Feb 162018

A sci-fi ponderable.

Let’s say easy personal time travel exists. Let’s further say that you can go back in time and change history however you like, then come back to a changed present (but still be the original “you”). At what point do you, or the Time Cops, or whoever, decide that tinkering is not to be allowed?

As an example: let’s say you could go back in time a few days and stop the Parkland school shooting. Would you do it without ethical qualms? Pretty sure most people would say some form of “yes,” because from the point of view of *right* *now* as I type this, the only changes in the timeline would be positive ones. But let’s say you were given the option of going back in time and popping a cap in Hitler or Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Castro or Proxmire or LBJ before they rose to power and caused a ruckus. Would you do it, even if you could see the rough outline of the new timeline and everything was awesome? This seems like it would be trickier. Because if you did, you would be committing a kind of genocide on a scale never imagined in human history.

Let’s say you whack Hitler just as he’s taking over the Nazi party, say, 1925. Let’s further suggest that the whackage is of such entertainingness that the rest of the Nazis get whacked with him. Huzzah! No Nazis, no Holocaust, no WWII. Assume that, somehow, this leads to an era of peace and prosperity never before imagined; the Soviets give up that Socialism nonsense and become free market capitalists, the Japanese skip past the Rape of Nanking and go straight to tentacle porn; FDR not only never gets elected and thus doesn’t turn a depression into the decades-long Great Depression, but instead goes down in flames such that he drags the Democrat party down with him and from then on US politics is split between the Republicans and the Libertarians. Huzzah! Everything is awesome! Star Trek goes for eleven seasons, Reagan wins three terms, Orions to Pluto by 1990. Huzzah indeed!

But here’s the thing. Unless you buy into nonsense like fate, destiny, predestination, the universe having some sort of plan… virtually *nobody* who was born much after 1926 or so in the “prime” timeline is actually born. By changing politics in Weimar Germany, you’ve set in motion a cascade of changes that lead to a “prime” mother and father not meeting, or meeting but not doing the deed on the specified date, or doing it thirty seconds later, or sperm #1,452,355,343 rather than #1,452,355,342 being the one that succeeds at the egg. And when that kid isn’t born in 1927, that kid can’t have the Prime offspring in 1952, who can’t make a kid in 1983, who cant reproduce in 2018. You will have eliminated from the timeline something along the lines of ten billion people. Granted, you will have created ten billion *other* people, but for the most part judicial systems are underwhelmed with the argument, “yes, you honor, I murdered my infant…but hey, I got right on to making a replacement, so… we’re cool, right?”

So: how does whoever has the power over time travel decide what changes can be made? “No changes allowed” is the easy answer.

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Feb 132018

OK, yeah, they don’t actually do “food stamps” as such, but debit cards. The government gives recipients money (essentially) that the recipients are supposed to spend on food. And of course, not only are there all kinds of inefficiencies in the system, there are all kinds of opportunities for fraud. So, gotta say this sounds promising:

Trump wants to slash food stamps and replace them with a ‘Blue Apron-type program’

In short: rather than giving people debit cards to procure food with, the plan is to just… give people food.

Those foods would include shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned meat, fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA. The department estimates that it could supply these goods at about half the cost of retail, slashing the cost of SNAP while still feeding the hungry.

Since this is the sort of thing I have proposed here before, I gotta say this is a good idea. Make the staples free – free and nutritious and bland – and there will be little opportunity for a black market or fraud. Plus by going straight to making cheap food available directly, you can skip over whole reams of bureaucracy… and bureaucrats.

There are of course questions needing answering and problems needing resolving. Would food be delivered directly to recipients, or would they have to go pick them up? Would there be a single “box” of food for everyone from children to old folks? Would a box include food appropriate for a wide range of people leading to wastage, or different types?

Yes, yes, the ideologically pure libertarian/conservative standpoint would be to say that the only acceptable solution is to get rid of government food handouts entirely, since they are not constitutionally mandated. While that’s true, it’s not a pragmatic solution. Do that, and you will hand the proglodytes a permanent electoral majority.

 Posted by at 12:10 am
Feb 042018

All I know about the “Black Panther” Marvel property is… shrug. Dunno. Some guy in a magic black suit, leads a high tech nation somewhere in Africa that has somehow gone undetected due to… a cloaking device, or something? Whatever. I’ve seen lots of yapping about how great the movie will be and how evil white folks shouldn’t go on the opening day, rather leaving open all the seats for the masses of black comic book fans who will surely go in record numbers. Eh. Whatever.

But this guy makes the argument that the fundamental features and position of the “Black Panther” character fall directly in line with alt-right positions, such as migrant-free ethno-states, a determination to maintain cultures, borders and gender roles, and so on. Should be interesting to see if that holds in the movie, and, if so, how it gains traction in the current culture.

 Posted by at 7:09 pm
Jan 252018

If you want uncritical videos about goofy subjects like monsters and UFO’s, YouTube will hook you up. Look at all the “Flat Earth” videos. Look at them. But if you want skeptical takedowns, you might have to dig a little further, and if you want skeptical takedowns that are well researched and explained, you have to dig a little further still. But Trey The Explainer does the job nicely.

Many of his videos are about paleontological subjects, but many others are about various “cryptids” (i.e. mysterious animals that people “know” to exist but can never seem to prove… Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Honest Politician, that sort of thing). Some are better known than others, but two vids I found quite good are on the Black Knight Satellite and the Ropen. Both are relatively recent inventions; both are manifestly silly; both are easily and quite adequately explained away with clear video evidence showing them to have mundane explanations; and yet, both are readily believed by many.

 Posted by at 10:01 pm
Jan 132018

Everybody has a role to play. Mine, it seems, is “cautionary tale.” So when I say to learn from my mistake… well, I guess I need to be more specific. So, I’ll just stick to the one that wound up consuming my entire Friday and into Saturday.

After unfortunate experiences and scares years ago, I’ve long since separated my internet computer from my work computer. If something horrid and malicious comes through those series of tubes into my internet computer, it might make a mess of my ability to go online and whatnot, but hopefully it won’t hop  to computers with my drafting and CAD modeling and the like on them. So far that has worked.

A bit short of a year ago I found a “chromebook” in a pawn shop for all of fifty bucks. It was relatively new and had a bigger screen than the dinky little netbooks I’d used for internet work, so, after a factory reset (wiping out everything on the computer, including – presumably –  spy and malware), it became my internet computer. And it continues to work fine, with only one problem: the hard drive is pathetically small, only 25 gigabytes. With just the most basic set of programs loaded on, more than 20 gig is already consumed. It’s forever trying to update Windows, but it can’t… the update requires 8 gig free, and there simply isn’t that much space available on the drive. A poor design, IMO.

Due to the space limitations, one of the USB ports has a tiny little USB drive permanently installed. All downloads are directed there. This drive, smaller than my thumbnail, has 128 gigabytes of storage space, which makes me wonder why the built-in drive is so tiny.

Anyway, the USB drive is slowly filled with images, videos and PDF files. Every few months I go through what’s on it, clean out the junk and save the save-worthy to other drives for permanent storage. I was going to do that this weekend. Friday morning, one of the first things I did was to take a look at the “download” directory for a file I’d downloaded from a government report server a while back. I saw a few things that weren’t needed so I deleted them. And that’s where things went wrong.

After i hit “delete,” it should have been just a quick flash, then done. But it took long enough to attract my attention… and I saw “now deleting 18 gigabytes.” Somehow the system decided to delete all my downloaded files, not just the one. I killed the process as fast as I could, but the bulk of the directory was cleaned out.

With a regular hard drive, this would be a minor irritation… just go into the “recycle bin” and restore the files. But with a USB drive, there is no recycle bin; it simply wipes out the files.

There are programs such as “Recova” that should, in principle, allow for the recovery of deleted files. when a computer deletes a file, the file isn’t truly gone; it’s still there, but the space it occupies is opened up for other files to come in and over-write. So since I started the recovery process essentially immediately, those deleted files *should* have been recoverable. But… they weren’t. The files were found, and a handful were ok, but the great majority of them were *somehow* already over-written, by files downloaded days ago. I don’t get how that works, but there it is. Hundreds or thousands of files were wiped from existence.

The remaining option: Firefox keeps a record of all downloads. In this case, back to early November. So I compiled a list of all the PDFs I’ve downloaded and started downloading again. That took hours.


Then the fun part: I had to go through all the PDFs. Most of the ones I downloaded were of no value to me, so when I’d originally downloaded them I looked through them and wound up deleting them. The record of downloads didn’t make that distinction, so I had to scan them all again, and again toss most out. Again. And those I kept, I had to copy out into PNG format all the images (diagrams of aircraft and spacecraft, naturally) that I wanted. Again. It’s now well into Saturday and I’m *mostly* done re-doing this work. Gah. The directory with the reports and images is now at 14 gig, meaning 4 gig has vanished. This, I presume, is due to files I downloaded prior to early November that Firefox no longer remembers. Gone for good, I suppose.

So, there ya go. Learn from my mistake and don’t do what I did.

Hmm. WordPress says the preceding blather amounts to 770 words, or a bit over two novel-length pages.  One error caused by one erroneous keystroke consumed a day and resulted in two pages of probably unreadable text. I suppose if I find I can make a go out of my fiction writing (I’m still waiting to hear back about some editing for my first novel), I might take a stab at writing advice books. “Learn From My Mistakes, volume 1: Career” and “Learn From My Mistakes, volume 2: Romance.” Sure to be big sellers.

 Posted by at 2:16 am
Jan 112018

Here is a thought-provoking video that attempts to answer one of the disturbing questions of our current age: where are all the Commies coming from? Three decades ago we saw Communism collapse int a heap, surely headed for the septic tank of history, where it belongs with fascism, hereditary monarchy and theocracy. But here it is, seemingly more popular than ever with the young uns.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Dec 262017

There are a lot of “fail” videos on YouTube. A *lot.* Many clearly document failures, but some show what might look like a failure to a layman but isn’t to someone who understands what’s actually going on. Such as the video below. It shows a Russian 9K22 Tunguska mobile anti-aircraft gun firing on what I presume to be a testing ground. For most of the video the gun is shooting off towards a target off towards the horizon; the tracer rounds seem to have a lot of dispersion, and a lot of them bounce off the terrain or the target and fly off into the sky. Anyone who has seen enough firearms testing knows this is pretty normal, but it might look like a “fail” to a layman. So I was underwhelmed with the failtastic nature of the video. Until about the last ten seconds or so, when the pucker factor went up to 11 and then ripped the knob right off.


Continue reading »

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Nov 302017

Nobody, that’s who.

‘Pence rule’: How vice president steers clear of any sexual misconduct scandal

Oversimplified, Pence steers clear of all women he’s not married to. No lunch dates with colleagues, no closed-door meetings, no booze if his wife’s not about. I have no idea if Pence is incapable of not being handsy without strict rules… but it will certainly reduce if not quite eliminate the possibility of any sort of accusation. If Pence is known to never be alone with a woman, the chances of a woman claiming to have been harassed by him would see to be virtually nil.

 Posted by at 1:53 am
Nov 292017

The Case for Not Being Born

Where philosopher David Benatar attempts to make the case that  life is sufficiently horrible that it make sense to end it and prevent there from being more of it.

Basically, he’s H.P. Lovecrafts worldview come to life, minus the vast, malevolent cosmic intelligences that want to wipe out all life on Earth. But nowhere did HPL ever suggest that the best approach would be to give up; the struggle might be in the end futile, but it’s better than any alternative.

The guy has a bunch of arguments that are convincing to him, and have apparently convinced a bunch of others. And while on a certain level he’s right – the worst pain is far more painful and lasts vastly longer than the best pleasure is pleasurable, for instance – on any *real* level he seems to miss the point. If humans were simple difference engines… yeah, sure, turn off the lights, shut it down. But we’re *not.* What gives people a sense of worth/meaning/whatever is irrational and intangible, not the end result of running the numbers.

I’m an engineer. A whole lot of questions can be found to have very definite right (or at least wrong) answers, discoverable through objective means by running the numbers, doing the math. In those cases, it is irrational to try to find the answer *without* doing the math. But in other areas, the answer cannot be reliably found via doing the math. And consequently, declaring the answer based on doing the math is itself irrational. For instance, right now there is a painting hanging on my wall within my field of view (as it is most of the time). I would far rather have this painting there than something by a Recognized Famous Master, despite the fact that the painting in question would probably not be considered in the same league. Why? Because that painting was made for me by a person who was very important to me. Would I like to have a Rembrandt? Sure, what the hell. I can probably get a couple bucks for it at auction. But I’m keeping the one made by my friend. The math on that doesn’t make a lick of sense… but I suspect it’s a conclusion that *most* people would draw.

Basically, what we have here is someone who ran the numbers and came up with the wrong answer. There are lots like that. You can find encyclopedias worth of carefully considered, mathematically inarguable proofs that the world is flat or that “jet fuel can’t melt steel” = “inside job,” or that the Fermi Paradox leads inexorably to the Reptilians. You just need to shrug, look at the world around you with all its pain and decay and misery and socialists and sickness and despair, look at your life with its failed careers and unfulfilled potentials, look down the line towards inevitable death at the hands of post-apocalyptic Antifa cannibals and realize that even with all that, you’d rather have lived your life than not. That painting on the wall is a reminder of that. I guess our philosopher friend just doesn’t get that. Perhaps he saw the simple conclusion that for the vast majority of people it’s better to have been than not, and he decided that he needed to complexify it. Otherwise… what’s a philosopher *for?*

 Posted by at 1:26 am