Category Archives: I’ll have an extra helping of pointless, thank you.

My Peculiar Pet Peeves

I’ve got a long list of pet peeves like I’m sure many do, but I’ve noticed a few in myself that seem to go beyond noisy soup eaters and people who take too long to go when the light turns green.  Here’s some exposition on them.

1: Calling something a “Pet Peeve” when it is bigger than just a minor annoyance.

I believe that a genuine “pet peeve” should be something that, in the end, doesn’t really matter.  It’s something that bugs you but not necessarily anyone else, and if that pet peeve never happened again, the world would not necessarily be a better (or even worse) place.  A great example in my own experience: I get very passionately upset when discussing the dismissive and arrogant attitude Chicagoans have with the-rest-of-Illinoisans.  But I don’t call that a pet peeve because on some level (however small in the scheme of things) it matters.  I can argue a point as to why Chicagoans shouldn’t be that way; and I know of many Chicagoans who could and would argue back.  So when someone mentions that a person driving too slow in the left lane on the freeway is a “pet peeve,” I get peeved, because that’s actually a bit of a safety concern (not to mention a legal one).  But note that my annoyance at this ultimately doesn’t matter. Hence it being the first in my list.

2: Traffic reports on the radio made in the second person.

Have you ever noticed this?  I didn’t live in a place that even needed traffic reports until about seven years ago.  Then, when I started paying attention, I noticed that some days I had the information given to me and went about my day.  Other times I would listen and notice myself getting uncomfortable with what was being said to me.  Why?  There are a few traffic reporters here in the Seattle area that do their traffic reports in the 2nd person.

“And here’s Kimmie with traffic.”

“Well it looks like you’re having a really tough commute this evening.  You’re stuck in a three-mile backup on northbound I-5, and you’re slowing down on southbound, as well, as you’re distracted by that accident across the divider.  I-90 doesn’t look great as you’re coming off of Mercer Island, and you’re backed up pretty bad heading south on 405.”

Ugh.  It even made me cringe to write that.  It bugs me because in an attempt to make the traffic report *more* relatable by giving it in the second person, it has become *less* relatable.  Why? Because, no, I am not stuck in a three-mile backup on I-5 North.  I’m very likely somewhere else.  And if I AM in a three-mile backup on I-5 North, then your traffic report doesn’t help me very much, does it?  I already know I’m stuck and now your poorly-thought-out narrative style makes it sound like you’re mocking me.  I need a traffic report to tell me what things are like in places where I will *be*, not how they are where I *am*.  Do I get the same info either way? Absolutely.  But we’re not talking about logic here.

3: “Baby” instead of “The Baby” or “Your Baby” or “Our Baby,” etc.

I first took notice of this years ago when I spent a lot more time watching television, and there would be a commercial for some baby product. The commercial narrator would say something like, “. . . so that it doesn’t irritate baby’s skin,” or “. . . and its gentle formula makes it easier for baby to digest.”

Well, round about 13 months ago I got caught in the “all-babies-all-the-time hurricane,” myself, and this issue only compounded itself.  It’s as if all the having-babies and raising-babies industries and community forgot about articles and adjectives.

“You just need to do what’s best for baby.”

“. . . and that will give you more time to spend with baby.”

“Do some research on what things you prefer to have in toys for baby.”

People, I implore you.  What is so wrong with saying, “the baby,” “a baby,” and ESPECIALLY “your baby.”  “Baby” is not my child’s name.  “Baby” is what she is.  We don’t do this for other things . . .

“This will be the perfect gift for man.”

“Life can be a little rough when dealing with teenager.”

“. . . and it’s gentle formula makes it easier for guinea pig to digest.”

. . . so why “baby?”  I don’t understand and it’s annoying.

4: People I don’t know talking to me about my food.

In a broader sense, I just don’t like it when people I don’t know talk to me, period.  But I concede that in most situations it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone and be forced to interact with people.  I think that’s good for all of us.  What would things look like if we weren’t so cold to strangers every day?

That said, I cannot stand it when strangers start small talk about my food that I’m eating or heating up.

“Oh, that looks pretty good.  Whatcha got there? Is that chicken in that?”

What the heck? Who are you and why do you think I’m okay with you putting your nasty vision all over my food?  I’m standing by the microwave to heat this up so I can eat it and continue working and go home.  There’s no reason for us to have any interaction about my LUNCH.

Useless small talk is always bad, but when it centers around a very private thing like my nasty-looking, cold, chicken curry and rice in a Ziploc container, it’s infinitely worse.  What response are they expecting?  Do they want a bite?  Because they can’t have one.  Do they want me to discuss how I made it?  Should I bring up the stores where I got the ingredients?  Or maybe my inspiration?  I’m very certain they’re not asking so they can make it themselves.  Am I now obligated to return compliments on THEIR food?  Should I bring up that I’m not sure which pepper slice is the one I dropped on my dirty kitchen floor, but it’s in there somewhere?

The worst example of this happening was years ago as I was heating up some KFC (freaking KFC!  Does day-old fried chicken and gluey mashed potatoes warrant a conversation?).  A guy started blasting me with questions about it–“Is that regular or extra crispy?” was one of many inquiries–and then worked his way into asking if I’ve ever been to Cleveland, Ohio.  When I said no, he proceeded to give me a specific location (as in street name and neighborhood) of a “great fried chicken place” that I should check out if I’m ever in the area.  And then he left.  To this day I wonder if he recalls that conversation as one of those cringe-inducing embarrassing memories.  I honestly kind of hope so.

As a quick disclaimer–if I know you, I don’t care if you comment on or ask questions about my food.  Seriously.  Don’t be afraid.  Chat away.  You see, to speak to another person about their food, I believe there should be an established relationship.   It is not small talk material.  Make a comment about my funny shirt, complain about the smelly work fridge, ask if I know where the extra salt is kept.  I don’t care.  Anything that works in a passing manner, but if you’re going to talk about what I’m eating or about to eat, we’d better be working toward some meaningful interactions sometime in the future.  Otherwise it’s like striking up a conversation with a stranger at a urinal.

5: People who can’t or refuse to make eye contact with you during a casual conversation.

This is the weird thing . . . I’ve never been able to find anyone else that notices this the way I do, but I can think of three people at least–none of whom have any connection to each other other than knowing me at some point in time–who, when getting really into the point they’re making in a conversation, look off far to the side and hold their vision there.  It’s hard to describe in words.

This is a normal conversation:

NormalEyeContact

And this is what the conversation looks like when I’m talking with the people that do this:

NoEyeContact

I *know* this has to be something  of a common thing.  Someone reading this will know what I’m talking about, or start noticing it.

6: When trivial pieces of information, which I know to be untrue, are brought into a conversation and I have to decide to be a jerk and correct them or to lie and pretend I don’t know they’re wrong.

Did you know if you soak a steak in Coca Cola for a week it’ll dissolve?

Did you know that Johnny Depp finished scenes as the Joker for The Dark Knight after Heath Ledger died?

Did you know that Washington State Unemployment determines how much you make on unemployment by picking a paycheck from the previous year at random and giving you a percentage of that?

Isn’t it crazy how fast the Die Hard movies have come out?  I mean, the first one came out in the late 90’s!

None of those statements are factual, and all of them I’ve found myself in conversations with people that either required me to kill said conversation by informing the other person of their error which inevitably and awkwardly brings the larger interaction to a halt, or to proceed with that conversation feeling like a complete and utter fraud because I’m pretending to be impressed by information that I know to be false.  This is the sad side to being someone so fascinated by such useless, trivial things.  I learn about them, I read more about them, and then I learn what’s true and what’s not.  As a next step, I then become fascinated not by useless and trivial things, but by misconceptions about useless and trivial things, which increases the probability that this happens to me.

But there’s a different side to this.  Sure, me immersing myself in knowledge of common misconceptions about a variety of trivia topics puts me in a self-imposed position to get annoyed by people who don’t know as much as I know about something.  But sometimes, it’s the other person.  Sometimes the other person either makes something up, listens to something that is made up, or doesn’t know how to be properly skeptical about things they read in email forwards, and then spit it out as fact.  And then the conversation gets *really* awkward because I now know that I will not believe anything they say for the remainder of the time I know them.

And then sometimes I don’t know WHERE they get their information.  Like that thing about Die Hard.  I’m not exaggerating that quote.  It’s paraphrased, yes, but not stretched at all.  I met a guy who expressed his wonder at “how fast Hollywood put out all the Die Hard movies” as he discussed that summer’s release of Live Free or Die Hard, and when I asked him to clarify what he defined as “fast,” he pointed out that the first movie was released in the late 90’s.  1996 at the earliest,  he was sure.  And he refused to listen to me when I told  him I remember very clearly watching the first Die Hard on TV in the early 1990’s.  (It came out in 1988, for the record; I’ll never forget that fact, now).

I actually spent a whole day talking to that guy and  he was this pet peeve incarnate.

7: The phrase “Wow! Small world!”

Because it’s not.   Spend some time on Google Maps and really take in how small your house or apartment is next to the nearest body of water you can find.  Then scroll out and take in how much space there is on Planet Earth and really ponder on how NOT small this world is.  When an amazing coincidence comes up, it’s okay to really marvel at how crazy that kind of connection is.  Because there are a lot of people.  And there are far more ways that coincidence could have NOT happened, as billions and billions do daily, than for it to have  happened.  Let’s be amazed.

Childish Things

The words going through my head today are more introspective and autobiographical than usual; I recently read some Donald Miller, so that might be part of the reason.  I’m going to write about what has been one of the largest crutches of my life, and most recently was the cause of my abandoning my blog once again.

Prior to age eight, I had a small handful of run-ins with video games.  Once with an Atari 2600 at someone’s house my family was visiting.  Another time, one of my younger brothers and I got to play another Atari 2600 when a slightly-older-than-our-parents couple watched us for a day or two.  (They had a pinball machine, too.  That place was cool.)  I remember we played the obscure Atari title Maze Craze until we were dreaming about it.  Yet another time we were at a family friend’s house and she had a teenage son with the mother of all video game consoles, the 8-bit NES.  She let us play it, but we had no idea how to properly use one, so we were swapping cartridges with the power still on, and of course not holding “reset” when turning off The Legend of Zelda.  When he came home he was remarkably calm, especially considering we ruined some of his games.

. . . no, it was like that when we turned it on.

There was no doubt a few more instances thrown in prior to the Christmas of 1988, when my two brothers and I tore open what seemed like the biggest box we’d ever seen in the sight of the loving and weary smile of my recently widowed father.  It was what we’d asked for: a Nintendo.  But this wasn’t just the Nintendo; it was the Power Set.

It came with the Power Pad and three games on one cartridge: the standard Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, plus World Class Track Meet for use with the Power Pad.  I remember that Christmas was a Sunday, too, because I know we didn’t get go straight to playing it all day; we hooked it up and had to go straight to church.

I don’t think anyone would ever fault a dad for getting his boys what they really wanted for Christmas on what would likely be the saddest single holiday of their lives.  But in the years that were to come, my dad would come to regret it nonetheless.  And now, as an adult, I do, too.

My life for the years that followed mostly centered around video games.  Every birthday and Christmas that followed until mid-high school was the time to get a new game.  In grade school I did the trading thing with my friends at school.  It was safe for the most part, but one day I did notice that my copy of Super Mario Bros. 2 was missing, and I never saw it again.  (I don’t know who I lent it to or who swiped it, but my money’s on Mike Strader.) That was the only casualty, though.  At least for my games; I can’t speak for the games owned by my brothers.  By middle school, my closest friend was also a big video game fan, and he had a lot more stuff than I did.  So my leisure time was games, and my social time was games.

My life revolved around playing video games so much that if I wasn’t playing them, I was talking about them, drawing pictures based on them, or just plain daydreaming about them.  One time I really wanted the game Final Fantasy so I let myself become so obsessed that I read and took notes in the strategy guide I’d gotten a hold of for it, and even at one point spent an entire day of forced chores mumbling “Final Fantasy Final Fantasy Final Fantasy” etc., under my breath.  Yes, it was as nuts as it sounds.

Several months later, I bought it and in the few years that followed, I beat it probably 20 times or more.

The toll it took on the academics of my brothers and me was so great that my step mom would sneak the controllers away at the start of the school year and we wouldn’t see them again until June; unfortunately games weren’t the only issue there, but they were a very large part regardless.  In the summers from around 1991 until 1996 or 1997, my brothers and I worked out this incredible compromise to keep from fighting over the NES: a rotating, hour-by-hour schedule each day.  Written down on paper.  On one hand it kept us from fighting (mostly), but on the other hand most summers, sometimes days upon days, were spent in front of our TV in the basement.  To be honest, we preferred it.

My ruined fourth semester of college was also due in large part to having free and open access to video games at any time, with me staying up until 4 a.m. sometimes playing my PlayStation (I had just gotten a TV for my room for Christmas).  Not long after I dropped the classes to avoid bad marks on my transcript, my parents kicked me out of the house.  When I got a place of my own months later, with no responsibilities other than work, I’d go 16+ hours playing video games sometimes.  Fast forward a few years to my first apartment with roommates for the summer prior my second and final year attending Southern Illinois University, I’d go even longer.  I once spent so many waking hours doing nothing but playing Grand Theft Auto III that one day, when I realized I’d left my phone in a gas station across town the night before, I got into my car and headed out to go get it and caught myself going 80 miles an hour on a 30 mph road.  That’s how I’d done it in the game for so many days, it was instantly natural when I was actually behind the wheel.  I think I first noticed the serious danger of the situation when my rationale overtook my instinct to run a slower car off the road.  Another time I practically locked myself in my bedroom and didn’t see my roommates except to eat and go to work so I could play Ocarina of Time; it took me about two weeks to finish.  In the years that followed, I had more than a few instances like that—game game game work eat sleep game.

So it continued on like that throughout my 20’s.  While sometimes I’d go as long as six months without touching a video game, without really even thinking about it, I’d always eventually get my hands on a new one, or get the urge to revisit an old favorite, and I wouldn’t walk away for months.  And that cycle was something I was content with and wasn’t a big deal until I got married.  The funny thing was, after I got married, I never did reach a point of boredom with gaming to where I’d put it away with nary a thought for a few months.  I couldn’t stop playing them.  That, coupled with entire evenings wasted in front of the TV for no good reason, led to the idea of the year-long “media fast” that my wife and I did.  It took a while for us to really get to the point that we didn’t sit around staring at a wall with nothing to do, but once we did, it was great.  I read tons of books, practiced guitar hours a day, ate dinner at the table.  Great stuff.

But of course it ended.  Funny thing—take a look at when my last blog post was.  September 20, 2011.  That was approximately one year after starting the fast.  At first, I had no desire to go back to playing games.  Dona and I had already began to enjoy evenings watching Seinfeld DVD’s over dinner, but I could take two episodes at the most and I was done.  I really didn’t feel like playing any of my FPS’s on Steam, but I did sit down to try and play Sim City 4, and the enthusiasm for that died within minutes.

“I’ve beaten this,” I thought.  After more than two decades of my life given over to ultimately useless, digital pursuits, I spent an entire year staying away alongside my wife, and had little desire to return.  Then I remembered a game I’d heard about in the year previous.

I knew that Minecraft was supposed to be addicting.  In fact, the first thought I had about playing the game was not a welcome one—I even went on Facebook asking people to talk me out of it.  But it was no use.  I tried out the free version of the game on Minecraft.net and subsequently spent something like 36 hours on it over the following three days.  I’m not stretching that number.  Since I could save nothing and had started over thrice, I accepted the inevitable and paid for the game and downloaded it.  At first I tried to restrict myself to an hour a day.  Then that became an hour on weekdays and three hours per day on weekends.  Within two weeks that was completely thrown out, too.

I would go to bed thinking about the game, and wake up thinking about it.  At work I would spend my lunch breaks watching Minecraft videos on Youtube.  I would get home and fight every inch of my being to resist going straight to the computer.  I’d sit down to play guitar, but get irritated over the smallest monotonies, and eventually just put the guitar down and turn on the game.  Eventually I wouldn’t even bother with the instrument at all.  It’s scary for me to remember what it felt like to turn on the game after hours of actively resisting the desire—complete euphoria.  My wife, not one to not let me know what she thinks, was constantly on me about playing too much.  Not so much because of how it affected her, though that was certainly a factor, but because she could see so clearly what it was doing to me and how Rational Braden would be very upset at the sight of that.  She was not treated kindly in response, I’m sorry to say.  Actually “sorry to say” is microscopic to how bad I feel about that now.

I had spent the months before Minecraft thinking out which books to read next, how to structure guitar practice time, or what to write about, or even early thoughts on how to start a business.  Once Minecraft came into the picture, I began spending almost every literal waking moment making plans for super railways, massive underground fortresses, mapped-out continents and oceans, and Nether-based transportation systems.  Perhaps most tragically, I actually found myself wishing for unemployment again, or for my wife to take a weekend trip somewhere, so I could spend days without interruption playing.  I had more than one weekend where I would put in more than 30 hours between Friday night and Sunday night.

Eventually I began to admit to myself under the surface that there was a problem, but it took the better part of two months for me to reach a point that I admitted to myself that I was truly facing a scary reality:  I would have to delete Minecraft and make a personal commitment to never get sucked into games again—even if that meant never playing another game for the rest of my life.

It’s interesting how that played out, because one morning just a few days after realizing that, I got up from my living room chair and sat in front of my computer and deleted everything I could.  I was still waking up a little, which thankfully impaired my rationale.  I did have some momentary freak-outs, since I was essentially deleting weeks upon weeks of “work” in that virtual world I’d lived in, but I went through with it and removed my access to my Minecraft account to the best of my ability (deleting fully is not an option Mojang offers).  Even if I were to get myself back into my account, all my progress would still be gone.  That actually becomes less of a hindrance the longer we go, because the longer it’s been since I played the game, the less I care about what I was working on prior.

But with all that said, I don’t miss the game at all and have no desire to return.  I didn’t like how that time felt.

Yet I’ve not completely beaten my video game bug.  I deleted Minecraft sometime in January, and due to some of my other games not running well in Windows 7, I was able to keep it under control for a couple weeks.  By then end of February, though, I was on Steam playing some of my inexpensive, dated, First Person Shooters, from Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, to Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, to nearly the entire Half-Life series, from Half-Life: Source to Half-Life 2 and its subsequent two episodes.  I’ve spent the last week working on achievements in Portal.  

So what keeps me here?  Why do I keep coming back?  For one, it’s very easy time spent on accomplishing what feels like a lot of things.  In the course of two weeks, I went from being a recently-hired theoretical physicist at an Arizona-based research facility to assisting a group of rebels fight a human-alien dystopian oppression.  I’ll say that reading books is ultimately a “healthier” activity, but no matter how well that prose is written, you can’t get immersed in a story the way you can in a well-designed video game, and Valve is undeniably among the best in their field in that regard.  Anyone who’s awed at how connected they get to Alyx Vance or furious they get at Wallace Breen knows what I’m talking about.  One of the most exciting story-based moments ever for me was the start ofHalf-Life 2: Episode 1 when the G-Man gets interrupted by the Vortegaunts block him, and he looks at you and says so seriously, “We’ll see about that.”  It’s hard to really appreciate out of context.

I love creativity; I love a great story.  Video games have evolved to the point that I can have both to my heart’s content and accomplish little else . . . the twist being, of course, that my heart will never be content and satisfied with them because I’m not sure that those innate passions were meant to be fully satisfied.

So here we are again.  Two days ago I deleted Steam and all of my progress of the last couple weeks.  It was a little easier than Minecraft, mind you, because all my Steam games are stories that I’ve finished.  I want to stand on top of a platform and declare that I’ve written off video games for the rest of my life, and that my passions for creativity and great stories will be channeled into music and reading and writing–but I can’t say that.  If Half-Life 3 or HL: Episode 3 ever come out, or when/if Portal 2 gets really cheap, I’m not going to last very long.  I just hope I can keep myself clear long enough to actually accomplish some things in the meantime.

Let’s Get Something Straight: Cousins

I don’t consider myself a pedant, though sometimes I can’t help but appear as one.  I don’t care if people think I’m smart (which is the motive of a true pedant), I just can’t stand the idea of people moving blindly through life in their (easily corrected) ignorance.  This usually happens with grammar, with a fairly wide “bite-my-tongue-or-not” scale.  On the low end would be someone not using the word “whom.”  It’s easy to let that one go.  On the higher end would be someone saying something like, “While you’re there, could you also pick up some napkins for she and I?”  Grumble.  Yet it’s not just grammar . . . another area is music: such as a particular chord being called a “C2” instead of a “C(add9),” or needless usage of slash chords, like writing “F/D” instead of just writing “Dm7,” or calling the gap between the 6th and 7th degrees of a harmonic minor scale a “minor 3rd” instead of an “augmented 2nd.”  Another area is badly informed pop culture trivia . . . like the time some guy told me in the utmost confidence that the first Die Hard movie came out in the late 90’s, or when someone told me that they knew for a fact that Johnny Depp finished some of Heath Ledger’s scenes from The Dark Knight.

As you can see, these categories are becoming more and more ridiculous . . . but I can’t help it.  It eats at my very being.  Eventually, I have to speak up.

So this brings us to possibly the oddest one . . . naming of cousins using degrees and removals.  I think the popular aversion to properly labeling our cousins stems not only from its seeming complexity, but from the fact that 21st century American culture (and I would imagine much of the Western world) doesn’t keep track of family beyond first, and maybe second, cousins.  Add to that fact the rather confusing nature of how to properly label someone who is a cousin, and you end up with people not ignoring the system altogether, but misusing it.

Well it is my goal that after you have finished reading this post, you will have a thorough understanding of how to correctly determine your relation to that girl you almost asked out before she mentioned that you’re related somehow.

Let’s begin.

First, you need to know the difference between a DEGREE and a REMOVAL.

DEGREE:
A degree is likely the more familiar term.  In the context of a cousin relation, it is the “first” in “first cousin” or “third” in “third cousin,” etc.  It means how many branches out the individual is in your family tree from you.  From what I can tell, you and your first cousin are such because that is the FIRST time in the descent of your common ancestral line that two people are cousins at all, in a horizontal sense.  You and your second cousin are such because it is the second time, your parents being the first.  And so on with third, fourth, etc.

REMOVAL:
A removal is the more confusing part, but you’re likely familiar with phrases like “second cousin, twice removed.”  This is the vertical movement in the family tree, whereas a degree is horizontal.   It is a shift either up or down through a generation (or we could say a “degree”).  And that is, of course, “generation” in the family sense, where grandpa and grandma are one generation, mom plus your aunts and uncles are the next, you and your siblings and first cousins are the next, and all of your kids are the next, etc.  So a “second cousin, twice removed” is someone who is the grandchild (or grandparent) of your second cousin–or, another way of looking at it, they are the first cousin of your grandparent.

The most commonly made mistake I see is people referring to the child of their first cousin as their second cousin.  This is incorrect.  YOUR child will be second cousins with that child.  YOU, however, are a first cousin, once removed to them, and vice versa.

I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs to further explain how this works, but illustrations work really well for this.  Plus I get to make stuff in Excel.

So, to start, this is our simplified family tree, where we pretend that the only people in your family that had more than one child for two generations back and three generations forward were your grandparents.

Degrees (first cousin, second cousin, etc.) only occur in a horizontal sense.

So as you can see, your child and your first cousin’s child are second cousins, and your great-grandchildren are fourth cousins.  This is exactly in the same sense as YOUR second cousin is the child of your parent’s first cousin, and YOUR fourth cousin is the great-grandchild of your great-grandparent’s first cousin (or, if you wish, the great-great grandchild of your great-great-great uncle).

Now, what is your relation to your first cousin’s great-grandchild?

Since we’re going down in generations, it will be easiest to first determine the degree.  We must ask, “what degree of cousin is this individual descended from?”  Well . . .

First degree.

We should note here that this means anyone directly descended from your first cousin will always be a “FIRST cousin, X-times removed” to you (and you to them).  Likewise, anyone descended from your second cousin is a “second cousin, x-times removed” to you, and so on.  We’ve determined that this individual is some kind of first cousin, so now we need to find how many removals there are.

So how many removals are there?

Three.

Your relation to your first cousin’s great-grandchild is FIRST COUSIN, THRICE REMOVED.  Or “three times removed” if you don’t want to sound pretentious.

“Hold on,” you might be saying if you’re observant enough.  “That could also be ‘fourth cousins, thrice removed’ if you start with the first cousin’s great-grandchild’s relationship to your great-grandchild, and then remove back to you.”  That is true, but the smaller degree available is always considered the degree.

Let’s do one more so we can be sure that we’re all taking this home today.

What’s your great-grandchild’s relation to your first cousin’s grandchild?

We’re now going up in generations.  The relation is the same in either direction, but this time it will be easier determining the removal first, by going up one generation to your grandchild, and then determining what degree of cousins they are.

For the sake of brevity I’ve done both steps here:

So your great-grandchild will be third cousins, once removed, to your first cousin’s grandchild.

It’s interesting how distant these relations get with relatively small numbers involved.  A few years ago I met a woman on Facebook who was a distant cousin.  She knew her lineage better than I knew my own, so we both traced our ancestors back until we found a common ancestor.  We’re sixth cousins (no removals).  That means our first common ancestors are our great-great-great-great-great grandfather and grandmother.  I don’t know much about that grandmother, but that grandfather was born in the 1710’s or 1720’s and emigrated to Pennsylvania from modern-day western Germany as a boy with his parents.  She and I are each seven generations descended from two of his sons, which makes us, as I said, sixth cousins–which to me seems like a small number for over 250 years of descent.

So I hope this has been informative.  There’s a lot to it, I know, and I also know that not everyone finds it as fascinating as I do, and therefore have no intentions of ever trying to figure any of it out.

If that’s the case, let me offer to you a couple of wonderful terms of neutrality.

“Cousin”

“Distant cousin”

See?  Perfect.  While “cousin” by itself usually implies first cousins, it can absolutely be expanded to mean a more distant relation.  And when you want to emphasize that you are NOT first cousins, you say “distant cousins,” thus establishing that your parents are not siblings, and not bugging the heck out of me when I notice you’re using the wrong terms.  Remember, we all play a part in making sure Braden’s brain doesn’t pop from trying to be polite.

The Woman on the Sewing Machine Box

My wife recently got a sewing machine, and since we weren’t far from moving, we kept the box in our old living room, so I saw this face every day for many weeks . . .

It wasn’t long before I began to analyze this photo.  First, it’s quite obvious that the design for this box was picked around 2000, and since then the designers have thought, “Nah, still looks good to me!”  Maybe they moved their offices to rural North Dakota since then.  I dunno.  I’m not really going to waste time making fun of the outdated fashion.  Instead I want to concentrate on how fascinating stock photos like this are to me.

You read that right.

Look at the image again.  What does it feel like she’s “saying” on that box?  Be nice, now.  I’m asking for serious.  I see, “I just love my sewing machine; I feel cool and confident as a woman using such an awesome device!”  It looks, to me, like she’s really happy about that sewing machine!  Look how pleased she is with herself because she has that sewing machine!  This lady can patch a pair of jeans and make some curtains, and she’s CONFIDENT about it!  Yeah, sewing machine!

But it’s extremely likely that the model in that photo didn’t pose like that knowing her picture would end up on this box.  When that shutter fired, she wasn’t thinking about putting some cute stitching onto a table cloth; she was probably thinking about lunch.  My interpretations of her expression are completely contingent upon her being placed next to that picture of a sewing machine.  If we put her next to something else, it COMPLETELY CHANGES what it looks like she’s telling us.  You might think you know where I’m taking this, and you’re probably right.

This is going to be really low-fi*, so brace yourself.

“Attending this university was the best decision I ever made for myself.  I love my classes, have a great social life, and have no worries about my future.”

“I feel completely fulfilled as a person because I have healthy skin as a result of this facial cream.  My confidence is through the ROOF!”

“I can rest easy knowing that their uniforms are clean on the way to the game.  They may be rough, but I’m tough through the gentle cycle.”

“I just signed the papers and I move into my new home this weekend.  I’m still happy and confident about my decision because I understand everything I just did.”

“I am pleased that I don’t have herpes.”

You see what I mean?  At no point when looking at any of those photos were you remembering that you first associated her with a sewing machine.  THAT’S SO WEIRD!

There’s really no big lesson or deeper meaning I intend to explore here, I just wanted to make sure you see what I see.  That’s what you’re reading this for.

____________
*I have no shame in my extensive use of MS Paint.  YOU take a class to learn to use Illustrator.  I’m a WRITER.

Arguing with Idiots

I’ve been mistaken before as a person who “has to be right.”  This is not correct.  I have no problem being wrong.  None.  When I’m shown that I’m wrong, I go through what I think are normal stages of denial, anger, and acceptence, but I can absolutely admit that I’m incorrect about something.  What I ACTUALLY am is someone who can’t stand someone else being wrong.  You may say that’s not much better, but I say that’s up for debate.  This goes for factual errors they have, like the guy that I met through an old roommate one day who was wrong about every movie trivia thing he brought up.  The one I remember– Him:  “So that new Die Hard movie is coming out this summer?  Man, they released those FAST.”  Me:  “Fast?  How do you figure?”  Him:  “Well the first one came out like mid-90’s!”

Sigh.  This is the point in which a responsible and mature person would keep their mouth shut.  What does it matter if he’s wrong?  Well . . . it matters to me.

Me:  “Um . . . no, actually the first one came out in the late 80’s.”

Him:  “No, the first one was like 1996!”

Sigh.  I knew I was right.  I remember not being allowed to watch the first one with my new step family, with whom I was joined in 1989.  But I could see that debating with him further would be ultimately pointless, so I let it go.  Painfully, but I did let it go.  But rest assured if he were someone I were closer with, I wouldn’t have.

This also goes for logical fallacies.  Actually, it goes primarily for logical fallacies.  And when you’re someone who has the hardest time in the world seeing a logical fallacy and shrugging it off, comment sections on the internet are the WORST places for you to be.  I try to stay away . . . but they’re like crack!  Sweet, emotion-riling crack.

Recently there was an article about how Iran was restricting acedimic studies which they deemed “western” and would only allow subjects that they, an Islamic-based government, deemed okay.  Most of the comments were related to the story, but twenty to forty percent of them that I saw were some kind of stab at religion, in general, and more than half of those were directed right at Christianity:

The christians fighting to destroy seperation of state and church should be forced to live in Iran. Then MAYBE they can see why we wouldn’t want the same thing.

The funny (or not so funny) thing is that the American Christian Taliban is doing the same thing. Trying to deny scientific fact in the light of neo-‘Christianist’ dogma. Trying to suppress truth, history and the facts surrounding the violence inherent in the spread of Christianity, et cetera.  No difference.

hey all of you anti-islam nuts you do realize that islam split off from the jewish faith just like christianity.

Every time I read articles like these, I can’t help to notice the similarities between the radical Muslims and the radical Christians here in America. They are fundamentally the same! Only names change.

I got over arguing directly against claims like these a long time ago.  What I struggle with now is the contradiction in their hearts.  This is best explained via my comment:

How funny that so many people LEAPED at the opportunity to bash Christians in a story about oppressive Islamic governments.  You have a prejudice. If you had no prejudice, your reaction would have been 100% about the Iran government and not an excuse to complain about something entirely unrelated.  If you insist that they ARE related, then let me reiterate my point that you have a prejudice.

You and I could go round and round about whether or not I should have said anything, but that’s not why we’re here.  We’re actually here because of the responses I got to that.

“6” said, “Show me one person without prejudice and I’ll show you a liar. .”  Well I guess that settles it, right?  Everyone has prejudice in some fasion, so all this prejudice is justifiable.  Problem solved.

Watch out for that puddle of sarcasm I left back there.

How about another one?  “XC” said, “It’s funny how so many people LEAPED at the opportunity to bash liberals when this story is totally unrelated. Hypocrite much?”  I want you, as my reader, to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me what part of my comment up there was bashing liberals.  I’m at a loss.

And now for my favorite one, from screenname “What?Why?”:

You assume that we assumed.
You are prejudging us to be discriminatory of others.
NOICE!

Ready? FIGHT!!  What?Why? uses “Poor Logic!”  “Poor Logic” causes Braden to perform a self-attacking DOUBLE FACEPALM!!!  CRITICAL HIT!!!  BRADEN HAS BEEN K.O.’D!!!

This guy got plenty of thumbs up on that response, too, which tells us that there are more people out there who think that he made sense.

I assumed that he assumed?  What did I assume?  I saw comments bashing Christians and saying that all Christians want to oppress the world with creationism and prayer in schools after an article about the Iranian Islamic government.  I’ll ask again–what did I assume?  And I “prejudged” them to be discriminatory of others?  What does that even mean?  How does one “prejudge” someone else when they point out something they just did?

This is the kind of stuff that gets me the most.  And it eats at me that I can’t find that guy and sit him down and explain to him how what he said was, well, moronic.  Which is what keeps this comment section cycle spinning . . .

What happened to Crunch bars?

Were you ever once a kid?  I was.  I know because I remember it.  When I was a kid, there was a lot of mystery and magic in the world, and the list of things that were flat-out awesome was quite long.  One of them was the Nestle Crunch Bar.  It was a thin bar of chocolate imprinted with often amazing designs (even the standard “Crunch” logo was awesome), and filled with crisp rice and wonder.  Sure, you could get other candy bars that had crisp rice in them, but nothing was quite like tearing open that thin foil wrapper, seeing that imprinted logo, and biting into pure, crunchy, chocolatey awesomeness.

Have you had one lately?  They’re not as fun; the foil has been replaced with the standard plastic wrapper, and there’s something that’s changed in the flavor.  The chocolate doesn’t taste right anymore . . . at least I think that’s what it is.  It’s almost as if they started making Crunch like the candy bars you had to sell for school fund raising in 2nd grade.  Sure, those were tasty, too, but they were no CRUNCH bar.  Now . . . it seems they may be.

Isn’t adulthood difficult enough?  Aren’t jerks like Michael Bay destroying our childhood memories enough?  Aren’t things only going to get tougher?  So why can’t a Crunch bar taste now like a Crunch bar did then?  When my dad told me “life isn’t fair,” he wasn’t kidding.

Sad face.

The New Creepy

Happy Halloween time.  Let’s discuss something that’s been on my mind for a very long time:  things that are considered creepy.

I first started to pick up on this a couple years ago when I was on a very small kick of enjoying Youtube videos that featured laughing babies, the best of which I think is this one:

I think that most of us would agree, that’s pretty adorable.  However, around the time I first saw this, I had a coworker who deemed it “creepy.”  Granted, she was a bit “off” on most things as I saw them, so I didn’t pay that much mind, but then I saw other things here and there from people who would tend to agree with her.  I saw one person post something similar on Facebook and write, “this is going to give me nightmares!” or something like that, when it was literally the exact same concept as the video up there.  I also saw commenters on this video and others like it on Youtube that shared that opinion.  I tried to find some as an example, but that video now has over 167,000 comments, so I ain’t searching for nuthin!

So that’s kind of odd, right?  As time moved on, I also noticed a small movement in our culture that is starting to see children as a bad thing–as in having them, them being around, etc.  It’s a small movement, but it’s there.

A couple months ago, I went to the going-away party of an old roommate.  I went with my wife and a couple close friends, and only kind of knew one other person that was there (besides my old roommate), so we all had to get through the awkward sitting-in-a-room-with-people-you-don’t-know stage before we started to have some good conversation.  One of the first conversations that started up was the host’s unique brand of wines.  Someone made some comment about Welch’s Grape Juice (it was probably me), and another person responded, “Oh, I turned my back on Welch’s years ago when they started running those creepy commercials.”

I racked my brain for a few seconds, trying to pin down exactly what kind of “creepy commercials” Welch’s ran a few years ago.  The chances are slim that I would have missed them, let me tell you.  My first thought was that they meant something akin to the off-putting series of Skittles commericals out there, now, but I didn’t recall Welch’s ever doing anything similar.

No . . . no, no . . . this person meant the following:

Were you creeped out by that?  If so, why?  Because it’s a smart kid talking?  I can find literally nothing else in it that MIGHT be construed as creepy.  Unless you think it’s weird to see a kid drink something purple . . . but I can’t even really categorize something like that.  So where was this person at that party coming from?  Why would that cute little boy be seen as unsettling to the point that someone would openly denounce any usage of the product being advertised?

Well the horror genre would be where I would start.  From the twins in The Shining to that little girl in The Ring, children are an easy way to evoke terror in a story.  There are a million different angles to take when explaining why this works so well.  The easiest, I think, is to explain that children, to adults, are supposed to represent innocence and being care-free, and therefore we inherently trust them and/or see them as not only harmless, but as something that should bring joy.  To turn that on its head and have a child represent something dangerous, deadly, and evil, is an express ticket to the terror receptors in the brain.  (“Terror receptors,” that’s scientific; write it down).  One could take something of the opposite approach and say that children can be scary to adults because they represent responsibility and change and giving without receiving, but I would strongly disagree.  Damien is not scary to me because he represents the possibility that I’ll be a father someday.  I say anyone taking that stance does not have a fear of possible future children, but instead has hang-ups and hatred towards their own former existence as a child . . . but I digress.

So this concept of using innocence to invoke terror is not that new, and in a vacuum I’d say it’s a pretty effective way to get the desired response.  But I would argue that it’s having dangerous effects on culture in the long run.  Let’s take, for example, clowns.

Clowns are really the go-to source for creepiness, these days.  But once upon a time, clowns represented humor and happiness.  They were fun, and seeing one evoked good feelings.  (Sure, you may meet people that are older than, say, 50 that would argue that “clowns have always been creepy–I hated them as a kid!” but that doesn’t prove anything.  I had a friend years ago whose mom hates birds.  Not in a full-on phobia sense, but in that they are all unsettling to her and give her a case of “the willies” (“The Willies,” also scientific), but would you argue that means all birds are unsettling?)  The usage of clowns in horror stories has the exact same justification as using children in horror stories.  In fact, many people can trace their distrust and uneasiness around clowns back to the movie IT.

Tim Curry, wrecking childhoods one way or another

But so what, right?  We, as a society, don’t really NEED clowns to remain fun and innocent.  They’re fair game.  Except that now clowns are practically synonymous with “scary.”  Innocent clowns are the exception these days, and even then, guys like that first one I have up there are sometimes seen as horrifying or evil.

Now let’s consider dolls.

Just look at that porcelean princess up there.  I guarantee that at least 90% of the people reading this flinched at the sight of that thing.  But look closer.  LOOK AT IT!  What’s off-putting about it, in a strictly objective sense?  Why . . . absolutely nothing!  It’s a semi-realistic representation of a little girl, nothing more.  It’s the kind of craftsmanship that suggests it needs to be handled with gentle hands, but a real little girl would certainly be as welcome to it as would a collector.  So why did many of you consider scrolling the page so that photo is out of sight?  Like clowns, dolls (especially somewhat life-like ones) are used to evoke terror by placing them in settings where you don’t feel safe, and sometimes, like in movies such as Child’s Play or Poltergeist, they become the object of evil themselves.  But ask yourself, “If I find dolls creepy, WHY do I find dolls creepy?  To what can I trace this emotion to understand why I don’t like looking at or being around a toy that 50 years ago would have been treasured by a three-year-old girl?”  Is it because others around you have suggested that they’re creepy?  I have seen those same horror movies, but no one ever told me that dolls in general were supposed to be creepy until I was in my late teens.  So when I stay with my grandparents as an adult, I’m not phased one bit by the dolls my grandma has covering the walls in the room I always stay in . . . but my wife has told me she will NEVER sleep in that room.  And how many of you remember the episode of Seinfeld with the doll that looks like George’s mom?  Huh?  Do you?  Well . . . I can’t find any way to tie that episode in to this post, so I’m just bringing it up and posting this clip because that episode is freaking hilarious.

So again–so what?  Times have changed a bit and who cares if little girls aren’t as attached to realistic dolls of that nature anymore?  The problem, I submit, is that dolls, like clowns, are now synonymous with horror.  While you may have the occasional person who likes to collect such objects, they’re now first and foremost an object to represent terror and evil.  All of this ties back into conversations like I had a couple months ago, where some people are now equating cute kids with feelings of dread as a reflex.  Don’t believe me?  Pop quiz–which of the below do you ultimately find scarier?

Still not convinced?  Fine.  Which of the two videos do you find more likely to give you nightmares tonight?

Exibit A:

 

or Exibit B:

I rest my case.

It’s disturbing to me how culture is so rapidly eating through its images of innocence.  What will be the next object of our affection that we turn into horror movie fodder, to the point that we no longer look upon them adoringly in real life?  An easy answer might be something like puppies, kittens, or bunnies, but I would suggest that next in line is definitely something of a human nature (though Bunnicula did keep me awake at night years ago).  Perhaps . . . mothers.  Laugh all you want at the idea now, but I don’t doubt for a second that psychos like Andrea Yates or Dena Schlosser will become the real-life basis for more terrifying cinema and literature down the road.  And what happens when that becomes commonplace?  What happens when the common perception of a mother with her children is not one of protection and caring, but one of impending danger and doom for the kids?  Well–it might not actually matter in the end, because the kids are creepy to begin with.