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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1196512
Rated: 18+ · Book · Personal · #1196512
Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

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.


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December 8, 2018 at 12:33am
December 8, 2018 at 12:33am
#947045
A couple of days ago I mentioned the survivorship fallacy. Well, here's a bit on that and a few other cognitive biases we tend to have.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/5-common-mental-errors-that-sway-you-from-mak...

1. Survivorship Bias.

I won't go into this further. I think the article is clear enough, and I already talked about it.

2. Loss Aversion.

Loss aversion refers to our tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. Research has shown that if someone gives you $10 you will experience a small boost in satisfaction, but if you lose $10 you will experience a dramatically higher loss in satisfaction. Yes, the responses are opposite, but they are not equal in magnitude.


I've tried to train myself to reverse this. That's helpful for me because I'm a gambler. I also have money in the stock market. No, those are not the same thing, but they do have one commonality: you win sometimes, and you lose sometimes. But I see loss aversion catered to in stock market analysis all the time; lately, the markets have been on a bear tear and people are freaking the fuck out. Any downturn is exacerbated by panic selling.

Don't get me wrong; losing money never feels good. But it can feel less bad if you're aware of this kind of bias.

3. The Availability Heuristic.

The Availability Heuristic refers to a common mistake that our brains make by assuming that the examples which come to mind easily are also the most important or prevalent things.

For example, research by Steven Pinker at Harvard University has shown that we are currently living in the least violent time in history. There are more people living in peace right now than ever before. The rates of homicide, rape, sexual assault, and child abuse are all falling.


Okay, we're going to use fancy words like "heuristic?" That strikes me as being obfuscatory. What this bit boils down to is this: While anecdotes can make compelling narratives, intelligent decisions can only be made on hard data. I'm sure you've already heard that "data" isn't the plural form of "anecdote."

For example, many people are afraid of flying. While some fear is understandable because you're putting your life into someone else's hands, much of the fear - of being killed in a plane crash, of getting hijacked, etc. - is almost groundless (see what I did there?) You have a much greater chance of being killed driving to and from an airport than in transit between airports. But what happens is, all but the worst highway incidents don't make international news, while every incident involving an airplane gets reported all over the world, so we start to think of flying as a hazardous proposition.

Make no mistake, there are dangers - life is inherently risky - but really, you're more likely to kick it by slipping in the shower than in a plane crash.

Or hey, maybe I'm just trying to psych myself up; I have a plane to catch in about 8 hours.

4. Anchoring.

There is a burger joint close to my hometown that is known for gourmet burgers and cheeses. On the menu, they very boldly state, “LIMIT 6 TYPES OF CHEESE PER BURGER.”

My first thought: This is absurd. Who gets six types of cheese on a burger?

My second thought: Which six am I going to get?

I didn't realize how brilliant the restaurant owners were until I learned about anchoring. You see, normally I would just pick one type of cheese on my burger, but when I read “LIMIT 6 TYPES OF CHEESE” on the menu, my mind was anchored at a much higher number than usual.


I have to admit I fall for this one all the time. But I'm working on it.

5. Confirmation Bias.

The Grandaddy of Them All. Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to search for and favor information that confirms our beliefs while simultaneously ignoring or devaluing information that contradicts our beliefs.


Yeah, this is a big one. It's one of the reasons I try not to stay in an information bubble. But it's also the hardest to deal with, because it works both ways. The article uses the example of climate change. It's a hot-button (see what I did there) topic in many forums on the internet. As far as I've been able to determine, not one single person's mind has changed on the issue based on arguments started on the internet. On the contrary, at some point, any information contrary to what a person believes only causes that person to believe even more deeply. Data is dismissed as falsified. Charts are thrown out as bogus.

Internet arguments are stupid for many reasons, but this is a big one: you're not going to change anyone's mind with any number of anecdotes, any amount of data, any quantity of reason, or any pure charismatic persuasiveness.

I've found this to be the case even with things that have a lot less potentially at stake than climate change. For instance, a lot of people seem to have internalized the definition of "blue moon" as the second full moon in a calendar month. This has been proven to be incorrect from a historical perspective, and yet when I present evidence of that, people go right on believing, promoting, and propagating the incorrect definition. Now, you could say that I'm being stubborn in clinging to the older, true definition, and you'd be right. That doesn't change the fact that the "second in a month" definition is based on an admitted error in a publication from the 1940s. To me, it's a perfect example of how falsehoods get entrenched and then promoted as fact.

If you can't persuade someone of something with such an insignificant outcome, how can you hope to persuade them about, say, vaccinations, climate change, or the nearly-spherical nature of the planet?

As a result of confirmation bias, any internet argument that doesn't dissolve into chaos will always bog down into epistemology. This is Waltz's Second Rule of the Internet, and I haven't found any evidence to contradict it. But then, I'd probably ignore said evidence anyway.

(For anyone interested, Waltz's First Rule of the Internet is that any post attempting to correct someone's spelling, grammar, or punctuation will inevitably contain spelling, grammar or punctuation errors.)


NOTE: I'm going to be traveling over the next 11 days, so updates will be spotty if they happen at all. But if you don't hear from me after that, feel free to enjoy the irony of me dying in a plane crash mere hours or days after insisting how safe air travel is.
December 7, 2018 at 12:03am
December 7, 2018 at 12:03am
#946988
Another year, another shitstorm about holiday songs.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-46425160

Baby, It's Cold Outside is one of those Christmas songs that's about as traditional as mince pies.

But an American radio station's decision to pull it from playlists because it's seen as unsuitable in the #MeToo era has reignited a debate about the song, and raised questions about other potentially questionable Christmas classics.


First of all, let me state outright that my life would not be lessened in any way if I never heard another holiday song. It would, in fact, be improved. Ideally, I would never step into a store and be bombarded with "White Christmas" or "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" or especially "I'll be Home for Christmas."

There are a few that I can tolerate, but for the most part, if I never had to hear another Christmas song, I'd be happy. Or at least a little less depressed, which for me amounts to the same thing.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I'm going to talk about the controversial songs.

What a lot of people miss when consuming media - be it audio, video, or whatever - is historical context. The platitude about people who don't learn from history being doomed to repeat it holds true here.

Things were different in the past. That's why we call it the past. Lots of things that were created in the past couldn't be created today, not in the same way. Blazing Saddles comes to mind. That movie was a product of the 1970s just as sure as Watergate and disco were. Movies like that one were created to shine a spotlight on the stupid attitudes of the time, and played a role in eliminating them. Once these attitudes became obsolete, a lot of the context of the movie was lost. If you don't know what race relations were like in the 70s, you'll miss a lot of the subtext.

As writers, one of the greatest things we can hope for is that something that we write - be it a story or a song or whatever - helps to change things. In the process, often the writer's work becomes obsolete. People later will miss the point, unless they understand the historical context. It's a bit like doctors working to eradicate disease - once it's eradicated, people in the future will start to wonder what all the fuss was about. Hence you get some of the most egregious types of reactionary in the present, like anti-vaxxers. Lacking the historical context of polio outbreaks and measles epidemics, they just don't understand why people make a big deal out of vaccination.

The song in question - and make no mistake, I think it's just as crap as any other "holiday" song - was a product of its time, and a wish for things to be different. Well, now things are different. We're closer to social equality than ever before. We're open to different expressions of gender identity. Things that once were forbidden are now commonplace - and that's not a bad thing.

But if we forget where we came from, the road that took us to this place where we are, we risk going back to it. You can try to make this a generational thing - I'm going to save my rant about "generations" for another entry, as this one's going on long enough - but it's not so much about generations as it is about ignoring history. Yes, things were worse in many ways in the 40s. But to know exactly how they were different can only highlight how far we've come, and how far we still need to go.

And I think the bigger problem is that once-respected news organizations like the BBC are quoting Twatter. If anything needs to go away, it's not old Christmas songs; it's shallow social media.

Let's work on that one, shall we?

I'll wrap this up with one of the few holiday songs I can stand:

December 6, 2018 at 12:33am
December 6, 2018 at 12:33am
#946926
I wanted to share this, not because I have a stake in the topic being discussed, but because my lack of a horse in the race means I have some tangential thoughts to share.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/well/family/the-fallacy-of-the-i-turned-out-f...

The column is ostensibly about child-spanking. To summarize, a soi-disant "parenting expert" (*Rolling*) from Down Under asserts that spanking should be a criminal offense (or offence or however they spell it in Oz), is nonplussed when a bunch of people disagree with him, and then goes on to demolish what he sees as their arguments.

I'm not overly familiar with the political situation in Australia, but first of all, it seems to me that "this practice is ineffective and probably dangerous" shouldn't automatically translate to "this practice should be a criminal offense." It's dangerous in itself to turn everything that we don't like into ban laws; also, a law of this sort strikes me as being especially easy to abuse. It's a basic idea in a so-called free country that not everything is either "permitted" or "banned." Some bad ideas can be handled with social pressure. For instance, I dare you to speak out against public breast-feeding. Go on. I triple-dog-dare you. There's no law against speaking out against public breast-feeding, nor, by our right to freedom of speech, should there be. But I guarantee that you will face a typhoon of scorn and ridicule that will make you wish you had never been born, let alone breast-fed.

I also wanted to point out that there is a such thing as making things too safe, for kids as well as for adults. Take away all the world's sharp corners, foam-pad all the walls and floors, and rope off anything that might pose even the slightest hazard to people, and that's what people will come to expect. They'll be wired to think that if something might be dangerous, there will be a barricade. And that if there is no barricade, it can't possibly be dangerous. Or, worse - you rope off areas of both minor and major hazard, so people get complacent about ignoring barricades. And that's how we get things like people sliding into the Grand Canyon   or boiling to death at Yellowstone.  

Life, in short, is full of risk, and there may be paradoxically more risk in protecting people all the time than in allowing for the occasional bump on the noggin. Or, to stay more on topic, the occasional light swat on the tuchis.

Unfortunately, if you don't foam-pad everything lawsuits happen, so the world just gets more and more covered with the illusion of safety.

Getting back to the article I originally linked, however, I'll just point out one fallacy that the author didn't even consider, which is the survivorship fallacy. "We didn't have car seats when I was a kid and I'm still alive." He covers that as "anecdotal fallacy" but doesn't go far enough. It doesn't take into account the loose kids bouncing around in station wagons who didn't make it to adulthood. Such a logical fallacy doesn't even require hazardous situations. You see it all the time in articles with such titles as "The Five Traits of a Successful Business Leader." The implication is that anyone with these traits will be successful, and completely ignores the vast majority of people with those traits who are standing in line at the food bank.

Well, that's enough for now. But I did want to say, one more time: "parenting expert." *Rolling*
December 5, 2018 at 12:45am
December 5, 2018 at 12:45am
#946869
I am fortunate in that, most days, I can set my own sleep schedule. Most people can't, due to work, kids or other obligations.

Previous entries have gone into more detail about this, but left to my own devices as I usually am, I'm basically biphasic, sleeping twice in a 24 hour period.

I've long believed, without any real evidence to support this, that everyone has their own sleep preferences, and that to disturb these sleep cycles leads to more stress. Well, now I might have some evidence.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/if-you-re-just-not-a-morning-person-science-s...

I've seen some of these assertions before - that humans have a greater-than-24-hour natural cycle, for instance. I recall one study that left people in a windowless, indoor environment without clocks for an extended period, and let them sleep and wake on their own. I think the study concluded the natural cycle is about 24.5 hours. Which is weird, because a) the earth's rotation is gradually slowing down due to tidal friction from the moon, so if anything we should have inherited a less-than-24-hour cycle from our distant ancestors, and b) Mars' day is approximately 24.5 hours, and we're probably not Martians. So I don't know what's up with that; as far as I know, no one does.

What's not controversial is that there are individual differences from the "standard" sleep cycle of 11pm-7am or thereabouts. I was on such a schedule for most of my working life, and it messed with me. The times when I could sleep past 7 were rare, but I always felt that those were the occasions when I got my best sleep. Further, trying to fall asleep around 11pm was a chore for me.

I still have questions, though, such as: what happens when someone with a nonstandard monophasic cycle switches time zones? Say, moving to another longitude. We know that jet lag is a thing, but usually it's overcome in a few days of adjusting one's internal clock to local time. But can this be used to adjust, say, someone who sleeps from 2-10 in one time zone to adapt to an 11-7 schedule in another, without too much stress?

Seasonal variations in daylight hours almost certainly play a role in this as well. Right now where I am, it gets dark around 5; in the summer, during DST, darkness might not occur until 9pm, with sunrise coming earlier (I don't know offhand when sunrise happens, for the obvious reason that I'm asleep at the time). And we know that many people, myself included, "enjoy" seasonal mood swings related to the amount of light we get from the accursed daystar.

But probably the worst thing about being a night owl is suffering the scorn of morning people. I used to vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year, with a bunch of friends, and I was usually the last one to go to sleep and the last to awaken (I don't believe in keeping strict time schedules on vacation). Inevitably, I'd get up around the crack of noon, and everyone else would be all sarcastic with their "Morning, sunshine" and "It's alive!" It got on my nerves, and then my friends wondered why I'm antisocial.

Now, I could probably fix some of that by kicking the caffeine habit, but I don't really want to. In fact, I tried it a few times when I was working, but all it did was make me grumpier and give me a headache, so these trials never lasted very long. Perhaps now, when I can pretty much set my own schedule, I could try tapering off on the wakey-wakey juice to see what my unmedicated cycle might be like. But honestly, for the same reason that I can, I don't feel a pressing need to do so. I have far more urgent habits to revise, such as eating better and getting more exercise. Fortunately, there's a 24-hour gym nearby. Unfortunately, I can't be arsed to go to it at any time. Too many other things to do.

So I'll just urge everyone here to recognize that sleeping late is in no way a moral failing; it's natural for many people. Leave us alone and can the snark. We'll get up early if there's something to do; otherwise, let us sleep and don't give us shit about it.
December 4, 2018 at 12:43am
December 4, 2018 at 12:43am
#946804
I got hit by anxiety yesterday.

Historically, this isn't something that happens to me. I mean, sure, maybe if there's a specific thing generating it, like public speaking or having to go to a party where I don't know many people, I'll feel a bit nervous, or whatever you call it. But this is the first time I can remember just feeling it with no obvious reason.

I don't like it.

The only thing I can figure is after a long time, I'm finally feeling like being social again. I feel something other than a generalized sense of malaise and the certainty of impending doom. Those things, though, I've gotten used to. They comfort me. If this is what actual emotion feels like, then... no, thanks. I'd rather stay depressed.

Fortunately, there is beer.

This evening, BJ's (a chain brewery, but a decent one) had a Belgian Grand Cru style beer. It is delicious. I almost didn't go home.

But even I can't drink beer all the time. Mostly I imbibe Coke Zero; I want the caffeine but not the sugar/HFCS of regular sodas. And don't give me that "aspartame will kill you" crap; there are worse things out there.

Also, there's tea.

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/best-teas-energy-digestion-sleep-more-ncna...

Tea is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world (next to water), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. While coffee drinking overshadows tea consumption in the United States, the Tea Association of the U.S.A. reports that 80 percent of American households have some form of tea in the cupboard, and more than 159 million Americans drink it on a daily basis.


I utterly despise coffee. Never got a taste for it. This, apparently, sets me apart from civilization in general. As an American, I'm supposed to be addicted to coffee. I think it's written into the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that coffee is the national beverage..."

But no, apparently I never got the memo. Can't abide the stuff. The smell gives me a headache, and being around people with coffee breath is probably the source of my antisocial tendencies. But that's okay, because once I tell people I don't drink coffee, they look at me like I'm a reptilian alien from Antares 7. It's like:

"I don't have kids."

"That's cool."

"I'm an atheist."

"Hey, I understand."

"I don't drink coffee."

"WHAT THE STEAMING PILE OF FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?"

So like I said, there's tea. "So why don't you just drink tea instead of that nasty cola?" Well, because for me, even the most highly caffeinated teas put me to sleep. I can drink a pot of black tea just before bedtime and sleep like a... well, not like a baby, because babies wake up every hour and a half which is why I never wanted one, so let's say sleep like a computer that's been powered down and unplugged.

If I drink it with breakfast, all I want to do is go back to sleep. It's nice when I want to relax, though. I can drink non-caffeinated herbal teas, but there's no freakin' point in drinking decaffeinated tea.

My favorite tea isn't on the list I linked above. It's harder to find in the US, but I've ordered it from Amazon. Its name is going to trigger your inner Beavis and Butthead, so let's just get that out of the way right now:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pu%27er_tea

When you're done snickering like a 10 year old, I'll continue. Meanwhile, I'm going to go make me a pot of the stuff.

Ready?

Okay.

So yeah, Pu'er is strong, dark, earthy and bold. I drink it straight, or sometimes with just a bit of lemon because steeping it too long sometimes brings out a hint of bitterness. With a fairly high level of caffeine, it does what no other drink can do for me: make me relaxed and alert at the same time. It's a weird feeling.

And it sure beats the hell out of anxiety.
December 3, 2018 at 12:30am
December 3, 2018 at 12:30am
#946746
They say it is important to have goals.

https://thetakeout.com/ramen-lord-perfect-bowl-of-ramen-mike-satinover-183012867...

There's focus, and then there's obsession. At least the guy admits to the obsession.

I just consider myself a ramen nerd. A wholly obsessed ramen nerd who loves to read academic articles about gluten development in noodle doughs, a nerd who’s spent way too much money on pasta machines that then broke through the rigor of making noodle dough, a nerd who—intentionally—owns six different types of bowls to suit various ramen styles.


"I don’t count the 99-cent noodle packets" - 99 cent? Where in the slippery hell are they charging that much for ramen? I shop at a moderately upscale grocery store and they're selling 6-packs for a buck and a half. That's 25 cents a pack for the math-challenged. Not that I eat much of that anymore, myself - my cardiologist would kill me if the sodium didn't do the job for him.

Dude must be shopping at Whole Foods.

Not that I never eat it. It's just too cheap and simple to pass up. And yes, I've eaten the similar Vietnamese-derived dish called pho.

Pho, as you probably already know, is pronounced more like "phuh." Which almost makes me wish I had what it took to start my own line of instant pho. I have good reasons for this.

I'd call it Pho King. The tagline would be "Awesome." So on every pack it'd say "Pho King Awesome." You buy the instant pho mix because you're Pho King lazy.

The basic package would be called the Pho Kit. Not feeling like standing in a Pho queue? Don't want to cook an elaborate meal? Pho Kit!

Being cheaply produced, though, it might make people sick - but then they can just Pho Cough.

But alas, it is not to be. Still, if I see it anywhere, I'll have this entry to point to and say, nope, I thought of it first; give me kickbacks.

Anyway. Ramen.

Learning to craft an A+ bowl of ramen is now my life goal. Maybe A+ is never possible, perfection is a impossible pursuit after all, but the path of getting closer and closer to that immaculate, flawless bowl intrigues me.


That's remarkably similar to something I've said about writing. How we can keep practicing, writing, trying different styles, and yet never be perfect. And yet, the reward is in the attempt.

I'm not used to thinking that way. This is new to me.

I've never stuck with one thing long enough to get really good at it. There's always something else to try, something shiny off in the corner of my vision. Again, this has its advantages, but seeing this description of someone doing a deep-dive into soup - so to speak - makes me think I might be missing out.

Meanwhile, now I'm hungry. Dammit. Wish I had a Pho Kit.
December 2, 2018 at 12:31am
December 2, 2018 at 12:31am
#946684
You will be replaced by a machine.

Yes, you. Well, unless you retire or croak before the machine gets a chance. Many replacements have already happened (assembly line workers, cashiers), and many more are on the way (see: autonomous vehicles).

But maybe you never considered that a computer could write better than you can. Not yet, but they're working on it.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-six-main-arcs-in-storytelling-as-identifi...

Until that happens, there are some pretty good takeaways in the above link for us soon-to-be obsolete human writers:

*Donut4* A story's emotional arc can be used to assist in plotting the narrative. The article identifies several of these arcs, and hints at the idea of nesting them within a longer story. We can use this consciously, whereas I think a lot of writers do it unconsciously.

*Donut4* Be aware of which words people find to be "happy" or "unhappy," which may not correspond to your own opinion. For example, "laughter" is in the list of happy words, but because of unresolved issues from childhood, it's doesn't register that way for me.

*Donut4* Have a look at the "Rags to Riches" archetype graph. It's maybe 2/3 down the page. Well, I was expecting a kind of ascending line; I mean, that's the implication, right? You're poor, which sucks; good shit happens, and then you're rich, which is awesome. But no, instead we have something resembling a partial sine curve, right? Curves down, bottoms out near the beginning, rises more or less smoothly to a peak... but the peak is not at the end; there's a downturn right before the end. It's implying that a rags-to-riches story can't just stop at the high point; there has to be, perhaps, some acknowledgement that everything's not as awesome as we'd hope. I mean, that drop-off at the end is pretty sharp.

*Donut4* Going back to near the beginning of the article, yeah, I'm gonna part with ol' Kurt on his opinion of the similarity between the Cinderella narrative and the Bible. I mean, I think he's right about the Cinderella plot shape, that works, but to apply that to the Bible you pretty much have three chapters of Genesis, then you fall into a great big hole, and then you don't climb back out until you get to the New Testament. It ignores the shapes of all the stories in between, such as the whole "escape from Egypt" and "Joshua kills half the Canaanites and enslaves the rest" bits. Besides, the Fall was the best thing that ever happened to us. Or, you know, it would be if I took the story seriously.

*Donut4* I want to see this work replicated independently. I'm not sure there wasn't some kind of selection or other bias.

Anyway, thought I'd link something that's actually about writing, for once. Not that it'll do me any good. I'm still too lazy to work on my own stories. At least I can get these entries done.
December 1, 2018 at 1:13am
December 1, 2018 at 1:13am
#946630
I like money.

By this, I don't mean that I want to fill my Olympic-sized swimming pool with bills of various denominations and go swimming in it - though, to be fair, I do - but I think the whole concept of money is fascinating.

So I was intrigued by this article:

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-46343965

New £50 note scientist nominations released

The Bank of England has released a list of scientists who have been nominated to feature on the new £50 note.

On the list are computing pioneers Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace, telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell and astronomer Patrick Moore.


See, this is one area where I think the UK is right and the US is not as right. Oh, sure, some of their bills have the Queen on them, and that's fine, but they also take the opportunity to honor people who actually contribute to society.

In the early years of the US, we couldn't exactly put the King on our currency, because as a new country we had to flaunt our independence and all that rot. But, being a new country, we didn't have a lot of other role models. Historically, coins and, later, bills featured kings, emperors, and other figures we deliberately did away with. So they used, primarily, personifications of the ideals upon which our country was (supposedly) founded; notably, Lady Liberty.

Later, we apparently decided that leaders were worthy of having their portraits on currency after all, so we started putting dead people on them (this was a break from the common practice of putting the current king, emperor, or whatever on the money). Huh... I wonder if that's the origin of the word currency, but probably not and I can't be arsed to look it up. More likely it's from the kind of current you get in a river.

Anyway, so here in 2018 we have the following on our bills:

$1 George Washington, first President, traitor to the Crown, crappy general, slaveholder, rich bastard.
$2 Thomas Jefferson, third President, slaveboner, hypocrite (did design a pretty nice-looking university though).
$5 Abraham Lincoln, some number President, can't think of anything bad to say about him.
$10 Alexander Hamilton, not even a President, couldn't win a duel to save his life, inspiration for the most hipster play in history.
$20 Andrew Jackson, some number President, should have been named Andrew Jackass, racist dickwad.
$50 Ulysses S. Grant, has distinction of having the most badass name of any President ever, otherwise unremarkable.
$100 Benjamin Franklin, not a President. Inventor, philosopher, philanthropist, economist, statesman.

Of those, the only one of those even remotely qualifying as a scientist was Ben Franklin. Objectively also the most awesome of the bunch. I mean, come on, dude was chill as fuck and flew kites before kites were cool, so I guess technically he was a hipster, too. Best role model of all the Founders, and yes, I say this knowing full well what he got up to in France. If every American aspired to be Ben Franklin instead of that douchebucket Andrew Jackson, we'd all be better off as a country.

So yeah, I think it's time we put our own damn scientists on the money instead of dead presidents. We've had a few good ones, like... um... okay, now I'm racking my brains trying to come up with American scientists who were actually born in and lived their lives in the US. Um... Richard Feynman? George Washington Carver? I could google it, I suppose, but I'm lazy. Einstein comes to mind, but I'm thinking it'd have to be someone born in the US, like with presidents. That leaves out Tesla, too. Dammit, most of our scientists were immigrants. I suppose you could argue that they all were, unless you can think of a Native American scientist.

Okay, England, you win the scientist war. We still have better musi- DAMMIT.

Maybe we should just acknowledge reality and put capitalists on money. Rockefeller, Carnegie, that lot. That's one category of people we're good at producing, and besides, their business was money.

Just let's keep Ben Franklin, because he was awesome.
November 30, 2018 at 12:47am
November 30, 2018 at 12:47am
#946577
I've been hanging around on the internet for a long, long time.

While I can't say I was an early adopter, I was browsing newsgroups and visiting websites at some point before 1995. I don't recall exactly when. One of the first things I got into was IRC, which had bugger-all to do with the World Wide Web, but it was social media before social media was even a thing.

I chatted with a lot of people there, most of us hiding behind aliases for our own protection. I even met some of them "IRL," as we called it. Some of them are still my friends.

"IRL" was early webspeak for "In Real Life." There was, then, this sense of separation between meatspace and cyberspace, that anything that happened online didn't really count.

I knew better from the beginning.

These people I spoke with were just that - people. No different from the folks I'd meet in my job or activities, except that they were spread out all over the world. While the internet wasn't as ubiquitous then as it is now, it was widespread enough so it wasn't just other people from the US that I'd be talking to.

That, to me, was the draw. I think a lot of people go on the net looking for like-minded individuals - and there's nothing wrong with that; I do it as well - but I was always open to another perspective, possibly from people completely different from me.

Inevitably, I'd find that they weren't so different, after all. At least, we could find some common ground. Age, gender, race, nationality, sexual identity, religion, favorite sports team, whatever - all that becomes secondary to who the person is.

Now, it's often different. People identify themselves by how they fit into these categories. That's okay, but it does focus on what separates us rather than on what unites us.

It seems to me that everyone wants to be unique in some way. That's easy enough if you've only got a few other people around. When I was in high school, I was one of about 300 in my graduating class, 1200 total in the school. I went to university and I was but one out of 20,000. After that, when competing for jobs, I was one of 40,000.

On the internet, I'm one of 7 billion. And so are you.

Excelling in a milieu like that is tantamount to winning a lottery. It's not just a matter of not being a big fish in a small pond; it's more like being a piece of plankton floating in the Pacific.

So there's this tension - a sense of competitiveness. A pull between wanting to be unique and wanting to fit in. This woman has 20,000 Tweeter followers. This man's YouTube channel has 50,000 subscribers. What can the rest of us do except follow along?

I figured out early on that there's nothing that I can do that someone else hasn't already done, and better than I could possibly do it. Nothing I can say that hasn't already been said, in a more elegant or satisfying manner. Nothing I can invent that someone else hasn't already patented and started making money on. No jokes that haven't already been told to death. And nothing I can write that would ever stand out amidst the teeming billions of writers.

The best I can hope for is to connect with someone, occasionally. And I'm okay with that. So thanks for reading, and - specifically addressing this to others in the November blog challenge - thanks for writing. I'm supposed to cite one new fact I've learned about a fellow blogger this month. Incidentally, just to see if you're actually reading this, anyone who comments on this entry before the end of today based on website time will get a season ticket chosen at random. Just throwing that in here as a thanks for reading this far. So anyway, one new fact about a fellow blogger?

That's tough, because, as with the early days I mentioned above, I've learned a lot of things about a lot of people. I don't think I really knew most of you other bloggers before this started; of course, I don't think I really know you now, apart from what you've chosen to show us in your writing. If I mention one author, or a few, I feel like I'm shafting the others. But mentioning everybody would be an even more daunting task. Just know that I've appreciated reading all of the different entries and seeing everyone's perspective on things.

So I don't even want to tag anyone here; therefore, I'm not going the {user:name} route. If I have to call out just one person, I'll make it pwheeler. She and I are obviously very different (well, except for the cat thing), and yet I've learned a few things from her entries, notably about food. And food, as you know by now, is one of my favorite things, as long as it isn't too healthy.

Just another example of finding commonality, I suppose. We could do with more of that. Arguments and debates have their place, of course, but in the end, aren't we all just people trying to make our way through the crowd? Don't answer that - someone's bound to say "no, some of us are lizard aliens from Antares 7" or something.

That someone is usually me, so I'm nipping that right in the bud.
November 29, 2018 at 12:45am
November 29, 2018 at 12:45am
#946502
So, it has come to this: my penultimate entry into "30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+].

We've been asked to come up with potential prompts for future rounds of the contest. Now, keep in mind that for the last 10+ years, I've come up with prompts for "The Writer's Cramp [13+] approximately once a week, usually at the last minute, but I still have no idea what makes a good prompt - whether for a story or poem, as in the case of the Cramp, or for a blog entry. Still, it's easier to come up with ideas than it is to actually execute them, so let's give this a shot. Grab your donuts.

*Donut5* Write a blog entry from the point of view of your evil (or benevolent, as the case may be) twin. Be sure to have the twin plot your downfall.

*Donut5* Write a letter to your parents from before your birth, warning them about what horrors lurk in their future in the form of you.

*Donut5* Include the following words in your blog entry: syzygy, nihilism, ramifications, turtleneck, and theobromine.

*Donut5* Describe a missed opportunity you encountered, and how things might be different if you hadn't missed it.

*Donut5* Start your blog entry with "So, it has come to this..." and go from there.

*Donut5* Write about an invention that would make your life better... or worse.

Eh, I think I'll stop there. That's six prompts, and I'll have to save some ideas for if I do this challenge again.

One of my favorite things about blogging; that is, one of the reasons I keep doing it in these days of bumper-sticker sound bites, selfies, and superficial life updates, is the opportunity to go into depth about something. I've said before that I'm not one for depth, opting instead for breadth, but some things just can't be expressed with any kind of nuance in 140 characters or fewer. I appreciate one-liners as much as anyone and more than most, but the brief formats of social media just can't do justice to a lot of ideas.

Consequently, when it comes to these blog prompts, I like it when I have to think (but not too hard - that would be work). So if I had to pick my favorite challenge day theme, it'd be "Talk Tuesdays," where I'm sometimes guided to consider things I haven't considered before. But honestly, I've enjoyed most of the prompts, and I've especially liked seeing other points of view on the same topics expressed in other contestants' blogs - and their comments in mine.

In this month-long exercise, I've tried to make the prompts my own, to go beyond what was asked for. But I've also put off writing about some of the things I want to write about. That's okay; I like having a backlog of potential topics, and I can always get to them after tomorrow's final Challenge entry.

I do hope you will stick around for that.
November 28, 2018 at 1:14am
November 28, 2018 at 1:14am
#946444
I haven't always liked beer.

This is probably because of one of my first experiences with beer, which involved a bunch of other underage drinkers, a houseboat, and this swill.  

I suppose I should be grateful for that, because if I actually enjoyed drinking when I was in college, I might not have graduated. As it is, I drank to be social, and I got used to the mass-produced crap that passes for beer in the US, which has the distinction of being cheap enough for fraternities to buy it by the keg.

Like many college students, I drank to get drunk.

And then, one day, around this time of year oh, about maybe 25 years ago, I went to a local brewery - one of the first in this area - with some friends. I don't remember exactly what or who convinced me to try it, but there was a Russian Imperial Stout brewed on premises.

Rarely does a person change their opinions when presented with logic or facts. Occasionally, an appeal to emotion will work, but even then, you're facing down the weight of that person's supposedly secure knowledge, which will, studies have shown, persist even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Their ego gets so wrapped up in being right that their minds simply do not process conflicting data. It's dismissed: fake news.

I try not to be that kind of person. I'm sure I must have some deeply-held personal beliefs to which I stubbornly cling, because everyone does, but the nature of these things is that unless they're pointed out to me, I won't even know that I'm wrong. But once it is pointed out to me, I do make an honest effort to revise my thinking. Sometimes, though, it's not logic nor emotion, but experience that proves to be the trigger to a new way of thinking.

And this particular beer, this... nectar of the gods, it changed my perception of everything.

No more was beer to be a cheap way to alter consciousness. From the moment the dark, magical liquid touched my lips, I was a changed man. It was the beginning of my alcohol-positive lifestyle: not about getting drunk, or being social, or succumbing to peer pressure, but about enjoyment, about immersing oneself into the experience of the sublime. Not about drinking to excess, but about drinking to access - to access the joy that can be so elusive in sober life.

It is a state that I term beerenity, although it can be achieved through other libations also.

True happiness is rare and fragile, but I found mine, and it was all because I was willing to try something new. Naturally, sometimes when I try something new, it doesn't work out so well; but sometimes it does, and I never know until I try.
November 27, 2018 at 12:32am
November 27, 2018 at 12:32am
#946378
I'm not on good terms with food.

I have almost no self-control, so left to my own devices, I'd be eating pizza and cheeseburgers every day.

It wasn't always that way. In a complete reversal of the way I've always heard things are supposed to be, I had more self-control when I was younger. I think I ran out, or maybe I just realized that having discipline never got me anywhere, while indulging myself got me immediate gratification. I figured I could force myself to eat kale, quinoa, and strawberries, hate life, and maybe get hit by a truck; or eat foods I actually enjoy like pepperoni pizza, and still maybe get hit by a truck after at least enjoying my meals.

Incidentally, I actually kinda like kale, quinoa, and strawberries - they're actually not bad mixed together, with maybe a bit of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and olive oil - but if I had to eat that every day, I'd go looking for the truck.

It occurred to me that if I eat more healthy food, I might actually be fast enough to get out of the way of an oncoming truck, so I make the attempt. But I have to make it as automatic as I can, and ensure there's variety with, yes, the occasional indulgence that would give my cardiologist a heart attack, such as bacon or a grilled cheese sandwich. Or a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. Dammit, now I'm hungry.

The key, I decided, was to take advantage of my innate laziness, and not get too complex with the food preparation. The less work I have to do, the less likely I am to say "Fuck it; I'm ordering pizza delivery." So I found a website that generates random meals based on calorie count targets, and it strives to balance macronutrients (carbs, protein, lipids) while providing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The downside? It's not cheap, especially since I can't be arsed to drag my lazy self to the grocery store twice a week (if I only go once a week, everything spoils by day 7). Thus, I get delivery, as I mentioned a few entries ago. And there's a lot of wasted food. I haven't figured out how to use everything I buy before it spoils, since the food industry is hell-bent on making things difficult for singles unless they want to buy single-serving microwave meals. Like, say, one meal calls for celery and almond butter. The almond butter will last a long time, but I might use one stalk of celery out of the entire bunch, and the rest gets thrown away or fed to my housemate's guinea pigs. So my choice is: eat high-sodium prepackaged foods, no waste, and die of another heart attack; or buy fresh foods and be unable to use them all before they go bad.

Which reminds me of a story. One time when I was in a non-shit-giving phase, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on microwave meals, frozen pizzas, snack foods, beer, breakfast cereal, and other easy food. Went through the line and the cute cashier looked at my selection and asked, "So, you're single, huh?"

I chuckled. "How could you tell?"

"Because you're ugly."

Anyway, I could probably find a way to use the foods a little more efficiently, but that would take work to get the meal plans just right, and I'm allergic to work. It cuts into my game-playing time. Consequently, I usually just go with the random food it generates, and only change out meals if they involve food I can't stand.

So that's how I discovered that kale, quinoa, and strawberries makes for a pretty good salad. But I'd still rather have pizza.
November 26, 2018 at 12:47am
November 26, 2018 at 12:47am
#946312
In my life as an adult, I've never done anything I didn't want to do.

Now, before you call bullshit on that, let me explain. It's a matter of framing.

Let's talk about a dirty toilet, for example. As I suspect is the case with most humans, you don't enjoy cleaning the toilet. But let's further say that you can't afford to pay a servant to do it for you, and you're unable to trick your kids into doing it, but there it is, a toilet, in your house, and it's got... stains... in the bowl, and maybe on the seat, too.

You want a clean toilet, but there's no one else who can make it clean; consequently, it stands to reason that you want to clean the toilet.

I mean, if you didn't want to clean the toilet, you wouldn't, and you'd decide that you can live with a dirty toilet, after all.

You can apply this to anything in life, at least anything that's a conscious decision. (Though there could be an argument about exactly what constitutes "consciousness," I'm not wading into that quagmire in this entry.) A college professor assigns you homework; you're not thrilled about the idea of doing homework, but you would like to graduate. The dog begs for a walk; it's 20 below out there and windy as hell, but you wouldn't like the dog to pee in the house. You run out of liquor, and you don't particularly feel like going to buy some more; but you want liquor, so you do so.

Maybe when you're a kid, things are different. Sometimes you do what your parents say, even if you don't want to. Or maybe there are things, as a kid or an adult, that get forced upon you whether you like it or not, but in that case, you're not consciously doing something you don't want to do; you've been thrust into a situation you didn't want to be in, which is different.

Now, you can, if you want, choose not to see it that way. You can frame it as "I don't want to clean the toilet." But that's how you end up resenting things in life, and that's no way to go around.

So I've never done anything I didn't want to do.

My problem is actually the polar opposite of this: I very often don't do the things I do want to do, like decluttering the kitchen or going to the gym. I know I want to do these things, and others, and yet, somehow, I don't get around to them. And that's a problem I haven't figured out how to reframe, yet.

Or maybe I just don't want to.
November 25, 2018 at 1:19am
November 25, 2018 at 1:19am
#946241
As some of you know, my entries this month have been based on prompts in "30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+].

I figured if I'm going to try to write here every day anyway, I might as well go outside my comfort zone a bit and attempt entries based on other peoples' ideas.

When I was a kid, one of the writing exercises I did was to open a book to a semi-random page, grab a phrase or sentence, and expand upon it. This isn't really much different. Sometimes it's easy, and the words just flow. Other times, I have to think about it a bit. The challenge for me is to do something to make it my own - usually by means of comedy.

For a while over the past few years, the only thing I was writing were newsletter editorials, usually 2 per month. I felt like they were using up my entire creative urge, and some months I struggled to find topics. But, as I noted several entries ago, I found it doesn't really work that way, not for me, at any rate. The more I write, the more ideas I get. The more ideas I get, the more I want to write.

I guess the advice you hear is worthwhile: a writer writes. Maybe it doesn't matter that not everything is profoundly deep or funny, as long as you're writing. I should have known, really; I used to be a photographer back in the days before that medium went all-digital, and my trick was always to shoot half a dozen rolls of film in hopes of getting just one good image. And I found, then, that the more I shot, the more frequent the good images became. So yeah, if I'd been thinking straight, I might have concluded that something similar would apply to writing.

Thinking straight isn't always my strong point. But writing helps with that, too.

The hardest part of this challenge, for me, has been to write about things I wouldn't normally give half a shit about. But at least I've found that I can still write about them. This is important, because while it's good to concentrate on the things you care about, it's also good to branch out and learn new things.

If I had it all to do over again, though, the only thing I'd change is throwing in more comedy. Maybe a brick joke, but brick jokes are more funny to the writer than to the reader (a brick joke is the metaphorical equivalent of throwing a brick up in the air at the beginning of a story, and then, at the end of the story, after everyone's quite forgotten about the brick, it conks someone on the head). Or more repeated themes; what could be funnier than if I somehow worked a duck into every entry? Ducks are inherently funny, silly waddling quacking dinosaurs that they are.

Anyway, I've got less than a week left of this, and then it's probably back to (mostly) riffing on crap I find on the internet. I've got a backlog, now. I keep getting targeted with breezy articles about how to increase one's productivity. For some reason, the algorithms-that-be have me pegged as someone who gives a damn about that sort of thing. Spoiler: I'm not. But I have yet to see an article about how to reduce one's productivity, which would be more my speed.

Guess I'll have to write one.
November 24, 2018 at 1:59am
November 24, 2018 at 1:59am
#946152
On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, “Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.” Back on Earth we call this Christmas. Or the Winter Solstice. On this world, the first settlers called it The Crystal Feast. You know what I call it? I call it expecting something for nothing!
         -Doctor Who, A Christmas Carol (2010)

Well, Black Friday Eve and Black Friday are over.

This can only mean one thing: endless reminders that it's the holiday seasontime for rampant consumerism.

The best thing I can say about this time of year is that it's not February. The abundant food, holiday cheer, and festive atmosphere are largely lost on me. When I was a kid, my family observed Hanukkah, and that was nice: eight days of gifts and candle-lighting. I learned pretty early on, though, that Hanukkah isn't "Jewish Christmas," no matter what well-meaning Christians tried to make it out to be. Don't get me wrong; I appreciated the attempts at inclusion, once I got old enough to understand more about the world. Even acknowledging that I was different (but that's okay) is a big step up from the historically prevalent anti-Semitism. But it still set me apart.

By definition, most people don't know what it's like to live someplace where their observances aren't shared by the majority. It can set a person apart, keep him feeling like an outsider.

But I'm grateful for that. I think it's made me a better person, in general; I can empathize with the marginalized, the square pegs in the round holes, those who never quite felt like they fit in - even people who had a much worse time of it than I did. But I never really wanted to conform to the social norms.

I can fit in when I try. Both times I married, it was to women from Christian families. Though neither of my exes were what you'd call religious, they and their families took Christmas (and Thanksgiving) for granted, and were open-minded enough to include me in their celebrations. I'd hang out, drink eggnog (the good stuff), exchange presents, stuff my face with cookies and the occasional candy cane, and otherwise participate in their celebrations. Mostly, they didn't care that I was different; I never felt pressured into the more religious aspects of the observances. Not really surprising, since both my ex-wives were even more of the rebel type than I am.

The only thing about this time of year that ever really resonated with me was the astronomical aspect. Axial tilt: it's the reason for the season! Long before there was a Christmas, there were solstice observances. If you've been paying attention, you probably already know that Christmas is when it is because they co-opted earlier celebrations. To watch the days get shorter and shorter, until one day, on the solstice, the daylight is as short as it ever can be at a particular place in the northern hemisphere, and knowing that, from there, there's nowhere to go but up - that's cause enough to celebrate.

And the thing is, with all of our different religions and quasi-religions and other groups into which we like to divide ourselves, that - the solstice - is one event that, if we wanted to, we could all agree on. Well, almost all. It'd be different in the tropics, and completely reversed south of the equator, but (for now) we're all sharing one planet and we could, were we so inclined, all acknowledge the natural cycles of sun, moon, and planet. It could be a point of commonality, something that binds us together, not only as humans, but as part of the larger domain of life. Which, as far as we can know for certain, only exists here on Earth. (Okay, chances are it's more widespread in this vast universe than that, but we don't know for sure yet, not to "kitten" levels of certainty.)

But we can't have that, can we? No, we have to argue about whose holidays are more correct to celebrate, which foods we should and shouldn't eat, whose deity is the right one (if any), hell, whether or not it's rude to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." The best we can do, some of us anyway, is to appreciate our differences and our diversity, and be accepting of those who are different from us; but for the most part, we can barely even acknowledge that we're all human and all on this ball spinning in the darkness together, let alone agree on any one thing that unites us as a species.

And that's why I dislike this time of year. For some, it's a time of joy and wishes for peace, sure, and that's commendable. But in practice, it's more divisive than uniting, and that's what I, from my perspective as a thoughtful and cynical outsider, see in it.

So yeah, I'd like to think that we're "halfway out of the dark." But that's more of an ideal than the reality.

Still... I think I'll hold on to that ideal a little while longer.
November 23, 2018 at 12:12am
November 23, 2018 at 12:12am
#946080
So, supposedly, Americans eat 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving.

That sounds like a lot, but let's put it in perspective. That's one turkey for every 7 people in the US.

For comparison,

https://brandongaille.com/27-great-pizza-consumption-statistics/

In the United States, an estimated 3 billion pizzas are sold every year.

That comes out to over 8.2 million pizzas a day. Every. Day. Not just on one holiday.

This only makes sense. There are only two reasons to eat turkey: 1) it's Thanksgiving; 2) you want a low-fat source of protein.

On the other hand, there is only one reason to eat pizza, but it's an overwhelmingly convincing one: 1) it's fucking delicious, because it's pizza.

Now, let me be clear: That stuff they sell in Chicago? It's not pizza. So if that's part of the statistics, it's wrong. This isn't opinion, but objective fact. Chicago "pizza" is casserole. I'm not saying I don't like it, but I am saying it's not pizza.

There is also exactly one place west of the Mississippi that makes decent pizza, and that's Las Vegas. They can do it because they're a cosmopolitan city with immigrants from all over, including New York. And the One True Pizza is the style they sell in New York. And don't even get me started on California. Avocado is not a pizza topping. Avocado should never be put in an oven, period. And I'm not sure about seafood as a topping.

Oddly enough, I have no opinion on ham & pineapple pizza, aka "Hawaiian" pizza - I've had it, it's okay, I don't get the hate, but give me a pure New York pepperoni pizza any day. No, really, any day. I could eat pizza every day if I didn't think it would kill me in a month.

Not that that's ever stopped me from choosing pleasure over practicality. But as long as there are still beers I haven't tried, it's worth trying to stay alive to try them.
November 22, 2018 at 12:06am
November 22, 2018 at 12:06am
#946002
In honor of Thanksgiving, five things I'm grateful for:

1) Beer.
2) Wine.
3) Scotch.
4) Gin.
5) Tequila.

Cheating? Okay, yeah, that's cheating. Let's condense those into one category and try again.

1) Alcohol.
2) Hookers.
3) Drugs.
4) Porn.
5) Gambling.

...nah, that won't play very well with the test audiences. How about one more try, this time serious.

1) Alcohol. (Yeah, this one's staying on the list.)
2) The internet. (I mean, where else can I meet people from pretty much everywhere? Besides Las Vegas or New York.)
3) Modern medicine. (Because of it, I'm still alive to make lists.)
4) Cats. (Dogs are fine, but too much work. Cats appeal to my lazy nature.)
5) Money. (Anyone who says the best things in life are free has never had a really good single-malt scotch.)

And in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I have composed a poem, the first one I've attempted in a long while. It's inspired by my second attempt at a list, above. It's called...

Alcohol, Hookers, and Blow

There are many things to be thankful about
In a life of contentment and joy.
But on this fair Thursday, I think I will go
With alcohol, hookers, and blow.

Weed is just fine, and legalized now,
But meth is a dangerous drug.
So I'll stick with the stuff I already know,
Like alcohol, hookers, and blow.

Our vices in life can be curious ones,
And sometimes the secrets we keep,
So I'll leave this out here and put on a show
With alcohol, hookers, and blow.

Beer is terrific and wine is okay,
While gin is my poison of choice
For when I get ready to spend all my dough
On alcohol, hookers, and blow.

From Reno to Jersey the gamblers play
In casinos and Indian bars,
But really, the answer is hitting the flow
With alcohol, hookers, and blow.

Life is uncertain, could end anytime
And death is a permanent state.
So I thank the gods and the folks down below
For alcohol, hookers, and blow.


November 21, 2018 at 1:23am
November 21, 2018 at 1:23am
#945957
I was born with Star Trek.

Once, I read somewhere that what would become known as The Original Series was greenlit by the studio the same month I got shoved into the world, and I always imagined it happening on the same day. The show made its TV debut later that year.

The series ran no more than three seasons, so if I saw any of them when they originally aired, I don't remember. There's not much I can recall from the first three years of my life, and what memories exist from that time are highly suspect. The first thing I do remember with any certainty was my mom waking me up to view the first moon landing, an event whose significance I would only appreciate much later in life.

Similarly, I'm sure I didn't fully appreciate Star Trek when I was a kid. I remember enjoying the action and the aliens, and wanting very much to be Spock, and I watched the reruns whenever I got a chance, but it was only later that I began to appreciate its nuances and social commentary.

It was still later before I began to cringe at what passed for special effects. Part of that was me becoming more discerning, but part of it was being spoiled by advances in SFX technology. They did the best they could with what they had, I think, and if you watch the contemporary episodes of Doctor Who (Patrick Troughton, Second Doctor era), well, those are even more primitive. But that never really mattered to me - what mattered was the story. At least the Enterprise wasn't powered by lava lamps. Seriously, something in Doctor Who was powered by lava lamps and I can't even.

Since then, of course, we've been treated to numerous other Star Trek series and many movies, some of which were even good. But I can't overstate the impact the original series had on my life. It wasn't just that it inspired me to read more science fiction, or write it, but it was also the vision it had of interpersonal relationships, the spirit of exploration and discovery that is so central to all of science, and the understanding that it is merit, not privilege, that should determine one's position in life. Perhaps as importantly, it provided an optimistic view of the future: hope, not despair. As I am prone to despair and cynicism, I need that sometimes. Sure, it's unrealistic, but when has realism been a prerequisite for a good story?

I'm by no means alone in my appreciation for the show, of course. That imagined world has influenced our real one in significant ways, and also insignificant but very funny ones like when William Shatner's character on Boston Legal opened his flip phone and it chirped. Life, as they say, imitates art.

It's had its ups and downs over the years, but it endures. And isn't that what every creator hopes for?
November 20, 2018 at 12:42am
November 20, 2018 at 12:42am
#945890
I think I'm running out of shits to give.

It's not that I don't have strong opinions about things. Anyone who's read a decent number of entries here can figure that out. It's just that I no longer think it's my job to do anything about it, except maybe write.

Oh, I donate to certain causes, like most people do, I think. And I'm usually conscious of how my actions might impact the environment, but I won't usually do anything about it if it inconveniences me too much - because I've used up most of my shits.

Part of that is awareness of the proximity of my own mortality. I'll be dead soon enough, and with me will go whatever remains of my shits. Another part is the secure knowledge that no matter what I do - or what anyone else does - if we don't put colonies in space and/or on other worlds soon, we're doomed as a species.

But a big part, I think, is the realization that, inevitable doom notwithstanding, things are getting better regardless of what I do. It's not a smooth improvement - there are fits and starts, and sometimes it's a three steps forward, two steps back sort of thing - but there is a definite sense of ethical development over the years. It's a kind of cultural awareness that when something is wrong, eventually we overcome its inertia and begin the slow process of making it right.

These changes don't happen overnight. For instance, it was within my lifetime (just barely) that interracial marriage was illegal in my state. Not just frowned upon by conservatives and racists, but actually, written-into-the-law, illegal. Now, it's not, and we even have same-sex marriages and other things that would have been unthinkable when I was born - and make no mistake, these are changes for the better. After all, everyone should be subjected to the horrors of marriage, regardless of their race or sexual orientation. It's only fair.

Another thing that has received more awareness and attention is animal rights. While I think some people go too far (*cough*peta*cough*), there has been an evolution in the way we see nonhuman species, how we relate to them. Circuses have all but dropped animal acts. Zoos have moved from cages toward more natural habitats. Animal testing, where it's still done, is subject to ethical protocols and reviews. People become vegetarian or vegan, sometimes in a bid to protect the other animals on the planet. Places like SeaWorld align themselves more toward marine animal rescue and rehabilitation than exploitation. And in general, awareness has increased as scientists and researchers have found more and more commonalities between nonhuman lives and human ones.

That's nothing to do with me, though. I'll probably be eating a cheeseburger on the day I finally kick it. But I'll die secure in the knowledge that things will continue to get incrementally, if fitfully, better - until the giant meteor or supervolcano makes it all irrelevant.
November 19, 2018 at 1:23am
November 19, 2018 at 1:23am
#945840
As you probably know, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

I've had three successful NaNos, meaning I met my 50,000 word goal and got out something that passes for a coherent narrative each time, but I just wasn't feeling it this year.

So, what does it take for me to "feel it?"

Let's take as a given that I want to get more writing done. I mean, I think I'm pretty good at it, and there aren't that many things I'm good at, so it strikes me as something I should want to do. But, as I've explained before, I like to do a lot of things, not just concentrate on one activity (not even video games or drinking, both of which are activities that don't require much creativity).

One thing I've learned from my NaNo experiences: writing, really, isn't about inspiration or motivation; it's about work. It's about getting the words out there, outlining, planning, coming up with characters and situations, and - my personal monster - editing.

So, first, I'd have to get past my aversion to work. I like the easy paths. I may be an adequate writer, but writing is hard. Not physically demanding, at least, but mentally challenging - at least if I'm doing it right, and I demand of myself that I do it right. It's why I don't brew my own beer. Beer is one of my favorite things in the entire universe, but how could I possibly brew a superior beer when there are over 6000 breweries in the US alone, many of which create a delicious amber nectar that I couldn't even hope to approach, let alone surpass? So I'm content to drink those, in the same way that I enjoy reading Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher and going, "Okay, there's no way I can ever be that good, so why bother?"

The second thing I need is ideas. Not just one idea. I never do anything for just one reason; that would be inefficient. I think my best work combines two or more ideas and plays them off each other. But I'm not a very creative person by nature, so even coming up with one idea is like hiking up a mountain.

And finally, there's the discipline to sit down and actually do the work, ideally every day. I know I can, because I have, but thinking about doing it again makes me itchy. The worst thing is, I don't know whether I'm more afraid of failure or success. Failure sucks, and success is great, but if there's one lesson that I've truly internalized in life, it's that you can't bring anything new into your life without making room for it by releasing what's already there.

That may be the most difficult part for me: I'm pretty much where I wanted to be in life. But it's a giant Jenga tower: at any time, something could bring it all crashing down if I remove it, but I'm not sure which block will cause the catastrophe. So I keep everything as close to the way it is as I possibly can.

Hell. Probably I need to see a shrink again, although the last one wasn't all that helpful with his "you know, most guys would give their left nut to be where you are right now." Yeah, thanks, I know that; but that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement.

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