Aug 19, 2016

A projects guy

My sister used to tell me she was hurt when I didn't call her, or write her, and if she called, I might not even call back. What's up with that? She'd ask.

A few years ago I figured it out. "I'm not a stay-in-touch-and-connected guy," I told her. "I'm a projects guy. Make a project we can do together, and I'll be happy to work on it with you."

So we made a project. We met weekly to write together, using Google Docs and Google Hangouts. We'd set up a session. She'd start to write something in a Doc and share it with me. I'd do the same and share it with her. Then we'd read each others' work and provide feedback.

But I went beyond feedback, because I love to edit. When Bobbi went back to get her PhD I edited her papers. When she wrote her dissertation, I edited. When she started writing her books I edited (and published.) By the time she'd finished Book II of her trilogy, she had written and I'd edited 500,000 words (not counting the PhD stuff and miscellaneous writing). Now we're well into Book III, another 200,000 plus words. We've probably done a million, together.

I like editing.

So instead of just reading what my sister wrote, I edited. At first it was painful. I covered everything she wrote with comments and suggestions. And sometimes the suggestion was "Do this over. It doesn't work the way you've written it. Try something like this..."

As time went on, her writing got better and better, and she kept writing -- and eventually she continued writing without me. Now she's written and published a book on drumming, called "Whole Person Drumming." You can get a copy at Amazon. I'm proud to say that she wrote the first few chapters with me and I edited them. The rest is all her (and the person who helped her turn her work into a book.) Yay, sis!

Point is: I need projects. And if I don't have a project, I don't communicate. My daughters call from time to time to catch up, and Bobbi does most of the talking on our side because -- well, no project. I talk regularly with two of my sons-by-marriage because -- we've got projects. I didn't have projects and I didn't have a communicative wife, there's a chance I wouldn't talk to any of my kids. Sorry, but that seems to be the way I'm built.

I'm not proactive, but I am responsive. If you send me an email I will answer it. If you reply, I will reply back. Before you know it, we're having a conversation. But if I get busy and communication drops and you don't initiate, then I'll just go on with my life, as though I didn't care.

But that's not true. I do care. I do respond. I just don't initiate. Unless there's a project.

So if you are a friend and you have not heard from me in a while, that's why. It's not an excuse, but rather an explanation.

You can write and I'll reply -- until I don't. And if you've got a project, we can work on it until (probably) you get tired of it.

And if you don't hear from me, don't think I don't care. I probably do. I'm just a projects guy.

Aug 17, 2016

The robots are coming...

A while ago I wrote about CGP Gray's video Humans need not apply. You can find it here, if you don't want to click the link to my post, and get my thoughts, you can play the video by clicking below.

You can take a look here to see Sophia, a human-like robot from Hanson Robotics. You've got to watch a pretty long advert to see the content, but worth it.

 Alternatively, you can watch this:

Aug 15, 2016

A scale of awakenessitude

This morning, before I "woke up" and then later "woke up" I woke up. But I was in a dream. Let me be more clear.

( Background reading: thoughts about waking up in posts like this and this and this and more -- but hey, you can use the search box at the top of the blog too, can't you? Or you can keep reading, and look later.)

So the story.

Before the first waking event, I was unconscious. Asleep. Out cold. Nothing was happening, although science says that if you are not dead, some part of you is always awake. Probably true for me as well as you.

Then I became aware that I was walking into my house through the sliding door from the porch. The hardwood floor in front of me was covered with muddy tracks --- dog tracks and the tracks of human shoes. I remember being annoyed; I remember wiping my feet, wondering why other people hadn't wiped their feet, wondering why our friends, whose dogs had almost certainly made those tracks, had not cleaned up. I remember going to the sink, grabbing a purple sponge and starting to clean.

Then, while cleaning, I realize it is a dream. I am not yet "awake" much less "awake." I'm awake enough to know that the reality I was immersed in was a dream; awake enough to know that there was a different, outside reality; yet continuing to watch my dreamscape with partial attention -- the way I might have watched a television show while deciding what to do. I might know a show was on, but I wouldn't remember what happened.

Eventually I woke from that dream into conventional reality -- the dream we share together. And later, while making coffee I woke from that dream, and realized that I was making coffee. I watched my hands going through the motions. And still later, after falling back into the common dream, a friend of mine, Justin, sent me a hangouts message saying he was awake and reminding me to wake up. And I was awake again.

This is all a prelude to a piece I started writing last night -- or dreamed I started writing last night. The piece is a scale and nomenclature for the levels of consciousness, awakeness, awareness, that I experience. I'll set them against the background of this story.

0 = dead. I have not experienced this, or if I have, I don't know or remember it. Dead is when all systems, including the self-monitoring ones, are turned off.

1 = unconscious. That's sleep. That's where this story starts for me.

2 = unaware dreaming. I'm dreaming, but I don't realize it until later when there's a state change and I realize that I had been dreaming. A lot like (8) and higher, see below.

3 = aware dreaming. I'm dreaming, and I know that I am experiencing something, but I don't know it's a dream. I started the dream of muddy footprints unaware, then aware, but still believing it was reality, not a dream.

4 = conscious dreaming. I'm dreaming, and I know it's a dream. That is: I am aware of my own existence as the watcher of the dream. It's not just happening. I am watching it. Akin to the Sam Harris experience of being immersed in a movie, and realizing you're in a theater, watching light projected on a wall.

5 = lucid (controlled) dreaming. Same as 4, but I know I can change the course of the dream. This is different than being in state 3 and dreaming that I have made decisions. I'm aware that I am the decider, even as I decide. It's unusual, fun when I can make it happen.

6 = waking. I'm still immersed in a dream, and I'm aware of the world outside the dream. The transition can be from any lower state to this one. Except from dead, I suppose.

7 = conditioned consciousness or waking dream. This is my normal "awake" state. I'm immersed in the experience, but as a passive observer who doesn't realize he's an observer. This dream is the one that everyone calls reality. Or that all the other characters in the dream call reality. In this state, I'm a mindless spectator, watching the show. Everything that "I do" is actually done by auto-Mike.

8 = momentary waking. That's the moment I wake up in the metaphorical movie. Or the moment of metaphorical waking up in the metaphorical movie. But it's only a moment. I realize I've been in a dream, then often go right back to the dream. But for that moment, I know there's something apart from the dream.

9 = watching. I'm now awake enough to watch what I'm doing -- how my hands are moving; that I'm looking a the dream from a point of view located in my head. What's being watched is physical. I'm aware of an "I" that is watching.

10. mindful watching. I'm not only watching, I'm also aware that there is a mind that is doing some thinking as whatever is watching continues to watch. I don't have the feeling that "I am thinking" because the thinking happens without intention on my part. But I know it's happening. The thinking is often quite idiotic. Sometimes snatches of song play over and over. In New York, you can be a new man. Like that.

11 = checking. Awake enough for long enough to turn my attention to that which appears to be awake, and to check whether it is an illusion. Exercise from Sam Harris, I wrote about here. When I reach this state, which is not necessarily a consequence of getting to states 9 or 10, my state instantaneously changes. If state 8 is the metaphorical moment of realizing that I was immersed in a movie, and now realize I'm watching, this state is akin to realizing that I had been watching the movie through the screen of my smart-phone, and now I'm watching it directly.

12 = disconnected. Even in state 11, I'm still the only entity in the universe. Right now, as I write this, testing these states, I'm aware that I am, where I am, what I am doing. If I take a moment, I am aware that the "conventional self" is an illusion. But I'm not aware of any other "selves," conventional or not, in the "universe."  So this state is the moment of realizing that others might be conscious.

13 = aware of others -- sonder. This is hard. I cannot do it reliably and maybe not at all. It's a state in which I am aware that others are as aware as I am. Not just paying lip-service to the consciousness of others, but knowing it, the way I know I am conscious.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has a word that I think matches this state. It's the realization that others are "living a life as vivid and complex as your own." The word is "sonder" (Video, definition) Sonder is a good concept but I think a shit word. It does not suggest that idea to me. Sounds like yonder. But I did not write the dictionary, or if I did, I don't remember doing it. So I conclude (perhaps incorrectly) that someone else did. I imagine that it is someone whose life is as vivid and complex as my own. Maybe more so because he (or she) invented sonder. And he (or she): living a life as vivid and complex as my own—populated with his own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that I'll never know existed, in which I might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

So there you go! I'm here, conscious and awake.

And for a very, very, very brief moment I am considering that whoever invented sonder might have been just as conscious. And trying to imagine that you, who I imagine reading this sometime in the future are not just set-dressing for my story but are also conscious. And imagine you might take a moment to examine your consciousness.

And I imagine that you might then consider that I am more than ust an extra in your story. That I don't exist merely to explain how the blog post you are reading right now came into being -- should you wonder.

And there are others, as well.

I hope that's easy for you.

It's not, for me.

 But fun to try.

Aug 10, 2016

The other guys are part of the system, too

I self-identify as liberal, when I'm not being, more accurately, a bleeding-heart libertarian. Unlike lots of liberals, I don't see other political viewpoints as "wrong." Instead I see them as necessary. And not necessary as in necessary evil. If we didn't have conservatives and anarchists, then the worst liberal ideas (and there are some horrible ones) would have been enacted, and we'd all be screwed.

It's the system, stupid. I'm big on systems.

W. Edwards Deming, famous (and once known) for introducing quality to Japan post-war was one of the founders of the quality management movement. Back in the day the emphasis on quality was a big deal, and unconventional, and so it got called a movement. Nowadays, it's either taken for granted or ignored, but back in the day his ideas were considered revolutionary.

Deming was a systems thinker. When someone asked him to study the fires that broke out occasionally at a particular factory, he reported (not an exact quote) "your system for producing fires is working reliably, producing between 6 and 10 fires a year." His point is: fires (or accidents or defects) may happen randomly, but the rate of random occurrence was a system property. The only way to change the rate was to change the system.

Deming railed against managers exhorted workers to "do better" in order to improve quality. He'd point out that quality was a system characteristic, and workers and lower-level managers had no control over the system. Only management could change the system, and only changing the system could change outcomes. So railing at workers was useless at best and counterproductive at worst.

Someone once asked him:  "Are you against unions?" He answered: "How can I be against unions? They're part of the system."

So, how can I be against conservatives? They're part of the system.

Aug 7, 2016

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, etc

After reading the transcript of a TED talk by Julia Galeef, "Why you think you're right, even when you're wrong" I named myself a "scout."

...scouts are curious.They're more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle.They're more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations.Scouts also have different values. They're more likely to say they think it's virtuous to test your own beliefs, and they're less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn't tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. So they can believe that capital punishment works. If studies come out showing that it doesn't, they can say, "Huh. Looks like I might be wrong.
I used to be a Cub Scout, then a Boy Scout, but that's not what she's talking about. It's about testing your own beliefs and sampling new ideas.

Back when I was a boy scout, I was a dilettante. I made rank only because of Boy Scout camp. My parents sent me for two weeks at Camp Wauwepex, in Wading River, New York. The first year I moved up from Tenderfoot to Second Class. The second year, I made First Class. Yay. I don't think I ever earned a single merit bath.

I do remember the Scout Law:

"A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." That's from memory. And full speed.

And the Scout Oath:
"On my honor, I will do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, something something something morally straight."

With help from the Internet
"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

So how am I doing in obeying the Scout Law (never mind the Oath.)

I am moderately trustworthy, but less trustworthy than I once believed I was. (see Brave, below).

I am fairly loyal.

I try to help, but only when asked, and typically until I lose interest. I usually don't offer unsolicited help. And I don't join organizations of helpers.

I try to be friendly, and courteous.

I don't believe I am kind. I don't like the whole idea of kindness. When I do something that people consider to be nice, and they accuse me of kindness, I'm slightly offended. I don't do things because I am mind.

I am not obedient. If I follow rules or directions -- which I do sometimes -- it's for pragmatic reasons, and not out of obedience. Indeed I am quite likely to be disobedient.

I've cultivated cheerfulness and I've managed fairly well.

What appears to be thrift is the result of my general contentment with my circumstances.

I am hardly brave at all. I have always wished I was, but some of my unhappy memories of childhood are memories of what I think of as cowardice. I'd like to be the guy who dies a horrible death under the hands of a torturer rather than give up secrets or betray comrades, but I've long since reconciled myself to the idea that I'd give up pretty quickly.

That's physical bravery. Intellectually I think I am fairly brave.

I'm reasonably clean.

Reverent? If I am reverent, then it's not in the usual way. Mainly I'm irreverent. I consider it a virtue.

Aug 5, 2016

In New York, you can be a new man. No shit.

WDERP is the radio station in my head (KDERP on the West Coast). Right now the program manager or DJ who ever does programming is in love with the music from the musical "Alexander Hamilton" and playing it constantly.

Here's what I hear:
How does an bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman,
Dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,
By Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten dollar, founding father without a father, went a lot farther,....
And a few more lines. And then back to:
How does an bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman...
Alternating with:
In New York, you can be a new man!
In New York, you can be a new man!
In New York!
New York!
In New York!
New York!
Just you wait!
OK, I've got it.
In New York, you can be a new man! etc.
Thank you.
In New York, you can be a new man! etc.
Can we move on, now?
In New York, you can be a new man! etc.
OK, I've got it.
In New York! New York! New York! New York!
Right. I've got it. New York is great. You ...
In New York! New York! New York! New York!
... you can be a what? What did you say? A new fucking man? Thank you very much.
Just you wait!
Really, I cannot wait.

Oh, yeah, I forgot.
How does a bastard, orphan, ....

Aug 4, 2016

The rise of secular religions

From "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari

The last 300 years are often depicted as an age of growing secularism, in which religions have increasingly lost their importance. If we are talking about theist religions, this is largely correct. But if we take into consideration natural-law religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary efforts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam." 

Aug 3, 2016

The somewhat boring movie in my head

Take a look at a movie from the 1940s or 50s, and compare it with a modern film. Wow. Such difference.

The old films are dull and static. Long scenes shot with a single camera, unmoving. From time to time a close up of a character speaking or reacting. Or an over-the-shoulder shot, very daring.

In today's movies the camera never stops moving. In fight scenes the camera swings around wildly. The average cut is a second or two. Images zoom from the sky. There are low angle shots.

The movie in my head is kind of boring. It's pretty much first person POV with a focal length that doesn't change much. The camera dynamics are pretty boring. And yet...

And yet, if I pay attention, I can make the camera work better. Right I'm moving my focus from medium --  the words on the screen -- to tight focus on my typing hands. I'm going for effect here. Now I narrow down, and take a good hard look at one of my fingers, as I continue to type. Then I look up, and take in a wide angle shot of the room.

Then -- well then what can I do? A flashback? I'm suddenly in Italy at Dana's wedding. And now I'm looking at a picture of the wedding. See how I did the cross-fade?

Then back to the typing fingers.

Now if I can just do something about the sound track!