Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Microstory 952: Systems Thinking

You might be asking Google right now, what is systems thinking? Well, tab back over here, because I’m going to tell you myself. Throughout the history of problem-solving, people have primarily used a process of analysis in order to understand how something works. What you do when you analyze something is break it down into its constituent parts, and try to figure out how those work. You break it down as as much as possible, until breaking them any further would lead to fractions. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to learn about computer hardware. You would open up the casing, and start removing the parts. You have the hard drive, the memory cards, processor, logic board, etc. A hard drive is made up of the platters, circuits, spindle, etc. The processor is made of God knows what, and so on. Once you understand how each part operates independently, you would theoretically know everything you could about the whole computer. But this isn’t true, is it? Because a memory card isn’t useful unless you can process the information. A hard drive might as well have no data unless you can read it. You won’t be able to change anything about the information without input/output devices, and nothing in a computer matters one lick unless you can interface with it using some kind of monitor. The lesson here is that the entire computer, and how all parts work together, is what gives us the best understanding of the topic. One of the most famous explanations for this comes from a leader in the field of systems thinking named Russell Ackoff. He puts forth the hypothetical of trying to build the absolute best automobile in the world by taking the best individual parts from other vehicles. Maybe this one has the best pistons, and this other the best gas tank. The reality is that this is an impossible endeavor, because those parts wouldn’t fit together, because they were designed to fit in different respective cars.

I’m passionate about systems thinking, because of how interconnected all of my stories are. I’m not just telling all these little stories, and claiming that they take place within the same continuity. I have to understand how each one can impact the others, and the greater mythology. If I decide that Jane Doe from Story Y is the mother of John Smith from Story X—which I wrote first—then I have to remember that Jane Doe can’t die in her story, until she’s birthed her son. If in Story Z, I decide I want John Smith to have a younger brother named James, then I won’t be able to do it, unless I decide James was adopted, or John’s half brother. I spent years not releasing a single word from any of my stories so that I could build my world. I know how astral travel works, and where the astral planes come from. I know why the subspecies known as anomalies took longer to evolve than the ambers, and I know how it’s possible for someone to be born as both. I have a list of galaxies, their stars, and the planets revolving around them. I have a timeline that starts at the beginning of time, and ends at the end of it. Whenever I come up with something knew, I have to find a way to fit it into the preexisting mythos, and if that’s not possible, then I have to create a separate universe to allow its existence, or simply scrap the project. There is a place for analysis, but systems thinking is an overall superior technique for learning something. The best leaders have a working comprehension of their whole domain, which is what we need right now. If you want that too, then come these next two elections, #votethemout.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Microstory 951: Bloopers

Oopsy Daisy!
Bloopers. I love them because they’re funny, of course, but also because they show that the actors are real people enjoying their jobs. There was a time when bloopers were included in the extras section of a DVD, but now that we’re not watching films like that anymore, it’s kind of a dying art. They can put them up on YouTube, but then you have to think about seeking them out. Some films put them during the rolling credits, but I don’t think that’s done enough either. During my research for this tiny story that’s mostly just a waste of your time—which was not as fascinating as it sounds—I learned that some actors have refused to allow their outtakes to be released to the public. Perhaps the most famous example of this is from Leonard Nimoy, who didn’t appreciate his mistakes being shown at Star Trek conventions. I don’t love hearing that from someone I admire. Mistakes make us human, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think, in general, people need to lighten up about those kinds of things in general. I would much rather you screw something up accidentally than do something really well, but never learn anything from it. I went over this sort of thing in my entry about constructive criticism, which was better written, so you should go read that one instead. Consider this one here to be part of my blooper reel.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 24, 2201

Shuhana Shenare, a.k.a. The Shepherd was not as easy to find as Kivi thought it would be, but she managed to do it. Shuhana obviously knew Leona would want to speak with her, but apparently wanted to make it a challenge. Fortunately, it was one that Leona didn’t have to worry about. When she woke up a year later, Shuhana was there, waiting to answer her questions.
“What are you?” Leona asked.
“What are you?” Shuhana sent back.
“I’m salmon.”
Shuhana shrugged marginally. “Sort of.”
“Are you gonna answer me?” Leona went on.
“I think you already know, based on what you’ve heard about me.”
“You’re Maramon,” Leona guessed.
“Yes, but don’t be alarmed. I’m one of the good ones.”
“Why does it seem like there are so few good ones?”
“We all started off as equals. Everyone was immortal, everyone was provided for, E-T-C. Then our population started giving us problems, and people had to make sacrifices. A few of us, however, never made those sacrifices, because we were...essential personnel. We were the elite, so as our brethren suffered and died, growing angrier by the day, we did fine.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair,” Vitalie pointed out.
“It wasn’t,” Shuhana agreed. “That’s why we built the machine. We were looking for more space and resources, so we could go back to the way we were. Unfortunately, that led to more complications, and the angry ones just got angrier.”
Leona continued for her, “and you kept the machine for yourself, and never went back for them.”
“It might not have been the right call,” Shuhana said, “but I stand by it. Had I continued with the initial mission, things might have finally evened out. Or, nothing would get better, but now I’ve infected other universes with the Maramon scourge. Rock and a hard place.”
“Why did you pretend to be my friend?” Kivi asked her.
“I wasn’t pretending. We’re friends.”
“But you were using me,” Kivi said. “Are you even a real shepherd?”
“Kivi, every Kivi has made her way to her friends sooner rather than later, but you were different. You were born in the center circle. You were trapped. Even on your walkabout, there was no way you would make it to where you belonged. I wasn’t using you, I was helping you. Yes, I wanted Leona to have the Compass of Disturbance, but I could have easily just given it to her myself, and convincing her I could be trusted would have been no more difficult than it is now.”
“Why do you want me to have it?” Leona asked.
“You’ll need it for your quest.”
The obvious response to this was to ask what quest she was talking about, but no one wanted to give her the satisfaction. She just needed to explain herself on her own.
“Leona, I know you’ve been remembering Mateo.”
“Bits here and there,” Leona admitted. “Fragments of memories, really. I can’t even make out his face.”
Shuhana nodded. “It’ll come back faster and faster, and the rest will return to you once he does.”
“That’s the quest,” Vitalie figured. “You’re sending the three of us off to find him.”
“Four,” Shuhana corrected.
“You’re coming with us?” Kivi asked.
“No, what Vitalie said was just good timing.”
“Good timing fo—”
Shuhana interrupted, “three, two, one.”
An explosion sent something flying towards Shuhana, who caught it in her arms with no problem. Leona realized it was a person she had just caught, and then realized this person was none other than Hogarth Pudeyo...uhh, whatever; Hogarth. It was Hogarth. Shuhana gently set her down on her feet.
“Why, thank you,” Hogarth said graciously.
“What the hell just happened?”
“She just time traveled from...the past?” Leona assumed.
Hogarth nodded.
“Does everyone time travel like that?” Kivi asked. “Looks dangerous.”
“No, I’m the only one who has to explode every time. I’m Hogarth Pudeyonavic.” That’s it.
“Kivi Bristol.” They shook hands.
“Nice to meet you, Kivi.”
“Wow, no one ever pronounces my name right,” Kivi noted, astonished.
“Gang’s all here,” Shuhana said. “So let me explain. There are some things you’re going to need if you want Mateo back. You won’t need them, however, if you don’t want him back, though. That’s up to you.”
“What are they?” Leona asked. “Let’s assume I’m interested in doing this.”
“I don’t know,” Shuhana said, seemingly honestly. “I can tell you that you’ll need the Book of Hogarth, and I can tell you that Compass of Disturbance will help you find that, along with the rest of the ingredients.”
“How would we know what the rest of the ingredients are?” Vitalie questioned.
“Did I not just say that?” Shuhana asked. “The Book of Hogarth will tell you.”
“None of this makes any sense,” Leona lamented. “It’s like P versus NP. You can’t just say that you know there’s a solution to our question, but that you don’t know what that solution is. You have to first have the answer yourself. And if you do, then why don’t you just give it to us? You can’t possibly know that the compass and book will help if you don’t know what we’re going to use them to look for.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Leona,” Shuhana said. “Some things I know, some things I don’t. Use the compass to get to the book, and see if I’m right. There’s no need to question it. This is my gift to you, so you can take it, or not.”
“Uhhh...” Kivi began. “Isn’t her name Hogarth? If it’s her book, can’t she just tell us what’s in it, or at least tell us where to find it?”
“I don’t know where it is,” Hogarth said, turning to face Leona. “Last I saw it, you had it, in 2025.”
Leona had to think about this for a moment. “Well, as we established, my memories from that particular adventure are pretty fuzzy. I wouldn’t have taken the book for myself. Paige would have likely had it last, so where would she have put it?”
“Use the compass,” Shuhana said again, like she was talking to children.
“None of us knows how,” Leona said. “We need to use the compass to find the book, and we need the book to give us instructions for how to use the compass.”
“I wipe my hands of this,” Shuhana said. “Figure it out for yourself. See ya, Kivi.”
“Will we ever see each other again?”
“In another life,” Shuhana replied, then she walked away without looking back.
The team was silent for awhile before Leona spoke again. “This is the part where I remind everyone around me that they have no obligation to be part of this.”
“Are you going to do it?” Vitalie asked.
“I am,” Leona said with a nod. “I have to see this through. If I loved this person, and I’m really starting to think I did, I have to find out.”
“Then I’ll figure out how to use the compass,” Hogarth said proudly. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“You said something similar about the teleporter gun,” Vitalie said to her.
“That worked out in our favor in the end, didn’t it?” Hogarth volleyed.
“I’m in too,” Kivi said after another brief silence. “I don’t know how I can help, but I know I can make tea.”

Hogarth spent half the day tinkering with the Compass of Disturbance, only slowing down upon being reminded that Leona would not have enough time to do anything until next year anyway. While Kivi was preparing their dinner, Leona and Vitalie went into the other room to talk.
“What do you want to talk about?” Vitalie asked.
“You’ve been doing this for a long time.”
“Doing what?”
“Helping me.”
“You think I should stop?”
“I think you’ve not seen your fathers much this whole time.”
“You’re remembering the corrupted reality. In actual reality, we spent plenty of time together after The Warren arrived on Earth.”
“That’s true, but the way my time works—and meeting all these immortals—I just think you need to appreciate what little time you do have. Unless you all plan to start upgrading to better bodies, you might regret spending their final years on a snipe hunt.”
“What is a snipe?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m just saying that you’ve done more than enough.”
“Leona, I talk with them nearly every night. Astral projector, remember?”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“It’s good enough. Children leave their parents. Nowadays, people are moving out to other planets. Why are you so focused on finding a reason to kick me out of your club?”
“I’m sorry it feels that way. I just...I remember what it was like to be young. I don’t have a choice but to be here. Everyone I cared about when I was your age has been long dead. You should leave, because you can. It’s why Brooke hasn’t spoken to us more than once since the Orcus and Vanth incident, and why we haven’t seen Paige since we fixed reality. People shouldn’t spend so much time with me. I’ll expect Hogarth and Kivi to leave when they can as well.”
“I’ll make you a deal. I promise to leave the circles, and visit my fathers in person for the whole year that you’re gone, and I’ll continue to do that each year. I’m coming back on your days, though. Is that a good enough compromise?”
“It’ll do, pig,” Leona conceded.
Suddenly, Hogarth popped into the room. “I figured it out! And I’m the piglet.”
“You figured out the compass?” Vitalie asked.
“Yeah,” Hogarth confirmed. “It’s not that hard once you get the hang of it. What time is it?”
“Almost 17:30,” Leona said, looking at her watch.
“Oh good, I was worried I kept you waiting for, like, years.”
“Hogarth, did you go somewhere? Where have you been?”
“All over,” Hogarth said. “I’ve been gallivanting around time and space for three years. Vitalie, I think should go see your father tomorrow.”
“What?”
“Yeah, it may be the right time.” Hogarth started pulling something from her bag. “By the way, here’s my book.”

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Believers (Part II)

The Sharice Davids was an old ship by the time Ecrin and Brooke took over as Captain and Pilot, respectively. It was only capable of traveling at about one percent the speed of light. This meant it would take nearly a month to reach Orcus and Vanth. At the moment, Brooke was sitting in the commissary, which she had little use of, since she did not require much sustenance. It was the middle of the arbitrary sleeping period, and though people were too nervous about their arrival tomorrow to sleep well, most were in their quarters. The kitchen manager came in and flipped on the lights.
“Whoa,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
Brooke looked at her wrist, where there was no watch, because she had a literally clock installed in her brain. “Oh, is it coffee time already?”
He feigned a gradual increase in fear. “Wait, if you’re here...who’s flying the ship?” He was well aware that it was fully automated. An independent pilot was almost never necessary in a technical sense, but a lot of people still felt more comfortable knowing that a person was in charge. The fact that she was nearly more artificial than biological didn’t seem to be a problem. To them, all that mattered was that she was born, and raised naturally, before acquiring any programming.
“It’s not quite time for me to get breakfast going. I come in early, because getting out of bed always wakes up my husband, so he needs the extra time to fall back asleep.”
“You’re married to...uh, Allen?” Brooke tried to remember.
He smiled. “I’m Allen. Married to Richard.”
“Right, sorry. My systems aren’t fully operational.” She was capable of simply downloading the ship’s manifest into her mind, but still preferred to meet and recall people the old fashioned way. Her upgrades were primarily designed to keep her alive, not turn her into a database.
“You worried about arrival day?” Allen guessed.
“I don’t know what to expect. I met Ulinthra in person. The reality that other people magically remember her is not what bothers me. It’s that, even without her breathing down their necks, they are still somehow doing their bidding.”
“It’s always been that way. Despite how much she pissed people off, they always did what she wanted.”
“Hold on,” Brooke said, “you knew her too.”
Allen nodded. “Back in the olden days. Richard and I had this plan to camp in every state in the country. We met her in South Carolina.”
“Forgive me,” Brooke said, “I thought you were standard human.”
“We are,” Allen began to explain. “The Overseer pulled us from our time period, and brought us here. She claims we were married to her in an alternate timeline.”
This gave Brooke pause. Leona was perhaps the most familiar with Ulinthra, having encountered her in multiple realities. When they were trying to defeat her years ago, Leona briefed the team on what they were up against. She had said something about Ulinthra marrying two men once, but didn’t bother mentioning their names. “I think she’s right. I think I heard about that.”
Allen had clearly hoped this was all a big misunderstanding, and didn’t like hearing more evidence that he had been married to a psycho.
Brooke shook her head to comfort him. “Things are different in different timelines. The way I understand it, she wasn’t nearly as bad in yours.” That wasn’t entirely true, but he didn’t need to know that.
Allen nodded, but didn’t seem to really believe that. “I better go start on my checklist. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I have my own checklist on the bridge, but before I go, just one more question. Is the Overseer going to send you back home after this? I just need to gauge what kind of person she is.”
“She’s good people,” Allen said. “She offered to take us anywhere, anywhen we wanted.” He took a deep breath. “Good luck with arrival. I wouldn’t want your job.”
“My job is easy. I wouldn’t want Ecrin’s.”

“Status report,” Brooke asked once she was on the bridge.
“On course, and on schedule.”
“Power levels nominal.”
“Weapons at the ready.”
“Crew status?” Brooke asked.
“Good to go.”
“Captain. Where’s the captain?”
The helmsman on duty jerked her head slightly towards the meeting room doors, like they were in mixed company, and she didn’t want anyone else to know.
Holly Blue was in there, sitting patiently at the head of the table, not doing anything else. Ecrin was pinching the bridge of her nose with both index fingers, the rest of her hand cupped around her mouth and nose. Her eyes were closed.
“Captain? Is something wrong?”
“Why am I here?” Ecrin asked of Brooke without moving.
“I don’t know, did we have a meeting?”
Ecrin opened her eyes, and released her hands. “In an hour, yes, but I mean in general. Why am I captain of this ship?”
“You’re a leader, aren’t you?”
“I was second-in-command at the IAC. Why isn’t Paige here, though, or Leona?”
“Well, Leona doesn’t exist right now, and Paige is gallivanting around some other time period.”
“I’m not equipped for this, Brooke.”
“You’ve been doing this for a month. You’ve been great,” Holly Blue pointed out.
“I’ve been captain of a passenger ship for the last month. We’re about to go into battle.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No one on Orcus and Vanth is going to be happy to see the Sharice,” Ecrin argued. “This isn’t going to go well, and people are going to get hurt, or die. Paige has done this before, can’t you contact her somehow?”
Brooke sat down. “Paige was the captain of a chaperone vessel, one that wasn’t capable of going into battle, and never tried. You’re what, twice as old as she is? And you have experience with police work. You’re the only one who can do this.”
“No, that’s not true,” Ecrin said. “I heard you in there, and I see you with the crew. They trust and respect you. And you have experience training a group of insurgents, and using them to defeat an enemy with superior firepower.”
“That may be true,” Brooke said, but I’m in a committed relationship to the ship. You’re the one responsible for the crew on it, and I need you to start taking that seriously. We will be arriving in Orcan space within two hours. You better get yourself ready. The first thing you should do is order Holly Blue to run last-minute diagnostics check on all electrical systems.”
“Yeah, go do that.”
Holly Blue just sat there like a stubborn child.
Ecrin looked back over when she realized Holly Blue wasn’t moving. “I said go run the diagnostics.”
Holly Blue stood swiftly. “Yes, sir.” She gave Brooke a secret wink as she was leaving the room.
Ecrin reached over and braced herself on the table to prepare for the day. “Thank you for this. I need to talk to Camden, though.”
“Can you?” Brooke asked. “Isn’t he dead?”
Ecrin flung open a knife, and pulled her pants down. Then she started cutting into her thigh—not even wincing at the pain—ultimately removing a small watch face protected in plastic from her flesh. She began to meticulously peel the plastic away. “Right now, for Camden, it’s the year 2000, but that’s always subject to change. We developed a recoil protocol, in case things go bad, and I need him. He called it Threat Level Midnight, which is a joke I didn’t get until several years later.” She began to adjust the watch’s time. “It’s not really meant for something like this, but it’ll do.” Once the time was set to midnight, she placed the watch on the floor. “I would like you to go now.”
“Okay,” Brooke agreed, though she was concerned. As she was leaving the room, she saw Ecrin lift her foot, and slam it down on the watch.
A couple hours later, Orcus was barely in view when another vessel appeared on their screens, warning them that there would be trouble if they didn’t adjust course, and go somewhere else. Captain Cabral ordered her crew to action stations, which was where most of them already were. A lot of them had significant training in their fields, but not all. Some of them had fallen into a life of war in the other timeline because it didn’t look like anyone else was doing it. With time having been reset, they lost all knowledge they gained from that, and had to relearn everything, if not more. Fortunately, space was a big and empty place, and they had a lot of waiting time before they could reach their destination anyway. While Brooke was busy getting to know her ship, and Ecrin busy getting to know her new people, others were just trying to learn their jobs. Personnel reports indicated that the majority of them were ready for action, but as said, there was no telling what they were walking into. No amount of training—be it practical or virtual—could prepare someone for the real thing. “Can we take it?” Ecrin asked the crew.
“We can,” the weapons officer stated. “They are an inferior enemy.”
This is your last warning,” the Orcan ship said again after receiving no response.
“If they want a warning, they’ll get it. One shot, ensign. Let’s give her a haircut.” Funny metaphors. The mainstay of any good ship captain.
The officer did as she was told, firing one missile that just grazed the outer hull of the other ship. It didn’t appeared to notice it. A few moments later, though it began to change.
“What’s it doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s getting bigger, sir.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s not,” Brooke said. “It’s emitting a hologram.”
The holographic image grew and grew, getting brighter by the second, until it resembled a small moon. To the naked eye, though, it just looked like a spot of light. “Sir, there are more,” the communications officer reported.
“More what?”
“More ships. Dozens, no hundreds. Shit, thousands! All around us! They must be darkbursters.”
“No, they’re darkstalkers. Mauve alert!” Ecrin ordered. The alarms rang out, and the purple rights blinked on and off. A darkburster—or in this case, a darkstalker—was a relatively small ship capable of traveling without being detected, but this was only possible by blinding the dark vessel as well. Until they reengaged their own sensors, they were basically just hunks of metal floating in space, and since they were painted black, they couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, unless they were real close. The moon hologram must have been a signal to attack, since that was the only way to communicate with a darkstalker.
All at once, the darkstalkers began to fire at the Sharice, from all directions. Ecrin ordered her crew to fire back, but the enemy ships were so small and spry that they were impossible to target. They would run out of ordnance long before they made any dent against their opponent. It soon didn’t matter, though, as the darkstalkers were targeting the Sharice’s weapons systems, crippling them in a matter of minutes. They had really practiced this. Either they knew someone would be coming after them, or they were just paranoid, and always prepared for it.
The mothership dropped its moon hologram, theoretically signalling the darkstalkers to cease their assault, which they did immediately. After a few anxious moments, it released something from its underbelly. Its exact shape was imperceptible to their instruments, but it wasn’t flying like a missile, because it was too slow. It almost looked like a boarding boat.
Brooke and Ecrin just watched it come towards them as everyone else was trying to get their weapons back online. That seemed unlikely without physical repairs on the outside.
Holly Blue burst onto the bridge. “I know what this is!”
“What?”
“Sir, permission to use the secret weapon?”
“What secret weapon?” Brooke questioned.
Ecrin didn’t answer Brooke. “It’s untested. No one has ever tried to make one at this scale before.”
Brooke wasn’t finished. “What! Weapon!”
“We have nothing to lose,” Ecrin said, still ignoring Brooke. “Do it,” she ordered.
Holly Blue nodded. She looked at the ceiling. “Computer. Execute program Kangaroo-Octopus-Laundry-Bachelor-Yearling Two-zero-two-eight!”
Brooke looked at the screen, which showed a platform rise from the bulkhead, and release a missile, presumably on a collision course with the boarding boat. “What does that thing do?”
“Plot for Orcus!” Holly Blue commanded the computer. “It’s like a giant teleporter bullet,” she said quieter.
The secret missile did collide with the boarding boat, except it must not have been a boarding boat at all. They zoomed in on Orcus on another screen. Just as the missile struck the enemy’s projectile, both of them disappeared. And then the entirety of Orcus disintegrated, and disappeared as well.
“What just happened?” Ecrin asked. “What was that thing?”
Brooke dropped her head, and sighed. “It was Lucius-bomb. We just killed thousands of people.”

Friday, October 12, 2018

Microstory 950: Time and Eternity

Time is one of the most abstract concepts in the universe, but also the very most important. Then again, I suppose it’s tied for the number one spot with the four fundamental forces, none of which really gets the credit it deserves. Time allows us to get things done, remember our past, plan for the future, and to experience the glory of life. If you’ve even read just a little bit of my website, you know that time travel is my biggest trope. That’s ironic, because when I was just getting started as a writer, I had a rule against time travel. And I had that rule because I firmly believe that time travel is completely impossible. There are no parallel timelines, no alternate realities, no temporal paradoxes; there’s only the now. Whatever happened, happened, and could not have happened any other way, because it’s what happened, and that’s that. Sorry if that’s not good enough. Though my fictional stories do not always effectively reflect my beliefs about cause, effect, and the indeterminacy of the future, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of wriggle room. What really matters to us, in practical terms, is how we perceive that time. There are definitely those who experience time differently than others. Professional baseball players, for instance, must have the ability to slow the passage of time in their own minds, or they would not be able to hit those fast-moving pitches. I mean, seriously, if that’s not a superpower, than I don’t know what is. I’ve always been fascinated with this concept; the possibility that, though it’s impossible to add more time to our dimension, maybe it’s possible to be more productive by operating at a higher rate. Try this experiment. Sit at your computer, and type on the keyboard as quickly as you can. Don’t try to type any sentences, or words; just type. Wow, that was fast, right? You’re moving at least twice as fast—or more—as you do when you need to be comprehensible. So there’s not a very strong physical limitation to typing, unless that is, you have a diagnosable limitation. Otherwise, what really stops us is the speed at which we process information. Excellent typists, like office administrators, also have superhuman powers, because they’re capable of processing information much faster than the rest of us. That’s right, humble CEO, your secretary is literally a genius. So maybe we can exploit this skill, and reapply it to a more general understanding of the world around us. There is never enough time in a day, or in a lifetime, so we have to make the absolute most out of it before it’s over. Fortunately, time itself is showing no real signs of stopping, yet we are showing signs of extending our lives within it. I can’t wait.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Microstory 949: Dropping Murder Rates

I know things seem really bad right now, and I’m not going to claim you have no reason to feel uneasy, or unsafe, but believe it or not, we are making some progress. Things like King Dumpster, Brexit, and intensifying hurricanes can make the world look like a much worse place than it once was. A number of experts are actually going so far as to predict the actual real life apocalypse within our lifetimes. Sadly, in recent years, the murder rate in the United States is starting to trend upwards, but it doesn’t have to stay like that, and I predict it will swiftly drop once more. Starting in the 1990s, murder and other violent crimes began to trend downwards all over the world, and continued to do so for decades. This was caused by a number of factors, including more sophisticated means to investigation, but also possibly because of the fact that ill-prepared parents now had more options. So, what changed? Well, it’s too early to understand it, but one theory is that certain seemingly isolated incidents of corruption, like the Ferguson shooting, can increase a distrust in law enforcement. This snowballs into more and more people feeling slighted by the establishment. The election of the current administration only reinforces this division, leading to more uprisings that get out of hand. But this is not an eternal condition, and we do have a chance to make things better. First of all, we need to #votethemout when we get the chance this November, and do it again in two years. We need policymakers who care about all of their constituents, and the greater good, and aren’t just satiating their few extremely wealthy donors. We also need to invest heavily in technology. In the time travel film Looper—which is set in Kansas City, by the way—the whole reason people are sending their enemies to be executed in the past is because it’s nearly impossible to get away with murder in the future. Everyone is walking around with nanites in their systems, which alert the authorities once the body dies. Though this might not be the primary reason we use nanotechnology, it would be a nice bonus. We’ll want to have them anyway, to heal our wounds, fight off disease, and even connect us to virtual worlds. Emergency services currently relies on a victim being capable of contacting them, and do so with enough time to spare, which is not always the case, but if we had an automated system, this would not be a problem. Things can get better, but we have to work at it. We have to stop thinking of crime as something that needs to be solved, but instead of something needs to be prevented.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Microstory 948: Clean Meat

I love meat. Meaty, meat, meat. Here it goes down; down into my belly. Mm-mm-mm. I love cow meat, and pig meat, and bird meat, and sea meat. When I was younger, I was willing to eat any kind of animal, as long as it wasn’t lamb or veal. Why those exceptions? Well, they’re babies, and I think eating babies is monstrous. But maybe that’s just me. Other than that, I was up for anything. Cow tongue, escargot, caviar; whatever, I’m a pretty adventurous guy. I never had any interest in becoming a vegetarian, but somehow at the same time, I always wanted to be a vegetarian. I never liked the fact that something had to die so that I could live, but I did it, because I needed the protein. Things are different now, though. I’m educated enough to know that there are vegetarian protein options, I’m living late enough in history for those options to be readily available, and now all I need is the money. I would love to go full vegetarian right now, but I just cannot afford the substitutes I would need to stay healthy. If I had better self-control, and wasn’t a recovering binge eater, I might be able to get away with it. After all, the majority of your diet is meant to be carbohydrates anyway. That doesn’t work, though, when the you can’t get full just from eating fruits and vegetables, and ended up eating thousands of calories a day to compensate.

A few months ago, one of my cousins was being celebrated for having graduated from college. Family from all over came to the area for a lunch, which was being catered by a local fried chicken place. They came in with this huge tin of dark chicken meat, and I wanted to throw up. My favorite food had always been chicken, but that looked so...Usonian (you would call it “American”). It was excessive and wasteful; it kind of opened up my eyes. I decided I wanted to change my lifestyle, but I knew I couldn’t just go cold turkey (pun well intended). Ironically, I’ve actually kept the chicken in my diet, along with other fowl. I also continue to eat seafood, though it’s fairly expensive in landlocked Kansas, so it’s mostly birds. Chicken. It’s mostly chicken. All I did was cut out the mammals, which is perhaps the easiest way to explain it. I’m saving up money so I can by a car, but once I have that, I’ll start saving...so I can adopt an older child. But maybe someday down the line, I’ll be able to afford—and consistently stomach—all those nuts, lentils, tofu, quinoa, and yogurt. Hopefully soon, though, I’ll have an even better option. They call it clean meat. You know me; I’m great at naming things. Seriously, using my linguistics resources to figure out how to name things is a special skill I have that’s surpassed by few others. I’m the one who came up with the term materianet, for anyone reading this in the future when it has finally replaced the ridiculously-sounding “internet of things”. Clean meat is an odd choice of words, and an entirely politco-marketing one. It’s not any cleaner than regular meat, but it is less cruel. What they do is extract a few cells from a living creature, let that creature continue to live, then engineer the sample to grow on its own. It’s a fascinating process that is presently still in its infancy, but it is showing real promise. Imagine the staunchest of carnivores capable of devouring any meat they’d like without having killed a single animal. Despite all those restaurants that make you wear use forks for soup—or whatever other crap they do—this really will revolutionize the food industry, and I’m extremely pleased with the prospect.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Microstory 947: Chipotle

Not until I was checking my calendar to see what my next story was meant to be about did I remember that I’ve already sort of written about my love for Chipotle. It was a weird one, and I don’t expect you to read it. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. It was early on in my career, so I didn’t have much experience with the short form. Anyway, people love everything about food, don’t they? They love to cook it, to watch others cook it, and most importantly, they love to eat it. We’ve come up with so many different dishes, and so many different ways to eat them. We can’t go one day without at least one new restaurant that’s attempting to do things differently; sometimes even with the hope of revolutionizing the industry. There are restaurants with no lights, and/or blindfolds, supposedly so it enriches your sense of taste. We all know that’s actually nonsense, because this isn’t a comic book, and no one is Daredevil. You can’t impede a sense for an hour, and except the others to suddenly be extraordinarily enhanced. All you’re doing is giving people food without them knowing what it is, while also giving waiters ample opportunity to covertly lick the glasses, and make obscene gestures with their hands. Molecular gastronomists use science to try to make food better in some significant, but ultimately pointless, way; some don’t let you use utensils; and some don’t let you use chairs. There’s a restaurant for all tastes, and for no tastes, which is one reason why half of them fail within the first year. Yes, people do love to eat, but I am not one of these people. I would be totally satisfied with scifi food cubes, if given the option, and would actually prefer it. Why, I just watched an episode of a show I’ve already seen, because tonight’s programs had not yet begun, but I also couldn’t write and eat my soup at the same time. Food is a burden, and I would sooner eliminate it from my routine, if someone found me a way, than try out some edgy way of eating. However, if I had to pick a favorite restaurant, it would be Chipotle. Their menu is easy to understand, and their lines quick to move through, assuming you don’t have some jackass ordering for the whole office without using the catering system. The ingredients check all my boxes, and the meals don’t leave messes. I love it so much that I had to institute a once per week limit, which I knew I would break if I didn’t make this deliberate plan. I’m currently trying to make my waiting period longer, but it’s not easy. My closest store location is too close to my house, and I have trouble getting through my drive home from work without being hungry. I’m just glad they don’t deliver, because if they did, my bank account’s tummy would start grumbling. Still, thank you, Chipotle Mexican Grill, for being you.