Thursday, January 31, 2013


...was a shitty movie.

No really, it was. But lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about enclosed ecosystems as a potential cure for certain problems we face today. Hear me out on this, it might take a little while to loop around and come back home.

In his book Green Metropolis, David Owen suggests that one of the greatest environmentalist bastions ever created is, in fact, the "big city". Of course, big cities typically look dirty when compared to the pristine lawns of suburbia and the open skies of the country, but consider what both of those "cleaner" places require.
  1. Because of their vast horizontal scale, it takes time to get anywhere worth going. And when it takes time to get somewhere, what do people use? Cars.
    1. This is exaccerbated by the fact that in suburbia, most people have cars. Many people have multiple cars, and mass transit might not be an option.
  2. With horizontal space comes things that we like to do to that space. For instance: build a big house, have a big lawn, etc.
    1. Odds are, we don't use all the space in our house. Speaking personally, my apartment is a "mere" 800 square feet, and I don't use all of the space. I have a second freaking bedroom I never go into, except to iron my shirts and bemoan my "green room" idea. (But that's another story).
    2. If we do buy a house/apartment bigger than we need, guess what we typically do? Fill it up with stuff! All sorts of cool shit we didn't know we wanted until we saw it- and included with this stuff is the environmental cost of production (for both the product and its packaging, because plastic apparently has to be fucking bulletproof these days) and the cost of transporting it to market.
    3. If you have a lawn, guess what you probably use? Fertilizer! Weed killer! Gas-powered lawn mowers! Now multiply that by however many millions of suburban lawns there are.
  3. And of course, if we want to use that horizontal space to build our homes in, we have to clear whatever was there beforehand. This might mean draining a swamp, cutting down trees, etc.
    1. And remember- individual, free-standing houses have to be individually heated and cooled. That costs money and energy.
But in a city? Space is limited. You very well might not own a car, because parking in a city is a bitch. Mass transit becomes an option again, because a) traffic is still terrible even if a lot of folks don't have cars, and b) there are enough people living in a small enough space to economically justify running a fleet of busses- and their destinations are close enough to walk to, once they disembark. You can't go buy tons of random shit because you won't have anywhere to put it. You probably don't even have a lawn, and if you do, it's probably a small patch of crabgrass by the stoop.  And because cities can be a vertical entity rather than a horizontal one, there's less clearing of land- plus, apartments are heated as a block, so keeping your place warm requires less energy, since your neighbors' apartments act as insulation.

So what does all this city-slicker environmentalism have to do with enclosed ecosystems?

Well, one of the unavoidable things we need the wide-open spaces of the country for is food production. To produce enough food for everyone*, you need the sort of acreage that you see in the midwest.
Or- do you?
What I've been wondering is whether or not we could start supplimenting our diets with food grown in enclosed areas in the cities.

You'd start by selecting a set of plants and animals that play well together. Simplistically, think of it like this- start with "The people want fish", so, we put fish in an artificial river. Some of these fish are harvested, others are left to mature, and still others are used as fertilizer for a collection of plants. Some of these plants filter the water, and some of them act as food for our fish. Rinse, repeat.

Clearly, the implimentation is far more complex, but this is what I've been thinking about. Obviously we couldn't replace all of our intake in this manner- you simply can't feed 300,000,000+ people by farming vertically- but think of the benefits.

People in a city could come and see exactly where their food is coming from. The food would be as fresh as it gets, and because it's from an enclosed system, we wouldn't need any nasty pesticides or what have you. You wouldn't have to worry about frost or flooding. Because the plants and animals would be selected in such a way that there is both a market demand for them AND a synergy between them, you could save a fortune on expensive filtering systems. And I'd bet there's a way to subsidize these places, city by city, such that the money it costs to maintain the joint is more than offset by the amount of money you'd save in medical costs stemming from shitty nutrition down the road.
You could sell the food right downstairs, or in a farmer's market wherever. You could rent plots of land to people who want to raise these crops or these animals. Have schools come in, tour the place, and let people reconnect with their food sources. And shit, toss some wind turbines and solar pannels on the roof to make it all as green as possible.

You'd even save money not having to transport this food over the river and through the woods. Lower food costs mean people can spend money elsewhere.

And again, this is all dreaming. But I can't get the thought out of my head that there may be a market here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sing Me a Song, You're the Pianoman

I've always wanted to be a musician.
There, I said it. I've been singing since I was a little kid, and thankfully, I got a decent set of low pipes from Dad and the ear to use them from Mom. I've gone to school and focused on my studies, obviously, but the one thing I've wanted to do more than anything else is get up in front of people and belt out a tune. (Hopefully these people are listening by choice, but I am not above taking auditory hostages).

That said, I've spent the better part of the last decade dicking around. Oh, I'm not talented enough on the guitar. Oh, I don't have a band. Oh, I can't because of this or that or the other--


I came to the realization a year ago that none of those excuses matter. I resolved to have ten songs written and finalized by this past New Years Eve- I decided on 10 as my target number at some point along the way.
As of January 1st, I had 3.
To be fair, some of this delay was because I was learning my recording software. But also to be fair, I screwed off between February and October of last year. But no more.

Inspired by these people, who've collaborated to write a beginner's guide to getting a book published, I decided one of the things I could write about on this blog o' mine would be the process of getting music published, as learned through trial and error. We'll see how this goes- but first, it'll be progress updates on the writing.
That said!
Currently, I have four songs of mine on my phone. Three of them are being re-mixed, since the old computer I recorded them on was old and feeble and had to have this monstrous, noisy fan to even run Notepad, and so some of my music has this really obnoxious wrrrrrrrrrrrrrr going on in the background, like Newt Gingrich died and reincarnated as an Nvidia cooling system, waxing poetic about how he wants to build a base on the moon to escape the capitalism-killing evils of dust bunnies.

My new target is to have all 10 songs done by April 1st (no joke). Not counting the abovementioned 4, I have 3 that are mostly written (but I'm unsure if they're good enough to use) and 4 which are still just a few lines long.

And just to keep a running tab...

  • Oathbreaker- Waiting to be re-recorded
  • Human/Nature- Waiting to be re-recorded
  • Trouble- Currently (re)-recording
  • Darcy- Finished

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Truth and Fact

Lewis Black has this one bit about peas.

He starts out by saying that the reason people can’t trust government is because there’s multiple sets of facts; the Democrats have one set, and the Republicans have another. This makes discussion impossible, as before either side can begin to debate what to do about a problem, they start calling each other liars because their facts don’t match.

He goes on to say that the last bastion of truth is an elementary school cafeteria, where- if you find the menu to say that there will be meatloaf and peas- then you’d better believe you’re going to get meatloaf and fucking peas.

I agree with his sentiment, I think he just got a word wrong. It isn’t that political parties (and increasingly, the people that make up their base) have different facts, its that they have different truths. Small change, big difference. But as we learned from Indiana Jones, archaeology is the search for fact, not truth; and if its truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.

If a child has a nightmare and tells me he’s scared because there’s a monster in his closest, he is telling me the truth. But he is (probably) not telling me the facts. The truth is his perception. The fact is the reality of things.

Thus it is with Congress.

When Mitch McConnell tells America that it is a spending problem that is dragging the country down, I have no doubt he is telling me his truth. Sure, he’s influenced by his particular harem of lobbyists and donors, but if he didn’t believe what he says on some level, I think he’d have found a different set of people to fund him- people who hash more naturally with his core ideals. Similarly, when Harry Reid says it’s a revenue problem that we have, he is again telling us his truth. But are they telling us the facts?
Shit no! Facts get people booted out of office. Politicians don’t get elected on facts.

“What about Ron Paul? He speaks facts! You forgot Ron Paul!”

No I didn’t. Ron Paul is consistent in his message, and I would trust him more than most politicians, but I don’t think he has any firmer grasp of the facts than anyone else. Dude wants to abolish how many Departments of the federal government, and has the gall to say nothing bad will come of it? Like nothing bad could come from eliminating national standards set by the Department of Education? No. He speaks his truth, but he does not speak fact.

So why is this the case?

In a hyper-polarized climate such as the one America currently finds itself in, to get noticed, you have to overcome your background noise. This means that people who’re even more absurd than the current stable of frothing-at-the-mouth political zealots will get elevated to a podium from which they can be heard; this is aided by the current process of redistricting, which allows a party to cut a district into an absurd shape (called “Gerrymandering”) which only includes people most likely to vote one way or another. This process eliminates any need to move toward the middle, since each district is overwhelmingly red or blue, and breeds partisanship.

And in that climate, fact is sobering.
If current politics (and all of its “truth”) is a raging kegger, facts are the cops that show up to break up the fun. Why force your electorate, which is engaged and energized and throwing money at you, to stop calling President Obama an anticolonialist Kenyan Muslim antichrist? Why ask your party base to stop demonizing Big Oil/Agra/Pharma as shadowy 99%er hating plutocrats who secretly want to turn America into a brand-name coporatocracy? Putting the brakes on that kind of talk reduces voter enthusiasm, kills donations, and makes the OTHER SIDE more likely to win. And we can’t have that, now can we?

So why am I soap-boxing about this distinction? For a take-away whose brevity is matched only by the preceding paragraphs’ long-windedness: If you want to really be of service to your country in its political endeavors, you have to embrace the typically dry and boring world of facts to establish a common basis from which you can negotiate and compromise with people whose truths are radically different than yours.

(Also because I’m trying to get in the habit of writing more on principle. But whichever explanation makes me seem cooler is the one you can tell your friends about).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happiness is a Four Letter Word

Recently I did some thinking, and I came to the conclusion that I am not happy.

I thought long and hard about it, mulling this post over for about a week; cutting this, adding that, starting completely from scratch. I usually just write something and, if it doesn't need any sources, just let it go after the first or second read-through, but this time I couldn't shake the feeling that all previous iterations sounded... whiny. Mostly because I kept asking myself- what have I to be unhappy about?

I have a job that doesn't pay me a lot, but it pays me enough. Though my friends are by and large very far away from me, I still have friends that care. The same goes for my family, who raised me in an upper-middle class section of a safe town. I have my health, my youth, an advanced education, and through an undeserved confluence of favorable genetic lottery winnings, I am a white male in America.

What do I have to be unhappy about?

Not only do I have these boons, but I work with people who have nothing. No family, no real friends, no job or posessions of their own. They're so debilitated by their mental illnesses, which is often an unholy coctail of something like borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, various flavors of hallucinations or delusions AND borderline intellectual functioning... that a hospital is the only place that they can function. It's a red-letter week when they get an extra bag of popcorn on Friday because they went 7 days without attacking anyone.

I would look at my own lack of happiness, and then I would look at the circumstances of my patients, and I would say to my reflection in the mirror, "You think YOU have problems? You have NOTHING of the sort. You know what problems are. Your issues are jokes. Man up and move on."

But I wasn't any happier.

At this point, I have to distinguish something- Most days, I wasn't happy... but most days, I was content. Or at least, content enough. As long as I made sure to do things I enjoy, things that make me feel like I'm growing, then I could accept where I was. My situation wasn't ideal, so I had to have that sensation of forward momentum to stay sane.

But even in staying sane, I wasn't happy.

However, believe it or not, this is not about my own feelings. I'm using myself as an example, but I'm not writing this to delve into what kept me from being happy. I'm writing this because in my endless re-writes of this post, I started thinking about the nature of happiness, contentedment, and unhappiness. Because as I thought, I came to realize- I might not be happy, but I'm typically not actively unhappy, either. I'm mostly just... "meh".

So then I wondered, are other people like this? Other folks in my field, in other but similarly low-pay fields? How about richer folks, people who actually qualify as "middle class"? Or how about that fabled "1%"? Does money have anything to do with it? You always hear money doesn't buy happiness (though Daniel Tosh would tell you, it does buy a waverunner, and have you ever seen an unhappy person on a waverunner?)

So I'm not usually running around gushing about how ecstatic I am, but neither am I playing a solo game of pity me. And I guess that's ok- certainly better than if I was actively bemoaning my fate- but I felt like something was amiss. Wasn't I supposed to be happy? That's what I keep hearing. "Follow your dreams! If you love your work you'll never work a day in your life!" I see these commercials for antidepressants, but the message is not "restore a chemical balance to your dopaminergic pathways", it's "take this pill to BE HAPPY". That sinks in after the millionth or so ad for Zoloft.

Then I started thinking, what if this whole happiness push is just a marketing campaign?

And THEN I started thinking- what if I don't actually have to be happy at all?
(At least, not most of the time).

I realize that's a strange position to take, but consider it. Aside from the lucky few who have jobs that fulfil them on every level (and fuck you if one of you is reading this), how often do you wake up thinking, "Oh boy, time to go to work again"? Put another way, imagine you had to rank how happy your day was, overall, each day for a month. You do this on a scale from 1-10, 1 being "terrible", 5 being "neither overly happy or unhappy", and 10 being "exceedingly happy". What do you think your average score would come out to be?

I'd bet good money that you'd likely wall between 4 and 6. I'd give you a 68.2% chance of landing there, as a matter of fact- and I'd give you a 95.4% chance of falling between 3 and 7. Those numbers aren't just values I plucked out of thin air; they're the % of the population that'll fall within 1-2 standard deviations of the mean in a normal bell curve. Does that sound like statistical jubberish to you? Look it up. (If a Psych guy can get it, you can to; have no fear).

The point is, I'd be willing to bet that for most people, most days are unremarkable. Thats kind of what makes them most days. And that's all well and good- I try to take any day that doesn't actively suck donkey balls as a victory- but I started wondering, if most days are mostly "meh" for folks in the grand scheme of things, why do we appear to be so hyper-focused on getting happiness like it's some XBox of Life achievement? "YES, I totally got Rank 3 Happiness! I am AMAZING!"

Because, even someone with a novice's experience with modern video games knows what comes next.

"...Fuckall, now I need to earn Rank 4 Happiness."

So as I sat there, typing out the conclusion of my little monologue, I thought to myself- maybe that random idea that popped into my head was right. Maybe the trick isn't to be happy each and every day. Maybe it isn't even to be happy most days. Maybe the trick is to cross one set of fingers that you'll be happy on some days, and cross the other set that you're unhappy less often than that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Fake Nerd Girls"

This topic has been coming up a lot recently, so I figure I’d throw my two cents in about it. For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon named in the title, Geekdom has been beset by an insufferable scourge. Yes, dear reader. With the increased popularity of “geeky” cultural niches has come an increased attention from the outside world, and with it has come… the fake nerd girl.

The rant about Fake Geek Girls typically begins by complaining about “Con Girls”. Not girls trying to rob you of your life savings by investing in a Chia Pet ponzi scheme, but girls that attend conventions- typically, girls at conventions dressed up as some character or another. The refrain goes that these girls actually know nothing about whatever franchise they’ve dressed up as, and are only using the Con as a middle-of-the-year, Halloween-esque excuse to dress up in fanciful, yet always slutty, clothing. Why, you might ask?
For the attention, the geek would respond!

Because according to this particular part of the complaint, Con Girls aren’t actually hot enough to hack it as bona fide Hot Girls on the outside; they’re just banking on the stereotype of geeks being inept with women to buoy their attractiveness up a couple pegs by comparison to girls these guys would “typically” have a shot at. (This is known as being “Con Hot”, and it is not a compliment).

Now- I’ll ignore for a moment the fact that the dudes complaining about this probably have no idea how much of a “true fan” Girl X actually is or isn’t, whether or not she’s dressed up. Book, cover, yadda yadda. I want to take a look at where this argument comes from, and then expose it for what it really is.
So where does it come from? Different people might have different underlying reasons for their aversion to “fake nerd girls”, be they dressed up or not: some might believe girls are using their bodies just for personal attention (as mentioned above) or professional attention (to sell some product or other); some male geeks might believe that a more attractive girl couldn’t possibly be interested in something so traditionally anathema to sex appeal, and so any interaction with an attractive woman in the context of their niche is more an act of pity on her part (and “I don’t need your goddamned pity!”) than a true display of her interest in the subject material.

I could go on ad nauseum; the potential reasons behind the accusations of someone being a “fake” geek girl are legion, but they all boil down to the same thing. I’ll list three statements, each progressively closer to the root of the issue; keep score at home and see when you pick up on it.
  1.  “These fake geek chicks are terrible! They’re not even into this stuff because they like it, they’re into it for attention. I liked this Con more before they started coming.”
  2. “These people are terrible! They’re not even into this stuff. I liked this more before they started coming.” 
  3. “Ugh, this is terrible. Those people aren’t even real fans. This was much cooler before it was popular.”
That’s right, my fellow geeks. If you’ve claimed that you liked being a geek before your niche of choice became as mainstream, then you’ve moved out of Geektown and into that one town that everyone in America names with equal venom- Hipsterville.
Ponder that for a moment. Roll that word around in your head. Turn thee, Geekvolio, and look upon thy Hipster-y death!

See, back in the “glory days” I think some of our brothers yearn for- the days of (and here’s my street cred) reading Unearthed Arcana around Gygax’s basement, postulating on what would one day become the THAC0 system or some shit- liking things like comics (sorry, graphic novels) or fantasy card games was decidedly unpopular. But geeks loved them anyway, and would wax poetic about their +3 Dirk of Attentionslaying to anyone with ears and a pulse. That’s what made geeks so geeky. There was no question that professing their love for their niche would get them a first class ticket to a swirly; they professed anyway. And they would try to turn you to the Geek Side too, even if your expression was something akin to a root canal patient’s without anesthesia. I should know. If I had a dollar for every time I used D&D lingo in a middle school English class, trying to sound cool? I could probably pay off my student loans.
Point is- that’s what a good geek is supposed to do. He or she is supposed to look at another person and go, “Ears? Check! Pulse? Check! HEY DO YOU HAVE A MOMENT to talk about our Shiny Lord and Savior, Malcolm Reynolds?”

(One hopes there’s at least some context to this conversation. Bringing it up as a non sequitur typically sounds about as irritating as someone who can’t stop talking about how much they bench pressed- society tends to call those people guidos, or in the root latin, goddamn fucking tools… but I digress). Point is, a good geek is supposed to be a good spokesperson for their niche, thereby increasing the number of people who dig what they dig, and bettering humanity as a whole.

These Anti-“Fake Geek Girl” dudes don’t do that. They don’t see Random Girl dressed as Tifa and think, “Y’know, I should go see if she’s played any of the other FF games”. They don’t see the shared interest as a conversation starter. They see her as a threat of some sort, as if there’s some planetary stockpile of Geekiness, and they have to hoard as much of it as they can to survive the coming football season. I suspect that some of it derives from “I liked this hobby as a form of relaxation, but now with hot girls around I can’t relax anymore, so I’ll be a twat and hope they leave.”

…This is almost always followed a few hours if not minutes later with, “God, girls always go for the assholes. Why won't one talk to me?"
And of course, some of the Anti-“Fake Geek Girl” Guys (Contest Time: Someone come up with a clever acronym for that) are just Hipsters, pure and simple.

But fuck them.
Because fuck Hipsters.

As a really quick aside- I firmly believe that anyone who’s super into something is a geek. Video games, cars, food, weight lifting, vintage issues of Cat Fancy- whatever. If you get real tooled up about something to the point where you have to bite your own tongue to keep yourself from gushing about it out of context again, welcome to Geektown, here’s your pocket protector. But nontraditional kinds of geeks- people into cars, sports, and so forth- they’ve had fangirls tag along to their various big-ticket events for decades! When was the last time you heard a car buff start bitching about all the scantily-clad women that Honda brought with them to the last bike show? Or, when was the last time you heard your local armchair quarterback complain that he doesn’t think the Cowboys cheerleaders don’t really appreciate the game?
I suppose this is all a ranty and fairly roundabout way of saying shut up and accept the company, man! Whether it’s girls, guys, whoever. The more the merrier. And if you disagree, then…

Well, I’ll say it again.
Fuck Hipsters.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The X-Box Story

So, in the words of Ron White, "I told you that story so I can tell you this story."
This, my friends, is "that story".

It was some months ago now that I was playing a hand of cards with my boys. One of them, a gentleman with an infamous reputation for being a terrible cards player for how often he becomes distracted, became (you guessed it!) distracted and immediately slams his cards on the table. His eyes bugging halfway out of his head, he leaned over the table and into my face.
"HEY!" He exclaimed, "Do you have an XBOX?"

I leaned back so as not to catch another whiff of what he'd had for lunch (meatloaf and green beans, as far as I could guess), and shot a look at the other two patients. They were putting their own cards in order and were paying Patient 1 no attention. I should have followed suit, but being the fool I am, I answered.
"Uh... yeah. Yeah, I have an XBox."
He leaned forward again. How you doin', greenbeans and- a hint of vanilla? "DO YOU PLAY IT?"

I leaned back again, inadvertently scootching my chair a ways. "...No. Nah, man I don't. I'm too busy."

That was a bald-faced lie; I was certainly not too busy to play my XBox, I was in fact quite busy saving the universe as Commander Sheppard. But this guy knows his movies and video games, so I didn't even want to risk the potential for a conversation about the finer points of taking a Reaper to the mattresses. (I was also worried that it might branch into a conversation about taking Miranda to the mattresses, know what I mean?)

Anyhow. Where was I? Oh yes. I'd just told him that I was too busy to play video games.
"I'm too busy," says I.

I blinked. He... wanted my XBox? My unit is so restrictive they can't even have a calendar on their wall. Not even a poster. They don't even have their own clothes on my unit!
"Um... no. You can't. Play... play your hand."
"I can't have it?"

A moment passed, and for a brief, shining second, I thought I could go back to my favorite work pastime; ignoring this person. But alas.

Before I could respond to this, Patient 2 decides to offer me some advice.
"Yoooouuuu bettah not tell him wheah you live," he said sagely, never taking his eyes up from his hand, "Or yooouu wake up one morn', thinkin' you got an Ecks-Bawks but you WONT HAVE SHEEEYIT."

My cards are now everywhere. I have spit onto the table and probably onto Patients 2 and 3- but if 3 gets hit by my spray, I don't see his reaction; if 2 has been hit, he doesn't care. He ignores my reaction completely.
"Yoooouuuu wake up one morn', thinkin' you got an Ecks-Bawks, but he be PLAYIN' yo' Ecks-Bawks at YO' MOMMA'S HOUSE."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mechanical Horses!

So last night I tried to go and watch Skyfall. Unfortunately for my eyeballs, the movie was sold out and I didn't get to watch it. Fortunately for my eyeballs, on my way back to my car I stumbled across... this.

That's right, bicycle polo. Just a bunch of dudes, rollin' around a dry ice rink, playing a gentlemanly game of bike polo. Turns out there's a whole league of people that play this state-wide, and apparently a Lafayette team are the defending state champions! There wasn't a huge crowd, as you can see, and my video is only what my phone could take- but I wanted to share it, since it reinforces my belief that you find the coolest things when you're not actively looking for them.

That's all for today.