I’m an honest person, which is something everyone says or writes at some point with various levels of integrity. I have references on this honesty, though, and I’ve managed to live my life without too much sway in this regard in adulthood. As I have grown older, I have been even more careful about what I say or write because inevitably, you have to live by it – unless you’re a politician, which I have had the good sense to not be.
I wasted a paragraph bastioning my honesty because I have, on occasion, had to flex, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America where antiquated bureaucracies make corruption possible, though there was one incident with a police officer in Orlando, Florida. You see, you can be honest, but the world itself is made up of systems that less scrupulous characters will take advantage of – but are they less scrupulous or themselves victims of a system? That’s a debate that is best looked at case by case.
One particular incident comes to mind when I think of bribery.
I was in Nicaragua in 2005, part of my wandering through Latin America that was blamed on the publisher of Linux Journal but was simply an opportunity for travel I refused to miss at that point in life. And, as I do, I made friends with people in Nicaragua, and had gotten passable at conversational Spanish.
The day before I was to leave Nicaragua – I think I was going to Colombia next, I don’t remember – a friend needed a lift from Managua to Lago Managua. I enjoyed driving in Nicaragua because of the vast stretches of beautiful landscape, and the old Yaris I had rented was a surprising pleasure to drive only because it was manual, allowing me to eek out every drop of horsepower from the tiny engine. So we went, and I dropped him to Lago Managua, where he was to wait for a boat to take him to the center of the lake where he was setting up internet connectivity – he would later work at Amazon.com – and, with nothing there, I wanted to get back quickly because I was hungry and he dismissed me.
Heading back to the hotel in Managua where I would spend my last night, I had the little Yaris as close to airborne as possible… and a large truck was relatively slowly making it’s way somewhere. I flew past, overtaking it, seeing another truck ahead of it, when in between I saw the car – and as I drew parallel, AK-47s poked their way out of the open windows at the little Yaris. At me. I was already past them at this point, and had the little Yaris screaming for more air at the top of 5th gear.
I really could have used one more cylinder in that engine at that point – I forget what they were driving, but they easily caught me. The flashing lights set me a little at ease, so I pulled over, turned the car off, threw the keys on the dash and placed my hands on the top of the steering wheel. This is the universal way to say, ‘I’m not reaching for anything’.
Once they- there were three of them – saw I was no threat, the rifles got pointed away. They were speaking to me in Spanish about not passing a police vehicle, driving recklessly, and so on – so I decided to not speak as much Spanish as I knew and got them to hand me the Spanish/English dictionary in the back seat of the car so that we could figure it all out. After all, they had the drop on me with automatic weapons, the car I was driving was certainly no RX-7 or muscle car, and I was a very long way from anywhere.
They threatened to take my driver’s license so that they could track me down for a fine, which wouldn’t work – I needed that driver’s license for the next country – and I explained that to them. And then, in halting Spanish, I asked, “Is there a way that we can fix this without getting all of that involved?”
Long story short – it cost me $3 US to get out of that issue, which was probably the whole point – that would easily buy a bottle of rum. I was fortunate they were satisfied with what was in my wallet as well as providing them a good story they could laugh at.
That was a bribe. But it was also a way to get out of a painful situation where I was very vulnerable. I don’t know much about Nicaraguan police, I don’t know that this was the norm or not, but I do know in that particular situation I was pretty happy to leave $3 less, intact, and in good stead with the local police.
The point here is that you can be as honest as you want, but sometimes the easiest path isn’t the one that systems push us toward – and that’s where corruption comes in. Could they have wagged their finger at me and let me go? Of course. They chose not to, because they took me down a path where they got to shake me down. And I allowed them to do so because the alternative they offered in their positional authority was not attractive at all.
My honesty, my integrity – that would have meant little to anyone had I not simply gave them what was in my wallet.
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.
I 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.
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.
I’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?
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.
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.
I 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Whoever 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.
We 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?