12 Things We Did Before Technology

(www.margaretpeot.com)

I was born in the 1970s. I won’t tell the exact year because ladies do not talk about age, weight or what happens in the bathroom. Poop. Ladies don’t talk about poop or farts, and definitely not about sharts. In fact, ladies never fart. Our gasses turn to flowers and fairy dust.

Anyway, I was born long before PCs, cell phones and GPS. I was born before pagers even. Remember those? You carried this brick around and when someone called the number, they could punch in other numbers that magically appeared on the tiny screen and you could call them back:

Old school, baby.
Old school, baby.

Believe it or not, not even too terribly long ago, we didn’t carry tiny computers around in our pockets. Yeah, you twenty-somethings are thinking I’m an old fart now, but imagine how archaic “carrying tiny computers in our pockets” will sound in a few decades when you have one implanted in your brain or whatever. You will one day be an old fart, too. Someday, there will be a “back in my day” just you wait.

This is a list of things we had to do before we had tiny computers in our pockets. I wrote it so that you can laugh at us and also realize how damn lucky you are to have a tiny computer in your pocket.

1. Use maps and ask for directions.

This one actually baffles me and I lived through it. How did we get anywhere without Google Maps and GPS? The answer is, not very easily. We got lost a lot. We had to stop at gas stations and ask for directions and use pay phones.

“Come on over,” usually involved writing convoluted directions with landmarks on the back of an envelope. For example, here’s the back of a flyer for a friend’s party. The front had all the usual flyer type stuff, but the back was made up pretty much exclusively of directions:

2014-05-10 16.38.24

2. Make flyers.

And speaking of flyers, we made flyers. There was no such thing as Evite or a Facebook event. When you were having a party, you had to make flyers, which you photocopied and handed out to people in person. I kind of miss this one since a lot of these flyers were very creative:

2014-05-10 16.22.22

partyinviteFlyers also applied to shows in venues trying to make money:

2014-05-10 15.44.49

2. Wait at home for phone calls.

Before pagers even, most people had one phone number and that phone number was for every member of your household from your mom and dad to your bratty sister. If you were waiting for a boy to call you, there was a very good chance that someone else in your family would be on the phone, because somehow, they always were. When someone was on the phone, another person trying to reach you got a busy signal. No call waiting, no voicemail, just a busy signal. Denied.

In the early to mid 70s, if you weren’t home, it would just ring and ring. By the 80s and into the 90s, we had answering machines. These were machines with tapes in them that a caller could record a message onto, but they were hardly foolproof.

joesaddiction.blogspot.com
(joesaddiction.blogspot.com)

Sometimes, if you really wanted to talk to someone, you set a time. Call me between 6 and 8 on Saturday. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent sitting at home waiting for that cute boy to call.

3. Look things up in books.

When I was in school, the internet didn’t exist. That meant that, when it came to writing school papers, we had to do research the old-fashioned way, in the library with the Dewey Decimal System, invented by this man:

Kinda hot.
Melvil Dewey. Kinda hot.

Until the late 80s when the word processor appeared, papers were either written out by hand or typed on an old-timey typewriter. We photocopied things a lot.

4. Have pointless arguments.

The Guinness Book Of World Records may seem like a silly thing now, but back when it was started, it was designed to stop pointless arguments. Who holds the record for the longest handstand? Look it up.

Huh. It still exists.
Huh. It still exists. (guinnessworldrecords.com)

Many, many pointless arguments were had before the days of the internet where answers are just seconds away.

Who played Han Solo in Star Wars? It was Harrison Ford. No, it was Sean Connery. No, you dumbass, it was obviously Harrison Ford. No, he was Indiana Jones, not Han Solo…. and so it went. Without the internet or a third party who knew the answer, sometimes these stupid arguments would escalate or just never get answered.

What the hell is the name of that song? I have no idea.

5. Make mix tapes.

Once upon a time, there were physical things called tapes that we recorded songs onto. They could be any song you wanted in any order. They had a side A and a side B, and they involved a lot of thought. What songs went on a mix tape were very crucial since they usually involved sending a message to the recipient of the mix tape.

This is not a mix tape. This is a tape with two albums on it, but it illustrates the attention to detail necessary in a mix tape.
This is not a mix tape. This is a tape with two albums on it, but it illustrates the attention to detail necessary in a mix tape.

Making a mix tape is, sadly, a lost art.

6. Buy things.

There was a time when, if you wanted to hear an album and your friend wouldn’t make you a mix tape, you’d have to go out and buy it like a chump. If you wanted to read a comic book and your friend wouldn’t lend you their copy, you bought it. If you wanted to see a movie, you bought a ticket or waited for it to come out on video. There was no digital super repository of all of humankind to download things from. A torrent was just a stream of water during heavy rainfall.

7. Go to arcades and video stores.

If you missed that movie you wanted to see in the theater, you waited a few months until it came out on video where you could rent it from a video store. Strangely, there are still a few of these old-fashioned video stores littering the cities of the world here and there. You would walk into a physical space, choose a movie, rent a video copy of it that you would put in something called a video cassette recorder (VCR), watch it, rewind it and return it.

Video Store 1982 or 83. (2warpstoneptune.wordpress.com)
Video Store 1982 or 83. (2warpstoneptune.wordpress.com)

If you wanted to play a new video game, you went to your local arcade armed with pockets full of quarters. You would stand at a big boxy thing squeezed in next to a lot of other big boxy things, put in quarters and play the hell out of the games. And then you’d go home poorer.

(bitrebels.com)
(bitrebels.com)

8. Change our phone numbers whenever we moved.

This one is a relatively recent change. I’ve had the same phone number for at least ten years now. Male is still using his California number even though he lives in another time zone. That would have been impossible long ago.

Before that, whenever you moved, and even when you switched cell phone providers, you had to get a new phone number. This was rather annoying actually, especially, if you, like me, moved a lot. People never knew how to get in touch with me and this was before the days of social media.

I lost touch with a friend, a really good friend, because he moved and left an answering machine message with his new information, which my answering machine promptly ate (I told you they weren’t foolproof). Then, as fate would have it, I moved a couple of weeks later and we totally lost contact. I never actually heard from him again. I’ve half-assedly been looking for him for twenty years. Things don’t always work out like the movies.

joesaddiction.blogspot.com
My nemesis.

9. Wait for photos to be processed.

There was a time–again, not too terribly long ago, probably in your lifetime as long as you’re not twelve–when pictures were taken with film. Pictures on film had to be developed by people with chemicals. Usually, unless you were a professional photographer, this meant taking them to the Fotomat or the drug store and having some seventeen year old dump chemicals on them while they looked through all of your personal memories before you did.

(www.margaretpeot.com)
(www.margaretpeot.com)

There were no do overs. You photographed what you photographed. If you didn’t like the picture and wanted to redo it, too bad. The moment was gone. It’s printed now. Your eyes were closed, your hair is a mess, you have red-eye… oh well. And all of this took at least a day.

10. Wait for our favorite television shows to come on.

Prime time was king. All the TV shows in TV land vied for a coveted prime time slot, which was weeknights from 8 to 10 pm when most Americans had finished dinner and were plunking themselves on the couch for a night of TV viewing.

old-television
(nationofblue.com)

We were so excited when the VCR came out because it meant that we could record things and watch them later! How cool is that? We can go out and do something while our VCR is busy recording Miami Vice! That’s so radical.

We got cable when it first came out and HBO, Showtime and Cinemax only showed second run movies. They didn’t make anything of their own. MTV actually showed music on television.

11. Use address books.

An address book didn’t used to look like this:

Screen shot 2014-05-10 at 7.57.30 PM

It used to look like this:

(barbergp.com)
This person should have used pencil. (barbergp.com)

It was a bound paper handwritten affair with pen and pencil writing in it. It was a big deal for someone to use ink to put your number in their address book. Most of the time, we used a pencil. This is partly because everyone kept having to change phone numbers every time they moved. Notice how many crossed out things there are on that picture above?

12. Write things by hand.

If you met someone you wanted to talk to more later, instead of just plugging their number into your smart phone or looking them up on Facebook, you exchanged phone numbers. For whatever reason, I saved all the ones I was ever given. Not to toot my horn, but I have a lot of them. I have hundreds of little bits of paper and cocktail napkins and matchbooks and business cards with handwritten phone numbers on them. Most of the names I don’t even remember or have any context for at all.

2014-05-10 16.17.26

If you lost that bit of paper, you were shit out of luck. You might never meet that person again since you had no other way to contact them.

In addition to phone numbers on napkins, we hand wrote pretty much everything from party flyers to school papers to shopping lists. We did a lot of writing before computers. Being left-handed, I can’t say that I exactly miss writing by hand. Nowadays, if I write more than a few lines, my hand cramps up like a chicken foot since I’m way out of practice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go slather Ben Gay all over my wrinkly bones before The Wheel Of Fortune comes on.

Do you remember any of these things? What did I miss?

Christmas Unicorn List

unicorn

I was talking to Male last night and he said, “I need to start making a list…” I interrupted with, “A list of things you’re going to buy me for Christmas? That’s so sweet.” He said, “No, I already made that list. Things to buy you for Christmas – Item one – No things. Check,” and he made a little check mark sign in the air. Sadface.

I already wrote a letter to Santa where I asked, rather selflessly I might add, for naught. And I mean it. I want nothing from Santa other than for him to continue doing what he already does, but I would maybe like some stuff from the rest of you, if y’all are so inclined, or from The Christmas Unicorn.

Hoppy, The Chrisrmas Unicorn, spreading cheer to all the good little girls and boys.
Hoppy, The Christmas Unicorn, spreading cheer to all the good little girls and boys.

Here’s a list of things I’d really like for Christmas:

  • I would like my car to stop breaking down every quarter.
  • I would like a job that pays me a livable wage and maybe, just maybe, health insurance. gasp.
  • I would like a home of my own with a little yard for my dog so that maybe I could adopt another one.
  • I would like a pet dragon.
  • I would like more tattoos.
  • I would like to be able to afford an education.
  • I would like for all children to be children for as long as they can.
  • I would like a bajillion dollars. A big chunk of which I’d donate to worthy causes.
  • I would like all pedophiles to spontaneously combust.
  • I would like more time to write.
  • I would like more time to volunteer.
  • I would like my dog to stop jumping on people so that I could register her as a therapy dog. She just gets too excited.
  • I would like all domestic abusers to have to live a year in the mind of their victims so that they have to finally feel everything they do. Or, if that’s too much, I’d like them to be reincarnated as sentient toilets.
  • I would like to travel more (and by more, I mean at all).
  • I would like the justice system to actually dole out justice.
  • I would like just a little bit more fairness in the world.
  • I would like to afford flying my dog to visit my parents.
  • I would like less poverty.
  • I would like more hope, smiles and freedom.
  • I would like less war and less killing.
  • I would like more peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
  • I would like to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If you’d like to get any of these things for me, I’d be much obliged. Thanks and Blerry Mistfuss!

Five Things I'm Good At

5-things-web-desig

1. I’m good at liking things.

There are certain things that I like very well. I like music, lots of it. I like art. I like some films. I like bubble baths and rain when I have nowhere to be. I like snuggling up in bed and reading. I like coffee, bacon, chocolate, steak, lamb korma, gumbo, dim sum, sushi, beer and bourbon. I really like my dog and I like my cat. I even like my friends sometimes.

2. I’m good at disliking things.

I’m even better at disliking things than I am at liking them. I have a whole series of things that I dislike and why called Things I Hate.

3. I’m good at space travel.

At least, I assume I would be if it was an option. I rarely get seasick and I’m pretty good in the car as long as I can see where I’m going. I think I’d do alright with zero gravity and G-forces. I can entertain myself quite easily, which would definitely be a benefit on a long space trip. I’m a fair photographer if photographic documentation was needed and I can certainly write. I would be very good at keeping a space diary. “Dear space diary, today we are entering quadrant G52 of the galaxy. My god, it’s full of stars! Just kidding. Of course, it’s full of stars. Every quadrant around here is full of stars. It is space after all. That’s where the stars live.”

4. I’m good at raising rare mythical creatures.

Granted, I’ve never tried to raise a bigfoot or a unicorn, but it can’t be that much different than caring for a dog and a cat. When I left the house this morning, they were both still alive, so that proves that I’m good at it. I once had a goldfish that died, but it wasn’t my fault exactly. How was I supposed to know that dumping a year’s supply of food in the bowl all at once wasn’t a good idea? I thought I was saving time. Anyway, disregard that incident; I was just a kid anyway. As an adult, I currently have one feline and one canine. As I said, they are both alive and healthy, so I feel more than qualified to rear any dragon, harpy, griffin, centaur, pegasus or minotaur in need of a good home.

unicorn

5. I’m an excellent multimillionaire.

Not that I have multimillions, but if I did, I wouldn’t use my power and wealth to steal more money from the poor. I don’t even want to hang around other rich people. Those people from old money are all so stodgy. Instead, I’d use my money to make people happy. By people, I mostly mean me, but if you are happy with my wealth, then I can’t help that. We’ll all be happy together. I’d invite you all over for coffee, bacon, chocolate, steak, lamb korma, gumbo, dim sum, sushi, beer and bourbon, but I’m afraid my dining room only serves 100 people, and the dragons, harpies, griffins, centaurs, pegasi and minotaurs do take up such a frightful amount of room. Maybe next time.

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On Luck

"with pink ovals, orange duckies, green toast, purple bunnies, blue bananas and rainbow half donuts!"

Do you believe in luck?

Nope. I believe humans make their own luck. If you work hard and long enough, you can attain your dream… Sorry, it was hard to keep a straight face while saying that. It’s pretty funny, you have to admit. As if the world was fair and anyone could achieve their dream in this fucked up, messy business called life. Bwa ha ha.

It is true that hard work does go a long way towards a better life. You have a better chance of succeeding if, for example, you leave your house rather than staying home in bed (unless your goal is to stay in bed forever), but a better life is far from guaranteed even if you do get out of bed in the morning. Time was, nothing was guaranteed in life except death and taxes, but nowadays only death is inevitable. Ask General Electric how much they paid in taxes in 2010. That would be a big, fat goose egg, nada, not one red cent. Paying taxes is only for the poor, silly.

Do I believe in luck, destiny, fate, magic, jinxes, lucky charms or any of the other rot that people sink their hopes and dreams into? Nope. Not one bit. If a rabbit foot was lucky, that rabbit would still be alive and hopping around on it. If there was anything we could do to change our “luck” in any way, all people would be doing it all the time.

All of us have probably tossed a coin into a wishing well at some point. We’ve made wishes as we blow out our birthday candles or said “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight…” I realized that Jebus and stars had similar powers to grant wishes around the same time, i.e. none. Wishing on an inanimate, amorphous plasma ball in space radiating light and heat through thermonuclear fusion made about as much sense to me as wishing on a dead guy. Neither one of them had the power to do anything regarding my life down here on earth at all.

It’s scary to think that neither we nor some invisible sky king has any power over the complete nonsensicality of the universe–to think that no one is holding the reins. I get it. I was scared when I first thought about that, too. It’s much easier and more palatable for humans to convince ourselves that picking a penny up will give us good luck. It’s nice to have someone to pin the blame on besides ourselves. It gives us the illusion of control. If I put this horseshoe over my door, if I can find a four-leaf clover, if I throw this coin in a fountain, if I can just wish upon a falling star, then things will change for me.

“with pink ovals, orange duckies, green toast, purple bunnies, blue bananas and tricolor semi-circles!”

Life is full of randomness, and most of all, unfairness. Some people are sitting pretty while others are struggling to survive from day to day. If you want to call that randomness luck, for lack of a better term, go ahead. I won’t stop you, but I do not operate under the delusion that anything I do down here on earth, e.g. appealing to some magical sky power or lighting a candle for saint whomever, will have any effect on anything. If it makes you feel better about the unfairness of it all, if it makes it seems like you have some power over chaos, then go right ahead and rub that lucky mammal foot. Personally, the only lucky charms I believe in are the breakfast cereal. They’re magically delicious!™

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The Category of Parades

The 124th Tournament of Roses Parade

I was at a dinner party the other night and I was feeling especially argumentative. I’m usually contrary and cantankerous, but for some reason, that night, I was especially so. I harrumphed more than usual.

What started it all was a conversation on astrology. According to the old zodiac chart, I was a Cancer, a crab, for most of my life, but now, since they just moved it all around, I’m a Gemini. I had become used to my crablike horoscopic depiction. The crab fits me well. So, when they determined that the horoscope charts were actually off base and added a new sign, I shrugged it off because none of it means anything anyway.

Strangely, most of the people at the dinner party, come to find out, were Leos, the pre-moving-around-of-the-zodiac Leos, not the new ones. These Leos were discussing the date shift and how they don’t consider themselves Cancers now, or whatever sign they are supposed to be. One of my friends said about me, for example, there’s no way that I’m not a crab. Ha ha. I laughed, she laughed, I held my tongue, hoping the conversation about astrology would die. Sadly, it did not. Eventually, I had to express my views on the matter.

I started off gingerly by saying that I find it difficult to believe that all people who were ever born or who ever will be can be categorized into twelve buckets, or thirteen as the case may be now. And that those buckets can predict not only personality and behavior, but the future as a horoscope is supposed to do. I’m not a believer in fortune-telling buckets.

I thought it was fairly diplomatic of me and hoped that would be the end, but one of the leaders of the conversation who was especially talkative on the subject and also a Leo said, ah, but you have to take into consideration the rising sign and so on. What’s your rising sign? I have no idea, I said.

I asked, I was a month overdue as an infant, so based on that, am I a Cancer or Gemini then? If I am actually a Gemini, since I born nearly a month later than I should have been, according to the new dates, shouldn’t I be whatever sign comes before Gemini since that’s when I was due to be born? No, she said, it’s based on when you were actually born. You were born when you were supposed to be and obviously you were supposed to be a Cancer.

The “supposed to be” was a sticking point. Who decides what I’m “supposed to be” then? Who says I’m “supposed to be” anything? Do I not have free will? Am I predestined to be a Cancer, a Gemini or whatever sign comes before Gemini? If I am “supposed to be” a Cancer, then that implies that someone is in charge of this whole astrological process of assigning who I’m “supposed to be” according to one of twelve or thirteen buckets. I find that impossible to take seriously. The horoscope and astrology are man-made constructs, and just like most other imaginary man-made constructs, it falls into the category of parades.

Since I’m probably the only person who has ever used that phrase besides an obscure Finnish author, the hostess dutifully asked what the category of parades meant. I’ve written on this blog before about the category of parades so I’ll quote myself from the post Blow Things Up Day:

“The category of parades to me includes, well, parades, fireworks, halftime shows, hot air balloons and most other grandstanding events where people just sit around and look at things passively. I’ve never understood them. I also don’t understand why people would applaud in a movie theater. You do know that it’s just moving pictures, right? The actors, director and pretty much everyone involved in making the film are not actually in the room. They can’t hear you, just so you know. Anyway, like I said, the category of parades can suck it.”

I then gave credit to whom I completely, bald-faced stole the concept of the category of parades, Väinö Linna. In his Under The North Star trilogy, Linna’s character Jussi, who is especially harrumphy, crablike and typically Finnish like me, is discussing buying licorice for his grandchildren and describes it as part of the category of parades, unnecessary and frivolous. It is a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I read the book. I have stolen and morphed it for myself, and I use it constantly, but I always credit Linna so I don’t think he would mind.

Originally, it was only intended for things like parades, but apparently, I can add astrology, horoscopes and the zodiac to that now, as well, because then, I started a sentence with “Not to denigrate your beliefs, but…” Whenever I start a sentence with “Not to denigrate your beliefs, but…,” it means that I’m about to do just that. I explained that, to me, horoscopes, astrology and the zodiac fall into the same category as the Easter Bunny and Jesus: man-made diversionary constructs, or the category of parades.

I had taken out my machete, gun, cleaver, baseball bat and grenade, and slashed, shot, chopped, bludgeoned and blowed the fuck up the conversation. Everyone looked at me askance and there was an awkward silence that followed where the blood rushed to my face and I went to the bathroom. Dinner parties are not the appropriate forum for denigrating beliefs, but fortunately, my fellow cohorts were forgiving and, after I apologized to the Leo in question, conversation resumed to a normal flow and all was forgiven.

Until the next argumentative subject came up, which happened to be Hollywood movies, a far less delicate and touchy subject, but one on which I expressed my distaste anyway. It’s a wonder that I’m even invited to social events anymore. The next morning, I awakened to find a link on my Facebook wall in which I was tagged by our gracious dinner party host to an article called Cheery Optimists Die Younger. She had written “How Goldfish will outlive us all…” To which, I simply responded, “Harrumph.”

The Family Curse

gary-robbins.com
gary-robbins.com
gary-robbins.com

A long time ago, there were two brothers, Hircismus and Halitosis who lived deep in the mountains with their parents. Their great-grandfather had been cursed by an old witch. She put a spell on his descendants so that each of them would have to suffer their own personal hygiene dysfunction. The boys were very competitive and were constantly arguing over who was the better of the two.

Hircismus argued that he was better. No one wanted to listen to a thing Halitosis said because, as soon as he opened his mouth, a foul odor assaulted the listener and distracted them from his words.

Halitosis replied that at least his stench only appeared when he talked. Hircismus’ stink entered the room before he did and made it less likely that anyone would even stick around to hear the words he said.

Their parents despaired. Their father, Hirsute, cursed that old witch for placing such a punishment upon his family. Their mother, Hiccough, told the boys to stop fighting over who was better. They loved them both equally and neither was better nor worse.

The boys kept arguing anyway. They didn’t realize the extent of the family curse since, from the time it had been placed on their family, they had lived deep in the mountains to avoid encountering other people. The boys had lived a sheltered life and hadn’t been told about the curse since they were still very young. Their parents didn’t want them to know how different they were from all the other boys and girls.

Hirsute and Hiccough talked late into the night about what could be done. They had to provide a better life for their children than they had themselves. Hirsute decided that the only thing to do was to find that old witch and force her to remove the family curse. Hiccough was against it, but for the sake of her children, she allowed Hirsute to make the pilgrimage to the old village where the witch lived.

Hirsute set off the following morning and was gone for several months. Hiccough secretly worried that something had happened to her husband, but she didn’t let the boys see her anxiety. Then, one day, Halitosis’ breath was minty fresh, Hircismus smelled like he had just taken a bath and Hiccough, for the first time since she had gotten married, stopped hiccuping. The family rejoiced and awaited the return of Hirsute.

Weeks later, when Hirsute returned to the mountains, his own family didn’t even recognize him. Instead of a wall of hair everywhere, he looked like an average man with an ordinary amount of hair.

They held a big feast that night and Hirsute told them the tale. He went to the witch in the village and demanded that she remove the curse. She laughed in his face, but Hirsute was determined to stay until something was done. He vowed that he wouldn’t budge an inch until she released his family from the curse.

He stood out front of her cottage for weeks on end, through rain and wind, through cold and dark, without once moving. The witch would come out and hit him with a broom, pour hot water over his head and throw her trash at his feet until he was waist-high in garbage, but he never moved.

On the 29th day, the witch came out and asked him why he wanted the curse removed. He told her about how the boys were constantly squabbling and how he wanted a better life for his children than he had. She tut-tutted him, threw garbage in his face and went back inside, but Hirsute could tell that she was worried.

The next morning, Hirsute looked down and the long hair all over his body was gone. The witch came out and sighed. Hirsute thanked her for removing the curse. She laughed at him and said that she had nothing to do with it. He had broken it all on his own by being such a stubborn fool and standing around for thirty days with pure intentions in his heart. She said that if she had her way, the curse would never be broken.

Hirsute asked the witch why it was that she hated his family so. She gave no answer besides an evil cackle and a warning. She told him to take care that he didn’t become an arrogant fool or the curse would come back to haunt his family.

Hirsute took the warning to heart and told his children that only bad things can come out of arguing over who is better, and that the curse might come back if they became too arrogant and self-absorbed. He taught his children to be humble. The boys stopped fighting and turned into good men like their father. They, in turn, taught their children humility and grace, and the curse was broken for good.

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Hexbreaker

I do stick a buck in this slot machine every time I pass one in Las Vegas though. I like the kitty cats.

I’m superstitious about absolutely nothing. I’m under no illusions that anything I do regarding salt, mirrors, black cats, ladders or any other form of folkloric witchcraftery will have any bearing on events in this mixed-up, crazy universe of sheer randomness and lunacy.

I do stick a buck in this slot machine every time I pass one in Las Vegas though. I like the kitty cats.

To believe in superstition, one must have a notion that things can be controlled, particularly things which are beyond control. One must be convinced that a solitary human being could change the course of events through ritualized customs. While I do think that individual people are capable of changing the course of history, e.g. Louis Pasteur or Nikola Tesla, those kind of leaps are usually accomplished through hard work and diligence, or through evil scheming and manipulation, à la Bernie Madoff or Adolph Hitler, not through blind luck.

However, most people don’t attempt to accomplish grand scale change with superstition. It usually has a much more localized sphere of influence, i.e. yourself or your family. Most people wish upon a star for love, happiness or a job. Most people throw salt over their shoulder so that they don’t have bad luck. It’s a very personal thing and I’m not about to look down on anyone who believes in superstition. It certainly can’t hurt anything, but personally, I don’t think it will accomplish much, either.

From an empirical standpoint, it’s interesting to think about how these superstitions came into being. Someone, somewhere, at some point in history must have had good luck (or bad luck) by doing these rituals. Word got around and, voilà, superstition is born. What’s intriguing to me is that people rarely question it. They don’t do any sort of scientific study on whether or not these ritual behaviors even work; they just do them anyway.

I learned long ago that the only thing I have control over in this world is myself and my own actions. I am responsible for me, my own behavior and its impact on the world. That’s all there is. It’s liberating in the sense that I have complete control over my own free will. No bad luck can ever affect that.

To me, superstition falls into the same category as mythology. There’s no irrefutable proof, therefore, I don’t believe in it. I believe in science. Prove to me that rituals performed in the name of superstition actually work and I’ll be throwing salt over my shoulder with the rest. Until then, it’s just another fairy tale that humans invented to give us a false impression of having control over a universe in which we have none. Sadly, life is unfair. No amount of rabbit’s feet or lucky charms will change that.

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Imaginary Friends

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sebreg.deviantart.com

I don’t believe in ghosts just like I don’t believe in horoscopes, flying saucers, palm readings, the Boogieman, psychic predictions, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, creationism or that Elvis is still alive.

We humans have a tendency to latch onto mythology, legends and other fictional folklore to explain the unexplained. I guess we find it comforting to believe that, instead of just a storm, it’s actually a god who lives under the sea that we have somehow angered. We must sacrifice a sheep in order for calm to be restored to the ocean.

We’ve always done it. Before we had microscopes, when we still thought the Earth was flat, before we had any real concept of science, we had gods. These gods told us what to do and what not to do. They made life easier because there was someone to blame or someone to go to when things got rough.

Having someone or something to blame when things aren’t going all that well is a powerful and alluring thing. It’s scary to believe that we’re all out here on our own with no one to protect us or to mete out punishment. It’s too big of a concept for most people to think that we are all responsible for our own actions and that there really is no rhyme nor reason to the universe. It doesn’t fit with our human nature as thousands of gods from various cultures evince.

It’s even scarier for most folk to think that, when we die, that’s all there is to it, so we invented ghosts and reincarnation. I find it funny that, whenever people’s past lives are revealed, they’re usually some sort of celebrity and never just a subsistence farmer. That, to me, proves it’s all bunk. There’s just no way we could have all been Anne Boleyn or King Philip II of Spain.

But, in my own scientific way, I do believe in reincarnation in a sense. When the receptacle called a human expires, it’s only natural that it would go on to be something else. We are all made up from organic matter that at one point will be water and dirt or rock. In a sense, we do live on, but probably not as self-contained ghosts hanging out in some ether world waiting room, waiting for the next body to jump into, or hanging out down here on Earth spooking the living and pining for vengeance.

So, do I believe in ghosts? Not really. I believe in ghosts the same way I believe in the various mythology that countless civilizations have created. The great thing about science is that it’s mutable. What is fact today, might not be tomorrow. Human knowledge is ever changing and growing. Show me hard and fast, irrefutable proof and I’ll believe it, but until then, it’s just another fairy tale of imaginary friends invented by humans to make existence slightly less scary.

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The Princess & The Name

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gogermany.about.com
gogermany.about.com

Once upon a time, there was a Princess of a fair land. The kingdom was graced with happiness, wealth, and nice weather. The people were all friendly and they never went to war with any of their neighbors. The King would really listen to the people and he never taxed them too much. The Princess had many friends inside and outside of the castle and she was allowed to play with whomever she chose.

The Princess was generally happy, but she hated her name. It was unusually long. Her full name was Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II. She wouldn’t have minded, since royalty throughout the ages have had unusually long full names, but everyone always uttered every single syllable whenever they addressed her. Even her own parents called her by her full name or addressed her only as daughter. For example, “Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II, it’s time for bed.” or “Would you like some more soup, Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II?” She hated it. She longed to be addressed with just one syllable.

She asked her father, King Ferdinand Alexander Charles Phillipe Henry Frederick James de Marquese VI, why it was that everyone always called them by all those names. Couldn’t she just choose one and be done with it? The King told his Princess that it was necessary that everyone address the royal family by their full names, but he didn’t tell her why just yet.

Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II gave long thought as to which of the many names she preferred. She finally decided on Kat from Ekaterina. It was a short, one syllable name. She commanded her maidservant to address her as such. The maidservant looked away in horror and ran out of the room. She told the royal chef to call her Kat and he had much the same reaction. No one in the castle would call her Kat. They all kept calling her Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II.

She decided to explore outside the castle walls. Surely, someone would be willing to call her Kat out there. She walked through the village, as she was wont to do on sunny days, and everyone greeted her with a bow and her full name. It made her angry and she kept walking. She passed the blacksmith’s on the edge of town. She had often watched the smith bend horseshoes. It usually took her mind off her troubles, not that she had many. The blacksmith greeted her with a bow and her full name. Miffed, she kept walking. She was determined to walk as far as necessary to find someone who wouldn’t refer to her with all those letters and syllables.

Towards late afternoon, the Princess came upon the forest. She had often ridden horses by the forest, but she had never been inside since she hadn’t been this far from the castle on foot before, and the horses couldn’t traverse the brambles and thickets. Hardly had she set foot in the forest when she regretted it, but like her father, she was stubborn and never gave up once she set her mind to something. She scarcely wanted to admit it herself, but she was weary from walking and scared of being alone in the forest. Before long, she came upon a cottage.

She asked the old woman in the cottage for a rest. The woman bade her inside and offered her some stew. The Princess ate it greedily. She felt better almost immediately to have company. She began telling the old woman of her troubles, “I’m sick of being addressed always as Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II and I want to be called Kat, but I could not find a single soul in the castle nor village who would address me as anything other than Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II.”

The old woman led the Princess to a bed, gave a smile and said, “Fear not, little Kat, rest your weary head and forget your troubles.” The Princess smiled and laid her head down to sleep. When she awoke, it was dark and she was alone. She left the little cottage in the forest to find the night sky lit up with an orange glow.

She made her way out to the road of the village. She realized that the glow was fire. The blacksmith shop and all the buildings of the village were burning. People were in the streets with torches and weapons, cursing at each other. She saw the butcher stab the baker with a carving knife. She saw the blood flow from the houses. The village streets were red with blood. She ran back to the castle as fast as her feet could carry her and it was on fire, too.

When the King’s guards saw her, they quickly ran her to the King. “Father, what is happening?” He replied, “Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II, did someone address you as something other than your full name?” Joyfully, she responded, “Yes! There was a woman in the forest who called me Kat.” “I thought so”, the King said with a lowered head. “Father, what is happening?”

With a heavy sigh, the King sat her down and told her the story of her name as he should have done before. “When I was a young boy, I also went to that cottage in the forest. There lives a witch. She set a curse upon our family.  If anyone outside the royal family ever referred to us as anything other than our full given names, the peace would be broken, the village would be razed and the streets would run red with blood.” The Princess cried for she did not know.

Then, the King asked the Princess, “Think hard, daughter, did anyone besides the witch not address you as Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II?” The Princess thought and said, “No, I could not find a single soul in the kingdom who would call me anything but Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II.” The King rejoiced, “Since it is she who has cursed us, she cannot not be the one to break the spell.”

The King made haste to the forest and confronted the witch. She laughed, “I admit my trickery. The spell has not been broken. But take this as a warning, King Ferdinand Alexander Charles Phillipe Henry Frederick James de Marquese VI, for by not telling your daughter the truth, you nearly destroyed the kingdom.” When the King left the cottage, the orange glow was gone and everything was as it was before. The butcher and the baker, both greeted him politely as King Ferdinand Alexander Charles Phillipe Henry Frederick James de Marquese VI. Peace was restored to the land.

Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II promised King Ferdinand Alexander Charles Phillipe Henry Frederick James de Marquese VI that she would never again complain about being called Princess Gladiola Ekaterina Elizabeth Christina Adelaide Victoria Astrid Batilda de Marquese II, but she also promised herself that, if she had a daughter, she would name her simply Kat. And they lived happily ever after.

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My Dream House

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Describe your dream home… house, location and grounds.

Guh. What’s next, Plinky? Am I to describe my dream wedding dress that, as a female, I supposedly concocted when I was five years old while playing with Barbie dolls and having tea parties? I don’t have a dream house nor a dream wedding in mind. I never did. I never even had a Barbie doll. That simple fact certainly does explain a lot. Dream house…fine. You asked for it.

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My dream house would be a lot like the evil lair that I would build if I had unlimited resources, only it might not be quite so evil. I would have my own kingdom with a big fence all the way around to keep the riffraff out, preferably on my own island so as to be easily defensible. Maybe I’d buy one of the smaller Hawaiian islands.

Inside my gigantic island compound, would be all my friends. Each would have their own private house so they weren’t constantly under foot. There would be a clubhouse in the middle where we could all hang out. My compound would have grocery stores and the like, with products at a very reasonable markup, so you would never have to leave if you didn’t want to.

I would imagine that if I had my dream house, I would also have the unlimited resources to run it. In that case, I would have a science lab on the grounds. This lab would contain many scientists, not necessarily the evil kind, who would all be working towards making the world a better place. I’d have one team assigned to curing cancer, another devoted to AIDS, a third working on interstellar transportation faster than the speed of light, and a fourth busy trying to create dragons. Because if the the world contained dragons, it would certainly be a better place.

If my scientists could create dragons, I would be very happy indeed. Especially, if they were the kind of dragons that could fly and breathe fire. I would have my own little dragon pen on the south side of the island. I could train them as guard dogs and keep them as pets. If they were the kind of dragons that could fly, it would certainly be convenient, not to mention environmentally sound, to fly the dragons to the mainland for supplies. Yes, dragons would be imperative for any sort of dream house.
This nonsensical train of thought is continued in the post Dragon Genesis.

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