Washington: Musk, Patton, and Jack Daniels all Rolled into . . . the ONE

“I, George Washington, born in 1492, freer of the slaves, and the first president of this, our country, though savagely impeached for the shooting of Abe Lincoln, I will lead us into the demise of all humans!” – Home Movies


General George Washington, 1776, when he was about 44 years old.  44 years old, a billionaire, a war hero from the French and Indian War, and now commanding a rebel group fighting the largest superpower in the world.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why all that stuff is named for him?

There is a time for fighting valiantly and dieting.  Then there exists the Thanksgiving/Christmas nexus.  I’ve been generally trying to minimize the carb content of what I eat, but Thanksgiving?  Yeah, I’m having pumpkin pie.  And stuffing.  And mashed potatoes.  And might drink a bit of gravy.  Just a quart or two.  Not from the gravy boat – I have standards.  I have standards . . . and a mug.  A great gravy mug.

Yes, I have willpower, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are more difficult times to stick to diets.  So, I don’t.  And I don’t spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it’s also a good time to reflect that eating different things changes my mood.

If I’ve had enough potatoes to feed the Soviet Army, I know that I’ll feel differently both physically and mentally.  Sugar is similar. Ditto with bread.

So, how do I feel different physically?  For me, when I eat carbs I tend to retain a LOT more water.  It’s my theory that it’s used to think out my blood so it flows better than maple syrup.  When I jump back into the low carb regimen, I know that for the first few days I will dump water faster than the democrats dumped Al Franken.

I’m pretty sure that the extra water does NOT do anything really good for me.

How do I feel different mentally?  Again, for me the low carb (very low, like none) zaps me into a state of clarity and stability.  Stuff just doesn’t bother me as much.  And I seem to get better sleep.

But one thing that’s wonderful about the Holidays is . . . George Washington.

George was really tall for his time and place, and strong enough that he could crush walnuts in his bare hand.  British walnuts.  And he was known to party (from teachingamericanhistory.org):

First Troop Philadelphia City
Cavalry Archives, 1774
City Tavern
George Washington
Entertainment of
15 Sept., 1787

Light Troop of Horse, September the 14th 1787

To Edwd Moyston .. Dr.
To 55 Gentlemans Dinners & Fruit
Rellishes, Olives etc………………………………………..  20  12   6
54 Bottles of Madera……………………………………….  20   5
60 of Claret ditto……………………………………………  21
8 ditto of Old Stock…………………………………………   3   6   8
22 Bottles of Porter ditto………………………………….   2  15
8 of Cyder ditto……………………………………………..  16
12 ditto Beer…………………………………………………  12
7 Large Bowels of Punch………………………………….   4   4
Segars Spermacity candles etc………………………….   2   5
To Decantors Wine Glass [e]s & Tumblers Broken etc..   1   2   6
To 16 Servants and Musicians Dinners……………………   2
16 Bottles of Claret…………………………………………   5  12
5 ditto Madera……………………………………………….   1  17   6
7 Bouls of Punch…………………………………………….   2  16   
£89   4   2


If you study the above, you’ll see that George Washington and 54 of his best buddies had 114 bottles of wine, plus cider, beer, and 8 bottles of hard alcohol.  I’m thinking our Founding Fathers were knee-walking drunk at this point – you can see that they got well into the “smashing the bottles and glasses” part of the party.  And it was the equivalent of something between $15,000 and $20,000 that he spent on the party.

George liked to party.

And he liked to party at Christmas, which brings us to eggnog.

Now, I must tell you that I really, really hate eggnog.  Hate it with a passion.

Or I did, until I had George’s eggnog.  And it just so happens I’ll share his recipe with you (this will be the 306,001st place on the Internet that you can get it):

“One quart ye cream, one quart of ye milk, one dozen tablespoons of ye sugar, one pint of ye brandy, ½ pint of ye rye whiskey, ½ pint of ye Jamaica rum, ¼ pint of ye sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

And it’s amazing.  It tastes just like Christmas.  And George was right – making this stuff and drinking it on day one is NOT advised.  It tastes . . . strong.  But after three days in the fridge?  Amazingly smooth.

So, not only was George a billionaire president general that defeated the world’s largest and best trained armed forces?  He knew how to party.

Here’s to you, George!

Seneca, Stoics, Money and You

“My heart attack didn’t kill me, so why act like it did?  See, Tim, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said “if we let things terrify us, then life is not worth living.” –  Home Improvement


Seneca could definitely use a makeover, but would probably be the last person who cares about a makeover, since he’s willing to be dead and made of marble.

Source- I, Calidius CC-BY-SA-3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

What is stoicism, and why does it matter for your money?

From Wikipedia’s definition of Stoicism . . . “the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.”

What on Earth does that have to do with money?


Let me explain . . . with a story I’ve used before:

When I was young, we had a subscription to Reader’s Digest (which, really, might have been influenced by the CIA for a time – google it).  For those that haven’t heard about it, it’s where they take articles (and even books!) and edit out the boring bits and republish them.  It’s like someone printed a tiny bit of the Internet.

Pop Wilder always said, “I can read my own articles and decide what’s important.”

And yet?  I always found an issue of Reader’s Digest in the bathroom that only he and I used, and I know that I wasn’t carting them in there.

But in Reader’s Digest they had features as well as the articles, one of which was “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”  In it were nice, clean stories that were, well, funny.  Some of them were even taken from real life.  My favorite was about a five year old girl and her eight year old brother.

They were playing in the backyard (which kids used to do prior to the Internet).  The boy was holding a tin can on top of the little girl’s head and smacking it with a rock.

Mother:  “Tommy, what ARE you doing????”

Little Girl:  “Mommy, it’s okay.  He’s almost done.”

I keep coming back to that image.  It’s like life.

Sometimes the problems we go through are pointless.  Sometimes they are downright silly.  Life keeps smacking a rock into the top of your head.  And when it stops, you feel so good.

Another example:

A friend of mine went through Army Ranger School (a long time ago).  There were two out of their class that passed.  Two.  The other guy was a chaplain.  The last ordeal had been an extended duration hike with little food.  They had survived.  They had made it back to base.  But . . . it was five hours until they would be released from training, and couldn’t go to mess hall (cafeteria) to eat.

They climbed into a dumpster.  They found Doritos® covered with ants.  They brushed the ants off and ate the Doritos™.

His thoughts?  “Best Doritos© I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

And this relates back to money, too.

Seneca was a Roman.  I use the word “was” because he’s dead.  Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself (spoiler, Seneca totally did kill himself) back in moldy old 65 A.D. (Not “Common Era” but good old Anno Domini).

Seneca was rich.  How rich?  Rich enough that he could have purchased six hundred million loaves of bread.  And that didn’t count his real estate, which included at least six Sonic® drive-ins and three strip malls in Omaha.

I’m not even sure where I would put six hundred million loaves of bread.  Certainly my pantry would fill up after 2 million or so.  But outside of bread (food), the man had a lot of bread (money).  And thought a LOT about it.

Seneca:  “He is a great man who uses clay dishes as if they were silver; but he is equally great who uses silver as if it were clay.”

In the end, a dish is a dish, and as long as it comes out of the dishwasher without last night’s Kraft® Garfield® Macaroni and Cheese, well, deal with it.

And a car is a car.  I went to a stand-up comedian one night with a friend, his wife, and a blind date. (Yes, this is you, Chris – the friend, not the blind date).  The comedian was making a joke about cars.  The reason, he thought, that we had so many traffic fatalities was that we didn’t make cars out of Nerf® stuff.

He looked, from the stage, down at me.

“You sir, you look like you drive a big-ass truck.”

Me:  “No, it’s a Toyota® Tercel™.”

Him, loudly into a microphone with everyone in the room listening:  “Well, you must be the world’s BIGGEST pussy.”

Needless to say, the blind date ended right there since I didn’t go and beat him up.  And, yes, I probably should have answered “yes” when he asked if I drove a truck.  But . . . like Seneca, a car to me is  . . . just a car.  The first virtue of a thing is in its utility.  Does it do the job?  Sometimes duct tape is the proper solution.

From the standpoint of a Stoic, even a wickedly rich one like Seneca, taking pride in personal possessions was to be looked down upon.  And, yes, his wife had earrings that cost more than a house.  And he had solid silver nose hair trimmers.  And we know this because he wrote about them.  But, did he care?  I don’t think so.  He bought the stuff because he could, not because the stuff had power over him.  I’m certain that he understood that he didn’t own the “stuff” but just had it until he died, so it had no power over him.

But we let stuff have power over us.  Does the neighbor have a nicer car?  Do they have a better stereo?  It’s normal, natural to envy that.  It’s totes Stoic if you go, “good for you!” and not want to go and buy an even better car because you’re good with the one you have.

When I was in Houston I would be stopped at a traffic light, surrounded by cars much nicer than my 2006 Ford® Taurusdadcar™.  And I would wonder how many of them owned their car.  And I wonder how much heartache was caused by that REALLY BADASS Mercedes® next to me when monthly payment time came around.  And, truthfully?  If it was being driven during work hours by a girl, I wondered how long she’d be with her husband after the money ran out.

So, for me?  Being Stoic about the stuff I own is a sanity preserver.  If I had to worry that The Mrs. would leave me if I didn’t have an awesome car, or, honestly, cared at all about what my neighbors thought, life would have a stress it doesn’t need at all.

But Seneca went further.  He said, get rich all you want, but don’t do it in a way that’s “stained by blood.”  My interpretation?  You got you money honestly, without forcing it out of other people.

How does this play out?  Well, let’s look at . . . Obama phones.  Regardless of how you feel about them, the money that comes to purchase them, and to provide monthly service is forcefully taken from others.  Don’t think that it’s forceful?  Try not paying your taxes and then you’ll learn that the IRS is not your benevolent aunt who bakes cookies.  Unless your aunt works for the IRS.  In which case, please tell me the rule on deductibility of capital losses from a prior year against current year capital gains.  Just kidding, I use TurboTax®, which is probably nicer to me than your aunt.

I digress.  But I think Seneca would think it was wrong to take money from one person (me) without their consent to give to another (Obama phone users) and taking a cut in the middle.  It’s wrong.  Unfortunately, it’s our government’s current business model (LINK) and Elon Musk’s (LINK).

Last?  Seneca thought you should be generous.  Bill Gates is certainly living up to that, shooting money out like a lawn sprinkler at causes he likes.  And I tip well at the restaurant.

But the biggest danger of generosity?  It has to be moral.  Give a man money and he will take it.  But he will resent you, because you didn’t give him more.

Let a man (or, I guess we let women earn money nowadays, and even own property and vote) earn money?  That will provide both support for him (or her or it, whatever the cool kids say nowadays) and self-worth.  So, generosity is good.  Charity is corrosive.

The really cool thing about being a stoic is realizing the beauty you can find in the weird, small bits of life that you often ignore.  The smoothness of a straw.  The stark sharpness of the edges of the clouds on a crisp winter night.  The wear marks on a keyboard you’ve typed a million words on.  The ability to take satisfaction out of nearly every experience you have is there.

If you let it.  And if Tommy will stop pounding the tin can on the top of your head with a rock for a moment.

Stock Bubbles, Tulips, and Toilet Paper

“There’s only two things I hate in this world:  people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” – Austin Powers in Goldmember


Read this blog or this man will shoot that car.

People can be stupid.

People in groups are almost always stupid, and they can remain stupid until they do quite a lot of damage.

Let’s take a trip off to Europe (unless you already live in Europe) and back in time to 1636 A.D. (unless you already live in 1636 A.D.) and review the price of . . . flowers???

The Dutch (at least I think that’s what they call the people from the Netherlands, but you can call them Sven or Maria or whatever suits you) in 1636 were a  seafaring bunch, who made money trading all over the world and had colonies in North America, South America, South Africa, India and all those islands between Asia and Australia.  One thing that a Dutch guy brought back (and I don’t think this one was lost) in addition to the most efficient way to remove hair and lint from your bellybutton was the tulip.

In a parallel development, the Dutch were big on trading stocks in companies, like the Dutch East India Company, or in commodities like sugar or pancake mix.  The markets were sophisticated.  In 1632, you could buy sugar for delivery in 1633.  This was nice if you wanted to guarantee your sweet tooth, but you could also trade that contract to somebody else for a higher price if they decided they needed the sugar to make PEZ® or Fruit Pies.   Nowadays we call those “futures” contracts.  Yup, the Dutch were doing this 400 years ago.

But a slight change in laws made those contracts different.  The buyer could buy the right to buy sugar.  The seller had to fulfill the contract, but the buyer had no obligation to buy it.  It was his or her (yup, plenty of Dutch female speculators) option to buy the sugar.  This is what is now known as “futures options.”  And you could buy them on . . . anything.

Even tulips.

In November of 1636 something must have broken in the minds of a batch of silly dead (now, not then) Dutchmen and women.  They started bidding up the futures options contracts on . . . tulips.  And various colors and varieties became more valuable, especially one that that had a virus that changed and made a tiger-striped pattern.  They looked awesome.  But one tulip bulb went for the same price as ten years’ worth of a typical laborer’s wages.  That’s $250,000 or $300,000 today.  For a tulip bulb.

There appears to be little record of people going broke in big numbers when the bubble burst, but certainly there were some people who came out a bit poorer, and the entire reputation of traders was ruined.  Not that it was that great in the beginning, but Jan Brueghel the Younger painted the fine painting below, Satire on Tulip Mania, depicting the traders as monkeys.  If you look closely you can see the nifty tiger-striped tulip in the left corner.  Myself?  I’d pay much more for a monkey that traded futures options contracts, even if he did a lousy job.


Yes, it’s public domain, being nearly 400 years old, unless Disney® wants to try to make a movie about it….

This was the first recorded financial insanity of this type, and it was fairly benign.

What other manias occurred during history?  Well, lots.  But researching them all would take quite a lot of work, and far more wine than I have in the house right now.  So, let’s just look at the ones that I want to talk about:

  • Salem Witch Trials – 1692 to 1693. Twenty people executed when a bunch of kids played a prank.  Or there were real witches.    This is still a bubble, but it was just teen angst magnified a zillion times.  Fortunately, they had awesome wood floors, like in the picture below.  Are those oak?  I’m so jealous!


  • The South Sea Bubble – in 1720, the price of shares in the British South Sea Corporation went from £100 to £1,000 (the £ is the funny symbol that British people use for money). Sounds like a great deal, right?  Well, the records seem to indicate that the South Sea Corporation spent most of their time issuing stock and very little time on actually, you know, making money.  So why did so many people (including Isaac Newton himself) shove all of their spare £ into a company that just made stock?  Isaac Newton is reported to have said:  “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.”  Apparently Newton couldn’t manage £1,000-£100=£  Below is a public domain picture by dead artist Godfrey Kneller of Isaac Newton when he was in his “looking like the guitarist from Queen” phase.


  • Radium – 1920’s to late 1930’s. Everything had radium in it or was named after radium.    Drinking water.  Watches with glow in the dark faces.  My college mathematics classroom (yeah, after I took Calculus I, Calc II, Calc III and Differential Equations in the same room?  Enough radioactivity to power all of North Korea and a lot of corpses that are technically nuclear waste.  I have a straight razor case from the era.  You guessed it:  “Radium Straight Razor Company.”
  • 1920’s Stock Bubble – The classic. Fueled by post World War I enthusiasm and the rise of new technology (radio, the automobile, phones, and PEZ®) people went . . . insane.  Everybody was investing in the stock market, including a shoeshine boy, who famously gave Joe Kennedy (father of President John F. Kennedy) a stock tip.  Kennedy then decided if shoe shine boys were involved in the stock market, too many people were in the stock market.  He then proceeded to smuggle a bunch of liquor and manipulate a senator or two, then lunch.
  • Hula Hoops™ – Watch The Hudsucker Proxy to see exactly how this was invented. Okay, I kid.  But the Hula Hoop® hit when Hawaii was just becoming a state, and there was a large mania about the place, even though it had been a part of the US for nearly a century.  100 million were sold within two years, despite the US population being only 180 million at the time.  Sales fell off when people were finally told that there wasn’t a limit on the number of times a hoop could be hooped prior to it wearing out.
  • Johnny Carson’s Toilet Paper Run – in 1973, Johnny Carson (a late night television host back when there were only three channels and who was very popular) noted that there was a toilet paper shortage, but was referencing commercial grade toilet paper. He used that to make a few jokes.  (Toilet paper is just plain funny).  People took him seriously, and pretty soon there were shortages and rationing of consumer grade TP in several cities.  Shortly after the commotion, Carson told his audience he was joking.  People in the US could again poop without fear.
  • Pet Rocks® – A rock. As a pet.  For money.  Broke sales records, until people figured out that they’d paid $3.95 (plus tax) for a rock.
  • Cabbage Patch Kids© – A really ugly doll, but middle-aged women jumped out in droves to fight each other in a series of battles that would have made the gladiators of the Colosseum in Rome proud, if they had been middle-aged women with purses the size of four year old children fighting each other for dolls in the aisles of K-Mart®, Montgomery Ward™ and Sears©.
  • Beanie Babies™ – A really cute doll that spiked in popularity in the late 1990’s. The creator of the company decided to make special “limited runs” of a cheap, plush doll that looks like a dog’s chew toy.  Middle-aged women fought each other in the aisles for these as well, but it was the 1990’s so they all had greasy ham-hair like Kurt Cobain.  After a brief spike of popularity, most Beanie Babies are worth . . . dog chew-toy value.  There are a very few that might be worth some change, but don’t hold your breath.
  • Dotcom Bubble – The thing I wrote about Beanie Babies™ above? Just replace “Beanie Babies®” with “stocks” and “Middle-aged women” with “greedy but stupid baby boomers.”
  • Tasers© – At one point in 2004, Taser™ the company would have had to sell three Tasers® to every person in the United States to make the profit the stock $150 stock price implied. We didn’t buy the Tasers®, and neither did you, so you can buy the stock for $20 or so.
  • Housing Bubble –House prices never go down. It’s a fact!  Except when it’s not and imperils the entire economy of the world.
  • Tesla® – I’m not saying it’s a bubble (LINK), but it’s a bubble. Tesla© is not worth more than Ford™.

Most of the bubbles or manias I’ve listed above share a similar pattern –

  • Start – The guy started making Beanie Babies®. They only sold a few.
  • Spark – A reviewer mention in an article that some are “valuable” and “rare”.
  • Information Spread – Engage middle-age lady network.
  • Publicity – News stories show up in newspapers, television.
  • Mania – Nobody wants to be left behind, so everybody buys all the Beanie Babies®.
  • Market Collapse – Somebody writes an article questioning paying $10,381 for a dog chew toy. “Bubbles burst when fools run out of money.”
  • Regret – Closets of Beanie Babies© sit in closets, since one day they’ll be valuable.
  • Next Mania – Well, maybe next time I’ll be in first and make all the money…

And financial markets work exactly the same way, but with less dog chew toys.  People want to seek a return on their money, and when there’s enough money just lying around, stupid investments get made.  And some of those investments pay off in a huge way, especially for those that got out early.  The Dotcom crash?  Plenty of people sold as it was on its way up, and made huge amounts of money.  The housing crash?  One guy predicted it and put in place investments so that he made hundreds of millions off of the crash.

But sometimes what looks like a bubble . . . isn’t a bubble.  It’s a trend, and a real trend based on sound, rational economics.  The guy who was sure that the smart phone was a fad (me), the guy who thought that credit cards would never catch on with a rational public (my dad), and the guy who thought that Europe would be plunged into a horrific war (my great, great grandfather).  Oh, wait, the last guy was right.

And sometimes there are bubbles, and sometimes there are trends.  One person working to figure out the difference is a geophysicist named Didier Sornette, who has an amazing Wikipedia page (LINK), and looked at the mathematics that surrounded earthquakes and compared it to stocks or other financial assets in a bubble.  Turns out that the bubble was analogous to a really stressed mass of rock.  He made some predictions after the Dotcom bubble, and was right enough that he got hired to just study financial crises in Zurich (LINK).  Tough duty.

When you think a deal is too good to be true, or you see a group of people jumping on a bandwagon, think twice (cough Tesla® cough).  You want to avoid the Hula Hoop® Witches™ without Toilet Paper.

This blog is NOT stock advice, I don’t own any positions in anything mentioned, and don’t plan on any for the next month or so.  

The Future of Employment, or, Almost All of Government is a Jobs Program

All right, listen closely.  I was at the unemployment office and I told them I was very close to getting a job with Vandelay Industries, and I gave them your phone number.  So now, when the phone rings you have to answer “Vandelay Industries.” – Seinfeld


Notice it doesn’t say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?

What are we going to do with everyone?

I’ve been (throughout my life) a proponent of the human race.  I like it.  I may not like certain individuals, but I’ve got a great degree of hope when it comes down to humanity.  And up to now, the equation has been that more people equals more Einsteins, more Isaac Newtons, more Nikola Teslas, and more Stephen Hawkings.  These are shining examples of humanity – folks who helped the human race achieve much more than we would have or could have without their knowledge.  I read an article recently (I am not making this up) about rising obesity rates in Ghana due to KFC® becoming the restaurant of status and choice.  And we know how much Einstein contributed to the secret government project that led to KFC™’s fried, greasy goodness.

There are seven billion of us, and 2.1 billion have the problem of being obese or overweight.  Less than 800 million are suffering from hunger or malnutrition.  This is a victory of the greatest magnitude.  Yes, obesity is bad, but I would much rather have people having heart attacks in their fifties after having a tasty chicken wing versus starvation at fifteen.  Everyone who has that choice would make the same choice, and raise their greasy hands up if asked.

In general, the world is getting better as we as a society create more wealth, as I talked about in previous posts (LINK).  But I’m really concerned as I look forward with simple questions:

How much does the future need us for continued prosperity?  How many people do we really need?  How many can be actively employed in productive work?

There are various reasons that I’m wondering:  Increasing Productivity, AI, Smart Machines, Robots to name a few, though there are other issues as well that we’ll skip today.

I’ve written before that trucking is a sure bet for replacement once self-driving trucks are approved by the Department of Transportation and the various states and a self-driving unit costs less than (about) $400,000 per unit.  After those conditions are met, at least a million jobs (and likely more) will be gone as fast as the autonomous trucks can be produced.  But it’s not just truckers.  It will be fast food workers.  It will be janitors.  It will be an increasing number of lower and mid-skilled jobs throughout industry.  If it can be described by an algorithm or computer program, it will be automated.  A large number of sports articles and financial news articles are now produced with no human intervention.  Journalists would worry, if there were enough of them left to worry.

And jobs that aren’t eliminated will be minimized.  An example:  a structural engineer nowadays runs calculations for a new bridge or skyscraper through a computer program that analyzes the stresses in the structure and optimizes the design for code and seismic conditions.  It then chooses the beams and columns and other structural members based on tens of thousands of calculations and three dimensional finite element analysis, and then pops out design drawings. Sproink.  (That’s the noise the drawings make when they come out of the machine.)

Fewer engineers are required, and the engineers don’t need to be as proficient since the engineering knowledge is built into the program.  Both the number of people and the quality of people goes down.

Another example:  I just bought (for $30) a device the will give me the data I need to order glasses online.  No prescription, no optometrist, no waiting.  Also, no glaucoma check, but I don’t have to take off time from work to visit the doctor.  And the glasses I ordered online cost less than I would pay, even at Wal-Mart®.  I may describe it in Friday’s blog.

Another example:  I had a cold that I was pretty worried was heading into my lungs and I was worried that I’d get pneumonia.   For $60 I got online from my basement (where I was in a cold sweat despite my 101˚F, got antibiotics, and got better.  Otherwise?  A $120 doctor visit where my copay would have been at least $100.  Yes, a real doctor was involved in the visit, but it was incredibly efficient for them – I’d imagine they make $300 an hour.  No office, no actual contact with icky sick people.  It was a great transaction for both of us.

But . . . it means we need fewer Doctors.  And fewer waiting rooms.  And fewer nurses.  Et cetera.

Efficiency is awesome.  It lowers costs, and does that while quality is increased, in most cases.

When economists study inflation, they study the price of the item.  I have a color TV in my house.  When my dad bought his first color TV, he spent (on an inflation adjusted basis) over $3,000 in today’s dollars.  With that kind of money today?  You could buy a 75” Sony® Ultra HD that also has a popcorn maker and margarita blender built in.  So, economists measure how much better a thing has gotten as well as what the thing costs.  They call this measurement “hedonics” because it’s way more confusing than “measuring how stuff got better.”

So, we live in a world where getting sufficient food to eat is easier than at any point in history.  We also live in a world where getting information is easier than at any time?  Want to listen to a song?  Unless it’s the Beatles™, it’s pretty much on YouTube®.  And we can make more things, better, faster and cheaper, than at any time in history.

But why hasn’t efficiency hit, oh, say the Department of Motor Vehicles?  Or the local County office where I go to get license plates?  At both places, you have to stand in line.  At both places, hours are limited, and you’d better get done before quitting time, because they’re serious about closing up at 4:30pm.

In a typical business, the best parking spaces are reserved for the customers.  In government?  The best parking places are reserved for the employees.  And I think government is giving us a hint:  the most important consumers of government are its employees.  You and I are the product.

And why, in a world where I can apply for $100,000 credit at midnight can I only get my driver’s license between 9AM and 4:15PM (closed for lunch hour)?  Why is it harder each year to deal with government?  Why do their budgets keep going up, faster than inflation?

Because nothing the government does is intended to help you, the consumer.  The bright folks that are hired to make wonder weapons?  Jobs program.  We do NOT want people that smart on the street.  The people who work for NASA®?  Jobs program.  They don’t even have to make rockets anymore, and Elon Musk has clearly shown that if he had NASA’s budget he’d be building Burger Kings® on Mars, because he’s have a million people living there in the next decade.  NASA spent money putting together braille books on the solar eclipse in August.  That might explain why we have to piggy back a ride with the Russians to get to the International Space Station.  NASA is a jobs program.  Originally it had a job to get people to the moon.  Now?  It produces new classes of astronauts with no vehicle to fly.  Thankfully they have a budget for cardboard boxes to sit inside and make rocket noises.  There’s even a budget for markers to write “ROKET” and “USA” on the side of the boxes!

The Department of Education, which has taught no classes?  Jobs program.  The Department of Energy, which has never produced a Watt?  Jobs program.  The military?  Parts of it are a jobs program, but most if it is real.  But you better pay attention to what congressional district and state the new weapons will be built in . . .

Your liberal-arts college professor?  Given a job so that they wouldn’t agitate for revolution in the streets, rather, they can agitate for revolution to rich kids who would much rather play Playstation® and X-Box©.

Ever wonder why they rip up a section of street that looks pretty good, and then work it for months?  Yup.  Jobs program.  Not to say that the original Interstate Highway System wasn’t real.  It was.  But now what do we build?  What infrastructure is left?  Dams are awesome for hydroelectric power, but just try to build one nowadays . . . it’s easier to declare war on Ghana.

It really took me by surprises that this was the case – that most government spending is based on the concept of giving people money so that they don’t riot in the streets (dumb people) or so they won’t plot and plan a revolution (liberal arts professors) or build wonder-weapons in a James Bond worthy plot for foreign governments (government scientists)?

Why is government inefficient?  It’s not.  It’s a very efficient jobs machine.  You’re just the product, not the consumer.

But what about the jobs that are already out there?  A recent study says that the average worker works less than four hours a day.

Think of the creativity that creates!  How to look busy for eight or nine hours a day when you’re done working after four?  And how long will a business stand for this?  Eventually, in private business, all of the “four hour a day” jobs will be eliminated – the business has to pay taxes, remain competitive.

But government will respond.  New regulations will be created and enforced that require new employees to compile data and report it to the government.  This is done mainly so that the government has excuses to hire more employees, but has the side effect to requiring more private sector compliance workers.

I actually had a job once where, on my start date, my office wasn’t yet ready.  They told me . . . come back in two weeks from now.  Did they pay me for the two weeks?  Yes.  And, who did this?  Yup.  It was a government job.  And, although I saved them several million dollars, they were kinda disappointed.  They wanted to spend their full budget.

But there will be in the next decade millions of people becoming unemployed as their jobs are minimized or eliminated due to clever business disruption, probably faster than the government can create jobs (hint: the government is broke (LINK)).  I’d love to suggest a minimum basic income, but we can’t pay for it.  We can’t even afford PEZ®.

What do we do?

There are millions of people in the United States right now that would love to work.  And millions more in made-up jobs that produce nothing that would love to work in productive jobs.  Around the world, this number is surely in the hundreds of millions.

And we need fewer of them every day.

How about . . . we let someone smart pay them to work on something really important . . . like going to Mars?

Paging Elon Musk . . . .

Unless someone else has a better idea?  Raise your greasy hand and sing out!

Life on Earth, Supervolcanos, NASA, and Tom Petty

“I must have started drinking again, because the woman who tried to activate a supervolcano with a giant fork is standing here, and you’re all acting like it’s a potluck.” – Warehouse 13

DSC04285A picture of Abraham Lincoln as he was fighting against both the Confederacy and German engineers.

“The world was a web.”

This wasn’t the quote from a Tom Petty song.  These were words that would echo through my head for two decades.

I started to write a novel back a long time ago.  It started with those words.

I still have it somewhere, buried in a backlog of data on one of my computers, right next to a resume that I first entered into a computer on . . . WordPerfect© (yes, that was a word processor before Corel® ate it).  I’m sure they still sell dozens of copies of it a year.

And the novel itself?  Oh my.  I’m sure that if it ever saw the light of day someone would name an award in its honor for the worst novel of the year.

But . . . “The world was a web.”

There are words that haunt you through your life, and this sentence haunts mine, just like wondering how it felt while the Roman Empire was ending (LINK).  I have been, since as long as I can remember, really fascinated by the unravelling of society.  Once I went to the Wikipedia entry for “Apocalyptic Novels” and just nodded.  I’d read nearly all of them.  (I just revisited the page, and it’s all filled with editorial stuff, so, much less useful.  I won’t link it.)

But the late author James P. Hogan (I read most of his stuff) wrote a novel called “Voyage to Yesteryear.”  It’s a good one, though out of print, but to me, it had a fairly stunning philosophical analogy.

We as humans think a lot (and live with) more or less reversible processes.  I put ice in the freezer, it freezes.  And then it melts.  Though once upon a time, I don’t think that there was anything at all in physics that would have predicted that the ice would have floated on the water (most frozen liquids sink – if you freeze gasoline, the frozen stuff drops to the bottom), but it turns out it’s pretty important, especially if you’re a fish.  You can stay in the nice liquid water while the ice freezes above you, which, I imagine is important to a fish.

But the second discussion from the novel is that some changes are irreversible – if you burn your laptop in your charcoal grill, there is simply no thawing it out afterwards to get your keyboard to not look like a bunch of charred Doritos®, or get back all of those downloaded pictures of Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones® or all of your Tom Petty MP3s.  Those are gone, dude.

The fire (presumably from a dragon?) goes beyond the phase change represented by freezing and thawing.  The physical structure has been changed to the point that it’s not remotely recognizable.  And you can’t go back.  There’s no way to find all the carbon atoms that baked off your display and combined with oxygen and put them back in the screen, let alone the same place in the screen that previously held them.

It’s gone, dude.  And even the Roman Stoics (LINK) knew this prior to Rudolf Clausius coining the term “entropy,” which led indirectly to the U.S. Civil War through a series of humorous translation errors that made Abraham Lincoln think that Clausius was making fun of his big hat.

But let’s go back four score years (that’s 80 years, for those who are used to the metric system) from that hatastrophe.  What happened then?  Besides Ben Franklin being in the prime of chasing every young lady who could spell “yes” there seemed to be this revolutionary event.  Pardon.  Revolutionary event.  Like the American Revolution.

If a president being elected every four years is a phase change from ice to water and back again, the American Revolution was burning King George’s laptop and then going after the glowing hard drive with a sledgehammer.  In a real and literal fashion there was no way to go back.  Instead of a political phase change, you had political chemical reaction – there was simply no way to go back from what the Founding Fathers had done.  They changed the way the entire world viewed government with the result that today almost every nation in the world where you can order a Big Mac® has emulated to the greatest extent possible the precepts of the American Revolution.  McDonalds® and Thomas Jefferson© changed it all.

And you just can’t go back.  You can morph into something different, but you can’t go back.  There are some ideas that are so radical, so amazingly simple that once they pop out – they hold the attention of almost everyone who hears them.  The American Revolution was one such thing – you could never turn back after that.

Unless you hit reset.  I was leafing through the Internet as The Boy piloted our car up the road for a short road trip – I alternated between reading and a light nap.  The light naps were ended with (small) bursts of adrenaline when our cars trajectory was different than my half-snoozing mind expected.  It’s like Dad radar.  Even asleep I was looking for that change we could never recover from.

On article popped up during the ride about the Yellowstone Volcano, and how NASA was developing a plan to stop it.

Reread the sentence above.  I’ll wait.

NASA has become convinced that a massive volcano is of greater threat to humanity than asteroids.  I mean, both would ruin your day, but Yellowstone seems to pop off a continent cleansing burst every 600,000 years or so (last one 630,000 years ago) and some folks with a LOT of time on their hands at NASA are convinced that they should be the ones that handle it.

bond volcano

What NASA thinks might be in the volcano.

They’ve even advanced plans on how to stop it.  And, I’ll admit that saving the lives of upwards of two billion people might even be considered a laudable goal in some circles.  But not me.

It’s not the saving all of those people that I object to.  I’m probably neutral on that, unless one of them is me.  Then I become a raving supporter.

I don’t give NASA any slack.  If it doesn’t involve activities that directly get humanity to Mars, I’m thinking that they should just close up shop and give the money to Elon Musk (LINK), who actually seems to be interested in space exploration.

But even worse, it appears that NASA is letting people write stuff that have NO understanding of math:  the NASA plan involves pumping water (which is not exactly in huge supply in the Rocky Mountains) into the magma chamber and to extract the heat.  Which has how much to do with NASA’s mission?  Zero.  Maybe less.

Here’s the latest mission I could find:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

So, if this involves trying to cool hot coffee so you can drink it faster by adding an ice cube or two, I’m on board. Takes a few minutes, doesn’t distract NASA from their actual day job.

But in this case the coffee is 11,500 cubic miles of coffee.  At 1300˚F to 2400˚F.  And NASA wants to cool that.  With water.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that drug testing isn’t required to work at NASA.  But the amount of heat we’re talking about is simply staggering.  At a depth of five miles (that’s 8km to the “people who use money that looks like Christmas paper, and also happen to use metric”) to the top of it, keep in mind that this magma pocket sends pockets of superheated boiling water five miles through rock.  The amount of energy is stunning – almost as much energy as a D.C. NASA bureaucrat with a liberal arts degree uses to avoid doing work on a typical Tuesday.

First, the good news!

I won’t bore you with all the mathy stuff, since The Boy and I figured it out.  It’s not hard, it’s just thermodynamics done in hotel room on three sheets of hotel room note paper.

Let’s say you had to cool the Yellowstone magma chamber.  Latest number that I had on how big it was?  11,500 cubic miles.

Cubic miles.  Drive from Seattle to Los Angeles.  That’s 1137 miles.  Do it 10 times. Next to a mile high wall of magma.  Or just once.  Next to a ten mile high wall of magma.  That’s a mile thick.


But, let’s pretend we can cool that 52,800 foot high wall with water.  Where do we get it?

Well, the Colorado River is a big one.  Let’s pump all of that to Yellowstone to cool it down.  I’m not going to bore you with even more thermodynamics, but you have to heat the water, and then add even more heat so it boils.  (I actually saw one billion dollar business venture implode because they didn’t know you had to add the extra heat to make it boil).

At the current flowrate of the Colorado River, it would take 435,843 years to cool the lava.

I know that NASA seems to not math very well anymore, but, given past rates, Yellowstone would have exploded at least one more time, if not two.  And the people in Los Angeles would have to go nearly a half of a million years between bottled-water drinks.

And that’s the good news – that only half a million years of concerted effort beyond anything the world has ever seen will maybe stop one human extinction.

But some scientists worry that the addition of the cooling water might turn the magma chamber brittle – increasing the likelihood that Yellowstone would explode in a big catastrophe.  And that’s the good news!

Second – the bad news.

But that’s really not the point.  There are a whole host of things that are much more likely (given the last 100 years or so) than a 600,000 year periodicity (like Yellowstone has) volcano to mess with our world.

But most folks look at this risk incorrectly – there’s a probability of occurrence, but also a severity related to the risk.  Low probability events occur everyday, but they have low severity.  I might lose yet another hair on my head, never to return.  But the impact?  Not very big.

An asteroid the size of Dallas heading towards, well, anywhere at 50 miles per second?  Bad day.  For everyone.  Yet heart disease is more likely to kill me than the kinetic impact of an asteroid.

As catastrophes go, that’s pretty bad.  But research (dating back 15 years or so) on genetics of humanity indicate that it’s likely that 70,000 years ago after the supervolcano Toba lit off, only 2,000 humans remained.  Not on Toba.  Anywhere.

We were that close to the lights going out on us forever.

These big, nonlinear events are very low probability, but they have a huge impact, and may impact the ability of the human race to appreciate Tom Petty.

Think aliens like Tom Petty?  They should.  But who can account for taste?


Elon Musk: The Man Who Sold Mars

“Actually, they theoretically can separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and process that into providing fuel for man’s space flights. Ostensibly, turning Mars into a giant gas station. So it’s a . . . yeah. We live in an amazing time.” – Breaking Bad


The featured picture above the title is of the Saturn V.  It’s longer than a Harry Potter novel.  This picture shows the engines from the main stage of the Saturn V.  About 275,000 horsepower for all five engines, you can totally tell by the lens flare!  But it got over two miles per gallon of kerosene used (TRUE)!

This is the third and final part of Elon Musk Week® (sort of like Shark Week©, but with 100% less Discovery™ channel).  An annual feature?  Maybe!

Part 1 is here (LINK) where we take apart Tesla®, and Part 2 is here (LINK) where we understand Elon’s Matrix® plan.

I first read about Elon in (probably) 1977 or 1978.  Oh, sure, you’re saying, that would have made him six or seven years old, and at least a continent and two hemispheres away from me.  My only response is, “so what?”

When I was a kid, I lived fifteen miles from the town I went to school in.  My house was the farthest away on the school bus line, so I was the first to get on in the morning (7:15, every morning) and the last to get off (4:30, so I missed F-Troop).  I could stare out the big picture window and see the bus a mile away – Ma Wilder taught me it would be rude to keep the bus driver waiting – and out I would go to be there waiting when the big yellow bus pulled into my driveway.

For about two hours a day as the bus stopped to pick up and then let off children, I could either stare out at the mountain scenery, or I could drop with Johnny Rico and The Roughnecks into Klendathu.  Or I could visit Trantor, first with Hari Seldon, and then later with The Mule.  Or ride Sandworms on Arrakis with Paul Atreides.  Or be shocked at the mysteries when we Rendezvoused with Rama.  Or finish all the science fiction anthologies at the middle school library by the middle of my seventh grade year.

And reading wasn’t confined to just bus time.  There were only three channels of television available (no one ever counted PBS, unless Monty Python was on) an half the time nothing interesting was on.  So, if I had built all the model kits around (the usual condition – they didn’t last long) and it was too cold to go hiking or fishing, I always had a book ready to read.   And Ma Wilder said I had to go to bed, but she never said I had to go to sleep . . . my parents bought me a reading lamp that clipped on my headboard for my tenth birthday.

But I remember reading the Hugo®-winning “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” by Robert A. Heinlein fairly clearly – it wasn’t on a bus, but on the couch by a crackling fire on a cold (-20˚F) winter’s day.  And that’s when I met Elon Musk.


(source, Wikimedia)

Delos David Harriman (better known as D.D. Harriman) is the billionaire who decides to go to the Moon.  Why?

He envisions a new economy – an opening of the Moon is the first step to opening the Solar System to humanity.  Rather than living in a world which with a fixed horizon, D.D. realizes that getting off this rock is the only possible positive future of humanity.  But getting there is possible, and only takes will.

To quote Harriman:

“In fact, the real engineering problems of space travel have been solved since World War II.  Conquering space has long been a matter of money and politics.”

Contrast with Musk:

“Boeing just took $20 billion and 10 years to improve the efficiency of their planes by 10 percent. That’s pretty lame.”

And how was Harriman going to do it?

“I’ll hire the proper brain boys, give them everything they want, see to it they have all the money they can use.”

Contrast this with Musk:

“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”

And I could go on and on about the similarities but the one thing I know is this:

Musk read the same stuff I did when he grew up.

Musk knows D.D. Harriman.  Just like I did, Musk admired D.D. Harriman.  However, Musk has become D.D. Harriman.

And for that, my hat is off to him.  D.D. Harriman is much more important than Tony Stark®.

And Harriman was willing to do absolutely anything to open space to humanity, convinced it was too important to leave to governments and bureaucrats.  Harriman manipulated stock, forged fake space-diamonds, and extorted advertising dollars from soda companies.

Musk feels the same way.  Musk formed SpaceX™.  Musk got involved in Tesla®.  One is his passion, one (even though he believes in the mission) is there to fund his passion.  Make no mistake:  Musk has created more applied rocket engineering faster than any person in history except maybe Von Braun (though Bezos is giving him a run for his money and has super-cool biceps for an old man).

Why not NASA?  Isn’t it their job?

During the 1960’s, NASA had a mission.  It was going to get three guys to the Moon, by the end of the decade.  Lots of engineers worked lots of long hours and made it happen.  In July of 1969, NASA dropped the mic after “One Small Step” and walked off the stage.  Mission done!

Well, almost fifty years on from that date, and six of the twelve men who walked on the Moon are now dead.  During the middle?  NASA developed one (anemic) space launch system – The Space Shuttle, whose sole purpose appeared to be to construct the International Space Station.  Why construct it?  So the Shuttle had a place to go, silly.

And now we have no space launch systems available to us except through the Soviets, er, Russians, and . . . Elon’s SpaceX™, which currently plans to have a manned launch of its Dragon/Falcon taking place in early 2018.  The first manned Orion flight?  Maybe 2023.  Maybe.

Why is NASA so sick?

The original group they hired were engineers.  Their job?  Get into space, get onto the moon.  Then they fired most of them, but kept enough to send out a fairly constant stream of unmanned probes as well as lame manned space missions.  But during the 1970’s they also hired a lot of administrators.  And people who had no connection in any respect to a spacecraft, or science, or aeronautics.

Except for brief bursts of public interest when something worked really well (Viking and Voyager) or when something worked really poorly (Challenger and Columbia), NASA has reached an irrelevance in national policy.   NASA appears to only be important when it comes to funding large amounts of money to projects that take place in certain Congressional Districts in certain strategically important states.  In Houston they love NASA, or at least NASA dollars.  Efficiency?  Progress?  Why would you need those things?  Heck, we can have astronauts but not have spaceships!

These are the depths that NASA has fallen to showcase its technical bankruptcy:  it has a division called the “Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.”  This division produced 5,000 braille books about the eclipse for the blind.


These are the official shot glasses of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  At least it’s one way to blast off?

I am not opposed to a company doing this – I’m not even opposed to a government agency producing books in braille, especially those that aren’t available on audio.  But I am opposed to NASA doing it.  Why?

NASA’s mission is:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

Nothing at all in there about getting blind people books about an eclipse.  Nothing close, so this is a symptom of a system that has gone beyond dysfunctional to trivial.  A dysfunctional system (or in this case, organization) just can’t get anything done.  A trivial organization works on everything.  It invents steps where none need be, make-work (like the books), bureaucracy (credentials for everyone!), and hurdles (did you file the right form?) until Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy is achieved:

From Jerry Pournelle himself:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers’ union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

I think that in NASA they actively look for jobs that they can do that are:

NASA could spend time and effort designing a new hypervelocity spaceplane, but that’s hard!  And someone could get hurt, and that would be bad publicity.  And we know that we as a society will only allow people to be put upon the equivalent of 2,000 tons of TNT (Saturn V) if it’s totally safe!  Otherwise, it’s an outrage!

So, faced between making a new launch system that might help get people into space OR putting together a braille book?  Let’s go with the book.  It’s A. Easy and B. Safe.


These are the official flip flops of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  They look Safe, unless you blow out your flip flop and step on a pop top and cut your heel and have to cruise back home.  It’s okay, because there’s booze in the blender and you have the Official Manned Spaceflight Center shot glasses.

The only way to avoid the Iron Law and the A. Easy and B. Safe people is to have a personality that keeps focus on the goal.

And since NASA administrators don’t go in and fire everyone in NASA not involved in the mission, you can be certain that they’re fine with . . . whatever the heck it is that NASA is doing.

How is SpaceX® Different?

Elon Musk is a laser of focus on getting spacecraft into the air.  People at SpaceX® want to work long hours, and if you look at jobs on their website, it notes that long hours, working evenings and weekends are probably going to be a thing for you.  And, want to get fired?  Talk about part of your “mission” at SpaceX® being producing coloring books on planetary nebulae.

Sounds like old Harriman himself, “. . . sweet talk them into long hours – then stand back and watch them produce.”

Some Libertarians HATE Musk because of the government subsidies that have driven money to Tesla® and even SpaceX©.  I can understand that, especially if their goal is less government.  Heck, I’d like less government.  But even though Musk has to go through roundabout ways to get only a portion of NASA’s funding, he’s running circles around them on talent recruitment, technology development, and actual results.  We have a choice if want to really get into space.  Elon appears to be the only winning answer (unless Bezos is holding back on a few aces).

Musk could fly people in space tomorrow, if they’d let him.  NASA is six years out.  Six years out.

What does Musk plan to do in the next three?  Send a capsule (unmanned) to Mars.

I’d be surprised if Orion ever actually flies people.  NASA seems incapable of spaceflight, and, really incapable of anything more complicated than Twitter.  But if Orion ever flies, I imagine that in orbit the Orion astronauts will get to see Elon’s butt pressed firmly against the window of his Mars Transfer Ship (Red Dragon 11) as he gives them a full moon (pardon) as a parting gift as he heads to Mars.

It’s a long trip to Mars.  I imagine that Elon might take a book or two along with him for the trip.  Probably not “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”  But maybe Dune, or Starship Troopers.

What would D.D. Harriman read?

I’d like to think he’d bring my blog . . .

Hey, everyone (including you, Elon) you can subscribe, and it gets sent out directly when I hit the publish button.

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


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.


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 . . . .