Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Algorithm

An algorithm. Source: Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm


I don't know who reads these blog posts. Some get only a few hits, others dozens. I assume Google algorithms dictate some of that, like a post shows up in a search based upon certain terms, or is presented to people browsing through seemingly related topics.

We all know that Big Tech manipulates the information we receive on our displays. Some of this is automated and only intended to provide the best experience possible, but it's also apparent that the information is manipulated according to company policy and managerial decisions. It's creepy, and even if you are knowledgeable about such things and try to get around the algorithm, you can never be certain that what you see is true, or that your searches haven't been filtered in some way that prevents you from finding the best results.

I don't know why I wasn't posting here for a while, especially since my last post got a lot of hits and it would have been the perfect time to take advantage of the algorithms and "grow my following," but I haven't tried to build a following anywhere on the internet for a decade or more. I simply don't care, and write almost entirely for myself. I know other writers have said that over the years and I didn't understand it until I reached that point myself. It sounds selfish, but on the other hand I don't like the idea of seeking the approval of strangers. If I'm practicing self-discipline and living according to my personal ethics, I shouldn't need it.

But I have written over the last couple of weeks over on one of my other blogs, where I share my sharper opinions. Interesting that my sharpest take seems to have received no hits in a couple of weeks. It's political-economic, and I can't help but think the algorithm is suppressing it, because people at Google* don't like it.

I'm a computer programmer, and I can tell you that algorithms sometimes produce unexpected results, especially if you are using AI (and if you don't verify and test adequately), but on the other hand it's easy for programmers to produce contrived output. Since the public doesn't see the program code, we have no way to know if our click metrics reflect a truly hands-free, automated outcome, or if the outcome was motivated. Are the results from an algorithm or from the programmer who wrote it?

Now ask me what to do about it. I don't know. Some clamor for regulation, but regulations too sometimes produce unintended outcomes.

* Google owns Blogger.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Self-discipline

"If you don't discipline yourself, the world will discipline you." - Navajo Traditional Teaching


My mother and I have debated over the years about the fundamental nature of humans. She believes people are fundamentally good. I believe people are fundamentally bad. I came upon this belief through a combination of the christian concept of original sin and life experience. I particularly like the video linked above where a Navajo elder describes the traditional Navajo (Diné) belief that people are basically bad and that evil exists.

Mom also grew up in the christian faith but apparently original sin never took with her. She also grew up in the rural Deep South and views human society like Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show. It must have been nice to have lived in that type of friendly society (except for the poverty), but I can't reconcile that view with my life experience. I've known too many bad people and seen too many acts of evil.

The Sin of Adam and Eve, by Michelangelo - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11421186


I believe we all have evil urges and tendencies to fail. What this means is that life is a contest of you against the evil and failure inherent in your being.

You were born to be evil. If you don't want to be evil, then you have to make yourself be good. This requires self-discipline.

Inattentiveness to what you are doing results in failure by default. In order to succeed, you must pursue success mindfully, or at least actively avoid failure. This too requires self-discipline.

You can't always succeed and you can't always avoid sin so living correctly requires constant effort. Life requires self-discipline and there is no end to it. It's a method for living, not a target that you can hit.

Keep grinding at the process. That's self-discipline.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Food Court Low Cuisine

Not my local food court. Photo by Danny Haak, available for free use under a Creative Commons license.


I'm an unapologetic fan of mall food courts and airport restaurants.  Excluding bakery fare, the best foods have relatively simple ingredients. Baking cakes and confections can be complex even in the simpler cases, but entrees need not be. For this reason, I'm also a critic of "foodie" culture, especially as applied to contemporary American cuisine (i.e. middle American food).

Things foodies are wrong about:

1. American cheese. No other cheese melts as well as American cheese, and it tastes good. Why bother making a complex sauce with 5 ingredients when you can just melt American? It forms a sauce naturally when melted and retains its molten character longer than any other cheese I've encountered. And yes, American cheese is really cheese. It is, by law, required to be manufactured from real cheese precursors. It's basically a blended cheese, much like there are blended wines. When I hear an American foodie disdaining it, I hear them signalling sophistication rather than an honest opinion.

2. Tomato ketchup. Ok, this may be an American foodie thing, but it's pretty popular right now to criticize ketchup. But French haute cuisine uses tomato ketchup. And yes, they use Heinz sometimes. Granted, they tend to use it more as an ingredient than a condiment, but the fact that they use it invalidates claims about it being for the uncultured, boring, or nasty. Claiming ketchup is disgusting because it's "middle American" is about the most hilarious self-own a foodie can make. Ketchup on a meatloaf? Yes. Ketchup in sauces? Yes. Ketchup on meat? Yes . . . well, sometimes yes.

3. Avocado on everything. I love fresh, ripe avocado, but at this point is it not only being overused, but abused. Stop putting avocado on everything. It doesn't go with everything. Example: avocado does not go particularly well with beef. It isn't terrible but the tastes, in my opinion, aren't particularly complementary. You taste two things: avocado and beef, separately, but they don't go together. I think it started with avocado on chicken and turkey, which makes more sense, then migrated to avocado on turkey burgers, and the next thing you know it's on ground beef burgers and steak. Stop that.

4. Bacon as a topping for other meats. The whole point of putting bacon on other types of meat, is that it is fatty, and if you cook it together, the bacon fat will flavor the other meat. You aren't supposed to just cook it separately, put it aside, then use it as a topping, except maybe on a salad, baked potato, or other vegetable dish. If you want a bacon cheeseburger, then the bacon needs to be cooked with the ground beef so that the pork fat flavors the beef, otherwise there is no point. As a fine point, I think this is most sensible with leaner ground beef.

6. Ersatz vegetarian/vegan food. You can make delicious vegan recipes, but it's senseless to make vegan "Mac & cheese" if you don't have real dairy cheese. Invent a new sauce and stop trying to emulate omnivore recipes. Give it a new name and its own history. Don't call it Macaroni and cheese if it isn't cheese. Don't call it chicken if it isn't chicken. Invent a new vegan "meat" and give it some other name. Or stop lying to yourself about what you want and just eat meat.

7. Beer snobs. The extreme popularity of a "good, hoppy IPA" is a typical example of foodie culture run amok, and into the ditch. IPA beers were the rotgut, cheap beer of the 18th century. They were created for long shelf life, not flavor. Loading a beer with hops to make it peppery is an easy trick to make a palatable beer. I'm not against IPAs, and I drink them reasonably often, but I think people claim to like IPAs because all the cool kids are doing it rather than that they know anything about beer or have a sophisticated palette. Food and drink should be popular because it is good, not because of peer pressure or herd mentality. There are other beer types than the India Pale Ale.

As I saw in one Quora answer a few months ago from (gasp) as European, a lot of American food has become popular around the world, including in Europe, the alleged home of gastronomy, because it is good. Basic middle-American cuisine is high on fat and salt, and that is where the flavor comes from. The last time I checked, McDonald's was the most popular fast food chain in France.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Tail Chasing

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was my most recent descent into the Canyon. Normally I would have hiked at least once per year in the Canyon.


I guess I don't mind sharing that I've just gone through a break-up. I've always had difficulty both initiating and sustaining relationships throughout my life and it appears I will never outgrow it. Obviously, it's difficult and I find myself feeling the urge to make big decisions or to seek out another relationship. Based upon past experience, it's best to not go straight into another relationship quickly. Breaking up brings emotional confusion. I'm not in my right mind.

On the one hand, I greatly regret losing the relationship. On the other hand, being free of it feels liberating. Now that I am vaccinated, I've resumed my usual lifestyle of planning excursions and weekend trips. Even the planning is fun, and it gives me dates on a calendar to look forward to, because right now everything else seems down.

I subscribe to the theory that people who are too eager to travel probably have issues at home they don't want to face. I realize I may be an example of that.

On the horizon: a hike in the Grand Canyon, a visit to the Pacific Ocean, and more time with family.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Mars

By ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56489423


Almost fifty years after the Apollo program last visited the moon, we are finally on the cusp of going to the surface of another world: Mars. It isn't clear if the trip will be made on a NASA vehicle called the SLS or if they will simply hire out transportation from SpaceX on their gargantuan Starship vehicle that is currently in development. It looks like Starship has a huge lead right now, and will be reusable, giving it a cost advantage.

Mars, upon cursory review, seems the most like earth of all the planets, but now that we have explored the surface with a variety of probes and rovers, I'm less enthusiastic.

It seems possible to setup habitats for humans to live in, but I don't think I'd be interested in it. Mars has been revealed as a frozen desert. The people in charge of exploration seem to still hope for current microscopic life, or at least evidence of past life, but it isn't like you could go there and pick martian bananas and papayas and put your hammock under the palm trees by the ocean. It's a forbidding place. I'm not interested in going there.

My interests in space exploration have moved on to other places. I once believed the solar system would be colonized by humans in my lifetime. Now I do not expect to live long enough to see any significant human habitation on other worlds. I won't be able to take a cruise to Mars or the outer planets, and I am okay with that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Upslope Flow

Upslope flow as a winter storm rolls into the Arizona high country.

 

I was out for a walk as a winter storm was rolling in, just in time to capture this textbook example of orthographic effects, A.K.A. upslope flow on the inner core of the San Francisco Peaks mountain range. The relatively warm and moisture carrying clouds are pushed up the slopes of the mountains, causing them to cool and drop snow. Sorry about the telephone lines, but the photo needed to be timely.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Travel

I-17 southbound to Phoenix. I left Flagstaff in cold rain but dropped down into the desert with sun, cloud, and snow on the higher peaks. It was a beautiful drive!


I'm vaccinated, and my parents are vaccinated, so I finally went to visit my Mom for her birthday, the first time I've seen her in 15 months. That is the longest I've ever gone in my entire life without seeing her.

Airplane travel was not too bad, but the airports were busier than I expected. I assume that I am not the only one who decided to resume air travel. I didn't think about it, but it must be spring break for some schools, because there were many families with children traveling.

Camelback Mountain beyond Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.


Everybody has decided that the pandemic is over. It isn't over, but hopefully many of the people traveling are at least vaccinated.

I took advantage of the relatively low rates to fly first class, which I'd never done before. The seating and legroom is superior, but the experience was reduced by a crazy guy sitting on the other side of the aisle who kept ranting about music that existed only in his head. The flight attendants had difficulty dealing with him.

Middle Tennessee is full of these bland shopping strips. The skies were grey for the first two days, also typical of Middle Tennessee. I ate inside a restaurant for the first time in a year on this trip. It felt normal.


Middle Tennessee was humid and cool, but not cold, as usual for this time of year. Every time I go back to Tennessee for a visit, I feel like I'm swimming. I don't feel like I dry out until the plane lands in Phoenix.

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider Women's Basketball. They won a tight game. First time in over a year I've been to a live sporting event.  Note the limited attendance and cardboard cutout fans behind the goal.