A Man the Universe Will Miss

Stephen Hawking died today, March 14, 2018 (Pi Day!), after surviving for decades after being struck down by a neurological disease that probably should have killed him in 3 – 4 years. He made a lot out of those extra years he was given, and became a renowned physicist. He was also a funny and insightful man. Here are just a few quotes that give a glimpse of how his mind worked.
“My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
“Your theory of a doughnut-shaped universe is interesting, Homer. I may have to steal it.” (To Homer Simpson, in one of several episodes of “The Simpsons” in which he “played” himself).
“They made Einstein a hero, and now they’re making me a hero, though with much less justification.”
“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”
“I would take things apart to see how they worked, but they didn’t often go back together.” (on his life as a curious youth)
“I don’t know (what my IQ is). People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”
“God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”
“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
“The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.”
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
“Life would be tragic, if it weren’t funny.”
“Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.”
“Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder at what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” (Advice to his children)
“Somewhere out there, Hillary Clinton is President and I’m the world record holder in the marathon.” (On the possibility of alternate universes)
“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die.”
“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”
I wouldn’t compare it to sex, but it lasts longer. (on the pleasure of scientific discovery)
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”
“It will take about a thousand million million million million years for the Earth to run into the sun, so there’s no immediate cause for worry!”
“I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”

Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) R.I.P.

The Wonderous Internet

Despite the fact that we now have an entire generation of adults who have always known of the Internet, I am not one of them. I still remember the very early days of dial-up modems and the introduction of web browsers, and the seemingly remarkable things that were suddenly available, literally at your keyboard-tapping fingertips.

It takes more to wow me now, so much online business is ordinary, usual, expected. But I’m still finding the capacity to be delighted from time to time by something I stumble across. I hope my younger colleagues find this to be true as well.

Today I want to share with you a few (well, nine of course!) things I’ve come across online that I have found unexpectedly cool, and I know that word “cool” dates me too. I hope  you like these.

I want to give credit to Mitch Joel at Six Pixels of Separation, and his buddies Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire, who have a weekly link exchange/round-robin that is the source for some, although not all of these links. You could do far worse than following Mitch in the future, his group always comes up with some very interesting stuff.

Perhaps you will be interested in the Emotive Modeler, a CAD/design too that takes in descriptive adjectives, and spits out 3D models based on its interpretation of these emotionally charged words. Some odd and interesting shapes here, but I must say most of them make sense.

Going beyond (way beyond) Alexa, You can learn how your BRFF – best robot friend forever – is going to be able to talk to you in a way that will make you feel like, well like he or she is a real person by studying WaveNet. Listen to the demonstrations in the bottom half of the article – amazing!

Nerds of the World (aren’t we all a bit nerdy now?)! Where is a great place to see a Lightsaber Duel? At the Fencing World Championship of course. The force was definitely with the combatants.

You too can write like the President! The new Tiny Hands font may become everyone’s favorite, if the boss has his way!

What would it look like if you took a single exposure that encapsulated every frame of a movie? Do you think you can guess what these movies are on Jason Shulman’s “Photographs of Films” page? See if you can pick out The Wizard of Oz, or 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Who are these Venture Capitalists? For in-depth insight into the people that are in charge of huge pots of money, you have to see The Future List. Don’t forget to drill down deep into each company. Maybe you’ll find that guy you used to make fun of in 7th grade on one of the lists.

Are you aware of the Hidden Cultures on the Internet, like Witch House or Health Goth? Truly, there must be something for everyone online. SMH.

There should be a site like this for every city. The Mapping London Blog will show you more ways to look at this venerable city than you can imagine. Want to see the distribution of surnames in London? We got that! How about all of the Tube routes, expressed as strings of Christmas lights? No Problem. All of the locations mentioned in John Le Carre’s spy novels? Yep. What a treasure.

I hope you find some of these gems as interesting as I did, and if you want to see more articles like this, let me know. dickd@innovaision.com

It May Be Time for a Change

Amazingly (to me anyway), I have been publishing TNT – These Nine Things, the newsletter I use to share interesting items I come across online, for almost 4 years, at least as of this writing at the end of 2017. Many of you have been subscribers for the entire stretch, some have come along more recently. I love the opportunity to find things that others may have overlooked and pass them on. As frequent readers know, I try to mix practical advice and information with fun, wonder and whimsy – and sometimes things that defy description.

My plans are to continue dropping into your in-box three times a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday morning, but a recent review of the feedback I get from my email program has gotten me to think about mixing things up a bit. I can look at data like open rates and click through rates for every TNT I’ve ever sent, and one statistic has popped out that seems consistent enough to remark upon and to cause me to try to do something new.

My Wednesday TNT has always been an “intensive”, meaning that all nine of the links I share relate to the same topic. A sampling of the topics going back to early 2014 includes Alternatives to PowerPoint, Chilling Out Online, The Future of Texting, Emotional Intelligence, Millennials, Exposing Fake News, Understanding Blockchain, and Net Neutrality. By the way, if anyone would like a copy of all of the Wednesday Intensive Topics can get the full list. Just email me (dickd@innovaision.com) and put “Send Weds Intensive List” in the subject line and I’ll pass it right along! If you see something you missed, I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the links for that edition.

I like digging deeper into a single subject every week, but the reader response rates for the Wednesday Intensive TNT is typically lower than for the other two days of the week. When you see consistent data – particularly data that you don’t like to see – it’s a good idea to respond and consider changing things up.

Rather than scrap the idea of a weekly deep dive into a subject, I’m going to try something new to see if it makes a difference. For the next several weeks the Wednesday edition of TNT will be presented in a more narrative fashion, rather than the list you are accustomed to getting. I’ll still work nine things into the narrative, but will also try to include more context and analysis as I do. So, you will be getting more of an article than just an accounting of resources. (An article which could also be a blog post, btw – I love multi-purposing). I’m going to see if that format changes the open rate for the positive. If it does, I’ll continue. If it fails, I may decide to ditch the intensive format altogether.

Of course, feel free to send any feedback on this idea to the email I already listed above. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy and respond to the change!

Some Thoughts on the Forbes 400

I didn’t make the Forbes list of the 400 Wealthiest people in America. Again.

If I live long enough, I could capture the record for most consecutive years of failing to land on the list, but that’s a long way off as well.

Don’t feel bad for me. If you must, have some sympathy for the 8 guys (most of the people on the list are men, still) who tied for 401st making them the “also ran” victims of this celebration of fiscal superlatives. It seems that even having a net worth of $1.5 billion is not good enough to get you into the top 400 category anymore. What a shame. Interestingly enough – to me anyway – is that I only recognized the name of one of the eight “just missed it” crew, Nicholas Pritzker of Hyatt Hotels fame. By contrast I knew three of the six names who just made the cut with $1.55 billion. Think of it, a mere 50 million separated the ins from the outs.

Now I have no political agenda, and this is not a call to action, but reading about this upper echelon of wealth did leave me with a few reflections to share. Take them for what they are worth.

The total net worth of the Fortune 400 is $2.3 trillion, translating into an average of $5.7 billion dollars each. The per capita net worth of everyone in the country is $260,000, meaning the top tier folks have about 22 thousand times as much money as the average person in the country. Estimates that about one family in three live one paycheck from bankruptcy might bring this all into sharper focus. All things considered, the top folks could give up less than 2% of their net worth and double the safety net for the 40 million families living on the edge. I’m not suggesting this. Although “a rising tide lifts all boats” (we think) just giving money away is not usually a good idea. Besides, CSC or Bechtel or another of the government’s Super Contractors would probably get involved in the project and after their fees were paid, who knows what would be left?

Besides, it’s not like the uber rich (can we still use uber like that?) are necessarily stingy with their money. Bill and Melinda Gates (Bill ranked #1 on the Fortune 400), Warren Buffet (#2), and Leonard Lauder (#52) each donated more than a billion dollars last year, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (#11) was not far behind at $990 million. The top 20 donors on the 400 list gave away $11.6 billion in 2014 (and we thank you!). The magazine from which this information is taken highlights a lot of others – many not on the top 400 list – who are incredibly generous with their fortunes.

Wondering where the rich and famous live? Wherever they want to! O.K. bad joke. As you might expect, for reasons including financial markets (New York has 65 of the Forbes 400), sun (California at 93 and Florida at 31) and oil (Texas – 39), some states have more billionaires than others. In most cases, make that waaaay more. 12 of the 50 United States have no F400 listers –zero, none, nada. Seven more have only 1 (Who is the most popular guy in Kentucky, eh?). The only states not already mentioned with double digit ultra-rich denizens are Washington and Illinois. Eight live abroad. Consider this if you are planning to move soon.

One other piece of the Forbes list that many will find interesting is the “Self-made Score” assigned to each listee. Using a proprietary metric, Forbes has ranked each person with a score from 1 (inherited wealth – doing nothing to grow it) to 10 (raised poor, endured great hardships, succeeded anyway). Although there is nothing pejorative attached to the numbers, it is not hard to see that the average reader might have a different feeling for Oprah Winfrey than for Sam Walton’s daughter! You can see the whole story about this ranking system on the Forbes website.

Reading some of the background stories of many of the people highlighted on the Forbe’s list is actually quite entertaining, and it’s always interesting to get a glimpse into how the other half (or more accurately, the other .000001%) live. I’ll leave you to get online or buy the magazine to find out more. Me? I’m off to talk to Larry Ellison (#3) about a loan.

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