The Answer to Everything

"Why is there something, rather than nothing?"

Try imagining "nothing". Space, time, and the Universe are "something" so subtract those as well. Forgetting that you know something exists (i.e. using a priori reasoning), its seems more logical that nothing should exist, rather than something. Why? Something requires explanation. Like a chicken/egg dilemma, "What created the something, that created the something, that created... etc". It doesn't matter whether you explain a first cause with a physical nature (i.e. Big Bang) or a sentient one (i.e. God); any such explanation demands further explanation. So, "Why isn't there nothing?" is a riddle for theologians, philosophers, scientists, and anyone curious about existence.

Our Universe is "something" but perhaps the issue isn't so black and white, and the problem requires thinking differently. Our brains evolved (for spear chucking and what-not) to think in three-dimensional space per Newtonian physics and to see a sliver of EM spectrum. However, just think about relativistic frames near black holes or quantum probability waves to realize how challenging reality can be to comprehend. Space, time, and matter defy common understanding at these extremes. Yet cosmologists keep peering out to estimate the size and age of the Universe, and physicists keep colliding atoms to find the smallest string or boson. While important, these scientific efforts can never find the smallest, largest, oldest, or farthest limit (because what's beyond that?). As the history of science (and surely modern science as well) is rife with anthropocentric blunders, perhaps knowing the answer can only be reached by forgetting what we know.

For such thought experiments, Occam's Razor (the principle of parsimony) is an intuitive rule of thumb suggesting we find truth in what requires the fewest assumptions. As described earlier, "something" is difficult to explain because it raises more questions than "nothing". For a similar reason, "a universe with 8.3 zillion units of energy" is more difficult to explain than "an infinite universe". As incomprehensible as infinity is, it requires less explanation than an abrupt end (raising questions: why that size? what's beyond it?). Similarly, it's simpler to assume the Universe has a net zero energy, than that it has some arbitrary amount of energy violating the first law of thermodynamics. Nothing(zero) and everything(infinity) are parsimonious concepts, so perhaps these are part of the answer.

Here's one idea that might stretch that spear-chucking brain a bit. What if our flat infinite net zero-energy universe is actually just one version of "nothing"? That's not to say we don't exist, but simply that 'everything that can exist must exist, so long as it balances out'. For example, take the equation 0=0. Potential balanced terms exist to produce infinite combinations of this same equation. One combination (such as our universe) balances positive energy(mass) with negative energy(gravity). Infinite variations balancing "energy" to nothing have potential to exist. Each such "universe" would be separate and independent with its own emergent time and space (if it had such properties).  This is different from the concept of a Multiverse in which universes are "parallel" (permitting Star Trek transporter mishaps with evil goatee'd Spock). That's not to say there is a cartoon universe with pink unicorns, but merely that if it can exist it must exist. When thought of in this way, the original question turns on it's head. It becomes more parsimonious (although mind bending) to state: "If there is nothing, there must be all versions of nothing... meaning everything." Now, wouldn't that be something!

Deontology vs Consequentialism

Those are big smarty pants words for "means vs ends".

Consequentialism (also utilitarianism) says the ends justify the means. What's moral is determined by the "greatest good for all". Deontology says ethics are formulaic, logical, and based on universal rules or principles. A deontologist could say it's "okay to lie sometimes", but only if they can define "sometimes" rigidly e.g. to do no harm.

Consequentialism is for the intellectually lazy, making up the rules as you go. I find that most statists gravitate towards utilitarian arguments. They love factoids. When you press them for consistent ethics, they get uncomfortable (see cognitive dissonance). I find individualists sincerely enjoy deontological ethical discussions, yet we seem far outnumbered in the world. That said, many individualists hold their own with utilitarian arguments (e.g. Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman). Nobody wins such arguments since factoids are contagious and plentiful.

Political debate often seems to be about who wins the "moral highground". A good example is "taking from the rich to help the poor", which is a utilitarian position. The utilitarian will claim it's a consistent ethical position until you challenge them "What about us helping Africa or India?". They will retreat, unable to rationally define their ethical rule why they don't give away their money - grasping for something like "we can't help everyone", "americans should help themselves first", etc. Moral highground lost.

I would challenge people to introspect and challenge the consistency of their own ethical positions. When debating politics, individualists can take the moral highground from statists by anchoring the conversation on universal rules and principles. Substitute factoids and mainstream assumptions with a priori models. A good mental exercise: If Person-A pays Person-B $1000 to attack you, who commits more wrong? Why? What if Person-B just attacked you to steal $1000 from your wallet? What's the difference?

On that note - I link to Jan Helfeld
A quirky guy who interviews politicians with deontological questions... leading to hilarity and hypocrisy on a few occasions.

Deadweight Loss

The news has discussed the "economic recession" much lately, in terms of unemployment, GDP, and spending rates. I prefer the term "economic correction". These figures are not measures of prosperity. In a time of war or disaster, unemployment would be low but it would not be prosperous. In a debt bubble GDP and spending might be high, but it would not be prosperous.

Prosperity is the goal, and how do you maximize prosperity? Someone might compare the governments of Somalia and the United States saying "Somalia has anarchy. Look how poor they are. The US Government makes us prosperous." Except it's because America is bountiful that we've prospered, mostly despite the government.

So hold on to your Keynesian worship of central banks and Marxist contempt of the bourgeoisie. There is just one simple economic concept I wish everyone would ponder: "Deadweight Loss".

This simple relationship of the demand-supply curve shows that when an interference restricts price or supply, the market will not perform at equilibrium (where consumers pay producers a negotiated price for goods). Demand will not meet supply. A market inefficiency is introduced with any such interference, e.g.: subsidies, taxes, licenses, permits, regulations, price caps, etc. This is waste, aka "deadweight loss" (yellow chart area). The money taxed or taken is also surely to be spent on a subsidy elsewhere, creating further deadweight loss.

Folks go on about "social goals", but let's refute any bullpucky about "government investment". Government is taxation, force, and special interests. Politics is my gang vs. your gang, so drop the humanistic spin because charity works just fine in free markets too. Check yourself and the chart again if you truly hold faith in government "fixing the economy". The point to take home is that government makes the economy as a whole less efficient and therefore less prosperous. The path to prosperity is free markets.

Violence against the State

Imagine a colonial slave tried to escape the plantation, and in a violent struggle killed his master who tried to stop him. Is this unethical? No, the law was unjust and therefore anybody enforcing the law deserved equal force used in self-defense.

Take for example the final scene in Star Wars, when rebel Luke Skywalker blows up the Empire's Death Star. Audiences cheered. There were surely many stormtroopers and maintenance crews killed in the explosion who merely took that job for their technical skills, even though they didn't shoot the planet-death-ray. Did they all deserve to die? Not necessarily, but working in a support function is not innocent either.

In my estimation, those who are most closely supporting the arm of the law are the most guilty. If you are a lawmaker, you are the most unjust. If you are a cop or judge or juror enforcing the law, you are also unjust. If you are a clerk or paper-pusher, you might possibly evade some blame by ignorance of the law. However, if you are a voter who supports the unjust law... you are more guilty than that clerk just doing their job.

If the drug laws are unjust (and they are), then if a cop busts into my home to lock me away, am I justified defending myself with equal force? Absolutely I am. Sadly, the odds would be against me... but it would be the exact same as the colonial slave trying to escape the plantation.

So, violence against the State is just. This is because the State itself is violent. It has a monopoly on violence which it abuses towards unjust laws about non-violent acts (e.g. drugs, prostitution, tax-evasion, etc). There is only one reason I do not wage war against the State... it's because I'm selfish. I care too much about my kids and family, and my own life to undertake such a brave yet self-destructive mission against overwhelming odds.

A couple years ago Joe Stack flew a plane into an IRS building. Joe Stack flew his X-Wing straight into the Death Star. Today, Tax Day April 15th, I will make a toast to that american Luke Skywalker and his last brave kamikaze flight. News headlines will always draw Joe Stacks as disturbed radicals, and those shot by police as a criminals. They give cops and soldiers free pass for murder. I know better. Sometimes that cops victim was just someone suffering from addiction who desperately wanted not to be locked up. (Rest in peace, DD)

The only way to reduce the unjust violence is to have just laws. If you don't support this, you share guilt for the blood of innocents on both sides.

Top 10 Manliest Men of Television

10) Al Bundy - His life sucks, but he stakes his claim and bears it like a man.

9) Fred Flinstone - He works hard at a blue collar job, and makes sure there's time for bowling and the Water Buffalo Lodge.

8) Crixus - He gives his fellow gladiators hell and is always pissed off.

7) Captain James T. Kirk - Sure he's over dramatic, but he hooks up with green alien broads. At least he doesn't like Shakespeare and Earl Grey Tea like that Jean Luc Picard. His middle name is "Tiberius".

6) Kenny Powers - High on ego, utterly crass, and has a jet ski.

5) Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli - While actor Henry Winkler is totally unmanly, the Fonz kept his peers respectfully fearful of him at all times.

4) Ron Swanson - A libertarian boss of a government office. His brain has big balls.

3) Charles Ingalls - Works hard, has heart, and does right by his family and friends. This guy is why I have my daughters call me "Pa".

2) Don Draper - He's got the skills and he knows it. He works hard and plays hard. Rarely loses his cool, if ever.

1) Walter White - Former high school teacher turned bad ass, for his family's sake. This guy kicked cancers ass. He kicked the cartels ass. He uses his brain and always wins.

Ode to the SheevaPlug

I love my SheevaPlug. It is the geek's dream gadget. You can flash linux kernel images onto this thing's internal memory and leave it always on due low-watt consumption (low power ARM processor, and lack of moving parts... no fans, no drives).

There's a network port. I prefer to SSH in for some shell command-line action, but you could connect install VNC and remote GUI (if you're a pussy).

It has a USB port, which could receive a USB hub for additional devices (cameras, external drives, you name it...)

You could run a home-automation server, or install a LAMP environment for web hosting. Personally, I'm running heyu(X10), MySQL, Tomcat, postfix, and getmail with a webcam attached, and a whole bunch of scripts and cron jobs. I'm hosting two small domains, and adding one more soon.

You can even run it off an SD card, so you could clone and swap out cards with custom linux distros based on your needs.

Well, there's a free advertisement (f you speak geek)... but maybe this company will read this one day and out of the goodness of their hearts send me one of their newer models. (hint hint)

Summer of the Yard

When we moved into our new house in March it was nice to have a bigger yard, but it was 90% weeds - those nasty prickly kind too. So my goal was to have the yard transformed and family friendly before the next winter.

Libby was scared of the lawn at first... stickies! ouch!

Planning the yard seemed nearly as much effort as all the digging and hauling involved. I drove my wife crazy with my obsession with choosing the right trees. I sketched out several drafts, and ultimately tried to balance a few goals:
  • Optimal seasonal shade and trees (I used
  • Balance of lawn vs low-maintenance/low-water area
  • Variety: a rock garden, flower garden, vegetable garden, play area
An early plan draft

After considering seeding it myself, we opted for sod since the weeds were so pervasive and we wanted things to start quickly. In retrospect that was the right decision, since I only finished the yard with gravel in October. 
Sod was the most expensive step, but what an improvement.

Next, I focused on planting the trees. We got a few from the Sacramento Tree Foundation, which provides free shade trees (for SMUD customers). I chose a red maple to be the central shade tree. We also got a crape myrtle and chinese pistache. We had a pesky 30ft cottonwood tree cut down that was stupidly planted 2ft away from sprinkler valves. While planting I learned quickly that my soil has a lot of river rock, which made every hole to dig painstaking (not to mention my accidentally busting a couple sprinkler lines). The rock came in handy for borders later though.

Tetherball pole? I'm not sure what this was for, but dug it out

Planting the red maple, this sucker grows like a champ.

Next up, the playground. This was simply some leveling, weedblock, and 4 yd3 of playground wood chips from Hasties. The quicker I can get ground covered, the sooner I can stop nearly poisioning myself from Round-Up exposure trying to keep weeds down!

That's a lot of wheelbarrows.

Libby checking out progress.

Now, with more space... I was able to score a sweet deal on this little playset. I edged the playground with some red landscaping logs, then staked and tied them down with durable sisal rope (seems to be holding so far).

Now came preparing the other half of the yard.
  • Flower garden
    I planted the crape myrtle, and purchased a flowering cherry tree (my wife's personal choice). I covered the area in mulch... and my wife plants some bulbs and flowers later.
  • Rock garden
    I planted mostly with varieties of juniper here, aiming to create a oval/semi-circle shape. In the center, I planted a hollywood juniper which I trimmed and bound with wire to train it with some bonsai-style interest.
  • Vegetable planter box
    Nothing but some giant lumber boards from Home Depot nailed together and buried in the ground. Also to be covered this up until planting next spring. 

Placing the junipers

Ready for gravel... planter box, and (soon to be) rock garden.

Finally, the last step... gravel. I started off the edges, then hiring two guys cheap off craigslist made spreading gravel easy-peasy.

That's even more wheelbarrows.

It felt great to get the last square foot of ground covered, and to rest assured those weeds were suffocated underneath a summer of hard work. There's still a lot of growing left for the young trees and bushes, and definitely more finishing touches to come next year... but it's been a great change for the yard.