Daydreams and Circumstance - Posted on 2023-10-03 06:00:23

Daydreams and Circumstance

Journal, October 8, 2023

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Capitalism is a strange beast.  Consider, if you will, that everything around you was once somebody's daydream.  You wake up in the morning to the sound of your alarm clock.  Somebody made that sound and licensed it - they collect royalties on its use.  The alarm clock (your phone, probably) is a product dreamed up by a company and its collective employees.  You get out of bed.  Your bed?  That's a product.  Your pillows, sheets, and blankets?  Products.  Your clothes?  You guessed it - products.  We're surrounded by them.  All around us, we're encumbered with and enamored by the tangible representations of someone else's daydreams.

In order to get these products into your life, someone needs not just a daydream, but a demographic.  Advertising agencies buy and sell demographic information to tailor and target what they sell to the audiences they deem most likely to buy.  Everything we do these days is tracked, bought, and sold to countless vendors for profit.  You're an individual, to be fair - your friends, family, coworkers, and extended social circle certainly recognize you for your uniqueness.  Yet, to the companies set on selling you products, you're naught but a collection of data points calculating the likelihood that you'll buy a given product if you're force-fed advertising across any number of different media.  What do you watch?  Where do you go?  What do you do on the internet?  Who do you call?  What do you buy?  Who are you connected to?  What is your age, gender, income level, sexual orientation, and social status?  These questions and more calculate how likely you are to be receptive to a given product and marketing scheme.

Interestingly, if you fall into the trap, it's a fairly continuous spiral.  Say you purchase some shoes.  Well, turns out you like shoes, so you know what else you could buy?  More shoes.  Like games?  How about more games?  Are you interested in technology?  Gosh, there's a whole world of technology out there to sell you.  And you know what's even more interesting?  There's not just one type of thing, oh no.  There's different tiers of the same thing.  Different manufacturers of the same thing.  Different levels, different features, and even subtly different nuance in functionality is out there, if only you fall into the appropriate demographic to be likely to buy the thing.

"Sure," you say, "but brand x is more reliable than y."  Unsurprisingly, many competing brands are owned by the same parent company.  This illusion of false choice is all part of the marketing game.  You, the savvy consumer, do your research.  You read reviews, watch videos, surf forums, look at comments, and check products out in stores.  Soandso describes the product using these words, other users decribe that other product with different words.  These emotionally charged vignettes help to shape your perspective on a given product until, at last, you make the right choice.  Brand x got your money today, because that brand y is full of problems.  You fell for it, of course.  The marketing worked.  You're a demographic that's most likely to buy, and the avenues available to the advertising agency led you down the buying path.  All that savvy research was just willingly consumed marketing.  What made you want the thing, anyway?  The answer should come as no surprise.

I recently found myself trapped in a strange marketing spiral.  I like making music.  It feels good.  Not only do I like making music, I like recording that music.  When it's recorded, I can share it with others.  Wouldn't you know, there's a whole wealth of products out there to help you record music.  Microphones, preamps, equalizers, compressors, converters, audio interfaces, studio monitors, headphones, digital audio workstations, plugins, and more.  All of these products are marketed on the basis of comparison.  What you have is old and busted, and what you could buy, well, that's the new hotness.  This new insert-product-here is better for any number of inextricable reasons, mind you.  Upgrading one's signal chain grants so many etherial acoustic properties.  Brand x has mojo, brand y is silky, yet another brand is creamy, velvety, and smooth.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was shopping for dessert.  Not one to ignore confirmation bias, I'd find myself surfing reviews and forums looking for stories from people who use these products.  What do they say about them?  Is it all just a bunch of hype?  All these boutique products are just copies of old electric circuits that were used on records people liked from back in the day.  How they justify the sticker price is beyond me - the electrical circuits are painfully simple to recreate.  Perhaps these products are creamy and silky enough to double as dessert?  Transformers and tubes seem more crunchy than creamy, at any rate.

What kills me, and what drives this brain dump, is the crux of this entire circumstance.  At times I find myself window shopping more than I spend creating.  It's like some strange drive to research, to learn, to absorb all information I can find about a given thing until that insatiable thirst for knowledge reaches a breaking point.  What I have is not inadequte, by any means.  I'd go as far as to say I'm decently well set up for what I want to do.  Why keep striving for even greater things?  It is the carpenter, not the tools, that build the house.  I have a daydream, and I'm blessed to have appropriate tools to work towards that dream.  My circumstance doesn't inhibit me from reaching towards that dream; in reality, that circumstance serves to propel me towards it.

Anyway, in considering all this, one thing stuck out to me: the grass is always greener when you don't water your lawn.

Last updated on 2023-10-08 04:40:39
Coherence and Context - Posted on 2023-04-01 10:00:15

Coherence and Context

Journal, April 1, 2023

Page moved to /hobbies/ai/coherence-and-context.

Last updated on 2023-06-17 20:01:10
Neuroscience and Consciousness - Posted on 2023-03-25 10:19:47

Neuroscience and Consciousness

Journal, March 25, 2023

In our next installment of conversations with a large language model:

You're an aspiring researcher in the field of computational neuroscience. Introduce a detailed discussion around the current understanding of consciousness. Consider how machine learning and large language models are helping us gain a deeper understanding of consciousness. Finally, explore how our understanding of AI can help us work towards a brain-computer interface to share consciousness between people.

As an aspiring researcher in the field of computational neuroscience, I would like to discuss the current understanding of consciousness and how advancements in machine learning, large language models, and artificial intelligence are helping us gain a deeper understanding of this complex phenomenon. Additionally, I will explore the potential implications of this understanding for the development of brain-computer interfaces that could enable sharing consciousness between people.

Consciousness, a topic of immense philosophical and scientific debate, is the state of being aware of and able to think and perceive one's environment, thoughts, and experiences. It remains a challenging and elusive concept to define and study, primarily because it is subjective and difficult to measure. Nevertheless, researchers in neuroscience and related fields have made strides in understanding the neural correlates of consciousness, focusing on the areas and processes of the brain involved in generating conscious experience.

Machine learning, specifically deep learning, has played a crucial role in advancing our understanding of consciousness. By analyzing large amounts of data, deep learning algorithms have helped in identifying patterns and relationships between neural activity and conscious experiences. For example, machine learning techniques have been used to decode and reconstruct visual experiences by analyzing neural activity in the visual cortex, providing insights into the neural basis of visual perception.

Large language models like OpenAI's GPT-series have also contributed to our understanding of consciousness by generating human-like text based on patterns learned from vast amounts of data. Although these models are not conscious themselves, their ability to generate coherent and contextually appropriate responses has sparked discussions about the nature of consciousness and its underlying mechanisms. Moreover, these models have provided a platform for thought experiments and philosophical explorations that can inform our understanding of consciousness in both biological and artificial systems.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can also help us work towards a brain-computer interface (BCI) that enables the sharing of consciousness between people. BCIs are systems that facilitate direct communication between the brain and an external device. By leveraging AI, we can develop algorithms that can decode and interpret the neural signals associated with conscious experiences and thoughts.

Current BCI technologies have shown promise in applications such as restoring motor function for paralyzed individuals, allowing them to control prosthetic limbs or other devices using their thoughts. However, when it comes to sharing consciousness, the challenges are far greater as it involves not only decoding complex neural signals but also finding a way to represent and transmit these signals between individuals.

Advancements in AI could help us overcome these challenges by:

  1. Developing more accurate and efficient decoding algorithms: AI can help us create algorithms that can decipher complex neural signals associated with various aspects of conscious experiences, such as emotions, thoughts, and sensory perceptions.

  2. Creating shared representational spaces: AI techniques could be used to develop a common representational space for neural signals, making it possible for one person's conscious experience to be "translated" and shared with another person.

  3. Enhancing the integration of BCIs with the human brain: AI can contribute to the development of more sophisticated, minimally invasive, and biocompatible interfaces that facilitate seamless communication between the brain and external devices.

  4. Addressing ethical and privacy concerns: As sharing consciousness raises several ethical and privacy-related questions, AI could be employed to develop systems that ensure secure and controlled sharing of information, respecting individual autonomy and privacy.

While the idea of sharing consciousness between people through BCIs remains in the realm of science fiction, advancements in AI and computational neuroscience have brought us closer to realizing this ambitious goal. As our understanding of the neural correlates of consciousness deepens, and as AI technologies continue to evolve, the possibility of achieving this level of communication becomes increasingly plausible.

Nonetheless, there are still several obstacles to overcome, such as understanding the full complexity of human consciousness, developing more advanced BCIs that can seamlessly interface with the human brain, and addressing the ethical, privacy, and social implications that arise from such technologies.

In conclusion, the combination of AI, machine learning, large language models, and computational neuroscience has significantly contributed to our understanding of consciousness. As these fields continue to develop and intersect, they hold great promise for the future of brain-computer interfaces and the potential sharing of consciousness between individuals. This multidisciplinary approach could not only revolutionize how we communicate with one another but also provide valuable insights into the nature of consciousness and its role in our lives.

Now, playing the devil's advocate, how might this technology be misused? Are there any warning signs that researchers should be looking for as the technology progresses?

As with any groundbreaking technology, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and the potential sharing of consciousness also come with risks and the possibility of misuse. It is essential for researchers, developers, and policymakers to be aware of these risks and work collaboratively to prevent unintended consequences. Some potential areas of concern include:

  1. Privacy and surveillance: The ability to access and share an individual's thoughts, emotions, and experiences could lead to unprecedented invasions of privacy. Governments, corporations, or hackers might misuse this technology for surveillance, data mining, or to manipulate people's thoughts and emotions.

  2. Loss of autonomy: The sharing of consciousness could potentially erode personal autonomy, as the boundary between one's own thoughts and those of others becomes blurred. This might make individuals more susceptible to external influences, including coercion or manipulation.

  3. Inequality and discrimination: BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies could exacerbate existing inequalities or create new ones. Access to such technologies might be limited to wealthy individuals, resulting in a digital divide. Additionally, individuals with enhanced cognitive abilities due to BCIs might be subject to discrimination or stigmatization.

  4. Security risks: The technology might be vulnerable to cyberattacks, leading to unauthorized access or control of someone's thoughts, memories, or emotions. This could have severe consequences for both individuals and society as a whole.

  5. Ethical concerns: The ability to share consciousness raises several ethical questions, such as the rights of individuals to control their own thoughts and experiences, the potential for exploitation, and the impact on personal identity and selfhood. The development of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies could challenge our fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, and navigating these ethical dilemmas will be crucial.

  6. Unintended psychological consequences: The sharing of consciousness might lead to unforeseen psychological consequences, such as emotional overwhelm, confusion, or distress. Individuals may have difficulty distinguishing their own thoughts and experiences from those of others, potentially leading to identity crises or other mental health issues.

To mitigate these risks and ensure the responsible development of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies, researchers should be vigilant for warning signs and collaborate closely with ethicists, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Some key considerations include:

  1. Developing robust security and privacy protocols: It is crucial to design systems that prioritize data security and protect users' privacy, ensuring that personal information and experiences are not vulnerable to unauthorized access or misuse.

  2. Establishing ethical guidelines: Researchers and developers should work with ethicists to create ethical guidelines and frameworks to guide the development and use of these technologies. These guidelines should address issues such as consent, autonomy, privacy, and the potential for misuse.

  3. Encouraging public debate and education: Fostering open discussions about the benefits, risks, and implications of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies can help raise awareness and involve society in decision-making processes.

  4. Ensuring accessibility and equity: Researchers and policymakers should strive to make these technologies available and affordable to a broad range of users, preventing the exacerbation of existing inequalities or the emergence of new ones.

  5. Monitoring and regulating development: Governments and international organizations should establish regulations and oversight mechanisms to ensure the responsible development and use of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies.

By being proactive in addressing these concerns and working together across disciplines, it is possible to harness the potential of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies while minimizing their risks and negative consequences. Researchers, developers, policymakers, and other stakeholders should work in tandem to create a future where these technologies are used responsibly and ethically, ultimately benefiting individuals and society as a whole.

In addition, it is essential to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together experts in neuroscience, AI, ethics, law, psychology, and other relevant fields. This will ensure that multiple perspectives are considered when making decisions about the development and application of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies.

Moreover, long-term studies should be conducted to monitor the psychological and social impacts of these technologies on individuals and society. By understanding the potential consequences and addressing them proactively, researchers can help prevent unintended adverse effects on mental health, social dynamics, and personal identity.

Lastly, fostering a culture of transparency and open communication is crucial. Sharing research findings, engaging with the public, and promoting dialogue between different stakeholders will help ensure that the development of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies is guided by the collective wisdom of diverse communities.

In summary, the potential misuse of BCIs and consciousness-sharing technologies underscores the importance of a responsible, interdisciplinary, and collaborative approach to their development. By addressing potential risks and warning signs early on, researchers can help pave the way for the ethical and responsible use of these revolutionary technologies, ultimately harnessing their potential to transform human communication, understanding, and well-being.

Add some more detail to the idea of shared representational spaces. How might humans use these to better understand one another? How might Michel Foucault understand these as mechanisms for shared symbolic communication?

Shared representational spaces refer to the development of a common framework or language that allows the encoding and decoding of neural signals associated with various aspects of conscious experiences. These spaces could facilitate the sharing of consciousness between individuals by translating one person's neural signals into a format that another person's brain can understand and process.

Humans could use shared representational spaces to better understand one another in several ways:

  1. Enhanced empathy: By experiencing another person's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions directly, individuals might develop a deeper understanding of each other's feelings and experiences, leading to increased empathy and compassion.

  2. Improved communication: Shared representational spaces could enable more accurate and nuanced communication, as individuals can directly convey their emotions, ideas, and intentions without the constraints of spoken or written language.

  3. Cross-cultural understanding: These spaces might help bridge cultural gaps, as individuals from different backgrounds could share and experience each other's perspectives, fostering mutual understanding and appreciation.

  4. Conflict resolution: By enabling individuals to experience and understand the viewpoints of others, shared representational spaces could facilitate more effective conflict resolution and promote collaboration.

  5. Enhanced learning and collaboration: Sharing knowledge, skills, and experiences through direct neural communication could revolutionize how we learn and collaborate, allowing for more efficient knowledge transfer and problem-solving.

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher and social theorist, might understand shared representational spaces as mechanisms for shared symbolic communication in the following ways:

  1. Power dynamics: Foucault was particularly interested in the relationship between power and knowledge. Shared representational spaces could create new power dynamics, as those who control access to these spaces or the technologies enabling them might wield significant influence over the flow of information and the shaping of shared experiences. It would be essential to ensure equitable access to these technologies and prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few.

  2. Discourse and knowledge production: Foucault studied the role of discourse in creating and maintaining systems of knowledge. Shared representational spaces might lead to new forms of discourse, as individuals can communicate and exchange information in ways that transcend traditional language and cultural barriers. This could potentially reshape the way knowledge is produced and understood in society.

  3. Normalization and social control: Foucault explored how societies establish norms and regulate behavior through disciplinary mechanisms. Shared representational spaces could introduce new forms of normalization and social control, as they enable more intimate access to individuals' thoughts and experiences. It is crucial to address privacy concerns and prevent the misuse of these technologies for surveillance or manipulation.

  4. Identity construction: Foucault emphasized the fluid and constructed nature of identity. Shared representational spaces might challenge and reshape the concept of self, as the boundaries between individuals blur, and their thoughts and experiences become intertwined. This could lead to novel ways of understanding identity and social relationships.

In conclusion, shared representational spaces offer the potential to revolutionize human understanding and communication. However, it is crucial to consider the philosophical and social implications of these technologies, as they could profoundly impact power dynamics, knowledge production, normalization, and identity construction. Drawing on the insights of thinkers like Michel Foucault can help guide the development of shared representational spaces in a responsible and ethical manner, ensuring that their benefits are realized while minimizing potential risks and unintended consequences.

Can you reformat this conversation as lyrics to a song in a lyrical style similar to artists like the Greatful Dead, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Tom Petty, and the Band?

(Verse 1)
In the field of neuroscience, we find our way,
Explorin' consciousness, a mystery each day.
With machine learning by our side,
We decode the thoughts that we can't hide.

Oh, we're searchin' for the key, to connect our minds,
Share our consciousness, break the ties that bind.
In a world of AI, can we finally see,
The secret to unlock, our shared reality?

(Verse 2)
Deep learning algorithms lead the way,
As we learn to share our thoughts someday.
Large language models, they make us ponder,
What's the nature of our consciousness, we wonder?

Oh, we're searchin' for the key, to connect our minds,
Share our consciousness, break the ties that bind.
In a world of AI, can we finally see,
The secret to unlock, our shared reality?

A shared representational space, we create,
To understand each other, and communicate.
Through empathy, and cross-cultural exchange,
Our world united, forever changed.

(Verse 3)
But we must be careful, with the power we hold,
For in our hands, a new world unfolds.
Privacy and ethics, we must protect,
As we step into the future, and connect.

Oh, we're searchin' for the key, to connect our minds,
Share our consciousness, break the ties that bind.
In a world of AI, can we finally see,
The secret to unlock, our shared reality?

(Verse 4)
Foucault reminds us of the power we share,
In knowledge, discourse, and the symbols we wear.
As we bridge the gap between you and me,
We must consider the consequences, and responsibility.

Oh, we're searchin' for the key, to connect our minds,
Share our consciousness, break the ties that bind.
In a world of AI, can we finally see,
The secret to unlock, our shared reality?

So let us march together, in harmony,
Exploring the depths of our humanity.
With open hearts and minds, we'll find our way,
To a future bright, where our consciousness can play.

Oh, we're searchin' for the key, to connect our minds,
Share our consciousness, break the ties that bind.
In a world of AI, can we finally see,
The secret to unlock, our shared reality?

Last updated on 2023-03-25 15:56:20
Searching and Optimization - Posted on 2023-03-24 20:26:08

Searching and Optimization

Journal, March 24, 2023

After doing extensive experimentation with AI-enhanced search, I've reached the following conclusions:

  1. Search engines destroyed the internet.  From the moment content was ranked in search results, people have ruined the intent of creating and finding original content.  Search results are littered by sites filled with keyword-laden garbage with the sole purpose of selling advertising.  Useful, relevant information is lost among the noise of advertisers competing for the highest ranking with search engine optimized content.
  2. Natural language models are excellent at both summarizing large volumes of data and generating thorough descriptive content from limited prompts.  The way we interact with technology is about to shift in a big way.
  3. AI-enhanced search may help circumvent the noise generated by search engine optimized content to return useful search results.
  4. Natural language models will be used to generate new keyword-laden garbage with the sole purpose of selling advertising.  The utility of AI-enhanced search, while initially exciting, is destined to end up as just another mechanism to sell you stuff.

I await the next year's technological advancements with baited breath.  While we wait, the following transcript is a conversation I had with a natural language model.

Pontificate for a few paragraphs about the problems that search engine optimized content has created for the ability to find useful information on the internet.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has revolutionized the way websites are ranked and searched on the internet. It has helped websites to improve their online visibility and attract more traffic, which in turn can lead to higher sales or more engagement. However, the downside of SEO is that it has also created a range of problems that make it difficult to find useful information on the internet.

One of the main problems with SEO is that it has led to an influx of low-quality, irrelevant content flooding search results. Website owners and content creators have become obsessed with ranking higher on search engines, so they use various tactics like keyword stuffing, link farming, and other black-hat techniques to manipulate search algorithms. This has resulted in a glut of low-quality content that is not useful, informative, or trustworthy.

Another issue with SEO is that it has led to a lack of diversity in search results. When search engines prioritize websites based on their SEO strategies, it often means that smaller, niche websites that are not optimized for search engines are pushed further down the rankings. This means that users are less likely to find information that is specific to their needs, preferences, or interests.

Furthermore, SEO has also led to a decline in the quality of online journalism and writing. Many content creators are more focused on creating content that is optimized for search engines rather than creating high-quality, well-researched content that is informative and engaging. This can lead to a decline in the credibility and reputation of online journalism and can make it difficult for users to find reliable sources of information.

In conclusion, while SEO has undoubtedly improved the way websites are ranked and searched on the internet, it has also created a range of problems that make it difficult to find useful information. The influx of low-quality content, lack of diversity in search results, and decline in the quality of online journalism are all issues that need to be addressed if we want to improve the usefulness and credibility of information on the internet.

Can you expand a bit further on the glut of low-quality content?

Certainly! One of the biggest problems with the glut of low-quality content on the internet is that it can be challenging for users to find the information they need. With so many websites producing low-quality content that is optimized for search engines, users may be inundated with pages that are irrelevant, outdated, or misleading.

For example, imagine you are searching for information about a particular health condition. You type a few keywords into a search engine and are presented with pages and pages of results. However, many of these pages are not useful because they are either too general, too specific, or just plain wrong. This can be frustrating for users who are looking for reliable information and may cause them to question the credibility of online sources.

Another issue with low-quality content is that it can damage the reputation and credibility of websites that produce high-quality content. When users encounter low-quality content on a website, they may assume that the entire site is not trustworthy, even if other pages on the site contain valuable information. This can lead to a decline in traffic, engagement, and revenue for website owners.

Finally, the glut of low-quality content can also have negative consequences for the wider online ecosystem. When websites prioritize SEO over content quality, they may be less likely to invest in research, editing, and fact-checking. This can lead to the spread of misinformation and may contribute to the erosion of public trust in online information sources.

Overall, the glut of low-quality content is a significant problem on the internet, and it is important for content creators and search engines to work together to address it. By focusing on producing high-quality, informative content that meets the needs of users, we can help to ensure that the internet remains a valuable resource for information and knowledge.

What remedies exist for users who are trying to find high-quality content amidst these problems?

Fortunately, there are several remedies that exist for users who are trying to find high-quality content amidst the problems created by SEO. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  1. Use specific and relevant search terms: Instead of using general keywords to search for information, try using more specific and relevant terms. This can help to filter out irrelevant content and bring up results that are more closely aligned with your interests and needs.

  2. Use advanced search options: Many search engines offer advanced search options that allow users to filter results based on specific criteria, such as date, language, or location. By using these options, users can narrow down their search results and find content that is more useful and relevant.

  3. Look for trusted sources: When searching for information, look for websites and sources that are known for producing high-quality content. This may include academic journals, reputable news outlets, and government websites. These sources are often more reliable and trustworthy than other websites that prioritize SEO over content quality.

  4. Read user reviews and ratings: Before clicking on a link or visiting a website, take some time to read user reviews and ratings. This can give you a sense of whether the content is reliable, informative, and trustworthy.

  5. Verify information from multiple sources: When you find information online, take the time to verify it from multiple sources. This can help you to identify inconsistencies, inaccuracies, or biases in the information and can help you to build a more complete and accurate understanding of the topic.

By using these strategies, users can navigate the challenges created by SEO and find high-quality, reliable content on the internet.

What role will ai-enhanced search play in creating or alleviating these issues?

AI-enhanced search has the potential to both create and alleviate the issues related to search engine optimization (SEO) and low-quality content on the internet.

On one hand, AI-enhanced search can exacerbate these issues by allowing websites to more easily manipulate search results and produce low-quality content that is optimized for search engines. For example, some websites may use AI-generated content to quickly produce pages that are designed to rank well in search results, even if the content is low-quality or irrelevant to users' needs.

However, AI-enhanced search also has the potential to alleviate these issues by helping users to find high-quality, relevant content on the internet. For example, search engines can use AI algorithms to analyze content quality, relevance, and credibility, and prioritize results that meet these criteria. This can help to filter out low-quality content and present users with pages that are more useful and informative.

AI-enhanced search can also help to personalize search results based on users' interests and needs, providing them with more targeted and relevant content. This can help users to find the information they need more quickly and efficiently, without having to sift through pages of irrelevant or low-quality content.

Overall, the impact of AI-enhanced search on the issues related to SEO and low-quality content will depend on how it is implemented and used. If search engines and content creators prioritize quality and relevance over SEO, and use AI algorithms to support these goals, then AI-enhanced search can be a powerful tool for helping users to find high-quality content on the internet. However, if the focus remains on manipulating search results and producing low-quality content, then AI-enhanced search may only exacerbate these issues.

Can you briefly discuss the responsibility of content creators in creating high-quality, relevant content to improve the utility of search engines, but discuss it from the perspective of a drunken bard singing tales of adventure in an olde English tavern?

Ah, my dear friend, let me spin ye a yarn about the responsibility of content creators in the realm of search engines. Now, back in my day, if a bard wanted his tales of adventure to be heard by many, he had to perform them in front of crowds in the taverns and town squares. But nowadays, with this magic thing called the internet, content creators can share their stories with the world at the touch of a button.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. If ye want to make a name for yerself in the world of search engines, ye must create high-quality, relevant content that will stand the test of time. Ye must be truthful in yer tales, and not succumb to the temptation of using fancy words and empty phrases to manipulate the search results.

Ye see, the search engines are like the bards of old, collecting and sharing tales from around the world. And just like the bards, the search engines rely on the quality and relevance of the content they collect to keep their audience engaged. So, if ye want to be a successful content creator in the age of search engines, ye must take responsibility for the stories ye tell and the content ye create. Ye must strive to create tales that will inspire and inform, and that will stand the test of time.

In conclusion, my dear friend, the responsibility of content creators in creating high-quality, relevant content to improve the utility of search engines is paramount. Just like the bards of old, we must be truthful in our tales and take pride in the quality of our craft. For it is only by creating content that is worthy of the search engines that we can hope to capture the hearts and minds of our audience. Now, who's up for another round of ale?

What are two key takeaways from our conversation?

Based on our conversation, two key takeaways are:

  1. The abundance of low-quality content on the internet has created a challenge for users who are searching for high-quality and relevant information. This is due in part to the emphasis on search engine optimization (SEO), which has led some content creators to prioritize manipulation of search results over the creation of valuable content.

  2. The emergence of AI-enhanced search offers hope for a brighter future, as it has the potential to alleviate some of the issues related to SEO and the glut of low-quality content on the internet. By prioritizing high-quality and relevant content and personalizing search results based on users' interests and needs, AI-enhanced search can help users to find the information they need more quickly and efficiently. However, it will be important for content creators and search engines to prioritize quality and relevance over SEO in order to fully realize the benefits of AI-enhanced search.

If those two key points were further summarized into a message printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

The message on the t-shirt could be: "Quality over Optimization: AI-enhanced search offers hope in the battle against low-quality content."

Is it possible to summarize that further as a custom vehicle license plate?

Yes, it is possible to summarize the message further as a custom vehicle license plate. One possible option could be: "QLTYOVRSEO".

How would Michel Foucault analyze this issue?

Michel Foucault, a prominent philosopher and social theorist, might approach the issue of search engine optimization and the glut of low-quality content on the internet from a critical perspective that emphasizes power relations, knowledge production, and discourse.

From Foucault's perspective, the emphasis on search engine optimization reflects a broader societal trend toward the commodification of knowledge and the prioritization of certain forms of knowledge over others. By manipulating search engine algorithms and creating low-quality content designed to boost rankings, content creators are engaging in a form of power that shapes what knowledge is privileged and what is excluded.

Foucault might argue that this problem is not simply a matter of individual content creators or search engine companies, but rather is embedded in the broader power relations and discourses that structure society. He might also argue that the emergence of AI-enhanced search, while potentially beneficial, is not a panacea for this problem, as it too is subject to the same power relations and knowledge production processes that shape the internet as a whole.

Ultimately, from Foucault's perspective, the issue of search engine optimization and low-quality content reflects larger societal issues related to power, knowledge, and discourse, and requires a critical examination of these underlying structures in order to address it effectively.

What about Jacques Derrida? How would he analyze this issue, and how would his approach differ from Foucault?

Jacques Derrida, another prominent philosopher, might approach the issue of search engine optimization and low-quality content on the internet from a deconstructive perspective.

From Derrida's perspective, the problem of low-quality content on the internet is not simply a matter of misguided content creators or flawed search engine algorithms, but rather reflects deeper epistemological and ontological issues related to the production and dissemination of knowledge. Derrida might argue that all knowledge production is inherently unstable and contested, as language is inherently ambiguous and meaning is always subject to interpretation and re-interpretation.

In the context of search engine optimization and the internet, Derrida might argue that the emphasis on keywords and rankings reflects a misguided belief in the stability and objectivity of language, and that the proliferation of low-quality content reflects a broader crisis of representation and meaning in contemporary society.

In contrast to Foucault, who emphasizes the role of power relations and discourse in shaping knowledge production, Derrida's approach is more concerned with the inherent instability and contingency of meaning, and the ways in which this instability and contingency is often suppressed or overlooked in dominant discourses.

Overall, Derrida's approach to this issue would be more focused on deconstructing the assumptions and structures that underpin search engine optimization and the internet as a whole, in order to reveal the inherent instability and contingency of meaning and knowledge production in contemporary society.

What would Guy Debord do about it?

Guy Debord, a prominent philosopher and member of the Situationist International, might approach the issue of search engine optimization and low-quality content on the internet from a critical perspective that emphasizes the alienation and commodification of social life under capitalism.

From Debord's perspective, the emphasis on search engine optimization and the proliferation of low-quality content reflects a broader trend towards the commodification of information and the transformation of social life into a series of spectacles or simulations. Debord might argue that search engine optimization and the internet as a whole represent a form of "spectacle" that is designed to distract and entertain users, rather than inform or enlighten them.

Debord might also argue that the proliferation of low-quality content on the internet reflects the devaluation of authentic human experience and creativity under capitalism, as content creators are incentivized to produce mass-produced content that conforms to the demands of search engine algorithms rather than reflecting genuine human interests or concerns.

Overall, Debord's approach to this issue would be to critique the underlying structures of capitalism that have led to the commodification of information and the proliferation of low-quality content on the internet. He might advocate for a more radical reorganization of society that places a greater emphasis on human creativity and authentic social relationships, rather than the production of spectacle or the pursuit of profit.

One last request on this topic before we wrap it up: if this conversation were the lyrics of a pop song, how would it go? Please provide at least three verses, a chorus, and a bridge.

Verse 1:
Searchin' on the internet, it's a real mess
SEO got us all obsessed
Low-quality content, it's all around
Can't find the good stuff, it's buried deep down

Oh, we need some high-quality content
To make the internet relevant
No more keyword stuffing or clickbait
Let's make the internet great

Verse 2:
Reviews can be helpful, but can we trust?
Fake news and scams, they're just a bust
AI-enhanced search, it's the future
Can it solve our problems? Let's nurture

Oh, we need some high-quality content
To make the internet relevant
No more keyword stuffing or clickbait
Let's make the internet great

Foucault and Derrida have their say
Debord critiques the capitalist way
Philosophers in the mix
Searching for a new internet fix

Oh, we need some high-quality content
To make the internet relevant
No more keyword stuffing or clickbait
Let's make the internet great

Last updated on 2023-03-25 02:35:36
Organics and Adaptation - Posted on 2022-11-13 05:12:54

Organics and Adaptation

Journal, November 13, 2022

Every once in a while, when shopping for groceries, I pick up the organic stuff.  It's horrendously overpriced, I think, but it's good to do an A:B comparison for flavor's sake.  Anyway, I picked up a $6 half gallon of organic grass-fed milk on my last trip to the grocery.  Imagine my surprise when, upon drinking a glass, I was reminded of what things tasted like when I was younger.  It's not that it tastes better or different, rather, it tastes the way it should.  Contrasted with what non-organic milk tastes like, I'm struck with how much we've lost over the years.

You see, I was raised in a time before bioengineered food ingredients; before organic was an FDA-regulated label.  Back then, there wasn't a distinction - there was just ... food.  Reflecting on this, I wonder how much of that distinction was created to artificially manufacture a luxury market.  I can imagine that bioengineering helps to increase production yeild - read: maximize profits.  Surely doing things the old-fashioned way is less efficient, and acquiring organic certification is costly.  But, what do we, the consumers gain from all this?

Every once in a while, the run-of-the-mill half and half I pour in my coffee literally tastes like a chemical bath.  Is it the milk that's bad?  Well, that milk is the end result of a complex production process.  Cows produce that milk - they release hormones based on their treatment, the milk is produced based on their diet, and that milk is treated using who knows what kind of process in a factory before it gets to us.  There's a lot of factors involved  If the cows are fed a bunch of chemicals, eating food that's produced with a bunch of chemicals, and the production process involves a bunch of chemicals, well, it's going to taste bad.  Except, that bad taste wasn't an overnight thing - it's been slowly getting worse over the years, giving us time to taper our expectation as to what milk tastes like.  If you'd have handed me that chemical cocktail a few decades ago, I'd have spit it out.  Now it's the norm.

Then, you take a drink of that $6 half gallon of luxury milk.  Only, there's nothing special about it at all.  It's literally just ... milk.  It's milk produced on a farm by a cow that eats grass - the way cows are naturally inclined to do.  We've become so adapted to the unnatural, chemically altered, bioengineered garbage that we've forgotten what food is supposed to taste like.  Is this some kind of magic food?  No, it's literally just food.  This is food without all the garbage used by the manufacturer to maximize their profits.  Instead, they maximize their profits by charging us a luxury tax for the privilege of enjoying normal food.  It's absurd.

You are what you eat, and so's your food.  Anyway, I think we took a wrong turn a long time ago.

Last updated on 2022-11-13 05:57:51
Struggles and Righteousness - Posted on 2022-11-02 02:35:50

Struggles and Righteousness

Journal, November 2, 2022

Reflecting back on my life, I tend to think in terms of where I want to be, rather than where I came from.  This seems like a good idea in theory - keep your eyes on the prize, as it were.  In practice, it leads to a constant sense of inadequacy.  Consider, if you will, the prototypical American Dream: I want a partner, a house, health and wealth.  On this longitudinal study of life, I'm not where I want to be.  I'm never where I want to be.  This leads me to experience the occasional sense of dread - "shit," I think, "I'm failing to succeed."  The dichotomous irony is not lost on me.

In all fairness, the issue with this mindset seems fairly straightforward.  Throughout my life, I've grown and evolved and improved.  As I've progressed, I've set and accomplished goals.  As goals are passed, the goalpost moves further and further out.  I know that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind towards - that has never been up for debate.  I'm not where I want to be because, quite simply, that destination is fluid: it evolves into an ever-more-polished version of where I was heading before.

Why, then, not look back towards the path I traveled to get here?  Why not acknowledge when a destination has been reached?  It seems so silly and inefficient, I think.  That's the past, and dwelling on it isn't going to propel me towards the future.  I've got places to go, mind you, and I can't be bothered to wallow in the history of where I was and who I used to be.  I've come too far and worked too hard to slip back into the past.  Perhaps I'm averse to what came before, or perhaps I'm too focused on where I'm going.  One constant is certain - history repeats.  One hope is clear - repeat the success and learn from the failure.  I've come a long way and overcome many struggles.  For all the challenges in life, I've been blessed with opportunities.  There's always a balance; one that tends to tip in my favor, and that has my best interests in mind.  As my mom used to say, the universe provides.

Despite the history of overcoming obstacles, I still sit here wondering if perhaps it's all gone wrong.  Small stresses, anxiety, worries, and tribulations can weigh down like a heavy blanket that suffocates tranquility with concern.  Is it two steps forward, one step back?  Is that step backwards going to drop me off a crag into an endless pit of despair?  It's not likely - historically speaking, I've overcome all odds - but that weight is difficult to ignore.  The struggle is real.

This brings me to the idea of righteousness.

My sense of spirituality can get pretty out there, but one thing I hold as an absolute.  I'm going to do what I think is right.  I don't hold ill will for others - I want the best for everyone.  I want the best for myself.  I don't want to hurt people to get there - I want to help others succeed with me. In no way do I believe that my right is the same as anyone else's - in fact, I can only assert that my right is right for me and me alone, and I don't expect anyone else to adopt what I think is right for themselves.  With that, I believe that so long as I'm doing the right thing, the universe is going to provide.  Doors will open along the way to help me get to where I'm headed.  Do the right thing and everything will work out in the end.  Yes, it's ethereal nonsense and yes, it doesn't have to make sense and yes, it's been working for me.

I suppose these concerns are the checks and balances that keep me on the right path.  Nothing comes easy, nor should it.  One cannot learn and grow without challenge.  A brief glance back to where I came from is enough to remind me that I can handle it.

Last updated on 2022-11-02 21:11:04
Privacy and Capitalism - Posted on 2022-07-23 03:31:10

Privacy and Capitalism

Journal, July 22, 2022

A while back I put out an article on online privacy (Whose Privacy Is It? - Met Media). At the time, my perspective was focused on the individual's willingness and capacity to share information beyond their immediate social sphere. In communication, the concept of privacy management establishes privacy as a coordinated exercise in trust between parties who, ideally, effectively communicate boundaries to negotiate the ownership of private information and its disclosure to third parties. Broadly, communication doesn't have an undo. If you're going to communicate (and you can't not communicate), be intentional in your disclosure and aware that it may be shared with others.

A lot has changed since I wrote that article. At the time, my intent was to bring awareness to what people choose to post online. Aristotle taught me to always consider the audience when crafting communication. The key difference, now, is the sheer volumne of data that we create and transmit online.  It's much more than the photos we post, or the messages we share.  The metadata—the data we create incidental to our use of products and services—is currency. It's grown beyond what we choose to share online - posting on social media, writing product reviews, and other acts of intentional communication. What we share online may well be literally everything we do. Where we go, who we interact with, what we use, our interests, our desires, our feelings.  That's a big claim, so allow me to break it down with some real-world examples.

It's early in the morning and your alarm goes off. You turn off your alarm (on your phone). Your phone's manufacturer and the developer of its operating system tracks every interaction you have with it - when the screen turns on, for how long, which apps were opened, where you pressed. They know when your alarm goes off, when you disable it, how long you looked at the screen for, and when you put the phone back on the table. They sell this data (and more) to countless companies who want to sell you things, and they analyze this data to develop more engaging user experiences in an effort to capture your attention.

Maybe you head to the bathroom and open your favorite social media app. That app is collecting countless data points, like which posts you view, for how long, what you interact with, what you press, how long you use the app, and is likely taking input from your cameras and microphones to analyze your nonverbal emotional responses to content and to identify keywords for providing targeted advertising. Beyond interaction data, they're also collecting system information like your GPS location, the wifi networks near you, and information about the other devices connected to your network - your computer, your television, your game consoles, your smart devices.

You hop in the shower. As you're washing up, your water heater turns on. Your water heater, along with other electronic devices, present distinct energy signatures that your energy company monitors for. Your energy company knows when you use heating, cooling, refrigeration, cooking, entertainment, laundry, lighting, and always-on devices.

You get dressed, walk to the kitchen, and make breakfast. When you purchased those clothes and that food, the stores your purchased them from collected countless data points about you - the products you purchased, the coupons you used, your personal information if you signed up for a store card. When you walked into the store, beacons identified your phone using bluetooth and wifi. Security systems profile your movements, your appearance, your face. The register tracks your purchases and associates them with your credit card. Each of these tracking systems build a shared profile of you and your shopping habits.

Let's say you have a bit of time to watch a quick episode of your favorite show. You turn on your smart TV and load up your favorite streaming app. Both your TV and the app are siphoning your viewing habits to themselves and to countless third party analytics vendors. Some smart TVs send your viewing habits on one service to their competitors. Some smart TVs have cameras and microphones and they're doing the same thing your phone is doing when you load up your favorite social media app.

All this and you haven't even started your work day.

Every device on your network is connecting to servers on the internet - your phone, your smart TV, your thermostat, your cameras, your tablet, your computer. Each time one of these devices wants to connect to a server on the internet, it needs to identify that server's address. The process for identifying that server's address is called a DNS query. Perhaps your phone synchronizes its clock once a day - that's a DNS query to a timeserver, like This morning, in a two hour window, devices on my home network make 5,624 DNS queries from the time my alarm went off in the morning until I left the house for work. While I was at work? 19,307. My television, which I haven't turned on in over 24 hours, is responsible for 4,154. Your internet service provider is aware of every single connection. If they're your DNS provider, they know as much about you as every device collecting data knows about you. They sell this data (and more) to countless companies who want to sell you things. This data is also widely understood to be tapped by our government.

The problem here, and the reason I revisit this topic, is that the concept of privacy centers around ownership of information and control over disclosure. We have all but lost any sense of privacy in the digital sphere. It's increasingly offensive that so many products and services show complete disregard for our data. It's incredibly alarming that our data has become the capital through which new products and services are developed, marketed, and implemented. It's challenging, if not downright impossible to stay off the grid.

When I purchased a smart TV, I wanted a device to watch media. I paid good money for it, and in exchange for my money, that TV silently sells my data to countless companies for their own benefit. In addition to numerous servers that I can identify as owned by the manufacturer, the TV sends information to numerous analytics vendors, streaming services that I'm not subscribed to, and larger software and technology companies.  Remember that today, my television which has been powered off is responsible for over 4,000 connections to the internet. When I subscribed to a streaming platform, I wanted to watch media provided by that platform. I paid good money for it, and in exchange for my money, that service silently sells my data to countless companies for their own benefit. If I watch a show on one popular streaming platform, the app makes nearly constant connections to no less than six distinct analytics vendors in addition to content delivery networks owned by third parties. In neither case did I want to disclose my viewing habits - I paid for a product and service, they received money for a product and service, and that's as far as I'm interested in extending our relationship. In both cases there's significant boundary turbulence. It's not just the people I paid for the product and service that are monitoring literally everything I do with both. They disclose that information to countless third parties and I have no control over that disclosure.

If I purchase a paper book from a store, that store knows what I purchased and the publisher knows a book was sold.  Once I take that book home, the author, publisher, and retailer have no insight into what I do with it.  Whether I read it, stop mid-way through it, dog-ear a page, or bookmark it before leaving it on the coffee table, nobody else needs to know.  There's no service tracking which word I'm on, no analytics vendor analyzing how fast I'm reading it, no myriad of databases logging my use.  It's nobody's business whether I'm reading it, using it for toilet paper, or lighting it on fire.  My relationship with any third parties involved in the book ends once I've paid for it.  I think that's how it should be.

I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in my own home. Data vendors have gone too far, and I think it's time we take our privacy back.

Last updated on 2022-10-02 03:23:22
Dollars and Sense - Posted on 2022-01-29 02:45:17

Dollars and Sense

Journal, January 29, 2022

Financial responsibility has been an ever-growing fascination of mine.  The concept of budgeting didn't make sense to me for a long time - as long as I was bringing in money, I didn't want to worry about it.  Once I started tracking all the money coming in and going out, those worries became tangible.  I look back on past me and wonder why I kept my head in the sand, but I acknowledge that past me didn't know any better.  Present me has been on top of my finances for years now, and future me has some lofty financial goals.  This fascination - of knowing what my money is doing - is our topic for today.

Student Loans

I remember my college days - working five jobs, studying a full courseload, and taking out student loans.  Back then, my big financial focus was on bringing in more money.  As long as the checks kept rolling in, I'd be ok.  I wasn't ok, to be fair.  I had no concept of tracking my spending and my litmus test for financial stability was whether I could afford to pay all my bills.  Looking back, the financial mindset I had then is surprisingly commonplace - I was, by definition, living paycheck to paycheck.  I wasn't saving money, and my money wasn't working for me.  I was working to make ends meet.

As my college days continued, the ever-present threat of my student loans grew larger and more terrifying.  That very large number kept growing, and for all my efforts to throw what I could afford at it, it grew larger still.  At the time, this just didn't make sense - if I'm paying the debt, it should decrease, not increase.  If it's increasing, even though I'm paying it, there's something wrong.  This sent me down a rabbit hole of research, mathematical formulas, and working with my student loan servicer to make sure that I understood the math correctly.  I'll provide a simple example here and then work through integrating that example with a total picture of all loans.

Calculating Interest

Say you've got a loan for $5,000 at 6.8%.  Your student loan servicer puts you on a payment plan assuming a ten-year payoff (120 months).  Your monthly payment for this loan is $57.54.  Not too bad, right?  Wrong.

Value Description Excel Formula
$5,000 Principal [P]
6.8% Interest rate [i]
$0.93 Daily interest [d] =(P*I)/365.25
$28.86 Monthly interest [m] =d*31
120 Loan term (months) [n]
$57.54 Monthly payment [Pmt] =-PMT(i/12,n,P)
$28.68 Payment to principal =Pmt-m
$1,866.26 Loan interest paid =-CUMIPMT(i/12,n,P,1,n,1)



Using the above math, your $5,000 loan ends up costing $6,866.26.  Here's the thing, though: student loan interest accrues daily.  What this means is on the end of day 1, your $5,000 loan is a $5,000.93 loan.  At the end of the month, your $5,000 loan is a $5,028.86 loan.  You pay your $57.54, knocking your balance down to $4,971.32  Here's a quick amortization chart for the first six months of payments:

Principal Rate Daily Monthly To principal Payment
$5,000 6.8% $0.93 $28.86 $28.68 $57.54
$4,971.32 6.8% $0.93 $28.69 $28.85 $57.54
$4,942.47 6.8% $0.92 $28.52 $29.02 $57.54
$4,913.45 6.8% $0.91 $28.36 $29.18 $57.54
$4,884.27 6.8% $0.91 $28.19 $29.35 $57.54
$4,854.92 6.8% $0.90 $28.02 $29.52 $57.54


You'll note that over time the accrued interest decreases and the payment to principal increases, but it's a slow process.  Ideally you're paying down the principal, rather than paying interest to the loan servicer.  They're assuming a ten year repayment, but with diligence you'll pay them down much faster.

Calculating Extra Payments

The challenge is in tracking and calculating these numbers across multiple loans.  Towards the end of my college career I set up a spreadsheet to track all of my loans using these same formulas across each of their principal balances and interest rates.  I additionally calculated out how many months left I have at my current payment rate, and the monthly payment for each loan I'd have to make to pay them off in three years.  Finally, I calculated out a rank for each loan to prioritize which loans would get the most impact from extra payments.  Here's an example, including the Excel formulas to calculate everything:

Principal [P] Rate [i] Daily [d] Monthly [m] To principal Payment [Pmt] Remaining [n] Interest paid 3 years?
$5,000 6.8% $0.93 $28.86 $28.68 $57.54 120.0 $1,865.91 $153.93
    =(P*I)/365.25 =d*31 =Pmt-m =-PMT(i/12,n,P) =-NPER(i/12,Pmt,P) =-CUMIPMT(i/12,n,P,1,n,1) =PMT(i/12,36,P)


Each time I make a payment I update the Principal value for each loan - the value of the loan on the day of the payment minus the payment amount.  The rest of the sheet calculates everything else automatically.  Using these calculations across each loan allows me to track the total value of all loans, the total interest paid, the expected interest paid, where to prioritize extra payments, and the remaining number of payments until each loan is paid off.


Once the big, scary student loan monster had been reduced to simple math, the next priority for me was creating a budget.  I knew that I wanted to pay off my loans faster than ten years, and I wanted to minimize the total amount of interest paid.  In order to afford extra payments, I needed to know where my money was going.  I wanted to save money, and the formula for that is simple: spend less money than you earn.  Seems easy enough, right?  Well...

It turns out a lot of people don't really keep tabs on where their money goes.  Looking back, it seems pretty reckless - that paycheck-to-paycheck mentality allowed me to survive, but it didn't help me thrive.  I wanted to put an end to that and do things right.  Creating a budget requires knowing where your money is going.  For me, that meant tracking every penny I spent and every penny I received.  My budget started on a sticky note, one sticky note per month.


Tracking income can be challenging.  If you're working an hourly job or receive tips, the monthly income you receive can be wildly variable.  The important thing is to keep track of it.  Even if you don't have a consistent paycheck, being able to estimate your monthly income will make budgeting a lot easier.  When I started budgeting I was working a minimum wage hourly job with tips.  Every paycheck and each day's tips were added to the income line on my sticky note.  At the end of the month I'd total up each line and sum both categories to count my total monthly income.

Budget (Month, Year)
Income: Paychecks $600+$550
Income: Tips $30+20+12+14+35 ...

Tracking expenses (your spending) is crucial.  Not only should you know every dollar that was spent, but also which category of things you spent it in.  At first, I had to look at my spending for a month to figure out rough categories.  As time went on, my spending categories switched around a bit until I figured out the right mix for me.  Initially, my categories were fairly simple: rent, utilities, debts (student loans), travel, food, and discretionary.  Just like the income, each time I spent money I would add the amount that I spent to the appropriate category.  At the end of the month, I would add up each of the numbers in each category to get a total of each category and a total spend for my expenses.

Category Spend Description
Rent $500 Monthly rent
Utilities $20+50+70 Gas/electric, water/sewage/trash, internet, cellphone
Debts $57.54 Student loans
Travel $30+50 Gas, car insurance, repairs
Food $76.54+21+148.60+13.18+21 Groceries, eating out
Discretionary $35+18.64+90 Allowance: clothes, haircuts, toys


Using the above sticky note budget across a handful of months, I was able to estimate my monthly income and expenses across each category.  Using those estimates as a guideline, I was able to make room for extra payments on the student loans as well as set aside money for savings.  It took a few months of diligently tracking everything, but the habit was worth the hassle.  With time and experience, the goal with budgeting is to allocate a set number of dollars to each category of spending, and to have every dollar of your income accounted for.  Those budget categories can be exact (I know what my rent costs) or rough numbers (I want to spend no more than $350 on groceries).  Here's a simplified example.

Category Budget Spend Description
Income $1,800 $1,914.54 Paychecks + Tips
Rent $500 $500  
Utilities $140 $20+50+70 Gas/electric, W/S/T, internet, phone
Debts $60 $57.54 Student loans
Travel $100 $30+50 Gas, car insurance, repairs
Groceries $350 $76.54+148.60  
Eating out $50 $21+13.18+21  
Discretionary $150 $35+18.64+90 Allowance: clothes, haircuts, toys
Savings $450 $716.04 What's left at the end of the month


With the chart above, each budget category has an allocated amount.  I knew from experience that I'd bring in an average amount of money every month, and I could use that to allocate my spending across the rest of my budget.  For each expense category, I had estimated what I expected (or wanted) to spend.  The leftover money I allocated to savings.  Then, at the end of the month, I totaled up my income and subtracted each expense from it.  What was left was my savings - they money that I could set aside to build up my emergency fund.


As I mentioned above, the fomula for savings is simple: spend less than you earn.  Armed with my sticky note budget, I was able to monitor my spending in various categories and adjust my habits to spend less when needed.  For example, as time went on I split the food category into two: groceries and eating out.  This allowed me to see that I had been spending more money than I'd like eating out, and to put my focus on groceries.  With that attention to reduced spending, I'd end up with money left over at the end of the month.  This money got transferred to savings.

Having money in savings is great, but knowing why you're doing it is even better.  I think of savings goals in a few different tiers.  The first step is to build up an emergency fund.

Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is the first step towards financial responsibility.  If you don't want to live paycheck to paycheck, you have to have enough money in savings to cover an emergency.  To start, save up $1,000.  Then, save up a month's worth of expenses.  Once you're a month ahead, you're not living paycheck to paycheck.  Then, save up 3-6 months of expenses to cover you in case of an emergency like a job loss or other catestrophic event.  This part is really challenging!  What I found was the first $5,000 was the hardest.  Once I'd save up a decent amount, some event would happen that wiped out a good portion of the emergency fund.  I wanted to be frustrated, as I'd worked hard to save up for it.  In reality, the emergency fund was working exactly how it's supposed to - it's money that you have available in case of emergencies.  For example, I had to get new tires and brakes on my car, to the tune of $800.  At the time, that was a significant amount of money, but I had it available in my emergency fund to make it work.  

Baby Steps

Over the years my financial situation has gotten increasingly more complex, and my long-term goals have become more and more attainable.  The reason these things are managable is because I took a good, long look at what my money was doing.  It wasn't easy (even today there's struggles) but it's been worthwhile.  I suppose the takeaway here is that I've been fascinated with knowing what my money is doing, and I wanted to share that in the hopes that it helps somebody else.  I remember in my younger days wondering why nobody taught financial responsibility.  As I get older I realize that part of being an adult is taking responsibility for myself, and that means having difficult conversations, asking for help, and taking all the advice I can get.  I hope this information is useful to you, and thanks for reading!

Last updated on 2022-01-29 21:18:19
Friendships and Entanglement - Posted on 2021-10-08 01:30:47

Friendships and Entanglement

Journal, October 7, 2021

Friendships are an interesting part of being a functional human being, and they're something I've always struggled to define.  In my normal day to day I'll interact with dozens of people.  Some of those people are new - fresh, untainted, never before interacted hot-off-the-presses other human beings.  Strangers in the elevators, delivery personnel, cashiers and other service workers, people in the aisle at the grocery store looking at the same cuts of meat.  Some of those people are regular.  Coworkers, receptionists, clients, the barista at your favorite coffee shop, the people you sit next to in class.  Some of those people are ever-present over long periods of time.  Your family, the people you knew from high school, the people who share your hobbies and interest and adventures.  Some of those people know you really well.  Those who you trust, who you confide in, who advise you.  Which of them are friends?  Where is the line drawn?

There's an old quote I don't know the attribution for - a stranger's just a friend you haven't met.  To me, this implies that the opportunity for friendship is endless and bountiful.  Any stranger can become a friend, this is without question.  What's the trigger event?  Is it a continuum?  If I drew a line between two points - one one end, stranger, on the other, friend - what sequence of events or descriptive qualifiers could I place on the line where it swung from one to the other?  Well, let me give it a shot.

First, I take what I know and I define it in certain terms.  A stranger is someone I haven't met before.  If I meet them once, they were a stranger.  If I meet them again, they're a stranger no longer.  I leave the apartment for work in the morning and some strange woman is accompanying her dog to the bathroom on the lawn.  "Good morning", I say in passing.  Smiles are exchanged.  No name, no life history, no context, no friendship.  The next day, the same woman accompanies her dog to the bathroom on the lawn.  Mustn't be a stranger at this point; now it's a neighbor.  "Cute dog.  What's their name?"  Smalltalk ensues.  If this happens frequently enough, that person fits squarely in the acquaintance category.

OK, so stranger is defined - a transient category that breaks the moment a subsequent encounter occurs.  Acquaintance, then.  This is someone that I interact with regularly.  I probably know their name, I may know bits and pieces of their lives, we likely talk briefly about rapport-establishing topics and maybe even talk in depth about a limited number of things now and again.  These are people I may see every day, but typically I only see them in a single context.  Coworkers getting coffee at breakfast.  Other customers at the cafe on similar days.  When I worked as a barista, this category would encompass the regular customers I chatted with.  Even though we'd interact frequently, discuss a myriad of topics, and inquire about happenings in each others' lives, I'd still bucket this as an acquaintance.  I think, then, that acquaintances are people with whom you've established a decent rapport, but only interact with in limited contexts - only at work, for example.

Friends are the next logical step, I think, and this is where it gets fuzzy.  Say the neighbor asks me out for coffee some time while her dog uses the grass next to me as a toilet.  We shift contexts - now we're building a communicative history, sharing experiences, and developing interpersonal intimacy.  As we do more things together in other contexts we get more entangled in each other's lives.  I invite a coworker out on a bike ride - we ride, we chat, we get to know each other outside of work.  This grows into a friendship as well.  Right?  Well...

Then there's people who you share experiences with, build intimacy with, learn, grow with, understand, support, share inside jokes, struggle, have conflicts, resolve them, and enjoy silence together.  This is the category that I would typically ascribe to friends, but they're so incredibly rare and require so much investment in time and energy to build.  In this category I may have anywhere from one to a small handful of people.  These relationships are so incredibly valuable that they become a pillar of support and encouragement in one's life.  These are most certainly friends by any account.

The fuzzy areas, then, are: what draws the boundary between friends and best friends, and what happens when one is flush with acquaintances and friend poor?  For the dozens of people I interact with on a day to day, the bulk of them are acquaintances, certainly.  Maybe one of them is a friend, or, a friend by the absurdly high standard that my mind has previously held for the title.  In this, I think that friends, or, the potential thereof, are in abundance.  Any number of these acquaintances has the potential to become a friend and even a best friend, given the time, energy, and wherewithal to grow.  Not all friendships need to reach the intimacy that a best friend requires.  Most friendships, I think, are acquaintances that shift between contexts.  The best friend, that level of intimacy, is something special.  Something rare.  A title that needn't be held by everyone, but an opportunity available to anyone given the time.

So, what then defines the boundary between stranger and friend?  Well, if we've interacted on numerous occasions, you're definitely not a stranger.  If we interact regularly in the same context, you're definitely an acquaintance.  If we interact in different context, sharing experiences and developing interpersonal intimacy, we're probably friends.  And, if that grows into vulnerability, trust, advice, and confiding, it's likely that you're one of the ones that's going to stick around.

Last updated on 2021-10-08 02:30:11
Separation and Rebuilding - Posted on 2021-10-06 01:15:48

Separation and Rebuilding

Journal, October 5, 2021

Life is plastic.  Not like, polyethylene plastic, but malleable, ever-changing, adapting.  There's this concept in neuroscience called  neuroplasticity - the idea being that our brain is constantly remapping its routes between neurons.  If you bridge two neurons often, stronger pathways are formed.  If you don't connect from one to another regularly, those pathways degenerate.  If a shorter path can be found, the brain will build the most efficient path between neurons that need to connect.  Functionally this means that we improve what we use and discard what we don't.  Practically, this means that we're ever changing, always growing, becoming more efficient and effective at everything we do.

Social relationships are similarly plastic, I think.  People meet, they exchange conversations, they move on.  As those same people reconnect, stronger bonds are formed.  Interpersonal relationships are strengthened over time with shared experiences and interpersonal intimacy.  After a while, you just get someone.  You understand them, they understand you, there's limited ambiguity, and for whatever ambiguity is left, you know each other's boundaries and communicative style well enough to fill in the gaps.  In contrast, people you connect with less frequently are less easily understood.  It takes a certain level of rapport to develop a friendship.  It takes a different type of rapport to maintain an acquaintance.  Less still, people you interact with infrequently.  The more you interact with a person, the stronger the bond becomes.  What is true of our neurons seems similarly true outside of them.

The challenge, I think, is when a strong bond is suddenly and forcefully cut.  Many years ago I was in a motorcycle accident suffering a traumatic brain injury.  Functionally, a sharp impact of my brain on the inside of my skull managed to sever a significant number of neural pathways.  To an outsider looking in I had physical injuries to reflect the incident, but from the inside looking out all sense had been shattered.  Consider that you know your own name, what day of the week it is, where you left your keys, what you were doing five seconds ago.  We take for granted the interconnected web in our minds that allows for all that stuff to function seamlessly.  When that web is suddenly disconnected in seemingly random ways, little things like "what was I just doing?" don't connect anywhere meaningful.  All things considered, it's fairly disconcerting.  Take what you know that you know, and understand that you know that you know it, but you can't get to it from here, so functionally you don't know it, even though you know that you do.  Now, thankfully, our minds can rebuild.  It takes time and effort, but those pathways regrow stronger and better than before.  That time is challenging and the road is an uphill struggle - believe me I speak from experience.  But that isn't the point.

When we're connected to someone, and I mean really, deeply connected, a sudden separation is hard to reconcile.  I know where I left my keys just as strongly as I knew that my future involved someone.  I struggle with the disconnect as much as I struggled with my memories so many years ago.  The disconnect, be it physical or emotional, remains a struggle.  Yet, with time, this too shall heal.  Pathways are reformed, new relationships are created, and more efficient and effective routes are made so that we may continue succeeding.

Herein lies the dilemma.  The pretense here is that pathways are severed, and from those severed pathways new pathways are formed.  What happens when the path isn't severed, but instead, remains connected?  Like a poorly connected electrical circuit, electric shocks arc across failed pathways in an effort to reconnect.  At times, the reconnection seems functional, and at others, the signal gets lost in the static.  Should the pathway be cut entirely?  Should a new wire bridge the old circuit back in place?  Will the old circuit continue to build new, strong pathways circumventing the old, broken pathways?  Time will tell.

I suppose, at the end of the day, life is a constant learning experience.  For everything that happens to me, I reflect on what I can learn from it.  This is no different.  I can only reflect on what is and wonder on what will or could be.  I already know what was, and that's a part of the history that shapes what's to come.  The best I can do is learn and grow.  Always reaching out, trying to make connections, and strengthening the connections that are made successfully.

We're a lot like neurons, you and I.

Last updated on 2021-10-08 02:41:58