socrates

"Er. Hi." -or- "New! Improved! More pretentiousness than ever!"

The problem with playing video games, watching movies, television, even reading books – you’re having someone else’s adventures. You’re not making up your own, you’re not experiencing your own life. You subsume yourself in the world someone else has created, following rules someone else has written, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s an escape. Even the greatest literature, the finest play, the most engaging game are the same: they are escapes.

There is a truth to the idea that the great stories are the ones that make you look at things a different way. If a book or a movie causes you to think about life, about the world, about people in a way you hadn’t previously, then it has done some good. But it is still someone else’s story.

Ultimately, you must write your own story. No one else will – or can – write it for you. You are the author of your own life, you are your own main character.

Thought, then, is what makes people worth it. It’s what separates us from everything else we’ve so far encountered. Thought. It’s so obvious, it’s something that everyone has heard. In fact, it’s a question that, I think, most people would answer the same way: what makes us different from animals? Thought.

Why is it, then, that people seem so determined to not think? What is the comfort in having your thinking done for you? Thought is the only thing that makes us different, it’s what brought the world to where it is now; why do we seem so determined to escape it?

Why must religion become a means to avoid thinking? Religion is despised by the intelligentsia because they recognize that it is the ultimate heuristic, the perfect method by which to avoid thinking for one’s self. But they’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with religion, with a system of beliefs, even a system that centers on a being who is, by definition, not susceptible to proof or disproof. Everyone needs a system of belief, if for no other reason that no one person can know all there is to know about the world. Some things must be taken on faith, even if it’s simply faith that someone, somewhere, has demonstrated a truth, or the faith that one could, if one wished, demonstrate a truth for one’s self.

But this becomes bound up with the willingness of virtually everyone to simply give up thought in favor of indoctrination. Religion becomes a crutch. By purporting to have the answers to questions that are unknowable, religion is a powerful tool for suppressing thought. But only if a person lets it. As with so many other things, it isn’t the religion that’s the problem, it’s the people who allow religion to replace thought that are the problem.

That isn’t true, either. It isn’t the people that are the problem, it’s the choice they make to allow religion that role in their lives.

This is ignoring, of course, true malice – because religion can be used like that, there are always those who will wield religion to that very end. Why are some of the most driven people the people that the rest of the world would most like to be lazy? That’s disingenuous. Absent evidence to the contrary, it’s likely that there are no more driven people among the malicious than among any other type of person, they just tend to stick out more. Nonetheless, the person wielding religion as a cudgel to preclude thought would accomplish nothing if there weren’t so many people willing to be so cudgeled.

It’s tempting to say the people don’t want to think because thinking is hard, and people are, by and large, lazy. Virtually everyone will follow the path of least resistance, differing primarily in how much time they take into account when determining that path. This is the difference between the ants and the grasshopper. The grasshopper doesn’t work to store food for winter because it’s more fun to fiddle than to farm. The ants work to store food for winter because it’s more fun to strive than to starve. Both are following the path of least resistance, they simply differ in how far down the path they look for that resistance.

It’s tempting, but it’s also falling prey to the very same problem: saying that people don’t think because they’re lazy is simply lazy thinking. The question is why does laziness express itself as an aversion to active thought?

Or is it even laziness? Is there an innate discomfort to the results of thinking too much? I knew a girl in college who was taken aback when I made an offhand reference to nuclear war and the end of the world as we know it. If I recall correctly, I was pondering what it must have been like to be a person who was around before Hiroshima. To go to bed one night understanding that things would be pretty much the same tomorrow as they were today, and to wake up the next morning realizing that the potential existed for the civilized world to literally end.

To my amazement, she had no idea what I was talking about. It’s not that she had never heard of The Bomb, or the Cold War, or even the vast stockpiles of missiles on both sides. It’s that she had just never thought about the implications. Never thought about it enough to realize that we were always about thirty minutes away from billions of people dead and civilization utterly annihilated.

Implicit in my telling of the anecdote is the conviction that it’s somehow better to be aware of it than not. But when you come right down to it, the only real difference it makes is in how well one sleeps at night. My knowing the total nuclear destructive capacity of the world was roughly 12,000 megatons, mostly sitting on top of rockets capable of hitting the other side of the globe 20 minutes after someone decided to launch them didn’t make a difference to the situation, did it?

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe there are too many things to think about, and too many of them are immune to the thinking. Maybe it’s not laziness, it’s habit. It’s fine to talk about the nobility of the considered life, but if all your considerations just end up at the dead end of “what have I accomplished,” perhaps it just becomes habit to not bother.

Are laziness and habit the same thing? I don’t believe so. After all, I habitually shower, shave, and brush my teeth in the morning – I don’t think any of those is a particular sign of laziness. Or, for that matter, a particular sign of non-laziness. In that case, at least, habit is orthogonal to indolence.

Or am I operating under a faulty definition of habit? Is something habitual simply because you do it regularly, or habitual only if you do it for no other reason than that you normally do it? In the former case, habit and laziness are, indeed, orthogonal. In the latter, habit is dangerously close to laziness – at least, it’s close to the kind of laziness that results in not thinking.

But maybe there’s no dichotomy, here. The emperor has no clothes, there’s no there there, so on and so forth. Perhaps laziness and not thinking aren’t cause and effect, they’re the same thing. Mindless habit is laziness – at least of the intellectual sort – and intellectual laziness is mindless habit.

Which leaves me precisely nowhere. Sound, fury, and their usual relationship to significance.

Regardless, it’s a depressing sort of train of thought. After all, if people aren’t willing to think in the first place, it’s difficult to convince them to think – they won’t be thinking about what you’re trying to tell them!

And, of course, all of this assumes that I’ve got some special perspective on the matter. That I’m, somehow, among the intellectual elite because I think, as oppose to the stupid proles who don’t. Which is the worst sort of trap to fall into. It’s beyond intellectual laziness, it’s intellectual laziness so profound and fundamental that it prevents you from ever recognizing that it’s just another form of the same problem. After all, if you know that you’re a thinker, then no one’s going to be able to convince you to become a thinker, are they?

I hate being the dildo.
pen

"Book 'im, Danno" -or- "Totalling 3.06E-6 Libraries Of Congress"

This is the wrong time of year for this, I know, but I claim three extenuating circumstances:

  1. bzoppa reminded me of it
  2. I have my list at work, and I can't guarantee it won't be left on/in/around my desk when I leave
  3. I feel like it

That being said, I proffer my list of books read so far this year. I went into the year shooting for 50, because that seems to be the going target number. I have since had to revise that to "50 books I haven't read previously." Anyway, as last year, I present two lists—one of the rereads, and one of the new reads. Here goes nothing.

The first timers

  • The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson
    • System Of the World
  • Honor Harrington Series - David Weber
    • At All Costs
  • Ghost - John Ringo
  • The Council Wars - John Ringo
    • There Will Be Dragons
    • Emerald Sea
    • Against the Tide
    • East Of the Sun, West Of the Moon
  • Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
  • Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
  • The Universe and the Teacup - K.C. Cole
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
  • Lord Of the Isles - David Drake
    • Lord Of the Isles
    • Queen Of Demons
    • Servant Of the Dragon
    • Mistress Of the Catacombs
    • Goddess Of the Ice Realm
    • Master Of the Cauldron
    • The Fortress Of Glass
  • Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman - Dr. Richard Feynman
  • The Regiment Trilogy - John Dalmas
    • The Regiment
    • White Regiment
    • The Regiment's War
  • The Belisarius Saga - David Drake & Eric Flint
    • The Dance Of Time
  • Lt. Leary - David Drake
    • The Way To Glory
    • Some Golden Harbor
  • Redliners - David Drake
  • The Sword Of Truth - Terry Goodkind
    • Chainfire
  • Word vs. Void - Terry Brooks
    • Running With the Demon
    • A Knight Of the Word
    • Angel Fire East
  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn - Tad Williams
    • The Dragonbone Chair
    • The Stone Of Farewell

The rereads

  • Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
  • Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
  • Legacy Of the Alldenata - John Ringo
    • A Hymn Before Battle
    • Gust Front
    • Dancing With the Devil
    • Hell's Faire
  • Honor Harrington Series - David Weber
    • On Basilisk Station
  • Dahak Series - David Weber
    • Mutineer's Moon
  • The Apocalypse Troll - David Weber
  • The Lion Of Farside - John Dalmas
  • Assiti Shards - Eric Flint
    • 1632
    • 1633
  • The Belisarius Saga - David Drake & Eric Flint
    • An Oblique Approach
    • In the Heart Of Darkness
    • Destiny's Shield
    • Fortune's Stroke
    • The Tide Of Victory
  • Lt. Leary - David Drake
    • With the Lightnings
    • Lt. Leary, Commanding
    • The Far Side Of the Stars
  • Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
  • Saga Of Recluce - L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
    • The Magic Of Recluce
    • The Death Of Chaos

So there you have it. The thirty-two on the former list count towards my total; the twenty-three on the latter do not. Some I would recommend to some of you, some I would recommend to all of you, some I wouldn't recommend if you paid me.

OK, that was a lie: if someone were willing to pay me, I'd probably recommend Mike Jeffries' Shadowlight trilogy—and those are the books that convinced me I should take up writing (if that rambling, inconsistent, nonsensical, trite, banal, poorly-written, ill-conceived crap can get published, I refuse to believe that I can't).

gridbug

"Holy /8, Batman!" -or- "Nerding out"

Wow. Just took a look at FixedOrbit.com's statistics page, and saw the top 10 networks list, by number of IP addresses controlled. The results are somewhat interesting. Tops on the list is DISA CONUS, or (effectively) the US military. Makes sense. The next four are the Tier 1s (owners of the backbone, essentially): Level 3, AT&T WorldNet, Cogent, and UUNET. Again, makes sense.

Coming at number 6?

Oh, go ahead, guess.

Take a stab. A shot in the dark.

Got one?

Think you've got it right?

THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN - MADISON.

WTF, MATES?

What on earth is the UW doing with eighteen million IP addresses? That's more than one complete class-A, for crying out loud, and there are only 64 of those to go around!

I'm completely boggled.

For the record, the next four are: Hewlett-Packard, Merit Network (I have no idea who this is), AT&T Global Network, and SBC Internet.

lawyer

"And the band played on" -or- "If it wasn't for lawyers, we'd have no music"

Well, don't that just beet awl.

I'm pretty much preaching to the converted, here, I suppose, but if there's anyone who reads this and doesn't think there are serious and fundamental problems with the legal edifice surrounding the music industry, try this on for size:

According to #100 in this BBC News Magazine article, "[m]usical instrument shops must pay an annual royalty to cover shoppers who perform a recognisable riff before they buy, thereby making a 'public performance'."

Wow.

Just, wow.

pollify

Poll-ish reverse notation

Poll #651651 Please think for me, I can't bear to

What do I want?

More bread
2(22.2%)
More Coke
1(11.1%)
More coffee
3(33.3%)
More mini Snickers bars
3(33.3%)
More idiot emails from moronic coworkers explaining to me that I need to help them because they don't have the slightest idea how to perform basic functions of their jobs
0(0.0%)

What should I do next?

Finish processing Kansas
0(0.0%)
Attempt to discern what, exactly, Jose wants me to do with the problem he described inaccurately, since his proposed solution does not pertain to the actual problem
4(44.4%)
Try to reschedule the meeting I got stood up for yesterday, so I can finally roll out the DB application I spent most of last month working on
2(22.2%)
Put everything I need to get done today on the back burner, except the one thing that somebody else wants me to get done in half the time it normally requires because she's leaving for vacation in 1.5 hours
0(0.0%)
Run around and around in tiny circles at very high speed*
2(22.2%)
Nothing. I should do nothing, at will be everything I hope it could be
1(11.1%)

Why should I care?

Because they're paying you to care
1(11.1%)
Because no one else seems to, and somebody'd better
0(0.0%)
Because the only way to overcome the gross incompetence of various coworkers is with the sort of personal effort that can only be achieved in pursuit of a goal that one truly believes in
5(55.6%)
Don't bother. Just sort of act like you're pretending to care, and that'll be enough to get by
2(22.2%)
Because you have been touched by His Noodly Appendages!
1(11.1%)

All right, now what?

*And mad phat props to anyone who recognizes that particular reference

Camera

"This has nothing to do with New Year's" -or- "I need more hobbies"

I have made the following decisions:

  1. I need to get my old, essentially all-manual (it's got a built-in light meter that will run the camera in aperture-priority if you leave the shutter speed set to auto) camera fixed.
  2. When travelling, I need to bring both my repaired old camera and my newer one. Also a tripod. The old camera to be loaded with slow B&W film for carefully-composed, high-quality shots, the new camera to be loaded with ISO 400 color film for your average snapshots.
  3. I need to get back into my darkroom and make some prints.
  4. I need to find someone who will develop large quantities of true B&W film (that is, not using C-41, and therefore not having the orange substrate that throws off contrast on VC paper) for me, preferably returning to me the cannisters I rolled it into.
  5. Pursuant to (3) above, I need to acquire a small fan, so the non-ventilated nature of my current closet-cum-darkroom can be mitigated by air movement.

That is all.

EOF

pen

"Further updates, as not actually promised" -or- "Even though you didn't care last time..."

Hrmph.

I seem to have been premature with my earlier post regarding books I've read this year. While I expected to read a couple more books between then and the actual end of the year, I didn't expect it to be more than one or two. I was wrong. So here's an update to the list:

The first timers

    Baroque Cycle
    1. Quicksilver - Neal Stephenson
    2. The Confusion - Neal Stephenson
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation - Lynn Truss
  • Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side Of Everything* - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

The rereads

    Symphony Of Ages
    1. Prophecy - Elizabeth Haydon

*Actually, I haven't yet read the epilogue to this one, but I expect to before the week is out, so it counts.

cartoon_fright

"Smarter than the average bear" -or- "Might keep pace with chairtommorow. Almost."

Nice.*:

BAKER LAKE, Wash. (AP) — Rain-eeeeer .... Bear? When state Fish and Wildlife agents recently found a black bear passed out on the lawn of Baker Lake Resort, there were some clues scattered nearby — dozens of empty cans of Rainier Beer. The bear apparently got into campers' coolers and used his claws and teeth to puncture the cans. And not just any cans.

"He drank the Rainier and wouldn't drink the Busch beer," said Lisa Broxson, bookkeeper at the campground and cabins resort east of Mount Baker.

Fish and Wildlife enforcement Sgt. Bill Heinck said the bear did try one can of Busch, but ignored the rest.

"He didn't like that (Busch) and consumed, as near as we can tell, about 36 cans of Rainier."

A wildlife agent tried to chase the bear from the campground but the animal just climbed a tree to sleep it off for another four hours. Agents finally herded the bear away, but it returned the next morning.

Agents then used a large, humane trap to capture it for relocation, baiting the trap with the usual: doughnuts, honey and, in this case, two open cans of Rainier. That did the trick.

"This is a new one on me," Heinck said. "I've known them to get into cans, but nothing like this. And it definitely had a preference."


*Yes, this is old news, so my apologies if you've seen it before. I hadn't, and I couldn't resist posting it.

aliveguy

"THIS JUST IN: nothing happened." -or- "Ok Mr. Teakettle, here's your tempest."

H'okay, so: on the off chance you like Firefly and/or Serenity, it's possible you've run across a certain article on EW that rings the death knell for the characters and the universe. Further research, however, indicates that the outlook is not that bleak.

Upshot: Whedon feels he achieved a sense of closure with the movie, that nothing more needs to be done. He has not abandoned the characters or the universe. If the opportunity were to present itself, he would do more with it. In other words, despite all the hubbub, there is no story here.

HOWEVER: this should provide encouragement to all of you to go buy the DVD. For everyone you know. Twice.