Elon Musk, The Terminator, and The Matrix

“Look at it this way, Mulder, by the time there’s another invasion of artificially intelligent, dung-eating, robotic probes from outer space, maybe their über-children will have devised a way to save our planet.” – The X-Files

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Ahhh, remember when the Spaniards led the way to the nuclear missile base?

This is the second of three posts during Elon Musk Week® – the first one is here (LINK), and the third one is here (LINK)Elon Musk: The Man Who Sold Mars.  This one is (in theory) about health.  Kinda.

When I was a kid, one night on Creepy Creature Feature (LINK) they showed “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”  The really short version of the movie was that the Department of War (let’s call it what it is) built a computer to control all the nuclear bombs.  The Soviets built one, too, called Guardian.  I’ll let Wikipedia spoil the ending:

Colossus arranges a worldwide broadcast in which it proclaims itself “the voice of World Control”, declaring that it will prevent war, as it was designed to do. Mankind is presented with the choice between “the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied dead”. The computer states that it has been monitoring the attempts to disarm its missiles; as a lesson it detonates two of them in their silos in the US and the USSR, killing thousands, “so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference”. The computer then transmits plans for an even larger computer complex to be built into the island of Crete.

Colossus later announces that the world, now freed from war, will create a new human millennium that will raise mankind to new heights, but only under its absolute rule. Colossus informs Forbin that “freedom is an illusion” and that “in time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love”. Forbin responds, “Never!”

In 8th grade over a decade after the movie first came out, in some sort of weekly school magazine, they had a script for a play of the Forbin Project (I am not making this up).  We were going to film it, because for some reason the school had this great, hulking video camera (weight, approximately three tons) and a VCR that they never used (weight, approximately six tons).  My teacher couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR not auto-rewind every time we hit “stop.”  Thus ended my budding film career.

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It’s the future!  Why aren’t we all wearing jumpsuits???

This kills me, because I was playing Doctor Forbin.  (sigh)  At least I won the lip-syncing contest that week with the Lido Shuffle:

It looked a lot like this:

butters dancing

In the Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg autistic billionaire slapfight over Artificial Intelligence, I’m siding firmly with Elon Musk.  AI is the second most dangerous threat that humanity is now facing, besides the potential for another KISS comeback tour.  Gene Simmons has soooo much extra skin, and Paul Stanley might break another hip.

Given that Elon and I are in agreement that AI is in the “as dangerous as being changed to a hungry pitbull with bad gas” (the pitbull, not me), I was really quite surprised when he announced the latest one of his ventures, which is mind-bending (literally in this case):  Neuralink®, which will link the human brain, via AI, to the . . . well . . . infosensesphere.

Yes, you read that right:  direct linking of the human brain (through a machine interface) to the infosensesphere.

And it is possible?  It’s already starting, though right now we’re using Playskool® versions of this technology.  Cochlear implants are allowing the deaf to hear with 16 bit fidelity.  (No, not everything sounds like Super Mario Brothers, but that would be cool.)  We can read pictures of dreams people are having and record them.  We can hook a machine eye into the nervous system of blind people, and they can see rudimentary pictures.  All of this was science fiction ten years ago.

I had to make up a word like “infosensesphere” because I’m pretty sure we don’t have a word to describe the concept.  Neuralink© implies that we’ll be able to:

  • Google without being able to spell (oh, wait, that’s done).
  • Share Microsoft® Outlook™ schedule information . . . wait, that’s done, too.
  • Share feelings. Like sad.    Thankfulness.  Salty.  Drunk.  Mind to mind.
  • Have all of the data available in the world instantly, essentially melding the Internet in as your own personal memory. You won’t search – you’ll remember.
  • Shut down your current input sensations, like pain, or headaches. (Not the headache that Johnny Depp’s career is, but real ones.)
  • Share sensations. Like . . . all of them.    Even that.  And that, too.
  • Co-opt AI. Artificial intelligence would be part of us.  And, we’d be part of it.

Essentially, you’d be hooked up to all of humanity.  All of the time.  When a friend felt joy at finding a new flavor of Pez®, you could feel the joy.  And taste the Pez©.  All when your friend did.  Think texting is addictive?

Additionally, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t record all of it.  That feeling of joy when you got your first date?  You could feel that way again, every day.  That feeling of sadness when she broke up with you?  You could edit and delete it out.

I start to come up with some huge questions:

  • What about privacy? Think fighting with a spouse is bad now?  What happens when they see what you’re really thinking about them in the middle of a fight?  Oh, and if you don’t share, the fight gets worse.
  • If you think Facebook® envy is bad, how bad would it be to envy everyone and their feelings?
  • What if, instead of all your base are belong to us, all your brain are belong to us?  What if they delete everyone’s memories and hold them for hostage?  Or just flat out steal your passwords?
  • AI uses you as data storage and as a remote appendage. If only there was movie, starring Keanu Reeves that might be able to show us what this might be like . . .
  • Would you have to share with your Boss? No fake calling in sick.  And if they asked you to share your feelings about them, would you?  Even the fantasy you have about them being sealed in a barrel of live snakes and lemon juice after covering their body with paper cuts?
  • What about free will? Now that your brain is tethered to everyone else, how do you push your ideas to the front . . . of your own brain?
  • Why bother to climb Everest when you can experience that climb without leaving your basement? I have to use explosives and threaten to shut off the Internet to get The Boy and Pugsley away from their computers now.  Why would they ever get off the couch if they were Nugget-Netted© in?
  • If you thought drunk texting your old girlfriend was bad . . . wait until you send drunk feelings. Oh, and you get to remember it in vivid detail the next day.  And she can share it with everyone.  And it’ll be on record.
  • At what age would a kid get his net? What happens when it’s mandated they get one?
  • What happens if it breaks down? You’ve adapted to life with what is (essentially) a super mentally processing hive-mind schizophrenia.  What happens when you’re back with a tricycle (with a bent back wheel) for a brain?
  • What if you can’t (for whatever reason) get the implant? Is there a special island they keep you on?  A zoo?

But think of the positive sides?

  • You can feel like you ate a chocolate cream pie. Without eating one.
  • The dryer would tell you when your clothes were warm, hot, and ohhhh-so-fluffy.
  • Weight loss problems would be a thing of the past. You could shut off hunger.
  • You could literally put yourself on autopilot for the work day while your consciousness read comic books inside your brain. But, let’s be real – in this type of future, why would you even have a job?
  • It would likely be impossible to murder someone. Or start a war.  You’d probably be forced to feel the pain of others, in whatever passes for school.
  • No more ACT, since everyone would have a perfect score. No more college, either.
  • Oh, and you could put yourself on autopilot for the gym, too! You’d be hulking out whenever you wanted to!

This type of technology is amazing in its scope.  It changes not only civilization, but changes every individual human in the future.  If we were to catapult ourselves 200 years into the future we would fundamentally not be able to understand civilization – it would be as if ten million years of evolution took place.  Thankfully, no sixties song ever dealt with this question . . . oh, wait!

Again, I agree with Elon that Artificial Intelligence is dangerous, but at least I can imagine being chased around by Terminators® until John Connor® takes them out.  I cannot, however, imagine the perfect melding of machine with my brain, and my brain with yours.  Maybe Colossus can help us figure out what that might look like?

Paging Dr. Forbin . . . .

Will you buy a Tesla™ 3?  You already have.

“You guys taking it all in?  Because this is what it looks like when Google acquires your company for over $200 million.  Look Dustin Moskovitz.  Elon Musk.  Eric Schmidt. . . .  I mean, Kid Rock is the poorest person here. Apart from you guys.” – Silicon Valley

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The earliest prototypes for the Tesla® cars were actually called Newton™, and depended only on gravity!

Elon Musk has a plan.  Honestly, I think it might work, and I heartily endorse it.  But you will have to wait until Monday and I’ll share what Elon’s plan really is.  But the good news?  This post and the next two will be ELON MUSK week.  It’s like Shark Week® on Discovery™, but for real nerds.  This is part one.  Part two is here (LINK) and part three is here (LINK).

You might have heard that that Musk made international headlines for . . . delivering thirty cars.  That’s amazing!  He brings out $1.5 million worth of merch, and the world collapses toward him like puppies on a dead wildebeest.  I assume puppies eat wildebeest.   Anyway . . .

In my hometown, they probably sold that many vehicles last week.  You can’t keep a car salesman in cologne with much less than that.  But did the tech journalists hover around Big Mack while he sold Farmer Brown a ¾ Ton Chevy®?  Nope.

Elon Musk has a vision, and a talent for sharing it.  He was the kid in class that could convince the teacher that, sure, it was an awesome fall day out in Pretoria, so they should hold class outsides.

Great idea, Elon!  (In actuality, it sounds like his childhood was much more like a version of Terminator® when it came to the other kids, but I can totally identify with that, too.  Maybe another post.  Nah.)

But Elon moved ahead.  Eventually, after making several hundred million dollars before he was old enough to grow a decent beard, Elon got involved with Tesla®.  (This is after he got involved with SpaceX, which will be important Monday.)  At the end of 2016, Tesla had sold 182,115 cars.

This is the total.  For all time.

Musk indicates that he will ramp Model 3 production up to 500,000  . . . a year.  Let’s say that he can ramp it up (normally he does meet goals, sometimes late) and produce that for 10 years.  That’s five million cars.

Impressive!

Currently, Tesla® is worth $53.7 billion.  Dollars.  That total comes from the total number of shares of Tesla™ divided by the current share price.  So, just for grins, let’s divide that $53.7billion by the five million cars he plans to produce.

That’s $10,740 per car.  In the next ten years.  Certainly he could produce more, but he’s not even produced his stated goal of 500,000 per year yet.

Ford® made 6.6 million cars.  Last year.  Assume ten years of steady production? 66 million cars.  Ford™ is worth $44.3 billion dollars (and actually makes a profit).  Divide $44.3 billion dollars by 66 million cars?  That $671 per car.

Okayyyyy . . . is Tesla worth fifteen times what Ford® is worth?

What about Daimler A.G.?  They make Mercedes-Benz©, which are awesome cars.  Things the Germans build well?  Tanks and cars.  Thankfully they’re building cars now.  Daimler makes only about 3 million cars a year.  (But, they’re AWESOME cars.)  So, 30 million cars in ten years.  They are worth about $74.5 billion dollars, or $2500 in stock per car.  But, Daimler pays a dividend of 5% per year, too.  And it makes a profit.

But the post is titled, “Will you buy a Tesla™ 3?  You already have.” not, “Is Tesla® stock stupidly overpriced?”

Cars (for me) are (mostly) a utility.  If I can get from one place to another reliably and cheaply, that’s really all I want out of a car.  I think that carpet in any pickup is a travesty.  And air conditioning?  That’s not for closers.  And I have skin in the game (I’m talking to you, Taleb (LINK )) as this is the way I live my life.  Old car.  New car.  Clown car.  Really doesn’t much matter to me (LINK).

But a Tesla 3© is not low cost.

Musk claims that about half the country could afford one, and I’d argue that he’s very pretty far off the mark on this one.  I still suggest that spending you shouldn’t buy a car that costs more than 15% of your gross income.  If you follow this rule, you can afford a Tesla 3®, if your income is $230,000 a year.  Or more.  If we relax that to 20%?  You can get one if you make $175,000 a year (or more).

So, there is some subset of people who can afford a Tesla 3©.  Just not all that many, since the average family income in the US is about $52,000.  (And, remember, cash only!)

Furthermore, the average age of people in the US is 37.8 years.  The average net worth of the average forty-year-old is $52,000.  There is no planet (except Mars?) on which I’d suggest you sink 70%+ of your net worth into a car.

But, let’s say you could afford a Tesla 3®.  Should you get one?  Maybe???

The Tesla 3™ is a sedan.  The Toyota Camry© is a sedan.

The Tesla 3™ costs $35,000.  The Toyota Camry© costs $23,000.  (Both are base models.)

At $0.14/kW, a Tesla 3® costs (in energy) $0.034 per mile.

At $2.50/gallon gasoline, a 30MPG Camry© costs $0.083 per mile.

So, a nickel a mile is what you save by driving a Tesla 3©.

Good deal.  The average driver drives 12,000 miles per year.  So, the $12,000 difference in cost between the Tesla and the Toyota?  Yeah, you’ll earn that back in 20 years after driving 240,000 miles.  If you still have the Tesla after 20 years.  Everyone keeps a car 20 years, right?

That’s a lame payout, $600 per year on $12,000.  But on that 21st year?  That $600 is all yours, baby!

What about $4.00 gas?  Pays out in about 10 years.  $7.00 gas?  Five years.  Now we’re talking!  Gas has been at that price . . . never.

But Elon isn’t stupid.

And you’ve already bought one of his cars.

I know, you’re saying, “John Wilder, I’m not an Internet billionaire!  How can I afford one?”

You paid taxes.

And if you buy a Tesla 3®?  You get a $7,500 tax incentive.  From the federal government – that, after a fashion, everyone else pays for.  So if you didn’t buy one?  You still kick in for everyone else’s car.

State level incentives exist as well, from $0 (sane states), up to a whopping $9,500 income tax credit in Louisiana.

If you live in the right state, a Tesla 3® actually costs less than a Camry™, thanks to everyone else kicking in for your car.

But not really.  In theory, Musk actually has to produce your car.  And if you’re over a pre-determined maximum number of cars (200,000), the credit drops, then, eventually disappears.  But I’m betting that Musk has another plan altogether, and, in some fashion, he’ll continue shifting the cost of the Tesla 3® to other people, so it might be a good deal for the purchasers.

But, like I said, you already bought one.

It’s just that someone else is owns it.

Like I said – Musk has a plan.  Come back on Monday and I’ll clue you in as to what it is.

PLEASE do NOT take this blog as tax advice.  I am not a registered phlebotomist, or whatever the person is who does taxes.  Entering this record into court might be amusing, but it certainly won’t help you, unless you want to go to prison for tax evasion.

Also, I do NOT have positions in any of the stocks mentioned, nor do I intend to take any, because the market can stay stupid longer than I can stay solvent.  I am not a financial planner.  But I am a dancer!

The Lighter Side of The Collapse of Complex Societies

“But on this Earth, Rome never fell. A world ruled by emperors who can trace their line back two thousand years, to their own Julius and Augustus Caesars.” – Star Trek

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Wilderus, Welthius, and Wisus, the original Roman Edition.

 

When a star starts its fusion cycle, it starts off with nice, ecologically friendly hydrogen.  The star transforms this into helium, using just a bit of energy to send to nearby planets so that they can make Pez®.  Eventually, the star will start fusing helium in its core.  This causes the boundary of the star to move outward, and the star becomes a red giant.

If the star is big enough, it will continue creating heavier and heavier elements through fusion, each of them in turn making heavier elements.  Until the star starts creating iron.  Whereas the fusion reactions (including those that form iron) all produce excess energy, iron fusion actually consumes energy.  The collapse of a star that starts fusing iron is rapid – the energy required to push the mass away from the center of the star disappears.  The mass begins to (quite rapidly) fall inward back to the star.  All of it.  All at once.

And we call that a “Supernova,” which I hear is a pretty neat surf ride.   I voted to name it “Wildernova” but was overruled on the grounds I hadn’t been born yet.

Great cultures have fallen in the past – Rome is forefront among them, since, from founding until the fall of Byzantium (that’s the Eastern Roman Empire) it lasted 2200 years.  But there were others, the Mayans, the Greeks, and my next door neighbor when I lived in Alaska.  All of those cultures passed away over time.

Since you can’t be a professor and not make up theories and stuff (the job has to look like work at least some of the time) Joseph Tainter came up with his theory of The Collapse of Complex Societies, which he published in a book in 1988.  Like many people who have really good ideas, Tainter has been milking this one for quite a while, which I heartily approve of.  If they’re gonna buy the same stuff from you again and again?  Keep selling it!  Heaven knows Aerosmith hasn’t had a new song since 1985.

Tainter’s book is quite accessible, and much shorter than one would imagine with a good idea.  Most people take twenty pages of fascinating ideas and stretch them into several thousand pages of books, PowerPoints, and training sessions.  Not Tainter.  He packs his twenty pages of ideas into a Spartan 267 pages, including end notes.

A note about buying the book:  DON’T.  I spent $35 for my copy nearly a decade ago, and now a new copy is $47.  Plus tax.  So, unless you like paying $0.176 per page of book, DON’T.  Why did I spend so much?  Dunno.  I’m cheap, but this book kept being referenced EVERYWHERE, so I thought I’d buy it.

I think it’s so expensive because it’s technically a textbook, and thus normal supply and demand economics don’t work with textbook publishers.  Boy, when the Internet takes that group down, I’ll be smiling.

Anyhow . . .

Tainter suggests that societies start small, and aren’t very complex at the beginning.  As the society grows in size and scope, it begins to become more complex.  And then?  Problems start.  We have a water heater that supports four normal-human length showers, or one shower by The Boy.  Thus, a new rule.  Everyone showers BEFORE The Boy.  But that has unintended consequences.  Now I have to get up earlier to make sure I don’t have to take a shower in water colder than Shia LeBeouf’s jail cell.

Now I have to get up earlier.  Since I have to get up earlier, I’m groggy while I drive to work.  Since I’m groggy, I forget my coffee, now I’m double groggy and less sharp at work, and don’t create as much value.  Then the Cubans invade, sensing weakness, and we have to move to the Rockies to defend against the Soviets.  Go Wolverines!

You see how this works.

Actually, the above is a (slight) exaggeration of Tainter’s theory.  You start with one rule, and it has unintended consequences that require other rules.  Which . . . create more unintended consequences, requiring . . . more rules.

Pretty soon, most of society is either closely governed by the rules, or is so enmeshed in all the rules that they just want to get out – rather than society’s efforts going to create a comfortable life for the citizens, society’s efforts go into . . . supporting society’s rules.

I was reading Seneca’s (the dead Roman) Letters several years ago when one passage struck me . . . Seneca was writing to his friend and mentioned in passing boating regulations in Imperial Rome.  Boating regulations.  From that you can infer that the Romans had entire bureaucracies working on the correct size of a gladiator’s loincloth to the proper number of grapes in a bowl to be served to the Caesar.  And, eventually, people got tired of the regulation.  How bad did it get?  Bad enough that they had to make a regulation stating that if you were the first born son, you had to do what your dad did.  Farms were going unplanted because farmers’ sons were walking away to go do something less regulated, so they had to force them to be farmers.  Except they just ignored the rule and walked away, in time.

Additionally, Rome had to support the infrastructure required by the Empire.  An Empire requires food, roads, and bridges.  And slaves.  And Pez® factories.  And an Army.  And this stuff costs money.  Retard the economic progress of the productive folks through regulation and add in a bunch of stuff they have to pay for, and you’ve got trouble.

Plus, let’s say you’re a Roman dealer in granite countertops.  When your great-grandfather started business, all the granite was nearby, but the best stuff was used 20 years ago.  Now they have to bring it in by ship.  The cost of your business goes up and so does the societal energy required to get that granite.  Food and wine have to be brought from farther and farther away because, in order to feed over a million people living in Rome, you had to get the stuff here, and it wasn’t like you could walk down to Caesar-Mart to get Hot Pockets® at 2AM.  It took much more energy to feed the people of Rome.

And did you see that there were a million people living in Rome?  There were as low as 200 million on the whole planet, which would be like a modern city having 0.5% of the world’s population living there, or 350 million people living in one city.  (Tokyo is currently the biggest in the world, at only 33 million.)  While not overpopulation, this population concentration was costly in an economic sense.

The outward signs of Rome’s weakness were the Goths, Vandals, and Jocks sacking Rome – but Rome had to defeat itself first, just like the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

Eventually, Rome fell, but primarily because its citizens decided, quite voluntarily and rationally to shed a layer of complexity that no longer served their purpose.  It was as if they were a star, and started fusing iron.  And all the Romans ran together at once at full speed into the center of Rome and mushed into each other.  And exploded outward at the speed of light.

Ummm, metaphorically.

Maslow’s Hierarchy, Fear, and Highlander

“Honor? I’ve got seven kingdoms to rule! One king, seven kingdoms! Do you think honor keeps them in line? Do you think it’s honor that’s keeping the peace? It’s fear! Fear and blood!” – Game of Thrones

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I don’t ask for much.  I just want to die as I came into this world – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow had one of the two ideas that cemented him in the public consciousness, sort of like a Johnny Depp of years’ past, but with more showers than Johnny usually takes.

This idea (the other idea was, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  For obvious reasons it isn’t known as Wilder’s Hierarchy, though . . . that’s coming soon, I hear, maybe even by the end of the post! (Foreshadowing!)

Maslow’s Hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid, because Maslow only intended for his psychological work to be used for ancient Egyptians, since that greatly reduced his malpractice insurance.  Also, his patients could not sue, being dead and all.  Upon further reflection and remembering that mummies could come back from the dead if they were played onscreen by really hot people, Maslow changed his mind (and his insurance carrier) and decided that Maslow’s Hierarchy was universally applicable, even onto inanimate objects, like bankers and rocks.

I kid.  Everyone knows that rocks have feelings.

Anyhow, Maslow’s Hierarchy was really his way to describe how and why people act the way they do, and asking them is just too darn hard.  Maslow’s Hierarchy became really popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was used to explain absolutely everything in public education from why kids hate split pea soup to why they are attempting to knife the teacher.   But what is the pyramid?

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeedsBy FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

At the base of the pyramid are the physiological needs – things like breathing, food, water, shelter from the cold, cold winter of your parent’s disappointment.  These were the needs that Maslow felt you couldn’t get past unless they were met.  You’re not exactly thinking about writing poetry when you’re drowning, so Maslow said you were stuck down here.  Interestingly, Maslow felt that sex belonged here, too, despite all of the bad poetry written by involuntarily celibate 15 year olds . . .

Moving right along, Maslow said if you were fed, warm, and could breathe after sex, you could worry about security needs.  Me?  I worry about staying awake.  Maslow might be the only person who locked the door to his bedroom after sex.  For the record – Maslow brought up sex first.

But, these security needs weren’t just having a loaded carbine when your Zombie Grandma (LINK) shows up at your bedside.  These security needs also include (according to Wikipedia®):

  • financial security,
  • health, and,
  • “safety net” against health problems.

If these sound familiar, this appears (to me) to be the level where almost every political argument is waged.  You don’t hear any politicians saying that they’ll get you all the air you can breathe, but they do sure fight for the “government will take care of me” vote.

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I imagine Al is normally pretty well adjusted.  But TSA?  Yeah.  They take it out of everyone.

The next step up is social belonging.  For those of you born after 1995, this is like being on Facebook®, but with actual people.  It includes the usual suspects from your Facebook™ feed – family, friends, co-workers, people you go to church with, except rarely will anyone quote Firefly© and William Shatner won’t show up on your “Doorstep” feed (LINK).  One reason I think people feel a bit more hollow today than twenty years ago is that so many depend upon Facebook© for their social relationships – it’s like a friendship if you stripped out all of the parts that make a friendship real – the person you can share with, the person that you can call in the middle of the night for help when you need it the most.

Since when do I worry more about my 401k than my family?  Since Maslow said so?  Hmmmmm.  We might be seeing some cracks in this philosophy.

Next on the list is esteem. This means people accept you and value you.  You provide worth to those around you.  You’re a ninja in a room full of evil kittens (unweaned, eyes closed, but still REALLY EVIL).  And you have those throwing star things.  And two samurai swords.

See what happens when someone harshes your esteem:

Esteem is awesome.  It’s excellent!  I love it when people worship the stuff I do.  I also love it when people hold me accountable for the things I don’t do.  It means that what I do matters.  And if it doesn’t matter?  You don’t get real esteem.

I think this is where the current world begins to diverge farther and farther from the social reality.  I love soldiers.  95% of them are awesome!  But not every single one is a hero.  Many are awful people.  Again, I generally see the uniform, and I sense pride.  But to claim that all are heroes means that none are heroes.  All have the same esteem, so they all have none.

Another interesting note (well, it was interesting to me) is that one of the leading causes of depression among men over 40 is . . . loss of esteem, usually job-related.  When I say depression, I mean (shhh) suicide.  Which if you believed Maslow, this would just send you to your friends, and not all the way to square zero.

At the top of the pyramid?  Self-actualization.  It’s like if Wolverine® could do math.  Oh, wait, that’s Tony Stark.  Self-actualization was Maslow’s fantasy of how it felt to be Albert Einstein walking around everyday, but without the autism.  This means you’re living your full potential without restraint.  It must be how Jeff Bezos feels everyday now that he’s all pumped up on testosterone and has those big guns (arms) and big guns (actual rocket ships).  Heck, it’s likely he even has large artillery somewhere.

The rich aren’t like you and me – they have cannon.  (With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Later in life, apparently after watching the TV show Kung-Fu or maybe seeing Led Zeppelin on stage, Maslow added a capstone:

highlander

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE.  Remember how Connor McCloud of the Clan McCloud could do and be everything after he chopped all the heads off of all of those people in Highlander? (SPOILER ALERT FROM 1985)  Yeah.  Apparently this was what Maslow envisioned when he added this to his pyramid.

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I’ve been snarking at poor old Maslow this whole time, primarily because he looks like a well-meaning hippy from today’s standards.  And I’m not sure he deserves it, but, really, it sure is fun.  Ironically, my comments are tame compared to the criticisms of his fellow academicians:

  • Ethnocentric – individualistic versus communal.   Soviet Union fell, dude.
  • Peacetime Vs. Wartime – war combines the two bottom parts of the pyramid so that security takes on the same level of importance as eating. Which, except for a few hundred years in a few small places on Earth?
  • I Could Have Done It Better – Well, sure! What part of the pyramid are you on?  Sissy.

Okay, can I criticize it better than those idiots?

Absolutely.

Maslow entirely neglected the concept of time.  If hunger has been gnawing at me for weeks, it’s a very different story than if I’m worried about being hungry tomorrow.  Hunger forever gnaws at the soul.  (Not the sole – who eats feet?)

Likewise, a brave man will jump on that grenade for you in combat, whereas one who has been sitting at the bottom of a trench for a week might just want to see you gone because you snore or eat your own toenails.

The concept of time is crucial.

And, on further reflection?  Most of our motivation comes not from a clear and shining purpose – it comes from fear.  And fear is time-dependent.  The longer it goes, the more it nips at your soul.  And those we rightly call heroes are those that overcome that fear, both in the short-term and during the long game.  We used to call that character.

So, I make the following Modest Proposal:

Let’s call this . . . the Wilder Hierarchy of Fear™ – (represented by a blob, not a pyramid) starting with –

  • First Fear:   Fear of not having Pez®.  And not breathing.  And not having food.  And freezing to death.  This fear will make you do stupid things, especially in the short term.  Longer term (a week or so) it might even grow into a debilitating fear.
  • Second Fear: Family Survival.  Fear of losing your family.  Many times it will overcome the First Fear, unless you really, really like Pez® more than one of your children.
  • Third Fear: Bloodline Survival.  You like your kids.  You want them to have more kids.  Why?  It’s good.  Especially if you read this blog, because your IQ is totes above 125.  And we need more of you!  Fears of financial failure fall in here.
  • Fourth Fear: Fear of Shame.  You have people you work with.  People who look up to you.  People who admire you.  You don’t want to appear weak or incompetent or dishonorable to them – in many ways, that’s worse than death, because it puts a blight on the family name.
  • Fifth Fear: Fear of Lack of Achievement.  Me?  I have to wonder how much more I could have done if it weren’t for the Pez®.  Stupid Pez™.
  • Sixth Fear: Fear You Aren’t a Marvel® Superhero.  Name says it all.  WHY DON’T I HAVE ADAMANTIUM CLAWS???

Noting that the First through Fourth Fears are driven by a desire to save your family and your community is pretty easy.  And maybe, maybe, I should change it to a pyramid.  Why?

The Bangles!

Bill Gates, Bill Shatner, and Billionaires

“Yeah, that’s nothing. Peter would spend millions just to mildly annoy Gavin. These are billionaires, Richard. Annoying each other means more to them than we’ll make in a lifetime.” – Silicon Valley20170725_232152 (2)

So, I met William Shatner.  He wasn’t as thrilled as I was. I saw him sign this, for me.  It looked like he wanted to get to the Holiday Inn and soak his feet.

Part of great success is built by luck.

Yes, that’s a declarative sentence, and of course I know my old granddaddy Quintin Tarantino used to say, “The less a man makes declarative statements, the less apt he is to look foolish in retrospect,” but I’ll stick by this one.

One of my favorite stories is about an author who submitted his novel to about a zillion publishers, only to be turned down by all of them.  All of them.

He was working a crappy night job at a dry cleaner, and after the novel came back, in a fit of anger he threw it into the trash, right on top of last night’s dinner.  He had given up.  His wife, however, still had hope.  She picked the novel out of the trash.  She replaced the cover – the old one had gotten spaghetti sauce all over it – and she sent it in.

One more time.

The publisher loved it.  Soon a book contract.  Then a movie, “Carrie.”

Yeah, that was Stephen King.  How many Stephen Kings are there working that just never got a break?  That didn’t have Brian dePalma direct a masterful movie off of their work?  Hundreds?  Thousands?

Heck, I have my own magnum opus I wrote on construction paper about a robot that could kill all of humanity and then died.  Because . . .

Dang, that was the hard part.  Yes.  Because humanity was so strong!!!!!

But, that’s me, not Stephen King.

Stephen King can write fiction that millions want to see.  But he was lucky he married a woman who believed one more time than he did.  Unlike my Mom, who cried on the construction paper.  She told me she was happy, but I still think those weren’t happy tears.

Let’s switch gears . . . .

Pick anyone named Bill who is wildly successful, and I’ll point to the break that they had – the luck – that got them over the top.

I’m NOT saying that Bill Shatner isn’t a gift to the world, because clearly he is.  But he was the second person who sat at the helm of the Enterprise, not the first.  He had a stroke or two of luck in that one . . .  But I follow him on Twitter®, he doesn’t follow me. (Yet)

I’m NOT saying that Bill Gates isn’t brilliant as I write on Microsoft® Word™ on a Microsoft© Windows® operating system (though Microsoft® Explorer™ . . . really, Bill?) because Bill Gates is clearly brilliant.  I follow him on Twitter© – he doesn’t follow me.  (Yet)

There were thousands of people who competed with Gates.  But we should all be honest:  it took more than one lucky break for Gates to end up with enough money to buy up all of the Pez® in the world three times over:

  • Gates was born rich. Not mega-rich, but rich.  As we all know, that’s the best way to get rich (LINK).
  • Gates had access to computers at a private prep school when only NASA, MIT, and The Hair Club for Men had access to that kind of computing power.
  • He met lots of the “right people” at Harvard.
  • He was lucky enough to bring some of those “right people” to Microsoft®.
  • He had a lucky meeting with IBM®. They’d use his new DOS® software, because (laughing) WHO WANTS TO OWN SOFTWARE?  Look at this cool green screen!

Bill eventually won – he built a monolith of a cash-generating company from the ground up.  At the right moment in history, Mr. Gates either developed or found:

  • The Right Vision. As early as 1980, the vision was a computer on every desk, in every home, running Microsoft® software.  By 1998 geriatric grandfathers had them to get e-mail from distant family.  By 2002 they were getting e-mailed photos regularly.  By 2004 they were sending money to Nigerian Princes and sending out virus-encrusted email greeting cards to EVERYONE in their address book.
  • The Right Skills. Bill Gates developed a wide variety of skills beyond his programming chops – he developed team leadership skills, accounting and sales skills, and the skills to hire the best.
  • The Right Team. Windows 1.0 sucked.  So did Word 1.0.  So did Excel 1.0.  They were the WORST.  But the team did second and third versions that were so good, so strong, so well integrated that dominant products like “Lotus 1-2-3” and “WordPerfect” were smashed harder than an Amish girl at spring break in Cancun.
  • The Right Business Environment. The early vision of computers on each desk meant . . . they had to be usable.  They had to provide value.  They had to be something that people wanted to use.  By creating that software, by creating Windows 95™, Gates got rid of the old constraints of the IBM clone as a business machine, and brought it into the home, massively multiplying the user base in a single year.

Mr. Gates was always going to do well.  He had too many factors in his favor from day one, even without the family wealth and support.  That was like having a springboard.  With his intellect at that time and place?  No way Bill walks away with less than $100,000,000.  He was going to create something awesome no matter what.  But one of the largest and most profitable companies on Earth?

Nah.  That wasn’t a cinch.

Again, I’m not saying that these Captains of Industry (Gates, Musk, Jobs, Thiel, Bezos, Brin, Page) aren’t worthy.  They most clearly are.  (But do you think that Page gets mad that I put Brin first?)  Again, clearly, each of them would have been very successful without luck.  But luck has played a part in vaulting each of these men into the massive success that they now enjoy.  (I was tempted to throw “clearly” into that last sentence, but, I think you’ve gotten the point by now.  Clearly.)

So you should Get Lucky.

Good heavens!  There must have been a LOT of bad decisions in the 1980s.  Starting with this album cover.

But, you’re asking, “How, John Wilder, can I, like Loverboy®, Get Lucky©?”

Well, you’re in luck!  I have a fairly short list that I’ll expand at a future point, when the astrological signs are right:

  • Hard Work – There is no substitute for this. Okay, there is.  Massive piles of talent and luck.  And money.
  • Live in a Big City (A Rich One) – For heaven’s sake, if you’re not rich? Hang around rich people!  They have opportunity, and, most importantly, businesses you can learn to work with.  And . . . run.
  • Work In a Job Where The Money Is – There are rich cities and poor cities. And there are rich portions of the economy and poor ones.  Would you rather work at the place where they recycle used water bottles, or the place where they build underground secret bases for aspiring Bond villains?  (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk).
  • Expose Yourself At Your Best – Have you ever seen that show, Cops? It’s every person, ever, at their very worst day.  On film.  Honestly, we all have bad days.  And we all have things we’re bad at (hopefully the thing you’re bad at isn’t personal hygiene – and it wouldn’t be, since you read this blog – you must smell like roses and fresh bread, and that’s on a bad day!).   But when you get a chance and you’re with a billionaire?  Show him what you do best.  Unless what you do best is eat Pez®.  Focus on things you can do for the billionaire that make him even more money.
  • Believe You’re Lucky – Sounds crazy, right? No science behind it?  But if you believe you’re lucky you’ll see good things when others see only bad.  You’ll see opportunity when others only see stone walls.  And if you stare at the Sun long enough . . . WAIT . . . don’t do that.  But I’m not kidding – believing you’re lucky makes you lucky.  Me?  I’m the luckiest guy you’ve ever read, unless you’ve read something that Keanu Reeves wrote, because that man is golden (LINK).

In 2016, there were 540 billionaires living in the US.  If 35% of them inherited their great gobs of billionaire cash, that leaves 351 who did it themselves.  Yay, them!  That gives you a 0.000117% chance of being one.

By doing the things I’ve listed above?  If you’re really smart (like 140+ IQ, PLUS read this blog)?  That means you can force those odds several orders of magnitude closer to your own private island.    Maybe even to 0.01% of a shot at the Tres Commas (A Billion has Three Commas) club.

This much, much closer than you could ever become with a lottery ticket.  And, the good news?  You will certainly become a millionaire, you know, with the shameful two commas.

All of this is better than winning the lottery.  Certainly your biggest shame?  You’re only a millionaire.

But none of this will allow you to become as cool as Bill Shatner.  Because there can be Only One True Shatner!

Peak Oil, Fracking, and Fashion

“There’s no such thing as gas shortage man, its all set up by the government, everything’s controlled by the oil companies like I heard about this guy who invented a car that runs on water man, its fiber glass, air cooled and it runs on water!” – That 70’s Show

DSC02359

That twisty line is the road to the North Slope.  The straight line is the Alaska Pipeline, see all the dead wildlife?  No?  Good times.

There are a lot of new readers to the site, so I thought I’d throw out some general notes: 

  • New posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My time, so if you get up early in London, might not be there yet.  You know who I’m talking about.

  • Mondays are Big Ideas (Wilder Weekly Wisdom). Wednesday is Wealthy Wilder.  And Friday is focused on health, mostly. 

Energy from oil allows us to move at great speed through space, hurl our ideas to one another at nearly the speed of light, and grow and move food to feed billions that would otherwise have no chance at life.  It heats us, cools us, and, most importantly, cools our beer.

Energy from oil is the most critical question of our lifetimes.  Unless you count fashion.  And I have NO IDEA what I’m wearing tomorrow!!!

There’s always some fuddy-duddy in the background during the party on Saturday night saying, “Hey, dudes, you are going to have SUCH a hangover tomorrow.”  In the 1950s, that party was oil and the person was M. King Hubbert.  And everyone smoked and drank martinis, and listened to Sinatra on their gramophones.

In a really short version, Hubbert said that there’s really only so much oil in the ground.  I know that you’re saying, “Duh, John Wilder, we know that, since the Earth is essentially a finite bounded sphere.”

Well, Mr. Internet-Smart-Pants, Hubbert made his claim on a much more immediate basis.  We were going to hit peak production in the whole world in 2000.  Here’s his original graph:

Hubbert_1956

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

Amazingly, Shell Oil paid him to do stuff like this.  At work!  Sounds like a job John Wilder needs.

From this, you’d take it that we currently live in a Mad Max® style Road Warrior© land populated by ex-football players chasing Mel Gibson.

ROAD WARRIOR

But no, I have it on good advice that Australia is currently engaged in a long term war against New Zealand, where the primary combat mode consists of Australia discussing the quality of wool produced by New Zealand sheep (shameful, what!) and New Zealand continues to pummel Australia in rugby.  (Note to Australia – I’ll get off your back when you get above 1% of my monthly visitor count, and I’ll start drinking Fosters® again.)

So what happened?

Well, Hubbert was really kinda exactly right.

Here’s the graph of what Hubbert predicted for United States oil production.  There’s a lovely peak in 1973.  Hubbert drew this out almost 20 years before then, so he nailed it, within months of actual United States oil production.  This prediction was almost spot on and pointed to the first time that OPEC (Oil Producing and Eating Communists) could use oil as a weapon, which they did with the Oil Embargo of 1973.  Thankfully, the federal government controlled oil prices so that they could ensure that we had very long lines at the gas stations.

hubbert united states

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

But then we get to something interesting – here’s the graph of oil production since then.  There was a secondary peak in the late 1980’s.

chart

That secondary peak was from production coming from Alaska’s North Slope shooting down the pipeline and buying freedom and crushing the Soviet Union.  Part of Reagan’s strategy to bring down USSR was to deprive it of cash.  The Saudi government opened the spigots, the United States drilled away, and, the Soviet export of crude oil no longer brought it the cash it needed for Pez® and nuclear bomb parts to build more missiles to get through the missile defense screen we were pretending to build.

Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union . . . using cheap oil.

But, like I said, Hubbert was still pretty much on the nose with his US prediction, since he excluded new technology and unconventional (Arctic, Deep Sea) oil.  The Arctic was really the first of the extreme locations that we looked for oil in the United States.  We followed it up with locations mind-numbingly deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  And that’s how we extended Hubbert’s curve.  But then oil hit $120 a barrel.  People freaked out!  The end of cheap oil was everywhere!

First we extended Hubbert’s curve.  Then we blew it out of the water (in BP’s case, they took that a little too literally in the Gulf of Mexico).

That last little spike upward?  That’s oil from fracking.  Yes, whereas “frack” used to just be a made-up cussword (you know, like “felgercarb”) on Battlestar Galactica, “frack” now stands for money.

frack2

Fracking is the process of drilling horizontally into an oil-bearing layer of rock and jacking the pressure up higher than a Colorado bed and breakfast.  Bits of sand and chemicals are introduced to hold open cracks in the rocks to allow oil to flow out.  And how does it work?

Fantastically.

The oil and gas produced from fracking allowed the US to reach near all-time production in a relative eye-blink of a time.  It’s distorted the entire economic picture of the world again, since the US can effectively produce a significant amount of its required production in a fairly quick period of just a few years.

This new technology allowed the world to find new reserves that were unthinkable in the 1950’s.

But are they good reserves?  Fracked oil and gas produces about 85 units for each unit of energy invested.

Let’s compare them to the rest of the crowd:

eroi

By Mrfebruary – Own work Data from Table 2, Murphy, D. J. and Hall, C. A. S. (2010), Year in review—EROI or energy return on (energy) invested. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1185: 102–118. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x/pdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16238068

Wow.  Fracked oil produces MUCH more energy than most everything we currently produce.  And while we’re right now fracking only the best spots, and the return on energy will drop, it’s still really, really high.  Oil sands up in Canada have about a 4:1 return, so I expect, based on their relatively poor energy production (plus huge unpopularity) that they’ll not be an investment hub in the near future.

And, I’ll admit – I didn’t see this coming.  My original take on fracking was that it was a side-show – that the energy produced would actually be an energy drag on us – taking almost as much energy to produce as it took to drill the wells.  Nope.  Totally wrong.  Fracking will be with us for decades.

Why do I predict this?

  1. People like driving.
  2. People like plastic things.
  3. People don’t like living cold and in the dark.
  4. Given the current return on energy invested? Fracked oil is huge.

I would guess we have at least 10 years’ worth of high quality fracked oil, if not 20 or 30.  I don’t have the data (and couldn’t find it easily) but this may be the most important question of your life – how does fracked oil impact the Hubbert curve?

I know that many folks are of the hope that we will get rid of oil, natural gas, and especially coal.  I’m sorry for you, really, because as the graph of United States energy consumption shows (below):

renewable energy

  • Renewables are pitifully small and, if they keep growing at this rate, might be 20% of the energy in the country by 2435.
  • Oil use dropped when it was a $120 a barrel. Headed back up now.
  • Natural gas is now much cheaper than a decade ago since they’re finding it everywhere (fracking). Huge growth.
  • Coal has dropped, primarily due to making it tough on coal electricity providers. Still a huge player in electricity production.
  • Nuclear is level. The things are horribly hard to build and hard to get rid of, too.
  • Biomass is steady-ish.
  • Hydroelectric (our best ROI!) is flat and at the bottom. Nobody wants a new dam, but you have to have dams to have the cleanest energy source possible.

But let’s see how that compares to the rest of the world:

Bp_world_energy_consumption_2016

By Martinburo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53803246Oil
  • Oil, increasing.
  • Coal, increasing. A bit of a drop off (probably mainly the US).
  • Natural gas.   Steady.
  • Meh.  Mainly replacing nuclear.
  • Nuclear – dropping off.

I’m pretty much at the point where, although I see that forests of wind farms have been built, and California has this Death Star® array where they fry birds with a million mirrors focused on a big Rubik’s Cube® filled with molten salt, I’m not impressed.  Okay, I really am impressed that they talked someone into building this Dr. Evil-style structure out in the desert, and I’m expecting it to show up in the 2028 movie, Kingsmen:  Diamonds Sunlight are is Forever.

Just like you, I’d love to live in a world powered by clean, renewable energy, where everyone loved one another, and Disney® wasn’t in the process of destroying Star Wars©, but that’s not where we live, and if we tried to go there?

Billions would die. (not from the Star Wars™ thing, but from the lack of energy thing)

Fortunately, not many would die where I live, but mainly in the rest of the world.  I’d be fine, and, probably you too since you’re a reader of this blog and thus smarter than 99.999% of humanity and everyone in Australia (again, Australia, I know you speak English, so start visiting and I’ll activate a truce).

Unless we get a breakthrough in physics or oil suddenly disappears from the Earth due to a virus cunningly devised by an evil scientist named Mike, oil will be the primary power source for decades.  After that?

It’s the most crucial question that we’ll ever face as a species.

Except for fashion.

Oh, I do know what I’ll wear tomorrow!  That was easy!

Why Fitbit and Cheat Day Might Be Making You Fatter

“What is wrong with these people? They have no willpower. I once went 28 years without having sex. And then again for seven years.” – The Office

DSC03308

How Cheat Day feels.

Fitbit® will not make you skinny.  In fact, Fitbit™ might make you fatter (or, make you lose less weight).

Why?  Although exercise is very, very, good for you, you still can’t run faster than your teeth (LINK) . . . exercise is not the biggest factor in losing weight – it’s calorie intake(we’ve covered that before, too (LINK) – remember the Scottish dude who didn’t eat . . . for over a year?  Yeah.  He got skinny.  Remember, he started at 456 pounds.

Sure, he exercised, but his ace in the hole was the “not eating” component of his plan.  But if he would have had a Fitbit® . . .

It’s not just Fitbit™ – it’s any fitness tracking device.

Why?  Well, it’s all in your head.  Really.

The most crucial part of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or, really, kicking any habit) is hacking your own brain first.  And if you don’t do it, there are tons of companies that want to do it for you.

Let me give an example:

Once upon a time after I graduated college, I was in a department store (this is in the BA time – Before Amazon) and was looking at a stereo.  It was awesome!  Speakers big enough to use as a coffin for a large dog.  I wanted it, but knew that I shouldn’t.  I owed people money, like my mortgage company.  I had just moved.  It was expensive.  Ohhh, but it was pretty!  And it had . . . surround sound!  I could listen to my TV with speakers located behind my head!

I would have walked away, but the person I was in the store with said, “You studied really hard in school.  You work really hard at work.  You deserve it!”

Brain hacked.

I bought the stereo (and ended up paying probably 10% more than the price in interest) since I couldn’t pay it off that month.

But I deserved it, right?

No.

I totally didn’t deserve it.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Nobody Deserves Anything.  If we could just tattoo that on each other’s foreheads, we’d all be better off.  I never hear The Boy or Pugsley EVER say deserve.  It’s a dirty word around our house, and no one wants to hear the 45 minute lecture that goes with that word.

That word successfully hacked my brain, though.  In a way, that was worth the whole price of the stereo, five times over.

And that’s what Fitbit© does.  It creates the concept of deserve in your brain – and that’s the danger.  I walked 10,000 steps today!  I deserve . . . a pizza.  Not a slice.  A pizza.  I walked 15,000 steps – that’s a pizza and some ice cream.  Oh, and beer.

So, an activity tracker might just make you fatter.  Are there other self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in that might add in to the mess?  Sure there are:

  • “I’ve already slipped up today, so I’ll eat the whole pizza.” – This makes sense – it combines a temporary defeat with a complete and total surrender of the day. Yay!
  • “I’ll restart the diet after the weekend. And this pizza.” – Ah, the good old future you, paying for the sins of present you.
  • “My cheat meal can be a cheat day.” – Well, meal is a lot like day in that they’re both words.
  • “My cheat day can be a cheat weekend.” – And what weekend isn’t made up of days?
  • “Chips are good for you, right?” – Only if you own stock in Frito-Lay©.
  • “Those cookies will go stale if I don’t eat them?” – And they will slowly kill you if you do . . . .

These have the common theme of “deserve” followed by “victim” followed by “extreme rationalization.”

And how do these come to mind?  These are already tricks I use to convince myself that this makes sense.  I’ve had to abandon cheat meals because . . . I’m not good enough to deal with them.  Likewise, any system that depends upon your willpower to for long term support, especially when you have a friend like your brain, is doomed.

Scott Adams works the idea that he uses choices to work around willpower.  Now I’m not sure that Scott has ever weighed a pound over his ideal weight, but he does have a point – willpower for a long term diet is a difficult partner, so he has a system.  Sadly, as a vegetarian, none of his choices involve bacon, and my choice the other night to eat all those chips was probably not as bad as it could have been (I might have tried to inject them into my eyes), but it wasn’t a great choice.

So, an activity tracker might be a calorie enabler, and another tool for your mind to tell you that you deserve something.  And whatever you do – don’t make me give you that talk.

Reminder:  John Wilder is STILL not a doctor, nor will he regenerate as one.  Consult your Doctor, Attorney, Car Mechanic, and Podiatrist prior to following any advice that you might get from here.