The Biggest Frickking Scientific Discovery for a Long Time, French Artists, and Your Momma

“Could they be talking to us from the future?  Maybe.  Okay, if they can?  They are beings of 5 dimensions!  To them, time might be yet another physical dimension.  To them, the past might be a canyon they can climb into.” – Interstellar

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Pictured, cool lens flares from the Saturn IV rocket first stage.  Not pictured?  Transdimensional aliens. 

The Family Wilder was having breakfast this morning lunch this afternoon (we don’t get up easy) and were discussing the news of the past week, and somehow Pugsley drifted the conversation into “how would you make a fully functioning holodeck, such as was seen on Star Trek© but for use with multiple people.”  The easy answer is to wave your hands about and say “science.”  But, we came up with an explanation that would fit the facts shown on Trek™.

We then ended up talking about inserting a jack into your skull (as in The Matrix®).  The Boy was in favor of this, and was looking up surgical tools on his iPhone®.  I noted that, no, we’re probably pretty close to just being able to put a hat with electrodes on – no surgery required.  At this point, I’m pretty sure the other folks eating in the small-town diner who overheard our conversation figure we work for the CIA or . . . we’re nuts.

We’re nuts.

But then I remembered the biggest story of the week:

“Hey, did you guys here that they’ve discovered proof that there is at least one other dimension? (LINK)”

That stopped the conversation at the table, let me tell you what.  Pugsley was first out of the box:

“How does that work?”

I tried to explain a hypercube using a salt shaker, bits of hash brown, three cream containers and the spare plate from someone else’s table (they were nearly finished with it).

Turns out that’s a difficult thing, explaining something that’s so beyond how you normally think.  But that brings me to one way, dear Internet, to give an explanation:

In 1912 a French dude named Marcel Duchamp (pronounced “John Smith”) tossed together a painting that irritated his friends, namely, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.

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This was the initial centerfold in “Multi-Dimensional Playboy”.  The main problem was the centerfold was in 11 dimensions and no one could figure out how to fold it back up.  (public domain via Wikimedia)

What Duchamp was attempting to show was the human body with time as a static dimension – you got to see the body’s outside perimeter.  Imagine rolling a tennis ball – but you get to see it at each point of its path at the same time – it would look like a fuzzy green tube since the parts that got covered up through subsequent motion wouldn’t be visible.  Fuzzy green tubes are cool looking.  Now imagine the perimeter of the human body heading down a staircase . . . you’d have a fuzzy-topped blob of flesh with frozen waves where the body had moved through.  Kinda like a fleshy, hairy, meat tube.  Kinda like . . . Marcel’s picture, but Marcel skipped on the gross parts.  And it’s not a surprise that Duchamp tried this – he was a great mathematician and chess player as well, so his mind thought in these sorts of abstract ways.

His friends thought it sucked, and the art show asked his brothers to ask Marcel to either take the painting down or to change the title.  After this initial reaction, Duchamp thought, “Merci!  I must take my genius to New York!  Certainly zey will understand it!”

Marcel apparently didn’t know any New Yorkers, because they certainly didn’t appreciate it:

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Hey, any publicity is good publicity.  Just ask Harvey Weinstein. (public domain via Wikimedia)

The New York Evening Sun parodied Duchamp in print after his picture made everyone in New York mad as well.  Apparently New York was a better place to be hated in, because eventually Duchamp moved to the United States and shot John F. Kennedy.

Anyway, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 is the only Cubist art I really care for – precisely because it attempts to show reality through the lens of another dimension.

Here’s another good one:  it shows a hypercube.

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Yes, keep watching it . . . beautiful, isn’t it?  Imagine 4 spatial dimensions.  Some weed might help.  (Source, Jason Hise via Wikimedia, Public Domain)

I can draw a hypercube, but it’s not really very good unless it’s in motion, like this one.  Only as it moves can you see the way that it shows another dimension.  Ironic that Duchamp stopped time to show another dimension while this requires motion to show that dimension.

But what are the implications of this?

Nothing short of stunning.  Last month we have a stunning disclosure about UFOs (LINK).  This month?  WE HAVE FOUND PROOF OF ADDITIONAL DIMENSIONS.

This has the possibility of being the most profound discovery in the last 12,000 years (second only to agriculture and the mysterious mechanism of the PEZ® dispenser)!

Keep in mind that we went from not understanding the radio to being able to use it “see” the images of galaxies 11 billion years in the past within 70 years.  We went from not understanding the atom to atom bombs in 15 years (plus a war’s worth of investment).  We went from stuck to the ground to the Moon in 65 years.  Transistor to personal computer?  30 years.

We are remarkable as a species at understanding and exploiting new ideas.  I imagine this one has implications similar to radio, the atom, flight, and information technology.  So, let me re-write the above:

HOLY FRICKING CRAP!  WE HAVE FRICKING FOUND FRICKING PROOF OF OTHER FRICKING DIMENSIONS!

Additional dimensions might (and I stress might) be able to provide:

  1. Space Travel – Imagine that distance isn’t the same in one (or more) of these dimensions. Step into the dimensional transformer and step outside 2000 miles away.    Why Miami?
  2. Time Travel – Imagine that time works the other way or at other speeds in one or more of these dimensions. Step into the dimensional transformer and step outside 2000 years in the future.
  3. Surgery Without An Incision – Reach inside your patient in the fourth dimension. Pull out his gall bladder without breaking the skin.  Caesarian sections?  How about Einstein sections for having babies?  (Since I’m the first to think if it, you should call them “Wilder Sections.”)
  4. Explanations for Gravity – Why is it weak? It’s like gravity doesn’t even lift!  Maybe it bleeds off into other dimensions and surrounds your mother.  Which is why she’s so fat.
  5. Explanations for Dark Matter – Okay, dark matter is just a theory – we can’t see it, we can only see its effects. Let me explain:  The planets all rotate around the Sun like particles.  At different speeds.  The spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy (where you live) all rotate around the Milky Way like the Milky Way is a record album.  Sorry – out of date.  CD?  Sorry – out of date.    Yeah.  Except no spinners.  Why the difference?  Some say that there’s a halo of dark matter around the galaxy that causes it spin as if it is a solid plate.  JOHN WILDER OFFICIAL PREDICTION:  dark matter is bogus.  It’s either gravity leaking from another dimension or gravity has a non-linear distance component.  I actually calculated it, and it works, but it doesn’t explain some effects, so my Physics Nobel© medal still hasn’t been engraved.
  6. Explanations for Dark Energy – What is it? Why is the Universe expanding?  What will stop it?  When will it stop?  Maybe . . . another question that might be answered by other dimensions.
  7. Explanations for Why Your Mother is So Fat – Oh, sorry. That’s chardonnay, canned frosting, Twinkies®, and regret.
  8. Explanations for Things We Haven’t Even Thought Of – So many things this might explain, including the Grand Unified Field Theory – the theory that explains all of physics, chemistry, and why your Mom is so fat. Except we know why your Mom is so fat.

So, it’s a big deal.  A big thought.  Maybe, just maybe, the biggest scientific discovery of your lifetime.  And you heard about it here first.

So, who is the journalist now?  Yeah.  This guy.

Old Italians, Ukrainian Lawyers, Mice, and You!

“Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Pictured:  Science.  Not pictured:  Stubborn Old Italians.

In December I put together notes about a story that I’d read online that rubbed me the wrong way.  It was about stubborn people.  Specifically, the headline said, “Stubborn People Live Longer:  Here’s Why.”  I read the story.  Some science-y folks studied a small (relatively) remote village in Italy.  They picked 29 participants between the ages of 90-101.  Then they picked family members that were between the ages of 51-75.

They picked people that lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the ravaged Italy after World War II and found out . . . shockingly, that they were stubborn?

They then picked people who grew up in a post-war renaissance, rebuilding, and rebirth and found out they were not as mentally healthy as people who had been toughened in some of the most horrific conditions of the 20th century?  Where literally every day of their lives was better than any day of 1944?

I’m shocked.  (okay, I’m not)

And to further confound this “study” when you pick a small town in Italy, you simply have to deal with the fact that . . . these people are more closely related than you’d see in New York City.  When I drive around Smalltown, in northeast Midwesteria, I see can see family resemblances everywhere.  When you see the names on the plaques in the high school lobby for the team that won it all in 1954, you see . . . the grandparents of kids The Boy and Pugsley go to school with today.

The Italians may all share characteristics and genetics of some stubborn old dude who kept making Italian women pregnant up until he was 99 while Leonardo DaVinci was still fingerpainting.

And any statistician will tell you that 29 participants isn’t enough to tell you . . . anything.

So, we have a questionable study that gets rolled out by a “journalist” who needs to pop something into the paper so they can feed their kids.  They and 20 other 24 year old kids get assigned the “write a science filler piece about old Italians.”  Since the only science they know was taught to them on the Disney® Channel (there is no science requirement to be a journalist, folks) they poke at the scientific study like Ukrainian Mall Lawyers attempting to fix a broken printer, hoping their clumsy fumbling fingers mash into something so the pretty words come out again so they can go back home to Nadia, who is boiling potatoes and smells faintly of vodka and used to repair tanks at Ukraine Tank Manufacturing Plant Number 342.

So, they pick what words they understand, and attempt to educate us all . . .

Don’t get me wrong – there are some really, really smart journalists.  And some have dedicated themselves to covering science and do a great job.

But not many, because science is really hard.

How hard is it?  To plumb the depths of the structure of the sub-atomic world we build machines miles long, some stretching the diameter of the Earth.

And biology and behavioral science is also hard.  I read once (way back a long time ago, in a book, on paper) about a scientist who was studying mice in mazes.  Mizes?  Anyway, this scientist looked not at the mice, but at the experiment itself.  How could the mice cheat?  Well, they could look up and see the light position for guidance, so he made the light diffuse and uniform over the maze.  They could sense the table wasn’t level, so he leveled the table.  They could hear noise from nearby offices and laboratories, so he soundproofed the room.  They could even feel vibration from the building’s heating system, so he had to dampen the table.  All to get one maze to be “fair” so the mice couldn’t cheat.  As I recall, he did this in the 1920’s or 1930’s.  After he published?  People promptly ignored him and this wonderful research.

Bad science has shown up in lots of places, and journalists with bad stories have helped it along:

  • Then: Eggs will kill you!  Now:  Eggs are the perfect food.
  • Then: Fat will kill you!  Now:  Plenty of place in a healthy diet for fat.
  • Then: Eat high carbs!  Like PopTarts®!  Now:  Carbs are death.
  • Then: High fructose corn syrup is the same as sugar!  Now:  No, it’s not even close.

I heard about this company in Great Britain that was going to, wait for it, transplant poop from one person to another for a fee.  Because it happened to this one lady and she lost a lot of weight.  Hey, a journalist wrote about it – it must be awesome!

Yeah.  Great science.  It may turn out to be founded in reality, but I’m expecting more Ukrainian Mall Lawyers . . . poking at the copier this time.

But I’m skeptical.  Which is . . . another word for stubborn?

Obamacare, Health Insurance, Ear Hair, and Looking at Breast Implants

“No, Steve, the guard, accidentally looked at Medusa’s head.  Turned to stone.  Who covers that? Is that health insurance or Workman’s Comp?” – The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines

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A picture of Fairbanks Memorial the day Pugsley was hatched born.  I had good insurance then.  Too bad it’s gotta go . . .

Almost everything in the world (almost!) has gotten better since I was a kid.  Well, the music isn’t as good.  And the movies are gloomier.  And my hair has migrated from my scalp to . . . everywhere else.  For heaven’s sake, why did it have to go INTO the ears???

As I look to things that have gotten much worse in my lifetime, the number one is . . . health care costs, which is even worse than ear hair.  Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act for those of my readers that regularly appear on CNN®) was supposed to fix that.  In my case, my premiums nearly doubled while my deductible went up by a factor of eight.  If my math is right, that means my health insurance is worth, on a dollar basis, one sixteenth what it was before Obamacare.

When Pugsley attempted to self-amputate a finger on a camping trip, The Mrs. took him to the emergency room.  He came back with two stitches.  My bill?  Over $1000.  And I had to pay it, in cash.  Did he really need all of his fingers?  Nine is a good number, right?

I’d love to blame Obamacare – but it’s really just part of the system that’s vaulted health care costs upwards.  We’ve all experienced it – we’re paying unconscionable rates for care that’s not (in some cases) as good as it was in the past.  I know we have fancy equipment and machines that go “ping,” but the idea of a family doctor that knew you family from your birth until his death is over.

Now doctors have to see as many patients as possible to pay for their rent, BMW® and the loans they took out for college, their divorces, their small airplanes, and their portion of the partnership.  And they practice defensive medicine.  They run tests that you have to pay for to protect their medical license.  And if your insurance doesn’t pay for the test because it’s unnecessary?  You pay for the test.

I love capitalism.  It’s awesome.  But our health care system doesn’t even remotely resemble capitalism.

Let’s start with theft.

Our current health care system was changed in the 1980’s.  If you showed up to an emergency room in 1979 and had no ability to pay for care . . . they had no obligation to provide care.  None.  As a matter of principle they’d stabilize you, but a life changing surgery involving 20 heroic doctors?  Not so much.

I heard a story about a woman who lost her health insurance.  And then got cancer.  She couldn’t afford the $80,000 or so in costs for chemotherapy and treatment.

She died rather than bankrupt her family.

And, sadly, that’s the right outcome.

The economist Thomas Sowell said (more or less), “If an economist was designing a car, instead of an airbag in the steering wheel, there would be a knife pointed at the driver.  Good economists believe in in consequences for actions.”

There needs to be an incentive for people to pony up and get insurance.  And in the 1980’s they removed that.  Now, regardless of my ability to pay, if I show up at the hospital, they have to treat me.  Can’t turn me away.

Now I’m all for compassion.  But in this system, the person who is compassionate (the politician) forces the provider (doctor/hospital) to treat someone for “free” – but in reality passes on the costs to the responsible idiot with insurance and money (me and you).

Why does a Tylenol® cost $11 each in a hospital?

Yeah.  You’re paying for the freeloaders.  For the lawsuits.  For the administration costs.

One hospital (Duke) had 900 beds.  It had 1500 billing administrators.  Why?  They have to navigate through Medicare rules, as well as rules and correspondence from hundreds of different insurance companies.  You spend a night in the hospital?  You have 1.7 people there with you just counting the costs.

Yikes!

Of the things that determine a capitalist system, it’s all missing.

  • You don’t see those until weeks or months after the event.  How can you make a decision?
  • They don’t have the choice to refuse to serve you.
  • You don’t have one if you’re bleeding out.  You go where the ambulance is taking you.  You don’t haggle when you’re unconscious.
  • The system is so regulated that the American Medical Association determines the number of doctors in the country.  Think that they’ll increase competition?  Hospital regulations (mainly Federal) are extensive.
  • Lipitor®, which treats something or other, was making Pfizer $5billion a year.  After it went generic?  Less than a $1million a year.  Protections for drugs are routinely extended and live longer than the original patent period.  Apparently Viagra™ also keeps the patent system going for a long time, too.
  • LOL, whut?

What does a free market look like for medicine?

We actually have great examples.  Laser eye surgery costs have plummeted over time.  And, it’s never been cheaper for ladies to become . . . ahem . . . enhanced.

Why?

People have choices.  They don’t need the surgery.  They want it.  So they shop around, and will only get it if the price meets expectations.  $10,000 to not need $200 glasses?  Not on this planet.  And even the girl who wants bigger boobs is budget conscious, even though her boyfriend now has had laser eye surgery and can see them.

Recently several doctors have cut the cord.  No insurance.  None.  Come see the doc?  Cash.  But the prices . . . are much lower.  Much.  Many are less than the copay for your insurance.  Here’s a link (LINK).

The Mrs. and I were discussing this problem last year.  I outlined the issues.  The Mrs. leaned back and contemplated.  She swirled the Johnny Walker Blue Label™ in her glass and said . . .

“Make it illegal.”

John Wilder:  “Make what illegal.”

The Mrs.:  “Insurance.”

When she said that, I immediately pushed back in my mind.  The costs were so high . . . how could anyone ever consider that?

But then I realized that she was right.

Health insurance as a concept really took off during World War II.  The government had frozen the wages of the workers so we didn’t have runaway inflation as the tank factory tried to steal workers from the bomber factory.  But . . . you could add benefits.  Life insurance.  Pensions.  And?  Health insurance.

This began an 80 year distortion of the health market.  The person taking the action (you) was not paying the bills (insurance company) or writing the prescriptions (doctor).  How could costs NOT explode under such a twisted system?

So, The Mrs. is right.  We have to burn this village to save it.  And we will – because otherwise it will torch the whole country as I’ve previously predicted (LINK).

Until then?  We can stare with perfect vision at augmented . . . attributes.

If only there was a cure for ear hair.

r/K Selection Theory, or Why Thanksgiving is Tense* (for some people)

“But thanks to recent advances in stem cell research and the fine work of Doctors Krinski and Altschuler, Clevon should regain full reproductive function.” – Idiocracy

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This is a picture from when The Boy and I took a ride into Denali.  You can read about that adventure here (LINK).  Spoiler!  Not killed by vampires.

Winter is coming.  And it all has to do with biology . . .

I didn’t like high school biology.  Not that I didn’t have good teachers, I had great teachers.  They were committed and passionate about biology.  I love science – don’t get me wrong, but biology seemed so . . . pointless.  It was a lot of learning the proper names for things (stamen and pistil are two vaguely naughty flower parts that I all I recall, but couldn’t distinguish) and learning how a flower worked was so much less interesting than the fusion reactor that powers our solar system (Fun Fact:  If you collected all of the solar energy falling on California every day, it would be very dark there!).  And my lab partners (two cute cheerleaders who smelled vaguely of musk) almost gleefully did the frog dissection.  There were times I think that they wished they had a dead frog, but . . .

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that there are interesting aspects to almost any subject, some of which I spend hours, weeks or even months studying until I’ve learned what I want to know.  When I was younger, my biology interests mainly involved attempts at field experimentation with cheerleaders.  Decades later biology came back up in my intellectual wanderings in settings that didn’t involve double features at the drive in.

This time my study of the convergence of biology and economics explained to me why half of the US population can’t talk to the other half – and can’t even understand the other half.

It starts with a wolf.

There is a bleak, windswept plane in Alaska.  Off in the distance, the wolf pack follows a caribou herd, as it has for the better part of a week.  The pack acts as one.  A lone wolf in the north is a dead one.

The females – smaller, quicker – herd the caribou on the sides, keeping the herd moving to the west, away from the cover of the trees.  The older males push through the center, finally selecting the small group of caribou that they will take and use their superior muscle to attack.  The young wolves and pups follow along, sometimes play-fighting among each other, but more often imitating the adults.  The play will turn to hunting as they watch and learn. 

As the caribou comes down, the males feed first.  Eventually the pups feed.  It’s been a week, and they’re hungry.  The alpha male and alpha female of this pack have been mated for life, and will stay mated until the male dies in three years from an infection due to a broken tooth, but today they have food. 

A significant amount of effort is put into raising the pups, who, when they get older will split off and join other packs.

Wolves follows what a biologist calls “K” selection.

Based on their environment, wolves face a significant pressure for resources every day.  They live in environments at the sheer edge of habitability, and have to cooperate to fight those environments daily in order to survive.  Their young, have significant parental involvement and training.  Due to the scarcity inherent in the environment they must work together to live.  They only have a few offspring, but they invest heavily in them.  And a mother wolf will fight to the death to save a pup – the pack works together, and is loyal to individual members.

Rabbits follow “r” selection.  (The “K” and the “r” originate as variables in an equation that you’ll never use, but here’s the link (LINK) if you want to stare at it.)

It’s the opposite of K selection in many ways.  r selection depends upon having significant amounts of resources available.  These resources make life easy, so strategies change.

Part of winning biologically in a resource-rich revolves around having the most number of offspring.  So, have as many as you want, as many as you can so your genes spread far and wide.  Since resources are abundant, mating for life is silly.  Mate with . . . whoever.  Whenever.  However.  As long as you have babies.  Since a rabbit has lots of babies, each gets little attention, and the idea of a rabbit protecting offspring is unknown – rabbits run away, hoping you’ll eat their offspring as long as you don’t get them.

Resources are plentiful, so there’s no real reason to work together strongly.  Not that the rabbits won’t hang together, it’s just that there’s no rabbit that will ever inconvenience themselves to help another rabbit.

Biologically, the rabbits avoid competition for resources – there’s no need.  Whereas the wolves focus on mating for life, promiscuity is required for rabbits.  And rabbits are single parents.  Rabbits are single parents who come to early sexual maturity and have children young.  And they will sell out other rabbits to save themselves.

Wolves have to take part in competition, delay sex and are (mainly) monogamous in the wild.  They have dual parents for raising their pups, longer time to sexual maturity and independence, and will fight, to the death if need be, for each other.

We see echoes of r/K selection in our society today.  When the economy tanks?  Divorce rate plummets.

As social spending goes up?  Sexual promiscuity in youth goes up.  Single parenthood increases.

The numbers of children born to unwed mothers goes from 3.8% in 1940 (before welfare) to 5.3% in 1960 to over 40% by 2008.  The numbers stayed small as long as resources were limited, but once resources were free?  Boom, many women become r-selected rabbits, which is paralleled only with the behaviors seen at the beginning of the decay of empires (which I cover better than anyone else, ever, at this link (LINK)).

But a core of society remain K selected, which was the norm prior to 1960 and the mass rollout of welfare.  So, blue state/red state?  Republican/Democrat?  Liberal/Conservative?

Or r/K?

That’s where we find ourselves today – much of our political division now having root in differing biological strategies.  When the strategy is rooted so deeply, it becomes a point of self, not something abstract.  When someone attacks an idea that supports that strategy, it’s often viewed as a personal attack, rather than a discussion.  Ever see a political discussion go from zero to yelling in under thirty seconds?  Chances are, someone attacked one of the deeply seated r/K differences.

Hot button topics like this?  Anti-nuke movement.  Anti-illegal immigrant movement.  Abortion.  I could keep going, but I think you could do it from here.

And it’s fairly insidious – we rarely examine our individual biological imperatives – more often we end up just following unexamined urges and then rationalizing them to prove that we’re smart, not animals.  We think we’re making choices, but we’re not.  I imagine an unwed mother with eight children cannot even fathom, may even look down upon, the parents with 1.2 children and a perfect lawn.  It’s a division that’s not rich/poor, but deeper.

What happens when the resources dry up, when the fields full of rabbity grass give way to the cold steppes of wolfen tundra?  Society changes – the ability to use surplus goods for r-selected people goes away.  Societal attitudes change, too.

Watch conflicts around the world and think about . . . how many of them are simply due to a difference in r/K reproduction strategy?  These conflicts inevitably move a society from abundance to scarcity.

The rabbits rule the spring, the wolves the winter.

“Winter is coming,” wrote George R. R. Martin over 20 years ago.  And I have to wait until 2019 to see the end of Game of Thrones.

I think I’m triggered.

Simple Way to Avoid a Heart Attack, Roman Style

“Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself?  What is its nature?” – Silence of the Lambs

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So, if I’m reading this right, I’m not supposed to stress out the alligators?  I’m not supposed to stress out the 400 pound armored killing machine?  Okay, getting right on that.

I ran across a health article about heart disease the other day by an actual medical doctor, not an amateur Civil War surgeon like me (Motto:  Splinter in your toe?  Amputate.).  Dr. Mercola’s theory was simple, that stress causes inflammation which causes the damage that kills you.  Here’s a link to his article (LINK).  Now this article was on a political site, so it wasn’t even related to the main focus of the site, but I read the article and immediately thought of you Internet.  And also me, since I was looking for something to write about today.

It just might be that stress is a problem for you that actually might kill you.  It also just so happens that I have a 2000 year old solution for you – all bright and shiny since I dug it up in my backyard last night:

“Your present opinion founded in understanding, your present conduct directed to good, and your present contentment with everything that results.  That’s enough.” – Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 9.6

Okay, okay, you say, it’s John Wilder Talking About Dead Romans Again.  And you’re right.  Because they were ever so much more like us than you might imagine.  Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic.  And he was also Emperor.  The book he wrote, Meditations, was just that.  His thoughts that he meditated on.  He wasn’t writing it for us, he was writing it to sort out his own thoughts and feelings.

Yeah, a Roman Emperor, able to command power few before or since ever had – King, President, Pope, and General all rolled up into one – had to work out his thoughts.  This makes sense, because Marcus was the last of the Five Good Emperors (spoiler alert) and thought himself something of a philosopher.  It’s like Vladimir Putin took time out of his busy schedule of wrestling bears while shirtless and dating Olympic gymnasts to attempt to deeply study and understand a philosophy of living that directly worked towards the quote from Marcus, up above.

But the quote above encapsulates in just a simple two sentences the core of the Stoic philosophy.  Let’s look at how it can help you reduce stress.

“Your present opinion founded in understanding . . .”

If I were to take liberties, I would re-write that one, “Your present opinion founded in truth.”

Dealing with reality was the core of the philosophy – that’s why it came first.  And if you are dealing with truth, you’re dealing in certainty.  You’re not lying to yourself.

“your present conduct directed to good . . .”

So, you’ve studied and know the truth.  Now you have the opportunity to turn your work towards the good.  You’re doing the right thing, the right way.

“and your present contentment with everything that results.”

You did the right thing for the right reasons.  You have purpose, clarity, and are taking positive action.  And, the best part?  You don’t have to win to win.  Whatever happens, happens.  If it didn’t work?  You tried.  Be content.  If it did work?  Great!  This is a formula for a low stress life.  The Stoics got to the core of it – things have meaning because we place meaning on them.  We think that the world should be a series of results, instead of a series of truthful opinions and actions directed toward good outcomes.

What happens, happens.

I know this is hard, because every day when I try to divorce myself mentally from the outcome of an action that I’ve taken, and just be cool when it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out.  The worst part?  When I get upset about something that didn’t go my way . . . that didn’t even matter.

Perspective that I need to remember.  Most things don’t matter – at all.

Back to Marcus:

Marcus Aurelius had a really, really awful son.  Commodus.  So bad Commodus’ wife poisoned him.  So bad that Commodus’ best friend strangled him.  So bad that they had Joaquin Phoenix play Commodus in Gladiator.  Did Marcus have a clue that Commodus would be so awful?  Probably.  But he did everything he could.  And his book has reached across centuries to us.

So, he did the right thing for the right reasons.  And it worked.

After a fashion.  To quote Marcus again:  “That’s enough.”

John Wilder is not a doctor.  Go see your doctor before you take medical advice from a blog written in a basement . . . .

The Iron Triangle of Retirement . . .

“Well, it’s not really fine, but it’s not why I’m here.  Hell, man, you know me.  Money’s not my issue.  I could’ve retired straight out of MIT, off to some island, let the business run itself.  Nobody told me to try and save the planet.  I wanted to.” – Kingsman, The Secret Service

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Downtown Houston, reflected off a building at dawn.  No, I wasn’t there at dawn to catch the picture – I was working as hard as Jean-Claude Van Damme at a splits contest.

At some point, I’m going to retire.

No, not change the low-tread tires on the Wildermobile – I generally like to wait until the tires are completely showing steel before I change them out.

Silly, I’m talking about working all the time.  For money.  So this blog is safe.

Some people suck at retiring.  I work with one guy who retired six years ago, Ted.  About six months after Ted retired, he came back and asked, “Hey, have need for me to consult?”

Although Ted decided he wanted to retire (and got the cake, party, and everything), Ted wasn’t really ready.  He keeps coming in to work even now after six years.  Thankfully Ted has a unique perspective and awesome experience on technical systems that can help train some younger workers, so it’s a win-win.  But he’s not ready to retire.  That switch that says, “hey, I’m done,” or “hey, if I have to go to hell it’s worth it to never see you people again,” or, “I never, ever, ever want to live in this soul-sucking environment again,” never flipped for him.  And I don’t think it ever will.

Work for him is still a big part of who Ted is, the definition of himself when he gets up in the morning.

For a long time I was with Ted.  I could no more see retiring than I could see Kim Jong Un and President Trump forming a “Guys Only” fort in the Oval Office and sending the secretaries out for chocolate milk while they watched Loony Tunes® cartoons on a Saturday morning before Mom picked them up to take them to the skating rink and the movies after.

But recently?  Yeah.  I’ve started to think that I’ll retire one day, and that’s what this is about.  (The decision to decide to retire is a different post.)

I’ve discussed retirement before in the best and most comprehensive article ever written on early retirement strategies (LINK).  But that article was focused on people who retire young.  Which would be less than 1%.

Let’s see when people really retire, based on 2015 Census data, as analyzed by LIMRA SRI and as I found on Financial Samurai (LINK).

retirement ages

This excludes people like Abraham Lincoln who exit the labor force for other reasons, of course.

Most (68%) of people retire at age 65 or earlier.  This makes sense, but first I’ll have to introduce a self-serving concept and graphic.

Let’s talk about John Wilder’s Iron Triangle of Retirement Fate (JWITORF).

IRON TRIANGLE

I made this graphic at great expense, after paying Freddy’s Advertising, Kites, Etc. $2,300 and waiting six weeks for delivery as it came on a container from Shanghai.  Oh, wait, I threw it together in 5 minutes.

Regardless of the cheese factor of the graphic, John Wilder’s Iron Triangle of Retirement Fate does explain pretty neatly how retirement works, and why people wait so long to do it.  So, why 65?  Statistically speaking, you’re at or near your maximum wealth as you near age 65.  Additionally, you have a reasonably long life ahead of you (statistically speaking) but not an unreasonably long life.  Presumably, you’ve also reached the age of wisdom where you’re smart enough not to blow through your retirement cash on cruises, vacations, PEZ®, pantyhose, and chocolates.

But let’s look closer at the Quantum Entangled Boxes at the Vertices of John Wilder’s Iron Triangle of Retirement Fate (QEBATVOJWITORF).  Or, just the boxes with words.

The first one we’ll tackle is:

  1. Lifestyle

You can upsize lifestyle to spend virtually any amount of money including a fortune the size of Johnny Depp’s $650,000,000.  The world entrusted $650,000,000 to Johnny Depp over the course of 31 years.  .  He’s kinda broke now, since he buys mansions at the drop of a hat, and his personal expenses run to about $2,000,000 a month.  His security alone costs $300,000/ a month.  And hair gel?  Thankfully he saves on soap and shampoo.

My needs are a bit more modest.  Most planners say you should expect to spend between 70% to 80% of your take home pay when you retire.  But others say you only need to plan for 50%.  Or 100%.  Or . . . more!

Part of the problem is that their guidelines assume you spend everything you make.  If you have the ability to save (like in the earlier retirement article LINK) a very large proportion of what you earn, these metrics don’t make sense – you might only need to replace much less than half of your present income, since you’ve radically reduced your lifestyle and eliminated many items . . . like security for $300,000 a month.

Lifestyle is a retirement variable that you mainly control.  Get a budget and live by it.

Biggest risk?  Healthcare.  Who knows what that’s going to cost – might be $60,000 per aspirin by 2019.  You don’t want to guess what calf implants will cost . . . .

  1. Longevity

If you’re dying tomorrow, like Abe Lincoln, you already saved too much for retirement.  If you’re going to live another 80 years, you don’t have nearly enough.

When I first started looking at retirement with a spreadsheet and projected assets and lifespans, one fact popped out at me:  the earlier you retire, the less you earn, so your retirement savings will be less.  And you will pull money out sooner since you don’t have a salary anymore.  Sure, it sounds like a “duh” conclusion, but once I put my numbers in and played with it, it began to make perfect sense.

So, if you retire early, it helps if you die early, too.  And don’t forget your spouse!  If they’re much younger than you, you might want to try to convince them to pick up smoking, skydiving, BASE jumping, and prison boxing so they don’t outlive you by too much.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Outside of shortening life, you don’t control tons about your longevity, either.  Biggest risk?  You outlive your money and so does your spouse and you get a never ending stream of “I told you so” when you’re 90 but she just uses a crutch and can beat you and your walker.  Thankfully you can be a burden to the state and your children at that age.

  1. Amount of Money You Have

This is (mostly/kinda) in your control, too.  Bill Gates has billions of dollars saved for his retirement, and I know some people who work a whole year and don’t make a billion dollars.  Okay, I kid.  But I am certain that you could save more money than you are saving right now.  Part of the value is adding additional money to your savings, but the other value is in reducing your lifestyle and knowing what you really need.

A second portion of your money will come from your 401K.  Most of these are a really good deal, since you company will give you free money to add to your savings.  They do this to encourage you to contribute, since a portion of their bonus is based on how much you contribute.

Pensions are awesome if you’re part of the 0.0001% of private sector jobs that still have them.  If you’re working for the government?  Yeah, I guess you can count on* that.

Social Security is a real thing – and one that you probably can count on*.

*Bigger risks?

  • Inflation (here’s a LINK to my commentary on how that’s inevitable in our current monetary system).
  • Budget deficits (here’s a LINK to my commentary on what the likely impact of our deficits is).
  • Economic dislocation (here’s a LINK to a discussion on Bitcoin and how it can disrupt economic systems).

Best idea now?  Max out your 401K and savings.  Understand what lifestyle is really necessary and what you have to do to pay for it, both in dollars today, and in years of your life in the future.

John Wilder’s Iron Triangle of Retirement Fate© . . . ignore it at your own risk.  Assuming you’re not going to be like Ted (and 10% of Americans) and work past 75 . . . heck, I might have new tires on my car by then . . . .

John Wilder is not a professional financial dude.  Consult your attorney, financial planner, or shamen for real advice.  

Penultimate Day and The Biggest Story of 2017

“Everyone thought the agency was a joke, except the aliens . . . “ – Men in Black

ufoguncam

Yes, this is gun camera footage from US Navy fighter planes.  Yes, it shows something no one can explain.  Yes, it’s the real, actual US Navy.  Not pictured – Will Smith.

It’s the end of the year, so it’s the holidays.  By holidays I mean, of course, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Penultimate Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Okay, you’ve heard of most of those days, but Christmas Eve, really?  Whose idea was that . . . ?

I kid.

We actually have a Wilder Family High Holiday, called Penultimate Day.  Penultimate doesn’t mean the last (like many people do), it means . . . next to last.  That’s one of the things I love about the English language – that there’s a word for “next to last” just like there’s a word for “throwing a person out of a window” – defenestrate.

Cool!  But this isn’t a case of “Ask Mr. Language Person.”  I’ll leave that to the MUCH older Dave Berry.  This is just explaining our Wilder High Holiday.

It started (I think) in 2010 or 2011.  The Mrs. had been having problems with her cell phone – at that point an actual Blackberry™ with a real, physical keyboard.  We went shopping for a replacement on December 30.  In order to get a new one from for/from our carrier, we had to drive nearly 100 miles.  We went both to our carrier’s store and the local Best Buy®.  We were frustrated by the deals, which were fairly incomprehensible unless you were fluent in a variety of Klingonese spoken only near Sherman’s Planet.  And none of them were deals we liked.

Frustrated, we gave up and went to the local Olive Garden®, which is the closest one to our house.  Yes.  We live over 100 miles from an Olive Garden©.  But, I promise, we have indoor plumbing and flush toilets and everything.

We had a wide variety of their pasta (I think I had the one that mixed steak and fettuccini Alfredo) and joked about our frustrating search for cell phones.  It was there and then, since it was December 30, the real and actual Penultimate Day that I proposed a new holiday, Penultimate Day.  In order to observe Penultimate Day properly, one must:

  1. Drive South.
  2. Look At, But Not Purchase Cell Phones.
  3. Eat Italian Foods.

I can see how religions schism.  The Boy is adamant that the above list is heresy, and I could hear him conspiring with Pugsley that I should be cast down since the only true way to observe Penultimate Day was to:

  1. Drive Two Hours South.
  2. Look At, But Not Purchase a Sprint® Cell Phone.
  3. Eat At Olive Garden®.

Perhaps one day after the apocalypse there will be a Council of Sheboygan where the Sheboygan Creed will come down that will indicate that to observe Penultimate Day, one must:

  1. Look Southerly.
  2. Have a race where one Sprints® and finishes second (Penultimate Place).
  3. Eat an Italian.

While getting ready for our Penultimate Day celebration (which, for various reasons we had to celebrate late today), I looked at The Boy.

John Wilder:  “So, with all of the crazy things this year, what’s the biggest new story of the year?”

I expected to hear something about Trump.  Russia.  Nuclear North Korea.  Star Wars® being the worst movie of the year.

Nope.

The Boy:  “Aliens.”

Yup.  He got it in one.

Here’s the story:  There were several United States senators who decided UFOs needed to be investigated.  Since they were senators, they managed to get several million dollars appropriated.  At the rate the Pentagon spends money, several million dollars would be less than they spend on attempting to milk mice with itty-bitty automatic mice milking machines to get enough mice milk to . . . well, its classified why the Pentagon needs mice milk.  Move along, citizen.

Anyhow, they put together a program to monitor UFO sightings.  In charge of this program was one Luis Elizondo.  Here are a few of his recent quotes from Luis’ interview with The Telegraph:

“It was enough where we began to see trends and similarities in incidents. There were very distinct observables. Extreme maneuverability, hypersonic velocity without a sonic boom, speeds of 7,000mph to 8,000mph, no flight surfaces on the objects. A lot of this is backed with radar signal data, gun camera footage from aircraft, multiple witnesses.”

“. . . if this was a court of law, we have reached the point of beyond reasonable doubt.”

So, we have the person in charge of the government program researching UFOs indicating that we are seeing evidence of the amount and magnitude that indicates the phenomena is real.  Not made up.  Not swamp gas.  Not little old ladies dipping too often into the cooking sherry or medical marijuana.  Not even the Canadian Air Force (I hear their plane is working again, though).

This leaves us with several possibilities:

  1. The evidence is faked.
  2. The US (or Russians) have propulsion technology that allows them to do what no other aircraft in the history of aviation can do and no interpretation of our current physics can explain.
  3. We are being visited by entities from off of Earth (in our solar system).
  4. We are being visited by entities from another star.
  5. We are being visited by entities from another dimension.
  6. We are being visited by entities from another time.

That’s it.

That’s the full well of possibilities.  There are no more.  (taps well of possibility) Bone dry.

Let’s hit the possibilities one at a time:

  1. Fakey Fakey UFO Bakey.

So, Luis and all of the Pentagon faked all of the data.  Sadly, this is the most likely case.  There is no reason that this would have happened, and plenty of evidence that past world leaders knew something was up . . .

The following is a quote from Mikael Gorbachev:

“From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’” (source: Smithsonian.com)

Gorbachev agreed to a full truce and full cooperation in the event of an alien attack.  Yes.  This is a thing that happened.

I’m not inclined to believe this is a lie, but still the highest probability merely because it’s easiest to explain – not because it fits any facts.

  1. We have the tech.

Attractive.  It would be nice to think that we have this technology.  But the energy and speed involved dwarf literally all known technology by orders of magnitude . . . .

So, to believe this we’d have to believe that we can create not only speeds outside of our ability, but also control inertia so that any pilots weren’t turned into paste through inertia.  Let’s pretend that’s not the case – the structure of the craft alone would be distorted beyond all ability to fly.  After the first turn.  And if the USSR had this tech?  We would all be studying Russian now, comrade.

This, oddly improbable as it is, is the second highest probability.

  1. We are being visited by entities from within our Solar System.

The Earth is about 4.5 billion year old, and could have created several sets of intelligent species during the last 250 million years.  Mars might have had a similar window, but several hundred million years earlier.

Could they have escaped doom and watch us, even now?

Not really likely.  It would get very boring – more even than watching reruns.  But it does solve one problem of the next possibility:

  1. We are being visited by entities from another star.

Moving between stars is Hard.  Capital H – italicized Hard.

Stars are really far apart.  Not far apart like driving through Texas far.  But far apart like driving through Texas twice with Alaska in the middle Hard.  And there are no gas stations or rest stops and you just drank 20 Big Gulps®.

And the confines of the life spans we are familiar with aren’t compatible with interstellar travel.  Traveling 1/10th the speed of light, (which is fast, almost 19,000 miles per second) it would take you 40 years to get to the nearest star – and we’re not sure there’s even anything interesting there.  And it would take as much energy to get you going that fast as the world’s largest nuclear bomb – ever.  Add in supplies?  At least the annual electricity consumption.  Of the world.  Just for you.

So, if you could freeze yourself (if you could figure out how to do that) and then spend thousands of years getting here.  Just so you could fly around nuclear bases and make US Navy fighter pilots nuts – “I don’t know what it is, but I want to fly one.”

Alternatively, there could be technology that would allow faster than light travel, even though there is no indication, ever, that there is any way to travel faster than light.  But we didn’t think that heavier than air flight is possible for . . . almost all of history.  Is there a physics we don’t understand?  Certainly.  Does it include faster than light travel?  Unknown.

But what doesn’t require suspended animation and won’t die on a long trip?

Machines.

Here’s a (really short) story I wrote a couple of years ago.  Enjoy.

It didn’t use radio.

No one knew how it communicated, but they couldn’t pick it up on any band that we knew. On the TV, they speculated that maybe it used some sort of “quantum” thing to communicate, but that didn’t tell me much.

It was on the moon.

At school, my teacher Miss Rachel told us that some person using their backyard telescope pointed at this crater on the moon – Aristarchus – had seen something one night. That had happened before, but this time the flashes, the glimmers, they didn’t stop.

It was moving.

It didn’t stop, either. By the time they wheeled Hubble over, they were able to see it in real time. There were clouds of dust, but that didn’t matter much. There isn’t any atmosphere on the moon, so the dust drops out real quick. Something was going on, but we had no idea what.

The rock that it launched hit Stanford.

The professor in the wheelchair used his machine voice to tell us that we were too close. Whatever it was up there was listening to us. It maybe always had been. And it was old, old as the whole solar system, maybe. It was a tiger trap, a wolf snare. Stanford was where the best AI research was, he said. Maybe they were getting too close. Can’t be too close now – Stanford is nothing but a crater, and about two million people died, according to the Internet.

It’s watching.

I guess it always was. I guess it always will be. Wonder if the dinosaurs got too close way back when? Right now, I’m wondering if this was a warning shot or a warm up.

Yeah.  Sleep easy.  Don’t worry about the Terminator under your bed.  Or on your Moon.

This has a low probability.  But . . . it’s at the same time nearly 100% certain.  Aliens could easily create AI that could travel between stars.  That tech is nearly available to us now.  If there’s intelligent life it’s high probability it will develop to our level of technology given enough time.  And if it took thousands of years?  Who cares if your iPhone takes 100 years or 100,000 years to get to a destination?  If designed well enough, it could prep and wait for  . . . whatever it was programmed to wait for.

  1. We are being visited by entities from another dimension.

Well, now I just throw my hands in the air.  We do know that there are other dimensions, or at least are pretty sure that they are necessary to explain much of the physical phenomena we see around us today.  It’s possible, likely even, that there are alternate universes out there.  Maybe an infinite number.  But what if you could go to one that was next door?  That sounds really hard.  But might even be easier to move between alternate Earths than moving between stars.  We simply don’t know.

But if I could move between dimensions?  I could see wanting to keep track of the neighbors . . . .

  1. We are being visited by entities from another time.

This one is way weirder, and I consider much less likely.  Why?  Moving through time is probably way harder than moving through space.  The Earth is moving around the Sun.  So, if I tried to travel back in time?  I’d also have to travel through space to the place the Earth is now, not then.

And the Sun is moving through space.  It takes about 230 million years for it to do a lap – so it’s done over 19 laps around the Milky Way galaxy since it formed.  And the galaxy is moving, too.

Sorry to disillusion you, but if Doc Brown sent Marty back 25 years in time?  He’s die gasping for air in a DeLorean off in interstellar space, since the Sun is moving 30 miles per second in its orbit around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.  He’d have been 24 billion miles from anyone who had ever heard Johnny B. Goode.

In space no one can hear your guitar solo.

This is the least likely scenario.

Regardless, it is “beyond a reasonable doubt” that something out there, came here.

Those are not my words.  The dude who ran the program to study UFOs said this.  Obviously he’s seen more than we ever will.  I just hope he celebrates Penultimate Day in a non-heretical way.

The Boy is waiting to punish heretics . . .