TimeSpiralI stopped wearing a watch about two weeks ago. At first I found myself glancing at my wrist several times an hour, which I noticed as there was nothing to see on my wrist. I’d never realized how much I looked at my watch – or even that I did look at my watch – because I always saw the time when I looked.

But there was rarely any value in looking at my watch. It’s not as if I was late for an appointment. Instead, when I looked at the time I would get an immediate thought that I should be doing something else. Or that there wasn’t enough time left to finish something. Or that I didn’t have enough time to make progress on something, so why bother starting?

The early morning hours were always wonderful as I felt I had the whole day ahead, but as the morning wore on and I glanced at my watch, it felt that the day was closing in on me, running out of time.

Not wearing a watch is liberating. It allows me to focus on what I’m doing. Now that I don’t know what time it is, I just go with the flow. Things will get done when they are done. Instead of doing nothing because I think there is not enough time to do something, I now do something.

American women distrust men

Well, duh. Harvey Weinstein. What do you expect? But I claim that the Harvey Whinestein thing is more about power than maleness. You know, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely?

I was at a gas station in Fruita, Colorado, desperate to pee. The men’s bathroom was closed for cleaning but I went in anyway. The woman who was cleaning told me to leave, but as I said, I was desperate to pee. So I went into a stall, locked the door, and peed.

When I got out the cleaning woman had called her manager who berated me for using the bathroom while the cleaner was in it. I asked what the big deal was because I was using the stall so there was no chance the cleaning woman could see me. She reiterated that I shouldn’t have used the bathroom while the cleaner was there. So I asked if she would have preferred me to use the women’s bathroom. She simply reiterated that I should not have gone in.

Contrast this to the lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. When I went to pee, there were two women diligently cleaning the mens’ bathroom, keeping the mirrors clean and the stalls spotless. Men were using the urinals and no one batted an eyelid. It was just business as usual.

Or at Barcelona airport where one of the men’s bathrooms was closed so men simply lined up with the women to use the women’s bathroom. No one cared.

But I don’t really know if it’s about women distrusting men, or just about America’s rather puritanical attitude towards sex in general.


Cycling Summer 2017

Tanya and I are back in the US now after a wonderful summer of cycling. It was a sandwich trip: two trips to Europe with a visit back to the US in the middle. We had some very mixed weather on the second part of the European trip but fortunately we ended the trip with some beautiful weather in Gran Canaria (part of the Canary Islands, just off the west coast of Africa.)

I wrote about the rides we did on my cycling web pages. Here are a few photos from the trip.

Jito looking down

Jito de Escarandi – Spain


Riding in Gran Canaria


Beautiful switchbacks on Tauropass on Gran Canaria


Switzerland – Grimsel and Furka passes

No Sense of Obligation

I like to spend time away from home. I’ve always liked to be away from home, even when I’ve loved my home. Even going downtown or to a store or to the local pool works.

When I’m away from home, I feel free. There’s no responsibility, no sense of obligation. There’s nothing that needs doing, no chores to be done, no phone calls to make, nothing to be fixed. When I’m away from home I exist lightly in the world, just letting time pass and things unfold around me.

I think that’s one reason I like to travel. Even though traveling has its own stresses and difficulties and fears and discomforts, it doesn’t have the same responsibilities, the things that need to be done. You trade a set of responsibilities for a set of difficulties.

John Lanchester: my current favorite article writer

I love reading articles by John Lanchester. He has a very broad range of interests, is obviously extremely smart and thoughtful, and is an excellent writer. Here are three articles that I particularly enjoyed.

The Case Against Civilization. A fascinating article about how the Neolithic Revolution (agriculture and the domestication of animals) was probably one of the worst things that happened to humans. Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in human history.” Sample paragraph from the article: “In one column of the ledger, we would have the development of a complex material culture permitting the glories of modern science and medicine and the accumulated wonders of art. In the other column, we would have the less good stuff, such as plague, war, slavery, social stratification, rule by mercilessly appropriating élites, and Simon Cowell.”

You are the Product. A wonderful but scary article which is ostensibly a review of three books but ends up being a deep look into Facebook, advertising, fake news and the manipulation of society . Sample paragraph: “It’s crucial to this that Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth. No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences. Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content. This is probably one reason for the change in the company’s mission statement. If your only interest is in connecting people, why would you care about falsehoods? They might even be better than the truth, since they are quicker to identify the like-minded.”

Brexit Blues. A deep and thoughtful analysis of the background to Brexit and likely outcome. Sample paragraph: “These [high-skill, high value industrial] jobs are dependent on the UK being a liberal, open, internationalised economy with high skill levels in particular areas. That has been the direction of travel in UK politics and economics since 1979, and both parties have pursued policies with that goal in mind. The Labour government offered more social protection but did so largely by stealth and without explaining and arguing for its actions. There was no strategy to replace the lost industry; that was left to the free market. With these policies, parts of the country have simply been left behind. The white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been. No political party has anything to offer it except varying levels of benefits. The people in the rich parts of the country pay the taxes which support the poor parts. If I had to pick a single fact which has played no role in political discourse but which sums up the current position of the UK, it would be that most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48 per cent net contributors, 52 per cent net recipients. It’s a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.”

Links and Other Clicks

The Case Against Civilization at the New Yorker

You are the Product at the London Review of Books

Brexit Blues at the London Review of Books

Another View

The U.S. does some things incredibly well. Our Customer Service is probably the best in the world. We take it for granted that we can return things to Costco with no questions asked. We take it for granted that people at our bank or credit card company will be friendly and helpful. Whereas our experience of customer service over here suggests that the phrase “customer service” is an oxy-moron in France.

Hiking SignYet there are other things that they do much better here in Europe. One of those things is hiking signs. In France the hiking signs show both the distance and the estimated time to the destination.

I’ve always been frustrated by hiking signs in the U.S. which just give distance. Rocky paths take longer than smooth paths. Uphill trails take longer than flat trails. Distance alone is a relatively useless measure for planning your hike – it simply doesn’t give you the information you need. Whereas time is very useful. After a few hikes you know how fast you move relative to the signed times and adjust appropriately.

I’ve always assumed that the reason for not implementing a really useful system in the U.S. is a fear of being sued. Some person treats the estimated time as a guaranteed time and is caught out in the dark and sues. Or some such scenario.

SwissHikingSignSwitzerland goes even further and decides that distance is totally useless. The signs only give times to the destination. I love it. My kind of sign. Continue reading

Useless People

Homo DeusI’ve been reading a fascinating book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari.

The book covers many things, and one of the things Harari talks about that fascinates me – and worries me – is what might happen to regular people as more and more things are done by algorithms.

Harari very sensibly talks about algorithms rather than AI, which we often associate with consciousness. As he stresses, algorithms are not conscious yet they are able to do more and more things that we once thought were the domain of human intelligence and consciousness.

Algorithms can already drive cars better than most people, recognize faces better than most people, diagnose cancer better than most doctors, write music that is indistinguishable from human-composed music, and beat the best human players at chess and GO.

AlgorithmAnd algorithms are learning how to do more and more things that previously only humans could do. What happens when there are few jobs left for people? The standard answer is that there will always be jobs for people. As one profession becomes automated, other more creative professions will open up.

But as Harari says, “The most important question in twenty-first-century economics may well be what to do with all the superfluous people….. The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.”

Sex with RobotsWhat value will people have in the future? If we aren’t working and contributing to society will we have any value? If all we are doing is playing computer games, taking drugs, and having sex with robots will the elites have any interest in us?

Harari: “In the twenty-first century liberalism will have a much harder time selling itself. As the masses lose their economic importance, will the moral arguments alone be enough to protect human rights and liberties? Will elites and governments go on valuing every human being even when it pays no economic dividends?”

Already we see, at least in the US, that poor people have less value than rich people. The whole Republican effort to repeal Obamacare shows that in the eyes of one of our two major parties, it’s more important to provide benefits to the rich than to provide good health to the poor and disadvantaged.

SuperhumansAgain, Harari: “But the age of the masses may be over, and with it the age of mass medicine. As human soldiers and workers give way to algorithms, at least some elites may conclude that there is no point in providing improved or even standard levels of health for masses of useless poor people, and it is far more sensible to focus on upgrading a handful of superhumans beyond the norm.”

Will this be our future? Who knows? Harari doesn’t predict, he just talks about possibilities. However, I suspect that barring a catastrophe such as nuclear war, our future will be one where the elites pay for life extension and genetic manipulation while the unemployed or underemployed masses live increasingly insecure lives.

But can’t democracy prevent this? And will democracy in this country even continue to exist, requiring as it does an informed citizenry? So far the elites have very successfully prevented class warfare, instead persuading the masses to follow the politics of resentment against immigrants and their “undeserving” neighbors. A system of lies, truly “fake news”, and the strange belief that truth is whatever we want it to be, keeps people voting for the benefit of the elites and against their own interests.

Technological ChangeIn other words, who knows what will happen in the future? Technological change is happening so fast that politicians can’t keep up with it, and society changes in ways that are hard to predict.

In the meantime, read Homo Deus for all its fascinating thoughts on where we are, how we got here, how things change, and what the future might look like.

Links and Other Clicks

Homo Deus at Amazon. Also available in e-book and audio format on Overdrive at your local library (or at least at my local library).

How America Lost its Mind. A great article about our post-truth era and how we got here.