Year In Review, 2002
Jeff Bezos often says that there are two ways that a retail company can grow: either by striving to raise prices (like Microsoft) or by striving to lower prices (like Walmart). Both strategies can lead to successful companies. Amazon claims to be in the camp of lowering prices. By creating a simple dichotomy, Jeff has made a constructive illustration that makes sense and which illuminates information fairly well. I wonder how much the dichotomy itself is responsible for the quality of the information that gets transmitted. For example, would it be just as efficient to say that Amazon is striving to lower prices, like Walmart? Or does the quality of the information increase when compared to the other alternative, which is striving to raise prices? In other words, does opposition between ideas make both ideas clearer and stronger?
Another example that had a similar effect on me as I walked to work was in this dichotomy: there are two way so live your life, either you can strive to reach the state that expends the least amount of energy (life of luxury), or you can strive to reach the state that expends the maximum amount of your energy in the most efficient way (life of production). Those who strive to reach the state of least expended energy will often choose paths that supposedly lead to an easier life--a steady job, a happy family, lots of friends, etc. Those who strive to reach a state of maximum expended energy try to find more efficient ways of working in order to allow more things to get done--multiple jobs, jacks of all trades, work-a-holics, etc. After thinking about it, I don't think I've explicitly chosen a side. Day by day I sway from the two sides of this dichotomy and therefore hover in the middle. So it's not really a good example of a situation where you must choose sides, I suspect that most people are a blend of the two. But after articulated, I felt that the best use of this life would be in pursuit of the former--striving for best use of maximum energy. I mean, we have all this energy in life, and it's non-transferable to the next state, so why not use it? Isn't life just the expenditure of energy? Is there any reason to keep it, to hoard it, to siphon it away into possessions and professions and after-dinner chats? It is there to be spent, I think there's even a Jesus parable about it, something about having a certain number of gold coins and one guy buries it in his backyard and another guy invests it, and the guy that uses it and multiplies it is, according to the parable, the better man.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I suppose I should decide once and for all on the issue. Which is better? And, since it's a dichotomy, I think my brain will be able to preserve the ability to recall it (and understand it) on a more frequent basis, so that I can make sure to take actions to support the decision as often as possible. Because there is no other way to change really, other than finding good mechanisms for remembering the things that we've decided to change. It all comes back to memory, tricking our brains into doing things that for some reason we think are worth doing.
I'm trying to solve
I haven't solved the Rubik's Cube since I was perhaps in first or second grade. Picking it up for the first time, and immediately scrambling it, I was able to get one side fairly quickly (1/2 hour), but getting more than that has been much slower. My brain is slowly building up a list of moves that can do simple tasks, like moving colors from one side to another side without disturbing the other colors on that side, and swapping two blocks on opposite sides of the cube without disturbing the others. One task is proving to be more difficult though: say that I have a whole side a certain color, but along two neighboring sides the middle cubes on each need to be swapped. I think it takes a little more than 12 moves to get them swapped, but so far my short term memory has not been able to keep track of my progress long enough to resolve that situation and bring it all the way back to its original state. It's like trying to dive down into a pool for a ring resting on the bottom. It's so far down there that before I reach the bottom I panic and have to come back up for air. My lungs aren't strong enough. Sometimes, I just go all the way down and grab the ring, but then realize that I don't have enough air to make it back up. I get tangled in sea-weed and get distracted by glimmers on the surface that would bring me back up somewhere other than where I started. This brings me to my point.
Our short term memory is nearly useless. How much is it to ask that our minds be able to store a list of 12 or so simple instructions for less than a minute, maintaining the order of the instructions. I mean, a simple calculator is smart enough to store calculations that go back more than 12 steps, why can't our brain? Our brain is supposed to be the most complex object in the known universe, and yet storing a phone number pushes the limits of our memory's capacity. I say, bunk! Memory is cheap. I want to be able to store at least 1K of data in my short term memory. That costs a penny. If that's not possible, then someone should be developing alternate solutions for us. There should be massive research into the area of creating tools that allow us to supplement our memory, whether that's in creating simple recording devices (perhaps a pair of glasses) that is perpetually storing the past 2 minutes of visual and audio data for immediate retrieval, I don't care. I just want to buy one. Come on, America, come on, human kind!
After a few days of resisting, I finally bought
All Consuming has picked up some of the discussion. If you plan on reading this book, and haven't yet, you might not want to read further, because I'm going to list the points that I think Michael Crichton skirted around in order to make the humans capable of defeating the nanobots.
1) The nanobot swarms were isolated to the desert. They were in Nevada and had luckily been "programmed" to never stray too far from "home", which happened to be the airtight building that had somehow been equipped to be able to keep out even nanobots that were 1000th the size of a hair's diameter. If the nanobots would have ever managed to make it to a city, they would have quickly become impossible to fully eliminate and would have surely taken over in no time.
2) The nanobots behaved as unified organisms that were limited by space and movement... for example, they were constantly forming tightly packed "swarms" that blocked entrances and even tried to sometimes punch or kick the humans. If I were a swarm, I would regularly expand to gigantic size and I would make sure that there were some nano-representatives in every square inch possible so that there was no single target for the humans (ie, a couple sticks of dynamite wouldn't kill every single nanobot).
3) The nanobots were only defeated because they supposedly became dependant on biological organisms (E. Coli). Had they remained independant of this rather weak organism, the final resolution would not have been possible. Even then, the fact that their demise was so quick and complete was pretty lame.
4) It's as simple as this: Nanobots rule, we are doomed, close your bank accounts, move to the country, do whatever you want, we are DOOMED!
In a way though, I think it's okay. When we create a self-replicating digital organism, they will quickly surpass us simply because I believe digital evolution is so much faster and more efficient than biological. Just think of the thin permeable barrier that is currently preventing robots from being better than us in all ways: they lack consciousness, the ability to deal with ambiguity, and the ability to recognize patterns at the level that we're able to. That is a thin wall, friend. We cannot resist the inexorable march of technological innovation that will quickly hurdle these last few challenges, and all of a sudden being beaten at chess or worrying about online privacy will be the least of our worries. Hopefully we'll figure out some way to hitch a ride--storing our memories digitally or something--and not become completely extinct, but fair is fair. If they're better, they win. Maybe I'm getting a little carried away, maybe nanobots are just a science fiction for the moment and will never ever run the four minute mile or learn how to map the country or store the entire history of literature in a machine-readable format.
If you don't resist, it won't hurt as much. I hope someone takes the horror story potential here and really scares us with it. It would be a shame for fiction to miss this opportunity to entertain our most inevitable fears.
By the way, I'm moving from mockerybird.com to erikbenson.com, because there was just too much signifier junk in mockerybird.com. I know that I've spoken out in the past about registering websites that are your name (see
I've noticed recently that my brain is not exactly performing as well as I'd like it to. Just last night, for example, I was in a horrible mood and could think of no way of passing the evening nor reason to wake up in the morning. K put on Schubert's Death and the Maiden, and like magic, the music seemed to resonate at the exact emotional frequency that I was experiencing. And in a way that music rarely does anymore, it actually had an emotional impact on me and lifted me out of my mood and brought me to a somewhat better mood where I could finally rest and read a book.
Now, thinking about the experience last night, I cannot recall what was so great about the music. Conclusion: my brain has not encoded the memory of the music correctly. I cannot fathom the quality of the music at all. I can fathom the simplest of melodies that it had, but that melody (as recalled) does not have the same effect. My brain should be better than this: it should be able to transcribe the event in a way that should I want to recall it I could at least have a hint of what it had been like to have experienced it. But... nothing.
I just put the CD on again, and now it's clear. I can feel the texture of the music and re-experience why I thought it was so great and also remember why I thought it was so great yesterday. I may not be able to experience it in exactly the same way, but with the recording's help, at least I don't feel like it's completely lost to me.
Now that I think about it, aren't there a lot of other things in life that you're positive that you enjoyed while you were there, but for the life of you you can't remember why? Running is like that. I know that I love running, but when I'm not running I cannot remember why I love it, and so I do not go running as often as I might otherwise. Same with camping. Same with reading certain books. I could not remember why I liked Lolita so much until I re-read it, and of course I have ways of recalling specific reasons that I liked it, but there's no substance behind those reasons. Memory is a horrible friend. Doing is always better than remembering. And this is one reason why I may feel so much hatred towards people who are constantly documenting their lives for purposes of documentation. It's okay in moderation, but at a certain point the obsession with representation kills the original. And in this way my rather novel idea has turned into cliche. Carry on.
Results of November's
Because Rick, Jim, and K will be busy with their punishment projects, I've invented a consolation punishment project for myself: send out 50 queries to potential literary agents. Today I started making an Excel spreadsheet of agents that are listed in my