Heiser Christmas Letter 02014


The leading zero is brought to you by the Long Now Foundation. Dick thinks it helps express his new optimism! This is the best time in history, and if we pay attention to the general welfare, it’s only going to get better. Billions of people (few of them Americans) are rising out of poverty; the Millenium Development Goals are being met, saving millions of lives.

Edward Snowden again

Dick has been wearing a big button that says, “THANK YOU ED SNOWDEN.” You can have one too. It attracts a lot of favorable comments.

There’s a wonderful interview in The Nation magazine. We’re happy to see Snowden’s life coming back together. Last year, he “set his life on fire.” Now he’s working, and his partner was able to rejoin him in July. He wants to be a good example to future whistleblowers.


Dick is finally beginning a PLATO Society course based on Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. In his sales pitch to fellow PLATO members, Dick quoted Pinker that “today we may be living in the most peaceful time in humanity’s existence.” There was nervous snickering. The statement is counterintuitive but true. Pinker has established that, normalized to population, violence has declined over millennia, centuries, decades and years, and for every kind of violence. This is tremendously inspiring: if we’ve already eliminated 95% of the violence, it’s certainly worthwhile to clean up the remaining details. For example, there are new campaigns against bullying, drones and the militarization of police. Of course, we still need to get rid of the nuclear weapons, too. Don’t even think of committing a trillion dollars to a new generation of unusable nuclear weapons, subs, bombers and missiles.

Annoying Putin

Vladimir Putin is an unattractive leader, easy to dislike, but we’ve been taking advantage of him and we think we can get away with it. Recently declassified documents from the collapse of the USSR and the reunification of Germany indicate that the West agreed to acknowledge the former Soviet sphere of influence. Instead, NATO has triumphantly marched right up to the Russian border, welcoming Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania [plus Albania and Croatia!] into membership. When NATO invites the Ukraine to join, that will be the last straw. The State Department seems to think it’s their job to make Putin as unhappy as possible.


Dick has been giving away copies of Chade–Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself, and is finding happiness trainings everywhere. Andrew Weil wrote a book, Spontaneous Happiness about it. So did Sonja Lyubomirsky (The How of Happiness). There’s an online course The Science of Happiness, from UC Berkeley at edX. They’re all prescribing insight meditation, cultivating healthy mental habits, and compassion.

Advanced technology

After rumoring a flying iPhone, the pseudonymous author Robert X. Cringely® let his imagination wander: “Combine the technology with biologically safe nanobots and you could brew coffee that automatically spills in the direction of your paper towels … or your ex's lap. Lug nuts could roll toward you when you’re changing a tire in a sleet storm instead of always, always under the car.”


Dick’s new Panasonic Lumix compact digital camera is powerful, inexpensive and well–designed. It has a Leica lens, and is fun to use. It’s his second Panasonic; he pointed his first one at the sun.

Loretta likes her Jawbone Up wristband, which counts steps and records the quality and duration of sleep. Dick just got the new Microsoft Band, which also has a heart rate monitor and GPS, so it maps runs and walks. [January update: I returned the Band. The run/walk tracking on the phone is better!] These devices take some obsessive attention at first, but Loretta’s has already settled into a comfortable routine. Both of these devices are helping us stay healthy.

How to Look (Art Comics) by Ad Reinhardt is a large–format book about art, published in Germany, cheap at Amazon.

☯ Family news

Lucky us: we’re going to Christmas at Kathryn Ayer’s and New Year’s Eve dancing with Les and Roberta Lazar! Loretta put up the electric trains again this year!

We are grateful for good health, leisure and friends, and hope you will have the same good luck.

☮ Peace & love! Best wishes for 2015!

Dick & Loretta