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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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August 6, 2020 at 12:03am
August 6, 2020 at 12:03am
We should all know by now that when a headline asks a question, the answer is almost certainly "no."


Could Multiple Personality Disorder Explain Life, the Universe and Everything?
A new paper argues the condition now known as “dissociative identity disorder” might help us understand the fundamental nature of reality

I will, however, give them credit for referencing Douglas Adams.

In 2015, doctors in Germany reported the extraordinary case of a woman who suffered from what has traditionally been called “multiple personality disorder” and today is known as “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). The woman exhibited a variety of dissociated personalities (“alters”), some of which claimed to be blind. Using EEGs, the doctors were able to ascertain that the brain activity normally associated with sight wasn’t present while a blind alter was in control of the woman’s body, even though her eyes were open. Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.

That's actually pretty cool. I don't know much about psychology and even less about psychiatry, but it's still cool.

The article goes into some detail about DID, before getting into the question in the headline.

Now, a newly published paper by one of us posits that dissociation can offer a solution to a critical problem in our current understanding of the nature of reality. This requires some background, so bear with us.

Background? All the paragraphs leading up to this quote (most of which I didn't copy, but they're at the link) were background. But okay -- like I said, I know very little so that was a decent introduction.

According to the mainstream metaphysical view of physicalism, reality is fundamentally constituted by physical stuff outside and independent of mind. Mental states, in turn, should be explainable in terms of the parameters of physical processes in the brain.

Any essay that uses "metaphysical" unironically is suspect.

But there's a brief introduction there to the "hard problem of consciousness," which I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in here before, in connection with panpsychism -- a philosophy I provisionally reject. "Provisionally," because there's no real science behind it, only conjecture. Could be true. Could be false. Can't be tested at this time.

To circumvent this problem, some philosophers have proposed an alternative: that experience is inherent to every fundamental physical entity in nature.

Yep. Panpsychism. But okay, I'll bite.

However, constitutive panpsychism has a critical problem of its own: there is arguably no coherent, non-magical way in which lower-level subjective points of view—such as those of subatomic particles or neurons in the brain, if they have these points of view—could combine to form higher-level subjective points of view, such as yours and ours. This is called the combination problem and it appears just as insoluble as the hard problem of consciousness.

From my purely amateur perspective, it sounds more like the same problem, only stated differently.

The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles.

Ever seen a map of the universe? They've made some. Here's one.   I've noted a superficial similarity to a neural network   before. But physical similarity isn't support for this hypothesis; it could be coincidence.

And here is where dissociation comes in.

This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness.

Pretty sure philosophers have posited something similar since time immemorial. That's also the basis for at least one conception of the Divine. But just because a philosopher (or a scientist for that matter) says something, doesn't mean it's fact.

You don’t need to be a philosopher to realize the obvious problem with this idea: people have private, separate fields of experience.

Basically, if there's only one Universal Consciousness, how come we all appear to live separate existences?

So, for idealism to be tenable, one must explain—at least in principle—how one universal consciousness gives rise to multiple, private but concurrently conscious centers of cognition, each with a distinct personality and sense of identity.

That's not the only thing that "one must explain" to accept this, at least in theory. There's also the small matter of communication across vast distances, communication that can't be attributed to "quantum entanglement." Consciousness requires communication, and the speed of light is a hard limit; this has been supported by evidence as well as mathematics.

And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.

Okay, I have to admit here that although I categorically dismiss the idea, it is attractive to me. The idea of universal oneness, of breaking down barriers; that all is, indeed, One -- well, I think most people have to drop acid to get into that mindset, and I've never dropped acid. But I think a lot of problems would be ameliorated if we stopped thinking of things as separate entities but as parts of a whole.

That doesn't mean I'm going to embrace this stuff, of course. Just that, if it turns out to be the case, it would have beneficial implications. For instance, that there is no "us" and "them," only "us."

Moreover, as we’ve seen earlier, there is something dissociative processes look like in the brain of a patient with DID. So, if some form of universal-level DID happens, the alters of universal consciousness must also have an extrinsic appearance. We posit that this appearance is life itself: metabolizing organisms are simply what universal-level dissociative processes look like.

Whether factual or not, the other thing that appeals to me is its syncretic nature -- to take ideas from several different branches of science and philosophy and put them into a coherent whole. Wait -- that's just another aspect of universal oneness, isn't it? We make distinctions between, say, cosmology, psychology, biology, chemistry, physics... when in reality the boundaries are far more blurry, if they exist at all.

Insofar as dissociation offers a path to explaining how, under idealism, one universal consciousness can become many individual minds, we may now have at our disposal an unprecedentedly coherent and empirically grounded way of making sense of life, the universe and everything.

Insert "42" joke here. You know you want to.

Just remember: the key word in the last sentence I quoted is "may." I find it highly unlikely, personally. Just to be clear, though: I do believe that everything is One Thing; just not necessarily in the manner described here. Like I said, this stuff is appealing -- which is all the more reason to be skeptical about it.
August 5, 2020 at 12:11am
August 5, 2020 at 12:11am
I was an "only child," so this article caught my interest. So I'm sharing it. See? We can share.


Neuroscience shows that our gut instincts about only children are right

That headline can bite me. That's not the thrust of the article at all, as we shall see.

Conventional wisdom has it that only children are smarter and less sociable.

"Conventional wisdom" is almost always wrong. But flattery will get you everywhere with me.

Conversely, since those only children never have to share a toy, a bedroom, or a parent’s attention, it is assumed they miss out on that critical life skill of forever-having-to-get-along.

"Critical," my solitary ass.

But are their actual brains different?


Jiang Qiu, a professor of psychology at Southwest University in Chongqing, China and director of the Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality in the ministry of education, led a team of Chinese researchers that sought to answer this question with more than 250 college-aged Chinese students.

FWEEEEET! Flag on the play. Minuscule sample size, representative of just one culture. 10 yard penalty, fourth down.

Hey, I just made a sportsball joke.

They used standard tests of intelligence, creativity, and personality type to measure their creativity, IQ, and agreeableness.

Fuck agreeableness.

On the behavioral tests, only children displayed no differences in terms of IQ, but higher levels of flexibility—one measure of creativity—and lower levels of agreeableness than kids with siblings.

You're also going to have to explain to me how to actually quantify creativity. I mean, I know there are issues with IQ tests, but at least some measures of intelligence can be quantified within a particular cultural and socioeconomic context.

Having worked on the 1896 study “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children,” Hall cast only children as “oddballs” as “permanent misfits,” descriptions that have stuck over the years with remarkable persistence. “Being an only child is a disease in itself,” he claimed.

As developed countries transitioned from agrarian to industrial economies, family sizes tended to get smaller. I mean, I can't be arsed to find the data on that or anything, but I'm pretty sure it's the case. So, naturally, in the 19th century, growing up with a bunch of siblings would be considered "normal" and not doing so would be considered "abnormal." I assert that had the opposite been the case, it would be having siblings that would be considered "a disease in itself."

There is ample evidence suggesting the stereotypes of the “lonely only” are wrong.

As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in here before, being sibling-free taught me a lot about self-reliance. I wouldn't want it any other way.

They found that only children, along with firstborns and people who have only one sibling, score higher IQ marks and achieve more, but aren’t markedly different personality-wise

Which right there contradicts the Chinese study, throwing both into question.

Jiang and his co-authors hypothesized a few reasons for their findings.

You can hypothesize all day. I mean, I do. Until you do the science, it remains opinion and educated musings.

Creativity —defined as having original ideas that have value—is strongly influenced by everything from family structure and parental views, to interactions and expectations

Okay, so you can define creativity, but again -- how do you measure it? If it can't be quantified, it's not science. And "original ideas that have value?" We share a world with seven billion other humans. I've had original ideas that, it turned out, someone else had already thought of.

The article goes on to talk about some measures of creativity: flexibility, originality, and fluency. Those sound more like general intelligence to me, but what the hell do I know?

Look, I'm not trying to argue from one datum (me), and if I hadn't been drinking wine I might seek out other sources to delve deeper into this, but so far it's not passing the bullshit test for me. Then again, I'm just not very creative, so maybe I'm just inflexible enough to provisionally reject this.

He also noted that just like IQ tests, creativity tests are not perfect measures of the thing they are measuring.


Creativity involves spontaneity and intrinsic motivation—things which are a bit hard to assess on a test.

Pretty much by definition, you can't make a standardized test that measures creativity in a meaningful way. I mean, a truly creative person could find a way to bypass the strictures of the test, making it invalid. Right? Think about how James T. Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru test. In either universe.

To summarize, this article panders to confirmation bias.

So back to my wine, and rewatching old episodes of Star Trek because it's been years since I actually watched them. Damn, some things were cringeworthy in the 1960s. But first...

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Mini-contest results!

As is appropriate for a question about decisions, this was a tough decision for me. I appreciated all of the comments. From them I gathered that we all have different ways of making decisions, as I expected.

What clinched it for me, though, was the line: "I chart a course I want to take and weigh my decisions based on whether or not they move me along the course." I like that this implies a focus on making decisions based on achieving one's overall goals, and not just the pros and cons of an individual decision -- something that neither I nor the article's author seems to have considered, but in retrospect it seems important.

So this time, the Merit Badge goes to Elisa-Stik Stuck Inside -- but again, I liked all the comments and everyone will get another chance soon.

I should also note that no, I'm not taking sides on which decision-making process is "best." Whatever works for you, works. But I hope that seeing how other people approach it helps us all with our own decision-making. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!
August 4, 2020 at 12:02am
August 4, 2020 at 12:02am
Today, I'm going to actually talk about religion.

Well, sort of. Not really. Well, you'll see.

As a bonus, though, it's time for another Merit Badge Mini-Contest! Details below.


What a 16th-century mystic can teach us about making good decisions

Decision-making is a complex process.

Well, it can be. When I pick an article to highlight in the blog, I use a random number generator. So it's not always. But I'm sure they're talking about big decisions here, like where to go to college, whether or not to break up with your boyfriend, what kind of house to buy, or where to go get beer tonight.

As individuals, working through our daily lives, we often take a number of shortcuts that may not always serve us well.

To be fair, if one is faced with a slew of decisions while going about one's daily business, it might be good to take a few shortcuts. The process described here can get fairly long and involved.

Among the many decision-making methods for life’s big decisions, one that stands out is from an early 16th-century soldier-turned-mystic, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Anyone who's been following along knows that I'm not a big fan of religion. And yet, I have a lot of respect for the Jesuits, which this guy helped to create, with their focus on science and education.

Ignatius uses the language of faith, but, I believe, anyone can apply his method to make more informed decisions.

I'm also not going to reject something just because it comes from a religious person. That would be silly and self-destructive.

The article goes into a brief bio of Ignatius before getting into the "process."

1. Rely on reason and feelings

Ignatius advises creating a list, but also takes it a step further by urging people to listen to their feelings as they consider the pros and cons for each option.

What I think a lot of people miss, probably because of Spock from Star Trek, is that "logic" (or reason) doesn't stand alone. That is, one must consider emotions as part of the logic of human existence, because we have emotions. And so does everyone else, which should be taken into account when making decisions. Those who don't are known as sociopaths.

Ignatius teaches that freedom from attachment to a particular choice or outcome is essential.

That's kind of Buddhist, isn't it?

Ignatius also advises that individuals share their deliberations with a confidant, advice that he followed when making his own decisions. Modern psychological science too has found that the process of sharing emotions with others helps make sense of our thoughts and feelings.

I mean, I do that. Doesn't everyone do that? Well, probably not "everyone," but I think it's rather common.

He also urged people to make decisions for the “greater glory of God.” How can non-religious people use this advice? I argue they can consider how their decisions will affect the vulnerable, the poorest and the most marginalized.

This is probably good advice for even the most mundane decisions. For instance, buying cheap shoes from Wal-Mart or more expensive ones from elsewhere? The former might have been made in a sweatshop by people who get like $1 a week for their labor or whatever. On the other hand, I've argued before that if we all boycotted sweatshop clothing, they might go from $1 a week to $0 a week, and how is that helping? And you also have to take your own circumstances into account; not everyone can afford the more expensive items.

Point is, though, I agree that we should give these things some thought, and I like the non-religious alternative this author proposes.

2. Imaginative reflection

Ignatius offers three imaginative exercises if no clear choice emerges:

I won't copy them here; the link is there above. To summarize, though: 1) Imagine that a friend comes to you with the same situation; 2) Imagine you're on your deathbed reflecting on this choice; and 3) Imagine a conversation with the Divine.

The author provides an alternative to that last one:

Those who do not believe in a God could have an imaginary conversation with someone they loved and trusted and who has passed away.

Hey, little secret about atheists: if we're going to hold imaginary conversations, they might as well be with God, because the conversation is imaginary anyway. I mean, you can do what the author suggests, but it's not like you're breaking the Atheist Code by pretending for the sake of this exercise that you're talking to a god or goddess. (There is no Atheist Code -- though many, like me, have ethical standards.)

3. Seek confirmation

Ignatius advises individuals to act on reason, feeling confident that they have invested their time and energy to make a good choice. But he also says that people should seek out additional information to see if reason confirms the choice.

Here, I'm a little lost. Was one of those "reason" instances supposed to be "emotion?" Because otherwise I'm not sure that this bit makes a lot of sense.

The emotions they feel following a decision, such as peace, freedom, joy, love or compassion, might give an indication if it is the right choice.

Sometimes it's just relief that you've finally made a decision after going through all that.

Anyway, I thought this would be helpful. I think I've been using a process much like this already; I rarely act on reason alone (even if I do act on emotion alone far too often). At the same time, there are decisions I've been putting off because there's no clear "better" outcome. So this will lead us into today's...

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Merit Badge Mini-Contest!

In the comments below, tell me: What process do you use to come to big decisions? Do you do something like Ignatius suggests, or something else entirely? Logic, meditation, prayer, a ritual circle, "what would *insert deity here* do," hard exercise to distract the mind? Maybe getting insight into others' process can help someone make their own decisions.

As usual, the deadline will be midnight WDC tonight, and the comment I like best will get its author an appropriate Merit Badge tomorrow.

(Additional disclaimer: I spent part of the evening giving out a bunch of MBs for the Quills, and I recognized a few of the names as people who comment here from time to time. If one of those authors wins, I'll delay the MB for two weeks for CR eligibility.)
August 3, 2020 at 12:05am
August 3, 2020 at 12:05am
Today's article was published in the Before Times, but its theme is very relevant today.


When science gets ugly – the story of Philipp Lenard and Albert Einstein

Never heard of Philipp Lenard? Neither had I until I read this article. His relative (pun intended) obscurity undermines the point that I think the article is trying to make. Let's take a look, shall we?

Scientists are not always as scientific as many suppose.

Well, duh. Scientists are humans. I know shows like to portray them as some sort of wizards, the Gandalfs of technology, but they're all people and thus subject to all of the biases, contradictions, prejudices, and just plain wrongness that plague the rest of us.

Recent well-publicized cases of scientific fraud prove that scientists can be as susceptible to the allures of wealth, power and fame as politicians...

Interesting comparison there. In science, theories that turn out to not fit observations are eventually discarded into the trash heap. In politics, well, for example, here in the US we have two houses of Congress and three branches of government, lots of different people thinking about stuff, so that eventually bad politics also gets discarded. Usually. Eventually.

Such breaches prove that scientists do not always base their work strictly on rigorous experimentation, data collection and analysis, and hypothesis testing.

"Prove" is kind of a dirty word here. I might have picked "demonstrate." That is, like I said, scientists are humans and thus fallible. However, that we know about these instances of bad science shows that science, as a process, is working as intended -- to smooth out the bumps in the road caused by individual bias and error.

In fact, scientists frequently disagree with one another, both as individuals and as representatives of competing schools of thought.

Feature. Not a bug.

The article goes on to provide a brief bio of both Lenard and Einstein. Lenard was "a German experimental physicist," while Einstein was "a Swiss theoretical physicist."

It's no secret that experimental and theoretical physicists are often at odds. They need each other, and collaborations have happened, but my impression is that, historically, members of each group consider the other somehow inferior. But, again, this is the intersection of humanity and science; eventually, the experimenters will either find results consistent with the theories, or they won't, in which case the theory has to be abandoned or modified.

Again, this is how science is supposed to work. It's not like scientists are supposed to be all one happy family, always agreeing with each other.

Lenard, meanwhile, was soon swept along in a wave of German nationalism that accompanied World War I. He became increasingly convinced of the existence of a distinctively German physics that needed to be defended against the plagiarized or frankly fabricated work emanating from other countries. Lenard also became more and more mired in anti-Semitism, accusing the “Jewish press” of, among other things, promoting Einstein’s dangerous work on relativity.

Ideally, science is universal. But scientists aren't always.

Lenard’s attacks on Einstein became increasingly vitriolic. He compared theoretical physicists to Cubist painters, who in his view were “unable to paint decently.” He lamented the fact that a “Jewish spirit” had come to rule over physics.

From everything I've heard, Einstein wasn't even a practicing Jew. So it wasn't even about religion; this was about ancestry.

Lenard’s conviction that science, “like everything else man produces,” was somehow grounded in bloodlines led him to become one of the early adherents of National Socialism.

And just to get this out of the way: Nazis were "socialists" the way North Korea is a "democratic republic." I can call myself a unicorn, but that doesn't make me a unicorn.

The story of Philipp Lenard reminds us that even scientists of the very highest caliber sometimes think, speak and act in utterly unscientific ways, swayed by prejudices that have no scientific basis.

And yet, as I said above, Einstein is a household word these days, while Philipp Lenard has been all but forgotten. Einstein's theories have been supported by evidence time and time again, from measurements of the precession of Mercury's orbit to the experiments in gravity wave detection. This is how it's supposed to work and, in general, it does.

And so science progresses. It's wrong to revere Einstein the man; I'm certain that he had his flaws just like everyone else. But again, his science has held up -- even though there seems to be growing evidence that they're going to have to tweak the equations to account for what they're calling dark matter and dark energy.

The problem comes in when people hear a pronouncement by someone with a degree or certification, take it as fact, and then ignore anything that contradicts it. So it's the last sentence of the article that concerns me:

They are human beings too, and members of the general public need to be careful to distinguish between a scientist whose arguments are based in evidence and one whose pronouncements stem from other, less reliable sources of conviction.

That's not always easy to do. Evidence, especially at the highest theoretical levels, isn't really accessible to "members of the general public." I mean, it is accessible, but not always comprehensible. But I know this much: if a so-called scientist, or doctor, or whatever, starts spouting off about demon sperm and lizard aliens, I think she can, and should, be summarily ignored -- at least until we have some hard evidence of lizard aliens.
August 2, 2020 at 12:26am
August 2, 2020 at 12:26am
Over at 30DBC, they're still in Antarctica.

Go where your cruise ship can’t — hop aboard a small, sturdy inflatable boat and buzz between the icebergs and around the mountains...

...Another cool and unexpected aspect of this research center is the Vernadsky Station Lounge, one of the southernmost bars in the world. Try the vodka, which has been distilled on site.

But no, I'mma stay where it's warm.


There's a Wire Above Manhattan That You've Probably Never Noticed

It's hard to imagine that anything literally hanging from utility poles across Manhattan could be considered "hidden," but throughout the borough, about 18 miles of translucent wire stretches around the skyline, and most people have likely never noticed. It's called an eruv (plural eruvin), and its existence is thanks to the Jewish Sabbath.

Well, NOW people will notice.

On the Sabbath, which is viewed as a day of rest, observant Jewish people aren't allowed to carry anything—books, groceries, even children—in public places (doing so is considered "work"). The eruv encircles much of Manhattan, acting as a symbolic boundary that turns the very public streets of the city into a private space, much like one's own home. This allows people to freely communicate and socialize on the Sabbath—and carry whatever they please—without having to worry about breaking Jewish law.

You know what *actual* work is? Actual work is having to memorize the Tanach, Talmud and Midrash, and be expected to know every detail of not only religious law, but every possible interpretation of religious law. But no, my people don't see it that way; apparently studying these texts is one of the few things you *can* do on Shabbat.

Much of the interpretation of what is and is not acceptable between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday is the result of later texts trying to make sense of commandments in the Scriptures.

But I think they're missing something important, here, and I'm going to change the world with this entry.

New York City isn't the only metropolis in the U.S. with an eruv. They can also be seen (or not seen) in St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, and numerous other cities across the country.

So, just to be clear here:

*Bullet* There are things that can be done on Shabbat and things that cannot be done, according to law and tradition.
*Bullet* There are things that can be done on Shabbat in the home that cannot be done outside the home.
*Bullet* One can extend the definition of "home" to one's neighborhood, as long as there is an eruv to serve as a boundary.
*Bullet* I think that's cheating, but I'm not a rabbi, so whatever.

With me so far? I might still be drunk from earlier, so let me know if I'm not being clear. It helps to read the linked article and maybe click on the video there.

So, here's my world-changing, earth-shattering proposition, which no one will listen to because I'm not actually a Talmudic scholar.

Take an eruv. That is, imagine that you're sitting in, I dunno, Central Park, and you're surrounded by an eruv.

Now. Imagine that eruv expanding. The area of "home" gets bigger and bigger. It grows to encompass New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut. But don't stop there. Bigger. Even bigger than that. It stretches until it covers all of North America, South America, the Atlantic. But keep going. Bigger. Pretty soon it's the size of the circumference of the Earth.

But don't stop there, either. Now it starts getting smaller as it moves around to the other side of the planet. You're still on the inside, sitting there in Central Park, and the "outside" of the circle is smaller than the "inside."

You see where I'm going with this, right? Eventually, you've got an eruv in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and everything in the world except for maybe 10 square meters (just an arbitrary number) of ocean is inside the eruv, and then Jews all over the world, unless they are in that particular patch of ocean, can do anything they can normally do at home on Shabbat.

Of course, there's no reason to keep that eruv in the Indian Ocean. It would be tough to erect one underwater. Pick a spot, any spot. Say... I dunno... go to Antarctica (*shudder*). Put up ten poles (ten is an important number in Jewish lore). String an eruv around the poles. Then simply declare that the bulk of the globe of the Earth is inside, while everything else (a few square meters of desert) is outside.

There might be a few penguins who can't carry groceries on Shabbat, but honestly, penguins aren't known for carrying groceries around anyway.

There you go. And no, it's not cheating, any more than the eruv itself is cheating. Okay, so I'm not a rabbi, but I know a loophole when I see one, and that's a loophole. It's a simple matter of spherical geometry: any circle on the surface of a sphere has an "inside" and an "outside" only by convention and declaration. Take the equator, for example: Is the northern hemisphere "inside" or "outside" of the circle of the equator?

And if you think what I just said is a stretch (which, topologically speaking, it totally is), then you've obviously never read the Talmud.
August 1, 2020 at 12:02am
August 1, 2020 at 12:02am
Apparently, today's premiere virtual travel blog challenge is about camping in Antarctica. Clearly, this month's challenge is SO not for me.

Instead, why don't we talk about memory?


10 Examples of the Mandela Effect

Would you believe us if we told you the most famous line of 1980’s Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was never uttered? Darth Vader doesn’t reveal his paternity to Luke Skywalker by saying, “Luke, I am your father.” He actually says, “No, I am your father.” The line is but one instance of what blogger Fiona Broome dubbed the “Mandela Effect” a decade ago, after she learned that a number of people shared her erroneous belief that human rights activist Nelson Mandela had perished in prison in the 1980s.

Also, McCoy never once said, "He's dead, Jim" in the original Star Trek.

The Mandela Effect is basically just false memory writ large. It happens to all of us -- perhaps some more than others. But these particular accounts are more than just one person's false memory; they're shared by many people.

This is not the same as lying. This is something that people actually remember, but they remember it incorrectly.

With apologies to conspiracy theorists, the idea of a shared false memory isn’t proof of alternate realities.

Yeah, I wanted to quote that here because it really isn't proof of alternate realities. We have no proof of alternate realities.

1. The Monopoly Man’s Monocle

For decades, Rich Uncle Pennybags (or Mr. Monopoly) has been the de facto mascot for Monopoly, the Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) game that somehow made real estate exciting.

And also somehow ended numerous relationships.

2. Jiffy Peanut Butter

If you looked forward to your school lunch break because your parent or guardian packed a Jiffy peanut butter sandwich, your childhood may be a lie.

I don't think I ever thought there was a "Jiffy." I distinctly remember the very effective line from the Jif commercial when I was a kid: "Choosy mothers choose Jif." Of course, that memory could have been falsified also. I could probably find one of those old commercials on YouTube to check it, but I can't be arsed.

I'mma skip a few here, but I think you get the idea. Or you could, you know, click on the link and read the article.

9. Risky Business

Remember Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear, a dress shirt, and Ray-Bans while home alone in 1983’s Risky Business? Your brain got most of it right.

I never really gave that much thought. I mean, sure, it's a memorable scene, but... shades or no shades? Never even thought about it until I saw this article.

I spent most of last week rewatching all of the Mission:Impossible movies. If you'd told me after Risky Business that I'd be a fan of a rebooted M:I with Tom Cruise in it, I'd have laughed.

Should these processes that lead to false memories be considered flaws? Not exactly. Current theories in psychology are exploring the idea that our ability to cull details from past experiences to create theoretical concepts is actually part of a survival mechanism.

Let's just say I'm skeptical. Not everything has an evolutionary explanation. Some things are just kind of hangers-on, neither beneficial nor detrimental. It's clear that memory itself has survival value, but obviously it's got its flaws. It is often better to remember something poorly than to not remember it at all -- but when it comes to something as useless as movie quotes or whether or not a game mascot has a monocle, I'd expect it to be irrelevant to the course of evolution, which after all is only a process by which species either continue or not.

Still, we know that memories are suspect. This has important consequences. A few decades ago, there was a massive moral panic about Satanic abuse at day care centers. It was all over the nascent internet, as I recall (which may not mean much). Turned out to be false memories; no evidence of ritual abuse was ever uncovered apart from the faulty reminiscences of supposed victims, which were induced by some shrink or something. And yet, during this panic, several people lost jobs and reputation, at the very least, and may even have gone to prison over it. I don't remember.

And yet, if someone tells you a story that turns out to not be true, maybe don't immediately jump to the conclusion that they're lying. Memory isn't a video tape; it's more of a cobbled-together hologram of chaos. (Hologram of Chaos can be the name of my Journey cover band.) So it's likely that it is the truth as they remember it; they just have no idea they're remembering it wrong.

And at the same time, none of us can fully trust our own memories.

This can be a scary thought, I know, but I've learned to come to terms with it. At least I think I have.

The only instance of false memory that I can think of offhand is that sometimes I'll remember a quote from a book or movie, and the next time I read the book or see the movie, it'll turn out I was wrong about it. But I'm pretty damn sure a lot of my memories are wrong, conflated with other memories, or otherwise suspect.

How about you? Have you experienced the Mandela Effect or discovered any false memories?
July 31, 2020 at 12:01am
July 31, 2020 at 12:01am
Let's get serious about comedy for a few minutes.


5 Famous Jokes Everybody Manages To Screw Up

Or -- possibly more accurately -- Cracked Screws Up Famous Jokes.

Jokes are the most important form of communication we have, and many are strongest the moment they're first told. Some get even better with repetition, and many are repeated till a single line turns into a hollow husk of a catchphrase that people apply endlessly, with all the original genuine humor lost.

Oh, I don't know. The most important form of communication we have? That would be when we meow back at our cats.

5. "It's One Banana, Michael. How Much Could It Cost? Ten Dollars?"

I'm pretty sure I've never heard this one until I read this article. I even had to follow the link, which told me it comes from Arrested Development -- a show I've always had less than zero interest in watching.

As it was the first time I heard it, you would expect, via Cracked Comedy Theory above, that I would have found it hilarious. I didn't. Mildly eye-rolling, maybe. Perhaps I would have had to understand the characters and context better.

Anyway, they bury the joke in the ground and shovel dirt over it by going on to explain it.

4. "Shut Up And Take My Money!"

Hey, I know this one. I use it myself.

Did that amazing new game get announced, and you want it right away? Or some shiny and whirring new bit of electronics? How about a proposed invention, something that might never even really come into being, but you need it, and you need it now? Only one GIF can sum up your feelings.

Hey I can do gifs too!

In the show, Fry isn't saying this about a good product. He's saying it about a bad product. The joke isn't that he's already sold on it, so he shushes the salesmen from talking it up further. The joke is that he's already sold on it, so he shushes the salesmen from explaining the bad item's flaws.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. Sure, maybe it's overused, but the mark of a good quote is that it can be used in other situations than the original writers intended. Stop telling me how to get mileage out of other peoples' creativity, Cracked. You're not my supervisor!

3. "Up To Eleven"

Okay, now you're treading on sacred ground. I'm pretty sure that this line from Spinal Tap is the most successful reference joke of all time. It has embedded itself into pop culture even more thoroughly than quotes from Star Wars, and you can't swing a lightsaber without slicing a Star Wars reference joke.

Just to give two examples of how thoroughly that single line has taken root and become part of the everyday lexicon: First, the IMDb page   for that movie has a star rating system that goes to 11. So okay, that's only to be expected, right? But that brings me to the second example: The BBC, the oldest public service broadcaster in the world, with a stuffy British management not exactly famous for its sense of humor, has its own proprietary video player on its web pages -- and its volume slider goes to 11.

No, of course "but these go to eleven" isn't funny anymore. It's too pervasive. What it is now is an idiom. And regardless of how it was used in the movie (which I first saw when it came out and recognized that scene as pure comedy gold), we can use it however we like. Cracked trying to comedysplain to us how it was supposed to be used is like... well, it's like those pedants who insist that you can't split infinitives or end sentences prepositions with.

2. "You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

You keep using these jokes. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

Seriously, you're supposed to be a comedy site. Lighten up, Francis.

1. "Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition!"

Now, here, the discussion of this one actually makes some sense:

The basis for the sketch is the phrase "I didn't come here expecting the Spanish Inquisition," a facetious way of pointing out someone's questioning you more intently than is reasonable. Type that line into Google, and from the search results, you'd swear that Monty Python invented it. But it was already a common figure of speech before the sketch.

Which I didn't know, because the Spanish Inquisition sketch was basically before my time. It predates even Spinal Tap by something like 15 years. In other words, its original meaning has been superseded by the Python reference.

In conclusion, yes, some lines get overworked. It is, for example, impossible to make any comment, serious or otherwise, about deep philosophical questions such as: What's the meaning of life? What's the ultimate answer? without someone shouting out: FORTY-TWO!!! It gets tiring, and it's caused me to stop talking, or even thinking, about such deep questions.

Probably for the best, anyway. I'd already figured out that comedy is the true Meaning of Life.

July 30, 2020 at 12:21am
July 30, 2020 at 12:21am
Had a great time, y'all!

PROMPT July 30th

Congratulations on making it to the last day of the competition! What was your favorite prompt from the last month? What was the most rewarding aspect of participating in the competition?

This time, I actually went back and refreshed my memory about all the prompts from this month. My memory isn't great and I can't usually remember what I posted from more than a couple of weeks ago.

I think I had the best time with the "biased reporting" one. Not only did it give me an excuse to rant about something I like to rant about, but seeing other peoples' responses was interesting. I stand by what I said, but I still feel like I could have made it more clear or expanded on a couple of the items, especially my train of thought at the end that concluded that there probably isn't a such thing as unbiased reporting.

Everyone has a bias, but some people try harder than others to at least be fair. And by "fair," I don't mean "presenting all sides" on occasions when there really isn't more than one side; I mean presenting the relevant facts as disclosed by people who should know what they're talking about.

Anyway. The most rewarding thing was, as always, reading what other people write. I'm obviously biased and have opinions, so I'm not always going to agree with other people, but I do try to respect that other people have opinions that differ from mine, and often for good reason.

Except for the Chicago-style "pizza" thing. I'll die on that hill.

But the other thing I like about these challenges, and the other reason I keep coming back to participate in them, is because the prompts often make me think. Sometimes they make me think things I'd rather not think, like the prompt about travel, which as I mentioned is a sore spot for me right now. By the way, that's why I won't be participating in Blog Travel Month. I hope those who do have a great time, but I just can't pretend to travel during a month when I was supposed to actually travel. I don't think there's enough depressing music out there to lift my mood from something like that.

Usually, though, these prompts give me the opportunity to write stuff I normally wouldn't bother to write. I often learn something in the process. I hope other people do, too.

Thanks for reading. I hope you'll stick around. I'm not going anywhere (dammit); I have a huge backlog of stuff I want to talk about, and I'll be doing some more mini-contests.
July 29, 2020 at 12:01am
July 29, 2020 at 12:01am
As a lifelong consumer (and sometime writer) of science fiction, and having lived through the last half-century, I can attest that technology can certainly make one's life better, for various definitions of "better," but as with a monkey's paw or a genie's wishes, everything comes at a cost.

PROMPT July 29th

Write about an invention or technology that you wish existed that would make your life better.

This prompt came in at the same time as my friend was texting me her idea that they should remake some of the original episodes of Star Trek, with a new cast and better budgets. And she wasn't even stoned. So of course we're going to talk about Star Trek today.

The first thing that came to mind, of course, was the holodeck (holosuite in DS9 because it wasn't set on a starship). That would certainly make life better in so many ways, but as someone (Dave Barry, maybe?) pointed out, the holodeck would be humankind's last invention.

There are a lot of inventions speculated about in the various incarnations of the show. Some of them have even been realized in some form (at one point, William Shatner's character in Boston Legal opened a flip phone and it made a communicator chirp). Others probably can't be, at least not in the foreseeable future. All of them have their benefits... as well as their downsides. I'm going to go the overachiever route and talk about not just one, but many of them today. And hell, maybe this will be the first draft of my next Fantasy newsletter editorial because I'm lazy and out of ideas. I mean, come on, I was so starved for inspiration that I talked about tea in this week's newsletter. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

So let's start with tea. Specifically, let's talk about how Picard was able to get his tea just the way he liked it in his ready room. The replicator is, like, a 3D printer on steroids. Upside: Using transporter technology (which I'll discuss in a bit), it can craft almost any arrangement of matter. Want a sandwich? Order it at the replicator. Want a thick, juicy steak? Order it at the replicator (no cows were harmed in the making of this episode). Want some Romulan ale? Ooops, sorry, that's not going to happen. Downside: some people actually enjoy cooking and preparing food, not to mention yet another profession lost to tech.

Speaking of the transporter, this idea was introduced as a cost and time saving measure so they wouldn't have to show planet landings and such all the time, but it's become just as intrinsic to Trek as warp drive. Your atoms are scrambled, converted to energy, and then reconstituted at some other point. There's an ongoing philosophical debate as to whether this in fact kills and resurrects you. Upside: near-instant travel. Downside: Transporter accidents are usually gruesome and fatal. But then again, so are many plane crashes.

While we're talking about warp drive, I mean, come on, how would that not make life better? As with the transporter, though, there's little chance it'll happen anytime soon. Upside: explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, etc. Downside: Klingons.

Then there's artificial gravity. Oddly, every other system on a starship could be fried, and the gravity still works. Okay, not that oddly, because it's still just a TV show produced on a planet. Point is, though, if you can create gravity at will, you can also negate it and use the tech to dampen acceleration, so... Upside: easy transportation, loft stuff into orbit; also, not suffering bone loss and other effects known to occur in microgravity. Downside: Well, who knows how much power such a thing would have to use? And it would suck for it to glitch out while you're accelerating at 20 Gs.

Another thing of great personal benefit would be the Universal Translator. Whatever language they're speaking, it becomes English, like magic! It even makes their lips move in English. Technology, I'm telling you! Upside: Understand everyone who doesn't speak in metaphor (watch the TNG episode Darmok if you don't know what I'm talking about). Downside: There are a lot of benefits to actually doing the work to learn a different language, including a better understanding of the culture. Besides, I'm not even sure such a tech would even be possible; there are just too many complexities to language.

Want to make life better? Invent the phaser. Upside: stun setting eliminates threats without those messy ethical issues. Downside: you know we'd abuse the fuck out of it just like cops are abusing pepper spray now.

Going back to drinks for a minute, there's synthehol, which is the obvious portmanteau of "synthetic" and "alcohol." Upside: Drink all the scotch you want without getting drunk! Downside: Drink all the scotch you want without getting drunk.

Want to know everything about a particular, say, rock? Then you need a tricorder. This handheld device can analyze the molecular and crystalline structure of, well, pretty much everything. Upside: know what everything is. Downside: where's the joy of discovery?

And so we finally come to the holodeck, the ultimate Virtual Reality experience. Upside: Any scenario you can imagine, it can create, much like the replicator but for more than just food. Rest on a beach. Go camping in the mountains. Experience the pleasure domes of Risa. All without leaving Deck 38 or whatever. Downside: spend the rest of your now-shortened life getting foot massages from Uhura. "Nichols or Saldana?" "Pourquoi pas les deux?"

But you can't tell me it wouldn't be worth it.
July 28, 2020 at 12:21am
July 28, 2020 at 12:21am
If anyone's joining us from "July 2020 Blogging Bliss Newsletter - Issue Ninety-One: Hi! Everyone else should definitely check out that link, because it features Me. Oh, and some other cool stuff too.

PROMPT July 28th

All month, you’ve been replying to prompts straight from the Challenge War Chest, filled with prompts from previous 30DBC competitors. Today, write three of your own prompts and then reply to one of them in your entry.

I had a disappointing experience yesterday. I've been walking to my local taphouse about once a week since they reopened (patio only) for some food and fine fermented beverage. Someone has to make sure they're still in business for the foreseeable future, and I volunteer as tribute. Anyway, yesterday was Taphouse Day for me. Among other libations, I ordered a Duvel  , because whenever a Belgian beer shows up on draft, I jump on that sucker.

What I got wasn't a Duvel. I know what it's supposed to taste like, and it was just... off. Didn't even taste Belgian. Maybe they got a bad batch, or they mixed up the taps, or something. I also considered the possibility the fault was in my own palate -- sometimes beer just tastes different if you eat certain foods or drink something else first -- but none of the other beers I tried were wrong. Besides, the trademark feature of a Duvel (and a few other Belgians) is a particularly creamy head, and this one was as headless as a horseman.

Only mildly disappointing, to be sure, but I mention it because in all the years I've been a craft beer snob, this is the first time I could tell that something just wasn't right. Well, there was the time a brewer in Colorado had me try what he called an IPA, and I was like, "This isn't bad; it's more like an ESB." "Oh, yeah, it is an ESB but Americans think it'll be bitter, so we call it an IPA." For the record, ESB is "Extra Special Bitter," but the style isn't bitter at all, while IPA (India Pale Ale) does tend to be bitter, so... I mean... what? They're both British styles. Leave it to the Brits to call malty beer "bitter" and label their own invention "India." (There's a story behind that but... later.) And leave it to the Yanks to call a thing something that it's not in an effort to sell more of it.

So, whatever, I had some other good beer and a nice stagger back home, marred only by my neighbor's Rott trying to kill me.

Point of all of this is that yesterday's experiences inform the three prompts I'm supposed to come up with today for the 30DBC.

1) Have you ever been attacked or threatened by someone's pet or a wild animal? If so, what happened? If not, what do you think you'd do?
2) What's the longest distance you've ever walked in one go?
3) Describe a time when you expected one thing and got something else.

I know I only have to talk about one of them, but:

1) The Rott today. I just stood on the sidewalk and stared him down. I was just sober enough to know that dogs take that as a challenge, and just drunk enough not to care. Come at me, mutt. His human corralled him, though.
2) I talked about yesterday. Worked out to something between 6 and 7 miles. The walk to the taphouse is only like a mile and a quarter (seems like more when it's 100F outside, though). If you're a kilometer/Celsius person, do the math; I can't be arsed right now.
And since I've already talked at length about (3), you can read about it above.
July 27, 2020 at 12:02am
July 27, 2020 at 12:02am
Because I am a pessimist, I'm never unpleasantly surprised.

PROMPT July 27th

Write about a time you were caught off guard, surprised, or had the rug pulled out from under you. How did you recover?

At least, not that I can remember. As with embarrassing moments, my mind utterly blanks them out, hoarding them until I'm trying to sleep, at which point it dredges them up so that I can stay awake. I can only assume it's my stupid brain trying to avoid another episode of sleep paralysis by trying to avoid the "sleep" part in order to skip the "paralysis" part, and also the "dark figure menacing me" part.

But then I forget them all the next day. I'm left with the memory of a memory; the vague notion that something was keeping me awake, some self-disappointment from the past. But I can never remember what.

So I'd write about the time I literally had a rug pulled out from under me... except that never happened, so I'm left with the figurative meaning of that phrase, and I still can't remember anything of the sort. Well, my divorce, I suppose, but it's not like I didn't see that coming. Pessimist, remember?

I suppose there's the tortured tale of trails and travel, something I manage to remember probably because I wrote about it at the time. Naturally, I can't remember where. My offsite travel blog, maybe? Can't be arsed to find it right now. Link's to the left, there, if you want to look. Since so much time has passed, it's likely some of the details will be different. Memory does that.

About, oh, eight or nine years ago, I suppose, I decided to drive across the country, something that, at the time, I hadn't done before. So I got it in my head that if I'm going to drive across the country, I'm going to drive all the way across the country, from the easternmost point to the westernmost point in the continental US.

The easternmost point is easy: I parked near Quoddy Head Lighthouse, near Lubec, Maine, and scrambled across a few rocks to touch the Atlantic so I could honestly say I was as far east as I could go without getting too wet (apart from my fingers). Then I took the next several days to actually drive across the country, avoiding Canada and the interstates (nothing wrong with either, but I wanted to see the US, not Canada, and take my time doing so).

The westernmost point is a desolate spot of land in northwest Washington, near... well, it's not really near anything. There's a dot on the map called Ozette, which turns out to be a ranger station and a convenience store, with the convenience store being closed because it was December. From Ozette there's a trail through the rainforest that winds about three miles to the Pacific shore. Three miles is easy, especially since the terrain is relatively flat and like I said: trail. On level ground, such a walk normally takes about an hour; since the trail was a bit rough, it was, oh, maybe an hour and a half from the ranger station to my goal.

I got there, looked around a bit, saw absolutely nobody else, dipped the toe of my shoe (idiot me forgot to pack hiking boots) into the Pacific, and took one final look at the featureless western horizon... whereupon I noticed that the angle formed by the accursed daystar, my stupid self, and said horizon was really quite remarkably acute.

Like I said, it was December, close to the earliest sunsets of the year, and a far more northerly latitude that what I'm used to -- and while the trail wasn't too difficult, when it got dark, I'd be boned.

And it was about to get dark.

Oh, and did I mention that the PNW is crawling with brown bears? Well, the PNW is crawling with brown bears.

So I started booking ass back up the trail. Under the canopy, it got dark fast. Really, really fast. I estimated I was about 2 miles into the 3 mile return hike when it started getting difficult to see tree roots and rocks and such, though the packed dirt of the trail itself shone like a beacon between the lush, bear-concealing vegetation on either side.

I don't run. Well, I did, that evening, but normally I don't run. Tough on the knees and back. But I was motivated. Oh, and in addition to dark, it was starting to get cold, which I didn't much notice yet because I was running.

By the time I broke into the clearing at Ozette, the stars shone in the sky, but I didn't have time to appreciate them because that's when the cold hit me.

I ducked into the car, turned the heat up as far as it would go, and flipped the seat heater to High (yes, I have seat heaters, shut up).

None of it helped. I shivered all the way through to the nearest town (by "nearest" I mean "several hours away") with a motel.

The nightmare didn't end there, either. The motel was in Forks, and this was back when the Twilight movies were in full bloom. I couldn't spit without hitting a cardboard cutout of some hormonally-enhanced Hollywood vampire, werewolf, or insipid brat.

So that counts as being caught off guard, I suppose. Curse the blasted daystar and its utterly unpredictable rising and setting. But still. I'd do it again. Just in the summer. And with enough time to retreat afterward to somewhere -- anywhere -- that isn't Forks.

Preferably, a place with beer.
July 26, 2020 at 12:11am
July 26, 2020 at 12:11am
Beer should count as food.

PROMPT July 26th

What food would you like to judge in a Cook-Off?

I'd say "sushi," but that would negate the "cook" part of "Cook-Off."

I think the classic cook-off food is chili. There are so many ways to make it, and so many possible ingredients, that there is no One True Chili. I find the argument about whether beans should go into chili or not hilarious. Because food snobbery should only be applied to pizza.

The chili argument apparently goes back to the Mexican origins of the dish: originally, it was a beef stew with chili peppers and without beans of any sort. But if you're going to make the "origination" argument, you have a lot to answer for; few dishes remain static over generations. Food evolves over time, with different cooking and preservation methods. Hell, originally, they didn't put hops in beer; that was a later innovation that both improved the flavor (up to a point) and acted as a preservative. Nowadays, beer is defined as "water, malt, yeast, hops and maybe adjuncts."

So an argument could be made that adding beans to chili is a major innovation that improved the stuff, and the beanless variety should be consigned to the ash heap of history.

Except, of course, as a hot dog topping.

My personal chili recipe involves ghost pepper sauce, because it can. And beans. And tomatoes, another controversial ingredient. I haven't made it in a while, because when I do make it, it tends to disappear quickly, and then reappear around my waist, which is something I've been trying to avoid.

But let's get back to pizza, the world's most perfect food. I've spent my life on a quest for the perfect pizza, and while I've come close, nothing has ever jumped out at me as "perfect." I do have a couple of hills to die on as regards pizza, though.

1. The One True Pizza will be New York style; that crap they call "pizza" in Chicago can be decent food, but it is not pizza.
2. Avocado has no place on or near pizza.

Given the above, you may be surprised to learn that I stay out of "pineapple as a topping" arguments with pizza. Hawaiian style pizza isn't my favorite, but I'll eat it if I'm hungry enough. Shocking news: people like different things.

But, like with chili, there's a lot of room for diversity in pizza. Still, I never will understand the barbarians who don't eat the outer crust of an otherwise good pie. The kind of dough used on pizza should be a kind that could work on its own as bread. The crust is not, as some would have it, merely a delivery system for the toppings; the crust is the heart and the soul of the pizza, and needs to be respected as such.

So, given all this, I'd totally judge a pizza cook-off, the only problem being that there's just no way I could eat just one bite of the competitors. I mean, maybe I could, but then when I picked a winner I'd insist on eating the rest of the pie and, well, see above about my waist.

But at the same time, I'd be judging the other judges. If I see someone wax poetic about avocado pizza, I'd reject every other opinion they have. Similarly, if someone eats everything but the crust, I'll know it's safe to dismiss their rankings out of hand. And if the competitors include deep-dish Chicago style casserole, I wouldn't even need to taste them. I mean, like I said, it can be tasty, but I reject with prejudice the assertion that it has anything in common with real pizza.

Maybe one day I'll finally find the perfect pizza. Just not outside the northeastern US.

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Mini-Contest results!

I appreciated all of the comments, though as I feared, they just made me miss traveling more.

Lilli ☕ - Can we take a boat from Key West to New Orleans? I'd love to go the Gulf route.

Starlena - Yay! You get me! I call that nefarious beast the Accursed Daystar, and while it seems to be necessary for the warmth I require, it's best if I stay out of its direct influence. Also, I'd totally go to Greece.

Satuawany - Texas is a great place to visit (especially for the chili and beer), and I do like RenFaires. Camping, though? *shudder*

Cappucine - Je voudrais vraiment visiter la France, et je veux boire du vin et manger des baguettes et du fromage, et je veux voir les cathédrales... but hey, Australia sounds good too.

Sumojo - (speaking of Oz), now, I've been to Britain, but I'm always up for a return trip, especially if there's ale involved.

Elisa-Stik Stuck Inside - Yeah, it probably would be cheating, because we already had plans to meet up -- which I still want to do, but not with a raging pandemic going on. Patio beer doesn't count as an outdoor activity if there's shade.

Alexi - Honestly, I've never even considered the Canaries, but you make it sound inviting. Except for all of the time you want to spend in the gaze of the accursed daystar. Still... it sounds like it might actually be worth lathering up with sunscreen to do all that fun stuff.

rinsoxy - I try to keep poo-flinging in political arguments. Which you don't see monkeys doing. They're definitely more civilized than the children at the zoo.

Prosperous Snow - Oddly enough, there are two places I go if I want to have food I've never tasted before, and one of them is your hometown. The other is New York City -- though there, I'm usually too busy trying to find the perfect pizza.

Like I said, lots of good suggestions, and I'd be willing to do all of them (yes, even the outdoors ones, provided I can pack bugspray and sunscreen)... but I gotta give the Merit Badge to Starlena this time, because like you said: outdoors shit is overrated.

But I'll do something like this again soon so everyone will have another chance! Thanks again for commenting, everyone.
July 25, 2020 at 12:03am
July 25, 2020 at 12:03am
What day is it?

Merit Badge Mini-Contest below!

PROMPT July 25th

Reflect on your week. What was challenging? What did you do that made you feel successful? What made you smile?

Reflect on your week.

Time has lost all meaning.

What was challenging?

Keeping alcohol in stock. It keeps disappearing somehow. It's a mystery.

What did you do that made you feel successful?

Woke up in the morning. And again in the afternoon.

What made you smile?


...okay, no, it's not all that bad. I'm well aware of what day of the week it is, and I know exactly why my booze keeps disappearing.

Sunday night, I managed to see the comet. It wasn't all that big a deal, but I had to try, because otherwise I'd never be able to look Phil Plait in the eye again. I wrote about the experience in this week's Comedy newsletter: "Comet Chameleon

Speaking of the Comedy newsletter, I count getting it completed on Monday morning as a success, though no one saw it until Wednesday.

Getting back to the comet, though, I wasn't in any position to take pictures of it, but a whole lot of other people were. I think I posted a link to APOD here last week, but this site   has awesome photos also.

I have to admit, it's getting harder and harder to deal with being effectively unable to travel. Yes, yes, I know I could go do outdoors shit, but come ON, when do I do outdoors shit? No, the reason to travel, for me, is to drink at bars, stay in hotels, visit breweries, eat at restaurants, gamble in casinos (with money, not health), visit friends, go to Nerd Camp (cancelled this year), and generally be in places where other people are. In other words, I'm effectively unable to travel.

This especially sucks because it's right about now that I would have been leaving on another cross-country trip.

Yes, I know, other people have it way worse than I do. Fortunately, I'm not other people. If I can only kvetch if my situation is the worst possible situation, I'd never kvetch at all, and that's not fun.

But no, it's not "challenging." Just depression-inducing.

Fortunately, yesterday was National Tequila Day, and also fortunately, I had some in my stash.

Key word there is "had." Tenses are fun. In any event, tequila what made me smile most recently.

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

So, since I'm all down about the traveling thing, or rather the not-traveling thing, I think it's time for another Merit Badge Mini-Contest.

Write in the comments where we'd go if I met you on a trip. I don't know -- maybe thinking about it is a bad idea, but I won't know until I actually think about it. This can be somewhere unique to wherever you are, or some distant location; doesn't matter, since this is all hypothetical anyway (unless you don't want it to be, in which case hit me up when things settle down). Also, no need to limit this to things I talk about all the time; I'm up for new places and experiences. The answer I like best will earn the author a Merit Badge tomorrow.

As usual, deadline is midnight WDC time today (Saturday, July 25).
July 24, 2020 at 12:11am
July 24, 2020 at 12:11am
Seems to me I've done one like this before, but I can't be arsed to search for it.

PROMPT July 24th

If you could switch places with one other person, who would it be and why? What in particular would you do?

So my answer might be different this time.

The short answer is, I wouldn't.

Of course there's a long answer, too.

First of all, what are the parameters? Consciousness switching? Full-body switching? Do I get their knowledge and experience, and if so, will I still have mine also? Temporary? How long? Permanent? If I'm living someone else's life, am I still "me?" What is consciousness, anyway? Or is this a "Prince and the Pauper" kind of thing where we just switch roles for a bit without getting into unscientific territory?

This comic   is relevant to the discussion.

Eh, it doesn't matter anyway. I still wouldn't want to do it. I like my life, but anyone dropped into mine would see things about me that I don't want seen.

But... if I absolutely had to, like if I lost a bet with an all-powerful supernatural entity or whatever (no danger of that but I can speculate; I am a fiction writer after all), I'd probably pick some billionaire, like Bezos or something. Not for the money, and certainly not for the attention, but because billionaires have private jets and just once in my life I want to fly on a private jet. But it wouldn't be my life, would it? It would be someone else's.

Even so, again, I wouldn't want to be stuck in that asshole's life indefinitely. Just, like, a day or so.

Maybe he'd clean my house while I'm on his jet.

Anyway, the whole thing is too open-ended to really speculate about, for the reasons above.
July 23, 2020 at 12:02am
July 23, 2020 at 12:02am
Well this is a little less controversial than yesterday's prompt, but not much so.

PROMPT July 23rd

You've been given a full budget and creative license to bring a book you read to film. What book would you pick and who would you cast as the characters? If you choose a book with an existing movie adaptation, what changes would you make?

Plenty of books I could choose, but I'm going to go with the one I most recently read. Or actually the entire series of books, which is up to 16 now (soon to be 17). Also, I'm loosely interpreting "film" here; the line between movie and TV series is getting blurrier all the time, and with 17 books you need it to be a series.

I'm talking about Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, which has been going on for 20 years now.

SyFy (or, well, I think it was still The SciFi Channel at the time) did a short-lived series adaptation in 2007, but as far as I'm concerned that doesn't count. I've never seen it, anyway. So I'm ignoring it for these purposes.

For anyone who hasn't read the books (and you should, because one of them contains the greatest scene in all of literature), Harry Dresden is a wizard who lives in Chicago and gets himself into supernatural trouble on a regular basis, consorting with vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc. I figure since the show Supernatural is ending, this could fill the void with something actually, you know... good. The books combine elements of contemporary fantasy, noir detective, and comic book tropes.

Now, here's one problem for casting: time passes in the books. That is, the Harry Dresden from Storm Front is about 20 years younger than the Harry Dresden from the latest book, Peace Talks. So you either have to grab a 30 year old actor and age him up something close to naturally, or cast anyone and use de-aging tech, which has come a very long way in recent years. You did say "full budget," though, so I'm not letting age get in the way. Also, 50-year-old actors are going to be better known to me than 30-year-old actors. To complicate matters, some of the characters are supernatural and don't age much if at all. (The Witcher has this problem too.)

The most important character is, of course, Dresden himself. The books are written in his first-person point of view. I considered Henry Cavill, but he's too well-known as Superman and Geralt of Rivia, and I don't want to take him away from more Witcher series.

So for Harry Dresden, I'm going to go with Thomas Jane, who played a similar private-detective role (without the magic but with science fiction elements) on The Expanse.

Bob the Skull, Harry's sounding board at least at first, well, I'm going to go with Patton Oswalt because Oswalt is awesome. Probably limited to voice acting.

Karrin Murphy, a cop that eventually gets dragged into all the paranormal shit and becomes Harry's partner (in several senses of the word) -- well, I had to ask a friend about this, but Kristen Bell from The Good Place would be perfect.

Ebenezer McCoy is Dresden's mentor and (spoiler, sorry) grandfather, an old Scottish man. No, I'm not casting Sean Connery. I like Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor Who, for the role.

There are, like, a million other characters, as you'd expect for such a long series of novels. I mean, Mark Sheppard has to be in there somewhere because he's Mark Sheppard, but I don't know who he'd play.

In the end, though, I just want this to happen. I need this to happen. No matter who gets cast, as long as the series is as awesome as the books. Because polka will never die!
July 22, 2020 at 12:02am
July 22, 2020 at 12:02am
Oh boy. Minefield ahead.

PROMPT July 22nd

Make a list of the top five most important virtues and why.

I looked at this site   to help me remember what some virtues are called.

Some of those below aren't on that list. As always, ask me another time and I'll have different answers; consistency is most definitely not one of my traits. So without further disclaimer, my Top 5 Most Important Virtues, in order, as of right now.

5. Humor. I find it important to have a sense of humor, because it's better than sinking into the abyss of despair. By finding humor in absurd situations, I can maintain a clear head and keep things in perspective.

4. Flexibility. We humans are characterized by, among other things, our ability to adapt. Failure to do so rejects what makes us human just as surely as lacking a sense of humor does. I'm stubborn about a lot of things, but when new information comes in, I adjust my actions and worldview accordingly.

3. Reliability. It's important, I think, to keep one's commitments. So much so, in fact, that I'm averse to committing to anything, because my flexibility means that if circumstances change, I change as well. But once I make a commitment, I do my damnedest to follow through. This is not just so that other people can benefit, but also as a matter of self-respect.

2. Curiosity. Another human trait is curiosity; that is, the desire to know things and figure out what makes things work. This is the basis for science and philosophy. To me, it's important to always be learning. This also means the desire to try, and to experience, things that are new to me.

1. Fairness. The world is fundamentally unfair. This should go without saying. People who do horrible things are often rewarded, while those who do great things can be overlooked. It's necessary, then, to be as fair as I can be, and not treat people differently because I'm in their tribe or clan or whatever. The world being unfair is often used as an excuse by crappy people to be unfair themselves; this misses the point entirely.

And now, just because I can, I'm also going to list my Top 5 Things That People Think Are Virtues, But Really Aren't:

5. Tolerance. I mention this because tolerance simply doesn't go far enough. I don't want to be tolerated; I want to be accepted. I assume others are the same way. That doesn't mean I'm not going to snark at you if you like to drink Coors Light instead of real beer, but at base, I accept that people are different from me and that it's a good thing. Diversity is strength.

4. Faith. This is going to piss some people off, I know. I define "faith" as "belief in something with little to no evidence for it." Think aliens are going to come save us from ourselves? No evidence. Think God is just and loving (or even exists)? No evidence for it. Think your life is going to work out just fine? No evidence for it; in fact, all evidence points to us all dying at some point. Faith negates curiosity and learning. Faith makes people susceptible to manipulation. Faith is complacency. No thanks.

3. Productivity. I mean, seriously, people, this has become the secular capitalist religion of choice these days. It boils down to working harder and/or smarter to enrich your bosses. "How to Be More Productive." "Productivity Tips & Tricks." "Productivity for Dummies." Screw that. Live your life.

2. Temperance. Related to the above, sometimes indulgence is good for one's mental health. As Heinlein put it, "Everything in excess. Moderation is for monks."

1. Continence. By which I mean the definition with sexual connotations. People are just too damn prudish. This of course doesn't mean forcing your will on someone; that's clearly wrong. They talk about "consent." As with tolerance, consent doesn't go far enough. How about some enthusiasm? Sex is part of life, and one of the biggest lies foisted upon us was the idea that it's sinful. No. It's only sinful if it hurts someone; hence the "enthusiasm" part. Be responsible, take precautions, absolutely, but it's not in itself anything more or less controversial than driving or having a barbecue.

Just because I have time, I'm going to also list my Top 5 Things that People Think are Vices but Really Aren't.

5. Selfishness. Too much is bad, obviously, but you gotta think of yourself too.

4. Drunkenness. I mean, sure, if it makes you do bad things, maybe don't get drunk. But for me, it just makes the room spin and then I pass out.

3. Laziness. As with everything else in this section, too much can hurt you and those close to you, but look at the world around you: just about every human-created bad thing you see is the result of people being too productive with their time. Relax. Have a drink. Also, there's no inherent virtue in waking up early.

2. Lust. This is related to some of the shit above. I firmly (pun intended) believe that there's a big difference between thinking something and doing it. Covet thy neighbor's spouse all you want; just know that doing something about it will almost certainly have negative consequences for everyone involved.

1. Inconsistency. Again, if you don't change when it's necessary, you're being foolish. Know when to relent and change your mind. Like I will next time one of these prompts comes up. For example, I've written before in here about how I think compassion is an important virtue. I still think it is (though it's probably the basis for fairness and acceptance). But it doesn't make my top five. Not today, anyway. Ask me again tomorrow.

July 21, 2020 at 12:05am
July 21, 2020 at 12:05am
Normally, writing a letter to a 15-year-old would get me put on a List somewhere.

PROMPT July 21st

Write a letter to your fifteen-year-old self.

But, I suppose since it's me, I should be safe.

Dear Shit-For-Brains,

Don't take it personally. Every fifteen-year-old has shit for brains.

I suppose I could warn you about some things that are coming up, but then you'd avoid them and I wouldn't be me. Besides, you're fifteen and you won't listen anyway.

Just you do you and everything will turn out okay, until it doesn't.

You will be shocked to know that you live (at least) almost halfway into your fifties. Don't let that go to your head.

Speaking of heads, despite what everyone's telling you, you won't go bald before you're 30. In fact, our hair is currently longer than it's ever been. I could tell you why, but you wouldn't believe me.

They finally finished Star Wars. So there's that to look forward to. Eh... sort of.

When you read this, it's 1981, and you think Ronald Reagan is the worst possible president. That's cute.

Oooh. Music is going to suck for the next 12 years. Except for Springsteen, of course.

Yes, it's now 2020. You're expecting flying cars, underwater cities, and missions to other star systems. What you'll get is secret police, mass surveillance, and -- you're really not going to believe this one -- we haven't even been back to the moon.

We have a few robots on Mars, though, and they haven't enslaved us yet.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't ***CENSORED BY ORDER OF TIME POLICE***

Say hi to Mom and Dad for me.

(some things never change)
July 20, 2020 at 12:01am
July 20, 2020 at 12:01am
“If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they put all of them there?”

PROMPT July 20th

In 1969, Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. Afterward, people commonly complained, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they ______.” How would you finish that statement today?

make moon landing hoax conspiracy "theories" go away.

Seriously, this is the stupidest damn thing since flat-earth bullshit.

This nonsense pisses me off more than other nonsense, though. And I'll try to put the reason why into words, but I'm not sure I'll be successful.

There has always been an undercurrent of willful ignorance in humanity in general and the US in particular. I think people want absolutes, but there's no such thing, so there's backlash. "What do we really know, anyway? How dare we try to find the answers when we're merely human?" That sort of epistemological bullshit.

The Apollo program, political though it was, and born out of the worst case of national dick-measuring to ever consume two countries, was one of the greatest achievements of humankind. Taking a cue from the concentrated effort we made in World War II to construct nuclear weapons, we used the same sort of scientific/technological think-tank approach, not for the purpose of blowing people up (though that was always a hazard with the kind of propellants they used), but for a peaceful project.

And there's no doubt that it happened. I mean, we can be as certain about it as we can be about anything.

Hell, faking it in 1969 would have cost even more money than the actual moon landing did, and you'd have to somehow convince thousands of people to keep the cover-up a secret. People who worked on the project. People who covered it for the news. People who watched the launches. The astronauts themselves.

And yet... I suppose some of these know-nothings just can't wrap their heads around the idea that humankind can actually achieve anything. I really can't think of much else that would motivate the deniers, apart from an abiding contempt for themselves and their fellow humans. It's the same sort of mindset that makes them believe that we couldn't possibly have built the pyramids or Stonehenge or whatever, so it must have been aliens.

"I'm stupid and I couldn't have done it; therefore, no one else could have either."

I guess. I don't know.

To deny the achievement of landing dudes on the moon is to deny the fundamental potential of humanity itself.

So really, very little pisses me off more than this sort of thing. I'm not advocating suppression of freedom of speech, but such bullshit has to be met with reality, facts, and, yes, utter scorn.

I'm also not advocating punching the idiots who spout that crap.

But I don't blame Buzz Aldrin one bit for doing so.

July 19, 2020 at 4:04am
July 19, 2020 at 4:04am
Does sleeping count as a hobby?

PROMPT July 19th

Besides writing, tell us about a hobby you have. How did you discover it? How long have you been doing it?

Eh, probably not.

How about drinking?

Nah, that's more like a sacred calling for me.

I've had several hobbies and interests over the centuries, and I tend to cycle through them. But there's one hobby that's been my constant companion since I first got a computer when I was... 13? Something like that. This was long before the internet or handheld devices. I'm referring, of course, to video games.

And by "video games" I mean "games played on a computer." Never got into consoles; I hate those controllers. I'm also not a fan of multiplayer games, because gamers are dicks and I'd rather play solo games.

In the early days, I got interested enough to learn some basic programming to code my own games, but tech quickly outstripped my ability to keep up. It's like beer: if I could be arsed, I could probably learn how to brew, but I'd rather just enjoy the fruits of others' labor.

So yeah. I'll call that my major hobby. Some people might consider it a waste of time, I know, but I see it as the purpose of time. Everything else is a waste of time that I could be spending playing a game.
July 18, 2020 at 12:06am
July 18, 2020 at 12:06am
How come it's never a girlcott?

PROMPT July 18th

Have you ever boycotted a company or product? If so, tell us the story. If not, what would a company have to do for you to boycott its products?

My big decision for the day was this: beer, wine, scotch, tequila, gin, rum, or other?

I went with wine.

A few years ago, on one of my cross-country expeditions, I passed through a tiny spot in Indiana called Gnaw Bone.

This made me laugh.

On another cross-country expedition, I found myself driving through Gnaw Bone again, and this time I decided to stop. There is a winery there. One of their products is called Chateau Gnaw Boné, which is a cranberry-apple-brandy Frankenwine. I picked up a bottle and took it home.

Tonight was the night to drink it.

The funny thing is, there's some debate over how Gnaw Bone got its name. My personal theory? As with many other place names in Indiana, such as Terre Haute, Lafayette, Versailles, etc., I think the town - village - wide spot in the road - whatever was originally a French place, in this case named Narbonne.

Because Americans can't pronounce French for shit.

Anyway. This shit is 23% ABV, and even with the help of my housemate, I'm definitely feeling the effects. So here's my attempt at actually addressing the prompt.

I have not participated in an official boycott.

Oh, I'd like to say I'm boycotting Chick-Fil-A or whatever because of their policies, but this means jack shit because I'd never eat there anyway.

Starbucks, to take another example, could disappear from the face of the planet and it would make zero difference to me, because I've been to one, like... twice?

Thing is, I'm not going to inconvenience myself over petty political differences. I just don't give enough of a shit. Your factory employs people making $1 a day or whatever? Well, then, let's all decide to stop buying from that place and make sure the people make $0 a day instead. That makes sense.

That was sarcasm.

Ask me again when I'm sober and I'll probably have a different answer. But right now, I couldn't care less if you paid me to.

So to answer the last part of the prompt, you pretty much have to be an unutterably fascist piece of shit for me to boycott your products. But chances are I pick up on that before it becomes public, so my refusal to buy shit from you makes zero difference. Like, I've never liked Donald Trump, regardless of politics, so I refused to go to his winery, which is near here. Now, as you know, me refusing alcohol is like, well, someone in the desert refusing a drink of water. But I couldn't boycott his wines after he became president because I never drank them in the first place.

For all I know, the owner of the winery in Gnaw Bone, Indiana has political views I disagree with. I don't care. I'm still using his or her products to get drunk on.

On that note, I'mma finish this bottle of wine. Because this prompt made me talk about politics, which I hate to do.

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