Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bad news.

Turns out we’re not headed for any well-known flavor of Apocalypse, neither an old-fashioned nuclear holocaust nor the returned Christ casting sinners into eternal flames for the delight of the saved.

Rather, it’s the escalating pace of technology that will bump us into the void. How else to put this? The expansion of knowledge and the acceleration of thought far, far beyond the human scale. The point where machines out-think us. The Singularity.

You might have thought a word like Singularity could refer only to something radically unique, such as the way your spouse eats. In fact, Singularity refers to the point where computers become so powerful that a new form of intelligence, a super-intelligence, emerges. The science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who wrote about this in a 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” likened this point to the boundary around a black hole, beyond which the known rules no longer apply. He figures it’ll happen about 2030.

Here’s John Tierney’s take on this.

I’m skeptical. For a super-intelligence to emerge, it would require that those of us who currently author ideas, become less and less the authors and more the conveyors of ideas. It would require that the one-time creator become more the transcriber, that mental energies that were once considered ends—the production of thoughtnow become the meansthe transmission of other people’s thoughts, who themselves are transmitters of other thoughts not their own, which from come other non-authoring transmitters.

It doesn't make any sense to me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What Do You Do When A Good Friend Starts Calling Everyone "Boss"?

Oh, this is a crisis all right. Good friend, known him a long time. Generous, a savant in all things mechanistic, a sailing god. And somewhere along the line he started calling strangers Boss.

It could be worse, I suppose. He could call them Chief. But Boss? Oh, Boss is bad enough.

There we were at the Waffle House, the server before us: "I'll have the homefries with sausage gravy, Boss," he said. Boss. I almost choked on my broccoli florets. What does one do about this? Is physical violence off limits? Do I affect an atmospheric disdain? But I do that all the time anyway; how is he to know?

Oh, oh, oh. This changes everything. How can you think you know a person well, and then learn he calls people Boss?

Friday, September 19, 2008


Boatwork proceeds. The final layers of crud have been removed, the white of fiberglass deep below begins to come up. All the equipment on board has been taken out, scrubbed with bleach and Little Dutch Girl cleanser (“Chases Dirt”) and set to peer at the sun.

Everything has exited: All the old buckets, cans of stainless steel cleaner, fiberglass restorer, boat soap, fiberglass polish, all the thick-rusted paint scrapers and putty knives, ancient Corningware bowls, engine flushing kits for both Johnson and Honda outboards, random strips of rubber, tiny tubs of plumbers’ putty, snarls of nylon twine heavily mildewed, silicone sealant, un-bristled brushes, unused battery boxes.

The lazarettes have been scrubbed, ditto the icebox, all the interior surfaces, floors and crannies de-wasped and de-mildewed. Two portlights have been fitted with new lexan and reseated with polysulfide caulk and the major holes in the fiberglass have been epoxied over with white resin paste, giving the boat a rough-hewn, under-construction sort of look that implies a future tense. A long useless external radio speaker has been ripped out and thrown away, and the bulkhead hole where its wire passed through filled. What is more, I paid my storage bill, one winter and one summer’s worth. That really hurt. But from that moment I advanced an honest and free man once more--no longer the skulk I had been with debts still outstanding. I will remain honest at least until October 15, when the next winter storage comes due.

A sign on a mailbox I pass daily—they love to quote the Bible on mailboxes here—says “Walk Honestly”. And so I shall.

And honesty compels me at last to concede I must lose the sailboat. I have spent now almost three weeks tending to this sloop, and have regained the affection for it I remember well. That affection dictates that I should not keep her imprisoned here on this island of misfit toys, the only sailboat in this yard, and one of an extreme few boats of any kind built before 2004. Someone else should have her. If I did not spend so much time sailing on other people’s boats I might have time for my own.

There are other reasons for saying goodbye. Given my dislike of owning stuff generally, I’m surprised I bought this thing in the first place. The temptation was there, and I had the money. Money will do that. But it wasn’t an easy choice. Eight years ago, after long and careful consideration, I decided that buying a boat would be a bad idea. Then I went straight out and did it.

I do not say it was a mistake, because it wasn’t. In the last eight years I’ve essentially made sailing my career. I’ve learned a self-sufficiency I never had, responsibility for others, navigation skills, how not to panic when the swells are rolling you, how to stop a hole in your hull with just one hand, the importance of warm clothing and rain gear, and many quick fixes for broken marine toilets.

Rather I would say that in my now more, I hope, mature judgment, I would sooner pursue the experience I seek than the object that is supposed to provide it. I’d rather go for the experience itself than the toy that gives it.

This is the mistake I used to make all the time: Experience a desire, buy something to fill it. Experience a problem, buy something to solve it. No. Go straight for the experience, skip the product. Find a solution, not a product. Better yet, it’s not a bad idea to view those desires and needs with a trifle of suspicion. I’m starting to see anything conducive to getting more junk in your life in a very skeptical light. Possessions weigh you.

But we must all have them, I suppose, just as we must all go through Chicken Pox. Well, I’m hoping the departure of the little sloop toward a brighter sunrise will inure me to future temptations of this kind. Besides, I’m starting to think quite a bit about motorcycles.