Let’s Choose A Better Future

When I was four years old the World Fair came to Seattle. There were many things that fascinated me about the science center. The circular moving sidewalk carpet, the steam rocket that periodically launched, the colored pictures on the wall that changed, all fascinating. We had a television at home of coarse, black-n-white, but these pictures were full color, and right in the wall, not in a box on the floor.

What really stuck in my mind though is that we had the potential for a really bright future. And what really bothers me is that we’ve done just about everything wrong and managed to avoid realizing that bright future thus far.

The development of scientific understanding and of technology since that time has been nothing short of incredible, but what the human race has done with science and technology has been nothing short of tragic.

Food shortages, water shortages, energy shortages, environmental crises, pollution, rapid species extinction, war, most diseases, not having the time to spend with friends and family, these things are the collective result of our choices. And that’s not to say I absolve myself, I’ve made plenty of bad choices in my life that had I not made, I could have been happier and much better off today and most importantly, in a position to do much more to help others be happier and better off.

We come into this world without the benefit of a lifetime of experience here, and so it’s not intellectually knowable how the choices we make will affect others or they will affect our own future, and even with decades of living experience, it is still not obvious to most people how interconnected we all are, how are decisions affect us not just individually but collectively.

I think I’ve learned something though over the years, one thing that I’ve learned is that my heart makes better decisions than my head, if I listen to it, but I’ll admit, to this day I have a hard time doing this. I’ve also learned that asking God for guidance on a regular basis is a good idea, at least I seem to make better decisions when I do so, but I admit I don’t do it often enough and I’ll also admit I often don’t listen for the answers after I’ve asked the questions. But I’m working on it.

Moreover though, I see signs that this is true for many people. I interacted with Bill Gates before he was rich and famous on an early room message system, the very first actually, ICS (Island Communications System) BBS, the very first Citadel, written in C by Jeff Prothero. In the early 80’s, before he was rich and famous, though he was certainly well on his way, Bill Gates used to call that system and so did I.

I ran a BBS running on a TRS-80 model III, with TRS-80 Level II BASIC, a derivative of Microsoft BASIC. TRS-80 level II BASIC had a bug, specifically, the VAL(A$) function which returns a numerical value from a a numerical string, would explode if you had a ‘%’ percent sign in the string. That is, ‘123%456’ as a string, passed to VAL(), would cause the computer to crash. If you ran a BBS and used VAL() this was a bad thing.

I disassembled TRS-80 Level II BASIC and studied it. Later, I bought a commented listing of a disassembly done by another party and that really helped me understand it’s operation. After studying that, I came up with a fix that not only corrected the ‘%’ bug so it wouldn’t crash your computer anymore, but also increased the execution speed of the interpreter by about 40% by reducing the amount of CPU time wasted in the keyboard scan routine.

I offered this modification to Bill, free with no conditions. I just wanted to see the bug fixed and people with this platform to be able to get the most possible out of it. I never received a response at all, not a “I’m not interested”, not a “Go to Hell”, not a, “you’ll have to sign a contract releasing all interest”, nothing. To the best of my knowledge that bug was never fixed and remained part of TRS-80 Level II BASIC as long as it was offered as a product.

The total lack of any response really got me to not liking Bill Gates very much. It was like, not only are you so unimportant that I am not even going to take the time to reply, (though he had always interacted cordially up to the point where I pointed out the existence of this bug), but neither are all the people who use this software important enough to get a fix to this bug.

That was only the beginning. IBM introduced the “Personal Computer” with a whopping 4.7 Mhz 8086 CPU and 256K of RAM, (640K on later versions). Microsoft released DOS 1.0, made it sound like it was a innovative revolution in computing. Other than the fact that it ran on an 8086 instead of a Z-80 or 8080, I couldn’t tell it from CP/M. All the commands were the same, the layout on disk seemed to be the same. To me it seemed like a complete rip-off.

Later, a hierarchical directory structure was introduced, Unix had a hierarchical directory structure, not exactly the same; in Unix devices were mounted on the root directory, under DOS each device had it’s own directory tree, and you used backslash as a directory separator instead of the forward slash under Unix, and to look at files in the directory, you still used CP/M’s DIR instead of ‘ls’. Still, suggesting that hierarchical directory structures were somehow innovative when Unix had had them for about a decade was a stretch.

Windows came out, another innovation, save for the fact that Xerox had a windowing graphical interface years earlier. And then long filenames, after Apple’s MacOS had had them for years. While all this is happening, I keep hearing Bill say in the media how innovative Microsoft is.

Well, now it’s 2007, Bill Gates is a billionaire many times over; he’s done some things that seemed frankly pretty questionable, the mansion on Lake Washington, what really is that all about? Now, he’s spending hundreds of millions or billions to address disease and poverty around the world, and me; I’m just trying to not get kicked out of my home long enough for my two kids that haven’t moved out yet to finish school and be ready to enter the world on their own.

His focus on business, making money, marketing, was a good decision, and my decisions to focus on infrastructure, product quality, was not; because he’s not only got the resources now to do genuinely novel things while I don’t, but also to influence the world in positive ways elsewhere, and he is choosing to do so. There are still things I don’t like about Bill, but I have to admit, when it comes to the influence he is having on the world; he’s made much better choices than I have.

I think around the world; there are many people like me who are looking at the choices they’ve made, stepping back, and deciding there has to be a better way. I am hopeful that one aspect of longer lifespans is that we all, collectively will have more years to live in which we’ve got enough experience behind us to live them more wisely. And this isn’t to say that just making money is a good thing, there is a question of what one does with it. Clearly, the international banking industry, the oil companies, the military industries, they are not doing good things with their wealth for the most part.

Bill Gates is attacking disease, and by extension poverty in Africa in particular, but also elsewhere, and I am glad to see this happening because they go hand in hand, between AIDS and malaria take a huge toll on people in Africa, limiting productivity and making escape from poverty impossible. Controlling AIDS and malaria (and there are others but these two are major) is a necessary step towards the elimination of poverty in the region. So now I have to believe, as much that I don’t want to, that Bill Gates is in fact not 100% evil.

There are many problems though besides disease in Africa which require human attention. I don’t have the personal resources to directly address these. I regret this because I do believe that, if I’d made better choices earlier in my life, I would have. But what I can do now is offer ideas on how these problems could be solved and hope people who do have resources but hadn’t thought of them might throw some of their resources at these problems and in that way perhaps I can at least indirectly make the world a little better.

I’m hoping there are a lot of people out there now starting to realize that like myself, perhaps their decisions haven’t been the past, and that collectively we all can turn things around and realize our human potential which I believe is enormous. God gave us an opposable thumb for a reason and it wasn’t for pushing missile launch buttons. It’s time we collectively start making better use of our opposable thumbs.

So here I am, I don’t have money to share, I’m just barely able to stay in my home, but I do have knowledge, ideas, so I share those, hoping that someone else who has resources but perhaps hasn’t thought some of these things through might act upon them, or that by getting the idea out there maybe we can collectively act upon them.

I have had an interest in scientific subjects and technology all my life and I know enough now to know that a much better existence for all of us, all the people on this planet, and other species, could all be collectively living much better than we are. We could all enjoy adequate supplies of healthy food, clean water, adequate housing, and good health. We could have enough time to spend with friends and family. Maybe we can never eliminate suffering altogether; our bodies are still mortal; and even if we scientifically crack the secrets of aging and the decline that goes with it, there would still be accidents and natural events beyond our control. But suffering could be greatly reduced, not only that which is directly self inflicted, but also many diseases could be eliminated if we chose to do so, our environment could be much better, our lives could be much more meaningful.

The optimal development and application of science and technology and not all that is involved, it’s not even a major part of what is involved. The biggest element is to realize how interconnected we are with every living things, and starting to think in terms of what is best for life collectively, instead of each of us individually, because in reality we are not so individual, we are all part of the same whole, and that collective whole will either be happy and healthy and loving, or unhappy, unhealthy, and hateful. Science and technology area areas that I am knowledgeable in and areas where I have a lot of ideas, and they are areas where many people who do have resources are not all that knowledgeable, so I’m going to share what I know, kick out my ideas, and hope they will find application and in some way contribute to a better world.

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