Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Well, my myeloma went into remission in july.

Then it mutated, created a tumor, wrapped itself around my spine and i am now paralyzed from the waist dow.

I have some feeling, but no movement.

Currently, i am in a rehab hospital learning to cope so i can go home to begin spinal cord injury  therapy, but this could be permanent.

Bad news, yeah?

Oh well, meeting up with a new normal. We'll see where it goes.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Visited Perot Museum on Father's Day

Went down to the Perot Natural History museum on Father's Day and came away very, very much impressed.

OK, the museum is fantastic, exhibits are beautiful, the interactive ones work, and it was a great experience.

The Cafe is mediocre and I think the hamburger I consumed on Sunday was made on Saturday.

And the website is the absolute worst example of a website ever created. It is a thing from HELL!

But the museum itself is wonderful.

In the mineral hall I kept expecting Kevin Spacey to come in and steal the Kryptonite...beautiful samples dramatically displayed. And still intelligently explained.

And with respect to the whole natural history concept as expressed in the museum let me say:

6000 years my ass! It had to have taken at least 7, maybe even 8 thousand years ... somebody did their sums wrong!

I jest, of course. The careful descriptions, explanations, and illustrations of everything from the Big Bang to the rise of the dinosaurs was near perfect.

How things came to be, how much time it took, how evolution slowly drove things forward all made a most compelling story. And standing next to a huge footprint of a Sauropod, its toenails outlined in the rock like those of some massive elephant, truly brings it home...these suckers were BIG!!!

In fact, I noticed that I often missed the reconstructed skeletons of the larger dinos until I took a turn and got it from a different perspective...they were so large that the mind cannot rasp them as other than isolated objects in space...you have to step away to see the animal within that forest of bone.

A great experience an well worth the price of admission.

But the website still sucks!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravity Sucks

Saw Gravity on Saturday. My wife wanted to see it because it's getting such good reviews.

She changed he mind. I already knew that it was likely to be boring with little or no story, character development, or even plot, so I was not as disappointed as she.

This movie is a beautifully made hot mess.

Yes, the views are beautiful.

And ... we're done.

Spolier Alert ... but there is little to spoil.

There are two characters and one dies halfway through.  Makes dialog difficult.
There is more character development in Elton John's Rocket Man than in this movie...and a lot less time taken out of your life.

We are asked to believe there is the ISS, the Russian space station (Mir?) and a Chinese space station all in the same orbit, apparently ... and that Nasa resurrected the Shuttle ... with 1984 MMU's modified for speed or something. So we are in some alternate universe or timeline from the get go.

She's working on the Hubble Space Telescope ... which will be de-orbited soon and is not due for repair or modification...it's also in a different orbital inclination  from the ISS and about 90 miles higher. Why didn't they just call it a different kind of satellite? Maybe High Altitude Life Finder (HALF) or something, even?

The physics are very good ... momentum is conserved and things fly around and crash into other things believably at orbital speeds. But the cause, a Russian satellite 'shot down by the Russians, seems contrived. Not to mention orbitally inconceivable. We've had satellites blown up before and even had an Iridium struck by debris...nothing like this.

The 'action' scenes are so fast paced that you can't follow all the action. That may be realistic, but it's not pleasurable to watch.

She didn't think about loosing the parachute shroud lines before firing the rockets?

The parachute shroud lines can withstand the acceleration of an escape vehicle's rockets? (Actually, this could be accurate...I don't know how much it would take to pop those)? But Clooney's character lets go because he thinks they will pop from his and hers combined outward momentum? (Actually, I read that. My own take was that it was because he knew the lines were not very tight around her ankle and would slip free.)

There's something about a dead child? I read this somewhere, but I missed the line. One line to explain her entire character; see above re: Elton John.

I don't have a problem with her reading Russian or remembering the placement of the controls being that he tells her they are the same in the Chinese craft as they are in the Russian one...The Chinese bought Soyuz for their escape craft? That's quite believable.

The real issue I had was a lack of story. There is no real character development; she does 'grow' a bit, but we're not given a real epiphany moment. The conflict is between her, space, and her attitude...not that interesting. Like Castaway without the volleyball, or Robinson Crusoe without Friday.

Even if you don't want to have flashbacks, scene shifts to NASA, or anything to relieve the unrelenting character of space, She could have a bit more inner monologue, a happy moment recalled...hell, she had a dream about Clooney coming back, that could have been a recurring theme to help her grow out of herself.

A line or two of dialog would have gone a long way toward explaining some of the plot holes.  I read the produce/director/writer said it would take 26 pages of dialog to explain some things...I doubt it.

Aningaag, a Greenlandic Inuit ham radio operator doesn't know the term MayDay?

Some of the nit-picky things I've read don't bother me...tears floating free for instance. The debris coming in from the wrong direction is a biggy...they went to all the trouble of getting orbital timings right, just a couple more details would get the whole thing right.

And then there is the fire extinguisher scene. I will grant it some leeway given the homage to Wall-E, but come on!

It might be better without the dialog at all...a 21st century silent film about space...intriguing.

Although unrealistic, George Clooney's banter was the most enjoyable aspect.

She WHINES too much! ...She's still playing Angela Bennet or Annie Porter.

Gravity sucks! Thankfully, it was only 90 minutes long...imagine if it were 119 like a lot of $100 million movies.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yahoo! Rudeness

Time for a rant.

Today on Yahoo! News there was a video story about a woman whose minivan was returned to her by an Edmonton repair shop with an additional 1400 km on the odometer.

Ok story, nothing major, the shop apologized and is sending her a check as recompense.

Why then did the reporter on the story feel compelled to make jokes about the fact that this Canadian woman found 1400 "kilometers" extra? The Yahoo! reporter (and presumably the producer too) had to stop and issue the very stupid remark, "can we get that in American?"

A bright title card appeared giving the measurement in miles. Later, the same reporter mentioned that the woman was expecting a check...but then felt necessary to say "or a cheque", mispronouncing the word, adding a 'kwe' ending and making it two syllables. Also putting the Canadian spelling up in a title card with the comment that it was a "weird spelling".

For some reason, this was a sufficiently final straw to me that I felt it necessary to deliver feedback to Yahoo! about this. Here is my comment to them:

WRT a recent story about a woman from Edmonton who had an issue with a repair shop and her minivan: Your Yahoo! video reporters tend to make fun of people using the metric system or spelling things differently than is done in the US. It is offensive. 
Making a comment about "can we get that in American?" when reporting something a Canadian said about distance in kilometers make Americans sound stupid, uneducated, bigoted, jingoistic, and unwashed. 
There is no such thing as 'American' units of measure. In the USA the outdated 'Imperial' system which originated in England in 1824 is mostly used (with some exceptions pre-dating that time). 
Most of the rest of the world (including Britain and the rest of the UK) understands and uses the metric system and your stories would do well to simply present the measurements in both systems without comment. The same is true for comments about the "weird spelling" of 'cheque'. A comment that was unnecessary and a deliberate mispronunciation that was rude. All your reporter does is embarrass the United States and its citizenry. 
There is nothing wrong with the USA using a system of measurements different from the rest of the world, aside from the occasional vastly expensive mistake (Mars Climate Orbiter, 1999). But making rude jokes about the majority of the rest of the world merely denigrates the US. 
The words 'check' and cheque' are pronounced the same. Making a joke about Canadians' "weird spelling" is like making a joke about the fact that in Thailand a 'boutique' is spelled 'butik'. Is that funny? Or racist?
The Mars Climate Orbiter I referenced, for those who do not recall this amazing gaffe, was a US$125 million spacecraft which was lost because one engineering group used the US system of units in miles rather than the Système International units of kilometers (the system understood to be used throughout the scientific community and in almost every other country in the world). 125 million US dollars lost because someone forgot to mention the need for a 1.6 conversion factor ... or to do it the way the rest of the world does it.

I don't really mind that the US continues to use a confusing and outdated system of measurement (how many cups in a gallon? how many yards in a furlong?), if that is what the US wants to do and the costly mistakes that it entails are not important to the US people and government, but to make jokes about other people's use of a sensible, easy to understand, and world wide system makes US look stupid.

To take pride in such ignorance is even worse. To feel resentment for the rest of the world not understanding OUR way is imperialistic.

To deliberately mention and then mispronounce the word 'cheque' (even though it is pronounced exactly as our own word 'check' should make any international viewers of Yahoo! News cringe. I know it did me.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Metaphor - in Business Language

I recently ran across a posting about annoying business jargon.


The author felt these old cliched phrases, words, terms, and metaphors should be dropped.

I thought about this and specifically about the one I had googled originally to determine its origin

"open the kimono"

I was surprised to discover that there were many postings, articles, fora, etc where this phrase was considered both racist and sexist. And I thought, "how sad".

Metaphor in language adds color, flow, imagery, and beauty to our speech and writing, There are some, George Lackoff in particular,  who believe we only think in metaphor and that this ability is central to our ability to reason.


Metaphors produce an image and connect it to an abstract idea. Consequently, they aid in both understanding and retention. If you have eve heard of a memory palace as a method for remembering rings, you know how this works for retention. For some reason our minds seem to retain spatial and disconcerting or humorous images better than just blunt words and phrases.

Without metaphor, we would have no Shakespeare...he would have had nothing much to say in any way that audiences wanted to hear it.

So let's return to the phrase "open the kimono". In a business context, it is typically used (or was in the 1980s-1990s) to refer to a vendor inviting a client or partner into a bit more intimate relationship wherein the vendor's future plans would be disclosed. I was first exposed to the phrase in the 1980 time frame when a vendor offered to have us visit their offices in San Antonio and they would "open the kimono" about future hardware plans. The company I was with at the time was a large customer in both the US and overseas.

The phrase came up again when an IBM salesman offered a similar opportunity in the 1990s as my own company was considering which computer to invest in.

It certainly never occurred to me that it was sexist or racist. It is a beautiful metaphor for showing someone that which most others do not get to see.

To deconstruct the phrase (although I typically HATE deconstruction), kimono, in Japanese, means 'clothing'. It is gender neutral as both men and women wear kimono. In American English, the word has more of a connotation of a woman's garment, since many women wear long, loose kimonos as dressing gowns or robes.  So I will grant that, to a general American speaker and listener, the image called up by "open the kimono" is probably that of a woman opening her dressing gown to show her body beneath.

If you know a bit of Japanese culture, the image might rather be of a man relaxing on a sofa with his kimono or robe unbelted, but fully clothed underneath. In Japan, the phrase is equivalent to "loosen your tie" meaning to get comfortable so we can talk plainly and directly.

However, here in the US it is mostly used to imply a degree of revelation of that which is secret. Certainly, the image of a woman with a slightly open kimono correlates with this notion of revelation and intimacy.

Is it racist because the Kimono is a Japanese garment? Of course not. The garment has been a staple of women's lingerie in the US since at least the 1920s. There is no implication of a specifically Japanese woman wearing the kimono that is opened, it could be anyone's kimono. This MAY be the image conjured in the listener's mind, but is an ethnic and cultural connection, not a racist one. That is like saying that use of the word pyjama is a racial slur against Indians...the word originated there.

Personally, when I hear the phrase, the image conjured in my mind is that of my American wife of English and German extraction since she wears kimono often both casual ones around the house and formal ones out in public. The casual ones are silk, bought in Tokyo. The formal ones are custom made from non-traditional materials like leather and latex to re-contextualize their meaning in the syntax of fashion. They are all beautiful works of art that can be worn and hang on our walls when not in use.

Is the phrase sexist? Well, I will admit that it is sexual in that it conjures up, in most American minds, the image of a woman opening or removing her robe. It is also used, as I said above, to describe an invitation to intimacy...a vendor revealing plans to a customer. Consequently, we can say that the phrase uses sexual imagery to communicate its meaning.

This does not mean it is sexist. It connects a very common event, that of the start of sexual enticement or intimacy, to the abstract concept of revealing secrets. By doing so it enforces understanding and retention. The phrase helps the hearer remember and understand that the speaker is offering something a bit secret, not generally released, and not to be bandied about or shouted from the rooftops (two more metaphors).

It does not, in any way, denigrate women...sexual imagery does not intrinsically do so. We are sexual beings and we are deeply connected mentally and psychologically to sexuality. The use of sexual imagery in metaphor is important to our understanding and retention of concepts in business, technology, architecture, and manufacturing, not to mention advertising, rhetoric, politics, and storytelling. If we were to expunge such language from our speech, we would be far the less for it.

Sexual imagery does not have to be sexist. The Calvin Klein men's underwear ad in Times Square many years ago was somewhat sexual, but not sexist. It did not denigrate men; indeed it presented them as art. Nude painting and photography may be sexist sometimes and is certainly sexual, but it does not HAVE to be sexist. It may be artistic, celebrating the form and the humanness of the subject.

I submit that anyone who is disturbed by the sexual imagery encoded in the phrase, "open the kimono" needs to examine their own feelings and reactions to a part of human nature that is intrinsic, encoded, and enlivening. And that metaphor in language which uses sexual imagery is an effective and impressive way to better communicate between people.

That said, I do think that some metaphors SHOULD be dropped, because they are sexist, racist, or hurtful. See the recent Paula Deen scandal for more information on THAT subject. But we should be careful about demanding the elimination of metaphors simply on the basis of their sexual or ethnic foundations.

With regard to the Forbes article linked at the top of this post, yes, some of the jargon listed is cliched, hackneyed, and over-used. but to simply replace these terms with others or with purely blunt words of one syllable or less would discolor language, lessen understanding, be more time-consuming, and sterilize the amazing beauty of our language (or rather languages, since many of these phrases have been taken into English).

Let me close with the notion that, as any writer must, I have, indeed opened the kimono with this post and with this blog. I have shared intimacies, thoughts, opinions, and insights which I might not have done if I did not have metaphors as a tool to use in communicating.

Monday, February 25, 2013

An End to History?

I have recently been made aware of an intriguing phenomenon that occurs to us as we age. In discussions with others of my generation and in discussions with many people of later generations, including my own son, it has become clear to me that there is one very significant fact about our different points of view on the world.

What we recall as memory, they only know as history.

I never learned this as a younger person; no one ever mentioned it, perhaps because they never phrased it quite this way. It serves, in a subtle way, to define us as members of communities of experience. We, the older ones and they, the younger ones. It separates and segregates us in some ways, but it also brings home to us all that time passes, things change and yet remain so very much the same.

The most notable example of this from my youth is my point of view on the Great Depression versus that of my parents. Now, as I pass through the 6th decade of my life, I am finally able to understand why that event, that economic paroxysm, so affected their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The recalled it as memory, but I could only ever know it as history.

For me, the most defining event flipping this effect is the moon landing in 1969. I recall this as memory, but our young people, of course, only know it as history.

The odd thing is that these communities are fluid and fuzzy edged. My son and I certainly recall many things as memory such as 9/11 ... but there is already a new generation that does not...and so we are separated from them by a fuzzy edged wall of experience and recall.

History is not memory; the two are very different. And that may say more about our species than anything else.

How strange it would be (and what effect it might have) if every generation could recall 'history' as 'memory'.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It Wasn't Our World Anymore

              "It wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs"

When confronted with horrible events, many of us turn to quotes from literature, poetry, or other reading to help us express our reaction. The line above has been running through my mind since the events of Friday in Newtown.

The horror the responders must have found, 20 small bodies lying in blood, must have seemed like a scene from anther world; as if a pustule of hell had erupted in this school. The line is from Prophecy Girl, an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Willow has walked in on a scene of blood and death in a schoolroom where vampires have had fun and tries to explain it.

That scene is fiction, a metaphor, a writer's attempt to sum up the shock and horror a character might experience in such a situation. It is doubtful the writer ever expected to hear of a similar scene in real life; yet here it is.

Many people are struggling to understand this horror. I am here to say tat there is no understanding. There is no sense to be made. There may be things to be learned, perhaps deductions to be made, but there is no sense because there are no reasons.

There has been a lot of talk about gun control in this case. This is senseless. All the laws of one of the most restrictive states were followed. The shooter took the guns illegally from his mother who owned them legally. Perhaps she irresponsibly did not have them properly safeguarded, but we do not know the circumstances. We should not yet judge her actions as we simply do not know what transpired before her son killed her.

The person who said that evil came into this school issued the cheapest of shots, the least helpful of comments. This was not evil in any spiritual sense. This was sickness and rage. This was human and primate. This young man is to be pitied on one level even as we deplore the monster he became in the last days of his life. I do not defend him. Had he not taken his own life, he would have needed killing. But he is to be pitied as well. Something went very, very wrong in his life, in his brain, in his mind.

It is interesting to hear the clergy try to respond. They have no response, they have no answers, no rationale. Many have even said that now is not the time to try to understand the horror in a theological sense. This, it seems to me, is the truest evidence of the inadequacy of religion to cope with the madness of a random universe.

There are no reasons and no excuse for faith betrayed. I appreciate that faith and prayer may comfort these people. Their religions, I hope, help them cope. But the incredible inadequacy of religion to explain, to justify, to even comprehend such events is deeply ironic. People have to cope...God does not seem to bother.

I have lost two daughters, in infancy, not from violence but from illness. Nonetheless, I can confirm that there is NOTHING so unnatural as a parent burying a child. Nothing inverts the natural order of the universe more. We are not here to bury our children; we are here to raise them and to be buried by them.

The people bringing teddy bears and gifts and toys to the memorials are doing so much more to comfort people than the empty platitudes of the religious. While I appreciate that well meaning clergy are trying to find answers, I suspect the comfort dogs brought in by a volunteer organization are accomplishing more.

The most hopeful thing is the people coming together. Bringing presents, toys, flowers to the memorials, grave goods to provide symbolic toys and comforts for these children in an afterlife, is a custom that predates humanity. Neanderthals used them. As long as we have been human we have done so. These rituals bring more answers to the random senselessness of such unspeakable events than virtually anything else.

I found it interesting to hear the one father say that he isn't angry. He will be. It will come. And I hope he is talking to someone and working his way through it when it does. Anger is both natural and good in these cases. It is cathartic and it is stress relieving. But only if it is properly directed and channeled. All these people will need help to deal and more perhaps than if the shooter were still alive.

The lack of a perpetrator to confront, the inability for this community to take its vengeance or to gain its justice will make closure much more difficult. If everyone involved were not dead, it would be easier to come to terms with the horror. There would be someone to glare at, to confront, to punish. As it is, there is no one. There is no one left to punish, to confront, to demand explanation of. This will make it all but impossible for the horror to be put to rest.

School shootings are, of course, among the most startling and tragic of mass murders. W expect our schools to provide a safe haven. And, of course, they cannot be safe from such madness. Nowhere can.

For myself, school shootings in America dates back to 1979. There were others before then, but I became somehow personally aware when Brenda Spencer, 16, sat in her San Diego window picking off children in the schoolyard across the street with the rifle her father gave her for the previous christmas. Her reason? "I don't like Mondays."

The Boomtown Rats captured the unreal senselessness of this in a song written about the events by Bob Geldof. As he waited to be interviewed about the group's new album he watched news of the event come across a Telex wire in a radio station in Atlanta. As an Irishman, someone foreign to our shores it effected him deeply.

Later that year I moved to the UK and this senseless school shooting was one of the first things I was queried about by my staff. As the big Texan coming into their midst, they wanted to know my take on an event that had occurred 6 months before. While I had all but forgotten it, their abiding interest awakened my interest and I have never forgotten the event, the shooter, her statement, or the song since. Brenda is still in prison, denied parole regularly.

in 1998 two young boys stole their grandfather's rifles in Arkansas, staked out their school, triggered a fire alarm and shot students and teachers as they evacuated the school. The two boys were aged 13 and 11. They were released at age 21. The oldest is back in prison.

In1999 Harris and Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher before suiciding at Columbine High School. Again, there were many deductions made, much investigation, and lessons learned. But there was no one left to punish and closure has never been achieved for many of the wounded and the families of the dead. These two young men were outsiders, but nothing really indicates what brought them to such a pass as this.

There have been other shootings, mass killings, school massacres, both before and since. In 1966, Charles Whitman shot students at UT Austin. In February of 2012, T.J. Lane killed 3 and wounded 2 at a cafeteria table in Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

These events, and others like the Aurora Cinema massacre, have no reasons, have no rationale. Oh, they have causes. The have genesis, they have triggers, but the triggers and the reasons make no sense.

Gun control will not stop these. It is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But there are so many guns in this country that there is no way to stop a determined person gaining access to them. It does not matter whether assault rifles are banned or magazine sizes are limited. Soon you will be able to print a handgun or a rifle on your Three D printer in the comfort of your own home. This genie, like so many others, is out of the bottle and cannot be stuffed back inside.

The only hope I see is to get better at detecting the signs of impending explosions of violence in these young people. We have a lot of data, we know a great deal about what triggers eruptions of this sort, but we have little infrastructure to intervene and help these people.

And let us not forget that 34 million children go to school every day safely. Our teachers and principals protect them and provide safe, nurturing environments. School is one of the safest places fr children to be. That is why it is so horrible when that safety is compromised.

Let us not forget that the second amendment, which makes such a proliferation of weapons possible, was put in place to ensure the people were able to protect themselves from their government if necessary. And that for 600 years people in this country have worked to make it a safe enough place that the majority of people do not feel a need to be armed even when they can be legally.

I support the second amendment and I am comfortable with well trained, respectful gun owners having concealed carry permits. I feel no need to be such and have only fired a weapon three times, when my brother-in-law gave me a .22 rifle at age ten and took me hunting with him. I did not enjoy the noise, the smell, or the sight of a small bird I shot dropping from its perch. But I see no problem with well trained gun enthusiasts possessing firearms.

Statistics have shown that crime is down and it decreases rapidly in states with concealed carry permits. When anyone might be armed, everyone is a bit more polite.

 But we must find a way to keep the guns away from the crazies. Note that in many of these shootings the shooters gained illegal posession of legally owned weapons. The safeguarding of weapons by gun owners is, it seems, a weak spot. As is the familial blind spots about the mental states of young people in that very fragile, angsty time know as young adulthood.

We need to find ways to identify and intervene in these cases. Without compromising civil rights. This does not promise to be easy.

Children must be protected, but we must also remember that the vast majority are well kept and well protected. Most places we congregate are safe and we must ask ourselves how much safer we want to be. Each bit of incremental safety reduces our liberty, our privacy, our freedom.

Each child is anther chance to get it right. We need to do so. People want answers but there may be no answers.

You can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to die?