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Monday - 30 November 2015

Orbital Mechanics

So, blog, we meet again. Been a while (as evidenced by all the maintenance this site still needs). Not a lot to write about, I suppose, at least not much positive. It's been a shit year, really.

And I don't really want to go into the various whys it's been a shit year, at least not at the moment. No, this exercise is more for therapeutic purposes than informative ones. Though I guess you could say those overlap. Anyway.

A few years ago I did a series of comic strips about my depression. I like them, I consider that sequence to be among the best ones I've done. OK, small sample size. Still. One reason I'm pleased with them is that they go some distance in communicating what it feels like to people that, thankfully, have never experienced it. It's one of those things that requires a common frame of reference to really get, which makes it very difficult to talk about.

This morning, as I continued to fight my way through this latest depressive episode, I had an imaginary “seminar,” I guess, trying to explain what it's like to normals. (Normal in this respect, anyway.) I used visual aids. Trying to articulate the experience seems to help withstand it; I'm explaining it to myself as much as anyone else. Better understanding trough self-psychoanalysis. Or something.

My preferred metaphor for my particular depression is a black hole. Imagine you are in the gravitational pull of a black hole. It follows you around and, though you can pull away from it, you can never fully escape its gravity. Your relative health, depression-wise, can be gauged by the altitude of your orbit around the black hole. The deeper you are in the gravity well of the black hole, the more it robs you of not only your energy, not only your metaphorical life-light, but your coherence, judgment, your basic ability to perceive the world. The farther down in it you are, the more distorted your view.

The higher your altitude, the clearer your perceptions are and the less energy is required to keep you in a stable orbit. But some energy is always required to maintain it — apply too little and you start spiraling down closer to the center of the black hole. If you've got a little extra, maybe you can move to a higher apogee, but you've used up some of your reserve to do it. Your energy “budget,” if you will, depends on how much you need to maintain position at any given time.

If you're doing well, you might be at a high orbital distance and can afford to devote maybe 10% of your budget to fighting gravity. If you get tired, slip a little, you can climb back up with only a smallish extra effort. You appear relatively stable, with only minor fluctuations. But that stability depends on you not getting tired, and on the black hole not gaining any mass. You could spiral down into a lower orbit if you put in too little energy, and since the gravitational force is stronger the lower you go, it takes more to climb up again. Or something from outside can add to the black hole's mass and strengthen its gravitational pull; suddenly 10% doesn't cut it any more. You need a lot more energy, maybe 30 or 40%, to stay where you've been, and it's got to come from somewhere. Conservation of energy and all that. Physics.

Spiraling down can happen suddenly, sharply, steeply. Or, it can happen so slowly as you gradually tire that you don't notice it until you look up one day and realize that the black hole is larger in your field of view than you thought it was.

Climbing out is a lot harder than falling in. Falling takes no effort at all. Meds can help. They're very effective at certain altitudes. Like booster rockets. Useful for moving from a middle altitude to a higher one, or for maintaining stability once you reach a manageable distance. At lower orbits, they just help slow the descent. The real power has to come from internal reserves you build up through conservation or from outside assistance.

Asking for outside assistance is dangerous. It means placing part of your burden on someone else, and they may not want it. Or they may not know what to do with it. A successful request for aid can give you a burst of needed energy and an extra helping from someone else, but a failed one adds mass to the black hole. Knowing who to ask and under what circumstances is tough enough when your perceptions aren't compromised by low altitude; when you are so compromised it amplifies the risk considerably. You might pick up the phone, for example, and between starting to dial a number and engaging the call go through an hour or more of debating the risk-reward ratio involved. Usually, you don't finish making the call. Too dangerous. If you don't handle it well, you gain no altitude, and if it goes badly — and you know it can — the black hole gets more massive.

I've had a lot of outside events adding extra mass to the black hole of late. I've done OK rebalancing my energy budget to maintain a middle orbit, but I've been tired. There hasn't been anything left for anything else. The black hole is bigger than it used to be. The booster rockets have been doing their thing to keep the spiraling down from getting much faster, but I've been conserving what I can for another go at gaining altitude.

I'm almost ready to hit the thrusters and climb. The reserves seem a bit restored. I'm just not sure how high they'll take me before they're depleted again.

(This post cries out for illustrations. Maybe I'll spend some time doing that soon.)

Posted at 02:11 AM Pacific Time - Link -

Monday - 17 August 2015


OK, so my revival of StarshipTim.com seems to involve some unanticipated repair work. Spambots have screwed with the commenting process, and some added security seems to have backfired a bit, so tweaks have been made. That part should work now. (Still better if you log in, though.) Other issues include the linkbox at right, which needs updating, and some other under-the-hood work to comply with modern-day PHP standards. We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I have a deadline to meet.

Posted at 06:33 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Sunday - 16 August 2015

Reviving the Blog

It has been too long. StarshipTim.com has been in drydock so long that the basic infrastructure powering its warp nacelles is now obsolete. But that's OK, like a good starship engineer, I can make do with the materials at hand and jury-rig this sucker to work beyond its specs. Just did some of that, actually, in an attempt to solve a problem for friend of the site Mr. Lundegaard. (Erik, help is on the way for your email notifications, though I need to deal with GS first.)

There have been many topics I've intended to jot down thoughts about over the last couple of years that never got this far. Some of those may yet get written, and if they do, they'll go up here. Same goes for new C5s, they need to happen, it's just a matter of time-management and will. And brain health.

Anyway, the blog is not dead.

Posted at 05:35 AM Pacific Time - Link -

Friday - 14 February 2014

My Grandpa

Circa 2008
As some of you know, my grandfather died last week. It wasn't a “tragic” thing in the sense that he was 92½ and aside from being frail with age wasn't ill or anything. He was just, in his own words, “too old.” He'd started to look to me like an old man after he turned 90 — before that, he was always looking pretty spry; in fact, he looked better and healthier at 85 than he did at 80 — and whenever I saw him after that he'd appeared frailer and more limited in what he could do. So in some ways, his passing was not a surprise, I knew it was coming sooner or later. And yet, I didn't think it would be THIS soon.

I received my last communication from Grandpa in the mail today. He'd mailed me a birthday card three weeks ago that was misaddressed and it got returned to him; his wife found it in a stack of mail and dropped it back in a readdressed envelope a few days ago. It contained a nice note, a cheery birthday wish, a brief update on how he'd spent a week with my mom and the dogs, and comments on my 1-year-old nephew's cuteness. I'd somewhat recovered from the sadness that I'd been in for the past week since I heard the news, but getting this in the mail has me back there tonight.

I loved my grandpa. He was my favorite relative. Not for any tangible articulable reasons; I mean, we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things, and sometimes it was difficult to talk with him, but that's just par for the course in a human relationship, I guess. Bottom line was, we were a lot alike in some basic ways — we could each be righteous and stubborn and quick to judge. But we could also be generous, goofy, and apologetic about being righteous, stubborn, and quick to judge.

I think I probably disappointed him a few times. He wanted me to learn to fly and share piloting with me; I didn't have the interest in that. He wanted me to go to school at CalArts; it was too narrow an educational concept for me at the time. He wanted me to join the Masons; I couldn't get past the religious angle involved there. Some of these things I think were important to him because his son had done them and his son, my uncle Richard, had died young and left Grandpa with a bit of a wound that my stepping in would salve somewhat. On the other hand, he was proud of me for some of my own choices, and enjoyed my work and my expertise on technical matters.

I've been remembering a lot of stuff this week, broad stories and little moments and isolated images with no context.

Circa 2005. We'd just had lunch at Santa Monica Pier, where we talked about FDR
and the Drepression. Grandpa was an “Okie” that moved west during the Dust Bowl.
When I was eight, I was in his living room, drawing Batman in my sketchbook. We had watched some of the old “Batman” TV show earlier in my visit. He mentioned that Adam West lived not far from there, why don't we go say hi? I was mortified at the thought of dropping in unannounced on Batman — I knew he wasn't actually Batman, but the guy was still a celebrity that must hate being hounded, right? — but Grandpa had the rest of the family excited about it so we all walked the few blocks to Adam West's house and rang the bell. And he came to the door, Grandpa told him who we were and why we were there, and Adam West was gracious and warm and autographed one of my Batman drawings. I hadn't wanted to go, but it was great fun in retrospect. Another time Grandpa was visiting us in Tucson and we'd gone to the dog track. Grandpa liked horse racing, but at the time the greyhound track was the closest thing we had, so we went there. He'd made some bets and came away without much to show for them, but in the last race of the day there was a dog running named “Mister Spock.” Grandpa asked me if he should bet on Mister Spock, and I think I made some lame crack about how it would only be logical to do so. He placed a bet and Mister Spock paid out enough to treat the whole family to a ritzy dinner; I don't recall details, but I remember a lot of ribbing and affection around the idea that “my” dog had given Grandpa the only big win of the day. Once my sister and I went with him on a camping trip for a weekend in a small RV he used to have; apparently there was some friction going on between him and my sister then, but I was oblivious to it, I just remember fishing and being slightly horrified when Grandpa bludgeoned our catch and tore out its innards.

Also coming to mind are just isolated fragments, like the way the garage in the house he lived in when I was 4 or 5 years old smelled. Or how he “let” me adjust all the clocks for daylight savings time one year (living in Tucson, DST was a strange and alien concept). Or riding in his Cadillac while he sang along with Charlie Rich on the radio.

I was forwarded some comments made about my grandpa by his fellow pilots at Continental Airlines. One exemplifies the way Grandpa could make a point and support when others might go negative. It reads: “Captain Grigsby turned the craft of flying into graceful art, making both the trivialities and complexities of our trade into a poem, a sort of sonnet with a perfect couplet at its close. I flew under his command as often as I could, for the pleasure of his company as well as for what I might learn and try to emulate. My most treasured award as an airline pilot came on a demanding contest with winter weather in a 320C going into ORD. As [First Officer], he privileged me to fly that leg. At a moment's pause in the approach, he said, quietly, almost offhandedly, ‘Ro, you fly pretty good instruments.’ And, I treasure and quote those words exactly as uttered over 40 years ago. Thank you, Captain Grigsby.”

Over the last several months, it had become pretty difficult to have a phone conversation with Grandpa; his hearing had never been good — occupational hazard of being an airline pilot — and had gotten worse, and he'd taken to not wearing his dental bridge because it was uncomfortable, which made it hard to understand what he was saying. Sometimes I'd hang up wondering if either of us had any idea what the other had said over the preceding 20 minutes. So we'd done most of our communicating through the mail recently. Before the birthday card, the last letter I got form him indicated that he might be ready to call it a day. In addition to referring to himself as “too old,” he was wistful about not being able to fly anymore, and confessed a yearning to hop in the cockpit of his Beechcraft Staggerwing one more time and a kind of defeatist sadness at knowing he never could.

I miss him already, and I know I'll continue to do so until it's my turn to go. I hope I got his constitution in the gene lottery; he lived to be a basically healthy 92 years old despite smoking and drinking for 60+ years, and if not for the tobacco habit damaging his heart he may well have pushed on further. More importantly, as my mother put it, “all his software was intact.”

I may have more to say about him here later on. The memorial service is in a few weeks. For now, though, I just wanted to process a bit after opening my mail.

Posted at 04:01 AM Pacific Time - Link -
1 previous comment

Thursday - 03 October 2013

Things That Keep Me Awake

It's 4:00 in the morning and I'm not sleeping. I'm not sleeping because I'm anxious about money and involuntarily pondering the reasons I find myself in a position to be anxious about money.

I had a job that paid well. I don't have it any more. I went out and got said job because I'd lost a major client. Both losses are due almost entirely to poor communication. The earlier one about a 50-50 split between my communicative fuckups and the client's, the latter one about 90% due to my immediate boss' inability to communicate in even the most basic ways his job required him to. He's like John Boehner in that respect. (He still has his job despite that incompetence, also like John Boehner.)

Anyway, I'm in this tenuous financial circumstance because of miscommunications and misunderstandings. Some my own, which I feel stupid about; some by others, and some of those willful, which I can't help but resent. They're all at least two years in the past now, but they still recur in my brain to keep me up at night once in a while. Like tonight.

I'm not broke yet, but I will be if something doesn't change, and if/when it does change, will I be able to trust the circumstance, or will it once again be based on miscommunication and doomed to a bad end?

And will I get any sleep?

Posted at 04:24 AM Pacific Time - Link -
1 previous comment

Tuesday - 01 October 2013

House of Vandals

“Those who keep talking as if there are two sides to this, when there are not, are as much a part of the vandalism as Ted Cruz. Obama has played punctiliously by the constitutional rules – two elections, one court case – while the GOP has decided that the rules are for dummies and suckers, and throws over the board game as soon as it looks as if it is going to lose by the rules as they have always applied.”

—Andrew Sullivan, “The Nullification Party

Posted at 08:36 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Blog Neglect

I've been neglecting this site for a long time now, and it's high time for a new post. Or several. Plenty going on worthy of commentary, too — Republican crybabies shutting down the government, the baseball postseason, the relative merits of DC Comics' month of 3-D covers — so maybe that'll spark me a bit.

Meanwhile, here's the brilliant Jon Stewart bit from last night. And now, I go to cheer on the Pirates.

Posted at 04:56 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Thursday - 28 March 2013

Where are the Metrons When You Need Them?

I'm not interested in this video game, but the ad is outstanding.

Posted at 06:18 PM Pacific Time - Link -
1 previous comment

Wednesday - 07 November 2012

Four More Years

I've not had much of an Internet presence for the past several weeks, but tonight's decisive reelection or the President warrants a FRAK YEAH celebratory shout. YEEEEEE-HAAAWW!

Unlike some of my friends, I was never terribly concerned about the outcome; the only worry I had was whether or not the turnout would overcome the fraud perpetrated by the Republicans (predominantly in Ohio and Florida), and it did. Turnout by the younger demographic was especially heartening, as it bucked the conventional wisdom to maintain its participation from 2008.

The fall season obsessions are now behind us, so we'll see how things unfold from here. On the micro scale, I'm climbing out of a deep, deep foray into The Pit; one of my more impressive episodes to date, and my second attempt at a new medication seems to be taking hold in a positive way (the first was not a good experience at all). Job/money concerns are still running very high, but I'm hoping a return to stability and level mental ground will allow me to tend to the needs of Cloud Five; it's going to be a few more weeks, at least, but it will return. I need to figure some things out first.

But no matter what, I can at least relax about our collective immediate future. Almost everything went well tonight. Whew.

(Oh, except for one of our local initiatives — frak you, Eyman, you rat-bastard.)

Posted at 12:42 AM Pacific Time - Link -

Tuesday - 09 October 2012

In a Nutshell

This is awesome. A terrific illustration of one of the President's speeches on basic economic theory vs. GOP “economics.” Distribute widely.

Posted at 03:25 AM Pacific Time - Link -

Thursday - 20 September 2012

Crisis of Confidence

I notice that the traffic on the Cloud Five site has been rather poor of late, and mostly that's OK with me — because this week's strips kind of suck. I've been beating my head against a wall trying to be funny the past few weeks, and the ones that made it online? They're the best of the bunch I came up with. You should see the rejects. No, on the other hand, you really shouldn't.

I know this happens to everyone. Even Toby and Sam lost their talent for a while. But it's driving me nuts and making me wonder what to do. Is the strip just not capable of being sustained as it is? What changes do I have to make? Should I blow it up and start over? How can I reformat this concept with this basic cast to be consistently interesting and, hopefully, amusing?

This week also saw Google Ads ban me from their service for life, though they won't explain why. They just allege a “violation of terms and conditions,” with no specificity, and are not honoring their own policy of a window of time to correct any issues that might exist. (I've reviewed their terms and found no violations, but some of them are beyond my, or any site owner's, control, they depend on end-users' behavior.) So the hundred bucks or so I was expecting from them they won't ever pay, and no payments in the future, obviously. I've made them aware of their own violation of policy and we'll see if they choose to rethink it and honor their terms, but I expect they won't and I won't ever hear from them again. It was the only money I've generated so far form the comic outside of a few baseball-related strips appearing in The Grand Salami, but according to Google, it was somehow fraudulent. Great.

This endeavor was never going to make me any money in the short term anyway, and long-term, presuming a steady growth in audience traffic, the other ad service I use is more promising than GoogleAds, so in the long view, no big deal. But it still rankles me.

Meanwhile, the real problem is material. Being funny several times per week. Or at least a few times a month. I'm flailing here.

Phil was easier. Probably due to the setting and the easy access of different characters to that setting. So with that in mind, changes to C5 can be made and it can persevere. But my head hurts from banging it against that wall so much.

Posted at 06:00 PM Pacific Time - Link -
2 previous comments

Tuesday - 18 September 2012

That Was Fast

Last night I went to the Mariner game with my dad, who's been visiting for a few weeks. I've been preoccupied with other things and hadn't been paying as close attention to the baseball world as I usually do, so I wasn't aware of the pitching matchup for last night's game until it was announced on the PA. Then I groaned. “Oh, wonderful. This game's already over,” I told my dad. “We'll lose 8-3.” It was a mismatch of Chris Tillman for Baltimore versus — wait for it — Hector Noesi for the home squad. Hector is this year's Carlos Silva (Silva: 5-18, 6.81 ERA in 36 games with Seattle), except he isn't busting the payroll budget. He is truly terrible, and it turns out I was a bit conservative in my prediction. Noesi served up seven runs in two innings before being mercifully removed form the game and the final score was 10-4. So I was close.

The really funny thing, though, is what we saw on the way out after the game was over. Making our way out of the stadium we passed a souvenir stand that had the following display:

To be fair, that rack wasn't all Hector Noesi jerseys (they were, in fact, jerseys from the team's opening day trip to Tokyo in March). But really, only 40% off? Hector's should be free.

Posted at 07:52 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Monday - 17 September 2012

The CyberHuman Corporation

What happens when funnyman John Hodgman gives brilliant singer-songwriter Aimee Mann advice on her new album tour? About what you'd expect.

Posted at 02:48 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Wednesday - 29 August 2012

Debt is Bad! Give Me Borrowed Money!

Bob Cesca, of the fine Bob and Chez Show podcast, in his weekly column at The Daily Banter takes on the spewing of hypocritical bullshit at the GOP convention when it comes to the national debt:
If these confused, self-contradictory people truly wanted to be responsible for cutting government spending, building their own businesses, and financing their own disaster relief, perhaps they should be challenged to do so. I assure you, a guy who wants to open a bait and tackle shop in Mississippi will have a hard time bringing in customers when he becomes responsible for building and maintaining the roads leading to his store, and he’ll have a tough time securing his revenue when the FDIC refuses to insure his deposits. And Bobby Jindal will have to roll up his sleeves and start filling sandbags and buying bottled water now if he really wants to build his own state-only response to Isaac. Jindal knows he can’t do it on his own, except when he needs to score some points with confused Republican voters.

Cesca also references this clip from West Wing. Enjoy:

Posted at 11:02 PM Pacific Time - Link -

Wednesday - 22 August 2012

Pet Peeves

I watch a lot of baseball on TV and listen on the radio. I go to a lot of baseball games at the stadium. I read a fair number of baseball articles. I do this because it's fun and I love the game, and in that same spirit I sometimes grit my teeth and growl in frustration at the way language is used with it.

Here are my peeves of the moment in relation to the way people speak/write about baseball:
  • Calling batters “hitters.” It is a batting order, a player accumulates at-bats, the stat is called batting average. The batter is not necessarily a hitter, they are not interchangeable terms, and treating them as such removes any meaning of the term “hitter.” “Pujols is a tremendous hitter.” “Gonzalez is a power hitter.” “That guy is a tough hitter.” These things mean something beyond that he's a tough out, they mean he tends to get a lot of hits or that his hits tend to go a long way. When I hear an announcer tell me that Miguel Olivo, with his .230 on-base percentage and .270 strikeout percentage is “the hitter,” I invariably scoff. It would be more accurate to call him “the swinger” or “the flailer,” at least then the math would make more sense. But even then, no, because you cannot predict with certainty what he'll do in a given at-bat. So he's the batter. (One thing that flies in the face of this is the term “pinch-hitter” [and “designated hitter,” which is just shorthand for “designated pinch-hitter”]. Outside of Vin Scully on rare occasion, I've never heard the term “pinch-batter” used, even though that's what it should be.)
  • Using the plural of a team name when it makes more sense to use the singular. Usually this causes the object to be double-plural. They are Mariner pitchers, not Mariners pitchers (though they could easily be the Mariners' pitchers).
  • “Untracked” does not mean what you think it means. “One of these days, Jones is going to get untracked at the plate.” This does not mean that Jones will someday regain his ability and improve, it means that someday Jones will collapse completely. It's a train metaphor, people. “Untracked” = “go off the rails.” The phrase is “on track.” Jones will eventually get on track, as presumably he is now off track.
I'm sure there are more, those are just the ones that came up for me during the games of the last couple of evenings.

Enough whining for tonight! Must raid the kitchen now.

Posted at 02:28 AM Pacific Time - Link -
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Enterprise: To Brave the Storm, by Michael A. Martin  

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You Are not a Gadget: A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier  

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Typhon Pact III: Rough Beasts of Empire, by David R. George III  

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Typhon Pact I: Zero Sum Game, by David Mack  

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An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin