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Archive for November, 2011

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

–Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

As I perhaps have mentioned a few times here and there and over there also, I love reading.

However, as much as I love reading, I loathe e-books.

I could have served as the model for the female physical book-loving character in the Amazon Kindle commercials because I believe all the things she does.

I love the feel of a book in my hand. I love being able to dog-ear a page. I own bookmarks just so that I can put them in books. I love having a physical library where I can look at the spines of books. I love that “new book” smell. I love being able to write notes in the margins in my own handwriting…and then come back to them years later and wonder what the hell was I thinking (both my copies of Democracy in America and The Prince are filled with what I thought was wisdom when I was twenty).

My wife bought a Nook and it was like bringing home garlic to your vampire spouse. She enjoys the portability of the e-book and the vast library of free material and I thought it was a lovely doorstop.

I have treated this device like a turd at Thanksgiving dinner. I have shunned it and done my best to avoid it. I vowed to win the battle against this thing that, to use Adams’s words, “went against the natural order of things.”

I lost.

Last month, my oldest son, Christopher, was having an issue at school. His English class was requiring him to read a book every two weeks and write a book report on what he had read. However, in our haste to move, we did not pack enough appropriate reading material for him. So, my wife suggested we use the Nook and for him, I downloaded all five Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams. I now have my oldest son hooked on the misadventures of Arthur Dent and 42.

Like an infection, once I touched the e-reader, its tendrils took hold of me and began to sing its temptations. I resisted this e-vixen body and soul until I lost a few days ago.

While reading his blog and Twitter feed (@wilw), I discovered that Wil Wheaton had written a book about his time as an actor on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Entitled Memories of the Future: Volume 1, it is billed as an insider’s look into the first half of the first season of ST:TNG.

I was a fan of ST:TNG when it first came out my freshman year in college. This show was appointment television for me and some of my friends as we would hijack our dorm’s lobby and take over the TV so we could watch the further adventures of the starship Enterprise.

There is no doubt about it, the first season was corny. From the pajama-like Starfleet outfits, to Troi’s cheerleader uniform, to the plots having to reach back to the original series for ideas (I’m looking at you “The Naked Now”), and even to the music, this series screamed “cheesy” and “cancellation”.

Thankfully, just like the man who was turned into a newt in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the series got better.

I am looking forward to reading Mr. Wheaton’s comments about that first season because, curses be upon him, his book was only available to me in electronic form. I have bitten the bullet and drank the Kool-Aid as the first e-book I now own comes from the hand of Wil Wheaton.

Curse you!

DECEMBER 1, 2011 UPDATE:

I see, courtesy of TechCrunch, that I am not the only one to reluctantly come around to e-books. I like it when I am on the same side as a giant in the field.

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He’s starred in this blog space as a comedian and as a logician, but now my middle child (and youngest son) takes on his newest role.

Meet Jared, who wants to be like the skateboarder, Tony Hawk.

Given the state of today’s technology, Jared has a much better chance of succeeding that I did in my quest for skater glory.

Back in the previous century (Sherman, set the WABAC Machine to 1981), I wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard. I was growing up in Southern California at the time and this was the place and time to be for all things skater-related. While I knew no friends who had empty pools or knew of no place that had large abandoned drainage pipes where I could flash my talents, I still dreamt of all manners of flips, turns, and tricks whose names I did not know.

My parents decided to put an end to my constant pleading and for my 12th birthday, they took me to a local sports shop where I was presented with a skateboard with bright orange wheels.

I was also presented with every form of safety equipment known to humanity at that time. This was my parents’ deal. If I wanted to ride the board, I had to wear the safety paraphernalia. Helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, and wrist guards were all now part of my retinue. Needless to say, I looked like a well-padded dork.

My dreams of glory never panned out most likely because I was so worn out from putting on all the pads that I could never dredge up enough energy to do tricks, but the truth was I simply wasn’t that coordinated. In addition, I suffered from a deficiency that does not hamper Jared. I had no one to teach me. I knew no one else who skated who could show me how to do any manner of tricks.

Jared, on the other hand, has YouTube.

My middle child will spend time glued to the video sharing service watching over and over Tony Hawk or some other wizard of the board do a trick and then take the time to break it down for the neophyte. Jared will take these hours of study and then practice them out on our streets. From ollies to kickflips to pop-shove-its to the boneless, my son is using the full potential of the Internet to master a new craft.

I’m so proud and oh, so jealous.

However, I put at 5 months the over/under spread on him breaking a bone despite the dorky safety equipment that I make him wear also.

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One advantage to living on the right side of the Atlantic Ocean is that this continent appreciates soccer much more than the United States.

I love soccer.

I have loved it ever since I played it as a lad with the American Youth Soccer Association, also known as AYSO. I played soccer in grade school, middle school, and in high school. My favorite position was goalie and I probably would have stayed with the sport past high school, but I never quite grew tall and short goalies don’t last long. I moved to forward in high school, but I don’t like running.

While I have left the game behind, I still love watching soccer and being in France allows me the opportunity to watch games from not only this country but matches from the England’s Barclay Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, and Spain’s Liga BBVA. All this plus all the European tournaments going on.

However, there is one aspect of European (and for that fact, Latin American soccer also as I can watch those on our telly) soccer that absolutely kills the game for me. It is the “drama queen” mentality where a soccer player writhes on the ground after sustaining a push or shove of minimal force. To see grown men act like such third-rate hams on the pitch is such a pain to watch.

For fun, click on over to this YouTube link to see the hysterics of which I speak.

You don’t see baseball players clutch their heads in agony after being struck by a beanball.

You don’t see football players grasp their shins in agony after being hit by a blindside tackle.

You don’t see hockey players roll around on the ice after a vicious check.

You don’t see basketball players…well, you don’t see basketball players now due to the lockout, but you have the idea.

Soccer could be so much more entertaining to watch if the players weren’t going for an Oscar as much as they were going for a goal.

End Note: Congratulations to the American Samoa soccer team for winning their first game in nearly twenty years. I bet none of those players ever thought about taking a dive.

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Day of the (Brain) Dead

I have found StumbleUpon.

That was no big feat in and of itself, but the reason I love this website is that it allows me to revel in the subtitle of my blog. StumbleUpon gives me the ability to celebrate the creativity in randomness, by randomly taking me to websites that I would not find on my own.

So far, I have stumbled upon beautiful photos of space shuttle launches, interactive historical maps, eye-shattering photomanipulations, and I have come across humor that is definitely NSFW (or in my case, being the French flaneur that I am, NSFH [not safe for home]).

However, one stumble that I came across made me pause and decide I needed to write about it.

The United States has a problem with zombies.

Now, I have no problem with the proliferation of creativity that has risen in our culture ever since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968. Whether it is The Walking Dead (television series or comic book), Marvel Zombies (comic book), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (book), the Thriller music video, Plants vs Zombies (video game), or any movie ending with “…Dead” (examples here and here and here), it seems you can’t turn anywhere in our mediascape without falling over a dismembered hand or someone shouting “Brrraaaiiinnnsss!”

No, my issue rests with those individuals who do not seem to realize that zombies ARE NOT REAL!

Among other ways, this takes the form of Jonah Ray from The Nerdist podcast going on and on about how real zombies don’t run and how real zombies pass on their zombie-ism, the proliferation of people buying books telling folks how to handle the coming Zombie Apocalypse (such as The Zombie Survival Guide), and people even actually asking the question, “Could zombies be real?”

Zombies are like unicorns, chupacabras, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. They do not exist. (You thought I was going to use that old comedic trope and substitute “Loch Ness Monster” for a gag line…like “an honest politician” or “just war”, didn’t you?)

However, StumbleUpon (and you wondered when I would come back to that website) showed me just how far this delusion can take when it displayed for me the first zombie-proof house.

It comes fully equipped with a drawbridge to restrict access and movable walls and windows so that when in full lock-down mode, the house looks like a giant cinder block impervious to all zombie attacks.

Except, of course, that zombies don’t exist.

But if they did, these folk would be safe from the zombie apocalypse because they have no….(yeah, you saw that joke coming, didn’t you?)

NOVEMBER 28, 2011 UPDATE

Yes, I have to add these people to my list of the (brain) dead. Should one urge them to get an un-life?

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If one of the jobs of a parent is to pass on information to the next generation, then I am certainly bringing it home.

Just this week alone, I have…

…introduced my oldest son, Christopher, to the genius that is Douglas Adams as we downloaded all five of his Hitch Hiker books onto our electronic book reader;

…introduced my middle child, Jared, to the music of the Talking Heads; and

…introduced my daughter, Ophelia, to the books chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Homes in Sneakers, Encyclopedia Brown.

Ah, it feels so good to pass on the accumulated sum of knowledge from one generation to the next.

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It has been a while since I last posted any writings from my former college roommate, David G. As much as I would like to blame this dearth on the chaos in our household with our move, but the blame lies with me. I was so ticked off and disgusted by what he wrote in his last chapter, that I couldn’t read any more of what he had to say.

My mistake.

Given the fact that I now live in a foreign country, do not have a job, and do have a good deal of time on my hands, I swallowed my bile and read through the rest of the material that David sent me. Now that I have the whole story (or most of it), I now know what I need to do.

It is my plan to take his scribblings and accomplish one of his wishes. In this way, I hope to settle my debt with him (wherever he is) and maybe even do some good. Because of my new plan, I will not be posting all of David’s Chapter 03, but just the start. Plus, I don’t know how much words I can put on WordPress in one post.

Here’s my disclaimer regarding David: As I have written before about David’s style of writing, he wrote in somewhat haphazardly and often left parts of the manuscript incomplete or with notes to himself on how to possibly improve his choice of words. I will try to recreate this mode of his by using brackets and the bold font [Like this]. I have also attempted to correct some of his spelling errors, but not all.

If you want to play catch-up with what David has penned before, you can jump to Chapter 00, Chapter 01, and Chapter 02.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Form Your Troika - Chapter 03

SIGNIFYING NOTHING

Still with me?

Thanks for hanging around after reading my thoughts in the last chapter. Good on ya’, mate, as the Aussies say.

I wouldn’t hold it against you either, and, in fact, I would even understand it, if you had actually thrown this book into a crucible.

So if I find no answers in the Big Four of Western organized religion, what is my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

With apologies to Douglas Adams and all the other great philosophers that have pondered this question, my answer is relatively simple.

Life has no meaning.

Continuing on from that premise, if life has no meaning, then what is its purpose? Again, my answer is simple.

The purpose of life is to live.

The purpose of life is to live it and to experience all that life has to offer. There is no need for an all-seeing, jealous, vengeful, kind, merciful, or absent-minded deity or deities in this philosophy. This belief system does not prescribe a set of rules denoting what foods can and cannot be eaten, the proper way to sacrifice a ewe, the role (or lack thereof) of women in society, or what is permissible and forbidden on a Saturday or Sunday.

“Wait!” I hear the old religious side of me cry out. “If all laws are based on moral underpinnings, what does the lack of religion do to society and its foundations?”

My answer, once again, is simple, but uses more words.

I reject the premise of the question and assert that the laws of any society do not need religion to serve as its base. I would actually contend that an organized faith as a foundation inflicts more damage than good. For those who wish to live in a land where religion truly is the law, I would suggest moving to Iran, Pakistan, or (if you have a handy time machine) Spain during the time of the Inquisition (which no one expected me to use as an example) and see how life treats you then.

I believe that it is entirely possible to form and run a society without the crutch of an organized religion. Because, casting a reference back to my previous chapter, who wants a society run by scared children?

If I ran a society, what would its guiding principles be? The first one (“The purpose of life is to live”) I’ve already mentioned. Others I would include are…
…The Emerson Principle (Hence the less government we have the better); [a government should have few laws]
…The Analects Principle (Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself); [treat others they way you want to be treated]
…The Yul Brynner Principle (So shall it be written, so shall it be done); [laws should be followed as written, not interpreted broadly]
…The Lord Palmerston Principle (Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests) [self-explanatory or not?]
[Expand on Principles here and what implications they would have on society]

How would such a set of principles be put into practice?

Don’t ask me…I’m just the idea man.

In college, a hall-mate of mine (Lamar would be his name) and I came up with our own theory of Reality. Trapped in our dorm as we were during a typical Wisconsin snowstorm, we decided to muse on the true notion of things. Of course, when discussing such profound ideas, it helps to be three sheets to the wind. Lamar was partial to wine coolers while sake was my poison of choice. After some fits and starts we concluded that all we perceive as Reality is actually the product of the imagination of a frustrated playwright living in Brussels, Belgium. This unnamed author is extremely prolific and writes the major and minor plot points of people’s lives. Lamar and I came to a stumbling block in our grand unifying theory when we tried to describe why the events of a person’s life sometimes go haywire. Lamar was a writer himself and said that authors do not insert bizarre or whimsical events in a character’s life without proper motivation.

That’s when we stumbled across Her. We surmised that the reason why a person’s life took a turn from the expected story arc was because the playwright has a mischievous girlfriend who would re-write the text when he wasn’t looking.

We soon developed an inside joke that when things did not go as planned in our lives, we would say, “That woman in Belgium is laughing her head off.”

Brushing Brussels aside, I am not of the school of thought that believes things happen for a reason. I am not a proponent of the saying “If something was meant to be, it will happen”. The figures of Clotho, Atropos, and [who is the third Fate?] are only mythical beings. Events happen because of known actions, actors, and choices. Not only does this Universe not care about you, it doesn’t know you exist. The main force guiding a person’s fate is that person. A person makes their own choices and then makes more choices based on the consequences of those earlier actions. Other people make choices that affect your life, but ultimately you [and I] are solely responsible for your [and my] choices.

I grant you that it is a far scarier world to live in knowing that the Universe, Fate, God, or the Force is not looking after you if you grant me that it is a more adult and empowering existence to know that you are in [almost] total control.

While I believe in the meaningless of life, I do believe that life has its purpose, which is to live it. If I can say that I believe in a higher power, it would be Nature. More specifically, it is the power of Life to perpetuate itself. The laws of physics and the theory of natural selection (to name but a few) are the best tools I have seen to demonstrate how Reality works.

You can try and equate my concept of Nature with your concept of God if you must. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself through the night.

Nature, and by extension, Life, has its rhythms and cycles. Nature does not break its routine lightly so when it does, I have learned to stop and observe. In a similar fashion, when the routine of my individual life is altered, I place my faith in the following Lesson:

Listen to serendipity

When I was in the seventh grade, I was part of a carpool that took me to middle school. My school was close enough that I could ride my bicycle, but my parents felt it was safer for me to go by car because of the busy roads I would have to cross.

On one particular Tuesday, I did not go with the carpool. Our arts teacher had decided to put on a play and I wanted to audition for it. As the tryouts would be after school, I would have to miss the carpool. I rode my bike to school managing to avoid all the obstacles and predators my parents fretted about.

At school, I found out I had written down the wrong date for the audition. It was Thursday, not Tuesday.

Riding back from school, I was berating myself for not being able to comprehend my abbreviations. Is it my fault that “T” can stand for both Tuesday and Thursday? Once I create my society, I will mandate that all days of the week have different first letters.

Sorry, I’m really going to need a road map if I keep taking these conversational side roads. Swerving back on to the main road…

As I made the turn on to my own street, it was as if I could hear myself calling for help to cure me of my absent-mindedness. However, I wondered, why would the voice in my head be female?

It dawned on me that I was actually hearing someone call for help.

I stopped my bicycle and began calling back. The voice continued to call for help as I homed in on it. I finally came to a wooden gate leading into a backyard. I had passed by this house many times before and seen the couple that lived there every once in a while. I think I even recalled that their last name was something like Farber or Feldspar. I slowly opened the gate and espied a long, narrow concrete walkway with a thin vegetable garden planted by a brick wall. Sprawled on her back on the walkway [is there a synonym for walkway?] was an older woman. As I was in seventh grade, “older” was a relative term for me and she could have been anywhere from twenty-five to sixty-five (although I found out later she was fifty).

“Uh…hello?” I called from the gate.

The woman turned her head and exclaimed, “Oh, thank goodness!”

“Are you okay?” I asked apparently thinking that was absolutely normal for a woman to be on her back staring up at the clouds while in a gardening outfit.

“No,” she replied. “I slipped and I think my hip is broken. Can you help me, please?”

I entered the backyard and approached the fallen woman.

My mind was furiously trying to figure out how I could help her. Do I set the leg? What can I use for splints? Do I move her? Do I leave her?

She interrupted my internal triage by asking, “Could you be a dear and phone the fire department?”

This was the days before 9-1-1 was ubiquitous so I walked into her kitchen and next to the phone was a sticker with all the emergency phone numbers. I called the fire department and did my best to explain the situation of a woman in need.

“What is your address?” the person on the other end of the line asked.

“It’s about ten houses down from where I live,” I explained (not so) helpfully.

“Can you ask the woman what her address is?” the dispatcher asked.

For a person with a possibly broken hip and who had a sore throat from calling for help, she was more than patient with me than one would have expected. After I hung up with the fire department, she asked if I could call her husband.

I phoned his office and a gruff voice answered.

“Is this Mr. Farmer?” I asked (after I had received the correct surname from the injured woman).

“Yes. Who’s this?” he asked back, probably curious why such a young squeaky voice would be calling him.

“My name is David and I’m calling from your home. Your wife asked me to call you. She had an accident. She’s okay. I called the fire department and they’re coming. Your wife asked if you could come home.”

“I’ll be right there,” he said quickly before hanging up.

I went back to Mrs. Farmer and we chatted while we waited for the emergency crew to arrive. She told me that she had been calling out for about an hour and was starting to become tired. I explained to her that it was just dumb luck that I happened to be on my bicycle. Had I been in my carpool, I never would have heard her.

When the fire truck and paramedics arrived, I made my way out of the backyard, hopped back on my trusty two-wheeled steed, and left without either of us saying good-bye.

I returned home and my parents asked how my audition went. I told them of my mistake and so they pressed me on where I had been since I was home so late. I nonchalantly related to them my adventures in Mrs. Farmer’s backyard as if saving damsels in distress was just the kind of everyday occurrence that we guys do.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

David goes on to list two other instances of serendipity guiding his life, but I’ll hold on those for another posting.

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And now the conclusion of my mini-project to follow the two NASCAR drivers this season who have a connection to the number 36.

First off, congratulations to Tony Stewart for winning this year’s Sprint Cup in an exciting conclusion to the Chase.

As for my project, I had been following Dave Blaney (who drives the Number 36 car) and Jeff Burton (who came in 36th place at NASCAR’s inaugural race, Daytona).

To put it mildly, it was never close.

With all thirty-six (hey, there that’s number again) races complete, Jeff Burton finished the season with 935 points and ended the year in 20th place. Dave Blaney, in the 2011 season, compiled 508 points and finished in 32nd place.

Well, that was fun…see you next year in Daytona for the start of the next exciting NASCAR season.

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