Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Out of Time

timehasrunout

This is it.

As promised over a year ago, this will be the final post for this blog. The reasons for this are primarily:

  1. I think it has reached a point where I am saying many of the same things over and over, only differently. Not useless, but less than ground breaking.
  2. It is time for ME to move on, which has been one of the underlying themes as well.

I figured the last day of the year would be a good time to make the change, but one thing led to another, and I couldn’t get it done. So here we are. It is not easy. I like doing this, but, in addition to the reasons above, I don’t really have time for it anymore.

My plan a year ago was to work through all of the posts I had in a draft state to get them online before signing off. I failed. Just like what happens in life, time caught up and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do. There are dozens still sitting incomplete. I have decided to let them go. I’m not a big fan of symbolic actions because I think they ultimately don’t work. We know we’re doing it symbolically, which belies our sincerity and speaks as much to a need for drama. Show business can be powerful, but the power is often fleeting. All of that is true in this case as well. So…I’m not suggesting I will not write again. Only that it’s time for this blog to rest in peace.

On the occasion that I go back and read previous posts I am at once astounded and proud of how good and insightful some of them are, and also disappointed at how incomplete or lacking in any innovative thinking others are. To the astute reader, I have revealed a lot here, about myself, and human nature in general.

It was never for anyone but me. I never promoted it or cared how many people looked on. It’s simply my art, and started as a way to get some basic thoughts down. Something about writing things down codifies them, forcing the writer to think rationally in complete sentences and to ground statements and feelings. A worthy exercise, and one I think I got better at over the seven years of posts.

It evolved, as I knew it would, though I found myself surprised at how it evolved. I don’t know how obvious it is, but there was actually a turning point in the nature and presentation of the subject matter. It would be interesting to bring someone in to read through it all to see if that stands out. It’s blatantly obvious to me when I read many of the posts before and after that time. It happened over a number of months, but began here (not coincidentally, that post is the most linked to throughout the rest of the blog, barely beating this one.), and began to get momentum here. Life changes, sometimes in ways that there is no undo button for.

As a sort of farewell gift, I offer up my top 50 favorite posts (not already linked elsewhere in this one), which was an agonizing process that probably wasn’t worth the time it took, especially since the list would likely be different if I did it again next week. I hope that for those who come along later, this might get you started with what’s behind the scenes here. In chronological order…

  1. Common Sense
  2. If the Voltage Gets High Enough…
  3. Boundaries
  4. Start by Doing a Good Job
  5. Religion and Politics
  6. Hierarchy of Money
  7. Science Has a PR Problem Too
  8. Policies
  9. Brass Tacks
  10. Battle of the Unknown
  11. Compromise
  12. Love Will Find a Way
  13. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  14. The Curse of Perseverance
  15. Love and Trust
  16. I See Dead People
  17. Serendipity
  18. Dedication
  19. The Drain of Friction
  20. The Value of Images
  21. What Life Really Is
  22. Ideal World
  23. The Chosen Ones
  24. Forgive
  25. A Metaphor for Life
  26. The Result of Answers
  27. Creativity
  28. In the Flesh
  29. Move Past Go
  30. The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed
  31. A Beautiful Story
  32. Hope is Not a Strategy
  33. Morality
  34. Caged
  35. Free Will is Fake
  36. Burning Ships
  37. Blind Spot
  38. Delusions
  39. Why Love Wins
  40. Strength
  41. One Step
  42. Trust, the Hidden Part
  43. Probability: Facts, Statistics, and Reality
  44. Changes
  45. Pride and Face
  46. Comfort
  47. Atheism: Instrumental versus intrinsic
  48. Reasons or Excuses
  49. New Information
  50. The Opposite of Success
  51. Bonus: the whole Happiness series

 

And here are a few random facts.

  • The most visitors to the blog in one day was on 1/6/2015, after this post.
  • 2015 was the busiest year for visitors, with 2011 close behind.
  • 2015 also has the most published posts, at 81.
  • Nearly 2,000 unique people visited the blog throughout 2015.
  • After the United States, Germany had the most visitors.
  • The most viewed page, by far, was the home page.
  • The most looked at post was this one, followed by this. It appears traffic to the site was more influenced by my use of a couple of popular terms people search for than the actual content of the blog. Humbling, though not surprising.
  • The longest time gap between when an entry was started and when it was actually completed and posted was 56 months.
  • There are almost 1,000 comments posted across the 493 blog entries.
  • There are over 22,000 comments not posted, as they marked as spam. Unfortunately some of those are/were legitimate comments. I never got to sorting them all out. Sorry about that.
  • There were 520 images posted over the course of the blog. The images are very important, and often contained additional information/meaning.

To quote a friend, “It’s time.” I could drone on about all that I’m thinking as the final letters get typed, and the unused material gets trashed, but it’s a frivolous delay of what I have decided.

It’s a lot like life. Time runs out while we still have things on our to do list.

I do have another potential endeavor in the works. If anything gets going on that I may return here to leave a trail of bread crumbs to it.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

All the best,

David Stewart

 

 

 

 

The Marketing Drug

marketpharmasl

Every time I see my dentist he tries to sell me stuff. Various services they provide that will in some way (they claim) improve my life by addressing some shortcoming or concern taking place in my mouth. I never knew my mouth had so many problems!

I’m all for selling people on things that can help them take care, even if they are merely for pleasure or aesthetics (vanity), but like everything else, there can be a tipping point where we sometimes take it too far, or are too manipulative.

It reminds me of how food is marketed. The marketing has become so powerful that some of the people being hurt actually are eager for it to continue. This creates a cultural feedback loop, where some aspire to have these respected marketing jobs, to do more marketing of similar items. It creates a society where the owners and leaders of these companies are celebrated as risk-taking, brave businesspeople, not as the modern robber barons that they’ve become.

The cultural feedback loop can’t be denied. The NAACP, which represents a population that is disproportionately impacted by the health costs these products create is actually allied with marketers in the fight to sell ever more and bigger portions to its constituents.

The crime continues because the money taken by corporations that change our culture is used to fund campaigns that conflate the essential concept of ‘freedom’ with the not-clearly-articulated ‘right’ to respond to marketing and consume stuff in quantities that would have been considered literally insane just three generations ago. And we like it.

[I’ll write the previous paragraph’s point again here to be clear: we’ve decided that consumers ought to have the right be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power.]

We ban accounting that misleads, and we don’t let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There’s no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment. Every profession we respect has limits created and enforced by society. These rules make it more likely we don’t race to the bottom as we cut those corners or maximize our profits.

The question is this: are you responsible for the power in your hands? If so, then we need to own the results of our work. If not, someone else needs to step in before it’s too late. No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.

Just because marketing works doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we’re too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.

And don’t even get me started on the marketing of drugs. The pharmaceutical complex is as out of control as anything humanity has ever witnessed. It’s capitalism, and the battle is to win. At all costs.

 

Canned

cannedWhen our desire and need for simplicity and efficiency replaces authentic human interaction we betray ourselves. Of course nobody is fooled. That’s not even the question. The perfunctory gestures of a polite society help connote a mood of civility. But in order to work, we must care enough to make them authentically.

Of course, it is far better for both parties to engage genuinely. Without that it all races to the zero of noise in the background that, given how busy we all are, isn’t only not needed, but actually becomes a nuisance. And transitions to a burden: “do I have to acknowledge these people?” Maybe you could write a subroutine for it. Let the computers talk to each other!

It’s no wonder we feel more alone than ever, even though we have far more input than ever.

Strength

BrokenedCup

In physics we talk about the Strong Force, which is one of four fundamental forces or interactions of nature. It is responsible for holding atomic nuclei together. Without it, there would be no matter. Nothing we know would exist.

The previous post referenced another kind of strong force: the one produced by the emotion of love. While it’s always strong and powerful, it is not to say that all love is the same. There are nuance differences in the kind of love and the strength to which it is felt. And its power follows accordingly.

Life is full of challenges, the vast majority of which can be handled, especially with help from the power of love. As noted before, love wins over the other emotions, but it is still relative, so that doesn’t mean it can win over everything all the time.

There are three basic classes of strength:

  • Fragile – things that crack and break under change or stress
  • Robust – things can tolerate certain amounts of change or stress
  • Antifragile – things that strengthen & improve in response to change and stress

We know glass is fragile from having experienced what happens to it under shock, just like we know steel is robust. It’s harder to tell with other things, like love, or the foundation of any relationship. Just how strong is it, or how strong is a particular love?

How can you tell if something is fragile, robust, or antifragile? Putting it under stress is a start, but the big and unavoidable factor is time. Time eats away at anything weak, eventually causing it to fade away. Power is diminished or lost, and it fails at what it was doing. If it was an integral part of something else…

Ripping the Band-Aid Off

child restraint 2

Though speeds are higher than ever, drivers are hardly ever killed in race cars anymore. Their construction has undergone sweeping changes in the past 15 years, much of which has been to make them safer.

F = ma

Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s one of the simplest formulas learned in physics. When 3500 pounds of metal slams into a concrete wall at 220 m.p.h. the violence tells us there is plenty of mass and (de) acceleration. The human body in the car, while having far less mass, still undergoes acceleration that’s often fatal.

So most of the technological changes have revolved around slowing down the crash. We can’t count on the driver being able to slow the car down, but we can use the car to change the deceleration curve for the human. Make the deceleration take longer and the force is more manageable. This, of course, is why modern cars crumple and disintegrate upon impact. They spread the force out over area and time. Air bags further slow the human’s deceleration. Saves lives.

Some will say that when the bad comes it’s better for it to be sudden, like ripping off a band-aid. Take the sudden pain and it’s over with sooner. This rings true for things like band-aid removal, tooth pulling (sometimes), pimple popping, taking bad tasting medicine, and a variety of other things.

But have you ever watched a nurse remove the bandages from a burn victim? That’s not a ‘rip it off’ scenario. How about when a close relative dies? Most people, while not wanting the other person to suffer, seem to appreciate having time to prepare themselves for it. In certain circumstances some of the initial stages of grief can be processed before the boom lowers.

There’s so much wisdom around us telling us to slow down in our lives. To take things in and live in the moment. That often applies to delivering the bad as well. Ripping the band-aid off is better for the deliverer, but not necessarily the recipient. Delivering the news is a burden. And since the deliverer has the power of choosing… We’re all inherently a little selfish, and pretty effective at rationalizing what we want, so unless we’re able to stop and think through it we can sometimes default to sudden, when gradual and gentle would work better. It’s selfish, but understandable.

When there is bad news, ask yourself whether you’d rather find out your mom is dead, or that your mom will be dead in a month. There’s no good way to do it, but where possible time will provide a means for things to sink in, which reduces the force of the blow.

Do We Have to Lie in that Bed?

CaveiPadIt would be nice if we could figure out how to use our human ability to reason to overcome the emotional characteristics of our species that are evolved adaptations for a lifestyle of consuming and reproducing.

Our species started in an environment much different than the one we currently inhabit. The survival of any individual proto-human was something that wasn’t certain on a day-to-day basis; food was scarce, predators were many, writing and language weren’t invented yet (so the formation of social groups had to be done by much cruder methods), and unchecked growth wasn’t nearly the problem it is today.

Because of our ability to dramatically shape the environment in which we live — on a timescale much shorter than evolution can respond to, no less —  the environment that shaped us is no longer the environment in which we live. On a daily basis, we’re incredibly safe, there’s plentiful food for (almost) everyone, we have the means to communicate abstractly to form social groups, and the space and resources available to us will no longer support unchecked, exponential growth. The adaptations that we carry that made us fit to consume and reproduce then no longer serve us now. 

However, we still have the instincts that made our ancestors fit for their environment. Fear, anxiety, and the fight-or-flight response still haunt us in situations where they’re hardly appropriate (giving an important business presentation is hardly as dramatic of an issue as potentially getting mauled by a predator that’s just ten feet away). Over-eating at individual meals still happens, despite the fact that food is generally plentiful enough that we don’t need to stock up between rare opportunities. We still obsess over social acceptance, despite the fact that we’re nowhere near as reliant on our immediate social groups for survival as we were in the past.

All of these ill-suited behaviors cause a tremendous amount of unneccessary suffering. Consuming and reproducing are no longer particularly appropriate behaviors, yet the sophisticated industrial machine knows just how to tap into our evolutionary insecurities (via advertising) to be able to convince us to worry about both.

Having a reliable way to reason ourselves off of the evolutionary path of least resistance would improve our collective lives immensely — we could combat the unjustified anxiety many experience daily, we could lead fulfilling lives without succumbing  to the immediate whims of society, we could avoid the problems associated with over-consumption and over-reproduction — the list goes on and on.

Happiness, Part xx4, The Numbing

Numbing

Happiness is startlingly elusive sometimes.

One of our techniques for achieving happiness is avoiding potentially painful or at least threatening situations, or to even run away from them. It certainly works to some degree. When we change the environment, and find ways to mask or otherwise distract from the symptoms, the load lifts and we feel more free to be happy. We fill up our lives with people and things that do this. But in some areas in some ways we also know, down deep inside, it isn’t really real. It’s a perception worked to create for ourselves. Contrived.

This is one of the traps of alcohol. It’s good at masking pain, but oh so temporary, and it comes with very disruptive side effects. As is the case with many drugs. But there are drugs that provide an answer.

Clinically depressed people are prescribed drugs. Bi-polar disorder is treatable with drugs. The symptoms can be taken almost completely away. The problem is, those individuals often believe that the happy, medicated version of themselves isn’t really them. One could argue it’s them revealed through the correction of some chemical imbalance that messes it up, but those arguments ultimately suffer from the logical fallacy that you can’t introduce something artificial and believe that what it produces is more real than not having it introduced. After a time the underlying nagging of the lie robs them of the idealistic visions of joy, and it becomes harder to trust one’s identity, or to engage in intimately satisfying ways. In some cases it makes it very difficult to stay on the drugs. In one of the more cruel jokes on a large portion of humanity, we refuse to be happy even when we are actually, clinically and controllably happy.

Drugs do provide a good solution for many, but the dark corners of our humanity can rise to the occasion no matter how good we have it.

Not Gettin’ Rich

JonathaCheckMy friend Jonatha is a pretty well known artist with around 10 albums released on major labels over the years. I have lots of other friends in the music business. Their stories are pretty consistent.

No money.

The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now, nobody is making any money.

Spotify, and [fill in the blank with your music delivery service of choice] have utterly commoditized it all. The commoditization would be one thing if they paid a serviceable amount for the work they use to drive their business, but…they don’t, in part because there isn’t much to go around. Every artist I know tells the same story. I have sat through endless debates about why this happens. Much of it is warranted. The undeniable reality of the marketplace is that people don’t value music enough to pay for it anymore. Still a shame to see talented people go unrewarded. Teachers, artists, therapists, and others who help us in more abstract yet profound ways seem to get the shaft a lot. Good for us they love what they do. God help us if they ever wise up.

The Next Thing Up…

Check out the ads on the right. These are things I looked at within the past few days.

fbscreenshot

This is the next thing that’s about to run its course. You visit a website and look at some stuff. Next thing you know images and ads for those very products are following you around the web. It was a brilliant marketing idea…for a minute. It gets tired pretty fast. Probably because it’s not very intelligent.

For messages to work, they need to be perceived as relevant. Anything else is a non-starter. At face value these seem extremely relevant, and they can be. But once you see enough of them, for things you only casually looked at, or maybe things already purchased, one figures out pretty quickly what’s happening, and soon becomes nearly as desensitized to it as all the other advertising. It will get smarter/better, but that won’t help for long. What’s the next thing? People are too smart for these tactics to last. As the pressure for revenues mounts, the consumer pays by getting pummeled with noise, which degrades the experience overall, and makes all of these ‘free’ services seem much more costly. It’s a paradigm that ultimately can’t be sustained.

Defending and the Narrative

Needle on LP If it makes you happy, but don't fool yourself

This photo is a close up view of how a vinyl record provides for the reproduction of sound waves. They are retrieved by the process of dragging a hard rock across the molded vinyl and then amplifying the electromechanical result. If we were to try to invent a way to store and retrieve sound today, this technique would not merit serious consideration. It’s riddled with problems, not the least of which is the severe and rapid degradation of the media holding the information.

Yet there’s a constituency of people who hold that this is still the best sounding music playback mechanism we have. Nobody seriously tries to argue it’s the most accurate, although there is often a subtext that modern digital formats have severe flaws of their own. It’s the subjective joy these listeners seem to find in the sound of their records that’s hard to refute. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they hold that well made records on good equipment can sound better than the best of other formats.

Thus is the power of nostalgia. The vast majority of these enthusiasts are older. People who grew up listening to this format and are comfortable with it. The differences are quantifiable, so it’s pretty easy to prove the accuracy isn’t there. Maybe there is something about the monophonic low frequency reproduction that appeals to them, or any of the varied types of distortion that are introduced. It’s interesting how they will fool themselves and tell stories to validate what is otherwise a nearly indefensible technical position. It mirrors many religious arguments both in its methods and voracity.

There is a significant component of nostalgia, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to give it the legs to carry itself for all these years. No, many of these folks actually convince themselves it’s better and are ready to argue accordingly, sometimes with all sorts of kooky technical mumbo-jumbo. The second largest group of vinyl aficionados are too young to have memories of listening to them in days gone by. They have found appeal in the nostalgia of it (sort of like the recent explosion in the sales of old concert t-shirts), but again seem adept at convincing themselves it’s better sonically. There is also the cool factor – like cigarettes I guess – but I think it’s the narrative behind it that makes one want to be part of the group of people who thinks this is the best format for listening.

All of this is harmless, of course. If these folks find happiness in believing this outdated technique for audio reproduction is better, and are willing to spend the sums of money required to maintain that satisfaction, then who are any of us to try to convince them they are wrong?

Convinced myself, I seek not to convince — Edgar Allan Poe

Are they even wrong? While I can lay down an irrefutable technical case for why properly executed digital schemes are better in every way, I can’t tell someone that what he or she experiences isn’t perfectly valid. And I certainly don’t want to disrupt someone’s ability to find joy in something just because it’s not factually sustainable.

On the other hand, if this force became powerful enough to pose a threat to MY listening preferences I would feel compelled to take actions to expose it for what it is. It is this perception (threat) that makes atheists as hard to get along with as they are. Just like people of religion, they have their own narratives (some of which are very valid) about why religion is often a bad thing for society.

When humans perceive a threat, whether of the more frivolous kind like audio formats, or of the more substantial kind like religion and/or way of life…well…we all see every day what happens. It’s so common we accept the battle as an everyday part of our culture. Differences like these are unlikely to ever be settled. Some may fade in importance, but once people have chosen, they are not likely to be proven wrong, even when the evidence may be overwhelming. Accepting that people will defend their beliefs can inform us of the best ways to engage with them. You can chip away at someone’s perceptions slowly, from the edges, but if you attack head-on you will meet significant resistance.

A force manifests when it meets a resistance. Attacks provoke defense. Bend, without fear of breaking. Listen first with intent to understand. Whisper and you’ll be heard.


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