Growing up I would often hear adults around me needlessly include racial identification in descriptions of their daily activities. I might hear someone say things like:
- "My car battery died and a very helpful black man gave me a jump start."
- "This very nice Japanese woman helped me pick up my groceries when they fell on the floor."
- "I was lost and these Mexican children showed me how to get back on the freeway."
If memory serves, the references only seemed to be included when the story was positive. Now, knowing the adults in question, I never got the sense that they meant the statements badly. They did not seem to be commenting out of surprise that a black man, a Japanese woman, or a Mexican child acted helpfully, that the behavior they witnessed represented some freak departure from racial/ethnic expectation/stereotype. Still, it seemed so odd to me. Why mention that additional irrelevant information at all? Was it a holdover from segregation or lack of interaction with people of different backgrounds and the novelty of the racial/ethnic element in the interaction demanded some mention? Was it just a natural tendency of humans to convey visual details when describing an event? Was it a subconscious attempt to reassure me that all people have the same capacity for goodness?
I went the other way, specifically avoiding the mention of that racial/ethnic/etc. information in a story unless absolutely vital to the story, and even then I might only vaguely hint at it. And that's probably worse. The adults around me may have been acting harmlessly and naturally but I was acting unnaturally and in that overthinking and awkwardness dwelling on or highlighting differences (at least within my own mind).
Reminds me of this story:
Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping, because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.
But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. Later in the day the younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. The older monk replied, "I only carried her across the river, but you have been carrying her all day."
I'm not sure quite what I do these days... I think and hope my non-mention of irrelevant racial/ethnic/etc. references is at least more natural now.
But, the other day I was saying something to my girlfriend like, "I will have to watch this on the big tv when we get home." And she pointed out that we only have one TV in the house (and I've not had more than one in 20 years) and that despite that I always bafflingly call it the "big tv". And it struck me as perhaps being quite a bit like what the adults around me might have been doing years ago. I have apparently never gotten past the novelty of this TV's size*, just as interacting with a more diverse body of people remained a novelty demanding mention.
* The TV is ~50" inches, pretty average by today's standards but vastly larger than the TVs of my youth and early adulthood
(Racism comes in so many varied and often subtle forms that it complicates talking about it; you need to be pretty specific about just what element/manifestation of racism you're talking about. In this case I'll discuss one of the uglier and most visible kinds.)
To my mind the worst form of racism is the belief that one race is superior to another and that the superior race should take action (legal, social, religious, etc.) against the inferior race as a result of that conviction. Examples are legion, and included nations as well as social/political organizations (South Africa (during Apartheid), Germany (during the Nazi reign), U.S.A. (during antebellum and Jim Crow), as well as the KKK, neonazis, etc.)
What boggles my mind is the idiocy and dishonesty of their position.
When I was 14 I was at a small summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina. Everyone working at the camp and everyone attending the camp was lily white; no one of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent. Almost everyone at the summer camp was from the surrounding Southern states. Racism was rampant but fortunately ugly comments rarely came up since there was not but a pale face to be seen or insulted. But I remember this one time the topic came up, and this one boy, whose name was the name of a kind of monkey, suddenly announced, "I am smarter than any black person on the face of the Earth." What made this seem instantly laughable, distracting me temporarily from the horrendous and vulgar racism, was that he was truly one of the stupidest people (of any genetic background) I'd ever encountered; he was almost sitcom human stupid or perhaps penniless Trump stupid. But he was serious, horribly serious, and I feared and felt for anyone of any non-white hue who might ever cross his path. Several of us there argued with him, tried to point out the ridiculousness of his statement, but he was having none of it. He was so unaware of his own place in the universe that one could hardly hope to convince him of anyone else's place within it. I was still young, but I had certainly come across quite a few people, made from all sorts of different genes, who I knew or strongly suspected were vastly smarter than I was. How could this idiot imagine he was smarter than ~1 billion or so (depending on what you count) people he'd never met? That is idiotic and worse deeply dishonest, as he lived in a major city in the South, and surely had encountered many black people who were infinitely smarter than he was, and he simply chose not to notice or believe it.
But it is not hard to imagine why he (and others) seem to need to believe such an absurd position, need to believe that they are better than an entire race, because things get rather confusing for them if they don't. The wildly racist often profess strong values, and no doubt most try to live in accordance with them. And many of their values involve a love of freedom, family, righteousness, justice, etc. So to avoid a deep and disturbing sense of hypocrisy they must write off the members of the group against which they stand. If all blacks people are inferior to white people then they can see a logic in allowing them fewer rights, deeming them unworthy of a full and equal position in the world, and any white actions taken against blacks are reasonable in defense of white interests. If these racists allow that some percentage of black people are actually their (individual) superior (across many facets of being, including intellectually), then what are those racists going to feel? I think some parts of their brain would cry foul, detect their hypocrisy, detect their injustice, and threaten their ordered world view. And so it is only a stable and comfortable position if every white man is inherently superior to every single black man (a position requiring ample employ of idiocy and dishonesty).
I keep wondering if that particular camper ever wised up. I hope he has.
One of magician act Penn & Teller's favorite tricks is their Bullet Catch trick, you can see them perform their Bullet Catch on their Fool Us show (for as long as it lasts on YouTube).
After seeing some people inaccurately explain the trick I figured I'd post my belief of how the trick is done.
The trick is simple in design, two audience members come on stage, one for each magician to work with. Each audience member uniquely signs the jacket and projectile of a bullet and those bullets are supposedly fired by each magician across the stage to the other magician, with the bullet miraculously being caught in their teeth. The bullets and jackets are inspected by the audience members and the projectiles appear to have indeed crossed the stage. The trick is performed with the magicians' careful to explain that none of the participants nor any props ever cross the stage, making the firing of the guns appear the only method by which the bullets could be transferred.
But, it's a magic trick, so of course not everything is as it seems...
Now, revealing secrets of a magic trick might be a douche-y thing to do. I'm of mixed opinions. When a magician has put a tremendous amount of time and effort constructing a trick it seems rather cruel to have an audience, particularly in the age of infinite instant replays, deconstruct it. But, a) the bullet catch is a very old trick (beginning as early as the 1600s) and b) Penn & Teller's career has often involved divulging tricks and discussing publicly how tricks are performed. So it seems like discussing a trick of theirs is fair game.
Signed Projectile Never in the Gun
After inserting the bullets Penn & Teller let the members of the audience confirm that it is their bullet in the gun. But the magicians control the view. Look at the placement of the bullet, it is inserted far enough into the chamber that the view of the projectile is obscured. It is obscured because the signed projectile is no longer in the jacket, having been palmed and then secreted away. The jacket, the powder, and a wax projectile remains (a bit of wax is what breaks the glass).
Projectile Passed to Stage Hand
Getting the projectile to the other side is the central feat of the trick. And the first thing to note is that after Penn & Teller have loaded the guns they go and manipulate the bullet backstops. The backstops are positioned against the wall and at such an angle, this obscures the magicians' hands for a moment and would allow stage hands to take something from the magicians' hands without being observed.
The stage hands would then have ~16 seconds to run around from one side to the other and place the bullet such that the other magician could access it.
Along the way the stage hand would need to force the bullet through a manual contraption which adds the rifling grooves to the bullet (which Penn & Teller show the audience) and perhaps gets dusted with freshly burnt gun powder for added effect.
How the Bullet Gets into their Mouths
The bullet proof vests that Penn & Teller wear are initially hanging from the edge of the stage wall, again a very suggestive location, since a stage hand could easily access (part of) the vests without being observed by the audience. I believe that once the stand hand makes it to the other side he/she secures the bullet to inside top of the vest via a magnet (the bullet having been modified to have a steel core).
When Penn & Teller put the vests on over their head their mouths are obscured, and I believe they collect the bullets with their mouths and tuck them into their cheeks. Penn is talking while this is happening so clearly he does it very deftly, pausing in his speech in a purely normal manner as though between words.
And voila, the bullet has been transferred and the rest of the trick is relatively simple. A bullet with a wax projectile is fired with less than the normal amount of powder it breaks the glass pane the magicians have placed between them and the magicians relocate the projectile from the cheeks to their teeth.
Alternative theories I've read suggest that stage hands watching TV monitors reproduce the markings of the audience members, but I think Penn & Teller are a more sophisticated than that, and the method described above would allow the projectile to actually travel from one side to the other unseen.
Personally I think this is one of their weaker tricks, so I've been surprised to hear them describe it in such laudatory terms. Perhaps I have a bias against the trick because they really play up the greatly exaggerated danger aspect and that feels a bit cheap to me.
I get a little tired of seeing people complain about air travel and lamenting how different it is now compared to the 1950s and 1960s. People act as though the problem is that the airlines have reduced quality in order to make lavish profits. But it's the passengers who have led the change, not the airlines. Ever compare the inflation adjusted cost of an airline ticket from the 1950s/1960s to one of today? The 1950s/1960s ticket costs about the same as a first class ticket does today (adjusted for inflation and buying power about four to five times what a modern coach seat costs). In other words, everyone on that bygone plane was paying for and receiving first class accommodations and treatment. If the public had wanted to continue doing that arrangement the airlines would have continued providing it, but we all collectively decided to spend our money elsewhere and the first class cabin shrunk from the entire plane down to just a few rows. If you're not willing to spend money on a first class ticket today, then be quiet, sit down, and enjoy your glorified cross-country bus ride.
Being well informed about the world around has always been important to me but I think I've reached a point where I realize the bad of being informed outweighs the good. I can no longer keep tabs on the world and feel joy. How can one stay positive, optimistic when the news delights in relating the world's most miserable stories? The news media seems fixated on the doom and gloom, on the miserable problems we collectively can't seem to fix.
I'm old enough now that it feels like I've seen all the headlines before, so many, many times. A new war, a new plane crash, a new earthquake, a new kidnapped child, a new miracle diet; there is no end to the outrages, brutalities, and scandals, they are all different, yet all the same. The world is like some terribly unfunny situational comedy, the next week or month or year the show begins again with everyone and everything back as it was, as though we learned nothing from the previous episode.
This week the new stories which did it for me included the renewed struggles of Israelis and Palestinians (and everyone's pointless pontifications about how the problems can be solved, but somehow won't be), horrific stories of dogs being sadistically abused by one person and eaten by others, the grizzly horrors of the recent Malaysian shoot-down over the Ukraine, and yet another announcement heralding some new possible test for Alzheimer's that will let you know what's coming decades before you unavoidably succumb to it (as yet they offer no cures or meaningful treatments). The news delights in disproportionately reporting the horrors of the world, making us all feel unsafe, uneasy, unwell. I've had enough.
And so I think I will stop reading the general, unfiltered news. I'll customize my news feeds to show me only technology stories, stories related to my career, stories matching keywords of importance to me. I will let the rest of the news and the world worry about itself for a while. For all my decades of scrutiny and attention, my knowledge of world affairs has not been helping it, and its only been hurting me.
In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.
But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?
I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?
Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.
We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.
When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.
As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.
Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.
Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91. He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945. He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone. He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974. Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero. I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor. If only more people were like that...
But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong. During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals. He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc. He killed them because he chose to reject reality. Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time. And so he went on killing innocent people. But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing? His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces. Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that. The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information. What information did he collect in 30 years? What information did he relay in 30 years? Presumably almost none. Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it. And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering. He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor. I can't find anything praise worthy in that.
Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland? Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders? Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones? Those sorts of people we do not need.
I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him. Ah well... So it goes.
I don't like magician Criss Angel... I dislike him in the same way I dislike Lance Armstrong and other cheaters. I think Criss Angel damages magic as an art. He has created tricks which rely on stooges and camera tricks. He "cheats", crossing many lines other magicians do not. He does it for the same reason all cheaters do it, to get more money, more fame. And the public's expectation shift as they see more and more cheating in magic, and it creates an environment in which magic suffers. Magic stops being about, "How do I operate within these generally recognized, user observable rules (where an audience member could be there in person instead of behind a TV screen) and still create mystery and wonder?" Criss Angel might as well teleport himself onto the ISS (space station) in a televised trick, his methods make that just as possible and easy as other tricks he has done on TV; but of course he doesn't do that as a trick because then people would instantly recognize the nonsense of many of his tricks. He does, of course, do quite a bit of stuff without camera edits and stooges (his Las Vegas stage magic, presumably), so I'm not suggesting he's not a capable magician, just why I find him and his origin story so flawed.
I should say that I'm not a magician, and I wouldn't even consider myself a huge fan of magic (though I enjoy it), but I recognize its art and ingenuity and don't like seeing it spoiled. And this isn't one of those live and let live issues, where people can simply vote with their entertainment dollars and let the marketplace decide. Whether I see his show or not, he does his damage, which is why I think there is value in people loudly disliking him.
Recently celebrity chef Paula Deen was forced to admit she had used the N-word multiple times in the past. She denied being a racist and seemed to excuse the behavior as as being done a) a long time ago, b) at least once in reference to an African-American who put a gun to her head in a bank robbery.
Whether it's Mel Gibson hurling abuse at Jewish people, Michael Richards peppering black comedy patrons with the N-word, or Paula Deen venting to her husband about the terror she felt, the explanations given always insist that they would ordinarily never use such language, but that it was a freak event, that they were under extreme provocation, and that, therefore, they are not really racist. Their position is indefensible. The insulting words spring to their lips because they are racist, not because the situation inspired the use of those words.
My own interactions with people of color have not always been positive. I have been a victim of a home robbery committed by an African-American. And I've been stalked/harassed over months by a separate African-American. But their skin color was not dominant in my thoughts about why they were a perpetrator and why I was their victim. One of the perpetrators was a homeless drug addict looking for money for a fix and the other a homeless person with serious mental problems who believed I was living in *his* house. But never did I find the N-word springing to my lips. I genuinely cannot imagine why on Earth it would. I have had ample positive experiences involving people of color that I cannot imagine any provocation sufficient to cause me to reduce an entire diverse race of people down to one ugly, monstrous word. The N-word couldn't form on my lips because it doesn't ring true in my ears. If you have ever known one great black person, how could you ever reduce any experience with another black person down to his/her color?
I am a at least a generation removed from most of the celebrities who get caught using the N-word, they grew up in less integrated times, grew up in more (arguably) ignorant times, grew up in more isolated surroundings so perhaps my environment saved me from their thinking.
I surely hold many subtle prejudices which I do not adequately appreciate; I think we humans are almost all of us naturally biased by experience and environment. But I am thankful that I am not so lost as to find the N-word in my thoughts or speech.
Attempting to measure one's own accomplishments is generally a monstrously bad idea. Even the most successful of men may find themselves coming up short when they compare themselves to a yardstick of their own making. Those who succeed generally do so by finding themselves perpetually shy of achieving some newly important and consuming goal. That having been said, taking stock of yourself is a sobering necessity, something which me must do if we are to re-align our compass with an objective, societal true North. It is in this brutally reflective frame of mind that I make the following observations about myself, most easily expressed as a Guide to Leading a Highly Ineffective Life. The objective reality is that I have achieved quite a lot, more than many, less than many, and a reasonable amount given my particular make up and life challenges. Nonetheless, I have observed in myself the following limiting, (at times) crippling characteristics that have kept me from being far more than I am.
20 Things You Can Do To Be Highly Ineffective
- Work on many projects simultaneously.
- Associate with no professional colleagues.
- Cultivate few friends.
- Spend almost all of your time by yourself or with a girlfriend only.
- Work in secret. Share almost none of your ideas or work.
- Do everything from scratch. Build your own rather than modifying existing software/code.
- Believe your mind and/or abilities are failing you over time.
- Be deathly afraid of judgment. Ensure you never finish any task properly.
- Ignore important details.
- Explore periods of intense lassitude.
- Be mildly obsessively interested in many, many generally unrelated things.
- [Removed by request.]
- Secretly believe that those who succeed are magically different from you, possess something you entirely lack (as exemplified by the tone of this list).
- Put off until tomorrow that really hard thing that intimidates you, never try to do it today, never right now.
- If you find yourself not particularly challenged in a situation (job, life, etc.), then maintain the status quo, choose comfortable over challenge.
- Develop as little self-discipline as possible. Go to bed when you want, eat what you want, exercise as little as you feel like.
- Constantly wrestle with existential and philosophical doubts rather than engage in the business of actually living. Wonder about what the point of living is if you die rather than actually focus on getting the most from every minute of life.
- Avoid seeking professional, psychological help for things like depression and anxiety, assume that you alone can surely defeat obstacles which have bedeviled humans for millennia.
- Have tremendous difficulty switching tasks/projects, avoid doing so because it's mentally painful.
- Watch TV.