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Embark: The Journey, Deliberate

Beeping, whirring machines;
Displays and metrics;
Yards of tubes and hoses –
A singular opportunity of the human era.

Going beyond…

As technicians made final preparations, Project Head Barca psyched herself up; no matter what happened when the button was pressed, do or die, she would embark on a serious adventure.

This flash fiction in 50 words was crafted for the M3 blog’s Flash in the Pan

We interrupt your surfing for this important announcement:

Yesterday a horse in Manchester, England crapped on the floor of a McDonald’s restaurant in what may be the most appropriate act of defiance in equine history. The equestrian atop the horse had been denied the opportunity to purchase questionable convenience foods at the drive-through, leading to the incident aforementioned.

Read the entire story here.

And now we return you to your usual online prowl already in progress.

Nothing but trouble

When I was a kid, it felt like I was in trouble non-stop; I was always doing something bad. And it wasn’t just in school, although that’s where my talent for being trouble tended to really shine. I remember getting in trouble for the following things:

  • playing with fire
  • swearing
  • shooting my sister with a sucker arrow (but anyone who knows my sister knows she probably deserved it)
  • stabbing my sister in near the eye with an ink pen (in retrospect, I’m sure no one deserves that)
  • getting in trouble at school (you know that’s a twofer)

Then there was that year we got up on Christmas morning and opened all of our presents, which was so very fun and exciting. Then we ran upstairs to thank Mom and Dad, who were still sleeping in bed, for all the cool stuff. I think it was probably my mom who flipped out about that one, but boy did we get in trouble for that! They took all our new stuff away, and we got grounded to boot.

But what about school, you ask? I indicated earlier that I got in trouble at school a lot. I got in trouble for talking, for swearing, for losing fights that I didn’t start, for refusing to eat at the lunch table, for refusing to cooperate with the teacher, and later on it was for skipping, for being late to classes, and for acts of petty theft. I was in trouble each and every week, and sometimes almost every day, before I got to junior high school. I was suspended thirty-six times in six years. Teachers heard horror stories about me in advance of my coming.

My fourth grade teacher was worse than anyone, though; he was physically abusive. He often got rough with me when I cut up. There were times he carried me out into the hall and slammed me up against the lockers. Sometimes he just shook me like a rag doll while berating me for this or that. At some point he came up with the wonderful idea of secluding me from the rest of the class in the teacher’s work room – he called it my “cubbyhole”, and I sometimes spent entire weeks in there, working on my lessons and causing what little mischief I could out of spite. I tried to figure out the weird copier with its huge, hot roller and smeary purple ink. I made copies of the teacher edition of my homework when I needed a little leg-up. In retrospect, I imagine that’s what it’s like being a prisoner. Mrs. Edsall, the fifth grade teacher, watched all of this happen and tried to reassure me that she would take care of me the following year; I think she just wanted to make sure I would keep hanging on, because nobody else in my class was treated anywhere near as poorly, and now I think my bad reputation was partly to blame, as well as my inability to follow the rules.

At any rate, that broke me. Defiance? Check. No respect for authority? Check. I was like that for a long time: nothing but trouble.

Then one day I woke up and said, “where the hell have I been?”

this post was inspired by the daily prompt at The One-Minute Writer

Today is opposite day!

Today is opposite day!

Today’s Daily Post prompt decrees that it is opposite day and claims that I have to post a photo because I normally write nonfiction. I found the perfect opportunity today when we stumbled across this impromptu product display at Target; afterward, Karisa changed it so it didn’t say anything intelligible – we have to think of the children, after all – but it was nice to see something like this that I didn’t have to do myself.

Would you even read my biography?


I’m curious to know whether my life would make a very good story. I would probably never consider writing a biography myself; first of all, I just don’t have the kind of ego to want to do that in the first place, and also I’m not sure anyone is interested in knowing. But what if something interesting did occur, or what if my life took a thrilling turn that would make some kind of titillating tale? Who should I choose to do the honors – a famous writer or celebrity? Another blogger?

FYI, this is what today’s Daily Post prompt is asking. To want to write one’s own biography is tricky; that goes back to the whole unreliable narrator issue that I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Do we believe the things the autobiographer says, or are they colored by a conflict of interest in the retelling? Are those things being glossed over, softened up, rationalized by non-factual factors? Was it a hunting accident or a psychopathic act of revenge? This is probably why most biographies are written by third parties to the life of the book’s subject – they’re impartial, like an ideal judge and jury. They go on facts and build up a story and a case based on that.

So I would want a person who could actually make my life seem interesting to millions of people. This requires good, engaging writing. I’d want a writer with a voice that feels similar to my own, and that’s why I would probably choose Stephen King. Sure, I have to question my choice – am I copping out? It’s no secret that I’m a Stephen King fan. But it’s not a cop-out. Nobody writes like King, in my opinion. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t ask for Norman Mailer – he passed away six years ago, but his selling point was that he was fantastic at turning non-fiction into literary gold. I mean, if we’re going to write it we have to try and sell it, right? What’s worse is that I can’t ask for Kurt Vonnegut, because he died the same year Mailer did – only instead of a failed liver he fell down the stairs and bashed his head in… or was he pushed? That was a shame, because Vonnegut had this perfect storm of science fiction plus dark humor, and his sarcastic wit was always really well-timed. I’d have chosen Vonnegut over King in a heartbeat.

But it’s not like King is a last resort or something – it’s more like he’s graduated; as patronizing as that sounds, I think I mean to say that his work is becoming more mature without really changing its tone. It remains authentically King’s, but it’s staying with the times. It’s not the same old horror tropes that seemed to drop away in the mid-90’s, but his modern work speaks to modern sensibilities and still manages to entertain, to spark that sense of wonder and weirdness that he was always good at evoking, and not just entertaining but asking questions about the way we live today. That’s very cool, and that’s why I would choose him.

What do other bloggers say?

Exploring Emotions

I like this – posts like this make me wish that I could “favorite” individual blog posts. If you’re a creator, it’s a must-read.

The Quick, Not The Dead

The best creations in the world come from exploring an emotion. Emotions tie us all together. We’re all capable of happiness, sadness, dismay, amusement, love, fear, anger, hope. They’re a universal constant we can use to create in a voice that is our own but a work that works in any language. We use our creative medium of choice to express those emotions. The most we can do in this world is reach out with our own emotions through our creations and try to touch the souls of others.

I keep coming back around to something Jean Luc Godard said in an interview. He was talking about ways of making a film and he talked a bit about his own way of creating. He said, “…It usually starts with an abstract feeling, a sort of strange attraction to something I am not sure of. And making the film is a…

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Trade for your life!!!

There is a subject that comes up from time to time in conversations that my wife and I have on economics, finances, and the like. We will be discussing this or that issue, and sometimes she will say that we should go back to the barter system. It’s one of those pie-in-the-sky deals, like Communism – something that looks great on paper but is based on one or more potentially incorrect assumptions. Whereas Communism assumes that the people running the system will work in the interest of the community at large, the idea of returning to a barter system assumes that people will routinely have the means to obtain anything they want, or at the very least, need.

So the topic is still the barter system. What would that look like? If money disappeared, the people with the most leverage would have silver or gold in hand. Those people probably saved that precious metal for just such an occasion and will start small communities based on people who were already prepared for this. For the rest of us, getting a kickstart in barter means finding a job or skill that you can trade for the means of survival – food, water, shelter, clothing, and possibly both a means of communication and one of transportation. The problem with a world based on barter is that you can probably get these things, but it might be a little tougher to obtain – or even develop in the first place – things like consumer electronics, advanced medical care, or carbon-fiber tennis rackets, because barter may not be robust enough to provide enough incentive to make these things. Working on a system-wide monetary standard ensures that anyone can get what they want as long as they work for a living and spend less than they earn.

But if money did disappear and we went straight to pure barter, i.e. we haggle this-for-that on everything, what would that look like in our modern society? First of all, I would imagine that the responsibility of feeding, clothing, and housing the majority of us would fall to our employers, only I have no idea how Walmart would sell anything on the barter system. Perhaps they would trade with each other; Walmart would trade groceries and goods with another business for their employees in exchange for a variety of bicycle parts and… Well that wouldn’t work, I think.

The problem with barter is that you have to have something the other person wants. It’s like trading cards: you have to match value for value, and in a barter economy that value can be pretty arbitrary; not that value isn’t arbitrary in a capitalist economy – after all, why should I pay forty dollars for a bar of metal to support my air conditioner? That’s highway robbery. But if I wanted to, I could go get it today. That’s what I’m saying.

Still, I’m a scrapper. I think I would do alright in a barter economy. I could work, that’s certainly a service. I could craft. I’m good with my hands, so maybe I would be a woodworker of some sort – a furniture maker or a cabineteer. Yeah, I just made that word up, I thought it was appropriate. Of course, in a barter economy there is probably constant struggle as people ensure they have what they need, and this is why local IRL communities would come back to primary importance, because they enhance both survival and the utility of barter. And since its hard to imagine advanced technology in a barter system, I think it’s entirely possible that life would be simpler and more enjoyable; or maybe we have reached some point of no return where there is a reason to keep advancing beyond financial incentive. I would be interested to see what that scenario looks like.

What about you? How do you feel the barter system would fare? Do you think it would be possible to live in a modern society, or even develop one in the first place, in a bartering economy? Would you be successful in a barter economy? Let us know in the comments.

What do other bloggers have to trade?

Today’s Daily Post prompt
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Is social media a social contagion?

I remember a time before Facebook.

I mean, I’m sure that most of us do, but think about how it really was: back in 1993, things were so different, weren’t they? I was first a sophomore and then a junior in high school. My favorite pastimes were reading, writing, drawing, and trying to stay awake in class. The most fandangled thing I used was a mechanical pencil. The most sophisticated device I had was a pocket translator that looked pretty much like a calculator. I had stacks and stacks and shelves of books, and most of them I had actually read. There were times when I was reading a book a day, no lie. But then there was this thing that came along.

My friend Didi told me this recently:

Here’s a crazy story..
I go into a coma the time i wake up prodigy and aol…true story.

…and it really was like that, except I really didn’t realize it until later. There was this rush of cool, this push toward exploration that pricks our very human nature with an all-consuming interest – I was Captain Kirk, Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci; I somehow had the means while my friends did not, and so I watched it grow while I took the time to tank my PC again and again, each time learning a little bit more about how it worked, and how the software worked. I had this IBM 386DX4 open-architecture computer that my Dad got me for Christmas 1993, from the computer store that had gone in next door to his auto body shop in Warren, and at the time I didn’t even know how DOS worked, and although Windows 3.1 was intuitive enough, good luck getting it to work consistently without some basic computer skills. The computer was a machine, but so was the software. Just for comparison’s sake, consider that this computer had 8MB of RAM and a 400MB hard drive – no CD drive, but you could still fit a lot on a 3.5″ floppy.

Part of that era, when small computer shops began popping up and somewhat before the word geek began to take on the air of techno-chic, was the online. America Online and Prodigy. We had to connect our computers to the phone line and use a noisy little component called a modem to get our data, but it was the most fascinating thing in the world, to know that information was literally being converted to 1’s and 0’s; that these digits were being converted into sound, sent over the phone line into your computer where they were converted from sound back into 1’s and 0’s, which were converted back into the information that you saw on the screen. It was astounding not for those transparent facts, but for the implications. I talked to people from all over the world in chat rooms. We congregated there, like a bunch of religious zealots looking for partners in crime, looking to connect with each other in a meaningful way. My thing was to find someone interesting to talk to and then move into a private message so that you weren’t having this conversation in the morass of people looking for someone to chat with. I drove my Mom’s phone bill up, and could you believe AOL used to charge by the minute?

So AOL was my drug of choice, and I did a lot of BBSing – I once spent several hours downloading a full copy of Duke Nukem 3D from a BBS in Texas. This is just the backdrop, though. I remember when I first heard about Napster. My friend David Levin was telling me about MP3s, and I thought it was a hard sell because what could you really do with them anyway but play them through a computer? Of course, he had a Mac, a DSL Internet connection, and something called Napster. It wasn’t much later that I was able to get my first cable connection to the Internet through Comcast, and then I was hooked on Napster and MP3 music. At that point, AOL went out the window; I was pragmatic after all, to the point of cheapness. The uphill battle was in convincing others that if you had the Internet connection, there was no reason you had to pay for AOL – or anything else, for that matter.

The Internet was wild and free, and everyone likes free. Everyone still does, but are we really free? Because here’s the thing: the Internet is no longer free. Our footsteps are tracked by the most dogged digital rangers and catalogued by the most diligent databases. The librarians are made of software and the patrons are advertisers. Everything is sold to us online now – who even looks up at the banners in the mall when you’re texting away on your phone? But you see the ads on your free Angry Birds game, and you see the ads served up on countless other “free” apps. Our free Internet lunch ended long ago, but everyone is still eating because the costs are just that transparent. No problem. It’s all services after all, and it’s making our lives better.

But let’s talk about Facebook. Facebook is the next big game-changer and I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t agree that this was a foregone conclusion for at least the past several years. I had just gotten started with Facebook in 2008, after deciding that MySpace was just a digital slum where your friends could practically halt your Internet connection by enticing you to visit their animated sparkling pot leaf-bedazzled page while some creepy rap song plays without your permission. With friends like that, who needs Janet Reno, am I right? I was looking for simple, and Facebook was dead simple; in addition, their philosophy was to continue to keep it simple. Nobody had heard of Mark Zuckerberg, and his famous pig was still somewhat lacking in famousness, but people were starting to get on Facebook.

So think about it: Facebook will be ten years old next year. I’ve been on Facebook for five years, and in that short span of time – just longer than it takes to earn a Bachelor Degree at full-time – practically the entire world has hopped on this bandwagon. Our grandparents are on it. My mom could never set an alarm clock or program a VCR, but she can Facebook. So what’s wrong with something that seems to have brainwashed the entire world into jumping online? Do I throw down the rant, or go with the compelling analogy?

Forget the annoying stuff – people who constantly post crap, people who invite you to play games, people who tag you in photos that you’re not even in. Don’t worry about being tagged in photos even when you don’t have a Facebook account; after all, if you’re in the photo, there’s always going to be someone who can confirm that. You don’t need Facebook to put that in a database. And we do privacy issues to death – there’s the question of how much sharing is too much, how much information online is too tantalizing a target, whether young people shouldnthink before sharing because they simply can. I have this different idea, and like many of my ideas, I’m not sure whether it makes Facebook a good or bad thing.

Facebook has really changed how we interact with the world at large. Before Facebook, I get this picture of how humans were interconnected in more local communities; with the world getting smaller and smaller, we have been changing, but Facebook has brought it to a head in record time. We were like neurons, and our axons hooked us to our friends and neighbors, people we saw IRL, people we connected with for reals. With Facebook thrown in the mix, we have a world where every single one of us is connecting over long-distance, it’s like sacrificing the IRL connections for quantum-tunneled interactions with distant others who we may never even be in the same country with. It’s not like Alzheimer’s per se, where connections are destroyed, but the changing social landscape of Planet Earth is more akin to The Butterfly Effect; is the paradigm changing so rapidly that we have to worry about irreparable damage to the body of mankind? Is anyone conducting research into how a widespread social contagion might cripple the human race?

Fact: I have this problem talking to people for no particular reason. I’m not necessarily shy, but I don’t feel a need for small talk either; and this is only in person, by the way. I respond when spoken to, but will let an awkward silence hang or kind of ignore people around me. And what’s even weirder is I feel an urgent need for community and connection with others – as though something is wrong with me – but I’m somehow held back. Facebook only makes that worse by allowing me to strengthen the easy means of connecting over the more rewarding connections with those around me.

Long story short, I think Facebook threatens our social lives with a digital replacement. And that replacement has been largely of our own choosing – call it convenience or maybe an addiction to those digital interactions but I think that the world at large could do worse than unplugging and getting away from it way more often than we tend to.

What do you think? Does that make sense to you? Tell us about it in the comments!

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