I Know, I Know… But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

I Know, I Know... But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

And no, I haven’t been wasting all my free (non-work, non-school, non-writing) time watching Sherlock, Doctor Who, or playing Diablo III (don’t even mention Mass Effect Andromeda — we split up and it was not amicable. I’m planning to sue to try to get those hours of my life back). Nope, I have been studying calculus and numeric theory. Oh, and string theory physics, standard model, and quantum mechanics.


It took me two solid weeks of studying but I actually get this joke and think it’s hilarious.

By the way, have I mentioned I have been hired to teach high school English next year?


That’s right. I will be teaching English. Not science. Not math. Not any of the things I spend my free time studying. English. I have a degree in history and I’m teaching English.

My Scrivener research section looks like an odd mix of math and physics notes that even I can barely make sense of. When I started trying to parse chemistry and biochemistry I realized that regardless of what my IQ is, I can’t handle atoms and molecules. Leptons, bosons, fermions, strings, vibrations, and my pet theory that gravity isn’t a proper force — it’s the result of another force spanning multiple dimensions: that’s all relatively simple for me to sort out. Start mixing those together in atoms more complex than hydrogen and my head does this really interesting number that makes a migraine feel like a love-tap.

So, why am I doing this? No, not just because I’m a very special kind of insane. Not just because it interests me, either. And not just to make my lovely ex-husband send me a War and Peace length list of corrections. Nope, this is actually for a series. It’s probably the weirdest thing I’ll ever write but it’s one that just won’t leave me alone until I finish the thing (other writers will understand what I mean).


Seriously, it’s like this story — which started out as relatively simple — decided to throw a lot of challenges at me and, for some reason known but to Cthulhu, I am too much of a masochist to stop accepting them.

And that, my dears, is why I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m good with history, languages, tactics, logistics, encryption, and computers but math and chemistry will wipe the floor with me every day of the week. Lately, I have just been either too busy trying to wrap my head around concepts that ought to make sense but just won’t or recovering from the headache that this effort invariably brings on.

That said, I will try to get better.

— G.K.

Gravity

Gravity

Welcome to a semi-stream-of-consciousness type post wherein you get to see just a little bit of what goes on in my brain when I’m not forced to focus on something mundane. No, I’m not a physicist and I don’t pretend to be. I doubt I could ever hack the math to be one but I find the field interesting and spend an inordinate amount of time reading up on it because I’m weird like that.

Okay, this is not a review of the film because I’ve not seen it and have no plans to do so. No, this is my somewhat errant and wandering thoughts on gravity itself — the force that both binds and repels everything in our universe.


Newtonian gravity: still a better love story than Twilight

Newton, probably the greatest genius that humanity has ever known, was the first to accurately describe the effects of gravity and to deduce that they were caused by mass. The greater mass an object has, the greater its gravitational pull. Also, gravity is actually incredibly weak — two objects are attracted to each other by a product of their mass but by the attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them or F = G(m1 * m2)/r². Einstein later proved that gravity is an attribute of curved space-time which we all know from the whole “put a bowling ball on a mattress — the ball is a big-ass object and the mattress is space-time” thing.


Earth is the bowling ball, btw.

If you never did that, then you had a crappy childhood.

Gravity is also the force that hasn’t yet been unified with the other forces — electo-magnetisim, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. It’s something that physicist have been having fits over for a while now since quantum theory can handle the other three but gravity seems to throw a spanner in the works. Gravity also impacts time. The closer something is to a heavy gravity field or the deeper in a gravity well an object is, the slower time moves for it.


The secret to immortality? Live on a planet orbiting stupidly close to the event horizon of a black hole.

It’s a fun thing to think about if you’re as whacked in the head as I am.

But what, precisely, is gravity? Yes, it’s a force. Yes, it bends things in space-time. Yes, it has to do with mass and it can screw up time from a local perspective (go watch Interstellar to see what I mean). But what the devil is it? And why is it probably the first force discovered and described but the last to be unified with the rest of the lot (sorry — I’m slipping into British mannerisms because it’s late and I just finished watching The Imitation Game which is awesome and you should go watch it right now).

I’m beginning to suspect that gravity is playing on a much larger field than our universe and that it is not a native force here. It’s more like an invading force that stems from somewhere else. Electro-magnetisim and the nuclear forces are very much natives to our universe. But gravity is the guy from Corsica who comes around, invades places, and makes everyone under his command drive on the right side of the road. Gravity doesn’t just impact time: it’s the cause of it. Without it, we would live in a flat and static universe. Actually, scratch that, we’d live in a flat, static, and unimaginably hot universe and we probably did (we being the tiny quarks that compose everything, including our bodies and the electrical impulses firing between and among our neurons). Then comes gravity and all of a sudden: BAM! Since matter wasn’t uniformly distributed, it had something to screw around with. Clumps formed and attracted more matter to the bigger clumps and crap began spinning and the next thing you know, a few hundred million years go by and we have galaxies and stars and stuff. Gravity also caused space to expand faster than light (the inflationary period which may very well still be on-going and yes, space can go faster than light without violating any laws of physics).


This is your universe without gravity invading it. The other is your universe with gravity being dumb and invading Russia in winter. Any questions?

But gravity didn’t arise here. It’s a force coming from somewhere else in the multi-verse or mega-sphere or whatever it’s called these days. We can detect its influence on our universe but I don’t think we can place it with the three other forces because it’s not just non-local; it’s completely foreign. It’s like it’s part of the bulk that our brane/universe rests on. Maybe like a kind of gel — like the kind you find in an ice pack. Where there’s a lot of matter, it presses down on the gel which, again, thanks to Newton we know will cause the gel to be pushed and bunch up elsewhere.


Crap like this is probably why G shouldn’t be allowed to read anything by Michio Kaku.

And yes. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I’m left to my own. It’s either this or whether or not I could dig deep enough to find something fissionable in my yard and I think that the world would prefer me not to develop my own backyard Manhattan Project.

By the way, you’re welcome for that.

— G.K.

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

This one came up on my Kindle Unlimited list so I decided to give it a try. Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm is an interesting look at how a few friends struggle to cope with the miscommunication, the misdirection, and the problems that come when the fragile nature of our current system are exploited, causing the entire thing to crash. It also deals with the individual perspective of living through the CyberStorm and what it means for people and how it would impact day-to-day life in New York City.

Overall, it’s a good book. The pacing is okay. However, the characters are a bit flat. Chuck is the uni-dimensional envisioning of a doomsday prepper from the point of view of an urbanite who has never really sat down and actually spoken with one for more than a few hours. The philosophies and the way Mather tries to resolve them are believable conversations (shouting matches between the characters, really) but do little to advance the characters’ development and frequently seem to be just another way of putting down Chuck (and non-North Easterners in general). I did like the interplay with the main character (Mike) and Richard via Mike’s wife (who is the least likable character in the book). However, the vegan couple and the scenes involving them were just…pointless. Vegans would die very quickly if they clung to their veganism during a cyberstorm and the “side step” used the final time they’re encountered is pure sophistry.

I liked how the second half of the book ran with the establishing of a mesh-net, the real-life individual consequences of the “fog of war” phenomenon and the whole “misleading vividness” played out regarding what Mike thinks he sees during his first trip for help. I also like how the person who wound up being the Big Hero wasn’t one of the central characters of the story or a big player in the universe to begin with.

   

Three and a half rainbow farting zebricorns. CyberStorm is a good cyberthriller but it’s not A Canticle for Leibowitz

— G.K.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: Starting the Rebuild

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: Starting the Rebuild

Okay, so far we’ve covered a lot of ground in just surviving and eking out a safe space to keep on surviving. By this point, you’re well into the Zombie Apocalypse and it’s time to change the game a bit. Instead of just surviving, you want to begin focusing on living, growing, and thriving with an eye towards rebuilding a viable civilization and reversing the Zombie Apocalypse.

So, how do you do that? Well, it’s not that easy. It took humans well over one hundred thousand years to develop civilization. It took us close to three thousand years to build a society that was capable of technological, legal, social, economic, and political change and adaptation without constant bloodshed (hat tip to Greece and Rome for pointing us in the right direction). Luckily, we don’t have to re-invent everything (we already know a lot and have the whole “writing” thing down) but we will have to regain a good bit of lost ground. Things are going to go backwards for a while — they’ll have to. Our current system relies heavily on electricity and the wonder that is the internal combustion engine. Those things go “bye-bye” during the Zombie Apocalypse.


Oh hell no…you mean to tell me there aren’t any showers up in here?

Some of you probably laughed when I suggested raiding a library or making certain you stole or “gathered in” as many books as you could. Well, get ready to eat those giggles. Those books are going to teach you things like “how to find metals,” “how to smelt and forge metals into tools,” “how to generate electricity,” “what electricity is and how it works,” “why you really want to try to set up base not too far from a nuclear power plant because that sucker will *still* be generating electricity and all you need to do is figure out how the controls work to harness it,” as well as “how to build a sewage system (and you will need one),” and “how to deal with tainted water.”

This is the point in the Zombie Apocalypse when, if you’re recruiting people, you’ll want to risk reaching out to lone wolves to see if any of them are just gun-shy individuals who possess a lot of knowledge or useful skills but might not be able to small-talk their way out of a paper bag (like me). Case in point: if you need a system (damned near any kind of system) worked out or you need to understand how one worked before, I’m really good at that. I have a talent that borders on “freaky super-power” for seeing how different parts/units/things/subsystems are composed and how they interact with each other in the larger system. Computers, computer programs and languages, computer networks, legal systems (the framework, not the actual practice), medical devices, surgical procedures, organ systems, communication and transport networks, molecules, galaxies — to me, they’re all just different kinds of systems organized of various components and sub-components with certain behaviors and rule-sets that interact in predictable and logical manners (with the occasional emergent property or three) and they can be deciphered, understood, and explained. That means they can also be harnessed and manipulated (with stipulations).


…Dammit, tell Daryl not to bring back any more systems nerds unless they have their manuals or a translation guide with them.

But if you ask me which shoes go with a certain purse or to comment on the latest celebrity sex scandal…well, I’m less than clueless there. I have finally learned who the Kardashians are. I’m still not certain who Taylor Swift or Kayne West is, though, other than that Kayne interrupted some awards ceremony because he really likes Beyonce (who is a singer…I think). I don’t know what clothes look good on me; I care very little about that. I know a handful of actors’ names and it’s because they’ve played characters I really liked. Trying to engage me in small talk is…just don’t do it. It’s not a good idea for you or for me. Conversations heard in my house (I had to move back in with my parents) often go like this:

Me: *staring into space* What’s the oldest civilization? When was it started? The Egyptians were, what, 4000 BC?
My mom: I think they were around 2000 BC so civilization would be 4000 years old (she’s used to my random questions)
Me: Actually, wait…didn’t the Chinese have a dynasty that was a few centuries, maybe a thousand years before that?
Mom: I don’t know. But I don’t go into all that lost civilization from 10,000 years…
Me: No! Neither do I. I’ve got this idea for a sci-fi story set 10,000 years in the future so I’m trying to find a data point to extrapolate from on how garbled events from the current era would be to people living in 12,000 AD. Because even with video…
Mom: Well, even with video, that’s no guarantee. I have 8-track tapes that I can’t find a player for. There are VHS tapes but no one has a VCR these days…
Me: Yeah, true, but going digital did eliminate *some* of that. Still, there would be a lot of telephonic garble.
Mom: Okay…
Me: Because history is often like that telephone game. You know, where a kid whispers something to one kid who whispers it to another and another…
Mom: Yeah, I know.
Me: I guess I’ll go with the Chinese, then. Better chance for a closer data point to extrapolate from. Also, the language is more unified — modern Chinese is closer to ancient Chinese than modern English is to ancient Egyptian. Less drift. Makes them a better example to work from. Thanks!
Mom: …did you finish cleaning the kitchen?

I’m great with systems and I know a lot of things from books. But I am so not the person you invite to a social occasion that doesn’t involve sitting around a table rolling polyhedral dice and arguing over saving throws. That’s why, in a Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll probably stake out a place as a lone wolf or with a group of people I know very well.


I am so going to have this printed on a t-shirt one day. Anyone else want one?

Funny thing is, weird, quirky people like me generally wind up being damned useful at rebuilding. So, you have to go out and find us because we are not going to be looking for you. We’ll build our own slice of heaven and fucking. stay. there. Forever.

And speaking of finding and recruiting people…now that you’ve established a base camp worth defending, maybe it’s time to come up with some hard-and-fast rules on how people can join your merry little band of survivors?

— G.K.

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

The Vicious Hamster Wheel of Credentialing

…and how it impacts the publishing industry, the economy, and the rest of the world in general.

Okay, I swear, I am so not cyberstalking Cedar even though whenever I see that she’s posted something I drop whatever I’m doing and go read it because I’m beginning to wonder if she and I get messages from the same s00per s3kr3t radio station or something. We’re both evil unicorns (which is cool) and we’re both writers (though I think she’s more experienced than I am since I’ve only been in the game a few years) and we’re both nerds so there’s going to be some overlap. But when I read her post on the topic of credentialing, I had the strangest physical reaction (think full-body shiver and skin crawling) because I was thinking about this exact topic last night.

Eerie.

So, without further ado…

We live in interesting times. Really interesting times. In the past two hundred years, the world has flipped around in a lot of ways and some groups haven’t quite had a chance to catch up. The rate of change isn’t going to slow down anytime soon (if anything, the rate of acceleration is increasing) and it’s created rather a lot of chaos that makes it difficult for everyone. This started back with the Industrial Revolution but has really kicked into high gear with the Digital Revolution. However, for now, I want to focus in on one particular trend that’s been a particular nuisance in recent years and that’s the vicious hamster wheel of the credential chase.

Long ago, a young man would purchase an apprenticeship, serve a set number of years under a master craftsman, become a journeyman, then prove his skill as a master and be free to set up his own shop and take on apprentices himself. Credentials were reserved for things like the clergy (and thus controlled by the Church) or the universities (which meant they were for the aristocrats’ second or third sons). Very few people had them or needed them and thus, they were quite valuable. Then along came the Industrial Revolution and the modern education system with its assembly-line cookie-cutter approach and, for a short time, a high school diploma was sufficient for entry into the modern work force and could get a person a job at a factory or as a teacher, secretary, bank teller, or other office worker. College was for those who were going into more advanced fields.

But when everyone could get a high school diploma easily, the value of having one was lower and the credential was less valuable. Factor in that unions with their work rules, refusal to consider the impact of their demands on the business’s bottom line, and refusal to police their members and maintain high standards in work ethic to justify wage and benefit increases helped drive manufacturing jobs overseas; that globalization came in and cut out a lot of the protectionism the Industrial Era institutions relied on; and that things like the G.I. Bill started a very perverse incentive for colleges, lenders, and the government to feed off each other (and the taxpayer) and the credentialing hamster wheel started spinning. Suddenly jobs that once barely needed a high school diploma to be done now require a Bachelor’s degree. There are hundreds of professions that people used to freelance out of their homes that now require expensive (and extensive) licenses to perform (hairstylist, barber, masseuse, babysitting, tutoring, music lessons…) I’ve worked in the tech world for over a decade now and credentialing there is getting insane. Techies like to pride themselves on valuing knowledge over shiny badges but it is very hard to break into different fields without certain credentials these days and it’s very hard to obtain those credentials without already being in those fields because the certification tests are expensive.

I’m waiting for the day when the Bachelor’s degree I worked my butt off to get (I did a four-year in three) is as worthless as a high school diploma because everyone is required to have one. I’ve looked into getting a Masters degree but can’t afford one. And, to be honest, none of the jobs I’ve ever held have required me to use any of the crap I learned in college. I’m not saying that college was useless for me; I enjoyed it and learned a lot of valuable research information. I’ve just never really used any of it professionally. No, all of the skills I’ve used professionally are things I’ve either taught myself, learned on the job, or learned in high school and built upon in college.

Frankly, in the constant chase after credentials, the only ones coming out ahead are those who grant the credentials. Employers can’t be happy with it because the greater a credential they require for a job, the more they’re going to have to pay that person (and that’s another vicious cycle all its own). Regular folks aren’t happy with it because it gets tiring having to chase credential after credential just so we can check off boxes from an HR flunky who doesn’t know what she’s doing (really — I filled out an application a week ago that had listed as a requirement for the job “10+ years experience in PHP5 and HTML5” when PHP5 just celebrated a decade this year and HTML5 isn’t even a year old. Topping that, I’ve seen requirements for “At least 10+ years development in Ruby on Rails” when the framework is only nine years old!)

So, what is to be done about it? Well, first of all, fire all the HR departments. Then fire all of the politicians. Maybe consider setting them on fire while firing them? Or fire them into an orbital trajectory or something. Regardless — fire them a lot. Then shut down the entire education system, redesign it so that it actually creates a literate society instead of turning out factory workers, re-instate vo-tech-like schools for skilled trades and quit looking down on people who do that work because they’re cool people and smart as hell. They’re just smart in a different way like we’re smart in a different way, okay? To them, I’m as dumb as a box of rocks because I can’t unstop a toilet and I’m weird because I remember a particular cardio-arrhythmia that I read about and was able to deduce someone’s wife had based on a conversation they were having with the check-out clerk when they were at the grocery store the line ahead of me.

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone is smart the way I’m smart and that’s okay. But we’ve really got to end the constant credential chase because, if we don’t, eventually Ph.D.s are going to be required to work the drive-thru at McDonalds. Unless, of course, we’ve replaced the entirety of the McDonalds staff with a robotic restaurant and the drive-thru is a voice-activated kiosk with a debit/credit card reader which is a distinct possibility.

— G.K.

Techies And Writers And Herds of Cats

Techies And Writers And Herds of Cats

One of my daily reads is Sarah Hoyt’s blog and recently I’ve been going through some of her older entries (I’m looking for a post where she was talking about the review submission process…don’t ask) and I stumbled over several mentions of how getting us writer-ly types to organize and do anything in a uniform fashion is kind of like herding cats. Especially those of us of what she calls the Odd bent (and what I call the “awesomesauce” bent because, yay, more fellow NTs!) I’ve noticed this myself — especially back when I was submitting to agents and traditional publishers before I realized that was a chump’s game and decided to go indie. Each agent or agent house and each publisher has their own guidelines for receiving query letters and manuscripts and none of them are the same.

Considering the uniformity of the end product (mass-market paperbacks have very specific cover and print-set specifications) and the general consistency of editing software and screen-readers, you’d think that there would be some consistency. But you’d be wrong.

The only other area where I’ve encountered such a dizzying array of sheer anarchy is…the tech world. I still keep a foot in that realm (because it’s fun) and anyone who’s actually delved into code very far knows what I mean when I say that reading someone’s code can tell you everything you need to know about them. If it’s not human-readable, you know that they’re using a graphical interface to drag’n’drop elements into place and that they don’t actually know what they’re doing. They might have a cursory understanding but they don’t grasp the fundamentals and the principles. Or, they’re not a coder (and they’re not pretending to be — I had this happen a lot in my professional life) and you get the fun job of digging through a single-line (that is actually several thousand lines) of nested HTML menu items to find the one that isn’t closed properly so you can make the document strict XML compliant.

If the code has function names that are the same as variables, you know you’re deal with someone who has some experience but is still new to the game. Their comments and documentation will tend to be hit-or-miss but at least it will exist. If the code has function names that are purposeful and unique, you know that the commentary and documentation will be fairly good (or they will have outsourced it to someone who will be better at it, you hope) or it will be non-existent. If the function names are vindictive and the documentation has you going in circles, you know that you’re probably better off removing everything and rebuilding from scratch because someone high up pissed this person off and you’re dealing with a BOFH type who has decided to extract a pound (or ton) of flesh. In this case, there’s only one thing to do:

The issue is, some techies are going to be die-hard Perl scripters and everything is going to be in that. Others will prefer Python. Some never moved past C++. You’ve got your K-shell users, C-shell users, Z-shell folks, and then a quick shout-out to my peeps out there in Bourne-Again land (BASH FOREVAH!). There’s the Xwindows folks who are all about some KDE while others are hung up with their Gnomes and the rest of us are wondering why in Torvalds’ name you’re running Xwindows on a server — it’s not secure. People will cling to their text-editors and bitter fights will break out over vi versus emacs versus pico versus nano at which point G.K. boots to Windows (hey, if you’re going to run a desktop, run a freaking desktop) and opens up Scrivener. PHP devs will say you can do everything with PHP and seasoned HTML coders will snort and think about all the times they had to implement HTML/CSS/JS fixes to deal with a PHPlib error. SQL DBAs will laugh at all of them while they work on their next round of fiendishly difficult certifications.

As you can see, though…techies and writers — none of us can agree on how things should be. Oh, we all have our opinions on how they should be. Techies will even form consortiums, conventions, conglomerations, conferences, and write out long RFCs about How Things Should Be. Enough others will agree and we’ll wind up with this situation:

Which, come to think of it, is probably what happened in the publishing world.

Now, do I think that writers are going to eventually get together and decide on a uniform submission process? Hell no! Do I think publishers will eventually decide on one? Nope. What will probably keep happening is what’s been happening. It’s just interesting to see that two groups of people the average Joe Public considers diametric opposites (writers and techies) are actually very much alike.

And it’s cool to be both of them at once, yo.

— G.K.

Friday Review: A Demon-Haunted World

Friday Review: A Demon-Haunted World

If you get very deep into sci-fi — especially if you’re an INTJ — eventually you’re going to start getting that itchy-brain sensation where your mind starts going a million miles an hour, your neurons kick into overdrive, you start trying to grasp concepts you’ve got little background for understanding until you finally break down and say “is this really possible or is it a load of complete and utter horseshit?” Your intuition (N) will kick in and tell you most of the time but sometimes your thinking (T) will say “uh, wait, sometimes the counter-intuitive is actually true” and when that particular mind-screw happens the phenomenon of dog-chasing-its-own-tail-ad-infinitum-ad-absurdum really goes into overdrive and…well…if you’re anything like me, you prove that it is possible to go two weeks without sleeping and five days without eating (you live on the staples of your best friends C8H10N4O2 and C10H14N2) until you get enough of a grounding in the subject to determine that yes, it is possible or no, it’s not. Then you crash like Windows 3.1 encountering the Internet.

However, not everyone has the finely-tuned, well-used BS detector that comes built-in to the NT’s brain. Which is why God/Buddha/Fate/the Universe/the Flying Spaghetti Monster/Vectron/Zarqon/*insert whatever here* sent us Carl Sagan who wrote A Demon-Haunted World. This book is great at helping those who lack the BS-detector that comes standard among NTs/Rationals/Analysts to avoid being taken in by the latest hoax du jour or journalistic misunderstanding of a scientist’s finding (of which there are many).

This book is also great for us INTJs and other NTs/Rationals/Analysts because it can help us to understand why so many people get taken in by fads, hoaxes, things that are too-good-to-be-true, tricksters, half-truths, or other things of that nature (crop circles, UFO stories, alien abductions, the Satanic cult scare of the 1980s). And, believe me, if there’s one area where we fail epically, it’s in understanding why other people don’t get what we get so quickly and easily. I mean, for us, it’s normal to be able to figure out that there was no way that the crop circles were anything other than man-made, that Nessy was a trick of photography, that Bigfoot is a myth, that the pyramids really were an Egyptian engineering feat (and Stonehenge was the same for the Britons), that there was a natural explanation for the “canals” on Mars, etc, etc, etc. We’re hard-wired to be skeptics. Having better-than-average recall is an inborn ability for us. Learning new things is just what we do. But for the other 99% of the world, reality is totally different and we have a hard time getting that. We have a hard time walking in their shoes and this book can help us see things from their point of view.

    

Five rainbow-farting zebricorns. Everyone needs this book in their library and should read it at least once a year. If they did, the world would be a much better, more rational place.

— G.K.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse — Who To Take

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse -- Who To Take

…and who to avoid and why.

Early on, if you’re a decent person, your impulse will be to try to save as many people as you can. And, if the Outbreak looks like it’s going to be contained and controlled and a promising treatment developed soon, that’s not a bad idea. However, if the Outbreak overwhelms civil authorities and you find yourself in the midst of a full-fledged “The End Is Nigh” apocalypse, you’re going to want to be a bit pickier about who you save and who you leave to fend for themselves. Now, bear in mind that this is just a list of guidelines and suggestions and not a hard-and-fast Gospel so with your grain of sodium chloride ingested, we shall proceed.

Those To Save

Defenders

This is my wall and I’mma guard it, k?

It’s a simple fact that any group is going to need a good number of defenders. These are your Ricks and Dales. Almost all the able-bodied adults (male and female) will be called on to handle defense but there will be a couple of them for whom defense of the group is going to be a primary calling. Leadership might also tend to go naturally towards them or it might not but they will generally be mostly concerned with strategies that ensure that the group survives over the long term and that the people within the group have their talents and skills used in ways that benefit the group’s chances to survive.

That said, the defenders will tend to get so focused on survival that they will forget all about living and growing. They do suffer from tunnel vision and can adopt something of a bunker-mentality wherein anyone outside the group is not to be trusted. They will need the occasional break from defense to something else in order to keep this from happening.

Builders

Is Jim gonna have to smack a bitch?

Builders are good, too. These are your mechanics, your carpenters, your handy-men. If you break it, they can fix it. Most of them will have worked with their hands before the Outbreak but some of them will not. Those who weren’t handy-men (or women) before the Outbreak will generally have a way of looking at things or seeing potential in a place or in items and inventing something that makes you remember the scene from Apollo 13 when the NASA guys managed to make the “wrong” CO2 filter fit in the CLM opening so the crew wouldn’t asphyxiate on the return trip (it was awesome). You’ll want these people around because they’ll make life so much simpler and they’ll be able to repair, replenish, or just flat out invent and innovate their way through the Outbreak. Sometimes their hair-brained ideas will blow up in your face but sometimes those ideas will lead to breakthroughs that make Salk look like a slacker.

However, the two types of builders exist in a very yin-yang relationship. Sometimes they get along great and you’d think they are all speaking a language that no one else knows. Other times getting them to work together makes herding cats look simple.

Teachers

Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’ve gone stupid, son

Teachers are those who have knowledge and can pass it on to others. And, yes, everyone is going to be a teacher in some form or fashion during the ZA. However, the elderly and women who are pregnant or with young children will generally be the primary teachers in your group just because that’s how the resources are going to fall out. That said, if you stumble across someone who is a biologist, a chemist, an engineer, a physicist, an astronomer, or has other highly advanced knowledge of the sciences like that — save them unless they are completely irredeemable because that knowledge is fucking invaluable.

Thinkers

What? It’s true

Thinkers come in all shapes and sizes. They’re not just the verbose, lettered, bookish types who can quote all manner of esoteric arcana at the drop of a hat like me. Some of them are the surly, crossbow-wielding type who could track the wind over rocks. The commonality is that we all live in our heads, we tend not to deal well with other people, social graces escape us completely, we’re way outside our comfort zone dealing with “teh feelz” of any kind, we tend to act quickly and sort out how we feel about it much later (if ever) and some of us can rationalize damn near anything even if we know it’s immoral and unethical.

Still, we generally come in useful, we’re fairly low maintenance, we pitch in and help out, and aside from the fact that we have a tendency not to socialize, we’re not bad people.

Workers

You can count on us for anything

These are the people who don’t fit into any particular category above or who maybe kind of fit into some of them but not completely. They may not be specialists but they work hard, are honest, do their share, make life easy for others, are fun to be around, and genuinely care for the rest of the group. You need them if you’re ever going to have any hope of rebuilding the world. These are people like Glenn, Beth, T-Dog, Carol, Martinez, Michonne, Tara, Tyreese, Carl… They aren’t perfect but then, no one is.

Those To Avoid

Drama Queens

Avoid. Avoid. Avoid!

It doesn’t matter how close you are to them, how long you’ve known them, how much you care for them, or how skilled they are — drama queens are going to be more trouble than they are worth and they are going to get you killed. In the ZA, the energy they consume is going to be greater than that which they contribute. Their need to be the center of attention and the constant siren-call of their psyche for self-reinforcing immediate gratification is going to get you (and everyone else) eaten by the undead. Avoid them. Avoid them at all costs.

Syphilitic Donkeys

Heed my advice: don’t stick it in the crazy

If the population drops by 90%, there’s going to be chaos. Yes, you are going to need to concern yourself with reproducing and that means you are going to have to start thinking about things like genetic variability and possibly considering alternate marriages like line marriages (as from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) or something like that to avoid the bottleneck (or Founder’s) effect which can happen if things get really, really, REALLY bad (like if there are less than 10,000 people in the world). However, even with those “alternative” schemes in mind, adultery cannot be tolerated. Men and women who have committed to a relationship — in whatever form that takes in your group — have to be faithful. If they’re not, then that behavior can’t be tolerated.

It’s not actually the sex per se that is the problem — it’s the secrecy and betrayal. Minus those, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Egomaniacal Totalitarian Messiah Wannabes

Bet you thought I was gonna post The Governor

You will run into more of these than you would have believed. Most of them will be very charismatic, persuasive, and charming or will be able to claw their way to the top of a power structure and use their influence over the muscle to maintain their power base. If you happen to stumble across a group like this, get away from them and put as much distance between you and them as you can. They will wind up destroying their group and killing whoever is with them once their ego is threatened and, in a ZA, their ego will be threatened.

There is one last group of people — the largest group of people, actually. They are the Questionables. Some of them can be saved and some of them can’t. It will all come down to your individual experience with them.

In our next entry, we’ll go over some of the forms of groups that you’ll encounter might take and how to deal with them and their command structures.

— G.K.

Matters of Honor, Power, and Illusions

Matters of Honor, Power, and Illusions

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about honor and rules when it comes to combat, debate, arguing, and society. I’ve half-written about a dozen entries on this so I decided to come back and do an intro since it’s going to be a pretty lengthy subject. Others have written about it before and a lot of what they’ve said is worth reading. However, recent events — the fight over the Hugos, the issue with white-washing the entire Civil War out of American history, the Balkanization of society, and so on, has made me do a lot of thinking which starts out around honor.

Basically, one side believes in honor and the other side believes in “the end justifies the means.” We’re not even really fighting over the same thing here and it’s taken me quite a while to realize it. It didn’t strike me until I was re-reading We and got to thinking about dystopian literature (which, of course, always leads back to Orwell’s 1984). This isn’t about freedom vs slavery, capitalism vs socialism, statism vs dynamism, red vs blue, Democrats vs Republicans — that’s all just a front. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

It’s about power. Who has it? Who’s going to keep it? What is power, really? And does it even truly exist or is it just another illusion? Is it just another shadow on Plato’s cavern wall? I honestly don’t know but it’s got all my little INT lights just a-flickering so I’m hoping some of you will stick around with me while I knock these ideas around. They’re not going to be perfect and I welcome honest discussion on the matter because I get the sense that this is something the Founding Fathers “got” intuitively. That power (outside of actual physical power — as in “laws of physics” kind of power) is just an illusion. It’s a kind of mass mutually-shared hallucination we participate in by agreement and if enough of us decide to stop playing the game — like in the Matrix — we might be able to bring the entire system into a state of crash or some kind of kernel panic.

It’d be interesting, at least. That is if I’m even anywhere near correct on this (which isn’t a given).

So, anyone up for it?

— G.K.

On dinosaurs, colossi, golems, governments, and adaptation

On dinosaurs, colossi, golems, governments, and adaptation

…and why they all tend to die out in the end.

It’s an interesting fact in the history of biological life that the oldest form of life on Earth is the bacteria (and arguably the virus). Not just because they’re simple entities — amoeba are also fairly simple as are many members of the protist branch. It’s also interesting to note that bacteria, protists, and viruses from the Proterozoic Eon (roughly 2500 million years ago) of the are still around. They’re still happily doing their thing, sometimes killing vast swathes of plants and animals, without a care in the world. They’ll be here long after humanity has either turned to dust or departed for worlds unknown.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. These tiny, simple, mindless, invisible things have outlasted the dinosaurs. The KT impact was barely a blip on their radar. The Ice Age? Again, barely registered to them. They kept on keeping on. The dinosaurs had them beat on size, strength, teeth, defensive features (immune systems and thick hides and spikes!), could move around more, reproduce sexually, were more genetically diverse… and then along came a single hunk of rock and it was bye-bye dinosaurs while the little microscopic dudes kept on truckin’. The dinosaurs were the masters of their environment, true, but bacteria and viruses are the masters of adaptation. And, when it comes to long-term, long-scale, universal and planetary survival, adaptation is the key trait if you’re going to be more than just a bit player in the grand game of life.

Humanity has been fighting an on-going war with some members of these groups forever. We have an immune system that fights them and we also use plants to try to counteract them and have done since we figured out we could do that way back during the prehistoric era. It’s been a long-running fight and in all that time, we’ve managed to eradicate one of them. Small pox. The rest are still merrily going about their way. Some of them we need. Some of them kill us. Some of them we are trying to eradicate and can’t even with all our technology, all our grand colossi and skyscrapers, all our golems and governments. And, compared to the dinosaurs, we’re easy prey. I mean, we don’t have big sharp teeth, scaly hides, powerful muscles, we’re not the size of the brontosaurus or the T-Rex. We don’t have the armor plating of the Triceratops or the stegosaurus. We couldn’t outrun a velociraptor if we wanted to.

However, like the viruses and bacteria, we’re great at adaptation and we’re capable of breaking off into small groups. We can mix traits on multiple levels — not just genetic but memetic — and see what works. It’s when we try to be like the dinosaurs that things get bad for us. Yes, we can gather into large groups and become like a tsunami sometimes and sometimes that’s good — think things like food drives, building houses for the homeless, SETI@home, KickStarter — but notice that all of those things are voluntary. They’re also all temporary efforts. No one joins in every KickStarter campaign or builds every house. And, tribes banding together in a common effort isn’t always a bad thing — look at the success the United States and the entire Anglosphere has enjoyed over the past few centuries. But, if we’re not left with room to adapt inside those structures, it’ll all go wonky.

The problem in recent history has been that some parts of human society want us to be more colossal and monolithic because they believe that’s the only way to progress. I’m specifically thinking of the left-wing “progressives” who want to grant the government the power to regulate just about every aspect of life — economic, social, education, cultural, philosophical — to mandate certain outcomes they deem “fair.” However, doing that has always bred the ability to adapt to sudden change right out of the people and the society. Just look at what happened to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe. Look at what’s happening in all of the South American and Latin American countries that embraced socialism and communism and their five-year plans. Just look at Cuba and North Korea. Look at the Middle East and most of the African nations. Look at most of Europe that’s embraced socialism. When changes happen, they can’t cope. Birth rates fall — they cannot adapt to the new reality. In Europe, they imported new generations to replenish their falling population rates but could not adapt to the changes that brought and still can’t handle it — look at the riots, the carbeques that are just a fact of life there, the zones sensibles around Paris, the re-emergence of a new underclass and caste system that may be socially and culturally permanent since there’s no way for the French, the Germans, the Britons, or the Swedes to change how “French,” “German,” “British,” or “Swedish,” is defined or how someone can become a member of those tribes other than by birth. The Industrial Revolution ended and was replaced by the paradigm-shifting Digital revolution and these nations cannot adapt.

Industries are having problems as well. The publishing world got hit by the KT impact of Amazon and the Internet just like the movie and music industries and since they’re all populated by rather monolithic corporations who have a lot vested in the status quo ante, they not only don’t want to adapt, but they may not be able to. The Big Five may die entirely just like the dinosaurs did because, while Amazon is a large beast, it’s more like a large colony of bacteria and less like a brontosaurus. If one part of Amazon fails, it won’t bring down the whole thing. Amazon is acing the adaptation thing while the Big Five not only are failing at it but, given some of Tor’s senior management’s recent behavior, they’re doing everything they can to destroy their own food supplies and water sources.

Hell, the United States is having trouble dealing with the chaos that the Digital Revolution has wrought and we’re probably the most flexible and adaptable nation and society on the planet. The genius of the Founders guaranteed that. Which is why I have a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we should be like the rest of the world and become more rigid and inflexible. Do we have our problems? Yes. Do we have our imperfections — of course! Are there inequalities? Without a doubt. Is it better to have those problems than to be unable to deal with changes in reality? Is it better to be a bacteria or a dinosaur?

I say it’s better to be a bacteria. I say it’s better to be something that can adapt quickly and rapidly even if that means that there’s going to be a lot of inequality and imperfection and problems because it means at least you’re alive to deal with them instead of being extinct the first time a big rock comes your way. After all, if you’re alive, you can work to try to minimize those inequalities — for instance, make it illegal to discriminate against people based on things like race, religion, orientation, gender, political philosophy; make it so that society and economics is more of a meritocracy. If you’re dead… well, there’s really not much you can do (other than vote Democrat, of course).

— G.K.