Baby Formula

We have a shortage of baby formula. Let’s increase the cost of cleaning Baxter’s factory by increasing its interest rate. (Fed rate increase.) Only an idiot would think that’s a solution. We could also send in inspectors to take weeks to determine if the factory is clean yet.

Instead, send the national guard in to clean the factory in a day. Or send a flying boxcar to Europe where they don’t have a shortage and pick up tons of formula. Then blow up some regulations and hand out free formula at your local government office or deliver it to mothers tomorrow.

Go to a website, say you need formula, and FedEx or Amazon delivers a week’s worth tomorrow. What’s hard about that? One planeload of formula and five geeks over a weekend.

I’m tired of people complaining without suggesting a solution. New rule: you must accompany your complaint with a proposal, no matter how crazy. If we get enough crazy ideas, some of them might work.


Don’t think of the Climate

Anyone who’s read George Lakoff’s book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” knows that framing is essential in political communication. I’m sure that book is required reading for anyone in politics.

After the fossil fuel industry has spent billions welding negative connotations to anything that even whispers the word “climate,” why is the Biden administration leading with that term for their energy program? Why not call it something like Sustainable Employment?

Jobs in the fossil fuel industry have been declining. Want a reliable job? Coal shouldn’t be your first choice. Solar jobs are increasing. Investing in renewable energy is more likely to create long-term employment.

Biden say he wants to be fossil-free by 2035. Think how that sounds: it sounds like fewer jobs. On the other hand, he could say that they plan to create six million new jobs in solar, wave, wind, insulation, and electric infrastructure by 2035. Think how that sounds: more jobs. New jobs is immediate. Fixing the climate is long-term. More jobs has an immediate impact on workers. Better climate might or might not. Go with the definite and the now.

There are many arguments for investing in sustainable jobs.

Our major economic competitor is China. They are investing heavily in sustainable jobs. We don’t want to be left behind. Why are we importing solar panels from China?

Russia is completely dependent on fossil fuel exports. It we lower the demand, Russia will hurt a lot. We are likely to do better with them if we have something they want other than oil drilling equipment. Sanctions on extraction equipment didn’t work too well.

We are an exporter of oil. If the rest of the world uses less, our exports will decline. Instead, we could become an exporter of sustainable technology.

We have an enormous solar capability: think western deserts — Mohave, Sonora. All we need is access to the grid. And we can make the grid more efficient while we’re at it. Once we get it right here, we can export the technology to the Sahara and power all of Africa. That continent has the fastest growing population.

Renewable energy comes online faster than nuclear. It takes years to build a nuclear plant, and we have to store the waste. Renewable facilities are built in months.

Sustainable jobs create more sustainable jobs. Solar fabrication at scale leads to solar installers, grid improvements, and battery development. More electric cars need more charging stations and more grid.

If the United States leads the way, others will follow. If we lead, we will have a technology advantage. If we follow, we lose that advantage and have to buy the technology from others. That’s a recipe for decline.

Notice that these last paragraphs do not contain the word “climate.” Losing the Sustainable Employment race is a more immediate existential crisis.

Must Watch

I just watched /the social dilemma, a documentary about the software behind social media. It’s available on Netflix and a winner at Sundance. The people interviewed are the software engineers that built the engine that drives Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and others. These engineers say that they didn’t realize what they were building and regret the effects.

Unlike many documentaries that describe a problem, this one points to solutions. You might be surprised to hear the inventor of Facebook’s algorithm say that he has deleted all his social media apps. The movie also has people who understand the business side and can explain why Facebook makes more money by promoting falsehoods than distributing truth.

After watching, you’ll start thinking in terms of the “rabbit holes” that the tech media companies have developed and their demonstrated ability to bring down governments — for a fee.


Nano is Audible

Audible has just released the audiobook of “Nano-Uncertainty.” Any of you that didn’t get around to getting the ebook, the paperback, or the hardback, now is your chance: Nano-Uncertainty Audible

I wrote a little piece about my experience publishing an audible book: Audible by Design.

Book two of the Uncertainty series, “Uncertainty” is complete, and I have a publisher interested. I have written about 25,000 words of book three. It’s still in the thriller genre, but the bad guys are becoming less important as I explore the point of view of an AI and the consequences of a sentient AI. I have a strong idea for book three, but that may be a more traditional Sci-Fi novel rather than a thriller. I have several short stories that explore the AI point of view, but no luck getting any published yet. I might publish them as a collection.


Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus did a review of Nano-Uncertainty. It’s an okay review and probably pretty good for a first-timer.  See I also have an author page on Kirkus:

The Kirkus review seems to have boosted sales of Nano-Uncertainty. It has been rated as high as the 255th most popular thriller on Amazon. It hovers around the 800th most popular. My rating is 4.4 stars. If you feel inspired, another five-star review wouldn’t hurt.


Octopus Literary Salon

On Saturday 6/15/19, I read from Nano-Uncertainty at the Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster Street, Oakland. This is a great little venue with good food and atmosphere. The reading introduced me to some of the recent works by other California Writers Club members. Damn, I’m in good company.

The Octopus has events almost every night with a literary bent, including some craft discussions for writers. It almost makes me wish I was still working in the building. When I worked there (1997-2000), tech companies were just discovering the area. Now several companies like Pandora are nearby. The lunch eating fare is better than almost any block in Manhattan.

Even then, when customers visited, they were amazed at downtown Oakland. Now, it’s even better. 


I’ve finished working with my developmental editor on More Uncertainty, the second novel in the Uncertainty Series. Now the long slog to publication begins. The third novel, currently titled, Absolute Uncertainty, is underway.

More Uncertainty is about the emergence of sentience in an artificial intelligence—self awareness, independent action, and self motivation. The book posed two challenges: what motivates a being that has no needs like those that are common to humans (procreation, food, shelter, community) and whether a truly sentient being can be controlled. About halfway through the writing, I realized that Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics describe a state of slavery. That led me to write a short story about slavery from an android point of view.

In More Uncertainty, I tried to take small advances in technology to the edge of possible threats (it’s a thriller after all). I was inspired by The Stars My Destination, one of the great science fiction novels. In it, Gully Foyle is faced with the choice to destroy the world or chose another path.

Nicholas Bostrom, in Superintelligence argues that any super intelligent being will be able to overcome constraints like Asimov’s laws. The AI will be smart enough to be able to manipulate humans to do whatever they want. And, of course, there are always humans who can be bribed to do anything. Can an AI that appears to be benign be trusted? Or are is it simply biding its time until it is no longer dependent on humans for electricity, silicon chips, air conditioning, and manufacturing? That’s the subject of volume three.

Fahrenheit 11/9

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 is a must see. All of Moore’s movies have been thought-provoking, but 11/9 rips the top off your head, exposes your raw gray matter, and scrubs the scales off your neurons. If it doesn’t change your mind in at least one way, you worked on the movie or you have cement for brains.

Lori and I talked about the movie for two days, made another contribution, and made an appointment for a fundraiser. Not enough, but neither is writing postcards, making calls, or walking precincts. Its what you do. And hope.

More Uncertainty


More Uncertainty the second in the Uncertainty Series is nearing completion. I have a new web page for the series: Uncertainty Series. It seems to have evolved into a series at the insistence of the characters. In More Uncertainty, the characters took me in unexpected directions. I had a fairly detailed plot as is necessary for a thriller, but about halfway into the book it took a new turn, and I had to hang on and see where the characters took me.

I have the first scene of the next book in the series banging around in my head. As I was researching some ideas for that book I came across a nice and scary book: War in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.

The popular book, Superintelligence argues that we need to plan for a artificial intelligence that is more intelligent than we are because it is coming. I hope I am presenting one version of that future.

Gary Durbin