The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... History ... Personal Reflections ...

Not long ago at work, I told someone that I was “on the bomb run” for retirement. What I meant was that if I could get through another handful of years and if my luck really held up somehow, I might possibly be able to retire! Well, I’d probably still have to get a part-time job somewhere to make ends meet (and to get myself out of the house to mingle with people – admittedly, my job is probably 2/3 of my present social life, as I’m not a natural mingler). Nonetheless, I’m at the point where retirement is starting to become “imaginable”. (My cousin, who is my age, is less than 18 months out on his own “retirement bomb run”; he’s closer than me, and I hope he makes it!).

But who knows, a lot could yet go wrong, and I don’t want to jinx it. Nonetheless, the world is changing faster and faster, and my office is also changing; I’m getting tired of running faster and faster all the time just to stay in place. I feel like my best career days are behind me and it’s become less of a rat race and more like a rat inside a running wheel. So, I daydream more and more these days about retirement, and do various back-of-the envelope calculations to see if I could pull it off financially. Finances are a huge hurdle for many baby boomers these days; because of recession, job losses and lack of savings, many face the (grim) prospect of needing to work full time into their seventies.

So, I look at my present career and financial situation as though I’m “on a bomb run”. For those of you who aren’t fans of aerial combat, when a bomber airplane goes out on a mission and starts to get near the target where they will drop the bomb, the crew will initiate a procedure called “the bomb run”.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:09 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Food / Drink ... Practical Advice ...

I will soon post a few thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the Stanley Kubrick’s “black comedy” film “Doctor Strangelove”. In this post, I will contest the notion that there was any real comedy in that film at all. At least not to anyone who ever had to consider the real possibility at some point in their life that they could get nuked! Literally!!! T’ain’t so funny then, McGee!!!

But before we launch the B-52’s, let me talk about a more domestic kind of “nuking”, and how I used a little shortcut over the weekend in a bread-baking project. I like to bake my own bread, especially since my own homebaked bread keeps the salt content low (for health reasons – and it tastes fine to me, a little more sweet and grassy than regular salty bread, but still bread). I make it by hand, as I don’t have a bread machine (no room left in my little apartment!).

Up to now I’ve followed standard bread recipes, where you first dissolve the yeast in a cup of hot water and sugar (around 110 degrees, I use a thermometer to get it right) and let it “proof” in the water for maybe 15 minutes. Then you pour that foamy blend into the flour bowl to start the mixing and kneading process. Or, you mix the yeast in with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:31 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Politics ...

Relative to the next Presidential election, we’re still at a point where the conventional wisdom doesn’t mean much, where the unconventional could yet become the convention.   Right now, the Democratic nomination is still Hillary Clinton’s for the asking.  But some pundits have been doing thought experiments that challenge Hillary’s claim to the crown. 

In a recent RCP article, Tom Bevan posed a list of 5 reasons why Hillary won’t (or shouldn’t) run. And to be honest, some of his reasons were pretty compelling. At bottom, Hillary isn’t such a good politician; she still gets uncomfortable in response to GOP carping about Bengazi, she becomes testy in response to challenging questions (such as the recent Diane Sawyer interview) and she has that habit of saying stuff that doesn’t play well (remember “what difference does it make”; a terrorist attack that killed top US diplomats doesn’t matter? Oh, and “we were dead broke”? After years of recession and millions who never got their jobs back?)  She is not the skilled political figure that Bill Clinton was, and maybe still is.

(And now, according to a new book about the Clintons and Obamas called “Blood Feud”, Hillary’s health is worse than was thought, in that she is susceptible to blood clotting, fainting and stroke; admittedly, this could be GOP dis-information, but given the brain blood clot she previously experienced, the health question is another Hillary vulnerability.)

But HRC has a lot of assets too.  She’s a strong centrist influence in a Democratic party swinging too far to the left to guarantee a plurality in a national election. And if she does NOT run,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, June 16, 2014
Web Site/Blog ...

I use wordpress.com stats for my blog, and I recently took a look at the worldwide breakdown of where my views originate (and presumably where my viewers live). Here is a partial breakdown covering the past year or so:

USA: 30.8%
United Kingdom: 13.3%
Canada: 11.2%
Australia & New Zealand: 8.0%
India: 5.5%
Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore: 5.0%

Is there any common thread here? Well, at least 72% of my traffic comes from former British Empire colonies (or in case of the Philippines, a former colony of a former colony). So, my blog is a British Empire phenomenon!!!! To the degree that a handful of hits a day could be said to reflect a “phenomenon” . . .

Nonetheless, Hail Britannia!!! Perhaps I should have a gin and tonic, that great British colonial drink, to celebrate!!!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, June 13, 2014
Science ... Society ...

I was talking about reviews of various things in my last post, so I will make another review tonight. This review involves an article in Real Clear Science, which in itself is a review of a conference report. The conference was about how humanity could go extinct by 2100. It was held in 2008 by the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute.

This report identified 8 main ways of getting rid of us, making estimates of each extinction risk occurring over the next 85 years. These risk estimates range from 0.03% to 5% (which is fairly high, actually; the top four possibilities together combine to 12%, which is more than one chance in 10; although it might be argued that these probabilities are not completely additive). The Institute’s doomsday scenarios can be broken down into three major factors: war (regular war at 4%, nuclear war at 1%, and nuclear terrorism at 0.03%); disease (natural pandemic at 0.05% and the bigger risk of engineered pandemic at 2%); and surprisingly, nanotechnology (nanotechnology accident at 0.5%; nanotechnology non-accident: i.e., weaponized nanoparticles acting as an artificial engineered pandemic, 5%).

Oh, and throw in the risk of some uncontrolled machine-based intelligence taking over  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Science ...

Here’s an almost Tweet-able thought that I had while making dinner yesterday evening. I was listening to a CD lecture from the Teaching Company on “Big History”, and the big professor (David Christian, who is definitely a smart cookie) was repeating one of his usual “big themes” from big history. I.e., that since the Big Bang, new forms of stuff seem to emerge over time that have increasing ability to concentrate energy flows, grow larger, interact, and perpetuate themselves or reproduce themselves. This applies (in something of a procession) to molecules, gas clouds, stars, planets, microbes, plants, animals, humans, tribes, villages, and civilizations. As things increase their abilities to concentrate energy and make their mark on reality, they tend to get more and more complex.

Ah yes, complexity!!! Another Teaching Company course subject. It makes me wonder . . . is there something fundamental about complexity, something inherent to it that causes things to be more able to gather more energy and do more stuff . . . or is complexity more of a side-show, more of an incidental thing? I tend now to believe the latter. If you had the talents and tools to build a wristwatch from scratch, you would appreciate how complex a wristwatch is. And yet, with those same tools and materials, you could build something else terribly complex that wouldn’t do anything.

And so, complexity doesn’t necessary bring more functionality. You can have complex things (like works of sculpture art) that can’t  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

I joined the ratings web site Yelp about about a year ago, and I put up a couple of reviews for some local establishments that I frequent. Given that I frequent them because I actually like these places, I gave them all good reviews on Yelp. Well, wouldn’t you know it . . . a few months later, Yelp took down all my reviews. I never got an explanation, but I have heard that Yelp puts every rater thru a credibility analysis, and if you give good ratings all the time, they decide that you must be getting paid or otherwise have a vested interest in promoting the places that you write about. So you get booted.

Well hey, Yelp . . . maybe I just wanted to tell the world about the good places, and not bother to bitch about the not-so-good (I mean, isn’t there enough bitching about life already?). Perhaps I like to commend, and I don’t enjoy criticizing. But I WILL now criticize Yelp; sure, they need to maintain credibility with their viewership, but in the process they make the assumption that every honest person is going to gripe on-line about their bad experiences. Honesty = bitchiness. People who just don’t like to complain, who like to share the good but perhaps keep the bad to themselves, just don’t fit into Yelp-world. I just don’t see this as a positive social trend; it is NOT an example of how modern technology is “bringing us all together” – just the opposite, I’d say. But that’s just me, I guess, living in the past.

Hey though, I could try to “modernize myself”, and perhaps I will start by doing a bad review here. I’m going to pan most recent versions of a famous cookbook, the  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:23 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Personal Reflections ...

I intended to write a long, profound essay on Thomas Piketty’s news-making book release “Capital in the 21st Century” . . . but then I realized that I may not have all that much to add to the discussion. And there has been plenty of discussion on this book over the past few weeks (Salon, The Economist, Financial Times, NY Times, Wall St Journal, Forbes, NY Review of Books, etc.). Most of it is worth reading, quite erudite and long-sighted.

In a nutshell, Piketty has written a long tome about the historical economic trends of industrialized civilization over the past 4 centuries or so, addressing the overall question as to whether capitalism and free markets have made things better for the common, average person. Well, most people would have to agree that on average (with plenty of exceptions to the rule), the economic growth that capitalism has fostered raised the living standards of a majority of people in the industrialized nations, over the long term. The question really is, just who is getting the bigger share of free-market capitalism’s benefits; is the generated wealth being widely distributed, or is it being concentrated in the hands of a rich few? Do the long-run trends favor income equality and widespread opportunity, or are they increasing concentration of wealth in a tiny majority, with more and more people shut out from a chance at the good life?

As you might guess, the historical evidence on that is mixed; but Piketty seems to feel  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:58 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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