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There Always is a Lot at Stake

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

My first exposure to philosophy came courtesy of the 60s television show Gomer Pyle, USMC. Gomer was a bungling country bumpkin, whose naivety got him into trouble and then ensured that he made good; a Forrest Gump for the small screen.

The supporting actor was Gomer's drill sargeant, gruffly ordering him around, alternately frustrated and friendly. Sitting in the bar together, sharing a beer, Sarge was apt to wax philosophical: "Life is like a napkin," he'd expound, holding his own up as an example, "Smooth and clean at first and then rumpled and dirty."

In that grand tradition, I suggest that turning on your computer is like starting your car. It comes to life without your thinking about it. (Or it should.) While you are staring at the faintly flickering blackness of the screen or gazing at your computer's logo statically emblazoned thereon, the code and circuitry is hard at work behind the scenes. In those first few moments of dead air a lot is going on under the electronic hood.

Finally your computer's desktop appears. Those cute little icons were Apple's first great contribution to technology, an idea which Bill Gates then stole for his Windows operating system. Before we users were able to command our computers by manipulating graphic icons on the screen (double clicking, gragging and dropping, creating new files and folders, renaming, deleting...) everything had to be done by typing lines of code into a terminal.

My car, my computer and I are all old. We have our idiosyncratic quirks. We've all slowed down a bit and are showing signs of wear and tear. Life, it seems, is also like a computer.

Still it was an abrupt, unpleasant surprise when a year ago my computer didn't start normally. Instead of delivering me to my colorful, iconic desktop it startled me with a black and white reality, cold lines of code, the terminal.

Over the years, working with programmers on my Lokkal project, I've learned a lot more about technology than I've wanted to know. The main lesson being that many people have had the same problem before you and that a number of them have made tutorials on Youtube showing you how to fix it. Of course, this unavoidably leads to my learning even more about technology, unwillingly.

This time, however, unable to get to my computer's desktop and so to Youtube, my first impulse was to Whatsapp my programmer. Responding, he told me to type "fsck /dev/sda" into the terminal, press enter and type in "a" (yes to all) when asked by the machine if I wanted it to repair or, at least, circumvent whatever the problems were. That fixed it. Or at least it did until the end of January when the same thing happened again.

Since January I've had to repeat this process, to run these manual fscks (file system consistency check) with greater and greater frequency. Since January I've noticed, from the increasing length of the process, that there is more and more to be circumvented. I've also noticed, rather, I could no longer deny, that my computer was running more slowly.

Conscious as I am of my own aging, I could accept all of this inconvenience with with a certain good, even sympathetic, grace. At 64 years old, as yet with no obvious maladies, gracias a dios, on a good day I can still ignore most signs of my loss of function. But, even on a good day, I have to admit the lack of a certain spring to my step and that here and there, particularly in my back and eyes, I am less resilient.

While I am making metaphors... What is going on in the computer behind the screen, allowing us to surf the web, view our photos or compose word documents, is a lot like the neurochemistry (hormones, etc.) that goes on below the level of, and so strongly influencing, our conscious experience. As I said in my article last week, I don't mean to reduce our inner world to neurons and chemicals (à la Objectivism), but an awareness of the physiological behind my psychology (for example, my irritability when I'm hungry) helps me step outside my habitual responses, to not take things so personally.

Very recently things became really bad with mi compu. The fscks became so frequent and long, and it slowed down so much that, that I consulted my programmer. He advised me to reinstalling the operating system, the master software that makes everything work. In theory this is a simple process. But another thing I've learned about computer technology is that, as with life itself, the devil is in the details.

I'll spare you those; this article is already way too technical. Suffice it to say that last Friday, after publishing my weekly newsletter, I began the process, and experienced some initial success. However, over the weekend, when I tried to improve on that success, everything went to hell.

I hoped that some magic from my programmer, who lives on an island off Africa, would be able set things straight. But Monday morning he was aghast at what he saw: "This is almost impossible."

Typing commands he sent me into the terminal of my sick computer, then copying and sending the results across the Atlantic for him to try to diagnose the problem, late last night things seemed hopeless. I was further disheartened thinking that my rather awkward, weekend attempts to improve on my initial success had ruined things, had killed my computer.

Late at night sometimes things seem hopeless. It's a good thing that I'm not suicidal, because if I were, I'd be sorry in the morning.

The next morning African emails informed me that, indeed, my hard drive is dead, but, also, that the computer can be brought back to useful, even vigorous life by putting in a new hard drive, a simpler and cheaper solution than buying a new computer... in Mexico. The cherry on this digital cake was learning that all along it was a hard drive problem and not anything I did over the weekend.

(I am also cheered in that I have all my valuable files, videos and photos backed up, that I didn't lose anything. Back up, dear reader, back up. Store all your valuable digital information on an external hard drive or in the Cloud. Storing it on your computer is not enough. Even just emailing your important things to yourself means that you have a copy of them somewhere other than your computer.)

Nature functions with an economy of means, reusing the same patterns. There is a lot going on behind the scenes, everywhere.

"He's the man who stands behind the man who works the soft machine."
   - Memo to Turner, Mick Jagger

Below the presentations of science and government, pharma, the White House, the teachers' union, television news, social media... there is a machine at work. The powers that be, in our troubled times, would like it if we did not pay attention to the man behind the curtain, if we never considered anything other than the presentation. But, especially when things go wrong, when there is a crisis, we need to look below the surface.

The devil is in the details. Science and government is a work in progress. Today's truth is tomorrow's falsehood. To arrive at tomorrow's truth we must be free to make our own mistakes today.

Historically, solutions have almost always come from outside of the box. The power is in us all participating, in all opinions being considered.

I know that there is a lot at stake; there always is.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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