30 August, 2005

Ode to good teachers

School is going well.  I am settled into the groove, I think.  I am a little ahead of all my classes, and that is where I like to be.  It is not that I am an overachiever, or anything, it is just that I have found that I don't know what questions to ask if I don't stay ahead in the text.  If I read ahead, then I am already familiar with the subject when we go over it in class, and I can ask any questions I might have.  If I don't know the questions to ask, then I get stuck on the homework, and spend more time trying to puzzle it out.  In the long run, I think it is less effort to stay ahead of the class than just do the minimum.  I will work very hard to be lazy.

I am suprised at how much the calculus has finally clicked.  It is like I got my second wind or something.  All of a sudden, everything just makes sense.  I can visualize what the formulas are doing.  That was always my problem in algebra.  I could do geometry quite easily, because spacial relations are simple to me.  I never managed to visualize what the exes and whys were doing (which may be why I have so many exes, ba dump bump) (oh, hush, they can't all be thigh slappers) in algebra, and so it was all just memorization, which sucks, to say the least.

So much of school seems to be just memorization, and that is such a waste of time. Regurgitation of data does not equate to intelligence.  It has to mean something in order to be useful.  It has to connect to other information in our brains in order for us to be able to recall it.  Memorization of random data to me is like little chunks of ice floating in the river.  They are there, but you can't use them to cross the river unless they are all attached.  And the metaphor holds true even further, because the ice forms faster when it has something to attach to.

My high school history teacher, Mr. Stephens, was the best teacher I ever had. Up until the time I had him, (ok, I never 'had' him, in the biblical sense.  Though I think he may have been gay, I just didn't need the extra credit, yo), history was all names and dates and places and there was never a sequence of events or a story to go with it.  The cause and effect of history were never clear; and what good does knowing history do you, if you can't use that knowledge to avoid the same mistakes in the future?  Mr. Stephens made history come alive for me, and all of a sudden, all these random bits of information gained substance, and ever since then, as I learned new things, I could attach them to the preformed knowledge, and I learned quicker, and I had understanding of how events affected other events.   Education should be about understanding, or else we just become a nation of trained idiots.

Ms. Schuerring did the same for me with algebra this spring; or maybe it was just from being in the artillery for so long.  One way or the other, all of a sudden, I could finally 'see' what was going on, I could relate all the variables to the physical universe that I understood, and so it all made sense.  Maybe that is why the calculus is taking hold in my brain.  Or maybe because I am just too stubborn to admit defeat.  Either way, I credit my past teachers for any current abilities.

29 August, 2005


Well, I figured this was going to be a bit more difficult than the last two semesters, but I didn’t expect it to take effect so quickly.  Part of it is the fact I never got my sleep cycle straight from fucking off so dilligently over the semester break.  Going from what I was doing to getting up at between 5:45 and 7:00 every day has left me dead tired at night.  I haven’t even been able to stay up long enough to watch the Daily Show at 10 pm.  I get home, do the required reading and whatever other homework I have, and by the time I get done with that, I am ready to collapse onto my bed.  My body isn’t really tired, but my brain hurts from stretching.

I haven’t gotten around to answering any notes or asking any interview questions; hopefully I can catch up this weekend.  I have tried to keep up with my favorites, but often I find myself lacking anything intelligent to say, so I don’t leave a note.  The times I have written anything, what I had written sounds stupid to my own ears.  I am sort of frustrated with myself, lately, and when I get like that, it sort of tints everything I see.
My Philosophy professor is a big hippy; I think I will love the class.  He is teaching us from The Enchiridion by Epictetus, a Greek stoic philosopher.  I had never read him before, but I find myself in agreement with him, so of course he must have been brilliant.   I have always been pretty much of a stoic, myself, though I took it too far in some areas; well, I didn’t take it too far, I perverted it.  The concept of stoicism is that there are things outside our control, and we shouldn’t let them control us.  There are things that used to get me emotionally charged that I pretended I didn’t let control me, but I wasn’t really stoic about them, I just got good at stuffing the emotion down into my subconscious.  That is not stoic, that is foolish, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I do believe that there are things that we cannot control, and accepting that fact removes their power to control us; I have always had a problem with the wisdom of telling the difference between what I could control and what I can’t control.  Epictetus says that everything external to the mind is outside our control.  I do believe that we can change the world, just not on the sweeping scale that I once thought possible.  I used to think if I just tried a little harder…  Live and learn.  Anyway, I like my philosophy class. 
My Principles of Speach teacher is a bit disorganized, but not as disorganized as my history teacher the first semester.  She is new, also, so it is not incompetence so much as inexperience, so I forgive her.  We do a lot of class discussioon, and I am shocked that I still get nervous standing up and talking in front of people.  I thought I had that particular weakness beaten years ago.  I guess I got out of practice, and now I have to go through the jitters all over again.  I can’t believe that I was able to talk calmly and rationally in front of command sergeants major and generals, having the confidence even to argue with them if the situation warranted it, but I am back to getting nervous in front of students who have spent less time on earth than I spent in the Army.  It is my punishment for being a hermit for a year, I suppose.  I should be happy that I have gotten this far, instead of berating myself for my lassitude, but my frustrations tints my outlook.
My English professor is pretty cool.  We are reading and discussing a book called Nickle and Dimed right now.  The majority of our writing will be research intensive, and I guess the book is to help us put some of that research into perspective.  Today we had a discussion which was lively and made it seem more like a sociology class than an English class.  We talked about the American Dream and the working poor and corporate America, et al.  I really enjoyed it, even though I was embarrassed that I talked so much.  I have a distinct inability to keep my mouth shut when I have an opinion I want to express and it has been solicited.  Even though many of my classmates may have agreed with me, I need to remember that it is not just me who is trying to learn how to better express myself.  How ironic that in speech I clam up, and in english I must remind myself to be quiet.
My Object Oriented Programming class is still in the review stage, so I should be thankful for that, I haven’t really had to do much with it this week; I should probably be using this time to try and get ahead, but I won’t.  I’ll be lazy, I suppose.
My Calculus class is hurting my brain.  I can’t even figure out how to use my calculator.  I have a TI 86, and the manual absolutely blows.  My instructor couln’t show me how to do the linear regression we were supposed to be doing (which is a statistical function; I have not had any statistics at all, but here is where I learn, I suppose) and so I tried to find a tutorial online, but I still kept coming up with errors.  Finally today I went to all of the math and computer science professors, even the Dean of Sciences to find someone to show me how to do it.  I was about to scrap it and go spend 40 bucks on another calculator, when one guy was able to show me where the error was coming from.  I have a new yoda.  Other than the calculator difficulties, the class is taking me about two hours of studying per day just to stay on top of it, and we are still in what is supposed to be review.  I can’t believe I tried to take calculus in High School when I was smoking so much dope.  I must have been high to think I could handle it.  I was, and I couldn’t.  That is probaly why it is so confusing right now.  But, if I can’t get my mind in gear with it, at least I will know now that my chosen major is not going to work.  I refuse to accept that I can’t do the math, though.  I can’t do it easily, but that is ok.  I wanted a challenge, and now I have it.  Yay.  

So if you don’t see me around for a while, I am still here.  I am the little nerd behind the pile of books.

24 August, 2005

5 Questions

  1. If you could live anywhere for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?
      If I absolutely had to put down roots it would have to be in a remote mountaintop fortress somewhere in the Rockies (I can’t tell you an exact location, or else I’d have to lock your head in a safe) which is accessible only by private plane. It would be hidden from satelite view by an electromagnetic field which cloned the pixels of the forest around us and shielded infrared sensors.  My fortress would include a palatial library that I had to have a rolling ladder to reach all the volumes. I would have a kitchen designed by Alton Brown and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. Matter of fact, I think I would want my whole house to be like Venice, with canals instead of halls, and I would just swim from room to room. I would be surrounded by forests full of furry creatures for me to scamper with when I am feeling woodsy, ginormous waterfalls for my aesthetic delight when I am feeling poetic, and cliffs for me to scale when I am feeling athletic.

  2. Why do you think the media has essentially made women think they have to be skinny to look good?
      I am not sure what has made this era decide that waspish women were the pinnacle of perceptive pleasure. In the times of Boticelli, a much more full figured woman was considered the most desirable. A well padded frame was considered a sign of abundance of sensual desire. The Willendorf Goddess is an example of primal man worshipping the extreme voluptuousness of a fertile and fecund female.
      This of course does not answer the question of why they would hold up a standard of beauty which is so extreme (especially when women are traditionally so forgiving of the physical flaws of my gender) and difficult to maintain. Perhaps they noticed the trend that women tend to shop to perk themselves up. By holding up a difficult or even impossible image and saying, "This is how you should be," they set many women up for failure, and brainwashed the men, who should be supportive, into being overly critical judges. This perceived failure will make women sad, and so they will go out and spend money, which is what marketing is all about, anyway.

  3. What is your favorite book and why?
      I can’t claim that I have a favorite book, any more than I can claim to have a favorite song or a favorite food. I am far too complex moody for any one thing to always fit, but I have three books which I would save if I were ever in a sinking ship. The first is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because it introduced me to John Galt, who taught me that compromising was not a virtue. The second is Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein, because it introduced me to the character of Lazarus Long, who taught me to always check my facts. The third is The Curse of Chalion by Lois M. Bujold, because it introduced me to the character of Cazaril, who was always a more competent soldier than I, but still I aspire. In all of these, it is the writing that made the books wonderful, the story that made the books meaningful, but it is the characters that keep me coming back
  4. If you could be in any movie that has ever been made, which movie and why?
      If I could be in any movie ever made it would be Castaway, because it combines the themes of Man versus Nature and Man versus Himself. These are the two most important themes, I think, and this is the most graphic portrayal of them I have seen. We live in a natural world, and so we must learn to live with nature, or be killed by Her. I think the battle of Man versus Himself absolutely must be fought in order for man to actuallize and evolve into what he can become. In both of these battles, it is harmony, not conquest, which should be striven for.
      The other theme I can do without. The battles of Man versus Man are fought for conquest, and are only fought in order to avoid facing ourselves.

  5. If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be and why?
      I wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone, really. I have worked the project which is my life for too long and have shed too much tears and blood to want to give it up now. My life is not perfect, but it is mine.
      If I absolutely had to trade places with someone, I would trade places with the lowest monk in a Tibetan monastery.

18 August, 2005

On Itegrity

I started watching "24" the other night, the show that takes place in real time.  I had never watched it before, because I have always shied away from television shows that were progressive in nature.  I knew that I would not be able to keep a commitment of watching a show every week, and so I did not want to start a television relationship I knew had no future.  (I am not afraid of commitment, I am afraid of breaking my commitments.)  Now, thanks to the beauty of DVD sets, I get to go back and watch all those shows I never watched before, without the commercials.  I like it fairly well, I have only watched the first four episodes, but so far, it seems well written.  I like Kiefer Sutherland, also; ever since he was in "Lost Boys", I liked him.  I like the character he plays on the show.  In the show, one of the sub-plots is a mole in his organization, and he is tasked to uncover the mole.  He comments that no one will let him get close, because he had turned in some of his own peers recently for taking bribes.  Later he is talking to another character, and he says, "Do you think they were bad guys?  They weren’t the bad guys, they just compromised one time too many." 
I don’t think anyone sets out to be a bad person.  I think they just get misguided.  Perhaps there are those few who arguably are just bad seeds, but to believe that there are some who are born with a propensity towards evil is tantamount to acknowledging original sin, and that just throws free will out the window.  I learned long ago in a Criminal Justice class that 25% of the people will do the right thing all the time, and 25% of the people will do the wrong thing, all of the time.  Laws and punishments are designed to motivate the 50% of the population that can be swayed.  I am not sure where the Professor had gotten his data, it sure seems like it was pretty simplistic; I think perhaps he was just trying to explain why there was still crime even though we have laws before anyone asked the question.  He could not have afforded to have the question asked because the criminal justice system is quite often barbaric, and he must have known it.  I did not see it back then; I was na├»ve. I used to be a fan of capitalism; my loyalty to the justice system went hand in hand with it.  It was the carrot and the stick on a grand scale, and I falsely believed that people pretty much got their just rewards (or punishments).   
The carrot and the stick philosophy, if applied to a child, will likely wind up with either a spoiled child (who does the right thing for rewards) or an abused child (who does the right thing out of fear of punishment, or does the wrong thing out of rebellion).  What we should be trying to do is raise a child who dos the right thing because it is the right thing to do; we should be trying to raise a child with integrity.  Integrity is truth in action; it means doing the right thing no matter who is watching, and even if you have no chance of ever getting caught, and there is no reward other than the gift of honor to your character.  Integrity is not expected of our children, we just want them to obey the rules, or at least not be caught.  Integrity is not expected of our leaders, which is why they can, with a straight face, say that what they did was not ‘illegal.’  They do not even try to say it was not wrong.  The ‘stick’ of the justice system is an ineffective deterrent against these spoiled children masquerading as leaders. 
 They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but that cannot be true, because the corollary does not check.  Powerlessness does not make us pure.  I believe that the source of corruption must be the compromises that people succumb to while trying to hold on to the power they have gathered, or trying to get the power that they crave.  Avarice corrupts, not power.

14 August, 2005

Planes, Grains, and Automobiles

I have been saving my money since early April to purchase my next car.  The Thunderbird is a rear wheel drive, and I should have known better than to purchase a RWD vehicle in Kansas City; I was lucky that the mishap I had last winter was relatively minor.   I was planning on saving up until the fall, when I figured I would have enough to purchase a car (I don’t use credit, I am a cash and carry person) that would last me til I was out of college.  But ever since I had saved up more than a grand I have been looking in the ads each week just in case I saw a good deal.  Sometimes people just really want to get rid of their car, and if you are flexible, you can get a car for like one third of it’s market value, if you are willing to do some minor repairs.  I have seen a few (I saw a 1993 Taurus LX with leather interior that I wanted so bad I could taste it), but they got snapped up before I had a chance to react to them.  On Friday, I saw an ad for a ’94 Saturn that was well below market value and within my price range.  It was a manual, which is something that I wanted anyway, and of course it was front wheel drive, because I only have to drive off of one cliff before I remember that rear wheel drives suck in the snow.  I have been researching Saturns; the majority of owners of similar models as this one are very happy with their cars, and so I was pleased when I saw this one come on the market.
This is almost what it looks like.  This one is an SL1, and mine is an SL2.  They are pretty much identical, with the exception that mine has about 45 more horsepower and the bumpers match the paint job rather than contrasting with it.  Most of the differences besides the powertrain are cosmetic.  It gets tremendous gas mileage, which is something else I was looking for with gas up to $2.45 for regular unleaded; it gets about 28 mpg in the city, and 35 on the highway.  Hopefully I can increase that a little bit after I give it a tuneup this week. It needed new brakes, and the stereo doesn’t work (I think the lady had another one in there, and threw the original back in when she decided she was gona sell it.  It is not really a big deal, though, as I was planning on putting a new stereo system in it, anyway.  I need something that is MP3 compatible, since I will be commuting two days a week this semester and then commuting five days a week starting in January when I transfer to UMKC.  Not a chance I want to listen to the morning DJs talk in the morning, and with MP3, I figure I can burn one mix and it will last me for a month, at least.  You can get about 12 hours of music per CD, right?  I am not sure.
I am wondering if I should get an iPod that hooks into the car stereo, though.  I was looking at the Rio and some other portables so that I can take some music with me when I run.  If I could get me one that goes directly from my car to my armband, that would be sweet.  I don’t know much about the iPods, though, only what I saw on the commercials.  I think they are designed to do that.  Does anyone know and want to save me research time?
The purchase of the car cut into my monthly budget, though, and unless I sell the Thunderbird quickly, I will be living on plain rice by the end of the month.  Now I am really wishing I had started a garden in the spring when I had a chance.  My dad was gonna let me use some square footage in his backyard (I earned it, I used to have to mow that big son-of-a-bitch with a push mower; yeah, and I walked uphill to school, both ways…) and I could have used it to grow me some vegetables to round out my meager pantry.  I have plenty of rice and potatoes and pasta and other grains; I just need to be creative in stretching what food I have until September first.  Or, maybe the Thunderbird will sell and I can eat a big juicy steak to celebrate.  I paid my insurance in full, just to save me 24 dollars in processing fees.  I am wondering about the intelligence of my frugal ways right now, as I stare at an empty fridge.  Ah, what the hell.  I got a full tank of gas and all the bills are paid.  I can live on mashed potatoes and pasta for two weeks; it will be worth it in the long run to have this car, I think.
It is fun to drive a five speed again.  My Trans-Am was an automatic, because I figured with that much power, I didn’t need a manual to make it sporty, and the computer would shift faster than me, anyway.  I had a Shelby Daytona back in the early nineties that I drove over in Germany, and then a Golf GTI that I drove in the states when I was a recruiter in Alabama.  I also got to drive both an Alfa Romero Spyder and a Fiat Barchetta (alas, it was not red…) in Germany in the late nineties when my van was in the shop for repairs (gotta love the rental car coverage) and that was perhaps my favorite driving experience of all time.  I had that Spyder up to about 165 mph on the way up to Hanau almost every day, but it was even funner on the back roads.  I couldn’t top it out like on the straight-a-ways on the autobahn, but straightening the curves gave me the g-force sensation that I craved.  To me it is much more important that a car handle the curves well than it is to have a remarkable top speed.  I was dissapointed with the Trans-Am.  It had the WS6 sports package on it, and the ram air, so it was fast as all hell, but it was so squirrelly in the corners that I never felt comfortable in it.  The SL2 is not a sports car, by any means, but it is a good compromise, I think.  It handles well, the suspension is nice and firm (but not stiff), it has plenty of power, the stick shift lets me play with the torque, and the steering is very responsive.  It is sporty enough for my purposes.  Besides, if I drove a Trans-Am again at my age, everyone would think my penis had stopped working.

10 August, 2005

Nerdgasms and Responsibilty

I was able to go pick up my books for the new semester today, most of them anyway.  This will be the hardest semester I have attempted, I am taking 17 hours.  I was taking 18 hours, but I ended up dropping Fencing.  They always tell me not to open the plastic until the first day of class, that way if the class is cancelled, I can get my full refund.  I can never do that, though.  There is something inside me that just has to open all my books and skim through them as soon as I get home, like a kid sitting amongst piles of candy on All Hallow’s Eve.  I love even the smell of new books, that is how big of a nerd I am.  Plus, I like to read the first couple of chapters of each of them so that when the professors ask if anyone has any questions, I will know if I do or not.  My classes are:
  1. Introduction to Philosophy (3)
  2. Object Oriented Programming (3)
  3. English Composition and Reading II (3)
  4. Pre-Calculus (5)
  5. Fundamentals of Speech (3)
My calculus class is being taught at another campus (this one in downtown Kansas City) so I will have to go there to purchase that textbook; I don’t mind, though, it will give me an opportunity to recon the layout of the campus prior to the 23rd.  I spent $396 on books and a few supplies (I have stuff left over from last semester), which leaves me $103 for the calculus book, and I don’t think it should cost that much.  I purchased two books to help me with calculus while I was at the thrift store the other day: The Idiot’s Guide to Calculus and Master Math: Pre-Calculus and Geometry.  I got a few extra books while I was at the bookstore, because that is just the way I am.  The line was long and slow, and it wound between the book aisles, and that is like candy at the checkout counter to me.  (wow, two references to candy, who has a sweet tooth?  This guy)  I was looking at the books I needed for Philosophy 110 and then I noticed the stack for Philosophy 120, and they looked interesting, so I went ahead and got them, even though I won’t be taking the class.
One of the books was Nietzsche: Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, I just can’t resist a little light reading before bedtime.  I have read his Thus Spake Zarathustra but I really haven’t read any of his other stuff.  I read Zarathustra when I was 18, which seems young looking back.  I was talking to my Battery Commander one time about music (it was during the redeployment phase of a large training exercise, when even the hardest corps tend to wax a little philisophical), and how I felt that Steppenwolf had a lot of meaning in their lyrics.  He mentioned that they had taken their name from a book written by Herman Hesse (who also wrote an interesting book about a guy who goes to meet the historical Buddha, titled Sidhartha).  Reading Herman Hesse led me to Nietzsche.
Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman fit nicely with my own attitude towards morality, namely that if there is a moral imperative that I needed to follow, it was that I should become as skilled and knowledeable as I could in every area possible.  I hadn’t gotten around at that time to deciding about afterlife and all that, but I wasn’t dead yet, so it didn’t trouble me to wonder what would happen after life.  All I knew was that I was alive, and that I had certain talents and certain weaknesses; I could either maximize my talents and try to improve my weaknesses, or I could waste my talents and let my weaknesses rule me.  This is one of those areas where, though I knew the right thing to do, I didn’t always do it.  I wasted a lot of my life, and let my weaknesses get the better of me for quite some time.  But I did trudge along, making myself better and smarter and stronger the best I could, with the knowledge that there was no one else to do it but me, and that I alone was responsible for my success or failures.
My attitudes on responsibility set me apart from many of my peers, it seems.  Most of todays society seems intent upon anything but taking responsibility for its actions.  Even our president, who I could argue should be of the utmost moral character, has a distinct inability to admit he is wrong.  They can always find a willing or not so willing scapegoat.  I have for the most part been the opposite.  Like the old adage about being responsible, I have often felt that whenever something goes wrong around here, I am responsible.  In part, that was a result of caring less about the blame and more about fixing the problem.  If I took responsibility for something being wrong, I could automatically assume the authority needed to fix it.  I have what they call ‘survivor guilt’ (which is a fancy way of saying I ask myself why I am still alive when so many other people died) and so I probably have too strict a sense of responsibility.  I know that I can neither change nor save the world.  That is another area where how I act sometimes differs with how I believe, because sometimes I feel as though I should be able to save the world, and it tears me up that I fail.  I know deep down that I can’t, but I do think that I can always try a little harder.

09 August, 2005

Fairy tales and fearful fury

The other day I got a new game for my Playstation. I had been looking for a light gun, like they use at some arcades for shooting games, and I couldn’t find one anywhere. Then I found a copy of Namco’s Time Crisis: Crisis Zone which included a GunconTM light gun. The set sold for only $59.95, and that is not much more than a regular game, so I went ahead and bought it. Other than not having the force feedback effect that some of the arcade guns have, it rocks. It adds a whole new dimension to the gaming experience that I really enjoy. I pretty much suck at Time Crisis, though. The game actually rewards you for collateral damage, meaning you get points for blowing the heck out of the environment. This concept is alien to me, because I was always taught, and taught my troops, to use the least amount of force necessary to do the mission. It is difficult to win the hearts and the minds of the native population if you have just destroyed their neighborhood in a raid that netted you four ‘insurgents’ (an insurgent being anyone who doesn’t smile and bow and kiss the ‘liberators’ feet). It does explain why we use gunships and tanks to return small arms fire. The new soldiers must think they get extra points for widespread destruction because of the ‘war as a video game’ feeling that they got from watching smart bombs missiles (anything guided is by definition a missile; a bomb is dropped. It is redundant to say guided missile.) threading their way through downtown Baghdad while the seamen or airmen who launched it were hundreds of miles away. Soldiers get closer, and are supposed to have more precision. One shot, one kill. But the world has moved on.
I am reading a series of books by a psychologist named Robert Johnson. They are called HeShe, and We. They are, as you may have guessed, about the dynamics of the male psyche, the female psyche, and the dynamics of a relationship, respectively. In them, Dr. Johnson relates a myth (for instance, he uses the myth of Parsifal and the Holy Grail in He) and then dissects it with Jungian symbology to find the lesson inside it. His concept is that a myth is to a society what a dream is to an individual. I find the books extremely interesting, because I have often looked at fables and myths to separate the wheat from the chaff. All myths have both lies and truth in them; sometimes the lies are added through mistake, and sometimes I think specifically to mislead. As Dio said, the best way to hide a lie was to wrap it in truth. Anyway, it was interesting to see it taken from a Jungian perspective, and dissected so neatly. I have never really paid much attention to Jung, I have always preferred Maslow and Erikson. But his concept of the collective mind does intrigue me, because it is parallel to the concept of an Akashic record; I think I should probably pick up a book or two by him.
It made me think of the fable, "The Princess and the Pea." In the fable, a prince was trying to find the finest princess to wed, and for some reason that I can’t quite remember, he was led to believe that he could find her by stacking 40 mattresses on top of each other and placing a dried pea at the very bottom of the stack, and then letting each of the hopefuls sleep for a night on his IHOP bed. The hopefuls all remarked in the morning how luxurious the sleep they had was, until one day someone complained. One woman, upon arising, remarked that her sleep had been disturbed by the mattress being too lumpy. In this manner, the prince found the most royal of the princesses to marry. What I think, though, is that he found the most royal pain in the ass, and I wonder what this fable is trying to teach us. It seems to be saying that the higher maintenance a woman is, the more worthy of our respect. Now I believe in maintaining a relationship, and a woman worthy of my respect is also worthy of high maintenance, but the corollary just doesn’t hold. Just because a woman (or any person, really) is high maintenance, doesn’t make her worthy of more respect than a person who is not. It may be that she is just spoiled. I prefer the type of woman that Heinlein and Rand portray much more than the helpless and high-maintenance princesses of fables and fairy-tales.

07 August, 2005

Back to school shopping

When I was a kid, back to school shopping meant that my dad gave me a copy of the Sears catalogue and told me I had 50 bucks for clothes for the year and to make sure I had enough underwear and socks.  That seems like too much responsibility to lay on a seven year old, I suppose, but this is the same guy who told us all to pack our stuff for a vacation at Grandpa Mac's house and then was surprised to find that my two year old brother and sister had failed to follow instructions.

I always managed to make sure I had enough underwear and socks, but whenever someone would rib me that my mother dressed me funny, I couldn't blame it on a mother.  I was so clueless about anything resembling style.  I went for functionability and ease.  Jeans and t-shirts, sneakers, and then a jean jacket for fall and spring and a lined jean jacket for the winter.  No one taught me about fashion, and when I got old enough to see that some people dressed nicer than me, I still didn't understand the concept of fashion.  I looked at them as sour grapes, because I wouldn't have had the money for the clothes anyway, and even if I did, I wouldn't have known how to spend it.  I still don't understand the science of fashion, and I guess I never will.

I do try to look presentable, but I am still on a limited budget.  It doesn't have to be limited; if clothes were my priority, I could spend a thousand dollars a month on them, but throwing money at the problem doesn't fix it, and I still wouldn't know anything about fashion.  I just know what I like.  If I like the way I look, then I am going to present a better appearance because of my self confidence thatn if I am uncomfortably wearing the latest trend.  I say uncomfortable, because trendy clothes are generally stand-outish, and I prefer to present a more subdued appearance; I am not a wallflower any more, but I don't want to draw attention to myself because of my clothing.  I would rather draw attention to myself because of my wit, intelligence, and charm, and so if I can do that, it doesn't matter what I am wearing anyway, as long as my fly is not unbuttoned.

I've been shopping this weekend, because Independence has done away with sales tax on back to school stuff, which is an additional savings of 8%.  I didn't have to buy a lot of back to school supplies, because the VA gives me a pretty stiff allowance to purchase paper and pens and such from the campus bookstore, but I did need some printer paper (recycled, of course).  I also got three dry erase boards to hang on my walls for when I am brainstorming or working on a math or computer science problem.  I have plenty of paper, but there is just something about writing on a big surface that makes my mind want to be creative.  I got a new backpack, because my old leather one had one of the straps giving way and it wasn't going to have room for all the books I'll have to carry.  I went ahead and spent some money on it, and got a Wenger, because it will last, and I'll use it for at least four more years.  That averages the cost down a little.  I also got two new pair of shoes for $85, because Shoe Carnival was having a massive sale.  I got a set of Rockports to wear with my khakis and a set of Nike running shoes, because I am gonna start runing again.  (I have developed a bit of a pooch and I prefer not to carry any excess weight, because it seems like a waste of effort.)   The Rockports alone were usually $79.95, so it may well be the best bargain I have found all summer.  Since I saved so much money, I got extra underwear and socks, just to make my dad proud.

05 August, 2005

On Language

I drove to Fort Leavenworth the other day to have a reevaluation done on my state of mind. Every year or so they reevaluate me to see if I can go back on active duty or if I should remain out to pasture. Ironically, they found that I was still not sane enough to go back to killing people.

I had to go there relatively early. It wasn’t early in the soldierly sense, because I still got to sleep til after sunrise, but it was early in the college student in-between-semesters sense, because I still had to get up before noon. I had to leave here by 0700 in order to make it there for a 0900 appointment. I hate driving during that time, because there is nothing on but morning talk shows.

I don’t know who decided that people at that time of the morning would rather hear inane drivel than some music to perk them up for their day, but they didn’t ask me. I don’t like listening to people talk if they don’t have anything to say. This sounds odd coming from my lips, because I will talk your ear off if I get the chance, and verbosity is my great weakness when writing. I use a lot of words, I tell myself, because I try to be very precise. Though I may use more words than necessary, it is because I feel that what I am saying is important, and I do not wish to be misunderstood.

The proper combination of words can make the meaning of our sentences clear or unclear. Orwell said that "the great enemy of clear language was insincerity." I know how Madison Avenue muddies up the language, as well as the spin doctors in DC, so I try very diligently to not muddy up my communication. I do this so that I can bitch about Madison Avenue and the spin doctors without feeling hypocritical. Heinlein had a type of character in some of his books that was called a Fair Witness. This person could only speak the absolute Truth as certifiable by them. It was a discipline to keep assumptions out of their language. For instance, in one passage of the book, Stranger in a Strange Land, a Fair Witness is asked about the color of a house. She replies, in all sincerity, "The house is white…on this side." Most people would have likely have said merely that the house is white. The difference is subtle, but certain.

The majority of people would probably make the assumption that the house is white on both sides. Having seen that it is white from this angle, we jump to the conclusion that it is probably white from all the other angles. We are geared this way, I think. We extrapolate. This tendency allows us to make quick decisions without having to wait until all the data is in. When our ancestors saw something stalking them, they did not have to see the whole wolf before they decided to climb a tree. Jumping to conclusions sometimes saves our lives, and so that tendency was reinforced through natural selection.

Jumping to conclusions can save us time, however, only if we jump to the correct conclusion. One of the biggest barriers to communication is when we don’t listen to everything the other person is saying before we start formulating our reply. Even if we do not interrupt the speaker, vocalizing the fact that we are no longer listening, we have made it almost impossible for them to communicate with us. Of course, some times, this is endearing, like when we are so in sync with someone that we can finish each others sentences. Generally, though, I think we jump to the wrong conclusion based upon assumptions that were hastily formulated.

The infantry manual taught me (and Lazarus Long reinforced the idea) to never act without having some sort of a plan, never wait to make a plan until all the information was available (because it will always be lacking), and never fail to incorporate new data into the plan as it become available. What this means to me is that it is necessary to make assumptions in order to act, but one has to maintain an open mind in order to allow new data to be incorporated. Always, always check the facts. Unfortunately, some people seem to make assumptions, and then let their opinion, backed up only by assumption, become as a fact in their mind. They usually answer the question, "How do you know?" with the platitude, "I just know."

When we defend our assumptions without checking the facts, we are engaging in intellectual laziness. We are programming falsehoods into our brains, and as any novice programmer will tell you, Garbage In Garbage Out. We are consciously making it impossible for us to rationally look at the world. In the sense that we create our own reality by the way in which we perceive the universe, we are creating our own little universe which is made up of the lies and half truths we have told ourselves. Were I a religious man, I would posit that it was more insulting to the Lord than merely making a golden calf.

I think, therefor I am. Descartes is attributed with writing that, but he stood on the shoulders of giants. Language has allowed us to increase our knowledge by sharing our thoughts with each other and future generations. Language is the symbology of the abstract, without it we would not be able to consider anything at all, except what was right in front of us. Language is the bus that connects the RAM of our consciousness with the hard drive of our brain, and it is also the world wide web that connects us to everyone else in our universe. Since what we know of the universe outside our immediate environment is dependent upon either the language of others, the language of our memories, or the language of our dreams and contemplations, I consider language to be the basic building block of thought. Language and thought and identity are the holy trinity of self awareness.

04 July, 2005

Imagine this: you are standing in the street, watching the flames lick up the sides of the house, thankful that your family is safe, but faced with the contradictory feeling of helplessness as the rest of your life goes up in flames, you watch your house burn.
Suddenly the blaring of sirens rises out of the darkness and the engine comes screaming down the street like shiny red cavalry.  It comes screeching to a halt and the firemen pour out of it, each intent upon their particular task.  One man runs out a short hose from the truck to a nearby fire hydrant, while another pair roll out the longer hose toward the house.  A very large man, obviously in charge, quickly assesses the situation.  He asks if there is anyone else inside.  He reassures you that the situation is under control and issues adjusting orders to his men.
The Kansas City Fire Department consists of ladder companies, heavy rescue companies, hazardous materials companies, and arson investigators.  The emergency medical technicians are now civilian contractors and are not run through the fire department.  The ladder companies, named for the familiar extending ladder used to reach tall buildings, are also called pumper companies.  They are the actual firefighters.
The heavy rescue team, which performs search and rescue, vehicular extraction, and occasionally gets kittens out of trees, stands down as the pumper team springs into action.  They plunge into the burning building, seemingly oblivious to danger as they risk their lives to save what is left of your property.  You might call them heroes, but they consider themselves ordinary men just doing their job.
Their job, however, does not seem to have the financial rewards commensurate to the risks that they incur.

Time to iterate

It has been a while since I have done any serious writing.   Last time was really as I was redefining myself as a civilian from the time I r...