Jan 17, 2017

A passing thought

"Sorry," said a thought, "I didn't mean to bother you. I was just passing this way, and I saw your light on and dropped by."

"No problem," I said. "I'd been thinking about the way that thoughts arise in consciousness."

"And here I am!" Said the thought.

"Yes," I agreed. "The point is: are you relevant?"

"This is embarrassing," said the thought, "but I don't know. I'm kind of half-formed. It could be that I'm just a casual notion. It could be that I'm going to be a big idea. I guess that it's too early to tell."

"Makes sense," I say.

"By the way," the thought said, "I like the way you keep going back and tweaking me. Your edits have made me better without changing my essential nature. At least that's how I see it."

"No problem," I said. "I just did what seemed natural."

We sat for a while, my half-formed thought and me.

"I'm not sure I'm going anywhere," said the thought. "You might as well post what you've written so far."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"It's fine," said the thought. "It's not going to keep me from evolving. Maybe I'll show up later."

"OK," I said. "Here goes."

Edit: and so I posted

Attention vampires and priorities

So many things to do. So little time. What are my priorities? And how do I change my life so that I'm following them?

First, this insight:
Information consumes ... the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. Herbert Simon (Designing Organizations for an Information-rich World, 1969). Quoted here.
Time is a scarce resource. I get max 24 hours of it ( Earth time) a day. My subscription to "The daily 24" may run out all too soon.  Bummer!

Until then, I get my 24. I spend some of it in bed, eyes closed, mostly unconscious, with almost no attention available for my intentional use. I spend most of the rest of it moving through the world, eyes open, with more attention available, but barely conscious. Not as unconscious as sleep. More aware. But conscious in the way that a sleeper might be conscious of a dream.

In that state, most of my attention consumed by entities purpose-designed to capture my attention and devour it. In return for my attention they give me small, occasional rewards, but little that I consciously desire. They live on my attention and the attention of others. They're attention vampires.

Time is scarce, attention scarcer, and consciousness is rarest of all. Once the vampires start feasting there's no chance for consciousness to rise. Even awareness fades. As the vampires feed, I lose awareness of everything but what the vampires want me to be aware of. That would be awful if I realized it. But I don't. I only remember it and hazily at that. How can it be otherwise? I was barely conscious.

From time to tome I break free, but breaking free is not enough for me to move to consciousness. For that, I need a reminder. Something has to prompt me to go beyond attention to some stage of consciousness--of which there are many.

I can rank consciousness in levels (or perhaps a partial ordering) from lowest to highest. The highest is both the rarest and the best. And that's my priority: more time in more conscious states.
Perhaps the consciousness of animals is more shadowy than ours and perhaps their perceptions are always dreamlike. On the opposite side, whenever I talked with the sharpest intellect whom I have known - with von Neumann - I always had the impression that only he was fully awake, that I was halfway in a dream.’ Attributed to Eugene Wigner, quoted by Steve Hsu, cited here
What's the value of an experience without consciousness? Certainly, it has some value;  most of what I have experienced I have experienced unconsciously, and I'm glad that I've had it. But the value I assign of an experience without consciousness is far less than the value I assign to that same experience with consciousness.

So that's my first priority. More conscious experiencing.

Note: this post was written while more than usually aware and conscious.

Jan 14, 2017

Internet University

Web tools are awesome.

The other day I decided to launch a project that I thought might be fun for me, might benefit my community and--and who knows--maybe more.

It's the University of the Internet, aka Internet U. The idea is to create a portal for online learning and connect it to my community, Blue Hill, Maine. And make it open, so other people can do the same.

The first course is one I was already signed up for: Harvard's "Science of Cooking" course, delivered through the edX platform. The second one will be self-referential. It's a course on how to set up a site like Internet U.

It took me a bit of time to figure out how to use some of the tools that I'd picked to do some of the things that I wanted. But now that I know how, I could do it all in a little over an hour. Here's the recipe--and an outline for the course.

1. I bought a domain: internet-u.org through Google Domains. Cost: $10.00
2. I created an email alias for myself on the domain through the Google's email forwarding tool connected to Google Domains. Cost: zero.
3. I created a Google account for that alias. That let me keep my Internet U projects separate from my personal projects. Cost: zero.
4. I made some web pages using the new Google Sites tool: a home page; a page was for my "Virtual Campus" in Blue Hill; and a page for the cooking course, and a couple of pages (Courses, Campus) to link them. Cost: zero.
5. I created some sign-up forms using Google Forms and attached them to my site. Cost: zero.
6. I used Google's Subdomain Forwarding tool to redirect www.interenet-u.org and bluehill.internet-u.org to the right pages. Cost: zero.

Some of the pages are lame. There's a lot of missing content, but I went live, and it's a start. And I've got a hosted site that looks really nice, with email for the "site administrator" and an automated registration process for $10.00.

I'll update this post once I've put up the "How to build a site" course.

Jan 9, 2017

The tree of life, its span and it's strength.

People worry about us destroying life on this planet by our activity. But that's not likely. We might fuck ourselves up, our family--the family of life is just too tough.

Just take a look at our family tree, the tree of life, taken from this website. Time is an expanding half-ellipse. The center is the moment of birth of the earth. The appearance of the first life form, the origin point for the tree, is about a half-billion years in--about 3.5 billion years ago. The outer perimeter is the present. Branching lines from the origin to the present are the evolutionary paths that led to a modern creature.

What do you see? You see more and more different kinds of life as time goes on. It's pretty much unstoppable, despite disasters and some setbacks. The labeled dotted lines are major events--all but one bad for life--in the sense that many species died off and the march to moden diversity was slowed for a bit. One of the events, the Cambrian explosion could be called good. The scale is non-linear. So one unit close to the center is a billion years. A unit close to the edge is a mere 50 million.

The color bands represent similar families of living creatures. At zero degrees on the circle (farthest left) and in the region colored brown are the simplest ones, bacteria. They evolve to become different kinds of bacteria, over the entire time of evolution. At 180 degrees is the most complex--homo sapiens. Note that every species on the outer edge is exactly as "evolved" as every other one. 3.5 billion years for each. So the length of the path to reach a point measures diversity not time. Each species takes the same amount of time to get to the edge. but maybe not the same number of generations.

The site is interactive and interesting to play with. If you click on the name of a present species, you'll see an animated line from that species and from humanity at the far right back to our latest common ancestor, and an animation to show how long ago that ancestor lived.

The site makes clear a couple of things. First: this is OUR family tree. It shows how we are related to every currently living individual on the planet. We have distant cousins--like the dinosours, who are no more. But every living creature is a relative. It's just a question of how far back you want to go to find your common ancestor. See that dog? That's my 270 millionth cousin, 24 million times removed. Common ancestor, my great, great, 27 million greats grandparent, about 85 million years ago. That turtle? That's my 175 millionth cousin, 95 million times removed. Common ancestor a 175 million greats grandparent, about 320 million years ago. That butterfly? 300 millionth cousin 100 million times removed. Common ancestor a 300-million-greats grandparent, 500 million years ago. That tree? Hi, cousin. That bacterium. Oh, sorry, you've got to look in a microscope to see him. But he's my cousin. And yours, by the way.

Notice what happens during the Cambrian explosion, which happens about 500 million years ago. (It starts when the purple band appears and ends around where the blue band appears.

For the first 3 billion years, not all that much diversity. We go from bacteria, through plants to sponges and corals. Wikipedia says:
Prior to the Cambrian explosion most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 to 80 million years, the rate of diversification accelerated by an order of magnitude[note 3] and the diversity of life began to resemble that of today.

Now look at what happens in the "mass extinctions."

Now look at what happens in the "mass extinctions." A lot of those branching lines are broken, meaning that a species died out. But in short order, in geologic time short order that is, as you can see in the inset above, or the tree of life that heads this article or on the interactive site, diversity is restored. Life is pretty hard to shut down.

A favorite quote, from Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park:"

You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Let me tell you about our planet. 

Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There's been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away -- all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. 

Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. 

It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. 

If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. 

Do you think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. 

A hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.

Jan 8, 2017

More from the fear industry

The business of the media is making people pay attention. One of the best ways to get attention is to make people afraid. The media made lots of money making some people afraid of Trump and some other afraid of Clinton. But now Clinton is gone. Trump is going to be president, and there there's nothing to fear from her. So it's about making people fear Trump.

To be clear: I don't like Trump. I didn't vote for him. I wouldn't vote for him if the election was held again. But I'm also not going to do what the media wants and be afraid of him.

A friend of ours forwarded an article from the New Yorker: "The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming." It made someone I knew afraid.

Who are the Frankfurt school? According to the article, it's an "intellectual enclave originally based at the Institute for Social Research, in Frankfurt." In other words, a bunch of people that you never heard of before. And they never heard of Donald Trump. But they knew he was coming! Be afraid!

Because they predicted that McCarthyism was about to destroy American democracy. The article suggests that they may have influenced Thomas Mann, who had emigrated to the US to escape fascism, to leave this country to avoid the coming American holocaust.

The article continues:

The fears of Mann, Adorno, and other émigrés came to naught—or so it seemed. The McCarthyite danger passed; civil rights advanced; free speech triumphed; liberal democracy spread around the world. 

Actually, "it didn't come to naught--or so it seemed." It came to naught, period. They were 100% dead wrong. Totally wrong. Completely wrong. Things didn't get worse. They got better. Which the article admits. But wait...

Maybe their fears didn't come to naught. Because their fears can be recycled! They can be resurrected to support a new campaign of fear-mongering. Point to them. Point to Trump. Say "they might be right, this time" And their work, which incorrectly predicted what would happen in America, but did manage to frighten some people, can be turned into this article, and make another group of people afraid.

When someone makes a prediction and the prediction turns out to be wrong, they lose credibility. I distrust their next prediction. Look at the predictions made about Trump. (Predictions, not facts). Yes, he said what he said. Yes, he did what he did. Yes, he's a weird guy. But few of the predictions about him have been right. (And many of the "facts" were wrong, too.)

I don't trust Trump. I don't understand him. I can't predict him. But I don't fear him.

And Alex Ross, the author of this fear-inducing essay? Who is he? Well, he's the New Yorker's music critic.

He writes about classical music, covering the field from the Metropolitan Opera to the downtown avant-garde, and has also contributed essays on pop music, literature, twentieth-century history, and gay life. 
So, yeah, when that guy tells me I how I should be afraid of Donald Trump, of course I'm going to fear Trump. 


FDR got it right. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Not Muslims. Not immigrants. Not Republicans. And not Trump.


Please stop doing what the media wants, and being afraid.

Please stop doing the media's job and making other people afraid.

When Trump does something wrong, fine! Expose. Oppose. Resist, and fight.

But in the meantime, organize. Make yourself known.

As Scott Alexander (who also doesn't like Trump) concludes in this fact-filled essay, "You are still crying wolf," which details many things that people are saying to make other people afraid of Trump, and resorts to documented facts, not the theories of an enclave of intellectuals to support his view:
Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.

And remember FDR. There's nothing to fear but fear itself.

New Chromebook and my Chromunity

For Christmas, I got an Acer Chromebook R11 convertible. Wow!

(By seeming coincidence (but not, because nothing is ever a coincidence) Zbm3 bought the same model for Z3 for Christmas, too. So clearly it's the best that there is in its price range.)

Why do I like it so much? It's a Chromebook. And it's got a touch screen. And it's a convertible, so it's a tablet. Or a tablet with a built-in stand. And it's an Android. Connects to Play Store and runs apps. Great screen.  Nice feel on the keyboard. Great battery life. Right now I've got 23 tabs open (OK, I know, finish shit and close your tabs) and performance is just fine.

And I got it for under $200 bucks, which is great for any Chromebook and amazing for this one. Prices seem to have gone up since then, so it's no longer an insane bargain, but simply a really, really good price.

It fits in with idea that I've had for a while: to educate people in my town of Blue Hill Maine about the resources that are on the internet, and how people can use them to make their lives better. I'm not saying that everything on the internet is great, and that there aren't lots of other things to do. But I do think that technology can provide personal empowerment and facilitate connnections.

Anyway, we'll see how this all works out. Next stop: contact Acer and find out about pricing, and whether they would be willing to support this activity.

The new Zygote Numbering System (ZNS17)

My kids (actually ours, credit where due) are pretty inspiring.

I may be giving them shout-outs from time to time in this blog and they may prefer a bit of anonymity and privacy, (Well, I know you don't Z2, but some the other Zygotes might.) And I've never documented the Zygote Numbering System (TM), so here's my chance.

I created the ZNS years ago for amusement (mine) and annoyance (the Zygotes) but I think they've decided to be at least a little amused. Or decided to pretend to. Or not. Anyway, I'm still amused.

The ZNS began as a wsimple enumeration: Zygote 1 (Z1) is our eldest daughter. Z2 the middle. Z3 is our youngest.

Then Z2 had a kid, and I revised the ZNS to account for that. Z2 (with her husband's help) had Z2.1, Z2,2 and Z2,3; then Z3 (with help) produced Z3.1 and Z3,2; and most recently Z1 (with help) produced the lovely Z1.1.

But what about those helpers? They were once Zygotes, and are now are my sons-by-marriage. Writing this post brought me to realize that the ZNS needed further extension.

I hereby welcome Zbm1, Zbm2, Zbm3 to the Extended ZNS (2017), aka ZNS17. For reference: ZBM is pronounced Zih buhm (accent on the second syllable) by the cool kids. That being me.

For referential completeness, I've assigned myself the Zygote root symbol: Z. Bobbi is Z'. (Z prime).

Approved 1/8/2017 by the ZNS Engineering Task Force (ZETF).

Jan 6, 2017

Inspiration not intention

For years I've said that what I want to do is to "live an intentional life." I want to decide what to do, form an intention, and follow through. That's it.

But ADD or whatever-the-fuck-it-is gets in the way, and I end up doing things that I find enjoyable, educational, valuable, enlightening but not what I intended to do.

And it's pissed me off.

This morning I realized that an intentional life is a small and selfish goal. I thought it was enlightened, but I see that it's childish. Let me translate: "I want to live an intentional life" equals "I want to do what I want."

Right. Very fucking noble.

Now I have a different goal. I want to live an inspirational life. I want to inspire people, just as I've been inspired.

Inspiration, not intention, is now my watchword.

And I now realize that's been my goal all along. I just haven't seen it.

I've wanted more people to read what I write, and at the same time I've wanted to avoid attention. Why? I realize it's because I imagine someone saying: "Holy fuck! Here's this 70-year-old-guy, and he's still doing all this shit and writing about it." And there's something about that image that bugs the shit out of me. I mean really? I'm writing so that I'll be admired? The idea that I'd do that is odious, even contemptible.

I'm not humble. I know I've got skilz. I like applause. But the idea that I'd do something just for the applause fills me with disgust. Really. But that's how I've read that image: a plea for admiration.

But I can read that image a different way. It ends:  "Well if that asshole can do it, then I can, too. Maybe even better."

Inspiration. Not admiration. Same words. Different music. Much more to my liking.

Bobbi and I tried to be a good models for our kids. According to them (and I believe them) we did a good job, and I'm glad, because we cared about it a lot. I've been depressed a few times in my life and a few times I was so miserable that I thought seriously about suicide. But I'd say: "I can't kill myself. I would set a bad example for the kids." So setting a good example, modeling, yes. Important.

Being inspiring? Never thought it about it that much, until now.

And now I'm thinking about it, and I'm sure that's how I want to live the rest of my life. I want an inspiring life.

I especially want to be inspiring to our kids--the ones by birth and the ones by marriage. And I'd like to be inspiring to our grandkids. And our friends. And to anyone that whose life crosses mine.

I'd like stuff in this blog to be inspiring. Sometimes educational. But inspiring, whenever possible.

So that's the new goal.

I don't want to live an intentional life--one where I get to do what I want to do. I want to live an inspirational life--one where I change the world--even a little bit of it.

A few weeks ago my daughter, Mira, found a book called "The Miracle Morning" and started working on its recommended practices. She inspired me to give it a try: to create a different morning ritual for myself. To put some badly needed structure into my random and inconsistent self-improvement efforts

Get up early. Spend some time meditating. Well, I've wanted to do that for a while. But never could find a way to commit. Now I have it. And now I'm doing it. Ten minutes on affirmations. Strange, but I'm getting into it. Visualize what I want to achieve. Also weird, but, OK. Exercise. Badly needed. I started with my stationary bicycle--which I should have been doing for my knees. I've added a half hour during a day of the 30 days of Yoga with Adriene program to the mix. The first day that I did it I realized how much I'd needed something like that. Reading: 10 minutes in a self-improvement book or reviewing one of those that I've already read, good. And writing. I've been doing that--sort of. Today was day 175 of my latest streak on 750words.com. I've done it diligently but at inconsistent times, a few times I've leaped from bed, changed my time zone, and struggled to type some shit that would qualify to keep the streak going. Now writing is part of my morning ritual.

I've been doing Miracle Mornings for only a week, but I'm feeling the changes build. I'm more focused, more organized, and clearer about what I'm doing. And I'm getting shit done--about which I will write later.

And then today, this realization.

My life was on a certain course, and now I'm on a different path--because of that inspiration.

So I'm looking for more inspiration for myself, and ways to actively inspire others.

Jan 1, 2017

More retrospective

I've continued reading old posts. It's a slow process because I'm not just reading them, I'm fixing them. I'm using a package called Grammarly that plugs into my browser and does both spelling and grammar checking. It's finding lots of mistakes.

Yesterday I nearly lost a 2300 word post. When I tried to recover it I found that archive.org didn't have a copy. And neither did Google's cache. But it was only one of the few blog entries that I'd cross-posted to another blog. Whew. That was lucky. I would have been sad to miss that one. So right away I backed up my blog. And I need to do something to back it up more regularly.

I want a better research and composition tool than the standard blogger editor. What I'd really like to do is to do all my work in a cloud-based environment and have it track where I go (which Google web history already does) and what I do when I get there.

For example, I'd like a way to screenshot a region and have it automatically saved to where I can easily reference it. Something like this:

I have an open, running "Shit I did today" post. As I navigate the web article titles (with embedded URL) are inserted in my SIDT post. If I take a picture of part of a screen, it gets added (with a link). If I highlight and copy some text, it automatically pastes it (with attribution) in the SIDT post.

I can pop up a mini-editor, in place (I don't have to switch windows to my SIDT post) in order to get it. And whatever I type in that editor goes to my SIDT post, as well.

To get what I want I need (among other things) a Chrome extension. So I'm going to have to learn to do that.