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


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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fool Me Thrice

I have come up with a new twist on an old saying:
Fool me once,
Shame on you,
Fool me twice,
Shame on me,
Fool me thrice,
You're family.

We give family members, particularly our children, second and third chances. We are willing to sacrifice for their benefit because they are extensions of ourselves. Fool me thrice, you're part of me, you belong to me.

Where do we draw the line?  When their misbehavior risks the well-being of our other family members, especially the youngest. Consider sloughing any relationships which do not benefit your progeny, directly or indirectly. Cull without hesitation any that threaten.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Forever Retirement

I had a chance to take my son Thomas sailing on a friend's boat recently as part of a Dallas Brights Family Meetup event.  I would like buy my own sailboat soon but I am reluctant to lock myself into boat slip rental fees at the marina, especially after we just recently managed to rid ourselves of the monthly expense of a rented storage unit.  If I could buy a waterfront house with a slip out back, I would consider it an investment but there are not many opportunities for that here in land-locked Dallas.

Thinking about buying a boat has incentivized me to review my retirement savings plan.  One of the variables you can play with in the online retirement calculators is when you start drawing Social Security.  Do you start claiming payments at the earliest possible age or defer just a few more years so that you can get higher payments for the remainder of your life?

The calculations look very rosy if you wait until age seventy to retire but how realistic is that?  My father and uncle both retired at age sixty-two, the earliest you can claim Social Security.  Another uncle of mine died at age sixty.

So now when I run the calculations, I assume an early retirement instead of late under the assumption that by the time I get to that age I will want to have that option.  This means putting more of my current income into retirement savings and less into a boat.  Disappointing.

With early retirement comes the risk of running out of money before you and your spouse pass away.  Ideally you would have enough in savings to live indefinitely entirely on just your interest earnings plus Social Security without having to dip into the principal.  Better than that would be to have your retirement funds growing exponentially over time due to the miracle of compound interest.

I got curious about this forever retirement possibility so I ran multiple scenarios through my preferred retirement calculator.  Assuming retirement at age sixty-two, a reasonable retirement income, and a given rate of return on invested retirement savings, I figured out in present day dollars how much one would need to have saved by retirement age to live to one hundred or one thousand without ever running out of money.  Since this value is right at the threshold, saving just a few dollars less than this means that eventually you would run out, most likely after your life expectancy, while just a few dollars more means that your savings could grow without bounds, assuming you lived long enough.

So, small boat now or big boat later?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

First Sail

Recently I sailed for the first time.  As part of a North Texas Sailing meetup on Grapevine Lake, I learned how to use the tiller of a Catalina 25.  A week later, I brought along my brother Steven and my two sons Abraham and Theodore so they could go on a sailboat for the first time as well.

I am learning how to sail as I am thinking about living on a catamaran someday.  For awhile now, I have been collecting and reading books and magazines about the lifestyle.  I have also been watching videos about making the transition from land to sea.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I recently finished playing and beating the new video game Doom at "Nightmare" difficulty.  In the past when I had mastered a previous release in the Doom game series, I would play it again with a rule of my own that I would have to restart from the very beginning when I died.  This new version of Doom has an "Ultra-Nightmare" difficulty level in which this is enforced.  Based partially on my experience with Sid Meier's Civilization, I have decided that Ultra-Nightmare is a mountain which need not be climbed.

When Doom first came out back in 1993, it was distributed as shareware which was free to copy and play.  Back in this pre-Web era, I was a system operator (sysop) running a modem-based bulletin board system (BBS).  Doom was the most popular shareware downloaded by my users because people loved that they could now play a 3D graphics first-person shooter on their desktop personal computers.

In my spare time, I was writing the code for a BBS from scratch with the goal of providing a platform that would support multiple players in the same online game at the same time.  I gave that up when I saw that the authors of Doom had it figured out.  I remember the novelty of playing Doom with co-workers on the office network at a company-sanctioned LAN party.

My whole family has enjoyed playing the various iterations of Doom over the years.  Recently one of my children was playing an older version of Doom running on Steam.  When he got stuck on one of the levels, I was able to help him progress by using my knowledge from playing that particular release of the game some two decades earlier.

Doom was created here where I live in the Dallas area and is probably largely responsible for the growth of the local game development industry.  Just before I took over teaching the class for a couple of semesters, one of the Doom founders, John Romero, used to teach game development at the University of Texas at Dallas.  Another Doom founder, John Carmack, launched a space flight company in the neighborhood.

One of the nice things about getting older is that the video games just keep getting better.  The next time I play Doom, I want to play it in virtual reality.  In the meantime, I think I will content myself with re-watching Doom the movie.