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Fly Catching

Big insights come from little things. Check this.

I used to be a master at catching flies single-handedly.  I mean that literally: I used only one hand (the right one) to crush flies in mid-flight, not that I didn’t require assistance. I’m not sure how to help someone else catch a fly? Maybe one person could act like a piece of rotting meat, and then when the fly landed on that person, the other person would quickly build a spiderweb around the general area of the fly and then hide until the fly became bored of not eating first person, and left. This seems really slow and I can honestly say that I never really thought about how bad a method that is until I just wrote it out. Now I can understand why we don’t do that.

My actual method was based on speed, with a touch of hand-collapse. Flies are quick little buggers (/gers) and just waving your arms will result in very little fly deaths. It is critical that you flail so quickly that they cannot escape. This worked better and better as I improved my ability. I was snapping flies out of the air around me, hardly even looking at them. You would hear “buzz, buz- SNAP!” and I’d be wiping the insect innards off my fingers before you had turned all the way around. Thats right, the flies wouldn’t even finish 2 buzzes.

Then one fateful day in 12th grade, I was sitting outside, and I heard a familiar buzz off to my right. My right arm shot out like one of those silly snakes in a can of nuts that they always use to surprise people in old TV shows, and I crushed the insect in my palm. Only, this wasn’t actually a fly; it was a BEE and now I had a BEE STINGER lodged in the middle of my palm. I extracted the STINGER and quit catching flies that day.

Now I am in my old age, and I regret retiring from such a promising career at such an early age. Flies flit about me, taunting me with the evil sound of their disease-ridden wings flapping against their backs at high speed, and I can only flail like a clumsy 17th century ursine circus-animal (a “Ren Baire”) who has had too much bad mead. I’m as rusty as an old boat in a successful rust farm. So pitiful.

The important thing is that the flies have made a comeback. My wife’s relatives that live with us (or do we live with them?) are both failures when it comes to the difficult skill of “not creating a fly heaven,” and how they do this is a topic for another time. Just try and focus on the swarms of flying bottom-feeders that hover around the over-filled trash-cans until we come home. How do this many flies come from this? Where did the first couple flies come from in order to start this massive population boom? This is the MYSTERY OF BUGS and I have no answers for you.

After some quick refreshers, I have been able to regain most of my single-handed technique for catching flies. I also invested in some nicer, heavy-handled fly swatters to go for multi-kills. I bought new trash cans with lids, and started taking out the trash every day. I bought fly paper and dragged it around in the air, catching flies in gluey goodness. At long last, the house was restful, and I could relax.

THEN ONE DAY later my wife found an old piece of fruit that was sitting a shelf. Yeah, you know the kind. She took hold of it to throw it out, and KABLAM it exploded in a swarm of tiny evil fruit flies. They scattered about the house and are all over the place in small numbers now.

These little guys are vastly more annoying than their larger housefly cousins. The houseflies are catchable. These guys fly so much faster and are so hard to crush in hand that it’s funny. Not even. They are tiny and super annoying, and I’m sure they are carrying 211 diseases each somehow. My speed is insufficient. Even when I do catch them, they usually escape my hand because they are so small that they fit between my fingers.

So here is my important life lesson. I was struggling so much on getting these stupid flies until a couple days ago when I had an epiphany and started catching them left and right (I use both hands). You see, these flies live on a highly accelerated version of life. This means that they see anything that moves fast as alive, but they can’t realize that slow-moving objects are alive. Things like books, furniture, and my mutual fund growth are just part of the scenery to them. Once I realized this, I learned to move my hand slowly towards them instead in a gradual motion. If I do it at just the right speed, they do not notice my hand is approaching, but I close the distance enough that I can make a sudden grab and annihilate them.

So what’s the lesson? It’s about thinking differently. I had my method and it worked for the house flies, but it failed on the little fruit flies. Instead of changing my method, I first thought that I just wasn’t using my old method hard enough, and that I just need to do MOAR SPEED in order to catch them. I guess that would work eventually, but there was a better way that required vastly less effort.  Fight slower, not faster, or something like that. Float like a piece of furniture, sting like a flyswatter. If you can’t beat ’em, trick them into thinking that you’re not there and then kill them. Walk slowly and carry a big stick and swat flies with it. If at first you don’t succeed, cheat. All of these.

And do it without anyone pretending to be spoiled meat.

Stupid Magic

I was thinking about it, and I really hate when writers make up stupid, stupid do-anything magic in their stories.  I mean something like a magic wand that can do anything is a horribly lame plot device at best.  OK it’s time for an example now.  Recently, I was reading a great-selling novel in a great-selling series that had the hero confront an evil sorcerer who could draw anyone with magic chalk on his magic wall in a magic cave or some other crap and then hurt people that way.   He drew a figure with a sword (the hero) and some lines around the figure closing in and that somehow indicated he was getting crushed by invisible magic barriers over time.  The hero escaped this trap by finding the cave with the drawings and hurrying over to erase part of the drawing so that it resembled a figure with a piece of chalk instead of a sword so that the sorcerer was caught in his own magic.

REALLY???

Did the author honestly not think this thing through at all???  There is no way the stupid drawing would be able to tell which guy with a sword it was.  Not to mention that several guys with swords showed up right after this scene, so why didn’t they get crushed, too?  And why couldn’t the hero just put his sword on the ground to avoid the magic?  “Whoops, no sword anymore!  I’m clearly not the guy in this crude drawing that resembles no one and everyone all at once.”

This is a case of the writer being either stupid or lazy.  There are either no rules to explain how this magical thing works, or the rules are stupid and easily broken without thinking hard at all.  You can’t have people just sit back and think for less than a minute and say “Hey!  That wouldn’t work in real life!”  The whole idea behind immersing your reader/viewer/player in the world you create is to convince them that this is a place that could exist.  Stupid systems like this one break the illusion, and pull you out of the created world.

The part that bothers me the most about this is how easily it could be fixed in most cases.  For example, let’s say that the chalk-drawing-sorcerer requires a lock of hair of his victim and he uses that hair in the creation of the magic chalk.  Aha!  So easy!  And then we can write a fun scene prior to this confrontation where he sneaks the hair away.  It makes sense now, because the hair is from the actual affected person, so there can be no confusion.   And to save himself, the hero can still just smear/destroy the drawing.  Ta da!

Voodoo dolls are horrible offenders, too.  Writers use them for anything!  And it doesn’t really make sense!  So you can stick a pin in the doll’s leg, and the victim feels a sharp pain there.  OK, fair enough, but what if they don’t have a leg?  Or if they do at the time of the doll’s creation, but then they lose the leg?  Does the doll lose a leg, then?  What if you make another leg and sew it on again?  Would the person regain their leg?  Would they just feel pain in the place where their leg might have been before?  What if you sewed three extra legs on and put pins through all of them?  Or just the extra ones?

NONE OF IT MAKES ANY SENSE ARRRGGHH

Legislators

A couple of days ago, I was listening to the radio and they were reporting on the health care reform laws etc., and I thought to myself that there is no way a single one of the legislators has actually read all the 27k+ pages of one of the bills, let alone both versions, AND the fixes thingy that they’re working on right now.  No single one of them, and yet they all presume to know enough about it to vote yes or no with confidence.  How did we get here?

Well, the way a bill becomes a law is vastly more complicated than that old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon told us.  There’s a pretty simple path, but there are so many committees and exceptions to the thousands of rules that no one can truly tell you the exact path a bill must take to become a law.  Worse, the process becomes more and more complex as time goes on.  It takes more and more steps, the amount of regulation increases, more and more people need to weigh in before, during, and even after decisions are made,  new pieces of unrelated legislation are attached to existing bills as they chug slowly through the process, and those require more examination and deliberation.  Eventually we end up with more writing than an encyclopedia, and it’s ghastly unlikely that any one person actually knows what it all says.

Our politicians are rarely experts on understanding the legalese of a bill, but that’s why we have judges and lawyers.  They have teams of experts who go through the proposed legislation and tell them about it, but they certainly do not have time to read and study these gargantuan texts, and the people who do will tell them only as they interpret for themselves. The politician’s own unique viewpoint must be ignored because there is no time to figure out what it is.  A decision has to be made, and not only on this issue, but countless others at the same time!

So lemme ask ya: if you had to give a report on a new music album, would you rather listen to it yourself, or have someone else listen and then tell you about it?  If you don’t have time to spend listening to it over and over to analyze it, it’s better to get someone else’s opinion than your own, right?  But what if they’re wrong, or they missed something important?  Shouldn’t you read it yourself to find that out?  But you have a hundred other albums to review this week– there is not enough time to examine all of them.  Tough decision.

Listen:  You and I don’t know what’s in these bills.  Even if you went and ordered a copy of the proposed legislation, you’d fall asleep halfway through the first of ten sections, and even if you made it all the way to the last one, you’d realize that it’s a list of changes to everything that you just read, potentially making the whole thing completely different than how you first imagined when you started!  Our representatives are no experts either.

But they don’t need to be, and this is where it gets hopeful.  Direct democracy fails because (massive fraud and security issues aside) we the people would be confused how to vote on anything.  That is why when legislation is hopelessly complicated, decisions must be made based on something other than the actual content of the laws.  This sounds utterly stupid, but it works pretty well.  Our politicians are good at determining what you and I like to hear, and they only need to get a few good soundbites out of any new legislation to throw around at each other.  They base their decisions on what most of their people like (or what their people like most, depending), which is a completely different thing.

If they do well, they keep their jobs.  If they don’t, then they leave, and someone who is better at doing what we want moves in.  This is not a perfect system.  Legislation should be vastly simpler, and more streamlined.  But until that changes, I think we have the best system that we can have.

Advocacy

Yesterday, I stood up for someone else.  She could not be there, so I faced her opposition for her, and I fought for her.  This is the first time I can say that I stepped up and argued truly that a co-worker is a good person to promote and why.   They had questions and concerns, and they brought up issues that I hadn’t heard before, but I know her character and I know her motivations, and nothing they said was enough to change the fact that she is the best person for the job.  I hammered it home, and I challenged my boss to promote her, despite any potential pitfalls along the way; we all have things we can improve, and she’s no different than anyone else in that respect.  The alternative is to promote someone who is a very safe bet– someone who will do fine, but not great, but not badly either.  I told them this, I told them what would happen if they chose either person, and I reiterated my top pick, and why I want her to win this race.  I’ve always been hesitant to recommend others (I have, but never fully), because every time I build someone else up, it gives them more of a chance to beat me, of course, and why would I want that?  Well, there’s more to the equation; there are other ways to build yourself up than by refusing to advocate others’ strengths.  Now, I know that if they pick her in the end, I will be as glad as she.  This really is the first time I have been fully behind someone else to win, at least in terms of advocating their promotion (even over myself, in this case).

It felt great.

Tik Tok Translated

So I took this incredibly vapid and popular song and ran it through Google Translator a few times.  Here are the results:

Wake up the morning feeling like a comb p
(Hey, girl, anything else?)
Grabbed my glasses, I am out the door, I am gonna hit this city
(Release)
Before I leave, Jack bottle brush your teeth
‘When I left the night of the reasons, I do not come back

I said, our pedicure toes, toe
Try our clothes, clothes, all of
Boys blew up our phone, cell phone
Fall classes, play your favorite CD
Bruno
Trying to get some tipsy

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Clock ticking
But the party do not stop, do not

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Tick, the clock
But the party do not stop, do not

Did not take care about the world, but also a lot of beer
In my pocket, not out of money, but I’m here
Now, handsome guy line, and our cause, they heard a swagger
However, we play with time limits, unless they look like Mick Jagger

I said, everyone, such as truancy, absenteeism behavior
Sailor boy, I would like to talk about garbage, garbage
Gonna beat him, if he drank too much, drunk

Now, now, we go, until they bring us to prison, out of
Or the police closed us down, down
The police closed us down, down
Po-bo to close our

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Clock ticking
But the party do not stop, do not

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Clock ticking
But the party do not stop, do not

Đ, you give me to do
I am disappointed that you have a rest
My heart, it pounds
Yes, you let me

In my hands
You let me
Do you have a sound
Yes, you let me

Đ, you give me to do
I am disappointed that you have a rest
My heart, it pounds
Yes, you let me

In my hands
Put your hands down
Put your hands down

Now, the party will not start running in the New Territories

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Clock ticking
But the party do not stop, do not

Do not stop, make it popular
Đ, blowing my speech
Tonight, I’mma struggle
‘Lymphocytes we see the sun
Clock ticking
But the party do not stop, do not

Lost Dogs & Foreshadowing

I love foreshadowing!  I wish I was better at writing it.  Whenever I try, it seems more like telegraphing a punch than anything else.  Yeah, I need to work on that level of subtlety.  I think it’s because I lack the ability to create events that are unnoticeable at first, but then become meaningful once you realize what is going to happen later.  That’s the masterful foreshadowing– not when you notice an event, wonder what it means, then hope it becomes clear later.  The best foreshadowers show you things that you notice, but don’t consider to be foreshadowing.  Yesterday, oddly enough, I experienced a real-life series of events that — if this were a movie or a book — you could call foreshadowing.  I left home in the morning through the back gate on my way to the library (on foot).

  1. As I shut the gate behind me, it made a slightly different sound than normal, and I noted it, but I paid it no mind and continued.
  2. I noticed a pair of people working in the yard of my duplex neighbor.  We have a new neighbor, and she is just getting settled, so seeing people redoing stuff in the yard wasn’t too weird.  The thought crossed my mind to ask them what they were doing, and if they needed to get into my side of the yard or anything, but I felt pressed for time, and continued without speaking to them.
  3. I noticed a pair of small dogs ahead of me in the alley, one male and one female, recently cleaned and brushed, with their collars on.  They were clearly not strays, but I seemed to recall seeing them wander around before and did not try to corral them or find out where they got out from.  These three things happened within the first 3 minutes of me leaving my home. I remember checking my phone to see the time, too, which is also slightly uncommon.

Of course, as soon as I got back from the library, I found the gate had been moved off of its hinges, hanging ajar, and the dogs nowhere to be seen.  After searching for a while, my wife eventually found them again, not too far from home.  The dogs were safe and sound, but the sequence of events led me to wonder about life and the universe.  I definitely noticed all 3 of those things and felt each was notable before any later, larger event could bring them any meaning.  Now, do they really have meaning?  Would they be meaningful if my dogs hadn’t gotten out?  Who determines whether they are meaningful as foreshadowing or not?  If we do, how many more things do we miss every day that point to the future?