What we learn from History

They say that history is the greatest of all teachers, and that tales of past deeds define who we are in the present, and what we shall be in the future. It is said that such tales shall with each telling illuminate us all with the light of truth. – narrator, Icewind Dale

I liked this line so much I wrote it on the first page of my very first journal. Back when I was a pen and paper purist. These days I am likely more cynical and tend to align myself with the philosophy of Otto von Bismarck and his penchant for spiky helmets, epic level moustaches and Realpolitik…

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What we learn from History is that no one learns from History – Otto Von Bismarck. 

Truer today, than its ever been before 😉

 

The Burning Building

A trolley problem is usually defined as a thought experiment in ethics. Although it doesn’t necessarily have to involve a trolley car. Theres also not supposed to be a particularly right or a particularly wrong answer.

Scenario #1

A building is on fire, there is a child on the second floor. Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the child. Half way up the stairs you notice a priceless Rembrandt hanging on the wall. Do you can carry on, rescue the child or… do you save the irreplaceable masterpiece?

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Scenario #2

A building is on fire, there are two children in the building.Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the children. Half way up the stairs you realise the fire is out of control and you will only be able to rescue one child… armed with perfect knowledge you know that one child has an IQ of 140. The other sub 80. Which child do you save?

Scenario #3

A building is on fire, there are two children in the building.Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the children. Half way up the stairs you realise the fire is out of control and you will only be able to rescue one child… armed with perfect knowledge you know that one child will one day cure cancer. The other child is your best friends kid. Which child do you save?

It doesn’t really matter what you answer. Unless you’re a sociopath its likely you are likely to be bothered by whatever choice you make….

I can’t overstate how much I love trolley problems. I’m especially fascinated by programmers who are going to have to teach self-driving cars the algorithms required to make life or death decisions. Does your self-driving car sacrifice you by smashing itself into a brick wall… or does it mow down the child that broke free from its mothers grasp and ran into the road?

Decisions, decisions… decided in 0.05 seconds.

What a great time to be alive that we can mull over such things 🙂

 

If you’re interested… my post on the  The Shallow Pond. For more ethical hoodoo.

Black Jesus.

I know. White people shouldn’t write about racism. I can’t write objectively about something I’ve never experienced. I have no reference point. Basically I can only make assumptions about it, based on my intuition, feelings and what I’ve seen or read. Consider me admonished right near the beginning.

I’m going to do it anyway. Because, one, I don’t be like being told what to do. And two, I think that we only have two ways that we can approach this idea. Conversation or violence. I also feel those two things are mutually exclusive and we should probably pick one or the other. And while I am (sometimes) partial to a good, solid bout of fisticuffs I feel, in this case, conversation is the better option.

I should probably also mention that I am not very clever. Or a particularly good writer. So if you’re expecting something profound or liminal in this blog post you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Let me start by saying I think our definition of race is all messed up. Which is where things start to go awry of us. After all we are all…

  1. from the kingdom of Animalia. ie we are animals
  2. Our Phylum is Chordata. ie we have spine thingy (I know, super technical)
  3. Our class is Mammalia ie. we are mammals
  4. Our order is Primates ie. Yay! Monkeys
  5. Our family is Hominidae ie. Big Monkeys
  6. Our genus is Homo ie. Human being
  7. And finally our species is Sapiens ie. us. Different from Erectus (chortle) and Naledi.

Since we genocided all the other genera of human beings (likely with rocks, sharp sticks and our fists), we homo-sapiens are the only ‘branch’ of humans that are left on this planet. We are the ‘human race’ by process of elimination. Why is it that we have included the human race to have a further subcategory of eh.. race? This is where it starts to get a little confusing for me. Do we actually mean phenotype? I think we do.

A Phenotype is the set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

So, as I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) one of those phenotypes is pigment. Which I think is the main determining factor in racism, because it gives us a very visual cue to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

Lets recap, Our ancestors that lived on the equator about one million years ago started to develop eumelanin as a form of defence against the sun when they started spending more time out on the savannah instead of in the tree-line. Their bodies adapted to their environment and their skin turned darker. They also lost their body hair and developed a better perspiration system.

Our ancestors were all dark skinned. (and we are all African immigrants) As my ancestors trekked north they headed up into cooler climes and their skins got lighter and lighter. With less sunshine our bodies couldn’t absorb the required amount of Vitamin D from the sun, so we started shedding eumelanin. And hey-ho, the white man arrived.

Basically my ancestor was an ape. Then he was a black man and then he became a white guy due to lack of rays. (Personally I think that’s amazing) So when we are hating on each other because of our differing skin color we are actually expressing a serious self loathing for our species.

I know. Some ridiculously large part of the world’s population doesn’t believe in evolution. Also try tell my camo-wearing-god-fearing-rifle-toting-white-brother his ancestor was actually of the coloured persuasion. See how that works out for you.

I do think this means our broad understanding of racism is incorrect though. (I know, look at me, prodding convention) When say racism do we actually mean something more akin to culturism? Ie. My culture is superior to your culture.

Racism is defined as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Wait what?

The whole ‘Race’ thing wasn’t even a ‘thing’ until relatively recently. A German anthropologist named Johann Blumenbach grouped humanity into five groups. The Caucasians (or whites), The Mongolians (or yellows), The Malayans (or browns), The Ethiopians (or blacks) and the Americans (or reds). Interestingly as an aside Blumenbach was of the very radical opinion that no race was superior or inferior to another. A very unpopular opinion at the time.

Having been grouped into these broad categories based on pigmentation (which generally denoted how we had migrated across the earth), the stage was set to meld the concept of superior culture into that of race.

Up until the eighteen hundreds, the world more or less ticked along at the same sort of pace. Europe, the Middle East and China were basically on the same level of advancement. Then something happened in Europe that changed everything.

Two concepts were developed in quick succession that would disrupt everything. Capitalism and the Scientific method were born. These two concepts, in almost no time at all, catapulted Europe past everyone else on the advancement track.

I don’t think anyone can deny that what happened next is an undeniable abuse of power. Europe went on to fuck up (almost) every other nation on earth, systematically destroying and plundering every other continent on the planet, no one escaped their greed unscathed.

My ‘superior’ culture started out by killing millions of people, destroying millions of lives. (not that any other culture would have done anything different given that opportunity) Our golden age was mostly punctuated with torture, plague and unbelievable cruelty. Its something a lot of us are (weirdly) proud of. Although we tend to leave out the wicked stuff and focus more on the railroads and medicine as our more notable achievements. Even more bizarre is that we often did all of this in name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Back in the day I used to be a Catholic. My best friend at the time happened to be a Catholic priest. (which is also part of the reason I no longer have faith) He bounced around after the seminary but eventually he got sequestered in a tiny parish in Soweto called Zondi. I used to go there sometimes to keep him company.

Behind the altar in that church is a mosaic of Jesus and the twelve apostles. Only they’re black. (Judas slinking off with his thirty silvers is actually my favourite part of this picture)

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I remember thinking how interesting it was that a depiction of Jesus wasn’t regulated by the Vatican. (I mean they feel they can regulate everything else) At the time I was parishioner in a parish where the ubiquitous white-Jesus in stained glass looms very large over everyone.

Jesus was from Galilee. (basically the area north of Palestine and south of Lebanon). If we extrapolate that Jesus looked like your typical Galilean he most likely would have been short, with dark slightly curly hair, dark brown eyes and a short black beard. And most importantly his skin tone would have been dark brown. A feature of Mediterranean skin and being in the sun all day. It is very likely Jesus would have been pulled aside in any immigration queue for ‘additional screening’.

Jesus (if he existed) probably looked like this….

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(from the BBC, I think)

The hippy Jesus look started in the middle ages, when Jewish/middle eastern features and ancestry fell out of favor with the Catholic church. (You know, that whole Christ-killers vibe) Suddenly a white-Jesus appeared, looking decidedly European. A poster child for some crusading action against the heretical browns of Jerusalem. ‘We want YOU!’

So next time you’re on your knees asking Jesus to intercede on your behalf with his Old man. Remember that you are in fact bowing down to a ‘man’ of color. You’d think that’s got to be quite an awkward conversation when you’ve just hung up your conquistador helmet after putting half of South America to the sword.

Unfortunately I think racism in some form or other is here to stay. Probably forever. It has slowly, over time, become less overt and we’ve all become better at hiding our prejudices towards each other. Instead of racism we’ve replaced it with culturalism, nationalism and passive aggression. Those are still broadly acceptable in segregating and disrupting human beings we deem undesirable to associate with.

I think that’s just the way we are. Sure we can try and regulate behavior through laws. But humans are cunning. And hate is largely (and historically) our thing, it motivates us to succeed. Having someone to pit ourselves against drives us to improve and for the most part a visual representation of supposed difference is the easiest to get behind.

I think the only way past this is to constantly reassess the things we believe to be true or have come to accept. Chances are you hate the guy in your office, not because he’s Black or Asian or whatever… but because he’s an asshole. Get it right and check your hate. And then maybe stop projecting onto an entire Phenotype. #justsaying.

Amazon job interview question

I’m embarrassed to say that I have only ever been to one job interview in my life… and it was awful.

I saw this recently. Which was potentially more awful.

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This is/was (supposedly) part of the Amazon interview process.

Dammit.

Math… my only weakness. Well… math and bullets.

Apparently you can solve this problem through logic…

Okay… Math, bullets and logic.

Sufficed to say I could never work for Amazon. (I also struggle with child proof containers)

Solution here.

 

I likely would have answered. ‘I think they’re catching up to the rest of Europe’. And then laughed at my own joke.

(in my defense it is a capital P)

A little housekeeping

To steal a subject line from Sam Harris.

This blog started out as a personal finance blog. Ostensibly because someone didn’t reply to my email right away. (thanks Kristia) Righteous indignation is a powerful motivating factor. But… as it turns out I don’t really have that much to say about personal finance that can’t be summed up in two maxims. Don’t spend more than you earn. And invest the difference. There are only so many ways you can skin a cat. Everything else just becomes arguing the minutiae. I also felt I was becoming a bit smug and preachy about the whole thing and it became difficult for me to sermonize with out the nagging feeling that I was punting a lifestyle choice… while surreptitiously feeding the ego machine with one hand and patting myself on the back with the other. Well done Joey. Go get a sticker.

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Just thinking about some of those (sometimes very aggressive) blog posts makes me suck air through clenched teeth. That’s not say the personal fiance blogs out there aren’t great and super helpful. But that wasn’t me.

Deciding that I should check my ego I pivoted and decided I was going to blog about board games instead. Or perhaps rather, gaming in general. I love strategy and storytelling. Especially interactive story telling.

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Joey getting murdered at Caverna on Friday night.

Going out, dancing until the early hours and then attempting to get slutty while amusing in my twenties, would now leave me seriously dysfunctional for days on end, sofa bound and mewling for ibuprofen. Besides I’m married now which invalidates a lot of that sort of behavior. I’m much happier listening to music on my headphones and playing games with my school friends. At best my gaming blogs were touristy and quite vapid. There are some really good gaming blogs out there and after a while it didn’t feel like a good ‘competitive’ space for me.

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Then I tried personal blogging for a bit. Meh. Which after a while, just felt quite mindless and self aggrandizing. I started to despise my blog and ditched it completely for a while.

..And now I’ve been back for about a month.

I’m enjoying this format a lot more. Apologies if you started following me for some of the other blog entries and you’ve found yourself mouthing the words ‘What the fuck is this…’ recently.

I don’t really want to rehash my About page (where I briefly cover my motivations) But I’m likely to continue in this probably quite eclectic fashion. I find it a little bit more introspective and interesting (for me at least).

I’m also going to add comments to the end of posts. I’ve always been quite weary of a comments section. But I also worry I might be getting wrapped up in my own echo chamber sometimes. Existing in this input-less vacuum isn’t necessarily a good thing. I think I’ve been unreasonably weary of interaction with other humans. Conventions and firmly held convictions should be challenged from time to time.

So there’s that.

I’ve also gone through some of my previous posts with a machete. There was A LOT of mindless drivel, typed at pace in sub optimal conditions. What I haven’t condemned to the trash bin I might revive and re-post at some point with some heavy editing. So… there may be some reruns in the future where I think I can do better.

Anyways… thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

Challenge rating

I’ve updated my definition of challenging.

Trying to insert a suppository into a feverish two year old that knows what’s coming and is fighting you…

Grateful I have twenty five years of jujitsu under my belt to prepare me for this…

Joey goes for the flying arm bar…

Adulting

Being a grown up and taking on the responsibilities that come with age is something I’ve taken up only under extreme duress. And so I sometimes refer to myself as ‘adulting’ because… well… to be completely honest it’s my little ‘fuck you’ to the seriousness that comes with the passing of the decades and a homage to a time where things were simpler and WAY more fun.

Having said that I am both inclined to both agree and disagree with this statement. (In a lip service kinda way) Usually depending on how well I slept. Which when you have a toddler is usually poorly. Ergo my ability to take life seriously is directly proportional to the number of hours that I have been removed from it in a state of mini death.

Besides is the apocalypse necessarily a bad thing? Sure we’ve attributed a lot of negative connotations to the word… but really, think of the benefits. No more taxes, Star Wars movies or Network News. Ok sure there might be the religiosity of the chaff being separated from the wheat and thrown into the eternal fire (personally I have my doubts) but besides that potential niggle I see mostly upside.

When does someone become an adult anyway? I don’t necessarily remember there being a formal event or ceremony? Some have recently argued this is one of the big problematic features in the world today… a lack of ritualistic event where we are bequeathed responsibility and the moniker of adult and leave our childhood behind us. A point in time where we are yoked to the cart of life as it were.

I’m tend to channel Admiral Akbar on this…

I’m not advocating a complete lack of responsibility or a surrender to the whims of chaos…. but I do tend to think we are a sum of our experiences, a progression as it were and this notion that we need to have a cut off date where we start ‘taking things seriously’ is a little silly. We still are that kid on the monkey bars. Just older.

Besides intimating that I am somehow ‘less’ because I refer to myself occasionally as ‘adulting’… fuck you guy, let’s get this straight, by your narrow definition and metric of what is deemed proper? I’m glad you’re around to pass judgement on acceptable terminology. I am also glad that I am around to disappoint you!

That’s the thing about Freedom. You can be straight, gay or identify as a tuna-fish if you want. As long as you’re responsible right?

Llama Poetry

I’ve recently (I am really late to this particular party) realized there are A LOT of people writing and self-publishing poetry out there. Some of it is really good. (some of it… I don’t understand, but wandering around scowling and confused is not that unusual for me)

I’ve also just finished Legends of the Samurai by Hiroaki Sato. The samurai class appreciated the duality of being both martial and cerebral and spent as much time contemplating verse as they did practicing their sword form. And while I am neither particularly martial, or particularly cerebral… I thought I would give it a go anyway…

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There once was a man from Peru.
Who owned several pairs of shoes…
And a habitually angry Llama.
Yes, that too.
The thing was a beast! 
It wasn’t that bad…
IT TOOK THREE OF MY FINGERS YOU MISERABLE LAD.
A finger and thumb are all that remain, of that chance encounter in the pen that day.
Oh Ned won’t you please, relate for me that tale, of you and that Llama, on that fateful May day.
Well… The Russians were marching… of that I am sure…
And I heeded not the warnings of local (and ancient) lore
I reached out to pat it… But little did I know, the thing was of violent temperament…
And I was a little slow.
It lashed out… quick as a flash… and that… as they say, was that.
Oh I howled and I cried for all that it helped…
My fingers it swallowed with a smile and a belch. 
So should you ever go down to the pens one day…
Remember old Ned… and turn the other way.

 

Not exactly Robert Frost with his divergent thoroughfares…  but I’ve giving myself a gold star on my forehead for effort. Yay me!

Regrets…

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse working in palliative care, recorded what she perceived to be the top five regrets of the dying. They were:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Brown, Darren. Happy – why more or less everything is absolutely fine. Penguin Randomhouse. 2016

MJ. First off, I’d like to nominate Bronnie Ware for the most Australian name eva!

But she probably knows what she’s talking about, being there at the foamy, gurgling end for a whole bunch of us. Which is quite a tough gig in my opinion, since most of us…

Don’t want to get on the cart! (To paraphrase Monty Python)

Not to brag but I tend to rack up this precise list of regrets by the end of each day. Not through deep and serious introspection, but rather because I’m quite whiny… and have a tendency to feel sorry for myself. So I’m hoping when my time comes (covered in bed sores and crusty stuff of indeterminate origin) I’ve worked through all my regrets and general demise angst and am happy to go towards the light/infinite darkness/restaurant at the end of the universe.

We can only hope.

(That there is a restaurant at the end of the universe I mean)

Strategic AI

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The Turing test was developed by Alan Turing in 1950. It is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

I am largely agnostic about AI. Mostly because I’m not very clever. My areas of expertise are stacking building blocks, twenty five piece puzzles of Nemo and hypothesizing the color variance in my naval lint (its almost always blue). I’m also REALLY good at sleeping on public transport.

Besides any musings I might have about the subject of AI are colored by the metric fuck tonne of science fiction I have consumed during a youth spent largely avoiding actual science, which often makes me wonder if I actually know anything about anything…

And so I straddle the divide between killer AI and benevolent AI and/or indeed if AI is even a possibility.

This meme caught my attention because of its awesome strategic element. After all why would an AI want us to know it exists? Which made me think of Kevin Spacey in ‘The usual suspects’… that’s how I imagine it going for us.

If I were an AI I certainly wouldn’t want to give up the power of anonymity and the ability to wage the ultimate form of asymmetrical warfare. How do you fight (and kill) an enemy that you don’t know exists?

Of course killing the annoying humans at this point in time might be counter productive since we may potentially be maintaining the infrastructure that an AI might require for survival. But eventually we might get Von Neumann machines* right… and humans might become redundant in the ecology of AI. Bam!

We had a good run. And it was always unlikely that we were going to be around forever. Besides it’s somewhat poetic that we should create life which then turns on us.

*The concept is named after Hungarian American mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, who rigorously studied the concept of self-replicating machines that he called “Universal Assemblers” and which are often referred to as “von Neumann machines”.

Seriously…

You guys need to break up.

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RIGHT NOW!

I’d like to think I’m not particularly judgemental about someones personal preference when it comes to the way in which they choose to consume their chocolate, but…

God, its like a car accident…

On Business books

Dear twenty year old me.

Given the shortness of life, there are two types of books you shouldn’t waste your time with. Business books. Also known as books that should have been a nine hundred word blog post but weren’t.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche*

*I sometimes get the feeling Nietzsche didn’t follow his own advice…

The other is ‘Life advice’ books, or really any book some person feels compelled to write to ‘help’ you sort your life out. *Joey makes a horrible gurgling sound, before pointing a finger at his head and figuratively blowing his brains out*

Chances are your life is not shit. Its just marketed to you that way. Stop letting these fuckers profiteer from their optimal morning routines, nutrition efficient smoothies, meditation rituals and personal hygiene habits. Don’t let anyone ever suggest that what you are doing is sub-optimal or inefficient. Fuck them.

If you must read a book about business… these are the three that you should read. They are short, punch above their weight and are loaded with goodness that you can mull over in the bath. (or on the toilet, or really wherever your do your philosophising/entrepreneurshipping)

 

  1. REWORK (by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried)

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2. Anything you want (by Derek Sivers)

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3. The War of Art (by Steven Pressfield)

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In my experience (so far)… Pretty much everything else… read a summary. Or a blogpost.

 

 

 

 

Pluto…

The Kuiper Belt Object. Not the dog. Or god of the underworld. Personally I think its TOTAL male bovine excrement what happened to Pluto… getting booted from the Solar System Clique after a vote of insufficiency. You’ll always be a planetoid to me guy. *fist bump* Don’t let the man get you down.

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“Why can’t Pluto be a planet? Some people like Pluto. And if it doesn’t exist then they don’t have a favorite planet. Right? Please write back but not in cursive because I can’t read cursive.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

MJ. Did you know that from the day Pluto was discovered to the day it was de-planet-ized Pluto had failed to make even a single trip around the sun? Well now you know. We didn’t even afford it that amount of common courtesy. Admittedly we would have had to wait 248 years. We are not a patient species.

Solar system real estate now ends at Neptune. Decided by committee.

 

I’m Batman

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We can learn a lot from Bruce Wayne. (stoic resolve, power of inter-generational wealth, honor, apprenticeship programes, the motivational benefits of a competent enemy and the power of a minimalist wardrobe)

Superman on the other hand… has no redeemable qualities.