The New Dwarf Planet And The Arizona Daily Star

It’s possible to be right about something and still manage to get it completely wrong. For evidence of this fascinating phenomenon, let’s look at yesterdays’s front page stories on the Arizona Daily Star. “Say hello to huge, new planet — or not:”

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Forget Pluto.

A dwarf planet recently discovered at the far edge of our solar system adds evidence for the existence of a much larger body, possibly 10 times the size of Earth, orbiting far from the sun but still in our solar system.

If astronomers can track it down, we could become a nine-planet solar system once again.

The planet is theoretical for now, inferred from the influence it seems to have on this new dwarf planet and others in its vicinity.

To understand how the Daily Star got it wrong, even though the article is technically correct, we need to look at how this story is constructed.

First, what’s the actual noteworthy piece of information? A new dwarf planet was discovered in the solar system. Neat! Despite how many people denigrate dwarf planets ever since Pluto’s demotion (even the terminology looks down on dwarf planets), I think that dwarf planets are pretty cool.

For one thing, they add a lot more ladies to our celestial neighborhood. Sedna, Eris, and Haumea bring three more goddesses to the ranks of the celestial bodies, not to mention dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt. Sure, it’d be nice if we could name a few more full fledged planets after goddesses to even out the decidedly masculine solar system, but that ship may have already sailed. Maybe the first named exoplanet can be a goddess?

So the news article is about the discovery of a new dwarf planet. Very cool. The problem is that the article and the headline both make it sound like this dwarf planet is somehow confirming the existence of a huge planet out there in the black, which is something that’s been speculated on for years. From the same Daily Star article:

What’s most interesting to the astronomers is that previously found objects and some they have since discovered are equally eccentric.

They point to the influence of a giant planet that perturbed the orbits of the objects being found and then either flew off into space — or is still hiding out there somewhere.

“The evidence for it is circumstantial,” Sheppard said in a phone interview from Chile, where he is observing again on the Blanco DECam at the Cerro Tololo International Observatory.

Bold emphasis is mine. Despite the general tone of the article, despite the headline, despite the fact that the discovery of a dwarf planet is still cool science news, the article insists on making it seem like we’re actually on the verge of discovering Planet X even though the only real information on that point is a single quote that describes the evidence as circumstantial.

Here’s what Phil Plait, he of the legendary Bad Astronomy blog has to say about the possibility of a large planet lurking out there:

It’s possible that a bigger object—a proper planet-sized thing—could be out there in the Oort cloud, hundreds of AU away from the Sun, that could be affecting the orbits of these objects. If it were a giant planet like Jupiter or Saturn we would have detected it by now, so it would have to be something smaller and colder. An object the size of the Earth (or even somewhat bigger) would fit the bill. It’s an idea that’s been around for a while now.

Mind you, the evidence here is pretty thin, and as much as I’d love for there to be another planet lurking out there for us to find and study, we just don’t have enough data here to say anything either way. It’s small number statistics; we’ve found two objects with odd orbits, but it could be coincidence. We need to find a lot more OCOs like Sedna and VP113 so that the gaps in our understanding of their orbits can be filled in.

I love science news and astronomy in particular is one of my favorite subjects. It’s always been an unfortunate aspect of the real world that so much of astronomy is based in mathematics and that I’m very bad at math. My love for the stars will forever be the love experienced by the laity. Regardless, I think it’s a disservice to cover up an actual bit of interesting scientific news with this wild speculation.

I’d also like to point out that, purely for the sake of accuracy, there is one particular fact that the Daily Star article gets wrong. The article claims the new dwarf planet is:

“It is the farthest orbiting object ever detected, beating out Sedna, found in 2003 by a team led by Mike Brown of Caltech, which included Trujillo.

But that’s not accurate. As Phil Plait explains:

Let me point out that Sedna actually gets much farther from the Sun than VP113 ever does, but at their closest points VP113 is farther away. Sedna has a perihelion distance of 76 AU, VP113 is about 80.

But that’s a much more forgivable mistake, in my opinion, than the misleading headline and subsequent article. Call this one a nitpick.

Do I hope that there is a giant, Earth-sized planet lurking out there in the edge of the solar system? Absolutely! That would make for some very exciting news, to be sure. But I also believe it’s important to temper one’s speculation and focus on what’s there. Speculation is fun and fine, but it shouldn’t be the headline of the article.

Facebook Bought Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was one of those things that made me feel like a revolution in gaming was on the horizon.  I admit that lately, I’ve been feeling a little unenthused by what’s out there. I haven’t felt a compelling reason to buy any of the new generation of consoles. I’m mostly playing MMOs, one of which originally launched in 2004. Everything coming out lately just feels like it’s been more of the same old thing.

I wrote about the Oculus Rift before and how excited I was by the potential. The prospect of a true VR experience is still the main reason to be excited even though I haven’t yet been able to play with the machine without getting terrible motion sickness. I’m hoping the final product with correct that. Almost as exciting, though, was the way the Oculus Rift was brought into the world: it began through Kickstarter. It was funded by the excitement of its fans and developed on the back of that grassroots-level enthusiasm.

And then Facebook bought them.

I understand how the developers could be willing to sell their baby to the megalithic Facebook. If somebody waved $2 billion dollars in my direction, I would do the same thing. I might even do it for less, like say . . . $1 billion. There’d be room to negotiate, is my point.

Less exciting, however, is the idea that the Oculus is now in the hands of Facebook.

Yes, I use Facebook. This blog will get a large portion of its traffic from the automatically generated link that appears in my Facebook feed. I use it but I don’t love it. I don’t even like it.

I use it because that’s what’s there and it’s where people are. It functions for its purpose and it has enough inertia behind it to prevent other, better products from gaining much ground (Google+ would get my vote, even though nobody uses it very often, including me).

Notch, the creator of MineCraft, sums up his own feelings about this disappointment quite well:

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

I should note that this doesn’t mean the Oculus Rift is ruined forever. It might still be a great platform. It does mean that I’m considerably more skeptical now than I was before I read this announcement. Facebook isn’t a company that inspires a lot of confidence in me. Like Notch says in his post, their motives are unclear and shifting, their platform has been unstable, and there’s nothing about their history that says “yeah, I trust them to get this right.” Every indication of Facebook seems to indicate that it’s been a wild success in spite of itself.  One needs only look back at the Facebook IPO debacle for a reminder.

The fact that the Oculus Rift sold for $2 billion dollars before it even hit the shelves sits poorly with me for another reason. Let’s go back to 2006.

The Nintendo Wii hit the world with the force of a hurricane. I was still working at GameStop at this time so I endured the full wrath of desperate consumers looking to buy the system for the holidays. I remember how motion controls were suddenly the thing in gaming and Microsoft and Sony scrambled to have their own answers.

But eight years later, what’s the state of motion control? A gimmick past its prime, if sales of the Wii U are any indication.

What happens to VR if the Oculus Rift doesn’t live up to its $2 billion worth of expectation? Will any of the competing products on the horizon be there to take up the crown or will the disappointment set VR gaming back another decade?

I think it would have been better for gaming, for VR, and for the Oculus Rift itself is this hadn’t happened. It would have been fun to see how far the grassroots momentum generated by the Kickstarter could have carried this thing.

I guess we’ll never know.

NASA Study Says Rich People Will Destroy Human Civilization

In the wake of yesterday’s contemplation of my own poor money habits, I thought it fitting to share a story that confirms my poor impulse control in actually helping save human civilization as we know it. Woo, go me.

Apparently, a new NASA study has determined that modern civilization is doomed to collapse and that it’s due to happen in the next few decades. And the reason for this collapse? It’s not climate change or nuclear war; it’s due to rich people. More precisely: social stratification and unequal distribution of resources:

Motesharri investigated the factors that could lead to the fall of civilization, which included population growth and climate change, the New Zealand Herald reported. He found that when such issues interact, they can cause the breakdown of society through the “stretching of resources” and “the economic stratification of society into ‘Elites’ and ‘Masses’.”

Using different scenarios, Motesharri and his fellow researchers found that collapse is difficult to avoid under the current conditions. In these scenarios, they discovered that elite wealth monopolies are affected much later by environmental collapse than common people, which allows them to continue their “business as usual” way of living despite the catastrophe, according to the Guardian.

Human civilization is in its twilight and it’s mainly due to income disparity and the control of resources. The next time someone on Fox News opines that it’s wrong to punish success by taxing the rich, you can point out that if we don’t tax the rich to make them less rich, human civilization ends.

I don’t know about you, not being rich myself, but I’d feel really bad if I was the cause of the collapse of civilization.

Worry not, for there is hope! But if you have a lot of money or if you watch Fox News, you’re probably not going to like what that hope requires. That’s right, it’s time to pucker up and kiss communism right on its big, Marxist-Leninist-socialist-whatever-ist loving lips.

However, the researchers stated that society can avoid collapse with the right policies and structural changes, which can also lead to the creation of a more stable and advanced society, the Guardian reported. The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality to make sure resources are distributed fairly, and to reduce the consumption of resources by relying less on limited resources and bringing down population growth. With these changes, the “business as usual” model can end and civilization can be saved and evolve.

I don’t know about this. Sounds more like class warfare and typical liberal propaganda to me. Instead of unpleasant policy and structural changes (socialism!), we should “something something something job creators something something it’s what Jesus would have wanted.”

Okay, enough jokes. I actually do believe there’s a real story here, so I’ll turn off the sarcasm for a moment and speak directly. Is the end really “extremely fucking nigh?”

Maybe. On all matters of doomsaying, I remain cautiously optimistic. I generally think that people are good and we’re capable of saving ourselves from destruction. Predictions of doom are a dime a dozen, both from street prophets and well-meaning scientists alike.

On the other hand, civilization is a remarkably fragile thing. It is rather like a spider-web; beautiful and strong but still fragile and in need of constant repair. Civilizations before ours have fallen to war, to social collapse, to neglect, to the failure to adapt to new paradigms.

We’d be arrogant indeed to assume that just because we have the Internet and smartphones, we’re immune to the pendulum of history and the caprice of nature.

Wealth inequality is a real problem, not just in the United States but across the entire world.

A Meditation On Money

I spent last weekend doing exactly two things: I played a lot of the Old Republic and I did my taxes. In terms of maturity points, I calculate these actions balance each other out and leave me with a maturity balance of precisely zero. Which, I suppose, is better than have a negative balance.

Fortunately for me, doing taxes is actually a happy time since it means I’m going to get a nice check coming back from the government. It’s the one time in the year that I can feel good about the obscene amount of interest I’m paying off on some of my student loans. Those big-ass numbers on my 1098-E translate into fat deductions.

I won’t say that I grew up poor. I certainly don’t have the experiences on this list. But I also didn’t grow up wealthy. I remember the electric getting turned off more than once. The cable was turned off and reactivated with enough regularity to set one’s watch to it. Car repairs were something to be feared. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I learned through discussion with my parents just how close to the knife’s edge we were sometimes. To their credit, they tried to conceal the truth from my brother and me as we grew up. Nevertheless, kids are perceptive little buggers and there was no way we couldn’t pick up on things like having the electric turned off or the worries when something broke on the car.

It wasn’t poor, but it was certainly close enough that I picked up a particularly bad habit when it comes to money: extra money has to be spent immediately:

When a windfall check is dropped in your lap, you don’t know how to handle it. Instead of thinking, “This will cover our rent and bills for half a year,” you immediately jump to all the things you’ve been meaning to get, but couldn’t afford on your regular income. If you don’t buy it right now, you know that the money will slowly bleed away to everyday life over the course of the next few months, leaving you with nothing to show for it. Don’t misunderstand me here, it’s never a “greed” thing. It’s a panic thing. “We have to spend this before it disappears.”

I understand this problem.

It’s why people can go bankrupt after winning the lottery. It’s why people can believe that they’re “just barely making it” on a household income of $250,000 per year. It’s why I don’t allow myself to think “if I just had a bit more money, I’d be fine.”

Sure, I have things I need to pay off. My student loans are a monkey I can’t wait to have off my back. More money would help with that, right?

Except that I don’t think that it would, not really. Here’s how my tax return showed me this sobering lesson.

My monthly budget is finally squared away. I’m caught up on all my loans. Nothing is delinquent.  I’m squaring things away on a personal debt that’s been on the books for a while. Things are looking good.

This tax return I’m getting could clear one of my smaller loans entirely and still have a bit left over. But as soon as I saw the number, my thoughts weren’t “oh man, I can pay my loan debt with this!”

My thought was “hey, I could use this on a new Kawasaki Z1000.”

Several weeks ago, I got the new motorcycle bug. My current bike is a 2005 Ninja 500 that I bought from my brother. It’s the bike I learned to ride on and it bears the scars from my efforts. It’s a good little bike but I’m hungry for something newer and faster.

I did some research and even talked to my credit union about taking out a loan. I was this close to signing it before I realized that the monthly payments were going to be uncomfortable. I walked away from it and went back to my old bike that makes weird noises sometimes and has cracks in its fairing, but is still mine. I own both my vehicles outright. No auto loans. But the craving for that shiny new beast is still on my thoughts and every so often, I’ll take a look at craigslist and Cycle Trader to see if there’s a good deal that I could snatch up.

The 2014 Z1000 retails for about $12,000. My tax return could pay off a student loan . . . or it could be the down payment on that shiny new motorcycle.

And here’s where the problem really starts gaining strength. With the Z1000 in my theoretical grasp, the idea of buying a cheaper bike is unappetizing. The truth is, I could buy a good used bike and pay cash. The truth is, I don’t even need a new bike because my Ninja 500 is running well and suits my needs perfectly.

That’s the problem. As soon as my financial grasp increases, so too does my reach. Three years ago, when I bought my first motorcycle, the used Ninja 500 was at the very limit of my means. I had to pay it off monthly. Now that I could pay cash for one, my hunger is for something that I can’t do that with.

This is why I don’t think highly of winning the lottery. I think it’s safe for the ego to assume that if one suddenly came into a big sum of money, their tastes wouldn’t grow accordingly. They would be content to continue to live at the same level of expense. I don’t think most of us are really that wise. I know I’m not. I can say “oh, I’d pay off my loans and then invest the rest,” but I don’t think that’s true. I think those dollar signs would crack my self-control like a raw egg and I’d be getting that shiny new motorcycle before I did anything else.

I’m not even getting back that much money. It’s certainly not “quit-my-job” money. But even that humble amount has my brain telling me to abandon all the financial plans I’ve laid out and BUY THE NEW SHINY. Figure the rest of that shit out later. Spend it before it’s gone and I’ll have nothing to show for it.

I’m resisting that urge. I’ve pulled myself out of my previous financial pit by sticking to a particular plan and every reasonable part of my brain is telling me that sticking to the plan is the right call. There will be other motorcycles in the future. Hell, if I stick to the plan, eventually I’ll be able to buy the motorcycle I want without taking out a loan. The only problem is that I’d be able to do that eventually instead of now.

But even though I know that, I still look at the pictures and I think . . . I think.

Maybe nobody else feels this way. Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe I’m just really that greedy at my core, that I want something that much that it overrides my common sense.

I’m sticking to my plan. I won’t give in. I just wish it wasn’t so damn hard.

Desk Nomad

I have a perfectly lovely functional desk, which I have discussed before. It is quite a lovely desk and I’m very proud of it, even if it looks more messy these days. I’ve written a lot of words on that desk. It’s a good desk and a good writing space. On this desk, I have my desktop computer which served as my main workstation, writing space, and gaming platform until I purchased a new laptop back in January.

Almost immediately, the laptop became the de facto choice for work and writing. I think this is because it has a backlit keyboard. Writing in the dark on glowing keys is one of the greatest experiences in the world. It’s like writing with a quill harvested from the feathers of angels. Seriously.

The loyal desktop seems to be strictly for games these days, of which there has been quite a bit since I reactivated my Old Republic subscription. That decision may have been a mistake; I haven’t managed to accomplish much writing, but I do have a Jedi Consular who is level 30 now. That’s something.

The interesting thing about getting a fully functional laptop (instead of the tiny Acer I had before) is that now I’m free to wander around the apartment and try out different spaces for work. I’m no longer chained to my desk as I was when I was strictly a desktop user.

To celebrate this new-found freedom, I’ve tried writing in different places. I’ve written on my patio, I’ve written on the couch, I’ve written from the recliner and from in bed. The patio is nice enough but I don’t really recommend any of the other positions.

My favorite place for work, though, seems to be my kitchen table. I should note that this is also my dining room table and my board game/D&D table since, you know, apartment.

I’m not sure why I like working on the kitchen table. It might be the additional space. I can really spread out my worksheets and notes and such all over the table in a way that wouldn’t be feasible on a smaller computer desk. It might just be the sense of freedom. I can look at the place that I have claimed as my home-office-away-from-my-home-office and think to myself that I am living as primitive man once did, unbound by the shackles of staying in one place. I can wander freely as a free man . . . as long as that freedom doesn’t take me out of the range of my Wi-Fi network or outside of the 950 square feet I’m renting.

So, you know, it’s basically the same thing. Almost.

Regardless, now that I have a laptop, I wander. Does anybody else do this?

Cynical Idealism Is One Year Old Today

I made my first post on this blog on March 13, 2013. I’d moved to WordPress after retiring Objects in the Mirror, my oft-neglected blogspot site that was begun as an undergrad writing assignment that continued on for a few years after I finished that class.

It’s been a very interesting first year. This blog has been the most successful thing I’ve ever done online. There have been some interesting and insightful comments made from both dedicated readers and brief visitors alike. In fact, although I wrote up a comment policy and posted it last summer, I haven’t had to deal with trolls outside of a brief influx of MRA activists back in June and July.

That’s the aspect of this blog that I’m the most proud of. Not the MRA activists, screw those guys. I’m proud that this site and these posts have been able to create a place for discussion, however small a corner it may be in the scheme of the larger web. I debated even allowing comments when I first started. I looked at sites both large and small and saw the spam, the trolls, the general toxicity and I asked myself if it was even worth it.

Over the past year, my readers have shown me that it has been worth it unequivocally. I’ve learned more from the responses to my posts than I ever thought possible.

So rather than take this moment to look back and talk about all the things I did, I’d like to say thank you for everything that you did. I started this blog assuming that I was talking to myself. You’ve shown me that this wasn’t true and for that, I am deeply appreciative and grateful. I look forward to the second year of Cynical Idealism’s life and all the things that I’m sure to learn through your comments and discussions.

Thank you for reading.

Winter Is Coming Much Too Quickly (And Also Not Quickly Enough)

The first season of Game of Thrones premiered on April 17, 2011 while A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the series, was released on July 12, 2011. A Dance with Dragons was published six years after the last book, A Feast for Crows. Almost immediately after the release of book five, we nerds began doing the math.

The first two seasons of the HBO show clocked in at one book per season. Things slowed down by season three, which didn’t quite make it through the third book. But even if book three lasted for two seasons and that trend continued with books four and five, that still only gave us seven years at most until the HBO show caught up to the books.

In actuality, that number is probably less due to the way the stories in books four and five are structured. It’s likely that they won’t be able to do two seasons per book (which would give us four seasons’ worth of content total.) If we assume that books four and five will be covered in two seasons’ worth of show, that drops our time estimate down to five years from the start of the show until it overtakes George’s writing. Considering how long A Dance with Dragons took (six years) and the fact that even if book six generates two seasons worth of show, that doesn’t leave much time for George to write book seven. In fact, it’s looking increasingly likely that the show is going to overtake the books and it’s something that Martin himself is aware of:

In the new Game of Thrones feature in Vanity Fair, Martin confesses that the show is catching up to his writing speed,something he had sworn wouldn’t happen. Says Martin, “They are. Yes. It’s alarming.” (Already, our panel of experts has speculatedthat season five, airing next year, could end with events from The Winds of Winter, the book Martin hasn’t finished yet. Warning: link contains spoilers.)

But now that the danger of the show catching up to Martin’s books seems more extreme, the producers have gotten Martin to spill way more detail about how he intends to end the story for every single major character.

I’m a book fan first and a show fan second. I love the show, I love the spectacle and the acting and the music and all the entertainment that comes out of a great television production, but A Song of Ice and Fire is still a book series and in my opinion, it deserves to be completed first as a book series.

I think it would be heartbreaking if the HBO show eclipses the books and we find out how the story ends not from the pen of the man who’s been working for almost two decades to bring it into the world, but from the notes passed along to the show’s creators.

It would damage my enjoyment of the books considerably if the show already revealed what happened first. That’s not something that happens when you’ve read the books first. When you’ve read the book first, it’s fun to see how the show actualizes the characters and the world that exist in your mind. It’s less fun when the book itself starts to become an afterthought.

Something like that happened with Dexter. How many people even knew that Dexter was based on a book? Probably not many. Even worse, the show completely outclasses the book series that it’s based on. It feels like the author is trying to play catch up with his own television version. This analogy might not hold true to Game of Thrones since I believe that Martin is a superior writer who has created a superior story, but I’d also argue that Game of Thrones is a superior show to Dexter in its own right, which makes for stiffer competition against its parent material.

Really, there’s only one thing that I can suggest, one bit of advice I have for George on how he can keep our nerd hearts from getting broken and it’s advice that, conveniently enough, has already been set to music:

Creative Writing Professor Calls Creative Writing Degree “A Waste Of Time”

A professor who teaches Creative Writing at a university in Kingston had some decidedly harsh words for his field of study:

Creative writing courses are a “waste of time”, according to the novelist – and creative writing teacher – Hanif Kureishi, who says that “a lot of my students just can’t tell a story”. . . They can write sentences but they don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can,” said Kureishi.

Ouch.

But is he wrong?

I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2010 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. I feel that this gives me some perspective on Kureishi’s criticism, even if novelist Lucy Ellman agrees with Kureishi and claims that she “can’t stand it when authors announce they have a degree in creative writing. So what? They’re a dime a dozen.” I guess she’s talk about people like me. Again, ouch.

I don’t think a Creative Writing degree is going to make you into a writer any more than getting a Music degree will turn you into a world-class musician.  Most of the students who enter such programs will likely stop writing once they finish. Few who graduate with such a degree will go on to publish.

Even when I was in the program, I could tell that many of my peers weren’t going to be writers and that there was nothing the professor could do to make them into such. I would even go as far to say that some of my classes were relatively worthless to me as well.

However.

I had the same professor for my final two classes. I won’t post his name out of respect for privacy, but he’d published a few books before teaching those classes and last I heard, he’d gone on sabbatical to write another book. His comment on the first day of his class stuck with me to this day: “if you need to get an A in this class to keep your scholarship or keep your GPA up, register for another class.”

It was a terrifying and sobering warning.

His were the best two classes I ever had. It took me five years to get my degree and all of that time was worth it just for those two classes.

That sort of speaks to Kureishi’s point in that an entire Creative Writing program isn’t worth it. His advice is to find one really good teacher. And he’s right, that would be better. I think of how much time and money I could have saved if I’d been able to pair up right with my one professor from the very beginning.

Sadly, that’s not something that most of us can do. You don’t know who’s going to be “that one professor” for your work and often you don’t realize it until your time with that individual is over.

So while I agree with Kureishi’s point that most of the people who enroll in Creative Writing can’t tell stories and I agree that having a mentor would be better than a program, I look at my own choices and I see the chain that led me to a teacher who helped me write the best work of my life.

I’m hesitant to ever make judgments about my fellow writers because such things reek of ego-massaging. Author Matt Haig said something similar in the same article”

“To say, as Hanif Kureishi did, that 99.9% of students are talentless is cruel and wrong. I believe that certain writers like to believe they arrived into the world with special, unteachable powers because it is good for the ego,” said Haig.

More has been said about the relationship between talent and hard work than I could ever hope to summarize in a single blog post. I try not to believe in some mysterious, super-special writing powers to describe why I do what I do. I like to imagine that what I’ve managed to do so far comes more from the fact that I read a lot and I write a lot and over time I’ve managed to learn a few things along the way.

The Creative Writing degree may not be valuable for everyone who earns it. It might be a waste of time and money for 99.9% of the people , exactly as Kureishi says. If I had the choice to start over, I’d still study it. I don’t know if I’m worthy enough to be considered in Kureishi’s elite 0.1% of students according to his estimation, but I certainly feel that way about myself.

On a side note, I also can’t imagine how emotionally cutting it would be to have be one of Kureishi’s students and read this article. It certainly can’t feel very good to know that your professor basically told the world that you suck.

Apparently, Fencing Isn’t For Adults

This is a post about fencing, as in sword fighting. Not fencing as in building fences around things. This is a crucial difference that search engines don’t seem to understand. When you Google fencing, you’re going to learn a lot about the cost of installing convenient and attractive fences around your property. I was thinking about a nice picket fence for myself until I remembered that I live in a second-story apartment building.

I started boxing last summer and I really enjoy it. It’s good to feel in shape again. I’ve been idly contemplating trying some other forms of physical activity to complement my current training. I don’t really feel the need to go back into a martial art since I’m already learning how to hit people with my hands.

What I really want to learn is how to hit people with a sharp piece of metal. I want to learn fencing because I’m a nerd and nerds seem drawn to swords as a general trend.

I did an idle Google search the other day and came up with a few websites about fencing classes local to my area. The initial results were not encouraging. Most hadn’t been updated in over five years.

Regardless, I plunged ahead and finally located a phone number that was in service. I called it and a woman answered. I was expecting the usual greeting: “thank you for calling such-and-such academy of stabby things, this is . . .”

Instead, my call is answered with a curt “Yes?”

“Uh,” I say. “I found this number because I was looking for fencing classes.”

“Yeah, yeah, I do fencing,” the woman on the other end of the phone says.

Well, okay, that’s encouraging. We got off to a rocky start but at least I’ve found something more promising than an abandoned website. I ask her if she’s taking new students; she says she is. I ask her if she’s taking complete beginners, she says yes, as long as they’re already in shape.

Translation: Fatties need not apply.

I assure her that I’m fairly active and I’m in good shape, which is true.

I ask about her specialty and what style of fencing she teaches. I learned from my reading online that there are three kinds of fencing weapons: foil, epee, and saber.

Saber sounds like the most fun to me because it involves both slashing as well as stabbing movements. The various guides I read said it’s traditional to learn foil first before moving on to the others.

Whatever, I just want to have a sword in my hand and learn how to poke people with it, all in the name of sport and fitness, of course.

She explains the tradition of starting with foil, “because it’s the hardest” before moving on to the other styles. I don’t mention that I think saber sounds the coolest. I get the feeling it won’t earn me any points here.

I ask about prices, which are higher than I expected but not outside of my means.

I’m just about to ask if I can come for a trial class to see if I like it when she asks me “how old is your child?”

“Uh,” I say. “My child?”

“Yes,” she says impatiently. “How old is your child? I don’t work with kids under 10. They don’t have enough focus.”

“Oh,” I say, glad this is a phone call so she can’t see my embarrassment even as I’m certain she can hear it in my voice. “No, I’m asking about classes for an adult. For myself.”

“This is an after-school program,” she says.

“So . . . ” I venture, hoping for more information. When none is forthcoming, I take a stab at it. “So not for adults?”

Her silence indicates that I’m either correct or an idiot for asking an obvious question. Perhaps both.

“Do you take adult students?” I ask. “Ever?”

Surely I can’t be the only person who has decided at the doddering old age of twenty-seven to decide, you know, I think I’d like to learn a new sport!

I’m sure adults try this sort of thing all the time. After all, this feels like an adult sport. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the signature of any adult sport is how much gear you need to buy or rent. You can’t just pick up a ball from the sporting goods store when you’re a grown-up. You need to have gear and that gear is always expensive. I can’t walk out of an REI without dropping a hundred bucks when all I went there for was a dehydrated meal and a map book.

Apparently, I’m wrong about adults and fencing. It seems the fencing instruction train left when I was a wee lad and I didn’t even realize it because I was born to parents who preferred the unrefined barbarism of football rather than the civilized art of poking holes in people with sharp metal bits. They missed their opportunity to raise a world-class fencer, even though at the time, I certainly would have hated it.

“Sometimes we do adult classes in the summer,” she says without conviction. “When the kids are off doing competitions or out of school. Try calling back in May, we might have something for you.”

Translation: We don’t do adult classes ever. The fact that you want to try this is laughable. Go away, old person. Go away and be old somewhere else.

Sigh.

I promise I’ll call back in May to see about starting a class. We hang up. The whole experience was vaguely bewildering. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’m now past my prime for wanting to learn something new.

The only things I’m certain of, besides my waning mortality, is that I won’t be calling back in May and that my fencing career is over before it even began.

A Meditation On Blu-ray And DVD: How Game Of Thrones Showed Me That I’m A Second Class Consumer

I own five movies on Blu-ray: Inception, 127 Hours, and the original Star Wars trilogy. I recently purchased Game of Thrones Season 3 on Blu-ray. I do not own a Blu-ray player. I do not own a PS3 or a PS4. I do not, in fact, have any way to play these Blu-ray discs. But I still own them. Why?

I own these Blu-ray discs because I wanted the DVD versions of these movies and that meant my only option was buying the Blu-ray discs that came included with the Blu-rays. As far as I can tell, there is no standalone DVD collection to buy, much as there wasn’t for any of my other purchases. At least the price was right; I picked up the entire season for just under $30 on Amazon. Hilariously, it came with not only the DVD and the Blu-ray versions, but also a code for a digital download of the entire season, because why not. I can put it on my laptop since that machine doesn’t have a disc drive.

I understand why they’re doing it this way. Even though Blu-ray killed off its rival format HD-DVD in the high definition disc format wars of 2008, Blu-ray has failed to displace its true rivals, the humble DVD and the ability to stream video instantly from services like Netflix.

The frustrating part is that eventually, I know this strategy will win out. When I opened my first Blu-ray box to retrieve the DVD I wanted to watch, I smirked. How foolish it would be for me to buy a new Blu-ray player simply because I owned a single Blu-ray disc that I didn’t even want!

But now that I have five movies and a season of my favorite show and it doesn’t seem quite so silly. At this point, why wouldn’t I buy one?

Even though this has been going on for a while, the third season of Game of Thrones is the first product I’ve purchased that indicated to me just how thin distributors’ patience is with my DVD watching shenanigans. It’s pretty clear at this point that my preference for DVD means I’m a second class consumer. They really want me to stop what I’m doing and get a Blu-ray player. Here’s how I know this.

When you open the Game of Thrones box set, you immediately notice the absolutely gorgeous case design. The plastic sleeve creates the shadow of the dragon on the cover and it looks amazing. When you open the box, you’re treated to the detailed portraits of the main characters. This is a detail that’s been included in each DVD set thus far, but it’s still cool to see the development reflected in the characters’ faces. Jaime isn’t looking too good these days.

As you unfold the box set, the long row of gleaming discs spreads out before you, each one new and shiny. These are the Blu-ray discs and they look and feel absolutely lovely. But where are the DVDs?

For a moment, there is panic! Maybe you only thought you were ordering a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Amazon. Maybe you didn’t pay close enough attention . . .

Oh, wait. What’s that tucked underneath the box of gleaming discs with its handsome portraits?

A tiny little sleeve about the thickness of an envelop with two discs stuffed inside. Two discs? How can Game of Thrones fit on two discs? Oh. These are two double-sided discs. It’s all crammed in there. Well, at least you have all the episodes to watch, even if the double-sided means you’re forever going to be putting the disc in on the wrong side relative to the episode you want to watch.

When you put them side-by-side, the disparity is obvious. The Blu-ray consumer has a handsome case with its shadow-dragon sheath, its portraits, and its girth; nearly an inch thick when folded up.

The DVD consumer has a thin cardboard envelop.

I’ll still watch and enjoy my DVDs. But every time I open the case to retrieve them, I’ll notice my Blu-ray discs sitting untouched in their gleaming beauty, all the while whispering silently: Watch us instead. Buy a Blu-ray player. Give in to our marketing strategy . . .