don’t, things don’t happen for the many people who come in on Saturdays voluntarily, to try to make a little extra money for their own expenses.

The problem was not with her choosing not to come in on any Saturday‒that’s her decision, and she is the one who loses the opportunity to make more money‒but with her complaint to me that it’s just “not fair” to have to work six days, which is truly nonsensical given to whom she was speaking, and given the number of people who voluntarily come in and work more Saturdays than not.

My response was pretty unsympathetic.  I told her that “fairness” is a fiction, at least as she’s apparently imagining it.  There’s no injustice in her being encouraged to work an extra day once in a while to make extra money, if she’s truly worried about her expenses.  If anything, it would be unfair for her to expect to make more money without doing extra work.

In a sense, nature is always fair; the laws of physics apply everywhere and for all time, as far as we can tell.  They make no exceptions and provide no “get out of jail free” cards or cheat codes to anyone regarding their application.

Other than this, any notion of fairness is purely a human invention.  It may, in some senses and cases, be very good to seek and to create, for a society and for the individuals within it.  Indeed, I would say that it is worthwhile.  But it too is not free; it requires effort, and it requires ownership of one’s responsibility for one’s share of the effort.  It is not unconditional.  To expect unconditional anything from anyone or anything is not fair, but is in many ways quite the opposite.

Education is very good and beneficial, and probably the more of it we have, the better, all other things being equal.  Reasonable pay for good work is certainly a good thing.  Healthcare is an almost miraculous good that we take for granted at our peril, but which would almost certainly benefit all of society more if it were more efficiently and evenly available.  And love is, quite possibly, the most wonderful and beautiful thing the universe has ever brought into existence.  We should show these things the respect they deserve by not taking them for granted in any way.


Can we do better than recycling?

Well, I forgot to bring my little laptop back to the house with me yesterday, so I’m writing this blog post on Google Docs via Google Drive on my phone.  It’s very handy, obviously, but it’s not as good a word processor as MS Word, though it has its own relative advantages.  Also, it’s just easier to write using a full, true keyboard than with the simulated keyboard on a smartphone.

It’s not a good sign that I’ve forgotten my laptop.  It’s been years since I forgot it prior to recent weeks, but now I’ve forgotten it twice within about a month.  I am mentally quite foggy, it seems.  You all can probably tell that already, but it’s harder to recognize one’s own deterioration from within, since that with which one does the recognizing is that which is deteriorating.

How troublesome.

Despite not being at my best, I did have a somewhat interesting idea, yesterday‒not for the first time, though it’s become a bit more coherent with each iteration, as such thoughts seem to tend to do.  I was bringing some boxes out to the big dumpster that is reserved solely for cardboard, when it occurred to me‒again, not for the first time‒that we should not be recycling cardboard or paper.  Neither should we be sending it to landfills.  In landfills, of course, paper decays and decomposes, thereby releasing methane and carbon dioxide, so that’s not good.  But the process of recycling is wasteful and inefficient, producing pollution and releasing “greenhouse gases” gasses in its own right.

New paper and cardboard is made from trees grown on tree farms, or such is my understanding.  In other words, old growth forests don’t get cut down to make paper*, but rather, new trees are planted and grown, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow, though that process is slow and rather inefficient.  But paper and other such things can probably be made from other, faster-growing and even more robust alternatives.

One frequently hears of hemp being touted as a fast-growing source of cellulose and the like, and though I suspect that some of its touted miraculous attributes may be exaggerated, this one seems fairly straightforward.  It’s a rapidly growing plant, the fiber of which has been known to be useful for centuries.  It shouldn’t be too hard to use it for paper and cardboard, and in the meantime, fast-ish growing trees can continue to be planted and take some of the CO2 from the air.

Okay, so, if we don’t recycle it, what do we do with the paper and the cardboard?  We do what some carbon capture technologies are already doing with the carbon they remove from the air: we bury it deep in the earth, preferably in a way that prevents it from decomposing and releasing its carbon back into the atmosphere.  There are ways to do this, in principle, that should be rather cheap.  I would imagine that vacuum packing before deep burying might do the trick.

The ideal place to dispose of it‒indeed it would be a good way of disposing of much of our carbonaceous wastes, including our own bodies, when we die‒would be near a deep ocean subduction zone, where it would eventually be carried back into the mantle of the Earth to remain sequestered and redistributed for millions of years.  Of course, one would probably have to do such deep ocean “burials” on large scales to avoid it being a net detriment, carbon-wise.

Cremation certainly doesn’t make sense when it comes to atmospheric carbon, though it may be better for space considerations. It’s probably worse than burial for the overall environment.  But humans are superstitious about their bodies and the bodies of their relatives and whatnot, so convincing them to do something sensible with them might be a serious uphill battle.

Even plastic should probably not be recycled, except where that can be done in a way that produces something more cheaply and efficiently and in a less atmospherically costly way than making new plastic for particular uses, without subsidizing the process.  Better to do the deep burial thing with that as well.  Plastic can be an excellent carbon sink, and instead of recycling it, we can put more effort into producing neo-plastics from plants rather than petroleum, again removing carbon from the atmosphere.

It’s interesting how feel-good ideas of the past (and the present) can sometimes turn out to be more detrimental than beneficial.  But that’s why one must always assess and reassess every situation as it goes along, testing all knowledge against the unforgiving surface of reality, and not being afraid to rethink things.  At the very least, it can be fun.

I used to think it would be a great idea to breed and/or engineer bacteria or fungi that can digest plastics, but now I realize that this would release a vast quantity of new carbon dioxide and methane and the like into the atmosphere.  Better to have algae that trap carbon and then are converted into plastics, or fuel, or something similar.  At least for now.

Because solving one problem, assuming that even happens, will always lead to new, unforeseeable problems and questions that must be addressed.  But each new question faced and each new problem solved makes the knowledge and capacity of civilization greater.  There is no upper limit on how much can be known‒or if there is, it’s so far beyond what we do know that we cannot even contemplate it sensibly.  There is, however, a definite lower limit of knowledge (not counting “anti-knowledge” or stupidity, which is another point of exploration entirely), and that is zero‒a return to a state with no life, no mind, no information.

Some of us find that state enticing for ourselves, but when I’m feeling unusually generous, I think it would be a shame for civilization to come to naught.  There’s nothing in the laws of nature preventing it from happening, though, anymore than there’s anything preventing a reckless teenage driver from being killed in a car accident, no matter how immortal he feels.  It’s never too early to try to learn discipline and responsibility, to become more self aware and aware of the universe…but it can be too late.

Anyway, that’s enough for the day.  I hope I didn’t bore you.  Have a good day.

*More often, it seems, this is done to create new farmland, which is a separate issue.

If life’s a piece of sh*t, as Eric Idle sang, then where is the flush pull?

It’s Monday, the start of another “work week”.  It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we divide time into both arbitrary and non-arbitrary measures?  A day is a sensible division of time, as is a year, and even a month is not pushing things too much.  But weeks are thoroughly arbitrary, and rather bizarre in that they are comprised of 7 days, a prime number—not that I’m complaining about that, since I’m a big fan of prime numbers.

Anyway, that’s what we’re dealing with, this arbitrary thing called a week, which gets further narrowed into the “work week” which is nominally Monday through Friday, though in fact many people’s actual work weeks are nothing like so well-constrained.  More’s the pity.

It would actually be rather nice if everyone worked the same work week, but then, of course, grocery stores and other shopping places would be closed just when people had the free time to use them, and people would be forced to be more thoroughly idle on the weekends, which would have some advantages but also some disadvantages.  I could see such a thing happening briefly, but cultural evolution would more or less guarantee that something would adjust to fill the niche of open commercial time on the weekends, and other things would have to compete with such newcomers or lose ground and perhaps perish.

Indeed, that is what has happened, such that now, even on days that are official or national holidays, or big holidays, like Christmas and the like, one doesn’t see all that many things closed, other than those few remaining factories and big businesses in the US.  I don’t know how it is in other nations.  But I suspect that they fall into similar cycles of competition leading to mutual erosion of quality of life, in a truly maddening feedback loop, because anyone who tries, individually, as a company or whatever, to focus on reasonable time schedules and the like will be outcompeted, and they will be forced out of the market.

Of course, our various legislative bodies are supposed to make laws that will curtail the excesses of such situations, artificially as it were, but they are subject to similar competition of funding and marketing and donations and so on, and they will almost inevitably fall into one form of corruption or another.  There are also feedback loops that support divisiveness, since one way to rouse one’s own supporters is to treat those who disagree with one politically as immoral, as the enemy, as a literal threat—which is all nonsense, of course.

One party is only rarely much more moral (or immoral) than any other in politics, or in nations.  They’re all just made up of people scrambling locally to survive and thrive, responding to local forces, like anything and everything in the physical universe, and producing larger effects and patterns without any deeper thought or intention, as epiphenomena.  And almost none of them ever stop to take a look at themselves and the forces to which they respond as phenomena, to think about what changes might affect those local forces, and in what ways.

It would be nice if “political science” were approached like an actual science.  I guess that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Well, it’s the start of a new week, as I said, although yesterday was literally the start of the “calendar” week.  I have not yet made my new video, though I had the time to do it.  I simply didn’t quite have the energy to make it, so to speak.  Though the intention to do so at least led me to transfer notes from my previous phone to an email to myself, and to download a new note-taking app to my new phone.  It’s the first “smartphone” I’ve bought that didn’t just come with a note-taking app built in, which surprises me.  It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would cost the manufacturers anything to add, and it might be a selling feature.  But there may be forces at work affecting this of which I am unaware.

I’m not looking forward to going back to the office, though I may at least try to start making a new video once there.  But last Friday, my already high-stress state, which has been getting steadily worse over time—not that this is anyone’s fault but my own “faulty” machinery—was worsened further by a particular idiot and related, peri-idiot idiocy in addition to the usual chaos and nonsense in the office, and some other parallel idiocy, and I literally both shattered my coffee mug and banged my head on my desk until I gave myself a bad bruise and possible minor concussion, knocking some things off the desk from the force of my head banging.  I did other things as well that were harmful to myself, but I won’t get into those as they might be troubling to readers.

Also, the trains are boarding all on one side of the track at my station again, though I’m not at all sure why—there’s no sign of any construction or maintenance on the other side that I’ve discerned, but of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any going on.  But it does stress me out a bit.  I suppose to a normal person it would be just a minor thing, possibly not even an inconvenience.  After all, the side on which we’re boarding is nearer the entrance, so the change in sides means I didn’t have to go across the tracks in the overhead bridge.  But it does make the one side of the track more crowded with people—urrgh, bleah—and it just kind of messes up my expectations, or my usual pattern, I guess.

It’s stupid, I know.  I have mentioned that my machinery is clearly faulty, but unfortunately, I have only limited access either to the hardware or the source code.  I do my best to tweak things as I can, to try to improve them, and I’ve been working on that since at least middle school, with autosuggestion, with self-hypnotism, with trying to enforce personal habits, with simply learning about how such systems work and behave, and trying to pay attention to the way people around me—particularly my older brother and sister back in the day—behaved that worked well for them, and the behaviors and activities that seemed not to produce good results for them.  I think that was a real advantage, having people from whom to learn by example, even indirectly.

But there’s no one from whom to learn, now, or nearly no one.  I mean, there’s something at least to be learned from everyone, there’s almost always some tidbit of skill or knowledge any given human has that I don’t have.  But it’s hard even to tell which ones might be useful, though seeing which ones are definitely not ones to emulate is clearer these days than it was with my siblings, neither of whom did many very counterproductive things relative to the great mass of humans.  I’m very lucky that way.

But I’m not lucky enough to have been hit by a meteor or to have a sudden lethal heart arrhythmia or hemorrhage or be struck by lightning or whatever, so I’m headed to work again today.  As I’ve long suspected, I’m just going to need to be more proactive.  It’s annoying, but there’s a reason for the cliché, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

Chaos surfing is difficult, but it’s the only sport there is

Happy Labor Day to those of my readers who live in the United States.  If any other countries celebrate a similar holiday on the same day, well, happy holiday to you as well.  And to everyone, Happy Monday.

At my office, we’re celebrating workers’ rights by working a half day today, and based on the fact that quite a few other people are at the train station already—though it’s operating today on a weekend schedule—we’re not the only ones.

It’s just another case of competition leading to inadequate equilibria of over-exertion, to the relative detriment of everyone in the system, like trees in a forest having to compete against each other for light, so they all have to keep getting taller, even though it would be saner if they could somehow agree to stay shorter and collect the light of the sun without wasting so many resources on competing with each other.  But they can’t and even if some of them could, they would be vulnerable to any mutant tree that grew taller than the others, and then that one would outcompete and out-reproduce, until all the trees got taller again, until they reached the point where the costs of getting taller were greater than the benefits, on average, and they would level off there, in a state of mutual strain.

Evolution is a bitch goddess, that’s for sure.  But trees are very pretty and majestic, so there are at least minor compensations.

As with trees, human businesses compete with each other, and the ones that stayed open on holidays had advantages over ones that did not, until a great many businesses—ones not constrained by laws forbidding it, otherwise, or union rules and agreements—stayed open on holidays, and ultimately, there are essentially no holidays on which everything is pretty much closed, when everyone stays home with their families.

That’s assuming, of course, that people have families with whom to stay home.  As for me, the only people I really interact with personally anymore are the people at work, so going in to work is my only serious socialization.  When I had my family around, I would have been happy to stay home; my family was probably an equivalent to one of my “special interests”, as they describe it for people with the Syndrome Formerly Known as Asperger’s and related disorders.  Now, though, I mainly just loll about on days when I don’t work.  If I didn’t have my chronic back pain problem, I might feel like doing other things—maybe going to bookstores or something similar.  But as it is, I just try to rest and not pay attention to how utterly empty and pointless my life is.

Hopefully, most of you who are celebrating this holiday are going to spend time with your families and/or friends, maybe having a cookout or something.  That’s the way it was when I was a kid.  Most of the people in my family worked for General Motors and related businesses, so they had the day off, thanks largely to union efforts and the like, such as—I believe—are celebrated by Labor Day.

However, businesses obviously lost money by having their factories idle when they could otherwise be productive, and so once they could transfer at least some of their manufacturing to other countries, they did, and got more work with less cost, and then so did all the other companies, and the equilibrium led to anyone who wanted to stay competitive keeping their businesses open as often as they could for as long as the costs of staying open were lower than the costs of being closed.  And the wheel turned, grinding ordinary lives into powder underneath it.

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but it still does in fact suck.  In the past, there were those who predicted that rising technology would lead to people having more and more leisure time, and yet still being able to produce more than ever in the past.  These people had never studied evolution and natural selection carefully enough, it seems.  Success is always relative to other success in the environment; there’s always an arms race.  Now we work longer hours than ever before, and the most successful people are often the people with the least leisure time as opposed to the other way around.

That’s a bit ironic, I guess.  Success breeds more work rather than less, and the society it creates is so mind-numbing and stressful that hundreds of thousands of people every year die prematurely simply from drug overdoses, because drugs are the only reliable source of any solace or escape many people are able to find.  This is, of course, one of the reasons drugs are illegal; they harm productivity.  Why else would a society be against people doing something to their own bodies, as long as they don’t directly harm others by doing so?  The most popular drug in the world by far—caffeine—increases people’s productivity, at least temporarily, and there is no serious thought of restricting it.

Many of the costs of people’s drug problems are entirely due to the fact that some drugs are illegal.  In many cases, having been convicted of a felony related to drugs makes a person less able to get gainful future employment such as they might otherwise be able to do.  It likewise affects what kind of housing they can get.  And so, far from having “paid their debt to society”, these people never stop paying, for the rest of their foreshortened lives.  Why would one not be willing to risk death by taking unregulated drugs, when life is an empty competition without any good reward even for the most successful?

Then again, life has never really promised any good and lasting reward.  Any creature that found truly lasting satisfaction in a meal, for instance, would live a happy but short and less-reproductive life.  Lions and gazelles don’t have job security, and they don’t get to take vacations from each other.  Every day is a struggle to survive and if possible reproduce, no matter what or who you are.

Economies no more have souls than ecosystems do, because they are both spontaneously self-assembled systems in which whatever survives is just, well, whatever survives and becomes self-sustaining.  They’re conspiracies without conspirators.  There is no master plan behind it all.  Most conspiracies—even ones that would be recognized by all as such—were not nefariously planned by any cabal behind the scenes.  They just happen, and the ones that persist do so because they become self-sustaining, like bureaucracies and governments and businesses and whatnot.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that we aren’t able (so far) to throw off such self-created situations.  Each person and thing can only act in response to the vector sum of all the forces acting on it locally.  Even the laws of physics only act locally.  Gravity doesn’t actually reach across the universe; each change in a local bit of the gravitational manifold affects the bit next to it, which affects the bits next to it, and so on, spreading out at the speed of light as it changes.  This is why there are gravitational waves, and why black holes continue to gravitate even though nothing can actually pass through the event horizon outwards.

Likewise, each bit of the electromagnetic field influences the next bit, which influences the next bit, and spreads along, again, at the speed of light.  That speed of propagation can fool people, whose reactions happen at most at a few meters a second, into thinking that things are truly and directly interconnected instantaneously, but they are not.  Every point in spacetime is influenced directly—as far as we know—only by the points immediately around it at any given time.  The universe itself is, in a sense, just a spontaneously self-assembled system, an unplanned conspiracy.

Humans have the advantage of being able to think about such things and their implications more deeply, and a few of them even do so.  But it’s hard for one bit of water in the middle of an ocean to deliberately change the specific configuration of the world’s seas by the effects of what it can do locally.  A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon Rainforest™ may indeed affect whether a tornado happens somewhere thousands of miles away months later…but the butterfly doesn’t know this, nor does it know how to flap its wings in just the right way at just the right time to cause or prevent any weather formation.  It just flutters around looking for nectar and looking to mate and lay eggs and so on.

Humans are more sophisticated than butterflies, but the equations that govern the interactions of the world are generally higher-order, emergent equations that cannot be solved even in simplified forms, not within the lifetime of the universe.  Only the universe itself has the processing power to compute them, and even it can do so only by enacting them.

And while the Schrodinger equation is, apparently, a linear equation, and remains so in perpetuity, it’s still not readily solvable for anything beyond the simplest of systems.  And anyway, people are not completely sure what it really represents, they just know that it works really well.

Oh, well.  What are you gonna do?  Have a hamburger or a hot dog or some potato salad today with your family if you can.  Give a hug to someone you love and who loves you.  The chaos may be inescapable, but there are still benefits that can be squeezed out of it, if you can learn to surf it for a while.  You might even be able to have fun doing it.

Monday mornin’ couldn’t guarantee that Monday evenin’ you would still be here with me

It’s Monday, July 11th of 2022, and this is the first Monday blog post among the ones that I’ve begun writing every weekday morning, which only started last Tuesday (and that is why this is the first Monday post…as you probably guessed, or could have guessed, even if you didn’t already know).

The fact that the date is 7-11 (in the American system of writing dates, anyway) is rather pleasing, and not just because it consists of two consecutive prime numbers.  It calls to mind an interesting thought—to me, anyway—about cultural evolution*.  The store chain, 7-11, took its name originally, as I understand it, from the hours it stayed open.  That was from seven in the morning until eleven at night, not from seven until eleven am or pm.  That would have entailed a business open for only 4 hours a day (or eight, if it had been done in two shifts, which I guess could have been interesting to make into a store name).

At the time, or so I’m led to understand, having a store open from seven in the morning until eleven at night was exceptional enough that it was worth making into the name of your convenience store**.  But of course, free market economies having at least a little bit in common with biological evolution, it wasn’t long before competitors started showing up, since the resource laden niche of the long-hours convenience store had been shown to exist.  Eventually 7-11 extended itself to be a store worthy of the name 7-7…or 8-8, or 9-9, or any other string of times that loops around the clock and comes back to start again ad infinitum.  They could have just renamed it “24-7” if that had been a cultural meme at the time, but of course, by that time, “7-11” was already an evocative meme, and a highly recognized and popular brand, so there was no need to change.

But as is often the case with cultural evolution due to economic competition, once the store hours had been extended to 24 hours a day, every day, there was no credible way to scale back merely to 7-11, except perhaps in a few rarefied and “underserved” markets.  In most places, the chain would have lost market share to shops that had already sprung up in competition with it…even those that weren’t 24-hour stores, because their advantages were usually in the form of lower prices than 7-11 was able to charge.

Thus, 7-11’s 24-hour schedule, etc. became a sort of peacock’s tail or Irish elk’s antler of the retail economy.  Nothing short of a true and rather complete collapse of world retail seems likely to reset the norm of store hours…or of working hours, or of “at-will employment”, or of other similar configurations.  Because, though change can be brought about by politics, via laws and regulations, politicians—and their promises—are as subject to inadequate equilibria and peacock’s tails (and bird-of-paradise courtship displays) as anyone and anything else.

If the public at large were bright enough, and self-aware enough, to adapt rationally what they voted for, or how they made their purchases, or the hours they were willing to tolerate working, or the conditions under which they were willing to work, they probably wouldn’t ever have landed themselves in the first place in situations where the only ways to reset things are via catastrophic occurrences, deliberate or accidental.  And, unfortunately, since there is rarely any well-thought-out, scientifically planned or tested cultural adjustment done, revolutions and other catastrophes tend to be bloody and destructive and horrible, and to make things worse for everyone, until evolution has time to find another equilibrium that is at least a bit more efficient and tolerable.

But maybe I’m wrong about all that.

All this does bring me around to something that always irritates me:  the way politicians, or activists, or similar people, talk about wanting or seeking to make “change”.  That’s just simply too vague and useless a word to use, in my judgment.  Seeking and working to make “change” is not good enough, because though all improvement is necessarily change, not all change is improvement.  In fact, given the extremely high-dimensional vector space of all possible directions of cultural change, or societal change, or political change, or economic change, and given the comparatively narrow region of that vector space that most people would consider better than the space in which they already reside***, there are far more ways to make life more or less universally and objectively “worse” than there are places in the space of possibility which could be thought to be better.

Even in a one-dimensional space (so to speak), with a random change you’d have a 50-50 shot of either getting better or worse, and that’s as good as it can get even in principle with respect to random movement.  The higher the number of dimensions, the more ways things can potentially get worse (or get no better).  And reality is a very high-dimension vector space of possibilities indeed****.

So, don’t make change just for the sake of “change” without thinking very carefully about what you’re doing, because you’re more likely to make things worse than you are to make them better, by any reasonable definition of “better” you might care to choose.  And if you gain an advantage by keeping your store open longer than others, other people will eventually extend their hours to compete with you until finally, all relative advantage is squeezed down to being so tiny as not usually to be worth the effort.  And everyone will be stuck in a new, more exhausting equilibrium, like tall trees in a rain forest, competing for the otherwise ample sunlight and water, when they could have survived much more easily and efficiently if they could all just have agreed to stay short.  But they couldn’t do that, being trees.

Humans are not trees, of course.  But they don’t seem to be that much smarter.

Have a good week.

*Not to be confused with Cultural Revolution, which tends to be a very bad thing even when done deliberately and “planned” in advance.

**Though I’m not sure if even the term “convenience store” existed before 7-11 conjured it.

***The portion of the vector space in which we now exist clearly has going for it the fact that we can exist here, at least in the short term.  To take an analogy, imagine being on Earth and being given the opportunity to teleport instantly to some other random spot in the universe—or to some other, random planet in the galaxy, even.  What odds would you give yourself that you would survive more than an instant once you reached your destination?  The reason we’re alive here on Earth right now is because we can be.

****This has nothing to do with higher numbers of spatial dimensions, as in String Theory or M Theory or related proposed systems of physics.  Those entail literal, spatial dimensions, of the sort through which we regularly move, though with certain special characteristics, whereas I’m talking about dimensions of vector spaces, or “phase spaces”, the dimensions of which you can think of as being analogous to any of the axes on a set of graphs that map data relative to other data.