November 26, 2015

Heartfelt Birthday Wishes

So this just happened:
I hear that it means a lot to people, when you remember their birthdays.  
...Despite that, I have never found the will to give a shit.

Brett Knows How To Please Women

If you're a longtime reader of the site, you've probably deduced this by now, but let me spell it out for the rest of you:   I know what women want.   When it comes to getting my wife in the right state of mind*, or any woman, I totally nail it.

Well, allow me to add this caveat:  It's not so much what women want, so much as what middle-aged married women want.  There's one thing that gets to them like nothing else.  More than flowers, or music, or presents, or chocolate, or even pheremones.  You can practically make their eyes dilate with joy when applied properly.

It's a little move known as cleanin' the kitchen, if you catch my drift, playa.

Um, just to be clear:  I really mean cleaning the kitchen.   And I'm not referring to just putting your dishes in the sink.  This shit's for real.

I mean washing all the dishes and putting them away.  I mean putting away EVERYTHING so that the counters are as bare as possible.   All dishes must be cleaned and put away.  Nothing is in the sink.  Dishwasher, garbage and recycling must all be near-empty; if any are even close to full, clear them.

Ideally, you wash the countertops with a mild cleaner, and polish any chrome. Then use a deeper cleaner on every appliance face, to get them all perfect.  Give the interior of the sink a good scrubbing, and/or mop the floor, if it needs it (and it probably does).

For full effect, naturally the kitchen must be initially messy -- like a "hurried breakfast" where not all the dishes made it to the sink, and the counters are all kind of cluttered and gross. 

Make a kitchen like that sparkle, and she will definitely be in the right state of mind.

Anyway, wives love that cleanin' shit.

* I imagine most married men caught my reference to "right state of mind" right away.   But to clarify for other readers, I simply mean "off my back."

October 24, 2015

Unfortunate Imagery

So lately I've been thinking of buying a new car.  I gotta do something over the winter -- my little RX8 would be an absolute sled, even in Blizzaks.

For some strange reason, I seem to gravitate towards the classic Upper Middle Management Corporate Asshole choices.  (It's like, I hate those people, but I so clearly AM those people.)  You know, the Audi S4 & S6, BMW 4 Series.   A Porsche 4S would be sick.

So I check out the upcoming Audi S4, and suddenly I'm thinking about ASS CHAFING.  Blammo.  Thanks for THAT.  Check it out.

Lest there be any doubt, I googled it, and Aschafenburg is most certainly a real place.   To be honest, it looks like one of those places that 15% of people will judge you negatively for never having heard of.  My preliminary investigation indicates that it's all, like, Bavarian 'n shit.  Anyway, I personally had never heard of it, but I freely admit I am not a smart person.

So perhaps some of you, when you see Aschafenburg, immediately think of fresh mountain air and/or schnitzel, or break into spontaneous yodeling.   But for ME, I just read that as "Ass Chafing". So thank you for that delightful imagery.

October 10, 2015

Blog Mascot Candidates

A few posts ago, I introduced you to the new Philoso-Rants Mascot:  Blobby the Sad Blog Entry.  You might recall that he looked like this:

Blobby, the Sad Blog Entry

He perfectly captures the ethos of my blog: evoking equal parts hopelessness and pity.   However, my Marketing team has said that perhaps we could do better.  After many interviews, we are considering two entries.

This first one harkens back from my earlier days as a young lad.   Observe that he is wearing a short-sleeve button-down with a tie -- accurately portraying my deft sense of style.   You can almost feel a sense of mild annoyance, just looking at him -- and can picture him talking about sine waves or Gross Domestic Product, or such stuff.

I know you want to punch him...but do you want to punch him enough?

However, some people have said that it misses a key detail, an ineffable part of my makeup as an individual -- one best expressed by an executive in Philoso-Rants advertising department in this trenchant observation:

Subject:  Old and fat

A new mascot is a good idea.  However, this character might be described as "young and thin."  I think the look we are trying to express is more "old and fat".

Certainly, a fair point.  So we found candidate #2.  He trades the youthful smarmy-ness of the mascot above, for a more tubby ungainliness.  83% of our focus groups said that they envisioned him expressing opinions on Unix to pained co-workers, and 44% percent imagined him in a loveless marriage to a woman obsessed with cats.

"Why yes, I WAS a Mathlete in high school!"
Several members of the Philoso-Rants Board of Directors expressed concern that no cartoon can properly convey my creepy look, and suggested a photograph instead.   Candidate #3 was submitted by several sources, and received high marks for realism.

Can I talk at you about science?
Finally, our fourth suggestion is a picture of the author, after some mild Photoshopping to give it just the right level of credibility.  Don't even bother trying to find the precise changes that were made (they are too subtle to detect), but take my word for it, they exist.

Just right!

October 2, 2015

Brett's Updated View of the Universe

I fear that I repeat myself on this blog.

What is actually happening is that I'm refining the same set of ideas, and every now and then feel that it has deviated enough from previous posts, and I write about it again.

But what seems like a meaningful difference to me might not seem that way to you.   You might be like, "This is the same goddamn painting you showed me earlier, and I didn't like it then."  And I'm all "Yes, but before the fringe was a dark pink, and now it's more of a fuscia!"

Anyway, I hope it's not tiresome for my (scarce) readership.

Lotsa Thinking
I dwell quite a bit over the universe, and our place in it.  I probably think about it for thirty minutes every day.  It is my nighttime routine to read a few articles about science, then ponder the universe as I drift off to sleep.

This is a rather auspicious time to ponder the universe, because ideas twist and bend as you're drifting off to sleep.   Have you ever noticed that?  The very last thoughts you have before drifting off to sleep are often bizarre -- more dream than thought.  Salvador Dali, the famous painter, got some of his best painting ideas by capturing his thoughts at this moment of drift-off.

On top of that, I fuel this pondering with all sorts of books about the brain, consciousness, the universe, physics and various philosophies. I literally only read books that might help me better glimpse our place in the universe:
  • Feynman's Lecture Notes (3 books; Richard Feynman)
  • I Am A Strange Loop (Douglas Hoffstaeder)
  • Synchronicity (Karl Jung)
  • Superintelligence (Nick Bostrom)
  • Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness (Fred Kuttner)

Brett's Updated View
Along the way, long-held some beliefs sometimes evaporate, while novel ones appear on the fringes.  Some of these fringe ideas, surprisingly, turn into central beliefs.

So here is where my head is at now.  I reserve the right to trash any of these ideas at any time.
  • Infinity is a symbolic concept only.  Every now and then, I'll read "scientists theorize that the universe is infinite." and I think "Oh, puhleeze."   Look, I'm not saying that things aren't sometimes REALLY BIG.   For example, perhaps the observable universe isn't the entire universe -- I'd totally buy that.  Perhaps the observable universe is one part in 10^300 (that means "ten raised to the three hundredth power -- or 1 followed by 300 zeroes).  Our brains can't even conceive of a number that big.  Or perhaps it's one part in  10^300^300^300.  I'd buy that, too.  But infinite?  Infinite means I could keep raising that value to the 300th power 10^300 times, and we STILL wouldn't scratch the surface.    Even if it were infinite, our theorizing about it seems rather arrogant -- like a minnow who declares that the sea is infinite.   In my worldview, the only things that are infinite are logical and/or symbolic concepts.
  • Something created us.   The universe seems to have been was created by something.  There are literally dozens of VERY suspicious physics phenomena that suggest massive fine tuning of physical properties.  And no, this isn't Kirk Cameron's Christian bullshit about "Ooh, the eye is so complex!  Clearly only Jesus himself could have designed it."   I'm talking about finely tuned universal constants -- many of which, if they varied by a fraction of one percent, would cause the universe to simply not exist.  Stars wouldn't burn.  Galaxies would not coalesce.  Life wouldn't form.  I'm not just saying we wouldn't be here, but that NOTHING would be here. 
  • Our universe is a virtual representationAt its lowest levels, the universe clearly demonstrates that it's not "real" but virtual.  It is akin to video game characters on a monitor.  In short, at the most basic level, matter turns into energy, and energy into information (aka probability).  If we rendered any intelligence on a computer, and they looked closely enough, that's precisely what they would see.  If we were "real", then matter wouldn't break down like that -- it would remain as matter, no matter how closely you looked.
  • Our Creator likely exists right "now."   In all likelihood, whomever created our universe still exists.   It wouldn't make sense to create a universe and then die from old age while waiting for something cool to happen -- our Creator(s) would design our clock to run substantially faster than their own.   This means that if we COULD see them at this very second, and they hadn't slowed down the simulation (which they might do, sometimes), they would hardly seem alive at all.  It would be precisely like how a fleeting virtual particle (popping into existence and then back out again) might view you or me.
Markus = God?
  • Our Creator is only relatively special.  Yes, I believe that someone created our universe, and is still exists.  So is that God?   From our perspective, of course.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this creator is any great shakes in its reality.  Hopefully he/she/it is nice.  But he/she/it might just be a regular schlub.   Consider this:  Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, has led to the creation of countless Minecraft worlds, each of which was allowed to evolve over accelerated time, so that by the time someone plays one of those worlds, it has evolved for the equivalent of thousands of years.  (Um...I might be confusing Minecraft with Dwarven Fortress here, but one or the other does this.)   To us, Markus is just some guy.  Yet to the creatures in those Minecraft games, he is indeed a god.
  • I know what God wants ...kind of.   At least, I'm pretty sure, but it's rather terrifying: I think God simply wants to know what happens, and how it turns out.  For a variety of reasons,  I can't foresee a universe in which God already knows what will happen ahead of time.  However, it's unclear what parts God would be interested in.  Perhaps God is obsessed over  quantum particles (things far smaller and faster than us) or galaxy formations (things far bigger and slower than us). 
  • The resolution of reality is the true mystery.   Is all of the universe equally real?  We now know that at the quantum level, things are not real.  Are other galaxies real?  Is the dark side of the moon real?  Was 5,000 years ago real?  Is Toronto real?  I've never visited any of them.   Maybe those are just props in a play, where some of us are foreground, and others background.  It's entirely possible that only I exist.  Or only you exist.  If it's any one person, then it must be one of us, or else I wouldn't have written this and/or you wouldn't be reading it.  Indeed, it doesn't even have to be all of you -- it could be just you for the past five minutes.   And the rest is just a mimicry -- background props for the play.   ...All that being said, while I can't rule out any of these ideas, my gut tells me that the perceivable universe is equally real.
  • God has a God, too.  Our Creator created our reality, but they weren't the first:  Someone created our Creator's reality.  And someone created that reality.  And somebody created that reality.  This is almost perfectly analogous to parents.  We have parents, and they have parents, and so on.  It's hard to say what those realities might be like.  Would they love?  Would they be curious? 
  • The concept of the First Reality gives me the shivers:  Let's say that you traveled up the stack of realities-- from our universe to its parent, to its parent, to its parent.  You might follow the stack for countless generations, but sooner or later, you'd hit the very first reality.   But how did IT ever come to be?  I know that it's a cop out to say that it always existed, but I seem to be trapped in a logical cul-de-sac, because if it didn't always exist, then what created that?   Could it be a reality loop, where sooner or later, a the base reality is created again, like walking around the Earth and arriving where you started?  Or perhaps realities are constantly intersecting with one another, with myriad feedback loops -- and the distinction between levels of reality either blurs or collapses entirely.
  • Our Reality is not second-class:  Just because we're not the First Reality, that doesn't mean that we're second class citizens.  Our reality is just as legitimate as theirs.  It's all just rules, actions and consequences.  For example, consider a seventh grade girl who has just been embarrassed in front of her classroom -- does her reality not matter, because we can say that technically she's just an amalgam of synapses and proteins, firing and combining?   No.  Does that mean that she's NOT just an amalgam of synapses and proteins, firing and combining?   It doesn't mean that either.  Both are equally real.
  • The Resolution of our Reality is impossible to pin down. What is presently unclear to me is the resolution of our reality.   At one extreme, it could be a countless number of universes, where our particular universe is never even considered in any meaningful way, at any higher levels of existence.    Or, the opposite extreme, perhaps the universe is just me -- or just you.   If it were a single simulated person, it could not be anybody OTHER than me or you -- or I couldn't be writing and/or you reading this right now.   There's an old Infocom video game, A Mind Forever Voyaging, about someone who lives his life, only to discover that he's really just a simulation, everybody else he has dealt with has been either a scientist testing him, or pre-written memories.  ...Our reality's resolution could also be something in the middle:  Perhaps it's just Boston, or the Earth, or the Solar System, or the Milky Way.   This would also explain the Fermi Paradox:  Perhaps there is no life "out there" because we're staring off the edge of the simulation -- equivalent to staring at the sky in any adventure video game, and wondering what untold worlds exist out there.
  • Time's boundaries are equally obscure.  Perhaps this simulation started 13 billion years ago.  Or perhaps it started yesterday.  Perhaps just this split second.  Perhaps a dozen entities are rapt with attention at our every action, or perhaps we're just a flicker in time -- doomed to be fast-forwarded through by our Creator using some cosmic Tivo to get to the "good stuff", which might take place tomorrow, or in countless milennia.
  • Time is processing.  It is hard to ponder the universe without also pondering the nature of time.  Consider the moment of your first kiss.  Does that moment still "exist," but is simply somewhere else -- much like how the far side of the moon likely exists, despite the fact that you're not there?  Or is it gone?   I'm thinking that it's gone.  I think that moment-to-moment reality is being "processed" at a Planck level, by some cosmic computer that is chugging away.   Memories represent prior states of the equation, but those equations have been processed.    ...But maybe not.  Kurt Vonnegut envisioned time as a mountain range, where the past and future all exist simultaneously, and the "present" is simply your location.  That might be.
  •  Other realities likely interact with ours.  Consider how you might interact with a video game -- where you're "controlling" a character in another realm.  It's entirely possible that that's happening in our reality, too.  Indeed, there's generally no point for someone to create a simulation of any sort, if you're not going to interact with it, in some capacity.   
  • Heaven might exist -- but don't get too excited.  Indeed, we might be projections from one level up.  Again, it would really be no different from video games -- there, we are projecting downwards into a simpler reality.  Perhaps we're doing the same right now, and when we die, we "pop" back up to that level.  If so, that place might be wonderful, and perhaps it WOULD seem like Heaven, at first.  But I can guarantee you that we'd have problems there, too. We would adapt, evolve and strive. 
  • Death is probably (but not definitely) the end for us.  While we might exist on some other reality, I don't think it's likely.   Most likely, when we die, we're just dead.   Imagine yourself as akin to some amusing video, temporarily sitting on your desktop before inevitably being deleted.  Hopefully one or two people laughed at it before it hit the Recycle Bin.
  • Don't worry about death.  Even if there is another reality, and we "pop" to it, it won't be the same as what we have.  You won't be you, any more than "you" are not your seven-year-old self.  Sure, there's a cosmic continuity, between "Then You" and "Now You", but you are not the same.   So there's no point in fretting about whether when we die, we're permanently dead or we go to Heaven, because from that way of thinking, you've already experienced endless deaths and rebirths. 
  • A person's intent would transfer realities.  Consider if you and I were playing a video game, and in that game, I had loads of treasure and gold, and you had none.  Then we stop playing, we "pop out" of the game, and meet at Starbucks -- do my video game possessions confer any benefit in this reality?   No, not one bit.   Now consider that I was very wise in the ways of the game -- I knew all sorts of tricks, and you didn't.   Again, we meet in this reality at Starbucks -- do I have any inherent benefit because of all the video game skills I possessed in that other "reality"?  Again, no.    However, consider if I were very NICE to you in the game, and we meet at Starbucks -- might that benefit me in this reality?  YES.  If I was nice to you there, it would translate here.  You might buy me a coffee.  And if I were a jerk there, you might punch me, here.   Goodness and evil -- better known as intent -- is the only thing that can successfully translate realities.  So be nice.
Okay, that's all I've got for now.

September 24, 2015

I Suck At Blogging

Philoso-Rant's Mascot
Let's face it.  I am not a good blogger.

Over the past several years, on this very blog, I've written about economics, data, math, science, philosophy, dreams, the universe, jokes, resumes, business, futurism, and The Onion.    I even wrote one article where literally every sentence was semi-randomly generated (with the help of some custom JavaScript code that I wrote), so the article was entirely different every time it was read… I've never seen anybody even attempt something like that before!

But nobody gives a flying fuck.  Total crickets.  I've written precisely 60 blog entries and have 6 comments TOTAL.  It's sad.

You can think of my blog as a party.  I had envisioned that I'd be the hip maĆ®tre d'hotel, sashaying about, serving scallops wrapped in bacon (aka, my delightfully witty blog entries) to a crowd of  high-powered and exclusive guests (my message board commenters).

But the reality seems to be that my party is on par a sub-par Marching Band / Color Guard mixer, where several attendees are wearing orthodontic headgear and others are having a depressingly passionate discussion about Boba Fett.  And instead of scallops wrapped in bacon, my posts are more like a bag of Utz potato chips and some french onion dip straight from a can, with the CVS price tag still on it, set atop a rickety card table.

So, if these words find their way to your eyeballs, then right at this very second you are attending arguably the lamest party on the Internet.  Congrats.

In related news, I am presently in discussions with my publicist, evaluating the merits of me posing nude to boost readership.  However, some preliminary A-B testing of the idea suggests that that's a terrible strategy.  Perhaps I should just pose topless, and see how that goes first.

Anyway, in each of my articles, I try to present an imaginative comparison or analogy, to provide my readers with some novel perspective.  So, here goes: There are likely several hundred Japanese scat-themed sites with substantially larger readerships than my sorry, sorry blog.

tl;dr:  When it comes to blogging, I am bad and should feel bad.

September 18, 2015

Thoughts on Glasses

To the left is a picture from the priceless Onion article  Time Traveler: Everyone In The Future Eats Dippin' Dots

If you've ever seen Dippin' Dot's marketing (in real life), it's all about how this is how we will eat ice cream in the future.   It's seriously just a matter of time. Perhaps they are right. 

So the Onion explored it, where a traveler comes from the distant future, and while he recognizes a few differences, he is most struck by our barbaric means of consuming ice cream.  Here is a passage:  "and I began to weep, for I realized that I am a stranger in a strange land where Dippin' Dots are not a popular and universally beloved dessert.". 

Anyway, my POINT is that he's wearing a visor.  This picture of Dippin Dot Adventurer From The Future.   And maybe we all will, some day.  Some of us do now.
Consider a special visor...

Imagine a visor that you could put on, which just "zooms in" a bit, in crystal clarity.  Somehow just naturally focuses you a bit more narrow, but in a directed way.  I'm not sure if it would be for everybody, but I bet many people would want it.  Consider such a visor for a moment.

Now, I wear glasses.   If you're keen to have a piece of metal and glass as your constant companion, these are optimal, as far as I'm concerned.   It's just a minimalist gold frame and glass. To a great extent, glasses ARE such a special visor -- blocking out things outside the lens and attenuating (gathering your attention) inside of the lens. 

But it's not all good news; about 30% of my vision is outside the lens.  It is relegated to Blurryland.  But not all is lost, since I never look there anyway, and still have full peripheral vision for light and movement (which is all you need that information for anyway).

So I'm starting to wonder if that might not have its advantages.  I wonder if, cognitively, my brain is able to attenuate a bit better to the focused middle portion -- like if literally more brain synapses are attenuated to that input rather than the outer.  And as a result, it has like a focus-attention-enhancement effect.

Glasses:  What Are They Like
Obviously, you have worn glasses once or twice, if only sunglasses.  You might wear glasses all the time.  But unless you're wearing them right now, you might forget what it is like, because your brain generally focuses out such details.

So, I tried to find a picture online of what it feels like to wear glasses.  There are tons and tons of pictures, but I knew precisely what I had in mind, and couldn't find it.  Finally, it drew it (first in Visio, then refined in Paint).

This is kind of what it's like.
So that's it.  That's what it's like to wear glasses.  Every now and then they will ride down your nose.  You have to keep them with you at all times.   I search for them occasionally -- more often than I'd like to admit.  You should keep them clean.

Helloo Visian ICL
There's a new way that you improve your vision, called Visian ICL. It involves putting a lens behind your eye that gives you instantly flawless vision.  Unlike LASIK, it involves virtually zero material impact to the eye itself.  

This is a link to a marketing video about the procedure.
I think this sounds amazing.  I am seriously considering this, to hell with my financial future.  This may be worth it.  I heard a rumor that you can get the lenses POLARIZED.   OMG, it would literally take the glare off of everything you ever see in bright light.  I'd be 20% towards being RoboCop.

Are Glasses A Form of Targeted Reticle?
So let's explore the earlier question a bit more:  Could glasses actually help someone focus better?  And here, I don't mean in the sense of focusing a lens, but in the sense of focusing your attention -- better known as concentrating?

I've read that blind people have far great attenuation of their other senses.  They hear better, touch ridiculously better -  even without knowing braille, and if they do, even better.  On some cosmic level, this is a re-routing of neural activity -- kind of the brain paying attention.  I'm not saying that this improved attenuation 100% makes up for the lost sight input, but it's certainly there.

Maybe that phenomenon is happening with my glasses.  And the net result is that, if I were to get this procedure, that I'd "see" much better, but would have a marginally harder time focusing upon what is right in front of me, because I get distracted more easily from details in the periphery, that are now more easily shut out.

I bet a formal study would conclude that I do indeed have a 3.2% higher input attenuation while wearing my glasses.

...But it would no doubt also observe an average -7% reduction, because I don't clean my damn glasses nearly often enough.

I know, I know.  I keep meaning to clean them.

August 16, 2015

The Classic Data Mistake

Discovery & its consequences
In 1932, a breakthrough discovery was made:  A team of researchers discovered that by altering the level of light in the workplace, productivity skyrocketed.  Whenever brighter lighting was used, productivity was higher.  

Companies pounced upon this information, and substantially invested in brighter lighting -- to see virtually no benefit whatsoever.   It was a huge waste of money.

Brighter lighting was correlated with productivity, but didn't cause it.  They later discovered that the workers were (temporarily) more motivated because more attention was being paid to them, now known as the Hawthorne effect (here's the Wikipedia article).

Knowing right, yet doing wrong
The problem here, of course, is that correlation does not equal causation.   You probably already knew this.

The interesting part is that you might make the mistake, anyway.   Even people who are well-aware that correlation does not equal causation will routinely conflate the two.  It happens in the corporate world all the time, even to the savviest of business analysts.

So what gives?  Why do smart people keep making such a fundamental mistake, despite knowing the exact mistake they're making?

Brains have needs, too 
The answer is that our minds crave to understand how things work.  This is not a cognitive need (controlled by the cerebral pre-frontal cortex); it's a visceral need (controlled by the more primal limbic system).

We subconsciously WANT to generalize, to stereotype, to model, to simplify things around us.   And for good reason, as explained by this hilarious Onion t-shirt:

Stereotypes, generalizations and patterns make our mental lives much easier.  It's a mental burden to reserve judgment and evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis.  And as a result, our brains constantly search for shortcuts. 

Viewed from that perspective, racists and sexists aren't so much evil as they are lazy.  But such generalizations pervade most aspects of how we see the world:
  • Financial: Buying groceries at CVS is expensive.
  • Social:  Southerners are friendly.
  • Local:  Seattle is a rainy city.
  • Misc:  French press coffee tastes good.
Every one of these generalization makes our world a bit more understandable -- even if this "understanding" sacrifices accuracy, and are sometimes flat-out wrong.

Identifying the right path
It might sound bizarre, but the root of this mistake isn't cognitive, it's emotional.  We know that correlation does not equal causation, but we simply give into the temptation to "know".
As such, the best you can do is to recognize this emotional urge, steel your nerve, and try to think through the situation carefully.

This doesn't mean you should ignore the correlation -- just treat it as as kind of a hunch.  Perhaps the cost/benefit nature of your situation warrants proceeding anyway.  Perhaps there are ways to rule out other causes, and increase your odds.

Whatever happens, by controlling your innate urge to understand (even if falsely), you're likely to make a better decisions.