Sunday, July 24, 2011

The World's Greatest Dog

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of biking 21.5 miles with my charming middle daughter. We went through Keene and came back via Clear Creek, 169, Woods Ln, and Delaney Ferry. We also visited Blockbuster and the Beaumont library in an unsuccessful quest for the movie "Green Card".

This morning, I was going to go to the falls at Waizenberger Mill, but it was already getting nasty hot when I left at 9:00, and after 5 miles my bursitis started talking to me (it shut up after only a few minutes), so I decided to make it short. So I went Van Meter to Elkchester, back in Old Frankfort Pike and Alexandria. 16.1 miles, 1h18m, top speed 35.1 mph.

When we visited our graphic designer oldest daughter in Brooklyn a few weekends ago (did both the Met and the Brooklyn museum), I read my first novel on the iPad: "Fuzzy Nation", by John Scalzi. A reworking of a 40 YO short story, very old school, very readable. I think I will increasingly buy more books on the iPad in Kindle format ($11.99 for Kindle vs $15.99 for Apple eBook). I bought the new Greg Egan novel for $3.99!

I just finished "Songs of the Dying Earth", edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. Stories written in tribute to Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" stories, borrowing the settings, characters and tone. A fun read (770 pages), the authors contributing were definitely an all-star group. All of them wrote afterwords telling how they had discovered Jack Vance and how much the stories meant to them.

It reminded me that, in my sophomore or junior year of college, I wrote an English paper on one of the stories from the original Dying Earth collection. The story was "Chun the Unavoidable". Two of the stories in the new collection feature its characters. My English professor completely hated it, excoriated pretty much everything I said about the story, and gave me a lousy grade. I guess it's a matter of taste thing.

The World's Greatest Dog

Our dog Dexter, a 23 pound long-haired Jack Russell terrier, was 16 years old last month. We've had Dexter since he was a puppy.

Before Dexter we had a small black terrier mix named Shadow.  He was an outdoor dog with a doghouse.  He got one of the support ropes for a volleyball net that was set up in the back yard wrapped around his neck and strangled.

Dexter was always laid back.  Back when we were always at soccer games, he submitted to a 3 pound and a 4 pound yorkie.  So he was not a "good" Jack Russell -- they are supposed to be very aggressive and hyper. Dexter has always been great around people, particularly children.  He doesn't care one way or the other about other dogs (neutered at an early age).  He hates squirrels, is not very fond of birds either, and one evening a few years ago, when he was tethered in the back yard, he was kicking the shit out of a small possum -- circling and darting in for the neck grab and shake.  He grew into a fine looking dog -- when walking him, you invariably get "what a pretty dog" comments.  The dog on the box of Small Milkbones looks like him.

I was never much of a dog person, but I really came to like Dexter because, in addition to his laid back personality, he has proven to be very smart. Here is the story I tell about how I became impressed with his intelligence.

At one point, the females of the family decided Dexter was lonely.  So they bought another Jack, a small short-haired female that we named Ripley.  Ripley made Dexter's life miserable.  She would attack and bite him.  But here's where Dexter outsmarted her.  He was playing with a toy, and, as usual, Ripley came and took it away from him.  So he went and got another toy, one that he didn't like, and started playing with is in a very exaggerated manner, throwing it up in the air and shaking it more vigorously than normal.  So Ripley drops the first toy and comes and takes the second one away.  Dexter then immediately goes and gets the first  toy, carries it to where Ripley can't see him, and resumes playing with it.

So Dexter perceived a desired future outcome; made a plan to achieve it; and executed his plan.  In cognitive science, this is called intentionality.  It shows high-order intelligence. (BTW, my wife found Ripley a new home with an older woman down in Monticello, KY.)

Dexter still jumps and gets air when he thinks he's going out or for a walk, or getting a treat.  "Stop it, old man, you'll hurt yourself".  He still runs in the back yard.  It's nice, when I'm grilling out, I can leave him loose now.  He's mostly deaf, but he can hear my loudest whistle and will come back in the yard if he strays.  I keep  2-3 milkbones in my pocket, he gets one every time he comes in when I beckon him to.

He's mostly deaf, losing his sight, and maybe his smell.  He sometimes can't find treats on the floor.  Coming up steps now sometimes he slips and bangs his chest;  he gets confused walking around obstacles and bangs his head.  And he sleeps most of the day.

I haven't been walking him near as much this summer, due more to my bursitis than the heat.  In the spring we were still taking 1h15m to 1h30m walks.  But it is nice that I'm working out of the house.  I leave him in the back in the mornings.  When I get back from lunch I let him outside, then let him hang out with me the rest of the day.  At 4:00 we go out and get the mail. He sleeps at various places in the office or family room.

He was at the vet last summer, the vet says it's unusual to see a Jack that old.  Their normal, aggressive behavior includes things such as picking fights with bigger dogs and chasing cars which tend to be longevity-limiting.  So Dexter's laid-back attitude has stood him well.  The Sambi's over by the pool had a Jack about Dexter's size that lived to be 17-1/2.

So anyway, we've got him a while longer, and again, I'm glad that I've got this period to spoil him a little in his waning years.  Like I told someone, when I'm his age, I would like it if I got a treat every time I went to the bathroom.  And, he has really improved my apprecation of "man's best friend".  Dogs plan, execute, feel sorrow, guilt, and other emotions we have taught them.  I would estimate a smart dog like Dexter has around 0.6 of a human soul.

I'll miss him when he's gone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Great Man Theory

Took another short bike ride Sunday morning: 19.7 miles, Delaney Ferry to 169 to Keene and back in Keene Rd. Knee feels pretty good most of the time now but occasionally flares up in sharp pain :-( One thing about biking vs walking tho -- walking, you adjust your walk, up to and including limping, trying to avoid the pain. That gets your muscles sore, and your good leg as well. On a bike, you're pretty much constrained in how your leg can move, so this is avoided. "There's no limping on a bicycle". Sounds like a good t-shirt or something.

The Great Man Theory posits that history advances because of the superhuman efforts of Great Men, without whom the masses would flounder rudderless. It is generally promoted by Objectivists, Libertarians, and Conservatives, as a justification for keeping power in the hands of the few rather than in the hands of the many.

I read an article about the making of the movie of Ann Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" -- in which The Great Men get tired of carrying the world on their shoulders and drop out -- and it talked about what a hard time the film-makers had not making the main characters seem like vain, conceited, self-centered, selfish pricks.

Easy to understand their difficulty. The more I learn about this mindset, the more I am repulsed by the self-centered attitudes, the inflated egos, the sense of self-indulgence, self-importance and self-entitlement. Some recent examples:

  • The chairman of BP declaring "he wanted his life back" after the gulf oil spill that killed 9 workers. Those men's families might have a slightly more valid claim to wanting lives back than this prick does. I think he did have to miss a yacht race he was supposed to compete in.
    So often we forget the sacrifices of the common workers -- the tens or hundreds who died building the Hoover Dam, or the Empire State Building, or any other of man's great works.
  • The Tea Party spokesperson who, in defending Michelle Bachmann's incomprehensible claim that "the founding fathers worked ceaselessly from the time of the signing of the constitution to get rid of slavery", stated that "there are many forms of slavery". So here is a presumably wealthy, 21st century white male comparing his having to may more taxes than he would like to an 18th century African, kidnapped, shipped to America in chains, and treated as an animal for his entire life. "Forms of slavery" -- completely insipid, repulsive and disgusting.
  • And not to be outdone in his arrogance and self-serving behavior, our own oh-so-embarrassing Senator Random Paul, randomly goes on a rant that declares that "if there is universal health care, then doctors will be slaves". Did I mention that he is a doctor? In a specialty where the average annual salary is $163,836? Actually kind of low compared to other specialities. I'm sure your 18th century slave would be very sympathetic to his plight -- imagine, having to take care of patients all the time. Wait, isn't that what doctors are supposed to do? And paid very well to do it?
So do the Great Men have a point? I believe, absolutely not.

In 1997 I had a year working for Pitney Bowes. At one point they had an IP (Intellectual Property) lawyer come in to teach us about the importance of software patents and other forms of IP. I decided to have some fun with the guy, so I spent a few minutes declaiming, according to modern memetic theory:

  1. That as replicators, memes were a form of life.
  2. That they chose human brains as their habitat and breeding grounds was immaterial.
  3. That I chose not to enslave this newly-discovered life form with strictures like patents and DRM.
  4. "Free the memes!"
Heh heh heh. I definitely got some nut job points from that guy.

But, really it is not that far off. If you look back through history, there are countless cases of simultaneous invention:

  • Newton and Leibnitz simultaneously developing The Calculus.
  • Darwin and Wallace both formulating Evolution at around the same time.
  • From the wikipedia article on Marconi, "the inventor of the radio": "There was controversy whether his contribution was sufficient to deserve patent protection, or if his devices were too close to the original ones developed by Hertz, Popov, Branley, Tesla, and Lodge to be patentable."
  • The great American inventor Edison was constantly trying to outdo his great rival Tesla.
The memes circulate through all our brains, and the more memes you let circulate, and the bigger your brain is, the more chance that the memes will breed and a new idea will be born. But the same memes are shared by a multitude of minds, so the parallel development of new memes it not at all surprising.

So are their great men, who have great ideas, and create great theories, or build great companies? Yes, there are. But are there irreplacable Great Men? No, there aren't. If they decided to opt out, the forces of memetics and history would push someone else into the role. And if that person didn't handle it quite as well, then history might be a little different, for the worse. But if that other person handled it better, then history might be a little different, for the better.

The other piece of this rant is that, modern software patent law is awful. The patent office has had no clue re prior art or obviousness. I have been involved in two software patent lawsuits. In one the patent was violated by the Unix operating system, which predated the patent by 25 years. In both, if I took a 2nd year computer science student and told them, "I need a system to accomplish X", they would have generated a system pretty much identical to what was patented. So how then is it that the patent is not deemed "obvious"?

The software patent situation is getting worse and worse, constricting the industry, and stifling innovation. And it doesn't look like anyone is going to try and do anything about it anytime soon. After all, what percentage of our lawmakers are lawyers, who make big bucks ($ millions on the average software patent lawsuit) on this system?

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Biked this morning, 16.4 miles in 1h16m. I got diagnosed with bursitis (inflammation of the bursae) in my right knee a couple of months ago. My doc gave me samples of a new strong NSAID Arthrotec, that seemed to bring the pain under control -- no pain, no limping. It came back with a vengeance 2 weeks ago. I went on and got a script for the Arthrotec -- 90 day supply (2 a day), $125 copay, $477 cost. I like my doc, but he really seems to like to write scripts for the newest drugs, cost be damned. So I've been taking it since Wednesday, seems to be helping, but I think I'm going to keep the biking under 2 hours. That's long enough for several seriously aerobic incidents going up hills to occur. I may forgo walking the dog for a while. He is now 16 YO and still loves to walk. Walking seems to be worse on the knee than biking.

Lots of new music since that last mega-music-post. The only thing that made 4 stars was some tracks off of the new Gorillaz album "The Fall". All albums are 2011 except as noted.

  • Robbie Robertson, "How To Become Clairvoyant". Robbie's 1st album in 11 years, great to hear it. Eric Clapton plays on most of the tracks. Well-balanced, but no real standouts. 3 stars.
  • Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, eponymous (2009). Some nice quirky stuff, apparently a lot of people like "Home". 3 stars.
  • Oh Land, eponymous. Another chick/euro pop singer, transported to Brooklyn. A nice first effort, 3 stars.
  • Les Nubians, "Nu Revolution". Nice, listenable world music, no real standout tracks. 3 stars.
  • Gorillaz, "The Fall". A great follow-up to their previous album. 3 stars, with 6 4-star tracks that were just great songs.
  • Freelance Whales, "Weathervanes". Death Cab for Cutie, with a banjo player. Nice emo/alternative tunes, 3 stars.
  • The Naked and Famous, "Passive Me, Aggressive You". Hot New Zealand alternative band, nice solo effort, nothing really standing out tho. 3 stars.
  • Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues". Man, their prior 1st album came in under the radar, this one got a ton of attention. Not a bad follow-up, but I like the 1st better. 3 stars.
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "It's Blitz!" (2009). Good tracks, great for a techno club. 3 stars.
  • Stevie Nicks, "The Wild Heart" (1983). Don't remember what prompted me to buy this. A couple of hits -- "If Anyone Falls" and "Stand Back". I've always liked Stevie. 3 stars.
  • Moby, "Destroyed". Nothing special, 3 stars.
  • Florence + The Machine, "Lungs". I liked this a lot. Some good quirky tunes. 3 stars.
  • My Morning Jacket, "Circuital". The Louisville band continues to get better and better press and become increasingly a national star. 3 stars, 4 for "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)".
  • Death Cab for Cutie, "Codes and Keys". Relatively disappointing. 3 stars.
  • Kate Bush, "The Dreaming" (1982). I thought I was buying a new Kate Nash album, whoops. I had run across Kate Bush before when I put "Running Up That Hill", which she wrote, in my songbook. She's had quite a career, she's much better known in the UK than the US. Known for very creative and odd orchestration, evident in these tracks. 3 stars.
  • Maroon 5, "It Won't Be Soon Before Long." (2008). I'd had Maroon 5 recommended by several people, and this was on Amazon, 18 tracks for $5.00. It reminds me of Jamie Lidell, white pop singers recreating motown R&B. But I like Jamie Lidell's voice better. 3 stars.
Well, that leaves us with only 4 albums in the Unrated list. Enough for now.