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Change Change Change

A popular song released in 1964 captured the spirit of the times:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who that it’s naming
For the loser now will be later to win
Cause the times they are a-changing

What brought about so much change? Some might point to demographics, others might indicate the decentralizing influence of the car. Today, we are again in the midst of a sea of change. It appears to this old geezer that the “generation gap” is stronger than ever, as younger and older folks have rather different mindsets on many issues.

Trust in government is at an all-time low. The Internet has transformed society, government, education, and business. Think of the path from four broadcast TV channels to cable to VHS to DVD to rentals to “Netflix and chill”; from the single landline per household, to one cell phone per household member. We have apps to get weed – legal weed; to hookup; to obtain rides; to transfer cash; to deposit checks into our bank accounts; to do many other things which would have seemed like wizardry just a decade ago. Some of our largest and most familiar institutions are not even in their “teen years” yet.

This observer is fascinated by technological change, particularly in the field of computers, the Internet, and Artificial Intelligence. If a world-beating program which plays the game of Go against a top professional, beating him four games out of five, seems too esoteric for you, think about the recent demonstration by a Chinese CEO of real-time speech-to-text translation, before a live audience. Or the self-driving automobiles.

The world is changing, in big and small ways. It would be no great leap to envision this as the beginning of a new Age of Enlightenment – or of horrors to come. It is we who must  make the choices which shape our future. In ways large and small, many of us seek to liberate our selves, to broaden the scope of our choices.


Please Don’t Feed Outrage Pr0n

A certain category of the “news” which clutters our feeds is so fake, the headlines stink of fraud. I refer to headlines of the form <horrible thing> done to <sweet things> by <enemies du jour.>

These articles are merely poison to the mind. Often, the story is a complete fraud, from start to finish. Other times, it was intended as a spoof. Still others, a picture of one thing has been given a new and false label.

Always, they are written to tug at your heart strings. Oh, those poor babies. Those poor Christians. Those poor LGBT. Those poor polar bears. Something terrible is done. I must signal my heartbreak, my outrage, my patriotism, my virtue. A classic example – but one of myriads – is the hoax about babies being thrown out of incubators – was repeated ad nauseam by mainstream news.

Before you repost such outrage pr0n, why not use those powerful search engines? Better yet, use your own powerful brain to search out evidence, for and against.

For and against. If you don’t look for and weigh both, you are not doing research; you are simply feeding your confirmation bias.

Does this take time? Yes. If that’s too much of an investment, there is a shortcut.

Don’t feed the concern trolls. Just scroll to the next.

Why Am I Not Perfect?

Why am I not perfect? Short answer: because I am a human being – same as everybody else.

Why am I not as good a cook as Judy? Because she “failed her way to success.” I admire her wondrous spread of exotic cuisine, and she doesn’t tell me about the hundreds of disasters, big and small, along the way, nor the disaster which happened just that day and is not on the table. Each of her failures taught her something; each was a stepping stone.

Why aren’t I able to create clothing designs and patterns from scratch, and turn my visions into something which hangs properly, flatters my figure, and looks fabulous? Because I haven’t spent the hours, I haven’t failed as much as Danny, who filled dumpsters with drawings and things which didn’t go as planned, who spent hours ripping out seams and re-cutting and trying again and again. I look at his best efforts and wonder “why can’t I do that, without all this nasty business of making mistakes and learning?”

Why aren’t I as good at math as that little genius who is still wearing short pants? Because, at the age of three or four, when he was eagerly asking questions and trying to solve problems and being guided and finding his way to a deeper understanding of math, I become frustrated and decided I was “bad at math,” and then did my best to live down to my own expectations.

At times, we can be our own worst enemies. Nobody else can say “can’t” to us and make it stick like we can. It is easier to rebel against others, to say “I’ll show you!” than to say “I’ll show me.”

If we say “I can’t be as good as Suzy,” it’s important to realize that Suzy herself isn’t as good as our ideal of Suzy. We see and enjoy her best. She presents her best to others, not her failures. We’re not comparing ourselves to the real Suzy and Matt and Jody and so forth. we are comparing our real selves, flaws and all, to their best work.

Sergio Juárez Correa, a teacher in Mexico, told his students a story about a donkey who fell in a well. The villagers had no way to lift him out, and he was braying incessantly. The noise disturbed them so much that they threw dirt at him, hoping to shut him up. The dirt slid off his tough hide, and he tucked his head down to protect it. Each shovelful of dirt raised the level of the bottom of the well, and he calmly kept picking up his feet, and rose with the pile. When enough dirt were tossed, the donkey was able to simply step out of the well.

Our failures can be our stepping stones to success. Read here about ten little geniuses who had very dim prospects, who found their way to become very, very good at math. And, by the way, it helps if you start early, but it’s never too late. Correa’s students were already in fifth grade before they discovered how to “fail their way” to very high levels of success, by making stepping stones of their difficulties.