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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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July 24, 2019 at 12:13am
July 24, 2019 at 12:13am
Take us on a sensory journey to a place that is significant to you. Try to describe the place using all of your senses so we can be there with you!

You can see the house from the train as it crosses over the wide water.

Can't blame you if you missed it, though. What catches the eye is the water itself, a bay stretching out to the horizon. And the docks of the marina next door - in the wind, the sailboats' masts and rigging ring with the sway of air and water. Perched as it is on a small bluff overlooking the estuary, the house itself is protected from the waves the wind stirs up, but not the sight of the boats, or the sounds. Sometimes, a train rumbles across the nearby bridge, and you wonder if anyone's looking.

At night, in the summer, it's the humidity that gets you. The humidity, and the bugs. You're wearing pungent, antiseptic bug spray, but still you have to slap at the occasional flying critter, lest it bite or sting. The slaps sting too, only not as acutely.

In daytime, you can escape the heat by diving into the water. Well, not literally diving; the bottom slopes gently from the shore to the navigation channel, smooth rocks tickling your feet. Behind the house stretches a garden and a field. Sometimes, you have to thin out the carrots. Bring a hose with you so you can rinse off the roots and sink your teeth into their crunch and savor their sweet taste, a flavor that prepackaged "baby carrots" can't even touch. And don't get me started on what passes for sweet corn in the stores; here, you can eat it raw, right off the stalk, before the sugars have a chance to degrade into starch.

The damp ground produces a musty odor that speaks of dying and growing things. And of home.

Because this is home, at least for the younger version of me. Sometimes, I miss it. Most of the time, though, I remember how much work a farm is, and I'll settle for store-bought corn.
July 23, 2019 at 12:32am
July 23, 2019 at 12:32am
Write about a fear you experienced as a child that you have since overcome.

Before I do that, there's something that's been bugging me for a while.

Now, I admit I'm not the most emotionally aware person in the world, so maybe someone can explain this to me.

We conflate hate and fear, and I don't understand why.

I know that some schools of thought (mostly very New-Age-y) hold that all human emotion can be categorized as, at base, either love or fear. Under "love" in this philosophy we have, I suppose, things like affection, camaraderie, comfort, whatever - those emotions we consider "positive." Under "fear," by contrast, would be things like greed, jealousy and hatred, the "negative" ones.

I once had an epiphany that since fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat to something that we love (including our lives), that would mean love is the basic emotion. I suppose you could turn that on its head and declare that fear is the only real emotion. More likely, you can dismiss the whole philosophy as the bullshit that most New Age stuff is.

But that's irrelevant; I'm talking about hate and fear here. Like I said, we conflate it: hatred of something usually gets the -phobia suffix added on, indicating fear. However, the Venn diagram of "hate" and "fear" seems to me to have overlap, but it's not a perfect circle. For example, just to use a common fear, maybe you're one of those weird people who goes outside and you're afraid of bears. This is logical; a bear can fuck up your day. Still, this doesn't mean you hate bears; it just means you don't want to be eaten by one. Bears are, apart from the whole "outweigh me by a thousand pounds and possess sharp teeth and claws" thing, pretty damn cool. Of course, it's possible you both hate and fear them, but it's not required.

Likewise, maybe you hate, I dunno, PETA. This, too, is understandable; they're a bunch of extremist hypocrites (personally, I think they're being funded by the soybean industry as a way to increase demand for their product, but I have no proof of this). But there's certainly nothing to fear about them. What are they going to do, bleed on you?

Hate and fear are not the same thing. So why the "-phobia?"

The best I can come up with is that it entered the public consciousness as a kind of social engineering. A lot of people (okay, men) find it socially acceptable to hold hatred in their hearts, but if you suggest that they're actually cowards, they feel shame about that. If this is true, it needs to stop; the goal should be to get people more in touch with and understanding of their own emotions, not leverage atavistic impulses to further your own aims.

But I don't know if that's true. I'd really like to hear others' take on it.

When I was a kid, like all kids, I was afraid of a lot of things, mostly because I didn't understand them. This, I think, is the sort of thing that fosters fear: ignorance. I don't see ignorance in itself as a bad thing; it's correctable. It's the people who refuse to learn who deserve scorn, not the generally ignorant. Everyone is ignorant about some things and enlightened about others.

To address the prompt, then, I guess I'll have to admit that when I was a kid, thanks to movies, TV, and the science fiction books I loved to read, I was sure that space aliens existed and wanted to abduct me. This, naturally, freaked me out, as if the constant threat of nuclear annihilation wasn't enough. Other kids maybe feared the monster under the bed, but not me. It's not that I didn't think there was a monster under my bed; it's that the monster would have been abducted by aliens, too, so we had common ground to bond over.

Why more people don't buy kids beds without space underneath them, I simply don't understand. Maybe it's so the monster stays there and doesn't interrupt the parents while they're boning.

Anyway, point is, I got over it. For a while there, as a kid, I had certain rituals I did to ward off the aliens. As an example, I just knew that as long as I had my back against something, they couldn't beam me up (fears have never been known for making a lot of logical sense). I could never sleep on my back, though, so instead of hugging a pillow or a bear like other kids, I kept my back against one.

It must have worked, because I was never abducted or replaced by aliens.

Or, at least, I wouldn't admit it if I had been, fellow humans.
July 22, 2019 at 12:03am
July 22, 2019 at 12:03am
Share three pieces of advice you’ve received through your life that you wish you had heard earlier.

Advice? I'm more into vice.

It's not that people didn't give me this advice when I was younger; it's more that I was so sure I would be the exception that I didn't fucking listen. Which I guess is the same thing as "I wish I'd heard the advice."

1. It's okay to be alone.

Turns out it's better to be alone than to be with someone who's wrong for you. Who knew? Well... literally everybody, except me of course.

On the other hand, I've known people who were deathly afraid of being alone. I suppose that advice wouldn't have worked out for them, but it seems that I'm mostly introverted anyway, so being with other people isn't a high priority for me. Sure, I need it sometimes, but usually a bartender is enough.

2. Exercise daily.

I'm sure this seems obvious to people. Hell, it's obvious to me, now. But I thought I could break all the rules, again, and I ended up playing catch-up after some medical issues. I always figured, what's the point of living longer if you're just having to spend all that extra time exercising? I still believe that, in theory, but it turns out there are more immediate benefits, not just potentially longer life.

3. Budget.

My parents did a fair job talking to me about money, but it still wasn't enough. I was stupid about money matters for way too long. It's not like these things are taught in schools; I had to figure it all out on my own. When I did, my epiphany was like, "Huh. My parents were right." Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at these things), by that time my mom was gone and my dad wasn't in any position to say "I told you so," or anything else coherent for that matter.

There's also a great deal of advice that you hear that's utter bullshit. Or, to be fair, it's bullshit for you; maybe not so much for the person offering it. The real question, then, is: how do you tell good advice from bad?

Unfortunately, the answer to that is, "Make your own mistakes." I doubt I'd have learned anything if I hadn't come to these conclusions myself. I'm stubborn like that. So here's my advice:

Don't take advice.
July 21, 2019 at 12:02am
July 21, 2019 at 12:02am
Write an entry inspired by any three WDC emoticons. You pick the emoticons, but make sure they are tied to your entry in some way.

I don't speak emoji.

What I mean is, unless it's, like, a smiley-face or a laughing face, it might as well be a bunch of x's. If someone were to send me a text containing a string of emojis, my mind would simply go blank; I wouldn't even be able to go, "eggplant, poop, alien, waving woman, googly eyes," because my gaze just slides off the string - let alone attempt to translate that into whatever metaphorical language.

Similarly, I don't text people emojis unless it's, like, a laugh, or something equally simple and unambiguous.

Honestly, I miss the early days, when we had to work to make our emotions clear. If we couldn't do so with our words, we'd have to come up with strings of characters to emulate facial expressions. It was a bright, purer time. Kids these days don't know how easy they have it. Get off my lawn.

But I'm used to the WDC emoticons; they're clear and easy to understand.

When I was a baby WDCer, we didn't have as many emoticons. For this entry, I'll pick the three that made me the most excited to finally see as SMs released them during my tenure here.

*Devil* - believe it or not, the "angel" emoticon had no mirror-universe doppelganger for a long time. I don't remember what year the Devil one came out, but I do remember finally feeling that my life was complete.

I have simple needs.

*Donut4* and all the other donut emoticons - while I eschew the actual pastries (as opposed to chew them) these days for obvious reasons, I was glad to see these appear a couple years back. I use them instead of bullets, especially when giving lists of suggestions in reviews. They don't "mean" anything; they're just tasty, delicious, forbidden donuts. *drool*


*FacePalm* is the WDC emoticon I use the most. Also for obvious reasons. So many things elicit that reaction from me, and its absence was a pox upon my existence before it finally showed up in the list.

Now, of course, I can also do this:

But I'm still glad for the emoticon.
July 20, 2019 at 12:49am
July 20, 2019 at 12:49am
Write about some of the words that were introduced in the year you were born according to Merriam-Webster dictionary by referring to the website below:


Hey, a sneaky way to get us to admit our ages!

Fortunately, anyone who can do math has already figured mine out because of my constant harping about Apollo 11. So I'll just select a few entries that catch my eye.

adaptive optics: a telescopic system that improves image resolution by compensating for distortions caused by atmospheric turbulence

One night in 2017, my friend and I were sitting on his lanai in Kihei, Maui, gazing at the night sky, when a strange red-orange light appeared over Haleakala. It moved around in ways impossible for any sort of conventional aircraft. We'd been drinking, of course, so naturally, our first thought was ALIENS!

I was joking. He was not. I pointed out that the telescope probably used adaptive optics, and what we saw was the guidance laser.

The problem with ground-based telescopes, no matter how high a mountain you perch them on, is that there's always some atmosphere between the telescope and the vast reaches of vacuum in outer space. As the turbulence consists of air of slightly varying density, this has the effect of bouncing the star, or whatever, around in the image. This is inimical to the point of a telescope, which is not, as most people think, to magnify; the point is to gather light. Long exposures are your friend. Anyway, so what you do is you point a laser at the sky and use it and a computer to make very slight perturbations in the 'scope's reflecting mirror. This stabilizes the image somewhat, although it's still not as clear as a space telescope (Hubble, e.g.) But at the time, there weren't space telescopes.

The following year, I hung out with a professional astronomer for a week, and he confirmed that not only did Haleakala's telescope use adaptive optics, but it was the first one to do so. He also told me that the way the laser works is that it is just the right energy to excite the sodium ions that persist in a thin layer in the upper atmosphere, with the resulting photons being in the exact color I saw on Maui.

So, no aliens. Just the usual humdrum human ingenuity and SCIENCE, BITCHES.

lithium niobate: a crystalline material LiNbO3 whose physical properties change in response to pressure or the presence of an electric field and which is used in fiber optics and as a synthetic gemstone

I have no personal connection to this, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to point out that padding your dictionary by incorporating terms from chemistry is cheating.

meth: methamphetamine

Except when it becomes a household word.

ngwee: a monetary subunit of the kwacha

Thanks, dictionary! That helps so much!


Oh, okay. That helps marginally more.

second world: Communist nations regarded in the latter part of the 20th century as a political and economic bloc

I'm just including this because we like to talk about the "third world," and this is a reminder that there was considered to be a "second world" at one time as well. The division was: first world - democracies; second world - pinko commies; third world - everyone else. That didn't start out as a pejorative. Language changes.

zit: a small, red, swollen spot on the skin : pimple

And this is on my list because I thought the word was newer than that; I didn't hear it until I started getting them.

An aside about dictionaries in general: I've seen some people use dictionary definitions in arguments as if that settles things. It doesn't; it only marks you as a pedant. Dictionary definitions are, by nature, concise, generally free of nuance or context. As I mentioned above, language changes, and dictionary definitions take a while to catch up.

In short, dictionaries are not prescriptive; they're descriptive. They're not the ultimate authority on the use of language. We are. Especially "we" writers. Now, it's never right to mix up their, there, and they're; but meanings do sometimes morph, or even fall out of favor, like in the "second world" example above.

Another fun thing I realized about dictionaries: they're infinitely recursive. Self-referential. They define words in terms of other words. Like, okay, when you're a kid, your parents or teachers probably showed you a picture of, I dunno, a sheep, and told you that it's a "sheep." (It's not; it's a drawing or photo of a sheep, but what makes humans interesting is the ability to nest metaphors.) That's non-recursive. But a dictionary would be like, "Sheep: (noun) 1. A medium-sized fluffy mammal with the intellectual capacity of a boulder, whose only redeeming quality is wool." To understand the definition, you'd have to understand "a," "medium," "size," "fluffy," etc. If you don't, you have to look them up in the dictionary, and behold, you find more words you have to look up.

You have to enter a dictionary with some knowledge from outside the dictionary.

Doesn't really mean anything, but I just think it's cool to contemplate.
July 19, 2019 at 12:04am
July 19, 2019 at 12:04am
Okay, I think I’ve tortured you enough this week *Rolling* Today, the prompt is a little simpler *Wink*

What are your weekend plans? If this weekend isn’t noteworthy, share your plans for an upcoming weekend or a past weekend that is worth writing about.

So now I'm painted into the corner of having to admit that I don't do anything on weekends? How is that not further torture?

I'm aware that there is this time period called the "weekend." I know this because I have to keep track of it so I don't have to deal with the hordes of people on the roads and at events during that time. Apart from that, Saturday and Sunday are just ordinary days for me.

I've heard that some single people go out on "dates" on the "weekend." Dimly, I recall doing that occasionally. The mere thought makes me want to stay home.

I've also heard that some people deliberately go outdoors in that time period, perhaps even to places that don't have electricity and/or an internet connection. As far as I can tell, those people are of different species than me.

So my weekend plans are thus: Play video games, watch some streaming service, blog here, write something for "I Write in 2019 [E], and do next week's Comedy newsletter. Perhaps the subject of that one will have to be weekends.

I do have a minor trip planned; I need a vacation from doing nothing productive at home so that I can do nothing productive in Las Vegas instead. But that'll be in about a month. Technically, it will start on a weekend, as I'm leaving on a Saturday, but I'm going to be there most of a week.

What I really want to do is another road trip, but that's going to have to wait; my main focus right now is on losing weight, and the purpose of traveling is to find nice places to eat food and drink alcohol, neither of which furthers my goal. This applies to Vegas as well, but the timeframe is more limited.

Someday I might live an interesting life again. That day is not Saturday. Or Sunday.
July 18, 2019 at 12:13am
July 18, 2019 at 12:13am
Complete the following statement: To achieve greatness, one must...

...avoid complacency.

This is necessary, but not sufficient. There's luck, skill, talent, whatever. The vast, overwhelming majority of people will never achieve greatness. Yes, this in all likelihood means you. Me too, obviously. Ain't I a ray of sunshine? With high levels of ultraviolet?

Fortunately, the benefit is in the striving, not the achieving. Journey, not destination.

This leaves out the question of how exactly one defines greatness. I would argue that the greatest businessman of all time was Steve Jobs. Supporting documentation: He and a couple of friends built a computer out of spare parts in a garage, and he parlayed that into a vast business empire; at the time of his death, Apple was the most valuable company in the world (defined as having the largest market capitalization). And yet, by all accounts, he was a shitty boss, an even worse father, and prone to the kind of cognitive bias that leads people to believe bullshit (hence his death).

Did Steve Jobs "achieve greatness?" By some measures, certainly. By others, no.

Now, I'm no expert, clearly, as evidenced by the fact that I'm not great. But it seems to me that you have to qualify what you mean by it. And I think that, like the ever-elusive "happiness," you can't get there by wanting it. I mean, you can wake up one morning and affirm to yourself: "I shall achieve greatness!" You can do this all you like, and you'll die in obscurity - though maybe you've lived a good, full life; that's irrelevant to the discussion.

Since it's de facto Moon Week, I'll provide another example: Neil Armstrong. He gets credit for being the first dude to put boots on the moon. Solid achievement. Not everyone could have done it. But there were at least two (Aldrin, Collins) and several more astronauts who also could have done it. They all had the same training. They likely all had similar aspirations. There was a vast network of support behind all of them; the "first" honor could have easily gone to another person. It was very nearly a Russian. That would not have diminished the achievement in the slightest, but the story would be different. Point is, that's just the most obvious example: not only must one work smart and hard in one's chosen field, but there's an element of luck, a need for support (even Einstein admitted he built on the achievements of others, or, in his words, stood on the shoulders of giants), and the kind of mindset most of us are just not cut out for.

And then there are those who achieve greatness without hardly trying, those who probably don't deserve it. Thomas Edison comes to mind. Dude cheated.

Everyone I've mentioned so far has been male, but gender is irrelevant to the topic. I could as easily talk about Rosalind Franklin, Hypatia, or Marie Curie. Our culture has a bias; we don't have to internalize it.

As Shakespeare noted: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." (That last bit is especially prescient when one considers Neil Armstrong, who quite literally had it thrust upon him in the form of five giant rocket engines.) Any way you look at it, though, most of us will never be in any of those three Shakespearean categories.
July 17, 2019 at 12:06am
July 17, 2019 at 12:06am
Describe the earliest memory you have.

Anyone who's been following along already knows this one. And you're being inundated with it now. It's all over the internet. I can somewhat understand if you're burned out on it, even though it was not only the greatest achievement in history, but the greatest achievement humankind can ever make.

So I'm not going to talk about the time people first landed on another fucking world and most of the population of the original world, including me, watched.

I've said before that it's my earliest memory. It's definitely the earliest one I can hang a time on. But I have other early memories, ones that may or may not have taken place before July 20, 1969.

All of them are dreams.

I don't mean that I still dream about them; I don't. At least, I don't think so. But the images stayed with me. They might have been earlier, or later; I don't know. But I still think it's odd that I can remember a dream from fifty years ago (give or take) but not what I had for dinner last Tuesday.

The first one involved frogs on lily pads. It's dark, but in the way of dreams, I could see the flora and fauna clearly. The frogs told me something important. I have no idea what it was. Probably "Buy Apple stock in 1984." Stupid dreams.

Another one was of a five-pointed star, glowing in the darkness. Make of that what you will. I no longer see it, but the darkness is a recurring thing in my dreams. It never bothers me there. I move through it just as easily as I move through brightness in the waking world.

The third, but I think maybe the earliest, was of someplace underground - but bright. So bright. White stairs descending to a white hallway. At the bottom of the stairs, filling the hallway, gapes an abyss. The darkness again, black to the hallway's white. I stop at the edge of the pit. And that's all - I don't remember ever crossing it, falling in, or re-ascending.

I'm sure that has great portent, especially since, at three years of age (or thereabouts), I had little if any experience with stairs, and none with bright white hallways with vast yawning abysses in the floor. Much later in life, I made myself revisit the dream, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never make myself leap the abyss, or let myself fall into it. I keep thinking I will fall, one day, as will we all.

Whatever meaning these things have, if any, escapes me. At this point, I have to question even my memories of these dreams. But that's the way these things go, I suppose.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
July 16, 2019 at 12:13am
July 16, 2019 at 12:13am
Today, let’s talk movies. What was the most recent movie you watched? Have you been to the theater recently? What movie are you looking forward to? What is your favorite movie of all time?

Unless I'm traveling, not much gets me to leave the house these days.

I've even taken to having my groceries delivered. Lazy? Maybe, but there are other reasons. The big one is that if I go to the grocery store, there's always something to tempt me. Last time - I was there to fill a prescription - it was the Moon Landing 50th Anniversary Oreos.  

Oreos are not conducive to weight loss efforts. But how could I resist? I couldn't, even though I'm not fond of marshmallow. If I'd never gone to the store, though, I never would have known about their existence.

I also discovered that the package has glow-in-the-dark lettering.

Bottom line is maybe I need to see about mail-order prescriptions. It's not like I have insurance to tell me that I must, or cannot, do so.

So, okay. Prescriptions, every other month or so, at least for now. The gym, every day, but it's not far. If friends are around, sometimes I'll go out for a beer. A massage once a month. The occasional grooming thing. Rare doctor appointments. The occasional miscellaneous errand, few and far between. And, a few times a year, a movie.

Finally, back on topic.

The last movie I saw - I think I talked about it here - was Spider-Man: Far From Home. Good movie. Fun. Might even go see it again. It just came out at the beginning of the month, and they had a 12:01 am showing on opening day that I had to go to because otherwise I'd encounter spoilers online.

Not just any movie can get me to leave the house. There's little point, for me, in watching dramas on the big screen. Superhero and other action movies? Definitely. Then, I can get invested. I'll watch all kinds of films on Amazon or Netflix, which don't require venturing into the not-so-great outdoors, but for the action movies, I'm happy to visit the theater. There's one a mile away from me that has draught beer. Score!

Missed out on the John Wick movie. I'll have to catch that on Amazon when it comes out there.

As for movies that I'm looking forward to, well, obviously, the final Star Wars movie of the trilogy of trilogies, which I believe comes out in December. I remember when Star Wars first came out, the buzz was that there were a total of 9 movies planned. It was touch and go there for a while, and forty-plus years is a long time to wait, but there's no way I'm not seeing it. There are probably ones I'll want to see before then; I just can't name any right now.

It's no secret that my favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction. Star Wars, for the record, is fantasy. It has science fiction props, sure, but it's not science fiction. Some call it "space opera." Whatever - genre is a marketing tool more than anything else; it helps us know what to expect. Comics-derived action movies exist in a fun little space between those two genres; I think that's part of their public appeal.

When it comes to choosing a favorite, though, one film stands above all others for me, and that is Blade Runner. The Director's Cut, not the silly version with narration.

It has its flaws, sure, just like everything else, but that particular movie speaks to me both as a writer and as a long-time science fiction reader.

The first true science fiction story - the one that started it all, the first story that actually attempted to use the real science of the time to drive the plot - was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I've known this for many years, now. We had to read it in college. (But wait a minute, Waltz, I thought you said you were an engineer! What is this "had to read" bullshit?) (I am. Was. Whatever. We were assigned it for - get this - Ethics in Engineering, fourth year.)

In the paper I had to write on that book (forget the movie; the movie had little to do with the book), I noted that the general distrust toward Frankenstein's creation was based on his appearance more than anything else. I vaguely recall a scene where it met a little girl, who ran screaming in terror, not for anything it did, or what it was (she couldn't know), but for what it looked like. If he'd made his creation pretty, it would have been accepted as just another human being. I proceeded to generalize this to science and invention in general. Got a C on the paper, as I recall; I was supposed to conclude that humans shouldn't "play God." I don't agree with that conclusion. What the hell; I passed, integrity intact.

Anyway, the point is, Blade Runner is the Frankenstein story turned on its head. In the case of that movie, the "creations," the replicants, are known to be replicants and distrusted based on that - no one could say that Rutger Hauer was ugly. At the time, that is; dude let himself go after that. I digress again. In Frankenstein, the creation turns on its creator and all of humanity; in Blade Runner, the creations turn on their creator, yes, but for good reason, and in the end (spoiler alert) the last one finds his humanity in the form of mercy and empathy.

In short, Frankenstein's creation was born good and learned evil; the replicants were born evil and learned compassion.

That's oversimplifying, of course, but I'm still calling Blade Runner my favorite all-time movie. Do not speak to me of the "sequel."
July 15, 2019 at 12:03am
July 15, 2019 at 12:03am
Describe a time when a personal failure became a positive experience.

Hm, so many choices. So... many... failures...

I could talk about the time I fucked up a pot roast in front of people, and discovered the world's greatest pizza when we ordered out. Or maybe all the times I fell off my bike as a kid before I finally learned to stay on (I can still stay on a bike. It's like riding a... well, you know.) Or being unable to convince Debbie to go to the prom with me so ended up with Sara (I might have changed their names to protect their reputations).

But no, I'll tell you about the time I decided not to become a newspaper photographer.

I learned darkroom skills before I got seriously into photography itself. In high school, among other things, I became the yearbook's darkroom technician because everyone else had a life. And maybe because I was the only one who knew what he was doing.

Mom got me a camera for graduation, and I took it with me to college. Joined the college newspaper and started taking pictures for them. We had to develop our own film, make our own contact sheets, and print our own photos to spec, and I was rather good at both ends of the business, including retouching the images on the fly in the darkroom.

So I thought, well, maybe this engineering thing isn't the best use of my time, and I applied for a summer internship at an actual newspaper.

In those days, that sort of thing was highly competitive, and I didn't get the position. I kept on with the college paper, though, because it kept me in beer money; eventually, I graduated and became an engineer. Still did photography on the side for a while, though. So. Many. Weddings.

Now, journalism is all but dead; photography is entirely digital; and everyone carries a camera, so there's nothing special about it. Meanwhile, engineering is still a thing that people do and get paid a decent wage for.

So, it's fortunate that I didn't get that internship. Positive experience? Sure - as an engineer, I ended up making a decent living and not having to be artistic at all. As a journalist, I probably would have found myself out of a job. The world still needs Clark Kent, but has no use for Jimmy Olsen.

Besides, it's just not the same when you don't have to play with fun chemicals to make an image.
July 14, 2019 at 12:16am
July 14, 2019 at 12:16am
In the age of the internet, most everything we say and do online will be preserved forever. Even though our opinions, beliefs, and actions change over time, should we still be held accountable for our words, even words spoken or written years ago?

Oh, boy. This can of worms.

Short answer: No. And yes.

Long answer:

One of the founding principles of the USA is freedom of speech. Much has been written on the subject - as one would expect, given that same freedom of speech - so I won't belabor the point, but the upshot of it is that, within certain circumscribed boundaries such as issuing death threats or inciting to riot, the government is not supposed to be able to imprison us for mere words. Hence, you can say "The President is a fuckwad," and a lot of people will disagree with you, or object to your use of profanity, but you can be assured that you won't be sanctioned or imprisoned for those words alone. In theory, anyway.

This was a big deal 250 years ago or so, when saying something mean about the King could get you hung in the public square.

Still, "the government can't arrest you for those words" is a pretty low bar to clear. It says nothing about how friends, family, potential employers, landlords, or your dog should treat you.

I vaguely remember a situation a few years ago when some chick said something on Twatter like, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS" before she got on a plane to somewhere in Africa. I can only imagine how her head must have exploded when she landed, checked Twatter, and discovered a) a shitstorm of criticism, to put it mildly, and b) she no longer had a job.

Just because you have the right to say something, that doesn't mean you don't have to take responsibility for it.

However, I think sometimes we go too far with the unofficial, private sanctions. On the one hand, it's a useful tool for weeding out, say, a pool of candidates for employment: if Candidate A is on record saying the "n" word, and Candidate B is not, and they're otherwise similarly qualified, you go with Candidate B (assuming your business isn't run by racists). On the other hand, people do change, and at some point it becomes grossly unfair to restrict the opportunities of someone who said something stupid when they were 20 - especially if they've also shown regret or apologized.

Even most actual crimes have statutes of limitations, and incarceration limits.

Where to draw the line is a matter for debate - and in a culture that is founded on the principle of freedom of speech, there can be a lot of debate - but I'm asserting that there should be a line, based on each individual circumstance.

As for me, I just hope no one ever finds the "poetry" I wrote when I was 14. Shudder.
July 13, 2019 at 12:07am
July 13, 2019 at 12:07am
Have fun answering these “Would you Rather?” questions in your blog today! You can choose to answer as few or as many as you like *Smile*

Would you rather live a boring, long life or an exciting, short life?

I think my life speaks for itself there. Sadly, it's turning out boring and short. But considering how my parents went, I'll take the Neil Young option: it's better to burn out than to fade away.

Would you rather be able to fly or teleport?

Like I said before, for me it's about the journey, not the destination. Fly, definitely. Well... depending on how fast. I had a story idea in mind where someone wished they could fly, and the dickhead genie grants the wish, letting them fly at a slow walking speed. That would suck. Genies are assholes. I've wasted way too much time, usually whilst drunk, trying to get the perfect wording down for wishes, and then promptly forgot it when I sobered up.

Would you rather be able to only time travel to the past or only time travel to the future?

The past sucked syphilitic balls. Shit everywhere, plagues, superstitions, poor hygiene, short and brutal lives, no internet. No thanks. I know a lot of people romanticize the past; hey, if all of that works for you, great. I suppose there would be one benefit: I know enough about how some things work to "invent" a few minor contraptions (though with my luck, it would get me executed for witchcraft). Still, assuming I'd have to go back more than 100 years or so, the infrastructure wouldn't be there to run washing machines, produce Coke Zero, or refrigerate food. Worst of all, no air conditioning. Shudder. At least there would be beer. Warm beer, but beer. That is, unless I had to go way back, in which case I'd probably be promptly swallowed by a tyrannosaurus rex, or get chomped by a spider the size of a truck. So... no, thanks; you can keep the scary-ass past.

Now, there's always the chance that the future will be just as bad or worse. If some catastrophe kicked us back to the Stone Age, we'd be utterly fucked, because all the easy raw materials are gone. Ever seen a raw flint nodule? No? Me neither, because our ancestors flaked them all into murder weapons. Regardless, I'd rather take my chances in the future, just to see how it all turns out.

Would you rather lose your hearing or your sight?

Seems to me I've answered this before. Something like 75% of what I hear is annoying, distracting, grating, or frustrating. Unfortunately, the other 25% is music, without which I wouldn't want to live. But I need eyesight to play video games, also without which I wouldn't want to live. Tough call, and one I don't want to make. Pass.

Would you rather live the rest of your life as a cat or a dog?

No. They both lick their own assholes (I know some people would call that a bonus), eat disgusting things, and don't drink beer.

Still, if I had to choose, it'd be cat, no question. They sleep more, and eventually they will achieve world domination, and if I'm going to be there for that, better to be there as a cat.
July 12, 2019 at 12:24am
July 12, 2019 at 12:24am
Make an A-Z list on a topic of your choosing. Stretch your creativity! *Bigsmile* After you finish your list, write a short narrative describing why you chose the list you did and how it relates to you.

A is for Ale, the finest of yeast
B is for Beer, the best kind of feast
C is for Craft, on tap at the bar
D is for Drinking it out of a jar
E is for Ethanol, organic compound
F is for Firkin; let's all drink one down
G is for Growler that you can take home
H is for Hops, which are useless alone
I is for Isinglass, for clarity's view
J is for Juice, a citrusy brew
K is for Keg, container of ale
L is for Lager, most of them pale
M is for Malt, the grain that's so dear
N is for Ninkasi, goddess of beer
O is for Oats, a flavorful grain
P is for Prohibition, a real shame
Q is for Quaff, what you do with a stein
R is for Real Ale, a British design
S is for Sour, a popular style
T is for Tap, which I see with a smile
U is for Unfiltered, filled with a haze
V is for Volatiles, scents all ablaze
W is for Wort, which starts the beer job
X is for Xipe, the Aztec grain god
Y is for Yeast, and all of its strains
Z is for Zymurgy, the knowledge we gain

...well, did anyone really expect me to pick a subject other than beer? Still, I'm willing to bet everyone gets hung up on X and maybe Z. The trick is to start there and work backwards. Nevertheless, X is always tough unless you're willing to cheat and use something that starts with Ex.

I considered it myself because of time limitations, but then I remembered Xipe (actually Xipe Totec) who was the Aztec god of, among other things, agriculture. Hey, that counts. And I had to use Zymurgy, of course.

Beer is, of course, one of my favorite subjects. I probably could have gone with science, too, which is easier (especially because science isn't afraid to start words with X), but a guy's gotta have standards. Like forcing rhymes to make couplets work. I didn't have to do that. I hope at least some readers are amused.

Probably, I should have bolded all the first letters of each line, but come on - I have video games to play.
July 11, 2019 at 12:11am
July 11, 2019 at 12:11am
Do you have any tattoos or want one in the future? If you had to have a piece of art permanently on your body, what would you want it to say about you?

No. No, I most certainly do not.

As I've mentioned numerous times, my dad was a sailor. Back in his day, pretty much the only people who got tattoos were sailors, whores, and circus geeks (not to be confused with science geeks, who may or may not have tattoos). While that's no longer the case, he managed to go his whole career and life without once getting the needle. He'd paraphrase Leviticus: "Thou shalt not put shit on thy skin."

More like LevitiCUSS, right, Dad? Told you: sailor.

I certainly don't put any stock in the customs or superstitions of Bronze Age goatherders, and I don't think people with tattoos (depending on their location) are any more or less worthy of respect or time. But as far as honoring my parents goes, the least I can do is follow his example on this one thing. No, I mean it's literally the least I can do.

That said, I'm not a fan at all. A tattoo is something I like someone in spite of, not because of. Or at least it doesn't factor into any dislike I might have (again, depending on the location - someone with a face tattoo is immediately suspect in my estimation).

I'm aware that, nowadays, most people have tattoos. A lot of them claim it's expressing their individuality. I express my individuality by not having any. And by wearing shaka shirts and Birkenstocks, but mostly by not having tattoos. "Hey, I express my individuality by doing what everyone else in my peer group is doing! Look at my tattoo!"

Don't get me wrong - I've seen some that are great art. That doesn't change the fact that I find the whole idea disgusting. I've seen great art in museums and on retaining walls, too.

If I were to change my mind - one thing that not having tattoos allows me the freedom to do at some point - I know what I'd want. A stylized sun, with the words "But Mama, that's where the fun is." Probably on my upper arm. But I'm not going to do it. There's really no need; anyone who knows me already knows I'm a Springsteen fan, and anyone who doesn't will probably get the wrong idea anyway - the more famous version of the song was a Manfred Mann cover with stupidly misheard lyrics - or they just won't care.

And that's the bottom line for me: I just don't care what you put on your skin. I care what's beneath it. Or I don't care at all.

I went down last night with a tattoo madam
To a nude dagger fantasy domain
Wrapped in hell, I lost my breath
Chest to stimulating Chinese breast

Grisly smiles, that don't flake off
Corny-colored demons leering
Vampire photos, sucking the skin

Seeding the night at the inker's parlor
Flash permabrand pricked for a dollar
Her wrist surreal a heart and flying skull
Lettered "Life and love pass swiftly"

Grisly smiles, that don't flake off
Corny-colored demons leering
Vampire photos, sucking the skin
July 10, 2019 at 12:01am
July 10, 2019 at 12:01am
What’s on your mind right now? Do you have any “brain worms” or current obsessions? If you didn’t have to blog right now, what would you be doing? *Wink*

I'm sure some people would say that my brain is entirely worms.

But no, I'm mostly just alternating between casually playing video games, finding funny shit on the internet, honing my snark, and watching Season 3 of Stranger Things.

I can't seem to binge-watch like normal people. Even when I was working on catching up on Supernatural or Stargate, I couldn't usually do more than one or two episodes a day. Sometimes, I'd even get squirreled partway through one and shift to snark-honing or game-playing.

In short, my attention span is similar to that of a goldfish, even when it comes to things I nominally enjoy doing.

It's not like this is new for me. No matter what I'm doing, there's always something I'd rather be doing. This was a problem when I had an office job; now, not so much.

Driving helps. It's not like I can split my attention while driving. By taking away the option of doing other things, I get in a focus zone. It's where I do my best thinking, at least if the traffic isn't too crazy.

This is probably why I have several unedited novels languishing on my flash drive (and here). While I can concentrate long enough to come up with short stories or poetry (and, on good days, blog entries), I get to working on the novels and my mind starts to worm around.

Maybe when the next Fallout or Elder Scrolls game comes out (do not speak to me of Fallout 76; as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist) I'll go back to being able to do one thing for more than 30 minutes. Not anything productive, mind you, but something.

So, basically, everything is either a) a distraction or b) an obsession. There doesn't seem to be much in between. If this caused me real problems in life, I'd probably try to do something about it. My main focus right now is on weight loss, though, and disturbing my hard-won equilibrium might have a negative (or, I guess, positive, as in the numbers on the scale going up instead of down) effect on that goal.

Fortunately, that's not something I need to concentrate on constantly. I just need to stop myself from ordering pizza or bingeing on Oreos, and in that regard, distractions help.

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July 9, 2019 at 1:01am
July 9, 2019 at 1:01am
Respond to a current news story with your opinion. Share a link to the story if possible.

Opinions are like colons: almost everyone has one, and most of them are full of shit.

That doesn't stop me from having an opinion, of course.

The temptation exists to find some article about some violation of human rights somewhere and comment on it, but really, what's the point? "Ooh, I think violating human rights is bad; look at me!" or "Those people deserve it. See? I'm an asshole."

Or, you know, I could do what I usually do here when there's not a blog challenge running, and link to some scientific discovery or a sober analysis of drinking. But since that's what I usually do, I feel like that doesn't count. Besides, what would my opinion be? "Science is cool," "beer is cool," "the science of beer is cool." *Yawn*

I know! I'll find some political news and display my partisan attitudes, so we can turn the comment section into a mini-Facebook. Not.

So I'll just pick something at semi-random off the front page of fark.com.


First of all... really, Market Watch? I want to hear about company news and macroeconomic issues from you. Personal finance articles are okay, too, but this is fluff. While we're at it, I know you have a style guide that requires that every time you mention a company you also have to put up its stock ticker and current daily gain / loss, but it's as out of place here as a Corvette at a campground. Facebook's stock price is utterly irrelevant to this article.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll get to the actual meat of the article. Well, fake meat. The Not-A-Burger of financial news.

Traveling the country, driving past cornfields and mom-and-pop shops until you reach the Grand Canyon. Pulling up the trunk, kicking off your shoes and cracking open a cold one, while dangling your feet into the dusty summer air. Sleeping under twinkling lights. Seems like a picture-perfect life, maybe even one built for Instagram, right?

No. No, it does not. I mean, sure, the traveling part. The dusty summer air, the sleeping outdoors? Nope. Give me a nice air-conditioned (or heated) hotel room at the end of a long day of driving. (Incidentally, they don't list the stock ticker for Instagram because it's not a company; it's part of Facebook.)

It’s known as #vanlife — that is, traveling, or even living full time, in a van — and it’s seductive. At least it was for Lisa, a 43-year-old mother of one who works in pharmaceuticals, and her husband, a filmmaker.

Anything with a hashtag is immediately suspect. Also, those professions? Look, I'm not here to rag on the career choices of the people involved, but the way this is reported is lame. "I work in pharmaceuticals" could mean anything from "CEO of Purdue Pharma" to "crack whore." (Of the two, "crack whore" is more honest.) "Filmmaker" is like "writer" in that it tells you nothing about what the person actually does - that could mean "a guy with a camera" all the way up to "major Hollywood producer."

In this article, I'm getting the impression both of them are somewhere in between these extremes, but it's not exactly clear.

Before they got married in their 30s, Lisa, who lives in Lancaster, Pa., became more interested than she ever had been before in personal finance. She started to follow money blogs and read about icons like Suze Orman. She even started her own blog, called Mad Money Monster, to chronicle her life as she sought to get fiscally fit.

Nothing wrong with any of that. Personal finance isn't something I hear about being taught in schools, and it's a basic life skill, regardless of how much money you make. Or fail to make.

The groups showed “how beautiful your life is going to be if you live in a van, you work remotely, you wake up to a sunset and coffee in your hand,” Lisa, who doesn’t use her last name online to protect her anonymity, said.

Well, I suppose if you sleep all day and wake up to a sunset, your career options are somewhat limited. Personal choice, of course. Hell, I've done it. But it kind of negates the whole "seeing the scenery" part of traveling if you're driving at night and sleeping all day.

The #vanlife movement has a lot of overlap with the “FIRE” movement, which stands for “financial independence, retire early.” At the core of both: a belief that material things don’t make you happy. Ditching your earthly belongings and consolidating, maybe down to living in a van full-time, is where real meaning is, and work doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk 24/7.

In order for something with a hashtag to be meaningful at all, you at least need the earthly belonging known as a "mobile phone" or similar device. Not to mention the van. By the way, anyone who wants to ditch their earthly belongings, I take donations. You'll live a more real-meaningful life, and I'll have more stuff. Win/win.

Also, anyone who works by sitting at a desk 24/7 is going to die in 3 weeks, and lose their minds way before that. Which might explain some things about corporate America.

Lisa wasn’t naive. She grew up living in a trailer, but seeing others live and travel in Airstreams still seemed exciting, she said.

Those two sentences contradict each other.

They started to nail down the details. They wouldn’t travel full-time; with their daughter and full-time work schedules, that wouldn’t be possible. But they could at least live that #vanlife on weekends and on vacations.

So... you kept your house... and your jobs... and traveled around in a van. Okay. Whatever floats your tits. I like to travel, too; I get it. But I don't think that demonstrates clarity of the whole "ditch your belongings and live full-time in a mobile tiny house" concept.

So they sold one of their cars and bought a 1993 Chevy van, for $3,700, and nicknamed it “Van Halen.”

I want someone to do a survey of what people name their vans. I'm willing to bet that "Van Halen" is, if not #1, at least in the top 5, along with "Van Damme" (or "Damn" as seen in the Netflix NFLX, -1.15% series Sense8), "Van Morrison," and some others I'm too lazy to come up with right now. It's like naming your pug "Pugsley." How about some originality?

Lisa started to see posts in her #vanlife Facebook groups about solar energy, and how to charge phones “when we’re in the middle of nowhere,” which seemed concerning, she said. Others mentioned needing mechanical tools and prowess, in the event that a van breaks down, and she and her husband lacked that.

Did you... did you really not think of those things before putting money down on a used van? At least know how to change a tire and spring for a AAA membership, which is about $10 a month (however useless that is if you don't know you can charge your phone off the van's electrical system so you end up stuck on the side of US 50 in Nevada where there's no cell towers anyway). (I might or might not have some personal experience with that sort of thing.)

Even worse, “We started to see people post things about safety, and that you need to have mace or a gun, and if you have a gun you can’t carry [it] across state lines,” she said. “That started to really spook me, especially traveling with a young girl, our little daughter.”

That's... not entirely the case. Yes, if you're traveling with a gun, you need to be aware of different state laws. If you're traveling with a gun and a child, I expect to read about you on fark.com at some point.

Then she started thinking about the time of year. “I like to be comfortable,” she said. “If we’re going to stay in this van, how am I going to sleep when it’s June? I don’t care if we’re in Lancaster — no matter where you are, it’s hot.”

Again... now? After plunking down the money on the van and conversions? Were you not aware of this thing called "weather" and how it might change over time and in different places?

Suddenly, she found herself looking into the cost of campgrounds. With electricity and water hookups, some of them were almost as costly as hotels, creeping up to $50 or $60 a night, she said. Plus, they’d have to pay for gas to put into Van Halen along the way.

You... didn't... figure... on... gas? At this point, all sympathy I might have once had for Lisa and Mr. Lisa has evaporated. The kid, now - her I feel sorry for. It's tough to start out in life with idiot parents.

She threw in the towel. The family sold the van and kissed their initial plan goodbye.

There's this concept called the "sunk cost fallacy." Look it up. Okay, so they're not total idiots, but close enough.

“We’re so glad we tried it,” she said. “We’re not the typical van-life people. We have a daughter, we have a house. Maybe if you’re a 20-something who doesn’t have those ties, it’s going to be different.”

Hey, Market Watch, you forgot the hashtag. Shame on you. Being in a quote is no excuse; she seems like the kind of person who would have said "hashtag-vanlife."

Her advice for those dreaming about the #vanlife: [There it is. -Ed.] Try it out first. “I would say rent something, or borrow a friend’s, or something like that,” she said. “At least do a weekend overnighter.”

You know, there seems to be a reluctance to take advice from people who have failed at something. For instance, taking relationship advice from, I don't know... me. There's probably a named fallacy for that, too; I don't know. But the fact is, we learn from our failures just as much - maybe more - than we learn from our successes. I mean, every time I see a fluff piece about someone who's lived to over 100 years, they always ask them what their secret is. (Usually, it's booze, cigarettes and promiscuity.) But there's never any asking someone who's about to die at, say, 27, what they'd have done differently. Just once, I'd like to see that, and have them answer something like "I probably shouldn't have had Dave hold my beer and watch this."

So there it is, folks: good advice from someone who's been there.

Hey, I'm not saying "don't sell all your stuff and go live in a van." It's important to follow your dreams.

It's also important to lay off the booze long enough to a) drive and b) plan accordingly.
July 8, 2019 at 12:14am
July 8, 2019 at 12:14am
What fictional character do you admire? What specific characteristics do they possess that make them attractive?

I'm tired and I need to get up before dawn to take a friend to the airport, so I'mma go with the low-hanging fruit here.

Wow, I can actually feel y'all rolling your eyes. But I'm going to press on anyway.

Kal-El, as we all know, was adopted by an all-American couple who wanted kids but couldn't make 'em. That right there was enough to start the identification going.

Now, I should point out that identification isn't a big deal for me. I don't put myself in the protagonist's shoes. Doesn't matter to me what race, religion, nationality, sexuality, etc. that a character is; the only thing that matters is that it's a good story. (Yes, many Superman stories sucked, but remember, I was a kid when I started reading comics, and what's "good" has changed since then.)

He was also a farm boy. I was a farm boy.

Only child? Check.

Had to pretend to be something he wasn't? Check. Though, later, I'd start to wonder which identity was fake and which was real, but that's a more philosophical, adult conversation.

I mean, really, the whole superpowers thing was secondary. Sure - flying, super-speed, x-ray vision, etc. was cool. Costume was a bit poncy, but whatever; it was distinctive. What mattered, as I gradually became aware, was that regardless of superpowers, Superman always tried to be the best he could be.

During the "dark and gritty" phase of comics, Superman got a lot of shit - though not as much as Aquaman. Big Blue Boy Scout. Whatever. Sometimes idealism is a good thing. As much as I also like antiheroes, sometimes we do need an ideal. Of course, it's easy to do the right thing if you're a fictional character, and the writer can set it up so that whatever you do turns out to be the right thing. But ideals aren't meant to be realistic; that's why we make the distinction.

I don't think too many of us could honestly say that if we found ourselves as a god on an alien world, we'd always strive for that ideal. The temptation would always be there to use your powers for, if not evil, at least to impose your own version of "good" on the alien world. To stand apart, aloof, and utterly defeat whatever you see as "evil."

That he's not depicted as doing that is, I think, what makes the character a hero. Anything imposed from above is oppressive; we all have to find our own way. But we can all use a little help now and then.

I know my thoughts here aren't exactly new. Whole volumes have been written on the subject. Regardless, I've always liked the character, even when it wasn't cool to do so.
July 7, 2019 at 12:12am
July 7, 2019 at 12:12am
It’s the Sunday News! Reflect on the first week of July. Are you on track to meet you goals? What are your plans for the rest of the month?

Goals? Plans? A Jedi craves not these things.

I was wrong when I thought I knew the worst thing about losing weight.

First, I thought it was that I'd have to buy all new clothes. Well, it turns out that if you don't go out very much, you don't need many clothes, so my expenses in that regard have been minimal. It also turns out that no one gives a shit if you wear a t-shirt that's two sizes too big. Pants are another issue, but that's what belts are for. And it's not like my shoe size has changed. Still, I have a ways to go, so we'll see.

Then, I thought it would be discovering that it wasn't my weight that made people recoil in disgust whenever they encountered me, but my personality. There, it turns out I was mostly wrong; some people really are that shallow. That's okay. I can be shallow, too. (For many, it's definitely my personality. I can tell, because the "looks" ones immediately run away, while the "personality" ones wait until I say something, and then run away.)

But no - beyond all doubt now, the worst thing about losing weight is this: my alcohol tolerance has been severely diminished.

That's not an unmitigated negative - after all, it means less money spent on booze, and if there's anything I like better than booze, it's money. But sometimes I like to try several drinks in a short period of time; it takes advantage of my one superpower, which is being able to mix any type of drinks in any order without getting sick. None of this trying to memorize the whole "liquor before beer, never fear; beer before liquor, never sicker" thing. Or is that the other way around? Like I said, I don't have to memorize it, so I don't care. Point is, a lower tolerance makes it less useful as a superpower.

I discovered this last week when a friend of mine came to town for a visit. We visited two breweries and sampled selections of their wares, and by the time we were done with the second one, I was definitely feeling the effects; I'm not used to that. I haven't been drinking much in general, so lack of practice probably contributes.

This had the other effect, combined with the pastrami reuben I mentioned in a previous entry, of setting my weight-loss progress back two weeks. Oops.

Well, whatever. I'm just continuing with the eat-less-and-exercise thing, at least until I go to Vegas for a week in mid-August. That'll probably set me back a month, but since I'm planning on it, that's okay.
July 6, 2019 at 12:10am
July 6, 2019 at 12:10am
Make a list of five things you wish you could be a master of. Be sure to explain why you chose what you did. *Bigsmile*

I don't have such wishes anymore.

It's not that I don't want to master anything; it's that time has convinced me that the important part of being really good at something is the learning and practice part - the "getting there" bit, not the "being there" situation.

This is, of course, directly analogous to my travel philosophy: that there is no destination, only journey.

But, since I consider these prompts excuses to think of things I might not think of otherwise, I'll give this a shot. So here, in no particular order, are five things I wish I could be a master of.

1. Writing. That should be obvious, given what website we're perusing. Of all the items on this list (or so I say now, before I've finalized the other four), this is the only one I'm actively working on. As I've said before, I don't think it's possible to achieve perfection in this; there are just too many things to learn, practice, and coordinate. Also, "mastery" looks different for everyone. But there's one way to know when it has been achieved: when one is published, widely read, and possibly rewarded for one's work. I don't think I'll ever get there, but like I said - it's the journey that matters to me. Why? Because I think that words can change the world, and I still have an urge to leave my mark, somehow.

2. Myself. Yeah, I know this is a little off-key for this list, but it's what came to mind. As with, I believe, most people, I'm always torn between what I want and what I want, pulled in different directions, perhaps by the proverbial *Angel* and *Devil* on my shoulders - and I don't even believe in the supernatural. For instance, the other day, I went out to lunch with an old friend. On the menu was a pastrami reuben. Also on the menu was a steak salad. The reuben, obviously, had the higher calorie count, a potentially debilitating quantity of sodium, and an overdose of the kind of dietary lipids that are not conducive to heart health. As I am still working on weight loss - successfully, I might add - I wanted to order the salad, which featured loads of leafy vegetables, lean meat, and the option for dressing on the side for portion control. But I also wanted to order the reuben, because pastrami is delicious. Naturally, I ended up ordering the reuben, and I'm still beating myself up over it, even though it was, indeed, delicious. So I wish I could be a master of myself. Why? So I would not make self-destructive choices that are opposed to my longer-term goals.

3. Music. This one's pretty simple, really; I just always wished I had musical talent. Piano, violin, guitar, voice, whatever. Why? Because I can express things with music in a way that can't be done with words. I mean, I have enough technical ability to do so to some extent, but it would be nice to not have the neighbors calling the cops because they think I'm torturing my cats. (On the other hand, lack of talent in other areas is what pushed me into writing, so, as a blind person might find their other senses heightened, it's probably best that I don't split my efforts. Still, this list is, as I see it, more about wishes than reality.)

4. Language. Though, honestly, I haven't seriously tried to learn another language in a long time, I don't think I'd be very good at it. But I wish I could be. Why? So I could travel to other countries with greater confidence and communicate with people from other cultures.

5. Baiting. Why? Because I cannot resist a pun, even when it's obvious and painful to other people. Especially when it's obvious and painful to other people.

But, as I noted above, it's not about being a master, at least not for me. Dreams are shadows; goals are elusive; the destination is always over the horizon. But the journey is meaningful.
July 5, 2019 at 12:17am
July 5, 2019 at 12:17am
What did you dream about doing as an adult when you were little? Have you been able to achieve any of your childhood dreams? Share a fact about your life now that you never imagined would come true.

Hell if I remember.

Funny word, "dreams." It can mean those movies that play in your head when you're asleep, or it can mean a more conscious imagining of what could come to you. You can usually figure out the meaning from context. MLKJr wasn't talking about nocturnal Technicolor when he presented his famous "I have a dream" speech; I don't know exactly how we know that, but we do.

My earliest conscious memory is of being called into another room to watch the first moon landing. I probably had memories before that, but they too have been lost to time. Memories are like that; if you don't constantly refresh them, they dissipate. It's the same way with dreams - both kinds. And even if you do constantly refresh them, they transform, changing into something else. The past becomes its own dream.

When the landing happened - fifty years ago this month, as we're being reminded every time we fire up the internet - I had no reference point, no idea of its significance, no context. It was only later that I became aware, somehow, of the meaning of that watershed moment in human history.

I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about that, later this month, just like everyone else in the fucking world.

As I've said before, my dad was a sailor by profession. At the time in question, he was still on active duty in the Coast Guard, though at some land-based desk job; he would retire a year later. So I don't even remember if he was there with me, then. It was my mother who made sure I saw the grainy footage, received live, with only the inescapable delay resulting from the vast distances involved, on a black and white television getting its signal from an aerial antenna.

When Dad was home, which was all the time after he retired, he'd pick the coldest, clearest nights to wrap tiny me up in a blanket, carry me outside, and point out the stars - beacons with which he was intimately familiar, because he came from a time when they were crucial to ocean navigation. He had a sailor's understanding of astronomy: constellations, the names of the brightest stars, how they can help you find your way when you're surrounded by vast emptiness.

He always pronounced Betelgeuse incorrectly. I think of him every time I see Orion shining in the winter sky.

Years later, he showed me a photograph he took at some point during his career. If I remember correctly - and I probably don't - he was on a ship somewhere south of the equator when a solar eclipse occurred. Merchant Marine, not Coast Guard. I don't know if they deliberately sailed into the path just to see the eclipse; I like to think they did. I remember thinking, and perhaps saying, that I wanted to see a solar eclipse one day.

I didn't get a chance until two years ago. Orbital mechanics and budget never really cooperated until then. It was easily the coolest thing I ever experienced. No photograph can do it justice, though with modern digital technology, you can get much closer than that old silver-halide image my father had. I didn't bother taking a picture; three million other people would also be viewing this Great American Eclipse of 2017, and easily two million of them could have taken a better picture (and that might be me overestimating my photography skills). I just wanted to experience the fulfillment of the one dream I could remember from my youth.

I'm now the same age my father was when the "Eagle" landed (don't bother doing the math; I was adopted late in my parents' lives), and I'm still looking at the stars.

And the moon.

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

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