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This is the archive for December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

I just got back from the nicest wedding I've ever seen. It was in a Mennonite church, but the couple designed the ceremony themselves.

It was a very informal affair, in a very informal setting - a small, simple room. Prior to the service, a pianist and two violinists played classical music - I recognized a Mozart piece among them. Then the groom played the processional himself on his guitar, his own composition. Many friends and family got up to read meaningful passages, then they did some traditional ceremonial things, said their vows, and in about a half an hour it was all over. The reception was a nice buffet style meal, in the same room, with no pre-planned seating arrangements. There was no hired band, no dancing, and no liquor, just a bunch of nice, happy people sitting around chatting, playing board games, and taking turns congratulating and toasting the couple.

It sounds like a very hippie affair - one of those "alternative" weddings that became all the rage in the 60's. But it really wasn't. It was just a very personal, very intimate and very meaningful ceremony. 50 or so people sat in folding chairs in a semi-circle around a small area on the floor covered in white cloth and lined with trellised rosebushes, and even the oldest and most conservative looking among them seemed very pleased with the whole thing.

What struck me was how it was about them, and about the people they chose to share it with. Catholic weddings I've been to end up being all about ceremony, and about the church, with the happy couple and wedding party little more than props, actors playing a role that had been defined for them centuries before. They almost seem designed to keep everyone at arm's length from the meaning of what is happening. This was the first wedding I've been to that I felt part of, felt connected to the couple and their happiness.

It was a great way to spend New Years Eve, and great of them to make these special New Year's resolutions in this way. I've been friends with the groom for some time now, and have gotten to know his new wife a little bit over the year or so they've been together. They're both good, decent people, and they seem really right together. Kevin and Dianna, you both looked very simply and plainly happy tonight, and I hope the rest of your days are as happy as today was.

Here's a thought, out of the blue. Are your concerned about animal and plant extinction? Want to do something about it? There's a simple way, at least in most cases, to assure the survival of a species: encourage the commercial exploitation of it.

If you're one of those people who can only do static analysis you would conclude that this would quickly lead to the complete exhaustion of the existing "supply". So then why aren't chickens an endangered species?

Anything we eat, wear, ride, make do our work, or simply enjoy having around will never disappear so long as it is possible to go out and buy one. Anything that is in demand, particularly those things for which that demand can be translated into profit, will never be fully used up so long as there is a way of creating more of it. Endangered species are, by their nature, reproducable.

So I think the best approach for the Sierra club would be to put out a series of books containing recipes for bald eagle drumsticks and spotted owl eggs, clothing patters for alligator skin, and 101 things to make from elephant ivory. Oh, yeah, and work to get the law out of the way of using these things.

The fact that the Sierra Club and the rest of the leftstream environmental movement would be horrified by this solution is evidence that their goal is not the preservation of species.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

When the whole sunlight/skin cancer panic burst on the scene, I mostly pooh-poohed it. Sure, severe sunburn or spending 10 hours a day on the beach in a bathing suit for your whole life will probably have some negative effects, but the mass hysteria that led to SPF numbers higher than most people's IQs and parents afraid to bring their children outside without a protective tent was laughable and pathetic. People were quite literally afraid of their own shadows.

Now the pendulum is swinging the other way. It turns out that sunscreen causes cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Well, indirectly, at least.
A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the "sunshine vitamin" is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities... the increasing use of sunscreens and the reduced time spent outdoors, especially by children, has contributed to what many scientists believe is an increasing problem of vitamin D deficiency.

I find this hilarious. This is what people get when they substitute somebody else's judgment for their own. This is what happens when government sets about trying to make value judgments and risk assessment for a whole bunch of people at once.

Let's just sit back and enjoy the spectacle of the masses frantically flocking to the beach and the tanning salons, all gloriously sans cocoa butter, and then the dire warnings, a few years from now, about a new increase in skin cancers. Does anybody understand the concept of moderation anymore?

But at least maybe now the term "healthy tan" will no longer be on the semi-official PC banned list. I'm looking forward to the re-emergence of tan lines.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The news show 20/20 is going to have a piece tonight entitled "Heaven - Where is it? How Do We Get There?" (check your local listings). While it may be entertaining to watch the liberal Barbara Walters try to talk around objective morality without ever actually acknowledging it, even in the hypothetical, I probably won't watch it. If you do, keep something in mind:

The bad news for anyone hoping to reach paradise after they die is that heaven is all in your head.

The good news is that heaven is all in your head. It's in your head. It is in your head. Learn to enjoy it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Steve Pavlina is one hell of a guy. He's the guy a lot of us wish we could be, or at least be more like. He finished college in 3 semesters, with a double major. He sleeps 25 minutes every 4 hours around the clock - that's 3 hours a day. Not because he was born that way, but because he decided that he didn't want to hibernate one-third of his life away. He's a vegan.

Well, OK, so he's not perfect. But read his latest, Rules Are no Obstacles for Committed People, and then go read my latest again. He gets it.

He's not my kind of guy, philosophically. But he reinforces something I've long known, that people are what they are despite their expressed philosophy. Here's a guy with a strong liberal world view, yet he shows symptoms of being as virulent a capitalist as there is on this planet.

Philosophy just isn't a guiding force in most people's life. Hell, it's not a guiding force in almost anybody's life. Sure, some people live for their philosophy, but even those people were those kind of people before they landed on that philosophy, not because of it.

People just want to get on with their own lives. Someone who wants a life of ease will mold whatever philosophy they believe in to one that allows them to be a parasite, or will seek out one that's already so molded. People who want to be busybodies can find plenty of opportunity within conservativism or liberalism, and there's even some that have found a way to reconcile it - in their own minds, at least - with libertarianism. People who are naturally rebellious can find their way to John Birch or the Greens as easily as they can to the libertarianism or objectivism.

Philosophy is not irrelevant. A bad philosophy will make it harder for a Steve Pavlina to get on with his life, but a guy like him will get on with it no matter the obstacles, self imposed or external. A bad philosophy will lead a busybody or a parasite to do great damage to himself and his society, but such a person would have done some damage anyway. Philosophy is not an obstacle to committed people.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I've got three little stories to tell. By themselves, none are very important, certainly nothing to blog home about. But together, they.... Well, I'll just tell the stories and try to make sense of what they mean afterward.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I was perusing a several-day backlog of RSS feeds, and came across this ambiguous headline:
How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less

Call me narcissistic, or just daft, but in my rush to get through hundereds of headlines, I didn't read it the way you probably did. I didn't think it was going to be about ways to cause people to view me more favorably. I thought it might have something to do with cloning, or perhaps a very rushed and unsatisfying style of reproducing in the traditional way, but in any case, I was intrigued by the idea of populating the world with more people just like me.

In another similar bout of cognitive disconnect from the huddled masses, I recently defaulted to a wildly improbable interpretation of the headline: "Moore, Hayek to host Nobel Concert." First of all, Friedrich Hayek is long dead, and while he could arguably have been an appropriate choice to host a Nobel Peace Concert, I would imagine that even if he were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave at the thought of sharing a stage with Michael Moore.

It wasn't until I opened the link that it dawned on me that it was that Hayek, and that Moore, and lost all interest.

I've come to realize over the years that I see the world entirely differently than most people out there. I've also come to realize that if most people think that their kind of Hayeks and Moores are important enough to warrant headlines - on any account - and that if they find others' liking them to be so important and so mysterious a process that they require and will pay for a book about how to do it, then I prefer it that way.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I listened to a great talk by Woz today. It's long, about two hours (link is to the page to download it from, two parts), but worth every minute of it. It's fascinating and inspiring to hear someone so brilliant and who accomplished something so fundamentally important to all of us talk about how he got to the place where he could do that.

"Atoms before molecuies." He discusses how in his childhood he would experiment with diodes and capacitors and the like that he scraped up from neighbors or wherever he could find them. He'd assemble them to see what he could make them do. He knows now, if he didn't then, that he had to learn the basics first, the atoms, to master them completely, before he could move on to assembling the molecules we all take for granted today.

As he mastered one concept, he'd build on it, assembling more and more complex things, until he eventually mastered microchips and microprocessors, and video displays (he discovered how to send computer output to a television screen just through his own tinkering) and floppy controllers and found himself making the first Apple computers.

He makes it sound easy, almost accidental, passive even. But he gives hints that belie that idea. He probably didn't think of it at the time, but he at least senses it now, that he was systematically building up an understanding that would lead to something great. He was integrating the micro world of electrons, and he was doing it with a determined sense of purpose, even if that purpose was defined as only possibilities and "what ifs".

So I have to wonder if this was what he thought his hard work would amount to. It's utterly pointless and silly, but after hearing Woz's story, I bet he'd be tickled that he gave us the ability to have it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

And it's a darn shame. How did the world get this way?

I'm a computer programmer. That means that I write cryptic bits of meticulous code that do wonderful and powerful things when they're done right, that's my job. It would be drudgery for some, but it's art and beauty to me.

When I started my current employment, the days flew by. I'd see that it was approaching 5:00 and wish I could put it off. I was enjoying it too much, and I was working toward a goal. Get to point A by the end of today, point B by the end of tomorrow, and the end of the project by the end of next month - and I often came in early or stayed late to make sure I got there. I was in my own world, and I was my own boss. The fact that I had a real boss who gave me assignments and occasionally asked how it was coming along mattered less than the motivation that came from within myself, from the beauty of what I could produce.

But the last several months, things have been different. I wasn't programming most of the day anymore. Some days, even strings of days, I wasn't programming at all. My work would change, almost randomly, from week to week, from day to day, or even sometimes from hour to hour. My inner motivation had to take a backseat to the needs of the moment, to the needs of others.

I began to think more about the paycheck than about the work I was doing. I began to think more about the work I wished I was doing than about either my immediate work or my paycheck. I began to wonder if I couldn't find another situation where my own motivation would rule my days, or short of that, where I could at least get more money for subordinating it. I began to watch the clock and the calendar, and pine for those two glorious days of freedom at the end of the week.

But today something wonderful happened. It's about 9 PM on Friday, and I just now, for the first time in many days, realized that I had those two days of freedom ahead of me. Wow! Is it Friday already?

Why? It took me a minute to think about it, and I discovered that it's because I'd spent almost all of the last two weeks programming again. And I was working on a single project. OK, actually two projects, because I finished one early this week, but they were projects of my own choosing. I wasn't just doing whatever I felt like it despite the wishes of my boss, but I was doing work that I had suggested. They were motivated from within, but also from the long-term goals of the department I'm in and the business as a whole. And my boss agreed with me.

Financial pressures still make me worry about the paycheck, but I don't worry about it while I'm at work anymore, at least not these last two weeks. I'm doing what I love, and those financial pressures are not a distraction in my day, but are seperate from it. There's no substitute for that kind of work. There's no reason for anyone to settle for less, at least not in the long term.

If you're only working for the weekend, you're working for the wrong reason. If one third of your life is spent longing for the third of it that you are not working or sleeping, you're not living, you're merely existing. There's nothing in life that's worth giving up living.