Today IS History

My day starts with telling my smart speaker to “start my day” followed by Alexa giving a small piece of history about the day, the Word of th Day, the local weather forcast and my news flash briefing. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get sort of up to speed and works often as my personal snooze button. Today, the history note was a reminder that it’s September 11th (9/11). Which was enough of a distraction to ignore much of what followed and to consider history in the context of my life.

A disclaimer: I am from the era of television. It is possible my parents did not have a set when I was born, but it is much more likely they did, or obtained one within my first couple of years of existance. In either case, I cannot remember a time where there was not a ‘one-eyed’ monster in some room of the house. I heard stories from relatives of life centered around the radio, of times spent sitting on the couch and watching the wall (so to speak, as Garry Larson in Far Side comic fashion so greatly put it) but it was before my time. Life at the speed of telegraph and pony express are essentially incomprehensible to even me, I can hardly imagine what today’s generation would think.

So, with the day’s starting with a nudge of memory, I found myself reliving four (4) specific events in history that were made ‘real’ by being seen on television. In a day where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE…even my six year old grand daughter has a kindle…no phone yet, though, and a good thing, too) is connected to the internet in some way or another, the idea of event delay is almost inconceviable. That you might have to wait until noon or six to find out what is happening on the news is archaic (and the thought of the need to ‘read’ the newspapper when it’s delivered tomorrow morning simply barbaric). It’s almost too long to wait to look at the phone when it beeps while driving as it is (and apparently for WAAAY too many drivers it IS too long to wait…so they look while driving…and reply…and swerve and bob and weave and….) so quickly does life throw history at you. It was not always so…

The first TV history moment that I remember is actually quite fuzzy. In 1963 my mom was watching her ‘soaps’ in the afternoon. As hard as it might be to consider, the soap operas done in the daytime were broadcast live and not “recorded before a live studio audience” as most sit-coms are done now. So when the characters went off script and said (something like) “oh, no! The president’s been shot…” it was quit dramatic. Most of the rest of the day’s broadcast was mostly news of the aftermath of the assination of president Kennedy. I remember more of the feel of the event than the actual happenings, as I was only seven at the time. But my parents were quite upset, as was the world in general.

The second memory was the landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. My whole family was sitting in the darkened living room watching the grainy black-and-white images (on our ‘colored’ TV, the B&W images bringing back memories of a past—but recently past—era) of the “one small step” from the moon. Science was a big thing in my family, so to be able to watch it in “real” time was amazing and I watched a lot of space missions over the years, but this one definitely stands out in my mind.

As does the third event, the Challanger disaster in 1986. I was actually working at the time (I drove a propane truck and was on my route to deliver cyllinders to businesses for their fork-trucks) and swung by my mom’s house on a coffee break to watch the launch. I was standing in her kitchen watching on a 12″ B&W portable TV sitting on the counter and chatting when they run the count-down. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, it ended…badly. It was kind of fitting (in a way) to watch it without colour, just as I had seen the moon shot nearly two decades earlier. The (countless) replays in colour didn’t really add much to the feeling of horror and dismay at the initial shock when the event was happening in real time. It was simply on a larger screen. The rest of the day’s work was done in a more somber, meditative state.

Finally, another work-day event burned into my memory because of television, the attacks of 9/11. I was working in technical support for EDS and was linked by phone to the rest of my team by phone when the day’s events began. A couple of the team members (including my closest partner Kristie) worked from home and had their TV’s on in the background. She gave a real-time description of what she was watching of the events in New York as we sat in cubes in a windowless building in mid-Michigan. Frankly, I didn’t believe her, that it was simply way too much to be happening. I took my lunch break to go to get a radio to bring back to my desk to follow events. It wasn’t until I got to the store and was looking at radios when it suddenly became totally real to me. I saw the second plane hit (on a TV in the same isle) and it wasn’t just a story. The world I lived in changed in a tangible, viceral way eighteen years ago in ways the previous three events simply couldn’t match. “Normal” broadcasting was off-air for the next week, and it was months before other stories pushed their way into news headlines.

For the generation(s) arising after these events, I’d like to point out a subtle but important idea regarding history. It happens daily, whether or not you notice. Being instantly connected to the world and communicating with friends in real time can numb you to the significance of events happening now. There were a LOT of other things that have happened in the six plus decades of my life, some were even televised (like Watergate, the Beatles, Viet Nam, and the Simpsons) but not all made the same level of impression in my memory. Frankly, there’s much that has fallen through the cracks and is lost to me unless reminded from outside sources. But in every case, the “historic” day began just the same as every “ordinary” one…it was (at the time) today.

There are huge numbers of people that will look back on today as a “life-changing” event, others will remember today with fond memories, some not-so-fondly, and the rest will simply live and forget this day, the same as many (most?) others. How you react to today will mostly be the result of how aware you are while passing through the 886,400 seconds that make up this day. To the extent you are aware and alert to what is happening around you (rather than looking at your phone and watching the latest [insert meme of choice here] or listening to the newest [insert rant of preference here] will determine how sticky this September Eleventh remains in your history. There will NEVER be another one just like it (mulitple parallel planes of existance in an infinite universe not withstanding…but that’s another blog) and if you’re not careful, you will miss it…

Besides, if the cosmologists are correct, even Little Orphan Annie will be wrong eventuallly…because the song will simply be wrong and it won’t happen.

[cue music] The sun will come out……..tomorrow!


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[Humorous Note: the addition of the link to the Gary Larson comic added nearly three (3) hours to the writing of this post, as eventually the rabbit trail took me down a couple/several/many videos and pages filled with Far Side memories…]

Sermon From the Sidelines: A One Minute Message on Business As Usual…

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

Scripture to meditate upon: Matthew 25:13

[Disclaimer disclaimer: this is PROBABLY too long to qualify for a minute message…speed readers not withstanding, but it’s the category I have so I’m sticking to it for now.]

Here is a thought experiment I’ve been chewing on for a week now. It comes in three parts, but to set it up properly, you need to have a particular location in your normal church service in mind. Specifically, the last seat on the left hand side (when looking from the speaker’s location) in the fourth row from the front. (If you are in a congregation where you are not in rows but more of a circle, it would be located just less than a third of the way around clockwise from the leader’s seat.) So we’re clear, it’s not “all the way” to the front, nor in the back, but front middlish of the pack (small groups of 3-5 rows would show up in row 2). Prime location for the typical “reasonably interested” but not necessarily greatly committed person. (Most likely, there’s a usual person or family sitting in this location, but for this experiment, consider there to be an “extra” location outside of their placeholder.)

Scenerio One:

The service has just started a couple of minutes ago. You are not quite half-way through the first song of the opening (non-musical churches would likely be in the extended greeting/announcement time…or whatever you do to begin that does not include an extended “closed eyes” prayer; just wait for the prayer to end and catch-up with the rest of us) and everything is going like normal. Then, a late arrival comes in and takes the “prime” seat location described above. The unannounced visitor is Jesus Christ in the flesh.

The question the thought experiment seeks to answer is this: What effect (if any) would this have on the remainder of your service?

[In particular, would there be noticible changes to the service? Would the singing be better (or more subdued from embarrassment)? How about the quality (and quantity) of the offering taken? Prayers? Would the preaching be longer or shorter? Would there be more or less of a rush to depart after the service ended?]

I would suggest in any case, there WOULD be a noticable, demonstrative difference in the service, although not necessarily what you might consider at first thought. The scriptures show repeatedly Jesus was followed by multitudes of people diminished in society, so His arrival would not be as an individual, but rather a hoard that would likely result in “standing-room-only” overflow spillage out of the building. Many (if not most) would be economically impoverished, infirm, sick or injured, blind, lame, leperous (where they would come from in America is anybodies guess), publicans and sinners. In light of the overcrowding, does your answer to scenerio one change?

Scenerio Two:

Similar to the above condition, execpt you receive notice (by a special FedEx delivery interrupting your service) that Jesus will be attending NEXT week’s service.

Question: what effect (if any) would this message have on the remainder of this weeks service, and what changes would you make to the service plan for the next week?

[If you KNEW Jesus was going to be there next week, would you change your behavior? Arrive earlier than normal for a better seat? Dress differently? Ask friends or relatives to come with you? Would the order of service change, perhaps more (or less) songs and greeting times? More scriptures in the message? More thought GIVEN to preparing the message? More attention to the service in general? More room to move as a result of people being convictioned about their lives in general to simply NOT attend?]

Scenerio Three:

Reading Matthew 25:31-45 suggests (implies? states?) Jesus is present (already) in the midst of your congregation (although not necessarily recognizable in bodily form).

Question: considering the meditation scriptures and answers from the first two scenerios, what changes do you make to the service plan for this week’s meeting?

Phred the Elder
DC3 Elmshaven Itinerant Heretic

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(* Disclaimer: 60 Second Sermon guaranteed if you read fast enough)

Traveling A Road (More Or) Less Traveled

I said recently (within the last couple of posts, I don’t remember just exactly….not that it makes any difference either) that I was going through a period of soul searching and intent to review this site. Still intend to. Am…going to…soon(ish).

And then, I get distracted… I watched a TED talk about procrastination. Was totally convicted that it was talking about me as much as the speaker, and that my Instant Gratification Monkey was at least as present as his. It explained a lot about how I live and (don’t) work.

So, while I’m in the ongoing process of getting ready to prepare to initiate the beginning hints of an idea of what to list out to do to start working on gathering needed resources to create an environment conducive to overcoming inertia and actually do something…later, I find there’s a webpage/blog he has posted to. The Wait but Why site provides a GREAT rabbit hole for me to traverse (now going on 3+ hours…not counting manditory bio-breaks) in “preparing” to work on my own postings.

In the VERY beginning, I wondered why I was doing this and what the benefit would be (both for the writer and the reader). While this question still remains largly unanswered, stumbling across this site has provided a great deal of illumination. Much of what I am reading resonates in a profound way to my own path and progress. I would suggest that if you find my materials of any (reasonable) value, you may also find Tim’s work also useful. If, instead, you find it distracting and meaningless babbeling without merit, I’d also suggest you try a sample from his work to see if his POV is sufficiently different to be more appealing.

In some ways, it’s frightening to open a box that belongs to another only to find it holds some of the darkest secrets hidden in the innermost recesses of your OWN mind/heart/soul. And after I spend another couple of weeks going through his stuff, I can confidently begin the process of cleaning my own stuff with the knowledge that my madness is not (necessarily) unique.

Afterall, the old saying remains true…

All great minds run through the same gutter.


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Winning Debates Is As Easy As One…Two…FIVE!* THREE!†

Once upon a time last millenium, I took a class in high school on debate. I wasn’t very good (terrible, actually) and held the second afirmitive, backup position, so I didn’t (have to, thankfully) actually do much competitive debating before the judges and audience. Once (the ONLY time, really) where I was called upon to take one for the team resulted in a win, due mostly from the execution of a massive blunder by the other team. With a simple statement by one of their team’s sacrificial lambs, a victory was virtually assured and we were able to mop the floor with their remains.

What gaff could they have made that would result in a victory so overwhelming that even a team built from a couple of people randomly selected by simply opening a phone directory and pointing at a couple of numbers on the page were going to bring home the gold medal? It was when they gave the reference for one of the (admittantly excelent) points they made…

It came from the READER’S DIGEST!

DING! DING! DING! Launch the balloons, set off the fireworks, toss the confetti. A 10 second search of our materials to select the proper 3×5 index card and we could put everything else away and get ready to celebrate.

We had been taught (extensively and repeatedly) to NEVER source a quote from the Reader’s Digest (RD from here out). Never, ever, under penalty of death. Not because the RD was not a place to read credible material or that they were so horrible the National Enquirer was divinely inspired by compairison. The reason was simply that RD was a compilation of material sourced elseware. You would quite often find a copy sitting in the bathroom for light reading in moments of distraction. Every article contained a note as to where the original material was published, so that if you were interested or wanted a longer read (most articles were abridged in some fashion) you could go to the source and see “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say).

We, too, had the RD reference in our stack of materials…but unlike the opponents, we ALSO had the original journal, so in our next 3 minute speaking turn, we simply stated that the material in the original source was better that the RD version. Point, set, match…US. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. With that action, my “professional” debate record ended at 1 win and no losses, a 1.000 batting average.

Now, it must be pointed out that this miracle occured forty-five (45) years ago. Information was more difficult to access and collect, and the technology used to keep hundreds of chunks of data under control involved archaic devices like books and libraries, microfilm readers, card catalogues, and the only voice-activated information source at the time: the librarian. I guess you could hold all the information in your pocket, if you insisted on wearing clothing at least 47 sizes too large and in dozens of layers to create enough pockets (cargo pants not being available at the time). Phones were attached to the wall with a cord and computers took up entire rooms (if not buildings) that you seldom (read: NEVER) had access to. Pencil and paper, combined with an “effective” filing system had to do. It did, and we survived the dark ages of information with only moderate scarring.

I would like to suggest, however, that there’s an even more damaging information source available today than what the RD ever was, and I bet most of you make use of it multiple times a day: GOOGLE.

Now, wait just a second, you say. Google isn’t remotely like RD in that it doesn’t cut up the original material and give you a taste of the data. It gives you links to the actual material for your viewing pleasure, so you go directly to the source. True, point taken and conceeded.

But, how often do you actually LOOK at the page header of the search you just did? I just did a search of “google” in my browser and got a page of information. Hidden (in plain sight) at the top in small print was this line: “About 11,420,000,000 results (0.56 seconds)” followed by a half-dozen articles. At the bottom, there were places to click on to view any of the next 9 pages (numbered 1-10). If you generously give each page 25 listings, how many pages do you have to look at to see 11 BILLION results? (I’ll wait a bit for you to do the math….ok, that’s long enough.) Short answer is a LOT.

When was the last time you drilled down more than a couple of pages to get “the answer” to your search inquiry? How many times did you get to the Goooooooooogle that listed 11-20? Ever go further in that page 50? 100? 1,000? (Full disclosure alert: my deepest dive only went about 350 pages and took a couple hours….) That doesn’t begin to remove even a gnat’s toenail from the stack.

And there is another problem lurking in the weeds. Even if the infermation you need is there (on one of the 4 billion pages), you may not find it. In tennis, you can win by playing a couple different ways. You can generate more power than your opponent. You can be more accurate in your placement or more efficient in your resource management, outlasting your enemy. Or you can use spin.

If the ball is moving in a straight line, it is easier to project where it will go and how to meet it with your racquet. Bend the ball, however, and the game changes dramatically (and if you think tennis is wicked, try ping pong…). By putting spin on the ball, you can make it go places it is IMPOSSIBLE to get to otherwise. Additionally, when it bounces, it can make a radical change in direction causing even more problems for the returning player.

And here’s the kicker: the spin on the internet seraches is totally invisible. Not only do you have no indication of what kind of spin is on the ball, you have no idea how much is even present. If you are asking a relatively neutral question of the search engines, you might get a response that has a relatively unbiased outcome, like how many days are there in the month of November (30, per my google search, but even here there were “About 3,160,000,000 results (0.59 seconds)” to get an answer…which I feel is not terribly spun out of place).

Ask a more charged question, and the algorithms used to choose which answers float to the bottom gets more problematic. Who writes the code can determine what answers get more credit. Hit a hot enough topic, and you might find only 1 answer in the top 30/300/3000 pages. It might not be the only answer (almost certainly) and it might not be the “correct” answer, but it’s the only one you will find without doing a huge amount of work.

Conspiricy? Not necessarily, more a problem of design. Even the resources I used in my debate days were tainted with spin, in that SOMEONE decided which books to put in the library and the librarian made choices in answering our (innocent) questions. There’s an old saying that the man with one watch knows what time it is, but if he has two he is never sure. “Information good -> more information better” is not necessarily correct. But to blindly accept the first piece of informaiton that comes along is even more likely to eventually turn and bite you in a tender part of your anatomy when you least suspect it.

So, if you are involved in a debate and choose to source your information from the interweb, may I suggest you (at least occationally) spend some time clicking on the last “o” in the Goooooooooogle at the bottom and move a few dozen pages in before you decide what your opinion is. You might get a chance to see a different point of view from the herd. And that may, indeed give you the chance to give a “not from RD” response to move into the winner’s circle.

Access to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch doesn’t hurt, either…‡


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*[whispered comment: “Three, sire”]

† Quote from movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail

‡ Another reference…love that movie!

Knits And Gnats

Strange title, but there’s a madness to my method (or so I’m lead led to believe). There’s a silent letter in there somewhere, another reason English is so frustrating.

I spent a couple of days a couple of weeks ago reading EVERYTHING in this blog. Sort of a self-imposed penance for the nearly two year absence of effort. I wanted to remind myself what was out here, and why I thought it was a good idea (at least at the time) to put it out on a line for the world. An effort that was only partially successful, I suspect. There’s at least a few nuggets of value strewn throughout the waistland wasteland that is the debris of my mind. Some of it seems pointless in hindsight, but there must have been some kind of reason (maybe the pressure of the 3xweek quasi-commitment) at the time. To the extent that the author is lost in the content, my sincerest apologies have to go out to the random victims that were the collateral damage in these shots…though I doubt there was/is much serious long-term injury resulting.

I’m not generally one to do a great deal of post-posting editing, so apart from making two corrections (one spelling missed by the checker, and one that was a homonym with a completely incorrect meaning), the content stands and will continue as such. But I anticipate a few changes to the site overall that might mitigate the future damages somewhat.

Over the next n [approprite plural time unit], I intend to build and label all postings with a set of tags to help bring some clarity to site. This should help alert a potential reader of what content has some possible chunk of value and which are mostly (entirely) stream-of-consciousness babbeling. I’ll add a page with a discription of the tags and (possibly, unclear exactly how it will play out at this time) links to search for desired ones. At the very least, there will be a [favorites] tag to mark out the ones that I feel are at the top of the list.

Back to the title… There are letters in there that you just don’t hear. It doesn’t mean they’re not there, or not important, but are in the background, molding the shape of the idea hiding in the author’s mind. If you are not careful, the receiver’s picture will not match, and you will have failed to communicate (since mental image transplants is the soul/sole purpose of all communication). And in review, there’s a couple of gaps in the frequency of posts, the longest almost a full year. Silent letters…but not absent ones.

A confession. My name is Phred, and I’m a writer. [GROUP RESPONSE: Hello, Phred] In a tangible way, this really IS therapy (of a sort) and you, gentle reader, are my therapist (except you are not getting paid, sorry). Full disclosure is that I spend time upon awakening almost every morning, mentally writing on the ceiling of my bedroom. This morning it was almost an hour (trying pointlessly to go back to sleep). I (finally) decided to get up and commit the ramblings to paper…er, online storage.

The phrase “older but wiser” is always (at least half) true. I’m perched at the edge of another completed lap around the sun, but (as far as this work is concerned) with little to show for it. I have no way of expressing my regret at the wisdom lost to you from my slacking off (and just as much relief at the pain averted from the pointless-drivel parts, but it doesn’t necessarily balance in quantity or quality). To prevent the need for endlessly repainting the bedroom, I “intend” to continue posting works here in the future.

I have to…I’m not skilled enough to knit gnat guards.


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(fed) UP (with fireworks)

Disney and Pixar did a great movie when they did UP! However, I find as I get older, I find I relate to the character Carl Fredricksen (done by Edward Asner) more and more, and I still have another fifteen years to go to get “there.”

The community where I live had their annual firework display last evening. The park across the street is the launch site, so sitting on the veranda allows me to see the whole event from a third-row seat POV. (Well, not quite, as there’s a street light in the way to light the parking area by the building. You need something to shield the minor supernova bright LED on the pole…annoying, but manageable.)

My building is devoted to senior living facilities, but there is a sub-division full of family duplex units managed by the same company on the other side of the building, so there’s a LOT of locals in the area, and the presence of my neighbor’s kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/inlaws/outlaws insures there’s a constant stream of people wandering past all evening. It’s almost as interesting a show watching the people as the sky. Not to mention the (invisible from the patio, but clearly heard) launches from the 40 other buildings behind mine and those firing from the eight-building apartment complex across the street. Many of the visible ones were roman candles and low-cost/power items from the local general stores, but the Phantom Fireworks store (located about a kilometer away) apparently had a good year from the sounds of it.

Finally, after about an hour and a half of the amateur warm-up acts, the stage cleared for the main event, hearlded by a single firework launched into the darkening sky. You could hear (and feel) the excitement in the crowds awaiting the start from the patios on all four floors of my building. It got (relatively) quiet while the smallest voices announced “Grandma, it’s starting!”

It was over in around twenty minutes, give or take a few seconds. In my opinion, easily the WORST firework display I’ve seen in 60+ years. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however.

By my rough estimate, they launched about a thousand projectiles into the sky. Apart from the initial launch (I believe it was a test shot to see what the wind conditions aloft were), there was never another period where there were not at least 3 shells bursting in the sky at a time, with several sessions of a dozen or more simultaniously exploding at once. The finale had too many going off at once to count, but they wasted more in the last 90 seconds than what a full 90 minute display used to send up back in the 60’s and 70’s when I was growing up.

Don’t get me wrong, I like watching fireworks. The operative word here is WATCHING, though. Looking for the launch streamer and tracking the dark projectile along the path, anticipating where and when it would explode. Then, the BANG and watching the sparks spreading across the sky. Watching them die out and listening to the “oohs” and “ahhs” from those around me and discussing just how great the best ones were. Then a modest delay and repeat the process. A great way to kill an hour or so on the mid-summer holiday.

But this year’s event also gave me pause to consider the plight of my fellow veterans that served in combat zones (I was on a ship and was never involved directly in combat…I honor and respect my fellow brothers and sisters in arms who DID see combat directly and I salute you!). In past displays, there was the chest-crushers (nothing to see, but a huge BANG that generated a tangible shock wave you could track by the echos returning from distant buildings and hills) sent up to make sure you were still awake (or to awaken the babes that were sleeping…sorry mom). But they made up a very small percentage of the show, typically only 2-3 in the whole evening. Last night there were a couple of sessions where there must have been streams of 15-20 going off in carpet-bombing fashion. Maybe there was a half second or so between a shell and the next, almost too fast for the flash to die away from one before the next exploded. I’m reasonably certain there were some seasoned vets that were looking for shelter…

Technology has evolved a lot since I was a kid. There are shaped charge fireworks that explode into identifiable shapes: hearts, stars, circles. I think (guess?) there were some of these last night, but it was difficult to tell as before one shot opened totally to view, another couple were going off, too, both near and far. The shells that changed colours a couple of times or launched screamers and spinners were not noticable as they were masked by several others vying for your (limited) attention.

Conspicuously absent was the parachute flare launch of my youth, where a shell would burst and a brilliant white flare would be suspended from a parachute, to float several minutes before burning out. It was fun to watch and see if it would reach the ground before going out (it never did, but still…). Had they used a couple, sending the second up only after the first died off, they might have spanned the whole show…

I tried to appreciate the huge sky-filling displays which only made up a small percentage of last millenium shows, but these, too, paled into insignificance when drowned out by another dozen lesser shots overlaid at the same time. I really tried to appreciate the show, but I believe they compressed a great show by at least a factor of nine, taking a show that could have (read: should have) taken three hours and compressed it into sit-com length (without the commercials). Apparently I’m not ADHD enough for this kind of display.

Next year, I’m considering setting Mr. Spatula (my goldfish) out on the patio to watch the show and get his take on how good it is. Though, full disclosure requires me to declare ahead of time I don’t think this is going to work that well…

I think he has too long of an attention span, too…


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Inspiration Is Not Amusing

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet four new people at the library. Not that meeting people at the library is particularly odd, unusual, or abnormal in any sense, but in this case the people were gathered for a singular purpose: to write. Rather, to listen to each other’s writing, for this was the bi-weekly Writers Roundtable meeting.

Apparently, they have been meeting on regular basis at numerous locations for years (though not necessarily together as a singuar group…they have wandered in from other groups scattered around the semi-local area). This gathering location has been a couple years in history. The meeting I attended was only a fraction of what it was a (bi)week earlier, with 7 others failing to make a show. (Not entirely unreasonable, with it being summer; many groups decline during the summer months because of competing activities—the kickball squad being a notible exception.) Half of the regulars brought in material written and printed during the past period for the group to hear and provide input/encouragement/constructive criticism regarding the effort.

My attendance was a semi-spur-of-the-moment event, as I had only learned of the group the day prior while feeding my addiction checking books out of the library. I arrived without a clear understanding of what I was getting myself into, as the only information I had was the time posting on the calendar of events: 6:00 Writer’s Roundtable. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the standard 12-step group, going in and introducing myself: “Hello, I’m Phred, and I’m a writer…” followed by the group response “…hello, Phred.” Not quite that dramatic, but in some ways just as intense since they were compassionate about their craft. I heard from a younger gentleman writing for a youth picture book describing a room that allowed the user to change their physical and mental capabilities. It ended with the person reverting back to their original state after “cranking the wisdom dial as far as it would go….” It would appear it worked quite well.

The other reader was a middling woman bringing in several chapters (in the 33-38 range) of an ongoing adventure involving a teenage girl and her relationship with several people in her life. As it has been in development for an extended time, I was not as able to appreciate the story as the others, but could see the passion and focus in the work presented, and see a glimpse of the depth of the characters involved.

Both works were received with great enthusiasm and delight. The group was clearly bonded together in this task and was working to help one another become more skilled in their craft. I felt involved and welcome even on the first meeting and was included in the discussions (both the ones involving the readings and the following ones about the group in general).

It was with a measure of regret that I discovered the group was specifically created and focused on fiction writing. As much of the material I create (at least 83 of 97) involves me in some way or another, it seems unlikely a disinterested third-party observer would consider it fiction (even though a close examination of the material from the inside also suggests minimal direct contact with the “shared reality” that third-party observer would be claiming as a basis for fact/fiction, so it’s debatable who’s right in this case). I expressed as unlikely my future attendance to additional meetings in the near future.

But, a definite take-away point I got from my exposure to those for whom this process of putting pen/pencil/ribbon/toner to paper/screen/display is a serious adventure was to clarify a misunderstanding I developed from my education as a youth. Or, rather, a misunderstanding I acquired as a result of the LACK of education as a youth.

Since I’m an old f*rt (it’s taken a lot of trips around the sun to reach the place where I’m sort-of comfortable saying this kind of heresy), my education was during the dark ages before the internet gave you instant, easy access to knowledge. I’m from the Encyclopedia Brittanica era of learning.

My exposure to ancient Greek mythology was essentially as extensive as my development in learning Latin, which in the public schools of the 1960’s was essentially ZERO. Therefore, I sort of understood the concept of the Muse as a friendly, gentle spirit that guided you in the development of your craft. The listing for the second use (subunit 2) of ” (sometimes lowercase) the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker,or the like ” reflects my thoughts of what it was supposed to be like. Light, good natured, friendly and helpful.

Not mine. Often there’s a hint of sulphur and brimstone wafting in the air when my muse has presented itself (gender neutral as it’s not clear if demonic spoor from the underworld actually come in multiple forms). No gentle taps on the shoulder or wispers in my ear to guide my attempts at creating. Rather, great hunks of flesh being rendered from my backside as it’s talons rake across my cowering body, it’s screams of styrofoam packing being rubbed together drowning out the chalkboard scraping fingernails of others trying to distract me from further attempts at maintaining sanity.

When asked, the others didn’t express the existance of a muse in their experience directly, but were driven to write for other reasons best summed up by the group leader. He said once he was asked by someone how they could “know” if they were a writer or not. His response was simply “just stop writing…if you can, you’re NOT a writer.” They write because they write. Oh, if it were only that easy…

To paraphrase something Mark Twain said about being addicted to smoking…

“…it’s easy to quit [writing]. I’ve done it hundreds of times…”


post 84 of n

Urban Strip Mining For Fun And Profit

A fundamental principle in economics is that there are more wants than there are resources available to fill those wants. While there may be enough for everybody to have a little, there’s not enough for everyone to have as much as they want (read:I WANT IT ALL!!!). Doesn’t matter what “IT” is, there’s simply not enough currently available to go (all the way) around. So you need to get more.

First choice is go look for some more. (Well, for some groups, the FIRST option is to take some from other groups that already have some, but let’s set the military option aside for the moment and try a “friendlier” approach at the start.) Depending on what the resource is, it’s likely that you can find it SOMEWHERE just lying around. (Natural gas as an example is harder to come up with examples of, but even so there are occational times in certain locations where it is present at the surface without specialized equipment being required to get at it. Collecting and using this “natural” natural gas, on the other hand, might be problematic, but the principle holds). So, all you have to do is wander around long enough and far enough, find it, and take it back home.

Unless, of course, the source is located on the property of someone else who also want it…which goes back to the (for the moment ignored) military concept that possession is 99% of ownership. Negotiation might persuade the current possessor that their total utility (economic concept that provides a non-specific way to identify how to value different items in a meaningful way, so you really can compare apples to kumquats) would be enhanced if they “sell” you some of theirs. If the owner fully buys into the scarcity principle, they simply don’t have enough to let you have any, and you are forced to look elsewhere.

Look long enough and far enough, and you might find that there is no more just lying around for your acquisition and so you need to look outside the box for more.

So, what do you do if the resource you would like/want/need/lust after is underground? Well, historically, there’s a couple of ways to go about getting it.

You could dig a hole down until you find/reach it and take it back up the same hole. Some products (like dirt) are fairly effective in obtaining by this method. As the material is extracted, however, obtaining the next batch is further down, requiring extending the hole downward. Eventually you reach a point where you are working as hard (or harder) at simply making the hole as obtaining the material itself, and you have created a mine.

Dealing with all of the associated dangers and challenges of working underground (dark, lack of ventilation, water {too much or not enough}, finding reliable canary breeders, marauding dwarves, dragon caves…) makes mining a challenging process. And you also need to provide a creative way to deal with the other materials you encounter while obtaining the desired resource (say, the useless gold/silver/copper/coal/diamonds you run across in the middle of your dirt mine). Depending on the relative richness of a particular location, the actual amount of “junk” materials can be several orders of magnitude greater than the desired materials. Removing several tons of rock to obtain a few kilograms of the good stuff not only means you have to move several tons of rocks in the first place (tiring to exhausting, depending on your level of stamina) but you need to find a place to put it (annoying at first, totally exasperating later on as the further you go, the further you have to move this stuff, too).

An alternate method of extracting buried goods is to make the hole wider rather than deeper…a pit mine rather than a shaft mine. So, you start with a (relatively) shallow hole in the ground and as you find/collect the good stuff (and move the “not-so-good” stuff out of the way) you make the hole wider rather than deeper. Gravel and granite are commonly obtained this way. (Technically, I suspect “dirt” mines would also fall into this category as it’s usually a resource that is readily found in more shallow locations, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually visited a working dirt mine, so it’s just a guess.)

As the scale of the operation increases, you eventually end up with a strip mine, where you elongate a side and put the tailings at the ends. This is especially effective when the good stuff grows in rows (veins) and you can extract more in one (relative) direction than randomly wandering around hoping to get lucky. These kind of mines work basically by taking a mountain and moving it over to the left a few feet/yards/miles. (And it’s the same principle even when the mountain is hidden by being buried up to it’s peak in all directions with dirt…you can be standing on top of a mountain and be totally unaware, simply because you think the ground is level as far as you can see.)

So far, we looked at the process of getting access to the resource we wanted. It (eventually) required moving a lot of stuff we don’t want to get to what we do. A principal problem with this method of goods acquisition is what to do with the unwanted stuff. In the “best of all worlds” situation, you simply move it to another place you own and it’s only your “problem” (so to speak). However, it’s not likely you will be able to contain the residue the longer you work and the greater the scale of your operation. Eventually there will be collateral damage from your waste piles (a friend of mine lived a couple of miles from a municipal land fill [garbage dump]; he observed a change in his local climate as the heat coming off the pile would cause weather fronts to split over the site and the resulting amount of rainfall that fell on his property dropped over time) and a subsequent protest that you curb your activities (pitchforks and torches optional).

Much of the debate regarding remediation of current and former extraction sites involve what needs to be done, and more to the point, who should pay for it (NOT ME, is the claim of all parties involved). That there is ongoing damage seems clear, but the way of restoration is anything but.

Even more difficult to deal with is when the mining operation takes place in an urban environment.

This past weekend, an artist was detained and arrested while working on a mural in Detroit. The city commissioned him to make the mural and the police believed he was involved in vandalism. It came to my attention as a 30-second blurb on a local news broadcast (I live about 130 km WNW). Further research online brought up multiple other sources of information giving more details of what happened. Each source provided data, but each also gave spin on what was presented and how to “understand” what happened. The original news broadcast seemed to be saying the artist arrest was for the art. The article from a Detroit based media source said the arrest was not for the art, but rather for how the artist reacted to the authorities during their encounter.

When I grew up (last millennium), vandalism was bad. So was police harassment.

My greatest sense of sadness is not that this event occurred, or made the news. It is that there’s been an undermining of trust and respect for so long in our society that such an event seems inevitable rather than outrageous. We’ve been strip mining our society for so long, the detritus mountain avalanche that will wipe out our very existence seems a foregone conclusion. Except for the west coast.

Perhaps the “big one” will get them first.


post 83 of n

Getting Mugged

So, it’s been a while since I have been here (actually, a LONG while upon reflection) and a short back-story might be in order. I decided maybe 6 months ago to become more adept at drawing, thanks to my gaming friend Bill “WhiskeyKetchup” (not his real name…er, the Bill part is, but the WK part is his gaming nom de plume) and the skill he demonstrated in his hobby. He created one of those “adult” colouring books for his wife and I had serious doubts upon first examination…it was WAAAYYYY too good to have been made by hand. Looking at other works he did allowed me to change my opinion and see he was truly skilled at putting marks on paper in appropriate places.
I’ve wanted to do this (sort of…kinda…) for a long time without really giving it serious thought or effort. Until now, that is. I asked him if we could do a weekly challenge, draw the same thing and compare the results to provide incentive to improve (as well as actually DO the work). He agreed, and this is week 6 of the challenge.
Today, while doing laundry, I spent my typical session (45 minutes by the “focus@will” timer I use for background music) originally doing a warm-up exercise of drawing the same thing 20 times, building incremental improvements with each iteration. I did not get the second one done…

I was drawing the coffee mug that was sitting beside my drawing pad, the coffee cooling and decreasing in quantity over time. It was about a third of the way into the second drawing that the problem focused enough to result in a [small, but reasonably valuable pile of head-hair ripped from about temple high on both sides of my head] need to determine what was going on. It’s not like I’m making something up out of the depths of my soul, memory, or imagination…the blasted cup was sitting 14 inches from my right hand. So, why could I not draw the silly thing?

It also should be pointed out that one of my principle goals in this (longish-term endeavor) is to overcome the tendency to draw icons and to put what I actually see on the paper. I “know” what a coffee mug looks like, and could “draw” one in a moment, but in this time and place, the problem wasn’t with the mug, but the handle. In iconography drawing, the cup/mug always has the handle coming out of the side of the thing. On the table, it was rotated about 30 degrees toward me (clockwise as viewed from the top) and so I could see part of the outer face and part of the inner face (the handle was not a tube, but more of a rounded brick shape, roughly rectangular in cross section with the corners rounded off). It was driving me nuts, as it was also a highly glazed surface, so reflections were noticeable on both the mug and the handle, and it was also partially in the shade (where the light coming through the sky-light struck mostly the far edge but some hit the handle as well), so I was having no easy time with any of it.

Instead of being a warm-up exercise, it became an obsession of it’s own, devouring the full time the last load of clothes took in the dryer…and then some. Half a page of badly drawn cup handles later and I achieved only the first goal: finishing the coffee in the mug (drunken, not drawn). Even while driving home after folding clothes, my mind kept returning to the problem of drawing a twisting ribbon in 3-space on a 2-D page.

I “know” what I have to do…so why is it so hard to actually DO it?

I suspect that the problem lies within the scope of the explanation I heard many years ago, that the key difference artists have over mere mortals is the way they SEE the objects they draw. To the extent I can “train” myself to look at my subject in the same way an artist looks (that is, to see it the same way) it will be “easier” to make the needed marks on the paper with the stick in hand. To stop seeing a coffee mug handle and rather seeing a smooth curve bending over, then down and back a little…until it meets up with another curve which also bends in an interesting way and changes value as it moves over a little to the right, ending with a sweeping curve upwards… and so on.
Despite how “easy” this is, it is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done…and re-done…and re-re-done…and erased and done over…and over…and…

And so, I’m home, several hours later, and still trying to recover from my brutal assault. At the very least, I have a badly bruised dignity and damaged self-worth. Yet, I suspect it is not going to be productive to file a police report on the mugging I took this morning…


post 82 of n

Stuck In The Middle With ME…

Sometimes I wonder who’s side my brain is on. I am usually mystified as to the deeper meaning of my dreams. I get a feeling for what they are trying to say, but most of the time it’s either dredging up minutia from the less interesting times of my life (propane or school related) or some kind of free-form rant about random topics of no practical application, without any hope of  understanding. Still waiting for popcorn most of the time, too…

Not so today. I’m perfectly clear on what the message of my last dream, who it was addressed to, and what is expected as a result. So little mist is present surrounding this last dreamscape, that I need to get moisturizer on my life to keep it from cracking.

I was sitting, listening to a guy complain about how unfair it was that he had been overlooked for (a job, or promotion, exactly what was not terribly relevant). He was peeved and was rehashing the indiscretion over again (for at least the n’th time) when I had enough and laid into him.

“Listen, I’m tired of you going on and on about how you were wronged, that your work was at least good enough to be chosen. [Ed note: apparently he was an artist of some kind, and the portfolio he presented was rejected.]

“If you would have taken the energy and effort you spent in complaining and kvetching, and simply taken a piece of paper and a pencil once a day and did a drawing, you would have much more experience and would be better than you were then. As it is you have wasted time and effort without getting anything out of it, and frankly wasted my time as well!” I really laid gave it to him, with gusto and great conviction.

Then I woke up…

And boy, was I ticked, because I knew EXACTLY what this dream meant. Hard to escape pain when you forcefully poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. I even tried to go back to sleep quickly so as to forget this lesson from my subconscious better half. No such luck.

So, here is a post. Next is a pencil sketch, a half hour spent on the guitar or keyboard. Previously there was 20 minutes of puzzle solving and a few exercises, a 15 minute walk followed by a reasonable lunch.

Not sure why I still feel guilty, but I presume it will pass eventually…maybe after a few days/weeks/months/years/decades/eons of repeated effort. One can only hope.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right! Here I am…


post 81 of n