Heart-Shaped – Part 1

Mira lies flat on her grandmother’s bedspread, staring straight up at the off-white plaster of the ceiling above her head. Her finger grip reflexively into the patchwork bedspread underneath her as she idly listens to the sound of her grandmother hurrying around in the next room. She resists the urge to sigh, or groan, or check her phone again, or give any other solid indication that she is horribly, unspeakably bored with her first extended-family visit since the semester had started. Only a freshman, and coming back from the dorms already felt alien and strange. Part of her wishes she’s stayed on campus, not that she had much to do there either. She turned her head to look down at the quilt, her eyes unfocused so that the blocks of colored fabric became hazy and the patterns shifted and swayed.

“Think this is the right one!” came her grandmother’s voice as she entered the room again. Mira leaned up onto her elbows to greet her. In her grandmother’s hands she held a plain brown shoe box. Mira is sure she’d seen it before, maybe stacked up in a hallway closet somewhere. Or maybe she’d stacked it up when they’d helped her grandmother move into her new condo in the retirement community. Something like that.

“Pictures?” Mira guesses, rising to sit up fully on the bed.

Her grandmother nods, shaking the box’s contents a bit for emphasis, “Mmmhmm. Just old pictures. Have I ever shown you these before?” The older woman takes a seat right beside her and places the box in the space between them. Dust has settled so thick it covers the lid like a wedding veil.

“Dust has settled so thick it covers the lid like a wedding veil.” Photo from Drawing Near – Blogger

“I don’t think so.” Mira’s seen plenty of old family photos in albums, but can’t ever recall anyone dragging out a box like this.

“Might as well, right?” Her grandmother says, “Got a few hours yet until your Mama gets back.” Her grandmother wipes the dust off the box with a long sweep of her shaking hand, and then lifts up the lid to reveal the photographs stacked below.

To be continued

Stray Dogs – Part 3

Her mother called a few days later, asking for help with cleaning out the house. Too big of a job to do with only one hand, she said. Andrea almost refused.

Andrea sat silently in the driveway for a long moment, before finally going inside. Her mother greeted her at the door, hugged her, and then immediately began giving her instructions on what needed to be done around the house.

“You’ve been so much help since I hurt my arm, Andy.” Her mother said as she pulled a box of junk of one of the shelves, “Don’t know how to thank you.”

“Could you give me an honest answer about something? If so, I’d call it even.”

“…Of course.”

“Why’d you tell me that Paul wasn’t my father? Better yet, why’d you tell him?” Katherine seemed caught off guard, like she’d expected Andrea to say something else. Anything else.

“I-I couldn’t live with that sin anymore, you have to understand. I had to tell the truth. They put Paul on that transplant list and I realized I wouldn’t have forever…”

Well, Now I’ve got to live with it too. Andrea wanted to say, but didn’t. She didn’t say anything at all. She had to live with a lot of things these days.

“I always told myself I was going to wait until you moved out, so he wouldn’t try to take it out on you too.” Somehow, that made it worse. “But then he got sick, and somebody had to take care of him… I never wanted to drag you back into the mess I made.” As far as Andrea could tell, that was what her mother had done since the moment she was born, and yet she couldn’t shake the urge to protect her.

“It’s…fine, mom. Don’t worry about it.”

Photo from BHG.com

After what felt like an eternity, they worked their way into the kitchen. Andrea was wiping down the counters, when she heard her mother make a tiny sound of confusion behind her, as she riffled through the cabinet below the sink. When Andrea turned around, her mother had a bottle of anti-freeze in her hands. The bottle of anti-freeze.

Andrea couldn’t breath. Her blood ran cold.

“What’s this doing here?” she asked, “Andrea, do you know why this is in here? The last time I checked it wasn’t- Are you alright?”

“I-I, uh, Paul asked me to bring it in from the garage. When I was taking care of him.”

“Why would he do that?”

“He, uh, said something about getting rid of a stray dog.”

Her mother stares at her for a moment, “Right. That… sounds like him. Well. Take it back out there when you get a chance, I don’t want it in here around the food.” she said, brushing past Andrea on her way out of the kitchen.

“Where are you going?”

“Sorry, honey. I think I just need to lie down.”

Now that she was alone, Andrea leaned heavy onto the counter she’d been cleaning, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

End. 

The Only Thing

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

–Gloria Steinem

Photo from Clipart Library

 

There’s a sort of thrill

In a well-worn notebook

And a secluded corner

Scribbling out half-formed ideas

With ink stained fingers.

Don’t get me wrong—

Confidence is no friend of mine—

But in these moments

I almost feel it:

Like I could almost do anything

But I can definitely do this.

 

As I stare at a blinking line

On an empty word document that’s been open for hours

Trying to decide what order

That my thoughts should go,

So they fit perfect like puzzle pieces,

And maybe I’ll get it wrong

The first dozen or so times,

And everything I do is still singed with self-doubt.

But I realize,

There’s nowhere and nothing else that I’d rather be.

Video Game Streaming Bigger than HBO and Netflix Combined?

 

combologo_474x356

According to a study conducted by SuperData Research, Video Game streaming content— such as “Let’s Play’s” in which gameplay is overlaid with player commentary—has accrued a massive viewership that far outperforms other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Over 600 million viewers worldwide tuned into Video Game content in 2017 compared to the 235 million combined subscribers of more widely known streaming sites like HBO, Netflix, Hulu.

Of course, the more traditional streaming outlets do require a monthly subscription fee for use which can act as a barrier to entry for some users. The main sources of gaming-related videos, such as Youtube and Twitch, are largely ad-supported services that let viewers tune in for free. Still, these kinds of numbers are hard to ignore when you’re considering how viewers now get their entertainment. It’s certainly not just kids tuning in, either. Superdata’s research puts the average age of viewers at around 33 years old. It also states that nearly half of all viewers are women. “Lets Play” videos and other such gaming content has become a massive contender in an already crowded media landscape.

But can it last? Gameplay videos exist in largely untested legal waters at this point, with many unsure of how copyright laws may affect them in the long term. Currently, most would consider this type of content to fall under ‘fair use’ which allows gameplay video creators to monetize and in some cases make a living off of their work. However, some companies, such as Nintendo, have more restrictions on how their games can be used in Lets Play videos and what kind of content creators are allowed to monetize. Many videos uploaded onto youtube in particular can be disrupted my the site’s automatic copyright claim algorithm. No major court cases have been filed about copyright and video game streaming have been filed yet, but with all the growth that the industry has seen in recent years that may change at any time.

In a Quiet Moment

Photo from tagmagazine.com
Photo from tagmagazine.com

So many bodies melded by proximity
dancing close but still yet alone.

Bright red insecurity worn on your sleeve
like a nerve laid bare on purpose.

Telling yourself you’ve got it together,
a hurried mantra in stranger’s mirror image.

Sobering up under the beaming fluorescents—
sickly pale but you don’t know why.

It hits like a bullet in the temple
right beside where rationality lingers.

What does that hollow future hold,
and will there be assigned seats?

Not now, not now.
Can’t the revelation wait?

Stray Dogs – Part 2

The burial was worse than the service, somehow. Paul’s sister, Helen, glared daggers at Andrea and her mother while Pastor Marlow made his (blessedly short) final statements. Even when Andrea glanced down at the fresh grave, she could still feel her looking. Helen had been very vocal in her dislike of Kathrine throughout the years, but her ire for Andrea was decidedly more recent. The truth about Andrea’s paternity had been floating around for less than a month, Helen still considered it a major mark on her family’s name. She and Paul were cut from the same cloth.

Watching the first shovel full of dirt be tossed onto the casket felt like ripping out stitches before the wound had completely healed, but Andrea did not cry.

Katherine wrapped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders, pulling her close.

“Are you alright?” Katherine asked, her voice was steady but she was shaking.

“I’m fine.”

Andrea was the first to leave, as soon as she thought no one—excluding maybe Helen—was looking.

 

Andrea wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of returning to her new apartment. It was still too unfamiliar to be comforting, but her only other viable option was spending the night in the house she used to share with Paul and her mother.

She didn’t understand why her mother had told the truth, nobody wanted to know it.

She drove slowly without really meaning to, stopping at a gas station to wander the aisles for what felt like an hour. Every moment felt stretched out and heavy. Guilt ate at the back of her throat when she smiled genuinely at the cashier for complementing her dress.

Didn’t he know it was a funeral dress? (Didn’t she?)

 

When she pulled into her building’s parking lot, she noticed Helen standing a few spaces down. She leaned against her grey Buick with a cigarette in her hand. She stalked toward Andrea’s car as soon as she’d climbed out.

“What are you doing here?” Andrea asks, “How’d you get my address?”

“It’s all your mama’s fault, you know that?” Hellen was a few inches shorter than Andrea, but her presence still managed to loom, “My brother’s blood is on her hands.”

“Da- Paul wasn’t murdered.” Andrea told her, trying to back away. Helen followed. “He drank himself to death. We all know that. He was sick. He’d been sick for days…”

“That woman drove him to it!” Helen was close enough that Andrea could smell the whiskey on her breath.

“Why are you here, Helen? What do you want?” she asked, though she already knew the answer. She wanted a fight. If her mother didn’t have a cast on one arm, she likely would have taken this aimless aggression to her.

“Making my brother raise another man’s child! All these years!”

“Yeah. Sorry he spent all those years beating someone else’s kid.” Andrea spat, it hardly mattered what she said. Helen wasn’t really listening.

“I mean, of course he drank. What man wouldn’t drink if their wife was sleeping around!”

“He was a drunk way before he knew I wasn’t his.”

“He always knew! We all knew!” Helen jabbed a bony finger into Andrea’s collarbone, “The whole town knew your mother was a wh-“

Helen hit the ground before Andrea even realized she had shoved her. She looked like the impact had drained all of her spitting rage. Without it, she just looked like grieving old woman who needed something to blame.

“You know, I thought you might have a little more loyalty to the man who raised you. I heard you were taking care of him those last few days. Guess you ended up just like your mother.” Helen said, like a calm statement of a fact.

Andrea ran inside before she could say anything else. Her dog greeted her as soon as she was inside the apartment, blissfully unaware of what had just transpired. The huge mutt had been the first thing she’d gotten for her new apartment. She always wanted a dog, despite Paul’s deep distain for them. She’d picked up the dog—Trevor, she’d called him— from the local pound a few weeks before. The same day her mother had told her the truth about Paul. The same day her mother had told Paul that same truth. The same day she’d called Andrea from the emergency room with a broken arm and finger shaped bruises on her neck, claiming that she had fallen down the steps.

That had been a hell of a day.

She wandered aimlessly into her bed, just as she heard what was probably Helen’s Buick peel out of the lot. Trevor climbed into bed beside her, pressing his wet nose into the junction between her neck and shoulder.

            “God, I never wanted any of this to happen…” she whispered, to no one in particular.

(To be continued.)

 

 

Photo from Cesar’s Way

Through the Walls – Part 2

Photo from Life’d

The particular curve of Iris’ smile began to work its way into her paintings, the melody of her song stayed behind long after she stopped singing, playing through her head on an endless loop. She hadn’t had it this bad in a while. It was a dangerous state to be in for someone like her, too much uncertainty in it.

Much to Drew’s surprise, it’s Iris that strikes up a conversation first after yet again stumbling into each other in the hall.

“So you’re an artist?” she asked, after nearly a month of getting tiny glimpses of stacked canvas behind a hastily shut door, the curiosity had gotten to her.

“Oh. Yes. I am.” Drew stammers for just a moment before regaining her composure.

“Can I see some of your paintings? Please?” Iris peers around past her shoulder to get a better look inside the room.

“…Sure.” Drew nervously wonders if Iris will somehow recognize the exact color of her eyes swirled into the paint of her latest piece (a part of her almost hoped so, it’d taken her ages to mix that color exactly. Such an odd shade of blue.) “My room hasn’t been cleaned in… a while.”

“I’m sure it’s not so… Oh.” She trailed off, distracted suddenly by the sight of scattered art supplies, chipped coffee mugs full of paint-water, old take-out boxes, and whatever else had managed to make its way to her bedroom floor.

“Warned you.” Drew nervously raked a shaking hand through her short-cropped hair, as Iris lost interest in the mess in favor of picking through a pile of mostly-finished pieces. Napoleon growls lowly but doesn’t get up from his spot in the corner.

“I wish I could paint.”

“Well. I wish I could sing.”

“…You’ve heard me sing?”

“Thin walls.” She says, and Iris gives her an odd sort of look that she can’t quite identify, then she went back to the looking through the canvases. Almost as if she may have been searching for something in particular.

“Don’t you ever paint people? Everything here is so… abstract.”

“Not since… probably art school. Models are expensive, and I don’t have the money.”

Iris’ eyes lit up like that’s best news she’s ever heard.

“Really? Would you paint me?”

Drew felt an odd mixture of excitement and worry bubble up in the pit of her stomach, “Are you sure you’d want me to do that?”

“Yes! God, yes. I’ve always wanted a real portrait of myself done. I might even come up with a way to buy it from you once you’re finished…” she said, sighing dreamily. Drew tried to swallow the newly formed knot in her throat, but to no avail.

“Well. Then. I’m sure we could work something out.”

End. 

Why Watch the Worst Movies Ever Made?

Photo from Study Breaks Magazine

Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. It is near incomprehensibly bad. The acting ranges from hysterically inept to downright unsettling, the dialogue doesn’t make sense, and Wiseau seems to have no idea what a director is even supposed to do. The entire thing is so strange and poorly conceived that it seems like it came from another dimension. It made less than 2,000 dollars in its original run at the Box Office.

The Room is also, by many people’s standards, wildly entertaining. To a point that theaters continue to hold screenings of it to this day. James Franco is even producing a biopic about the movie’s creation

There’s no shortage of similarly terrible movies, either: Troll 2, Sharknado, every film Ed Wood ever directed, the list goes on and on. They aren’t good movies by any traditional sense of the term, but they sport legions of loyal viewers anyway—including well-known actors and filmmakers of critically acclaimed films. Similar to Franco’s look at The Room, Tim Burton directed a 1994 movie about the life and career of Ed Wood.

The question is: what draws people to watching bad movies?

There are plenty of answers to that question—primarily related to the unintended comedy that these sorts of movies produce, but I can’t help but wonder if the current state of the mainstream movie industry has anything to do with it. In world where many of the movies released are focus tested for mass-market appeal, it can be nice to watch something like The Room or Plan 9 from Outer-space. There’s a certain aspect of earnest creativity that these movies display. For some people, that can even be endearing or even inspiring. The creators of famously bad movies may not have been successful in anything they tried, but at least they tried something.

Fight or Flight

Photo from IMBd
Photo from IMBd

Val had come back to the apartment with bloody knuckles and eyes like a rabid dog. Not the first time Benny had seen her like this, not by a longshot. He wondered idly where she’d been the last few hours. If Val was looking for a fight, he doubted she’d found it in the vicinity of their own upscale neighborhood.

“All that blood yours or…?”

“Piss off, Ramirez. I’m not in the mood.” She spat out his surname like it left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Really? ‘Cause you seemed so upbeat when you walked in.” He could see her snarl in response as she stalked past him on her way to the kitchen. The layout of their shared apartment made it so he barely had to crane his neck to watch as she turned on the faucet and placed her injured hands under the flow of the tap, “Seriously though, what happened?”

“Jesus, just leave me alone. Don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Fine then. I’ll leave you alone,” he said, trying to re-focus his attention on the news article he’d been trying to read before Val’s return had interrupted him.

Val left her hands under the water until the bleeding seemed to stop, then patted them dry with a paper towel. She stayed there at the sink, taking slow shaking breaths. There’d been a fight. There must have been. Val had punched walls before, but that was usually the end of her anger. Whatever (or whoever) she’d hit, there was definitely something left unresolved.

Benny lasted just over a minute before annoyance and curiosity won out, “Are the cops going to get involved? If so, I’d really like to know in advance.” The neighbors already gave him dirty looks in the hallway—the old lady in 422B still clutched her purse closer when he walked by—so if the police showed up at their door it was unlikely they’d assume the officers were after the pretty daughter of a southern socialite.

“No. I mean- I doubt it. Stop worrying about it. Leave it alone.”

Val uncorked a bottle of painfully expensive wine from the fridge and poured it into a chipped coffee mug. The wine had been a Christmas gift from the partners at his mother’s law firm, but that didn’t seem worth bringing up. Another argument. Pick your battles, Benny. (Red wine was something he only really pretended to like, anyways.)

“Stop worrying about it? The reckless shit you do affects me too, y’know,” he said, slamming his laptop shut much harder than he’d intended too, “You’re my friend, Val.”

Val takes a long chug of her wine and snorts back a laugh, “Jesus. Way to make this about you, Ben.” She still stood at the counter, focusing her attention on her now shaking hands. Nervous energy seems to pour off of her in waves.

“How can I make it about anything else if you won’t even tell me what happened?”

“Fine! You want to know what happened? Here’s what happened: I was drunk and stupid and some prick at the bar stared getting—I don’t know—handsy, I guess. Wouldn’t leave me alone.” She stood in the doorway to glare at her roommate proper, “I overreacted, alright? But I don’t think he called the cops. You happy now?”

Benny felt his heart sink, “No. Jesus, Val, why would that make me happy?” he leaned forward like he wanted to go to her aid now, and Val took a defiant step back.

“Forget it. Please just forget it.” She said, before stomping to her bedroom with the wine bottle in tow.

Crashed

It’s a funny thing, realizing you might be an awful person. Seems like something that usually happens on your death bed. Maybe I should be thankful I’m getting it out of the way early. I can just revel in it now. Maybe I’ll steal candy from a baby on my way home. As soon as I get out of this goddamn hospital.

I woke up this morning with almost a hundred missed calls and unopened text messages. Liam crashed his car. Did you hear about the accident? Hey Cass, just making sure you’re okay. You’re Liam’s girlfriend, right? Liam’s in the hospital. Are you and Liam Brennan still together? I’m so sorry about Liam! He’s in the hospital on Pembroke Av.—St. August’s or whatever. Liam crashed his car. Liam crashed his car. Liam crashed his car.

So now I’m standing over a sleeping Liam Brennan, a good catholic boy in a good catholic hospital with five broken ribs, and an insidious little part of me is just wondering how long I should wait to break up with him now.

His mom is pacing the floor; she looks like she’s aged ten years in a day.

“Well, at least his face is okay.” I say, trying to lighten the mood. His mother does not laugh. Or acknowledge that I’ve said anything, really, “…I think I’m going to go sit in the waiting room.”

“I’ll let you know when he wakes up.” She says, what she probably means is ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’

An old woman gives me a pitying look in the hallway, probably because I look like I’m about to be sick. I’d been rehearsing that break-up conversation in my head for two weeks. I think we should see other people. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not ready for something serious. Your parents hate my guts. You’re a great person, Liam, it’s not about that. It’s just not working out. I think we should see other people. I think we should see other people. I think we should see other people.

The totally empty waiting room would’ve been much better, if not for the 4-foot-tall painting of Jesus on one wall. Every chair is facing it. Every single one. Or maybe they are supposed to be facing the TV, which is also on that wall, but the Jesus painting is what commands my full attention. Maybe it’s because I’m just not used to that sort of thing. I come from a family of what I would call ‘cultural Christians,’ we celebrated all the holidays and ignored all the commitment. I try to focus on the wallpaper instead: old, floral, peeling in one corner but mostly intact. These chairs must’ve been carefully picked to match up to those flowers, because they’re the same color exactly.

A horrible wailing breaks the silence and my eyes instinctually dart over to the painting as if it might be the source of the cry. Realizing it’s probably coming from the emergency ward is almost enough to make my skin stop crawling. Not Liam. Sounded like a lady. I think the painting’s eyes are following me.

“It was an airbag, not a freight train. He’ll be fine.” Sometimes saying shit like that out loud helps. Not this time.

I want to leave. I want to get out of here right now. The smell of antiseptic is burning my nose and Jesus won’t stop looking at me and—

The door to the waiting room screeches open and Liam’s mother pokes her head inside.

“He’s awake, if you want to come see him.”

 

 

Photo from Chronicle Live

The Blue Brain Project and EVIE: The Development of AI

If you watch YouTube, you may know of a YouTuber by the stage name of KSI. He made a video on Evie and his discussion with the artificial intelligence or AI on the computer.

He asked Evie about 9-11 and Evie’s response was very distasteful. If you want to watch the video, you can look it up, but Evie is not a true AI. Evie’s responses are developed by the questions and answers of the people that ask them. The developers never intended for Evie to be “racist” as KSI claimed. He was actually using the system the wrong way. It’s up to us to produce clean content on Evie so people won’t have experiences like this.

Photo from gaggio.blogspirit.com
Photo from gaggio.blogspirit.com

Evie is no Blue Brain Project, a project started in 2005 by Swiss scientists. The aim of the project is to simulate the human mind by using AI. Currently, the Blue Brain is at a level of a rat brain. There are plans for the Blue Brain to hit human brain levels in 2023. However, there is the risk of the AI learning its own language. Earlier this year, Facebook had to “tweak” their models after the chatbots were making a deal in their own language. This language was unknown and still is to some of the smartest people in the world. Facebook was trying to train their “dialog agents” to negotiate. Well, it looks like they found something that will be groundbreaking in the AI world.

However, where the Facebook AI is concerned, the system was never smart, and in reality, it was pretty dumb. The AI learning its own language doesn’t mean anything; it still can’t match the level of a human plus the language was like this: “iii.” Nothing important to the scientific community. The Blue Brain Project reaching the brain level of a human will be a very important accomplishment to those Swiss Scientists. By then, the advancement of the project will be over and studying gene expression will begin. Maybe someone else will use the legacy of the project to develop an AI that is smarter than humans.

Air Pollution Linked to More than Global Warming

Air pollution is not good for you or me. Our current elected officials may say otherwise, but global warming is real and we can thank air pollution for that. And now we can thank it for the diseases it can cause.

The Donora Smog in 1948 ;Photo from www.post-gazette.com
The Donora Smog in 1948; Photo from www.post-gazette.com

In 1948, a little town in Pennsylvania awoke to an unusually sooty sky. This area was notable for its daily haze coming from the nearby zinc and steel plants. This was the price to be paid for feeding your loved ones. The next day, the smog was so bad that the local high school quarterbacks couldn’t pass the ball to the receivers.  For five days, Donora, Pa. was filled with so much smog that 20 people were killed, one-third of the town was sick, and another 50 died in the coming months. After the tragedy, the federal government began clamping down on pollutants, leading to the Clean Air Act in 1970, 22 years after the events in Donora.

Air pollution can lead to heart disease. The American Heart Association in 2010 updated their stance on air pollution, finding it consistent with morbidity and mortality. It also leads to weight gain. Frank Gilliland, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Southern California became intrigued when studies suggested that pollutants interrupt the actions of hormones, leading to weight gain. At first, Gilliland said of the claims: “I was very skeptical.” He would go on to study 3,000 children across California and found an association to the claims, although they couldn’t rule out other explanations. Gilliland explained, “Maybe the kids aren’t getting exercise because there’s a lot of traffic out.”

The newest study linked ozone concentrations in the air to diabetes.  Children who live in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have experienced great decline in insulin sensitivity. People with diabetes have trouble producing insulin.  Radford has an army ammunition plant that releases those same chemicals in open burns that can cause diabetes. The plant has been controversial for years now because of the open burns. Recently, however, the plant had a drone test the air quality in the open burn sites to “exchange public fears for facts.”

Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Radford, VA; photo from www.wsls.com
Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Radford, VA; photo from www.wsls.com

Whatever the case may be, the evidence is there. Air pollution can cause more than global warming; it could affect your life.

 

To Touch the Sun: NASA’s Unique Mission

NASA has had its fair share of “impossible” missions before, sending a man to the Moon, a probe to Mars, and heck, the two Voyagers are out of our solar system. However, this mission may be the impossible one.

The Parker Solar Probe before its launch; photo from socialunderground.com
The Parker Solar Probe at the APL in Maryland; photo from socialunderground.com

The Parker Solar Probe is set to launch next year as the first probe to make a visit to our nearest star and source of life as we know.  “The probe will face very brutal heat and radiation conditions as it will provide us with a close observation of our sun and ultimately a star,” NASA said in a statement. The probe recently was on display at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland but before long, the spacecraft will be making its trip back to Florida where it will be launched towards its final destination: the sun.

An artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe near the sun; photo from www.iradehaber.com
An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe near the sun; photo from www.iradehaber.com

The $1.6 billion mission will also aim to improve space weather forecasts that can impact life on Earth and astronauts in space. Nicola Fox, a project scientist for APL stated, “Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we have puzzled over for more than six decades.”

This mission was first considered back in 1958, before the Apollo missions and Mars Rovers, making it one of NASA’s oldest projects on the books. The main reason why it took so long before the mission was because of the sun’s intense heat.  The probe will be 3.9 million miles away from the sun’s surface but will be well within the orbit of Mercury. Even though, the probe won’t “touch the sun,” it will face temperatures on the upwards of 2,500 degrees F.  The probe will launch between the dates of July 31, 2018 and Aug. 19, 2018. The spacecraft will orbit around the sun a total of 24 times in a seven-year period with speeds of 500,000 miles. With speeds like that, you could travel up to California and back in one minute.

 

 

Dungeons and Dragons, It’s More Than Just a Trope

The Dungeons and Dragons Logo

A lot of people have probably heard of the classic and iconic table-top game known as Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D for short. For those of you who do not know what it is, here is a quick run-down: D&D is a Role Playing Game (RPG) where the players roll dice to conduct of the actions in the game and proceed through an adventure/storyline that is controlled by a dungeon master (commonly referred to as the DM). The adventure can either be a pre-made one that is available for purchase and handles all of the ins and outs of the game or it can be one made entirely from scratch by the DM where anything is possible. It is a fun, imaginative game but often one that is reduce to little more than a comedic trope.

Two popular TV shows have brought the game back into the public eye: Stranger Things and The Big Bang Theory. However, both shows then cast it into a less than flattering light. In The Big Bang Theory it is used almost solely to emphasize that the main characters are embarrassing but lovable nerds. The fact that they are playing the game is the joke, because the idea is that only the really embarrassing nerds that you’re a little ashamed to admit your friends with play it. Or in Stranger Things, the main characters are children and portrayed as “losers”. Admittedly, it is also their knowledge of the game that helps them ultimately prevail in the show. The show provides a more positive image of the game and of the people who play it, though it can still be played off as somewhat humorous.

The question that all of this poses is why is it seen as a bad thing that people play D&D? It is a game and people have fun with it, so why bring them down? It speaks to a larger issue where if something is not deem good by society them that means it is inherently bad and there is something wrong with anyone associated with it.

Specialization

Image from jacqueamitchell – WordPress.com

Robert Heinlein once said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” I figure I can do almost half of those things. Many people can do even less. We are almost all imperfect, incomplete human beings by Heinlein’s standards. But being imperfect is no excuse for irresponsible action.

Take journalists, for example (people who write opinion pieces in college newspapers notwithstanding). Ask them why they do what they do. Many will point to a professional code of ethics. Those without a code will perhaps point to the old chestnut “The People Have A Right To Knowtm”, nod their heads sagaciously, and continue doing whatever they feel like. Perhaps what they’re doing isn’t even so bad; they find the most polite way to go about performing their duties in a way that best fits their personal morals.

But in these times, when the media as an industry has such an outsized impact on attitudes and beliefs, even the people with decent morals, honest work ethic, and no obvious bias towards the subject material can still cause harm. For instance, if someone were to say to you, “Do not worry. The reports of Cook Hall burning down over the weekend aren’t true,” what would be your first instinct? Many would be at first alarmed. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who tried to burn down Cook Hall?” and then ask everyone in their vicinity about it. “Hey, did you hear about what happened at Cook Hall?” Before you know it, many well-meaning, sincerely caring individuals are trying to figure out what happened at Cook Hall, spreading fear, panic, and misinformation like a bad game of Telephone [1].

There are numerous reasons for why this happens. A lot of it has to do with the psychology of rumor-spreading [2]. Good reporters can separate the bunk from the gold. But these are people trained for years to find out this information and strip away extraneous layers and present us with fact (whether they still do or not is a matter of much debate). However, the general public is less equipped to calmly and patiently sift through reports, details, and statements before coming to an objective, well-reasoned opinion. They take the first reports they hear, focus only on the words that have the biggest emotional impact (“Cook Hall”, “burning down”), and blast it to all their friends.

In many ways, “The People’s Right to Know” must be tempered by the good sense not to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater until you see the flames. Just smelling smoke is not enough if all it is is burnt popcorn.

 

 

[1] https://icebreakerideas.com/telephone-game/
[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200811/the-8-laws-rumor-spread

The Stigma Surrounding Divorce

While marriage is not something that is on the mind of many Radford University students, it nonetheless hangs over us like a specter. Many people around college age, particularly women, are expected to get married sooner rather than later. It often seems like one is expected to get married as soon as they turn 18 or 21. For that matter, if someone has any sort of long-term romantic relationship with another person, they will often get asked, “Do you plan on getting married?” But the thing no one even wants to mention is the prospect of divorce.

There is a lot of societal pressure to stay married once you are, regardless of how bad the situation gets. If a couple does get a divorce, then everyone silently judges them. People think one or both of them must have done something horribly wrong, that they just did not know how to handle marriage and that it is their own fault for getting married in the first place. But why is that? Why can a married couple not just come to the conclusion that they are not happy together anymore and amicably split apart?

Divorce has long been seen as this terrible thing that only happens in dire circumstances, (as if marriage is the best thing that can happen to you and divorce is the worst thing that can happen), but that simply is not the case. The stigma surrounding divorce needs to be removed; people need to understand that getting a divorce does not make you a bad person and that you can get one simply because you’re not happy in your marriage. People are not required to be miserable because they married the wrong person. Life is a lot of trial and error and given the massive amount human beings that exist, there is a good chance that the first person you marry will not be the person to make you happy for the rest of your life. Which is not to say you cannot marry that person on the first try. Just know that you are allowed to be happy, and if that means getting a divorce then that does not make you a bad person.

 

 

Photo from Huffington Post

The Deal With Participation Trophies

"If you had fun, you won!" - Photo from 4Tests Blog
“If you had fun, you won!” – Photo from 4Tests Blog

We have heard all about them; everyone knows what they are. Participation trophies have become almost infamous for everyone in our current generation and in the older generations. The funny thing about them is that almost no one seems to like them. People in our generation were constantly told about them and received them during most events, especially in sports. The older generation thinks that this creates a problem because it removes any form of competition from our lives and it coddles us by giving us the idea that no one can have their feelings hurt.

The thing is, no one from our generation, the millennials, ever asked for them. There was no big push for them. It is the older generation that gave them to us and decided to make them a part of our lives. There was never a group of children or preteens that wanted participation trophies, but enough of the older generation thought we needed them.

The irony is that our generation does not want them anyway. It cheapens our effort and shows that it does not matter what we do. They make our accomplishments meaningless and make people wonder why they should bother trying if they get the same thing without all of the effort. Yet, it is the older generation that constantly complains that we need them. But ultimately, the real question becomes why in the world this even became an issue. It seems like the whole thing became a scapegoat for the sake of finding another thing to complain about. It is almost like the older generations hold something of a grudge against the younger generation.

Through the Walls – Part 1

Photo from Life’d

Drew Gardner lived in a room on the top floor of a decrepit old house, situated on a street she didn’t feel entirely safe walking down after dark. She meant to move somewhere more upscale and ‘artsy’ when she had the money. If she ever had the money. Stacks of canvases took up most of the space in the apartment, leaving just enough room for her and the dog to exist alongside them.

The dog was a mean, snapping little thing, a strange looking mutt whose parentage was inconceivable just by looking. She’d named it Napoleon, despite a friend’s insistence that accounts of the historical figure’s short stature were exaggerated. He’d followed her home one day and never left, keeping her company while she painted. Drew had etched out an unsteady existence like that, selling almost enough paintings to pay her rent and then making up the rest with the help of a temp agency.

And then the girl moved in. It was inevitable, of course, that someone would eventually take the room next to hers over after the last tenant, Johan, had been evicted for unpaid rent. Drew ran into her in the hall that first day, a beautiful girl carrying a box marked “FRAGILE” and humming melodically to herself.  She smiled radiantly at her as she passed, and Drew thought of nothing but that smile for the rest of the day. For weeks she heard a woman’s voice filtering in from the adjacent room. It wasn’t quite a pretty voice, a bit too high and wandering in and out of proper tune, but nevertheless it was an interesting voice. The sort of thing you’d hear on albums that were relegated to the ‘novelty’ section of a record store. She saw the girl occasionally but never mustered anything more forward than a polite greeting when the two of them met in the hall. She had to be careful with that sort of thing.

Drew finally found out her name, Iris Henderson, on a dropped piece of mail downstairs, then instantly felt ashamed for looking.