Predictive Models

Fishnu by our miner's lettuce
Fishnu by our miner’s lettuce

The Miner’s Lettuce is going to seed and will soon be gone. I told Fishnu about how the miner’s of the California Gold Rush would suffer from Vitamin C deficiency over the Sierra winters, until this very edible plant, high in Vitamin C, sprouts up in the very early Spring, curing their scurvy. The funny thing is they didn’t know pine needles, edible, but yucky, and more than readily available during the winter, are rich in Vitamin C.

Fishnu clapped his fins slowly in mocked amazement at my great wisdom.

He then asked, “If you build a predictive model that is correct 99% of the time, is that a good model?”

Me: Yes, but I think any model as good as that is pretty obvious to people already.

Fishnu: That’s true, obvious to people, but not to a computer. So how many models are out there in the world making guesses about you? Your Airbnb ratings, your Uber ratings, LinkedIn, Facebook, credit scores, health risks, security threat …

Me: Oh … thousands … millions …

Fishnu: Are they mostly 99% correct?

Me: No! Some customers have said to me that all they want is for it to be better than a coin toss. In fact, if it’s too good, they say it’s “overfit”, it doesn’t “generalize”.

Fishnu: What does this “generalize” means?

Me: It means because we don’t know everything about everything, we need to make some assumptions about people or things to make decisions about a lot of people or things. So if you’re a rectangle and there isn’t a hole for rectangles, you’re shoved through the square hole.

Fishnu: How many predictions would it take before they are wrong? Once in a billion years?

Me: Hahaha! Billion years!? Probably every other minute some model somewhere is making a wrong prediction about you, even if all were correct 99% of the time!

Fishnu: What happens when they are wrong, when you don’t fit the model?

Me: Nothing really. Most of the time, the worst is that you’re targeted for a sale, they call you during dinner, you tell them not to call anymore, and you’re the asshole. Sometimes it is worse than that – they tell you you’re morbidly obese at 220 pounds, you diet to 180 and feel weak.

Fishnu: Can people ever make these predictive models perfect?

Me: No because we’ll never know everything about everything. So … what do we do?

Fishnu: Erase the illusions of the boxes you’ve been taught to draw around things. You will see the process and not those things. Your brain will resist because those beliefs are wired there. It takes years of training to rewire them, so just ignore them now and feel what is right here right now.

Me: That’s it!? The “Now” thing? Is that all there is?

Fishnu: Geez! What do you think I’ve been saying?

How Many More Springs Would You Like?

fishnu_bulb

As I did some yard work earlier this Spring, I happened upon my friend, the Eternal Fishnu. He thanked me for planting these tulips for him to sit under.

I mentioned how fleeting it is, in fact how fleeting life is. Oh oh, I should have just shut up, because here goes Fishnu:

“Are the tulips fleeting? Is the tulip the flower? Is the tulip the leaves and the flower? Is the tulip gone after the flower withers and the leaves shrivels away? The bulb is still there. Is the tulip the bulb? Does the bulb depend on the Spring? Is the flower more the bulb or is the flower more the Spring? What happens when there are no more Springs?

“How many more Springs would you like? Ten? A thousand? A million? Are you sure? Does your human mind change as fast as the world? Or does your human mind lag, clinging to a time no longer here? Your human mind doesn’t need a million more Springs. With full attention, that is, full awakening to the Grand Process that is the Universe, full acceptance of what is, not what people say there is, there are miracles that can happen within even just one more Spring. One who is fully awakened doesn’t need centuries here. For the Awakened, just a moment will do just fine.”

The Empty Cup Trail

Old Wagon Trail at Capitol Reef.
I stumbled upon Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet on the Old Wagon Trail at Capitol Reef.

I had not seen either Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet or Fishnu since after Bodhi Day in December 2017. On that Bodhi Day I was ordained a Zen priest by Rubber Ducky and given the name, Dukkha Hanamoku. It was my understanding that I would never see them again in this life.

So I was incredibly surprised to run into them about a half mile into the 4-mile Old Wagon Trail hike at Capitol Reef this past Spring (April 2018).  I could see these blue and yellow dots a little ahead. It was them! Sitting there admiring the view. “Rubber Ducky! Fishnu! I thought I’d never see you two again! What are you doing here?!”

Fishnu: “As Ringo would say, ‘Where else would I be but where I am?”

As we hiked, I told them about the past few months, the successes and the failures, of which there were many – it wasn’t an ordinary three months. I delivered an insanely ambitious project within three months, requiring my full concentration and discipline. But for the most part, there was hardly anything calm and enlightened about it all. It was grueling!

Fishnu and Rubber Ducky listened to me talk for the next couple of hours without saying anything, until it seemed I exhausted all I wanted to say. Rubber Ducky said, “I tried to help you, the day your laptop crashed and you had to rebuild it.”

“Help?!” My laptop crashed a couple of days before our first checkpoint with the customer. Although the project was three months, there was a checkpoint every two weeks. If we failed, that was “game over”. Yep, one morning my laptop would boot but went blank! I wrestled with it for a few hours before deciding to reset it all, which took most of the day, and I still needed to get my work done.

Rubber Ducky said that was him telling me to “empty my cup”, free my mind of all clinging, and shut the fuck up and listen – wipe out your mind! He emphasized the “Shut the FUCK UP”.

Towards what I thought was the home stretch of the hike, we came upon an intersection. A sign pointed to the left, “View Point” and I didn’t even read what pointed right. I headed towards the view point and it looked familiar – a little climb up a red sandstone outcropping to a beige sandstone where I first saw Rubber Ducky and Fishnu.

We looked at the incredible view for a few minutes. I had some Gatorade and pulled out a Cliff bar for the home stretch. We walked along the length of the outcropping, all the way seeing that incredible view, for about 200 yards until we reached the end of the outcropping with a bigger climb down, but no trail. Huh? What happened to the trail? I climbed down anyway and figured I’d find the trail moving left or right.

I couldn’t find the trail but reached a point where I could see the parking lot about two miles away, with a few small canyons in between, not the quarter mile or so that I thought. Is that so?

We weren’t exactly lost since I could actually see where we needed to go and the last known location of the trail was shining like a big beacon about a half mile away, the “View Point”. I was mostly worried about adding another half mile of uphill climbing to my already weary ankles (on this 5th day of hiking). We trudged upwards through the chaparral towards the top end of the outcropping.

When we got to that top end of the outcropping, I read what the sign pointed to towards the right: “Trailhead” Duh. “We’re back on the path.”

Fishnu made some cracks about my bedazzlement (addictions, even bedazzlement, makes you temporarily insane to various degrees) of the lovely view point, continuing to believe my flawed belief about where we were, and how that took me off the path. I said in good humor, “Yes, yes. You’re being like what Mrs. Hanamoku says about the last panel of a Dilbert strip – not necessary.”

At the end of the hike, I was surprised to see they weren’t planning on getting in the car. “Aren’t you guys coming?”

Rubber Ducky: “The Eternal Wind is blowing that way for you, Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku. Feel that Wind, it is the Wind that pushes you on the Path, and towards the path if you can’t see the beacon. An empty mind, free of clinging, free of legions of flawed beliefs, readily feels the Eternal Wind, as one would feel the wind stepping outside of the shell of your car.”

It had been exceptionally windy during my week at Capitol Reef. I didn’t use my Buddha Mind to get that. I got in the car, waved good-bye. “Don’t let the ravens get you!”

Fishnu: “They will. Our deaths here are like a little scratch on the skin of all that we are. When that ‘scratch’ heals, you’ll see us then.”