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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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May 29, 2019 at 12:16am
May 29, 2019 at 12:16am
I need help building the stock of prompts in the Challenge War Chest! Write four prompts of your own and then choose one to write your entry on *Smile*

I get burned out on prompts from judging "The Writer's Cramp [13+] every week, but I'll give this a shot.

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

2) Describe your dream vacation.

3) Dogs, cats, both, neither?

4) What one vice do you have that you'd like to quit? Why haven't you?

So, as you might have figured out from the title, I'll pick #4 for myself.

As regular readers know, I have many vices. Hell, I'm probably a one-man vice squad. Fortunately for me, they're all legal. Mostly. Okay, all the ones I'll admit to are legal, and for all you know, that's all of them.

I've come to terms with them, though - one of the few benefits of middle age is that you've either embraced your vices or forsaken them - at some point, my giveashit broke, and the warranty on it had expired.

So, drinking? Check. Smoking? Only cigars, but check. Gambling? Check. Gourmet food? Check, please.

No, the one vice that I'd quit if I could would be my addiction to Coke Zero. I call it Crack Zero. I won't say how much of it I drink, but it's a lot.

I admitted this to my doctor one time, and she shrugged and said, "Well, at least it's not the high-calorie kind." I, of course, took this as a doctor's recommendation to continue.

Now, look, there's a lot of misinformation out there about aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners. Most of it is bullshit. Some of it is dangerous bullshit, obviously planted by the sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup industry. Aspartame isn't the problem; it's the sodium ions and phosphoric acid and whatnot.

So why don't I just quit?

Short answer: caffeine. Long answer: lots of caffeine. I don't drink coffee; I can't stand the stuff. Never could. I do drink tea, but even the highest-caffeine teas put me to sleep more than they keep me awake - and believe me, I drink some high-octane teas. And while I'm in a position to sleep when I want and wake up when I want, most of the time, without my caffeine I'm just not alert enough to be arsed to do anything.

So it's caffeinated soft drinks for me. Since sugar and HFCS are really, really bad for me (risk of diabetes and all that), I'm left with diet sodas - all of which taste like dysenteric ass except for Diet Dr Pepper and Crack Zero. I'll drink the former if the latter is sold out, which it often is, thanks to me.

Therefore, no, I'm not quitting anytime soon. Ever run into one of those fucking annoying people who are tired all the time, and when you suggest that maybe they get some sleep, they go "I'll sleep when I'm dead?" They think it's some sort of virtue. And you know this means they'll be dead sooner than they otherwise might? It's kind of like that. I'll quit when I'm dead.
May 28, 2019 at 12:47am
May 28, 2019 at 12:47am
On this last Talk Tuesday of May, let’s talk about bias. How do your own biases influence your life? Is it possible to ever be truly objective?

To answer that last question first: no.

Everyone has bias. It's as inevitable as death, taxes, and construction on the Capital Beltway. The best any of us can do is try to identify those biases and account for them.

Albert Einstein is generally considered the greatest mind of the 20th century (I think it was actually Richard Feynman, but I may be biased.) Whether that's the case or not, there is no denying that he had a towering intellect. Einstein is one of those rare people whose image is practically a dictionary definition; in his case, of the word "genius." Nearly single-handedly, he turned physics on his head and revealed truths about the universe that caused a tectonic shift in our understanding thereof. The theories of relativity are so distant from our everyday perception that, in order to formulate them, one has to throw out a lifetime of experience and personal observation - basically, overcoming one's bias.

Science is like that. It acknowledges that we humans have bias, and provides a working system by which, in time, those biases are minimized, through observation and testing. As unbelievable as relativity seemed at the time, it was independently tested and verified, and refined; and yet, in our everyday lives, it's nearly irrelevant. Sure, you have to take it into account when, say, designing a GPS device, but not when you use one.

Shortly after that particular cosmic brainstorm, however, other scientists were developing what would become known as quantum mechanics - the study of the very small. Einstein made his own contributions to that (notably, it's what he was awarded the Nobel Prize for), and yet, when the full ramifications of this theory began to make themselves apparent - and they're far, far weirder than relativity - Einstein balked.

See, quantum theory deals heavily with probabilities. Instead of "this object exists at this location," it's more like "This thing is both a particle and a wave, and the more we know about its location, the less we know about its motion." and "We can't know what this electron is doing, but there's a 90% probability that it's doing this one thing and a 10% probability that it's doing this other thing" (yes, that's an absurd oversimplification, but that's not the point (pun intended)). When physicist Niels Bohr pointed this out, Einstein objected, based on his own perception of reality. "God," he supposedly said, "does not play dice with the Universe."

To which Bohr, so the story goes, replied: "Al, stop telling God what to do."

Whether that particular conversation ever took place or not, it does sum up the attitudes of the scientists under discussion.

Point is, even Einstein had his biases. And in this case, he was wrong. Since that probably-mythical exchange might have occurred, the probabilistic nature of quantum theory has been shown to be correct through observation, experimentation, mathematics, and all the other things that science does to try to disprove a theory. (That's what it does, you know - tries to disprove, not tries to prove.) Einstein tried to disprove it, and hit a dead end. The Universe, it turns out, is, at its most basic level, non-deterministic.

Whether there's a literal God or not is still under debate and probably always will be. Einstein couldn't prove or disprove that, either. No one can. "God" was his shorthand for something like "the basic forces of the universe." We can all have our own opinions about it, but they amount to biases, one way or the other.

Me? I try to keep an open mind, but not so open that it collects dust. I know that no one knows everything. I know that, for any given topic, whatever I think may be wrong. My biases do show up from time to time, which I'm sure you realize if you've been following this blog. All I can do is be willing to change my mind if the right kind of evidence presents itself, and to try to be a big enough person to admit when I'm wrong.
May 27, 2019 at 12:12am
May 27, 2019 at 12:12am
Today is Memorial Day here in the US, a federal holiday for remembering and honoring persons who have died while serving in the Armed Forces. How do you honor those who have passed (whether they served in the military or not)?

You know what would honor the military dead?

Not making any more of them.

Also, actually taking care of those who didn't die in the military instead of, you know, leaving them homeless on the street or whatever.

Since neither of those things are actually going to happen - not that I have any influence over it one way or the other - all I can do is focus on an individual basis. Which is where I could talk about actual things that I do, but that would end up either a) seeming like not enough or b) virtue signaling on my part. Neither of which I want to get involved with.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not one who worships the military. I don't see a connection between, say, not standing for the National Anthem and anything to do with the military, even though I understand that there are those who would make that connection. A flag is merely a symbol; a service member is an actual human being. And what the flag symbolizes is a whole hell of a lot more than participation in war.

But my father was in the service, and while he retired and lived to a reasonably old age and didn't die in a war, I have respect for those who served in the military - at least in terms of their service; a lot of them can be assholes, just like everyone else. I just don't really buy into the whole "they died for our freedoms" rhetoric; they died doing an incredibly hard job, yes, but we haven't had a war that was about "freedom" for a long time, now. Revenge, political gain, economic reasons, sure - but none of that is the fault of those who served.

Reading over this, I realize I'm not all that coherent about it. Must mean I have some emotion tied up in it. And I guess I do, because of my father and a lot of other people I've known.

And yet, what am I going to do, specifically, today, Memorial Day? Absolutely nothing I wouldn't do on any other day. And that includes not having a barbecue.
May 26, 2019 at 12:22am
May 26, 2019 at 12:22am
Share an instance in your life when you would have liked a do-over.

There's a primitive computer game called NetHack, which has its origins back in the days of DOS, monochrome monitors, and ASCII graphics. It's a dungeon-delving game that takes its inspiration from early editions of D&D; you play as a protagonist on a quest to recover a specific artifact for your deity. Along the way, you fight monsters, explore dungeons (randomly generated), solve puzzles, and avoid traps, much like in D&D.

Lack of graphics aside, the primary thing that sets NetHack apart from other computer games is that there's no save function. What I mean is, you can save a game and come back to it later if you need to, I don't know, sleep or work or something; but you can't come back to an earlier save point if your avatar dies in the game.

Of course, there are workarounds for that, but they go against the spirit of the game; it would be like cheating at solitaire. You're supposed to play the game, figure things out as you go along, and if you die, all you can do is start over with a different character - but with the metaknowledge you've gained as a player on the previous run. It's a challenge, but that's why I play games. (There's also a wizard mode where you can figure a lot of things out without dying, and that's not considered cheating, but the results of any wizard mode games don't "count.")

By contrast, most modern single-player games - Fallout 4, for example - let you save at almost any time; if you run into a battle it turns out you can't handle, you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning. You reload a later save, and hopefully prep for the battle more effectively. This is good, because while a NetHack game can take 24 hours (and let me tell you, nothing sucks more than dying just before you're about to turn the artifact over to your god), a game like Fallout can take 24 days or more.

I mention this because it's possible that no one thinks about do-overs more than gamers. However, we're painfully aware that, in life, there are no save points, no do-overs, no coming back from battles we can't handle.

But you know, I'm okay with that. While there are many things I wish I'd done differently, if I were magically (or scientifically) handed the opportunity, I'd have to decline. That's because there are only two possibilities I can see:

1) I would have memory of both the original event and its do-over - in which case, I'd give it a 50/50 chance of the do-over making things worse; or

2) I would have no memory of the original event, in which case I'd just want another do-over.

Every mistake I've made has helped make me who I am, so even though it's a fine exercise to think about how we might have done things differently - it helps with similar situations in the future - as with most wishes, the reality of it could never live up to one's expectations.
May 25, 2019 at 12:13am
May 25, 2019 at 12:13am
Write about your plans for the weekend. If you had 48 hours to do whatever you wanted, no holds barred, how would you spend your time?

I think I kinda covered this in a previous entry. I don't really have weekends.

This (objective) weekend, though, is Memorial Day weekend here in the US, so I know one thing I will not be doing: driving. As I've mentioned before, I like taking road trips. I've been across the country and back what, four times now? Somewhere in that range. Some of them kinda blend together. I'll probably do it again - but not on a holiday weekend. Bad enough I had to drive to New York on Easter weekend this year; that took about three hours longer than usual, and I didn't even go all the way to the city on the first day.

Then there's the fact it's Memorial Day weekend in particular. It's on that day that I always get the urge to visit my father's grave; he's buried at Arlington. Not a long trip for me. And yet, Memorial Day is precisely when I don't want to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

I saw some website yesterday wishing us all a Happy Memorial Day. Some people are still unclear on the concept, I guess.

So, hang around at home, get some organizing done (one hopes), and only leave the house to go to the gym, about a mile and a quarter from me. Normally, I'd add "drink," but I had two beers on Thursday and that's it for me for May while I'm trying to limit my intake of calories. Write. Play video games. Binge something on Netflix.

Sounds boring, right? And yet, I never get bored and never seem to have the time to do everything I want to do.

48 hours? I'd probably spend it in a casino, gambling, smoking cigars, enjoying a wide variety of food, and drinking their comps. And then it'd be back to the usual.

But again - not this weekend. This weekend, I stay home.
May 24, 2019 at 12:01am
May 24, 2019 at 12:01am
Congratulations on making it to the last week of the competition! You all should be proud! *Heart* How do you celebrate your successes? What is your favorite thing to give yourself as a reward?

Yeah, see, that doesn't work for me.

Oh, I've tried it before. "Okay, Waltz, if you finish NaNoWriMo, go out and buy yourself that single-malt scotch you've been wanting." And then I came to the realization that a) I could buy the scotch, regardless; and b) I'm much more likely to write if I drink scotch, so waiting until I'm done writing would be counterproductive.

Okay, (b) there might be a rationalization.

Point is, I have no self-control. If I *had* self-control, I could just do the Thing I'd otherwise try to reward myself for, thus negating the need for any kind of reward. Since I do not have self-control, I practice self-indulgence.

Oddly, I get some things done anyway.

One of the reasons I'm working on weight loss is because I intend to go to Scotland next year around this time. That's when they have the Islay festival, and Islay makes the best single-malt scotch. (That last sentence might be opinion, not fact. But it's a fact for me.) And when I visit Scotland, I don't want to look like, or be, a stereotypical ugly American.

So I guess you could say that my reward for hitting my weight-loss goal would be lots and lots of bottles of single-malt Scotch.

But that doesn't take into account the fact that I plan on going anyway. It's more like a bit of extra motivation than it is a reward.

It probably says a lot about me that I'm not losing weight because of heart issues or potential diabetes, but so I'll feel more comfortable when I drink. I'm okay with that.
May 23, 2019 at 12:27am
May 23, 2019 at 12:27am
What is your learning style? Do you prefer to learn through reading, images, audio, discussion, hands on, etc.? What is something new you learned in the last 30 days?

Well, first of all, let's talk about the idea of learning styles.


Now that we've debunked that, let's talk about my favorite subject: Me!

It's probably because I went to engineering school that I have a particular system that helps me learn and retain stuff: reading then doing. Like, when I was taking a calculus course, I'd read the chapter and work through the exercises at the end.

Or, at least, that's the theory. In practice, I'd go out and have beers and then take whatever test whilst hung over.

I had to repeat a couple of calculus classes.

And yet, I remember. I don't mean every single detail, of course - I'd have to look up how to take the integral of, say, (sin x2 / loge x) - but I remember the concepts.

Now, this was before the internet, and just after people stopped programming mainframe computers using punch cards in the Fortran language, so we didn't have a lot of the tools available to us today, like video courses.

It's possible that this is why I fucking hate learning from videos. Doesn't matter what subject: cooking, getting past certain boss monsters in video games, how to count cards at blackjack, how to not get caught counting cards at blackjack, History of Beer, programming in something other than Fortran, or whatever.

Every purported training video I've ever encountered either goes too fast or too slow. And yes, I am aware that there are tools colloquially known as "pause," "fast forward," "rewind," and whatever; those annoy me.

No, give me clear, written instructions, and I'll learn the shit out of something.

Which is not to say that videos are totally useless. I sometimes like to use them to get an overview of something. Like, when I'm at the gym, to keep my mind as active as my body, I've been watching educational lecture videos . Short on fancy graphics, these are mostly someone with a PhD in something or other standing there talking about their favorite subject. My current lecture series is about the quantum states of electrons. It's enough to give me a basic idea of how electrons work, but I could never actually calculate, say, the energy released when the outermost excited electron in a carbon atom drops down to its minimum-energy state. But I do know that this process occurs and has to emit a photon of a certain wavelength.

If I could be arsed to read a book about it, though, I could probably learn more. But most such books assume a knowledge that I just don't have, because the only actual course I took in quantum theory was at 8 am, and I don't do 8 am.

So, see, even though I find videos less than useless for most purposes, they work for me to some extent. A lot depends on the subject matter and my interest in it. Different approaches seem to work for different things. For example, in assembling furniture or a model rocket, I want text and diagrams. For learning more about spreadsheets, I want examples that I can plug into a workbook and play with.

These days, most of what I learn, I learn with the purpose in mind to somehow use it in my writing (the exception might be card-counting, if I actually studied that, which I will not admit to doing).

So - what is something new I learned in the last month? Well, it's a question that's been bugging me on an intellectual level and I'd never found a clear answer for: As you know, opposite charges attract. An electron has a negative charge; a proton has an equivalent positive charge. And yet, in an atom, the electron kind of hovers around the nucleus (which contains protons and neutrons, the latter of which are (wait for it) neutral in charge) without them getting together and having babiesannihilating their charges. So what is it that keeps the electron away from the proton? That was what was bugging me, and this course I'm watching explained it to my satisfaction.

The actual explanation is related to how white dwarf stars don't just collapse spontaneously into neutron stars or black holes.

Hey, what can I say? I write science fiction, and I want to at least try to get the science right.
May 22, 2019 at 12:19am
May 22, 2019 at 12:19am
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?


Oh, sure, I went through the usual list for a kid. Firefighter, astronaut, policeman, Olympic athlete, pirate captain, actor, musician, doctor, spy, whatever.

Then I figured, well, I'll become a writer! That way, I can at least imagine what it's like to be those things.

I did that, in a way, but I've never made a living off it. Not even a dime. Well, a few Gift Points sometimes, and that's nice, but it's a hobby, not a profession.

I don't remember when I first decided I'd become an engineer. Other engineers, you know, they played with Lincoln Logs or Legos or some sort of building toys, and they'd create imaginative things, but I was never that imaginative. I got pretty good at model rockets, though. Which reminds me, I now have less than 2 months to build a Saturn V model before the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Will I do it? Probably not; the kit is sitting there taunting me. What if I fuck it up (again)? I can follow instructions quite well, thank you, but there are artistic aspects to the build that might be beyond me.

I also have a Lego one to put together. That's more likely.

Anyway, I kind of fell into engineering. At first I thought aerospace, naturally, but at the time, job prospects were limited - the government, or a private contractor working for the government. Today, of course, you have companies in the mix, doing their own thing, and that's pretty exciting, but having achieved my primary goal ("old"), it's not like SpaceX would hire me now. I'm not exactly a rocket scientist.

I didn't switch to civil engineering until I was already in college; you only had to declare a specialty after the first year or so.

Well, such is life. As much as they tell you you can do anything, be anything, the truth is, you're limited - and you just have to do the best you can with what you have.
May 21, 2019 at 12:42am
May 21, 2019 at 12:42am
Write about an opinion you’ve had that has changed over the years.

There's been a few years, so there are quite a few opinions that fit the bill here.

One thing I've always tried to avoid in this blog is political controversy. It's hard to avoid completely, though, since everyone seems to have an opinion about something - and I'm no exception. What I don't want to do is get into arguments about issues like climate change, abortion, the death penalty, or military spending. We here at Writing.com tend to be more civil about these things than elsewhere on the internet; still, some of my friends here are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me, and I don't want to lose friends over something over which we, individually, have little control.

However, my opinions, like I think most peoples', are either a) trivial or b) political. I mean, I could talk about how anchovies on pizza are an abomination against everything that is right and true in this land, and you could argue otherwise, but in the end it comes down to a matter of personal preference - and if we ordered a pizza together, we could settle the dispute amicably by getting anchovies on one half. So if I made this post about how I used to actually like anchovies on pizza, that would make it trivial.

I didn't, of course. Anchovies are, always have been, and always will be, an abomination.

Aversion to political discussion aside, I'm sure regular readers have figured out where I stand on most things. Some of you, like I said, feel differently. That's okay; if people didn't feel differently about things, there wouldn't be a reason to avoid the topics, would there?

My father always used to tell me that people shift to the conservative end of the spectrum as they age. I suppose, in a way, he's right, but it's not necessarily a political conservativism. You get to some age, and I think you just start liking things to be the way they are, or remember the "old days" with some fondness and want to go back there.

I'm not at that age, yet.

I used to fancy myself a libertarian. Mostly, this was the influence of Robert A. Heinlein, an author whose works I devoured when I was younger. The ideas of ownership and self-determination - well, those were appealing to my younger self. The individual, according to this philosophy, is at his or her best when left as unfettered by regulation as possible. One should always, the philosophy goes, do and think for oneself.

Then I read Ayn Rand and, thinking for myself, decided that libertarianism was bullshit.

Still, echoes remain. I maintain a belief in individual freedom of thought and conscience. When I hear about suppression of, say, religious belief, I get angry or outraged. There are, of course, trade-offs, as there are for everything - if your religion requires human sacrifice, for example, that interferes with others' rights. But choosing to worship your conception of God or Spirit or Whatever, harming no one in the process - that right should be sacrosanct. So to speak.

Or, like me, not worshipping.

But one of the core tenets of libertarianism is that of ownership. If you have ownership of a thing, that includes the right to, for example, destroy it. But, I eventually realized, there's a problem with this: if I put a toxic waste dump on my land, the effluent could seep into the water table and deprive others of a resource needed for life. Again, trade-offs are necessary. Exactly where and how we draw the lines on the trade-offs, well, that's what the arguments that I prefer to avoid are all about.

For instance, if you live in certain watersheds in the US (as a civil engineer, I see the world in terms of watersheds), it is illegal to capture rain in a barrel. That rain, left uncaptured, supplies rivers and aquifers to which other individuals have a claim. Now, we can argue all day about whether this is "right" or not, but that's not the point; the point is that we, collectively, have instituted rules about runoff because it's a necessary resource. Without those and similar rules, which are anathema to libertarians, things have a tendency to go very, very wrong. (They go wrong sometimes anyway, but that's not an excuse to throw out the entire concept of "rules.")

I've found that no one wants government interference, unless it suits their own ideas about what the government should interfere in. People who want "small government" often demand bans on alcohol or weed, for example.

And that's about as political as I want to get, and I wouldn't have gone even that far if it weren't for today's prompt.

Tl;dr: I used to be a libertarian, and then I grew up.

(To explain the title of this entry: in calculus, taking the derivative of a function is a way to determine its rate of change at any or all points.)
May 20, 2019 at 12:15am
May 20, 2019 at 12:15am
What time of day are you most motivated? Least motivated? For me, I’m most motivated and productive in the morning, and least in the mid afternoon around 2pm. What do you do to renew your motivation in those slumps?

As someone who finds motivation elusive at the best of times, I'm not sure how to respond to this one. But I'll give it a shot.

The idea that we're better off doing certain things at different times of day has some evidence for it. Here's an example:


If you consciously pay attention to timing, you can dramatically improve your performance, and you can dramatically improve yourself.

(This is probably the first and last time I'll ever link to Outside magazine. I mean... "Outside." Shudder.)

I was reading that because I did start to wonder - and therefore, I Googled - what's the best time of day to do a workout. According to that article, from what I gather from it anyway, the answer is: it depends on what you're trying to do.

It would make sense, then, if the same logic applied to other types of activity, including the relative inactivity of, say, sitting down to write something.

My work used to involve a lot of sitting around at the computer - much as my hobbies do now. Back then, when I was shoehorned into a roughly 8-to-5 schedule, I did notice a trend: I could get work done at anytime, including the many hours of overtime I pulled, but almost every day, around 3-4 pm, I'd get tired. Like, pass-out-in-a-coma tired. This wasn't the same kind of inertia that always clogged my mornings (because I'm not a morning person and I never did get a taste for coffee), but rather a shutdown, almost like my narcoleptic friend. But where she couldn't stay awake no matter how much she wanted to, I could usually force my eyes to remain open - but I wasn't worth a damn when I did.

On the other hand, if I was able, somehow, to nap around that time, I'd get a period of great energy going around 5-7pm - you know, about the time most office grunts like me had already gotten off of work.

But, I've found, I do my best work around midnight - and this is true even now; it's why I get these entries in around 12-1 am (I'm in the same time zone as WDC).

Because of that, I found it difficult to get to sleep then, and consequently, had trouble waking up between 7-8 am - and the cycle continued.

One of the things I promised myself upon retirement was that I'd sleep when I was tired - barring, of course, important events. This led to my current biphasic sleep cycle - which, probably not coincidentally, has me falling asleep for an hour or two in the late afternoon.

Even then, it varies. Sometimes I'm up until 4am. Sometimes I'm asleep by 2. Rarely, my afternoon nap turns into a four-hour snoozefest. But one constant is that I feel most creative and productive, writing-wise, in the hours immediately around midnight.

And my workouts? Noon-ish, usually. Probably not ideal according to that despicable link above, but that's about when I go, "You know, I probably should go ahead and get my gym time in before I get tired this afternoon."

I'll tell you what, though - it's been a few years since I could unfetter myself from the shackles of an office job, and I still revel in the luxury of being able to (most days) get up whenever the fuck I feel like it. And it is a luxury, I know - but when I'm up, I'm up. No snooze buttons, no missing alarms, no dragging ass into the shower... just up and showered and dressed and ready to do day stuff.

Just another of the great things about being me, I guess.
May 19, 2019 at 12:23am
May 19, 2019 at 12:23am
Write about your ideal weekend.

One of the many great things about being me is that every day is a weekend day.

Alternatively, you could say that I have no weekends, but despite my pessimism, I prefer to think of it as the former.

I do pay attention to what day it is - it helps to have an idea of what business are open at which hours, and if I can expect to deal with traffic if I have to venture out. So, yes, I'm aware that it's Saturday night and I've once again spent it sitting at home watching Netflix and taking care of some stuff here on WDC. When I go out, I tend to eat bad (but delicious) food and drink alcohol, which are two of my favorite activities, but I'm still committed to losing weight and those activities are anathema to that.

Now, if I did those things every day, I'd say that my ideal weekend would be a break from it. But since I don't - well, I do eat food (almost) every day, but it's low-calorie fare, and I drink maybe 2-4 times a month now - then my ideal weekend would involve eating pizza and getting drunk.

For the record, that's been my ideal weekend for as long as I've been drinking.

Since we're talking Platonic ideals here, I might as well throw in gambling, also. But, again ideally, it would have to result in only a small loss of money - just enough to call it an entertainment expense. If I'm not in a casino, though, any kind of gaming is fine - video, or playing D&D with friends, or whatever.

What I'm doing now - restricting my activities in hopes of a beneficial result in the future - well, that's not the kind of thing I usually do. It feels like a foreign country. Instant gratification is more my thing, as nothing I've ever actually put effort into has ended up being worth the cost.

It might be important to note certain things that I'm sure would be a part of some others' lists, that are conspicuously absent from mine:

*Bullet* Fishing
*Bullet* Hiking
*Bullet* ...really, any outdoor activity
*Bullet* Anything remotely productive
*Bullet* Sex
*Bullet* Catching up on sleep (no need)
*Bullet* Shopping

Consequently, my ideal weekend would be in a casino in Vegas (one with good restaurants and great drink selection, which is most of them), never venturing outdoors, and not losing too much at blackjack. However, weekends in Vegas tend to be too crowded for me, so I'll declare the weekend to be Monday and Tuesday for my purposes.

I'm thinking maybe sometime in August.
May 18, 2019 at 12:05am
May 18, 2019 at 12:05am
Write a poem or stream of consciousness entry about something you do every day.

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

May 17, 2019 at 12:29am
May 17, 2019 at 12:29am
A lot of medical research today focuses on developing cures to ageing. Presumably, with the right breakthrough, humans could live forever. How do you feel about this? Write an entry describing the advantages and disadvantages of extremely long life using facts and opinions to support your answer.

If I were forced to sum up my current view on good writing in a single, pithy sentence, that sentence would be: "Every solution has a problem."

I've been reading science fiction for almost as long as I've been reading. Sure, some of it is just fun space opera, and that has its place. Most of it - the good stuff - delves into the interface of humans with technological advancement. And one recurring trope is the idea of life extension.

Thing is, "forever" is a long time. Longer than five billion years, which is the approximate amount of time for the sun to run out of hydrogen to fuse, with catastrophic consequences for Earth. Now, are we talking immortality, or indestructibility? Because being "alive" for eternity on a bare ball of molten rock circling a helium-fusing red giant - and then to experience even more solar cataclysms, eventually resulting in that rock cooling to near absolute zero - well... that would suck.

Not to mention the eventual heat death of the universe.

As an aside for the less science-minded out there: you might have heard the phrase "heat death of the universe" before. The phrase conjures up a vision of something very hot where life can't survive. It's actually a thermodynamics thing: "heat" is the transfer of energy from a high-energy place (e.g. a star) to a low-energy place (e.g. a planet). When there are no stars left, some trillion years from now (or something of that order; I can't be arsed to look it up), there's no more energy transfer, and everything in the universe settles down to its average temperature: really fucking cold. Life can't exist in such a state, either. So we upload our consciousness into computers? No, computers can't work in such a realm. Perhaps in a trillion years we'd be clever enough to work around this, but that's purely speculation.

"Forever" is longer than a trillion years. Infinitely longer.

So, it would suck.

Okay, so what if we take away the "indestructibility" part?

Over the last couple hundred years or so, science - specifically, medical science - has advanced to heights undreamed-of by our ancestors of two hundred years ago. We're living, on average, twice as long (though much of that has to do with a reduction in infant mortality, which brings the average up, but that's not important right now). Notably, the discovery/invention of antibiotics wiped out whole categories of "stuff that kills you." I, personally, would have died at least twice over were it not for antibiotics (and a few more times without other advancements such as cardiac stents). This led people to start thinking, "What if we could wipe out, say, cancer, too?"

Well, that's a harder problem, but we're working on it. Thing is... well, what's the number one cause of death right now? Depends on age group, but it's either cancer or heart disease. Call it cancer. So we wipe out cancer - then there's still a number one cause of death: heart disease. Now say we get a global fix for that. Something else would become the number one cause of death. Alzheimer's, maybe; there's some evidence that everyone will get Alzheimer's if they live long enough. Okay, so that becomes the priority, and we find a way to cure that, and then something else becomes #1... and so on... you see where I'm going with this. And that's not even counting the completely predictable, but somehow not predicted, evolution of bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant.

Eliminate disease in general, and the #1 cause of death becomes accident. I think I read somewhere that if this were possible, if we could wipe out all disease (not likely given the surge of anti-vaccination sentiment), we'd still have an average age at death of something like 200 years - because accidents happen.

Don't quote that number as gospel, because I pulled it out of my ass, but let's use it for the sake of argument. The "average" means that some people will live beyond that, while others will not reach 200. Okay, so maybe we also advance technology to the point where what are now fatal accidents can be nonfatal. The number then increases.

Still, it doesn't increase to infinity, which is what "forever" would mean.

Okay, and I still haven't gotten into the social or environmental chaos that could result from age-increasing technologies.

Social change happens because generations swap out. Imagine we already lived 200 years on average. Then, there would be people alive today who were alive during the American Civil War. Lots of them. Some people from the Revolutionary War, less than 250 years ago, would still be alive. Given the prevalent mindsets through that "four score and seven year" time frame, do you think we'd have made the advancements we did on, say, civil rights? What future advancements, in society or even in technology, would we have to forego if all the old-school farts, set in their ways, including those with real power and the means to keep it, stuck around beyond their natural spans?

As to the environment, we'd be completely screwed. 7.5 billion people fart and belch on the planet today. I've heard arguments that that's too many; I've heard other arguments that we can handle more. But could we handle three times as many? Because that's what would happen if the average death age shifted from about 70 to about 200. Or maybe it wouldn't, as per Malthus, and then we're back to lowering the average death age again.

Okay, so maybe we limit births. Yeah... like that kind of totalitarianism would fly in most of the world. China tried it, as you know, and they're still feeling the unintended consequences.

The more you think about this sort of thing, the more rabbit-holes you fall into. I know, because I have thought about it; I write science fiction as well.

Safety valves like migrating to other planets? Might work, for a time, but then you get resentment.

Uploading consciousness into computers? Hell, who knows what that would really be like, if it's even possible as the transhumanists like to claim - do you honestly think they'd program in simple pleasures like the relief you feel after you take a shit?

Much has been made of the distinction between natural, unnatural, and supernatural. I, for one, reject the last one (though it's a mildly amusing TV show), and the other two have a blurry line between them - it wasn't that long ago that a large number of people thought interracial marriage was "unnatural," and don't even get me started on homosexuality being labeled the same. "This food is all-natural!" Yeah... tell that to Socrates. But death? Death is natural. I'm not saying we shouldn't do everything we can to extend active years for people, but immortality? Let's leave that in the realm of science fiction... and the supernatural.

Of course, that's not going to stop people from trying, and maybe one of them will succeed... with my luck, it'll happen about 12 seconds after I kick it. And that would really suck: being the last human to die.

The only consolation is I probably wouldn't know it.
May 16, 2019 at 12:29am
May 16, 2019 at 12:29am
Congratulations on making it halfway through the challenge! Today, we’ll do something a little different. Instead of writing an entry of your own, take the time to show some love to your fellow 30DBC challengers! Write thoughtful comments on at least five different blogs from this month’s competition. Then, post the links to the entries you commented on in your own blog and share one thing you learned. Have fun!

As I tend to focus my comments on the blogs of people who post their entries around the same time I do - mostly night owls like me, or perhaps in different time zones - I decided to use the Virtual Dice to select five blogs out of the 17 participants in the 30dbc this month (ignoring my own, of course).

1. From "Life and Stuff"   by Andy~~getting back to WDC , "Cleo's World

2. From "The QPdoll Blog"   by ~Creepy QPdoll , "Motivation

3. From "L'aura del Campo"   by Kåre Enga, P.O. 22, Blogville , "2019年5月15日: Blow-me-away blog

4. From "Writing for Fun and Leisure"   by LazyWriter , "An Instance When Something Blew My Mind?

5. From "Bigger on the Inside"   by Kwills , "But is it Art?

And what did I learn? That there are many different species of praying mantis, and the British ones have an exotic accent.
May 15, 2019 at 12:17am
May 15, 2019 at 12:17am
Share an instance when something blew your mind.

My mind isn't that easy to blow, these days. Call it age, experience, wisdom, cynicism... oh, wait, those are all the same thing.

Most of my experiences along those lines come to me when I'm driving alone on near-deserted roads and letting my mind wander. That's one reason I like to take road trips. (The other is beer.) Most, but not all. Some external things can still blow my mind. My first thought when I saw the prompt was the eclipse of August 2017, and that certainly qualifies, but it's not like I wasn't expecting and anticipating what I saw - it was just really, really cool that I actually saw it.

I don't know if anyone else does this, but I like to learn about physics and shit for recreation. I tell myself it's because I write science fiction, and that's true enough, but a deeper truth is that it simply intrigues me. To do this, sometimes you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, and boy is there a lot of chaff out there. No, you can't use quantum mechanics to create your own reality. No, seriously, you cannot. First of all, you don't understand quantum mechanics. I don't understand quantum mechanics. In the last century, since it became a thing, you could count on your fingers the number of people who did fully understand it - and one of them was confined to a wheelchair. Now, you can argue all you like that Stephen Hawking wanted to be in a wheelchair, but you'd have to back that shit up with some evidence. Point is, even the (arguably) most agile mind in the field couldn't shape his own reality just by thinking about it - so all the "quantum consciousness" bullshit is bullshit.

Combine that with the unfortunate tendency of science reporters to sensationalize things or simply get things wrong, and you get something close to a pure application of Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap).

So I try to avoid the crap, or at least learn to identify it when I see it.

Therefore, I'll try to render this revelation faithfully, without adding to the misinformation that's out there. On the other extreme from quantum mechanics is general relativity - the thing Einstein is famous for. And you probably already know that, Star Trek notwithstanding, no physical object or information can exceed the speed of light - and that as something accelerates toward the speed of light, time seems to slow down for that thing. This is called "time dilation," and it's mind-boggling by itself. Someone who zips around the world at speeds approaching that of light would age notably less than someone who doesn't; that sort of thing.

In my search for a better understanding of this cosmic speed limit (though I'm still not sure we're looking at it correctly - the question may not be "why can't anything exceed light speed" but rather more like "why does anything not move at light speed") and time dilation, I came across a rather simplified explanation that... you guessed it... blew my mind.

Basically, it works like this. Say you're in a car that can only go 100 kph. It can't go slower or faster. And you've got an enormous parking lot to travel in. You can go 100 kph in the "north" direction; you can go 100 kph in the "east" direction. You can go 100 kph in some angle in between, and when you do that, you have a "north" component to your velocity and an "east" component, both of which are (you're familiar with vectors? Or at least the Pythagorean Theorem?) something less than 100 kph, but the resultant velocity is, and has to be, 100 kph.

Now, further say that there's an observer on the south side of the parking lot, measuring your speed. That observer doesn't have a radar gun and can only measure your speed relative to the east-west axis. If you're traveling entirely North, she measures your speed as 0. If you're only traveling East, she measures your speed as 100. If you're going northeast, though, she measures your speed as (using the Pythagorean Theorem) roughly 70.71 kph. Unless I screwed up the math, which is always possible.

Here's the thing that blew my mind, though: Now pretend that the North axis is actually Time, and the East axis is actually Space. Based on General Relativity, space and time have to be considered as a single entity, spacetime. And just as the car in the example can only travel at one speed, everything in the universe also can only travel at one speed - that of light - but it's traveling through spacetime. Consequently, the less you move through space, the more you move through time. As you move more through space, approaching the speed of light, you're moving less through time. But you're always moving at the same speed through the continuum.

Now, it's not a precise analogy - the actual equations are not circular but hyperbolic - but it conveys the situation fairly clearly, I think. And looking at it that way was, to me, mind-blowing.

(Incidentally, don't bother commenting with the whole "time is an illusion" nonsense. That's part of the chaff I described above. Time is as real as space, as it's all part of the same thing. Different observers experience it differently, but that doesn't make it any less "real." And when you start questioning whether something that we experience is "real" or not, you go down the rabbit-hole of thinking that, well, everything must be an illusion, which makes the words "real" and "illusion" semantically invalid. So, stop it.)
May 14, 2019 at 12:57am
May 14, 2019 at 12:57am
Discuss the “Four Burners Theory” as it is outlined in this website:


Which burner in your life burns the brightest? If you had to completely turn off one of your burners to be successful in the other three, which would you turn off?

Calling that self-help-seminar ejaculate a "theory" is an insult to the entire institution of science.

A theory is not just a guess or a way of looking at things - we have other words for those. No, a theory is a system that is supported by evidence and can be used to make further inquiries. And when those inquiries contradict something in the theory, the theory changes. This? This is little more than a philosophical metaphor, and as philosophical metaphors go, it's woefully inadequate.

But let's work with it, for now.

At the moment, I have exactly one burner going, and it's on simmer: the health one. So maybe I'm not the one to address the article's points. But, as this is my blog and it has me fired up (pun, as always, intended), I'm going to do it anyway.

The first burner represents your family.

"Family" can mean many things, but this particular article plays the "you're going to have kids" card, and it's clear that "family" means "offspring" in this context. Well, I sidestepped that one neatly, didn't I? My answer to work-family balance? Don't reproduce. Kids just aren't worth the time, energy, effort, or money. I read somewhere that it takes half a million dollars to raise a child through the end of high school, if you're a middle-class American (to be fair, there aren't many of those anymore). Used to be they were useful, when most people had farms and whatnot and they could provide free labor. These days, you can't even have one mow your lawn without horrified looks from other people.

The second burner is your friends.

I've mentioned before that I'm an introvert. This doesn't mean that I have no friends; it means that I have fewer "friend" relationships that I nurturemaintain to the best of my limited ability. We do stuff together. I stay away from high-maintenance people. This pretty much takes care of itself.

The third burner is your health.

This is the one I say I have on simmer. I didn't have it on at all for a long time, so I had a heart attack. Even after that, I didn't turn it on until fairly recently. I'm still surprised at how successful I've been at following a regimen that has caused me to lose some weight, though I have a long way to go. But I work on this oh, maybe two hours a day: a bit over an hour to go to the gym, and a bit under an hour to prepare meals.

The fourth burner is your work.

Work, to me, was always about one thing: amassing enough money so I didn't have to work. So I don't work anymore. When I did, everything else kind of fell by the wayside, because that often happens when one owns a business. Even before that, while I wasn't what you'd call a workaholic, I did work far more than the formerly standard 40 hours a week. This cost me two marriages. And now that I don't have to work, I'm deliberately single again. Life is strange.

“in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

What the sodding hell does "successful" mean? Okay, I guess I was successful, because I'm mostly where I want to be right now. You define your own success. Money? Family? Living to 110? Partying? Those each relate to one of the "four burners." My success isn't yours. As noted in the article, "Most entrepreneurs, artists, and creators I know would feel bored and without a sense of purpose if they had nothing to work on each day." Well, I never feel bored, and I frankly don't need a sense of purpose, so like I said, work to me was always nothing but a means to an end. Other people, I understand, are different.

nobody likes being told they can't have it all, but everyone has constraints on their time and energy. Every choice has a cost.

Well, fucking DUH. But the converse is also true: every cost has a choice. No one can have it all. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's not about having what you want.

It's about wanting what you have.
May 13, 2019 at 12:13am
May 13, 2019 at 12:13am
Discuss the “Goldilocks Rule of Motivation” as described on the website below. “Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains.”


The argument presented is logical, but as with many logical arguments, I question the basic premise.

Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.

There are things this theory fails to take into account. For one, the very human aversion to failure. For another, the also very human fear of success.

And it doesn't provide room for the other thing that's always held me back: depression.

As I've said before, some of my favorite art has been motivated by depression. It can be a profound driving force in creating emotional work. First and foremost among these, for me, is the music of people like Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen, both of whom have publicly chronicled their battles with severe depression.

And yet, there's a difference. Springsteen achieved fame and fortune. Cohen - well, maybe not as famous, but you've heard his stuff whether you realize it or not. They're both pervasive in Western culture, and they achieved this in spite of their mental health issues, or perhaps because of them. Could you imagine a song like "Hallelujah" coming from a balanced, healthy and happy mind?

Most people are more familiar with some of the covers of this song, which is fine, but it was Cohen who wrote it.

Point is, these people have accomplished something very public and long-lasting, where for most of us, depression just keeps us from doing stuff in the first place.

Perhaps it came easily for them. Maybe the act of songwriting (or creating whatever art), recording, and performing something like that was right on the edge of success and failure for them.

For me, a good example of a task that's right on the edge of success and failure is cooking a halfway healthy meal. I mean, shit, I have to buy prewashed broccoli because I can't be arsed to wash the little buggers. And yet I still screw that up more often than not. Most days, even the thought of feeding myself can be overwhelming, no matter how simple. So it usually goes like this: I'm not hungry, so I'm not going to cook. Then, I start getting a little hungry, but I think about all the work it's going to take to open a fucking bag of broccoli, pour olive oil into a pan, mixing in other ingredients, etc., and I balk. Then I get really damn hungry, so ordering a pizza is looking more and more likely.

Well, okay, I haven't actually ordered a pizza since I decided to lose weight, but the principle remains. What motivates me to lose weight, I still don't know. Just to see if I can do it, I guess; my doctor told me I'd die if I didn't, and I just shrugged. I mean, I'm going to die anyway, right? We all are, at some point, and I might as well go out on my own terms.

So the idea of using my depression to fuel great art is laughable to me. So is the idea of motivation of any sort. I consider myself fortunate if I drag my ass out of bed in the morning.

So ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
May 12, 2019 at 12:14am
May 12, 2019 at 12:14am
Write your entry inspired by the word “nurture.” What does it mean to nurture something or someone? How were you nurtured growing up, how are you currently nurtured, and how do you nurture others?

I don't.

Right now a lot of you are probably like, "Of course; you're a dude." Bullshit. While "nurture" is something often associated with women, lots of men are nurturing.

I'm not one of them.

My dad was, in a rather old-fashioned way. So was my mom. They desperately wanted a child; they got me. But for whatever reason - feel free to psychoanalyze; you'll probably be wrong, anyway - I didn't get the "nurture" gene.

I'm not one of those people who needs something to take care of. Truth be told, I think of it as a burden - one I willingly assume when the situation calls for it, but not something I seek out. It's why I didn't want kids. And if I didn't care, I'd have tried to have them anyway; therfore, I do care, ipso facto, ex post nihilo, etc.

Sure, I have cats, and I take care of them, but cats are essentially low-maintenance. They suit my personality better than dogs do, because dogs take a lot of training and care, things I can't be arsed to provide. The idea of walking one twice a day, every day, like clockwork? Shudder. I can't do anything on a regular schedule, or I start feeling hemmed-in.

Besides, when I do try to be nurturing, whatever the hell that means, I always end up making a situation worse.

And so no, I don't know what it means, and I'm not really interested in trying to find out. I'd rather play video games. Plenty of things about human nature that I will never understand, and this is one of them.
May 11, 2019 at 12:29am
May 11, 2019 at 12:29am
Write your entry today from the perspective of an animal. You could choose a pet, a lioness on the hunt, a rhino being pursued by poachers, or any other animal of your choice.

"We have a rodent problem in the yard."

"Hey, kitty!" was the Feeder's only response.

"Are you listening to me? There are mice. In the yard." I brushed his legs in frustration, ducking out of the way of his questing paw. I wasn't in the mood to be touched; I just wanted him to listen.

"What are you meowing about?"

All that work, and he still doesn't understand me. No one does. I stalked to the door. "Let me out," I demanded.

"What are you doing? You just now came inside."

I pawed at the door. The Feeder sighed and opened it. I bolted.

Fine. The Feeder won't do anything about it, so I will. I took my perch on the porch, and watched. And waited.

Soon enough, I saw something flit through the tall grass, hesitant, wary. Still, I waited.

It inched closer. I felt my tail twitching in anticipation. And yet, I waited.

Closer and closer it quested. I could see it now. Not a mouse. A mole. Close enough. I pounced.

I can't seem to get through to him with words. Perhaps something more... physical. Dropping the now-dead mole just outside the door, I signaled for entry.

This part usually takes some time, but he must have been near the door. It opened, and I saw his gaze move from me to the message. Sitting, I looked at him and said, "See? Rodents."

He slammed the door in my face. Licking my lips, I trotted off to find another one.

...yeah, I know, not the sort of thing I usually post here, but what's the blog activity for if not to stretch one's boundaries? Now to go bag some presents my cats left me.
May 10, 2019 at 12:47am
May 10, 2019 at 12:47am
Fact! Today is GrueSum1 's birthday! *ConfettiB* *GiftR* Write something to celebrate the dedicated Head Judge of the "30-Day Blogging Challenge

GrueSum1 can be summed up with one word: mushroom. No, wait; that's not it. Toadstool? Well. Some sort of fun guy anyway.

After all, GrueSum1 is the curator of "Smile! (Groan?) You Know You Love These! [E], which does almost as much to spread laughter as my own comedy does. Look, if you haven't visited that yet, go there and catch up, because I have it on good authority that the images might start disappearing soon.

I don't remember when I first met GrueSum1. It was probably in the super-secret Moderators forum, which the rest of you can't know about. I know he hasn't been around as long as I have, so really, he's just a kid. A kid with gray hair. Which, for the record, I don't have - mostly.

Also like me, GrueSum1 is fond of travel and sharing his journey experiences. You can see that in "Where In The World Is Sum1? [E].

And of course, as the Head Judge of the "30-Day Blogging Challenge, GrueSum1 is a big fan of receiving bribes and meaningless flattery. Be sure to slip him a few GPs and tell him he does a great job, because I certainly won't - I have too much integrity for that.

Still - Hippy Bathday, GrueSum1!

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