The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge (2017Sep09)


Saturday, September 09, 2017                                          11:14 PM

The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge   (2017Sep09)

In 1975, the two parts of the Apollo-Soyuz mission took off—Soyuz 19 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Apollo from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s how things were in my day—information was free, research was shared, all classes were open to audit. Oddly enough, science had to court interest back then.

Now that information has been commodified, the focus has turned to how the new data or discovery can be cashed in on for the highest price—even if it’s just a nuisance lawsuit against an actual inventor. If you want help with your computer, you have to pay for it. In the past, if something broke, you only payed for parts and labor—in our brave new world, we have to pay for explanations about products and services we bought in good faith. That may be the norm, but no way does that make it right and proper.

We see this info-hoarding effecting education, too, in scam seminar universities, scam online degrees, predatory school loans, and a general consensus among the business world that it is now okay for someone to be charged for information—and as always ‘caveat emptor’. Conversely, as Bill Maher addressed in his ‘New Rules’ last night, people can be charged for what they don’t know:


There is another side of the information situation—YouTube, Google, Wikipedia,, et. al—the Net-Neutrality crowd, so to speak—which allows anyone with computer access to self-educate, up to and including PhD-level science lectures from Ivy League professors on YouTube. The only catch is that it is all public-access, public-domain. For example, let’s look at (The Gutenberg Project)—their mission was to make the text of every book available, online, for free.

When I first found this site, I was blown away. Previously, I had spent childhood in the library and adulthood in the bookstores—and neither could ever offer ‘every’ book, much less without leaving home. Gutenberg allows free text downloads of every classic in English literature—the only catch is, they can only offer what is in the public domain. Amazon started selling the for-profit books, the latest, the bestsellers, anything really—it was a bibliophile’s dream, even before they started in with e-books.


Today, when you go to Gutenberg’s site, it has been hybridized, offering the same free downloads, but with a Kindle e-book-file download-option—so users can keep their reading material all on one device. The oddest part is that some of Gutenberg’s offerings have been re-issued as e-book classics by the publishers of the hard copy—making it possible to buy a book (say Jane Austen’s Emma) on Amazon, that is available free on Gutenberg. I know because I have done it—and keep both editions on my Kindle out of sheer cussedness.

But my point is that if you read every book they have (I’m joking—an impossible task, in one lifetime) you still would not be acknowledged academically in any way. The same is true for whatever you learn online—even the degree-issuing online institutions are condescended to by the analog schools—as if being on-site really impacts most of today’s workplaces.


However, you can do things with knowledge—that is its ultimate purpose—so even if education can’t get you a job, it can still help you invent your own. Nevertheless, the sheepskin (as a ticket into a well-paid position) is a commodity now—and must be paid for. But all these conditions are just the extremes of greed brought out by the commodification of knowledge.

The real danger is the stagnation of research and development. Not only are the greed for profits skewing the directions of researching, but the findings themselves are kept confidential.


The boom days of Thinking are over. In Einstein’s time, German universities were hubs of intercourse between academics and scientists, as were the great schools of Britain and the rest of Europe—and American institutions as well. Traveling to mingle with others in one’s field, holding conventions and seminars on the challenges of the day—it was as free as a bird. Nobody knew what an NDA was—hell, scientists at NASA were challenging the government’s Security strictures (mid-Cold War) because they claimed that science could only exist as a global effort, with shared information. Imagine.

And it is worth mentioning that the guy who ran IBM, who put up signs around the offices with the one word ‘THINK’—was not being cute. After two world wars, people didn’t waste time sitting around thinking—no one had had that kind of leisure in living memory. But it was exactly what IBM needed its employees to do. He had to actually encourage them to remember that thinking was their job now.


The reason for the change was that academics had entered the everyday—it had started with autos and radios and such—but now people had electrified homes, TVs, rocket ships—and as the IBM staff thunk, it only got more complicated and scientific. Now, I’d have to write several paragraphs to summarize all the modern stuff in our modern lives.

But the dichotomy is still there—we still believe that achievement should make you sweat. We still believe that just sitting and figuring something out is a waste of time—‘things are okay as they are’. We are wrong to believe that.

We have accepted all the gifts of technology, but pretended that it was all for free. We are close to recognizing that technology has a cost on our environment—several decades have been spent on that inconvenient truth—and there are still those who refuse to acknowledge the bill coming due.


We haven’t even begun to address the cost to our society of technology. If we are going to have our children growing up around wireless electronic devices, we need to start calculating the parameters of how much their development will be influenced, or even damaged, by certain gadgets, apps, and games. We also need to address the asocializing effect which smartphones have on both children and adults.

Beyond that, it would be nice to have a grown-up discussion about the fact that half of society has integrated itself with the Internet, to the point of total dependency on its reliability—while the other half is finding ways to disrupt online systems for political or profitable gain, assuring us that the Internet can never be secure in the way we need it.

Yesterday’s announcement about the Equifax hack, exposing private info on millions of Americans and their finances, leaves all those people vulnerable to ID-theft and bank fraud. And this is the same system that runs our banks, our government, our phones, and damn near everything else—while totally unsecure. I’d like to talk about that—wouldn’t you?

Still, the ‘big boss’ paradigm persists—the idea that a strongman like Trump is America’s best choice for a leader, here in the twenty-first century—should be a joke. A man who can’t even use Twitter without typos is the wrong guy to be in charge of an online, subatomic, robotic world, okay? Bluster is still very effective—a lot can be done with bluster. But like many American workers today, having an old skill-set leaves one obsolete for the challenges of today.

And while all the fat cats are getting rich off of each new boner pill or wireless ear-pod, real forward movement in science is relatively crippled by the secrecy and the patent lawsuits and the proprietary research that’s kept hidden.

It’s time for one of my ‘true stories from history’. In ancient China, the emperor’s court was very exclusive—successive layers of the grounds were off-limits to the public and to lesser officials. One of the innermost places was the workshop of the Emperor’s scientists and engineers. When one emperor’s reign ended, the new emperor would appoint new scientists and engineers. In this way, many inventions and discoveries came and went.

In eighth century China, an artificer created the first escapement clockwork—but the usurping Emperor caused all record of the clock’s design (and the clock) to be destroyed. Clocks would disappear, until they were reinvented in Europe, in the fourteenth century.

People tend to focus on firsts—who gets credit for inventing a new thing—who gets credit for noticing some physical constant for the first time? But this story struck me not as a story of invention, but a cautionary tale about the ephemeral nature of knowledge. If the machines break, if the books get burnt (or locked away), if the kids don’t get educated—all technology, all knowledge—just disappears. And information is a lot easier to keep than it is to find.

The way to preserve information is to disseminate it, print it, teach it, put it online, make a movie about it. The way to lose information is to hoard it, to dole it out for a price—as we have seen, when information becomes a commodity, a lot of cheap knock-offs get sold—fake news, scam universities, corporate climate-change denial. The truth is precious is its own right—putting a price-tag on knowledge only corrupts it.


In Response   (2017Jul29)

Friday, July 28, 2017                                                8:06 PM

In Response   (2017Jul29)

A friend told me I play piano better now than I did eight years ago—which is gratifying (even if talking ‘two levels of bad’, it’s good to be on the right side of it). It’s funny—I’m in worse shape, but I’ve become better adapted to it.

I lost some core muscles in the ’04 transplant op. Even five years later, in 2009, I was still struggling to do a single sit-up—and failing. Now, I’m better adjusted—I can do sit-ups now—but it’s dangerous to ask so much work from so few muscles, so if I overdo, I get spasms. I remember an early gym class, sixth grade, or junior high, maybe—where I did more sit-ups than anyone else. Time sure flies.

What is a laser, you ask? The term “laser” originated as an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. Invented in 1960, a laser sends a beam of light in a straight line (this is called coherent light)—unlike, say, lightbulbs, which send out light in all directions. This creates a very precise and powerful cutting tool, often replacing the scalpel in modern surgery. But lasers can be used for many other things besides burning—laser-calibrated ‘tape-measures’ allow contractors to measure a space’s dimensions without walking the length of the space—the list of uses is endless.

So—bacteria—lousy segue, I know—but today I’m thinking about bacteria—so, I did a quick Google-image search:


As you can see from the chart, bacteria are useful because they operate on a molecular level—they can be tricked into modifying gene-sequences or fermenting India Pale Ale (IPA). Here are just three of the other fascinating things I found that deal with modern advances in bacteria-based technology:


Researchers generate clean energy using bacteria-powered solar panel

(Photosynthetic extracellular electron transfer processes using cyanobacteria—miniscule output compared to traditional solar panels, but still a step towards bio-solar energy cells.)


Liquid-crystal and bacterial living materials self-organize and move in their own way

(Clothes that will breathe—for both of you.)


From Antarctica: It’s Alive!

(Planet as Petri Dish.)


So, my friend (and anyone else interested)–there’s a brief reply to your kind email. I hope I’ve answered your questions. Write again soon.



Fresh Start   (2017Jul15)


Saturday, July 15, 2017                                            4:41 PM

Fresh Start   (2017Jul15)

It’s time we stepped back from this obsessive focus on ignorance, obstinacy, and dysfunction—yes, it’s a deadly danger, but if we can’t impeach it, at least let’s stop voting for it, next time. Let’s give our figurehead the pin-drop silence he deserves. My time (and yours) is too valuable to waste on hearing about how the president is incapable of shaking hands like a normal person. (Ironic, though, isn’t it, for a politician?) Our time is much better spent seeing to our own works, our own futures—what are we going to do?

It’s sad to lose a touchstone like the American Presidency—to see it tarnished and trampled under the feet of galoots—but we have business to take care of. Perhaps we could start a different kind of political party—one whose charter is to create a platform full of specifics, and whose candidates would run on the understanding that these specifics be implemented.

The Conservatives don’t really need a platform—they just need a perceived propensity towards the reactionary and the authoritarian—that’s their advantage—that they are more a personality profile than a political platform. And we see this now—with the triumph of the Tea Party revealed as a bunch of puppets who’ve given zero thought to the legislative mechanics of their last decade’s rhetoric—a party so focused on defeating the Democrats that, having done that, they see little reason to do anything other than play golf and tweet.

But we need a platform—nay, a presentation even—a ‘shovel-ready’ prescription by a panel of thoughtful people (who accept modern science). Gone are the days when we could just elect someone idealistic, like Obama, and let him do all the heavy lifting. Democrats need to do the thinking, before the nominating—we need to start thinking, not in terms of a who, but in terms of what, exactly, we want to see happen—and then find someone who’ll agree to enact it, as our candidate.

We need to take the narrative out of the hands of a mass media held hostage by uber-capitalists—and put it back in the hands of career statesmen and legislators who can look ahead and steer our country towards the future. But even more importantly, we need transparency up the wahoo. We need town halls that are about policy, not about personality—not complaining to the acting official, but planning what we want from our next one. Media can’t help but shift the focus to the personal—and that has to stop being our Pavlov’s bell.

With so many idealistic young people wanting to enter the political arena, it is imperative that we reach a consensus on what it means to be progressive and pragmatic in a fast-changing global environment. Planning, in the form of unconscious conspiracies, has been more evident in the GOP than in the Democrats of late—the Democrats seem hung up on beating Donald’s Q-rating, rather than presenting a blinding vision of tomorrow to the voters. Positive action must replace rancor and blame in our public discourse—otherwise, the terrorists win?


Science Fictions   (2017Jul05)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017                                                10:53 PM

Science Fictions   (2017Jul05)

Improv – Jeans Instability

Before I begin ranting, let me explain about today’s batch of baby videos—I decided to take all the titles from Astronomical Terminology, which I googled—if you want to know what a ‘Jeans Instability’ is, you can google it, too. (It’s the point at which a galactic dust cloud gets massive enough for gravity to start making it collapse into a baby star, though).

Improv – Galactic Tide

As usual, the titles, baby videos, and the piano music have nothing to do with each other—that’s just the way we do things here. Now, on with the lecture:

Improv – Critical Rotation

Greetings, People of Earth. Today’s message is: Things can only get better. I’m sure of it. Honest Abe said you can’t fool everybody all the time—and people are getting a nice, close look at the way things are. Politicians and business leaders can blue-sky all they want about tomorrow—seeing real-time performance on a daily basis, even with all the spin in the world, is harder to dismiss with words. In other words, I think it will be harder for Trump to run on his record than it was to run without one.

Improv – Celestial Sphere

Depending on how the Supreme Court sees ‘gerrymandering’, we might even see some Democrats win an election or two. There’s no limit to how much change for the better may be ahead. Heck, we could win it all—and we’d still have a couple of years of work on legislation and diplomacy before we could undo the damage the GOP has already done (and Donnie helped!), post-Obama.

Improv – Eccentricity

By now, whatever further extremes the Right goes to, those actions will only inflame the backlash of people who didn’t see this reactionary wave coming—and are watching government implode almost daily. Did you hear the departure of the last few people, last week, wiped out the larger White House Office of Science and Technology Policy? You can ignore Science, if it means so much to you—but turning our backs on Science is extremely dangerous—as dangerous as putting its detractors in charge (a pretty ignorant act in itself).


We know how scary technology can be—with serious people making the decisions. It gets a lot scarier when things like quality-control become a matter of alternative facts. Humanity has raised a mighty pyramid of technological connections—it is awesome in its complexity, its interdependence—every cog matching every tooth in in every gear, round and round, humming without a break—like a heartbeat from the world. We are letting childish people tear out pieces, clog up chain-links, and throw big, fat monkey-wrenches into this global clockwork.

Freedom of Speech may allow people to bad-mouth Science—and hard-case Ministers may encourage that—but anyone who wants to turn their back on our technology is threatening your life and everything in it. We take our developed-country lives for granted—they only exist courtesy of a gigantic legacy that started with Fulton and Edison—and continues with Jobs and Musk, etc. Trucks, Trains, Ships, Air Freight—spiderwebs of businesses—blizzards of paperwork—from international trade agreements to the economics of your corner deli—and that’s just for all the food and drink. Denying Science is the most retrograde opinion a person could hold—it’s like intellectual suicide.

Emphysema (2017May08)


Monday, May 08, 2017                                            12:32 PM

Emphysema III   (2017May08)

Improv – Deuce


Improv – Trey


Improv – Quatro


Improv – Embracing the New


Improv – Having Fun


Improv – Persistence

Forgive the cliché, but it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. At long last, everyone who wanted me to quit smoking (including myself) is getting their wish—on the other hand, I’m quitting smoking—or, at least, I’m striving to do so—and there is some discomfort involved.

I started with patches and single-digits of cigarettes per day, then I stopped patches and went back up to double-digits for a day—but now I’ve been back in single-digits, and without any nicotine patches, for a couple of days. Learning to use my Advair corticosteroid inhaler twice-a-day has added a wrinkle—lately I’ve been waking up with huge pupils and no irises. It goes away after an hour or so—but apparently I’m tripping in my sleep.

I don’t know if that’s nicotine withdrawal or cortisone side-effects, which I could say about my mood-swings, tremors, and more-frequent spasms as well—and, in a way, not being sure helps with avoiding the cigarettes—I thrive on chaos, and at the moment, it’s non-stop.

Reaching zero total cigarettes is not the challenge for me (well, not the biggest one). Once I full-stop on the cigarettes, I will experience a healthy, calm stillness—I won’t be reaching for things, I won’t be drugged (except for caffeine), my mind will be relatively clear and my ears won’t be ringing.

That will be torture—that yawning void will be begging me to put the cigarettes back into the mix—you know, for fun—and nothing will distract me from that nagging voice—that’s going to be the real challenge. Stillness bugs me—clarity seems like a waste, a self-imposed chore.

That behavior used to have a function—my old mind was always threatening to over-rev itself, always in danger of over-heating—it needed an extra-viscous lubricant to reduce the friction. Nowadays, I’ve merely become used to that approach—my mind has little risk of overexerting itself nowadays, but it still enjoys a bit of viscosity to the thought-process—it’s what I’ve become comfortable with.

But, good-bye, comfort! It’s cigarette-quitting time. And please—don’t mention it. Talking about cigarettes is the worst thing I can do—and I certainly don’t need anyone else bringing it up.

The doctor switched me to a new anti-depressant—it’s hard to say, with all the rest of the chemicals, but I’m pretty sure it’s an improvement. And I’ve stopped taking vitamins every day—I’ve switched to a multi-vitamin every other day, and a B-complex every four days. Apparently that’s more than enough—every day is overkill, or so I’m told—and it makes less work for my stomach.

I could go on, but you get the picture—I’m going squirrelly, trying to become healthy—and I’m so unstable that the whole thing could crash and burn any minute—my kingdom for some will-power!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017                                            11:13 AM

Emphysema II   (2017May02)

Back to the doctor’s office we go—to get the skinny on my breathing and how to use an inhaler. Apparently, I have 75% use of the lungs of a 91-year-old.

Thursday, May 04, 2017                                          2:45 PM

Advair is the brand name for my new cortico-steroid inhaler—it’s a pain in the ass to use and very weird. Sometimes, being sick makes you a helpless, involuntary drug-tester for future users of new drugs.

Inhaling steroid dust is nothing, though, compared to trying to quit smoking. I’ve been messing around with a mixture of nicotine patches and will-power—it’s heavy sledding. I wasn’t sure I had it in me. However, Bear has obtained Chantix for me—it’s a quit-smoking drug with side-affects like you wouldn’t believe. I think I might have just enough will-power to quit smoking, if it means I don’t have to take that shit—I don’t want to give up tobacco for my health and, in the process, go mad or bleed internally or whatever Chantix might do to me.

I’m sure not-smoking is a wonderful thing—but it will never be anywhere near as nice as smoking. How come every time I have to do something for my health, it means making life less enjoyable? The biggest problem with quitting is that I spend all day not-doing-something—which is weird and unenjoyable—and I’d much rather be so involved in doing something that I didn’t think about what I was missing. I need a hobby, I guess.

Thursday, April 27, 2017                                        12:22 PM

Emphysema   (2017Apr27)

Emphysema is fun—a true smoker’s disease, unlike lung cancer or heart disease, which any old Tom, Dick, or Harry can fall prey to, emphysema is virtually unheard of except in the case of long-term smokers. The little bubbles at the end of the bronchioles, the alveoli, become enflamed—or even necrotic—thus disabling their function (to be the exchange-point for oxygen). The lungs can pump away like a bellows—but the oxygen being breathed in does not make it into the bloodstream.

Without that fuel, the body works much harder—shortness of breath, fatigue, and weight loss are common symptoms of emphysema. Most people notice shortness-of-breath right away, but those who lead a sedentary lifestyle may not notice this—or connect it to something other than lack of exercise. Idiots like that may wait until their lungs actually hurt before they get a chest x-ray.

I got a chest x-ray yesterday. Fun’s over. I now have to quit smoking. I already had to quit drinking—this is the last straw. I’ve run out of vices. How does one live a life without vices?

But never mind that. How do I quit smoking? I’m four hours into this brave new world and I’m clenching my jaw and feeling dizzy—that’s with a nic-patch, mind you—so it’s all in my head. We fear change—and this is a perfect example of why.

Since I was eighteen—so that’s about forty-three years, about 16,000 days, at two packs a day—that’s over 600,000 cigarettes, give or take. Honestly, I may have spent more time smoking a cigarette than I’ve spent on anything else. Also, I kind of liked smoking—as an activity—it was relaxing and enjoyable.

But now I have to confront tobacco as an addiction—I’m not ignoring nagging doomsayers anymore, I’m ignoring my own health by any future smoking. As with my old liver problems, the lungs don’t self-repair—emphysema is forever—and while nothing can reverse the damage, each cigarette can worsen it. Good times—as usual. Well, Claire is happy, at least, at last—without ever truly nagging me about cigarettes, she has hoped I’d quit for a long time.

Fancy Words   (2017May01)

Monday, May 01, 2017                                            2:35 PM

If you had never heard of, and then got health-care eight years ago—and it then paid for some health problem in your family—you are not a Republican. If your parents are on Social Security—you are not a Republican. If you are on Medicare and Disability (like me) —you are not a Trump supporter. If you employ non-English-speaking help—you are not a Republican. If you think people are more than employees—you are not a Republican.

If someone just explained to you that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing—that one is its correct name and the other is its nickname—then you are not a Republican, or a Trump supporter. You may say, “O, yes I am—don’t tell me I’m not.” Let me explain—you may root for that team—that may be your favorite brand—but you don’t support their policies.

No one supports them—no one supports playing nuclear ‘chicken’ with Kim Jong Un—no one supports trashing the environment—no one supports naked bigotry and elitism. They run a great ‘show’—they tap-dance like a mothafukka and they all have a B.S. in BS—but there’s nothing there, behind the scenes, except maybe cynical gloating and paranoia.

There is a struggle going on—in simplest terms I’d call it good vs. evil—but that is too simple—and oversimplification is one of the tools of the forces of evil. By calling one side ‘evil’, we reveal a lack of nuance—better to present a situation, an illustration—and allow others to come up with their own judgements.

For every example I can think of, I usually can describe its good side—and then go on to describe its evil. Even then, while I’m thinking it is good to be open the interwoven nature of good and evil—to see the nuanced, detailed panorama of a certain choice or issue—I’m also thinking that firehose of perspectives can be just as useful in confabulated obfuscation.

It is sad that the grand elegance of the human mind’s mathematical discoveries (or is it ‘inventions’?) is the same mental skill used in contrivance and fraud. Some industries combine the two—marketing, for instance, is the deep-drilling, sociological science of separating people from their money. Likewise, banking and finance—industries that have decided to specialize in business banking—and leave the personal business to the worst of their ilk.

If I sound bitter or critical, it’s not my fault—to be honest about business and politics and such, without sounding so, isn’t possible. It’s pretty common, too—I hear others talk this way all the time—regular-type folks—and the only ones I ever hear push back are hired guns—PR hacks, campaigners, spokespersons (O—and the occasional homunculus sitting outside her trailer).


The Partying Continues (2017Apr05)


Wednesday, April 05, 2017                                              10:15 AM

I’ve never had an ‘edge’, like my late brother—he was cool. He could be dismissive, confrontational, and disruptive—just like a rock star (and it didn’t hurt that he sang like a rebellious angel). That’s not me—I’m more of a gullible rule-follower with an annoying habit of obsessing over detail. And one of the rules I like to follow is ‘try to be positive’. When I write my dismissive, confrontational, and disruptive blog-posts about politics, I often tell myself, “You shouldn’t be such a downer—why not write about positive things?”

But I think I’m over that—you can’t write happiness—if there was anything to say about being happy, I’d have said it—but most happiness is too ephemeral (and too fragile) for words—it’s a feeling. Happiness is hard to share and impossible to write about, at length. Problems, now—there’s no end of things to say about problems.

And there’s no end of problems with today’s politics—leadership requires idealism, but the promise of power attracts the less-than-ideal. When Obama pushed through Affordable Health Care, he knew that it was a political misstep, but he did it anyway—because it was the right thing to do. By contrast, we have Trump recently signing an executive order to un-ban pesticides the EPA had determined were too toxic—and handing the pen to the head of Dow Chemical.

That would suggest that Trump favors business over humanity—but there’s more to it than that. Business can’t thrive in a place where no one makes enough money to have discretionary income (spending cash). Businesses can’t, in the long run, make a profit if all their customers are dead. Favoring business over humanity is a false equivalence—it is really a matter of preferring short-sighted greed over long-term reality, of ignoring warnings—not because they’re false, but because they are not yet true. Businesses love to project their future sales, but they’re uncomfortable with projections of reality.

That’s where science-denial and doubt comes in—they don’t want to admit that scientists’ warnings aren’t yet true—so they claim that such warnings aren’t true at all. Short-sightedness as public policy—for the purpose of immediate profit—resembles an addict grubbing for a fix. Capitalism becomes slow suicide. Socialism becomes the rehab we’re not ready to check in to. The partying continues.