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What is it good for?

Welcome to the WIIGF blog: "What's it good for?", the question I like to ask whenever I learn something new.  And I love to learn new things, you might say learning is my passion.

What have I learned this year?  I learned I had cancer.  That'll clear your mind out pretty quickly. Don't worry though, it wasn't life threatening, but it wasn't fun. Actually it was kind of fun. It got me to think about what I really want to do in this world.  And write was one of those things I decided I wanted to do, so here I am.

Unlike my buddy, Don, I'm not quite ready to retire.  I see a huge need to help all kinds of organizations get into the Cloud (with a capital 'C') and improve the world.  So I'm working in Google's Cloud division, doing what I can to help our customers every day. I love working with good people and I've stuck with Google longer than any other job I've ever had, and I plan to stick around a bit longer.  Time flies when you're having fun!

This blog is ostensibly about  how to use the scientific method to study people.

I know it's stupid.

You can't possibly predict how people are going to react to something using the scientific method, unless you do double-blind studies (something I'll blog about later.)  I'm not talking about that.

What I'm talking about is a way to prove that Free Will (with a capital F and a capital W) exist.

Philosophers have convinced themselves it doesn't.  They think we are all zombies.  And why do they come to this conclusion?  Because they don't understand physics, they don't understand Shannon's laws and they don't understand Newton's law. I have very little respect for philosophers. And that'll be another blog post.

One of the other things that I'll be blathering about is music.  I've always loved music, I abandoned it in High School (marching band wasn't cool enough), picked it back up in college, then have basically ignored it since then.  And when I say music, I don't mean the passive kind.  Anyone can listen to music.  I mean the active, play it or dance to it kind. I'm going to get back into music again.  First goal: continue learning how to play piano.  Second goal: Live performances. Third goal: something to blog about.

What other things do I find interesting?  Well, you'll just have to listen to me blather about baseball, the American sport. Really it's the sport of nerds.  Baseball is unique in that every play involves just you and the ball.  So everything can be measured.  The measurements are noisy, but predictive.  I've got a whole host of baseball oddities to talk about. (Did you know that players that have tall socks and short pants get fewer low strikes called against them?  Well neither did I, but I'm going to go through the statistics and find out if it's true.)

I've spent a long career in programming, having taken only one programming class in my entire life before I was 50.  After 50 I've take several classes for fun.  So I'm also one of those self-taught programmers who stumbled on the field and could never leave it.  Software is eating the world. And I'll explain why.  And education is at a turning point.  It's going to change a whole lot in the near future, and I know which direction it's going to go.

And I expect to blog about some of the things I've learned over the past few years (I've already talked about sabremetrics - the mathematics of baseball.)  But I've also taken courses on quantum computing and seen some of the most interesting attempts at building quantum computers at my alma mater, the university that granted the first Ph.D. in physics: Yale.  (That happens to be the degree that I stumbled into.)  And I've taken classes in machine learning and I've taken Stanford's physics classes for nerds (as an undergraduate and an old fogie.)  And I'll talk about my favorite professor, Leonard Susskind - who teaches  the class 'Theoretical Minimum' and who's been battling Steven Hawkings for years (and who's right, by the way, and I can prove it.)

I've also turned into a political junky in my old age so I'll blather about that for some time.  Some things about US politics have actually been empirically determined.  Neither party wants you to know about it, but I'll blab about it for several posts.

And I've become somewhat of a foodie and a winie (is that even a word?) so you'll hear about that as well.  And speaking of that, you should check out the Blind Spectator blog, at least if Yoni hasn't killed it.

And charities.  Some charities really make a difference in this world. And some don't. I'll give you my opinion on why that is.

And space.  Actually our exploration of space.  It's a lot more interesting than you can imagine.  I'm a child of the space race - I was born one month before the first satellite left the atmosphere and I hope to die after I've seen us set foot on Mars.  That's definitely worth a series of blog posts.

Speaking of space, where the hell are those aliens?  Can we use the fact that we haven't seen any to predict how many advanced civilizations are out there? Yes we can! We can use the famous Drake equation to put limits on the density of alien civilizations in our galaxy.  The seminal work on this topic is from one of my favorite opinionated bloggers: David Brin.  He's one of the premier science fiction writers of the century (read some of his Uplift War series to find out why) and he's a weird mixture of libertarian, conservative, sousvelliance, civil war nut, and fun to read.

Some other stuff I won't be able to resist blogging about include religion, ethics, morality, genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence and particularly the singularity.  I can make a pretty good case that the singularity (or as us Geeks like to call it: the nerd rapture) is already here and people just haven't noticed.  Definitely something to look forward (or back) to!

What I won't do is make stuff up.  Everything I blog about will be true, to the best of my knowledge.  I'll never say something just to be provocative, unless it's true.  I'll show you how to recognize truthiness, how to make up your own mind, how to recognize outright lies, and how to think for yourself.  It's the least I can do.

You can follow my G+ posts if you want to know what I'm thinking.  There I try to post about things that matter to Geeks.  Physics results. Space launches. Artificial intelligence.  Fun facts. I always try to instill that sense of wonder in everyone, just like one of my heroes: Neil deGrasse Tyson.  If people would just keep that sense of wonder, that ability to ask why, that stubborn tendency to question authority, we'd be much better off.

Finally, some of the other topics I will be turning to in later blog posts include: taxes: why are they good for you?  Reading: is it good for you?  Writing: why can't everyone write?  Nutrition: why don't we know what's good for you?  Genetically modified food: is it good for you? Sports: what is it good for?  Are cars really robots?  Will the TV and cable industries fade away?  Will print die? Who does the best reporting that's based on facts? (Nate Silver makes a decent argument, every day.) The concept of God: what's it good for?  Religion: what is it good for?  The US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence: what are they good for?  What do they really say? The French: what are they good for?  Technology: how does it evolve and where is it going? And whatever else happens to be on my mind when I sit down to write.

Here's hoping I can keep some small set of people entertained, informed and learning new things every week.  See you soon!

 -Dr. Mike


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