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I think that, starting with my generation, and during the rise of personal computing in general, there has been a sharp uptick in the number of people who were "born" interactive users of technology. There seem to generally be two kinds of technology users: actives and passives. Actives are the tinkerers, the hackers, the engineers and the problem solvers - the people who actually remix and rehash technologies and create new ones; passives simply enjoy the fruits of technology without bothering to try and understand its underlying principles (or at least the implications of the technology). Tech is just a means to an end for passives, while actives pursue tech for the sake of tech itself or some other higher ideal or pursuit. It's the difference between a person who watches television and a person who solders together a TV-B-Gone!

I often wonder where cybernetic enhancement will take people, and now I'm thinking of it in terms of actives versus passives. Put simply, the passives are going to find themselves in a very bad place; if cybernetic extensions of the body are not "owned" by the person who uses them, how can a person have any kind of self-determination at all?

This is truly the most important revelation of the open source movement that one can imagine - what would it be like if your eyes were produced by Microsoft, and were subject to automated upgrades you couldn't prevent (nevermind the fact that you get Blue Eyes of Death periodically)? Or what if your ears had an automatic killswitch implanted by Apple that turned them off if you didn't make your payments on time; or better yet, what if Sony got to determine what conversations you could and couldn't hear around you based on copyright laws? Censorship, technological monopolies, and freedom take on a whole different meaning when you're literally talking about YOUR BODY and whether or not you own it.

On the other hand, people who can hack their own minds and bodies will be the ultimate expression of enhanced humanity; and the actives will very quickly outstrip the passives in terms of their abilities and grow the gap between the two groups. And of course this isn't even considering the people who will refuse to accept anything more than the most passive cybernetic enhancements for various moral or religious reasons - I can almost envision a kind of cyber-Rapture where the people who can't or won't be active get "left behind" by the active folks, who basically have either lost the ability to, or no longer want to, interact with the passives.
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I was listening to NPR yesterday, and was witness to yet another of the endless attempts by homophobic, power hungry, politicizing bigots to take civil rights away from people. This time it was a discussion of the upcoming political tempest in a teapot - since gay marriage worked so great for Republicans in 2004, they're going to take aim at gay adoption in 2006. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of children currently adopted by gay singles and couples, there are 16 or so states working towards legislation to ban gay adoption; legislation that will no doubt be ready to bring out the "religious whackjob" (as they are called by Tom DeLay's staff) voting contingent in November.

What I really hate most is that any time I hear one of these "debates" no one ever confronts the anti-gay/lesbian speaker for exercising a moral prejudice against people they've never met. They never start with questioning their base assumptions - why are you assuming a negative environment for children cared for by gay/lesbian parents? Why do you implicitly suggest that homosexual is equivalent to over-sexed? And I'm always pissed off when they discuss "gay lifestyle" and "sexual choice" as if sexual preference were something you could just suddenly decide on the spot and change.

How many gay/lesbian people do you actually know? If gays and lesbians aren't entitled to the same rights as everyone else, what is it about them that makes them so different? What's the difference between discriminating against someone based on skin color, religion, or sexual preference? At what point in your life did you "choose" to be straight? Can you choose not to be straight?

These are the questions that bigots need to be confronted with. I really don't think it's that hard to show someone they're being a bigot - it's just that people are rarely confronted with the truth of their bigotry, under the guise of "everyone's entitled to an opinion." I couldn't agree less! The long and short of it is: bigots aren't entitled to be bigots, and misinformed people are not entitled to being misinformed.
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Is the grass always greener?
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"I don't think the GPL v3 conversation is going to happen for the kernel, since I personally don't want to convert any of my code." - Linus Torvalds

Why does this mean open source can't work? Because ultimately, it's all about egos. Open source relies on force of will and influence to get things done. Essentially, if the project is "popular" or the person driving it is a "rock star" of programming, the project will thrive. If nobody (meaning programmers) gives a shit, the project fails (like, say, a particular driver that is highly demanded by the masses, but the programming community doesn't like the manufacturer).

This doesn't mean that open development of commercial software can't work - obviously it does, and it succeeds because there is a market force driving the development. But when the impetus is no better than rock star-itude, shit don't get done. When the rock star says "I dun wanna" it dies. Essentially what it comes down to is this: programmers are no better than anybody else at figuring out what is "good" for people. They are just as prone to following the herd and following trends as everybody else, and they are equally as short sighted. Without some outside force driving a project to an ultimate end (like a market gap) we have to rely on people making the "right" choices, and people just never seem to make those right choices.
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"But isn't there any hope?"

"For what? We hope or despair because of the way we've been programmed. Genes and randomness. That's all there is, and none of it matters."

"Does that mean you're not going to get married and have children?"

"I have no innate desire to get married or have kids. That's beyond my control. And really it makes no difference, since the planet's fast running out of natural resources and we won't survive to the next century."

"But what if you're wrong? What if there is a god?"

"If that makes you feel better."
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Big subject, but I'm feeling thoughtful this morning. I posted this comment in a ZDNet blog article about "Making Wikipedia Better":
a little longish )
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I recently purchased Animal Crossing for my Gamecube, and an e-Reader that came with a number of cards for my GBA. Animal Crossing is fun so far; the equivalent of virtual Sea Monkeys that you can write letters to. There are a lot of cute little activities you can perform as an avatar wandering around the world you create - digging up fossils, catching fish, performing deliveries for other avatars, and writing letters to them (of course). The game has a lot of depth - I'm hoping I can get one or two other folks to set up shop in my town who will play regularly, or to find another person or two who have towns I can visit.

You see, the coolest thing about this game is that it's extensible. With the e-Reader attached to my GBA, and my GBA attached to the Gamecube, I can actually add more data to the game. Additional characters, music, items, patterns for clothing... all you do is scan these cards that you purchase separately through the e-Reader and they get uploaded to your memory card. The cards have this micro-dot code written onto them that runs through the e-Reader and gets interpreted by the GBA for uploading into your world. Other towns that get created by other people sprout different kinds of characters, different kinds of fish and insects, and different fruit trees - and you can actually cross-pollinate all of these things between worlds. There's even another miniature tropical island world that resides on the GBA when it's hooked up to the game ("Animal Island").

I'm sure that we're only a decade or two away from incomprehensibly complex virtual worlds. How long before we attain such a level of complexity that sentience arises naturally in such evolutionary systems? Will my Gamecube rise up against me, a la the machines in the Matrix?
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I think that people just like making their lives more complex than they need to be. Maybe the drama is more exciting or something. I guess if you're bored with life, you need to invent stuff to make it more interesting.

I can't imagine myself growing bored with so many experiences to encounter. I find myself studying things, trying to absorb every miniscule detail of my life. I'll stare at a bug, or watch the sky, or listen to a song and just be and take it all in.

I have enough to deal with in my life with my relationships with other people and with whatever vagaries fortune hands me each day. Why would I ever want to complicate things more with afterlife concerns or with completely internal drama...?
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Why is it so hard for people to believe in nothing? I'm perfectly content with the idea that I'm just a piece of meat living on a thin skein of goo on a tiny rock in a sea of infinite nothingness...

Am I just more "secure" or something? Or do I just not care about having a "higher purpose"? All I really want to do is enjoy my life. Why can't people just be happy with that? Can't people just live life and enjoy it?

There's my religion - one commandment: enjoy thyself.

Who wants to join my cult?
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I spent the weekend visiting friends in another state. It was a long drive up and down the Eastern seaboard, and the caravan I was part of covered a lot of roads between here and there. When we got to Virginia, the surrounding town that our friends lived in was wholly unremarkable - and this was mainly because it looked like everywhere else I'd ever been in New England. The same chain restaurants, the same retail stores. To be sure, there were a couple of new names that you don't see often north of the Mason-Dixon: Shoney's, Waffle House, and the like...

For convenience's sake, we ended up eating at McDonald's and Pizza Hut. And I realized yet again why I don't eat at those "restaurants". I cooked breakfast on Sunday, and made two pounds of bacon, a pound of maple sausages, eggs and toast... and it was all orders of magnitude better than the meals we had the rest of the trip.

It really, truly upsets me that we as a people are surrendering the joy of food to the forces of mass produced darkness. McDonald's burgers are flavorless wads of chewy gristle, and pizza from Pizza Hut is just a salty slice of bread with specks of generic salty meats. And the supermarkets are full of convenience meals that move from your freezer to your oven or microwave... only a few minutes to gratification! It disgusts me.

I refuse to accept "I have no time to cook" or "I don't know how to cook" as excuses. Cooking is not some arcane ritual - it just takes a small amount of patience and a little know-how that you can get from this book. What cooking is is one of the few great pleasures that life affords us. It's cheaper to cook your own food. It's healthier to cook your own food. Food that you cook yourself tastes better because your ingredients are fresh and are not the lowest possible quality that a business can serve you for their maximum profit. And you can make food that you can't get anywhere else - no restaurant serves foccacia toast with a slice of horseradish cheddar the way I like to make it. You can't walk into a restaurant and ask for something that's not on the menu and expect them to just make it; try that next time you walk into a lousy Outback.

And I'm not knocking all restaurants either. There are many examples of fine cuisine out there, and there are even one or two fast food places that are worthy to consume from. But I will still prefer the hearty and infinitely tastier sandwich I can make from Widoff's italian bread and delectable meats and cheeses from my favorite deli to anything I can get at Subway.

The sad truth is that it comes down to this - people just don't want to cook. And that is the most sorrowful part of the tale, because it means that the people that feel that way have never actually experienced the satisfaction and wholehearted joy of preparing a meal. Every time I make a meal, I treat it as others would a religious experience. I know that runs counter to what I said earlier about food preparation not being an arcane ritual - it truly isn't. But I like to imagine myself in that role, totally putting myself into a meal that I prepare for the people I care most about. You can't get that kind of love from a restaurant chef, and you certainly won't ever get it from a minimum wage fast food worker...
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I've been losing weight since June, and I've been doing it by eating less. I exercise on and off, but primarily the weight loss is just from fewer calories.

So, I want to start a campaign, make stickers and stuff; white text on black background: EAT HALF.

That's the meme. Just eat half. Save the other half for another meal. Don't clean your plate, forget the starving children in China... eat half and leave the rest.

If a person can do this - if he or she can just eat half of what he or she normally heaps onto a plate - he or she will consume half the calories they normally would. That is a significant way to lose weight, and it will help people get their caloric needs back into focus.

I think a lot of people just don't realize how many calories they're putting into their bodies these days. Serving sizes at convenience stores, movie theatres, and fast food chains are getting totally ridiculous. "Eat half" could be a simple way to inject a little thought into people's eating habits...
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A friend of mine asked me a question recently; she mentioned it was for some assignment, but wasn't specific about it exactly. The multi-part question was: if you were going to be a superhero for a day, which one would you choose to be, why that superhero, and what would you do for the day?

As it turns out, I have spent many of my waking hours since childhood considering this question. When I was very young, I always loved The Hulk. I think my first exposure to him was the Bill Bixby TV show - I know I had some Hulk toys and clothing as a child, and I did have a few issues of the comic before I really got serious about collecting later on. It just seemed cool that The Hulk was so incredibly strong, and could just keep on getting stronger and stronger whenever he got angry; yet he also had this very smart side to him that tried to keep his monstrous nature in check.

In my early teen years I turned to Batman. And really, how can you not? Batman is the man. He's a genius inventor, a billionaire, a scholar, a martial arts and combat expert, and a master detective. He doesn't need super powers. He outwits and outmanuevers his opponents. And that's why I'd want to be him.

And if I were to be a superhero, I would do what superheroes do - fight for justice. Justice is very important to me, because I really want a fair and equitable world. The strong should defend the weak and defenseless. People should get what they deserve.

On a related note, Green Arrow has been appealing a lot to me in recent days. I just got the latest issue, and it's a doozy. GA kicks Solomon Grundy's ass (Grundy is DC's answer to The Hulk). And all Green Arrow has is a few arrows, and not even the boxing glove arrow. And he totally wipes the floor with Grundy. What a great issue...
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One of my more ridiculous contradictions is my belief in karmic balance. I am solidly atheist, and am a very skeptical person when it comes to things beyond human understanding. And though I can't say that I believe in any kind of supernatural force per se, I find myself always thinking "what goes around comes around". And in the course of my life I've witnessed many ironies that have proven this out. I've often considered irony to be one of the most powerful forces of nature... and that too is a strange thing to think, because irony is surely just a completely feeble and egocentric human invention. Who can believe that the universe tends towards maximum irony, when the place of human existence in it seems so superfluous?

And yet, this is what I think, and I try to live my life in such a way as to better my karma. I do good things for people with the hope that good things will be carried forward to others, and perhaps, one day, back to me. Not too long ago, I helped a man I met at a networking event get in touch with another man - the first man got a job out of it. He wrote me a letter thanking me, and included a $50 AmEx gift certificate as a token of thanks... totally out of the blue. "No good deed goes unpunished," he wrote. I'd like to think that's the truth.

Tonight's incident was helping a pair of teenagers get lug nuts off a tire that had been tightened on by a pneumatic gun. All it took was a little bit of Mikey power to crack those bad boys. Later I made a joke to Tom describing the path of the good karma: "See, that guy is going to take that girl someplace tonight and get her knocked up, and then their kid is going to grow up and cure cancer. That would never happen if it weren't for me getting those lug nuts off; he would have had to take her home with the tow truck or call her parents or something."

Heh.

Is it silly and childish to want to be a superhero? I think I'd be well suited for the job. I really want to help people. I believe in always trying to do the right thing. I have a highly developed sense of justice.

Coupled with this exultant feeling of heroism tonight is a strong sense of melancholy. Things keep changing... sometimes better, sometimes worse. It didn't seem like things changed so much and so fast ten years ago; or maybe I just didn't notice it as much as I do now. It's depressing to think that I might be getting more stodgy, more resistant to change. And along with this is the usual "don't want to be alone" feeling. Many of my friends are in some kind of significant relationship now. There are simply no prospects for me on the horizon.

I don't think I'm going to die alone. It's very unlikely that I'll snuff it before falling in love and maybe starting a family at some point later in my life. But it truly bothers me to think that I could go at any time and I wouldn't be able to think of someone special in my last moments. That's got to be the absolute worst thing I can think of. I know I still have friends and family and I'm surrounded by people who care about me almost all the time... but it's not the same thing. A lover's heart beats differently.

Is it such a selfish thing to want this? Have I just been unlucky, been under the wrong stars, been saddled with the wrong circumstances and conditions to produce love?

Can I balance my karma enough to win this kind of love...?

Moments

Aug. 28th, 2002 09:08 am
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Last night, I left work in Billerica at about 7:30 or so, and I walked into a majestic sunset. There were pink and purple clouds stretched thin across the top of the sky, and they were scalloped and ragged in parts - like a knitted blanket, with a pattern of rhomboid holes woven into the air. And the holes where the sky came through were a deep, rich cyan as clear and perfect as anything.

Near the horizon, where the colors approached a darker maroon, another stretch of clouds were strewn with bright orange filaments... thin wires of a deep amber bunched together, as if they were burning embers stacked on top of the world.

I couldn't help watching it. I stood there, leaning on my car, for a good five minutes while the scene grew darker and darker. I felt an impulse to chase the sunset, but I knew there was no way I could catch up to it - I had to enjoy it now, had to watch it from the parking lot... because it would soon be gone. And I thought to myself: now is the perfect moment. And every moment is also the perfect moment, and all I have to do is be there and take it all in. Every single moment of life is an event, an instantaneous epiphany that should be savored to the fullest.

Right now, as I'm typing this, I'm watching a fly trapped in the window in front of me. He's half an inch long, an enormous bug. He keeps rubbing his legs together in an almost obsessive compulsive way. And he's got these bulgy red eyes... I think he's watching me. Maybe he has the same awe of life that I do...
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So, here I am again at the end of an amazing dinner courtesy of the 111 Chop House. Portabello fritters, veal scallopine with mushroom crepes (to die for), and profiteroles for dessert. All accompanied by an exquisite Mondavi Pinot Grigio 1999 and a glass of lovely sambuca.

I have to start that food centric religion. I am so euphoric right now, filled to the gills with fine food and drink... it's exactly the kind of experience that should be religious and holy. Every meal should be a prayer, every dessert a homily. Few things make me feel as alive as a meal of this caliber.

Aahhhh...

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