Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Habit Sets

Jesse Ball (one of my favorite writers) did something particularly interesting with his memoir Autoportrait: it's structure is flat. 

It's a series of individual sentences about things he saw, felt, thought, or experienced. They don't progress, and seemingly, they're just written down in a random, non-linear sequence. 

At first, it's a huge struggle to read, because the structure is so odd and unwieldy. What it does, though, is force you to focus on each sentence, and it becomes incredibly revealing in its own way, as soon as you accept its terms.

One of the things he mentions is needing to be able to have long thoughts. This struck me personally as the most important sentence in the entire book, because it corresponds so closely to my habits and what I struggle with at times. 

I have two sets of habits: one set when I'm writing, and one set when I'm not. They are wildly incompatible, and it's very difficult for me to switch from one set to another. 

When I'm not writing, I tend to consume way too much media, particularly politics. I do things for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. In workout terms, it's mostly anaerobic. I play games. I text people all the time. I just flit around from thing to thing, and while I still think about things and make connections between them, I'm not thinking very hard. 

When I'm writing, though, my habits are totally different. I don't look at websites before I work (which is right after I eat breakfast). I look at my primary websites only twice a day. I stay off the Internet as much as possible. I meditate. I try to think for extended periods of time about everything that is worth considering (it's very long thought oriented, in other words). I don't text anyone before noon. Doing these things (or not doing them) creates a kind of calm that is necessary for me to have the focus I need to write/edit effectively. 

What's particularly difficult is switching from one set to another, particularly when I've had a planned break from writing, as I've had for the last six weeks. Trying to focus is so difficult at first, and I just ease myself in an hour a day or so until I'm back in rhythm. I also feel like a five-year-old struggling with the alphabet for the first week or so. 

I'd like to some day just switch over to long thought mode all the time. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Cousinage, part two

I wrote about the concept of cousinage in Mali last week, which I read in one of the peacebuilding books Eli 20.0 has accumulated. I had to finish reading it before he left for school, because he was taking it with him.

I told him about cousinage and also about cognitive behavioral therapy, which is remarkably useful when trying to reintegrate ex-rebels into society. Dealing with anger, in particular, and basically relearning how to have acceptable emotions in regular society. Rebels consistently evaluated that portion of their reintegration training as the most helpful, even several years later.

He called me today to ask where in the book the cousinage section was, because he wants to incorporate it into the peacebuilding class he's teaching this fall (yes, he's teaching an honors class for freshmen and sophomores). One of the things he wanted to do was have people mix in the class more freely, even when they didn't know each other, so he's going to incorporate cousinage as a way for people to socialize.

I don't know if he's going to use an approved insult list or not. Missed opportunity if he doesn't, I said. 

Monday, August 29, 2022


Well, that's a disaster. Wait, what's that little sign in the middle, almost underwater? Enhance:


Austin has a giant motorcycle rally every year that's super annoying. I think I found the Michigan version, which is much nicer:

There are some magnificent gardens up here in summer. Here's a good example:

Finally, I mean, don't we all?

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Friday Links!


From Chis Meadowcraft, and it's definitely a problem: Sports Streaming Makes Losers of Us All

From Kevin W., and it's an interesting read: Rules, Death, Happiness, and Schadenfreude: UNO and the Art of Game Design

From C. Lee, and it's disturbing: Did a Retouched Architectural Digest Photo Cover Up Stolen Relics? This is stunningly stupid: How an O.C. lawyer’s bragging prompted a judge to throw out winning malpractice verdict. People are immune to facts: A majority of Americans see an 'invasion' at the southern border, NPR poll finds. This is very, very important: Tips about silent strokes. Good grief: Don’t plug in that free Microsoft Office USB drive you got in the mail. I had absolutely no idea: For Centuries, English Bakers’ Biggest Customers Were Horses.

From Wally, and this had to happen eventually: Lord of the Rings mechanical keyboards are perfect for people who speak Elvish

Poesia Por Amor

Eli 20.0 told me a lovely story while he was packing for school.
In Bogota, at the edge of a large square, were two men in their 20s sitting at a table with manual typewriters in front of them. There was a sign: poesia por amor, which means "poems for love."

He explained that using "por" was clever, because it has several meanings, all of which add nuance instead of just the simple meaning "for." 

What they did was write a love poem for you, presumably to give to your loved one. You gave them the name and the circumstances, and they'd write a love poem in 3-5 minutes, pull it out of the typewriter, and it was yours. 

Eli said there were never less than a dozen people in line, and usually more than twenty. An hour wait for a love poem, modestly priced. 

It seems like a bargain to me. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Fixing Education, Finland Style

Basic education (K-12) in the United States is a mess. 

As I mentioned yesterday, it started unraveling the day that Brown v. Board of Education was announced. From that day forward, people (you know which people I'm referring to) have been chipping away at public education. Promoting private schools, trying to reduce funding for public schools, throwing hissy fits about what these schools can teach, etc. 

The problem, of course, is that by trying to diminish public schools, you wind up with two school systems: private schools for the better off, and public schools for the worse off. The private schools wind up with more money and resources, because they're privately funded.

That means poor kids, who go to worse schools, are less likely to have opportunities to advance in their lifetimes, and will be more likely to need social programs for assistance, which--ironically--the same people who caused the decline of public schools also oppose. 

Look, let's just rip off the band-aid. The reason public schools have been steadily sabotaged in the last 60+ years is because many white people don't want their children going to school with black and brown children. Or, at least, not the "wrong" black and brown kids.  

Like I said yesterday, America was built on separation. 

Besides the reprehensible racism, what makes this particularly sad is the well-established body of research supporting the theory that kids of different races mixing freely in childhood leads to better outcomes in almost every way for the children involved. Less discrimination and more empathy, in particular. 

I'm depressing myself as I write. I wonder if there is a simple way to solve this?

Well, ask Finland, where there's no such thing as for-profit basic education (7-16 years of age). The small number of private schools (below 5%) receive government funding, but they teach the same curriculum as the public schools. 

That's not so complicated, is it? 

If everyone sent their kids to public schools, everyone would have a reason to want the public school system to be as good as possible, instead of tearing it down. Private schools wouldn't be able to hoard the best teachers, either. Children of all races would go to school together, which would produce better outcomes for emotional intelligence.

It would fix all kinds of problems, which means it will never happen. Not here, at least.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


Mali took an interesting approach to different ethnic groups not mingling (which was causing enormous societal and political tension). 

It's called a "joking kinship" or "cousinage." Here's a bit of detail:
Under the rules, for example, someone named Keita (an ethnically Malinke surname) and someone named Coulibaly (a Bambara surname) are "cousins." Typically, their surnames shar a common meaning. If they meet one another, despite being strangers, the custom means that their surnames give them a basis for affinity. To signify this, they insult each other with a standard set of jokes. 

In other words, you break down ethnic groups and create new ones based on the meaning of one's name. It's an informal alliance. Also:
Cousinage pacifies politics in Mali to this day. 

This was from a book I'm reading on peacebuilding (Why We Fight: the Roots of War and the Paths to Peace), because I'm reading a ton of stuff in an attempt to keep up with Eli 21.0. 

It made me think about how the United States are so fundamentally based on separation that it seems like it would account for many of the differences plaguing us to this day. I'm going to talk about this in education tomorrow, because we've continued to strip away at public education from the day Brown v. Board of Education was decided. 

Monday, August 22, 2022


Online dating platforms are, to an introvert, inherently embarrassing. Leave it to me to up the ante.

Bumble works similarly to many dating platforms: you swipe left to dismiss a profile, or right if you're interested. Also, if you particularly like the profile, Bumble has a "super swipe" feature, of which you have a limited supply. This super swipe option is in the very center of the screen, at the bottom.

I think I've used the super swipe maybe half a dozen times in a year. 

I decided weeks ago that limiting my range for looking at profiles was stupid. There don't seem to be many creative people close to me, so I just opened it up, and man, I've looked at a lot of profiles. 

For whatever reason, past a certain distance, Bumble disregards your filters to sort out profiles. So I'm looking at everyone now, for better or for worse (often worse). 

Last week, I was eating a protein bar for lunch, and I was idly swiping left (almost always left) on profiles as I ate. Then a new profile came up, a conservative woman who had some MAGA vomit in her profile. 

At that moment, a small piece of protein bar fell onto my phone screen. 

Well, damn it, I thought, and I blew on my phone but didn't move the little bit of bar at all, so I started trying to slide it over with my finger. Which is how I accidentally super swiped on this woman who believes the election was stolen and all true authority in this country stems from Trump. 


Fortunately, she didn't respond with a like. I'm sure she saw my profile and--well, I have no idea what she thought. She probably got out her gun. One of her guns. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and what a read, it's The Crypto Geniuses Who Vaporized a Trillion Dollars

This is terrific: Tokyo's most unusual electronics shop closes its doors after 62 years

This is quite fantastic (and what a finale this week): Better Call Saul Gameboy'd

This is a wonderful, poignant essay: Pirates of Kaddha Market.

From Wally, and it's amazing: Building the ultimate D&D Table: Dungeons and Dados. Like a 100-car pileup on the interstate: Bikers Slide Down Mountain of Hell! Having fun for money sounds great until it isn't: Burnout turned Twitch streamers' dreams of playing games full time into nightmares. Secret Agent Vac-007: ‘Ask all the time: why do I need this?’ How to stop your vacuum from spying on you

From C. Lee, and it's a thoughtful essay: If “Content is King” then perhaps it’s time for a coup. This is an absolutely mesmerizing read: After the Zodiac Killer's '340' Cipher Stumped the FBI, Three Amateurs Made a Breakthrough. Not surprising: The Billionaire's Dilemma: Marc Andreeson says he's all for more new housing, but public records tell a different story. Irony: Californians and Other Americans are Flooding Mexico City. Some locals want them to go home. Well, yuck: Fecal fountains: CDC warns of diarrheal outbreaks linked to poopy splash pads. A great word to add to your vocabulary: City tells New Yorkers: don’t panic about ‘splooting’ squirrels.

A Master Thought

DQ Artist Fredrik Skarstedt, with the ultimate idea for a superpower:
Ability to manipulate probability. 

Spoken like a true supervillain. I'm going to apply to be a project manager for the construction of his evil lair.

A Quality Breed

We were somewhere, doing something. Talking constantly about random things, like we always do. 

"Which dog breed is the alpha?" I asked. 

"What's the biggest dog?" Eli 20.0 asked.

"The most alpha dog is the chihuahua," I said.

"What?" Eli asked, laughing. "Explain."

"Think about it," I said. "A chihuahua receives all the perks of being a dog--walks, meals, treats, petting, cuddles--and is only a fraction of the size of bigger dogs. If you're looking at power to weight ratio, no dog is more powerful than a chihuahua."

"That's persuasive," Eli said. 

"In football terms, chihuahuas are students of the game," I said. 

Also: spelling "chihuahua" multiple times is a giant pain the ass. No chihuahua's will be written about in the future. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Hunger Stones

A post went viral this week on Reddit about "hunger stones," though the image was originally posted in 2014. 

The following is from "Archaeohistories" Twitter account:
Recent droughts in Europe once again made visible the "Hunger Stones" in some Czech and German rivers. These stones were used to mark desperately low river levels that would forecast famines. This one, in Elbe river, is from 1616 and says: "If you see me, cry"

Some of the stones have inscriptions from multiple droughts separated by decades or even centuries, creating a history of tragic times. 

Besides being incredibly evocative, this seems like a metaphor for own lives, at times. When the hunger stones are exposed, it's not a permanent condition, because eventually, there will be rain, and they will be covered once more. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022


You've got to be kidding me: Richard Garriott's NFT MMO entreats you to 'buy land in the realm of Lord British'.

Richard Garriott has become the gaming equivalent of the band a-ha, a one-idea wonder releasing albums entirely consisting of alternate versions of "Take on Me." It would just be sad if he wasn't taking money from people. 

I think I finally understand people like Richard Garriott and Peter Molyneux. They're legitimately creative, innovative people who once made games to make games. Now they make games to support their lifestyle. It's life as a microtransaction, and it fouls any creative thought they have. 

Let me predict the course of this project in just a few sentences. Very soon, Garriott will breathlessly announce that X million in "land" has been sold in this exciting new venture (it will be a lie, but it's necessary to make other people feel like they're missing out). Development will start, and will proceed at a pace that's fast enough to maintain the pace of land sales. At some point, after maximum money has been extracted from the public, the project will shut down and various factors will be blamed (negative publicity, unfortunate events, meteors).

Within two years, a new project will be announced. And so it goes.

Monday, August 15, 2022


"If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?" I asked. 

"Flying," Eli 20.0 said. 

"Amateur move," I said. 

He laughed. "Why?"

"There's a Bumble prompt where someone can pick their superpower. Almost everyone picks flying."


"Can you imagine a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and you decide to go on a flight, because you can fly, right? So you open the door, step out onto the porch, look up--and see 50,000 people already up here. Hell, no."

"Oh, that's your nightmare," he said. "You pick flying to get away from traffic and it's even worse."

"Exactly," I said. "So I thought about it carefully and decided I want super strength."

"So you can lift cars off people after accidents and save lives?" he asked. 

"So I can always open up jars when I get old," I said.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Friday Links!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Leading off this week, from C. Lee, a wonderful short story that only disappoints because it's not longer: Porgee’s Boar

From C. Lee, and the word "legend" is often overused, but not with this man: Encore: Bill Russell, basketball legend with record 11 NBA titles, dies at 88. Another true legend: Vin Scully, the famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, dies at 94. A terrific read: Blood on the Tracks in Pullman: Chicago's Failed Capitalist Utopia. Explore the origins of Gundam: Anime Is Not to Be Underestimated: Tomino Yoshiyuki / Animation Director. Ugh: “Huge flaw” threatens US emergency alert system, DHS researcher warns. This is very helpful: You won’t be confused about electric vehicle charging after reading this. McSweeney's is a national treasure: EMILY DICKINSON POEM OR AN EARLY AUGHTS EMO LYRIC? If the New Yorker had a Tokyo edition: The Tokyoiter Presents Diverse Visions of Tokyo

From Wally, and it's an interesting read: The Dinner Tab has Soared. Here are the Reasons. Star Trek nerd alert: How the Starship Enterprise Was Redesigned for ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’. Analysis and speculation: The Cheshire Cat: Behind the Grin. To no one's surprise: New scientific paper shows the Mandela Effect is real. Types of noise: TikTok Claims ‘Brown Noise’ Can Cure Your Anxiety and Help You Sleep. Here’s What the Science Says.

Amazing (attention Ben)

In addition to all the text-to-image software now available (Midjourney, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion), there's now a text-to-video generator in development (have a look).

Great and Terrible News

My editor, who is genuinely one of the most delightful people on earth, was offered a professor's position at a university in London. 

Which is great, and it makes me incredibly happy, but it also means she won't be doing freelance editing anymore. She had stopped working with anyone else about a year ago, but kept me on because she was very, very fond of The Man You Trust

I feel a bit gutted, to be sure.

Three Texts

John is in italics, I'm not. Three texts:

You want to play mini-golf. Now. 

I'm not even at home, but I respect your attempt at mind control.

You want to go home. Now. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022


As a Coming Home I'm Glad You Survived The Year gift, I got Eli 21.0 this:

That's the LEGO Starry Night set, and I only wish a two-dimensional photograph could do it justice, because it's amazing. The colors are so rich, and it's perfectly designed. The third dimension really makes the colors leap forward. 

Next, a phenomenal sky, and I think it's from Panama City? There have been so many countries that it's anyone's guess, really. 

Finally, convincing proof of time travel:

How did a WWI soldier get transported into an Australian Rules Football Game? I think we all know.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Midjourney and Unexpected Consequences

I've been working with Midjourney quite a bit lately. It's pretty hypnotic, really. 

I'm learning quite a bit about artists I never heard of, because when someone includes an artist's style in a prompt, I look at the resulting image and look at some of the artist's work via Google. So it's been educational in a way I didn't expect. 

I'm also studying color theory and image composition, to better understand how to create interesting images. 

I'm noticing that Midjourney does certain things very, very well, and other features lag a bit behind. And it made me think about artists and how they might respond to image generation programs. I hadn't thought about this before, but it seems like artists might become even more creative and unique (and appreciated) by making art that computer programs can't copy. So generic, high-volume styles might be at risk via AI, but art itself should be just fine. 

Monday, August 08, 2022

The Perils of Memory

I've been listening to The Knack today. I throw myself on the mercy of the court. 

I'm doing this because I had a conversation with Eli 20.1 about bands who became more interesting (or just interesting) after their commercial success faded. The Bangles are my favorite example, but The Knack is a close second, and it's because of their fourth album. 

Wait, The Knack had a fourth album? Wait, The Knack had a third album, too?

"Get the Knack," "...But the Little Girls Understand," and "Round Trip" were released in a flurry in 1979, 1980, 1981. The second album was quite successful, though not as huge as the first one (which could be reviewed in a single word as "frenetic"), and the third album, well, let's not speak of the third album. 

You certainly wouldn't mistake them for anyone else. Every song was almost instantly recognizable as coming from The Knack, even the unpopular ones. With the third album, though, it appeared that The Knack had simply run their course.

They dropped out of site for a decade. 

Then, in 1991, they released "Serious Fun" on a small record label, long after they were all out of fucks to give, and The Knack became something else entirely: a solid, interesting band. 

Nice intro, right? Which I wrote before I read the Wikipedia article on The Knack and listened to them for the first time in many years. 

For starters, I got the timeline all wrong. The album I was thinking about was the third album, "Round Trip," released in 1981, not the fourth album (the fourth album was a struggle to listen to, and I quit after the third track). 

So I cued up "Round Trip," ready to have my memory confirmed. 

It wasn't.

It's not a terrible album, but it's not really a good one, either. The Knack, seemingly, decided to mimic everyone. One track is definitely ripping off late Beatles. Another track sounds like a low-rent Kansas, while another sounds more than a bit like a Queen song. 

I will say, though, that the last song, "Art War," starts off with one of my favorite opening lines of all time:
No I don't give a shit about Warhol

Other than that, maybe it's not such a bad thing if my memory starts to fail. In this instance, at least.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Friday Links!

I still want to see that Jerry Lewis movie, just because its reputation is legendary (and not in a good way): 3D mermaids, CobraGator and Louis CK: the never-released films Batgirl will join in Hollywood’s vault of shame

From C. Lee, and this is amazing: Taking on the Waves: Horie Kenichi / Ocean Adventurer (at 83, the oldest person to sail nonstop across the Pacific Ocean). This is tragic, but should be no surprise: The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change. What a story: The Man Who Fought the Synanon Cult and Won (After Getting Attacked by a Snake). Ugh: Discovery of new UEFI rootkit exposes an ugly truth: The attacks are invisible to us. This is promising, seemingly: The Volunteer Movement Enraging China. Well, this is awkward: A very unfortunate bug is making Sims want to date their family.

Form Wally, and it's long overdue: The first-ever Gaming Prom will show the world video game music is more than just bleeps and bloops. Now this is what I call an art installation: Wind Turbine caught #fire by a Lightning strike in Crowell, Texas! 

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and it's delightful: America's Most Confusing Fare System... In Song.

From Chris M., and this is an excellent watch: The 4 things it takes to be an expert.

We Have A Winner

"I know the worst job in the world," I said confidently. We were watching a basketball game (TBT, in case you're wondering). 

The audio kept dropping out because ESPN is so cheap they single-track audio, which means if there's audible cursing, instead of muting a single channel of the audio, they just mute everything, which sounds stupid as hell and also totally amateurish. 

"What job?" Eli 21.0 asked. "I have a few candidates myself." 

"It's this guy," I said, pointing at the television. "They guy whose only job is to listen for obscenities so he can dump the audio before we can hear it. That's literally his entire job." 

"That's a strong case. How long do you think he has?"

"I bet it's either a three or five second delay from live," I said. "So his professional reputation exists in a five-second window. Besides being the most boring job on earth, he can also never let his guard down. He has to always pay attention. And it's not like he gets paid well, because ESPN is too cheap to have multi-track audio in the first place."

I won't be putting in my application anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

You've Got A Friend In Me

I'm going to be a bit vague about some things in this story, because I don't want to get anyone in trouble. 

We were at an unnamed state bureau doing unnamed official activities, and while we were at the counter I started talking to the clerk. There were two clerks, actually--a new person and the experienced clerk training him. 

I talked to the experienced one. 

"I wish it wasn't so busy," I said, "because I'd like to ask you about some of the things people have told you. I can only imagine what you've heard."

"Oh, it's not just heard," he said. "One day, a guy came in for a transaction, and I saw something moving in his pocket. Then I saw a little head poke out. 'What's in your pocket?' I asked. The guy pulled a chicken out of his pocket--not a full-grown chicken, but not a chick, either. 'This is my emotional support animal,' the guy said. A chicken. And I thought I'd seen everything."

I was hoping for a great story, but that exceeded all my expectations.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The Decomposing Composers

I can confirm, to no one's surprise, that trying to keep up with Eli 21.0 breaks down by body.

In my defense, 61.3 is considerably different than 21.0. Still, I hang in as long as I can. 

This time, after golf (always walking) Friday/Saturday and tennis Monday/Tuesday, some stuff works better than others. 

However, I discovered something interesting. 

We were warming up yesterday, hitting volleys back and forth, when my upper back just kind of seized up. It's hard to describe, unless it's happened to you, but it's pretty overwhelming. 

Golf might have contributed, since I'd only hit balls once all year and we played (in total) 27 holes on Friday and Saturday. Who knows?

I was able to stretch my back out enough that I could keep playing tennis, and then I noticed a curious thing. "Hey!" I shouted to Eli. "I just realized that the more my back hurts, the less my hamstring hurts."

He started laughing. 

"This is what it's like when you're old," I said. "Pain is a zero-sum game. You wake up every day in pain, but if one part hurts more, another part hurts less." 

As strange as it sounds, it seems to be true. A new injury seems like it takes pain away from an older one.

Today we played tennis again, and both back and hamstring survived. I have to make it through another week and a half without my body blowing up like an overinflated tire. 

Monday, August 01, 2022

Eli 21.0!

Well, I still remember him being a very little guy walking in his mother's shoes and looking delighted, but Eli is 21.0 now. 

We played golf on Friday. Walked 18 holes on Saturday. Played tennis this morning. My body will make it another couple of weeks until he goes back to school, then I'll have my multi-week injury recovery period. 

I meant to remember all the funny things we've said to each other, but this time, I just enjoyed all of it and didn't worry about remembering. We're just laughing all the time and enjoying the days with each other. 

Gloria always made the famous cupcake tower for his birthday, and we couldn't find the tower, but I did somehow manage to make cupcakes, and they turned out just fine:

The picture in no way conveys the actual drama behind their manufacture. I went to the store for "cupcake mix" and couldn't find any, not realizing (as a cupcake novice) that cupcakes are just cake in a different form factor. You just buy cake mix and put it into the appropriate cups. 

Eli almost broke a rib laughing about that. So did I. I was laughing so hard I could barely finish the story. 

I always felt lucky every day to be Eli's dad, and I still do. 

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