Monday, November 23, 2009

I heard the jury’s still out on science.

The following chart shows a direct correlation between CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and the changing talking-point stance of climate-change deniers.

Assuming a correlation will continue to hold, and then plotting against predicted CO2 levels over the next century, the following talking-points can be predicted:

Then, using sophisticated anti-global-warming skeptic social-climate modeling techniques, it is possible to generate various simulations of likely right-wing op-sci "news" items. A few of the results follow.

Simulation year 2018: Not over-hyped enough.
Over recent years, conservative response to global warming has been nothing short of appropriate. Rather than reacting in an alarmist fashion before major problems appeared, the political-right soundly waited for the problems to occur before becoming alarmist. Economists now say that this calm restraint and delayed action had a corresponding delay on the economic downturn, and that the current depression could have come earlier if not for their quick-thinking delays.

As global warming evolved from an imaginary conspiracy of left-wing nuts, to an actual problem with real economic consequences, public opinion followed precisely. But for those who have lost more than just homes, families, or their coastal cities -- those who have lost fortunes on the stock market -- there is the real problem that someone could have, and should have, done more to prevent the crash in the markets. Given that global-warming problems were inconsequential only a few years ago (affecting only bears and poor nations and continents that don't even have any people, etc), it was impossible for anyone to predict any of the economic problems we've seen. Yet, it was always possible to fear them, and this fear was sadly lacking. So while the response to global-warming has had dead-on accurate timing, the prediction of market effect has been left far behind, say Wall Street analysts. And while the threat of global-warming has been over-hyped until recently when the crisis caught up to the hype, analysts say that climate scientists could have done a lot more to over-hype the threats to a more appropriate level of over-hype.

In particular, Al Gore is being blamed for the shortfall in over-hype felt among former skeptics. His dire warnings of last decade failed miserably to sway the opinions of die-hard climate change detractors. If he had only spent more time over-hyping global warming to an appropriate degree, and less time making useless powerpoint presentations, we would have been much better prepared to weather the recent violent storms in the markets. "The scientists did nothing to force us to accept that what they told us was true," writes one angry reader. "It's their fault that all this happened."

Simulation year 2044: It's not so bad

Loss of coastal real-estate, deaths caused by inadequate food distribution, wars waged over anti-migration policy -- these problems have spelt disaster for the Dow. However, analysts say there is still plenty of room for the markets to improve. Says J. Random Analyst, "You can still survive in this world, and this financial climate, if you pick the right place to live and the right portfolio." While the economies of many countries have collapsed like giant sheets of arctic ice, the world's economic engine is still healthy enough to keep turning for the foreseeable future. And though most of us have seen our stocks burnt to a crisp that matches our skin, many are finding ways to turn a profit from the global crisis.

"Many view Earth's dwindling population as a loss of potential customer base, but we don't," says the CEO of ItsMines Corp, maker of anti-migrant PPP (personal property protection) devices, one of the new economy's most prosperous sectors. "You just have to keep up with the changing needs of humanity and carve out niche markets. In meetings we ask ourselves, 'Okay, my home is under water, my crops have all burned, and I will be shot if I try to head north... What is it that I would really want to buy?'"

Simulation year 2080: It's part of a natural cycle
Since the dawn of mankind, our species has periodically engaged in large-scale undertakings aimed at destroying a significant portion of itself and its belongings. Many scientists now accept this as a naturally occurring phenomenon, and accept mankind's current catastrophic destruction of our planet's land and biosphere as part of that natural cycle. While many left-wing nuts still claim we should have done something to stop it, more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that it was a good thing that we didn't. It would be unnatural, they say, to interfere with mankind's natural tendency to destroy nature.

Average folk like you and I tend to agree. "I make a good living in this freakish nightmare world we live in," says one person we spoke to. "My paycheck depends on it. And the liberals want to change it all just to take that away from me! Why?"

Still, the liberal agenda continues to push the myth that things will continue to get worse. This is a preposterous idea, which is plain to see by anyone with an IQ over 80 who asks the question, "How can things possibly get worse?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh no, I've said too much

Recent versions of the Wikipedia entry on Buddhism began with the intro, "Buddhism, as traditionally conceived, is a path of liberation attained through insight into the ultimate nature of reality." This was enough to hook me, to tell me that this is a spiritual philosophy worth investigating further.

It struck me that different religions are based more on values than on beliefs. Beliefs are things we tend to form around those values. Buddhism is instantly appealing to me because it values understanding reality. It seems it would encourage questioning our beliefs in order to figure them out. This likely makes it popular among people seeking new faiths, especially if they are at odds with their former belief system due to questioning it. Some religions neither encourage nor deal well with questioning. Christianity for example values faith over figuring out reality. This isn't to say that one religion has a more accurate description of reality than another, but that a religion can for example be less concerned with accuracy in describing reality than another, and perhaps more concerned with things like trusting in reality, whatever it may be.

Religions can give us guidance and they can be a way of dealing with unknowns in our reality. Various religions appeal to various individuals depending on our individual values. If we feel a need to figure things out and have things make sense, we may be drawn to religions that focus on the nature of reality. If we value trusting in the unknown without needing to figure it out, we may be drawn to religions that focus on faith and deities that will take care of us. If we have a strong need for security, we may accept dogma over personal choice, and be drawn to religions with strict beliefs.

And so, if you find yourself debating religions with others, keep in mind that you're not just debating which specific beliefs are the "correct" ones, you are making judgments of others' values. Determining which beliefs are "correct" tends not to even matter -- if a person's beliefs line up well with their values, then those beliefs are likely correct for them.

If, however, one's beliefs are not working well for them, they might be considered incorrect in that case. Many religions tend to value loyalty, which discourages people from choosing a better-fitting option. Most tend to have human leaders, whose values become indoctrinated. But we each have varying values. These individual values combined with loyalty to a named religion lead to different flavors of religion that can seem strange to outsiders. If you value questioning your faith, you should do so, but if others do not value it, it may be best to just respect their choice. If you feel inclined to question your own faith, ask yourself these two questions: First, do my religious beliefs coincide with my personal beliefs? If not, then your religion may, for you, be a source of confusion and gloom, instead of understanding and hope. Second, do the values of my religion coincide with my personal values? If not, your religion may be like a prison, discouraging thoughts or behaviors that you might find more fulfilling.

It is unfortunate in my most humble of opinings, that religions tend to be evaluated more on beliefs than on values. Ironically, though I said I wanted to investigate Buddhism further, I didn't read much past the opening line, satisfied with the value and not wanting to hear about specific beliefs. Fittingly enough, that line was removed in recent edits to the Wikipedia page, due to it being a "point of view". So it looks like I might have to create my own religion, starting with the values and building on my own beliefs.

I wonder... is starting a religion still a good way to make a lot of money?

Stay tuned (but don't hold your breath) for Part II: On the Nature of God

Thursday, October 22, 2009

fitter, healthier and more productive

Today's boycott: Industrial farmed meats

A friend related a story of once being sick with some kind of nasty bug, for which he took strong medicine. He would wake up in a panic thinking "I'm dying!" It was explained to him that living things share a lot of chemical signatures (hormones or enzymes or something), and that humans and tiny parasites both release similar chemicals when dying. If you kill a ton of bugs inside yourself, you get the chemical signal of all those bugs saying "I'm dying", in your blood, and you think it's your body that's saying it.

You wouldn't want to put this "I'm dying" chemical into your body. That's partly why it's important that animals raised for food aren't slaughtered in a stressful way. How they die matters. But what about how they live?

High-density hog factories are disgusting. There are plenty of surprising and disturbing documentaries that show the terrible conditions in which factory pigs live. People are willing to effectively torture animals if it means greater profit. Pigs are confined in dirty metal pens, squished in together till there's no room to move. The "stench of liquid manure" affects communities for miles around, and makes people sick outside of the farms -- imagine what it does to those living their entire lives inside.

One reason not to eat pork is simply that it's aesthetically and morally gross to eat something that has been raised in such filth and appalling conditions. There are other reasons: I've been told that pork is the closest meat to human flesh, and it doesn't digest easily, it just sits in your intestines rotting as much as being digested. Then there are parasites, etc.

Imagine though that when you eat meat, you are putting into your system the chemical signatures that an animal built up as it lived and grew. You are taking its chemical memories, and making them your own. So if you eat a ton of industrial hog factory meat, could your body be absorbing a feeling of being stressed out all the time, of being confined and crowded, frantic and agitated, living in filth? Could you be absorbing a little constant unhappiness, a desperate need to escape? Whether or not this actually happens, simply thinking about it might make you want to cut back on meat consumption.

Non-factory farms, where animals live and die decently, shouldn't have this problem. If you eat only ethically raised meats, it means lower-density production, which means that we can't all eat huge amounts of meat without requiring an impossibly large environmental footprint. But this isn't a problem; eating less meat is a solution.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If we had some bacon we could have some bacon and eggs if we had some eggs

Evolution is all about the chicken and the egg. If you get the paradox, you probably get evolution. If you don't believe in evolution, I'll bet you're also puzzled by the paradox.

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? The paradox kind of disappears if you accept that a chicken and chicken-egg go hand-in-hand... they are so interdependent that it neither makes sense nor is relevant to consider one existing without the other. So it's not sensible to consider one coming first, without the other. They both evolved together. *

To be puzzled by the C & E paradox, all you have to do is imagine one or the other existing completely on its own. Imagine just a chicken... how was it born? Imagine an egg with no chickens... what hatched it? It is exactly these types of black-and-white narrow perspectives that leave evolution non-believers perplexed by all that evolution explains. Usually the standard solution is, "Something must have created it"; thus the need for a creator. But understand that they evolved together, in long sequences of many steps, none of which was such a leap as to be inconceivable to happen randomly, and the puzzle disappears. There is no step where a chicken appears without something very chicken-egg-like, and no step where an egg comes from something not very chicken-like.

Understanding evolution by looking at its current state and then working backwards, we're certain to come across many different chicken-and-egg paradoxes. If we assume that a particular species or trait "should" have evolved, then we are puzzled by all the unlikely events that brought it about. If we think that species are pre-designed, then we tend to think that only an intelligent entity could have created it. But evolution doesn't work to fit any pre-existing design. The design evolves along with the species. The design is never more than one mutation away from what currently exists. Which came first, the human or its design? They evolved together.

A typical chicken-and-egg-type conundrum involves taking 2 things that are dependent on each other, assuming one of them once existed without the other, then trying to figure out how the other came to be. Sometimes one of the dependencies isn't properly considered, either assumed to be a constant, or not considered a product of evolution, or not even noticed as a key element in the problem.

For example, one might ask, how did the human form "randomly" evolve into something so beautiful and aesthetically pleasing? Even our hands are works of art. If evolution favors functionally "fittest" traits, how did it also just happen to create such beauty? If your only answer is "Something must have planned it that way", or even "It must be a pretty big coincidence", then it may seem like evidence against evolution. But realize that our perception of beauty is also evolved. Our brains have developed to find the human form beautiful. You may equally validly ask, why did brains develop to find our form so attractive? Which came first, the human form or human perception of beauty? Chicken or egg? Of course, they developed together, hand-in-hand. If we had instead evolved to look like Darmok, then an evolved perception of beauty would have found his form as perfect as we consider the human form.

Questions involving the results of evolution must be asked within the context of what has evolved, to truly be answerable. Why do the conditions of Earth just happen to be so well suited to life as we know it? (Or the egg to that chicken: Why did we just randomly evolve into something that thrives here?) If the conditions on Earth were different (but still conducive to life), then life would have evolved differently, into something well-suited to those different conditions and vice versa. We can't answer any "How did evolution arrive at this unlikely point?" questions without realizing that what makes that unlikely point important is itself a product of the same evolution. Otherwise, it is simply a random point, as likely or unlikely as any other.

The Earth happens to be so well-suited to life as we know it, because life as we know it evolved within the conditions on Earth.

Evolution makes sense if you consider what may have existed before, and imagine how what existed later could have come about. If you focus on why certain things happened, it's not as clear. Asking "why" suggests there are predetermined reasons for evolutionary events, and having reasons leads to assumptions about some form of conscious thought involved in the process.

Because we tend not to naturally understand evolution, we create a need for and a strong belief in a supernatural creator. But once we've done this, even if we try to consider evolution from different perspectives, the assumption of the existence of a creator leads to further assumptions (such as predetermined reasons for events or existences) that make evolution confusing. Understanding evolution intuitively can remove one's intellectual need for a creator, but understanding evolution is much more intuitive when one fully suspends belief in a creator. This is another chicken-and-egg problem. Which comes first, understanding evolution without accepting it, or accepting it and then trying to understand it? Of course, they must come about together. The simple solution is to not try to require one side completely without the other.

Science: it's supercool!
-- Unknown

* To be technical, and to avoid trying to make an interesting paradox disappear by saying "I couldn't be bothered to think about it", I submit that the egg came first. For one thing, other animals reproduced using eggs long before chickens existed. It is highly unlikely that chickens ever reproduced in any other way, and later evolved to use eggs (there is probably proof of this). Birds evolved through various species of kinda-chickens, all using eggs in reproduction, before finally evolving after a very long time, into chickens. But which egg was "officially" the first chicken egg? I assume (without bothering to look it up) that species-to-new-species evolution can occur through many different mutations over many generations, and that there isn't always a perfect dividing line that says "this is a chicken, and it's parents are not-chickens". I assume that species changes blur across several or many generations, and it may not even be valid to isolate a single individual and say "this is the first chicken". This would be a clear case where the chicken and egg paradox is neither solvable nor relevant.

But if it so happened that a single distinct mutation separated a chicken from its not-chicken parents, that at some point in prehistory there was some kinda-chicken that wasn't technically-chicken, but which then evolved into a full-blown-chicken, then the technically-chicken egg probably came first anyway, because it is most likely that meaningful mutations resulting in the technically-chicken occurred during the genetic recombination of parental DNA, and less likely (I assume) that it occurred within the first or first few cell divisions of the kinda-chicken's life (either way, within an egg), and much much less likely that a grown kinda-chicken mutated in some key way that turned it into a full-blown-chicken. For certain, as this article is all about, it is extremely unlikely that a non-egg-laying non-chicken suddenly evolved the ability to lay eggs in one mutation or generation, all at once taking on that and every other characteristic needed to distinguish non-chicken from technically-chicken.

That kind of argument goes against the point of this article. Evolutionary changes occur on the level of random molecular changes, a tiny change in a single cell's DNA that expands to a larger change after a ton of cell divisions, some tiny defect that can be used as a new advantage, or at least results in a still-viable living creature. The "What came before that?" is nothing more miraculous or unexplainable than "The same kind of creature, less that one mutation." Big changes occur over generations and generations.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Question: What's cooler than being cool?

On a recent trip around the world and back, on foot I passed through the Rambo tunnels of Hope, British Columbia. There I met some fellow travelers also from Edmonton, who were making the same trek that I was. Here is a piece of worldly advice I picked up while conversing with these wandering strangers in that foreign land.
  • To endure a cold winter comfortably, spend at least a half an hour outside every day.
The reasoning is that this will allow you to acclimate to low temperatures, the way we did as kids when we walked to school every day, back when winters never seemed that bad. Apparently, the face is an important meteorological sensor for our bodies, and keeping ourselves inside too much prevents us from getting used to the oncoming cold of winter.

If you find an excuse to be out while the weather goes from okay to bad, it should be tolerable when it goes to worse. I will try to test the idea this coming fall.

For your health!

Bonus-beats advice!
  • Soak raw nuts overnight before eating them.
Raw nuts have enzyme inhibitors on them that allow the nut to stay fairly inert through dry periods, and only "come alive" to start growing in the presence of water. These inhibitors make nuts hard to digest. Soak yer nuts overnight for like 12 hours or whatever, to get rid of the inhibitors. Beware though that what keeps the nuts inert, keeps them from spoiling, so the nuts won't last as long once they've been soaked. It's a good thing!

[Top notch post but could you add a witty and original "nuts" joke before we send this off to print? Thx. Maybe get Vince in for ideas. --Ed. PS. don't forget to remove this note, this time]

Also ran

GM's new slogan is "May the best car win. TM"

Um. Okay, but, like... didn't that, like, already happen?

American car companies recently fell hard on their asses and it seemed for awhile that they were desperate to clean up their act, to finally look to what foreign car companies were doing right, and to try to catch up. Their ads reflected this. Then they got all bailed out, and as far as I can tell from their commercials, they immediately returned to selling us crap that we don't really want: Bulkier trucks and SUVs; body detailing that looks like bad cheap stereos (about which I also feel curmudgeony... "Back in my day, a stereo looked like a stereo, not a carnival ride!"); and generally, fantasy over function. It seems that building a car that has what I want (high gas mileage, quality construction, doesn't die after a few years for no good reason, made out of duroplast and runs on solar power, etc) is only worth doing when you're against the ropes (that's a boxing reference, y'all). Any other time is business as usual: Making crappy cars, trying to sell them with deceitful advertising, and getting bailed out when you can't compete with companies who make decent cars.

Here are some future slogan ideas for GM:
  • "Okay best car, 2 out of 3, wins!"
  • "Do over? May the best car win, starting..... now!"
  • "3 out of 5?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is it bigger than a bread box?

When I read about the giant rings recently discovered around Saturn, I wanted some frame of reference to help understand how big they are. So I started calculating some ratios between various measurements...

Scale: If you could walk around the earth

Suppose you made a map of the earth to the size of a city. The equatorial circumference of the Earth is 40,075 km. The length of Manhattan, or an average city like Edmonton, is about 21 km. This is a long walk for an average person, but most should be able to do it in a day.

If you laid a large map of the globe across such a city, the map scale would be 21:40075, or 1 to 1908.333 (repeating, of course). You can multiply this ratio by any map distance to find the equivalent distance on earth, or divide to do the reverse. For example, a big 1 m step taken in your city map would cover 1908 m on Earth, which is about half the length of Central Park (on your map, the park would be about the size of a tub). The distance from London to Paris is 343 km, which would be 180 m on your map. That's about the depth of the Met Museum of Art in real life.

Note: This ratio is actually only valid along the equator on the map, because the projection from sphere to plane will deform the map, but let's just pretend that the map was made in such a way that any of the distances we measure here share the same ratio.

By the way, the ratio also means that if you laid 1908 average cities side by side, they would circle the entire globe.

A map of Earth the size of a city.
Scale: 1 : 1908.3

MeasurementActual sizeSize on mapAbout as big as...
Width of a house10 m5.2 mma pea
Height of CN Tower in Toronto553.3 m0.29 mthe height of a garden gnome
Height of Mount Everest8848 m4.637 mthe height of a house. Imagine a city the size of Manhattan with nothing taller than 1-story buildings. That's how relatively "flat" the Earth is.
Average city length21 km11 ma house
Length of the equator40075 km21 kma city, of course!
Diameter of the moon3475 km1.820 mhalf the length of central park
Average distance to the moon384,403 km201 kmLong Island
Diameter of the sun1,391,000 km728.9 kmNew York to Chicago; highway driving for 7 hours
1 AU (Distance to sun)149,598,000 km78391 km6 Earths side by side
Distance to Proxima Centauri (nearest star to sun, 4.3 light-years)4.07×1013 km21,317,173,156 km142.5 AU... within the heliosheath of the solar system; 5x the distance from sun to Uranus

Scale: The solar system in a ball park...

Suppose we have a park that is 60 m (just under 200 ft) from home plate to the outfield fence, and we want to build a scale model of the solar system with the sun at home plate and Neptune orbiting around where the fence is.

Home plate is 0.4318 m across, the pitching rubber is 18.44 m away, 1st base is 27.43 m away, and the outfield grass line is 47.40 m straight ahead.

Neptune orbits at about 30 AU, or 4.48794×1012 m.
Scale: 60 : 4.48794×1012 = 1 : 74799 million

MeasurementActual sizeSize in ballpark modelAbout as big as...
Diameter of the sun1,391,000 km18.60 mma nickel
Diameter of Mercury4,879.4 km0.0652 mmthe width of a thin hair. All of the inner planets are like hairs of varying thickness.
Distance to Mercury59,839,200 km0.8 ma big step
Venus12103.6 km0.1618 mm
To Venus104,718,600 km1.4 ma short person laying down
Earth12756.2 km0.1705 mm
To Earth149,598,000 km2 mwidth of a car. If you tape a nickel to a window and stand 2 m away from it, the coin should just eclipse the sun. Try this with the moon to be safe, if you're curious. The moon looks slightly (103%) bigger than the sun, on average.
Diameter of the moon3475 km0.0465 mm
Average distance to the moon384,403 km5.14 mma pea
Mars6794 km0.0908 mm
To Mars224,397,000 km3 m
Distance to the Asteroid belt418,874,400 km5.6 ma limousine
Jupiter142,984 km1.9116 mm
To Jupiter777,909,600 km10.4 m
Saturn120,536 km1.6115 mmwidth of a grain of rice
To Saturn1,421,181,000 km19 mjust past the pitching rubber
Diameter of Saturn's main rings273,560 km3.66 mmthe width of 3 pennies
Saturn's new ring13,000,000 km173.8 mma cantaloupe. As seen from Earth (2 m from home plate), this should look twice as big as the moon or sun.
Uranus51,118 km0.6834 mmUranus is huge.
To Uranus2,932,120,800 km39.2 mhalfway between 2nd base and the outfield grass line
Neptune49,528 km0.6621 mm
To Neptune4,487,940,000 km60 mthe park, to the outfield fence
Solar system bow shock34,407,540,000 km460 ma few long city blocks
Distance to Proxima Centauri (nearest star to sun, 4.3 light-years)4.07×1013 km543 kmToronto to Montreal. If it took us a year to get from the sun to Neptune's orbit, it would take 9064 years to get to the nearest star.
Diameter of Proxima Centauri201,695 km2.70 mma spitball
Size of the galaxy9.50×1017 km12,700,705 kmSize of Saturn's newly discovered rings. 33 times the average distance to the moon and a twelfth of the distance to the sun.

In a model where the planets' orbits fit in a ball park, the galaxy fits in Saturn's "new" rings. The next time you make a model this big, have someone in another city 543 km away hold up a spitball, to represent the nearest star.

Scale: If the distance to the nearest star was the length of a house...

Length of house: 14 m
Distance to Proxima Centauri: 4.3 light-years = 4.07×1013 km
Scale: 1 : 2905733 billion

MeasurementActual sizeSize in house modelAbout as big as...
Diameter of the sun1,391,000 km0.000479 mma bacteria cell. Though not visible to the naked eye, if it was very bright and seen from across a dark house, it would be a visible, single point of light, just like a star in the sky
Distance from sun to Earth149,598,000 km0.0515 mmwidth of a thin hair
To Neptune4,487,940,000 km1.54 mmwidth of a grain of rice
To bow shock34,407,540,000 km11.8 mma marble
Distance to Proxima Centauri (4.3 light-years)4.07×1013 km14 mlength of house
Size of the galaxy9.50×1017 km327 kmDistance from Edmonton to Calgary
Distance to nearest galaxy2.37×1017 km81.4 km
Distance to Andromeda Galaxy (whose size is comparable to the Milky Way Galaxy)1.89×1019 km6512 kmRadius of Earth
Size of the visible universe4.40×1023 km151,395,348 kmDistance to the sun

References: google, wikipedia

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Uhhhmm... the planet just exploded sir.

We apologize for the recent technical difficulties that have prevented updates of this blog. Earlier in the summer, a wild pack of feral wookies chewed on some vital cables within the MegaCorp(tm) North Compound reactor core, causing a minor nuclear holocaust which disabled the satellite uplink. Please bear with us while we carry out the necessary repairs and cover up. Our sincerest apologies to all who were affected by the blackout.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

We call it... the, uh... ... The place to be! Yes! It's the place to be.

Here's a list of favorite magical places I can remember from my life so far, in reverse chronological order from last weekend back to childhood.
  • The North Country Fair grounds under a midnight twilight sky, mist from the river covering the whole valley, high bright clouds in the dark blue sky, distant camp fires and sounds of drumming everywhere.
  • That stretch of La Rive Gauche from the view of the Notre Dame, glowing in a soft misty aura of hazy lights, to the circles where they come to dance Tango d'Argentine et al. Everywhere are groups of young Parisians with picnics and wine, singing and playing instruments, dancing with fire.
  • The hostel at Gimmelwald; looking up past prayer flags to watch the moon playing in and out from behind the surrounding mountains; the view from the hot tub interrupted only when putting another log in the stove.
  • The hostel at Freiburg, its massive and welcoming common room permeated with signs of musical and artistic creative energy. At the back door is a stream with a water generator in it; beyond that is a hill covered with the Black Forest.
  • The hostel in Budapest, with its thousand pictures and thousands of stories. Lounging in a hammock in the covered sanctuary in the back yard, anticipating and smelling the goulash slowly cooking over a fire a few feet away. The place had a magical energy that you could feel, and see in the faces of everyone there.
  • The mountains near Darjeeling. Food cooked over open fires in the kitchen, by families with simple lives. Climbing the hill in the early morning to see the distant Mount Everest before the clouds came in.
  • Lisa's old house, with turntables in the basement turning all night, keyboards and recording studio upstairs, and hot tub and barbecue on the roof.
  • Prague old town square, its Church of Our Lady looking straight out of a fairy tale. Cesky Krumlov too... its castle enchanted under the moonlight; its bars serving up absinthe and the nicest drunk feeling I've ever had; its hostel with the luxurious bathtub; its ambiance perfect for falling in love.
  • Fairmont hot springs, under the waterfall with a girl in a pink bikini. Of course I didn't talk to her, but then... I was only a child.
  • Dancing with family at Saint Georges club in Bermuda. The tropical scenery, the decadent surroundings, the pina coladas... feeling like a poor family, but tonight: like we were made. I was just a kid and could not dance, and maybe this was the first time I tried, but that didn't matter.
  • The deck of the family home, staying up late on a warm summer night with family friends and a spectacular northern lights display.

Building this list reminds me to go traveling. There are a lot of recurring themes here... it seems the perfect place would have these elements: Mountains, warm water, camp fire, prayer flags, and live music.

Monday, May 11, 2009 you are me and we are all together

A common form of enlightenment is described as the feeling of transcending the self and experiencing being one with every other living thing. This is, literally: being selfless.

I've always thought of the word "selfless" as meaning the self doing things for others, and in return the self is allowed to feel good for what it has done. But to be truly selfless, or without self, there is no distinction between what is you and what is others. There is no personal feeling of having done good, only the feelings that others have. So you don't need to do things for others only for the return feeling you get for yourself, you do things for others because you can share in the happiness they experience from it. If you truly believe "we're all in this together" (to quote a friend), then having good happen to others can feel good to you and to all.

Also, we don't need to do things for others to be able to share in their feelings. This may seem selfish, but I don't think it is. We should do things for others to uplift their mood and the collective mood, but we shouldn't feel obliged to first "earn" a share in that collective mood. Similarly, we're allowed to feel good about ourselves whenever we want to, without having to first "earn it" through some task or chore, as if one must deal with oneself like a bratty kid who cries until he gets candy.

If you were to simply stop seeing others as competition, and trusted in the idea that any benefit to anyone is a benefit also to you, would you experience that feeling of oneness? Can you simply choose to feel it? Is enlightenment as easy as that?

Michael... you sound like you're on drugs.
- Mom

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Birds and the Bees Gorillas

Single people in their 30s tend to be a bit nuts. We think we've missed the boat or something, or that there are few players left still in the game and we've got to find new strategies to be successful at it. We create theories to explain why things work the way they do and why other things aren't working, and we seek theories for guidance. And so I present...

Bird Theory

Bird Theory is a philosophy for describing certain human coupling behaviors using bird behavior as an analogy. It can be used to explain observed behavior, and it can provide a strategy and an attitude for approaching dating, that is very positive and potentially very satisfying. Bird Theory is based on various advice from friends, including other published theories they've come across, as well as some very loose observations of evolved instinctual animal behavior.

The theory applies to both men and women. It's been successful for women who've tried it, and so far has improved the attitude of male test subjects (results forthcoming).

Bird Theory vs. Gorilla Theory

Gorilla Theory in a nutshell is that women are attracted to the dominant male of a group, and that in courtship people generally behave the way apes do. It describes the "bar scene" fairly well, and unfortunately, a lot of people play the game using the theory. It is natural for single thirtysomethings to accept it as fact. However, it's not an attractive theory for anyone but the alpha personalities who just want to mate with other alphas, and are happy to do so. For people wanting more than that, or for people who feel like they're losing when they compete against the apes, it's completely dissatisfying. Luckily, playing the game as a gorilla is a choice, and you can choose to be more bird-like, leaving the gorillas to their old miserable games.

People who seem to find relationships easily and seem to go through their whole life always happily in one, probably naturally play the game as birds.

The Rules of Bird Theory

Rule 1: Choose potential interests, don't preselect a desired mate.

Rule 2: Keep your options open until an option is where you want.

Rule 3: Girls attract, guys act.

In Gorilla Theory, you choose the mate that you want, and then you go after them until you get them. This requires you to seduce them, and that is not easy for all of us to do. Likely, you are hoping you don't have to seduce them, that you'll somehow pick one person who against all probability just happens to also pick you from amongst all others. This makes a lot of people miserable, asking questions like "Why doesn't this ever seem to happen for me?!" This question only applies if you have big expectations from specific individuals, and bird behavior avoids that. Not only does the gorilla strategy simply not work for most of us, it also is often disappointing when it does. "I finally got whom I want, but I'm not happy." This is quite likely to happen because you've selected your mate before building a connection with them, and it is this connection that determines how good the relationship will be. You won't be able to tell until you actually start building the connection. You may even find that the gorilla you've selected isn't what you really want, but unfortunately you've already selected them and it's hard to give that up. To be more bird-like, don't select a mate that early in the game; instead build connections and strengthen them. The selection comes later.

For women, selecting a man and then trying to get him to chase after you is a common thing and can be frustratingly futile. You basically have to play both male and female gorilla roles, taking actions to initiate things while hiding your directness. It feels unnatural to you, and the guy may feel pressured, which can signal his brain to abruptly and permanently block any potential attraction.

None of these problems matter much in Bird Theory.

Imagine a bunch of cute birds interacting in nature. Imagine the females ruffling their feathers at the males they like, and the males going after the females that catch their eye, possibly scrapping it out a bit over her with the other male birds. Any bird can find a mate. Imagine that all of these birds are happy, because they know there are birds all around them, so they need not get hung up on any particular one. They don't have to beat an alpha male gorilla to death before they get some. This isn't exactly how it works in nature, but let's ignore that. If you believe in it, and you live it, that's all that matters.

The correct behavior for you as a girl bird is to attract any of the guys you are at all interested in, through typical bird behavior like smiling and flirting, and even just feeling a sense of openness to the guy, which sends off subtle vibes. You should do this to any and all guys you want to try building a connection with. Don't expect any particular guy to chase you without you first raising some kind of green-light feathers. It should not be forced, but feel completely natural, so that you send off weak vibes to guys you're not sure about, and stronger ones the more interested you are, and never end up sending wrong signals to guys who feel creepy.

After the flirting, you leave it at that. Wait for them act on it, and forget about any and all of the ones who don't act, no matter how cute. Don't try to decide which one will act, just flirt with all the ones you want. Build connections with the ones who act. Don't settle on anyone until you're ready.

The correct behavior for you as a boy bird is to take action and initiate interactions with girls who attract you. Naturally, the most alluring girls will tend to be the ones who are showing interest. A mutual interest tends to make it easier to build better connections faster, and can even give you that feeling that something magical is happening. But you don't have to admit your interest to her; in fact it's better not to, and you may not even know yet how interested you are. But you don't have to know yet. You just have to initiate the interaction and see what can come of it, what can be built by both of you. So guys, don't worry if it's hard to do; another more compatible opportunity will feel easier. If there's competition from another male, don't focus on the male and on defeating him, just focus on the girl. If you lose her to him, let her go very easily. Another will come along. There are a lot of fish in the bird kingdom's sea.

The birds go through a little mating dance, where each comes a little closer, shakes those tail feathers, and sees how the other reacts. They get to know each other, and slowly figure out compatibility, rather than deciding it once and for all in a single moment. The birds don't have to worry about what the other does, they only have to care about their own actions. Part way through the dance your potential partner may fly away, or you may decide to fly away, or another bird may cut in and disrupt the whole scene for either of you. The birds just continue flying about, dancing, meeting other birds.

Basically, to play by these rules, you are choosing to concentrate your attention on whatever bird is connecting best with you at the moment, rather than focussing on a single ape you'll have to fight for and even fight with.

How do you actually do this?

All that is required is an acceptance of the theory as positive and beneficial, and then adjusting your attitude and actions to follow it.

- Don't put all your interest in just one person. If you do, you're depending on them to give you all you seek. You can't rely on someone to provide this until you've built a very strong connection, and you can't force any individual to take an action you want or to feel the way you want. So, be interested in multiple birds, and focus your attention on whoever tries to build a connection with you. Focus on the interactions, not on the intended results. It's called falling in love because you fall into it, you don't plan it out and execute your primary action items on it. You will get so much more out of unexpected interactions than you will from schemes that involve steering other people's behavior.

- Talk to whomever you want. Don't think of it as hitting on them, think of it as simply announcing your presence to see if there are signs of a potential connection.

- Flirt with whomever you want. It doesn't mean anything more than what you want it to be, and it doesn't matter if it succeeds or fails. Build connections with anyone you want a connection with, any kind of connection, and don't worry about those who don't want to build a connection with you.

Avoid feeling bad for flirting with a lot of people. If you're playing as a gorilla, then flirting with someone may feel like you're saying they're the one, and you want them to drag you off and go apeshit on you, which makes you hold back on being a flirt. If you're being a bird, then flirting may mean you're just interested in learning something more from that person. How you feel about the person will be projected. So, you can pretty much act however you feel, and if your flirting feels innocent then it probably is. It is just a little signal that you're interested in making a connection.

You may have to get used to turning down apes who read too much into your behavior, but it will be a good lesson for them.

- Birds spend more time doing, and less time thinking. Do your thing when you're around your crush, and avoid thinking too much about them when you're not. Thinking can be a substitute for acting, and makes action easier to avoid. Imagining how interactions will play out can be bad, because the real interactions will be different than what you envisioned or planned out, which can mean false expectations and disappointment. Plan to always act, but don't plan out your actions too much, and never plan out another's response.

- Don't sweat those who aren't interested in you. It's not worth it. It doesn't feel good to give attention and get none back. If it takes too much work just to get some attention, it'll probably be a lot more work to get the next thing you want from them. Forget about the bad and immerse yourself in the good. "The good" is a combination of things... attraction, returned interest, sense of excitement, feeling of satisfaction. Enjoy everything good you receive and let different types of connections be built with different people.

- Don't let a moral interest in monogamy prevent you from building connections with more than one potential interest. You can build multiple connections while having a clear idea of when it will be appropriate for you to begin concentrating on only one. Until then, don't let one love interest that feels like it's not going anywhere exclude you from building something with someone else.

- Don't sweat pressure. If a situation is uncomfortable, don't worry about it, because this situation doesn't matter. If you happen to be on a date and can't simply force yourself to chill, just reaffirm a commitment to be chill about everything, and it will seep in; it will affect future dates.

- Go with your subconscious. Be aware of the other's subconscious. Analytical thought doesn't play a huge role in any of this, as it's the subconscious that decides in whom you're interested. It's not that dumb people have an advantage, it's that intelligent people have a disadvantage if they try to use reasoning and planning in this game. Women like decisiveness and certainty, so guys: avoid asking them questions and making their brains feel like they have to figure out the next step. That's not to say you can push them around; you simply provide concrete solutions and she can determine if it's acceptable or not. Men like problem solving and feeling in control, so give him an easy problem to solve and let him come to his own decision about it. Problems that end with a lightbulb going on in his brain and an answer of "Make a move", are especially satisfying to him.

Be direct in your language. You're talking to the subconscious, which is very literal. If you ask, "Would it be okay if I got your number?" her brain may chew on "Would that be okay or not?" If you ask, "Why don't you ask me out?", his brain may get to work on finding reasons why he doesn't. There are lots of ways to ask the same questions, and you don't have to be forceful if it doesn't feel right. Just make it as easy on the other's subconscious as possible to answer you. "Can I have your number?" is easier to answer, and "Give me your number and I'll call you in a couple days" is direct and diffuses some of the pushiness. "When will I see you again?" gives a guy a great problem to work on solving. If he wants to see you, his brain goes into action to solve it and doesn't spend as much effort on how he really feels about it.

- Take risks. Girls: Be willing to admit that you're interested. Guys: Be willing to take chances even when you expect them to fail. If you're interested, go with it. Don't presume that the other person isn't interested. That's like throwing away tiny seedlings before you've even watered them. Sometimes, the other's interest only grows after you take that first step. Also, it's better to try, fail, and move on, than it is to get hung up on someone.

- Accept whatever feels right about this theory. Hopefully it will give you hope and optimism, because pessimism can be a relationship killer. Try things out, and let experience build your belief that it will work out for you. Remember that failed connections are insignificant compared to what you're building elsewhere. Change your attitude to something positive, let your actions reflect your attitude, and good things will happen. Let your optimistic attitude carry you through anything that doesn't work out as well as you'd hoped.

Why does this work?

- When you act like a bird, you will be more interested in having fun, and less concerned with the results. So you will end up having more fun, and will have a cheerier attitude towards dating. People will see this and it will be attractive to them. Besides the main benefits of increasing your statistical chances by not closing yourself off to all but a few opportunities, and of letting you have an upbeat outlook on relationships, you can actually make yourself more attractive.

How do you want to be seen?

- You avoid concentrating on the ones that are hard to get, which will likely be hard to keep and hard to be with. You focus on the ones where everything feels easier, more satisfying.

- You can avoid simple problems. With gorilla theory, by focusing all your interest on only one person, you force yourself to constantly be only in "win or lose" situations. Your potential interest becomes over-important to you. Your need to obtain that person will prevent a feeling of ease around them, and that can give off bad vibes, like desperation or pressure. Since it is win or lose and they're the only person for you, you'll naturally want to evaluate them completely, and potential flaws or imagined future problems will make you hesitant. You'll avoid taking chances when you're uncertain. It may make you feel like you're not willing to settle on anything less than perfect, and your search for perfection will keep turning to disappointment. This means that gorilla behavior can sabotage even relationships that had natural potential. But statistically speaking, choosing a single potential mate with little built-up connection, will likely mean choosing someone who's not interested, just as you're more likely to be not interested in any given random stranger.

Bird behavior on the other hand lets you build connections before choosing them, lets you put connections on hold instead of abandoning them, and lets you focus more on comfortable, easygoing, and enjoyable interactions. By having multiple potential connections, you won't feel a pressure to settle for any single one, or a need to run away from one that doesn't seem perfect enough at the moment.

- Men and women react differently to different things. Encouragement works great for men. We like to know that a girl is interested, that if I make a move she will be receptive. We'd much rather focus on someone who is giving us attention. So giving a guy hints on how you feel about him is a good thing. When men rationalize this and assume women react the same, we screw it all up. Women respond better to actions. If a man tells her he has feelings, but won't back that up with an action, it tends to feel creepy to her. So a guy who thinks that he can tell a girl he likes her and expect her to take the next step, might as well be drinking dating-brand drain cleaner. Similarly, if a girl is trying to take actions to get a guy to do what she wants him to do, this tends to feel like manipulation to him. Whether he wants what she's doing or not, his brain will be wary of it, and that can form a relationship-brand spike strip.

Q and A (Hint: The answers are all 'no')

Does this mean that women have to let the guy pick? No. As in the animal kingdom, women actually select the men that they want to attract. You can flirt with as many guys as you want, from one to three billion. It is your choice, and is a balance between getting only exactly what you want, and getting no one at all. All of the guys that you flirt with should be acceptable... basically, whatever boy bird you've winked at who makes a move is the one who gets to build a connection with you. You should avoid thinking things like "I'm going to decline bird-B for now while I wait to see if bird-A makes a move". Bird-B is the one building a connection right now, and bird-A may not ever, so why deny yourself an unknown potential while waiting for another? Forget about bird-A for now. This doesn't necessarily mean that all birds are equal. You may be willing to go on a date with bird-A and only want to have a conversation with bird-B, so don't feel bad about turning down a date with bird-B.

So, choose the guys you're interested in, and let them figure out which one will choose you.

Does this mean that men have to let the women pick? No. A man can always make a move before he gets any indication from a woman. The best way to do this is to make your move at whatever pace feels natural, but still look for signs of interest or the feeling of a good vibe from the girl. You can proceed without this, but chances are that if she doesn't show any interest, you will always be working hard to get any from her. Make it easy for her to be willing to feel and show interest. A guy can flirt with a girl first, but it should be done to say "I'm interesting!", rather than "I'm interested!"

Both the guy and girl birds are choosing whom they want, they just go about it slightly differently. It's in the overlap where things happen.

Does this mean I have to settle for whatever happens to be available? No. You build connections with whomever you want who's available. You don't have to choose to take "the next step" with any until you're ready. In the meantime you can build connections with other people. You never know which one is going to be exciting enough that you want to build on it more, and which will go nowhere.

Are you saying we should all be polygamous? No. For most people, monogamy makes for better relationships and is therefore more satisfying. People should always have connections with multiple people, but they don't all have to be sexual. You have to be wise and observant enough to separate different connections, to know which are friendship, which are potential love interests, which should be exclusive, etc. When your interest is strong enough, and the return interest is strong enough, AND a connection has been built strong enough, you will feel ready to risk focusing all your attention on that one person, and letting all the other connections go while you do that. When to do that is a judgment call.

Typically, only one connection at a time will have that "magic" feeling of potential. But it may not always be the one you expected, or the one you were planning on. Sometimes something that feels magical one day will fizzle the next. Now and then, either one of you may feel hesitant for some reason that you first need to work through. Don't force yourself to push ahead if you're not feeling it, and don't think that all is lost if the other is hesitant. Let connections fade instead of clinging tightly with claws, and go with whatever feels right over time, whether that connection comes back to you or another becomes your main focus.

Are you trying to say that genders are not equal? No. Having different roles does not make us unequal, and we can balance the roles to any level of equality that we want. Besides that, everyone is free to choose which role they want to play. If you're a dominant woman, play a dominant role. But if you try to initiate something with a meek man, with an expectation that he'll "cowboy up" later and start being more manly, you're probably going to be disappointed. So be consistent and true to yourself. Don't step out of the role you like, simply to stir up a situation that isn't naturally forming. We choose to leave certain things to the other gender, not because we're giving up rights, but because we're doing what works best for us.

Does this apply to interacting only with other birds? No. Many people are used to Gorilla behavior and may not respond to your bird dance with more dance moves. But that's okay, because the application of bird theory governs only your actions, not those of others. You may find yourself drawn to people who play the game the way you want. You may have to give additional signals that it's okay for others to behave like birds. When others see you behaving like a bird and not an ape, it will be appealing, and they'll naturally tend to want to mirror your behavior. So act like you want to act around people, regardless of how they're acting at first.


Okay all you lonely singles in the house. Get out there, show your feathers, and flap your wings! Stop throwing shit and start flying.

For your health!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dude... He just... exploded. In front of us.

A shark swims by, seen from under water. Did I just see that? I rewind. There's a DHARMA logo on the shark. WTF.

Jin is here to deliver a message from Mr. Paik. I have a feeling I'm about to be 'splained the reason for his bloody clothes, left as a mystery for awhile now. But no... there is Hurley, for some reason on TV in Korea. For every mystery explained, a new one is presented.

If you're thinking "I've missed too many episodes; it's too late to bother watching them all now," then I suggest you call your satellite provider, ask them to kindly cancel all your programming immediately, and then get them, all of them, and watch every episode for as long as it takes to go through them.

Satellite's kind of like a job. You think it will be hard to live without it, but really... you don't miss it when it's gone.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jesus lives on in your actions

I got into a conversation today, and am low on material (this blog doesn't really seem to be about anything, like, what the hell), so let me wax metaphysical.

Lately when I hear somebody thanking a god figure or attributing a decision to one, most of the time I have a clear sense that it is their own mind that deserves attribution. Probably it is some part of their brain that we don't have a clear and conscious understanding of, so that thoughts that come from it have a feeling of divine origin.

For example, someone may say, "That I'm with the most beautiful woman in the world is beyond reasoning or luck; I thank Cthulhu for blessing me with this gift." It can be easy to dismiss, with thoughts like "I don't think she's quite that superior, and anyway I don't believe in Cthulhu." For certain I don't think that an external being has chosen one person out of all of us, to bless with this particular gift while excluding all others. I think that such a feeling of being blessed comes from our own minds.

Firstly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps moreso the mind, and so are many things that we may think of as objective. It is my perception that decides for me how beautiful someone is compared to all others. It is colored by how she makes me feel. It is my perception that judges whether something is astoundingly pleasing, or rottenly upsetting. It's my perception and mood that determine if a day was good or bad. Perhaps I feel so good that I believe I have to thank some external entity, but it was probably something in my mind that made me feel this way.

Secondly, it is your judgment and actions that get you into your relationships. Your significant other didn't just arrive in the mail (except for you J.R., you ol' dog!). If you didn't know what you did to get them, you may think it was divine intervention, but your brain made many choices that lead you to where you are.

So I argue, that often what you might think of as a god, is in your mind. In many ways, you are your god. It is you, and inaccessible parts of your mind, that are giving you these things that you can't otherwise explain.

I suggested this in a conversation and was offered the idea that the consciousnesses of god figures don't die or disappear, they live on in a universal consciousness that connects us all, an energy that we can tap into and network with like computers. A thought may be running in your mind, or it may be in that greater oneness, a collective consciousness, the realm of a god we can connect to through thought alone.

Now, I'm a pretty literal guy, driven by logic, science, and pseudo-science. But suddenly the idea that a dead deity could live on within us actually made literal sense. Here's how to do it:

First, we must step back and redefine some ideas about life and identity. What does "me" mean? Is it only this conscious feeling I have, the "I think, therefore I am" in each of us? Or is it more; is it our thoughts and ideas and actions, etc? You can't see my thoughts, but if we were interacting face-to-face you would have a clear sense of the individual that I call "me". It is not my thoughts, nor is it just my physical presence that you see as "me". It is not just my face but the expressions it conveys. It is not just my voice but the ideas and feeling within it. You can clearly sense "me" in all of that. So "me" is more than my conscious or my body. Part of me can be captured in a photograph, written down, expressed through art, etc. And these parts of me exist whether my conscious is currently processing that "me" feeling.

So one's thoughts and ideas can outlive their person for as long as is an idea's lifetime. If you are thinking something or doing something, and that thought or action is based on someone else's ideas, and not created completely from scratch in your head, then that someone else is involved. Their thoughts continue on... Only now, you are the one thinking them. In a small way, this is how we share a collective consciousness. We are machines constantly making little connections with each other, a giant distributed computer. We share ideas and thoughts, and feelings and everything else, and our thoughts merge and blend in each other's mind. From each person I meet, some small part of them joins with "me", and some small part of me joins with each person I meet. Someone with the status of a god has a large part of themselves shared with and stirred in to many individuals. If you are putting their ideas to use, you are preserving their existence.

So, when you thank a god, I will smile and nod, instead of making that surly expression you're so used to. Part of what you have experienced is you, but part of it is divine, and the separation of the two blurs and ceases to matter.

For your health!

Note: The soundtrack for this post is Air - Talkie Walkie. For optimal feelings of bliss, a reading of the final few paragraphs should be sync'd up with Surfing on a Rocket. Namaste!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The thing is I can't be sorting through all that shit in the middle of a burglary.

It's been pointed out by a fan that the name of this blog isn't exactly original. At their request, here's an explanation of this blog's history.

Originally the blog was called Misinfonomicon, intended to be "the book of useless information" with random content that "did little more than slightly increase the entropy of the human race's collection of data".

But I thought the name sounded kind of dum. I wanted to give it a name that reflected the blog's rich editorial content. I was looking for names like The Times, The Post, The Tribune, The Picayune, but of course all of these names are already chosen on Blogspot. Ultimately I had to combine some words and leave it up to the Blogger "Check Availability" to decide on a name. "timespicayune" was available but I didn't like the way it looked or rolled off the tongue. "picayunepost" was not available, but "postpicayune" was. I liked it. This name perfectly describes the blog... random posts about whatever random triviality I felt like writing, with a name that playfully made it serious sounding.

Later I googled "post picayune" just to see if there were any small local papers that had that name, and found the real Post Picayune. Interestingly, the sentiment of its description was the exact opposite of what I was going for. So, while the name was "independently discovered", I am guilty of stealing the description, and then defacing it.

No harm was intended, and I believe "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"... sometimes at least. I even like that someone discovered the secret reference. I like the name, and newspapers like these often share the same name. Plus, finding a cool name that's not already taken is hard work, and I'm very, very lazy. So I will probably keep it. But... in the interest of good karma, if the name or description truly offends... then it must be changed. Please comment. I wish good will on all, but good intention must be backed up with a commitment to do no harm.

Oh... speaking of theft... most of the post titles are stolen references... little things taken from a movie or something I read, something important to me, something I was reminded of while writing. I've slipped random references into casual writing for years now, and I like the idea of someone recognizing quotes. It's like a little secret puzzle. A little game of "what film?" Hopefully y'all see them as their intended homages rather than as thefts. The idea to use random but related references isn't even original. I got that from the New Shelton wet/dry. But after reading it for so long, it feels like a natural thing to do.

It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness

It's perceptible; it's palpable. Things feel better these days. We are waking up from an 8-year-long dark ages where greed, animosity, and dissatisfaction were the order of the day, every day. Sure, we're still suffering from the "economy" brought about by those years, but even as we adapt to this changing world, we ourselves change, looking elsewhere for happiness rather than trying to find it in an unending struggle to lift ourselves up by pushing the other guy down.

I can feel it. The daily letdown and expectation of always worse news, that feeling of having our world being carved into something that doesn't fit my values or the life I want to lead, is gone. Sure, not everything is sunshine and rainbows (yet?), but it feels better, and I don't feel like the world is run by antagonists anymore.

Is this feeling shared in our collective psyche? Are we all feeling slightly better without consciously noticing or stopping to wonder why? If we pause to think about it, can we even feel this global lean towards euphoria and caring for one another? I'd like to think that part of my happiness comes from this.

For certain, a lot of my mood and its shift towards positive is owed to the end of the reign of terror that was Bush Inc. Let us feel this positive change in ourselves and our world, let us remember this next time some group of selfish thugs try to make our world their world, and let us stand up and say no, you can't do that to us again. We choose something that is better for each of us and for all of us.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

This line is thinner than a hair, and has some knots in it here and there

Recently I've got back into playing Planarity, a game where you "untie knots" in a graph to make it planar (that is, you rearrange vertices so that none of the graph's edges cross). I've never heard of anyone beating my high score (The letters M.P.D. still stand on the machine. I remember that night. The perfect combination of Mountain Dew and mozzarella... just the right amount of grease on the joy stick). So here are some pics of the action...

Planarity Level 40 StartLevel 40. The start...

You can't even see the dots cuz they're all overlapping.

Part way there...

My body tends to tense up over time while I play this game. I sat back and took a deep breath, and surveyed the mess I was in.

Why do I play this game?

Planarity Level 40 Done?Possibly finished?

I can't be sure, because the program hung while trying to check.

This epic battle was done on a decently fast machine at work, over a few hours one afternoon in 2007.

The strategy I used was to move all of the dots out of one corner of the board, then build in that corner. I'd find a dot with only two edges, and assume that that dot lies on the outside edge of the graph, and put it right in the corner. Then I'd just build a wall, a moving front of dots, going up and down the incomplete side of the graph, keeping it free from tangles and packing and repacking the dots as tight as possible.

Nowadays I have neither the patience nor CPU power to try anything harder, so I usually play random smaller levels, like 12 or 24. Now I prefer a strategy involving finding an outer edge to the graph, building it all around the screen, and then working inwards. I do this without moving all the dots out of the way, so it can be a struggle to pick out the edges and dots I want from the mess of overlapping shit. This is very repetitive and very specific problem solving work. It probably overuses some small part of the brain, and can actually make it hurt. I think that to attempt much higher levels with the same fixed, small screen space, one would simply need to let the dots overlap. This might be a simple mental leap, perhaps in a "compression" phase on a part of the graph you know is complete. Or perhaps it would tax the brain enough to commit craniacide via spontaneous combustion.

So why would anyone play the higher levels when it's a frustrating, repetitive mental tax? I probably do it just to keep my brain busy. It seems to like that. I'd recommend spending some time practicing this game while you're at work, so that you don't have to learn it from scratch when you get fired.

Chill the serious mood, and do whatcha like

The first step is to realize that everything you do is done by choice. Not all are explicit decisions made by the feeling you would call "you" (IE. conscious choices), and not all will be made by a logical part of your brain. Yet, some part of your brain worked on each decision made. The next step is to realize when you're purposefully making choices you don't want to make. You can do this by just being aware and taking note of when you're not doing what you want to. Such choices are probably made by something neurotic in your brain. We all have miswirings, perhaps some incorrect belief that somehow has been reinforced through years of repeated misperception. Often your undesirable behavior is done to protect some other part of you, something your subconscious is doing without letting you in on. So the next step is to determine why your brain is making those choices. The way to do that is to simply ask it, and the way to axe your subconscious something is through meditation.

Once you understand why you are making the choices you are, the next step is to correct whichever you consider to be wrong. I suppose this requires a bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy auto-headshrinking. Your brain should tell you what it's trying to do. So either you have to convince your brain that it's wrong (and repeat as necessary until the right wires are strong enough for you to believe), or accept that your brain is right, and that you must make whatever changes are needed to various aspects of your life to let your mind grow beyond this current roadblock.

When you've done this, you should have now taken full responsibility for your behavior. What about taking responsibility for what happens to you? You can't fix or control what other people do to you, but you can change how you react to them. It is unreasonable to expect anyone to be thinking of your best interests all the time, so if at any time you need someone to be doing what's best for you, it may have to be you who's doing it. The first step is accepting that it is your own choices, and not someone else's, that control how you feel and what actions you take. A divinely enlightened individual might be able to be stabbed in the back by a stranger, and find the silver lining in that dark cloud, but that type of extreme self-control isn't what you're after (not to mention that you may *want* to feel unhappy about being stabbed in the back). What you are after is the feeling that you are making the best decisions in any given situation, and are at least in control of your own behavior. The next step is to find out why you react the way you do to the things that happen or that people have done to you. Again, just axe yourself, through meditation. The next step is to change your behavior. Again, you can train yourself to accept that your reaction was wrong, and let your brain know how you wanted it to react. Or, if your reaction was correct, change the aspects of your life that let you be susceptible to these outside influences.

Be careful, however, not to trick yourself into thinking that changing your behavior will get you exactly what you want. After all, other people still have full control over how they react to you. So, if your thoughts are all working 100%, and your actions are all working 100%, the next thing to tackle is dealing with people in a way that maximizes your chances of a satisfactory response. The first step is to understand how others react to you; the next step is to understand why; and the next is to figure out a better reaction and reverse-engineer an action that you could instead take to perhaps achieve said reaction. This all involves psychology, empathy, the ability to see your actions from another's perspective and simulate or predict not only their reaction, but also their counteraction. You should never expect to be perfect at this, if you are dealing with humans and not robots. Some easy advice is to just do your best and not worry too much about it. You might try meditation to imagine how you would feel in someone else's situation, but I'd recommend against trying to meditate on another person's thoughts (They say that meditating on others puts undue mental stress on them. This may manifest itself in subtle ways, such as you treating the other differently because you're basing your interaction on something you only imagined, etc. It is better to deal with people in person rather than in your imagination). Regardless, being consciously aware of what reactions your actions may induce, will go a long ways toward helping you avoid inducing bad ones.

Finally, there are things that happen to us over which we have no control and which relate not at all to any choices we make. The first step and the best way to handle this is to simply accept it. Learn to find peace with a Buddhist-like acceptance of impermanence. Know that nothing, whether good or bad, is here forever, so let it go gently and without regret. For anything that happens despite your best laid choices, you can believe it's "just the fuckin way she goes."

For your health!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Writer's Block

Recently the readership of this blog has skyrocketed. Unfortunately this fame brings with it a feeling of responsibility. No longer can I simply write about whatever I want; I have to keep the fans in mind. Nothing that gets squeezed out and flushed through the pipes of my mind seems all that interesting. And so, with today's deadline looming, and neither the Jeopardy tune nor the Sonic "drowning" music helping, all I have to write about is not writing.

It occurs that I could always steal some material from stuff that I'd e-mail to people. Our conversations are so interesting, it would be a service to everyone to have them publicly available. It's kinda like a "pull" version of mail, where you have to go check other people's mailboxes to see if they've written you. This could revolutionize the postal service! Imagine simply dropping a letter into your own mailbox, and it's done. Instead of having relatives and companies plug up your mailbox with Christmas cards and bills, respectively, you simply wander through the outboxes of anyone who might write you, completely at your convenience, whenever you feel like checking to see if anyone wrote. This could be the biggest thing in postal sciences and the postal service industry since the invention of the stamp!

Of course, I'd want to let people know that I've written, and not simply wait for them to wander around to this blog. So, I'd have to send an e-mail to everyone, saying "Michael has written a new message. To view this message, follow this link:" Eventually, all our cumbersome e-mail messages will be replaced with convenient e-mailed links to various sites where we can go and retrieve web-based approximations of what we might more appropriately have received in e-mail. I think we're about halfway there already. Instead of bothering to reply to any personal e-mail, I'll just click "New Post", write there, and then "shoot" off a quick "Hey check out my blog posting about this!" e-mail.

Hey check out the new blog posting I did on my blog.

Hey how's it going? What's up?
(To reply to this message, register or sign in, click "Reply", and then follow the instructions you receive in e-mail.)

So... what's new with me, you axe? Uhm, let's see... Well I've started watching Lost. Like, from the beginning. I'm not sure if I'll get hooked or not. It's a bit of a silly show... has anyone else noticed this? Some of it kind of... not makes a lot of sense. But, I've only watched the first 2 episodes. I'm sure everything will be explained in the next few shows.

I really got into the second season of Dexter awhile back, even though I could never watch it while in a good mood. I never liked all the "I feel an insatiable need to slice someone up, but Harry's Code makes it O.K." crap, but I did identify with Dexter's struggle and disgust with the need to fake normal responses to life and to people. I liked Lila at first, and I loved that she screwed up everything normal in Dex's life, and I was gleeful about how things consistently went from bad to worse with her.

Season 2 was good. Season 3 however... right from the "last season on Dexter" intro, which made sure to include every previous nude scene no matter how irrelevant, I could tell that something had gone bad. The scene that later confirmed it is one in which Dexter is interacting with Rita and her kids. He has the familiar, forced, "Just bein' normal here" grin on his face. But the voiceover, his voice, describing bein' normal and bein' happy and enjoyin' bein' normal... that just did not fit. If I wanted to watch a show about families bein' normal and bein' happy about it, I'd watch Full House. I have this strong feeling that someone with an MBA took a look at only the most superficial qualities of the show and said "get the writers to do more of that. I like that part about killing bad guys or something. Oh, and sex always tests well."

Annnyway, not much else is new with me. Hope all's well with all y'all.

And there we have a successful blog post. With 7 minutes to spare before the deadline, too. Be sure to watch your e-mail for special personalized blog posts from me!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Make it so.

Do you think too much? Do you have trouble taking advice to not think so much? Do you partly believe you ought think less, but feel it is a struggle against your very nature?

If by simply thinking you are directly made unhappy, then yes, stop all that thinking! Either let your brain take on other tasks (suggest letting it drift on detailed ambient music), or change the way you think, towards something more positive.

However, if thinking doesn't directly make you unhappy, ask yourself: Do the results of all my thinking lead me to take the actions I want to take? If you believe you think too much, the answer is probably "no". But the problem is not always the quantity of thought that you produce; it may be a disconnect between thought and action. If through rigorous analytical thought you can figure out any situation, solve any problem, answer any nagging question, but you still avoid taking the actions you want, then fix your failure to act.
  • Reconnect thought and action. If the conclusion to a thought is that an action should be taken, do not be satisfied with its completion until the action is taken. Do not let the thought stand on its own, if it only means you're making plans which will never be followed through. Correct behavior involves neither thought nor action exclusively, but both working together.
  • Do not replace action with thought. If a situation affords you the time to either think or act but not both, try acting. Train yourself to do this (commit to taking more risks, accept the idea of making decisions on partial information, etc). You can always think about it later. Avoid also treating "thinking about it" as having taken an action. Remind yourself that you won't accept that.
Now you can do more of the things you want to do, without feeling you've "dumbed yourself down"!

For your health!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's not impossible. I used to bull's-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home.

Now this is clever. Much more genuine-sounding and humorously naive than the spider drawings.

It reminds me of Adrian Mole... intellectual but oblivious. Failed helpfulness and unintentional arrogance.

Shortly after reading that, I came across this:
On the Photoshop Disasters blog it's common to find comments such as "This isn't a disaster because [whatever strange reason]," and I've often wondered if such comments are simply trolls. Inspired (by the party RSVP as well as this info on Victor Lewis-Smith) and in the mood for playing dumb, mischief, and maybe some Socratic irony or at least trying my hand at some playful trolling, I wrote this comment (it's about 3/4 down the page):

Michael Devine said...
You can tell the grass is darkened because a couple pieces in front of her arm and leg are left mysteriously bright. It's easy to see that the image was extended on the right... yes, that's a bit sloppy. You can tell it's flopped because on her top the pocket is on the wrong side. But talk about nit-picking! I had to really look at every pixel in detail to find the problems, and I have a good eye for details. Really, there's nothing all that wrong with this image and I'd go so far as to call it a photoshop success. Definitely not a disaster, come on people! Grab a brain!

and I got some return fire and it pleased me...

pootpoot said...

"Grab a brain!"

You failed. Grab a pair of eyes and either have another look at the ad or read the comments.

"I had to really look at every pixel in detail to find the problems, and I have a good eye for details."

You made me roll on the floor, laughing my ass off. Thank you!

It pleased me that I brought some laughter to someone, regardless of whether they appreciated my joke or they just thought I was worthy of ridicule. Probably the latter... but then they could be having me on, too.

Only today did I notice something else. In the comments of my other blog, I found this:

Raffaella Arnaldi said...

Psst... Look again at the AT&T ad in PhotoshopDisasters and this time read the texts too... :-))

It was written in the comments of a post about dancing at a valentine's day ball! The lengths people will go to point out that you're an idiot! A troll on another blog's comments was followed, traced through the author, to a completely unrelated blog, and responded to in a completely unrelated post. I imagine it winding through the tubes of the internets. Somehow it brings this to mind...
The approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station.

Only a precise hit will set up a chain reaction. The shaft is
ray-shielded, so you'll have to use proton torpedoes.

WEDGE: That's impossible, even for a computer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saturday, Sunday, Here, There, Another Place, Another Time, Everywhere, Monday, Monthly.

Some old quotes that were just laying around...

I personally am not willing to trust these mega... corporazis, and nucleo industrial deathglomerates...
-- Russ Lieber

The proprietary LifeGem creation process creates diamonds from the true essence of our loved ones, the carbon.
-- LifeGem

Nothing says you love her like layers of freshly made premium vanilla and chocolate ice cream separated by a layer of chocolate crunchies, covered in white and pink icing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Without planning it, I have taken up collecting used books. It is the one impulse buy I seem to be regularly allowing myself. The price is right, at least.

Now I've got to get myself around to reading some of them! In all likelihood, you've been following this blog now for some time, and equally likely you had guessed that I was on page 3 of Down and Out in Paris and London. Well, I'm still there!

There is only one book that my "collection" feels incomplete without, and that is No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July. I read the first short story in an overpriced chain bookstore and I am in love. Miranda turns the most common or familiarly melancholic thought on its head, into something peculiar and interesting, and then goes on to make it endearing. I can't help feeling acceptance of my own similarly screwed up thoughts, when she can make hers so touching, funny, and beautiful:
"Are you angry? Punch a pillow. Was it satisfying? Not hardly. These days people are too angry for punching. What you might try is stabbing. Take an old pillow and lay it on the front lawn. Stab it with a big pointy knife. Again and again and again. Stab hard enough for the point of the knife to go into the ground. Stab until the pillow is gone and you are just stabbing the Earth, again and again, as if you want to kill it for continuing to spin, as if you are getting revenge for having to live on this planet, day after day, alone."
I'm a half ta get me a libary card (mostly for movies, I imagine, since I've canceled my satellite subscription). But that is one book I'm a half ta buy. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.