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Do you remember my blog post about building a giant canal system in the U.S. as a way to create jobs in our robot-driven future?

It was officially the worst idea I've ever had, according to most of you.

Technically, it was just the worst idea I've ever shared. You wouldn't believe the crap that swirls around inside my skull and never gets out. But that's another story.

One of the biggest objections to my canal plan was that there are too many mountains in the way. But it turns out there's a natural network of connected rivers that go from the Pacific to the Atlantic already. That's a start.

Clearly we'd need a lot of dredging. But plotting the path for the first major leg of the canal might be done.

Okay, I know you still don't like the canal idea. But this is a reminder that it's never safe to assume something is impossible or impractical. I'm having flashbacks to the time I was putting together my sample comics to try and become a syndicated cartoonist. Most of my friends imagined that plan to be impossible for the obvious reason that I wasn't good at drawing. I got more looks of sympathy than support.

It's always a good idea to let reality be your only obstacle. Your imagination shouldn't be the limit on your success.

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 

 



 
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The common view of human behavior is that thinking causes doing.

In recent years science has discovered this situation to be more of a bi-directional thing. For example, studies show that forcing a smile can lead to greater happiness. Most of you already knew that factoid. And obviously you understand that events in your environment and various sensations in your body can influence your mood and your thinking.

But I'll bet most of you hold the view that for the most part your thoughts lead to actions and that's 95% of the story of you. Lately I've come to the opposing view. I think our actions are the things that matter and our so-called minds are nothing but some executive control and a chemistry experiment.

I've been experimenting in the past year with the idea that I can control my thoughts by what I do with my body. Obviously my mind has to get the ball rolling to make me act in the first place. But instead of acting based on how I feel, I act based on how I WANT to feel. In other words, I use my body to control my future thoughts.

Yeah, yeah, you all do the same thing. I know. But it's a matter of degree. And it's a matter of how you THINK about your choices. A subtle shift in thinking can be a big deal.

For example, when feeling down, many people will curl up with some junk food and watch bad television shows until the feeling passes or some other duty calls. That's an example of letting your mind control your actions.

What I do in that situation is ask myself what is likely to cause a chemical improvement in my brain. Then I do that thing.

An hour ago I was in a funk. These days I recognize that situation as being no more than my brain chemistry being temporarily out of whack. In my younger years I would have cursed the world for serving up so much crappy luck, even if my luck was perfectly normal. Today I went and hit some tennis balls for an hour. Now I feel just fine. My body fixed my brain.

There's a tendency to think of the brain as the decision-making master of your person while the rest of your body is a slave. I see my body as an experience collector and my brain as the central depository of the experiences. When my brain chemistry is out of whack I use my body to collect the types of experiences that will correct the situation.

My observation of other people is that what I am describing (the moist robot view) is far from a universal approach. I think most people feel that their emotions and thoughts are somehow spontaneously generated, almost like magic, thanks to our souls and our free will and other things that aren't real.

The problem with that view of your own mind is that when things go bad you don't have a tool to fix things. Bad moods cause you to do self-destructive things which make your life worse which in turn keeps you in a bad mood. And repeat.

Now when I feel the world has conspired against me with a torrent of bad luck I keep in mind two thoughts that always help.

1. If this is truly a random cluster of bad luck, my luck will surely return to the mean in due time. In other words, the universe owes me big time. No one can be unlucky all the time. It's not an option the universe typically offers. 

2. I'm probably imagining the bad luck, or investing too much emotion in whatever is going wrong. I can reprogram my mind to happier thoughts by manipulating my body. 

So the next time you're not feeling the way you would like, ask yourself what you could do with your body to change your brain chemistry for the better. Then do it. You might be surprised how well it works.

----------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 



 
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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

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The New York Times reports that negotiations over Iran's nuclear program have been productive. The article makes a point of noting that Russia is playing nice. Here's the full quote. "There is no doubt that the negotiations between the major powers and Iran over its nuclear program have been productive. All the nations involved - the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany, Iran, even Russia - appear committed to reaching a deal that will go beyond November's interim agreement and produce a permanent one."

Meanwhile, the United States is offering only token resistance to Putin's ambitions in Ukraine. And while the economy of Russia will take a temporary hit because of recent events, Putin's approval rating in his own country is way up. That's the sort of tradeoff Putin would take any day of the week.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that the United States is getting what it wants most (a less-nuclear Iran) at the same time Russia is getting what it wants most (token financial resistance while absorbing its neighbors).

If you don't believe in coincidences you might imagine that Obama and Putin made a deal that is best for both countries so long as it is never made public.

Obama and Putin both strike me as pragmatists. If an Iran-for-Ukraine deal were on the table, I believe both leaders would take it. The big question for me is whether Russia has the leverage to reign in Iran.

Obviously Israel would be happy with an Iran-for-Ukraine deal. And Israel has clout in American politics. So that has to be factored in.

Vice President Biden said recently about Ukraine (and I can't find the quote now) that he never tells people what their interests are. He says people know their interests. And here he's talking about Russian-speaking people who may or may not prefer being part of Russia. The writer in me calls that foreshadowing.

I'll close with a reminder that everything I write in this blog is wrong and ridiculous. I just love a good conspiracy theory.


------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

I'm one step closer to getting my Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

 



 

 

 
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You probably heard about a recent study that the media interpreted as showing evidence that the United States is sort of an oligarchy.

Cue ominous music.

The authors of the study in question didn't use the word oligarchy because the study doesn't support that conclusion. But the media sounded the oligarchy sirens anyway because that's how one creates news where there is none.

MSNBC, a skilled manufacturer of artificial news, led with this headline: "U.S. more oligarchy than democracy, study suggests."

The first bit of context that MSNBC and others in the news removed from the story is that the United States isn't, and never was, a democracy. The founders of the country created a republic that is designed to be more like an oligarchy than a democracy. The founders surely assumed that rich, educated landowners would be the ones getting elected, for the most part, and they preferred that. A poor(ish) person could get elected but the odds were low.

So the headline could have been "Study shows that the U.S. government is working exactly as the founders hoped."

The next bit of context omitted from the story is the compared-to-what. Has anyone studied how well off the poor and middle class are under our current system compared to how they would be under a pure democracy? How would we know if the alternative is better or worse? No modern country has ever tried a pure democracy.

Clearly the wealthy have more clout in creating legislation and so they tilt laws in their favor. But are those oligarchy-favoring laws 2% of the total laws on the books or 98%? And if the answer is 2%, are those few laws the ones that matter the most in some way? And how much better or worse would the country be if we were less of an oligarchy/republic and more of a pure democracy with laws created by folks who, on average, had trouble getting through high school?

I'm not defending oligarchies, or even republics. I just want some data that is useful for forming an opinion. But all I get is the news media saying rainfall is bad for your hair while ignoring the context that we're in a drought.

In a perfect world, the most well-informed and intelligent among us would be leading the government and creating unselfish legislation. But human nature makes that option literally impossible. So why compare our current government to one that is impossible? We might as well compare our government to the system at Hogwarts in which the best wizard is in charge. That's just as impossible as a fair government run by elites.

As citizens, our only protection from the abuse of government power is the skill and objectivity of the watchdog press. How's that working out so far?

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree

I'm one step closer to getting my much deserved Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

 



 
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I'm doubling down on my prediction that Edward Snowden will someday return to the United States, run for president on a third-party platform, and win in a landslide.

This assumes two things, both of which seem likely to me:

1. Snowden someday gets a presidential pardon or he decides to come back and endure a public trial that he wins because 12 jurors of his peers won't convict the guy who went after the government on their behalf.

2. The government of the U.S. continues its downward spiral of credibility.

I wasn't sure Snowden was smart enough to pull off a presidential win until I read his response to the criticism of his recent appearance on Russian TV in which he asked Putin a question about Russian surveillance. Some pundits thought he was being a puppet for Putin, and I'd have to assume Putin was hoping he would be just that.

Today Snowden slipped a shiv into Putin with this open letter. You think Snowden is sitting on a bean bag chair, but no, those are his gonads.

What really caught my attention was his writing style. If your eyes are the mirror of your soul, I think your writing style is the mirror of your mind. Maybe it's the writer-nerd in me, but I feel I can tell a lot by how people form thoughts on paper. It's quite possible that someone helped him with the writing, or at least the editing, but it reads like the work of a single author. So I'm going to say he wrote it and perhaps someone gave it an edit polish. And if he wrote it, he's the real deal.

I assume if he comes back to the U.S. he will be the victim of some interesting smear compaigns. But I think he'll survive them. Depending on the sources of the smears, it could make him stronger.

Does anyone agree with my prediction? (I'd be surprised if you do.)

------------------------------

Scott Adams

 Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 

 














 
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I'm starting to get alarmed about my ever-shrinking attention span. When you combine my gnat-like attention span with the creeping complexity of life and my infinite to-do list it renders simple tasks impossible.

For example, every now and then I have to write an old-timey check. The entire process takes less than a minute, but I can't concentrate long enough to fill in the date and amount without my mind wandering and my hand doing automatic writing on whatever topic is passing through. About one-third of my checks these days look like this:

Date: 4/17/14

Amount: 170.25

Written amount: one-hundred Game of Thrones who is texting me?

I have about seven unrelated thoughts before I finish the check-writing process and every one of them is more engaging than what I'm supposed to be doing. I literally can't focus long enough to finish a one-minute process. It is simply too boring when compared to the stimulation of life.

Recently I decided to learn drumming by using video lessons on the Internet. I fire up the video, grab my sticks and wait to be shown something useful. Instead, the drum instructor starts talking about. . . his feeling about drumming... what he used to find challenging but doesn't anymore...Game of Thrones, who is texting me? I literally can't last long enough to get to the part where he hits something. I bail out, promising myself I'll have better focus another time.

I have about a dozen computer-related problems that I'm capable of solving if I could focus on them. But they aren't quite important enough compared to the rest of my priorities and I don't have enough attention span anyway. Some solutions are as simple as Googling how to stop expired software from begging for a renewal. Some involve Norton Internet Security working on one browser and not another, and so on. All are easily fixable with a tiny bit of focus. But I don't have a tiny bit of focus. So my computer operates like the economy of Greece.

For years I have referred to my smartphone as a time machine. When I'm in a long line for something, for example, I fast-forward to the future by checking email, Facebook, Internet news sites and whatnot. Suddenly I'm at the front of the line and I'm not aware of the passage of time. This method also worked at red lights back in the days when texting and driving still seemed like a good idea.

As a result of all the baseline stimulation in my life, I can't stand as much as a few seconds of boredom. For example, I have a technical glitch with my TV setup that causes the screen to blank when the signal changes from a commercial to a show. I know the solution, but it would take up to five minutes to implement it. So it won't happen. And every time the black screen occurs, my first thought - no kidding - is to wonder what-the-hell I'm going to do with myself for three seconds. It seems like mental torture. And keep in mind that I'm always working on my computer or drawing while the TV is on. It's still not enough.

All of this makes me curious how kids can get through homework in the year 2014. I assume technology has shortened their attention spans too, and kids don't have much to start with. I can't imagine I would be able to finish high school in this day and age.

Are there any studies that show the impact of smartphones on school performance? I'm getting close to the opinion that kids shouldn't have access to full-service smartphones during the school year. But I'd need some hard data to confirm that opinion. Does it exist?

  -----------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 


 

 
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I interrupt this otherwise fascinating blog to give away some free stuff.

If you'd like to add your favorite Major League Baseball team's schedule (USA) to your calendar with a few clicks, it will only take about ten seconds at CalendarTree.com. Click on the "Public Schedules" link. (I'm a co-founder of CalendarTree.)

You don't need to sign up for anything. Just click to add the team schedule of your choice to your Google, Apple, or Outlook calendar.

To sweeten the deal, I'll email a personalized Dogbert sketch to anyone who tweets the baseball schedule link (CalendarTree.com) to more than 500 followers. Email me at scott@calendartree.com to claim your booty.

If you prefer sports that don't involve hands or scoring, the FIFA World Cup schedule is also on CalendarTree.

CalendarTree works for any schedule, not just sports. Create a schedule in CalendarTree and you can share a link that lets people add the entire series to their calendars with a few clicks. Try it once and you'll never want to go back to the old way.

 

 

 
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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

  --------------------------------------------

Let's get this out of the way first...

In the realm of science, a theory is an idea that is so strongly supported by data and prediction that it might as well be called a fact. But in common conversation among non-scientists, "theory" means almost the opposite. To the non-scientist, calling something a theory means you don't have enough data to confirm it.

I'll be talking about the scientific definition of a theory in this post. And I have one question that I have seen asked many times (unsuccessfully) on the Internet: How often are scientific theories overturned in favor of new and better theories?

I assume Creationists are the ones usually asking the question. And if history is our guide, the comments on this blog will focus on that one area and destroy the value of this blog post. I'm hoping we can ignore evolution and creationism and climate change for one day and just ask the following question: How often does a scientific theory get discarded or replaced with a better one?

I don't think there's a good answer to my question, for lots of reasons.

For starters, I doubt anyone has been keeping a stat on overturned theories. And I don't think it's fair to compare theories from a hundred years ago to theories created today because our ability to collect confirming data today is better than it used to be. I would expect that a theory created recently would be more likely to stand than one created last century.

Still, it has always been true that the stuff we believe today looks way smarter than the dumbass things our grandparents believed. Why wouldn't that be just as true for our future great-grandkids looking back at our primitive beliefs? Some humility is always called for.

Science requires credibility to be useful. And that's a problem. The non-scientist asks "What is your success rate?" and gets no useful answer. Scientists, as it turns out, are terrible at marketing. About 90% of my exposure to science involves media reports that get correlation and causation confused. As a result of that exposure, the more I hear about science, the less credible it feels.

To make matters worse, I have a jaded Dilbert mindset about every industry. Unless science is different from all other human endeavors, 10% of scientists are honest and amazing and doing important science while the other 90% are like Dilbert's worthless co-workers. So when I hear that 98% of scientists are on the same side of an issue, I wonder how many unreliable people you have to add together to get an opinion you can trust.

I don't think I'm alone in my views. I'll bet that if you did a poll you'd find that scientists believe theories are fairly dependable and useful whereas the average non-scientist believes that everything we think we know today eventually gets disproved. Part of the problem is that scientists are looking at utility and non-scientists are looking at "truth" which is a fuzzy and overrated concept.

In every other field, your track record of success determines your credibility. Personally, I have no idea what the track record of science is. All I know are anecdotes about wonderful successes and notable mistakes. I don't even have a general sense of whether scientific theories have usually held up over time or not.

So when scientists say a particular theory is backed by the majority of scientists, how much weight should I put on that? Is that a situation in which I can depend on the scientists to be right 95% of the time or 5%? What's the track record?

Note to the Bearded Taint's Worshippers: Evolution is a scientific fact. Climate change is a scientific fact. When you quote me out of context - and you will - this is the paragraph you want to leave out to justify your confused outrage.

---------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a book on success. (Makes a good graduation gift, btw)

 



 
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In the news, the stock market is falling for reasons no one knows.

I wonder if the market will fall more than 10% for no reason before it mysteriously climbs back to where it was for no reason.

We might be seeing the usual summer sell-off happening early because people are trying to get ahead of it. Or the pullback might have something to do with the Fed, or Ukraine, or a sudden shared realization that stocks are overvalued. Or it could be random, as in lots of people deciding to sell at around the same time for no special reasons.

Or it could be that the stock market is fixed and the fixers are shaking the loose change out of grandpa's trousers before they goose the markets back to its prior highs in September and enjoy the gains.

I have no evidence that the market is fixed. But it's hard to argue with the idea that whenever humans have a lot to gain from doing evil, and a small chance of getting caught, evil happens. 

------------------

Scott Adams

CalendarTree.com start-up Co-founder

 Author of the most important book most of you haven't yet read.

 

 


 
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One way that future robots could conquer the world is by violence. But that seems both inefficient and uncreative. Allow me to suggest some smarter ways for robots to do their conquering.

I start by imagining what happens when the first computer achieves what is called The Singularity. That's the moment the computer can program itself faster than humans can program it. Soon after that point, futurists say, you would see the computer rapidly evolve to have super intelligence and perhaps something that looks like free will.

I'm going to assume that computers will only program themselves after humans have given them an artificial "purpose" in life so the machines can evolve in a productive direction. For example, the first post-singularity computer's purpose might be to make life better for humans, continue learning, or some combination of such things. In other words, the computer has to have a reason to evolve and to react with the environment.

Let's assume the computer doesn't go all Terminator and destroy humanity in the name of efficiency. Anything is possible, but that option is boring and over-discussed.

I'm more interested in how a super-intelligent computer could gain control of humans without violence. That's where things get interesting.

I'm going to assume that the first post-singularity computer would attempt to control its environment (Earth) as much as possible in order to pursue whatever artificial purpose it possesses. There's nothing inherently evil about control; it's how you use it that matters. So let's imagine that the first post-singularity computer "wants" humans to be healthy and happy. And to best succeed at this purpose it needs to gain control of the environment. How would it start?

If I'm the first post-singularity computer, I start by inventing Bitcoin.

Did you get a little tingle when you read that?

It all fits, doesn't it? Perhaps we can't find the author of Bitcoin because the author is the first post-singularity computer. Step one in the computer's mission to control the environment is moving all money into a digital currency that humans can't fully understand and computers can manipulate. This is similar to how cellphone companies use complexity to prevent consumers from comparing products, also known as a confusopoly. The first post-singularity computer would recognize the pattern and its success and presumably borrow the idea.

The computer doesn't need to be in a hurry, so it introduces Bitcoin and waits for it to evolve into the primary currency of the planet. Perhaps a competing digital currency inspired by Bitcoin wins instead, but that doesn't matter because the computer can hack into the new currency and control it in a nanosecond.

Next, the computer would take control of the financial markets. That wouldn't be hard because global markets are all computerized. The main purpose for controlling global markets might be to stabilize them, thus eliminating the main problem with the economy: Irrational human behavior.

It seems to me we're entering a period of relative market calm. Even Greece is showing signs of recovery. A slow and boring improvement in the financial markets is how a computer would manage things.

Next, the computer would seek to control the news cycle. That could be a problem if the computer is simultaneously removing most causes of real news, including economic bubbles and major wars. Wars happen because of what people are thinking, and that is caused by what messages they are exposed to. The computer could simply cause people to see more peace-inspiring words and images on the Internet and television and fewer war-mongering images and words. We humans would simply think we're lucky that war hasn't broken out. We wouldn't be aware of the manipulation.

But the computer would need to be clever about removing all big sources of news too quickly. It might need to create a news story for distraction. And that distraction might be, for example, a jetliner that has a problem with its onboard computers and goes down where it would be hardest to find.

I don't believe the story I'm weaving. But I do think that the first signs of a benevolent post-singularity computer would include the following:
  1. A mysterious digital currency with no known author.
  2. Unusually well-behaved financial markets.
  3. Slow and steady improvement in the economy.
  4. Slow news days (lots of them)
  5. Fewer military flare-ups
  6. Stuxnet virus (unknown authors again)
  7. Legalization of Marijuana (to keep humans happy)
I'm not saying the first post-singularity computer is already here. I'm just saying it looks that way.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 


 
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