Make it Bun Dem. Skrillex and Damien Marley

I saw this creep across my facebook feed yesterday.
I was sitting in a coffee shop. I turned down the volume all the way, and watched it.
I shared it almost immediately. My comment, “Awesome.”
It wasn’t until I got home that I heard the music. My wife had seen it on my feed. We wathed it together in the kitchen. Still awesome.

If you know me, you know that I am into the martial arts. I’m not a martial artist. They follow a more direct route. They either pick the art, or the art picks them. Then they practice. Attend class. Be humble. Practice more.
Endure bruises. Stick with it through those embarassing moments in the beginning where everything feels awkward. Stick with it, even after you feel like you get it. Because you probably don’t. And then one day, you get it.
That is the ideal path. It wasn’t my path, though.
Here are the footnotes.
I had a karate childhood, an Aikido college life, a modern wushu young adulthood. Again with the karate dabbling. Again with the aikido attempts – different style this time. Then judo. (yuck).
After that? Southern Praying Mantis, where I let my roots grow for about three years, before real life got in the way.
Then yang tai chi at an expensive place in Center City. Then another yang tai chi class, this time in Roxborough.
A smattering of Atienza kali followed by a short, sharp dose of Genbukan Budo Taijutsu… Capoeira… I think that’s it. Now I’m practicing Hsing Yi, which I like and will stick with for as long as I can. But like I said before, sometimes life gets in the way.
I like the martial arts. I think I will always practice the martial arts. But I’m not a martial artist. I’m something different.
I’ve often wondered what I was looking for. Between those styles I practiced Bikram yoga for some time. Then life got in the way. I also practiced the congas… which isn’t martial at all, but still seemed to get a lot of the same synapses firing… then, you know, life got in the way.
What was I looking for? Fighting ability? Hmmm. I’m 42. I haven’t gotten into a fight since high school. Providing our world doesn’t turn into an apolyptic distopia tomorrow, I think I’m okay. And if I did, I’d lament all of that time and money spent in various training studios and dojos, which could have been spent on bullets, guns and target practice. Give me that 40 year old Remington Wingmaster 12 gauge, a handful of shells and 40 hours of range time and I’ll take down any black belt; especially the zombie ones.
I wasn’t in search of tactical superiority. I was looking for the ritual. Something deep down in my DNA thirsted for the rites of passage of my ancestors. If I couldn’t kill a lion like the massai, maybe I could earn a black belt.
I wanted to be that kid, practicing the rain dance on a sandy circle in my backyard. So I practiced anything and everything that I could get my hands on. And I’m not the only one. How many kids joined gangs because they wanted to belong to something; anything? How many compromised themselves. Put themselves at risk, even if it was just for a moment, or a night? When they were really looking for something much deeper.

Ritual is revolution, if you do it right. If you lose yourself in it, and allow it to take you beyond where anyone else can touch you, you’ve exercised a power that makes nations tremble. Seriously. You might not be able to summon wolves or spirit totems, but if you can find peace during those moments when the world is trying its best to shake you to your foundation, then you’re pretty formidable. Even if you don’t know it.

Fake snow in Georgia? That’s just Stupid.

Update: The video was made private. I could find another one to replace it, but I won’t.

Who was the first guy to try to burn a snowball?
I get it. Cabin fever will have you doing some strange things. Of course, if you’re at home in the Atlanta Metro area, shut in by the snowpacolypse, I have news for you. It’s safe to go outside. Pry the wood boards off of your windows and stop rationing your Cool Ranch Doritos. You made it.
We should be picking up the pieces of our shattered lives and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again; perhaps, the dew-mageddeon of the summer of 2015? Or the sunny-daypacolypse of 2016? I mean, if the powers that be can’t steer this ship through a crisis of such miniscule proportions as two inches of powdery snow, then we can barely trust them to get us through drizzle.
We need to be asking some questions of our leaders right now. There has been a lot of analysis about what happened Tuesday night, but The Day We Lost Atlanta says it best. It isn’t all Kasim Reed’s fault, nor can the blame be pinned on Atlanta’s notoriously bad drivers. (They are bad!) Turns out, the Atlanta Metro Area is a big, unmanagable mess, broken into too many small municipalities to mention, each with its own agendas and motivations. Trying to keep the roads clear and clean just underscores the problem. And if we don’t find a solution now, we’re in for some serious trouble down the road.
Or, we can attempt to burn snow. Which brings me back to the original question. Who thought of this?
There has been a rash of people trying to burn the snow in their yards. They say it burns like styrophome and smells like plastic. They say the snow isn’t real.
Where is the first guy who looked out his window and said, “You know what I’m going to do? Shovel it? No, there isn’t enough for that. I’m going to burn it… just a little bit…”
Who is that guy, because he is some kind of genius. He has managed to create a conspiracy even more ridiculous than the stupid, stupid truth. We weren’t the victims of poor planning, or bad drivers or bald tires… It wan’t even HAARP, which manufactures real weather (if you believe that stuff…), not fake, Walmart styrophome snow.

HAARP is a target of conspiracy theorists, who claim that it is capable of modifying weather, disabling satellites and exerting mind control over people, and that it is being used as a weapon against terrorists[citation needed]. Such theorists have blamed the program for causing earthquakes, droughts, storms and floods, diseases such as Gulf War Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, and the 2003 destruction of the space shuttle Columbia.

said Wikipedia

The snow deniers don’t give us a whole conspiracy. Missing is the motive; why just two inches? I mean, if things had gone as planned, a foot wouldn’t have stopped us. Also missing is the how – it’s not HAARP, because HAARP doesn’t create fake weather, it modifies real weather. Who? They don’t say, but if it was a cabal of people who wanted to make us look dumb, you guys are falling right into their hands!

I’ve watched a few of these segments now. I want to cry bullshit, every time I see them. I mean, I’ve been around a lot of snow. That white stuff outside looks, feels and acts just like a whole lot of other snow I’ve seen. The thing is, in my 42 years, I’ve never to burned it.

That’s the problem. This would be so easy to debunk if there was a public record of snow burning. But there isn’t. And why the hell would there be?

I love conspiracies. I watched every episode of Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory, as well as Ancient Aliens… Small Change… even Doomsday Preppers. And I believe some of it.
But this is stupid.
The snow is real. It’s doing what real snow does. Yes, I did burn myself a little bit. Damn you for making me, but it behaved like snow behaves. Don’t believe me? Try burning an ice cube. Pick one from your fridge. One that you are sure wasn’t placed there by aliens, or the illuminati, and burn it. My snowball compressed and turned black, but it never looked un-snowy. It did, however, smell.
Why does it stink? Maybe it is polluted. Maybe you’re smelling the fumes from your lighter. I don’t know. All I can say is, stop smelling your snow. I know I will. I don’t know you, but I know you have better shit to do than that.
Like I said, I’m down with a good conspiracy. Just the other day I watched a news-ish segment about a woman in Gary Indiana who lived in a haunted house, complete with a priest, frightened cops and a child who walked backwards up a wall. And, you know what? I believe it.
If you’re looking for something conspiratorial, click the haunted house link, and then sprinkle in a liberal dose of hip-hop illumaniti sacrifices. Let Google guide you. In a half hour you will have a conspiracy of your very own. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make a wikipedia page. But don’t burn anymore snow. Because this is the most stupid theory in an internet full of stupid theories. Besides, you have better things to do. Waffle House is open.

What I’ve Learned from my First Month of Ruby… Not much, but more than you’d think

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For about a month, I have been teaching myself how to code in Ruby. I still can’t build a web app. And I am still months away from putting together my incredible Choose Your Own Adventure book – they’re making a comeback, right?

Still, 42 hours in to my 10,000 hour quest for computer mastery, what I don’t know can and does fill many books. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn, though.

 

I’m a better proofreader.

I admit, I’ve always kind of thought that proofreading was someone else’s job. I know how stupid that sounds. Still, when I was at the Philadelphia Tribune, I banged out copy and then it went through the wires to the guys down the hall. They straightened it out and picked the lint off of it. They made it presentable while I went on to the next story.

With a news story, that piece of copy with the bad spelling and bad grammar won’t break the printing press or burn through the newspaper. It will just sit there, silently waiting to be noticed by one tenth of your readers.

Ruby doesn’t tolerate sloppiness. You get error codes, the computer equivelent of an editor slamming a story on your desk and saying, “fix it!” Otherwise, that code that you just spent a half hour writing, will sit there broken and meaningless. 

I find myself re-reading my work out loud before I run it in the terminal. As I write, I double check the little details. Did I close the quotes? Is there an underscore between the variable names? 

These were the instructions in the second lesson of Learn Ruby the Hard Way, by Zed Shaw; read your code backwards, and/or out loud. It sounded familiar. I had been instructed to do the same things when I was in college.

Funny how that goes. 

Note: I will now read this post out loud and perhaps backwards. I can’t guarantee that it will be absolutely error free, but you can be sure that however bad it is, it could have been much worst.

Thank you.

 

 

 

What You Read Next Will (not) Devastate You! Quit Trying to Make Me Cry, Facebook!!!

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Two days ago, my wife and I saw a short documentary about an Ausie couple on her FB feed called What is Love?. They had known each other for almost as long as they had been alive.

She was his best friend’s little sister. Like a lot of little things, he didn’t notice her until one day in her late teens when she put on a red dress and his eyes popped out like a wolf in a Looney Toons cartoon.

They became high school sweethearts, way back when Europe was still crawling up out of the shadows of WWII. He rode his bike miles to see her every Saturday. Saturday was her shampoo day. He still remembers how her shampoo smelled.

Now she has alzheimer’s.

He looked at the camera, with his Ausie old dude accent and told everyone who would listen how much of a pleasure it is to do everything for her. Everything. He cooks for her and brushes her teeth. Dresses her and other things… And then he gently lifts her into their unglamorous mini van and they drive to the beach, where the two of them ride on a bike that he had made especially for her. On it’s front, between two bike tires, is a seat so that she can enjoy rides along the beach with her husband while her memories slowly slip away.

My wife and I watched this early in the morning, before she had even gotten out of bed. A bitter sweet love story, that can’t possibly end well… but that’s love.

We watched it. It was a we thing; a husband and wife thing. And I didn’t cry. My heart wanted to, but I didn’t. My eyes were ready… they began down that road when he described her shampoo. Every time I smell my wife’s body oil, I think of those days right after we met in Philadelphia. Driving to see her in my old Saab 900; Lincoln drive after midnight.

But I put the brakes on my tears. I can’t begin my Tuesday morning, crying because of some couple in the UK is riding their baby blue bike down the beach. Nah… I just can’t.

One day we can talk about how men; particularly Black men, need to finally come to terms with their emotions. It’s okay to cry (I guess), but right now, internet, I’m going to need for you to stop trying to tug at everybody’s fucking heart strings.

The above story gets a pass. It was vetted by my wife, who felt that we should see it. Together. But, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen stories pop up on my news feed, promising to devastate me.

The last was a little girl who had written a letter to her grown self, and then died. You know, because life is cruel. Her parents found it, read it and then shared it.

An old friend posted it on her feed, along with the comment, “I cried so much!”

It worked. I clicked the link, and I read. A little. But then I stopped. I don’t know if it would have brought tears to my eyes. I just know that tears isn’t something that I needed.

Same with that story about the man who lost his wife, soon after their marriage. So, he reenacted all of their wedding photos with his young daughter. Touching, right? Still not devastated? Are you made out of stone?

Check out the story, with photos, about the man documenting his wife’s losing battle with cancer. They looked like one of those couples who remind everyone around them of how sweet love is. You know the type; the envy of the coffee shop.

Those people aren’t supposed to die, but if they do, they should die together in car crashes on snowy roads. Holding hands as their older European car sails through a guardrail.

I’m not criticizing the people who choose to share their lives at their most vulnerable moments, or the artists who document them. It’s beautiful, how they’ve found that place where art bisects with the love and tragedy.

Sometimes we can’t really see beauty unless it is accompanied by pain. I get it. It’s life affirming… but damn I don’t think I can stand that many more affirmations. Not if they are going to make me feel kind of like shit.

Last week we found out what happened to that little autistic boy, Avonte Oquendo who disappeared in New York, around Thanksgiving. A dog (his greatest fear) chased him into the river (his second greatest fear). He drowned. They found his remains on Monday.

And… remember the football player who crashed his Camry in North Carolina? He knocked on a woman’s door for help. She called the police and told them that he was trying to break in. When he saw the cruisers, he ran to them and tried to flag them down. Because he needed help, remember? And one of the cops put 10 bullets into him.

Well, a partial grand jury just told a judge that he shouldn’t be tried for manslaughter. There should be a word for when you’re both sad and angry. Sangry?

And a boy in Philly was stopped by the cops last week. Why? It’s not clear that he was doing anything wrong, but Mayor Nutter doesn’t really care about that. Cops can stop you and shake you down whenever and wherever they want in Philly. It’s the law.

But in the process of giving him his – for no damned reason but still totally fucking legal pat down – a female cop grabbed his testicles with such force that one of them ruptured. Sangry! Fucking Sangry!

I read these things because I feel like I need to. They tell me what the world is now. I also read the stories about how the Dominican Republic is abusing its Haitian Citizens, and the ones about how the Egyptians were terrorizing the Ethiopians in their country.

I feel like, if I follow these stories closely and objectively enough I will stumble upon something necessary. I still don’t know what.

On the other hand, some of the stories circulating around, particularly the ones promising to devastate me, quickly begin to appear emotionally manipulative. Especially when they pop up in your news feed four or five times an hour.

I think it is supposed to be life affirming, but I just saw my wife wearing my winter coat and it made me like life pretty good.

And my daughter has been running around screaming “Housecat!” which put a smile on my face that is disproportionate to the circumstances.

Housecat is the name of the handyman at her day care center.

You see, we have a plumbing problem. Which sucks.

But let me tell you, watching your three year old daughter trying to summon the day care handyman while your wife wears your winter coat because she needs to toss fetid water out of the back door before our kitchen gets flooded, is bitter sweet in its own way.  It’s no blue bike on the beach, but I my life feels affirmed. So you can ease off Facebook. I’m good. Go devastate someone else.

The Most Cooly Disturbing Things You’ll See All Day

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Guided Bullets. The inevitable has finally arrived.

That innocent white thread snaking towards the center of the picture is the trail of light left by a guided bullet. Developed by Lockheed Martin each round is four inches long with an optic sensor on its nose. The bullets are steered by fins, auto-correcting at a rate of 30 times per second, while they travel at twice the speed of sound.

Pull the trigger, and it will follow a laser beam to its target, no matter what. When British Army sniper Corporal Craig Harrison, shot two Taliban operatives from a mile-and-a-half away under perfect conditions, it was record breaking stuff.

One day, these bullets will make that seem academic.

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If that’s not enough for you, a company called Trackingpoint has is preparing to launch it’s line of Precision Guided Firearms. For 17 grand you can get a bolt action rifle that is affixed with something straight out of the Star Wars. It’s a scope, powered by a Linux computer, and it wants to be your wingman.

First, it tells you the weather conditions and wind speed; all of those things that snipers and hunters need to know, and can already find out from countless other products on the market.

The coolness kicks in the moment you put your target in the crosshairs and push a button. It will track the animal, head of state, alien invader. If they go outside of your field of vision, the scope will point the way, just like the easy setting on Chuck Yeager Air Combat. (There are probably better analogies, but that was the first thing that came to mind. I don’t play many games.) And you can’t pull the trigger until you line up the crosshairs with the original target area.

It all seems pretty frustrating to me, like the nanny controls on your average super car. It seems like, if you are just an average shooter, you might never line up your scope with that first target area. And if you are a marksman, you don’t need it anyway.

But it looks cool, and in a couple of years, when they have hacked them down in size and price, and connected them to a pair of Google Glasses, I might get it, or whatever the Chinese knockoff is called.

Put that with the guided bullet (I’ll bet someone already has) and you have the technology to turn your average schlub into a stone cold assasin. Or, your average sniper (is there such a thing as an average sniper?) into a modern day super hero/villian.

It’s all very cool, in a bow down to your dystopian overlord kind of way.

I wrote about an extreme sniper competition some time back. Those guys wouldn’t be caught dead with this stuff.

I took a Selfie in the name of Fitness. You can’t see it!

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This guy is has mastered the before picture. Nice touch with the smoke. That’s extra credit.

Today I stood in the guest bathroom and took my first selfie with my iPad.

Selfies are the first measure of any fitness routine. Ask the Internet. Every single fitness journey embarked upon by anyone in the past five years began with the “before” picture.
Unlike any other pictures, slovenly and disheveled is  good. Got rolls? Make sure to turn sideways so that you can capture them. And take off your shirt, even if your one of those guys who wears a white tee into the swimming pool. Today you’re Rick Ross, so oil up, strip down and get to snapping. Your shame has no place here.
Ladies, forget everything you learned about a proper fit and find that jog bra you wore in high school. Neon green and tattered around the edges. Yeah, that one. Too small? Good. It’s okay if it cuts into your flesh. You want to see creases of skin. The more of a raggedy train wreck you look now, the better you’ll feel later.
My before picture was done early in the morning. You can still see the lines from the pillow on my face. My hair was styled by six hours with a rumpled pillow. That’s right, six. Never take a before picture on eight hours of sleep. Your going for that, jumped out of bead to prevent a break, in look. Confused. Lost. Hungover.
In fact, if your lifestyle permits, go to sleep drunk wearing old sweat pants. There will never be a better before picture than when you wake up the morning after a night of hard, purposeful drinking. It’s a small price to pay for fitness.
This is my first before picture, but I nailed it. I looked like a 42 year old slob. I turned so that one could see the crease in my side where the fat on my upper torso met and cascaded over my ballooning midsection. No, you can’t see it. It’s just for me.
Why now? This isn’t my first stab at fitness. In fact, I’m not doing anything now that I haven’t done a dozen times before. Same body doing the same routines – by any measure, my failure is almost absolutely guaranteed.
This time I don’t care.
I remember when I first bought my kettlebell. I had read about how it melts fat away. Shreds it… Liquefies it. It sounded almost unhealthy how it treated body fat.
I began every morning with 100 kettlebell snatches. It’s a scientific fact –Russian science – that kettlebell snatches attack fat like Buce Lee on Chuck Norris. I was doing 100 of them in 20 minutes, then I took a shower, then I went to work.
I remember that little popping sound in my back. I remember thinking, “that’s not good.” But the next morning I did it again, even though my now stiff back begged me not to. You know how this ends. With a whole lot of  Tylenol and ice packs. The kettlebell sat in the corner for months. Then I sold it.
This is my program now… On second thought, no. I don’t want anyone getting all fit before me; not if you are using my extensive knowlege of throwing heavy things around a small room full of computer equipment. Just know this. I’m not chunky because my workouts weren’t good enough. I’m chunky because I took myself way too seriously. And food.
They use kettlebells in the Secret Service, the Marine Corps, the Russian Military and in their elite prison riot suppression squad. Those agencies employ tens of thousands of people, but I am not one of them. I will never protect our President, or take down an insurgent. I will also never face off against a Russian prison riot.
I’m kind of a boring dude. Even in my wildest dreams, I’m writing for a living. Yeah. I have desk jockey aspirations. So I can afford to lighten up when it comes to working out. Going hard is cool, but there are times when you have to cut yourself some slack, otherwise you’ll get bored, or frustrated, and sell your gym equipment on Craigslist.
I’m calling my workouts kettlebell play, in honor of the fucks I’m not giving about achieving the secret service, or USMC or Spetznaz fitness standards by x date.
One day, a long time from now, I may take an after picture to go with the before one. I will be well rested, and scrupulously manicured. You might notice the slight bend in my right arm, as I apply subtle tension to my bicep to make it look slightly bigger. I’m going to try every trick short of Photoshop to make myself look like a new man. Just know this. I will have fun getting there, no matter how long it takes.
I’ve written about both fitness and fatness (not a word? Should be) before, herehere, here, and here. If I did a pushup for every word that I wrote about getting fit…

This is Junkhead. Watch it. Read this. Then ask yourself, what’s your Junkhead?

This is Junkhead. It started four years ago as some Japanese dude’s obsession.

His name is Takahide Hori. He’s a white collar worker. A salaryman. But every night he went home and built upon this. It has the marks of an obsession. It’s layered and strange and gritty.

It reminds me of the Book of Chairman Don, a 20,000 page sci-fi memoir written by a guy that I used to know. The two of us guarded an abandoned water treatment plant together. He drove a white van with with a fake, seven foot long missile affixed to the roof rack. Once he was a Marine. By the time I met him, he had transformed himself into the typical guy that you don’t want to run into in a dark alley. And although he was always very nice and extremely respectful, I still don’t suggest running into him in a dark alley.

What do Junkhead and Chairman Don have in common? Well, Don wrote just because he was in love with the story. I don’t think he ever intended to get it published. If he did, he might have made an attempt about 19,700 pages ago. I’m not saying that Takahide Hori isn’t afflicted of all of those typical filmmaker ambitions, but ambition alone isn’t enough to make you do something, every night for four years. He had to know that there were no garantees that anyone would ever see, or give a damn about Junkhead. He had to know that there were quicker, easier ways to do it. Did he ever wonder if there were another team out there, working on the same story but doing it more effectively? Maybe that’s just me.

He did it because he was in love with the story and the process. After all, this is stop motion. As you watch it, think about the fact that every single movement was the result of a bunch of micro-adjustments, on a miniature set, with Hori towering above it like a god. I think that inside of Hori, there is more than a little bit of Chariman Don.

I told my cousin that I was going to learn Ruby. At first his response was generically positive. After all, who doesn’t love learning? Weeks later he asked, “Why?” It’s a good question. I wish my answer didn’t keep changing.

I told him about the growing demand for coders. He painted a picture for me of legions of men and women overseas who practice coding for more than eight hours a day, everyday. They were hungry. Desperate. And they were willing to work for a fraction of what coders are paid in the states.

“You can’t compete with that.”

No. I wouldn’t want to.

I countered that, I might not be able to out code them, but I can out write them. And every industry needs writers. Otherwise, the world would be swallowed up in a sea of industrial jargon. “You want to be a technical writer?” His voice had a thin sneer on it. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. “You don’t want to be a technical writer.”

But I do. I remember managing the audiotour equipment at the High Museum of Art. Their tours were on iPods. It was super slick, with interactive video. Kids loved them; mostly because they looked forward to the challenge of bypassing the tour and watching TwoChains on Youtube. But then we would get in the older patrons. The ones who grew up on rotary phones and drove Packards. No ammount of polished steel could overcome their distrust of those things. They’d use them for a few works of art, and then return them. They said they didn’t work. They said that they were worthless.

I began to wonder exactly what kind of tutorial we could give them. It wasn’t just about explaining it. It seldom is. It was about getting them to trust it. Getting them to suspend disbelief and play around with it. That was the challenge. It didn’t always work. But when it did,  they loved it.

The opportunity to help bridge a gap between technology and the user is my humble Junkhead. It’s what all of those hours spent learning Ruby, and Java, and whatever comes next, will one day stack up to. After that, I’ll start working on my science fiction epic. I will pack it into the corners of my life, between the wife, the kids and the paycheck. But until then, this is it.

What’s your Junkhead?