Tom Pittman's WebLog

2019 May 28 -- Organic Food and Linux

What is called "organic food" is today a luxury item in the USA. Two centuries ago it was all there was, and Thomas Malthus correctly predicted it would result in massive world starvation. Then factory farms and genetically modified crops were invented, and the predicted starvation didn't happen -- at least not here and the other places where these productive food practices are used. Today other doomsayers predict other global catastrophes, which likewise are subject to human cleverness, but that's another story, for another day. Six years ago I did an essay on the benefits of factory farms and processed food, which I won't repeat here except to note that these labor-saving practices have substantially helped to make the USA the richest country in the whole world and in all time. You can still find food grown and prepared the way it was two centuries ago, but mostly it's cheaper to buy food grown on factory farms using only chemicals "certified" to be "organic" -- and it's far cheaper to buy food without those labor-intensive processing policies. Nutritionally, the "organic" food is indistinguishable from the stuff the rest of us eat, but it costs more because of the extra labor, so it's a luxury item the grocers and producers are happy to profit from.

Why do I mention this? Processed food and factory farms have eliminated 90% of the labor and cost of food production in the USA, so that the time their great-grandparents spent in food production, modern people can divert to other uses, like doing fun things, or Making the World a Better Place. The Linux command line is like organic food: before 1984, it was the only way to use a computer, but it's labor-intensive. Now we have Dragon-Drop (mousing and clicking) which is measurably faster (the way processed food is faster than organic), so that ordinary people are freed up to spend their time in other uses, like doing fun things, or Making the World a Better Place (or, as I hope, both at the same time). Some people, if they so choose, can waste their extra time growing and preparing organic food. Other people can waste their extra time typing commands into a Linux command line. The rest of us will use our newly available time to Make the World a Better Place, or at least on fun things like the Autonomous Vehicle Project I am mentoring this summer.

So why am I picking on Linux? Because (like organic food) there are bigots who claim without proof that their preferred time-waster is actually better, and are trying to criticize me for choosing to do this project in Windows (which is faster than Linux). Others are criticizing me for choosing to do it in Java (which again is faster than the available alternatives). You can read my technical response, but today I want to go on public record as holding no ill will against their unfounded prejudice.

I think C++ and Linux and Neural Nets are wonderful tools, and I hope all my competitors make full use of them. I don't particularly want to use the inferior products they implement using those tools, but when our team of high school kids goes head to head against college students this fall, we can beat them because we are using better (faster) tools than they are.

Postscript: The kids chose not to use the faster tools (see also "The Dark Side") and the end of the summer came and went with no autonomous car to show for it. It will be a tough act to follow.


Computer Power
Why Java? Why Win10?
C++ Considered Harmful
Thanking God for Factory Farms
The Problem with 21st Century AI