Not for the faint of art.
A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.
The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.
Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.
Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.
PROMPT November 13th
In what circumstances do you believe it is okay to fib or tell a white lie?
What? It's never okay to fib, and white lies are lies! One should always be completely honest with both oneself and-
Oh, I can't go on like that. There's only so much bullshit I can spew at one time.
The truth is: lies keep the world running smoot- okay, less roughly than if there weren't lies.
When I was younger, I might have actually believed what I was starting to say up there, that honesty is always the best course of action. But I learned better, oh yes. All it took was one honest answer to "Does this dress make my butt look big?" and I learned. (Of course, it seems like, these days, that's the goal with clothing.)
And, of course, I am sometimes a fiction writer, and what's fiction but a lie? Sure, everyone involves knows it's untrue, hence the name "fiction," but it's still premeditated dishonesty.
Do I always tell the unvarnished truth? Hell no. But I have a few guidelines for myself when interacting with people.
First and foremost, don't lie more than you have to; keeping a story straight is hard enough when you tell the truth. I'm naturally full of contradictions and hypocrisies. Compounding those by lying about them, when you'll have to remember which lie you told to which person later, takes too much mental energy.
Second, before you lie, take a second to check yourself: are you trying to make yourself look good, or gain some advantage, or are you just trying to grease the wheels of conversation? I expect everyone puffs themselves up a little bit, but saying you've hiked across Antarctica, gone into space, or swam the English Channel when you didn't can be detrimental to your reputation. (Then again, if you've done any of these things, shut up; you're making the rest of us look bad.)
Third, rather than enumerate the situations in which it's okay to fib or tell a white lie, I will enumerate the situations in which it's not okay to do so: 1) in a committed relationship; 2) in court. That's... well, that's about all I can think of at the moment.
In short, lies make life better for everyone - up to a point, and that point is when someone gets harmed by false information. But that doesn't fall into the category of "fib or white lie."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to prepare for my hike across Antarctica.
PROMPT November 12th
What is one thing (sight, smell, sound, object, etc) that, when you encounter it, instantly brings you back to your childhood?
Well, there are these woolly mammoth reconstructions at natural history museums...
Apart from that, there's the barometer.
As I've mentioned before, Dad was a sailor. He'd stopped roaming the seas before I was born, but he had some mementos of his travels, one of which was an old-time mariner's barometer.
It's a simple device, really - a tube with mercury, and a gauge, mounted on wood. It did what it was supposed to do, which was provide a reading of current atmospheric pressure, useful in the times before satellite imagery and official updates as a weather indicator. When I was a kid, it hung on the wall near his antique desk, which I suppose when he obtained it was a new, state-of-the-art writing and organizing surface.
When he died, a lot of the stuff from my childhood home went into storage, awaiting a time when I can either lighten myself of some of these possessions, or find space for them at my house. China cabinets. The desk. Books and a bookshelf. The dining table around which we'd sit in the evenings. Things I don't really have a use, or a place, for, but couldn't bring myself to discard (fuck you, Marie Kondo).
Most likely, I'll keep paying rent on the storage space until I, too, bite the big one.
But the barometer came home with me, and hangs on the wall in a hallway. I pass it several times a day. I can see it, in fact, from my usual workspace.
See, that barometer was probably my first introduction to the world of science, and while I didn't pursue the career of a scientist, it's a reminder to me of our efforts to understand and quantify the vagaries of the inconstant universe in which we find ourselves. And also of the curiosity and objective worldview that he, with some degree of success, attempted to instill in me.
There are other things that take me back to those times long ago, of course - whenever I see Orion looming large in a chill night sky, or gaze upon a wide expanse of still water - but the barometer is a constant presence for me.
Appropriate, I think, given what it measures.
PROMPT November 11th
Today, your prompt is one word: Transformation.
Everything changes and nothing stands still. -Heraclitus
The thing about those ancient Greek philosophers is that they lacked the 2000 or so years of history that we've experienced since they wrote their stuff. You might be tempted to say, "But Waltz, that quote survived all this time." Well, yes and no. No, because the original statement was written in Ancient Greek, and is thus subject to some of its meaning being lost in translation. It's not, as a physicist might say, time-invariant. Its meaning is also informed by one's cultural milieu. So even the quote about change changes over time.
And yet, there's something inviolably true about it.
Heraclitus also apparently was the originator of the nearly koan-like quote, "You could not step twice into the same river." (also on the wiki page linked above). I heard that quote a long time ago, without attribution. At the time, I was actively working in hydrology (the study of rivers and other water flow), so, being the technical-minded person that I was and am, I mentally changed it to "You can't step into the same river even once." Because between the time your foot touches the surface of the river and the time it touches the bed, the river has, in some sense, already changed - water has flowed out, evaporated, and/or seeped into the soil beneath; some has also, most likely, flowed or rained in.
Which doesn't change the basic fact, or the metaphor: that change is constant, inevitable, and defines existence. We may not always see the change - after all, rivers don't usually change in a very visible, macro kind of way in the few microseconds it takes to set foot in one - but it happens, anyway.
I think a most people feel a tension between the desire for change (preferably in a direction that benefits us) and the desire for things to stay the same, in defiance of all evidence and physical laws. That goes back to the "wish" entry a couple of days ago, doesn't it? What I mean is, maybe you want to win a major jackpot in the lottery, but what does winning the lottery actually look like? Ideally, you go on with your life as it was, only with more money, right? But you add that kind of money to a life, and it, necessarily, changes.
Life is change. Or transformation; I'm using a synonym here, and synonyms are an example of transformation. I'd even go so far as to assert that reality is transformation. Periodically, we humans (including another famous ancient Greek philosopher, Plato) come up with ideas about things that are "eternal" and "unchanging," but to me, that's how I know that something isn't real: it's conceptualized as nontransforming.
What is real is change, and the most pernicious lie ever foisted upon a gullible humanity is that what we see around us is illusion while "reality" is something unchanging. As I've noted before, this alters the definitions of "real" and "illusion" to the point where both words become meaningless.
There is, however, as far as we know (though our understanding could change) one thing that is constant, and that is the speed of light. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a true constant, for both light and matter, which are the same thing but transformed into one or the other. Every particle, every thing in the universe is always moving at exactly the speed of light - through spacetime. If it's not moving at the speed of light, that is, the constant c, through space, it's also moving through time.
What this means, if it means anything at all, eludes me.
I've mentioned in previous posts the predicted heat death of the universe. Billions or trillions of years from now (can't be arsed to look it up at the moment, and even that theory is subject to change as new data is interpreted), all thermodynamic processes stop, and we won't be around to see it because we are thermodynamic processes. But even then, change will still be occurring, in the form of fluctuations as a result of basic quantum uncertainty.
It is possible, and therefore, given the amount of "time" (which itself loses its meaning), inevitable, that such a fluctuation will bud another universe, like or unlike our own.
And so change continues. Eternally.
PROMPT November 10th
What do you find yourself insecure about? Are you able to overcome your insecurities? If so, how?
If I had any insecurities - and, mind you, I'm not saying I do - but if I had any, I think chief among them would be a reluctance to share any insecurities in an open forum online. People can use that shit against you - mock you, take advantage, that sort of thing.
Not that I ever worry about it.
Such an insecurity would, I think, be very difficult to overcome, if it were real. I mean, hypothetically, there might be some things you can share with trusted friends, but casual acquaintances, backstabbing co-workers, fickle family members? Yeah, no, it would be too easy for bad actors to get a handle on you and crush your psyche. It's like - you don't leave your doors unlocked when you park your car on a city street, right? Not because everyone will steal from it - most people wouldn't - but because the one or two who would do such a thing can ruin your day.
So, rest assured, it wouldn't be you , the one reading this right now, that I wouldn't trust in this purely theoretical situation, but some other passer-by.
Consequently, it's a good thing I'm not insecure about anything or I'd have to worry about not being completely forthright in my own blog, and that would be a shame, wouldn't it?
PROMPT November 9th
Write a stream of conscious entry starting with the words “I wish...”
I wish... you know what? No, I don't. It never ends well.
It's cold, so you wish it were warm. But then it gets hot so you wish things would cool off. It's dry, so you wish for rain and then you wish for the rain to stop. It never ends.
"Be careful what you wish for," they told me. "You just might get it."
So I learned not to wish.
But sometimes... sometimes it might be good to imagine something better coming along. On the other hand, nothing comes without a price, and nothing can come into your life unless something else leaves it, and who's to say which is better?
I think that's why I like to write fiction. I can think of things happening and work through the consequences without actually experiencing them. It's why I try to expect - or at least anticipate - the worst.
And yet, on occasion...
I wish I could wish.
PROMPT November 8th
Besides music, what are some of your favorite sounds?
A while back, I vaguely recall, there was a 30DBC prompt that asked the old question: would you rather be deaf or blind? And I said something like, I despise 75% of all sounds, but the other 25% is music, and I wouldn't want to live without music.
If someone has the dedication to swing back and look at what I actually wrote, and finds that it's something different from that, and calls me on it, well, congratulations.
I don't really mind the little sounds that accompany everyday existence: the hooting birds, the rustling leaves, that sort of thing, but I can't say they're my favorite sounds. Almost everything else that I can call a "favorite" (that isn't music) is defined by when it stops. Neighbor leaf-blowing? Oh, good, it stopped. Jet fighters flying in formation overhead? Oh, good, it stopped. Dog barking its fucking head off across the street? Oh, good, it stopped. Cat meowing for dinner? Oh, good, it stopped.
Now that I mention that, though, I'm rather partial to cat purrs, but the great thing about those is they're more felt than heard.
I've been known to reject potential romantic partners if they're the kind of people who leave the TV on all day for "background noise." (I don't even have a TV anyway.) Not to mention that a non-trivial reason why I never wanted kids is because children noises make me meshuggah. If I can't listen to music, I prefer silence, or as close to it as I can get. Not that I'd want to be deaf; not just because of music but because I like to have some advance warning that someone is trying to sneak up on me - less likely to have such warning if there were a lot of background noise.
So, between yesterday's prompt and today's, I suppose I've been outed as someone who prefers both silence and darkness. Make of that what you will.
PROMPT November 7th
What is your favorite color? Do you have a favorite color pairing? What’s something in your life that you picture when you think of your favorite color? Do you choose to wear clothing that is your favorite color? Has your favorite color changed over your life?
Use these questions to explore how your favorite color has influenced you.
What is your favorite color?
Do you have a favorite color pairing?
Black with More Black
What’s something in your life that you picture when you think of your favorite color?
Do you choose to wear clothing that is your favorite color?
Almost all the time.
Has your favorite color changed over your life?
For a while in high school, I thought my favorite color was blue, but no, it was still black.
"But Waltz, black isn't a color! It's the absence of color!"
Black is a color. It's technically an achromatic color, a color without hue. An object that is black doesn't radiate much in the visual spectrum (in the case of black holes, not at all), and it absorbs all visible light that impacts it. It probably generates or reflects other frequencies on the EM spectrum, though; we just can't see those.
Some scientists a while back came up with a material that's nearly 100% black; it's so black it's hard to look at. Sadly, they didn't make me a t-shirt out of this material, but licensed it to some idiot artist.
I'm a lot of fun at weddings, let me tell you.
My affinity for black has little to do with its cultural associations, though. Mostly, I just think it looks good. Partly, it has to do with science, in some sort of metaphorical sense - as a black object absorbs light, so I absorb knowledge, however imperfectly.
It's not the only color I wear, but its primary sartorial advantage is that it pairs with almost anything, which is useful when you don't want to ever think the sentence: "What color shirt will work with these pants?" So my traveling outfit consists of black shoes, black jeans, a black t-shirt, and the loudest Hawaiian shirt I can find.
People should sigh in relief that at least I don't pair the Hawaiian shirt with striped pants.
PROMPT November 6th
I have another link for you all today:
What parts of the chart did you find to be accurate and which did you find issue with? Anything you related strongly to? Is a chart like this useful, or does it rely too heavily on stereotypes?
I've said this before and I haven't run into anything that has changed my opinion: "generations" are utter bullshit; people are born, live and die on a continuum; and attempts to pigeonhole us are about as useful and accurate as star charts and Facebook quizzes.
Also, as Barack Obama (misspelled on the chart) is listed as a GenXer when by its own reckoning he's a Boomer, having been born (IN THE US FOR FUCK'S SAKE) in 1961. Given that simple error (compounded by the typo), I can't trust anything the chart says. And further yet, by my calculations it's a good 11-12 years out of date now.
And what the hell is it with the two date ranges for Millennials? Can't that generation do anything right? (KIDDING I'M KIDDING JEEZE)
Again, I've run through this argument before, but for newcomers: I was born in 1966. That would put me in GenX, along with people born (per the chart) in 1980. So they'd lump me in with someone from 1980, 14 years distant, but not from 1964, 2 years separated? How about twins born on the cusp of 1964-65? Theoretically, one could be a Boomer and his or her little sibling (by all of three minutes) could be an Xer. That could make Thanksgivings way fun as the older sibling could throw "kids these days" shade at the younger one.
It's really remarkable how much work has gone into the preparation of this nonsense chart, without even the fun math involved in astrology, or the years of college needed to come up with a Myers-Briggs analysis.
The whole "generations" thing was developed, I'm pretty sure, as a tool for marketers as a way to target people for manipulation. This is seen nakedly in the stuff at the very bottom of the chart, which admittedly I skimmed down to.
I'm not saying everything in it is wrong, of course - after all, Xers are "skeptical" and "cynical." Hey, spot on there. Stopped clock and all that.
So of course I tried to track down where the pdf came from. The webpage corresponding to the domain in the pdf's URL (try telling THAT to someone from 1965) is the West Midland Family Center, out of Michigan - hence, one supposes, the focus on the various cohorts' work ethics and "fundraising tips."
But that gives me the opportunity to point out a rule that has never led me astray in all the years I've followed it. To wit:
Never trust an organization with the word "Family" in the name.
Inevitably, they are run by people who are appalled at the idea that someone, somewhere, who is not a child, is having fun, and will work very, very hard to stop that nonsense immediately.
Now, I don't know... I haven't clicked around that particular organization's website very much. Could be they're an exception. I wouldn't bet the farm on it, though. (I actually do own a farm, by the way. That's not just an expression for me.)
PROMPT November 5th
Write your entry today inspired by one of the emotions listed on the webpage below:
Just one? Damn. Usually I'd snark on most of them.
(n) The desire to care less about things.
To loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.
I've been working toward this for most of my life. I mean, not the playful volleyball metaphor - I hate sports - but caring gets you nowhere, so I actively try not to. You know how pedants are always like "It's not 'I could care less' but 'I couldn't care less,' because 'I could care less' means you do care somewhat?" (Okay, I'm one of those pedants.) Well, I could care less. No, really, it is theoretically possible for me to care less. It's like one of those mathematical functions that approach but never quite reach zero and you're skipping this sentence, aren't you?
I actively try to care less.
It helps to know that no matter what we do, no matter what we as individuals or a species or the greater community of living things achieve, no matter how we spread into the universe, no matter to what heights of art, science, engineering, or something we currently have no word for we reach... regardless of any of that, the universe continues to race in the direction of higher entropy, and eventually, it will fade into oblivion. All of the energy transfer that could have taken place will have taken place, and every point in the universe will have reached an equilibrium, the same temperature. This is known as the "heat death of the universe," and "temperature" will have no meaning because there's no way to measure it, no one to measure it. Spacetime itself will cease to have any meaning. No process of life or anything else will be able to proceed, because any such process requires energy transfer, and I just said that that will wind down to nothing.
This is absolutely inevitable, and not only is there no way to stop it, but any attempt to do so will only hasten it because that's how entropy works. In fact, I've come to the realization that the purpose of life is to accelerate entropy, almost as if the Universe itself wants to end its own pointless existence.
In short, nothing matters and that's the big cosmic joke.
I'm aware that this sort of thing could cause an existential crisis for some people. At the very least, it can trigger the classic Five Stages of Grief, starting with denial. Deny all you want; that doesn't change the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But remember, the solution is to stop caring and laugh in the face of Fate.
In that vein, then, as per the linked article, I, too, can propose made-up words for emotions that don't really exist and it wouldn't matter if they did:
That feeling you get when you look to the west and your spirit is crying for leaving.
The sadistic joy that can only be achieved through ruining someone's winter holiday.
The satisfaction of providing children with important life lessons by fitting their punishments to their misdeeds.
When someone wrongs you and you retaliate utterly disproportionately to the situation, and damn but it feels great.
Per the above discussion, the moment of absolute darkness that envelops you when you realize that, in the end, nothing matters at all, followed by the relief you feel when snatch yourself back from the abyss in time to laugh about it. I mean, you did do that, right? Right? Hello?...
PROMPT November 4th
Would you rather be surprised or surprise someone else? Write about it!
I always wanted a surprise party.
I've been to other peoples' surprise parties, even though they never seem all that surprised to me. It's always been on their birthdays, though, so I'd expect it wouldn't have been all that surprising. "Hm, it's my birthday and my friends are all acting weird around me. I bet I'm getting a surprise party!" I never arranged one, because I suck at that sort of thing, so that might explain why no one has ever done it for me.
But that's being pleasantly surprised. Clearly, if it's a negative surprise, I don't want to be the target of that. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of giving people an unpleasant surprise, either. I mean, I think pranks can be funny if they're played on anyone who is not me, but a prank is one of those things that's funnier in theory than in practice.
With my philosophy of "always expect the worst," I try to avoid getting myself into situations where I'm surprised in a bad way.
I was just thinking today, before I saw the prompt, of all the things that could go wrong if - I mean when - I go to Belgium and/or France. That is, after all, why I'm trying to learn French. Stranded in the Pyrenees (there are worse places to be stranded, I suppose), money stolen, trapped in the Eiffel Tower, that sort of thing. That's why I want to learn French - so I can say "help!" in the local language.
Turns out I've already learned many useful phrases. For example (keeping in mind that some of these might be wrong because, like I said, still learning):
Je veux une bière.
I want a beer.
Je voudrais plus bière, s'il vous plaît.
I would like more beer, please.
Je veux un verre de vin.
I want a glass of wine.
La bouteille de vin pour moi maintenant.
The bottle of wine for me now.
Je dois rentrer à l'hôtel.
I have to go back to the hotel.
J'ai besoin de dormir maintenant.
I need to sleep now.
C'est le matin.
Où sont mes vêtements?!
Where are my clothes?!
So you see, I want to be ready for surprises, even in France.
PROMPT November 3rd
Write about a time when you waited a long time for something. Did you end up getting what you wanted? Was it worth it?
Well, there was the time I went to the DMV one morning, and left three years later with a driver's license...
Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but it felt like three years.
There's a brewery in Richmond, VA called Hardywood. They've since expanded into other locations, including one right here in my town, but at one point they just had the one location in an industrial park about an hour's drive from me.
Now, there are breweries all over Virginia, but this particular brewery made a gingerbread stout that was, at the time, the only beer to ever get a perfect 10/10 score on a popular beer rating site. Not only that, but I'd had the opportunity to sample it and it was, indeed, delicious. So, naturally, I had to have some. Also naturally, so did every other drunk in Virginia, and let me tell you, we are fucking legion.
To further set the scene, this particular beer is a seasonal offering, not available year-round. As you might be able to tell from the name, it's winter-holiday-themed. That means it came out in November. If you don't know anything about November in Virginia, I can sum it up in two words: it sucks. Cold, but usually not cold enough to snow. Often rainy. Rainy is fine. Cold is fine, to a certain extent; at least, I'm used to it. Cold and rainy... it sucks.
So it was that on the cold and rainy November release day for Gingerbread Stout one year - I dunno, maybe 2013? It's been a while - I found myself and a friend standing in line outside the enormous Hardywood brewery in Richmond, waiting to claim my allotment of just two bottles (albeit 1L bottles) of sweet nectar of the winter gods. Along with every other drunk in Virginia. The line snaked from the brewery door, out to the street, and around the block. As a reminder, this is an industrial park block. In the rain. In the cold rain. In the nasty Virginia November cold goddamn rain.
We waited. The line inched forward. It rained. It colded. The line inched forward. The day stretched on into eternity.
(insert elevator musak here)
(pause for effect)
Finally we got our bottles and booked out of there.
Was it worth it? Oh, definitely. Since then they've increased production and one can often find this paragon of beer in local stores, so there's no need to go through that again. At the same time, however, it's not quite as good as it was the first few years. Delicious, yes, worth buying, certainly, but I wouldn't wait in the - did I mention cold rain yet? Because it was cold and rainy - cold rain in an industrial park for it again.
Now, it may seem strange that when prompted for something I had to wait a "long time" for, I pick something that I had to wait, max, a few hours for. This is because I don't wait. I'm not a patient person. If I do find myself waiting for something, I distract myself - games, reading a book, whatever. Can't do that in a cold, rainy, outdoors queue. So, say, waiting for my passport or tax refund or the latest Brandon Sanderson book that I preordered from Amazon months before it's due to come out - well, I don't count those as waiting, because I'm doing other stuff.
Also, beer is important.
PROMPT November 2nd
Write about jouska.
From Psychology Today, jouska is defined as “a hypothetical conversation that you play out over and over in your head. For example, replaying an argument in your head where you say all the right things and “win” the argument, or practicing asking your boss for a raise and playing out his or her responses and your comebacks.”
Jouska is why I'm single.
Doesn't everybody do this? It's basic self-programming. In the "replay" scenario you're practicing for similar situations in the future, and in the other scenario you're training yourself to deal with different responses.
The trick to being a jerkface asshole is when someone comes to you having practiced the conversation in jouska, you say something that they could not possibly have thought of in their practice. Example:
(Employee slinks in, hat in hand) "Um, boss, sir, may I have a raise?"
Boss: (pause for effect, then) "Tell me, Widders, what do you think of pomegranates?"
There's absolutely no reason you should allow yourself to play to their jouska script. If you do this, though, you have to practice jouska yourself just so you can come up with off-the-wall, non-sequitur responses to any rehearsed conversation. I mean, in the above scenario, presumably the peon has practiced this with the boss giving different levels of "yes" "no" "maybe" and "why" responses, and they've got all kinds of data backing up why they should get a raise, including having come to work on time even with measles, securing a multi-million-dollar contract for the company, and their kid has cancer. None of this matters; your job as boss is to make sure they don't get a raise. They're not expecting a conversation about pre-Raphaelite paint mixing techniques, so give 'em one.
On the peon's side, even though you know this could happen, you practice jouska anyway, right? Like I said, everyone does it. Sometimes you lie awake at night, staring into your old friend the dark abyss, replaying a conversation until you've convinced you monkey brain that it went your way, after all. Or you're worried about the meeting tomorrow so you play out different scenarios, remembering to be ready for loops thrown at you involving pomegranates or paint.
But not me.
No, I don't run variations on the script until things go my way, because I know things won't go my way. I run scenarios until they involve the worst possible outcome for me. There's a good reason for that: I only like to be pleasantly surprised. It's the same reason I'm pessimistic about everything. If I go into a situation expecting, or even hoping for, a good outcome, I can be disappointed. If, on the other hand, I go into, say, the doctor's office expecting a cancer diagnosis, then if it is not cancer I can feel the pleasure of relief; whereas, if it is cancer, I can feel the euphoria of having been right.
Which brings me to why I'm single. Every time I think about meeting someone, the jouska goes something like this:
Me: "Hi, my name is-"
Her: *PEPPER SPRAY*
Me: "Let me buy you a drink."
Her: "I was just leaving. With my husband. The pro boxer."
Me: "Hey, let's talk about pre-Raphaelite paint mixing techniques."
I think some guys, they go into potential relationships, and they like to skip ahead in their minds to the part where they're both naked. Maybe some chicks to that, too; I don't know. Point is, some people just kind of wing the whole "get to know you" part and rush to the "let's get the lube" part. In other words, their jouska involves playing out the clothes-on scenes in such a way as to get to the R-rated movie as quickly as possible.
But not me. No, whenever I meet someone I think I might be interested in dating, my mind doesn't skip ahead to the date, or to the sex, or to the breakfast afterward, or to the trip to the Paint History Museum. It skips right to the part where she's had enough of my bullshit and storms out the door for the last time.
Knowing she'll leave me for some Australian dingo-fucker is enough to keep me single.
Now, look, I know this might come across as me having a low opinion of women. Think about it, though - if I had a low opinion of women, I could probably convince myself that I could attract one and keep a relationship going. It's myself that I'm certain is unworthy, not anyone else. Proof? Well, what's the one thing women say they look for in a partner? Looks? No. Money? No. Muscles? Gimme a break. Six-pack abs? N-well, maybe. Probably it helps. Cats? Definitely not. No, it's a sense of humor. You may not like my sense of humor, but I think we can all agree that I have one, yes? Yes? Okay. Good. And yet I'm still single. Q.E.D. I have the one trait that heterosexual women claim to be looking for in a male partner, and still can't stop being single.
Consequently, it's me. Therefore, my jouska will continue to justify this to myself.
PROMPT November 1st
I’m sending this prompt in between princesses and spidermen begging at my door for free candy. If you celebrate Halloween in your part of the world, what are your family’s traditions? What were the popular Halloween costumes in your childhood? Which candy was the most coveted?
Of course, when I was a kid, it was called Samhain and we'd load our pack asses with sacrificial chickens and make the week-long trek over muddy roads to the nearest henge.
Okay, fine, I'm exaggerating. The roads had some rocks on them.
I've lived in the same house for over 23 years now, which is longer than I lived in the house where I grew upspent my childhood. In that quarter of a century, we've had years where greedy, grubbing spooks have shown up for socialist handouts, and years where I got to eat all the candy myself.
This year I'm losing weight, so I didn't buy any candy. If I have to diet, so do the zombies, goddammit. Hey, at least I didn't print up a bunch of "The True Meaning Of Halloween" pamphlets to hand out to convert the little bastards to Paganism.
I'm absolutely boring when it comes to seasonal decorations. Other people on my street put up halfhearted carved gourds for Halloween or a few desultory lights for Yule, and maybe a limp flag for the Fourth of July. But that all seems like w*rk to me, and w*rk is something I go to a lot of trouble to avoid. Especially w*rk that has no functional purpose. Engineer, remember? If it doesn't hold something up or tie something down, it's not worth doing.
My ex liked to decorate, and sometimes I'd even help her in the interest of marital harmony. That worked out so well that she's my ex. So, my family's traditions (hey, my cats count) are to turn off the lights on Halloween evening, take a nap, and pretend to ignore the knocking and the sounds of splattered eggs and thrown toilet paper. This Halloween, though, I didn't have to bother: they issued a tornado watch, it rained, and the winds got up to 50 miles an hour, enough to blow trick-or-treaters right into the next county. So no beggars. Peace. Well, peace except for expecting a gust-blown tree limb to come crashing through my roof (spoiler: it didn't).
As for my childhood? I don't remember. I suppose the usual standbys: ghosts, vampires, cartoon witches. I can't say I remember any particular costume that I or my friends ever wore. Maybe my mom cut holes in a white sheet once in an attempt at a ghost but then thought better of the optics.
And then we come to the biggest advantage of having been an only child: I got to eat ALL the candy. Well, all except for the candy corn. I may not remember a single costume, but I distinctly remember the first time I stuck one of those disgusting lumps of earwax into my unsuspecting gobhole. I think I was four or five. "What the shitting fuck is this piss?" I believe were my exact words after I spit the abomination onto the good carpet. Even my dog wouldn't touch it. So, "which candy was the most coveted?" Anything that wasn't candy corn.
I thought about running this in one of my Comedy newsletters. Hell, I still might.
The mystery of what makes a joke funny – but only to some people
It's a fixed law of comedy that explaining what makes a joke (or any joke) funny makes it not funny. This, I think, is the central paradox of existence.
Also, don't post pictures of mimes.
How do you like the following joke from Sumeria in about 1900BC? “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
I've mentioned before that the oldest known joke in the world is a fart joke. This would be that one.
One consistent finding in scientific studies is that laughter is universal and predates humans, while humour seems to appear alongside modern humans – wherever there is a record of modern humans, one finds jokes.
That's because we are jokes. Keep throwing me softballs.
These themes also confirm some of the scientific theories of jokes and humour. For example, humour often involves the realisation of incongruity (mismatch) between a concept and a situation, violations of social taboos or expectations, the resolution of tension or mocking and a sense of superiority
See? Not funny. And it's not like someone who doesn't have a sense of humor (or, per this article, humour) would be able to craft a joke based on the scientific evidence. I bet they couldn't even tell us how many scientists it takes to screw in a lightbulb
(None - that's the grad student's job)
Even worse, one of the most successful comedians inspired by Chaplin, Benny Hill, is considered cringeworthy in the UK, despite him being one of the few UK comedians to break through in the USA. That’s because Brits like to think that they are a bit more sophisticated in their humour than a man being chased around by naughtily-dressed ladies.
It is true that a lot of people in the US love Benny Hill. I never did find it all that amusing, even though I enjoy British humour in general. Still, Brits... no, you're not actually more sophisticated; thinking don't make it so.
So what does make a joke funny? We have made great strides in understanding the scientific bases on laughter and humour processing – but until we can incorporate the social and cultural complexities of humour fully, we will remain mystified by how people can enjoy comedy we find lame.
And thus endeth the article without it having told a single worthy joke. Still, some of the insights are useful, if not amusing, and I'm left with the same thoughts I had going in; that is, something is either funny or it's not, and once you explain why it's funny, it's also not.
Or, in the immortal words of Dug: "I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, 'I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.' It's funny because the squirrel gets dead."
|Well, I've signed up for "30-Day Blogging Challenge" [13+] again, for November, since I'm not doing NaNo this year. Once again, I figure if I'm going to try to write something in here every day, might as well mix it up with some prompts I wouldn't consider on my own.
Meanwhile, I still have a ton of blog fodder to get through. Here's today's:
The English Language Being Infuriatingly Confusing (39 Images)
By "images" it means "screenshots of tweets." I despise Twitter with the fiery passion of 10,000 suns, but sites like this (as clickbaity as it is) can sometimes present the best of the worst.
Since they're screenshots, copy/paste isn't an option, so I'll just pick a few amusing ones to highlight.
#8 It blows my mind that english has no plural for "you."
Ah, but it does, at least here in the South. "Y'all" is a perfectly good second person plural. It sounds more polite than "youse guys" (NY/NJ) or "yinz" (specific to the Pittsburgh area).
Incidentally, it's always "y'all" and never (as I've seen it) "Ya'll." An apostrophe stands in for missing letters, and the missing letters in this case go between the y and the a, not the a and the l.
And yet, even if you avoid regional dialect and think only of Standard English, the plural "you" still makes more sense than the French "vous," which can be either a second person plural, or a formal second person singular. How do you know when you can drop the formal "vous" and use the familiar "tu?" I guess I'll have to spend some time in France to figure this out. Awww.
Still one of my favorite words.
#11 Why does my nose run but my feet smell?
You might wanna see a doctor. Or three.
#22 I before E except when you run a feisty heist on a weird foreign neighbour.
Yeah, okay, that one's an example of why English is frickin' weird.
#26 The fact that Kansas and Arkansas are pronounced differently bothers me way more than it should.
This might have been my introduction to the fuckeduppedness of the English language. To this day, I pronounce Arkansas "ar-Kansas" just to be funny. I also pronounce Missouri "misery" because it's Missouri.
#33 Why is a "w" called a "double-U" when it is clearly a "double-V"?
Not in cursive. Also, because in Latin, from which we derive our alphabet, V is U. Confused yet?
Anyway, those are just the short ones. The longer ones are worth reading, too. I'm now even more convinced that English has been dominating the world stage not because of British colonialism or because it's versatile, but because once you learn English you feel a sense of pride unmatched by learning any other language (except, perhaps, Mandarin, though I wouldn't know). Once you've learned to navigate its dark corners, there's no going back.
The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Series Ever
"Best" is usually subjective. They're still wrong about some of these.
We’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up the 21 best science fiction fantasy series of all time, in no particular order.
I'll give 'em credit for not putting it in a countdown-style slideshow to generate more clicks. As a reward, I'm sharing this and maybe they'll get a couple more clicks.
For the sake of tidiness (and our own sanity), we’ve limited this list to series that include at least three books, and that are either completely finished or have no further books currently planned (so, no A Song of Fire and Ice)
That's good, because I got bored with that bloated tripe about halfway through the fourth book. Okay, I'm being unfair - Martin is a good writer, but when I drop a book halfway through, it's for good reason: I just quit caring what's going to happen.
Couldn't watch the series, either.
Now. Some of the series in that list, I've read; some, I haven't. Unlike some people, I don't have an opinion on the ones I haven't read.
The Vorkosigan Saga (1986-ongoing) by Lois McMaster Bujold
I like this series a lot, but I really hate Bujold because she got her first novel published on, from what I've heard, the first try. Bitch.
The Wheel of Time (1990-2013 by Robert Jordan (with Brandon Sanderson)
This series ain't all that. Remember how I said if I quit a book halfway through, it's because I just don't care? Well, I got about 1989 pages into the 2000-page first book of this series, right when things are supposed to be all climax-y, when the book's plot is being wrapped up and the stage set for the next 89 books, and threw the thing at the wall.
When Jordan died and I heard Sanderson was going to wrap things up for him, I thought about going back and trying again - I like Sanderson's writing a great deal, and I figured if he cared enough to do the work I should at least see what all the fuss was about, but... you know... squirrel!
The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Come on, do we really have to include this one?
His Dark Materials (1995-2000) by Philip Pullman
Let me not mince words, here: this series is indefensible. About the only good thing about it is: bears in armor. I mean, that's epic. But everything else about the series actually sucks. Unlike some of the other books I mentioned, though, I actually finished it. That's 24 hours of my life I'm never getting back.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series (1979-2009) by Douglas Adams
Two of my favorite things are science fiction and comedy. When someone combines the two and does it well, it can be amazing. Also, these books are so ingrained in pop culture that you're lost if you don't read them - kind of like Star Wars.
Mistborn (2006-2008) by Brandon Sanderson
I'd pick The Stormlight Archives over Mistborn when it comes to Sanderson, but apparently the list is about completed series (even though the status of the Vorkosigan saga might make the Bujold entry an exception). Still, Mistborn is a fine series by an excellent author who is amazing at crafting epic fantasy.
There are also three fantasy series that are conspicuously absent from this list:
Amber by Roger Zelazny
Zelazny, like Jordan, was taken from us too soon. Unlike Jordan, he pretty much finished the Amber novels - though I think he wanted to write another set in the series. There are ten books in all, and the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, served as my personal introduction to fantasy.
The Vlad Taltos novels by Steven Brust
I've read this series so many times it's pathetic. The first book, Jhereg, contains what I consider to be the greatest opening line in all of fantasy (at least all that I've read). Again, though, the series might not be actually concluded.
Chronicles of Alera by Jim Butcher
Butcher is better known for the Dresden Files, a modern fantasy series. But it's definitely still in progress. Alera is a five-book (if I recall correctly) high fantasy series that's just a great read.
Anyway, that's my opinion, which of course you can take as truth.
I'm kind of surprised Harry Potter didn't make the list. Like Pullman's crappy series, it's targeted at a younger readership, which is fine. The first book was kind of painful to read, but the author got better as she went along. And like Hitchhiker's, it's part of pop culture now and there's no going back from that.
Why do I keep going back to that website? It is not aligned with my lifestyle - you can tell from the name.
However, this is an interesting article.
We've Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.
Across the country, everyone is looking for a cure for what ails them, which has led to a booming billion-dollar industry—what I’ve come to call the Wellness Industrial Complex.
Some time ago, the phrase "[whatever] Industrial Complex" became played out. Everything today relies on marketing; everything is a "*-Industrial Complex."
The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working.
In the entire history of selling shit, the one thing that never matters is whether something actually works or not; the only thing that affects the popularity of a product is how you can brand it.
For instance: one sure way to improve one's health is to eat more vegetables. But vegetables have a problem; they're not a "product." So they're not advertised. So instead people turn to what is marketed, which are multivitamins and supplements.
Once someone’s basic needs are met (e.g., food and shelter), scientists say that wellness emerges from nourishing six dimensions of your health: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental. According to research published in 1997 in The American Journal of Health Promotion, these dimensions are closely intertwined. Evidence suggests that they work together to create a sum that is greater than its parts.
Step 1: Artificially create divisions within the human psyche.
Step 2: Study each arbitrary division.
Step 3: Realize that the divisions are arbitrary and call their interactions "a sum that is greater than its parts."
Unfortunately, these basics tend to get overlooked in favor of easy-to-market nonsense. That’s because, as many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works. Here’s how to get started.
You want people to buy into evidence-based science? hahahaha.
Another simple way to think about physical activity comes from physician and physiologist Michael Joyner. “Move your body every day,” he says. “Sometimes very hard.” Based on a new study published in the online journal Scientific Reports, I’d add: try to do at least some of it outside.
No. Outside is where spiders live.
The other aspect of physical health is nutrition. Here again, the best advice is the simplest: ignore diets and supplements and, instead, just aim to cut out junk like processed and fried foods.
Everything you eat constitutes a "diet," so this is misleading. Also, no one has adequately defined "processed" for me. Lots of people swear by smoothies, for example, which, as far as I can tell, are just a bunch of whatever mixed together in a blender. Baby food, basically, only runnier. Point is, blending veggies like that is processing, and yet people who whinge about "processed" food don't get all snooty about smoothies.
The roots of a redwood tree only run six to twelve feet deep. Instead of growing downward, they grow out, extending hundreds of feet laterally and wrapping themselves around the roots of other trees. When rough weather comes, it’s the network of closely intertwined roots that allows the trees to stand strong. We are the same.
Nice cherry-picking there, hoss.
In 2010, researchers from Brigham Young University completed a comprehensive study that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years and learned that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were comparable to the risks of smoking.
Yeah, that's interesting and all, but again, we face a marketing issue. No one - and I mean NO ONE - wants to be around someone who's lonely. That leads to a never-ending spiral of loneliness. The only way to break out is for the lonely person to somehow stop acting lonely, which might cause them to become more attractive to others, but to do that they have to be fundamentally dishonest with themselves and others. And dishonesty is a crap basis for any sort of human relationship. (You can probably get away with it with dogs.)
If the world made sense, loneliness and depression would be attractive qualities.
And when you are working on something, regardless of what it is, eliminate distractions so you can give it your full attention. An app called Track Your Happiness has allowed thousands of people to report their feelings in real time.
Use our app to avoid distractions! Sheesh.
Look, almost everyone is trying to sell you something (for the record, I am not). Sometimes the things are contradictory. This is beneficial to the sellers, because buying into one thing creates a void that you can fill by buying into another thing, and so on. Keep in mind that one of the things people are selling is religion / spirituality, as seen in a section in the linked article (the section involved has entirely too much to unpack for me to have quoted it here).
And there's nothing wrong with buying stuff. I'm a big fan of consumerism in general, because it lets me be lazy. But for fuck's sake, stop buying into "wellness" fads.
Note the timestamp on this blog post. I don't know if that qualifies as irony, but it might qualify as comedy.
How to Turn Yourself Into a Morning Person, Backed by Science
Even if you're convinced you're a night owl, and hate waking up early.
Backed by SCIENCE!
First things first: Getting up early is not a prerequisite for success.
As much as I want to believe that, it is if your job starts... wait for it... early. If it does, and you don't get up early, I predict you will not be successful.
Even though The Wall Street Journal says that 4 a.m. may be the most productive time of the day, the most successful people wake up and start work whenever the (heck) they decide is the best time for them.
4 am might very well be the most productive time of the day; if so, I stay up for it pretty regularly.
But still: Even if you're a committed night owl who loves to wake later in the day and work late into the evening, you may not have that luxury. Maybe you have clients in other time zones. Maybe you run a business that requires you start your day early.
Or maybe you're a peon with no control over when work starts and ends. Remember yesterday I talked about working for a surveyor? If it was light out, we'd work. And if you recall, it was a summer job. The accursed daystar rises disgustingly early in the summer.
But it was good experience for my later career.
If tomorrow is your first day of shifting to an earlier start time, don't try to go to bed early tonight. Just go to bed when you normally do. Sure, you'll be tired tomorrow, but that's OK. Natural fatigue will help you get to bed a little earlier that night, or the next night.
In time, your body will adapt -- as long as you don't shift back to your night owl ways on the weekends. Shifting back and forth results in an endless cycle of sleep schedule resets.
I'm... not sure this is the best advice.
2. Exercise first thing.
Wait... wake up early AND exercise?
My dad used to wake me up with "Rise and shine!" I'd spit from underneath the warm covers: "Pick one!"
"Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to 12 hours," says one of the researchers. "This goes a long way to show that even moderate aerobic exercise has the potential to mitigate the daily stress that results in your mood being disturbed."
Can't argue with that. My anecdata agrees.
6. Start every day with something you really want to do.
This directly contradicts #2.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am absolutely not convinced that becoming a morning person is the key to superiority. Maybe the key to feeling superior; I wouldn't know. But we only have about 16 hours to get stuff done that isn't sleep, and to me it doesn't matter when those 16 hours occur.
But if you have to shift your sleep schedule, the best way I know to do that is not to work backwards. That is, don't just try to go to sleep at 10 and get up at 6 (for an eight-hour sleep cycle). Instead, take some time, if you can, and work it forward: go to bed an hour later, and really try to sleep for exactly 8 hours. Stay up for 17 hours, not 16. Repeat the following night, and again until you have the schedule you need.
So, like, if you're used to going to bed at midnight and getting up at 8, and you need to start getting up at 5 for a shitty commute or some such, you can't just try to sleep at 9 and call it a night (pun intended). No, find a way to take the time to shift forward. First night: Hit bed at 1, set alarm for 9. Make yourself stay awake until 2. Set alarm for 10. Stay up to 3 am. Set alarm for 11. And so on, until you hit your 9pm-5am target.
Of course, lots of people can't take the time off to do that, what with family and work commitments. But it's still the best way I know to reset one's clock.
"But Waltz, you just said you're a night owl!" Well, yeah, but when I travel I like to wake up earlier, use the daylight. It's not my natural schedule, but I'm adaptable. To an extent.
|I pick these links at random from a fairly long list of potential things to talk about. Today's link fortuitously coincides with the release of Western Stars, the Springsteen concert movie. But it's not about new music - it's about something that hit the record stores (for such things existed then) half of Bruce's lifetime ago.
What Does 'Born In The U.S.A.' Really Mean?
In the summer of '84 I was working long, arduous hours, outdoors, as a surveyor's assistant. This is probably where I got my utter hatred of unenclosed spaces from; it certainly wasn't the farm I spent my childhood on. Getting covered with poison ivy and stung by angry yellow jackets can do that to a kid.
But that was the summer that Born in the USA was released, and I was a Springsteen fan even then. I thought about asking my boss for the day off so I could buy the album - in LP format, of course - but he wasn't the type who would understand. In one of the many lucky coincidences involving me and Springsteen-related things, though, it rained that day so I wasn't working after all.
So I went to the shopping mall (80s, remember), bought the album, and went home to listen to the thing. That's how we did things back then, pre-internet.
If you're listening closely, the lyrics of "Born in the U.S.A." make its subject pretty clear: The 1984 hit by Bruce Springsteen describes a Vietnam War veteran who returns home to desperate circumstances and few options. Listen only to its surging refrain, though, and you could mistake it for an uncomplicated celebration of patriotism. You wouldn't be the only one.
This was about the time I first started realizing that most people don't listen to music the way I do. The big "hit" from that album was "Dancing in the Dark," a decent enough song, but all anyone else could talk about was the music video. I felt it was the weakest song on the album, though - everything else sounded like it was done in two or three takes, but that one song suffered from typical 80s overproduction. I found out later that I was right - the rest of the album was basically live.
But that asshole Reagan - he talked about the title track, all right. And got it entirely wrong.
By playing on the hope, Reagan seemed to overlook the despair.
That's a... generous way to put it.
"After it came out, I read all over the place that nobody knew what it was about," [Springsteen] said before performing "Born in the U.S.A" to a crowd in 1995. "I'm sure that everybody here tonight understood it. If not — if there were any misunderstandings out there — my mother thanks you, my father thanks you and my children thank you, because I've learned that that's where the money is."
See? Still a capitalist.
Maybe the meaning of "Born in the U.S.A." is the distance between the grim verses and the joyous chorus. It's the space between frustrating facts and fierce pride — the demand to push American reality a bit closer to our ideals.
The title of this blog is "Complex Numbers," with the mathematical definition front and center, but it's actually a multileveled play on words - "numbers" also refers to pieces of music, and I'm fascinated by the emergence of complexity from simplicity.
|A rare "numbers" entry today.
How to Understand Extreme Numbers
One of the many things that bug me but probably shouldn't is when someone uses the expression "almost infinite." This grates like "very unique," which is different in that it's an unnecessary intensifier, while "almost infinite" is utterly meaningless.
There are, of course, things that might as well be infinite for all that we're ever going to be able to count them individually, such as the number of atoms in the observable universe. A huge, immense, unbelievably large number in our experience - but just as far away from infinity as the number 42.
You know what else bugs me a lot? Pedantry. So I'll shut up about this now.
Not a lot of research has been done on how our minds perceive and comprehend large orders of magnitude—big differences between the size of, say, a cell and our sun.
One of the things I appreciate most about science communication is when someone gives relative sizes, such as "an atom is as much smaller than a human as a human is to the visible universe." (Note: I didn't look this up, so I may be a bit off on the actual relative sizes; don't quote me on this.) Such comparisons make things that are very hard to visualize slightly less hard to visualize.
But about 35 percent of people in the study used what the authors call a “segmented linear heuristic.” That means they correctly distinguish between numbers within the millions or billions, but assume that “million,” “billion,” and “trillion” are equally spaced on a number line. They were generally great at comparing the relative sizes of numbers like 2 million and 800 million, but many treated 980 million and 2 billion as nearly identical.
Well, we're used to logarithmic scales on big-number charts, so that doesn't surprise me much.
Of course, our ancient human ancestors didn’t live among billions of people, or incur trillions of dollars of debt. The orders of magnitude in their immediate surroundings were limited to what they could experience firsthand. It’s not surprising that we can intuitively visualize a 6-inch or 6-mile distance, but 93 million miles to the sun seems…super far.
Ah, yes, the inevitable and unsupported-by-evidence "evolutionary psychology" nod. I wish they'd stop that shit. (I'm not saying they're wrong; just that it's basically guesswork.)
So how can we make large numbers more easily graspable? A group at Microsoft is working on it.
And then you, too, can grasp the concepts of large numbers, for a low subscription price of $79.99/year. If you ever forget how to do it, just turn your brain off and then on again.
When scientists navigate their way through extreme numbers in their daily work, they aren’t constantly comparing enormous or miniscule measurements to units of everyday life. Instead, their fields have their own perspectives relative to different units.
You know what I learned today? Well, technically yesterday. You know what I learned yesterday? I learned that quantum physicists have a name for the amount of time it takes for a photon to cross the distance of the width of a proton. I shouldn't have to tell anyone this, but that is a mind-bogglingly small amount of time. So instead of saying, like, 10-24 seconds (or whatever the actual value is) they call it... a jiffy.
I'm not kidding. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiffy_(time) (Other disciplines use the word for other measures of time, apparently.)
Same kind of reason why cosmologists measure distances in parsecs or light-years instead of kilometers, only in the other direction.
“Things that are so far removed from our daily experience—like quarks, and dinosaurs, and Kim Kardashian—are inherently hard to understand,” extreme numbers included.
Oh, look, a funny guy mathematician.