Worldview: The Rambling Road: Time calculus

There was a time when I was that person who claimed I didn’t have time to exercise. To me then, exercise was a waste because the other things I was doing with my life seemed far more important. In fact, I was that person not all that long ago. But today, as I was walking, I came to a sudden epiphany that my view was myopic in a specific sort of way.

The fact is, for the year and a half before I ended up in the hospital, my health was deteriorating whether I was willing to admit it or not. I lost some or all of many days to illness and fatigue to the point I was no longer able to do the things I needed and wanted to be doing.

If we imagine that state resulting in a loss of four hours of productivity a day as an average, I lost something along the lines of 2,190 hours of useful time due to bad health. And that was before I ended up in the hospital.

In that hospital, I lost six full days, an additional 144 hours, and since I have been home, my productivity has been minimal to the tune of a couple of hours a day, meaning for the last 30, I’ve easily lost 240 more hours beyond that.

In total, since the true beginnings of this current episode, I’ve easily lost as many as 2,574 hours of productive time, and that’s probably a conservative estimate.

In contrast, since I have returned to walking again, I’ve spent about an hour each day. If I were to simply stick to that amount of time, it would take me more than seven years to “waste” the time I’ve already wasted walking.

And, as anyone exercising knows, fitness is not a waste. Rather, since I have returned to walking, I am getting stronger, my head is clearer, I am less fatigued, and I am more certain of my recovery than I have yet been.

So, even when I reach my eventual goal of two hours of exercise a day, I will really be gaining hours more of productive time rescued from what once had been the time waste of my poor health.

I get the logical explanation isn’t for everyone, but the nature of this realization makes me even more eager to continue. I will improve because of what I am doing, and that can never be a waste.

DLH

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Worldview: Education: Perhaps the answer is to rethink what we mean by education

Recent events have spawned what has been for me some vitriolic but otherwise meaningless debates about education in the United States. The debates have been vitriolic because the sides involved have dug into positions that are primarily rhetorical in nature and have been meaningless because most of the rhetoric has little to do with how education in the US in 2017 actually works. It is easy to fall into such a trap when passions are so high, and I understand why people did. Nevertheless, I do not see how the nature of that debate helps solve any of the problems people perceive about modern public education.

Beneath the rather nonsensical nature of the debate lies what appears to be a more fundamental realization that education, especially its public variety, is less up to the fundamental task of educating than anyone would like it to be. The various sides in the debate nibble around the edges of this notion, thinking that minor tweaks like who runs the system or who pays for it and how will answer this fundamental deficiency. Perhaps, however, what all of us should be considering is transforming education into something sufficient for the world we live in now.

I am not just talking about transforming how or what we educate. Instead, I am suggesting we need to revisit the fundamental question of what we even mean when we talk about educating someone. Our world has changed dramatically from what it was a twenty years ago, let alone a hundred and more when the heart of the system we use to educate now was first conceived. Are the notions that drove the system that long ago even appropriate now? Do they adequately educate now? What do we even mean when we talk about educated and education?

I am not questioning that everyone needs access to knowledge and skills in order to be a productive member of society. Rather, I am asking if being a productive member of society is the actual objective of the current system. The reasons we educate have evolved over time–the first argument for public education was to create informed citizens, then later, capable workers, the still later students suited to go on to college. Are any of those reasons still valid now? Are all of them? And is the system we are using to educate fulfilling any of them?

To me, given my view of the 21st century, it seems that the purpose of education is to equip individuals to navigate an ever more connected, sophisticated, and automated world in whatever ways suit an individual’s talents and skills best. The unimaginative view used in the current education system that equipping every individual with the same basic, unfocused set of tools then requiring them to some how figure out how to use them in a world of near infinite possibility seems only capable of producing the result it is: unprecedented un-, under-, and mis-employment among some of the most educated people the US has ever produced by measure of time, money, and effort spent educating.

Granted, there are certain minimum educational standards most individuals need to achieve in order to navigate modern life, but I believe we have to ask whether indoctrinating those standards requires 12 or more years while we meanwhile fail to equip those same individuals with practical, meaningful skills in order to support themselves. In specific, does the old saw of making sure an individual can read, write, do math, have a basic view of history and government, and so on trump teaching them how to grow their own food, fix a car, program a computer, install an electrical outlet, or the thousands of other practical skills an individual could also learn and put to good use?

None of this is to say that the entirety of the system we have now should be abandoned, but we need to ask ourselves the fundamental question whether the system we have, unchanged at any fundamental level, is accomplishing the task we want it to accomplish, and we cannot answer that question until we understand what exactly it is we want that system to accomplish in the first place.

I understand there are no easy answers here, but no one said this was supposed to be easy, and we are never going to have answers if we do not start asking the hard questions. Now seems as good a time as any to start.

DLH

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Worldview: The Rambling Road: So, what’s this all about?

It’s sometimes hard to know where to begin an explanation of something that has been coming my whole adult life, so I will start with the event that triggered the birth of this blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I ended up in the hospital for almost a week as the result of acute pancreatitis brought on by a dangerous elevation of my blood-borne triglycerides. The condition was serious enough the doctors opted to reduce my triglyceride levels by removing them using a process called plasmapheresis. The whole experience was the most intense and painful thing I have ever experienced in my entire life, and I realized that I am willing to do extreme things to never have to experience it again.

That brings me to the reality of how I ended up in that state. The circumstances that lead to my hospitalization were not just the result of some unexplained biological malfunction, although there is also that element to the story. Instead, a large part of how I ended up in that state began decades ago when I, for a variety of reasons I suppose I may get into over the life of this blog, chose to stop taking care of my body.

In fact, over the past decade, I had pretty much given up on taking care of myself at all, most often with the excuse I had more important things to do. I didn’t. Instead, that excuse was worse than an excuse: it was a lie.

This blog will be my documentation of the refutation of that lie. Over the course of the next weeks and months and, perhaps, even years, I plan to document my journey away from the lie of not taking care of myself toward the truth of taking care of myself so I can do all the things I do better. I want to share this journey with anyone who cares to follow along for the accountability of it, for mutual encouragement, and to provide a place to document the things I discover along the way.

As to the name of the blog, once upon a time, I considered myself to be a rambler, or as the Irish call it, a rover. I tend to wander without being lost, and have long believed that the journey is more important than the destination. I suspect my journey back to health will follow the same meandering but purposeful path so many other parts of my life have.

So, this is all about finding my way back to a place I should have never left: healthy and productive. I invite you to join me on that road.

DLH

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Writing: Dear scientists: please stop ruining science fiction

There is an aspect to science fiction some members of the scientific world seem to have forgotten about: most often, science fiction is speculative fiction. That is, it is not always a story about what is, or even what we imagine could be, but rather a story about what might happen if something was.

I know that last idea is hard for some because science fiction, unfortunately, came to have science in the name. Depending on who you ask, that name came about because its writers wanted to define their fiction as describing a universe bounded by physical laws and to differentiate it from fantasy. Certainly all along, the lines between sci-fi and fantasy have blurred, but I’m not even really talking about those works. Yes, there is even hard science fiction wherein authors chose to constrain themselves within the boundaries of what we believe to be true, and that’s fine.

However, the fact remains that the great body of what comes to be called science fiction isn’t really about science at all. Instead, it’s about imagining a world similar to our own where different rules now apply because we’ve discovered new ones. It’s possible that those rules may be implausible based on our current understanding of science, but that fact does not represent a detraction from the ideas being explored in the work.

Moreover, the demand that science fiction adhere to our current understanding of science undermines one of science fiction’s most powerful benefits: its ability to fire the imagination to see beyond the constraints of what be believe to be the rules to discover rules we did not understand existed before that moment.

To me, the benefit of science fiction’s ability to speculate isn’t to engender a, “That’s not possible,” response so much as it is to bring out, “But what if it is?”

I understand, for scientists who trade in the currency of what we believe to be true now, that kind of speculation can seem counter productive. But for society as a whole, it’s part of the fuel that drives the engine of imagination, innovation, and advancement. Let’s stop putting a limit on what might be possible in works of fiction so that we can find out if those ideas might be possible in fact.

DLH

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Worldview: On derivative creativity

Good ideas have the habit of spawning other good ideas. In fact, modern society owes most of its existence to the process of one person improving on or creating from something someone else has done.

Yet, there is a trend in modern society to try to counteract that process for the sake of protecting “rights,” which itself is a thinly guised attempt to protect profit. We could have a long, and likely fruitless, debate about profit, but I’d rather talk about a different idea: encouraging derivative creativity as a way of keeping ideas fresh.

Why is the modern, often corporate, instinct to crush rather than absorb? In all sorts of endeavors, people who are not part of the original creative process create things that make the original creation better. Yet, far too often, cease and desist letters and lawsuits follow.

What if, instead, we take a different approach that is far more in keeping with the history of ideas? Instead of lawsuits, why not try engaging these derivative creators and bring them into the scope of the creation?

In doing so, we have the opportunity to do something the history of derivative ideas often lacked: formally promote the advancement of those ideas. It stands to reason we would all be better off for it given how we have already benefited so far.

DLH

[Instigation: Star Trek fan film creators sued by CBS, Paramount for copyright infringement]

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Writing: Done before it started: a NaNoWriMo cautionary tale

I had a great idea for NaNoWriMo this year, one I conceived of months ago and have thought about a lot since then. Unfortunately, thinking is all I did about it, with the result being that my attempt at writing 50,000 words in 30 days died almost before it began.

There is something of a common problem among writers (and I’m not going to get into the philosophical, psychological, and practical battles here about what defines a writer) in that we often don’t write. We want to write. We think about writing. We talk about writing. Then we don’t actually write.

For the past year or so, this has been my shortcoming in the extreme. I actually really do love writing. I crave it, to be honest. I feel more complete when I am writing. Then for a variety of reasons, I don’t actually write.

My caution, then, and my encouragement for all of us flailing writers out there is to not let another November sneak up on us with a years worth of wishing about writing without any writing actually having been done. I’m not saying it will be easy or that it will be good, but if you’re like me, you need to do it.

So let’s.

DLH

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Writing: Pondering NaNoWriMo 2015 and the act of writing at all

I know it’s a while until November, but experience says it’s never really too early for one to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. For those who might have missed it, NaNoWriMo is an event put on by the Office of Letters and Light that encourages people to write 50,000 words in 30 days in an effort to encourage people to write. It’s a lot more difficult than it might sound, it turns out.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo six times starting in 2007 and achieved the 50k word goal in 2010. In fact, achieving that goal in 2010 reinforced for me something I’ve come to realize and have tried to avoid since I started taking writing classes in 2006: I’m not a novelist.

Instead, what I have discovered is that I am a short storiest. A really short storiest. In fact, I’ve found my comfort zone lies at around 2500 words, and writing 10k works feels like trying to move the earth. Why does that matter? Because if one wants to succeed as a writer, the best way to do so is to write to one’s strengths.

Of course, success in writing is relative. Another thing I’ve realized along the way is that my long-time dream of being a successful, published writer is probably just that: a dream. Some might find that sad, but what I’ve realized along the way is that I write because I have to get this stuff out of my head. If someone else likes it, I’m glad, but I like not having these ideas slowly drive me insane even more.

So, what does that mean for NaNoWriMo 2015? Basically, cheating. My plan is to write a thematic anthology of stories, more or less 30 stories in 30 days all centered around a single topic. For me, it’s the best of both worlds: I try to write 50k words in 30 days, but I do it by writing 2700ish word short stories everyday for 30 days.

I’m looking forward to the challenge. And to the relief. More will follow…

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

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Science and Technology: Some thoughts on the ado about crowdfunding fails

Or, caveat emptor always applies.

If you’re at all like me and follow the crowdfunding world with a sense of excited curiosity, then you can’t help but to have noticed the crop of “how not to get scammed” articles littering the tech writing world in the wake of the FTC ruling over a known Kickstarter based fraud. I think the thing that surprises me the most about all of this is the apparent naivety it seems to reveal about the crowdfunding world.

Don’t get me wrong, because I don’t think even most crowdfunders are naive. Rather, I think enough of them are that their collective outcry when a campaign fails or turns out to be a scam gets a lot of attention. And that attention seems to come from the fact that not a small number of people think the crowdfunding world is somehow immune from the risks that have attended all ventures since the beginning of mankind.

Quite to the contrary, crowdfunding is its own unique kind of risky venture because it lets anyone who wants to help incubate ideas that other forms of venture would never would probably never let see the light of day. It democratizes the incubation of ideas, and as anyone who has paid attention to democracy will note, it’s a messy, error-prone process.

So, yes, crowdfunding efforts are going to fail. Even ones for great ideas. Scamsters are going to succeed in separating people from their cash. Even seasoned venture capitalists fall for that (Dot.com bubble or Enron anyone?). Neither of those facts make the process bad. Rather, they reveal crowdfunding has risk. If that bothers you, don’t participate.

As for me, I take the risk because I enjoy the potential outcome. That’s worth losing some money once or twice, because the potential reward so often outstrips the risk.

DLH

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