Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I've known for a while about the power of exercise. It's one of the only things that really works as a cure all. It's also the gist of all of the new "working with the body" medical stuff. As someone with an interest in psychology I also already knew that regular exercise is a more effective treatment then most medications for the more common cases of A.D.D., depression, anxiety, and insomnia. This is largely due to the fact that that vast majority of these cases shouldn't be diagnosed as actual mental disorders, but that's not the point here.

I've just recently started reading Brain Rules(Medina 2007), and it turns out that pretty rigorous testing has also shown that it makes you smarter. Better health means better blood flow, which makes the brain work better, which makes you smarter. That's the gist of it anyway. I was laying back thinking about this, and reflecting on life in general, and I decided that I was going to walk to pikes.

According to my jog tracker I went several hundred miles at an average speed that would be high for most cars. This is because the GPS sattelite coverage was sparse, and something (I'm thinking the large metal I-5 Bridge) caused the system to believe that I had just jumped from Eastlake to Bremerton and back, a few times, in the space of fourty seconds. A much more intelligent program tells me that this ended up being roughly 4.5 miles. This is far short of the 12 miles primitive humans walked each day, but it seems to be a lot by modern standards. It felt good too. It was simple, traveling for travelings sake, without the imperitive of any real destination.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The End of Skill

Adam got a George Foreman Grillâ„¢ for Christmas, and since it's another appliance in our kitchen I've spent some time toying with it. It was during this bit of exploration that I began thinking.

The GFG only has one setting. On. If it's not on, it's unplugged. It's for people who don't know how to cook. From my testing I've found that if you follow the directions you'll get sufficient but sub-par food. If you incorporate a few basic tricks you'll get sufficient on-par food, and all of this can be done without knowing anything about how to cook.

This kind of simplification seems to be more common as time goes by. These skills aren't tricky, but they're skills that you don't inherently have, and now you don't have to have them. If you actually learn how to cook you can make much better food, but sufficiency is only one step away.

I'm beginning to worry that the ideal of convenience has begun to erode the basic merit of skill.

It's not that skill is no longer valued, it is, it's that skill is no longer normalized. If society as a whole accepts that you don't have to know how to do things, then nobody will know how to do anything. Cooking is a simple starting point because it fills one of the absolute needs, but as I look around the world seems poised to become increasingly helpless. This kind of mechanical dependency worries me in a way that I haven't fully articulated yet, but it seems deeply grim.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I think I may have just figured out the entire Israel problem. When you're talking about the Israelis you're talking about an organized group with a government that holds a great deal of power, and a military which is directly responsible to that government.

When you're talking about the Palestinians you're talking about two different groups. The big one, the one that makes deals for peace consists of relatively innocent Palestinian people. The other group, probably a much smaller one, consists of terrorists with light artillery who want to see Israel pushed back into the sea. No matter how much unified Israel talks to civilian palestine, crazy palestine will keep shooting rockets at them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Family Values

Whenever I go back to Houston I end up eating a lot and going to see movies. I do these things with my family because the entire reason I go back to Houston is to see my family, and because we don't have much in common.

It sounds a bit tragic when I say it like that, but it's true. Each of us has a set of things that we do, that we're interested in, and by and large those things don't line up. With my Father it's a bit of a different story, but right now the focus is on my Mother and Brother. We get along just fine, but there's not much that we could get together and do.

Except for all of the things that we don't plan to.

There's something that runs in my Mom's family, and it's best described simply as the capacity to get shit done. We may not have a lot of the traditional family unity but when things go bad we're well ahead of the curve.

Lets take, for example, the complete shutdown of an airline. The whispering begins when the scared volunteers in the blue vests begin speaking of a mass flight cancellation. It's at this point that a kind of tense shuffling begins rippling through the crowd. By that point we've already begun scouting. Scoping out resources, learning procedures, confirming rumors etc. By the time the crowd has begun to join in the whispering we've already learned how to rebook our flight and secured a new hotel. We're already on our way out the door by the time the P.A. comes on to give the greatest airport message I've ever heard.

"Attention Alaska Airlines customers. All flights have been cancelled for the day. If you live in the Seattle Area we advise you to please go home. If you don't live in the Seattle Area we advise you to book a hotel..."

The annoyingly long line for car rental is quickly overcome by a divide and conquor strategy that allows us to compairson shop and get out of there before the snooty jerk in front of us is up to his poorly chosen table. There are probably still people waiting fruitlessly in line while we're rolling down I-5.

And that's where it ends. When it gets to "well what now?" we're back to food and movies. It's an odd kind of paradox. My family plans to get together to do something familial, but the famililal activity were best at is dependent on a broken plan. To me the solution to this is very clear. Bad Planning. We need to begin arranging our trips poorly, intentionally. Lets go somewhere without any of us learning any of the language or culture. Lets take a road trip in a low quality vehichle to an obscure location using only dead reckoning. Lets jump out of, or into, or across something that wouldn't normally involve jumping. I think these kind of thigns would work much more effectively as a bonding experience if we ended up having to fight tooth and nail every step of the way to actually get things done. It would be stressfull, and maybe even not that fun, but we would definitely walk away with a lot more interesting stories.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


There are icicles on my car. Icicles on my car. I drove that car not three hours ago and there are icicles hanging down a few inches from it.

Hang on, this story starts much earlier then this. Remember my last blog post, about the purity of nature and snow and all that. Yes yes, all well and good, but the problem with natural epiphanies is that they wear off. Saturday night was magic but Sunday morning was just cold. The real problem was Monday. See, Seattle doesn't know what to do when it snows. They get kind of freaked out. So schools close as one, and the city grinds to a stand still. Tuesday and Wednesday were bright and Sunny, which was terrible.

You see snow in Seattle, as light as it may seem, is actually worse then that of Minnesota or other northern midwest states. Around here it doesn't normally snow, and when it does snow it's because it's gotten really cold for Seattle, which means around 30. So every day it gets above 30, and everything begins to melt. Then that night it gets below 30 and everything freezes. So Monday and Tuesday left a lot of Seattle with an icy sheen. On Wednesday cloud cover returned, and sometime overnight it began snowing again.

Now I've only driven in the snow once before. I don't have chains, I don't have snow tires, I don't have all wheel drive, and until today I didn't own a snow brush. This, of course, did nothing to stop me from driving around in clear defiance of the reccomendations of the Washington State Patrol. And as it turns out I had the one key thing that you need to be able to drive in the snow in Seattle. I had the absolute foolhardy assurance that I was going to be okay, and that this wouldn't be very hard. Everyone else in Seattle, who was equally ill prepared in terms of gear, had an outlook on driving in snow that goes something along the lines of "Fuck!!! Snow!!!" Luckily for me, that usually translates into them not driving.

By Thursday, today, things had gotten trickier. The ice has gotten pretty bad, and the snowcover is on top of that. This, of course, still did nothing to stop me.

I'd like to take a break for a moment here and thank the engineers at Saab for my Traction Control System. They have my Kudos.

Anyway, I learned a lot driving around today. First of all I got one of the Three remaining snow brush/ice scrapers from Target. I learned that I can drive uphill on ice, but that I can't come to a complete stop going downhill. It also turns out that the street from which I normally access the ally where my parking spot is has become an ice slide. Entering onto it from any other streeth lead to me sliding around, and laughin to myself as I realize that a front wheel drive car means I can just point the wheels and accellerate and I'll gradually move that direction.

All was resolved, eventually. A very careful 15 point turn done from the opposite end of the alley got my car in and only kind of pointed wrong. The night was not fully over though. I had to trek to safeway, supplies for the days ahead, and as I head out, across the frozen deck, knowing that I'll be sliding up and down hill the way there I'm faced with the single perfect symbol of how cold it is.

There are Icicles on my Car.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Purity of Nature

Today has been an interesting experience. So many states have passed over me, and yet not once have my thoughts condensed into the crystalline purity that is the defining trait of how I think. It was a day of tense excitement, dissapointment, confusion, self derision, more confusion, that boiled down into a low level depression, and as I saw that it was snowing and I took to the streets in the cold pure beauty of nature I was filled with the subtle exhilleration of inspiration. All of these things so powerful but undefined, and I had an amazing thought.

This is how Kevin always thinks. I may be one step closer to understanding him.

But that's not the point of this. The point is that I haven't felt this inspired in months, and as I walked through the snow my artistic aspect flairing and putting my friends at the mercy of my phones "text to many" function I was cleansed. It is the difference soda and drinking cool clear water. One is simple basal pleasure with no lasting reward, the other truly makes you feel good. It is this kind of thing that can give me one more level of purity. But this is the kind of thing that makes me crazy. Walking through the snow, at night, talking to myself. It is a quintessential instance of my own form of madness, and I find myself reflecting on those on the other ends of the texts.

Kevin wouldn't have anything to say. He's crazier then I am.

Laney would be worried about the cold, and the snow, and so many other things that people worry about too much.

And Adam from his responses revealed a grand truth. I am having a moment of inspiration, Adam is having a beer, all is right in the world.

The crystalline beauty of night is overwhelming, but I am an almost obessive documenter of my thoughts so I had to return home. As I came once more to my own deck my footprints had already been coverd. A last potent display of the unmarable beauty of nature, and as I opened the door I choked on the stale warm air, and knew then the simple purity of nature.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What now

It's 3:16 on a Friday, and that would be fine if it weren't 3:16 a.m. Now this isn't anything new, but it's been a while, and I keep running through my head all of the things I could/should be doing with this time, and none of them really work, which brings me to my real question.

What do people who can't sleep and don't play WoW do all night?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Self Analysis

I've come to a solid conclusion on this. I'm a much more devoted nerd when I'm in a bad mood. During the long drawn out depressive episode that made up last year I got a WoW character from 1 to 70 in a month. When I was trying to avoid thinking about the various pitfalls and failures along the path to enlightenment I gained near heroic talent at playing the plastic toy guitar. Last week when the hand of fate suddenly decided to taketh away I added another layer of detail to a major city in my D&D campaign world. Another bad roll and the wheel of fortune and I draw out a sophisticaed map for a long form conceptual battle, and today after experiencing a sudden tire failure and driving thirty miles at 45 on the spare I revamp that battle designing six new archetypical enemies. For the longest time I've thought about whether these kinds of things were bad for me, but perhaps they're simply a symptom...

Video killed the Tabletop Game

As a D.M. (this is in the D&D capacity not in the other one) I've done a lot of what I call "concept encounters." These basically consist of ideas I've had that aren't within the normal purview of the games mechanics. It's interesting, and I think it adds to the game, but somehow the whole thing feels a little bit pretentious. A long encounter on one large map with a couple of trigger points on said map that allow the group to take brief rest, thereby separating the battle into two variably sized encounters is an interesting idea, and I think it will play out well, but it's not really one of those things I can take credit for. I was playing Left 4 Dead and I decided to apply the safe house formula, and when I look at a lot of my other ideas the same basic formula is in place.

It makes a great deal of intuitive sense, I learned what I know about game design from playing video games, so my D&D campaigns end up playing out a lot like a video game. I don't think it's necessarily bad, but it feels... hollow, in a way I can't quite properly express.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

All in one, and one for all.

Every time I put an new set of ink cartridges in my printer I have print an alignment page and scan it as part of the printers very clever self calibrating system. The fact that I usually have to remove the previous alignment page shows how often I use my scanner relative to the printer.

Talking to Animals

I've been thinking a lot more about the communication that predates society. Between humans this basically amounts to tone and body language, but the focus of my recent thinking has been the simple fact that this form of communication can cross species divides. As I've interacted with the various wildlife around me I've been thinking about the messages being sent, how those would be put into words, and from what I've seen there are only a few basic phrases.

I've passed a number of cats, strays or simply outdoor cats I can't tell, but the exchange seems to go something like this.

I approach cat, I make eye contact, this says to the cat "I am a predator."

Depending on what the cat is doing, and the nature of that particular animal the response varies. This phrasing of it first occurred to me when I was walking past a cat that was, at the time, staring intently at a bird nest. When I looked at it the return glance gave a very clear message.

"I am also a predator."

It was an interesting moment because I had the innate understanding that he and I were on agreeable terms, that we had met, neither had backed down, but we had no real disputes so we could pass without conflict. I had all of that with a cat.

There is another subtext that can be drawn from this kind of exchange as well, something that became particularly clear after I started using various miens while approaching these animals. Approaching while making eye contact says "I am a predator," but to an animal which is also a predator this isn't what's really going on, the full phrase in this case is something more along the lines of "I am a predator, and this is my territory." It's interesting to note how cats react to the approach of someone behaving in this way. (Quick side note, cats are the only animal I regularly see which is at once a predator and close enough to be reasonably observed. I'd ask the hawks how they feel but they're just so damn far away.) The cat will meet your gaze, classic "I am also a predator" response, but as you approach you can see it gradually shifting as it realizes that my stature and sheer physical size means that my statement is appended to "I am the superior predator, and this is my territory." At which point the cat usually runs away, which when it come to animal territory disputes is the universal message for "I agree, you are the superior predator and this is your territory."

Prey animals have a number of interesting responses. Squirrels in particular have a wide variety of spastic reactions. They have an interesting way of tensing up, clearly reading themselves to suddenly escape, even while they continue to do whatever task they were performing before. Many of them will run away almost without provocation. I've always imagined that exchange to go something along the lines of:

Me: "I am a predator."
Squirrel: "I'm not, I'm not, I'm not!!!"

The other thing about squirrel's that's amused me is that once they've escaped they'll stop and turn around, clearly looking at me, insofar as a prey animal can look at any one thing. In that moment they're whole body is incredibly tense, but you can see a kind of low animal cunning going on in their heads as they try to decide if I'm still a threat or if it's safe to go back to digging things up.

The most interesting prey response however is from ducks. There's a number of them that sleep on the actually fountain mechanism in the center of the large fountain in a part of the campus that I'm sure has an actual name but I just think of as "The area around the fountain." You can meet the eyes of a duck which is on the sidewalk and they'll begin moving away from you in the classic "I know I'm prey, but last time I checked I wasn't prey for that monkey, but just in case..." What's far more amusing though is meeting the eyes of one of the ones out in the middle of the water. They're response is a kind of almost smug dismissal. My phrasing of this exchange was:

Me: "I am a predator"
Duck: "Yeah, but I'm way over here in the water."

Lastly there is the other message that I've found I can send to animals. One which elicits a completely different response pattern from every subject. It's a matter of making oneself less obtrusive, and looking at the animal without making eye contact. It's the way normal people treat animals all the time. The basic message here is, as I understand it, "I am a human." It's an odd one, one that doesn't have a place in nature, but the animals have all learned reactions to this. Squirrels will be wary but not fearful, ducks won't care, and cats fall somewhere on the scale between indifferent and friendly, depending on which cat it is.

This whole thing is, as so many things are, fascinating to me because I've found a way to play with the grand charade of society. I can put on my society mask and tell the rest of the world "I am a person," or I can say what is in my nature. I can meet the eyes of the rest of the world and remind them, ever so gently, that I am a predator.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Justifications of a Fanboy

There are times, rare perfect moments when I can look to something that I deeply enjoy and say "This is why I'm a fan." Another of those precious moments happened today. I am, as ever, far too much of a fan of Penny-Arcade, and Tycho in particular. This is from a recent newspost.

"Desert Bus For Hope is continuing to roll through the virtual badlands, and the $25,520 dollars raised (as of this writing) must certainly be some comfort to those in command of that cursed chariot. But this post isn't about comfort, this post is about anguish. This post is about Operation: Infinite Bus.

It is our objective to make these people drive until driving that Goddamned bus is the only life they can remember. We will match all donations to Desert Bus For Hope, starting now, until we reach a cap of ten thousand dollars. Please use this link, if you would - I don't want to leave their server a smoking crater. We can take this thing up around 45,000, if we want to - more than doubling last year's incredible sum. Think of it like a buff for your donations, an augmentation for your generosity. Also, think of it as creating a prison, a prison made of money, from which these young men may never escape."