A.I. Cupid?

The interwoven topics of data mining, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data are common topics of discussion amidst some technical forums I frequent. For the handful of regular readers here, you know that most of those topics fall under the “#DoNotWant” category. It’s this sort of thing that causes things like the purchase of wild bird seed or the time of day you pay your bill to affect your credit rating. Data mining is how Target found out a teenage girl was pregnant before her parents. Self-driving cars are great until that realization hits that you’ll never own the car1 no matter how much you pay for it.

But despite my major aversion to all of these things, I still think there’s at least some good that’s possible. Watson is helping to diagnose strange diseases at rates and accuracies that rival the most skills doctors. A more crude form of AI has helped over 200,000 people successfully fight parking tickets. And I wonder if online dating could be one such area.

If you haven’t had the privilege of trying an online dating site, consider yourself fortunate. Nobody really likes it; it’s really the cesspool of humanity. Guys commonly open with crude remarks and make girls feel uncomfortable, girls commonly fill their picture slots with heavily-filtered duckface selfies at the expense of actually writing a profile, and the fact that ghosting is an actual thing done by both sides is almost as sad a reflection on our society as the fact that most of those conversations started with a “swipe right” in the first place. It’s really a pretty sad state of affairs when 59% of US adults consider this a “good way” to meet people to date.

So, in what sort of ways could AI help with this task? Let’s start by coming up with metadata with which to help influence matching. Are you a night person that can’t stand morning people who expect coherent thoughts (or worse – excitement) by 6AM? Are you a morning person with a group of friends who keep inviting you to things well past your bedtime? Logon times and frequency could help match this. What about profile length? Does a given user prefer lengthy profiles to succinct ones? Does the quantity of pictures of a potential match have an impact on their swipe direction? What about the use of a mobile app or website vs. a desktop, or the type of device? Does the user log in multiple times daily, or are they a once-a-month type? Is a given user more likely to send the first message? What about sending the last message (or failing to do so)? How long does an individual communicate through the service before providing e-mail or phone number? All of these are ways that the usage of a dating site itself could help narrow down the possibilities.

Then, there’s the more invasive sort of thing. Does a user prefer particular colors in photos? Are there common words in the profiles of their likes and dislikes? On the flipside, if a user is consistently declined, do they have anything in common with others who have been declined by the same set of users (especially ones who have been liked by that user) that can help optimize their profile? Could this information even help provide an “estimated interest level” and prioritize high-interest matches? Could users be penalized for ghosting or crude remarks, or conversely given preferred status for positive discussions? Let’s go for broke and incorporate an analysis of e-mail accounts and social media profiles, or even Amazon purchase histories, Netflix watching lists, and browser history to get the most complete possible profile of a person. Comparing that level of data between two people may make it entirely possible to get it right on the first swipe.

Yente is a well-known character in Fiddler on the Roof for being a matchmaker, and she was good at it in part because she knew everything about everyone, for good or for ill. The art of matchmaking requires more than simply a few photos and a laundry list of favorite foods and movies (or, heaven forbid, a collection of emojis) to be effective. I think that such a system could be effective, more so than the current situation as it presently stands. The question is whether letting a computer program mine vast amounts of data to become a 21st century Yente by determining the true nature of a person is the sort of tradeoff that makes the data collection worth it.

For some, it would be. And I submit that there is a fortune to be made as a result.

“Calm Down”

A meme has made its rounds on the internet on more than one occasion. It reads, “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever actually calmed down by being told to calm down”. A variant of it reads, “Telling a girl to calm down is like trying to baptize a cat”. Now, there is definitely something to this concept, but while most people just take the laugh at face value and move on to the next adorable kitten, I did what I normally do – spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating the notion. Here’s what I came up with…

 

Most people have a normal state of ‘calm’. Sure, Bill up in the psych wing at General Hospital might not be, but if you ride the subway to work you can probably walk from one end of the train to the other and not find someone going bananas. So, if most people are ‘calm’ by default, then the person who is not calm has some sort of external force preventing them from being calm, and what is being demonstrated is the result of that force on them.

When interacting with others in that state, their agitation will be apparent and relevant to those with whom they interact. Sometimes, saying “calm down” is the result of trying to get someone to speak slowly enough to understand what is being said so that assistance can be provided (a 911 operator would be a go-to example of this scenario). In most cases, however, the phrase “calm down” is not dealing with that sort of a situation. Usually it has a far more nefarious and even hurtful undertone.

“Calm down” can frequently imply that it is the agitated person’s responsibility to force themselves to act in a manner contrary to how they feel. It also indicates that the second person does not place the same value on the situation which has caused the person’s state of unrest, which can imply that the person is a poor judge of a situation, or that assistance will not be provided because the two people cannot agree on the proper value to place on that situation, resulting in further agitation. The person has basically been told, “I don’t care about what’s bothering you, I’m not going to help you resolve the matter, and further interaction requires you to act in a manner contrary to your feelings right now”. When phrased this way, it is far more apparent why saying “calm down” is not the way to diffuse a situation.

“So what do we say instead, Joey?” I thought you’d never ask. “What’s wrong” is usually a good start – it implies that you are listening to what’s troubling the other person. If you’re unable to help, say so, but make it clear that it’s because you’re unable to, rather than unwilling. If you are able to help, be sure to ask first – imposing help upon someone who doesn’t desire it will likely become more agitated because their assessment of the situation is such that the complexity has increased, rather than decreased. Sometimes, having a platform on which to state the problem out loud is enough – think about the times when a joke “sounded better in your head”, and consider that the phenomenon of something being more clear when being spoken aloud happens in other situations as well. The brain uses different sections for speech, which is why speaking aloud can greatly assist in solving the problem. Finally, even if you assess a problem to be far less urgent than the person speaking, ensure they know you are not simply dismissing it, but have given it actual thought and consideration yourself. It may not help in the moment, but it will ultimately assist in the relationship as a whole.

 

Keep calm, and carry on.

Fireproof: The Movie Loved By Christians Who Don’t Have High Standards

At the behest of a reader and stemming from an in person discussion, I present to you my rant.

For back story, Fireproof is a 2008 movie from the Christian movie production studio Sherwood Pictures. It is intended to show God’s grace and providence as a couple headed for divorce makes a last ditch effort to avoid the fate. I think the premise is noble, and I’m certainly not opposed to what it’s ultimately trying to say. “It means well”, though I’m certain anyone who read the title of this blog post knows what’s coming. I’m certainly not entirely on board with Jim Sterling’s critique in its entirety, though you’re going to see some overlap…

Let’s get past the terrible visual effects of the houses on fire (not once did I ever believe anything was aflame), and the awkward dialog that isn’t rivaled by half the Writing Prompts on Reddit, Kirk Cameron’s inability to actually act like someone who’s upset with their wife, and focus on the massive plot point problems.

First off, in the initial “I want out” scene, Cameron very clearly avoids using the word “bitch”. Why was this? Because it was a Christian movie…and we can’t have swearing in a Christian movie! Nevermind that they were both unsaved at that point, they were talking about divorce and an allusion was made to causing her physical harm, and Cameron expresses a litany of derogatory remarks toward her…but the use of an expletive is where they apparently drew the line. This sort of double standard illustrates a chronic problem I see amidst Christian culture that while the Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth”, unwholesome words did proceed from his mouth, but somehow what was actually said was acceptable, while the word “bitch” was not. While we’re focusing on this scene, we’ll keep in mind a very important thing that happened: SHE was the one who said “I want out”. Not him. This will become important later.

So Cameron, still an unsaved person at this point in the movie, goes to his dad who says to do ‘The Love Dare’. Now, that scene right there so heavily wreaked of product placement it seemed like it was a scene right out of The Truman Show…but whatever. To be fair, my bias might have something to do with the fact that most displays at Christian bookstores at the time had the movie and the book displayed right next to each other. So, unsaved man agrees to follow a book firmly rooted in scripture and Christian principles for…reasons, I guess. “But he really loved her inside!” Yes, yes, I know…but the kind of things The Love Dare encouraged him to do were massive steps of faith for someone who doesn’t already have some level of faith in God, and it wasn’t until far later in the movie that his wife expresses any form of positive response. Remember: she said “I want out” and he has no faith in Christ at this point, so there’s basically no reason for him to agree to it…but we’ll assume that God was working in his heart anyway, because plot.

Meanwhile, she’s found this doctor guy who treats her like a valuable person, a heavy contrast to her husband. And, to the shock of no one, she’s drawn to him. And…they kiss. Why does she do this? Because she feels no love from her husband – literally every woman I’ve spoken to, saved or not, has resonated with the appeal of a wealthy doctor taking an interest in them when their husband is busy giving her mostly-dead flowers. As a side note, literally no guy I have ever known who is making even a halfhearted attempt to express appreciation for their significant other is dumb enough to give below-gas-station-quality flowers. It is perfectly possible to take the same $20 and go to a supermarket and get something far more presentable. While the scene was intended to illustrate laziness, it came across as the opposite, because finding flowers that dead takes effort.

So, through some heavy-handed parallels with his firefighting career, and dialog about this with his firefighting buddies – y’know…because avoiding a looming divorce is exactly the kind of thing that people talk about at a fire station. Again, we’re dealing with unsaved people…save the one-dimensional guy who is only there to illustrate the perfect marriage and say “it’s hard work sometimes” when showing zero struggles and a wife who responds positively to him.

Now, as the wife and the doctor are getting closer, our unsaved husband continues on The Love Dare with no feedback (I lied: he gets feedback in the form of a longer to-do list). Then, he has his ‘Come to Jesus’ moment. Incredible a gift as Christ’s salvation is, Christian movies have distilled it into this highly cliché moment that is the second most predictable scene in a Christian movie – the first being the “I don’t need God” guy dying in a car accident toward the end but before the ultimately-happy ending for the saved people. In fairness, film does have limits to how exactly one can visualize a change in heart. That brings us to the third most cliché scene in the Christian movie genre…

The post-salvation cleansing montage! Yes, he got rid of his computer because of his porn addiction – y’know, the porn addition his wife called him out on before, (sarcasm warning) because she totally wasn’t having sexual fantasies about her doctor friend up until this point, and as we all know, lustful fantasies are only sinful if they involve the internet. Glad he took a baseball bat to the screen, his Quicken files or wedding photos or any other pieces of helpful, useful, important data might have survived! (/sarcasm) Or did he only have a computer for porn and do nothing of value on it at all, even in 2008? If he was using Turbotax and didn’t have a backup of his tax records, he’s just committed a crime and he’ll probably need those tax records in divorce court, but that’s not a big deal, I guess. Anyway, he doubled down on cutting out all the things that were getting in the way of his focus on his marriage, even though it’s several weeks into “The Love Dare” and she still hasn’t given him any indication that his efforts were anything but futile. Again, this is bothersome because of its underlying implication: either Cameron has attained massive amounts of faith two weeks into his salvation, or we have lazy script writers who treated reconciliation as inevitable. Look, I’m all about faith that can move mountains, and it’s incredible to see. I’ve witnessed it in my own life, in the life of friends, and growing up in church means that hearing such testimonies are wonderfully common. I just don’t expect it in two weeks’ time from someone facing a divorce with no indication that the divorce isn’t inevitable. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with the building materials in one hand, and a weapon in the other (Neh 4:17), and it would not be any less an expression of faith for Cameron to continue The Love Dare while simultaneously preparing for the divorce.

Now, we get to the dying father-in-law whose surgery, conveniently, cost the exact amount he just so happened to have had in savings for his boat. Anyone who didn’t predict exactly what happened as soon as the numbers were revealed to be so elegantly aligned gets to go sit in the corner and think about that. Anyway, our friend the wife believes her doctor friend just gave $24,000 to save her dad, and that a “thank you lunch” was going to settle the books. Sorry, I’ve yet to meet a saved person who would do something like that with a tenth of that amount, and she just assumes a “thank you so much” is going to cover that, in that context? No, it doesn’t. Her almost comical inability to express even the slightest skepticism in the doctor’s motives is the only reason why we have the big reveal at the end. That level of egregious naiveté went beyond lazy writing to outright insulting. 

We then come to find out that he gave up his boat to save her dad, and we’re all floored by the level of sacrifice shown here, as well we should be…because this is either the most incredible demonstration of faith in God ever scripted into a film, or he is so royally incompetent and thoroughly lacking wisdom or common sense that he should probably run for public office. I know I keep harping on this, but it’s very important: she said “I want out”. Anyone here been through divorce court and have the husband win? Especially the kind of husband acting the way he was up until the past week? No. No you have not. She has not said anything indicating that the divorce papers he found on the counter were negotiable. As far as he knew, he was going to end up in divorce court despite all of his efforts to make things right. If he had half a brain cell, he’d know he was going to need that money for his legal fees. If not the fees directly, that savings account is guaranteed to be a prime target for the settlement because “she paid all the bills”.  If she can prove that, the judge isn’t stopping at simply giving her half. Spent or not, that pile of money has got a big red bullseye on it once the court proceedings start. Divorce court doesn’t look at money you presently have available to you, or how you spent it, the judge looks at gross earnings over the course of the marriage.

Moreover, it was rather miraculous that the father-in-law recovered, and did so as readily as he did. Really, it was more likely that the father-in-law would have had complications which would have left them in massive medical debt, divorce court would have been how Cameron spent his accumulated vacation time, and if his $24,000 nest egg wasn’t spent either writing checks to her or his lawyer, it would have been quite helpful to cover rent for his studio apartment while he gets his pay garnished through alimony checks. He’ll likely end up living at the firehouse for quite some time. Is it any less faith to have a conversation to check to see if his wife’s mind has changed at all? Isn’t is simply wisdom to ask if she’s willing to give him a bit more time to prove that he’s truly making changes that we, the audience, know he is? The audience knows that she has been softening and reconsidering, but he doesn’t. While some might say “well duh! of course it’s not faith if you know things are going to go more smoothly!” I’ll retort, “at what point in the movie do we see God giving him a clear sign that it was His will to do what he did?” It’s true faith if it’s clear God called him to clean out his bank account and help someone in need. It is a gamble if he’s “doing the right thing because of convenient circumstances” with no clarity one way or the other. If he’s helping his father-in-law with the express intent of his wife ultimately finding out as she does in the film, then it’s not faith, and it’s not altruism, it’s very expensive manipulation with a coincidentally positive outcome. No matter how this act is pitched, it’s got massive problems in direct conflict with biblical principles, but since the marriage is restored and the father-in-law survives, this is overlooked.

What does his wife do upon hearing that the surgery got paid for by her husband? Well *then* she tells her man candy that she’s going to remain faithful to her husband – the kind of thing that any unsaved, secular humanist woman would do. Her husband not treating her well established a vacuum for doctor friend to fill, and his change in behavior removed the emotional need for her to have a guy on the side. There was ZERO sacrifice on her end – the doctor was used while he was needed and then let go. She refused to acknowledge effort and intermediate steps, she did nothing but point out her husband’s failures and shortcomings, she didn’t show any sign of reciprocity toward him (instead putting that effort into her man on the side), and this is all a result of her not only saying that she wanted out, but going to a lawyer without him to get the paperwork for it while actively pursuing an emotional bond with her doctor friend? Let’s call it what it was: she cheated on her husband until it was convenient for her not to. No, she didn’t have sex…but I’ll debate anyone who says that a physical sexual act is cheating, but actively pursuing another person as an emotional replacement while intentionally and consistently giving your husband the cold shoulder isn’t. She asked for the divorce, got the paperwork, didn’t show her husband any level of appreciation for his attempts to change before he bet the farm, cheated on him, and somehow she’s the victim in all this because he yells and wants a boat? Sorry, I’m fresh out of sympathy.

…And, once his sacrifice comes to light and she finds the book, she completely reconsiders, takes the divorce off the table, puts her wedding ring back on, they have their slow motion silhouette kiss in the firehouse, she has her come-to-Jesus moment, and they live happily ever after. Of course the filmmakers wanted to express some form of equality, so they had Cameron’s father character indicate that the roles were reversed when they did the love dare. I’ll simply take them on faith at this point, because there’s about a thousand questions I have regarding this arrangement…but really, it again felt more like a sales pitch to ensure that it was clear that women could try the things in the book, too.

Now, all of that being said, I really, really am glad for all the positivity the movie has expressed. I am grateful for all the hearts and lives it touched. I am grateful that there is even a forum where people go to help each other get through the more difficult dares in place. I believe The Love Dare is ultimately a good thing for Christian culture, I believe it’s a good thing for our society, and I absolutely believe it’s scripture-inspired…I truly and sincerely believe that God can use anything to advance His kingdom and reveal His glory. However, Fireproof is incredibly one-sided, tenuous in its adherence to scriptural principles, sets unreasonable expectations for both sides, is imbalanced in how it assigns responsibility, and wraps everything in a neat little bow in order to ensure that everyone who saw it got the warm and fuzzies when it was over – because if there’s anything that is more cliché in a Christian movie than a come-to-Jesus montage, it’s a perfectly neat and thoroughly predictable ending. After all, if the movie ended with Cameron’s wife following through with the divorce anyway, Cameron declaring bankruptcy, the father-in-law dying, and Cameron having to rebuild his life from the ground up being a missionary in a third world country that lacked running water, The Love Dare wouldn’t have hit the New York Times’ bestseller list and churches wouldn’t be showing it at their annual Married Couples Weekend Getaways.

 

Edit: Made some grammatical changes and rewordings for clarity.
Second Edit: Some more clarity changes.

Beware your biases…and how they’re being reinforced

Go and read these two articles. I’ll wait.

http://lifehacker.com/how-sites-like-google-and-facebook-put-you-in-political-1787659102

http://lifehacker.com/this-graphic-explains-20-cognitive-biases-that-affect-y-1730901381

Did you read them both? Good. Now go read them again. I’ll wait.

 

Did you read them a second time? Half of you didn’t, and the other half didn’t read them the first time, so I’ll summarize.

The first article describes the fact that Facebook and Google tell you what they think you want to hear. Are you conservative? Don’t expect any liberal news in your Facebook feed. Are you liberal? Don’t expect Google News to show you conservative articles. Maybe you’re a person who prefers an echo chamber. That’s your right, but I would encourage you to at least recognize that it is a right you are exercising.

The second article is a bit less social media specific, and talks about the psychology behind our own self-built echo chamber. Are you more worried about being killed by ISIS, or by a car accident? Most people are worried about ISIS, but the ISIS death toll, as of January, is a bit under 19,000 people, exactly half as many who died in car accidents just in 2015. This is an example of “Salience”, number 16 on the list of cognitive biases we face as humans.

It’s vitally important to be aware of these things when making decisions, be it what cell phone to get, or who to vote for. Know what’s manipulating the information you’re using to make a decision…and whether you’re really making a decision in the first place.

Star Trek looks good at 50. Society doesn’t.

I saw a blog post earlier today regarding Star Trek. The core point it made was that Star Trek assumed a post-scarcity world in some respects, while not in others, and that there truly isn’t such a thing as a post-scarcity world possible. The example used was the concept of the Neutral Zone, and that space could be owned in a world where famine was a thing of the past because of replicators.

I don’t think it’s hypocritical to assume that there would still be a need for rules in a society where everybody is fed and housed and actively contributing to society. Gene Roddenberry most definitely modeled the Star Trek universe as one where communism was successful and worked out as Karl Marx envisioned. It’s amongst the things that makes the optimism of Star Trek attractive. However, the concept of ‘ownership’ is still very much alive and well. It’s not “everybody’s uniform”, it’s “Picard’s uniform”. It’s not ‘everybody’s starship’, it’s the Federation Starship Enterprise. Possession hasn’t gone away.

However, Star Trek only works because it operates under the assumption that man is basically good. The series generally reflects this. However, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is noble when involving self-sacrifice, but easily leads to tyranny of the majority at a societal level.

There were plenty of assumptions about how things would go in a post-scarcity society in Star Trek, and yes, it’s a near-utopian place where there is little want. However, there is another depiction of a post-scarcity society where everyone is taken care of: Wall-E.

Life aboard the Axiom is a life-long vacation, filled with swimming pools and virtual golf and smoothie cups and screens plastered in ads – and they didn’t even have holodecks! Side note: the least believable thing about The Next Generation was that fifteen year old Wesley Crusher had access to a holodeck and used them for scientific simulations…I’ve got some lovely beachfront property in Siberia to sell you.

What stopped the Enterprise from being the Axiom? What stops people from being endless consumers and causes them to desire to contribute and achieve the level of excellence they demonstrate? Because the way the world is right now, there is nothing to demonstrate to me that the level of self-determination evident in the Star Trek universe is any more fictitious than warp drive, inertial dampeners, or transporters.

And after my years of providing tech support, I believe that I’ll see warp drive long before I’ll see a society with an internal drive to better itself.

No sex in the Prayer Room

Back in 1999, comedian Chris Rock did a song entitled ‘No Sex in the Champagne Room’, informing listeners that, despite any claims made by a stripper, that there is no possibility that said act will actually happen. He did, incidentally, give the most accurate horoscope ever given in that song, indicating that each sign was ‘gonna die’.

Now, I’m not saying that I think couples should copulate in a church’s prayer room as a general practice. My thought goes a bit deeper. Those of you who are reading this who grew up in church, think about what most churches say about sex: “Don’t do it independent of marriage”. Now obviously, yes, that is a biblical principle that certainly should be made clear, for plenty of reasons. I don’t dispute that. Here’s the part that I find curiously – and consistently – absent in the church: the other part where married couples are unilaterally encouraged to engage in sex. The youth group is all told ‘don’t have sex’. Married couples are told…not much, because the stipulation no longer applies to them, and…they’ll figure it out, I guess?

Perhaps this is just a limitation of perspective as I’m not married myself, but why isn’t there some form of sex ed in churches with marriage ministries? It’s a cultural catch-22 because it’s both shameful for people to imagine someone having sex with their spouse, and it’s also shameful for people to know that they don’t have sex with their spouse. I’ve yet to step foot in a church that has any sort of specifically assigned ‘time and place’ to discuss sex within marriages, nor have I ever had a discussion with a married couple with regards to their sex life.

Now, the most likely thought being had here is, “but that’s private and personal, just between them!” Well, to be fair to this point, it’s certainly up to a given couple as to whether they would be okay discussing sex with someone who isn’t a part of that marriage, and due to cultural norms, it’s certainly not the kind of topic that is likely to ‘just come up’. However, I’ve somehow managed to speak with married couples about their jobs, their children’s health, their food allergies, their pre-marital dating story, their finances (including a near-foreclosure), their medical problems, their military service, their political inclinations, and in one case, their spouse’s infidelity. Somehow all of those things can ‘just come up’ over the course of a social visit or computer repair, but whether they preferred vaginal penetration or anal penetration has never once come up? Or does the fact that you probably had a response that was something to the effect of “uhm…can you tone it down a bit?” a symptom of the very matter at hand?

Find me one other blessing from God that is as socially repressed as marital sex.  Find me one other topic that is as explicitly discussed in the Bible as a God-given gift, that is as ignored by most churches as sex among their married members (and no, interdenominational doctrinal differences about whether the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still a thing doesn’t count). As the Body of Christ, we can do better. God’s wonderful gift of sex deserves better. The Body of Christ itself deserves better.

Cynicism

I get accused of being a cynic. A lot. There’s definitely a level of truth to it.

Yesterday, I was at 7-11, and there was a sign that I could use the mobile app to pay bills with cash. This seemed like an interesting and helpful tool (I frequently receive cash from clients), but I immediately dismissed the idea when I realized that 7-11 would have a list of my bills and when I paid them, something that is already being used by a number of companies for their benefit, not mine. Using such an app would produce additional insight regarding the fact that I’m paying with cash, which store I do it in, what time of day, and how frequently.

I may well be a cynic, but since virtually every app is doing some form of data collection these days, it’s a tough sell for me to get excited about an app anymore. This is coming from someone who used to jailbreak his iPhone to get apps before the App Store opened its intangible doors.
…posted from the WordPress app.

29 things I learned about my 20s before turning 30

This is it: the last day of my twenties. With less than three hours to go, I figured I would reflect on what I’ve learned…

  1. How close friends are is highly elastic…but depth can be determined based on how easily you snap back into being friends after having not seen each other for years.
  2. Travel in your twenties. You’re old enough to see things and try things without other people telling you what to do, while also inherently being amidst a microcosm where “simply making decisions based solely on what you want” is practice you can get. Meet new people, get some perspective on the world, be an outsider.
  3. Barring some sort of windfall, you’ll be paying off your student loans for more than ten years. Stay on top of it, don’t miss a payment, and pay a bit more than the minimum if you can…but don’t let paying your student loans get in the way of traveling. Your debt will be there when you get back.
  4. Three subpoints about drinking:
    1. Don’t do it to excess.
    2. If you’re going to break the first rule, do it in your early twenties. Its novelty goes downhill very quickly in the second half.
    3. Don’t be stupid – have a sober friend who’s got your back and can prevent you from making a bad decision.
  5. Learn to cook. You don’t have to be able to win an episode of Chopped, but have two or three go-to meals you know how to make well enough to make for gatherings.
    1. Have some cookware. Doesn’t have to be some thousand dollar massive set, but $75 at Big Lots will get you 2/3 of what you need.
  6.  Learn to dance. Specifically, learn to ballroom dance. If you’re half decent at leading, you can pull any person onto the dance floor with you, and you’ll be the life of the party as you ballroom dance to “Party Up”, or some other wildly not-ballroom-dance-music.
  7. Odds are, you’ll probably get into a car accident.
    1. Don’t text and drive. It’s a worse habit than smoking.
    2. Keep your cool. The other person at the accident site probably won’t…but keep your cool.
    3. If nobody is leaving the scene in an ambulance, consider yourself incredibly blessed. You’ll probably have plenty of paperwork and phone calls ahead of you…but you’re in a place where you can make them, and you’re unlikely to be ending up in court.
  8. Learn to debate the side of the argument you disagree with. Second Amendment is sacrosanct? Give me three reasons for gun control. Love your Mac? Come up with three reasons to get a PC. Despite the #FeelTheBern bumper sticker on your car, give me three reasons why Trump might be a good candidate. It’s not always easy, but being able to debate on the side of an argument with which you disagree gives you the ability to go past the rhetoric and oft-repeated talking points, and instead find reasons that resonate with you. It may change your view, or at least change how you discuss these topics with people with whom you disagree.
  9. When you start your twenties, you’ll know that actions speak louder than words. By the end of your twenties, you’ll (hopefully) be able to act accordingly.
  10. If you start your twenties adhering to a particular faith, you’ll likely end it differently. I’m not saying that you’ll walk away from your faith, but your twenties will challenge it tremendously, and the way your faith is implemented at the end if your twenties will look different than when you started. This is not a bad thing.
  11. You might be married. You might not. Either way, you’re fine. The real lesson is not comparing yourself to someone else or allowing someone else’s actions in that respect to be a basis for your own self-acceptance. You probably don’t want to be married to that person’s spouse, anyway.
  12. On the heels of that, your value as a person is not determined by your Facebook likes or Instagram followers.
  13. Depending on your job, you might finally get away from homework and textbooks. Rock on. Some jobs will still saddle you with both of those.
  14. Knowing where your data lives is important. So is making backups. Odds are pretty good that you’ll lose data during your twenties.
  15. You’ll be making lots of very important decisions with a whole lot of data missing. This is unfortunately going to be something you’ll do for the rest of your life, and yes, it’s terrifying. You’ll make it.
  16. Your relationship with your parents will evolve. They’ll always be your parents, but becoming more of an adult means you’ll have different kinds of conversations, and they’ll worry differently. This probably applies to your siblings, too.
  17. Your drawer of deprecated cell phones will accumulate. Your closet of clothes that have gone out of style will accumulate. Set limits and be willing to let go of things you’ll no longer use. Keeping everything that is of sentimental value means that you’ll clutter your living space with things that are of no practical use. Keep some. Donate the rest. Live within your means.
  18. Pick your battles. There are few things in life worse than when a relationship is the cost of “being right”. The corollary to this is that if you opt out of a battle, truly opt out of it. Don’t put it in storage, ready to go when you need examples to win an argument. If you’ve opted out of a battle, commit to that situation being inadmissible in future arguments.
  19. Jobs come and jobs go. Know when to hold and know when to fold, but being unduly loyal to an employer is opening yourself up to being taken advantage of.
  20. Volunteer somewhere. Some of my most well-invested time is the time I gave away. Lots of people need your help, your skills, your hands, your smile.
  21. Splurge on something once in a while that’s really, really worth it – it’s an investment that will keep you from making every impulse purchase you see at Target.
  22. Save some money. No, this isn’t a contradiction with the last point. Keep some money in the bank.
  23. The more time you spend trying to get someone to appreciate you, the less likely it is that you’ll be successful, and the more likely it is that you’ll blow off people who do appreciate you in the process.
  24. Get a good chiropractor. It’s a great way to help your body, and it’s one of the few doctors whose procedures actually feel good when performed.
  25. Take pictures of the people, not the things. Did you see the photo gallery from my last trip? Without referencing it, I’ll bet the two most memorable pictures are the one of me on the beach and the selfie with Jon and Lauren, though perhaps you said the lightning one. There were fifteen images in that gallery. Photos of things are helpful to tell the story, but they’re generally forgettable. There are (literally) millions of images of the Eiffel Tower on the internet…but you will be the only one who takes a picture of you and your friends with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
  26. When you start your twenties, the contacts in your phone will almost entirely consist of friends and family. Use your twenties to make connections. Get the number of an accountant you trust. Get the number of a travel agent, a mechanic, a lawyer, and an insurance rep. These people will help you through life – they can answer the quick and simple questions better than the internet…but return the favor. If they save you a bunch of money or headache without formally billing you, get them a gift card for a nice restaurant, or send a bottle of wine to the office. Don’t take advantage of kindness, but know where to look for it.
  27. Learn when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em. It’s not always easy to know when to stop pumping time or money into something, cars and relationships being the go-to examples. Like I said, you’ll make some messy decisions with incomplete data sometimes. You can’t always make the right choice, but remember that inaction is still a choice.
  28. Be kind as a matter of course. Hold doors. Help people struggling with heavy packages. Be patient with the old lady at the grocery store who’s trying to win the exact change trophy. Don’t get angry when someone cuts you off in traffic. Let someone else have the last slice of cake. Buy someone a cup of coffee. The simple kindnesses become a habit. That habit means that you will be adding positivity to the world.
  29. Have fun. This is the one decade of your life where you’ll be able to make decisions and mistakes in an environment where you’ll still have time to bounce back. It’s a valuable time. Enjoy every one of the 3,652 days your age starts with a ‘2’.

 

3,650 days until I write about what it’s like to be in my thirties.

Forgotten Knowledge

A friend of mine asked me to conjure up a working Windows 98 computer for her daughter to use to play some old school edutainment games (y’know…from the good ol’ days where you bought the game on a CD-ROM and that was that, rather than getting nagged to purchase ‘lives’ or ‘coins’ or whatever). I managed to come up with a basically-working one that just needed a bit of work to get prepped for the task, namely, upgrading the hard disk. When I did this, the 200GB drive only detected the first 2GB. I remembered that this computer was from the era when it was required to manually tell the motherboard how much storage space the hard disk would be able to handle…but not in GB’s, in Cylinder/Head/Sector (CHS) format. To further complicate things, the computer only allowed me to reference the first 64GB of the drive, because the motherboard couldn’t address any more than that. Even so, a 64GB hard disk in the Windows 98 era is a bottomless well; I edited video on a tenth of that.

The process of doing all of this dug into the deepest recesses of my memory. This was especially challenging because most of the support information for computers of this era predates Google, and thus, most web pages that Google scours – though notably the Google Groups archive of Usenet was particularly helpful for searching purposes. Other things, I either guessed, simply remembered, was able to piece together, or called my friend Bob who described his 58-year-old self as ‘ancient’, especially when I brought up fixing an issue by “performing a text edit on autoexec.bat”. Ultimately, things are going smoothly; I look forward to completing my work on this machine.

The Washington Post published an article last year about disruptive technologies and how they changed our society. While we tend to think of ‘the internet’ as disruptive (and indeed it was/is), the argument the article makes is that the even more disruptive 20th century technology was the refrigerator. Pre-refrigeration households spent approximately 58 hours a week on housework, in the 1990’s, that was down to 19, for houses that were, on average, about twice the size. More relevant to the point, things like pickling, meat curing, canning, cheese making, and other forms of food preservation were things that were generally part and parcel with cooking, that relatively few people in the western world today need to do – and even those that do (professional meat curers and cheese makers aside), are usually doing so due to personal desire, rather than a requirement to prevent food spoilage.

I haven’t thought about cylinders, heads, and sectors in years. I’m *just* young enough to remember seeing CHS figures on the labels appended to hard disks, but too young to have actually had to configure a BIOS with one. I remember running into a SCSI controller once, and hearing that it was quite the project to set up even a relatively simple SCSI controller with a RAID array, but I’ve never made one – setting up a RAID array with SATA drives and modern controllers is a breeze by contrast. Network cards that used to have their modes and parameters set by DIP switches are now configured entirely in software. I don’t remember the last time I had to manually determine IRQs for my hardware, I’ve never set up a network that used coaxial cabling, I never had to manually install a TCP/IP stack into a computer in order to get it on the internet, and I only barely remember the ire that was “changing the font” within Wordperfect 5.1, especially if you didn’t have a mouse.

How much knowledge has been removed from the general societal consciousness due to its need being abstracted away through technological advancement? What else has been lost because it was “common knowledge” until it wasn’t? It’s amazing how even the banal, everyday things that nobody notices now are noticed later – like the number of people smoking indoors in this gallery of shopping malls from 1989.

Perhaps the fact that I’m less than 30 days from turning 30 has something to do with my pondering about the passage of time. For the first time in my life, I’m seeing a clear delineation between the ‘present’ and the ‘past’. I’m starting to see knowledge I gained become obsolete.

 

Life itself looks different.

Minor Differences

“Let it rain” is a common lyric in worship songs, where we petition the Lord to make His will known, and His blessings evident.

“Make it rain” is what rappers do in strip clubs to flaunt their wealth by quickly dispersing stacks of bills.

 

Words matter.