Thursday, May 24, 2012

The paleo diet's fatal flaw?

Over the past year or two I've done some reading about the paleo diet.  At at first glance, this seemed to make sense to me:  That eating foods that humans had evolved to eat would be the best diet.  And yet I couldn't buy into it.  I kept having a feeling that there was something missing, some problem in the rationale that would blow the whole thing up.  Besides the fact that historical humans didn't follow this diet and seem to have done okay.  (Paleo advocates would no doubt tell me that historical humans would have done even better had they followed a paleo diet.)  As I was fixing lunch today, the answer occurred to me:  Peppers.  As an SCA chef can tell you, peppers (along with tomatoes and potatoes) are a New World food.  And so a quick web search was in order:  Are peppers paleo?  Apparently so.  But unless you're Native American, your ancestors were only exposed to peppers for 500 years, certainly not enough time (by paleo standards) to have evolved the ability to process them. 

Now, I'm not trying to take this as any sort of debunking of the paleo diet.  (People who have such large amounts of time, energy, and money invested in an idea aren't so easily swayed.)  And if you're currently eating a paleo diet and it's working for you, more power to you.  But as for me, I no longer feel the compulsion (and certainly never felt a desire) to go paleo.

Additional trivia:  While doing research for this post, I learned that 3 out of the 4 founding members of Black Sabbath are vegans.  (Tony Iommi is the odd man out.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tractor-Trailer-Sized Asteroid Zips Between Earth And Moon

Of course, my first thought when I heard this was:
The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

There are two kinds of... no, not really

Last night I downloaded The Pleiadians (sic) Files - Hidden and Ancient Records by Dace Allen, which was available as a freebie on the Kindle.  I enjoy reading ancient astronaut and conspiracy theory sorts of books, but I don't believe them at all.  While presented a problem this morning when I went to enter the book into BookHabit, the app I use to track my book collection and reading process.  It didn't feel intellectually honest to classify this book as "nonfiction," but respect for authorial intent prevented me from classifying it as "fiction." 

And the more I thought about it, an extended list of different sorts of books came to mind that were classified by their publishers as "nonfiction" but which I still wouldn't consider true:
  • Books based on scientific theories which were later disproved (phrenology, geocentrism, etc.).
  • Books based on blatant distortion of scientific or historical evidence (Holocaust denial, young earth creationism, etc.).
  • "Memoirs" which are, if not constructed of whole cloth, at least at variance with reality.
  • Religious books for faiths which the reader does not believe.
And then it hit me:  Fiction/nonfiction, like so many other things that we take to be binaries (gender identity, sexual orientation, autism, political believes, homelessness, etc.) is actually a spectrum.  Some books that are published as fiction are more "true" than some that are published as nonfiction, and some books contain differing amounts of reality for different readers.

Oh, and in case you're wondering how I classified The Pleiadians (sic) Files:  I didn't.  I tried coming up with a good category name for "books that the author apparently sincerely believes to be nonfiction but which I don't" and instead decided not to spend the brain cycles it would require.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An open letter to the powers that be at CW

Dear powers that be at CW:

First of all, I'd like to commend you on your decision to make a Green Arrow show.  While Green Arrow doesn't have the same name recognition as Batman and Superman, he's still a viable part of the DC Universe.  Plus, the Robin Hood/social activist component of his character makes him particularly relevant in our post economic meltdown world.  So well done on that.

That being said, I see that you've made one major mistake in this project.  So major that it may doom the project before it gets off the ground.  You decided to name the show Arrow.

You may ask why this is a mistake.  Let me explain.  Two words:  John Carter.  Hopefully you now understand the nature of your mistake and can use the time you would have spent reading the remainder of this letter to begin fixing the problem.

What?  You're still here?  Okay, then.  Let me elaborate.  Even people who've heard of but never read Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom books would get that John Carter of Mars is a reference to those books, which would kindle interest in a movie of that name.  And even people who've never heard of Burrough's books would, upon hearing the name John Carter of Mars figure out that the movie involves a guy named John Carter and that he is on Mars, which could inspire them to look into the movie more.  But upon being presented with a movie named simply John Carter, people are most likely to go "Who?" as the movie's title gives them no idea what the movie's about.

Likewise, by naming your series Arrow instead of Green Arrow, you're passing up a chance to give people information that will make them want to check out the series.  After all, the Green Arrow character has been around for 71 years - even people who aren't regular comic book readers are likely to have heard of him, whereupon they'd likely say something to the effect of "Hey look - CW's made a series about the Robin Hood guy from the comics.  I think I might check that out."  Whereas after being told that CW has a new series out called Arrow, they're more likely to say something along the lines of "Arrow?  What's that about?" and some other shiny thing will probably catch their interest before they take find out.

Also, I don't know if you're aware, but FX has a series called Archer.  Now stop for a moment and ask yourself:  Is the average person likely to be confused by two series with 5-letter titles that start with 'A' and make reference to archery that are airing simultaneously on networks with 2-letter names?  If you honestly thing the answer is "no," then please get in touch with me - I have a lovely bridge you might be interested in buying.

Mr. B.

PS:  Seventy-one years of history behind the name!  That's not something you just give up at the drop of a hat.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goodbye Rachel

Last Friday night was Rachel Ehmke's funeral.  You might not have heard of Rachel.  I hadn't until a friend of mine made a blog post about her.  Rachel was a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide after relentless bullying, both online and face-to-face, by a group of girls at her school.  This wasn't the first such incident, and even I'm not optimistic enough to think it will be the last.  But for some reason this story has grabbed hold of my mind and won't let go.

I think this is at least partly because of what Rachel's dad said about the bullies:  "They're kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would've have known this would happen I'm pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did."  That just made me think.  Among other things, it made me think about Jimmy S, who I haven't thought about in years.

Jimmy was a boy who was in the same Boy Scout troop that I was.  He was the black sheep of the troop - to the best of my knowledge, he didn't really get along with any of us.  The rest of us all went to the local public junior high and high school, while he went to a private religious school.  He was obsessed with the military.  (Even by the standards of people living in a defense industry company town during the time of Rambo and Red Dawn he was obsessed with the military.)  He was overweight, which made his aspirations to join the special forces seem ridiculous to the rest of us.  Before joining the Boy Scouts, he had been in the Royal Rangers, and his stories of "how we did things in the Royal Rangers" didn't endear him to us.  And so he always got chosen last for teams.  Whenever we started playing pranks at summer camp, he was always the first target that sprang to mind.  In short, any of the myriad small cruelties that children and teens are capable of were aimed his way.

Before you get the wrong idea of where this story's going, let me tell you that Jimmy did not commit suicide.  In fact, a quick Google search conducted as I started writing this revealed that he still lives in the town where we grew up, still looks pretty much the same as he did, and seems to have pretty much the same interests as he did back then.  He apparently had a pretty strong concept of who he was even as a teenager, which no doubt helped him make it through our tormenting.  But another factor that no doubt worked in his failure is that in the mid-1980s we didn't have Facebook or text messaging or any of the other tools that today's kids are able to use when they set a target.  And I wonder now at what difference these technologies could have made in Jimmy's case.  He only saw us at Scouting events, so he only had to deal with our mistreatment for one evening a week, plus one weekend a month for camping, plus one week a year for summer camp - a fairly small amount of time compared to the 24/7 bullying that kids today are exposed to.  Also, all our interactions with Jimmy were done face-to-face, in public, under the supervision of our leaders.  This limited how far we could go.  And, knowing that we sometimes ran up against these limits, I know that we almost certainly would have gone further had we had the ability.

I don't have a solution to the bullying problem - if I did, I'd be being interviewed on TV about my "groundbreaking solution to the bully problem" instead of writing about it in my blog.  And while I by no means want to excuse the actions of these bullies, I want us all to remember Mr. Ehmke's words:  "They're kids [who] made some horrible decisions."  Bullying didn't begin with this generation, and I don't think these kids are necessarily crueler than their forebears.  I just think they have access to more powerful tools in their campaigns against each other than we ever had (although a phone in the days before caller ID was a pretty powerful weapon), with no more judgment than we had as to how far is too far.  The more tech-savvy parents are already aware, and the others are beginning to catch on, that what happens online is just as serious and just as "real" as what happens in the schoolyard.  If their children are being bullied online, that needs to be taken just as seriously as if it was happening face-to-face.  Conversely, if they find out their children are bullying other kids online, that needs to be taken just as seriously as if it was happening face-to-face.  What happens in Facebook, doesn't stay in Facebook.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

"Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." - Paula Poundstone

Having spent the past decade or so in an extended period of career drift (punctuated by brief periods of moving in directions which either failed to pan out or else turned out to be not what I had hoped they would be), I've been trying to reorient myself and move forward.  Since I have the luxury of having a steady job that pays the bills, and since my attempts to select a career based on my business skills (which aren't my strong suit) haven't been successful, I've decided to look back to my youthful dreams to see what I can come up with.  And this morning, you get to go along with me.
  1. Astronaut.  I pretty much scratched this off the list after the Challenger disaster.  That and the fact that everything I read said they wanted short people and I've always been tall (I'm currently 6'2" - not a giant, but certainly tall).  Add in the fact that I was never willing to join the Air Force in order to get into space and that I've missed my "launch window" age-wise as far as getting the necessary training, and I have to admit that this is off the list of possibles.  That being said, if offered the chance to live in a space colony, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.
  2. Game designer.  Specifically, I wanted to live in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and work for TSR.  This is no longer a possiblity in its original form (Lake Geneva's still there, but TSR isn't), but it could still happen in some other form.
  3. Computer programmer.  I wanted to work in artificial intelligence or in the MIT Media Lab or some similar interesting situation.  This is still a possibility.  I'll have to brush up my programming skills, learn some new languages, etc., but that's not a problem.  And given that the introduction of apps has ushered in a return of the era of individual programmers building human-scale programs, there's an opening for the sort of programming I'd like to do.
  4. Physicist.  To be honest (and with the benefit of experience and hindsight) it wasn't physics that interested me so much as physicists.  I'd read (auto)biographies of Einstein and Feynmann and felt that these were really interesting people - the sort of person I wanted to be - and apparently studying physics was the way to do that.
  5. Writer.  Specifically, I wanted to be a science fiction writer.  Not because - as so many authors of my acquaintance have said - I had stories on the inside bursting to get out (I had settings and ideas, but no stories, about which more in a later post).  No, I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be an interesting person (which writers seemed to be), to hang out with other interesting people, and to receive royalty checks and fanmail and invitations to speak at conferences and conventions.
Looking back over this, I've seen a pattern, and I hope I can manage to put this knowledge to use.  There's a pretty consistent trend here of wanting to learn things and then convert that knowledge into a product (whether that product be a game, a program, an article, a book, or speech is fairly irrelevant) and wanting to be recognized (both materially and otherwise) for what I have created.  Isaac Asimov has long been an idol of mine, and though I've more recently learned of some characteristics of the good doctor that I'd do well not to emulate, I think the basic model still stands:  Convert knowledge into product, receive money and recognition.  I want to make a profession out of being a fascinating person.

Another recurring theme that I see is my weakness in business skills.  That aspect of things doesn't come naturally for me, and all my efforts to improve this area seem to have done is to hold me back in other areas.  I recently read Resumes Are Dead - And What To Do About It by Richie Norton (along with several other "how to find the job that will really make you happy" books) and the key points I've taken away are:
  1. Start doing what you want to do now and try to find a way to get paid for it later.
  2. Focus your energy on your strengths - where you can become excellent - rather than your weaknesses - where you can become adequate - so as to maximize the value of your work.
So that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to put myself out there and be the fascinating person I've always wanted to be, starting with regular posts to this blog, and trust that the money and recognition I'm hoping for will eventually come as a result of it.  It promises to be an interesting journey; I hope you all come along with me.