Organizations I Could Donate To

I realized I should probably start supporting some of the free stuff that I use. So here is a list of organizations that I will start donating some money to. I might do one of these a month.

  1. AdoptOpenJDK
  2. CFI Austin
  3. Freedom From Religion Foundation
  4. Maraposa Sangha
  5. Poetry In Translation
  6. RationalWiki
  7. Science Friday
  8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  9. Wikipedia

Big Jim like helping others who help others.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by El Greco (1541 – 7 April 1614), at El Greco’s site, assumed allowed under Fair Use. According to Wikimedia, there are other paintings by El Greco about this topic.

Share

Thoughts On Discovery and Star Trek In General

I watched the first season of Star Trek:Discovery. The verdict: I liked it.

I was afraid that the series might flame out pretty quickly. The original series started strong and frankly got weaker, while the previous spin-offs were just okay for the first season or two, and really got going in the third season. There are a lot more series on television now, and a lot more channels in general. A series no longer gets a season to find its footing. But Discovery worked out okay.

I do wish we got at least one more season of Enterprise. I think the Romulan War would have been interesting. I think that is where the whole series was leading. On the other hand, if they were serious when they said that Future Guy was Archer then perhaps we dodged a bullet. I think the showrunners might have gone full Roddenberry: They were no longer worthy to manage their own brilliant creation.

I think the first two seasons of The Next Generation were almost a different series. Gene Roddenberry was still running things then. For seasons three and four, he wasn’t involved, but he was still mentioned in the credits. Some of the characters were not quite fully formed for the first two seasons. Geordi was just this guy who wore a visor, and….that was about it. And I think with Worf we were just supposed to be impressed by having a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise. From the third season on things improved. I think making Geordi the chief engineer was a good move. It’s a bit of a Star Trek cliche, but a show should pick a chief engineer. For the first season of TNG, there was a different chief engineer every time they went down to Engineering. It’s a starship, not a fast food joint.

One reason I think TNG was a different series is the character of Wesley Crusher. I never really liked that character. (One interesting paradox in science fiction is everybody hates Wesley Crusher, yet everybody likes Wil Weaton.) It was irritating and unbelievable that he easily figured out solutions that Starfleet officers with combined decades in space could not see. Frequently the problem at hand was something he read about for school that very same week. I am sure that sort of thing could happen, but not all the time. It’s amazing nobody ever suggested they should all learn how Wesley thinks about things so they could be as efficient as him. Nope, they were just amazed every single time. Wesley was shipped off to Starfleet Academy about the same time Roddenberry died. I think that Roddenberry had plans for the character, and after he had to step back from the show due to his health, the other producers did not have the heart to get rid of him while Roddenberry was around.

One thing I had forgotten: Wesley failed his Starfleet Academy entrance exam the first time. He is smarter than all the officers, but flunks the exam? What the Ferengi???

Season 7 got a little weird, which sometimes worked and sometimes did not. Some of those episodes were just different, and some were out there. A lot of people liked “Lower Decks“, but I did not. “Sub Rosa” was out there. I liked “Parallels“; probably one of my favorites of the entire series. I also liked “Masks“, although a lot of the staff did not. It was kind of like the fifth season of Bablyon 5.

I don’t think there is a series that I do not like (although I have no desire to try the animated series), although some had some weak episodes, even weak seasons. I think Deep Space 9 might be my favorite series overall. It had the best characters overall: great villians, even great recurring characters. I think having an overall story arc really made it stronger. Granted, while arcs are common on TV now, it was just becoming more common during the run of DS9; TNG just missed it. I think the best episodes of Enterprise were the ones that were in story arcs. Most of season three was one arc. But they threw a couple in that had nothing to do with the Xindi; one of them (“Extinction”) was the worst of the season, if not the series. Coincidence? I think not.

Back to Discovery: I liked it. The Mirror Universe is always a crowd-pleaser.

There are a few things that I did not like. I thought the Klingon war got wrapped up a bit too quickly. Maybe I was just hoping it would last longer. I do think that they could have gotten a few seasons out of it. I read on the Discovery sub-reddit that the original plan was to have a different crew for each season of Discovery. I think that would have been a very bad idea. But I think that explains why the Klingon war was ended so suddenly.

I also have read that the showrunner was replaced. I am not too clear on why. I don’t follow the behind the scenes stuff too much. Perhaps the new boss did not want to deal with the old boss’s stuff. But from what I have read on the sub-reddit, I am not the only one who thought the war ended too abruptly. [Note 1]

Another thing that I did not like is that sometimes Michael Burnham seemed a bit too much like Wesley. Maybe Wesley was just a magnification of an odd phenomenon in Star Trek: Sometimes they know an awful lot about an awful lot of subjects. They are dealing with technology that is far beyond what we have today, yet they all seem to be able to fix the warp drive, and the transporter, and the replicator, and fly a shuttle, and shoot pretty well, and this, and that. Which brings me to Paul Stamets. I guess we will see more of Stamets, since we will be seeing more of Culber (presumably through flashbacks). But Stamets will not use the spore drive. Will he stick around and manage the conventional warp drive? Again, these technologies would be beyond what we have today. People with degrees in physics do not just go off and become chemical engineers. But now Stamets is going to be an expert in warp drive after spending years trying to perfect the spore drive.

Plus it takes place before some of the other series. I try not to be one of those people who complains when there is an inconsistency. It’s fiction. There are plenty of people in the real world who are lying.

I did not like Tilly most of the time. Too much post-modern “let’s joke about everything” irony. Wouldn’t people be a bit more serious during a war? And stuck in a parallel universe. Besides, we already get enough sass with Stamets, dammit. And I am going to come out and say it: She looked to heavy to be in the military. To be frank, everybody else looked pretty fit, like they were ready to fight a war. Even Stamets, the character with the least military bearing, at least looked like he would fit in on a military vessel. They had to give Stamets some leeway because he was the expert on the spore drive. Tilly would have no excuse for being silly.

And before you get upset: No, I am not where I want to be either. I have come to realize that training more is not that hard, but eating less is.

This Star Trek has a pretty high body count. There were other series that took place during wars (like DS9), but Discovery had a lot of characters who appeared on-screen and bit the dust (and a few implied off-screen): Philippa Georgiou, Culber, Landry, the real Ash Tyler (which sounds like a twitter handle), Mirror Stamets, and both Lorcas (even though we only see one). Wearing something other than red no longer saves you.

I was not too thrilled with the look of USS Discovery. I thought the USS Shenzhou was a better looking ship.

I liked the first season, and I look forward to the second season.


Note 1: I strongly suspected that Discovery would be about Klingons after CBS put a stop to the fan film Star Trek: Axanar. I figured one reason had to be that the proposed fan film was about a similar topic to something CBS was planning.

Big Jim honors the past, but doesn’t want to be trapped by it.

Image from Memory Alpha, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Some Prompted Writing

Recently I went to a Meetup group called Just This: Zen Writing. It took place at the Austin Zen Center.

There was a few minutes of meditation, then there was a prompt, then we all wrote something based on the prompt, then we took turns reading out loud what we wrote and commenting on each others’ writing.

The prompt was from the Diamond Sutra:

All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or like flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated.

The leader played a few minutes of some monks chanting the Diamond Sutra.

One thing I found interesting is that a few people wrote quite a bit, but a couple of people only wrote a few sentences.

Here is what I wrote:

Chanting, marching, motion.

Driving. Highways. Night. Sunrise.

Things are more fleeting for me that they really are. I speed by, they remain in place. Someone may see me speed by in a second. We exist only for a second to each other. The motionless destination gets closer, yet too slow for me.

Mountains, rivers, oceans sometimes visible for a few seconds before obscured by trees and distance, or the setting of the sun. Horses and trains in Alabama are replaced by horses and trains in Illinois. Georgia pines blend into Arkansas pines. Trucks and truck stops, unique yet interchangeable across state lines and times of day.

Machines, cars, tractors arise and pass away as do deer, horses and hills. Crossing Maryland for 12 minutes, crossing Tennessee for eight hours. Engines drone as sun shines and rain falls. People live and die, birds land and rise. North, south, east, west. Job, school, family, wandering, reunion, escape, new life. Everything arises in the horizon in front of me and passes away in the horizon behind. And to them you are someone roaring by to be seen same time next year, or never again.

Big Jim prefers Theravadan suttas, but he went with the program.

Dame Autumn has a mournful face” by John Atkinson Grimshaw (6 September 1836 – 13 October 1893),  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Thoughts On Political Machines

In his testimony last week, Brett Kavanaugh went on about shadowy left-wing forces trying to take him down.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy“. A conspiracy implies secrecy, and frankly the right wing was never too quiet about their hatred of the Clintons. It was more of a vast right-wing machine or network.

There are the Koch Brothers, who fund many think tanks and advocacy groups, including the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Institute and ALEC. There is Richard Mellon Scaife, who, like the Kochs, got his start as a hardscrabble newborn in a rich family. One of the largest banks in the country is The Bank of New York Mellon; he is part of the Mellon family. (Seriously, what is it with conservatives who are born into wealthy families, and then turn around and lecture the rest of the world about self-reliance?) And there is Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer. (She has a very large forehead; I guess her head needs to be bigger to contain all the resentment she feels for having a wealthy father.)

Brett Kavanaugh himself spent a large part of his career as a right-wing operative. He worked with Ken Starr. He was part of the Florida mis-count. He drafted many of George W Bush’s signing statements (also see here). Like debt, signing statements are one of those things conservatives are only bothered about when a Democrat does them.

I think that Kavanaugh is committing a fallacy that a lot of conservatives commit: Because there is a right-wing machine, there MUST be a left-wing machine; because conservatives are willing to lie to get power, liberals MUST be doing the same thing. Kind of like how many drunks like Kavanaugh think that because they can’t function without a lot of booze that everybody else must need it as much as they do.

A lot of conservatives honestly think that nobody ever really disagrees with them. Anybody expressing a contrary view must be paid off. George Soros seems to be a favorite. It was funny after all the marches last year that a lot of people were joking that they never got their check.

Kavanaugh said the allegations against him are all lies and are motivated by anger about the 2016 election. It’s funny how there were no allegations about Neil Gorsuch. I guess George Soros was on vacation that month. If there was any nomination that people would go to any lengths to stop, it would be Gorsuch’s. His seat was stolen from Merrick Garland. You could say it was stolen from all the people who voted for Obama. Some people vote for President because of the judicial branch.

So there is no left-wing machine to match the one on the right. But what if there were? They spend billions to spread their lies, they gerrymander, they accept help from the Russians; all that effort, yet they still don’t get the percentage of votes commensurate with the disparity in funding. Trump won by 85,000 votes in about three states.

Maybe we the people should build a left-wing machine. I think we would crush them.


Postscript:
Kavanaugh complained that the Ford charges were sprung on him at the last minute. Kavanaugh was nominated by a president who did not receive a majority vote, but acts like he is god-emperor. Most people did not vote for Trump. Most people do not like him. Most people do not want him to be president. Kavanaugh was sprung on us.

Big Jim doesn’t like whiners who think they are big tough guys.

 “Two angels and two devils” by Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475),  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Thoughts On Photographing The Ladies

I don’t seem to get anywhere with women, but sometimes I have fantasized about photographing women.

It would probably be a great way to meet women and see lots of naked women. On the other hand, it would also be very expensive. I would need an actual camera, and a studio, and some lights.

When I was living in Chicago, I knew a guy who did a lot of photography, including women. A lot of the women were models who were glad he charged very little money. He may even have done it for free. Some of the women were a bit on the skanky side in my opinion. I do not find tattoos attractive at all. From what I could tell, his wife did not seem to mind him photographing all these other women.

He would also photograph Renaissance fairs and air shows. I do not know if he went to any air shows in Illinois, but he did go to a few in Wisconsin. Maybe he was at the Janesville Warbird Weekend (also see here). People really seem to like WWII aircraft. Is it because it was the last war we had no doubts about?

Instead of only taking pictures of women standing around, I would need to give them something to do. Using the famous “idea list” technique, here are a few possibilities:

  • Walking on a treadmill
  • Cleaning
  • Hanging clothes on a clothesline
  • Folding clothes (ironic, I know)
  • Changing a light bulb over and over and over again
  • Rearranging books on a shelf
  • Cleaning and shooting guns
  • Jumping rope
  • Yoga
  • Painting (art or painting a wall)
  • Cooking
  • Stuffing envelopes
  • Trying on different hats and boots
  • Writing on a white board
  • Cutting cake slices
  • Cleaning a glass door
  • Practicing with a sword
  • Adjusting her hair

Yes, a lot of these are “domestic” tasks. But I thought it would be nice to have some more variety that just a woman bending over while working on a spreadsheet.

Big Jim hates alcohol and loves women. He is the opposite of Brett Kavanaugh.

Eve” by Pantaleon Szyndler (26 July 1846, – 31 January 1905),  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

2018-09 Dividend Income Report

Here is the dividend income report for September, 2018.

The monthly dividend income came out to $506.44. The yearly income total for 2018 through the end of the month was $3476.52.

The income for September, 2017 was $775.50, and the yearly income for 2017 through the end of September was $4796.80.

I did not buy the iShares Commodities Select Strategy ETF. I think that because it is a commodities fund, I have to sign my life away before my broker will let me buy it. I would like to talk to someone at my broker about it, but their office hours are while I am at work.

Only a few of my non-bond ETFs paid out this month. Most of them are spilling over into next month. That should help my averages.

Here is a table with the year-to-date amounts, the monthly amounts, and the three- and twelve-month moving averages for each September from 2011 through 2018:

Month YTD Amount 3MMA 12MMA
2018-09 $3476.52 $506.44 $430.49 $518.06
2017-09 $4796.80 $775.50 $562.76 $551.05
2016-09 $4260.70 $720.86 $505.47 $499.02
2015-09 $3744.49 $659.59 $443.06 $432.46
2014-09 $2993.02 $536.75 $353.04 $335.39
2013-09 $2374.05 $395.65 $293.78 $294.44
2012-09 $2425.78 $315.21 $283.66 $283.00
2011-09 $2121.78 $243.26 $256.81 $233.01

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for September, 2018:

  • Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF: $38.23
  • Vanguard Total International Bond ETF: $10.35
  • RLI Corp: $30.67
  • Vanguard REIT ETF: $236.59
  • Vanguard Utilities ETF: $190.60

Big Jim’s path to riches sometimes feels very slow.

Le chat angora”  by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (4 April 1732 – 22 August 1806) , assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Things You Never Hear

A list of things you never hear, with a few I wish I did hear.

  1. Daddy didn’t mean those harsh things he said. That was the meditation talking.
  2. I only wrapped my car around the tree because I was concentrating on my driving.
  3. I only had sex with that person because I was aware of what I was doing.
  4. I only lost my job because I was following the Five Precepts.
  5. My wife left me due to my skillfulness.
  6. I got into that fight due to right speech.
  7. I heard about this sangha with a lot of hot women. (I do wish this was more common.)
  8. I want a man who is serious about meditation. (I wish more women felt this way.)
  9. I am going to become an alcoholic because Buddhism ruined my life.
  10. I want a guy who meditates and wants lots of sex. (Again, I wish more women felt this way.)

Big Jim wishes more women were interested in meditation than alcohol.

 “Welcoming Descent of Amida Buddha” at the Metropolitan Museum, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

“Both Sides” On Steroids

I know Driftglass has the market cornered on pointing out the “both sides” nonsense. But Tyler Cowen has a column on Bloomberg that takes it to the next level.

The title is “Fear Climate Change — and Our Response to It“. The subtitle is “Global warming will be expensive, and humanity’s irrational reaction may make it even more so”.

Humanity has not had an irrational reaction to climate change. Conservatives have manipulated people, distorted the debate, and have been standing in the way of action for decades. James Hansen testified in front of Congress about climate change in 1988. That means that all the free-marketeers who don’t want the government telling them what to do have had three decades to come up with solutions. To this day, conservatives like to make jokes about Al Gore, a guy who has not been in office since January, 2001, more than 17 years ago.

He talks about Brexit, which was brought to us by conservatives. They lied about how easy it would be, and they have been mucking up the negotiations since the vote. He writes, “It would have been better if the British had responded to their country’s problems in a less extreme way, or simply learned to live with the problems they had.” No, it would have been better if conservatives did not lie as easy as they breathe. “The British” do not all want Brexit. Even many who voted to leave now realize they were lied to and that it will be a disaster.

He mentions Trump, and then goes on to write about how our discourse “has become less rational and technocratic”, and “the harsh, non-sympathetic tone of the debate will further corrode American politics”.

Then he wraps up complaining about how much it will cost to do something about climate change. It would cost less if there was not a network of groups devoted to denying climate change and lying to people about the strength of the scientific consensus. Those groups are funded by conservatives, the Koch Brothers in particular.

One of the organizations funded by the Koch Brothers in the Mercatus Center, a think tank at George Mason University run by Tyler Cowen. They claim that they do not let their funding dictate their findings, but they did agree the Koch organization have a say in academic appointments at George Mason University. Mercatus likes to go back and forth about whether or not they are part of George Mason University depending on what they want. When they want some prestige, they are part of GMU, which is a public university. But if you file a state freedom of information request, then they are not.

Their annual reports simply list who is in charge, and give no information on who funds them.

This is “both sides” in steroids. It’s not the GOP that is causing problems; it’s “we”, “the world”. I guess Upton Sinclair was right: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary and donations from his inherited-wealth benefactors depend upon his not understanding it.

That version of the quote is The Tyler Cowen Special Edition.

Big Jim knows that while both sides spin, one side is far worse than the other.

“Chaos” by Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Idea For a Science Podcast

Preface: I only have time to go over a few podcasts, so it is possible that what I am suggesting already exists.

I think there should be a science podcast that focuses on one study a small number of related experiments/papers/studies to help teach people more about the scientific method.

There are plenty of podcasts that run through a bunch of unrelated studies, talking about recent discoveries. I think this is important, but I think that someone should go into what underlies all of this. Someone should talk about the scientific process and way of thinking.

Many scientists talk about how science is not just a collection of facts, but a method, a process, a viewpoint, a way of thinking. Many people are ignorant about both the facts and the principles. Many scientists touch upon these ideas, but only tangentially. One of the reasons this needs to be addressed is that today science is misunderstood, misrepresented and under attack.

In junior high school, I was told the basic steps are: Observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion.

Some podcasts do talk about some of the mechanics of science: the process of getting a degree, being a postdoc, getting funding.

I am proposing talking more about the scientific method and scientific thinking. One way would be to focus on one paper, or one study, talking to just the professors that were involved. (I know some physics papers can have a few hundred credited authors, so just a few will have to suffice.) Why did they do that experiment? Did they get the result they wanted? Did the experiment have to be halted? Was the paper accepted or rejected? How did they gather the data?

Perhaps a guest could be on to talk about a sequence of experiments they performed. Experiment A answered Question A, but that raised Question B, and answering that led to Question C, etc, etc.

The podcast could use each experiment to discuss themes such as: What makes an experiment a good experiment? What leads to success or failure? Why are some studies later retracted? Why do some stand the test of time?

We keep hearing that we need to get more young people interested in STEM and STEM careers, especially women and minorities. Talking about experiments in detail might give people a better idea of what it means to do science and what it means to be a scientist. When a lot of people think about what a scientist does, they think of someone in a lab wearing a white coat. A lot of scientists actually do work in labs and wear white coats (I think chemists and some biologists), but a lot do work in other settings (some biologists, geologists, climate scientists). And sometimes they are not very glamorous. There was a scientist on “Science Friday” who studied bats (I think it was Laura Kloepper; check her Twitter feed) and she said that when she goes into caves, she needs to wear a body suit because there are bats and bugs flying through the air and there are bugs and bat guano on the ground, and it’s loud, and you get hot in the suit. It does not sound like fun. There are many scientists on Antarctica. While Antarctica has a stark, austere beauty in photos, from what I have heard just being takes a lot out of you.

One part that could be covered is: what is “peer review”? (This might fit better with a paper that did not get published.) Once there was a guest on Science Friday who had done some peer reviews for a scientific journal. The first time he was given a paper to review, he asked the editor how to do a peer review, and the editor said that he didn’t know and the guest should just do a review. There are articles about it (see here and here),  so maybe that one guy just had a bad experience.

I prefer when science podcasts talk about the natural sciences. I am never interested in stories about social media, and while online privacy is important, I think that should be on a security podcast and not a science podcast.

Some people might say these things are covered by skeptic podcasts. I think the skeptical movement has not done a good job of explaining the concept of skepticism. Many people conflate it with cynicism. Granted, since the skeptical movement is using the term correctly, I do not have an answer for this.

And there are a lot of people who misuse the word “skeptic” intentionally, like the so-called “climate change skeptics“. They are not skeptics, they are deniers. The scientific consensus has only gotten stronger over time. The climate change deniers are ignoring or distorting the evidence, which is the opposite of skepticism. Some are against it because most of the solutions involve government involvement. Their worldview cannot offer a solution to a problem, so instead of admitting it, they pretend there is no problem. Given that scientists have been warning about climate change for years, there has been plenty of time for the private sector to come up with a solution.

One thing the climate change deniers have in common with the anti-evolution crowd is that they have misled the general public about what a “controversy” is in science. A scientific controversy is when scientists have a disagreement amongst themselves; I think the viability of string theory would count as a scientific controversy. If a scientific finding contradicts your religion, your ideology or your business model, it is not a scientific controversy. The problem is that you don’t like what reality is telling us.

Another issue is that the skeptical movement encompasses science, it can also include other topics, like religion, vaccination, alternative medicine, paranormal, New Age, the Law of Attraction, homeopathy, a large percentage of the guests on Oprah.

On the other hand, people generally have a positive attitude towards science. (At least until it tells them something they do not like.)

So I am suggesting looking at science at the micro level (a single paper, study or experiment, or a small, related group of experiments) to explain science at a macro level; to help explain the scientific method and the steps of the scientific process.

Big Jim knows if society was more rational, we could accomplish big things.

“Maternity” by Joan Miro (20 April 1893 – 25 December 1983), assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share

Thoughts On Geoengineering

I listen to a lot of podcasts that have talked about geoengineering, or climate engineering.

It has been mentioned on Radio Ecoshock, Quirks and Quarks, Sea Change Radio, Science Friday, and probably a few others.

I think geoengineering is either not going to work as well as we need it to, or is a bad idea. We should focus on emitting less carbon.

Geoengineering strategies fall into two categories: solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.

I think the carbon dioxide removal methods are good ideas, but they are not as advanced as a lot of people think, and will probably not be enough to save us. We would have to plant a LOT of trees to make up for our emissions.

I think solar radiation management is a really bad idea. Putting chemicals in the atmosphere is what got us to this point in the first place. Maybe SRM should be called “counter-geoengineering” since climate change itself is the result of geoengineering. Granted, carbon emissions have allowed us to have nice things, but if nothing changes it will be the end of us. Not the end of the planet, not the end of life on earth, just the end of us. Or at least the end of most of us.

But instead of putting a second set of chemicals into the atmosphere to counteract the first set of chemicals we put into the atmosphere, let’s just put less of the first set in.

Big Jim wants to make the world a better place.

“Landscape Under A Stormy Sky” by Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853-July 29, 1890), assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Share