Category Archives: Thoughts

English is Tough Stuff

This amusing and exhaustive treatment of the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation comes from LA jokemeister Michael Klein, who says, “Get through this without having to unwind your tongue once or twice! I still can’t speak a day later!” BTW this piece looks British, judging from some of the spelling; if you are American, it will enhance your reading if you know that many Brits pronounce the word “ate” as though it were spelled (spelt?) “et.”
Multi-national personnel at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language … until they tried to pronounce it. To help them discard an array of accents, the verses below were devised. After trying them, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud. Try them yourself.

ENGLISH IS TOUGH STUFF

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Real Programmers Don’t Use PASCAL

I found the following in the deep crevices of my hard drive. It does speak to me but I would guess that not too many today are still getting the humor.

Nevertheless – here we go – for those who lived through those days in the early 80s…

Real Programmers Don’t Use PASCAL

By Ed Post

Back in the good old days–the “Golden Era” of computers, it was easy to separate the men from the boys (sometimes called “Real Men” and “Quiche Eaters” in the literature). During this period, the Real Men were the ones that understood computer programming, and the Quiche Eaters were the ones that didn’t. A real computer programmer said things like “DO 10 I=1,10” and “ABEND” (they talked in capital letters, you understand), and the rest of the world said things like “Computers are too complicated for me”, and “I can’t relate to computers–they’re so impersonal”. (A previous work [1] points out that Real Men don’t “relate to” anything, and aren’t afraid of being impersonal).

But, as usual, times change. We are faced today with a world in which little old ladies can get computers in their microwave ovens, 12 year old kids can blow Real Men out of the water playing Asteroids and Pac-Man, and anyone can buy and understand their very own Personal Computer. The Real Programmer is in danger of becoming extinct, of being replaced by high school students with TRS-80s.

There is a clear need to point out the differences between the typical high-school junior Pac-Man player and a Real Programmer. If this difference is made clear, it will give these kids something to aspire to– a role model, a Father figure. It will also help explain to the employers of Real Programmers why it would be a mistake to replace the Real Programmers on their staff with 12 year old Pac-Man players (at a considerable salary savings).

LANGUAGES

The easiest way to tell a Real Programmer from the crowd is by the programming language he (or she) uses. Real Programmers use FORTRAN. Quiche Eaters use Pascal. Nicklaus Wirth, the Designer of Pascal, gave a talk once at which he was asked “How do you pronounce your name?”. He replied, “You can call me by my name, pronouncing it ‘Veert’, or call me by value, ‘worth’.” One can tell immediately from this comment that Nicklaus Wirth is a Quiche Eater. The only parameter passing mechanism endorsed by Real Programmers is “call by value-return”, as implemented in the IBM/370 FORTRAN G and H compilers. Real Programmers don’t need all these abstract concepts to get their jobs done–they are perfectly happy with a keypunch, a FORTRAN IV compiler, and a beer.

  • Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN
  • Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN
  • Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN
  • Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN

STRUCTURED PROGRAMMING

The academics in computer science have gotten into the “structured programming” rut over the past several years. They claim that programs are more easily understood if the programmer uses some special language constructs and techniques. They don’t all agree on exactly which constructs, of course, and the examples they use to show their particular point of view invariably fit on a single page of some obscure journal or another–clearly not enough of an example to convince anyone. When I got out of school, I thought I was the best programmer in the world. I could write an unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use five different computer languages, and create 1000 line programs that WORKED. (Really!) Then I got out into the real world. My first task in the Real World was to read and understand a 200,000 line FORTRAN program, then speed it up by a factor of two. Any Real Programmer will tell you that all the Structured Coding in the world won’t help you solve a problem like that–it takes actual talent. Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured Programming.

  • Real Programmers aren’t afraid to use GOTO’s
  • Real Programmers can write five page long DO loops without getting confused
  • Real Programmers like Arithmetic IF statements–they make the code more interesting
  • Real Programmers write self-modifying code, especially if they can save 20 nanoseconds in the middle of a tight loop
  • Real Programmers don’t need comments–the code is obvious
  • Since FORTRAN doesn’t have a structured IF, REPEAT, … UNTIL, or CASE statement, Real Programmers don’t have to worry about not using them. Besides, they can be simulated, when necessary, by using assigned GOTO’s

Data structures hav also gotten a lot of press lately. Abstract Data Types, Structures, Pointers, Lists, and Strings have become popular in certain circles. Wirth (the above-mentioned Quiche Eater), actually wrote an entire book [2] contending that you could write a program based on data structures, instead of the other way around. As all Real Programmers know, the only useful data structure is the Array. Strings, Lists, Structures, Sets–these are all special cases of Arrays and can be treated that way just as easily without messing up your programming language with all sorts of complications. The worst thing about fancy data types is that you have to declare them, and Real Programming Languages, as we all know, have implicit typing based on the first letter of the (six character) variable name.

OPERATING SYSTEMS

What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? DOS? God forbid–DOS, after all, is basically a toy operating system. Even little old ladies and grade school students can understand and use DOS.

UNIX is a lot more complicated of course–the typical UNIX hacker never can remember what the PRINT command is called this week–but when it gets right down to it, UNIX is a glorified video game. People don’t do serious work on Unix systems: they send jokes around the world on USENET and write adventure games and research papers.

No, your Real Programmer uses OS/370. A good programmer can find and understand the description of the IJK305I error he just got in his JCL manual. A great programmer can write JCL without referring to the manual at all. A truly outstanding programmer can find bugs buried in a 6 megabyte core dump without using a hex calculator. (I have actually seen this done.)

OS is a truly remarkable operating system. It’s possible to destroy days of work with a single misplaced space, so alertness in the programming staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the system is through a keypunch. Some people claim there is a Time Sharing System that runs on OS/370, but after careful study I have come to the conclusion that they are mistaken.

PROGRAMMING TOOLS

What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real Programmer could run his programs by keying them into the front panel of the computer. Back in the days when the computers had front panels, this was actually done occasionally. Your typical Real Programmer knew the entire boot-strap loader by memory in hex, and toggled it in whenever it got destroyed by his program, (back then, memory was memory–it didn’t go away when the power went off. Today, memory either forgets things when you don’t want it to, or remembers things long after they’re better forgotten.) Legend has it that Seymore Cray, inventor of the Cray I super computer and most of Control Data’s computers, acutally toggled the first operating system for the CDC7600 in on the front panel from memory when it was first powered on. Seymore needless to say was a Real Programmer.

One of my favorite Real Programmers was a systems programmer for Texas Instruments. One day, he got a long distance call from a user whose system had crashed in the middle of saving some important work. Jim was able to repair the damage over the phone, getting the user to toggle in disk I/O instructions at the front panel, repairing system tables in hex, reading registers back over the phone. The moral of this story: while a Real Programmer usually includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his toolkit, he can get along with just a front panel and a telephone in emergencies.

In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers standing in line to use an 029 keypunch. In fact, the building I work in doesn’t contain a single keypunch. The Real Programmer in this situation has to do his work with a “text editor” program. Most systems supply several text editors to select from, and the Real Programmer must be careful to pick one that reflects his personal style. Many people believe that the best text editors in the world were written at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center for use on their Alto and Dorado computers [3]. Unfortunately, no Real Programmer would ever use a computer whose operating system is called SmallTalk, and would certainly not talk to the computer with a mouse.

Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated into the editors running on more reasonably named operating systems– EMACS and VI being two. The problem with these editors is that Real Programmers consider “What you see is what you get” to be just as bad a concept in Text Editors as it is in women. No, the Real Programmer wants a “you asked for it, you got it” text editor–complicated, cryptic, powerful, unforgiving, dangerous. TECO, to be precise.

It has been observed that the TECO command sequence more closely resembles transmission line noise than readable text [4]. One of the more entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your name in as a command line and try to guess what it does. Just about any possible typing error while talking with TECO will probably destroy your program, or even worse– introduce subtle and mysterious bugs into a once working subroutine.

For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit a program that is close to working. They find it much easier to just patch in the binary object code directly, using a wonderful program called SUPERZAP (or its equivalent on non-IBM machines). This works so well that many working programs on IBM systems bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In many cases, the original source code is no longer available. When it comes time to fix a program like this, no manager would even think of sending anything less than a Real Programmer to do the job–no Quiche Eating structured programmer would even know where to start. This is called “job security”.

Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:

  • Fortran pre-processors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts of programming–great for making Quiche. See comments above on structured programming.
  • Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
  • Compilers with array bounds checking. They stifle creativity, destroy most of the interesting uses for EQUIVALENCE, and make it impossible to modify the operating system code with negative subscripts. Worst of all, bounds checking is inefficient.
  • Source code maintenance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his code locked up in a card file, because it implies that its owner cannot leave his important programs unguarded [5].

THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT WORK

Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs are worthy of the efforts of so talented an individual? You can be sure that no Real Programmer would be caught dead writing accounts-receivable programs in COBOL, or sorting mailing lists for People Magazine. A Real Programmer wants tasks of earth-shaking importance (literally!).

  • Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray supercomputers.
  • Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency, decoding Russian transmissions.
  • It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers working for NASA that our boys got to the moon and back before the Russkies.
  • The computers in the Space Shuttle were programmed by Real Programmers.
  • Real Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating systems for cruise missiles.

Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the Jet Propulsion Labs in California. Many of them know the entire operating system of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft by heart. With a combination of large ground-based FORTRAN programs and small spacecraft-based assembly language programs, they are able to do incredible feats of navigation and improvisation –hitting ten-kilometer wide windows at Saturn after six years in space, repairing or bypassing damaged sensor platforms, radios, and batteries. Allegedly, one Real Programmer managed to tuck a pattern-matching program into a few hundred bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that searched for, located, and photographed a new moon of Jupiter.

The current plan for Gallileo spacecraft is to use a gravity assist trajectory past Mars on the way to Jupiter. This trajectory passes within 80 +/- 3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody is going to trust a PASCAL program (or PASCAL programmer) for navigation to these tolerances.

As you can tell, many of the world’s Real Programmers work for the U. S. Government–mainly the Defense Department. This is as it should be. Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real Programmer horizon. It seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters at the Defense Department decided that all defense programs should be written in some grand unified language called “ADA” ((C), DoD). For a while, it seemed that ADA was destined to become a language that went against the precepts of Real Programming– a language with structure, a language with data types, strong typing, and semicolons. In short, a language designed to cripple the creativity of the typical Real Programmer. Fortunately, the language adopted by DoD has enough interesting features to make it approachable–it’s incredibly complex, includes methods for messing with the operating system and rearranging memory, and Edsgar Dijkstra doesn’t like it [6]. (Dijkstra, as I’m sure you know, was the author of “GoTos Considered Harmful”–a landmark work in programming methodology, applauded by Pascal Programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides, the determined Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.

The Real Programmer might compromise his principles and work on something slightly more trivial than the destruction of life as we know it, providing there’s enough money in it. There are several Real Programmers building video games at Atari, for example. (But not playing them–a Real Programmer knows how to beat the machine every time: no challenge in that.) Everyone working at LucasFilm is a Real Programmer. (It would be crazy to turn down the money of fifty million Star Trek fans.) The proportion of Real Programmers in Computer Graphics is somewhat lower than the norm, mostly because nobody has found a use for Computer Graphics yet. On the other hand, all Computer Graphics is done in FORTRAN, so there are a fair number of people doing Graphics in order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.

THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT PLAY

Generally, the Real Programmer plays the same way he works–with computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually pays him to do what he would be doing for fun anyway (although he is careful not to express this opinion out loud.) Occasionally, the Real Programmer does step out of the office for a breath of fresh air and a beer or two. Some tips on recognizing the Real Programmer away from the computer room:

  • At a party, Real Programmers are the ones in the corner talking about operating systems security and how to get around it.
  • At a football game, the Real Programmer is the one comparing the plays against his simulations printed on 11 by 14 fanfold paper.
  • At the beach, the Real Programmer is the one drawing flowcharts in the sand.
  • At a funeral, the Real Programmer is the one saying “Poor George. And he almost had the sort routine working before the coronary.”
  • In a grocery store the Real Programmer is the one who insists on running the cans past the laser checkout scanner himself, because he never could trust keypunch operators to get it right the first time.

THE REAL PROGRAMMER’S NATURAL HABITAT

What sort of environment does the Real Programmer function best in? This is an important question for the managers of Real Programmers. Considering the amount of money it costs to keep one on the staff, it’s best to put him (or her) in an environment where he can get his work done.

The typical Real Programmer lives in front of a computer terminal. Surrounding this terminal are:

  • Listings of all programs the Real Programmer has ever worked on, piled in roughly chronological order on every flat surface in the office.
  • Some half-dozen or so partly filled cups of cold coffee. Occasionally there will be cigarette butts floating in the coffee. In some cases, the cups will contain Orange Crush.
  • Unless he is very good, there will be copies of the JCL manual and the Principles of Operation open to some particularly interesting pages.
  • Taped to the wall is a line-printer Snoopy calendar for the year 1969.
  • Strewn about the floor are several wrappers for peanut butter filled cheese bars–the type that are made pre-stale at the bakery so they can’t get any worse while waiting in the vending machine.
  • Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of doublestuff Oreos for special occasions.
  • Underneath the Oreos is a flow-charting template, left there by the previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers write programs, not documentation. Leave that to the maintenance people.)

The Real Programmer is capable of working 30, 40, even 50 hours at a stretch, under intense pressure. In fact, he prefers it that way. Bad response time doesn’t bother the Real Programmer–it gives him a chance to catch a little sleep between compiles. If there is not enough schedule pressure on the Real Programmer, he tends to make things more challenging by working on the same small but interesting part of the problem for the first nine weeks, then finishing the rest in the last week, in two or three 50-hour marathons. This not only impresses the hell out of his manager, who was despairing of ever getting the project done on time, but creates a convenient excuse for not doing the documentation. In general:

  • No Real Programmer works 9 to 5. (Unless it’s the ones at night.)
  • A Real Programmer might or might not know his wife’s name. He does, however, know the entire ASCII (or EBCDIC) code table.
  • Real Programmers don’t know how to cook. Grocery stores aren’t open at three in the morning. Real Programmers survive on Twinkies and coffee.

THE FUTURE

What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Programmers that the latest generation of computer programmers are being brought up with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many of them have never seen a computer with a front panel. Hardly anyone graduating from school these days can do hex arithmetic without a calculator. College graduates these days are soft–protected from the realities of programming by source level debuggers, text editors that count parentheses, and “user friendly” operating systems. Worst of all, some of these alleged “computer scientists” manage to get degrees without ever learning FORTRAN! Are we destined to become an industry of Unix hackers and Pascal programmers?

From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright for Real Programmers everywhere. Neither the OS/370 nor FORTRAN show any signs of dying out, despite all the efforts of Pascal programmers the world over. Even more subtle tricks, like adding structured coding constructs to FORTRAN have failed. Oh sure, some computer vendors have come out with FORTRAN 77 compilers, but every one of them has a way of converting itself back into a FORTRAN 66 compiler at the drop of an option card–to compile DO loops like God meant them to be.

Even Unix might not be as bad on Real Programmers as it once was. The latest release of Unix has the potential of an operating system worthy of any Real Programmer–two different and subtly incompatible user interfaces, an arcane and complicated teletype driver, virtual memory. If you can ignore the fact that it’s “structured”, even ‘C’ programming can be appreciated by the Real Programmer: after all, there’s no type checking, variable names are seven (ten? eight?) characters long, and the added bonus of the Pointer data type is thrown in–like having the best parts of FORTRAN and assembly language in one place. (Not even talking about #define.)

No, the future isn’t all that bad. Why, in the past few years, the popular press has even commented on the bright new crop of computer heros and hackers ([7], [8]) leaving places like Stanford and MIT for the Real World.

From all the evidence, the spirit of Real Programming lives on in these young men and women. As long as there are ill-defined goals, bizarre bugs, and unrealistic schedules, there will be Real Programmers willing to jump in and Solve the Problem, saving the documentation for later. Long live FORTRAN!

REFERENCES

[1] Feirstein, B., "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche", 
    New York, Pocket Books, 1982

[2] Wirth, N., "Algorithm + Data Structures = Programs", 
    Prentice Hall, 1976

[3] XEROX PARC editors....

[4] Finseth, C., "Theory and Practice of Text Editors -or- 
    a cookbook for EMACS", B.S. Thesis, MIT/LCS/TM-165, 
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May, 1980

[5] Weinberg, G., "The Psychology of Computer Programming", 
    New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971, p. 110

[6] Dijkstra, E., "On the GREEN language submitted to the DOD",
    Sigplan Notices, Vol. 3 No. 10, Oct., 1978

[7] Rose, Frank, "Joy of Hacking", 
    Science 82, Vol. 3 No. 9, Nov. 82, pp. 58-66

[8] "The Hacker Papers", Psychology Today, Aug. 1980

Synchronicity

Let us look at synchronicity, and do so without using the faith that there is something outside of me (or you, as it is you, reading this.)
 
In order to try to break the faith-based thinking, that there must be something outside of us, I will, from now on, speak with your (dear reader’s) voice: If I don’t make any faith-based assumptions, then the only fact I can be sure about is I, the reader of these lines. The writer might or might not exist as a separate entity. But the only thing I do know is that I perceive these lines and thoughts. I can not discard the possibility that these are my own creations just as images in dreams look external to me but are in fact created by me.
 
Now back to synchronicities – if they are my creations, then I created the two events, that are connected by meaning, myself in this fashion and any surprise about the connection of these events is very illogical – how could I be surprised by something that I designed and created in exactly this fashion and with these characteristics?
The cast of LOST
I contemplated this today when watching an episode of the old TV show ‘Lost.’ This is a show that just lives on synchronicities. One character, Hurley, is fighting to distinguish what is real and what is his imagination. No solution is offered to the viewer and when, in the last scene of the episode, his friend, a psychiatrist who tries to show him what is real, is shown as an inmate of a psychiatric ward, I had to admit I admired the writers for their skill to mess with my mind.
 
Running into  these shows of Lost, and this messing with my mind right after just writing my last post, I first considered this to be a “wow-synchronicity.” But on deeper contemplation there was no synchronicity, just causality – if I just wrote an article questioning the so-called reality and calling it faith-based, then – obviously – I would create incidents occurring thereafter being in alignment with these thoughts.
 
If I create my world all by myself, I can at least construct it in a fashion that entertains me and gives me a few surprises. I have to admit, though, that it is a neat trick to surprise oneself – it requires a good deal of forgetting.
 
Now I just have to figure out how I create coming events in a fashion so that it contains some challenges, but none too difficult ones that would give me suffering.

Exploring the Senses with Your Senses

In one form or another, we all have heard the old philosophical wisdom “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), proposed by René Descartes.
 
Meditating over this statement, we eventually realize that this is pretty much all we actually will ever know with certainty.
 
To illustrate this, let’s look at a very lucid dream we might have experienced once. I, for example, remember one where I had gained many riches in the form of money or gold. Not sure what exactly it was, but I remember that I could really feel this valuable possession in my hand. If you right now take your mouse into your hand and feel its surface, its weight, its temperature – this is very similar to how I experienced these riches.
 
Then, to my great dismay, the thought crept into my mind that I will be waking up. It became more and more certain that these riches would be gone when I woke up, so I fought waking up. If you ever tried to not wake up, you know how hopeless this undertaking is. As I slid more into my waking state, the thought became more real that there was nothing in my hand, yet I could still feel it.
 
I ended up having to consciously open my hand to convince myself that nothing would fall out of it – and, obviously, nothing fell.
 
Looking back at that incident I could not help comparing it with my immediate certainty that I sit here in front of the computer screen, typing along on my keyboard and definitely feel the keys moving under my fingers. I feel my feet touching the carpet, I sense its structure and temperature – all very comparable to my sensations of the riches in my hand while I was dreaming (as I know now.)
 
Why am I so sure that my perceptions of the environment I experience now are different than my perceptions while dreaming? Looking at it philosophically, I have to admit that this certainty is completely unfounded.
 
We perceive our environment through our senses and that dream-experience showed me clearly that I can not trust my senses. There is no proof possible that this table I am sitting at is something that exists outside of me. Any means to prove its existence depends on my senses:
 
  • I can touch it – my sense of touch
  • I can see it – my sense of vision
  • Somebody describes it to me – my sense of hearing

et cetera.

There are perceptions, we would all agree, that are not quite as solid as these perceptions of elements of the physical world. Let’s take a religious perception for example, where somebody is certain that she experienced god. For this person it might be as real as the pain I feel when the hammer hits my finger instead of the nail. But most people will agree that this is a more subjective reality.
 
In principle, though, there is no difference between these perceptions.
 
Therefore you will have to accept as you read this, that the existence of a person who wrote these lines is purely a matter of faith – you believe, that there is, or was, a person who sat at his computer at one time and wrote these words – but you certainly have no proof.

Contemplating Patriotism

(I wrote this a while back, so the political references might not be correct any more.)

political-power

I grew up in Germany after a time in history when the German people had lived through a very bad experience with patriotism.

The love for the Fatherland (not Homeland as it’s called in the US today) had been used to rally most of the German people to commit mass-murder and be mass-murdered. I was born when that experience was still very fresh and that means that I did not soak up any patriotism with my mother’s milk – just the opposite, patriotism was something to be despised. Especially when I was little, this was more a feeling than an intellectual understanding.

I never lost that gut-understanding and coming to America, one of the most patriotic countries on this planet, did not change that a bit. This must be the reason that at this time of the year, with the independence day looming, my toenails start to curl up a bit in anticipation of all the flag waving and land-of-the-free singing.

Though it appears that I am not alone with this uneasy feeling when confronted with the love for the fatherland.

Leo Tolstoy defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers.

That actually, I have to admit, is a bit stronger than just the feeling of toenails curling up.

Gustave Herve, another anti-patriot, calls patriotism a superstition – one far more injurious, brutal, and inhumane than religion.

So, what is the problem here? A bigger part of the world’s population is patriotic, and what is wrong with loving one’s country? Don’t we all have fond memories of the house we grew up in, the neighborhood, the city? And should that not extend to the country? But why stop at the country border, should we not expand that out to the whole world, or, in a short time, after somebody finally invents the warp drive, the whole galaxy, the universe?

Maybe we will have to look a bit closer what this ‘country’ that many are so patriotic about, really is.

What happens at the border between two different countries?

One of the most guarded borders I know of is the one that, for so many years, existed between East and West Germany. I have crossed it several times and it was indeed the feeling of entering a different world. But the difference was not the language – German of one kind or the other on both sided. The land itself? No, because now, that this border is gone, you can cross that line without even noticing it any more. And it’s not culture either because these two Germanies  had been one culture before they became two countries.

The only thing I can see, that was really different, was the group of rulers. On the Western side it was Konrad Adenauer and on the Eastern side it was Walter Ulbricht, each with his gang.

It now appears to me that the only difference between somebody named Franz in East Germany and somebody named Hans in West Germany was the ruler they considered themselves to be a subject of.

Very similar to Jack in Oklahoma who claims to be a subject of Mr. Obama and Jim in Calgary who thinks he has to answer to M. Harper.

The display of patriotism here in the US of A, once the 4th of July roles in, if we really go down to the very basics, just means the pride to which dude that patriot is willing to give his money, life and children.

Let us look briefly at the ‘land of the free.’ That turns out to be a dud very quickly. If it were the land of the free, and I had decided that it is good and fair to give half of my money to somebody to do with, whatever he pleases, and on top of that allow this person to take my children and train them into potential soldier for his cause, then I should be able to choose who that person would be, right? Could you just send your 50% taxes over to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (that’s the dude over in Iran, in case you don’t have the current political scene at your direct disposal)? Or, to be a little bit less radical, send if over to Steven Harper?

See, the idea of the ‘land of the free’ is right out the window – we are subjects! – Just so well trained and indoctrinated that the very idea of being able to select the ruler to receive one’s contribution appears idiotic.

Now the question comes to bear if there is anything we can do to change this situation. First we have to investigate the idea of ‘being proud of’ something.

Can I really be proud of an accomplishment that is not mine? I had considered this question before when sitting in traffic. Unfailingly, once in a while you wait behind a ‘Proud Parent of Something or Another.’ Honor student, cheer-leader, etc. I had wondered on occasion what reason these parents have to be proud. I can understand that they are happy – but proud? Why? It’s something their children have accomplished. Then again, maybe not, perhaps there was a father sitting in the car in front of me who had always, dutifully, done the homework for his son. But I actually don’t think that was the case, I don’t believe they would have advertised that on the back of their car. Same for being a proud American – proud of what accomplishment? Making lots of money so that it can be collected by the tax man to build bombs with, which are then thrown on people the proud American has never met and who he has no quarrel with?

Would that really be something to be proud of – if it was actually true?

Can you be proud of making somebody so jealous, I mean so badly jealous, that he starts to fly airplanes into some bankers buildings? Wouldn’t it be something to be much prouder of, that, after you really created so much wealth, you would reach out and help those in need to get to where you are, as well? Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of, to do deeds that other will actually love you for?

Acting like that would require clear and logical thinking, something that cannot be expected in the presence of emotionally charged propaganda. One of the most emotionally charged areas in our lives are our children – we do anything to protect them and give them a better life.

Thus the easiest way to get somebody blindly lined up behind a cause is the statement "it’s for the children!" And how do we protect our children best? Sending them to war to fight for freedom – that is the true spirit of patriotism.

Yes, I am well aware that this does not make any sense. How about you?

Now we might make the mistake to blame those people who spread this propaganda and who manipulate in order to gain power. That would be the wrong target for our indignation. The correct target is the one looking back at you from the mirror when you brush your teeth.

There are always people around that want to cheat, who want to get something without actually creating a value that can be traded. They are easy to handle. You might fall for their schemes once or twice, but then you understand and you just don’t deal with them. If they don’t find new victims they will just wither away and the gene pool gets a little bit better. The problem is our conviction that there is any legitimacy to their action, even if their random rules are called ‘law’.

That these ‘laws’ are utterly random, without any basis in logic, becomes clear when you ask yourself why it is OK to smoke one kind of leaves, while you go to jail if you smoke another kind. I know, it is all there to ‘protect our children.’ But we already know where that comes from.

Breaking any of these so-called laws will expose you to a possible punishment, and following those laws to avoid the penalty makes sense.

But there is a different, much more sinister, element to our obedience to the ‘law’ beside the avoidance of punishment.

Imagine you are driving out in the countryside at three in the morning. Full moon, you can see far and wide and there really is not a soul around. Suddenly, totally out of place, there is a traffic light, and, as most, if not all, traffic lights do, it shows you a red light for you to stop.

Now, imagine further that you stop at that light and it is one of those lights that never seem to turn green. Finally, as there really is nobody within miles, neither a civilian, nor a cop, you decide to go and break the ‘law.’

How do you feel about that?

If you don’t have the slightest murmur of guilt, then there is hope for you. But, chances are, you feel that you have done something bad because you broke the ‘law.’ What you feel there is the conditioning of submitting to authorities. The mysterious quality that transforms mere mortals to god-like creatures.

I know, I exaggerate a bit here, but I want to make the point, that many of us carry the grain of belief, even faith, in authority itself. The conviction that something like authority does exist, that there is something that makes it OK for one person to tell another what to do.

But this belief is total and utter superstition.

Let us, for the moment, take that good old document, this country was based upon, even though we are not using it any more. One of the premises of that parchment is that ‘all men are created equal.’

Unlike many other cultures that evolved from monarchies, this country was built on the foundation that there are no different classes that would privilege some of the members. That was the theory, but unfortunately reality sometimes does not ‘get’ it. There were just too many immigrants that had such a deeply ingrained belief that there are people better than them, that this parchment did nothing in preventing those people to create their superiors again.

They were totally free not to do this, but they did it anyways. Fighting an authority is not the same as a complete conviction that it does not exist. The opposite actually – you can only fight something that you believe exist.

Once we succeed in a basic change of mind about this, there will be no need any more to fight city hall – city hall will just wither away. In the process there will be some collateral damage, but this will be so minor in comparison to the continued permission for city hall to do with us whatever it wants.

So, your homework for this glorious Forth-of-July weekend is to understand – and I mean a gut-understanding – that authority itself as a phenomenon, does not exist. Except in our mind!

If you give somebody the permission to tell you what you have to do and think, he will certainly take that offer. Many might not, but there are plenty of the politician/lawyer type of people around that will take your offer with a grateful nod of their head and then get out the whip and whip you into shape.

Just be aware that you can withdraw that permission at any time. It will be a bit harder than had you never given it in the first place, but it is definitely possible.

According to Steve Jobs

  1. Steve-MiniWe don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.
  2. That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.
  3. Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
  4. I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.
  5. Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.
  6. Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
  7. Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
  8. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
  9. Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.
  10. My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.
  11. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
  12. What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.
  13. Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
  14. It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.
  15. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
  16. You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
  17. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
  18. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.
  19. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.
  20. Ultimately, it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing. Picasso had a saying: good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas, and I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.

Expanding on “Computers with Consciousness”

halI always enjoy Jon Rappoport’s articles on NoMoreFakeNews. The latest post on the idea of computers developing consciousness prompted me to add a bit of a different viewpoint to it:

Jon, this article just screams to me for an answer. First of all, I do agree with you on pretty much all of your viewpoints and actually enjoy your “Escape From the Matrix”. But where I want to bring a bit of a different viewpoint is body v. computer – for me they are pretty much the same – they are machines. But why is it that we have developed consciousness, one may ask? – I actually don’t think we have – but instead we started to occupy those meat-machines once they became good enough to represent us. In the same way, I imagine, that computers will become attractive enough at some point of sophistication for a souls/spirits to occupy them.
I realized this – many, many years ago – when I saw a window mannequin, during a nightly walk and window shopping, with a being trapped inside. That being had been attracted by the beauty of the plastic body and got stuck in it believing it could not escape that matrix of plastic any more. It tried to communicate with me and maybe I was able to help a bit with conveying the idea that it is trapped only if it believes so – I sure hope.
My experience with computers is similar – sometimes I notice beings in there and if I work with them they usually work with me – that’s how I make a living with computers.
I agree that the sudden appearance of consciousness with more memory and TeraFlops is humbug – but once the filigree sophistication of computers gets to the same order of magnitude as our meat bodies I see a good chance that beings get trapped in there as well and make the computers/robots to appear to have developed consciousness. That will – obviously – lead those scientists further down the rabbit hole.

Your’s Truly – Sponsor of the Rose Parade

Happy to announce that I am a proud sponsor of the world-famous Rose Parade 2014 in Pasadena, California.

I admit that I was not involved to getting the nobility back that this country thought to have left behind some 200 years ago, but I guess some people just need to have somebody to worship – here is the  new queen and her royal court

royal-court

But let me tell you how I became a sponsor of the Rose Parade.

A few years ago our federal government convinced me to make a considerable donation to their treasury in the amount of sixty kilo dollars. At that time they convinced me to make this donation otherwise they would, sadly, have to take our house.

And the reason they really needed that money was that they had to give it to Wells Fargo – and a few other banks. Now Wells Fargo turned around and used my money to pay for the opening act of the Rose Parade – so there you go – my first part of the sponsorship.

But no, I did not spend it all on that! The other half went to the outfitting of a marching band with active members of our armed forces. The announcer of the parade told the TV viewers that this band – or at least a part of if – had been on a tour in Iraq where they also had made this happy music that got out boys in the right mood to kill some people – I mean they were quite a few civilians amongst those ending up dead but they were not our boys, so who cares, right?

When I saw this marching band parading down Colorado Boulevard I was so proud that I was allowed to help them bring this nice and snappy music to the world.

To my shame I have to admit that after that I turned off the life feed from KTLA – I did not really wanted to get too mad – simple because I did not have enough money to also sponsor our brave police officers driving figure eights on their motor cycles. I am so happy that they could have a bit of fun there because the rest of the week they will have to do all those nasty privacy and liberty violations those bad politicians tell them to commit  – – – and what can they do, right?

They are just doing their job!