Thursday, August 29, 2013

Everyone struggles

Recently I have met a lot of new people and have been struck by how everyone has trials and challenges no matter how serene and together they appear at a glance.  Whether it is an online dating profile, a resume, or a first meeting at a party people present themselves as being ready to take on the world and without weaknesses and as you get to know them you discover more of them.  It is true on the home front too, of course - I am sure that people meet me and hear me pontificating on something or other with my usual endless confidence and then end up disappointed along the way as I bumble about.

It has really struck home the idea that we tend to look around at others and assume they have everything we can't see all sorted out.  We hide away the parts of ourselves that aren't working and the challenges we face and doing so ends up impressing others but sometimes cuts us off, I think.  I know I feel closer to people when they share their difficulties and when I understand the things that bring them pain.  They feel more real at that point, more human, more relatable.  As Homer Simpson says "Why do stories of degradation and humiliation make you more popular?" They sure do have that effect though.  Someone who has hard times and things they aren't good at is someone I can understand whereas somebody for whom everything is easy and who has never been devastated is somehow alien.

I don't long to hangout with people who can't do anything right and whose lives are a total trainwreck.  I guess it just feels more comfortable to know that the people around me are good at some things and bad at others and have good days and bad days just like I do.  Seeing the flaws and challenges in other's lives makes me a lot more able to accept my own.  The world looks like a much more inviting place when I note that it is filled with people, just people, not little ole me and a bunch of Supermen/Superwomen.  When I screw up it is a source of comfort to know that I am in fact not the only one.

Note:  If you read this and think "Sky is talking about me!  He thinks I have all kinds of flaws!" then you are mistaken.  I probably do think you have flaws since presumably you aren't perfect but I am talking about a huge variety of people with challenges across the spectrum most definitely including myself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A short haitus, or maybe just spotty posts

I am going away for most of two weeks.  There is a cottage trip with my parents and then a wedding and then another cottage trip with Wendy's work folks and then I come home and plug my computer directly into my fracking spine.  I am going to make an attempt at posting during these two weeks but it is not at all clear how successful I will be.  So yeah, this is my summer vacation from consistent posts.  Worst case I end up coming back and having a backlog of silly stories to tell and things to reveal about myself and strange musings.  You know, the usual.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Defending the pack

Yesterday I became an uncle.  I can't decide how I feel about phrasing it like "My sister in law had a baby" vs. "My brother had a baby" vs. "My brother and sister in law had a baby" because obviously cis men don't have babies but it does feel kind of nice to include them in the "You had a baby" statements.  Either way there is now a very small person who just entered my family and Elli has a cousin which has driven her to new heights of excitement.

(Note:  The baby is very early, about 10 weeks before due.  Everything is fine so far except that they are stuck in a hospital very far from home.  Logistical nightmare.)

I never really thought this would affect me.  I am happy for them since they wanted this very much but I kind of figured this would be like any other baby.  I assumed that I would hold it for awhile when I visited and be vaguely amused by it but otherwise not be all that interested.  Instead I felt a real surge of emotion and a powerful need to protect the small one.  My brain started conjuring up dreams and fantasies of ways in which I could rescue the small new person from danger and bad people.  I can't say why this happened because I have close friends with kids and I have never felt this way about their children.  Somehow my brain places this new arrival into a completely new category, as someone I must physically protect even at the risk of my own life.  There is obviously something very deep and primal about my connection to my brother that has made this true.  Evolutionary psychology would say that I am protecting copies of genes that are relatively similar to my own; I can't argue with that conclusion but I wonder how much of it is evolution and how much of it is the closeness of my relationship with my brother.

I told my brother that the name they chose felt like an old man's name.  He responded that they expected the child to eventually become an old person so it was all good.  Touche.

So yesterday ended up being quite the day.  I will remember vividly for a long time, I am certain of that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Addiction to simulation

Wendy is addicted again.  Every so often this happens - she randomly acquires a new computer game and falls down the rabbit hole.  This time the timesink in question is The Sims 3.  The previous addictions were Portal, Mass Effect, and Little Inferno.  Today Elli spent a lot of time sitting on Wendy's lap while Wendy instructed her simulated family to go to the bathroom, change the baby, go to work, and scrub the dishes.  Apparently this is endless fun.  I suspect the real appeal comes from how quickly things get better.  Promotions come every few hours, babies turn into children who can then be put to work in just a day, and there always seems to be enough money to add on a new room to the house.  Real life should be so easy.

What is strange is that there are really only two ways this can go.  The first way is that I ignore the game except for making occasional comments and Wendy plays the game to death, only giving up when there is really nothing left to do.  The other possibility is she hooks me into the game and I lose all of my time to it, staying up late at night and playing all day while she is at work.  This combined with my ferocious desire to beat the game means that I rush ahead of her and she loses interest since I have beaten it already.  The end is known and the magic vanishes.

I don't mean to run in and wreck everything, I just want to see it, to grok it, to master it all.  Unfortunately watching somebody else rush to the endgame takes away the magnetic pull of exploration for her.  It is a strange little dynamic we have and it only plays out every six months to a year because it isn't often she gets this way about a new game.  Even though I am the obsessive game freak of the two of us it is usually her that starts my obsessions.  She finds the most amazing games!

Sunday, August 18, 2013


It was my birthday yesterday.  I am 35 now and numerous facebook messages to the contrary "Haha, so old!" I don't feel old, or different at all for that matter.  I never make much of a fuss about my birthday but usually I have some people over to play games and hang out for an evening which is all well and good.  This year I randomly got invited to a Pollinator Party and decided to go do something new and different.  (A Pollinator Party is a normal potluck party where there is honey to be tasted and some people show up with bee pictures painted on their faces apparently.)

This, I think, is a better birthday tradition.  Now you will never get me to suggest that having people over to play board games is bad, largely because it is great.  Thing is though I can do that anytime and I tend to.  The nice thing about going to a party with a weird theme where I only know one person is that all kinds of cool and interesting things happen.  I try new food and drink (honey + herbs + sparkling water is fantastic), meet new people, and have lots of unpredictable discussions.  All these new people haven't heard my stories and don't know all my stuff so I can get all enthusiastic and rant about topics that excite me without boring anyone.  New people and new takes on old discussions make for a fun evening.

I am too much of an introvert to do that all the time.  I find parties with tons of new people tiring a lot of the time and I don't want to go to them constantly.  That said doing so every so often is a great way to shake up my social scene and let me meet some new folks and I need a kick in the ass to go out and do that now and again.  Making it a yearly tradition to get out to a random party where I don't know anyone to celebrate my birthday seems like a good way to get those good experiences without overwhelming myself.  Now I just need to sort out the logistics of finding a really fun party with cool people that I don't know on August 17th every year.

Good luck, I will need it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Ten years ago a gigantic power failure cascaded through the Northeastern US and Ontario.  It was a big wakeup call for structural reform of the power grid and got some political will to upgrade and improve our resistance to it but that, to me, isn't the most interesting part of what happened.  The fascinating thing about the whole event was watching the reactions of all of the random people affected by the outage.

When people are shocked out of their routine normal social conventions vanish.  It felt at the time a bit like we had suddenly walked into a small town of a couple hundred people because everyone just talked with others nearby about things instead of putting their heads down and powering on their way like is normal here in Toronto.  Obviously we mostly thought it would all get sorted out but there was a definite backdrop of questions like "What if the power doesn't come back on?  What will we do?"  (Answer:  First, orgy.  Second, mass starvation.)  That hint of fear changed things in very powerful but subtle ways.

Last night I went to an event to celebrate / remember the blackout.  It was a strange affair with a clown on stilts, someone in costume doing some kind of dance or performance with a kite on a very short string and bands.  There was an effort to get people to bring and light candles for the event and although I brought a candle I managed to be flat out unable to make my lighter work so the candle stayed unlit.  People were wandering along Queen street in a giant pack chatting and listening to the music.  A reporter came by from Global News and interviewed me and The Columnist among many other folks; perhaps you will see us on TV.

It was amusing but didn't really capture the feeling of the blackout for me.  I remember clearly learning that my building was out of power, then my block, then downtown, then all of Toronto, then all of southern Ontario, then a big chunk of the US... and the next step was that all of North America had gone dark!  Of course that last step didn't materialize but it was a scary moment sitting around wondering if it was some kind of terrorist action / aliens / nuclear attack and if civilization were coming crashing down around us.  There were also some cool social moments where I talked to people I otherwise never would have just because the blackout happened and that was interesting but a parade downtown simply can't bring those feelings back.  The streetcars were still going by, lights were on, and the world was working as normal so I can't see how that crazy paranoia and dramatic feeling of openness can really be recaptured.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mind control

People are building real, working, no bullshit mind control machines.  Of course they are hilariously primitive, the cave paintings of the marvellous world of publishing, but they seriously set up equipment that let a human stimulate a rat's brain to twitch its tail just by thinking.  Obviously people are worried that in twenty years when this tech is mature that Big Brother will control all of our thoughts and dystopia and such but I don't care much about that.  Either it will happen or it won't but either way the fun part is trying to think about what other crazy stuff will come out of it.

So here is the first thing that came to my mind... sex.  No matter what a new technology entails the first thing that will happen is people will try to use it for sex because that is what we do.  The internet?  Porn.  Cell phones?  Sexting.  Battery chargers that operate without any direct connection?  Vibrators.  Vibrating things?  Also vibrators.  I figure that a mind to mind device that is primitive will almost immediately be used for two things:  Inducing pleasure and inducing pain.  Clearly once we can induce pleasure directly the human race will devolve into seven billion people sitting around drooling while hooked up to pleasure machines so let's imagine we figure out pain first.  I am sure that what will happen is people will build mind to mind devices that let them perform BDSM on each other without that nasty problem of leaving bruises and blood.  "And now I am going to make you feel like you just got your ass smacked really damn hard!"  "YEOWTCH!"

What I wonder is whether or not pain will be treated differently when it is caused not by physical damage but instead by direct brain stimulation.  Will parents be allowed to hook up misbehaving children and blast the hell out of them as punishment if there is actually no long lasting (physical) effect?  Will the state begin to use pain machines as a method of punishment?  Would that actually work as a deterrent?  My feeling is that we will ban the use of such machines on children for any purpose and not allow it as a deterrent.  Adults will be allowed to do any damn crazy thing they want to each other, consent permitting of course, but otherwise such machines will not be used.  Probably if they manage to make a portable one it will be used as a replacement for a taser and presumably have all the same problems of lack of safety and overzealous use.

So yeah, kinky sex, a society destroyed by unlimited pleasure, and a police state's wet dream.  Maybe this isn't such a great invention after all...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Glittering edifices

I have been reading the book Triumph of the City on Hobo's recommendation.  It talks about human history and makes some predictions about the future based on understanding what exactly cities do for humans from a wide variety of perspectives.  The main thing cities accomplish is to promote innovation though ease of contact with other people.  Although smart people can do a lot of things their accomplishments are always orders of magnitude greater when they have access to other smart people to help nurture their ideas and push them in unusual directions.  Many a time in the recent past people have talked about how telecommuting and other improved communication tools will allow workers to get back to the country while still being very productive but we have not seen that occur; the face to face contact that living in a city facilitates is just too powerful.

Cities are particularly interesting to me because of the way in which they are portrayed in environmentalist texts and thought.  Often the incredible amount of waste cities produce is vilified and cities are regularly seen as the symbol of excessive human consumption and overpopulation.  While humans do consume too much and are too populous cities aren't the source of that but rather they are part of the cure.  Spreading everyone in the world out into the country would increase our resource consumption and environmental impact drastically because those who do live in the country use far more power / water / oil / etc. and have a massively higher carbon footprint.  If we want to make the world a cleaner and more sustainable place a great way to start would be to cram everyone into gigantic shining towers in huge metropolises, not to encourage us to all get back to nature.

The author, Edward Glaeser, has some views on taxation, unions, and law enforcement that I don't agree with.  He swings too far to the right politically for my taste, which isn't to say he is a tea partier or anything but it isn't as if I can give everything in the book a resounding thumbs up.  That said I do very much like his ideas on promoting education and creativity rather than infrastructure and stagnation.  He thinks that people define cities, not buildings, and that cities are best seen as a group of individuals rather than a place.  Looking at them this way gives us lots of insight into how to make cities better places to be for everyone.  He wants cities to be places where the incredible numbers of connections between people lead to amazing and wonderful innovations.  I can't argue with that.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Scaping those goats

There is quite the furor at the moment about Russia hosting the Olympics because of their absurd and terrible anti gay laws (you can't even *talk* about being gay legally).  There is certainly no question that the laws are insane from a good governance standpoint and moral standpoint but I think they are pretty useful for Putin.  Russia is a mess in a lot of ways and gay people are a useful scapegoat to keep the hate of the masses focused at somebody who isn't him.  He has tried to position this move as a strike against the US, somehow portraying them as bastions of gay support despite the fact that they are still so homophobic.  Russia isn't like those degenerate Americans because we still violently attack those who were born wrong!

Unfortunately scapegoating works.  It worked in Hitler's Germany, it works in Russia today, and it even works in other countries that are theoretically more tolerant.  If you look at right wing political groups in progressive countries they can't generally get away with scapegoating homosexuals or people of specific cultures or skin colours anymore so they have to get a little more creative and blame immigrants or poor people for everything.  You see, if those poor people would just work hard they would be rich, so obviously they are lazy and are wrecking everything for the rest of us.  All those immigrants, coming over here and working brutal jobs for tons of hours for minimum wage, see how they make everyone's life worse by leeching?

The scapegoating in Russia is certainly more severe but when you consider the way police and the judicial system on this side of the pond treat poor and nonwhite folks it often isn't that different.  No one would be talking about boycotting an Olympics over here though despite all of that.  It is a sign that the gay rights movement has really come into its own; there is still plenty to do of course but refusal to accept mistreatment of people based on sexual orientation is now really mainstream though clearly not universally accepted.  Time is clearly on its side though and it serves as an important precedent for other groups that are fighting for similar recognition.

I don't expect any of the upset to accomplish anything.  The Olympic committee is not renowned for giving a crap about anything except viewers and sponsorship dollars so it seems pretty much certain that nothing whatsoever will be done.  They will deny any issue and sweep it under the rug.  I also expect any gay athlete that does show up to not have any troubles with the law - Putin wants a big fancy display of how great Russia is and a human rights fiasco won't help that.  Surely the police will be under strict instructions to not mess around with athletes or support staff until the Games end so that Russia can come off looking as good as is possible under the circumstances and get back to being bigoted and crazy when the spotlight turns away once more.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A fracking lion

This week Elli is in pet camp.  I assumed that pet camp was mostly going to be exciting for her but wouldn't actually be all that interesting.  I had visions of dog training, petting ferrets, and getting to see an exotic bird or two.  It turns out they brought in a fracking lion to show to the kids.

A tame lion, and one which presumably is extremely tightly controlled, but still.  And a kangaroo.  And lots of parrots!  It turns out the world is full of all kinds of awesome experiences for kids and I drastically underestimate the coolness of what adults who aren't me do to entertain children.  I mean, when I entertain Elli we draw chalk pictures on the sidewalk or read or wrestle but I sure don't bring in lions or kangaroos.  I also don't support such a huge variety of random art projects and other great stuff.

I could say that I drop Elli off at camp because having her all day all summer would make me go insane.  Saying so would even be true.  More to the point though I drop her off at camp because they do this whole 'entertain the small person' gig better than I do!

Friday, August 2, 2013

What is weird

I have been watching Black's Books recently.  It is a British comedy about a drunken, crazy bookstore owner and his friends.  They get up to all kinds of wacky hijinks that generally start off with 'so I drank way, way too much wine...'  I found it funny because in some ways the lives of these characters are so absolutely nuts as sitcom character's lives tend to be and they make my life look fairly boring in a lot of respects.  I don't often take a job at a burger joint just so I will have a warm, dry place to spend the night because I locked myself out of my home, for example.  Nor do I end up at friend's houses trying to figure out what horrible thing I did during a drunken stupor at the party the previous evening.  I just don't have that level of bizarre and interesting going on.

Then I got to wondering if maybe I was looking at it all backwards.  Clearly the lives of these characters are very different from my own but I think they are actually closer to the norm in a lot of ways than I am.  (Well, the burger joint story probably isn't.)  I have issues with getting into confrontations with authority figures who can't deal with the fact that I go about barefoot everywhere.  Not a lot of people have that issue.  I get into fights on the internet about the proper way to build an excel simulator for a Retribution Paladin in World of Warcraft.  This is not a thing most people can relate to.  I spend a lot of time arguing about the ethics of various Hanabi strategies and whether or not they make winning the game too easy.  Ethical arguments about cooperative game conventions are *fascinating* by the way.  Also if you play games you should play Hanabi.  It is phenomenal.  (And these are just the weird things I am telling you about... imagine what the rest of my life is like!)

Despite the fact that the characters in Black's Books drink way too much and do completely ludicrous things I think their lives are actually a lot closer to the norm than mine.  Figuring out exactly what stupid thing you did during an alcoholic haze just isn't that weird after all, not next to refusing to wear shoes.  It makes me feel a little bit weird to realize that even though sitcom characters in a ludicrous comedy are really weird I am even weirder than them.  Granted I like being weird and I have no particular interest in trying to be normal and a distinct distaste for trying to *appear* normal but somehow being weirder than those buffoons is a bit unnerving.