Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gut Feelings

When you have to make a hard decision with long-term consequences, trust your gut.  Your feelings can tell you what your brain as a whole, not just your conscious rational part, has decided about the future well-being of you and yours.  If it does not feel right, postpone indefinitely.

Where this rule of thumb can lead you astray, however, is when you are not feeling well for other reasons.  When you are despondent about your plans and you want to scrap it all, first ask yourself whether this might be because you are currently sick or exhausted.  Do not assume failure and give up on all of your prior efforts when all you really need is just a few days to recover.

You will be the most optimistic when you are healthy, rested, and untroubled.  If you are not in that state, deliberately hold off on making any weighty decisions.  Until you are feeling better, stick to plan and keep chugging.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Addictive Entertainment

My three-year-old son James and I have been playing the video game Super Mario 3D World a lot recently.  It is cooperative play where we are on the same team but I always have to be very careful not to score more points than him.  Let the wookie win.

Even though we had not met in twenty-seven years, I recognized one of my favorite electrical engineering college professors while we were standing in line at the marina diner recently.  He remembered that I was into playing and programming computer games.  I told him that after continuing my education by earning a Masters in Electrical Engineering, I had abandoned that industry to become a full-time game developer, including writing a book and teaching a university course on the subject.

When I was a professional game developer, I always felt a bit guilty about being a part of the entertainment industry.  If the players were not so busy playing, would they instead be doing real life activities such as building a better world for themselves and their children?  Or are games something you do to keep yourself content and out of trouble in between doing important things such as raising children and earning a living?

Games, unlike other forms of passive entertainment, are interactive and therefore can be won or lost based on player decisions.  Winning a game satisfies our craving for a sense of achievement by providing us with a stream of virtual goals.  I call games "pseudo-work" because they provide the good feeling of productive work but without any of the real-world tangible benefits.

If we repeatedly fail at a game, we become frustrated and quit playing because it is not providing the rush of success that we need as goal-seeking creatures.  Winning every now and then, however, can keep us playing indefinitely because intermittent reward is addictive.  Games are also addictive when they progressively increase in difficulty or complexity as this hooks into our love of learning and mastery.

I think all addictive entertainment, both interactive and passive, should provide at least some long-term benefits to the consumer such as education or exercise.  For example, an avid viewer of a zombie apocalypse television series might incidentally absorb a few tips about disaster preparedness and emergency survival.  By the time a player character reaches level fifty as a magical healer in a fantasy role playing game, the actual player should be able to pass a level one first aid certification.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Croft Academy

I mentioned to a friend that my children had their last day of school before summer break today.  He asked what I had planned for them.  I explained to him that in addition to various educational day camps, swimming, and sailing, my children will be participating in Croft Academy.

For my family, Croft Academy is an annual tradition of summer educational activities.  We encourage our children to spend a few minutes each day studying different topics by posting a daily checklist for each child on the side of our refrigerator.  Study areas include common subjects such as art, math, reading, and writing and sometimes student-specific activities such as keyboard typing, computer programming, driving practice, and standardized test preparation.


A major component of Croft Academy each year is Khan Academy.  This is a free website with video lectures and online quizzes on many educational topics.  The website tracks individual progress so that students can advance through the subjects in prerequisite order.

After moving a magnet from the "To-Do" column to the "Done" column for all topics on the daily checklist, the student is then free to play computer games and watch television.  Our school motto, "No fun until the work is done", is captured in this drawing created by a Croft Academy alumna some years ago back when she was enrolled.  As of this month, this former student, my daughter Ada, can now also boast that she is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Year of the Boat

This is becoming the year of the boat for our family.  My seventeen-year-old son Thomas and I have been learning to sail with the help of the Grapevine Sailing Club.  I am also learning how to do boat maintenance and repair.  Thomas used a bosun's chair for the first time under the supervision of our experienced slip neighbors.

Here are some pictures of Thomas learning to be a yachtsman.





Friday, March 31, 2017

Eternal Universe

I just finished listening to the audiobook A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss.  As you might expect, the book does not live up to its title in full but it does give some depth to a number of science concepts that have been floating around in popular culture.  If you like the video How Far Can We Go? Limits of Humanity and want to know more, read this book.

One of the ideas touched upon very briefly in the book is that the Universe could have always been.  By the term Universe here, I mean whatever pre-existed and gave rise to the Big Bang, our current phase of existence, and whatever comes after.  I define the term Eternal Universe to mean a universe that goes on forever without an end and always was without a beginning.

I once attended a debate where a speaker gave the following argument in an attempt to make the  concept of an Eternal Universe that always was seem absurd.  He asked rhetorically, "If time never had a beginning but goes back to negative infinity, how would you ever get to now?"  I was disappointed that his opponent did not respond to this flourish but instead stuck to prepared arguments.

Here is how I would have responded.  Imagine that you are where you are now in some point in space.  You can imagine that this space extends from where you are out to an infinite distance in all directions.  Pick a direction and call that positive infinity.  Point in the opposite direction and call this negative infinity.

Imagine that I now ask you rhetorically, "If space never had a beginning but goes back to negative infinity, how would you ever get to here?"  You might easily reply, "I did not have to travel from negative infinity to get to here because I always was here".  The debater was relying upon the fact that most of his audience was used to thinking of time as something that flows forward in just one direction rather than something that is in all directions.



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bellissimo

I participated in a Grapevine Sailing Club Frostbite Serices race again this month, this time as crew on a Catalina 30. While drinking hot cider with rum back at the slip after the race, I mentioned that I was in the market for a sailboat and that I had decided on a Catalina but I was uncertain as to which model.  My hostess mentioned that her friends were selling their Catalina 25 and that I could see it right then if I liked.  Three weeks later following a tour of the interior, a marine survey, an underwater hull inspection, and a test sail, I became the proud owner of the 1980 Catalina 25 sailboat "Bellissimo".

The Italian word "bellissimo" appears to translate directly to the masculine form of "very beautiful" which works for me as I have five very handsome sons.  The actual idiomatic use of the word appears to mean wonderful, marvelous, or a beautiful experience.  The previous owner explained to me that it was a familial greeting shared with her Italian siblings and that the word coincidentally included the family name of the orginal owner.

As Bellissimo is over thirty-five-years-old, it is considered to be an "antique" by Texas state law.  Another interesting fact about Texas state law is that Texas is one of the few states where the maximum width for a trailer that you can tow without an oversize load permit is less than eight feet six inches.  In Texas, it is eight feet zero inches, exactly the same as the beam of a Catalina 25.  So now I am in the market for a trailer and a vehicle to tow it.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Rounding the Mark

My new hobby is sailing. I have been practicing my knots and reading sailing books and magazines. I have had about twenty hours of sailing instruction on Grapevine Lake and Galveston Bay.

I spend countless hours looking at sailboats online. My wife Shannon has informed me that she wants me to stop talking to her about the relative merits of one model of boat over another. Sometimes, though, she will share with me what she might like in a boat when I show her video reviews of whatever model happens to be my current favorite.

I joined the Grapevine Sailing Club. This past weekend, I rode with three other club members in a powerboat to help position and retrieve the race course marks for the Frostbite Series regatta. Click on the photos that I took of the event below to see them full-size.








Friday, December 30, 2016

Optihumanist Principles 2016

I am happy to report that the current human population is estimated to exceed 7.4 billion and growing.  For my annual update to the Optihumanist Principles, I changed the last line of the "Life is limitless" section to the following:
We welcome the propagation of life throughout the Universe.
One of my favorite new YouTube channels, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, covers this topic in a recent episode, Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained, which concludes with the following:
More people is going to mean more people able to advance our species.
Kurzgesagt quotes a United Nations report as predicting that the human population will stabilize at less than twelve billion.  For the following reasons, I predict that the population will someday exceed twelve trillion:
  • As world-wide prosperity increases, industrialized nations will no longer be able to rely upon economic immigration to sustain population levels.  To prevent decline, governments will adopt policies supporting families raising children.
     
  • As medical technology advances, both life spans and fertility spans will increase.  Living longer means that people will have more years to have more children.
     
  • As the human race progresses, access to resources supporting population growth will increase.  This means using advanced technology to do more with less here on Earth while simultaneously reaching out to the near-limitless resources off-world as we colonize space.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Task Timer

In a previous post, I described how I use a Daily Task Board as a self-management tool. I should also mention that I use it in combination with another tool, a task timer. This device displays the countdown of the time remaining until an alarm sounds.

For tasks where you are having trouble getting started because they seem overwhelming, persuade yourself to work on it for just fifteen minutes a day as measured by the task timer. Do this for a year and you will have worked on the task for over ninety hours. While you might usually stop working as soon as the countdown completes, on some other days you will find that you are willing to continue beyond the mininum duration once you are started and on a roll.

For tasks where you have to do hours of tedious work in a short period, use the task timer to give yourself a short break at regular intervals, say every thirty minutes or so. This promise of an imminent break might be all the motivation you need to keep going until the next increment. Alternating between different tasks at break points can also be rewarding. 

For an electronic task timer, I like the Datexx Miracle Cube Timer because it can be easily started and stopped simply by flipping it over. A manual sand timer also has this feature except that it takes time to reset if interrupted. With a matched pair of sandglasses, you could start one while resetting the other. 

Since the audible alarm of a task timer can be a jarring interruption, especially when I am in the zone, I sometimes find myself increasingly distracted as the time for the alarm approaches in anticipation of canceling the alarm just before it triggers. When I use a task timer without an alarm such as a sand timer, I am also not fully focused on the task at hand in that I am continuously reminding myself to visually inspect the sand timer to see if it is time for a break. I recently discovered that the timer alarm on the Google Clock smartphone application can be configured to start softly and then gradually increase in volume. 


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Periodic Table Chant

It has been a few years but I finally got around to adding to my Periodic Table Song.  I was stuck on the element iron for awhile but I finally got past that and was able to eke out a few more verses to get to the thirtieth element, zinc.

I have come to realize that this mnemonic device is more of a chant than a song so I have renamed it the Periodic Table Chant.  This helps to distinguish it from the New Periodic Table Song by ASAPScience done in the style of Yakko Warner.