Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Morning Commandments

Friend of mine sent this along. It's not as succinct as the Ten Commandments, but it definitely has some merit.

And what the heck, as long as we're at it, here's a clip from the Young Turks:

It's Sunday morning, so this is topical... right?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What is Normal: different perspectives

Saw this on Facebook:
Jesus doesn't have a blackberry, but He is my favorite contact. He doesn't have a Facebook but He is my best friend. He doesn't have Twitter, but I follow Him and even though He doesn't have internet, I'm always in communication with HIM!! Post on your profile if this applies to you.
Thing is, I'm sure the person who posted it found it inspiring. To me, it's just... well... creepy. Very, very creepy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Get to know your neighbors

Okay, so I'm kind of tapped for writing ideas. (It's not that this has been such a rough week, it's that we're still recovering from last week...) That being the case, I thought I'd step back and give everyone else a chance to introduce themselves and say hello.

  • Who are you? (Real names optional, character sketches encouraged)
  • How would you describe the place where you live?
  • What (if any) martial arts have you taken? (My definition is pretty loose, and includes things like fencing, wrestling, and the SCA. If you're secretly a ninja, you don't have to admit it here.)
  • What's your strangest hobby or interest? (...that you're comfortable talking about, anyway.)
  • What sorts of things do you like to read?
  • What else should we know about you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Yeast Perfection

I've just completed a little bit of genetic dabbling that may turn out to be my greatest masterwork. The concept is simple, really: everyone has a selection of microbes that live in their gastrointestinal tract. These intestinal flora serve a variety of functions: aiding digestion, synthesizing vitamins, and keeping out other, harmful microbes.

All I did was add a new set of microbes, with an additional function.

The idea came to me just in time, too. The Mad Science Convention is coming up in August, and everyone will be there, from the merest dabblers to the outright masters of our craft. It's a wonderful opportunity to make connections and exchange ideas. Of course, we all like to show off when we can, and this is the best audience we will ever get. Oh, there's sneering, to be sure, but at least it's sneering from our peers, the ones who can appreciate our work. And, of course, it's a party - a big, wild, strange party.

So this year, I'll be bringing my own modest contribution: yogurt. My yogurt. Packed with all manner of healthy microorganisms, including the ones I just designed. What they do, you see, is sit in your guts with the rest of the intestinal flora, drawing nutrients from the food you eat, and excreting a small but steady amount of single malt Scotch. It's just enough to keep most people lightly buzzed.

So my fellow mad scientists will try my yogurt, and become pleasantly drunk. And they'll be pleasantly drunk for the whole conference, and they'll go home pleasantly drunk. And they'll have me to thank for it.

Brilliant as this is, I can't take complete credit for it. The idea of sharing these microbes - and sharing them at the Mad Science Convention - came to me shortly after I sampled the latest batch. So I have to thank the Scotch for the inspiration. Te he!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Terrifying Phrases - a random countdown

The most terrifying six words in the English language: "Hold my beer and watch this!"

The most terrifying five words in the English language: "Somebody wipe my bottom please!" (Best if it's a small child shouting from the far end of the house.)

The most terrifying four words in the English language: "While you're at it..." (Just when you thought it you might actually finish the project...)

The most terrifying three words in the English language: "Here, taste this."
(For bonus points, you can also use, "Gross - taste this!")

The most terrifying two words in the English language: "Overdraft fees."

The most terrifying word in the English language: "Soulmate."

Reflections on Sneaking In Unannounced

I can see why he does this. It's exciting, the idea of putting one over on people. But it's also freeing. It gives him a place to say all the things he can't say in real life. He always seems so much more relaxed after he writes one of these reflections.

I'm "Claire", of course. I'm the one who's been keeping him alive all this time. The snakes under the bed, the traps left outside our front door, all the viewings and the sending that he never even knew I fended off. I mean, I didn't know enough to stop the other attacks - the ones that happened outside the apartment - but I worked to keep him breathing. Isn't that what girlfriends are supposed to do?

Okay, I'm kidding about keeping him alive. But now that I've put that in there, he'll have to wonder - so I think I'll leave it in. It'll give him something to think over.

And reading through this has given me a lot to think over. I mean, now I know how he found out about me. I'd warn my friends, but... I just took a vow not to do exactly that. That could still become a problem, but I hope not. At least he didn't kill any of them. Once he knew who they were, I don't see how they could have stopped him.

Especially once he discovered what we can do.

By we, I mean "he and I," of course. I don't know of anyone else who can use that strange, misty abstraction of a world in order to travel. It was kind of a relief to find out that he and his people didn't know any more about it than my people did. Scary, in another way, but still kind of a relief.

I should tell them about it. I haven't, but I should. The vow I took when we finally came home wouldn't prevent it - it only forbids me to give away any of their secrets, and this is something that he and I discovered together. But I'm afraid. Even after a month of traveling that way to escape the Whisperers, I don't like that world. I don't trust it. I'd rather go back to just not using it, only I don't think we can - not in the long run. Too many of his people know about it.

One of my friends is due to visit next week. I think I'll mention it to her, and let her pass it along. I've given my family enough to be worried about already. This is too big to hold out on.

And that's probably enough for now. I think I'll hack into that blog where he likes to drop these things, and drop this in with his posts. It'll be just my luck that he never even notices...

Oh, yeah... almost forgot. Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction, and there really aren't any non-human or part-human people living in the U.S.A. and worshiping strange, otherworldly Things - promise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reflections on Watching

Working as a Watcher has certainly been educational. For the last... two weeks, I think... we’ve been watching people. Yes, Watchers spend a lot of time watching. Go figure.

My mentor, whom I’m going to call Kate (mainly because that doesn’t resemble her real name at all), has been showing me various ways to go about this. There’s more to it than I would have guessed; among other things, Kate is filling me in on various rites that we don’t use, and why we don’t use them. Those explanations are varying mixtures of gross, funny, and terrifying.

I’m a little more disturbed by this than I expected. It’s not that this part of the work is all that difficult - not compared to some of the stuff I’ve done, anyway. No, it’s that the Watchers will apparently watch anyone, at any time, doing anything. There is no privacy. Most of the rites they use are in a more secure section of the archives than most of us have access to, so unless somebody happens to stumble on one of them independently, nobody knows about them. Or how to defend against them, which is really the point.

Also... Do you remember, quite a while back, when I mentioned that time isn’t quite as simple as people think it is? Well, guess what: the Watchers can not only look at what you’re doing now, but from some angles they can see what you’re doing an hour ago - or what you’re doing an hour from now. Longer, in many cases. In some cases, much longer.

They’ve always warned us that we were being watched, that someone might see what you’re doing at any time. Doing this has really driven the point home, though, and it’s left me with a weird sort of claustrophobia. The idea that someone can be (and in my particular case, probably is) watching me at any time, let alone all the time, is just disturbing.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No strange rituals were used to bend space and time in the writing of the post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Weird dreams: alien invasion

So the aliens took over and enslaved humanity. And I was wandering around looking for my family in the aftermath, which at one point involved going into the home of one of the aliens and pretending to be just another slave looking for work. Only this particular alien was more sympathetic to humanity, and treated her people more like servants than slaves.

Also, the aliens looked exactly like people (though they acted a little different). I had the impression that they weren't a different species so much as people infected with a particular alien parasite that made it so that their first loyalty was to other infected people. So they were still using human brains to think, and there was some individuation in personalities.

I probably should have known that already, but apparently I'd missed out on the invasion itself... probably because of being in that massive plane-crash. I'd survived the crash because I was substantially tougher and stronger than ordinary human beings (no idea why). I remember being really careful to make sure that the aliens didn't find that out.

Unfortunately, I didn't stay asleep (or stay in that dream, whichever) long enough to find my family or do anything about the aliens. But it was a nice setup for what could have been an interesting story...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Courtship and Marriage

This is... not even remotely how the Beautiful Woman and I went about doing things. And yet, I giggled.

Apparently we weren't busy enough this week.

I mentioned earlier that the summer was trying to kill us. Apparently I spoke too soon. Apparently everything I detailed there wasn't enough to keep us occupied. Because, well...

My wife called me at work yesterday. Sometime Sunday or Monday, Firstborn got a bug bite on his belly button. I'd actually noticed this Monday night, but I hadn't thought much of it. It just looked a little red. But he'd scratched at it, and now (Tuesday morning) it was the site of a staph infection, and had swollen to "about the size of a baseball". I dearly hope my wife was exaggerating about that; I didn't see it.

The Beautiful Woman took Firstborn to the doctor, where they gave him a couple of huge shots of antibiotics (one in each cheek, so to speak) and some sort of steroid. (Probably anti-inflammatory, but I really don't know.) And apparently, until I came home and clarified the situation, he thought that the needles were still in there. Which is understandable, under the circumstances. It probably felt that way.

He was feeling a lot better this morning, and his belly looked better, too. He says his bottom still hurts, though. So the boys are having a quiet day at home, which is probably for the best.

Rather than gripe about the sundry ways in which our Universe is clearly mismanaged, though, I think I'll put up some pictures of the kids. (I'd go with otters - they're cute and cheering - but the kids are more in keeping with the topic.)

This is Firstborn at his birthday party back in June. He's playing with a plush facehugger (from the Alien movies) and a plush Nyarlathotep (one of H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods, not that I should have to explain that to anyone who reads this blog). The facehugger is understandably confused about which direction is Nyarlathotep's face.

This is Firstborn grinning at one of his presents, also from his birthday.

This is Secondborn playing in the sandbox at his grandparents' (my parents') house.

This is the oldest of their cousins, who is visiting her Nana and Poppy (my wife's parents) this week. She and Firstborn get along wonderfully, not that you can tell from this picture. She's napping at my parents' house, where I took them on Sunday. (The red bear sitting by her head is called Napping Bear for reasons which should be obvious.)

And finally, here are the other two cousins. They are teeny twin girls.

So there you go. Youthful goodness, delivered right to your monitor screen. I hope everyone else is having an easier time of things - and if you aren't, I hope things get better. Immediately. Sooner than that, if possible.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I've been swamped with recommendations

So, over at Confessions of a Former Conservative, there was some interesting discussion of the joys of Internet radio and the lamentable demise of local radio. This was particularly helpful to me, because in the comments on that thread I learned about a newish local radio station that I hadn't (until then) known existed. (It's 91.7 KXT, for anyone who's in the Dallas area and doesn't want to browse through the comments.)

On top of that, I learned of the existence of what may very well be the most absurdly over-the-top symphonic metal band in the history of history: Rhapsody of Fire. That suggestion came from Hashmir, who describe the band thusly:
Imagine having an Italian DM who barely speaks English, and has about 300 pages of campaign notes, and you’re never entirely certain what you’re doing in-game or why you’re rolling, but you do know that it’s goddamn epic and the sessions are always a blast. And then this DM cuts a symphonic metal album demonstrating absurd technical proficiency and compositional genius. He also hires Christopher Fucking Lee to do the narration for the album. And then sings a duet with him.

Well, if you hit up Pandora and choose “similar to > Rhapsody of Fire” (or whatever it is), I think they start you off with Dawn of Victory (the song). Assuming there’s just a set constant for any given band. That’s a pretty good introduction, but if possible, you really want to get the album experience — Rhapsody is one of those bands that loses a lot of its flow when you chop it up into singles, and their albums are sequential stories anyway. Not that you’ll be able to follow along.

If you can conveniently get your hands on one or more albums, via your means of preference (*ahem*), I’d recommend starting with Dawn of Victory (the album), Power of the Dragonflame, Symphony of Enchanted Lands, or Symphony of Enchanted Lands II (no relation). And yes, every single song and album they put out has a name like that.
On top of that, another friend sent me a recommendation over on Facebook. He thinks I might be interested in sharing Clausewitz' On War (which is pretty much the Western equivalent of Sun Tzu's Art of War) with Firstborn. (I don't know where people get these impressions of me. It's very mysterious, really.) In particular, he thought I might be interested because this version is Clausewitz as explained by cartoon bunnies and other forest animals.

I figure some of the people who read this blog might find that interesting, too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The summer is trying to kill us

We finished my busy season, which I'm sure I griped about enough already. Then I took a week off, during which time I did a lot more housework than your ordinary vacation would warrant. Then my wife launched into teaching her summer class, which drained a lot of her resources and required me to take over the Putting The Boys To Bed duties for a couple of weeks.

We finished that just in time for my wife's sister to drop her children off with their (the children's) grandmother, my mother-in-law. That means that Nana is looking after one girl, age four, and two twin baby girls, age... I don't know. Four months? Six? Bottle fed, too early to crawl, whatever. Wife's sister, meanwhile, has gone on to Florida for Air Force training; her husband is off sorting out his recently-deceased father's affairs.

On the plus side: My firstborn niece and my firstborn child play together really well, despite the year difference in their ages. So on Sunday I was able to incorporate the cousin into the boy's usual routine, thus allowing her mother (my wife's sister) to get to the airport and go on her way in relative peace. For that matter, the two babies are good too, as babies go.

On the minus side: the babies are babies, and so take a lot of work. The four-year-old is a four-year-old, and so takes a lot of work (admittedly, nowhere near as much as she could). So they arrived late Saturday, and I've been responsible for all three of the older kids for all of Sunday and some significant fraction of Monday evening. Also, owing to the massive amount of help that my mother-in-law has been to us (ask me some time, I will sing her praises), my wife and I feel compelled to help her out with the Three Nieces. Which means more work and less rest for both the Beautiful Wife and myself. Which means me being slightly cranky, and probably having less time to create new posts for the Blog o' Doom.

So you're missing out, for example, on Sunday night's zombie dreams - which really were weird enough to merit their own post. But hey, don't blame me. Blame the babies.

Getting back to martial arts

Having children has been a terrible influence on my martial arts training (which is, I admit, somewhat erratic even at the best of times). But now that the boys are getting older, I'm looking at getting back into it. This, of course, presents the same question that it always does: given my age, activity level, and the growing danger of the total collapse of civilization, which martial art would be the best for me?

So far, I'm considering:
(Warning: martial arts can be violent and uncouth, so some of these videos may not be safe for work.)

1. Kabumei

KABUMEI -- The Art of the Sharpened Grenade from Detonation Films on Vimeo.

(Clearly a very effective art, but not without its dangers. Also, kind of... splattery.)

2. Gun Fu

(A truly modern martial art, but possibly too noisy to use against the zombie hordes.)

3. Bench Fighting

(The only difficulty here is the necessity of carrying around a largish bench in case someone attacks you. Not recommended for joggers.)

4. Dancing Finger Style Kung Fu

(Clearly a devastating unarmed fighting style, but one that requires you to dress oddly and make strange noises.)

As you can see, there's a lot to consider, here. Which one do you think I should try? Are there any other possibilities I should look into?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Guardian Bees!

I see that researchers have successfully employed guardian bees to keep elephants out of croplands in Kenya. This is, of course, great news - especially for the Kenyan farmers. But, as with many modern researchers, I'm concerned that they're not thinking expansively enough.

They are, after all, only building beehives onto the fences around the crops. And they're using perfectly ordinary bees! And, yes, it works - but think of how much more they could be doing!

Consider the possibilities, for example, of a bee grown to the size of a sparrow and trained to act as your bodyguard. Or a swarm of smaller bees which have been modified to regard your personal scent as the smell of their nest. Or, for more specialized applications, I could build a bee that, instead of venom, injects the target with sodium pentothal.

I must find some bees immediately!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zombie Filler

Somebody posted a link to this in the comments of a Slacktivist thread. I haven't gone back to see who it was, but I'm grateful - it cracked me up, especially the music.

Team Zombie!

Reflections on Extended Absences

Wow. It's been so long that it actually feels weird to type. But, okay, I'm back. I wasn't eaten by anything horrible, and I haven't been killed by the Elders. I've actually been out of touch precisely because we've been working out a deal with the Elders. Taking a break was Claire's suggestion, but I think she was right. She, um, she kind of suggested that if we want them to think they can trust us, I probably shouldn't be writing blog posts about what we do, even anonymously.

But now that things are settled, the urge to put my thoughts out here has grown irresistible. Plus, it's cheaper than therapy - and less likely to get me arrested, come to think of it. So, here goes...

For anyone who's forgotten (or who's coming in late), here's a quick recap. Back in late March, one of my friends - Mbata - came to collect my girlfriend, Claire. Now, Claire belongs to a group that worships the Father of Serpents, and they're currently at war with my group of worshippers. This complicates our relationship quite a bit, and both of us had prepared some defenses just in case. One of those defenses - one of Claire's - killed Mbata when he tried to grab her. I came home within minutes of his death, and in the heat of the moment I said something that I really shouldn't have - and thus attracted the attention of the Whisperers, who immediately moved to eliminate us both.

As a result, we were on the run until about the middle of May, when the Elders finally called off the Whisperers. At that point we were told we could return home, and we did. And that, of course, was when things really got complicated.

The first thing that happened - seriously, about five minutes after we returned - was that one of the Watchers showed up and had Claire swear the ancillary oaths. It took about five minutes and didn't involve anything that she wasn't willing to do. That'll keep her safe from the Whisperers, even if they do return to their duties. It will reassure the Elders, too, which is all to the good. The Watcher left immediately afterwards, which did a lot to reassure me.

The second thing that happened was that we cleaned the apartment. The less said about that, the better: after a month of neglect, it needed a lot of work.

Then we started getting in touch with friends and family, and Claire's parents immediately came over to visit. They were a little weird with me at first, which I can understand, but by the end of the week they'd warmed up again. I assume that at least part of what they were doing was making sure (for both themselves and their cult) that I hadn't done anything to Claire.

Once they were gone, we were able to get together with Billy and Crystal, and start trying to sort out the mundane problems that our disappearance had caused. We still had money, from the emergency caches we'd created, but it wouldn't last forever - and neither of us was going to be able to go back to our old jobs.

And then the Elders made me an offer: I could step into a position working for them directly, doing exactly the sort of thing that Mbata had been doing (before he died, I mean). I've mentioned before that this is precisely the sort of career that I went out of my way to avoid, and I'm even less thrilled with the idea now (for reasons I may discuss later). On the other hand, the money is good and it's a great way to reaffirm my loyalty, which could be very important right now. So after a couple of days I sent a message back, saying that I'd like to try it. I promptly found myself working on some relatively simple divinations under the supervision of the same Watcher who had given Claire her oaths. I'm guessing she's assigned to us, and the Elders want me to know it, though it's always possible that she was just handy (and qualified).

Within four hours, Claire had a job offer, too. She'll be working for an optometrist, though we're not sure what she'll be doing just yet. (The invitation was more like, "Drop by, see what we do, and tell me what you think you'd be good at.") That offer came from the Elders, too, though less directly than mine.

So right now we're settling back in, finding a new routine, and waiting to see how things work out. It's not perfect, but it sure is an improvement.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. (Really, I swear.) No obscene or blasphemous oath were sworn in the writing of this post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Follow-up to the new rule...

I came home last night to discover that Firstborn was the proud owner of a brand new transformer: Blackout, the helicopter who drops the burrowing scorpion robot in the first live-action movie. (It even included a small scorpion, to Firstborn's great delight.)

It's good to know that the new rule is being enforced, I guess.

Enter the Dagon (Adapting Lovecraft for film)

Sadly, this is a pretty accurate depiction of almost every attempt I've seen to render H. P, Lovecraft's writings into movies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Household rules

I was informed yesterday that we have a new rule in our house. It involves inappropriate language. The rule is that if we catch Firstborn using a bad word, he has to go clean his room. If Firstborn catches either of us using a bad word, we have to take him to Target and buy him a toy.

It's an okay rule, I think, and it addresses something that's definitely becoming an issue.

I just hope my wife can afford it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Writing Project

A while back - actually (appallingly) it was several years ago - I decided to take part in an art book circle. The idea was that everyone would go out and buy a blank book, and then we'd send them around. As each new book reached us, we'd fill in a few page with whatever sort of art we felt like doing, and by the time our own books wandered back home they'd have an entry from everyone else in the circle.

The group that came up with this was composed of people from a particular message-board-turned-mailing-list, based on a common love of the Bordertown books (edited by Terry Windling). Since my abilities in the visual arts are... well, honestly, pretty abysmal... I've been writing short stories for my entries. Only I've run into an odd sort of writer's block: I can't write in that world anymore. I just can't get my head inside the setting. (To read a piece I did for one of the earlier books, take a look at Tanilith - that'll give you a decent idea of the setting, too.)

I'm not really sure what to do about this. I have three books sitting on my shelves, waiting for a bit of time and attention, and doubtless feeling dreadfully lonely and neglected. I really hate the idea of passing them along without adding anything to them. On the other hand, I don't seem to be able to do the sorts of short writings that I was doing for the earlier art books. So there they sit, in limbo.

So let's see if a deadline helps. If I haven't come up with anything usable by, let's say, next Thursday, I'll send them along anyway. You're my witnesses.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Morning Reflections

I haven't gotten a lot of sleep this weekend. Oh, I've been getting enough - or at least, some - but my body really wants more. I'd like to wake up tomorrow feeling like I've actually caught up on my sleep, instead of having gotten just enough to keep me going. (Also, I'd like my sinuses to quit trying to kill me, but that's Dallas/Fort Worth in the summer - there is no escape.)

Anyway, at this point I'm completely drawing a blank on things to write about. It's not writer's block, exactly, though it could easily become that if I tried to force the process. It's mainly that right at the moment, I can't think of anything to say.

So I turn to you, loyal readers, for inspiration (or a swift kick in the pants, anyway). Is there anything in particular you'd like me to write about? Odd questions that you've wondered about me, the blog, or any of the topics I've rambled about here?

Friday, July 8, 2011

What is Normal: Religion is the Default Setting

I ran into this the other day when I was looking for something vaguely related. Don't bother reading it; it's not very interesting, except for the opening assertion:
"The idea of God exists ever since the beginning of humankind. You go to any part of the world, and you will encounter some form or idea of God. And even though, their views of God may be world apart, it conveys the universal belief in the existence of God."
Because, well... no. That's really not right. And it ties in to something I was starting to say over at Gullible's Travels a couple of months ago, so I guess this is my chance to finally finish expressing that thought.

If there's one thing I learned while getting a Minor in Anthropology, it's that "universal beliefs"... aren't.

"The idea of God exists ever since the beginning of humankind."
No, it hasn't - not the way you mean it, anyway. The idea of God traces back from Christianity and Islam to Judaism, which is to say that it comes from a particular tribe in a particular area of the world. The fact that the concept went viral and is now ubiquitous does not change the fact that it was originally a tribal and parochial view of the divine.

I am neither Jewish nor a religious scholar, so offhand I don't have any good scholarly citations to support this. (If you do, feel free to add them in the comments. Hell, if you've got conflicting citations, feel free to add those in the comments as well.) But my understanding is that early Judaism wasn't even monotheistic in the sense that we think of it today. Instead, they were monolatrous (or henotheistic) - that is, they acknowledged the existence of other gods, but they only worshiped one.

The "idea of God" has a very specific history relating to specific human cultures during specific time periods in specific areas of the world. It isn't something that's always been around.

You go to any part of the world, and you will encounter some form or idea of God.
This one is... not true, but sort of vaguely off in the right direction. What you'll find, actually, is that anywhere there are people there is some sort of religion (also, some form of art). Where it breaks down is the idea that this constitutes "some form or idea of God." It doesn't. It's not even close.

Religion, like Art, is a tricky thing to define. For our purposes here, I'm going to define it as "a belief in the unseen forces that shape our lives."[1] I'm told that people engaged in the study of comparative religions break beliefs down into four or five basic categories: Monotheistic (one deity), Dualistic (two deities), polytheistic (many deities), and pantheistic (the Divine spread through the world) - plus, possibly, shamanic[2], where the Divine exists in specific places, objects, animals, etc. Apparently shamanic religions are sometimes considered a subset of pantheistic religions, though personally I think that's a mistake.

And even though, their views of God may be world apart, it conveys the universal belief in the existence of God.
And again: no. No, it doesn't. There's far, far too much variety for that. In fact, the views you find are so irredeemably far apart, that they don't convey the universal belief in much of anything.

You'd be on far safer ground if you'd said that it conveys the universal belief that objects have their own personalities and deceased ancestors wish to be remembered. Because if you leave people to their own devices, those are the sorts of beliefs they tend to come up with. But again, that's not even remotely universal. Common, yes; universal, no.

From a historical and/or anthropological viewpoint, Christianity - and monotheism in general - is deeply weird. I mean, the transition sort of makes sense: This god is the strongest to We will only worship this god to There is only one real God, and he talks to us. But as compelling a vision of the Divine as that is, there are quite a number of things - and the Problem of Evil is chief among them - that are far easier to explain if you allow for two opposing gods; or for many gods, each with their own area of influence. [3]

So if you're looking through World Religions or religious history for evidence to support the Christian view of God - even among people who haven't directly heard of Him - give up now. It just isn't there.

[1] I like this definition because it allows me to include any sort of religious belief or practice that I've ever heard of, but still allows me to exclude atheism.

[2] I'd actually refer to this as animistic rather than shamanic, but that's probably only interesting to people who are curious about how the perspective of Comparative Religion folks differs from the perspective of Anthropology folks. In other words, the only people likely to care... are Sociology Majors.

[3] Which is, I think, a large part of the reason why Christianity goes back and forth on the existence of Satan, how much power he has relative to God, and why God doesn't do anything about it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Courage Is A Bitter Ale

No, really:

Sorry, that just really struck me as funny. I can just picture some Viking dad sitting in the tavern with his son, and trying to pass on his life's wisdom: "Courage..." he says, hands clenched with emotion, "is a bitter ale..."

...And yes, it seems you can still get your courage from a bottle. Or a glass:

This is a scam

This showed up in my inbox this morning. If you ever run into anything like it, be advised: it's a pretty classic scam. The idea is to make you so scared/worried/concerned that you'll send money before you have a chance to find out that the person who supposedly sent the request is actually still sitting on their couch at home and has no idea that this e-mail even exists. (The same scam can actually be done over the phone, but that's more work and less reliable, so it seldom gets done that way anymore.)

I really don't mean to inconvenience you right now but I made a quick trip to Scotland UK and had MY bags stolen, in which contains MY passports and credit cards. I know this may sound odd, but it happened very fast. I've been to the embassy and they're willing to help us fly without our passport but I just have to pay for my tickets and settle some bills. Right now I'm out of cash plus i can't access our bank without my credit card here.I've made contact with them but they need more verification.I was thinking of asking you to lend me some funds now and I'll pay back as soon as I get home. We need to get on the next available flight.

Please reply as soon as you can if you are ok with this so I can forward the details as to where to send the funds. You can reach me via Carmelite hotel's desk phone if you can, the number is +447035907125 or via my alternative email {there used to be an email address here}.

I advise contacting the person who supposedly sent the e-mail immediately, so that they can get in touch with friends, family, and mailing lists to make sure nobody gets taken in. Changing the passwords on your e-mail accounts is also recommended.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The trouble with kids is that they're honest

I’m lying on the couch a few days ago, and Firstborn slams his head down on my post-giant-meal-of-Chinese-food belly, and I’m all like, “Hey! Don’t squish your daddy’s fat belly!”

And Firstborn says, “You don’t have a fat belly.”

And I’m all like, “Aww, how nice…” but then he keeps talking: “You have a ‘humongous’ belly. ‘Fat’ isn’t a nice word. It makes people feel bad. But ‘humongous’ is a good word.”

Yeah, great – thanks, kid!

Real Work Conversations: Why won't my computer work?

This one is a slight diversion, as I wasn't actually part of the conversation; this happened to my father. A few years back, he was working as an IT contractor for the FDIC.

Here's the scenario: one of the upper managers from that particular branch of the FDIC is getting ready to go on a trip. So he contacts IT, they pull one of the laptops and load it up with his usual assortment of software. (They had a system in place that was keyed to people's login identities: when you first signed on to the network, it would compare the software on the computer against the list of programs in your profile, and add or update anything that was missing or outdated.) One of the other technicians runs it up to the manager, and they move on to other projects.

Well, an hour or so later, the manager calls back. He's up in arms because his laptop isn't working. They're a little puzzled by this, since it was working fine when they sent it up. So they grab one of their guys - one who's young, relatively new to the job, and definitely the low man on the totem pole - and tell him to go find out what's wrong with it.

He's up there for maybe fifteen minutes, and then he calls my dad.

Peon: "I'm not sure what to do about this."
My Dad: "Did you figure out what's going on?"
Peon: "That wasn't so hard. He's filled the hard drive with porn. Completely filled it. No unused space on the C: drive at all."
My Dad: "Okay. So what's your question?"
Peon: "What do I do about it? I mean, if I report it..."
My Dad: "Delete all the porn. Then hand it back to him and tell him it's working now."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Behold Mah Giant Wall O Text!

Just for the record, please don't feel compelled to read all the way through massive wall of unbroken text (in two entries, yet!) that describes my Independence Day Weekend.

I felt compelled to write it down, but that was mainly in order to sort out what the hell just happened. And I tried to make it somewhat amusing, because it would be boring to write (let alone read) otherwise. But there's no grand, overarching point to be found there. In fact, I can summarize the both posts in two sentences:

"Holy shit! How did all of this happen in one weekend?!"

The Weekend That Would Not Die, Part Two

Sunday was as close to restful as the weekend got: we went down to my parents' house to swim in their pool. It's a small pool, and nicely shaded: perfect for letting the boys swim. (Only Firstborn actually swims. Secondborn has been watching him do it and really wants to swim. So he kicks his feet and flails his arms with great abandon, while either my wife or I hold him to keep him from drowning. What the hell, it's exercise.) So we swam for a while, and then Firstborn went inside to play with some toys that my parents had saved from back when I was his age.

We ordered a large pizza for lunch, and I had... one slice. Plus some apple sauce. Secondborn ate two slices, Firstborn ate three(!) slices, and my wife at the rest. Which... I'm guessing everybody was really hungry, because usually if we order a large pizza we'll have at least one slice left over.

Firstborn played quietly while the rest of us napped, and then we cleaned up and got ready to go. Earlier in the day, Beautiful Wife had been trying to get in touch with a friend of hers, who had a couch that she wanted to get rid of. ("Free to anyone who will GET IT OUT OF MY HOUSE!") So, when we left, I went ahead and borrowed my father's pickup, on the off chance that we might actually get a chance to collect a new couch. When we got home, we grilled some steaks and kebabs for dinner. We put the boys down, and then watched Tron: Legacy before going to sleep ourselves.

Monday morning, Independence Day, we went back over to my in-Laws' neighborhood for the parade. Nana and Poppy have a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle - sort of a super-powered golf cart, but street legal - and they'd decorated it for the holiday. So we got to ride along and wave our flag-colored pinwheels and admire the police motorcycle and the firetruck and everyone else. The parade goes down two streets and ends at a sort of private park that belongs to the neighborhood association; there's a pool, tennis courts, a barbecue, a playground, a nice shady spot for horseshoes... it's pretty cool. So at the end of the parade, we grabbed some food from the grill and then fell in the pool. That improved Secondborn's mood immensely, and shortly after that Firstborn's as well.

Firstborn swims like a fish... or, more precisely, like a Water Monster. He can swim all the way across the big neighborhood pool, and he can touch the bottom of the deep end. (9' deep, for anyone who's keeping track.) So at this point, I'm really not worried about him swimming on his own - plus, at the time there were also four lifeguards watching the pool - and yet, even after I got of the water myself, I felt compelled to stand around and watch him. Did you know that "parenting" and "paranoia" come from the same Latin root? (No, not really. I made that up.)

We finished swimming around 1:30, and - after a brief break to update my father-in-law's computer - went to check on my wife's friend and her couch. The couch was ideal: lightweight, easy to move, simple to assemble and disassemble; we were able to load the whole thing into the pickup truck and bring it back to the house in a single trip. Moreover, it's just about perfect for our living room - it's an L-shape, and breaks up the space nicely, plus it gives us a lot more room for lounging. (Our old couch was fine for myself and the Beautiful Wife, but it gets a bit crowded if the boys want to join us. And by "crowded," I mean "Why are these feet resting on my face?") So scoring an ideal new couch for free was full of win and awesome. There was only one problem: the old couch.

Old Couch was not light, nor was it easy to move, nor did it disassemble into convenient pieces. It unfolded into a bed, and it was big, and it was heavy, and I was not looking forward to having it occupy the garage until I could figure out what to do with it. Plus, it was not something that the Beautiful Wife could easily help me move, the way she had with the new couch.

So I called my brother. For a wonder, he and his wife were both home, and both willing to come over and help. Then I called the local Salvation Army center, and found out that not only did they accept furniture at that location, but (miraculously) they were actually open on Independence Day. That gave us about two hours to get the couch over there.

It was more than enough. By the time my brother and his wife arrived, we had the new couch assembled in the living room. My brother and I manhandled the old couch while our wives called directions to make sure we didn't trip on anything. Once we shoved the couch in the pickup, the worst was over. We dropped it off at the Salvation Army, declared victory, and headed home.

Frankly, I'm amazed that we actually managed a one-day game of Musical Couches, especially with no lead time.

Then we all went out to eat.

And then I took Firstborn with me while I ran some errands that I'd been meaning to get to all weekend. I don't think he was terribly interested in the liquor store or the video store, but he had a good time running around and asking me questions - and I bought him a cheap Transformer at Walmart, as a reward for helping out with his brother and cleaning up the toys that were revealed when we moved the Old Couch. That... pretty much made his night. When I looked in on him after bedtime, he was cuddling it in his sleep.

So the errands were basically a very successful bit of father-son bonding. It was bedtime by the time we got back, but Firstborn got to play with his transformer while I bathed Secondborn and got him ready for bed... and then we threw Firstborn in the shower and got him ready for bed, too.

And then I was sitting at my computer, and realizing that while I wasn't really sleepy, I felt drained. And then I caught a glimpse of my shoulders in the mirror and realized why that was: sunburn. Not bad sunburn, but extensive enough to knock my system for a loop. Not that I really needed the help, mind you: a weekend that busy should have been more than sufficient to enervate me all on its own.

So, yeah: can I please have a vacation to help me recover from my vacation?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Weekend That Would Not Die, Part One

Okay, so I've had a particularly bizarre and surreal three-day weekend. It actually started on Friday, which by rights should have been a nice, quiet, relaxed day at work. Probably a full third of our employees were on vacation, and the rest were all just looking forward to the long weekend.

All except one.

I'm not entirely sure how to describe this guy, except to say that I'm pretty sure he's not actually human, but rather some sort of genetically altered chihuahua. That's not his appearance; just his personality. He's a classic case of extreme ADHD, only he doesn't seem to realize it and has no idea how to compensate for it. So, naturally, when a huge pile of work fell in our laps at two-thirty in the afternoon, it came from him.

But, all right. We dug in and made the changes he wanted (amidst a certain amount of grumbling profanity), and eventually got ready to go home.

As I left, I discovered that the speedometer on my car, which had been working just fine at lunch, had decided to take a vacation of its own. Which was annoying, but not vital; I can hold to the average traffic speed without needing a specific number for it.

I was halfway home when the Check Engine light came on. And unfortunately, I couldn't just turn around and run it down to the dealership right then; my wife was teaching an evening class, and with the three-day weekend coming up they had her teaching all five days, instead of the usual Monday-Thursday run. So I got home, sent her on her way, and called the dealership. It turned out that they would be open on Saturday - but not on Sunday or Monday, because of the holiday. I found out how early they opened (7:00 a.m.) and gave up on my fondly-cherished hopes of sleeping in.

Saturday morning, I made it to the dealership five minutes before they opened, and was still the fourth person in line. Everyone had still been asleep when I'd left the house, so I'd just put a note on the back door with the directions, and figured that someone would eventually come and get me if I couldn't get back on my own. As it happened, the dealership had a shuttle and was willing to take me back, so I hopped in the van and went. I thought about calling first, but everyone was sleeping when I left, and I really didn't want to risk waking them up. That... was a mistake.

I came in the front door and found the house empty. I went immediately to the garage, and I must have just missed them: the light in the garage was still on. So I cursed a bit and tried the Beautiful Wife's cellphone. Only, well, a week or two back one of the kids was playing with that phone, and managed to lock it. It requires a code to unlock it. Nobody seems to have any idea what the code is; it appears to be a hash set at the factory, and therefore the only way to find it is through the retailer... which, in this case, no longer deals with that brand of phone. So, yes: this security code may just be the stupidest, most ill-considered "feature" in existence.

So I had to wait until the Beautiful Wife came back (with both children in tow, and having just been lectured by some prat at the dealership about how not having a cellphone was a problem, in a particularly how-could-you-be-so-irresponsible tone of voice). This did not, as you might imagine, signal a bright start to the morning.

But we got things back under control, mainly by feeding everyone a large dose of breakfast, and the Beautiful Wife took the boys off to go swimming with her parents, at a pool run by their neighborhood association. (We live just far enough from them not to be part of the association, but we still get to take advantage of it.) We'd made plans to go get lunch with her parents at a Chinese place that we're rather fond of, so when she left the house she told me to meet them at the pool at eleven so we could go get food.

She'd forgotten that I didn't have a car.

So I napped for a bit and woke up in time to walk over there. The exercise was probably good for me, and if not... well, they say suffering builds character, so I have that going for me. And we did get everyone loaded up, and we did have a truly fine lunch.

After lunch, we dropped by the dealership to see how my car looked. The news was not awful, but it was comprehensively bad. In addition to the speedometer (which had likely set off the Check Engine light), the timing belt was 30,000 miles overdue for replacement - and this is 'no tolerance' engine, so if the timing belt ever goes, the engine becomes a singularly large and expensive brick. Also, of the two fans that keep the engine cool - something of a priority in Texas during July, where it's 105 degrees in the shade - one was dead and the other was making a funny noise. Oh, and... I stopped the guy there, because while the rest of list still needs to be fixed, none of it was as urgent as those three items - and those three items were quite expensive enough by themselves, thank you very much.

I'm lucky. I can afford this. But all of that together, just at that moment, was going to be a huge meteor smashing into our cash flow situation. Still, the alternative involves a lot more walking or bicycling than I'm comfortable with, especially in Texas in July. So I told them to get started on the critical trinity of problems, and make me a list of the rest.

Then we went back home, My wife napped with Secondborn for about two hours, while I tried to nap and Firstborn very successfully prevented me from actually sleeping. Since I couldn't sleep, I did the next best thing: I called my parents, who were out of town for their annual Independence Day pilgrimage to The Stagecoach Inn. They were perfectly willing to loan me some money, which would ease our cash flow situation considerably. (And it will get paid back, with interest, but this allows me to spread the damage out in a way that involves far less likelihood of us having to eat Ramen for a week or so.) Moreover, they were willing to loan me father's pickup truck, an idea I hadn't even considered.

Once Beautiful Wife and Secondborn awakened from their nap, I looked at Firstborn (who was doing cartwheels across the living room floor, or trying to leap from the couch onto my head, or something), and decided that more exercise was in order. So we ran everybody up to McDonald's. I have a selection of McDonald's restaurants; it's very important to go the right kind of McDonald's, and avoid the wrong kind of McDonald's. The difference between the two is determined by whether the restaurant in question has an indoor playground, or whether they're trying to give their customers heatstroke. (Again: Texas, July.) There are some additional considerations involving what sort of kids are likely to be at a given restaurant, and how interestingly the play area has been arranged; but air conditioning is the key consideration.

Both the boys ran around in the tunnels, and even played with another pair of boys, and generally did what I wanted them to (i.e. use up all their energy in a way that didn't leave the Beautiful Wife and myself exhausted).

We put them to bed, and then we collapsed.

Check back for Part Two tomorrow... I'll probably write it up during lunch.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

One shall stand...

So we're over at Nana and Poppy's (my in-laws') house, and Secondborn - who, at fourteen months, is still toddling around - steps backwards onto a large, poseable Optimus Prime toy. He must have put his foot on a button, because Optimus Prime responded to this affront by saying, "One shall stand... one shall fall."

Whereupon Secondborn promptly lost his balance and fell.

I'd call it a victory for the Autobots, except that Secondborn just sat on their leader.

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's all one question

Over at Stone the Preacher (yes, I'm still processing my reactions to that site), Pastor Steve said:
I will never answer the majority of the questions unbelievers have about God, questions that deal with proof that God exists; to do so would violate the “faith clause” that is a condition of becoming a Christian.
Which is presumably what led one of his readers ("Bro 310") to remark in the comments:
Part of the atheist religion is argueing. You cannot adequately answer an atheist’s question. The most eloquent, thought out response will not satisfy them. If you answer one question they have two more to ask. Sisyphus has a better chance at finishing his task than a believer getting an atheist to stop argueing.
Now, if you browse through that comment thread - or, well, pretty much any of the Atheist Tuesday threads on that site - you'll see that both Bro 310 and Pastor Steve have a point. The atheists (maybe I should say "unbelievers," as I'm not sure they're all atheists per se) do ask a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions about the answers to previous questions.

(This, by the way, brings me to one more thing that I find admirable about Pastor Steve - he's responded to at least one question with a simple, "I dunno." There are way too many people who don't seem to think they're allowed to admit that.)

And so but anyway, upon reading Bro 310's comment, I had another one of those That's not quite right reactions. Because while they do have a point about the sheer volume of questions, and even about the cascading nature of the questions, in a sense all those questions are really just specific cases of a single, overarching question: Why should I believe this?

...Have I just discovered a Grand Unification Theory for atheist questions about religion?

Someone start this magazine, please!

So I'm skimming down through a list of magazines for a website. And as I'm going down the list, I encounter:
  • India Today
  • Mother Jones
...And because I was skimming, my brain conflated the two entries into "Indiana Jones Today."

Now I'm all disappointed. I would totally have read that magazine if it really existed. Just think: it could have articles on archaeology, anthropology, cryptozoology, weird science and historical conspiracy theories, travel, and how to use your bullwhip! Who wouldn't read a magazine like that?