Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I am finding it difficult to concentrate on computer programming

The evidence is overwhelming: on humanity's present course of inaction, world civilization has just *decades* left before it starts to unravel into famine and war caused by global climate change.  Civilization might hold on for another 5 or 6 decades; it might collapse in as little as 15 or 20 years.

For those of you who still don't get it, here is a comprehensive rebuttal of climate-denial cliches:
99 One-Liners Rebutting Denier Talking Points — With Links To The Full Climate Science

The catastrophic effects of climate change are not news, but the quickness of the impeding collapse was news to me just a few weeks ago. Here are some sources:

An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces

Climate wars, by Gwynne Dyer

The Burning Question: We Can't Burn Half the World's Oil, Coal and Gas. So How Do We Quit?

TED Talk: Climate Change is Simple

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

It seems too late to hope for real governmental action to reduce CO2 emissions directly, though some government ministers are beginning to wake up.  Here's something encouraging from today's news:  Otoh, President Obama is finding it hard even to kill the Keystone pipeline!  Hope for a carbon tax seems forlorn.

The last, faint, hope is to discover ways of removing *billions* of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and the oceans. This isn't completely impossible,, but the world needs to be removing those billions of tons of CO2 *now*.  We are nowhere near doing that. At best, we have preliminary research, such as:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: P. furiosus turns CO2 directly into industrial chemical

You can also google "CO2 to fuel" to see other approaches.

My children are increasing likely to die from the direct and indirect effects of mass starvation, wars, civil unrest and the general breakdown of society that ensures. The odds that my own generation of 60-somethings die from those effects are also increasing at an alarming rate.  (Those who don't understand how such probabilistic statements could make sense might want to study Bayesian statistics. A good introduction from a recent pycon:

In short, business-as-usual and life-as-usual seem pretty much irrelevant.

One part of the practice of mindfulness meditation is the development of the awareness of the "impermanence of all things".  One exercise asks us to imagine everything (and everyone) around us disappearing or dying. Imo, this is an excellent spiritual practice.  Alas, we can now see *how* everything will *actually* disappear.  Way before we are ready ;-) It's a truly terrifying prospect.  It is as if we were living in 1935, facing world war two without any hope of winning.

The only positive responses I can see to this situation are

A) telling as many people as possible about the impeding catastrophe in the hope that something might (finally!) be done and

B) attempting to maintain as much personal equilibrium as I can.

In fact, the famous zen story has always applied to everyone and everything:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger.
He fled, the tiger after him.
Coming to a precipice,
he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge.
The tiger sniffed at him from above.
Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.
Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away at the vine.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near him.
Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted!


  1. Hi Edward,

    You are not alone. And given the short period of time since you really grokked it, you are coping amazingly well.

    Here are a couple of links.

    This is a youtube playlist that I use when people express themselves as deniers.

    I send people to Gail for an education on what Peak Oil really means. I ask them to read every single word that has ever come out of this woman's brain.

    I send people to this link if they still do not entirely get the above.

    The only rational "solution" is what you said. Make sure you are doing what makes you the happiest, with the people who make you happy. Wake up others and ask them to join you. Stare this puppy in the face and spit in its eye. A personal solution turns into a societal solution if enough people wake up. For the first time in the history of our civilization the continuation of our species now relies on every person living with the benefits of empire all having a change of heart. I am not optimistic.

    The only place I would differ from your solutions is to discount the mass action or rational responses from having any effect. We are past too many tipping points already.

    Here are climate scientists, and educated amateurs, doing science.

    Here is a scientist who has come to his own peace with the facts and has chosen to wake as many people up as possible. He also does a real number on the projections and the tipping points.

    Thanks for the excellent software. I had fun exploring it and have added it to my "someday" list of tools that might meet a need.

    Here is to "someday".

    Chris George

  2. Hi Edward, its Fidel, from the Leo goup. I would like to share some thoughts with you.

    Simply put, there are two possibilities, one is the human race failing to subsist as a result of what we are doing, after destroy the planet, and the other one is for us to find the way to solve the problems we are generating today (or stop generating them). Its either one or the other.

    Then, simply put again, there are two kind of people, the ones who push towards one of them, and the ones who push towards the other (IE be part of the problem or be part of the solution).

    Then there is another thing. I think a lot of time is wasted, by really creative minds, in just tracking, editing, and managing the information they are dealing with.
    The same way a programmer needs to search over the functions to find the one it fits to him, instead of being offered to him, scientifics probably need to deal with data in ways they know how but they just dont know how to do it or even that computers can do that.

    I know my grammar is a bit poor but really hope to be able to share my point.

    What I mean is, in my oppinion, Leo can become both an awesome interface to deal with that data, and as a result, be an important part of the solution.
    For that, ideally, Leo should be easily available to non programmers, be a lot more interactive.
    You guys are giving a great step towards that with the installation update.

    My plan is to make leo as interactive as possible. And then make a big deal of videos, and upload them to youtube, see if I can find the way to make Leo appealing to non programmers by showing them the things they can easily do with it.

    I wouldnt be able to do, try, or think of those if Leo didnt exist.
    But the point Im trying to make here is that I really think Leo could very well be the tool which could make us be in the "winning side" of the ecuation because of its amazing versatility, if Leo reached a wider public. In that case, not only you would be programming for improving Leo as a tool, but you would actually have been programming for avoiding this catastrophic future.

    I really think the salvation comes through technology, and will be archieved from correctly managing the data humans are currently generating right now.
    I can find no other tool to manage data better than Leo, period.
    Heck Im being very bad at stating my point, but the thing is I really think any second saved by any person researching towards useful things (such as alternative energyes, etc) counts towards success, and If leo was widely used, it would have a great impact towards that success.
    I also know Im being far too optimistic about leo's possibilities to reach to a bigger public, thats why I want to make it as interactive, easy, and useful for comon people as possible.

    Im working (and will be for the next 6 months at least) towards that, following the next steps. You dont need to read them again, they are the same as I said already in another post, but just want to rephrase them again, makes me understand them better. So its a good moment to stop reading =)

    1. > I really think the salvation comes through technology

      This is wishful thinking. See:

  3. And here is the plan I talked about in previous post:
    I will share them when all of them are ready or one by one if one of them is ready before the others.
    The main idea behind them is that trees are the program, so the "plugins" im developing make use of tree structures in order to function. Therefore, if the user changes the tree, he gets a new program adapted to him.

    - Interactive programming system, valid for any language. The user only needs to edit the "Programming language tree". The nodes will then work same way for the newly added programming language. Already doing the tests with both python, Leo, and AHK, and the system is working perfectly.
    The system offers the user the next function, variable, or script the user needs, depending on where in the programming steps he is. When editing an already used function, it offers to change the variables in that function, keeps track of the original function to know if it needs to offer any other additional information, etc.
    Everythin can be done through buttons which pop in Leo's interface, so just by clicking (and giving the name to a few variables, only once) the user can build a program, really quick. I have been searching for something like this on the net for some months and couldnt find anything similar,I really think I am building something new, and Leo was the best structure I could find to hold those plans. Actually, I found leo as a result of my search for such a tool.

    - Interactive tutorial system. It will play trees as tutorials. Special commands will be AHk automations, which will launch to make the tutorial interactive (wait some seconds before next node, wait for the user to use the hotkey XXX, wait for the user to press specific Leo button, or simply do next step when the objective window is ready).
    It will have the option to "record" a tree into a tutorial (using Google translate's voice to read it) and I will upload it to youtube.
    This means whenever someone creates a tutorial through this, he will be able to play it and upload to youtube.
    Tutorials will also be recorded interactively, and will have the form of Leo trees, so the user will be able to use parts of them among each other.
    Tutorials will have a "imput" node, which will play the tutorial over and over with the given imput. So, a small example, if I make a tutorial to "log in to yahoo", and in the imput node I give it information on my 30 yahoo accounts, it will do so with the 30 of them. Simple example, obviously this will be used for other means.

    Within the next 6 monts I plan to have both of them ready, and Im currently on the track of the planning.

    After then, I will record tutorials to things users strugle with, and some other cool uses for gamers (it will read out loud the build order of Starcraft,...) so my plan is to make Leo an interesting thing for everybody to use.
    There are many ideas I cant explain yet since I need those two first to develop the next ones, but as said, I really think Leo has the potential to become the information manager tool which very well could transform everything.

    I have been using computers ever since I was 3. I am 29 years old now. My background in automating is that I made a robot succesfully play for me in a Mud, and in a lot of ways, it was quicker and better than human players. I think automations can be aplied far more than they are right now, and that people who dont know how to automate, can greatly benefit from them, if they are made available through something like what I am talking about.

    If someone is interested in seing the progress so far just ask for it.

  4. Many thanks for your comments and excellent links.

  5. There is a fundamental mistake in part 2 (of 8) at

    In fact, the best way to lower population is to *lower* the death rate, and the best way to do that is to increase the well-being of mothers and their children. When people believe their children will survive, they have less of them. In fact, most wars and diseases have the effect of *increasing* population. This will be worth a separate blog entry.

  6. Ok I understand my previous posts sounded crazy... Ill just be patient and wait till I can show you what Im making instead of talking more about it, sry for that. But Leo is indeed a really good tool which points (and helps) towards the solution, and is the perfect ground for amazing new ideas. So the better it is, the more you are contributing towards good case scenario. That would be the summary of my point.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you think Leo is a useful tool--I'm just not confident that it could be useful enough.

  7. Ed,

    Welcome to the siblinghood of the awakened. And thanks for reminding me of the zen parable. To me, it's clear that we're in for massive changes, but there are things we can do to adapt to them. For me, a fundamental one is to connect with others to work toward creating a resilient community.

    A few references to resources I've found helpful:

    The Archdruid Report ( A years-long exploration of various aspects of the crisis. Greer is deeply versed in history, as well as having a good knowledge of science. He discusses the coming decline in the context of the historical experience of the experience of other empires and civilizations. Also, search for "Catabolic Collapse" for an interesting essay.

    The Transition Initiatives (originally Transition Towns): Start at, also; a network of communities of various sizes preparing to meet the coming challenges.

    Peak Prosperity (including The Crash Course) ( Started by Chris Martenson to spread awareness of the crisis of the "3 Es: energy, environment, economy". The site's focus is mostly on the near-term situation, and goes into the economic aspect more than most. There is a section on individual, family, and community preparation.

    A Prosperous Way Down ( The ecologist Howard Odum made a career of studying the energy basis for, well, life, the universe, and everything. His last publications were a large, synoptic study called "Environment, Power, and Society for the 21st Century", and "A Prosperous Way Down", where he addressed the possibility of decline without catastrophe. The web site, maintained by his daughter, covers much of the material in the book, as well as related topics. An important concept, maybe the crucial one, is the Pulsing Paradigm.

  8. One other thought: As technologists, we might have a role to play: it seems likely that we won't lose all our technology at once, and that it will be very helpful to have large-scale communications and document storage for as long as possible. This implies turning our creativity toward reworking our computing and networking technology to reduce its power consumption and to be as resilient as possible. One example: it seems that something like the ham radio network will be viable for some time to come. Could we harness it with cheap, easy to build computers that will allow some level of storage, store-and-forward communications, etc.?

  9. Edward, there is hope. A previously dismissed, practically free energy source is showing very significant results and it seems to not be "way out there" in terms of commercialization. Google LENR, Andrea Rossi. Do not use Wikipedia as a source of info on this as it is clearly biased against any positive results in the field. You will find sceptics, but as with me, you'll also find many who are convinced.

    For the best ongoing discussion on this subject you should follow the vortex-l mailing list at I've been tracking this since Andrea Rossi made some big announcements in early 2011. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    Anyone concerned with the climate owes it to themselves and the rest of the world to look into and push for LENR to be developed for commercial use. Contact your representatives and inform them as well.



  10. There are lots of reasons to switch to alternate (non fossil-fuel based, IMO non-nuclear as well) sources of energy, but maybe global warming isn't one of them after all?

    Keep a positive attitude, do what you can in your own life, think global act local.

    And if programming is your "strawberries" keep on keeping on!

  11. "There is hope..." Hope for what? Like all previous civilizations, ours is either near or beyond the limits of the complexity that can be sustained. Given that oureconomic system is predicated on infinite growth, we can't even consider the possibility of stabilizing our load on the ecosystem that that we're totally dependent on, much less reducing it in a managed way. I suggest a reading of William Catton's "Overshoot" for a good treatment of the situation.

    A new energy source will simply allow us to get further into overshoot before the collapse occurs, making it worse than otherwise. Ideally, we could use such a source to buy us time to make the transition to a managed decline, but that would entail a drastic change of direction by the OECD countries, as well as the rising powers eager to join them. Basically, no such change will even be discussed until the crisis is well underway and only minor palliative measures are available.

    We already have a "practically free" energy source we can rely on indefinitely (at least on the human scale) -- the sun. We also have probably the most efficient possible technology, perfected over billions of years, to convert that diffuse energy into concentrated, usable forms: photosynthesis. "All we need to do" is to scale down our energy demand to fit within the limits imposed by the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. In other words, we need to restructure our social, political, and economic systems to leverage the lessons we've learned from ecology and evolution. That may occur, but likely not until our current systems are collapsing, and some groups of people are willing and able to opt out and take a different tack.

    In summary, hoping for a technological "miracle" is vain. The only miracle that could spare us the worst of the decline would be a social, political, cultural, and spiritual one.

    Technology will likely play a helping role in the decline, though. One interesting review of applicable technologies is Kris De Dekker's Low-tech Magazine (

  12. Need some specifics here. Is the argument that global warming, alone, causes this 'armageddon'?
    (There are ways that the temporary cooling of the planet is possible without changing CO2 levels.) The main effect is ocean level rise and increased storms?

    1. > Is the argument that global warming, alone, causes this 'armageddon'?

      Basically, the answer is yes. Of course, the details are more complicated.

      Imo, the only option is to find ways of removing truly large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. For many more details, see the book, Climate Wars.