An Exposition of Meaning

I stumbled upon a piece of personal writing from a couple months ago in which I set out to define life’s meaning for myself. Two months later, these are still words I’d like to live by so I’ll share them with you.

The four pillars of action on which I build my own life’s meaning: explore, create, feel, understand.

Explore

To promote and encourage exploration in self and others – scientific, philosophical, psychological, or otherwise

Create

To create art, music, dance, literature, and poetry that convey an experience or feeling; that share an emotion or state of being; that reflect the meaning and greater purpose of being human over a lesser intelligence

Feel

To feel within my body and being the positive experiences that come with a high mind and physical form, hedonistic and emotional

Understand

To understand the world on a scientific and personal level; to understand the economics of emotions and the poetry of science; to understand the purpose of being and when things need no purpose; to understand my place in this world and universe and to understand the purpose of the world and universe without regard to self

I am naught but the sum of my parts. May I every day seek to improve my average and raise the median. May my actions push the bell toward a negatively skewed distribution.

Life is Better Because of Your Dream

Thank you, Gene Roddenberry. Fifty years after the creation of Star Trek, you have left what remains an incredible legacy – for old and young alike. Generations have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy your vision of what could one day be.

Thank you for making the future racially diverse, for creating a non-consumer driven society, for envisioning a better world based on science and reason, for rejecting the notion that the best is behind us, and for making television thought-provoking.

Life is better because you dared to dream.

Artificial Intelligence: Rebuilding the Human Experience

Will the growth of artificial intelligence create or take away jobs? Our society is eager to resolve this question but conventional economic wisdom tells us the answer. Money governs corporate decision making. Without government intervention to abate the fears of sweeping unemployment, the choice between automation and man power – ceteris paribus – is purely financial.

A 1980’s publication from the Artificial Intelligence Center warns against such Luddite obstacles in favor of letting AI progress naturally. The traditional goal of full employment is neither a sustainable nor healthy idea in a future where artificial intelligence makes such labors technologically unnecessary. To condemn humanity to such toil is unfair.

One proposed solution to the unemployment of workers displaced by AI is to establish a national mutual fund invested in automated industries. Earnings from private company profits would be distributed to the public as dividends. Everyone would have invested capital in the automation industry. It is not so radical an idea when one considers other government programs like Social Security or the Alaska Permanent Fund.

AI proponents see the future as a possible new awakening for humans. In her article, Artificial Intelligence as a Humanizing Force, Professor Boden shares a beautiful outlook of a new dawn for humankind.

AI could be the Westerner’s mango tree. Its contribution to our food, shelter, and manufactured goods, and to the running of our administrative bureaucracies can free us not only from drudgery but for humanity. It will lead to an increased number of “service” jobs-in the caring professions, education, craft, sport, and entertainment. Such jobs are human rather than inhuman, giving satisfaction not only to those for whom the service is provided, but also to those who provide it. And because even these jobs will very likely not be full-time, people both in and out of work will have time to devote to each other which today they do not enjoy. Friendship could become a living art again (Boden, 1983).

Three decades later these words still read as a dream. Let us seize the opportunity to transcend the daily toil and widespread poverty and transition to a stable and prosperous society. Let us rebuild what it means to be human.

Feeling Like an Insider

Sometimes I feel great about my coding abilities. I feel like a tech insider. I know the jargon. I talk the talk. I own a Stack Overflow t-shirt. I understand xkcd comics. I use Linux. I’m the real deal. I can’t even remember how normal people talk.

Do normal people say ‘iterate’ and ‘recursive’ as a basic part of daily speech? Is it okay to call a collection of words a ‘string’ instead of a ‘phrase’? I think I might use the words ‘push’ and ‘pull’, ‘get’ and ‘set’ too often to describe real-life actions. Sometimes I use OOP terms to describe real-world things and relationships.

Why do I understand techie people more than everyone else? I like to think it is because I belong. I may feel like an impostor more often than not, but I understand what I read, what I hear, and what I code. Outsiders don’t. That makes me feel good. I’m a part of this cool club.

Experimenting with Fractals

Why do fractals fascinate? The human mind seeks and recognizes patterns and nature offers them for our viewing pleasure. Lightning bolts, fault lines, mountain ranges, and river networks are just a few forms fractals take in the world around us. Pictured above is Romanesco broccoli, a visually striking example of fractals in nature. An interesting aside is that the number of spirals on the head of this remarkable vegetable is a Fibonacci number.

But fractal fascination goes beyond an affinity for mathematics and pretty patterns. Since nature is composed of fractals, recursive programming offers us the opportunity to build models of nature. The Koch snowflake is an early example of one such recursive algorithm. Fractal geometry can help us predict the unpredictable such as earthquakes and urban growth. It is used in pathology and neuroscience.  And let’s face it. We wouldn’t have those great video game graphics without it.

Music & the Mind: Patterns in Poetry

As a lover of math, music, and machine learning I am utterly fascinated and beyond happy that someone with abilities exceeding my own took up the task to analyze Hamilton. I’ve been wanting to see a visual analysis like this since the first day my ears were blessed by this Broadway masterpiece. The pervasive presence of internal and imperfect rhyme intrigued my mind. I’m glad I’m not alone in my desire to build programs like this. Hopefully the day isn’t long off when I can confidently pursue these projects and don’t have to stand idle waiting for someone else to take the lead.

Dog Days of Coding

Some days I just don’t feel like coding. I don’t have the gumption to write more than a couple basic programs. I can’t bring myself to do more than complete a couple HackerRank puzzles, watch some Udacity lessons, or listen to some edX lectures. On these days I feel a little more like a failure. On these days I have to remind myself that everyone has these days.

To me that is the beauty in the emergence of online learning. While the number of resources is overwhelming at times, it allows me to find something suitable for where I’m at academically and emotionally. Some days a browser with code just doesn’t cut it (think freeCodeCamp or Codecademy). I need more engagement.

Two decades of traditional learning has reinforced in me the need for a lecture. As a hands-on learner, I sometimes need a lecturer to logically walk me through their thought process in approaching a problem. Hear, see, do. The traditional classroom lecture still has its benefits for me and I have found these to still be present in online education.

And let me be totally honest. Some days I just need stories from my peers. Success stories. I’m a fraud stories. Zero to sixty, crash and burn stories. Today, this post is my catharsis.

Hill of Beans

I knew going into today’s primaries that the likelihood of success was slim, if not impossible. That didn’t stop me from hoping my candidate of choice, Bernie Sanders, would somehow pull off the upset of the decade. The results trickled in and my feelings of heartache began. I felt as though I were going through a traumatic breakup, losing an important piece of myself, so I did the only logical thing. I grabbed a glass of wine and watched the closing scene of Casablanca.

Ilsa: But what about us?

Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.

Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.

Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

Distraught, discouraged, defeated. But I would always have those good times with my fellow Berners. Those memories and feelings would carry me through the general election. I could bring myself to vote for Hillary to defeat Trump. If Bernie told me to, I could. ‘Three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’

And then Bernie spoke. He told me it wasn’t over. Our revolution wasn’t over. Paris wasn’t behind us. It awaited us. A bit dramatic? Maybe.

All I have to say is that I’m no longer disheartened. I have hope, again. I have dreams, again. And now, Hamilton and his fellow revolutionaries elevate my thoughts with song. This is our revolution. We can not throw away our shot.