Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How I met your parents

I have met the parents of someone I am dating four times.  One of those was under strange circumstances and wasn't really a 'meet my parents' sort of thing, and another was short circuited because I met the parents long before the dating even began.  If memory serves, I met Wendy's parents at her wedding to her ex husband... though I suppose I really wasn't interviewed quite the same way in that circumstance.

The first time I met someone's parents in a more traditional sense we had the issue of religion.  They were religious while I am ... not.  That sort of thing can be a real strain, especially when you consider the person in the middle who is caught between declaring for either side in that debate.  No choice is going to be easy.  That said, we pushed through and it was generally fine.

This past weekend was the second 'meet the parents' event (with The Flautist) and religion wasn't an issue this time.  However, there is a new issue - polyamory.  Specifically, when your daughter says to you "Oh, I am dating a married man now.  His wife is totally okay with it, I promise!" there is a certain amount of skepticism that is normal and reasonable.

In my case everyone *is* totally okay with it.  It is all open and honest and good.

But even then, if Pinky Pie came home someday with that story I would be suspicious.  If it turned out that the relationship did follow that formula I would be perfectly happy with it, but let's face it:  There are a lot more married men cheating on their wives than there are poly married men having honest relationships.  The numbers do not favour the poly guess, in general.

Most people wouldn't append the story "and I met his wife during my first date with him and we got along great and went to a concert together without him" though, and that certainly adds a lot of credence to the story.

The fact that the people I was meeting had totally valid reasons to doubt my morality gave me some doubt.  I didn't figure I would have to cope with accusatory stares and veiled accusations, but these are people I don't know.  I wasn't at all sure what would happen.

But it was all good.  I chatted with both of them for awhile, talking about work, chores, relationships, and the difficulty of getting paid for creative efforts.  Then I had a good ole fashioned debate about energy policy, politics, and voting systems.  I am sure that everyone would tell me to stay the hell away from politics when meeting the parents, but since when have I ever backed down from that sort of thing?  I did carefully check to make sure nobody was getting upset about the debate, but I really think it was an entirely friendly affair.  It helped that we have similar political leanings, though of course we disagreed on the details of implementation.

All in all though it went as well as meeting the parents ever can go, I think.  I suppose that generally if people decide that they really need to get along despite having some pretty big differences they can make it work, and that certainly has been my experience so far.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What does google know

Google knows I want to get ripped.

To be frank, Google knows an awful lot of what I want.  When I talk to Wendy about the rats involved in her research my internet is full of ads for exterminators.  Close one Google, but no cigar.  But when Google pitches me ads about getting ripped abs it is on the money.  I have been amping up my exercise in general but also particularly adding on stomach exercises.

Wendy told me that getting bulky isn't really a good thing.  In fact she thinks my shoulders look worse because I actually have a bit on muscle on top of them now.  But a six pack, that is the ticket.  So I am doing more tummy exercises in a fruitless attempt to amp my abs.

Here is the thing about Google's abs ads, when targetted at me.  They all say "Men over 40 are getting ripped abs doing this one weird thing!"

Sorry Google, I am 38.  Hell, you *must* know that.  You know everything else!

But then I ask myself:  Are the ads showing grey haired men with preposterous abs aimed at men in their 30s too?  Is the idea to shame me into buying stuff because men older than me have sculpted bellies?  Maybe they aren't aiming the "Men over 40" nonsense at me by accident, but rather deliberately.

I followed the stupid ads today, wading through 45 minutes of crap to finally get to the payoff.  What is it, I wondered, that these snake oil fraudsters with their immaculately built bodies are trying to sell me?  Pills that do nothing?  Steroids that do something, but also many wrong things?

Nope.  After 10 minutes of bragging, 10 more minutes of vague generalities, 10 minutes of insulting every 'conventional' diet and exercise regimen, and 10 minutes of complete pseudoscientific nonsense about optimizing your hormone levels via carefully guarded secrets, I finally got to the 5 minutes of real stuff.

Which was just a diet and exercise program.  Apparently the most ripped 24 year old on Youtube and his personal doctor have an amazing, groundbreaking program that will activate my hormones, blast away my belly fat, and make me into a monstrous beast of a man.

They seem to be leaning on new, shocking techniques like "Eat a lot of meat for protein and vegetables, and don't eat sugary crap" and "Exercise hard using multiple muscle groups".

All of which will activate my leptin and testosterone hormones and give me a stomach that will cause random scantily clad women to fawn over me.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind that whole fawning thing, at least for a bit.  However, I was honestly expecting a lot more from all that build up.  If you want to convince me that your program is all that, you really ought to come up with something a lot more interesting.  If all I get is generic pablum of exercise advice I really don't need to pay you for it.  Their advice doesn't even look bad, it is just backed up with endless prattle that is a pack of lies surrounded by half truths.

But damn, there are SO MANY ads for this garbage.  They must be getting a lot of people to buy into it.  That part makes me really sad, because I was willing to watch 45 minutes of trash on the side of my screen while working on something else because I was curious about what the final pitch was.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people who believe this nonsense and end up handing over their money.

Just one more moment that makes me weep for humanity.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Horsin' around

I started watching the Netflix cartoon Bojack Horseman.  I can't say why I jumped on the bandwagon exactly, but once I got on I really didn't want to get off again.

Bojack Horseman is the sort of show I have trouble pinning down.  Is it a ridiculous, idiotic comedy that relies on sex jokes and absurdity to get a couple of giggles, or is it an insightful critique of modern society?  I can't tell!

The show stars a horse.  Who is a man.  I mean, he has the body of a middle aged human male, with a horse's head.  The rest of the world is populated by a mixture of relatively normal humans and humans with animal heads.  That would be pretty weird just on its own, but the animals do impossible yet thematically appropriate things.  The ones with bird heads can flap their arms and fly around... but they are flapping entirely normal human arms.

Also three main characters are Bojack Horseman, a horse/man, Princess Carolyn (not actually a princess), a cat/woman, and Mr. Peanut Butter (not actually composed of peanut butter), a dog/man.  Did somebody get a four year old to name these characters?  Are their names supposed to be clever and ironic somehow?

I have a lot of respect for writing that makes me stare at the screen while stroking my beard and wondering if the writers are incredibly clever or incredibly dumb.

The thing is, the characters oscillate rapidly between preposterous comedy and interesting interaction that showcases real dilemmas and challenging situations.  Bojack sets up a giant autoerotic asphyxiation structure in his bedroom just to try to figure out if his girlfriend will tell him not to use it, because this will reveal if she loves him or not.  On the other hand once that comedy gold is mined thoroughly they actually have a real conversation that is kind of touching and it feels like how real people might deal with complicated conflict.

There is an episode largely about the ethical conflicts of eating meat, and it makes interesting points by having chicken/people farming other chicken/people to supply chicken as a food to other humans and human hybrids.  Of course it includes a car driving through a barn as part of a caper to rescue the food chickens from the chicken farmers (who are themselves chickens) so you can't take it too seriously.

But maybe the hijinks involved are just there so the writers can send a message about how humans wall off some creatures as being worth saving while others are okay to torture and consume, and make those divisions based on random and indefensible criteria.  If you add comedy, you don't sound quite so preachy, see?

I just don't know.  Is it mindless crap, just filling my days, or is it brilliant satire?  I don't know.

I do know that it makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis and I care about the characters even though they are silly and surreal.  Maybe that is all I need to know to decide that I should watch the next episode, so the writers have succeeded in that, at least.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dinner for two

I just read an article about Mike Pence, America's new Vice President.  In it Pence is quoted as saying that he would never be willing to have a meal with a woman other than his wife unless someone else was present.  The article concludes, rightly so, that this is a huge problem for someone in a position of power like Pence is.  It restricts his ability to interact with women, and thus pushes women out of his circle.  Women have enough difficulty getting to the top of the power pyramid as it is.

It is entirely okay for people to have whatever rules they want as part of their relationship.  Whether you are Mike Pence and can't have lunch with a woman, or whether you want to be collared and chained, spending your days playing fetch and being called Rover, if everyone agrees to the relationship rules then they can have them.

But you really do have an obligation to consider how your rules affect the people around you and how they are influenced by the complex social pressures that are inherent in our culture.  If a black person says they want to only date black people, and a white person says they only want to date white people, these are different things.  Racism is real, and you need to spend time thinking about how your attractions and relationships are affected by it if you want to do the right thing by the people around you.  Other entrenched bigotry is the same way.

I chose the two examples above deliberately because they are both about equally unthinkable for me personally.  If I had ever tried to tell Wendy that she couldn't have a meal with a man without a chaperone she would have told me to shove it, called out my heteronormativity, viciously mocked my sexism, and broken up with me.  Not necessarily in that order.

If she had done the same with me I would have assumed she was joking and laughed my ass off.  If she was serious I would have broken up with her right away and wondered how the hell I was so wrong.

The collaring / Rover thing would have been completely different.  My 'hell no' reaction would have been roughly the same, but I would have just said hell no and then kept on doing whatever I was doing before.  Pretty sure Wendy would still have yelled at me if the roles were reversed, and that tennis ball would definitely have gone un-fetched.

In any case Pence's rules are hilarious when I consider my life these days.  If Wendy wanted to have dinner with a man and ended up having sex on the table the only thing that would worry me is cleaning up the mess, and maybe dressing incidental wounds from forks or shattered crockery.

OKCupid has a question on it that goes like this:

Imagine that you come home to find a partner pouring red wine all over a stranger's naked body and then licking it off. Which, if any of the following, would bother you most?

1.  The spilled wine.
2.  The cheating.
3.  The fact that I was not invited to join in.
4.  Actually this would not bother me.

I find this question hilarious because such a large subset of the population would look at it as an impossibility, a ridiculous thing put in there so you can answer "The spilled wine" and have a giggle at how silly it is.

Whereas I honestly want to answer 1, 3, and 4.  I don't want to have to clean up spilled wine, that is super annoying.  I wouldn't actually be bothered by not being invited, but I would hope to be invited once I arrived home and witnessed the event.

It isn't as though this has actually happened to me.  But if it did, I would definitely brag about it.

Sometimes when I think about these things I am amazed at how my perspective has shifted.  On one hand I recognize that I am in the minority, but there is a big part of me that sees Pence's rules and laughs, thinking "Hah, how absurd!" and then realizes that most people see his rules as either normal, expected, or perfectly understandable, and they think my rules are evil, ludicrous, or dangerous.  I am stuck in this place where what I do now seems like the only reasonable way to exist while being entirely aware that hardly anybody else does it this way.  I find myself sometimes hearing people talking about what they can't do and I wonder why in the world that would be so, and then realize "Oh right.  Monogamy.  That thing everyone does."

Monogamy is all right.  But that version of controlling, jealous, heteronormative monogamy that assumes that every interaction between men and women must be about sex and nobody can be trusted to honour their commitments... yuck.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Real life is stranger than fiction

I have lately been watching some House of Cards.  Political maneuvering, backroom dealmaking, and occasional murder are the order of the day in that show.  It depicts an evil, narcissistic, dangerous man as President, one who is convinced of his ability to make deals with anyone and push his agenda through.

The politicians in the show are all over the map.  Some are true believers, fighting for their cause.  Some are simply power hungry.  There are pragmatists who compromise to try to get things done, and there are purists who will torpedo anything that isn't exactly what they want.  The dysfunctionality of that made up American leadership is mindblowing.

Sometimes I think to myself "Wow, these characters are ridiculous.  How do they come up with this stuff.?"

Then I read about actual US politics.

You know, where a evil, narcissistic, dangerous man who is convinced of his own supernatural dealmaking ability is President.  Where legislation can't be passed because it is simultaneously hated by people on every possible side.  People who love the direction the legislation is going, and who have *zero* hope of pushing through their own version, refuse to vote for a compromise solution because it isn't pure enough.  The Republicans control all the branches of government right now and still can't pass a new health care bill, despite spending seven years talking about how literally anything would be better.

The thing that made me shake my head tonight is that it isn't even as though the characters in House of Cards are exaggerated.  All the crazy stuff that happens there isn't crazier than real life... it is in fact a scaled down version of real life.  Because if you actually put stuff as crazy as real life in the show, no one would believe it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The rest of my life

The past while I have been mulling over what to do with the rest of my life.  Of course what that really means is that I need a new obsession for a year or so, it isn't really about the rest of my life, but it seems more interesting if I phrase it that way.

I have been thinking about what I do and the level of satisfaction it brings.  I am a homemaker, but I think I am an odd one.  Most people in that role either really love things about being a homemaker or just love raising children.  They change their artwork on the walls to be seasonally appropriate, bake special cookies for different times of the year, take up crafts, or do other similar sorts of things.

The idea of me changing my artwork seasonally makes me giggle, and seasonal baking and knitting are much the same.  Not that I deride anyone who wants to do it, but it sure ain't my thing.

Most of the time I talk about the things I do as not feeling important.  Wendy gets to run off each day challenging herself, chasing her dreams, learning amazing new things and meeting all kinds of like minded people.

I get to do the dishes.

The dishes are not inspiring.

However, the dishes are a thing that is worth doing.  Some of my previous jobs were almost entirely worthless from a 'making the world better' standpoint.  One even made the world worse.  It made me so frustrated to be doing work that might as well not be done.  The dishes, though, those need cleaning.  It isn't exciting work but I do feel a sense of satisfaction from doing it.  When it is done I know I have finished something relevant, something that definitely isn't making the world worse.  The dishes also don't take up all my time and they leave me room to do many other things.

I know deep down that an awful lot of work that people do is completely worthless.  They attend meetings that bring no value.  They fill out forms for no reason.  They try things they know are counterproductive because someone above them wants to look good to someone further up yet and they don't care if it pans out because they will be promoted by then.  Most people do work that has some real value, but everyone does a lot of totally pointless timewasting crap.

Shopping, doing the dishes, cleaning the sink, these are real things that need to happen.

What they don't offer is flow.  Nothing in my basic duties does, unfortunately.  I can't get into flow because all of the stuff I have to do is trivial.  It won't challenge me.  It doesn't make me push myself to be more than I was before.

This is something I have only just realized.  I need to stop thinking of things as having utility to my mental health in general, but rather as having utility either as being good to do or hard to do.  I need both.  If I spend my life doing hard things but bring nothing to the world I won't be happy.  This is why I would struggle as a professional poker player, say.  I would love the play, it would bring me flow, but I would also feel like I was leeching off the world and being worthless.  Whereas if all I do is sit at home knitting and cooking and cleaning I will not find flow, and though I will be useful I will not be fulfilled.  There will be something missing.

I need both things.  There isn't any real chance of me changing my profession at the moment so I will have plenty of useful things to do.  That is well covered.  I need to shop and scrub the toilet and make dinner.  Those things aren't interesting, but they have real value to me in terms of feeling like I am bringing something to the world.

What I require is a better source of flow.  I am currently playing World of Warcraft a lot, and sometimes that brings me flow but a lot of the time it is just a time sink much like a TV show that is interactive but with a crappy storyline.  An enjoyable time sink, but not something that makes my life better, really.

I remember years ago I spent a ton of time modding Civilization 5.  That was a task that definitely brought me flow for a great span of time.  It was a combination of creating, analysis, and play that was superb.  Other times when I have been building games have been similar.  Perhaps that is what I need to return to - not any attempt to monetize game design, but just pure creation.  I need another game that isn't quite there to seize me and force me to fix it, tinker with it, make it perfect.

The easiest way to achieve this is to start a new game from scratch, I suspect.  In the past my games have always begun with a small moment of inspiration followed by months or years of grinding my way towards completion.

I suppose my conclusion is that I need an intense moment of inspiration, some moment of tremendous imagination, to give me a new thing to smash my mind against.  I wonder if that is a thing I can just create, or if it is simply random.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Low expectations, but not low enough.

I watched X-Men:  Apocalypse on Monday.  At midnight the construction crews outside my house were using some incredibly loud machine that was literally vibrating my condo from 12 floors away.  Since sleep was not likely to come to me I had to figure out something else to do.  The solution I came up with was to watch a bad superhero movie that I wouldn't mind quitting halfway through if the machine stopped.

I went into Apocalypse with low expectations, you see.  I knew the critics hated it.  I picked it because I knew I would be willing to stop watching it partway through.

It failed to meet my expectations, even then.

When I think about superhero movies that utterly fail I find they have many things in common.  They regularly try to shoehorn too many stories into the movie and end up with boring characters and rushed plot.  Apocalypse did this spectacularly.  It tried to have a character arc for Jean Grey, Magneto, Cyclops, Angel, Quicksilver, Storm, Professor X, and Mystique.  That doesn't even include the main villain!

Now I get that X-Men movies are ensemble hero movies, so you are going to have some amount of story spread around, but that was WAY too much to try to do in a single outing.  You need a couple characters that the plot focuses on that have good development and go through changes and the rest of the crew just does the thing you expect and fills out the background.  Trying to do too much just leaves every single interaction feeling rushed, unsupported, and deeply unsatisfying.

Directors should bloody well know this.  Studios that hand directors hundreds of millions of dollars to make movies should bloody well know this.  When there is this much money on the line, how does everyone fail so spectacularly at knowing basic things?

It wasn't just the heroes that were overdone though.  Apocalypse himself was a total bore.  Powerful villains can be fun even though the best ones are usually not particularly powerful at all, like Joker or Lex Luthor.  Unfortunately the movie portrays Apocalypse in ways that are absurd.  He can wave his hand and simply cause people's heads to fall off.  He can level a city and reform the smashed bits of it into a fantastically complicated, kilometer tall temple in a few seconds.  He can teleport, regenerate, empower others, control all technology, and turn other people's powers against them.  He can shrug off outrageously powerful physical, psychic, and magical attacks like nothing.

Worst of all though is his powers were unbounded.  Each scene the director granted him some new and completely absurd power that he would conveniently forget to use in the next scene.  Where were his instant death attacks and city smashing powers when he was in a fight?  Why didn't he simply teleport away when things got bad, or cause all of the X-Men's heads to fall off?

Apocalypse also completely lacked any personality or unique features.  He wanted to destroy the world for no particular reason.  He had no weaknesses, no individuality, nothing to make him remotely interesting or relatable.  Apocalypse wanted to destroy the world because he was a villain, and that is what they do, right?

Apocalypse didn't frighten me.  He wasn't interesting.  It was clear that his powers weren't a problem for the heroes to solve, but rather a plot device that was made up fresh every five minutes.

Speaking of powers that weren't used, the heroes were just as bad.  Quicksilver is a hero who can move so quickly he can casually walk around explosions while they are happening.  Not just that, but when a massive explosion is wrecking a gigantic mansion he is capable of rescuing 30 people who are all simultaneously a few meters from an advancing wall of flame in various parts of the building.

And yet he forgets to use his ability to save the day to stop the evil soldiers, rescue the lad in distress, or to easily beat up the villains threatening his less powerful friends.  He could have defeated the plot of the enemies and pounded them all into submission quite handily.  Apocalypse himself was apparently a bit too powerful for Quicksilver to defeat, but any other challenge the heroes found out about was utterly trivial... unless Quicksilver conveniently forgot about his powers, which he did whenever the plot called for it.

The last thing that absolutely drove me nuts about this movie was the way the characters themselves ignored the plot of the movie.  Just before the ending Magneto, empowered by Apocalypse, was busy destroying the earth.  He was simultaneously smashing every city on the planet to rubble, shattering bridges, knocking down buildings, sinking ships, and launching pieces of metal in random directions across the globe.  The mayhem he was causing would have killed millions of people.  He finally had a change of heart away from total global annihilation and decided to fight against Apocalypse instead.

Everyone ignored the genocide part.  As soon as the fight ended he was buddy buddy with the X-Men again, and everyone was completely chill with the fact that he was the biggest mass murderer in history.  MILLIONS dead at his hands, and the other characters just shrug it off without a blink.

Its cool.  He's on our team again.  Until, you know, he gets in another one of his moods and tries to wipe out humanity a second time.

How can you expect anyone to take your plot seriously when the characters themselves completely ignore it?  I get that you want to raise the stakes and use CGI to show us world landmarks being destroyed, but why pay for that CGI if the people in the world pretend that it isn't even happening?

What a travesty.