The difference of a word….

… or otherwise titled, “Why you actually need to care about Marketing!”

Let us talk about a system.

This system uses a myriad of sensory techniques to collect data on an individual.  Some of these are obvious and can be noticed by the individual.  Some of these are not, and they hide in the shadows.

Some of these techniques are also used to shape or influence the behavior of individuals.  They may do this by limiting their choices or by presenting some options more than others.

All of these techniques, when you boil them down, are about control.  They are part of a system that has been constructed and designed to exert control over various individuals and groups, and the people that are attempting to exert this control don’t usually see themselves as being aligned or part of the group being controlled.

Now–how we label this system can change our perceptions of it–even if the system itself doesn’t change. 1984

If we call it “Big Brother,” then people–even those who haven’t read 1984–may perceive it quite negatively.

If, however, we decide to call it “Big Data,” then people have more ambiguous feelings about it.  It’s just a tool then–possibly one that will help us become more healthy and better off in the future as all these intractable problems are solved with the magic of infinite information collected about all of us.

Amazing what the difference of one word does.

Is it the impersonality of “data” vs. “brother” that shades the meaning?  Is it just the historical time period that has allowed the phrase “big brother” to have its meaning cemented into negativity?

The systems are the same, functionally.  And a bit more terrifyingly–big brother never actually existed technically in its fullest extent–not even in 1984.

But now it does.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Culture and Coming out..

The alarm went off this morning super early because it’s a special day.

And I heard,

“Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
Except for Lola. Lo lo lo lo Lola.”
And then I turned off the alarm.. but the thought-train had started.

The Kink’s Lola is my first memory of understanding the utter humanity and normality of what we would now call the LGBT movement…. or–as I like to say–of many dear friends of mine.

The song came out in 1970, was a huge hit, and was also censored in various places around the world–I’M LOOKING AT YOU, AUSTRALIA.

I didn’t really consciously remember hearing it until the 1980’s and I probably didn’t think about the lyrics–or closely listen to them, until 8th grade or so–so maybe 1985-86.

But then I did listen to it–and yes, it was radical and life-changing.  It changed my life.  It didn’t make me gay –I’m pretty boringly straight–but it changed my life because it made me see something.

It made me see the humanity of a group of people that were never spoken of, never addressed, and never, ever treated as anything other than something wrong and unspeakable.

This wasn’t taught to me by anyone–and it wasn’t something that my parents or family did (other than just not talking about it).  Rather, it was something that was just “clear” and something that you learned in your education on the playground.

We all avoided being a “faggot” or a “fucking queer”–some of the worst of all insults.

Lola changed that.  It didn’t change it by preaching.  It changed it by merely presenting Lola as a human–a human like any other.  A human who loved and liked.  A human seeking the company of another human. A human seeking intimacy and kindness–and one wanting to give those as well.

That was radical as fuck.

Not that I suddenly became a full-blown advocate for LGBT rights at that moment.  Not at all.  But the seed had been planted.  The logic–or rather–let’s be honest–the bullshit lies and fear that I had learned by cultural osmosis that would make me want to hate and separate myself from LGBT folk was made transparent.   I realized that it didn’t make me stronger to fear anyone because of this–it made me weaker.

And that would be stupid.

A few years after that–I would meet my first gay man officially through a much more enlightened friend.  Then in college I would have a manager and friend who let me know he was gay.. and we are friends still.

Being LGBT became a non-thing for me.  Or rather–it became just another facet of this complicated world we live in.

But it did become a cause for me in the sense that I have always believed in equality for everyone–and to see inequality and unfair treatment doled out to these other humans for no other reason than the person they loved–well, that’s just fucking bullshit.

Fuck. That.

In the end, Lola changed me.  Perhaps she helped make me a man too.

Moments like this matter–and culture–as conservatives like to talk about–that does matter too. This song did immense cultural work upon me–it made me a better human–because it provided a crucial–if also incredibly ordinary–example of the humanity of so many humans that I like and love.

Although I happen to be straight–Lola was a coming out moment–not for me in specific–but for all of us in general.  And every time I have a friend in the LGBT community who finds the courage to come out and show the world that “we’re all just folk…” here–that makes the world a better place–and I will always applaud them for it–both in my head, and to anyone within earshot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How do you Want it?

I don’t exactly remember where this NOM came from.  I know it sprang from a situation where I was reading about people talking about “wanting” something in some way that made me think about how I wanted things.. because they were different.


More than that, however, I no longer know.  Despite putting down “NOM-Wanting” on my lists of “daily tasks to get done” for the past couple of weeks–there were always more important tasks that took precedence.

I had yardwork to do.
I had the kitchen to clean.
I had to go meet about with people about the upcoming semester.
I had wood  to chop.
I had dinner to make.

Of course, not all of those things above sound all that fun.  But I chose to do them instead of writing on this blog.


Did I want to do those things more than writing on this blog?

Yes. I wanted to chop wood more than write.
I wanted to clean the kitchen more than write.

“What’s up with that?” you might ask.  You wanted to do dishes instead of blog? Are you insane?

Probably. Given what’s considered “sane” in much of culture and society–I might just be a bit insane, but I think I can also explain it by delving into the concept/term/idea of wanting. 

As I am wont–not want–to do (oh what a pun!***), I will first look at the definitions and etymology of the word want.

Want is interesting. In the languages closest to English–namely Dutch and German–the equivalent verbs are “wollen”(3rd person “will”) and “willen.”  This verb exists in English also–not surprisingly in the modal verb “will” (from old –but its meaning has changed.  In both German and Dutch,  “wollen” and “willen” mean “to wish, want, desire,” whereas in English, “will” has come to mean something more like “am willing, shall, choose” and to imply the future.

So where did want come from?

It came from Scandinavia.  Want comes from Old Norse vanta, which meant “to be deficient, lacking.”   One can see this kind of meaning in the expression, “It was found wanting.” ==It is deficient, flawed.  An english cognate of this verb is found in our current verb “to wane,” meaning “to diminish, decline,” and which is most commonly associated with the phases of the moon.


Historically, the verb is first noted as appearing around 1200 AD, but I would reckon that it probably came over with the Danes back in the 800’s, when they (as Vikings) conquered much of England and set up shop in the Danelaw for the next 200 years.   Perhaps it was only noted in 1200 because all of England had been ruled by the Danish King Canute between 1016-1042, and then England was again conquered in 1066 by the Normans–who were Francofied Viking descendants–and French became the main written language on legal documents (as well as Latin) until well into the 1200’s.  Although I haven’t found direct sources for this, it would make sense for the gradual seepage of Old Norse terms first into commonly spoken english, then into the upper classes, to happen because of these historical events.

In any case, want remained a verb solely denoting deficiency or lacks into the 1700’s, which is when we start to see the crossover in meaning towards “desire, wish” in its meaning. This meaning has become dominant since that point, and current definitions almost always begin with the meaning of “desire, long for” in current dictionaries.

This evolution of meaning from “to be lacking” towards “to desire, long for” in a pretty ubiquitous and oft used word in English is pretty fascinating to me.   If you think about it, there are some profound shifts in structure and meaning that went into this..  Previously, to say, “I want knowledge.” (I am ignorant.) would have been extremely negative and would have implied a kind of reflexive or passive reaction to the subject.   Currently, saying “I want knowledge.” would be seen as rather positive–that the person is actively desiring or seeking out knowledge (let us agree that this is a good thing.).

This is a pretty profound change in a word, and I believe it plays a role in the original cause for this post–namely my reaction to somebody talking about their wanting.  Specifically, they were talking a lot about all the things that they wanted (desired) that they could never seem to have (these were material things, mainly).  It made me think of all the people who focus so much desire on material objecst–say like an iPhone–or the whole Black Friday phenomenon–and how intense their desires actually are.
Wanting had become pure desire for them.

This struck me mainly because my sense of wanting was different.

It’s not better.  That is DEFINITELY NOT MY CLAIM HERE. I’m speaking just for me here.

But it is different.

When I talk about wanting something, it is much more of a transient kind of phenomenon.   If I want something, I dedicate myself towards having it–and then marshall all my energies towards getting it.   These things that I want can be big–I desperately wanted to be with my best half after I met her and fell in love with her–or it can be something as simple as my morning coffee.


However, these things that I want, I act until the want is gone.  The intensity of this action is expressed quite well by the sentiment on the side of this coffee mug.

Which is mine.  I saw this mug online. I wanted it. I made it mine.

The flipside of this phenomenon, however, is that when I find something that I desire, but I realize that the amount of energy that would be needed to get it would be unmanageable–or detrimental–then I stop wanting it.  I concluded that I was not lacking this object, or goal–and this would free up space for me pursue other things.

Perhaps I’m just lying to myself here.  Telling myself a story that I don’t want these things–but it works.  And I don’t tend to think about it much more.

Again–I’m not saying this is a better strategy–I’m only saying it is mine.  It works for me, but I’m also an amazingly privileged individual–I’m white, male, upper middle-class, American, and over-educated.

Being free from wants is pretty simple for me to accomplish. Thus the caveats.

What interests me more than pushing an agenda is to think about the range of meanings covered by wanting.

Wanting is about our desires.

Wanting is about what we are missing.

Between the two points of desire and lack, there is the crucial element of need.

And that’s where things get interesting.  If things we are lacking are necessities–then our wanting can be very, very strong–and it can drive our actions.  If, however, the things we are lacking are merely our desires–they aren’t really needed–then our wanting can become a possibly destructive force (only possibly–because sometimes desires are important tools towards accomplishing goals we don’t need, but which make life better… anyway..).

I see this when I think of people waiting in line for days for a new version of the iPhone.  Or the stampedes on Black Friday.  This is desirous wanting run amok. It is where a desire is treated as if it is a necessity–and the force of wanting is used to drive our actions.

Some of this, I believe at least, comes from the overlapping meanings and connotations in the word want.   It spans a huge gamut of meaning in the English language and there are a wash of subtle, and yet powerful emotions and motivations that it can express.

Furthermore–we are living in a society that wants increasingly more.  As google can tell us, the overall usage of the world “want” has more than doubled in the last 40 years and is climbing.   This is almost certainly related to our rapidly expanding consumer society–but it is something that we are starting to realize is problematic when we think about issues of sustainability.

What do you want? and How do you want it?

Those are question we need to think about a lot in the next decades..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

State of the Garden: May to July 2015

Shit is growing.  No, seriously–the garden is in full swing and has really progressed since I planted it back in May.

For those who don’t know me personally (and are reading this)–I have four 4’x8’x10″ raised garden beds in my front yard.  I made these years ago–and have been gradually improving the area around them to make life easier.  Mainly, this has involved turning over the grass, putting down weed barrier and then recycled rubber mats and edging.

It has made things (such as mowing) a lot easier to deal with.

In any case–here are the changes that have happened.  In each of these shots, there is a picture from May 25th, and then one from July 8th–so about 7 weeks apart.   Weather here in Wisconsin has been relatively cool during this time–nights in the 50’s and 60’s–days in the 70’s (mostly) or 80’s (maybe 10 days worth..),which has been great for some plants and bad for others.  Rain has been okay–we’ve had a little deficit here–but not bad–and June was fine overall.

This was the garden in May and then July:

As you can see.. stuff has happened.
The closest box above (let us call it the Southeast box-SE box)–mainly contains various kinds of tomato plants–some Champions, but also some heirloom varieties–including Mr. Stripey, Black Krim, and Caspian Pink.  It also has a bunch of Basil, some Oregano, Thyme, and a few pepper (Pepperocini and hot chilli) plants.



As you can see–the tomato plants have done well.  I’ll admit that I’m in a constant battle with black spot mold (which I fight with pruning and liquid copper)–but it’s not nearly as bad as last year..

Then next box is the SW Corner box.



This box has mostly a variety of hot peppers (Jalepeno, Serrano, Anaheim, Chillies, other..) plus Oregano, Thyme, a bit of Basil, and then some tomatoes.  Originally–there were just two tomato plants–but then a bunch of tomato plants started growing from what must have been seeds leftover from the plants last year.   I dug up 5 of these re-seedlings–and have given them to people–but two of them I kept and we’ll see whether they’re Cherry or Polish Linguisa Tomatoes.   Beyond that–in the second picture–you can see a TON of Borage growing out the far end of the box.  This had reseeded itself from last year… and I’ve already dug up a bunch and given it to people also (Bees love it–and that’s why I keep it there–it attracts pollinators).

As you can see–the peppers are rather small here–and that’s been because of the cold.  They want warmth…

The next box is in the NW Corner–and it has the brassicas and cucumber plants.



As you can see–there’s been a ton of growth in this box–and the cats also find it much more interesting.   In the front of the box–there are 4 broccoli plants (only the closest one here still had a head–but I’ve cut that off now–so it will sprout more..)–then there are two Purple Kale and 3 Collard Greens plants.  Behind them–next to the trellises–are cucumber vines that I’m teaching to grow up the trellises. You can see them better in this picture:


All of the brassicas here have LOVED the cold/cooler weather. They grew continuously in it and have thrived.   Hopefully, they’ll deal with the heat–if we ever get any here.

The cucumbers are flowering at the moment, but it may be a while before we get any real produce from them. Time will tell, I guess.

Finally–there is the zucchini and bean box.



There are just two zucchini plants that have grown tremendously–and then a couple of different types of pole beans.  The ones you can mainly see here right now are the “purple” beans that I bought this year.  They all sprouted while the “stringless” seeds from last year never germinated (except for 1) and so I had to plant new “oriental” pole bean seeds in their place 2 weeks later to replace these.  That’s why the far trellises are not yet covered in bean vines yet–although they are now starting to snake up the trellises about 6-12 inch a day.

So–this is the state of the Garden.  We’ve already harvested lots of Kale, Collard Greens, and Broccoli leaves–all of which you can eat in salads.  This past Tuesday I also harvested the first broccoli heads and a number of small zucchinis.  There are green tomatoes and the first peppers filling out also…  I’m sure in the next week or two, the bounty will start going crazy.

Overall–this garden is work–but I like that.  Gardening–digging in the dirt, weeding, watering, pruning, guiding the plants… all of that gives me a grand sense of accomplishment.

I’m accomplishing my goals—which is what I think happiness is.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgement for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

And then I burst into tears. Not because I’m gay or lesbian–but because of the immense and profound kindness, understanding, and compassion that Justice Kennedy’s words had summed up.

This is all about equality–a value that is utterly fundamental to my worldview in so many ways–and today it was expressed–against great opposition for many, many years–in a beautiful passage.

As I’ve noted in the past–Beauty is closely connected to pain in my view and experience–and the beauty of this passage cut deeply today–and did so in the best of ways..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Useful Lies We Tell Ourselves..

The origins of this post came up in a thread on FB today.

Up front, I must say that it makes me almost immeasurably sad to think that Terry Pratchett is gone from us… because the gist of what I am talking about–the quote I will put here–came from Pratchett’s The Hogfather–and it has always struck me to the core.

In a nutshell, it describes an attitude that I once had a friend tell me in college about how he approached doing things in the world that were hard/strenuous/no fun–but which needed to be done.

I remember the conversation–it was actually about coding or homework or some such thing–and I mentioned something like, “That’s no fun.” and he said, “Oh. It’s fine. I just tell myself that I want to do it. That I will like doing it. I make myself believe that–and then it goes a lot faster.”

And that tweaked my world at the time. It’s something–an attitude that I’ve cultured in my worldview–that I’ve built up over time to the extent that I pretty much live it all the time.


With regard to the Hogfather, it involves a conversation between DEATH and his granddaughter near the end of the book/mini-series about why people believe things:

“So we can believe the big ones?”


“They’re not the same at all!”


“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

All of the greatest virtues that our society has–are lies that we tell ourselves–and which we then work towards making true.

There is no justice in the universe–except that which we believe in and which we work towards making true.

Justice is a lie, but a useful lie that we can turn into the truth only with a huge amount of work and effort.

But it’s worth the effort–and that’s why I lie to myself about it–and so many other worthwhile things–each and every day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Games, Logic, and Language..

A bit more than a month ago, there was a math (actually logic) problem that went viral and that generated a lot of discussion.   This was a bit like the famous blue/black vs. gold/white dress phenomenon–See here:

Remember this?  Now what colors do you see?

Remember this? Now what colors do you see?

that got everyone in a tizzy.

In this case, however the so-called math problem that generated all of the controversy was focused on a kind of logic game.  The hook of this problem was that it was supposedly given to 5th graders in Singapore as a test problem–and therefore if you couldn’t figure it out, it must mean that you were not that smart In reality, it came from a Math Olympiad test for high-school age children–so it was a bit trickier than that..

The problem can be found at this link–but–here’s the original image also:


I can say that when I went through the problem–which I think is pretty hard ( and I took a college level logic course in Germany, was a big old Math nerd in high school, and an engineering graduate to boot)–I got a little flustered.   My best guess was for Aug 17, but when I went to look at the linked page above’s solution–they laid out a logic that said it was July 16th.
Their logic seemed odd to me, however, and so I went reading through the comments of the article and found that there was a pretty strong dispute between Aug 17 and July 16th.

Now–the logic of the article went as follows:
#1. First statement by Albert is analyzed: “I don’t know when your birthday is, but I know Bernard doesn’t know, either.”

This statement–especially the second half of it–is parsed to mean that the months of May and June are not the months given to Albert–because both of those months have a unique date in them–namely June 18th and May 19th–and if Bernard had either of those numbers, then he would know the birthday immediately. Therefore, those months couldn’t be possible months that Albert was given to have the 2nd half of the statement be true.

#2. Second statement by Bernard is analyzed: ” I didn’t know originally, but now I do.”

From this statement, it is argued that Bernard has deduced from Albert’s statement that May and June are not the months.  Bernard also claims to know the answer. Now.. with only July and August as possible months, Bernard could not know the answer if he had been told the #14–since there are 14’s in both July and August in the list.  So the only possibilities for him are July 16, August 15 or August 17.

#3. Final statement by Albert is analyzed: “Well, now I know too!”

This statement is analyzed to say that August could not have been the month that was told to him–because there would still be August 15 & August 17 left.  Therefore, he must have been told July–and with the previous knowledge that July 14 & August 14 were eliminated–July 16th must the answer.

That, at least, is the logic presented in the solution.

But there’s something odd going on here if you think about human social relations and how people do things.  If you think of the situation with Cheryl, Albert, and Bernard–then some of the mathematical logic that is employed here is actually in conflict with how humans would act.

Specifically–I’d point to the analysis above in #1.  In specific, the question–in my mind–was whether Cheryl’s birthday could ever have been on the 18th or 19th of any month.  I say this because if either of those dates were true–then this game was entirely rigged.  Cheryl messed with Albert and told Bernard the answer outright–because with those dates, he also already knows the month too.

That’s not generally how any kind of fair game works.  Games tend to involve competition–and to stage a “game” and give one person the winning answer up front would constitute cheating.

This was part of the logic that I–and a number of other people in the comments I read–went from.

If you do this–then you get the following logical progression:
A) Assuming the point that the game is not going to be given away outright by a date of 18th or 19th–a point that Albert & Bernard could each reach on their own (besides being told a different date in Bernard’s case),  Albert’s first statement that he does not know the answer eliminates the month of June–because with the 18th and 19th gone–being told that it was June would have told him the answer.  All other months, however are possibilities that would make the second half of the statement true–namely that Bernard also doesn’t know.
B) With Albert’s statement, however, Bernard can see that June is eliminated.  Now Bernard claims that he knows the date–with May July and August as possible months–the only way this is possible is if that # is unique and only occurs in one of the months. The only date that fits these criteria is August 17th– because all other remaining dates 14, 15, & 16–have two possible month options.
C) This statement by Bernard that he knows the answer eliminates all possible dates that occur in two or more months for Albert.  Thus–August 17th must be the answer.

Now–if you look at this situation–the problem really occurs because of the linguistic assumptions and social assumption that one makes with regard to this situation.  Really–it goes into what actually makes up a game and how do people behave–or at least–how should they behave if they are going to act in such a situation.

This is the fuzziness of human behavior and language that can sometimes make it really problematic to map it directly onto logical or mathematical problems.

It is also, I would argue, one of the problems that is at the root of creating true artificial intelligence–namely that activities as simple and basic logical guessing games are not easily or necessarily accurately extracted from the richer and complex social embeddedness of human behavior.  Yes–it’s possible to choose the assumptions that make the math and computer logic work out easier–but when your goal is to teach computers to “be intelligent” by having them imitate a reality that is easier to program but less conforming to the messiness of the world–well.. you’ll achieve something much more trite and much less impressive than three people talking to each other competitively.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment