Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Freedom to be Awesome

I just found a link to a great video showcasing people being awesome.  Some of it is simply displays of remarkable physical prowess but a lot of the clips are showcasing people doing things that are incredibly dangerous - doing flips in the air on a snowmobile, for example.  (Apparently people do that?!?)  Strangely the video makes me sad and happy simultaneously.

For one thing, watching people at the absolute peak of their potential is a wondrous thing.  There is something mesmerizing about seeing the limit of human capabilities.  I am not at all a basketball fan and yet I remember watching the last championship Michael Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls and I recall still how incredible it was to watch him play.  Even among other amazing athletes the things he could do were unbelievable.

On the other hand it makes me sad to see all of the things I will never do.  I feel like I should be out there pushing my limits, stretching my body to the maximum, and doing things that will make people stare at me in awe.  Sure, I couldn't do everything I see in those videos but I certainly could do any *one* thing if I tried hard enough and long enough.  (Okay, I couldn't do the rollerskating under a car thing, but neither can anybody else but that one kid.)  I am getting old and have never done anything that needs to be a youtube video that goes viral, and this needs correcting!

It makes me wonder how much the limits of awesome are changed by our current level of communications.  If you live in a village in prehistoric times the only benchmarks of awesome you have are the few dozen or maybe few hundred people you know.  Nobody is all that great at anything in that scenario and it isn't hard to be the best at any particular challenge.  Today though you can see how astounding the best in the world are and measure yourself against them; nearly everybody knows they will never be notably good at anything. Instead of being happy with being the best juggler in the village you need to come to grips with the fact that you are just some chump who isn't even in the top million jugglers in the world.

Maybe that is a part of why science and progress are so scary for some people.  It is hard to maintain an aura of authority when everyone can find people who are better than you at everything.  Barring a very few exceptions everybody is known to be ordinary; this is a frightening prospect given how much we all dream of being somebody special.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lost forever

11.5 years ago I moved out of Waterloo to Toronto.  I went to pursue a job and to live near all kinds of awesome folks but I left something behind:  A box full of junk.  Hidden deep in the recesses of Resurrection College at the Waterloo campus there was a box with some of my stuff from first and second year.  The box had my old camouflage hat that I wore constantly throughout high school (It went by the name Moe), a sweater, some shoes, and some other assorted stuff I can't rightly recall now.  The box was stored in the dusty back room with things that other students want to stash to pick up later and every time I went back to Waterloo for one reason or another I thought about it.

Unfortunately every time I returned to Waterloo I went on Good Friday so nobody would have been available at the office to let me in to the back room.  Year after year I remembered my stuff and wondered if it was still there or if they had finally gotten around to chucking it all into a dumpster.  On Friday I went back to Waterloo once again to run another playtest of my new RPG and I took a few minutes to stop by to see if the box was still in existence.

The same lady was in charge as when I lived there back in 97 and 98 and she was as pleasant as ever.  She did, I think, find it a little strange that it had taken me so long to come back and get my things but apparently people just leaving their possessions in the back room forever is pretty normal.  Most of the stuff stored there she identified as belonging to people living in other countries now who almost certainly had forgotten it existed at all.  Despite her best attempts at finding my things it became clear that in some years past my box had been opened and the contents had been given to students for free.  I can think of no better use for my possessions now that I consider it; I never really needed them and now I can safely forget them forever while some student somewhere makes good use of them.

Farewell sweater.  Goodbye Moe.  See you later random junk and pair of shoes.  It turns out you were gone years ago and just now I found out.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Too many crackers

Lately I have been getting snacky and eating too many crackers.  I generally avoid really junky food just fine but between meals I find myself cruising to the cracker box over and over to do something about the hunger just beginning to chew away at my insides.  It isn't a good habit but it is a tough one to break because in my mind a cracker isn't a treat so I am allowed to eat as many as I want but it is abundantly clear that half a box of crackers is not a good thing to fill up on.

My solution is carrots.  I like carrots pretty well and they are quite healthy with lots of fibre so eating plenty of them should be fine for me.  If I feel snacky and eat a carrot, all well and good.  If I feel snacky and don't want to eat a carrot then obviously I am just craving junk food and should suck it up and not eat.  I have been trying this for a week so far and it has worked well but we sure are going through carrots fast.  I am honestly shocked by how often I start nibbling on a bloody enormous carrot and suddenly it is gone.

It turns out that you can actually turn yourself orange if you eat too many carrots.  The amount of carrots you need is unbelievable though and pretty much requires 100% carrot consumption for days and days on end.  I doubt very much that I will ever do that although certainly the story of how I turned myself orange would be one I could tell and retell forever without being sick of it.  Also, taking pictures of yourself is hard, especially with three giant carrots in your mouth.  Gag reflex for the lose!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Learning things the right way

There has been a big push in recent years towards more standardized testing in schools.  Parents demand that their children be taught the basics (Cue the speeches about how bad this latest generation is) and everyone wants more accountability and information.  Which students suck?  In what areas?  What other demographics contribute?  The end result of this desire for information is huge countrywide tests that end up warping the entire system of education.  Some teachers in the US have actually started a mass protest against the tests and are refusing to implement them, to which I say hooray!

There are uses for mass testing but as one Larry Smith repeatedly shouted "What is the cost?"  The cost, it turns out, is a lot.  Standardized tests cost a ton of money to administer from creation to administration to marking.  They also lead to incredibly foolish things like basing teacher pay on test results and students picking schools on the basis of standardized test scores.  Do we want teachers to ignore the teaching of emotional intelligence, cooperation, and other life skills entirely while they focus only on the topics covered by the test?  No!  The kids end up being good at taking a particular kind of test which is useful for precisely NOTHING.

We know that test scores correlate very well to later test scores.  They also correlate very well to virtually nothing else of note.  I can tell you this for certain as I was particularly good at taking tests and that skill only taught me that I didn't need to actually learn anything.  If you ask any employer what they want in an employee and give them the choice between someone with good test scores in grade school and someone with better discipline, social, and organizational skills they will take the second every damn time.  This is becoming more and more true in a world where every random thing in the universe is on wikipedia; what use are facts and memorization compared to the ability to USE those facts for something worthwhile?

Good teaching is something we all know when we see it but have a hell of a time writing down specs for.  Just like defining what exactly pornography is and is not we could spend years sitting around arguing about it while nearly everybody can pick it out in an instant.  Though we quite reasonably want our teachers to be of excellent quality we simply have to accept that we have no consistent, transparent, objective method of determining that.  Maybe someday we will develop such a metric but it certainly isn't "whoever gets the kids to score well on this particular test".

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Writing is a lot of work

I have been writing a book.  Awhile ago I decided to write a book about atheism and the practicalities of dealing with religious cultural tradition but that went precisely nowhere; it turns out while I want that book to be written I have no deep desire to write it.  Instead I have been writing a roleplaying game book called Heroes By Trade, vaguely like Dungeons and Dragons.  It isn't a story but rather the complete ruleset for a new fantasy roleplaying game.  Writing it has been a great education in how hard putting together a big manuscript can be.

Creating blog posts is utterly trivial by comparison.  While I try to make blog posts good there is only so much complexity there can be when I only have one page to work with.  With a full length book I constantly trip myself up by spending a day writing something and then realizing weeks later it doesn't work properly with what I have written in the interim.  I have to go back and redo it all to make it right; I have rewritten certain parts of the book at least ten times now as I slowly make changes to the system as a whole.  Blogging has certainly been good practice because much of writing a book eventually boils down to communicating a single idea as clearly and succinctly as possible but I sure have more sympathy for writers who take forever to produce their stories.  (This is about you, George RR Martin.)

Prior to this project I did not realize just how the length of a piece changed the time required to write it.  It seems like it is on an exponential scale.  The first 40 pages was very quick, but the next 40 pages required a full rewrite of the first 40.  The next 20 pages required a full rewrite of the first 80, then another rewrite of the 20 pages most recently completed.  At this rate the final page of the book will take a month to write as the changes slowly cascade down through the system altering everything slightly as they go.  Though I sometimes feel like I am wading through glue it is nice to look through all of the text I have produced and see how it is slowly shaping itself into something I can be proud of.

Doing this project has actually been really transformative for me.  I have given up playing games almost entirely for months now as I funnel all of my energies into the creation of a new one.  I have played less games this fall and winter than any time in my life since I was a small child, I think.  This has been very strange for my gaming blog because I have little to say a lot of the time; I am not in a position to talk about mainstream games anymore because I am not playing them.  Unfortunately it has made sleep very difficult too because I continually have to fight the urge to write and design while lying in bed, looking for rest.  Even when I am tired and rationally sure that I need sleep I can't turn off that desperate need to solve the latest problem I have encountered.

One thing that has been key for me is not treating this project like a jackpot.  What I hope to do is to make something beautiful, to make the best game that can be made.  If it makes me a pile of money I certainly won't be sad but I have no illusions about my chances; this is only about making something awesome, not about striking it rich.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What do I do?

Wendy and I went out to a Japanese restaurant tonight for dinner.  We knew it marketed itself as a sake bar but how different can that be from any other restaurant that sells Japanese food?

Plenty, it turns out.

When we walked in all of the staff started shouting and a guy rushed at us.  It felt more like a bad martial arts movie than a restaurant, but apparently in sake bars that is just what happens.  Everybody shouts in concert all the time, especially whenever somebody walks into the place.  We also got handed a moist towel just before the food arrived and that sure puzzled the hell out of me (turns out you wash your hands with it) and then I didn't know where to put it down (turns out you can just put it on the table and they take it away eventually).

The bizarre thing is how these sorts of mostly irrelevant details make the experience a worrying one.  As I am fond of saying whenever people get worked up, consider the worst case:

Sky:  "So, uh, what's the deal... I kinda screwed this up, obviously..."

Waitress:  "Well, you just put this over here, and this over here."

Sky:  "Uh... heh... yeah, I sure don't know how the hell any of this works."

Waitress:  "This is your first time to a sake bar, yes?"

(The entire restaurant points and laughs at my horrific gaffe.)

And then we leave and find food elsewhere, and who cares that a random bunch of strangers think I am a dork?  Nobody!  That is the worst case!  And yet despite the fact that the worst case is honestly just fodder for a great story I tell once I get over the shame of it all, I feel nervous and on edge.  There is something deep inside us that makes us worried about screwing up at a social function and terribly embarrassing ourselves even when the consequences are trivial.

And now I know that the sake bar two doors down has a yummy and cheap chicken soup dinner.  Also, they yell a lot, everyone sits at one gigantic table, and there are moist towels.  Learning is fun!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Damn laws

I often complain about laws.  There are all kinds of problems with our legal system though generally I stick to well known and widely debated points like doctor assisted suicide, marijuana, and prostitution.  We seriously need to stop spending enormous sums to ruin peoples lives over their personal lifestyle choices.  Jail should be reserved for those who cause tremendous harm or who are a danger to others, not people who do things that fall outside the average person's comfort zone.  While I am pretty convinced I am right on these topics I can't actually argue from a position of education; while my parents often suggest I should have been a lawyer I did not end up in law school.

Thankfully there is a place in which everybody can get a quick and entertaining primer on how our legal system works, what issues it has, and why so many of the laws we deal with every day are fundamentally flawed.  While you might find legal minutiae boring generally this version comes with an avatar of justice who wields a giant mallet with which to squash the wicked; she is something of a superhero smashed together with a philosopher.

One of the most critical things the comics talk about is how terrible laws get into place based on reactionary posturing by politicians.  Everyone agrees that the school shooting in the US a month ago was a tragedy but statistically it is a drop in the bucket.  Roughly 30 people a day die from guns in the US so the day the Newtown shooting occurred was deadlier than usual but well within the bounds of normal.  And yet, despite the relative rarity of school shootings and the fact that this particular event was barely a blip on the year's body count the US was spurred into action to enact all kinds of new laws.  I am a fan of gun control personally but many of the provisions in the new laws are trivial to circumvent or even a challenge to properly define.  The fact that politicians here in Canada decided to do foolish things in a desperate attempt to be doing something about a random event in another country is even more ridiculous.

Making laws properly is difficult and requires training.  That, if nothing else, is the lesson I took away from reading more about all of the problems with our current system.  Certainly random voters have no idea how particular initiatives will affect crime but unfortunately our political leaders don't either.  Despite many of them being former lawyers they display a remarkable ability to ignore the basic facts in favour of writing up any old thing that will placate the populace even if it is a long term disaster.

It is very important to separate criticism of lawyers from criticism of the law.  Many lawyers certainly are people who are experts in abusing laws to transfer money from one group to another regardless of any real wrongdoing.  That said, law and the knowledge of the law is critical when examining solutions to societal problems.  We would do well to include this sort of information in schooling because the average voter could really benefit from a bit of inside knowledge into how guilt, punishment, and the system of administering them work together.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trust me, it's good.

A little while ago I went to the bank to cash some Christmas cheques.  Elli got three of them and was extremely excited to get all of her money so she could buy tons of berry smoothie juice at the grocery store.  This puzzled the heck out of me but given that she usually throws her money at Barbie or even more stuffed animals I can't complain... but kids rushing off to spend allowance on 'no sugar added' juice?  Am I the only one?

The cheques I took to the bank had three names on them.

Ellie Roy
Elli Oakden
Ellianora Roy

Note that the last one is her real name.  The first one is the correct last name combined with a first name she doesn't go by, and the second one is a combination of nickname and wrong last name.  I kind of figured the cashier would tell me that I can't cash cheques for somebody else when the cheques aren't even made out to the right person but it was no problem.  I guess real thieves would go for bigger sums and be less conspicuous.  Of course from any practical perspective you can't be too surprised since a 50 dollar cheque being deposited by a long time client is hardly likely to be a forgery but it still makes me chuckle.

Security in our financial system is a big deal.  Our mint goes to great lengths to prevent fake currency and I am sure the banks pay a bazillion dollars to IT experts to make their online systems safe.  And yet, I can walk into a bank with a random piece of paper that says somebody owes Elli Oakden 50 dollars and they will happily deposit it into my bank account.  Maybe it is just my generation but I find cheques absolutely baffling.  Why do people use them?  How can banks justify this absurdity?  Is it just me, or is there really a divide between my parent's generation and mine where cheques go from normal to silly?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Taking the wrong stand

Native protests in Canada are at a fever pitch these days.  Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for a month demanding that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with her and other Native leaders for several weeks of talks.  The general thrust of her complaints are, of course, justified.  The Natives have been abominably treated in the past and the conditions on many reserves are wretched.  Harper has been eroding their rights and trampling on treaties a lot lately and they quite reasonably want this to stop.  I think Harper and the Conservatives have been making a lot of decisions that trade away environmental protection for resource extraction and they have gone too far.

That said, I think Chief Spence and the other First Nations leaders are going about this all wrong.  They were offered a meeting with the cabinet minister, which they declined, and now have their big meeting with Harper himself.  Unfortunately because their demand that the Governor General attend is not being met they are largely boycotting the meeting and the hunger strike continues.  This is not the way to get things done.  Harper is the big boss in town and he is the one they need to deal with, not some anachronistic functionary.  More than that the problems the Natives face have nothing to do with the GG.  Boycotting meetings that are going nowhere I can understand, protesting against bad legislation okay, but this smacks a child's tantrum.  Be hard on things that matter like real changes in treaties or funding, and be flexible on things that don't matter like which guy stands in the corner being irrelevant.

On the other side of the coin I can't find a good reason why Harper won't just get the GG down there for the meetings.  Certainly he can't have anything else more significant to be doing, so why not just get him in there so the talks can move forward?  There are a couple possible reasons:  Perhaps Harper just wants to show everybody that he is the only one with power, which would be very much in character.  On the other hand, he might be trying to deliberately sabotage the talks to get Canadians outraged and on his side when the Natives won't meet.  Either way he is being a jackass about it.

Essentially you have two groups of people with really legitimate complaints about each other shouting back and forth about something completely unrelated.  Is too much of the money sent to reserves misspent or lost to corruption?  Yes.  Has the Canadian government inflicted horrors in the past and passed bad legislation recently?  Yes.  Is arguing about whether or not the GG is at the meeting relevant to anybody's real concerns?  Hell no!

Both sides need to put aside their petty grievances and sit down to figure out better long term solutions to the problems at hand.  Optimistically some way could be found to avoid classing people by heritage and equalizing treatment across all Canadians going forward as well as addressing all the terrible problems Natives face.  That is probably a pipe dream, but we ought at least to be making the attempt instead of just spitting in each other's faces.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's time for theatre

I mocked Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's plan to spend millions on setting up security cameras and other utterly useless but theatrically appropriate safety measures in our schools.  Unfortunately I forgot that he isn't the only one reacting foolishly to unlikely events in other countries.  At the parents council meeting last night we discussed the concerns of random parents in the school that they should be notified in the case of a lockdown or other incident at the school.  There is a discussion going on about getting more email information to alleviate their concerns.

This makes me insane.  What are those parents going to do if and when we do notify them about a lockdown at the school?  Rush to the school, presumably, whereupon they will be refused entrance and they can stand around looking foolish in an area that has been deemed dangerous.  Either that or they can sit in their cubicles and worry which doesn't seem especially useful either.  Getting more people to read the school newsletter and notices about events and such seems great but abetting irrational parental panic over school shootings is pointless.

I find it hilarious that we are talking about being even more careful about locking the doors and refusing people entrance when the doors are all made of one giant sheet of glass.  We sure aren't going to stop anybody from getting in but by gosh we sure can scare the kids and inconvenience everyone.  This is particularly hilarious when you look outside at lunch or recess and see four hundred kids packed into a tiny playground that they can't escape from because all the doors surrounding it are locked.  This is all being encouraged by otherwise uninvolved parents who know nothing about actual dangers but need to know that something random and stupid is being attempted so we can all feel better that we 'did something'.

According to Canadian government stats our chance of being murdered by someone we don't know over our entire lives is about as high as our chance of dying in a normal year of commuting by car.  A year of a kid's life is about as likely to result in a stranger killing as a few hours in the car on a road trip.  We think nothing of packing the little ones into the car to drive up to the cottage and yet we panic that they will die at school from a random murderous nutjob even though the car trip is drastically more dangerous.

It is time for our government and our schools in particular to stop pandering to this reactionary foolishness and to say NO to meddling by politicians or random citizens in affairs they clearly do not understand.  You want to spend millions on child safety?  Great!  Go build something to provide clean drinking water in a third world nation; nobody needs that money spend on useless security theatre.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The scam design

I have been following links to obvious scams over the past few days in an effort to find out what all the best ones are.  Best, in this case, is defined by being the most audacious and obviously false.  The latest contributions are a perpetual motion machine that you can build yourself "even if you have never built anything in your life; a child could build it" that purports to make free electricity from the earth's magnetic field and a backyard aquaponics system that lets you grow tons of vegetables and fish with almost no investment of time, money, or expertise.

They have something in common with other scams in that they have a ridiculous lead in time where you are expected to read dozens of pages of text or watch a 25 minute video before you are given the opportunity to buy.  I wanted to buy the product right away but I couldn't... the video must be watched to the end first!  I assume the reason for this is that they need to build a fever pitch of excitement to get people to actually plunk down their money for a big fat lie and they need to build up their claims of legal persecution, made up history, and apocalypse scenarios before people will buy in.  Seriously, I get that people are worried about economic instability but I really didn't know how big a business cataclysm planning was.

I wonder though if it is even more sinister; perhaps there is a subset of people out there who happen to be particularly vulnerable to interminable pitches and who also happen to be the only ones who will fall for these scams.  It is possible that rather than just fishing for random people who make a mistake these scams are actually just getting the same people to buy into them, over and over, because they cannot resist this style of presentation.  If you knew that 1% of the population would be unable to resist a certain type of pitch for a bullshit product you could just keep on making up new products and taking their money.  It would be like the energy companies that sell fixed rate energy door to door; they target old people on fixed incomes who are vulnerable to scare tactics about wildly fluctuating prices.

The people that fall for these scams need a stint in retail or door to door sales where they have price control.  After making up prices themselves for a few years they should have a much improved ability to ignore 'Special Limited Time Offer' type scams and put these crooks out of business.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cars lead to crooks, it turns out

Crime and the attendant 'solutions' is such a mess.  Because people are so willing to sign up for any damn stupid thing to combat crime like paying for massive prison populations, distributing guns throughout the citizenry, or criminalizing harmless lifestyle choices it becomes a huge problem whenever you discover something real about crime.  The problem is that if you can actually prove that somebody's pet solution for crime doesn't actually work you cost them a lot of money and/or credibility.

Just recently I read a great article (followup article) talking about how a huge amount of the crime surge in the 60s, 70s, and 80s can be attributed to lead from gasoline.  Other sources matter, of course, but each other source is a minor factor in the big picture.  This information isn't brand spanking new; the research has been around for years and years now but it isn't yet well known either in public or political circles.  Despite it being true, you don't see it reflected in public anti-crime policy because it isn't sexy.

"I'm going to get tough on crime and slam more people behind bars!"

Now that has sex appeal; who doesn't want to see evil people get their righteously deserved punishment?  Instead of spending 70k a year to lock them up though we could instead spend that money getting the lead out of our environment so we don't create more criminals in the future.  One way ruins lives, the other heals them.  Seems like an easy choice to me but these days I seem to be lacking in that thirst for vengeance that is so popular on the right side of the political spectrum.  Not that I can be too smug since an awful lot of my policies were seriously right wing when I was younger.

Not every problem can be solved by a vigilante armed with a bad attitude, a need for revenge, and a cinematic invulnerability clause.  Most of the good that gets done in the world isn't with splashy revenge but with very unsexy but very effective tasks like cleaning things, building things, talking about things, and helping people even when their problems are largely their own fault.  Let's do some of that.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Damn Facebook, also, yay Facebook

So today Wendy decided to Like a company advertising on Facebook - Zipcar, to be precise.  Of course, she didn't actually do this, but Facebook just did it for her instead.  If you use Facebook you will probably notice that your friends do this all the time, and while occasionally it may be legitimate in the most part it is just Facebook or apps they have downloaded doing so without their consent.  Advertising is wonderful, especially the explicit endorsements that are made up!

You might want to consider what this means to you if your business is buying Facebook advertising based on Likes.  Just sayin'.

On the flip side, somebody linked me to this amazing site with many hilarious comics.  I recommend the exact comic I linked to, and also this and this.  That, to my mind, is the fantastic thing about Facebook - the ability to find hilarious and awesome things my friends sifted out of the random garbage the internet contains.

The other awesome thing about Facebook is reading terrible things you hate that people linked to and then getting into big online arguments about the articles in question.  You can't possibly offend anyone and also everybody learns to accept your point of view because you are obviously correct!  Also, there cannot possibly be anything more productive to do than argue on Facebook.  Right?

Note:  I argue on Facebook.  It is my version of eating donuts and watching reality TV.  Sue me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Teenagers these days....

Complaining about how bad kids are these days has been a popular pastime for as long as we have records. That said, sometimes there are real changes in the way newer generations behave, and today I read on the BBC about a substantial rise in both self confidence and narcissism among young adults.  The article blames this increase on the idea that teaching self confidence is critical and tells us that we should teach children to value what they work for rather than simply telling them they are special.  I agree to an extent because it is certainly true that praising innate ability "You are so smart!" is counterproductive while praising effort "You worked really hard!" is useful.  They missed something really key though:  Contraception.

Back before the contraception was widely available kids just showed up.  It takes a lot more to convince yourself that you are some big deal when everybody knows that you appeared randomly, and perhaps even were not wanted.  There is a real comfort and potential hubris in knowing that you were created for a reason rather than just being the product of a cosmic lottery; just ask a Creationist.  Today most children are the product of a desire for children and the inability to conceive is a common issue rather than excessive conception.  All this also leads to smaller family sizes and the investiture of all of a parent's desire for immortality and vicarious living into just one or two children.

Family planning leads to lots of other societal changes too.  Our current obsession with children's safety and the prevalence of helicopter parenting has got to be largely rooted in having so few children per family.  When you have four kids helicopter parenting just isn't possible; you have to let them loose.  Not only that but you can afford to lose some kids here and there without running out.  With one kid you can arrange your entire life around them and convince them that they are the absolute centre of the universe.  We should not consider it surprising when we treat children as if they were priceless porcelain that they come to think of themselves as more important than everybody else.

Contraception is necessary so if we are worried about young people being narcissists then we must address the intermediate steps.  We can't do much about people realizing they were deliberately created but we can try to avoid excessive safety regulation and over organization of children's lives.  A lot more free play and a lot less misplaced parental paranoia would go a long way to reducing narcissism in young adults, to say nothing of making them more self reliant and healthy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I control them with my MIND!

Scientists are closing in on cyberpunk.  That is, the meshing of meat and machine that will eventually allow us to control robots, computers, cars, guns, and anything else we can dream up at the speed of thought.  Check this out; among a bunch of interesting but to my mind nondescript scientific advances we have managed to allow a quadriplegic to control a robot with her brain and give sight to the blind by stuffing implants into their heads.

The singularity and the attendant mind uploading is a bit far off still because our minds really are part of our bodies; they aren't separate machines and mind/body duality is a myth.  That said, once we get better at stuffing our skulls full of tech and spend the requisite time training in its use we will be able to toss our keyboards away, stop using remote controls, and turn car dashboards into pure displays with nary a button to be found.  I very much look forward to logging into a car from a few meters away, popping the door open, sliding into the seat, and driving off all with my hands ensconced firmly in my pockets.

The trouble is that everybody else will be doing the same thing.  Think about it; if you were the only one who could control everyday objects with your brain you would be the coolest cat in town.  It would be like being a ninja, movie star, and wizard all at once.  Unfortunately all those other people will be doing the same thing and you will have to settle for a few months of 'isn't this awesome!' before it becomes an old hat.  The Hedonic Treadmill strikes again, this time with slicing open your head with a knife first.

One thing that really has me curious is how many people will resist mind/tech fusion when it comes.  Cyberpunk literature usually has a focus on the costs of stuffing yourself full of machines and there is inevitably conflict where people feel that it is against The Natural Order / God / Humanity.  Would a lot of people refuse the surgery required to tech themselves up, even if cost weren't a factor?  I can see a lot of the population being squicked out by brain surgery for convenience's sake but a whole lot of that is going to melt the first time they see somebody dim the lights and start the mood music just by tilting their head.

Pictures from: and