Wednesday, March 31

Ants are dumb.

I left a cup of Mountain Dew on my desk overnight (why didn't I finish it? that's a rarity), and after I was safely in bed, a little corps of ants snuck over the rim of the cup and fell into the sweet nectar, to their doom.

This is the same short-term thinking - or maybe utter lack of thinking - that leads countless other insects into pitcher plants and venus fly traps, seals on the Farallon Islands to leave the safety of their rocks and "go for a swim," roaches to check into roach motels, flies to "investigate" spiderwebs, and me to drive to Safeway to get a case of Mountain Dew.

Like I said, ants are dumb.

My rating system.

I have a rating system I've come to use when discussing just about anything worth rating. It went through many iterations before I settled on my current, simple one.

It may seem pretty harsh to some people, but the world has become used to rating everything they like "5 stars" and stuff they don't as "1 star," with the middle ratings seldom used. This is unfortunate, as "5 stars" now tells me almost nothing about a book, CD, or film except that to that person, it didn't suck. And if something gets 3 or 4 stars, instead of thinking, "ah! better than average!" I now think, "what's wrong with it?"

But let's back up. First, in any rating system, there's the question of granularity. Just how many gradations are needed to rate something? Well, that's a subject that deserves a treatment all its own, but in general, I believe five is enough. There are situation where more gradations, say ten, would avoid the dreaded "three and a half" syndrome, but as a rule I don't think human beings are very adept at placing things into ten boxes meaningfully (never mind more). Five seems convenient - it's the number of fingers on the hand you're not holding your baby, cat, or miniature dog in, and it's easily grasped by the mind (who psychologists say can store roughly five items in its cache, otherwise known as instant or ultra-short-term memory, like being able to identify groups of objects immediately by their shape; think of small group of stones or blocks... it's easy to tell how many are in a group without counting, up to five, at which point it gets much harder or for some people, impossible (again, without counting)). Five also provides what is in my mind the minimum number of gradations necessary for any sort of meaningful rating. Two (good, bad) is too rudimentary, as is three. Four is just weird, to me. There should be some central point (this may be one of the few occasions in which I favor odd numbers over even). And as I described, after five I believe you start to get too much complexity and diminishing returns. What exactly is the subjective difference between a book that earns a 7/10 versus one which rates 8/10? That's too granular.

So, we've settled on five. Now I want to do my part to re-normalize the whole endeavor and get 3 back to being the true middle, and push everything down a bit so that anything less than 5 doesn't automatically connote suckage, and so that all five numbers have a distinct meaning. Particularly, I want to reserve 5 for things that are truly great, not just things "I like quite a lot." Maybe 4 can be the new 5. It's a bit like the Michelin star system, only not THAT harsh. If you are a restaurant or hotel and you get any Michelin stars, you're pretty awesome. Three and you're world class. My system won't be like that any more than it will be like the Amazon system, in which the overall aggregate rating for nearly every product with a sufficient number of reviews is 4.

Without further ado, here's what I feel is a logical system. Think of stars, bullet points, numbers, tiny clown heads, or whatever you want - I'll just use numbers to make it easier.

1 - Skip it
2 - Mediocre
3 - Average
4 - Good
5 - Excellent

Though, I've gone a step harsher at times (just to be a contrarian) and leaned more toward this:

1 - Bad or below average
2 - Average; mediocre
3 - Good; worthwhile
4 - Very good to excellent
5 - An all-time classic

The problem with this system is that it makes 2 average, which is weird. It does have one good thing going for it though: it reserves 5 for the truly great things; an honor which should only be handed out very occasionally (like for The Empire Strikes Back or Hamlet). You ever see those reviews on 'zon where people say "I wish I could give this SIX stars! It's changed my life!" Well, usually they're wrong, and while I don't recommend a six-star system for Amazon (it would take less than a week before every started using it casually, and if a prospective buyer didn't see lots of 6-star ratings, they'd think "What's wrong with it?"), I do however think there is some merit in a "transcendent score," if you will, a holy 6th star that must not be given out unless the item being reviewed is truly one for the ages (like Krull), and not just for that year, or that week.

So I've come to amend my system to this final, spectacularly clever one, which I will now use in all future blogs and any reviews I may write up:

0 - One of the worst things ever
1 - Awful; Skip It, Please
2 - Very Weak to Below Average
3 - Average Fare; Par For the Course
4 - Above Average to Very Good
5 - Excellent; Get/Read/See/Hear It!
6 - An all-time classic

For most items, you can pretend the 0th and 6th "star" don't even exist. Getting a rating of 5 is NOT a slight at all, nor is 1 to be considered a step above anything - it's still awful. That's why I don't want to call my system a "7-star rating system." Because really, it's not. The frequency distribution for say, a thousand items reviewed at random ideally should describe a bell curve with the highest level at 3, lower levels at 2 and 4, and an even smaller but still decent number of items scoring a 1 or 5. On the other hand, 0 and 6 should only have been assigned to a few items each, if that (below what a true bell curve would predict).

Basically I want to make room for Tolkien to surpass other 5-star books I love and for things that have actually shaken me with how horrific they are (like anything by L. Ron Hubbard) to be tagged somehow below the ordinary turkeys we come across and just stop reading or playing, or walk out on. The 0 and 6 ratings give me a special way to do this. If I use symbols, I may even use a completely different symbol for them. Imagine one through five bullet points for the regular scale; a 0 may be represented by a hollow-point (white like a O rather than filled in with black), and a 6 may get a little circled 'C' for "classic" (something like a copyright symbol, but obviously not exactly like one or I may confuse people).

So in essence it's still a 5-star system but with the seldom-to-be-used option of a pitchfork and a harp on either end for when the thing being reviewed just begs for it and the usual system simply won't do. Actually, I kinda like the pitchfork and harp idea :)

What do my thousands of readers think? Is this a good system? Makes sense? Too much ado about nothing? I'd be interested in your comments, as always. Even suggestions for symbols!

This is pretty cool I guess.

Basically, you can embed pictures of (or links to) Amazon products in your blog, and if people click them and buy the products by that means, you can potentially earn a little money. I say "potentially" because I didn't read all the fine print. People have been doing this for years, but now it's easy and official on both sides. In fact, I suppose you could rearrange your site for maximum product pushiness and essentially become a shill for Amazon. But I think the wise (?) people of the Net would catch on and probably stop frequenting your blog.

But I guess if you're an author or someone else with a product to sell and which happens to carry - which means pretty much anything - you'd might as well make a little extra money while you're at it. It's smart for Amazon because it reduces the number of authors who like to sell directly from their site (as well as through Amazon and other outlets), as that allows them to make more money by eliminating a middleman. This will cause them to rethink the hassles of having their own online store and handling monetary transaction and customer complaints and just give all the business to Amazon. It's smart for Blogger as well because it's another feature they can tout that they're competitors don't offer and paired with "AdSense" gives them another way to attract bloggers who are looking to make a buck.

As my blog is not designed to make a buck, I could care less, but I still thought it was interesting. Boy, Google (owner of Blogger) has gotten their little fingers into just about every facet of our lives, haven't they? Who'd have thought a free search engine would, in ten years, turn into the world's most powerful Internet company and a major force in our lives? They're even venturing into phones and other physical products now. How long till we see a gCar competing with an Apple iCar?

The real butt of that joke is that despite probably outspending both companies and trying for decades, Microsoft still has no clue about how to move beyond a desktop OS, corporate email, and desktop productivity applications. It was instructive how rapidly and thoroughly Gmail kicked Hotmail's ass, surpassing it in users in less than a year, after Hotmail had been around at least a decade. Yahoo hung on a bit longer, but it too has 'jumped the shark' as they say. Google just seems to own everyone they come across.

Except Apple - so far. The erstwhile friends/competitors are beginning to overlap on ideas, the first major one being phones, and so far the iPhone has held off the NexusOne by a pretty decisive margin, but Google is relentless in the way Japanese businesses are. I'm sure there will be a NexusTwo, Three, and so on to keep the pressure on Apple to stay ahead. All of which is a good thing. I do like Apple, but even more, I like a great product. My brand loyalties don't extend to sucky, out-of-date products. Except Windows, I guess :-S  But that's more a monopoly situation than a choice. For my budget, unless I was to live in the Linux microsphere, there's really no alternative.

Once I have the money though, I'll get a spiffy new Mac and that will be that. Or will Google have an even better and sleeker computer by then? The future is a dark glass, indeed.

Tuesday, March 30

Meta's Word Challenge

Ok, I made this one significantly easier than the past one since I got complaints. Also, I kept it to 10 words. BUT, it's not multiple choice - that would be too easy. Instead, provide a synonym, a short definition, or use it in a sentence which demonstrates you understand the meaning. Begin!

01. Livery
02. Affable
03. Felicity
04. Contiguous
05. Plethora
06. Taciturn
07. Enigma
08. Complicity
09. Bellicose
10. Esoteric

You'll note there are no chemistry words this time.

Good luck!

Sade makes the most of her minimalist lyrics.

Morning Bird

How could you
You are the river
Poured out of this life
How could you
You are the morning bird
Who sang me into life every day
Fly away?
You are the blood of me
The harvest of my dreams
There's nowhere I can find peace
And the silence won't cease
Nothing's quite how it seems
The ghost of my joy
Won't let me be
If you set me free I will not run
I will not run
I will not run

(Sade Adu)

Monday, March 29

This post is for Hans.

Hans, Dennis wanted to post something to you.

"Hi Hans! Since you're learning about the world now, my friend Paul and I thought we'd help you out a bit. Here are some real animals that big people see everyday outside. Since you're an indoor cat, though, you'll probably never get a chance. Just trust me, though, they're real."

"Well that's all for today, but I may have some more pranks lessons for you soon. Don't bother asking anyone else about this stuff, they can't be relied upon to tell you the truth. Have a good day!"


The content of this post does not necessarily express the views of the site or its owner.

Sunday, March 28

Sam Harris talking sense, as always.

Battle at Meta's window sill

There's a big furry spider and an equally big furry bumblebee at my living room window, in the area between the window and where the drapes hang.

Rather than do the usual brutish human thing, I think I will let them fight it out for themselves. The winner gets to go outside, unharmed.

Lucy Lawless playing a cylon.

From the recent (but now ended) "reimagined" Battlestar Galactica television series. Er... Why did humans want to kill the cylons off, again?

This explains a lot.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than in actuality; by contrast the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to a perverse result where less competent people will rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
— Bertrand Russell

Friday, March 26

A cup of tea.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Arwen and Aragorn.

enjoying some quiet time together

Clarus the Dogcow.

I don't remember him being this big. Maybe this is the view from within FatBits.

Blogger earns a stay of execution.

Blogger is making some major improvements in their design layout tools, which will do even more of the HTML/CSS for you and gives you more "out of the box" designs to choose from. I don't care about the new available templates so much... but critical things I've wanted - like a wider main area to embed wider videos and larger pictures in, seem like they will be easy to do soon, as well as specifying default fonts in a less limited way and lots of other good stuff.

Check out the video here:

to see what the new design features will allow you to do. Nothing you couldn't do by hand-writing the CSS, or doing it in Dreamweaver or something and pasting it in, but hopefully the code will be more optimized if Blogger does it all itself (maybe - I haven't been at all impressed with Blogger's code efficiency - if you can even honor it with that word - in the past). I'm already a version behind (I can't use any of the current templates or any widgets, like newer users can, for example), so I would just archive my current blog and make a clean start with a brand-new look and new features.

The old blog wouldn't go away - the new one would have a slightly different address is all and would link back to this one, just as this one would link forward to the new one. It would just cease development. And I wouldn't use their canned backgrounds and title designs, however nifty - since lots of other people are bound to use the same ones. I'd still design my own logo from scratch in Photoshop, as well as a background pattern or motif and foreground color/texture, to give it its own personality. HTML 5-style WebFonts would be the ultimate feature for me, meaning anyone could see my pages as I designed them, regardless of whether they have the fonts I used installed on their machine or not (kinda like PDFs)... but I dunno if Blogger will support this feature or not. Maybe not for awhile yet... But maybe I can hack it in anyway by altering the style sheet. I don't care if I lose IE users by doing this, they can all go dive into a pool with no water anyway.

So, looks like a lot less work than I thought since this will get me 2/3 of the way to where I want to go. Now I just need free or very cheap online storage, so that people can actually download (legal) videos, songs, documents, game patches, PDFs, photo albums, and other files from my site; HD video is progressing and more and more stuff on YouTube, Vimeo and elsewhere is appearing in higher resolutions, which is good - let's hope most videos stay embeddable so us bottom-feeders can have access to them; Controls for streaming audio and video are out there as well as the source material (some things which are illegal to serve as a download, like music, is legal to stream - I'm reading up on the precise laws currently), and I have a pretty good idea of which ones I'm going to standardize on; Likewise with polls, quizzes (yes, hosted, served, and auto-graded quizzes handled by a 3rd party service but embedded in my pages and still private and free from ads should take the place of my ad-hoc quizzes that are presented and graded different seemingly each time. This will save ME time, and make the process more fun for everyone. I can even include little pictures or have answers start to disappear over time... there are lots of fun possibilities), graphs to illustrate my points when I'm ranting about something, possibly collapsible screen elements, dynamically re-sizable photos, or LaTex-like math scripts (math 'fonts') presented correctly as text and not simply a graphic element, for those times when I want to accompany an explanation of something with an equation or a string of symbolic logic (been wanting math scripts for years...); even eventually some embedded interactive content (mouseOver stuff)....could lead the way to a live chat box or simple games, but don't count on it. More likely something like that could allow each visitor to set his or her own site view preferences - perhaps there will be a selection of visual themes if you don't like the standard one, and so on (think about live previews just by mousing over the theme name or button).

I'd like to set it up so I won't bump into blog technology limitations for at least another 5 years, about the length I've had THIS version of my blog up. 5 years is a pretty long time when stuff changes so quickly.

I was thinking about moving to WordPress, MovableType, or some other more robust blogging host, even attempting to host it on my own and make it completely unique, so it would be truly anarchic in spirit and not a plug for Blogger or any of the "free" or "nearly" free hosts out there - but money considerations, my own recognition that I don't finish a lot of things that I start, and these new improvements to the flexibility and appearance (and hopefully "hard" capabilities) of Blogger will probably keep me on it for the next 5 years. Blogger you lucked out!! I was going to abandon you.

My prediction for the next couple months...

One member of my family, who frequently posts to this blog, will find himself buying an iPad somewhat despite his own best sense, but will love it. And a year later, when newer models are out, he will vaguely wish he had waited but then shrug his shoulders and either upgrade or continue to use his original one, since it will read books and do most of what he need pretty well and be fun and cool to use. My confidence in this prediction: 85%.

My other prediction: Adobe Flash will hang on for quite a few more years, but it will go from being the dominant way to serve of video and lightly-interactive content to just a small player in the next year to two years. Despite the image you would have formed in your mind of mighty Flash vs its many small market-share competitors, and how HTML 5 is doomed to live in limbo for many years because of politics coming from Redmond, there are lately signs that the tech press are all wrong and HTML is rapidly gaining favor in many key areas of the Net - especially site which fancy themselves as residing in the so-called 'Web 2.0' space.

For example, YouTube is already offering (in beta) nearly all their videos simply converted from Flash to HTML 5 plugin-free video, and will soon be rolling out the option to use either, or, more likely, will detect what your browser is capable of and will run what it thinks will work best on your machine. This is a huge win for the HTML 5 crowd - As we all know YouTube is a dominant force on the internet. And guess who owns it? Google! And Google makes the Chrome browser, which fully supports HTML 5.

Apple, for it's part, supports HTML 5 in its Safari browser and is betting a lot on the iPhone/iTouch/iPad OS's ability to parse HTML 5 but NOT Flash (which they say is outdated technology as well as slow, buggy, and a CPU hog, all of which are true), and being able to get away with it without losing too many prospective customers over it. It could improve battery life, real-world performance, and help (like YouTube) to clear the way for HTML 5 by having a semi-large user base using devices that require HTML 5 for video (no work on weather Apple will in turn ditch QuickTime plugin support! Just kidding, they'll never do that, and besides, QT offers H.264 MPEG-4 compression decoding, so it's a different animal to Flash. Flash only runs its own proprietary files. QT does that too (.MOV) but is rapidly becoming more of an HD standard - just go to Apple's movie trailer page and see all the 720p and 1080p content that is available, and all of which runs great on QT. So no, QT will not be going away, just as support for WAV files, MP3s, WMV, and DivX aren't going anywhere. Unlike all those standards, Flash was never meant to play movies or music videos; it was originally designed to playback animation, like a GIF image on steroids. It's been overworked for years, and it's end could well be night.

And outside of Adobe, I don't think anyone would mind seeing the last nail smashed into its coffin lid. I've got a nice, capable computer and a very good internet connection, yet some of the simplest flash apps on Facebook, if they aren't coded very carefully (i.e., don't clear their stacks or perform garbage collection right when I'm balancing a marble on a wooden surface, causing the jitters) are frustratingly almost unplayable on certain browsers with certain version of the Flash plugin and you can't always just fix the problem by updating to the latest of everything. Like video drivers and beta browser versions, sometimes the newest build out there is worse than a previous one, forcing you to try to match your setup to that of the guy who developed the game. Commercial games never use Flash, and that should tell you something.

So while I love Adobe for Photoshop and many other products, I feel that Shockwave and Flash are yesterday's tech and should be phased out quickly to let other, better performing standards onto the web to do their thing. Go to Vimeo or a site like that and compare the quality (at the same filesize) of one of their newer music videos, say, to a Flash-bound video on YouTube, and you'll see exactly what I mean.

When even Apple (a long-time bed buddy of Adobe) and Google (who may have the largest collection of Flash files in the world with their YouTube and Google Video services) start to badmouth flash and hype HTML 5, it's probably time to listen. And as a wannabe web designer, I'd rather learn HTML 5 and CSS period than have to also learn yet another product/plugin. No one's saying HTML 5 is the solution that will do everything - you still need style sheets, you still need OO-programming languages to do any serious forms which require that data be stored in any kind of backend database, and so on... but for simple video decoding, live drawing (think playing squiggles against another person online), and even music playback of common file formats (which ones? That's still being hashed out), why not roll that into HTML and let the browser do it rather than farm it out to a plugin that every user is going to have to install anyway?

So a few toes get stepped on and Adobe loses this battle. They never made a lot of money off flash to begin with. I'm sure they can get by quite nicely on $1500 bundles of their graphics apps and even more money for all the training they offer, books they sell, and so on. They didn't even invent the technology: Macromedia did. So please, Adobe, stop complaining and work with other web companies to migrate Flash out of the internet, and replace it gracefully with the much better video implementations that other companies offer. In the interest of the consumer, and to engender goodwill, if nothing else. We're not asking you to abandon Photoshop or Dreamweaver.

Monday, March 22


stumbling around in a dream
or maybe waking from one
it's hard to tell anymore
i don't remember any of this happening
but around me is evidence of days
spent miserably abseiling
down some kind of precipice of madness
and failing to gain any purchase
but now i'm on another rope,
and look across at the yesterdays
that don't feel familiar at all
and i wonder where I go
when I'm sliding down that wall
kirchner, potsdamer platz

Sunday, March 21

Saturday, March 20

Snoozy Boy

Apparently my mom's cat Hans likes to sleep as much as my cat Jackson does.

What a cute little guy. I want to be a cat.

Wednesday, March 17

A quick computer video questionaire...

I'd like to assess my guests' video-playing capabilities. Why? Because when I move to a new and better (ie, more flexible and functional) blog format sometime this year, I'd like to have the ability to include High-Definition video clips instead of being limited to the small YouTube ones I use now.

I appreciate you taking just a few minutes, if you can, to answer these 10 questions, to the best of your knowledge. If you don't know something, don't worry about it - There's an "I don't know" option for pretty much every question. Just do your best; any info is better for me than nothing at all.

So if you would, please answer the following questions about your current computer.

1. Operating system - I use:
a) Windows 7
b) Windows Vista
c) Windows XP
d) Mac OS X (any "cat" version)
e) Linux (any "flavor")
f) Other (please name if you know)

2. Media player - For video (music may be different), I usually use:
a) Windows Media Player
b) Quicktime Player
c) VideoLan player (VLC)
d) Windows Media Classic
e) RealPlayer
f) Other (please name if you know) or more than one of these

3. I can play files using the following extensions/filetypes (list all you know that work):
a) AVI
b) MPG (or MPEG)
c) MOV
d) WMV
e) MP4 (or MKV)
f) I don't know about any of this

4. My computer has the proper codecs to play/decode (list all that apply):
a) Divx
b) Xvid
c) H.264
d) Quicktime
e) WMV
f) I don't know about any of this

5. I prefer videos in an aspect-ratio (width to height) of:
a) 4:3 - old standard for television; most close to "square"
b) 16:9 - the majority of newer widescreen computer monitors use this
c) 16:10 - I have a Dell monitor!
d) 1.85:1 - many feature films use this, especially comedies and lighter fare
e) 2.35:1 - most "epic" films use this widest of all ratios; Panavision invented it
f) I have no idea or no preference (or I want to leave an explanation)

6. I use this size monitor for my computer:
a) 14"/15" (upgrade!)
b) 17"/19"
c) 20"/21"
d) 23"/24"
e) 27"/30"
f) other

7. To surf blogs and watch video on the computer, I typically use:
a) A desktop computer
b) A laptop
c) An iPad (coming soon)
d) An iPod or Zune
e) A mobile phone ("smartphone")
f) I'm not sure (or comments)

8. My computer (CPU, Videocard, etc, as a whole) can smoothly play back:
a) 360p video (everyone who can watch youtube can handle this)
b) 480p video
c) 720p video
d) 1080p video
e) Even higher than 1080p
f) Check here if you're not sure about the higher resolutions - try all three...

9. My primary computer monitor is:
a) Standard (older style, more nearly square, like an older TV)
b) Widescreen (like newer HDTVs)

10. My normal screen resolution is:
click here and report what it says! (if you're on your own computer now)


The more feedback I get, the better I will know what kind of target machines to design for. It's always a balancing act between wanting the biggest, highest resolution video possible while still allowing nearly everyone with a reasonable computer to play it back smoothly, without freezing or stuttering or just showing a blank.

I like 720p wide format (6:9 or so) for most general video clips (maybe a wider format for movies), as it seems like a good compromise between high quality and still reasonable size. But I won't force that on people if few people's machines can handle it. Although, any computer purchased in recent years should have no problem. Technology has progressed rapidly, as usual.

Thank you!

Sunday, March 14

Indrid Cold.

I may be away from my blog for awhile. I need to get some help. Please don't worry about me, but maybe send me a nice thought if you get a chance in your day.

I love all my friends and family. Take care, until we talk.

Last lights.

Belief is an intelligent species' mechanism against going insane.

Do you think it's possible that humans evolved a need to find patterns/meaning in things because of natural selection? Say, you have half the population with a gene that causes them to have vague religious or spiritual ideas, and the other half doesn't have that gene. Since we've become smart enough to reflect on life and ourselves, unlike almost all other animals (as far as we know), for the people who didn't have the gene, they would just stand there like me and think, I'm eating so I can live so I can breed so another one of me can eat and do the whole thing over again; what's the point? Those people in general would have bred less often than the people who had some sense of purpose or of a higher force directing them or judging them or whatever. So after many iterations, the population of non-believers shrinks to some minimum (but never totally goes away), while the people who possess the gene that causes them to plunge ahead with eating and humping and doing all that stuff that life is "about," are obviously more successful at it and go on to dominate the gene pool.

That's my theory why so many people are religious or spiritual or believe in fate or have some need to believe, if you will. They have to or they will cease to care about anything, even living. Obviously that wouldn't be selected for in a natural setting. People like me are an aberration, people who were born without that gene or whatever and who looked around, realized there was no instruction manual, no rules, no way to "win", no end except a grisly one without meaning, and said, ok, what do I do now? And that's my problem in life. I can't find any purpose, any reason to exist. No one asked me if I wanted to be born. Actually I'm a little bitter about it still. Just a theory. But one that explains why people are the way they are without needing to postulate a God or Intelligent Designer of any sort. Because then you get into the whole infinite-regress problem: Who made God? Etc. It's tortoises all the way down. Maybe the Entire Universe is a form of sentient life, and organizes itself like a life form; that's possible. I just don't know. So I'm agnostic about everything.


I think the fact that I'm educated and well-spoken and intelligent is the problem. It might be better if I had a drooling, blithering retarded exterior rather than a veneer of normalcy. Then people would at least see right away that I'm nonfunctional. As it is, I am nonfunctional, or barely functional, just as much as anyone else who cannot take care of himself and who is deeply mentally and emotionally impaired. But my higher-brained ability to hold a conversation and do things "normally" for short periods of time when under observation, and then to blog about it, works against me, and hides that rest of the iceberg that is my mangled self from the world. It's like the old saying of if you're sane enough to say that you're insane, you can't possibly be insane. The insane don't know they are. But I know I have huge problems beneath the surface, they just aren't always obvious from the outside and that has really harmed me in the sense of getting help. So many people would look at me, talk briefly to me, and think I'm smart and well-adjusted. But they never come live with me for awhile and learn the truth...


Dream: Four siblings born at once to a dying mother. 2 boys, 1 girl, 1 mutant. 2 boys grew up to each control half the world's power, and fought ceaselessly against one another, maintaining an equilibrium of war and strife. Finally, at one of their ebbs in power when both were regrouping, the sister, who had been waiting patiently, stepped in and wiped them both out. She promised peace for the world, but under her leadership the one-world government, unchecked, became corrupt, stale, and abusive, leading to another sort of nightmare existence under Big Sister. Finally, the mutant, who had been assumed impotent and largely forgotten, rose up and defeated the sister, and the world thought one dictator was merely replacing another. Especially when 'it' began to multiply vastly its arsenal of weapons and control of every aspect of the living ecosphere. But at the peak of its incredible power, the mutant composed itself with grace and chose self-destruction, and took everything with it, rather than succumb to the lure of power, even the promise of benevolent self-rule with all its lies. Life everywhere was snuffed out, and suffering was at last ended.


I want to scream so loud that my entire apartment will be shattered, the entire world go away, my own body and mind implode after the scream, and collapse in on itself to nothing.

Shaking, shaking in fear and withdrawal. Now too terrified to even move. Wrapped in a blanket like a mummy in linens, still, heart pounding, waiting for the end of time. It's cold and I'm sweating and I can't bear to look. My skin is crawling and there is no light; it's dark inside and out. It's dark everywhere now.


There is a dog running around, rolling around, gamboling about above me, day and night. But it's a guide dog so that's ok right? The office denied for months that there was a dog, looking me in the eye and reminding me of their policy that "we don't allow dogs in these apartments." Kaleena, you lied. There is a dog above me - I saw him. Then you said, "He's a guide dog." I support guide dogs and the people who need them, but don't lie to me, and don't place them in upstairs units. BIG guide dogs that like to run and knock over furniture, with owners who encourage them by seemingly throwing them things to fetch, all the way across the apartment, repeatedly. What in the hell was the management of this place thinking? I hate being lied to, and told that what I'm hearing is NOT a dog when it is - guide dog variety or not. I would have understood more had you been honest. Now I'm just mad.


The light is fading now. I've been wrapped in blankets all day. I can't stand to see the light, or what it shows. Headaches are kicking me around like kids with a new ball. The dog is running around.

It's only once every chunk of hours that I can get up the courage to get on the computer and write something so people don't panic. Now I can go back to my cocoon and panic. The lights, so low...

Saturday, March 13

Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.

Sometimes I want to do things to be rid of myself
Not directly, you understand,
Though there are those times too
Sometimes I just want to feel different and I don't know what to do
Whatever will change this boring life is better than
Sitting and stewing and thinking about the past
Or looking on at the compressed and stretched out future
Whose uncertainty mocks everything I once
Thought I knew about the world.

And my brain wants a holiday
My body wants to feel good for a day
Or at least for now, somehow. Some way,
Amid heavy sundrops
I'll meet somebody who will take away the pain
On whom I can count with all ten fingers and toes
Who just doesn't sympathize but who knows
And can empathize
Or maybe euthanize, I dunno.


Black roses on a white cloth
Black roses and a dove
Sit in atonement, wait in silence
For the girl I once loved

Stagnant are the winds
Seeping through this place of fire
And stagnant the day that never ends
Goodbye, desire

You sir, you may think you're a just man
But look into your heart with eyes open
Don't clamp them shut when the
Sky peals and pounds you with rain

It's only fair
For what you've done again and again
There is nowhere else for you to go
So you just lay there.

Friday, March 12


I like simple things. Information may be simplified in a crude way, say for children, which makes it easy to understand but also distorts the information somewhat. To correct these distortions, you can start to add in the corrections - the details, as it were. But in the process, you make the whole corpus more complex, and as it becomes more accurate it also loses its accessibility, so that soon it requires an adult mind to comprehend it, then that of a specialist, and so on. But I firmly believe that, like those Zen masters who return to simplicity in their teaching and yet leave out nothing in the way of truth, knowledge of any kind at its very best and most complete returns to a simple, unifying model for those who have the gift to stand back far enough to gain the perspective necessary to but see it. Then they can write simply and accurately.

Like Eastern metaphysics, I think Western intellectual endeavors need to achieve this kind of "level up" simplification. Indeed I'm not sure there is a difference between Eastern and Western intellectual philosophies at all. Any that seem to exist may be semantic and imposed by us as a species, for there exist widely different cultures and modes of expression and understanding on this planet as a result of long geographical separation without easy communication, a form of "island isolationism" which has only recently changed. As East and West continue to merge I think it likely that we'll find we've merely taken different roads to reach Rome.

But back to simplicity, and to books. I like children's books, but they are dissatisfying in some way as well, because most of them conjure the suspicion of something being hidden from you. I also enjoy complex scientific textbooks, full of taxonomy and intricate detail and endless levels of complexity to explore. There's a sense of them being "treasure troves" of mankind's collected information and inferences. But most of all I enjoy a simple book written by a "master" which seems to really sum up the essence of a thing; to leave nothing out, and yet to be utterly clear linguistically and conceptually. These types of books are few and far between, but they are the type I like to fill up my library with, and the type I would like myself one day to write, if it is possible for me to do so.

Thursday, March 11

Piano Magic

(Words - GA Johnson)

Came to London to find myself but in ten million people, where do you start?/Drunk at a party, you asked me if I was someone else and I say, "Yeah, if it helps you, I won't be myself"/Like Japanese poets who capture a summer in only three lines, with just one kiss, I want to tell you but it takes all night/You just can't wait for the right time because like comets, it could be the last time/You should always tell them you love them in case you never see them again.

You should always tell them you love them in case you never see them again.

Tuesday, March 9

What is a 'generation' these days?

I know precisely what a generation is in biology, say in bacteria cultures or drosophila experiments. I know what it means in chemical and physical iterative, enumerated events, done in a lab under controlled circumstances. In science everything is precise, or tries its damnedest to be, and I understand the concept of generations very clearly.

But what about the popular idea of "my generation" or "the younger generation" or "the generation gap" or "my parent's generation"? Most people know that (at least in so-called Western countries), giving birth to children has become an event that has migrated to a later and later period in life. Through most of history, and presumably in pre-history, women gave birth nearly as soon as they reached puberty, and continued to do so for most of the middle part of their lives. So a "generation" could be held up as something like 15-20 years, the age they were when they first gave birth to another "gene machine." In fact, 20-25 years even now seems to be what most people have in mind when they talk about the World War II Generation, The 60s Generation, Generation X, and now Generation Y.

But does this really make sense? In the developing world, sure - though I'm not sure how concerned they are with concepts like 'generational culture drift' - not to sound smug about it, but they're mostly just trying to grow food, eat, and not die of disease or starvation or natural disasters. Amongst more prosperous nations though, it's hard to call 20-25 years a generation anymore; if women are regularly holding off giving birth until their mid-thirties, then that figure is the generational turnover. It may seem a pedantic point (to sneak a word in), but it really isn't. Insofar as children are taught the basics in life by their parents, the generational turnover really has slowed into the mid 30s in a real sense.

But at the same time, one would be hard-pressed to argue that 'cultural drift' has slowed its pace. It hasn't, of course; perversely, it's ramped up to dizzying speeds thanks to the exponential rise of technology. So on the one hand we have (in prosperous demographic areas of prosperous nations), a fairly dramatic slowing of the actual biological 'turnover rate.' Parents are even further removed in age from their children than they once were. At the same time, the pace of change has sped dramatically, which must be more difficult for these older parents to cope with and educate their children about than it would be were they themselves younger, and so children (IMO) - more and more frequently, and at younger ages - turn to their peers for help and guidance in the technical skills and the observance of social mores and away from their parents, who seem old and out of touch (even more so than in previous years).

This seems to me to be one of the root causes of the many forms of breakdown in the family unit, the extended family unit, the parent-child bond, and ultimately perhaps the crime rate, the feeling of alienation and depression experienced by more people now than ever, and a host of other social maladies. Just a theory of mine, but it makes sense to me. Any thoughts on this subject?

Monday, March 8

Sunday, March 7

Word quiz.

Here are 10 words for you to define. Ok, I will be extra nice this time and make it a matching game. However, in order not to make it too simple, don't count on the definitions to be in the same tense or form (noun, adjective, etc.) as the main word; the root word will match the basic sense of the definition, but that's all I can guarantee. Have fun!

01. irascible....... A. slavish attention to rules
02. cladistic....... B. minute particle or trace
03. pedantry........ C. taxonomically inclined
04. lugubrious...... D. ill-natured
05. contretemps..... E. sorrowful
06. aquiline........ F. eagle-like
07. portentous...... G. equal in lefts and rights
08. palimpsest...... H. parchment overwritten later
09. scintilla....... I. ominously significant
10. racemic......... J. embarrassing mischance

Ah, the joy of words!

Saturday, March 6

Animal names.

The science of taxonomy, as you surely know, has ways of comparing all the living things in the world and clumping the most closely related among them (those which can actually interbreed) into species, then the most similar species into genera (singlur: genus), genera into families, families into classes, classes into orders, orders into phyla, and so on.

Out of the technical jargon you will hear scientists (or other people) talk about groups of animals (usually at the "family" or "class" level, but not always) with a sort of short-hand 'group name' - like hominids for all humans and their closely related ancestors (Homo Neanderthalis, Homo Erectus, Australopithicines like "Lucy", and so on, but NOT, for example, chimps or gorillas, which are more distantly related to the hominids than hominids are to each other). With me so far?

Ok, so here are some scientific shorthand terms used to describe common animals. I've tried to put them generally in order from easiest to hardest. Try to give the common (non-scientific name) for that group or perhaps an example or two. How many can you get?

No search engines, please!

00. Primates - Humans, Apes, Monkeys, Prosimians
01. Felids
02. Canids
03. Ursids
04. Cetaceans
05. Equids
06. Marsupials
07. Piscids
08. Arachnids
09. Monotremes
10. Squamates
11. Testudinates
12. Chiroptids
13. Accipiters
14. Annelids
15. Pinnepeds
16. Lagomorphs

Ok, I think we'll stop there. 16 is a nice, square number (square of a square!). I'll give you a hint: In the list above 10 are mammals (not counting "00"), and 6 are either birds, reptiles, or other things.

Good luck, and if you know any other common group names you didn't find on this list, please share them so we can all learn!

Friday, March 5

They're beautiful, ferocious, endangered, and they run your Macintosh!

Gonna try something...

I'm going to post about a week's worth of short quizzes and miscellany all right now, but timed so that each gets displayed at midnight PST. This way I'll be sure to always have something new each day, but not so much all as once that it floods the blog and people miss some of the items. Especially quizzes - you don't want 7 or 8 quizzes all in one day.

Meantime, during the week if I have something I really want to blog about, I can still do that, it won't interfere with the automatic releases. In a sense I'm just spreading a backlog out over time, but in advance and automatically.

Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford.

Here's the first question - not a quiz but a voluntary (of course) inquiry about your ethnic/cultural background. If this is sensitive information for anyone, don't feel the need to answer. But I'm of the opinion we should neither be ashamed nor proud of our heritage: After all, what say did we have in the matter. That's right, none. I'm just curious, as I am about all things, what my ethnic (one used to say "racial") heritage is. The search in itself is usually more enlightening than any conclusions reached.

For example, I've discovered that just through my mom's mom's side, I'm related to a group that came to America from England just 11 years after the Pilgrims landed the Mayflower, and founded a community which would grow into the town (now city) of Hartford, Connecticut. In fact I'm a direct ancestor of the first governor of that state and have many modern-day relatives living in the state. I qualify to belong to some "Native Connecticut" society in which I have no interest, but it's neat nonetheless to know about. And I am also related through the same channels to the very influential senator Daniel Webster, his cousin Noah Webster (known for compiling the most-used dictionary in the USA), and relative of John Webster, another governor of New Hampshire. All this I just found out in the last couple of months.

Without going into so much detail, then, I'll briefly state what I currently believe to be the ethnicities of my four grandparents, until such time as I can go back further and more comprehensively.

Maternal Grandmother: Mostly English, some Polish and possible French and German.
Maternal Grandfather: From what records I have, was fully German.
Paternal Grandmother: English and Cherokee, with possibly some Irish.
Paternal Grandfather: Apparently full-blooded Castillian Spanish.

This means I'm probably more English, German, and Spanish than anything, with a helping of Cherokee Indian and much lesser amounts of other ethnicities. My nationality is 100% American, since I was born here and am a full citizen of the USA and nowhere else. That's something I hear mixed up all the time - terms race, ethnicity, culture, nationality. Each has a very precise meaning in ethnography.

The exciting bit is, the process of uncovering my ancestors is ongoing, and all of this information is subject to negation, refinement, or elaboration.

What about YOU?

Monday, March 1

In The Lord of the Rings,

Curumo, Olórin, Aiwendil, Morinehtar, and Rómestámo were what kind of creatures/beings?

Hint: These names are in Quenya. Extra points if you know their Sindarin names, Common (Westron) names, or anything more detailed about them. :-)

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