We took Black Dog for a walk at a nearby lake, our first visit here. He’s pretty feeble lately, HW keeps a plastic box in the car that she deploys as a step to stage the drop from the back seat to the ground. Once he has all four on the ground, and he’s moving, he gets along OK. He’s only eight, going on nine, so not a pup, though the days of him tearing up a mountainside to chase ground squirrels, darting from one hole to another until he’s but a speck in the distance to our eyes, those days I’m afraid are behind him. And not that far behind him. Look at him less than a year ago. Still, the full measure of a dog is not to be found in stamina alone. Being in the company of a good dog day after day, it’s hard to explain the connection that develops. A one hundred fifty year old tree in a public square has grown up so well and for so long it can no longer support its own weight, succumbs to a disease and must be felled, and the townsfolk weep as though a legend has passed, the place of its rooting forever memorialized by a modest plaque and a handmade bench where posterity may sit and ponder how much that tree, a mere tree, had meant to generations of people back then. Resilience alone can sometimes be a feature deserving of our admiration.
I can’t help myself. I mean look at that photogenic Hydrangea in our front yard, and the iconic countenance of the Airedale. I spotted her at a beach-side watering hole where I sometimes stop for a craft beer while out cycling.
Us with our friends from Virginia. They’re here with us for a week and then poof, back on a plane to return home. Before long the photos and videos on their phones capturing their experiences here will descend deeper and deeper into the gallery as new photos are saved, new experiences will bury the old, until some future day a friend, perhaps, will inquire of one of them, “Who are these ex-pat Alaskans you visited this past summer?” Out the phone will come, furious scrolling will ensue, until…tap, “Ah ha, here we all are!” “Oh,” she’ll say, thrusting the phone forward to share our pixelated pusses, “we had such a great time with them!”
At least we will hope they did.
Do you fear an artificial intelligence (AI) may soon go rogue and pose an existential threat to humanity? I do not. Hmm, curious. On your view, are there biological intelligence(s) (BI) that exist today (e.g. certain groups of other humans) antagonistic to your interests and values? Yes, of course. Are these BIs spreading disinformation? Some of them, yes. Is this getting worse? Are you kidding – ever heard of Twitter?! OK, so would it be fair to conclude that if one of these BIs which you believe is “misaligned” with your interests and values, and is accelerating the spread of disinformation and hate, were to become augmented with (come to posses) weapons of mass destruction (say), could it pose an existential risk to you and others of like mind? Absolutely – people all over the world, not just in this country, who share my values and interests are murdered with alarming frequency by BIs with misaligned values using traditional weaponry. I see, so if a biological intelligence may evolve to become antagonistic to your interests and values, and come to pose an existential risk to you, why not an artificial intelligence? For the same reason apples are not oranges. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt an augmented AI could be trained to kill me and others. In fact, you don’t need an AI for that, we have stupid drones that do our killing for us now. But no AI now, or ever, will come to posses human values or interests*. In-silico computer programs (regardless of sophistication) are not human brains. The two are different things entirely. So it’s a categorical error of sorts to say the interests or values of an AI may become misaligned with the values and interests of a BI. If you must fear a current or future threat to your existence, you would be wise to focus on the clear and present danger posed by misaligned BIs, not AIs. Hmm, curious. So are you in the camp of people who believe that AI, far from posing a future threat to humanity, instead presents opportunity? Short answer, yes!
* Or for that matter the values and interests of other BIs. The notion that an AI may evolve to dis-value, or become misaligned toward the simple pleasure of a Raven’s flop and roll down a snowbank – play for play’s sake – I think is but one example of what the linked essay above alludes to as superstitious hand-waving.
We took in a market experience at a local farm. HW wanted eggs but they’d sold out minutes before we arrived. Ok, but what the heck we thought, let’s wander about and see what else is here. Not like we have anything pressing to do today. We visited the pigs in slop. I feel uneasy by the complete asymmetrical advantage we hold over the pigs, especially how we leverage that advantage to guide their fate. The barbarity but necessity (I suppose) of the electrified wire between us. The same asymmetry is observed at the goat pen, although here the minder of the goats invites us to reach down and pet them, if we want. I do so want, so I reach over the feeble fence fabric, which is nothing like the hardened security at the pig pen, and run my finger along the
fur hair over the bridge of her (?) nose. I do wonder sometimes at my irreducible urge to pet animals. And what, if anything, the goat wonders when it feels my touch. Look into those eyes and tell me there’s nothing meaningful behind them. We’re told human touch is beneficial, maybe even critical, for the proper mental health development of human neonates, why not goats, too? Away from the animal areas I snapped a photo of several evanescent, globular forms slow moving in air. Pretty sure, anyway. Or maybe I should’ve passed on the free samples at the mycology tent?
Back at home the dusty red roses in our front garden have begun to express their flowers. Why the extravagance? Depends on who you ask. Ask an evolutionary biologist and the boilerplate answer will be something like: The flower’s allure draws the attention of pollinators (e.g. bees), who are a critical catalyst for making more rose plants. I find that reason unimaginative, if not also droll. The rose plant appears in the fossil record about 35 million years ago, and for about the past five thousand years has been under human-guided cultivation, which no doubt involved, in part, selective breeding for bigger, more beautiful flowers. The purpose of this extravagance is not to serve the rose’s reproductive interest; the purpose was beauty for beauty’s sake. “OK, but what about the ancestral rose smarty pants, it’s not like Valentines Day is 35 million years old.” Gee, do we know anything about how the flowers looked on the ancestral rose, flowers don’t fossilize well. Maybe they were tiny, bland, gray and droopy blooms, unattractive to all but the most desperate of bees. Who can say for sure?
Shortly after rose admiration – or was it before 🤔 – breakfast was ready! HW does it again. As I dug in, my thoughts drifted back to the pigs and the unfortunate asymmetry of our brief co-existence on this planet, and so I was grateful not to discover ham inside my omelette.
A good friend of ours (Dale) died last week. In his sleep we think, hopefully. He succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Dale was a medical oncologist for many years practicing in Anchorage. He retired from that work about five years ago, but in keeping with his own best advice – “Never stop working!” he’d admonish us when the conversation turned to us retiring – he continued to work as an MD at a senior center. After his diagnosis a couple years later he was forced to quit that, too. He was HW’s former boss and mentor at the oncology practice where she worked in the 90s through the early aughts, a practice he’d established. She flew to Anchorage today to be at the celebration of life on Thursday. His wife asked HW if she’d say a few words for him at the ceremony. Before she left for the airport this morning she pulled out an old leather-bound journal of medical notes and bits of wisdom she’d collected over the years. On the inside cover there was a cutout paper star with a short vignette of encouragement penned on it, from Dale of course. Few of us are so fortunate as to have a solid mentor early on in our professional life. Dale was that for HW. The world is a little worse off today for his passing. We will miss him 🙏
Some photos at and near our new home. Full-size versions are a mere click (touch) away.
The dryer in our new home reports cycle completion with a brief capriccio, instead of the usual ding-ding-ding. It repeats this until you enter the laundry room and formally acknowledge its success. A dryer with an ego, nice. In another example of modernity: I receive an alert on my phone if the refrigerator door is left open. Outside, we have a seven-zone irrigation system on the property paired to a programmable controller mounted on the side of the house. Talk about your old-school – programming this thing is similar to programming an 80’s VCR. The first night I set it to “Run,” the next morning I awoke early to discover zone 1 had run for over an hour (I wanted 15 minutes), and the other zones had messed up time settings too. WTF? I quickly switched off the controller while it was still mid-cycle on zone 3, then glared at it: “This is not what I commanded you to do.” 🤨 There’s at least one wall switch in the house that controls I don’t know what. I find myself still flipping it on and off now and then, hoping to see or hear something activate, or stop working. No difference. Maybe I have early onset insanity? In HW’s office I spotted a mysterious black cube plugged into an outlet. Unplug it and the Internet stops working. What’s this? Can’t be for the modem, I located that in one of the guest bedrooms which is half a house away. 🤔 So I pointed my phone at it, snapped a photo and asked Google. Ah, a signal amplifier. Strange, never needed one of those in any other house with a WiFi modem. Someday I’ll have to venture into the crawlspace to review the wiring network down there. Until then, note to HW: “Don’t unplug that.” There’s a bonus room in the house – formerly the “yoga room” – that we’ve configured as our entertainment space. It’s the only upstairs space in an otherwise single-story home. It has four skylights providing views of the bay, which is nice, but the room is also plumbed (supposedly a former owner/artist had a sink installed to clean her brushes?). Obviously, we want to configure a wet bar here, but so far we’ve installed a new OLED TV, a low-rise cabinet to set it on, revived a vintage audio system unused in our former home, and brought in a new love seat & oversized chair (w/ottoman). HW hung some pictures on the walls. I can already tell that when it’s done it’s going to be one of my favorite spaces in the house. Black Dog loves it up there, too. He can spy rabbits and deer on the front lawn below. Speaking of my office, whatya think
Still a work in progress but the lion’s share of customization is done. Praise
me us please. I did not enjoy a “proper” office in our former home. Now, after fourteen years of dreaming, I have one! And I love the privacy. You cannot segue to my office from any room inside the home. It’s kind of a secret space. Never mind quiet, like pin drop quiet!, and comfortable. HW has yet to apply her flourish onto the only entry door: Dr. Rod.
We’ve not been all work and no play, though. It’s been warm, dry and pleasant the past several weeks. I think I can get used to this
And, as always, I am grateful for each and every breakfast HW prepares me
That’s right, a greenish egg shell. Bunch of chicken raisers in the area, eking out a living. We’re happy to help them do so. And just look at the color of that yolk. Same orange as the orange. Take that Whole Foods.
I recently received my permanent license to drive here. Evidently, the
right privilege to operate a motor vehicle in the great state of Alaska does not automatically extend to here. Or does it? 🤔 I mean if I had been pulled over on my way to the DMV to obtain a new license, surely my AK license would have sufficed as proof to the attending officer of my legal permission to drive a car on any roadway in America. And other than my primary address, no other identifying information on the license has changed. So why do I need to surrender it and get a new license here? What does it matter to my license to drive where I live? Or for that matter my eye color and weight. Or what if I were homeless? At the very least why can’t I delay getting a new driver’s license until the existing one expires? Because the law says you have 30 days after you move, that’s why. Ah, I see. But wait, the law is an ass! Oh, and apparently you can’t possess more than one driver’s license at a time! I was reminded of this by the officious man at the DMV counter here, who tersely, though courteously, said prior to hole-punching my old license, “Before I can proceed, sir, I’ll need to invalidate the Alaska license.“
On the new license there’s a thumbnail-sized photo of me – more a mugshot – in the upper right corner. I recall the man at the DMV counted down from three prior to snapping the picture. He was not the least bit amused by my query: could he instead use a selfie on my phone? Three seconds is hardly enough time to prepare the facial nerves to render a pleasing visage, one to be proud of, for instance, when the checker at the city market where we shop needs to see it to prove that, yes, I’ve been over twenty-one for over forty-two years now and thus may legally consume the bottle(s) of wine in our cart. (Btw, why 21? Because I said so that’s why!) Happy Wife chuckled when she saw the photo, said I looked like Uncle Fester. Ha ha, very funny, but just you wait HW, your thirty-day timer has started, and then three seconds is all you’ll get. And there are no do overs. It’s the law!
How is it we can be alive during a time when a simple scan of your face and an Internet connection can return every piece of personal information about you in seconds, but we’re still using a silly plastic card to prove our age, state of residence, and evidence we’ve passed some arbitrary test proving competency to operate a motor vehicle? I mean for chrissake, AI chatbots are being used today to inform physicians which arm of a clinical trial a given patient should be enrolled in based on the personal characteristics of their disease state. Yet the barcode scanner at the supermarket can’t confirm I’m over 21? Do we really need an officious busybody to swipe a card dangling from a lanyard around her neck to confirm approval on a touchscreen every time a bottle of booze is scanned – c’mon! She should be doing more customer-focused work, like re-ordering more of that Spanish Rioja I love. Automation – embrace it!
The new homestead
By night, the view from our front yard
Well certainly a mover anyway, but shaker? Depends on who you ask. In any case, I want to say I really (really) mean it this time – this move will put us at the finish line. Barring something truly extraordinary and unforeseen, we will never again move our primary home. Nine times in thirty-eight years is quite enough, thank you, and that doesn’t include two short term residences and moves. And lest anyone doubt my fondness for Alaska, let this history disabuse that once and for all. Alas, as I part ways with Anchorage, AK for the final time tomorrow morning, I don’t have mixed emotions, I’m grateful for what this place has meant to my professional and personal life, and at the same time I am excitedly looking forward to many new experiences. The last time I left AK in ’05, for good I had thought at the time, I blogged my feelings this way, and you know what, I feel exactly the same way eighteen years later…
I want to say goodbye to you, old friend. We will miss your glacial green rivers and streams, both womb and grave to your world class salmon. We will miss your lush forests in the south and your barren landscapes to the north. We will miss the peace and majesty of your mountain peaks, your lush green valleys and magical blue glaciers, the peerless variety and abundance of your wildlife, your midnight sun and dark cold winter nights. We will miss even your tempests, your restless quakes and volcanic ash, the bore tide, the hoar frost, and the dazzle of northern lights. We will never forget you. Keep yourself safe, your population spare, forever stay carved by wildness. Reveal your subterranean secrets to those who show you respect. Shun all others, scatter their probes, and forever hold tight your mysteries. Listen to Raven and always remain the Last Frontier.
We shall return to visit you, old friend. Until then, be well and take care of yourself. The time has come for us to move on down the road.
Because surely you understand: Beaten Paths Are For Beaten Men
And so, I pooped.
For as long as I’ve known myself I’ve been a foot-dragger when it comes to committing to big decisions. It was no different this time. I’d finally found us a great home in a fantastic setting, one that checked all of our boxes, certainly all of HW’s boxes, so the very next day I got on a plane and flew down to meet our agent at the property. By the time I arrived it had been on the market about forty-eight hours. The seller’s agent was there and shared with me that there had been a few showings, but so far no offers. I spent an hour in and outside the house; close to flawless. Yet still, as is my wont, I wanted to sleep on it after discussing it with HW. I credit the wisdom of the Barred Owl in the cedar tree in our (new) backyard for getting me over the hump this time. This all happened back in March. We close tomorrow.
First traditional chromatography experiment I’ve needed to run since first semester O-Chem. Both clearly positive for COVID-19; me left, HW right. Though mine is evidencing a smaller viral load. Which makes sense given I’m six days on and HW only recently started feeling symptoms.
Nearly three years ago I blogged that I did not want to catch this disease. Two days ago it finally happened. I feel like I’ve been hit by a wrecking ball. Pretty sure I was infected while traveling recently. HW recommended I try Paxlovid to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms, but when I learned that hives are a common side effect of that drug, I was out. The insomnia is the worst. Right behind that are the aches and pains and weakness. At least I’m not on a ventilator in the hospital. That much feels like a win.