Eleven Years

One: OTOH, holy cheeseburger with onion rings, it’s this blog’s Eleven Year Anniversary. Not to mention, just last week, the nine-year anniversary of retiring from the rat race. Perhaps it’s because Summer Solstice has passed (and now the light is dying), or maybe that my mom would have been 98 (the day after Tau Day), but I find myself more reflective and thoughtful at this mid-year turning than I do, despite the influence of Janus, at New Year’s.

Other: OTOH, I’m steeped in ennui and have never felt less like writing a blog post. The question is whether the pressure of the anniversary overcomes the desire to putter, read, or nap. I’m writing this (and presumably you’re reading it), so it looks like the day won over the mood.

So… Happy Something day. Here’s a standard disgruntled anniversary ramble…

Except… I get tired of myself yet again railing about how messed up the world is (and make no mistake, it is hugely messed up). Let’s just take it as given and move on.

Other, Other: OTOOH, I usually write this anniversary post as a statsgasm of charts and lists (and links), but it’s largely the same story this year as it was last year. The top posts are still the top posts and activity has been about the same (low trickle that it is). The stats this year don’t even interest me, so I’m not going to subject readers to them.

Which leaves the disgruntled ramble.

And the usual anniversary pondering about blog direction. I still want to write about technical topics. To amuse myself, if nothing else (and document my various “ship in a bottle” projects). Every year, though, I vow to return to a more “web log” style. Screw production values, screw planning and polishing, just ramble off the top of my head.

The problem is that it’s so contrary to my background and training. Planning, preparation, polishing. I am, in part, a showman. Production values matter. It’s hard to publish something I haven’t given much thought to.

So, it’s the annual, yeah, we’ll see what happens. Anything could.

§ §

Traditionally I make some sort of 3D model to commemorate the day, but my ennui makes the (rather large degree of) effort involved an effective blockade. And, truth be told, I haven’t felt the creative urge like I used to. It hasn’t entirely evaporated, but it doesn’t churn like it used to. I’m definitely slowing down.

I thought of it too late, but modeling a maze struck me as kinda fun:

The entrance to the maze is on the left (with first part of path marked in red). The exit is on the far upper right.

I have some Python code that random generates mazes like this. Just tell it how many rows and columns (the one above is 40×40). As with my random text generator, there are a lot of parameters that affect how the maze looks.

The ultimate goal would be an animation featuring a run through the maze:

Enter the maze!

But this project didn’t occur to me until a couple of days ago, so I didn’t have time to do anything for the blog anniversary.

What I’d really like to do is add a Python module to my little maze-generating suite to have it emit data POV-Ray can use to build a 3D maze model. Here I’m using a 2D maze image file (that I convert to negative grayscale) as a height map. The maze shown in the images above is, in a sense, “extruded” from the ground based on how bright the pixels of the maze image are at that point.

In the image, the maze walls are white, so those parts of the “ground” extrude up as maze walls in the rendering. The coloring of the walls is just a color map also based on pixel brightness (or, effectively, height).

Such height maps are typically used to simulate mountainous terrain:

Although they can be anything one imagines depending on the input image:

Or like a maze. The one just above is based on a deliberately low-resolution image of simulated wave patterns interfering. Each “skyscraper” is a single “pixel” of the image.

It is fun stuff to play with, which is why I keep doing it. The amount of detailed effort needed makes it grow old fast, and I walk away from it for a while, but I always seem to return.

§

This last week, as I mentioned last post, I’ve gotten back into my moving particle simulations, but now with a proper collision handling function. Before I had to consider my particles point-like; all collisions were head-to-head. Now I can simulate things like (virtual) “pool balls” with glancing collisions.

To be clear, this is all pretty trivial stuff. It’s the basic foundation stuff far more sophisticated 3D rendering engines solved long ago. The dynamics of colliding objects, especially canonically spherical objects, is simple and well understood.

So, these animated videos are basically kindergarten finger paintings, but, firstly, they’re also as much fun as finger painting, and secondly, more importantly, I like the hands-on learning about these foundation basics. I like trying to figure them out for myself and then seeing how close I came (sometimes pretty close).

Bottom line, I’ve long found foundation topics live up to their name. They form strong platforms for understanding the world. I may not have the long-developed highly focused expertise of experts, but after studying these topics literally all my life, I can generally keep up okay. There’s a lot to be said about being a Jack of Trades. Life, spice, variety.

Bottom line, it’s about curiosity and broad interests (openness to new experiences). It’s about learning to learn and how to think critically (which is not to say negatively, but thoughtfully, carefully, and with physical reality uppermost in mind).

But I think it starts with curiosity and questions. When those flames die, so do our minds.

§ §

Which takes me back to where I started. (And, oh my, look at the time. If I’m to post this on its proper day, I need to wrap this up. No time for stats and charts. What a shame.)

In Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night, that bit about a significant fraction of people being philosophical zombies has really stayed with me. [See this post.] It seems to have taken me to a new stage regarding how I see “the world” (which is to say, the humans that inhabit it).

The first stage, way back in high school, involved wondering what the hell was wrong with people, why where they so… dumb? All my life, from when I started speaking, a key piece of consistent feedback I got from the world was about how smart I was. Usually followed by implicit or explicit feedback that I was a freak, not one of the flock, not entirely human. Quasimodo.

I decided back then that people just weren’t trying. Being “smart” was like being fit. Seemed obvious. Exercise your body, you get fit; exercise your mind, you get smart. I just figured I’d been one of those naturally fit people. Or I’d gotten so used to working out daily that I just didn’t notice it. I figured people just hadn’t had their attention drawn to how they were being intellectual couch potatoes. I called it The Death of a Liberal Arts Education.

Crucially, I thought it was curable. Fixable. Just get people exercising.

§

The second stage occurred somewhere around the turn of the century (it’s kind of fun being old enough and positioned in time such that I can use that phrase). It was an epiphany. Being smart, at least to some extent, isn’t like being fit; it’s like being tall.

It’s something you’re born with (or without); not something you can cure. Hence the comments all my life. Hence my mis-matched point of view all my life. Hence my abiding sense of being relatively alone out on the flats of the bell curve.

What was interesting is that this view freed me from blaming people for not trying and from expecting them to “pick up the pace” intellectually. That’s like expecting someone to be taller. Absent some radical surgery, not gonna happen. Certainly not by trying.

“There is no try…”

§

Sawyer’s idea got me thinking about this in terms of conscious minds versus functioning brains. His SF premise aside, if consciousness is a spectrum, it’s possible that spectrum includes the degree of consciousness. I think the overwhelming complexity of consciousness adds weight to the notion that it emerges to varying degrees.

The laser light analogy is useful here. Materials that can lase can also offer a spectrum of how the laser light emerges, its intensity, purity, etc. It depends on the exact structure of the lasing material. Energy obviously also affects that spectrum. Bottom line, laser light can be weak or strong; it can even fail to emerge.

Which is all to say I keep seeing more and more of humanity framed by the notion of just how conscious individuals might be. A low, or lack of, consciousness seems to explain so much. It’s as if the world suddenly makes a lot more sense to me.

It seems this has always been the case. It’s an aspect of humanity. There is the famous line from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” More recently, Camus wrote “An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.” Bonhoeffer’s famous letter about stupidity seems to include this view. Sawyer certainly seems to be channeling it — it’s a key aspect of his plot.

Any perceived difference can become a way of dismissing people, but it can also be a frame for understanding them. As with my epiphany about being tall versus being fit, it can free us from false expectations (but beware of slippery slopes — keep your virtue ethics light burning bright). Intellect, at least to some degree, depends on the brain. It’s part of the natural spectrum of humanity, which varies in all traits.

The new stage of thinking for me is realizing how broad that spectrum might be when it comes to consciousness. It’s something I want to start writing about. I’ve tip-toed around stupidity for eleven years. Enough!

§

We need to face up to the fact that stupidity is orthogonal to education. Some very educated people are very stupid, and some very uneducated people aren’t. (I still think a Liberal Arts education that stresses literature, art, and critical thinking, really helps.)

And I think we need to face up to the degree to which modern culture foments stupidity, allows it to flourish. Too many of our TV shows and movies are written by mental infants. I don’t blame culture, but I definitely think it reflects us, and I suspect it can be an enabler, a closed feedback loop.

I have to say it again: That a key (adult!) media empire is based on comic book superheroes astonishes me. That another is based on a space fantasy, while others are based on toys and amusement park rides.

I just don’t get the teddy bear security blanket safe warm crib aspect of it all.

But then “lies to children” (and the lies we carry into adulthood) is another part of culture (always has been — there is no Santa Claus). I was thinking about this while watching a PBS show about a kid’s first visit to a farm. Meeting the friendly animals, Ms. Cow, Ms. Chicken, Ms. Sheep, and Ms. Pig. All delicious friends.

Funny thing about pigs… Cows give milk, chickens give eggs, sheep give wool, bees give honey. The males are all necessary to keep things going. But pigs are the only animal that gives us nothing. We raise them only to kill and eat them. (Which is the reason the Jews won’t touch them.)

§ §

Speaking of anniversaries, the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced at CERN ten years ago today.

And, BTW, we should be very close to seeing the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope! Check this page.

Stay tall, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

27 responses to “Eleven Years

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I really don’t get the Santa Claus lie. What are parents thinking?

    • diotimasladder

      I’m amazed so many people have horrible memories of finding out the truth about Santa Claus. I never took the Santa Claus story literally, so there was never a moment of disappointment when I found out the truth. To me it was always a wonderfully elaborate game of make-believe, but that’s not even quite right; I didn’t make some sharp line between reality and fiction. Whether Santa was “real” or not was totally beside the point. I even remember staying up late on Christmas Eve and sneaking a peek. When I went out into the hallway I saw a bluish light (I learned the next morning that the light came from a light up globe, which was so cool) coming from the living room, where my dad was in his pajamas putting all my “Santa” gifts out. It felt like a magical moment. I was so excited. End of story. It wasn’t like I said to myself, “My dad is pretending to be Santa Claus, so there is no real Santa Claus. Boo hoo.” The point was the magical blue light in the middle of the night. I couldn’t wait to see what it was.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It is amazing parents still abuse their children this way. As I said in the post, there are already so many (arguably necessary) lies we tell children, I just can’t fathom why any parent would heap it on, especially regarding something as important to most kids as Christmas. It’s one of those things about humanity that, the more I think about it, the weirder and more wrong it seems. I don’t perceive any value in it at all.

        The weird thing about my upbringing regarding Santa Claus was the reason my parents never gave us that lie: They regarded SC as a “false idol” — a rather Old Testament view, especially for Lutherans (the mildest and most white bread (and generally white bred) of the Christian religions). But the upshot was they never posed fictional characters as anything other than fictional. (And they had no objections on that level. Fiction was fine. They were actually pretty mellow in their views, and never pushed them on others, but they were quite firm in their own minds about certain aspects. They were always fine with me finding my own way through all that. They even supported my high school bout of extreme atheism.)

        Sounds as if you had a reasonable and sensible childhood. Probably why you turned out so well. 😉

      • diotimasladder

        What about just telling the kiddies Santa Claus is a fictional character?

        I don’t remember my parents lying to me about anything. They certainly didn’t tell me everything, but they’d answer honestly if I asked. (And I know this is true in the case of my mother, who couldn’t lie to save her life. She would literally run away from you when she was trying to hide something. It was hysterical.)

        I think the whole Christmas enterprise has become—has been for a long time now—a pretty secular affair…which is probably why I like to go all in. Gimme those ridiculous blow-up dolls, deck the halls, all that. Anyway, I’m curious. Did your parents object to Christmas on the whole? With all its rampant materialism and gaudy spectacle? Or just Santa?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes, exactly. That’s how it was for us. Santa, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, et cetera, those were on the same level as fairy tale characters, Superman, or Sherlock Holmes. And I, likewise, have little memory of my parents lying to us, although there were a few moments along the way that I now look back and wonder about. (Like our first dog. The story was that he was given to a farm upstate where he lived out a happy life as a little dog stud. I’ve wondered about that one, but other than a rare few like that our parents were entirely forthcoming. They came from farmer stock, so were pretty earthy and open to most discussion.)

        I’ve been amused over the recent years monitoring how early Christmas starts. Used to not kick in until after Thanksgiving, but I’ve seen Christmas displays popping up shortly after Halloween. I’m waiting for it to start shortly after the 4th of July. Yeah, totally commercial. Some businesses depend on it for their annual income. (Although Halloween seems to be catching up in terms of people spending money on a holiday. My ex- was way into Halloween.) With most of my friends these days I’ve got it down to, “Let’s just buy a bottle of something for each other and leave it at that.”

        My parents had no problem with Christmas. After all, it celebrates the birth of Jesus, and they were always very clear on that. After Christmas Eve dinner, we’d have a small “service” to remind us what the occasion was about and then on to the presents. (We were poor, so there weren’t many, but there were always some.) And candy and cheap little toys in the Christmas stockings the next morning. (And, of course, we knew exactly who filled those stockings.) And they were fine with Santa — he just wasn’t real (but, you know, God and Jesus were). And back in the 1960s Christmas wasn’t the commercial juggernaut it is today. We were too poor to get involved in what commercialism there was.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    These anniversary posts (and the New Year’s posts) do have a lot of links back to previous posts. This one has nine, which isn’t at all close to a record. (Usually, those stats and charts have a lot of links back to the posts in question. Here it was just a bunch of references.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And make no mistake, I love pork! The various forms of ham are delicious enough, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world with no bacon.

    That said, I do look forward to a world with cloned vat meat. The industrialized chain for mass production of animal meat, in virtue of its sheer size, can never be made less than horrific. Humanity just isn’t possible in volume.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Happy eleventh anniversary!

    For some reason, I thought you had retired before starting the blog. I didn’t realize you blogged for a couple of years while still working. Not sure why I thought that.

    On the Santa Claus thing, a friend of mine was resolved not to mislead his kids about it, but his wife overruled him. Interestingly, they’re devout Evangelical Christians. When one of their daughters later learned the truth about Santa, they ended up having to talk her down from concluding Jesus was in the same category.

    I’m with you on vat meat. I think it is possible to treat farm animals humanely, but it requires extra care and cost, and without constant scrutiny, the track record of companies doing it is pretty bad.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! You probably didn’t follow me in the first few years. I wrote about work a lot (including the time I had to scramble to find another position).

      Your friend’s wife is selective in how she understands her religion. We were Lutherans, so a lot milder and more whitebread about our religion, but the reason my parents disdained Santa Claus was the Commandment about no false idols. For one thing, as your friends found, they end up in conflict.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Wow, that event sounds brutal. But your actual retirement announcement was the next year, so it sounds like you managed to hold on to reach the next level. I can see why you got out when you did.

        I’ve been through several reorgs, including one where I largely got shunted out of the way, but never had anything like that happen. I was relieved that the new CIO we got a couple of years ago resisted the urge to remake the organization, particularly after the previous leadership had reorged us, then did more reorging, then let things settle down for a few months, before a planned radical reorg, just before they were all fired.

        On my friends, yeah, I think part of that was she wasn’t nearly as religious when their kids were born, but got more devout over time. After that experience, I doubt she’d do the Santa thing again (or Easter Bunny, or any of the others). The daughter actually just got married. I wonder what she’ll do with her own kids.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That one was the second time my position had been eliminated. The first time they closed the entire department I worked in (talk about a re-org!). It turned out this time the position I found was one of the worst I had during my 34 years there. Open office floor plan, a less-than-savvy boss, and a strong sense my era (of custom software design) had passed (at least as far as the corporation was concerned). Kind of an ignoble end to a long and fraught career.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I’ve been really off my feed all month. Haven’t gotten much done; just been blah, meh, and tired. Mostly, I’ve let the laptop generate frames for some animations. Like for this one…

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And I did get back into my maze code. That resulted in this:

  • Lady from Manila

    Congratulations, Wyrd. Your blog has always been worthy of following. It’s been a while. I hope to become your reader once again.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Well, here’s a name I haven’t seen in a long time. You still at it (blogging), too? How the heck are ya? (And thank you for the compliment. Sadly, I’m afraid your opinion is not widely shared.)

      • Lady from Manila

        Never mind my blogging — not active anymore. I’m simply glad we’ve reconnected. You’ve always known my high regards for you as a cerebral writer, Wyrd.

        We’ve both grown much older now. How time flies. But enough period remains to take pleasure in renewed camaraderie. And our kind who’s still around here should kinda stick together. Pleased to join your community once again.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, the irony is that, after eleven years, I find myself wondering how much longer I want to do this. WordPress has changed for the worse, and long-form blogging increasingly seems a dead craft. You’re by no means the only blogger I’ve seen give it up. I keep asking myself why I still bother with it, and … 🤷🏼‍♂️

      • Lady from Manila

        WordPress is past its glory days. But that doesn’t mean your passion for writing should follow its downhill slide. Oh, you can’t quit now that I’m back 🙂. I’ve been catching up scrolling down and reading (what my mind can manage to comprehend). I see each post and I go “Wow, Wyrd is still very much in his element, and even got better.” And you’ve been more open about your life and history. I’m merely using my Android phone these days so it allows me to reach only up to your Dec 2020 entries. I will have to take out my laptop again soon so I can go way back further.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, this will probably turn out to just be a brief hiatus. I took all of 2017 off but started up again in 2018. Sometimes one just needs to do something else for a while.

        Android only lets you go back to 2020? Browsing the LogosConCarne site or using the WP app for Android? (I can see the app being problematic. WP coding leaves something to be desired.)

      • Lady from Manila

        I’m using WP app for Android. I’ll be dusting off my laptop anytime now so I’ll be able to reach down your earlier posts.

        Oh, do take a break if you feel like it. I’ll get busy perusing your compositions I had missed. Again, what you add to the comments section could pass for a blogpost itself. How I’m reminded these days you’re a computer and math geek possessing a highly scientific mind who writes in an interesting style, which is not typical of most erudite minds. Always a pleasure, Wyrd.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        FWIW, I’ve found WP software (and support) rather underwhelming, so I’m not surprised their app is limited. You might consider using your phone’s browser (Chrome?) to access LogosConCarne.com directly. Or your laptop. Whatever works for ya.

        Ha, yeah, I do treat my comments section like a Twitter account. I don’t have (or want) Twitter, so I use comments as a way of recording little notes and thoughts. They do go on sometimes, I admit. (Until I got into “the arts” I assumed I would be a scientist. Computers actually came third, so it’s ironic they turned out to be the basis of my career.)

  • diotimasladder

    Looking at your maze is making me feel like Algernon before the operation.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      LOL! 😂🤣

      I’ve always been fascinated by mazes, although most of that fascination has to do with how they’re made and what kinds of mazes exist and how would one write software to create and solve mazes.

      As an aside, I not only solved the issue mentioned in the post — getting my maze generating software to directly create a data file my POV-Ray rendering engine can use to render the maze in 3D — but made a video animating the creation and solving of a maze:

      Which, as it turns out, makes for a spectacularly boring video, so I don’t plan to make any more. Back to the pool balls, I guess.

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