Sunday, January 27, 2019

Explicit Consent

A couple of decades ago when I was living in West Virginia, I made local news because I had publicly objected to a new city law requiring convenience stores to mount security video cameras.  These cameras and their recordings were to be accessible to the police at any time.  Effectively these were government electronic surveillance devices within privately-owned places of business in which the businesses were obligated to purchase, operate, and maintain the equipment on behalf of the government.

About a decade later, I was shocked to learn that audio monitoring was used at a state university library desk where library patrons request books and information.  Apparently you grant implicit consent to having your conversations recorded merely by entering a building in which a decal has been positioned somewhere within to meet the minimum legal requirements for notification of monitoring.  It was not apparent to me that there was an option to deny consent to audio monitoring and still be able to use this government public facility.

More recently as a juror, I saw a video and audio recording used as evidence against a defendant in a trial in which it was clear that the defendant was not aware that he was being recorded.  Failing to notice that a camera in the back and off to the side of the interrogation room was still recording after the police had left, the arrested man had mistakenly assumed that his verbalized slurs against his accuser were private to himself.  These angry mutterings were later used against him in court in what I assume was an attempt to show state of mind.

This month I was checking out a local makerspace which provides members with shared onsite access to woodworking tools, 3D printers, electronics equipment, and virtual reality gear.  The makerspace I visited also provides video and board games for use by members and visitors.  Attendees are encouraged to socialize and learn from each other in an environment conducive to the collaborative exchange of ideas.

About an hour into my visit, I discovered the video and audio monitoring notice on the snack room refrigerator.  I then spotted the video camera above the couch where I was sitting and had been talking with others.  If I had first seen the video camera before reading the notice, I would not have assumed by default that there were also microphones that could record my conversations as well.

What security benefit does audio monitoring provide over video monitoring other than providing evidence of spoken thoughtcrime? Since the privacy versus security trade-off is much worse with regard to audio monitoring compared to video, there should be a higher bar above and beyond that of implicit consent.  Just as we currently have laws in some states forbidding hidden video cameras where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as bathrooms and changing rooms, we should also have a law banning audio monitoring without explicit consent anywhere microphones are not immediately obvious to those within recording range since all conversations are potentially private.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Optihumanist Principles 2018

In my annual update to the Optihumanist Principles last year, I replaced "Reason and the Scientific Method are paths to the truth" with "We uphold reason and science as paths to the truth".  At the time, this seemed a bit redundant to me with the following statement later in the document that "We answer the call for a new religion compatible with reason and science".  I resolved to fix it in a future version.

When I write "We answer the call for a new religion", I refer to the 1933 document written by the original Religious Humanists now known as the Humanist Manifesto I: "Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method."  To make it clear that Optihumanism is a direct response to this call, I have revised the Optihumanist Principles to state:
We answer the call for a new religion compatible with the scientific spirit.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Stimming as Applause

My autism-spectrum son frequently engages in stimming behavior when he is excited by YouTube videos featuring computer games. Wikipedia describes stimming as:
Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities and most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. [...] It is considered a protective response to over-stimulation [...].
To me it appears that he is so pleased by what he is watching that he is shaking uncontrollably with excitement.  Whereas his stimming behavior used to consist primarily of rocking and arm flapping, it is now frequently supplemented by short bursts of rapid claps.

Wikipedia describes applause as:
Applause (Latin applaudere, to strike upon, clap) is primarily a form of ovation by the act of clapping, or striking the palms of the hands together, in order to create noise.  [...] The age of the custom of applauding is uncertain, but it is widespread among human cultures.
I speculate that applause clapping as a learned cultural phenomenon to express pleasure in response to entertainment has its origins in the mimicry of autism-spectrum stimming.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Goodbye DVDs

Here is a joke that I think I invented. While within earshot of someone of a distinguished age, you say to a much younger person, "In the olden days, we used to play music from thin spinning discs.... We called them CDs". The younger person will look at you blankly while the older person smiles.

I said goodbye to my Netflix DVD subscription recently.  Instead of sparking joy, the big red envelopes waiting patiently for me in my snail mail inbox for up to three months were actually making me feel guilty. I decided that they did not fit on the boat.

Not only does the postal carrier not deliver DVDs to persons traversing the deep blue, but I imagine that it is also hard to get streaming when you are halfway to Hawaii. For a moment I considered seeing what happens when I drop my Netflix and Hulu streaming subscriptions as well but my wife Shannon put the veto on that. To read more books and get more sleep, I might have to impose a bit of self-discipline and put my smart phone away at night.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fits on the Boat

A week ago, I sold off some ninety-plus technical books to a used book store.  This is in addition to the three boxes of used books that I sold off a half year ago.  For a bibliomaniac, these are big steps.

Part of the reason I wanted to get rid of these was to help me commit to moving on to a new technology for my career by getting rid of my books on the old.  You might say that the books which I had collected over two decades of mastering the old technology no longer sparked joy for me.  I was burning my boats, so to speak.

Speaking of which, my new rule of thumb before buying something is to ask myself whether it will fit on the boat.  By boat here, I mean my hypothetical future cruising catamaran which I will move onto when my family adopts the live-aboard lifestyle.  For media items such as books, music, and videos, this means that I am more frequently purchasing the digital format.

Asking myself whether something fits on the boat is also helping me with my efforts to declutter.  I tell myself that whatever I get rid of today is one less thing that I will need to deal with when I move into my new floating tiny home in the future.  I am starting to see more floor space in my bedroom and I like it.

Besides decluttering my space, I think the "fits on the boat" rule might also help me with decluttering my time as well.  When I imagine how my family and I will be sharing our time together while sailing between ports, I think about all of the unnecessary solo activities that are preventing me from enjoying that now.  Maybe on a boat where there is a place for everything and everything in its place, there is also a time for everyone to be together.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Uncle David

My uncle David Collis Hewitt passed away recently.  We had known for some time that his death was imminent.  I did not really grieve, however, until just before his casket was sealed.

From my childhood, I remember that he would play board games with us when we visited the family farm.  When I became an adult, he gave me one of his paintings to hang above my desk.  He was a good uncle.

In his last years, the inoperable brain tumor in his frontal lobe had changed his personality.  When I visited him in the nursing home, he seemed to switched between his old persona and a new one.  Each had a different voice.

The funeral service featured a Christian sermon and a Mason death ceremony.  Both had something to say about our mortality.  An Optihumanist memorial service would be quite different.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Inventing Religion

I have been known to joke that if I believed in the supernatural I would become a Mormon because it is a religion that was invented right here in America.  Speaking of Mormons, another joke, not invented by me, is to ask what is the difference between a religion and a cult.  The answer: about a hundred years.

I recently listened to the National Public Radio (NPR) "Hidden Brain" episode Creating God.  The show mentioned that religions frequently require costly rituals, a dedication of time or money, to show commitment.  It reminded me of my own personal efforts to create a made-in-America religion, Optihumanism, in which members can demonstrate their commitment by signing up for cryonics.

Here are some aspects of Optihumanism which give it an evolutionary edge over other memes:
  • Democracy and community
  • Reality-based knowledge acquisition
  • Immortality through children and future medicine
Here is an aspect of Optihumanism which puts it at a disadvantage:
  • No absolution

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Floating Families

I recently watched "Following Seas" (Amazon Prime, YouTube), a documentary about a family with children that sailed around the world repeatedly back in the 1960s.  It reminded me of the documentary "Surfwise: The Amazing True Odyssey of the Paskowitz Family" (Amazon, YouTube preview).  In both cases, an educated professional drops out of society, meets a mate who admires his alternative lifestyle, and raises children in a traveling home.

Despite the best intentions of both pairs of parents, it is notable that none of the children propagated the lifestyles when they matured.  Whether or not the adult children revered with nostalgia or outright rejected the way they were raised, all chose to bring up the grandchildren in a more conventional setting.  Financial security, educational opportunities, and community relationships appear to have been key factors in their decisions.

In contrast, the Bajau people have successfully raised so many generations on the water that they have become genetically adapted to the lifestyle.  I suspect that the primary key to their success is the fact that the boats of individual family units travel together in a community flotilla.  Multiple documentary videos about these nomadic sea gypsies can be found on YouTube.

A mini-documentary video about a contemporary sailing family is "This Family of 5 Has Been Sailing Around the World for 9 Years" (Amazon Prime, YouTube).  Watching it reminded me that I bought the book co-authored by the mother, Voyaging with Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat.  I have started to read it in the hope that I too might someday sail the oceans with my children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Fertility vs. Happiness

In my previous blog entry, I said I would research the Nordic Model.  The gist of it is that the Scandinavian nations use very high income taxes to provide cradle-to-grave welfare services.  On the whole, this makes their citizens happier than those in most other nations.

I was going to say more about this but it seems less relevant now that I see that populations of these happy nations, plus many others, are dwindling.  Regardless of their other quality of life metrics, it appears that whatever they are doing is unsustainable.  For guidance, we need to examine the policies of those few nations that are both happy and growing.

Click on one of the following images to zoom in on the fertility versus happiness data plots that I created by combining data from Wikipedia.  The first two plots show the same data points but with the axes flipped.  The third is a labeled close-up of the happiest nations with those in decline on the left and those that are thriving on the right.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


In my Optihumanist Principles, I wrote:
We build heavens for ourselves and our beloved in the here and now.
I think human-made heavens should have all of the good things that the supernaturalists have been promising us.  I see in this list a sort of compressed version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
  • Immortality and optimal health
  • A perfect environment of comfort, beauty, and bounty
  • Happiness and satisfaction
Recently I have been listening to science fiction with an immortality theme.  In one story, a man with a terminal illness uploads his mind into a virtual reality multiplayer role playing game.  Another transfers his consciousness from his old body into a much younger genetically enhanced clone.  The personality of a cryonaut is copied multiple times to different computers to control  spaceships.

All of these represent a special kind of mind-body separation which I call substrate-independent dualism.  By this I mean that the physical implementation of our soul is irrelevant so long as the functions are faithfully reproduced.  I tried to represent this in the Optihumanist symbol by putting a gap between the circle representing mind and the rest of the symbol representing body.

Whether described as the Elysian Fields or the Happy Hunting Ground, heaven is usually described as the kind of place where you would want to settle permanently.  I remember hearing one news story where a pastor was reported to have informed his congregation that the temperature in heaven was a perfect seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  My elderly parents have informed me repeatedly when I visit that seventy degrees is too cold.

I imagine that for us to be happy, there must be challenges to overcome.  Certainly there must be goals to achieve and progress to be made for us to maintain long-term satisfaction.  Toward this end, it is said that the immortal Einherjar of Valhalla pair off in combat daily for sport.

Speaking of the Vikings, it appears that the closest thing to heaven on Earth these days is Scandinavia.  Certainly it seems that the residents are the happiest and healthiest in the world today.  I plan to write about the Nordic Model after I do more research.