Archive for Random Thoughts

2018 Draws to a Close

What a year, huh? And I don’t just mean the political shitshow that is the current administration. It did cause me to protest more than I ever have in my life. But I also ended a job that I held for nearly ten years. Because of that, I am ending the year feeling… untethered. Free, yet aimless.

So, I suppose for a wrap up I should begin with tackling how I did on my resolutions for the year.

  • I’m still fat, and still unhappy about it. I did try better at the beginning of the year, but then I got super stressed out for about 6 months ending in me quitting my job. After which I indulged a bit until more recently trying again to do better. Overall, I’m down maybe a pound or pound-and-a-half for the year. Not stellar progress, but at least I didn’t gain.
  • I did read more. Not a ton – see the aforementioned 6 months of stress – but I did plow through a few books. Also, I dropped books as they became uninteresting. This is a feat for me, as I usually feel obligated to finish what I start.
  • On the writing front… well, I posted a few times here at the start of the year in January, then one time in April, and then a few more times at the beginning of December. I did a little not-on-the-internet writing, but again there was that 6 month period of stress that kind of wrecked a lot of things.
  • I did play a crapload of games though. I played some tabletop games with friends a number of times, I started playing Overwatch and got 350+ levels, I finished getting all the Korok seeds in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I started Super Mario Odyssey. My video gaming was on the PC and the Nintendo Switch – the Xbox One got almost no use this year.
  • And I did use the Ink and Volt journal. It worked pretty well, but I’m going to do something different for next year. The Ink and Volt planner was a bit more than I need or want.

Reflecting on 2018, I did okay, but it could have been better. I hope your year turned out well.

The Revolution Will Be Automated

I wrote a post about a conversation that I once actually had with someone.

Every day, when we let it, the world gets better. Things get easier. And this is a good thing. Except that sometimes older people get angry that the people who come after will benefit from the world being a better place. “Why, in my day…” they’ll begin, and rattle off some thing that you used to have to do that you don’t have to do anymore, because it was made obsolete or trivial.

And every business I have ever been a part of has always been searching for ways to automate, to consolidate, to increasing productivity while reducing staff. And that’s a good thing!

But the question brought up in the conversation and one I’m always asking people is “What then?”

Let’s just take an example. Some fast food restaurants have tried out self-service ordering kiosks. A customer walks up to a terminal, and puts in their own order, tapping items off the menu, and customizing those items. Now, I’ve seen some people confused by those terminals, and one I used was so strangely designed that even I had trouble with it. But if they became mainstream, the learning curve would lessen, people would get used to them, and they’d become just another part of normal life. Now, for this example, let’s assume that by putting in self-service kiosks a fast food restaurant could eliminate 1 person per shift from their schedule – which would be roughly like 3 employees. There are roughly 247,000 fast food restaurants in the US.

Where would those 741,000 people get jobs after they were laid off?

My local grocery stores, Targets and WalMarts already have self-checkout lanes. There are about 47,000 of those. They probably were able to drop 2 or 3 people from their staff, so that’s another 150,000. And if those self-checkout lanes got better (and they will), then they’ll probably be able to cut more.

Think about banks. When is the last time you went into one or used even the drive up teller that was a person? I don’t even have to deposit checks at the bank anymore. I can do it on their mobile app. And any time I’ve needed cash, I go to an ATM. In fact, personally, the last time I actually entered a bank or spoke to a human at a bank was about 26 months ago. And before that it was probably several years. How many people have been downsized because of ATMs and mobile apps in the banking industry?

Every time we make an advancement in technology, it displaces workers, and they have to go find another job somewhere else. They may even have to go back to school, or take an entry level job even though they have years of experience because they are going into a new field since all of the fields they have experience in are automating too.

You might be thinking that this isn’t a problem yet, but go look at all the articles about “millennials” destroying industries because they don’t have money to buy the things previous generations bought because they are underemployed at low wage jobs. Just look at all the young people trying to make a living on social media, be it playing music on YouTube, streaming games on twitch, or trying to be a brand on Instagram. Older people will tell them to “get a job”, but where? Where should they go? What industries are expanding? Where are there older people retiring and the jobs not being eliminated behind them? In fact, those older people, they probably aren’t retiring, because they don’t have the funds to be able to do so.

We are, in the not too distant future, going to reach a critical mass of people who can’t find work because all the jobs worth doing have been automated, a critical mass of people who don’t make enough at the jobs they can still get to afford basic needs and a little entertainment. And people who live paycheck to paycheck, they don’t retire, so it’ll only get worse.

It is a problem, and in this country we need to start thinking about it. What do we do when there are no more jobs? What do we do when so much wealth is held by so few people that the majority of “us” are poor?

That’s the place where revolutions get ugly.

NaNoWriMotivation

Now that November is good and done with, I will admit to my shame: I wrote 0 words for NaNoWriMo.

Being that I am currently unemployed I figured this was going to be my best chance ever to write, and not feel rushed, and get it done – and not like the times in the past where I wrote garbage just to meet the goal. Then I got sick. Still though, losing 5 out of 30 days shouldn’t have hurt. But I just could never put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard as it were.

I even had a real plan. I had an outline. I’d done the research I needed. And then… nothing. Zero.

Perhaps if my unemployment had been brand new, but I’ve been out of work (by choice) since August. And while I’m not under serious pressure to get a job (I’ve got until probably the end of May before I start getting worried), it has been demotivating that the interviews I’ve had have gone so poorly, or that every single company seems to think that open offices are the best (they are not – they are, in fact, the worst), or that most companies are so far away.

A goose egg of a NaNoWriMo on top of that was just a gut punch. A kick while I’m down.

So now I’m trying to see if I can get more writing done in December, and also seeing if I can maybe make a go at starting a business of my own. I just need to find a way to keep my spirits up, to keep moving, keep producing, keep writing, keep reading, keep learning…

Last night I was awake until nearly 2 a.m. going through old post drafts here. Throwing out the ones that don’t matter anymore – I mean, who needs my thoughts on the upcoming 2016 election? Editing the ones that might still be something, like last night’s post. Jotting down ideas for posts yet to come. It felt good.

There Are Not Always Two Sides

I can’t stand watching the news on TV. First and foremost this is because most of the places I see the news on TV – restaurants, waiting rooms, etc. – seem to always put on Fox News, and Fox News is barely news, and studies show that people who use it as a primary news source are actually less informed than people who don’t watch the news at all. That study is from 2012, and I’m certain it has only gotten worse since.

Second, most news shows and channels always want to make news a discussion, and in order to do that they have on guests, and they always want to have guests from “both sides” of the argument.

Often this mainly serves to misrepresent that the two sides are equal. As John Oliver showed on Last Week Tonight, having 1 scientist who says climate change is happening and having 1 scientist who says it isn’t doesn’t accurately represent that 97% of scientists support the climate change model. It makes it look like it is a 50/50 split, which it is not.

But more damaging, it often allows people to think that there are two sides. Take climate change again. It’s happening. That is a 100% irrefutable fact. If you look at charts of temperatures for global models… well, they don’t call it a “hockey stick” graph for nothing. It is relatively straight for a long period of time with a natural up and down cycle and then right at the end – the last hundred years – there is this sharp upward swing. The only people who can deny that are people who just flat out deny reality, deny science – like people who think the universe is only 6,000 years old. The only debate is a) how much are humans responsible for the upward swing, and b) can humans arrest the upward swing. But that’s not how discussion get framed on the news. That’s too much knowledge and nuance. Instead, they bring on one guy to say “Look, it snowed outside. How can we have Global Warming if we still have snow?” and they bring on another guy to say “Because it’s more complicated than that.” And the audience is left thinking there is still debate over climate change.

Another way I like to think of it… if the question is “Which color is better, blue or green?” then you can have “both sides” argue it out, because which color is better is 100% opinion (at least until you get into specifics like “which color, blue or green, is better for reflecting more heat?”). But if the question is “Are blue and green colors?”, the answer is “Yes.” and you don’t have someone arguing the other side, because there IS no other side.

This false idea that everything has two sides and the way news programs approach it is having a detrimental effect on the viewers. For a good explanation of this phenomenon, check out this Slate article about the subreddit AskHistorians policy of banning Holocaust Deniers. The short version: Just allowing the Holocaust Deniers to engage in discussion lends credibility to their position – even if they don’t specifically deny the Holocaust outright, their questioning of minutiae allows the casting of doubt in the viewers. “Why, if this one little tiny thing is wrong, then what else could be wrong?”

And then there is the secret truth: Holocaust Deniers don’t actually think the Holocaust didn’t happen. They absolutely know it happened, but they AGREE with it, and maybe feel like it didn’t go far enough. They want to sow doubt so they can discredit people who oppose their (white) nationalist ideas, and they can normalize their other positions – like deporting people of color, or arresting all illegal immigrants and taking their children from them as hostages.

These sorts of things are why we need to improve public education in this country. Because there is another factor out there called the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, people are terrible at judging how competent they are at a task or skill they are not competent in. And we currently have a president who believe that he knows better than the experts in all area, despite having no education or training in most (if not all) of those areas.

People need to be educated, at least a little, in most subjects – just enough to recognize that when someone is just telling you a bunch of facts there is no “other side” being kept from you. They are just facts.

Lost Minutes

Every workday morning I get in the car and as I pull out the driveway I tap Waze to life to get the most expedient route to the office. It usually says the trip is going to take about 40 to 45 minutes, and at 5 AM it is right. But any later and I will get to watch my arrival time slowly tick upwards, my destination drifting later and later. 45 minutes becomes an hour, then an hour fifteen, an hour and a half, and sometimes up to as much as two hours.

These lost minutes feel more empty than any other wasted time. Commuting is such a bore, but one where you can’t just sleep through it. Well, if you take mass transit you can. I live in the suburbs and work in the city – mass transit takes two hours because … well, the politics of Cobb County is something to get into another time.

Driving in heavy traffic sucks.

The Road to a Viable 3rd Party

Ross Perot carried 18.9% of the popular vote in 1992. He got 0 electoral votes. Gary Johnson managed to get 1% of the popular vote in 2012, and in 2016 he got 3.3% of the vote. Both times, he got 0 electoral votes. Jill Stein in 2016? 1% of the vote, 0 electoral votes.

President is not directly elected by popular vote (if it was, we’d have had Gore in 2000, and Clinton in 2016). They are elected by the Electoral College, whose electors are selected by rules of each state. Except for the states of Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded to the popular vote winner for the state. So, a Libertarian or other 3rd Party cannot win the presidency if they cannot carry states (in Maine and Nebraska they could get an elector if they could manage to carry districts). Is this a bad thing? Is this a good thing? That’s a long discussion, but as of right now it is a thing, and one that cannot be ignored.

(Weird Note: 2016 was such a strange election, because of faithless electors – which had not happened since 1896 – Colin Powell got 3 electoral votes, and Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, & Faith Spotted Eagle each got 1.)

Until a state elects a 3rd party governor, you are unlikely to see a 3rd party get electors in a presidential run.

If you want to break the hold of the two party system we have here in the US, then you need to focus on local and state elections, and convince your preferred 3rd party to do the same. I’d love to see more variety in our political parties, but this is simply not a game you can enter with a “top down” approach. You have to start at the bottom.

I bring this up because 2018 is a midterm election. There is no presidential race to drive up voting participation, so this would be the time to Get Out The Vote for those 3rd party candidates since the threshold for winning will be easier now than trying in 2020.

36 states will be electing a governor this year. Personally, I’m hoping for a lot of flipping Red to Blue, because I’m a dirty liberal, but I’d take flipping Red to Independent too.

Anyway, until 3rd parties start winning states, if you tell me you are going to vote for anyone other than the Republican or Democrat nominee in a presidential election, I will tell you you are “throwing away your vote”. By all means, you should vote, and you should vote for whoever you want, but in our existing system no one but the Republican and Democrat nominees are going to carry a state and get electors. You can vote for a 3rd party in protest, but it is a protest that those two parties will ignore, unless your 3rd party can prove it is worth paying attention to by winning state and local elections.

Unemployment in the New World

“So, in general, the idea is to mechanize as many processes as possibly, eliminate human error, increase productivity, reduce costs…”
“Yes.”
“What should all the people you put out of work do?”
“Get other jobs.”
“Doing what?”
“Other jobs.”
“But if all businesses are doing the same thing you are, mechanization, more work with fewer people, et cetera, what jobs?”
“Well, they can’t just be lazy and do nothing!”
“They wouldn’t. Very few people can actually sit around doing nothing for a long time. I mean, sometimes it looks like people do that, but that’s usually because they are just super tired from being worked to death. After some respite, most people would start doing something.”
“Yeah, like getting a job!”
“Well, no, like maybe volunteering in their communities, or making music or art or research and thinking about how to do something new or something better.”
“Who would pay them for that?”

Privilege and Beyond

Some days I feel old. Some days I still feel young. But one thing I generally no longer feel is ignorant. I’m not perfect and I am always learning, but it is only within the last few years that I have become aware of how uninformed and uncaring I was as a younger man.

That isn’t to say that I was an asshole. I mean, I probably was sometimes, but I was never the guy running around rubbing people’s noses in my success or achievements. And yet, I was blissfully unaware of how easy I often had it. It’s only within the last half dozen years or so that I’ve stumbled across the words that have helped me understand so much about the world around me.

Privilege is that which you don’t have to think about.

I say that, and I know some people don’t get it. Or worse, they knee-jerk respond to the word “privilege” and go off on a tirade about being forced to be politically correct or some other nonsense. But as a younger man, I simply never gave much thought to the things I was born with. And it isn’t about how much I have, but rather how much is not held against me. And that is the root of privilege, and why it is hard for people who have it to see it, because it isn’t something they actively use, but simply something other people don’t hold against them.

As a straight white male I feel pretty comfortable going into just about any situation. I might have anxiety about how my actions or performance might be perceived but I never worry that I’m going to be hated for simply existing. There are places where that can happen, but frankly I have to seek them out with great effort, widely stepping outside my normal day to day.

For example, one time, when I was in college, I and some friends decided to go roller skating. We went to the only place we knew of near by, which happened to be in a predominantly black part of town, and it was a busy night. Our group of five (if I remember correctly) were literally the only white people there. It was uncomfortable, especially when I zoomed a bit too fast, blanked on how to stop myself, and went crashing into a group of young ladies. I was embarrassed, and even a little scared… but notice, I was also still skating. I got a lot of looks that night, because I was clearly “out of place” but even then, there I was – and no one ran me out.

There was a moment that night, just a moment, where I felt truly and deeply “outside”, and it is that moment I try to grip in my mind nowadays when I want to consider the position of someone who is without privilege. Even so, it’s often very hard to put myself in the shoes of others, or in the place of those who don’t even have shoes.

And this is where I am today, when I decided finally to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. There are so many quotes from this piece that I have seen, in memes on Facebook, on shirts, on posters, plucked for use on TV – all of these mostly on MLK Day. And these quotes are powerful, their message piercing for those open to listen. And yet, in context, their power only grows. The whole letter is an astounding work.

Today, as always, there is so much focus on the bombast of King’s defining speech, I Have A Dream. But I think it’s the Letter From Birmingham Jail that most people need to read. It speaks of change and consequence, laws just and unjust, and the need for people to speak out against injustice, and to take non-violent action when speech falls of deaf ears.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote struck me as I read it. I’m certain I have seen it before, but as I read it today, in context, it carried more weight, because in recent years I have tried to not be a part of the “appalling silence of the good people”. Not that I’m out there shouting injustice from the rooftops, but in lending my voice to others. Amplifying when I can. And voting when the opportunity arises.

I also can’t help but feel that much of what King says in Letter can apply today, especially that quote above, to the current administration, those who support it, and those who remain silent.

To 2018 and Beyond

This is where I would complain about writing the wrong year on my checks for the next few months, but since this is 2018 I don’t write checks for anything anymore. Well, that’s not entirely true. I write exactly one check per year, because my HOA doesn’t accept their dues any other way.

So… resolutions.

I made my first resolutions post back in 2002, where I proudly stated that I didn’t need resolutions. I then followed that by making resolutions posts every year until 2014. 2015, 2016, and 2017 I missed, because in the last three years I was more apt to post about why I wasn’t posting than to post anything of any real substance. Over the years I see that I tend to make the same resolutions over and over. I suspect a lot of people do.

I usually resolve to exercise more or eat better, or both, with a goal of not getting fat or to stop being fat, and since I am fat I clearly have failed at this for 16 years. And when I say I am fat, this isn’t an anti-body-positivity thing. I would be perfectly happy being fat if I was happy and also fat. But as I have gotten heavier and out of shape, I have become less happy. I am uncomfortable sitting sometimes. I have trouble tying my shoes because of the density of my gut. Moving around is exhausting. And as I get older, my weight is probably contributing to other health issues that are cropping up. So I will once again resolve to eat better and move more, to lose weight and be healthier.

I also often resolve to read more. Oddly, I’ve been reading more, especially since my company moved to Buckhead and I have a 90 minute commute, one way. I take the bus because I hate driving in traffic, and this lets me read. I still have a backlog of literally hundreds of books. I wish I was a speed reader, but I am not. Progress though. I am reading.

And I usually resolve to write more, which I am resolving again, because I miss it. I miss emptying my brain on to the internet where no one reads it. I’m not even going to share this stuff on social media. This is for me… and the poor unfortunates who stumble upon it.

There were also years where I declared I was done with PC games, followed by years where I declared I was back to PC games. Now, I just want to play games, on any platform – PC, console, tabletop – just more games.

So that’s where 2018 begins. Resolving the same resolutions of the past, and resolving to resolve them better this time. And this year I’ll be employing one of these in an effort to plan and document my progress.

Let’s make this year a good one.

Sleeping Through the Pain

The last day of school in the eighth grade was a terrible day for me. Normally the last day of school would be the beginning of summer, but I left school and immediately went to the orthodontist where they pulled three of my teeth and put on the braces I would wear for the next three and half years. I would get them taken off just before my senior year, but I’d get them put back on again a year into college and wear them for another two years.

Five and a half years of monthly, and sometimes twice a month, tightenings, along with incidents like that time I got kicked in the teeth and had to literally unhook my lips from my braces, I’ve learned to tolerate a lot of mouth pain. The pain is still there, but I can shrug most of it off because, well, it doesn’t hurt as much as all those other times.

In fact, during the years I was dealing with braces I developed a sort of zen approach to the pain. I would go to the orthodontist and as I sat in the chair waiting for my turn I would steady my breathing and go into an almost trance-like state. They’d tighten my braces and then I’d go home.

As I got older, I continued to apply this technique to regular dentist visits. And now, twenty odd years later, when I go to the dentist I warn the technicians, “Hey, I might fall asleep, so just wake me up if you need me to answer a question or something.” I even start getting sleepy just being in a dentist office waiting room.

Back in March of 2016, I had to have surgery on my gums to remove a cyst, repair the bone and fix a cleft. I warned the doctor that I might fall asleep. “I doubt that,” he said. He gave me the pain killer shots. “You might feel a pinch.” I did, but it was nothing. “This might burn a little.” It did, but I barely noticed. They stepped out a minute and then came back to begin the surgery. The doctor took his scalpel and made his first incisions. And once I was certain the drugs were doing their job and all I really felt was pressure and the occasional pinch, I went to sleep.

They woke me up to let me know they were done with the surgery and to give me some after-care instructions, then I went back to sleep. They woke me again when they’d finished packing my gums and were ready to send me home. “You weren’t kidding,” the doctor said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone sleep through a procedure before.”

This year, since the last surgery didn’t fully fix the problem, I had to have donor gums, just a small section. Once again, I warned the doctor that I would fall asleep. He doubted me, but I did. Repeatedly. The jerk kept waking me up and asking me stupid questions that I couldn’t answer because his hands were in my mouth. I mean, you’d think they’d at least stick to Yes/No questions, but nope. Anyway, I left the surgery annoyed that I didn’t get my sleep time.

Sadly, I also needed a crown this year. And that dentist wouldn’t let me sleep either. But that was more because when they are shaving down a tooth to put a crown on it, it’s really hard to tune it out.

But when I returned for my routine cleaning, I slept straight through.

What’s the purpose of this story? You can get used to anything. And I think most people do, to the things they do every day. Some things are worth becoming numb to, to a degree. But every now and then you need to check in and make sure you aren’t missing anything important. I’d become so numb to mouth pain over the years that I had ignored a cleft and a receding gum line to the point where I needed two surgeries to get it to the point where I might not need a third, but I also might lose teeth if I’m not careful.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned becoming more political in the past year and a half. I hate this term, but it seems to be in fashion and it applies, and so I suppose I am “woke” – in some ways if not all ways. For a long time I was focused mostly on myself and my family. All I wanted was to get us out of debt and stable, and I achieved that… about a year and a half ago. That’s when I started looking around and seeing that lots of other people we not okay.

Of course, I can’t help everyone, but I can help some people, and I can be informed and make sure that I vote responsibly to make things better for as many as we can.