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

Washington

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!

How I Met Your Internet

“I told him that I had a daughter and he told me he had one, too. And he said, “Never give up on family.” And I didn’t. I took his advice. My God, the universe is random, it’s not inevitable, it’s simple chaos. It’s subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision. That’s what science teaches us, but what does this say? What is it telling us that the very night that this man’s daughter dies, it’s me who is having a drink with him? I mean, how could that be random?” – Breaking Bad

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The Mrs. took this picture during a particularly pernicious rainstorm.  They tell the kids to stay inside during a thunderstorm.  Meh.  If I get hit by lightning I’m buying a lottery ticket.

So, this is the 100th post.  I think the best way to deal with this is to skip the structure of wealth, wisdom, and health for this post.  The discipline of structure is nice, and I’ve learned a lot of things by doing it, but it’s nice to vary from that structure from time to time to be spicy, like taco-flavored kisses.  So, here are some random bits of fog from my brain.  Some of these may end up as posts at some point . . .

  • If someone is cloaking a concept in really, really confusing language, they’re lying or trying to cover something up.  The desire to create an impression contrary to truth requires that they twist the language to the point of ripping.  Using bigger words and confusing, academic phrasing are just camouflage for the lie.  For example:  At a dinner party, a gentleman was talking about overpopulation.  His solution?  Reduce the population by a billion or so through “caloric restriction.”  He was confronted by another guest . . . “You want to starve a billion people to death?”  Yup.  Really happened, according to the article.
  • If you depend on someone to give you money or things so you can live, they control you.  This is why welfare is control.  This is why parents get to make the rules.  This is why bosses can be arbitrary, and the Hollywood predator gang could stay so safe, for so long.
  • There is no objective morality without a belief in a higher power.  Without that, we’re all just meat and cells.
  • Children need enough privacy to grow, enough structure to grow well.
  • Youth is rarely wise, but it might be smart.  My brother, John Wilder (yes, we have the same name – just different parents – my family tree looks like an inkblot) talked about how his company had hired a 30 year old CFO.

Me:  “He won’t last a year.”

Bro:  “He’s smart.”

Me:  “Yeah, but he’s got a LOT of growing up to do.”

The guy flamed out in a year.

  • I don’t know why wisdom costs us so much pain and difficulty in life.  Is it because, like divorce, it’s worth it?

Rorschach, Copyright DC Comics

How my family tree would look as a superhero. © Certainly DC Comics, Fair Use Claim, Will Remove on Request

  • Liars lie.  The only thing that stops them is when they get caught and something tragic happens, and mostly not even that.  I’m not sure why they do it.
  • Cowards are the most dangerous of men.  They will quickly befriend you even when you don’t deserve it.  They will desert you at the first sign of an angry mob.  And they’ll join the mob.
  • Being close to a coward is bad.  But you can always count on a coward being a coward and acting like a coward.  Having a liar close to you is worse.  They might tell you pleasing lies for a time, and you might forget their nature.
  • You are the average of your five closest friends.  Choose wisely.
  • People say, “Kids tell the truth!  It’s natural.”  Oops, I meant people who never seen an actual child say that.  Kids lie as soon as they can figure it out, as any parent can tell you.  No, I didn’t eat that cookie.
  • Between the ages of 10 and 14 are the only times you really have to parent.  Before that, it’s teaching.  After that, it’s supporting.  Something happens between the ages of 10 and 14 that determines whether or not the kid goes bad.  They’ve learned how to inflict pain and but haven’t learned empathy or kindness or responsibility – they’re a group of snotty acne-covered psychopaths.  This is why middle school age children are such miserable creatures, and once you win the battle as a parent you can hit the autopilot once they hit high school.
  • Underarm hair grows back.  A reputation doesn’t.  In other words?  One drop of snot ruins all the eggnog.
  • Always take an offered breath mint.
  • We waste a lot of time.  (I include me in that.)  Ben Franklin said, “If thou loveth lifeth, wasteth noteh time, for that is what life is made of.”  And a big part of that waste is in pursuits that produce . . . nothing.  I’ve been accused of being a “hillbilly” for fixing a faucet rather than buying a new one.  In my defense, my name isn’t Billy.  And I could fix the faucet for $5 and an hour of time, and some cussing and bruised knuckles.  And I know how to fix a faucet now!  A faucet that was last manufactured in 1980.
  • Buy new faucets instead of fixing them.
  • You can’t reason with someone who’s acting out of emotion.  And you ESPECIALLY can’t reason with a crowd of people who are rioting.  Fight reason with reason.  Emotion with emotion.  And rioters with force and/or Optimus Prime®.  Thus the following is the best thing to wear to a riot (LINK) (and no, not getting paid for this link):

optimus-prime-costume-hoodie.main

  • Reason is something we use to convince ourselves that what we want is wise and, well, reasonable.
  • Cultures aren’t all equal in the output they produce.  Some cultures produce much more violence, less wealth, and much less freedom, and some even create all three negatives at once (Venezuela).
  • I invented a gravity cannon.  It consists of two huge counter-rotating cylinders of the matter from a neutron star (this stuff is denser than a Kardashian at 900 pyramids of weight for a single teaspoonful).  Thick cylinders, but hollow.  I think it would only require a dozen or so neutron stars to build.  To shoot it, you have to jam the inner cylinder into the hollow outer cylinder.  The result is a vortex of gravity that might stay stable enough (if the cylinders are rotating fast enough) to slam into your enemy – an invisible ring of gravity death travelling at them at whatever speed you slammed the cylinders together at.  It would also create a massive black hole and a huge gamma ray outburst that would roast a turkey from 100 light years away.  Is it impractical using a dozen solar masses and the approximate energy put out by our galaxy in any given year for one shot at an enemy?  Possibly.  But maybe I need a government grant to study it?  We wouldn’t want Russia to have one and us not.
  • There is bacteria growing on the space station.  On the outside of the space station.  While it’s in space.  I sense a 1950’s B-Movie:  The Fungus from Mars.
  • Tip well.  Show gratitude when it makes sense and when you can afford it.  Give a hard working waitress a $10 tip on an $8 dollar bill?  They’ll mention it for days.  Where else can you make someone so happy for so little?

Hope you’ve enjoyed the first 100 as much as I have.  See you Monday!

Scott Adams’ Rules for Finances, A Tiny Bit of Nietzsche

“Nice fish, Ken. You know what Nietzsche said about animals? They were God’s second blunder.” – A Fish Called Wanda

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Kids are very expensive, much more so than the tax deduction you get for them.  But I’m hoping mine pay back in dividends if I ever need a kidney or four.  Don’t think of them as your offspring, think of them as living replacement organ storage.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan not only of Dilbert® (LINK), but also of Scott Adams (LINK).  I think that he is the second most perceptive person in our country today.  Second most.  Ahem.

Back over a decade ago in 2003, he wrote about his financial advice for, well, everyone.  He thought that life was pretty simple, and the rules to not screwing up were likewise simple.  And, in general he followed his own advice.  His list is in bold.  My comments follow without the bold.

 

  1. Make a will. I haven’t done this.  I understand that it would solve a lot of problems if I died, but I won’t be around to watch.  Unless I become a WilderGhost®.  And then I could haunt them as they bickered over who got my circa 1995 mechanical pencil.  This is just asking me to take time out of my day and money out of my pocket now so people won’t have bicker in the future.  Well, they’re gonna bicker regardless.
  2. Pay off your credit cards. January 15, 2001.  That day I paid off my credit cards.  For good.  The reason I had the balances in the first place was to pay for a divorce, which was quite expensive.  Divorces are expensive because they’re worth it.  I kid.  But not really.  Credit card interest rates are high, really high.  Whatever it takes to pay off your credit card debt (outside of an overly complicated heist involving George Clooney and a group of tanned Hollywood sex criminals actors and a French goat) it’s worth it.
  3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support. I’ve always had this, but as I get older the amounts are less – The Boy and Pugsley have less time at home every year, and The Mrs. is getting older, so will have a day less of need for cash . . . each day.  Again, Mr. Adams is asking me to fork over cash for things that only are beneficial after I’m dead.  Not a great sales pitch.
  4. Fund your 401k to the maximum.   It’s now in a comfortable, identified place for the government to eventually raid so they can buy fighter jets, healthcare for people without jobs, and PEZ® for Albanian albinos with alopecia.  You’re welcome.  I guess I don’t need heat after I retire.
  5. Fund your IRA to the maximum. I’ve never had an IRA.  Again, time off from work to go set one up.  And I’m confused as to what I would do with an Irish Army anyway.
  6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it. Nice, simple language.  I’ve owned five houses (on the fifth now) and I think that they’re net neutral as far as investments (I came out well because I negotiated a clause in my offer for my last job.  Without that, I’d only be up $10,000.  But I’m not really up $10,000, since I’ve had to pay much more than that in upkeep over the years.  I don’t expect to make money on my current house when I finally sell it.  Don’t live like you have to make money on the house – houses can be really crappy investments and can also kill your financial soul (LINK).
  7. Put six months’ worth of expenses in a money-market account. This simple measure means that emergencies are not as threatening.  If you have six months – you can get rid of stuff, change your financial structure, and find a new source of income.  If you’re waiting on next week’s check to pay your (late) power bill?  You’ve got no maneuvering room.  Money is stored freedom.  Have some hanging around.  Corollary?  It’s easier to get that level of cash if your expenses are low.
  8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement. Great advice.  Wish I would have done it.  But my money mainly showed up in lumps.  So, I need to (gradually) get it into the stock index funds.  The last thing I want to do is dump all my cash into a market near an all-time high.  As a side note:  almost every single stock I’ve ever bought has been a poor decision, since I was just picking randomly, not with a value investment strategy like Warren Buffett uses.  Thankfully, I’ve not hurt our family, since my stock picks have been limited in size to the point I only care marginally.
  9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, or tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio.   Never trust a person whose income is decided based upon their choices with your money.  Pay them upfront.

Things I would add:

  1. If you’re a guy, don’t marry early. Thirty might be a good number.    Have some really lousy relationships before you select “the one”.  Because the wrong “one” will mess your finances up for years.  But you might walk away with good stories.
  2. If you’re a girl, find the best guy you can. Early (20?) marriage is okay for you, provided he’s on his way in his career and can afford stuff.  It’s probably preferable to marry early.  (Uncomfortable Truth) Oh, and girls?  It appears the stereotypes are true.  Don’t sleep around before you get married – the number of guys a girl has slept with is directly correlated with probability of divorce.  It doesn’t work the other way around, the ability of a guy to be faithful seem to be unaffected by the number of partners they had.  Don’t shoot the messenger – the facts are the facts.
  3. Don’t have kids. I’m joking.  If you’re reading this blog, you should have a dozen or more, because you’re smart, handsome, and the world needs more of your type.  (I’m not kidding.)
  4. Don’t have kids outside of marriage. You’re just as financially entangled, but no snuggle time.
  5. Don’t marry someone you’ll divorce. How would you know? You followed my steps one and two.
  6. Don’t have kids with someone you’ll divorce. Kids rarely make a relationship better.  And they certainly won’t make the house smell better.
  7. Don’t buy a new car. Unless you have a million dollars.  And probably not then. (LINK)
  8. Find a good job (LINK).

 

Nietzsche

Nietzsche, circa 1875.  He was 31 in this picture.  His mustache was 44.  I wonder if when his neighbors were loud and he was trying to sleep if he twirled that thing up and used it to plug his ears?

Now don’t go asking me how many of my adders that I’ve broken.  Okay, I’ve broken 1., 3., 5., 6., and 7. That’s how I knew to add these to the list . . . experience, like a divorce, is expensive.  And worth it.

Remember what Nietzsche said:  “That which does not kill me makes me stronger, but it does make me unable to retire at age 45.”

Loneliness vs. Being Happy. A choice?

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.  His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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The Boy at six.  How much fun is Christmas?

This week the Internet has been aTwitter® about loneliness.  It’s part of the cycle – it’s Fall, so it’s time for peak talk about being lonely.  Weight loss stories go year ‘round, but they peak after Christmas.  And the stories have a kicker.  “Loneliness is worse than ______ (obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, or, heck choose your own favorite disease to fill in the blank).”  The most recent article that I read seemed to focus on middle aged men, but I think it goes much deeper than just loneliness.  I think the roots are back to Hope.

When was the last time you were so excited that you could hardly sleep because of the day ahead?  That’s Hope.

I’m old enough I enjoy giving stuff more than getting it, but I’ve observed that kind of Hope, that level of anticipation most recently in The Boy and Pugsley.  The Boy is seventeen, and really surprising and delighting him at Christmas is difficult, now.  But Pugsley is twelve and would have the Christmas tree up in early September if we’d let him.  Pugsley dearly loves Christmas, and that spirit is alive in his heart, even when The Mrs. and I play Scrooge and Grinch®.  The Christmas Spirit (which is really just super-concentrated Hope) is naturally strong in the young.

I’ve recently discussed Scott Adams’ Formula for Happiness (LINK),

Happiness = Health + Money + Social + Meaning.

How does it apply to the young?

Health is (generally) a given.  When a child is sick enough that he leans over the side of his bed and throws up in his brother’s pants (which just happened to be on the floor there because they shared a room), he tends to remember that.  (My brother, John Q. Wilder, was not happy.)  Youth and vitality go together, since they haven’t had time to wreck their health yet.

Money is a hit or miss.  But (generally, again) money issues don’t weigh heavily on the mind of a kid.  They know that times might be tight, but they have no perspective to keep them up at night worrying about money.

Social?  In all but the extreme cases, kids have plenty of chances to interact with other kids and make friendships that last a lifetime.  Even shy kids.  They might not be friends with the popular kids, but they can have friends.

Meaning?  Yes, but like kids, it’s pretty shallow.  Being good is near enough what constitutes meaning for the younger set.  Meaning often comes from adequate performance and parental praise.

But as people get older (past their thirties), the equation changes.

Health:  Yearly you are reminded of increasing limitations, stronger eyeglass prescriptions, and less hair (except on the back, where it grows thicker than an Amazon rain forest).  Ow.  My hip hurts.

Money:  Generally people are better off financially as they get older, with the caveat that their peak earning potential may be in the past.

Social:  Friendships may have worn away through long hours and distance – most social contacts might even be at work.

Meaning:  Meaning likely comes from work, spouse, or volunteer organizations, or, in some cases, just making it to another birthday.

What role does hope play?  Hope is looking forward to time with friends and family, having goals big enough to be worthy of chasing, having plans of things you want to do and experience.  These things lead to enthusiasm and excitement in life.

What does the opposite side of the Adams Equation look like?

Despair=Poor Health(No Hope)+No Money(No Hope)+Alone Socially(No Hope)+Meaningless Existence(No Hope)

Despair leads to all the bad issues:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness
  • Pain (real, not like needing a safe space in college because spaghetti is cultural appropriation)

It’s a lot like being a fan of a California NFL© team.

A sudden cratering of any one of the factors in the Equation of Despair can bring about a vicious cycle, leading to spiraling sadness.  This despair is dangerous – fatal if long enough and deep enough.  How many widows die within a month of their husband?  How many men die a month after retirement?

Whereas Hope can put you in a bad place and make you stay for too long (bad job/bad marriage/Raiders® fan), Hope is of then the only thing that will keep you alive when things go horribly wrong, as they absolutely will from time to time.

I think the key might be in being able to look at the world, not through the jaded eyes of experience, but by being able to maintain that sure Hope of a six year old on the night before Christmas . . .

Value Creation and Zombie Steve Jobs

“Lies are like children: they’re hard work, but it’s worth it because the future depends on them.” – House, M.D.

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Pugsley, prior to going for his midnight shift in the PEZ® mines.

I was talking to a friend yesterday when he mentioned that he had been transferred to manage a group of newly graduated college kids.  To be clear – this group of college graduates is in no way typical – I imagine that they’re making in range of $80,000-$90,000 a year.  Not Harvard Law money, but still pretty good for the small(ish) town my friend lives in.  So, as a new manager to the group (he’s been managing people for decades, and he’s a good one) he got the group together to explain what he was looking for from them, what his general expectations were of his employees.  In one line that has been standard for him for years, (I heard it from him when Bill Clinton was President) he indicated that he expected the group to put in, on average, fifty hours a week.

Chaos!

Pandemonium!

My friend had become Literally Hitler.

He eventually backed down to forty-five hours per week, and was demoted to just being Literally Saddam Hussein.

As he told the story, I laughed.

The irony is that these college grads that actually do put in the long hours that my friend suggested will soon be so far ahead of their colleagues that their colleagues will never be able to catch up with them:  the harder worker will have more knowledge, more skills, more credibility, and very soon, much bigger raises and promotions.  Their colleagues will call them, “lucky.”

90% of success is showing up on time.  At least 5% is working just a bit harder, so your skills build up faster, especially when you are young.  (The remaining 5% is turtles.  All the way down.)

What’s the point in all this hard work and achievement?  To be rich?  To stress yourself out to the point where you have a heart attack in your 30s and die?

No.

The point is Value Creation.

One of the coolest aspects of the capitalist system is that it allows you (really, forces you in a purely capitalist system) to be of value to your fellow man.  Capital flows to those that create and provide value.  So, in a truly capitalist system, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for someone you might not even know or ever meet.  Bill Gates made money when I bought my copy of MicroSoft® Word™, and yet he’s never invited me for dinner.  Nor will he, unless that restraining order lapses.  I’ve told him to stop calling me, but that man won’t listen.

Value creation is like magic.  You take an idea or concept to make someone else’s life better, and then you create a product or service out of wood, metal, plastic, or just plain computer code, or, like this blog, just out of pure ideas.  If your idea is good, people will buy it, eat it, or read it, but probably not all three, unless it’s breakfast cereal.

Capitalism is simple – you (should) make money only when you create value for someone else.  Value Creation is nearly alchemy.  Alchemy was (at least in part) focused on turning lead into gold.  Capitalism is better.  It can turn cow poop into gold – when sold as fertilizer.  In a capitalist system, we transmute lower valued items into higher valued items every day.

The flows of capital follow the paths cut by Value Creation.  Those people (and businesses) that are best at creating value get more money.  What do they do with that money?  Do they put it in a box?  No.  They use it to create more value.

And that’s what my friend’s newly graduated college students do not get.  The business isn’t there for them to have a great life.  It doesn’t exist to pay them a living wage.  It won’t pay more because housing is more expensive where the business is.  Companies pay based on the value the employees create.  Don’t create more value than somebody else would for minimum wage?  You’ll get minimum wage.  Don’t create enough value for a three bedroom house on two acres in San Francisco?  Your boss and company don’t care.

In the end, it’s Value Creation.  How do you do it?

There are lots of ways, but perhaps the best way to create value is to solve someone’s problem.  The bigger the problem and the greater the number of people, the greater the value creation, and, generally, the greater the wealth that the person or company can expect to get.  The cell phone is a great example – before it existed, people spent no money on it.  After it was invented, people would spend . . . some money on it.  After the phones got data, and the phones got smart?  Massive floodgates of money poured into a product that had never existed.  Apple© went from a value of $30 billion to a market cap of 30 times as much, nearly a trillion dollars after their innovation with the iPod® and with the iPhone™.  They created a new category, and brought value to people in ways that nobody (except Steve Jobs) anticipated.  I hear that their primary focus right now, however, is bringing Steve Jobs back to life, so they can have a new idea.

The effort that went into creating the new products that Apple® launched was legendary.

And it was more than forty hours per week . . . because changing the world takes more effort than that . . . .

Tom Petty, AM Radio, Heavy Metal, and Motivation

“If you ask me, you are both off the mark.  Last night was about two people ruled by very powerful superegos, tortured by them, who found a chance, however misguided, to break through and rediscover their ids together.  Call me an old softy, but that’s how I see it.” – Frasier

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The Boy and Pugsley dancing in the rain, which makes my id sing.

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a Tom Petty song.  Where I grew up was media vacuum.  On TV, we had three channels, plus PBS® (Who watched PBS©?  Nobody.).  Unless it was nighttime, we only got two radio stations, and both of them were AM stations.  One played country music, so, for me it might as well not have exisited.  The other played a complicated mix of top 40 from four years previously, news, and an hour of mariachi music at lunchtime.  It signed off (shut down) at 11PM.

But at night . . . at night the mighty KOMA blasted out 50,000 watts of rock and roll at 1520 on the AM dial, the ionosphere conducted the signal hundreds of miles and back toward earth and over the mountains to my house.  It’s probable that I first heard Tom Petty on some cool summer night (down to 50 ˚F most summer nights).  Maybe it was “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

But Tom was always a bit older than I was, both in age and in the issues he raised in his musical themes.  Me?  I gravitated toward metal, mainly hairy metal, Ozzy™.  Mötley Crüe®.  The Scorpions©.  Despite the previous list, what I liked wasn’t all hair metal.  I liked “normal” music, too.

I ended up on a strange quest:  I’d heard a song, once, and I’d try to tell people what it sounded like, and say intelligent things like “it goes Da Da Dadum dadum de-da dum Ohh-Aiii-Uh . . . Uh.”  The record store clerk would nod knowingly, and point to a cassette or album.  It would turn out to be Judas Priest™.  Which I really, really liked.  Or Molly Hatchet©, which was kinda okay.   I would dutifully buy the tape or album, zip home (first on my ten speed, later in my pickup) and then listen to the album.  Normally, in the first song I would know if it was the same singer.  Always the answer was it wasn’t.  But these mistakes were beautiful – I can still remember sitting on the couch on a dim, overcast day, the clouds pregnant with snow that had yet to fall, blasting “The Hellion” and thinking . . . “okay, life is really cool.”

Imagine that this song played every time you entered a room.  I imagine Google® is working on that.

Again, none of them were the band I was looking for.  I think I spent $300 or so on every single album that featured leather, scantily clad females, and Spandex® that I could find.  For reference, I had all of these as either cassettes or albums.  Album cover copyrights belong to their respective corporate overlords.

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Funky font?   Check.  Picture that looks like something the disturbed kid drew in art class?  Check.

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Satan?  Check.  Priest in glasses being thrown into a pit of fire?  Check.

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Hmmm.  I don’t know about you, but something screams, John Wilder, BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!

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Spandex®?  Check.  Leather?  Check.  Canadian?  Check.  But . . . they’re dudes.  I bought this on cassette, so, thankfully, the picture was tiny.

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Swords?  Check.  Giant flying leathery chicken?  Check?  Leather . . . on a girl this time?  Check.

AliceCooper

Wow.  Just . . . wow.

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I never could figure out what sort of naughty thing they were supposed to be doing.  In the day.  At a drive in.  With both feet out the window.  Probably ripping the labels off of pillows?

Until . . . like Columbus I discovered what was already there (and broken up by the time I found them): Led Zeppelin.  True Fact:  Christopher Columbus first discovered Robert Plant picking onions in a Nevada prison camp, and introduced him to Jimmy Page at a ballet class, but would take no credit because he wanted Led Zeppelin to do disco music.

So, I listened again to Zeppelin. “Yeah, it might be that guy singing?”

It was.  It was this song:

This was the song.  Yay! 

But I’d have to special order the album, since they didn’t have Led Zeppelin III in stock.

Nope.  Too much commitment.

As you might have been able to tell by the artists and album covers above, my musical tastes were driven by my id.

If you don’t remember your Freud, he broke the brain into three bits:

  1. The Super Ego, which, like your dad, is for criticism and moralizing.
  2. The Ego, which is the organized human who lives on the main floor and deals with society in a realistic manner, and
  3. The Id, where all base instincts (Sex, PEZ® and Rock and Roll) live in the basement of your brain.

I listened to a lot of rock that was id driven.  And why not, I was working on a multi-decade winning streak.  Sad songs were for people who occasionally lost stuff.  But Tom Petty’s music was deeper.  It spoke to the conflict between the Super Ego and Ego, an intellectual and emotional conflict I really didn’t have.  I was riding high on year after year of success, slaying dragons and charging the castle.  Why would I question anything?  Party on, dudes!!

It wasn’t that Tom and I didn’t get along – he was no Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Depp, who are both dead to me.  They know why.

Really, it took life kicking me in the teeth more than once to move me from the normal reckless abandon that I attacked life with to a person who asks the kinds of questions that Tom Petty discusses in his songs.  I still recall having a conversation with The Mrs. when I began to realize that I liked Tom Petty:

Me:  “You know, the older I get, the more I understand Tom Petty.”

The Mrs., shaking her head, raising her voice a little:  “Can’t hear you . . . blow dryer on.”

But now Mr. Petty is speaking to me again – he died.

It’s not unusual for rock stars to die young – it’s like we pick an unstable, talented personality and then shove massive amounts of cash at them.  I’m just surprised that 90% of them aren’t dead by 30.  Just my luck that after the apocalypse the Twinkie®, the cockroach, and Johnny Depp will still be around.

But Tom Petty won’t be around, even though The Postman (movie) promised me that he would be.  His death hit me (oddly) harder than I’d anticipated.  He hadn’t been my life’s soundtrack, though I’d clearly been listening to him more recently.

He made it to 66.  According to the CDC, 83% of white non-Hispanics will make it to 67.  Only 1% of 66 year olds die.  If you make it to 66, your mean life expectancy is to make it to 86.  So, from this data, he died early.  But he didn’t look out of shape.  Far from it – he’d just finished a part of a concert tour comprised of 50 dates in five months, which can take a toll on 26 year olds, though I presume at 26 it’s the Jack Daniels® and late nights and not the (presumed) warm tea, oatmeal cookies and obligatory cellophane wrapped butterscotch hard candies that old people like that filled the Heartbreaker’s dressing room.

Though Mr. Petty was quite a bit older than me, I guess his death hit me like it did, because even at 66 it seemed he should be too young to die, just as his voice entered my soundtrack with a greater frequency and volume.  It makes me feel that much more mortal, and therefore more committed to getting into the best shape possible now so I can be in the 50% that make it to 82 years.

Tom Petty inspired millions in many ways – through emotional ups and downs.  He inspired artists everywhere that they could pick up a guitar and play and that their music would, like his, give them a slice of immortality.  And guys like me who want to keep runnin’ down our dreams.  I think this is the part where I get the dragon, right?

Thanks, Tom.

A Short Guide to Transhumanism and The Future of Society

“So it says here that you’re proficient in C++, code assembly for multiple processor architectures, and . . . that you are a cyborg?” – Silicon Valley

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What a Transhuman might see?  Or way too many filters?

Friday’s discussion of Ray Kurzweil’s (LINK) work on immortality was just part of a bigger picture:  it is one of the foundational principles of Transhumanism.  One definition of Transhumanism is the use of biology, information technology, nanotechnology, and cognitive enhancements to consciously and dramatically evolve humanity in a short period of time.  I know, I know, it sounds like a villain’s plot out of James Bond, but there are a dedicated group of people who are working to bring this about right now.

Transhumanists even have a magazine (LINK) called H+.  H+, for humanity plus, is also the abbreviation that is used by some for the movement to indicate Transhumanity.  And they’re working on achieving H+ now.  One of the more recent articles was referencing a study showing that planarian worms keep their memory after being frozen – something that might be important if you are researching how to bring yourself back after being frozen, like Kurzweil plans for after he dies, if he’s not immortal by then.

We talked about biology on Friday, and getting people to live forever (or a really long time) is part of the movement.  But it’s not just living longer, it’s also increasing life quality.  Inevitably, the idea of uploading a human consciousness (maybe after getting thawed out?) into a machine comes up, since human life is frail and we could build a robot body that’s tougher than a refrigerator, and faster than one of those shaky little Chihuahua dogs.  Having a cool steel body would allow you to be either a Prius® or a Corvette©, depending on if you liked the metric system or not.

But if you had your brain already uploaded into a machine, why bother at all with an actual body?

That’s a second possibility – just upload your consciousness and live in a hard drive.  Some folks, like me and Elon Musk consider it more than a little likely that we live inside a simulation right now.  My first post to discuss this idea was here (LINK) where it becomes the explanation for why we haven’t been contacted by aliens.  We’re either living in a simulation or we’re non-player characters in a very detailed video game.  At least you might be a non-player character, I know I’m real (not as sure about you).  Maybe it’s a multiplayer game?

The other frontier of study that is impacting Transhumanism is nanotechnology.  For about a year, everything was “nano” in every magazine, every news story.  It think that’s been replaced (for now) with “sustainable.”  But, outside of a cool techno band name, what does nano mean?  Roughly it speaks to structures between 0.000000001 meters and 0.0000001 meters in size.

“Nano” had its start when Dr. Richard Feynman put together a lecture that was titled, “There’s Plenty of Room at The Bottom.”  You can find it here (LINK).  In it, Feynman sets the stage for manipulation and eventual mechanization of really, really small machines.  In it he referenced biology as a template – we know that these small machines can exist at that scale, because cells exist and are functional at that scale.

Another place that H+ folks are working on is cognitive improvement – concepts on how to better improve the functioning of the human brain and make us smarter, either biologically, chemically, or through fusion with technology.  And not smart like “vodka Saturday night,” but really smart.  Chemical enhancement has gotten a majority of the attention when discussing the subject, but I would suggest that Google® has already provided a significant cognitive enhancement.  I recall having conversation in 1998 when The Mrs. and I were having an argument about something so important I don’t even recall the subject now.  My friend Matt looked at us and said, “Why are you arguing about a fact.  Look it up.”  After booting up the computer and connecting to the internet via a modem, one Hotbot.com search later, and we had a factual answer (this was before Google™ took the world by storm).  We haven’t had an argument over a searchable fact in years.

I argue that the most significant cognitive enhancement in human history so far has already occurred.  The Internet provides a massive amount of factual knowledge and computing power.  This power makes us all smarter, and gives as a much more of information far faster than at any point in history.

By nature, this vast variety of views makes us drift further apart as a nation.  When I was a kid, there were three networks, plus PBS.  Everybody in the seventh grade talked about the same show – we were all watching it – after all, Fonzie.  Cable existed, but it was mainly a way to get The Three Stooges©.  Now, it’s very rare to go in to work and be able to talk about a television show – I’ve got 200 channels, and I’m certain that nobody I work with is watching Escape from New York right now.  Given DVRs and on-demand, people might not even watch the same show in the same year as you.

On Friday I said that I thought that, even though the several aspects of immortality seemed to be pretty far off from a technical standpoint, I thought that there might be a way that some of the more crazy-sounding things might happen sooner than we’d think.

And there is – it’s called increasing returns.  Outside of standard medical science, which I think we can all agree is pretty stunted (LINK), there is a massive increase in technical knowledge going on.  If I can use an analogy – if you’ve ever done a really big jigsaw puzzle, it’s very slow to start with.  All the pieces fit with other pieces, but there are so many other pieces it’s difficult to find the connections.  But once a few connections start to go in, the picture starts to make more sense.  Eventually, as there are only a few pieces of puzzle left, they go very quickly.

And it’s been that way with technology throughout history.  Our knowledge as a species keeps growing over time – more links are made, and finally we solve one puzzle quickly.  We do run into physical and thermodynamic limits, like the total amount of energy one can get from a gallon of gasoline, or the amount of flavor that can be packed into a piece of Juicy Fruit®.

As we have more smart people on the planet now than ever before in history that can now pull information from the entire history of the world working on information system problems, we end up with far more than Uber – we’re near to having AI systems that that will be able to replicate most of the things that most thinking people do at work.  From truck drivers to managers to accountants.  A few key decision makers and people who do actual physical work that robots can’t do will be all that’s necessary to run a major corporation.  One corporation I was working at around 1999 got rid of hundreds of accountants – floors of a skyscraper were empty – not because business was bad, but because those people had all been replaced with accounting software, and purchasing software.

And this will increase with time, too.

The big idea of Transhumanism isn’t that we replace a bunch of accountants and purchasing managers – the big idea of Transhumanism is that we replace humanity with newly evolved Transhumans.  And there’s no fixed version of what the final, evolved version of us will be like.  It almost certainly will not look like us.  Beyond that, I’m not even sure what the viewpoint would be of 200+ IQ immortal cyborgs – what projects would they work on – how would they vote?  Would we even be able to communicate with them?  The final form of Transhumanity might be one where they instantly communicate, one to another.  They might look much more like Borg® than Boy Scouts.

omgh+

Bought a t-shirt with this on it for The Mrs. – she still wears it.  No one wants to be late for the Singularity!  (H+ Magazine)

Greg Bear wrote a great story (that he eventually turned into a novel) about combining intelligence plus cells using nanotech – the original short story can be found here (LINK).  The story describes increasing returns in a pretty unusual and chilling way.

We can’t know what the final form of Transhumanity will look like.  There is a mathematical definition that describes when mathematics and logic break down – like one divided by zero, or a black hole where gravity overpowers all other forces.  We call this a Singularity – and it’s clear that we cannot imagine what an all-powerful humanity would look like.  I just hope that they don’t get me in the freezer too late during the Singularity – I would hate to still be in the microwave when the Singularity hits.  That’s just bad form.