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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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February 7, 2021 at 12:02am
February 7, 2021 at 12:02am
Kids these days with their... um... kid stuff.

The one constant across all of human history is the older generations freaking out over something that the younger generation is doing.

They [Young People] have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things -- and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning -- all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything -- they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.

More complaints about "kids these days" from millennia ago can be found here.  

Anyway, the Cracked article linked first above.

Once upon a time, there was a world before Fortnite, COD, and even Angry Birds when most people needed to visit arcades and other public places to get their video game fix.

I was one of those kids in 1982.

Yet instead of enjoying their time outside of the house, socializing at arcades as they gamed with their friends, basically, everyone and their mom thought that video games were actively destroying their brains, sparking mass hysteria among parents.

And before that, it was hippie stuff, and before that it was jazz, and before that it was... I don't know... writing, maybe. Or revolutions against colonial oppressors.

"GRONK! FLASH! ZAP! Video Games are Blitzing the World!" read a cover of Time Magazine in 1982.

On the other hand, maybe it did destroy my brain; I have a distinct memory of Pac-Man being Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" (before they finally stopped being so fucking sexist about these things), but in researching this blog entry, it seems that the Pac-Man "Man of the Year" cover was actually a spoof done by Mad Magazine. Mad, of course, was Cracked's main rival at the time, but more importantly, it was published by the same people who published Time.

Everything is connected somehow.

Time did, however, once select "the personal computer" or something similar as "Man of the Year," notably before they changed it to "Person of the Year," thus illustrating that to people back then (People was a popular magazine then too), the computer was more important than the wimmins.

In an attempt to curb this "electronic blight," with 4,000 to 5,000 consoles popping up in arcades, pizza parlors, grocery stores, and drugstores, city officials passed regulatory laws, only allotting video games in commercial or industrial areas. Because nothing says good, wholesome fun like a bunch of unsupervised children heading down to their local factory district area to play some Pac-Man, right?

Also, I don't remember any of this. I got my video game fix in arcades and at the local 7-Eleven.

"Officials say they are responding to complaints from parents that children have skipped school or stolen money to play the games and made a nuisance of themselves," the anchor said over footage of kids seemingly having a great time playing games.

Said 7-Eleven was located right across the road from my high school. I'd leave extra early in the morning to stick stolen quarters (okay, they weren't really stolen, but it's not like I had a job at the time) into Ms. Pac-Man and/or Galaga prior to trudging over to prisonschool.

I got really, really good at Galaga, by the way. When the first Avengers movie gave it a nod, I might have cheered right there in the movie theater.

I don't recall that I ever skipped school just to play video games. But I can't say I never played video games when I skipped school. It's just that the owners of that particular convenience store were narcs, and if a kid was there during school hours, we'd get told upon.

Incidentally, I had occasion to pass by that high school fairly recently, because it was on the way to a microbrewery I wanted to try -- I think this was in November of 2019, because it was definitely in the Before Time, but still recent -- and behold, there is still a 7-Eleven across the (now four-lane) road from the high school. It does not, however, still house video game consoles, but the cashiers still looked like narcs. This shouldn't be surprising, since that convenience store is also next to the FBI Academy. Yes, that FBI Academy; it's right across the line from Quantico.

Point is, there have always been things that kids do that freak adults right out. This, I think, is an important part of childhood, and I hope it never changes. Because, it's not in spite of these moral panics that civilization keeps right on chugging along, at least for now.

It's because of them.
February 6, 2021 at 12:02am
February 6, 2021 at 12:02am
I'm going to preface this entry by noting that I have never had a Twatter account, and I haven't used my Facebook account in years. I would go on and delete it, but that requires me recovering its password, which I have yet to be able to do. So it's basically a zombie account.

I mention this because occasionally I get emails from Failbook announcing that someone or other wants to friend me there. If you're reading this, I'm not ignoring you. I'm ignoring Assbook.

Because freaking everything has to have a damned acronym now. EHAA: Everything Has An Acronym.

Do you ever scroll through your social media feeds and feel gross? If so, you’re not alone.

No. See above. The only social media I'm on is right here, and generally the people here don't suck (those that do tend not to last very long). I also participate in Google Guides, but that barely qualifies as it's not constantly bombarding me with other peoples' bullshit.

And yet we go back, day after day, over and over and over, endlessly scrolling, like addicts hooked on a drug that we once loved but now kind of hate and cannot or will not even try to escape.

I'm not claiming moral superiority here. I have other addictions.

Technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality pioneer and early internet evangelist who isn’t on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, contends that you should just quit social media. Go cold turkey. In his latest book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now...

Don't go on social media! Buy my book instead!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not going to rag on someone for promoting their book, not here on a writing site. Unless, of course, I think the book will suck. I don't think that's the case here.

He’s developed a simple acronym to sum up the sinister purpose of tech companies that brought us the platforms we’re hooked on and their effect on us—BUMMER. It stands for Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into Empires for Rent.

On the other hand, this is easily one of the bottom five worst forced acronyms I've ever encountered.

BUMMER platforms are more than just a bummer from Lanier’s perspective—they’re eroding health and happiness and political and social discourse, curbing our free will, and turning us into, well, “assholes.”

Whew, it's a good thing we don't have free will to start with, and that I'm already an asshole.

Or, as Claire Lehmann, founding editor of Quillette magazine puts it in an Oct. 17 tweet (of course—where else might she express herself?), “Social media satiates our appetite for moral disgust and tribal conflict.”

I admit that there is something to be said for Twitter's character limit, as it forces people to condense their thoughts into digestible form. It's a worthy writing exercise. On the downside, as I've said before, engaging on Twitter is like arguing with bumper stickers.

In an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Lanier explains that you can spot a BUMMER platform by examining whether Russian intelligence warfare units like the Internet Research Agency targeted it and used it to manipulate people. The list includes Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram.

Obviously, I don't stay away from YouTube. Except in very particular circumstances, though, I don't venture into the comments. I've deliberately trained their algorithms to give me suggestions in the categories of music and science videos, though. Occasionally, political commentary will crop up there, and to combat it, I search for music or science videos and eventually they dilute away.

To disengage from the experiment is simple enough, he says. All you have to do is stop using BUMMER platforms. That’s the best way to undermine the systems designed to manipulate us and, he argues, the only way to force tech companies to change the platforms’ fundamentally flawed business model.

Oh, sure, simple. I mean, yeah, I've done it (with the exception of YouTube, as I noted), but then, I'm that guy who has never, ever had cable TV.

The problem with attempting social change by imploring people to do (or refrain from) certain behaviors is that you will never get enough people on board. This is why boycotts tend not to work, this is why the world will never go vegan, and this is why we're doomed to a dreary post-apocalyptic future due to climate change.

If you do go boldly where Lanier and Simon have gone and abandon the tech platforms everyone else seems to be on, rest assured, it might not have to be for long. Lanier says he is currently working on creating healthier social media platforms that won’t be such a BUMMER.

This article is more than two years old. The only new social media platforms I've heard of since then are even worse than Facetwat.

Instead of abandoning the (I won't use the acronym because it's stupid) standard social media platforms, I'm seeing more and more people signing up for them. It won't be me, though. Guess I'll just have to languish and die in obscurity. I'd rather do that than subject myself to the bullshit I've seen on social media.
February 5, 2021 at 12:02am
February 5, 2021 at 12:02am
Kids these days with their slang...

Curious, I looked up the word origin for "slang."

Dictionary.com: "mid 18th century: of unknown origin."

M-W: "origin unknown " ... "The first known use of slang was in 1756"

My money's on it being a contraction, s'lang, short for something like "side language" or "short language" or something beginning with the letter s. But until we invent time travel (which won't happen), we'll probably never know.

The point is, this article is about American colonial-era slang, which oddly enough coincides with the same period when the word "slang" appears to have been coined -- but the word itself is probably older, because these things tended to be used in conversation before they were written down (as opposed to today, when we get most of our argot from the internet). And the concept of slang, the use of informal words and phrases in everyday conversation, is surely older than the word used to describe it, and might even be as old as language.

An argument could be made that language depends upon slang to evolve... but I'm not qualified to make or defend such an argument. It's just something to think about.

Anyway, back to the linked article, which is about a year old but what difference does it make?

But the Colonial Period—which stretched from roughly 1607 to 1776, starting when America was just a group of colonies on the east side of the continent and ending with the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence—was a fascinating but complicated time in which settlers from England forged a proud new identity. These new settlers brought the English language with them when they came, and whenever English finds a new home, it often takes on a new life.

Or as I like to put it, the British invented it, and we perfected it.

1. Kedge

What It Meant: Doing well

I'm feeling pretty kedge today, so this entry isn't going to be too depressing.

Don't worry; I'm not going to list all of them. Just go to the article to see more.

6. Fishy

What It Meant: Drunk

Possibly no one invented more ways to say “drunk” than colonial Americans. Benjamin Franklin alone compiled 200 ways to say it.

Ben Franklin: Still my favorite Founding Father. Sorry, Alex. We always need more synonyms for "drunk." In college, we called it getting cabbaged. Hell, it's a lot like the situation with reproductive organs: one can adapt a wide variety of words for the purpose. "I got writ last night." "After an evening of getting completely astronomical, he almost regretted it the next morning."

Bonus points if the word you adapt for this purpose is in an obscure foreign language. "I'm going to get completely danchu tonight."

Okay, Mandarin is the polar opposite of "obscure." Still. (According to the googles, "danchu" means "to fade out," as in the end of a scene in a movie, or to fade from memory. What? It's appropriate for describing getting plastered.)

9. Savvy, Savey, or Sabby

What It Meant: To know or understand

While we still use this word to mean something like “literate” (computer-savvy), in Colonial times, it was actually used more like the way Jack Sparrow uses it. So you might say, “I don’t want to come to work anymore, savvy that?” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s derived from sabe, which means “he knows” in Portuguese.

I can't be arsed to trace it all the way back, but another source lists Spanish as the origin for this word. There's a similar verb in French, "savoir," "to know," which in at least one of its conjugations is "savez" which is pronounced a little bit like "savvy" only with the emPHAsis on the other sylLAble. I can only assume that what with all of these Romance languages using a similar verb that it came from Latin, because I've forgotten most of the Latin I ever knew.

Anyway, I knew the word long before Pirates of the Caribbean came out. I guess you could say I was savvy.

14. Circumbendibus

What It Meant: Roundabout

Of all the ways to describe something unnecessarily roundabout— like someone telling a rambling story or taking a weird road when driving somewhere—this word, which dates to 1681, might be the most delightful.

I absolutely need to work this into my vocabulary, since a lot of these blog entries are circumbendibus.

Now it's time to get fishy.
February 4, 2021 at 12:05am
February 4, 2021 at 12:05am
Entry #1 of 8 for "Journalistic Intentions [18+]

*VinylB* Immigrant Song

Ready for some music theory?

No? Well, too bad.  

Now, look, I'm not entirely ignorant of music theory, but some of the shit in the video at that link is way beyond me, kind of like how I have some knowledge of physics but then they start talking about quantum this and dark matter that and my brain shuts off.

The analysis that guy goes through is the musical equivalent of literary analysis. And as with literary analysis, I think they often read into the art things that the artist didn't consciously intend. "Why did you play that particular note at that time?" One might expect the musician to launch into a detailed explanation of harmonics or dissonance or setting up a musical resolution or some shit, but chances are they just go, "Well, it sounded right."

Making it sound right is the musician's job. Explaining why it sounds right is best left to theorists.

As a writer, I've always been more focused on the lyrics than the music. As powerful as the tune is, I have to admit I dismissed it for a long time because, come on, enunciate, Plant. But of course when the internet came along, I was finally able to decipher the more obscured words. Also, apparently, "Waa-aa-aaaaaaaaa-AHH! is a word. That's an official Robert Plant lyric right there.

Probably the most awesome use of the song in its 50-year history (don't you feel old now?) was in Thor:Ragnarok, and the decision to use it not once but twice in the same movie, for whatever reason (I can no more analyze movies than I can music) just works.

This is how you choreograph a fight scene to battle music.   Few musical selections have fit the tone of a scene, or an entire movie, so well.

Of course, no discussion of Immigrant Song would be complete without the inclusion of this seminal music video:

As someone notes in the comments (yes, I ventured into that swamp): "The internet peaked when this was originally posted. It's been downhill ever since."

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Mini-Contest results!

Seven responses, all relevant to the question. As I noted, I'm just picking one at random, but I appreciated all of the comments.

The Virtual Dice returned a 4, so the Merit Badge goes to... (drumroll) (Hey stop with the bass line, I said drumroll)... Graham B. !

We'll do this again soon.
February 3, 2021 at 12:05am
February 3, 2021 at 12:05am
But first, a quick brag:

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Congrats on winning 1st Place in the January 2021  [Link To Item #30dbc] !! Well done!

Thanks to all the judges and other participants in "30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+]

You, too, can win a Merit Badge, and with a lot less effort -- details below!

Today we reach into the Wayback Machine for an article from the innocent Before Time, two years ago. A time when we actually worried about being around other people because we might get a cold.

Quick-fix cold and flu remedies do nothing but make you poorer  
Emergen-C, zinc, detox baths, vitamins, echinacea: it’s all garbage. Chicken soup, though, works.

I once worked in an office that, I’m convinced, was actually a refrigerator. The people who worked inside that open-plan frozen concrete box were often sick, probably because a large contingent of them never washed their hands after they used the dead-silent restrooms.


But we were not the healthiest people.

This is my shocked face: *Meh*

We continue to cling to so-called “old-wives’ tales” when it comes to preventing and treating coughs, colds, and flu; in fact, interest in complementary and alternative medicine, such as vitamins, herbal treatments, and acupuncture, has consistently climbed over the past few decades. But ultimately, we’re spending energy and money on prevention methods and treatments that, at best, don’t work, and in rare cases, could actually make you sicker.

On the contrary, these "medicines" have been proven to be very effective... at allowing the people who peddle them to eat.

Freed recently conducted a poll of over 2,000 parents, representative of the general United States population, and found that 70 percent of them employ folk strategies to help prevent their child from catching a cold. Such strategies include disallowing the child from going outside with wet hair, limiting outdoor time generally to avoid getting sick, or conversely, encouraging more time outside to prevent the child from getting sick.

My takeaway from this: Better not go outside at all. Safer that way.

One of the most popular herbal supplements for immune-support, echinacea, is mixed at the very best; while a handful of studies show it can reduce your risk of catching a cold, several others, like a 2004 randomized controlled trial, were unable to replicate those earlier studies’ results; a 2018 review (with a very helpful infographic!) takes that language even further, stating that echinacea, as well as other popular supplements and herbal remedies like zinc, garlic, ginseng, eucalyptus oil, and honey, shows “no evidence of effect” for treating the common cold.

You'd probably be well-protected against vampires, though. I mean, I eat garlic all the time and I have yet to be bitten by a vampire. It really works!

“Detox baths,” in which the patient bathes in hot water with epsom salt, baking soda, ginger, essential oils, apple cider vinegar, and/or ground mustard seed are another cold treatment popular with wellness bloggers.

"Detox" is one of those words that, if you use it unironically, is extremely effective at keeping me away.

These baths supposedly conduct their magic by “opening the pores” and “ridding the body of toxins we pick up from pollution and processed foods.”

Sniff... sniff... ah, the familiar scent of bovine excrement.

So what can you do if there’s a cold going around and you don’t want to catch it, or if you already have one and just want the misery to end?

Stay home and drink booze?

Sadly, not much.


The most important thing for prevention is practicing good hygiene, like washing your hands frequently, cleaning surfaces in your house, not touching your face, and “not being in the face of people who have colds themselves, like Uncle Edward or Aunt Freda who want to hug and kiss you,” said Freed.

A year before Trump Mumps, folks.

Some over-the-counter medications, like antihistamines, decongestants, or painkillers like Ibuprofen or Aspirin, can temporarily relieve symptoms...

Ibuprofen is my go-to pain reliever. However, I have never yet found an antihistamine or decongestant that does a goddamn thing for me. Well. Some of them make me feel woozy on top of whatever cold I have at the time, but they don't relieve sinus problems in the slightest. And yes, I've had prescription ones.

One inconclusive (but promising and honestly delightful) treatment method is eating chicken soup.

See? My people were right all along! Just not about bacon.

Until the common cold is eradicated, or at least until we have more, better research on the subject, the best thing to do is wash your hands and hope no one sneezes on you.

Or in your chicken soup.

In spite of these findings, which have been apparent for some time, people continue to waste money on nostrums and snake oil in hopes that, I don't know, something will work. And there's always the person who swears by one treatment or another. "It works for me!" Well, there are several possible reasons for that, including a) placebo effect; b) you're getting better anyway and it just happens to be right after you swallow some pill or other; or, I'm willing to admit, c) you're weird and the thing actually works. Problem with (c) is that unless it passes scientific testing, it's clear that it's not going to work for everyone or even most people.

I'll finish by noting that back in college, I participated in a study on zinc as a potential cold remedy. Participating in studies in college is a time-honored tradition, and kept students in beer money back when more undergrads could drink beer. Of course, I still don't know if I was in the control group or not. Point is, this was in the mid-80s, and here it is over 30 years later and it seems they're still arguing about zinc. Which tells me that it's pretty damn worthless, or there would have been something conclusive by now.

About that Merit Badge, though, it's time for another

*StarB* *StarB* *StarB*

Merit Badge Mini-Contest!

We'll make this one easy. Comment below with what you do to prevent and/or treat a cold when you get one (or brag a lot if you never get colds). I'll pick one of the relevant responses at random and give the commenter a Merit Badge tomorrow. As usual, you have until midnight WDC time tonight, Wednesday.

And just to be fair, I'll tell you here what I do: I buy three or four boxes of lotion-infused tissues, take Advil for the headache, drink tea, sit up in bed and blow my nose every 5-10 seconds. Sometimes, rum is involved -- it doesn't make the cold better, but it helps me give less of a damn about it. And then I bitch a lot about how fucking miserable I am to whoever will listen, and maybe a few people who won't.

Why no chicken soup? I can't be arsed to make it when I'm sick (even if it involves nothing more than opening a can of Campbell's), and besides, it couldn't possibly be as good as my mom's -- it was the one thing she could cook well.
February 2, 2021 at 12:02am
February 2, 2021 at 12:02am
If you haven't noticed, the US has a problem with public transportation. The problem is it sucks.

Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don’t Blame Cars.)  
Streetcar, bus, and metro systems have been ignoring one lesson for 100 years: Service drives demand.

While this article is about two and a half years old, the issues it addresses certainly haven't improved.

One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world.

And now the world has surpassed it, but we don't have it in us to envy them.

Annual per capita transit trips in the U.S. plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

Hence "per capita," duh.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world. While a decline in transit use in the face of fierce competition from the private automobile throughout the 20th century was inevitable, near-total collapse was not.

The automobile has one major advantage over any sort of public transportation: convenience. No need to concern oneself with any schedule other than that of whatever place you're heading.

This is, of course, only possible because of vast public expenditures in private transportation infrastructure (as the article mentions later), as well as the willingness of city planners to allow for stupidly generous amounts of parking. Having designed a few parking lots, I'm not entirely ignorant on the subject.

So there are a few environmental concerns going on: autos themselves (mitigated somewhat by the inevitable switch to electric cars), ever-wider roads, and huge amounts of impervious surface in the form of parking lots.

Now, here's the thing: I've really given up on the whole "save the environment" thing. It's clear that governments aren't really on board with this; the best they seem to be able to do is come up with things like mandating low-flow toilets (which use 1/3 the amount of water but have to be flushed three times) and low-flow shower heads (which use 1/2 the amount of water but require showers to take twice as long). I've resigned myself to the fact that there is not a goddamn thing I can do about it, myself; any attempt merely inconveniences me and amounts to one less snowflake in a blizzard.

I mean, there are things I do. I installed insulation and better windows. I replaced all my lightbulbs with LEDs. I recycle. This is because like most people, I respond to incentives: insulation and better windows keep my heating / cooling bills low; LEDs have a high up-front cost but last 20 years and I hate changing lightbulbs; and the city provides free single-stream recycling.

Absent these incentives, I simply can't be arsed. I didn't have kids, so fuck it, I could spend the rest of my life flying a private jet (if only...) and not even come close to the total carbon emissions of someone with offspring.

And I like to drive.

I say all these things mostly to point out that despite all of this, I would totally use public transportation if it didn't suck.

A bus that comes once and[sic] hour, stops at 7 pm, and doesn’t run on Sundays—a typical service level in many American cities—restricts people’s lives so much that anyone who can drive, will drive. That keeps ridership per capita low.

I've been bitching for years, both as a potential consumer of public transportation and as someone with a background in transportation engineering, that US cities go about the whole PT thing ass-backwards. They seem to get the idea that, well, we'll just put a line in from Point A to Point B, run a carriage every hour during daylight, and see how much revenue we can get for expansions.

With a schedule like that (and the complete disregard of Points C through Z), they set themselves up to fail. Miserably. Then they throw up their hands and go "See? No one wants public transportation."

My small town is better than many of its size in that regard, but many's the city council meeting I used to sit in on where they'd go, "Let's reduce the parking requirements to incentivize people to use the buses." Meanwhile, a good half the people who need to get into town live beyond the bus service, so they have to drive in... but now there's not enough parking. And what parking there is is marked "no commuters," like private shopping centers and such.

It's maddening.

This town needs a monorail.

What happened? Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.

Or this happens.

Anyway, the article is a pretty good overview of the history of transportation.

It may be that, like a lot of things, the actual solution will be something else entirely -- like if we could get people to stop being scared shitless of autonomous vehicles. Auto accidents cause fatalities every damn year in the range of something like (can't be arsed to look it up but this number is what's stuck in my head) 30,000 dead people: drivers, passengers, pedestrians. Thirty. Thousand. People. A year.

An autonomous vehicle, in beta, kills ONE person and people freak the fuck out.

Look: you're never going to get fatalities down to zero. Not unless you ban transportation entirely, and good luck with that. And yeah, there are some things to work out, but goddammit, stop being afraid of anything new or robotic. I'm reminded of how people are scared shitless of flying, but think little of speeding in their car to the airport; the latter activity being several orders of magnitude more dangerous.

If autonomous vehicles can reduce that by as little as 3,000 fatalities a year, I'd consider it a win. But I'm convinced that most people will focus on the glass half empty (27,000 fatalities a year) rather than the glass half full (3,000 fewer than before).

Because, by and large, people are utter shit at understanding risk management and statistics, preferring to go with emotional reactions.

Need I point out that this is similar to the COVID vaccination thing? Half a million dead from Trump Mumps, millions more disabled by it, possibly permanently, but one person has an adverse reaction to the vaccine and all of a sudden it's "I don't trust it. I'll take my 1% chance of dying a horrible death rather than the 0.00000001% chance of having a bad reaction to the vaccine." (Note: I pulled those numbers out of my ass but the point remains valid.)

And this. This is why I've quit giving a shit about the environment. No one will learn until we all burn.
February 1, 2021 at 12:00am
February 1, 2021 at 12:00am
Not long ago, in "Time After Time, I speculated about time travel.

And tomorrow is Groundhog Day, which is now more famous for the eponymous movie than for the rodent's weather forecasting abilities, which in turn displaced a much older purpose for observing the beginning of February, but that's not important right now - what's relevant today is that the movie Groundhog Day featured a time loop.

I should note once again that an episode of ST:TNG did the time loop thing before GHD did, and that GHD itself was inspired by a novel whose title I've forgotten. But Bill Murray is awesome enough that GHD is the only thing people can compare any time loop movies to.

This is fine. I love the movie, myself. I just have to be pedantic about it.

Anyway. So today's link, which as usual was chosen at random, relates to both of these things. Sort of.

I find that paradoxes tend to resolve themselves once semantic issues are resolved -- if, that is, they ever are.

No one has yet managed to travel through time – at least to our knowledge – but the question of whether or not such a feat would be theoretically possible continues to fascinate scientists.





"...if you go back in time and stop your parents from meeting, for instance, how can you possibly exist in order to go back in time in the first place?"

People keep going on and on about the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics, and I'm still not sure how that works (neither is anyone else), but that would easily resolve such an apparent paradox.

"Classical dynamics says if you know the state of a system at a particular time, this can tell us the entire history of the system," says Tobar.

Okay, this guy's a physicist and I'm not, and I'm not going to contradict his statement, but the way this quote is presented is, in my opinion, misleading. First of all, classical dynamics doesn't rule here; quantum mechanics does, with the Uncertainty Principle and all that. Second, one would have to know the state of a system to an arbitrarily large number of decimal places, which is practically, if not theoretically, impossible.

What the calculations show is that space-time can potentially adapt itself to avoid paradoxes.

This is misleading, too, implying an intelligence for which there is as yet no evidence.

To use a topical example, imagine a time traveller journeying into the past to stop a disease from spreading – if the mission was successful, the time traveller would have no disease to go back in time to defeat.

Tobar's work suggests that the disease would still escape some other way, through a different route or by a different method, removing the paradox. Whatever the time traveller did, the disease wouldn't be stopped.

Hey, that sounds like a wonderful idea for a movie- oh, wait.  

Incidentally, I once saw the movie that inspired 12 Monkeys, a short film called La Jetée. Actually, I saw the short film first, in a cinema class in college in the 80s. If you can find it, it's worth watching. Hell. I might try to find it in the original French now that I have some understanding of that language.

Tobar's work isn't easy for non-mathematicians to dig into, but it looks at the influence of deterministic processes (without any randomness) on an arbitrary number of regions in the space-time continuum, and demonstrates how both closed timelike curves (as predicted by Einstein) can fit in with the rules of free will and classical physics.

No, no, it's not just you; they lost me here as well. I mean, yeah, I know what a "closed timelike curve" is, sort of, but that doesn't say much. Anyway, the thing I take issue with here is "the rules of free will." There are no such rules. Free will is taken as a given, as a basic assumption, but I'm not convinced free will is anything other than an illusion. That is, it's not a matter of predestination, but that our consciousness is the result of physical activities in our nervous systems, which in turn are subject to the rules of determinism; our decisions aren't predictable, but they are deterministic -- probably with some quantum randomness thrown in; the details are above my pay grade, but that doesn't mean we can just accept "free will" is a real thing.

"The maths checks out – and the results are the stuff of science fiction," says physicist Fabio Costa from the University of Queensland, who supervised the research.

Technically, anything can be the stuff of science fiction. Just saying.

While the numbers might work out, actually bending space and time to get into the past remains elusive – the time machines that scientists have devised so far are so high-concept that for they currently only exist as calculations on a page.

Like I said: speculative. I still don't accept that time travel is likely on the kind of large scale that captures the popular imagination (that is, anything larger than subatomic particles).

But it sure is fun to read and think about. Especially if you're a writer.
January 31, 2021 at 12:08am
January 31, 2021 at 12:08am
I considered skipping today.

As of right now, my daily blogging streak exceeds 13 months. At some point I will break it, but the later I skip a day, the more I'm likely to plunge into existential despair when it happens (even if it's on purpose).

But then I looked at my Blog Fodder collection, where I store some of the interesting links I come up with in my perusal of our version of the Library at Alexandria. The past three months have been entirely prompt-oriented, and while it's been fun and rewarding, I'm sure readers are getting weary of the same format. During that time I've just been idly saving things to that list when I come across them.

Seventy-one items.

That's one a day for over two months.

Now, sometimes I'll pick one of those and, upon re-reading, ask myself what the hell I was thinking saving that garbage. Okay, well, no, if it's truly garbage then I'd have fun stuffing it in a trash bag and kicking it to the curb (that is, tearing the article apart in here). Point is, sometimes I'll get something that's not even worth ragging on and skipping it entirely, because, I don't know, maybe I was drunk or in a really different frame of mind when I saved it, or perhaps the world has moved on by the time it comes up.

But that happens rarely, and besides, I'm adding new links all the time, if irregularly. Writing to prompts is meant to help me catch up when the well's starting to run dry, but right now it's overflowing and eroding away the topsoil -- to stretch a metaphor beyond comprehensibility.

And so I used my RNG and it came up with an article that I saved fairly recently. Let's take a look, shall we?

You know, the whole "rewire your brain" thing has bugged me, at some level, for some time. Saying things like that, or "we're hard-wired to (do whatever)" is to use a particularly misleading metaphor.

Obviously, we don't have actual wires (nerves, sure, but in the brain, they're not the same thing as wires), and there have always been comparisons between the brain and some sort of technology. When clocks were all the rage, people used timekeeping metaphors. In the industrial revolution, it was machinery; some of this remains in our lexicon, like when someone likens the thinking process to "gears turning."

The brain has also been likened to a computer with its processors and hard drives (also a misleading metaphor), and I guarantee you if quantum computing takes off you'll have people talking about superpositions of brain waves and collapse of the mental wave function -- that is, when more people become familiar with the lingo of quantum physics.

But, whatever. The human brain is notorious for not being able to understand itself, so metaphor it is.

The simplest, most direct way to be smart is to build deep knowledge about things you care about.

This sent up red flags for me. I know subtitles are just there to catch our attention, and it worked in this case -- but I'm deeply aware that "knowledge" isn't the same thing as "intelligence." The other day we had the prompt about trivia, and that's a perfect example: being able to rattle off fact after memorized fact doesn't mean you can synthesize these facts into something greater, which to me is the core of intelligence. Of course I would say that, since my memory is shit but I like to think I'm smart anyway.

You are the architect of your brain.

Oh, now the metaphor shifts from electricity to buildings. Well, I suppose one can rewire a structure, too.

It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

And now it's about dogs. Dude, pick a metaphor and stick with it.

Until recently, the conventional thinking was that our brains were hardwired at birth and therefore unchangeable.

But the good news is that our brains are constantly being reshaped by our daily experiences.

Back to the wires again. Whatever. I don't know how anyone ever thought things were "hardwired" when it was so obvious that experiences shape thoughts that this became the basis for psychotherapy.

Anyway, we're only four sentences into the article and I've already rambled on too long. I'd suggest actually reading the thing, not because it's particularly well-written (it's obviously not) but because the core message is one I believe in. I think it's best expressed in the article itself by this line:

It pays to crave and keep an open mind. Incredibly smart people aren’t always born that way, but rather are constantly working to improve their intelligence.

Though I think even that is a bit misleading, because you don't have to be a genius to be open to new ideas and experiences.

The article goes on to suggest that we consolidate what we learn through... writing.

Blogging is a great tool for reflection and sharing what you’ve learned, even if you don’t hope to make a living at it. And it’s free.

Writing expands our vocabulary, which has been shown to be directly correlated with success.

For various definitions of "success," I'm sure. Here we fall into the usual trap of pandering to outcome-focused learning. One sure way to piss me off, if I were a teacher, would be to ask me, "Why are we learning this? What use is it?" The future use is irrelevant. The important part is the learning itself. I'm not a teacher, though, because I'd probably want to kick the ass of whoever asks that, and that's frowned upon for some reason.

Point is, that's what I've been doing, or trying to do, here: finding things that are, or could be, interesting, and then writing about them.

I must be a genius!
January 30, 2021 at 12:46am
January 30, 2021 at 12:46am
Hard to accept that January is almost over. I've accomplished almost nothing. Which is fine.

The 30DBC prompt is running late, but I wanted to get an entry in now anyway. Today will be a busy day -- I need to do some panic-buying because there's supposed to be a blizzard on Sunday.

Well. What passes for a blizzard in Virginia, anyway. They're predicting maybe six inches of sn*w, but even half an inch is enough to shut everything down here. Which is weird because everything ought to be shut down anyway.

So of course groceries, but I'm getting those delivered as per usual. The important thing is that my liquor supply is running low and needs replenishment. I have no idea how that happens (*hic*).

Then of course there's the WDC Zoom meeting tomorrow. If anyone here wants to join us, you're welcome; it's at 4pm WDC time. If you haven't logged in before, you may need to sign up. Details here:

 WDC Zoomies  (GC)
A group of writers who meet via Zoom every other Saturday
#2220189 by Charity Marie

Today should be the final entry for the 30DBC, and I expect next month I'll go back to my usual nonsense (as opposed to prompted nonsense). Though I should also plug my friend's blogging activity that I intend to participate in with a few entries in February, which could use some more participants: "Journalistic Intentions [18+]

Hopefully I'll edit this later, after the prompt shows up. If I'm not too drunk.


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PROMPT January 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?

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I really enjoyed the vast majority of the prompts this month, so it's hard to pick one that stands out. But if pressed, I'd probably say the "one question about the future" one from the 5th, because I got to play with a virtual Magic 8-Ball in writing that one.

As always, the best part of participating is interacting with others -- reading their entries and commenting, or reading their comments on mine. I don't always respond directly to comments, but I do appreciate all of them!

Until next time, stay warm (or cool if you're in that other hemisphere), and I hope you'll keep reading. As incentivea bribe, I'll do more Mini-Contests soon.
January 29, 2021 at 12:10am
January 29, 2021 at 12:10am
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PROMPT January 29th

Write about something funny! Share a joke, recount a humorous story, or tell your readers about a funny experience you had.

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Oh man... I don't know if I can do this.

The funny thing about being funny is it's really, really hard to be funny on demand.

Like, I could be telling jokes for hours, and then someone will turn to me and go, "Hey Waltz, say something funny." And the best I can come up with is to say, "Something funny." And that's if I think of it. It's like every cell in my brain runs off to the "I really like beer" cortex and settles down for a cold one.

What's worse is I'm scheduled to do next week's Comedy newsletter, and I haven't thought of a single thing to say. My first Comedy newsletter was 14 years ago this month, though I didn't become a regular editor of it until two months later, in March 2007. Since that fateful March, I've managed to do an editorial every four weeks (give or take, what with scheduling changes along the way), usually finding something to say at the very last minute.

This is why I procrastinate: It works.

Not that they were all great, mind you. Some of them were crappier than a porta-potty at a laxative festival.

In the ancient times B.I. (Before Internet), I had a memory for jokes. Someone would tell me a joke once, and I'd remember it and be able to deliver it at any point thereafter, usually with a few riffs. But at least I rarely fucked up the punch line. Now, though? No point remembering things if I can just look them up on the internet.

Twenty years or so ago, someone scientifically determined the World's Funniest Joke.   It's at the link, but I'll reproduce it here for those of you who don't want to open a link:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says, "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence; then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, "OK, now what?"

Now, this joke certainly has aspects that make it funny. The important part is the difference between what is meant by "First, let's make sure he's dead" and what the hunter understands. Misunderstanding is an important part of comedy. From there, you have to set it up so the person doing the calling is expected to have a gun; hence "hunters." It wouldn't work with just "two guys are taking a walk in the woods."

One version of this joke that I saw specifies, for some reason, that the hunters are from New Jersey, which makes me believe that the joke was originally a New York thing. I'd tell it about West Virginians, myself.

The second important part of the joke is that someone dies. Yes, this is part of comedy. Most jokes require someone to be hurt. As Mel Brooks once pointed out when asked the difference between comedy and tragedy, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Jokes help us come to terms with our own mortality and frailty.

I could do without the passive voice, though. "...a gun shot is heard." I imagine that if one were telling this joke the old-fashioned way, in person, one would go "There's a silence, then BANG."

Now, for a while there, this particular "funniest joke" contest was looking like it was going to have a different winner. Here's that one:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."

Watson: "I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."

Holmes: "Watson, you idiot, somebody's stolen our tent!"

You'll note that no one dies in this one. But the joke hinges on a different kind of misfortune. The other comedic element is Watson waxing philosophical when he should have been more practical, a reminder to all of us that sometimes we need to focus on what's around us instead of having our heads in the clouds all the time. That combined with the absurdity of someone being able to steal the tent in the first place makes this, objectively, quite humorous.

Nevertheless, I didn't laugh at either of these jokes. Why? Well, partly because you can't build something up by saying, "Okay, I'm about to tell you the funniest joke ever." This sets expectations way too high, and whoever you're telling it to is primed to think of reasons why it's not, after all, the funniest joke ever. Probably if someone just told me one of those jokes at a party (remember parties?) without the buildup, and if I'd never heard / read them, I might have chuckled (genuinely, not just out of politeness).

I'll leave you with one more joke. I don't know if it was ever in the running for this scientific study of comedy, but I've known it for quite a long time, since about ten years B.I. As with many jokes, I don't know the origin of it, and I'm not going to look it up but tell it from memory:

A scientist was developing a serum to vastly extend the lifespan of marine mammals. The primary ingredient in the formula was extract of mynah bird, which was a bit hard to come by, and one day, in the middle of testing this on his pet dolphin, he ran out of extract. So he went to the pet store to pick up a fresh batch of birds.

While he was gone, though, there was a problem at the local zoo, and some of the big cats escaped and started roaming the city. One of them curled up on this scientist's front doorstep and went to sleep.

So here comes our scientist back from the store with a bag full of mynah birds, when he notices the King of the Beasts blocking his door. "Oh, no," he thinks, "What am I going to do? I have to get inside; I'm at a critical stage in my experiments. There's no other way into the house. How am I going to get past this guy without waking him up and likely getting eaten?" He thinks about it for a few minutes and decides on a stealth approach. So he tiptoes up to the house, real quiet-like, and edges his way toward the front door.

He's managed to put one foot over the animal when a dozen cops come out of nowhere, point their guns at him, and go:

"Freeze, mister! You're under arrest...

...for transporting mynahs across sedate lions for immortal porpoises!"

I'll be here all week.
January 28, 2021 at 12:16am
January 28, 2021 at 12:16am
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PROMPT January 28th

We need your help filling the Challenge War Chest! In your entry today, write three of your own prompts and then use one of them to complete the rest of your entry.

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1. What is something you're afraid of? You don't have to reveal your biggest fear, just pick something that gives you the willies, rational or not.

2. Talk about a time when you wish you'd handled something differently.

3. What sounds do you dislike?

Now, I could probably come up with something for all of these, but I'm not known for being an overachiever. Besides, if I participate in future rounds, I'll want to save some of my answers for them.

So I'm going to talk about #1.

As noted in the prompt, it's not my biggest fear, but I'm not a fan of anything touching my eyeballs. I could never wear contact lenses, because that would involve me touching my eyes, and that's not going to happen. Oh, sure, I'd probably get used to it, but the point is I don't wanna. Nor have I ever had to; until recently, I've had pretty good vision.

This is in spite of eye surgery I had back in the 80s. I'd injured my cornea doing construction work. You know how they say "always wear safety glasses?" There's a reason for that, and it's not fashion sense. In my defense, I had been wearing some but they weren't the OSHA approved kind, so they slipped off and fell down a stack of cinderblock cells, frustratingly out of reach. They're probably still the wall of a garage in Reston. But I had to keep working, so there was nothing protecting my eyes when a nail flew up and smacked my cornea.

The next day, I got stitches in my cornea. This sucked, but at least I was under general anesthesia for the actual surgery. Within a year, though, it had completely healed, and my vision in that eye had actually improved some.

About fifteen years ago, though, I started feeling eyestrain. Apparently it's just one of the fun parts of getting old that you can't focus at different distances anymore, especially if you spend your days in front of a computer, which describes my life. So I started needing reading glasses. Still no contacts necessary, and hell, glasses are cool.

But even more recently, it's become apparent that my vision is deteriorating again, and I will need eye surgery. Again.

I looked up the procedure and went, "Nope."

Apparently this surgery is really common, and they have sorcery now, so it's actually an outpatient procedure -- the patient is awake for the whole thing. The idea of letting someone fuck around with my eyeballs, no matter how good they are at their job, while I'm awake and aware, just freaks me right the hell out.

One of the most horrible things I ever heard of was some guy who was having eye surgery. The anesthesia only partially worked: he could not move, he could not speak, he could do absolutely nothing -- but he could see and hear. So everything the doctors and nurses said and did? He was awake for that. With his eyes wedged open because, in case I wasn't clear, this was eye surgery.

I can't think of too many things that would freak me out more. Bad enough I have sleep paralysis sometimes.

I mean, lots of people are blind, right? I could be blind and not have to deal with this.

But. Hell. That would make video games difficult, and driving problematic. (On the other hand, tax break!)

So I'll probably suck it up and get the surgery. At some point. Because this shit isn't going to get better on its own.

Getting old sucks, but I suspect it beats the only alternative.
January 27, 2021 at 12:06am
January 27, 2021 at 12:06am
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PROMPT January 27th

What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?

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I mean, have you read this blog?

Seriously, though, I don't think any piece of knowledge is useless -- especially for a writer. Alternatively, I could take the philosophical approach that all facts are useless, but then Fox News might try to recruit me.

There is, however, a whole spectrum between "useful" and "useless." Problem is, that spectrum is different for each person. For example, someone else (who is not me) might think it's critically important to know who won Game 3 of the 1978 World Series (I don't know that one and can't be arsed to look it up; I just pulled those numbers out of the air. For all I know, it's somehow important to sportsball.) Meanwhile, someone else (who also is not me) might consider the knowledge that Mars has two small moons, one of them orbiting retrograde, to have no practical value, whereas I find it not only interesting but essential.

After all, I haven't been to Mars, and neither has anyone else, so what good does it do to know such things? Unless of course you're a science fiction writer, or perhaps work for NASA.

So in considering what's useless, I'd have to know what each reader considers to be useful, and that's something I just can't begin to guess at. We're all different.

Consequently, I'm going to go with something for this entry that really has no bearing on anything else:

The week I was born, the #1 single in the US was "Lightnin' Strikes" by Lou Christie. At some point I looked it up and it stuck in my head (though I did just now look it up again just to make sure my memory hadn't done what my memory tends to do). It's interesting because apparently Christie is, or until recently was, still performing; and it's useless because what difference does it really make to anyone what song was #1 when I was born?

In the end, of course, all trivia is useful -- at least if you like to win trivia contests at bars.
January 26, 2021 at 12:22am
January 26, 2021 at 12:22am
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PROMPT January 26th

Do you practice mindfulness or meditation? How often? On an average day, how often are you intentionally aware of your mental state and emotions?

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Hm, let me just become aware of my emotions right now...


*Angry* *Rage* *Rage* *Rage* *Rant*

I've made it a habit to rant against this "mindfulness" bullshit in here in the past. Here are some of the entries excoriating the nonsense:

Living in the present makes us less than human: "Brains

Mindfulness isn't necessary for self-actualization: "Inspiration

Mindfulness is snake oil: "Mind over Matter

Mindfulness is incompatible with setting life goals: "Millionaire Blues

It probably encourages complacency: "If You Don't Mindful

"The Pursuit of Grumpiness

Using mindfulness to cure depression can cause depression: "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

So you can see I've given "mindfulness" way more thought than it actually deserves, it being dangerous nonsense and all. It's just a way for charlatan New Age gurus to sell more New Age gurufiction by taking advantage of peoples' dissatisfaction with life. "Instead of actually changing things, I'll buy this book / watch this video and work on making myself complacent." It's the worst type of navel-gazing when what we need to do these days is to be focused more outward.

Oh, sure, people can seem to get something out of it at first, but the same could be said for any new way of thinking or viewing life.

As for meditation, well, if it works for you, fine. It annoys me when it's not actively putting me to sleep.

I feel like I'm always aware of my mental state or emotions. I may not always like what I become aware of, but it's like breathing: no one needs to tell you to "breathe." You're always breathing, or you'd be dead. Oh, sure, maybe you can improve on the way you breathe, but anything can always be improved. Similarly, you're always thinking, and you can train yourself to think better.

And do you really believe that someone whose entire purpose in life is to sell books and get paid to do seminars and shit is going to encourage people to think for themselves? People thinking independently is exactly what every huckster is afraid of.

So no, I don't buy into this horseshit.
January 25, 2021 at 12:02am
January 25, 2021 at 12:02am
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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?

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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.
January 24, 2021 at 12:02am
January 24, 2021 at 12:02am
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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?

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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.
January 23, 2021 at 12:13am
January 23, 2021 at 12:13am
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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 *Wink* )

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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.
January 22, 2021 at 12:02am
January 22, 2021 at 12:02am
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PROMPT January 22nd

What books are on your reading list?

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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.
January 21, 2021 at 12:02am
January 21, 2021 at 12:02am
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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?

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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.
January 20, 2021 at 12:16am
January 20, 2021 at 12:16am
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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?

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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.
January 19, 2021 at 12:01am
January 19, 2021 at 12:01am
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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?

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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.

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