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Adventures in Engineering
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-04-24 20:41
  Subject:   Remember that you're unique and different - just like everyone else.
Well, mercyspeaks tagged me with this damn meme, and I've thought about it for a bit here... and I have come to the thundering conclusion that I cannot think of a single interesting, extraordinary or unusual thing about me. Really, not one. Your average big nerd from Colorado. That's it. Nothing anyone who met me once would remember after a year, much less ten or twenty.

I can tell you all sorts of boring, trivial crap. That I own a fast sports car and an even faster motorcycle, (no that's not me, but it is my same exact bike) but rarely seem to get a chance to use either, tending to put miles on my 45 MPG Honda Civic hatchback instead. (Though I did get my mom a speeding ticket on Saturday - blew past a police officer so fast that he ticketed the next motorcyclist who came by purely out of spite. ;D)

I could tell you that I'm a gun owner, avid target shooter, and mediocre marksman with a rifle... and yet a political liberal who favors some fairly unusual kinds of gun control. Also a fanatically anti-war, isolationist peacenik who wants to leave the USA in shame over the lies that W used to justify the invasion of Iraq - and the idiot public (and Congress) who swallowed it all hook, line and sinker.

I'll tell you that despite the previous two items, and the fact that I was born in Texas, and that I have wavy hair... sorry no, I don't own a cowboy hat. So take your America-jin stereotypes and shove 'em, slanty-eyes. ;]

I could ramble on about how I recently lost my glasses, (like, two months ago) and haven't yet really felt a terribly strong urge to get a new pair. Apparently my vision is healing itself slightly. Yay me.

I could tell you I'm having a great time playing Half Life 2.

That I once worked in a plastic factory.

I could tell you that I enjoy rock climbing.

And have a lot of chest hair.

I could tell you I like KMFDM.

Or that I don't believe in god. (Though I'm way past caring if other people do.)

Or that I give blood.

But none of this is interesting, none of it is unusual, and it's pushing things to say that this randomly chosen handful of characteristics makes me unique. These are boring, ordinary, everyday traits that anyone could have - and many do.

So, I'm throwing this open to you people. You tell me: can you think of six interesting, unusual or non-ordinary things about me? If so, post 'em here in a comment.
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  User: osmium_ocelot
  Date: 2006-04-25 01:19 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I may not make it to six, but I'll tell you what I can come up with.

#1 (and most important) : you have the ability, nay the NEED to think critically and objectively and as dispassionately as you can. You weigh the given evidence, you extrapolate, evaluate, postulate and come to your conclusions only when an issue has been thuroughly examined. You man not find this to be interesting or unusual; but look around you, look at the population of this world, filled with their superstitions and groundless faith, a place where less than half of undergrad students believe in evolution; and then tell me that it isn't an unusual (and laudable) characteristic.

#2 : You have the humility to be able to laugh at yourself. I see too many people (especially those in power) who can't do this.

#3 : I have never once wanted to reach out and crush your throat just to have the pleasure of watching you thrash around for air. Consider that I have wanted to do this to just about every human being walking the face of the Earth at one point or another and yes, it's unusual.

#4 : You actually live the priciples you believe in, as opposed to 99% of the population who give lipservice to their principles, but when the chips are down, will compromise them every time.

That's all I've got for now. Perhaps I'll come up with the other two later, perhaps not. Maybe we'll both get lucky and somebody else will.
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  User: waterreflecting
  Date: 2006-04-25 04:18 (UTC)
  Subject:   #5
You've got fire in yer belly that the average Joe don't got...
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Alex Belits: mona
  User: abelits
  Date: 2006-04-27 10:15 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
It's unusual that even though you have strong opinions, you don't spend much effort on trying to convince people who disagree with you that they are wrong, even when they loudly proclaim things that you see as stupid or insulting. Maybe it means that you have low expectations of their ability to have a meaningful discussion about those things, but I guess, it frees a lot of time and energy for something more productive and less frustrating.
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2006-04-28 01:27 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I've just given up on the human race. I think that while there are smart individuals and smart moments, people in general are too stupid to live. And furthermore I'm sick of trying to enlighten them. Let 'em burn in the hells of their own making. They've earned it.

Though I'm generally annoyed by hippy-dippy, new age crap, one concept I have found useful was given in the book Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. The idea is that "You can't stop people from getting what they want." It's a rather profound idea if you really understand it.

Two examples of this principle that spring to mind most quickly are: A country that wanted to "go kill us some ragheads!" whether the ragheads were actually any threat or not. And someone who wanted to move halfway across the continent and live with someone who was obviously bad for them. In both cases, there was no way to stop these people from getting what they wanted, even when it was obviously a big mistake.

I suppose I'm also borrowing a little bit from Gnosticism. the idea of "non-attachment and non-conformity to the world - a 'being in the world, but not of the world'; a lack of egotism; and a respect for the freedom and dignity of other beings."

But mostly I just want to find some way to avoid being dragged down along with the masses of stupid sheeple. I'm all good abandoning them to their fate - I just don't want to have to share it when I vehemently disagree with their actions. And hitting them over the head with reality, as emotionally satisfying as it is, does not seem to be helping me find that distance from them that I want.

More cynically, one shouldn't try to teach pigs to sing. It only wastes your time and entertains the pig.

Lastly, I suppose mercyspeaks's t-shirt may explain the root of some of these feelings:

As Dobgert says: "Bottom line, I'm just not a people person."
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Alex Belits: mona
  User: abelits
  Date: 2006-04-30 07:14 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
In a way, I agree with you. Being concerned with suckage that surrounds me so far did not help me much in doing anything that reduces either the suckage in the society as a whole or suckage that is present in myself, and probably wasted time that I would better spend on something else. However my perspective on this is different.

Before computers became common, people had no idea what their brains are good at. It looked like thought, logic, various branches of math, etc. are natural applications of the human mind, and human mind is designed to do that easily -- easier than it does anything else. All "lower" functions were seen as merely a foundation of this great thinking ability, capability to understand the world around us, invent things, and express thoughts and feelings in various forms of art.

Then computers were created to supplement those abilities. It all worked pretty well until computers started processing data that was not pre-filtered by a human. And then we have found what computers really, really suck at doing -- recognizing, WTF is in front of them, and making guesses, how those things may be related to each other. And we know that the progress in this area was rather disappointing for the last few decades, but this is not the whole story. The problem is not that computers are bad at it -- it's that humans are so good at it.

Actually so good that it's very likely that the operations of recognizing known patterns, creating and adjusting patterns for recognition, and analyzing correlations to build higher-level patterns are the elementary building blocks for all our mental activity. Maybe there is something else, but those are definitely among the basic operations that the whole "design" relies on. What looks great until the point when one recognizes what kind of thinking those operations support best. Being tied to the familiar, accepting relationship between things after seeing them coincide, looking for analogies to something known in everything new, great effort needed to gain any new abstract knowledge that falls beyond empirically learned rules -- it's all a great foundation for what we know as superstition. Humans are not just superstitious, their basic property is to be superstitious, to do all kinds of mental shortcuts that fall prey to fallacies and errors, with correction mechanism being based on expensive operations that our brain tries to avoid. We suck by design, and being stupid is our nature.

But this is still not all. A newborn child definitely sucks ass as long as thinking is concerned, but this is not necessarily true for all humans. Even if true thinking ability was as rare as it appears, it would still mean that humans are not bound by that "nature", and as flimsy a foundation it may be, it was sufficient to build what we know as culture, science, art, and all other things that we previously thought to be good applications for our brains. Our brains may suck at those things, but the history of mankind, all that standing on the shoulders of the giants thing, development of patterns that allow our brains to use math and science despite the suckage, compensated our natural capacity for superstition and stupidity enough to keep the development of this, for lack of a better word, call it "culture", going for a few millennia already, and hopefully it is going to continue further.

Again, this is not necessarily new, more like a relatively new way to put it, but people for quite a while recognized that they are somehow flawed. It's just usually it was directed toward being naturally evil or sinister, and really we are naturally stupid and superstitious. And just like most of people recognize at some level and extent that being evil sucks (even though people are "naturally" not nearly as evil as it seems), most of people that I know recognize that lack of thinking, relying on superstitions, stereotypes and expression of authority figures is bad, and one has to constantly put some effort into improving his own thinking ability. A human may be constantly between good and evil, his instincts and socially enforced norms, but above this all he is between natural stupidity and developed ability to think -- with nature firmly on the side of stupidity and "culture" on the side of thinking.
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Alex Belits: mona
  User: abelits
  Date: 2006-04-30 07:15 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
What I see now is stupidity taking over. Let me clarify -- I do not claim that there is more stupidity now than, say, in 16th century when most of the population had nearly nonexistent opportunity, leave alone developed ability to think. But when you are a European peasant, suffering from all kinds of naturally happening problems that neither you, nor educated people know solutions for, being stupid isn't as bad -- as long as society is held together, even by false ideas and with corrupt leadership, it is capable of surviving, and a bunch of mostly stupid people surviving is a better foundation for culture than a bunch of people who died from starvation and plague. If they carry along with themselves pieces of wisdom hidden in piles of nonsense, it's still far superior to knowledge being lost completely.

But I didn't live in 16th century, and can't really appreciate if it was good or bad to the development of mankind's thinking ability. For most of my life I seen it as natural that all people are encouraged, if not even forced, to learn, read books, make cleverly designed things, publish works of art and science, and do other things that make them participants in this development of a culture. That still leaves a lot of people being stupid, but I didn't live in fear that once I'll wake up in a city where not a single person can repair a refrigerator, because everyone lost ability to get knowledge necessary to do that.

Now many people are not just rejecting the culture -- they actively spread their ignorance, superstition and intellectual laziness. It makes little sense because they spend way more effort on keeping other people stupid than what would take to make themselves smart, but in a society where stupidity is encouraged by others, they feel better reinforcing their superstitions that they caught from others. It's an anti-culture. Your example with ragheads is very disturbing, if you look at this deeper. People are accustomed to comfortable lives -- a thought of going to a foreign country and fighting its inhabitants is very far from anyone's idea of having a good time. Sending soldiers to do that isn't much more pleasant, either -- killing people for petty reasons is bad whatever way you look at it. So even a person with limited mental abilities would naturally look for an excuse to avoid doing so. And excuses are easy to find, too -- with some minimal amount of thinking, one can easily find much more effective ways to improve the situation by doing things that are less likely to result in a massive number of dead people.

Yet most of people didn't think at all. Was it because they were naturally stupid? Perhaps -- for some of them. Maybe even for most of them. But when something is abundant naturally, you don't have to produce massive amounts of it artificially. Our beloved neocons had to produce a massive propaganda of what seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction! But who promotes knee-jerk reactions? Doesn't it mean that people are insufficiently stupid, and someone had to artificially promote stupidity?

In other areas things are just as bad -- lower intensity of pro-stupidity movement is more than compensated by its persistence. People are supposed to be naturally lazy and afraid of unknown, yet a lot of effort is being spent on suppressing kids' curiosity. People are believed to be naturally greedy, yet countless gigabytes of printed word are spent on promoting hare-brained economic theories that make this assumption as their cornerstone. The infamous "intelligent design" movement would find me a strong opponent if I brought the above mentioned example of deficiency in our brain's "design", but sadly this argument would go so far over their heads, it's not even funny.
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Alex Belits: mona
  User: abelits
  Date: 2006-04-30 07:16 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I am insulted and disgusted not because someone managed to challenge a dogma happens to be dear to me, even if it's possible to see an attachment to "culture" as another form of dogma. I am insulted because people easily dismiss things that I consider an important part of my human nature, something that stands between me and a dumbass that I would become if I never made any mental effort. And I am disgusted seeing that at the time when thinking is the easiest, when sources of information and examples of others' writings are closest to everyone's fingers and eyes, people disregard all the technological abilities and development in thinking abilities, scientific method, scientific knowledge -- heck, they disregard raw information about current events written in their own language -- and willingly succumb to proponents of stupidity for some microscopic amount of comfort that it provides.

I guess, I can't change much, but it kinda forces me to try to counteract this. Maybe, I should've become a schoolteacher instead of engineer.
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May 2015