My Firewall Needs Reinforcement

I keep getting ads on Facebook for audiobooks that I am VERY uninterested in. It’s really throwing off my groove when I’m just trying to watch videos of puppies running down stairs and listen to women telling their stories of badassery.

Here’s the series that keeps popping up:

  • How to Build Self-Discipline to Exercise: Practical Techniques and Strategies to Develop a Lifetime Habit of Exercise
  • How to Build Self-Discipline: Resist Temptations and Reach Your Long-Term Goals
  • Self-Discipline Dieter: How to Lose Weight and Become Healthy Despite Cravings and Weak Willpower

This is extremely uncool. I don’t know what Facebook knows about me, but if you’ve been following along the past week, you know my phone has also been really judgmental lately. Between my phone’s food-shaming alerts and Facebook’s ads for what seem to be phony self-improvement audiobooks, I’m not sure what kind of vibes I’m sending out into the world. I’m not specifically looking for these kinds of things, but I feel like I might need to reassess a few things. This is not what I’m about, and yet, it keeps finding it’s way to me.

Is it because the internet world knows my demographic and believes I’m obsessed with my own self-discipline? Is it because I sometimes like to watch fun kickboxing videos while I flail around embarrassingly in my basement? Is it because I google a lot of dessert recipes and Google-search engineers think I have a sugar addiction?

I mean, sure, I may have uncontrollable cravings, weak willpower, and an inability to resist the temptations of my couch, but I don’t really feel like those are issues that rank higher than taking down the patriarchy, destroying racial inequality, and righting our world’s economic wrongs. I’m offended that this is what the technological world thinks I need to see. I know I played a part in bringing this craziness into my feed. I’ve read about insane celebrity diets or weird cleanses online, so somewhere an algorithm has led this nonsense to me. I can ignore it, but I’m more bothered because there’s someone else out there getting these ads and feeling worse, feeling like they probably need to buy some self-help tape to curb their eating habits, feeling like they probably should join Weight Watchers if their phone keeps pulling up the ad.

I’d like to enlist the help of a kind billionaire to right this wrong. If someone could fund a massive ad-spamming project that only sends out messages of self-worth and joy, that might make a dent in this ridiculous trend. Here are some of my ad ideas:

  • Feeling kinda blech? It’s ok. We all are.
  • You are awesome, even if that person driving behind you on the freeway doesn’t agree.
  • Eat what makes you feel good because you’re going to die eventually anyway.
  • You are right where you need to be. Unless you’ve been kidnapped. If you’ve been kidnapped, call for help.
  • Don’t think too much about that weird thing you just did. There will be a different new weird thing for you to think about soon enough.
  • It’s ok to be alone on a Friday night. At least you don’t have to listen to Fred explain his theory about the ending of Lost again.

Anyone know a benevolent advertising executive?

Enough With the Judgment, Tiny Computer

For awhile, whenever I came home my phone would ask me if I was at Pizza Hut. It happened for two weeks straight and every time it drove a stake of disappointment into my heart. I wasn’t, in fact, eating pizza. I was just sitting at home in my pajamas trying to figure out which leftovers to warm up.

The restaurant carries some good memories for me though, so I wasn’t hating the mistake. I started daydreaming about my elementary school days, when I could read books, log my pages on a placemat-style map, and earn a free personal pie at Pizza Hut. I, along with the rest of my peers, could fill in a certain number of boxes on a paper that looked like black-and-white Candy Land board, and when I’d completed the whole board, I could turn it in for a pizza coupon. I spent a lot of time reading as a kid, but it still took me awhile to finish each map—you needed a ton of pages to color each block.

I shared memories of my hard-earned meals with Dave, who informed me that his school also participated in this program. His class, however, had a much more student-friendly coupon redemption program and he just kept racking up the personal pizza trips. In fact, I don’t think they followed the guidelines at all, which just goes to show you that the world is inherently unfair. He also read The Hobbit over and over again instead of choosing a new book, but that’s basically the same as reading The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings trilogy, since they’re identical stories, so I gave him a pass.

Anyway, that was a major distraction from the point of this post, which is that my phone thought I lived inside Pizza Hut for two weeks. After getting multiple alerts, I started to wonder if my house was built on the ancient ruins of a pizza shop.

Just when I was coming to terms with the idea of being haunted by the ghost of a dead pizza chef for the rest of my life, my phone started to make a different assessment about my whereabouts. And things took a real judgmental turn.

It started to ask me if I was at Weight Watchers when I got home. That’s when I knew my phone didn’t have my back. It wasn’t trying to warn me about my new pizza-ghost friend, it was becoming that passive aggressive acquaintance who asks if you’re doing ok when you aren’t wearing make-up. It was that girl who bakes cookies for you but won’t eat any herself. It was that guy who says he likes a girl who can eat, but also says he can’t help that he’s just attracted to thin girls. My phone was a jerk.

So I did what I always do when faced with someone who’s being rude and judgmental. I walked away.

I came back later because I’m not a maniac. Duh. I need a phone. How else would I do my crossword puzzles on the bus and text my sister good morning? I just asked Dave to turn off the locator alerts. TLDR: I showed that little know-it-all mini computer who’s boss.

Twitter Can Be Sad

I’m going to post a picture here, which I have never done before. This one is worth it though because it basically sums up the heartbreaking reality of what it’s like to live in this modern world. Here it is:

Yeah, I get it. No one liked it. I’m not perfect. Not everything I write down can be excellent and clever. Most of it is nonsense. Do we really need to resort to public shaming just to call out my inadequacies? Apparently, yes. Twitter really wants me to know when I fail.

Well, joke’s on you, Twitter, because now I’m liberated. I have nothing to lose. I’m going to say so many ridiculous things and they’re going to live on your face forever.

Thanks to no one.

 

 

Too Real

Last night my favorite zombie-related program came back. And oh was it great. My Walking Dead friends finally came together to start their journey against evil. It felt really appropriate for this moment in all our lives.

The group had been separated, both physically and emotionally, by some serious trauma. Things have not been good. A really terrible leader took over the land by intimidating a communities and making them think he was their only option for survival. Also by killing a bunch of people weaker than him. He’s putting everyone the group cares about at risk and destroying the relative progress they were achieving. It’s been a disaster and it felt kinda hopeless for awhile. Also maybe a little like real life. Or a lot like real life.

But now they’re back together and getting stronger—hopefully strong enough to take down the self-righteous, violence-prone current head honcho. Cause he’s got to go.

The episode was a great reminder that if we connect with the awesome people we love, we can battle evil—and we will probably win. It might get a little gross, what with all the stray rotting arms and legs flying through the air, but it will be worth it. If we look something terrible in the face, if we don’t ignore the horrors, and if we decide to actually do something about it, we can change the course of our lives for the better.

See, parents and teachers, we really can learn everything we need to know about life from TV.

Technology Is Hard

I’ve been away for a while, working on lots of stuff for my real-life job and a few things for myself. One of those things in the second category is a digital portfolio. It was super challenging, because technology is both a friend and an enemy. On the site, I have an awkward bio, some of the print and digital work I’ve done for National Geographic, and a link back to this blog. I’ve also integrated it into this site, so you can click on the link if you’re interested in seeing some of what I do when I’m not sitting on my couch or exploring the world.

In the process of creating my portfolio, I spoke to a lot of WordPress associates. I talked to eight of them and spent approximately 3,784 hours chatting about how to make this site work for me. Seven of those people were really nice. One of them was very rude and made me feel I was an idiot. For a few seconds, I started to feel bad. Then I remembered that I’m a valuable human being and I don’t need to let a stranger make me feel terrible. I quickly but politely ended that interaction. Luckily, the next person I spoke to was great, which is a lesson for life. Just keep moving until you find the great one.

The biggest problem of the entire process, besides my almost-total lack of comprehension, was Dave’s feelings of neglect. Apparently they’re lasting, because I just mentioned something about building a website and he said, “Psh, you’ll just chat with the WordPress people for seven hours and then say, ‘Oh, Dave, I picked a theme.'” I told him that maybe if he knew more about technology I’d talk to him. Then I threw chocolate chips at his face because that’s how we solve problems in this house.

Code Red

I’m convinced the Earth is revolting against us. Last week, China issued a environmental red alert in a bunch of regions because of the terrible fog, which really means smog in this case. Red is apparently the highest level they use and, right now, many areas that aren’t at red level are at orange.

Orange is obviously just below red. That makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why their lowest level in this environmental rating system is blue and not green. Silly Chinese government officials. Don’t they know green means go and go means get in your car for a drive and that’s certainly the beginning of this pollution ladder? I suppose we all have the right to choose whatever color scale we want. I’m drawn to grey and black, so my preferred scale might get a little confusing. Reporters would be like, “It’s code black on hostile rodents in the city today.” That sounds threatening, but it would really mean rat levels are way down. People would eventually get the hang of it. Still though, I think my grey scale makes more sense than the blue-yellow-orange-red system. Blue could maybe be used as the standard for tracking water pollutants, but it’d have to go blue-purple-pink-red. A red river is extra dangerous and plague-like, so people would take notice. Though in my experience when a river has reached maximum danger levels, it’s really a code murky brown. No one wants to say that on the news.

Well, that’s not where I planned to take this. Let’s get back to business.

The important thing here isn’t the color choices of the Chinese government. It’s the fact that we are filling our atmosphere with dangerous compounds that hurt our lungs and kill our plants. I don’t think anyone in China is reading this blog, and I’m not a climate scientist, but I feel like it’s unlikely my taking public transportation is going to help clear the smog over Hefei. That said, we should probably all care and do our best. Otherwise, we have to just admit we’re ok with kickstarting some kind of post-apocalyptic universe where we can’t see what’s right in front of our faces and giant smog monsters come out of the sky to attack us. Because that’s the next step in this story.

Insect-somnia

For the last week, I’ve been hearing this crackling noise every time I take a deep breath or yawn or move my face. That’s disconcerting on its own, but Dave made it much worse by telling me my worst fear had come true.

When I was young, I saw a clip of this sci-fi movie at my grandparent’s house. I don’t remember much of it, but there was a space queen who got angry at some space visitors. To punish them, she ordered her minions to bring out some earwig-like insects and put them in the offenders’ space helmets. Then the bugs crawled into their ears. Obviously. They’re named earwigs for a reason.

I don’t know what happened after that because I walked away from that nightmare. I was not waiting around to find out how the insect-brain-invasion situation resolved itself. Now, though, I always sleep with my ears covered, because I’m not a fool.

When I told Dave about my crackling ear, he said a bug had probably crawled into it. So now my life is over and I will never sleep again.

The Mannequin Challenge

I just read a story about a few police officers in New York who smashed a car window to save an old woman. She looked about 80 or 90, with a head full of grey hair and skin covered in liver spots. It was freezing outside, and she wasn’t wearing a jacket—just a beige and tan patterned sweater over a light pink blouse and an oxygen mask strapped to her face. Most significantly, she was completely unresponsive.

Because she was a mannequin.

Apparently the person who had buckled this mannequin into his car sells medical supplies, and Fran was meant to be used for CPR training. (Note: I named her Fran, not the guy. Though I really have no idea. He might call her Fran. She looks like a Fran.) Dave thinks the guy actually buckled her in so he could use the carpool lane. That’s probably true, because who would buckle a mannequin into the front seat of their car? Was he trying to keep it in good shape? Why not use the back seat then? Maybe just lay her gently in the trunk? Either he was using poor Fran to sneak into the carpool lane or he’s going through some kind of existential crisis and was looking for the support of a kind, grandmotherly figure.

I like to imagine that Frank—what I’ve now named the medical salesman—just wanted someone to chat with on his long drives to and from various hospitals and doctor’s offices. Fran was probably a great listener—never judging, giving him a lot of space to really get out his thoughts and feelings. Of which he apparently had a lot. When he found out the police officers had smashed his window to rescue Fran, he was super mad. Apparently he yelled at them a bunch and got a little aggressive.

The police chief, however, adamantly supported his officer. He said that any time they find a life-like mannequin in someone’s car during a bout of freezing temperatures, they’ll break the windows. So everyone be warned. If it’s cold, just bring your mannequins inside. You could set them up in front of the fire and listen to the crackling wood together. You could read a good book (you’d have to read out loud, obviously). You could watch a Turner Classic movie. Probably skip Psycho though, just so no one gets the wrong idea.

Science for the Win

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Today we’re going to talk about science and how it’s real. That should be the end of the post, but apparently some people had an even worse education than I did, so we have to keep going.

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page and start with the scientific method. To understand why we should trust scientists, we should understand how they come to their conclusions. The method is a series of steps used to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and it’s pretty tried and true. You probably use it when you’re trying to figure out who ate your last yogurt or why you can’t keep your houseplants alive.

First, you look around and think about what you already know. You make some observations about the world around you. Next, you figure out what you don’t know yet and come up with a few good questions to which you’d like answers. This is like the interrogation portion of a buddy-cop movie, but the suspect is keeping real quiet. Then, based on what you know already, you develop with a hypothesis. After that, you make some predictions. These are not Ms. Cleo style predictions; they’ve got to be legit. You think carefully about what you might see during your tests and how that information will help you determine the answers to your questions. Then you get to the testing. You do a whole bunch of studying and collect a lot of data. You might do this part—the predicting and data collecting—a bunch of times. Science can be a little complicated. Finally, you develop a theory. Hopefully. Maybe you never do and you just work and work and work for the scientists that come after you.

In the world of science, theory doesn’t mean conjecture the way it does in other circles. To scientists, a theory is a principle developed through extensive testing. It’s very nearly a fact, but scientists are super open to being proven wrong, so they leave room for change.

So, now that we’ve got those basics down, we can turn to one scientific finding that’s particularly relevant to our decision in the coming election—climate change.

Most of us agree our climate is changing. We know this both because it’s about to be 80 degrees in November here and because polar bears are now forced further and further south due to melting ice. Or like a million other things. Just ask the people who live in Kiribati, a small island being drowned by the Pacific Ocean. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who don’t think it’s getting warmer, but it’s not hard to find ones who say we have nothing to do with it. This is where science becomes super useful.

There are people who have made it their life’s work to study the shifts in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the consequences of those levels. That’s what they do every day. Well, not Sunday. We all know Sunday is for loungewear and pancakes. But on all those other days, when we’re running to the bank to deposit the paycheck we get for running meetings, they’re running calculations on the destruction of our planet.

We may not be able to do these experiments ourselves, but we can all read. I read every single day. You’re doing it right now. And we can think critically about who we trust and who we don’t. I trust the intelligent professionals, experts in their field, who have determined that the choices we’re making are contributing drastically to the rise in our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. Groups like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If those names sound fancy and important, it’s because they are. These are organizations comprised of leading scientists from around the world, and all of them say humans are changing our atmosphere in a negative way.

Any reasonable person would look to these experts, read these albeit complicated scientific papers, and fall on the side of the facts. Any reasonable person. Not Trump. He thinks it’s all a conspiracy invented by the Chinese government to gain a greater hold on manufacturing. He sent that lovely tidbit out into the internet world in 2012 and it’s been following him around ever since. But he’s not the only one. We hear Republican candidates say over and over again that they aren’t scientists, hinting at the fact that they just can’t understand scientific facts and therefore cannot create policies based on them. Sometimes we hear them declare that climate change isn’t influenced by human activity. Sometimes they deny its very existence.

Here’s why this is a problem. When people hear over and over again that something isn’t their fault—something they really want not to be their fault, because they like eating hamburgers and driving big cars and buying a lot of plastic toys—they believe it. When they believe it, they don’t ask their politicians to change it. And if politicians aren’t forced to act in unpopular ways, they won’t. So climate and energy scientists have to spend a lot of time trying to prove to the public that climate change exists and that we’re the cause. It’s a waste. It’s a waste of their mental capabilities and its a waste of our resources. We have the answer. We know the truth. We need to spend that time, energy, and money on solving the problem that exists, not on convincing people that it’s real.

When Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination, she declared, “I believe in science.” What she meant was she believes what nearly all scientists have determined and she will root her policies in that truth. It was a tiny little phrase that she shouldn’t have had to utter. It should be like someone saying, “I believe in tables.” Ridiculous. But if we’ve got to choose a starting point for this effort, I’m standing on the side of reality, and I’m standing with her.

Tiny Super Heroes

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I spent all of last night handing out candy to adorable trick or treaters. There were a bunch of extra cute kids happily opening up their bags and baskets for a handful of sweets. Halloween has always held top-holiday status in my house. It’s an honor that was bestowed by my mother and carried on by my sister and I. Halloween should feel lucky. It had stiff competition, what with all those holidays dedicated to giving gifts and eating carbs. But Halloween is about candy, costumes, and community, so it rose up.

There’s very little that gives me as much joy as handing out candy to four year olds dressed as super heroes.

I want them all to grow up to be real-life super heroes. I want the tiny Iron Man to become an engineer. I want the little Elsa to grow up to be a climate change scientist. I want the miniature ninja turtle to be inspired to study biology in college. But it’s up to us to make that happen. We have to make sure those kinds of opportunities are available for all the kids in our communities, not just the ones in our homes.

Now that we’re all in a sugar-coma and stuck to the couch, we have plenty of time to investigate our local and state politicians. These are the people who help decide how our taxes are spent, who benefits from state and federal programs, and which laws actually get passed. The president is important, but it’s not all up to her.

So take some time today and check out who else is going to be on your ballot. Figure out which people will help all those tiny trick-or-treaters you met yesterday evening became scientists or writers or presidents, then vote for them.