What Really Matters

In these days of turmoil after the undoubtedly historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, whether you agree or disagree with the decision, either on legal or on moral grounds, it is important to keep one thing in mind. As a citizen of the United States, you have implicitly given yourself over to the secular, democratic law of the land. Yes, you could spend time fighting a presumable majority on this issue. Honestly, this amounts to a minor change in what should be a secularized bureaucracy, as legal “marriage” extends to medical, employment, tax, housing, legal realms, which should all be free of the effects of one contentious moral system in a country that prides itself on freedom of religion and so forth. The legal ramifications of the decision may also be troubling to you.

However, none of this matters. Seriously. The best we can hope for is that this decision will put to bed another of the various debates that have been distracting us from the real problems. Global warming, unregulated AI advancements, nuclear proliferation. Extreme biochemical engineering. Massive overpopulation. Unregulated nanotechnology. Space exploration and expansion policy. There are a huge number of threats in the near future which have the potential to wipe human civilization clean off the map. We need to make efforts NOW to make our civilization resilient to threats, and set ourselves up for long-term survival. We need to stop squabbling over social policies that honestly don’t matter all that much, and focus on the huge number of never-before-faced global issues before it is too late.

After all, stopping everyone from being wiped out by grey goo is the first step in evangelism.

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Pyramid Scheme

No, but seriously. I hear all this talk about economic growth being the key factor in recovering from the economic recession. But how can the economy constantly grow? Population isn’t increasing that much except in third-world countries, and we have pretty much tapped into all the natural resources available to us. How is a model of economics based off of growth remotely sustainable? Obviously I am no economist, but here is what I see: we have been building up a market economy and globalizing for the past two centuries. All of this growth and expansion has been based on the principle of exploiting other locations. We used other countries that had different supplies and demands as leverage to boost our own economy. With the exhaustion of new sources of raw materials (metals and lumber and oil are getting scarcer and scarcer) and the homogenization of the global market, how can we possibly hope to maintain this economic disparity which lets us grow. Now, I will admit that there are still developing nations and a growing global population. But what happens when the global population tops out at 10 billion (see below) and all regions reach a certain standard of living expectation?



If anybody is economist, could you please explain whether or not this model is unsustainable, and if so why we subscribe to it.

Programming Paradigms

Computer science is a relatively young field, and it has rapidly evolved ever since its inception. This becomes increasingly evident when you look at computer science being taught versus computer science being used. This is extremely apparent in the misnomer: computer science. CS is more technical art than science.

For a long time, computers had finite computational resources and memory. Today, our average consumer-grade computer is comparable to a super computer from 1985. Thusly, the twenty first century requires programming paradigms far different from those taught in the twentieth century. It no longer pays off to optimize the number of calculations or amount of memory your program uses, unless you are specifically performing mathematically intensive operations. This blog voices that sentiment much better than I can.

So programming now is about implementing an idea. Its easy to rise above the technical nitty gritty details and focus on the concept at hand. Then programming becomes a form of poetry, in which you express your ideas in a structured and rhythmic way. Programming, at a consumer level, is no longer about getting a machine to do what you want; its about empowering people.

Just like a poet spends many hours revising their verses and getting the words to say exactly what is meant, a programmer spends hours rearranging and improving code to fulfill their idea effectively. And like poetry, there are many genres and styles of programming. Unfortunately, programming is also like poetry in the way that many students get turned off to it by the experiences they have with it in school.

Programming should be taught with the main objective in mind: we are here to accomplish a mission. Writing mechanics are practiced and improved, but without an idea behind a poem or story, it is pointless. Algorithms are important, and so is project design and planning. But these are merely implements with which to express the programmer’s idea.

This is why the most successful software is easy to use, is powerful, or grants people an ability they didn’t have before. When you use a program, it doesn’t matter whether all the variables are global, whether the project was built top-down or bottom-up. The functional differences of some of the most disputed methods are miniscule. Optimization is a trivial concern when compared with the user interface. Is the parse speed of one file format more important than the support of a larger number of formats?

Kids want to be programmers because of coding heroes like Notch, the creator of Minecraft. But Minecraft isn’t well-designed. In fact, the program is a piece of crap that can barely run on a laptop from 5 years ago despite its simplicity. But the idea is gold, and that is what people notice. This is why Minecraft and Bioshock, and not COD, inspire people to be game developers.

However, functional programming is the CS taught in schools. Schools need to teach the art of computer science, not only the science. Imagine if writing was only taught, even up through college, in the scope of writing paragraphs. Essays and papers would just be a string of non sequiturs (kind of like this blog). Fiction would have no comprehensible story, only a series of finely crafted paragraphs. Only those who figured out the basic structures of plot, perhaps by reading books by others who had done the same, would learn to write meaningful stories.

In the future, everyone will be a programmer to some degree. At some point data will become so complex that to even manipulate information people will need to be able to interface with data processors through some sort of technical language in order to describe what they want. To survive in a digital world you either need software to help you interface with it, or learn the language of the realm.

Yet children are being driven off in droves because computers are being approached in education from completely the wrong angle. Computers are tool we use to accomplish tasks; the use of computers should not be taught just because “people need to be able to use computers in order to survive in the modern world”, but because children will be able to implement their ideas and carry out tasks much easier if they do have an expanded skillset on the computer. Computer skills should be taught in the form of “how would you go about doing X? Ok, what if I told you there was a much easier way?”

History is Cool

I’ve seen some talk about education pop up both on Twitter (Twitter is awesome) and in real life. It’s fairly apparent to many people that education ain’t what it used to be. Which is, to some degree, true. But the fact of the matter is that education hasn’t changed so much as the role that education needs to fulfill. I believe I’ve described in an earlier post the shift from industrial to post-industrial education, but I’ll reiterate.

After the industrial revolution, the demand for factory workers was high. Factory workers only need minimal education, about up to the elementary school level. These blue collar workers would become manual labor. Those who were smart enough went to high school, and became white collar workers. A select few of those people would go to college and become doctors, lawyers, scientists, judges, etc.

The parallax between then and now is obvious. As the demand for laborers has decreased and the demand for engineers has increased, more and more people are attending college. Unfortunately, the education system has not responded well to this influx. The collegiate system has become bloated as it tries to accommodate the new waves of people who need a college degree to get a decent job. The world has lost sight of the true reason for getting an education; although a person does get a certification as a result of attending college, their objective should be to learn.

Public education in elementary schools and high schools has also done a shoddy job of flexing its methods to prepare students for the constantly changing future. For example, children were discouraged from becoming artists 20-30 years ago, yet there is a high demand for creative people to create all sorts of digital media. As a modern example, elementary school curricula stress plate tectonics and other basic geology, drilling it into students’ heads year after year. That may have been necessary 40 years ago, when the theory was young and a majority of people still distrusted it, but now it is commonly accepted fact and there is no reason to stress it.

Not only is early education slow to change with the times, but it actively discourages children, intentionally or not, from learning some necessary skills. For example, the vast majority of people I talk to, even students at TJHSST (one of the top high schools in the country) haven’t seriously read a book (and certainly not for enjoyment) since the 3rd grade. The early grades have given them such a bad experience with reading that they dismiss all books as boring. This, quite obviously, is distressing. Disillusioned and lazy teachers teach interesting subjects like history and math in ways that turn children off, perhaps for life.

But history is cool. Yes, it’s also boring. But so is math, science, programming, reading, writing, foreign language, and sports. My point is, every subject has areas that are uninteresting to the uninitiated, and EVERY subject can be taught in a manner that makes you want to eat your own skull rather than listen to another second of it. The key to teaching a subject is show the student that it is awesome, and then start teaching the basics. Most importantly, though, make sure the student realizes that the field extends far beyond what they are learning right now.

Here are some examples of sweet historical events/times/people:
-The transition from Roman republic to empire
-The Battle of Agincourt
-The Fall of Constantinople
-The Mongols beating the crap out of everyone and being awesome
Nikola Tesla
Charles Babbage (way cooler than Tesla)

But not only are there examples of people who were incredible badasses, but even periods of history like the colonization of North America and the Middle Ages are inspiring. I find that whenever I read a textbook, my mind drifts off as I build a science fiction or fantasy universe which mirrors the status quo of that period in history.

But I digress. Essentially, learning is REALLY FUN. It can also be THE MOST BORING EXPERIENCE EV-OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO TEAR MY FACE OFF WHY IS THIS SO UNINTERESTING.

Come on guys (yes, you). Step it up.

I’ll end with a quote from Saul Perkins: “My thesis is that 21st century parents should teach their kids three languages: English, Mandarin and coding. Software is so much a part of our lives to today that this is just a fundamental skill that people need.”

Snow Crash

Oh. Yes. I am going to start off this post by talking about the absolutely brilliant book by Neal Stephenson (see Cryptonomicon), Snow Crash. The book that popularized the use of the word “avatar” as it applies to the Web and gaming. The book that inspired Google Earth. And despite being 20 years old, it is more relevant than ever and uses the cyberpunk theme to hilarious and thought-provoking extents. It paints the picture of an Internet/MMO mashup, sort of like Second Life, based in a franchised world. Governments have split up and been replaced in function by companies; competing highway companies set up snipers where their road systems cross, military companies bid for retired aircraft carriers, and inflation has caused trillion dollar bills to become nigh worthless.

In the book, a katana-wielding freelance hacker named Hiro Protagonist follows a trail of mysterious clues and eventually discovers a plot to infect people with an ancient Sumerian linguistic virus. The entire book is bizarre, but it has some great concepts and is absolutely entertaining. Stephenson never fails to tell a great story; his only problem is wrapping them up. Anyways, I highly suggest you read it.

Well, I’ve been thinking about games again. I have two great ideas in the works, and one of them is “hacking” game based roughly in the Snow Crash universe. It doesn’t really use any of the unique concepts from it besides the general post-fall world setting and things like the Central Intelligence Corporation. It probably won’t even use the Metaverse, although it depends how much I choose to expand the game from the core concept. The player does play, however, as a freelance hacker who may or may not wield swords (not that it matters, since you probably won’t be doing any running around).

I’m writing up a Project Design Document which will cover all the important points of the game:
Download the whole document

The World in 15 Years

It’s been a while since I’ve just written something for fun without justifying myself, so I decided to make a post where I just make shit up. Basically, I’ve been thinking about something I heard a while back, which went along the lines of: science fiction is about personalizing issues in the present day and bringing abstract problems to a level in which the characters deal with it directly. While I disagree with the statement to some extent, I also agree with it the more I think about it. Fallen Angels makes climate change a very tangible force that the characters have to deal with, for instance. Power Nap (a webcomic) expands the sense that corporations take advantage of their employees for productivity beyond reasonable limits, and personalizes it for the protagonist.

So, I momentarily abandoned my plans for writing a space opera. Most of all, I just wasn’t ready for a writing project of that magnitude. But more importantly, it didn’t MEAN anything to me. I wanted to write a story that took some problem or idea that affected me and make it very real and tangible. With the latest set of vicious storms in my area knocking out power for days, even disabling emergency services and perhaps water utilities for a time, I began thinking about how reliant our global society is on electronics and the electricity to power them. This coupled with the thoughts that had been stewing about in my head ever since I casually skimmed a National Geographic article. The article was not that interesting, but the subject matter was one that hadn’t really occurred to me before: a freak solar flare, like one that happened in 1859, could essentially fry the entire power grid and all of our electronics. This, to me, proposes a much more interesting and up-to-date apocalyptic scenario than the standard nuclear armageddon.

That got me thinking about the near future, and so I’ve compiled a list of some things I think will be likely to occur in the next 15 years. I tried to not be too optimistic. Yes, I know that some of it is inconsistent, and some of it is much more detailed than other parts.

Geopolitics
Asia
-China becoming more democratic, but increases censorship nonetheless
-Huge number of economically successful high-tech countries in East and Southeast Asia
-Pacific Rim emerges as haven for free data sharing, as well as Eastern Europe

Africa
-Poor countries still poor
-Communication technologies become even more widespread
-Corrupt governments overthrown in continuous cycles of bloody revolution
-Raw material supply becomes unreliable
-Poor corrupt countries may fall into anarchy

America
-Rest of world becoming more socialist in terms of government handling of resources
-USA increasingly resistant to government regulation of resources and thus begins to lag in large societal changes and technological adoption
-More and more unrest as the US government fails to agilely address new problems
-Increased attempts by media-industry-controlled government factions to eradicate un-supervised data sharing on Internet
-USA oversteps some boundaries trying to persecute free data sharing companies in Asia, world becomes weary of US intellectual property pushes

Europe
-Everything goes to shit in Greece with communist election, pulls out of EU
-Spain pulls out of EU because of financial collapse
-Germany pulls out of EU in anticipation of EU and Euro collapse
-Euro goes to hell
-European economy collapses, lots of companies migrate their finances to US or Asia in anticipation
-Several brief civil wars break out in countries hit hard, tourism in Europe goes to shit, causes more economic decay

Technology
Space
-DARPA project kicks off space recycling
-Retired space stations are cannibalized
-Expanded commercial industry, competition with SpaceX
-Asteroid mining just starting, expected influx of resources (Earth mining becomes ridiculously expensive as resources are depleted)
-Plans for mars still just plans (commercial and governmental)
-Commercial space station with sponsors (Red Bull module?)

Computers
-More advances in mobile technology
-Competition in information glasses (see Google Glass)
-Increased presence of laplets (netbook / tablet hybrid, see Microsoft Surface)
-Increases in high-speed Internet availability
-Cloud gaming (processing on external machines, screen streamed)
-Some cities are implementing ubiquitous wifi
-Self-driving cars prevalent
-Resource sharing via private companies becomes more accepted

Medicine
-Cures for blindness, etc
-Advances in prosthetics, mind-controlled apparatus
-More use of robotics, especially in operations
-Cancer research still unable to cure cancer
-Pushback against genetic engineering to solve rampant problems (e.g. anti-sepsis bacteria, clotting-inducers, artificial immune boosters, disease-vector re-engineering)
-Technological advances in molecular synthesis jeopardizes pharmaceutical industry

Transportation
-Niche markets of supersonic flights and new efficient airships are filled
-Ocean drilling for oil becomes extremely common, Gulf spill stigma overcome
-Oil synthesization expanding as a market, more viable as oil is used up and Middle Eastern oil is unavailable
-Price of flights start to increase, flying starts to become less popular

Environment
-Increased reliance on new breed of safe fission power
-Global warming still “on the rise”, even though it has been partially linked to various natural processes
-Carbon emissions significantly reduced in Europe and America, increased in Asia
-Attempts to limit number of chemical rockets used, rejection
-Anti-desertification movement gains momentum, Saharan reduction initiated
-Still huge pushes towards recycling


I might update this post with some short descriptions of why I make some of these predictions, but until then you should leave a comment agreeing or disagreeing. Also follow me on Twitter @mattlevonian if you like my blog.

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