I don’t talk about my “day job” online very much, and for good reason. I consider my online presence (which mostly exists to promote the comic) separate from my professional life, and vice versa. Oh, there’s the occasional moment when the comic gets mentioned in the presence of a coworker and I get to talk about my “over-glorified hobby”, mostly when I get to apply something I’ve learned while working on it to my current job assignment. There’s also the occasional GPF story loosely inspired by real-life workplace events, although those tend to be heavily edited to protect the guilty. Beyond these exceptions, I tend to never let the two cross paths. I don’t want my online activities to be misconstrued as endorsement, criticism, or being a spokesperson for my employer, nor do I want the comic and all its ancillary media to be a hindrance to my professional career.
Today, however, is a day that’s difficult to separate the two. Today, of course, is the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
I’m sure there are many people who have much to say about this topic, many who are far more eloquent than I and who have many deep and personal feelings attached to these events. There are also those who, as I’ve already seen several places online, are sick and tired of hearing about it and who just want to “move on”. While I’ve seen a fair number of “#NeverForget” hashtags cropping up across social media, I’m surprised I haven’t seen nearly as many “#JustMoveOnAlready” tags. Whether it’s fatigue, apathy, or something else, I cannot say, nor is it my place to judge anyone. But the more I’ve read online today, the deeper impression I get that some people just want to “get this over with”, to make the mean ol’ specter of 9/11 go away. We’ve shed our tears; it’s time to let the past be the past and forget about it.
Sadly, there are many people out there for which forgetting is not an option. While I have been blessed not to have been personally impacted by the events of 9/11—I was not personally injured, nor were any of my friends or loved ones directly impacted—there are thousands of people in the United States and throughout the world for whom 9/11 never ended. There are thousands of people who will be impacted every day, for the rest of their natural lives, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I deal with the aftermath of 9/11 every day. For that matter, my day job wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for 9/11. That may sound weird if you know what I do for a living. I’m a professional software developer, specializing in Web-based database applications. I manipulate bits, tiny electron charges stored on spinning magnetic plates that get tweaked and sorted based on electrical impulses traveling over networking cables. How does an event that took place fourteen years ago, hundreds of miles away, impact me? Because the bits I tweak on those spinning disks belong to the health records of people directly impacted by 9/11. These are people who are living with chronic illnesses, psychological trauma, and deadly cancers, not because of war, abuse, self-inflicted poor habits like smoking, or other causes. No, they were the “first responders”, the fire fighters, police officers, ambulance workers, and other emergency personnel who responded when duty demanded it. They were simply going to work, doing their jobs, and saving other people’s lives when planes began smashing into buildings, causing them to topple onto their heads.
It’s easy to form a cold detachment to all this. I sit here at my desk, in my moderately comfortable chair with three monitors in front of me, writing database stored procedures and Web site code as I sip my coffee and chat casually with my coworkers. The bits in that database could have easily been financial data for some bank, or a complex graph of friend relationships behind some social media site. Bits are bits, after all. Ones and zeroes, on and off. It’s only because we arbitrarily assign a meaning to a string of bits that they begin to take shape into something significant, like a dollar amount, a name, or a date. A name could belong to a user account, or to a customer’s credit card. It could mean anything. Bits are bits.
In my database, however, the database I touch every day, that name may belong to a woman in a hospital somewhere in New York. I have never met her, and I probably never will. I can see her name, her date of birth, and a series of arcane codes that stand for diagnoses and procedures. I may never bother translating those codes into human-readable descriptions; that, after all, isn’t part of my job. I’m just here to move data along, to pass it from Point A to Point B to Point C, so someone waiting to get paid for services rendered finally gets the money they requested from whomever they requested it from. If I did bother to look up that diagnosis code, however, I might see that she has lung cancer and is in desperate need for a lung transplant. I don’t know how she got lung cancer; I have no idea if she ever smoked in her life, or if she was plagued with secondhand smoke from a chain-smoking loved one. But that probably isn’t the case.
If she’s in my database, it’s because she was a police officer and, on the morning of September 11, 2001, she was jogging in downtown Manhattan, trying to get some exercise in before clocking on duty. She may have been relatively healthy and trying to maintain her fitness, or she may have been working hard to lose that “baby fat” from a recent pregnancy. It doesn’t matter. Because at 8:46am, a jet liner slammed into a tall building just a few blocks away from her, kicking off a chain reaction that eventually led to its collapse. Being a first responder, she immediately leaped into action, working with her on-duty colleagues to perform crowd control and get civilians to safety. When the buildings collapsed, she was fortunate not to be caught by the wreckage; some of her colleagues weren’t so lucky. Ignoring the choking debris saturating her lungs, she dove into fray, working with other police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and other first responders to pull as many people from the rubble as possible. She worked for hours, doing what she could, until exhaustion set it and she was forced to rest. Periodically coughing due to the dust and debris in her lungs and haunted by the sight of mangled and burned bodies, she could not sleep. She returned to the relief effort as soon as she was able, refusing to give up until ordered by her superior officer. As days passed and the nightmare slowly began to fade, she did her best to continue her job. But all around her was the appalling, grizzly evidence of innocent people she was powerless to save.
Weeks passed, then months, then years, but the coughing didn’t stop. She went to her doctor, who asked the usual questions. Do you smoke? Have you ever smoked? Do you have a family history of asthma, chronic bronchitis, or other respiratory issues? They performed a series of tests only to discover that she now has lung cancer. The asbestos and other material released into the air by the collapsing buildings became lodged in her lungs, unable to escape. This mutated the lung cells adjacent to them, causing them to become malignant. The cancer is spreading, slowly and relentlessly. There is too much to be simply removed. Her only hope is a full lung transplant. There are a few things her doctors can do to ease her pain and make her more comfortable, but not much. She goes on a waiting list that is frighteningly long, so long that her odds of receiving the transplant before it’s too late are small. Now all she can do is wait, taking each breath one at a time, as her husband and children hope and pray for just one more day with her. All because she tried to help. All because she wanted to save lives and protect others. All because she was doing her job.
But why should I care? They’re just bits in a database, after all.
9/11 is a complex topic. There are many factors which contributed to its genesis, including interweaving historical, political, and religious influences. Many things have been said about whether or not it could have been avoided, and one could easily become hopelessly mired in such an analysis. Its aftermath is, understandably, equally controversial. There have been many things said and done in the past fourteen years that will have ramifications for years, if not centuries, to come. I do not feel compelled, nor do I feel qualified, nor do I want to debate these issues, and they are not the focus of this post. The world is a different place in the wake of 9/11; whether that will be for good or for ill is something later generations will have to decide.
My concern is apathy. The sense I’ve perceived from some online today isn’t about “moving on”, but more like “will you just shut up about it so I can forget about it?” Moving on and apathy are not the same thing. It’s healthy to move on after a traumatic event; the final of the five stages of grief is acceptance, after all, which implies that the one grieving has come to terms with their loss and moves on with their life. But acceptance is not the same thing as forgetting. I’ve lost a number of loved ones over my four plus decades on this Earth and I’ve come to accept their loss, but I’m not about to forget them. Forgetting is about apathy. Forgetting is not caring. Forgetting is about plugging your fingers in your ears and singing loudly, hoping the bad thing gives up and goes away. If we are apathetic about 9/11, if we chose to forget it, we are still in the first stage of grief—denial, not acceptance. 9/11 isn’t going away, and it never will, and it’s important that we don’t forget it. As George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we forget whatever lessons we learned from 9/11, its genesis, and its aftermath, we are simply inviting it to happen again… and again… and again.
I can understand the desire of some who were not personally affected by 9/11 to want to sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened. I feel that desire myself at times, and it’s a very easy and seductive thing to do. It’s also easy for me to play with my little database, optimizing indexes and tuning queries, pretending those bits are something that they aren’t. After all, it’s just a job, and it doesn’t directly affect me, except for the pay check. Why should I care? But while my job can be frustrating at times—OK, most of the time—I know that most days I can go home and spend time with my family or lose myself in the latest exploits of Nick, Ki, Fooker, and the gang. For the people represented in my database, that isn’t an option. I try to remind myself periodically that there’s something deeper about what I do when I sit at this desk. That police officer waiting on a lung transplant will never know who I am and will likely never know what infinitesimal part I played in helping her. But I am helping her. I may not have been beside her when she rescued a trapped child, but I’m helping her nonetheless. And I do that every day, from 8am to 5pm (and occasionally nights and weekends if I have to do an off-hours deployment). I don’t know how long I’ll have this job but, even if I quit today, I hope—I know—I’ve helped someone through it. It’s not much, but maybe, just maybe, it’s just enough.
9/11 showed the world not only the horrible depths of depravity that humanity has to offer, but also some of its deepest strength. It showed us that some people in this world are willing to slaughter innocent lives to make their message heard, but it also showed us that some people are willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect the innocent. I may never be in the position those first responders were, where I would have to choose between my life and saving the live of someone I may never know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do what I can to help these men and women for whom 9/11 will never end. No matter how small that part may be, at least it’s something.
That’s why I promise to #NeverForget. And no matter what your political, national, or religious stance is, I hope you never will either.
… but I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so. Yeah, it’s been a year and half since my last post, and even that one was an automated one. Then the plugin that archiving my Twitter posts changed (I’ll say broke, but the developer would probably disagree) and, well… it all fell apart from there.
All that said, I’ve been meaning to add some more long-form content beyond what social media allows, and I happen to have a bit more discretionary time than I used to recently. Social media posts are usually faster and easier, but it’s always difficult confining myself to 140 characters (give or take). We’ll see what happens.
For those who need a more immediate fix for what’s been going on in my life (you voyeuristic perverts, you), I’d suggest my various social media feeds. I have personal Twitter and Google+ accounts, while GPF has its own Twitter feed and Google+ page. There’s a Facebook page as well for the comic; only close friends get added to my personal FB account. I may eventually get pulled kicking and screaming into other social sites as well, but if I ever do, you can check the GPF Contacts page for the links.
It case you missed yesterday’s tweets, the
jeffdarlington.com server has been successfully upgraded both to Fedora 11 and WordPress 2.8. The GPF server is next, although I haven’t started that effort and it’s bound to take longer. I’ll make a bigger deal about the downtime for GPF when that upgrade draws closer.
Let me know if you encounter any problems with the new site.
Just a quick heads-up to anyone who cares, but I’m in the process of upgrading the blog server’s operating system from the creaking and decrepit Fedora 6 to the shiny new Fedora 11. I’m doing most of this work on a totally different virtual server, which I’ll then backup and overwrite this virtual server with the new image once its ready to go live. In theory, there should be only a minimum of downtime when the actual overwrite occurs. However, I’ll probably end up closing comments and such temporarily right before the flash to make sure the database stays in sync. I don’t have a time frame for when the actual flash will occur, but it should be in the next few days.
As an even more advanced warning, GPF will be getting the same upgrade (only from Fedora 8 ) once the blog server is stable. The blog comes first because (1) it’s running on the older OS and thus theoretically more vulnerable due to its venerable age and (2) it will serve as a test bed to make sure the upgrade process moves relatively smoothly. I tend to be much riskier with the blog server because it’s less important to my livelihood, so it gets to be the guinea pig for these sorts of experiments.
By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of the new Star Trek movie coming out this weekend. (If not and you consider yourself a “Trekker”—note the distinction from “Trekkie”—you should officially have your Vulcan ears bobbed.) Needless to say, the marketing engine is in full force, with movie tie-ins showing up in every parsec of the galaxy. (Note to Burger King: Captain Kirk bobbleheads? Seriously?)
I was rather amused to find the following ad in a magazine recently, so amused in fact that I just absolutely had to share my thoughts on it. I’m pretty sure that copyrights extend to advertising just as they do to other media, so it’s probably technically infringement for me to post this. However, we’ll just throw in a link to Kellogg’s official site and say it’s a product endorsement in hopes that it makes things kosher. (Lord knows I’ve eaten enough of their cereal over the years for that to count).
There are a number of things that stand out concerning this ad. Perhaps the most obvious is Tony the Tiger’s three-fingered Vulcan salute. For those out there who don’t know their tribbles from their tricorders, the Vulcan salute is generally performed by most humanoids in the Trek universe by separating the middle and ring fingers, keeping the index and middle fingers together as well as the ring and pinky fingers together, with the thumb sticking out on its own. Having one too few fingers tends to present… problems, and I’ve always wondered how cartoon characters, many of whom tend to be finger deficient, might cope. When Fooker gave Ki the salute, I fudged; Fooker mysteriously grew an extra finger between panels one and two and subsequently lost it between panels two and three. (I’m not sure why the cast of GPF have only three fingers per hand; I just drew them that way and stuck with the convention. But I’m not above making fun of myself about it.) Tony the Tiger’s three-fingered salute just looks… wrong, and for some reason I just can’t seem to let that go.
Another thing that I find funny is what the ad promotes: In “specially marked packages” of their cereals, Kellogg’s is inserting “beam up badges”—essentially, little plastic gizmos in the shape of various Trek insignia that light up (and probably make a sound) when you press on them. You can call yourself a true Trek nerd if you take exception with this, to which all the non-nerds should reasonably respond, “Why?” Well, firstly, for those willing to receive entirely too much information, they’re not called “beam up badges”; they’re communicators. Secondly, communicators weren’t built into Starfleet insignia until the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the film is set just before the time of the original 1960s series. In Kirk and Spock’s (amok) time, communicators bore much more resemblance to subspace cell phones (which, in true Trek circular fashion, is doubtless the inspiration of many flip-style mobiles in use today).
But the real thing that sets off my old Trek nerd radar is this. Take a look at the image below and see if you can find the error. If you can’t, hand in your phaser and communicator go back to Sector 001; you’re not fit to enter Sto-Vo-Kor.
I will now be hiding under my desk for the rest of the week. It’s obvious I shouldn’t be allowed in public again until I am forced to watch 24 hours straight of American Idol or whatever else passes for “acceptable” entertainment for the washed masses these days.
I hate breaking the drought of (real, non-Twitter summary) updates with a gripe fest, but this has been bothering me for a couple weeks and I just wanted to get this off my chest. If you don’t listen to the podcast “This Week in Tech” (or TWiT), feel free to ignore this post. Of course, if you’ve considered listening but haven’t gotten around to it yet, this might be informative enough to help you reconsider, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
I’ve been a fan of Leo Laporte for a number of years, ever since we first discovered TechTV (before it died a miserable death at the hands of Paul Allen and G4). “The Screen Savers” was one of our favorite shows and became a nightly staple in our house for several years. When Laporte left TechTV and “The Screen Savers” was canceled (or, more properly, devolved into “Attack of the Show”), we had a small sense of loss. The show was entertaining and informative, and a big part of the entertainment value was Laporte’s friendliness and personality. The network was never the same after that, and now we largely ignore G4’s existence on our cable listings. (“X-Play”, the only remaining show from TechTV’s original line-up, is the only thing still worth watching on G4, and even then it’s not nearly as good as it used to be.)
When I discovered a year or so ago that Laporte had gone on to create his own podcasting network, I was thrilled. Several old TechTV allumni were among the guests and cohosts, and the selection of podcasts has been diverse, engaging, and ever expanding. The flagship of the network, of course, is TWiT, a weekly roundtable of tech industry players and journalists discussing the latest tech news. The show is often wild and unpredictable, spiraling down rabbit holes and meandering in bizarre directions, but that’s often part of the fun of the show. The bottom line, though, was that the show was about tech news, and it and Slashdot were two of my main ways of keeping on top of what’s been happening in the tech world.
Something happened in recent weeks to change that, however. Since I can’t follow the live streams (both for practical and technical reasons), I can only guess the sequence of events based on what’s been released in the podcasts or written by others after the fact. But from what I can tell, the TWiTters have been hosting a live wine tasting show right before TWiT starts recording on Sundays. Now I’m a teetotaler myself, but I won’t condemn anyone who wants to imbibe their spirits if they really want to. What self-destructive behavior they engage in on their own time is up to them. As long as no one’s forcing me or anyone else to participate and nobody’s operating motorized vehicles, they are free to destroy their own livers to their hearts content. But what’s really annoying is that once TWiT starts taping, everyone in the studio is already tipsy, if not totally soused. The wine continues to flow as the show progresses, and what follows is a train wreck of drunken giddiness and squabbling that’s only really entertaining to those who are equally inebriated. To top everything off, from what I’ve read the final podcast (what I’m actually hearing and complaining about) is heavily edited before it’s released; the live feed is even worse.
The latest episode is a perfect example. Subtitled “Corked” (which is appropriate; I originally intended to say “ironically” but I’m pretty sure the choice of subtitle was intentional), the show is a disaster of panelists talking on top of each other about nothing worth talking about. Leo, who is usually an excellent host and often does a great job of keeping everyone else in line, is interrupting his guests and spinning things even further out of control. John C. Dvorak, whose input I always find amusing and often enlightening, is equally rude and—from what I’ve read from those who saw the live feed—apparently egged on the other guests to get them even further inebriated. I was originally going to complain that neither of the female guests, Lisa Bettany or Shira Lazar, could manage to finish a sentence before being trampled upon by Leo or Dvorak, but Lazar was just drunk enough to be an unstoppable stampede of rambling who couldn’t let a topic go. As previously stated, one of the appeals of TWiT is its unpredictable nature, but this show was so far off the beaten path that there was no path left to beat. Somewhere, deep inside the tangled mess of four people talking at once about Twitter drinking games, is only the vaguest hint of tech news, a thin whiff of the scent of information that rapidly gets swept away by the torrent of uselessness that follows. And for the cherry on top, several times during the show Leo pauses to read complaints from the live chat room about how terrible the show has become… and makes fun of them. This following a single glimmer of insightfulness in a discussion about how important the community has become in modern online media.
Now, I’ve been a webcartoonist for a decade, so I’m no stranger to the vast swing between amateurism and professionalism when it comes to online media. Before there were basement-dwelling podcasters, there were basement-dwelling webcartoonists, and you can tell in both cases which ones take their craft seriously and which just throw things out without any care for quality. I consider Laporte an accomplished pro, and virtually every other show on his network stands as shining proof of that. “Security Now!” is brilliantly informative (and my personal favorite), “FLOSS Weekly” (when it updates) shines the spotlight on some great open source projects, and “Jumping Monkeys” (before it went on indefinite hiatus) was a great parenting podcast for tech-savvy parental units. In all three of these examples, Leo is an excellent cohost to the show’s main star, showing his versatility with rare skill. He asks the questions many of us are thinking, assuming the role of the everyman so the expert can answer to the fullest. The TWiT Network as a whole is an example that many podcasters should look up to, a yardstick of professionalism by which all others should be compared.
All except for TWiT itself. Leo, what the heck happened?
I won’t stop listening to “Security Now!” or “FLOSS Weekly”, both of which I enjoy immensely. If “Jumping Monkeys” ever comes back, I’ll resubscribe in a heartbeat. My wife loves “net@nite”, “The Daily Giz Whiz”, and “Munchcast” and keeps bugging me to listen to them. But TWiT… oh, TWiT, how the mighty have fallen. What was arguably the best show on the network is now the worst.
What’s incredibly ironic is that in a recent episode of “net@nite” (unfortunately, I don’t know which, but my wife thinks it’s either #85 or #86), Leo chastized Kevin Rose for a drunken comment he made on-air that caused a bit of an Internet stir. He commented that in today’s world of streaming media, celebrities have to assume that they’re always on the air and that anything and everything they do will be rebroadcast repeatedly, even stating that it’s a big mistake to be drunk while recording. Maybe it’s time Leo listened to his own advice.
I’m still not sure whether or not I’m dropping TWiT now or if I’ll give it one last chance. Leo posted on FriendFeed that the “message [was] received” and, based on overwhelmingly negative feedback, there will be “a little less wine and a little more tech in future TWiTs”. We’ll see. What’s ironic is that it was Audible.com‘s sponsorship of TWiT that turned me on to audio books, and now there’s a good chance that audio books will completely replace TWiT during my long, boring commute each morning. It’s Leo’s loss, not mine.
Every so often, my wife receives one of those women’s magazines. Sometimes it’s a gift subscription from someone, sometimes it’s a free complimentary issue fishing for a subscription. On extremely rare occasions, it’s because it has a cover article she’s interested in. Rarest of all we may actually have a paid subscription; we get a parenting magazine or two that have actually proven useful over time. Either way, these magazines somehow arrive at our home, where they invariably find their way into the official reading room. You know, that one room with the special white ceramic chair where you’re stuck for a good portion of time with nothing else to do.
I could expound at length about what it’s like being a man reading one of these magazines. That topic, though, might be so exhaustive it would merit a treatment much more long-form than a simple blog post. However, I would like to share one interesting little anecdote that isn’t necessarily related to differing genders and likely to be much more entertaining to my particular audience.
One morning this past weekend, I was flipping through one of these periodicals during my morning constitutional. (I won’t mention which magazine this was to avoid both accidentally endorsing it and exposing my mild copyright infringement in quoting it.) I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but happened upon the inevitable parental question and answer page. While I had mild interest in the article about the son taking out a credit card in his mother’s name so he could gamble online, a different question quickly caught my attention. Here’s a paraphrase of the query (both to minimize said copyright infringement and because I don’t have the magazine in front of me now anyway):
While we encourage our fourteen-year-old son to be himself, we were dismayed to find him pursuing some unusual activities recently, such as building a four-foot-tall replica of the Star Wars Death Star made out of LEGOs in our living room. How can we encourage him to engage in activities where he won’t be made fun of by his friends?
Now, if you’re like me, the instant you read the phrase “four-foot-tall replica of the Star Wars Death Star made out of LEGOs”, you mentally broke out in a rousing chorus of John Williams’ Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) or maybe started Googling to see how many Lego bricks it would take to build a spheroid with a four-foot diameter. (I’m guesstimating 193,059.*) After this initial lapse in attention, though, I began to see the real problem with this question. If you read between the lines, what this troubled parent was really asking is, “Help! My son is turning into a geek! Can he be saved?”
As you might guess, this irked me somewhat, as if this misguided parent thought geekiness were some leprous social disease. To the magazine’s credit, they caught the undercurrent of the question and replied appropriately. “Who’s really anxious here, you or your son?” they replied. The editors gave the advice that the parent should check their attitude at the door and let their son be who he wants to be. The only place of real concern here is if he isn’t making any friends, and in this case they suggested taking him somewhere where he might find people with similar interests, like (Gasp!) a Star Wars convention.
I have some additional unsolicited advice I could offer. Perhaps the first nugget of wisdom is the matter of his “friends”. If his “friends” are making fun of him for building Star Wars LEGO sculptures, they aren’t his friends. I’ve had many non-geek friends over the years who read my hand-drawn comics on lined notebook paper or who tolerated my extra credit speech on how Star Trek warp engines worked. They took these little elements of my personality in stride and counted them as part of who I was. If any of them “made fun” of me for these traits, it was as playful banter between friends who were mature enough to laugh at themselves. None of those individuals who made fun of my geekier activities were ever my true friends, except the few who eventually matured to the point that they accepted others for who they were and apologized for their past insensitivity. The point here is that if his “friends” are hazing him for being a Star Wars fan, those kids aren’t his friends. Either this boy’s parents need to be more observant or the lad needs to invest in better company.
What I really see as an issue, though, is the parent’s misunderstanding of their own child. How is he going to learn to make friends who respect him if his own parents can’t? Perhaps my own childhood isn’t a good example as my parents were a bit geekier than most, but I’m certain my parents would be just as proud of me whether I was a computer programmer, cartoonist, professional athlete, or plumber. As long as what I did was legal and moral, I did the best at it as I possibly could, and I was happy doing it, I’m sure they would approve. Sure, the likelihood that he’ll take up building LEGO sculptures as a profession is slim (yet still possible in this day and age), but I don’t build Star Trek model kits, play piano, or play with model trains for living either. Geeky hobbies may lead him toward other interests; maybe his interest in building LEGO sculptures could lead him to be a digital artist, modeling 3D characters in the next big Hollywood movie? Don’t squash his dreams just because you think they’re nerdy. Geek is the new cool; after all, without geeks all this crazy Internet junk would have never happened.
What is really needed here is communication. This parent must come to understand their son, and that only comes through sharing and talking. We have no idea from the submitted letter whether or not the boy communicates well with his parents. It’s a safe bet that, since he’s a teenager, sharing all his feelings accurately with his parents isn’t necessarily his strongest trait, but we can’t assume that to be true. But as with any relationship, communication is key. Only together can they come to a consensus on what geeky habits are acceptable or not. Building four-foot tall Death Stars is OK, but only in the garage, not the living room. Cosplaying as Darth Maul is fine at conventions, but dressing up as Princess Leia in a metal bikini isn’t healthy for a fourteen-year-old boy.
Dear parent, if by some miracle you’ve found this site and are reading this, please talk with your son. It’s your best way of learning to understand him. If you need help, let me offer this one little bit of advice, just to break the ice: Dip into his LEGO stores and find all the blue, green, brown, and white LEGO bricks you can find. Look at his Death Star sculpture and find the circular “dent” in one side. Scatter the bricks you’ve collected on the floor in front of this feature of the sphere. Be elaborate if you can; place a few bricks on furniture, door and window frames, etc. ideally evenly spread out in a cone radiating out from the “dent”. For extra credit, tie some bricks to fishing line and suspect them in midair at varying heights within the cone. Now be prepared for your son to freak out a little when he comes home and finds out you’ve been messing with his bricks. Try to calm him down and assure him you haven’t affected the original sculpture in any way. (You haven’t, right?) Eventually he’ll look to you completely flabbergasted and utter something to the effect of, “Mom, what is this?” Reply simply and plainly: “Alderaan.” (“All-dur-on.”) It may take a minute for this to sink in, but when it does, he’ll laugh his head off. Once he’s able to breathe again, use this as an opportunity to open a dialog. You may even get him to help you clean up the bricks you scattered once you’re done.
* Based on an average 8-stud LEGO brick size of 9.6 mm x 32 mm x 16 mm or 4.9152 cm3, taken from here. Please excuse rounding and metric-to-Imperial conversion errors; this was a quick and dirty calculation.
If you’ve never heard me talk about politics, there’s a good reason for it. I hate politics, with a passion that cannot be quantified. I often see elections as a choice between the lesser of n evils, which is never a good thing. This year’s presidential election in the United States exemplifies this frustration. I don’t think I’ve ever been less sure what I’ll do at the ballot box than this year, and that includes my first time to vote years ago when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I feel neither love nor malice toward any particular candidate, and I can’t see either one of the Big Two doing significantly better than the other. It’s a choice between one mixed bag ideologies that I half agree with and a second, polar opposite mixed bag of ideologies. I am disgusted with certain aspects of the past administration, but I can’t see any way the opposing party will make things any better. I swear, once this election is over, I’m probably switching my political affiliation and going independent. I’d secede and go somewhere else if I honestly thought it would help my frustration.
That said, I will be voting today, and I sincerely urge my fellow Americas to vote as well. I may not like the choices I’ve been given, nor do I think my vote will make much of a difference. That said, it is both my right and my duty as a citizen to try and make an informed, conscientious decision, and I’ll do my best to try. If I vote and my candidate of choice loses, then I have a right to be frustrated when things go south in four years or less (and it probably will). If I don’t vote, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.
As for the rest of the world… I say pray. Whether we all like it or not, the United States has tremendous sway in international politics. Pray to whatever god you serve that Americans will make the “right” choice today, whatever that means. Despite what my estimeemed colleague might hint at, today’s choice may indeed affect history as we know it. It may not, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. We don’t know. And that’s what makes the choice all that more important.
I received an interesting e-mail yesterday from a representative of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium. She said she would be attending the sixth International Congress on the Systematics & Ecology of Myxomycetes in the Ukraine in October and that she was giving a “lecture on the different ways that Myxomycetes (Slime Molds) inspire people to make works of art”. Her search of the Web turned up GPF and a certain lovable blob of goo, so she asked permission to reproduce a couple of comics and inquired my thoughts on Fred’s genesis.
First of all, I had no idea there actually was an international congress devoted to the ecology of slime molds, let alone that there had been five previous ones. It’s both fascinating and ludicrous all at once. It’s one of those things you would think would be such a minutia that nobody would bother devoting their lives or entire symposia to. Then again, science is all about increasing human knowledge and at some point you have to specialize to learn all there is possible. (Personally, I’m a poly-science geek; I dabble in a little bit of everything and am master of none.) The second part of this that fascinates me is the thought that there may well be many more people using slime molds in or inspiring their art. I can explain myself away as a weird, isolated nutcase with an odd sense of humor, but to think there are other nutcases with equally odd senses of humor out there is a little bit frightening. Then again, I know how many of you out there read the comic, so maybe there are more nutcases out there than previously thought. 😉
I’ve asked the author of the e-mail to keep me in the loop on how her presentation goes. There’s a tiny part of me that almost wishes I would be invited to the seventh ICSEM as a guest of (dis)honor. I don’t know whether I’d be lauded for promoting awareness of slime mold research or demonized for the liberties I’ve taken with slime mold science. Either way, I’ll bet it will be one wild mold-lovin’ party….