The Unremarked Lives.

Misty OutlineA day or so ago, someone commented on my post about my first surgery on this slab of meat that I inhabit. And they said, “One might call you generally unremarkable.” Taken out of context, that’s a bit of a slap. Taken in context, as it was done, was also a bit of a slap filled with assumption, but I gauged the intent otherwise and decided to interpret it as, “One might call your health generally unremarkable.”

But take a moment. Why would one have to dig into that? Because we all want to feel that we are remarkable in our own way. That somehow, we’re special.

I’m certain of who I am, and I’m certain that my life so far has not been like others, and I can say that with a grim authority that only I may have because I am special in my own right and, gentle reader, no matter how unremarked your life is, there is something remarkable about you – if even it is that, should you somehow be unremarkable, that you are remarkable.

To be unremarkable is certainly worthy of remark. There has to be something about cognitive dissonance regarding the uniformity vs. being special aspect of humanity.

While someone who doesn’t know you well could say that you have an unremarkable life, the reality is that they cannot tell because they have not seen any remark and thus have paid less attention to you – because that, too, is how it works. Popularity, a complex subject by itself, drives what people think is remarkable. If someone sings very well and sells their music, it doesn’t make them popular. Are they unremarkable? Or are they just unremarked? That a relatively small newspaper writes an article about you – let’s assume positively – means to that audience, you are considered remarked upon and therefore, possibly, remarkable. Possibly.

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of people live unremarked lives other than being statistics for revenue streams or votes, and the only reason that they are seen as remarkable is when they affect them. In social media, we call them social media influencers. This sounds like a really impressive thing to be because one who is an influencer and gets to find out can have all sorts of effect on society. They can convince people to drink Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, or to work together for bettering something or the other in society. To be an influencer is to have a level of responsibility that, arguably, wiser people might avoid.

And so, the only truly unremarkable people in an age where social media has made it possible for everyone to shout or whisper, “Look at me!”, are those unremarked.

To be unremarked today is to be quite remarkable.

The Surgery

doctors-call-768It was planned, this surgery, and while the particulars aren’t important, I found the process worth writing about. After all, people poking about in one’s body has become remarkably commonplace in the last century.

No one holds the gas light anymore, since Nikola Tesla blessed us with alternating current and Edison takes credit for the light bulb. Centuries prior to that, bacteria was discovered by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1676. Robert Hooke who described the fruiting structures of molds in 1665, which also puts him in the running on that. We could go on and on about all the technology that brought us to modern medicine, and we probably should at some point though I leave it to the reader to affect their own diversion on this.

Suffice to say, medicine has come a long way, and as an old Navy Corpsman who had peered into the insides of others, I was well heeled for this. I went in at the appointed time, was promptly tested for Covid-19, the ever present reality of our time. I then found myself upstairs with a Cuban nurse who matter-of-factly told me I should take everything off and put on a gown, surgical slippers and a hairnet which I was told was for my hair – and I had to wonder where someone else had placed it in the past to create such a need.

A young man, 19 years old, was in line before me for the Surgeon, so I knew I would wait until he was off the assembly line. He looked calm up to I last saw him, but his calm was that of a bomb, appropriately scared of what would come next. At 49, with the life experience I had, I had an idea.

The anesthesiologist came in and saw him – quite clear and calm, hailing from India if I had to guess, brisk and efficient, which promoted confidence in me but not as much in the younger man as I heard his voice quiver with answers. He would not be getting the general anesthesia I would, and he had concerns that he felt he was being rushed through – but it was just the unfamiliarity of it all, I think. There is little that really prepares you for this sort of thing except actual experience, and mine was not that of being on the bed that much.

Myself? I have been poked, I have been prodded, I have been stitched and I have stitched, having performed minor surgeries myself in the Navy. Still, the mind wanders. I would not calm him with the history of why Surgeon’s are called ‘Mister’ in the UK, a history of the surgeons being that of butchers – really, butchers – that came in through the back door to homes to ply their trade. We are all simply slabs of meat made kinetic through ways we still do not fully understand. Admittedly, I am more marbled than I used to be, but this surgery would allow me to lean up again.

The anesthesiologist then visited me, a loud and clear voice, and we spoke at length about pain management, alternative pain management (he had just read a paper out of Jamaica on the use of marijuana for pain management, a topic we both warmed to), and I was comfortable with him as I was the surgeon who showed up not much later. 

The young man left for surgery, and I wish I had brought a book though I was not comfortable with the gown. I understood why I needed to wear it, but I did not like wearing it, but preferred an attempt at dignity provided rather than what I knew was coming.

Time passed.

I heard him come back and his discomfiture. The nurses had their hands full, he was panicked and possibly in pain and cold. I empathized knowing my time was coming, but with a bit more experience. I’d never worked the OR myself, only in emergency situations at that old Naval Hospital in Orlando, now a VA clinic. My experience was all about emergencies. It was not about the planning and hoops one must jump through for a planned surgery. He calmed, I suspect that they sedated him while piling a blanket on him.

Now they would be prepping the OR for me. It took an indeterminate amount of time – my timepieces were not with me, but it seemed long waiting and short in retrospect. And then I was wheeled off, an uncomfortable experience. And then the worn ceiling tiles made way for the solid ceiling of the OR, two lights above and I commented to the nurses and anesthesiologist and scrub nurses that they really had a nicer ceiling than elsewhere. We wrestled me over to the surgical table, parts of me helping and parts of me not for reasons I could not describe. I was told firmly that they would be doing everything and I should stop helping.

“I’m not used to that.”
“We know. But you have to let us do this.”, the Cuban nurse said.
“OK.”, I responded, sounding hollow. I do not like losing control. I do not like it at all, but I knew I had to, and thus… I tried.

The gas mask came down, “Breathe in deeply, then breathe out”. Simple instructions, easy enough, though the gas took me back to when I was a young boy – I knew the smell. It was the smell of the gas that a dentist once tried to use on me and failed – his mistake being telling me about pink elephants, which through power of suggestion, I saw. He and I did not know until then that I was not fond of pink elephants, trunk to tail, one baleful eye each staring at me as they slowly trudged.

I struggled, surprising myself. The anesthesiologist had it under control, “You are anxious. It’s ok. You know this, you can do this, breathe in and out.” Perfect. Had a dentist told me that 4 decades prior, I would not have reacted this way that time, but there it is. In, out. Deeply in, deeply out. Deeply in, deeply out. 

The recovery room. Surgery was over, I was awake and hooked up to monitors – my oxygen saturation was low 90s and high 80s, so I focused on my breathing through the remaining haze of the anesthesia. I needed to get that sat up. I could hear the young man going downstairs in the wheelchair. It had not taken that long, this surgery.

Within about 15 minutes of consciousness, my mind was clearing – I had latched onto my pulse oximetry as a thing to focus on and change, and change it I did – getting back up to the high 90s, then rewarded with the removal of all the equipment and the ability to get dressed – the nurse let me know that she could help. I dressed, practiced as someone who had pain but working through and around it. She was back within moments, I told her to come in – I was fully dressed.

And within another 10 minutes, I hopped in a friend’s car after following protocol to be wheeled down. That part was over.

Now, the recovery, which seems to be going well enough at this point. Everything works. Swelling is going down, and pink elephants no longer are an issue.

An End, a Beginning.

190791_5430910859_2445_nIt was strange when I revisited this image on Facebook. Everyone seems to like it. I’m not sure exactly why it is popular, but it is.

For me, now, I look back at this image and remember that day and what a confusing period of life it was, where I had simply decided to continue placing one foot in front of another for a while on paths that showed up if only so that I would keep moving.

It was taken at the first Mobile Active Convergence, in September of 2005. The links are all broken, the MobileActive.org site gone to the wayside with other internet detritus, the 1s and 0s being recycled to form other stuff that will later become detritus. It was a horrible event for me. Non stop. People who had more passion than ideas, I would reflect on later, as every little thing they were using mobile phones for was spun so positively yet I could see so many negative effects that would, later, rear their head through the use of the devices for bad things.

I did not fit in. It was a younger crowd – in the picture there, I’m just about to turn 34, and was taking a moment between assaults on my faculties by what I considered overly positive people with overly positive ideas that did not seem to account for the bad side of what their stuff could be used for. And I was becoming angry. Angrier, perhaps, because it was a constant barrage.

And then there was the backdrop. The BBC article on the Alert Retrieval Cache had come out that January, which should have been a good thing. Every time something happened around the world, I’d get contacted, and it was something that never get traction. The idea of text messages getting to the internet was so new that – get this – Twitter had not yet come into being (they showed up in March, 2006, over a year later after our work we were trying to give to NGOs for free). A quote from the article makes the point:

…But there’s still another challenge. You have to get people to know that the system is there for them to use.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is to find someone to pass it along to, and say, look this is what we’re trying to do and everything like that,” says Mr Rampersad. “So the big problem right now is the same problem we’re trying to solve – human communication.”…

I saw the MobileActive Convergence as a means to better make the idea visible for humanitarian reasons – a gift to the world, if you would, in my own naiveté. It was a year of naiveté, I would find later.

2005 Was A Crazy Year

I had spent most of 2005 living out of bags as I pinged about Latin America like a lost packet on the Internet, then editor of LinuxGazette.com which was at odds with LinuxGazette.org, Corporate Publishing vs. Community, and I found myself unwittingly smack dab in the middle of it, trying to broker peace between an angry community and an angry publisher so that we could move things forward. I was a believer at that point. I saw potential with everyone working together, but I had no idea of the animosity, even from one of the editor’s of SSC’s Linux Journal. You can read the sanitized version of how that Linux Gazette debacle ended on Wikipedia. It was not that clean, and at the time I had no idea of the USPTO stance as well.

So I worked myself out of a job, telling my boss Phil Hughes that the community was not interested in middle ground – given the temperaments of people on both sides of the fence, I can only imagine the history prior to me showing up thinking of rainbows and unicorns. It was an acid bath for me that lasted about a year.

The View The travel was good, though. I had started in Panama City, Panama, with my Spanish the failure that had simply progressed from Secondary School. So I had to learn Spanish, and the way I learned was not too different than the way people learn English in such conditions – and the people in Latin America, I was to find, were very helpful in this regard once they realized you authentically were trying. And I was.

Humility is getting a haircut when you can’t communicate in the same language as the barber, or ordering a sandwich when there’s nothing to point at. Necessity might be accused of being the mother of invention, but I found it to be the mother of learning. And so when I closed the loop after my travels and ended up in Panama City again, to house sit for friends who were attending a graduation of a daughter in Malta, I met some of the same people and one said that after all the months my Spanish was improved, but that I spoke with a Brazilian accent. I’d say that was progress. We laughed. We drank. We ate pizza with salami. My Spanish got better.

My most amusing anecdote out of that trip was being in Estelli, Nicaragua, and despite being warned by my then boss, Phil Hughes, I managed to break the carafe for the coffee maker and left early to see if I could find one in downtown Estelli. I wandered through the open market, from shop to shop, looking for one, until finally, exasperated in (of course) a coffee shop, I asked them what the word for carafe in Spanish was. Carafe. I asked for one at the first place I stopped, laughing, and I bought it for $10 US and happily returned to the home of Phil Hughes who had no problem telling me he had warned me about the carafe.

I saw so much country, and I did not stay in the tourist places. I made friends wherever I met, people who helped me out, whose couches I slept on. We talked about Linux, sure, that was part of the job, but I was enriched by a truly South American perspective of the world from gente real. That was good.

After closing the loop in Panama City, Phil let me know that I was no longer needed since LinuxGazette.com would no longer be around. I don’t know if he did hire me originally because he wanted it solved – I think in retrospect he just wanted to say he tried, which is fine, because I gained much out of the experience – even the bad parts of trying to find middle ground with the folks from LinuxGazette.org. I think some of them knew that I had really tried, but man, there were some nasty folks in there too who I wish no kindness upon. In all of their nastiness, I never once responded in kind. I unapologetically do not wish those people well, for they were intent on simply beating a whipping boy while I was there sincerely to try to get things to work. I do not wish them poorly. I simply do not wish them well.

And so, untethered, I found myself in Panama City with no real prospects for about a month, when suddenly I was being requested in Guyana to network St. Joseph Mercy Hospital since IBM wanted an unconscionable amount to do it. And so I went there to find out that the head IT person there at the time was completely against connecting the hospital because of nothing more than hubris. In the middle of dealing with that nonsense, my father passed away – August 5th, 2005, so I flew to Trinidad, cremated him, got angry with family who – within less than 24 hours- had emptied the house and picked all the avocadoes without waiting for me… but was patient. I even endured the Hindu rites and did them properly just to keep the peace, when peace was the furthest from my mind.

Then to Guyana again to network the hospital – we ran the cables for, literally, pizza, but these would later not be used because of their IT head who felt that the project had been ‘stolen’ from her.

Then along came MobileActive Convergence, and I thought, “I could really use a win now.”

190791_5430910859_2445_nIn this picture, oddly enough, I had begun accepting that there was no win for me there. That the world didn’t want things to be better, that people were petty and uninterested in the common good – they were interested in their own ideas gaining relevance even if they had not themselves been circumspect, and they were not open to constructive criticism to make their ideas better or, worse, to demonstrate the ideas were not good.

This is a picture of naiveté defeated, crushed into the dirt even before people abused even my name to make their projects look to be of worth. This is the picture of me realizing that the crabs in the barrel do not want to make the barrel a nicer place. They want to escape the tragedy of the world they see and will ignore reality to make that happen. This is me beginning to make peace with that before I turned 34, the beginning of a slow turn to who I am now.

The world did not beat me. I did not join it. I wasn’t myself crushed beneath the wheel, but I was changed and this picture, to me, shows the peace of that turning point.

I knew that guy. It’s a bit tragic he’s gone.

The Serious Cardiologist

TheTruthHasNoConscienceSo, the cardiologist and I are having a conversation. He’s brisk, all business in a busy clinic. I get it. There’s a mood.

I’m light with everyone there, from the waiting room right in, and notice a sense of professional dread in the staff. An East Indian woman had accused the office of letting an elderly white woman in front of them because she was white – not, of course, because she was much more old, and and the red on her nose hinted at other issues that would have her with appointments in other offices.

Factor in that this all happened in front of predominantly East Indian people who exchanged looks, embarrassed for the poor elderly lady and the staff, but also for the behavior of the much younger lady. And that my name, at least in Trinidad, is considered East Indian, and there I am making light of things I see other than what everyone’s ignoring. Sleight of mind.

So anyway, I get in and I’m still in that light mood – which, I had forgotten, cardiologists generally hate. Cardiologists are meticulous folk. It’s rare to find the ones that smile or laugh. So this guy – because underneath all of it, he’s a guy – is getting upset with me and I don’t know why. I’m answering questions, giving him what I know on my health history, he’s stressing out, and I can’t see why.

He leans in, I lean in, masked but following his body language. And then it struck me. He’s quite serious about my health – I mean, he’s supposed to be – and he thinks I’m not taking mine seriously.

I start laughing. He’s continuing, and it’s making it worse for me because I know what’s going on, I want to tell him, but I’m laughing and can’t stop long enough to tell him.

Finally, he pauses. I stop laughing. I tell him, “I get that you are very serious about my health, and I also get that you want me to be as serious as you, and because I am not you think I do not understand my condition. Am I correct?”

He looks at me, “Well, Mr. Rampersad, you know… ”

I interrupt, “Am I correct?”

He takes a breath, “Yes, you are correct. With the medical history you have you should be serious.”

“Yes, yes, I understand it completely. But have you considered I live with that knowledge and have grown accustomed to it enough so where it’s simply part of me, who I am, but not what I think defines me?”, I say with a smile.

“I’m still not certain you understand…”

“OK, let me show you. You’re changing my meds because my bp is high, and because of kidney issues it’s an increased dosage. Once we get that under control you’re probably going to want a stress test with ECG and maybe an echocardiogram to line up. Toss in the standard stuff about losing weight, diet, etc. From there you’ll advise the general surgeon that you have cleared me for the other surgery. That’s the plan, right?”

He sits back, visibly relaxing.

I’m not terrified. I’m not screaming and holding onto life like a stolen kiss. I know what’s going on, sometimes better than the medical people around me. The difference is that they are visitors here. Tourists with umbrellas in their drinks.

I live here.

And more sage doctors know that.

Memento Mori. 

Growth

In between reading and writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we grow as people. There’s the biological process, cell division, etc – we come with our own blueprints in this regard, and through the Human Genome Project, a few on the planet understand this to a degree well beyond the average person’s – but the basics are there for all to understand. But other sorts of growth defy us, and I have found nothing in all my reading and exploration that sufficiently explains things to me.

I suppose it’s a peculiar thing to think about, but perhaps it seems that way because we don’t think about it enough. Or, perhaps it’s just a fool’s errand, the universe trying to understand itself through the self study of a collection of molecules that defy mathematical probability and not reality, which seems pretty consistent with reality defying probability at every turn. And through all of this, somewhere on a planet in this otherwise uninteresting part of the Universe, someone sitting in a chair idly twisting their toe on the ground is thinking about something highly improbable.

So this is the background noise of our growth. It is the background noise of what we perceive as growth. Perceive? Why yes of course, because we can’t truly measure our growth, and we can only assume that it is growth because of changes in ourselves – if we bother to even take the time to assess ourselves.

That which we perceive has it’s own tempo. In cities, and around other human beings, it is a matter of the tempo of others, of that which is artificial, of our own collective creation. In more rural settings, nature’s tempo is more dominant. In the quiet of solitude, we choose what is dominant – we choose our backgrounds as we select a music playlist to read or write to. We color our world in this way with our choices, and what allows us this flexibility, brittleness or firmness of choice? Is it our experience coupled with some DNA and RNA settings set at our birth default. Then we interact with our world, twisting and turning our matrices, folding in on ourselves, in extreme circumstances the result becoming as tortured as the path to becoming tortured.

To make matters worse, we are conflicted – each person, to some degree, wants to belong and thus will try to fit in with some – maybe because they are what they wish to be, maybe because that’s all they have, maybe because they know better, maybe because they don’t. And yet, every human being also wants to be individual, independent, and someone that stands out be it for reasons of procreation or less biologically rooted reasons.

So. How does one measure growth along these lines?

Well, we can’t as far as I can tell.

And yet we talk about personal growth as if we could stand next to a post every year or so and draw a line to measure a physical attribute. Our experience of growth is subjective against a flowing canvas that we do not yet understand.

But we change. We learn, hopefully, some faster than others. Physically, we grow until our body decides that entropy deserves a fighting chance, and I cannot help but wonder if perhaps emotional and mental disorders, unrelated to our biology, are not our minds letting some of that entropy in.

And then what is entropy? For this context, a means of explaining disorder within any system as applied to ourselves, but then this leads to question what disorder is when considering what we have learned from Chaos theory, that chaos – disorder – is likely just order we do not recognize yet.

So the reality is that we don’t know enough to measure ourselves. So why do we try? Why do I try? Isn’t it somewhat egotistical to measure our own growth? Isn’t it sort of like killing the Buddha?

And there we are, full circle. There is personal growth, we all understand that, but when it comes to actually demonstrating it, measuring it…. we do not have metrics, we do not have anything that is truly objective, and even the opinions of others are flawed by their subjectivity.

Why Problems Aren’t Solved.

thoreau_lock_and_keyAs a member of the Board for what could best be explained as a condo community, I find myself shaking my head quite a bit. One of the reasons I do so is because, simply put, people become more emotionally attached to a problem than a solution. One such example was an issue of a missing key. But the issue wasn’t the missing key. The issue was getting to what the key gave access to: The garbage room.

There’s a story behind that, as there usually is, but at this point in time there’s actually little good reason for the garbage room to be locked. At one time, there was some rationale, but that rationale has been found wanting as other things have changed. I had predicted this prior to coming on the Board, communicated it with the Director who pushed it (who is now no longer on the Board), and so I waited over the course of a week as this can got kicked around in community chats.

The conversation centered around the key. The key became this Holy Grail of sorts, and everyone wanted to blame someone for the issue regarding the key (it is lost to the entropy of bureaucracy, suffice to say). After a week, I finally sounded off because the time it was taking for people to sort out the problem had exceeded my patience.

“We don’t need the locks on the garbage rooms anymore.”

The underlying issue was that people couldn’t access the garbage room for bags that were larger than the chute. Everyone wanted to play the blame game about the key, and meanwhile, the garbage room was still inaccessible. And this set me to thinking because when large groups of fairly intelligent people disappoint in their capacity to solve a simple problem, it’s time to think.

The Solving Of Problems

There is a tendency to get caught up in minutiae, trying to solve a smaller problem with an assumption that solving the smaller problem will somehow continue solving a larger problem. In the above example, it was a simple matter of switching perspectives, a flexibility in viewpoint to be circumspect. Generally speaking, education systems, perhaps because of the amount of time to shove a few thousand years of knowledge into less than 20 years, doesn’t deal with this well.

Let’s be honest, too – the present techno-communication landscape of social media is more suited for allowing for cognitive bias: Social media sites, in their wish to get our eyes on their advertising, show us what we agree with rather than well rounded opinions. It’s all an echo chamber and makes looking for valuable dissent (as opposed to popular dissent) all the less likely to be found.

If we are only presented that which we agree with, how are we to move forward? If a solution is chosen because of popularity on social media, how valuable is that solution? And do all these people with opinions have knowledge on the topic or add value somehow, or are they simply looking for views on their website, just as without social media sometimes people add their opinions to look smart even when their opinion demonstrates that they are not?

It seems to me – and we all have biases on this – that the world is getting better at communicating solutions that are popular, but not right – and therein, we find the core problem, and the solution is… well, I’m sure I don’t know.

Looking The Same Way

My life is a bit of turmoil right now – I’m on the Board for the residential community I live in, there’s a lot of disagreement on the Board hidden behind decreasingly polite words, the Property Manager is working from home with Covid-19 (another close personal friend) which has lead to new contractors in the office with a steep learning curve, and if I have time for myself it’s to forget about all of that in my own ways. So I didn’t get as much time to process it; this is late in writing.

A very close friend of mine passed away a few days ago, in the midst of what can be best described as chaos. His daughter called me, told me he was her daughter – I knew that – and she sobbed for a few minutes. No words needed to be said, I knew. He had been ill for a while, and because of the pandemic I was leery to visit because the last thing I wanted to do was put him at greater risk. I waited, she said it, a hurdle everyone must eventually jump over.

The family asked I not post about it as word gets out, and of course I won’t.

And so this morning I looked quietly through photos to find I had none with him – a man who I have spent so much time with, working hard, enjoying the moments of tranquility between. I came to realize that I had one photo of him that is below; a photo that describes our relationship quite well: We were always looking the same way, the same direction, and seeing the same and different things at the same time.

With the current pandemic, I cannot go to the house and be with the family to tell them some stories, and if there was someone to talk to about it he would be the first on my list to talk to.

This, I am no stranger to, but every time a piece of me withers. An adopted Great Uncle, who died a centenarian, told me quietly once when he was in his 9th decade that he was ready to go because all who he had known in his time had died, and all that was left were people who cannot understand. I am beginning to.

Veterans get the sort of brotherhood he and I had – he and I had been through our own version of ‘The Suck’, and had persevered where my own family would not assist, did not believe, and astonishingly probably still don’t despite what we accomplished. He was a man of integrity, of honor, and someone who I had the distinct pleasure of knowing. He was proud of his family, their accomplishments, but he never took them as his own. He was knowledgeable, thoughtful, and wanted the best for everyone he knew.

Often, people do not realize that when people die and stories are told, it says more about the teller. It is the way of things; but every reflection in those stories also casts a penetrating light on the one that has left, their effect, their legacy.

Would that we all could leave a legacy this man did.

Ecosystem Research: pH, gH, kH.

I’ve been doing some research for something I am writing, and it became apparent that I needed to have a bit more in depth knowledge about ecosystems and so on. So I set about starting a planted aquarium where I could add ammonia and feed the plants through that process. The ‘why’ of it is simply research.

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In doing this, I went out, got a tank, etc, and of course everyone assumes I’m going to put fish in it. The idea of simply having plants in a tank of water hardly seems of worth to pet shop owners that sell aquariums, but I have my reasons.

Now, for those of you new to aquariums, there are things like pH you have to monitor, and if you’re on Earth instead of snooping from a distant planet or spaceship, you’ll need to understand that the nitrogen cycle must be started. Plants need food to create oxygen and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. All the guides on this, as you would expect, tend toward having fish in the aquarium mainly so that they can poo, but it can be done with household ammonia. If I were planning to put fish in the tank, I’d probably start the cycle with ammonia anyway, particularly after what I have learned so far.

What I found was that my tank’s pH was 8.4, which is extraordinarily high and bad for fish – 7.8 is the high end of where plants are fine except, perhaps, some plants I am unfamiliar with. 6.5, by the way, is the low end.

So now, the trick is to reduce the pH. As a novice at this – thus the research – I go, get some aquarium stuff to lower the pH, and try it out. No dice. So rather than spend a bunch of money, try vinegar. No effect. Check the input water and find a high pH – aha! Check the filter on that tap, aha! Full of gunk. Address, partial water changes, repeat.

See, what most experienced people don’t talk about to novices is kH – carbonate hardness. The carbonates act as a buffer against the acid, and a high kH means that there is less likely to be a pH swing since addition of acidic content simply can make a high kH aquarium giggle like a pleased young mermaid. And this was the real issue I was dealing with.

And then on top of all of this, there is the general hardness (gH) which has to do with magnesium and calcium ions in the water. When aquarium fish are said to enjoy ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ water, this is a reference to gH.

A week ago, I knew none of this. But the interrelations in the ecosystem with such basic chemistry are exactly why I’m doing the research – pH, kH and gH form a triad related to the nitrogen cycle in an ecosystem, so already this is a worthwhile endeavor.

It also gets you thinking about other things when you sit in your writing area. It makes you think about people, and how they can have their own pH, kH and gH. And that is an even more derivative thought worthy of exploring in quiet moments in the writing area.

What A Strange World (1 of i)

BartMakeABetterWorldTo say that 2020 has been a strange year so far would be seen by most as the understatement of the year, and yet everything that has happened has been somewhat predictable. In fact, articles written in the 1990s coming forward predicted much of it, from the pandemics to the civil unrest world wide.

I could hunt for the articles online, but it’s too much trouble for a simple blog post. And, of course, we are rife with content created on predicting the future – most myopically of the near future because people want to feel comfortable about tomorrow when they are uncertain of today.

There were times I wanted to write things here about the present day, but there are more than sufficient monkeys with typewriters covering the spectrum of fear to fact. Instead, I began focusing on the background of a universe behind some of my writing that I hope to publish someday. As someone trying to do this, I will say it’s difficult to do better than what is actually happening, but at the core it’s pretty interesting so I’ll write a bit about that. After all, I haven’t published anything here for a while.

Imagining A World

mirror_universeThis is difficult for me, particularly since I measure what I’m trying to do by writing giants who have developed worlds that have become so long established that they are accepted as a backdrop to anything.

The modern elves and orcs owe much to the backdrop of J.R.R. Tolkien, as an example, and the amount of background he did was staggering. Granted, it might take him 3 pages to describe a wall, which made movies more palatable to people who can’t read anything longer than a tweet, but that level of details shows not just through his popular published works but into his less popular works – for example, the Silmarillion (Bonus: Silmarillion is free for the Kindle on Amazon at the time of this writing).

The trouble I have had with imagining this ‘new world’ has been hard for me because I’m inundated by information everyday, from the meaningless and trivial to global events no longer written as much by true journalists (just the facts) but by unrepentant opinionated writers or performers. We can argue that everything is biased, which is generally used as a binary argument (either/or), when in fact it points out that there is an issue of degree.

The trouble with the degree having increased is that the world becomes more and more narrow based on the narratives imposed across the global population – which sounds nefarious, but by itself isn’t since it is the way it has always been. Again, it’s a matter of increased degree.

And therefore, there is less space within which to imagine. So the answer is to stop watching what people choose to show us of the world and instead to seek out what we wish to see of the world. It sounds simple enough but when all the information you see is based on what is available where you are, what algorithms control it, and whether someone doesn’t want you to see it, things can get messy.

Factor in personal age, where you’re used to seeing the world in certain ways… it gets tough.

Having to throw all these things out is difficult, to say the least. To imagine a world is to re-imagine your world, and to re-imagine your world means throwing out everything so that you have the clear space for something.

And having thought through all of that, having written it, I cannot help but wonder if this should also be true of the world we know.

Fractured Systems

Berlin WallWith the pandemic of Covid-19 weaving it’s strains around the world, I had gotten to a level of introversion that I found deeply satisfying. I wrote a lot, published little, and enjoyed the government endorsed need to be by myself.

Then, in Minnesota, something happened. A man who was already restrained died under the weight of police officers, a spark among the fumes of gasoline that has soaked the United States for some time. Every day since then has been rife with disturbing news from my country of birth, the country I served, the country that I swore an Oath of Enlistment to.

And for me, it’s all very complicated because I have spent as much time in the United States as out. In some ways I envy those who have a relatively smaller view of the world deposited through flat screens within the United States, in some ways I am frustrated by them, but I always felt a certain kinship with all but the most ignorant who, sadly, I found I was meeting with increasing frequency. It’s possible it was the same frequency and that my tolerance was decreasing, I cannot know for sure. I never thought to keep statistics.

There’s a side of me that relishes the law and order of the United States, but then, I’ve found too that the law and order seems to run in the face of ethics. The banks that bet on bad mortgages, as an example, were never punished and that is something that I never could comprehend. To me, that seemed unAmerican, but then, it too seemed too American. With well spoken and written friends on either side of the political fences, I found myself negotiating away pieces of myself. I found myself at odds with a professor of African studies in Canada, a long time relationship, because his views left no room for oxygen in the room for me, and I found myself at odds with others in similar fashion.

At heart, I’m what Heinlein coined ‘a rational anarchist’ as Professor de La Paz in, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”:

“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”

I know that truth is not only relative, it has an expiration date – what is true today is not always true tomorrow from the same vantage and can only remain true tomorrow, forever, if that vantage orbits that truth… and if there were only one truth, that would be enough, but there are uncountable amounts of truths running into each other with the manic dismay of Brownian motion.

So I look at the United States now – there is no excuse for most of what everyone is angry about, but there is explanation here and there. The peaceful protests are for the best, the violent protest a political football that various teams spike as their own or strategically as their opposition.

The looting, I think, is a simple matter of self interest trumping the rules of society. A hungry man will earn bread where he can, beg for it if he must, and steal it if the other two do not suit him.

The means to earn in society, not just the United States, seems to have faltered, the begging comes at a cost, and so society already in disarray has members that go out and take regardless of society’s rules, opportunists operating outside the rules of society only because they cannot afford to change the rules of society to suit them as…for example… banks do.

Yet the underlying issues remain. It has echoed around the world with protests about it, and yet, there is more. There is more because this is a reaction to one part of a failed group of systems, there are others, and I wonder when the others will get similar reactions.