Growing Pains

When I was in high school Alvin Toffler published a book entitled Future Shock. In it he described a condition that resulted from too much change too fast. The fact is, the amount of and acceleration in the rate of change has continued to grow in the fifty years since Toffler did his study. Future shock has become more and more acute.

Ray Kurzweil studied the rate of change in his book The Singularity is Near. It turns out that no matter which dimension of technological change you measure they all are growing at an exponential rate. If you plot an exponential curve you discover that it goes up at an ever increasing rate until it reaches the point where it spikes to infinity.

Unless something constrains it from continuing to grow at that rate. Like for instance the laws of physics. Or, in the case of social and economic change, the ability of human beings to adapt to change. For millennia the fundamental rate of change that people had to deal with was measured in centuries for the most part.

And the number of things that were changing was few at any one time. You had one or two innovators per generation. Today we have thousands of innovators in any given field of endeavor. Add to that instant access to all that technical knowledge on the internet and we’re in for a hell of a roller coaster ride.

We went from an industrial based economy, to a service based economy, and most recently to an information based economy. We have enough resources that everyone in the world could live like royalty but instead we are at the mercy of the one percent that have concentrated control of 99 percent of the wealth. Things look grim.

Except for one saving fact. This minority can only get away with what we let them get away with. We have to take an active role in electing representatives and senators that will put our interests first. We have to work together to become the change that we want to see.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Don’t Let It Get You Down

“Winter is coming.”

So goes the motto of the Stark house in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I feel a great impending doom facing the world. I’m not sure what is going to happen or what indications have tipped me off. I hope to goodness that I am wrong. But just for argument’s sake, what if I’m right?

How much would it take to topple civilization? The bulk of the population is dependent on a fragile infrastructure for clean water, food, and power. We have seen what a short disruption in power can do to our city. On April 27, 2011 a super outbreak of 362 tornadoes swept through Alabama doing nine billion dollars worth of damage and leaving Huntsville and much of North Alabama without power only to be slowly restored starting May first.

The affected area was relatively small. Many people were able to drive to Atlanta or Nashville or other unaffected places until power was restored. But what would happen if the entire country was affected? What if there was a coronal mass ejection that knocked out all electrical and electronic devices in the world? How long would it be before people were starving and rioting?

So, I’m feeling depressed tonight. I am wondering what I can do to help change the world into a less dangerous place. A place that is less prone to slide into barbarism at the stroke of disaster, natural or man made. I hope we never find out first hand the answer to any of these ominous questions.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Theater is in My Blood

My father was a school teacher. He taught English and Speech and Theater. He was a good teacher. He was a consummate professional. But the thing that made his soul sing was directing theatrical productions. When he was in college his plan was to prepare himself for a career in New York on Broadway. He tailored his degree so that he would have the credentials necessary to obtain a teaching certificate.

When he graduated from college, he gave his degree to his father and told him “There you go.” He had gotten the teaching degree to show his father that he could do it. He was drafted soon after that and sent to post Korean War Germany. He was assigned to headquarters company of a training battalion and ended up directing a touring special services variety show that played various American military installations in Europe.

When he got out of the Army, he returned to school studying for a masters degree in Theater. Only now he had a wife and baby boy. He found a position teaching in a High School in Waterloo, Illinois. The next year he took a job Junior High School in Springfield Illinois. After a couple of years there, he was offered a position at Paducah Tilghman High School in Paducah, Kentucky.

He had always done plays at the schools where he taught but Tilghman gave him the opportunity to mount high quality theatrical productions with a school population large enough to supply enough talented actors to pull it off. I remember He produced everything from Shakespeare to musicals. It was a magical time. It got into my blood.

When I was eight and nine, I was an extra in a summer stock musical titled “Stars In My Crown”. I played one of Job’s children in his production of Archibald MacCleish’s J.B. when I was in fourth grade. In sixth and seventh grade, a friend and I performed a one act play in several talent shows.

I was active in high school plays throughout my high school career. And then when I graduated from High School I got a job at Guntown Mountain in Cave City, Kentucky. I was a gunfighter and I played guitar in the saloon show. The next summer I did the same thing at Kaintuck Territory in Aurora, Kentucky near Kentucky Lake. The next summer I was back at Guntown Mountain for my last season in western theme parks.

It has been forty years since I have been a professional actor but it is still in my blood. I think I would love to do it again. I enjoy performing, whether it is playing the guitar of acting on the stage or in videos. Perhaps I should act upon this urge. My father found a way to integrate his dream into his professional life. Perhaps I can circle back to my theatrical origins.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Musical Musings

Music affects me profoundly. I am primarily moved by the notes themselves. I often find that I neglect to pay attention to the lyrics. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the lyrics. It’s just that the music overwhelms me.

I used to have the excuse that I couldn’t understand the lyrics in most of the songs that I like. That was a combination of lower audio standards in the recording studio and poorer performance of home stereo equipment.

Digital audio has changed all that. Today’s digital audio is so clear that if you close your eyes when you are listening to it you can easily get the impression that the musicians were standing in the room with you.

I had that experience on a couple of occasions earlier in my life but they were when I listened to the incredibly expensive (from my perspective anyway) analog stereo systems that some of my barracks rat friends owned when I was in the Army. And why not? They didn’t have anything else to spend their money on. The had a roof over their heads, three hot meals a day, health care, and a generous salary considering what they actually had to do from day to day.

Granted, we were subject to being asked to put our lives on the line for our country at the drop of a hat. But, there weren’t any hot wars in progress at the time and the Cold War was waining. There were these proto-terrorist jerks that called themselves the Bader-Meinhoff gang but the Polizei had them on the run.

Meanwhile, we went camping in the snow, played spades for days on end while waiting for headquarters to send a truck to drag our broken down test van back to post. We slept in our arctic sleeping bags in the van in temperatures that felt ten degrees colder than the snow covered forest outside.

Music was the common thread that helped us preserve some shred of our humanity through it all. When I finally got a decent audio system, built in to my computer as it turns out, it was no surprise that it turned out to be one of the primary uses that I put my computer to.

The internet has added the mechanism for distributing music so efficiently that the artists can now claim much more of the income that they generate from their recordings. This has encouraged more people to sell their music online and increase the diversity of music available.

Not all musicians feel that way. Some feel like they are losing out on sales because of people pirating their music. I can appreciate their point but I think they would find that the people that pirate their music weren’t going to buy it in the first place. They play the music for their friends and by virtue of the fact that more people hear their music to begin with, they sell more than they would have without internet sales.

I don’t have statistics to back that up but I do see more artists releasing more music than ever before. It is recorded in higher fidelity, is relatively cheaper for the consumer, and the artist doesn’t have to give 85 to 90 percent of their revenue to a record company. Your mileage may vary.

And just to be clear, I’m not advocating piracy. I pay for my music. I buy more music now than I ever have. I also enjoy it more.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Don’t Read This Post

They have done studies recently that concluded that sleep deprivation is as bad as, if not worse than, alcohol when it comes to impairment. Given that I got up at four thirty this morning and it is ten forty five as I write this post I guess I’m guilty of impaired blogging. I have been racking my brain trying to think of something to write about. I kept coming up with nothing. I felt the pressure of the midnight hour approaching. I started thinking about how tired I was.

That was when it hit me. I needed an Uber or a Lift for writers. We can’t very well have people writing blog posts when they are impaired now, can we? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So I’ll post this pitiful excuse for a blog post and call it a night. Tomorrow’s Saturday and I’ll get plenty of sleep and write a better post. Remember, friends don’t let friends blog when their sleep deprived. Oh, and don’t read this post.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The World is Just One Big Simulation

I have this pet theory. It is feasible, if not likely. It’s that the universe is just a very high fidelity simulation. If that is, in fact, the case, as several credible philosophers have asserted, it would be easy to explain luck. Whoever writes the code for the simulation determines how luck works. It might be totally random, or it might be that the programmer picks out individuals that he or she wants to be lucky and stacks the deck in their favor.

I sometimes feel like I am one of those people that have been chosen by the programmer, or God, or whatever other mechanism it is that is behind luck. I have had so many great opportunities. Things have come fairly easily to me. I was always good at taking tests so I didn’t have to study hard in school to make good grades. Whenever I needed a job, there was an interesting one waiting for me, and it involved doing things that I wanted to do anyway. I didn’t have to pound the pavement job hunting. I had friends that knew about jobs that were available.

But after a lifetime of things being relatively easy, I have discovered something that I want to do that I have to struggle to accomplish. And what is more important, I find that it means more to me when I do manage to pull it off than all the other things that came so easily.

I’m talking of course about writing. And even though it is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, when I stop and think about it, it is so much easier to write now than it ever has been before. There are computers that make typesetting so easy that even a caveman can do it. No wait, that’s another essay entirely.

We have spelling checkers and grammar checkers. You still are on your own when it comes to picking which homonym is appropriate to say what you mean to say but even in that case we have,, and a bunch of other sites available to us via that great information appliance that we call the internet.

The one thing that is still hard is deciding what to write about. I have learned that it is important that I write about something that I find interesting. That doesn’t make it much easier. I am interested in so many different things.

I struggle with distractions. The TV is the biggest distraction, followed closely by the internet. I take the latter to include email, instant messaging, and the greatest time suck of all, the world wide web. The days of struggling all afternoon trying to remember the name of the actor that played that character that you loved so much in that obscure moving that only you seem to remember are over. These days we have IMDB to settle arguments about who played what in which film or tv show. And what research librarian can compete with the instant gratification of Google?

And I haven’t even mentioned cell phones or self driving cars yet. When I am honest, all I really have to do to think of something interesting to write about is to relax and think about how lucky I am to live in such a miraculous time in history. Or maybe it’s just the imagination of that programmer that makes all of the luck.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Leaders, Followers, and …

Some people lead, some people follow, some people blend in. Those that lead stand out, if to no one else than to those that they lead. Those that follow rarely seek notice and if so they principally seek recognition from their leaders.

Those that blend in though are not so easily characterized. Perhaps they fear persecution because they are different. Perhaps they suffer from social anxiety disorders of one form or another. Or perhaps they just enjoy what they are doing and don’t want to be bothered with being responsible for the care and maintenance of followers.

Often, they are remarkably skilled at a skill that I think of as leading from the rear. They are able to influence nominal leaders such that they do what the person who blends in wants them to. Those influenced in this way are often wary of the person doing the blending in and yet they are influenced all the same.

I have, no doubt, oversimplified here. And yet, I think I’ve identified some stereotypes that are actually typical of any population large enough to have a normal distribution.

And so, to bed. I am too tired to take this idea any further. Let me know what you think. Which type are you?

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.