Change and productivity

Sam Altman  wrote in a recent blog post about productivity. Several points in his post really hit home with me and I'd like  to address some of them here.

If you find yourself not liking what you’re doing for a long period of time, seriously consider a major job change.

Absolutely. Last year I began to realize I absolutely do not like my job. Not in the least. I'm fast approaching twelve years in this position, at this company, doing what is effectively data entry with a little bit of logic thrown in. I clear international freight through Customs, my job will almost certainly be replaced by a faux-AI in the next decade or so as OCR gets even better and software is able to process documents and accurately classify items in a shipment with little to no human interaction.

My job simply doesn't matter. I'm doing nothing to benefit humanity and this has begun to deeply trouble me the past few weeks. What the hell am I doing with my life?! What meaningful contribution have I made to society? None! The worst part is, I don't actually know what to do.

You see, I lack a degree. I'll be honest with my readers, I have a GED. While people often say I'm incredibly intelligent (I'd say I'm average, I just pay attention more than the masses) the fact of the matter is I don't have a paper trail of education. I lack that 'de facto dues card' (as someone recently referred to it as to me) that is a college degree. My company has made it painfully clear that I will NOT advance without, at a minimum, a Bachelor's degree. Pardon my language but this is utter bullshit and sadly is a societal norm and not an exception. Personally I'd rather have someone that loves the work they do, that wants to throw themselves into the job, that wants to be a difference as opposed to a Dick or Jane that forked out tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a degree that almost certainly has nothing to do with the real world because society told them they must.

But what do I do with my life? How do I find someone to give me a chance? Someone has recently placed some faith in me and it fueled the fire that was already beginning to grow in me. Now I just need to figure out how I can best serve my species.

Folks, we as humans face real threats in the near future. I honestly believe humanity is headed for dark and dangerous times. As the next generation or two begins to grow damage we've been doing to our planet since the Industrial Revolution is going to become more and more apparent. Climate change is a legitimate thing and is likely to result in crop failures, drastic changes in weather patterns, potentially wars over food and even potable water. We heavily rely on monoculture crops, on trucking and shipping food literally halfway around the world, we have cities that are natural deserts where water must be shipped in from hundreds of miles away (Los Angeles and Las Vegas for example), we have this illogical fear of atomic energy but seem quite happy (thanks to lobbyists) to pump mountains of coal into furnaces for our energy, we slap anti-dumping and countervailing duties on the import of photovoltaics to 'give American business a chance *eyeroll*' which limits our ability to harness the power of the sun. We are beginning to dabble seriously in the creation of Artificial Intelligence which when used appropriately could be a wonderful thing (imagine directing sufficiently advanced AI at problems like 'cold fusion' and engineering of crops/algae for more efficient food production) or it could be a very very bad thing like in the Terminator franchise and the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project in which an AI is created and given access to nuclear weapons, Colossus quickly determines the the Soviets also have an AI named Forbin and the two begin to communicate and ultimately become enemies. Colossus effectively makes itself ruler of America and threatens Forbin... "oh that's unlikely you say", yeah? Look at how much autonomous drones have been used in the middle east as of late. We also are in the infancy of a second Cold War between the United States and Russia with two madmen at the helms .

We have to do something. As a meat eater I say we need to get away from eating animals due to the greenhouse emissions involved in the entire process. We need to drastically reduce our energy consumption and move to 'greener' sources. We need to immediately do something about food waste. We need to start moving towards permaculture, vat grown protein (be it animal or algal). We need to support folks like Musk and Bezos and Bigelow that would see us spreading man to other worlds as a means of preservation of the species.

I need to be part of the solution. I don't know how I can help, or what I have to offer but I know, with every fiber of my being, I need to be working for someone or something that is trying to better the world. I've been losing sleep more and more the past year worrying about the world, worrying about how I am part of the problem. If any of you have ideas, if any of you are working towards solutions and can hire me by all means reach out. Keep me fed and a roof over my head and I will work, I will truly WORK for you, for our species, for our future.

Altman also says

I’ve been very fortunate to find work I like so much I’d do it for free, which makes it easy to be really productive.

I truly find it hard to do my job lately. It emotionally pains me. I think this is important, we need a world where people can actually pursue what interests them. The world would immediately be a better place. We need to look at things like Basic Income to allow this, especially with automation in the workplace rapidly increasing which is going to displace millions, then hundreds of millions of workers.

Altman makes another salient point

Doing great work usually requires colleagues of some sort.  Try to be around smart, productive, happy, and positive people that don’t belittle your ambitions.

I will be the first to admit, I can be quite negative. I often don't believe in myself. A former friend had me in his phone as 'Eeyore'. One problem is, people shit on my ideas. I expressed to a friend I was considering pursuing a degree, he quickly told me I'd hate it, I'd complain about it, I'd get bored with it... while he was right that was not at all supportive (although it was one of many reasons I have chosen not to pursue a degree). Unfortunately this wasn't an isolated incident. My mother frequently doesn't support me nor has my extended family EVER supported me. I need to be around people that inherently believe in any given human being's potential. I need to be around people that are trying to be part of the solution. I know so few of these types though and I haven't a clue how to build a social circle that consists of this variety of person.

You have to both pick the right problem and do the work. There aren’t many shortcuts. If you’re going to do something really important, you are very likely going to work both smart and hard.

Damn. Do you ever have the feeling that the Universe or the Grand Architect or God or the intelligence that runs our simulation is trying to tell you something? I need to find the right problem for me to throw myself at. If anyone has ideas, I'm open. If anyone has work to be done, again let's talk as maybe I can help. I need to spend the next days, or weeks, seriously contemplating what I might be able to do and then looking for someone to do it for.

Roman society had Clientela, patronage. Patroni would sponsor clientes and this could be done many different ways for many different reasons. I think we need to look at this practice and apply it in the 21st century. We need to seek out and identify potential wunderkind and bright adults that have not had the means to excel and support them. How many Teslas, Leonardos (people, his name isn't da Vinci, it is where he is from!), Fords, Einsteins, Gutenbergs, Lamarrs (as in Hedy, go read about her life outside of being an actress), Watts, Voltas etc were unable to contribute meaningfully to society because they were disadvantaged one way or another? How many profound discoveries and contributions never happened because no one believed in them, because no one supported them, because they were too busy trying to keep food on the table to pursue their ideas and use their abilities? Again, see Basic Income. Perhaps Basic Income can be the clientela of the 21st century.

Altman then says

My system has three key pillars: “Make sure to get the important shit done”, “Don’t waste time on stupid shit”, and “make a lot of lists”.

Agreed. I use my Gmail inbox for this as well as my Google calendar. I think I'm going to give paper lists a try, get some cheap notepads or moleskines. For a time I was using Evernote but it is too easy to ignore or neglect outright. We all have many ideas, some good and some bad, but how many of them do we ever pursue? Lists, I'm going to take a renewed interest in lists. You should too.

Altman:

I try to be ruthless about saying no to stuff, and doing non-critical things in the quickest way possible. I probably take this too far—for example, I am almost sure I am terse to the point of rudeness when replying to emails.

 

While I can be quite wordy when I'm passionate about something (ahem, this post) I was told, after interviewing for a position here at work recently, "you were too terse with your replies to the interview questions. You briefly answered and did not expand upon your answers like other candidates" well exxxxcccuuuuusssseeeee me you told me you'd only allotted 45 minutes for the interview and I didn't want to waste my time or yours with some verbal diarrhea trying to to play kiss ass while I told you everything you wanted to hear. And while we're on the subject, ENOUGH WITH MEETINGS. I have, at a minimum, 6 meetings a week that add up to at least an hour, literally everything that is said in these meetings could be delivered in 6 emails consisting of less than 2 paragraphs which I could read in 30-45 seconds.

I'm not here to be best friends with everyone I work with, I'm here to work and get paid. Unless something deeply interests me, I'm going to be as curt. It will serve all parties well. Less is frequently more. The less time I waste 'shooting the shit' with you, the more I can get done.

Oh wait a tick, look what Altman has to say:

I generally try to avoid meetings and conferences as I find the time cost to be huge—I get the most value out of time in my office.

Thank you! Someone else has some sense!

Look, I honestly have no idea what I should be doing with my life. I know I should NOT be doing paperwork all day. I want to be interacting with people, I want to be helping people, I want to be working towards social or technological changes that will make the world a better place for humanity going forward. I truly have no idea what talents I can bring to the table aside from being able to process many ideas and concepts and linking relevant (even when not obvious) ones together. I don't know how to solve the problems of the world but I want to.

I'm not likely to invent some new app or technology, I'm not likely to cure cancer or solve world hunger. My bank balance is in the four digits so I can't finance the efforts of others. I can say "here's an idea" or "I don't think that's wise" or "I'm sorry, you are so out of touch with reality that you have just said the dumbest thing I have ever heard in all of my existence" or "yes, that's brilliant, what can we do to make that happen?! How can I help?!".

I truly don't know what to do. I need some sort of intervention, I need something to fall into my lap or someone to throw me at a task. I'm open to the ideas of anyone that might see this. I can't do my job anymore, I come to work and want to check out like Peter in Office Space, someone load up Tetris and pass me the electric screwdriver until I have a meaningful purpose.

I have some ideas for more blog posts that I will begin working on this weekend so stay tuned my friends. In the meantime, take a look at your life and ask yourself if you could be doing something more meaningful.

20 AD (After Dad), letter to my father 2018

(past year's letters can be found at https://www.ryanmercer.com/?category=dad )

dadinuniform.jpg

Well, dad... in just 5 days you'll have been dead 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. You've nearly been gone 2/3 of my life. Let's see, where do I start this year...

I'm inactive as a Freemason. I didn't even bother demitting, the Lodge I transferred to was a mess and never even sent me a request for dues until I was several months past due sending me a handwritten, in red ink, note on the back of a scrap of paper claiming I was late on my dues and needed to pay them.

I don't know what's going on with Doug but Curt lives in Arizona I believe with his daughter now. I've still not produced an heir and, since the girl that ultimately shot and killed herself, that hasn't really been anyone. 

Adam West died last year. I remember the day I found out, my friend Jeremy broke the news to me. There's this thing called twitter on the internet. Adam had 'followed' me on this platform for years and years, he still does in death, he didn't follow too many people and we were friendly with one another over the years. I cried and cried and cried when I found out. I shut myself up in the bathroom and just lost it. I think I took it rough not because television's Batman had died but because when I'd come home from preschool and kindergarten you and I would watch him fighting crime on tv when we weren't watching Hogan's Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies or Andy Griffith. I told Adam about you once, that you and I would sit there and watch him on the television. I miss you both. 

Mom and I are moving to Plainfield in a month. Into an apartment. I still have the mushroom, your droopy horseman, and that droopy dog. They'll be proudly displayed in my room when we move. 

In April I'm taking a test for the Customs Broker license. Depending on what source you look at, it usually has something like a 3-11% pass rate. It's an open book test, however, the material is 6,000-7.000 pages. It's multiple choice but yeah... I bought some training material for it but I really don't know how I'll do, once we move I'll have a little over 2 weeks until the test and I'm going to take a few of the past years' tests as the publish the questions and answers to see where I stand. I hope I pass it as it will be beneficial at my current employer and open up options at other companies as well (or I could even hang out my shingle and have a go at it solo but I wouldn't likely do that). 

The remade Death Wish, with Bruce Willis this time, and I saw it last week. It was alright but the two detectives in it were terribly unrealistic.

There's also a man called Elon Musk. He builds his own rockets and is designing one to take man to Mars but earlier this year he took his electric car, oh yeah he makes electric sports cars that are pretty amazing, he took his electric car and put it on his newest rocket and launched it into space. He put his sports car, in space. What a world you've missed.

 Oh! On the internet last week I saw a police patch that I bought. It was the same shape as the State Police patch, a similar font and a blue background but said Indiana State Police Free Mason' and had a square & compass on it. I had to add it to the collection, you know?

Indiana State Police Freemason.jpg

Well, dad. I miss you. Until next year.

Wait a minute - Star Trek Discovery and The Orville have the same alien

So I watched Season 1 Episode 3 of The Orville and Star Trek Discovery Season 1 Episode 1 this evening back to back. I love  Orville, Discovery looks like a steaming pile (so Klingons are now hairless lizard-men Egyptian Stargate creatures, since when did they have holographic FTL communicators 10 years before Kirk?!).

Orville to me is a cross between Star Trek The Next Generation and reality. In fact it has something resembling Ten Forward, the windows are eerily similar, the uniforms are comparable, replicators, holodecks, a cyborg/robot/android on the bridge crew.

Star Trek Discovery to me, is a THIRD re-imagining of the Star Trek timeline and has extremely hollow acting. 

A brief glance at a bartender in the Orville's equivalent of ten forward:

Star Trek Discovery The Orville alien

Now, let's take a look at one of the bridge crew in Star Trek Discovery:

Star Trek Discovery The Orville alien

CLEARLY Fox and CBS are teaming up as part of a public disclosure to reveal actual aliens to us. Clearly this is what they look like. Clearly I'm kidding, take off your tinfoil hat. It is a funny 'coincidence' though, innit? 

Startups, incubators and Indianapolis

In the past few weeks I was lucky enough to get to talk to Sam Altman of Y Combinator and get a little bit of advice and even a few introductions (one of which resulted in some interviews with Coinbase for some remote work! This very fortunate exchange with Sam lit a fire under my ass and got me to thinking and applying myself like I haven't in quite a long time.

While I already have the handicap of not having a stack of college degrees, which makes me quite unattractive to most traditional employers as well as startups, I also have the problem of living in Indianapolis which doesn't have anywhere near the level of startups and opportunities as a city like San Francisco. It got me to thinking... why don't we have a good incubator or three here? Indiana certainly has a decent population to draw from, it certainly has enough wealthy folks to start and operate an incubator... why don't we have a good one here? Sure, we have some but you NEVER hear about them and you certainly never hear about companies that have come out of them. Why? Why does someone need to move to San Francisco to have a chance at getting funding, why does someone need to move to San Francisco to get jobs with startups to try and be part of creating the future instead of just a consumer?

I challenge the wealthy of Indianapolis to make a serious attempt to compete with San Francisco as a hotbed for tech startups!

 

Come on guys, we can do this. Bring more opportunities for workers and entrepreneurs to Indy. For the most part you need a stack of degrees in Indy to get by and even then you're mostly stuck to old-school corporate jobs that are often backward thinking and asinine when it comes to listening to employees ideas and tend to treat employees like replaceable widgets instead of creative individuals.  

 

Check out Fatecrafter the tarot-based table top!

My friend did a thing! It's called Fatecrafter

Fatecrafter is a tarot-based tabletop role playing game. It is a very simple system to pick up and can be quite fun with friends. I've known Aaron since 1994 and he's done a really good system here, he already has some expansion material planned so show him a love and buy the core book today!

Step into the world of Felicity, a crystalpunk universe where Victorian-style steam technology collides with the forbidden crystal-powered wonders of the golden era. Play as a Fatecrafter, a human with the unique ability to sense the flow of Fate, and to shift it in their favor. This power, unfortunately, comes at a price, for the act of fatecrafting is punishable by death. You see, the king’s great clockwork orrery tracks every movement of the stars and predicts every major event in the world. Naturally, the king does not take kindly to those people that can defy the orrery’s predictions and live life on their own terms. Gather your allies, reclaim your forgotten powers, and forge your own destiny! - Fatecrafter is a tabletop roleplaying game that uses the Tarot as both its random element and as a source of narrative inspiration. To make a character in Fatecrafter, you randomly draw cards from the tarot and lay out a character spread, letting fate determine your character’s backstory, personality, and attributes. To play Fatecrafter, you draw a hand of tarot cards and you play spreads to represent particular actions. To stab an enemy, for example, you would play just a single Sword card, but to cast a powerful magical effect (like a Force Lance), you would play a large spread including several Cup cards and a Major Arcana card. The Storyteller also makes use of Tarot cards through a mechanism known as the Fate Deck. Whenever the result of a situation is uncertain, the Storyteller pulls a card from the Fate Deck and uses it to inspire their narrative, possibly shaping the entire campaign. Fatecrafter is fast and easy to play, requiring much less math and preparation than your typical RPG, but it achieves this without sacrificing rich, tactical gameplay and deep immersion in a unique fantasy setting. All you need to play is this book, one or more friends, and the Tarot (or playing card) deck of your choice. Start fatecrafting today!

Creating a multi-national non-governmental space agency

What if we could unite the top 5 GDP nations and have each contribute 1% of their GDP to a non-government space agency that had a board of randomly selected advisors from the heads of industry for various tech sectors that served say 5 year terms (adequate time for serious project/mission development) before new were randomly selected. Stagger these random draws though starting with the first batch so every 6 months a certain percent are replaced so existing projects can continue to run seemlessly.

If we took 1% of the GDP from the top 5 nations, we could have 408 billion a year for space.

NASA'S budget in 2015 was 18 billion. The DoD had a budget of 585 billion in 2015. This would be a tiny sacrifice for each of the top 5 GDP nations and they'd not even notice.

All technology developed from this new space agency would be 100% open source to any participating nation, any nation that wished to join would be required to contribute 1% of their GDP for no less than 3 years to also be granted access to all of the technology, however they could be included in helping to manufacture/develop/include personnel.

 

Think of what could be achieved. Can we say Starfleet 0.5?

Beginner's guide to Ethereum

So, someone told you about Ethereum or Ether and you checked out Ethereum.org and got super confused, that's ok. This post will hopefully act as a good starting point for a decent education in Ethereum (arguably the best cryptocurrency to date). 

 

What exactly is Ethereum?

Ethereum is an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality. It provides a decentralized Turing-complete virtual machine, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), which can execute scripts using an international network of public nodes.

Resources for a more detailed understanding:

Alright, now that you've done some reading and watching you want to know how to get started!

First you'll need a wallet to hold your ether. You should NEVER store your cryptocurrency of choice on an exchange for longer than it takes you to transfer to and from. Personally I like having a hardware wallet like the Nano Ledger S which is made by Ledger.  Note, you want the Nano Ledger S so you can store Ether, some models such as the one pictured below will not hold Ether.

Ledger Wallet protects your bitcoins

There are other wallet options, some good ones are:

Ok great, you've got a wallet! Now what?

Well obviously, you need to get some Ether!!! Where would one get Ether...

  • One popular exchange is Kraken

There are other exchanges, the following I have no personal experience with:

Ok cool, so I have some Ether but what to do with it?

Well this is largely up to you. Some businesses are starting to accept it for purchase of goods and services. Some folks are speculating with it. Some folks are holding on to it for use in the future as more services, companies, DApps etc roll out that will use it. Here are some examples of things you could start doing:

Why I'm becoming an inactive Freemason

After leaving Speedway #729, now Speedway #500 when they opted to throw tradition out for vanity I moved to Logan Lodge #575. After Logan Lodge accepted me as a member I noticed that they were struggling to have a healthy active membership base. I then found that i was never sent a request for dues, a month passed, two months passed, I asked about it and nothing, three months passed, four, the fifth month I finally receive my dues card for last year with a handwritten note saying my dues have been overdue for nearly 4 months and I must promptly pay them... 

Combine these events with downright racist and anti-Islamic posts I've seen from more than one Brother on Facebook, the fact several Grand Lodges in the U.S. have taken horribly homophobic stances, that more and more Lodges that are actually active are starting to more resemble the Rotary Club and Toastmasters, that many Lodges are struggling to even open stated meetings regularly (Logan included), that every single Lodge I've visited the past year or so has spent a chunk of their stated meetings and degrees going on and on about appendant body golf outings and gun raffles instead of spending time on Masonic education... 

 

I'm done. You want me to cough up 350$ a year but all you offer in return is hateful memes about "them damn heathen Moslems", crockpot desiccated KFC sides and 30 minutes a month telling me that I should come get drunk with you at the Grotto or the VFW/Legion, oh hey can I put my political office sign in your yard Brother? 

 

No thank you. This is not the Freemasonry of my father, the Freemasonry of my godfather or the Freemasonry of my great-grandfather. I don't know what this is but I'm done. Freemasonry is dying, the Lodges I've sat in go through the minimum motions then move on to show boating and making names for themselves in their communities when not drinking to excess. 

 

Are there still good Lodges? Yes, but they are few and far between and even they often have a sense of elitism requiring tuxedos and going to 30$+ a plate dinners after Lodge to continue activities (including, often, their Masonic education). I'm sorry, I don't want to go to a fancy dress party and drop 50$ after drink and tip on dinner at 9pm on a weeknight. I want to pursue the mysteries of the Universe. I want to be a better man, I want to be open to ideas and concepts and customs that are not my own. 

Maybe some day I'll start my own philosophical group, but it would likely devolve into the same crap sooner or later. 

I'm not going to demit, it's a waste of my time. By my Lodge not sending me a dues notice, even when I asked why I hadn't received one, and now telling me I'm delinquent 4 months and have not said one word to me until a hand written note on the back of a piece of paper this past weekend when they sent me last year's dues cad 9 months after transferring my membership they've already written me off as NPD so fine. Let it remain that way.