Category Archives: Stories

The Staggering Tale Of The Armadillo’s Evolution

Trust Your Instincts

Once there was this little armadillo. He had separated from his tribe, and was starting to get a bit worried. He wasn’t old enough to be out by himself after dark, but he was old enough to start feeling a little frustrated and anxious whenever his parents started to boss him around. So while he was getting a bit concerned, part of him kind of secretly relished the idea of facing the elements on his own for the night. He was an armadillo, after all, and I’m sure you know what that means.

Many people aren’t aware that armadillos tend to be loners, and not hang out in packs. They don’t hunt in packs, as they prefer to scavenge alone for various ground dwelling animals, like squirrels and small rabbits. Occasionally an armadillo will survive on only insects, but it much prefers the meaty taste of a ground squirrel, or even a house. (Although mice are the hardest to catch. They seem to have a sixth sense that keeps him just out of reach of the armadillo).

It wasn’t always like that. Back during the heyday of the armadillos’ evolutionary period, it had several different iterations of itself. For a while it was even capable of short flights, up to a hundred meters on occasion. But Mother Nature soon corrected herself, as the flying armadillo didn’t really have any advantage, from a hunter-gatherer standpoint. It was more of a passing fad than anything else.

But our hero of this particular tale was heading due east, away from the setting sun. This had been programmed into the animal’s instincts by Mother Nature herself, as it just made it easier to forage for food. They started out with the sun at their backs, and scavenged around until the sun hit its apex. When the sun was in front of them, they merely turned and headed back the other direction.

This, incidentally, why armadillos only live in areas near the equator. There used to be quite a large armadillo population in the north, but due to the angle of the rising and setting sun, they never quite headed back at the end of the day to the same spot. So for a while, armadillos seemed to migrate in huge arcs across the northern plains, but that was merely due to the structure of their environment. If you happened to build yourself a time machine, as well as a human armadillo communication device, you would likely find that the armadillos didn’t really have any idea what was going on. They just knew that when they went home every single night, somebody had moved their house. So every night they would have to build a new one, only to find the same thing happen the next day.

(Altough, one would tend to wonder why you should build such a device if you had the technology to do so. You may be better of curing cancer or something, rather than going into the past and interviewing armadillos)

So it makes perfect sense as to why this particular species of northern armadillo didn’t survive.

Back to our story.

So as this young armadillo was following his ever-lengthening shadow, he started seeing thing moving about him that he’d never seen before. These small creatures that looked like mice, but they could fly. And they flew in a strange pattern. They didn’t fly in straight lines like insects; they kind of fluttered about as if they couldn’t see where they were going.

He figured if they couldn’t see where they were going, it would be pretty easy to eat them. So he crept a couple of low flying ones that were close by, and just as he stretched out his mouth, they shrieked this really high-pitched screech, and fluttered out of the way.

Try as he might, and despite getting very close to these strange creatures, he couldn’t sink his jaws into them. It was maidenly frustrating.

Then he heard the voice from behind him:

“Young hunter. You will need to determine more stealth to catch your prey. Despite their seeming ineptness, those creatures are equipped with a guidance system much different than yours. If you want to catch them, you must enter their world. You must learn to see in the dark, and respond to sound, and not sight.”

He turned around, and saw just the faint shadow of whatever creature had spoken to him slither off into the darkness.

He turned, and watched all these delicious fluttering entities that so far had proved to be just out of his reach.


The armadillo closed his eyes, and began to listen for the creatures. He heard cacophony he’d never imagined before. The fluttering of their wings, the insects under his feet, the breeze through the cacti. Suddenly, instinctively, he leapt into the air, and sunk his deeply into a fluttering creature of the night.

It was delicious.

The lost armadillo of the day, whose ancestors had followed the sun in circles across the northern plains, was now a hunter of the night.

Freedom Of Choice – Do You Really Want It?


The other day I was talking to a friend of mine from high school about this problem that she’s been having with her next-door neighbor and her daughter. She thinks that because they are not as quiet as they used to be, then that means that something has happened, and she is taking it personally.

I remember reading something about that, when somebody has certain issues, and there is some kind of unfavorable change in the environment, people can sometimes take it personally, and assume it was something they did, or worse, assume it is another example of them always getting the short end of the stick.

Like once I had this friend, and we were waiting in line to get our food at this fast food place. She had number seventeen, and they called numbers fifteen, sixteen, and then eighteen. She looked discouragingly at her number and mumbled something about things like this always happening to her.

Of course, if you were to do an engineering analysis of the restaurant, the restaurant staff, and the time and resources required to produce each order, and then compared that to orders number fifteen through eighteen, you very well may draw the conclusion that order number seventeen was the most labor and resource intensive (e.g. double bacon cheeseburger, extra pickles with well done fries, no salt). It would then be completely logical (especially if you were waiting in line with Mr. Spock) to expect order number seventeen to take longer than the rest.

This extremely common situation is made worse by the idea that people have about what the world “should” be like. Restaurants “should” always give out the food in the order that it was ordered.

Then you open up a whole can of worms from the restaurants perspective. Should they always give out the order numbers sequentially, no matter how long each individual order takes? What about somebody like my friend who ordered a pretty specific order, and somebody right after her that ordered something simple, like a cheeseburger and fries combo? Do you hold up the line in order to make sure your orders are in order in order to not offend those orders behind her? Or do you try the best you can, and take a broader approach, and work as efficiently and quickly as you can in order to please as many customers as possible?

Sometimes when I’m at the supermarket, and there is a bunch of people waiting in line, and the next checker over opens up. Sometimes he or she will shout out “I can help whoever is next,” which of course leads to a brief period of social anarchy of biblical proportions, where the first will become last and the last will become first. Especially if the last isn’t shy about throwing some elbows in order to secure a first in line position in the newly opened check stand.

Then there are other, (usually older) more experienced checkers who make an effort to actually walk over to the next person in line, and single them out to be first in the next line. This usually results in a much more calm transition, as people are prone to accept the new checker’s authority on the situation, and follow suit. It’s not uncommon to see strangers checking with each other to see who is going to go over to the next checker, and who is going to stay in the current line.

I’ve never worked at a supermarket, and I don’t know if they have a policy for how to handle such a situation, but it just seems that for everybody involved, ensuring an orderly transition from one long line to two shorter ones is much better than eliciting some social anarchy.

I remember reading a study done a number of years ago regarding line psychology. People were presented with two options, at a hypothetical fast food restaurant. Option one is you walk into the place, and choose between four open registers. Whatever line you choose, you’ve got to stick with it no matter how slow it moves. (Of course, Murphy’s Law dictates that no matter which line you choose, it will be the slowest.)

Option two is one gigantic queue, where you line up like for an amusement park ride, or at the bank. Then whoever is next, can just say “next!” and since there is only one line, whoever is next, is next. This seems to be the most preferred by businesses, as it takes away the problem of dealing with line jumpers and how to handle the situation of a newly opened register.

But it is least favored among customers, as it completely takes away any choice they may have when they walk into the place. It gives the impression of being herded like cattle, something people don’t particularly enjoy on their lunch break. It also makes it seem that you will be waiting longer, despite numerous studies that show you actually will have less of a wait in a general queue than when you have to choose your own line.

Push may come to shove when you are forced to decide which is important, personal choice and freedom, or efficiency, even if the efficiency is customer oriented, as it gets them in and out quicker.

Often times, we prefer the illusion of choice even when, in the long run, having a choice means waiting longer, despite the length of the wait being the number one criterion for making the choice in the first place.

Quite a paradox, that.


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Beware of Predetermined Outcomes

Once Upon A Time

I heard a pretty good story the other day on the radio. It was about these two guys back I Europe, a couple hundred years ago who had an interesting theory. I’m not exactly sure what their professions were, but I think it was some type of profession that had to do with sociology or religion. I think maybe they were professors or something.

Anyway, they had this idea that if they went out to the small towns around Europe (this during a time of relative peace, before the two big world wars) and talked to enough people, they would find something very interesting. Being both devout Christians, they figured they would be able to piece together all the stories from various towns and villages, and put together some super grand unification theory of morality.

They were hoping to find some kind of underlying message or ethical punch line to all these various stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. Their underlying assumption was that God somehow transmits ideas to people, and then people transmit His ideas through their own experiences.

If they collected enough of these stories, they would be able to find the similar themes and messages, and strip out the various personal and local flavors that had been added to these tales over the years, and uncover Gods clear message to humanity.

Unfortunately, after several years of research, all they had was a bunch of nonsense that didn’t really make any sense. The stories they heard from this town over here had absolutely nothing at all to do with the tales they heard from that village over there.

Dejected, they gave up, and went home as failures and went back to teaching, or whatever it was they did before they set out on their failed mission.
Those that have studied the works of Joseph Campbell may see a similar structure in this. He went around the world, for many years, and studied mythology from different cultures, and unlike the two failed researchers mentioned above, he found some very striking similarities between the myths of all cultures.

They more or less followed something called a “Hero’s Journey,” in which there was a young kid, who lived a relatively boring life. Then some higher spirit or god called him on a journey, and he either was forced to go, or went on it on his on volition. On the journey he learns new things about himself, and fights some evil monster, and then returns to his previous life, but now an “enlightened” person, who is seen as a leader or a person of significance in his original community.

That’s pretty much the rough outline, there are several variations, and he identified seventeen or eighteen elements of which 4 or 5 exist in almost every mythological tale ever passed on from human to human. The “Hero’s Journey” is at the core.

If you take as step back, you can see this in many popular movies, as well as modern mythology (e.g. Christianity). Luke Skywalker, Dorothy, Harry Potter, that kid in Transformers, and even Jesus of Nazareth follow the same outline of the Hero’s Journey.

Many believe the reason behind this ubiquitous story structure is the method by which we are all born. We are in the womb, and then the contractions start, and then we are forced through the birth canal and out in the world, literally kicking and screaming. Dorothy and Luke on their respective farms, Harry in his room under the steps, Spiderman living a life of Peter parker, and even Jesus the humble carpenter are all metaphors for the womb.

The Dorothy’s tornado, Luke’s journey with Obi Won, Harry being swept away to Hogwarts, are all metaphors for being pulled into the birth canal.

Then when Harry becomes a wizard, Dorothy finds the wizard, and Luke becomes a Jedi are all metaphors for being born. And the same process, repeats over and over again throughout our lives, giving that particular story structure a strange affinity to our unconscious.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about linguistics. And there are two kinds of grammar, prescriptive grammar, and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is the kind of grammar you “should” use, and descriptive grammar is the kind that people actually use.

Apparently, any linguist worth his salt studies “descriptive,” grammar, just like any scientists worth his salt checks his expectations at the door and measures reality the way it really is, and not the way he thinks it should be, or the way he wishes it were.

Those that advocate prescriptive grammar, (which actually stems from schools in London many years ago that basically “invented” certain grammar rules so that upper class wanna-be’s could distinguish themselves from the rabble) are advocating a method of speech based on what they think “should” be the way you talk.

There is more and more evidence that strongly suggests that language is a biologically based instinct, and prescriptive grammar is no more natural than removing a couple of ribs to make your waist skinner.

Which, I think, lays the difference between those two researchers, who came up empty, and Joseph Campbell, who discovered some fantastic insights into human nature.

The first two were trying to prove what they thought was a pre determined outcome, while Campbell was merely studying and observing, as a scientific.

Of course the first two guys, who were brothers, and had the last name of Grimm, didn’t completely fail. Several years after they collected their stories, a friend suggested they publish them as children’s stories.

And that is how the Brothers Grimm Fairly Tales came to be. An attempt to uncover some mystical teachings of God, which turned out to be some pretty cool stories.

Note: The story of how the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales came about was heard on Paul Harvey’s “The Rest Of The Story.”


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Wait Your Turn


So there I was, waiting for my name to be called. She came out of the small room, reading off several names from a list. Not yet. I looked around the room, nervous people, some chatting some staring blankly off into space. Some studying the backs of their fingernails with feigned interest.

Twenty minutes passed. She came out again, read off another handful of names, then she looked at me, and nodded. It was time.

Sometimes, when I was a kid, I would ride my bike down to the beach to go body surfing. During the summer, the weather was hot, and the water was warm, so I enjoyed it just as much when there weren’t any waves as when there were. Sometimes I just enjoyed floating, letting the slow in and out of the tide move my body about. Every once in a while I would hear somebody say “outside set,” which meant that not the current set of waves, but the next one coming looked to be pretty decent.

Of course, a decent wave to a fourth grader on summer vacation means something completely different than what you may think of as a decent set of waves.

There is an interesting phenomenon regarding wave interference patterns when studying light. There is a famous double slit experiment, where they take a piece of material, and then put two small slits in a certain distance apart. Then they shine some light through on the other side of the slit, and measure the interference pattern on the other side with a special photographic plate. Because light travels in waves (sometimes) when it shows up on the other side, there will be peaks and troughs. The peaks are where the crests of waves coming through slot A line up with the peaks coming through from slot B. The troughs are where the lowest points from A overlap with B. The blank spaces in between are when a peak coming through slot A meets up with a trough from slot B, and they cancel each other out.

You can see this for yourself, by holding up your forefinger and thumb. If you hold you forefinger and thumb as close to your eye as possible, and then look through the space between them at a light source, as you bring your two fingers together, you can see the interference pattern start to form just before your fingers touch. You’ll see a small, but distinct pattern of darker and lighter “lines” between your fingers.

They say that physics is only makes sense because we see it over and over again, on a regular basis. Those that study quantum physics, or particle physics, knows that it follows a set of rules that is completely different than the rules we are used to in the macro world.

Not exactly.

There is the thing called the “correspondence principle,” and basically says that the laws of physics are the same for huge bodies, like planets, people, and trucks, as they are for tiny bodies like neutrons and photons, it’s just that the laws are specific to the condition.

Like the speed limit on the highway is 75 miles per hour, but through the small town is 35 miles per hour. They both still fall under the same speed limit law, but the law specifies different behaviors based on the environment.

But when I bought a boogie board, everything changed. Instead of swimming furiously to get to a wave that would only carry my poor body surfing skills so far, I could paddle out a lot quicker, and ride a lot longer. Simply by adding a simple tool to my pastime, I was able to get much more enjoyment, with much less effort. The only thing that became difficult was getting out through the waves as they were coming in. Before, as only a body surfer, I could simply duck under the wave and wait for it to pass over me. But with my boogie board, it became difficult. Many times I would paddle directly at the oncoming wave, only to get knocked back further than where I originally started.

Before, when I was body surfing, and I looked out at the waves coming in, and I wanted to get to a spot out beyond them, I didn’t give the waves a second thought. I just ducked under the water and let them pass over me.

But with my new toy, that made surfing a lot more fun, sometimes it was a hassle. How what used to be nothing more than some simple waves became a complex issue of timing. I had to wait until the waves were just right before I had a chance to paddle out beyond them, and wait until the new set came in.

Until my friend told me the secret. Get this thing called a leash, and attach one end to the boogie board, and the other end to your wrist. Then you could duck under the waves like before, you just had to sometimes fling your board up in the air before you did so.

Kind of like a tool added to a tool to make the tool more useful. With that added skill, boogie boarding was a breeze. And instead of floating just by myself, I could sometimes even pull myself up, lay on my back and stare up at the blue sky as the waves tossed me about.

When she finally called my name, I was about to fall asleep. I went into the small room, and I was surprised to see that it was just like the big room, only smaller. They had magazines, a couple of tables, and one of those bottled water fountains.

Then I had to wait there for another twenty minutes or so, but that is another story.


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Conflict Of Interest

Finders Keepers

So I went down to the video store the other day to return this DVD that I’d forgotten about. It was about three weeks overdue and I thought I might get into big trouble, or at least have to pay a big fine. I really should look into netflix or something similar. So I threw the DVD in my backpack, and hopped on my bike.

When I got there, I realized I had a problem. There was no video store. It had been completely transformed into an auto parts store. I’m assuming it was an auto parts store because they had a gigantic stack of tires out in front, and this big inflatable gorilla on the roof, who happened to be purple. He was holding an inflatable sign that said something about that week’s particular sale.

I checked the back of the DVD. I was in the right address, and I double-checked the date. Whoops. It wasn’t due three weeks ago; it was due a year and three weeks ago. I checked the title. Nothing I remembered watching. But how did it get where I found it? Sometimes you find the strangest things in the strangest places.

For example, once I was in Taiwan, doing my laundry. I had been there for about eight months, and hadn’t seen American money in quite a while. So imagine my surprise when I found a dollar bill in there with my socks and jeans. How in the world did that dollar get there? Was it some message from beyond? Was it a sign from the gods of wealth? Was I hallucinating? I’m not sure, but a dollar is a dollar, if you catch my drift.

When I was a kid I used to watch those guys down at the beach with their metal detectors, hoping to find chests filled with gold and silver, or at least a quarter. I don’t think I ever recall watching them find something. I think I remember watching them bend down a couple times, and pick something up, but I don’t ever remember their faces showing delight or that expression you get when you experience sudden and unexpected wealth. It was more like an, “oh crap,” kind of expression. Then they’d look around, and then toss it back into the sand. Couldn’t have been worth much. I suppose people that do that have a couple different criteria that they are satisfying at once. Obviously, if they were after money, and only money, there are better ways to get it. But if they like the idea of searching for money, rather than finding it, while doing it a nice place like the beach on a pleasant afternoon, well, then I can understand why they’d go down there and take their sweet time.

It’s interesting when you take apart your desires, and really take a hard look at all your criteria underneath your desires. The other day I wrote something about “integration of parts” where you take something you’re after and figure out all the underlying criteria. Sometimes your criteria can surprise you. I’m sure most of those guys that were looking for coins at the beach would tell you they’re looking for money, but if you asked them how much they’d like to go home with, and then gave it to them in exchange for them not looking, they might not take your offer.

It’s a combination of wants and needs, largely unconscious that make up our seemingly conscious desires. And since most of our wants and needs have overlapping deeper criteria, it can be hard to change one thing without changing everything else.

Humans, and animals in general, are funny like that. Most of our biological parts serve a couple functions, at least. Take your hair follicles for example. The ones on your face, arms and back serve two purposes. One is to grow hair, and the other is to let out oil secreted by your sebaceous glands. It would be a waste of time to build two separate tubes on your skin, one for the hair to grow, and one for the oil, so nature built a shared piece of equipment. When everything is working together, you grow hair and keep your skin moisturized. When things don’t get along, you get a pimple. Or at least you did when you were in high school.

Same goes with unconscious intentions. Many times a behavior will serve two intentions. If the intentions are working well together, the behavior will be a good behavior, like smiling at people, or being patient in line at the supermarket when the goofball in front of you has eight billion coupons and then all of a sudden wants to pay in pennies when you’ve got that important meeting that starts in three minutes and if you’re late it will mean certain doom. Or something like that.

Of course in the above situation, it would be helpful to alter your behavior, such as take a step back and look for a line that is moving quicker. It probably wouldn’t do to well to strangle the guy, despite how good it would feel.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was telling me all the problems with the American educational system. He said the main problem is that this one humungous institution serves many different criteria, sometimes conflicting, and the learning of students, at least according to a few, is arguably not the most important. At least depending on how you describe education, which is one of those vague nominalized verbs that has as many different meanings as there are people who work in the system.

Anytime you tweak the system in one direction, you maybe increasing the effectiveness of one criterion, but lessening others, and that will cause immense pressure to move back to the status quo. Kind of hard of steer that ship, unless you crash it into a big iceberg, which you couldn’t see because so much of it was below the surface.

So after asking around, I figured out that the video store that had been there switched to pure mail order. So I’m stuck with this DVD that I don’t want to watch. They have my phone number and address, so I suppose that if they want to get a hold of me, they know where to find me.


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The Mountain Man’s Secret

The Fish

Once there was this guy who lived up in the mountains. Through a particularly strange string of events, he’d found himself with quite a bit of money, enough to quit his job for good. At first he spent time traveling around, and learning about different cultures, a few languages here and there. But when the thrill had worn off, he longed for place to spend the rest of his days in quite solitude. On thing he learned about himself was that he rather enjoyed being by himself, and could spend hours just sitting and gazing out at a peaceful meadow or countryside farm.

So he spent time searching for the right place, until he stumbled on this area in a semi rural mountainous area. He bought several hundred acres, after making sure there was sufficient water, and electricity wouldn’t be a problem. He had to contract with some construction engineers to get his electricity and phone lines wired in, but that wasn’t much of a worry.

After everything was built and set up, he had himself a nice cabin that was right on the edge of a large meadow, with a rather large stream running through the middle of it, and a fairly dense forest. Traveling through the meadow, it would become more and more flat after a few miles, and then open up into a large valley, which channeled down to meet the main highway. The road came only part way to the valley, after that there was access only by off road vehicle.

He’d gotten specific permits from the county planning office, and surprisingly had to sign several legal release forms, as for a good part of the winter, his cabin would become completely inaccessible, except by helicopter. That was why he chose to build his cabin on the border between the meadow and the woods.

Should a particular emergency arise, it was still feasible to get to his place by helicopter, even in the deepest snow of winter. But just a mile or so into the woods, he would be completely cut off for until the spring thaw. While he liked the outdoors, and enjoyed being alone for long stretches of time, not having access to emergency medical aid was not something he wanted to worry about.

During the other months, getting from his cabin to the main road through the valley below took a couple hours, and then to the nearest town where he could buy supplies was another hour. So he would make a run every couple of weeks, and load up his pickup truck with as many supplies as he would fit.

Make no mistake, because I’m using the word “supplies,” please don’t picture some scraggly mountain man buying beef jerky and shotgun shells. This guy liked his modern creature comforts just like the rest of us. In his cabin he had a large flat screen TV that was of course connected, as well as his Internet connection via satellite linkup, and having traveled the world extensively, he had acquired a taste for fine foods. He had an industrial size refrigerator, and a large walk in freezer that he kept fully stocked at all times, as well as an impressive wine cellar he had built to specific specifications to match identically that of a restaurant he’d grown quite fond of in the south of France.

But on to our story. One thing he particularly enjoyed was fishing in the stream/river that had started somewhere up in the mountains, ran down in front of his cabin (albeit a couple hundred yards awards away, as recommended by the builders) and became very large sometimes down the meadow.

There were plenty of trout, mostly rainbow, but a few brown trout in the stream. Despite all of the exotic food that he special ordered from time to time from the specialty stores in town, nothing tasted as good as freshly caught trout. He had developed several recipes that he used to prepare them, his most favorite being a simple lemon, garlic and butter concoction.

As he approached the stream, he found spot to start fishing. Long a fan of lures, he chose a spinner of no particular important, loaded it up and tossed it in. He slowly reeled it in, tossed it out again.

He did see a few interested fish, but none of them seemed too interested in his lure. He tried another lure, same thing. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. He’d once gone eight days in a row without catching any fish, so this wasn’t particularly frustrating, or out of the ordinary.

Until he saw it.

As he slowly reeled his lure back, after the 17th cast (had he been counting) there was a very large, very gold/orange fish following his lure. At first he thought it was one of those Japanese carp that some people build ponds for in their back yards, but it’s shape wasn’t quite right. The strange thing about this fish was that it didn’t immediately retreat when his lure drew close to the shore as he reeled it in. it seemed pause a little bit, swim up stream, and then drift just pas the point where the lure was to be pulled from the water. As if it somehow knew in advance where the lure was going to be extracted from the water.

After he set his rod for another cast the fish quickly darted back down stream. But when he cast and reeled in his line again, there was the same fish. Except this time, he was the only fish there. He performed the same peculiar behavior following the lure in, and then darting upstream, and drifting down just to the point of extraction. Then he (it) would linger just long enough, and then literally turn and dart downstream.

This went on for about more casts, when he decided to try another spot. He walked down stream for about thirty minutes, and found a spot where there was a large bend in the stream, where the flow slowed considerably, enough for large pool to form, much like a small lake.

He walked around the lake, stopping in several places. Each time the same thing happened. He’d cast out his lure, reel it, and it would be followed by the same peculiar fish, that would do the same peculiar thing.

Finally he decided to call it quits, as the sun would be setting within an hour or so. He walked back up stream toward his cabin. Just before he arrived, he decided he’d try one last cast. But there was that same fish, only this time, it didn’t dart away so quickly when he pulled is lure from the water.

He swam back and forth, seemingly agitated, jumping from the water at each turn. Perplexed, the stood and stared.

And then it happened.

There was a monstrous earthquake, that seemed to last several minutes. He could hear the rocks up through the forest come tumbling down the hillside, the loud cracking of trees as they plowed relentlessly through the woods.

When the shaking stopped, the fisherman looked down at the valley where he’d been fishing all day. All along the side of the river, as far as he could see, almost exactly parallel to the river, was a giant crevice that had opened up in the earth, and was slowly pulling all the water from the stream into it. Pretty soon the stream, now a gushing river, had completely changed direction.

He turned, quite shaken, and walked slowly back to his cabin, not sure what had just happened. One thing he did know, and that was he didn’t think he’d be eating fish any time soon.


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Wrong Turn

The other day I went out for a walk, and since I’m living in a new neighborhood, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. When I started out, I looked around to make sure I could see some big landmarks, in case I got lost, I could find my way back. I wasn’t in much of a hurry so I didn’t bring a watch, and I didn’t have any plants to be back by certain time.

I didn’t really notice when it happened, but I looked up and instead of being surrounded by city type stuff like 7-11’s and liquor stores, I was surrounded by trees and rocks and dirt. I looked down and I noticed I was on some kind of trail, but not the kind of trail that you find in a national park. This wasn’t really maintained, it was more like a well-worn path, but it didn’t appear wide enough to have been made by humans.

I kept walking, as I said before I wasn’t in any kind of hurry. I looked around, and didn’t see any sign of houses or gas stations, but I figured if I kept walking, I’d eventually make my way out. That’s when I heard that strange, almost frightening noise behind me. It sounded almost, but not quite like a human voice that was experiencing some manner of distress.

Have you ever gone shopping, and ended up buying much more than you expected? I tend to do that sometimes, especially when I go shopping on a Saturday morning. It almost always happens when I go shopping before I make an effort to make something to eat. I may go to buy a box of yogurt, and end up with a frozen turkey or something. Once I went looking for a jar of instant coffee, and I came home with two dozen eggs. I’m not really sure why I bought so many eggs, but you never know when they are going to come in handy. It was at one of those “club” type stores, and you can buy the eggs in those big square things. I’m not sure what you call them, but they were cheap. They came out to be only about three cents per egg.

You can do a lot with eggs. Of course, you can make them fried or scrambled, or you can use them in a recipe to make waffles or some other product that you’d otherwise buy in a bakery. You could even drink them before your morning run if you were preparing for an exhibition fight to celebrate Independence Day. (In a fight you were expected to lose, no doubt).

I once saw this circus act where a guy juggled a bunch of eggs, among other things. He started off with regular balls, three of them. Then he increased to five, and then seven. (Have you ever wondered why professional jugglers almost always juggle an odd number of objects?) Then he switched to juggling other things, like the aforementioned eggs. Then he really impressed us by juggling some bowling balls, and some chainsaws. I’ve never tried to juggle chainsaws, but I imagine it could be pretty dangerous. You could easily get your arm hacked off if you aren’t careful. Or you might slip and fling a couple of chainsaws into the audience, and chop off a couple of heads. I’m not sure what a judge would do with you if that happened. I suppose they have some kind of insurance for that.

I have a friend that works in insurance, and he says his company has written some pretty interesting policies. Farmers buying insurance on cherry trees, movie producers buying insurance on actors that may slip out of rehab and back into drug addiction. Once a major television network bought coverage against some calamity that might cut into a live event they were televising. Insurance is an interesting business. No matter what you can think of happening, you can prepare for it, at least financially. You can even buy insurance against rain. If you own a jewelry store, you can buy insurance against rain on January first, and then have a huge sale, saying that if it rains on January first, all diamonds are only a dollar. That way if it rains, you’ll collect your insurance policy, and still make money by giving away diamonds for a dollar.

In Japan you can even buy insurance against getting a hole in one. It is a custom to have a big party and buy your friends all kinds of gifts and drinks if you get a hole in one, so you an buy a policy that will pay you about $10,000 if you happen to get a hole in one. Of course, you’d need to show all your receipts to prove you actually bought your buddies all the presents you are insuring yourself against.

I once was playing with this guy that could juggle a bunch of golf balls using only his golf clubs. Instead of catching the balls and then quickly flinging them back in the air, he used an eight iron and a driver, and bounced all the balls off the clubface. He could only do three at a time, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

When I turned around to see what was making that horrible noise, I had to do a double take. There was this guy standing behind me that was leaning his head back and shouting some weird noises toward the sky. I almost pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911, but then he noticed me and said he was a member of the bird watching club, and he was attempting to do some kind of birdcall. I don’t think it worked, because every time he tried, every creature within shouting distance would run away. But I got to give the guy credit for trying. As long as he was there, I asked him how to get back to the main road, and he pointed in the direction I was walking, so I continued on my way. And sure enough over the next rise I saw a huge sign for a 7-11. Naturally I bought a large slurpy before going back home. Maybe next time I’ll leave earlier so I can spend more time here before coming back to where I was before I started.


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Portugese Surfers

Organized Randomness

So the other day I was out riding my bike, and I took a wrong turn. I was in my old neighborhood, but it had been a while, so I was busy kind of looking around and not really paying attention to where I was going. I saw these kids jumping rope, and they stopped and looked at me when I rode past, so I slowed down to get a look at them. They acted as if they’d seen me before, or knew me from somewhere, but I didn’t recognize them at all. I waited for them to say something to indicate why they were looking at me with such familiarity. That’s when I heard that creepy voice from behind me. I almost fell off my bike when I made out the words, he/she didn’t really mean that, did they?

It was like the other day when I was sitting in one of those government offices to get some government paperwork down. You can always tell you are in a government office (in case you happen to suddenly appear inside of one and you aren’t sure where you are) because the people seem to have a certain “aura” about them, and the office furniture and equipment is usually a couple steps behind the times.

If you strolled into some modern research facility, or the office of a successful construction company, you’d likely find plenty of modern up to date people wearing modern, up to date clothes using modern, up to date equipment. But government office building people and equipment look like they only get upgraded once a decade or so.

So there I was, looking at all the government office people with all the forms scattered about their desks. I zeroed in on this one guy (I was waiting for my number to be called, like it I was a deli or something) and I watched him work for a bit. He’d pick up a piece of paper, read over it for a minute or so, check something on his computer screen, then scribble something on the paper, then put the paper off to one side. Then he’d pick up another piece and do the same thing. He didn’t appear to be doing this in any sort of predetermined order, it seemed completely random. And the place the put the papers down were never the exact same place from where he picked it up. There didn’t seem to be any progression of movement, either. It wasn’t like the finished papers were somehow migrating to some predestined spot on his desk. It seemed to be a pile of randomness that was turning into more randomness.

Of course I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly where everything was, and exactly how far he’d progressed on all of his various tasks that were scattered about his desk. One thing that is always satisfying is having a heap of randomness, and being accused of not having any idea where anything is, and then pulling out exactly what somebody asked for without even a second thought. That’s always a good trick.

Scientists that study randomness tell us that everything is random, and only because we live inside of familiarity do we convince ourselves that there is some order. Of course, everything in the universe follows certain laws (though not of course to some) and everything that exists now, however it exists, from your desk to your brainwaves are due only to what happened before.

The problem is that many times the “what happened before” is sometimes so complex and unknowable that things can appear to happen for no reason at all. Mathematical chaos theory tries to explain this. If you knew everything about the current state of affairs (down to every last movement of every last molecule) you could theoretically predict exactly what would unfold. But knowing everything of the current state of affairs is absolutely impossible. So when things happen, things we don’t expect, it can seem like they just popped out of nowhere.

I read some book once that talked about planning for randomness like a skilled surfer can handle any wave that comes in. If you are expecting a certain wave that will break a certain way, you aren’t likely to have much fun. But if you stay flexible, and learn enough skills to ride whatever wave comes in, for as long as it lasts, you can maximize your enjoyment, and minimize any frustration of wiping out.

This requires knowing what the bottom looks like, so you know exactly when you bail out. It’s probably a better idea to bail out before you get to the jagged coral on the bottom, lest you bash your skull in and suddenly wake up in some government office in a parallel universe.

Many frustrations occur because people try and ride a wave longer than they should. They have a couple of good moves, a few moments of bliss, and stay on too long. While they seldom wipe out from staying on too long, it just takes a long time to paddle out to where the waves are breaking, wasting valuable time. If you only have a couple hours of surfing time, it’s best to make the most of it.

Finally my number was called, and luckily I had all the paperwork filled out in the correct way. Sometimes, especially in government offices, they make you fill out all the paperwork again if you make even one mistake.

“I told you, I can’t eat the spicy stuff. My doctor says I have ulcers.”

I had to stop and process that before I turned around. The old man that was behind me (it was thought to tell from his voice) started telling me that the last time I brought him a pizza, there was too much Portuguese sausage on it. I guess that’s why those kids had stopped jumping rope and were looking at me funny. Just as I was about to respond to he strange old guy, the pizza delivery guy showed up. He looked a lot like me, and he waved at everybody like he knew them. He then proceeded to tell the old guy that he went easy on the sausage this time.

So, he’s got that going for him, which is nice.


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Switch Back To Power

Self Deception

Once a friend of mine were watching some videos at his house. This way back in high school, and his parents were out of town, so we had the house to ourselves. Nearby his parents place they were building a new group of houses, and they were at the stage where they all had that wooden skeleton look to them. After we grew bored watching our videos, we decided to go exploring through the construction site.

He lived in these hills, and the construction site was for some houses that were going to be pretty expensive. They were on the top of this one particular hill that had a decent view of the ocean a few miles way. So they were big, and fairly spread out. It was dark, and very windy. We didn’t really have any specific plans, other than to just walk around someplace at night that we weren’t supposed to be.

It was fun at first, walking through the houses, climbing up to the second story, and standing in the areas where the doors would go. Then we saw this big dark thing that seemed to be moving. My friend suggested it was some kind of guard that was well trained to attack if anybody got too close. We hadn’t brought any flashlights, and there was no moon out, so it was pretty dark. We stood there frozen for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. Should we slowly approach this black object, and see what would happen? Or was this some trick, was this some highly trained guard dog that had been taught to lay in wait for its victims to get close enough, and then jump for the jugular. Perhaps it was on a long chain, and was waiting for us to get within striking distance.

I remember once another friend of mine and I were on this hike through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We were on the second day of a weeklong backpacking trip. There was this particularly tough pass that we had to go over. Mountain passes can be the most difficult part of a hike, as they sometimes require you to spend several hours on these switchbacks. The side of the mountains you are trying to hike over are so steep, the only way to get over the top is to traverse back and forth at an angle several times. Our guidebook mentioned that this particular pass was one of the toughest in the whole mountain range, and when we got close enough to see it, I understood why.

Usually when you come up within site of a pass, you can sort of guess where the trail will lead up and over the lowest point, judging by the terrain and such. But this particular pass looked impossible. There didn’t seem to be any possible way to get over the looming pass on foot. I remember remarking to my friend that had I been a retreating general in charge of several hundred troops, upon sight of the pass I would have told my men to turn around prepare for a fight to the death, as this pass was impassable.

I remember when I was a kid, and I had to get this shot for one reason or another. It wasn’t my first shot, I’m pretty sure I don’t remember my first shot, but for some reason I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Maybe because I knew it was coming, and I had few days to look forward to it. I suppose I had built I up in my mind to be a gigantic rusty needle that they would stick in my behind and twist around for a few minutes before ripping out hunks of flesh. I couldn’t sleep the night before, and was in near tears when we got the doctors office.

The doctor sensed I was nervous, and started telling me a story about basketball. At first I was confused, but he seemed to be really interested in his own story, so I couldn’t help but to become a little curious.

He started talking about shooting free throws, and how it really helps to imagine the ball going in the hoop in your mind before you take the shot. It also helps to have taken plenty of practice shots before, so you know what to visualize. The funny thing is that he said you only need to make one or two shots when you practice. Even if you take fifty shots, if you only make five, that’s plenty. So when you are playing for real, and you have to make a free throw, just concentrate on those five that you made, and remember them in as much detail as possible.

He said that many players focus on the wrong thing. They focus on the empty basket, and the ball in their hands, and how they will move their arms, and how they should stand, or how many times you should bounce the ball before you shoot. He said when you do that your brain isn’t really sure what you want, so you always have mixed results.

He said that by only thinking of those few times (or many times, it doesn’t really matter) in the past that you got what you wanted, the rest will fall into place. That way when you are practicing, you are really just collecting a few data points to help to point your brain in the right direction the future. Kind of like when you preprogram your GPS in your car before you drive someplace. Once you set it, you just listen to the voice tell you where to go, and you can sit back and enjoy the scenery (but not too much) or listen to the radio, or chat with your partner.

He was telling me how good he became at making free throws, when I vaguely felt this wet sensation on my behind. Then I felt some nurse (who I didn’t even remember walking in) put one of those round band-aids on, and pull my pants back up. I didn’t remember her pulling them down. Then she handed the empty shot to the doctor, who turned and threw it dead center into the trashcan across the room.

“Told you I was good,” he said, and winked at me.

Once we started hiking up the seemingly impassable pass, the trail became clear. And the further up we got, the entire trail became visible. What seemed like an impossible task suddenly became just another set of switchbacks, and before we knew it we were on top of Sheperd’s Pass, the hardest pass in the Sierras, according to the guidebook we had.

After finally debated for a while, we decided to pick up a rock and throw it at this dog/thing/monster that was waiting to rip out our jugulars and then feast on our brains. Nothing. We threw another rock, nothing. Another rock, nothing.

When we got closer, it turned out to be a roll of that black asphalt stuff that had come undone. No big deal. We explored some more houses, vowed to become rich enough one day to buy a big house like that, and went back to his parents house to finish our videos, and whatever microwaveable food we could find in his parents fridge.


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Apples And Paper Cranes


Today’s topic is about apples. Apples are the most delicious things you can eat, except for oranges, even though I’m not particularly fond of oranges. Sometimes I can’t resist the smell, and I pick up a couple dozen. Sometimes at one of those roadside stands that are selling them by the bag for something like two dollars or something. It just seems like a deal that you cannot possibly pass up. These beautiful round, sweet smelling vitamin C loaded hunks of citrus selling for only two dollars for a giant bag. It’s almost too good to be true.

Of course when I get them home, I remember that I don’t particularly care for oranges. I’m a pretty lazy person, and eating them is just too much trouble. I like orange flavor. Usually when I pass by the vending machine and there are several different flavors of Fanta to choose from, I often choose orange. If somebody figured out a way to make an apple taste like an orange that would be fantastic.

Apples are the perfect fruit to eat, in my opinion. Not the perfect taste, or the most versatile, but as far as the mechanics of eating goes, they are as close to perfect as you can get. You can reach up, pull one off the tree, and start munching without a second thought. You only need one hand, there aren’t any peels to worry about, or small in every bite you need to worry about spitting out.

I was at my friends house recently, and she was telling me her dogs really love me. Her husband likes to make these barbecued chicken wings, and I never eat all the meat off them. So when we’re finished, and she gives all the bones to the dogs, they naturally like my leftovers the best because they have the most meat on the bones. So maybe I also leave more apple on the core than most people as well. I did mention that I am pretty lazy.

And from the apples perspective, it’s a great reproductive strategy. There you are, the seed in the middle, surrounded by all this fructose. Most people, when they eat an apple, don’t eat nearly all they can. That would take too long. To sit there and suck every last piece of pulp from the fruit. Most people just eat about 80 percent of the good stuff, and discard the rest. Of course in modern times we throw the empty in a garbage can.

But long long ago, when we wore loincloths and didn’t watch TV, we would throw the apples on the dirt. And the discarded apple core was a perfect vehicle for growing another tree. It has plenty of nutrients for the seeds to use to sprout and grow. What’s even better is animals that either are too dumb to know the difference, or don’t have hands to eat with, will eat the entire apple. Then when the animal in question does his business, there are seeds surrounded by the best plant generating material there is.

Of course, then there’s the metaphor about Johnny Appleseed, who roamed the country planting apple seeds every where, and is responsible for the vast number of apple trees across America. One wonders what saying “As American As Apple Pie” would have been if Johnny Appleseed planted watermelon seeds, or kiwi seeds. Perhaps we would have gone to war with New Zealand or something equally as senseless.

I guess having a metaphor as some happy guy planting apple trees sounds better for the kids. If you had a metaphor as some goofy animal roaming the country eating apples whole and then pooping out the seeds, or a bunch of prehistoric people eating apples and then littering everywhere, that wouldn’t sell as many children’s books. Johnny Appleseed sounds better than Johnny Apple Litterbug, or Spot The Fierce Apple Seed Pooper.

I suppose that happens a lot. We see something, we figure out how it works, or we have a basic idea of how it works, but instead of describing it accurately, we make up some story. Either the story sounds better, or it’s easier to come up with, or it’s simpler.

I was reading this essay once on memes (I’m afraid I don’t remember where, so I can’t link to it) and the guy who wrote it was saying there are several reasons why memes spread. One of them is how easy the idea is to understand. One example that is often used is how to fold a particular Japanese Origami. There are a certain number of steps, and depending on how faithfully you reproduce those steps, you’ll end up with a pretty decent shape.

Obviously, the Origami’s that last the longest are both easy to do, and have a result that is aesthetically, and symbolically pleasing. One of the most ubiquitous Origami shapes in Japan is the crane. Birds represent freedom (among other things) as they can fly wherever they want. Cranes are white which represent purity and peace (among other things). And folding a paper crane isn’t particularly difficult. Most elementary school kids in Japan can make one easy enough. So you have a shape that is fairly easy to fold, and the outcome gives the folder a pretty good feeling.

Compare that to some Origami shape where the outcome was symbolic of death and disease, and in order to fold it you have to be an Origami grand master, that particular meme wouldn’t lend itself very much to spreading.

When you throw in something like a naturally occurring event, like the number of apple trees in a particular area, that throws another variable in the mix. Now you’ve got this thing in reality that you need to describe. The outcome can’t be changed, (e.g. there are a bunch of apple trees) but the stories will vary widely, and depending how simple they are to transmit, and how happy they make the teller/listener, they will propagate at different rates, until one story is the exclusive story being told everywhere.

Maybe there were a bunch of different stories told to explain the number of apple trees. The one that stuck was the one that was easy to tell (some guy roamed the country planting them) and it sounded pretty good. (The guy that planted them was somebody that intended to provide apples for everybody.)

Of course there is one more variable that we could talk about, and that is intention. Johnny Appleseed has a pretty good intention, namely to help others. Some caveman litterbug’s or some pooping animal’s intentions aren’t so noteworthy. That, however, shall be addressed in another post.

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