Friday, June 24, 2016

Philosophy vs. Farts: When High-Brow Meets Low-Brow

I had a tough time choosing a topic for this week's column.

It started out easy. I was going to write about Elon Musk's recent statement that it's possible we're all living inside a video game simulation created by a more advanced civilization, and we're all just figments of that gaming system.

Then I read about a Swedish soccer player who was given a red card and thrown out of a game for farting on the field.

What to do, what to do?

On the one hand, Musk's idea is an interesting thought experiment. He said that, based on how video games have improved in 40 years, we'll have games that are indistinguishable from reality in 10,000 years. More importantly, how do we know we're not already in a game in a society 10,000 years more advanced than ours?

On the other hand, fart jokes.

Do you see my struggle?

On the one hand, if we actually live in a video game simulation, it's terrible. It's quite literally the Worst. Game. Ever.

There are no cheat codes, we don't get bonus lives, and I don't have a single super power. I can't jump 30 feet into the air, and I can't shoot energy beams from my hands. I'm not rescuing princesses or dodging barrels thrown by gorillas. Instead, society is full of violence, anger, and a presidential campaign between Crooked Hillary and Cheeto Jesus.

Worst. Game. Ever.

However, I don't have to fight villains just to get to the bathroom. I don't jump onto moving platforms to go to work. And I don't have to face a big boss every year to advance to the next level.

Just normal bosses who make me wish I could do the energy beams thing.

On the other hand, "I had a bad stomach, so I simply let it go," said Adam Ljungkvist, a left back for Pershagen SK.

After receiving his second yellow card of the match, followed by a red card, Ljungkvist asked, "What, am I not allowed to break wind a little?"

Portrait of René Descartes
René Descartes
The referee said it wasn't allowed, but I think he may have overstepped his bounds. In all my years playing soccer, no one ever mentioned any prohibition against farting on the field.

"Maybe he thought I farted in my hand and threw it at him," said Ljungkvist. "But I did not."

Farted in his hand? Who does that? Is that even a thing? I had honestly never heard of this, so I Googled it to see if anyone had by chance written about it.

There were 698,000 entries on the subject. That means nearly 700,000 people have written about throwing farts.

Worst. Game. Ever.

On the one hand, Elon Musk shared his idea with thousands of people at a conference, and it has been written about, shared, and read by millions of people around the world.

On the other hand, Kristoffer Linde, the other team's striker, said "I was standing a good distance away, but I heard the fart loud and clear."

On the one hand, Musk's idea reminds me of my college Philosophy classes, where we studied the French philosopher, René Descartes. He believed that nothing existed outside his own mind, and that everything he encountered was a creation of his own brain.

This is where "I think, therefore I am" came from.

It's called solipsism, which is basically Latin for "self alone." It says that only one's mind, one's "self," could be real. Anything outside that cannot be known with certainty, and might not actually exist. And the things outside your immediate sensory experience, like things outside your house or office, don't exist at all until you create them when you step outside.

It may seem like utter nonsense, but can you be sure? Can you be sure I actually wrote this, or did your mind just create it all?

On the other hand, Adam Ljungkvist thought that what happened to him was nonsense. "To provoke anyone with a fart is not particularly smart or normal," he said. "It's nonsense. I just broke wind and got a red card."

Ultimately, I couldn't decide. Choosing between the two topics was becoming a real dilemma, until I discovered a common thread running through both stories.

It turns out Musk's idea is based on a famous thought experiment in 2003 by Nick Bostrom at the University of Oxford called "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?"

Bostrom's home country? It's the same place where René Descartes died.


Let's just say I was blown away by the coincidence.

Photo credit: Portrait of René Descartes, by Frans Hals (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 17, 2016

What Does Your Car Reveal About Your Personality?

Facebook has hundreds of personality tests and assessments, all of which are complete nonsense and are only designed to get more of your personal information. However, they're sometimes fun to take, and share with your friends. So I want to try writing my own assessment, and wanted to try it out on my readers first.

Toyota Prius: You're an associate professor at a small liberal arts college who thinks wool socks with sandals is a suitable fashion, especially with your baggy corduroy trousers. Your improbably thick hair constantly falls in front of your face, which means you flip it out of your eyes every 20 seconds. This makes your daily yoga practice a real burden, so you lighten your soul with an organic dairy-free, gluten-free soy chai latte. And a bear claw.

Jeep Wrangler: Life is an adventure and you could literally go away on one at any moment. You even keep a tent and go-bag in the back, in case you get an urge to go camping right in the middle of your morning commute. A Jeep is like a wild mustang you ride bareback. You're only riding with its permission; you haven't tamed the thing at all. That's the life of a Jeep owner. It's also the life of living with a Jeep owner. Enjoy the experience while you can, but don't expect them to be around long-term. The cost of ownership is too high and will result in a lot of heartbreak. Ditto for owning a Jeep.

Buick: You frequently drive in the left lane at or below the speed limit as a way to maintain order and safety on the highway. You also tell on people who have 12 items in the 10 items or fewer checkout lane at the grocery store. You were also secretly thrilled that I said "fewer" and not "less."

Mercedes Sedan: I have the best car. No, really. I'm very intelligent. I went to an Ivy League School, so I deserve the best car. It's the best. It's the best. I mean, I have a lot of cars, but this one is the absolute best car there is. Don't you think my wife is hot?

Volvo: Just like the Volvo is the "accountant of cars," you're the Volvo of the office: safe, sensible, reliable. You never leave the right lane, and always wait for two seconds when the light turns green, "just in case." You prefer bow ties because normal ties are a choking hazard, and believe Prius drivers are wild and unpredictable.

Hyundai: As the least liked driver on the road, you go out of your way to specifically antagonize people. You cut them off, box them in, box them out, tailgate, and leave five car lengths between you and the car in front at a stoplight. Whenever someone says something funny, you respond with "Actually. . ." and then explain the joke's inaccuracies.

Suzuki Samurai: You're a lot like your car: people forget you exist until they actually see you. You even showed up at your high school reunion, but absolutely no one knew who you were. On the other hand, you don't just march to the beat of a different drummer, you march to a totally different instrument. Like an alpine horn.

1987 Volvo 240 DL Wagon: Whenever it's 4:20 and someone asks you what time it is, you giggle like a madman.

Dodge Ram Pickup: You sing the the theme to "Walker, Texas Ranger," while your Chuck Norris bobblehead bobs his head in appreciation. You often dream of opening a can of whoop-ass on some bank robbers, but the last time you tried a roundhouse kick, you shattered your wife's favorite lamp and blamed it on your dog, Cordell.

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Owning a Jeep doesn't mean you understand the Jeep lifestyle. You would no more take your car off-road than you would drink red wine with chicken. Grain-fed, free range organic chicken with a dairy-free gluten-free sauce, which you eat while talking to your Prius-driving spouse about their day.

Any Other SUV: The environment and earth's fuel supply be damned! You're all about comfort and safety. At least for you and your family. You also panic any time gas nears the $3 per gallon mark, and promise God you'll buy a hybrid if He'll keep prices below $2.50. Of course, you take low gas prices as a sign that He wants you to keep the SUV.

Red 2008 Kia Rio 5: You're an absolutely wonderful person who tells the best dad jokes ever, and people everywhere love you. Also, you have superb driving skills and could totally be a race car driver, no matter what your wife says.

Photo credit: (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The World's Only Best First Time

Life starts out as a series of firsts, which if you're the first child like me, your parents obsessively tracked in your baby book.

First time you sat up, first time you rolled over, first steps, first words, first grownup food, first haircut.

My brother was third-born. The only thing his baby book said was, "Andrew graduated from high school today."

There's a benefit to being the first child. You set the bar by which all subsequent children are measured. The risk is, they'll all surpass it. And you'll hear for the first of many times, "why can't you be more like your sister or brother."

Followed by your first coma when you say the first thing that pops into your head.

As we get older, we remember other firsts in our lives. First crush, first kiss. First girlfriend or boyfriend. First tearful breakup.

(Watch out for your final tearful breakup. There are usually lawyers involved.)

First time you drove. First cigarette. First time you tried alcohol. First time you got drunk. First time you barfed on your friend.

We all have these firsts. Some have them later, some have them earlier. Some may avoid them altogether. (Those people aren't very fun. Try to avoid them.)

But what about being the first at something? Each of us are all the first or only person ever to do certain things, the unnoticed firsts of history. Those special details that, if someone actually kept track of them, would get you into the record books. Or prison. Take a few of your personal characteristics, string them together, and you too can be the first, only, or best at something.

For example, in 2005, I was one of the 50 funniest emerging playwrights in the entire country.

How? Basic math. I won a scriptwriting competition for Best Comedy in the Emerging Playwrights category for the Indiana Theatre Works conference. There are 50 states, ergo, top 50.

See how this works?

In 2003, a friend competed in a tenor drum competition at a Scottish festival in Chicago. Despite her third-place finish, we determined she was the very best Kentucky-born female amateur tenor drummer over the age of 30 in the entire world. And no one can take that away from her.

My friend, Bill, was the first ever Michigan State University honors engineering student who graduated with a BS at Purdue University and an MS at the University of Illinois.

Another friend, Cathy, became the first female university professor/novelist to ever have her book about circuses in Indiana adapted into a play which became an off-Broadway play.

We're told over and over "we're no one special." We criticize Millennials for being precious snowflakes, and wish they'd just get over themselves.

But maybe we're wrong about that. This is your time, especially if you're a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer! This is your way to be the first, best, and only, even if it's something so specific that no one else has ever thought of it. That's even better. In all of history, you will do something that no one else in this world will ever do. You will be the best in the world at something.

When I was 11, I tried to create a replica of Thor's hammer out of 2x4s and a stick, except I didn't know how to drill a hole for the handle, so I nailed it on at a 45 degree angle. I wrapped the whole thing with 2" masking tape, and colored it with red and blue markers. It was horrible and embarrassing, and I hid it in my toy box for five years.

But it was my first first. In all the history of all the world, up to that point in 1978, no one had ever done that. No one had constructed a wooden comic book hammer with 2x4s, masking tape, and a crooked maple branch like that one. The world has existed for billions of years, and that was the first time anyone had ever built. . . whatever that was. And, with hope, there will not be another like it for as long as the world lives.

What First, Best, or Only do you bring to the world? What's your claim to history and greatness? Figure out what that is, own it, and be proud that you've done it.

Like being the funniest emerging playwright from Indiana to have ever built a crappy Thor's hammer replica and become a Kerouac House writer-in-residence in all the world.

Kurt Vonnegut's got nothing on me!

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Texans Prove to Be Boobs Over Haboob

Several Texans near Lubbock got their gauze in a garble last week over the National Weather Service's (NWS) use of an Arabic word on their Facebook page.

By the way, gauze and garble are both Arabic words

"A haboob is rapidly approaching the Lubbock airport and may affect the city as well," the meteorologists wrote as a friendly heads-up to the Lubbockians.

Well, according to the Washington Post, the Texans didn't want no fancy weather people using no foreign words to talk about their weather.

One reader, John, wrote: "Haboob!?! I'm a Texan. Not a foreigner from Iraq or Afghanistan. They might have haboobs but around here in the Panhandle of TEXAS, we have Dust Storms. So would you mind stating it that way. I'll find another weather service."

Actually, there isn't another weather service. There's not a competing American Weather Service that faces off against the NWS in the Weather Service World Series every October. If you do find another weather service, chances are they get their weather data from the NWS.

It's like refusing to use American money, and only using credit cards.

Another NWS reader, Brenda, said, "In Texas, nimrod, this is called a sandstorm. We've had them for years! If you would like to move to the Middle East you can call this a haboob. While you reside here, call it a sandstorm. We Texans will appreciate you."

Nimrod, which means "Mighty Hunter," is the great-grandson of Noah. He's also the king in the Book of Genesis who built the Tower of Babel. His kingdom included Babel, Erech, and Accad.

Which are all in the Middle East.

Xenophobic racism aside, the NWS used the correct word, even for this part of the world.

Not only has the word been used in the meteorology circles since 1925, there are times that "sandstorm" isn't specific enough, and we need to borrow a word from another part of the world.

A sandstorm or dust storm covers a very large area, while a haboob covers a relatively narrow zone. Further, says Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson, a sandstorm occurs when "sand grains are blown across the lowest few feet of the landscape, usually in true deserts rather than semiarid regions."

Lubbock is in a semiarid region, which means it probably wasn't an actual sandstorm.

Furthermore, there are at least 50 different synonyms for sandstorm, including dust devil, dust storm, cyclone, and sirocco, which is also the name of a terrible model of Volkswagen.

Volkswagen is a foreign car manufacturer that many people in Texas drive.

According to the Washington Post, a haboob is "a situation in which a collapsing thunderstorm exhales a burst of wind. This burst of wind. . . collects dust in the surrounding arid environment. The dust can grow into a towering dark cloud. . . cutting visibility to near zero."

Zero is an Arabic word. Also, our other numbers — 1, 2, 3, 4 — are Arabic.

There is also a khamsin, which Wikipedia says is "a dry, hot, sandy wind blowing from the south, found in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula," and simoom, which means "poison wind." It's a cyclone that carries so much dust and sand, it can suffocate humans and animals, as well as cause heat stroke.

Wikipedia says the only recorded American simoom blew in Santa Barbara, Calif. in June 1859. Animals died on their feet, fruit fell from trees, scorched, and a fisherman received blisters on his face and arms. Local residents were able to survive by hiding inside their adobe walled houses.

Adobe is another Arabic word.

If these Texans are against using foreign words in their weather, they should stop using El Niño, La Niña, hurricane, and tornado, which are all Spanish.

Typhoon is Arabic.

Other Arabic words the haboob-haters should stop using include alcohol, candy, coffee, cotton, jar, loofah, magazine, mattress, orange, sugar, syrup, and tuna.

Which is too bad, because a jar of candy-flavored alcohol sounds pretty good right now.

Finally, in a March 2008 article, the Stars and Stripes military newspaper explained how people in the Middle East, including Iraqis, have two different types of winds, the "sharqi" and the "shamal."

(One colonel was nearly court-martialed when he made the dad joke, "If you've seen one sharqi, you've seen shamal.")

Stars and Stripes stated that the sharqi is the dry, dusty southern wind that blows from April to June, and can recur in late September and November. The shamal comes from the north or northwest, and can cause sandstorms that reach a few kilometers into the air. It blows from mid-June through mid-September.

The U.S. military felt it was important to know these specific terms, because "sandstorm" just wasn't specific enough. So if it's good enough for the U.S. military, it ought to be good enough for the Texas panhandle.

So, checkmate, Texans. Checkmate.

Also, checkmate is an Arabic word.

Photo credit: A haboob in Ransom Canyon, Texas, by Leaflet (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.