On ‘senior moments’

In a few weeks, I will turn 63. I know I am not as physically fit as I was twenty years ago, but until recently, the number of ‘senior moments’ I encountered were few. Then, yesterday happened….

I had made an appointment to get the tires on my car replaced, and as there was no way for me to get a ride home, I decided to wait at the store while the work was done. At an estimated hour, this wasn’t going to be a fast operation, so I made sure to take my music player and a book with me. (Yes, that’s right, a real book, not an ‘ebook’ on a tablet or my smart phone.) Drove to the store, dropped the key off at the desk, pulled up something decent to listen to, and picked up where I’d left off in Patrick O’Brian’s excellent “H.M.S. Surprise”. As ways to pass the time, not bad at all.

The work ended up taking a little over the hour estimate, but on the up side, they charged me a few dollars less than the original estimate, so I had no real complaints. Paid up, and drove off to a nearby town to run an errand, and also to ‘wring’ the new tires out to see how they performed. No problems on the drive, errand accomplished, and back home in time for a (slightly) late lunch.

About now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with ‘senior moments’. That started after lunch, when I decided to finish the chapter I’d been in the middle of….and couldn’t find my book. I knew I’d been reading it, I also knew I’d picked it up when I left the tire store because I had a distinct memory of it lying in the passenger’s seat as I drove to my errand. Then, there was this drop-off, and I couldn’t remember what I’d done to it when I got home. A quick walk out to the care revealed that I hadn’t left it there. Search through the house, all the usual places I lay a book I’m reading down….nothing.

Now frustration sets in, and knowing that is the worst state of mind to be in when attempting logical thought, I decided to get some other work done. Most of that work involved editing a short story about a young man experiencing the end of our civilization, and the strange world that replaces it (more when I finish it). A couple of hour later, the frustration has faded some, but I still have no clue what I might have done with the missing book. Supper preparations call, and I attend to them, plus the dirty dishes that result.

All of it gets done, and the book remains stubbornly missing, so I do what I should have at the beginning: I try to remember the sequence of events that occurred when I got home from my errand. That’s when it popped into my mind that I’d picked up a couple of bags of items, and rather than make a couple of trips and from the car, I’d dropped the items I’d had in the passenger’s seat into one of the bags….a bag I hadn’t emptied when I got home. After what these days is called a ‘face-palm moment’, I go to the bag in question and recover my missing book.

How I could have forgotten something so elementary is a question I will not ask, but for someone who prides himself on having an excellent memory, it was a sobering, humbling moment. I hope I do not experience another such incident soon, but something tells me that is a wish I will not have granted.

Advertisements

Further adventures with an occasional okatu

(Well, that was embarrassing! I posted this the other day, and didn’t realize until just now that I’d grabbed the ‘Alpha’ version, the one without included links for more information on these anime. Here’s the version I meant to post, and sorry about the goof.)

A while back, I wrote about anime and how I thought it could serve as a source of ideas and inspirations for writers. Today, I’m going to visit the subject again to do something I don’t usually do: offer some suggestions for folks who might want to explore the subject matter more.

First off, I don’t like giving recommendations. Why? Because like a painting or any other piece of art, what you see, and how you react to it, is often governed just as much by what you’re seeing as it is by your past. Humans see the world through the lens that is their lives, and the things we like or hate (or find useful versus wasteful) are often shaped by our life experiences. So while I might find an anime inspiring, or insightful, or even just plain fun, you might find it anything but. So fair warning: what follows is a sampling of different types and genre of anime that I’ve found interesting enough to view many times. How you react to them may be very different. So, with that fair warning, I’d like to offer three anime I think are worth watching. If folks express an interest, I might write more on the subject and offer other examples.

First up, in my original piece on anime, I mentioned the recent Netflix project “Violet Evergarden”, and it is still one I would whole-heartedly suggest you watch. It is a visually feast that tells a story worth thinking about: what happens to the child soldier when the war ends? There are a number of other anime that touch on this subject, but perhaps the one that does it best, and tells the darkest story, is “Gunslinger Girl”. ( more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunslinger_Girl) It was among the first Japanese animated series I ever watched, and it remains one I go back to from time to time. In it’s bleak future, the Italian government establishes the innocuously-named Social Welfare Agency as a means of caring for young girls who have suffered terrible injuries, or untreatable diseases. The truth is very different. Using cybernetic enhancements and brainwashing techniques, the girls are turned into assassins. Paired with an older male handler who everyone is told is their older brother, they are tasked with helping the government maintain order by any means necessary. The girls are conditioned to follow their handlers orders, to look on them as if they really were their older brother. But their conditioning doesn’t wipe out all the human emotions, or their response to the way they are treated. The handlers have different outlooks on their charges. Some regard them as partners, worthy of respect. Other see them as victims, innocents being sacrificed to keep the government in power. A few see them as nothing but tools, to be used as needed and given no more regard than any other piece of machinery. The story unfolds like a dark jewel, each episode showing a different facet of what is happening between the girls and their handlers.

My second offering deals with an even darker, grittier future, and it’s the one that turned me into an unofficial okatu, “Cowboy Bebop” (more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy_Bebop). To call the future it portrays dystopian is an understatement. The Earth’s Moon has been shattered by an experiment in space travel gone wrong. But that disaster hasn’t kept the technology, the ‘hyper-gate’, from being used to move people about the solar system. Far from it. Humanity now lives on Mars and most of the other bodies where it can exist. But the future humanity lives in is one where government is little more than the tool of powerful corporations and criminal syndicates. Roaming between the different colonies are the crew of the spaceship “Bebop”. They are an odd collection: a retired cop, a former syndicate hit man, a woman with no past and a child genius hacker. They make a living by being bounty hunters, or “cowboys” in the current slang. If “Gunslinger Girl” asks what a government will do to stay in control, “Cowboy Bebop” asks what will happen if Libertarians get their way and government becomes effectively ineffective. Rest assured, the result is not pretty, even if there are occasional bursts of black humor to relieve the dark world.

My final offering is sort of a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine. This one also deals with the idea that a corporation might become so powerful it can take over a government. It’s perhaps my favorite anime, “Sekirei” (again, more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekirei). While there are dark moments, this anime tends more towards the comedy than deep thought. It’s an example of what’s known as “oppai” anime, “oppai” being Japanese slang for “boobs”. This anime revolves around a young man who,at that opening of the story, has just failed for the second time to get into college. As he’s going home from finding this out, a young woman literally falls out of the sky and lands on him. She has, as you can imagine, a well-developed chest, and she’s in trouble. Two women are chasing her, women who can manipulate electricity at will. The young man helps her escape and finds out that the women attacking her are, like her, beings known as sekirei. There are 108 such beings, he find out, and they were discovered by the man who’s corporation has recently bought the city. He found them in a space craft that man found on a small island. That same spacecraft contained technology he used as the basis for the massive corporation he heads, the one that bought the city. All sekirei have powers, basically super powers, but to achieve their greatest potential they must find an ordinary human and ‘contract’ with them. To seal this pact, they must ‘make contact via the mucous membranes….in other words, they must kiss. “Sekirei” plays to many tropes in anime. The young man eventually meets other sekirei, gathering six women who all vie for his attention (harems are a big thing in anime, for what reason I don’t know). Boobs are a major feature, either on display in skimpy costumes or out in the open. The young man is constantly in a position to take things beyond a kiss….and equally constantly frustrated by circumstances beyond his control. In short, lots of silliness…but at the same time, some profound ideas. The women around the male protagonist are rivals for his affection, yet become friends who will defend each other. Friends forced to fight each other find friendship is more powerful than anything else. Perhaps most important, that no matter how dire the odds, if people stand together, they can accomplish amazing things.

Well, these are my first three selections. Love’em or hate’em, they’re three anime I’m willing to recommend. All of them are available online, so I hope you’ll give them some thought, either for inspiration, or just for plain, simple escapism. If there’s further interest, next time, I’ll dig into the deep reservoir of ideas that anime has in the field of horror and the supernatural.

Fans

Sam walked to his car, happy his trip was drawing to a close. He’d done the ‘struggling artist’ thing long enough and was glad his graphic novels were taking off. This road trip, from his home Iowa to Seattle, had been his publishers idea. He hadn’t been in favor of making the appearance, but on reflection, he was glad he’d gone. Even the ‘tractor ass’ he got after hours driving his Fit out to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention were little more than an inconvenience compared to the positive feedback he’d gotten from fans. And to think, his “Blood” series of post-apocalypse horror novels had been the least favorite of his concepts. “Guess I shouldn’t sell my bad ideas short.” he muttered as he unlocked the door.

“Hey, you, is that your fag car?”

The voice sounded like it was almost behind Sam, and he had to restrain his urge to flinch. Out here, in the parking lot of a truck stop near the Evanston, Wyoming, was not a place to get into an argument. Sam pulled the key out of the lock and grabbed the handle to open the door.

“Hey, I asked you a fuckin’ question! Is this faggot piece of shit car yours?”

It didn’t take an MFA to figure out what the angry voice was referring to. Sam had several bumper stickers on his car, and none of them expressed opinions that were flattering of the current president. No, you don’t need to answer, just ignore him. Sam pulled the handle, but the door opened only a fraction of an inch before a large, pale hand slammed into the rear top corner, forcing it shut.

“I asked you a question, goddamn it! Don’t think you can just fuckin’ ignore me. Is this your fuckin’ faggot car?”

Sam turned, his eyes following the arm attached to that hand, up the shoulder and them to the head atop those shoulders. It was a shaved head, sporting a face that looked like it had come out on the losing end of several fights. Angry brown eyes, a nose that bent slightly sideways, lips scowling, jaw muscles clenched like he had just bitten into something far tougher than he could get his teeth through. A red ‘wife beater’ shirt with “MAGA” emblazoned across the chest. He was slightly taller than Sam, and at least a decade younger. Sam saw two shaved-headed men of about the same age standing close behind his questioner. Both of them were smiling, enjoying the show. Probably hoping they’ll get a chance to help beat the shit out of somebody today. The thought flickered through Sam’s mind and not for the first time, he wished the little man in his head would shut the hell up. With no way to walk away, and no way to get into his car, Sam decided to see if he could talk his way out of the confrontation.

“Yes, this is my car, and I was just leaving. Now, if you don’t mind…” he tugged at the handle, but the other man kept pressure on the door, keeping it shut.

“Yeah, I do mind. Who the fuck do you think you are? You think you can come out here, disrespect our President, and nobody’s gonna say anything about it? Well, now you’re gonna find out how wrong you are.”

Aww, fuck, I do not need this shit….. Even as he thought it, Sam saw the eyes of one of the men behind the loud mouth narrow, then the face relaxed as he stepped forward to tap Loud Mouth on the shoulder.

“Hey, Jim, don’t you recognize this guy? He’s Steve Landers! You know, the guy who wrote that “Fountains of Blood” novel.”

Loud-mouthed Jim’s head turned enough for him to address the other man. “Bullshit! There’s no way Steve Landers would be some faggot commie liberal. I mean look at his hero, John Johnson. He’s one of us, killin’ niggers, an’ liberals an’ fags too. There’s no way some liberal’d make us look like the saviors of humanity.”

“But I saw his photo on the web site for that fan convention, the one I told you about out in Fagville. It’s him!”

Jim’s eyes focused on Sam’s face, looking him over like he wasn’t sure what to believe. “Okay, then if he’s Steve Landers, he’ll know what John Johnson says every time he kills. So, Mister Faggot, do you know what John Johnson say every time he kills one of the enemies of the white race?”

Sam couldn’t believe it. These neo-Nazi assholes were fan boys? And they were fans of his unheroic villain, the unrepentant white supremacists John Johnson? “My name isn’t Steve Landers, that’s my pen name. But yeah, I write the ‘Blood’ series of graphic novels. And to answer your question, he always says ‘That’s one less enemy to kill.’”

That confused Loud-Mouth Jim. He didn’t step back, but his face lost some of its angry set. “Bullshit! You can’t be Steve Landers! You just learned that at one of them…whadaya call it….a trainin’ camp for liberal commies. One of those places they brain wash you into fightin’ other white folks.”

The statement was so stupid Sam nearly laughed. He managed to keep from smiling as he pointed towards the rear of his car. “I’ve got a couple boxes of ‘Fountains of Blood’ and ‘Blood Flows like a River’ in the back of my car if you don’t believe me.”

The third man, who’d been silent, stepped over and looked in the rear window of Sam’s Fit. “Hey, he ain’t bullshittin’! There’s a whole bunch a them books in here.”

Jim stepped back, then walked over to look for himself. He gave his head a shake and looked at Sam. So you’re Steve Landers? The guy all us folks fightin’ for white freedom look up to….is a fuckin’ liberal? What is it, do you just write the stories like you do to make sales? So you can grub a few bucks outta folks like us?”

Sam spread his hands. “I’m a writer, so I write what sells. They say Ayn Rand didn’t believe any of the stuff she wrote about, she was just writing the books people were wanted to buy.”

“Who the fuck’s Ann Rand?”

Maybe ignorance is a saving grace after all Sam thought. “Would you guys like an autographed copy of either of my novels? No charge, it’s always good to meet fans.”

Jim didn’t seem interested in the offer, but both of his compatriots shouted out “Yeah!” at the same instant, and that took the fight out of him. The sharpie Sam had used in Seattle was in the box with “Blood Flows”, so he gave both men signed copies of that novel. The first fan boy, the one that had recognized Sam from his photo, asked that his novel be signed ‘To Harry, a real Wyoming ass-kicker.’ The less talkative member of the group asked Sam to just sign his ‘To my favorite fan, Bill.’ That done, Sam turned to the group’s leader.

“So, Jim, you want a signed copy too?”

“Don’t want nothin’ from some fag liberal! I’d tell you shove that thing up your ass, but I bet you’d like that.”

Angry, but not enough courage to start a fight by himself. There was nothing to be gained by saying that, or in arguing the point, so Sam tossed the novel he’s planned to autograph back in the box and shrugged. “Fair enough.” He closed the hatchback. “Well, nice to meet some fans. Now, if you guys will take a step back, I’ll back out and get on my way.” Harry and Bill smiled and backed out of the way. Jim got a final glare off, then joined his friends, leaving Sam free to get in his car without worry.

As he backed out, he saw the fan boys waving their copies “Blood Flows” and smiling. He wondered how they’d feel next month, when the final novel in the trilogy came out. Sam smiled as he drove off, imagining the skinheads reaction when John Johnson, their violent hero, ended up dying in a futile attempt to blow up the federal building in downtown Chicago. Or that the person who would thwart him was the real hero of the story, FBI Special Agent Shanta U’quin, a black Muslim woman. “Maybe it is a good thing I didn’t give in to the temptation to leak the end at SFFC.” he said to himself as he drove down the ramp and joined the traffic on I-80 headed East towards home.

An occasional okatu steps forward

Literary people like to imagine themselves as these broad-minded folks who can see every side of people. Sadly, that isn’t anywhere near true. Like every other human, we have our built-in biases. Our world-view is colored by our upbringing and our life experiences. Most disturbing of all, we are just as subject to group-think and peer pressure as any other human.

I bring this up because I know it will play a major part in how those who read this will react to what I am about to say:

I love anime, and think it’s a valuable source of ideas and inspiration.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the word, here’s the Wiki on anime: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anime)

There are a lot of folks who will take one look at anime, then give a self-serving sniff before denouncing the art form as mere “cartoons” that are nothing but ‘vulgar’ entertainment. Sorry, but here’s a news flash: unless you’re writing for dictionaries or assembly manuals for Ikea, pretty much anything you write is going to be ‘vulgar’ entertainment…or it’s not going to be read at all.

So first fact: the folks who take the ‘look down their noses’ attitude are just putting their own closed-minded prejudices on exhibit.

So what does anime bring you in the way of creativity? First off, it takes you out of your cultural framework. Anime is no longer strictly a Japanese phenomena (both the Koreans and the Chinese have begun producing some very interesting offerings), meaning that it shows you several other cultures take on life. And because it is animated, the creators are not limited by what an actor can or can’t do, or even what reality is. Just by themselves, these two mind-opening aspects of the art form should recommend it to anyone who considers themselves creatively inclined.

It can also examine some fairly profound questions. Did you join the throngs who went to see Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell”? I will freely admit I wasn’t one of those, and that’s mainly because I’d been exposed to the original movie. The 1995 anime movie perhaps embodies the cyber-noir genre.

Positing a near-future world where humanity can ‘enhance’ humans with cybernetic body parts, it examines one of the most fundamental questions of all: what is it that makes a person a human? In a future where human brains can directly interface with computer networks, the protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is the pinnacle of cybernetic ‘enhancement’. Her entire body is artificial, the only portion of her that is still organic is her brain. She is part of a cyber-crime/counter-terrorism unit of the Japanese police, a job that brings her into contact with an antagonist who mirrors her in many ways. Known only as the Puppet Master, he is infamous for hacking the minds of humans, getting them to do his bidding without question. It is only when she encounters the Puppet Master in a cybernetic body that Kusanagi learns the truth: the Puppet Master is really an artificial intelligence that has achieved sentience, an AI that seeks to become fully alive.

The story explores several other unsettling questions, like soldiers who, living in cybernetic bodies they do not own, and could never afford to buy, are effectively property of the government that made them, but by itself, the central question should challenge any thinking human: What makes us human when the machines we make look and act just like us?

There are numerous other anime I would recommend, but shall refrain from for the sake of brevity. Are all of them profound and/or thought provoking? No, but a lot of popular literature isn’t either. Some of them are just enjoyable for the story they tell, the artistry of the illustrations that make them up. I will, however, recommend two recent anime, ones that should be readily available and can give an introduction to the art form.

From Netflix, “Violet Evergarden” (more here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80221698) is both a lushly drawn piece of visual artistry, and some very good story telling. If you have a Netflix subscription, it’s worth the time to watch.

The other is a movie, one that caught quite a lot of attention when it was released world-wide last year, is titled “Your Name” (more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_Name). Visually, it is stunning, emotionally, it is captivating, and on a cerebral level, it challenges you to wonder what it would be like if you were to live someone else’s life. Available through itunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/your-name-dubbed/id1335078125?ign-mpt=uo%3D5) I appreciate it enough to have acquired a copy so I can watch it whenever I want.

So there you go, two good bits of anime to (hopefully) wet your appetite. I’ll close with one final bit of Japanese culture, a word: okatu. It started out as a negative reference to people who are interested in anime and manga, the ‘graphic novels’ they are often derived from. Now, it’s used almost as a group label by the folks who are interested in these art forms. I will freely admit to being something of an okatu, though I am mainly drawn to anime. I will advise anyone who decides to investigate anime further to be careful, because it can become something of an addiction…and you too might end up becoming an American okatu.

oGood luck, and enjoy.

On hubris

Hubris.

It’s a word that can be applied in numerous situations, but is most commonly associated with its root definition: an over-arching self-confidence that allow a person to believe they can do no wrong, or will never fail to do something once they have set their minds to it. It’s not a pretty state of mind, and recently, I found out what it’s like when your own hubris comes back to bite you in the ass.

Most of my day-to-day computing I do with Linux. I use it because it’s free, robust, and there are enough variations of it to suit almost anyone’s taste. There are, however, a few things that I need Windows for. I don’t use these applications often, which means I don’t use Windows very often…and there lies the rub. To get both systems on one computer, I use what’s known as a ‘dual-boot’ hard drive, where on start-up, the computer asks me what operating system I want to use. It works great, allowing me to keep my first love (Linux) at my finger-tips, while keeping the ugly stepchild I don’t like to associate with (Windows) close at hand when I need it. But like all my stuff, I endeavor to keep my different systems secure, which is where hubris comes into play.

I know and remember my Linux password because I literally use it every time I log in. I relied on my memory to also hold my Windows password…which, it turns out was my downfall. I hadn’t used Windows for several months, so when I needed to access the application I kept in that operating system a few weeks ago, I powered up my computer, told it to boot to Windows…and when the log-in screen came up, I drew a complete blank as to what my password was.

To give you an idea of how much hubris I was exhibiting, Windows offers you the option of leaving yourself a hint as to your password. I had decided to leave, in my hint line, one word: Remember.

Yeah, not at all helpful.

I’ve racked my brains, trying to pull the password out, and I still draw a blank. So, I decided to see if I could recover/reset my password. After a fair amount of research, I found there were several options for doing something like this. You can buy password hacking/cracking packages, but the good ones tend to be expensive, and the free/cheap ones have a bad habit of installing ‘junkware’ on your computer, or worse, installing links to dubious web pages that carry malware. There is one free software package, called Ophcrack, that doesn’t install junk on your hard drive and will regularly crack most passwords. Unfortunately, after several attempts to get it to work, I have found I can’t. Why? Good question, one I’m not sure I can find the answer to. There are other options that allow you to just reset the password on an account, but I have found that they are intended to computers that have only Windows partitions on their hard drives, and my dual-boot option leaves them wondering where to go.

There is a process that allow you to do a reset under Windows. The easiest requires you have to a “reset” CD made up, which of course I didn’t do. There is another option, not for the faint of heart, that involves going in through the command line to reset a users password. Unfortunately, when I tried it, it too can’t find the proper partition due to my hard drives unique set up.

So, here I am, stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place, all because I let my hubris rule me. Please don’t be me, don’t let your confidence in your own abilities rule you.

(Strange) Physic and Laundry

People don’t usually associate the words “physics” and “laundry” with each other. But if you think about it for a few seconds, there’s quite a lot of applied physics going on any time you do a load of laundry. The fluid dynamics involved in how the agitator stirs the wash water to help the detergent remove dirt. The way the centripetal force generated by the spinning tub helps squeeze excess water out of the clothing. The airflow calculations needed to optimize drying when warm air is forced through a dryer. There’s a lot of physics going on every time you throw a load of dirty clothing in.

Then there’s the ‘strange’ physics that seems to randomly happen when we do a load of laundry. How many of us haven’t speculated about the possibility that a random worm hole opened inside our dryer to swallow a missing sock? Or that a space/time dilation is why a load of laundry to seemingly taking forever to dry?

Then there’s the truly strange physics of the stuff that happens and just does not make any sense…like what happened to me recently

I had a load of colored clothing to do, and like I usually do, I started loading by spreading my jeans out around the bottom of the tub. After they were in, everything else went in on top, again spread around to try to avoid the dreaded ‘heavy spot’ that can set a washing machine to rattling all over the floor. Last, but not least, was the liquid detergent, a circle of darker color atop everything else, complete with the cup that held it (both to clean out the cup for the extra use, and to get the maximum amount of detergent out of it possible). Down went the lid, ’round go the setting knobs, and the final press of the start button to set everything in motion. With everything churning away, I adjourn to my computer to add to my current novel. An hour later, my subconscious reminds me that, yes, I have to stop writing and tend to my laundry. Now, things get truly strange.

Upon opening the lid, I see not the usual neat layer of clothing, pressed hard to the sides of the tub. No, part of the load is as it should be, but the rest is a confused jumble that has resisted the forces of spin to remain stubbornly around the central agitator. I begin trying to sort out what is before me, but the clothing is so intricately intertwined that finding a place to start unraveling the mess temporarily eludes me. After several minutes and more than a few aborted attempts to divine what has happened, I managed to find a loose item I could disentangle it from the rest. Its removal reveals another item, then another, until the picture become clear. Somehow, a pair of gym shorts had managed to not only float free of everything else, it had settled over the central agitator, with the column passing through one of the leg holes. Once that had occurred, it seemed to have become entangled with several other items to form the twisted mass I’d beheld. But that is not the strange part.

Somehow, in that churning mass of water and clothing, not only had this pair of gym shorts contrived to effectively dock with the central agitator, it had managed to swallow the detergent cup with one of only two pockets on it. Even more bizarrely, the opening of the pocket is barely wider than the widest diameter of the cup.

How all this happened, I have no clue. Every time I think back on the event, the logical part of my mind stops, scratches it’s head, and mutters “What the….”. The creative part of me, though, wonders if Chance decided it was time to play the Mother Of All Practical Jokes on me.

Whatever the reason, I think I can safely say it is a moment that will stick with me for years to come.