Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Return of the karmic cartoon 

If you're a long-time reader, you might remember me posting on 12-11-04 about an amazing animated short, "Bumble Beeing," that I saw on a program called "Jump Cuts" on the Comedy Channel; in it, a bug that's smashed on a windshield talks about how it had wanted to make a meaningful contribution... does that ring a bell? If not, or if you're a more recent reader, do yourself a favor and don't read any more of this post until you've watched the cartoon, which can be found here (be sure to have your sound turned on)


Did you watch it? If not, I'll finish the plot to show you why I LOVE this piece, which I've discovered was shown at the 2003 Sundance Festival; the wipers finish off the bug and coat the windshield with its remains, such that the driver can't see where he's going... the car crashes into a tree, and the trunk pops open... and a little girl with a taped mouth stands up in it. The way this little work of art presents the idea of how you can get what you ask for, and then some, in a way you never thought of, blew me away, and still does.

I searched all over online for that clip after I saw it on TV, and all I could find was 30 seconds or so of it on the Comedy Channel's website; I looked again today, and it was GONE... so I did a new search, and found that its creator, Billy Blob, now has a website with the longed-for clip as well as several others of his. I'd highly recommend that you watch "Karma Ghost," located here


because it gives a very clever explanation of how karma works; there are little "karma ghosts" everywhere, and every time the main character interacts with anything in a negative way, be it with a human, dog, car or trash can, a "ghost" leaves the victim and jumps to him, putting on a shirt that describes the wrong he did over its old shirt which described the wrong the victim had previously done... interesting idea, isn't it, that you can directly inherit some of another person's, or animal's, or even an object's karma (which is nothing more than energy, remember), and have it undergo a change to customize it to your situation? That's a reasonable way to see how karma moves around, once you remove the actual ghosts; we MIGHT be getting it from whatever we interact with, rather than creating it, at least some of the time. The other cool concept in the cartoon is that once the man collects enough karma ghosts, they work together to "get" him, thus causing his death; while most people obviously don't die from bad karma, it certainly happens that backloads of karma, + or -, can and do all descend on us at once.

Mr. Blob seems to be a kindred soul; I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Monday, May 30, 2005


What better topic for Memorial Day? Freedom is indescribably precious, and we have it because of the men and women of the American armed forces, past and present; today, and every day, my gratitude goes out to every person who has served, or is currently serving, in our military... everything I have, I have because of their willingness to fight to protect us and our country.

Most people who've always had freedom take it for granted; it's hard to imagine what it'd be like to NOT be free when you're used to having a wide range of choices for everything in your life. Throughout history, and in the present day in some cultures, people have been restricted as to what sort of work they could do, what clothes they could wear, whether or not they could go to another town, and on and on; the degree of freedom of action that we enjoy would have been unimaginable to most of the people who have ever lived on this planet.

As I've gotten older, though, I've seen more and more that having freedom in the legal sense isn't enough; that feeling of freedom needs to get inside of you for you to be FULLY free... and conversely, since people such as monks and others of dedicated religious focus have been known to say that they feel totally free despite the lack of freedom of action they actually have, that it's possible to be free from the inside out. Who do you think is freer in the deepest sense, then; an American who because of fear, trauma or whatever doesn't feel free even though technically they are, or someone living under a totalitarian regime with no outer freedom whose spirituality or mental state allows them to FEEL free even though technically they're not?

Ideally, of course, we'd be free inside and out... but how do we achieve that? How do we take the fullest advantage of the freedom that so many men and women have died to provide us with? Some people have had easy enough lives that it's natural for them to feel free inside, but for those of us who grew up under the regimes of parents that made Stalin look like a piker, or who've been victimized in ways that make fear a constant roadblock to internal freedom, is there a way out other than becoming a monk or a nun?

In the bad old days of zoos and circuses, animals like lions and tigers used to be displayed in tiny, bare cages that left them with nothing to do but pace back and forth on their little patches of concrete. When they started taking the poor creatures out of the cages and putting them in more proper enclosures, they discovered a terrible thing; the animals continued to pace back in forth over an area the same size as the cages... the cages had become internalized, and their minds couldn't accept that their level of freedom had increased, or, worse, simply didn't WANT to alter their familiar, dreadful patterns to take advantage of their greater freedom. In an odd parallel, some friends of mine recently adopted a couple of cats that had been kept in cages for a few weeks, and the animals freaked out so much over being turned loose in a house that they had to be penned up in a small bathroom at 1st, and then gradually introduced to bigger areas of the house until they felt ready to roam all around.

Humans have a tendency to react to increased freedom by pushing the new limits, and leaping beyond them if possible; the escapades of teens with their 1st driver's licenses, and college students in that 1st quarter out from under parental supervision, are ample proof of that. Some of us, though, "internalize the cages," probably as a survival mechanism to keep from being crushed emotionally by unbearably restrictive circumstances, and our minds keep us trapped in them long after the actual "cages" are gone; in my case, for example, since my parents were more like wardens than family, I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood doing nothing but reading and watching TV during non-work/school hours, and, if you stretch that to include working on the computer, that's all I do NOW... the urges that "normal" people have to go out, to see new things, to hang out with people, to travel, simply don't exist for me. As another example, I have a friend who's an incest victim, who from an early age tried to eliminate anything attractive or feminine about herself in order to deflect the abuse; over 2 decades after the molestation ended, the only thing that's changed is that she was recently able to start carrying a purse.

I'm luckier than my friend, because, while she still has the suffering along with the "cage," I've always been able to "escape" via my imagination and my love of learning, and so suffered fairly little in the past, and of course not at all now; does that make me more "free" than she is, though, just because I'm happier? I don't think that freedom and happiness or misery are necessarily related, so... I'd say no. How CAN someone with an "internal cage" become free, then, if a good life doesn't do the trick?

There's an old saying that "the truth will set you free"; by leaving the spiritual desert of my earlier life behind, and seeking not just truth but Truth, am I becoming free in the way that matters most, the sort of freedom that the dedicatedly religious lay claim to? Is the pursuit of spirituality, the opening of the mind, the embracing of the unknown, the acceptance of the energies that create reality, a path to true freedom? As recently as a couple of years ago, I'd have scoffed at the idea, but now, as I see myself moving beyond the things that had previously been dark clouds on my emotional horizon as my spirituality deepens, I have to say... yes.

Will I need to grasp all of the truth before being fully free, or will I have to achieve inner freedom in order to see the truth? I hope I find out soon...

Sunday, May 29, 2005

An encouraging dream oddity 

We all dream every night, whether we remember it or not; I've often wished to be in the "not" category, because, although I have the occasional lucid dream (which is when you know you're dreaming) in which I can do anything I want, and fairly smokin' sexual dreams a handful of times a year, a greater # of my dreams are some degree of nightmare... that's the dark side of an over-active imagination. Although I have a dismaying # of different types of nightmares, by far the most common are "pursuit nightmares," which are just what they sound like; the pursuer is generally someone unknown to me, or even unseen, but periodically it's the killer from my favorite horror movie series, "A Nightmare on Elm Street," Freddy Krueger... who one astonishing dream revealed to be symbolic of my father, which is probably why he's a recurring character. There was nothing unusual about having him in a dream, as I did last night; the new element was when, exhausted, I was hiding, and could hear him coming, then see him coming, and any moment he was going to see ME... and a force field of flickering white light sprung up between me and him. I understood instantly that this light would prevent him from seeing or otherwise sensing me, and it did; his glance passed over me without reaction, and he continued on down the... wherever it was we were, and eventually he was gone, and I was free to walk away unharmed.


This is literally the 1st time in my entire life that an outside agency intervened to save me from harm in a dream; when the force field came on, I "knew" that it was "the white light of goodness," and I knew it was there to save me, but not why, how, or from what source... and I haven't recently encountered any new person or situation that could lead to me believing subconsciously that I'm suddenly safe, or safER, so I'm totally at a loss.

This might sound trivial to you, but I had grisly nightmares every single night of my life until recently, when they've undergone a major reduction, which I blogged about on 4-6-05; my conclusion there was that my increasing spirituality has brought me more positive energy, which has brought about many positive changes in my emotional life, one of which was the reduction in nightmares... but could it also have given me some sort of unconscious idea that something (someONE?) is exerting, or is willing to exert, a protective force over me? Religious folks often feel as if God, Allah, etc is watching over and protecting them; could there be a connection?

With these questions uppermost in my mind, I'm going to sleep now...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Dual-effort tech triumph 

My husband really justified his existence today; check the sidebar, and you'll see a new clock... click where it says "calendar" (after hovering over it to see the cool pulsing effect), and the clock will slide up and a guess-what will replace it. How cool is THAT?!! :-)

For those of you who miss the old flash clock, or want to see what it was, or maybe want to put it on your site, you can see it, and the other styles available, here


The one I'd had is the green version of the 1st one in the gallery.

As you might expect, there's a story behind the new addition; I almost didn't even GET the new addition, because my analysis of the source code of the blog I originally found it on didn't provide me with a URL to get access to the flash file, and the URL that WAS there led to a site with lots of cool stuff but not the clock/calendar combo. I was stumped... until I asked my husband for help.

He was cranky and put-upon, as he always is when asked to do anything, but he revealed that the URL I'd been looking at is something necessary when you use flash, as it accesses the site that'll make sure you're using the right plug-in, and thus has nothing to do with the actual flash file... that was a new one on me, but then again I don't know anything about flash, so that's no surprise.

Because the owner of the site I found the clock on had her own domain, she didn't have full URL's in her source code for the files she was using, and that made it tricky to "find" the file and download it; it also made me wonder if it was her original work, NOT something in the public domain, which would mean that I shouldn't just take it... this concern was doubled by the realization that there was no comment in the code indicating the name or site of the creator, and usually something this slick DOES have that. Much to my relief, I found the site where the flash programmer for what's actually meant to be a watch rather than a clock had offered up several versions of his work for free downloads


which means it IS ok to use it... WHEW!! My husband got the file, and I uploaded it to an online file storage site


which gave me a URL to use in the html code that would access the file and actually put it in the sidebar... it was unfamiliar to me, but I managed to alter the size parameters (it's tricky working with pixels, because I don't intuitively have any idea of how big any given # of pixels is the way I would with inches or fractions thereof) and remove a centering command to make it fit nicely in my sidebar. I saved my template changes, republished my blog, brought it up in a new window, and...

... the clock was on a GREEN background.

My husband had told me that the background was transparent, and I foolishly listened to him and failed to actually LOOK; naturally, a green background was specified in the code, so I changed it to white, added some more space above and below to prevent overlapping onto other elements that was going on in some browsers (important site design rule that I learned the hard way-check every change in ALL your browsers), and... the result is what you see. I hope you get as much of a kick out of it as I do. :-)

As a bonus today, I'm including the URL to one of the cutest tech things every created; it's called an iGuy, and it's a doodad you put your iPod into to give it a body (including a BUTT) and posable arms and legs... it can even STAND. It's so darling that it makes me want to get an iPod just to be able to have an excuse to get it; if other people agree, and I can't imagine they wouldn't, whoever invented it is about to become a billionaire. Check it out here:


Friday, May 27, 2005

Are you a geek? 

Here are a few questions to help you figure it out:

1) You have
a) a computer that you share
b) your own computer
c) more than one computer
d) enough computers to equip a lab

2) If you had to give up either your DSL connection or food, you'd
a) N/A-you don't have DSL
b) give up the DSL
c) hang onto the DSL for a couple of days, until you got really hungry
d) hang onto the DSL until you fell into a starvation coma
e) call a medical supply warehouse and order an IV and a lifetime supply of glucose solution

3) How often do you get so caught up with what you're doing on the computer that you realize 5 or more hours have gone by and you haven't had anything to eat or drink, or even been to the bathroom?
a) Never
b) Sometimes
c) Frequently
d) Twice a day

4) Your wardrobe is best described as
a) whatever's currently in style
b) nice clothes of different kinds for different occasions
c) jeans and t-shirts, with bonus points if the shirts
i) are freebies from tech companies
ii) are decorated with graphics that relate to scifi or cartoons
iii) have stains and/or holes

5) Your meals
a) are skillfully prepared by you
b) are basic but homecooked
c) are microwaved or takeout

6) The word "convention" brings to your mind
a) people gathered together for business purposes
b) people gathered together to view and buy stuff related to scifi, horror, fantasy, anime, gaming and comic books

7) Your home decor has
a) all the standard stuff
b) the standard stuff accented with items related to science, roleplaying games, cartoons, etc
c) piles of computer equipment, a few pieces of furniture, and boxes full of books, magazines, papers and outdated hard drives

8) You see these abbreviations all the time... but for how many of them can you say what they stand for?
a) http
b) html
c) URL
d) CSS

9) a) If you're male, have you forgotten what you look like with short hair, a clean-shaven face, and nice clothes?
b) If you're female, have you forgotten what you look like with makeup, a sexy outfit and high heels?

10) What's your reaction to the following joke: There are 10 kinds of people... those that understand binary and those that don't.
a) HUH?
b) Hahahahahaha!!

No, I don't have some random scoring system to tell you how much of a geek you are based on your answers; you already know, right? In case you were wondering, the abbreviations stand for hypertext transfer protocol, hypertext markup language, uniform resource locator, and cascading style sheets. The punchline of the joke is that in binary, you represent 2 as "10." And yes, these examples were all taken from how my husband and I and some of our friends are.

Why didn't I include questions about technical expertise? Because many people who have that are "normal" people these days, not geeks, and plenty of geeks can't program beyond tweaking the html of a pre-fab template; geekdom requires being overly-involved with computers, granted, but it's also about being part of a subculture that likes certain sorts of things and can't be bothered with others that're standard in the wider culture.

When I met my husband, I didn't own a computer, didn't know how to use one, and had never been online; now, I'm about the geekiest female we know. Do you suppose geekdom is contagious? ;-)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

How observant are you? 

Unless you're reading this from another planet, you're human, and if you're human the answer to that question is; not very... according to an article called "What Do Animals Think?" in the May 2005 issue of Discover. The central figure of the article is Temple Grandin, PhD, whose doctorate is in animal science, and who is "perhaps the best-known autistic person in America." It's probably not a coincidence that Grandin picked the field she did, because she feels a certain kinship with animals:

"In her new book, 'Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior,' Grandin examines the surprising similarities between an animal's mind and an autistic mind--her own. 'Autistic people,' she writes, 'are closer to animals than normal people are.'"

"'You can't get anything past a cow,' she writes. She knows this partly because you can't get anything past an autistic person either."

"The difference between a normal person's mental clutter and the intense, detailed absorption of an autistic person's visual concentration closely resembles the difference between humans and animals."

We've all wondered at some point about what animals are thinking and feeling, whether we're pet owners or just animal lovers, and Grandin has shown herself to be astonishingly accurate in seeing things as animals do and predicting how they'll react; this has led her to be a sought-after consultant in the world of animal husbandry... many advances in the humane treatment of "food animals" have come from her, and the article says "Grandin has done more to improve animal welfare than almost any human alive."

Non-autistic people do NOT see as much as we think we do:

"When Grandin teaches people how to handle livestock, the subtext isn't so much what she notices-she takes that for granted, after all. It's what ordinary people don't notice and, especially, how they don't notice. The surprise that normal people feel when they realize how much Grandin sees has been more than matched over the years by her surprise at how much ordinary people fail to see. The difference can be summed up in a relatively simple manner, though the underlying biology is complex. A cow sees everything in detail and responds to details. Like an autistic person, its fears are hyperspecific because its perception is hyperspecific. But normal humans tend to see only what they expect to see.

We're used to the idea that human thought is abstract. But what Grandin points out is that even the sensory perception of ordinary humans is abstract as well. 'Normal people,' she writes, 'see and hear schemas, not raw sensory data.'"

"It's easy to imagine an engineer not being able to visualize a design flaw in a complex structure. What's harder to take in is the everyday blindness of ordinary people. Humans, Grandin writes, 'are built to see what they're expecting to see, and it's hard to expect to see something you've never seen. New things just don't register.' Animals, on the other hand, 'definitely act like they see everything.' New things not only register to cows, they positively throb with significance."

"... there's plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that Grandin's right. Normal humans are good at seeing the big picture but bad at what Grandin calls 'all the tiny little details that go into that picture.' For normal humans, the big picture isn't created by accumulating lots of sensory details. It's created by filtering out detail. 'The price human beings pay for having such big, fat frontal lobes,' Grandin writes, 'is that normal people become oblivious in a way animals and autistic people aren't. Normal people stop seeing the details that make up the big picture and see only the big picture instead.' The result, as she puts it, is that 'normal human beings are blind to anything they're not paying attention to.' And the parameters of our attention can be incredibly narrow.

Like autistic people--and unlike normal humans--animals have direct access to the raw sensory data that an ordinary human brain sifts out. Grandin argues that animals and autistic people are specialists, masters of individual skills and individual senses, whereas ordinary people are generalists. What normal humans specialize in is mental association. The principal difference between a human brain and the brain of a pig, for instance, is an immensely larger neocortex in the human. Humans appear to have evolved that layer of the brain to handle the interconnections and associations that produce what we happily call thought and the conscious mind. The only way to keep the association area of the human brain from becoming overloaded is to strictly limit our access to raw sensory data. Like animals, we see everything. But unlike animals, we process only a fraction of what we see"

"Grandin uses an awkward but powerful word to describe the perceptual fog that normal humans live in. She calls it 'abstractification.' It means the ability to live in our thoughts, surrounded by 'our ideas of things.' 'Normal human beings,' she writes, 'are abstractified in their sensory perceptions as well as their thoughts.'"

Isn't that mindboggling? We think we're so observant, hardly anyone would say that they weren't, yet it turns out that compared to an autistic person we see, really SEE, very little... and yet we base all our judgments on what little detail we take in. I wondered in my last post if ghosts might be around us all the time, and I know that many people will pooh-pooh that idea right away because they haven't seen any evidence of this, or of any of the other things I talk about here... but, can they, or any of us, be really SURE about what we're seeing, given how little detail we apparently notice? There could be all kinds of evidence right in front of us, and we aren't picking up on it... the way we tend to almost never notice the unfocused tips of our noses that're ALWAYS along the bottom of our visual range-heck, I'd NEVER noticed the tip of MY nose until I read "The Invisible Man" and the hero realizes that he can no longer see any of HIS nose, which made me look down and see MY nose for the 1st time in my life.

What else is there right out in the open that we don't see, don't notice, don't grasp the significance of, or have subconsciously written off as known and/or trivial? If we could have the superior perceptions of an autistic person for a day, would we see a bunch of unexpected and unexplainable variations in light, shadow, the way the house creaks and wind sighs through the eaves, that would make our hair stand on end? If we could be spared the need to withdraw from stimuli that afflicts autistics, and make ourselves focus, REALLY focus, on the details we've been missing... what would we see?

Or who?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Inspiration from "The Others" 

If you haven't seen the abovementioned terrific suspense/horror movie


don't miss out on a real treat; skip this post, because it contains SPOILERS for the movie... and if, after you see "The Others," which you really should, you still want to know how I've tied it into my spiritual imaginings, the post will still be here.

I was blown away by the idea of a family of ghosts, with no memory of having died, being "haunted" by the living in such a way that they believed the living to be ghosts; sure, movies like "Beetlejuice" have shown ghosts being bothered by people living in "their" houses, but not, as far as I'd previously seen, have any of them set it up so that the ghosts can't usually see or hear the living, as if the 2 categories live on totally different planes that don't quite touch most of the time rather than really living in the same house.

Which, when you think about it, could well be the case.

If you believe in ghosts, or at least have an open mind, ask yourself this; when a ghost isn't visible, audible or otherwise perceptible, where is it? Is it there but IMperceptible, or is it doing something in another dimension (might there be a dimension called "Heaven" by its inhabitants?), and can it or can't it see us from there? If spirits reside in another dimension, do we perceive them because there's overlap of sensory data in "thin" spots sometimes, and/or maybe because some are "drawn" back here by unfinished business? COULD it be that generally they aren't aware of us? I'd like to believe that they're NOT hanging around, watching us, but the reliable people within my family's circle of acquaintance who see ghosts as naturally as they see anything else assert that they ALWAYS see some, wherever they are, and that some people have their own personal escort; when my uncle was, we thought, terminally ill, a "seeing" friend told us that he saw a sizable group with him, and my father and I saw one of these in what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life... but I try not to think about the ramifications of this too much, as the thought of possibly being observed all the time is distinctly uneasy-making.

Here's the idea that REALLY makes me uneasy, though: How sure can we be that our reality is the true one, or the truEST one, that we're actually alive and doing all the things we think we're doing? What if the reason that time doesn't exist the way we think it does (as quantum physics has proven) is that time is OVER for us, because we're essentially ghosts running through the same experiences forever like a CD on an infinite loop?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Intelligence loses yet again 

In my post of 5-13-05, I described some sad evidence about how negatively we view intelligence as reflected in a person's language skills; to summarize, a study at Stanford showed that the use of big words in writing led to readers giving a LOWER intelligence rating for the writer, and political analysts say that shorter words and sentences, and more basic language, are more effective in speeches, and get the speaker seen as everything from more honest to more confident... in other words, that the way most intelligent, educated people naturally speak and write is counter-productive to getting them judged positively.

I contacted the primary researcher for the Stanford study, Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer, and he kindly sent me a version of his paper (I assume that he took out alot of statistical stuff that I'm not qualified to understand); from it, I learned that people's judgments of the intelligence of the authors of written passages is so little related to reality that if they print out identical passages in fonts that are easy to read and less easy to read, making it clear that the researchers and NOT the writers chose the fonts, people rated the passages in the harder to read fonts as being written by less intelligent authors... that's right, the EXACT same passage is judged as being from a less intelligent person if the FONT is made less readable, although that has nothing whatsoever to do with the author, much less their intelligence.

The judging of intelligence is even more fickle than that; he also tested how readers would react to passages printed with low toner, and found that they rated the intelligence of a writer HIGHER from the low toner copies!! The explanation for this, which I guess one needs a PhD in cognitive psychology like Dr. Oppenheimer to have foreseen, is that when people's 1st reaction to something they're supposed to judge is, "Oh look, this is messed up," they become consciously aware that it'll be harder to read and that this will impact them negatively, and thus over-correct and rate the author's intelligence as higher than it would be if they were reading from a clear copy.

As disheartening as these results are, they provide a useful hint for those bloggers who get creative with their fonts; it looks cool, but people may be misjudging your intellect as a result. I'd be interested to know if things like yellow text on a red background and other colorful combos popular among younger bloggers affect readers' judgments as to their intelligence, and if so in which direction.

Today, I got hit with "helpful hints" in Cosmo (April 2005 issue-I'm behind in my reading) from an article misleadingly entitled "The Art of Seduction" even though it's about influencing people in general rather than about what it sounds like. The 1st one, about the "right" way to tell a story to a group of people, was mildly dismaying; "If the story is about you, make yourself the butt of the joke, because even if you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or saved the day, it can be annoying to listen to someone talk about herself in that way." Say WHAT? If you do something impressive, it ANNOYS people to hear about it unless you make it into a JOKE?!! No one likes a braggart, of course, but is it really true that we can't even give a factual report about something impressive we've done without it being a problem? This "hint" targets competency in general rather than intellect in particular, but wait, it gets better.

The next "hint," from Caren Neile, PhD, director of the South Florida Storytelling Project at Florida Atlantic University, is to speak more slowly; "Taking the pace of your speech down a notch makes you seem less anxious and skittish... It projects a kind of confidence and importance that invites people in." Yes, nervous people might speak too quickly, but they might also speak slowly and hesitantly, whereas a confident person might charge boldly forward, verbally speaking... right? The intelligent and educated people I know generally speak more quickly than average when making other than idle social chitchat; their ideas are well thought out and often felt strongly about, they have the vocabularies to not need to flounder for words, and so they tend to move briskly from point to point... whereas the less intelligent people I know tend to plod along more slowly in their speech. The only really bright people I can think of who speak slowly are those who are shy and/or with poor verbal skills, who simply can't go any faster without stumbling over their own tongues, so to my mind the idea of speaking more slowly, NOT to prevent sounding like an auctioneer or otherwise be better understood but simply to make a better impression, is in the same category as using smaller words and shorter sentences... the idea being to mimic the average person, who is of average intelligence, and thus to win general approval.

The heading of the next section of the article made me want to scream; "Don't Show Off Your Smarts." I wish I was joking. They advise (asterisks are mine), "... even when you're armed with convo-starting current events or a fabulous anecdote, you still want to ***** act a tad naive so you don't seem, frankly, obnoxious." ***** If you know something interesting, you're supposed to FAKE being some clueless twit who accidentally just happens to know it?!! Yes, according to them; "Next time you're trying to stoke a conversation with some interesting tidbit, ***** couch your smarts in an unintimidating way ***** by introducing the topic with something like 'Wow, I learned this cool thing recently...'" In other words, sound like a kid passing along something rather than like an adult discussing something; do you suppose they'd DARE suggest this tactic in a MEN'S magazine?!! Would any man be willing to pass along information this way? It kills me that a women's magazine is instructing intelligent women to sound like morons to be considered likable... and that, again, the central idea is that you have to pretend that you don't know more than anyone else does, that you're average just like they are, rather than intelligent and knowledgeable.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that I read this article so soon after reading the other ones about this topic, and collectively they hammer home a crucial lesson that'll probably benefit me at some time in the future when I have to deal with people other than geeks and other intellectuals and try to impress them or garner their liking; in general, though, although I've always tried to hold off on the $10 words when I'm talking to regular folks so I don't get blank stares and admissions that they don't know what I'm talking about, I'm just not willing to dumb myself down to the level that studies and experts say would get me the highest rating of intelligence and likability from the general population.

For anyone out there who thinks that my vocabulary and ability to express complex thoughts makes me UNintelligent, and who's going to dislike me because I don't pretend to not know anything except by accident, I have a statement of the kind they prefer; it contains only short words, and there are only 2 of them... and the 2nd word is "you."

Monday, May 23, 2005

What makes a true friend? 

I spent today shopping and having dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends. She has no interest in karma or spirituality. She knows nothing about science, psychology or couture. She has never been online, and wouldn't know what a blog was if asked. I'm an old married lady, but she still lives with her parents although she's in her 40's. Aside from trivial things, like both finding it attractive when a man has a hairy chest and both liking the flavor of blue raspberry Icees, we have nothing in common. It doesn't sound like we should have any basis for friendship, does it?

We can talk nonstop for hours; we've never run out of things to say. I honestly couldn't tell you what we talk ABOUT most of the time... we just have a smooth flow of communication in which the metamessage of caring is more important that what's being said.

She's totally accepting of me; she's never demanded that I justify my often-unusual preferences or choices, or tried to argue me out of them.

I'm totally accepting of her; she's one of the unfortunate souls whose beauty is 100% INternal, and although I was considered a hot item when we met, and she was the butt of jokes, I befriended her and was always good to her... she told me at one point that I was one of only 2 people in her life who'd ever been a true friend.

When we shop, I help her look for things for herself most of the time rather than looking for things for myself; I've taught her how to put herself together as attractively as possible, to allow her to feel better about herself... which has allowed a once-doormat to get enough self-esteem to stand up for herself and be her own person.

When we have dinner and she gets a salad and I don't, she gives me some of hers so I have something to eat... including most or all of her croutons. She's taught me generosity of spirit, about giving in the purest sense; important lessons for the child of selfish, stingy parents.

NOW is there any confusion as to why we're friends?

True friendship isn't about liking the same things or doing the same activities; a true friend accepts you where you're good (and understands that if it isn't harmful it's ok even if it's not their style), offers help where you need it, and makes you a better person. Did you EVER consider those qualities as requirements in a friend? Why not... what could be more important? How much do you suppose we're missing out on in the modern day, where we can't be bothered to really get to know someone unless they have an overwhelming amount of surface things in common with us? How many times has karma sent you someone who could enrich you, and who you in turn could enrich, only to have you and/or them be unwilling to make the effort to get to know each other because you didn't have the easy route of mutual interests?

People used to think I was nuts for being willing to attempt friendship with anyone who offered it, even if the offerer was the sort of person that everyone turned their noses up at; in retrospect, that's one of the smartest decisions I ever made.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Is anyone an expert on romantic relationships? 

There are certainly many who CLAIM to be, some with actual degrees in psychology, some with careers as couples therapists (did you know that you do NOT have to have a degree to call yourself a therapist?)... and it never ceases to amaze me how little clue they generally have.

A standard line of thought from them, and the one that always amuses me the most, is to claim that all successful couples do, don't do, say or don't say certain things... ridiculous things that I can't imagine that ANY couple has EVER handled that way. They describe elaborate communication rituals that, even if any woman independently came up with them, no man would participate in beyond the grunts and groans that men typically come out with when their women try to get them to discuss the details of the relationship or to drag deep thoughts and feelings out of them. They detail behavior patterns, emotional reactions and mindsets that are totally contrary to both male and female relationship norms. They talk about the regular occurrence of novel sexual, romantic, and couple-time activities that shows a total lack of grasp of how human beings fall into ruts and have no interest in climbing out, even if it's to their benefit. They insist upon the necessity of wild spontaneous goings-on that only the idle and childless wealthy would have the time and ability to do.

It should come as no surprise that many of these folks are either single or have failed in at least one marriage; most notably, one of the best-known female relationship gurus, Barbara De Angelis, has been married FIVE times, and her 3rd husband was fellow guru John Gray, author of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"... so why do we listen to these people?

There's an old saying; "A woman marries a man expecting him to change, and he doesn't... and a man marries a woman expecting her not to change, and she does." This is certainly an over-generalization, but it points up 2 of the most important things to remember when trying to form a lasting relationship:

1) Do NOT put on a fake persona, or fake any part of how you interact with your prospective partner, as you can NOT keep it up forever, and more importantly you're being deceptive, and that'll come back to bite you eventually. If you can't show your true self to a person, either you lack what it takes to have a long-term relationship, or they're too immature to handle normal human failings and so are themselves lacking... or of course both.

2) Do NOT delude yourself that you can change the other person, or that you can prevent them from gradually changing as they mature and grow. You can't expect your partner to be like your same-sex or friends, or like you (unless you're gay, in which case I wouldn't pretend to be able to offer advice); men and women are DIFFERENT, and will STAY different, and will grow and change in different ways over the years... so if you can't handle socks on the floor or panties drying on the shower rod, or the other irritating things each gender does, you're not ready for a long-term relationship yet.

To these, I'd add 3 others:

3) Don't confuse lust and infatuation with love; you can NOT love a person until you've known them long and well enough to see what's lovable about them, so if you're talking about love within a few weeks, or even months, of meeting someone, you're very likely heading for a fall.

4) Don't confuse having things in common plus sexual attraction with love; someone too like you will usually bore you sooner or later, and, more importantly, it's too easy to get too close too fast with such a person, and to not realize that they differ from you in crucial ways before it's too late.

5) Don't enter into a relationship with unrealistic expectations. Don't think that your relationship will be like what you see in the movies, or even like what your parents had; expect it to be hard work, with plenty of fighting and aggravation and not getting your way, and fairly dull much of the time... in other words expect it to be like LIFE, and if your mate has the same perspective you'll do ok.

There will certainly be people whose relationships are exceptions to the above, just as there are people who married as teenagers, or after only knowing each other a few weeks, who manage to beat the odds and be together forever, but they WILL apply to most people... which is more than the so-called experts can say about THEIR advice.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

What do you call your loved ones? 

Do you call your mother "Mother," "Mom," "Ma," "Mama," "Mommy," or something else? How did you come to use that particular name? I'm fairly sure that I called my mother "Mama" early on, which is what most little kids are taught, then "Mom" for most of my life, again because that was pretty standard with my peers, then started mingling it with a tongue-in-cheek reprise of "Mama" because that's what my father called her (more on that in a minute), and since I got married I've pretty much ceased to refer to her by any name at all, not from any conscious choice but, I think, in a subconscious desire to obliterate her. Of course, it's occasionally necessary to attach some label to her; I put "Mom" on her cards, and on the rare occasions when I need to single her out of a group, I'll call her "Mother," but in a way that makes it clear that it's a formal title rather than a name.

Fathers also have a range of names they can be called, and I think our adult choice for how to refer to our parents says alot about the relationship; looking back, I can see that I stopped referring to my father by any name by about my mid teens, at which point he'd non-coincidentally stopped calling ME by name, too... "that little bastard" and "that little son of a bitch" were his favorite terms for me (the former amused me as it denied his existence), but he'd use "that kid" as a contemptuous shorthand when his mood wasn't too vile. My mother and I referred to him amongst ourselves with an expletive, and do so to this day; when my husband first met the rest of my mother's family, he had to ask them who they were talking about, because they were using my father's actual name, and he'd never heard it, lol.

We have many different ways to refer to grandparents, too; the only one of mine that I ever knew well enough to have a name for is my mother's mother, and I created a nickname for her as a young child that I've used for her my entire life... somewhat to her embarrassment at times, when visitors to her home would want to know what the name I addressed her by in cards meant, and she couldn't explain how I'd invented it.

I think that one of the sure signs you've become an adult is when you stop referring to your aunt Mary as "Aunt Mary" and start calling her "Mary"; in some families, though, the aunt and uncle titles are never dropped, which is more traditional and respectful, but probably makes those so referred to feel older... if my husband (who's adopted) turns out to have half-siblings, and thus nieces and nephews, I think I'll try to dodge the aunt and uncle labels for just that reason.

What do your parents call each other? My father followed what used to be the standard pattern and called my mother "Mom" or "Mama," despite her periodic protests of, "Stop calling me that, I'm NOT your mother!!" I remember being stunned when the press made an issue of Ronald Reagan calling Nancy "Mom" or "Mommy" or whatever they said it was, because I'd always heard men calling their wives the same thing the kids called her; since wives ARE, in many ways, mothers to their husbands (sigh), this still seems perfectly reasonable to me.

My mother was quite sly in her choice of nickname for my father. I have virtually no memories of her calling him by his actual name; she always called him "Prince," which would cause periodic protests from HIM of, "Stop calling me 'Prince,' I'm not a dog," to which she'd of course reply with "Yes you are"... but dogs had nothing to do with this moniker. She'd occasionally refer to him as "Prince Knotso," which always vaguely puzzled me (since I didn't know what the connection was between him and knots), and which I eventually questioned her about; it turned out that she was actually saying "Prince Not-So," which was short for "Prince Not-So-Charming"... so when she called him "Prince," which would sound to anyone overhearing it like an affectionate and laudatory name, she was actually zinging him. :-)

What do you and your romantic partner call each other? I hadn't made the obvious connections before, but my husband's main nickname for me, although mostly flattering, carries on a deeper level a little bit of a zing, and my numerous nicknames for him, which are always multi-part, center around words that are at least semi-expletive in nature (usually connected with bodily functions-marriage is often weird and gross). I don't know what's eerier, now that I'm thinking about it; the way I adopted my mother's naming conventions for my father to invent nicknames for my husband, or how my husband, not even knowing what my mother called my father, came up with a similar nickname for me.

What's in a name?

Friday, May 20, 2005

A freaky flaw in DNA testing 

We're told that DNA testing is essentially infallible; scarily, in at least a small % of cases, it's NOT. I saw a program tonight on the Discovery Science channel called "I Am My Own Twin" that explained that some people have TWO different sets of DNA in their bodies; since DNA testing naturally doesn't include searching every part of the body for a 2nd set, if they test the "wrong set" they can get incorrect results for the primary uses of these tests, paternity and criminal identification.

These double-DNA people are called "chimeras," after the mythical creatures with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail



and, while there are only about 30 known cases, they have no idea how common this actually is, as very few people receive DNA tests, and there's hardly ever a reason to suspect there's a problem, or to take test samples from different parts of the body that might give different results, so a chimeric person could be tested and still not know that they have a 2nd set of DNA.

How does a person end up with 2 sets of DNA coexisting in their bodies? Wikipedia says:

"In zoology, a chimera is an animal which has (at least) two different populations of cells, which are genetically distinct and which originated in different zygotes (fertilized eggs). Chimeras are named after the mythological creature Chimera.
Chimerism may occur naturally during pregnancy, when two non-identical twins combine in the womb, at a very early stage of development, to form a single organism. Such an organism is called a tetragametic chimera as it is formed from four gametes-two eggs and two sperm. As the organism develops, the resulting chimera can come to possess organs that have different sets of chromosomes. For example, the chimera may have a liver composed of cells with one set of chromosomes and have a kidney composed of cells with a second set of chromosomes. This has occurred in humans, though it is considered extremely rare, but since it can only be detected through DNA testing, which in itself is rare, it may be more common than currently believed. As of 2003, there were about 30 human cases in the literature, according to New Scientist."

Sadly, New Scientist only makes full articles available to subscribers, but this site


gives the story, which is about one of the women who was covered on the TV show:

"A mother-of-three has discovered she is not the biological parent of two of her naturally conceived sons and is in fact made up of two women.

Scientists came to the extraordinary conclusion that the 52-year-old was formed from two non-identical twin girl embryos which fused into a single person in her mother's womb.

Tests carried out on the woman - known as Jane - showed she had two distinct types of DNA in her body.

Her blood is made up of her own cells, but when doctors took samples from her thyroid gland, mouth and hair, they found they came from two different people.

Jane is a tetragametic chimera - someone whose body is made up of two genetically different lines of cells.

Her story, told in the New Scientist, is extremely rare and only 30 cases have been reported.

The discovery came when Jane needed to find a suitable donor for her kidney transplant. When her sons underwent blood tests to see if they could help their mother, the results showed that two of her boys could not be hers because they had different DNA.

Jane's doctor, Margot Kruskall, from the US Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, was perplexed and asked her colleagues for advice. "I did get the most amazing set of explanations," she said. "Nobody could quite figure it out."

The children were definitely conceived naturally and Jane's husband was proved to be the father. Some doctors thought she had secretly undergone fertility treatment using donated eggs while others thought she had used her sister as a surrogate mother.

Finally, a familial link was established with the boys when doctors tested Jane's brother and found he had similar genes to her sons. When Jane's ovaries were studied, it was found that the two different sets of genes in her body were living amicably alongside each other.

One of her sons came from her set of cells, while the other two were derived from her non-identical twin's set of cells. Dr Kruskall said the number of chimeras may increase due to the use of modern fertility drugs."

YIKES!! Can you imagine how that family must have felt? They had another, similar case on the show, where they thought the woman was trying to commit welfare fraud by passing someone else's kids off as hers, because they didn't have her DNA; they showed that the boys shared DNA with her mother, and then they had someone there when she gave birth to her 3rd child to witness the birth and take blood samples which proved that THAT child didn't share her DNA either. I think in her case they eventually found the other set of DNA in cells taken from a scraping of her cervix; she and her family are continuing to participate in studies being done at Harvard on chimerism.

A more detailed description of what can lead to chimerism comes from this site


which tells us:

"First, it is possible to become a chimera if developing fraternal twin embryos fuse together to become one embryo. (Think of this is as the reverse of identical twins where a single embryo splits into two.) This happens very early on when the embryos are just unspecialized cells, so a healthy baby can still be made. Fraternal twins do not have the same DNA, so a mixture of two embryos will give a chimera.

Second, chimeras can arise when developing fraternal twins share a blood supply. This happens when the twins (who have different DNA) share a placenta and cells from their blood mix. The twins will be chimeras only in terms of their blood since other cells in the body are not affected by the blood supply.

Third, sometimes chimeras can happen through an error in the way cells divide in the developing embryo. (These people are technically called mosaics but the concept is similar.) Cells split into two to make more of themselves - something embryos need to do a lot of to grow into a baby. For this, cells need to double their DNA and divide it between the two new halves. Sometimes this goes wrong and some new cells end up with different DNA. If this happens early on, the tissues that come from these cells end up with a different genotype. "

The term "mosaics" came up in the TV show, too, and was used to describe chimeras with unusual skin pigmentations; I don't know if the patterns that they sometimes get on their skin are why they're called mosaics, but it's a good way to remember the term. As shown on the show, some chimeras have what looks like a sharp line of demarcation down the middle of their abdomens with different colors of skin on each side of the line, like in that old Star Trek episode, some have all sorts of streaks, splotches and mottlings, and some actually have what can only be described as a checkerboard pattern of pigmentation; you've got to see it to believe it, it looks surreal. This unusual pigmentation is a big clue to medical types that the person might be chimeric; other possible clues are the eyes being different colors (heterochromia iridium), and the presence of a combination of male and female genitals (intersexuality). The 2 women in the show lacked any of these characteristics, which gives us the creepy realization that ANY of us might actually be chimeras and not know it.

Because they can't do DNA testing on every bodily part of anyone, much less a big enough sample of people to know how common this is, we have no way of knowing if it's rare or not... and thus no way of knowing how often paternity tests that come up "not the father" are wrong, how often DNA test done to identify criminals that come up "not the criminal" are wrong, and of course how often the other sorts of answers sought from DNA tests are wrong.

Scary, isn't it?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The best interest of the child 

You hear this phrase all the time, and it's a non-stop refrain during custody cases, but do we have any idea what it MEANS... and do we actually strive to achieve it?

One of the basic principles that we adhere to in this area is that a child's biological parents are "best" for them... but what do we base this idea on? There's nothing about sharing DNA with a child that makes people more loving, more special, or better parents, is there? There are countless adoptive parents who are wonderful, and countless biological parents that, like mine, are only slightly "better" for a child than being raised by wolves; you either love a child or you don't, and there's no magical extra effect added in if there's shared DNA.

But wait a minute, don't a mother's hormones fill her with love for the child? Sure, as long as she's not hit with postpartum depression, or indifferent contempt like MY mother was, but non-biological parents who are eager for a child are overcome with love, too; any time you hear an adoptive parent talk about the moment when they were given their child, and you'll hear rapture equal to anything that biological parents ever came out with. Any adult that wants a child can feel that love, and they can feel it for any child they see as theirs; that parents can take home the wrong baby from the hospital and never notice anything's amiss shows how strong the biological drive is to bond with a baby, whether or not one has given birth to or sired it.

One of the biggest strides humanity made in the last century was to realize that some parents are abusive or neglectful, and that this is NOT ok; the laws that allow kids to be taken away from parents that don't treat them right (to an extreme degree, as we still consider a certain amount of abuse to be ok) have saved countless kids from permanent physical and psychological damage, and even death... in this situation, at least, we've seen that the biological parents can be the WORST thing for the child, rather than the best. But what about situations where no egregious abuse is involved?

It's not hard to see that you can't just take a child away from its parents on a whim-the child would be devastated and traumatized, which is clearly NOT in their best interest. Then again, even in abusive households, if a child is taken out for their protection, it's standard for them to scream and cry and beg to be take back to their parents... so how do you know which is the greater harm to the child, their suffering with their parents or their suffering withOUT them? I don't know how you determine a child's best interest in that sort of situation; since there's no way to objectively measure or predict suffering, I'm betting they don't have much better of a record of judgment in cases where the abuse isn't monstrous than random chance would give them, which is pretty sad.

Then, there are the cases where a long-missing biological parent appears on the scene, and the judge decides that the terrified child should be dragged off struggling and screaming to spend time with, or even LIVE with, what to them is a total stranger; on what planet would it be in a child's best interest to be taken from a loving and familiar family to be with someone who just happens to have contributed half of their DNA? What benefit do they get from the proximity to the DNA donor that makes up for their misery?

What about when the parents are desperately poor and live in a horrible neighborhood, or are homeless; would it be better for the child to be adopted by wealthy parents who could give it a safe and comfortable life? The child would be upset at first, but would the countless advantages they'd receive make it better for them in the long run?

And now for the $64K question; what if the child is an infant, not yet bonded to the parents as an older child would be, and the biological parents were poor, uneducated types who could never provide it with any of the good things in life, and there was a wealthy couple who were desperate for a child, would love a child with all their hearts and give it every advantage... which set of parents would be to the child's best interest, the biological ones or the ones who could love it AND give it everything a child could ever need or want? Isn't it better for the child to have love AND financial benefits than just love? If not, why not? If so, shouldn't we be taking babies away from poor parents and giving them to rich parents with the justification that it's in the best interest of the child?

No one would agree to such a plan, of course, because, above and beyond the idea of the best interest of the child is a more primitive one; that a child is the property of the parents. We don't take a child from poor parents any more than we'd take anything else of theirs; we see that child as belonging to them, and, as long as they keep their abuse below a certain level, they can treat the child any way they want, make them live any kind of life they want, make their life a living hell of joylessness and rules if they want... and we see that as their right.

Is THAT in the best interest of the child?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) 

They say you learn something new every day, and today this one was my thing; I saw part of an ad for the DVD release of the movie "White Noise," which I'd never heard of, and when I looked it up


it turned out to an interesting-sounding horror movie circling around the idea of EVP, which I'd never heard of either. I did a search, and here


I discovered that

"Electronic voice phenomena - or EVP - is a mysterious event in which human-sounding voices from an unknown source are heard on recording tape, in radio station noise and other electronic media. Most often, EVPs have been captured on audiotape. The mysterious voices are not heard at the time of recording; it is only when the tape is played back that the voices are heard. Sometimes amplification and noise filtering is required to hear the voices.

Some EVP is more easily heard and understood than others. And they vary in gender (men and women), age (women and children), tone and emotion. They usually speak in single-words, phrases and short sentences. Sometimes they are just grunts, groans, growling and other vocal noises. EVP has been recorded speaking in various languages.

The quality of EVP also varies. Some are difficult to distinguish and are open to interpretation as to what they are saying. Some EVP, however, are quite clear and easy to understand. EVP often has an electronic or mechanical character to it; sometimes it is natural sounding. The quality of EVP is categorized by researchers:

Class A: Easily understood by almost anyone with little or no dispute. These are also usually the loudest EVPs.

Class B: Usually characterized by warping of the voice in certain syllables. Lower in volume or more distant sounding than Class A. Class B is the most common type of EVP.

Class C: Characterized by excessive warping. They are the lowest in volume (often whispering) and are the hardest to understand.

The most fascinating aspect of EVP is that the voices sometimes respond directly to the persons making the recording. The researchers will ask a question, for example, and the voice will answer or comment. Again, this response is not heard until later when the tape is played back."

At 1st glance, this looks like a clear case of wishful thinking applied to little bits of noise that went unnoticed when the taping was being done, but people apply similar "logic" to the existence of ghosts to dismiss them, and I know THEY exist, so... maybe there's something to this. There are all sorts of energy around us, and it's not impossible to imagine that some of it could imprint on a tape; it'd sure be interesting if they did a study to see if anything other than sound waves could do something to a tape that would be translated into sound when the tape was played, wouldn't it?

Where do people think the "voices" come from? Some of the explanations are:

"They are voices of people who have died. This is why many researchers go to cemeteries seeking EVPs (and often with great success). In this context, the phenomenon is sometimes called instrumental transcommunication or ITC.

They are from another dimension. It is theorized that there may be many dimensions of existence, and somehow beings from some other dimension are able to speak and communicate with ours through this method. A good question is, however: How do they know English and other languages of our dimension?

They come from the researchers' own subconscious. It's been suggested that somehow the researchers' thoughts are projected onto the tape.

Some people believe that these voices are angelic or demonic in origin.

Skeptics assert that there is nothing to EVP at all - that the "voices" are either hoaxed, random noise interpreted as voices, real voices already on the tape, or voices picked up from radio, cell phones and other such sources."

They left one out; since energy can never be destroyed, every thought we have exists forever in some form... so words from ANY person's thoughts might in theory be recorded, not just from the researchers.

This blew my mind:

"It is not generally known that in the 1920s Thomas Edison tried to invent a machine that would communicate with the dead. Thinking this was possible, he wrote: 'If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical or scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, other faculties, and knowledge that we acquire on this Earth. Therefore... if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.'"

Would any scientist dare to openly admit to doing that sort of research today? Nope... and that's why we never get anywhere with discoveries in the area of the unknown, sigh.

Later in the article, they describe how you can try recording these "voices" for yourself; I'm not copying that info here, because the idea of focusing on any entities that might currently be hanging around unnoticed, and thus risking being given special notice by THEM, gives me a cold chill... although I don't think most spirits would mean us any harm, poltergeists are no joy to deal with, and it's anyone's guess as to what else is there, just beyond our ability to perceive them, so why take chances?

With no experience, and no intention of getting any, and no facts at my disposal, I can't make any sort of judgment on this one; my instinct is that it's possible, but that most of the time all there is are fragments of sound that coincidentally sound vaguely like words. I found a guy who describes himself as "a programmer and musician making music from Chaos Theory - using a system I've written myself I convert mathematic fractal data into musical tones and durations, and then compile these to make compositions," who got more than he bargained for from one of his projects:

"... when playing these sequences through vocal-based patches on my synthesisers, for example, a "choir" sound, I found that the sequences produced sounds that mimic real vocal phrases - in the case of "Season" in two places there are vocal sounds that listeners have mistaken for real vocal phrases, and, most strange of all, one seems to be saying "Rimbaud.""

He doesn't seem entirely sure if these are coincidences or something else, but to my mind it's proof that at least some of these EVP's are cause and effect with technology. You can read his whole story, and his explanation of how to generate the sort of stuff he does, here


The ever-helpful Wikipedia site suggests that EVP might be attributable to pareidolia, which is "a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (usually an image) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse." This probably accounts for 99% of the alleged EVP's.

But what about that last 1%?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The future of blogging 

This keeps coming up on other people's blogs, so I figured it was time to address it here; in a nutshell, the golden age of blogging has come and gone. I say this because:

It used to be cool to have a blog; now, almost everyone you encounter has one, and of course nothing that everyone has, and that everyone can easily do or get, is ever cool.

The novelty of blogs has long since worn off, and we're driven by the desire to find new things, and tend to lose interest in the old ones.

Blogging is a great deal of work, and people stop being willing to do that work in the same way that most people can't maintain a paper diary or journal indefinitely.

Those who blog about whatever's on their minds often find that they don't have an infinite # of interesting lines of thought to rant about, leaving them having to try too hard to find something to say; it stops being fun and starts being work.

There are so many blogs around now that people who want to have a certain level of traffic and/or commenting can't compete with older blogs, and the countless blogs similar to theirs, and thus end up posting to themselves; again, that stops being fun after awhile.

Alot of people got burned out on blogs after the post-election frenzy, and stopped reading, commenting and posting.

The reason I got to thinking about why blogging is declining is because in recent months a FLOOD of blogs that I've been a long-time reader of have been deleted, or abandoned, or put on indefinite hold, or reduced to blank pages that don't have anything put on them even weeks later, or have a seriously reduced frequency of posts; also, when I look for blogs in the various directories, I consistently find that a scary % of the links now lead to dead or deleted blogs. These things, combined with a great deal of "next-blogging" that's verified that many excellent blogs are being largely ignored, made the truth impossible to mistake... the "Age of the Blog" is, if far from over, clearly past its peak.

What I see happening over the next year or so is a continuing gradual die-out of blogs, after which we'll be left with a far smaller (but still non-trivial) # of hard-core bloggers, who'll collectively be seen as a subspecies of geek, interesting perhaps but not worthy of the attentions of CNN and the rest of the mainstream media... 5 years from now, people will read old articles that refer to what's being said in the blogosphere and laugh in disbelief that we were once so watched and paid attention to. Blogs will end up being like Geocities sites; a few years ago, everyone had to have that Geocities URL, leading to a conglomeration of personal photos and info or a "fan site," and now you almost never see that sort of personal page anymore... and sooner than we think, the daily-entry text arrangement will seem just as quaint, although I'm guessing more people will hold onto it and keep doing it than they did with "personal pages"-time will tell.

What's replacing blogs as the cool thing to do? Podcasting. Seemingly overnight, it went from something I'd never heard of to being EVERYWHERE, which is a sure sign of something catching on; it's much easier to talk than to write for most folks, plenty of people would rather listen than read, it's far more personal to hear a voice than to look at text, and it's still NEW, so I expect an ever-increasing amount of enthusiasm to be shown for it... and I'll be amazed if I haven't seen/heard mentions of it in the media by, say, the end of the summer (which will allow time for the young people to turn this into a major thing over their vacation).

If you're not familiar with podcasting, or are getting into it and would like to experience something new, you'll find terrific ones being produced by my friends Robert Keeme


and Gary Bibb (with Yaz Larino)


I won't be joining the podcast revolution, as it'd eliminate my deniability if anyone I know ever found my blog... and my long, elaborate posts wouldn't translate attractively into spoken monologues in any case (just ask my husband, lol). Although I empathize with those who say that their blogs were taking up too much of their time, energy and thoughts, I won't be joining THEM any time soon either; unless and until a day arrives when no one comes here anymore, I'll still be slaving over a hot laptop to give you a daily look into my mind for the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The TOS 

That stands for "Terms of Service," and virtually any site you sign up with will have one; it might have literally pages of gobbledygook, and no one ever reads it, but it's there. Most times, they have a box to check that says that you've read and accepted the TOS, which is accessible via a link that no one clicks, so you don't even have to SEE it... but it's there.

Under normal circumstances, as long as you're not trying to do something criminal to or with that service or the company that provides it, you never have to worry about the TOS, but there's one big exception that hardly anyone knows about; email providers. Since the early days of cyberspace, most providers of both free and paid email accounts have, for reasons that I can't imagine, taken it upon themselves to decide what sort of language you can use in your emails; if you check the TOS of your provider, you'll almost certainly see something that'll be vaguely described as vulgar or abusive or objectionable language that you're not allowed to include in any correspondence... and what they mean by that is curse words, racial and religious (etc) slurs, and various other offensive words and terms. They never give you a list, so you can't tell exactly what they have a problem with, but you can make pretty solid guesses... as long as your guesses include everything that 2nd grader would get busted for saying in class.

AOHell in particular was really ridiculous about policing everyone's language on their site in the early days when they had close to a monopoly; my husband actually got a warning from them for using "s***" or something similar as a substitute for the familiar 4-letter word... that's right, he didn't even use the word, and he STILL got warned. I'm guessing that they have too many users, and too many competitors, to be so anal today, but you never know.

I found out a way to turn this to my advantage when I got into an email battle with some twit from one of my online clubs who thought that not being agreed with about everything was an excuse for her to act like a lunatic, figuring that she could get away with it because she was effectively anonymous; when I didn't obey her abuse-filled missive instructing me to not write her back (on what planet did she think she had the right to send a final slew of attacks and not be replied to?), she responded by informing me that she was going to report me to my email provider... not to be outdone, I reported HER to HER provider, Hotmail... and within about an hour received an email from them telling me that they'd DELETED her account because she'd violated their TOS by using improper language.

DELETED. All her saved emails, GONE. All of the email addresses she had stored there, GONE. All the personal info she had stored in the address book, GONE. Anyone who had only that addy for her would no longer be able to reach her. Anyplace where she'd signed up with that addy would need to be updated with a new one. Her MSN ID associated with that addy vanished, and there went any MSN clubs she was in, the MSN IM with all THOSE records... the whole bit. All because she used ONE ill-advised word; I was so stunned when my husband read her final email to me and explained what they'd taken issue with that I almost fell off my chair.

And yes, I was angry enough at her to be DELIGHTED that her ugly behavior, and her making an issue of reporting ME, had backfired on her, and caused her some real grief; I'd have given ANYTHING to have seen the look on her face when she realized that her account was gone, and then realized WHY it was gone.

Since that happened, any time I get sucked into an email war with anyone I'm just WAITING for them to violate the TOS so I can report them and get their account deleted; I still get the same thrill at seeing that I've taught yet another person that you need to think twice before launching an attack on someone online, because unless you have your own server you're NOT immune to getting in trouble if you get nasty.

If you're curious as to how touchy providers like Hotmail are when it comes to the TOS, here's the best example from my experience; one pushy young man who became infuriated when I declined to arrange a meeting with him called me a whore (which is a pretty silly choice of epithet to use on a conservative married woman), and that got him deleted... plain old name-calling, with a word that most folks wouldn't even consider vulgar.

An odd thing that I found that encourages people to use profanity, etc, is to tell them that their addy has been blocked from my inbox; everyone knows about email blocking, so no one should keep writing after they've been told they're blocked, but, because I'm hoping to catch them out, I don't actually block them, and then I wait... and here will come a final email from them in which they're certain to include an abusive word. Why would ANYONE write an email to an account they think they've been blocked from? It's happened multiple times, so there's gotta be some psychological thing going on... maybe it's therapeutic to send an ugly email even if the intended victim doesn't get it? Be that as it may, the apparent requirement for online attackers to say something that violates the TOS of their email providers in that final email has proven to be their undoing.

As an aside; if you're feeling any sympathy for these folks, DON'T. When an individual takes time out of their day to attack someone, they're an @sshole, and when they do it online they're a coward as well; people that use the unreachability of being in cyberspace to try to hurt and upset others are COCKROACHES, and deserve as little mercy as their insectile counterparts do.

If you ever have someone sending you abusive emails, wait for that inevitable dirty word, or tell them they've been blocked to flush it out, then go to the homepage for their email provider, check their TOS for the bad-language clause so that you can quote it, and then send their customer service or similar department a copy of the offending email with full headers, and ask them to take action against this violation of the TOS... you might not succeed in getting action taken (although *I* always have), but chances are good that you'll get an email telling you that that account has been closed, and thus you'll have struck a blow for every person that was ever harassed and mistreated online but didn't think they could do anything about it.

Long live the TOS!! :-)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Could you marry someone VERY different? 

By an odd coincidence, 2 different movies that I've seen in the past few days have featured couples where one was a dwarf... and before you say, "oh no, it's 'little people,'" these movies, and some documentaries I've seen recently, have used the term "dwarf," so I'm assuming that's the preferred one currently. Anyways, this 2nd movie coming hard on the heels of the 1st got me to thinking; how "different" of a person could YOU marry... and I say "marry" because I'm talking about making a serious and permanent emotional commitment, NOT about what you might accept out of curiosity for a fling. So, could you marry someone who was:



An amputee?

In a wheelchair?

Facially disfigured?

Otherwise physically deformed?


Otherwise handicapped?

Terminally ill?


A giant/giantess?

A dwarf?


A conjoined twin?

4 or more decades apart from you in age?

Anything I've forgotten that would make people double-take when they saw that person, or saw them with YOU, or would make people say, "But, why would you want to be with her/him, (s)he's..."?

There are "normal" individuals who HAVE chosen people of all of these types as their life partners, so it CAN happen; if you're like most folks, though, there are few, if any, of the above categories of people that you'd even be willing to be set up on a blind date with, or to date if you got to know them, say, at work, much less marry. Do you think that's an ok way to feel about it? If not, will you do some soul searching and work on your inner self to become more accepting, or will you just shrug it off?

And what about ME, you ask? Fair question; the fast answer is that dating demand for me was always so low, as in non-existent, that I honestly think it would never have occurred to me to reject a man for ANY reason other than being a violent lunatic... and even then, I dated a man who thought he was a ninja for about 6 months, so...

The "slower" answer is; I've never been unable to interact comfortably with any kind of person, so I could see it happening that I could get to know someone in one of the above categories and have it progress to something serious... why not? They'd have to be willing to accept ME, and deal with all MY unusual characteristics, would they not, so why shouldn't I reciprocate?

There was a man I knew in college whose body was twisted to the point that he could barely walk, and was legally blind too (he attributed these things to being given oxygen right after he was born); despite these afflictions, he was totally without negativity or self-pity, and was in fact very funny as well as highly intelligent. If he saw me approaching him on campus, he'd "run away," which meant that I could "catch" him without speeding up my walking pace much, and we'd both laugh about it when I reached him; I found his ability to make his handicap into a recurring joke very impressive. I would absolutely have dated him if he'd asked me, as I liked him a great deal, and in fact tried not too subtly to get us off campus together, but he never went along with it; I hope, looking back, that it was just that he found me entertaining but not datable, like the other guys did, rather than that he felt unable to handle a dating situation.

In my early 20's, I dated a man who weighed perhaps 400 lbs; my mother's comment when she 1st saw him was "cross him off the list," and the way people stared and double-took when they saw us made it clear that people in general thought we didn't belong together... I even had guys try to chat me up with this man hanging onto my hand, as if they thought he must be an over-affectionate brother or something, and not possibly a boyfriend. Even the man's PARENTS, both of whom were obese, seemed to look askance at he and I being together; in the closest thing to a laudatory statement I recall her EVER making about my appearance, my mother actually said after I met his parents, "They just can't believe that someone with your looks and brains is interested in their son." Despite all of this, I WOULD have married him, and we had talked about marriage; if he hadn't just vanished one day, never to call again, it might well have happened.

At this point in my life, I've long since ceased to care what anyone other than the people I know and respect think of me or what I do, and none of those folks would have any objection to my being with someone because they were different, or VERY different, perhaps because we're geeks, and have been to enough scifi conventions, which always attract people with disabilities because of the culture of acceptance there, to have hung out with all sorts of people and learned through experience that they're not different in any way that matters... so, if something were to happen to my husband, and I was acquitted (lol), I'd be willing to become involved with, and marry, ANY sort of man who possessed the only qualities that matter... the INNER kind.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

My husband's long-lost brother 

The Sports Illustrated website, among others, reported the amazing story


of 39 year old Phoenix firefighter Chris Hertzog, who hit the superfecta (the 1st 4 horses) for the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, which, thanks to a 50-1 long shot horse, Giacomo, winning, a 72-1 horse taking 2nd, and a 30-1 horse taking 4th, "yielded the highest payout in Derby history," making his ticket worth $864,253.50; by the time he found out he'd won, he'd already long since abandoned his tickets on the table... and, when he went back, they were GONE!!

A protracted search of all the garbage bags in the clubhouse didn't turn up the missing winner, and Hertzog had to go home thinking about how his carelessness had cost him the payoff of a lifetime.

The next day, mutuel clerk Brenda Reagan, who'd sold him the ticket, "noticed two tickets lying next to her machine," and, you guessed it, one of them was the winner; her explanation for this was, "When I punched Chris' tickets, there were so many that they bunched up and these two must have fallen on the side." You can see a pic of her and Hertzog at the bottom of the page here


To truly describe the emotional rollercoaster Hertzog went through last weekend, you'd have to invent totally new words, don't you think?

Why did I refer to this guy as "my husband's long-lost brother"? Because every element of this story is EXACTLY how it would happen with my husband in similar circumstances; he said so himself when he told me about all this. Specifically:

1) Hertzog didn't use any skill to pick his winners; the winning ticket was one of 100 he'd bought that day, "all in random computer-generated quick picks"... and wasting $100 on blind bets is something my lazy husband would do to save himself the effort of figuring out what bets to place.

2) Hertzog wasn't paying attention when his tickets were handed over, which is how 2 got away from him; my husband wouldn't pay attention to what was going on around HIM if he was with Daniel in the lion's den.

3) Hertzog somehow managed to not realize that he was missing 2 tickets when he checked for winners after the race (a smart person would have counted them off as (s)he checked them over, to be sure none were stuck together or had fallen off the table), and then walked off and left them, even though he KNOWS he's a screw-up (more proof in a minute) and was thus at high risk for not noticing a winner if he'd had one, and should have hung onto them and re-checked them later; my husband is just that careless with... EVERYTHING.

4) Despite his random choices of winners and his near-tragic unobservantness, Hertzog had a BIG winner; my husband would have that sort of luck, too-everything just lands in his lap despite how he bungles his way through life.

5) Hertzog required other people to be involved in a protracted search for something desperately important that he'd lost; this happens every day in my household, sigh.

6) Hertzog had a world-class disaster; my husband IS a world-class disaster.

7) Thanks to circumstances outside of his control (eg the attentiveness and quick thinking of Brenda Reagan), Hertzog's victory-turned-tragedy turned back into a victory; my husband is ALWAYS having someone else, usually ME, make things right for him.

8) And here's the bonus; according to the story of this incident as it appears on this site


Hertzog once "lost a $10,000 Rolex watch while fishing"... and in all the world, only he and my husband would ever be STUPID enough to wear a Rolex to go fishing, much less be careless enough to lose it.

Truth, as they say, is truly stranger than fiction...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Intelligence loses again 

On this site:


I found the following fascinating article (the asterisks are mine throughout this post):

"Want to impress? Don't overuse big words

Essay writers who use complicated language where simple words will do tend to be seen as less intelligent than people who stick with more basic vocabulary, according to a new study.

This suggests that attempts to impress readers by rifling through a thesaurus may actually backfire, study author Daniel Oppenheimer of Stanford University in California told Reuters Health.

"I think it's important to point out that this study is not about problems with using long words--it's about problems with using long words needlessly," Oppenheimer said.

"If the best way to say something involves using a complex word, then by all means do so. But if there are several equally valid ways of expressing your ideas, you should go with the simpler one," he noted.

Oppenheimer based his findings on students' feedback regarding writing samples that contained more or less complex language.

He explained in an interview that one essay might contain the phrase "the primary academic goal I have set for myself is to use my potential to the fullest"; its counterpart read "the principal educational aspiration I have established for myself is to utilize my capabilities to the fullest."

Oppenheimer found that people tended to rate the intelligence of authors who wrote essays in simpler language as higher than those who penned the more complex works.

This finding persisted whether the authors were fellow students or the philosopher Descartes, said Oppenheimer, who reported the findings at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Los Angeles.

The samples included graduate school applications, sociology dissertations and various translations of a work of Descartes. Half knew the author and half were unaware of the source of the text.

The more unnecessarily complex the samples were, the worse the essays were rated. Oppenheimer noted that authors of essays with moderate levels of obfuscation were rated as less intelligent than those who penned essays with no added complexity, but more intelligent than authors of highly complex works.

"That is, any obfuscation hurts the essay, and the more obfuscated the essay is, the worse off the author is," Oppenheimer said.

***** The researcher added that he is not sure why people tend to equate intelligence with simpler language. He said that people might just prefer things that are easy to understand.

"The fact that the non-obfuscated essays are easier to read makes people like them better, which in turn makes people evaluate the essays more positively in all dimensions--including the intelligence of the author," Oppenheimer noted. *****

Many people try to boost their writing by tossing in some big words, the researcher added--a previous survey found that 75% of undergraduate students say they try to appear smarter by opting for complicated words where simple ones will do.

The continued popularity of this technique may largely stem from the fact that people who overuse big words may not realize the technique could backfire, Oppenheimer noted.

In the case of a college admissions essay, Oppenheimer explained that applicants may decide to add complicated language to impress the reviewers. And if the school rejects their application as a result of the heavy-handed writing, the student may not realize why.

"The student might even think that the reason was because he or she didn't obfuscate enough," Oppenheimer noted."

What a cruel irony; we spend our entire school careers being force-fed big words, and it turns out that we shouldn't even USE them in our writings!! Unless you've got a bunch of overly-educated people in your circle of acquaintance, like I do, you won't be using them when you speak either, as no one would understand you, which leaves you with NOWHERE to use those big words... and makes it a total waste of time drilling every American child on all those vocabulary lists every year.

The results of the study are scary; it goes to show you how warped our brains are that we'd look at evidence of GREATER intelligence, as seen by the ability to use more advanced words correctly (just lifting words from the thesaurus, which anyone can do, will lead to incorrect usages over and over, because there are shades of meaning to consider), and twist it around via our innate dislike and distrust of intellectuals (which we often see as just being all those people who're significantly smarter than we ourselves are) to end up being "proof" of LESSER intelligence. Sure, it IS irritating when someone tries to make themselves sound brilliant by using non-stop big words, but that should NOT have any derogatory bearing on how we judge that person's intelligence... not even if we feel bad because they used words we don't know.

How utterly pitiful that even in an academic setting people are so ingrained to make judgments based on what they LIKE rather than on an actual objective analysis, or even a casual perusal of the facts, that they come up with conclusions such that the big words that high school teachers push and push for the kids to use in all their writings turn out to be counterproductive.

Another quote from Oppenheimer from this research paper (which I discovered is called "Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems With Using Long Words Needlessly," how's THAT for being a cool guy) is here


"Big words don't make you sound big brained.

In fact, just the opposite is true, according to new research done by Daniel Oppenheimer, a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Stanford.

"By making a text sound more difficult to understand, you are only going to annoy your reader and leave him or her with the negative evaluation of you and your work," Oppenheimer says."

That same page also has a little factoid that the politicos should think about:

"Indeed, research also shows that people tend to mistrust people that use a log of jargon. A British consulting firm found that 10 percent of the working population mistrusts people that use buzzwords and jargon.

Think about that! ***** When you use jargon, you make 10 percent of the audience question your credibility." *****

Verrrrrrrrry interesting, don't you think? You can be perfectly sincere, but be mistrusted by your listeners if you use the wrong words... MISTRUSTED, how's that for ridiculous? And talking about politics, this site


provides more evidence for the dislike most people have for intellectuals and the way they express themselves, and the preference they correspondingly tend to have for those who sound like themselves; the article (from last year, obviously), compares Bush and Kerry, but it is NOT a Republican vs Democrat thing, so don't be put off from reading it. It's subheaded, "An analysis shows President Bush's simpler speaking style is more effective than John Kerry's longer sentences," and the high points are:

"An analysis of their interviews and news conferences found that, by every measurement, Kerry is more difficult to understand than the president. He spoke in longer sentences - an average of 19.9 words per sentence compared with 14.2 for Bush; he spoke at a 10th-grade level, the president at a seventh-grade level; he used slightly larger words and had more passive sentences.

The results suggest why Kerry has been struggling to convey his message. His wordy style leaves many voters unsure what he wants to do as president.""

"Bush's punchy sentences leave little doubt where he stands.

"It's all about style," said Craig Crawford, a political analyst for MSNBC and Congressional Quarterly. "Bush's style, with ***** shorter, declarative sentences, communicates directness and decisiveness."" *****

"The Flesch-Kincaid rating is the grade level necessary to understand it. A lower grade means it should be easier to comprehend. Writers often aim for a seventh or eighth grade level. (This story, according to Word, is written at a seventh-grade level.)

In the 2000 presidential debates, YourDictionary.com calculated Bush spoke at an average grade level of 6.6; Vice President Gore was 7.9."

"Linguists say shorter sentences usually are more effective."

"Bush speaks concisely and directly. He uses shorter words - 4.3 letters per word versus 4.5 for Kerry - and gets to the point. Kerry speaks in passive sentences about twice as often as the president. Only 5 percent of Bush's sentences are passive, compared with 9 percent for Kerry."

"Metcalf, the author of Presidential Voices, said Bush's ***** short sentences give the impression "that he is speaking the plain truth. The plain style implies directness and sincerity." *****

"Crawford said Bush also connects with voters because of the words he chooses.

"Bush uses the language of guys sitting around a bar - without the cursing," Crawford said. "Kerry uses the language of people sitting around a university faculty lounge.""

"This is one of the reasons that Bush is seen as more decisive and Kerry as a flip-flopper," said Crawford. ***** "When you answer in long, twisted sentences you don't seem as though you are really confident in what you are saying." *****

I've often said that people don't want intellectualism in our country's leaders, and now there's actual analysis that proves it; we want short sentences, short words, a junior high level of understandability, and the vernacular of the common man... which is clearly NOT what you'd think we SHOULD want in a leader, which would be someone who sounds highly intelligent and educated. What's even worse than the perhaps understandable desire of people to have a leader who's like them is that whether or not a person is seen as honest, decisive, sincere or confident, of all the illogical things, is being judged, wrongly of course, by the person's average sentence length.


Everyone talks a good game about valuing intelligence, and wanting it in their friends and lovers, and for their children, but the reality is that people like an intelligence level that matches their own, which for most people means being AVERAGE, NOT intelligent... and most of them take an immediate, unconscious dislike to anyone who sounds too brainy. Intelligence is the most valuable resource on this planet, it's the thing that will create astounding medical and other scientific advances, it's the only hope we have of ever understanding the universe, conquering space, and maybe even eventually defeating death itself, and we HATE it, and turn our noses up at, and all too often our backs on, those who possess it; isn't it enough to make you CRY?

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