I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

Mark Twain


The mind is a very powerful weapon. I wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.


I just finished reading a book Spy the Lie, which gives a system for detecting whether a person is lying.


I know, right? That seems like a very useful skill to have.


One of the tips they shared was that, as fast as we can talk, the brain can think maybe a thousand times faster.


When phrasing a question, the interviewer should keep it very much to the point. Two extra words in the sentence doesn’t make much different to the sentence, but it allows the one being questions a world of opportunity to consider the response from all angles.


That’s a lot of horsepower.


If I follow my own train of thought, I will not only run down a rabbit hole, but potentially dig a whole new warren.


I have to keep it harnessed. Have a few ground rules.


A friend of mine said she had a premise:

This is a friendly universe.


I have to say, at the time I was not at all convinced. The world was quite obviously out to get me, and I could name names.


It was up to me to come up with defensive and offensive plans to handle all these potential disasters and outright attacks.


And this is exhausting.
I really don’t have that much power.


If I look for people who are working against me, I will find them.


But if I look for people who will help, I will find even more of them.


At least, there is enough evidence that I could respect myself if I chose to believe that the universe is friendly.


Like Pascal’s wager, I am better off if I believe it than if I don’t.


It gets my powerful mind pulling in one direction at least. And I would be a happier person for it.

the Fair

We are going to the fair!

We have photos of taking Veronica to the fair every year since she was born. One of our favorite things is to get her into the goat pen.

The Los Angeles County fair has a big pen of goats, a scattering of sheep and a handful of alpacas. It’s free to go in but you have a pay a small fee for the Dixie cup of food you can give the goats.

The goats are very aware of the Dixie cups at all times. Veronica can hand feed a pellet at a time and be the center of attention. When she was shorter than the goats, this was a scary scene. Now that she has some height on them, it’s a lot more gleeful

But it’s always been gleeful.

It turns out that the county fair, and it’s descendent the state fair, are a product of the industrial revolution. A by-product, perhaps. The first one took place in England, the year after America’s declaration of independence, and it took almost a hundred years for the American states to take it up.

Wikipedia calls them agricultural fairs, because they happen in lots of places. They have animals and cooking and crafts–homey things. Homemade things. It’s a celebration of things that are not industrialized. Australia calls them Royal fair. I hear Jamaica has a phenomenal fair.

New York had the first American state fair, which continues into the present in Syracuse. More than a million people a year go.

My home state Alaska, whose fair I was deeply involved in as a teenager, is a big deal. I knew it was a big deal. I raised farm animals–pigs, cows and rabbits. My brother and I showed them at the fair and won prized. We had to drive to the fair every day to feed then, and clean their stalls. This let us get into the fair for free and see all the fantastic sights.

One of my favorite things to see was the punk rock hairdressing booth, where women would take your money then give you a stiff spiked and colored Mohawk for the day. They played rock and roll and made you one of them.

I was far too afraid to do this myself. Also, my hair doesn’t do that. Does it? But I could watch endlessly while taking a break from cleaning my pig’s stall.

The fair was always a magical place to me. It had a special place in my heart. It was my fair.

Looking into it, I find that maybe it was not so unique to me. Of all the state fairs, Alaska’s state fair gets the highest number of people visiting, especially when you take into consideration the low population of the state.

The Alaska state fair gets a whopping 40% of the ENTIRE STATE to come to see. That beats out Texas, which has four state fairs just to cover the territory. North Dakota is almost as popular, with 39%.

It is startling to realize I come from a place with a culture that values the fair.

Here, in Los Angeles, the agricultural roots are being forgotten. The fairgrounds are beautiful, with historic buildings from the 20s and 30s. And they do have contents for homemade things.

And we can’t forget the goats.


A couple years ago, I was invited to a party with a lot of college professors. I found myself sitting next to a professor emeritus.

I was nervous to go to this party, because I didn’t know many people. I’ve always felt out of place around highly educated people. I had to find a way to justify my presence.

I would start talking; explain some of the more interesting stories about myself. I would want to come up with something impressive I had done.

I could go the other direction too, come up with stories that explained why I was behind and backwards. I found that if I made them colorful, people would listen and possibly forgive my awkward ignorance.

That was the hope anyway.

But it could be exhausting, making sure to get in my stories of explanation, and I could find myself the one doing all the talking. I wished that I could find another person who would tell me about themselves. Because what I really wanted was connection.

As I was getting ready for this party, I told myself to tone it down. I wanted to listen to other people.

At the party, I was introduced to people, and I was trying to start conversations. And then I encountered this professor emeritus. We exchanged names, and I asked, “What do you do?”

“Oh, I used to teach. Tell me what you do.”

I told him, and he was so charmingly interested. I tried to ask him more about himself, but he was so interested in my stories he had no time to tell his own.

I didn’t hog his attention the whole night. In fact, I saw him move around the room, and engage person after person in rapt conversation.

He was really interested, and people really wanted to tell him what they were up to.

I remembered self-admonition to tone it down. But when I saw this guy in action, I could see what I was trying to achieve.

He was more interested than interesting.

I mean he wasn’t trying to be interesting to these people at the party. He didn’t have anything to prove.

He was interested. He was interested in me, and in hearing what all kinds of people had to say.

And it was easy to tell him, because he really wanted to know.

Which means, years later, never having met him again, I remember this man. He made a lasting impression on me.

And it wasn’t even his goal.

Alternate futures

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

Science fiction used to be a lot better. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking. In a galaxy far, far away and long, long ago there were a lot of seriously evil people.

But even Disneyland had a sparkling view of the future. Walk past the castle in fantasyland, make a turn and the future prospects of Tomorrowland were just as magical. Rockets? Spaceships? All of it was fantastic and getting better by the minute.

My first forays into science fiction were that sort of giddy optimism. The world of Star Trek was as pure and seamless as any happily-ever-after fairy tale. As Kirk liked to expound, the biggest flaw of mankind was the insatiable desire to explore.

And then my older brother tossed some Heilein at me, and I saw some more of that exploration of the universe, with unbounded freedom. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress showed a wild-west space colony using science to gain their freedom from the remote earthbound leaders. The protagonists were very pleased with their prospects and pretty sure that things were getting better.

That’s something that Sci-Fi has always been able to do for us. Imagine a world…same laws of physics and science…. but we have better tools…What could we do then?

Certain authors and an older tradition of science fiction had that optimistic thought-experiment tone with their storylines.

But others looked into the future with dystopian gloom. The very recent Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in an impoverished world where people escape into virtual reality without ceasing. Neil Stevenson’s The Diamond Age from 1995 is cyberpunk gloom, with organized crime barely worse than the official governments.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer from 1984 has vat-grown food in a hopeless future where people jack into their technology to have any kind of power. Even HG Well’s The Time Machine published in 1895 showed a terrible future for the planet.

I had for the last few years been very suspicious of science fiction because I couldn’t deal with the gloom. Some of my friends may remember an extended rant I went on regarding Stephenson’s’ Seveneves after I hit the darkest point in the story and dropped it like a hot coal. I was angry at the author.

This was going too far! Science fiction plays into the pessimistic tendencies of people to extrapolate into the future the worst possible outcome of the current trends.
Unbridled pessimism as unrealistic as unbridled optimism. Are people terrible? No doubt. Will we do the wrong things? Yes.

But more often, we do right things. We are generous and creative and kind.

I stumbled on a recent book in the optimistic tradition that reminded me why I used to read science fiction Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon. It was not dystopian, it had a girl flying spaceships and having an adventure.

THAT”S WHAT I”M TALKING ABOUT! I am pleased to have some adventures in space where bad stuff happens but a little hard work, ingenuity and good character saves the day. We are not powerless, not now and not in the future.

Yes, Captain Kirk, humans are amazing. I’m proud to be part of this group. We are imperfect to be sure, but the future is full of promise. Look what we’ve already done so far!