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In Remembrance

I didn’t have a chance to know my father growing up. My parents divorced when I was very young, and circumstances (and my mother) kept him away most of the time. I would see him sporadically, but he always had a kindness about him, a spark of warm joy, that I will always associate with his presence, and that joy was always memorable to me as a child. He was also a wise person, never one to speak just to fill up the air with words. I was fortunate enough to have a surrogate, my step-father, whom I will always hold close to my heart and in my thoughts. But growing out of childhood and into adulthood, one of my greatest regrets was not being able to know my father more than I did.

What I do know is that he was a hard worker, a survivor, a thinker, and a wanderer. He was a Mexican Gandalf, a wizard of the Southwest. He was caring and sweet, never one to hide his jubilation at seeing one of his sons or daughter after a long absence. I recall one such meeting, when I showed up to meet he and my sister unexpectedly, and the sound and sight of him openly weeping at seeing me will be a memory that I will always cherish.

He was also a storyteller, and never at a loss for a good yarn. Long have I thought about the attributes that he passed on to me, and telling a good story is the one I’m most grateful for. Even after an accident that left him badly injured, and unable to speak, his need to tell a good story remained. With his expressive face, fiercely beautiful eyes, and hands that shaped the narrative from thin air, his storytelling continued.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how good of a son I was. Life has a way letting the years flow by like so much water, and my visits to him weren’t as frequent as I would have liked, and I know not as frequent as he would have liked. I’m not really sure if what I can say in a thousand or ten thousand words will ever explain what my father meant to me. What I can say, though, is that he was as strong a person spiritually as I have ever known. I can vividly remember a visit that my wife, sister, and I had with him while he was working as a ranchhand in southern Arizona. It was summer, and HOT, but we had arranged to stay a cabin that my father’s employer owned, which was in the mountains where it was considerably cooler. However, the cabin was situated in a remote area that necessitated a lengthy four-wheel drive expedition into a small canyon. My father had stayed back at the ranch and was to join us later. As we were slowly making our way down the rocky path in my sister’s SUV, my father, like a scene from an old Western, comes up behind us on horseback, no saddle, no reins, on a horse that he had been training. As he approached my sister’s SUV, he asks her to hand him a couple of beers (but only because it’s so hot, Mija) from the six-pack that we had picked up in town earlier, then continued on at a gallup ahead of us, a beer in each hand and controlling the horse with only his legs. So, to say he was rugged would be a bit of an understatement.

Only a few years later, after his accident, the calluses on his hands had receded, his work-hardened muscles had atrophied, his singing voice silenced.

But his Faith remained. Everything that he had been, had been seemingly taken. Except for his Faith, and it gave him the strength to keep fighting. It gave him the strength to be a storyteller and a joker in the face of desperation. A few years after the accident, on one of my visits I walked into the room, saw his eyes light up, and I told him how good he looked. He smiled, and said that I looked good, too, except…”Estas un poco panzon” (you’ve gotten a little fat).

Rest in Peace, Father. I love you

The 10 Most Offensive Animal Names that Need to be Changed

The Animal Kingdom. Majestic. Breathtaking. Also, masogonistic and racist and outdated. Even the name, Animal Kingdom, amirite? It should at least be the Animal Hierarchy, or, better yet, the Animal Republic. Aside from that, however, are scores of animals saddled with horribly white male-centric naming conventions and embarrassing references to the whims of early explorers. There are hundreds of animals that should be renamed for the good of society’s conscience and in the name of progress, but the following are the 10 most aggregious.

10. Blue-Footed Booby

Uh, fellas, my eyes are up here...
Uh, fellas, my eyes are up here…

I’m convinced ornithologists are perverts. I’m sure they all have a “Well, hello, chickadee” type pickup line, and their work involves them describing breasts all day. So, it should be no surprise when an innocent avian like this is given a ridiculous and hurtful name like Booby. If anything we should be focusing on their crazy raccoon eyes that obsessive girlfriends can have that look like they could shoot lasers at you.

Name Change: Overly Attached Gull Friend


9. Titmouse

I'd even take BreastRat at this point
I’d even take BreastRat at this point

Ornithologists? Really? I just went over this with you about the Booby and you double down with Titmouse. This poor bird is neither a mouse, nor does its chest deserve any mention. It’s flat as board (no offense, birdie). Say something about it’s dumb hairstyle instead.

Name Change: Petite FauxHawk


8. Chihuahua

                            Yo quiero más dignity
                            Yo quiero más dignity

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, being from Mexico, and in that I explain to people that my parents are from the state of Chihuahua, the usual response is, “Chihuahua? Like named after the dog?!?!” Ugh. Further, it’s just not a very gracious name for this majestic and awe-inspiring bundle of springs that have spearheaded not only several Taco Bell commercials, but also multiple Cheech Marin movie vehicles.

Name Change: The Only Mexican that can get near Paris Hilton (maybe a little wordy)


7. Dung Beetle

Even I don't like touching this with my bare hands
Even I don’t like touching this with my bare hands

OK, entomologists, we get it. This beetle pushes around a globe of elephant shit, and you think it’s funny to label them for that one eccentricity. That’s great. What if we called you, Robert Wet His Bed Until He Was 15, PhD? Not so nice, is it, bug collector? So, let’s strike a compromise, shall we? You can keep the poop reference, but let the beetle keep some dignity.

Name Change: Atlas of Poo Beetle


6. Emperor Penguin

I'm so sexy I don't know that I'm sexy (that's sexy squared)
I’m so sexy I don’t know that I’m sexy (that’s sexy squared)

Look at this jerk. The squinty eyes, looking down on you for your inferiority. He just reeks of entitlement (and bird excrement). Why? Because he’s an emperor. Riiiiight. He’s a fat, waddling, barely-mobile bird that lives at the bottom of the world, and doesn’t even have the ability to do what all birds should be able to do: Fly. Those thoughtless (mostly male) ornithologists are at it again, giving feminine names to some birds (see #10 and #9 on this list) and cool names to ones that have their same body type.

Name Change: Dadbod Penguin


5. Narwal

You didn't even notice that Narwhal is misspelled did you? That's how much I need a name change.
You didn’t even notice that Narwhal is misspelled did you? That’s how much I need a name change.

I’m still not convinced this thing isn’t an internet hoax. I’ve been fooled before (damn you, Jackalope!) and the Narwal has Photoshop written all over it. However, if this really does exist in nature, marine biologists are burying the lead. This is a whale with a giant unicorn horn sticking out of head. It’s a real imaginary animal! If Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster actually existed and Narwals didn’t, we would be talking about grainy footage from the 1950s of this thing surfacing off the coast of Nantucket, then never being seen again.

Name Change: Louis Armstrong Whale*

*(cuz it’s got such a strong Horn)

4. Grizzly Bear

If you see me in the wilderness, play dead (you're easier to eat that way)
If you see me in the wilderness, play dead (you’re easier to eat that way)

Every Wikipedia and reference book I read always say the same thing. “Grizzly” is indicative of the golden, gray tipped hair the bear has, and should not be confused with the word “Grisly”. Uh-huh. Then how do you explain it’s scientific name: Ursus horribilis? Of course these bears end up being man-eaters. You’ve profiled them unjustly with this ‘horribilis’ label, and treated them as killers so why would you expect them to behave any differently? A kinder, more accurate name is order:

Name Change: Grumpy When He’s Hungry Bear


3. Asian Elephant

You know what you get if you cross me with a Rhinoceros? Nothing. Our DNA isn't compatible. Idiot
You know what you get if you cross me with a Rhinoceros? Nothing. Our DNA isn’t compatible. Idiot

Do you know how you tell the difference between African and Asian elephants? Well, African elephants have larger ears, head, trunk, better credit, are better looking and generally more well liked. They were voted most likely to Kick the Serengeti’s Ass in High School. The Asian elephant? They had to submit an audition tape to the Animal Planet just to get consideration for inclusion in any documentaries (they’re still waiting for a call back). Well, guess what? Nerds are running the show now, and the smaller, less athletic elephant is getting a makeover, starting with a name change (and getting non-prescription Hipster glasses later).

Name Change: Snarkfelupagus


2. Sea Cucumber

                 Please kill me
                 Please kill me

No name change here. These things are disgusting. We should eliminate all Sea Cucumbers and forget they ever existed.


1. Great White Shark

I’ve been living off my “Jaws” trust fund for years

First off, this shark isn’t even mostly white, so its name is completely bogus. This is the epitome of corporate, 1-percenter, Conservative, no compassion marketing that gives other middle-class hard-working sharks a bad name. The Hammerhead Shark? Just trying to feed his family with a construction job. The Blue Shark? Making it’s way in a vast ocean while dealing with crippling depression. And the Nurse Shark? I mean it’s right in the name! But the Great “White” shark? It was born with a silver set of multiple rows of teeth in its mouth, giving it a Great White Privilege that other sea creature will never enjoy. Let’s give this monster the name it deserves.

Name Change: Trump Shark

Ode, Canada

Sometimes I like to sit and wonder about what if.

What if the speeds of sound and light were switched? We’d live in a world where voices and crinkling paper and dropped bottles would be heard instantly, from miles away. Farts would ring out and you’d never know if it was the guy sitting next to you on a park bench or from a dog running around in his backyard in Pacoima, California. Conversely you would look up into the night sky and see only a smattering of stars, as the light from those distant and lonely suns had only recently reached the Earth. It would take the light (at a speed of 767 mph) from the closest star (Alpha Centauri) around 500 trillion hours, or 87 million years, to reach us. Needless to say, things would be very different, and I expect society and mankind would be very different as well (Don’t even get me started on my Speed of Smell conjectures).

Another of my what ifs involves America’s neighbors to the North and South. What if the governments and cultures of Mexico and Canada were to be spontaneously switched? Can you imagine a government as dysfunctional and corrupt as Mexico’s given full reign over a country as vast as Canada, and the issues we’d have with our borders then? Now, in full disclosure, I’ve never been to Canada, but I have been to Mexico often enough to have seen this quagmire in action: Paid-off cops, lazy officials, and a lot of situations where I felt genuinely concerned for my safety. A lot. I mean, a lot. And I’m brown, for goodness sake.

Now, if this were the case, would that mean that Mexico would turn into a paradise and Canada a war zone? Not exactly. I imagine there’d be more street hockey being played South of the border, which would mean more guys traveling by rollerblade (which, in my opinion, is not men at their best). But aside from that, I think Mexico, and our relationship with them, would be nearly ideal.

Our Northern border, on the other hand, would be a mess. Canadian Presidential candidates assassinated by attack bears, innocent citizens beheaded by the ruthless maple syrup and Molson cartels, and, worst of all, the importation into the United States of a musical Ranchero/Nickelback fusion. Shudder to think!

Now, I don’t mean this post to be so much a shot at Mexico (because I in turn don’t want to get shot), but more a tip of the Mountie hat to our Canadian neighbors. In the course of history and human exploration, we made out very fortunately as far as border mates go. Aside from a few tiffs here and there (the War of 1812 wasn’t really that much of a war so much as a excuse for Canada to hang out in New Orleans for awhile, right?), our Canadian brethren have been and continue to be valued allies. Sure, there’s probably a segment of Canadians(ahem, Quebec) that may not be so thrilled with the United States, but as far a country that we rely on and respect, we lucked out America! Let’s face it, we’re high-maintenance, impulsive, crude, and petulant sometimes (or most times) (or always), but Canada is there for us when we need them. Storming the beaches at Normandy? Canadians were there with us. Flights being immediately grounded and re-routed after 9/11? If you’ve not seen this, it will show you a microcosm of what Canadians are made of. And, as an aside, if you’ve never looked into the story of Terry Fox, do yourself a favor and watch this short piece (and have some tissues handy), and it will give you glimpse of the kind of quiet dignity that I’ve found that many Canadians posses.

So, Canada is a great neighbor, but it’s also a great supplier of good humor and entertainment. No, really, look at all these good, humorous, entertaining people that are Canadian: Michael J. Fox, John Candy, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, Eugene Levy, Will Arnett, Ellen Page, and Micheal Cera. Sure, every once and awhile we need to put up with a Justin Bieber, but in the grand scheme of things, Canada’s entertainment ledger is substantially in the black.

So to recap, Canada is the good neighbor who pulls in the garbage container when I’m out of town and gets invited to all my barbecues. Mexico? Turn down your music and do a little more studying, please. Gracias.

Noahblowingless (TM) 2014

Seat Belts, Internet Trolls, and the Law of Diminishing Returns

Standard Normal Distribution Curve (Bell Curve)
Standard Normal Distribution Curve (Bell Curve)

Just a quick observation about a couple of subjects that have been bothering me lately, and how they relate to the concept of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Or, as I like to call it, the Law of Pouring in Valuable Resources and Getting Back Mostly Crap for You Effort (yeah, it’s a little wordy). This Law is closely related to the Normal (Bell) Curve, which is a distribution function often used in statistics. Without getting too technical and because me and statistics are in an almost exclusive “no simpático” relationship, suffice it to say that it helps explain how many things occur and are distributed naturally in everyday life
1
.

What I have been finding, however, is that too often we as a society (and our government is especially bad at this) pay entirely too much attention to the fringes of these kind of distributions and not enough on where most of the issue actually is, and where it could most effectively make a difference. Though there a numerous examples, I’m just going to bring up 2 that have been annoying me lately (feel free to comment with yours)

“Click It or Ticket” Campaign

Can we please stop with this already? Now, please don’t take this as my endorsement for not buckling up, or for not making sure your children and loved ones aren’t likewise securely fastened into your vehicle. However, I’d like to just state a couple of facts our government seems to either not be listening to, or just not care about.

  1. All vehicles made or sold after 1975 in the United States were required to not only have seat belts for all occupants, but also both a visual and auditory indicator if the seat belts were not buckled.
  2. Seat belt usage nationally is at 87 percent, and in the 90 percent range in many states.

What should this tell the government? Hopefully, it should explain that, along with vehicles be far safer today than in the past decades since seat belts laws were passed (due to better air bag, suspension, braking, crumple zone and general safety technology), at some point some people just aren’t ever going to conform to the law. If you look at the Normal Curve above, and the left hand side are those passengers who are very safety-conscious and those to the right are daredevils, attempting to get those last few in the “A” region is essentially futile. No matter how many guilt-ridden “Click it or Ticket” commercial are run, you’re really never going to reach someone who will happily drive around with not only a light indicator illuminated, but also the a buzzer constantly going off. The fact is, there are some people that are just unreachable. Meanwhile, the funding for the commercials and advertisements goes on and on, and yet, if riding around without seat belts is so dangerous, why are there
still
no seat belts in most school buses? No funding for retrofitting vehicles that transport our children to and from school?

This issue, in my opinion, is only an issue at all because of visibility and the opportunity to extract just a bit more cash from citizens. What I mean is that seat belts are relatable (as most people use them every time they drive), so it makes it seem as though the police are doing something if they continue this campaign. But, since most people are acting as they should be, why not do away with this expensive and unnecessary reminder, and use that cash on something more worthwhile, like making the roads and highways that all those cars are traveling on a little more drivable?

Nah, that would make too much sense.

Internet Trolls

On a more personal note, I
Hate
Internet Trolls. In general, I’m luke warm in how I regard social media. I like Facebook’s ability to allow you keep up with people with whom you might otherwise have much less contact with. Twitter is a much different animal in that you don’t really get a personal connection with most people, even if they’re your “followers” or visa versa.
However, the ability for users of either (or other) form of social media to be anonymous allows for the injection of a class of sub-human that we really should try to exterminate from the world. I’m serious.

These are the type of people who think it’s clever or witty to make a joke about a tragedy (Sandy Hook or any other mass shooting, or the recent accident that left comedian Tracy Morgan critically injured and another person dead) just hours afterward, then ask, as if it allows them a pass, “Too Soon?” Hilarious. No, really, tell another one.

The interesting (if it can be called that) thing about these people is that they tend to attract like-minded scum. The “Rating and Reviews” section of Amazon and iTunes is a perfect setting for seeing these type of morally bankrupt idiots in action. iTunes specifically is useful because it allow you to sort reviews by:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Favorable
  3. Most Critical
  4. Most Recent

I recently went to this section for a podcast that I listen to
2
. The host is female, so I knew that there would be plenty of troll imprints to be found there. There’s nothing Trolls find more threatening than a successful and articulate female. I would assume this is because most of these lowly creatures are young and male, and reading some of the comments reinforced my assumptions.

Now, this Podcast had a total of 3720 ratings, 3191 of which are 5-stars. There are also 179 4-star, 80 3-star, 81 2-star, and 189 1-star ratings. So, this means the podcast is rated as 5-star by 86% of those leaving rating, and rated as 1-star around 5%. As far as distributions go, there is an anomaly. What should happen is the 5-star ratings should make up the majority (which it does) and should be followed by 4, then 3, then 2 and finally a small portion of 1-star ratings. Instead, there’s a small but pronounced spike in 1-star ratings. Hmmm… More on this in a bit.

For now let’s take a look at the Reviews.

Now, one could use the filters of “Most Favorable”, “Most Critical”, and “Most Recent” and get what they were expecting, but the really interesting filter is the “Most Helpful” one. This is because it’s not based on the rating or when it was rated, but rather how “Helpful” other reviewer or readers found the review to be. Logically, you would think that 8 out of 10 reviews would be 5-star reviews, and every 20th review would be a 1-star review, right (because only 5% of reviews were 1-star)?

This is where the tenacity of the Troll shows itself. I took the top 30 reviews, and broke it down by how they
should
look and how they actually did by stars:

Stars Expected Actual
5-Star 25 or 26 10
4-Star 1 or 2 0
3-Star 0 or 1 0
2-Star 0 or 1 5
1-Star 1 or 2 15

How did this happen? The Trolls, though an obvious minority, and very likely not even listeners to the podcast, nonetheless took time from their doubtlessly hectic schedules, left a low rating and review, then, because they have to be validated, set the filter to “Most Critical” and simply pressed the “Yes” button under the question of “Was this review helpful” for all the reviews listed. Yeah, a special kind of bottom-feeders are they.

What I have to keep reminding myself, though, is that they only act this way because they are essentially anonymous, and from all indications, they are just a very vocal and rabid minority that by all accounts I should allow to live on the fringes and forget about.

This is more easily said than done. But, like the “Click it or Ticket” funding, my emotional investments are really better used on other, more fruitful endevours. Like family, or friends, or that ONE level of Candy Crush that I’ve been on for the last month (I hate that owl).


  1. A commonly cited example of this is the height distribution between men and women, as seen in the following graph:

    coat

    Essentially what this graph is telling us is that for whatever sample size used here, a majority woman have a height of 65 inches, and a majority of men a height of 70 inches. However, as you work your way away from this average height (mean), you get a diminishing number of men and women who are either shorter or taller than this height. It also tells us that there are more women whose height is at the average than the men, but, because the women’s curve falls off more sharply than the men’s, there aren’t as many women whose height is shorter or taller than the average as compared to the men. Or, if you look at the number of women who are 5 inches taller than the average (70 inches) it’s less than the the number of men who are 5 inches taller than their average (75 inches). In this case it would be a Frequency of about 10 versus 25, respectively. But, none those specifics really matter, just the fact that we can glean this kind of information for this data. And of course, that if we used this data as our government uses other information, we would make all doorways 10 feet tall, and set all doorknobs a height of 2 feet.

  2. Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend

Attack of the Trolls

Source: BitSocialMedia
Source: BitSocialMedia

Note: I wrote the following blog post for
my Author Page
on Goodreads, and decided to post it here as well. Hope you enjoy!

Hey authors, can I ask a favor of you? Can you get all your notes and ideas for your currently published and to-be published books and add my name to the “written by” line. Oh, and if you’d let me in on any money you’re making from your written works, that would be great.

Why should I receive this credit, you ask? Well, you see, I had an idea awhile back about some electronic means of publishing books, poems, and the like and now you’re using that idea so I just need my cut and I’ll be happy.

Actually, to be fair, it wasn’t really
my
idea, but there’s this guy I met that
did
have this idea and wasn’t really doing anything with it, so I bought it from him, so now that you’re using it I need you to pay up.

What’s that, you ask? Can I be more specific about my (bought) idea? Not really, no. But it is a great idea, and even though I haven’t really done, produced, or contributed to the evolution of this idea, I still need to get paid. It’s only right, right?

OK, these preceding paragraphs sound inane, stupid and greedy, don’t they? Unfortunately, they are not at all a stretch from the truth of what some patent trolls are attempting to accomplish with other forms of digital media. And if it hasn’t happened already, digital books are soon to be their target.

Sounds far-fetched? Sites like Goodreads and
Smashwords
, which allow independent authors to offer their literary wares freely are immune from such exploits, you suggest?

Well, let’s examine just how easily these trolls are allowed to bring multimillion dollar suits against companies and individuals alike, regardless of how flimsy their claims are, shall we?

  1. First off, very often the trolls themselves are not the original owners of the patent. They are usually a lawyer (or a suite of them) who seek out the owners of unused, technically-based patents and buy the patent from them. If you’re a listener of podcasts (more on this later) or NPR you may have heard
    this episode of “This American Life”
    on this very subject.
  2. Next, they attempt to make any connection of their newly-acquired patent to any widely used technology (especially if big businesses are using them) of the day. The podcast episode demonstrates an example of this, in which a member of a now defunct company submitted a patent of an “electronic storage” method (and no, there really wasn’t that much more detail to the patent than that explanation) that was later used to sue companies that used hardware storage on the grounds of patent infringement. This patent was approved (when it never should have been) in essence because the patent offices are undermanned and under-qualified (at least with regard to computer and electronic determination) to assess whether a patent submission is valid or not.
  3. Once the “connection” is made, they bring a lawsuit against the companies. But the way they do this is underhanded, even for lawyers. There is a town in Texas called Marshall, where most of these patent suits are filed. Why here? Because the trolls know that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas is very favorable to plaintiffs of patent litigation. However, the trolls wouldn’t be able to file here if their company wasn’t doing “business” in this area. Luckily for them, all they have to do is buy some office space and file paperwork declaring that they have offices in this part of Texas in order for this to happen. The offices are usually completely empty or staffed by only a few human placeholders.
  4. Next step, win the lawsuit, right? NOPE! Knowing that that odds are stacked in their favor after leveling a lawsuit against the company in their sights, the patent trolls most often decide to offer to settle for a fraction (but still a sizable amount) of the original suit, and sometimes even royalties on the patent technology. Unfortunately, most of these companies do not fight the suits, as the litigation process is long and expensive, and choose instead to just accept the settlement.
  5. “Victory” and precedent in hand, the trolls then set their sights on other companies in what amounts to legal extortion. Showing the other, usually smaller companies what the result of their suit was, they simply offer to settle for a little less (according to the size of the company) and usually get their way.
  6. Repeat.

Now, although many companies
have
decided to settle, there are those brave few (
Newegg.com
and
Geico
) that have not bowed to the pressure. Unfortunately, the trolls have now focused their attention to an aforementioned form of digital media: the podcast. If you
are
podcast listener like I am, you may know that the most popular podcaster out there is none other than
Mr. Adam “Sunshine and Lollipops” Carolla
. For those that aren’t familiar with Adam, he’s crude, long-winded, self-aggrandizing, and verbally abusive. What a guy!

Actually, he’s ultra-insightful and inspiring given his upbringing, and he too has decided not to back down from the patent trolls. Because of his podcasts popularity, which he offers Monday-Friday (at 1 1/2 hours per day) for free, the trolls decided to make him the example in the podcasting lawsuit. The suit itself has to do with a “System for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence.” In other words, the troll is claiming dominion over a queue of ordered episodes. If you use iTunes and have ever looked at a TV series or any other media that is released in a serialized way, the troll claims to have a patent on that. The troll, in this case a “company” called Personal Audio, is suing Carolla for $3 million, but he’s planning on fighting them (which will cost around half that). This being the case you can see why so many companies decide to cut their losses and settle. Unfortunately, that only encourages the trolls to continue their despicable, trolling ways. In fighting (and hopefully winning) the case, Carolla will be able to set his own precedent, and enable other, smaller podcasts to continue offering their services to their audiences, mostly at no charge. That will all change if the trolls are successful in this case. For any podcast listeners, and as a quick plug, if you’re interested in helping with this fight, there’s a
legal defense fund set up at FundAnything
. Even if you don’t listen to Carolla’s podcast, and listen instead to HowStuffWorks (also being sued), or WTF, or Freakonomics or
any
podcast, it behooves you to ensure that Carolla wins this suit.

So, what does this have to do with authors and readers, you ask? Hmmm…Oh look, my blog has two previous posts, ordered by date of when I posted them. You know, in a serialized fashion. Now, I couldn’t get sued, right? Well, probably not me (because there’s no money there), but Goodreads might.

And that’s my point. Goodreads offers authors and readers and bloggers an online platform to get together and discover new books and new communities, FOR FREE! Other sites, like
Smashwords
allow authors (like
yours truly
) to get their books out to an audience that they wouldn’t be able to ordinarily, also FOR FREE. It also allows readers of any genre to find books from authors they may not have had access to before. Are you a fan of
Romance Novels
?
Science Fiction
?
Non-Fiction works
? At your fingertips these resources and sources of entertainment are yours. But all of that changes if the trolls are allowed to keep roaming and pillaging the digital countryside unopposed. Unfortunately, although the government has recently indicated a crackdown on trolling, help from that quarter is not likely to be seen anytime soon. Instead, I think it is the online communities task to support their digital platforms whenever possible, but also to encourage them not to acquiesce to the trolls’ demands.

Good writing, good reading and good evening!

The Humble(d) Husband: The Two Coders

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To me, coding is what I do for employment. I'm a computer programmer, and writing code (or "slinging code" if you're cool and were also probably home-schooled) is my primary function. It's what I do.

Now, I haven't always been a coder. At various times in my life I've been a fast food worker (or "slinging patties" if you're broke), a roofer, a welder, a steel rod-bender, a rigger, a draftsman, and a translator. However, after many years of doing these various jobs, and with the encouragement (read "Kick in the Ass") from my wife, I decided to go back to school. Though I didn't have any prior experience with computer programming, it had always intrigued me, and I felt that I would really enjoy learning how computers worked, how they communicated, and how to be part of the process of software development.

That being said, I didn't know what the fuck hell I was getting myself into. To put it mildly, writing code, especially when working with strict deadlines, can be the most frustrating, brain-churning, hair-reducing, why-didn't-I-just-get-a-History-degree questioning process a human can put themselves through. Anyone familiar with computer coding knows that not all values are created equal (i.e. "=" NOT EQUAL "=="), and putting just "=" when you meant to put "==" can lead you on a rabbit-hole chase the likes of which Lewis Carroll would have needed to double up on his mercury inhalation to even get a glimpse of understanding. So, there have been times when I've come home, frazzled and mentally exhausted, and convinced that I've really had a bad day at work.

The thing is, though, my wife is a nurse.

To her, coding is not something she looks forward to, because it means something has gone very wrong. When one of her patient codes, it could mean that his heart has stopped, or that her heart is having a myocardial infarction, or that any number of dire circumstances and possibilities have become realities, and it's up to her and the other nurses on staff to respond. It also means that there's the very real chance that regardless of her competence and quick action, her patient may still die.

This is the cold Truth of what hospital workers deal with. And despite what you may see on television or in movies, when things go bad, it's not usually a doctor that's there for you, it's a nurse. They're not the doctor's personal assistants, there to make coffee and take notes. They're not panicky airheads that summon the crack team of doctors, who are all ready to respond at a moment's notice, the moment crap hits the fan. What they are is the group of people that you will see the most of if you ever have to go to the hospital, and the group that will know you best while you're there (so, as a side note, if you do find yourself being hospitalized, be nice – nurses are also known to be witches prone to hexing bad patients with golf-ball sized hemorrhoids and fortnight-lasting constipation).

And so I have often found myself, sulking in my inability to track down a stray variable, or having the hardest time understanding how my ArrayList could possibly have a component out of scope, and just wanting someone to acknowledge that I did indeed have a bad day at work. Then my wife, poignantly but still nonchalantly, tells me about an older veteran that she was attending to that began experiencing chest pains. Calling the code and going through her well-practiced procedures, she does what she can until the Crash Team is able to respond. But even then, there's nothing to prevent the sad reality that the man has passed away. And now my wife, who had an hour earlier been talking to this man about his wife, or where his kids are, or how he was feeling, has to prepare him for the morgue. It is at these times that I think about her, who loves Colin Firth, Serta Sheep, cotton candy, making fun of my hairy toes, and a million other adorable things, and how often she has to deal with death and then move on with her life because that's what the job demands. I think about how tough she is despite her soft-spoken demeanor, and how proud she makes me, and how much I kick myself sometimes for not being a better husband.

And then she asks me how my day was.

All I can think is:
myCoding NOT EQUAL herCoding;

2014© NoahBlowingLess™

Celebrities != Medical Degrees*

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Jenny

"Maybe you should stop

talking for awhile." — America

Image Source: Salon.com


We give beautiful people far more credit than they've earned, and tend to think less of more homely individuals. I think this is a fairly well-established fact. How else do you explain my conspicuously absent image in school yearbooks, company newsletters, milk cartons when I went missing at the age of five (BTW, I was backpacking through Europe trying to find myself), and family reunion photo albums? I bet if I was taller than the average sixth-grader and didn't have a profile resembling a PT Cruiser I could have made a few less "Photo not found" or "Camera Shy" lists when I was in High School, don't you?


Now, my self-esteem aside, one group of people that are especially laden with undeserved credit and lacking in very deserved scrutiny are celebrities. Be it:

  1. Ashton Kutcher, who gets to proclaim that he majored in Biochemical Engineering in college because he wanted to discover the cure for a relative's affliction, though completely disregards the fact that he dropped out almost immediately to pursue modeling, or
  2. Matt Damon, speaking out on being a public school advocate while sending his own children to private schools (though in his defense, he did say it was "as close to the public school that <Damon> went to" as he could find), or
  3. Anything Charlie Sheen has said in the last year.


Now, to these examples, all I can say is:

Serious

Seriously?


However, in terms of out-and-out egregious statements that don't just border on the absurd, but end up negatively affecting society and the physical well-being of its citizens, Ms. Jenny "Who-Needs-Science-Anyway" McCarthy takes the prize. In 2007 her son was diagnosed with autism, and she became convinced (you know, because nothing bad could ever happen to her just because; it must be someone's fault) that the root cause was the MMR (Mumps/Measles/Rubella) vaccination given to children at 12-15 months, and again at 4-6 years old. Notice how I'm referencing the CDC website, and that the information found therein is based on years of scientific research?


Jenny said to hell with that. She didn't need the advice of medical practitioners or scientists who have dedicated their lives and staked their livelihood garnering this medical information telling her that her son was afflicted with autism by chance. I mean, look at her. She's beautiful. She's blonde. She's funny (or, more accurately, she's not completely devoid of a sense of humor, much in the way that a Filet-o-Fish sandwich is technically seafood). So this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to her.


The only thing is, though: it did. There's not some huge governmental or secret society plot to spread autism through the use of vaccinations. And in fact, by using her ill-gotten public influence to persuade people not to immunize their children, she's actually become a public health hazard. The cases of measles increasing in recent years are being directly tied to the decrease in the immunization of children. However, aside from the passing remark, how much scrutiny does she, as a public figure with a larger audience get for the dissemination of this dangerous misinformation? Well, she recently got a new job on The View, is still being cast in movies, and I recently had the misfortune of catching her on a New Year's Eve telecast. So, it doesn't seem to have hurt her career, and in some ways may have actually helped it. You know, maybe this is the new Sex Tape in terms of ways to either launch or reignite a public career. Perhaps in a few years, when her show's rating's start to dip, Kim Kardashian will become the new spokesperson for "Tetanus vaccines cause impotence" campaign (if so, what a bright future we have to look forward to).


Recently, I saw McCarthy's response to a circulating internet rumor which stated that she said that her son may not, in fact, have autism. The report was false, but I found her statement as telling about her nature of irresponsibility and disconnection as her earlier claims about vaccinations. The following was her public release about the rumor:

Stories circulating online, claiming that I said my son Evan may not have autism after all, are blatantly inaccurate and completely ridiculous. Evan was diagnosed with autism by the Autism Evaluation Clinic at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital and was confirmed by the State of California (through their Regional Center). The implication that I have changed my position, that my child was not initially diagnosed with autism (and instead may suffer from Landau-Kleffner Syndrome), is both irresponsible and inaccurate. These stories cite a "new" Time Magazine interview with me, which was actually published in 2010, that never contained any such statements by me. Continued misrepresentations, such as these, only serve to open wounds of the many families who are courageously dealing with this disorder. Please know that I am taking every legal measure necessary to set this straight.


Isn't it ironic how critical she is about being misrepresented, and how others claiming something falsely is "irresponsible and inaccurate"? Yet, when she was guilty of the same action (though with far worse consequences), it was because she knew better than the medical community, and never gave a second thought to the damage she was doing by recklessly advocating children not being vaccinated? Further, she speaks of "open(ing) wounds" to the families of children with autism. How so, Ms. McCarthy? Do you think those families ever forget that their children have this affliction? Do you think, if not for this rumor and your outrage, they could have blissfully gone on with their lives without being reminded?


No, the Truth is they realize the challenges they face. But they don't have the platform with which to attempt to make themselves appear brave and admirable as you're attempting to do. Instead, they're living their live as best they can, and don't really need an inane spokesperson like yourself leading a crusade of ignorance.

So, Ms. McCarthy, unless you plan on dropping everything to pursue a degree in pathophysiology, immunology, epidemiology, or want to become the next infectious disease specialist, just stick to the disingenuous clucking the rest of The View hens engage in. Or disrobing for old men in smoking jackets (you know, the things you're actually good at doing). The world is a dangerous enough place as it is without you undoing the work of people far superior to us both.

*For those of you who aren't computer programmers, let me explain:
"!=" is a way of comparatively stating that the term on the left is Not Equal to the term on the right. So, as my wizened grandfather once advised me, "Stop taking potentially life-altering advice from people that haven't ever accomplished anything other that winning the genetic lottery and getting naked in front of a camera for money."

2014© NoahBlowingLess™

Resolutions

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2013 Resolutions

Goal Result
Run 1000 Miles Ran 350 miles
Run a 1/2 Marathon Ran (3) 5Ks and a 10K, never got to the 1/2 marathon
Write/Publish 10 short stories Published 2 short stories, 3 others started but not completed
Start a website Done
Write 100 pages of my book Added 10 pages to the 25 I've had lying around forever

So as you can see, I fell a bit short of my resolution from the beginning of the year. Regardless, I'm going to shoot for the moon again this year, and this time… It's personal (and public). So don't be afraid to berate me if I'm slacking off in the middle of summer.

2014 Resolutions

Goal Result
Run 500 Miles & Bike 1000 miles ?
Run a 1/2 Marathon ?
Write/Publish 5 short stories & 1 book ?
Blog >1/week ?
Lose 30 lbs. ?

Hope you all have a great New Year!

2013© NoahBlowingLess™

American Glimpse

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Flag

I can still remember the day that I turned onto my street, saw my new neighbor in the midst of his move-in process, (garage door open, the garage itself still half-filled with boxes) and also saw that he had a giant Confederate flag hung up on one of the interior walls. Now, living in Arkansas (or anywhere in the American South, I'd imagine), the sight of the Confederate flag is not at all uncommon. Having moved here almost ten years ago, I've seen it on bumper stickers, license plate holders, t-shirts (both with and without sleeves), beer koozies, and about every other commercial form imaginable (think of a KISS-level of product proliferation). However, this was the first time that I'd been confronted with living literally next to someone brandishing the symbol prominently.

If you know me at all, or have read any of my other blog posts, you'll know that I'm fairly open-minded. I'm not much for symbolism in general, and prefer instead to allow a person's actions to dictate how I'll regard them in the future. This being said, and as the philosopher Michael Tyson once stated, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." So, though I didn't plan on any sort of confrontation with my new neighbor, I can say honestly that I was at least a little leery of what his attitude toward a Hispanic neighbor would be.

Of course, if he did have some sort of prejudice toward Hispanics, he probably picked the worst neighborhood in my town to live in, since most of the rest of our neighbors are also Hispanic. In fact, the only other non-Hispanic on my block is my other next door neighbor, a transplant from Russia. He is an engineer, speaks with a thick accent, and though friendly, is generally very forward. This is evidenced by the summer day that we were both out working on our yards, and a Hispanic salesman was going door-to-door selling some product or another. He was conveying the product to me, then mid-sentence asked me if I spoke Spanish. I told him I did, and we finished our conversation in Spanish. Once the salesman gave me his card and was on his way, my Russian neighbor approached me and asked, "Abraham, can I ask…what are you?" Now, I've probably been asked this dozens of times in my life, since I have a slight brown tinge to my skin, wave-to-curly hair, and generally atypical features for a Hispanic/Latino/Mexican. I've been mistaken for Cuban, Middle-Eastern, Filipino, Italian and everything in between. So, when I told him that I was Mexican, he said, "Yes, but you don't look like," he then turned around and pointed in the general direction of the rest of our neighbors and finished, "them." To this I could only smile and shrug. It turns out he thought I was Jewish. Not one I'd been mistaken for previously, and another one to add to my list.

But, I digress. My new neighbor turned out to be as ideal as one could ask for. The Confederate flag, still hanging in his garage all this time, isn't even the flag that I have the problem with (he also has an Oakland Raiders flag hung up, and for that I should be somewhat suspicious of him). He and his wife are both very friendly, and the typical Southern citizens (Arkansas twang, somewhat overweight, and almost overly hospitable), they decorate their house for every University of Arkansas Football Game (complete with a 10-foot tall, inflatable Razorback on their front lawn) and have the sweetest (and also overweight) dog named Daisy.

So why do bring this up?

Mostly because if we as Americans allow ourselves to, we will find examples of perceived offenses and prejudices everywhere we look. And these offenses and prejudices only serve to divide us. But to what end? To set us back to our troublesome past instead of to a better future. We are one of the most innovative and free societies that this planet has ever known. It is within our grasp to liberate ourselves from the archaic notions of racism, prejudice, and misogyny. It's only a matter of getting out of our own way and not allowing those that should now better (politicians, media, community leaders all come to mind) to convince us otherwise.

Now, as I've stated previously, I'm not so idealistic and myopic to think that racism doesn't still exist. I've seen it; I've been subject to it. I worked at a fast food establishment and, after taking his order, had a customer say to his young son right in front of me, "Look, this one speaks English." And that wasn't in Arkansas. It was in Nevada. So I know that ignorance still exists, but it shouldn't be what handicaps us with fear and resentment of each other, magnifying our differences. Instead, I'd like to think of my neighbor, with his Confederate Flag hung in his garage, but still striding over to my house as my wife and I were bagging our leaves and tree trimmings this autumn, and telling us that he was making a run to the yard waste dump the next day and that he'd be glad to haul our bags over so we wouldn't have to make an extra trip. It's about consideration and respect for each other.

And that is everywhere. It's the American way.

2013© NoahBlowingLess™

Dude, where’s the Anarchy?

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Tree

"A society grows great when old men plant trees

whose shade they know they will never sit in."

— Greek proverb


The underling principle of this quote is selflessness. The other assumption, though, is the qualities inherent in those that a society sees as wise and giving; the scholars, inventors, innovators, and philanthropists who become a society's leaders. Those who have cultivated their knowledge and experience into a grander good, beneficial to other and not only, or at all, beneficial to themselves. We ascribe noble qualities to older men and women because there is an expectation that, with their wealth of knowledge, they will want to make the future a better one for the generations to follow, and, as the quote intones, do so knowing they will not be around to reap the fruits of their labor.

Oh, if it were only so.

To quote Dennis Hopper, "In two hundred years we've gone from 'I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country' to 'Fuck you!'?". That, in a nutshell, is the state of our government, and more precisely, those leading it.

coat
Coat of Arms of the United States Government

Microcosm: (mi·cro·cosm) /mīkrəˌkäzəm/ noun:

1. A community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.


Now, for a long time I've been a believer in microcosms and their ability, at least in certain situations, to tell you about larger issues. Any restaurant health inspector will tell you that, as a patron, if you want get an idea of the cleanliness of a restaurant without going into the kitchen or inspecting the produce, take a look at the restroom. Now, even if it's spotless and clean, this may not be an indication of clean food preparation procedures. However, assume you go in and the floor is strewn with garbage, the toilet is a mess, and the sink is unsanitary. What should this tell you? That if one of the spaces that the restaurant allows the public see is in such a state, image what condition the spaces they don't allow to be seen are in?

From professional experience, during my time as a structural steel plan checker, I was able to use a drawing's title block as a gauge to measure the draftsperson's attention to detail:

Title Block


As you can see, the title block, usually located at the bottom of the drawing, is a simple form that typically details the page number, architect name, customer name, approval status, etc. This was usually one of the first and simplest parts of a drawing that I checked. All the information for the title block would be supplied by either the project folder or the set of plans supplied by the customer. So, to get the title block right, it's a case of simply transposing information. Now, if I check the title block and see the architect's name is misspelled, or a paint color is wrong or omitted, what are the chances that the drafter paid close attention to slot gauges, axial load calculations, or flush-beam connections? As I would come to find, the chances were not good.

So, what does this have to do with our government and the recent shutdown?

In short, it tells us everything we need to know. In case you haven't been keeping tabs on it, our government is a bloated mess. It is a physical representation of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing:

right_left
The Arms of our Government


And realistically, this is being kind. It would be more apt if I were as multi-limbed as the Hindu deities Ganesh or Kali, with each arm doing as it pleases. A recent example of this is the debacle involving First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" stamps, which were intended to help increase awareness to childhood obesity, and encourage kids to be more active and healthy. This set of 15 different postage stamps were to display kids involved in various sporting or athletic activities. Commendable though this is, the First Lady never counted on the deadly combo of the President's Council on Sports Fitness and Nutrition and the Wussification of America. The Council had an issue with the following three stamps:

Stamps

Specifically, they had an issue with:

  • No kneepads while skateboarding
  • Doing a cannonball into a pool is dangerous
  • You need to wear a helmet when you do a headstand


I can at least understand their concern about the first two issue. To the third issue, and please take this in the spirit in which it's intended, I ask:

  • Are you fucking kidding me?


Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Immediately after this conflict was reported, the entire run of "Let's Move" stamps were to be destroyed (no information on how many in all), though recently it's been reported that the decision of what to do with them will be decided early 2014. Regardless, there is no doubt that there has already been an enormous amount of financial, physical, and human resource waste just in the research and production of the stamps. Now that another arm of our inefficient and ineffective government has intervened, more waste is on the horizon.


Now, how does this example tie into microcosms? Well, this is a relatively minor function of government, and should be a relatively simple task. This is not designing the next major weapon system, building the next bridge, or implementing a widespread, needed social program. This is stamps! And not holographic, multi-layered, specialty stamps.

Just.
Regular.
Stamps!

And we can't even get that right…

The shutdown only served to magnify the inefficiency and gridlock of the Governmental Kludge. But what it also did was give the American public a unique chance to see just how necessary much of the government is, and the extent to which the public is dependent on the services it provides. Add to this the fact that it was only a shutdown of what was deemed "non-essential" employees and services, and you should really start to ask how essential those things that weren't being done during the shutdown are on a day-to-day basis. And if they aren't essential or really needed, why do we continue to pay for them with our taxes? So, as the title of this blog asks, where's the anarchy? Where's the real and necessary need that requires this government to exist in order to prevent the fall of American society? You already know the answer, but I'd like to bring up one final thought that should show you the petty and desperate attempts that our government makes to convince us of its importance to our lives.

This thought is that the government made it a point to inform the public of what services it was not providing, by not only openly promoting what services it was not providing, but also being obnoxious about how it informed the public of their non-service. Putting up barricades and interfering with those wanting to see national monuments, closing national parks, and closing down websites that contain static (non-changing) information.

So I ask, why didn't the government just put up signs at the monument, saying no services would be available? Put up signs at the national parks saying citizens enter at their own peril, as rescue and normal park services are not available? Put up banners on their websites, saying the information has not been updated, and to be used as a reference only?

Why? Because that wouldn't have the effect that was wanted to show how necessary Big Government is to the little people.

The irony is that in reacting as they did, our governmental representatives only defined for us more clearly how much more of it we could do without. And how much less of our money we could send their way and get the same result.

And that, the money that they have available to them, is the crux of the whole argument, and what the microcosms that we are allowed to see, is all about. If they waste so many tax dollars on obvious, non-critical programs, how much is wasted on the big-ticket items? And this leads to me to the question of the necessity for higher taxes. If there is all this waste, how much is really necessary, and how much less could we be taxed?

Because the Truth is that Congress and our government aren't that good with money. Much like an alcoholic isn't that good with alcohol. And the solution to the alcoholic's problems isn't that he doesn't have enough alcohol, but that he can't handle it when it's available. So maybe that's the solution to our Government Kludge problem; let it do with less of our money, and see what can actually be accomplished.

And if you still doubt the power of microcosms and the perception they can lend, look no further than that Affordable Care Act website. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent, and still not working… and like a restaurant bathroom, if that's what they let you see, imagine the mess of what you can't.

2013© NoahBlowingLess™