Simulation & Simulacra

The convergence of literature:

For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these also are the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall.

Cormac McCarthy – The Crossing

and philosophy:

For something to be real, it needs to be implemented. So the model that you have of reality is real in as far as it is a model, it’s an appropriate description of the world to say that there are models that are being experienced. But the world that you experience is not necessarily implemented, there is a difference between a reality, a simulation and a simulacrum. The reality that we are talking about is something that fully emerges over a causally closed lowest layer. And the idea of physicalism is that we are in that layer, that basically our world emerges over that. Every alternative to physicalism is a simulation theory, which basically says that we are in some kind of simulation universe and the real world needs to be an apparent universe of that, where the actual causal structure is.

When you look at the ocean and your own mind, you are looking at a simulation that explains what you’re going to see next. [We are living in a] simulation generated by own brains. And this simulation is different from the physical reality, because the causal structure that is being produced, what you are seeing, is different from the causal structural of physics. […] Your behavior needs to work in such a way that it’s interacting with an accurately predictive model of reality. And, if your brain is unable to make your model of reality predictive, you will need help.

Joscha Bach on the Lex Fridman podcast


Let’s talk about Tardigrades

How big are they? Not very. Slow steppers are about a half a millimeter long.


Where can they survive? Moss piglets are famously hardy and can survive in the vacuum of space. They can be completely dehydrated for 10 years, then rehydrated. They can survive in boiling water, the desert, the ocean, in permafrost and just about anywhere else you can think of (not lava).

Are they cute? Ehh. Under certain circumstances, sure. It’s not a cuteness home run though.


Where does one acquire a tardigrade? They are found far and wide on every continent. Your best bet for getting your hands, or microscope as it were, on one is to collect some lichen and look at it through a microscope. For the long explanation, read this very detailed article.

How do they move? They walk, much like you might imagine an 8 legged dog might.

Credit Lisset Duran and Deborah Johnston

What’s the proper care and feeding of a tardigrade? Put some agar in a dish. Water bears, as they’re sometimes called, enjoy swimming in mineral water and dining on algae. Rotate their food and water every 3 to 6 days.

When were they discovered? According to Wik, Johann August Ephraim Goeze first described what he called kleiner Wasserbär in 1773.


Gray Ghost Incoming

This photograph of a male Northern Harrier, aka the “Gray Ghost” is a hard one to get. Male harriers are white, females are brown. Northern Harriers aren’t uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, but the male to female ratio is 1:3 and the males seem to be somewhat more avoidant of humans.

So to get one in-focus, flying straight toward the camera, with a somewhat interesting background, well, it made my day 🙂

The Gray Ghost
For comparison, a female Northern Harrier

Collective Collapse

Why are people how they are?

Theory of mind is hard and just when you think you’re getting okay at it, life humbles you. This is a great post by Dave Bailey on what you are really dealing with when you’re dealing with someone’s negative emotions or reactions. A couple examples:

Overreaction is often a sign that something else might be going on that you aren’t aware of. Perhaps they didn’t get enough sleep or recently had a fight with a friend. Maybe something about the situation is triggering an unresolved trauma from their childhood — a phenomenon called transference.

When you notice someone overreacting, broaden your focus and get curious about what else might be going on.


In Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication, he explains that every negative emotion is the result of an unmet need. However, few of us actually know how to put that need into words. Rosenberg suggests that labelling the universal human need can be therapeutic, or even transformational.

Clear thinking

This Lex Fridman podcast with Joscha Bach is expansive:

Along the same lines, another of my favorite Lex Fridman guests is Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Both of them, from everything I can tell, are well furnished in the g department. You’re guaranteed to come out of the listens with lots of new ideas and ways of thinking.


China reduced the amount of time kids under 18 can play video games to 3 hours a week on Fri, Sat, Sun from 8-9pm. As much as I dislike authoritarianism… it does seem like their description of video games as the opium of the masses isn’t totally off. Don’t get me wrong, I like video games too, but the balance is way off.

Also on the China front, Dan Wong’s annual letter, if you haven’t read it yet, is well worth it.


We have no real reason to write/think about collapse… not in 2021, but this article may be worth bookmarking for the future. It explores dispositions towards collapse, types of collapse, and even the aesthetics of collapse.


Summer Glow

Summertime swimmers–starting with a Pied-billed Grebe, then Mallards for the next three. All of these backlit shots were taken at a city park here in Seattle.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The pyramid

The Five Dysfunctions is a business fable, which while it sounds cheesy (and maybe it is), the story really helps the message stick. I’ve read a few books like this and I’m starting to prefer the format to any other. Humans are hardwired to enjoy stories; it feels like a natural way to learn.

There’s a lot written about this book elsewhere, so I won’t try to do a full summary, but here are a few of my takeaways:

  • A management team should establish a common goal and a shared commitment to it. Emphasis on the shared–all departments should have buy in and be committed to it. Marketing should be committed to goals that are primarily engineering oriented. Product should commit to a goal primarily focused on the support team.
  • As a manger, the team you put first is the team of your peers. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s the only way to have unity as a whole business. When management is on the same page, the big problems can be solved as a team. The the team that works for you is obviously important, but as rough as it sounds, it has to come second.
  • Have healthy conflict. Conflict shouldn’t be avoided. When it happens, if the team trusts each other enough to have intense disagreement and still not lose sight of the fact that everyone is going towards a common goal, it’s a sign that the conflict is healthy.
  • Holding people accountable is almost never comfortable, but learning to do it anyway is a requirement for a leader.

Video: American Avocet

One of my favorite annual birding trips is East from Seattle over the Cascades to Eastern Washington where American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts migrate up from Central and South America. This is a short clip of an Avocet preening in the early morning hours.


Getting Things Done 16 years later

The last time I wrote about David Allen’s system of Getting Things Done (GTD) was 16 years ago. Lots has changed since then, but the one thing that’s remained pretty much constant is that I’ve never stopped using GTD.

The main idea behind GTD is that: if you get the things you need to do out of your head as soon as you think of them then review and organize them later, you’ll worry a lot less and get more done. That’s really all you need to know, but if you want more, this is my more-in-depth GTD review after a decade and a half.

If you get the things you need to do out of your head as soon as you think of them then review and organize them later, you’ll worry a lot less and get more done.

As soon as I think of something to do, I add it to my inbox. The inbox is a general purpose list that makes sure that a task isn’t forgotten. It should be super easy to add to your inbox. I use OmniFocus to track todos but, the default Apple Reminders app is also surprisingly capable. Whatever you choose, make sure you know how to use it well and trust it. Don’t over-complicate.

Once I’ve got time to organize my todo list, which I try to do every couple days, I move tasks out of the inbox and into specific projects.

I use lists in a very broad, contextual way rather than grouping tasks by lots of projects. By that I mean that my “work” list is just called “work,” even though I’m always working on a lot of different projects at work. Similarly, “home” is the only list I have for stuff around the house. If I need to filter down to a specific project, I’ll either nest tasks, or filter by tags to narrow in focus.1

Every couple weeks (I should probably do it more), I review all my lists, clean things up and re-prioritize. If any task I encounter takes less than 2 minutes, I do it right then.

That’s pretty much it. And it works.

A final reminder, be careful to avoid introducing micro-frictions that more complicated systems and software introduce. Start with an easy system, then iterate it over time.

1The GTD book has a much more involved system using Contexts and Projects, but I’ve found that the above is enough most of the time.


The way

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…. But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.

Zen master Hakuin Ekaku as quoted by Robert Greene in Mastery


The labyrinth is thoroughly known

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Death on a pale horse

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

Joseph Campbell – The Hero With a Thousand Faces