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March 2017

robot hand

When I was a kid in the early nineties there were no apps to remind you of things, so mostly you just hoped would remember. In particular, I hoped I would remember to check, on the futuristic date of August 29th, 1997, if Judgment Day had indeed occurred, as Terminator 2 said it would.

In the movie, that was the date a military artificial intelligence called Skynet became self-aware, according to time-travelers who had been there. The A.I.’s first decision, when it realized it was a thing, was to start a nuclear exchange in the hopes that it could eradicate human beings before they could unplug it.

I’m not sure what I ended up doing that day—today you can recall what happened on a given date by checking what emails you sent and received—but I don’t think I remembered what day it was supposed to be, and I am sure there was no nuclear holocaust.

Human beings are not great at predicting the future, but we have had a long-creeping suspicion that at some point overly smart computers will cause us huge problems. 1997 is now twenty years ago, and while our computers haven’t started any wars yet, they have begun to take our jobs.  Read More

garden tools

A tiny article about Stoicism has had a significant influence on my life since I read it. Maybe for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel like I’m wasting much of my time. I feel unusually prepared to do difficult things.

It was a short personal essay by Elif Batuman, about how reading Epictetus helped her through a strained relationship, political turmoil in her country of residence, and other messy or insoluble worldly concerns.

It also prompted me to start reading what are sometimes called the “big three” Stoic works, The Discourses and The Enchiridion by Epictetus, and The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, who in his spare time was the Emperor of Rome.

I knew the basic idea of Stoicism, and it made sense: don’t freak out about what you can’t control. It’s perfectly logical. But logical isn’t always practical, at least for a species whose members typically can’t even fulfill their own new year’s resolutions.

Humans have never been short on sensible-sounding advice: spend less than you earn, don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, be patient, don’t drink coffee after 6pm. What we’re short of is whatever quality it takes to get ourselves to do those things.

But I wasn’t giving the Stoics enough credit. So far, their advice is very practical—more self-improvement suggestions than philosophical ideas.  Read More

camping desert

I received a little hailstorm of lessons in being human this week.

Aside from the everyday stuff, Raptitude went down inexplicably Monday, right as I released a new article. Then Wednesday there was a major server outage—apparently caused by a single typo—and half the internet went down. My first response was to make coffee, and instead of pouring water into the coffeemaker I poured it into my electric coffee grinder.

After some significant cleanup efforts, the website, the grinder and I survived, and Camp Calm’s doors are open again.  Read More

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