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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Christmas - 2022


Let me spin you a tale of unbelievable misfortune, a tale of mishaps and woes that, surely, you will consider to be a farce of reality. Surely, and without a doubt, you will come to the conclusion that this tale is a greatest hits compilation, all consolidated into a single tale for comedic effect…. But I assure you, that is not the case. This narrative is but one weekend in a storm of trials and tribulations that our protagonists faced over the course of months.

We lay the beginnings of our scene upon the morn of Christmas Adam, a wholly useless and unsatisfying day within which a vast horde of people scurry about their lives trying to do the last minute preparations for the coming storm of relatives and friends over the subsequent days. Our protagonists were not so much different from the others in this, with one out doing such preparations and the other working away quietly in his home office, whilst eyeing the wind storm that was raging outside. 

The wind blew and the very air screamed with pain at the intensity of the storm, but all seemed well for our intrepid heroes in their home for they had prepared for the storm. Their backyard hosted a welcoming ring around a rugged fire pit, made so by a ring of brightly-colored chairs who resided in perfect placement for any to watch the fire while sharing beverages and lovely charts. Our protagonists knew the storm was approaching and recognized the fragile nature of their blown-plastic faux Adirondack chairs and, so, they had relocated the chairs to the relative safety of the barn. Joining the chairs within the confines of the ancient barn were all of the other yard accoutrements. So, knowing all was as well-prepared as possible, our homebound protagonist paid peripheral heed to the storm while focussing on his workday. But no, their preparations were unable to prepare them for the thunderous CRACK that resounded through the home, jumping the dogs to their feet and resounding in a chorus of howling as all three dogs sang their dismay in a discordant chorus of disharmonic sounds. The CRACK was of such volume that it overwhelmed, and made silent the following WHUMP that must have occurred. You might ask “Why must there have been a WHUMP” to which the reply is, merely, “physics.” You see, the CRACK was the sound of a vast and ancient limb gaining its independence from its parentage. A limb of such age that its base spanned wider than the average man’s shoulders. A limb whose skeletal, craggy bends branched outward to obscure the front yard in a new forest of tangles and twigs. A limb whose dismembered remnants would go on to provide nearly a half cord of solid firewood and a domed brush pile spanning more than a fathom in diameter.  Following on the heels of a series of events that wouldn’t be out of place to the three Baudelaire children, it would not have been out of place for this giant limb to have crashed down upon the roof of the porch, or worse, the house itself; but, in this instance, our protagonists were saved from such catastrophe for nothing was directly damaged by this limb falling and, as such, the limb did not require immediate attention.

Our heroes know people and some of those people enjoy gathering. One of those people often opens his home for people to gather in and the night of the limb fall was one such night. So our protagonists, four in number, journeyed forth from their home to visit and be merry. 

Then they returned home.

The first indication that there was a problem was visible nearly a half mile away when it became apparent that the driveway of our family was cast in darkness rather than the illumination of the welcoming domes of light which had been intentionally lit upon their departure. Our family’s home is one of four homes that lie at an intersection of two roads; an intersection light by a streetlight each and every night. A street light that is an emblazoned icon of orange spilling into the windows of the homes and brightly announcing the intersection to all who approach it from any direction. They all noticed, the streetlight was, in fact, on and light so, surely, it must be an illusory visage of darkness that they beheld from within their motorized carriage as they approached. Neighboring the streetlight, as it occupied a prominent point at the corner of their lot, is a home whose lights were alight with friendliness. Across from was a home whose porch was alighted with a multicolored sparkle storm of Christmas lists winding their way around and through the styles of their porch and encroaching upon the domain of the handrails. But the home of our family of adventures lacked any such gleeful lights to meet them for it hd been plunged into darkness. 

Our family accepts darkness. It is a natural progression of light reaching its destination. Our intrepid heroes are prepared for short passages of time without the modern conveniences of electrical appliances and, so, fires were built within the wood stoves and extra blankets were gathered for a restful evening of sleep, all while taunted by the lit streetlight outside and the dazzling sparkles of the Christmas lights across the intersection from their home. 

Morning arrives without any sign of electrons moving throughout the metal encased within the walls of the home and, it seemed, the storm that frightened away the electricity had also pushed away the unseasonably warm weather of the day before, having plunged the air into a frigid temperature of 10 degrees. The lack of power, by itself, was not so concerning but the development of such frigid temperatures without power was. Suddenly, our family was in need of a solution that was quicker, and surer, than “the power will come back on eventually.”

So venture forth they did and, by some stroke of fabulous luck, they found generators in stock at the very first store they entered. BUT, and of course there is always such a conjunction in play when something goes right for our protagonists, the store was not only out of the necessary cable to connect the generator to the house but, also, they were out of all of the plug ends that might allow someone to make their own cable. Our family purchased the generator and moved on to another store; another store who was also out of such cables and all of the necessary plug ends to fashion a cable oneself. And another store yielded the same result. The remainder of the stores were not open to customers as they had closed for Christmas Eve and, thus, our family had a means to generator power but no way to pour the power into their home until another twist of fate provided a spare cable from an acquaintance, allowing our family to restore minimal services to their home. Minimal services that included heat, refrigeration, water, and a small selection of lights. At least they, and their plumbing, would not freeze.

The home of the family is ancient. It is, perhaps, more ancient than the tree who shed a limb into the yard. It is so ancient that it has a serviceable dug well in addition to the modern, drilled well. It is so ancient that the dug was attached to the plumbing of the house and serviced the water for many years prior to the drilled well being put in place and remains attached to the plumbing. This, it turns out, is a very fortunate thing as the generator wiring routes not to the pump for the drilled well but, rather, to the dug well. Our intrepid hero, knowing what to do, primed this pump and changed the valves over such that the house could receive water from the dug well rather than the drilled well and the switch was thrown - SUCCESS. Water flowed forth from everywhere it was supposed to flow from. 

For an hour. 

Sitting in darkness, prior to it being late enough for bed, our family heard a rushing sound as if a vast waterfall where nearby. A rushing sound that erupted from the silence of moments before, rather than a sound that merely was present at all times. The sound of running water when there should be none, especially the sound of a vast waterfall that could rival Niagara, is a distressing sound to the ears of modern man. Within moments the sound was amplified tenfold by the opening of the basement door, revealing that the flood of Noah was trying to burst into the modern age within the basement of our family’s home. Quickly the power being fed to the water pump was extinguished, but the gushing continued. Forcing a brave explorer to don boots and descend into the inky darkness of an ancient basement with nothing but the illumination provided by a dying smartphone to locate the source of the sound and do what could be done to stop it. The first order of business was to close the valve separating the pumps from the house, to stop the plumbing within the house from draining entirely onto the basement floor… but this did not stop the water. Our explorer encroached upon the rapidly growing perimeter of the newly-formed lake and found that the water was not gushing from a pipe or hose that had come loose. It was not gushing from a valve that was accidentally left open. It was gushing forth from a new chasm that had formed in the very metal casing of the pump, a canyon of such proportions that hundreds of gallons were able to flood forth from it in mere minutes under the careful and attentive efforts of the ancient pumping mechanism within the casing. Noting that there was nothing further our subterranean explorer could accomplish he ascended the steps and closed the basement door as the remnants of the pressure tank fled containment and sought the freedom of the dirt floor.  Once again, our family was without access to water.

It was at this time that the family was asked to host Christmas the following day. 

Bed time encroached and the entire family went to bed for another night of being taunted by the orange light of the streetlight that was so close, yet not providing a promise of all being well in their home. 

The new generator kept the critical systems running but it had to be closely monitored so the adults of our protagonist family slept little as they refueled the generator and restarted it when it happened to stall in the middle of the night. They kept the power running enough to keep the heat on and the food safe in the refrigerator but the expense was clear on their minds and in their bodies as exhaustion was overtaking them. Fortunately, a Christmas miracle came as our main heroine of the story sat, staring out the front window for it was none other than Santa Claus who leapt forth from a power company truck and dashed to the electrical meter, throwing the thumbs up sign back to the driver of the truck before both Santa and truck alike dashed off on their way. And, with that gift, the family was able to turn off the generator and restore power to the entire house, switching back over the to the drilled well, and restoring all of the modern services to which they had all become accustomed in their lives. 

Given that we have reached a Christmas miracle and a climax where Santa restored power to our family, it may seem like this is the end of the tale but, I assure, you, it is not yet over. 

In preparation of the arrival of extended family work began on clearing the giant limb that observed access to the front door. This work was performed using the most prevalent wood-management tool in the area: a chainsaw. Many of the smaller limbs were severed from the larger with great ease and efficiency. They were piled off to the side, where they ceased to be an impediment to the walkway. Significant progress was made in the effort to convert the limb’s carcass from a giant edifice into usable wood until the chainsaw bucked slightly and jammed the chain into the nose guard of the chainsaw and yanked the remainder of the chain off the bar. No injuries but, also, no means to dislodge the wedged chain without more tools than our intrepid amateur lumberjack had on-hand. And, since it was Christmas, no stores were open to acquire the necessary tool to dislodge the chain and re-seat it. 

But, they decided, this was fine. The walkway was clear and the house was prepared from company and naps were taken by all. Guests arrived. Presents were opened. Merriment ensued. Guests departed and our family relaxed to an evening of Chinese cuisine which only had a 90-minute wait after the order was taken. And then they all had a wonderful night of sleep. 

I awoke on Boxing Day to a delightful smile upon. My wife’s face as she was merrily assembling a new vacuum cleaner. She awoke before anyone else and decided that it was time for us to have a new machine to manage the hair of  the three dogs in whose home we reside and the hair of the two cats who have overrun the upstairs, tolerating the teenagers who dare infiltrate their domain. She rose early on the morning of Boxing Day and ventured out into the world, braving the vast sea of people who were fighting over the best discount sales now that the big holiday was passed. She braved the crowds and used the portable all-knowing device in her pocket to assess the array of vacuum cleaners available in the store and brought home the highest-rated model of those available. When I rose from my slumber she was attaching the handle (for upright vacuum cleaners are packaged with the handle unattached to minimize the box size). Her smile continued as she pulled out all of the various accoutrements that accompanied the core vacuum. It was truly a delightful experience to behold the happiness beaming forth from my wife as she, finally, would have a vacuum that could manage the pet hair our home produced. Meanwhile, the previous vacuum stood in silence near the door to the barn, waiting for its journey to the retirement home known as “the dump.”

The machine was plugged in. My wife turned the machine on and began to vacuum the little hallway rug. It was glorious. The hair was taken in to the vacuum with such intense veracity as to make one half of the rug look brand new. The vacuum was so vigorous in its efforts that, after mere seconds, acrid smoke spewed forth from the vents followed by flames the likes of which rod-road roadsters emit during car shows, shot forth from the vacuum. My wife, in her crestfallen moment, did naught but begin to laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation leaving me to act. I yanked the power cord from the wall and grabbed the machine, dashing to the porch where I hurled it over the railing into the yard as my wife, yelled “No, we need to return it!” As the vacuum landed far from the house, protecting the house from the risk of fire, I turned around and said “IT WAS ON FIRE! I think they’ll understand that we threw it away from the house to protect the house.” 

While the vacuum was bursting into flames our middle child was calmly making bread a mere 10 feet away. Her efforts were not interrupted by the flaming machinery for homemade bread is serious business and must be done right.

After the bread was done baking, and everyone had partaken of their share, the partially-melted vacuum was put back in the box and four of the five members of the family prepared to venture back out into the sea of deal-seekers to return the vacuum. It is during this process that we realized that each of the line of Pet Vacuums by this specific brand hosts a photo and adoption story of a particular dog on the box. The dog on this box strongly resembled the youngest of our dogs, with his mostly black fur and white shield emblazoned on his chest. Unlike our dog, though, who is named after a beloved character from science fiction, the dog on the box was named…. Smokey. This, of course, broke the family and we all spent twenty minutes laughing hysterically because it was just, simply, too much to bear any other way. 

We rode in silence. We entered the store in silence, We got in line at the customer service desk in silence. We waited for our turn in silence. When it was our turn we approached the counter and said “this was bought this morning and we need to return it.” The predictable question came forth: “is there a reason?” 

“Yes. It caught on fire moments after being turned on.”

The customer service representative’s eyebrows rose and her companion stepped over from the neighboring register. Upon opening the flap they concurred that it had been on fire as the acrid stench of molten plastic and rubber wafted forth and writhed its way around them. 

“Well, ok. Is everyone ok?”


And the refund was processed.

My wife and I then wandered the store to reach the display of vacuum cleaners that were currently available. She had acquired the last of that specific model in her earlier journey so we were forced to evaluate the remaining models to see which was best. We brought home a vacuum that boldly told us the adoption story of Spike and joked about how this might cause the vacuum to explode in spectacular fashion, driving a spike into the floor.

As we rode home the anxiety of the previous vacuum began to receded and my wife’s smile began to return. Upon arriving home she opened the package and took out all of the parts. We assembled the vacuum and, once again, we prepared to be excited that we could clean up after our pets. The vacuum was plugged in to the outlet. The vacuum was placed upon the target carpet. The vacuum was turned on. The vacuum worked AMAZING. It was working better than the first one and we were all excited that it was not on fire (such low expectations, right?) and then, as if on cue, smoke erupted from the vacuum in a spectacular pillar of opacity, blocking the living room from view and causing my wife and one of the children to start coughing. I, being ready for such a situation, yanked the cord from the outlet and, again, grabbed a BRAND NEW vacuum from my wife’s possession and hauled it outside. As this one had not yet ignited into flames I did not hurl it forth from the deck to land upon the frozen wasteland of a lawn we possess but, rather, eyed it cautiously as our new smoke machine stopped its apparent function and restored its disguise as a powered-off vacuum cleaner.

You may be wondering, as we did, if there is a problem with the outlet. The wifi mesh extender plugged in to the other outlet of the same receptacle has been operating for a year without bursting in to flames but it is not, exactly, a high-drain motor. So, I recalled the ancient and decrepit vacuum from retirement for one last mission. I went out on to the deck with the ancient vacuum cleaner (better to be safe than sorry, right?) and proceeded to plug it in to the same outlet. 

It is at this point that I must wonder what our neighbors, whom we have never met, must think of us. Do we have some sort of bizarre Boxing Day tradition? For, from their perspective, they saw me running out of the house and hurling a vacuum cleaner into the yard followed by retrieving it an hour later only to run forth from the same door with ANOTHER vacuum an hour after that and, now, moments later, they were to be able to witness me vacuuming my wooden deck in 10 degree weather.  What possible explanation must they have concocted for my bizarre behavior because, surely, they could not possibly believe that not one, but TWO vacuum cleaners caught on fire and had to be rapidly escorted from the premises to avoid losing the home in an inferno. 

While we have yet to return the second vacuum, I’m sure that will be a fantastic experience (especially if the same customer service representatives are on duty), we do have an anti-climactic conclusion to the saga. After verifying that the outlet did not cause the ancient vacuum to erupt into flames (and testing it with a multimeter and outlet tester) my wife went to an alternate store and bough the best of the available vacuums on display from a different brand. She brought it home and assembled it and, as if my magic, all of the pet hair was evicted from the target carpet without issue; without smoke; without flames. Without sparks. The hair was just sucked into the container exactly as expected. My wife went on to vacuum a few other things in the house, using multiple outlets and, boringly, the machine did exactly as it was supposed to do. 

As this tale is already quite lengthy, I won’t go into the difficulties we encountered later in the day while cutting up the rest of the fallen limb, not the difficulties my wife had when she tried to inflate one of her car tires. You, dear reader, can be assured that the chaos of our life has returned to the normal levels of ridiculousness and is no longer at the level of cracking water pumps and flaming vacuum cleaners. For now, anyway.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Random Rewards are Powerful... and Dangerous

 There’s a proven psychological effect in which a randomly-issued reward will generate a stronger “reward” impulse than a consistently-provided reward. Even if the consistent reward is more frequently provided and the rewards dispensed by either method are identical.

This is an important thing for all humans to understand. It’s

Important for introspection and reflection on the behaviors of others as individuals and on the flow of society as an aggregate of individuals.

It’s important to understand this effect and how it drives impulses in us, and around us. It’s important to understand how it alters our behaviors because, in my, granted very limited in scope and depth, observation is that people who understand and move through life with purpose tend to be more successful.

It doesn’t matter how one measures success - whatever goal you are seeking is more achievable when you understand yourself, understand the path between where you are and the goal, and when you understand those with whom you will interact along the path. 

The question then becomes - does their purpose align with their happiness or not? This is not a question that can be answered by anyone other than a person’s own internal emotional barometer. Those closest to them can, surely, identify when things induce unhappiness but the inner peace of happiness can only be identified and differentiated from contentment and inert apathy by the beholder.

Which brings us back around to the specific psychological effect of random rewards. If one is on their journey toward success and that journey is contra to their own happiness then the intermittent positive rewards along the path will induce a form of short term happiness that can be deceptive toward the long-term health. These short-term flares of dopamine can seem greater, and truly be more addictive, than a sustained level of happiness brought forth by a parallel journey whose goal is happiness.

It’s important to understand this effect on psychology and how it can alter your own views on the world to bring you short term positive feelings but it’s also important to recognize how it can undermine your long term well-being.

The classic example of this is an experiment with rats. Rats were given levers. One lever did nothing. One lever always dispensed a treat. One lever would randomly dispense a treat. Rats literally worked themselves to death pushing the random lever to get the next treat instead of just going to the treat lever.

A more overt and obvious analogy to the rats and the levers can be found with humans and slot machines. The “the next pull is a winner! I can feel it!” concept is this physiological effect working on the mind of the one playing the machine.

But overt gambling isn’t the only place this happens.

One example can be found in friendships.

A long, sustained and constantly-positive friendship is a valuable thing to have but they are often pushed aside when one of the friends gains a new romantic partner because the NRE (new relationship energy) is a disruptive, randomly-presented reward that gives a similar emotional comfort to the long-term relationship. 

It’s normal for NRE to disrupt a person’s life and existing relationships in almost all ways. Eventually the NRE interactions settle down into a “standing wave” of predictability and the psychological effect of randomness in the reward ceases, allowing the steady positive interactions to become ingrained in the return to normalcy. 

There are, however, people who get so distracted by NRE that, when it starts to become supplied regularly, they lose all interest in the steady-supply and MUST chase the “high” of the next random provider of attention.

This is a detectable pattern and one that can cause harm to everyone involved, hence the reason why it’s important to understand this psychological effect when it is present in others…

In a milder relationship example this can be found when an individual finds that they are always the one reaching out to others and that their efforts are often left unanswered for days or weeks at a time but, when the party finally reaponds, they feel obligated to keep trying; to keep the thread of friendship alive because the random responses push those psychological buttons.

This is why it’s important to understand this phenomenon in ourselves; we need to know when to let go of people who are nothing more than random reward distributors to us. We need to have the strength to see imbalances energy and walk away from it when it is unhealthy to us… and, in extreme cases, we need to be able to see a random reward giver as the abuser they are (not all random reward givers are abusers but it seems to be a psychological tool that all abusers instinctively know and utilize to their benefit). 

I want everyone I know to find their path to success and I want them to find a path to happiness and I desperately want for those paths to not conflict. I want them all to understand their own reactions to stimuli so that they can navigate our world and the interruptions to the paths we walk in the best way possible.

Most importantly, I want to make sure I always understand my own behaviors to ensure I never use this trick against anyone else. I don’t want to be a villain and the things that stick to my mind the most are those when I accidentally harmed others through my own ignorance or carelessness. I hope that being aware of mental processes like this one will help me better-attain that which I want from life while also allowing me to be a better person overall.

And no, despite the content about relationships, there is NOTHING in this post related to my relationship with my lovely wife. We’re good. I just think a lot about a lot of things and sometimes have to write them out to ensure they leave my squishy skull fat’s priority processing queue.

Monday, February 21, 2022

On Human Evolution

This post is brought to you buy the anti-science, anti-intellectualism movement that continues to exist in today's world; specifically, the anti-evolution movement that fails to understand evolution in any capacity.

More specifically, it is brought by the comment that spawned this TikTok video by @science_is_real.

    I saw this a few days ago and the mathematics have been plaguing me since. Why? Because this is an example which can be converted into a path that can be followed.

There has been a lot of research into the correlation between spleen size and ability to do longer, deeper dives in humans: fro reference:
And even to causality of spleen size variance during breath-holding experiments: (this study only had 12 participants so it may not be entirely representative of the overall human population).
Interestingly, the spleen size has a wide variance in the human population and, unlike the other organs, is very malleable; it changes in response to, well, everything. 

The malleable nature of the spleen makes it difficult to clearly and absolutely analyze; difficult, but not impossible. 

This is the point where I remind you that I'm no one special. I am merely inquisitive and like answers. I like data. I like seeing how the world works.

So, for a hypothetical examination of how the divers outlined in the video have been evolving we have to start with a hypothetical starting point. Let us say that there were 2,500 individuals as part of a nomad tribe. When they decided to settle into their lives of huts built on stilts they were no different from the average human population. So their spleens would have had the wide variance of 93 to 253 mL in volume as a resting, healthy, size. Furthermore, during the breath-holding experiments the variance in size was recorded spanning a range of 7% to 20% in spleen volume reduction. 

Despite the small sample size of the study we can still use these numbers as a baseline for a crude model that can show how populations change over time. We have two variables to track: resting size and contraction during breath holding. Because the mechanism of longer divers seems to be that their spleens release red blood cells into the blood during the breath holding I will presume that the larger contractibility of the spleen correlates to better survival rates during long dives.

Now, let's presume that the figures mentioned above are our 1 standard deviation posts, meaning that 2/3 the population will have their normal function within those ranges for both sets. 95% of the population will within twice the range (this is a guess since I don't have an actual standard deviation to work with) and only extraordinarily great or poor spleen performances will be outside those ranges at a rate of 2.5% of the population each.

Free Diving, as a sport, has an absurdly high death rate (as in, it's so high why would anyone do it?) of 1 in 500 dives among the recreational population. At expert levels, which the current peoples of aquatic cultures would certainly rival, the rate is reduced to 1 in 50,000 dives due to the extensive levels of safeguards in place at competitions ( ).

As tempting as it is to say that the original stilt-house divers would have the same death rate as today's recreational freedivers we cannot denigrate them to that level. It would have caused them to go extinct quickly if the entire population were dying at a rate of 1 death per 500 dives whilst diving several times a day each. So quickly, in fact, that they would suffer 4x the number of diving deaths as they have people if they only dove 5x a day - keeping in mind that each free dive is ONE breath.

I will, instead, give a blanket rate of 30% deaths per generation due to diving accidents and presume that a reasonable percentage of the population dies per generation due to unrelated causes (50% is what I am using for the remaining mathematics as a 50% death rate over the course of 20 years seems reasonable through age, accidents, and disease in a culture that is not readily prepared with modern safety equipment and medicine). Couple it with a growth rate of 110% and there are more babies made per generation than there are deaths, so the community grows.

The 50% death rate really has no direct impact on the specific mutation of spleen enlargement that we are looking to follow so we can discount it completely when it comes to the genetics involved, but it has to be considered for overall population size. Which means that, among the 30% who died in dive deaths, we can presume that the majority of them died due to their inability to perform the dive tasks and that that is a direct result of their spleen size and lung capacity. Therefore, their removal from the gene pool will remove those at the bottom of the spleen functionality end of the gene pool before they can generate many offspring.

From these assumptions we have the following crude simulated population growth:

If Natural Selection were not at work on this population through the adversity of the constant free diving then the spleen size among the population wouldn't be altered but, because that excessive stress on the population exists we can see how it affects portions of the population differently.

The model presumes that the worst 95% of the small-spleen crowd die each generation from dive-related injuries with 95% of remainder of those deaths coming from those who have average spleens. As you can see it only takes a single generation to wipe those with smaller spleens off the population chart.

Which leads to a different population breakdown as early as the first generation of people born in to the environment.

What fascinated me the most about this is how quickly such an adverse condition can dramatically change a population. 
I expected, when I set out to make this model, that it would take at least 500 years (25 generations) to show any significant change to the population and I am quite surprised that it only took two generations to eradicate the smaller spleens from the group with a fatality rate that is less than 10% that of the recreational free diving death rate among the world today. 

While "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is really not applicable to individuals, it certainly is to populations.

Isolation plus adversity drives Natural Selection and, in turn, evolution.