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The Two Sides of Elon Musk February 3, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I like Matthew Inman, a.k.a The Oatmeal. He can be funny, serious, inspiring, often in the same comic.  I bet he is a really good person, too.  He is a runner, a much better distance runner than I will ever be.

He extolls the praises of Elon Musk, who uses Nicola Tesla’s name as the brand of his electric car. At Inman’s urging, Musk donated a million dollars to the renovation of Tesla’s home as a museum.  Of course, Musk also sponsors things like SpaceX and the Hyperloop, both visionary human endeavors.

Sounds like an unalloyed Good Guy, doesn’t it?

Well, looks can be deceiving. After longtime tech journalist and now venture capitalist Stewart Alsop criticized the Tesla in an article, Musk acted.  Alsop had an order in for a Tesla, and Musk unilaterally cancelled it.

I know (well knew, years ago) Stewart Alsop. He’s funny, engaging, smart, and literate.  He says what he means, but doesn’t engage in personal attacks.  You really can’t, in technology.

There is a great deal of debate on whether businesses can deny service to any customer. In general, we tend to make allowances to businesses for customers that are excessively demanding or unreasonable.

Alsop wasn’t being excessively demanding or unreasonable, and certainly not as a customer. And a public company such as Tesla Motors needs to be held to a higher standard, by its board of directors and investors.

Many successful businessmen have an element of ruthlessness about them; it’s one of the things that makes them successful.  But this is not ruthless; this is petty.

So I see this as a failure of Elon Musk and Tesla Motors. The investors, of course, are already beating up on the company, but for other reasons.

About Hypertext and Nicholas Carr January 26, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture, Uncategorized.
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I seem to be on a Nicholas Carr kick this week. He believes that hypertext is responsible for the fragmentation of information.

I would argue just the opposite. Instead, hypertext lets the human mind make connections out of disparate information.

As a youth, I read voraciously. My working class parents purchased a couple of encyclopedias, and I read them front to back, several times.  I got a lot of information, serially and in alphabetical order.  Okay.  It worked, but it didn’t let me do much more than absorb information.

Let me go back, to perhaps 1993. I was doing a technical publication review of Microsoft Encarta.  It was a wonderful encyclopedia CD (yes, CD), it included hyperlinks for use within the application.  I wrote (probably have it on an old CD somewhere) that its hyperlinks enabled me to see connections that surprised and amazed me.  I looked at tides, for example, and though hyperlinks found connections to the beautiful reversing tide in Saint John, New Brunswick.

I hesitate to call out people who are wrong, but you are wrong here. The human mind doesn’t work serially.  Instead, we make connections, often obliquely.  We draw intellectual nourishment and power from disparate information.  That is what makes us intelligent.

If you don’t want intelligence, that is fine. It is good to question anything.  But I really think you are driving your skepticism much too far.  Hypertext may be badly used, or in some cases overused, but it is a model of how the human mind works.

An Open Letter to Nicholas Carr January 26, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Mr. Carr – I understand that you are not able to respond to everything, or anything, but I hope you will be able to take this in the vein in which it is offered.

Last year, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I was at a reasonably good hospital (Lahey Medical Center in Burlington, MA), and the head of surgery there strongly recommended a Whipple Procedure, which involves taking out about a third of my insides.  It was the only way I would live out the year.

You are right.  I should have listened to this professional advice, and taken the surgery.  It would have laid me up for several months, and given me a lower quality of life for a couple of decades until I died.

But I turned to Doctor Google, for a number of hours.  I can’t say I understood all of it, but I determined that it was premature to talk about surgery, and declined.  The diagnosis was wrong.  Today, I am a distance runner, and continually challenge myself physically.  I am in the best shape of my life.

You believe you are so right in your convictions.  You raise reasonable points.  I can respect that.  But reality is more nuanced than you give it credit for.  Without Doctor Google, I would have had the Whipple, and it would have been the wrong decision.  It would have been very detrimental for the rest of my life.  I realize that there is bad and contradictory information on the Internet.  We, as intelligent and reasonable people, can use it to help make our own decisions.  In another era (yes, an era I was also in; I am older than you), I would have followed the doctors’ (plural) advice, and have unnecessary and debilitating surgery.  Please let us use the Internet as it was intended, to inform and educate.  Of course, the decisions are ours.

Does Google make us stupid? No it does not.

That is all.


I Am Strong January 7, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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This is a stupid post, but something that I have to say. I have had significant health issues in the past year, and have recovered, thanks in large part to running.  Running taught me to listen to my body, and to trust it.

And I am stronger than ever. I beat my best race time by a minute and a half in a 5K race on New Year’s Day.  Not that I am fast, but once I get going, I can go for a long time.  I ran the last half mile with an untied shoelace.  I simply wasn’t going to stop to tie it.

I have run the last two mornings, with a temperature of 6 degrees Fahrenheit, and negative wind chills.

I am not trying to assert superiority over anyone here (there are many who are far superior to me), but I am trying to say that I am exploring the boundaries of my physical and mental being, and largely doing well at it. This surprises me.

Try stretching yourself at something. You might surprise yourself.

Free Basics and Why Zuckerberg is Right December 29, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I never thought I would write the phrase “Zuckerberg is right”. I am not a Facebook user, and I kind of disdain the whole concept.  Here is why I am doing so.

Free Basics is about providing a limited amount of Internet access for everyone in the world. Facebook is one of the apps included in the service. Others include AccuWeather, Ask.com, Baby Center, Bing, Dictionary.com and Wikipedia.  Facebook is one of the supporters and drivers of this.

Critics say that it violates net neutrality principles, and supports Facebook’s commercial strategy. Both true.  But net neutrality is a two-edged sword; mostly it’s supportable, but it does tend to favor some activities over others, despite its name.  Like most principles in life, it should not be implemented as a pure concept, but as a compromise between competing parties.

And about Facebook’s business strategy. Zuckerberg is well known for his philanthropy and his business acumen.  I have never met him, but I would guess that his reasons are a complex combination of both.  Even so, any business advantage it might provide will take decades or more to realize a financial advantage.  Eighty percent of the world population isn’t in a position to buy what Facebook advertisers are selling.

I personally would not include Facebook in the category of a basic right of the Internet. But a decade ago the discussion would have been Yahoo.  Having access to everyone in the world does not assure Facebook’s viability as a business.  In a decade or two, it will be some other online service, or something else entirely.

Regarding Free Basics, I don’t know if the world is yet ready to treat certain online activities as a fundamental right. Hell, in parts of the world we can’t even treat living as a fundamental right.  If it happens, it will likely get abused for political, military, or commercial purposes.  But I understand why the Free Basics concept exists, and I think Zuckerberg is right to be a part of it.

Microsoft, We Have a Problem December 18, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I actually like Microsoft. I love my Band, even if it requires a charge every day (down to 70 percent, after about 18 hours today).  I think Microsoft has done some good things in recent years.

My biggest problem these days is a lack of responsiveness on my system (which is decent enough, but your software keeps pushing people to upgrade, ah, you and Intel). You are a decent company, and I think you make mostly good software.

But. You cannot cause me to reboot three times a day, and still have no response.  It is not an old computer, it is reasonably configured, and I do not download crap.  And stop showing me the Windows 10 upgrade.  Why are we even here?

I do hate to say it. Your operating systems are crap.  I am a tech person, I know what operating systems are supposed to do, and you simply don’t deliver.

I’m sure you are happy to blame whoever, but this problem begins with you. I have used Windows, and I have used Apple.  Microsoft made some good decisions over time with Windows on the UI front.  It is certainly every bit at competitive with Apple.

But there is no reason for this operating system to be so non-performing, and to require reboots multiple times a day.

I don’t think you want the consumer market any more, but you do need it. Get your act together.

This is NOT Life, Lisa Ling November 7, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I confess that I am pretty offended by this CNN article by Lisa Ling, and of the series, entitled This Is Life, in general.  I realize that what you are attempting to do is appeal to a certain demographic, and I am almost certainly not that demographic.  Under most circumstances, I would simply ignore such worthless drivel.

But this is so insulting, to read about you telling the world that life is unwinding in a rave party, on Ecstasy, or Molly. And your whole I was young and should have known better was so after the fact and perfunctory that it was almost certainly added by an editor, again after the fact.

This is not life, despite your desperate attempt to make it so. Now, I’m no expert, but let me tell you what life is.  Life is being told one day you have serious cancer, and require major and life-altering surgery.  And you will likely die anyway.  Life is not being convinced of that presumptive conclusion, because you were getting stronger, not weaker.  And by knowing that, you do your research, finally knowing that you are not going to die.  In fact, you are going to, well, live.

Life is waking up every morning, cherishing what you have and not willing to exchange it for anything in the world.

At worst, life is about being just a little bit better than you are at the moment.

You have no idea what life is, Lisa Ling. And I vehemently resent you trying to tell me, or a mass market what it is.

Why Aren’t You Dead? October 24, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I’ve heard that on more than several occasions in the past several months. My story is that circa late April, 2015, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Well, in fact, the doctors didn’t know quite what I had, but they were sure it was bad. Very bad.  I needed surgery within the next two weeks if I expected to have a full life (albeit a limited one, physically).  The hospital was a reasonably good one, as those things go, and my doctors seemed very competent (I saw about a dozen different doctors during my stay).

I was fortunate that a couple of those doctors treated me as a person, rather than a collection of symptoms. I also took control of my health care, did research on my condition (thanks, Dr. Google), and determined that it was premature to talk about surgery.

It turned out well for me. While they still don’t know what I have (or had), I only have very minor vestiges of the symptoms today, and am otherwise fully functional.  Further, as a distance runner, I am doing better than ever.  I fully ran the 10 kilometer race in the Bilbao Night Marathon, just last weekend, and felt wonderful afterwards.

All too often, we lament that medical diagnosis comes too late to do any good. My father, a World War II veteran, saw a doctor for the first time in 45 years when he could no longer stand the pain of his colon cancer.

That taught me a lesson. I will die someday, but I won’t let myself be overcome by that sort of stupidity.

In my case, they wanted to do major surgery, without knowing what was wrong with me. Don’t let that happen to you.  Do your own research, and make your own decisions.

That is all.


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