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Archive for the ‘speculation’ Category

a boy, alone, shadows, crafted by leaves, filtered sunlight, these empty days, with no obligations, wandering wonders, of the world, this moment, heart pounding, he runs, chasing the hunted, hunted by a hunter, swift, silent, silence, look right, look left, up, swerves, he whirls, the unknown still unknown, dusk, rods and cones, mesopic optics confused, blue, green, dark blood, drips slowly, drop, surrounded, he flees, raised among the markets, he retreats, returns to them, passing tree upon tree, dodge, duck, jump, hide, sprint, back back back, to the artificial, light, light of man, man’s lit streets, beasts cannot roam, the ones created by nature, disallowed, too afraid, unable to survive, this maze of brick, steel, dung, motive means, rigid paths, paved more, less, to drive, anonymous exchange, eye of God, attempts, a reminder, that indeed we do trust, that, which isn’t, what, a boy, should know.

darkforest

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I did as I was told.

I did as I was told.

At the escape the pistons fire incorrectly.

She frowns at the sound of hushed murmurs.

Bound and silenced, his captors forget.

In an instant, bang, existence.

Swallow-filled woods hide the shadowy fleet of marching barbarions.

Billowing stacks fulfill the dreams of green-eyed titans.

Misfired, misdeed, mistake but still someone is dead in Ferguson.

“You lie!” from the commons it comes changing discourse discordingly forever.

“Hello [long pause] tell me your location,” the sleepy 911 operator sighs.

Dosed off, door unlocked, debts unpaid he sleeps perhaps too well.

The far off chirp and the slight drip of sunsoaked cicles warns us that he will arise soon.

Logic gates flip bits determined to ruin fortunes.

She blushes at the his left left foot.

A scream reaches out signaling another miracle.

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I got into the car with Justin Bieber pouring is saccharine platitudes out of my speakers. It made me wonder are we some freakish society that bears children, trains them to train themselves to be pop stars and then sucks on that til it’s not so sweet and then spits it out. Rinse. Repeat.

Or have there always been such societies where the popular ideas are so easy to ride to fame and fortune? And the popular ideas so unfulfilling the only thing we can do is take more hits?

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Apparently a lot of people want to live forever.

Last week I read an article about cryonics company, Alcor, and their founder.  Apparently he passed away. A couple of years ago I read the book “Frozen”.   (Alcor has been fighting that book for some time.)   I’ve also read / watched stuff from Aubrey De Grey and all the stuff from Ray Kurzweil.   I’ve had conversations face to face with “singularists”.   And, of course, the efforts to get humans to mars I watch with extreme curiosity.

All of these are modern equivalents of the search for the fountain of youth, religious salvation and belief in the afterlife.

Do you, dear reader, want to live forever?  Do you want to preserve some specific way of life, your way of life, humanity?   It’s maddening to me that a large number of humans want to make some basic version of this existence go on forever.   It seems insane to me to want to promote this specific way of life considering how little we actually know and how frequently we kill each other and the planet.

Personally I’d find it miserable to live forever or to be reanimated in the future with my current form.   One lifetime, as a human, is enough.   A couple of years ago I read this book, Forever, by Pete Hamill.  It depressed me a great deal.   The main character lives forever.  He watches many generations and friends live, suffer and die.   All the joy and up moments were dwarfed by knowing it was an endless cycle – living forever wasn’t all there was!  It was a similar lesson I pulled from Man from Earth and Moon.  Maybe I need to read and watch more hopeful views of living forever.

Chasing immortality strikes me more as fear than some aspirational ideal.  If not the fear of death or regret over something not done in the life time, it must be some ridiculous belief that one or humanity SHOULD live forever and promote this particular formation of life.   Whether it’s fear or some anthropocentric imperative the pursuit of immortality seems like a big fat cop out.

People die.  Species go extinct.  We have limited time and resources at our disposal.  We should stop looking for infinite sources of energy and life and start learning to live better (in whatever way you take that) with less.   Stop damaging other things in pursuit of a cop out.  It’s a waste.  In fact, it appears to me to be a HORRIBLE strategy for ultimate survival of whatever it is we’re trying to protect.

But is the pull of survival of genes, the body, the species so great we can’t help ourselves but to spread the human and our own gospel?  I don’t think so.  Thousands of other species of life execute a variety of other strategies that don’t seem so damn selfish and fated.   Insects, fish and the dinosaurs have about 100x+ the longevity as humanity and as far as history suggests, none of the creatures in those phylums chased immortality.

Could “intelligence” be at the root of this?  Hard to give a truthful argument for this idea.   I conjecture that it’s actually a horrible side effect of “intelligence” in the same vein as the illusion of free will.   Intelligence conjures these things up by accident and they seem to fit conveniently into a world view that keeps the intelligent being going – being fruitful and multiplying.   It might also be the case that this is an evolutionary mutation where a strategy extinguishes itself.

We’ll never know… or maybe some will find a path to immortality and they will come to know.  or maybe we’re actually creating these immortal versions of ourselves in all these Web based things we keep inventing.  If any of that comes to pass I hope whatever carries on has a far better grasp of reality and what’s worth carrying on.

And please oh please don’t let immortality be born out of freezing our heads and reanimating them in some weird duct taped, half baked future.  It’s just creepy.

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Shadows

I’ve told some of my story to friends and family in my life, but never really publicly and certainly no one knows this internal dialog I’ve had with myself for 19 years. When you write something down and/or tell a wider audience about it it takes on a whole different level of real. should I tell my story? should I put down the never ending stream of questions and failed answers for others to read? is it grandstanding? is it helpful? is it selfish?

Like most of my questions, I don’t have a good answer for these so I’m just going to DO.

First, I don’t think I’m unique. People die. People are murdered. All of us will experience people die around us and we will die ourselves. I don’t know the horrors of war, haven’t seen someone die in the ER, have not been in a gang fight and have only see one dead body in real life, and it was at a distance. Hell, I haven’t even been to more than one funeral I think.

But.

When I was 17, a month removed from an appendectomy and having finally earned the white-shirt for Employee of the Month, 4 of my coworkers were murdered and another one shot on the night of December 14th 13th, 1993. I worked at Chuck E Cheese in Aurora, CO. The murderer was Nathan Dunlap, the brother of a classmate of mine.

I often had the closing shift in the kitchen having been revoked of the mouse costume because I had too much energy and we needed that energy in the kitchen. On that night I had a conversation with the lone survivor of the shooting, Bobby. He wanted extra hours as he had a family and needed some cash. I wanted to get out early that night for a variety of teen ager reasons. So we agreed to switch shifts.

Random coincidence? fate? divine intervention?

Bobby came in and I was out the door around 9:40p ish after having made a rare last late sandwich orders. Turns out that was Dunlap’s order I made.

I clocked out, took off my apron and said good bye to all the closing staff. On the way out I noticed Dunlap, who i did not know. It was definitely strange to have someone hanging out at a chuck e cheese late at night. Then again sometimes our friends would wait for people to finish their shifts.

I drove home. It was pretty late so I started my night time routine. And then the news started to break. In the time between me leaving and and brushing my teeth my coworkers were dead. Bobby managed to somehow escape out the kitchen exit bleeding from the shot to his face. I’ll spare any other details as I really don’t know the full story, only what I’ve heard.

That was my shift. Bobby saved me.

Bobby and I spoke only one other time after that, at the trial 3 years after that night. It was a brief conversation. Again, words fail. I thanked him.

Immediately after realizing what was going on my mind started to fill in details. I tried to remember everything. And I was imagining what happened inside that store. What would I have done? How did Bobby do it? What was everyone doing? Thinking? Feeling? How could I have stopped him?

I went to school the next day. I did a tv interview in the following days I briefly talked to the police. I met up with friends and talked about it. My brain became a swirl of information, memories, imagined memories. Shadows of events that could have happened.

After 19 years these shadows still follow me.

And I wasn’t even there. But in an infinite number of imagined memories I was there. I process my own mortality all the time, constantly. My own death over and over.

How does Bobby feel? How do the families of my former coworkers process this?

I’m not a depressed person, wasn’t a depressed person then. In fact I went on to work at another chuck e cheese in the area with my buddy Scott within weeks. The rest of high school was great and I went on to college.

In the middle of my freshman year at the University of Chicago I had to fly back to Colorado as a witness in the trial. 3 years later I had to retell everything I knew and in front of Dunlap.

How does a person remember important details after 3 years? I felt so disoriented. Was I making stuff up? Was my memory being altered by the weird ways in which the media and lawyers and trials play out? Can I please stop thinking about this?

Senior year of college included the unfolding of Columbine – not too far from Aurora. 6 years later my brain yet again went into overdrive chasing shadows of the past.

And so here we are one day after yet another massacre in the suburbs of Denver. So much sadness and distress fills me because it will never make sense to the survivors, the families, the friends, the family of the killer. Yes, I’m sure folks will find some peace in some explanation or some belief system. But in those quiet hours of the night, every July 20th, and with a million other cues their brains will run wild with shadows.

Again, I don’t think I’m that unique. We all grapple with death and the seemingly meaninglessness of it all.

I have a great life. I play and work hard. By all means I am functioning human.

I treasure every moment as much as I can. I love my family and my friends as hard as I can all the time so if the randomness strikes they will know I loved them.

And

The shadows still haunt me.

I am really alive?
Did this really happen?
How will I die?
Have a lived a life worth surviving that night?
Had I been there would it be different?
Should I talk to people about this?
Am I defined by this?
Does anyone care about my internal struggles?
Should I even try to get rid of the shadows?
How much of my behavior is shaped by this?

So here I am.

Maybe I’ve come to believe that all of existence is information and computation because it’s the only explanation I’ve come across that accounts for people brutally murdering other people senselessly.

I’ll never be at peace with this stuff. And I’m ok with that. In some ways it helps me live and love more.

In the end I decided to post some essays on this because there’s now another 100+ people out there with shadows looming. Maybe they will come across my story and find some peace in that were all connected and we don’t have to face the shadows alone. And maybe this is selfish in that now there are others out there for me to connect to that know aurora, co, that live with these shadows.

I’ve long believed that the worst kind of pain is loneliness. Even worse than death. I don’t think I can offer any grander help or relief or purpose than telling a story that leaves me and a reader or two less lonely.

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NOTE: this is NOT a mathematical proof, a formal logic paper, nor even a science paper.  It’s a blog post that contains interpretive statements and some shortcuts to get to the point.  Maybe not even the point (s) I meant to make.  also, i’m sure there are typos.

aka a Story.

My mostly-borrowed thesis: Everything is Information.

Various smart folks have put forward this basic theory.   And I’ve personally come to believe it as truth.

Seth Lloyd put this basic theory forward in a clear way for a popular audience in his book “Programming the Universe”.

The universe is made of bits.  Every molecule, atom, and elementary particle registers bits of information.  Every interaction between those pieces of the universe processes that information by altering those bits. (page 3, Introduction)

Lloyd proceeds to draw out the universe as a computer paradigm and make a compelling case that everything is just information processing.   It’s a paradigm many others have proposed but I really like the straight-forwardness of of Lloyd’s book.

Now I can’t prove his theory or this entire thesis that Everything is Information.  I think Lloyd and others have done a really good job making a case for this view.   I’m going to essentially treat it as an axiom and develop a train of thought from there.  In the end of my explorations I’m led to a somewhat less borrowed thesis.

Art (and in particular STORY) is the most effective way humans can understand the universe and thrive

I can’t prove this either but why not shine a light on some data, some ideas, some commentary to perhaps make it easier to engage with this theory?

This thesis results from following a common thread to responses to questions like:

  • What is a thought?
  • Who am I?
  • What is behavior?  where does it come from?
  • what is moral?  what is a law? what do we value?
  • what is computation?  what is a general computer?
  • is the universe/multiverse a computer?
  • how did it all begin?  how does it all end?
  • why do people laugh? what is humor?
  • what is art?  why is some art good and other bad?
  • what are forces?  what is DNA in the abstract?
  • what is mathematics?
  • what is language?  communication?
  • what is time?  what is space?  what is motion?  what is change?
  • what is death? what is life?
  • what is love?  is love just a word or a real thing?

There’s certainly a large body of work (UNDERSTATEMENT!) attempting to answer these questions rigorously and thoroughly.    By my interpretation of the work that I can actually consume, process and synthesize it all leads back to the kernel that the most fundamental concepts are information and the processing of information.   Everything is information, nothing is information.  A bit.  0.  1.  Infinity. Blackholes.  Planets.  People. DNA. RNA. Animals. Humans.  Language. Emotions. Behavior. Math. Love. Computers. Paintings. Books. Bosons. Time. Space. Existence.  Non Existence.

What is is information.  What happens is processing information aka computation.

Humans are a specific class of configurations of information.   Survival is maintaining this class of configurations throughout processing.  Evolution is the transformation of this class of configurations of information.   Understanding is the processing capability to be aware of information configuration and processing (this is so strange loopy meta like).  Thriving is a human ideal/feeling (also information configuration) of not merely surviving (passing genes on) but of actually playing a material and unique part of processing information.

What is Information then?

Seems to be a basic question to ask.

To be sure, this word information in communication theory relates not so much to what you do say, as to what you could say.  That is, information is a measure of one’s freedom of choice when one selects a message.

This comes from Warren Weaver’s introduction to Weaver and Shannon’s “The Mathematical Theory of Communication.”   This is a classic, the classic, book on information theory.  It is a good place to start even though the language is somewhat anthropological.

I take the above quote in a broader sense that information is a measure of anything’s freedom of choice to be something else, to interact with other information.  Everything has infinite freedom.  Nothing has infinite freedom.   All the various “things” or configurations of bits into bytes into megabytes and so has various measure of potential to be something/anything.

Whoa.  That’s a mouthful of abstraction and ambiguity.  Such is the danger of trying to talk about these topics!

[Remarkably reviewing entries on Wikipedia for Information yield a pretty confusing set of paths to explore the basic idea of information.  WolframAlpha yields a variety of definitions, usage patterns and related terms that also lead in a wide variety of directions and abstractions.  And perhaps, more interestingly, the choice was made to map the basic query “information” to pretty much EVERYTHING in WolframAlpha.]

The smallest amount of information is a bit.  a 1 or a 0.   that can be processed as open or shut, on or off, charge or no charge, etc.   Put more bits together and things get interesting quickly.  two bits and you get 4 numbers, little words, on, off, sort of on, sort of off and so on.   You can build up the multiverse from this.   You can write configurations of information that process other information aka  “programs”.  So the universe has a very large measure of information – lots of freedom of choice to configure bits.

And a little tangent here… don’t you need another concept “energy” that gives you the fuel to process information.  Um, if you need that definition you can use it.  It’s really just a short cut to get around defining everything in terms of information.   e.g. how much energy a system has is just information about the rules for processing information.

Which then leads to wonder why there seem to be specific rules (information) about how to process information that give us this universe we experience.  It’s not at all clear that this is true in the universe – that there are fundamental rules that cannot be different.   The universe (this specific configuration of information) may have rules that it probabilistically are most likely to play out, but there’s not a requirement in the space of all possibilities.

I have to stop this train before it becomes a complete paper / book / library unto itself.   Wolfram, Lloyd, Shannon, Chaitin, Wheeler, Deustch and many others go very in depth about this stuff.

It’s unlikely I’ve convinced you of Wheeler’s premise “it from bit” but hopefully there’s some understanding of how I interpret things.

What is Information Processing? What is Computation?

Well, in short, it’s the transformation of information configurations into other information configurations.   Oh, sure, we can pick this a part and try to get more rigorous, which again, I’ll just refer folks to the smart people better able to draw all that out.

Processing could be random, a computation, simply letting time pass, anything really.

Computation is a bit more specific but still nebulous.   Computation is a refinement of the general processing in the form of function or a program or an algorithm – a set of instructions or rules by which the processing occurs.   I think it’s good to have this really abstract thing called processing and something more specific like computation because when you dig deep into things like computability you need these distinctions.   Not all processing is computable processing.

However, in general I don’t really make much of a distinction going forward.

Now to make sense of any of this and make progress we have to tackle the universe of information configurations and how they come to be and how we figure them out.

What is Exploring The Space of Possibilities and Why Does That Matter

The universe is always computing.  It’s exploring all possible configurations of information.   We experience and/or observe just a tiny tiny bit of these configurations.

Computing/processing (observing, understanding, modeling, sharing) ALL information configurations takes more time and energy than any of us have. Heck, processing even a small portion of information takes more time and energy than we have.  (wait, pause!   by limits time and energy… I mean this current configuration of information we are in the form of cells, organs, brains, humans has instructions to transform into other information aka we die.)

The survival of humanity and of an individual depends on exploring ways of avoiding extinction in the face of information processes that change us (kill us, destroy the genetic code, etc).

If one’s goal beyond survival is to live well (thrive) by whatever definitions we concoct then we also need to explore the universe of possibilities at that level as well.  And yes, I believe, our class of configurations, humans, has some embedded and learned processing instructions to do this.  Perhaps it wasn’t always embedded but the process of evolution (or whatever other processing model is in place) seems to have selected a class of configurations that tries to thrive over those that just maintain the gene code.

So.

There have been attempts to explain and interpret EVERYTHING through mathematics, physics, computer science, philosophy, religion, and so forth.   All of these attempts are models of how it all works.  Models of information and processing information that are more or less useful for figuring out ways to survive (and then to thrive).  These are narratives or stories.  Some more “formal” and “coherent” or “logically consistent” than others i.e. less open to interpretation and varied application of those interpretations.

What becomes apparent as you dig into each of these narratives and their connections to each other is that to actual make use of these narratives in our own lives consumes considerable amount of energy – more than our instruction sets provide.   In short, you could not actually get through a day if all you did was try to use “math” to navigate life.  Mathematical interpretation of all this information adds a layer of information that becomes all consuming to other forms of information processing that actually keep you alive much provide understanding.

Cutting to the chase, which is so hard to do, is that there are infinite number of information processing methods to gain understanding at work all the time.   Math is one approach (well, it’s infinitely rich as well).   Chemistry is another approach.  and so on.   All are universal processors – given enough time/energy they will explore the right possibilities.

And here we get to the BIG THESIS is that ART and STORY are the most efficient ways to explore the right information processing for humankind to improve chances of survival of the species and of an individual.

How Does Art, Story Compute and Explore the Right Possibilities more Efficiently

For whatever reason human nervous systems seem to be big fat pattern recognizers.   That is they “see” patterns and change information configurations (behave) based on patterns.   Successive exposure to the same pattern or similar patterns tends to reinforce specific behavior aka learning.  (see experimental analysis of behavior for things like matching relation, etc. and various other learning theory and neuroscience material).

Learning is essential to avoiding “destructive” information configuration transformations (ya know, death).

So this thesis comes down to figuring out which ways of processing the universe teach the species (and its individuals) efficiently.   

And this is where this essay has no ability to prove anything with rigor.   That said, here goes.

Efficient learning involves efficient presentation of stimuli and efficient processing of that stimuli.   In other words, to effectively teach someone you have to be able to communicate information with them in such a way that they can consume it, process it and learn from it with the limited time and energy they have to avoid destruction.   There are some basic survival things “learned” in the gene code… various fixed action patterns like suckling and crying that get us going, but after that learning has to take pretty quickly to avoid the million different ways we can die at any given moment.

Now, before we get all crazy, let’s consider that humankind very much could have a different strategy for survival.  But the fact is our current configuration is such that we take 9 months to bake in the womb, we come out needing lots of help and have a very long rearing stage while our brains and bodies grow and get to the point where we can pass on the gene code (can make eggs and sperm and mate).   Having a person live this long and to select a viable mate makes learning some complicated stuff very quickly essential.   And if you keep thinking about all this you end up looping in about did big brains create the need to learn or did stimuli start evolving brains (bad example) and all sorts of other statements we can never verify.

So here we are with this species.  Over the centuries we’ve taught generation after generation how to survive and then how to contribute to the survival of the species. Which, to me, seems to rely on convincing each other to not just survive but to thrive so we’re more attractive to each other and all feel like living long enough to be fruitful and multiply.

What appears to be mostly true from history is that our primary way of teaching is through narrative.  We concoct stories that are devoid of formal specifics and instead have some memorable themes, lessons and characters – you know, patterns we can interpret in a wide variety of contexts.

These stories come in the form of fables, religion, traditions, paintings and what not. ( I am not suggesting MEMEs. )

Stories seem to be really robust information packets.   They can be poorly told and retain information value.  They can carry on through various mediums.   They are primitive packets of human information that survive generational death.

Formal mathematics, science texts, and what not are very dense information packets requiring very specific processing capability (a long time spent learning math!).

In essence stories help us avoid dying due Computational Irreducibility.   Most things we experience, see are computationally irreducible.   That is, to fully understand them would take forever and infinite energy.  Stories provide a description of how the world works that our pattern recognition systems can story up a bunch of stories that help us react without needing complete knowledge.  Stories are usually comprised of metaphors or rather we are good at using stories metaphorically to expand their utility.   Bears eat people is equivalent to Big Brown things with Claws eat People and so on.  (worth reading is Metaphors We Live By and responses like this)

It’s quite possible that with modern computers we’ll escape our current configuration computing limitations and we can describe the universe and the world around us with ever more precision and have enough time to not just live but thrive.

As it stands now, we’re still a world that relies on the telling of stories.

Our businesses need PR and business plans.   Our politicians need platforms and slogans.   Our kids need fables.   Our families need traditions.  Our economy needs advertising.

If we could simply process ALL INFORMATION we wouldn’t need short hand or interpretive information packets.

What Are The Implications

I think if we eliminate the need for story we’re not going to at all resemble this information configuration known as human.   It’s neither bad nor good.  Just different.

I think Story = Human.

I think we’re seeing, in some aspects of culture, the erosion of story and thus humanity.  Facebook and twitter are more and more turning the daily experience into more and more specific, formal bytes of what’s going on.   It’s quite possible that as web content gets more algorithmically generated we’ll just use algorithms to interpret it and as we get our phones and smart devices to do more and more stuff for us we’ll probably lose the ability and/or the need to tell stories and we won’t know the difference or care.

Humans aren’t efficient by very many measures.   What we’re efficient at is telling and interpreting stories.  This may not turn out to be a good ability for long term survival.   I don’t even know of species survival is a good thing.

I do think everything is information and we’re part of that everything and that stories are a nifty little thing in the configuration of all things.  and that of all the big questions I’ve chased down in life almost all of them have the best answers found in a story.   It is a tale told by an idiot perhaps…..

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After a TechCrunch article writer by Sarah Lacy posted August 22, 2011

A few months ago Sarah Lacy, a TechCrunch.com writerwas giving a talk in her hometown of Memphis, TN, and someone asked what the city could do to ignite more entrepreneurship among inner city kids. Her immediate answer was to teach coding– even basic app building skills– along with English and Math in every public school. She was surprised that her brother– an engineer who worked for many years in Silicon Valley before relocating to the Midwest– didn’t necessarily agree.

The thing is that while this is a first level issue of who gets the jobs needed in coding – foreign or domestic coders, it occurred to me that we are in the 30th year or so of serious code writing and it has had some unanticipated consequences.  The changes in the world that have been brought about by the Internet and technology have changed what is done by people.  Now, more and more what is done is done by software applied to different technologies.  The world of TechCrunch and other quasi-geek clusters are alive and well due to the prevalence of algorithms.  They are the workers in a mired of different ways today.

They paint the cars, cut the steel, do the book binding, print the content, answer the phone and a zillion other things that we all used to do.  In a cumulative way the jobs that were are now being done by technology just like was the case when ol’ Ned Lud (see emphatic published accounts for the most favorite spelling…) brought to mythical status between 1779 and 1812 that changes in British textile practices were coming to a screeching halt.

No, I am not being Luddite here.  I am simply pointing out that, when all the talking heads whine and moan about this political union or that political union not producing jobs for the reconstitution of the economy, they should take note; the jobs in the past that went away aren’t coming back.   Many of them aren’t coming back due to being  long overdue to be absorbed before the downturn and no one – or not many, took notice.

Instead of asking for someone else to provide jobs, it is time to create jobs based on that uncomfortable situation that we find ourselves in every 70-90 years.  Change has overtaken the status quo.  Now we need to create jobs that machines can’t do – yet.  That is, jobs involving organizing communities, infrastructure, law, education and human-care… for children, for families in transition, for elders and for soldiers who are brought back and deposited on the steps of America.  They were taught how to do what was necessary to what they had to do to survive.  Nowhere is the training they get any better for that purpose.  Now however, they have done that under duress, for double tours, etc. etc. etc.  To be spit out by those that trained them as worn out and disposable civilians with defects without the slightest bit of care on how to survive reestablish domestic values, is despicable.  Software and algorithms can’t pull that off.  We can if we stop waiting for someone else to do something we favor or don’t find dogmatically repugnant.

HP’s decision to go big and purchase the U.K.’s Autonomy Corp., and probably other players doesn’t seem so ridiculous under a ‘software good – hardware sad’ scenario, does it.

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