Reflections on a life well lived

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He was one of the best men I’ve ever known. He taught me to solder, to ride a bike, what to shout when a can of tomatoes falls on a bare toe, and how to be an actual man. A man who cares and believes in you, who builds you up by showing you how men should live by living that way himself.

My father was funny and smart. He had a great deep bass voice that could make anyone feel welcome or comfort them in difficult times. He was endlessly pragmatic, could do all of Heinlein’s list of things a competent man should be able to do, and he was kind. He was not sentimental, but he was careful in the sense of being full of caring.

My dad lived nearly 92 years, surviving the Great Depression, marriage to my wonderful mother, World War II, smart assed teenagers, and retirement for thirty years. He and my mom traveled around the country, marveling at autumn colors and streams and mountains for years until she began to lose herself into Dr. Alzheimer’s little nightmare.

With a great deal of help from my sister, Dad cared for mom until she died six years ago. When she passed away he was 85. Caring for her nearly killed him too, I think, but he finished the job like he did everything: it needed doing and he simply did it.

A few years ago Dad met a delightful lady named Betty and they became very close friends, doing everything together. She passed away in July, and I think Dad simply realized he was ready to get off the ride.

My dad died last week at nearly the age of 92. He’d been in excellent health until Betty died, and then it all changed. The last few months have been hard for all of us and I think they were for him too.

But like he did everything, it had to be done, and he just did it.

We’ll miss you Dad. I’m proud of you. I’ll try to be as good a man as you showed me how to be.

Making the rich richer doesn’t necessarily make the rest of us richer

Definitely insightful. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is increasing, and it’s making things worse even as the world gets hugely richer at an increasing pace.

The Political Economy of Development

ha-joon-changHere is an insightful video interview with Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, exploring three ideas from his very readable book ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’.

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A gun in the right hand

A hand holding a gun.Concealed weapon carriers or other reasonably responsible, conscientious citizens are going to turn into whatever they turn into when adrenaline flows. People can become heroic and selfless when this happens, they can turn into gibbering masses, or they can do stupid things like fire their weapons at young [insert ethnicity here] boys who happen to walk by while wearing headphones and not realizing what danger they’re in. This is one reason why police kill so many people wrongfully – and they are definitely trained and supposedly responsible.

If you have a way to react from a distance with deadly force to a situation that you don’t necessarily fully understand but you see as an imminent danger because of the part of it you have seen (and not necessarily fully understood) you kill people. Right or wrong, the decision is made in a flash of adrenaline fueled “judgement” and it’s permanent if you croak the guy(s).

Take away the possibility of instant, distant, deadly force reaction and you get harmless shouting or maybe some fists flying. Probably nobody dies.

Police with weapons drawn and aimed at a girl holding a drill.This is just an example I found. A single Google search for “wrongful death weapon” resulted in 664,000 results in 0.71 seconds.

My cousin Joe’s undoubtedly tidy and wholesome residential neighborhood in Utah is ripe for a killing. They’ve been seeing a rise in burglary there recently, and everyone is worried they’ll be next. I bet a lot of his neighbors have guns. They’ll shoot some guy who’s chasing his dog into their back yard or whose three year old is hiding behind a bush next door or something. And that will be that. He’ll be dead, and nobody can reanimate him after the responsible citizen’s snap judgement and use of deadly force took away his chance to explain his peaceful intentions.

Did you know the world is getting richer and there are fewer poor people today than ever per capita?

Some countries are emerging from poverty. Education is on the rise.

We’re all to be blamed for not realizing the truth, actually. But our sources of news are driven by economics, which means they have to live and die by their ability to sell newspapers, magazines, online eyeballs, advertisers’ products, or whatever. This leads to what Nicholas Kristof calls in this op-ed piece a true selection bias that leads directly to a corresponding bias in public opinion.

We’re making progress in our quest to uplift all of humanity. It’s just not considered real news to report that this is the case. And it isn’t, really. The process has been been a slow, painful climb whose progress isn’t exhilarating so much as it is tedious to watch. Except, of course, by those who benefit from that progress: poverty stricken countries, decaying inner cities, and moribund agrarian populations that couldn’t make any progress against commodity market price reductions.

The idea of farming, mining, and other ancient and labor intensive jobs as ways of life is slowly dying and being replaced with automation, economies of scale, and higher technology solutions to creating society’s base materials. We’re now seeing populations whose leaders are forced to turn to other means to keep the gravy train going for themselves. Formerly ruthless dictators of countries filled with abject poverty are seeing the writing on the wall and inviting education and investment to enrich their countries so they can get even richer. This last bit is a negative side effect of this progress, and it will eventually have to be resolved. But for now it’s not such a bad thing that some asshole at the top of a poor country sucks a little of the oxygen out of the room if everyone else gets some too.

We need to see what’s true and not just what’s reported. It would be very helpful if world economic progress were something that was studied and encouraged actively rather than as a passive side effect of famines, forced migration, capitalism’s endless search for new markets, and the like.

Making profits is great as long as it isn’t carried too far on the backs of the wrong people. When those backs finally break and the profits stop flowing, there are those who seem to wake up and realize, “Hey. We could invest in those people just a little and get a great new cash cow out of it in a few years!”

Well yes. Let’s do that then.

Promising New Approach to Small Scale Nuclear Fusion

Lawrenceville Focus Fusion architecture.

Lawrenceville Focus Fusion architecture.


Al Fin and I disagree on a great many things, but his coverage of Brian Wang’s story about small scale nuclear fusion is worthy of note.

By far the single greatest problem we face as a civilization is energy. Nearly every other challenge derives from the bad solutions currently providing this vital commodity, from the geopolitics associated with acquiring its fuels, from the exhaust from burning those fuels, or from energy’s cost in economic terms.

When energy production is ecologically harmless, ubiquitous, cheap, and cannot be controlled by any single entity, our human civilization will finally begin to be free. We will require huge amounts of energy to achieve this freedom, but solving its production is the first step.

Source: Promising New Approach to Small Scale Nuclear Fusion

In the Beginning: A.N.G.E.L. – Sample Chapter

angelMy next story is the first installment of a series of novels set in roughly our time. The second one is already started, and the third is plotted. I’m excited about this series!

A bored software developer and an NSA agent join forces with an artificial intelligence called A.N.G.E.L. to become the Triumvirate – the world’s first provably benevolent secret society. And they’re only just in time to save the world from disaster.

I’m trying something new here – publishing via pre-order through a company that will do my publishing, editing, marketing, etc. if they get a large enough collection of pre-order customers.

Here’s a sample chapter to whet your appetite. You can pre-order a print or eBook copy there if you like it.

Interactions between things that don’t interact with each other

This isn’t a science post. I want to use a scientific discovery to show a principle that can be employed in many situations in sociology, government, running companies – and yes in physics as well.

Photons interacting virtually.

This article from PHYS.org is a little technical, but the essential point I want to make here can be summarized simply.

Imagine pairs of things. I could call them “photons” here, but they might be people or companies or countries. These things can’t or won’t interact with each other for fundamental reasons of their nature or because of some choice they make. Now imagine that it would be useful for these things to interact with each other. How can this be done?

The answer is to find some other things with which your things (again, these could be people or countries or whatever) will interact.

The Oslo Accords logo.

This is a lot like the process that led to the Oslo Accords. Countries that wouldn’t interact with each other, but would interact with other countries, under the right circumstances, came together and accomplished something useful.

Schwarzschild black hole

Black Hole Lensing.

Suppose you can’t see some thing because it’s invisible, but it will interact with other things that you can see. Right. You can use the visible things and the way they are visibly affected by the invisible thing to see where the invisible thing is, what it’s doing, or whatever. This is very commonly used in astronomy, for example, to see black holes. You can’t see them, but their interactions with other things you can see are apparent. This technique is applicable to criminal investigations, espionage, remote sensing of weather, and way more uses than I can think of right now.

These ideas are incredibly powerful. Given their broad applicability across many disciplines, I suspect they were discovered and named called many things over the years.