Monthly Archives: May 2018

What to tell/teach the children?


Last week, we had high school student at my office, doing a “job shadow”, to see what life was like in the “real world” of engineering.  They toured our office and lab, sat in on an overly long meeting, saw some of our test equipment, did some basic data acquisition by hand with a bit of spreadsheet data crunching, and had individual meetings with a few folks in my office, including yours truly.   They luckily didn’t bring out their smart phone, but from what I understand, that was at least something they told them before they showed up.  All in all, they got a good quick overview of what engineers do, and all the logistical stuff that goes along with running a business.

When sitting down with the student in our one-on-one, I said at some point, words to the effect of, “Sorry for leaving the world in bad shape; you are going to have a rough ride.”  Now, that might have taken them by surprise (this was to be a simple job shadow), but we do have to start having these discussions with young people.   It is one thing for their parents or teachers to harp on them about doing well in school, but occasionally, they do need to hear to voices of folks outside of the mainstream, and those who can see a bit further down the road, to the resource limited, pollution amplified, likely overcrowded world they will inhabit.

As noted in the post before last week’s,  The Green Pill, there were some books that were in my parent’s library that got me thinking about The Future, but nothing was mentioned at the dinner table about a different world that I might inhabit.   Getting a college degree and working for a big firm for twenty or more plus years seemed like a distinct possibility many years ago, but things changed.   The price of a college degree has gone up wildly with respect to the CPI, and so that advice might not be the best you can give.   Even advice about getting a good civil service job might not look too good, given the pension crisis of a few municipalities.  Likewise, joining the military has a few drawbacks of its own.

There are risks everywhere, to every decision, but there must be good, common bits of knowledge that you can give.


  • What do you tell the children/young people about the upcoming world?
  • What books, movies, or other things can give them a realistic snapshot of things to come?
  • What do you wish you had been told earlier on in your life/career?  Do you think it would have mattered, given that many young people ignore the advice of their elders?
  • As noted many times before regarding this darker world view, “We could be wrong,”; what counter-arguments and resources would you give to a young person to have them prepare for the possible everything-is-going-to-be-great world?
  • What other advice would you give?

Modern refuges


It’s a crazy world.  As Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical you become, its never enough to keep up.”  Refuges are key to keeping your sanity.

Luckily, there are places that seem to be relatively buffered by the modern world, and require little or no money to use.   In some places, however, these modern refuges can become (logically) attractions for the homeless.   Public libraries, beaches, and parks can be refuges, but when homeless populations rise, these places may not work as their intended respite from modern life for all parties.    Modern libraries, being climate controlled, quiet places in cities face the brunt of this, and library staff have to learn how to handle these situations.  In a rich suburb, you may not see homeless in the library, or in a park; in denser cities, it is almost the norm.

Making it tough/illegal for people to exist outside the work-home-car iron triangle (not being able to park a camper on the street in many jurisdictions, for example), the skewing of the economy to the rich,  the closing of mental health facilities; there are a range of reasons why people become homeless.

Usually, home is one’s primary refuge, no matter how small.   But without a home, refuge is tough to come by. Without refuge, the world can be a scary place, and that alone can drive you further and further into difficulties.


  • What is your low-to-no-cost modern refuge?
  • If you became homeless, what would be your refuge?
  • How do we make more refuges for people?  Can we do it without breaking the bank?
  • Will overpopulation, public debt, and environmental destruction be the end of our public refuges?

The Green Pill


By W.carter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,; modified under terms of CC BY-SA

The red pill / blue pill choice presented in The Matrix is a nice fork in the road moment that has been appropriated by a few folks in a few other realms, most notably the men’s right’s movement.  The beauty of the red pill / blue pill moment is that there is a point in time where you must take a stand, one way or another; there is no vacillating, although some sneaky folks have suggested taking both pills.

The red pill / blue pill moment is a concrete conscious choice between clear but very conflicting paths.  Yet there are other “pills” which have an insidious way of worming their way into your life and creating large changes, without the dichotomy of a clear choice.   There was a billboard I saw once that had the quote, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions,” by jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The idea that many of us have experienced is what I like to call a ‘green pill’ moment, when you realize the world is a lot bigger, and is subject to far more physical realities and constraints than we would like to admit.  Chris Martenson calls these realities the “triple E” of energy, environment, and economy, part of his larger ‘Crash Course‘ on reality.    If there is an “anti-” green pill, it might that of the cornucopians, who believe in the Singularity, but these ideas are not subject to an either-or fork in the road moment.  The ‘green pill’ bit can sneak up on you after taking it; you ruminate it on a few days or weeks, and, if you are honest with yourself, you will start looking at the world a different way.

For me, my ‘green pill’ moment started way back with Isaac Asimov’s book on over-population, Earth, Our Crowded Spaceship, written in 1974.  Lying dormant for years, this idea was reawakened when having to do work related to the Y2K problem, and finding the work of James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency  written in 2005.   A good deal of skepticism, fueled by books like The People’s Alamanc and The People’s History of the United States, made me realize that there were other ways of looking at history, and that things weren’t as cut and dried as most history is taught.

The worldview that makes the most sense to me has generally been that along the vertical center of the “collapsnik” chart; the upshot has always been “we are in for a rough ride.”  Getting to this point isn’t easy, especially when you are trained to be an engineer to solve problems; predicaments are sometimes presented in your training, but for the most part, engineers are trained to provide solutions (usually, with more and more technology).


  • What was your ‘green pill’ moment?   Reading The Long Emergency?   Seeing What A Way To Go: Life At the End of Empire?  Viewing Chris Martenson’s Crash Course?   Did you need multiple doses of the green pill, or did things come together quickly?
  • What is a good way of getting people to even try the green pill?  Is there a minimum dosage that is needed?  Do they need to see the interrelation between the three E’s to make a conscious choice to break out of our modern and all too real Matrix?
  • Is the divide between Green Pill folks and Cornucopians insurmountable?  Is there a middle ground?  This seems unlikely, but is there a “middle way”?

Missed meals; missed comforts

One of the many epidemics in our society is obesity.  Not just being overweight, mind you – serious, life-threatening body-mass-indexes (BMI) that are over 30.   The high level view is that the cause is a preponderance of sugar/corn syrup in our modern diet.   According to a Chris Stefanick podcast on the topic,  eating less calories is good, but unfortunately, your body catches on, and then starts to metabolically slow down.   Likewise, exercise is good, but exercise alone won’t allow you to eat whatever you want, because you’ll get hungry, and eat more.  One of Chris’s suggestions (he mentions quite a bit of research on this) is that reducing carbohydrates is a key to reducing the insulin rush (cause by carbs/simple sugars) that cause this.

But even better?  Going on a fast – voluntarily not eating.  From the podcast, he mentions people who eat 2400 calories each day, if fasting every other day, they will eat 0 calories while fasting, and 2900 calories on the days when they are “catching up”, for a net reduction of (1900/4800) 40% calories in the long haul.  It sounds a bit simple, but the science does seem sound.

What if we expanded this concept, to other areas of life?   This was touched on by a post a few years ago (Learning To Live Without).  You may have heard of a few folks who have gone on news or Internet fasts for weeks or months.   I’m currently in the middle of an experiment where I’m only checking personal email twice a day, and it’s been a boon to concentration and getting things done.

Could society use a bit of this, in general?  Jack Alpert, who founded the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab has an extreme idea, which might be the ultimate in delayed gratification.  He recently was a guest on JHK’s podcast (the KunstlerCast; he is interviewed here).  The upshot? Almost everyone alive now is to be sterilized (!), and then lotteries for the right to have children, essentially, to lower the final population of the earth to 50 million – the “delayed gratification” of having a working (albiet small) civilization.


  • The research on delayed gratification is extensive (check out the marshmallow experiment); how could delayed gratification be introduced into groups, instead of individuals?
  • What sort of delayed gratification would you like to see more of?
  • Could Jack Alpert’s idea ever get going?  Seems like it is a bit extreme for most.
  • Obviously, too much delayed gratification is a bit of a problem; if you don’t eat, you starve to death, so fasting does have its “upper limits.”   What is the criteria for too much delayed gratification?   Even an Internet “news fast” might not be good, in that you could miss timely news about storms, disasters that might be coming, or other things that might affect you.
  • Missing meals, missing comforts – temporarily not having these may be a bit annoying, but in the end, there is a great gain.  What have you deliberately cut out of your life, in order to make your life better in the long run?


Future Schindlers and Göths

   heroes_and_villians.jpg,_Oskar.jpg andöth#/media/File:Amon_Göth-prisoner_1945.jpg

Through one of my regular Brownian-motion browsing of Wikipedia while looking for something completely unrelated, I came across a reference to the well known Schindler’s List, the classic 1993 film about the Holocaust.   The real story of Oskar Schindler, like many others during WW2, has some incredible turns, and his status as  hero has been cemented with that film.   Likewise, Amon Göth’s status as a real world villain has also been spread far and wide.  In retrospect, it is easy to see who were the heros and villians; but what about the unseen heroes and villains of today?

A few weeks ago, the question of retrospective abominations and amusements was put forward.  There are plenty of wacky things going on in our society, and for sure, some of those things will be vilified.   Likewise, some people who live unremarkable lives (by “modern” standards) may be glorified, and those in high places may be seen as monsters (“the last shall be first, and the first, last“).


  • Will there be an equivalent Nuremberg trial for anyone in America, if things “go south”?
  • Who are the modern day Schindlers?  Who are the modern day Göths?  Environmentalists?  Industrialists?   How will the future treat Internet billionaires?
  • Extravagant movies may be a thing of the past, if collapse goes quickly.  Yet stories will remain about our world.  What sort of tales will be told?