ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Living life...

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It's been an anxiety-making day today. Lots of deadlines loom: Article submission for a newsletter, midterm (admittedly, open book) in a class, and I'm once again behind on both readings and housework. Argh. I feel myself ramping up to hyper-efficient mode (hence blog-writing when I can't do anything but access wordpad at work). That works - up until additional demands are asked of me. You know, like human contact.

In some ways, it's ironic that my Gmail tagline has been "Make your lifestyle fit your life". But we are fascinated by those things that are alien and unfamiliar. "Do it once or do it everyday," Warhol said (h/t BoingBoing), and he had a valid observation. Maybe not a great recommendation for living, but a valid observation.

There's also a point where one's lifestyle isn't just made up of yourself. And that can be problematic. When you've taken all you can at work - and are given more. When you're studying all you can manage - and get an unexpected text or assignment added on. And let's not even *talk* about living with other people! If I could magically get children to do what I wanted...

... well, I'd fake an English accent and get my own damn TV show.

I think that's really the biggest downside of our Age. There has always been more than any one person could possibly "do" or "learn". Now it's painfully obvious that's so. Before, you could at least pretend you were doing as much as possible, but now... we don't have a lot of social coping skills that aren't all-or-nothing, isolation or complete information overload.

Pointers to exceptions to the above are more than welcome.

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...but it will cost jobs!

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Perhaps someday people will realize that capitalism is an amoral force. It's very powerful, and can be used for good - but capitalism, like guns or science, is not inherently good or evil. It just is. Yet "jobs" keeps being held up as some kind of justification for immoral businesses. Can you imagine this headline: Drug ring busted, but some say it would cost jobs.

In our modern world, everything is for sale. That means that stopping any activity - any at all - could possibly "cost someone thier job". Think about what that means it for a moment. Think about the simply offensive headlines that could result! Murderers-for-hire arrested, but some say it would cost jobs.

There are other values than simply making money. Many of them are more important than just making money. When we realize that capitalism is a tool, not a golden calf to worship, we can realize that there are some things that just aren't worth selling out for. Freedom. Safe streets. Not letting your neighbors ripped off.

Once we remember that, "payday loans restricted, but some say it would cost jobs" will seem like a stupid offensive headline too.

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A little philosophical musing

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I've written a brief (100 word) story today. Nothing new here (you *DID* vote for your favorite story at the Weekly Challenge, right?). But unlike the last few, which my wife has "liked", this one I'm pretty sure she wouldn't.

Which has nothing to do with it being effective.

I'm rather fond of this dark little tale. It's the kind friends often describe as "fun for your therapist". I managed to collapse (or at least imply) a complete horror story arc in 100 words. And it's effective, IMHO. I get that sick twisted gnawing feeling that good horror gives me - not the nausea of splatterpunk or gorefests, not the adventure thrill of shoot-'em thrillers, but horror. (YMMV.)

When writing in 100 words (or any flash fiction), the best comes close to poetry. Its spare economy implies much, and can say even more, but in few words.

It also means that's it's highly culture-dependent. The author has to rely on your knowledge of relationships, objects, and norms. It can feel almost like cheating. Liz Vaughn has pointed out before - and she's very right to do so - that fanfic *is* cheating. Fun, but cheating. Why? I'll steal her example:

Kirk drew his weapon. "Ready, Spock? Scotty, beam us down."

There's a lot implied there - character, setting, relationships - that the fanfic author doesn't have to actually work at. Someone else has already done the heavy lifting.

Still, while flash fiction (and especially drabble) has to lean on cultural norms and sensibilities, that doesn't mean that it *requires* that kind of cheating. It's that quality, that invoking of a scene without descending into stereotype, that makes good flash fiction. Sometimes I do it well, and those are the stories that are effective - regardless of whether or not you "like" them.

Remember to vote for your favorite!

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The Singularity According To Marx

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Sociological Theory: Classic Statements is a fascinating book. Yeah, I understand that it may not seem that way from the title. Don't let that stand in the way of some interesting stuff. A new edition should be coming out in the fall, so you may be able to pick older editions up fairly easily.

The most interesting thing about it is seeing the real thoughts of these thinkers, instead of their misappropriation. For example, Karl Marx.

When we think about communism, we (USAians, that is) have been greatly conditioned to think of the grey oppression and starkness of the USSR and Eastern Europe. But this kind of stark severity and austerity wasn't the point of communism. Marx envisioned a world where all people were fully aware - and had the freedom to (in modern terms) self-actualize. To be the best and most true to themselves that they could be.

Mind you, to Marx that self-actualization was seen as synonymous with labor and production. One became fulfilled through one's work. Therefore, selling one's labor (and production) for another's benefit was tantamount to prostitution. Clearly, the "communist" states of the twentieth century were nowhere near Marx's ideal, even as they appropriated his words.

A relatively new utopian (or dystopian, depending on your temperment) vision is that of the Singularity. When we look at some of the speculative fiction that imagines post-Singularity environments (particularly Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow), there's a post-capitalist sensibility explicit in their imaginings. Take Manifred Manx's pronoaic memebrokering in Accelerando or the whuffie economy of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Both of these imagined post-Singularity environments more completely fulfill Marx's ideal of having the freedom to be human (or post-human) than any system that explicitly calls itself communist.

And honestly, that kind of post-capitalist communism doesn't sound all that horrible after all.
(Image of Marx from 23 de Abril, Día Nacional de Castilla's Flickr stream)

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Where's the privacy statement?

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This program sounds like any number of "preferred shopper" programs - like those at Kroger or other grocery stores. What is conspicuously absent, however, is the privacy information. Or any up-front information. Or any information (at least that I could find) online, except for a lot of news organizations parroting a press release. I've e-mailed Greg Lashutka (the program director) and hope to find out more. This could be a great program - or a shady privacy-violating deal. Stay tuned!

Ohio Drug Card
As a resident of Ohio, you and your family have access to a FREE Prescription Drug Card program. Simply download your Prescription Drug Card and receive savings of up to 75% at more than 50,000 national and regional pharmacies. You may create as many cards as you need. Participating pharmacies include the following: Kmart Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Marc Pharmacy, CVS/pharmacy, Walgreens, Meijer, Discount Drug Mart as well as thousands of independent pharmacies. Please enter your name and e-mail address below and we will generate a printable membership card for you. These cards are pre-activated and can be used immediately. You can generate as many cards as you need! Note: Each family member must have their own card.

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Apes socialize gender roles. So do monkeys.

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Today I was catching up on Quirks and Quarks, and heard a psychiatrist talk about the study he had done on rhesus monkeys. The jist of the study is this:

He gave a group of monkeys various toys, one at a time, and observed who "volunteered" to play and interact with each toy. The toys were loosely grouped into "masculine" (e.g. wheeled) toys and "feminine" (e.g. plush) toys. He found that while females did not display a strong preference, males showed a strong preference for wheeled toys. He repeatedly stated that this was "very similar to what we see in humans", though he offered the usual caveats. (It doesn't take much searching to find quasi-official personages making that link for them.) He suggested that this indicated that preference may have a biological basis. He also stated that socialization could not have been involved, since rhesus monkeys "don't pay attention to advertising" and did not get reinforcement (implied: from humans).

Can you spot the experimental assumptions?

1) He presumes that rhesus monkeys are not able to be socialized.
2) He presumes that socialization must be overt and in a way that he recognizes.

Both of these assumptions are empirically false. Rhesus monkeys learn from observation (including observing each other) - which is inherently socialization. Further, rhesus monkeys (my wannabe anthropologist wife tells me) also have gender roles - just like humans. (Note: Socialization of gender roles in rhesus monkeys has already been documented - way back in 1979.) Socialization can create preferences where none existed before - even without the original reward/punishment mechanism in place. Socialization is not just advertisements or overt things either - it's mimicry, implicit, and gradually learned.

Or in other words, all that is definitively shown in his experiment is that rhesus monkeys are also socialized into gender roles with specific preferences similar to the ways that humans are. Gee, imagine that. We think rhesus monkeys are close enough to humans (y'know, hairless apes) to generalize "biological" experiments... but can't comprehend that we're close enough that they have social mechanisms too.

Speciesism being used to justify sexism. Great.

I think the most interesting thing, though, is that not mentioned: the female rhesus monkeys did not show a preference- THEY PLAYED WITH ALL THE TOYS. If one desires to use experiments like this to justify sexism, then one has to realize: guys suck, women rule. Instead of limiting women's activies, this gives an argument to limit the roles of men in society as the "inferior" gender.

Oh - we're all in favor of equality again? That's what I thought.

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Weekly Challenge #106 - Cereal

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You will, of course, swing by 100 Word Stories for this week's weekly challenge? I'm in it again (as Steven the Nuclear Man). Please vote for all the stories you think are the "best". (Of course I think that means mine, but you can vote for others. Really.) You can read my story below - and read the others at 100 Word Stories. This week's theme is Cereal.

For a while after the attempt, everything was spectacular. It was as if a sensory grime was vomited with the sleeping pills and charcoal, and left behind in the ER's biohazard bag. He drank in the sky's shifting shades of blue, the smell of grass and gasoline on suburban weekends. He even savored the oaty richness of generic cereal scraping down his throat.

He was discharged, but doctors warned that relapse was often subtle.

"People feel fine but don't notice the symptoms returning."

He wouldn't forget. He promised he would be back to see them -- when cereal was boring again.

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My Heart Could Power A Rave

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Of course, that would be so 1997 of me, wouldn't it? Still, it was cool to hear blood flowing through my heart - and with my heartrate somewhere between 60 and 80 bpm during the times that they were doing the rest part of the echo, it was definitely in the low end of the trance range. And very swooshy cool.

Oh, I'm not dead - and nothing hugely wrong with me. A bit of tachycardia during the recovery phase. Otherwise normal. Therefore: Have a donut. I took the rest of the day off today. Just because.

I spent a lot of time last night and today thinking about GLaDOS - not that I finally got Portal (I don't think any of our systems will run it), just that I finally bothered to google her. And even though I've never played the damn game, I think I'm completely swooning. Which, y'know, getting all entranced by the idea of a (near?) sociopathic female-gendered omnipotent AI... well, that says a lot about me, doesn't it?

Mowed the lawn while listening to This American Life. Mp3 players are great.

And then we fixed up an old bike so Chris could have one with gears, put a new seat on mine (so I wouldn't hurt) and rode the library and grocery store. Now I have hard cider, and two chapters to read (Marx and Weber), a paper to write on Black Feminist Thought, and another chapter or two in Texts, Facts, and Femininity over the weekend. And call tomorrow night.

All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.

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Birthday Cards

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I like giving birthday cards. Even to people I don't care for. And anniversary cards. And other random cards to people just because I can (though these last mystify quite a few folks).

The reason why is pretty simple: I'm a geek. A nerd. A social outcast.

Not so much as I used to be, but it used to be really, really bad. The stuff of emo and goth songs, it was. Luckily, I was only taught to play recorder (badly), and that doesn't lend itself to introspective dark brooding musings.

But I like to give birthday cards.

Partially, it's a kind of karma thing. I hope that by giving birthday cards I'll get one or two on my birthday (which we are nowhere near, by the way).

But more importantly, I remember Donny. And Lee. Donny bullied me the first two years of high school. I stood up to him once, and we ended up with a truce. My dad gave both of us a ride to a party, and Donny talked about his life at home. He didn't identify it as such, and I didn't get it then, but it was emotionally abusive. Lee was easily the most popular kid in my school at that time. Athletic, good looking, well-to-do family. Classic all-american upper class white blond boy. Who confessed once - just once - how shallow and empty it all felt, how he didn't know whose friendship was real and who was just wanting to hang with the cool kids. I remember the popular girls who all saw me as "a great friend". While frustrating (because I rarely saw THEM as "just a friend"), it let them confess to me how they used most men, how they didn't feel loved, special, or cared about.

How they all felt like frauds.

Strangely enough, life does sometimes resemble an afterschool special.

So I try to remember birthdays.

I was horrible about it for years, and don't have many people's. Facebook and MySpace are blessings that way. I have them in my (private) GCal, and check each month to see whose is coming up.

Because apparently we're all frauds. None of us really feels popular all - or even most - of the time.

We need that little reminder that we're noticed, that someone else does care a little bit, no matter how much we've buried ourselves under cynicism, bitterness, and pain.

(Yeah, I'm lookin' at *you*, buddy. We all figured it out long ago. I know a therapist referral service...)

So even if it's "writing on someone's wall", or a little e-mail, or a real honest-to-goodness snailmail card... let someone know you give a damn.

At least on their birthday.

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Newsflash: Being Sarcastic Can Backfire

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This is a more informal version of a real letter I wrote today.


To the interpreter from 23 April:

I'm sorry I don't know your name. I would like to apologize more personally. I'm so sorry that you were hurt by our words and actions. We didn't mean it. Really.

You see, one of my co-workers was being an idiot. He thought you were Hispanic, just because you have black straight hair and tan skin. He was going to flirt with you by learning some Spanish words to flirt with you. Then I told everyone that you were an Arabic interpreter, not a Spanish interpreter. We laughed at the stupid ethnocentrism of my co-worker, at how he made assumptions about you just based on how you looked.

In hindsight, I can imagine how it sounded, just hearing some of the words and hearing us laugh. I can understand why you thought we were making fun of you and Arabic people. And I cannot tell you how sorry I am, even though we were not making fun of you.

When you left, I thanked you for coming. I said: "Thank you. It was really uncomfortable not being able to communicate with [the customer] earlier." I was - and am - grateful at the service you and other interpreters provide for our customers. Without you, we would not be able to take good care of them.


Please - whether you see this online or get the more formal version I wrote - understand that what you thought you heard wasn't what was really going on. And I am so sorry that you were hurt - no matter what anyone's intent was.

And everyone else: Make sure that everyone who can hear you knows that you're being sarcastic.

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Getting It Done... Without Statistics

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"But we managed to get it done, right?"

I did manage to take care of the customer - through a combination of luck, skill, hand gestures, and their extremely rudimentary English skills. They'd been sent to us with a basic explanation given by another employee, in a different area, who just happened to speak their language.

We sent for a professional interpreter.

Still, our insistence on an interpreter kept being seen as vaguely unreasonable. "Okay, maybe they needed an interpreter for a consent," the justification goes, "but if it was just our bit... we could have gotten just our part done."

Which reminds me of Dan. Dan is a very nice guy who I know on a little bit better than acquaintance basis. The last I heard, he quit a higher-paying job so he could go and follow his passion. Which is good and wise. And he doesn't wear seatbelts. Which isn't either good or wise.

"A seatbelt has never helped me," he reasons. "I've never gotten in a wreck before, and I drive well, so why should I wear a seatbelt?"

In both cases - regardless of outcome - they're risky behavior. The former is even worse, because the customer will have a hard time expressing their desires and concerns. Dan, at least, is able to tell someone how he feels.

I expect that kind of "it won't happen to me" philosophy from teenagers. (I still think it's a bad idea, but I expect it.) I can accept someone knowing the risk - say, of surgery - and still taking it.

But justifying risk by saying "the bad stuff didn't happen, so it's okay" is horrible logic. That kind of fallacy is the prelude to eventual - and preventable - tragedy.

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Housing, Transportation, and the future

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As I argued back in 2005, the housing market is going kerpuffle.  No surprise there.  But what's *next*?  I have had a couple of quick predictions that are starting to see fruit - one of which is that suburbs and exurbs are doomed. 

We're seeing the beginnings of this now, as noted by the folks at Freakonomics.  Suburb house prices are dropping about 7% faster than urban houses - and largely due to transportation costs.  Add in the senior effect (where senior citizens tend to move out of single-family houses) from aging boomers over the next decade or so, and I think the concept of the "bedroom community" is going to just up and die.  Either we'll re-concentrate in cities, or bedroom communities will become self-sustaining... or both.

The key determinant (aside from political things like zoning laws in bedroom communities) is transportation costs.  We forget how much of our current economy is based on cheap transportation.  For a variety of reasons, fuel prices are very high... but even if they're higher than expected due to negative interest rates, we still know oil is a finite resource.  There are indications that both Russia and Saudi Arabia have hit their peak, and new fields would only stave off the inevitable.

So the question becomes - how do we smartly transform the current business structure into something that is sustainable in a high-transport-cost world? 

In one sense, this is exactly the sort of thing that the free market is good at.  Smart businessfolks will jump on this *now* and make billions.  Those who are dinosaurs will fail. 

Unfortunately, it's also the sort of thing (like the Bears-Stearns bailout) where natural market failures would end up pulling down everyone else.  And if the free market can't touch it...

That means it's a government job to do.  And sooner rather than later.

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Random Thoughts

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"Oooh, Obama was on the Daily Show last night! I bet that means it's on BitTorrent now!"

"If you're going to bill yourself as a one-stop-shopping place, then you should stock basic items, not just fancy versions of basic items. I mean, why would you have every possible color of electrician's tape except for black?"

"Why would you stock bicycle helmets in the name of safety, but not carry replacement brake pads?"

"ZOMG! An amber alert that doesn't feature white kids! There's hope left for the country!"

"For lo, though I live in the valley of 128mb of RAM, I shall fear no tabbed browser."

Oh, and my wife hurt herself earlier today. She's fine, just a twisted ankle (the one with hardware in it though - OWCH) but that meant I left work early. I finally had a chance to confab with several of my profs therefore, and so my college situation is a little less precarious than it was before. But now my ankles hurt, my meds are kicking in, and the eyelids are drooping. Night, all.

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In Defense of Consciousness

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A strict biological point of view skids quickly into pure determinism, and there isn't much of a way around it. It is even possible to dismiss consciousness as a "pointy-haired boss" that adds nothing to the organism's fitness.

Whether or not one accepts that, there's an uncomfortably similar determinism lurking in sociology. It is a sense that social forces shape us and our personality greatly and fundamentally.

This, unfortunately, is frequently seen as being the same as excusing ourselves from any responsibility for our own actions. These things are not equivalent, and intent matters.

Let's take systems of institutional sexism and racism. It is perfectly true that white males (or anyone) may perpetuate these systems *unintentionally* through participating in perpetuating systems of privilege. Think about the times you - or those around you - have dismissed a woman's anger by claiming "It must be that time of the month." Or perhaps you've heard a black person's protest dismissed by "I don't see how they're still upset by something I didn't do."

To someone already aware, these seem horribly prejudiced - but neither of these examples need be uttered by someone *consciously* thinking that they're perpetuating a system of privilege. And that's the part all people need to remember. It's a lack of consciousness that makes it able to perpetuate.

Our society - while perhaps originally powered by ancient societal or biological needs - is well and truly abstracted away from them. We have no need of "tribes", for example. We are able - through *conscious* thought - to recognize these trends, habits, and desires. Once recognized, it is our conscious thought - whether pointy-haired boss or not - that allows us to overcome both biological and social limitations. Once we realize that, it doesn't matter what's "natural" or "unnatural" - it's what our ethics and morals dictate that becomes paramount.

Yes, tests designed to look for subtle race and gender preferences will still find them. These tribal instincts may be the sociological equivalent of the appendix. They will remain, but by being aware of them, we can consciously circumvent them.

And operate on them when they get out of control.

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The Most Inspiring Thing...

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I didn't mention it at the time, but the most inspiring thing I've ever heard was from a presenter at the NCSA conference last month. This person has more degrees - and published stuff - than most of the people that were in the room.

"When we get up here, we all feel like frauds. And someone else is going to notice, and yell 'They're a fraud!' But we get up here anyway."


And then I remember that it's only incompetent people who don't realize their incompetence - and therefore, I am neither incompetent nor crazy.

You should remember that, writers, before you visit this site.


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Self-Help and the History of Science

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I'm feeling a little woozy today. I slept longer than normal, but in short chunks. My body is definitely not used to almost eight hours of sleep, and kept waking me every three and a half hours.

That says more about my recent sleeping habits than I would like.

Self-help time: My wife and I had a bit of a tiff yesterday, and it was pretty much my fault. (Surprising, this is not.)

She wanted to bounce an early stage of an idea off of me. I listened - and liked the idea. But instead of just saying "Good idea, hon", I looked for the problem spaces. In my head, I was looking for the weak points now, so that the idea would have a better chance to become reality. Which, of course, made my wife feel as if I was condemning and attacking her idea - exactly the opposite feeling than intended.

I've tried the "good idea, hon" thing before, and it *feels* like a blowoff. It's sounded that way to others, too - probably because I felt like it was.

I'd really like for her to continue to share ideas with me - but need advice on ways to keep my yap shut (while still being supportive). Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?

And now, for something completely different.

We started watching Cosmos again (yes, with Carl Sagan), and I was reminded how awesome of a program it was. It's remarkably progressive for its time as well - a tad Eurocentric in its view of history, but given its place in time, very understandable. It's also surprisingly balanced in gender appearances for the time period. So we're going to watch it as a science overview, then move back to Planet Earth, then sideways to Connections with Robert Burke (I believe). The last is a series well worth finding, especially as a complement to the "standing on the shoulders of giants" view of scientific history that Sagan takes.

Not that Sagan's view is *wrong* - just not entirely accurate. Connections highlights the odd, coincidental, and often absurd ways in which scientific progress proceeds. How the invention of (if I remember correctly) indigo dye led to the arc light, for example.

Connections also points out the intellectual efficiencies from being connected to one another; how sheer proximity to other ideas can lead to unexpected outcomes. This is one of the problems facing us in a (probably) spiky world. Retention of newly-trained graduates is a real issue in many areas. As more talent and trained people congregate in specific metro regions, comparatively rural areas need to find ways to keep up.

I believe that one facet to this issue is to invest in already existing human capital. Older persons - who already have a stake of some kind in the region - are more likely to stay put. Having a local, trained workforce is a good incentive to attract businesses... and you go from there.

The future's so bright you gotta wear shades.

Peril-sensitive ones, of course.

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One Hundred Word Story - Taboo

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Your weekly 100 Word story from me is below. Please go vote for it (Steven the Nuclear Man) - or whatever stories you think are worthwhile - at the 100 Word Stories podcast.

Taboo

Samantha always knew the exact location of the door. She knew the ways to exit any room. She knew when to run, when to hide, when to agree, when to be silent. These lessons were her mother's gifts.

His rampages were a time for silence.

She did not flinch as bits of smashed vase skittered across the kitchen floor. The vase was her mother's. A shard came to rest against her toe.

She looked up at him, angry in the kitchen doorway.

Samantha always knew the exact location of the door.

She also knew the exact location of the icepick.

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Wearing Work Clothes: Updated

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What follows is the text of my presentation at the 2008 Quest for Community Conference. It contains some new information that was not included in the presentation at the 2008 North Central Sociological Association meeting.

Learning While Wearing Work Clothes: Scheduling
I would love to be employed as an academic, just like my wife. It's not the prestige, or the high wages. It is the lunches.


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Post Conference Non-Jitters

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Everything has gone rather well, I think.

My presentation at the Quest for Community conference ended up generating a lot of "heat". I had timed myself to 30 minutes of speechifying, leaving 15 for discussion. Then I found out my time block was an hour instead of 45 minutes.

And we almost went over. The challenges that face older students seems to be one of those things that people feel passionately about - once you get them started talking.

I managed to make it to Sinclairs Writer's Conference, which was great. I got to see Tim Waggoner and Elizabeth Vaughn again. Aubrey's currently sucked into a copy of Warprize I had Beth sign. :) I finally got to meet Scott Geisel, who had given Aubrey the assignment that turned into Not Much Ado About The Holy Grail. Which given that I'm not able to make it to Spamalot, is probably appropriate.

Oh, and I haven't had a heart attack and my resting EKG is normal, but I'm getting a stress echocardiogram scheduled for me. Fun.

And I recorded my entry for this week's 100 word story. I don't know that it's totally topical (the topic is "taboo"), but I like it. So I'm sending it. Neener.

Still, a good day overall.

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Jitters

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Okay, so it's a busy day for me. Run up to the university, turn in a paper, then the conference in an hour or so, then after my presentation I hope to run down to Sinclair for a writer's conference. And then to the doctor's, just so I can triple-check that the little twinging in my left upper chest is muscular like I think it is. Finally, I'll record my 100 word story for next week's contest.

Like I said, busy day.

In the meantime, why haven't you voted for Steven the Nuclear Man yet?

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Pre-Conference Postmodernism

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It has been a long day.

I stayed up until 0330 (yes, that is oh-dark-thirty) getting my presentation together for the Quest for Community conference for Friday. That's not insanity, that's planning ahead - I figured I'd rather be tired the day before the conference instead of the day of the conference.

Tonight is rehearsing it. I've rewritten it and added a bit. About a third is either revised or new material, and reflecting more of a post-modern theme. At least, I think it's postmodern.

I'm still not clear on postmodernism - or if I naturally "fit" in that category myself. My thinking - especially my relativism and my reliance on disposable models - sounds like some approachable postmodernism... except that I think there is some kind of external empirical reality.

We might never actually experience it, mind you. Drawing heavily on Descarte and Plato, I realize that "we create our own reality", that our subjective experience is
socially and biologically mediated. (Our perception of time, for example, is flaky at best, and as Tom Robbins wrote, "it's safer to mess with a man's wife than his clichés".) Still, that doesn't mean that an external empirical reality isn't out there somewhere. The story of the blind men and the elephant is only ludicrous when each doesn't have the postmodern sensibility that no one person holds the entirety of truth.

That sensibility is sorely lacking from all the (sociological, economic, and political) theorists I've been exposed to so far. This could be a black swan effect, but the trend is troubling. Each theorist is perfectly capable of determining the flaws of preceding theorists - but presumes that they are not making further flaws.

A post-modern model-based framework leaves room for error, while avoiding that absolute relativism that leaves a bad taste in so many people's mouths. It, in fact, a model-based approach assumes error while still leaving room for a "reality" that is absolute and approachable.

Prior synthesists - such as Spencer - while doing a great job of creating a (mostly) coherent amalgam of different strands of thought, fell into the narcissistic assumption that they were always right, that they were the pinnacle of achievement.
A postmodern modelist (is that a term? Am I describing a mode of thought that already exists, or clearing new ground here?) would presume they were in error - but would still make a good attempt anyway.

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The need for slack

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Maybe this is it:

I work myself hard. I pace myself, yes, because I understand that nothing can run at 100% indefinitely. Maximal sustained output is not the same thing as maximal output. But I've got a pretty good sense of the maximal sustained output I can produce, and try to stay there.

So I schedule my life - and my work - in that fashion. At work, I take on responsibilities that I can handle - given my already existant load. I ensure that I leave enough space to avoid overtaxing myself or my systems, and that I'll avoid burnout.

For example, there's a distinct contrast between yesterday and today for me. Yesterday, I did fewer cases but was constantly stressed. Additional tasks kept piling up... well, no. They were handed to me with the presumption that I wasn't working hard enough. In the end, I ended up doing as many cases as two other workers... but I had one special case that took four times as long as the rest of them. Today, I'm *outperforming* two other workers in numbers of cases - along with another long-lasting case - but with no real stress at all. What's different?

Simply put: I am being *left alone*. The tasks are defined (take care of these cases within this time frame) and I can just get to it. I am able to schedule things appropriately for my abilities - and did so.

In a very limited sense, there's a solution to my frustration of yesterday. "Plan time for the unexpected", right? This works... but to an extent. First, there's the differing nature of types of work. Writing this blog post is something that can be done concurrently with a lot of other tasks. I can walk away from this to respond to someone's needs (I just did that, did you notice?). But that doesn't work if you've got to try to work with two cases at once. And the unexpected work is unpredictable in nature.

Aside from the unpredictability, that also implies the creation of actual "down time". I don't mean the time where you're "recharging", but time that isn't needed to relax and maintain a good pace. Time where you're simply not doing anything. To say it technocratically, sustained output won't be maximized, and it'll be obvious.

Which - you guessed it - leads to more unexpected tasks being piled onto oneself. Since you have so much free time, and all.

Ultimately, this is a management issue. One either trusts your workers to perform - or not. If they consistently don't fulfill thier obligations, a tough conversation needs to ensue. Maybe they need to scale back on thier activities and responsibilities. Perhaps a lateral transfer is needed. Maybe they need disciplinary action.

I've seen all of the above happen - because trust can be manipulated and abused. Trusting others allows hurt to occur, and inevitably, it *will* occur.

Workers then have to ensure that we recognize that past abuse, and point out the ways in which we aren't like the abusers. For example, yesterday I kept pace with the others. When I make principled disagreements (at least, in *my* view they're principled disagreements) I try to point out that I'll still do the task if required to. That is, I point out that I'm not just complaining about *doing* work, that I'm instead complaining about the way the work is being done.

Maybe this isn't solvable. There's a lot of our societal patterns that ensure that therapists will be a high-demand profession. It's just frustrating. There are enough obstacles and difficulties in this world that we simply don't have to *make* any more.

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Classical Sociological Theorists and Pessimism

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I fool myself, sometimes, that people are rational. That they stop and think about the implications of thier decisions. I fool myself into thinking that others consider the conflicting priorities that they give themselves - or worse, impose on others.

Perhaps these conflicts are borne of socialization, of unspoken and unrealized desires and buried traumas. Perhaps the unresolved conflicts truly do speak to patterns of conflict buried in the angram of the individual and society itself.

Rationality in oneself is not a benefit in these circumstances.

Rationality presumes that not only are *you* trying to resolve these conflicts, but that *others* are as well. If they are not, it becomes horribly easy to frustrate and manipulate the forthright and rational.

I hate feeling like this. I hate having to guard against irrational actors, against those who are being dissembling in thier stated motivations.

At my most pessimistic, this appears to be most of the world.

I do not want to be right.

In a similar vein, I find myself identifying with the classical theorists of sociology. Not just because I'm a white male, but because they were living in the Enlightenment (or thereabouts). So far in the text I'm reading, they find themselves repeatedly disheartened and disappointed when humanity fails to live up to thier expectations.

And it's not that thier expectations were wrong, per se. Their models of humanity and society have a lot of good stuff - but there's also expectations and assumptions that don't ... naturally... follow.

Keynes - though he was an economist, not a sociologist - provides a good example. Keynes imagined that once people satisfied thier basic needs, they'd realize that creature comforts were luxuries. That rather than operate as if they still persisted in a scarce society, they'd realize thier wealth and aid others. That capitalism would be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. (This is apparently a dirty little secret of economists on the order of the historical cover up of Helen Keller's fierce socialist activism).

This isn't what happened.

Instead, humans redefined luxuries as needs without batting an eye, creating a new sense of scarcity. It's this redefinition that allows USAians to talk about helping the "American poor" without considering the structural problems they perpetuate that create tiers of poor persons far, far poorer than nearly anyone in the United States.

I hope that our interconnectedness helps. That our awareness of other places, of other peoples helps destroy the sense of "tribe" and allows some redefinition of what constitutes a need and what a luxury.

But first, I need to have a café mocha, okay?

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Survey says....

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Oh. You mean I wasn't supposed to link here?

ARRT Home Page
If your organization is interested in linking its web site to ARRT’s, we invite you to print the following agreement, fill in the required information, and mail the hard copy to ARRT. We will acknowledge your request with permission or an explanation.


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Donating Life - in Ohio

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Random rants first, though.

If you expect people to comply with a deadline... then give them a deadline. But pulling this number:

The Recommendation Instructions Form states that "...the requested deadline date is March 1, 2008. However, letters of recommendation will be accepted by the Office of Financial Aid after March 1." While there was no exact deadline date imposed -- they had one month -- we cannot hold it open endlessly as the committees require that we forward all documents the first week of April so they can begin their review during April and May, and hopefully, are able to make their decisions by June 1 (as indicated on the application form).
is a load of crap. That's a deadline - but one that's not made clear or explicit. That's setting people up for failure, and lame to boot. And now, for your feature topic for today....


Donate Life Ohio
Organ and tissue transplants offer people a new chance at healthy, productive lives with their families and friends. You have the power to change someone's world simply by registering to be a donor.

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Thank God for Pseudoephedrine

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(All the links are safe for work. I'm not that out of it...)

I mean, claritin and zyrtec are nice, but on days like today, when every plant's got that sexual feeling, when my head feels thicker than... well, thick...

Yeah. Gimmie some serious decongestant. Let my sinuses breathe and flow.



I mean, there's nothing quite like sniffing plant sperm to make the day go right.


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Comte was Right

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Auguste Comte asserted that the smallest societal unit was the family, and that the individual was an abstraction. Except, of course, when he was talking about the individual, and how individual development was similar to societal development.

That's a very fractal thought - and I think that explains a lot of the growing pains that have been occurring at my workplace.

My workplace is, itself, a straddler. It grew up serving the primarily working-class and blue collar downtown area, and now finds itself wanting to woo the "cool kids" out in the suburbs. So we get the facelifts, the new training in customer relations, and so on.

Which is fine - but also alienates the old client base and the old base of workers as well. The article I linked above (which actually conceptualized the whole thing for my wife and got her research started) has a great example:

Here’s the dilemma: You come from a culture in which the boss is the common enemy and you’re expected to be loyal only to your fellow workers. People are not trying to work their way up to own the plumbing outfit in which they sweat. It’s noble enough to hang in there and knock out those rent payments.

Meanwhile, you go to college, then find yourself embarking on a white-collar career, where you are required to pledge allegiance to the firm, not to your coworkers. And success is measured not by the secure stasis and comfortable consistency your parents struggled for, but by constant movement upward, spurred by a class-taught, sleep-robbing dissatisfaction with your current spot on the corporate organizational chart. Stop climbing and you die. And to facilitate this grand journey, you might well have to schmooze a boss and kiss a fanny or two, anathema to your working-class forebears.

Try resolving all that.


And in a Comtean fractal way, it's not just individuals in my organization that are transitioning, but the entire corporate culture itself. It's a massive - and mostly unrecognized - shift that is having huge positive and negative effects with morale, customer satisfaction, and employee loyalty. It's also taking us right out of our niche market and trying to trespass on other corporations. While I'm all for competition, straight up turf wars aren't fun.

But I hope your weekend is.

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Conflicted

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There are some things that just make you feel emotions not in series, but in a jumbled morass of ... something. This e-mail I got this morning is one of them:

Attention

Greetings to you!

I am Lieutenant Colonel William Adams...a US MARINE in Iraq.As you may Know,there are several cases of insurgents attacks and suicide bombing going on here.However We managed to move funds belonging to some deceased persons who were attacked and killed through insurgent attacks.The total amount is US$25 Million dollars in cash.

We want to move this money to you so that you may keep our share for us until when we shall come over to meet You. We will take 70%, my partner and I while you take 30%.No strings attached.Just help us move it out of Iraq as Iraq we all know is a war zone.Note that We plan to use the British Diplomatic courier in shipping the money out in two large metallic Boxes,using diplomatic immunity.If you are interested I will send you the full details.

My job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us. Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication and also your contact details. This business is risk free. Get back to me immediately for more directives.

Respectfully,

Lieutenant Colonel William Adams



I mean, where do you start? There's the normal loathing that comes with any spammer. Then there's the amusement at the quasi-military wrongness that's supposed to add veracity ("Attention", "directives", etc), and finally, the grudging admiration of a con artist being smart enough to know their audience's weaknesses - and going straight for the juglar.

Still, the loathing prevails. Hopefully I don't actually have to alert you to this.

Hopefully.

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Weekly Challenge #104 - Zombies

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This week's challenge in 100 Word Stories was Zombie. Written by me, read by my wife. Check it out - and be sure to vote for Steven the Nuclear Man there. (The MP3 should be an enclosure, if not, check it out at 100 Word Stories, or you can hear just my story here.

Zombies

Hush. Do not say another word.

You stand out. You are not dressed like them - no suit, no power tie, no flag pin. They swarm downtown during the day. Nighttime is safer; they shelter in their homes.

I can pass among them. I can rattle off last week's scores and the contestants on the reality TV shows. You have to talk in soundbites, not analysis. Are you stupid? They will eat your brain if they notice you.

Damn. My co-workers. Follow my lead.

Bobby! Yeah, shame about last night. We were just talking about who got voted off, right?

Right?


Freesound credits:
By plagasul and
By JFBSAUVE

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Steamer Trunk

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Hopefully, this will provide a link for my 100 word story that's up in this week's challenge: Steamer Trunk. Do go and vote for me, yes?

Steamer Trunk

"Are we supposed to be up here?"

The third attic stair squeaked before I answered my sister's whine.

"Mom is gone for the afternoon. I am bored and in charge until they get back. So yes."

The attic was full of Grandmother's old stuff. Here there was a stack of yellowing magazines, there were some musty papers and old books. Under it all was the prize: Her old steamer trunk, blackened with age and oil.

"Bobby, I heard Grandma was a witch."

Pandora Spyros, Grandma's name, was written just above the latch. I ignored my sister and opened Grandmother's box.

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Subject Matter Experts

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"The radioactivity will mostly be out of your system in a day."

I am a subject matter expert with that. I am a nuclear medicine technologist, and I must tell my patients the risks of their test. The risks are extremely low - comparable to a CAT scan. Many patients are still very anxious about having radioactivity injected in their bodies. I can understand that. It is part of my job to inform and reassure them.

We rely on subject matter experts - reporters, economists, political pundits, doctors, military recruiters, car dealers, and more - every day. The list grows larger as our world grows more complex. We trust them to tell us the truth. We grow angry - and even sue - when they mislead us. I do not understand why this is not so with the mortgage crisis.

Bankers, the subject matter experts, had a responsibility to tell the truth to prospective home buyers. It was their responsibility to not mislead members of their public. It would be silly to blame a patient whose doctor lied to them. Likewise, it is silly to blame the now-broke borrowers when lenders misled them into thinking they could afford it.





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Repurposing

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I'm repurposing this blog - largely because I'm getting tired of the MySpace layout for the one I've been using (ceterus parebus, in the linkbar). I don't want to join LJ or another "community" just for a blog host... and well, let's be honest. I hadn't been using this one for what I intended.

Some (many? when i remember?) of the posts will be mirrored over on the myspace blog, but I won't guarantee it. Update your links (and RSS feeds) accordingly.


CC Developing Nations

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Developing Nations license.



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