• I just woke up from a dream in which I had long hair, and painted it orange, because we were going to a fancy-dress party and I was unprepared.  For some reason, I thought this would be cool, and I was absolutely right.  I was a hit.
  • I’m so lazy that I typically pull the table / desk towards me, because it requires less effort than shuffling the chair towards the table.
  • This was a Woodstock-themed party we went to last year.  That day was amazing, and then we went to Providence Waterfire.  I love where I live, and I love how we live.  It’s like being a kid with a car and access to all the stuff I want, but with nobody around to say “No!”

That’s all I got for today.  I hope it was worth your time 🙂  Oh, yeah, one more thing:  I need a new tattoo soon.  I have it drawn up.  Have a wonderful day, and in 3 days, remember:  May the Fourth Be With You!

Kin Hippies.

 

 

 

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I have a very nice life on the East Coast of America, but have been through some unbelievable doses of crazy to get here.  I rarely ever speak about the most formative times of my life, but every now and again I feel like it.  I’m not American – I hail from Northern England, but came here to get married –  literally speaking, with the clothes on my back and a relatively small suitcase, in 2004 (October 1st – the day before Gandhi’s birthday).  Specifically, I come from a place triangulated between Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, called The Dearne Valley.

When I was born, the Dearne Valley had a major coal mining industry, and everyone was gainfully employed.  My grandfather drove coal trains at Manvers Colliery through his whole post WWII career; it supported everyone.  But then around 1984, when I was about 8, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike due to shitty working conditions and abysmally low wages, and the rest is sadly history; the pits all closed, almost everyone I knew lost their jobs, my parents had a grocer’s shop for a while which they had to close because nobody had any money for food, and the place very tragically crumbled into the pits of hell.  If you ever saw Billy Elliot, Brassed Off or The Full Monty, that is EXACTLY what it was like.  People were cold, hungry, desperate, scared and had no idea how they were going to buy their next meal.  Two of my childhood friends and peers (brothers) were killed aged about 9 and 12, digging into a railway embankment for coal one night to keep the house warm, when a makeshift tunnel they dug off Railway View collapsed.  Suicides and eviction went through the roof.  Everyone went hungry, and we all became experts at sustaining on potatoes and home-grown vegetables.  Maggie Thatcher just died last week, and I could imagine one or two street parties being thrown to celebrate her demise.  Although I don’t fault the Iron Lady or know too much about the political intricacies involved – she was leading a country with a situation on its hands; she may have made some questionable decisions, but she didn’t make the coal run out.  Fossil fuels just runs out; end of story.

But despite the turmoil and the tragedy, the adults in my community worked VERY hard to shield the children from how scared they were.  (And it is tough trying to implement optimism and hope to a kid living in a warzone.)

When the strikes happened, and the “scabs” (fkin HATE that word) were trying to go to work and NOT strike, a lot of violence happened in and throughout my community.  Every village had a pit – sometimes two – and you couldn’t go anywhere (including school) without walking past picket lines.  When we came back from playing football on the rec, the picketing miners outside Goldthorpe pit would always, always share their sandwiches and water with us, and shoot the shit about who won, and which teams we all supported.  Then two days later you’d hear about that same sandwich-sharing man getting his head busted in by a police truncheon, when a fight broke out because another decent man tried to go to work, and a riot broke out.  These were the fathers and uncles and brothers of my friends, who were going to war with each other.  When I was 8 we were escorted out of school, because rioting between miners and cops spilled through into the streets, and one day, into my school itself.  They bloodied up the yard pretty good, and at one point, several cops chased several miners actually into the main school building, which culminated in some very violent arrests outside a classroom where 6-year-olds were finger painting.  It was very exciting at the time; I’m 37 now, and to some extent, the trauma is only just starting to catch up with me.

One thing that occurred to me only recently though is the real root cause behind all of this industrial death:  There was no coal left, and the pit bosses were all too aware of this.  A decade earlier, Sheffield’s world-famous Steel Industry had suffered the same horror, and putting 2+2 together, it was because of the lack of coal.  The Steel Furnaces run on a LOT of the stuff, and towards the end, the coal board were having to choose between whether they kept supplying the steel industry, or sold the remaining dregs to the locals so they could heat their houses.  In the end, we all lost.  And almost 30 years later, self-esteem is in very short supply in that region.  It killed not only people, but everything.

So all is pretty good these days and the place is much more stable; but based on that, I do still have a hard time listening to very privileged people hating on “social welfare systems” and “free healthcare systems”.  To those people, I have only this to say:

If you haven’t lived through desperation, then please tone it down a bit, because you have NO IDEA what you are talking about.  Every “handout” you attack puts bread in the mouths of children.  Every “free” doctor’s appointment saved the lives of MY PEOPLE who would be stone dead without it.  Every scornful face I see ridiculing “Socialist” programs is very lucky to have a place to live, and everyone who resents paying into a system that helps the under-privileged does not deserve to live in a place that would be willing to do so.  If you really do feel that mercenary, I would challenge you to go it alone, in some paradise where you can’t take it all for granted, and the police ARE to be feared and hospitals don’t exist.  Words are deceptively cheap and easy, but can make or break friendships in a heartbeat.  Be kind to everybody; it doesn’t matter where they’re from – it only matters that they are here.

In one form or another I’ve had that “Ninja Pencil” blog theme kicking around in various guises, initially as the term used to relate to artwork I was trying to promote.  But now I’m not there any more, I’m here, a few years later, and so I’m bidding the ninjas farewell and going to train under the warrior monk Lu-Tze, from Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time.  I obviously can’t stop thinking about time-travel.   Pratchett and Star Trek are equally responsible.  And maybe Galactica, with their jump drives and FTL technology.  I think if I need to get serious about my writing, I need to start channeling JJ Abrams or Gene Rodenberry in my pre-scriptionic meditation rituals.  And if I can channel the Great Bird of the Universe, then I’m gonna start channeling Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Cliff Burton when I play guitar, and Jerry Goldsmith when I write music.

I joined the local YMCA a few days ago, and the place is great, not to mention yuge!  They’ve got a big indoor rock-wall which I’m dying to try out, and they have induction sessions which I plan on attending pretty soon.  So yesterday I swam for the first time in forever, getting to about 750 or 800 meters before they closed at 2.  I wanted to keep going, so instead I sulked in the steam-room for about forty five minutes.  It was most traumatic.  And then, for consolation, I met a friend for beers at Dave’s on Post Road in Warwick.  Yesterday was fun.  This weekend, I am doing as little as possible.

CC

I’ve always been obsessed with time travel, and then something startling – you might even say ASTONISHING – occurred to me today: I am a frackin time traveler. In late March 1976 I decided, “this womb is getting stinky”, and so I decided to bail. And holy cow, was April Fool’s Day an apt day to escape, because this place has got NOTHING on the womb – joke was on me BIG TIME. I turned round to crawl back in, but my biological mother was already in the bar, on her third vodka.
When I realized I was born for good, I decided to time travel forward by a few years, and try school. So I boosted about 5 years, and then quickly decided that was an error. So I curled up in fetal position in bed that night, and elected to go back to my fourth Christmas.  But this time round, right before my brother bit that chunk out of my back, I planned to sidestep his sneaky chompers and watch him hit the deck in full lunge, maybe even land his face in a bowl of cereal. So I closed my eyes, set the dials and went back. Guess what? My plan worked exactly – there were cornflakes stuck to every wall in the house, by the time I was done with my deft ninjistics. He had no idea I knew he was coming, I almost felt bad for him it was so easy.  Next day I was done with being a baby, and decided I wanted to be thirty-seven, hilarious, good looking, popular, talented, sardonic, and develop a wit that wove in and out of sarcasm like a sine wave.  Or, a wit-weave-wave, if you are an appreciator of alliteration.  So here I am, happy at last! I love my life.

Place smells great right now – I’ve got a Shepherd’s Pie in the oven. I kept seeing all these vegan and vegetarian recipes everywhere, so decided to be radical and try the cannibal version. I found a sleeping shepherd – I’ll spare you the details – but you can substitute the human for either ground turkey if you are a carnivore, chick peas if you are a vegivore or both if you are an awesomnivore. I put extra chunky onions in there, an extra carrot, peas, sweetcorn and some Coleman’s sauce. I’m salivating like Pavlov’s Dog round about now, so I’m going to go sign off, savage my postal delivery person’s leg and then hi-five my late lunch.

Have a nice weekend, cats!

CC

Fact:  We perpetually try to balance everything.  Make the ups and the downs meet somewhere in the middle, eat enough but not too much, work out but not overdo it or injure yourself – every single thing is balance.  I am not religious, but my god is equilibrium.  You can always, always count on it – for every action, there is (and always will be) an equal and opposite reaction.  This is quite obvious.  So following this logic, we are in the middle of stuff.  We’re not up in the sky, we’re not under the sea, we generally exist somewhere between the two, and everything is dualistic in nature.  There cannot possibly be only one side of anything.

So…

On my insatiable quest for bliss and harmony, I like to interact and talk.  I enjoy mind-wrestling conversations over beer.  I love what happens when brains converge.  I love company, but I don’t love it too much.   Because we need balance.  We need companionship with music and revelry, but we need solitude and silence in equal measure.  This is something I need to work on, in my bid to be a better human.  I probably need to shut up a bit more, because when I get an idea, or a thought – which we all get, all the time – I have to tell somebody.  And I wonder though if this happens too much?  There are days when I get sick of hearing my own voice.  Even my internal dialogue bugs me, and I tell myself to SHUT UP.  I meditate.   I clamp my gob.  I make myself quiet, and then my internal dialogue eventually follows suit and shuts up too.  Balance is attained.

But out in public I despair, and plead and beg with the universe to make some other people shut up too.  All I hear is noise and opinion, which sometimes is OK, but these days there is no limit on the noise and blah blah blah everywhere we go.  Facebook is the worst for it.  I didn’t sign up to read every bigmouthed wanker yelling about something Obama did, or how they feel about abortion or gun control.  If that was what I wanted, I would enter the world of politics.  But I don’t, and so I didn’t.  And neither did the ones yelling about shit.  So be QUIET!!!!  Even when they are physically quiet, they infect the Internet with their noise.  Words are noise.  Thoughts are noise.  Bumper-stickers are noise, and the more inflammatory the subject matter is, the louder and more traumatizing the noise becomes.  Stop, please!  I beg you – the noise is killing my brain.

In a harmonious world, the only sound I want is the sound of people enjoying themselves.  We are an interactive species, and so our moods and sounds affect and infect others.  Laughter and anger are contagious in equal measure – I know this because my god tells me this is the case.  And unless something is really, really important and we are in imminent danger, then I could not justify walking into a room full of calm people and making them all angry because I had an opinion about something.  This would be very inconsiderate of me.  I wouldn’t insult someone for no reason (other than fun), so why would I consider it OK to cause a fight by bringing up unnecessary incendiary topics, merely because they entered my head?  All we really want in life is to be safe, be fed, stay warm, to love and to laugh, and yet all we seem to do is fight, yell, hate and kill or injure each other, mostly with words, but sometimes with rocks, birch branches and porcupines.  (Or is ‘Porcupine’ plural as well as singular?)

I believe everything will take care of itself, no matter what – my god tells me this.  Every up will eventually come down etc.   But right now, at this present moment, with communication tools and a captive audience literally at our fingertips, the balance is slipping.  We are being noisier than we are being quiet, and this is causing my bollocks to retract.

So please, for the love of God, for the love of equilibrium, for the love of love, for the love of Star Trek, for the love of whatever it takes to motivate you – SHUT UP, just for a bit.  And when you want to talk again, only talk calmly, about happy stuff, and make jokes, pay a compliment to someone, but stop infecting the world with more anger.  It has enough already.   If you do, I promise I will too, and to further that, I promise your life will be a little bit better for it.  You will be happier if you just shut the holy fuck up.

(See that?  Wasn’t my opinion awesome?  Aren’t I clever?  Don’t you agree?  And while we’re on the topic of my opinion, do you want to hear about how angry I feel about guns and sexism and racism?  Thought not.)

I have two distinct opinions about Dan Brown’s work:

A)    I love it, because he writes about very important things.  (Such as, why women are ostracized, feared, despised and denied rights within the “holiest” institution in the world.)

B)     I hate it, because Dan Brown talks to me like I’m STUPID, and he writes like all his characters are stupid too.  Dan Brown makes a point, or a joke, or has an observation, but then beats you over the head with it for the next three pages, just in case you missed that really, really clever thing he said.  Via the platform of his writing, Dan Brown is a condescending, patronizing bastard.   This can only lead me to conclude that Dan Brown doesn’t have a very flattering opinion of other people’s intelligence.  He assumes people (other than himself) are stupid, and so he talks to us like this is a foregone conclusion.  I find this very ill-mannered, and it makes me want to abuse him.  He has never met me, and yet he is talking to me like I’m dumb.  He is explaining things to me like I am a child.  Why would he do such a thing?

For example, in The DaVinci Code, he spent four or five pages with Harvard’s top codebreaker Robert Langdon scratching his head, agonizing over what the Orb could be around Isaac Newton’s grave.  In Deception Point, he spent six pages with the world’s leading astrophysicist getting pissed off, because he couldn’t figure out why the world’s top oceanographer kept claiming we had our very own “low gravity environment RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.”  When Dan Superbrain Brown finally graced us with the revelation we predicted nine boring pages earlier, (ooh, the ocean is low-gravity, never saw THAT coming), he then spent another paragraph congratulating himself (via his characters shitty dialogue) on his own tricky brilliance.  “Woo, holy cow TOLLUND, you really fooled us there, if we were only one tenth as bright as you, our world would be a much better place.  Shit Rachel, could you imagine having a brain the size of his?”

In another DaVinci Code Freudian Slip, in order for Brown to explain his point to we the simpletons, (quote):  Most recently Langdon had shared the Mona Lisa’s secret with a rather unlikely group–a dozen inmates at the Essex County Penitentiary. Langdon’s jail seminar was part of a Harvard outreach program attempting to bring education into the prison system–Culture for Convicts, as Langdon’s colleagues liked to call it.

(To which I responded out loud, “Yeah – obviously, uneducated & uncultured folks were BORN in prison, and didn’t end up there because of their actions, you dumb fucking wannabe highbrow classist elitist asshole.”)

It is very unflattering when people assume you are unintelligent and/or uncultured, especially when you have never given them any reason to make that assumption.  And the consequences of this can be pretty sad at best.  When someone treats us like we are dumb, we often concede to this, & conduct ourselves in accordance with their sub-par expectations.  This is easier and more polite than to take umbrage and speak out; after all, their opinion of you doesn’t matter that much anyway, so why act like a dick and risk offending someone who just implicitly and accidentally offended you? It all seems pretty trivial and not worth it when you break it down to this level of detail.  So we let it go, and by proxy, accidentally confirm their idea that we are in fact as slack-jawed as they thought.  From that point forth, we dumb ourselves down, and our relationship & interactions with that person tend to be based on this incorrect assessment of our IQ.   Alternatively we refute the error, point out the flaw and get sucked into a fight which should be entirely beneath our dignity.

But if they had entered that conversation & relationship assuming you were highly intelligent, wouldn’t everything be better?  The conversations would be more meaningful, because they wouldn’t feel a need to explain what the big words meant.  The subject matter would be more involved, because we don’t tend to talk about engineering with 5-year-olds.  Two intelligent people bounce ideas back and forth, whereas in a conversation between a brainiac and a buffoon, the problem may not even be on the table – it is already assumed to exceed your level of cognition.  When Sergey Brin and Larry Page talk, Google happens.  But when Larry Page and his little daughter talk, Spaghetti-Os happen.

The moral of this story is:  Enter every conversation assuming the person to whom you are speaking is highly intelligent, enlightened & cultured. The worst thing that can happen is that they will prove you wrong.  But they will also appreciate that you didn’t talk down to them, and this may be the one deciding factor in whether they think you are either a decent person or a douchebag.   When unintelligent people believe you are a douche, they tend to share this analysis with others, and then it becomes an empirical fact, supported by anecdotal evidence, backed up by all those peons you talked down to over the last few years.

 

Assume the worst and you will get the worst.  Assume the best and you will get the best.

CC

There is nothing abnormal or heinous about forgetting names – I do it often.  But when you are in a situation where you do forget the name of the person to whom you are speaking, never, ever utter the phrase, “I’m sorry – I’m not good with names”.  This is a terrible thing to say.  Here’s why.

Nobody is perfect; we all understand and accept that. Nobody expects you to remember the name of everyone you encountered throughout your life – it is universally understood that this happens.  But this does not mean you don’t remember the person – you remember them probably quite well.  You recognize their face.  You remember when you last saw them; what you were doing when you bumped into them.  You probably even remember the topic of your conversation, and so the only “crime” going on here is that you forgot their label – big deal.  The person made an impression on you, you made an impression on them, and this is what truly matters.  This means something to both parties; you are secretly thrilled they remembered you, and the same is true in reverse.  Names are immaterial in this equation, when there is so much more going on.

But when you squint in discomfort, cringe, and then declare, “I’m sorry – I’m not very good with names”, you are giving off a very loud, clear and incorrect message that you don’t remember the person, and this is hurtful.  And even worse is when you try to wing it, and get it wrong.  I don’t care if you forget my name, but I care if you forget me.  I have a memorable face, and I say interesting things.  I am funny, and I made you laugh.  We talked about our cats, and I gave you a recipe for cat pie – how could you possibly not remember any of that? 

In addition, the declaration that “I’m not good with names” is purely an excuse, casting off personal responsibility for not making the effort to remember the name, and blaming it on some bullshit personal trait that has no basis in reality.  You’re fine at remembering names you need to remember, and have no problem with names of people you see frequently – remembering names takes practice, usage and requires you to commit them to memory.  We’re not good with anything until we choose to be, and so telling someone “I’m not good with names” is a subversive way of telling them that their name was not important enough for you to remember.  Holy insult, Batman!

Last month, I put this to the test.  I say hi all the time to the janitor at work; he’s a nice guy, and he knows my name, because it’s stuck on my cubicle wall.  I was once formally introduced to him ages ago, but for the life of me I could not recollect his name.  An awkward moment  presented itself where it became obvious I had forgotten his name, so I said:  “Ya know what?  I feel like an asshole right now, because we talk every day, but I cannot for the life of me remember your name.”

The guy laughed so hard he almost fell over, and then he told me his name was John.  He forgave me instantly, and even asked why I felt like I should have remembered his name, when there had never been a single occasion where I needed to know it.  I said I should know it because we speak almost daily, and I felt rude.  I sure as shit remembered his name after that, and the mutual enjoyment of each other’s company almost doubled in that moment.

So next time you forget a name, give it a shot – make absolutely sure that you communicate the message, “I may have forgotten your name, but this does not mean I forgot who you are.” 

This is a very important and powerful distinction.

One thing that really sets my teeth on edge is when individuals stick their chin in the air and declare that “people hate me, because I tell it like it is. They hate the truth and I speak the truth. They don’t wanna hear the truth, so because I speak it, they hate me.”

If you are someone in the habit of doing this, please put yourself on pause for a moment and listen.

Nobody hates you for “telling it like it is”. They hate you because you tell it like it is impolitely. You do it belligerently, aggressively, you do it without considering the feelings of the people to whom you are speaking, and you do it with the assumption that nobody but you cares how it is, whatever the “it” may be. Everyone is interested in clearing things up and getting to the bottom of problems, and so to proclaim that you are the only one with an interest in improvement is extremely offensive. Nobody hates the truth – they only hate rude assholes, who cannot communicate like civilized adults. They don’t hate the things you are saying, they hate the way you are saying these things, because the way you say these things lacks respect for the people with whom you are trying to communicate.

In all probability, you feel the need for this belligerent approach because you are accustomed to not being heard, especially when you have tried politeness several times, and this did not work. Nobody listened. This is frustrating, and stirs up anger. This frustration and anger causes you to drop the pleasantries, increase the volume and aggression in your inflection, and yell out at inappropriate times what you have been trying to say all along. Suddenly the room goes quiet, and mission accomplished – you have now been heard.

But the things you were saying were not actually heard at all. All that was heard was your bark, your implied threat, your aggression and your instability. People heard your volume; you made them jump. They heard your anger, which to them came out of nowhere; this makes you seem irrational and unpredictable in their eyes. They heard you throw a tantrum, and they suddenly feel less comfortable being around you, to the point where you stop getting invited to meetings because you tend to conduct yourself like an asshole.

Here is the point where you draw the conclusion that people hate you because you just speak the truth and tell it like it is. You are reaching the wrong conclusion, and in doing so, decreasing the likelihood that people will want to listen in the future.

There is a polite way to tell it like it is and be heard, which is delivered respectfully, in a non-threatening or aggressive manner, at appropriate times, when it is your turn to speak, and with relevant, logical background information to support the reasons they should pay attention.
Try this approach, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

CC

Something I’ve been pondering lately is how our species love puzzles of all kinds, (from crosswords to Sudoku, Connect 4, jigsaws, chess, cryptograms, you name it.) But so many of the general populous of puzzle solvers are terrified or oblivious to the fact that learning to write computer programs comes from the exact same place & passion. If you hunger for mental challenges, putting pieces together, figuring your way through a maze or connecting dots for fun, then you could apply this pastime & hunger to something that will have so much leverage in your life, it’s phenomenal. Learning how computers work, and then how to expand this understanding to make them do more, was by far the most powerful thing I ever directed my hunger towards. I went from being terrified of touching Excel (because it did things I didn’t understand) to learning how to get under the hood, break down the walls and limits and make that one program do virtually whatever I wanted it to do. But getting there was just another puzzle and series of basic steps, to which I applied my crossword-brain.

I took some classes and have a ton of books about everything and anything; I learned several languages from C to php to VB to VBA to whatever. But to this day, the most important 2 things in my entire learning arsenal were:

1. A basic class on how computers work, which essentially said: “they are dumb”. They follow steps, and only when told to do so. They don’t make assumptions, and they need explicit instructions, or they can’t do anything.

2. A language-independent class on the fundamentals of programming. It taught me how to drop my assumptions, think in smaller and smaller terms about how things come to be, how to forget what I thought I knew, and then how to reconstruct my knowledge whilst paying attention to the things we tend to overlook, due to their simplicity. “Otto the Robot” was the most important puzzle I ever solved, and this was before I allowed myself to even consider what a development environment was.

When you make a program which automates and simplifies someone’s life, they look at you like you’re an alchemist. You just turned lead into gold, you just wove magic out of thin air. The inevitable next question is: “How can I learn to do THAT?”

The unfortunate answer is, “by becoming obsessed, dedicated, single-minded and applying hundreds and thousands of hours into wanting to do it, never accepting no for an answer, never accepting that something is beyond you, and by so much patience and self-forgiveness that nothing will beat you into submission, no matter how hard it tries.” (We make it look easy so folks often assume it is.)

For the first time in my life, my twisted obsessive personality worked in my favor, because I HATE not knowing things, I hate when something won’t work when it should, and I especially can’t accept this when I know that every single thing is made of a system of steps and checks.

Bottom line: If you like puzzles, then learn how computers work, and apply that passion towards making the world a better and more efficient place. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic involved.

CC

I am a word geek. Etymology is up there among my favorite subjects in life.
I love words, language, where stuff can from, how it came to be known, how the words were formed and what cultural influences were involved – the more word-geekery I can find, the better. One of my favorite constructions is “plumbing”.

A plumber didn’t always just fix your toilet. “Plumber” was a collective term for anyone who worked with Lead, including roofers working with lead tiles, cannery workers canning food (prior to us learning that lead was toxic – incidentally, this is what killed English explorer John Franklin, on his expedition through the Northwest passage through the Arctic ocean), and of course, our traditionally known plumbers, who worked with lead pipes. The periodic table symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin name of the material ‘Plumbum’.

So to “plumb the depths” of something came from when we would hang a lead weight on string, to measure the depths of a hole or body of water, which we still do today, all the time, when we go fishing. Although lead has been replaced by less toxic materials in most cases, as nobody but the most twisted of our species likes to cause Swans & Mallards to die horribly.

Plumbers’ Arse, however, is taken from the more modern phenomena of today’s plumbers failing to wear belts, and then bending over and revealing their butt-cleavage while they stop your sink from leaking. Hopefully, they do not leak themselves.

Chris