Category Archives: Projects

Consciousness is a scale, not a binary

When my son Max was born, my sense of who I am blossomed to include this tiny wet lump screaming flesh. He is me, more important than the part that goes to work in Manhattan.

But he didn’t do a whole lot. Even when he grabbed my finger, it was a reflex operating. There wasn’t much internal life or reflection. Like all of us he was on a journey to develop into a person. He’s on the acceleration part of that trip now, so every week he develops something new, connecting concepts and creating abstractions. Now I can hear him babbling stories to himself where he used to just experiment with the noises his mouth could make. The curve of his growth has a near vertical slope as he becomes aware of who he is and who his parents are. He knows he has a baby sister coming in May and is dimly aware she will be boring at first.

He will watch her grow into her own consciousness and expand his self to his family. If we’re lucky, they will both grow to include something bigger than themselves in their consciousness.

I’m still growing in wisdom and experience, but I’m no longer accelerating. My growth happens in smaller chunks and less often. I have to push myself to learn and escape comfort to grow. My epiphanies are shallower and less frequent. The slope of my growth curve is flattening before it peaks and descends. Then I will be more like my father.

The smartest man I’ve ever met is learning fewer things and his stories repeat and loop and meander. He tells me “You might not be aware of this, but…” and then he tells me something again. He might be forgetting things like what it is to be poor or disregarded faster than he learns his latest passions. Someday I’ll be telling stories to my kids that they already know and I hope they will love me enough to listen closely for what I’m saying underneath my words.

So I see intimately a scale of consciousness, introspection, reflection that flows through my past and future. I was a flat sheet, then the world made impressions on me until I’ve become crinkly enough make new interfering patterns in myself. Some day I will lose my flexibility and start to flatten again.

If consciousness is a scale in people, how conscious is a dog. Sorta? They seem to think and plan. They hide and deceive and love and grieve. How conscious is a kitten vs a cat? How much of a soul does a mouse or parrot or gorilla have? They have some consciousness, as does a mosquito. Consciousness becomes a lot easier to talk about when you can say “sort of” conscious instead of talking about a binary, as Daniel Dennett proposes.

So I’m a self reflecting system, my son is self organizing into a more crinkly experience of the world, my father is smoothing out and my soon to be daughter is barely there. Surely she sits in Sam’s belly as more of a possible mind than the concrete though simple plans and dreams of my neighbor’s dog.

If you’ve stuck through this far, sorry this is how I’m announcing that we’re having a baby daughter in May.  I couldn’t figure out a saner way. So let’s also talk about something crazy but probably true: Pan-psychism. Once you let go of consciousness as a binary, you can realize that everything sorta thinks to some degree.

Most of the pan-psychic folks come at it from a place of duality, thinking that if the meat that types these words has a soul, why couldn’t a calmer version of that soul inhabit a rock or a tree or a table? I come from a different perspective. Any system that reacts to stimulus and then modifies itself or reacts to changes within itself is practicing some sort of consciousness or soulness. That perspective is useful when you think about corporations or economies or earthquake resistant buildings or networks of trees and fungus communicating and sharing resources in forests.

Taking a break from Orbital

My hack-night project for a long time was Orbital Feed Reader. I’ve been slacking on it a lot recently. Especially after the election, I feel like I need to find things to work on that have a more direct impact on people that I can help.

I worked on a project called Donate the Difference  – it wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be, though it did raise $25K for some charities. I learned a lot, and I’ll write some of that up here later. But it made it clear to me that I need to work on projects that make a bigger difference than a feed reader plugin.

I’m not certain what that is yet, but if you were hankering for updates to Orbital, that’s why they haven’t been coming. It’s open source, and I’m happy to take pull requests or turn it over if someone wants to do more with it. I just don’t want to lead folks on.

Mistakes were made, tears were shed

Orbital 0.2.2 – Mistakes Were Made


This is a tweak to fix some problems people told me about on the Orbital Feed Reader GitHub Issues page.

Some folks were getting a very bad experience during the install – everything goes blank – or they were able to install and then couldn’t add feeds or read feeds. Not good for a feed reader!  I traced down a problem where if you had a specific new default collation on your database, the way I initialized the database tables made everything go boom.  It’s fixed now, but it’s part of the problem of supporting a lot of different configurations without a giant automated test lab.

The other was that someone pointed out there is an improved PressThis page in the latest version of WordPress.  Everything was working, but you’d get a nudge message saying that there was a new way to use PressThis and why are you going this old way?  Updated and I think it’s a really good experience now!

I also did some cleanup and logging improvements so that I can work with folks who have problems in a better way.

Quick TV Pillar Mount Project.

early assembly with TV

Now that Maximum Baby is crawling I wanted to get our huge tv off of the rickety cart it was sitting on. Sam had a tv fall on her as a child and one is enough for us.

The tricky thing here is that we wanted to mount the TV on a concrete pillar.

Trying to attach a flat thing to a curved thing is tricky.  My solution was this:

  1. Got a 2×8 of Douglas Fir from my local Home Depot. They usually have crappy wood, but I managed to find a piece that looked quarter-sawn, so that’s good.
  2. Cut it to length based on the height of my TV, the height of my soundbar and allowing room for attaching some shelves later.
  3. At the base trim each side 45°, then angle the saw blade to 45 and make a cross cut. Makes a nice beveled end instead of a dramatic right angle.
  4. Use some of the scrap at the top to increase the depth so the TV mount screws get a lot of purchase depth. I used wood glue and 8 screws.
  5. Prime and paint.
  6. Attach hardware.
  7. For attaching it all to the pillar I decided to go with a friction mount. I ordered 3 endless loop ratchet straps and ratchet them tight against the pillar.

Using a friction mount is a dicey thing. Materials have two kinds of stickiness – or friction coefficients. One is how sticky two things are when they are at rest (static friction coefficient) and the other is how sticky two things are when they are moving (kinetic friction coefficient). Friction works great right up until you overcome the static friction coefficient and then it works very poorly because the kinetic friction coefficient is always lower than the static friction coefficient.

Good news is we can calculate how much force our friction mount should support! Friction is dependent on the pressure between two surfaces (the normal force) and the stickiness between them (the friction coefficient). The frictive force is going to be our normal force times the static friction coefficient.

How much normal force do we have? I’m estimating that I can ratchet around 150lbs of pressure on one of those ratchet straps. Let’s cut that a little bit because I haven’t been working out and I am an optimist. Let’s call it 120lbs. I’m using 3 ratchet straps so that adds up to 360lbs of pressure.

There’s a table on that page with friction coefficients for common materials. Looks like they say the static friction coefficient between wood and concrete is 0.62. 360lbs * 0.62 = 223.2lbs.

I’m around 175lbs – I should be able to do a pullup on this!

me doing a pull up on a ratchet strapped wood.

And I CAN!

My TV weighs 50.8 lbs, the tv mount weighs 8lbsmy shelves weigh 11lbs and they can support 22 lbs per shelf. I forget how much my soundbar weighs. Let’s call it 10 lbs.

50.8 + 8 + 11 + 22 + 22 + 10 = 123.8 lbs. I’ve got around 99 lbs of spare capacity before we hit the limit of  my static coefficient of friction!

I feel like I can trust this not to drop on Max for a while!  How long until Max might hang off of this and make it drop? Hmmm – when is he likely to be around 100lbs? Wolfram Alpha tells me a 10 year old American is around 94lbs. I should be able to teach him not to do it by then or get another ratchet strap.

Read feeds, when you see something you want to share, hit blog

A few Wireframes for Wordprss

I had an idea a while back that WordPress is missing  a good built in feed reader.  Seems to me that Blog+Microblog+Image Gallery + feedreader + email – Freedom = Facebook.  WordPress has built up the ability to do a blog, a microblog, and post your pictures.  Everybody already has email, Facebook just has your contact list more than everything else does.  What you need is a good feed reader where your write – for inspiration, and because the web is a conversation, natch.

Here’s a quick mockup, mainly coming from my experiences with TT-RSS and Google Reader. Now, I’d really appreciate some help here – the idea is that this would something for more than just me. So, if you want, you can download Pencil Sketching – the wireframe app that I’ve used to make these wireframes. It is free and open source! You can then open up this file with all the sketch information – or clone it on github!

Read feeds, when you see something you want to share, hit blog

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