Saturday, September 23, 2017

Insight versus incite

Springy G confessions time:  I enjoy arguing on the Internet.  Even worse, my favourite topic for arguing is religion.  This is a Sisyphean task, because the prospect of coming to any sort of agreement is vanishingly unlikely.  When the battle lines are drawn (generally with me on the side of humanists, atheists and liberal believers, and all manner of fundamentalists on the other), it can literally go on for days.

If you’re lucky.  Sometimes a particularly wild and emotionally-charged melee can go on for months on end, and I’ve been known to occasionally throw a fresh log on the embers of a discussion thread that was that close to slipping off page 1 of a discussion forum.

Why do I torment myself like this?  Because it’s fun.  Not trollish fun, but an ongoing challenge to find new ways of getting a point across.  It’s a great writing exercise, if nothing else, and you can learn a lot:  Biology, physics, geology, history, sociology, languages, logic, and a whole lot more.

When I first started this odd hobby back around 2004, I was angry about the interference of religion in civil society and the rights of individuals.  The more backstory I learned, the angrier I got; in fact, at one point I was skirting the fine line between “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” and “barking mad.”  Eventually I came back to my senses, became more selective about getting embroiled in a debate, and started to curate my bookmarks and now only visit three or four sites on a regular basis.

I still come down hard on people who wander in and cheerfully threaten their brand-new Internet acquaintances with eternal torment at the hands of whatever supernatural being they worship, but in all other matters I’d rather be the adult in the room:  Say what needs to be said, generally with civility, and walk away.  Occasionally some particularly apt phrase springs to mind that just stops an argument cold.  Call it a mic drop, call it a /thread tag, but when days go by and no one adds to what I wrote, it’s quite satisfying.

I’ve also had some of my one-liners outlast the conversation where I originally thought them up, and blushed all the way down to my socks when someone took a longer quote from me and made an actual meme picture with the quote, attribution, and my forum avatar.

Every now and then I wonder if this is something I could or should do professionally -- for example, expanding on some of my ideas and turning them into a book of essays.  It’s tempting, but first I need to finish things I’ve already written.  Rather than going on the lecture circuit with a book of theo-political rants, I think I’ll pull out my old National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy projects (11 of them at last count) and work on them for a while.  What a concept:  Staying up late writing something that’s more fun and considerably less fury.  It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

At last, a to-do list that doesn't suck.

It’s taken some time to get myself to realize this, but I have a rather unusual motivation problem.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I work too hard, or don’t take time to relax, or other traits that sound suspiciously like a workaholic in need of an intervention.

They don’t know me all that well.  I do indeed goof off on a regular basis -- just not when they’re looking.  What other people see is me cranked up to 11, doing something ludicrous and physically taxing like loading broken concrete into a truck or scrabbling around the garage roof, cleaning leaves out of the gutters with a scoop.

What they’re seeing is not me but my to-do list, an entity so implacably evil that it ensnares me and forces it to do its bidding until I’m dragging my feet up the staircase in 30°C heat, destined to collapse in a sweaty heap on an unmade (but still very cozy) bed.

You see, I have no problem writing down a list of things that need to be done.  I have an insurmountable problem when it’s necessary to unwrite them, take them off the list because they’re physically undoable (too late in the day, too late in the season) or because I just plain lost interest in them.  I also get into a weird frame of mind when I set myself five tasks to do but only manage to execute four of them.  There’s pathological perfectionism lurking in the background, preparing to beat me up emotionally and steal my lunch money because I decided not to start project #5 at 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Well, I think I have the beginnings of a cure for this malady:  Shorter, more focused to-do lists, mostly easy wins with maybe one high-priority difficult task carefully phrased as one specific part of the task, such as “Bring another piece of plywood underlay in from garage” (as opposed to the vague and epic “Finish the hallway floor”).

On the day I started drafting this post, one of the easy tasks was “Go to the Art Gallery to see the Picasso exhibit.”  The hardest part was deciding where to park.  I also dusted off some books and put them away, relocated a bunch of certificates to my filing system, and for bonus points did some tidying-up of the cookbooks in the kitchen.  The 3-ring binder that used to house the certificates has been repurposed as a recipe binder, and I had to change the shelf spacing to make room for taller books.  While I was at it, I also evicted two books we never use and put them into my giveaway box.  The tough task for the day involved going out in the garden to do some weeding, and the second-hardest was the continuation of a sewing project -- which got considerably further than I expected to get with it.

The number of things on the list is not fixed, but I’ve been trying to keep it low -- generally at least two things, but rarely more than five.  There’s an inverse relationship between the number of items and the average complexity and effort required.  When there are lots of items, chances are that all but one of them will take less than 10 minutes to finish.

Since implementing this system a couple of months ago, I’ve gotten a lot of things done.  Today I had only two items -- finish and e-mail some paperwork (high concentration, moderate time demand, low physical effort) and move some network wiring.  The wiring job was the big task of the day:  Average concentration, moderate physical demands due to ladder work and multiple trips up and down two flights of stairs, high time sensitivity (minimize Internet downtime) and low margin of error (danger of damaging the wire, which would require an emergency trip to purchase 100 feet of Cat5e cable, a couple of RJ-45 connectors, and a crimping tool because I have no idea where mine is hiding).

Both items are done, which is why I’m writing this from a lovely patch of sunlight in a corner of a Winnipeg coffee shop rather than fussing with an Excel print preview or balancing on a stepstool in a dusty corner of the basement.  

Someday soon (but not tomorrow!), I need to write an item on my new-and-improved to-do list:  Inventory the toolboxes.  I have four of them.  I probably don’t need that many, and I probably don’t need most of the stuff inside the toolboxes, either.

But I’m sure that my network cable crimper is in there somewhere...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the Third)

The total solar eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I’m still processing the experience on many levels.

First:  I’m glad I went.  It was an extraordinary roller-coaster, wild swings of emotion to both ends of the visible spectrum -- and perhaps a bit of infrared and ultraviolet moods as well.

Second:  What I saw and what I didn’t see are a bit muddled up in my head right now.  Carbondale was beset by a flashmob of rogue clouds at possibly the worst possible moment, but that made me pay attention to other things:  The glow on the horizon and the rapidly coming and going of midday twilight.  The shadow of the umbra sweeping eastward across the glowing clouds.  The crackle of fireworks to the southeast.  The roar of pure delight coming from the Southern Illinois University stadium about a mile south of my observation post.  The rather puzzled pair of crows testing out the steps of their traditional evening dance, seven hours too early.

The corona did break through for a few precious and eerie seconds.  I think that’s when I started jumping up and down maniacally in a parking lot just south of the Amtrak station, cheering at the top of my lungs.

I wish I could have seen more -- but I always want to see more.  It was more important to just be there, and I was.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the Second)

I’m feeling somewhat grateful that last winter I began to build up some aerobic capacity by skiing and snowshoeing, and continued with short hikes during the warm months.  It came in handy on Saturday afternoon when I walked from the Chicago hostel to the docks where the river cruise boats dock.  I got temporarily lost by taking the wrong staircase to get down to the boats and had to double back, climbing a whole bunch of razzafracking stairs up and down and up and down again.  It’s much warmer here than in Winnipeg, and there’s a distinct old-city smell of oil and creosote.

Did successfully make it onto the boat.  Seated on the lower level, where it was shady and considerably cooler, I took pictures of a lot of the buildings and enjoyed the wind blowing off the water.  My visit coincided with the Chicago Air and Water Show, and we saw a few synchronized jet fly-bys.

After the boat ride I wended my way back to the hostel, pausing to pick up an embroidered Chicago flag patch to add to my knapsack.  Had a light supper, charged up my electronics, and called it a night.


And now it’s 8:05 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Chicago.  I am now one step closer to my objective:  I’m on board the Amtrak #391 “Saluki” train, destination Carbondale, Illinois.

One of my great worries over the past few weeks was that I would oversleep and miss this train.  I had armed myself with an insanely loud digital alarm clock, and checked it twice last night to make sure the alarm was indeed in the “on” position.  As it happened, I had little to worry about:  Two of the women in my dorm were up before me, 15 minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off, and I crawled out of bed a few minutes later to get in gear and get over to Union Station.

It just turned 8:15.  With a soft bump, train #391 is on its way.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the First)

It’s a mere two hours since my clock radio cajoled me into consciousness at arse o’clock on a Saturday morning.  I’m now sitting at Gate 3 in the U.S. departures lounge at Richardson International, waiting for a boarding call for a flight to Minneapolis.  I’ve made the traditional stop-off at the Tim Hortons kiosk on the U.S. side of security and scarfed down a coffee and muffin, to supplement the half-glass of milk I guzzled while phoning for a cab.

Once I land at Minneapolis, the plan is to have a leisurely second breakfast -- yes, I do have some hobbit genes -- and then fly on to Chicago.  I could have taken a direct flight, but my check-in time at the HI hostel is 3:00 p.m.  Barring a Random Equipment Malfunction, a completely different alarm clock should rouse me at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, allowing me sufficient time to slouch towards Union Station to board a southbound train.

I am going to Carbondale, Illinois for a glorious 2½ minutes on Monday afternoon at about 1:20 p.m.   I. Am. On. My. Way. To. The. Eclipse.

This has been in planning for about 2 years, and seriously underway since this past April, when I made all the necessary reservations:  Plane, train, and a place to crash the night before the eclipse.  I was fortunate enough to snag a piece of floor space at Southern Illinois University, as upwards of 50,000 people are expected in Carbondale on Monday.  (Personally, I think they’ll be getting off light if less than 100,000 show up.)

Hands are shaking a bit due to excitement (and possibly the coffee kicking in).  Boarding call is imminent (5:38 a.m. now).  To be continued…


Now I’m in Minneapolis and it’s 8:30 a.m.  I’m not regretting the decision to bring along a fleece jacket, because as I sit here at the departure gate for the hop to Chicago I can feel the air conditioning.

One thing about travelling is that the smells and tastes are ever so slightly different from home.  Although humans tend to be visual, some of us get more impact from the other senses.  As a gardener and cook I’m almost as sensitive to smell as I am to 3D space.  MSP has a scent to it that is very unlike YWG, and when I get to O’Hare I’m sure it will likewise have its own smell.

I’m definitely not alone in making an eclipse trip.  The young man sitting next to me at the Winnipeg departure lounge was also going to Carbondale, and as I was hobbiting on a sausage-and-egg biscuit here in Minneapolis I saw someone walk by with a shirt that said “Come to the Dark Side,” in the Star Wars main title font.  I had already mentally added the traditional response, “We have cookies,” but then I saw the date.

August 21, 2017.

I have a shirt of my own in the knapsack, a homemade design with the same date and an abstract fabric-paint interpretation of what I saw at the total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979.

It says a lot about me and my lifelong love of astronomy that I still have the same piece of #14 welder’s glass that I used to view the partial phases of the 1979 eclipse.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Think Like a God Day 2017: The Laissez-Faire Deity

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Think Like a God Day, celebrated annually on July 13!  As in past years, this is when I present a problem and ask You how to solve it from the perspective of Deity-for-a-Day.

This year's question is a theological classic intertwined with a philosophical classic; in other words, as long as there is sentient life in the universe, someone will be arguing about it.
Assuming for a moment that free will actually exists, should mortals be permitted to have it or should they be forced to conform with My inscrutable Divine Plan™?
 Arguing in favour of letting those pesky mortals do whatever they want:
  • They're mortals.  Any plan they could mess up needs to go back to the drawing board.
  • Surprises.  I like surprises.  Cuts down on the monotony of living forever.
  • Never fancied Myself as a puppet-master.  I don't even like puppets.  Or clowns.  Next time I create a universe I'm going to make one without clowns.  Or paparazzi.  Or -- Squirrel!
Arguing in favour of keeping reality (and mortals) on a short leash:
  • The lot of us are locked into a predetermined course.  They can't help but do what I in My divine omniscience have foreseen.
  • Even a tiny deviation from the Plan could translate into massive problems later.  Can't have that.  I've got enough on My plate dealing with that damn Chaos Butterfly.
  • I like it when they do what I want.  That's a good enough reason for Me.
Which version of divine reality would You prefer, and why?