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If you have just bought a new computer it probably has all sorts of unwanted third party software pre-installed (because it profits the manufacturer). For some reason, most people just live with it, sighing frequently and clicking “No Thanks” for the four thousandth time on stupid invitations to upgrade or purchase or enroll. This is a bit like buying a new car and finding the company has put little speakers everywhere to encourage you to only buy one kind of gas, or stop by Best Buy or only trust a certain make of car alarm. 

Others with older computers may be living with a digital equivalent of hoarding. There can be programs and files that are unwanted, obsolete or even malicious. This situation can mean that system resources are being squandered for no reason. Fixing this CAN mean a livelier computer. Outside of having good virus check/anti-malware programs there are programs to help unburden your computer. Here are three good ones.  Continue reading

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The streaming music service Pandora is wonderful but there are a few simple ideas that can make it perform better.

First, get involved, respond with thumbs up or down on the winners and losers.

But wait! Before you click thumbs up on a song, remember Pandora doesn’t know what you like about that song. Don’t upvote because it gives you happy memories of an old friend, upvote if the general characteristics of that song (genre, melodic style, etc.) are the things you want to hear more of. If a station plays a song you sort of like but you don’t really want to upvote, just let it go by. If you don’t vote it down, it will stay in the list of “acceptable” songs.

When making a new station think the same way: Do you want all the sorts of songs that artist ever made as the station seed? Or is it one or two songs that you love? Be specific.

Unless you want an “Oldies” station, be careful about upvoting old songs, Pandora seems to have a weakness for drifting toward retro.

It can be effective to use several artists or songs for a station but don’t make it too diverse or it will lack a firm style. Instead of trying to make one very mixed station, try making a bunch of very tightly focused stations and then turning on shuffle. This can give you the best of both worlds: Different kinds of music in the mix but all of it focused tightly on what you really like!

 

 

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As Boy comes up to his 4th birthday I have to marvel at how fast it has all gone. Of course, that is exactly what veteran parents always say. As my friend Walt told me; “Remember, you can’t go back and take pictures.”

As Mindy lay recovering on his first night the nurses escorted me to his incubator. I have to strain to remember what he looked like at first: That tiny little red person left high and dry in an incubator. He looked like a little old man in a nursing home but he still felt like a vibrant little person. He was so delicate but I could hear life humming in him. He had to be tough to hold on as he did. My wordy mind just sort of shut down as I watched him. Inside I heard a strange machinery coming fully online. It wasn’t verbal or conceptual, it was just a new fact of my life. Translated it would have said:  “This is mine. This is my job. I’m your guy.”

I reached my hand through the little window and touched his hand. His hand closed around my index finger and held on warm and solid.

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Within months there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in Biology that I find very exciting.  First, they’ve discovered a second code language in DNA. Top level language controls which proteins are made and the second language which was hidden WITHIN the first one controls turning genes on and off. Amazing. Huge implications. And besides that, this extraordinary study below indicates a genetic version of updates to the knowledge base caused by the life experiences of the animal. This is like experiential Lamarckism. 
 
If this study holds up it’s huge.
  1. Mice were trained to be afraid of the smell of cherry blossoms (I don’t even want to know HOW).
  2. These mice later had litters which had never been exposed to cherry blossom and when they were, they were afraid of it.
  3. These second generation mice later had litters and their children…were afraid of the same smell.

This is obviously not direct alteration of the genetic code, it’s a methylation change called epigenetics. What it amounts to though is a much more powerful means of shaping evolution than sheer randomness, but one that doesn’t rely on some variety of intelligent design.

Continue reading

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It occurs to me that the most basic refutation of Ayn Rand is what would happen if all people everywhere were passionate “objectivists” (her incredibly self-congratulatory name for her “system”). It would be a planet of arrogant lizards hissing at each other.

Rand’s philosophy requires a world pre-populated with the rich and poor already in place so she can align herself with the one and spit on the other. Her own lifestyle, the one she oddly evangelized, requires losers to step on and revile. Besides communists and such though, these losers include everyone who shows some societal concerns and compassion. It includes mother love, family love, friendship, and any impulse toward generosity. Rand and her followers are philosophical and emotional day-traders shorting human relationships. She is the Donald Trump of philosophers, a humorless solipsist locked in combat against growth. Ego death is the ultimate terror. Transformation is failure. Compromise is weakness. Generosity is a character defect.

Her protagonists are epic narcissists held aloft by their contempt for the less self-involved. They don’t grow, they are complete and perfect glittering egos, high on self-righteous indignation at the idea of ever sublimating their hunger for the good of another. The only character arcs of her cardboard thespians are pauses to listen in awe for seven or eight pages to grinding monologues that transform them into perfect compliance with her philosophy. Her stories are a wish-fulfillment Inferno/Paradiso of punishing those who disagree and rewarding those in perfect compliance.

Ayn Rand produced only one consumable that anyone would pay for: That product is a greasy intellectual lotion to be rubbed upon the rich leaving them with a golden glow of complete satisfaction with the status quo. It has a secondary property of encouraging some people who aren’t rich to assert complete justification in behaving like assholes any time they feel like it.

As a totally selfish asshole, Rand realized that a product niche existed and she could fill it very lucratively. The delicious malicious truth is that in her purest, most “objective” thinking she is utterly dependent upon the small change of other people, the dollar fifty contributions of the boring, needy, prosaic people she despised. Her “philosophy/literature” is the artistic portrait of a furious toddler foot stamping or a mean teenage sister with no friends who calls everyone “loser”. Her “art” is the furious muttering self-justification of wounded self-importance lifted out of internal monologue and dribbled across endless pages.

Ayn Rand was Veruca Salt as a 3rd-semester college freshman…every single minute of her life. Her story is the loveless tragedy of a person perfectly applying the philosophy of Ayn Rand to their own life.


One of my favorite philosophers, Robert Anton Wilson on meeting Ayn Rand: “The first new dogmatism I embraced after rejecting the Marxist BS (belief system) was Ayn Rand’s philosophy (not yet called Objectivism in those days.) The Fountainhead had exactly the appeal for me that it has retained, decade after decade, with alienated adolescents of all ages. (The average youthful reader of Thus Spake Zarathustra decides he is the Superman, and the average youthful Randroid decides she is an Alienated Super Genius.) Like most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the Rand dogma and imagining I was an ‘individualist.’ “Some years later, after becoming a published writer, I actually was invited to meet Ayn Rand once. (I was ‘summoned to the Presence,’ as Arlen said.) I confessed my doubts about certain Rand dogmas and was Cast Out Into the Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud. It was weird. I thought the Trots and Catholic priests were dogmatic, but Ayn Rand made both groups look like models of tolerance by comparison. “I thought she was a clinical paranoid. It was nearly 30 years later that I found out Rand was merely on Speed all the time, which creates an effect so much like paranoia that even trained clinicians cannot always tell the difference, and some even claim there is no difference.”

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The next level of complexity is something you are a part of and something you can’t see.


The cells that actively pursue and destroy invaders in your body are showing a kind of limited independent response. They are discrete “individuals” theyjYsvcgy can learn new things (like a new antibody) and later REMEMBER those things. What language do they speak? Proteins and chemicals.  They obviously don’t have independent lives in any sense that we find it easy to relate to, but at their microscopic level of reality, they are whole, autonomous units. They are part of “Team You”, and you couldn’t live without them but do they FEEL like YOU to you? I mean do you identify with them, like “Yeah, that’s me”?
Probably not. Can they conceive of you? Perhaps they have established a cellular religion where they worship you and celebrate the oneness of all life here in the one world there is. Evil would be antigen I suppose and they would exude hymns of folded proteins.
But even if they did that they wouldn’t have any idea that the thing they were in was a human and that there were others. Some far-out cellular scientists might come up with the multiple people theory.
Anyway, down inside these cells, there are discrete building blocks of intra-cellular machinery: Vacuoles, Cell Membranes, Cell Wall, Nucleus, Golgi Body, Mitochondria, Microbodies, Microtubules, Centrioles, Flagella, Ribosomes, Endoplasmic reticulum. All of which are discrete task directed components plugging away at their jobs and constructing the cellular level of reality.
But they don’t know about cells and obviously can’t conceive of such a thing. What language do they speak? Chemicals and amino acids.
This is going to seem like a non sequitur but… I want you to think about driving. Everyone has had the experience of driving home from work for an example and then realizing that they were unaware of driving and had spent the whole ride singing or talking or thinking about other things. But that they did a fine job of driving anyway. OK, who did that? Who did the driving?
I can imagine people saying: “Some part of me, I guess”. Yeah ok, but WHAT part?
Here were some of the players engaged in driving:
  • Visual and hearing processes
  • Knowledge of physics
  • Fine motor control
  • Risk analysis
  • Awareness of Traffic laws
  • Reading
And these skills are just tools…something was purposefully using them, some amazing factor compiled all these skills into a module that ran effortlessly and without … YOU.
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What was missing was your conscious attention. Your driving was probably “flavored” by your typical personality but the reason we even notice this experience is because we weren’t there. We were off singing or talking. So who is the “we” that was off doing something else?
It’s the part we think of as ourselves for the simple reason that it’s the voice in the head module that thinks it is the REAL you. But the “ME” voice in your head is therefore just another part of you, a component of you as well. Maybe it’s the component tasked with being the spokesperson for the corporate entity called YOU. You could just as well say that YOU were driving while “some part of you” was off chatting with someone.

 

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