Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bleeding Heart Flower Photo

Bleeding Heart Flower

Here's a photo of a flower that's growing on our lawn. I've been mowing around it instead of chopping it down. It stands alone. When I first saw it, I assumed it was some sort of orchid. It seems I must have been wrong about that. It's apparently something called a bleeding heart, for obvious reasons, I think. Beautiful, no?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On Time...Awfully Late...and Not There Yet

Well, of course it's been a lot longer since my last post than I ever intended. In case you were on the edge of your seat, you have my apologies. I think what I need to do is to start actually making time to blog instead of what I've been doing: merely hoping to find time to blog. If I wait for the time to arrive, it slips by, as there's always something that seems more pressing (even if that "something" amounts to nothing more than trying to reduce my sleep debt).

The day after my last post, the new issue of Make magazine arrived in my mailbox. This, of course, thwarted my efforts to quickly get through that Scientific American special issue that I mentioned in my last post. I highly recommend picking up the Scientific American issue, as it's fascinating. But I recommend taking a look at Make, even more strongly. When the fourth issue came out, I didn't think it was possible to produce a better issue of a magazine. Since then, I've been astonished to find that the fifth and sixth issues have been just as good, if not better.

I have finally gotten through the Scientific American issue. I haven't fully read all of the articles, but at least I've read all of the ones that are most important to me and parts of all of the others.

This got me interested in picking up a book that I had long ago started reading and never got around to finishing. So this morning, as we were headed out Essex, MA to take care of some preparatory stuff for this year's Minis On Top, I grabbed the book from the shelf. The book in question is Stewart Brand's The Clock Of The Long Now. It's terrific stuff, very much worth a read, particularly if you're interested in what the future holds or in making a positive contribution to the future or just interested in knowing why you should start to take a longer view than what you're used to.

I finished the book in the car today, and I'd like to share an excerpt here because I think this is one of the loveliest stories I've come across in a very long time:
[The] island, Visingsö, in the Swedish lake Vättern, has a gorgeous mature oak forest whose origin came to light in 01980 when the Swedish Navy received a letter from the Forestry Department reporting that the requested ship lumber was now ready. It turned out that in 01829 the Swedish Parliament, recognizing that it takes one hundred fifty years for oaks to mature and anticipating that there would be a shortage of timbers for its navy in the 01990s, ordered twenty thousand trees to be planted and protected for the navy.

Note: The five-digit year format is a consequence of the long-view thought process that informs the book and inspires the Long Now Foundation. Reading what I read this morning has inspired me to put out a feeler to see whether there's a way for me to change the date format on my blog to conform to this format. If I get a satisfactory answer, you'll see it reflected in my blog entries in the future. (Actually, it will probably propagate throughout my blog.) If not, perhaps it's enough to simply go on record now as saying: I think this is a good idea, worthy of consideration.

Having finished reading the book this morning, I was reminded of something that I had read in it a few years ago on a much earlier page. It's something that I think is worthy of commentary, and so I'm going to comment on it:
When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by the year 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.

Frankly, I think this quotation, particularly the last sentence, may be among the most profound statements ever uttered. It's attributed to Daniel Hillis, 01993. Hillis now apparently goes by "Danny" instead of "Daniel" and he's one of the founding members of the Long Now Foundation. That quotation, along with the few sentences that follow, is credited with being the inspiration for the Foundation and its grand project: The Clock/Library of the Long Now.

Sadly, I think the quotation will largely be lost to time, as a great portion of its profundity was stripped from it as the calendar rolled over on 1/1/02000. Now, the future is perhaps more nebulous than ever before. Advances are happening at such a breakneck speed that it's almost impossible to make meaningful predictions beyond just a few years. Frankly, I think it's not only difficult to make meaningful predictions, but it's very nearly equally difficult to make hopeful predictions.

"The future" is ever closer (as it hurtles towards us faster than we can keep up), even while it is ever more distant (as it's so far beyond our grasp). To make long term predictions, it's helpful to have a sense of continuity. It's helpful to have confidence in the fairly reliable accuracy of near-term predictions. That is, it's easier to predict what will be there ten years down the road if we have a pretty good sense of what will be there two or five years down the road. Think back five years. Did you have any idea at all about what your assumptions about the state of your world would be today?

If we forget the larger geopolitical issues, and focus on just small-scale stuff, I'm still astonished at what the last few years has wrought.

As an example, I told Beth just a couple of years ago (three years at most) that if I ever become one of those guys who has meaningful conversations about the features of his cell phone, she should shoot me. I guess it was about a year ago that I noticed there was actually a magazine on the rack at the book store about cell phones.

I'm not in a position to look at job applications, but my suspicion is that if it hasn't happened yet, the following scenario will start to happen soon. I have a notion that someone will list "cell phones" as a hobby, to show that he/she has interests outside of work and that he/she is a well-rounded person. And I further have a notion that the hiring manager will know what "cell phones", listed as a hobby, actually means.

To me, these notions are deeply disturbing.

I still hold firm to my assertion that Beth should shoot me if I ever get there. But I suspect that my resistance of that societal trend will very soon make me seem very much like a premature dinosaur.

I still haven't gotten to where I wanted to get in this blog. But that's enough for tonight. See you soon, I hope.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

The Time is Coming. . . .

While I was on my lunch break from the book store today, I wandered over to the Periodicals section, thinking that I would track down one of those magazines about living off-the-grid (power-wise, not technology-wise) and browse through it. [I'm terribly interested in the possibility of setting up a windmill for home electricity use, or possibly putting up a solar panel on the long south-facing side of our roof.] I got sidetracked, however, as my eye was caught by a special edition of Scientific American, devoted to the topic of time. I flipped through it a bit and I bought it. It seems like a very interesting read from what I've seen so far.

I'm going into it with my own preconceived notions. Chief among them, time always moves forwards, never backwards. What happened already has happened and will forever be in the past. It is not possible to go back to before a previous occurrence.

Reading this magazine may turn out to dispel these notions. I doubt it, but I'm keeping an open mind. I'll let you know if it succeeds in this regard.

This whole notion of time is something that I find fairly fascinating. I have been thinking about it for quite some time. It seems to provide a fairly inexhaustible opportunity for mental exercise for those who choose to ponder it. I find it's a sort of "thought toy".

I'm going in believing that time may be relative. Time may pass more quickly or slowly depending on perspective. It's an interesting concept and I don't doubt that Einstein was right on that count. What I haven't seen yet is any convincing argument that the jump from "slowing down and speeding up of time" to "the reversal of time" is a reasonable jump. Surely it's conceivable and it makes for interesting science fiction (at least sometimes). But I don't yet believe it's plausible.

In the meantime, I've been slowly working on an animated demonstration of what I believe to be the main point of impossibility (or EXTREME unlikelihood, anyway--shall we say "stumbling block"?) which would preclude the possibility of human time travel into the past--and no, it doesn't have anything at all to do with the usual "paradox" that's been discussed a million times before.

I don't find myself with much time available for this pursuit. That lack of available time, combined with my not necessarily being a master of the tools at my disposal, means that the illustration/animation and accompanying explanation will take me some time to post. If I've tantalized you with this come-on, you'll just have to bear with me. I hope it'll be worth the wait. (Sure, I could simplify my illustration and crank something out in Illustrator or Photoshop, but it's been a while since I've really tinkered in my 3-D software, and this seems like a perfectly good excuse.)

I also mentioned in my second blog entry that I intend to post something about "Designing and implementing the first ever meaningful time-travel experiment." Of course, it's been fully designed in my mind. I haven't yet implemented it, but when I do, this blog will be the place to find out about it. You'll probably be astonished at how simple an idea it is and how easy it will be to set in motion. It's just a matter of choosing the appropriate moment. (Of course, you might be terribly disappointed at just what the experiment is set up to do, but I have confidence that it's a good methodology for what it's meant to test.)

Monday, May 1, 2006

What of this Immigration Reform Brouhaha?

Well, I figure it's about time that I get around to saying something about this. My delay is certainly not from a lack of things to say. If anything, it's from an overabundance of things to say. This has led to a bit of paralysis, as it's been difficult to try to distill my thoughts down to a blog-entry-sized object. (I think most of my entries are probably too long anyway, and this one has the potential to be a monster.) As today's the day of the "Great American Boycott" and protests in the streets, I might as well take this opportunity to yammer along with everyone else. Here goes:

On the maternal side of my family, my mother is a first-generation native-born American. On the paternal side, my father is either first- or second-generation (depending on which of his parents is counted as the precedent setter in such matters). So what that means is that I come from immigrants, and not from all that long ago. Three of my four grandparents were born in foreign lands. It is of absolutely no consequence to me whether they all came here legally or not. The truth of the matter is that I have no idea whether any of them were illegals or not. I'm sure it would be a simple matter of making a quick phone call to my parents to find out. But I think it's important to go on record as saying that what follows are my opinions on the debate, untainted by that knowledge. . . . And to furthermore go on record as promising you, gentle reader, that if/when I find the answer to that question, it stands no chance of influencing how much I appreciate their sacrifices or how glad I am that they made their journeys. Nor does the answer hold any transformative power over any opinions I am about to express in the following paragraphs.

These people who are saying "a person can't be illegal" are making an absurd point. Likewise, the senators (McCain, Kennedy, etc., . . .) who keep saying "I wouldn't call it amnesty". Blah, blah, blah.

If they want to argue semantics, they make no headway.

Don't want me to say "illegal alien"? How about "criminal trespasser?" Does that have a nicer ring to it? I don't think so. Frankly, I think "illegal alien" has a much softer tone to it. It's nice and gentle. Not quite so hostile. And so I find it to be a preferable term. That doesn't make it any more accurate in its description. Either way, coming here illegally is a crime.

Don't want me to say "amnesty"? Try coming up with a bill that says something other than [paraphrasing here:] consequence-free environment. If a person's first act on American soil is to commit a crime by stepping onto American soil, then that person is a criminal. Period. Just like I'm a criminal because sometimes I speed. Now, that's an entirely separate issue from whether it's a felony or a misdemeanor that I'm committing. The point is that when I break the law, I accept that there are potential consequences. I live in a society that says, "If you speed, you might get fined. You might get points added to your record, the cumulative value of which might eventually make it illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle at all." I accept that. And I weigh the value of that risk against the value of committing the crime. I expect that when I get caught, there will be consequences (and I do make a conscious effort to keep within the posted speed limit). I don't expect a cop to let me off with a warning, and I have enough of a conscience that I will refuse (on principle) to contest any speeding ticket if I was, in fact, speeding.

This is the dance of the criminal, no? Weighing the risk against the reward and deciding whether it's worth it? This is anarchy. It's how the world works. And it keeps most of the people within generally accepted societal norms most of the time. That's the best we can hope to do.

Depending on the severity of the punishment (which is largely dictated by how much the society abhors the act (or at least that's how it should be)), fewer people step outside of the major boundaries than step outside of the minor ones. If we, as a society, say "if you've broken this law, then we won't make any effort at all to take you to task for it"--which is exactly what the McCain/Kennedy bill proposes to say--then we, as a society, are offering amnesty to criminals. It really is that simple. Exactly that simple. No more, no less. Period.

It doesn't depend on "what the definition of is is". (And while I'm here, I might as well go back an administration to say this: If she came into contact with your naughty bits or if you came into contact with her naughty bits, and if that contact was for the purpose of either procreation (which it apparently wasn't) or to provide at least one of you with physical pleasure (which it apparently was), then YES, OF COURSE it was sex!!!! That there has ever been anyone who stood on the other side of the fence on that issue is an astonishing bit of evidence that our society is way on the wrong side of the mountain, and not on its way up.)

Looking back on my life, many of the longest-lasting relationships I have had (not counting family) have largely been with people who were born outside of this country. And it's probably fair to say that I consider several of them to be among my best friends--the people who, in large part, have meant the most to me over the years.

There are a few points that should be noted here:

1) I didn't travel abroad to meet them. They came here (from Nicaragua, from Vietnam, from Korea, from Canada, etc., . . .).

2) I never asked any of them whether they came here legally. That's not my business. I wasn't employing them. Instead, I was sharing my path in life, to one degree or another, with them. I got to know them as people. And that's what enriched me along the way.

3) My assumption upon meeting people is to trust that they are not up to no good. My assumption as regards foreigners: If you've come here, you've come here legally.

I like to believe the best in people unless/until given reason to believe otherwise. Maybe that's just my nature or maybe it's something in the American mindset. (Note: I really hope it's the latter. I like to think this trust and appreciation for what others can bring to the table is a shared American experience. I like to think it's among the best qualities that we, as a people, can aspire to exhibit.)

4) If I were hiring these people, you bet I would consider it my responsibility to get the appropriate documentation as evidence that it's legal for me to hire them (and legal for them to be hired). That's among the responsibilities of a business owner. Follow the laws of the land.

I'm a white guy. (My wife told me a few weeks ago that I'm the whitest guy she knows, which frankly disturbed me a bit.) I don't have a foreign accent. I speak like someone who has spent his entire life here. I walk the streets as if I am entitled by birthright to walk the streets (as opposed to acting like I'm afraid I will be exposed as an interloper). I mention these last few points to demonstrate one thing: If you were to meet me in person, you would have absolutely no reason to believe anything other than that I am a citizen. And yet, I have never received a "pass" on the citizenship paperwork issue when getting hired for a job. My expectation is that if I had been unable to provide that documentation, I would have been turned away. That's how this system is supposed to work.

Illegal immigrants are criminals, by definition. The question for employers then becomes: Will you choose to join them in that classification or will you do what the law says you are supposed to do? And the question for our society becomes: Will you condone these crimes or not?

And that's really where this current debate stands.

It's sort of like an inverted ex post facto, no? For me, there's where the real fascinating point of the whole brouhaha lies.

Fourth: (And this is where I am most passionate about this issue. . .) I can't for the life of me figure out why we haven't established an official national language!* I believe we should. (Actually, I believe previous generations should have done so long ago, but given that it hasn't happened yet, isn't it about time?)

We've come a long way in fighting discrimination. An employer can't legally discriminate on the basis of skin color or religion or sex (or, I'm happy to be able to report, here in New Hampshire (although this state is sadly in the small minority) on the basis of sexual orientation). I think we're a stronger and better country because we've outlawed these kinds of institutional discrimination. There is absolutely no reason why any of these forms of discrimination would benefit us.

But there is one area where I can unhappily forsee our trajectory going. If we reach it, we've gone too far: I don't ever want to wake up knowing that employers in this country are required to hire people who can't communicate in English because it violates some wrong-minded anti-discrimination law. I firmly believe that we need a common tongue for our nation to continue to thrive. We need to be able to communicate with each other. Where that ability breaks down, so does our nation.

I guess I've gone on long enough for tonight. And I haven't even touched on the notion of what we symbolize to the rest of the world:
[Are we widely considered to be the land of opportunity or is that phrase meaningful only to our own national self-identity? How and why has (or hasn't) this meme spread throughout the globe? Shouldn't we be combatting it, not by restricting the opportunity here, but by promoting opportunity elsewhere? Couldn't making the rest of the world feel less downtrodden help to decrease anti-American sentiment? Wouldn't that help our national security more in the long term than would building a wall?]

Oh well, maybe another day. For now, I'm hungry. It's time to fix myself a meal.

* To be more accurate, I would have us establish two official languages: English and American Sign Language.