RW252 - A Live Bass

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Population sizes, cities where you see the people and cities where people are in their cars (Geography)
  • People going places or driving in their cars without a purpose (Cars)
  • Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington (Geography)
  • Washington stopped requiring emissions tests (Cars)
  • Dan having to wait behind someone at the truck emissions inspection (Dan Benjamin)
  • NPC, what if we are all in a simulation? (Dreams and Fantasies)
  • John’s dad giving his car to Fort Yukon (Stories)
  • John buying a small bass amp that he can put behind the couch and leave always on (Music)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Follow-up on Dan’s trouble with the New York Subway system (Dan Benjamin)
  • Why did Dan not navigate with the help of Google Maps in New York? (Dan Benjamin)
  • Follow-up to culture referencing itself (Humanities)
  • Why the auto start/stop button on modern cars does not latch (Cars)
  • Dan starting, but then not wanting to read an email that was over a year old (Podcasting)
  • Another New York subway follow-up ((Dan Benjamin))
  • How to send donations outside of Patreon (Podcasting)

The show title refers to John having bought a small bass amp that he keeps behind the couch and leaves always on so that he always has a live bass on the couch he can play with.

It sounds very good on CleanFeed today. Dan is improving the tech stack!

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Population sizes, cities where you see the people and cities where people are in their cars (RW252)

They are talking about if Seattle and Austin are the same size: Seattle: 724,305, Austin: 950,807, it turns out Austin is a little bigger. The largest city in the world is Tokyo with 37 million. John cannot even imaging 37 million people. The population of Ukraine is only 40 million!

Dan was in New York recently, and in New York you see everybody, you see all the big buildings and then you see all the people out, you walk around rush hour in Downtown Manhattan it is wall to wall people there and you think: ”There are a lot of people here!” San Francisco is the same thing. People are out, walking around, they are in their cars, they are in the buses, they are getting around, but in Austin there are crowded areas, but it doesn’t have the same feel of: ”Everyone is out!” because they are all in their cars, actually trucks.

People going places or driving in their cars without a purpose (RW252)

Dan went to the Mueller Farmers’ Market over the weekend, and it recently moved. It used to be in one place that had really horrible parking, and it was just impossible. Unless you live in the very close vicinity to where this thing was you have to drive there to get to it. Everything is driving in Texas, but certainly in Austin! After years of being in this horribly tiny little spot with horrible parking they moved to a place that is more of a dedicated space with a huge parking garage, and just the sea of people that are descending upon this place every Sunday morning. It is a much better set up now, but the number of people is crazy, and they are not really doing anything, maybe they buy something, but many of them are just sitting there.

When Dan goes somewhere, usually he goes there with a purpose, like he has to get this one cheese, he will get his knives sharpened, they have barbecue there, he wants the gluten-free bread, and then he is out, maybe he will get some tacos while he is there. He wouldn’t just go to sit on the grass for a couple hours and just look at you with his dog! If he was going to some beautiful place, like Portland has amazing Zen gardens with fountains and waterfalls, he went there just to look around, but the activity was to look around because you are in this curated nature. But that is what people go there to do. He wouldn’t go to Whole Foods and just stand around in there, looking at people.

Dan is only going to go people watching in an airport if he has an hour before the flight boards, but he would take time out of his day. There were thousands of people at this Farmers’ Market and there is no way that all those people were just people watching. A lot of them lay on their back with sunglasses on. They are not really looking at anything, but they are not getting a tan because there were wearing pants. Sometimes people just sit there together, not doing anything. That is what people do on the roads: They are just driving for the sake of driving. They are not really going anywhere. Dan would never drive if he didn’t have to be somewhere. The point isn’t the journey, but it is the destination for him for driving.

Dan is hitting on a key question that they address on the show all the time: ”What is the point of anything?” Not to get to Judge John Hodgman on it, but: ”What is the point of anything?”

Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington (RW252)

In Seattle the big Liberal Arts Quadrangle at the University of Washington is lined with white flowered cherry trees that bloom early in the year, which is a big event in Seattle, and has been John’s whole life and for decades before. It is like Groundhog Day, it symbolizes the beginning of the year in a way. When you are going to the University of Washington and the cherry trees Bloom, it feels like spring quarter is coming, it is one of those classic college experiences. Right. The quad in the winter with the wind and the rain and you are hustling across carrying your books, that is one thing, but when the cherry trees come out!

There are a lot of those things, like when the Christmas boats go through the locks, all of these are very old Seattle events, and most years people make a pilgrimage up to the University of Washington this week, because it only lasts a week, and they look at the cherry trees in bloom. If you have seen it once, you have seen it, you are good for the rest of your life, it is just the quad with cherry trees, you can call up a picture of it right now, but it is a thing we do every year, it marks time, it is a symbolic thing that most communicates to John the new year much more than New Year’s Eve, which is an awful holiday.

John was talking to his mom today: ”We got to go up and see the cherry trees! What do we got to do? Are we going to take the light rail? Are we going to… ” all this navigating of the thing, and when you get there you look at the trees for about a minute, but then you look at the people looking at the trees, and that is the real activity. It is not that there is anybody interesting, it is not like the naked Cowboy is there, there is nobody on a unicycle, they are just normal middle-America, slightly trending outdoorsy Seattle slightly trending educated University.

You are not watching them because they are going to do anything. You are just standing there while they stand there. Standing in a place watching other people stand in a place has got to be one of John’s top five activities and has been his whole life. Go to the Austin Farmers’ Market, post up in a corner somewhere, out of the way, and then just watch the people go by. There are a lot of people doing that already, but the problem is that they are not getting out of the way. That is the one technology you need to add to that: Find a place where you are not in the way and stop!

Dan counted while he was there and seven times the people that were in front of them would suddenly just stop and then they just stand there, they don’t look up at something, they don’t start talking to each other, they just stop. Dan is confused by that, because if he is walking he is going to a destination, he is going somewhere and the only reason he would stop is if something appeared in front of him that he had to avoid. Or maybe he has left his mask in the car when he was going to Target where he needs to put a mask on, then he will stop and go back.

Washington stopped requiring emissions tests (RW252)

In Washington they used to have to pass emissions every two years, but they stopped doing that last year or the year before. Washington ran the numbers and realized that the project had been an overwhelming success, they had taken all the old polluting cars off the roads by making it super shitty for everybody for 20 years, and when you drive on American roads now, there are no old cars anymore. There used to be 60 year old cars still plodding around. Now there are none. Every single car looks like a lozenge that someone has been sucking on all day and the state of Washington found so few cars that actually don’t meet standards that the whole project is a waste of money now. We won! We did it!

It is a rare instance where a bureaucracy like that, that probably employed hundreds of people and had every kind of inertial reason to keep plodding along forever, somebody upstairs was like: ”We will just shut the whole thing down!” and they did, they just shut it down, and it is over! What about that? Think about that for a second! Think about the math emissions requirements in California! Those people suffer so much, but it is all redundant now because we won the old car emissions problem, now we have to just go up the chain to the source, and geothermal energy is the future.

There was an article about the people at MIT that figured out that they can use plasma cutting lasers to drill to the center of the Earth.

Dan having to wait behind someone at the truck emissions inspection (RW252)

Dan had to get emissions on his truck. The truck is two years old or something, three maybe, but it obviously needs to get its emissions checked because who knows what he could have done to the catalytic converter in those two years, maybe he is rolling coal. It is all just a racket, it costs $18, it is not much money, but out of your whole day it is a huge inconvenience. Dan found a place near his mom’s house and when he dropped the car off he could walk the rest of the way to her house, which is something he hasn’t done in a long time. You just walk down the highway, which is kind of neat because you get weird looks from people.

The way they have this system set up at the place is that you park your vehicle, you walk over and write your name on the little clipboard and then you write the time that you got there, vehicle, phone number, but they will never call you, and then you hang your keys on a little hook. There is nothing to stop anyone from just walking up, grabbing the keys, and just driving away with your car. It is not policed, it is not in plain view of anyone, there are no cameras, but if you wanted a car and you had no problem stealing it, you could literally just loiter because the place is connected to a car wash where they drive it through for you and they wipe it down and you can get a detailed if you want and there is a waiting area with free popcorn inside.

You could just sort loiter and wait for the car that you wanted to get its inspection, and then you just walk over there, grab the keys and drive away. The person in front of Dan while Dan was waiting to drop off the key and put his name on the clipboard, he was standing behind her, and she had already signed her name and now they have a cork board up there with all kinds of legal information, permitting information, tax ID number, the little sign for Workman’s Comp, and she was reading this stuff, like it is posted information for the customer, but by law they probably have to have the Workman’s Comp thing.

Dan was thinking to himself: ”Doesn’t she just want to get the hell out of there?” Dan wants to get in and get out, he is not here to hang, he is going to drop off the keys and got something else he is going to do. He wanted to see his mom and help her put a hard drive in her computer. He doesn’t want to be rude either. How long is she going to be reading the Workman’s Comp thing or the tax ID number? Like if you were in an elevator, they have that thing when it was inspected, you only look at that while you are in the elevator waiting for your floor, you are not going to stand there and spend an hour reading it.

A couple of minutes went by and Dan was starting to get antsy, but he didn’t say anything or do anything. He was impatient, but he can control that. After 2-3 minutes of this, she does a half turn and a startled jump: ”Oh, I am sorry. I didn’t know you were there!” - ”That is okay!” - ”You should have said something!” Is it Dan’s responsibility to tell somebody that they are taking too goddamn long doing something? Or should you as a conscientious person just glance over your shoulder, use that 6th sense that you have to determine if somebody is eyeballing the back of your neck while you are doing something that you have no business doing in a public space, and then move on?

If you ever struck up a conversation with somebody in line, like the cashier at a place, or the barista at a Starbucks or a coffee shop, you always glance to make sure: ”Are we holding up the line?” You want to be cognizant of that because Dan hates making people wait, he never wants anyone to wait for him ever. Just toss a glance! ”What is over there? Oh, someone is coming. Okay, well, it was nice talking to you! See you next week!” and you are out, you cleared the way.

NPC, what if we are all in a simulation? (RW252)

You know when someone is looking at you, but a lot of people appear to be NPC, although none of their listeners are. What about the recent film where the NPCs become sentient and end up being heroes and something else happens (probably Free Guy)? In Dan’s experience, an NPC can only become a full-fledged human through direct interaction with a human. For example you are looking around at the farmer’s market, you pull up in the corner and you see someone who is clearly an NPC. You go up to that person and you try to interact or engage with them. Their default programming is to get out of that conversation as quickly as possible. They will do what they need to do to keep up their charade, but they are going to as quickly as possible, fold back into the background because they are background people.

But if you really try to engage with them, the simulation will say: "Oh, okay! Hang on a second! There is an engagement happening here. We need to toss some more CPU resources at this NPC to make them flesh out more and seem more real than we had originally anticipated, because this rogue element, this Roderick, is engaging with something he has no business engaging with!” and then the NPC will get some more personality, get some more thinking process, all of that stuff, and then essentially become real for the period of time that you need them to be real.

Dan was talking to a friend, and he suggested to her a thought experiment: ”Do you think maybe that you are an NPC?” - ”I know I am not an NPC!” - ”That is exactly the kind of thing an NPC would be programmed to say!” - ”I have memories!” - ”Of course it seems like you have memories, but they are not real memories the way that my memories are real! Your memories are implanted so that you have just enough memories to function and have the appearance of being a real person, whereas I have actually had the experiences that for you are implanted memories!” - ”How do you know that?” - ”Because you were basically booted up the minute that I started talking to you, before that there was nothing going on there!”

The interesting part about all of that is: That could really be true for any of us! We feel like we all started years ago when we were kids and we have these memories, but who is to say that the world didn’t begin 30 seconds ago and everything prior to 30 seconds ago we don’t know. Apple has this feature called Powernap, where if your computer runs completely out of batteries, it will save the contents of RAM and everything to the disk and then shut itself down and when you turn it back on, instead of booting up from Start, it will resume where it was, its consciousness has been paused, and everything it was doing, thinking about all the apps, everything that is in RAM, everything that is on the screen, it comes back from where it was as if it had woken up from sleep, but in reality it was powered down. What if that is just us?

It is the plot of Blade Runner, but it is also a thought experiment that people have been playing back to the Greeks. It is at the core of: ”I think, therefore I am!” It is not knowable, so: Does it matter? That is the problem with the multiverse or a universe that is exponential or fractal: We will never be big enough to look down on it. Of course John thinks it matters. He will sit and dance on the head of a pin with all of his friends, but it is the same as sitting at a farmer’s market and watching people go by: Unless there is a form of geothermal energy which is tapping into the energy created and expended by people’s brains, which is the plot of The Matrix, that somehow you can feed human beings some kind of gruel directly to their stomachs, but that humans are the batteries that power the computer AI.

Dan doesn’t think that the simulation works like that and that we are plugged into the simulation. It is possible, maybe we are beautiful glowing orbs of light and we are plugged into the simulation, it is like school for us, we are learning something. Or maybe we exist fully within the construct of the simulation, it is tough to say, but Dan is pretty sure we are in a simulation, there is too much to show him that we are, but that doesn’t mean it is less real because consciousness is consciousness and it is not for him to say that an artificial life form that is fully capable of thinking and having consciousness is less alive than something that isn’t. That thing is alive whether that thing exists inside the construct of a simulation, inside of some giant quantum computing mechanism that we can’t understand, or whether that is organic. We are not in a place to say that one is more or less real than another one!

For example you know what the texture of something is going to feel like even before you touch it and that is because of the simulation. That is why everything tastes like chicken. John has heard that ostrich actually tastes like beef. It is a bird, a giant chicken, and the one thing that doesn’t taste like chicken is the biggest chicken of all, which tastes like beef. Maybe once an animal reaches a certain size it starts to taste like beef regardless of what it is? A land animal? Because a whale tastes like a blubber, which John has never tried.

There is the theory that the universe, the world that we live in, only exists when a consciousness is there to observe it. This is different from the concept that observation changes the results of an experiment, or the concept of things like light being both a solid as well as a wave. If John were the only person home right now, the only part of his house and his property that exists is what he can directly observe. It is only there when you can observe it. If nobody is outside of his house looking at his house, even though he is in the house, there is no house for them to see.

Most of the video game systems that we have, Minecraft for example, have a world that you can walk around that is not truly infinite or limitless, some people have come to the end of it, but it would take you years as a Minecraft character to walk from one end of it to the other. The way that this system stays efficient is that it only renders a certain space around the player characters and once you are outside of that, the sphere travels with you. If we are in a simulation, even if we have these super advanced computers powering this ancestor simulation, there still has to be a resource limitation and it would work the same way, and what if it works that way even outside the context of a simulation?

Why is that simpler than things being as they appear?

Because it would require some energy or effort to maintain those constructs within the system. You don’t need to have that application running unless you are using it, so you shut it down to conserve resources.

There is nothing about The Matrix that John likes, but we are all plugged in all the time. We are a live bass sitting on the couch, you wouldn’t know he was on until you picked him up and played him, but there is zero lag. That is going to be the thing in our lifetimes, it is not going to be clean nuclear energy, it is going to be geothermal energy that is going to make us by the end of the next 20 years…

Here is how you know it is the future: Everyone is wearing robes of undyed flax, everyone who can have dreadlocks does have dreadlocks, clearly there are still religions because different people are wearing turbans or whatever, but everyone is in flax and garments. By the time John’s child is an adult that is where we will be, we won’t be living underground while killer robots scour the Earth for us, but we will be living in a utopia of free energy, and all the robots will be doing is tilling the fields peacefully, and maybe growing weird beef in a jar type of stuff, like food, but it is protein.

That stuff they are working on where actually it is pork, but it was never part of a pig. Super gross! Super repulsive to even think about! Although maybe with the flax and garments we will finally transition away from needing the mouth feel of Fleisch and we will just all be content to eat spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti and ultimate burger instead of burger. In a world with unlimited energy why wouldn’t you? All it takes to make a perfect tasting hamburger out of beets is that you pour energy into it? That is all we are eating: Pure energy!

John thinks that everything is on all the time, even when it appears to be off. When you are sleeping, you are actually on all the time and running, and so is everything else, even the NPCs. Just like his 5W transistor amp behind the couch.

John’s dad giving his car to Fort Yukon (RW252)

One of John’s great regrets in his years in Alaska was that he never went out to the Arctic villages. He went to a lot of interior villages and Southeastern villages, but he never went to the Arctic villages and now he is sad and regrets it. Back then he had resources, his dad and his uncle and his high school principal, there were all these people out in the villages that he would have been if not welcomed, at least chaperoned. Now he would just be a regular who was out there like a dummy.

John’s dad was the the municipal administrator of the town of Fort Yukon, Alaska (He first said Arctic Circle, but later corrects himself). The village was run by a village board and they had run into trouble and bankrupted the town somehow and John’s dad and uncle went up and helped them put the village back together and work on a project of development and put the wheels back on the truck. John had two cars in High School, a Fiat that he bought from the classified ads, but his dad also had a 1973 Chrysler Imperial that he inherited and he called it the boat.

When he went away to college, he came back that next year and asked: ”Where is the boat?” - ”Oh, I gave it to the city of Arctic Circle!” (see RL166, then it was Fort Yukon, but in RL89 it was also Arctic Circle) - ”There is no road to Arctic Circle!” - ”I drove it up to the Yukon River and I put it on a barge and barged it down to the village and now it is the city staff car, the municipal car!” The town is on the Arctic Circle and also on the Yukon River, called Fort Yukon. Circle was where they put the car on the barge. John used to work at a gold mine in Circle Hot Springs, which was down the road a piece.

John thinks his Chrysler is still in Fort Yukon. It went up there in 1987 and when things go to Fort Yukon, it is not like they come back from there. They either pushed it into the river at a certain point or it is just sitting on the edge of the village now being reclaimed by nature. The key element in that story was that John’s dad didn’t empty out the car of all John’s stuff in the trunk and the glove box, he had a bunch of things in the car. It was full of stuff! All of that is up there in Fort Yukon, too!

John buying a small bass amp that he can put behind the couch and leave always on (RW252)

John bought a bass amp the other day for $100 because he was at the bass store and he was talking to his friend at the bass store about how he bought a little half-scale bass for a girl he was dating and he gave her a little 5W transistor amp, and she kept it behind her couch and she left it on all the time because it was drawing next to zero power. She kept this little half scale bass on her couch and when John would come over he would pick up the bass and it was on, it was the most magical thing because it was always on.

John was talking to this guy at the bass store and he was like: ”Let me show you something!” and he took John into the back room and there was a little bass amp and he said: ”This bass amp is always on and we use it to test basses and when we go home at night we just leave it on because the amp is down under the desk and it is too hard to get under there!”

He calculated that this little amp had been on continuously for eight years and he knew however many tens of thousands of hours that amp had just been on. John thought that was a great idea, and the guy recommended him some little Fender amp called the Boom Shaker or whatever, it was an Amazon purchase for $80 or something and John put it behind the couch and he put the bass on the couch and when he sits down now the bass is just alive and John goofs around all day and it makes him so glad.

It is not drawing any power, it is not loud enough that it is going to feedback or anything, it is the greatest thing he ever did, or maybe not the greatest thing, but it is a nice thing to have in the living room, it is a live instrument that is not acoustic, and in a world of infinite power, wouldn’t everything be better if it was always on? That is John’s goal, and that is how the universe is. We are all 5W transistor amps!

John was playing with his bass while he told that story.


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