Category: ramblings

Ranking the Muppets

A link has been making the rounds on social media, where NPR conducted a survey of 18,000 listeners to determine who were the most popular Muppets. It’s been shared with me from a couple different friends, and it was definitely an interesting exercise, but let’s be honest here: it was also incredibly wrong. I mean, any list that ends up with Pepe the King Prawn beating out Ernie has some obvious flaws. Flaws I feel compelled to point out publicly. I’m not exactly sure where to begin, but I’ll do my best here.

First of all, I’d like to attack the very basis of the exercise. “Rank the top Muppets” to me is sort of like saying “Rank your family members.” I mean, sure, you may have some family members who you just like more than others, but you’d have to be close to certifiably insane to decide to make a list like that, much less make it public. I’m one of 10 children, once you take in all my step and half and full siblings. I could make a list ranking my siblings from least to most favorite, but why in the world would I do that? I mean, maybe (just maybe) if someone had a gun to my head and said I had to rank them or else I’d die, then I might decide that would be a good idea, but even then I’d do my darnedest to eat the list once the gun was put away.

Ranking Muppets is different than ranking movies or books. It’s like you’re ranking people. And sure, People Magazine does the whole “Sexiest Man Alive” poll or whatever, but this list isn’t ranking the Muppets in terms of sex appeal (because first: ew, and second: obviously Gonzo.) No, it’s going full on for popularity, plain and simple. Which is just misguided and icky from the get go.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the idea isn’t bad from the beginning. That ranking Muppets by popularity is a good idea. Even then, the list made some pretty huge goofs. For one thing, they made their pool too big. “Muppets” (for them) included Sesame Street characters as well. So they didn’t just make a “Rank your family members” list; they made a “Rank your friends and family members” list. And sure, the list talks about being “ruthless,” but there are some things you just don’t do. Sesame Street characters do different things than Muppet characters. Ranking one or the other would already be painful enough, but now you’re opening yourself up to huge biases in what people are looking for in a TV show character.

Which leads me to another critique. The way they ranked this was by popular vote. There’s no way of proving somebody didn’t go all American Idol on the vote and just make multiple calls to vote. Ballot stuffing is the only thing that accounts for Pepe’s presence as high as he is. (Sorry, Pepe. If this list were “Best Muppet with too many legs,” you’d be right up there, my friend.)

Even then, they made some bizarre choices. Statler and Waldorf are considered a single character. Dr. Honeydew and Beaker are separate. Labyrinth characters count. Star Wars characters don’t. Why not, pray tell? Frank Oz did Yoda, Miss Piggy, and Grover. All were puppets. Is it that Yoda looks more “realistic” than Grover? But the puppets in Labyrinth look more realistic than Grover too. Where’s the line?

Could I look at this list and find other flaws beyond the Pepe ranking? Sure, and I had planned to, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought each time I make a nitpick about the list, I’m granting it a little more power, and coming closer to doing the very thing I’m critiquing the list for doing. The trick is to not buy into that reality. The more we feed it, the stronger it becomes.

So, since I’m so ready to cast stones at NPR’s top 25 list, am I ready to come up with one of my own? Of course not, though I do have this list of favorite siblings, now that you mention it . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Much Credence Do You Give to Personality Tests?

Last night Denisa and I watched Persona, a new documentary out on HBOmax. It focused on the development and rise of personality tests, spending the most time on the Myers-Briggs. It was an interesting look into the history and controversy surrounding them, and I’ll admit I had never really spent that much time thinking about the impact those tests have had and potentially can have in the future. The more I thought about this, the more I realized this is likely in large part due to the fact that I’ve got a personality type and a “profile” that wouldn’t cause any problems for me in my life. The documentary does a fair job illustrating why that might not be the case for everyone.

My experience with Myers-Briggs has always been more on “gee whiz” level of curiosity than anything that I might decide to base my life around. If you’re not immediately familiar with the test, it’s the one that asks you a series of questions of how you’d act in various social situations, and then it gives you a four letter “code” to define what sort of personality type you have. Are you an introvert (I) or an extrovert (E)? Are you thinking (T) or feeling (F)? That sort of thing. I know I’ve taken these tests in the past, but I never really paid that much attention to where I ended up on them. Why would I? I knew there were people who placed more stock in them, but it seemed like an irrelevant thing to me.

I never realized that a growing number of businesses require job applicants to take these tests as part of the application process, however. Then they use the results of these tests to weed out people they feel wouldn’t be a good fit for the position. On the surface, I suppose I can see the logic behind the argument. If they get 500 people who apply for one opening, then if there’s a way to quickly sift through those for the best applications, then why not use it?

Except the tests in question are problematic for many, many reasons. First, they weren’t designed for use in the job application process. They were more designed for use in self-discovery. Second, they were designed based around a limited number of people: mainly educated white men. This places people outside that demographic at risk of having their results misinterpreted. And third . . . they’re personality tests, for crying out loud! I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to be told I wasn’t being considered for a job I really wanted because they thought based on this random test that I’d do poorly in the position. Especially if I have a track record of success in those types of positions.

As the documentary points out: if you have a biased person somewhere in a hiring process, that person can impact maybe a hundred different position searches over the course of their tenure. But if you have a biased automatic algorithm that’s baked into the hiring process, then it can impact every single search it touches across the entire company for years to come. And it’s sometimes very hard to recognize when a fundamental process like that is biased.

This struck me even harder because of some thoughts I’ve been having ever since the pandemic started. I had always considered myself to be an introvert. It’s a label I voluntarily applied to myself, and I think I used that label as a crutch or excuse for why I did certain things. If I didn’t want to go somewhere or interact with a group of people, I’d just do a mental shrug and remind myself I was in introvert, and give myself a pass. But when the pandemic hit and I was cut off from so many other people, I realized I was much more extroverted than I gave myself credit for. I relied on those other interactions to keep myself going.

So was I an extrovert all along? To me, it wasn’t that simple. I dislike the idea that there’s this either/or setting for introvert or extrovert. I think it’s misleading. In some instances, I may be feeling introverted. In others, I may be a total extrovert. I haven’t thought about it enough to figure out which situations call for which response. (I may be self-analytical, but I’m not that self analytical.)

The more I thought about it, the more curious it was to me that I was so willing to apply a label to myself when, generally speaking, I dislike labels. I feel they’re reductive, and they almost never do a good job of explaining why people do what they do. It’s a step away from explaining everything by astrological signs, and maybe it’s even not that big of a step. And yet people willingly buy into these theories and then start framing their life decisions around them.

In the end, if I don’t want to go to a party, I should just not go to the party. I don’t need a label of introvert as an excuse. And if someone wants a job, they should have the chance to apply and interview for the job fair and square, without some whackadoo computer program telling them they’re a bad fit. Am I being overly reductive here? I don’t think so, but of course I’m open to other thoughts on the matter. I recognize my amount of research into this consists of one potentially biased documentary and a lifetime of idle Google searches into the topic . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Few More Dungeons & Dragons Presentation Thoughts (and a link to the presentation itself)

Now that my D&D presentation is behind me (huzzah!), I wanted to take a bit of time to look back at the process and detail a few things I would have done differently. The idea behind the presentation was pretty straightforward: I wanted to film the whole thing ahead of time, and then give the audience a series of choices about which way the presentation would go.

For a while, I thought I was going to have to do some sort of fancy editing to enable those choices, but I discovered YouTube has the ability to link to other YouTube videos at the end of each video you upload, so making those choices possible would be as simple as just mapping out how the videos could play out, and then being sure I linked everything the right way.

I learned a few things as I went:

  • To have those “links to other videos” at the end of a YouTube video, the video has to be at least 25 seconds long. There were a few snippet sequences I filmed that were much shorter than that, so I had to end up adding in some empty space at the end of those videos so there was enough time for the menu to pop up.
  • Actually, I had to individually edit each video to add blank space at the end, since the choice menu shows up over whatever is at the end of that video.
  • I used Quicktime to record myself at my laptop. I would then trim the beginning and ending portion of that recording from within Quicktime. I used iMovie to add in the space at the end of each video so I could have the choice menu pop up.
  • Somehow I had thought YouTube only let you have two linked videos at the end of its clips, but after I was into the innards of the interface, I saw you could have up to four links. I would have likely designed my presentation differently had I known about the extra capacity.
  • There were some sections where I wanted to splice YouTube clips into my presentation. I used MacX YouTube Downloader to get this done. It was super easy to do, and made for a seamless presentation.
  • I was impressed how far iMovie has come. Switching between audio tracks and video tracks is a simple process. So much better and more intuitive than it used to be.
  • Having a definite outline of what was going to happen when, and how everything would link together, was key. In the end, I uploaded the videos in reverse order, with the ones that happened at the end of the presentation being uploaded first. This way, I could link the videos that came before them properly once they were uploaded as well. (If that makes sense.)
  • It doesn’t take too much to give the perception of choice without actually having to film 1,000 different variations. For this, I filmed the lecture itself in several chunks. The choices then led to alternate takes that then funneled back to the core presentation each time. That said, if I were to really go all out on this, that could be done with more editing of the videos. It wouldn’t be hard, I don’t think. It would just involve more scripting, more recording, and a better decision tree map.
  • It would be fun to film an actual story this way, though I don’t know that I’ll ever justify the time it would take to do it . . .

With all that out of the way, I realize I linked the video of the presentation on Facebook, but I didn’t do it here. So if you’d like to see a 40 minute discussion about D&D and its impact on our society, check it out:

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Time to Ditch the Training Wheels

I love doing the New York Times crossword. I look forward to 10pm each night, which is when they release the crossword for the next day. Usually I have it done before I go to bed, because I guess I just can’t wait. And I’ve blogged in the past about my journey with the crossword: first about my decision to let myself Google information to find out answers, and then about my decision to stop doing that. Basically. I decided a while ago that I just wouldn’t worry about getting the gold stars anymore. Up until then, I would do whatever I had to to get a gold star each day.

And that just felt silly.

So I decided to let go my fixation on gold stars and just enjoy crosswords. For the first few months, that’s definitely all I did. When I got stuck on an answer, I’d turn on hints and get unstuck very quickly. It was just a crossword. What did it matter? It wasn’t like I’d be able to figure it out with another hour of thinking or anything, right?

Except because I’m so goal-oriented, I started to wonder how many crosswords I’d actually be able to complete with a gold star (no hints). And I started to track how I was doing. In April, I had 15 gold stars. May: 13. June: 11. July: 17. August: 13. September: !5. October: 14. I think that was when I started to think maybe I could try to see just how well I could do. To start working harder at solving the crosswords without giving up as easily.

In November, I had 21 gold stars. December had 26, and in January I just got 29. Saturday puzzles can still stump me, and Sunday puzzles can trip me up because they’re just so big, and finding where I made a mistake can be ghastly. But I definitely discovered that as I put my mind to it and really tried, I could do a much better job on the crosswords than I thought I could.

Some of it is definitely due to having done them daily for so long, but I think a big part of it is because I finally made the decision to commit. To throw myself into the deep end and figure it out on my own. These days, with the internet always at the tips of our fingers, it can be very tempting to just give yourself an out whenever you need one. Not just with crosswords, but with any problems. Puzzles in a game, or finding a solution to a tricky AV hook up. I’m not saying we should ignore the help the internet offers. But at the same time, I think we might end up robbing ourselves of the opportunity to really grow beyond the need to always look stuff up.

If you constantly keep yourself in shallow waters, you’re never going to become a strong swimmer. I know two of my friends who ended up being very successful writers. For both of them, the change happened when they completely committed themselves to it. In one case, it was getting laid off of a job and having to write full time to try and earn money for his family that got him to the next level.

I’m not saying I’m planning on quitting my job. My goal isn’t necessarily to be a writer full time. Would I like it? Probably. But I also really love my normal job as a librarian, so I don’t think I’d give that up. Rather, I’m just saying it might behoove us all at times to see if there are some bumpers we’ve put up in the bowling alley to help us learn how to bowl, and to question if we really need those bumpers up. If the training wheels need to come off.

You get the picture.

I’m glad I started doing the crosswords all on my own. It’s turned them into a really fun mental puzzle that I hadn’t fully appreciated when I was just turning to Google to get myself out of a bind. That principle surely applies elsewhere in my life. I wonder what other training wheels I can ditch in the future.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

There are No Happily Ever Afters

First, let me lead off by saying that I don’t think this post is a negative one. At least, that’s not where I think it’ll end up. But it’s going to start off pretty gloomy. I mean, just look at the title up there. No happily ever afters? You mean fairy tales have been lying to me all this time?

If it were just fairy tales, then I don’t think it would be as big of a deal, but our culture is in many ways saturated with a happily ever after mentality, primarily because of the pop culture we consume. I love movies and books (obviously), but almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when you watch or read story after story after story with endings, it’s easy to get to the point where you start waiting for the end of the story you’re living.

Take, for example, the story of COVID. It fits easily into any number of disaster movies, and so it’s not a big leap to try and assume it will follow the same arc of those movies. Disease is discovered. Disease wrecks havoc. Cure is found. Disease is vanquished. Fade to black. But in reality, it doesn’t work out that way. When exactly would the “fade to black” have kicked in? When the vaccine was found? It wasn’t done yet. The vaccines still had to be tested. How about when the vaccines were tested and confirmed 90%+ effective? Nope, still not done. The vaccines had to be administered. How about when they’re administered? Well, just look at what a mess that’s been in America to date to see how well that’s worked out. You could have made an entire second narrative, starting with the “happily ever after” of the vaccine being effective and then focused around the huge problems of actually getting the cure administered.

And even once we iron those wrinkles out, at what point is it “over”? I don’t know that there will be one.

This isn’t isolated to world-changing events, either. It’s very easy to assume you’ll get your “happily ever after” when long-sought for moments arrive. When you graduate, perhaps. When you marry. When you get a job. When you get a book deal. When you win the lottery. When you reach that goal you’ve been waiting a long time to reach. But if you take a look back at all those potential “happily ever afters,” I think you’ll note that it wasn’t, in fact, happy from then on. You don’t get a job, or you miss a promotion, or you lose the job, or your boss is a bone-head, or you squander your lottery money, or your book tanks, or your spouse is annoying, and on and on and on.

Happily ever after just doesn’t come.

So how in the world is this not depressing?

Over a hundred years ago, newspaper columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones wrote, “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

This speaks in many ways to what I’ve concluded as well. It’s important to celebrate the victories you get when you get them, but at the same time keep in mind that those victories are not endings. That the page will turn, and new challenges will continue.

I read recently that “the lie outlives the liar.” You can remove a liar from office, but you can’t remove the lies they persuaded people to believe as easily. The people who attacked the Capitol last week aren’t going to suddenly decide that what they did was wrong. (Though it’s been amusing to me to see how many of them have now spoken up after their arrests to explain that they were really just there to watch what was going on, and that they personally weren’t protesting anything. They walked through open doors. They picked up zip ties they ran across, and were looking for a policeman to return them to. Many many excuses . . . )

Trump will be out of office next week. It becomes that much more important for us to continue to press for truth and transparency from our leaders. To not let the Democrats now do all the things they reviled Republicans for doing for the past four years. To not assume we’ve reached our happily ever after.

Likewise, we need to keep pressing for people to social distance and to wear masks, even though a vaccine is currently being administered. Thousands of people continue to die every day, and hundreds of thousands continue to contract the disease.

In our personal lives, it’s important to not wait for some big life changing event to begin making changes or taking action. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’ll do that when COVID is over,” or decide to delay things until something else is in place. Sure, sometimes you have to do that. I’ve got a kitchen renovation I really want to do, and money to do it with, but I’ve been hesitating (and will continue to hesitate) until I have more certainty about what the future holds. Committing tens of thousands of dollars to cabinets and countertops when there’s a decent chance you’ll need that money for food and clothing doesn’t seem like a good call.

But I also believe there will always be reasons to not do things you want to do, just as there will always be the temptation to plan up to a point and then assume all your troubles will be over. That just doesn’t happen. But it does mean we can choose to act today to make changes we want to see happen. Just because there isn’t a happily ever after doesn’t mean those mile markers aren’t important. It means we can be happy now, and the happiness we have now can be extended to the happiness we’ll have in the future.

I don’t know. Maybe the post ended up being bleak anyway. I suppose it all depends on how you read it. Just know that for me, as I look at it, knowing there’s no happily ever after motivates me to be find happiness in the present. To not wait for some outside thing to change, but to be the change I want to see. Take that thought for what it’s worth.

Look at it this way: it’s Friday! Weekend! We can be happy about the weekend while still acknowledging that a new week will begin in just a few short days. That’s no reason not to enjoy the weekend, however . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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