Category Archives: Uncategorized

Offensive

A while back I had a key break while at my day job. Not a big deal. Go to management and have it replaced. I was told it would be ready the next day. Easily acceptable. The following day I walked into the front office, approached the member of management necessary with a very simple request: “Do you have the key ready yet?”

Her response utterly confused me. “And?” When I didn’t respond she went on. “And ‘please’.”

She was demanding a courtesy from me. And yet, in all the time we had worked together, that word had never passed her lips. At least, not in my hearing range. Was she trying to remind me subtly that she was management and I was figuratively beneath her, owing her courtesy? Or was it something not quite so personal, a cry for respect that a lot of people seem to feel as the years mount up behind them? Or had some disaster fractured her ego and it was demanding to be soothed. While all of these thoughts passed through my head that writer part of my mind was pondering the question of who was ruder, the person who failed to offer courtesy or the person demanding it.

I got the replacement key and went on my way. But it did get me to thinking. What’s happened to courtesy these days? I can’t recall the last time someone said “please” to me. “Thank you” is still out there, but it’s getting rarer all the time. I’d swear a clerk was totally surprised when, after getting my change, I said “have a nice day”.
The saying goes “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Now the eighties and nineties children are growing up. Kids who’ve heard repeatedly, “don’t spank the youngsters, you’ll crush their egos”. “Follow your dreams, they’re more real than reality.” “There are people who can defend you from your parents.” Minds that absorbed through countless cartoons, movies, and video games that it was possible for them to change the world.

Back when I was young, if you didn’t like some- one or place, you steered clear of it. It was that simple. When I entered the work force the lesson was clear – you put up with the people who’d been there longer because they knew their business and they were training you to do the job right. You’d get your turn, assuming you could keep up the pace. They had to retire sometime. And eventually I learned a very simple lesson – something only bothers me if I let it. Otherwise it’s all so much noise.

But times have changed. People wear their hearts on their sleeves where that purple dinosaur says they should be, exposed and waiting for someone to step on them. And when someone does they’ll do everything in their power to change their little corner of the world. Whether it’s a lawsuit, complaining to, or even complaining about management, the evil villain will be put down, preferably non-violently. (Everybody knows violence is politically incorrect. Manipulation is okay, violence bad. Unless you happen to be the government, and then it’s not really violence or a war, but a police action.)

The possibility of litigation has some companies so scared they’re afraid to tell their employees to get to work. And yet, with schools teaching to a minimum standard, young workers are expecting more guidelines than ever. Granted those naive individuals goal is do the bare minimum necessary to meet those rules.

And yes ladies, let’s not forget about the search for the sensitive man. Feel better that he’s available. Or more accurately children wearing adult bodies are everywhere waiting to be offended by a passing comment.

At home we can let our tongues wag, and our pants hang down. We can do whatever we like, save that it doesn’t do direct harm. But when we leave our homes there’s a subtler courtesy than “Please” and “Thank you”, one that’s a necessity if people are to get along. It’s what I’ve also thought of as “shared space courtesy”. It’s a good habit for the workplace, or walking down the street. It’s that desire not to do anything to terribly offensive, lest you put a damper on someone else’s day.  And there’s the gray area in this particular topic. What’s “too offensive”?

Transgender is the buzzing topic right now. Let’s use that for an example. Why someone would want to dress up as, or become the opposite sex, has me totally baffled. But here’s the bottom line – nobody is asking me to do it. And I’m not about to tell someone else they shouldn’t do it because it causes no harm, except maybe a bit of confusion. It might make me a bit uncomfortable when I try to explain to my grandchildren, but I’ve been in uncomfortable situations before.

Are there some things that should offend everyone? Certainly, things like anything BDSM. Oh, wait. Men and women of a certain caliber happen to enjoy this. So who am I to tell them they shouldn’t practice these things? And that is really what it boils down to. Offensive generally means “you’re not doing things my way therefore you’re doing wrong”. As an even more generalized statement offensive often equates to confusion, or misunderstanding.

If that’s too complicated, let me explain it like this – if you expect the world to always do things your way, you’re in for a lot of disappointment.

Trump

I normally shy away from politics. It’s one of the topics guaranteed to start a fight. But with all the fanfare about our new president, one can’t help but notice.

My most immediate reaction is to wonder if the old theory about our leader-and-chief’s real job is accurate. The notion that his task is to distract the public from what’s really going on in Washington. If that’s the case, the real powers of Washington couldn’t have picked a better candidate. The eyes of the world are on Donald Trump, and maybe not where they should be.

But sleight of hand aside I started to wonder how Trump managed to get elected. Instead of spewing hate like people in and out of the Trump party are doing, I decided to listen. Logic would suggest there’s a reason why our new president managed to get elected, how the dark horse managed, not only to finish the race, but win.

On the other side of the aisle was Hilary Clinton. She was suspected of hiring assassins, payoffs, bartering her position for gain and facing yet another Judicial Inquiry. In short, she was politics as usual. Her campaign was based on trying to make everything seem okay, like the conniving, underhanded, shady politics of the past sixty years were all we had a choice of.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of that. He’s honest about what he thinks, forward in his views, unhindered by the press. He’s brash, he’s loud and arrogant. He’s as politically correct as Howard Stern, the radio personality, ever was.

Analysis’s agree here. Trump’s campaign wasn’t based on the normal politics of appealing to minority blocks. Instead he appealed to the majority. What several reporters referred to as the “unintelligent masses.” I’m not sure how being part of the bulk of the population automatically makes me stupid, but I’ll leave that for other people to ponder. I know what I am.

The new president is the latter of the two candidates. The voice of the American people has been heard. Bold beat out standard politics. The message is loud and clear for anyone who cares to listen. Politics as usual doesn’t work anymore. Politically correctness is on the way out. Honesty is preferably to the bland pap that Washington’s been selling since Kennedy. Minority rule of the White House is under question. Let’s hope upcoming candidates hear this message and modify their behavior accordingly.

However, like any action, there are consequences. The result of America delivering their message is that Trump is our elected president. He may not be what our nation needs, but he’s there none the less. Eventually he may do something stupid enough to be impeached. Until then the White House will have to tolerate his presence. If nothing else we’ll learn which politicians will sell their soul for their job. So there might be advantages in the new president after all.

Friends

Back in the days when I was young, friends were the people who told me the truth. They listened to my drama, and then they told me where I screwed up. Of course the other person was the biggest wrongdoer, but push comes to shove they were in my corner no matter if I was right or not. And in return for this magnificent gift, I was there for them.

But these days, as I talk to various people, it seems like friends are “yes (wo)men”. Those people who simply agree no matter what. And more often than not are nowhere to be seen when push comes to shove.

God forbid one of their friends might actually suggest that they might have strayed a bit too close to the edge. Or *gasp* might even suggest they had crossed a line and been in the wrong. Or that there might be another way of looking at things. And if somebody says it out loud, why that’s grounds for cutting the “friend” completely out of their life.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never had many friends. I’m not a “yes man”. I’ll never agree with anything absolutely. And I do have a bad habit of asking people “What’s your take away from this, what did you learn? Could it have been prevented?” I’ve never needed my ego massaged, but occasionally I have needed a reality check.

The short version of all that is people, it seems to me, don’t want friends, they want sycophants. And what’s even worse is they want their minions to always be right, to be utterly perfect, even if they themselves do get to make the occasional mistake. And that leaves me out yet again. I’ve never been perfect, don’t plan on starting now. Look at what happened to the last perfect guy. (For those who don’t get the joke, his initials are J.C.)

Personally, I blame Hollywood for most of it. After all, we’re the stars of our lives, right? We should come and go as we please, and get to do what we want. It’ll all work out in the end, right? It always does on the screen.

When I outlined this blog to a friend he suggested it’s due to the Politically Correct movement standard about protecting feelings. Of course, protecting feelings also means not teaching people, or asking them to grow up. Then we started sharing horror stories about “safe places” on college campuses and “time out” cards in boot camp. If you don’t understand why this is absurd, give it twenty years when we have emotional ten year olds on the highway. Or military commanders who want a time out.

But all hope isn’t lost. On the Words from a Bitch Facebook page I found this:

Appreciate your rude/blunt friend … They’re always the realist.

Is the War of the Sexs Dead?

This is the actual dialog from a Microsoft commercial that (as far as I know) aired August 2015.

 

Who knows?

One of these kids might just be the one.

The one to find a cure.

To clean the oceans.

Lead a country.

Bring water to their village.

Write the next masterpiece.

Or open a school.

Explore a new planet.

Or be the next Davinci.

It may not be obvious, but one of these kids are going to change the world.

We don’t know who it is.

We just need to make sure…

She has what she needs.

Welcome to Windows 10.

The future starts now…

For all of us.

As a side note to Microsoft—get your English correct. You’re talking about a single child changing the world. Therefore the correct statement is “but one of these kids is going to change the world.” But what the hell. Why should programmers making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year worry about correct grammar.

It’s that fourth line from the bottom that really caught my attention. It comes at a point that ninety percent of adults have already tuned out the message. It is only a commercial, after all. But in that one sentence it managed to cut out over half the population in everything that came before. It manages to assure the world that the next person to change the world will be a female. In fairness, it might be. It might not, too.

It can be argued this commercial was set up this way because most ads are aimed at females. Over eighty percent, in fact. That’s because, in most households, it’s left to the woman to work out the budgetary requirements of the home. Aside from a few man-toys a male doesn’t really care where the money goes so long as the bills get paid on time and there are no major bumps.

Even our entertainment is starting to cater to the female. As little as twenty years ago the lead in a film was almost universally male. And then writers realized that a male/female joint lead attracted a much wider audience. And today, how many films have a female lead with a male co-star? What will it be like in another twenty years? Will the pendulum continue to swing, or will it come back the other way?

There was a time when the War of the Sexes was centered directly on simple issues like equal rights. But then again, a woman once told me that she wanted to be paid the same, have the same opportunities, responsibilities, etc. And that I am all for. But when she went on to say that she still wanted men to hold the door and put her up on a pedestal, I started to wonder if what she wanted was equal rights, or a new brand of servant.

Don’t get me wrong there. I, for one, would love to find some wealthy woman who’s willing to go off to work and leave me at home. I would gladly clean house, go grocery shopping, take care of the kids and write in my free time if it meant not being in the work force. (Then again, as a general rule, I’m not real fond of people as a whole.)

In fact, some experts are claiming that the Sex Wars are over. Many sociological groups are taking huge steps in the right directions. Right now there are still a vast number of shortfalls, but some people are saying that in as little as fifty years the winner will be clear. Why fifty years? Because the snowball is rolling, and once started it’s going to be hard to stop.

Some SF writers feel strongly about that point. They tend to believe that any technologically advanced civilization must be a matriarchy. The reasons vary but, in general, it comes down to women being more social and less inclined to a club. I’ll agree there. Women don’t beat an enemy into submission. They tend to go for poison.

So, is the War of the Sexes over? It is for my generation. They’ve figured out they need each other. But the funny thing about that, there’s a whole new generation right behind mine who apparently has to figure it out all over again.

 

Engage Warp Drive

I’ll always love science fiction, if for no other reason than so much of yesterday’s SF becomes today’s science fact. By this time everybody knows the story of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary Star Trek series, communicators and cell phones. (For those that don’t, Mr. Roddenberry put forth the concept of being able to communicate with anyone anywhere on a planet with a small device. Thirty years later we have cell phones.)

There’s another science fact that is hard to get around – the speed of light. Einstein made it clear. Any object exceeding the speed of light becomes energy. Which really doesn’t sound very healthy for us corporeal creatures, since there is no formula to convert that energy back to solid form and maintain the pattern it existed in previously. Unfortunately, with that speed limit space travel becomes ponderous. The nearest planet, Mars, is something like three years away. The nearest galaxy is literally decades away. Any significant space exploration would take centuries.

But Mr. Roddenberry thought about that, too. He put forth the concept of a warp bubble, a sphere of energy that could travel faster than the speed of light. The nice thing about this sphere is it could exceed the galactic speed limit while all the objects inside maintained their integrity since they weren’t. Imagine it like being on a train. While it might be traveling at 60 mph, everything inside the cars isn’t. They’re still traveling at people speed.

Another one of my favorite authors is Author C. Clarke, whom I believe was the first person to put forth the idea of an electromagnetic drive (EMD) in SF, a brilliant concept. Take a magnet and wave it over a piece of metal. If the magnet is larger and stronger the metal comes to it, if the reverse is true the magnet holds to the metal. For a good example go look at your refrigerator. If it’s like mine, there are plenty of magnets hanging off it.

But what would happen if we took a stick and put it between the magnet and the piece of metal? On Earth there would be no visible effect because of that pesky gravity thing. But get away from that, virtually anywhere in space, and the magnet will push the bar forward, pushing the piece of metal away that the magnetic is trying to get to. Now imagine that the bar is your space ship. Poof, you have instant forward momentum with no moving parts to replace.

And here’s the part that I’ve been trying to get to. I read an article not too long ago that said NASA was testing an EMD, and some of the particles it was emitting were traveling faster than light. They theorize the EMD might have been trying to put forth a warp bubble. They did go on to caution that further testing outside of Earth’s atmosphere would be necessary to make sure.

But if they’re right, the sky is no longer the limit. The great exodus that’s so popular in SF where mankind spreads outward across the galaxy can begin. Humanity’s destruction because of a little thing like the world blowing up is no longer assured. And going to Mars could be where you plan that summer vacation.

 

Artificial Intelligence 2.0

The central problem in developing AI seems to be the sense of self necessary to interact with the rest of the world as a separate entity. A problem I can understand. How does one program a sensation?

I can feel the clothes on my skin, but I cannot feel my skin on my clothes. Ergo, my skin is part of me, my clothes are not. I can command my fingers to move, and they do. I can command the book on the table to move, and it just sits there. My fingers are a part of me, the book is not.

It is this two state awareness that (I think) is the building block of everything that a person is. Sadly enough, because there are only two states, there’s no room for a middle ground. Black, white. Good, bad. Us, them. The bottom line of two state awareness is simply friend or foe. A very large part of the human mind is a complex system for identifying the difference. And even that can be simplified to a rule of thumb – like me is friend, different is foe.

And that leads us back to one of the fundamental fears of AI – would this artificial intelligence, realizing humans were different, declare mankind as the enemy?

On the other side of the coin, AI could ultimately lead to a new awareness of ourselves. With a whole new species out there minor variations like skin color, accent, and belief seems trivial. And they should. They are minor differences. But it’s that different that is fundamentally important to the sense of self.

Another aspect to consider is that humans had reason to expand their sense of self. Minor things like survival – food, water, and shelter. Procreation is also another need built into any living thing. A program, however, has no motive to do anything. It has no emotions to cater to, no biological instinct, and no death to face if it doesn’t do something. Each one of which begins a whole new set of problems.

Emotions might be the trickiest thing to imitate. While scientist can’t agree on how much, some percentage of our feelings are nothing more than the chemicals washing through our physical brains. Hence some emotional problems can be dealt with by treating the physical symptoms. Another percentage of our emotional make-up is nothing more than learned responses of both varieties. First hand learning we accomplish when getting burned, we reflexively remember that fire is bad/to be avoided. Second hand learning is a community thing. Our neighbors are afraid of leprosy therefore we should be, too, even if we don’t know what it is. And lastly, some part of our emotions are, what I’ve always thought of as, meta-learning. We see something new. We attempt to apply all of the filters we know, both first- and second-hand learning, and our current mood. If it’s similar to one of those, our reaction will follow that mode, even if it’s not appropriate. It’s that disturbing thought in the back of our brains that something is wrong about an object or person, we’re just not sure what.

Programming instincts – a need more fundamental than our conscious mind – could be interesting and could provide our AI with motive to start doing. But what instinct does one give a machine? Breathing is a human instinct, just as fighting to get air when we can’t. It’s more fundamental than our conscious minds, and thus thinking about doing it isn’t necessary. But if it instinctively seeks out a power source when it starts getting low on energy, what trail does it leave behind?

But these are my thoughts on AI and the problems that might be encountered. I would love to hear what you think some of the problems might be.

Politically Incorrect

The PC community and I go way back. I’ve simply never understood how changing the name of something could possibly make it anything other than what it already is. It’s almost like they’re saying the Committee for Pallid Ascendancy is somehow better than the Klu Klux Klan. Or being Housing Challenged is in some way less horrible than being homeless.

True, these terms do fall gentler on the ear, but is that really a good thing. The PC terms are supposed to strip away all of the prior inferences of the older, uglier terms. Unfortunately whitewashing a broken fence doesn’t repair the damage done. Especially if the old color will do.

Don’t get me wrong. Back in its younger days PC had a valid point – people should be aware of the subtext of the words they’re using. Probably one of the easiest and most obvious examples is blacks.

(Oh, wait. That’s technically not the PC term anymore. It’s Afro-American. But do yourself a favor, go ask a black guy what he thinks about that term. I imagine they’ll tell you the same thing a lot of black people have told me… which really isn’t repeatable here. Suffice it to say generally they’re not real impressed with the term.)

And just for the record I’m not Italian American, or Dutch American. Or any variation thereof. I’m American, born on American soil, no other country having a claim on my genes, mental state or property. You could even say I’m a native American, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

I’ll admit I grew up using a variation on the term negro. I thought it was a slang term for black people. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized it was an insult. And promptly quit using the term, along with a bunch of other words for various nationalities. That’s PC at its best.

But where PC gets carried away is assigning terms that aren’t acceptable to their assignees. Or asking people to change things when, at the time of their origins, the people involved dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.

I personally hope teams like the Fighting Chiefs and Red Sox never change their names. At the time those teams were created the people sponsoring them went to the appropriate sources and asked them What do you guys think? And those sources gave them a thumbs up, and agreed one hundred percent. We may not like what our forefathers did, but we should have the courage to live with it. After all, we’re not going to ask Toys For Tots to change their logo when tots is no long a PC term.

Another good example is Native American. Do you know who the biggest detractor of the term is? The one it’s being applied to. American Indians don’t like the term… kind of the way blacks didn’t like the variation on negro. But we’re going to give it to them anyway? Whether they like it or not? Doesn’t that seem a little… thoughtless?

As for me, I guess I’ll have to remain politically incorrect.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is the hot topic in a lot of circles. Many people believe it will be the next big technological breakthrough. And movies like Transcendence (starring Johnny Depp) and Her (starring Joaquin Phoenix) suggests this breakthrough is right around the corner. One of the things I like about the topic is the range of emotions it elicits.

There are some who feels that AI will be the beginning of the end. Those people believe that the AI, upon realizing that humans exist, will immediately set out to destroy them. Why? Because humanity is the greatest threat to its survival. Of course, this assumes some instinct for self-preservation… something that may be required for intelligence to form.

Others feel like AI will be the greatest boon to humanity since the invention of the car. It could represent a cheap workforce capable of doing the mundane tasks that are currently assigned to people. The results would be a vast number of people who are freed up to pursue higher callings. Then again, these more inspired jobs may have to wait a bit while these newly unemployed figure out how to put food on the table.

Still others are of the opinion that AI is simply impossible. It was put best by this guy I know: God created man. Man does not have the power to create. He can fold, staple, manipulate but not create. It was an interesting reaction, and does bring up a thought-provoking question – what are the ramifications of AI to our self-esteem? If we can create artificial intelligence doesn’t that mean that our own intelligence could be a naturally occurring event, an accident of nature? But what about man’s Divine Right, his being the fulcrum point of nature? Perhaps he isn’t special after all.

And yet others have considered the problem more deeply. I once found a quote online, and liked it some much that I remember it to this day. I went back later to try to find it again, but couldn’t. (I’m not sure if that says something about me or online content.) But the quote went something like: Whether or not man can create artificial intelligence is not the question. But whether he would recognize intelligence when he saw it. And there is, perhaps, the crux of the matter. Anything we accept as intelligence must resemble our way of thinking at the beginning. Thereafter it is free to evolve in directions mankind would never, and possibly could never, evolve in. After all, man has certain inbound limits – biological necessities like sleep, food, death. This new intelligence would have none of these. Then again, since man created it, its sole goal may be to become as close to being human as possible. For all of the good and ill that might mean.