Nerd sniped!

There is an xkcd comic by Randall Munroe titled Nerd Sniping. In the comic, Black hat creates a game along a busy highway. When a mathematician, engineer, computer scientist or other nerdy type crosses the road, he yells out an interesting problem. He wins points if the victim freezes to think about the problem and is hit by a passing truck. Mathematicians are worth more points than physicists.

Poetically, today I got nerd sniped by a different xkcd comic. Bracket shows a fictional tournament listing people or items that are put against each other. Usually, the names are related by similar sounding names or by theme. For example, Mr. Spock, Doctor Spock and Doctor Octopus make one bracket. I remember a set of polls to run the tournament, but I can’t find a link to it.

I was looking through the list. I saw a few that I recognized but are less well known such as Amanda Palmer. I found one I didn’t know, Mark Shuttleworth. I went to his Wikipedia page and saw instantly why he was on the list.

The nerd sniping happened when I saw how much money he paid to be launched as a space tourist in 2002. The article gave an inflation adjusted value to 6 significant figures which was obviously more precise than is mathematically justified.

I spent an hour fixing that. Most of the time was learning how the {{Inflation}} tag works on Wikipedia. Nerd sniped!

Fortunately, I didn’t get hit by a truck!

Talking with a friend

A meditation I wrote a while ago…

As I spend time with people who care about me, my happiness grows. I don’t feel so lonely. Life seems worthwhile when I can offer my time and spend it with them.

As I grow closer to my friends, we develop jokes that are hidden within our memories. There may be a pun that we’ve said several times. It becomes a cliché that breaks us out into laughter.

When I spend time with nature, I can find a peace. I, by myself, don’t have the power to raise a fawn or grow a forest. I can assist by avoiding the negative, but I cannot do it on my own. 

With a friend, there is a similar peace. I don’t have the power to create it on my own. We like to give each other the priceless gift of caring each time we visit each other.

Keys to our friendship are feelings of love and feeling loved. By building a relationship carefully, feelings of fear and anger are rare. We may have a disagreement, but we don’t allow that to tear down our bridge.

I keep a friend with peace and happiness.

When I do not understand, I ask a question and we communicate. When I don’t say what I meant, we talk about it. I give an answer to explain what I meant.

When we laugh together, we feel happy. We feel a part of a bigger world. We watch each other’s back. Our lives together are enriched.

Being Pulled

Today I am being pulled in several directions. It’s up to me to find the path. As I go through the day, I constantly make decisions. In the end, some fall out better than others.

I notice that many decisions that I make are made by default. It’s not that I wait until a decision is forced. Instead, it’s that there are many things I might choose but I do what is habitual—I do it without planning.

I don’t like making decisions. A big reason is that they lead me to judge two or more options. Rather than have the answer up front, I must evaluate what works best for me. They also force my hand so that I lose other options.

It is paradoxical that while I like to have a lot of options, I don’t like to actually make a choice. I don’t know if this is a common quirk. However, I like it better when I must choose between several positive options. As I look across the field of what I can do, the possibilities can multiply exponentially.

When I have three choices, in addition to the positive of each one, there is an additional negative of not getting the positive that the other two offered. So, instead of just weighing the worth of each my mind, I can create more complexity.

It is just overthinking the situation. In practice, I never get that far into my head to decide. Often, I do the one that is closest or the one that is obvious.

By making many of my actions automatic, my mind is freer to do other things. It doesn’t always give the best results, but I can limit my consideration to the decisions that don’t have an easy solution.

If I dig deeply into my head about making a decision, I start to take life too seriously. As things become more of a challenge, I would benefit to keep my heart light. When I am deadly serious about my life, all decisions become harder. I worry about doing the wrong thing. I am concerned with what other people think.

I do best when I have a level perspective. Most decisions are not that important. Often the choice is something that just doesn’t matter.

A Sacrifice for Billions; A Sacrifice of Billions

Sometimes I think a little expansively. I wonder what I would be willing to sacrifice for billions of lives. Quite an astounding proposition. I have no idea how such a thing could come to pass.

People are willing to sacrifice for one. Some would offer their life to save a loved one. Others have sacrificed themselves to save a child in their charge. It’s something that one can understand. I can contemplate whether it is something I would be willing to do. Their offering is celebrated as the work of a hero.

A soldier makes many sacrifices to save his platoon or to save the neighborhood or to save the nation. Such service leads to more sacrifice than just risking their life. The soldier might give up a career, his health and well-being, and time with loved ones. It’s still understandable how and why one would do that.

To sacrifice for billions, it suddenly becomes metaphysical. Beyond sacrificing one’s life, perhaps someone sacrifices not just their life, but the promised future life in the world to come. Many people may not believe such a concept, but to others it is a concrete reality. Would an individual suffer the unimaginable to protect not just a life or a nation but rather the possibility of any future at all? Such a sacrifice would not just be to save a race or a way of life or a community.

To sacrifice for billions, one would be sacrificing for things one did not agree with, for those who do not believe the same, those who are considered in the wrong. It would be toward the goal of preserving Life overall rather than a lesser group life or lives. Through the sacrifice, one would not be able to decide who is worthy of such grace.

In the opposite direction, it’s easy to see someone sacrifice another for themselves. To murder, to maim or to select another as less worthy and with no value to preserve. It is a form of insanity, but still common.

Some are willing to sacrifice a neighborhood, a nation or some abstract group counted as valueless. The victims may be the antagonist in a delusional story. The fable says that they are a threat, or of less value and more akin to an animal than human. This kind of sacrifice takes place too often. The access to weapons that make such horror easy is considered an unalienable right.

In decades past, such violence would be unimaginable but now is an ever-present reality. Places of worship, what should be the host of life and love, now must take steps to protect themselves. Rather than offering welcome to all as a sanctuary for the lost, the faith community becomes a victim of fear and must lock their doors.

For one to sacrifice billions for some gain is, unfortunately, possible to imagine without expansive imagination. The weapons, diseases and poisons are all available to sacrifice billions. That this is imaginable is, itself, abhorrent. In past centuries, it was possible for the great powers to sacrifice communities for some cause. Now the stakes are much higher. Thankfully, the destruction of this scale is only available to a few, but is available, nonetheless.

While some are capable sacrificing billions for their insane delusions, how many are willing to sacrifice for a group they will never see?

With an open mind, one can see how they could sacrifice to save another. In faiths that revel in a sacrifice as their central tenet, too few are willing to give up something for the benefit of the stranger, the ones they disagree with and those they abhor. A sacrifice for one’s friends can be done by anyone.

One can flip the story and prevent the insane from sacrificing for their selfish benefit. That has a much lower cost than those sacrifices of a teacher or a soldier. Why is whatever necessary to save a life considered impossible? It is never brought to the table of those who can write the words that can save lives.

What kind of sacrifices will bring life rather than death?

Surprising

People are really surprising. Each person has so much experience that feeds who they are in the moment. There is always something new to learn from them.

Recently I was having dinner with friends. One had a really big burger. The woman on the side said, “that’s really huge.” The man between them said “thank you”. The innuendo was surprising, and it made me laugh.

One quality that I value–freedom. Freedom has different meanings in different contexts.

The generic meaning of freedom is to not have the political system controlling what you can do or say. The Soviet Union would punish dissidents so that their citizens couldn’t express their feelings freely.

Another sort of freedom is to be able to decide where you live, who your friends are and what kind of work you do and who you want to be employed under. Freedom to make and act on decisions is more valuable than what one could believe and promote politically.

My friends demonstrate a different sort of freedom. They aren’t constrained to have stereotyped and one-dimensional reactions. The ability to be surprising is a powerful form of freedom. If I make a decision in the moment, I could either do what I normally do out of habit, or I could do something new.

In the past, I was a finicky eater. I wouldn’t try new foods because they looked different or they weren’t familiar. Now I’ve changed my attitude. I take the opportunities to try new foods. The things that I like now are much broader in scope than what I used to eat. I have more freedom because I can accept new things in my diet.

Freedom can be taken to extremes. If I make new decisions freely, I could pick things that work against me instead of for me. I could sabotage an interview and lose the chance for a new job possibility. That loss could cascade into many other consequences. I might not meet someone who could have become a lifelong friend. I might not be able to support a charity for a cause I’m passionate about.

Freedom can be good and I think usually it is, but it can still be harmful if used unwisely. Finding the location of this transition is a challenge. Where the boundary is can evolve over time.

My friend’s joke was an example of him taking advantage of a creative process to make us laugh. I am not so spontaneous. I like to think before I speak. Perhaps the caution comes from a lack of security. I’m afraid that someone won’t like what I say–I might offend someone or they might not like me anymore–that’s what goes on in my head. This is an area that my freedom could increase.

With self-confidence I can become more spontaneous even though I might say the wrong thing or embarrass myself. I wouldn’t be so worried about what might happen and I wouldn’t lose the opportunity for joy.

At times I am more free than others. My behavior in the moment is the sum of my experiences and thoughts. That means that I am processing and in control over my freedom. I can surprise people to make them laugh or to make them think.

Pocket Oxford Dictionary

When I was in 6th grade, I made a trip to London to see my Grandparents. Grandpa was working as an executive with Lincoln National Life Insurance. They were living there for several years as Lincoln Life was working to set up an affiliate in France.

It was a nice visit. We got to see a lot of sights.

One goal was to go to the prime meridian in Greenwich, so we were able to do that.

Grandpa and I at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich

We went to a miniature village that was an exhibit in a near town. Another incident I remember was getting scolded by an officer for trying to climb a statue of Peter Pan to get a nice photo.

At the miniature village

I have a Pocket Oxford Dictionary that I have appreciated since then. The inscription reads “Given to me by Mrs. Ann Porter the nice woman who lived in the flat across the hall in England.” It’s my favorite dictionary. The copy I have is the 5th edition from 1969.

It might be optimistic to call it a “pocket” dictionary. It might fit in the side pocket of cargo pants, but a shirt pocket is out of the question. The first edition from 1924 was the “Concise Oxford Dictionary” which seems a more accurate title.

When I returned home, I arrived at the Montreal airport. The family met me there so that we could continue on to a vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone. I was perplexing to the customs inspectors that interviewed me. I didn’t know how long we would be staying in Canada and couldn’t answer their questions very well.

The flight was on BOAC and I remember getting a few souvenirs from them. I think they’re in a scrapbook my mom put together.

So, Mrs. Porter was very kind. I’m sure she didn’t know she had given me a gift that would be appreciated for 50 years.

Sincere, tolerant and enthusiastic

I was looking at a poster I have in my kitchen about different positive attributes. Three of them I noticed today were “sincere,” “tolerant” and “enthusiastic.” They’re principles that I can practice and notice when my thoughts and actions are aligned with them.

Sincere means being consistent between what I say and what I mean. In sincerity, I’ll act in good faith because I will value my own integrity. In sincerity, I won’t need to worry about being misunderstood or to feel uncomfortable with internal conflict. Sincerity can be a barrier against hypocrisy. I’ll try to make my actions align with what I believe and say. It isn’t a guarantee, but it pushes me toward doing what I profess. Sincerity enhances the goal of honesty.

Tolerant means that I allow people to disagree with me. I can look charitably on people who are different. Measuring other people with the ruler of my own perceptions and experience will be uncomfortable because I know I fall short as well. When I act in tolerance, I don’t need to obsess on the small “misdeeds” that I see other people do. I don’t know what they are thinking or how their understanding is different from me. I am not always right when I think I am, so I can believe that other people could be right when I think they’re wrong.

Enthusiastic feelings are a source of strength and energy. When I’m enthusiastic I’m looking away from depression and negative judgements. When I decide to do something, I can put my whole effort into it. The time I spend will be meaningful and might have unexpected benefits. My enthusiasm can be a little extra power when I am trying to accomplish a goal.

It isn’t an issue of trying to act on these ideas perfectly or to apply them in every situation that I find myself. When I offer myself self-forgiveness, I accept that I will fall short. At times I will notice that I’m doing the opposite, being insincere, judgmental, or lack-luster. Although I won’t find all of my opportunities to do better, my goal still is to improve.


Pouring Out Of The Soul By The TRUTH will set you free! (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

An underused tool

My Mom’s computer had its printer failing to print with the problem “printer is in an error state.”

When I searched online, most of the information had four levels of suggestion: “Check that key is in the ignition,” “Replace the spark plugs,” then “Put in a new timing belt,” and sometimes “Take it to my buddy’s shop.” The vast majority of the help sites do not suggest “See what the operator manual suggests.”

“Check that the key is in the ignition” includes “Make sure that the printer is plugged in.” “Make sure that the printer is turned on.” “Make sure that there is paper in the printer.” “Make sure that the printer cable is connected.” These are all low-impact solutions. If any of these solve the problem, you don’t need to proceed to the next level. Performing them will not make things worse.

The missing level of “Check the operator’s manual” include running Windows troubleshooters and consulting printer manufacturer documentation.

“Replace the sparkplugs” include things such as make sure the printer is the default printer and clear the printer queue. Things that you can do with the menus and options available from the Windows interface. They’re not likely to cause damage, but may require more experience to follow the instructions.

“Put in a new timing” belt are things like “Uninstall drivers,” “Revert to an older version of Windows.” “Delete the files a folder,” and “Modify the registry.” They often require an extra confirmation step. Often they’re irreversible and may be pointing you toward the abyss.

“Take it to my buddy’s shop” include “Call our help line,” and “Install our software to repair it.”

The next thing one should do after “Check the key is in the ignition” is to “Check the operators manual.” With a PC, that means running the troubleshooter to diagnose and repair the problems automatically. Had I thought to suggest that first, Mom could have done it over the phone.

This is a general problem with online resources to help you solve a problem. They often want more that you would stay with their site longer, rather than of suggesting that you use existing tools to solve the problem.

Microsoft’s troubleshooters are not sexy. However they’re built in and maintained by the manufacturer. They can be more thorough by accessing the internal architecture of Windows. Many help pages that do suggest running the troubleshooter give it only a passing one or two sentence statement. Then go on to offer more extreme suggestions that seem plausible. Another non-sexy option is to go to the printer manufacturer’s site and see what their troubleshooting instructions are.

Any help site that includes “modify the registry” and install outside software shouldn’t be trusted with any of the rest of their suggestions.

For my Mom’s computer, the troubleshooter was all that her computer needed. Her computer got back on the road without needing an overhaul.

The Fighters

On the dairy farm, I had lots of chances to get outdoors. Watching the sky could be a relaxing pastime. It’s a reason to appreciate creation. After a high pressure system arrives in the summer, the clouds can have beautiful “fluffy” cumulus clouds and the low humidity would be pleasant.

I miss the sky when I visit Chicago. If I don’t leave the downtown, the skyscrapers won’t let me see much of the sky.

When things need to be done outside in the fields, it can be really pleasant. One thing that needs to be done is process the fields. Our main crop, hay, was always a source of work. We preferred alfalfa, which is a legume. It uses bacteria to take nitrogen from the air and “fix ” it so that the fields need less fertilizer. Alfalfa is nutritious for the cattle.

When it was ready, we mowed the hay. The mower is a machine that uses the tractor’s PTO. It’s some gearing and a “cutting bar” that stretched out to the side It had guides that help keep the hay from moving sideways. Behind them were some triangular teeth with really sharp edges. The tractor made the cutting bar oscillate left to right rapidly so that it could cut the hay close to ground level against the guides.

That’s where watching the sky becomes important.

Hay needs to dry before it can be baled up and stored. Rain interrupts the drying and if we’re unlucky, it could even make the hay get moldy. That’s less palatable for the cattle. However, if you store it when it is too wet, it risks spontaneously combusting and causing a fire.

A couple of times, when I was outside, I saw a military fighter plane go by heading north. It was going low to the ground and very fast. I never learned its origin nor destination. Fort Wayne had some military activities at Baer Field so that might explain it.

Sometimes, on the highway I-69, there would be a caravan of military vehicles go by. The trucks were all painted in camouflage. They were going out on training exercises, as best as I knew.

At the time, my attitude toward the military was pretty negative. I didn’t know anyone in the family that was in the service; maybe it was a throwback to the negative attitude toward Vietnam vets from earlier and I never knew any better..

Now, on Veterans Day, I can have breakfast with a friend who served in Iraq. At the time, when we were mostly at peace, the military seemed less relevant, but now I can appreciate the sacrifices they make.

Scared of heights?

I never really think about it, but I’m not afraid of heights. However, in the city on a tall building, I don’t like being on the edge so I have my limits on that.

The farm we had had a 50′ and 60′ (15-18m) silos. It was really grimy climbing into them. There was a closed channel on the side. It was really messy because the silage was thrown down the same chute to a conveyer belt to feed the cattle.

A silo is a place to store chopped corn that is preserved by the weight and lack of oxygen. To put new silage in, there was a little separate chute that led up the side with a slide at the top that could be turned to spread the new silage evenly. It was important to be careful because, if it plugged up, it was tedious to clean it out.

What’s most notable on the farm was how we powered the impeller to push new silage up. Normally we would have used a tractor and its PTO. A PTO is a “power take off” crank coming out the back of a tractor that could drive equipment. For example, it could power a baling machine that packs alfalfa and compacts it with twine into 40-50 pound (18-22kg) cubes. That made a lot of work for us kids in the summer!

For our silo, dad took an old car (an Impala or Taurus?). He welded a big flywheel on the drive shaft and used a belt to make the blower rotate. I remember the right setting was to have the engine set to 30 or 40 mph (50-65km/h) in reverse.

By having a dedicated machine, it saved the need for an extra tractor and the inconvenience of manipulating a tractor into the right position over and over. The impeller had a bar with universal joints to give some flexibility, but it was still challenging to get a tractor hooked up.

My lack of fear of heights came in play because I would climb up the outside to keep the silage in the right place. The path up was with a small metal ladder in the open air. Around the ladder was a little metal cage so you had a little protection if you fell. We never had a safety harness like linemen use when they climb a power pole. It must have been relatively safe because I never heard stories of people falling.

There’s lots of stories about the farm.