My First Flat Screen Monitor and A Guilty Conscience

Many years ago, I had a cat named Cat. She loved being around me when I worked, but learned early that the easiest way to make daddy mad was to step on (or try to sleep on) the keyboard. She got really good at jumping up on my desk without disturbing my papers, stepping over the keyboard and climbing up on top of my monitor. It was the old-fashioned CRT monitor and had the double advantage of having a nice perch upon which to lie down and being incredibly warm. (Cat was slim and had taken finding the warmest corners of the house to a fine art.)

She would stay up there most of the time that I was working at my computer, which was most of the time.

And then I got a flat screen monitor.

I didn’t even think of her usual resting place until the first time, after I’d hooked the thing up, that she jumped up there. And instantly (and rather inelegantly) slid down behind it with a frantic scrambling, then looked at me from behind the monitor with a confused and slightly hurt look on her face.

To my shame, I laughed. Yes, I laughed. To my credit as a human being, I quickly felt guilty that I had laughed and proceeded to rescue the poor, contorted beasty from her predicament and placed her on the printer. She sat upright with as much dignity as she could muster (which was a lot of dignity. Cats can be an insufferably dignified species), then lifted one forepaw and nonchalantly cleaned it. After being satisfied that the paw was clean (and that she had well and completely communicated her casual indifference), she jumped down and found another warm spot in the house upon which to nap.

After that, she took to the printer as her new throne and got very good at realizing, as it warmed itself up to do it’s duty, that paper would soon be extruded from that slot by her tail, moving away until it had finished the horrible magic and I had removed the paper, then curling back into place with a quick lick of her paw or the tip of her tail. We always worked well together that way.

Maggie the Cat deciding if I'm worth bugging this time.

Maggie the Cat on the computer tower, deciding if I’m worth bugging this time.

My new companion, Maggie the Cat, also learned early not to trod on the keyboard. She is a more robust specimen and doesn’t need the warm spots as much. Her favorite place to settle when I work is on the computer tower, which is under the desk by my left leg. She will sit there staring at me for a few moments, then paw at my arm to be sure I know she’s sitting there staring at me, then, if I ignore her, drape herself over my arm, looking up at my face with a pitiful expression. If I pick her up, she will allow me to hold and pet her for several whole seconds before climbing back down to the tower, then the floor. If I don’t pick her up, she will finally get bored of pawing and draping and climb down to go find a spot on the back of the couch across the room from which to pointedly ignore me.

They are very different animals from each other.

As for Cat, I miss her, but often remember that ungraceful leap up to the top of the flat screen monitor. I always laugh. Then, because I’m a human being, I always feel guilty about it.

But It Says So On Facebook!

The world is coming to an end. You can see all the evidence from all the infographics and quotes and links to articles on Facebook. Our seas are so polluted by radiation, all life as we know it will die within the month. Our food supply is so corrupted by non-food, we may as well either just stop eating or just give up and live on Twinkies and Snickers.


Our banks, government, international relationships and religious institutions are so far gone, we are quickly spiraling back down to the stone age. Corporations, gun lobbyists, anti-gun lobbyists, the religious right, the fringe left, have all grabbed hold of our collective short hairs and are shaking us to within an inch of our poor, put upon lives.

It’s in fancy graphics on Facebook. That means it’s true. That obscure “news” source you’re linking to agrees with that particular view of life, religion and the political landscape. I don’t care that they’ve never done any real journalistic investigation, we now have incontrovertible proof that we were right all along and all others are just too stupid and naive to live.

Here are a list of things I now believe because of the deluge of notices I get from my loving and more informed friends on Facebook:

  1. You should only eat carbohydrates
  2. President Obama is a socialist/communist/Nazi/Hitler wannabe/closeted homosexual/foreigner (Sometimes several conflicting of these are in the same article. That doesn’t matter, it’s on Facebook!)
  3. You should never eat carbohydrates
  4. Radiation from Fukushima has already killed most of the marine life within a 100 mile radius of Japan and is swiftly heading our way, but NOBODY WANTS TO ADMIT IT!!!!
  5. You should eat a balanced amount of carbohydrates and proteins 
  6. Nothing we do has any real affect on the planet
  7. There really is no such thing a a carbohydrate, it’s a ploy to get you to eat more spaghetti 
  8. Science is complex conspiracy to defraud corporations and the American way of life
  9. Justin Bieber is an asshole

Because I get my news, facts and belief system from Facebook, which, I understand, is the only real reason it was created, I can now absolve myself of any responsibility for investigating the truth myself or even of any self-examination. It’s all been done for me and I don’t have to worry my pretty little head about any of it. (And, yes, under all that hair, my head is VERY pretty, thank you very much.)

So, if you send me an article in I will take it as gospel straight from God and agree with your notions about… well, pretty much anything. And is, as of now, the most persuasive place to send me to prove that everything I eat, breathe, touch, see or hear will cause cancer, impotence and an unthinking devotion to the status quo.

If you try to send me a link to a site that has footnotes and links to its sources (an example of one such abomination:, I’ll just know you have partaken of the Kool-Aid and unfriend you. For your own good, mind you. I can’t have my world view disproved by facts, or even by thoughtful examination and research, for goodness’ sake. I much prefer websites that have links to sources that are to 1) other articles on their own websites and/or 2) other sites with names like

Let’s all turn off our intellectual facilities. Life is so much easier that way. Let Facebook, and your faithful friends, show you the way.

My Grandmother’s Parties

When I was a child, I grew up at my grandparents’ inn. The property consisted of two buildings, one was where the tavern and restaurant were, the other was a boarding house.

Every year for New Year’s Eve, Grandma would throw a huge party for all their regular customers and patrons. She’d plan it for a month, send out personalized invitations, gather supplies, etc. I never got to be at one of those parties (I was much too young!) but I loved helping set them up the day before and tear them down the day after.

balloon-popWe’d spend most of the day before the party blowing up balloons, which we’d rub in our hair to build up static electricity, then stick to the ceiling. Blowing up balloons was one of the joys of being a child. That and static electricity. (Of course, after blowing up ten or twenty balloons, that part of the joy wore a bit thin, especially when looking at what seemed hundreds of thousands of limp colored rubber left in the package, waiting for my tired breath.) One of the joys of being an adult, it seems, was touching your lit cigarette to a balloon stuck to the ceiling to pop it. I wasn’t as fond of that.

There were always streamers and decorations to put up and party hats and noise makers to unpack. We got to make some noise with them, but didn’t get to pull the “poppers”, which were little tubes wrapped in tissue paper that, when they were pulled apart, would explode and shower tiny bits of paper everywhere. Once the streamers and decorations were up and the noise makers and hats distributed around the tavern and restaurant, we’d have dinner, then be sent to bed.

What happened between going to bed and waking up the next morning was a mystery to us, but when we got up, the floor would be littered with confetti, popped balloons, crumpled hats, cigarette butts and noise makers. There were usually a few balloons floating around the floor that had somehow escaped the sad fate of their fellows, and one or two hanging on to the ceiling tenaciously, if slightly precariously. It was a delightful mess that we found thrilling, our illicit glimpse into the world of grown ups! And we got to play with the surviving balloons and noisemakers.

As I grew up, I had my fair share of New Year’s Eve parties, but none were quite as exciting as what I imagined those shindigs happening during my childhood slumber must have been. Even the several years that I traveled to Las Vegas for that decadent yearly gathering didn’t quite measure up to my childhood imaginings.

These days, New Year’s Eve is much less illicit and, I fear, much less exciting. I usually pour a glass of wine, listen to music or watch a movie, watch the ball drop in Time Square, then go to bed. So much for the illicit world of grown ups.

But every time I see little tin boxes you spin around with a handle to make noise with, one of those coils of paper that uncurled, squealed, then curled back up when you blew into them, confetti of any type, or, of course a balloon stuck to a ceiling, I remember the excitement of setting up for Grandma’s parties.

One Chimpanzee, Two Chimpanzee

It is odd, the things we remember, the seemingly inconsequential moments that stick with us through out the years. This story has little point, except that I remember it often and fondly.

In order to count out an approximation of how long seconds are, many people know the convention of saying, “One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand”, etc. When I was in college in the theatre department, we used a different convention: “One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee.”


Photo by Delphine Bruyere

It is often vital to have two people counting (often in the dark, so stop watches are out) in seconds so things in different parts of the theatre can happen simultaneously. A quick blackout between scenes, for instance, or a light cue that will happen at the exact moment of a piece of business on stage or an entrance of an actor.

One time, we were in rehearsal for a play, I don’t remember which one (we did five a year, for goodness sake), and we’d timed a quick scene change that was to happen in a blackout at exactly five chimpanzees. During the tech rehearsal, the lights kept coming up just a wee bit early. Sally Riddle was the light person for that show. (In our department, we all had to do each of the jobs required in theatre at least once to graduate.) Sally was a wonderful actress and had a wonderful personality. We all loved her.

After the second time the cue didn’t work correctly, Bob Welch, the director, called up to Sally, “How many chimpanzees are you waiting before bringing up the lights?” Five, she told him. He thought for a moment. “Let me hear your chimpanzees,” he requested.

Now, every one of us in that room (except, it seemed, Bob) had the same thought as soon as he said that. But we were sure Sally would behave herself. She paused for a moment, I’m sure wondering if she dared, and a few titters were heard among the cast and crew down in the auditorium. Then she let loose with the best darn chimpanzee impersonation we’d all ever heard.  None of us wanted to laugh, tech rehearsals were stressful affairs, but we couldn’t help it. Bob looked around, a bit surprised, a little annoyed, then smiled, shook his head, then turned back toward the lighting booth without saying anything.

Without missing a beat, Sally said, “One chimpanzee, two chimpanzees, three chimpanzees, four chimpanzees, five chimpanzees.”

It was determined that her chimpanzees were a little fast, adjustments were made, the cue was practiced a few more time and we moved on to the next bit.

With all the chaos of college years, the changes in body, mind, spirit and world-view, with all the new knowledge and new thought processes, the new friends, it is interesting that this one small moment sticks with me so steadfastly. I often wonder how Sally is doing. We lost touch after college. She married LeRoy Frengle, another student in the department, and moved to Montana. LeRoy passed away a few years ago, as did Bob. I know this from mutual friends that I have kept in touch with. It would be nice to see her again and, perhaps, count chimpanzees.

Breaking Bad Indeed – There’s a New Drug in Town

We’re never safe! There’s a new addiction sweeping the country. It would never have come to anyone’s attention, or even become a problem, if it weren’t for sites like Netfilx, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu and the like.

This addiction is ruining families, interfering with job performance, draining bank accounts and generally causing havoc wherever it appears.

Hello, my name is Geoff, and I’m a binge watcher. Netflix is my pusher of choice.

breaking-NetflixIt all started a few years ago when I found way to connect my iPad to my old CRT television at about the same time I discovered that a show called Angel was available on my Netflix account. (Yes, Angel. If I’m being honest, here, I might as well go all the way and admit to “guilty pleasure” binge watching.)

I have been known to sit and watch four or five (or more!) episodes, back to back, until my eyes got bloodshot and felt like they’re burning in my head and I have trouble sitting up. Over the last several years, I have binged on all sorts of shows:

Downton Abby
Being Human (both the British version and the American version)
House of Cards
Burn Notice
Battlestar Galactica
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along
Doctor Who
Smiley’s People
Warehouse 13


If you look, there is little there that is life changing or terribly informative. It’s all pretty much mind candy. Some of it, smart mind candy, some less so. Some not even close.

Which brings me to all you other binge watchers out there. Who seem to be OD-ing on Breaking Bad. I’d never watched it, but the Internet iniquity dens were all a-buzz about the series finale and about how brilliant it was and how any self-respecting, self-destructive binge watcher should take their first sample now, and just succumb to the sweet addiction.

This show, it seems, is a show about a “generally good man” who decides to cook and sell crystal meth. Wanting the next high, I watched the first season and started the second one before I started to feel a bit unclean. First of all, this “generally good man” is pretty rotten to almost everyone around him. Second, he’s cooking and selling meth, which, as we know, is an addiction that is ruining families, interfering with job performance, draining bank accounts and generally causing havoc wherever it appears. And this guy is the hero.

So I turned it off. And a funny thing happened. I haven’t watched another television show on Netflix since. Who would have thought that a show about generally horrible man doing generally horrible things in increasing frequency and horribleness would cure me of my horrible addiction?

I wonder how many movies I can watch in one sitting.

A Tale of Two TVs

Several years ago, I disconnected my DirecTV service and haven’t turned back. I still had a television, of course, that I watched DVD movies on. I also was able to get a cable to connect my iPad to it so I cold stream Netflix movies on it.

Late last week, it started to act funny, then just quit in the middle of a movie. After a vague electric pop, it wouldn’t turn on. Nothing.

TV-bangNo problem. I had another TV in the bedroom. It was given to me by a friend and I used it all of once. Usually, I had it covered with a towel so I didn’t have to see the reflection in it’s dark, rounded face. Cool. I figured I could get rid of the dead one in the living room, move the one from the bedroom, connect the DVD player and iPad to it and all would be well.

Now, these are old tube-type TVs – large and heavy, bulky and hard to move. None of your sleek modern-type flat screens. No siree. They are both so heavy, I doubted I could move them without assistance. I asked a good friend if he’d be willing. He said yes and we were going back and forth to find a good time for both of us.

In the mean time, I decided to make sure I could connect the iPad to the other TV. On the one I’d been using, there were several connections in the back that I had the DVD player, an old CD player and a VHS player connected to. There was also a set in the front that I connected the iPad cable to. The TV in the bedroom had one set of connections, in the back. Ah, well. I’d usually use it for DVDs, so no problem.

I did connect the iPad to it to make sure it worked. It did, and actually had a better picture than the one in the living room. I had to actually plug the TV in, first, though. It seems that, sometime after that one use, I’d unplugged it. Perhaps I’d needed the outlet for something. I have no idea.

Well. A few moments ago, I suddenly heard a very strange sound like the air being let out of a very large balloon. I jumped up and tried to locate the sound. It was coming from my bedroom, but I couldn’t quite zero in on it because, by the time I got in there, it was beginning to fade to a dull fzzztzz. It was something on my dresser, so I started taking things off the dresser to find it, listening to each item to see if it was where the noise was coming from. I couldn’t imagine what it could be. An aerosol can, perhaps, had sprung a leak somehow? Nope, not the can of air freshener. Some ointment tube whose contents had fermented and now needed venting? Nope. All ointments seemed copesetic. (Shut up. I’m getting old. I need ointments.) On old disposable camera? I had no idea why it could be that, but the sound wasn’t coming from there, so I didn’t have to ponder long on that one.

As I cleared things off (I have a LOT of stuff on my dresser besides the big TV) there was a small burst of the sound and it seemed to be coming from behind the dresser. Did some odd, belching animal sneak behind there to die? As I began to pull the TV aside to see if I could peer behind it, I located the sound.

It was coming from near the connections where the iPad cable was plugged in. I removed the cable and the sound protested. Something in there was shorting out rather dramatically. I immediately yanked the plug from the electrical outlet and the noise stopped. (I was out earlier tonight. I’m glad it waited until I was home, or I have no idea what I would have returned to.)

Now my whole place smells like ozone. I won’t be plugging that TV in again. That makes two out of two.

Mercury is retrograde, which portends both technology and communication failing. Perhaps Mercury is trying to tell me something about my entertainment habits. Perhaps it just hates TVs. Perhaps a cigar is just a cigar.

My Grandmother’s Plants

When I was a kid, we lived with my grandparents at their inn in rural Northern New Jersey. The place consisted of a tavern, a restaurant and a boarding house. At the end of the boarding house, my grandfather had built a large, enclosed sun porch. This is where we spent most of our time, if we weren’t romping in the yard, traipsing through the forests or splashing in the brook across the road from us.

Three sides of the sun porch were screened in, and below the screens on each of these walls were three rows of shelving that my grandmother had filled with all sorts of potted plants. The ones I most remember were the Christmas cactus, which bloomed a wonderful red every December, the fuzzy leaved African violets, the tendrilled spider plants and begonias.


Photo Credit: Aftabbanoori via Wikipedia

The begonias were my Grandmother’s pride. She had them in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some had large, dark green leaves, some red leaves with white edges and deep green veins. All were beautiful. The biggest one, which sat on it’s own platform in the middle of the largest wall, lived in a large ceramic pot and had dark green leaves that spread up and out like its own mini forest. I don’t know that I appreciated the variety and beauty of these plants at the time, but I did love this behemoth. When it bloomed, the delicate, pale pink flowers grew at the end of branches of waxy, red stalks, which I found fascinating.

The thing I loved about it most, though (and, as an adult, I’m a bit ashamed to have to admit this) was that, when you pinched a leaf of it with your fingernail, it seemed to bleed in a dark red wound. That was just too cool, and it was hard to resist inflicting one more, small fingernail cut to a random leaf. I don’t remember every being scolded for doing it (it couldn’t have gone unnoticed!) Perhaps Grandma found it fascinating, also.

Everyone who saw those walls of plants were amazed by them. They often asked Grandma what her secret was. Because she also ran the business, kept the books, did the supply ordering, managed the cleaning lady, etc., etc., she didn’t seem to have a lot of time for them. Her reply was always that she found plants that “thrived on active neglect.”

Occasionally, it was my chore to water them (although I don’t remember doing it often), and it was a wonderfully messy task. Since the plants were packed in so closely together, it was impossible to do it without getting water everywhere. The big, tin watering can we used also contributed to the over-spray.

We had already moved to the West Coast by the time the Inn was torn down, so I have no idea what happened to most of those lovely plants. My mother had several plants that had been started from cuttings from them until the day she died, so I like to imagine many of them (or their offspring) are still living in living rooms and sun rooms and kitchens around the country.

I recently saw a photo of a friend of mine. He was sitting on a stool in front of two rows of shelves filled with plants and it immediately took me back to that sun porch I spent so much time in so long ago. It was a very pleasant visit.

Tech Heck

Since Sunday, I have been living in what is commonly know as “Tech Heck”. Okay, gloves off, “Tech Hell”. Yes, I said hell. And I’m proud of it. Careful, or I’ll say frick or darn!

This one is going to be long. Bear with me or skip to one of the more light-hearted posts.

Okay, the scenario:

I’m a tech guy. Yes, I know you know me as your gently subversive, sometimes humorous, often scintillating writer guy, but I also do tech. Both sides of the brain and all that. Many of my clients have their web sites hosted at a company called Bluehost. (I recommend HostGator instead, but they are both very similar.)

Tech HellOn Sunday, I was working on one of my clients’ sites, which was hosted on Bluehost. It was taking anywhere from 45 seconds to (gasp!) over five minutes for pages to load! (That’s not an exaggeration, either. I actually pulled up my iPad stopwatch and timed it.)

I tried several of her other sites that were on that same hosting account and they were all slow. I tried a few from other clients who were on Bluehost and they all seemed fine. So, it seemed it was a problem with that one Bluehost server. (I know, I’m getting all tech language. You can skip over this entire post if you want, I just need to vent a bit.)

Got on the phone with Bluehost. The fellow I talked to was pleasant, patient and gave me advice on how to fix the issue that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. What he wanted me to do was update some of the core programing on this account, stuff that could, potentially, stop all my clients’ sites from working.

I resisted, and tried to live with the issue for a while. Then I called back. The second tech fellow I talked to was also pleasant, patient, and gave me a completely different set of things to try, no relationship at all to the stuff the first guy suggested, but that made just about as much sense.

I figured I’d try again. The third tech was pleasant, patient and actually tried to recreate the problem on his end. He was unable to do so, so he had me run a trace route (more tech jargon, it is a test to see, when you enter a domain name, where you are “hopping” to around the Internet before it gets to the site. There are usually several hops. It usually happens so fast you aren’t aware of it at all as you blithely surf away.)

I sent him the result. He was puzzled and tried several other thing. After about an hour on the phone with him, he could come up with no possible explanation and no possible solution.

On the next call, I explained what the issue was, what the other techs had done and this fellow, quite pleasant and very patient, put me on hold for a bit, then came back with an explanation. That particular server was suffering from a “Denial of Service” attack. (That’s where a bunch of bad guys keep sending millions and millions of bits of traffic to a server so they can, basically, shut it down. It happens to the big guys often. Not usually to small fry.)

Bluehost had detected the attack and put things in place to stop it. Those things could, possibly, be causing my delay.

How long will those things be in place, I asked, innocently. Usually an hour or two, but he’s seen them last for as long as two days. And why didn’t any of the other three techs tell me this? Well, I was informed, I was now talking to a senior tech who just happened to come in on Sunday to help out on the phones, so he had more knowledge of how shit worked. I mead stuff, of course.

He suggested I be patient and wait it out, that it would resolve itself. It was Sunday. I figured I could do that.

On Monday, I tried again. The sites were still limping along like a 57 year old heavyset writer/tech person after trying to run to catch a train. I figured this was one of those “it could take two days” deals, so I waited again. In the evening, I decided I really, really needed to get the stuff done on my client’s site, so I went in and braved the delays. What should have taken me about 45 minutes took 5 hours. (No, I didn’t charge her that time. It isn’t her fault I’m obsessive and can’t leave well enough alone!)

Got the page done and went to bed.

The next morning, the sites were STILL slow, so I call Bluehost back and explained the entire thing, including the denial of service attack. I was put on hold by another pleasant, patient tech guy, who came back, told me that the attack had been resolved, that he couldn’t recreate the issue and suggested I might try my Internet provider. (Oh, joy. I’m with TimeWarner. Their techs are rarely pleasant!)

I called several friends to see if they could load the sites. All but one could get in in seconds. That one? On TimeWarner Cable Internet! I may have an answer!

Called TimeWarner support. I explained the whole thing and asked if TimeWarner was blocking that server for some reason. The fellow with the very heavy accent looked and found no block on that server address in their system. He kindly tested the site, but couldn’t recreate the delay. He suggested I bring my computer to a cafe or other place with a different Internet provider to test it. I told him I was working on a desktop computer and wasn’t about to bring that to a cafe. He said he meant bring a laptop and I explained that I couldn’t do my work on the laptop and he got snotty and told me that was all he could suggest.

So I hung up and called again. This time, I got a pleasant woman with a strong accent. She tried it, but couldn’t replicate it, but told me their call center wasn’t using TimeWarner as their Internet provider (!), so if it was in that system, it wouldn’t affect her. After trying several things, she sent me to “Level 3 Tech Support.”

The Level 3 Tech support was pleasant, but not very patient. He tested the problem and it took a minute or so for the site to come up. Finally! Someone else sees it and I’m not crazy.

Then he told me that, to fix it, he’s have to send a tech out to test my server. What!?! I don’t have a server. He said, no not your server, the server outside. I explained that the server in question (Bluehost) was in Utah, not outside my apartment. He told me (rather snippily) that he was aware of that, but they had to test the outside server, then come in to my place to make sure it was up and running correctly.

After several attempts to make him understand that 1) if he was having the problem, it had nothing to do with my setup, and 2) there was no “outside server” at my place, he very snottily told me there was and that was the only way to handle it. So I relented (he’s the level 3 tech guy, after all, and by this time the fight had entirely left me.) He scheduled the repair tech to come out between ten and eleven this morning.

When I went to bed, I started getting an anxiety attack that the repair tech was going to show up and either scold me for scheduling a house call for an “outside server” when there was no such thing and then charge me for his time, or, even worse, bringing along a server to install that they would then charge me for, even if I didn’t let them actually install the damn thing.

Yes, my brain can do funny things. I’m a professional neurotic and have honed my over-reacting abilities over many years of diligent practice.

This morning, I was awakened by a phone call, an automatic call from TimeWarner Repair Center about the appointment. Did I want to (push 1) confirm the appointment, (push 2) reschedule the appointment or, if everything was working correctly now, (push 3) cancel the appointment. I was sleepy so I pushed one and the computer voice thanked me and hung up.

Then I reconsidered. And I fired up my computer. And I tested the site. It loaded in seconds. Glorious seconds.

I did a trace route. No skipped or timed out hops. None at all! I swear, I heard a chorus singing. Not a particularly good chorus. Perhaps it was only car tires screeching as they sped around the corner on the Boulevard out front.

I called TimeWarner and canceled the appointment, glad that I wouldn’t get scolded or have some tech ape try to foist a server on me.

I have two theories about what might have happened.

1.) Someone in TimeWarner tech support read the notes from Mr. Tech Level 3, realized he was an idiot and it was a simple matter of there being some block somewhere in the vast TimeWarner system, possibly even having been distantly related to the Denial of Service attack that was happening earlier in the week, cleared the block and all was well with the Internet.

Or 2.) The Internet Gods interceded.

I’m leaning heavily toward #2.

What Is the Meaning of Life?

People have been debating this one since people have had the capacity to debate. What is the meaning of life? There are many different ways to look at the question:

“To know and to love God.”

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

“To perpetuate the species.”

“Happiness and the pursuit of property.”

From Monty Python: “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.” (Of course, they then add some rude possible additions to that, which I wont’ add here.)

And from Douglas Adams: “42″

LiveLoveLaughI used to spend a lot of time wondering, not so much what the meaning of life was, but what the meaning of my life was. Was I put here to fulfill any special task? Were my interactions with others of any special importance?

Several years ago, I chose to see that there is no intrinsic meaning in anything. This is not sad. It is liberating and powerful. When nothing has any intrinsic meaning, you have the opportunity to assign meaning to it. There is no greater power, I think. (See there? I just gave it some meaning.)

Since deciding this for myself (oh, don’t get me wrong, I often slip and think I see meaning in things. It’s a very good day when I can remind myself that’s an illusion) things have been a lot easier for me. Or, at least, a lot smoother.

Again, don’t get me wrong. A lot of the meaning I ascribe to things is the meaning generally thought of in the society around me. I choose to live in this society, so I have agreed to some of its ideas. Even some of the silly ones.

However, when I become conscious of a meaning I am using, I can then examine it and decide if it is something that actually benefits me or those around me. If it doesn’t, I can adjust what I will have it mean.

With all of that in mind, I have decided that “What is the meaning of life?” is much to broad for me to tackle. Even “What is the meaning of my life?” is a little daunting, but I have some handle on it. It gratifies me to think that I am here to help people reach their true potential (another attribute that isn’t intrinsically real), to engender thought in myself and others, to teach and to entertain.

And, of course, some of the rude things that Monty Python added to the end of their movie, which I won’t mention here.

It’s True! I Have a Graphic!

Lately, I’ve been on a tear about what people online choose to believe. And what they choose not to believe. Usually, the two have nothing to do with the credibility of their source material, and everything to do with their already pre-conceived notions, their ingrained beliefs and what their main peer group believes.

If I already think that penguins don’t really exist, but are some vast conspiracy by, oh, I don’t know, say, right-wing communists who are trying to take over our zoos as the first step toward world domination (and trust me, some of the beliefs I encounter are less well thought out and logical than even that example), then, if I find something somewhere online that shows how a penguin was Photoshoped onto an ice block, I’ll post it on Facebook as absolute proof that all others not like me are simply idiots and don’t deserve to voice an opinion.

Penguin-LoversAnd if I then find someone has created an infographic with a picture of a penguin, a red circle with a line through it and a quote supposedly written by Charles Darwin saying, “The one thing that would disprove all of this nonsense, of course, is if someone could produce a single example of a penguin. They simply don’t exist, and if you think they do, you’ve been hoodwinked by the great conspiracy.”

Anyone can write a blog post that says anything. Anyone can create a graphic that will support that thought and can include on it statements that they attribute to anyone. At all. There is no law against this and no organization, board, committee or court that will hold them accountable for their post. Not even I am held accountable. So I can say anything I want in this post.

There are sites I will trust, of course.

If something is posted on, say, Forbes’s site, I will have some trust in what it says. Why? Well, for one thing, they famously mis-identified a prominent Irish politician as gay. When they discovered their error, the bent over backwards to correct the record and apologize. Anyone can get something wrong, but my trust level goes up when they cop to that, and even more when they do it in a way that is bigger than a tiny “errata” piece hidden away so no one will ever see it.

However, even if it is something there that just doesn’t seem right, or too easily fits into what I know as my own pre-conceived notions, I’ll check what other sites have said.

I trust because they really do investigate the issues they cover, they “show their work”, and they update the articles when new information becomes available.

I usually trust the Washington Post, the New Yorker (unless it’s a Borowitz article – that’s comedy, folks, not meant to be true), Cspan and the Guardian.

I will usually trust Fox News, if it’s about sports, People if it’s about the entertainment industry, and TechCrunch if it’s about, oh, let’s say, tech issues.

If your source, however, is from any “yellow journalism” site, I will distrust it unless you show me other sources. What is a yellow journalism site? Weekly World News, The National Enquirer, The Globe, among others. They thrive by making up news, skewing real events to seem like something else, manipulating images, etc. Yes, even they get stuff right, sometimes, but if any of them print the penguin story, give me at least one more source.

And if your only source is, I promise I will distrust it unless you can show me other sources.

Of course, I personally do believe that penguins don’t really exist, but are some vast conspiracy by, oh, I don’t know, say, right-wing communists who are trying to take over our zoos as the first step toward world domination. I have an image with a quote to prove it.

Oh, and October having five Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays happens once or twice a decade, not only once every 457 years. Sheesh. Look at a calendar, for goodness’ sake.