Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Year Without A Schunk

On December 11th, out of the clear blue sky, a got a text from my old arch-rival in life, Matt "The Sexecutioner" Schunk. The text exchange went as follows:

Schunk: The world needs another blog post about me
Dan: I'm not sure the world is ready
Schunk: It is
Dan: Well, I'll see what I can come up with

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Racial Inequality and Diversity, in the Wake of the Death of Michael Brown

I had planned on doing another brief thing for my podcast relating to the events of Ferguson, Missouri, but I wound up writing something pretty long and complex that I'll probably fail miserably at reading aloud. That won't stop me from trying, but on the off chance it takes me a while to get right, I wanted to share what I have written so far.

I'm not sure what the TL;DR version would be so I can't sum my thoughts up for you. If you actually care about race relations in this country, you'll have to take some considerable time out of your day to sit down and read this. I don't think that's too much to ask, though. Just make an effort. That's what it's all about.

Oh, wait, I guess that actually does kind of sum it up. There you go, I just saved you a lot of reading. If you still feel like killing time, though, here's the long version:


With the grand jury decision this past Monday the 24th, unrest and outrage over the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have reignited. I recorded a rant back in August about the situation, and while I think it's worth sharing again now while it's still relevant, I don't want to leave my commentary at that. What I said back then was largely reactive and largely insensitive, and as my understanding has evolved a bit since then, if I were to re-record that rant today it would likely sound a bit different. And maybe a bit less insensitive.

However, I really don't want to dwell on the specific events of this case anymore. I will just add this: I still think it's screwed up that when it comes to holding people accountable legally, police are seemingly held to a lower standard than the rest of us. You'd think it should be a higher one. A regular citizen who kills in self defense has to at least see their day in court, and might even be found guilty depending on circumstances like whether the assailant was armed, or what state it happened in. But a cop killing in self defense in the line of duty might not even make it that far. I know they do internal investigations on these matters, but it doesn't seem nearly transparent enough, and that's only compounded by the majority of cases where the cop ultimately faces little to no penalty for what happened.

But that's not what I actually wanted to talk about. This is:

Racial tension isn't going away because we're not facing it. Part of the problem is that a lot of people are still confused by where this tension is coming from in the first place. They think it's all resentment about the past; it's not. Not really. The tension doesn't emerge from what happened fifty-plus years ago, (which still sounds pretty recent when you put it like that). It emerges from what happens today, every day.

Black people in this country overwhelmingly have less opportunities to succeed than their white counterparts. It's built into how the system works. If you don't believe me, I'll be happy to explain my position momentarily.

Granted, many of the disadvantages they're facing are basically the disadvantages of poverty, but the fact is that minorities experience poverty at a much higher rate. When doors are closing on young black kids from poor neighborhoods, for our purposes here it doesn't matter whether doors are closing because they're black or because they're poor; the doors are closing just the same.

Now, I get the impression that a lot of my fellow white middle-class suburbanite types don't really understand where the opportunity gap is coming from, or even believe it exists, so I'll try to explain my limited understanding of the situation. Imagine a kid in an impoverished neighborhood. They're growing up surrounded by drugs, violent crime and failing infrastructure. They can't walk the streets outside their home after dark. They come home from school and are either told they'll be having fast food again (because decent fresh food is hard to come by or too expensive, or because Mom or Dad don't have time to cook because they're working). Other times they just won't be eating dinner at all because there's no food left in the house and Mom or Dad doesn't get their paycheck til tomorrow. This isn't a surprise for the kid; it's happened a lot before. As a kid they might at least enjoy the fast food; that still doesn't make it good for them, of course, but it's something.

At bedtime, they have to huddle under the biggest blanket they've got in an attempt to stay warm, because it's winter and their family can't afford heat. Assuming they can get warm enough to sleep, they're probably still going to have trouble staying asleep because of the sirens screaming by in the middle of the night. This is not a kid who is likely to believe they have a bright future ahead of them, or any future for that matter.

Are you familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Neither am I, really; I barely paid attention in psychology class. But that's kind of the point. For a guy like me who has the basic needs of life met, who had an overall happy and fulfilling childhood, a lot of what was happening in school just felt trivial to me. It's only by virtue of being the giant nerd that I am that I succeeded at all. Now, imagine that kid in the rough neighborhood, who spends much of their time hungry, cold, tired, or generally having to worry about their safety. When they pick up the Geometry or Earth Science text book they had to borrow from a friend, because their family can't afford to buy it and their school doesn't have the funding to provide one for every student, they're not realistically going to look at that book and think, “Yeah, this is my ticket out of here.”

And even so, let's assume that kid does everything right. They take their schoolwork seriously and do the best they can because someone important in their life drilled it into them that an education is their ticket to a better future. The next challenge is getting accepted to college. Not everyone who applies to a school gets in, and if you're the poor kid from the inner city who did their best in a public school, you're simply not competing on even ground with the kid who went to a private school and has a stellar SAT score because they took some expensive prep courses. Now assuming there's no nepotism going on at these schools (which is a big assumption), if they chose to admit the best of the best based on transcripts alone, most of the kids coming from a poor background wouldn't make the cut. Even with schools showing preference for diversity candidates, a lot still won't make it. They might still have a chance at community college, but the career opportunities from that won't typically go as far.

But let's assume the kid is fortunate enough to be accepted somewhere, and it's somewhere close enough they can afford to travel there. If they want to go to college, they need a way to pay for it. Loans might not be an option; not everybody has someone in their life with a good credit score. So then there are scholarships. Academic scholarships are hard to get, and for the same reasons we saw above, even harder for a kid graduating from a public school in the inner city.

Now, I've heard people express disapproval that there are scholarships set up explicitly to be awarded to black kids, Hispanic kids, kids from a Native American background, and so on. They feel that rewarding students based on their race rather than their achievements sends the wrong message, and while I understand where they're coming from, that argument seems to ignore the cultural context in which these scholarships are created. Personally, I would rather see those scholarships committed to awarding money to students based on their economic situation or the place they grew up rather than explicitly on race, and obviously they shouldn't be giving free money to people who don't take their education seriously, but if someone is applying for a college scholarship, let's work on the assumption that they're fairly serious about going to school, because for these kids that's no easy feat.

Even then, those diversity scholarships frequently don't award a full ride, and they never give very many of them. For the thousands and thousands of students who will apply, only a handful receive that award that makes school viable for them. This is a major problem, and arguing that the kids who failed to get a scholarship should have worked harder is not a solution. When the possibility of higher education is like playing the lottery, how can anyone in that situation be expected to conclude the system is working?

Personally, I think it's a travesty all around. Education, the pursuit of knowledge, is the most basic foundation of everything we have achieved as a society. In any modern society that boasts freedom and equality for all, education should not be a privilege. Federal and state funding for education should be primary concerns, even if it's just K-12. A government that spends more money on bombs than books is fundamentally failing its people. But that's tangential to the point of all this.

So far I'm sure all this sounds like a big white guilt trip, that because my ancestors enslaved their ancestors I'm somehow obligated to pay reparations or something. That's not it at all. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I don't have a personal stake in the success of the black community. The fact of the matter is, the American community at large needs the black community to succeed, because when they succeed, the rest of us will benefit. Because diversity makes us stronger.

Now I grew up in a school district where seeing a black kid was kind of like seeing an elephant. You knew they existed, but mostly from seeing them on TV or at the zoo. Before college I think I knew one black kid in my entire life. After college, I knew two. Diversity lies outside the realm of my personal experience, so the power of diversity is a concept it's taken me a good quarter of a century to be turned on to.

Anybody who has studied genetics understands why diversity in a population is crucial to the survival of that population, but this concept actually applies to society as well. As an example, let's take something I might be familiar with: the tech industry. Say a tech company is interviewing for a new developer position, and their choice comes down to two candidates, one of whom is a bit more qualified on paper, but the other would bring diversity.

Now, most employers would say they want what they perceive to be the better more qualified candidate, so they'll just take the first guy if they can. But the way a smart employer makes this choice has a lot to do with who they've already hired in the past. Let's say Candidate #1 is a white male who grew up in the suburbs of the northeast and graduated from MIT. If the company already has five people in that department who fit that description, unless this guy's some kind of prodigy, his presence is likely going to be kind of superfluous. In any field where critical and creative thinking are important, like the tech sector, where innovation can be the difference between the company thriving and failing, diversity is essential.

While a good idea can come from just one person, there's no way to know who that person will be. A homogenous group of people with the same or very similar perspectives and experiences will sooner or later be faced with a challenge they're collectively unable to handle. A diverse group yields diverse viewpoints and diverse ideas, meaning that when a new challenge comes along, there's a better chance at least one person in the group will produce an idea to tackle it, an idea that the others might never have come up with.

Besides, discussion among a group of people with the same viewpoint tends not to produce any really new ideas. They just spend too much time agreeing with each other to come up with something different. A varied group discussing their viewpoints has to bounce ideas around, compare different approaches, and while meetings like that can take longer, they'll ultimately be more productive when an idea is agreed upon. Possessing a wide range of perspectives and experiences gives a company a much greater ability to adapt and survive.

Adapt or die. It's the rule of nature, and it applies to business, to the tech sector especially.

So, if I have a central statement to make here, it's that the problem of racial disharmony is one that all of us, including white guys like me, need to pay attention to and think about ways to alleviate it. That disharmony hurts all of us, and if we can't even acknowledge that fact, if we can't see something like the shooting of Michel Brown as anything more than a black issue, then the status quo isn't going to change. And if you're a white guy and the status quo has been pretty good to you, you need to recognize how things could still be so much better.

Conversely, if you're white and things really aren't so great for you, which I think probably applies to most of us on some level, you must understand that if you want black people to sympathize with your issues, you need to be able to sympathize with theirs. I'm not saying it's easy. The problem hasn't persisted this long for no reason. Relating to someone who is very different can be hard. Maybe their experience is something that those of us outside that community can't fully understand. That doesn't mean we can't try.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Anti-Rant Podcast is Live


Yeah, I actually did it. You thought I was full of it, didn't you? Well, I have an honest-to-goodness podcast now. I actually have a good deal of stuff previously recorded that will gradually migrate there, but for now there is some new content to listen to there. You can either listen directly on the Anti-Rant blog thing, download the mp3s, or use the RSS feed to subscribe with your favorite podcast aggregate app.

The podcast is not listed yet on iTunes because my destestation of Apple is both passionate and undying. However, I know it'll get more exposure there so I'll try to get it in their directory eventually.

If you're wondering at all why I am doing this, the short answer is that I want more practice speaking and reading aloud so I can hopefully become a better orator. My writing skills are decent enough at this point, and when I do write I generally want to work on fiction. Anything more tied to real life tends to either be condensed into a tweet or morphed into a spoken piece of this podcast.

I could see continuing to write here for certain things, but for the most part I think we can call this the end of an era, and joyously the start of a new one. If anyone is genuinely disappointed to see me writing less here, I'm sorry to disappoint but I hope you'll at least give my other endeavors a try. (I say endeavors plural because there's still a novel I'm working on, plus that one other thing that's still too far from completion to hype at this point)

That's it. I don't know when I'll have more updates here, but just in case, I'd better go out with one more well-wishing sign-off. Peace and love, dear readers. I hope you'll become listeners as well.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another one of these rants

For whatever reason, I felt like rambling about the terrible situation in the town of Ferguson, the poor young man who was shot and the whirlwind of drama surrounding the event. I threw this together and made a token attempt to edit some of the noise out. My points are a bit meandering, and it's not very funny, but here you go.

This is not a reflection of what the actual podcast will be like, it's just something I did for fun. The actual podcast will be of higher production quality and better arranged.

(If you're unable to play the audio from the widget above, follow this link instead: https://soundcloud.com/fourthirteen/82714-ferguson-rant)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Non-Update Update

Not much to say here, but I feel a little bad that I don't have something new and exciting to surprise you with yet, so I'm going to spoil the surprise and just say what's up.

I actually have been working on the podcast I first mentioned months ago, but I'm kind of bad at making time for things like this. If this were the kind of podcast that is recorded in one sitting and quickly thrown up on the web, I'd have it for you already, but I intended to put some kind of production value into the pilot episode, and would want the same to be true of later episodes if there are any. If this becomes more of a regular thing, I might produce a few mini-episodes in between just to keep to some kind of update schedule. These would likely be on topics I'd normally put in blog posts.

This would probably mean even fewer blog posts written here, but I want more practice with a different medium, and as much as I enjoy spending a few hours trying to write an interesting post here, I have to admit that rambling like a fool into a microphone can be more fun, and will usually take less time.

Plus, let's be honest, not many people read this stuff. With the cast, I'd potentially be introducing a new audience to my nonsense. Even if that just means more people getting to hear how stupid my voice sounds, I want to give it a shot.

So, look forward to that soon. Whenever I finish editing the audio and recording the couple of unscripted segments I have left, I'll let you know. I referred to the forthcoming Episode One as a pilot because I intend to release it on its own on Soundcloud, then share that around on social media a bit. Depending on the temperature of the response I get, and depending how I feel after having a finished product to look at, I'll consider pulling the trigger on dedicated syndication and producing (somewhat) regular episodes.

Oh, and holy crap, where did the summer go all of a sudden?

Okay, that's all. Peace and love, you crazy kids.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GMO Labeling: Caution or Paranoia?

So, I guess I'm making this into a blog post, because my thoughts are more numerous on this topic than I originally anticipated. I've felt this way for a while, but was never emboldened to chime in on this topic until I saw this clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking off-the-cuff about the matter.

Thank God I wasn't the only one.

So, people want GMOs to be required by law to be labeled as such? Sounds like a bad solution to a valid concern.

Now, I can understand wanting to know whether a specific growth hormone was used on the cows you got your milk from because the science might still be out on whether that hormone is potentially harmful to humans. That makes plenty of sense.* What I don't understand is how anyone intends to label all "genetically modified" foods when that term is too vague to possibly be useful to anyone.

I will confess ignorance on this topic, as I do not know the specifics of what new techniques are being used to modify plants and animals. If any aspects of these techniques could pose a potential health risk to the public, that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. How do we do that? Scientific studies on the techniques in question (funded by neutral parties, of course, to avoid conflict of interest), and presentation of the findings of those studies to the FDA.

Pushing for all "genetically modified" food to be labeled as such is a pointless endeavor. Proponents of this claim they just want people to have the right to choose for themselves. This assumes the average consumer knows fuck-all about these advanced genetic techniques, and that a label on a food item would somehow inform that consumer's choice. Not only is this unlikely to help people, I have proof from my own life of how useless such labeling can be.

Are you familiar with the advent of "organic" food in the grocery store? The intention is to help people buy the kinds of products they want to, which I guess mean ones from local farms that haven't been exposed to pesticides and hormones. The key phrase there is "I guess."

I bought a bag of "organic" bananas at the grocery store the other day. I put about as much thought into it as I would any other bunch of bananas. They cost more per pound, but I know they're supposedly better than non-organic somehow. It really just made me feel like I was being taken advantage of, being sold purely on the goodwill that's meant to follow "organic" foods. I didn't actually know why they were better, because the packaging didn't make it clear. And that's the whole fucking problem.

The word organic simply means it's made up of plant or animal matter, or any other compounds containing carbon. When I see the word "organic" stuck on the front of a package, it tells me little about the product I'm buying. If the whole intention of this labeling trend was to inform the consumer about what they're buying, it failed hard. I didn't know a damn thing about these supposedly "organic" bananas. Not where they're from, not how they were grown, not what strains of banana seeds were used, not what cultivating and pest control techniques might be employed.

The problem is the criteria for what qualifies as an "organic" food are not clearly defined. Without strict guidelines for what can be advertised as "organic," the term means as much as Hot Pockets advertising they contain "Real" cheese. Sure, it's Real cheese. As opposed to imaginary or hypothetical cheese. Doesn't really tell me if that "real" cheese is any good for me.

*: Another note on the above. If the offending growth hormone is actually harmful or at least convincingly so, why would you push for labeling it at all? If you found out 40% of milk on store shelves contained traces of rat poison, you wouldn't ask that they be clearly labeled as such and let consumers decide for themselves. You'd rightly want the stuff banned outright, which the FDA would likely do for you if you had any fucking credible scientific evidence that the milk in question is dangerous.

It just pisses me off. If people really care about what they're putting into their bodies, they should be advocating for more funding for academic studies on the foods we eat and the compounds that are used in their processing. Instead, people just want to act like fucking know-it-alls. They pretend their paranoia of new technology and distrust of big faceless corporations makes them smarter than other people, and evidence be damned because they already know they're right. They share half-baked infographics and inflammatory Internet articles and think they're informed by them. They hold up Monsanto as the evil pariah of food distribution, using the unethical practices of a few to justify the vilification of the many. They can't just address specific concerns they have with specific products or techniques, they have to build a giant multi-national conspiracy out of it.

And what does this extreme inclusive us-versus-them paranoia accomplish? Why does everyone who disagrees have to be accused of either being a sheep or in on the conspiracy? Two simple reasons: so the people arguing the point can be as smug as they want, and more critically, so the people selling the alternative products can make their money.

I'm meant to believe a local family-owned farm would never use cutting-edge and potentially dangerous techniques to save money or increase their yield? Give me a fucking break. Small or large, family-owned or not, they're all business owners trying to get by. Since when does having fewer employees and being less successful make you more virtuous? It's never that simple.

Alright, it's getting late and I think my already-tenuous argument is starting to fall apart. If anybody can link me to some information on the actual techniques for rapid genetic modification, or for that matter an actual scientific study that even vaguely implies a correlation between GMOs and cancer (yes, somebody actually claimed GMOs have been linked to cancer in humans and didn't fucking cite it), I'd like to see those links.

And if you'd like to tell me I'm a stupid blind sheep-person for taking this stance, well I appreciate your input. They say you are what you eat, so go eat shit.

As always, thanks for reading. I really do appreciate that some people enjoy what I do here, or at least like me enough to sit through it. I promise I'm not as angry and insane as I come across in some of these posts. If anything, I'm much more of both.

That's it. Peace and love, you crazy kids.

Monday, May 26, 2014

#YesAllWomen: My Take

In what will undoubtedly come off as a thinly-veiled ploy to drive traffic to my blog, I thought I'd weigh in on something that's popping up in my social media feeds today. Given the timing, I should really talk about veterans' issues and the somewhat-lost significance of Memorial Day, but I may not be the best person to voice an opinion on that anyway, since I'm not a veteran. For that matter, I'm not a woman either. Oh well. Let's get on with this anyway.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

That Disgusting Kiss from the NFL Draft

I'm sure most of you are aware that the openly gay football player Michael Sam recently became the first of his kind to be drafted into the NFL. You're probably also aware that upon receiving the news, he passionately kissed his boyfriend in celebration. I have no doubt this will be an unpopular opinion, but I don't think that kind of thing should be broadcast on television, or anywhere else for that matter, and I'll tell you why.

Friday, May 02, 2014

World Community Grid - Fighting Cancer with Science

I'm not sure what prompted me to start this again, but I've resumed participation in World Community Grid projects, and since it's for a good cause and all, I figured I should share this on the off chance anybody else might be interested.

Some of you may have never heard of this and are wondering what joining the grid even does. Well, for example, I just got an email today saying the Computing for Clean Water project has completed, and the word is the team got some great data and are getting ready to publish their findings soon. That data came from computers on the grid using their combined processing power to tackle the computational aspects of the research.

Unfortunately, I just have my one laptop, and an old one at that. I don't have any extra computers sitting idle for long periods of time, but plenty of people do. When I went to Marist, they'd set up whole computer labs with WCG clients so they'd be churning out results whenever students weren't using them. It's a pretty great idea.

So yeah, if you care about science and helping out good causes like finding new treatment options for AIDS and cancer, and you like the idea of not having to actually do anything to make a difference, installing a grid client on a machine you own and letting it run in the background or as a screensaver is a great idea.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Let's just clear the air

I keep seeing the arguments online going the same way they always do, and while I seriously doubt anybody who needs to hear this ever will, I'm going to say it anyway, just on the off chance one of them might be listening. Sorry if it gets too long-winded.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Some updates

Just a few things regarding me, and things I may or may not make for the Internet.

Real LifeTM

I can report that work hasn't killed me yet, and I still kind of enjoy it most of the time.

I've saved up enough money to completely pay off my remaining student loan balance from one of the two services I've used, and possibly close out one of the loan groups from the other one. The larger of the two providers shows a balance that is still largely unchanged, but the point is I'll be able to whittle my sizable debt down to just one manageable monthly payment, rather than having it spread across three.

Speaking of that, I'm not sure why the larger one wants me to pay one of the loans on a different day of the month. I assume they're trying to make it harder for me to keep track of the due dates and stay current on my payments, because they're a miserable band of sadistic psychopaths who derive a sick pleasure from human suffering.

Anyway, once I've reigned in that loan debt a bit, the next step is to look at apartments in the city. I'm not too picky; a studio is fine if it's got heat in the winter and Internet access year round. Living within walking distance of my workplace would be ideal, and is probably one of the biggest deciding factors at this point. Why? Because hell is a 45 minute commute on a busy highway where people will spontaneously crash their vehicles and create massive delays simply because their level of driving skill has not adequately prepared them to be able to drive safely when it's fucking sunny out and there's not one cloud in the god damn sky.

Gun to my head, I might be willing to take a bus to work. And given I'm talking about living in downtown Albany, I can only assume there will in fact be a gun to my head at some point. It's a shame because I don't really carry cash on me anymore, and I have an old phone that isn't worth anything. It's just a waste of time for them, really.

This might be a podcast:

Being pretty busy at work and easily distracted in my free time, I haven't made much progress on the podcast I promised a little while ago. However, I have written up most of my monologue for the first (possibly only) episode, having changed the topic at least once. I've downloaded some software to facilitate discussions over Skype/Tinychat/whatever if need be. At this point I just need to record the monologue, get a few people with less obnoxious voices than mine to sit down for the discussion portion, write up and record a final segment, and edit it all together.

So basically, just 90% of the actual work remains to be done. I'm obviously not foolish enough to offer you a projected release date at this time, but I think I can say with some reasonable certainty that this will happen at some point.

Regarding the extended cut I was promising, that may not happen since Soundcloud places limits on their free accounts and I can't really justify paying for a subscription to a service I barely use. I will keep the extended cut on hand, though, and if there happens to be a massive demand for it from my adoring fans, I'll somehow make it work, presumably by selling the tears from my unicorn to get money to hire Bigfoot to maintain a web server for me. These are all things of equal likelihood, after all.

Things to do with Dark Souls:

I've continued to slack off on the Dark Souls challenge thing. I've technically stuck to the parameters of the challenge, and even kept up the daily mini-workouts more than I ever would have expected, but the number of play sessions I've had is embarrassingly low, to the point that even a monthly highlight reel isn't much to talk about, and even when it is, there's just something lost in translation going from the original experience to a written chronicle, and as much as I was enjoying the direction I tried to take it recently, I'm not sure I'm talented enough to consistently find the funny side of Dark Souls lore.

To my mind, the most noteworthy thing that's happened recently on that front involved falling off the catwalks in Blightown and landing on the water wheel, then trying frantically to run on top of the spinning wooden wheel while being shot at with toxin darts and realizing to my great dismay that there was absolutely nowhere safe to land. This would be one of those events that lends itself so much better to a Let's Play video than to written word, because the humor there stems largely from the visual of my grisly wanderer being turned into a hamster on a wheel, and partly from the stream of panicked nonsense that sputtered out of my mouth while trying to extricate myself from the situation.

All this is to say that while I'll keep my personal challenge going in private, I won't keep logging it or doing write-ups here. If time allows, I will see about getting some decent video capture hardware for a real Let's Play. It'll have to be live commentary or not at all. As much as I like my dry wit that comes with revisiting the events, I think there is a lot more comedy gold to be found in my less calm and collected moments.

Also, I have bought Dark Souls II, and by pure luck got a hold of one of the day-one special editions in the bad-ass looking tin case. If I do get the necessary accouterments for a Let's Play, I may skip recording my completion of Dark Souls and go straight to the sequel. We'll see how I feel. I kind of doubt anyone wants to see just the latter part of a game that's been out several years, and I don't really want to start another play-through at this point.

Okay, I guess that's all for tonight. I should really be sleeping now. Peace and love, you crazy kids.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Defending Forrest Gump

I've heard Greg Proops express scorn for the film Forrest Gump on several occasions on his podcast. I can't understand where that level of animosity comes from. It's not my favorite film by any means, but it always strikes me odd when he lashes out at it, when practically everyone else on earth seemed to like it. Well, it turns out this year marks the 20th anniversary of the film's release, so I figured I would try to offer sound rationale for what makes it a good, or at least memorable, film.

Friday, April 04, 2014

More Adventures in Social Awkwardness

My quest on this day should have been a fairly simple one. I needed $5 to contribute to my office water club, but I only had a $20 bill. No one I knew could break a twenty, so it seemed my final recourse was to buy something to get change. This in itself is a notion that bothers me because I already dislike spending money, never mind spending money on things I don't need. I'd essentially be paying for smaller bills; it's silly.

This is why I want to do away with paper money altogether and work exclusively in debit and paypal transactions. Granted, the ease and speed of digital transactions of currency are at least partly to blame for how utterly broken our economy is and how shamefully rich some people on Wall Street have gotten, but that's neither here nor there.

I walked down to the little convenience store located conveniently in the basement floor of the building. As I walked in, I noticed a display of birthday cards. My mother's birthday is coming up and I hadn't gotten a card yet. So now the money being spent wouldn't be totally pointless. In fact, I'd be making progress on two quests at once. Gotta love that kind of efficiency. I picked up a card, and a fig newton too, because screw it, I like food.

As I walked up to the checkout, a delivery guy came in with a pallet of stuff for the store. He shouted his business to the older man behind the counter, who acknowledged him and got out a record book. I assumed they had some business to conduct, so I waited by the counter, items placed in front of me and wallet in hand, prepared to carry out my transaction afterward.

The trouble is, no business was being conducted. The man who came in began stocking shelves, and the gentleman behind the counter seemed to just be waiting with the book. I grew a little impatient, but not wanting to be rude, I just waited quietly, again assuming that he would get to me when he was ready.

This went on for a couple of minutes. The man behind the counter didn't acknowledge me or make eye contact with me. I started to wonder whether he was the one being rude, and then whether he had seen me waiting at all. Then, a thought occurred to me. Sheepishly, I muttered, "I'm about ready to check out." The gentleman stepped up to the register and asked, "What have you got?"

Yup. He was blind.

I was thoroughly embarrassed that I hadn't realized sooner, that I'd been standing there like a dope for a good two minutes. I was also relieved he couldn't see the look on my face. I proceeded to tell him what I had. He asked that I read the price on the birthday card, which he punched in to the register. The price of the fig newtons he had memorized. He gave me my total, $3.72, and I gave him the $20, stating it was a $20 bill.

It occurred to me that a worse person could likely have taken advantage of this man at this moment. I could have, for instance, handed him a one and claimed it was a twenty. No items were being scanned, and I didn't see a security camera (not that I look for them), so it would not have been difficult to get away with scamming him. The fact that I even thought of this kind of bothers me, but that's just how my mind works.

The gentleman proceeded to count out my change for me. I don't know how common this is where you live, but I've seen it a lot and totally appreciate it. There are enough cashiers who make mistakes, and enough obnoxious customers who insist they've been shortchanged because they don't know how to count, that this practice is often necessary for business owners to avoid incidents and losses. Nobody wants to have an excruciating 5-minute argument with a complete stranger over how to perform simple math, but it does happen, and more often than you'd think.

Have I mentioned how much I pity people who work in retail? I really do, and I admire your intestinal fortitude. I couldn't handle your job.

So, as he hands me my change, this is how he does it: he hands me the loose coins first, a quarter and three pennies. "There's one," he says. He hands me a one. "And one is five." He hands me a five. "And five is ten." He hands me a ten. "And ten is twenty."

Now, I'm not normally mathematically challenged, but the way in which he phrased that process left me cross-eyed and confused. Wait, he said one is five? And five is ten? No, one is one, five is five, and ten is ten. That's why they're different numbers. For a moment, I really thought he might have been way off, but I didn't want to drag out our interaction any further, so rather than question his unorthodox methods of addition where numbers are other numbers, I just said, "Okay, thank you. Have a nice day."

It wasn't until I was walking away that it dawned on me. Wait... this is correct change. He didn't make a mistake. I'm just stupid.

From there, I went back to my desk, somehow not feeling like I'd made progress on two quests at once so much as feeling like an awkward doofus who has trouble functioning like a normal adult. To top things off, the person I was supposed to give $5 to wasn't in the office, so I didn't even get the satisfaction of being able to check that item off my task list.

Yes, I literally have a task list. Organization is hard.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Random religion rant

I stepped into a tired, circular conversation about the existence of God online. This is what I had to say about it.

You know, I've spent many an hour pondering the big mysteries, on whether we have a creator or not, about whether there is a life after this one, and so on. This is what I've most recently concluded: I don't care.

How the universe came to be is fun to think about, sure, but now that it's here, it doesn't really matter. I think there might be some kind of divine power beyond our understanding, and even some form of life after death, but neither of those things have too much bearing on this life and this world. All a person should need to live this life well is the understanding that what they do affects other people, and their lives are no less important than your own.

Those big questions don't have much effect on this world. What does is the distance people will go to and the depths they'll sink to in order to rationalize their most hard-fought deeply-ingrained beliefs. If beliefs were valued simply as ideas like they should be, they could be shared more freely and with a lot less grief. What's more, if people didn't cherish their own beliefs so much more than the next person's, maybe they wouldn't be so slow to empathize with and respect them.

All that's required to commit an evil act is to diminish someone enough to convince yourself that hurting them is acceptable. If you don't respect their ideas, that's very easy to do.

My point is, have fun thinking and talking about the possibilities, just don't take it too seriously. We've all got to die someday. Until then, we should try to be tolerable to be around.

That's it. Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for listening. Peace and love, Internetizens.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Podcast. This pretty much speaks for itself, because it's a recording of me speaking. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who controls the Internet, and who is going to

I already posted this and my following comments on Facebook, but it got long enough that I thought it warranted a post here, and I know not everybody follows me there. You can also read the NTIA announcement here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dark Souls Dec 2013 Update

In an attempt to make these more interesting, both for me and for you, I'm going to try to strip out more of the blow-by-blow of the journey and focus on the highlights (or low-lights) from each month.

Not sure what possessed me to write a poem

I mostly write fiction, occasional memoir, and whatever this is. Poetry was never something I felt like I had a talent for, even though I tried writing a few poems or songs ages ago. After having been involved with the writer's workshop for a while though, I have developed more respect for the art of poetry, and I wanted to take another shot at it someday. Someday came one night this past week, when for whatever reason, I sat down and made an attempt at poetry writing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Re: Memoirs

Completely by accident, I stumbled upon the VHS tape that I referenced in this previous post. It had apparently not been lost after all. I had an urge to take a nostalgia trip with my old Gameboy games, and while looking for them, I discovered the tape buried in a corner in the cabinet under my bookcase, on the bottom shelf beneath the Seinfeld DVDs and next to the old NES games. And there was much rejoicing.

Now, if I can just convince the Smithsonian Institute to grant me access to their VHS player, which I assume to be the last surviving one in existence, there might yet be a chance to view this old treasure. I should really get it converted to a digital format. There are still places that do that, right?

Anyway, it's good to know it wasn't completely lost. There might still be hope for a high school reunion viewing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I have something different for you today. I've been working on some memoir-like things and thought I'd give you a preview. This is a first draft, so the final product may look a little different. Also, this is a rather long piece of prose by my standards, so if you don't have ten minutes to kill, you might just want to skip this, or else bookmark it for later.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dark Souls Nov 2013 Update

Better late than never? Sure, let's go with that. Anyway, I still enjoy doing these gaming/workout write-ups, so the madness continues:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Something I wrote on a whim

The weak shout into the abyss and hope the noise will echo into the ages, outliving their own fleeting existence, validating them and giving them purpose. But the abyss doesn't care about our insignificant hopes and wishes, our thoughts and fears. Our vain cries drown in the endless silence.

The brave know there is no point in screaming and struggling. They swallow their pride and let themselves be swept into the eye of the storm, where all the rest end up no matter what, and sometimes, if they're lucky enough, a few float to the top. They don't ask for this privilege; they are hurled into it, ready or not. Still fewer remain there. Most lose their way and fall, ending in obscurity with the rest of us.

But those few, those precious few, they swirl above it all in eternity, tiny pinpoints of hope and inspiration for the rest of us. They guide us, drive us, and above all serve as a reminder that in the depths of that crushing black void, we are never truly alone.

Peace and love, readerlings.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An update on the trash bags

So, I did finally break down and ask my nearest desk neighbor about the trash bags. It's no wonder I was confused. Evidently new bags are supposed to be put out for everyone by sanitation staff every week, but they never are. Sanitation folk are fickle beings, I suppose. Anyone needing more bags has to go and consult the trash bag guru, whose job has nothing to do with trash but his office is being used to store the extra bags for some mysterious reason.

Considering that I don't even know this person, I don't anticipate consulting the trash bag guru anytime soon. I think I'll just try to make my remaining bags last another month or so, and hopefully the coming spring thaw with warm the hearts of the sanitation folk enough that they'll take pity on us, the humble cube-dwellers, and share their bounty of refuse-catching receptacle liners. Here's hoping.

Peace and love, readers.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Socially Challenged

Let me give you an idea of how my brain works. When I started working, I had several plastic bags with which to line the trash can at my desk. I wasn't sure where they came from but was happy to have them. However, if I used one a week, I was going to run out of them fairly quickly.

At that point, any normal human being would have casually asked any nearby coworker where the extra trash bags were. In all, it's a fairly trivial and innocent request. It's not like I'd be asking for the blood of their first-born child. Even so, for some reason, my brain decided it would make more sense to sit and wait, hope that whoever had left some bags there in the first place would keep replacing them, and if they didn't (which they did not), simply avoid throwing trash in my own trash can to avoid using up the bags. This, in my mind, was a less stressful plan than approaching someone and asking where the bags are.

Now, some of you know I've dealt with social anxiety in the past. I've largely overcome it in recent years and function normally for the most part, but anyone possessing some illusion that I have somehow eradicated the anxiety altogether need only look at the following two sentences:

I've worked in my current office setting for eight months.

I still have no idea where the trash bags are.