Archive for the ‘Science & Technology’ Category.

Google Must Be Destroyed

“Carthage must be destroyed.” Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse often abbreviated to simply Carthago delenda est. So ended every speech by the Roman senator Cato the Elder in the years between the 2nd and 3rd Punic wars, the latter the final war that finally accomplished what Cato and others demanded. In the years of the Republic from about 400BC to 100BC Carthage was the only power to ever seriously threaten Rome’s existence. In 216BC four years into the 2nd Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal came within a hair’s breadth of destroying Rome by wiping out Rome’s legions at the Battle of Cannae. The Romans hung on and Hannibal lost his chance, but the Romans never forgot the desperation after that battle and statesmen like Cato saw Rome as never being able to rest easy as long as Carthage existed. Cato eventually got his way and during the 3rd Punic War the Romans razed the city of Carthage and sold the Carthaginians into slavery.

Fast forward 2,000 years into the future and we are faced with a different type of enemy, one that does not field armies or own navies yet poses an existential threat regardless. Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are amassing hundreds of billions of dollars in profit by brokering information and distorting reality. These modern companies are just as threatening to our freedom as Hannibal’s elephants were to the Romans’. Unless we recognize the existential threat we face and act soon our freedom will be lost forever.

Google Must Be Destroyed

Chances our you’ve done a search for an item you need, say a new pair of boots. Within minutes every website you visit presents ads for boots or related winter gear. By using a “free” search engine like Google you have handed Google another few data points about you. Google knows where you are (unless you are accessing through a VPN - something most people in the USA don’t do), your likely age and sex (by the choice of boots), and your socio-economic bracket (the price range of the boots you searched for, where you searched for them e.g. vs The data points from that one search are collected by Google and added to those from other searches you’ve done. After a few searches Google has a very good idea who you are, what your likes are, what you hate, and more. That more is starting to get noticed.

In a 2015 The Atlantic article “People’s Deepest Darkest Google Searches Are Being Used Against Them,” Adrienne LaFrance points out how using a simple Google search as “need fast cash” can open up the user to potential fraud and financial misery. She writes, “Not only are lenders taking advantage of people in vulnerable financial situations, not only are lead generators sometimes skirting Google’s ad policies and even violating state laws, but companies are sharing individual data in a way that puts consumers directly at risk. All this comes down to the widespread availability and longevity of personal data online.” Google later banned these ads but not before investing heavily in a payday loan startup “LendUp.” A test Google search finds ads still present although interspersed with articles from government regulators and consumer agencies warning about their dangers.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pilloried at the time for the following quote: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Those who work in the IT field recognize the genius of this quote. The first things you can fix. The second things you can prepare for. It’s the “unknown unknowns” that keep sysadmins and designers awake at night.

In short we don’t know what we don’t know, and by manipulating and censoring search results Google is in fact manipulating reality. In “The New Censorship” Robert Epstein examines the methods Google employs to censor voices it disagrees with such as manipulating the auto-complete results, altering images displayed in Google Maps, and demonetizing YouTube videos its employees find offensive.Epstein writes, “If a librarian were caught trashing all the liberal newspapers before people could read them, he or she might get in a heap o’ trouble. What happens when most of the librarians in the world have been replaced by a single company? Google is now the largest news aggregator in the world, tracking tens of thousands of news sources in more than thirty languages and recently adding thousands of small, local news sources to its inventory. It also selectively bans news sources as it pleases.”

But his biggest complaint is Google’s usage of a site blacklist which even competing search engines use. Epstein writes, “When Google’s search engine shows you a search result for a site it has quarantined, you see warnings such as, “The site ahead contains malware” or “This site may harm your computer” on the search result. That’s useful information if that website actually contains malware, either because the website was set up by bad guys or because a legitimate site was infected with malware by hackers. But Google’s crawlers often make mistakes, blacklisting websites that have merely been “hijacked,” which means the website itself isn’t dangerous but merely that accessing it through the search engine will forward you to a malicious site. My own website,, was hijacked in this way in early 2012. Accessing the website directly wasn’t dangerous, but trying to access it through the Google search engine forwarded users to a malicious website in Nigeria. When this happens, Google not only warns you about the infected website on its search engine (which makes sense), it also blocks you from accessing the website directly through multiple browsers – even non-Google browsers.” Epstein found his hijacked website was blocked by other browsers because these browsers were using Google’s blacklist to censor their own results.

Not only was Google manipulating the Internet through its browser, but it was also manipulating the Internet through competing browsers as well through the shared information. Epstein writes, “You may disagree, but in my view Google’s blacklisting practices put the company into the role of thuggish internet cop – a role that was never authorized by any government, nonprofit organization or industry association. It is as if the biggest bully in town suddenly put on a badge and started patrolling, shuttering businesses as it pleased, while also secretly peeping into windows, taking photos and selling them to the highest bidder.”

Earlier this week Google was sued by two former employees for being fired for their conservative views. On January 9, 2018 Bookworm Room posted internal messages of Google management discussing the internal memo by James Damore questioning Google’s Diversity Hiring program. She writes, “The complaint explains that Buckley holds a high-ranking “SRE” (Site Reliability Engineering) position. If you think he doesn’t have a say in content, I’m sure he and those who work with him will differ. By the way, proving as did Altman that it’s not just American academia that’s insane, Colm is an Irish Social Justice Warrior, hailing from Trinity College, Dublin.” Here’s one of Buckley’s messages:

James Damore’s and David Gudeman’s lawsuit isn’t the only one Google is facing. In October conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager filed suit against Google for the demonetizing of his YouTube videos collectively known as “Prager University.”

The New Surveillance Age

Since 2016 Google has released a series of appliances that allow hands-free querying of the Internet. Collectively known as Google Home these devices incorporate microphones to listen for the command “Hey Google,” followed by a question. The device then searches the internet and provides a spoken response. Apple was the first to come up with the spoken search/response application “Siri” on its iPhone in 2011, moving to stand-alone products known as “HomePod” in December 2017. In 2014 Amazon released the stand-alone speaker “Echo” using its Alexa search service. Although these devices are keen to emphasize their utility by using the term “speaker” or “smart speaker” to suggest the information is delivered to the user, they do not highlight these devices are always listening. The microphones in these devices are always on, although the software will only interact with the user when a key phrase such as “Alexa”, “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google” is used. In effect people are allowing their conversations to be monitored 24/7 within their own homes.

Would you allow a CCTV camera to be installed within your own home and pointed at you and your family at all times of the day? Would you allow it if Google or Amazon promised to allow you to order an item with a wave of a hand? In effect we have traded our freedom for convenience without appreciating the consequences. A friend related before Christmas how her 11 year old daughter used one of these appliances in a clever way. “Hey Alexa,” the girl said, “Tell me all the orders you’ve received over the past month.” The device dutifully listed all Amazon purchases, telling her all the presents her parents had purchased for her from the shopping site. If an 11 year old can game the appliance for her own benefit, imagine the ease a hacker of government intelligence service will have when these devices are ubiquitous.

While Google and the other makers of these appliances have promised to protect privacy, they have shown themselves to be lousy stewards of it so far. It’s true that we’ve had similar devices in our pockets for years. After all Siri’s been around on iPhones since 2011 followed in 2012 by Google’s “Google Now” assistant on Android handsets. Just because we aren’t aware of a danger doesn’t make it non-existent. There is nothing stopping a determine hacker or government intelligence agency from activating a microphone on a phone or appliance and transmitting a conversation. How long will it be before a Federal indictment against a mob boss using such a tool? I don’t worry about the usage of this tool against terrorists or mafia members. I’m worried about the usage of the tool by Google or Amazon to add to their data points for directed advertising.

Imagine a situation where you are in your kitchen with your significant other and you suggest replacing your old counter top. Then you log in to your computer to start your search only to find Amazon advertisements and Google searches pushing counter tops already there. How did it know you were interested in counter tops before you started searching? Now imagine talking about Glocks, pressure cookers or abortion and the possibilities become much more sinister. How would you prove this was happening?

Of course the companies claim they have safeguards in place to protect your privacy. But laws have not caught up to this technology and without laws and punishments in place there is nothing to stop a company like Google changing its policy. History has shown that whenever the means are available a company will exploit them for profit unless the fear of discovery and punishment outweighs the potential for profit. Ask Wells-Fargo.

Google’s parent holding company Alphabet is now one of the largest companies on the planet. Google controls a staggering 90% of all searches and as shown by Dr. Epstein’s discovery has a hand in controlling the remainder. If Google sold cars or electricity it would have long ago been broken up or regulated as a utility. So far it has avoided all attempts at federal control no doubt due to its status as top lobbyist on Capitol Hill. While other companies like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter should also face anti-trust scrutiny – and Amazon is finally seeing some after its purchase of Whole Foods – Google stands out for the danger it presents to average Americans who rely upon it for its search engine, email and mapping applications. As a conservative I’ve tried to boycott Google for its treatment of Damore and blacklisting of conservative websites. It’s not easy, and based on what Epstein found it may be pointless anyhow. The only solution is lawfare.

After the 3rd Punic War Rome was unchallenged in the Mediterranean for the next 500 years, and its golden age had begun. The threat by Google to our freedom is just as real as Carthage was to Cato’s Republic. It is time to end the dominance of Google for our own privacy and the future of a free Internet.

Google must be destroyed.

Update: Feb 4, 2018: Kevin Carty, writing at the New York Post, “Tech Giants are the Robber Barons of Our Time“:

“This means that the antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission can use their existing powers to go after the biggest tech platforms.

US antitrust enforcers have all the power they need to resume the trust-busting that freed Americans from companies like Standard Oil and plutocrats like J.P. Morgan. They just need to use that power, now.”

Playing By The Rules

The text came from out of the blue over my work messaging system. “I need to talk to you. It’s important,” one of the people who I manage pinged me.

I responded to her reply, afraid that the project she had been working had experienced another setback. When I assigned her to the project I hadn’t realized I was sending her into a hornet’s nest, but like so many IT projects, one really can’t tell what the project is going to be like until one’s knee-deep into it. I texted her my phone number, and my office phone rang within seconds.

“I have to resign,” she said.


Like many of our contractors, Sri (not her real name of course) is from India and has been living in the United States for several years with her husband and young children. Sri has been a part of my team  and has done solid, dependable work even though I feel that like many Asian women she doesn’t get the respect she deserves in the predominantly male IT field. A few months back she became the scapegoat for the project deadlines being missed, so I stepped in to provide cover and bore some of the heat while she continued her work. Within days she had fixed the problems and the project had gone quiet, humming along with short boring status meetings and the occasional emails, but the stings hadn’t worn off just yet. Had she kicked the nest again somehow? Did someone push her over the edge?

She explained that she and her husband had been waiting for years for their green cards, and had just learned that it would take another half a year – possibly longer – before they came through. Meanwhile their work visas were expiring this summer. The school year was starting in India in the Spring and she didn’t want her kids to be left behind, so she had to quit and return to India in the next few weeks so that they could enroll and attend school. Her husband would finish up his assignment and and reunite with his family in June.

I was dumbfounded. I had enough work to keep her busy well into the year, but I knew what she was dealing with. Having worked abroad I have waited for visas to clear or traveled outside the country simply to get my passport stamped with the correct visa. Knowing the rules and playing by them was critical to succeeding in a foreign country as a researcher or worker, at least it was until recently when American liberals decided borders didn’t matter.

Sri is a diligent worker and I’m sure I’ll run into her again but not for a little while. She’s playing by the rules, returning to her country and waiting in line for her turn at the elusive Green Card.

She’s a hardworking mother and wife who cares about her children’s education enough to cut short her stay so that they don’t miss out on their education. Her family is exactly what we need in our country, and is the modern version of my Irish ancestors who risked everything to come here. Like them Sri’s playing by the rules and paying the price.

Think about Sri the next time you hear a liberal justify illegal immigration.

Surprise! iPhone 7 Cannot Do What a 20 Year Old Cell Phone Can Do

This story originally appeared in Wow! Magazine.

As a techie I should have known better than purchase the iPhone 7 on the Verizon Wireless network the day it was released. But I’d run my old Android unit  into the ground with 3 years of heavy use, and the fact that iPhones hold their value better than other phones plus Verizon’s offer to pay $400 for an old iPhone 5 I had hanging around convinced me to make the switch as soon as Apple released their latest sexy beast into the wild.

The phone is sleek and sexy, but after a month of usage in the US and Europe I’d noticed something odd: It avoided connecting to the cell network, and when it did it always took the lowest possible connection. Living in a rural area I’ve learned where the service drop offs were, but leaving the house the iPhone 7 would glide along in my car showing “No Service” or “1x” where past phones pulled in 3g or even 4g/LTE signals. I’d turn off cellular service by switching to Airplane Mode than switch back and bam! I’d have a blazing fast LTE connection – until I was out of range of that tower. Then when my signal was switched towers the service would drop completely or revert to the crawling “1x”. In essence the brand new digital iPhone 7 was failing to do something 20 year old analog cell phones could do: maintain a stable connection between cell towers. It’s fine if you reset your connection and don’t move – like pretending your cell phone is a landline – but if you are traveling any distance be prepared for dropped calls and data connections.

This morning I checked the Internet and discovered I wasn’t the only one suffering from this problem. MacRumors reports, “Affected customers are seeing their LTE connectivity cut out at regular intervals, leaving them stuck with 3G/1X speeds or no signal at all. This can cause calls to disconnect when VoLTE (voice over LTE – the Apple equivalent of VOIP) is in use in addition to interrupting data usage… There appears to be no clear fix for the issue, and customers have been complaining of being routed between Apple and Verizon with neither company offering a solution.”

I called Verizon Wireless and spoke to a tech today. He said that Verizon was aware of the problem and working with Apple to resolve it, but since I was 3 weeks outside of my 2 weeks contract “cooling off period” I was stuck with the phone for the next 2 years.

So those of you considering switching to Apple’s shiny new toy might want to wait to see how this issue shakes out. There are worse options out there. On a recent flight I took the stewardess told all Samsung Galaxy and Note owners to turn off their phones for the duration of the flight due to their propensity to burst into flame.

Social Media: Why I Quit It

I quit Facebook completely in the Spring, leaving the account but locking down my profile so that even my FB “friends” can’t see my information. After several years on the platform I realized there was a reason why I’ve lost touch with most of the people I’ve known over the years, and those friendships that have stood the test of time don’t need software like Facebook to maintain them. Many of my friends are liberals who naively assume everyone on their friend list of hundreds thinks exactly as they do and will “like” their post on global warming, gun control or Hillary Clinton. They were then shocked when they learned that others didn’t subscribe to their philosophy, and the ensuing arguments that erupted in the threads usually when one friend of the poster who didn’t know the other friend of the poster, a complete stranger in other words,  flamed him/her for daring to think differently, proving the medium is at best a near infinite number of virtual sandboxes with toddlers talking to themselves.

I’ve also shutdown my Twitter account. I never really liked the medium or really spent much time using it. I’ll admit I am old fashioned. One of the keys to good writing is thinking about what you are trying to say, then perfecting it in the editing process until it says what you intend clearly and concisely. Blogging challenged this methodology, but even here I am able to set a post aside and save as draft to come back to it, revise it after it’s been published or on rare occasions, pull it completely if I realize what I posted was a mistake.

Twitter is the antithesis of this process. It encourages people to share whatever thought crosses their mind no matter how half-baked, idiotic or rude. And let’s face it: there are few people out there whose thoughts are so important let alone interesting that they are worth reading. It seems that the best ones are when celebrities use Twitter to show how ignorant and clueless they are, such as when Playboy pinup Dani Mathers, who is famous for being blessed with a nice body, uses Twitter to show how ugly she is inside by mocking the body of an older woman. As a libertarian I’m also put off by a private company owning the medium and allowing it to be used by jihadis as a recruitment and communications tool, but banning conservative voices like Stacy McCain and Milo Yiannopoulos.

If you think you are not paying for the product, you are the product, and while I believe companies like Twitter and Facebook are free to do as they wish, I don’t want them to make money off of me. And for that reason I have completely avoided other social media sites like Snapchat, Photobucket or what have you. I collect photography as art and I have paid good money to own a photograph, so I don’t see why firms shouldn’t do the same. If a photo I take is in demand, then I should be compensated by something more than a “free” account. It’s the same reason I don’t fill out surveys at stores promising to enter me in a drawing to win a gift card. I value my time, and if a store wants my opinion on my “shopping experience” then they can pay for it with more than a contest entry.

The question comes up: Isn’t cutting oneself off from the social media stream isolating? There are few feelings as lonely as posting something on Facebook which is important to you that is completely ignored by everyone. It doesn’t matter whether your friendlist is in the double or triple digits, the “sandbox” nature of the media is revealed. You want to feel loved? Post a funny cat or baby video.

I got my first real PC in 1989. It came with a 2400 baud modem and I have been online ever since. I have found that being online is worthwhile, but it is not a substitute for human interaction. Skype, chats, emails – all of these help connect us to each other and are not bad. These interactions aren’t much different from a phone call. But Fb and Twitter aren’t meant to connect us to another person, they are meant to make money for their companies by pretending to give us an audience. And that’s how they differ from those older electronic mediums.

If you want an audience, become an actor. If you want human interaction, pick up the phone and call your best friend. But I’d recommend against wasting your time on social media.

Unicorn Roadkill – When Renewable Energy Activists Meet Physics

Jalte Jansen is a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology in Kassel, Germany (that city should ring a bell for you WW2 history buffs). Jansen appears in the One Minute Interview section of my favorite socialist science magazine New Scientist, July 25, 2015 issue. In it Jansen advocates the UK implement a plan like Germany’s Energeweinde, a plan to phase out nuclear power and replace it with renewables resulting in Germany’s CO2 emissions rising at the same time energy costs are soaring. As The Economist notes, “That outcome is the exact opposite of the intentions of the original policy.” Meanwhile the US CO2 emissions have fallen due to the conversion from coal to gas fired plants, something the Germans have refused to do.

Interviewer Chris Baraniuk asks Jansen whether the UK’s power supply could become 100% renewable. Jansen answers, “Definitely,” and says the UK could base its energy needs on solar panels and wind turbines.

Is this possible? Could cloudy, northerly (for US readers the UK sits further north than Maine) Britannia supply all its energy needs from solar and wind power?

David Mackay is a physics professor at the University of Cambridge, and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change. His 2009 book “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” looks at this very question. His answer? No.

The first 17 chapters of his book lays out the energy needs of a typical Brit before turning to his physics background and calculating the energy densities and potentials for wind, solar, biomass, tidal and other renewable energy forms.

His conclusion? “For any renewable facility to make a contribution comparable to our current consumption, it has to be country-sized. To get a big contribution from wind, we [calculated] wind farms the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from solar photovoltaics, we required half the area of Wales… To sustain Britain’s lifestyle on its renewables alone would be very difficult. A renewable-based energy solution will necessarily be large and intrusive.”

He bases his conclusion on the fact that renewable energy sources tend not to be dense. Take a gallon of gasoline for example. The energy within a gallon of gasoline is roughly 40 kilowatt hours/day (kWh/d) and occupies less than a cubic foot of space. Assuming wind turbines were built on 10% of the UK’s land, “we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50km per day.” Covering 10% of the landmass of the UK, planting wind turbines in moors, farms, gardens as well as on rooftops would provide the average Brit with the power equivalent of 1/2 a gallon of gas.

MacKay builds his argument around the consumption of energy by the average UK citizen, and then analyzes the available sources to provide that energy. Evaluating solar energy he estimates 100 square meters of roof space per person (roughly 1000 sq feet for those of us who were force fed metric during the Carter dark ages and rebelled against it during the Reagan Renaissance.) He writes, “Let’s give everyone 10m2 of expensive (20%-efficient) solar panels and put them on a south-facing roof. These will deliver4 kWh per day per person.”

The UK is a windy place but sunny it usually is not.  While on a cloud free day at midday 1000w of solar energy bathes every square meter of the equator, the UK receives about 5% of that amount thanks to it’s northerly latitude, the fact that it’s not midday all the time, and its propensity for cloudy weather. So adding a roof covered by solar panels only gets the average Brit another tenth of a gallon of gas.

MacKay is no fossil-fuel funded zealot. Quite the opposite. He accepts the threat posed by anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and the reluctance of politicians and the public to curb economic growth in order to live more sustainably (otherwise known as die in large numbers to reach pre-industrial population levels.) But as a physicist understands the science behind our energy needs, which is why that he advocates the use of zero carbon emission nuclear power to replace baseload power currently provided by fossil fuels. He also recommends improving conservation, and adding renewable sources like wind and solar where and when they make sense.

To paraphrase the great Democratic Party leader Daniel Patrick Moynihan everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own physics. Either Jansen is wrong or MacKay is wrong. MacKay lays out step-by-step how he comes to his conclusions, showing his work as it were, yet questions his own work at many steps along the way. It turns out his figures tend to be more optimistic than those posted by official “Green” or governmental sources. Jansen just throws a statement out there without any proof backing it up other than his credentials at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology. Typically the interviewer whiffed on asking him any tough questions.*

The New Scientist is up to its old tricks, selling unicorn fantasies while ignoring the very science that runs them down.

*On a side-note, am I the only one who watches or reads an interview with some public or otherwise respected figure, and can think of a dozen questions that are more challenging and interesting than the softball pitches thrown in what you are watching or reading? Have journalists as a whole become dim-witted or just ego-strokers? Or am I just becoming a cranky old man?

Red Barchetta Coming to a Road – and Sky – Near You

Starbucks Race Together – Forgive me for not wanting to be lectured to by a company with an all-white board of directors and a billionaire white CEO, one without locations in poor neighborhoods including my own. I don’t ask the Dali Lama for Italian Roast whole bean, and so I don’t see why I should be forced to talk to a harried twenty-something coffee-slinger about anything beyond wanting my coffee black.

The ISIS Attack in Tunisia – How many people have to die before we start seeing these attacks for what they are? Religiously motivated hate crimes by adherents of the “religion of Peace.” Sure the machete wielding guy shot dead in New Orleans was a Jehovah Witness, but he wasn’t passing around copies of the WatchTower as he killed people, was he? Terrorist apologists just don’t get that there’s a difference between killing someone because you are nuts and killing someone because you are nuts IN THE NAME OF ALLAH. It’s the difference between a white guy gunning down a black guy and a white guy shouting “N****r” gunning down a black guy. I had plans to visit that museum in the near future, and although I haven’t torn those plans up, I am realizing that the “safe places to visit list” is getting smaller by the day.

Ted Cruz – Ted Cruz is courting the Christian wing of the GOP. That worked well for President Huckabee 4 years ago didn’t it?

Israel – The Obama administration demands Israel commit suicide while allying with its mortal enemy. No surprise given Ayatollah Khameini and President Obama’s shared hatred of both the US and Israel.

The UK’s Green Party – Leader of the Green’s Natalie Bennett is promising to demilitarize the UK and evidently lives on a different planet, one without a Vladimir Putin partitioning Ukraine. If she does win in May, it will make it easier for Downton Abbey fans in the US to mount an invasion, take over the island and force creator Julian Fellowes to write a seventh season – one where Mary awakens from a dream to find her sister Sybil and husband Matthew at her bedside. The fans should be able to take the place over with a few pointed jabs and threatening remarks, that is if Putin doesn’t get there first, which given the recent Russian overflights of the UK may be soon.

Germanwings crash – Humans make mistakes. They make far more mistakes than the control systems that fly the planes, and there’s only so much we can do to protect lives from a pilot who wants to become one with a mountain. Has the time come for pilotless planes? It’s going to take courage for the first cabinfull of passengers to fly without a pilot but in the end it’s going to be the norm. Ditto driverless trucks, trains and eventually cars. Would I trust a fully automated car over my 18 year old kid? Damn right I would. I love driving but I have had too many close calls myself, and recognize that an automated driving system would be a safer driver system, and when that happens driving will become illegal (hence the Rush reference in the title.) The Germanwings crash is going to accelerate the discussion on the technology that could revolutionize our worlds this century. It’s coming and the sooner the better. I think…

BBC firing Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear – Please forgive my descent into British English, but F*** the Beeb, the bunch of spineless lefty nanny-state loving tossers. They’ll protect a pedophile like Jimmy Savile but not Clarkson whose political views tended towards the right in the UK (which makes him a moderate Democrat here). It’s one thing to discipline him for his misbehavior; it’s another to dog him for his populist beliefs. Well, the sooner Bennett wins the election, the sooner my comrades and I can take over the country and rest assured, the BBC license will be the second item on our chopping block (after that driving on the wrong side of the road business.) Let them grovel like NPR does here.

Head Transplants – My favorite hard Left science magazine wasted 2,000 words on this “what if.” I say wasted because the success of such a surgery hinges on the ability to meld one spinal cord to another. If we can do that, we can cure paralysis – and to me that’s far more newsworthy than worrying about the ethics of something that may not even be possible.



What I Learned in 2014

1. I’m not immortal, nor am I an accurate assessor of risk. In November I came the closest I’ve knowingly ever come to death or serious injury. There was no foreshadowing of the accident, no supernatural “spider-sense tingling” warning me of the possibility of danger, nothing. Instead the accident happened, my luck held, and I didn’t die nor was I paralyzed. Decades of experience had lead me to believe that I could accurately assess danger, and an instant on my own property proved me wrong.

This incident also taught me that bad medical insurance is worse than no medical insurance at all. If you are currently uninsured and can only take one thing away from your time reading this article, GET INSURED NOW. I estimate that my time in hospital cost $30 a minute. The American health care system is a clusterf**k, but until we fix it everyone should be insuring themselves with catastrophic plans to avoid financial ruin. These are cheap, don’t cover pre-existing conditions or provide Obamacare mandated coverage. But they are there for catastrophes that can wipe out your life savings in a blink of an eye (worth $.05 in a hospital – I’m still gobsmacked at the cost of my care).

2. There is hope for America. This election every candidate I supported won, in contrast to past 4 elections when the opposite occurred. I had been in the wilderness for so long that I had lost all hope for a viable opposition against the juggernaut of the Left’s assault on our rights and freedom.  November 4th and its aftermath renewed my faith that especially in politics Life is like a wheel; wait long enough and it will all come around.

3. I don’t need cable/satellite television. Last year I experimented with online streaming of TV using the PS3. This year I purchased a Roku and subscribed to Netflix and AcornTV. For a fraction of the cost of cable/satellite I now enjoy a broader selection of programming than ever. Cable/Satellite claim to have 200+ channels, as if that number means anything. I’m down to a handful now (AMC, BBC America, History, Discovery, NatGeo) but enjoy content that I choose. If you Doc Martin is your favorite GP, or relish a good Time Team dig, then AcornTV is for you. Need something heavier? There’s Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy on Netflix, playing exactly when you need them. It’s like having my own TV channel. Next stop: Cutting the cord.

4. Speaking of own TV channel, Pandora is soooo 2012, but thanks to my Smartphone and data package, I can stream it in the car and in 2014 it was like having my own radio channel. Instead of being stuck with whatever ClearChannel wants me to hear, I listen to what I want with enough variance thrown in to keep me interested. In a bad mood? There’s always the Skinny Puppy channel to put things right. Need something moving to get the hear moving, there’s DJ Tiesto. 2014 changed the way I consume media, and for someone who used to have to buy records without hearing them, it’s truly sublime.

5. The Ancients Still Have Much to Teach Us. In 2014 I developed an obsession with Ancient Rome (after devouring the HBO series Rome on Netflix). I’ve read all of Julius Caesar and Tacitus. I am now working on The History of Rome by Livy. For most of my life I was told how good the Classics were but I thought “meh, that’s ancient history.” This year I saw them in a completely new way. What truly amazes me is how little the Romans had to start with, but yet how they accomplished so much. Sure they ripped off the Greeks, but the Greeks weren’t the best teachers. Instead the Romans had to make things up as they went along. There was little “history” that they could search for clues on how to handle a new situation. 2000 years ago there was no Free Market economics, no Democracy (at least in the modern sense of the term), no separation of powers. Nevertheless the Romans built first a Republic then an Empire that resonates through Time. In today’s technology obsessed era it’s worth remembering what the Ancients did with just wax tablets, quills, and animal muscle.

6. Rolling Stone magazine should have OD’d on heroin in 1978. Rolling Stone was founded at the height of hippiedom and only stayed relevant during the 1970s thanks to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. It was a counter-culture magazine but when the counter-culture became the culture, it lost its allure. Today’s millennials do not group identify through music the way Hippies, Stoners and Punks did through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. A magazine that started life geared towards the musical taste of their grandparents really has limited interest to them. Lenny Bruce once said “there is nothing sadder than an aging hipster,” and the liberal geriatrics don’t seem to understand that. Rolling Stone’s founder Jann Wenner (who turns 69 on Jan. 7) doesn’t get it either. If he did and had folded the magazine before it became a parody of itself, it wouldn’t have earned Columbia Journalism Reviews’ worst journalism prize for 2014.

7. The Democratic Party is the new Geezer Party. Speaking of aging hipsters, it’s difficult to respect a party whose standard bearer and young upstart – Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren – are both eligible for full social security benefits at the respective ages of 67 and 65. It’s not that I have issues with the elderly. I see the elderly as a valuable but underutilized resource in the US. What I have trouble with is a geriatric who thinks he understands youth culture. Now old people understand children, at least the smart ones do. Having been kids then raised a generation or two of them (in some cases) many old people can relate better than most to the struggles of the younger generations, but that has nothing to do with culture. I’m approaching senescence at full speed myself and I couldn’t tell you who is hip these days, nor would I care to. But when my teenage son has that look in his eye, I know what psycho mind games his girlfriend is playing on him because I remember having that look myself at his age (which is why I ended up marrying an older woman – the girls my age seemed to be all bi-polar schizos).  But that level of maturity, to be old and sympathetic but aware of one’s limitations, is not in evidence in the Democratic Party. Instead we are watching the political equivalent of a 50 year old woman dressing in public like her 20 year old daughter. It’s embarrassing.

8. Crazy Ivan is back. Russia’s bad behavior in Europe and the Middle East proved that 1989 wasn’t the end of Russian authoritarianism after all. The Russian propaganda machine is working overtime extolling the virtues of Vladimir Putin and denigrating everyone else as conspirators all working zealously to undermine Russia. As someone who studied foreign policy during the Cold War, let me just state how happy this makes me. All those papers and books I read about Russian nationalism, culture and paranoia are finally proving their worth. As I have written before, Russia should be America’s natural ally but not when it’s got its pants around its ankles and is pissing on a lamppost while screaming how much it wants to kick America’s ass. We understand Russia the way we understand our crazy ex’s. We know their weaknesses better than they do. The only reason Putin has gotten away with what he has so far is who sits in the Oval Office. Barack Obama makes Jimmy Carter look like Genghis Khan by comparison. Hopefully in two years we will have a balanced leader who will replace him, who sets meaningful red lines and punishes our enemies while rewarding our allies – the opposite of our current commander in chief.


Gravity – Proved Yet Again

Experiment is the beating heart of Science. The story of Galileo dropping cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to disprove Aristotle’s Theory of Gravity remains one of the great examples of the scientific method of all time. More importantly it proved how counter-intuitive Science can be and why Science without experimentation is a joyless and immobile creation.

Imagine a cannonball and a feather. Which will fall faster in a vacuum?

If you are like me your gut screams that the feather must fall slower than the cannonball in a vacuum. After all we’ve seen feathers and other light objects fall before, and they inevitably fall slower than more massive objects. But our perceptions are warped by our experience of not living in a vacuum.

Here is the experiment performed in the world’s largest vacuum chamber. It is simply brilliant.


It’s Jews All The Way Down

The name of this journal is in honor to Occam’s Razor, the tool of logic used to decide when faced with two theories having the same evidence the simpler theory is most likely true. I selected this name because of the explosion of conspiracy theories that followed the 9-11 attacks. Occam’s Razor is to a conspiracy theory what a can of RAID is to a cockroach. In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were a multitude of explanations and justifications, from Bin Laden striking the blow to protest America’s refusal to curb global warming to the controlled demolition of the towers by the US government itself. Like cockroaches these theories managed to survive and evolve into what we now call 9-11 Truthers, a movement that has become a cottage industry where the only people not responsible for the 9-11 attacks are the ones who actually claimed responsibility for committing them.

Every generation has its tin-foil hat crowd, as do both sides of the political spectrum. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor well before the Japanese launched the attack. JFK was killed by the CIA, mob, Cubans or a conspiracy involving all three. The moon landings were faked as was Elvis’s death. Reagan was killed by Hinkley and replaced with an imposter. The CIA was behind the AIDS and Crack epidemics of the 1980s. Vince Foster was “suicided” by the Clintons.

There’s an anecdote where a great scientist delivers a lecture on cosmology in which he remarks the earth orbits around the sun. At the end of the lecture an old woman stands up and shouts, “That’s poppycock. Everyone knows the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist then asks the woman, if that were true what is that turtle resting on? “It’s turtles all the way down,” she answers.

I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever I visit sites like Zero Hedge where it seems the vast majority of posters are advocates of one conspiracy or another, and often many. Whether its the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Ukraine, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza or the Ebola outbreak, some insidious group is behind it – and it’s never the obvious the person or group claiming ownership. Instead that person or group is claimed to be a shill or patsy.

Take for example the Ukrainian civil war. Although Russia is the obvious aggressor because it has the most to lose by having an independent and prosperous Ukraine on its border, the Russian government is not to blame. Instead a belligerent undercover NATO forces are massacring Russian speakers in the East and goading Russia into the war. NATO also bombed Flight MH17 and fabricated the telemetry and satellite data showing the plane was downed by a missile fired from Russian controlled territory. The whole purpose of this exercise is for the West to ignite a war with Russia, one that will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket for the benefit of American energy companies.

Then there’s al-Qaeda and its off-shoot ISIS. It’s a common belief that these groups are under the control of the CIA and the Mossad. All the terrorist attacks committed by these groups, all the beheadings and massacres are manufactured by bureaucrats in Langley and Tel Aviv, operating “false flag” divisions devoted to creating mayhem that then provides justification for their governments to meddle in the Middle East on behalf of the TPTB, the Powers that Be.

Mind you there is not a scintilla of proof behind any of this, and when proof countering this narrative is raised the conspiracy theorists simply move the goal-posts onto another area where the proof is not as definitive. Or they claim the proof offered was itself manufactured, making it impossible to disprove their position. Conspiracy theorists believe such maneuvers make their positions stronger, but the impossibility of disproving a theory actually weakens it from a rational point of view. For example a single piece of evidence could disprove Evolution; simply find the fossil of a modern animal such as a human or horse in sediments dating from the Jurassic Period, and the theory would be gravely weakened. Yet there is no such evidence that can possibly refute the theory that the World Trade Centers were destroyed through explosives set in the structures by the CIA or Mossad as many Truthers believe. The fact that we have video and thousands of eyewitness accounts of the airliners slamming into the buildings does not weaken their convictions. The dearth of such acceptable contrarian evidence forces these ideas out of the realm of factuality and into faith.

And who are the TPTB? It depends on whom you ask. For many it’s the extremely wealthy oligarchs that run the world’s economies, men of unimaginable wealth whose faces are not known, but who control the fates of Man in the same way the gods controlled the fates of the Greeks and Romans. But then one could ask, well, who controls The Powers That Be? Inevitably we run into the Jews. The Jews are the world’s favorite Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain that controls everything Evil. If something bad happens there is inevitably a Jew behind it.

But why stop there? Who’s behind the Jews? And then the lady at the back of the room stands up and says “It’s Jews all the way down…”

Over the past 5000 years of their existence other tribes and their religions have come and gone but the Jews remain. They have survived countless persecutions, pogroms, and the greatest mass-murder in History and still they remain true to their faith and identity. Over that time Jews have risen to the heights of power in every civilization they have lived in, wielding power in service to Ottoman sultans, defining Communism in Russia, and serving the cause of freedom and democracy in the American senate. Their success in the Arts is unparalleled. Countless writers, actors, directors and musicians hail from the ethnic group. Their importance to finance, established during the middle ages due to the prohibition of usury by the Catholic Church, gave them the control of wealth that lays at the heart of most anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This survival and even thriving at times is historically unusual, and when you put success together with survival over 5 millennia, you have a recipe for those of weaker minds to fall for conspiracies involving favoritism or treachery.

And I must emphasize that anti-Semitism is the purvey of weaker minds. It takes much effort to understand History and its complexities, and that is simply too much for many to employ. It is much easier to fall back on conspiratorial beliefs that are simplistic but with a strong history of their own. And that I think is the problem with facts: they take more effort to put together to create the Truth than to weave falsehoods into a great Lie. It is much easier to dream up a conspiracy theory that explains the loss of Malaysian Flight MH17 than it is to objectively examine the evidence. It is also a much more compelling story. But just because it’s compelling doesn’t mean it’s correct, and that apocryphal lady’s belief in turtles will not pluck the Earth from orbit around the Sun and set it upon an infinite column of reptiles just as the Jews are as guilty or innocent as any other ethnic group for the sins of this world.

Immigration For Idiots

Because Evidently Smart People Have Gotten Really Stupid About the Subject

Imagine you arrive at work one morning to find a group of people standing around your desk or workstation. You notice similar groups standing around the desks of your colleagues. Everyone is perplexed. Finally your boss arrives and explains, “These are your potential replacements.” She points to one, “See Miguel here? He’s actually a harder worker than you are and is willing to work for half of what I pay you. Sure his English isn’t the best, but Rosetta Stone Spanish is half-price on Amazon right now, Eso es mucho, ¿eh Miguel?” Miguel nods vigorously.

“The only thing holding me back from hiring him is immigration reform,” she says, “But since both parties are committed, I guess it’s only a matter of time…” She walks away, then says over her shoulder, “Oh, and until it’s passed you might want to remember Miguel and his amigos when you come to my office for your next evaluation.”

We like to believe we are indispensable in our jobs, that the company cannot run without us. The truth is that unless you work for yourself your company CAN run without you, and in many cases may do so better. The only reason you have a job is that the company you work for gains more from your labor than the cost of employing you. So if it pays you $20 an hour, it expects to make at least that back through your labor. If it doesn’t you won’t have a job for long because the company will go out of business. Say it makes a 25% return on your employment, netting the firm $5 an hour after paying you your wage. Would it pass up an opportunity to pay less for your position, say turning that 25% return into a 100% return by paying $12.50 an hour?

This is an oversimplification of course. Many employees don’t make their firms any money at all. If you are in infrastructure, whether a middle manager or an IT developer, you are only employed until your company figures out how to get rid of your position. Somewhere within your company someone is trying to figure out how to do away with your job in the name of “streamlining” or “efficiency.” It’s no different to what you do at home when you look at your bills and try to figure out how to make your money go farther. Your position is an expense, and right now it’s necessary, but it won’t be forever of course. And in the meantime your firm will do whatever it can to maximize profits while minimizing costs, and your salary or wage is a cost that it will work very hard to minimize.

The Labor Market is no different than any market. The price of anything on the market is determined by its supply and demand. If the supply is plentiful, it’s price will be relatively cheap. As it becomes rarer, the price rises. For those of us who have grown up in free(ish) market economies we take this fact for granted for everything from gasoline to gold. But for some reason when it comes to jobs we get stupid about it.

In a free market whenever there’s a shortage of something, whether it’s pork bellies or Playstations, the price skyrockets. For the past 15 years high tech firms have been complaining about labor shortages in the STEM fields, and call for increased numbers of H-1B and J visas to fill the supposed shortage. If this were true we would expect that the salaries for such jobs would be sky-high.

The Chronicle for Higher Education investigated the STEM field labor shortage claims and concluded the STEM labor shortage is a myth. Salaries in these fields have been stagnant and in many cases, in decline. So why do so many people believe the myth? “The claims about STEM shortages come from employers, along with their lobbyists and trade associations, claims Michael Teitelbaum, who a fellow in science policy at Harvard University and a senior advisor at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.”

There is no labor shortage, just a shortage of labor willing to work for the wages set by companies. Companies want to pay their employees less, and the only way to do that in a free(ish) market economy is to boost the potential supply of its workforce. Why wouldn’t it support immigration reform if it meant more aspirants for your job? This potential pool of applicants allows it to find a cheaper replacement for you or at the very least keeps you from asking for a raise.

Why Unions Support Immigration Reform

Today’s unions aren’t your father’s grandfather’s unions. Back in the day unions raised wages and working conditions for their members because they controlled the supply of labor either directly, by determining whether their members worked, or indirectly by making crossing a picket line dangerous to one’s health. They also fiercely resisted immigration, viewing immigrants as increasing the labor supply and driving down wages for their members.

Today’s unions are pale shadows of their former selves, representing only a sliver of the non-government workforce. Because they can no longer control the supply of labor in most industries, it only makes sense for them to focus on the low paying service industries where they can still exercise some control. These industries happen to employ the most illegal immigrants, so starting a decade or so ago, the unions gave up their resistance to immigration and embraced it.  Now unions like the SEIU see each illegal immigrant from Honduras or Mexico as a dues paying member. Since the minimum wage provides a floor to wages, the unions no longer have to worry about decreasing labor supply to boost wages; they’ll just push for a higher minimum wage, and that’s exactly what the unions have done. The primary weapon of unions is no longer a picket line, but the cash desperately needed by politicians to win elections.

By expanding their rank and file with immigrants, the unions then have the cash to provide to politicians who can then raise the minimum wage to boost the salaries of its members. From the perspective of the rank and file, the union leadership and the politicians who receive their cash, everybody wins. The only losers are the middle class consumers who pay more for goods and services provided by unionized companies as well as pay the higher taxes required to support the large cheap labor pool, and the constituents of the politicians who are in the pockets of the unions.

 Why Liberals Support Immigration Reform

Let’s face it, these immigrants aren’t coming from places where Ayn Rand and Adam Smith are cultural icons. They are coming from collectivist societies where Che Guevara is more than an image on a t-shirt, used to living under strong states, albeit ones with failed policies bad enough to drive them to risk everything to cross our border. The teeming masses awaken the natural impulse within liberals to help, and that help in the liberal’s mind can only come through a strong, all-encompassing State. Liberals also don’t like borders, viewing nationalism as a scourge that will eventually disappear along with such barbarities as the Plague and GMO food. Modern liberals are by nature trans-nationalists, and nothing is more trans-national than a bunch of brown people who have suffered under the neo-colonial policies of the Western Powers flooding into the USA. Each Mexican or Honduran represents a chicken of past colonial aggression coming home to the United States to roost.

Additionally, hard core Leftists believe the Marxist interpretation of Capitalism that inequality deepens as wealth follows its natural tendency to accumulate with the upper class, and that it’s the job of the State to confiscate that wealth and redistribute it to the lower classes. Marx himself viewed this as an untenable state of affairs that would eventually lead to communism and the concept of wealth would disappear and vegan unicorns would frolic in a low-carbon world.  Until that time the State would tax the bejeezus out of the wealthy and hand it over to the poor in welfare payments. More poor immigrants require more taxes from the wealthy, helping make that Communist Paradise one-step closer to reality.

Of course all liberals aren’t steeped in liberation ideology and the politics of identity. To Democrats each immigrant is a potential Democratic voter. Immigrants traditionally vote Democrat at least for a generation or two until they assimilate. Pew Research finds 31% of illegal immigrants self-identify with the Democratic Party vs. 4% for the Republican Party. Converting those illegal immigrants into voters has the potential to make the Democratic Party the majority party in the US and consign the Republican Party to History’s wastebasket. Given the potential payoff Democrats would be stupid not to support immigration reform, and for all its faults the Democratic Party has never been known for its stupidity.

The Stupid Party of American Politics

And why is the GOP establishment keen on immigration reform? Because the Republican Party is the Stupid Party in American politics. The GOP’s Big Business/Big Government wing is determined to push through reform in order to provide its corporate base with the cheap labor it demands even if it means the party’s suicide. While the libertarian/populist/small government wing of the party fights back in primaries, showing its power in Eric Cantor’s primary loss, the GOP establishment believes that it must pass immigration reform to continue receiving support from its corporate patrons and to counter the Democrats charge of racism. It pins its hopes on the social conservatism of the Hispanic community, that the community will see what swell, non-racist guys the party is and will switch party affiliation. This has about as much chance of happening as Joe Biden winning the presidency in 2016.

So there you have it. Hopefully this article adds some clarity to the issue. Where your opinion falls should reflect whether you compete with immigrants for your job or not. If you don’t, then you should favor their arrival. But if you do, you should think twice about supporting immigration reform you racist.

A Warp Drive Might Be Possible, and More Importantly, Practical

More of this please.

Dr Harold White is famous for suggesting that faster than light (FTL) travel is possible.
Using something known as an Alcubierre drive, named after a Mexican theoretical physicist of the same name, Dr White said it is possible to ‘bend’ space-time, and cover large distances almost instantly. This, in essence, would allow a spaceship to travel almost anywhere in a tiny fraction of the time it would take a conventional spacecraft.

Hope to see this in action sometime before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Technological Progress: The Hardback Replaces the E-Book

I did something the other day that I hadn’t done in 2 years: I bought a book. Like many I’d taken to reading books on e-readers, in my case the Amazon Kindle Fire, and after purchasing the Kindle I had thought my book buying days were over. But over time I noticed something: what I read on the Kindle didn’t seem to stick with me as long. I’d even sampled books I had already downloaded and read. Something wasn’t right.

I began investigating whether there was a link between poor reading comprehension and e-readers. This article, originally published in Scientific American, suggests there is.

At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension. In a study published in January 2013 Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues asked 72 10th-grade students of similar reading ability to study one narrative and one expository text, each about 1,500 words in length. Half the students read the texts on paper and half read them in pdf files on computers with 15-inch liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. Afterward, students completed reading-comprehension tests consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, during which they had access to the texts. Students who read the texts on computers performed a little worse than students who read on paper. (source)

Around the same time I bought the Kindle, I was having a carpenter install bookshelves in what was going to be our library, and I remember feeling almost nostalgic about the books that were boxed and ready to be placed on the shelves. I’d always taken the measure of a man by the books he read, and the library struck me as a place that told more about him than he perhaps wanted known. It wasn’t just their subjects that gave away their owner’s secrets. Were they paperbacks that were tattered from being carried around backpacks and the backseat floors of cars, dog-eared and marked up with various inks? Or were they pristine collectors edition hardbacks whose spines had never been broken, likely owned and cherished for their spines and little else? If one looked carefully one could even glimpse the reader’s evolution, from paperback science fiction novels of her early teens, to the paperback Tolkien sagas of her college years, followed by the physical science pre-med and medical school textbooks bursting with margin notes and photocopied hand-outs, to the growing number of travel books reflecting a restless soul who needs to wander to exotically named places like Marrakesh and Zanzibar.

I had to delay my gratification for two days until the hardback arrived in the mailbox, and its cost was approximately double that of the electronic version. But the feel of the book in my hands was like the handclasp, and the smell of the pages was like the old familiar perfume of an old friend. Three days after its reception, it’s due to join the rest of my old friends in the library in the center of our home. The copy of PJ O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell that has holidayed with me in Africa and Asia. The Stephen Jay Gould collection. The Feynman books. Like all devoured and at my finger tips to be referenced at a moment’s notice.

Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

26. (For IT professionals). Learn New Programs/Tools Quickly. Every program or software tool has a unique logic to it. The only way to discover that logic is to use the program as much as possible. You can start by reading the manual, a Dummies book or similar guide, or even reviewing YouTube videos but nothing beats actually using the tool or program as much as you can. What I like to do when I pick up a new program is where the dragons be. These are the places where you’re guaranteed to break something. Learn whee it is then avoid that area. The more intrepid make a beeline for those places and claim they can learn a program or tool much faster by working on the edge. In my view this is selfish when dealing with a distributed tool on a network, so keep to the safe areas unless you are working on your own copy on your own machine. Not only will this skill enhance your earnings potential, but each tool you learn makes others that much easier to learn and the more tools and experience you have, the more important you become in your realm.


The Ethics of Altered Time Perception

The Daily Mail has a thought provoking article on the use of drugs and other methods to prolong the sense of time for criminals, making their incarcerations seem longer than their actual sentences. While the article does a fair job of covering the morality of using such drugs on prisoners, it completely ignores uses of the technology for more benign purposes.

Imagine a drug one could take that could make a two day vacation feel like a month. Or prolonging those instants of joy that spontaneously arise in our lives into minutes, hours or perhaps even days. Would any of us not take a drug that would allow us mastery of time, to fight the inexorable rush forward, reducing it to a creep at certain times of our lives? There are moments we want to last forever. Soon there will be an app for that.

The article raises profound concerns about what justice means, and as the technology comes into existence we as a society should consider each of them carefully. But are we prepared at all for the opposite? Could there be a downside to stretching out those joyful moments artificially?

The Vanishing of Malaysian Air Flight 370

While the world wonders what happened to Malaysian Air Flight 370, a quote keeps recurring from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s unflappable Sherlock Holmes. “(W)hen you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth(.)” The longer this mystery continues it’s hard not to speculate and perhaps even engage in a conspiracy theory or two while remaining mindful of the fictional Holmes’s dedication to the evidence.

Unfortunately when it comes to that, we’re pretty screwed at this point. Six days after the plane disappeared we seem no closer to resolving the mystery. It is very difficult for us in the 21st century to imagine a plane full of 239 people simply vanishing. The longer the mystery remains the worse it will be. If in three months we have no further evidence of what happened to this plane, I have no doubt that it will become the most talked about disaster of all time, becoming the 21st century’s Titanic.

One of the most intriguing possibilities comes from the Wall Street Journal, that quotes US investigators theorizing that the plane’s transponders were turned off intentionally and the plane flown to an unknown airstrip. The map at the bottom of the article shows the range of the aircraft, covering some of the most rugged and isolated areas in the world. That’s a lot of area to land a plane in. And if this theory turns out true, there won’t be a kid on the planet who won’t know the name of the mastermind behind it.