Generations

For no good reason, I’ve been thinking about generations.

People have a tendency to communicate about generations a lot, which includes a lot of generalizations that rarely fit individuals I know. In the broad strokes, there is commonality among the ‘nurture’ aspect of generations, yet that commonality isn’t consistent at the individual level.

In essence, it’s a great way to express things that one doesn’t actually know too much about – something Millenials have been learning the hard way some time, something Generation X (my generation) learned long ago, and something that Generation Z will find out in time.

My generation was largely a disappointment to the previous generation – the Baby Boomers. And conversely, we found the Baby Boomers a bit disappointing ourselves because their judgements came from the world that they grew up in as opposed to the one that they created.

Like all generations, my generation wanted to change the world for what we thought was better – and we did some pretty amazing things given the tools we had pre-Internet.

The very idea that large numbers of people could coordinate around the world to bring their discontent with South African apartheid probably boggles the mind of post-Internet generations – but we didn’t do that alone by any stretch, despite what we may think. The truths related to this involved traditional big media, which was run by Baby Boomers. Was it giving the market what it wanted? Yes. Was it right? Yes. Was it something a few generations agreed on? Yes. Did Generation X take the credit for it? You bet we did, but we didn’t deserve as much as we thought.

Just as previous generations won’t deserve as much credit as they will think. It’s the way of it.

In this way, human society is a lot like rows of shark’s teeth: As they get worn out, broken, or lost, new teeth that have been waiting come to the front. We do not fear the teeth in the mouth of a shark, really – we fear the reputation of those that went before.

This all seems pretty important to think about and isn’t discussed much when we start talking about Millenials and Generation Z, and whatever comes next. We tend to write and speak of these generations as if they are isolated and lack the context of previous generations.

For better and worse, generations have the context of previous generations – and that needs to be mentioned just a little bit more.

Elevator Blocking Syndrome

Bald Man in RahpsodyI use elevators now and then – typically, I go with stairs just to get the exercise, but sometimes the elevators. Over the last week or so, I noticed something peculiar.

When I was getting off the elevator, the pupils of the person in front of me constricted – I tend to look straight into people’s eyes. A constriction like that is generally of anger, disgust — you know, those bad emotions.

It dawned on me that they were simply not expecting someone to come out of the magic room they use to go to other floors, and that when they stood right in front of the elevator and expected to walk right in as if they were the only ones on the planet, seeing someone like me waiting to get off at the very boundary of the door was disconcerting.

Which is why many normal human beings I know don’t linger right in front of the elevator, instead staying back to allow people to exit.

And that made me wonder if my pupils constrict when I see someone in front of the elevator when I’m about to get off because I’m irritated at people who crowd elevator doors.

All of this from some constricted pupils, which could also be caused by my silhouette against the elevator lights.

This is why I don’t enjoy people that much.

2019 and Beyond.

Practicing...I don’t know what’s going to happen.

That’s what every predictive post should really say, and then it should go on about opinions and thoughts that mean something to the writer and reader alike.

I’ve given up on predicting the future.

My plans, like my future, are subject to change.

2018 In Review.

I have all my marbles together, regardless of what others may say.
All marbles present and accounted for.

It’s been a pretty good year for me, in that the culmination of years – decades – of effort came to fruition. The downside was the loss of my mother, and having to miss her funeral because of foreign exchange issues.

Overall, it has been a year of personal growth and introspection. Unfettered from an old life, I entered a new one toward the middle of the year and haven’t looked back much – until I decided to write this, and in doing so have found that I’ve made great strides over the last months. That’s good.

Writing

Published in 2010, prior to the alleged mayan apocalypse, it still occupies about 60 cubic inches of bookstore space hereI’ve been writing more and publishing less – I’m saving the majority of the writing ‘for the ring’ – it has been a fight of sorts to get into that habit, and I hope to be done with a book before the end of next year if only to say that I did publish something else again, and that this time it isn’t a piece of tech writing that will be outdated by Moore’s Law and how fast the world accelerates it’s change.

Imagine seeing books written about the Mayan Apocalypse that we somehow all survived in 2012 on bookshelves in 2018. I wonder how it ends?

The technologu author nightmare... Discount books on antiquated tech.Or seeing a Windows Vista book in 2018 in the discount bin – a faint hope that someone who lacks anything resembling computer literacy will think it’s a good deal when, even at a discounted price, it’s an overpriced doorstop.

It’s particularly interesting to walk into bookstores in Trinidad and Tobago, places where dated material simply will not die, laying around as if someone might find spare parts from them useful for something more than a few paragraphs in a blog post.

Look. People still read books. Excerpt from #7thsense.The world is accelerating. People get information faster than the government bureaucracies can react. In a way it can be depressing, in another way it can be exhilarating – and what usually happens is that both ways are happening at the same time. It’s exhausting, really, new technologies come out as fast as the last one is profited from by the companies using them even before the elder technologies have had a time to mature. Ubiquitous cameras attached to what used to be ‘phones’ spam our world with so much information that we need systems in place that we can trust to assure we’re getting trustworthy news.

That hasn’t happened quite yet. In their quest for survival, elder media has dropped everything to become more fast than the bloggers, and have become just as bad at being trustworthy as some of those bloggers. People don’t want news as much as they want something that they can agree with in a world that so many seem to find disagreeable.

Fake News - Person Reading Fake News ArticleI don’t know what to think about that. I don’t know what to think about a lot of things – which, of course, doesn’t stop me from considering them. I’m just wise enough not to have as many opinions anymore, and wear the phrases, “I don’t know”, and, “I’m not sure” like raincoats on days of uncertain weather.

And these days of uncertainty mark our future – no one is exactly sure what’s going on because of the amount of noise in mankind’s communication. Where once there had to be a basis in fact to be accepted, now it’s the tyrannies of different mobs fighting it out in our social media feeds, combined with people who unfortunately write as clearly as they think and infect other low literates with bad ideas. Heaven forbid they have good ones and learn how to communicate them properly – but in the race to impress fastest, we’re attempting to get better at communicating through ochlocracy parading as democracy, a holdover from the unanswered questions related to ‘smart mobs’ where in fact the average IQ of a smart mob is not as high as Rheingold would have had people think. But hey, he took a lot of pictures with his hat and sold a lot of books without having to worry too much about things – a true factor of ochlocracy.

Hate & AngerI digress. That’s all been part of 2018, where figureheads are blamed for the sins of the masses when in fact they are only symptoms. The reality is that we have these specialized systems that are smarter than the implementations of democracy. Some of the most intolerable ideas to leap from the tongues of the most intolerant – who, of course, are intolerant of intolerance and find nothing wrong with that logic.

And while I’m writing about intolerance, for regular blogging the new editor and layout with blocks for WordPress.com is intolerable. I imagine for a photo blog it might be worthwhile.

Coding

Now that I don’t have to code for someone to pay the bills, I’m enjoying coding again except for, as I note, all the unsupported and or poorly documented libraries and tools out there. The answer, of course, is to either find different ones or rewrite my own – which robs me of the inertia.

My word, people-who-call-themselves-developers-or-engineers – you ain’t a developer or engineer if you don’t document things and keep that documentation up to date.

So, I’m fiddling around with some natural language processing, machine learning and the Anki Vector SDK Alpha. These are not particularly lucrative things to do in that large corporations with R&D budgets larger than the GDP of entire nations are doing just about everything but shaving with Ockham’s Razor.

I just really like playing with information and understanding how it interacts in this day and age, as well as how we interact with it – and how it affects us as individuals and society.

Information

I recently was called disrespectful because someone in Trinidad and Tobago was posting the raw number of murders in Trinidad and Tobago, which by itself shows an increase, but doesn’t actually related to anything such as – as I pointed out – population size. With an estimated population of 1.2-1.5 million, 500 murders in a year is 0.0416% to 0.0333%.

So, actually knowing the population size has an effect on how that percentage looks – and while people are claiming that census data is available, I have yet to meet someone in Trinidad and Tobago who has been counted in a true census. This means that all the planning data for Trinidad and Tobago is based off of extrapolated data – and when people are talking about the number of murders versus the per capita percentage of murders, it demonstrates that there’s just no real data.

There’s ways to test for fake data, too – Benford’s Law immediately comes to mind, and the fraud detection aspect of predictive analytics is well worth exploring.

None of this really affects the media and society as much as simply repeating a falsehood until it is accepted as a truth, but it’s worth exploring because falsehoods that are better tolerated have some truth in them – for example, a raw number of murders – but lack a context (such as population size).

For those of us that think, the world has become a busy place if we pay attention. What I’d like my coding to actually do is help me avoid having to do all that thinking and processing of information when I look at the world – which, of course, is subject to the interpretation of the coding, which is subject to my biases, which is subject to how I am influenced by information, which… goes around in a circle.

But it, like other things, keeps me out of trouble, as I managed to do in 2018. We’ll see how 2019 goes.

Prompted Groot.

Lootcrate Exclusive Glowing Groot Pop Marvel FigureWhoever dredged up the music for the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Deadpool’ movies is a genius.

I’ve pondered this for weeks as I trailed through the music on YouTube and where it lead me, even as I did other things – new hobbies, old habits. There’s a wash of nostalgia that I felt but couldn’t explain.

It bothers me when I can’t explain something. Little Groot dancing to the songs he did made me think back to the years where I rode around in the back seat of an array of cars, between States, between places, the journey almost always better than the destinations largely because of the music that oozed out of the impedance matched 8 track systems. To listen to the music is to want to feel the wind across my face and through my hair from the wound down window of the back seat of the Barracuda, or the station wagon, of the Power Wagon… and of the horrible radio in the ugly blackish Duster in Dayton, Ohio.

Undisturbed from the normalcy of what society defines life as – that busy and unproductive suite of actions that people fumble through daily – I was able to reconnect with thoughts and emotions that had been locked away for decades, the soundtrack of innocence of my age through the ears of hard won knowledge and wisdom.

We forget too much.

I suppose as we grow older – we get caught up in what society demands of us in the unfortunate Faustian bargain we are born into – different for everyone, yet the cost never truly seems to give us the value that we were sold in our innocence.

Do this. Get that. Follow this path. Get to this destination. Stay on the path. Scorn those off the path. Work hard and everything will work out.

Bullshit successes, largely, empty of meaning when achieved all because in that bargain born into, we never get to negotiate our own bargains because we don’t truly know what we can get, we are told we can get whatever we want…. and largely, we don’t. So we settle, we lose our dreams, we lose who we are in trying to become who we are not.

And yet, we can remember the days with the window down, the wind in our hair and across our faces, and the comfort of music through a now antique music system even as we watch the world visually attached to flat screens instead of the shifting landscape, with ears plugged with headphones locking people away from the world around them, lost to the collective Faustian bargains of those who came before.

In odd moments, prompted by music from our childhood, we remember these things – and I am left wondering what the newer generations will remember of their childhood in the Faustian bargains that previous and our own generations sold them.

GrootWe are Groot – tendrils of ourselves creating the new society, making the handles of tools that can be weapons, making weapons that can be tools, not forging ahead as in the Industrial narrative hammered into my generation by the Faustian blacksmiths of before.

Organically, we reach through the generations with the things we trade, and we only see the hours of toil instead of the shifting agreement for the hours of toil. In youth, we do not understand the world, and in age few of us do beyond our own little perspective, increasingly fed by what others tell us to think through the flat screens.

Where are the open windows of the backseats of cars that blew our hair, with soundtracks written by lyricists who lead us to question, to play, to ponder?

We were Groot. I’m not sure we still are.

How I’m Not Finishing a Book.

There are a million and one books out there – perhaps a million and two – about how to write a book. They’re all full of advice, and some are good – most are horrid – and it seems to me that given my own situation, it’s appropriate to write about how not to finish writing a book.

It’s the death of a thousand paper cuts in a digital age. 

Like all people who call themselves ‘writers’, when asked about whether I’m writing a book or not, I say, ‘yes’. Then it gets more complicated. People want to know what it’s about, people want to know what sort of writing you do, what you’ve published before, and so on and so forth.

I’ve come up with, “When you read it, you’ll understand it”, and found that depressingly untrue as I evaluate people who ask the question.

They may never understand.

Then you have all these writing contests, where people talk about how much they have written in a day, which is akin to IBM’s old and abandoned metric for computer programming – Single Lines of Code (SLOC).

What does it mean that you wrote 3,000 words today? I could write a dictionary and make that claim. Personally, I’d prefer writing a thesaurus.

On top of this, at last count there seemed to be approximately a zillion resources on publishing the book you haven’t finished, which forms it’s own distraction. Will I publish here? There?

And who is my audience? And what are critics saying about books like this? Will anyone read this? Is it worth it? Let me surf the Internet for a while.

Worse, books like ’50 Shades of Idiot’ pop up on the radar, and you realize how fickle even women are – on one side, rampaging feminists rooting out every penis they can find, on the other, books about toxic and abusive relationships for women are being bought by women. Oh, the market, so fickle, so very… human. And what if you mention BDSM relationships? Why is that poorly written series of books so popular with women? Is it because who should be the villain is rich?

Suddenly, you become acutely aware of how inconvenient potential readers can be. Again, like software engineering, life would be easier without users.

You still write, of course, but these things keep eclipsing the muse with the nagging doubts. You keep reading, of course, because reading is good for you for many reasons, not the least of which being you are digesting what you will eventually cough up over your keyboard with the juices of your life intermingled. And when that visual hits you, you sit there staring at the ceiling just long enough to really make the nagging voices their own muse.

And then you write this.

Oh, you made it this far? You poor soul.

And then I start thinking back to why I started writing, about the earliest of muses.

For me, it was hiding in a library in secondary school when the Physics class I got kicked out of was in session (I did very well in Physics because of that). Hidden within the tomes of books – so many books for a young mind – sat J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. 

I’d already devoured ‘The Hobbit’. My life pretty much sucked, so escapism was a plus. And I began reading the story that Tolkien had woven together – not written, woven. The world was alive in my young mind, the details sometimes as dense as Butterbur himself.

And then, there, leaned between the bookshelves of a school library, with a wary eye out for authority figures, my mind soaked itself in a new world and was so happy that it said, “I want to be able to do this!”

Then at home, mining things to read from my father’s sacred collections of books — mainly novels — I found between the engineering texts a book of engineering specifications of the U.S.S. Enterprise, 1701. Someone had written a book on how the ship worked, including ‘Desitter Space’ for Warp drives. I studied it, learning nothing of practical use, but it was a new world.

And then my mind roved back to the magic of seeing Star Wars and it’s characters, and how R2D2 captured my imagination – but my mother was in love with C3PO and thought, mistakenly, that I liked C3PO – not realizing I always laughed at C3PO and with R2D2, the clearly more intelligent robot who had communication issues that I completely understood.

Clearly I understood. My mother bought me C3PO as a gift and didn’t understand why I dismembered it. It ends up I was also prescient. 

And with all of that flooding back into me, about what made me passionate about worlds that made sense as opposed to the one I was born into – there was a reason I kicked and screamed on entrance that I did not know – the world falls away to the page, the idiots capitalizing on the death of Stan Lee fade into the background, and the writing can continue.


Don’t Make It Suck More.

Case Toothpick

He sat there quietly on the steps, playing with the pocket knife he had been sharpening in whatever time he had, massaging it against an oiled whetstone when there was a break from work in the printery. There was no anger or rage, no fear or discomfort – a complete apathy had settled over him, as comfortable as a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night where he was born 15 years ago.

He’d just been kicked out of Physics class, one of the few classes he enjoyed, for highlighting a mistake made by the teacher – he was told never to return to the class.

He studied the honed blade and tested it against the young hair on his forearm, deriving no pleasure from how well he had sharpened the knife, how the knife shaved as well as a straight razor, scraping dead skin with it.

Things had not been going that well.

There was no one to talk to, really – to speak of things bothering him was a sign of weakness, and there’s little room for weakness between young men crushed together under the weight of a school where everyone in authority told him that he could do better when he didn’t meet their expectations. He had not yet learned that when he did well they did not speak, all that he heard was that he was not working hard enough.

The same happened at home. Nothing was ever good enough. There were no smiles involving him, the laughter was either directed at him or about something he wasn’t supposed to be party to. No matter what he did, it seemed, it wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard he worked in his drunk father’s business, it didn’t matter. His stepmother was a lost cause, off typing away and dragging her feet on hard wood floors, her inability to cook not open for discussion despite him having to walk home for lunch every day.

It was a control, keeping him from speaking with others at school except in class or breaks.

The printery did little more than make ends meet, with glorious plans espoused by his father that were not attainable.

“If you pulled your weight…”, “If you tried harder…”… well, that was what he was fed with every day in every aspect of his life. He did try hard. He wasn’t perfect. He responded to painful stimuli just like everyone else, to a point, to a point where he was squaring off with everyone when beaten into a corner like an animal. He started coming out of that corner swinging, and that, too, didn’t help.

He remembered a drunk uncle who had been a doctor in an emergency room complaining about how people didn’t know how to kill themselves properly – they slit their wrists the wrong way, and he had gone about explaining the right way. It’s odd the things that stick in a young mind.

He didn’t fit in at school. He was mocked for his cheap black shoes, even slapped on the back of the head by schoolmates driving by as he walked back to his prison. He seethed.

Maybe it would be easier for everyone if he just wasn’t around. The thought had no feeling to it – there was an apathetic pragmatism to someone who, already confused by puberty, the culture shock of being of another place and of a mixed ‘race’, and no way to let any of it out without more of the same burden that had been piling up for years.

He traced the knife point – he had honed that part the most, for opening boxes of paper – along the path that the drunk doctor had demonstrated, quietly. There was no thought of death. There was a thought of leaving life and escaping a world that was heavy-handedly trying to sculpt him into something he could not be.

Those he loved could not be pleased, those he liked could not be pleased, and the response that broiled in him just made things worse over and over again.

Life, to him, was pain. As he fiddled with the knife, he thought about what might be said about him should he leave, and realized it simply wouldn’t matter anymore.

A deep breath. The index finger steadied itself behind the blade of the knife, feeling the curve of it. “It might take a while”, he thought, but he had nowhere he wanted to be and nothing better to do based on the validations of others.

There was no pain when the point pricked the skin, revealing a drop of life’s juice. Another deep breath, preparation for the stroke….

“Don’t do that.”, said a familiar voice, quiet and deep, friendly. He looked up from his wrist, down the stairs and saw quiet and large Jojo, who looked up with the penetrating and humorous expression he always seemed to have . Jojo beckoned with his hand, and the moment was over.

He went and hung out with Jojo.

In that pivotal moment, the straw did not break the camel’s back, and, as it happens, it never did.

People like to talk about suicide after people have committed suicide, or when they have suicidal ideations. You’ll hear all the buzzwords – depression, ‘mental health issues’, and then you’ll hear the judgements about being selfish. You’ll hear people say that they had no idea, that they had just spoken to them not long ago, and how well they knew them.

The only suicide experts are dead. Everyone else just has theories. Everyone is different.

Corpsman UpI’ve lost friends, acquaintances and loved ones to suicide. I’ve also talked a lot of people out of it – more than I’ve lost – by not talking, instead listening. And I’ve lost a few I did listen to. 

Everyone who commits suicide has a reason that people who don’t commit suicide don’t understand. Few people who have stared into that particular abyss are even allowed to talk about it in society, or in a conversation with a counselor, without some judgement that somehow seems to make it all worse. I imagine that there are more people who have thought about suicide than any scientific study would reveal.

In some religions, it’s a sin – for the religious, the ultimate backstop. Another reason not to say anything about it. It’s taboo, more so than the the Internet History of many religious people’s web browsers.

It’s real.

As the above showed, it didn’t take much even in the moment to stop it, but it did not stop what lead up to it. While some- many? – people are oblivious to how difficult other people’s lives are, simply not being a jerk is enough.