by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.
The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.
Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.
Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.
PROMPT January 25th
Write about something antique or inherited that you own. Who owned it before you? Where did it come from? What’s its story?
Unfortunately, I have quite a few inherited items - unfortunately, that is, because my parents have died.
I've talked about some of them in here before, I know, but I can't really remember most of them. I do remember writing about the barometer.
But I can't recall if I've discussed my dad's sextant or not. Oh well, what the hell, I just fixed myself a martini, so sextant it is.
These days, of course, sailors have other means of navigation, mostly GPS. I have a vague idea of how that works, having used it myself and looked into the (very interesting) technology behind it. What's most interesting about GPS is that if you don't take general relativity into account, it loses precision remarkably quickly. It absolutely relies on science that people in the 19th century couldn't even have imagined, let alone understood. Well, to be fair, if you took the time to explain it to many of them, they'd get it; we haven't gotten any smarter; we've just increased our understanding and changed our technologies.
Still, for the greater part of the 20th century, they understood the principles, but it wasn't until around the turn of the 21st century that GPS became widely available. So as far as I know, a sextant is something that's only about 20 years behind the times. I could be wrong about this. Martini, remember? And so I can't be arsed to look anything up. Just don't take anything I say here as the absolute truth. In vino veritas, but in gin, whatever.
So a sextant is largely obsolete. I like to think that serious sailors keep one around for emergencies, but from what I understand, it's not very useful without two other items: a chronometer and an ephemerides. And in any case, I'm not a sailor like my dad was, so I don't have any actual use for it.
A chronometer is mostly just a fancy word for clock. When mechanical clocks were invented, they relied on a pendulum, a thing that provided a predictable periodic "tick." These were completely useless at sea, what with all the waves and shit. So the big problem in intercontinental navigation was to invent a chronometer that relied on something other than gravity -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.
But first, I'll tell you what an ephemerides is. It's a table of where a certain heavenly body is expected to be at a certain time. These calculations are fairly complicated, but at the same time straightforward. You could have one for the sun, the moon, Jupiter, or any of the other planets or stars.
Now, backing up.
Navigation requires at least four pieces of data. 1. Latitude. 2. Longitude. 3. Heading. 4. Speed. There are probably others, but... gin. Oh yeah. 5. A freakin' map.
Latitude, at night at sea in the northern hemisphere, is dead easy: 1. Find Polaris, the North Star. 2. Determine the angle between Polaris and the horizon. 3. That angle is your latitude. (Step 2 requires an instrument such as the sextant.)
Finding longitude, on the other hand, is complicated as fuck. You have to know the time, and you have to know the expected location, in the sky, of some star or planet or some such. Knowing the time is where the chronometer comes in; knowing the expected location of a certain point of light is the job of the ephemerides.
Heading and speed are largely irrelevant to this description, so I'm going to drink more gin and ignore them for now.
So. You know your latitude because it's night and you've shot Polaris with the sextant. And now you know the longitude, because you know what time it is (or, rather, what time it is back in London or whereverthehell) and you have star charts so that you can tell the difference between where, say, Sirius would appear in the sky from London and where Sirius looks like to you on the heaving deck of a ship.
The reason you know these things is because you have the sextant to determine the angle between the star (or whatever) and the horizon.
There's also a way to "shoot the sun;" that is, figure this shit out in the daytime. This is above my pay grade, even if I weren't three sheets to the wind right now (that's also a nautical phrase, by the way, in case it wasn't completely obvious).
People talk about a "moral compass," what they use to determine their direction in life. A compass is another important tool in navigation (see: "heading"), but it's not the only important tool. I keep the sextant around for two reasons: because it's a constant reminder of what my father lived for a good part of his life (not most; he was a sailor for about 1/4 of his 90 years), and also because it's a reminder that you always need to know your location. Metaphorically speaking.
I told you the other day that I've been going through all the episodes of Star Trek. Picard kept a sextant in his Ready Room -- and given the utter uselessness of a sextant in interstellar space, I like to think it was for the same reason I keep one: that you should always know where you are.
And where you're going.
PROMPT January 24th
Write about your most memorable or unique teacher from the years you were in school. What made them so interesting and what do you remember about them the most?
Well, I could talk about the science teacher I had in 8th grade who insisted -- and threatened me with the principal's office if I continued to contradict her -- that the reason Earth has gravity is because it rotates.
Look, I get it, not everyone can know everything. And if I'd heard that from an English or social studies teacher, I might have been able to write it off. But a science teacher? No wonder we're a nation of dumbshits.
But apart from that really quite abysmal gap in her knowledge, she was otherwise fairly forgettable.
So I'm going to go with my high school Latin teacher, Ms. P.
She wasn't my first Latin teacher. Freshman year, it was an older lady who'd been around the arena a time or two and brooked no shit from her students.
Second year, et cetera? New teacher. And by "new," I mean fresh out of ed-school.
I don't remember much Latin, but I do remember the scent of blood in the water.
Now, don't get me wrong; we all liked Ms. P. She was close enough to our ages to be somewhat relatable, but not so attractive as to be distracting to us boys. Gods, if we hadn't actually liked her, I can't even imagine the hell we would have put her through. As it was, it was mostly just harmless teenage pranks and antics.
Ms. P also taught math, but it was remedial math so, not to brag or anything, I wasn't in those classes. I mention this only because the math and science departments were clear on the other side of the school from the language classrooms. And, I guess, with her being a new teacher, the evil genius who did the scheduling put her math period immediately before my Latin class that first year she taught.
This gave us plenty of time to hone our comedy skills before she showed up.
At the end of a day, she'd put an English vocabulary word on the blackboard for us to ponder prior to her arrival the following day. (Why English? Well, in case you haven't noticed, over half of the words in English have Latin roots; the only reason it's considered a Germanic language is the sentence structure. So the vocabulary word was, I suppose, an effort to provide a reason why learning Latin is relevant.) So we did ponder the word - usually by writing a sentence wherein that word was used as a pun, and/or by providing a punny definition. Example: "Bacteria." "The rear part of a cafeteria."
Yes, I know "bacteria" was from ancient Greek, not ancient Latin, but it's the only one I could remember after all these years. Don't be pedantic.
Then there was Rufus Roman.
Rufus Roman was a stick figure with one of those brush-top helmets you see in movies about ancient Rome, and he held a gladius and a scutum.(sword and shield). We always drew him, on the blackboard, with either a big smile on his face, or, sometimes, with an expression of abject terror (when facing his archenemy, Barney Barbarian.) (Barney, of course, wore a helmet with horns, and an axe, and sported a beard and a mean, toothy, growly face.)
This was, and still is, the entire range of my so-called artistic talent. It never developed further. Fortunately, my comedic talents did. Well. Sort of. Maybe. You can decide that for yourself, and keep it to yourself.
Anyway, we could all tell that Ms. P. was trying very, very hard to maintain discipline in class by not acknowledging the comedy gold mine she'd walk into every time she'd march over from the other side of the school and look at the board. But she didn't succeed. Sometimes she even laughed out loud before she composed herself and very pointedly erased our masterworks.
One day, I think maybe it was because she'd forgotten to post the vocabulary word, we spent the five minutes we had before the teacher walked in by turning every piece of furniture in the room 180 degrees. As I recall, this involved a couple of filing cabinets, all of the student desk/chairs, the teacher's desk and wheeled chair, a lectern, and probably a few other odds and ends. There were like 8 of us in the class so it didn't take very long. And when she came in, at first she didn't notice.
Now, it's important to note two things: One, every day, she'd come in, sit down, stretch her arms to the sides of her desk, and wheel herself forward so her legs were under the desk. And two, the desk itself had a barrier on the student side. Well, so after everything got turned around, she simply swiveled the chair around, sat down, grabbed the desk, pulled herself forward and BANG her knees hit the wall on the front of the desk.
Fortunately for us, Ms. P. had a decent sense of humor and a high tolerance for pain -- both necessary qualities for a high school teacher to have.
She'd be in her 60s now, I guess. If she's still teaching, I bet she no longer brooks any shit whatsoever from her students.
We taught her well.
PROMPT January 23rd
An epic feast is held in your honor - what’s on the table? Who’s invited? What entertainment is provided? (Feel free to be creative with this one! COVID is not a factor and you get to choose the time period and location for your feast )
I gave a lot of thought to what to eat at such a feast, but then decided it doesn't much matter. I have a wide range of taste in food. Pizza, sushi, a formal five-course meal, steak, hamburgers, seafood, roast beef, chicken, chili, turkey... whatever. My only restriction is that I don't eat anything that's smarter than I am, so no octopus or cuttlefish.
The important thing is what alcoholic beverages will be provided. I've thought about this too, and decided: all of them.
For entertainment, someone will have to hire Bruce Springsteen. Good luck with that.
As for who's invited, all of my friends and enemies. The friends so that they can celebrate with me; the enemies so I can gloat.
In reality, of course, I'd be sitting home alone with a frozen pizza (which I'll cook first) and a six-pack of local microbrew, listening to a random selections of tunes from the internet. And that's okay, too.
Honestly? At the moment, none.
I go through cycles: reading - video games - shows/movies. At the moment I'm in a shows/movies phase, determined to (re)watch every episode of every Star Trek. Including the movies. Yes, including those movies.
There are a couple of books on my Kindle I'll get to when I get to them, but right now I'd have to look to remind myself what they are. Nothing spectacular, just what would be called pulp novels if they were actually printed rather than e-books. Sometimes they're surprisingly good. Other times, not so much, but as a writer I learn from negative examples as well as positive ones.
When I'm in a reading phase, sometimes it'll be a run of fiction and sometimes nonfiction. For fiction, it's usually SF and/or fantasy. For nonfiction, it's usually some sort of science or mathematics.
The one constant is I keep up, at least a little bit, with certain topics on the internet. That's reflected in here when there's not a blog challenge going on. Very likely, that will happen again after this month's challenge is over -- unless I get squirreled by something else. This long doing prompts, my current list of articles could keep me busy for quite some time.
PROMPT January 21st
What’s one thing you wanted to do in 2020 that you couldn’t do or didn’t get to do? Will you make it happen in 2021?
Well, I've covered this ad nauseam in here already, so regular readers can probably skip this entry.
The answer is "visit Belgium." I mean, there were a lot of things I didn't get to do this year that I wanted to: Nerd Camp, road trips, gambling in Vegas, meeting various WDCers in their hometowns, brewery visits, going to the gym (after February), my usual December trip to California... but the Belgium thing was something I haven't done before and was really looking forward to, and the prompt is like "one thing." So that's the one thing.
Every silver lining has a cloud... wait. Strike that. Reverse it. The one good thing about postponing my trip is that I've been able to learn more French, so by the time I do get to go -- hopefully this year -- I'll at least be able to read some of that language and maybe understand a couple of spoken sentences here and there.
Belgium, however, is a bilingual country, and I'm finding Dutch to be a much more difficult language to learn. "But it's a lot like English!" Yes, it is; it's just enough like English to be goddamn hard for me.
So it's unlikely I'll be able to pick up that language significantly before my trip. I know a lot of Belgians speak English, but I don't want to be one of those Americans who doesn't even try.
Hopefully I'll also get a chance to visit neighboring France and Netherlands while I'm there.
Will I make it happen in 2021? It's possible. What's keeping me from doing it is stuff that's totally not in my control, and you know exactly what I'm talking about. The only thing I can maybe control is getting the vaccine when it's available to me. Which I will do, but I have no idea when that will be. My traveling companion will have to get it too, of course, and then I think there's a wait while immunity builds up. And that doesn't guarantee that they'll let idiot Americans into the EU for leisure travel.
As a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist, though, I can only assume that by the time we get the shots, a mutant strain will pop up that's resistant to it and we'll get delayed again.
And even though I fully expect this to happen, if it does, I shall be quite cross.
PROMPT January 20th
Imagine you have to describe your family to someone who’s never met them before. What makes your family unique and different from others? What are your family’s most important traditions, values, and stories?
These days, I think of myself as a family of one. Less drama that way.
I have a cousin in New York City, and we get together once or twice a year (except, of course, for last year). Other than that, anyone I could consider family is either far away or really far away (aka dead).
When I was a kid and my parents were still around, we were always different because, among other things, we didn't conform to the majority religion. This no doubt contributed to my outsider perspective on life. But I'm not so good at being that outsider when it comes to my family; I was, after all, in it, and it just seemed normal to me at the time. It was only later that I started to figure out how we differed from others.
Part of that is because my parents brought me up believing that all people are, at base, just people, and should be treated with courtesy and dignity regardless of identity markers such as race, religion, gender, nationality, etc. Which is not to say that I always succeed at that, but it's the baseline I come back to.
Also, they emphasized education, which is why even now I try to learn everything I can and keep an open mind. Again... I don't always succeed, but that's what ideals are for.
As for traditions or stories, well, there's really not much to say. I don't think my parents were big on that. The tradition I've been participating in for the past several years involves visiting my cousin, as per the above, with the excuse of observing spring holidays -- though none of us are particularly religious; it's more just a reason to get together and have some connection to the past.
I guess I just don't need those social connections the way others seem to. And that, I think, is what makes my family of one truly unique.
PROMPT January 19th
Do you like things to be carefully planned or do you prefer to just go with the flow? Do you get upset easily when your plans change unexpectedly or for reasons beyond your control? Imagine you are taking a road trip - how much of the trip do you plan in advance?
Oh yes, please, by all means, make me imagine doing one of my favorite activities during a time when I effectively can't. That won't irritate me in the slightest.
I mean, sure, I could take a road trip. Technically, there's nothing stopping me from getting in the car and driving. It's just that a lot of the reasons for me to take a trip -- restaurants, bars, and breweries -- are closed, have limited hours, are outdoor-only and it's winter, or are simply a Bad Idea during a pandemic. So there's not much point.
Anyway, I'm predicting that not too many people are on either extreme of the planning/pantsing scale where this is concerned. Like most things, it's a spectrum, and most people fall somewhere in the middle.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to plan everything down to the last minute. You get traffic jams, unexpected detours, closures, squirrels (meaning, like, you're concentrating on doing something and then you see something shiny and you're like Dug the dog from Up going, "SQUIRREL!"), etc. It's equally unlikely to be able to have no plans whatsoever; at a bare minimum, your plan is, "I'm just going to tag along with this other person and do whatever they want to do." I mean, sure, technically maybe it's possible to get on the road and choose a path at random whenever you get to an intersection, but even planning to do that is a plan of sorts.
I haven't done that, exactly (though now that I think of it I might have to try it sometime), but one of my favorite ways to take a road trip is to choose a destination literally at random - I once found a site that would generate random coordinates, though I suspect it's based on latitude/longitude, which makes destinations toward the poles somewhat more likely than destinations toward the equator (think about it - it's because lines of longitude converge, so you have a denser array of possible points in, say, Canada than you do in, for instance, Mexico, while on the flip side, there's literally nowhere to actually go in Canada once you get out of southern Ontario).
So it's not as random as I'd like, but keeping it to the US alone, it's close enough for what I want to do.
Oh, incidentally, sometimes you hear about people throwing darts at a map. That's semi-random, but the map is a projection, so again, some areas are more likely than others. If you think about it, throwing a dart at a globe wouldn't work either. I still haven't worked out a way to get a truly random location, with each point equally likely, on a round planet.
Another thing I found was an app that generates a random zip code. Twice, I've rolled up a zip code and headed there; fortunately, both areas were in the Northeast: one in NJ and one in Massachusetts. Random coordinates, on the other hand, have put me in places like Montana, Alabama, and the actual middle of actual nowhere in central Nevada. To name but a few.
The other downside of random coordinates is that I have to ignore any that are generated in large bodies of water. Other people might follow their GPS into a lake, but I'm not that stupid. (Don't blame the technology. It's always the driver's fault.) The obvious downside to using zip codes is that some have much bigger areas than others.
I said "close enough for what I want to do," but what I want to do is visit breweries and see whatever sights are near (or on the way to or from) these random destinations. Because I take very literally the maxim that "it's the journey, not the destination, that matters." I mean, sure, there are times I care where I end up, like when I'm visiting someone or decide there's something in particular I want to see, but for the most part, I just want to see and experience everything I can. I would even say that there are no destinations; there are only stops on the journey.
So to address the second question, no, obviously I don't usually get upset when the plans change. Normally, I see it as just another part of the adventure. There are exceptions, like when I've made plans with other people and something happens that makes me inconvenience them (for instance, a cancelled flight or heavy traffic delays). But for me alone, nah, give me something new and interesting.
I should probably go ahead and "plan" my next road trip, by which I mean pick a few random destinations and research nearby breweries. Or take a few WDCers up on their offers to meet at various locations. Problem is, I still don't know when I'll be able to do it, and it makes a big difference whether I'll be able to go in June or have to wait until next winter. There are roads that close down completely in the winter, especially out west, and there's always the chance of getting stuck in sn*w. I once thought I'd avoid this by doing a winter road trip through the southern part of the US -- and ended up in a blizzard all the way from Winslow, Arizona to Amarillo, Texas. No one told me there were blizzards in goddamn New Mexico.
And really, my next trip is probably going to be to Belgium, which was supposed to happen last year. That one's going to take a fair bit of planning, but I'm still leaving room in the plans for squirrels.
PROMPT January 18th
If you could use a time machine, would you travel to the future or to the past? When, and where would you go?
Let's get a couple of things out of the way first:
One, time is not an illusion. While our perception of time depends on several factors, time is as real as anything is -- we can't touch it, but we can sure as hell measure it.
And two, I consider it highly unlikely that time travel to the past (that is, the "past" relative to any given moment of "now) can ever be possible. Time travel to the future will probably be trivial one day, what with general relativity and/or cryogenic technology. But then you're in a new "now" and there's no going back.
Those things said, I'm as much a fan of time-travel stories as anyone, so I'll play the game.
I'm going to assume here that by "time machine" the prompt means, like, the TARDIS or a certain DeLorean. So I'd be able to return. But that really doesn't matter because, either way, it's the future that I want to see, no doubt about it.
This is for one simple reason: the past kinda blows. I mean, maybe the future blows, too, but we know that the past blows. Medical care alone is enough to put me off on the idea for all time (pun intended). Sure, our "system" here in the US sucks ass, but it's fucking sorcery compared with leeches and lack of anesthesia.
And we know a bit about the past. Not everything, obviously, but enough. And if I really did have a time machine, I'd definitely visit, just to answer questions like "What did Helen of Troy actually look like?" "Was Pythagoras as big a dick as I think?" and "Who really invented vodka: Poland or Russia?" But like I said, given the choice of one or the other, I'd pick the future. I want to see how it all turns out, you know.
Well. I know how it all turns out. At some point, everything will just... stop. There will cease to be any thermodynamic processes whatsoever, but long before that happens, life will be unable to exist. Nevertheless, there's a lot of time involved (exactly how much time is a matter for debate, but it's orders of magnitude more than the lifetime of our sun), and so there's plenty of time for further innovation and discovery.
It's that discovery that intrigues me.
So, how far into the future? Where and when? Well, the essence of the future is that while big things like the eventual death of the Sun can be predicted within a billion years or so, there's no way of knowing how far what we call "civilization" can advance or how fast. We can try to extrapolate, but there are externalities that will throw wrenches into the works: war, pandemic, aliens, us choking on our own waste products, whatever. I'd want to go far enough into the future to see cool shit, but not so far that it would be entirely alien to me. So for that, we're not talking trillions or billions or even millions of years.
One thousand years should suffice. Just enough to see if we will really colonize other worlds, and hopefully view them. Alternatively, maybe Earth will be a vast, barren wasteland then. Even that would be good to know.
One final thought for today:
I could, of course, be very wrong about time travel into the past being impossible. We've been known to do things once thought to be impossible before, so it's not completely outside the realm of possibility.
If so, then at some point, we'll be able to visit what will be to us the past. I imagine that there will be people whose job it is to protect the timeline, to make sure that events happen for the best possible outcome.
And if that's true, then maybe we're living in the result.
If that doesn't frighten the living hell out of you, you haven't been paying attention.
Of course, there's absolutely no evidence that this has happened, and plenty of evidence that it hasn't. For example, someone from now going to the past risks contaminating it with Covfefe-19 or AIDS or some such virus that's of relatively recent origin. Right now you're going "well, maybe that's how Trump Mumps actually started, an infection from the future." The problem with that hypothesis is that the virus has been extensively studied, and there's nothing of the future about it. If it had come from the future, it would have shown signs of having evolved longer than anything else on the planet, and there's no indication of that whatsoever.
We're not living in the best of all possible timelines.
We're living in the only possible timeline.
PROMPT January 17th
What do you do to escape or distract yourself from negative thoughts and emotions? How do you take your mind off something you don’t want to think about?
Come on, now, I think everyone already knows my answer to this one.
But really, I have all kinds of avoidance behaviors, not just drinking myself blind. Usually if I immerse myself in a game (one that's a bit of a challenge, not, like, solitaire or whatever), it gets my mind to think about other stuff. Just going off to do something else sometimes breaks the circle of thought.
Thing is, I know that if something in my mind is nagging at me, I should confront it rather than avoid it.
I just don't wanna.
The best strategy, for me, one that is less directly self-confrontational but probably healthier than all of the above, is to start freewriting. Pretty soon my mind wanders and hey, maybe I even get a story out of the deal.
I haven't done that for a while, though -- so avoidance it is!
Yeah, I didn't actually expect a lot of responses; it was a tough one. Sumojo had the only relevant comment with:
I had been asked to be a bridesmaid for the fourth time in my life. The bride was my cousin and I was sure I was asked just to make up an even number.
We had never really liked each other, even as children but I agreed to participate once again. But what I really didn’t want was yet another horrendous bridesmaid’s dress which I’d never be able to wear again even if I altered it. The colours are always atrocious. Lilac or puce. I’m sure that brides select dresses for their bridesmaids to reflect on themselves. To show how beautiful they are and what plain friends she has.
I was bemoaning this fact to my mother, saying what terrible taste my cousin had and I wondered what her wedding gown would look like. “She’ll look like a meringue, I’ll bet.”
I saw my mother’s face go pale and I turned to see my cousin standing right behind me. Whoops!
And I just gotta say, that's a trope that when I see it in a movie or TV show, it never gets old: Character A is talking shit about Character B in front of people, and you see the people suddenly look uncomfortable and their gaze shifts, and Character A finishes with, "...and she's right behind me, isn't she?"
Way more embarrassing in person, I suspect. But hey, have a Merit Badge to take the edge off the shame, Sumojo.
PROMPT January 16th
In your entry today, write about something you overheard while eavesdropping on a conversation you were not a part of. As part of “Creation Saturday,” you choose whether the conversation you write about is real or fake! Encourage discussion in your comments section - do your readers think your story is real or not?
Truth? I hate eavesdropping. If it looks like I might be in a situation where I might overhear something not meant for me, I nope on out of there. None of my business, even if they're talking about me. Especially if they're talking about me. I don't consider it a guilty pleasure; I consider it highly unethical, because in general, my ethical compass points to "if I don't like it when someone does it to me, I reject doing it to them." And I hate being eavesdropped upon.
That said, you don't live very long before you find yourself in such situations, beyond your control. Since I find it unethical, though, my mind revises such conversations so I can pretend they never happened. Consequently, though I know I've accidentally eavesdropped before, I can only remember one specific instance of it, and even there, I can't remember the exact words spoken.
It was late, and I don't think the boss knew I was still at the office, because I stayed in the back and mostly just concentrated on my work. I went to get a drink or use the restroom or something, and I overheard the boss and the senior engineer, in the boss's office, discussing my performance and whether to give me a raise or not. I immediately noped away, quietly, even though admittedly there was a part of me that wanted to hear what they really thought about me.
That part got quashed.
Look, I'm no saint and you know it. But mostly the things that I do that are un-saint-like affect only me. When other people are involved, my internal rules change. Like... I have no moral constraints against getting drunk, but I won't drive under the influence because someone else might get hurt. That sort of thing. And in this case, the bigger part of me would rather have remained in ignorance that the conversation ever happened (though they certainly had every right to discuss my work performance in private). It's not so much because I didn't want to know what they thought about my work; like I said, I really did. It's more because knowing would have forever changed my relationship to both of them. Hell, if I didn't like what I heard, I might have had to go looking for another job.
As it turned out, that probably would have been for the best in the long run, but that's another story unrelated to the eavesdropping. As it was, I stuck around at that company for ten more years... and yes, a couple months after the conversation I had a performance review and ended up with a raise. That boss had his issues, but as far as I know he was always honest with me -- except for one big thing that, ten years later, caused me to jump ship and go work for the same former senior engineer who was in the conversation. But that's also another story for another time, nothing to do with the topic at hand.
That said, eavesdropping and the fallout thereof makes for interesting drama in fiction, much as murder makes a good mystery even though it's wrong. And yet, whenever I see it happening, either reading about it or on a screen, it still makes me cringe.
Now, I'm supposed to encourage discussion in the comments. Sure, you can decide for yourself whether that situation was real or fake, but let's make it more interesting with a
Merit Badge Mini-Contest!
Since a lot of you reading this have already done, or are preparing to do, your own entry on this topic as part of the 30DBC, I'm going to turn things around for the contest. In the comments, tell me, not about a conversation that you overheard... but about a conversation that you participated in that was eavesdropped upon, that you wish hadn't been.
As with the prompt, I don't care if it's truth or fiction, as long as it's interesting, and the one I find most interesting and/or amusing will earn the commenter a Merit Badge.
Per usual, you have until midnight tonight, the end of Saturday, WDC time... though I can't guarantee I'll do my usual post just after midnight as I plan to drink tomorrow evening. But at some point tomorrow, someone will get a Merit Badge (assuming, of course, that there's at least one relevant comment below).
PROMPT January 15th
Write about dreaming. Do they ever mean anything, or are they all meaningless? Why are they sometimes scary, emotional, silly, or prophetic? Have you had a memorable dream recently?
At the risk of slipping on a stray philosophy peel, "meaning" is highly subjective, and dreams can only have the meaning we ascribe to them.
Long-time readers might know that I've discussed dreaming in here before. I got interested in the science of it (which is called oneirology) in trying to understand episodes of sleep paralysis.
Truth is, science can't tell us much, especially when it comes to subjective experiences. This or that part of the brain being used, certain chemicals expressed or suppressed, links to REM sleep, the technical aspects of how long a dream state lasts; those sorts of things can be studied.
My personal favorite hypothesis has to do with dreams serving to consolidate and file away memories, as well as being a means of emotional practice. Often dreams seem to be related to waking events, which makes the most sense because your brain doesn't stop working when you're asleep; it just does different stuff.
As for meaning, though... well, it's my considered opinion that "dream interpretation" books are, at best, crap; and at worst, utter bullshit. They do serve the purpose of making the authors' dreams come true, sometimes, so at least there's that. Yes, symbolism and metaphor are powerful things, but they tend to have very personal meanings. Like, if I saw a turkey vulture in a dream, it would mean something very different and far more positive than if someone else saw one in their dream. For instance. That is, if it meant anything at all, which I'd wonder about.
Nevertheless, thinking about these things can open up new connections in one's mind, and that's usually a good thing, especially for writers or artists. For instance, I've woken up before and realized that, in a dream, I made a pun. Yes, that's right... I pun even in my sleep. Lately, I've sometimes been dreaming in very simple French, which I take to mean that the lessons are starting to sink in.
So... "Why are they sometimes..."
Scary: Like I said up there, I think dreams can serve as emotional practice. Perhaps there's some evolutionary benefit to practicing responses to environmental threats; I don't know, because I despise evolutionary psychology hypotheses. In any event, I think maybe sometimes the body just needs to practice pumping out certain neurotransmitters. Does this serve to enhance or moderate one's anxiety? Eh. I don't know. To me, the only scary dreams are the ones where sleep paralysis is involved. That shit sucks.
Emotional: Processing the day's emotions, and preparing for possible future emotions? Makes as much sense to me as anything.
Silly: Humor and absurdity are essential parts of human life.
Prophetic: Couple of things going on here. First of all, we dream almost every night, and we have the cognitive ability to predict things that might happen in the future; consequently, it's not shocking that some of this predictive processing would go on even at night. And, second, even if that weren't happening, it would be far more odd if no dream were ever predictive in some way. I mean, I've been known to have dreams of nuclear bombs going off all across the horizon, and I really, really hope that those aren't prophetic. But I've also had dreams in which I got stuck in traffic behind, say, a blue Ford truck and behold, in the next few days I got stuck in traffic behind a blue Ford truck. Given how many blue Ford trucks there are and how often I (used to) drive, such a dream had a near 100% certainty of coming true at some point -- especially when we tend to remember the ones that come true way more than the ones that don't.
I don't really remember my dreams the way I used to. Mostly just brief impressions. Oddly, lately, a lot of these have involved me being completely aware of my surroundings -- but also being completely blind. Like, in the dream, other senses substitute for sight. Fear, prediction, or just my mind being silly? Who knows? I'm not going to worry about it, though, and the dreams are kind of interesting.
One thing I know with almost complete certainty, though: there's nothing supernatural involved. Just your brain firing away, doing what it does, maybe storing memories, maybe rebooting, maybe trying to make sense of the world or, contrariwise, reminding us that there is no sense and why not just embrace the absurdity?
And sometimes you get story ideas out of it, so enjoy it!
PROMPT January 14th
If you could have an all-expenses paid trip to see any famous sight-seeing destination (monument, building, national park, etc), where would you choose to go?
The Valles Marineris .
Cheating? Maybe. I'd argue it's a sight-seeing destination because a lot of people want to see that sight. But hey, if you're going to pay my expenses to go to Mars and back, I'd be happy to be the one standing on the rim.
If we're going to be boring and limit the destinations to Earth, there are a lot of places I still haven't seen. Hell, I've been close to the Grand Canyon many times but never actually seen it.
Some say it's overrated. Well, compared to the Valles Marineris, it probably is. There isn't a single tourist destination on the planet that someone, somewhere, hasn't claimed to be "overrated." "Mount Everest? No thanks, too crowded." "Yeah, no, the Taj Mahal is a filthy place that's falling apart." "The Eiffel Tower? Tourist crap." (Yes, that's a pun because the French word for 'tower' is 'tour.')
The places where I most want to go are less grand, anyway, and probably less singular: a brewery tour of Belgium, or a houseboat cruise down the Danube, or maybe a Vouvray expedition to the Loire valley.
But if we have to limit it to "famous" destinations on (yawn) Earth, I'd probably do what I usually do in such situations: make a list of places I haven't been (technically, I've been to the Eiffel Tower, though it was around the time Nixon resigned), and then pick one at random.
Because ultimately, I want to see everything, but I know I'll never be able to. So random it is.
I... don't really do nostalgia.
Not on a regular basis, anyway, and not tied to songs. Which is not to say that I don't sometimes miss some aspects of the past; it's just that I use music differently, I suppose.
Sure, there are songs from my younger days that can trigger memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant. But I also enjoy some newer music, and some older music that I somehow missed along the way. Music, to me, is music: I don't care much about what "decade" it was made in (except insofar as my mental metadata about a song usually includes what year it was released), and while songs have a genre, that's often secondary to me. As long as it's a good song -- subjectively and/or objectively -- I generally want to hear it again.
In other words, unlike I suspect most people, I'm not trapped in any one period of popular music, or any one type. I've been known to create mix tapes, back when mix tapes were a thing, with folk songs back to back with heavy metal. Or punk followed by glam rock. From vastly different time periods. For example.
Now, obviously, I'm often drawn to familiar music like just about anyone, but, again, that's not usually because of any associations it has, but because I simply consider it quality music.
I hope I'm never one of those "all music these days sucks" types. Sure, there's a lot of music out there that is utter crap, but I distinctly recall that this has always been the case. It's just that no one ever plays the crap music from when I was a kid anymore... because it's crap. They still play the new music that's crap because it's new, so I understand why people might draw that conclusion. (It's the same way with books.) Admittedly, I haven't really been keeping up with new music, lately, but every once in a while I'll hear one at the taphouse or something and, curious, I use the handy "Hey Google, what song is playing?" feature on my phone, and often, it'll be something from the last decade... or maybe from the sixties.
And can I just say, that shit is sorcery -- the music recognition search thing. It picks up like three measures of the music and comes back with song, artist, album, year, label, producer, lyrics, and pretty much anything else I'd want to know.
Perhaps that's why I don't often wax nostalgic: apart from certain political and epidemiological problems going on in the US right now, I feel like I'm living in "the good old days." Like I said, yeah, there are things from the past that I miss: my parents, old friends, cats, being able to travel, that sort of thing. But damn if technology isn't pretty fucking awesome right now. Like, if I want to hear a song? Comes right up on my phone and I Bluetooth it to a high-quality speaker.
PROMPT January 12th
What fashion trend makes you cringe or laugh every time you see it? Have you ever wanted to design your own clothing or accessory? What would you design and what features would it have?
Ha! Like I know anything about fashion.
I mean, I am the proud owner of this badge:
But that was a joke presented to me as a joke for a joke.
Now, there are some things that I know are major fashion no-nos, like... um...
Socks with sandals! There. I know one fashion fail.
I'll tell you what I consider the height of fashion, though. My going-out ensemble. This consists of:
A pair of black Levis, regardless of season or temperature. Though sometimes when it's hot I'll substitute a pair of shorts. Men in their 50s shouldn't wear shorts, but men in their 50s also quit giving a shit about what they shouldn't be wearing -- hence why older guys are often seen wearing socks with sandals.
A pair of Birkenstocks (sans socks) -- also regardless of temperature. I've worn these in single-digit weather, outdoors, albeit only for a few minutes. If I go hiking, I'll wear hiking boots, but I'm not going hiking, so Birks it is.
A t-shirt, preferably black. Usually featuring a beer or brewery, or perhaps a musician. Though the one in my portfolio picture is a mashup of Jeff Bridges as The Dude and whatshisname from Tron 2.
An aloha shirt. Because, dammit, Hawaiian shirts are cool and they will never be not cool.
A hat, because fuck you. And not one of those redneck baseball caps, either. Especially not a red one, and definitely not worn with the bill facing backwards like a douchebag.
When the temperature drops below about 54F, a full-length black leather trench coat and a scarf.
I'm fully aware that the combination of a full-length trench and scarf, along with Birkenstock sandals with my toes peeking out, is ridiculous. See the above bullet point about being in my 50s and not giving a shit.
What fashion makes me laugh every time I see it?
Tacti-cool gear. Like what a lot of those shitheads were wearing during the attempted coup on the 6th. Especially -- and I'm not shaming here; we all have our struggles -- but especially if you're overweight; then it becomes military cosplay. (Mad Minotaur Guy, though; sure, he's a deranged lunatic, a terrorist and a traitor, but dude has some fashion sense. It's almost too bad he won't get to express that in prison.)
Yeah, that's right. I just talked about politics in a post about fashion. Deal with it.
But anyway, no, I have neither the desire nor the capability of designing my own line of clothing. if I did, though, it would be something with a lot of pockets, because otherwise I'd have to wear a belt pouch to carry all the different spectacles that I find myself needing at my advanced age, and that would just be wrong.
PROMPT January 11th
Write about a recent movie, documentary, or TV show you watched that you did not expect to enjoy, but actually did. Give your readers some recommendations!
Here's the thing, though: I really can't do that.
That is, as much of a pessimist as I am, these days, I only get into shows / movies that I expect to enjoy. Since I'm single and there's a pandemic going on, I'm not subjected to people pestering me to watch something I wouldn't otherwise. On the occasions when that's happened, back when I still had friends, it usually lives down to my low expectations. Now, there have been countless times when the opposite occurred: when I expected to like a piece of entertainment, but ended up disappointed. The last Star Wars movie, for instance.
Around the same time that came out, however, there was a movie I expected to utterly detest, but ended up liking. It was over a year ago, though, so it doesn't count as "recent." This was a movie that pretty much everyone in the universe, and beyond, hated... except for me. To hear the internet talk about it, you'd think it was a massive black hole of suck and was responsible for earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes, and the pandemic. (I'm sure the fact that it came out about when the pandemic started was purely a coincidence. Well, mostly sure, anyway. Pretty sure.) I fully expected to hate it, based on the trailers and early reviews; I mostly just went to see it as a joke, but it turned out to be a really enjoyable movie.
I'm talking about Cats.
Look, I eschewed bandwagoning years and years ago. I'm not going to pretend to dislike something just because the internet says it sucks; conversely, I'm not going to pretend to like something just because it's popular.
And I'm not saying the movie was a masterpiece or anything, but it was way more enjoyable than I expected.
You know, after The Empire Strikes Back came out, lo these many years ago, I was in my teens. And I remember hearing from someone at my school that they planned to make it a trilogy, and then do a prequel trilogy, followed by an ending trilogy. I also remember thinking, back then, "Damn, I gotta stay alive to see the end of this trilogy of trilogies, because Star Wars is fucking awesome."
And I know I posted this here before, on my newsfeed, right after Cats and The Rise of Skywalker came out, but again -- it's been over a year. So I'll paraphrase it here as best as I can remember it:
I went to see TRoS and Cats on the same weekend. Afterward, I hopped into my time machine to have a chat with Kid Me, shortly after he saw Empire.
"Greetings! I am Future You."
"Oh yeah? What's with the beard?"
"Shut up. I'm here to reassure you that you will, indeed, live long enough to see the end of the Skywalker saga."
"That same weekend, you will see the film version of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical."
"Eww! Grody to the max! Gag me with a spoon!"
"Sigh. Stupid eighties. Anyway... you're going to hate the Star Wars movie and love the musical."
"Would I lie to you?"
"NOOOOOOOOOOO! No, it can't be!"
"Search your feelings. You know it to be true."
Point is, if I couldn't convince Kid Me of this, there's no way I could convince anyone else.
Still. I'd totally see Cats again.
PROMPT January 10th
If you could have free, unlimited service for 5 years from an extremely good cook, chauffeur, housekeeper, masseuse, or personal secretary, which would you choose, and why?
Or I could get married again and have all of the above!
Oh, wait, you said "free."
Seriously, though, chauffeur. The reason is simple: I still want to visit every brewery in the US. Or at least whichever ones are left when the virus dust settles. Doing so requires driving. Driving is not something I want to do after visiting a brewery. Hence the need for a driver.
Honestly, it wouldn't have to be free, though. I'd pay someone to do that. But free would be nice.
I realize this is probably an unattainable goal. Not only are there thousands of craft breweries, but in the Before Time, every week or so on average, one would disappear and three more would pop up to take its place. With a net gain of ~600 breweries a year, and starting with about 8000 or so of them, that's a lot of ground to cover. Honestly, it's probably less than that at this point; a lot of them will not have been able to make it through the closings and restrictions on group gatherings. Still, it's a lot.
But hey, what's life without goals, right? If I ever did manage to finish, I'd be like Alexander the Great: looking around going, "Okay, now what?"
Well, there's always Canada. And England, and Belgium, and Germany...
So by my math, to cover them all in five years, I'd have to visit six breweries a day on average. Definitely not something I can do on my own. And no, I'm not saying I have to try all of their wares, just a small sampling of their various products, but still, driving during such an adventure is contraindicated by both law and common sense.
And here in reality, I don't want to be away from home for more than a month or so at a stretch. Cats, you know. So I don't know if I'll ever achieve the goal.
But I can dream.
PROMPT January 9th
Write about some important life skills that are rarely taught but extremely useful?
Oh man. This prompt almost makes me wish I hadn't drank beer followed by tequila earlier, leading me to pass out only to wake up due to the alarm I set for myself at midnight to remind me to post a blog entry.
I mean, come ON, there is no other rational response to everything that's going on right now.
Consequently, despite having been asleep for hours whilst dreaming of living in a sane universe, I am still drunk.
Which brings me to my first Important Life Skill That Is Rarely Taught But Extremely Useful:
Instead of actually teaching this, we throw kids of various socioeconomic backgrounds together in a blender and hope that things work out between them. This allows them to quickly figure out whether they're considered worth defending or not. Unless they play sportsball, the answer is "not."
And this is somewhat related to the second Important Life Skill That Is Rarely Taught But Extremely Useful:
One does not have to be an Advanced Supergenius like me, or even have moderate intelligence, to learn how to think critically and discern truth from propaganda. On the other hand, even the most otherwise intelligent people will fail at this unless they are taught how to spot bullshit.
I don't want people being told what to think. But teaching people how to think needs to be an integral part of education.
This is probably unrelated to a final Important Life Skill That Is Rarely Taught But Extremely Useful:
People generally have a bad relationship with money. Sure, money is an abstraction, but it's a important abstraction for dealing with life's vicissitudes. Some basics of personal finance are better being taught early, and one cannot trust parents, who have not learned such skills, to convey them to their children.
I had to pick these things up from Life, but some people never seem to learn.
There are probably other things, but... again... tequila. Which may not be the best way to cope, but I never claimed to be an expert in any of the above areas.
PROMPT January 8th
Are you a procrastinator? What do you do when you are procrastinating doing something else? If you’re not prone to procrastination, how do you stay motivated?
As I've noted before -- fairly recently, if I recall correctly -- I put the "pro" in procrastination.
I figure if something's worth doing, it's worth doing at the very last minute. And why do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow -- or later?
Lately, though, I find myself procrastinating less than in earlier times. This is because of age, I suppose, and perhaps a greater unwillingness to deal with the consequences of potentially being late.
There are still upsides to procrastination. For example, the only time I ever get any housework done is when I decide that the annoyance of doing housework is less than the annoyance of doing the thing I'm supposed to be doing. Yes, that's one of the things I do when I'm avoiding other tasks. If the task I'm trying to accomplish is housework, though, I somehow find the time to organize my emails or something.
And there are, in fact, some things I never put off until the last minute. If I'm down to one beer in the fridge, for instance, then I've waited too long to buy more beer. This never happens. On a more serious note, I haven't been late paying a bill in many years, even the ones I can't put on autopay.
There's still a part of me that wants to wait, though. If I had a session with a shrink (which I totally should but I've been putting off finding one), I'd probably assert that it's because I want to give myself time to thoroughly consider something before doing it. I do that with writing, too; I won't start a story until I've thought about it long enough to know what I want the beginning and end to be like. This is a reason why my output is so sporadic.
Likely there's something deeper at play which, ideally, the shrink would fish out. But maybe I don't want to know, hence my procrastination in making appointments.
I could probably find more to add, here, but perhaps that can wait until tomorrow.
Oooh, good question. Haven't really thought about it. For me, fiction is fun but I don't imagine myself living there. So let's think about some of the more popular cinematic universes. Some of these might not meet the strict definition. I don't care. I figure if there's more than one movie (and/or TV show) that have continuity with each other, they count.
Marvel. This is the obvious choice, really, but it has major downsides, including the ever-present threat of godlike beings messing around with Earth. One could argue that this is what the heroes are for, but on the other hand, I'd hate to be between, say, Hulk and whatever Hulk wants to smash. So... pass.
Star Wars. Upside: Space travel, cool outfits. Downside: Ewoks, Sith, Space Fascists, and whateverthefuck JarJar was. Pass.
James Bond. Fun if you're an elegant, martini-swilling spy with cool gadgets. Not so much fun if said spy ever fails and some villain takes over the world. So, nope.
Harry Potter. You know, if you think about it, this might be the most ill-conceived universe after Twilight (which is itself a hard pass). So much of the "wizards are operating in secret" thing doesn't make logical sense unless you figure they're Jedi-mind-tricking everyone on a regular basis, and I don't want my mind messed with like that.
DC Extended Universe. Same problem as their traditional rival, Marvel, see above, with the added downside of really spotty writing. No.
The Matrix. Hell no. We have enough problems in our own world with people thinking we're living in a simulation.
John Wick. No. Hey, don't get me wrong; I love those movies but I wouldn't want to live in one.
Doctor Who. Only if I get to be a companion. All of time and space.
Star Trek. This one may be a bit of a cheat, since it's meant to be not an alternate universe but a future-us. And it started out as TV only, but more than enough movies have been made for it to count as a cinematic universe. And the upsides are plentiful: a post-scarcity society with warp drive, transporters, advanced medical science, and a unified humanity. So this is a real contender, for me. On the downside, though, you also have powerful aliens deciding to mess up Earth's day on a regular basis, just like in the MCU. I wouldn't mind living in the Trek universe. Preferably the original timeline, not the Kelvin one.
Also, coincidentally, on my current run-through of all the Star Trek episodes / films in chronological order of release, I'm approaching the end of Season 5 of TNG. One of the greatest Trek episodes -- hell, one of the greatest TV episodes -- of all time, in my opinion at least, was The Inner Light. In it, Picard, because of some alien technology, appears to experience the rest of his life on a different world (while he's passed out on the Bridge -- it makes sense in the context of the episode). I just had to mention this here because I was watching it when this prompt came up, and Picard actually got to do what we're talking about, albeit not of his own volition.
But I think the winner, for me, is the cinematic universe created by Kevin Smith: The View Askewniverse. It's a lot like our own universe, but with a lot more comedy and nerdy reference jokes.
PROMPT January 6th
Do you support any charitable organizations or causes through donations or volunteering? If so, what causes do you support? And if not, what would you support if you had the ability?
No. Not going to reveal that here. Not today.
I will, instead, list several things I will never willingly support under any circumstances.
The Salvation Army. Not only are they anti-freedom, but their people ring bells outside of grocery stores, and I want them to go away.
Any organization with the word "family" in their name. Without exception, these groups are Puritanical.
Religious causes. Although if a religious organization is doing actual helping work, I'd consider it.
Anyone with an overhead >10%. Though this rule is squishy, I want to make sure my donation is going to the cause, not the ad budget or organizer's private jet.
Any "children" charity. By which I mean any group where, when I'm buying something, the cashier asks me something like "Would you like to donate a dollar to X?" X in this case almost invariably has the word "children" in it, and all other such causes are tarnished by association. This may not be fair, but so be it. I will not put up with attempts to guilt me into giving spare change.
Spammers. Let's say I gave you $50 in 2001 because I thought your cause was justified. Over the course of the last 20 years, I have received 240 letters, 1,040 emails, and numerous phone calls / texts from you. The total cost of delivering said barrage of beg has far exceeded the $50 I gave you then, so you're not getting so much as a penny from me ever again.
Solicitors. Show up at my door? Fuck off forever.
Anyone that uses a baby animal (including human) image in their solicitation. Your emotional blackmail will not work on me and will, in fact, have the opposite effect.
All this, as you might imagine, leaves me with only a few options, but I am still reluctant to discuss them. I generally prefer to keep this sort of thing to myself, though get me drunk enough and I'll probably confess. I'm not drunk enough now (though it's not for lack of trying). It's just not anyone else's business. I know that's an odd thing to say after I've shared so many other things in here... but that's just the way it is.