Category Archives: Random

One Man’s Valuable Possessions are Another Man’s “Irrelevant Abundance”

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How do you separate that which is clutter from that which is actually valuable in a society that’s trying to rid itself of meaningless objects? This is something I have struggled with constantly while reading material dealing with the issue of our reliance on consumer goods.

I am simply not convinced that all consumer goods are bad.

To be fair, only the extremes of the environmental movement seem to be arguing anything quite that radical. The problem is that the middle ground is always fuzzy, so I’m never sure which of the products I use on a day-to-day basis I’m supposed to feel guilty for using.

I could easily see where some would define those consumer goods which I consider the most valuable as unnecessary wastes of resources that should be done away with: my new laptop, for instance, or perhaps my video game consoles or my iPhone which I carry around with me everywhere.

But to those who would argue that, I would argue that I consider these objects more than just metal and plastic clutter that is taking away from the real sources of happiness in my life. These devices, which may seem so useless to some, are extremely valuable to me.

With my computer I am able to stay informed and connected to the world around me. I can communicate my ideas to others through blogging and express my own creativity with a word processor much more easily than with a pen and paper. I can read the opinions of those different and more knowledgeable than myself. Indeed, without my computer I would be far more ignorant of our ecological concerns than I currently am due to the sheer amount of knowledge available through the Internet.
My iPhone performs a similar function. Not only is it “cool” and fun, providing many sources of entertainment through the applications I can use on it, but it also helps keep me connected with those I care about. Being a couple of taps away from friends or family, wherever I happen to be standing, is something I value highly. Without this phone, or similar computer programs, there are certain friends I would simply lose contact with altogether, which would be a true shame.

My game consoles are admittedly a luxury, moreso than the other devices I have mentioned, and bring up a somewhat different question. When does personal fulfillment spill over into needless consumption?

Does the fact that I am enjoying the use of these pieces of equipment that I could very well live a reasonably complete life without make me a huge part of the problem? Should I dump them in my quest for environmentalism and instead take up meditation as a more planet-friendly route to escapism?

Or is there perhaps actually some value in them?

There is no question these devices use resources in ways that are unsustainable. There is no question that some people would find them completely needless and wasteful.

But at the same time there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my life has been made more meaningful by these things.

I have met numerous friends whom I hold very dear through my hobby of video games.

I have experienced many emotions at the hands of video games, the stories they tell, and the gameplay the present.

I have always been fascinated by this medium and the new dimensions it brings to human storytelling. I have no doubt that video games are simply a modern take on the campfire story of yore. They may not yet have the same level of popularity or emotional depth, but even the most basic, button-mashing, mindless video game is a form of escapism just like listening to someone tell a good story.

Like music, like movies, like books, like art, and like the art of storytelling that has been around for centuries, video games are another venue of human creativity that I believe should be highly valued.

Yes they are wasteful. Yes they are technically unnecessary. But they are part of that creative spirit which so wonderfully separates humans from other species.

I present these issues not with some grand master plan or all-encompassing theory on how things should be. Rather, I bring up these issues because they are representative of the changes our society is going through in an attempt to finally deal with our harmful effect on the world around us.

One of the biggest reasons we are so reluctant to shift our ways is because we don’t know where the future will take us or what we will have to sacrifice.

This is a sentiment I can fully sympathize with. I am anxious to move the world into a more sustainable future in whatever ways I can. At the same time, I am nervous that perhaps we might go too far and brand those creations that were actually of some use, of some value, with a negative stigma – a proverbial scarlet letter.

Perhaps W, for wasteful.

I don’t want to see a giant W branded on my MacBook, my iPhone, or my Xbox. While my situation certainly isn’t true for everyone, for me these devices truly bring happiness to my life beyond some illusion of happy consumerism and I do not wish to forfeit them in some blind quest for a perfect world. I’m sure others have their own categorical niches of devices which they find just as valuable; just as fulfilling.

Am I wrong? Am I misguided?

What I do know is that I am confused. I do not want to be the chain dragging the world’s progress backward and denying us our better future, but at the same time I don’t want our future to be so irreversibly altered that others will not know of these wonderful products of human creativity and ingenuity and be able to derive value and joy from them as I do.

This is, I suppose, the eternal quandary of a tech-obsessed, ecologically minded individual. Hopefully the path will become clear to me eventually.

In the meantime, I’m going to go stare at a glowing rectangle, sure to have a smile on my face.


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Fallout 3 – Totally Stuck in a Rock

This is my character in Fallout 3 being totally stuck in a rock.

This is also me being really sarcastic about my character being stuck in a rock.

Better still, I demonstrate how to get stuck in a rock all by yourself in your own game of Fallout 3! Yay! Fun for everyone, truly.

The video quality kinda sucks (I was testing out recording, editing, and uploading all from my 3GS and the lighting left something to be desired), but really, this is me stuck in a rock. How much quality do you really need?


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Death = $$$

This is definitely not the first time I’ve seen this trend (I remember it with George Carlin specifically, as one example) but, as it turns out, death is a really, really good marketing move.

Only works once though.

Honestly I had little to no affection for his music and I thought he was more than a little weird, but he was an icon that deserved to live far longer than 50 years. Hell, everyone deserves to live far longer than 50 years, I don’t care who you are.

I only hope, for the sake of his families and true fans, that his music is remembered over the scandals and strangeness of the 90s. I doubt it will be, but I hope I’m wrong.


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Apocalyptic Graduation

The realization was slow to set in, but now I am sure of it. I am graduating into the apocalypse.

Swine flu is going to kill everybody.

The recession is going to make the world’s economy collapse.

People will soon begin to ransack abandoned buildings for sustenance. Black markets will spring up around goods that have been stolen from stores that can no longer protect their own merchandise.

The Middle East is probably going to blow the world into smithereens any day now with its expanding nuclear weapons arsenal that’s in the news more and more frequently these days.

Swine flu is likely going to make my university, mired in unchangeable tradition, alter course and not conduct business quite as normal during graduation, like so many other universities have already announced, due to swine flu concerns.

I’m not going to be able to get a job after getting my degree, leaving me a failure at life stuck mooching off of my parents until I can figure out how to live off of unemployment checks and secure my position at McDonalds, if I am particularly lucky.

My graduation ceremony itself will probably be rained out, stuffing us into a smaller space which will:

All of this not to mention more long-standing concerns. For instance, the fact that global warming is going to slowly but surely melt all the ice on the planet ending life as we know it. Or the fact that solar activity that is going to kick up in the next three or four years will destroy our power grids and cause civilization to collapse (if there’s any civilization left after the swine flu kills us all, of course).

Plus the Mayans predicted the world was going to end in 2012 anyway, so I figure that they lived long enough that they could have been off by a few years. It would be understandable. I wouldn’t hold it against them.

Also, I’m willing to grant that the actual period of the apocalypse may not be as immediate as everyone expects. Perhaps I am simply graduating into the beginning of the apocalypse and the real thing will come in 2012 or so. I’d say that still fits my definition. It’s just semantics at that point. After all, the beginning of the apocalypse is still the apocalypse.

Well, at least I’ll get to graduate before the world comes crashing down around me. How much would it suck to be a junior when the world ends?

So close, then kaboom. No more world to graduate into.

There’s always someone worse off than yourself, I guess.


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Forgotten Smiles

I have been caught underneath a veritable flood of nostalgia as of late. Frequently I have found myself fondly yearning for things from all different stages of my childhood.

Frankly it’s beginning to worry me a little.

Does this mean I’m getting old? Am I unsatisfied with my current life? Do I wish to return to “better days”? Do I have an unhealthy fixation on some of these strange childhood preoccupations of mine?

Certainly the Internet has not been a great help in escaping the grasp of my youthful indulgences. YouTube and Wikipedia alone make it far too easy to become swept up in memories of times gone by.

In seriousness, I jest with my alarmist pondering above, but it is interesting to examine the flavor that the Internet can add to recalling childhood experiences.

With a simple search, things that had become muddy, lost in the depths of my mind and buried under many other memories, can be instantly recalled and brought back to the forefront. It’s an interesting feeling and, while some of the things I find myself fondly remembering now as I browse the web definitely have that “why on Earth was I so fascinated with this crap” quality to them, it is nonetheless refreshing to have the memories brought back to me so vividly. It is nice to know that they’re not really gone for good – they’re just hiding, waiting to be brought back by the right prompt or whim.

On the other hand, the coldness of the digital realm adds a bittersweet quality to the proceedings. I watch as other people’s videos are displayed on YouTube. Slices of their lives are made available to me for browsing, and through them I can gain a window back into my own memories, but not without feeling like a bit of an outsider in the process.

It is also easy to forget that the icons of my youth do not remain trapped in my memory. More often than not they came out of the vile depths of a marketing department and probably existed long before and long after I had any interest in them. So while I do regain many of my own memories browsing the far reaches of the web, they are slightly tinted through a different lens than when I first experienced them: through the eyes of a different family, in a different time period, in a different location, with different details.

But then again, all nostalgia is viewed through a different lens than the one that originally captured the memory. Nostalgia itself is a filter, exaggerating both the good and the bad, the pleasant and the humiliating, and covering up many of those pesky details that take up just a little too much room in our grey matter.

With the Internet at my side I am also able to see, for better or worse, how these icons of mine have been shifted to fit different childhoods than my own; foreign childhoods; childhoods that would look upon my precious memory of the experience as the unusual one. It is a phenomenon that seems to make my own memories both more precious and less personal at the same time. I am on the one hand thankful that I was shaped by the experiences that I was; that these newfangled, unwelcome takes on the themes of my childhood were not the ones I was exposed to. At the same time, the more I realize this, the stronger the light shines on the cheap scenery in the background. I become increasingly aware of the impersonal, profit-driven, corporate roots of so much of what I enjoyed. As much as I still cherish the memories, this is not an overly pleasant thing to realize.

Ultimately I suppose that nostalgia is always bound to be both a little pleasant and a little painful, much like life itself. A fond look back at the happy times of youth reveals many pleasant memories, forgotten smiles, and good times, reminding us of where we came from and who we were. At the same time, nostalgia reminds us that we have grown older, we are no longer that person fondly remembered in our memories, and those things we once cherished will never return to us in quite the same way. The lenses have been changed, the perspective shifted.

Even though the trip may be a little painful, it is a trip worth taking. It is a good pain: a pain of remembrance, of growth, and of wisdom. Those scenes in our memories must by their nature remain forever inaccessible to us, but at least, through this bizarre medium of nostalgia, we are able to relive them somewhat and be glad that we were able to form the memories in the first place. We can appreciate the past without becoming stuck in it. We can embrace the change that has come to us over the years while recognizing the building blocks that got us to where we are in the present.

However cold the Internet may be, I’m still glad to have it as my companion for this journey. After all, without it, who knows what memories could have been lost in those mysterious shifting sands of time.


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Wallpaper Concoction

There is a particular type of desktop wallpaper that I seem to like very much which is not overly easy to come by on the expansive Interwebs.  Good wallpapers are hard enough to find, much less ones that fit my rather strange tastes.

The particular style in question is that of minimalism.  I like to have wallpapers that are little more than a splash of color and a logo of a favorite band.  Maybe a little bit more if it’s really called for.  It depends on the situation.

What can I say?  I’ve always liked logos.

Needless to say though, most wallpapers, and especially those centered around bands, tend to be overly complicated.  It’s as if the makers are trying to show off their terrific Photoshop skills.  Instead of producing something that one might actually want to, you know, keep on their desktop.

This combined with the fact that I have some rather obscure musical tastes makes this style of wallpaper rather hard to find.

Well, luckily I just happen to have a copy of that little Photoshop program and I know what a couple of the buttons do, so I occasionally like to mess around with it.  As it happens, a minimalistic style requires minimalistic Photoshop skills, which suits me just fine.

There’s no worry of my 133t skillz getting in the way of this image because, quite frankly, there’s little skill involved in making the thing at all.

I might choose to fancy it up a bit in the future, should I see a need and actually learn how, but for now it suits my strange tastes just fine.  A name, a logo, and a couple simple pictures (distorted a bit for effect; hey, I never said it had to be totally boring).

Simple as it may be, I’m rather fond of the thing.  I guess making something yourself tends to do that to you, no matter the medium.

Anyway, I’m off to go logo searching.  I’d like to make a few more of these.  Maybe if I work at it enough I can build up my skills until I can make overproduced, busy trash like the rest of the wallpaper makers out there.

I can dream, can’t I?

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Philosophy in Abstraction

Why are all philosophy classes a giant load of nonsense?

Every course I’ve taken in the discipline feels like such wasted potential.  There are so many fascinating questions and issues to explore in philosophy.

What does it mean to be beautiful?
How do we know what we know?
What is human nature?
How do we assign value to things in our world?
What are the consequences and implications of the way humans communicate with one another?

Image from Telstar Logistics via Flickr Creative Commons license

Image from Telstar Logistics via Flickr Creative Commons license

Yet every philosophy course I have taken buries these issues in jargon and pointless theory.  The key questions the courses purport to discuss are swallowed alive by a circular quicksand of useless arguments about arguments.

I don’t come to philosophy wanting to study the egomaniacal freaks who come up with this detached academic babble.  I want to discuss the significant issues that make up the forgotten backbone of the self-interested theory machine that modern philosophy instruction has seemingly become.

Image from Álvaro Herraiz via Flickr Creative Commons license

Image from Álvaro Herraiz via Flickr Creative Commons license

If only some of these theories would at least be applied clearly to real-world discussion at some point the situation would be a lot more tolerable, but they never are.  I just can’t believe that this endless cycle of learning about arguments that argue about arguments is truly necessary to delve into the philosophical questions that surround human life.  Why sidestep the real issues by learning about theories instead?

I’m not claiming that these theories have no value at all.  They just need to be brought down out of the clouds and grounded in actual, practical discussion so the focus shifts back to philosophical issues and away from the niggling details of theory construction.

Maybe this is just my isolated experience or perhaps I’m simply missing something, but my sneaking suspicion is that pretty much the whole of philosophical instruction is this way today, at least to some degree, and this should just be filed in the bursting folder of issues that I have with the modern educational system.

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