10 December 2012

Hanukkah Season Opens!

I missed the beginning of Hanukkah yet again.

My connection to Judaism is rather on the light side, as it is through my paternal line and Jewish ethnicity runs through maternal lines (as far as Jews define such). so I suppose I simply have a Jewish heritage. I could always blame my Kohen forefathers for marrying gentile girls, but what can be done at this point - things are as they are...

My oldest daughter has really been into her Jewish heritage when she was younger. She even got reasonably conversant in Hebrew and, thanks to the Internet, had a chance to use her ability!

My mother (you know, "the gentile") is so nice about bringing up my father's family background, even after being divorced for about thirty years and she brought over a paper menorah as part of a lesson she was giving for Family Home Evening. The interesting part was that I was searching on the 'net for LED menorahs just before she started her lesson!  Coincidence?  I think not! The paper one is up in the window for the world to see, but I hope to get a much better electric version for next year.

I found some really neat kits for LED menorahs from EvilMadScience.com.  The first is a "deluxe" version that looks a bit tacky to me, but I really like the minimalism of their LED Mini Menorah Soldering Kit, as it is a bit more difficult to make, looks more techy, and shakes out the casual sorts.

Anyway, have a Happy Hanukkah from one of those totally un-Jewish Kohens!

07 December 2012

Timex Sinclair 1000

My first computers were the Texas Instruments 99/4 and /4A. I bought mine as an adult friend was an engineer at TI and my first computer mentor who also offered me the employee discount. Sadly, though the first 16-bit home computers, these were probably the most proprietary, shackled, and closed home computers in the universe. I wrote many an Extended Basic program with them, but I longed for a bit more open of a box to play with.

I was an early reader of Byte and Computer Shopper magazines (back when they were far more interesting in the early 1980s. I always had a hankering for CP/M computers, but those were sadly far beyond my means as a teenager. When I saw some of the amazing things being done with the Timex/Sinclair 1000, always considered a "toy" computer, I was intrigued.  These were so stunning simple and cheap that even a kid like me could acquire one and, more importantly, it was so simple that expansion was wide open. The most amazing things were done with this hardware, things far, far beyond its original design.

I didn't write as many programs for the T/S1000 as I did for the TI home computers, but I had endless fun souping the thing up and making modifications. Years later, I haven't touched my TIs, but I still pull out my Timex occasionally and made another change to it.  I increased its memory to 32k (I know, that seems pathetic these days) and wired up a better keyboard (strangely, old TI keyboards are just about perfect). I will have to post a picture of the rat's nest that the computer has become, which I think is kinda cool and looks the way a home-made computer is supposed to - wires, free-floating chips, discrete components and all.

05 December 2012

The Psychic Proximity Principle

UPDATE! The Psychic Proximity Principle is all grown up now, rendered as a Kindle booklet, and even fools around on the altar of Steve Jobs! Check out Feeding the Soul of Steve Jobs today!

From Fiddler on the Roof:Tevye[to Chava] As the good book says 'Each shall seek his own kind'. In other words a bird may love a fish but where would they build a home together? 

The Psychic Proximity Principle:
You will gravitate toward a place and circumstance that actually fit you and your nature.

So, if you are unhappy:
  • You might be in the wrong place.
  • You might be in the wrong circumstance.
  • You might be ignoring your true nature.
  • You might like fighting gravity or inertia a little too much.

Hey, I believe in God and I believe that God wants us to reach our potential and find happiness. I also believe that God knows how to accomplish these goals better than we do. Therefore, we have a really secular-sounding thing called "The Psychic Proximity Principle" that tries to explain how it works.


I really worked for a long time to explain this thing that I felt was happening to me. That weird name came first and then, during one of my early morning walks, it hit me. You would be surprised at what strikes me in the wee hours and I am frankly surprised that a big vehicle piloted by some bleary-eyed dude has not also struck me as well.  So far, only epiphanies, no SUVs.

The Psychic Proximity Principle works on the principle of very weak magnetism.

You know about magnetism.  It is really fun to bring two magnets into the neighborhood of each other and figure out that, depending on their orientation, they either smack together pretty hard or get as far from each other as they can. This is an example of strong magnetism, that can actually move stuff and create electricity and might keep you on the ground rather than flying off into space.

Weak magnetism is attractive like the strong sort, but it just isn't irresistible. If you played with two little magnets as a kid, you could keep them apart pretty easily with what muscle power you could muster.  That was what made magnets fun - how much fun could it be if they got stuck together so firmly that you couldn't get them apart? The weak magnetism involved in The Psychic Proximity Principle is great fun (sometimes) but seems especially so for someone like God. It wouldn't be as interesting if you and your perfect circumstance slammed hard into each other very early in life!

You are attracted to your potential and your happiness, but you can resist it if you want. Sometimes the attraction is so weak that you have to "feel it out" to "find your way".

If you have noticed that a lot of people are unhappy and never seem to "come into focus", my theory is that they are ignoring or not feeling out the weak magnetic pull toward happiness and their potential. I have some big problems with finding happiness myself, but I am starting to figure things out. I don't know if that magnetic pull has different strength for different people, but I have learned one thing: Successful and happy people often describe their "journey" in terms that sound suspiciously like The Psychic Proximity Principle. Sometimes they even say that these things seemed to find them or that their success and themselves crossed paths one day. This sounds a lot like magnets attracting each other and people trying to figure out which magnet attracted the other - the answer is that both you and your "happy potential" (for lack of a better term) attract each other. The great part is that God set things up that way - what a great guy!

There is an analogue to this idea in religion, at least among Mormons. We call it "following the Spirit". Most Christians struggle with this because they fear "spiritualism" as some sort of parlor trick. It is just another way of describing what we can see operating around us all the time, whether some preacher says that God spoke to her in a dream about something she should do, or Dr. Emmett Brown from the movie "Back to the Future" saw the Flux Capacitor after hitting his head on a toilet. While atheists would contend that I am "deifying" the creative process, I can just as easily say that "inspiration" is God tickling your brain toward your potential. My contention is that if you simply chalk up The Psychic Proximity Principle to some atheistic coincidence or "luck", you will find it difficult to recognize that this happens all the time and that there is a weak magnetic pull between you and some large vats of happiness and finding your best potential that often leads to such nice by-products as financial success. In order for it to work, you have to trust that it works, which as a one-word term to describe it:  FAITH. These things don't often happen to atheists because, along with not believing in God, many also don't believe in anything as wonky as weak magnetism.

I call it the Psychic Proximity Principle because it is a fun name and it describes something that I have noticed again and again. I also think it helps Mormons understand "the workings of the Spirit" better. If people poo-poo the "religious" flavor of spiritual things, it can jokingly be called "psychic" and the principle still works until you are ready to acknowledge "a higher power" or just smile and admit that there must be a God up there that does fiddle with knobs.

My final point is that God is working to bring together you and your best potential, fraught with happiness and often with "success". You can call it "inspiration from the Spirit" or "weak magnetism" or "psychic proximity", but it is reliable and it lets me know (and perhaps you know as well) that God is there and that He loves you! Someday, we might figure out that we can take those promises to the bank and beyond!

04 December 2012

Monkey Work

I remember watching television re-runs of the television cartoon "The Jetsons" as a child. I actually liked it for its social commentary, for which I don't recall that it was known for. Honestly, I found the whole idea that George Jetson's job, that he was often complaining about and desiring a deserved pay-raise, was pressing a button. I don't remember him having to press that button very often, but it seemed vital to things, for the constant threat of a firing always seemed to dissolve away in the twenty or so minutes of any episode that featured his boss' angst. This was my first exposure to "monkey-work", which I define as paid work that trained monkeys could easily do. On "The Jetsons", George's "monkey-work" was a funny running gag that probably would be a little embarrassing in today's world as almost all of us just press occasional buttons as employment these days.

Monkey-work is everywhere. In my first job at a movie theatre, I had a checklist of things that needed to be done on my shift.  Other people did about the same thing on their shifts and that list varied very little over the months that I did that job. It was really easy to get bored with the monotony of it all, but the pay was supposed to make up for that. I got a few promotions, which meant that I had a different list of tasks which might require a slightly higher IQ, but typically only meant that I made slightly more money. Over the years, I can say that more than half of my paid employment was basically a list of simple tasks to do, for which I received increasingly larger amounts of money. Most times, I have functioned basically like a monkey, albeit an increasingly better-trained one.

I only really notice this these days because I don't really engage in monkey-work. The stark contrast came because my job just before this one demanded that I behave like a monkey, basically just following an intricate flowchart of canned procedures in diagnosing and repairing computer problems. If you followed the process religiously, the solution would reveal itself ultimately. Sadly, as a non-monkey, I never looked at the flowcharts and just found solutions by "the seat of my pants", often with far fewer steps than expected. One time, my supervisor both praised me for my efficiency and chastised me for not following procedure. It is interesting how much I like my present job and how much I disliked my previous one - the work was basically the same but the "monkey-ness" was really different.

If you want a sad realization, just know that most people, armed with some training and a decent procedure, would make adequate medical doctors or corporate executive officers, both basically very(,very, very) highly paid monkey-work jobs. If you find a better version of almost any paid employment, you are probably not looking at a better person, but a more detailed and involved procedure adhered to more strictly.

It brings to mind the global obsession these days with "STEM" training, which stands for "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math", which are supposed to be the tickets to a vaunted high technology, high wage economy. Sadly, the extent of creativity imbued in the entire effort was basically spent in coming up with the acronym. The curriculum, for the most part, is an exercise in slavishly following a flowchart, reading detailed instructions completely (the mantra of schools and societies), and doing so quickly. If you look at education today, it can be summed up in the "timed test" culminating in college entrance exams that really only measure one's ability to quickly follow instructions. Apparently, these are the sort of skills the modern "college" and the larger society desires and rewards.

And what does the modern economy demand of us? It is the manufacture and consumption of a high volume of highly-marked-up and low-quality trinkets. Monkeys build such, monkeys consume such, and their masters profit from both ends by providing low-value products at exorbitant prices. The monkeys find it difficult to complain as they are often paid proportionately for their extremely low-skill labor, they are foolish enough to desire and buy over-priced and valueless trinkets, and they have few scruples to comprehend that they could do and have better. Every marketer knows that the best profits are to be made from the most naive and stupid consumers and therefore our schools manufacture these as well.

It brings to mind the excellent wisdom of John Taylor Gatto, the man who taught school for about thirty years and then walked away because he couldn't live with himself and what he and his fellow teachers did to children. As he began to look about for more purposeful learning, he investigated how the most elite American private schools prepares our next generation of masters and was stunned to see how different it is from a public education. The next leaders of the world don't engage in "monkey-work" themselves but know how important it is to impart such a living on their underlings so that their own superiority is an unquestioned reality. If all you need to aspire to is "monkey-work", you only have to be a monkey and your natural masters don't need to be much more capable.

If you are interested in avoiding a "Jetsons" future for yourself and your children, I would suggest a few things that anyone can do:

Avoid School-ish-ness.  If you can physically avoid it by homeschooling or perhaps fishing, that is best. On the other hand, if circumstances don't allow a real divorce from the institution, you can avoid the "dumbing-down" effect of school by putting what bits of time you have to better use than cruising the halls or creating pools of slobber on your desk.  I raced through math with good grades and spent my earned "free time" in class creating a little comedy called the "Term O' The Day" that I distributed covertly. No monkey could produce that!

Emphasize Production over Consumption. Fight the urge to spend your time and money trying to buy happiness or prestige. The only reason to have an iPad is if you are developing "apps" for it. Convince your kids that the only decent reason to be a "gamer" is to be a game developer. You will always do well to be more productive than consumptive, which I harp to the kids about a lot. Since you live in a "monkey" world, why not profit from them?

Build Your Creativity. Even if your creative efforts don't make you a dime (like this blog), you will be a far better person for having made the effort. Instead of watching TV, put on your own play. Instead of just reading a book, why not write one? Rather than eat pre-prepared meals out of the freezer, why not buy the ingredients yourself and make your own (and likely better)? Don't bother so much with a monetary cost/benefit analysis because being creative pays off in dividends far beyond the bank account.

Be "Value-Added". I used to do monkey-work for a government program, handing out food vouchers to poor families. I joked around with my clients and had fun bringing them "raw entertainment value" and I had one of the highest caseloads because my clients liked to come around! (I am not advocating the government dole here.) It would have worked in any endeavor and made people's days more pleasant and my life far more fulfilling.

Everything around us seems to encourage toward "monkey-work" and a sad life that accompanies a lack of real accomplishment.  Don't let it happen to you!