Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No laser-guided bees???

How is it possible that Youtube doesn't have a clip of Hal creating a battle-bot with laser guided bees? (It would be from Malcolm in the Middle, Season One. Episode name appears to be "The Bots and the Bees". Hal has taken over the boys' robotics project... and improved it.)

It would have made a perfect bit of Mad Science Filler.

Random Updates

Weird, jumbled dreams last night. As best I recall, I was attending an Episcopalian youth group meeting because I'd been asked to brush up on my knowledge of Christianity. Only, the meeting was up the closed-off loft of a barn - no idea why. But the youth leader had to balance on the ladder to unlock the door.

Somewhere in the process of getting into, or maybe leaving (?) that meeting, I wound up in another meeting. This time, it was for Kit Whitfield (a British author whom I've never met in real life), and she was celebrating her first year as the Mayor of Chicago. This included a nice little daycare setup for her son.

I have no idea where this came from. If it's significant of anything, it's probably that I need to get a lot more sleep.

Meanwhile, Firstborn's Kindergarten class is doing an activity where they use different kinds of tools to take apart old appliances. To help with this, I brought in an old computer keyboard, a rewinder for VHS tapes, and an old computer tower. I felt very manly carrying the thing in, though.

In college, I had a professor who explained, at length, about the symbolism of the seasons. Spring is life, beginnings, birth, and rebirth. Autumn is death, decay, mortality, endings. I looked at him like he was nuts. Why? Because I have allergies. During the Spring, everything dumps pollen in the air; so during the Spring, I habitually feel like I'm dying. Autumn is when I come alive again...

And while we're on the topic of symbolism and personification: the moon is male. At least, I always thought of it that way. Apparently this also puts me at odds with centuries of Western poetic symbolism.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In which work tries to kill me

So, we found out yesterday that... How to put this?

Okay, my workplace puts out a weekly newsletter. My workplace is also upgrading - or at least replacing - our website. All 4,000+ pages of it. The Go Live date, when we shut down the old server and direct all the web services to the new server, was set for this coming Monday: March 5.

Only someone (who will remain nameless because otherwise this blog post might implicate me to the police later) put in the newsletter that we would be switching over to the new site on Thursday: March 1. And, since boneheaded decisions never come alone, I came in yesterday to discover that we had chosen the clear and obvious path to resolving this little issue. To wit, we would simply go ahead and activate the new site on Thursday, March 1. Those four days of prep time won't make that much difference; who needs 'em?

This transformed the beginning of a very busy week into the beginning of a very large panic.

Fortunately, the Powers That Be relented, and we are back to the original launch date... at least for the moment. We're still panicking, though, because there's no reason to think that they wouldn't just arbitrarily change it back if the notion crept into their heads. So we're still trying to have it ready to go by the end of the day tomorrow.

So I won't be sharing the Mad Scientist's latest invention with you this morning. I'll try to write it down when I get home tonight. Or maybe I'll just collapse and sleep for a few hours; you never know.

I swear, some days there isn't enough whiskey in the world...

Monday, February 27, 2012

In which I take a moment to mope

Writing is not a simple process. It is not something that you can just pick up and do, like making a sandwich. It requires concentration: sustained time and attention. Any interruption slows the process, not just by the length of the interruption itself, but by the additional time it takes to get your focus back on your project, to figure out where you were when the interruption came, what you were trying to do, and where you need to go next. Put simply, it takes time to get your head into a project, and it takes time to get your head back into a project after your attention gets pulled away.

I state this as a general principle, but I will note that the larger and more intricate a project is, the more true this principle becomes. So, rattling off the sort of vignette that I like to put on this blog takes much less focus, and can continue in the face of far more interruptions, than working on the rewrite for my Great Pulp Fantasy Novel. Which brings me to my next point:

Raising children is not a simple process. Kids - young kids, at least - require constant time and attention, just to make sure that they don't manage to kill themselves or set the house on fire. They are a never-ending source of distractions. (Inspirations, too, but definitely distractions.) Secondborn, to pick an example, loves Elmo with a deep, strong love. The easiest way to distract him from, say, trying to open the dishwasher in the midst of the hot water cycle, is to offer him a chance to watch Elmo. Even so, he is seldom content to watch Elmo by himself. No, he can only be truly satisfied if one of us (or both, preferably) are watching Elmo with him.

As you might imagine, this is not conducive to creating what you might call "a good writing environment". Especially since, at least when I'm home, it's virtually guaranteed that Firstborn will also be roaming the house, and very probably trying to arrange some sort of battle in which various transformers try to destroy each other in the midst of our good china.

So, to recap:
1. Writing requires focus and concentration to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
2. Children require constant, vigilant supervision, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
3. Therefore, working on the Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel (or any other noteworthy writing project, for that matter) is fundamentally incompatible with wrangling small boys.

As a result, progress on my writing projects has essentially ground to a halt since the boys came along. This is not surprising, and I've mentioned before that it's very much a matter of priorities. Moreover, as the boys get older and better able to play with less supervision, I expect I'll be able to make more progress. (In fact I was just starting to get some of my time back from Firstborn when Secondborn came along. So I've got good reason to hope, here.)

Nevertheless, it's frustrating. Sometimes it's very frustrating. There's nothing quite like having a scene in your head, or a sudden flash of insight into a story, and knowing that there's at least a fifty-fifty chance that you won't be able to sit down soon enough to capture it before it gets away. There's also nothing quite like sitting down with an hour or two available, and realizing that you're entirely too tired/sick/inundated by allergies to focus on writing.

Which brings us to last night: I didn't even try.

Instead, I read a little bit. I played Infamous on the PS3, 'cause I finally have a PS3. I drank some sake.

And then, right around midnight, I realized I was finally relaxed and recuperated, and ready to write. Just exactly when I needed to go to bed, in other words. And since work is very much trying to kill us right now, I really couldn't afford to be exhausted and unfocused at my job. So... When I finally could have done some writing, I went to bed.

In the interest of preserving the delicate sensibilities of my readers, I will limit my response to a single, small "argh".


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Political thread of doom

This is going here so as to avoid derailing another topic in another thread on another blog. The topic is the relative merits of possible presidential candidates for the upcoming presidential election in the U.S.A. I will probably not do much in the way of moderation (the next few days look likely to be busy), so I'll start by asking everyone to keep it civil.

For my part, I think the "anyone but Obama" position is, by its nature, misinformed. There are plenty of people who would make vastly worse presidents than Obama has. That includes pretty much the entire slate of potential Republican candidates, at this point. So I'd start by asking what, specifically, Obama has done that's so completely beyond the pale that people should vow to vote against him under any circumstance.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why are they always carnivores? (2)

"Listen, I really do want to talk to you, but this is a really bad time." Jonah glanced at the clock on the wall. Seven-twenty. Jesus. He could all but feel the moon outside. Even with the windows closed and the blackout curtains drawn, it wouldn't be long before its influence became too much to resist.

"Oh." Lisa turned towards the apartment door, cup of sugar firmly in hand, then hesitated. "Listen, maybe we could..."

"Tomorrow... I swear, tomorrow, I'll call you and we can do anything you want to do." At any other time, Jonah would have been thrilled to have Lisa stop by. Her apartment was right across the way; she was bright and funny and undeniably attractive. Her timing, however, could not have been worse. He had to get her out of here.

"Okay," she said, brightening. She was obviously intrigued, and equally clearly didn't quite want to ask why he was so eager to get rid of her now. Good. She put her hand on the door, turned the knob, eased it open...

Too late. The first ripple of the change moved through him, doubling him over like a bad cramp. Lisa turned back, gasped, and hurried to his side.

He tried to wave her away. "No." She knelt beside him. "Get away. I don't want-" His jaw was already restructuring itself, and abruptly he could no longer speak. A moment later fur burst from his skin, a wave of dark brown grass growing impossibly fast.

Lisa backed away, gasping. Not like this, Jonah thought. Please, not like this. That was his last human thought.

Something touched Lisa's back, and she nearly screamed. Then she realized that she'd backed into the door. Jonah was gone, and she could only stand and stare at the beast that he had become: the long, powerful arms; the hooked claws; the animal snout; the cute little nose...

What, she thought, is that?

It took her a moment. The beast showed no interest in her at all. Instead, it turned away and lumbered across the carpet, raised itself up, and hooked one set of claws around the exercise bar that hung across the bedroom door. It raised itself up, slow and graceful. It was only once the creature was at rest, hanging easily from the bottom of the bar, that she was able to place it.

"Sloth," she said. "He's a weresloth." Her heart melted. As a man, Jonah was smart and kind. As a sloth, he was irresistibly cute as well. "Oh, I am totally keeping this one."

She slipped out the door and pulled it closed behind her, already plotting the details of their first date.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Garden Pests

I've noticed a lot of people starting up gardens recently. Between the rising costs of groceries, the recent rash of tainted foods, and the difficulties of finding fresh, quality produce in a world that lives on industrial agriculture... well, this sudden interest in growing one's own food is both commendable, and at the same time unsurprising.

Gardening, however, is not always easy. Even with constant care and attention, gardens can fall prey to any number of difficulties. Among the most annoying (if not the most destructive) are the many animals who look with greedy eyes on the results of your patience and hard work. Even a single rabbit can ruin an amazing number of plants if it gets access to your garden, and that's nothing when compared to the damage done each year by larger burrowing animals such as badgers and wombats.

Well, worry no more. America's Mad Scientists are here to help. Today we unveil the results of the G.G.G.W. project: the Giant Guardian Garden Worm. Though they start small, at a mere twelve inches long, our worms can grow up to eighteen feet in length. They have been carefully bred to seek out and lair beside common garden crops such as peas, carrots, onions, beans, corn, potatoes, and radishes. Lurking just below the surface of the ground, they can feel the vibrations created by approaching footsteps. When any sort of pest approaches too closely or tugs at one of your plants, the worm will rise up and devour it. Best of all, the waste products left by worms make excellent fertilizer, and their movements aerate the soil. Your garden is now completely safe, since the Giant Guardian Garden Worms can work together to take down even a larger intruder such as a stray horse or cow.

Many of you are no doubt wondering how much you will have to pay for such comprehensive protection of your plants. Never fear! The Mad Science Consortium has agreed to make Giant Guardian Garden Worms freely available, and in fact the first batch was released into the wilds of central Ohio just last week. They will reproduce on their own, spreading from garden to garden, living on a steady diet of would-be pests. Even as I speak, more Giant Guardian Garden Worms are being released in Peru, Albania, Germany, Italy, Australia, Cambodia, China, and Vermont. Soon they will be everywhere, a constant presence protecting humanity's food from the depredations of the natural world. By this time next year we expect to release the first generation of Armored Guardian Tree Wasps, which will protect your orchards and vineyards in the much same way that the Giant Guardian Garden Worms protect your crops and gardens.

Let me emphasize this once more: there is no cost for this service. It is already done. For America's Mad Scientists, your thanks are payment enough.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hearts are not heart-shaped

So Firstborn has realized that the traditional Valentine's Day heart shape bears no actual resemblance to any biological heart. (Hey, these are the things we talk about on the way to school in the morning.) So, for his upcoming birthday, I have offered to get him a genuine plush beating heart.

Firstborn thinks that would be awesome.

Clearly, I am the Best Daddy Ever.

Welcome to the Internet Help Desk

Because I didn't manage to write anything last night, and I don't have time to write anything this morning, here's Wes Borg (of the Canadian comedy troupe 3 Dead Trolls in a Baggie) with Welcome To The Internet Help Desk:

(Yes, it's this morning's call to technical support that reminded me of this. Why do you ask?)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A lottery ticket would be less messy...

On top of everything else, the Beautiful Wife and I are thinking about getting a new house. One with more room for the boys and the cats. One with, well, a less claustrophobic approach to closets.

Naturally, this has gotten us to thinking about money.

And that reminded me that I have yet to share this little gem with you, my beloved readers:

Busy day

So, yes, we're busy. And I went to bed early last night. So I don't really have a post prepared for this morning. And I'm tired.

I want a hug.

Unfortunately, the way this day is shaping up, this is about what I should expect:
How are the rest of you doing? Consider this an open thread.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Threaded comments?

So... the Blog o' Doom here has suddenly acquired threaded comments. I have very mixed feelings about this - for short exchanges they can be kind of fun, but in any sort of extended conversation they're unhelpful if not actively confusing. So what do the rest of you think? Should I be looking for a way to turn that, erm, "feature" off?

A Conversation in Heaven

This came to me last night in a vision. I was sitting on the couch watching Casablanca, and suddenly I had a vision of the Eternal Throne, glowing like the sun in the midst of a richly appointed room. The One who sat on the throne glowed more brightly still. His voice was like a powerful bell or a mighty drum: even at this unimaginable distance, it shook me to my bones.

He was not speaking to me, I knew. Rather, He addressed the figures who stood before Him. There were three of them, and they attended His every word. The first was a hazy presence, more brightness than actual shape. This, I knew somehow, was the Ruach haKodesh, the Holy Spirit. The second figure was large, and powerful wings spread out from the backs of his broad shoulders. On his left hip he wore a massive sword whose blade was flame. A long horn hung on his right hip, and seeing it I knew that it was more dangerous than the sword by far. The third figure was the smallest of them, male, and human to every appearance save that he, too, glowed in the ever-present light of the Throne. He was the Son, the Sacrifice, the Redeemer.

The Father spoke.



But the Son shook His head. "We can't," He said. "We promised We would never do such a thing again. The rainbow still appears as a reminder of Our vow."

There came a moment of silence. The angel set his hand on his trump again, but then let it fall. The Son simply waited. The Ruach haKodesh waited too, but - and this, too, I knew somehow - most of its attention was down on Earth, guiding and counseling and teaching. Finally, the Father spoke again.


The Son gaped at the throne. "Zombies?"


Looking, I beheld a mighty citadel ringed with massive walls, and though the zombies circled and circled outside, they could not breach the stones. And inside the walls there was food and fresh water, and people who carried many buckets of animal excrement to the tops of the walls, that they might cast it down upon the zombies below. And there was electricity from the vast spreads of solar cells upon each roof, and a very great deal of ammunition.

I became aware as I witnessed this of a figure standing at my shoulder. It was the angel Gabriel, his massive sword extended in the direction of the citadel. "Behold," he whispered, and his voice was as chimes, so beautiful that I wanted to weep.

Yet I gathered myself, and I turned to face him, and I spake unto him, saying: "You want me to build that?"

But the Archangel shook his head. "Nay," he said unto me. "I want you to find for me a righteous man. For verily, we're not having much luck with that."

Forsooth, I could not contain myself: I chuckled cynically.

Then Gabriel blurred and was gone, and the vision folded in upon itself and faded away, and on the television screen in front of me Rick said, "You played it for her, you can play it for me."

And so I say unto you, if the zombies come and we have no shelter, if no righteous man has built a mighty fortress to preserve each sort of creation, if my vision was true... verily, it is mine own fault that nobody's brains were saved.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Seekerville: Mastering Motivation by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Interesting question in this writing blog: Seekerville: Mastering Motivation by Laurie Schnebly Campbell. The question is, basically, which comes easier to you - plot or motivation?

My response:
Is it weird to say, "It depends on the story?"

Some stories come to me as plots. (There's a group of friends who go to a haunted house together for Halloween, but one of them wants to use the others to help him gain Vast Supernatural Powers. I've toyed with this plot idea for years, but the characters and their motivations and interactions keep shifting around.)

Some stories start with a character. (There's a young warrior coming of age, poorly socialized and nearly feral, who needs to learn more about himself and how to be more human. What needs to happen to get him there? Depends on what day you ask me.)

Some stories - possibly because I'm a fantasy writer more than anything else - start with a particularly interesting setting. (There is a massive floating city that sits on an inverted island half a mile above the ground: derelict, ruined, and waiting to be explored. Who goes there, and why, and what do they find as they explore? I'm not sure.)

So, plot or motivation? I'm honestly not sure. I think it depends on the story.

I did, however, get a very nice deal on chickens and eggs... I just can't decide which should come first!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Atheist Ethics

One of the common accusations I hear from Christian apologists[1] is that atheists have no basis for their morality. Admittedly, it's important to consider the source in situations like this. The most recent case that I'm aware of is Ken Ham, a man whose goal in life seems to be to condense the depth, richness, and variety of Biblical teachings into a handful of bumper-sticker slogans as a service to future generations. Since this Quixotic quest forces him to discard a significant portion of scientific knowledge (and, arguably, the entire scientific method) as incompatible with his grossly oversimplified approach to Christianity, he may conceivably not be the best man to consult on, well, much of anything. Nevertheless, the view that he presents - this idea that atheists have no firm basis for their ethics, and perhaps no ethics at all - is not uncommon among the more insular sorts of Christians.

So, strictly as an intellectual exercise, I thought I'd demonstrate how it's possible to get to a consistent basis for morality without any appeal to (or belief in) the supernatural. Here's how it works:

It's a fairly simple observation - I'd go so far as to call it obvious - that people get more done when they work together. We can set up systems: share resources, divide labor, concentrate on one task or one type of task instead of having to do everything for ourselves. We may not always enjoy it - there's friction, and disagreements, and power struggles - but it does get more done. So, in terms of making sure that people have both basic necessities and little luxuries, cooperation is highly beneficial. Cooperation, then, is why people tend to live in groups: tribes, towns, nations, and other social systems.

Those sorts of social systems work best, however, when everybody involved is playing by the same rules - and, I think, when those rules have provisions that allow them to adapt to new or changing information. That means, basically, that everybody shares the same set of morals. That never actually happens, of course, but any functioning social group will have a workable approximation: a social contract.

Part of the difficulty in establishing such a contract, however, is what project managers like to call "buy in". Basically, if you want to implement a new system, or change an existing system, you have to get enough people to agree in order to make the change work. And it's easiest to get people to agree voluntarily is if the system (or the change) treats everyone fairly (or more fairly).[2] In other words, whatever the specifics of your social contract, it will work best if you treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were in their place.

And there you have a working atheistic basis for morality: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This is enormously simplified from the details of actual situations in the real world,[3] but it does (I hope) show how you can easily derive the Golden Rule from simple observation of human nature and the natural world.

[1] "Apologist" in this context usually means "evangelist" ... and not infrequently "asshole" as well. Note that this does not in any way typify the vast majority of Christians, most of whom - in my experience - have a great many more important things to occupy their attention.

[2] There are other ways to get people to agree, of course: fraud, coercion, threats... I'd argue, however, that over the long haul those are quite a bit less efficient than voluntary cooperation, and that they're easier to enforce when resources are scarce; where resources are more freely available, it's a lot harder to force people to do things that they don't want to do.

[3] The process of simplifying complex real-world difficulties into simple abstractions is, I believe, usually referred to as "Philosophy".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Abuse Is Not Affection III: Morality is Learned

The post I linked to this morning reminded me of an incident from my youth. I'm putting it here because I think it's a good example of how these sorts of things should be handled.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade - so, eleven or twelve years old - I got it into my head that it would fun, or funny, or... well, or something to "pop" a girl's bra. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it basically means pulling the back of the bra out and letting it snap back into place, rather like popping someone with a rubber band. I cannot for the life of me imagine where I got this idea - other boys talking about it, maybe? - or why I thought I should try it.

But I snuck up behind Olivia (I think), and I popped her bra, and I ran off before she had a chance to even process what had just happened, let alone react.

And about five minutes later, one of the teachers came up with Olivia, and sat me down, and asked me why I'd done that. I didn't have an answer, and I don't to this day. I can tell you that it wasn't because I "liked" Olivia - or disliked her, for that matter. This was at that stage where the girls are frequently taller than the boys, and she had developed a bit earlier (and more visibly) than most; that probably had something to do with the "why her" part of "why", and I'm sure I didn't do her emotional well-being any favors by popping her bra.

But the teacher explained that that sort of thing wasn't acceptable, that it had hurt Olivia, and that I needed to apologize to her right now and never do it again. And I apologized to Olivia, and I never did it again.

Thinking about it later (I tend to process things slowly, and after the fact), I was surprised that I hadn't even considered that it would hurt. In the moment, it seemed funny and harmless for me, and it never occurred to me that it might not seem funny and harmless to her. It should have, but it didn't.

So that's the story. It was far from my finest moment, but I think I did learn from it. And, Olivia? I'm still sorry about that.

Abuse is not affection II: Rude Adults

Fellow blogger imjustasteph posted another thought related to the link in my previous post: Boundaries: Or Why My Politeness Enables Your Rudeness. Go read it. Go read it now.
This started in response to a blog post that's going around, in which the author is upset at the 'oh, honey, he just picks on you because he likes you' excuse given to young girls for the bad behavior of young boys.

I'm not going to link to that, both because I'm lazy and because it's not really what this is about.

From that, I sort of got into ranting about how the problem isn't these behaviors in kids, but how they are excused and enabled, thus allowing them to continue into adulthood, where they continue to be excused and enabled.
Keep reading...

Abuse is not affection

Friend of mine linked to this post, and I think it bears repeating:
Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, I urge you to rethink your parenting strategy. If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of “affection” you are endorsing.
Seriously, just go read the whole thing.

Abuse is not affection. Being mean to people is no way to show that you like them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Search Logs: how do atheists find meaning in life?

From time to time I browse through the logs to see how people are coming to this blog. The search strings that bring people here are particularly interesting, and some of them are people looking for material that I don't - or don't quite - manage to cover.

One of these searches was a deceptively simple question: "How do atheists find meaning in life?"

I call it "deceptively" simple because I'm fairly certain that the obvious answer, "By doing things that matter," isn't what the querent was looking for. That is, after all, an answer to the broader and altogether more useful question of how people find meaning in life - and that wasn't what the searcher asked. He, or she, asked how atheists find meaning in life. And that's... interesting.

Just by specifying atheists, the question implies that that sort of people might have (or do have, or ought to have) unusual trouble finding meaning in life. Which, in my experience, is not the case at all - though I don't have any actual scientific data handy, I haven't found that atheists are particularly more or less prone to feeling that life has no meaning than religious folks are. Religious beliefs are the sort of thing that sound like they should make a difference in whether someone feels like their life has meaning, but as a practical matter there's no connection - at least not as far as I can tell.

So there's the second answer: religious beliefs don't correlate to a sense of meaning, so atheists find meaning in life the same way everybody else does. For further clarification, scroll back up to the obvious answer I offered above.

Then there's the Socratic response: answer the question with a question. In this case, I'd ask: "How do Christians[1] find meaning in life?" Consider the following thought exercise:
Christians, as a rule, believe the world was created by a being who is all-knowing. That means that everything you do, God knows about. Everything you're going to do, every decision you will ever make, God already knows about and always has. As far as God is concerned, all your choices are already made. So how can anything you do have meaning?

On top of that, Christians believe that God is all-powerful. That means that anything that needs to be done - spreading the Gospel, helping the poor, teaching immigrants to speak English - He could do, Himself. Sure, the Bible says that God wants his followers to do certain things, but it's pretty much make-work; it's just to keep you busy and let you feel like you're accomplishing something. How could anyone find meaning in that?
If that sounds a little odd, a little off to Christian ears, well... it's supposed to. My point here is that asking "How do atheists find meaning in life?" sounds just as strange, just as wrong.

Look, if you want to get good answers, you have to ask good questions. This one isn't a good question. It's too caught up in its own assumptions. It depends too much on the answers to other questions that haven't been asked yet. But that aside, I hope this post will at least point you off in the general direction of an answer.

What about you? How do you find meaning in life?

1. I assume that the searcher was a Christian. This is mainly because fixating on atheists seems to me to be most common among Christians, and modern American Christians in particular.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Even More Valentines Music

In the spirit of the holiday...
...join us below the cut for more romantic tunes:

Happy VD

Happy Valentine's Day, folks.

When I was in college, a couple of the guys on my floor (who were perennially single) started a counter-holiday called He-Man Woman Haters Day, during which they would sit in their rooms, watch exploitation films, and drink beer. It was about as much fun as it probably sounds like, but at least there was beer.

Still, while I'm not prepared to promote an anti-Valentine's Day agenda,[1] I just can't get all that excited about a holiday that seems to exist mainly as a bidding war between the advertisers of Shiny Rocks and the advertisers of Dead Shrubbery. For one thing, as a celebration of Romantic Love, Valentine's Day seems to me like it ought to be a special case of Thanksgiving - and it feels like we just finished that. For another, do you really need to schedule a holiday to remind you to celebrate Romantic Love? I mean, it seems like if you're in a position to celebrate that at all, you're probably celebrating it all the time - informally, as it were.

Still, I hate to be a complete grump about this, so if you'll join me below the cut I'll share a couple of my favorite love songs. Enjoy...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Synchronicity II

So on Saturday afternoon, I took Firstborn up to a Bouncy Place - one of those places filled with inflatable play equipment, where kids can jump and slide and bounce, and hopefully wear themselves out so we can all go to sleep when bedtime rolls around.

This was not a trip that involved a lot of planning. I looked up and thought, "Oh, no, if I don't get this boy some exercise he's going to spend the evening bouncing off the walls." So I bundled him into the car, drove up to the Bouncy Place, and turned him loose.

It was about 4:45 when we got there, which gave us a bit over an hour until the place closed at 6:00. Firstborn threw himself onto the equipment with considerable abandon, while I stood around and played Angry Birds. Occasionally I would look up and make sure he wasn't doing anything too suicidal or otherwise socially inappropriate.

On one of those occasions, I found him starting to climb up onto the top of one of the structures. The conversation went a bit like this:

Me: Firstborn! I don't want you climbing up there.

Firstborn: But Otherboy is doing it!

Me: That's between Otherboy and his parents. Look, I know you can do it, but it isn't safe. The floor over here is basically concrete, so if anybody falls they're going to get hurt.

...And then my brain caught up with the situation. I had wondered, vaguely, how Firstborn knew Otherboy's name. I mean, he's played with kids at the Bouncy Place before, but he doesn't usually think to ask what their names are, let alone remember well enough to call them by name. So now I found myself looking at Otherboy, and sure enough - the kid really does look like Otherboy, who attends Firstborn's gymnastic classes with him. And the girl who's playing with them certainly looks like Otherboy's older sister. And that means that maybe...?

So I call the sister by name, and sure enough she turns around and comes over. Which means that we really have run into some of Firstborn's old friends (inasmuch as a five year old can have "old" friends). A couple of questions later, I've learned that all three of the Otherkids are here, and that their father has brought them - probably for the same reason I brought Firstborn.

It wasn't planned, as their father confirmed when he wandered over. It was just one of those happy coincidences that we'd all decided to come out to the same place at the same time.

Then, on Sunday, my parents took us down to the Dallas World Aquarium. This place is awesome, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For one thing, it's not just an aquarium; it also has birds and monkeys and otters and penguins and even a jaguar. (The jaguar was asleep the first time we wandered past; on our second pass, she was awake and regally ignoring us.) For another thing, the whole place is carefully... "layered" is the best word I can come up with. There's a sort of winding path that you follow past the exhibits, but it swings around and crosses over (and under!) itself, so you can see things from new angles and perspectives.

And while we were there, a little girl ran up to Firstborn and greeted him by name. Firstborn turned around, gave her a great big smile, and said, "Oh, hi, ClassmateGirl!" And then he went over and gave her a great big hug. And, of course, I didn't have the camera out, so I couldn't capture the paralyzing display of cuteness that entailed. The girl, it turned out, attends kindergarten with Firstborn.

So, yeah. Apparently this weekend was devoted to running into friends of Firstborn in odd places. It was a funny but very pleasant bit of synchronicity. Also, it's kind of reassuring to be reminded that we have the sort of kid who other kids are happy to see.

Just for fun, there's another sort of synchronicity below the cut:

Friday, February 10, 2012

The End of a Very Long Week

It's been a long week. Secondborn has been fighting off RSV, which has kept the Beautiful Woman and myself busy monitoring him to make sure that his temperature doesn't spike to dangerous levels, and that his respiratory system doesn't close up and make it hard for him to breathe. We've been taking this in shifts - 'cause we're complementarian like that - but we've still been running on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Which is just not as easy as it was when I was eighteen.

Secondborn is, however, finally shaking this stuff off. So last night I finally got a full night's sleep. About nine hours, in fact. And naturally, I woke up feeling like I'd been run over by a truck. Like:
Wassa'? Whi-? Wudda... 'Larm clock? Already? Issa... can... wobble... Right. Right, I'm awake. I'm... zzzzzzzz Uh-wha? Oh, right. Out of bed, into the shower, wake the boy, get moving. Out, shower, boy, moving. Right. Moving. Istargelblarg...
I don't usually drink caffeinated sodas, but this morning was an exception: I didn't think I was going to make it out the door without something. So I poured some Coke down my throat while I was showering, and then I was all like:
(Continued below the cut)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why do I even think about this?

It's funny to me that I have opinions about Christianity and Christian doctrine. I mean, I'm not a Christian. I don't have any particular authority to speak to these topics, and for the most part it's not my problem anyway. As a rule, I can giggle and walk away, any time I want to. So why write those sorts of blog posts?

Some of it is left over from having been raised a Christian. I see these odd, destructive, not-terribly-Biblical ideas masquerading as Christianity, and I have this reflexive reaction: "But that's not how it's supposed to be!"

Some of it is a more general humanitarian reaction: how can you not notice that these are extremely misguided, and in some cases potentially quite harmful, ideas and approaches?

And some of it, I think, is a simple human inability to mind my own freakin' business.

Monster Bug Wars

Why did I not know about this show???

Sample below the cut:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Project That Wouldn't Die (And Ate My Department)

A while back, I posted that we were getting ready to start a new project at work, which would likely eat up a huge amount of time while making very little difference to our overall functionality. Well, the official drop-dead, turn-it-on-and-run-away date is March 7. And, tragically, the zombie apocalypse has not come along in time to avert this disaster.

I did worry, at one point earlier in the process, whether we might manage to input a huge amount of content, and then see it all wiped away by some sort of technical glitch. Well, guess what?

That didn't happen today.

Not quite, anyway.

But I wouldn't put any money on whether or not the firk ding blast thing is still working by the end of the day tomorrow.

And some thoughts on Masculine Christianity

This is one of those weird issues that seems to come up periodically in Fundamentalist/Evangelical churches: does The Church (or Christianity in general) need to be "more masculine" or "less feminine"? A while back, Rachel Held Evans asked for responses from her male readers on the topic.

I was feeling a little bit cranky at the time, and I commented:
Masculine Christianity? Feminine Christianity? Look, I'm not a Christian, but even asking the question seems to me to be profoundly missing the point. What I'd most like to see, myself, is a humane Christianity.

Every time I hear someone start talking about how Christianity needs to be more 'manly' or 'masculine' - or, by contrast, less effeminate - it seems to come at the cost of basic politeness and human decency, of empathy and forgiveness. It's gotten to the point where I assume that anyone who says that basically just wants permission to be more of a prick than the traditional reading of the Gospels says that they should be (i.e. not at all). The more of this "manly" Christianity I see, the more I'm convinced that it's just a cover for bad behavior, motivated by a misguided longing for a certain sort of machismo that Jesus neither endorsed nor practiced.
This may not have been the most tactful way to describe what I've seen of the "Masculine Christianity" movement, but it seems to have struck a nerve: an awful lot of people liked that comment. And I figure that anything I write which gets that sort of attention probably ought to be reproduced here on the Blog o' Doom, so here you go.

Some thoughts on complementarianism

Riffing on something I posted over at Forever In Hell the other day... here are my thoughts on Complimentarianism.

I’m in favor of lower-case-c complementarianism in marriages. Partners should complement (and for that matter, compliment) each other. We all have things that we like and don’t like, that we are and aren’t particularly good at, and one of my criteria for a good marriage is that each partner buttresses the other’s weak points with their own strong points: you help each other out, you make each other better.

The problem with capital-C Complementarianism is that it insists that there’s only one way to do this, and that it’s The One True Way Ordained And Mandated By Almighty God (who, if He exists, almost certainly finds that assertion hilarious). There is one set of roles for men, and one set of roles for women, and ne'er the twain shall meet. This means, by extension, that all men have the same set of skills and talents as other men, and all women have the same set of talents and skills as other women. This is self-evident poppycock, if not outright lunacy.

Here's the thing: if your theology doesn't address the fact that human beings are individuals, with different personalities and talents and skills and interests, then it's really time to back up and try again. Individual differences are vastly more important to what a person will or will not be good at, and what they will enjoy, than their genitalia will ever be. In fact, individual differences are so much more important that any generalizations based on sex will not only be useless (as a practical matter), but in all likelihood counterproductive.

So, to paraphrase what Personal Failure was saying in her post, it's simply not the case that men will be leaders - or that they should be, or that they need to be. If it was as simple and inevitable as that, it would be just another fact of life and nobody would feel compelled to talk about it - let alone preach or argue the point.

Leaders will be leaders. That's how it works. And in any sort of cooperate effort - a marriage, running a church, organizing a ski trip, whatever - roles should should be based on skills, interest, and abilities... and not on anything as comparatively irrelevant as sex.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Real Parenting Conversations: Raziel

So, a week or two back, Firstborn asked if I would play "the Ghost Vampire Game" so he could watch. I'm not sure this is entirely age-appropriate, but what the heck; at least his first introduction to vampires won't involve any sort of sparkling. (Vampires in the Soul Reaver games are tragic, grotesque, and/or monstrous in varying degrees.) This led to the following conversation on the way to school this morning:

Firstborn: "I'd like to be Raziel."

Me: "Raziel is cool, but that might not be as cool as you think. He has no tummy. You know what no tummy means?"

Firstborn: looks interested.

Me: "No tummy means you can't eat waffles."

Firstborn: "But I could eat ghosts."

Me: "Well, yes. But... I don't know how ghosts taste, but I don't think they taste as good as waffles."

So, I don't know, guys. I'm not sure I'm winning this one. What do you think? Ghosts, or waffles?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Did I mention the fequent illnesses?

So, Secondborn has been coughing and running a fever for the last couple of days. It's possible that he got it from one of us. It's also possible that he owes it to that idiot mom who brought her child into his Mother's Day Out program when he'd been running a fever most of the previous night.

Beautiful Wife took him to the pediatrician this morning, and he's been diagnosed with RSV. He's old enough that it isn't much of a danger for him, but it's almost certainly going to mean more late nights and lost sleep for us.

But hey, we're down with it:

Low Key Blogging

I'm still recuperating from being sick, and the horrible nasty project at work is, well, horrible and nasty. That being the case, things are likely to be quiet around here for the next few days, until I can reassemble enough time and brain-power to work on the posts that I want to work on. There may be some of my usual random weirdness, but even that may have to wait.

I have, however, finally acquired a Playstation 3, thus bringing myself that much closer to full participation in the modern world. (I hope to have it actually plugged in by, say, Thursday.) Since a fair number of you are gamers... what games should I acquire? What have I been missing out on? Consider this an open thread.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Set Your Heart

So, Michael David Gonzales of the blog Set Your Heart noticed my very critical and somewhat unkind response to one of his posts, and dropped by to comment. And I have to hand it to him: the response is polite, well stated, and generally more mature than my post probably merited. I mention this for two reasons:

1. Credit where credit is due. I may not have much in common with Mr. Gonzales, particularly when it comes to our worldviews and beliefs, but he handled himself very well here and I think that deserves notice. Also, having taken a look at his blog in general (as opposed to just focusing on that one particular post), I have to say that the quality of writing is rather higher than that one post might lead you to believe.

2. Aspiring (and even professional) authors should really take note of Mr. Gonzales' response as an example. I've seen far too many writers react badly - childishly, churlishly, pettily - to criticism. This is fine in private, but in any sort of public forum it's unhelpful, and can quickly become destructive to your career and your reputation.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I have two writing projects and at least two essays/rants that I'd really like to work on. Unfortunately, I'm not quite recovered enough to do any of them justice. So, instead, I'm going to point out that it would absolutely make my election year if the first presidential debate could be hosted by Statler and Waldorf:

Sam The American Eagle could host the second one...

How about you? What would make the incessant absurdities more bearable? Consider this an open thread.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fine, I'll talk about abortion - part one

I hate arguing (or, for that matter "discussing") abortion. I loathe "the abortion debate" (which is seldom actually a debate, and only partly about abortion). I'm sick to death of the entire topic. If there's a sufficiently powerful and active god out there - or even a kindly disposed alien race watching us - I would take it as a personal favor if you could boost our technology to a point where Star-Trek-level transporter devices could be used to transfer fetuses to safe, reliable artificial wombs. This, so that we could finally shut up about abortion and go back to actually talking to each other.

But it's an election year and I have a Facebook account, so apparently there's no escape. Never mind that the "debate" seems deliberately structured to be unresolvable, never mind that the "discussion" almost always devolves into people arguing past each other, never mind that the whole thing is intensely divisive and almost certainly doing more harm than good. It seems I'm going to hear about it anyway.

I've written before about why I think it's a stupid argument: a large part of the rhetoric hopelessly conflates moral issues with legal issues, which muddies the waters under the pretense of simple clarity. To have any sort of real discussion, you have to step back from the established sides and take a serious look at what you actually want to accomplish and how best to go about it. The existing arguments aren't going anywhere - they've been repeating the same points for over a decade now, and anyone who was going to be convinced is convinced already. To make any progress, we need to tear them down and start over.

And honestly, I don't think that's going to happen. As far as I can tell, too many people have a vested interest in keeping the argument going. It gets out the votes, it brings in the donations, it provides a rallying point for religious and political communities, and it lets people feel like they're fighting for something really important.

That's not to say that Pro-Life and/or Pro-Choice activists are just playing along for something to do. For the most part, I think that the people on both sides really do believe most of what they're saying (with the usual allowances for exaggeration and hyperbole in any political rhetoric). But human beings are emotional as well as rational, and having an important moral issue to defend is something that has a powerful emotional appeal. Anger, and especially righteous anger, can be addictive, and I really do think that's a factor in why people keep rehashing these arguments.

For the next few posts (at least on this topic - I may take a break and post about other things, too) I'm going to ask you to set aside moral outrage, take a deep breath, and just follow along while I try to explore a few points. I'm sure these are all things that have been said before; I don't think anything new has been said on the topic since May 21, 1984. But I've been hearing pro-choice and pro-life arguments for a couple of decades now, and I don't think either position as it currently exists is really useful. So please bear with me while I try to explore why - and more importantly how - I think that the time, money, and energy currently devoted to the issue of abortion could be better spent.

That's not to say that I don't want feedback, reactions, corrections, or alternate perspectives. I'm leaving the comments open. Feel free to disagree, but try to do so without arguing - be constructive, or at the very least calm and polite. I will delete anything that I decide is too acrimonious, but I trust my readers to know how to express themselves without stepping over that line.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More parenting stuff

How many of these posts can I put up before I reach some sort of tipping point and this becomes a parenting blog?

...Not that it matters, I guess, since I've spent the last two weeks being too sick and too busy to write about anything else. So I'm going to torture you with more filial cuteness...

Because. I. Can.

Behold! Secondborn in a bounce house!

Join me below the cut, and I'll see if I can upload some video. Muwahahahahaha!