The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Just Love the Internet

I have learned, just yesterday, that my Internet Service Provider does not allow me to send email through any connection other than its own. That is, when connected to the internet at a hotel or motel or through a friend's (or even a relative's) internet provider as I am now, I am viewed as a possible spammer, or hacker, or some other such miscreant.

I can receive email just fine. I just cannot send. It does not please me to learn this. It means I must do my email online through their website if I need to reply to anyone or send someone email. It means I must take an extra step. It makes my life more complicated. I do not like that. I like to keep my life, like my mind, uncomplicated.

Still, I suppose they are justified in doing this and I suppose I could get them to trust me and give me the simpler access I would need. But I won't. I don't have a need to do this very often, maybe once a year, and for fairly short periods. And it is true that I can do just as much through webmail access as I can using my laptop's mail client.

So just why am I complaining? I have no idea. I just like to complain. Which brings me to another point. I like to read editorials and opinion columns in the LA Times and the Boston Globe. And I especially like to read the comments made by other readers about the subjects of these columns and editorials.

Why? Because as much I like to complain, I like to read how others complain. Just yesterday (I think), I was reading a column about a golf course in Milton, MA opposing the building of a wind turbine near by. It seems they feel it will intrude upon the quality of life for the golfers. I am sure they otherwise are in favor of these Wind Turbines, just not where they can see them or maybe hear them. This is called the NIMBY* syndrome.

In the complaints, I came across a reference to the following link:

So I put it in my Interesting Places To Visit list under the name “May we live long and die out” because, well, that's its theme, or motto. They are:

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

I just love the internet...

*Not In My Back Yard

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Day On the Links

Well, my addiction was eased somewhat by yesterday's tour of a golf course. I was placed with 3 youngsters (Jay, Sean, and Mike) who had some impressive drives and some very impressive directional issues. The day was a lesson in how control is sometimes better than power. Much better.

The course wasn't long but winds through a shallow canyon area, a creek meanders through it, crossing or bordering most holes. It's not a long course, most holes being short and easily reachable in regulation. But it pays to stay in the fairways. Hitting into the rough brought trees, lots of trees, into play (as my playing partners quickly learned).

All of them hit the ball pretty far. They also tended to slice the ball rather severely. All had the usual excuses for struggling, lack of play. I noted the addition of alcohol consumption, along with a decided lack of concentration that often accompanies that.

Nice guys, all in their 30's; one in the Navy. No gambling was even mentioned. A good thing, I suppose, since I would have lost only 3 holes. They took a (large) number of Mulligans instead of penalties and played fast and loose with free drops and ground under repair determination. So I might not have even lost 3 holes when I think about it.

Jay was the Navy man, his job being to jump out of helicopters to retrieve pilots in the water. Mike worked in taxes and gave us a running commentary on the benefits and pitfalls of real estate investment, tax-wise. Sean never told us what he did for a living or anything else about himself except that he was honest about his inability to putt halfway decently.

The course was one I once lived near, back in the mid-80's just before I moved to Virginia, and one I used to walk while carrying my bag. I wouldn't have made 6 holes that way yesterday. Just climbing up to an elevated green was enough to make me wobbly, since the elevations were 30 feet or more with 45 degree slopes.

The day was full of talk... even when courteous silence would have been the rule... I don't think they quite understood that. Still, the chatter didn't bother me. And I enjoyed the jokes, the ribbing, even the occasional praise over shots. That is really what golf is all about; more than the activity, it's the interaction with your playing partners. And these guys were fun to be around.

Maybe I enjoyed it mostly because this old goat shot 81 while the youngsters struggled to break 100 (even with the cheating).

Friday, February 26, 2010


My name is Douglas and I'm a golf-aholic. I haven't touched a golf club in pleasure, anger, frustration, confusion, agony, or with any other emotion, for a week now. It's tough driving across country for those of us with this addiction.

My wife doesn't understand me about this. But she is sympathetic. In fact, it appears I have a pass for tomorrow. And I shall take advantage of it, too. I am not ashamed.

Now that we have arrived in San Diego, I may miss a few days blogging. Mostly because I hate trying to type on the laptop. Some people like these things but I don't. It's very uncomfortable. The keyboard seems tiny, there's no mouse (well, I have one but I rarely connect it) so I have to use the touchpad, and I seem to do more typos on this than I do on the desktop.

Time for bed. Tomorrow is a golf day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Town Too Fixated on One Gunfight

I am, of course, at a loss for words. This is not an unusual state for me, I find myself in it often enough. But today is a bad one. You see, I am sitting here trying to summon up some interesting anecdote or wondrous piece of adventure to capture the essence of the day.

I can only think of one... Boredom. Yes, the 4th day on the road is when that particular emotion manifests itself. Especially when it is the second full day of what might be called the lower desert. That isn't the usual name for it, the usual name would be The Great Southwest. But that is a euphemism for totally and utterly boring. There is nothing of any consequence to see, just sand and rocks and sagebrush. As far as the eye can see. And beyond even that.

Having been deprived of our visit to Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell (maybe we'll get better weather on the return trip), and having some time to kill, we decided we'd take a side trip to Tombstone; the town too tough to die as it is called. Well, called by those who want to get you to come there. You have to want to go there. It is 20-something miles off the beaten track (meaning the interstate) and the road to it isn't exactly smooth.

It started life as a mining town; some silver and a little bit of gold, some other minerals when these panned out or the mines got flooded. But it's real claim to fame was Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton and the infamous Shootout at the OK Corral.

First, let's clear the air and set something straight. There is no real corral. It is more like an alley behind a livery stable. And the shootout was between two rivals for control of the town. Neither side was especially good but the Earps got better press in the end.

The town is basically a nothing little place in the midst of land you wouldn't want to be buried in. Like most towns of its day, it had saloons and gambling. Today, there is no gambling and the saloons are just tourist traps. In fact, the whole town has been turned into one big tourist trap. Still, it draws enough people to give its inhabitants a living, I suppose. There is a stage coach that rides around the town while its passengers are treated to a recorded tour speech. There is a trolley that does much the same (why a trolley, I have no idea). There are two mine tours and a couple of museums (which are really shops with not all that cheap old west style merchandise for sale), and a book store (full of books on the frontier west) or two.

We spent a little under two hours there, most of which was spent waiting for some mediocre food in Big Nose Kate's Saloon. The town seems to think that Kurt Russel's movie version of Wyatt's big day at the OK Corral since that DVD was for sale all over and was being shown on the TV in Big Nose Kate's.

Not a great adventure... But it was a break in an otherwise completely non-descript day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fun in the High Desert

Tuesday's journey might have been dull... except for the snow flurries, ice, slush, and freezing temperatures in the Texas desert west of San Antonio, not far west either. And that wouldn't have been bad except that the semi's tended to throw up a spray of the slush which coated the windshield and defied any wiper action. Passing a semi, or even a car, was a challenge. Faye may never recover.

If you look at this picture, you may be able to see the ice buildup on the right. Faye took this through the windshield. You may have to click on it to blow it up first.

There was light layer of snow on the desert. Well, it is high desert so I suppose it happens from time to time but we weren't expecting it. We didn't escape it until we came to about 50 miles east of El Paso. We had stopped for a bite and some coffee in Ozona, Texas and the snow started coming down heavily. I'd have taken a picture of the snow covered car but I really wasn't dressed for the weather and just wanted to get out of there.

The snow and bad weather put a damper on our plans to head over to Carlsbad, NM, to see the caverns. We figured it would be rough driving up into the hills there. So we decided to put it off for the return trip. We are planning on going to Tombstone, AZ today. Do the touristy bit there. It'll still be chilly but at least no snow.

Chilly is a mild term for this. I am not used to temps in the 30s.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sex and Memories

Yesterday was, essentially, a boring drive.

What does that mean? Not much but I had a chance to ponder things, large and small, as I rolled down the asphalt and concrete.

Two things came to mind. The first was about sex and the second was about intelligence.

My epiphany about sex was intriguing. I think, first of all, that sex is a primal urge. It is at the core of who we are. It is the main component of the survival instinct on a species level and, therefore, permeates all levels of all cultures in some way. Keeping this in mind, I came up with this...

Our first truly sexual encounter with another person sets the basis for all future ones. Perhaps it is that which we seek to re-create in all future sexual interactions either to re-capture it or to set it right. If true, this may be at the heart of our cultural taboos about sex before marriage that are common to most cultures. Also, perhaps, why there are a number of transitions to adulthood rituals involving the first sexual encounter.

The thoughts on intelligence had to do with what it is. Why are some people more intelligent than others? There appears to be a genetic component and there appears to be a nutritional component. It is said that we can improve intelligence of our children by reading to them when they are toddlers. I think that differences in intelligence are narrower than commonly accepted.

What I mused about yesterday was the role memory plays in intelligence. I think it is key. I also think we can all, barring physical brain damage, improve the ability to use our memories. Think of the brain as a giant file cabinet. How we file memories helps us retrieve them, just as how we sort files in our office file cabinets. As we lose our ability to retrieve memories specific or tangential to an issue or problem at hand, the dumber we feel. And, maybe, the dumber we are.

Perhaps more on these things tomorrow... if I remember.

Please forgive all typos and other errors, it is difficult for me to deal with a laptop keyboard.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reflections on a long day

Well, the first day is almost complete. A long day's drive... 10 1/2 hours of steady driving, with only a few stops for gas and nourishment. If you can call a (almost) grilled chicken sandwich and under cooked french fries nourishment. Still, they filled a empty spot in my gut.

And so we arrived at the shabby little hotel in Biloxi, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. A nice room, a freebie thanks to Faye's gambling habit and the bad economy, with a three head shower, Wi-Fi internet connection (so I can sit here in the bed and wander about the internet while watching Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck save the planet from a comet on FX on a 42" plasma... or LCD...whatever screen), a comfy king-sized bed with lots of pillows, and a casino where Faye is stalking that elusive prey... the Jackpot.

The Hard Rock is a study in nostalgic silliness and denial. It is full of 50 and 60 -somethings pretending not to be what they are and transporting themselves mentally back to what they probably never were. All the images of aging rock stars (some no longer with us) from those heady days of the 60's. And moving among them the pudgy, pot-bellied, butt-sagging aging `never were' Hippies in Sears loose-fit designer jeans instead of snug bell bottom Levis. Eric Burden and the Animals will be playing here next week, all white haired and wrinkled, reliving the dream. I don't want to see them. I have my memories of a concert in Pasadena (though they are drug-fogged) and that's enough.

I saw my image in the mirror and wondered who that aging guy was for a moment and then, sadly, recognized him.

No pictures of the trip so far. Faye would have had to take them while I dodged the bad drivers and threaded my way through the traffic. The bad drivers were out as usual, driving slow in the fast lane, playing "rolling blockade" with whoever happened to be next to them, and just annoying the heck out of me. You bad drivers know who you are, mostly the ones with G E O R G I A on your license plates. Well, and your first cousins from Louisiana. They all seemed to be heading home from Speed Week in Daytona Beach after almost sobering up.

No, Pearl, I didn't see any square-heads from Minnesota driving along, just their southern relatives.

Tomorrow, we wander along the southern swamps and off into the great dusty west Texas hills before stopping for the night again. Maybe some pctures if I can convince Faye she can take them while zooming along somewhat above the speed limit or we stop someplace of interest.

For now, though, it's calm the frayed nerves. Quiet the jittering in my brain. Hope for dreams that do not involve highways and traffic. Only to wake, grab some greasy breakfast somewhere and head ever west.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am off my rocker...

... and onto the driver's seat of Faye's car for the next few weeks.

That's right, it's road trip time once again. A journey to two of my favorite places: San Diego and Las Vegas. The former to visit family and friends (including a couple of friends I haven't seen in 23 years), the latter to get rid of any pesky leftover money we might have had laying around.

The journey out is intended to be leisurely. A little touristy side trips to check out the Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell, New Mexico (just because it's there, you know?) and no hurry. Even the journey back may be leisurely... depending, of course, on how badly we do in Las Vegas.

I should say "how badly Faye does in Las Vegas" since I do not do much gambling anymore. I find it boring to throw money away. Well, to be honest, I just get no thrill from the games anymore. I used to like Blackjack but, done properly, it is a game of strategy and thought and I would rather just relax and not think too much these days. So I play golf instead of gambling. Golf is cheaper, I have learned, than gambling in Las Vegas even though the greens fees are quite high.

And speaking of golf... I played yesterday and did quite well. For me, anyway. I shot a legitimate 77 on a Par 71 course. I normally shoot scores in the low to high 80's so anytime I break 80, it's a special treat. I had no idea I was doing so well until one of my partners told me after I sank my last putt. It seems my best games are always that way... mindless. In fact, I thought I was struggling a bit most of the round.

Once again, golf mimics life... You seem to struggle along and then find that, well, life isn't so bad and you've achieved some nice things along the way; raised a good son, married a good woman (this time), made some fond memories. And you realize life wasn't all mishits, sand traps, and rough; there were some pleasant fairways, nice scenery, good companions, and soft, friendly greens, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Hirsute Tale

This post is dedicated to Irish Gumbo, whose beard idea/theme I have blatantly stolen. He is a better writer than I (but, then, who isn't?), much better, so I hope he understands that I am no threat.

I first let my beard grow at the tender age of 23 when I and the USN parted ways on a somewhat amiable basis. Not having an abundance of testosterone, apparently, from the lack of chest hairs beyond a few strays of little note, I never had a mustache or beard before joining the Navy at age 19. No, I was as sleek as those alabaster marble statues of the gods of ancient Greece or maybe Michelangelo's "David". Not even much stubble on my face to offend a young lady if I missed an area with the razor before a date.

After my release back into the civilian world, I felt the need to do certain things which Navy regulations and tradition prevented during my tenure with that organization. I stopped shaving. Altogether. I also stopped getting haircuts. Well, the latter might have had something to do with the times and the fact that I had found a rather low paying job which meant choosing carefully what I might spend money on.

It was 1969, heady days here in the former British colonies. A significant portion of the populace of the US had decided we had become embroiled in an immoral and unwinnable war and rebellion was in the air. Freedom was in in the air also. As was a significant amount of smog in the Los Angeles basin where I happened to be.

Los Angeles, technically speaking, was not in a state that had once been controlled by our former British overlords. No, it had been under the cruel thumbs of Spain, France (while Spain was under France's dominance), and then an independent Mexico when we (the United States) took it by forcing ourselves on the Mexican government and making them sell it to us at a price we had determined to be eminently fair. Or, as Senator S. I. Hayakawa (R- California) once said about the Panama Canal zone, "[w]e stole it fair and square." But I digress... mostly because history is such fun.

In any event, I found myself free and unencumbered (meaning without a lot of funds or plans for the future) in late 1969 in a place called Long Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles. There were a lot of people with long hair and beards at the time. And I decided to join them. Well, not exactly decided, I suppose. I just found myself gradually looking like them. I had not shaved much since my discharge, only once or twice while looking for a job, and had ignored any need for a haircut. I began to look a little shaggy.

At some point in those first several months of nominal freedom, I had trimmed my beard into a scraggy goatee. So that I looked something like this:

Not very pretty but I somehow managed to find myself in the company of young women from time to time and eventually married one of them.

Marriage meant I needed a better job than I had at the time (stuffing cushions and delivering furniture for a shop in Long Beach) and we packed up our meager possessions and headed for south Florida where I fell into my career as a telephone guy. Getting that job at what was then called Southern Bell meant shaving off my beard and getting a haircut before even being interviewed. They seemed to think that appearance was important for some reason. They even suggested that I might be required by the manager at the office to which I was assigned to shave off my mustache and side burns. This turned out to be untrue.

I quickly found myself in a crew of mustachioed and slightly shaggy compatriots with a couple of full-bearded long hairs. No one said anything as my hair grew longer and my beard re-appeared.

You see, shaving had been a chore I disliked. Haircuts cost money and I, with pregnant wife and mounting bills, wanted to be thrifty. Besides, long hair and beards were "in". I started with the goatee again but soon allowed it to blossom into a full beard. I mean, if you don't like to shave, why bother to have something to trim?

By the time we (that first future ex-wife, the baby, and I) returned to California slightly over a year later, my hair was down to my shoulders and my beard covered most of my lower face. The hair got even longer over the years, though the beard alternated from full to goatee and back again to full over the years.

The ponytail effect was less troublesome most of the time.

The beard eventually went back to full around 1974 and remained so until a year or so ago but the hair finally got trimmed down to a more normal length in 1978. To be honest, having long hair is, well, a drag. It weighed a ton when it was wet, it got snagged on things, and I started to feel like I looked... an aging Hippie.

(I am the one on the right)

And now I look somewhat like that picture of me in the Profile...

Which some say is better when I smile. Though, being a curmudgeon, I rarely do.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I think I am turning Green (or maybe Brown)

The title has nothing to do with environmentalism or saving the planet, it is about my Theory of Chameleon-ism.

Just what is my Theory of Chameleon-ism? I'm glad you asked. It's not very complex and you may find that you have been a chameleon at various times in your own life.

The theory can be illustrated probably easier than it can be explained.

  • When I am among geeks, I begin talking, gesturing, even thinking, like a geek.
  • When I am among intellectuals, I begin talking, gesturing, thinking, as an intellectual.
  • When I am among rednecks, I tend to drawl and spit.

In other words, I mimic the behavior and mannerisms of those I am interacting with. I also call this the "Salesman's Trait" because I first noticed it in my father. The summer I turned 11, my father took me on one of his monthly sales trips around Florida. Until that trip, my entire concept of Florida was a smallish flat area bordered on one side (the east) by a large body of salty water (often full of jellyfish), garish motels, and tourists in bizarre clothes. I was amazed to learn about cattle ranches, dairy farms, hilly areas, crackers (not the saltines, the people), large lakes and smallish rivers, small towns, and other largish cities. I also learned this:

My father, a mostly silent and stern man, would pull up in front of a large store and we would go in. As we passed through the door, his seemingly eternal frown would disappear and a smile would appear. Cheerfulness would fill his face and he would wave and greet people as if they were old friends he had not seen nearly often enough. He would exchange pleasantries, laugh at lame jokes, nod sagely at tales of woe, and be something much more human than the Dad I had known all my short life.

Immediately upon exiting said store, my father having taken an order larger than the owner had originally intended to place, the look on my father's face returned to the more familiar glumness.

It impressed me. I began to notice this change in others and in myself. How I behaved around my youthful peers was different than how I behaved around my siblings. And there were differences in my behavior (and theirs) depending upon which peers were around and where we were. I began to realize that personalities were much more fluid than I had thought.

Another thing I noticed I do is take on accents. Now, I was born on Long Island in New York. And there is a distinct accent that is found there. I didn't realize it when I lived there. I thought everyone sounded pretty much the same around me and people from other places sounded "funny" when they spoke. Until I had been living in south Florida for a year and we were visited by friends from "up north". They talked "funny". Oddly enough, they had the same impression of me. But, while they were there, I began to revert to the same speech mannerisms they used while I was in their company. But only in their company. When I was with my local friends, I fell into those speech mannerisms easily and naturally.

Realizing this blending in was happening without my making any effort to do so, I began to think of it as a chameleon quality. Thus, my resulting (and now much more refined and complex than presented here) Theory of Chameleon-ism.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Global Confusion

I would like to address the growing scandal of Climate-gate. Not that I want to discuss it in a political sense (I leave that to you, dear readers, to have food fights about) but in terms of human nature, something I love to observe.

For a while now we have been inundated with dire reports of doom and gloom from those in the forefront on the War Against Global Warming. Anyone who disagreed has been branded with various labels of a denigrating nature. It has approached political suicide to be skeptical.

And now we learn that maybe some data has been "fudged" a bit... or a lot... That data was buried, or ignored. That some scientific papers were not so scientific after all. And the skeptics are beginning to be viewed in a slightly different light.

It all brings back memories of Chicken Little... But not because I think environmentalists are a bit wacky and hysterical. They aren't. Well, some are a bit extreme but that happens. No, it's because the environmentalists got so caught up in the cause as to be unwilling to be even the slightest bit, well, conservative in approaching the issues involved.

We have a tendency to be herd-like in how we approach things. A leader calls for action, presents what a appears to be a good case and we shout down the voices of caution. This leads us into all sorts of problems. Take the Prohibition Era, for example. Some might say we were "herded" into the Spanish-American War (even the First World War).

We (and by "we", I mean populations) are, after all, mobs. And mobs are led by the loudest, not always by the smartest. And this is why I like being, by nature, skeptical. I wouldn't want everyone to be skeptical of all new concepts or we'd get nothing done ever. There'd be no advancement of civilization or technology. But we need the skeptical to be there and we need to respect that nature because it is the braking system for the tendency toward what I might call Lemming-ism. It would be nice to be diverted before we fall off that proverbial cliff, don't you think?

Now, there is some good in the environmentalists' argument for treating the planet with respect, with re-cycling as much as possible and for limiting pollution. It makes sense not to "soil our nest", so to speak. And we only have this one planet, after all. We need to do our best to keep our environment healthy until we find out if we can economically get to, and colonize, some other planet(s). And that seems to be quite some distance away, time-wise.

At the same time, we have an obligation to not destroy civilization in the meantime by withdrawing into a form of Neo-Luddism.

Human beings have a tendency to jump on the latest fad, turn it into a craze, and then into a mass movement.

I think we need more independent thinkers, more skeptics, and more non-followers, in the world. More people who aren't so willing to jump on that bandwagon. We might save ourselves a lot of money and a lot of grief.

And I say this as a guy who rarely uses his cell phone, never texts, doesn't own a GPS unit (except for golf), won't be buying an I-pad anytime soon (and still doesn't own an Ipod) and fears being slaughtered by the bleeding edge of technology.

Take the advice of the child inside you and ask "But why?"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Psst! Want some glue?

When I was a mere child, a lad of 11 short years on this planet, I took up a hobby. That hobby was model building. Plastic pieces, instructions, glue, and paint. `49 Fords, `32 Deuce Coupes, `56 and `57 Chevies, Spitfires, P51 Mustangs, Sherman Tanks, and anything else that came in a kit.

I told myself it wasn't the euphoric feeling the glue provided. And it wasn't. The kits were relatively cheap, no more than $2.50, and they provided hours and hours of enjoyment and presumed accomplishment. My best friend at the time also indulged in this hobby and we'd compete against each other for most outrageous paint job on the cars or more true to life of the military machine.

We'd sometimes modify the model cars; changing the stodgy looking `60 Lincoln convertible into some kind of hot rod with an air scoop on the hood, "lake pipe" exhausts, flames painted on the sides. These sometimes got a little bizarre. Especially when you mounted a tank turret on a `40 Ford Coupe roof.

Yes, we had some warped imaginations.

Why do I bring this up? Well, because a friend of mine sent me this link to a slide show...

Amazing Scale Models and Photography.

This guy is no child. But you just know he started with these when he was 10 or 11.

Just simply amazing stuff. And the worst part is, many of the cars were the ones I drove or lusted after in my teens.

Here's his Home page.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Internet Meandering

I tend to wander about, mentally. That didn't sound right, did it? Maybe I mean intellectually rather than mentally. That is, I catch something in the news feeds I peruse, Google it, and then get sucked into that Google vortex one of my readers mentioned in a comment on Bubbling Ideas and end up reading things that maybe I never should.

Like this one: Gender: Optional.

Joseph Romero, a 6 year-old Arizona boy, was diagnosed as transgender last October and is beginning his/her transition to becoming a female. When he/she reaches the age of 12, he will be given female hormones containing estrogen and plans to undergo surgery when she is an adult in order to become a full woman.

Would you believe I started out reading about an economic proposal by President Obama?

It's very strange how I wander about the internet without any GPS unit to guide me. But, then, I really have no final destination in mind when I start, just a ride along the scenic route of news and happenings.

The trip (if I may call it that) took these paths:

And, finally, to the actual article I referenced above. It's not my fault, really. It's just that I never had a disciplined mind. I blame my schooling. I was taught to unleash my imagination. Whenever I did, it ran away and I would spend hours chasing it while the teachers droned on. Now, some called this "daydreaming", I preferred to think of it as "musing." Which is a word I mistook to mean a short form of "amusing".

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of edu---cation
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall.

["Kodachrome" by Paul Simon]

That guy, Simon, was what you might call prescient, wasn't he?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bubbling Ideas

I woke up with an idea this morning. Ideas, by the way, are like viruses. They have a life of their own, they breed more ideas and invade all sorts of nooks and crannies in one's brain where, scientists will one day tell us, they form tumors.

But the idea I woke up with this morning was pretty benign. It may have grown out of an old one. Or escaped from one of those nooks... or maybe a cranny... I'm no psychiatrist, I have no way of knowing. Anyway, the idea had to do with transferring the human being "self" into a computer. You know, all the memories, all the knowledge, all the emotions, into a computer. And then give movement, animation, to that computer.

I like to think I don't watch a lot of TV. I like to think that... but it isn't true. I do watch a lot of TV. One of the things I like to watch on TV is science fiction. One of the best of these in recent years was SyFy* channel's remake of the Battlestar Galactica series. That ran its course and came to an end. But it was successful. And success breeds sequels... or, in this case, a prequel. It's called Caprica. Caprica is the name of the home planet of the humans.

Just Google "Battlestar Galactica" and save me typing in all the background, will you?

In any case, this TV series ties into my idea because it is about transferring a person into the body of a robot, into the memory banks controlled by the robot's processor unit. In Caprica, this appears to be the birth of the Cylons and they eventually turn on their human masters.

This is not exactly a new idea. Well, the transference of a person into a computer is relatively new but the idea of sentient artificial life forms isn't. Pinocchio dates to 1883. And, of course, there's Frankenstein which was first published in 1818. But the concept can be traced back to creation myths where human beings were formed from mud and clay and water and given life. Another form (closer to Frankenstein's creation) is the Golem but is linked because he is (or "they are", really) made of mud. A Golem is sentient but really stupid.

Frankenstein's creation (contrary to the movies) is quite intelligent, which is perhaps what helps drive him mad and makes him commit horrific acts of murder. These murders end up being blamed on Frankenstein (which is the monster's plan). The tale is an old one, you see, and involves the concept of man acting as a god and the consequences which most often turn out quite badly for the protagonist. When you think about it, isn't that an allegory of mankind itself? Or maybe about having children?

I have talked about the concept of immortality by transference into an electronic entity before. In A New Old Thought and in Random Thoughts. So maybe I am just going over old ground... or worrying about death. And others have clearly written about this particular concept, such as in Souls in Silicon.

Still, ideas do not simply pop into our heads, do they? They are products of some subconscious thought process which bubbles to the surface (I was just kidding with the virus theory).

I wonder why mine bubbled up today?

*They used to be called "SciFi" but recently changed to "SyFy", I have no idea why, maybe they overheard someone call them "See Fee"...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Evil or Sick?

I really have a problem with child abuse. I do not understand it. The child abuse, not my problem with it. I understand that completely. I'm not alone, of course, I'm sure you are equally appalled by it.

Why do I bring this up? Because of an article in the Boston Globe online that I recently read. And because of something called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP).

These two things are related, one might say "entwined." The "proxy" is controversial, I am told, though the Munchausen Syndrome is not. For those not familiar with it, it is a condition wherein the person may feign injury or illness, or seek injury or illness, in order to garner attention and sympathy. The sufferer of MSbP, however, transfers that injury or illness onto another in order to gain sympathy and attention to herself (in most cases, it is a female, mother or caregiver).

It seems to me that the Boston Globe story was clearly one of MSbP. Yet, there was nothing in that article that spoke of that link. The woman will go to prison and she will be punished. Which is what we, as a society, have decided is the proper thing to do.

But children were harmed, and not just the young victim who died, and it could have been prevented had anyone recognized the the mental instability of this woman. They knew she was a "bad mother", one daughter (now 17 years old) had been removed from her home as a toddler. Two other children, the victim's siblings, are now in foster care and will eventually be adopted (one hopes). One wonders if those two children have also been physically (and/or emotionally) harmed while in their mother's care.

Buried in the story is another one about how children can be diagnosed with mental illness based primarily upon the mother's description of symptoms. And yet another one about laxity in dosage instructions of powerful medications and poor monitoring of a child patient.

A tragedy all around.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh, grow up!

How old is old enough? When I was 17, I thought 18 was old enough to be allowed to drink legally. After all, I had been irresponsibly drinking since I was 15. At 19, I enlisted in the Navy. I needed no one's permission to do so. I could commit the next 4 years of my life to the military but I could not walk into a bar and order a beer. Nor, at that time, enter into a contract for a loan without an adult to co-sign.

I was not the only one to feel slighted by this. All of my like-aged friends felt the same way.

I grew older and began to alter my views somewhat. The age of majority is an arbitrary one. Not all people aged 21 or older are responsible adults. Nothing magical happens on that particular anniversary of our birth that causes the decisions we make to be any better than the ones we made the day before. I can readily attest to that since I have made plenty of bad mistakes after achieving that milestone.

A term popped into my head while writing this post....cognitive maturity. I cannot even found a reasonable definition for the term while, at the same time, I can find any number of papers and research which mention it. Go ahead, Google it for yourself... I'll wait. I think the problem lies in the word maturity. I am not sure what that means either.

Teenage girls think teenage boys aren't mature. The acne and awkwardness might have something to do with it. Whereas teenage girls are assumed to be more mature than the boys. But that changes when they are out of their teens, doesn't it?. Women do not want to be thought of as mature, do they? It envisions a graying, sagging, slightly overweight Mom type.

So, what might be cognitive maturity? The ability to make rational decisions, you might say, decisions that take into account the possible consequences. Really? If that is so, then a tiny few ever achieve that level. Don't believe me, just look around you. We both know that there are a lot of people who do not seem to think ahead by more than a minute (if that far).

Not us, of course, not you and I. We are mature. We weigh all the foreseeable (and some barely possible) consequences of our decisions before deciding, don't we? It's those other people that we worry about. The ones that text while driving. That guy in his 60's with the earring and riding that Harley. Your boss. Your spouse. Especially the spouse who opposes your buying that Harley... and the earring. Or the tattoo. Just because she doesn't think she wants to hang on the back while you pretend to be a mature Marlon Brando in Wild One or make that motorcycle trek across the country you've wanted to do since you were 23.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Forward... into the past.

I believe I have mentioned in the past that I am fascinated by that period of American and world history between 1930 and 1946. Those 16 or 17 years were important for a number of reasons and I do not quite understand just why I fixate on them. In many ways, I am sad because I was born after them and did not get to experience them firsthand. In others, I am glad I did not have to live through them.

I read books written during, and about, that period. I watch movies about, or made during, that period... thank you, Ted Turner, for TCM... and am transported back there. If time travel was possible, and I had access to a time machine, that would be the first time period I would visit.

To understand the period, you need to also get a grasp for the decades preceding it. But, though I read about the Spanish-American War, the early years of the 20th Century, and World War I, and the Roaring Twenties, I never got as fascinated by them as I have the next period. I often wonder why we, as humans, fixate on things. What draws us to one thing or another? Why do I play golf even though I am barely adequate at it? But I digress...

Getting back to World War II and the events leading up to it... Some say that World War I and II were actually just one long war with an odd and prolonged truce between the violent periods. There are times I agree with that and others where I don't. Mostly, I don't. But I do think it is true that World War II was the inevitable result of World War I. The rise of fascism, the last vestiges of true (or, maybe, just blatant) imperialism, the effect of losing and winning by the respective nations, the mistakes made in the aftermath of World War I still impact us today. It is a bit ironic that the war dubbed The war to end all wars spawned so many more.

But enough about what I am fascinated by. Intrigue me. Tell me what other periods I should fixate on. What period of history, more than any other, you would wish to experience firsthand?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tick tock, tick tock tock, tick...

I play solitaire on the computer. A lot. I play, usually, three different games: Freecell, Rainbow Fan (a variation of LaBelle Lucie using two decks), and Number Ten (a variation on Forty Thieves). The latter two are from a shareware solitaire suite called Pretty Good Solitaire and the first is the version that comes from Microsoft.

While playing one of the games today, I noticed something that I do. I get into a rhythm of clicks. In these games, the left click "grabs" the card while the right click auto-moves the card to a predefined area (either the "Foundation", a place in the "Tableau", or to a spot in the "Cells"). Where the card goes off a Right click is pre-programmed. Sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don't. It all depends upon your personal strategy and my strategies may differ from the programmer's at times. But there is still a rhythm involved.

Left "click", move mouse, release, move mouse to next card choice. Left "click", move mouse, release, move mouse to next card. Tick tock tock. Tick tock tock. Auto-moves are short rhythms. Right "click", move mouse. Right "click", move mouse. Tick tock. Tick tock. The "ticks" are all mouse clicks. The "tocks" are all mouse moves, a shift of the hand. My eyes anticpate the rhythm according to my strategy with the particular game.

The game then becomes a dance of hands, eyes, and brain. The brain is in control but also tied to the rhythm. Some subconscious part of the brain sets that rhythm, I think. The one that has an insight into the strategy being used. But there is a risk involved if you get into the rhythm. You move according to the rhythm until make a move that doesn't follow the strategy. The rhythm is broken, the play "stutters", the mind stumbles and conscious thought must re-take control.

I related this, in my mind, to something called "pre-shot routines" in golf. These are things you do before hitting the ball. They have one primary purposes: let your mind "adjust" to the task at hand. I think they are rhythmic in nature. Even the start of a race uses this. "Ready... Set... go!" Properly done, there will be an equal length pause between each word. If you are the race participant, you go through certain thoughts during these pauses. The thoughts are unique to the individual. In baseball, batters go through a routine as they approach the plate and then between each pitch. In football, it is even more complex because the team goes through a routine and each player may also do so; a complex dance that is both internally and externally driven.

And then I wonder... how many other things do we do in this manner? How many things in our day, in our life, do we do as a matter of routine? Letting our subconscious minds set and follow patterns and take us wherever they will? And how can we break from them when they are harmful? Why don't we see/feel the failure in the "play", the "stumble" in the dance?

It is how I quit smoking. I looked at the habit, analyzed it, broke it down into "triggers" and "reactions", looked at the routines and the rituals involved, and I changed them or interrupted them in such a way as to make them conscious actions.

Perhaps, as my ex-wife often told me, I over-analyze things. Maybe... but it has become a habit.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday chuckles

Saturdays are for humor, I think. A way for those who work to relax and recharge their internal batteries and regain a fresh outlook. Humor is important to our well being. We need it to in order to be not overwhelmed by the petty problems of everyday life. We laugh at cartoons, at jokes, at each other, and at ourselves. We seem to need it. We seem to be the only species which utilizes humor.

So, I will pass on some humor that was passed on to me this week...


Last night, my kids and I were sitting in the living room and I said to them,
'I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and
fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.'

They got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.


If this does not touch your heart, then you just don't have one.....

An incredible story of luck and inspiration!

Can you believe it? This guy wins $181 million in the lottery last Wednesday, and then finds the love of his life just 2 days later.

Talk about LUCK!


The Four Cats

Four men were bragging about how smart their cats were.

The first man was an Engineer,
The second man was an Accountant,
The third man was a Chemist, and
The fourth man was a Government Employee.

To show off, the Engineer called his cat, "T-square", do your stuff.

"T-square" pranced over to the desk, took out some paper and pen and promptly drew a circle, a square, and a triangle.

Everyone agreed that was pretty smart.

But the Accountant said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Spreadsheet", do your stuff.

"Spreadsheet" went out to the kitchen and returned with a dozen cookies He divided them into 4 equal piles of 3 cookies.

Everyone agreed that was good.

But the Chemist said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Measure", do your stuff.

"Measure" got up, walked to the fridge, took out a quart of milk, got a 10 ounce glass from the cupboard and poured exactly 8 ounces without spilling a drop into the glass.

Everyone agreed that was pretty good.

Then the three men turned to the Government Employee and said, "What can your cat do?"

The Government Employee called his cat and said, "CoffeeBreak", do your stuff.

"CoffeeBreak" jumped to his feet.......

Ate the cookies.......

Drank the milk.......

Shit on the paper.......

Screwed the other three cats.......

Claimed he injured his back while doing so.......

Filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions........

Put in for Workers Compensation................and

Went home for the rest of the day on sick leave...........


Friday, February 5, 2010

A day like any other...

Well, it's TGIF time. The problem I have with that is that I no longer work so Fridays don't mean as much to me. Actually, they rarely meant much to me in terms of the work week. This is because most of my working life was spent in jobs that required working on weekends at least once a month. In the Navy, of course, there was no weekend at sea. Sunday was observed, of course, but only as a day of lighter duty. Saturday was just another workday. Only in port did weekends matter much. Saturday became a light duty day for those who had the weekend "duty" and Sunday you were free to do as you pleased... except leave the ship for more than a very limited time.

After the Navy, I briefly worked in a conventional job where I had each weekend off. A few months there and, therefore, not long enough to acclimate to it. Besides, I was young and pretty much partied every night I could afford it.

The phone company* demanded we cover the switching offices (where I worked) 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. This meant that I would work at least one weekend a month depending on size of office crew and shift I was assigned. When on Day or Evening shift, I it was once a month. On Night shift, it was every other week for quite some time. That meant, I worked 10 days straight with 4 days off between stretches. My "Friday" in that period was every other Thursday. But it got worse for awhile. I began working an extra two days for overtime because I needed the money. That meant 12 days straight with 2 days off.

While it wasn't physically demanding work, it was a strain to have to be there and think in telephone that many days in a row. And then I had only two days to decompress during which I had to shift back to normalcy.

What do I mean by "shift back to normalcy?" Well, during the 12 days (or 10, depending) I was on the Night shift, which was a midnight to 8 AM "workday", I slept during the day while the rest of the world was up and making noise and doing things. They were normal and I was not. So, on my last day of work, I would not go to sleep until late at night in order to reset my "clock." Then on the day preceding my return to work, I would take a nap in the evening to rest before staying up all night.

I aged quickly doing that, I think. Studies I read about during my work years all showed that it was the shifting back and forth between a daytime oriented life and a nighttime oriented life that took its toll physically and mentally on the worker. That the best way to function was to adapt your life to the shift you were on and remain on that schedule even on days off. That is, work nights and sleep days during the workweek and stay up nights and sleep days on the off days.

That is fine... in theory. But it is another matter in practice. Especially when you have a wife and child (or children), extended family, and friends who work normal hours.

I lost track of time of day and days of the week. I felt, after awhile, like I was sleepwalking through life.

I became fascinated by vampires and vampire stories.

I actually preferred working the night shift. There were rarely any supervisors or bosses around at night which meant I could structure my time at work as I saw fit. There were less people around, fewer co-workers than Day or even Evening shifts. Which meant less socializing at work. I could work without being interfered with by phone calls or requests for assistance by co-workers.

It is the perfect shift for a loner. And I was definitely a loner.

But I am now retired. And I sleep nights and am up and about during the day. But I still have no feel for days of the week.

So, if you work and this is the last day of your work week then "Happy TGIF!"

I'm going to go play golf.

* Ma Bell had a diverse and dysfunctional family, it was really a number of regional phone companies all owned and loosely controlled by the parent corporation, AT&T. I worked for three of the entities over the 34 years.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Leave me alone, I'm sure I have better things to do.

Back when I was in my voluntary servitude to the Great Mother (which some might otherwise call my career with Ma Bell), we went through a number of business management fads. Each of these fads usually has one or more buzzwords. The one that infuriated me the most, the one that took me over the edge into outright rebellion against these fads was proactive.

Ma Bell [May She Ring Forever] decided that we had, up till then, been reactive because we primarily responded to complaints rather than anticipated problems and take steps to prevent them. This only proved that the folks in charge had no clue as to what the company had been doing. Or, if they knew, were trying a new public relations ploy. It was most likely the latter though I think the former was true enough.

In any event, the idea was that we were to act on problems we came across with more diligence than we had in the past. Somehow. You see, we actually did monitor the network and did try to anticipate developing problems and had been for as long as I had worked for Ma Bell [MSRF]. We performed routine maintenance, we tested circuits manually and automatically on a routine basis. We did not simply wait for things to break. There were thousands of engineers whose jobs were to predict future usage levels and initiate growth to handle it. And there were sections of Bell Labs whose almost sole function was to find ways to handle more calls with more efficiency and reliability.

That already existent proactiveness apparently was not known about. You see, when the "suits" came around, they rarely saw anyone actually working unless something had gone horribly wrong. So, naturally, they assumed we did nothing most of the time. That was probably true in my case but let's not go there.

The night I slipped over the edge was on a weekend. Weekends on night shift were pretty laid back. I mostly sat around, did a few routine maintenance tasks, checked readings, and little else. In other words, I could surf the internet for hours. On occasion, I would get a call from a surveillance center asking me to look into a problem on some carrier system. This was mostly to locate the problem, repair it if it was "in house", or schedule repair for the next week if it was in the field and the possible impact on service was negligible.

But then I get a call to check a certain single digital carrier system that "belonged" to a single customer. A business. A bank.

"There is an alarm", the center told me. "Could you look into it, please?"

They were often polite like that. It usually cut down on the whining and crankiness from those of us in the offices caused by having our sleep disturbed or interrupting our 47th consecutive solitaire game. Not always, of course, but most of the time.

I, of course, was always cheerful and willing. So I did look into it. And found, as I had suspected, that the problem was "out". "Out" means that it was not in my office and, in this case, most likely at the customer end. This was confirmed when the center remotely ordered a loopback at the customer's site and the trouble cleared. I could explain that further but then we'd get mired down in detail unimportant to the story. We, the center and myself, now knew the problem was within the customer's control.

The customer, being a bank, was closed since this was around 2 in the morning. And, since it was Saturday morning, would not be open for quite some time. The guy at the center (I'll call him "Phil" because that probably wasn't his name) asked me to go to the customer's site and find out what was wrong.

And that's when I began to change from my usual, friendly and helpful, demeanor into my "go away before I do something you won't like" personality. I explained that (a) I was alone and could not leave the office uncovered and (b) had no way to get into the customer's site (it being a bank and all) and (c) wasn't about to even consider it.

Phil argued with me. Cajoled me. Urged me. All of which I easily resisted.

And why was he so adamant? Why, he was being proactive, of course. He wanted to "fix the problem before the customer was even aware he had one." I asked him when this alarm had come in. He told me it was there when he came on his shift at midnight. I asked him how long it had been in before that. After much hemming and hawing, he researched it and found it had started just after the bank closed.

And I hung up the phone. An action I took for each of his next few calls. He threatened to report me to his supervisor. I welcomed that. You see, the bank shut down their phone system at closing time on Fridays. They had their reasons.

It was that night that I decided that being
proactive was like sticking your hand in a fire ant nest to see if it was inhabited. And I really don't like fire ants.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is that call all that important?

I like to refer you readers... the good ones... the ones who pay attention... the incredibly shrinking few who have not abandoned this blog (yet).. to articles someone else has written. First, because it proves that I can read and recognize talent by others and, second, I don't have to write as much to fill in a post.

So, let me direct you to the following...

A Results-Free Cell Phone Law by Debra J. Saunders

Last week, an insurance industry report found that bans on using hand-held cell-phones while driving in California, New York, Washington, D.C. and Connecticut did not reduce the number of car crashes. To the contrary, crashes went up in Connecticut and New York, and slightly in California, after the bans took effect.

Ms Saunders makes a good point in her column. Why pass a law that is difficult to enforce and may not have any real effect on the problem it is supposed to address? Because, my friends, it might help and, even if it doesn't, we'll all feel better, won't we? But she overlooks another point. One that I think is important, one that says something about people and dependency.

I can't drive and talk on a cell phone. It scares the bejeezus out of me to even try. I am not a bad driver, in spite of what Faye might tell you. But I do realize that I am not able to give my full attention to the task at hand if one of my hands is wrapped around an active cell phone.

I had OnStar active in my car, which gave me hands-free calling (at an excessive price), but that didn't help. What happened was a form of tunnel vision during the calls. My mental focus was on the dynamics of the call conversation and not the traffic around me. I stayed in my lane only because I was no longer driving the 20 year old clunker with the bad front-end that was all I could afford at one time.

So, being nominally sane and mostly rational, I do not drive and phone. I pull over. I make the call before starting out. Or have my passenger (assuming I have one) do it. Or I do not make the call at all.

I am quite anti-cell phone, I suppose. I believe we can easily do with out them. But, then, many might call me a curmudgeon... or worse. I do not require constant contact with others. I come from an era where no one had cell phones. In fact, some had no phone at all. And the ones that did have them were limited in mobility by the length of the cord between phone and wall and handset and phone base. You could not even unplug the phone and move it to another room. It was hard-wired to the wall.

More than a decade went by before we had phone jacks which allowed us to decide where we wanted the phone to be, what room and where in that room. Another decade before we were freed from wires and could walk around our houses, even outside within limits, and still chat on the phone.

We went hours without being reachable when we left our homes. And we survived. Even prospered. We ate in restaurants and heard both sides of a conversation at the next table. If we heard that... because people lowered their voices so that others would not overhear (or be disturbed in their dining). And life was not unbearable.

A cell phone is a wonderful thing. It allows us to contact help when we need it. I first bought one so Faye could call for assistance if she had car trouble when driving home from work at night (she did taxes and sometimes did not get home until 10). As cell phones proliferated, those pay phones (which seemed to be in the worst places and often out of order) became more rare. Parents got cell phones for their teenagers for much the same reasons as I got one for Faye.

Usage grew and features proliferated and we quickly became dependent on these devices. I say "we" in the grand scale. I am not. Dependent, that is. I use a GoPhone, a pay as you go type cell phone where you purchase minutes. I buy 100 minutes for a year and have used less than 20 in the last 8 or 9 months.

And, somehow, I do not feel all alone and without contact. I live without an electronic leash. I feel free.

I leave it to you, dear readers, have cell phones enriched or diminished our lives?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Good Walk Spoiled

The last couple of days I have been gazing intently into my navel and pondering deep thoughts. I'd like to continue that by bring my almost main passion into the mix.

Yes, that's right. Golf.

Stop yawning. It's not polite.

I realize that not everyone sees the sport in the way that golfers do. And that those who do not play The Game do not understand the golfer's passion for it. Even those who play often don't understand it.

I think former NFL pro Bo Jackson expressed it perfectly in an interview recently when he said he was so involved in the game that he didn't know who was in the [NFL] playoffs.

Like most sports, much of the game can be translated into life. Or vice versa. To me, golf involves a number of things I enjoy. I'll explain in a moment but, first, a little background.

When I was a young boy, I was nothing much. I was smaller than my peers of the same age, skinny, and insecure. I had little to encourage me or help me over those hurdles we face as children. My father, a distant and seemingly cold man, was not into sports. My mother, clueless about them. My brother was, likewise, not into sports either. My very short exposure to Little League baseball was tryouts and one game (a practice game, I think) at age 7. The first time I hit a pitched ball was no thrill. It was painful. Either I had a cracked bat or very tender hands but all I recall is that my hands stung like I had never experienced before.

I was also called "out" at first base. I would have been crushed if I wasn't already totally lacking in self-confidence.

I was never grew big enough to play football nor tall enough for basketball nor fleet enough for track. So I grew up without engaging much in those sports that boys normally play that help form them and give them a common ground.

I was not "athletically inclined", as they say. But I had (and have) a competitive nature so I sought other avenues and ignored sports except as a spectator.

I only discovered some ability when I got exposed to surfing at age 18. It helped that I saw many others struggling to learn it and failing to master it. And it didn't take great strength. It took balance and focus and those things I could muster. And it did not require teamwork.

I did not get exposed to golf in any meaningful way until I was about 26. I was over my youthful insecurities and self-loathing and had built up a small amount of self-confidence. It helped that I could see the majority of amateur players weren't very good at it. Even the friend who introduced me to it, a jock who had played all the high school sports, struggled with it as much as I did. When we played together, it wasn't really together except on the tee and the green. He hit the ball to the left and I hit it to the right, so we took separate routes at almost every hole.

But golf provides something else for me. It provides 18 basic problems to be solved, with any number of problems inside each of those. It is not a physically demanding game but requires balance, coordination, and a modicum of flexibility.

It is personal. You never really compete directly with an opponent in the way you do in most other sports. It is strength of will that is important in the competition and the game, you can affect only the psychology of your opponent. The only player you can affect physically is yourself.

There is a Zen like quality to it. It is, as Yogi Berra said about baseball, "90% mental, the other half is physical." The mind controls the body in golf like few other sports. I sometimes muse about putting because I think it represents the incredible control we exert upon our bodies without realizing it.

Consider it this way... You step upon the green, feel the firmness of the turf through your shoes and feet, gauge the speed the ball must travel to reach the cup, determine the path the ball will follow based on how and where the slopes are on the green and how the grain of the grass will affect it, and then your mind subconsciously sends the necessary commands to the muscles to execute the stroke. It often amazes me when this works. And it often works.

But there is also raw physicality involved. You step up to the tee and 14 times out 18, try to hit the ball as far as you can in the direction you want.

Golf is where I can exorcise my demons. And I do need to exorcise those demons. I can get lost inside my head even while socializing and sharing jokes. There is no other activity quite like it.

And it is addictive as cocaine.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cognitive Matters

I sometimes get entangled in a web of contradictory perceptions. Those are not hard to get out of because contradictions tend to be obvious and leave gaps between the perceptions. It's when the threads overlap, when the contradictions blur, that it is difficult to get free.

This is called cognitive dissonance.

I read articles in the Boston Globe from time to time. Not because I am from Boston... or Massachusetts... but because they sometimes have very interesting stories and editorials. I mostly disagree with the latter. On Sunday, I came across this story:

It's about something called "cognitive fluency" and its partner "cognitive disfluency". Since it is about how people make judgments and decisions, it interested me. Basically, if I understand it correctly, cognitive fluency is where we more easily accept that which we recognize as familiar. A way of expressing this that I thought useful was this:

‘If it is familiar, it has not eaten you yet.’

That's speaking in evolutionary beneficial terms. But it applies the concept to the basic instinct for survival. That is, I think, the root instinct of all animal life. All other instincts are derived from that one, in my opinion, and can be traced back to it.

So you are saying, all well and boring, but what about this contradiction thingie you started with? That pops up with the cognitive disfluency theory. It says, the more unfamilar something is, the more we are likely to make a better judgment of it. That is, the unfamiliar forces us to examine it more closely. It didn't say this but I inferred that the unfamiliar triggered a danger reaction. An "It isn't familiar so it may eat me" reaction, if you will. Which makes us cautious and deliberate in reacting to it.

And this, I think, allows one to perceive those "gaps" I wrote about.

The methods they used to test the theory are interesting and involved the use of clear fonts versus blurred or complex ones. The same problem would be perceived and "handled" (by the brain) in a distinctly different manner when it was presented using a simple, clear, font than when it was presented in a blurred or difficult to read font. What I found especially interesting was that the better (subjective term, I know) judgment was made when the problem was presented in a more difficult to read form.

I cannot explain these concepts adequately in the limited space of a blog. The article is fairly long and it, of course, does not fully explain them either. But I recommend you read it if you are interested in how people think, why they make the choices they do, and how others use that knowledge to manipulate you.

Since most of my working life was spent in troubleshooting, or problem solving, how we perceive a problem and make decisions about resolving it is fascinating to me. Some people are good at problem solving, some aren't. Within those that are good at it, some are better than others and can do it across a wide field of disciplines. Some can even resolve problems within disciplines with which they are completely unfamiliar.

If you were to ask me... "Just what is intelligence?" I might use the above paragraph to answer it.