Science and Technology: The Age of the (ubiquitous, big) Screen

As much as many pan the notion, I believe we have entered the Age of the Screen. If you’re the observant type, you’ll notice screens are everywhere. There are multiples in our houses, and not just TVs. How many of us own more than one computer, tablet, and smartphone? I know I’m guilty, and likely so are you. And that doesn’t even include the screens at work, school, the restaurant, and just about everywhere else we look.

There is lots of press about the negatives of “screen time,” and to be sure, unmanaged, it is a negative, but I posit that our problem with screen time and all these ubiquitous, big screens is that we haven’t figured out how to use them yet. We’re in an era where technology is developing faster than we understand its impact, and it shows.

Follow me here: one of the main arguments against screen time is that it is addictive and changes brain development, especially in children. The fact that is true is undeniable, yet it also glosses over a particular set of facts: both the addiction and the development are manageable if we don’t stop doing the things we did before the screens. Screens are a modern addition to a long history that changes how humans behave, and what is lacking is management.

I find this subject particularly fascinating because so much of what I do right now involves screens. I create art on them. I write on them. I communicate on them. I interact on them. In those ways, screens are incredibly beneficial for me in a variety of ways. Where the screens fail me is when I use them to sate my sometimes overwhelming boredom by almost ritualistic use of the screen as brain candy. That failure is fixable. It’s a simple matter of doing other things. It’s a matter of discipline.

For me, the beauty of the screens is that they work the way my brain does. I get not everyone feels that way. But the fact is screens are here to stay, so we should start learning how to manage them for the best use possible. And that management is possible. We just have to do it.

–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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Worldview: For the love of god and country

I once opined that no one can face a fiercer opponent than someone fighting for what they hold most dear.

We Americans, and really most Westerners, have a very romantic view of that idea. When we hear it, we see Spartans fighting at Thermopylae or Colonists fighting the Redcoats or Churchill exhorting the English to fight the Germans on the beaches.

Sure, there is that, but nobody said that what someone holds most dear has to be lovely or honorable in order for someone to be willing to die for it.

In fact, it is that very romantic fallacy that is causing us to lose the so-called War on Terror. What we’re failing to realize is that the fighters who have flocked to the likes of al Qaeda and al Shabbab and ISIS and their many brethren around the world fiercely love the variety of Islam they have embraced. They love it so much, they are willing to kill themselves trying to spread it and defend it.

Until we realize these people have embraced in harsh reality an ideal we have turned into fuzzy romance, we cannot beat them. It will never be enough to drop some bombs on the places they are currently hiding or to occupy the countries they happen to be operating from today. No, we have to attack the very foundations of what drives that ideology in the first place.

I understand that last notion is ugly and fraught with the potential for being cruel. As it turns out, so is our enemy.

DLH

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Worldview: Crowdfunding and risk

I’m a big fan of crowdfunding, that idea put forward by websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that allows people with ideas to connect with groups of people interested in their idea to help fund it. I’ve helped fund a few ideas myself.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about crowdfunding initiatives that have failed and the various amounts of ire felt by the people who helped fund those initiatives. Most of these articles leave me shaking my head.

What it seems that most people who engage in crowdfunding fail to realize is that it is simply another form of venture capitalism, one with usually lower dollar amounts and with the risk distributed among far more people. Venture capitalists will tell you that such initiatives are fraught with risk and that many, if not most, of them fail at their initial premise even if they eventually go on to succeed.

Crowdfunding is not some kind of magic elixir for success for ideas the Man won’t fund. Instead, it is venture capitalism for the masses, a mechanism to bring ideas forward that would not otherwise have a chance for all sorts of other reasons, usually profit margin.

In realizing that crowdfunding is venture capitalism, crowdfunders should realize there is going to be risk. A lot of it. Not a small number of projects are going to fail. Even after they are funded. Sometimes even after the product has been produced. There will be all kinds of reasons for these failures. They can’t be helped. They can’t be stopped.

And none of these things should stop dedicated crowdfunders from continuing to crowdfund. I know, for me, realization of this risk has made be a particularly discerning funder. I watch a lot of projects for a long time before I commit, and there have been more than a few successful projects I decided not to invest in because I was not sure. There have been some projects that I have invested in only to have them fail. That’s how the system works.

But, beneath all of those ideas, is the critical idea that makes crowdfunding worth it: giving life to ideas that might not otherwise succeed even though they are worthwhile simply because they will never make enough money to become a larger venture. Crowdfunding bypasses the court of the big venture capitalists and gives the little guys a chance.

Risk and all, that’s a venture worth supporting.

DLH

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Worldview: Farming: Some thoughts on Punxsutawney Phil

So yesterday was Groundhog Day, complete with its requisite trotting out of the rodent and an internet full of mocking said rodent and the people who flock to him once per year.

Now, I will grant you that the whole show surrounding Groundhog Day is ridiculous and proves nothing except that people like to have a good time, yet I can’t help but notice that the day also points toward something we’ve forgotten over the past century in our rush to scientize everything: animals, particularly rodents, are a great way to predict the weather wherever you are.

This fact points to a larger failing on the part of our modern selves. We’re so busy analyzing, categorizing, and objectifying nature that we’re no longer a part of it. Nature is something out there, just beyond our sterile, lifeless environs we’ve created to flee it and all its weather-predicting rodent glory.

There was a time when people, farmers and hunter-gatherers alike, knew exactly what weather was coming because the animals, and to a certain extent the plants, told them so. They knew that when the groundhogs started coming out of their dens only to return to them without seeking mates or food that more winter was coming, at least where they lived. They knew that when the spring birds arrived early they could expect a mild late winter. They knew this because they paid attention to what nature told them.

Now, we pay attention to what the meteorologist tells us, and he’s wrong as often as Punxsutawney Phil in my opinion. The fact is I can tell as much about what the weather’s going to do in a week from how my cows eat hay or what my chickens are up to than I can from a sterile forecast of temperature and precipitation.

And together, I can tell a lot more. My argument here is not to abandon science in favor of nature. What does that idea even mean. If science is real science, it’s an observation of nature anyway, and the best observations happen in the environment instead of removed from it. Together, the meteorologist and the groundhog can tell us more than either one can alone.

So, maybe we should give the groundhog a chance. Take a look outside and see what’s happening. It might tell you a lot.

DLH

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Worldview: It’s monumental news, but we need to keep it in perspective

The news that Osama bin Laden has been killed is certainly monumental, incredible news, especially since he managed to evade capture for such a long time. Yet, as important as his death may be, it marks but a single event in a much larger, longer conflict.

To a great degree, bin Laden was a figurehead, a rallying figure for the millions upon millions of people around the world who use their interpretation of Islam to justify violence, oppression, hatred, and fear. While his death removes that figurehead, it does not remove the justification.

This conflict is not and never was going to be won by simply killing bin Laden any more than Iraq was secured by simply capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his sons. This conflict is not even going to be won by the application of military force alone. Instead, this is a conflict over the hearts and minds of people held in tyranny for generations, and it is going to take conviction and diplomacy as well as force to win.

Because of this fact, we must resist the powerful urge to conclude that we have won and that it is now time to wind things down. There may yet be a time when that reaction is appropriate, but it must be a time when the future of Afghanistan is as secured as it ever will be. Yes, it has been a long war, and many of us who have been paying attention to these things all along have said it was going to be, but we cannot quit before the job is done, because the consequences of quitting will be worse than those of outright failure.

So, we should celebrate the victory bin Laden’s death represents, but we should do so with the caution born of the knowledge that a rough road still lies ahead. And, we should resolve ourselves to walk that road until its end.

DLH

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Worldview: The cost of reality: who do you believe in?

I believe a significant part of the debate over everything from massive deficits to union bargaining rights centers around a question most people never consciously consider: who do they believe in?

In this case, I am not talking about belief or lack of belief in God, but rather whether they believe in themselves or the government.

I suspect that most people will immediately claim they believe in themselves and dismiss the question as irrelevant, yet in doing so, they will not have considered what the question really means.

For instance, do they believe that it is their responsibility or the government’s to pay down the national debt? Who do they believe is responsible for making sure they are provided for in their retirement? Who should be responsible for making sure they can afford health care? That they can afford gas? That they can afford food?

Too many people, even faced with those questions, will respond with something like, “Well, me, I guess,” even as they then say, “Someone should do something about…” without any sense of irony.

From my perspective, Americans have gone from a collection of people who depended on themselves to a collection of people who depends on the government. In transferring that dependence, only the surface of things has changed–that is, the government still depends on the people, but the people have given up the power to a proxy.

So, even as people depend on the government, what they depend on in a phantom parasite of their own creation, one they believe they can cleverly hide their excess in, yet one that progressively bleeds them dry as time goes on.

It has taken two generations–the Baby Boomers and Generation X–for the United States to go from the most prosperous and powerful nation that has ever existed to a teetering ruin built on ever expanding government and a debt a dozen generations will still not have paid off. That entire transition happened through the auspices of a single idea, that the people handed the government responsibility for aspects of their lives they no longer wanted to be responsible for themselves. The people stopped believing in themselves and started believing in their government, and their government started bleeding them dry.

This transition should be no surprise to anyone who has a decent view of history. Many of the world’s greatest civilizations broke and fell on the same premise. Reading the history of societies as diverse as the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages Chinese dynasties shows the effect of the same corrosive idea.

Our fate as Americans will be no different unless we somehow figure out how to do something that has never been done in history: reverse the trend. Until we, as a nation, return responsibility for the debt, our retirement, health care, our jobs, our well-being, and the well-beings of our most vulnerable citizens to ourselves, we have set ourselves on a path whose destiny is certain.

Yet, even if the destiny of our nation is certain because of our dependence on government, those of us who see this reality for what it is can take heart: something will come next and we can be prepared for it. Hope for the present and plan for the future, but do so knowing this could get ugly before its over.

DLH

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Worldview: The cost of reality

I’ve been watching the progress of the collective bargaining revocation bills in Wisconsin and Ohio with great curiosity and not a small amount of amusement. What I see on all sides of this debate is a failure to deal with reality.

Teacher’s unions fail to understand that there is no more money. Wisconsin is in the hole $2.2 billion. Ohio is in the hole $7 billion. Those deficits are only the ones for 2011. Sure, they are just trying to protect their own, but at what cost? What else has to get cut to protect them? Who else has to pay?

On the other hand, you have the conservative law makers and those who elected them. They claim union busting–because that’s what revoking state collective bargaining agreements really is–will save the tax payers millions. That’s true, but so would cutting state programs, especially the costly social welfare programs even conservatives are addicted to.

The problem, as I see it, is that nobody wants to admit the truth: we’re not going to get out of these problems with selective, politically motivated cuts. Instead, we’re going to have to make far-reaching, across the board cuts at all levels of government that will last decades, and those cuts will only serve to allow us to tread water.

Unfortunately, no one is listening. Liberals and progressives want to tax more and spend more. Conservatives want to attack their political opponents’ pet programs without doing anything real to face the problems. Libertarians are too wild-eyed and disorganized to do anything other than make incoherent noises.

In the midst of all of this, our nation is failing. Our currency is devaluing. Our economy is not creating jobs. More than half our citizens effectively do not pay taxes, and the other half are paying so much they can’t make anything happen. Our tax system penalizes success. Our laws make starting and maintaining businesses unnecessarily complex. This year, local, state, and federal governments will spend between $2.5 and $3 trillion more dollars than they collect in taxes. The total US debt burden carried by all levels of governments could exceed $25 trillion–or twice the entire GDP of the US in 2011.

If we really want to fix the problems that got us here, we have to end–no, destroy–the disincentive to perform, succeed, and innovate on the strengths of our own merits. We have to wipe out the notion that we can somehow treat every individual and situation as some kind of an average and deal with reality in all its uniqueness and complexity. For the first time in decades, we have to think, act, and react in accordance with the situation we have, not the one we are convinced we should have. We have to return the bulk of control to the individual and stop expecting governments to take care of us.

And all of these solutions are going to happen whether we want them to or not. We cannot continue what we are doing because what we are doing is failing. The question that remains is whether we participate in the process by which the next thing comes into being or whether we stand and watch as the terms are dictated to us.

I suspect most will do the latter, which is why I’m pretty sure you should be getting ready for some really tough times ahead.

DLH

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