Ohanapecosh

Trail Stories #3. “Ace” and I were three days into our circumambulation of Mt. Rainier via The Wonderland Trail. This hike punctuated my life. I had just finished several temp-work years perf testing video drivers at The Great Satan, and they had liked me enough to hire me for real. I had taken a month off before going full-time, because, well, that had been a lot of work, and switching to perf testing web browsers was going to be even more (“The Internet” was just then really taking off for consumers, mostly via Netscape). Ten days of that month were devoted to the Wonderland. The previous day, we had hiked from Mystic Lake to White River (the day after I pissed on an asshole’s bike). “Mrs. Dean” was driving in to meet us, as White River is not backcountry. On the steep descent from Sunrise, Ace made an accidentally disparaging comment about whether Mrs. Dean would be sitting in the shade waiting for us, to which, in umbrage, I insisted that I would be dumbfounded if she didn’t meet us halfway down (or, for Mrs. Dean, up). I was, of course, correct.

The next morning, Mrs. Dean accompanied us up the trail to Panhandle Gap, turning around there so she could get back to the car and Seattle at a reasonable hour. Ace and I continued on to Indian Bar. It had been cloudy and showery since yesterday, and much of our gear was dampish, but just as we finished setting up camp, the sun broke out and we spread our stuff out to let it dry as much as possible. The respite was brief, and after only half an hour we were hastening to fling stuff into our tents to get it out of a sudden squall. After the squall I hiked around to where I could get a nice view down the Ohanapecosh River, while Ace was scrambling about elsewhere, perhaps investigating the welcoming group shelter nearby. It was warm but humid, and I noticed a fog bank making its way up the valley (at that elevation, really not much more than a broad but rough steep ditch). What caught my eye was that the fog was not a massive bank, but more a finger gradually intruding upwards along the valley bottom, sort of like an inflating tubular balloon. I soon noticed that the fog finger was rotating as it penetrated upwards along the river. Not only rotating, but beginning to distend radially, so that what was once a rotating circular tube became more and more oval, quickly becoming two lobes that suddenly snapped into individual, circular, co-revolving tubes, like a DNA double helix, each orbiting the common center but rotating individually. Each sub-tube again distended and snapped in two, so that now there were four of them! You may recall that I am quite the aficionado of fractals, and here I was, observing fractal math in action. The intertwined fog helices continued to ramify, rotating and splitting ever faster, until, just before the finger reached me, the whole mass fragmented into pieces too small to be resolved as anything but a diffuse mass just as it was when I first noticed it. I was engulfed in my own fantasy. Imbued with all of my thoughts, ever. As it continued on above me, following the gulch upstream, ponderously rotating, the fragmented mass repeated its former dynamic, distending, splitting, ramifying in powers of two until the pattern again dissolved.

I really want to return to Indian Bar sometime (perhaps via Nickel Creek, where, if you follow the trail to the camping areas far enough back, you come upon piles of fragmented pentagonal andesite). It would be a great trip for a group, given the shelter, and it has absolutely the best outhouse I have ever used: roofed, but open on the sides for an awesome view. I’ve heard there’s a better one in Glacier; I will have to seek that shit out.

Bertshit Crazy

There’s a mental disease I’ve been aware of for decades, mostly without realizing it, sometimes afflicted with it myself. I need a clever name for it, but for now I will call it “pointless definitional pedantry”, or PDP. I observe it frequently in political speech and Web comments, but it can be found almost everywhere. I think PDP may be related to “math envy” and “science envy”. The beauty of math is that starting with a few basic assumptions and using only logic, a vast and useful quiver of conceptual tools can be developed. The beauty of science is that by cleverly setting up reproducible situations, taking careful measurements, and applying imagination, logic, math, and statistics, we can socially construct facts that anybody (suitably informed and equipped) can confirm or improve. The problem with PDP and the envies is that these techniques don’t really apply to social and cultural disputes.

A PDP example: Back in the HoB era I hung out with folks, some of whom were not shy about how proud and superior they felt to be known as Libertarians. It was quite popular among some of these ‘Berts (as I call them here; an analogy to “Karen” is probably germane in the larger context, if not specifically to the folks of my history) to “prove” such “facts” that, contrary to how they present, environmentalists “actually” hate humanity. Their arguments were invariably based on boutique, specious, PDP style definitions; charisma and obstinacy armed with practiced platitudes: rhetoric, the art of making the bad look good. Another example: defining “alive”, as if there were a single sentence that could capture all of biology. If it is having the ability to reproduce, a worker bee or a red blood cell isn’t alive. Having the ability to move independently? Mushrooms aren’t alive but self-driving cars are. Is a virus alive? A seed? An ant colony? A bacterial specimen frozen at -80° C? The problem with defining life is that every simple definition has exceptions. Religion provides a seeming infinity of examples. One could almost define religion (see what I did there? note the use of “almost”) as an enterprise dedicated to applying PDP, with ever-increasing vigor, ever-more-inappropriately.

The point here is that argumentation about issues that involve vast amounts of interaction among complex agents, in the context of trying to completely define inherently vague terms, is a sucker’s game. If you go along with demands for perfectly defined terms, you have already lost what isn’t really an argument. Words don’t have exact meanings, concepts are metaphors, and the structure of language makes it impossible to prevent paradoxes. One medicine for PDP is a reliance upon hallmarks rather than definitions. Any complex system that possesses many of the hallmarks of life is alive. Obviously, care must be taken with hallmarks, and the goal must be consensus rather than strict agreement.

Back to the ‘Berts. Given the magnitude of effort needed to (rather, to attempt to: they are nothing if not recalcitrant (q.v. Brandolini’s Law)) correct their misrepresentations and oversimplifications, most people, myself included, would rather cut their losses in exasperation, unfortunately gifting them with the emotion of having “won” the “argument”, an illusion often convincing to a credulous audience. Another PDP trick ‘Berts seem to love is the secret use of boutique definitions, which are pulled out for a ‘gotcha’ at the last minute. Just attempting to get a ‘Bert to come to terms usually invites exasperation, again virtually guaranteeing them their victory illusions. The tragedy of our era: we’ve all got things to keep working on, but we need to figure out – and implement! a time and effort self-tax! – strategies and tactics to combat the ‘Bertshit.

Bier

In Germany, “das Bier (e)s, -e” refers to, say, a glass of Löwenbräu or Beck’s, which, though perhaps slightly richer, are quite similar to the Miller or Coors you might drink in the USA. In general, the word encompasses any beverage made from water and yeast-fermented grain malt. More German-specific, however, as with much of continental Europe and the USA, the notion of “beer” is synonymous with the notion of “lager”. Now, many people know that “ale” and “pilsner” are somehow also kinds of beers. Pilsner is actually a specific kind of lager, and I’ve heard people distinguish lager and ale with ideas such as “ale is actually alive”, or “ale is aged in wooden kegs”. Not accurately definitional. Now, unless you’re a beer afficionado, you may be thinking something along the lines of “who cares: tomahto, tomayto”. Still, when discussing the topic of beer, or should I say, Bier, people often seem to have the impression that the Germans invented beer brewing, even having famous laws about it, therefore German beer must be some of the best (none of that is true).

Whatever. Taste is a matter of, well, taste. You like what you like, I like what I like, it’s not a rational decision based on factual information and logical reasoning. My taste, as it happens, tends rather towards a dislike, or at least a very low like, of most lagers, which means most German or American beers. And it turns out that, although a matter of taste, there is factual information and logical reasoning that, while not justifying such differences, can at least explain them.

The yeast used to ferment beer has a substantial effect on the brew’s ultimate flavor. Obviously, the grains and other ingredients (such as hops) used in the recipe also have an influence, but even if the only difference between two recipes is the yeast used, the beers can taste extremely different. Ale yeast is the same species as baker’s yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, “sweet fungus of beer”. It has been domesticated for thousands of years and as a result there are thousands of cultivars, as different from each other as cabbage and kale. Lager yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus (sweet fungus of Pasteur), is a hybrid of S. cerevisiae and S. eubayanus, and has been domesticated for only hundreds of years, hardly enough time to develop as many different varieties. Evidently the hybridization event that led to lager yeast was special, as it has proven very difficult to hybridize Scer and Seub in the lab. Hybridizing between Scer variants couldn’t be easier, and folks are constantly bioprospecting for natural variants of Scer all the time, constantly adding dimensions to “beer space” (there are even tales of “yeast rustlers” – check out Travels with Barley, by Ken Wells). Thus, my perception that lagers all taste essentially the same, while there is a great variety in ales, has factual support.

The main reason that lagers have become so dominant is that lager yeast ferments well at low temperatures, and the yeast particles settle to the bottom of the vessel, making it relatively easy to create a consistent, clear brew if you have access to constant-temperature caves for fermenting and storing your product (“Lager” in German means a storage area or warehouse), especially useful hundreds of years ago before knowledge of microbiology and mechanical refrigeration. Now, although it has proven difficult, it has not proven impossible, to hybridize Scer and Seub in the lab. This is good news – there is great potential for developing new lager strains with as great a variety of flavors as ale yeasts, perhaps allowing humanity to accomplish for lagers in the next century (through direct genetic intervention) what it took natural and human selection millenia to accomplish for ales. Cheers!

Mowing the Weeds

I live in a house. As with most houses, mine has a yard. Grass grows in my yard, but also way too much Glechoma hederaca (creeping charlie), Plantago major (broadleaf plantain, not the banana-like fruit), Potentilla indica (false strawberry), and others. What I’d really like is for there to be some kind of innovative farming outfit that would come use my property for their organic produce business, but I doubt that would be viable – farming, especially organic farming – is already low margin when done on dedicated fully owned centralized farmland. What I should do is implement some kind of lawn replacement concept utilizing native shrubs, flowers, and ground cover. What I end up doing is procrastinating and infrequently whacking the lawn with a lawn mower. None of my weeds responds very well to manual removal, and even if I went all out and did a presumptively one-time herbicide treatment followed by grass seeding, the neighboring yards are all equally infested and it wouldn’t be long until my efforts proved futile.

I live on a planet. As with most inhabited planets, mine has continents. Some smart, nice, helpful, cooperative people live on these continents, but also way too many Factus denialistus (generic Qonservatives), Nutjobia fuck-you-ive-got-mineii (Quibertarians; take Qonservative denialism and square it), and Outright nazifascistia (Republiqans; GQP types for whom F. den and N. fuc are way too intellectual). What I’d really like is for there to be some kind of innovative knowledge transference device that could identify and correct the pathologies that are going on in whatever has replaced the nervous systems of these defective enormities, but I doubt that would be viable – whatever it is interprets facts and logic as enemies and mounts an allergic reaction to them. What I should do is figure out some way to engage socially and/or politically and at least try to nudge some of these QNuts towards some kind of sanity. None of these disease vectors responds very well to traditional communications using verifiable information and reasoning, but even if I invented some kind of mental judo they would no doubt realize that my efforts are a threat to their pathology, and the number of their contagious co-infecteds is so great that my efforts would surely prove futile.

Note: in case you non-ironically style yourself Conservative, Libertarian, Republican or GOP member, you might think my barbs above are aimed at you. Not necessarily so! However, if you strut about parroting QNut codewords and dog whistles; if you fancy that you argue in good faith by sneering at environmentalists, feminists, progressives, liberals, etc.; if you get off on “triggering the Libs”, I would ask why you endeavor to appear so Nazi-adjacent. I myself used to be a registered Green, but only because I had read that some law in my state required that a political party have a minimum number of members to be officially recognized, and the Greens, despite their kookiness, are usually the only party brave enough to argue in favor of real environmental reform. I even switched my registration to Democrat once the Greens had eroded to official non-recognition, but only to vote for Bernie in the primaries, knowing that Hillary (cue kneeless knee-jerk QNut spit-gasms here; let us pause while I wipe off the spluttering blow-by spewing from my screen through that series of tubes that is the internet) would win. I say this to portray that I am aware of tactical reasons for party or group membership. I may not be aiming at you particularly, but maybe you unwittingly (not in the same sense that the QNuts are unwitting) make yourself a target. Perhaps you should distance yourself from, rather than sidle up to, the poisonous fucks you strive to resemble.

Hating “America First” First

NB: this is a US-centric post. The Qs (Republiqans, Quibertarians, Qump supporters…): they sneer at us fact-using logical folk (liberals, progressives, feminists, environmentalists…), with their hate-speech catch-phrases (adjacent to such terms as “hate-America-first-Liberal”). Whatever. Our hatred is for stuff that’s actually wrong, but characteristic of the US as it actually is (“if right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be set right”). If you already fancy the QSA to be perfeqt, setting things right is tantamount to treason, I guess. Here are some of my hatreds.

Shitty t-shirts. I buy t-shirts wherever I travel. Although most of my travel is domestic, an unrepresentative proportion of my t-shirts is Canadian or European. Now, I don’t buy more shirts than usual when traveling internationally. I don each one in turn, so they get relatively equal wear, and as soon as I notice that one has too many holes, I toss it. I conclude that the American shirts are simply low quality. I bought one of my oldest shirts more than twenty years ago in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. I visit Glacier National Park every three years, but have few surviving shirts from there, although I buy several each time.

Cars: a vile public nuisance. In the part of Germany where I lived for two years, bicycling is practical for commuting, shopping, and recreation. Bike paths are everywhere. Because the driving population comprises people who are also cyclists, the biker-resentment that is obvious and prevalent among US drivers does not obtain. Now that I am back in the US, living in a bike-hostile city, most of my pedaling is on the stationary bike (we sometimes mount the bikes on a car and drive them to a bike trail). I say: tax gasoline to five dollars a gallon and spend the money building separate bike lanes. But oh, the Q-tantrums that would arise.

Recycling. Where I lived in Germany, recycling was multi-stream: bio (for compost), paper/cardboard (essentially 100% recyclable), and packaging (needing more complicated recycling). The small left-over fraction is actual garbage. Granted, a trivial amount of intelligence and effort are required to successfully recycle in Germany. In the US, where using one’s brain and not shitting in everybody’s living room is considered (by Q’s) to be communist socialist liberty-hatred, even where recycling is supposedly available it has to be dumbed down to “single stream”, which doesn’t really work. A few (“liberty” loving!) defeqtors tossing unrecyclable crap into the stream taints it so that it has to be relegated to landfills.

Liberian Units. The US is officially metric, as the yard and pound were redefined in terms of the metric system in 1959. You wouldn’t know it from simple observation, although there are bizarre exceptions (e.g. the so-called-free market has somehow blessed two liters as a standard size for beverage packaging). Still, even though the paleo-units are “officially” metric, any sort of design work not intended for just one of the two mensuration provinces requires time-wasting pain in the ass doubling of effort just to kiss the ass of the baqkwards foot-draggers.

How to set things right? The one thing the Q’s aren’t failures at is cheating and tantrum-throwing until they get their way, like the spoiled children of exasperated parents. It’s galling, but the grownups have to decide to spend a much greater amount of their time and effort suppressing and cauterizing Q bullshit. Maybe after a generation or two of enforced maturity, we can lighten up on the medicine.

Alienation

“Mrs. Dean” affectionately calls me an alien. While I don’t come from another planet, this attribution seems figuratively true. Do I lack some mental organ that others possess, one that supplies certain kinds of feelings? Or do I possess an extra one that suppresses or surpasses these feelings? I go about under the impression that I don’t share with people the same feelings about lots of things. I wonder if they really feel what they seem to, or if they are also alienated but go through the motions to fit in with the groupthink.

Sports. I don’t express opinions about sports, so people often infer that I hate them. Certainly, I hate participating in them, unless drinking beer and throwing darts is a sport. My family didn’t watch or listen to them, so I never bonded with them when young, and I was picked on by the jocks, never befriending anybody to whom sports was important, never learning the rules of the games I endured in PE class. I can’t participate convincingly in sports conversations, and there is little to be gained by relating my a-sportic upbringing. Simply walking away is rude and attracts attenion. A lose-lose-lose situation. One reason I dread human interaction is the probability that said interaction will drift into sports talk and thus unwelcome awkwardness.

Religion. Growing up, my family took their Christianity relatively seriously. I went along and tried to believe and participate honestly. I was confirmed. I enjoyed singing and was in the choir. One of my Seattle aunts was quite religious and I enjoyed going with her to church a couple of times when I visited. But when I was no longer required to attend church weekly, I stopped. Since moving away for college I only go for weddings and funerals, and to defer unpleasant family conversations. I am aware of various atheism related societal trends, but as with other “movements” I’ve become associated with, they seem to attract performative toxicity adherents, and I have enough bullshit to fend off in my other pursuits.

Cars. For safely getting from point A to point B, I approve of cars. I have owned several and been glad of it. However, any major possession is going to be a status symbol whether or not the possessor wants it to be, just because other people see them possessing it, prompting a preening/primping response in many people that sprains my eye-rolling muscles. Beyond keeping it in safe and inoffensive running order, I have no interest in my car’s status symbology. As with sports I cannot discuss cars. I cannot contain my impression of them as a vile public nuisance, again leading to awkwardness and social trepidation.

Books, Movies, Music, TV. I have a rich inner life. I am privileged that my “job” (when I have lately been employed) is essentially what I have chosen as my life’s work, and so need little in the way of “escape”. I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, and still mostly read that. After a desert of appealing works from the late 80’s to the early 00’s, I bathe in an oasis of excellent authors. I rarely enjoy popular entertainments and don’t seek them out, although I usually enjoy Marvel superhero movies (evidently Marvel has figured out how to take nerds like me back in time to (false-memory?) fond youthful memories). There are some TV shows that I enjoy watching with Mrs. Dean, perhaps with some popcorn and a gourmet sarsaparilla, but I rarely seek them out myself. I guess the only time I don’t feel alienated is when I am enjoying times with friends and family, who either share much of my affect or at least embrace it.

One Fish

Trail Stories #2. If you can get to Monte Cristo, in the North Cascades, a mostly non-existent ghost town sometimes inaccessible to vehicles due to the bridge washing out, you can enjoy a beautiful road trip followed by some nice day-hike exploration of an old mining town that became a resort after the mines ran dry and then died. If you are an intrepid hiker with a love for strenuous schlepping, you can make your way from the remnant town up to Poodle Dog Pass (if your life is blessed by a poodle the name will surely make you smile). If you are manic, instead of hiking down to Silver Lake you can continue up up and over a rocky ridge (mind the cairns!), finally descending when you espy a pair of gemlike aquamarine basins 2,500 feet below. Ignoring or perhaps forgetting that there will be a 2,500-foot ascent in a few days, you can then enjoy a great variety of day hikes from your base camp.

Before my Twin Lakes trip, I had just recently gotten my first real job, in downtown Seattle at one of the Lesser Satans. It turns out that I often passed a North Face store between work and my commute at what was then called The Bus Tunnel. At some point, my friends “Radical”, “The Buddha”, “Snow”, and “Jack” decided, on Jack’s recommendation, to do Twin Lakes. Jack’s Suburban came into play, as it also would (as related in Everything, All at Once). Luckily, the bridge was intact, so we didn’t have to park early and pre-hike several miles to the town. Unluckily, as we were gearing up, it started to drizzle. Luckily, due to my recent enjobbedness, my frequent proximity to North Face had inspired me to acquire some excellent gear, which meant I couldn’t have cared less about the drizzle.

I continued to not care less as the drizzle enlarged into full-blown rain as we ascended to Poodle Dog, and into a downpour as we reached the aforementioned rocky ridge. As we staggered from cairn to cairn (I believe I was afflicted by both dehydration – ironic! – and altitude issues), we were  surrounded by dome shaped rock peaks off of which the storm didn’t so much cascade as explode horizontally from the mountain shoulders before curving down into a kind of radial halo-torrent. I had already emptied my water bottle, and had to resort to sucking droplets off of hemlock branches and whatnot to deal with my thirst. The storm eventually passed, and the rest of the trip was under a broken overcast, perfect hiking weather.

Among several stories that could be related here, the most memorable one involves fish. Jack had come properly equipped for his favored sport, and had established himself on the east side of the waterfall that drains the upper Twin into the lower one. Some of the rest of us were scrambling along the rocky bank on the west side of the falls. The sun was just right to penetrate the crystalline water so that we could see a school of large fish (bass?) idling at the base of the falls, perhaps enjoying enhanced oxygenation or the occasional food particle. Evidently the fish were quite ready for a bite to eat, as we found that by simply pointing at one, we could direct Jack’s aim. Even a baitless hook would trigger our indicated target into an undulating propulsion, snapping at the illusory bait, followed by panicked thrashing as it was hooked and summarily yanked towards Jack’s waiting net. In figuratively no time at all, we had the makings of a nice meal.

We fashioned a little pool by damming the runoff from one of the snow fields near camp, and resurrected the fish in it. When a fried fish was desired, we would simply haul a live one out and convert it into a fillet. Such luxury.

Tripping on the Imbue

“Imbue”: a recreational drug featured in Zelazny’s posthumous Lord Demon. Commenting on a Whatever blog post, I invented the titular phrase. Supposing I should probably unpack it, I thought: blog post!

“Mrs. Dean” and I are rambling in the Cotswolds, from one hostelry to the next. We navigate with guidance provided by the outfit that booked our lodging and handles our luggage. Each morning we don our daypacks after breakfast and trapes from town to town, care-free hobbits, while the company schlepps our chattels from last night’s lodging to tonight’s. Traversing a copse in The Slaughters, we come upon a brick pond filled with water and algae, its walls festooned with a lush brake of hart’s tongue. Yet another gift from the vacation gods – I’ve been enjoying novel ferns and mosses and algae the whole trip. Two or three times a day I am presented with an astonishment in my field of interest, like this pond, or a lichen crusted wall, or a field of Lycopodium. Each instance fulfills, hallows, imbues.

Both she and I grew up on LOTR. The Cotswolds are The Shire. Pure coincidence: the first establishment we patronized after arriving in Moreton-in-Marsh was the Bell Tavern, celebrated by a Blue Plaque marking it as an inspiration for the Prancing Pony. As with everywhere we drink or dine in Europe, publican and staff project sincere warmth and pride. Their situation is not some sullen-pretense job-stop on the way to something better, as seems so common in the US. We are laden: the luxury of ignoring our luggage starts tomorrow. They won’t hear of us paying to store our baggage while we roam the high street, insisting we let them guard it for free. The publican detects my American accent and I can tell he’s about to suggest beers he “knows” I’ll like. I won’t hear of it. He admits there’s just been a contest among the local brewers and offers me a flight of the top three competitors. All three are delicious but I remark about one that “these guys really know what they’re doing”. Turns out to be the first-place winner. I order a pint and we take a corner table. I am Strider enjoying shepherd’s pie: content, anticipant, imbued.

Tripping on the imbue: The time we were hiking from Oil City to Mosquito Beach, trudging, ten miles in with a sixty-pound pack and yearning for camp. I turn my head to nicker at some cute beastie beside the trail. I can only conclude that teleportation works but is arduous, as I am suddenly ten yards off-trail in the opposite direction and out of breath. “Cute beastie” is a tiny skunk, aiming but not pulling the trigger. Enchanted. Spent. Imbued. Christmas camping at Panorama Point. Wind on Tahoma’s shoulders spalls sparse ice-dust from high snow fields. Clear blue sky, an hour from sunset, the crystals refract into pixels: you can see the shape of the air! A frozen fist aims right at our cliffside camp. We turn our backs to it and get slammed by a micro blizzard. Suffused. Pummeled. Imbued. Hiking up from Carbon Glacier, our first day on the Wonderland, one false summit after another. We’d started at Mowich Lake and taken the old route, through two-thousand-year-old Cupressus nootkatensis. You’d never know they were so old. An illegal mountain biker passed us as we approached the glacier’s foot, but after lunch I realized he’d crossed the swinging bridge and was nowhere about. Hunter’s urge overwhelmed me until I found his fucking bike and helmet. He might want to thank me for pissing only on his derailleur and chain, though I was tempted. As we finally summited the pass, Bob Ross met Albert Bierstadt. Somewhere I have a chemical photo of it. I think I wept. Triumphant. Enraptured. Imbued.

Maxis Thanksgiving

I have occasionally become addicted to certain computer games. Tetris or Bubbleshooter, Mahjong or deck-of-cards solitaire, Spaceward Ho! or SimCity: these diversions provide an endless stream of little dopamine rewards. Complicated games with stories and opponents, strategies and development: yes, I’ve gotten hooked on those too, but the parts I enjoy most are resource development, technology advancement, and territorial expansion.  While it is emotionally satisfying to reduce my opponent’s space fleet to debris (less so, the opposite), it is getting my civilization to the point of producing the affordances needed for that act, rather than the act itself, that most pleases me. Metaphorically speaking, the shooting of the bubbles (finding and mining the gold), the perfect nestling of the falling shapes (organizing the right mix of military and/or trade units), and the removal of matched tiles or stacking of ordered cards (aligning the technological development tracks) is what has kept me playing.

My favorite game of all must be SimCity. I’ve played it two ways: carefully husband resources and grow slowly until my initial stake hits zero just as net revenue goes black, then manage growth until I have savings equal to that original stake and repeat; or simply build willy-nilly until mounting debt prompts the game to offer a subsidized prison or garbage dump (eroding my popularity among the Sims), to offset my budget problems. Both strategies eventually end up producing a thriving metropolis, although I never seem to be able to get rid of the slums.

Here’s the problem: “just one more”. Just one more minute of play, just one more round. Just one more achievement. Pretty soon a sequence of “just one mores” means I have to work late into the night to get in my hours. I watch myself procrastinate and don’t care. I have a history of game-binging every few years followed by a dry spell of cold turkey. I’m better than I used to be, partly because I avoid having any sort of gaming environment installed on my personal devices, and I’m sufficiently paranoid of “free” or “no-install” game sites with ads and malware that their potential negatives outweigh their addictive potential.

A few years ago, never mind exactly how many, having (and wanting) no job yet owning a new computer, I thought I would install the latest version of SimCity and begin another game-binge. Imagine my surprise when, during the actual purchasing process, but before clicking “buy”, I learned that to play the game at all, I would need to be online with Maxis’s (the company that made SimCity) servers through the duration of the experience. Now, network gaming is fine, and I’ve done some of that, but the other online entities were other gamers such as myself, not corporate overlords seeking to monetize my behavior. This intolerable affront led me to immediately terminate the purchasing process and curse Maxis. However, after a bit of calming down (the adrenaline rage of having one’s dopamine desires thwarted is enduring), I became, instead, thankful. I knew that my binge, though highly enjoyable, would have been detrimental to accomplishing my daily and long-term goals. In fact, it was one of those emotionally intense moments that can be re-used: I can’t experience any gaming desires now without recalling that moment, and that helps me resist an allure that I know would cost many wasted hours. My revulsion must have been widely shared, as Maxis’s move alienated a huge cohort, and I think they never recovered. I wonder how many other gaming addicts are saying, along with me, “Thank you, Maxis!”

Theme Schemes

Since starting belikeme, I’ve been posting on Sunday mornings, aiming to create entries that stand alone, the blog becoming the topic only when I can make it more about me than it. I have mentioned being somewhat dissatisfied with my blogging approach, and that I am considering options for additional content. Until now, I’ve only been thinking about that, not doing anything, believing it important to first adopt a routine that I could follow reliably, and also having other work to occupy my time.

Now that I am confident that I can keep up a weekly pace, I hope to take some occasional steps beyond my regular postings. I don’t have a coherent concept for additional routines, but may first post an occasional Wednesday entry specifically about belikeme itself. I want to introspectively analyze my content and process, and draw some conclusions about what I should or shouldn’t change for future posts. One reason I write these posts is to find out what I actually think about specific topics. To find out if that even works, I need to reflect on what I wrote about those topics and how I wrote about them, and then write a post about that to find out what I actually think about how well writing about a topic to find out what I think about it actually works (sorry!). For these possible Wednesday posts, I am not planning to constrain myself with the one-page blurb format as I have with the Sunday posts. I will let them shape themselves, although I will still cut, cut, cut. I may also choose topics other than belikeme itself.

For the blog-as-topic posts, I imagine I will first catalog my subject matter. I already have a feeling I spend too much time on certain aspects of my personality, and I also that the one-page format is too constraining for certain subjects. Possibly, although not probably, I will re-write some posts in a more permissive format, or maybe collect certain redundancies into new (constrained) posts about that subject and have done with them. I’m confident that this process of introspective analysis will cough up additional Sunday post ideas (I currently have about a couple dozen in my Drafts folder), and that writing less constrained posts will give me ideas about structuring both the longer and the shorter ones.

I wasn’t initially trying to develop a particular style, simply letting my constraints, which force me to cut viciously, implicitly dictate some structure. Looking back at my first two dozen posts I notice some elements that I like, and others that I dislike. I like that I can cut from a two-page ramble to one page of coherence by removing irrelevant or repetitive material, but I don’t like the abrupt transitions and endings that cutting sometimes produces. With practice I may be able to smooth some of that roughness out. I like when I’ve accidentally tied the beginning and end of a post together after an apparent tangent in the middle, but though I don’t like feeling I need to do it every time, I do plan to do it more deliberately.

This isn’t poetry, so there’s no rhyme or rhythm scheme, but the two styles I see evolving might be referred to as “theme schemes”. The first might be denoted A -> B. I simply start discussing a topic and say a few things about it, a simple linear exposition that might find itself a component of a larger argument in the future, like a lemma in a proof. The second might be denoted “A ≠ B -> A = B (!)”. I introduce a topic, then a seemingly different topic, and then unify them with a surprising twist. This post is A -> B. You might think a one-page format wouldn’t support a large variety of theme schemes, but who knows? I expect that I will be experimenting with the concept.