Sunday, January 19, 2014

Acting like an extrovert

All my life I've been the epitome of introversion.

When I was younger my hobbies were reading, writing, and nature photography. The only sports I enjoyed were solo pursuits; hiking, rock climbing, gymnastics, competitive roller skating. I prefered to spend time alone, and liked that.

Yet I was involved in choir and ensemble groups, I had a good time acting in several stage plays and in college I took public speaking every semester because of the confidence it gave me and I really liked the prof who taught the course.

As an adult I look back at my working life and realize that the majority of jobs I've held could best be described as either public service, customer service or retail management.

My current life exemplifies this dichotomy. I work in a convenience store 8 hours a day then go home to my rented room, where I tend to spend time with my beloved Cleo, the world's greatest Cocker Spaniel, and my computer. I have my meals in my room, often reading a book while I eat.

So how does a natural introvert adapt to a professional life as an extrovert?

I think it's best explained with a metaphor I invented when I had to council an employee who was being terminated. He and I were quite similar, yet I could adapt to life as a working extrovert and he couldn't. He couldn't understand how I managed it.

Since he and I had both been involved in theater, I told him that my working life was a role I played in a stage production called "My Working Life". At work I wore a uniform (costume) and acted according to a script (the expectations of the job/my employers). I wasn't me at work, I was a character in a play which earned me money that was used to enjoy my real life. In fact I took great pains not to mix my professional and private lives. I don't party with coworkers or make friends with them. I seldom if ever bring work home with me. I avoid discussing my job when I'm not at work. My two lives are wholly separate. It's a matter of compartmentalization.

So if you ever run into me at work, don't be insulted if I fail to be personal and treat you like every other customer I deal with daily. You're not meeting me but rather the character I play as a job. If you meet me away from my job, don't be surprised if I have little to say about my work and prefer to discuss philosophy, or science, or Cleo.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When bacon goes bad

In 1394, a pig was hanged at Mortaign for having sacrilegiously eaten a consecrated wafer; and in a case of infanticide, it is expressly stated in the plaintiff’s declaration that the pig killed the child and ate of its flesh, “although it was Friday,” and this violation of the jejunium sextae, prescribed by the Church, was urged by the prosecuting attorney and accepted by the court as a serious aggravation of the porker’s offence.
– E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I suppose I really ought to quit smoking. But I bought a carton of smokes last week and I've still got 6 packs left. Besides, smoking's my muse, it ignites my brain cells.

Smoking gives you cancer. You could get lung cancer, even brain cancer. Cancer's a horrible, shitty, deadly disease. 

If I quit now I'm leaving 6 packs of cigarettes unsmoked, unappreciated. They don't let you return those things to the store you know. 

It could be those 6 packs that push you over the edge and give you cancer. You'll die a terrible, miserable death. Your hair will fall out. Oh wait, OK, your beard will fall out. You'll have to lie in a hospital bed all day. You hate that. And there isn't really a cure, so you'll linger in pain and sadness until the day you die.

But if I quit now I'm out 20 bucks. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The fog

He stood and watched the fog approach
silently, with a natural stealth
it rolled toward him, and he stood and waited.

He reached out his hand,

touched the first wisps of vapor,
felt it on his fingertips,
cold, and wet, and empty.

Like his hopes, his life, his dreams.

There was no light, no sound,
there was the man, and the fog.

It caressed his cheek 
like his mother once had.
It damped his eyelids,
his cheek, his forehead.

It chilled him to the bone,
the touch of death, of nothingness.

It chilled him to his soul,
a dark place filled with memories and regrets.

The fog totally enveloped the man,
it was all he could feel and touch and smell.
And he welcomed it.

Within minutes the fog was gone
and with it, the man.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A plot device fails

Wikipedia defines a plot device as,
 "...anything which moves the plot forward or maintains it.A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience."
Plot devices are used in novels, television, and movie scripts. They may be a thing or event that reinforces the overall story line in the reader's or viewer's mind. Some are obvious (the statue in The Maltese Falcon) and some are subtle. Some plot devices are cleverly finessed while others are stereotypical and border on cliches. 
Plot devices are important. They maintain the story line and more importantly, they keep the reader involved in the story, they must encourage the suspension of belief that is required to enjoy a fictional tale. 
The importance of plot devices came to me while watching last season's final episode of Castle

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a brief synopsis. A crime novel writer receives permission from his friend, the New York mayor, to shadow a homicide detective in order to gain insight into procedures he can use in his books. Not surprisingly, the detective he follows around is female, young, pretty and troubled. They quickly become friends and eventually lovers. The plot is standard, it's been done too many times before. I waited until season four before watching an episode, and then only because I'm a rabid fan of Nathan Fillion (Firefly and Serenity). The show contains just enough humor and misdirection (every episode has multiple points where everyone thinks they know who the killer is, only to be proven wrong) to keep it interesting, so it wasn't long before I went back and watched each season. There's also a plot device that runs through many of the episodes in every season; who killed Detective Beckett's mother? That question has been answered last season and that plot device has been replaced with another; will Beckett and Castle get married?
It's this latest plot device that rang false to me and disturbed my suspension of disbelief. 
Castle is supposed to be a best-selling author. He's wealthy. He has a house in the Hamptons and an apartment in New York. He travels the globe frequently, almost casually, and in first-class. He doesn't have an office, he works at home. His daughter just left home for college, and his mother lives with him in his apartment.  
Beckett is a typical detective, not wealthy and tied by her job to New York. At the end of last season she was offered a position as an investigator for the Attorney General of the United States. This would involve a move to Washington D.C. 
This is presented as a deal-breaker for their relationship. Castle opines that this will mean they won't see each other any more. 
This plot device makes no sense. 
Castle could easily move to D.C. and let his mother keep his New York apartment. He could incorporate Beckett's change of jobs into the life of his fictional character based on her, Nicky Heat. In fact, a writer might welcome this change in the circumstances of his character. It opens new possibilities and venues. Introducing this "issue" into the plot makes us wonder what possible objection Castle could have to following his girlfriend to D.C.
Perhaps the writers will explain this satisfactorily in the next season. If I were writing for this show I would have avoided introducing that issue. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why the computer will impact humanity more than any other communication technology

Photograph of a young girl listening to the ra...
Photograph of a young girl listening to the radio during the Great Depression. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I believe several factors contribute to the Internet having a far broader and deeper impact on the world than the telephone, radio or television had or have now.

The telephone, radio and television all required equipment which had to be provided by large companies and industry.

Telephone poles and wires had to be strung all across the nation before Bess in New York could call Fred in California. There was no peer-to-peer alternative, no personal phone service unless you were able to use a wireless telegraph.

Radio required broadcasters within range of the audience's receivers. In the early days AM broadcasts were frequently interrupted by storms or other electrical devices.

Both radio and television required professional content providers. For the average family there was no station-to-station radio or television. They relied on major studios and corporations to provide content. Would those media have become popular without radio shows and television programs? And the content was all pushed to the consumer. There was no interaction with the listener or viewer. They were simply passive receivers for content provided by the emerging entertainment industry.

In stark contrast the Internet was envisioned and implemented as an interactive medium. Its core functionality relied on the content provided from both, or all, ends of the communication links.

Early computer modems piggybacked on the technology already in place for the telephone. No one had to wait for a corporation to string new wires or build new transmitters. No one had to rely on a network to provide content or build fancy receivers. Kit computers were on the scene almost as soon as this new technology became popular.

Radio was developed on principles that emerged from research into telephony, and television shared the same origins. Both relied on a fairly narrow spectrum of radio waves. While television overshadowed radio by providing similar content in a more advanced form, neither could replace the functionality of the telephone.

But computers quickly exploited wavelengths unusable by either radio or television, allowing them to become wireless devices free of interference from their electronic ancestors. Within a few short years of their adoption computers offered applications that replicated the telephone, the radio and television. You could make calls from your computer, listen to music or voice broadcasts, even watch videos and commercial broadcasts. Computers and the Internet didn't just advance the technology of their predecessors, they incorporated and replaced them.

Perhaps the greatest difference between radio and television and the Internet is the democratic nature of the content. Anyone can get online and produce content or collaborate with others. It's what the telephone could have become if cell service had been offered alongside wired telephony at its advent. But the need for wires and expensive central hubs kept the phone from becoming what the Internet has, a nearly ubiquitous means of personal and global communications.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Climate change and denial

It's baffling to many of us why people are so reluctant to listen to scientists on the topic of climate change and why groups of us, even the Republican party, seemed determined to ignore and dismiss the science behind it.

Humans seem to frequently engage in denial, especially on issues of a cataclysmic nature for either the planet or ourselves personally. Look at how death has spawned so much superstition, all of it intended to assure ourselves that this apparently inevitable personal catastrophe can somehow be avoided. 

It often takes an event becoming imminent to jar us into dealing with it. Speculation about climate change, comet strikes, even the possible hacking of our electrical grid or the possibility of martial law or a theocracy isn't enough to get Americans to take these threats seriously and support funding to find a way to deflect or prevent their occurrence. Even people who are not usually skeptical are reluctant to face such massive and life altering events, preferring to cast doubt on the speculations or find alternative, more reassuring possibilities. The more likely the life altering event, the more desperately humans will seek to deny its inevitable occurrence. 

We don't want to believe that we've had a profound and possibly irreversible impact on the planet. We don't want to accept responsibility for having perhaps doomed our species to extinction. We want to believe our superior brains and human ingenuity will once again save the day and prevent an apocalyptic event. We want to believe our species has millions of years ahead of it yet. 

There's also an element of selfishness involved. We want to believe that if the planet is undergoing a dramatic change that will effect our lives on a major scale, it will likely take decades if not centuries to occur. We won't have to deal with it personally. We tell ourselves that science or technology will find a solution by the time it becomes an imminent reality. 

Another factor in play is the fact that the majority of humanity believes in supernatural gods who look after us and wouldn't allow the planet to become unlivable. If science or technology fail to find a way to make everything right again then their god will. One way or another we'll be spared from having to accept responsibility for our actions and the world will be saved by someone or something down the road.