Monthly Archives: June 2014

Carl Sagan was wrong: Why astronomers and journalists should pay attention to biologists about ET

The reason we haven’t been contacted by other intelligent life forms is they aren’t out there, according to Praxtime.

  1. Time for intelligent life to fill a galaxy: super short 20 million years
  2. Time for intelligent life to evolve in a galaxy: moderate 20 billion years
  3. Time of universe to keep having stars: super long 20 trillion years

The first perspective shift is to step back in time, and realize the universe is very young. With 20 trillion years of star generation ahead, the universe has only covered 13.7 billion years or roughly .07% of its life span. Compare this to a person who expects to live 70 years, and you’d get .07% * 70 years = roughly 18 days. So in human terms the universe is a three week old baby. No wonder there’s not too much life out there yet.

The Fermi Paradox states that the Earth is a commonplace planet circling a commonplace star. There’s nothing special about us. Therefore intelligent life should be common in the universe. And here’s the paradox: They should be here already. So where are they?

That’s how astronomers think. But biologists know better. Of the 2 million species on Earth, only one has evolved humanlike intelligence: Us. There’s no reason to assume that it’s happened again elsewhere. And if it had, it would fill the galaxy relatively quickly, and would have left no room for us.

They’re not here because we’re the first.

Avoiding “Sagan Syndrome.” Why Astronomers and Journalists should pay heed to Biologists about ET.

Scott Rosenberg: As Amazon is to books, Facebook is to news

The donnybrook between Amazon and Hachette will repeat itself between Facebook and online news sites.

Over the past 2-3 years, Facebook has begun to assume an Amazon-like role in the ecosystem of online news. We have quickly moved from a Web in which you got your readers either from search or from “organic” traffic sources (home-page visitors, regulars, and e-mail subscribers) to one where you get an enormous chunk of your readers directly from Facebook shares.

Not true for business-to-business news sites. Facebook isn’t much of a source of traffic for B2B tech news.

Not true for this blog either. I get 3.5x more traffic from Google+ than Facebook. Twitter, Reddit, and search engines are also bigger sources of traffic for this blog.

Still, Rosenberg’s main point is correct: Online periodicals rely on social media for traffic, and it’s only a matter of time until the online news sites start putting the squeeze on.

Why Amazon vs. Hachette should have news publishers quaking

“As employees we may be suffering but as consumers, we live like kings.”

We can fly to Dubrovnik for £22, £500 will buy us more computing power than NASA had when they put a man on the moon, Tinder makes hooking up a breeze. Our life expectancy is higher, we eat better, dress better, have more entertainment options than any humans in history. Within living memory, an orange was an acceptable Christmas present. Today even people in council estates buy each other electronic toys that would have amazed James Bond fifteen years ago.

If you are creative, you can publish your short stories on Tumblr, make a movie on your mobile phone, post it on YouTube where millions might see it. Swedish design that not that long ago was the height of modernist sophistication is now available to the hoi polloi at IKEA. Peasants in Mexico wear fashionable clothes made in China. Peasants in Iraq have satellite dishes and watch the World Cup live. It is schizophrenic: as workers we have few rights and less power. As consumers, we live like gods.

Our unheard of affluence as consumers, our precarious existence as workers both stem from the same source: inexorable productivity increases. Every year, as technology advances we can make more goods and services with fewer inputs of labour and capital. It used to take dozens of men to unload a ship. Today one man on a computer and another on a crane are faster than 100 longshoremen could ever be. When I started in television, producing a broadcast quality news story required a cameraman, soundman, editor, reporter, producer, and transmission engineer. Today, one person can fulfil all of those functions and generally will get paid less than any one of us used to.

Productivity increases boost our societal wealth and so make us all collectively richer but they also make more of us redundant.

Good article, but it falls into the massive misconception that everybody believes nowadays, that “technology” and “productivity” are natural forces beyond human control, like gravity, forest fires, and hurricanes.

Funny how these “technology” and “productivity” forces seem to hurt everybody in the workplace except for the investor class. The rich get richer. How extraordinarily lucky for them.

The central paradox of the 21st Century

People are charging to network over coffee

I’m surprised this is a big deal. If you’re a professional, your time is valuable, and if too many strangers start asking for advice on how to follow your career path, it’s going to eat into your livelihood.

My current pet peeve: Customer satisfaction surveys. I’m getting too many requests for those. I have the thing or service I bought from you, have my money, now go away until the next time.

Why people are now charging to network over coffee

Critter homecoming

Vivvie (cat): Ran and hid. I have not seen her except briefly when I got home.

Lucy (cat): Briefly let me pat her while she was sitting on top of the cat tree.

Sammy (cat): Demanded much petting, sat in my lap, only bit me once.

Minnie: Picked her up at the dog boarders. She seemed skinny and subdued. I wonder if she’s been eating. She was shy around me. She perked up when she got home and picked up a couple of her favorite toys and trotted around the yard with them. She was happy to see Sammy. Now she’s asleep on the sofa next to me, emitting contented dog noises and twitching occasionally and slightly in her dreams. I have read that dogs are often exhausted after daycare and boarding. We’ll see how she seems tomorrow.

As for the gadgets:

Internet suffered an outage tonight. I fixed it by unplugging the Powerline Wi-Fi adapter and plugging it back in again. Roku remote stopped working for no apparent reason at all. I had to unplug the Roku to get it to shut up. Dead batteries?

I am ded to the world, having been up since 5 am PDT and traveling 13 hours of that time. Back to work tomorrow morning. And so to walk dog, change cats’ water dishes, and bed.

Minnie goes to overnight camp

This trip was Julie and my second time away from home overnight together since we got Minnie.

Our first trip away from home, we left Minnie with the vet. Our logic was sound. We’ve been using these vets the whole time we’ve been in San Diego, and we’re very happy with them. And if something went wrong, well, Minnie’s already at the vet if that happens, right?

But leaving Minnie with the vet proved to be a bad idea. She seemed to have a rough time with it emotionally. In retrospect, the reason is obvious: It’s a vet. It’s a place for sick and injured animals. Minnie spent her time in a smallish cage, too close to other animals, and those animals were suffering. If they weren’t suffering, they probably wouldn’t be there. I don’t mean to overly anthropomorphize dogs, but they are emotionally sensitive pack animals and pick up on that kind of thing. Or at least Minnie does and is.

Spending the night at the vet was like spending the night at the hospital. Of course Minnie was unhappy about that.

So this time we sent Minnie to a proper kennel, Camp Bow Wow. It’s the same place we took her to for daycare a few weeks ago. Truly, she had a rough time then but we thought if she had time to get used to it she might learn to like it. And if not, well, we can’t live our lives around the animals more than we already do. If she failed to thrive in the boarding facility, we’d deal with that once it happened. Julie and I need to be able to leave the house together for more than a few hours at a time.

As I type this I’m still on the plane coming in for a landing but I think Minnie’s stay at the boarding place went well. The reason I believe this is because the boarding place has installed Webcams, and we’ve been peeking in at them. And Minnie seems to be doing great. At home she’s a shy and submissive dog and that was at the root of our fears she would not do well at the boarding place. But she seems to be thriving there. It’s hard to tell 100% — the video quality is poor — she looks like a 1980s-8-bit-pixellated version of herself — but we can see that her tail is in the air and her head is up and she’s zipping from one part of the pen to the other, checking up on all the other dogs and making sure they’re all doing what they’re supposed to be doing. (Well, actually, I assume she’s zipping — like I said, the video quality is poor. She disappears in one spot and reappears a second later about six feet away. I assume she has trotted that distance and has not, appearances to the contrary, teleported.) She’s not submissive at all — she’s downright bossy.

I had hoped to be able to pick her up tonight but it looks like my flight, which was delayed, gets in less than an hour before the kennel closes, not enough time for me to make it. So she gets another 16 or so hours at camp, and I get to spend some quality time with the cats. Assuming they even come out when I get home — when you’ve been gone a while, cats are all, “Oh, you? You’re home already? Well, I’ll come by and we can visit as soon as I wrap up what I’m doing.”

We’ve had cats as long as we’ve been married, but cats are self-sufficient on their own. We just have people come in and feed them and change their litterboxes. But dogs need attention.

Home again home again

I’m headed home after 10 days on the road, which is I think the longest I’ve been away in 10 years since my father passed. I spent four days in Chicago for Light Reading’s Big Telecom Event. Then I spent another day in Chicago for staff meetings. Then Julie joined me for five five days in Columbus and Athens, Ohio, visiting her family, whom we hadn’t seen for three years. And now I’m on a plane back home.

It was an eventful trip. The conference was a success, with much good insight and connecting with peers. I’ll post links here later to the articles I wrote from the conference. I got to meet a few colleagues face-to-face whom I haven’t met before. We’re a very 21st-Century organization, with about 50 employees spread across the US, Canada, and in Britain. My boss is based in a suburb of London, eight hours ahead of me.

After work, we went to dinner. I did karaoke for the first time ever in my life. Rumor has it there is video. I think its safe to say that as a singer I am very enthusiastic.

I ate and ate and ate this trip. I have a bet with myself how much weight I gained over the 10 days. I’m thinking 12 pounds. I am not disciplined controlling eating while I’m traveling. That wasn’t a big deal during most of my weight loss and maintenance, when I was traveling just a couple of times a year. Now that I’m on the road for about 20-25% of the time, it’s becoming a problem. I need to work on it.

Still, I enjoyed every bite. Such a lot of good food.

I’ve become an enthusiast for nondescript hole-in-the-wall places that serve great food. I found a beaut in Columbus: Pho Asian Noodle House and Grill on West Lane Avenue. It’s a Pan-Asian place, which is a highfalultin way of saying the menu has Chinese food and Japanese food and Thai and Vietnamese and maybe other ethnicities I couldn’t identify. I had the kung pao chicken with fried rice, which is a safe choice, and it was delicious. The restaurant is obviously in a converted Taco Bell, with minimal redecoration, which adds to its charm.

Another big highlight of this trip is going to meet our financial planner in Marion, Ohio, about 75 minute out of Columbus. Until now, I’ve left financial planning to Julie. I make the money, she manages it. But this is a bad idea, and so I’m getting up to speed myself. I am impressed by how on top of things both Ron and Julie are. Ron seems very competent — and I liked him personally too.

This Amazon review cracked me up, proving once again that I am 14 years old


I found this review on the Amazon listing for this fannypack, while shopping for a replacement for a fannypack I bought 20 years ago on our honeymoon in the UK. For the past six years, I’ve been wearing that fannypack daily while walking. The zipper on that fannypack broke. I felt like I should have some kind of decommissioning ceremony for a tool that had done honorable service for a full generation. Instead I just threw it out.

I bought the fannypack reviewed at the link, and I’m very happy with it after several days’ use. It’s a good size — all the other fannypacks I’ve seen that hold water bottles are either too small or too big. This one is just right.

I have not put it to the purpose the reviewer describes. AND I NEVER WILL.

This review seems to be gone now. Some people just don’t appreciate literature.