Category Archives : Random Stuff


Corporate Identity 3

The Corporate Identity

“Why don’t you have a Starbucks card?” she asks. The question has a layered quality in my mind, because it’s played simultaneously in my memory with about a dozen tracks other men and women asking the same question, with the same words, and even the same intonation. That I’m-not-being-pushy-I-just-want-to-nudge-you tone. It’s just a really small pledge of allegiance to a corporate identity.

“I should, shouldn’t I?” I answer, because people have trouble responding to question-non-questions–it breaks the script–and it’s always fun to see where it goes from there.

Why don’t I, though? I mean, financially, it would make sense. The inconvenience of another thin rectangle of plastic in my wallet would be negligible. There’s already credit cards in there with my name on them, business cards, supermarket discount cards, my ID (actually every ID I’ve ever had, except for my first one, which was snapped in half while opening a door). And so on.

I’ve made an effort, though, to make those cards useless. I never filled out the little application that goes with the supermarket cards, so there’s no name, phone number, or address associated with them. This has the added bonus of being slightly amusing in the places where the cashiers are obligated to thank you by name when you shop there. It must be pretty common, though, because everyone but the newbie cashiers transition very smoothly to, “Thank you . . . for shopping with us.” It’s just a quick glance to where the name is supposed to be, and then an instant recovery when it’s not there.

I’ve made an effort online, too. I’ve lied about my personal details on just about every field I’m not legally obligated not to from the very beginning. New Years for me means a sudden influx of emails with subjects like,  “Happy Birthday  Youdon Tneedtoknowthat!” and, “Happy New Year Nunya Bidnez!”

Tribal

Anyway, back to the cards; I guess I’ve never been able to shake the association of cards in my wallet with IDs. Yes, my name is Connor, but also, if I’m carrying that Starbucks card around, then I’m a little bit Starbucks, too. Somewhere in my brain. That’s what all those cards are about. They’re a club, and they want you to be a member, right? Humans are, at a very basic level, tribal. You only have to look at children to know that much.

Fry’s gives you a card because they want you to carry a badge that says you’re part of Tribe Fry’s. Basha’s gives you one for the same reason, and they do it for the same reason. You could make a pretty good case, I think, that corporate structure is the replacement for the feudal structures of eras past, but that’s an article for another day.

I’m not taking some hipster stance that, “Blah, blah blah, corporate, blahblahblah, less than human, blah, machine, blah, per se, blah, etc.” Even though I take a little joy in tossing the occasional apple of discord to a marketing firm, I don’t think it really matters at the end of the day.

The honest source of my reticence is . . .  I just have this horrible picture in my head of meeting some traveler from a distant space or time, and them going through my wallet and saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Costco Visa of Clan Starbucks.”

But that’s just really hard to explain to the Starbucks girl in the time it takes to fill a cup with 16oz of coffee.

 


Hammer Time! Why the Avengers 2 Trailer is Perfect

MNiC Feature Avenger

 

Avengers 2 Trailer Awesomeness

I just watched the new extended trailer, and I really loved what they did there. It’s a fantastic trailer, and James Spader was a great choice for a villain. He’s managed to be both sympathetic and terrifying in The Blacklist, and that’s as a short fat balding man–I don’t think they could have picked someone better to play a rogue AI.

What I really wanted to talk about was the new scene where the assorted Avengers are all trying to lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, because it’s humorous while perfectly introducing us to the personalities of the each of the characters in less than a minute; that’s damned good writing.

Watch It:

Hawkeye instigates the whole thing, but then fades, content, into the background–he’s probably the smartest single person in the Marvel movie universe, by the way, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Bruce Banner/The Hulk smiles quietly, because he’s already tried his luck and couldn’t budge it in the last movie, but he stays silent.

Tony Stark/Iron Man brashly steps up to try, with a bit of showmanship and a quip. When he fails, he falls back on technology, and when that fails, falls back on his friend. This is Tony’s entire process for solving every problem in redux.

Steve Rogers/Captain America can pick Mjolnir up. The hammer doesn’t read “If you’re sort of worthy, you can kinda lift it a little,” it’s an all or nothing deal: Iron Man and the Hulk are far stronger than Captain America, and neither could even sort of budge it. The fact that it moves at all means Cap’s worthy to wield it. We get to watch Thor’s shocked face as he realizes this, then Steve pretend to struggle and instantly give up. Thor recovers, grins, and goes along with it because that’s how Thor rolls. I thought that was perfect. Rogers simply confirms that he can wield it, and then doesn’t, because he has no interest in wielding the power of Thor; he proved it to himself, and he doesn’t need to prove it to anyone else.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow won’t try it, saying she doesn’t need the answer; she doesn’t think she is worthy, or doesn’t feel comfortable with an entire room of people knowing if she is, or most likely both. Either way, she’s got her own reasons, and she’s not going to share them with anyone, even her closest friends (or the closest things she has to friends.

I don’t really gush on trailers or movies–or superheroes for that matter–but, wow, I’ve really enjoyed what Marvel’s done with their last few movies. They still rely way too much on McGuffins to move their plots along–and they should forget about that, because Winter Soldier was the only real exception to the rule, and it was a critical smash. Forget the mysterious glowing objects, give us good villains, intricate plots, and some moral ambiguity! What they’ve done perfectly and without exception is bring in some really great actors into the roles, people who manage to fit these ridiculous personalities they’re wearing in a way that feels natural.


Short: Nalgene Decontamination Protocol

I would be lost without my Nalgene bottle.

Leaning tower of Nalgene

Like this, but $30 cheaper because I didn’t buy it at REI. (Photo credit: scot2342)

I’d have to drink out of a glass or a coffee cup or something that didn’t combine the ability to close a lid with nigh indestructible manufacture. That said, there is a caveat, and it a big one.  Nalgene bottles have a magical property, like cast iron pans, where they retain just a hint of the flavor of whatever came before. This “seasoning” effect is great for making steak or bacon, it’s a little less appetizing when you’re drinking it.

I don’t get it. No matter how many times or how thoroughly I was the Nalgene, it tastes like other things the next time I drink water out if. Did I mix gatorade in it? Lemon-lime. Protein shake? Chocolate with a hint of sour milk? Lemon-lime chocolaty sour milk water. It just leeches the flavor out of the plastic, somehow. Wash it with soap, you say? Soapy lemon-lime chocolaty sour milk water. Yum.

It’s even stranger because the hot water in my house comes in three temperatures: lukewarm (the normal temp of water in Phoenix pipes), wow really quite hot, and Decontamination Protocol. I’m not kidding. Run it over your silverware and nothing living is still on them. One of my housemates managed to melt his plastic bottle with it. You can hardboil an egg by leaving it under the running faucet.

Yet somehow even that can’t quite scare away the flavor. There’s probably some secret formula involving lemon juice and apple cider vinegar or something, I don’t know.

 


How Much Grease is in Your Oreo?! 2

Okay, this is a fun one. And a little gross. But seriously fun. What happened here is that I put an one of the birthday cake flavored Oreos out on a paper towel to take a picture of it for my ode to the glorious inedibility of the flavor. And then I forgot about it overnight. When I returned it was at the center of some grease. So I left it, and it just kept growing. I decided to use the last Oreo (yes, I ate them all) to document the expanding grease circle over one week. Oh man, wait until you see this.

 

 

Science Caveats: There are a few different things going on that can affect this. The oil is being drawn out by the capillary action of the fibers in the paper towel, so changes in temperature and humidity are going to modify the rate of expansion. Also, this is near a shady window, but a window nonetheless, and the heat from sunlight will also impact the sample.


Life As It Stands

Let me tell you a little bit about me, for a change. Not what I’m doing, just about me. I don’t tend to wear my thoughts or frustrations on my sleeve, but what the hell.

I’m really getting thrown through a blender in life right now. The professional front is rough. I made a financial bet about how established I would be about now, and I was wrong. It was weird. I cut things close in life a lot, but I have a great deal of experience in barely pulling through. It comes down to the wire and then I make it anyway. That hasn’t happened. I’m too poor to do much of anything right now. I actually don’t mind that too much, living like a poor person. It cuts out a little fun, but it also is a kind of a game itself, where you have to be extra clever and stubborn to stay ahead. I don’t have a family to support, so there’s not that pressure. It’s okay to be hungry sometimes, to be a little warmer or a little colder than you’d like, and to order water when your friends go out for beers. I like the challenge of finding new things to cut out of my budget, new was to save a little here and there.

I’m entirely willing to and expecting to endure lean times between now and when I’m really established. That said, I am not good at asking for help, or failing to meet goals. I hate living poor and still not making ends meet. I’m not washing my jeans because I only have one threadbare pair left, and I haven’t been able to save up for a new pair. For two straight months. I stretch my gas to one tank a month, but that’s still $50 gone. My girlfriend lives forty miles away, so I don’t get to see her too often. If I go down to pick her up that’s 80-90 miles. Full journey, both ways, that’s half a tank of gas.

So we get by via Skype, and so on.

On the flipside of that, I may be in the first really great relationship of my life. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been in relationships with great people before, it’s just they don’t usually go this well. Okay, never. This girl is something else. It was looking like we might be forced apart by pure circumstances, the reality of the job market in our age group, and such — but we seem to have that figured out. So that is one really great thing going on in my life right now that makes the other projects worth it.

I could pick up small jobs. I’ve done that before, but always through connections. It takes time and effort and the ability to go places to make connections, and there’s only so many times you can divide you time and still get anything done. If I wanted to house sit or tutor, or both, I’d have to slice up my time further, time that’s already split between advertising my services, building my brand and portfolio, paid work, unpaid work with potential for later payment, blogging content, billing and getting paid for work I’ve done, nurturing existing client relationships, fostering new client relationships. . . You get it.

I go to a weekly writer’s group. I’m trying to improve my fiction skills, after all, that is the real goal.

I like to disappear, to go out on my own, into wild places. Normally that’s what I do to recharge from all this. It’s . . . requisite to staying civilized while immersed in civilization. I’m just not a city person in my bones. I can’t afford to get out of town lately, and that’s tiresome. Burdensome. I’ve been finding an outlet in working out. Yeah, I’m still doing that, even if I’ve stopped posting shirtless pictures of myself. I really like the feeling of growing strength. I can’t afford new clothes, and every time I wear the ones I have, I can feel them stretched tight across my frame. I like that feeling. Keeping up the gym membership is another $30 I can’t really afford, but it gives me outlet for all that energy and disquiet, and, what’s more, it gives me something I have a bit of control over. My relationship is good, but we’re hardly in control of our lives, what with my professional existence a bit up in the air, but I can sure push myself to the gym, force myself to be stronger. And I am, in fact, stronger than I have ever been before.

The monsoons are almost here. My life is always better when it’s raining. There are haboobs rolling through, according to my friends’ facebooks, and thunderheads on the horizon. This job has its ups and downs, and I know that all I have to do is survive this current drought. In the meantime I’ve got friends, family, a pretty wonderful girlfriend, and the general conviction that if I keep doing what I do well, and keep doing it better, I’ll get where I need to go. Things have already picked up a bit.

I had to stop writing this and pack up for a bit because a dust storm came slamming through! Two seconds from calm to 30+ mile an hour winds. It tore limbs right off the trees! Half an hour later the rain and the lightning started. I’m sitting here right now with some hot food, with the door open listening to the thunder and the rain of the 2014 monsoon season, the scent of desert rain slowly pervading everything. Overall, life’s pretty good.

haboob tree

Although I do feel a bit like this tree, sometimes.

 


Better

 

Better2

 

I should do better.

On lots of things. I can’t always, but I am, at least, always trying.

I haven’t liked my writing lately. There must be a dozen mostly finished drafts on various topics sitting in the queue for this site alone. It’s not. . . bad. But it’s not as good as I expect from myself, and that is difficult. This is what I do, and not being good at it frustrates the hell out of me. It makes me physically itch between my shoulder blades.

More than that has been bothering me.

I’ve had to ask for help to make ends meet for the last couple months. I can’t really even describe how much that galls me. My independence and self-sufficiency is more important than just about anything else in my life. I have, in the past, gone so far as skipping meals to avoid needing to ask for any sort of assistance. I’m generally more comfortable with the idea of being homeless than asking for anyone’s help to stay otherwise. However, I had debts to pay, and it’s a different thing entirely not to meet your obligations for the sake of pride. So I asked for help, and there are people in my life that understand me, and are there when I do need help.

I could get a crappy part-time job, but I already make crappy part-time wages, even during the lean months. I could get a real job, but that would pretty much kill my business.

So stubbornness kicks in. Stubbornness has gotten me in a lot of trouble in life, but it has it perks. There are moments when I get so tired of grind. This idea that I just have to keep slamming myself against barriers until they crumble. The bruises add up, and sometimes it’s hard to look past the discomfort of the moment towards long term goals. I talk to my girlfriend about this, a lot, because she, like many people our age, is living through the same thing. She’s another stubborn person. It’s one of the reasons we work so well together.

Over and over, I see people just crumble, and it’s pretty awesome to see just how consistently she’s willing to tell the world to go screw itself. Life doesn’t give you many handouts, but I’ve found it works a bit like a pinata. . . if you keep swinging, sooner or later you get in a lucky swing and some candy falls out.

Things are looking up on the financial front, a bit.

That said, it’s hard to escape the fact that my life is pretty good. My girlfriend is not moving back to Georgia, my client base is expanding, my own stories are progressing, and every rough patch I push through leaves me with one less between myself and my goals.


Another Post Full of Great Music pt 2

Riptide / Vance Joy

Just a happy little bouncy song.

 

Cardiac Arrest / Bad Suns

A bit of a pop sound, but who cares?

 

Here With Me / Susie Suh x Robot Koch

This song was featured on an episode of the Black List, and just took off immediately afterward. For good reason. Talk about melancholy.

 

Giants / Bear Hands

 

Pioneers / Bloc Party

If it can be lost, then it can be won. If it can be touched, then it can be turned. All you need is time.

 

I Lived / One Republic

Way back when “Apologize” came out I pegged these guys for a one-hit-wonder. Wow, was I wrong. Not only do they keep putting out great music, but they keep changing. Every album these guys put out is solid clear through, rather than a bunch of filler attached to boiler-plate pop single, and they’re versatile. Anyway, that deserves a nod.

 

 


Another Post Full of Great Music pt 1

I like music, and fortunately I know people who like to just send me music, because they’re awesome.

Am I Wrong? / Nico & Vinz

You’ve probably heard this song on the radio, and if not, well, you should have, because it’s fantastic.

 

Ends of the Earth / Lord Huron

First off, if you’re not listening to Lord Huron, you’re messing up. I could have made this list entirely out of their songs. I haven’t stumbled on a band this good in a long time. They’ve got a sound, good lyrics, and . . . whatever that other thing is that makes music awesome. It all comes together. Here’s full acoustic concert they put on.

 

Our Bones / Of Monsters and Men

I really don’t know if this song makes any sense, but it makes me think of places far away, and I love it.

 

Shadow / Bleachers

I like this song, even if the singer exudes hipsterness. Also, this video is hysterical.

 


What Is Love?

MNiC Banner Love

 

Early this morning, as I sat sipping a coffee I can’t really afford, a girl walked up to the counter to pick up her drink. Thanks to her build, her hair style and color, and her height, she looked an awful lot like my girlfriend from behind. This led, almost instantly, to a stab of excitement somewhere in my chest, a noticeable increase in my heart rate, and a feeling of sinking disappointment and general mopiness when my brain caught up with my limbic system and remembered that my girlfriend is in Georgia, and going to be there for another week.

It got me wondering why, in a physical/scientific sense, a glance at someone with shoulder-length wavy light brown hair and, well, a nice posterior that I haven’t seen in three months, would throw me down an emotional staircase?

It’s more than a kick ass awful song, it’s a great question. I mean, seriously, what is love?

 

Our identities, our wants, our needs, our thoughts, what you might call the soul of a human being exists as electrochemical reactions within our brains, and, to some extent, throughout our bodies. There’s a long loop of feedback. You can argue there’s more to it if you like, certainly what arises is more than the sum of its parts. I actually think the idea that we are entirely biochemical processes is far more extraordinary than the alternative that there’s some sort of secret ingredient; anything can happen by magic, who cares? . . . But the idea that we live in a universe whose fundamental rules do not need to be stretched or broken to encompass the totality of our existence? That we can be everything we are, in spite of existing in a world made up of fairly simple pieces. . .  Now, that lights a fire in me.

So I decided to approach this with a scientific mindset, and work from the theory that my girlfriend controls my brain, long distance, with chemical reactions. Let’s take a look at what’s going on.

Attraction

Clearly something strange is happening.

Attraction is a finicky thing. There’s lots of evidence that who we are into correlates with how different our immune systems are, how strongly they physically resemble our opposite sex parent (I don’t know if the reverse is true for people with homosexual leanings), and how much they look like ourselves, along with facial symmetry. On the other hand, 33% of couples meet online these days, so there’s more to it than that. Long term attraction depends on intellectual attraction, similar life goals and priorities, a mixture of shared and divergent interests, and the combination of knowing when to communicate, and when to just shut up and let it be okay. Exactly what attracts various people (and to what degree) also depends on their sex, on the security of the world and financial markets, on what time of the month it is, and what their relationship situation is. Oh, and what you happen to be doing at that moment, the light level, and so on. On top of all that, perception of one thing changes perspective of others. Are you physically attractive? Congratulations, you’ll be perceived as funnier than you would otherwise! Are you funny? Congrats again, you’ll be perceived as more physically attractive!

Condensed, there’s a lot that goes into exactly why and how you respond to one person, as opposed to another. We can’t possibly look at all that right now–but what about the next step of the process? Restated: When attraction happens, what happens?

In what is probably a good indicator of the evolutionary importance of love (or at least stable relationships) to humans as species, it turns out a whole host of things happen, from the release of drugs that make you happy, to some low-level rewiring of your brain. Love is basically a chemical addiction.

Serotonin

Skeletal formula of serotonin, C 10 H 12 N 2 O...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Serotonin does a whole bunch of things, one of them being the ability to make us focus on things. Really, really, focus on things. One might even say obsess about them. Ever been completely unable to get someone out of your head? Thank serotonin. It’s trying to get you to put in the time and effort required to find a mate by making you disregard everything that previously seemed important. It’s doing more than just getting your lazy rear off the couch, to the extent that you’ll lose your appetite and lose the ability to sleep restfully. Other fun effects include increased heart rate, the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and nerve growth factor.

Nerve Growth Factor

Let’s talk about NGF for a second. What does it do? Exactly what it says on the can: It encourages nerve growth, causing the elongation and branching of axons. It also plays a role in deciding which ones live and which ones die. Keep in mind, this is just the attraction phase and love has already started rewiring your brain! Listen up you pessimists, that old folksy idea that love changes you, is a literal truth. It reaches into your brain and starts reprogramming your personality.

Attachment

This is phase comes next, after you’ve (hopefully) managed to start interacting with your mate in person. You know, since your brain has already rewired itself and all. Now we’re talking about a stable, maintained, human connection. What does that require? Orgasms, apparently.

Or the same chemicals anyway. A primary factor in long term attraction between two people is oxytocin, the chemical your brain dumps into your bloodstream after good sex. It does things like shutting off the part of our brain that would get annoyed by certain things. Someone you’re in love with can do or say things that would drive you up the wall in another person, with impunity. It’s one of the reasons that everyone knows a couple is on the rocks when they reach the point where one or both of them seem to be driven crazy by the other.

Oxytocin

chemical structure of oxytocin

chemical structure of oxytocin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone” because it plays a role in forming not just romantic relationships, but familial ones. It’s the chemical that tricks women into believing that squeezing a small human through their vagina was not just a good thing, but that they should continue coddling, feeding, and cleaning up after the resultant creature indefinitely.

Obviously, it’s a hell of a drug.

The Upshot

It sort of blows my mind, when I think about it, the sort of feedback that’s happening here. Love is in our minds, right? But so is this idea of the people we love. I have an idea in my head of the people I love, a picture built from external stimuli, and, somehow, the pathways associated with recognizing those people are also associated with the release of chemicals into my brain. It goes beyond that, though, to just picturing those people. Or singular aspects vaguely related to them. I miss my mom and gram when I make food (and not just for the obvious reason that it tastes much better when they make it), my sister when I see someone driving a CRV, or when I see frog-related objects. I think about my dad whenever I smell gun cleaner or work on my car. I miss my girlfriend when I see a pretty girl. . . and so on. I think about my friends and family when I feel a bit down and nine times out of ten I immediately feel good. Physical stimuli producing mental reactions resulting in physical and mental shifts.

Even accounting for the chemistry of it, it still seems a bit like magic.

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This, That, and Other Things

Blogging

I get caught in this trap, you see. I don’t like to talk about nothing, so when there’s nothing going on I just don’t blog, and when there is stuff going on, I don’t want to sit on my rear and write up blog articles telling internet people how awesome my life is. And it is pretty awesome overall.

Late April and the first few days of May were rough. I was too poor to be believed, but, as they tend to be when a lot of work is put into them, things are on a rapid upswing.

Sometimes you’re just spinning your wheels in place, doing a lot of work and accomplishing nothing. It sure feels like you ought to be going somewhere and you’re just. . . not. April was that sort of month, and it really got to me. Sometimes that’s how it all works. May has been going great. I spent the first few days furiously advertising, putting out bids on freelance sites, and sending out emails to targeted companies; all the things a guy’s got to do to draw up some employment.

None of the bids got picked up, but that wasn’t a surprise. Getting paid anything remotely resembling fair wages off the freelancing sites is a lottery win. Actually, it might be easier to make a living buying lottery tickets.

Anyway, as is the way in this business, things seem to be on a major upswing, and I feel good about it. Great, in fact. When you’re not finding work, you have too much time to think and too much time to stress. I like working.

 

Writing Groups

Wednesday night I went to my second weekly writing group meeting. It was nice. I like the people there, and their feedback was good. By good, I mean useful. I gave them a really . . . uniquely punctuated piece. Something purposely confusing, where the goal was blurring the line between internal and external dialog. Then I (semi) lied to them about why it was that way. It makes me seem like a bit of a doofus, but I have other things I’m concerned about. I was honestly more interested in what sort of feedback I’d get from them than the actual feedback on its own merits. I know what’s strong and what’s weak, and what’s weird, in the short fiction piece I selected.

The truth is I know who to write inside the lines at this point, perfectly well. Or near enough to perfect that it doesn’t matter. What I need is critical analysis of the parts where I’m pushing the boundaries. And just general practice accepting constructive criticism.

 

Other Writers in General

It’s always interesting to read what other people are working on. Stories are part of our world, and the world is full of great storytellers, many of them with day jobs and other dreams. They go through life doing as they do, spinning stories off into the world as they go. In some ways I like what they do better than what I do, but not near enough to give up and move on to something else.

I say it over and over, but the only key to success is to keep right on going. The people who are earnestly trying to make it know that, most of them, but it’s easier said than done. You meet some and you know they’re not going to make it, though perhaps they deserve to on merit, because they lack stubbornness — on the other hand, a few will always get lucky, too. I guess it’s just nice to know there are other people out there living the same sort of life.

 

Fun Things

My girlfriend is coming home soon. In a little over a week! I’m highly excited by this and can’t pretend otherwise. We’re an independent pair, but I sure notice her absence. My roommate, one of my best friends, is leaving for the Air Force at the end of the month, so I’m looking at doubling my rent, too. Grown-up problems.

I’ve been trying to balance being poor with having a life to moderate success. So far, I think it’s going well. I did go out shooting yesterday. My dad borrowed my Remington and traded me for a Glenfield Model 60 that, I found out at the range yesterday, jams on every single shot. So I’m going to be cleaning that. That’s going to be all kinds of fun, because I get to learn how to take it apart!

I guess that’s the big thing, just finding joy in the small things. I hurt my back this week, which has been slowing me down at the gym, but in general, that balance of pushing physically, or constantly learning, and of improving my craft keeps me very happy. We live in a world where you can learn almost anything for free. It’s a shame to miss out on it.

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