Monthly Archives: March 2010

How Close Is Pure Insanity?

Floating Madness

Once there was the group of people. They lived in a small, close-knit community that was similar to most other communities. They had an occasional weekend barbecue at somebody’s house, and they had a community swimming pool that most of the kids went to on the weekends during the summer time.

A few of the families had been living there for more than one generation, and it wasn’t uncommon for the kids to grow up, move away to college, and then come back and start their own family. It also wasn’t uncommon for the kids to leave for college, never to return again, except for the occasional holiday. New families would move in from time to time as well, and were generally welcomed without any undue scrutiny.

But that was before the incident.

Something happened which had irrevocably changed this small town from a safe place where kids could play in the street well past sunset to one of unimaginable terror and danger. A place where people knew it was foolish to even look out their windows past sunset,

Certain occupations that required their workers to be out after dark had to take extra precautions. However, these occupations were few and far between, as the demand for products and services that extended past sunset quickly dried up as residents learned that nighttime was best spent quietly inside, preferably in a room without windows. For if you happened to look outside at the wrong moment, and saw one of them for more than a split second, well, let’s just say it only happened a couple of times. And when the description of what happened after had quickly spread through this once happy town, people quickly learned to keep their heads down and their eyes averted after sunset.

For a short time after the incident, it was treated with nothing more than a peculiarity. A few scientists came in from neighboring universities to study what they thought was an interesting, albeit dangerous, phenomenon. What they found, at least that got in close enough to measure it, was beyond all human comprehension. Beyond all human logic and reason. Sure they had certain scientific instruments that measured certain pieces of data. Data they could later take apart and analyze back in their laboratory. But the implications of the data were absolutely horrifying.

Scientists base their whole method upon the idea that there are certain laws of physics, like gravity and electromagnetic radiation, that are absolutely true regardless of where and when in the universe they are operating. Sure many aspects of those laws may be outside of human understanding and experience, but they are rigid laws nonetheless.

Of course, many believe that laws are transient, and don’t always apply. One law of physics that holds true in this area of the universe over here, won’t necessarily hold true in that area of the universe over there. But those that believe in this kind of transient application of seemingly fluid physical laws don’t usually make it a point to build a career out of science.

Which is why these scientists are first were more than a bit puzzled when took apart their data. It just didn’t make sense. The anomaly seemed to emit certain levels of radiation and what they referred to as “electromagnetic shock,” although there was argument if this term was wholly appropriate. The entity seemed to sometimes obey the known laws of physics, and sometimes not.

This would be OK if it obeyed/disobeyed in a repeatable, predictable fashion, but the frequency that it seemed to switch “on” and “off” passed all statistical tests of randomness.

Then the “incident” occurred.

It flashed a burst of what would later be called an “enveloping incident.” It seemed to expand in size, and briefly enveloped a scientist who had gotten too close. It was only for a short fraction of a second, but it was enough. After it had retreated to it’s “shape” prior to the incident, the scientists himself exhibited all the signs of an entity that was no longer bound by seemingly unbreakable physical, chemical, and biological laws.

Brain synapses stopped functioning properly, muscle cells, transmission of nerve impulses stopped behaving according to the laws of biochemistry. Once he had become “infected,” he was classified as “entity number two” by his fellow scientists. Some who had worked with him for years. Even referring to “entity number two” was a stretch of the imagination.

At times he would appear somewhat close to human form, although in obvious physical and mental anguish. Other times “he” would simply be a cluster of improbability, unpredictable, and deemed too dangerous to measure.

This of course, had presented the scientists with a huge dilemma. Obviously, they had to keep this “incident” from repeating, but they all agreed that any form of matter that came close to it would be in danger of being removed from the laws of physics and chemistry. It would be turned into a ball of purely random energy, that didn’t behave in any predictable fashion.

So the government did the best thing they could. Which was to place an imaginary barrier around the town for hundred miles, and try and decide if they could contain the entity. As far as the townspeople were concerned, they would be left to fend for themselves.

As such, they were a fairly self-sufficient town, with enough farmland, and a source of water that they weren’t dependent on outside resources.

But that didn’t stop the terror, and the fear, and the absolute horror. Of being locked in with hell itself, floating around, slowly turning victims into itself, one by one.

To be continued…

(And now for something completely different)

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It’s Never Too Late – Never Give Up


There’s this guy that I know that I meet up with from time to time for various reasons. We usually meet in the same place, usually for hour or so or less. This guy is exceedingly busy, and doesn’t have a lot of free time. I hadn’t him around recently, but I ran into him last week. He had just finished his PhD doctoral thesis on some kind of advanced mathematics. Something to do with eigenvalues and laplacians and boundary levels. He was trying to explain how laplacian waveforms behave differently with and without boundaries. Of course, I have zero idea what that means, but I acted like I did. It has been a long time since I’ve studied calculus, and while many of the equations in his thesis looked to be written with symbols I was at least familiar with at one point in my life, I had forgotten the meanings.

The interesting thing was that he had spent the entire night before meticulously checking his final thesis for errors. In case you’ve read any of my other blog points, you may have come to the conclusion that checking for errors isn’t one of my particular strong points. And that’s a few hundred-word blog post. This guy had a several hundred page thesis densely packed with graduate level math equations. And he had spent the whole night hunting to make sure every last “t” and had been dotted and every indefinite integral had been properly tabulated.

The funny thing was this guy was just barely able to hold a normal conversation. His mind was obviously shot from a combination of no sleep, and stretching his brain to capacity. We were trying to have a normal conversation about current events and other boring topics, but his mind was bouncing all over the place.

At what point he was trying to explain something to me, and couldn’t quite think of the word. (English is his second language). After a moment of thought, he had completely lost track of what we were talking about. It was quite comical. Normally he is a very logical and intelligent sounding person, but during this particular conversation, he reminded me of that lyric from the White Stripe strong “Hardest Button to Button”:

“I got a brain that feels like pancake batter…”

I remember back when I was in junior high school. We were in weight training class; the gym teacher was explaining how the body builds muscle. You do some weight lifting, and the muscle fiber is actually broken down, on a physical level. The body, being the miracle machine that it is, goes right to work to rebuild it, but because it has been stressed due to overwork, it just rebuild it according to the same specifications as before. It upgrades its specs based on the fact that the muscles were broken down because they couldn’t handle the physical load. The body then responds by rebuilding a slightly stronger muscle that will be able to handle a better load the next time around.

It breaks down, becomes sore the next day, but comes back stronger. You repeat this process enough times, and you can get some pretty strong, or pretty fast, or pretty well coordinated muscles. Anybody that starts off with set of muscles and bones built to factory specs can, within certain limits, rebuild it any way you want, given the right training and diet. Combine that with increasing your control over your muscles through various mind/body practice and exercises, and you can become a very elegant world-class athlete in a wide variety sports, if you decide early enough and stick to it long enough.

Several years ago there was this fast food company, Jack in the Box. They had this horrible scandal, where some tainted meat got into their supply, and a few people actually died. Killing people with your fast food is probably the quickest way to going out of business. But within a couple of years, they came back stronger than ever. They reorganized their quality control, developed much tougher inspection standards, and started a whole new public relations campaign. Before the incident(s), they didn’t have such a stellar reputation. I remember as a kid sharing rumors that they used kangaroo meat in their hamburgers. But after they reorganized, and launched a public re imaging campaign, they were back on top again. Those commercials with Jack and his big head became pretty commonplace, and they wiped out any negative image that they had before.

Scientists are starting to think that the brain builds up connections and neural pathways much like a muscle builds stronger and more efficient muscle fiber. If you have a bunch of different neurons scattered all through your brain, and you are starting to fire them off in a sequence they’ve never been fired off in before (e.g. thinking a bunch of new thoughts regarding laplacian eigenvalue boundary problems) you brain will naturally reorganize, and create several million, If not billion new connections. This new huge collection of neural pathways and networks are more efficient, and you are much smarter, and are able to think new ideas without that feeling of confusion or anxiety that came with them when you first thought them.

When we exercise, and lift weighs, we tend to instinctively realize there is a “good soreness” that comes the day after a good workout. And when we’re pushing our bodies to capacity, either doing one more pushup or pull-up, or putting an extra bit of juice into that final spring around the curve, we realize that our bodies will recover, and likely come back stronger. So next time we’ll easily do a couple more pushups, or pull-ups, or run faster out of the gait.

When you realize the initial stress and anxiety that sometimes comes with learning new things and experiences can be thought of the same way, there’s no reason why you can’t exercise your brain, becoming smarter and smarter, just like some people exercise their bodies, and become stronger and stronger.

My friend with his new PhD is a great example of this. He’s in his late forties, and teaches Junior High School science. He decided to get his PhD in math a few years ago, and now he’s got it. All it took was as a decision, and some follow-up effort.

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How To Go With The Flow For Maximum Benefit


I was having this interesting conversation the other day with this girl that happened to be sitting at the table next to mine in this weird café/restaurant I went to for lunch. One of those things when you make some piece of small talk, not really expecting anything, and then the topics for follow up conversations seemingly pop out of thin air one after another, and you are never at a loss for something to say.

This rarely happens when you set out to have a conversation, like when you see somebody you are interested in, and try and start a conversation based on the usual stuff. It rarely feels natural, and it takes a while before both parties feel comfortable enough to start to be spontaneous, and get that “click” feeling you’re after.

Sometimes when people meet for the first time, on a date, or at a party, they later say that they just “clicked” when they met. The conversation flowed, and there was “just something about” the other person who made them think they were somehow unique or especially similar to them in some way. Many relationships start this way and last a lifetime.

I was reading this book once on personality. In it the author was saying how people are always in a state of becoming, and changing. Even on a basic, biological level, every single atom in your body is replaced on regular interval. Your beliefs are always being updated and upgraded, or at the very least re affirmed based on your experience and interactive feedback as you move through the world and interact with others. You’re always learning new things. So both on a biological and psychological level, you are never the same even one moment to the next. This book was saying that there really is no “you,” as you are always changing. You aren’t even the same person that started reading this post, nor am I the same person who started writing.

If you think of human beings as an ever-changing swirling mass of ideas and emotions and continuously biologically active systems, it’s really impossible or anybody (including yourself) to know the real “you,” because there is no real “you.” Just like back in high school algebra, where “X” represented some variable that could mean anything, that “X” is you. You are the ever-changing variable.

So how does one explain that feeling of “clicking” when you meet somebody at a party, or a first date goes particularly well? Some say you just happen to have lot of things, which are always temporary, in common. By virtue of being at the same party or bar, you’re likely to come from the roughly the same economic and social background. You obviously live in the same country and speak the same language. So right off the bat you have several things in common simply by occupying the same space and time as the other person.

Many people start off a relationship, either with a friend, boss, business partner, or future spouse by a chance meeting that wouldn’t have worked had one or two variables been different. If you met the same person while standing in line at the supermarket that you did that one night at your friends party, you may never have started a conversation, got his or her phone number and got married and had kids. The world is likely filled with walking and talking examples of results of chance encounters that were seemingly “meant to be.”

Imagine a coil of DNA. It has billions of different possible combinations of strands of sequential nucleotides. When it comes time to make a new protein, the particular section of the long DNA double helix unravels, and opens up. A particular strand containing a particular collection and sequence of bare nucleotides is exposed to the cell fluids, and attracts the corresponding base nucleotides that match up with it’s own. A new protein is formed, according to the particular section that was unraveled, and then the new protein floats off to do its work, while the DNA wraps itself up again.

Imagine you are the exposed DNA, wandering around looking for the corresponding elements that match up with your metaphorical exposed nucleotides. Those can be met in one person, many people, and one or more situations. Once they are met, your metaphorical DNA rolls itself back up and then another section opens up again, looking out in the world for it’s corresponding elements.

Of course, you may have several portions of your metaphorical “strand” open at any given time. Sometimes hundreds, or even thousands, based on the never ceasing computations and calculations of your powerful unconscious mind. Some of these strands only need to open up for a few hours or days, some for a few weeks, or even years.

Maybe that feeling of “clicking” with somebody or, that feeling when a situation just “feels right” is when we come across a person or a situation that perfectly matches up with the portions of our metaphorical strand that are open at that particular point in time.

Of course, you can maximize the amount of “clicking” and finding situations that “feel right” by releasing worries and stresses about the future, and any and all regrets or remorse about the past, and keeping a keen eye out for what is all around you, all the time. Most people are absolutely amazed when they find how many opportunities are just waiting to be tapped.

And we exchanged business cards after our rather lengthy conversation that went in too many directions to remember, we both shared an unspoken desire to not “push our luck” and try and force another meeting. If it happened it happened, if it didn’t it didn’t. In order to maximize those opportunities and situations, you have to know not only when to pounce and let them unfold naturally, but also when it’s time to move on. They’re like little kids. When they want to jump in your lap, it’s best to put your arms around them and enjoy the moment. But when they want to run off and explore something new, it’s best to simply let go, and let them have fun.

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The Baker

Extra Bacon

The other day I was walking down the street, heading for my favorite sandwich shop. They make their own bread, and usually make whatever you want, although they do have a menu they use sometimes. I think the menu is for people that go there for the first time, but they will make whatever you want, using whatever ingredients and utensils they have. They’re also really good about remembering faces and preferences. They know that I Iove extra bacon on almost anything.

Once I went in during the off peak hours, and the owners showed me the back room, where they keep all the bread making equipment. They have this huge mixing bowl, and all these gigantic fixtures that attach to. He told me that it took him many iterations to finally get the mix and the preparation just right for the various forms of bread. He started out as a baker’s apprentice, and then opened up a sandwich shop. There are all kinds of stories about him, where he came from. Most of them are pretty interesting. Some say he has traveled the world to learn various baking techniques. At the very least a good marketing gimmick.

He gets at the shop every morning at 4AM to start cooking the bread. Then the rest of his staff comes in around ten to get ready for the lunch crowd, which peaks around noon, they slowly trickles off after that. The have an increase in business between six and eight, then they close at nine. The owner usually leaves by one, and his other staff takes over.

I hadn’t been there for quite, so I was looking forward to a turkey club on sourdough (with extra bacon). I was completely shocked at what I saw.

The store was completely gone. Moved. Not closed down, but it had been completely renovated and another store had been set up in it’s place. I could see that the table set up and the counter were pretty much the same, but it was now an ice cream shop.

I remember once I was at this restaurant with my girlfriend. It was this large, outdoor mall, with a gigantic movie theater. We had bough tour tickets, and were going to have a couple drinks and some appetizers before the show. I ordered a scotch on the rocks, and some kind of Thai fusion dish. I don’t remember what she ordered. A few minutes later the waitress brought two classes of ice water. Or what I thought was ice water. I took a big swig, and almost vomited when I found it to be straight gin. Somehow the waitress thought I ordered gin on the rocks, and had brought me that.

That’s kind of the feeling I had when I was standing there, looking into the window of the ice cream store. I had made the decision that morning to get a turkey club on sourdough (extra bacon) and was really looking forward to it. While I’m a big fan of ice cream, I was really hoping for a turkey club. Then I wondered what happened to the baker, and his loyal staff. Why did the just up and move like that?

“Hey buddy, try your luck?” I heard some voice say from behind me.
I turned and looked. I was a bit taken aback, because I thought these things were illegal, and that they only happened on TV.

“C’mon, whatta ya got to lose?” He beckoned.

He had a table set up, and three white cups. All three cups were turned over. What the hell. I looked for any signs requiring money, or hint of illegal gambling. I didn’t see any.

“What do I get if I win?” I asked, smiling, trying to out play him at his own game.

“I’ll tell you where they went.” He said, deadpan. What?

I stood for a moment, trying to figure out what was happening. I looked up and down the street. People were walking by like this was a completely normal exchange. I suddenly looked back at him, not remembering what kinds of clothes he was wearing. I somehow expected him to be wearing some getup out of the thirties or something. Not that I’d recognize it.

“And if I lose?” I asked, starting to allow myself enjoy the exchange.

“No extra bacon for you today,pal.” Wait, did he really just say that?

I walked up, and stood, while he showed me a fluffy red ball under the center cup. As he started passing the ball back and forth between the cups, I realized there was no way I could keep up. His hands became a blur, and I quickly understood I was at his mercy. Just then he started in on his patter, a required skill for all street hustlers.

“I won’t bore you with ‘now you see it, now you don’t metaphor’ because I know that will ruin the experience for you. I do hope you to make sure you got a good look at that blue fluffy ball. I had it hand crafted in India, many, many years ago.”

I briefly lost my concentration. He saw it in my face.

“Oh yes sir. I have many more skills than doing simple street cons. I know many secrets, and have studied many things. Whether you believe this or not is not really relevant. What is relevant is whether or not you understood that when you saw this ball, which is a one of a kind ball, that you may never, ever see it again.” He stopped, and looked down at his hand, which was resting on the center cup.

“Of course, this ball may have become that ball,” as he said that me motioned with his eyes over to the fourth cup, which I hadn’t noticed.

“But then again, we can never be sure, can we? That’s the mystery of life. Sometimes you see something wonderful, and it’s gone. Sometimes you see something plain, and it waits just long enough for you to get attached to before it vanishes.” When he said that he quickly lifted up all the cups. No balls.

“But sometimes things you think are gone forever have must moved, and all you have to do is look for them.” Then he lifted up only the center cup, under which was the blue fluffy ball. And resting on top of the blue fluffy ball was a business card.

“Go ahead, pick it up.”

I picked it up.

Grand Opening!
New Location!
736 Baker Street!

On the back was a map to the new location of the famous sandwich shop. I looked at my watch. I’d easily be able to get there by noon.

“Wow, that was the most elaborate…” I stopped cold when I looked and finally saw who had been deceiving me. It was the old baker himself. He winked.

“Today, the extra bacon is on the house.”


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The Road, The Inn, And The Psychotic Jazz Musicians

Where To Now?

Once, many many years ago, I took a road trip with a bunch of friends from college. Not really friends, although we referred to each other as friends at the time. More like contextual friends. Dorm friends. As soon as we moved out of he dormitory (at my particular school, they only let you stay in the dorms one or two years) we kind of drifted apart.

Groups are kind of funny like that. They can form for a specific purpose, and so long as that purpose exists, everybody can get along great, hang out during off times (off times from whatever the group was formed for), and even meet up with each other’s families on occasion. But once the purpose for the group goes away, so does the group.

I saw this once in action when I got a book signed by a famous author of a cooking show on TV. In order to get his signature, you had to wait in this long line, twice. Once in the morning to get your particular number, and then later in the afternoon, when you came back to get in line based on your number.

So the people you stood in line in the morning were the same people you stood in line in the evening. And both times the waiting was quite lengthy, giving everybody ample time to start conversations beyond mere politeness. And having everybody leave and then come back in the afternoon was another factor that added to the feeling of “closeness.”

The people I was standing next to in line had formed this small “group” of about six or eight people. In the two hours or so we spent together, we became like best friends. Exchanged emails, showed each other family pictures, the whole deal. But as soon as the purpose for our group vanished, (we got our books signed) the closeness and feelings of camaraderie vanished as well. Boom. See ya.

That was kind of like the group I went on this road trip with. The purpose for our group lasted much longer, two full semesters, but it vanished just as quickly as the book-signing group once the reason for the group’s existence.

But while we hung out together, it was fun. We shared common enough interests (music, alcohol, girls) and disinterests (school, studying) that it was enough.

So it seemed like a great idea to take a road trip when there was a holiday on a Monday, giving us three days to goof off. One of the guys had recently bought this big van, and we talked him into driving somewhere. We didn’t know where, only that we wanted to go on road trip.

Since we were all pretty broke, we figured we’d have to sleep on the ground, instead of staying indoors, so our only requirement was that we would end up at some open place or campground where we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our music other loud noise. The problem was that none of us were quite sure where that was.

We knew that in three out of the four possible directions we could go in would lead us to pretty large areas with no houses, but beyond that we didn’t have a clue. So we started driving, not knowing where we were going. Only that we had three days to kill before we got there and back, wherever there turned out to be.

One of the guys was majoring in Jazz, and he was telling us about this period in Jazz history where it was all the rage to play completely extemporaneous music. No notes, no predetermined set of beats or melody (I’m not sure if that is even the right terminology). Just four or five guys playing whatever they felt like playing. Sometimes it would coalesce into something that sounded pretty cool, but most of the time it would sound like utter nonsense, according to this guy.

He said that period in Jazz didn’t last long, as least they didn’t produce a lot of records, because nobody bought them. A few people that were really into the scene thought it was cool, but he explained that it never caught on big enough for that to be any musician’s main playing style.

He did bring a tape for us to listen to, and I have to agree it sounded pretty awful. Not really awful, but like completely nonsensical. Nothing you listen to music for, to relax, to be inspired, to pump up your emotions, would be satisfied by listening to a bunch of guys completely out of sync. It sounded like that brief second or two they sometimes leave on the record when an orchestra is warming up, just before the conductor takes over and leads everyone to play some masterpiece together.

It’s kind of cool, as it adds a sense of so many different people with so many different instruments out there, that suddenly come together and play as one entity. But a whole album of that stuff? No thanks.

We found out that without a specific destination, the novelty quickly wore off. Pretty soon finding a destination became our destination. Our requirements became less and less restricted, and any place that was flat. At first we wanted a place with a nice fire ring, so we could have a fire, but as it got later and later, we just wanted to get out of this guys van. It was one of those vans that didn’t have any chairs or windows in the back, so we were all sitting on the floor.

Pretty soon we just pulled off to the side of the road, sat on the ground, drank our alcohol, and fell asleep.

When they say that the road is better than the inn, I think it’s a given you have to have a pretty decent inn that you are going to. Otherwise the road can be a pretty boring and pointless journey.

The funny thing is, is that you really never even have to get to the inn. So long as you have a solid idea of where you’re going, that’s good enough. But without a known destination, it can get pretty boring, pretty quickly.


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The Mumbling Neighbor

Loose Ends

Once I had this really strange neighbor. He would seemingly be awake at all times. I don’t think he ever slept. We had these really thing walls, and occasionally when I’d wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I could hear him next door. And there were a few times that I’d stayed out all night, either at a friends house, or at some late night party, and I’d come home on a Saturday or Sunday morning at 5 A.M. He’d always be up, with his lights on, and he’d always be moving around.

I don’t think I ever saw him go to work. While it wasn’t in the ghetto, it wasn’t a particularly upscale apartment, so I didn’t think he was wealthy enough so that he didn’t have to work. I’d always figured he had some kind of government pension, or some kind of workers comp thing going, where he received just enough to pay the rent and the utilities, but not much else.

I’d pass by him on the stairway every now and then, and we’d exchange the normal greetings (Hi, What’sup, Howsitgoing, Hey, etc), or at least I’d start off the regular greetings. He would always acknowledge me, and it sounded like he was trying to say the same thing back to me, but he’d always add on a string of indecipherable mumblings after his apparent reciprocal greeting. They weren’t angry mumblings or what you may consider the mumblings of some homeless guy who has long drank himself past the point of sanity.

These were more like running commentaries that seemed to be going on all the time in his mind, and when I’d throw out a greeting, social conditions (from maybe a lifetime ago in his case) would require he respond in kind, but these responses would always bring with them whatever train of thought that was going on in his head. Like when you are fishing in a particularly deep portion of a lake, and you reel in your lure to recast, you bring up all the stuff that is growing on the bottom.

I went on a backpacking trip once, and we were particularly after some good fishing lakes. We had planned our trip through areas that had plenty of lakes, so that whenever we’d stop for the night, we would hopefully catch our supper.

This worked out pretty good, and we caught a lot of fish on that trip. The lakes were small enough so that you could walk around them, stopping every now and then to cast out a lure, and real it in, in an hour or so.

But there was this one lake, where after fishing all day, I calculated for every fish I caught, I would lose one lure. (Good thing I brought plenty of lures). Every cast that didn’t catch a fish would get snagged in the tall growing plants on the bottom of the lake, and I would invariably lose the lure to the lake. Perhaps the gods of freshwater rainbow trout demanded payment of some sort.

Payment is a tricky thing. Especially in the west, there are all kinds of different ways to tip people. I had a couple of friends once that went on a short cruise, and they were astounded at the number of people that you are supposed to tip on those ships. They were lucky they brought plenty of cash, despite the brochure saying that the price was all-inclusive. I suppose that at the bottom in small print, they likely had something like “gratuity not included,” but unless you know what’s up, you’d likely not even pay attention to that part.

Even in most restaurants today, if you have more than six or eight people, they automatically add 15% to the bill. In other parts of the world, tipping is completely foreign, and they always laugh at American’s who feel the need to leave extra money wherever you go.

Which is why I was so surprised that one day in Starbucks.

I had just paid for my triple shot of espresso (on ice), and had received my change from the cashier.

“Don’t forget the tip.” I heard the voice from behind me say.

I nodded my head. It was if the voice knew what I was thinking. Normally when I get a triple shot of espresso (with ice) I slam it right then and there, throw it in the garbage, and I’m on my way. I don’t bother sitting down. So I’m normally not thinking in “tip” mode. Contrarily, when I bring my newspaper and get something like a triple mocha, and I’m going to be spending an hour or so there, I always leave a generous tip.

But when you think about it, the work that goes into making both drinks is about the same, and the time I’m going to be sitting there shouldn’t factor in, since they don’t bring anything to your table, or come up to you and ask if you’d like dessert or anything.

As I dropped my coins in the cup they have at the register for that specific purpose, I turned to see who this self-proclaimed tip police officer was. I was shocked to see it was my crazy neighbor, except he looked completely sane.

He was dressed in a very sharp looking suit. His eyes were completely clear, he was clean-shaven, and I swore I detected a scent of Cool Water, by Davidoff.

“Hey.” I said, not having any clue what to say in this situation. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you see your neighbor you’d assumed was on disability due to some mental issues looking, smelling, and acting like the head sales rep for some cutting edge pharmaceutical firm.

“I know what you’re thinking.” He started. Now if I had no idea what I was thinking, how in the world did he?

“You see, things aren’t always what they appear. Some things are contextual; some things are based on structure, while others are based on content. The secret is that many things which appear to be based on content, are really based on structure, and really aren’t all that contextual.” He smiled, as if he made some incredibly and obviously salient observation of reality.

I, on the other hand, had no clue whatsoever what he meant by that.

“You’d better drink your espresso before the ice melts.” He smiled, motioning toward my plastic cup, which had been placed on the counter. I mumbled something in response, what I’m not sure. After I’d slammed my espresso, and looked back up, he was gone.

(And now for something completely different)

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Blast Through Resistance


Had I known things were going to end up like this, I might have started differently. I might have decided to shoot for another outcome, or come up with a backup plan.

Maybe, but not likely.

I was about three minutes away from find out if it really was going to end up like I feared. Probably. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, I didn’t really want to think about the worst. I have a pretty good imagination; I can imagine some pretty awful things. If I let my imagination run loose unrestrained it wouldn’t take long for me to turn into a raving lunatic. Maybe that’s I didn’t plan for too many options. That would require looking too carefully into the future, a future that might have me ending.

I remember once when I was a kid, me and a couple of friends had always wanted to climb to the top of this mountain. Not really a mountain, more like a hill, the elevation was only a couple hundred feet. But when you’re a kid, that’s high enough. The trees were thick, and it didn’t take long to lose sight of the road below. We’d tried a couple times, but never got really far.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about this one little hill. There hadn’t been any mass murders, or abandoned mines that swallowed kids whole, or a couple of wildcats that lived in the area. It was just a hill. But every time we’d started out, we’d lost our nerve. The trees were thick, and the road wasn’t the only thing we lost sight of.

You could easily see the top as you walked toward it, but once you started pushing through the brush, all you could see was five maybe ten yard ahead. The only thing that kept you pointed in the right direction was the slope of the hill. We figured that as long as we were walking up hill, we were going towards the top.

But there was one area that had these really strange trees. They had very thick branches, and blocked most of the light from coming through. So it got pretty dark, pretty quick. There was also that strange feeling, just outside of consciousness, like we were being watched. We never made it very part past that point.

At least until that one day.

We’d always given each other a hard time, never taking full responsibility for not following through. Always blaming somebody else. Of course, we’d jump on any excuse we could to turn back, but once we got back to the main road, and our fear had vanished, we would turn that excuse into an example of weakness for whoever had originally come up with the excuse.

I had been two weeks, and we’d been talking to each other pretty harshly. Brining up all the previous times we’d given up, sharing as much criticism of each other as we could remember. We made a pact, to the top. Only to the top. No excuses. No backing out. Even If we saw the living dead we wouldn’t turn back.

So we started out, until we got to the dark spot. Again we hesitated. But we pushed through. We were surprised when we saw the cabin. Not really a cabin, more like a shack. We were sure that nobody lived up here.

We stopped, studying the shack. It looked deserted. We approached it slowly, the strength of our unbreakable pact quickly shrinking into the back of our minds. We peered into the window. Nothing. We checked the front door. Not even a lock. We pushed it open, nothing. Empty.

Just a shack.

We decided to keep pushing toward the top. We’d check the shack again on the way back. We left the shack and started walking up hill. Within about twenty minutes, the trees thinned out considerable, and we could see the top. The sun became bright again, and we started running. When we reached the top, all of us were smiling. Big, huge, smiles of both happiness and relief. All those times we’d started out, and then turned back gone. We’d beaten those demons in our heads.

We remembered the shack. Our minds raced with excitement. Maybe we could sleep there one night. We formed a plan. We’d tell each of our parents we were staying at each other’s house. Then we’d all meet up with our sleeping bags. We’d have to bring some flashlights, and some candles. And maybe some food. Like a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter.

I checked my watch. It was time. I blocked the fears from my mind, and pushed forward into the light. I suddenly had a feeling somehow that everything was going to work out.

I walked out on stage, and audience stood, and applauded. I smiled.

It was showtime.


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Beware Of Infinite Loops


That’s what she wanted. She had been waiting for me for almost two hours, when I came wandering up. Where was I? Why didn’t I call? How could I do this to her, didn’t I know that she felt like a fool standing there all alone like that for so long? What must people think about her?

Calm down, I told her. We’ll get to the bottom of this. I showed her the text she’d sent me last night, and showed her my watch. Not an “in your face” kind of thing, but a gentle “here’s is the evidence that you may be incorrect” kind of thing.

Maybe that wasn’t the right course of action. Now she was angry that I was late, had been stewing about it for two hours, and just found out that it was he fault. Still needing somebody to blame, she tried to ask me why I didn’t call to confirm, to send a text back reminding her of the time.

Seeing as how I was totally innocent, it took a lot of willpower not to throw some snappy zingers in her face. I waited until she was finished.

“Well, it’s three O’clock, and we’re here. What do you want to do?” I asked, more than half hoping she’d stomp off in anger. This didn’t have the makings of a pleasant afternoon together.

“Whatever. I don’t care.” She said coolly. I had learned a long time ago, (albeit through several slow and painful lessons) that hoping somebody would change their attitude by telling you didn’t like it was useless at best.

I figured I’d give her one more shot, and a chance to save some face.

“Well, the movie starts in thirty minutes. Should I buy one ticket, or two?” I asked as calmly as possible, keeping myself completely open for either answer.

I was reading this book once that was talking about emotions. The guy was saying that humans have this strange way of thinking. We have thoughts, and then thoughts about those thoughts. And thoughts about those thoughts. And every step of the way, we have an emotional reaction to the thoughts.

They used to think that emotions get in the way of thinking, and decision-making. That emotions are completely separate from logic. It used to be generally accepted that if you were more like Spock, you’d be able to make much better choices and decisions, and wouldn’t be swayed by powerful emotions like anger, embarrassment, guilt, or lust.

By some brain surgeons decided to do an experiment. They were doing surgery on this guy. They were removing a tumor, and in order to get to it, they had to cut through several areas of his brain they thought were responsible for emotional thinking. This was only a temporary part of the surgery. They figured as long as they were in there tinkering around, they would test this logic-emotional theory.

Since brain surgery only requires general anesthetic (there aren’t any pain sensors in the brain) the guy could be awake, and responsive to questions. They figured they’d ask him some logic-based questions, starting with easy ones, and then getting to more and more complicated ones. Ones that most people have a hard time answering because of their moral and ethical considerations, like if you are in a boat and you only have on life preserver, who do you save, the President (who is opposite of your political party) or your favorite pet (or some other emotionally convoluted question).

These doctors had theorized that since this guy’s emotional circuitry would be temporarily disconnected, he’d be like Spock, and spit out purely logical answers.
But what they found was the opposite. Without emotional input, he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions. Without the emotional juice fueling the options, they seemed to him like a question of preference between a banana, and six. Later he said he couldn’t even begin to know how to answer the questions given him.

This, of course, sent neuroscientists into a tizzy, as it gave some great insight into the human decision making process. Of course, this was only one single case, and they can’t very well go off messing with peoples heads and disconnecting their emotions just to see what would happen.

But it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Humans evolved to make decisions for a reason, not to pass the time through idle philosophical discussions. Pain or pleasure, safety or danger, simplicity or complexity, these are all emotionally fueled ideas that power all of our decisions.

But according to that book I mentioned before (Mind Lines by Dr. Hall) we get into trouble when our emotions are based on judgments not on reality, but on our interpretation of reality. Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you make a judgment about that. You assume they are a jerk. Then you have a reaction to your judgment of them being jerk. Then you feel a certain way about that. Within a few seconds, you get angry at feeling guilty for being judgmental about some guy you assumed was a jerk that cut you off in traffic.

So when she had been standing there for two hours, getting angrier and angrier at me for being late, it didn’t matter one bit to her that it was her mistake. Of course, when I posed my question to her, it invoked the power of commitment and consistency. (See Cialdini, Influence, Science and Practice). She’d been waiting for two hours, she wasn’t likely to just up and leave five minutes after I finally showed up. (Finally according to her frame.)

I suppose the moral of the story is that whenever you come up to someone that has been building layer upon layer of emotions, it may be a good idea to simply give them an either/or option, take a step back and see what happens.

At the very least, it can be fun to watch.

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The Strangest Purchase I Ever Made

I’ll Take It

Due to the overwhelming response to something that happened before I even knew that I wasn’t aware of it, I’ve decided to do what most everyboyd already figured out. Which is precisely what you’ve probably been thinking.


My tale starts out with a vague feeling of déjà vu, although not quite. I had walked into this shop, and I’m positive I’d never been in there before, but for some reason I knew where everything was. Not that that is such a big deal, because most shops are pretty much laid out with the customer in mind, and to make it as easy as possible for them to make a purchased and get on out without excessive lingering.

But something about this store seemed odd, but at the same time, strangely familiar. The shopkeeper even looked at me with a sort of expectation, like I was in there a week before and I’d just come back to finalize my purchase or something. But then again, it may have all been my imagination. That has been happening a lot to me lately.

Déjà vu is an interesting, widely experienced, but often misunderstood brain phenomenon. It seems to happen at random, so they can’t really do any experiments to reproduce the effect. And they can’t very well hook electrodes into people’s brains, and have them sit around in a laboratory waiting to get hit with passing cloud of déjà vu.

According to various esoteric theories of probability and philosophy, combined with a few cold and hard facts about the known universe, there may very well be an infinite number of worlds just like this one, but only with sleight differences. The theory goes that since the universe is infinite, there are an infinite number of particles that can combine in an infinite number of combinations, making every possible combination a highly probable event. So somewhere in some corner of the universe is somebody just like you, reading a post just like this, sitting in a chair just like that, only something is slightly different. Like instead of that thought that just entered into our head, your counterpart in the parallel universe is thinking the thought that you are about to think, or perhaps the same thought that you thought the same time yesterday.

They theorize that déjà vu is some kind of vague and brief connection between you and one of your other universe counterparts. Some kind of a long distance resonance between bodies of particles that happen coincidently share congruence before phase shifting into randomness.

Our eyes only connected for about a second, before I realized my feeling of connection wasn’t backed by any game plan, so I just broke off eye contact, like you do when you are too embarrassed to say anything, and you’d like to just pretend your eyes never met. But our eyes did meet, and I could still feel them following them throughout the store.

“Did you forget something?” She asked.

Wait, what?

“Huh?” I turned, surprised.

She looked around helpfully, and then looked at me with her head cocked.
“You weren’t carrying any bags, did you put something down that was in your pockets?” She asked with genuine concern.

My pockets. I stuck my hands in both of them. Nothing there but my keys, and my wallet. Which is what I always carry when I leave the house. No bag.

I shook my head, and stood hoping for some more unsolicited information that might help me out.

“Did you change your mind? About the machine?”


“Um..” I started. Not sure. Starting to feel a real desire to get the hell out of there.

“I can’t really go any lower. It does sound it could be very useful to you. It does come with a three month guarantee.”

I had an idea.

“Um, could you show it to me, once more?” I asked. Staring directly her, so I wouldn’t look in the opposite direction by accident, and look like an idiot. (Who am I kidding here?)

“Sure.” She said, smiling and pulled out a catalogue. It was big, and thick. About half as thick as a phone book. It looked very expensive; all the pages were glossy and full color. She was slowly thumbing through the pages; I couldn’t quite glimpse what sort of things was in there. I stepped closer to get a better look.

“Aha, here it is.” She announced, turning the book around so I could see.

I was looking at that? What in the world. I checked the price. Sixteen thousand dollars. She must have noticed my eyes.

“As I said before, I can go as low as twelve thousand. We’ll scarcely make any money on this.”

I have to admit, even though I wasn’t quite sure what you would use a contraption like that for, it sure looked nice. Twelve thousand really wasn’t that much, considering. What the hell.

“Uh..” I started. How to start.

“Payment is, uh…” I hoped she’d finish for me. She did.

“Don’t worry sir, we won’t need to check your credit again.”

Again? Wait, if they ran my credit, that would mean…

“Ten percent down, and then the balance is up to you. Most of our customers secure financing on their own, but with your unique circumstances, that won’t be necessary. As I said before, you can just pay us twelve monthly payments on the balance. No interest.”

That did sound like a pretty good deal. What the hell.

“Ok,” I heard myself say.
“I’ll take it.”

That was just when I’d noticed the wedding band on my finger. When did I get married? I just hoped that my wife, whoever she was, wasn’t going to be angry at this purchase.

To be continued…

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A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To The Movies

This Post Ends With Whiskey

So the other day I was supposed to meet my friend downtown. She didn’t show up, and she usually isn’t late, so I gave her a call. Turns out I had my dates mixed up, so I figured I’d wander around. We were going to hang out at a coffee shop and then go see a movie, so I figured I might give that a shot. Only I hadn’t brought anything to read, and sitting in a coffee shop by yourself without anything to read can get pretty boring.

So I thought maybe I’d strike up a conversation with a stranger, and see how far I could get. I walked into the coffee shop, no luck. Nobody seemed interesting, or interested in having a chat with some strange guy who can’t keep his days straight. No worries.

I headed over to the bookstore; maybe they’d have something interesting enough. I checked the movie times, and there was something that looked interesting that was starting in a couple of hours. That’s the problem with living in a foreign country where not too many people speak English. When you go to the movies, often times you don’t have much choice.

Not like back home, where I can roll up to a thirty screen multi plex and spend fifteen minutes pondering the many movies starting within the next twenty minutes. Bookstores here are the same. If they do have an English section, there’s sometimes something interesting, sometimes not. Today there wasn’t anything that looked good enough. Back out to the street.

Which way, left or right? Left. I headed left, and figured I’d wander this direction for an hour or so before turning around. That way I’d make it to the 4 pm show. I’d hoped. I wasn’t aware of the incredible adventure I was about to go on.

Once when I was a kid I got lost in the mall. I thought my mom had deserted me. One minute she was there, the next she’d vanished, like in that creepy movie where aliens sucked people right through their bedroom windows.

This lady had this husband, and a kid, or something. Then these weird things started happening, like she’d remember her husband, but nobody else would. It was like he was erased from everybody’s memory but hers. All his pictures, her wedding ring, everything.

Then her son disappeared. Same thing. Nobody remembered him but her. She was all-alone, and everybody, from her best friends to her psychiatrist told her she’d always been alone, and she must be imagining the whole thing.

Only later to find out that aliens were stealing certain people, and erasing the memories of everybody around them. But when they took the people, they would snatch them, and suck them really really fast up into the sky. It was pretty funny, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be. Great set up, but goofy ending.
Anytime they have aliens as the culprits, you know something is fishy. Unless the fish themselves are aliens, in which case you’ve got some serious explaining to.

So there I was on the street, suddenly realizing I had no idea where I was. That was ok, as I sort of remembered some landmarks as I wandered about. Only when I looked around, I couldn’t see any of the landmarks I’d chosen. Perhaps I should have chosen some taller ones.

Suddenly I heard a voice from behind me.

“Son, you look lost.” He said. He sounded as if he had a thick Scottish accent. Only I wasn’t in Scotland. Hadn’t been for years.

“Yea, I was wondering how to get back to the…” Where was I going?
“The Movie Theater?” He finished my thought for me. How did he do that?

“Up that street, and then…” after that I couldn’t understand a word he said, as it was in such a thick Scottish dialect, he could have been sending me to the organ donor hospital for all I knew. I tried following his gestures, but they only told me to head back in the direction where I thought I’d come. Big help Scottish guy.

“Wait, one more time, please. More slowly.” I asked. He repeated the directions, only this time his gestures and words seemed completely different. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I was reminded once of a distant relative in New York who explained that if you are lost, and happen to stop someone long enough to ask for directions be careful how they answer. If they give you a short, direct answer, they’re usually being truthful. However, if they give you some long winded answer, they are likely sending you on a wild goose chase to end you up in some location that is further removed from where you thought you’d wanted to go in the first place.

“But first, son, have a dram with me.” He said, putting his hand gently on my shoulder. He motioned his head back, and behind him was a Malt Whiskey bar. I didn’t know they had those in this part of the world.

“What the heck,” I figured. I didn’t really want to see that movie anyway. And it had been long time since I savored a nice single malt.

What happened next, is a story for another day.

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