Tag Archives: ideas

Computer memory isn’t our memory and AI isn’t our intelligence


Since the beginning of the digital age, we have referred to quickly retrievable computer storage as “memory”. It has some resemblance to memory, but it has none of the complexity of our memories and how they work. If you talked to most people about this, I don’t think there would be many who would think they are the same.

Artificial Intelligence isn’t our Intelligence, regardless of how good it gets. AI is going to have some resemblance to our intelligence, but it has none of the complexity of our intelligence and how it works. Yet you can talk to many who think that over time they will become the same.

I was thinking about that last week after the kerfuffle from the Google engineer who exclaimed their software was sentient. Many many think pieces have been written about it; I think this one is the best I read from a lay person’s perspective. If you are concerned about it or simply intrigued, read that. It’s a bit harsh on Turing’s test, but I think overall it’s worth your time.

It is impressive what leaps information technology is making. But however much it resembles us as humans, it is not human. It will not have our memories. It will not have our intelligence. It will not have the qualities that make us human, any more than a scarecrow does.

A sharp critique on stoicism

It seems to me that Stoicism has had a good run recently. I have seen plenty of references to stoicism and famous stoics, and those references have been positive. So it was refreshing to come across this piece, Don’t be stoic: Roman Stoicism’s origins show its perniciousness. The whole piece is worthwhile, but the closing especially so:

The world stands in the middle of a pandemic, a climate crisis, and, in many countries, our own crises of (at least quasi-) democratic self-governance. It may be tempting to embrace a philosophy that counsels us not to be sad, not to mourn the things we’ve lost, to accept all that happens as fate, and to do our duty even as the world crumbles around us. But we should not write speeches for Nero; nor should we glorify the power of the emperor. We should mourn our families when bad things happen to them, our cities when they are threatened, our houses when they burn or flood. It is not easy to feel grief, and it is tempting to seek out exercises to suppress it. But to look around the world and feel the pain of injustice, to understand and wallow in the hurt of the natural world – this is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of humanity, and the first step towards taking action. Because if you accept your fate joyfully, as a Stoic sage should, you’ll never try to change it.

Well said. There are times when change is impossible and suffering inevitable and in such times stoicism (and other philosophies of detachment) can help. More often than not, change is possible and suffering is optional. In those times, you need a better philosophy to guide you. Keep than in mind while reading Marcus Aurelius or Seneca.

The solution to poverty and crime and homelessness is simple

And what is the solution? GIVE PEOPLE MONEY. Just give it to them.

Here’s what I mean. Case study #1: Liberia’s stunningly effective way to reduce shootings and other crimes.

Case study #2: The expanded child tax credit lifted 3 million children out of poverty.

Read and see. Over and over and over again, it’s always the same. You give people money, much of our social problems go away. Much? Most. All? Not all.

Shouldn’t we give them jobs? Jobs is a way to give people money. Good jobs are a great way to give people money. Crappy jobs, not so much. In fact, many jobs are an indirect way of giving people money, it’s just that people sit in an office for eight hours a day filling out online forms or sitting in meetings because someone has a sense that they are needed so that someone else can have someone give them money.

Where does the money come from? From people who have more money than they know what to do with. From programs we fund now to the hilt because we worry about crime. From taxes on people and organizations that harm our society, that pollute, that run their businesses on the assumption that it doesn’t matter that they treat people badly.

Won’t this cause moral hazards? It’s a good tradeoff to have.

In the future we will be harshly criticized for not doing the thing that is obvious to alleviate all our problems because of our inhumanity towards others. For allowing people to be homeless. To be hungry. To suffer needlessly. The obvious thing is to give people money.

Once they have money, then the next thing is to help them with the things they need to have a better life.

 

The elusive spotlight (being a pop star as a career)


Pop stars have unique careers. For some of them, it can be like being an athlete: you do it while you are young and then you are done. That what came across to me in this piece: ‘That’s it? It’s over? I was 30. What a brutal business’: pop stars on life after the spotlight moves on | Music | The Guardian.

Then there are some artists — not as many — who go on and on and whose careers shift and they become more akin to academics (e.g, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen).

What happens after the spotlight shifts depends on the artist. Read the article and see.

It’s an interesting career, to say the least. All the power in the world to those that can make a go of it.

What skateboarding can teach you (even if you don’t skateboard)


What or where is the value of skateboarding? If you read this, you might think the value is endless failure: Sisyphus, skateboarders, and the value in endless failure from Psyche Ideas.

Perhaps. But like many activities, the value that comes from any activity is dependent on the participant.

I think one thing I got from thinking about this is putting “failure” in perspective. For skateboarders, failure is irrelevant (barring injury). They just try and try again. They may eventually succeed occasionally at what they are attempting. They may even master parts of skateboarding.

I think this is a meta-lesson we could all use. When it comes to learning things, failure should be accepted and its meaning diminished. Set up a learning environment where failure has little cost, and get on with learning.

That’s a lesson from skateboarding that I get.

How Many Close Friends Do You Need in Adulthood is a good question


How Many Close Friends Do You Need in Adulthood asked The New York Times:

One 2016 study suggested people who have six or more friends have improved health throughout their lives, while a 2020 study by Suzanne Degges-White, professor and chair of the Counseling and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University, found that middle-aged women who had three or more friends tended to have higher levels of overall life satisfaction.

Hmmm.

Before you dismiss it — I see you, fellow introverts! — go read it. Not everyone needs the same number of friends, nor does everyone need the same type of contacts. But like other parts of our lives, if we neglect our friendships, it has a adverse health on us.

We all need friends. And like exercise, we have to work at it as we get older. When we are younger, it’s much easier to find and make friends. For proof of that, check out this: Who We Spend Time with as We Get Older from FlowingData.

It’s been hard for anyone, young or old, to make and keep friends during these pandemic. Especially in places like Toronto, which suffered numerous lockdowns. But the weather is getting nicer, so get outside (literally) and work on your friendships.

Not every act of kindness is good

It’s tempting when reading these two pieces

  1. Community fridges pop up in Toronto neighbourhoods during COVID-19 pandemic–
  2. Councillor blasts group building shelters after altercation at Dartmouth park

to say, “at least they’re trying”. Or to ask “what’s the alternative”. Or even to think “you don’t support these ideas because you are “heartless, bourgeois, selfish,” etc.

First off, let me say the impulse of these initiatives are good. And the alternatives — lack of food and shelter — are terrible. So in that way these are good ideas. Some food and some shelter is better than none.

But in comparison to any other initiative involving food and shelter these ideas are poor ones. These shelters are good because they are shelters and nothing else. And the idea of having a community fridge is a disaster waiting to happen.

I’m glad that these initiatives provoke the comfortable to make a better effort to help the poor and homeless. But I will never think these are good works for any reason other than the basic ones.

Not every act of kindness is good, and sometimes a small act of kindness allows a bigger problem to fester.

32 good pieces for a Sunday afternoon


It’s spring cleaning time. All these links are worth reading and worth commenting on, but I never found either the time or the words to do so. But on a quiet Sunday, you might find something here worth reflecting on:

  1. Intriguing:  How civilization started
  2. How to stay young (if you want to)
  3. Hmmm:  On mental illness
  4. It’s a problem:  When the rich don’t pay their fair share it exposes society to risks
  5. The problem with the trolley problem
  6. The history of holes tells a story of power and potential
  7. How to fulfil the need for transcendence after the death of God
  8. A stable sense of self is rooted in the lungs heart and gut
  9. Stephen Hawking’s Philosophical(!) Position on the Uncertainty Principle
  10. George Saunders’ commencement address: Try to be kinder – good advice
  11. New York’s Shadow Transit | The New Yorker
  12. Now adults have them – Once Upon a Time, Bedtime Stories Were Just for Kids
  13. Life is hard: I work at an office with no parents and it suck
  14. A sad story:  Drug addicted teens
  15. Something we can forget:  People Who Take Drugs Are Real People
  16. Good luck with this The out of touch adult guide to kid culture
  17. Sleep well: Insomnia tips
  18. On twitter: twitter fact watch
  19. The best read it later apps
  20. Helpful:  Working woman’s handbook
  21. Ha!  Stop being a jerk on Venmo!
  22. Can maintenance save civilisation?
  23. More on old age De Beauvoir on Aging
  24. If you care:  Is “cancel culture” over?
  25. On horseshoe theory
  26. The Crito by Plato – worth reading
  27. Not sure this is a thing:  Radical Centrism
  28. Thich Nhat Hanh on Life War and Happiness
  29. Truth is real and philosophers must return their attention to it
  30. For those who care: Fantastic Beasts Never Understood ‚Harry Potter Fans – The Atlantic
  31. End-of-Life Conversations Can Be Hard but Your Loved Ones Will Thank You
  32. Finally  On that crazy Fourier

On the Zanclean Flood and other extinction threats


The world is full of extreme events that can wipe us out. Case in point, this: When the Mediterranean Sea Dried Up. If you are not familiar with the story….

About 5.9 million years ago, due to a combination of tectonic movements and changes in climate, the Mediterranean Sea mostly dried up for over 600,000 years. The Messinian salinity crisis may have raised global sea levels by as much as 33 feet and decreased the salinity of the world’s oceans, raising the freezing point. And then, much more suddenly, it was refilled in less than two years in the Zanclean Flood.

The Zanclean Flood, like the Chicxulub meteor that killed off the dinosaurs, are two reminders that the planet we live on can be subjected to extreme events that can kill off many of us without really harming the planet itself. have no doubt that this is going to be true of global warming as well. Perhaps even a nuclear war. We can be removed and the planet will continue to operate without us.

The world is more hostile to us than we let in. We are only making it worse with dangers such as nuclear weaponry and climate change. We need to be striving to increase our chances of survival, not decrease them. There are enough forces in the universe that can destroy us.

(Image By Paubahi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20096173)

It’s Sunday afternoon. A good time to read Mary Oliver. Here’s her 10 best poems

There is never a bad time to read the poetry of Mary Oliver, but Sunday afternoon seems like an especially good time. You may have some of her work already. If so, why not pull it down and savour it?

If you don’t have anything by hers, I recommend you look at this list put together by the good people at the Penn Book Center: 10 Best Mary Oliver Poems – PBC

You may have a favourite outside of these. As for me, it has two of my favorites, Wild Geese and The Summer Day. Go and enjoy. Happy Sunday to you.

P.S. I wrote this on her as well. Some good links in that post.

On Auden, Brueghel, and the brilliant way the New York Times combines them

I’ve posted before on The very cool AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) section of the New York Times. That time it was concerning their exploration of the Apollo 11 mission.

The folks at that section have done it again, this time with a poem from W.H. Auden titled Musée des Beaux Arts. It’s a beautiful poem, and simply reading it by yourself is a fine experience. But click here and immerse yourself into it, with the richness of analysis provided, and you will come away with a deeper level of understanding and appreciation of the work both of Auden and Brueghel.

On the ethics of the pig heart transplant

David Bennett Sr. has died, two months after receiving a genetically modified pig’s heart. Like any transplant operation, there were ethical decisions to make. If you are an animal rights activist, you have even more ethical decisions to think about. But this particular transplant brings in even a broader range of ethical considerations, which is obvious once you read this: The ethics of a second chance: Pig heart transplant recipient stabbed a man seven times years ago.

I generally have faith in medical professionals to make the right ethical choices when it comes to transplants.  I think he should have received the transplant and a transplant from a pig is acceptable. But read about it yourself and see what you think.

 

On Stonehenge and the Judean Date palm: the past is never gone

I have been thinking much on these two pieces I’ve read recently:

One thing I find interesting about them both is how something that could be considered part of the Past is now part of the Present. Stonehenge keeps being meaningful to us now by revealing things about the people of that era; the seed for the Judean date palm shows us what a long lost plant looks like now.

The past is never past. We choose not to pay attention to it, but it remains, piled up behind us, a huge closet full of things that were once in the present. They remain there until we find a reason to make them present again.

Micropayments are generally a bad idea. Web 3 is not going to fix that

There are certain zombie ideas that arise from time to time that cannot be killed. “Micropayments are good and we should have them everywhere” is such an idea. Like many zombie ideas, something new will come along and suddenly they rise up from the grave and start wandering around again. In this case, what has revived this particular zombie idea is Web 3.

I get why this idea gets revived. IT people love it because it is in their wheelhouse. They can imagine writing code to create small payments for any transaction, and once you have millions or billions of transactions, it adds up to some serious money.

This is not to say micropayments is always a bad idea. Micropayments happen in limited ways right now. Every time you use something like ApplePay or GooglePay, a very small transaction cost goes to those big providers of the service. What makes them acceptable is

  1. they are invisible
  2. they are very small
  3. the service provided outweighs the cost significantly

When I see IT people talking about micropayments, they are describing something that is none of those things. And so instead of being beneficial, they just become annoying and lead to their downfall.

In IT when decentralization gets painful, centralization occurs. In business, the pain of many small payments gets removed by turning into ac bundle. Bundling usually works out better for the provider in many cases. Spotify could charge you a penny a song you listen to and likely still do well, given it pays artists a small fraction of that. But by charging people one fixed price, they can aggregate their users and make more money that way than if they charged you per stream. Plus its more customer friendly I think. Most people don’t want to worry about managing many small costs: bundles help with that.

For more on this, here are two pieces that support my thinking:

On the five different levels of hype

In tech we often talk about the hype curve. When we do, we don’t distinguish the degree of hype we are talking about. This piece does exactly that: The five Levels of Hype. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the hype of marketing a new product is a different thing than the hype of a new technology. To see what I mean, see this chart from the article:

Much of the hype we are seeing around cryptocurrencies are up there in level 4 and 5. But this isn’t restricted to just that technology.

A good piece. Anyone familiar or referencing with the Gartner Hype Curve should read it.

New New York: the plan to expand Manhattan

One thing I like about Americans is their desire to dream big. This is easily demonstrated in this New York Times piece about expanding Manhattan.

It’s a smart idea. Is it doable? I don’t know. I do know that the cost of shoring up Manhattan to deal with global warming is going to be a big one. Why not use real estate and additional taxes to do that? Read the article and see what you think.

1980s me would have laughed at the idea of expanding Manhattan, since so much of the existing island was unlivable. Amazing how much has changed.

On twitter and MLK Day

So yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US. I think it is great Americans celebrate the life and work of Dr. King, and I hope all Americans take the day to reflect and work towards a more perfect union inspired by his ideals and vision.

It’s always a weird day on Twitter, though. I think this Wesley Yang quote hits the nail on the head:

MLK said some stuff that radicals like to quote and other stuff that conservatives and moderates like to quote, and of course what made him what he was is the ability to hold these contrasting impulses in balance

It’s true: MLK did say some radical things and he also said some moderate things. Moderate people want to claim him for his own and ignore the radical things, and radicals do the reverse. He was trying to bring people together and to move civil rights forward. There was no one way to do that. So was he moderate or radical? It depended on the context.

It’s also a weird thing when someone or some organization references Dr. King and someone quote tweets that and says “oh by the way, they are hypocritical to says that for reasons A, B, and C”. It’s the nature of people to dunk on others on twitter: I feel it just feels like petty squabbling on a day we should aspire to better.

The other thing that seems to happen on twitter every year on MLK day are tweets stating how unpopular he was at one point.  As Gallup states:

in 1966 — the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure — it was 32% positive and 63% negative.

Which is not false. It’s also not the whole picture. As CNNPolitics shows, “Black Americans” saw things differently:

 The vast majority in 1963 thought his work for equal rights was moving at the right speed (71%) or not fast enough (21%) compared to 8% who believed it was happening too fast. In 1966, 84% of Black adults had a favorable view of him, while 4% had an unfavorable view.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an active political figure trying to effect major change. It is not surprising that his popularity was not high like it is now. That’s fairly common of political figures.  For additional context, he was listed as one of the top ten admired men in the nation in 1964 and 1965 but not 1966, according to that Gallup piece.

Popularity is a complex thing to measure. People trying to say King was unpopular back in his time are being highly selective in their selection of data, to say the least.

Anyway, I hope people’s tweets are aspirational versus petty when the holiday arrives.  I think Dr. King would want that.

On Seneca, or good advice is good advice, regardless of whom it comes from

I’ve always thought highly of the wisdom dispensed by Seneca. Many do. However, I started to think about it more after reading this: Lucius Annaeus Seneca | Daily Philosophy.

Seneca’s advice is admirable and worthwhile. His life, less so. Read that piece and you will see what I mean.Which is once again why I will conclude that good advice is good advice, regardless of whom it comes from. Not everyone is as consistent in life and thought as Diogenes. 🙂

 

Money is not fake or abstract or unreal if you are poor

Or so I thought when I was read this piece, From crypto to meme stocks to NFTs, money has never felt more fake – Vox, especially this:

… NFTs — non-fungible tokens, little digital assets that exist on a blockchain — are having a moment. What’s not really clear is why. Then again, everything about money feels a little strange at the moment. Between NFTs, crypto, and GameStop, AMC, and other meme stocks, money has rarely felt more fake. Or, at the very least, value has rarely felt so disconnected from reality.

Two thoughts on that. First thought: money does seem fake for many these days. In times where there is a surfeit of capital and assets have highly inflated valuations, money can seem unreal.

Second thought: it’s important to backup and define what money is. Money is a medium of exchange. That’s it. If you are well off, and you are using money to exchange one abstract good for another, it can see fake and unreal.

If you are poor, then it is a different story. If you are poor,  the things you need your hard earned money to exchange for are very concrete goods and services. Concrete things like food and shelter and medicine and transportation. All those things are denied you without money. For poor people, money is not abstract at all, and the absence of it makes life difficult.

The richer you are, the higher in abstraction the medium you call Money is. But for poor people, it is not an abstract thing at all.

What did you learn in 2021? What will you learn in 2022?


Well if you are Tom Whitwell, quite a lot, as he shows here: 52 things I learned in 2021 by Tom Whitwell from Fluxx | Fluxx Studio Notes

His piece is fascinating. Even better, it makes me think I might like to keep a similar log for 2022. Maybe you want to as well! Meanwhile read Tom.

(Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash )

On the things parents tell their kids and the things kids remember

Vihos Sweets

This is a picture of a street in downtown Glace Bay. Next to the Dominion is a small place called Vihos Sweets. It didn’t exist when I was growing up, but it did when my mom was a teen. She worked there for a time, and she occasionally talked about it.

Though she didn’t talk about it a lot, it stuck in my mind and I often thought about it. I don’t know why. Maybe I liked the sound of it. Maybe the way she described it made it seem special. Perhaps I was trying to imagine having my own job someday. I am not sure.

I wonder of the many things I’ve told my kids what they remember. You hope that the big lessons you try and impart to your kids are the things that stick. But often times it is the little things. Things like the name of a place you worked at for a short time when you were younger.

Try and be comfortable with the notion that  you have less control than you think.  You can only live and speak as best as you can, and hope that is enough to send them in the right direction. They may recall the important things you passed on. They may recall something you said in passing. They are their own person, and they will absorb and recall what they need.

(Image via http://capermemories.blogspot.com/)

 

How I track my goals and my year using spreadsheets: my 2021 review. (Maybe you can steal this approach)

I’ve used a number of ways to track my goals and my year, and I have found spreadsheets the best way to do it.

Below are snapshots of the two worksheets I used in my spreadsheet. The first image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding my responsibility for people and other things. The second image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding myself. Each row is a week in the year. If I did nothing to advance the goal that week, I colour the cell red. If I did something but fell short, I use yellow. If I had a good week, the cell is green, and if I had a great week the cell is purple.

What’s nice about using colour like this is that I can zoom out and see how I am progressing over the year.

In the first two columns above I track how much I do for my son and daughter. Pretty good there. The next column is what I do for my brother and sister: I started weak but picked up throughout the year. It was good, and better than last year, but it can be better still. Next column is for keeping in touch with friends. It’s tough in a pandemic but I could email and use social media. The last three columns are my home, my finances, and my involvement in politics.  I was much better with political engagement last year: this year the pandemic wore me down. Likewise I did ok managing my home and finances this year but it could be better. All in all too much red and yellow in those last 2 columns. (Part of the problem is I find them thankless tasks that provide little or no good feedback.)

After my responsibility to others,  my goals are managing myself. I found I did poorly on the hard parts of this but better on the soft parts. lol! The first two columns above are fitness (do more exercising) and reading (do more reading). I get a D to an F grade for much of the year there. The third column tracks how much I draw and do other art. Again, D or maybe a C-. I did well writing (column 4): I wrote every week in my main blog, and sometimes elsewhere.  After that comes column 5 and IT skills development: I got maybe a B- there. Often that takes a backseat to other things. In terms of cooking (column 6) that was easy in a pandemic! I did a lot of cooking and cooked hundreds of different recipes. (I track all the meals separately because I am a nut.)

For a long time I felt homebound and never did things for myself, so I tried to improve that and make them goals. So the last three columns are Treats, Restaurants I’ve tried, and new and good things I have done. Mostly I’ve done well there, compared to reading and fitness. Sigh. Ah well. (Those are easy to do, since the feedback you get once you do them is really good.)

The colour coding is subjective, of course, and in a pandemic the bar to green and purple is lower. But as a consultant, I quite like this way of tracking my goals.

Now I have a lot of goals, I admit. One thing nice about that is that I usually feel like I am accomplishing something. So if I am not getting in shape, at least I am keeping in touch with people and taking care of other things.

I also don’t track everything in a spreadsheet: I have some goals I track elsewhere, for example for some relationships and responsibilities. Likewise I sometimes have goals that are in a limited time window of weeks instead of months: they don’t go here.

It may seem like a lot to track, but I find I spent a few minutes each day then I can get it done. Plus I can course correct this way too and shift my priorities around.

If you struggle with goals and tracking them and moving forward, I recommend this approach. It’s fast and painless.

Here’s to achieving your goals, small and big, in 2022.

10 good pieces to mull over these holidays

  1. A good piece on how grief affects us:  How the brain responds to grief can change who we are.
  2. Good for people who have monkey minds, like me:  How to Quiet Your Mind Chatter
  3. Good advice here:  How to (Actually) Change Someone’s Mind.
  4. Really something for all ages, not just olds like me:  I Just Turned 60 but I Still Feel 22.
  5. Same for this: 88 Important Truths I’ve Learned About Life 
  6. The pandemic may not have killed ironic living, but it has affected it:  The Great Irony-Level Collapse
  7. A example of the gaps in AI and ethics still. Wide gaps IMO:  Moral Machine 
  8. Speaking of ethics:  Is it okay to harvest pig kidneys to save human lives? 
  9. A good piece on Wittgenstein:  Los Angeles Review of Books 
  10. Finally, worth a read is this:  George Forss 80 Photographer Discovered on the Streets of N.Y. Dies.

In praise of the the post-it note (and Clive Thompson)

post it notes
First up, the post it note. Clive has done a great job of taking something we likely all take for granted and making us think about it in a way that we can really appreciate its value. He does it here specifically with the Post-It note: 13 Ways Of Looking At A Post-It Note | by Clive Thompson | Nov, 2021 | Medium

He’s been doing it for many other topics too. Here’s just one example: Tiny Books an Incredibly Long Piano and Why Are Boss Fights So Damn Hard? .

Basically what I am saying is you should subscribe to his newsletter. He’s been on fire with it recently. He says it is a good way to procrastinate. I say it is a good way to learn about all sorts of interesting aspects of the world.

Write down on a post-it note: Subscribe to Clive’s newsletter. Better yet, just go off and do it. You’ll be glad you did.

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash )

On de Klerk and Hume (and Cromwell too)

Cromwell
FW de Klerk died last week. While there were many reactions to his death, I thought this one was best. His legacy is complicated. But he has a legacy that is complicated and not one that is simply horrible because of the bold actions he took. I had thoughts on de Klerk, but that piece is better than anything I could have written.

I’d argue that almost everyone’s legacy is complicated. I especially thought that after reading about how David Hume’s tower was renamed last year. I suspect that eventually the only things that will be named after people will be for people whose lives we no longer care about. But who knows? As I wrote earlier, the naming of things (and the removal of names) is about power and eventually those newly in power want to name their things so they become their own.

Perhaps we should not erect memorials at all. Perhaps we all need to be iconoclastic. If we do cast new ones, then the memorials we erect of people need to include the “warts and all” aspects of them. Make the memorials a lesson instead of an icon to worship.

One thing I want to add on de Klerk is that when I was younger, I never thought that the Soviet Union, Apartheid, or the Troubles in Ireland would end in my lifetime. For every de Klerk there was a Paisley in Northern Ireland who would fight tooth and nail to prevent change from happening. But it did happen, because of people like Gorbachev, de Klerk and Mandela, Trimble and Hume. They should be acknowledged for the good they did.

(Image from a story on the painter who painted Cromwell, warts and all: Samuel Cooper)

 

What do modern day philosophers believe?

What do philosophers think? Is there any ideas they hold in common? Is there any progress in philosophy?

Those are all good questions. If you want some answers to them, you could consult this poll. If you did, you would find what they think and what ideas they have in common. You will even find most agree there is some progress when it comes to philosophy.

I found it interesting that the poll for the Footbridge problem (pushing man off bridge will save five on track below) was  22% for push while 56% said don’t push. Meanwhile, for the trolley problem, 63% said switch while 13.3 said don’t switch. Not sure how to think about that. I also found it interesting that when it comes to time, 38.2% said the B-theory is correct. I tend to believe that as well. Finally, what they thought the aim of philosophy is was fascinating.

(Photo by Giammarco on Unsplash )

On capitalism, environmentalism and architecture, and the need to vacate, retreat and celebrate holidays

Last week there was much discussion about a dorm being sponsored by Charlie Munger for UCSB, which resulted in resignations among other things. Here is an example of the floor plan:

The big point of contention was the lack of windows for the bedrooms. Munger, who has been dictating the design, said it was more important that students have their own room than windows. I agree that having your own room is very important. My son is attending my alma mater and unlike me he has his own room in his first year and I applaud this. But he also has a window. It doesn’t have to be an either / or situation. We need both.

I’ve been thinking about this situation and I think in some ways many people who talk about urban housing have all become like Charlie Munger. In discussions they have, the living space of people living in cities gets smaller and smaller. Sure there are windows, but they are little windows looking out on little else. They are nothing like this:

And why is that? It’s because we assume we cannot afford it. Capitalism says people cannot live this way. Environmentalists often support that, saying dense cities with dense buildings are greener than suburbs or single dwellings.

Most of us, me included,  assume that has to be the way it is. We don’t ask ourselves is that a good way for us to live constantly I think that is key. I love living in cities for the most part, but I think we all need to get away from them and have a good place to get away to.

Vacation and holiday have had their meaning diluted  over time. Many would consider a retreat something we do because of a breakdown in our lives. I think we need to reconsider this. From time to time we need to vacate our current environment. We need to have holidays where we celebrate our spirituality and our connection to a greater purpose. We need to retreat from the day to day and restore ourselves.

I love where I live, but I would love to be able to go to this place from time to time. To vacate my current life and retreat to this place and celebrate a holiday.

Is it affordable? Well, there is a cost each of us bears for living in small spaces right up against each other all the time. The pandemic is just one of many costs that have resulted in this. But we suffer the cost in other ways in terms of mental health and much more. We need to revisit these costs and determine a better way to understand what we can afford. We need to live better. We need our space and our windows.

For more on the cabin shown here, see this: This prefabricated cabin is a holiday retreat that balances a rustic personality with modern details! – Yanko Design

On growing up with Dr. Suess

As a kid in the 60s I grew up reading Dr. Seuss. You could still get “Dick and Jane” books at the time, and let me tell you, the difference between them was stark. Reading Dick and Jane was drudgery. Reading Dr. Seuss was fun,and I associated reading with fun because of him.

Last year there was a big controversy about him that lead to six of his books being pulled from print. Dr. Seuss Enterprises said they did because these books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Fair enough. Some of the images like those above from  “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” are terrible in my opinion.  I don’t think there is much lost in that book being pulled from print. I would pause for one of those books though. The imagery from “Scrambled Eggs Super” seems vaguely offensive in my mind but it echoes more offensive imagery from other books depicting Arabs and Eskimos, so I am not surprised it went. I am disappointed: I loved that book. But that’s just me. It’s not hard to see the imagery as stereotypical, if not as negative as some of the others.

Thinking about Dr. Seuss and his imagery is difficult. At times blatantly racist (especially early in his career) and other times strongly progressive (later). Because of the former I can see why many educators and others would like to see him gone. I suspect his influence will wane over time and educators and parents will shift to newer books with representations that better reflect their values. Maybe someday we won’t even see the Grinch any more at Christmas.

That said, I am happy I grew up with Dr. Seuss books and read the ones I did. I am glad I read the ones I did to my kids too. (None of which were among the six.)  His books were very helpful in teaching me and others the joy of reading. I hope the books that come to replace his do the same.

For more on this topic, it’s easy to find links to the controversy on the Internet. Here are some of the pieces I’ve collected:

On intelligence: in cells, in A.I., in us


This article on cells – yes, cells! – navigating mazes is fascinating and worth a read: Seeing around corners: Cells solve mazes and respond at a distance using attractant breakdown

After reading I thought: I need to rethink “intelligence”. Navigating mazes is something that was considered an intelligent act. Indeed one of the early experiments in A.I. was in the 1950s, when Marvin Minsky developed a smart “rat” (see above) to make its way through a maze. (That’s worth reading about as well.)

Seeing the cell navigate the maze, I thought: if the qualities we associate with intelligence are found at a cellular level, then I don’t really understand intelligence at all. It’s as if intelligence has an atomic level. As if intelligence is at all levels of life, not just the more complex levels.

Maybe the concept of intelligence is next to meaningless and needs to be replaced by something better. Read those pieces and think for yourself. After all, you are intelligent. 🙂

The best example of why we need to regulate the social media industry? The auto industry


Wired magazine makes the case, here: Facebook’s Fall From Grace Looks a Lot Like Ford’s.

Worth considering. Social media is struggling to govern itself and Facebook is often downright defiant.

P.S. In Facebook’s defense, you may seem them play the “we are weak” card. The New York Times makes the case for their weakening, here.

(Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash )

On the creator economy, access, and monetization


The following quote from an Axios piece struck me as odd:

The creator economy was supposed to democratize media, but it turns out that a small portion of creators still reap the most revenue for their work across multiple platforms.

I wonder how they came up with their assumptions. The creator economy has been going on since blogging and other Web 2.0 technologies, and while it has given creators equal access to platforms, it has never spread the wealth. Ever. There is a reason why books like The Long Tail were successful: they accurately described how things worked. Platforms come and go, from Blogger to Twitch, and no doubt more will come in the future. Everyone will have equal access to them. Likewise, a few will reap the lion’s share and the rest will get crumbs. That’s how it works.

For more on it, see: The creator economy is failing to spread the wealth – Axios

The fascinating history of the word “lox”


I thought this piece was great: The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years. It turns out the world “lox” has not changed meaning in all that time. As the linguist in the piece explains:

One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University.  “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,” he says. “Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’ It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.”

That’s a great piece. Not just for the story of the word “lox”, but on the study of language and its origin. Recommended. It makes me want to run out and get a plate!

(Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash)

A great introduction to Bayes’ Theorem and how it relates to COVID-19

You may have heard references to Bayes’ Theorem in light of the pandemic and wondered how it is relevant. Well I am here to help. First off, here’s a great guide to Bayes’ Theorem from the website MathIsFun.com. Even if you are math phobic, I think you will be able to read that piece and understand it. Secondly, check out the site Varsity and how it explains how Bayes’ Theorem and COVID-19 testing are related. Both are well worth a read.

Learn Bayes’ Theorem. It’s good to help you understand many things in life, including what is happening during the pandemic.

P.S. This related piece at FT.com  explains why you should expect to see vaccinated people in the hospital with covid despite high vaccination rates.

On prisons and prisoners and how things can be improved

Here are three pieces on prison and incarceration that I thought were worth reading:

  1. Here’s some technology to help identify discrepancies in prison sentencing based on race.
  2. Here’s how California jails take a kinder and better approach.
  3. Here’s how artists teamed with prisoners to transform their prison.

(Image linked to in the third piece)

On progress: may you live in average times that are getting better in many ways


Matthew Yglesias wrote this piece here and it did not go over too well: The case against crisis-mongering. I mainly agree with him, that our world problems, dire as they are, aren’t as exceptional as we may think. Or as Dan G put it on twitter:

What Dan states is my worldview as well. There are still many bad things in the world, but there is progress and things are getting better.  We have overcome problems in the past and we have the ability to fix things in the future. Plus the past was terrible in many ways and so much worse than now (and our times will look terrible to people in the future).

If you disagree with this, I strongly recommend two books:

  1. Factfulness
  2. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

They make the case stronger than I can for how the world is getting better and how we should be optimistic despite our difficulties.

People will say: what about global warming? The pandemic? Nuclear weapons? All I can say is read Matt’s piece and then read those books. I think that will help alot.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash )

 

 

 

On the rise and fall and unlikely rise of QR codes


I’ve been a fan of QR codes for a decade. Back then I wrote about how they could be used to tag everything from trees and medic alert bracelets to IOT devices. I thought the sky was the limit for them. I was wrong.

Until this year. As Clive Thompson writes here, the pandemic has been a game changer in causing the resurgence of QR codes. I am glad to see that.

I’d still like to see QR codes everywhere. It would be a way of connecting the virtual world to the real world. Cities could tag streets and neighborhood with QR codes to allow you to get a glimpse of context into where you are standing. If a new building is being built, put a QR code on a sign out front that links to a web site providing greater detail on it. As for historic buildings, why not put a QR code on them that links to their wikipedia page describing the historical significance. Anyway, lots of ways QR codes could enhance our understanding of the world.

Here’s hoping they are here to stay, providing us a way to better navigate our world.

(Photo by Rebecca Hausner on Unsplash )

Some food for thought on a Saturday


Often I find links that are interesting but I don’t have anything especially interesting to say about them, other than I thought they were worthwhile reading.  Here are 30 of them for this month. As the image says, you may get lots of your own ideas from reading the ideas of others:

  1. Philosophy by Susan Rigetti
  2. Moral grandstanding in public discourse: Status-seeking motives as a potential explanatory mechanism in predicting conflic
  3. The Five Types of Personal Boundaries (and How to Set Them)
  4. One simple way to build someone’sconfidence: Ask for their advice
  5. Are We Trading Our Happiness for Modern Comforts?
  6. The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down
  7. Imagination is the sixth sense. Be careful how you use it
  8. Jeff Bezos Faces Down The Overview EffectIn Space
  9. Joseph Landry sentenced to seven years in jail for death of Dartmouth friend in 2018
  10. We‚are Learning the Wrong Lessons From the World’s Happiest Countries
  11. Even if You Think Discussing Aliens Is Ridiculous Just Hear Me Out
  12. Years You Have Left to Live Probably
  13. Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners
  14. Other People’s Despair – Mending the Social Fabric Won’t Fix the Suicide Crisis
  15. Stop Doomscrolling and Grab a Game Controller Instead
  16. How to Separate Your Identity From Your Behavior (and Why You Should)
  17. The Blackfoot Wisdom that Inspired Maslow’sHierarchy
  18. I Miss My Bar – Recreate Your Favorite Bar’s Atmosphere
  19. At Talkspace Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns
  20. Emotional labor
  21. Biblical and Greek Ambivalence Towards Child Sacrifice – TheTorah.com
  22. Cream of the Crop: 8 Architecture Firms Leading the Urban Farming Revolution
  23. The necessity of Kripke
  24. Why Emotionally Intelligent People Embrace the 2-Way Door Rule to Make Better Faster Decisions
  25. How does Google’s monopoly hurt you? Try these searches.
  26. Effective altruism is logical but too unnatural to catch on
  27. Darkness is the absence of recognition
  28. A Checklist Before Dying
  29. Empires pandemics and the economic future of the West
  30. The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius

(Photo by CJ Dayrit on Unsplash)

What I find interesting in general, Julyish, 2021


Often I find links that are interesting but I don’t know what to do with. Here are some for this month. I should have posted them in July but hey, it’s the thought that counts 🙂

  1. Enjoy the restored Night Watch but don’t ignore the machine behind the Rembrandt 
  2. Starting an Online Store as a Digital Nomad
  3. User Experience Matters: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From “Objectified”
  4. The Infinite Loop of Supply Chains
  5. How to Not Go Broke the Next Time You Move
  6. Breaking Point: How Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook Became Foes
  7. Our Favorite Cheap Earbuds Are an Unbelievable $16 Right Now
  8. Tony Mecia’s Charlotte Ledger newsletter on pace for $175 000 in annual revenue
  9. Best budgeting software of 2021
  10. Nearly 60% of small charities have zero plans to digitally transform says CanadaHelps survey
  11. Millions of Canadians working from home could qualify for new tax deduction
  12. Simplest Stool
  13. The Rasterbator
  14. Help Your Garden Thrive By Pairing These Plants
  15. Behold: *All* the Stuff I Wish I’d Known Before Starting an Etsy Business
  16. 7014
  17. The Dreyfus Affair (1899) A Silent Film Review
  18. The Iconography of the Paris Commune 150 Years Later
  19. The Problem With History Classes
  20. Centuries-Old Paintings Help Researchers Track Food Evolution
  21. CONVERTING VHS TO A DIGITAL FILE // MAC & PC // CHEAP & EASY!!
  22. How and Why to do a Life Audit
  23. Why People Are So Awful Online
  24. The land was worth millions. A Big Ag corporation sold it to Sonny Perdue’s company for $250 000.
  25. Northern Ireland Is Coming to an End
  26. From Dominion Day to Canada Day there’s a long history of ambivalence
  27. How Amazon Bullies Manipulates and Lies to Reporters
  28. What the city and police say about the crackdown on the homeless in Torono parks seems at odds with reality. Why should we trust them?
  29. On the Occasion of Our 10-year Legal Marriage Anniversary
  30. John Tory shares strong feelings about protesters at Toronto encampment evictions
  31. Juul agrees to pay North Carolina $40 million to settle vaping accusations
  32. Newly detailed nerve links between brain and other organs shape thoughts memories and feelings
  33. lofi.cafe – lofi music

Thank you for reading this far. I don’t know if anyone reads most of my posts, especially these general ones,  but I keep at it regardless.

(Top Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash . Bottom Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash)

Two good pieces for those of us getting older (with some additional thoughts from me).

People runningHere’s two worthwhile pieces on growing old:

This, Fighting against ageism and this, Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully? Here’s how.

How we see growing old is a cultural thing. When I first went to pick out a photo, I decided on the first one of the man running. Because I am a product of my culture, as they say. I see being fit and young and productive as valuable.  Especially in our culture, being able to produce is highly valued. That’s why ageism occurs. If you show signs of age, people assume you will produce less. So your value decreases to them.

Then I saw the picture below. In other cultures, being able to sit and converse with your friends is valuable. These people are not being productive. They are not trying to look young. They are being social. They are being human.

Old people talking

I think we have problems in our society because for many the chief purpose of humans is to produce, to be productive. As long as that is true, we will have problems with ageism. True, we need times of our life to be productive, but we also need times for growth, times for rest and reflection. To combine all those times effectively is to live a good life. A life where all humans at all times of their lives are valued.

(First Photo by Lisa Wall on Unsplash. Second Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash )

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: a case study as to why results are never monocausal

Dominoes

People like to think outcomes, especially political or social outcomes, are monocausal. They’ll say: Y happened because X occurred.

I think that is rarely true. At best, X could be the main contributor as to why Y occurred. But it is never the only contributor. Often it is not even possible to determine which cause made the most difference. Most outcomes are not monocausal.

A good case study for this can be found in this essay on Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic – by Noah Smith.People will often say the main contributor to Haiti’s poverty was French colonialism or American intervention. Smith makes the case there are many factors that contributed to the significant differences between the two nations and it is not easy or even possible to single out one cause.

The next time someone tries to argue for single causes, look deeper. You’ll like find at least a half different other factors that contributed. People who can highlight multiple causes for an event understand the event better.

(Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash )