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Xiphias Gladius

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A language puzzle [Oct. 25th, 2014|08:16 pm]
What do the following words have in common?

1. cephalopod
2. sophomore
3. monopoly
4. preposterous
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I know someone else whose luck rivals james_nicoll's [Oct. 25th, 2014|11:27 am]
The two grill cooks at the diner down the street are cousins who grew up next door to each other. Paul and Jarret have been friends since they were very small children. So they naturally double-dated to the prom.

They were all dressed up nice, and both mothers got them lined up for pictures. And a bird crapped on Jarret's head.

He got himself washed up, and they got into the limo they rented and went off to pick up their respective dates. And the limo had a sunroof, so they opened it.

And a bird crapped on Jarret's head.
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A story. From a shamanistic tradition. That I just made up. [Oct. 24th, 2014|07:46 pm]
Based on a true story.

There was a child, who was learning to listen to Nature. And he (for this is based on a real story, and while a child in a story may be Child, this particular child was a Boy, who is a "he") was walking, and came to a patch of mushrooms.

And he considered the mushrooms, and wondered what they were for. So he asked Mother Nature what the mushrooms were for. And Mother Nature told him, "A gift of nourishment is here. Eat these mushrooms."

So he ate a mushroom.

Fortunately, this story is set in the Now, so when he got sick, he got to an emergency room, and they saved his life, and the gift wasn't given.

For a mushroom feeds on the death of animals and plants, and Nature values the human no more than It values the mushroom. The gift was there; he was the gift for the mushroom. When the human eats the mushroom, the mushroom eats the human, and Nature cares not which.

When you ask Nature, understand that it's not always about you.
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For those of you who grew up in places that have distinctive regional cuisines... [Oct. 16th, 2014|08:54 pm]
Some foods are place-bound. There's no reason that a Cincinnati Chili couldn't be made outside of Cincinnati, or that there could be a Garbage Plate somewhere other than Rochester, NY. But they're not. And some are a bit less place-bound, but still place-bound -- try getting Moxie outside of New England. Is there a region somewhere down South where they drink it, too? But not most places.

So, for those of you who grew up with such a cuisine, how old were you when you realized that other places just don't have it?

For me, I was just thinking about Whoopie Pies. And the age that I realized that they're not ubiquitous outside of New England was 40 2/3.

Yeah. Okay, I'm slow sometimes.

Oddly, I think I've got almost all the ingredients I'd need to make them in my kitchen right now. The only thing I'm missing is ... eggs. I've never made them before; it didn't occur to me until half an hour ago when Lis asked me that they were a thing that you actually COULD make. But they don't look all that difficult. It's just basically chocolate cake and buttercream frosting, really.

Well, one of the variations we found includes a buttercream/marshmallow combination frosting. Dunno how that would be.
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Did I ever tell you guys how I learned to read? [Oct. 15th, 2014|11:21 pm]

Of course, there wasn't just ONE thing in learning to read.  There were street signs, and picture books, and parents reading the Sunday comic strips out loud while I watched, and lots of stuff.

But one of the things was that my Dad THE.CHRONICLES OF NARNIA for bedtime stories.  And I got to help.  At first, I got the one-letter words, "a" and "I".  I got to help out with longer words eventually.

And then, Dad would start "accidentally" falling asleep just as we got to the exciting parts...

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How I'm voting on the Massachusetts 2014 ballot questions [Oct. 15th, 2014|10:33 am]
November 4 will be here before we know it. So, I figured I'd post a bit about how I'm going to be voting.

First, as far as elected officials go, at the moment, I'm leaning toward probably voting a straight Democratic ticket. Because, honestly, in most cases, I don't really have a strong preference.

I DO really like Ed Markey for Senator, and Maura Healey for AG; most of the rest of them, I don't know enough to really have a strong opinion, so, if you do, I'm willing to listen. I'm probably going to hold my nose and vote for Coakley. I don't like her, but, in the rare cases where she and Baker have differences of opinion on the issues, I tend to lean a little more her way. Not much, and there aren't many policy differences. In practical terms, our pretty-conservative Democrat and pretty-liberal Republican really end up much the same on most of the issues I care about. But Baker is more in favor of lowering taxes on the wealthy (as well as lower taxes on everybody else), vouchers for private schools, and cracking down on illegal immigrants, none of which I particularly support.

For a lot of my friends, that previous sentence is a reason to vote for Baker, though. And I can't really feel that Baker would be disastrous for Massachusetts. As I said during the primaries, Coakley was the only person on the Democratic ballot who has the capacity to lose to Baker.

On to the ballot questions.

1. Question 1 is whether to eliminate indexing the gas tax to inflation. For me, this is an obvious "NO" vote. I feel that we HAVE to index gas taxes to inflation. We have a $0.24/gallon tax. If inflation goes up, that should go up. Leaving the tax the same while inflation goes up means having less money for roads and bridges. Now, we're not the WORST state in the US for our bridges -- but we're in the lower half. That's not good. Cutting money for roads and bridges is really, really stupid, and that's what Question 1 is effectively asking us to do.

2. Question 2 is whether to add the 5-cent bottle-and-can deposit to non-carbonated beverages. Right now, you buy a soda, and the can or bottle is worth five cents -- return it, get five cents. But we don't do that to water, juice, Gatorade, milk, and the like. This actually wouldn't expand it to milk, but it would to the other things. For me, this is a "YES". The Bottle Bill actually HAS reduced waste. People are more likely to recycle when they're paid to do so -- even if they're only paid a nickel. So being paid to recycle Gatorade, Red Bull, and Snapple bottles is likely to help that, too.

3. Question 3 is whether to re-ban casinos. Massachusetts started out as a no-casino state. Then Gov. Patrick led a successful attempt to open up Massachusetts to casinos. And a bunch of casino companies started bidding for the right to put in casinos. I've been against this from the beginning, because their own arguments point out how stupid this is. Why do we need casinos? Because we're getting less revenue from the lottery because people are gambling less. Why do the casino companies want to put casinos here? Because their casinos in Atlantic City and in Vegas are dying, because people are gambling less. And because Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are struggling because people are gambling less -- they're rapidly trying to switch to full entertainment venues, based more on concerts and other shows, because their gambling operations are starting to lose money. They're scratching out a break-even by catering to Chinese and Korean multi-millionaires who come over to the United States to blow through lots of money to impress people -- I watched a guy lose what I counted up as over a thousand dollars on a single hand of pai gow. And he didn't stop playing -- he was playing at that level all night. They get a couple of those people in, they can scrape by, but otherwise, they're dying. Signing up for a dying industry just doesn't sound smart to me.

Now, I MIGHT have thought differently if the Suffolk Downs bid had gone through. Our only racetrack in the region was barely scraping by, and could have probably pulled out a couple more years if they'd gotten all the casino money. I think horse racing is cool, so I might have voted to let casinos show up, if they'd have ended up keeping our racetrack alive for a little while longer. But the Suffolk Downs bid failed, and they went with the Everett proposal, and our race track has closed. We don't have it any more. So what's the point? Suffolk Downs wasn't a source of income for the city, of course, and a casino won't be, either, but it was at least horse racing, and horses are pretty in a way that slot machines aren't.

So fuck them. This is our second chance to point out just how dumb it is to put casinos in Massachusetts. I'm a major, major "YES" on this: "YES", let's get rid of this entire mess that we stupidly got ourselves into a couple years back.

4. Question 4 would require business, except for the smallest ones, to provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Really small companies would be required to provide at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave. My answer is "YES". C'mon. This is sort of way below the bare minimum of what you need to have to count as a civilized country in the modern world. I mean, this wouldn't get us up to "civilized, modern country", but it'd be a start. "YES", let's at least attempt to pretend that we're somewhere in the 21st century.

So, that's what I've got. That's what I'm thinking of for this election.

To summarize: straight Democratic on offices, for lack of any better plan.

NO on 1, because cutting our funding for crumbling infrastructure even further than it currently is is just so, so dumb.
YES on 2, because bottle bills actually do have a tendency to work and get more recycling.
YES on 3, because that fixes the idiotic thing we did in letting casinos in in the first place.
YES on 4, because the rest of the world already looks down on us for treating our workers like crap, so maybe treating them like slightly smaller crap would be a nice thing.
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Dear #GamerGate folks: [Oct. 14th, 2014|10:24 pm]
A good response to, "The GamerGate community generally doesn't take death threats seriously" is NOT, "Oh, come on -- EVERYBODY gets death threats; you shouldn't take it seriously."

Honestly, that really doesn't do a good job of countering the original claim.
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On seeing extinct megafauna at the Topsfield Fair. [Oct. 14th, 2014|10:31 am]
The Topsfield Fair closed yesterday, but I don't feel bad about not getting around to posting this until today, because it was a one-day event, anyway.

The aurochs was the wild ancestor of all modern cattle. There are other large domesticated quadrupeds which aren't descended from the aurochs, like the water buffalo, but if you're talking about cows, or even zebu, their ancestor was the aurochs. It was big. Up to six feet at the shoulder for the Northern European ones. Modern cattle top out at about five feet at the shoulder, and most are smaller. Aurochs were up to twice the weight of modern cattle, pure muscle, and mean. We're talking a ton and a half, 1360 kg.

Domesticating them involved shrinking them and making them nicer. As domestication of large wild animals often does.

The aurochs went extinct in the 17th century -- the last recorded aurochs was in Poland in 1671, I think.

So, anyway.

At the Topsfield Fair, they had an ox-pulling contest. A contest where oxen pull stuff, that is, not a contest where something tries to pull oxen. Because that latter thing would be SUCH an exercise in futility.

See, oxen are bigger than other cattle. I don't know why. There's a way to castrate male animals such that they end up bigger and stronger than intact animals, and I don't know WHY it works that way. But it does.

So I'm looking at these oxen. And the weight class I'm looking at is the 3000 lb class. Who are six feet tall at the shoulder. And for whatever reason, their horn configuration and body shape is pretty much exactly the same as the aurochs. The coloration is different, apparently.

But I realize that I'm looking at cattle that are pretty much exactly the size and shape of largest animal native to Europe in the past thousand years.

For what it's worth, the TaurOs Programme is an attempt to back-breed an aurochs-like breed of cattle that can be let loose in European wild-ecology parks to do the kind of megafauna herbivore ecological eating that big herbivores do. They're not REALLY making aurochs -- that's not really possible, and, anyway, they're trying to breed things that aren't as mean (they could be using Spanish fighting bulls, for instance, and they're very, very not).

But, yeah. I did something that was very nearly watching extinct megafauna.
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In today's edition of "political irony that literally stopped me in my tracks in stunned disbelief" [Oct. 11th, 2014|04:46 pm]
Walking to the diner for breakfast this morning. I see a bumper sticker on a car: "Let America Be America Again -- Scott Brown for Senate"

Most of you have probably headdesked at this point, but I'll fill in the background for those of you who haven't encountered all of the relevant bits.

First, I don't know how I missed this the first time around -- this is a three-year-old bumper sticker from the Scott Brown vs Elizabeth Warren Senate race. Apparently, Brown was using this as a campaign slogan, while running as a conservative against one of the most powerful and skilled progressive voices in American politics.

And it's the title of a 1938 poem by Langston Hughes, about how the promise of America has never been fulfilled in the past -- that while we HOPE that, in the future, blacks, poor people, Native Americans, and the working poor may see fairness and justice, America has always been, and currently is, unfairly biased against them.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
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Of course, we are doomed. Cats. [Oct. 10th, 2014|08:21 pm]
I walk into the bathroom. Our cat Nicky is lying on the floor, on the bathmat, with his paws stuck under the space heater. It's a radiator-shaped space heater, and he does this with our radiators, paws stuck underneath with his head tilted back so his chin is facing the heater but not touching so he doesn't get burned.

We haven't turned the heat on in the house yet, and I haven't used the space heater in a couple weeks. If it's a really cold morning, I turn on the space heater before we shower, and turn it off again after we're dressed. It hasn't been cold enough to make that worthwhile for a while now.

"Nicky. That's not going to help. The space heater's not ... wait, what?"

The space heater is warm.

The switch is flipped. It's on. It WASN'T on this morning -- I'm sure, because I moved it around.

I think our boy has figured out how to turn on the space heater in the bathroom.

Doomed. We are doomed.
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The audiobook of Randall Monroe's WHAT IF? [Sep. 30th, 2014|10:57 am]
As many of you know, Randall Monroe of xkcd fame has a website where people send him weird physics questions like "what would happen if a pitcher pitched a ball at 90 percent of the speed of light?" and he tries to figure out the answers. Many of you know that he's taken some of them and made them into a book.

And some of you may be aware that there is an audiobook version (which works surprisingly well -- the visuals help, but you don't actually need the pictures to understand most of it.)

And the book is read by Wil Wheaton. And he is the perfect choice. Because he is a geek and an xkcd fan himself.

So Lis and have been listening to the book as I drive her to and from work. And it feels like Wil is sitting in the back seat of the car, and found this cool book, and he's reading it to us because he thinks it's great and that we'd like it too, so he's talked us into letting him read it to us, and the three of us are friends all giggling together over this stuff.

It's perfect.
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What's medically advisable is INCREDIBLY situational. [Sep. 29th, 2014|06:27 pm]
My psychopharmacologist is also an psychologist, so he's also a physician. And he DOES mention other health issues to me besides my brain stuff, because he's a doctor, and he feels that my brain is part of my body, so it's part of his job. And he correctly observes that my nutrition is crap.

Which means that he was commenting that he'd like to see me drink less beer.

Not because of the alcohol. The amount of alcohol I consume isn't a problem. It's the carbs.

For me, the dangerous part of a rum and Coke is the Coke. The alcohol in the rum, not a problem. The sugar in the Coke, problem. And, of course, I'm not willing to switch to diet sodas because I think they taste nasty.

So, basically, he's advising me that I need to start replacing my beer with whiskey, scotch, tequila, and the like. If I'm going to drink a soda, a brandy and club soda is better for me than a ginger ale.

Let me be clear. I am ONE human being, and what is true for ONE human being is not true for ALL human beings. But, in MY specific case, I have a doctor who, for good, sound medical reasons, based on genuine evidence-based medicine, would rather see me drink the hard stuff than soft drinks.
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A few things I've learned about fighting depression. [Aug. 28th, 2014|09:15 am]
If you've known me for a while -- not even THAT long a while -- you've certainly heard me talk about this stuff before. But I'm putting some of it together here, in case it's useful to anybody to see it all in one place.

First: I think of depression as an external disease that comes in and attacks me. That's not the only way you can think of it. You can, realistically, think of depression as a thing that you are doing to yourself, or that it's just part of who you are. Philosophically, it can all come down to your definition of what the "self" is, and what "you" are. I mean, we are a combination of the physical expression of our genetics, plus the accumulation of our experiences, and my genetics plus experiences have left me with depression. So I COULD say that "that's just who I am", and that wouldn't be completely unrealistic.

It would, however, be completely unhelpful. Because it's ALSO realistic to make a distinction between "me" and "my disease". Depression is a disease in the same way that, say, fibromyalgia is. It's NOT just a different way of approaching the world, the way, say, Asperger's is. People have historically tried to romanticize depression, by trying to tie to to things like "an artistic temperament" or things like that. By saying that it has benefits like making people more poetic or introspective, or whatever.

I suppose people can learn things by going through horrible experiences. But that doesn't make going through horrible experiences a good thing. Victor Frankl and Elie Weisel both did wonderful, useful work based on their experiences in being in Auschwitz. But I would hope that nobody would argue in favor of the stark romantic beauty of Auschwitz because of that.

So it's far more USEFUL to think of depression as external to me. There's "me", my real, true, best self, and there's "depression", which is a force which blocks my full expression of my best self. My true best self excludes the depression.

I could choose to define myself to INCLUDE the depression, and state that, well, that's just who I am. But that would mean that I'm defining myself as a person who has no capacity to feel positive emotions and has no capacity to do useful work in the world. I CAN do that -- it IS congruent with reality -- but that's not who I want to be.

So I define "the depression" as separate from "me". That's ALSO congruent with reality. And THAT model opens up the door to the possibility that I can experience true "eudaimonia", the Greek philosophy term for a full, happy life.

Because depression directly removes your ability to experience important chunks of eudaimonia. You can't manage to do useful work that helps your family and your community, and you can't experience pleasure, and, while those aren't ALL of the parts of eudaimonia, they're certainly a really big chunk of it.

So, if I say that the depression is just who I am, I'm just a depressed person, then I've given up on any chance of getting what's good in life, and BEING what's good in life. But if I say that the depression is what's ATTACKING me, then I'm saying that I DO have a chance to have a good life -- and the depression is a hostile force that's keeping that away from me.

A second thing I've learned: there are a lot of different kinds of depression. You've got situational depression, where you're depressed because your life actually genuinely sucks. You've got depression which comes from your thought patterns. You've got depression that happens as a symptom of a more general, systemic disease, like thyroid problems, or fibromyalgia, or things like that. You've got depression that is a result of a more brain-specific disease, like bipolar or "traditional" clinical depression.

And you can very well have more than one at once. If you can't live the kind of life you deserve to because of, say, fibromyalgia, you could have depression directly from that, AND because your situation genuinely sucks, AND because you've started to believe that you somehow DESERVE this, so your thought processes have gotten messed up.

And it works in other directions, too. You could have brain-based biochemical depression, which means that you've been unable to take care of yourself as well as you deserve, so your external situation has deteriorated, and you've come to believe that you deserve that situation. Or the ongoing stress of a sucky external situation could have caused physical changes in your brain.

Honestly, it's not that a person MIGHT have more than one depression at once -- it's more that a person PROBABLY DOES have more than one depression at once.

Which is one reason why it's such a good idea to approach treatment with a multi-pronged holistic approach, looking it medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy including meditation, and exercise in case it's metabolism-related, and taking care to go to nice places and spending time in nature in case it's related to your experience of the external world. And so forth, all sorts of things that are different for each person. Not all these things will help with all depressions, but the more of them you have the capacity to try, the more likely you are to hit the combination of things that are useful. That said, depression ALSO saps your ability to DO most of these things, so you're more likely going to have to pick and choose. Exercise OR spend a lot of time practicing mindfulness. Spend time in nature OR be extra-careful with diet... depression fights back and will try to adapt away from your treatment. And when -- WHEN, not IF -- you're not able to do all the things that might possibly help fight the depression, you have to be gentle with yourself and accept that that's simply the way it is. The depression will attempt to attack your self-image, and try to make you feel lesser for not being able to simultaneously attack it on every single possible front. Even though it's rationally obvious that you CAN'T do everything all at once, and that you'd never look down on someone ELSE for not doing everything all at once, the depression will try to make you feel small for not doing so yourself.

A third point I'd like to make is about side effects. To a certain extent, many times, side effects are a result of too high a dosage. If you're on the right medication (and it has to be admitted that it's possible that the absolutely best medicine for you may not even exist yet -- perhaps the perfect match for you is one that is still being developed; that's why medical researchers are still working on developing new variations), then the first chunk of medication will go to relieving your symptoms. But too much will go on to do other things.

As an analogy -- let's say that you've got a big piece of flat ground, which is you. And there's a pit dug in it, which is the depression. And you want to fill that pit up with water until it's level with the rest of the ground, which will act as a sort of plug to relieve the depression. (I don't know why filling the pit with water counts as a cure -- this is just an analogy that came into my head, okay?)

If you don't have enough water, then you've made the pit shallower, but you haven't completely filled the hole. So more water -- more medication -- would have additional benefit. But if you have TOO MUCH water, it spills all over the place, and that water soaking the rest of the flat ground is the side effects.

If you've got the right medication, you're trying to just fill the hole as closely as possible without spilling over.

Kind of like blackjack -- get as close to 21 as you can without going over.

Now, if it's not the perfect med for you, then you may get side effects even before the hole is filled, or it might only be able to make the hole shallower but not completely go away, or whatever. You might be getting enough benefit that it's worth doing, but still have negative things.

For me, I've found what I think is an extremely good med for me, but my doctor and I make incredibly tiny tweaks. We find trackable differences when we make changes as small as 1%. I take 425 mg of lamactil three days a week, and 450 mg four days a week. That's an increase from when I took 425 four days a week and 450 three days a week. We increased by 25 mg a WEEK, and it made a difference. 3050 mg per week to 3075 a week -- about a 1% increase.

So: those are my personal opinions about fighting depression.
1. Think of it as an external hostile force that is attacking you. Believe that you are being unfairly and unjustly attacked by an insidious and evil foe. Get ANGRY at it. Energy is hard to come by when you're depressed, but anger -- righteous, just, honest, and fair anger -- may be one of the forms you can scrape up in order to try to get things started.

Understand that none of this is your fault. Rather, this is all the fault of the external power which is oppressing you. Understand that it's sneaky, and evil, and tenacious, and clever. Understand that this is not going to be an easy fight, because it's a real nasty foe. Understand that you're going to lose battles now and then, because depression is going to find your weak spots and hammer them. Understand that one of its favorite weapons is to try to confuse you about what IT is and what YOU are. It will mess you up, then try to convince you that it's YOUR fault. It's really good at that; be on the lookout for it, and be ready to fight back.

And, yes, it will sneak through sometimes and hit you anyway -- at which point it will try to follow up by convincing you that, because it managed to hit you, you are a failure and should just give up ... just understand that the sucker is slippery and mean and you will usually have been under attack for DAYS before you even realize that an attack is underway.

2. Take as many avenues toward fighting it as you can at once. That includes,
  • cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness, meditation, and/or prayer

  • exercise

  • nutrition

  • talk therapy

  • maintaining social contact with friends and family

  • finding spots of beauty and pleasure to experience

  • medication

Not all those things are going to be useful for all depressions; not all those things are going to be POSSIBLE for all people. But the more of them one can manage, the more likely you are to hit the combination of things that is useful for your specific situation. Because you may well have more than one depression at once.

3. Medication is a really useful weapon to have in your arsenal. The voice in your head that's trying to convince you that using medication is scary, or it will change who you are, or it's a failure if you have to use it for the rest of your life? That's the depression, trying to prevent you from using an effective weapon against it. (It does that for all your weapons -- "exercise is too hard. Nutrition isn't going to help anyway. You don't want to be a downer and bring your friends down with you. You don't deserve to have a pleasurable experience, and you wouldn't enjoy it anyway.")

There are lots of meds out there. All of them will have SOME degree of effectiveness. EVERYTHING has some degree of effectiveness. Heck, CRYSTAL HEALING will give slight symptomatic relief for a week or two. The placebo effect is very strong with initial response to depression, but it doesn't last long. So track your medications carefully, and make sure that they have a genuine, ongoing benefit. Consider checking a "depression inventory checklist" weekly to get an actual record of how you feel. The "PHQ-9" is short, free, public domain, and about as good as any other one, so use that one. Because one of the things that depression does is mess with your memory of how you USED to feel, it's going to be very difficult to track whether you're getting better or not, unless you take snapshots at regular intervals.

If the benefit goes away after two weeks or so, switch treatments. There are lots of meds out there; some of them will work better than others.

Now, this next one, a lot of people will disagree with me. So, think about it, and if you decide I'm completely off of my gourd, that's fine. But here's what I think:

When you find a med that works, slowly built up the dose until you either are making no more improvements, or until you start having side effects. If you have side effects, back down the dosage a little, until the side effects subside. But stay at the maximum dosage you tolerate comfortably.

This is a deeply weird and uncomfortable idea for most people, and if it doesn't work for you, that's fine. We all want to be "better". We want to be "healthy", by which we mean that our body maintains itself, BY itself, as well as it possibly can. If we rely on medication, we want to minimize that reliance.

And, for that matter, we're very aware that a whole lot of the American medical system is profit-driven, and that pharmaceutical companies are always pushing us to take drugs we probably don't need.

So this idea of use the MOST medicine you can instead of the LEAST goes completely against our instincts for at least two reasons: one, it sounds like we're buying directly into a line of patter being fed us by people who are more interested in their bottom lines than our well-being, and two and perhaps even more importantly, because we think of "more medicine" = "more sick", and "less medicine" = "less sick". And we want to be less sick, so we want to use less medicine.

So, if you come to an opposite conclusion than I did, I'm comfortable with that. Still, I ask you to at least roll the idea around in your mind for a bit.
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In high school or before, were you taught what a scientific model was? [Aug. 26th, 2014|11:45 am]
desperance mentioned over in his LJ that he was disappointed that he was taught about the Neils Bohr "solar system" model of the atom, without any acknowledgement that people had already realized that atoms didn't REALLY look like that even before the invention of sliced bread.

I remember in my high school chemistry or physics class or something, we WERE told that "by the way, atoms don't REALLY look like this; the truth is a lot more complicated, but we still use this, because it lets us work out what's going to happen with electron shells and stuff -- even if it doesn't REALLY look like this, this is a useful model, because the math works on it, so we can use it to get the right answer." They didn't make a big deal about it, but they did hand out a photocopied paper with little pictures of what electron clouds, even though it wasn't on the test or anything. Still, it was at least MENTIONED. They at least MENTIONED that we work with models that are useful, which are usually simplified from what's really going on. Maybe we only spent ten minutes on it in the whole year, but it was there.

Was that something that was brought up in your primary or secondary school science education?
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I'm on the mailing lists for both the RNC and the DNC and I totally don't understand the RNC. [Aug. 20th, 2014|11:58 am]
I don't understand the DNC, either, really, but I don't understand the RNC more.

For non-Americans: "DNC" is the "Democratic National Committee", and the "RNC" is the "Republican National Committee". They're the major fundraising organizations for the political parties. So I get the mailings in which each team asks me for money.

The Republican National Committee is selling "I Miss W" t-shirts. And they keep talking about how Obama is the most imperialistic President ever.

Doesn't this just show the disconnect in the United States? To me, I can't imagine ANYBODY, liberal OR conservative, missing W. And I'd assume that, if Obama was a power-grabbing imperialist, he would have been able to, y'know, do SOMETHING during his terms. They're assuming a worldview that I just don't have the background to comprehend.

The DNC isn't that much better, but it's at least a bit more comprehensible to me, because I'm more familiar with the sorts of things they're talking about. I don't even hear the RNC talking points anywhere, so their stuff is just baffling. I have no clue what they're talking about.
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Obvious things that I, as an American, never realized. [Aug. 17th, 2014|08:05 pm]
Hot paprika is actually hot. Like, just as effective as any other capsaicin delivery method. Not unfairly so or anything, not ghost-pepper-ridiculous, but it's an actual legitimate hot pepper, about the order of magnitude of, say, Tabasco or Frank's or sriracha or something like that.

Until I bought a thing of it and tried it this week, I'd never had hot paprika -- I'd only had sweet. And I'd never quite seen the point. Smoked sweet paprika I understand -- it's a smoke delivery system. But plain sweet paprika? Well, it's a coloring, but it doesn't taste like anything.

But hot paprika is going to stay in my cabinet from now on. I can't use it for things for Lis, since she doesn't do hot, but it actually has a purpose.
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Elsewhere on LJ: Rome thoughts. [Aug. 13th, 2014|11:40 am]
theferrett and Gini recently went to Rome, and he's been posting about it. He did a short post about the (very few) things he DIDN'T like about Rome, and mentioned how hard it is to get non-bottled water, so he had a tendency to feel thirsty because he wasn't going to hydrate on wine. Some people -- including me -- asked why he didn't just drink from the water bubblers all day long to hydrate, and he said that he hadn't seen any.

Those of you who are "old Rome hands" may be giggling. But it makes perfect sense from an American point of view. The water bubblers are too beautiful for us to recognize as water bubblers.

Oh -- non-New-Englanders: a "water bubbler" is what we call a "drinking fountain". Rome is sometimes called "the city of fountains", but it's not obvious to Americans that almost all those decorative fountains are also practical. They just look decorative.

And they ARE decorative. They're just ALSO drinking fountains.

I mean, you don't wash your dishes in, say, the Trevi Fountain. But other than a few of those, the decorative fountains are there to fill your water bottles, wash your hands, drink directly from if the water arcs up, fill up buckets for mopping floors, stuff like that.

But we Americans aren't used to things being BOTH decorative AND practical. It's just not how we think. I wouldn't have known that you can drink from them if Lis hadn't read it in a travel book before we went; the rest of our family wouldn't have known it if we hadn't told them.
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Lemme explain one way that the disease of depression can work. [Aug. 13th, 2014|11:02 am]
I'm going to assume that all of the people reading this have never committed suicide. I mean, for all I know, there is really good broadband in the afterlife, and so I could be wrong. But, probably, many of you don't know what it's like. So let me tell you a story. This isn't the ONLY story, but it's one that can happen. It's based a little on what I know of the clinical work on depression, a little on what I learned working at the suicide hotline, and a lot on what it can be like for me. I'm not telling Robin Williams's story here, but I'd like to comment a bit about what I assume he was going through. Again, this might not be anything like the true story, but it's a possible story.
cut at the suggestion that this can be triggery.Collapse )
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Comparing my cyberpunk-genre roleplaying games from the 80s and 90s to reality [Aug. 11th, 2014|01:32 pm]
Because there's a CRPG version of Shadowrun out, which I've been playing, I've pulled out my old Shadowrun books and have been reading through them.

There's this bit about playing law enforcement, about "proportional response", that you'll get in trouble if you unload your automatic weapons on a teenager who only has a knife.

You see where I'm going with this? Yeah, the fascistic dystopian futures we imagined thirty years ago are not as bad as the actual reality we live in.
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Look at the people who got shout-outs in the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons! [Aug. 10th, 2014|09:01 pm]
Saladin Ahmed got listed on the "Cool books that we like for D&D inspiration" page in the new edition. So he posted it.

Take a look at it, guys! Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch both got listed! I KNOW some of these people!!
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Roger Taylor isn't subtle. [Aug. 9th, 2014|03:11 pm]
Ever since we went to the Queen+Adam Lambert concert (which I have been intending to write about since we saw it), Lis has been playing all the Queen albums in chronological order. And we've now gotten to after Freddie's death, and we're listening to Brian and Roger's solo projects.

Roger Taylor doesn't do subtlety. I agree with his messages, but he doesn't do nuance. His songs have messages like, "My car is fast", "Neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers suck", "Rupert Murdoch is scum", "being happy is good", "I went to poor countries, and I found out that it sucks to be poor."

I agree with all of these messages, but, y'know, he is pretty hilariously direct in his lyric writing: "We've got to stop these stinkin' Nazis", "And dear Mr. Murdoch what have you done?/You're not quite as nice as Attila the Hun" ...

I kind of love this.
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Bulgogi-influenced dinner. Really quite good. [Aug. 7th, 2014|08:00 pm]
A couple days ago, I saw jars of organic kimchi for sale at the farm where we get our milk. It looked good, and they had both a regular and vegan version. I picked up the vegan version, because the fish sauce that goes in kimchi can be made partially from shellfish, as well as kosher fish, so "vegan" is more clearly kosher (I don't worry TOO much about heckshers in cases like that; I figure that, for my purposes, "vegan" is generally good enough most of the time).

That meant that I wanted to have something bibimbap-flavored, because I like bibimbap. Bibimbap is Korean for "leftovers" (okay, literally, it's "mixed rice", but, basically, it's "leftovers"), and, like most peasant foods which are basically leftovers, it's delicious most of the time. Generally speaking, it's a bowl of rice with various steamed and/or pickled vegetables, meat, and a fried egg on top of it, along with condiments like bean paste, chili paste, and soy sauce.

The meat is often bulgogi -- beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, and various other things that depend on your personal recipe.

So, what I wanted was rice and bulgogi meat and fried egg. Vegetables are for HEALTHY people. And, well, I was going to have mine with kimchi, which counts as a vegetable, right? (For those who don't know, kimchi is basically sauerkraut, except completely different. They're both sliced pickled cabbage, but kimchi has more chili peppers in it, and not QUITE as much salt.) But we don't have any saute beef -- the only beef in the house is ground beef.

So why not?

I got some rice started in the rice cooker, and poured a generous amount of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil into a big pan, put a couple tablespoons of brown sugar in (see, THAT'S why bulgogi is so darned good -- it's got sugar in it) and got that cooking. I put a big ol' spoonful of diced garlic that we buy at Costco into the soy and oil, and stirred that around. Then I dropped a pound of ground beef in, and started stirring it and smooshing it around until it was cooked. I also poured in some sesame seeds, and put some ground pepper on top, and let that all cook until the beef was cooked through, and turned it off.

When the rice was done, I poured that on top and mixed it all together. I fried two eggs, one for each of us, and put the stuff in bowls, and put a fried egg on top.

And it was delicious.
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Two nations, separated by a common language. A question about "Z" [Aug. 6th, 2014|10:02 am]
When I was a kid, I was thrown by the fact that, in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book, the Earth was in sector ZZ 9 Triple Z Alpha, while, in the radio show, it was Zed Zed 9, Triple Zed Alpha.

I only found out that Brits pronounce the final letter of the alphabet as "Zed" rather than "Zee" somewhere between when I was 20 and 23. Because, when I saw PULP FICTION in 1994, and they had the line "Zed's dead, baby, Zed's dead", I didn't recognize that as a letter, but when I saw MEN IN BLACK in 1997, I did realize that Zed, the head of the MIB, had a single letter name.

How about you? When did you find out that Yanks pronounce it "Zee", or, contrariwise, that Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and Canucks pronounce it "Zed"?
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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY immediate reaction review [Aug. 1st, 2014|08:34 pm]
I considered it fun and worth my time, but I think it's the most minor of the Marvel universe films of the past few years.

You've seen a lot of the good lines in the trailers, but not all of them. The after-the-credits bit isn't really worth it -- I mean, it's okay.

So, yeah. It's worth going, but, if you don't get to it, it's not disastrous.
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I've got a pretty darned good nephew. [Jul. 31st, 2014|10:10 am]
My nephew's been spending the week with my parents, his grandparents, but I had him for yesterday. I had a great time, and I think he did, too. We played with the cats, went to the diner for lunch, made ice cream, played some MtG, and played a few computer games (although not too many: he was grounded for using his iPad later than bedtime then lying about it, but, as his uncle, I was given permission to un-ground him for a limited period of time when we were together) -- there's a CRPG version of Shadowrun out that I introduced him to, and he was also showing me some of the stuff he's been doing in Minecraft.

Anyway, I was noticing something about myself.

You may have noticed that I'm really down on overprotective parents. I think that kids today are not given enough freedom, and their parents aren't preparing them for adult life. When I was nine, I was allowed to go down to the park on my own and stay out until dark; when I was in junior high and high school, I was allowed to go into Harvard Square on my own to hang out, and stuff like that.

Drew's fourteen, and his parents give him an appropriate amount of freedom. He's at least as smart as I was at his age, which is maybe not a very high bar, but I turned out okay anyway.

The thing is -- I totally wanted to protect him from absolutely everything in the whole world. I didn't want to let him out of my sight all day, because, y'know HE'S A LITTLE TINY BABY AND I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF HIM.

So, yeah. I get it now. I get why parents get overprotective. Intellectually, I know that he's old enough to have a certain amount of freedom, but it would be SO HARD for me to give him an appropriate amount if I were his parent. At least the point of me having him was to spend the whole day together, so we were SUPPOSED to spend the whole day together the way that we did. But, yeah.

I get it.
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"But people will be afraid of being accused of harassment!" [Jul. 29th, 2014|07:16 am]
Now that science fiction conventions are at the very beginning stages of starting to take harassment of women seriously, one thing you see people say is that this will make people scared to go, because they'll be afraid of being accused of harassment.

I just wanna say: if you are afraid you'll be accused of harassing people, maybe you should stop harassing people.
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"Devil Went Down to Georga" question and thought [Jul. 28th, 2014|11:45 am]
In all honesty, does anyone ACTUALLY think Johnny won that contest?

Anyway, because I was getting curious about it:

A fiddle weighs somewhere around 400 grams. The specific gravity of the various woods that fiddles are made from are all over the place, but, for sake of argument, let's assume that the average specific gravity of the wood in a fiddle is somewhere around 0.6. So the volume of the stuff that a fiddle is made out of is something like 240 cc.

Gold has a specific gravity of something like 19.25, depending on purity, so a fiddle made of gold would weigh something like 4620 grams, or 4.62 kg, or a hair over ten pounds.

As of today, the price of gold is $41.92/gram; let's just call it $42 -- over the past six months, it seems to have been bouncing around $40 to $44/gram, so $42 isn't a bad number for right about now, which would come to $194,040. Given all the guesses and approximations we've been making, I think we can call it "somewhere around $200,000" or even, "maybe between $150k and a $quarter mil." It CERTAINLY wouldn't be playable.

I dunno. For ME, that'd be a bit light to wager my soul, but I can imagine someone else making a different choice. (For purposes of the argument, we're assuming that the Devil showing up and offering to wager for your soul is convincing evidence that 1. souls exist, and 2. they are alienable and therefore wager-able.)
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Honestly, Dunkin Donuts has the worst donuts in Massachusetts, but that's not a bad thing. [Jul. 28th, 2014|09:37 am]
Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of DDs. And their donuts are decent, even good. The thing is, they are so ubiquitous that they form a baseline. If you aren't better than Dunks, you don't get to play in the first place.

It's like jacks or better to open: a pair of jacks is a perfectly respectable hand in five-card-draw. But if you set that as your opener, everything else has to be better. Or the Maxwell House Haggadah: for nearly a century, the coffee company has printed a cheap or even free haggadah (as an advertisement that coffee is kosher for Passover), which isn't a bad one. And it means that, to sell a Haggadah in the United States, you have to be better than that.

So Dunks maintains the minimum donut standard in the Commonwealth.
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To what extent is Weird Al's "Fat" body-shaming? Personally, I like the video. [Jul. 22nd, 2014|06:11 pm]
Over the past couple days, as Weird Al was releasing his new stuff, Lis and I were going back and watching his videos back-to-back with the things they were parodying. He stopped doing as many direct parodies after MTV stopped playing videos: during MTV's heyday, everybody would be familiar with every source video shot-for-shot, so people would appreciate a shot-for-shot parody; since then, he'll riff off of images in the original -- the flaming Pac-Man in "White and Nerdy", the "Weird Al Has a Big Dictionary" balloons in "Word Crimes" -- but there's not as much point in trying to re-create the original as there used to be.

So we've been watching his earlier stuff. I'd actually never seen the video for "Living With a Hernia", especially not back-to-back with "Living in America"; I highly recommend it. I hadn't realized just how much Al looks like James Brown. (Hint: not very much. But he makes it work anyway.)

As far as we can tell, his closest parodies are "Living With a Hernia", "Smells Like Nirvana", "Eat It", and "Fat".

And so, that brings me to my question. Is "Fat" an example of body-shaming?

Because, to me, it doesn't really feel like it. Nowhere near as much as I expected it to. Yes, there are bits where they have all the dancers getting out of breath. Yes, there's the bit where they get stuck trying to jump over the turnstiles. But, I dunno. They don't feel mean to me. It doesn't feel like the same kind of "laughing at the fat person" that really bothers me. Emotionally, the message of "The whole world knows I'm fat and I'm proud/And I tell you once again -- Who's Fat?" actually feels like the real message.

But I'm not as fat as some of my other friends, and I'm male. We males don't tend to get as much body-shame thrown at us. So I'm curious as to what other people's experience of the song is.
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Ironically, I think that Wiscon needs more patriarchy in order to fight sexism. [Jul. 21st, 2014|08:35 pm]
The idea of broad-based consensus as a decision model is central to some versions of feminism. And I think we're seeing the limitations of that model.

I think Wiscon tries to work with the ideal of democratic anarchy, with large, broad-based communities working together to hash out actions without a centralized authority to impose ideas by force. Centralized forceful authority that can hammer down Rules From On-High is, as I understand it, the defining characteristic of patriarchy. Whether or not that authority has a penis or not. This particular meaning of "patriarchy" is a concept of how to do things, not something that is around people who identify as "male".

One form of feminism is defined in part by "democratic egalitarian consensus-based anarchy as opposed to centralized authoritarian ruling power."

And what we're finding is that democratic egalitarian consensus-based anarchy is helpless to deal with an active ongoing threat in its midst. In order to deal with threats, cons are having to institute pockets of patriarchy. A Safety Committee may be run by consensus within itself, and its formation may be set up by democratic consensus. But there has to be a decision that "this group has authority to make and enforce exclusionary decisions." That's pretty much what patriarchy is, in at least one definition.

Edited to Add: Comments locked, because the fight in the comments started to get more embarrassing than funny.
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There are other models than "judicial" to deal with harassment at cons. [Jul. 21st, 2014|06:22 pm]
You know, if you go to a casino, and they think there's a decent chance you are counting cards at blackjack, you not only don't get to go back to THAT casino, but, if any other casino recognizes you, you don't get to go there, either.
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"Rolling Coal" and the "My Hummer is Burning the Fuel Your Prius Is Saving" bumper sticker [Jul. 18th, 2014|10:38 am]
There's this thing where people put smokestacks on their vehicles to deliberately burn diesel fuel into thick black smoke. It's called "rolling coal", and some people have said that they do it to tweak environmentalists. There's also this bumper sticker I've seen on a Hummer which says "My Hummer is Burning the Fuel Your Prius is Saving", which is also there to tweak environmentalists.

So, what bothers me about this?

I'm a Yankee. Not in the baseball team sense (G-d forbid!), but in the New Englander sense. And we New Englanders have this thing called "thrift".

Let me digress for a moment and go over how I use the terms "ethics" and "morals". Most dictionaries treat "ethics" and "morals" as exact synonyms, but I think those dictionaries are wrong. To me, "ethics" is about codes of rules of right and wrong behavior; "morals" is about a gut-level sense of right and wrong -- a "I know it when I see it" thing. "Ethics" is related to philosophy, and, for that matter, codes of honor (that word "code" again); "morals" are related to concepts of sin.

"Thrift" is a moral issue more than an ethical one. Wastefulness is sinful. As this is a moral issue, it's not always clear what is and is not thrift, and one person may consider a particular action differently than another might, but there are general concepts.

First, "comfortable" isn't necessarily wasteful and sinful, but "luxurious" is. A person might enjoy a bit of luxury on their vacation, but its very sinfulness is what makes it attractive, and every person will have occasions of sin in their life; the thing is to not WALLOW in it, or make it the MAIN thing in your life.

Still, a person who buys a luxury car because they spend hours and hours driving, and the better seat design keeps them from pain -- that person is not necessarily being wasteful. Buying one to impress the neighbors, however -- THAT is sinful. It's wasteful, and prideful, and generally tacky.

Little "luxuries" aren't a bad thing. Thrift isn't about deprivation or suffering. Nobody's going to look down on you for buying a better brand of toilet paper, for instance. Lis and I buy organic milk and eggs from the farm, because they're delicious, even if they're twice the price of supermarket milk and eggs: that's a "luxury" in a sense, but not wasteful.

I take questionable actions, too. I've started buying the pre-cut carrot and celery sticks, which IS wasteful. I SHOULD be buying the whole bunches of carrots and whole things of celery, washing them, cutting them up myself, putting the peels and tops and stuff into a pot of water, and boiling them into vegetable stock to make soups with. THAT would be the THRIFTY thing to do, and buying the pre-cut convenience things is wasteful and sinful.

However -- there have been cases where I've just not gotten around to doing that, and the food has spoiled. And NOTHING is more wasteful and wicked than throwing away food. So, because buying the convenience foods keeps me from the LARGER sin of letting food spoil, it can be justified.

But it's not something I'm proud of.

Which brings me to "rolling coal" and driving a Hummer to burn more fuel.

Those are sinful in the worst ways. People who are doing that are DELIBERATELY being wasteful, which is DELIBERATE sin. And then they're doing so PUBLICLY, and taking PRIDE in their sin.

Taking pride in a sin. Think about that. What could be worse than that? Going out of one's way to commit a sin purely for the sake of committing a sin -- not because you gain any benefit from it. Purely because you CAN sin. And then, rather than being ashamed of your sin, you take PRIDE in it, you BOAST about it.

It's so wicked, so wrong, so sinful, and so evil that it's completely baffling.
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Your votes for "Worst Cons/Most Impressive Con Disasters" Of All Time [Jul. 15th, 2014|09:58 am]
After making the claim that Dashcon doesn't even hit the top ten disastrous cons, I was effectively challenged to put together a list of "The Five Worst Cons of All Time" to submit to

Which, of course, makes me paralyzed with fear that I'd get it wrong. I'm certain that I'd start with Disclave 41 as number 5; nothing in the Disclave Flood was Disclave's fault, but it resulted in significant physical destruction of the hotel, the end of a con in its fifth decade, and warnings printed on hotel sprinkler systems ever since.

Number 1 would have to be Boskone 24. The conrunners had PTSD symptoms for decades, cons were banned from the entire city of Boston for a couple years, and The Letter managed to offend geeks all over the world.

But I'd like YOUR suggestions for the other three. Ideally, I'd get three other representative failures. Maybe not the other three ABSOLUTE WORST -- but three other failure modes.

I'd like to mention the 2006 Flanvention as a convention disaster that resulted in true menschlike behavior from pros -- that was the one where the conrunners for a Firefly convention vanished with the money and cancelled the thing after people already showed up -- but the cast of Firefly showed up anyway, without being paid, and hung out with fans. But other genuine scams might be nice to mention: Shane Senter's Jumpcon scam might be worth mentioning.

What other convention disasters can you think of that would be worth talking about? What are some of the other ones which most impressed you? Seems to me that convention disasters happen because of fraud and dishonesty, incompetence, or bad luck -- any stories which include a perfect confluence of all three?
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I actually do have a Google+ account, which is where I probably SHOULD post this. [Jul. 13th, 2014|09:57 pm]

Android phones can respond to Siri-like voice commands. And, as you would expect, there are Easter eggs. Some of them involve multiple exchanges...

"Google, make me a sandwich."
"Make it yourself."
"Sudo make me a sandwich."

"What does the fox say?"
"What does the fox say?"

"You remind me of the babe."
"What babe?"
"The babe with the power."
"What power?"
"The power of Voodoo."
"Who do?"
"You do."
"Do what?"
"Remind me of the babe."
(Brings up IMDB page for Labyrinth.)
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The Dashcon debacle [Jul. 13th, 2014|07:25 pm]
This past weekend, the inaugural Tumblr-themed convention Dashcon happened. Just look around the rest of the 'net for detals -- I wasn't there.

The thing is: dear Tumblr users, the scariest thing about this is that Dashcon doesn't even make the top ten worst cons. It's certainly going to go down as one of the top hundred worst, and might be in the top 25 -- but not top ten.

Essentially failing to put on a convention at all and scamming an extra $17,000 out of attendees, and abandoning your guests and members in a basically empty hotel may SOUND bad -- and, indeed, it IS bad -- but, as far as I can tell, there have been few arrests, relatively few drug busts, and no property damage. And only $17k in direct fraud.

Sadly, we can point to worse.
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The general takeaway from a lecture on dystopian economies: [Jul. 11th, 2014|10:46 pm]
SHADOWRUN is actually pretty plausible, except for the orks and trolls and stuff.

Also, the only real way to prevent evil corporations from taking over the world is strong government regulation.

And the United States Federal Reserve's ability to devaluate currency by printing more of it is their biggest weapon against multinational evil corporations: "don't mess with me because I can destroy the entire world economy" is a pretty blunt club, but it actually DOES seem to keep some of the multinational investment banks at least SOMEWHAT in line.

Individuals don't have a whole lot of power against corporations, but one thing that we CAN sort of use is that our time is less valuable than CEOs. CEO compensation in this country is obscene, but it DOES mean that, if I can waste one hour of a top CEO's time, I've just cost the company $10,000. Yes, top CEOs have compensation that comes out to between $5k and $25k per hour. This means that there is a HUGE incentive for corporations to pay people to go away. Which, in turn, means that pestering CEOs can be hugely profitable.

Which is what makes unions work, basically.

Oh, also that, by the numbers, the United States is already a dystopian corporatocracy.
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From a lecture on Maps in Fantasy Novels at Readercon. [Jul. 11th, 2014|10:25 pm]
I don't have the exact quote, but the sense of it was,

"One of the primary purposes of a map at the front of a fantasy novel is to signify that it's the kind of fantasy novel that has a map at the front of it."

With the claim that papersky had a map for THE KING'S PEACE/THE KING'S NAME, but the Nielsen Haydens had her NOT put it in, because it WASN'T that kind of fantasy novel, but it was similar enough that, if it DID have a map, people would expect it to be, and that would set up the wrong expectations and mess up people's appreciation of the book.

I don't know if that's true or not, but I bet papersky does.
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I hate drama. [Jul. 10th, 2014|01:30 pm]
I hate drama. I hate conflict between friends. I hate having to take sides. I hate disagreeing with people I like about very important things.

It makes me quite literally sick to my stomach.

But when your ethics say that something is the right action, then your honor demands that you do it, no matter how unpleasant.
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The true horror of this just hit me. Political. [Jul. 7th, 2014|01:19 pm]
It just hit me.

I live in a country in which people who think that an unimplanted sperm and egg are a person are an actual political bloc with actual political power.

Twenty years ago, that would have been considered crazy talk. Now, it's protected by the Supreme Court.
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Some fun examples of "worst" [Jul. 4th, 2014|12:54 pm]
I was talking to my Mom, rebmommy, because one of her mentors, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, just died and I wanted to see how she was doing. Her chain of smicha comes down from him.

My mother is a singer and a poet as well as a Rabbinic chaplain, so I took this opportunity to introduce her to the work of William McGonagall and of Narcissa Florence Foster Jenkins, generally considered to be the worst poet and the worst singer in the Western world since the age of mass media. What makes both of them so beloved is how they were both so unaware of their terribleness, and how everyone around them decided that they liked the people, and their works, well enough to never enlighten them.

The upsetting thing, as far as Mom is concerned, is that she's aware that, while she's a GOOD poet and a GOOD singer, she's not going to be the WORLD'S BEST of either of those. So she'd been hoping for the possibility of being the world's WORST, which would be almost as good. But now she sees just how low the bar is for "world's worst", and she's aware that she'd never be able to be bad enough to get under it.
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Sikanjabin recipe [Jun. 28th, 2014|07:51 pm]
Someone brought some sikanjabin to the Lefton's beginning of summer party, and Lis liked it enough to look up some recipes online for me to make for her. It's a summer drink in the "sweet plus sour plus maybe some other flavoring plus a good deal of water equals hydration" family, of which the most familiar in the United States is lemonade. My reliable favorite switchel is in the same family: molasses, cider vinegar, ginger, and water. Lemonade, of course, is lemon juice, white sugar, and water; pink lemonade adds either raspberry syrup or cranberry juice, depending on what kind.

Sikanjabin, an Iranian drink, is vinegar, sugar, mint, and water. For this one, I just used plain old white vinegar; some of the recipes suggest white wine vinegar, which is only somewhat more flavorful than white vinegar, and only one of them suggested a flavorful vinegar like cider vinegar.

Honestly, I usually think of white vinegar as more of a cleaning substance than a food, but, in this case, it was the right choice: it is sour enough to cut the sweet without adding flavors to compete with the mint.

So, yeah. Two cups of sugar in a pot. Add one cup of water, and stir over low heat until it dissolves. (Yes, this DOES work. It's called double simple syrup. Simple syrup is 1-to-1 water and sugar, which is the simplest you can make a syrup, hence "simple syrup." But double simple works. You CAN dissolve two cups of sugar into one cup of water. It just takes time, stirring, and a little heat helps. The end result is a little yellowish; with regular simple syrup, you keep stirring until it's clear, but double strength won't.)

Add half a cup of white vinegar. Actually, you can add it before the sugar completely dissolves. The extra liquid could help it dissolve easier and faster. Once that's all pretty well incorporated, add a big ol' bunch of mint and keep it cooking on a low heat until the mint looks like it's given up all the minty-ness it's going to give up. Scoop out the dead mint, and strain the rest into whatever you're keeping the syrup in. The straining should be pretty easy, since the only thing you're straining out is the little bits of mint, most of which you've already scooped out...

Once the syrup has cooled, you put a sploosh of it into a tall glass of water or seltzer. Use about the same proportions as you'd use chocolate syrup when making chocolate milk.

And there you go. A minty, sweet, just-sour-enough to be thirst-quenching summer drink.
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Sports that CAN be compared vs ones that CAN'T [Jun. 22nd, 2014|09:31 pm]
American football and soccer are not even remotely the same sport. One can reasonably compare rugby, American football, Irish football, and Australian football. One can compare duckpin and candlepin bowling. Bocce and curling have similarities.

But then there are a group of sports which all have the characteristics of "two teams in continuous play attempt to move a ball into a goal area, with a particular player tasked as goalkeeper." These include soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and hockey. Those are games that CAN be reasonably compared.

And thus, I would like to mathematically demonstrate that hockey > soccer.

A soccer pitch can be 100-130 yards long, and 50-100 yards wide, but somewhere around 120 yards by 80 yards is considered best. That gives an area of 9600 square yards.

A hockey rink is 200 feet by 85 feet, which is 17000 square feet, or 1889 square yards. So a soccer pitch is five times the area of a hockey rink.

A NFL hockey player skates at about 28 mph; a FIFA soccer player runs at about 7 mph, so hockey players move about four times the speed of soccer players.

So hockey players only need to move 1/5 of the distance of soccer players, and do so 4 times as fast.

This means that we can mathematically demonstrate that hockey is 20 times as fast and exciting as soccer.
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Self-tracking [Jun. 19th, 2014|11:11 am]
Noticing that my back is tight, I'm slightly shaky and lightheaded. These are signs of stress, and I think it's physical stress. My thumb is hurting, probably from arthritis, but the weather is such that I wouldn't expect it to be so bad. I've taped it up, which should help if there's an actual injury there, which I don't think there is, but the compression also helps with arthritis. Going to take an analgesic and see what that helps with.
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THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex [Jun. 18th, 2014|03:56 pm]
I just finished reading a book about the displacement of indigenous peoples and genocide, with bits about the emotional impact of 9/11, the tendency of the people in power to try to ignore problems until it's too late, prejudice, and the loss of a parent.

It is really funny, written for nine-year-olds, and the DreamWorks movie adaptation is going to star Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Steve Martin.

I'm not sure what else there is to say about it.
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Do you have a shrink who gets annoyed at you? [Jun. 18th, 2014|10:17 am]
I do. Dr Bayard believes that "support" sometimes means pointing out what you're doing wrong and being disappointed because you can do better.

I think it works pretty well for me. Largely because MOST of the time "support" means "support".

Anyway, at the end of the session, he brought up something that started me thinking enough that I had to sit down and ponder for a bit in reception before I left. He mentioned the Hillel three part quote: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

And, for me, right now, all three of those collapsed into one idea, which I need to sit down and process.

See, here's the thing: I feel "happiest" when I'm acting in accordance with my best self -- when I'm acting in a way which is congruent with who I ought to be. And my "best self" is about helping others -- I feel most like my RIGHT self when I'm doing something which benefits someone else. The sense of self-respect and self-regard comes when one lessens the gap between what one feels one IS and what one feels one OUGHT to be. The larger that gap, the greater the feeling of loss, and self-lessening. For me, unhappiness comes from that sense of abrogation: I am aware of when I am acting less than I can be, and less than I ought to be.

An important note: there are two ways that this gap between what one IS and one OUGHT to be can be so large as to cause unhappiness. One is if one is acting far below one's capacity. The other is when one sets one's standards so high as to be unreasonable. Expecting perfection from oneself will lead to unhappiness, because there will ALWAYS be too great a gap there to be overcome. But if one has set a reasonable bar for oneself, and doesn't achieve close to that level, one will be unhappy, too. Self-regard comes from acting up to one's true capacity.

So why do I slack off and play computer games rather than maintaining the house, which is something which I do partially to make Lis's life better, or, when I'm working on the common areas of the house, to make our tenants' lives better, or, when I'm working on the outside of the house like the garden, to make the neighborhood more attractive and therefore make the lives of my neighbors better? Because it doesn't have to be a BIG thing to hit this "best self". Writing this very post, if it is useful to others, or even INTERESTING to others, counts toward the "acting congruently with who I feel I should be" thing.

I don't have to do this ALWAYS -- playing computer games and so forth IS part of how I can have a balanced life, just like having cake sometimes is a perfectly reasonable part of a healthy diet for me. It's just that I have a tendency to eat WAY WAY TOO MUCH cake, which is one reason I'm not as healthy as I could be, and play WAY WAY TOO MANY computer games, which tilts my life away from the balance which would make me truly happy.

So why am I spending too much time doing that sort of thing rather than working toward the other sorts of things? Because I don't really perceive, in the moment, the way in which I COULD be taking actions which would make me me more genuinely happy.

So, the Hillel quote collapsed into a single thought for me, right now. Self-respect is self-driven, and doesn't come from external validation -- external validation is NICE and a good thing, but it's not within one's own control. Self-respect comes from acting up to one's true capacity, and, for me, that means helping others to my capacity. And my blockage in doing that is blinding myself to the truth that actions can only happen in the "now".

For me, it's all one. "If I am not for myself by being for others now, then who else can be for me when what I am is not what I should be because I'm lying to myself that it can all be done later?"
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Achievement Unlocked: lilacs from Mother's Day to Father's Day [Jun. 15th, 2014|10:23 pm]
Lilacs bloom in May, usually around Mother's Day. Ours started blooming a few days before, and we had lilacs in full bloom with full scent by Mother's Day. Now, we have a range of different lilac bushes, from early bloomers to late bloomers -- and I had to start deadheading spent blooms on the final one a couple days ago. However, there are still a decent number left, and I won't finish deadheading for another day or two.

This means that I've had fully blooming lilacs, fully scented, for over a month. From before Mother's Day to after Father's Day.
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Putting a link to this here so I can remember it [Jun. 14th, 2014|09:33 am]

This guy is a geek and a gamer who's managed to somehow miss essentially every geek movie. So now he's watching them and liveblogging his reactions. It's wonderful watching a kid watch STAR WARS for the first time -- but what about an adult who can understand more of it?
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For anyone who is keeping track of violence: [Jun. 10th, 2014|07:27 pm]
Since Sandy Hook, the United States is currently averaging just under one mass shooting per week. 543 days since then; 74 mass shootings.
Edited to Add: I got it wrong: this is SCHOOL shootings, not MASS shootings. It's a different point, but still worth making.
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The perfect video for a scene in last night's Game of Thrones: [Jun. 9th, 2014|09:58 pm]
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Has Lois McMaster Bujold seen this one yet? [Jun. 9th, 2014|08:15 pm]

If she hasn't, can someone forward it to her? I mean, if you think she'd like it.
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