Back From the Reunion
Well, I went to my 20 year class reunion and had a great time. If you have the chance to do a class reunion you should go for it. My class was Triadelphia High School class of '73 in Wheeling West Virginia and we had a pretty good class. At least we still have a core group who keeps the mailing list up and makes the reunions happen.
Our reunion was a 3 day event. The first night was a get together at a park, classmates only, snack food, beer, and pop. Most of them I hadn't seen in 20 years since I moved out of state about a month after graduating.
When people started asking what I was doing these days, no one was surprised that I owned a computer software company. After a while I said, "Guess!" Everyone got it right. They all at least guessed that I was into computers. About a third said specifically software. Most assumed I owned the company. No one got it wrong.
When I was in high school I was a nerd. Not particularly disliked, but not what you would call popular. Somewhere in the last 20 years my popularity increased dramatically. I felt like a visiting celebrity. All of a sudden, I'm cool! And that's not usual for me outside the world of nerdom. It brings up the question, what's changed? Perhaps I was a lot more well-liked than I realized at the time.
One of the most interesting things was that they were very interested in how I managed to interface into reality. I remember in school being told that we may be idealistic then, but once we got out into the real world we were going have to sell out to "the system" where we would be assimilated into the culture of the brain dead.
I vowed that it would never happen to me! I was serious and it seems that others knew I was serious and that it was my responsibility to keep the vision alive (which was something that was important in that period of time). And I was happy to report that yes indeed, I held out. I'm still as idealistic as I ever was! But all these years it never occurred to me that anyone else even knew, let alone cared, that I was going to follow through.
The next day I was driving around and drove past a house I lived in from when I was 9 until I was 17. Back in 1967 I planted a pair of pine trees in the front yard and those trees are about 40 feet tall now. As I was passing the house, I noticed a guy working on his car in the back yard. I drove around the corner and down the alley and I rolled my window down and said,used to live here 20 years ago and I'm the guy who planted the pine trees in the front yard."
Anyhow, we got to talking and he gave me a tour of the house. It was amazing! They really fixed the place up. It never looked that good when I lived there. We talked for a few hours about the history of the place and I passed on the folklore about the house that was told to me by people who had been around a long time before I was.
The second day of the reunion was a somewhat formal dinner and dance. It was open to spouses. I made the trip back to Wheeling by myself so my wife wasn't along. I won an award for "the person who has changed the least", which was the only award I ever won from high school for something that wasn't technical in nature. It was also the first high school dance I went to. I never got into dancing until 2 years after I graduated and became a hippy. I made up for lost time.
The third day was a "bring the family" potluck picnic. Some of these kids are older than their parents were when I last saw them. It was almost like being in two worlds at once. We were all still the same people, yet we weren't in the same reality anymore. It was as if a lifetime had passed. Nothing had changed, yet everything was different.
If you ever get a chance to go to a reunion, especially if you're like me and you've been away for a long time, do it! If you don't you'll wish you did.
Becoming a Success
While visiting West Virginia I looked up another old friend of mine named Dave. We had a lot in common back then in that I was the math wiz at my high school and he was the math wiz at his high school. The difference was that he worked hard and played by the rules (something Clinton would have been proud of) and I was a slacker. Not only didn't I do any school work, I was a behavior problem. Every year I squeaked by and barely graduated. Dave was top of his class.
So Dave went off to college and I went off to become a hippy. Last time I saw Dave was about three years after high school when I passed through Wheeling in a school bus I was living in. Dave got married and his old lady didn't care for me much. I think she considered me a bad influence. She was probably right, but who's perfect.
So it was good to see him again and in some interesting conversations, I managed to figure out what it takes to become a success. And as a reader of Thinking Magazine, you are among the privileged few who get in on the inner circle of people who have the mysteries of the ages revealed! And don't you want to know what it is? Of course you do!
The secret to success is goals. You got to get rid of them. The problem with goals is that goals are something you have yet to accomplish and they are always out there ahead of you. You never really achieve your goals because it's a moving target. And what is someone who doesn't achieve their goals? A failure!
I have goals, but my goals are things that I've already accomplished. That way I can be a success and look back at the point in my life where I crossed the line. Yes, there I was and here I am now. Here I am, looking back and remembering the days when I was looking forward to this!
The secret is the ability to accept yourself for what you are. "But Marc", you might say. "That's easier said than done. I look in the mirror and all I see is me looking back. How do I accept myself for who I am?" Well, I'm glad you asked that question because the trick in accepting yourself for who you are is that you have to get rid of the idea of who you should be.
I am an asshole. That's my greatest gift. There are people who will tell you that being an asshole is nothing to be proud of. They are wrong! Ever notice how in many cases that people who are rich and successful are assholes? It makes you wonder if becoming rich makes you an asshole. It doesn't! But being an asshole can make you rich!
In this world there are people who are bosses and people who are employees. To be a boss you have to be able to manage people. There are those who think management is accomplished by being nice, and to a large extent it is. But the real feature that separates the "men from the boys" is that the bottom line is, I rule, and you're outta here.
Another friend of mine figured out that the reason that bosses are assholes is because scum floats. I am completely comfortable with the idea that I'm scum, and that I'm on my way to the top. I like to think of myself as a fair person, but sometimes life isn't always fair. I try not to make mistakes, but who's perfect. Sometimes I just have to say, I'm wrong and your screwed!
So here I am, my goals accomplished, accepting myself for the slime ball that I am, and feeling good about my life. So you might ask, "But what about motivation? What keeps you moving forward since you've accomplished your goals?" Nothing really. Why move forward? I'd rather be just be happy.
I own a neutered male tom cat. He lays around waiting for someone to rub his belly. That's his job! That's what he does for a living. He doesn't have any goals, he's just here. He's happy and he's enjoying life. What more could you want? Maybe if I do good in this life I'll come back as a tom cat and lay around waiting for someone to rub my belly.
So I do what I do because I want to do it. Because I like doing what I'm doing. Because it entertains me. Is it right to be this way? When you consider the alternative it looks pretty good. The alternative being the traditional model for motivation. That model is based on setting goals that you can't achieve and torturing yourself into action. Using pain and stress as the driving force.
I am an asshole. I have no goals ahead of me. I don't care if people like me. I'm free. I rule my destiny. I can do whatever I want. I fit no molds. I don't complain, and I don't explain. I play the hand I'm dealt.
The Princess VS. The Principal
Being an asshole is a valuable asset and last year I had the opportunity to pass the skill on to my daughter. She was in the eighth grade and had a Home Economics teacher who was picking on her. Jessica is a good kid and makes good grades. When I was in the eighth grade I had a teacher who picked on me and that's the year I learned how to stand up to the system. Now it was her turn.
We've always encouraged her to make her own decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions. The rules were that if she somehow managed to drop the class that she would get an "F" for the year in that class. She wanted out so bad that she was willing to accept the F. I figured that if she wanted out that bad that I would support her decision.
We set up a meeting with the teacher and the principal. As we drove to the school I told Jessica that I was prepared to go a lot further towards getting her out of the class than the school was to keep her in, and I warned her that being the asshole I am that people were likely to get angry and that she was going to see her principal in a way that she's never seen him before.
We walked in and sat down. I informed them that Jessica had made a decision to drop the class. They asked her why and she explained a few events that happened. The teacher gave her side of the story and after about a minute I could see why Jessica wanted out of her class.
We made it clear that Jessica understood that she would fail the class. They started negotiating from the perspective that she was going to stay in and that we were in the process of "working it out." I said that I didn't think they were hearing what I was saying. They assured me that they did. I said, "No, you don't understand. We are not here to work things out. Jessica had made the decision that she is dropping the class and is willing to take the F. So she's outta here."
At that point the principal threw a fit, slapping his hands on the table and stomping out of the room. We got up and left and met him in the hall. He was already coming to grips with it and apologized. He said he thought she was making the wrong decision. I said, "Perhaps so. But it's her wrong decision to make." He then said that perhaps she wasn't old enough to make that kind of decision, to which I replied, "Perhaps not. But that's my wrong decision to make."
"But", he said, "She has to learn that sometimes you have to give into authority.", to which I replied that she has to learn that sometimes she doesn't have to give into authority. Thus, Jessica got a good real life lesson in the fine art of being an asshole. Maybe someday she'll write a song about it called, "Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be Wussies."
Predicting the Weather
With today's state of the art radar and weather satellite network, the best we can do to predict the weather is a few days of accuracy. The question is, as technology advances, will we be able to eventually predict the weather a month in advance? Perhaps years in advance?
In the last issue of Thinking Magazine I mentioned that I was reading a book called "Chaos - Making a new Science". In this book they talk about this question and the answer is, No, the weather isn't predictable.
Suppose you had a very powerful computer that stored a vast amount of information about the physics of weather. It had the topology of the entire planet and was tied into a satellite sensor net that could measure temperature, air pressure, and wind velocity so fast and so accurate that it could sample every square foot of the earth at the same time.
Logically, you would assume that with this much data and computing power that you could take a sample and then predict what would happen the next second, the second after that, and so on. With such a good initial sample, you should be able to use a good mathematical model to construct what will happen well into the future. But in reality, you can't.
The first attempt at computer weather modeling was done in 1960 by Edward Lorenz with a primitive computer and a simple mathematical model. With his computer he created weather simulations. Even though his simulations had little to do with reality, they did create a fictional planet with fictional weather.
During one of his runs, he decided to save some time and restart a weather pattern in the middle of a cycle by entering the weather data and running the program from that point. He ran the simulation and the weather pattern went off in a different direction than it had on the original run.
He determined that the computer's memory stored numbers to more decimal places than he was printing out and when he re-entered the data, he left out the least significant digits. These digits were the equivalent of adding a small puff of air to the equation. The effects of this small disturbance should have dissipated and had no real effect on the overall weather patterns.
But it had the opposite effect. The effect of the disturbance multiplied to the point where the new pattern wasn't even similar to the original pattern. At this point Lorenz realized that because even the slightest disturbance created a completely different pattern, that predicting the weather was impossible. Lorenz discovered what is now called "The Butterfly Effect" which is that the air currents that are disturbed by the wings of a single butterfly are enough to change the future of weather patterns across the entire planet.
Sensitive Dependence on Initial Condition
The Butterfly Effect now has a more scientific name, Sensitive Dependence on Initial Condition. And, besides weather, all of reality is this way. If you change anything, you change everything.
I like science fiction. Star Trek the Next Generation is my favorite show. And I've always like time travel adventures, especially when they are done right.
In most time travel stories, where someone goes into the past, there is the issue that you can't disturb anything significant, otherwise, you would change the future. But, as long as you were careful you wouldn't mess up the future. For instance: If I went back in time say 100,000 years and was on an uninhabited island and moved a small rock from one place to another, surely that wouldn't make any difference. In reality, it sure would. It would change everything.
You are reading this because I'm here and the sum of my life experiences have led me to the moment of writing this magazine. If I didn't exist, you wouldn't be reading this now. But why do I exist? I'm here because of a broken condom. Had that condom not broke exactly when it did and how it did and all other conditions been exactly the same so that a particular sperm fertilized that egg, you wouldn't be reading this.
Perhaps my parents would have had three children anyhow. It would have just happened later. Perhaps, but it wouldn't have been me any more than my sister and brother are me. I am the sum of all events throughout time leading up to this moment. I'm not only a result of my conception, but the result of the conceptions of all my ancestors all the way back to the primordial soup from which life was spawned billions of years ago. Had any event that would have disturbed the process at any point occurred, you would not be reading these words now.
About 5 years ago, we had a freak weather condition. In the winter if it's drizzling and it's right at the freezing point, ice collects on the trees. Everything has to be just right for this to occur. A fraction of a degree warmer and ice doesn't form. A fraction colder and you have snow.
On this occasion everything was just right, but it was just right for several days in a row. The ice that formed was so heavy that trees all over the city started to fall over. The destruction was awesome. I've never seen so much destruction considering there was not wind, storm, or other violent event. Homes were smashed, roads were blocked, and I was without power for 10 days while they fixed the lines.
Since the city was shut down and people we home with nothing to do, about 9 months later there's a bunch of babies born at the local hospitals, people who wouldn't exist had it not been for those perfect weather conditions.
There are lots of events that occur that a slight difference would have changed your life. Ever been almost in a fatal car accident? A fraction of a second sooner or later and you would have been dead. Imagine all the things that could have happened that would have put you there. A different song on the radio could have caused you to speed up or slow down. But what of those who are killed in car accidents? The same small change in reality and they would still be here.
But it isn't just life and death events, it's everything. How did you get your job. Were you "in the right place at the right time?" What if something happened where you weren't in the right place at the right time? Where would you be now? Somewhere else I assume. Your life would be different, maybe better, maybe worse. Different friends, experiences, and everything you do affecting everything else eventually leading to an entirely different future than what will happen. Some would have had children who now won't exist. One of them might have been the next Hitler, or perhaps one of your's will.
Thus no event is an irrelevant event and every event will eventually effect every other event. That means that everything you do counts and what you do is part of the fabric of future reality. So, if someone tells you that one person can't change the world. That, "Life's a bitch, and then you die!" Tell them that every person changes the world with everything they do.
Mathematics is usually a tidy science, but there are a lot of examples of where math isn't tidy. And that's where math gets interesting. One such mathematical question is trying to figure out the length of the coast line of California.
If we were going to measure it, one way we could do it is to take a compass and spread it to 3 feet and walk it end to end down the coast line from one end to the other. This should get us close. But, if we used a compass that was 1 foot we would get a larger and more accurate value. The smaller our measurement, the more accurate our results.
The question arises, as we measure it closer and closer we get the sum of an infinite amount of numbers. Does this sum of an infinite series approach a finite number, or an infinite number?
In the case of the coast it approaches an infinite number. The coast of California is infinitely long. Based on a roughness factor, every time you shrink the measurement it is a percentage bigger than the previous measurement and being that the coastal roughness is self similar at any scale, the increase is somewhat constant.
There's a shape called a Koch snowflake that demonstrates this concept. To understand this shape you start with an equilateral triangle. You calculate it's perimeter. If the length of a side equals L then the perimeter is L * 3. Now on each side of the triangle you divide the sides into thirds and put a smaller triangle on each face that's 1/3 the length of the original triangle. It now forms a Star of David. Each side, that used to be 3 of these smaller segments long are now 4 segments long. Instead of 3 sides you have 12 sides that are 1/3 as long. Thus if P is the perimeter of the original triangle, then the perimeter of the star is P * 4 / 3.
Now, take each of these 12 sides and put a triangle on each side. Now the sides are again 1/3 the length but there are 4 times as many sides. Again we have a 4/3 increase in the perimeter. We can keep adding triangles to each side and every time the perimeter increases by 4/3. And an infinite series of 4/3 increases approaches infinity rather than a finite number. So even though the shape fits inside a circle, it is infinitely long.
Trickle Down Is Dead
Well, the budget passed, thus ending trickle down (voodoo) economics. This budget is a major step forward and Clinton did an excellent job of getting it passed in spite of a Republican boycot. He didn't get everything he wanted, but he got all he could get.
As you know it passed by one vote in both the House and the Senate. To me this means that Clinton got everything he could possibly have gotten and the bill still passed. Had he asked for more he would have lost a vote and it would have failed. Had he asked for less it would have passed by a wider margin, but he wouldn't have gotten everything he did.
Republicans are complaining that they didn't have a voice in the budget, and they are right. But it's their own fault because they started out saying they were going to vote against it.
Here's how the process works. You need a number of votes to pass a bill. Some say they aren't going to vote on the bill under any circumstances. Other say they might vote on the bill if it had some changes. What do you do to get the votes? You ignore the ones who aren't going to vote for it and you go to the ones who might vote for it and see if you can work something out.
Thus, by saying "no" the Republicans shut themselves out of the process. Had some of them said they might vote for the bill if they got some of what they wanted then they would have had a say so in the final shape of the bill and the Republicans who elected them would have had some representation. But the Republican leaders have cheated their constituents out of it and the Republican voice isn't heard, and that isn't fair to us Republicans.
In spite of all the talk about raising taxes the Clinton budget cuts taxes for more voters than it increases taxes for. Only a very few percent will see a tax increase and I don't think the pain of that will trickle down any more than the tax cuts for the rich trickled down in the 1980s. In fact, the middle and lower classes who are better off under the new budget will be able to spend more money and the wealth will trickle up so that the rich have more money to pay taxes from. As promised, Clinton put the burden back onto those who can best afford it.
In 1994 when the majority of people file their tax return and pay the same or less than they did the year before they will know that the big tax increase on the middle class was just a Republican hoax. And as the Motor Voter bill comes into effect, Republican are going to have to hussle to win elections in the years to come. That's why I am strongly urging the Republican party to change their ways before it's too late.
Midwest Republican Leadership Conference
This last weekend Springfield Missouri hosted the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference. It was held a Holiday Inn hotel 2 blocks from my office. I just happened on to it when I went over there for lunch. I got there 5 minutes before Hailey Barbour, Chairman of the Republican National Committee was about to speak.
Since I was over there for lunch anyhow, I decided to buy a ticket. He gave a pretty good speech with not too much Clinton bashing and he managed to tip toe around the abortion issue which is very divisive in the Republican party right now.
One of the tricks I've learned about being part of a audience is that any one person who starts a round of applauding can usually get the whole room to applaud. There are a lot of people who aren't really paying attention and when they hear you clap, they clap. Next thing everyone is clapping. Thus by starting to clap when I hear something I like I can make it seem to the speaker like everyone in the room likes the point that the speaker just made.
So, when Hailey said that Republicans need to show what they are for, and not just vote against everything, I led a round of applause on that issue. I did the same when he talked about the party being made of of a variety of people that had different views on the abortion issue, and that there needs to be room for everyone in the Republican party.
I also bought a ticket to the dinner that evening that featured Senator Bob Dole as speaker. I showed up early and managed to shake his hand. I told him that I was looking forward to the Republican support for NAFTA and that I hoped that this would set a precedent for Republican cooperation with the President.
Dole said the standard line about that we'll work with Clinton on what we agree with and fight him on what we don't agree with. However, during his speech he referred to what I had said when he talked about things that Republicans can work with the president on.
When Republicans bash Clinton there is this pattern where they say, "Well, Clinton might be right about this and this, BUT, we're going to fight him on this and this and this and this. As Dole spoke I tried to listen to the pattern and start the round of applause just before he got to the BUT. What this did was send a message to Dole that Midwest Republicans wanted to see Republican work with Clinton. By the time people stopped clapping it was too late to get to the BUT.
I managed to pull this off about 6 times or so during the speech and it changed the flavor of the message. For those of you out there who like being a little subversive, becoming a clapper seems to be very effective.
After Dole finished he came over to my table and said that he mentioned me. I said, "Yes, I know and I appreciate it." I then told him that I considered it to be very important that Republicans share the glory and work with Clinton. I told him that Ross Perot is going to run in '96 as a Republican and I was concerned that he might succeed.
Did I accomplish anything? Time will tell. But I think I make a hell of a shot at it. To be able to send a message like this to Hailey Barbour and Bob Dole for only $85 and a few hours of my time is a bargain in my book.
Drafting Behind Trucks
I've always been told that if you're on the highway and you drive behind a truck that you'll get better gas milage because the truck is plowing a tunnel of air for you to drive through. But, have you ever wondered if this really works? It does! Sort of.
A friend of mine, Phil Case, just bought a new car (new to him anyhow) and it's a Chrysler convertible with a fancy digital dashboard. One of the features it has in a gas milage readout that shows you what you're getting in real time. Thus, this car is a slick tool to test to see what actually works.
Well, Phil tried it out and he did notice a small increase in gas milage when he got right up behind the truck. However, when he dropped back more that 15 feet he actually got less milage. It turns out that the air turbulance behind a truck actually increases wind drag. Thus, if you're going to drive behind a truck at a safe distance you'll lose gas milage.
Another interesting fact was that he noted a 25% drop in milage when driving 70 as compared to 55. Perhaps Nixon was right when he reduced the national speed limit in 1974.