Why Science is Not Myth

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 29, 2015

My book club was discussing Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari when Linda said she liked how the author compared capitalism to religion. Tim replied that many things are like religion, including atheism. Cayce then added everything boils down to myths, including science. I knew what Tim and Cayce were getting at, that we all use our beliefs like a religion, and that we understand aspects of reality through stories, but I objected that science should be called another myth. Cayce then countered that I should show him a photograph of an electron. Tim then commented that science often gets corrupted and misused. Cayce then said that science can’t prove anything, and can only offer a probability that never approached certainty.

Flammarion_Woodcut

I wanted to argue more, but by then, it seemed like we were getting into a private discussion, boring the rest of the group. However, I think it’s extremely important to define why science is not myth. First I think we need to define the word myth. For our purposes I’d say myths are stories that explain reality. However, one definition of myth is a false story – “That’s just a myth.” I’m not sure if Cayce was arguing that science is a myth because it’s just another story explaining reality, or that no story can explain the absolute truth about reality, so they are all myths.

I believe it’s important to distinguish that science is not myth because it’s the only cognitive tool our species has developed to explain how reality works. Myths, religions and philosophy have failed at explaining reality, and what sets science apart is its success. Science is the only system of thought that has consistently worked even though it doesn’t offer absolute certainty, or answers to all questions.

One reason why myths sometimes appear to work is believers assume our reality is not the real reality, that we live in an illusion, and a higher reality contains the truth to our existence. Some believers in myths believe reality is mutable and thought can shape reality. However, I’m working on the assumption that there is an external reality, that it’s part of a single reality, and reality can be understood by observation.

To assume science is just another myth, is to suggest that reality is unknowable. It implies that the knowledge we’ve gained from science is just another illusion. I reject that for two reasons. First, science is a method, not a belief. Second, the results of science is too consistent.

Myths impose concepts on reality. Science reveals patterns in reality. Myths come from the inner world of our subjective minds. Science studies objective reality outside our brains. Science and myth are polar opposites.

Too many people today think the data collected by the process of scientific research as something you can accept or reject. There are two problems here. One, the current results of science can be uncertain, and two, people want to believe what they want to believe. It’s unfair to judge science because people don’t like the results, or the results are inconclusive. Science constantly refines what we know about reality because it never stops gatherings new information. Myths never do that.

Myths are popular memes. We keep myths going because people like them. For instance the idea of heaven. There has never been on shred of evidence that heaven exists, but most people believe in it.

Myths are ideas we want to be true. Scientific ideas are ones we prove to be true. Myths require no evidence. Science does.

The reason science is not myth is because science is a technique not an idea. The results of the scientific method are statistical data. Mythology produces infinite possibilities. Science shows us consistent patterns.

Science does not depend on belief. Gravity works whether you believe in it or not. So does evolution and climate change. Electrons exist without us seeing them. Seven billion plus people use electrons every day. Electrons are immensely dependable and predictable. Cayce was holding an iPhone when he asked for a photograph of an electron. I should have pointed out that an iPhone is better evidence of electrons than any picture.

Mythology produced countless human cultures before the advent of science. Since the advent of science culture is homogenizing around consistent scientific results. The Comanche of North America, the Australian aborigines, or even the Israelites of the Old Testament could imagine living in any kind of reality they wanted, but they could never have built a Boeing 777 or IMAX theater. Citizens around the Earth are seeing a consistent reality because science showed us how to build cars, computers, cell phones and CT scanners.

Humans around the globe rebel against science because they want their myths. This is why I’m making such a fuss about refusing to accept science as myth. We have a clear choice. We can live in the illusion of what we want to believe, or we can use science to study how reality actually works and adapt our minds and culture to what’s real.

JWH

When Does Nonfiction Go Stale?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, June 19, 2015

When does a newspaper transform from news to wastepaper?  How old do the magazines at your dentist office have to be before you sneer at reading them? When does a science book become a history book? Why don’t we have classic nonfiction books like we have classic novels? What’s so important about new information as opposed to old information? If you found a two week old newspaper in your house you’d immediately throw it away, but if you found a 1832 newspaper in your attic you’d treasure it. How many bestselling novels from 1955 are still read today versus the nonfiction bestsellers from that year? When The Bible and The Iliad were written there was no distinction between fiction and nonfiction.

Sometimes it seems the books I enjoy reading the most are novels from the 19th century and the nonfiction books just published that are getting a lot of buzz. The only nonfiction book I can remember reading from the 19th century is Walden; or Life in the Woods  by Henry David Thoreau. I’ve always meant to read On the Origins of Species by Charles Darwin.

I started reading Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence by George B. Dyson, a book I bought new back in 1997, but just now getting around to reading. Dyson is the son of Freeman Dyson, and the author of the more recent book Turing’s Cathedral (2012), which I bought and is also lying around here waiting to be read. I wonder if I’ve waited too long to read Darwin Among the Machines, because I’ve read The Information (2011) by James Gleick and The Innovators (2014) by Walter Isaacson, as well as many other books about artificial intelligence and information theory since 1997. However, Dyson has a unique approach to the history of thinking machines, starting his story with Thomas Hobbes and his book Leviathan. Dyson even ties in H. G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. This is the kind of book I would write if I had the discipline to write books.

Darwin Among The Machines by George Dyson 1997 1st printing

Yet, I wonder about reading such an old book when there are so many newer books waiting to be read. Is there a Read By date for nonfiction books?

Dyson opens with,

“Nature (the Art whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal,” wrote Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) on the first page of his Leviathan; or, The Matter, Forme, and Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, published to great disturbance in 1651. “For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the beginning whereof is in the principall part within; why may we not say that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life?”¹ Hobbes believed that the human commonwealth, given substance by the power of its institutions and the ingenuity of its machines, would coalesce to form that Leviathan described in the Old Testament, when the Lord, speaking to Job out of the whirlwind, had warned, “Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.”

Three centuries after Hobbes, automata are multiplying with an agility that no vision formed in the seventeenth century could have foretold. Artificial intelligence flickers on the desktop and artificial life has become a respectable pursuit. But the artificial life and artificial intelligence that so animated Hobbes’s outlook on the world was not the discrete, autonomous mechanical intelligence conceived by the architects of digital processing in the twentieth century. Hobbes’s Leviathan was a diffuse, distributed, artificial organism more characteristic of the technologies and computational architectures approaching with the arrival of the twenty-first.

The trouble is Dyson wrote this sometime before 1997, and artificial intelligence has come a long way since then, beyond what Dyson could imagine eighteen years ago. Yet, what he’s really writing about are the centuries of thought before the 20th century on the subject – and that is mostly new to me. The common starting place seems to be with Babbage and Ada Lovelace, so it’s rather interesting that Dyson starts with Hobbes.

I guess it depends on what I’m enjoying learning. I seem to have two modes of interest. First is, what’s happening right now. The second is, how did we get here. Should I spend my time reading about the current state of global intelligence, or study the history of how someone imagined it would be hundreds of years ago?

I could be reading The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality published 9/1/14 by Luciano Floridi. The Fourth Revolution is a book Hobbes would have found very interesting.

I wish I could read, digest and summarize a book in my blog in three or four hours. It takes me one or two weeks to read a book, and often longer to digest. If I really get caught up into a book I want to follow its leads and tangents. Just reading the first chapter of the Dyson book makes me want to go read about Thomas Hobbes. But do I need to spend so much time thinking about the 17th century when I live in the 21st? Tim Urban claims in “The AI Revolution” that the years 2000-2014 experienced as much progress as all the progress in the 20th century, and that the years 2015-2021 will speed even faster through that same amount of new information.

I am reminded of an old play title – Stop the World I Want To Get Off. Of course, I’m also reminded of that bestseller of the 1970s, Future Shock. Maybe it would easier on my mind to read Thomas Hobbes than Luciano Floridi. Yet, isn’t it sort of sad, that whatever nonfiction book I’ll read will be out-of-date in just a few years. If I had a good memory, I could tally up a very long list of nonfiction books that promoted some kind of far out idea as a possible understanding of how reality works yet has since been forgotten. How many people remember The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris or The Origins of Consciousness if the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes?

Not only do we surf the web, but we surf the current state of knowledge by reading the latest nonfiction books. New information flows into creation far faster than we can gain wisdom from processing that data. Is it practical for me to stop and read a book from 1997? Dyson was working to make sense of 1996.

Quite often new popular science books rephrase the same histories the older books covered. How many popular physics books have I read that summarized Einstein’s discovery of general relativity or  Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems? Generally my knowledge of science lags far behind it’s discovery. At least I gave up on String Theory before The Big Bang  characters did.

I read for fun, so does it matter when a book is published if it’s fun to read? I’m not a scientist, so I don’t need to be up on the latest theories. I can never understand science at anything more than a popular science level, which is essentially at a philosophical level. And at a philosophical level, Darwin Among the Machines is still a fun read.

The problem that continues to nag me is whether or not I’m being the most efficient reader I can be. I only have a few more years left to live, and I want to cram in as much knowledge as possible. I know it leaks out my brain as fast as I consume it, but overall, a little residue remains and it feels like I’m progressing in my understanding of reality.

The decision to read an old nonfiction book versus a new nonfiction book must be made on how much knowledge will it add to my overall collection. That means I must choose between a writer who is carefully digesting a lot of historical information versus a writer who is reporting a lot of new information.

JWH

Playing Detective to My Own Mysteries

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I’m cleaning out closets in my never-ending quest to follow my tidying-up guru, Marie Kondo. This morning I went though boxes of old family papers that I inherited when my mother died years ago. I had stashed them away to avoid processing them. These include old family letters, orders my father got from the Air Force, ancient report cards, newspaper clippings, birth-marriage-death certificates, and other records with proofs of long forgotten facts.

1959-1960 Report Card Browns Mills New Jersey 400px

I was going to throw the entire box away, or give it to my sister and let it be her problem. Then I started noticing enticing facts here and there, like addresses and dates I’d long forgotten. I grew up always on the move. I have no idea how many houses I lived in before I moved away from home, nor am I sure of all the schools I attended. I remember what states I lived in, but not always sure when. For example, I lived in South Carolina twice, but I can’t place the first in time at all. Some of my faulty memory clues tell me it was after I started school, but I have absolutely no memories of going to school in my very vivid earlier memories of South Carolina. Since we moved a round a lot, it could have only been for a summer, and I’ve even wondered if my parents kept me and my sister out of school. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember it being cold. I figured it was sometime between age 4 and 7.

I’ve always believe the first time I went to a movie theater was when I lived in South Carolina the first time. I later learned that movie, Snowfire, was released May 18, 1958. I would have been six, and I started first grade when I was five. Growing up I vaguely thought I had lived in South Carolina the first time before I started Kindergarten, which I attended in Miami in 1956-57. But Snowfire wouldn’t come out for two years. Both memories can’t be right. I do remember the theater building, which I think was on base, so it could have been in New Jersey in 1959, and we were seeing Snowfire as an older release.

It seems a little anal now to worry about where I used to live almost sixty years ago. I could throw all those papers away, or I could go through them and look for clues. Creating a timeline of when and where I’ve lived might be an interesting mind building exercise. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be cleaning out my memories like Marie Kondo pushes me to clean out closets. Does it really matter? No one is interested in it but me. My mother saved all this stuff that was important to her, and now that she’s dead, it’s just landfill. The 94-year-old lady living next door recently died, and her family have parked a long dumpster in the back yard to clean out her house. Their family has been living there almost as long as I’ve been alive. The weight of her memories piles high in that container.

1915 - Helen Delaney High School 1200px

I’m also thinking about just scanning all this inherited paperwork. Although I’m not sure how often I would look at it after making such a huge effort. Will this information become more important to me when I’m in my seventies or eighties? Marie Kondo asks me to hold each object I own and ask myself, “Does this bring me joy?” Nostalgia could be a form of joy – maybe? On the other hand, freeing myself from the weight of the past, brings another kind of joy.

My father died when I was 18, and he’s always been a mystery to me. We never had many conversations. My parents were alcoholics. Dad died before I got old enough to be curious about his past, and even though my mother lived to be 91, she chose to forget a lot of her past. I once asked her about our first time living in South Carolina and she couldn’t remember when it was. If I took the trouble to examine this box of documents I might discern some information about my Dad. I’ve even thought of using the freedom of information act to track down information about my father’s Air Force assignments.

I have scanned in most of my family photos that go back to the 1920s, and I’ve been trying to find ways to useful organize and display them. Often I don’t know the exact dates when the photographs were taken. I wished I did. I could name each photograph and scanned document by the date and have a timeline slideshow. I’d have to date them like this: “1930-08-07 Great grandparents.jpg” and “1963-12-25 Report Card Becky.jpg” to sort properly and know what they were.

On the other hand, I could just trash it all. I doubt these odds and ends artifacts have been looked at three times in the past fifty years. One thing I’m learning from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is everything should have a place. As I organize my physical belongings to reside in their unique place in the house, I wonder if I shouldn’t put all my digital belongings in their unique place on Dropbox.

JWH

What Was On That Dead Drive?

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, June 14, 2015

The other day my 2TB hard drive died.

I used to work in a college where I supported hundreds of computer users. One thing I preached to my users was the importance of backing up. I constantly told them to  back up any file they would hate to lose. And for any file they’d emotionally die if they lost, it should be backed up in two or more physical locations. Over the years I saw some serious crying over lost files. I can’t believe how many graduate students I met that kept all their work on a flash drive. Some lost everything. One professor lost the first draft of a book.

2tb

Hard drives are interesting devices – a cross between an external brain and an attic. I’ve been using this drive for so long I can’t remember when I bought it, nor do I have any idea what I could have squirreled away there. It had been about two thirds full. 1,400 gigabytes of data is a lot.

I’ve tried to recover it but so far no luck. I have no idea what was on that drive, yet I’m not too worried. Years ago I started saving to Dropbox. I believe everything I really care about is there, but I don’t know for sure. I won’t know until I go look for a file and can’t find it.

Dropbox saves files to both your computer and their server. If you have Dropbox on a second machine, it will replicate all the files on the server to the new machine if that machine has plenty of drive space. I used to have several machines that Dropbox was mirrored. Machines at work and home. So all my files were replicated on all those local drives. When I retired I lost the ability to have my files stored in two locations. But I figured I had the remote Dropbox site and 3-4 home computers. However, I’ve been cleaning out old machines, so I’m now down to two machines with Dropbox mirrors. That should be enough. But the first thing I did when I set up my new machine was to connect to Dropbox and let it mirror my content.

I also run SecondCopy and replicate my Dropbox folder to my OneDrive. That puts my important files on two cloud drives.

What if Dropbox went out of business? That’s a scary thought. I used to use Mozy, an online backup system. It backed up my entire drive. If I had been using Mozy when my 2TB drive died I would know what I lost. However, 2TB is expensive to back up that way. I dropped Mozy when I got Dropbox and started only worrying about backing up data I created. I figured I’d just reinstall the OS and software.

I do know one of the biggest folders on my dead TB drive was my Music folder which had around 140GB of MP3 files. I have a backup of them on an external drive, and a copy on Amazon and Google Music. Because I’m a long time streaming music user I worry little about all my ripped songs – even though I spent months ripping my CD collection. I have my collection on two cloud services, but I seldom play them.

I think all my photographs were on Dropbox – but I’m not sure. My routine was to scan to my Picture folder on the PC, and then copy the images to the appropriate folders on Dropbox. I don’t know if I filed my last scanning session. That’s the thing about having a 2TB drive – you just can’t keep up with all the stuff you throw on it. It’s 2,000GB. There was over a million files on it.

What I have lost is hundreds of television shows recorded with my SiliconDust HDHomeRun, a network TV tuner. This has happened to me before. I had a Home Theater PC lose it’s drive with hundreds of documentaries I had recorded over many years. I’m not too worried about this either. I tend to record way more TV than I ever watch.

I also kept .iso images of CD and DVD install discs for all the programs I’ve bought over the years. I haven’t thrown those discs away; the .iso copies were my backups. However, most of my old software is just that – old. Since I subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365 Home, the install is in the cloud. Except for an ancient copy of Photoshop I cling to, I seldom install anything from these old discs anymore when I set up a new machine.

For days now, every since my 2TB drive went south, I’ve racked my brains trying to think what was on that sucker! It’s like getting old, and forgetting names, you don’t know you’ve forgotten until you try to remember. On the other hand, maybe we only remember what we regularly use.

While trying to recover my 2TB drive I found five other internal drives I had stored away. I went through those drives and found years and years of backups. Backups of backups. I had copies of all the programs I ever wrote at work. Before I retired I carefully backed them up thinking I would cherish them in the future. Two years later, I instantly decided to delete them. With a few clicks of the mouse decades of coding vanished. I had archives of all the web pages and photographs I took at work. Sent them down the bit bucket too.

If I had had the chance to review the stuff on my 2TB drive before it died, I probably would have deleted most of it. But I have this nagging worry that there were things on it I still want, but I have no idea what they are. My wife works out of town, and when I’m in a cleaning out mood, she tells me I can throw away things but just don’t tell her. She knows if she was asked she’d want to keep it, but if she doesn’t know it won’t matter.

Chance has done some spring cleaning for me.

I write this to remind you about your files. What if your hard drive crashed for good?

If you want to try Dropbox for free use this link. I’ll earn some free space credit. After you join, give your link code to friends to earn extra space. That’s a nice feature of Dropbox.

If you subscribe to Office365 Microsoft gives you 1TB of cloud storage. Google is in the cloud drive business. Amazon also sells cloud drive space. And like I told my users, really important files should be backed up to two locations. Pick a big name company, and one that has client software to map a drive on your computer. Then you can decide on a main storage site and use replication software to back it up automatically to a second cloud site.

JWH

Rethinking Going Paperless

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, June 12, 2015

Back in 2008 I started a series of essays about Going Paperless. I cancelled the paper, let all my magazine subscriptions run out, worked hard to convince junk mail senders to stop sending me crap, got off mailing lists, and did whatever I could to stop the flow of paper into my house. I greatly reduced my usage. It made me happy. My paper recycle box usually takes weeks to fill.

Then about a year ago, I got a couple magazine offers so cheap I couldn’t resist. Then I got more. Who wouldn’t want The New Yorker for $25 for 52 issues? After years of reading free on the web, I kind of missed the magazine experience. Now I’ve got piled of unread magazines sitting around again. I hate that. I hate to throw them out unread. I feel an obligation now to save those magazines and read them so the sacrifice of all those trees won’t have been in vain.

goingGreen

Having this clutter again annoys me. I do love reading magazines, but I hate their clutter. I won’t renew any of my paper subscriptions or make new ones. I actually do 95% of my periodical reading off the Internet, or from Next Issue, a digital subscription library to 140 magazines for $15 a month. I was almost paper free and I had a relapse. Sorry about that.

Annoyingly, our local paper has decided to give everyone weekly special issue. I tear out the crossword puzzle and put it in the recycle box. What a waste. I feel sorry for newspapers, but how many of their pages are actually read?

In the seven years since I started this project, my bank, credit card, retirement account, health insurance, car insurance, utility all wanted me to go paperless too, and I have. But it feels strange not having any paper proof of my savings and debt. I’m having to invent new routines to handle living in a digital world.

I still have plenty of paper books, but I don’t really like buying them anymore. I buy printed books when they are cheaper than Kindle books. For example, a recent book club read was $9.70 Kindle and $4.00 for a used printed copy. I went the cheap route. I’ll read the paper copy and then give it to the library. However, if I had bought the Kindle version, I’d have it for keeps.  I would have saved some trees and the fuel it took to ship it to me. I would have opted for the ebook if it had been $5.99 or lower. I think it odd that publishers price their ebooks so close to printed editions. Why aren’t electrons cheaper than ink and paper?

For the last two decades we’ve been going through a digital revolution, and it’s affecting more than just paper. I’m phasing out CDs, LPs, DVDs, cassettes and even hard drives. I recently switched to a SSD drive (solid-state drive). When I cleaned out my closet I found six internal SATA drives and one external USB drive, all 500GB to 2TB. My new SSD is only 250GB, and so far I’ve only used about 70GB. Because of cloud drives and digital content providers like Audible, Spotify, Next Issue, Amazon, Scribd, etc., many books, songs, television shows and movies I used to horde on mechanical drives now reside in electronic libraries.

I wonder if by 2020 if I will own any content on physical media? Not only will I have gone paperless, but I will have gone disc-less too. Did anyone imagine how the smartphone would bring about a paperless society? Now that Apple is joining the Spotify revolution, how many people will keep their old CDs, or even their iTunes songs. When I set up this new computer I intentionally didn’t install iTunes, or copy my 25,000 MP3 files to my Music folder.

I’m currently reading Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert, a novel from the early seventies about a secret branch of humanity that models their society on insect societies. Is the Internet creating a hive mind? Now that we store our libraries of knowledge and art online to share, doesn’t that radically change how we live?

Where does paper still get used? Packaging. Way too much of that. And what about school work. Do kids still turn in all their work on paper? Receipts are a big source of paper for my recycle box. And I still get too much junk mail – not anything like before, but still a good bit. For some reason every charity I contribute to feel the need to send me a regular magazine. I need to write them about that.

Of course, in the future when anthropologists unearth our civilization, they will only find dead smartphones and tablets. I wonder what they will make of that?

JWH

Less Is More–The Intel NUC 5i5RYK

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, June 7, 2015

I love technological marvels. I’ve been lusting after the new iMac, the one with the 5K 27” screen, but since I didn’t have that kind of money my new tech toy is the tiny Intel NUC 5i5RYK – a powerful desktop computer smaller than a book. Whenever I buy a new computer I have great expectations before my purchase, and all kinds of imaginative ideas how I would redesign the computer afterwards. Because I’m reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was inspired to get the NUC to significantly reduce computer clutter.

The evolution of computers in my lifetime has been towards smallness. How little can a fully functioning desktop computer get, and still offer all the usability and configurability that a traditional desktop offered? Many users have already given up on desktops, switching to laptops, tablets and smartphones, but those mobile devices have limitations that force their users to buy extra gadgets to return them to desktop functionality – like keyboards for tablets. Or they invent kludgy apps, like programs that use the camera to scan images. People write novels and edit movies on laptops, but it’s doubtful we’ll see that kind of work done on a smartphone or tablet. And even heavy-duty laptop users often add an external monitor, mouse and printer.

This experience has made me wonder what the perfect desktop computer setup would be for me. Contemplating tidying up my life reveals the essence of my tech needs.

  • Fast computer (I hate waiting)
  • 27” monitor with highest resolution possible (I love to see the digital world as sharply as possible)
  • scanner (paper input)
  • printer (paper output)
  • speakers (digital music output)
  • keyboard mouse (for me the best interface for communicating with computers)

I figure the Apple 5K iMac with its 27” screen is about ideal for reducing the size of a computer and leaving it big enough for productive work. However, it costs a fair penny. Since I’m a do-it-yourselfer and cheap, I bought an Intel NUC 5i5RYK. The NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is tiny. My NUC was $384, plus $98 for 16GB of memory, and $117 for a Samsung 250GB M2 SSD, and $20 for an Amazon Basics wireless keyboard and mouse.

NUC with wall wart

The machine the NUC is replacing is a desktop I built myself with an Intel i5 2500K CPU, 8GB of memory, a 2TB drive, housed in a spacious Antec ATX case with 600w power supply. The NUC seems about 1/30th to 1/40th the size, yet has roughly the same capabilities. Intel even claims the NUC can drive a 4K monitor – something I want to buy in my future. I threw Windows 10 Technical Preview on it and installed all my favorite software. My desk is closer to the Zen simplicity of my fantasy, and my home office is silent enough for meditation.  Since I ran my old desktop 24×7, I didn’t know how much ambient noise it made.

Both machines are fast enough for me. The old chip, a 4-core i5, ran at 3.3 Ghz, and the new 2-core i5 runs at a much slower clock speed, but is a 5th generation Broadwell chip that is much more efficient. I assume my old machine has a lot more muscle for processor intensive work, but I don’t do those kinds of jobs, nor do I play games. I’ve also learned moving to a SSD drive is blazing fast compared to the mechanical drive. I don’t ever want to go back. The boot up time is so fast I don’t mind shutting the NUC down when I’m not using it. Not only is this computer small, but it only uses 6-30 watts of electricity, as oppose to 80-200 watts of the old machine.

My fantasy before buying the NUC was to have a very clean desk. I pictured this simple box sitting on the desk, out of sight, or even attached to the back of my 27” monitor. The NUC does come with a plate to do that. However, I didn’t foresee how many wires I’d have to plug into the thing, which has turned it into a desktop octopus. It has two USB ports on the front and back, including one powered port in the front.

It terms of clutter configurability, I wished all it’s ports were on one side. What I need is two USB hubs. One to snake around to the front of the monitor for easy access for removable devices, and second hub for permanent connects I can hide in the back.

I currently have a 27” 1080p monitor without USB ports. I plan to buy a 27” 4K monitor with 4 USB 3.0 ports when the price is right.  That should solve most of those wiring problems.  You can never have too many USB ports, but how many are too little? I never had enough USB ports on my iMac at work before I retired, or my big desktop at home. I’m always swapping out cables. Engineers can design smaller computers, but we still have all the peripherals to deal with. I have these USB devices (but don’t always use them):

  1. Printer/scanner/copier all-in-one.
  2. Web cam
  3. Microphone
  4. Wireless nub for keyboard and mouse
  5. UPS backup
  6. External drives
  7. Apple iPhone/touch/Nano/iPad and other MP3 devices
  8. Kindles and a Nexus 7 
  9. Cameras
  10. Memory card readers
  11. LP turntable
  12. External Soundblaster

All-in-one computers elegantly solve the problem of reducing clutter, but if something goes wrong, they are hard to fix. Modular systems are ungainly, but it’s easy to swap out components. The goal is to get rid of wires and cables. A wireless keyboard and mouse are about perfect in their minimal footprint. All-in-one printer/copier/scanner machines are approaching an ideal minimal design. My Epson WF-3540 has SD card readers and a USB port, and it’s wireless. Sadly, the wireless only works with printing, but I can print from my iPad and iPhone. I wished the scanner would work through the Wi-Fi so I could store the Epson out of sight. I hate seeing it on my desk.

My speakers are now the ugliest thing on my desktop. Each speaker is about seven times the size of the Intel NUC, plus an ugly subwoofer under the desk, and they have a lot of tangled wiring. No all-in-one computer has great sound, but I might find high-fidelity nirvana with a sound bar, or a SONOS system. There’s no reason why the music playing from my computer must come from near my computer. On the other hand, Mackie Studio Monitor Speakers might be the way to go.

Finally, I have my ugly UPS surge protector. Since the new setup is so low powered, I will be able to get a much smaller UPS in the future. Most people don’t use a UPS backup, and I wonder if I could live without one too.

I haven’t decided if I’ll put iTunes on this system, or even use Windows Media Player. I only use iTunes to put Audible.com files on old Nano players. I only used Windows Media Player to rip CDs. I’m very close to giving up CDs and MP3s because of Spotify, and I get all my audio books through my iPhone now.

Most of my data and photo files are in the cloud. I think going from the 2TB HD to a 250GB SSD is possible.

I’m already well satisfied with the NUC. I gave one of my desktops away, and packed the other in the back of a closet. My on-the-go computer is a Toshiba Chromebook 2 with a 1080p IPS screen. It’s also tiny. Once I let go of my old desktop, I’ll be done with CD/DVD/BD drives and mechanical disk drives. Next, I wonder if I can ever give up printing and scanning?

JWH

If God Created Everything, Who Created God?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Do we still ask the same philosophical questions at 60 that we did at 6?

Many youngsters will ask their mom who created the world, and when they are told God, the smart alack kids will ask, “Who created God?” Because of this who created the creator problem I always wondered as a kid why wasn’t there nothing. I kept trying to imagine a void without time or space ever starting anything. This caused a lot of philosophical agony in my little kid self. To put my mind to rest, I concluded that nothing can’t exist, and reality is everything that can be, because if nothing could have existed, nothing would have existed. That was my best solution to that philosophical conundrum.

Science had another solution – The Big Bang – which on the surface seemed a clever explanation to the origin of everything, but we still have to ask where that original singularity came from. Now that we’re exploring the idea of a multiverse, we’re back to how was the multiverse created. Philosophically, we’re no better off than it’s turtles all the way down.

As I got older, I encountered another impossible question – “How can bad things happen to good people?” I eventually solved that one by accepting the theory of evolution. Evolution is indifferent to our suffering. We can’t take it personally. Bad things happen by chance.

There are a lot of impossible questions out there that torment little kids. With countless religions how can one be right and the rest wrong? If God is all powerful why can’t he make his message obvious? If God is all powerful why does Satan exist? One of my solutions to that last one is Satan doesn’t exist, but is the illusion created by false ideas about God. Of course, that creates another impossible question – if all gods are Satan but one, which is the real God. And if God is all power why are there so many illusions?

Is it any wonder that I became an atheist by the eighth grade? As a kid I wanted to know the answers to those impossible questions. One problem with atheism was I’d never know. I use to fantasized that dying would grant me answers. I imagined being told the answers to all my agonizing questions before being shown the door to oblivion.

Now that I’m older I feel like I’ve found all the answers, and I know the reality of reality. Of course I don’t, but like religious people, I’m just going to assume I have. It’s easier that way. In case your curious, here are my answers.

I use the word reality to describe the whole shebang. The universe has gotten too small to encompass everything. Reality has always existed, and will always exist. It’s infinite in all directions. Humans are infinitely small, but there’s an infinity of things smaller than us, and an infinity of bigger things. There’s no edge, either expanding larger, or shrinking smaller. Time had no beginning or no end. We exist on the Earth by accident of cosmological and biological evolution. Humans will exist on this planet until we go extinct or the Earth is destroyed. Reality will continue without us. As individuals we are conscious of being in reality, but that awareness expires when we die. Ideas about gods were invented by earlier humans to explain reality but now that we see more of reality those explanations no longer work. There is no intelligent designer. There is no creator. We don’t have ask who created God because there is no God. We don’t have to wonder about good and evil because there is no good or evil. We exist. There is no why.

Some people answer childhood questions by accepting religion. I don’t think I had the religious gene, so I answered them differently. But does it matter.

My bit of personal philosophy does explain why I’m so concerned with climate change. Humans exist on Earth by accident, and are aware of reality by accident, but if we want to continue to exist we need to preserve the Earth. The reality of reality is we will exist as long as we do, and then reality will continue without us. It’s not personal. It is personal to want to stay alive, and it is personal to want your species not to expire. And although reality is indifferent to our desires, it is also indifferent to us making something of ourselves. We can do whatever we want within the limits of reality.

A human can push life for about a century if they are lucky. Humanity could push existence for billions of years. It’s only a matter if we choose to do so, otherwise the odds of reality are against us. Nothing in reality has everlasting life except reality. As a being aware of reality, I dislike the idea of nonexistence but that’s part of reality. I wonder how many other beings in far flung reality are aware of its existence. It seems tragic that as a race of reality aware beings would let ourselves go extinct. If we do, that’s how reality works. If we don’t, that’s how reality works too.

I no longer suffer impossible philosophical questions. I enjoy existence and study reality. The only thing that makes me suffer is my declining health and my species insanity to each other and how we’re collectively committing species suicide. It’s a comfort to know it’s not personal. From Buddhism, I know my suffering is caused by attachment and desire. A modern Buddha would now say suffering is caused by trying to control reality.

But reality allows that too. We are aware of reality, and we can shape it to the extent of our powers, and the cost is suffering the effort and desire.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I’ve stopped asking such questions. Along the way I found some answers I can live with.

JWH