Eighty Five

After months of avoiding sugar and "reprogramming" myself to not want artificially sweet foods, I'm happy to say that I've reached a weight of 85kg1. This is a little more than a third of the way towards my goal of 75kg and I think it's fair to say that I owe a good amount of this weight loss to work-related anxiety, smaller portions, and some of the revelations from Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease — which was recommended to me by Niels some two months ago. After reading the book, I've come to the realization that all the snacks I love the most are ultimately short-sighted forms of instant gratification with long-term consequences that cannot be justified.

Bye bye, Snickers bars.

medical scale.jpg

One of the things I find interesting about this recent weight loss is that I've actually been walking a great deal less than usual. Several months ago I was aiming to walk at least 8km a day, which can be quite difficult when working at a computer in a 3m³ room for 10+ hours a day, and usually came close to the mark unless there was a typhoon overhead. Unfortunately this has been pretty much impossible since August due to work schedules and I'm currently averaging about 2km a day on foot — a number far lower than I like to see. That said, the smaller number that greets me every morning on the body scale certainly puts a smile on my face.

Meeting my weight goal before February seems pretty much impossible at the moment, but there's no point feeling bad for not meeting an arbitrary date that was literally pulled out of the air without any research into the feasibility of the task. Perhaps if I were to join a gym and convert more of the stored fat into calories, then I'd reach the goal sooner. This just isn't possible, though. There is not enough time in the day and, if there were, each day would need to be about 100 hours long. By staying away from refined sugar and anything in a silver package2, though, the body may just reach my goal on its own. Of course, I likely wouldn't have gotten this far without reading Fat Chance.

Thanks for the link, Neils :)

  1. 85kg is 187.3 pounds or 13.4 stone
  2. anything in a silver package that isn't coffee, that is

1% Complete

Today marks the tenth year I've been blogging with a self-hosted solution1, and this usually means that a person will look back over their posts to compare and contrast what was then versus what is now. I won't really do that aside from saying this personal project has come a long way since 2006, when it was running on a modified Synology DS-106j NAS that could just barely handle WordPress. Instead I plan on using this opportunity to look forward towards some of the goals I have for my writing, as well as the publishing tool that, quite literally, powers every web service I've worked on in the last eighteen months2.

The Notebook — Where Ideas Come to Life

Long-Form Writing

One of my goals for the near future is to return to some long-form writing. This was something I enjoyed doing for TheCarbonBlog, back when I was trying to encourage people to look at the various pros and cons of certain technologies such as fracking, carbon sequestration, and whatnot. The articles I wrote for that site in 2008 and 2009 often failed to reach their target audience because I was writing for the wrong people. Rather than attract readers who wanted to know more about the technologies, the site was inundated with activsts who meant well but were already mostly aware of the subject. Since then I've come to write longer pieces for various news sites around the web on topics such as distance education and how technology fails teachers, but I'd really like to build a larger audience here on this site with what I hope will be well-written pieces on the subject of positive growth. Yesterday I wrote a short article on how China could be smartly positioning themselves in space as a colony's one-stop resource shop, and I'd like to write similar stories that focus on the direction humanity may travel … so long as all the pieces align. Despite the craziness that we see in the news every day, I maintain a positive outlook that we will overcome our problems to tackle the grander ones in the coming generations.

Longer articles tend to take more time to write, though, so I don't want to limit myself to only long-form writing. Instead I'll set a goal to publish two articles a month, on the 1st and 15th, to start. If there is interest, then I will slowly increase the number of articles. There are no plans to put these behind a paywall, though. My writing isn't that good.

Growing 10Centuries

With this being my blog's 10th anniversary, one could argue that 10Centuries is 1% into its goal to be online for a thousand years. Unfortunately, 10C is just 5 years old, so this number is a little optimistic. That said, the project that is near and dear to my heart is seeing some interesting feature expansion in the near future that should make for an interesting service for people who are tired of being treated as a product rather than as a person.

A preliminary version of the ToDo lists have been out for a little more than a month now and soon we'll see the release of Notes, the first step towards an Evernote replacement that will allow a person to keep everything in a single location. In August I started tackling the concept of Notes as unstructured groups of structured data and this has allowed me to approach the problem in a way different from many note-taking tools. A lot of solutions will look at a note as a text file, but it's really nothing of the sort. A blog post is a text file. A transcript is a text file. A note, however, is not nearly so elegant, and people needn't be confined into thinking of notes as rigid objects. 10C will let people do things a little differently.

Another feature I'm hoping to roll out before the new year is Photos. Pardon the boring product names, but it's really for the better. Coming up with snazzy names is a senseless waste of mental processing power, just like searching for the perfect URL. I'd much rather invest the time into building the product than naming it. While the code might have various coffee-related code names, the actual product is very simply named. This also gets around the problem of trademarks, as you can't claim to own a plural that has been part of the language longer than anybody on this planet has been alive.

So by the start of — or early into — 2017 10Centuries will have:

  • Blogging
  • Social
  • Podcasting
  • ToDo
  • Notes
  • Photos

Also, come February or March, I expect to have saved enough to afford the services of a local web developer who has kindly offered to help out with a new interface for the account administration pages. Fully responsive and much more aligned with how people actually use web applications, the new UI should make it much easier for people to use all of the service's features from their browser. To make the system even better, a number of people are currently working on building native applications for a number of platforms that will give others the ability to use the 10Centuries platform in a more natural, more nuanced fashion.

It's an exciting time, to say the least.

  1. I did have a Live Blog, or whatever it was Microsoft called their service around 2004, but it was a terrible site full of poorly-written posts that had no place online. Mushy stuff with lots of pictures of my ex and I doing things around Vancouver. Nobody needs to read about that :P
  2. One of the reasons 10Centuries has been developed so quickly is because I have two other forms of the same code base that are actively developed for other purposes. One is a Learning Management System, and the other is a hyper-local music distribution service. Improvements to the underlying system elsewhere eventually makes it to the other projects so that everybody can benefit.

The Future of Space Exploration

Shenzhou 11 successfully reached orbit a few hours ago, carrying two crew members to the new Tiangong-2 space lab to conduct 30 days of tests. This is the sixth crewed mission China has sent into space, and it's a great step towards the normalization of the country's space ambitions. Considering the direction of other nationally-funded space programs around the world, China is certainly proving to be an ambitious nation with sights set firmly in the future. Regardless how how all of the commercial space projects develop in the coming decades, I really feel that China is setting itself up to be the go-to country for everything space-related before 2050.

The Long-March 2 Rocket — Shenzhou 11 — Launches Into Space

Although I've been pretty critical of China's political actions here on planet Earth over the last few years, the strides they've made in space technology has been nothing short of amazing. Standing on the shoulders of giants, they managed to send their first crewed vehicle into space within a few short years of the program and have since made great strides in technology towards supporting a permanently habitable station off the planet. Regardless of how they've gone about acquiring their knowledge, they've proven themselves committed to getting their foot into space and, looking at their future goals, a lot of humanity's physical expansion into the solar system may very well happen under a Chinese flag.

Pushing the Boundaries

China has made their intentions very clear. They hope to have a rover on Mars within the next five years, and human settlements on the Moon soon after. A lot of the people I've spoken to about China's ambitions look at them with suspicion, as though China is going to lay claim to vast sections of the solar system1 or act as a gate-keeper, preventing vehicles from other nations access to the void beyond Low Earth Orbit2. While it's certainly a good idea to keep an eye on every nation that invests a great deal of time and money into space programs, we needn't eye everyone as a threat. In fact, China's unbridled desire to be the best will ultimately be a good thing for the rest of us. Just look at all of the modern conveniences we have today as a result of NASA's various projects. There's no reason why Chinese companies could not also do the same, providing useful tools and products that are used by people all over the planet.

Ultimately, though, the one area I can see China revolutionize space technology is in propulsion systems. If any organization is serious about sending people to planets and moons, we simply must have a way to get to these places faster. When the planets are aligned correctly, we can send a vessel from the Earth to Mars in 18 months. That's just too long a timespan if there is to be any sort of commercial interest. There's a vast asteroid belt sitting between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter that is theorized to have a far greater supply of raw materials than several Earths combined. The Chinese government isn't stupid. These resources — while not currently economically viable for Earth-based consumption — will undoubtedly result in massive profits to the group that learns how to collect and refine them before anyone else ... which is where I see China going in the next century.

Humans will always need resources, and China is very, very good at extracting them. By sending rovers to planets and moons they gain useful experience aiming for fast-moving rocks in the endless void of space as well as sending machines that are sturdy enough to survive the inhospitable environments they'll encounter. While space is said to be a vacuum, it's not without its dangers. Radiation, micro-meteorites, big meteors, and things we don't even know about yet can destroy a lot of equipment. Learning how to build better machines will result in better returns very quickly. And then comes the question of speed ...

Asteroids in the Solar System

If — and I realize I'm hypothesizing here — China becomes very good at building semi-autonomous rovers that can land on asteroids and extract, refine, and store those resources, they will position themselves as the economic lords for the first generation of space explorers. Need water, oxygen, platinum, silicon, or any other resource in a hurry? Well ... China can have it to you in a hurry, so long as you're willing to pay for it. The asteroid belt sitting between Mars and Jupiter is huge. Having factories placed throughout the area would make it possible to have resources dispatched and received in months rather than years, and having machines go out and pre-collect these resources makes for a sound investment. One that would pay for itself a hundred-fold if not more.

Looking at China's rate of technological advancement and the various projects that are championed at some of the more prominent Chinese universities, it's clear that this is the direction the country's government is leaning. It makes sense, too. Good business sense. While humanity may not be clamouring to colonize the solar system like popular culture encouraged in the 1970s, it's only a matter of time before we do take our first tentative steps off this lush blue planet. But, when we do, China will be there waiting.

  1. This would be legally impossible due to the Out Space Treaty, which China has been a signatory for over 40 years.
  2. This would be logistically impossible given the current state of our technology.

The 10 Percent We Can See

The Hubble Space Telescope has made it possible for humanity to look further into the past through time and space than a lot of other tools, and it's just recently been used to determine that the observable universe contains just ten percent of all the galaxies that exist1. More than this, recent studies have shown that the early observable universe itself contains ten times the number of galaxies than previously estimated. Considering the sheer size of the cosmos, these numbers are absolutely mind blowing. With roughly 2-trillion galaxies to explore, each with millions or billions of stars of their own, we will likely have enough new places to study and explore until the last starts in the universe grow cold and dark.

A Fraction of the Visible Universe

When I think about the numbers involved in space exploration, I can't help but feel that humanity is a small and insignificant accident in the grand scheme of things. This single planet has been home to billions of different forms of life, and quadrillions of individual lives if not more. Given the richness of life on this world, it only makes sense that life must exist in other forms on other celestial objects. If we were to assume that two trillion galaxies each contained a quarter-billion stars and each star had an average of 3 planets orbiting them, we'd be looking at around 1,500,000,000,000,000,000 planets. That's 1.5-sextillion worlds. Could life have evolved on just this one? I'd like to hope not.

But I have had conversations with people who steadfastly believe that life only exists on the Earth and that we are special because God chose to create us and only us. So far as I know, there are no religious texts that explicitly talk about life on other worlds. What if we are the only sentient beings in the universe? What if this planet is the sole home to all life in the universe? What would this ultimately mean when humanity begins to expand into the universe? Would it mean anything at all?

If it's determined after an indeterminate number of eons that humans are the only sentient forms of life in the universe, we will likely be at a point technologically and societally that it will no longer matter. Colonies would have existed on various worlds for an incredible amount of time, and the people from those colonies would have their own unique languages, customs, traditions, and genetic differences. Given enough time, there would be various branches of humanity as a result of cosmic radiation or intentional eugenics programs making changes to our DNA. We'll begin to see different types of human. Going further still, there will be communities of people who have completely separated from existing societies to create their own worlds. These people, over time, would evolve in various ways to become completely alien to other groups of future humans.

Ultimately, if it's proven that there is no other life to be discovered in the universe, our descendants will become that life for other descendants to learn about. The universe is a vast, vast place. So large that our minds will likely never truly understand or appreciate its scale and complexity. And that's completely okay. It's there for us to explore. I just hope that, when we do find new life and new civilizations out there — human or otherwise — we greet them with open arms and open minds.

  1. To the best of our knowledge, anyway.

No Story

After several months of frustration at the day job, I think I've finally started to understand why I'm so disappointed by what I find in the source code of the company's big CMS. At first I thought it was the excessive obfuscation of functions and classes that make understanding an object's true definition rather difficult. Then I started to think it had to do with the hundreds of auto-generated files that were made by some sort of rapid-modelling software I've yet to learn about. Finally I thought the dismay was the result of the friction between the Japanese and German teams that have been working on this software since 2011. All of these certainly play a role in the frustration, but I've come to the realization that my rages against the machine are due to the story the software tells. Or rather ... the lack of story.

Sitting Around the Campfire

Earlier today I was having a conversation with my wife, a linguist, about the consequences of languages going extinct. We both see this as a "bad thing", but for different reasons. Reiko sees the disappearance of a language as a lost branch of communication, which makes it difficult to understand how languages have evolved over time to become what they are today. While I agree with this line of reasoning, I see the silencing of a language as the loss of culture and — more importantly — the loss of stories. Theories explain that language was developed primarily to convey information between people, and the most informative of all information usually comes in the form of a story.

Software is usually written in very short-lived languages, and also tells a story to the people who want to better understand the origins and future of a project.

Some of my favourite open-sourced projects all have stories to be told, as do the smaller closed-source tools written for business. Many projects start out the same way, with positive overtures and incredible flexibility. Just about anything is possible with software in the first few dozen iterations. A classic example of this would be RoundCube, a webmail client that hasn't received nearly as much attention as it should have given its lofty goals. Looking through the source, particularly at the oldest files, will reveal the decisions that went into each function, each class, and each bug fix. Even when the code is uncommented, these details can be teased out. Is there drama within the development community? It'll be there in the code. Are there tiny alliances and niche groups? It'll be there in the code. What's coming in future versions of the software? The answer will be right there in the code.

The multi-million dollar CMS at the day job does not tell a story, though. There is no cohesion between the functions. There is no love from the authors. The people working on this project neither believe in its goals nor particularly care what happens in the future because the code does not tell any meaningful story beyond "This is what happens when you use drag-and-drop code-builders" ... and that is no more interesting to read than an advertisement for adult diapers.

Luckily the corporate CMS is not something I'm responsible for developing or maintaining, as it seems to be geared towards fulfilling the needs of the few at the expense of the many. And, now that I may have finally come to terms with the 680 megabyte mess that is that system's source code, I hope I can get on with my day with less frustration and disappointment.

Looking For An Escape

The last month has been pretty stressful at the day job. Despite putting in a solid 50 ~ 60 hours every week, I don't feel I've actually accomplished anything as there's next to nothing for me to show for the time I've been paid for. The problem is that I'm attempting to have my software interface with the existing CMS, and the people who have the answers to my questions are either keeping quiet in order to protect their silo of information, or have left the company. As a result, I've invested close to 200 hours reverse-engineering a bunch of code that is so obfuscated for the sake of obfuscation that it's hard to see any way out of this predicament. The stress has gotten to a point where I just want to throw my hands up in exasperation and shout "If certain people in the company don't want me to write this software, then that's fine. They can write it for me!"

But this wouldn't go over very well with most people. Friction is the keyword at the day job, and the more friction there is, the happier certain people are. That said, friction is exactly what I try to eliminate when I set my mind to solving a problem. This often results in some rather heated exchanges and miscommunications. So more than anything, what I am looking for is a place where I can go to simply escape from the silliness that is corporate politics and reset my mind. It doesn't need to be anywhere exotic or far, but it does need to be quiet and well-stocked with coffee.

Hot Coffee on a Table

Back in 2003 I lived in a small place just outside Vancouver called Steveston. It's situated right on the shores of Lulu Island and had a lovely view of the Straight of Georgia separating Vancouver Island from the rest of the country. My apartment was on the waterfront, and just down the street was a little boutique coffee shop that was wonderfully relaxed throughout the week. I'd often stop by on my way home from work for a hot drink and some warm conversation, occasionally splurging for the feta and spinach turnovers they sold, as a means to "reset". There was something special about this place that I've yet to find anywhere else.

When I think about the various places I like to go now, none of them are quite like the boutique café in Steveston. There's a quiet coffee shop near the office where retired people like to congregate, but it's nowhere near as comfortable or relaxing as the place in Canada. On weekends I enjoy heading out for a nice 8km walk through some parks near my home, but this isn't really feasible during the week, especially when I'm wearing a suit and carrying a large bag. There are some smaller specialty coffee shops in town, but they are all far too loud or incredibly fake. More than this, I don't want to spend $5 on burnt coffee just to get away from the office.

Perhaps it's time to look into a new hobby? Ideally one where I am physically active. Maybe if I join a gym ...

Indistinguishable from Magic

Earlier today Matt Gemmell wrote an impassioned article on his website where he decried the current state of Apple's software and how it makes very expensive electronics horribly frustrating to use, and even harder to justify buying. The post has been taken down1 but, in the short time that it was available, people from across the planet wanted to weigh in with their opinions about how "Apple is doomed", offer technical support, or otherwise openly mock this person who has clearly invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into this wholly artificial realm we refer to as the Apple Ecosystem. Like Mr. Gemmell, I have also invested a great deal into Apple's hardware and software over the years. I came in just as it seemed that everything Apple touched turned to gold, and I left when my rose-coloured glasses eroded, revealing that Apple's world was just as incomplete and prone to error as any other platform a person might choose.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology ...

One of the many things I like about modern hardware is just how sleek everything has become. Smooth lines with seamless transitions between metal and glass abound. Processors thousands of times faster than anything we might have used while growing up can now be found in a wristwatch. Batteries can go on and on. And the screen resolutions available today are really nothing short of breathtaking. Our modern consumer electronics today are light years ahead of what we could have imagined 15 years ago. Looking at the sorts of complaints people have with our current range of devices, I wonder if this isn't the actual problem that we're facing: we've benefitted so much from so little in such a short amount of time that we don't realize just how much "more" we're expecting from electronics manufacturers, and these vendors are simply unable to keep up with our laundry list of expectations.

It's Time We Slow Down

When I first entered the world of Apple software, I was pretty fortunate. The iPod Touch, though a marvel of engineering, was a relatively simple device running simple software and performing simple tasks. The first version of OS X I used was 10.6 Snow Leopard, arguably one of the most refined versions of the operating system given that there were zero new features and a slew of fixes that resulted in standing ovations at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference all those years ago. Coming from Windows, the Apple world just felt so much more cohesive because updates rolled out at a slower pace than those from Microsoft. With more time between releases, new updates and features could be more thoroughly tested and refined, meaning that the majority of the bugs reported from people would — ideally — be more of an edge case than the rule. This is clearly not the case anymore, and not a week goes by where a semi-popular web personality doesn't lament Apple's declining software quality or lack of cloud infrastructure skill.

One might suggest that people who aren't happy with Apple should move to another ecosystem that is more in line with their values, but this isn't always realistic. One cannot simply swap out Google for Apple or Oracle for Microsoft. These sorts of migrations often take a great deal of time, planning, and money. More than this, people shouldn't be expected to always vote with their wallets. Moving from one platform to another 10 is not a feat that can be completed in a weekend nor is it an effective way to send a message. At the end of the day, the best way to send a message is to openly communicate, and I say it's time people stop demanding so much pseudo-innovation from their electronics and instead ask companies to slow down and release their hardware and software products when they're ready and not a minute before.

Traditional computers such as desktops and notebooks do not need to be replaced every year, so companies should focus on building machines to last 5+ years. Cell phones do not need to be replaced every year, either, so why push out an update that appears to be little more than an incremental update over last year's model but with a substantial price tag? Tablets and watches are in the same boat. Heck, just about every electronic device we use on a regular basis could likely switch to release a new model every three years with minor revisions to accommodate problems during the intervening months. Many people will undoubtedly disagree, but today's hardware is good enough for the vast majority of what we want to do. Why must we continually push the envelope?

With a slower hardware release cycle, software developers will have more time to focus on the less-tangible aspects of our systems and strive to make improvements. Some new things could certainly be introduced during this time, but this in-between time would really be the time for the devices to be polished and refined while people also become more accustomed to using the tools they already have.

The amount of change that we've all seen in the last fifteen years has been nothing short of amazing, and this change has resulted in some phenomenal effects on societies around the world. By slowing down we won't diminish anything that's happened thus far and we stand to gain greater benefits if the functional lifespan of our difficult-to-recycle electronics is extended thanks to a slower release schedule. Will this hurt the bottom line for a number of people who are already wealthy? No doubt. But we cannot expect our tools to continue their evolution at such a breakneck speed. We're seeing the faults and cracks in our systems already, but it's not too late to do something about it.

A three year hardware release cycle with a longer software cycle would go a long way to changing our perceptions of modern electronics from being the occasionally frustrating objects they are to devices indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Though intrepid investigators may have some luck in finding a cached version of his article, titled A Declining Trajectory.

Yet Another Set of Broken Audio Cables

Back in January of 2015 I picked up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-IM03 earphones that, to this day, are capable of delivering the greatest sound quality I've ever heard come out of a digital device. While the sticker price was a little steep, the higher quality of sound and ability to swap out the cables made the decision easier to make. Heck, I even said as much at the end of my quick little review of them almost two years ago:

On a final note, the primary reason I replace headphones is because one of the two sides cuts out. This happens over time as wires begin to fray and connections become weak. This happened with the previous pair of Audio Technica CKM500s that I used, the Logicool Ultimate Ears 200s, and every other pair of cheaper earbuds I used prior to taking sound seriously. The ATH-IM03s should last remarkably longer because, unlike the earbuds I just mentioned, replacement cables are available and easily swapped out. Should I run into a dead earbud, then a quick trip to a music shop and 30-seconds of wire-swapping should resolve the issue.

This ability to swap cables seems to be both a blessing and a curse, because in the 21 months I've had these earphones, I've managed to go through two sets of cables.

Audio Technica ATH-IM03 with the Original Audio Cables

The first set of cables that shipped with the earphones became still and one wire finally cut out up where it enters the left "over the ear brace". The second set of cables were quite pricey and a lot more flexible. Unfortunately the left-ear wire cut out near the 1/8" 90˚ jack. I'd love to know what it is about the left ear that my phones dislike so much, but I'd settle for having a pair that last 18 months to two years. I've been a strong proponent of Audio Technica equipment thus far, having bought four of their microphones, three sets of headphones, and three sets of earphones over the last few years, but this cabling issue is frustrating. I treat my equipment with a great deal of respect because I want it to last. I wonder how often I'd be replacing hardware if I were more rough ....

Regardless, I've kept the receipt — but not the box — for the broken cables and will get them swapped out the next time I head downtown. Until then I'll be walking around with Apple's EarPods and wondering how anybody can possibly use the white plastic units outside of a quiet room.


The 28th day of every month is considered "payday" at the day job. Money is transferred from the corporate account to our own, and we're sent emails with links to outdated websites showing how much to expect in the bank. My colleagues tend to be pretty happy on this day, as it means bills can be paid and overtime efforts can be rewarded. Unfortunately, I do not share this same level of happiness. For most of the last three weeks, I've been able to get very little work done at the office due to various political battles, software battles, and network insecurity battles. More than this, the money I'm paid every month, which is a good deal more than I earned in the classroom, feels dirty.

Japanese Money — Not From My Actual Paycheque

Over the last few weeks I've written about my desire to escape the day to day, the summertime blahs, feeling blasé, and even working myself stupid. Heck, it's been a recurring theme on this site for nearly a decade! But these ideas are seldom far from my thoughts. Why is this?

I've been reading a number of books on psychology and motivation this year and a common, unspoken theme in just about every book is the fact that we are all ultimately in control of our emotional state. If we want to be happy, then we'll be happy. If we don't, then we won't. More than this is the idea that happiness is ultimately manufactured as a form of self-delusion to override our constant desire for "more". The people around us who are often smiling have learned this incredible skill, and the people who seem to frown incessantly have not. This second group is most certainly the category that I would fall into.

So what's the solution?

The more I read about how our mind apparently works, the more I'm surprised it works at all. We seem to build up an illusionary world around us in order to make sense of the universe and our place in it, but these convenient views are little more than smoke and mirrors. The people we surround ourselves with need to use similar illusions in order to maintain the grand ideas that we tell ourselves. One other crucial element is the verbal reinforcement of the illusion. Without this, doubt can begin to manifest itself in dangerous ways. Is this what I'm missing? Or is it something more fundamental, like physical community?

When I try to convey these questions to others, I'm often met with the "Buck up and grow a pair!" response that inspires so much nothingness. Just charging through something accomplishes nothing, and grow a pair of what? Testicles? Why would I want four of the things? Testosterone (or lack thereof) is not the reason for my disinterest in work or the asininity surrounding the various fiefdoms within corporate offices. Just the suggestion that one should do whatever this sentence is supposed to mean also goes to show that the listener is not at all empathetic with the speaker, or plain not listening. Either way, they are not the people we should be talking to.

And there are so many people like this ...

So what is it that I think would make me happy? Even for a little while? A small list. Nothing crazy. I do live in a relatively safe part of the country and am doing the job I tried hard for 8 years to get. I have a lovely puppy and some good friends who live less than an hour away. But what I'm looking for is this:

  1. a comfortable home life
  2. self-agency at the day job
  3. a bit of pocket money every month

The work will be determining how to go about making these three things possible.

1.142 Billion Reasons

In its first year of operation, the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite has identified just over 1.1-billion stars in our local galactic space, including stars in two smaller galaxies that orbit the Milky Way. Although this number is certainly large, Gaia has four more years left in its first mission and there are still lots to discover.

Gaia View of the Milky Way

When I look at pictures like the one above, it's hard not to wonder why we're not doing more to go out and explore. Research organizations the world over are helping us better understand the universe as best as human minds and technology will allow, but where has humanity's pioneering spirit gone? Is the hostile expanse of space — even within our own solar system — just too great a challenge for us to deem it worthwhile? Intrepid explorers and naive fools throughout history have often tried to cross uncharted seas and oceans in craft of dubious worthiness in the name of adventure. Can we not do the same?

Is it just a matter of ROI? Am I simply impatient for a time when we are able to visit other worlds, other cultures, and other species?

With over a billion stars in our own galaxy, and a good portion most likely containing planets of some sort, I can't help but wonder when we'll encounter another intelligence. Unlike what we see in most science fiction, it's unlikely that any truly alien intelligence will be anywhere close to our level of technology. They could be thousands or millions of years more advanced. They could be thousands or millions of years less advanced, too. They might welcome us with open arms1. They might ask us to go away. They might see us as easy prey and conquer us whole. There's no way to know. What I would like to know, though, is what it will take for us to come together as a world and cross the unforgiving void that exists beyond our planet's thin atmosphere.

Will it be faster-than-light travel? Will it be artificial wormholes? Will it be centuries-long journeys in made possible by reliable cryo-stasis?

How will we take our next step?

  1. a figure of speech, given that there's no guarantee that life elsewhere in the galaxy even has arms.

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