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[Musee D’Orsay, Paris. Source: https://benfa.smugmug.com/]

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” — [Attributed to] Mark Twain.

Warning: I didn’t understand any of this as I was living through it. You won’t, either, when it happens to you.

It would be fair to say that I’m proud of my thirty five year career in the computer industry. I’ve had the pleasure of working with thousands of brilliant people and, thankfully, have learned a little bit from each of them. I was once a brash young engineer at NeXT Computer and, many years later, a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. …


It’s time to move our elections online

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Figure 1

As we live through one of the most historic elections in US history, I can’t help but return to a theme that has occupied me recently, namely that we are trying to keep this 250-year-old “house” up on its creaky stilts and we insist on doing so using not just rules created in a different era but also processes and tools designed back when it took a month to send a message cross-country.

If the elections have proven anything, it’s that our electoral system is showing its age. I’m not talking about controversial issues like the electoral college and gerrymandering but rather just the mechanics of voting itself. The fact that we’re still arguing, a month after the election, whether or not there was any fraud and filing lawsuits to overturn the results proves that we need a better solution. …


A New Team of Rivals

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Leaked transcript of upcoming Biden speech, copied from one of his rehearsals. Video forthcoming. This is big! Pass it around.

[Biden speaking to the camera]

Folks, here’s the thing. This is not a normal election year. We’re not going to be able to do things the way we’ve done them for decades. Instead of stadiums full of delegates and renditions of the American Anthem, we’ll be delivering our speeches directly to you, the voter. Welcome to the 21st century.

The ultimate question you need to answer for this election season of 2020 is whether you will vote for me or President Trump. …


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“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” — George Orwell. In Front of Your Nose. Tribune (22 March 1946).

January 3rd, 2020 is a date which shall live in infamy; not because Trump killed Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in a drone strike but because, by doing so, he started the cascade of events that brought us to the brink of a second American civil war before breaking the country in two and also culminated in World War III. …


The invention of lying, the fallacy of multitasking, and other observations on the human brain

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“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.” — The Elements of Eloquence. Mark Forsyth.

Complex human thought, by definition, requires linguistic capabilities. Language gives us the ability to name objects as well as the power to reason about them: That’s a rock. That’s a dog. That car is coming towards me. Each and every one of those concepts has a name and represents something we all instantly recognize and understand. …


We are the sum total of our decisions in life.

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“Could I have been a parking lot attendant?
Could I have been a millionaire in Bel Air?
Could I have been lost somewhere in Paris?
Could I have been your little brother?
Could I have been anyone other than me?” — Dave Matthews Band. Dancing Nancies.

Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, asked himself: How do I know I even exist? What if everything I’m experiencing is just a figment of someone else’s imagination? What if it’s all just a dream? His response, famously, was: I think, therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum.

The pronouncement was the only thing standing between him and the abyss. It was a profound statement, one that has been analyzed to death ever since, and one which I don’t intend to analyze here. By comparison, my mantra, my pronouncement if you will, is nowhere nearly as profound: I choose, therefore I am.


Nietzsche was right after all.

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Paul David

This is a story about my friend, Paul David, his cycling accident ten years ago, and his amazing recovery. But, to put his story in perspective, I first need to tell you a story about my own cycling accident.

Back in March of this year, I had a head-on collision with a car while going downhill at about 15 mph on a quiet street. The Tesla driver, coming up the hill from the opposite direction, “had the sun in her eyes” and never saw me as she turned directly into my path. …


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[Source: https://benfa.smugmug.com. ]

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” — Gabriel García Márquez. Love in the Time of Cholera.

I often mention to friends and family that I have almost zero recollection of my childhood years. Ask me about pretty much any event at age ten or twelve and I remember it in vivid detail. Drop back a year or two and… nothing! I don’t remember anything! It’s not a gradual drop-off. Childhood before the age of roughly nine is a black hole to me. …


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“Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.” — James Baldwin. I am not Your Negro.

Anger is the external manifestation of our feelings of frustration projected towards others. If I’m angry, chances are I feel frustrated about something in my environment, something I can’t change. Instead of dealing with the root cause, I choose to unleash my frustration on someone else. The situation may not improve but it sure feels good to get the anger out of my system.

Of course, we’re all born with the physical ability to feel the chemical and hormonal changes that accompany anger (flushed face, raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, etc.) but the emotion also needs a target, someone or something to be angry at. A newborn doesn’t even understand the concepts of self and other. It has no way of knowing what it means to be angry. …


Elon Musk, The Matrix, Nanobots, and gene editing.

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“The big feature of human-level intelligence is not what it does when it works but what it does when it’s stuck.” — Marvin Minsky. 1927–2016.

A colleague recently sent me a link to an article and video of a panel discussion on Artificial Intelligence with Elon Musk. It’s a long video but worth your while if you’re interested in AI and the future of technology and, by extension, the future of humanity.

If you are only interested in Musk’s thoughts, reading the article is sufficient since it includes most of his comments. …

About

Ben Fathi

Former CTO of VMware, former VP at Microsoft, recovering long distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.

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