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We have a problem.

As it stands now the present and near future of economic, social and cultural development primarily derives from computers and programming.   The algorithms already dominate our society – they run our politics, they run our financial system, they run our education, they run our entertainment, they run our healthcare.    The ubiquitous tracking of everything that can possible be tracked determined this current situation.   We must have programs to make things, to sell things, to exchange things.

punchcard

The problem is not necessarily the algorithms or the computers themselves but the fact that so few people can program.    And why?   Programming Sucks.

Oh sure, for those that do program and enjoy it, it doesn’t suck. As Much.   But for the 99%+ of the world’s population that doesn’t program a computer to earn a living it’s a terrible endeavour.

Programming involves a complete abstraction away from the world and all surroundings.  Programming is disembodied – it is mostly a thought exercise mixed with some of the worst aspects of engineering.   Mathematics, especially the higher order really crazy stuff was long ago unapproachable and completely disembodied requiring no physical engineering or representation at all.  Programming, in most of its modern instances, consequences very far away from its creative behavior.  That is, in most modern system it takes days, weeks, months years to personally feel the results deeply of what you’ve built.    Programming is ruthless.  It’s unpredictable.   It’s 95% or more reinventing the wheel and configuring environments to even run the most basic program.  It’s all set up, not a lot of creation.   So few others understand it they can’t appreciate the craft during the act (only the output is appreciated counted in users and downloads).

There are a couple of reasons why this is the case – a few theoretical/natural limits and a few self-imposed, engineering and cultural issues.

First the engineering and cultural issues.   Programming languages and computers evolved rather clumsily built mostly by programmers for other programmers – not for the majority of humans.    There’s never been a requirement to make programming itself more humanistic, more embodied.    Looking back on the history of computers computing was done always in support of something else, not for its own sake.   It was done to Solve Problems.   As long as the computing device and program solved the problem the objective was met.   Even the early computer companies famously thought it was silly to think everyone one day might actually use a personal computer.   And now we’re at a potentially more devastating standstill – it’s absurd to most people to think everyone might actually need to program.    I’ll return to these issues.

Second the natural limits of computation make for a very severe situation.   There are simply things that are non-computable.   That is, we can’t solve them.   Sometimes we can PROVE we can’t solve them but that doesn’t get us any closer to solving some things.    This is sometimes called the Halting Problem.  The idea is basically that for a sufficiently complex program you can’t predict whether the program will halt or not.   The implication is simply you must run the program and see if it halts.  Again, complexity is the key here.  If these are relatively small, fast programs with a less than infinite number of possible outcomes then you can simply run the program across all possible inputs and outputs.   Problem is… very few programs are that simple and certainly not any of the ones that recommend products to you, trade your money on wall street, or help doctors figure out what’s going on in your body.

STOP.

This is a VERY BIG DEAL.    Think about it.   We deploy millions of programs a day with completely non-deterministic, unpredictable outcomes.  Sure we do lots of quality assurance and we test everything we can and we simulate and we have lots of mathematics and experience that helps us grow confident… but when you get down to it, we simply don’t know if any given complex program has some horrible bug in it.

This issue rears its head an infinite number of times a day.   If you’ve ever been mad at MS Word for screwing up your bullet points or your browser stops rendering a page or your internet doesn’t work or your computer freezes… this is what’s going on.  All of these things are complex programs interacting with other programs and all of them have millions (give or take millions) of bugs in them.  Add to it that all of these things are mutable bits on your computer that viruses or hardware issues can manipulate (you can’t be sure the program you bought is the program you currently run) and you can see how things quickly escape our abilities to control.

This is devastating for the exercise of programming.  Computer scientists have invented a myriad of ways to temper the reality of the halting problem.   Most of these management techniques makes programming even more mysteries and challenging due to the imposition of even more rules that must be learned and maintained.   Unlike music and writing and art and furniture making and fashion we EXPECT and NEED computers to do exactly what we program them to do.   Most of the other stuff humans do and create is just fine if it sort of works.  It still has value.  Programs that are too erratic or worse, catastrophic, are not only not valuable we want to eliminate them from the earth.   We probably destroy some 95%+ of the programs we write.

The craft of programming is at odds with its natural limits.   Our expectations and thus the tools we craft to perform program conflict with the actuality.  Our use of programs exceeds their possibilities.

And this really isn’t due to computers or programming, but something more fundamental: complexity and prediction.    Even as our science shows us more and more that prediction is an illusion our demands of technology and business and media run counter.    This fundamental clash manifests itself in programming, programming languages, the hardware of computers, the culture of programming.  It is at odds with itself and in being so conflicted is unapproachable to those that don’t have ability to stare maddeningly into a screen flickering with millions of unknown rules and bugs.   Mastery is barely achievable except for a rare few.   And without mastery enjoyment rarely comes – the sort of enjoyment that can sustain someones attention long enough to do something significant.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to improve the craft of programming.   I’ve programmed a lot, lead a lot of programming efforts, delivered a lot of software, scrapped a lot more.  I’ve worked in 10+ languages.  I’ve studied mathematics and logic and computer science and philosophy.  I’ve worked with the greatest computer scientists.  I’ve worked with amazing business people and artists and mathematicians.   I’ve built systems large and small in many different categories.  In short, I’ve yet to find a situation in which programming wasn’t a major barrier to progress and thinking.

The solution isn’t in programming languages and in our computers.  It’s not about Code.org and trying to get more kids into our existing paradigm. This isn’t an awareness or interest problem.   The solution involves our goals and expectations.

We must stop trying to solve every problem perfectly.  We must stop trying to predict everything.   We must stop pursuing The Answer, as if it actually exists.  We must stop trying to optimize everything for speed and precision and accuracy. And we must stop applying computerized techniques to every single category of activity – at least in a way where we expect the computer to forever to the work.

We must create art.  Programming is art.  It is full of accidents and confusions and inconsistencies.   We must turn it back to an analog experience rather than a conflicted digital.    Use programming to explore and narrate and experiment rather than answer and define and calculate.

The tools that spring from those objectives will be more human.  More people will be able to participate.  We will make more approachable programs and languages and businesses.

In the end our problem with programming is one of relation – we’re either relating more or less to the world around us and as computers grow in numbers and integration we need to be able to commune, shape and relate to them.

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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As I watched some of the Republican National Convention, gear up for the DNC, get through my own daily work, read essays, strategize about business, talk to friends and family and synthesize all the data, I just come back to this question What Are We So Afraid Of?

I decided to write this post today specifically because I saw this ridiculous commercial yesterday for ADT Pulse.   http://www.adtpulse.com/  This commercial made it clear that if you aren’t monitoring your home in real time with video all the time everything you know and love was in grave danger!    So, I’ve decided to figure out just how afraid of everything I should be.

Here’s some of what we seem to be afraid about as a culture.

Our jobs: 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/31/public-says-a-secure-job-is-the-ticket-to-the-middle-class/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/29275784/People_Fear_Losing_Job_the_Most_Poll

 

Our economy: 

http://www.conference-board.org/data/?CFID=20758670&CFTOKEN=9d689c13bda4ed14-4C556B63-968C-7A5F-C9BBEBCC03AA5B5E

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2306/global-attitudes-economic-glum-crisis-capitalism-european-union-united-states-china-brazil-outlook-work-ethic-recession-satisfaction-gloomy

 

Our government: 

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html

http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/partisan-polarization-surges-in-bush-obama-years/

 

People different than us: 

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6083/853.short

http://www.nyclu.org/news/nyclu-analysis-reveals-nypd-street-stops-soar-600-over-course-of-bloomberg-administration

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/unfounded-fears-167413105.html

 

Murder:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissus-in-all-us/200903/mass-murder-is-nothing-fear

 

Food:

http://www.amazon.com/Fear-Food-History-Worry-about/dp/0226473740

http://shop.forksoverknives.com/Forks_Over_Knives_The_DVD_p/5000.htm

 

Technology and Media:

http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/

http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-Gadget-Manifesto/dp/0307269647

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/5-things-we-fear-new-technologies-will-replace/250545/

 

Cancer, Disease:

http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960610-1/fulltext

 

Medicine, Shots, Vaccines:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience/

 

God, Heaven and Hell:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048?imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048.t001

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-08-07-love-wins-afterlife-hell_n.htm

 

Terrorism:

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/13262/london-olympics-2012-the-odds-of-dying-in-a-terrorist-attack/

 

Our Children’s Safety:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-07-17/news/ct-met-walk-alone-20110717_1_free-range-kids-abductions-york-writer-lenore-skenazy

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16725742

 

Tattoos:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2032696/Now-tattoos-cancer-U-S-regulator-probes-fears-inks-contain-carcinogenic-chemicals.html

http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303933404577505192265987100.html?mg=reno64-wsj

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/when-tattoos-hurt-job-prospects/

 

Large Hadron Collider:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1838947,00.html

 

Everything else:

 

Nothing to Fear?

So is there anything to fear?   are the fears valid?  well, I guess they are valid fears if you don’t have information.   So here’s some information.

 

Most fears drilled into us aren’t founded on evidence – at least not at the level we fear them:

http://www.amazon.com/False-Alarm-Truth-About-Epidemic/dp/0471678694

http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Fear-Culture-Manipulates/dp/0452295467/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2

 

Unemployment isn’t really that high in this country (or most western countries), especially if you get an education:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=unemployment+rate+USA%2C+England

 

You’ll probably have 5-10 employers in your working lifetime so assume you’ll get laid off, fired or go out of business.  There will be other businesses to hire you or you can just make something yourself:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990.html

 

Economy will have short term blips but ultimately continues to churn ahead:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=gdp+usa

 

You’re unlikely to be murdered

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=crime+rates+in+austin%2Ctx

 

Children aren’t taken very often (at least in Colorado)

http://www.denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=3433817

 

In fact, violence has long been on the decline:

http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker

 

It’s ok if you forget to pray, chances are it probably doesn’t change outcomes:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032302177.html

 

And humans have been getting tattoos for a long time and the world hasn’t ended:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html

 

Oh, and, humans aren’t that different from Bonobos or Chimps, much less other humans.  So, maybe we should rethink that worrying about people that aren’t just like us:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2159027/Humans-share-genetic-code-endangered-ape-species-bonobo.html

 

Almost every one of common fears are unwound through perspective changes aka education aka realizing it’s not black and white.    Again, see the S. Pinker History of Violence link above to get an idea of the real impact of just literacy and access to information and what it does to fear.

Is it a big deal that people fear the wrong things?   Yes!   Especially if it leads to suicide bombing, racial profiling, not getting an education and so on.

 

But, c’mon, aren’t there some things we should fear?

Maybe…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-ropeik/fear-of-climate-change-ma_b_1665019.html

and maybe this too

http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/09/20/student-loan-debt-surpasses-credit-card-debt/

well maybe this too

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-628194.html

 

In the end, methinks fearing too much is a waste of time because in the end we just don’t know what’s going to happen, right?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

Knowing you can’t predict it all (thus prevent it) what’s the point in worrying to the point of being truly scared?

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ComputationalIrreducibility.html

 

So, no, ADT, I won’t be buying your Pulse product.

 

 

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“Tripping over Buddha” is an expression about not recognizing the obvious…or important stuff.

“If you were looking for Buddha [or insert subject of VALUE here], you could trip over him and be unaware of whom you had encountered.”

Such a statement can be pejorative or it can be about nothing more than the difficulty in not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, if we’re looking for a way to understand what the hell is going on in the world and we need some place to start, the recommendation is for you to start with “The Man in the Mirror” (thank you, Michael Jackson).  Us.  Homo sapiens.

By starting with ‘us’ then there’s a chance that you’ll learn how frustratingly complex organisms we are. For starters, perhaps you’ll be amused that we all

  1. sense things that aren’t there (do we really need examples?) and
  2. don’t sense things that are there (do we really need examples?)
  3. but continually muster outrage, violence, and retribution when we aren’t taken serious about our interpretations of life – from art to asinine and politics to potentates

So, as a starting place for getting to know what makes us tick, what makes us frail and what is the best hope we have of recognizing Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] if we should trip over him (or her), START HERE.

www.g2conline.org/#

This is by far the best site I have ever come across with regards to what’s going on about ‘us’. Yes, great for sorting out the complexity from the hyperbole. No, it can’t be watched and absorbed in a week, or on YouTube.   So go look, mess around, add it to your computer’s links, find what you are interested in or just gape at the wonders of it all but do it.

And, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.

But, like the Earl Nightingale once recounted, if you do take the time and effort to examine only a spat of the rules that govern you, in the end you’ll find you’re alone because the effort to grasp even the simple rules was too great a challenge for pretenders.  You know, those who claim to be looking for Buddha [or what the hell is going on] but don’t recognize what is there in front of them when it’s encountered.

If you do process what is there and you come away convinced there is something more or better or of greater value, then fine.  Now you know some serious empirical stuff you are rejecting and Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] may be right around the corner.

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Our society wastes a lot of time crafting clever but completely inaccurate models of the world looking for shortcuts to wealth, fame, power, peace, prosperity, liberty, or whatever…

That strategy can never work.  All things that lead to the above goals are computationally irreducible systems.

The most efficient strategy, and here comes the bad news… is to jump in, do stuff* and see what happens.

 

*stuff =  take to the streets, code something, write that book, run the marathon, quit that job, join the peace corps, send the letter, have the talk, etc.

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I had a great weekend with my family in Chicago. It’s always enjoyable to haunt your old stomping grounds and relive the old stories, hopes, heartbreaks, jobs, dinners, and strolls.

For this trip I really want to soak in a lot of the experience even though our time was limited. This post is a little brain dump of things I found amusing, interesting or otherwise notable.

American airlines at ohare is way more enjoyable than the united airlines experience.

A city with abundant taxis is a luxury I really appreciate.

Holy cow is there a big difference between 33 degrees in Austin,Tx and 15 degrees in Chicago wind!

It’s amazing when a restaurant you used to love is as good as you remember it almost a decade later.

It seems 8 years is the limit at which 90% of your old social circle moves on or moves away. 4 years ago a visit to Chicago was filled with visits to parties and friends still in the area. Only a handful this time around.

Kids go with snow way better than adults.

Downtown Chicago on a Sunday morning is so quiet. You can own the place. It’s great.

Why does a town always build the awesome stuff after you leave? Hahahah

Man is it great to talk math and the business of math with my pal John Boller. He’s got a deep knowledge of math and is such a great communicator!

Watching kids at a great museum demonstrates the value of these cultural institutions. Also, it’s hard to create a great museum. The field museum is one of the best.

I spoke to at least 5 guys at the bears game that came alone, travelled hundreds of miles for this really big game. One guy taking pictures of the old soldier field structure almost teared up. He’d driven himself in from s. Carolina and had just enough money for one ticket. Ya, it’s just football, right? I spent the first part of a day with a gentleman from Eugene, oregon. His family sent him solo because they could only afford one ticket and this was something they really wanted for him. He showed me the texts and pics of his family prepping for the game. We took pictures with him and the Chicago police and outside of all the soldier field displays. Ya, its clearly just football.

Heavily marketing beer cutoff at end of third quarter seems to encourage fans to pound beers at halftime. Stadium folks might consider changing that marketing a bit depending on their objectives. As for me, it was so freaking cold pounding beers seemed more like punishment than the normal enjoyment it might bring. I actually drank a coffee and ate nachos cause cheese was warm.

I laughed so hard when I went to the bathroom cause there was a beer man selling.

I did order an Mgd in the stands and the guy next to me asked if I was still in college. He was drinking a miller lite. What am I missing?

The national anthem and jet flyover was quite possibly one of the coolest things ive ever experienced.

There was a moment in the third quarter when I was so cold and dejected for a brief moment I considered leaving. I fought myself back up to my seat and pulled a haine! Glad I did. That was about to an epic comeback.

Several people yelled at me via txt that I stopped txting. My hands outside of gloves could not operate these stinking phones. Sorry folks, I’m a good txter, but I couldn’t do it!

Anticipation is the best state to be in. Once the adrenaline fades you get very cold. Lucky for me after the game all I had to do was walk ocer to the she’d aquarium to meet my family. That was awesome.

Chicago is the kind of place where you don’t need a plan before wandering the streets for some decent food. Had to the feed the family after the game and all the obvious places were jammed. Found some pizza and wings on state.

Who’s idea was it to order all that food at seven at night?

Indoor swimming pools on a cold night in Chicago are awesome for kids.

Dani and i feel asleep last night watching “inside 9/11” on nat geo. Um, wow. Almost ten years ago we were living in Chicago down the street from our hotel. Watching that show brought my 25th birthday to the forefront of my memories. What a day. Hard to remember all that unfolding in real time. That show plus all the sausage and pizza during the day generated some strange dreams indeed.

Note to self, never ever stick your hand into cab seat looking for the belt connector the morning after a city hosts a big event. I do not know what got on my hand but the fistful of baby wipes did not clean my hand and brain to my satisfaction.

Traveling with our girls is getting more fun as they age. They really get excited by trips now and seem to appreciate “cool” things.

Reese said she was mad the packers won and all those people were shouting go pack go. But she wanted to know how to spell packers. Bella called me a wolf because I howl at football games. I think they have the basics of bears packers down.

Thanks to dani for doing this ! Man, what a weekend!

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2011 Predictions

  • Somebody we’ve never heard off will have the music single of the year
  • We still won’t have flying cars
  • Gas will be around $3.65 +/-.20
  • Wikileaks will be a commodity and thus won’t matter much by the end of the year
  • Apple will release the iPad2 and sell a bazillion of them and it won’t change the world as it’s Just A Computer
  • Most the world will still believe there’s a god
  • unemployment will get to lower than 9% in the US
  • The Governator will end up in at least 2 tv show guest appearances and 1 movie
  • Rick Perry will begin campaign for federal office (irony!)
  • the Patriots will be in the AFC championship
  • Some leader of a really tiny country will do bad things
  • uChicago will get another Nobel awarded to faculty member
  • U of Colorado will lose more than half of its Pac 10 games
  • It will be a massively crazy hurricane AND typhoon season across the globe
  • Glee will drop in US TV ratings to the point of potential cancel
  • American Idol will be done by next season

what else people?

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