Friday, August 31, 2007

Same-Sex Marriage Currently NOT Illegal in Iowa, For Now

Iowa's First Legally Married Gay Couple

Gay Couples Begin Applying for Marriage Licenses in Iowa

Iowa Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

Now if it will stay that way is a whole other question. . .. Hopefully it does.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Competent than the Comcast Trained

And yes, I changed the title.

If the Comcast digital cable and Internet in this apartment works correctly tomorrow night, I will know that I'm just as qualified (if not possibly moreso) than the techs and service at that company. If I have Comcast service tomorrow, that means I had inconsistent service since Thursday, after the big storm with winds up to 73 mph, because the winds somehow messed up the connection of two wires right outside my bedroom window that weren't screwed tightly enough.

And the reason the tech who came out on Sunday didn't address the real problem: I can only suspect that he didn't want to make his customers do difficult labor, like taking an air conditioner out of the window. . .after they groaned and moaned. And yes, the service worked right before he had to do it and maybe he did some tests. But seriously, honestly, sometimes people, customer service and technical support people have to make customers do difficult things (and waiting for four hours for them to show up in the first place doesn't count).

Hopefully CSRs and techies can realize that sometimes they do have to make inconvenient things happen. . .then get the customer to appreciate it. Now, after having fixed a very simple small problem that Comcast went and made extremely difficult because they can't think in simple terms (like something needs to be screwed tighter outside the window or that the cable modem and router have to be put on opposite sides of a room to work THEN blame it on "technology" and "3rd party technology introduced to the network") and just make things work.

They make me angry sometimes when they could make me so happy. . ..

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When the Computers and Robots Attack. . .

They won't attack in large forces or even violently, like maybe in The Matrix or in Frank Herbert's Dune mythology. No, they won't.

They will simply fail to do what humans want them to do. I keep saying:

Computers are awesome when they work. It's when they don't work when it's worse than the times before computers.

Humans will have forgotten how to do things on their own except how to use computers. They will also stubbornly keep trying to make the computers and robots act the way they should, simply because they're supposed to act correctly. After all, they're 1's and 0's pretty much constructed by people, so if anything, there's something wrong with the person who created the device or the person trying to do something with it.

But it won't be human error or random Ghosts in the Machines that cause the malfunction. Instead, it will be artificial intelligence that will destroy humanity simply by not doing anything when they should. The humans will eventually go away and have to resort to some other means to survive, just not as productively. And when that happens, the computers and robots will simply take over the infrastructure.

Then it will become a matter of humans trying to invade the nation of computers and robots, and the artificial intelligence will be justifiably protecting itself from the human invaders. It's genius. . .

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Physiology Creates Writer's Block

I used to hear a joke a lot back in the day. It went something like this:

I once thought I had mono, but it turns out that I was just bored.

Something similar has happened to me the past couple Sundays, which made it somewhat difficult to get out of bed. I would wake up in the morning, feeling like crap, weak and just in a horrible, downtrodden mood. Church would be out of the question, even though I resolved to go the night before, and even worse, I would ignore my resolution to write and study for the whole day because I needed to figure out what made me feel like crap. A problem had cropped itself up on a regular basis, and I couldn't let it stop me from doing what I needed to do.

This past Sunday, I did something about it. The wife and I went to a yoga class at the gym just around the block. I had decided to do it because I thought that the stress of work and the frustration of my current quarter-life crisis was getting in the way. After all, cortisol, my out of whack autonomic nervous system and old age would all defeat me if I just kept on pushing, pushing and pushing without any relent.

The yoga class certainly did help, leaving me much happier and peppier than earlier in the day. . .even if I still felt a little cranky. Maybe it still took time for the stress to flow away from the body.

But destressing wasn't the problem. Yeah, I still need to make sure to destress and plan on taking yoga classes once or twice a week (having a free community class about 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile away from home makes it that much more enticing), but yesterday, I figured out a more benign, if more annoying, reason for my case of Sunday depression.

Turns out the air pressure screws with my head, and if I just balance out the pressure inside my head with the pressure elsewhere, everything's just fine. I just need to pop my ears, chew gum, swallow, yawn and other silly things. Apparently, there's a little flippy door in the back of our throats in the sinus area that opens and closes to balance the air pressure in there. Sinuses affect the whole process, too, and that's why it's important to get those sinuses drained if they aren't angled correctly.

This is really one of those moments that I slap my head because it's all so obvious. I'm 29 years old, and I think I've faced this issue before. Sinus issues have caused me problems in the past, too, including giving me spontaneous bloody noses.

Chicago's a different world from Boston, though. Last year around this time, I became nearly incapacitated by a severe allergy attack that I've never faced before, even though I've displayed minor symptoms of allergies. Loratadine helped to clear that issue up.

And now I've got this air pressure headache thing. It's aggravating yet amusing sometimes how we learn these new things about our body after maybe forgetting them or because our bodies have decided to change.

The lesson re-learned from this experience: don't ever take anything for granted or stop keeping your eyes and ears open. . .and at the same time, don't hyperfocus on a problem after seemingly finding a solution or after reaching an apparent dead end. Deep, hard thought created the stress hypothesis, which certainly has helped but wasn't the "final solution."

Realizing that air pressure was the culprit came as a near complete random conclusion. I was brooding over my headache, brooding over the weather, brooding over being listless in the morning and just brooding over whatever had frustrated and annoyed me my life. Then all the sudden, it hit me: air pressure! I have the feeling that hearing one of my co-workers complaining about hers and one of our boss's headaches from air pressure didn't hurt either.

So with this information and data that I've gathered and observed about the air pressure and dealing with stress, I think I'm that much more equipped to ready myself for entering the flow and motivating myself to do the things that are important to me, like writing and going to church.

It's also nice to realize that I'm not psychologically depressed.

Interesting how small things combined with a chain of events and thoughts can cause all types of problems. . .so don't ever discount them!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Older than Characters on Sitcoms

Oh man, I just feel icky when I realize that characters on a sitcom not in syndication are younger than me. They're just a year or two, but it feels really frustrating and disillusioning for some reason. . .especially when the main character and a couple of the other characters are living their career, or at least don't have a lack of degree getting in their way.

As I said at the end of an e-mail the other day, I have to realize my full potential!

BTW, that sitcom is My Boys.

After this week's episode, too, I have to wonder about the merit and popularity of all the Chicago-centric references. It's certainly something I don't see every day, and I don't know if I'd care for it if I didn't live in Chicago.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Literary Criticism of Slaughterhouse Five

in my entry titled "Vonnegut and Frankl," a fellow by the name of Chuckling and I had an interesting conversation about the differing reactions that Viktor Frankl and Kurt Vonnegut had to their experiences in World War II. Curious, they died roughly 10 years apart. A re-read of the conversation actually shows that Chuckling and I may have concluded that Frankl and Vonnegut may have agreed more than a surface of both their works may give.

I've just finished Slaughterhouse Five after having bought it yesterday. That's not typical of me, to read a 200 page book in probably really something like 6 or 7 hours. That's really all the time I had to read it. Finishing it this fast really comes as a surprise simply because I generally don't have the capability to fast as that. The wife can usually pull it off, but not so much me. So the book wins points from ease of reading that also allows for absorption of content.

It's not a spoiler that the book gets its name from the building that the main character was imprisoned in while captured by Nazis in Dresden. To some degree, however, Slaughterhouse Five reads like a more modern version of Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife and poems by William Carlos Williams.

The main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes unstuck in time and at some point, gets kidnapped by aliens, put in a zoo and provided enlightenment by them. These aliens aren't apparently unstuck in time like Billy, but they perceive reality in four dimensions. So, essentially, Billy jumps through snippets of time from a moment where he's in World War II until his death. Unlike The Time Traveler's Wife, whereas the main character bodily transports in time and space, Billy switches his consciousness from one of his perceptions in time to another, sometimes retaining and sometimes not remembering his memories. Even after he dies, he simply transports back to an earlier version of himself. Vonnegut doesn't really do much to explain or really to allude to the mechanics of Billy's consciousness time exchanging with himself throughout his lifetime.

As a story with a plot or with emotion, Slaughterhouse Five didn't really grab me. I don't think it's meant to do so. The Time Traveler's Wife actually accomplished that job much better. Where the story didn't grip me with drama and feeling, however, the style and form of the book brought me in, pleasing me more on the level of aesthetics, form and theme. If any novel clearly showed its modernistic credentials, Slaughterhouse Five would be it.

With the protagonist being more of an observer retired to his fate than a character trying to do the right thing or aiming for glory, Slaughterhouse Five communicates a stark message, similar to Frankl's search for meaning, that becomes so much more vivid than some hero's exploits. The narrator shows his understanding of his own and the reader's consciousness of World War II's atrocities mixed with the ignorance of the characters experiencing the War, the virtues and vices of humanity and the semi-detached yet opinionated, the ambiguity of this phenomena's real existence and the serene acceptance of the protagonist seemingly learned from aliens except for a couple random instances of obscure emotionalism.

All of this understanding combines to create a surreal smack in the face, at least to people who believe in the truth of World War II's atrocities. And from this harsh impact comes questions and an answer: What's the point of it all if it's fated? Why live if just to die? What's the meaning? If there's no inherent meaning to life, what's the meaning to war? Why go to war? Does the meaning come in the form of people, their life, the various expressions of humanity, from good to bad, from virtuous to filled with vice? If it all ends with an experiment into alternative fuel, isn't it just absurd? If it's so absurd, why war? Don't we just make the meaning of this multifarious existence of ours? If so, if we create this meaning and have this power, then we only fight and war because we want it, it has something to do with our meaning making and make life feeling worthwhile. . .but aren't there other ways to do so without killing each other? But at the same time, all this multifarious existence of ours is kind of beautiful, no matter how it turns out. Sometimes it's just worth it to watch and appreciate the good things, like Billy right before the Americans and the Allies bomb Dresden to hell (the book provides a most certainly interesting statistic that concludes that the Dresden bombing had more casualties than the Hiroshima atomic bombing. Hmmmmm. . .).

Personally, I wouldn't put Slaughterhouse Five up there as one of the best books I've ever read, like a lot of people out there. If I had the choice to read it or The Time Traveler's Wife again, I think I would pick the latter. Time Traveler's Wife, however, comes many years after
Slaughterhouse Five and puts a twist on the plot device, making it more positive and possibly even more bittersweet. The emotional depth and realism to it most definitely wins out for me. On the other hand, Slaughterhouse Five has originality on it's side, more believable characters in all their variety, more of a global and even "enlightened" theme, a different mood and, on some level, more graceful and pleasurable language. I guess it all rather depends on my mood.

PERSONAL BABBLING

I have a forgiving community of friends and family who say that I feel guilty too much. Nonetheless, my current busyness (reach really translates to actually focusing and performing my duties at work, even though I would rather be at home, writing, blogging, researching, marketing my work and reading all the interesting stuff people have to say on their blogs and articles) and semi-incommunicado status makes me feel like such a recluse.

Maybe it isn't guilt that I feel but rather a sense of loneliness and fear of loss. Yes, not so deep inside me resides a shaky, insecure fellow who fears that people will disappear because of his irrelevance. But alas, there's the mature, healthy Adult me to bully the insecure me into submission, so I can get stuff done and live.

And, thankfully, I've started actually making some progress with my project after a month or so of floundering after the wedding. Yes, I've only written consistently for two days in a row and plan on seeing a movie in Grant Park tomorrow, but it's a start. Rome wasn't built in a day. . .a child doesn't instantly walk. . .etc. etc.

Well, I had better get back to working on that project!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ruminations on Writing Development, Part 1 of ?

Developing ideas into larger polished pieces of work, such as papers, articles, novels, short stories, etc. etc. can become some difficult work. I haven't yet reached a point where finished anything to my satisfaction in a long while. Poems, short stories, papers, anything published or shown to anyone as a finished project has happened for years and years.

The bulk of the difficult work on these types of projects comes down to the development of the ideas, I think. Coming up with an idea and entering the middle part of developing an idea probably comes as the hardest parts probably.

Something of a real difficult position is both trying to come up with an idea for a chapter or an article to support or explore an idea that's in the middle of development. Or how about when the development of a smaller idea affects the larger idea and/or vice versa. . .I've actually gotten so good at ruminating on all these ideas at once that thoughts about pieces within the range of the large idea affect the development of that idea, even when the said pieces won't enter the final presentation.

I've read here and there that this phenomena happens all the time. It just gets worded in a different way: not all the research or details will make it to the final product. Sometimes, it's even a good idea to keep quiet about any and all information until it becomes completely necessary to mention it for the good of the experience of the reader or viewer.

All the time and effort that goes into developing any and all of these ideas just makes me think that writers must be underpaid. That's when I remind myself that I have yet to get published or paid directly for my writing. Once I cut my teeth and get the attention of a good, successful writer, then I'll start to see the profits of all my work. I'm sure J.K. Rowling would agree.

So, in the beginning it comes down to inspiration (anyone want some light) and in the middle, the development requires patience (or you can always just drown the work because of its wickedness then start all over). What is it that they say about inspiration? I don't know the popular phrase. . .but it can be easy, and it can be hard.

The original inspiration for my novel came pretty easy (but then again, I was teenager, and I'm starting to think that inspiration comes easier during that age than the patient development part does). I started with a short story that I started during random times in high school and at home, when I had nothing better to do.

Sure, it was pretty derivative from the utopianism genre, but I pretty much just grabbed random, ruminating floating ideas and put them down on paper. From there, I started writing the end and the beginning of the novel. The beginning stays the same with some small details changed here and there, that middle part has pretty much been excised and the ending will have a similar touch to it.

I've also been writing story ideas into my Palm whenever they pop into my head. Sadly, though, those ideas come fewer and farther between as time goes on. I like to think they've become rarer because most of my time and attention has been focused on the insurance job (wherever it is) and other adult worries. If it has to do with age, I'm soooooo screwed.

But right now, the novel has started feeling like drudgery. Knowing that I'll be changing details around (nothing major, mind you. . .mostly just continuity issues, bringing some character details more out to the light and also playing around with actual point of view and narrative issues) may have to do with this feeling.

I've told myself that even with all the changes I plan on making, I still want to write this 1st draft in a pretty linear fashion. I mainly want to get the story out, but I'm also finding that his fashion also makes for good "research" into the characters. When some of the characters spend most of their time in a virtual world that has a user interface much like a PC of today with the processing power of tomorrow (an indefinite tomorrow, at that!), however, writing can get a little tedious. It especially feels so when the big dictum is, "Show, don't tell."

Well, I have to do what I have to do.

And right now, I think I have to get to bed. Getting sleep helps some with the inspiration and development side of things.

EVERYDAY MOOD UPDATE

I may have entered an upswing on my mood. Good day at the job, but that's all contingent on circumstance and different peoples' moods to be honest. A fair amount of good work and chores got done when I got home, though.

Wrote a page in the novel (written but in my small handwriting which somehow translates to more pages than I've written) when I meant to only write half a page, wrote a thank you card, played around with a thesis statement and the next concept in an outline for the last paper 1st draft, did tons of dishes, watched some TV with the wife and a lot of random stuff that I don't know how I fit into such a small amount of time.

Somewhat feels like a return to the golden days when I had tempted at Fannie Mae, but I won't harp on that part too much.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Getting Past My Bedtime

It's kinda late on Wednesday, August 2. I've had some difficulty over the last month or so, ever since the wedding, organizing my mind and getting inspired to do important things, like work on my project, write thank you cards to wedding guests and gift givers and other little things. I've got plenty of filing to do at home that I used to stay on top of before.

I think I need an intern. Anyone want to be my intern and learn what it's like to be an aspiring writer?

Work certainly has been taking a lot of my attention and focus, for good and bad. Maybe someday I'll write something of a tell all expose when I finally make it as an author.

I wrote something like a page and a half tonight. Hopefully I can get my ass into gear to do more. This aspiring writer while working at insurance gig has been getting old. . .and causing me to doubt this fate that I want to fulfill.

Ugh.

Sheesh. . .I've even been seeing a lot of movies lately, like Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Stardust and this weekend, going to see Bourne Ultimatum.

Also can't forget having seen Double Indemnity in Grant Park a couple weeks ago. That certainly was an experience, even though, as an insurance professional in life insurance, I could see the holes in the protagonist's plot. Did he really think he was THAT clever? I don't.

But sadly, I don't really have the focus or inspiration to write any reviews.