“Won” NaNoWriMo again

There was a time when I wrote novels on the web, too! (And now I do it again.)

On the 14th of NaNoWriMo, the month formerly known as November, I had written 50 000 words on one and the same novel, which is the “winning” requirement for the National Novel Writing Month. So that didn’t take too long, especially since I started over on the second day.

It was pretty fast writing because it was fun to me. That does not mean it is fun to other people. I like superhero-themed massive online games, especially City of Heroes (2004-2012) but I have also repeatedly played Champions Online (although not weekly or monthly, but several times a year) and even tried my hand at DC Universe Online (not so much a fan of that). I occasionally donate a modest amount of money to Valiance Online (which is still in development, and very slow development at that, but can already be tested online) and especially to Ship of Heroes, another “spiritual successor” to City of Heroes which aims to especially preserve the optimistic, heroic atmosphere of the original game. I will surely play City of Titans as well, the first and biggest of the “successors” – if I am still alive and lucid when it becomes available. The official release date is still “fall 2018”, which is a couple weeks ago now. I believe their first release date was in 2015…

So I’ve written a number of attempted stories before that tended strongly toward City of Heroes fan fiction, despite changes in names and the addition of an extra power set. There is certainly some CoH fanfic tendency even in this fall’s story, but it is toned down further and the whole power system is replaced with one based on colors rather than origins. This is something I have used in my fantasy writing for some years, an earlier version of it was very similar to the system in Master of Magic and Magic: The Gathering, but again this has evolved with each story to become more and more unique. Writing a lot is important for this process, I believe, based on my own experience. There was a wave here in Norway of teachers writing their debut novel about a frustrated teacher. You have to write that stuff out of your system. There should be some of you left in your novel, but it should not be autobiographical unless you make that the point. And in the same way, I write the fan fiction out of my stories until it reaches a balance. It took four or five stories to get to this stage.

At this point, I enjoy developing my own imaginary superhero game with a unique power system, and turning it into a world with somewhat lifelike heroes (and somewhat less lifelike villains, so far). But at 50 000 words, we haven’t actually gotten very far at all. Many of those words are describing fights where a small group of newbie heroes goes into a cave or a warehouse to fight criminals, most of which don’t even have superpowers. Of course, we are not talking Superman-level heroes here either, getting shot with a handgun or hit with a baseball bat still hurts, even if it takes a number of such hits to send them to the hospital.

At the end of the 50 000 words, our main character is still level 2 out of at least 60 – and each level takes more to achieve. If I were to continue in this much detail, it would literally take millions of words for him to reach the highest level or anywhere close to it. Not that this is his goal, really. But just to put things in perspective. The main plot is barely touched upon. Interpersonal relationship are few and generally businesslike. Romance is limited to sporadic one-way flirting. We don’t know the general layout of the city where the story takes place, nor the specific layout of any of the locations mentioned. We know at most the uniform colors, sometimes race and general body type of the most important characters.

So what are those 50 000 words? Mostly fight scenes, characters talking about fights, and the narrator (who is also the main character) explaining the superpowers in enough detail to make sense of the fights. Hey, it works for actual superhero comic books. (And Goblin Slayer, but let’s not go there today.)

So anyway, you can read it here, as far as it has come, but I don’t particularly recommend it unless you can’t get enough reading about newbie superheros fighting criminals. Trigger warnings for violence (obviously), poorly hidden sexual innuendo occasionally, and an apostate main character. (Not autobiographic.) It is also a lot less funny than the stories I wrote when I was younger and more carefree.

NaNoWriMo doubts

Made from screenshot in City of Heroes

Example of possible book cover for superhero novel.

In past years, I used to be really excited about NaNoWriMo, the (inter)National Novel Writing Month. I would lay plans starting already in August, and on the last day of October – which some of us refer to as NaNoWriMo Eve or NaNoWe’en – I would restlessly visit the forums while waiting for the midnight hour to strike. Oh, and I took my vacation days in November instead of in summer. Not anymore.

This year I kind of intended to participate, but after midnight I still did not have any good idea about what to write about. No, it is not like I don’t have ideas. I have more ideas than I can count. Ideas are like cats: If you take in two of them, soon your house is full of them. They are on your kitchen counter, they are on your couch, they are under your cupboard, they try to follow you into the bathroom. Actually, ideas usually succeed at this better than cats, but you get the point. There are always ideas, but none of them stood out as This Year’s Idea for NaNoWriMo.

Around an hour after midnight, I picked one fairly pretentious one, a metaphysical fantasy about an unemployed warehouse workers which gets picked by the Universe to send to the Universe’s niece which was in a difficult age, with excessive magic production and wars and disasters. Insert deep teachings about the Great Chain of Being and the Descent of the Light into Creation. I wrote a bit less than 2000 words on it before I decided that this was way too serious a topic for speed writing. Also, not much fun. So the next day I started over with a fluffier story.

Currently I’m writing about a gamer who tried to be a hero in Real Life and was stabbed and died. Or perhaps he didn’t exactly die. It is hard to know. What we know is that he wakes up inside his favorite superhero MMORPG, which was closed down the year before. Maybe this is his afterlife – he and the game are both dead – or perhaps he is in a coma and imagining all this. Or perhaps it is the future and his frozen brain has been scanned and uploaded to a supercomputer. Or perhaps he has been in a coma for many years and his actual brain has only now been connected to a supercomputer. Who knows? How are you supposed to find out from inside the game? If reality outside of reality was easy to find out, we wouldn’t have dozens of competing religions in the so-called real world, would we?

But mostly it’s just the kind of fluffy feel-good superhero story with the occasional challenge thrown in, that I myself would like to read. It is almost certainly not going to sneakily save anyone’s soul while they let their guard down.

So in the end, I am once again writing the kind of story I like to read. In fact, I am writing it because that is the only way I get to read it – the muses in my head won’t dictate a whole book to me if I can’t be bothered to write it down. That’s just how this thing works for me. So I guess I am, as you say in English, just pleasuring myself – in this case my mind rather than my flesh. But in either case, it is probably not something the rest of the world is particularly interested in. I may put it up with the old stories that are linked from my front page, in which case I will likely only post the first chapters as usual. We’ll see, nobody knows whether we will be here tomorrow. But if I am, chances are that I am writing. I do that pretty much every day, after all.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15

Screenshot anime Overlord, season 3, episode 8, last scene

Why is there a Dragon here? For speaking, naturally! Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the world’s premiere speech recognition software, now with Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence that adjusts to your accent and the common cold. Fire breathing not included.

Today I upgraded (in a manner of speaking) from Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 13 professional individual to Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 15 home. I virtually never used the more advanced features of the earlier version.

The most important part for me is accuracy of recognition, and I have to say that version 15 is almost indistinguishable from magic in that regard. And I mean right out of the box: There is no longer even an option to train the program by reading a text for it. Version 13 was pretty good after training and a few days of practice. Version 15 is that good right out of the box. (At least I believe it doesn’t have access to my previous training, as it required me to uninstall the previous version and reboot the computer before I was allowed to install the newest version.)

I have used and reviewed many different versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking over the years, both before and after it was acquired by Nuance. There has definitely been progress! I believe the first version I reviewed was either six or seven, and I generously compared it to homesick Asian high school exchange student. I could probably have added seasick as well, as its performance was unimpressive, to say the least. If you had functioning hands, you were better off using those, even if you typed with one finger.

Those days are definitely gone! Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 takes dictation like a highly trained secretary, only faster. Actually, Dragon has outpaced secretaries for at least a couple of versions now, but this required you to speak clearly and train the program first. And the results were less impressive for me, who has a strong Scandinavian accent. Actually, “accent” might be too weak a word. If you are familiar with the computer game “Skyrim”, the pronunciation by the Nord bandits in that game is pretty close to how I speak in real life. I am not sure how a highly trained secretary will handle that, but Dragon NaturallySpeaking 15 has well over 99% accuracy, right out of the box, with that kind of foreign accent.

***

There are still some challenges. In my experience, they are not too bad, but I see a lot of one star reviews on Amazon. Most notably, Dragon is squeamish about working with applications it doesn’t know. Supposedly this includes earlier versions of Microsoft Office. When I started writing in LibreOffice, Dragon NaturallySpeaking automatically popped up to the “Dictation box” where you can dictate and edit your text before transferring it to the target application. It’s an okay solution in my opinion, but it can be distracting, and you cannot interact directly with the target program using your voice for instance “click file save” the way you can in supported programs. Removing the checkmark for automatically opening Dictation box lets me dictate directly in LibreOffice, but it still struggles with commands, and you cannot edit the text with Dragon after you dictate it.

I have the same problem with my favorite browser, Vivaldi. Admittedly that is not very common browser, So I installed the Dragon Web extension For chrome.As you can see from the previous sentence, that didn’t work too well, and it doesn’t work too well in Google Chrome either. Luckily I have fingers, and so Dictation Box it is. But Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser for Windows, and not having native support for that makes the program seem rushed, at best. Especially when you consider that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a very expensive program. It is not so bad by Norwegian standards, since both salaries and living expenses here are already very high. Even so, I only buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking when it is discounted, as it was in this case. In the USA, a single person could eat for a month for this much money, and in the actual developing world even more. So in that perspective, you would expect a more polished product than this.

But what it does well, is take dictation. And at that, it is the best in the world. No software and no human can match it for the combination of speed, accuracy, and fast learning.

Life in the zeroth world

Screenshot from Finnish TV program

Screenshot from Finnish TV program. Contrary to what some may think, healthcare and education are not so much expenses as investment. If you think it is expensive to have a healthy and well educated population, you should try to have a sickly and ignorant one. Actually, perhaps you have. In that case, you are likely to be stuck in the Third World for some time.

I am old enough to remember that the phrases “first world” and “third world” meant something different from today. Today, they refer to standard of living. Back then, these were geopolitical descriptions: The USA and its allies were the First World, the Soviet Union and its allies were the Second World, and the unaligned nations were the Third World.

America and western Europe are still referred to as first world countries, and Japan is also usually included. For a while, it was thought that Japan would surpass the western economies, but this did not happen. On the other hand, a number of small countries have surpassed the USA in income per capita or at least in standard of living for the average citizen, sometimes both. If the USA is the standard of the first world, maybe we should refer to nations like Norway and Luxembourg as “zeroth world countries”?

***

I live in Norway, and I am well aware that I am super privileged to live here. Obviously a lot of countries feel like the best country in the world to those who live there, and surely this is a good thing. But when compiling statistics, Norway tends to float to the top because it is near the top in so many good things, and far from the bottom in the rest. The other Nordic countries have a lower nominal income per person, but their standard of living is still very high. We could perhaps refer to all these too as “zeroth world countries”. Life here is quite good in many ways. But it is probably very different from what you imagine if you live in the “third world”.

For instance, perhaps you imagine that if you lived in a rich country like this, you would have many servants, like rich people have in many third world countries. But “servant” is not actually a meaningful word up here. It is an old-fashioned concept that is mostly found in history book. It is extremely rare for a family, even a rich family by our standards, to have a cook or a full-time gardener, let alone a butler or maid. People may go out to eat and may rent some services if they have jobs that leave them with little free time; but mostly it is seen as a matter of pride to be self-sufficient in your own home. Having something like servants is seen as morally dubious and conceited. On the other hand it is fine to save time by using robotic vacuum cleaners, robotic lawnmowers and all kinds of intelligent electronics in the house.

Perhaps you think that if you lived in a rich country, you could afford to go to the university for many years and get a great title, perhaps become a doctor. Yes, this is very common. But after you finish, you don’t use that title except perhaps briefly in academic journals. Students refer to their professors by first name, the CEO of a large company signs his emails by first name, and even the Prime Minister – arguably the most powerful person in the country – is usually referred to by her first name. If you tried to demand that people refer to you as “doctor”, people would look at you like you were on the wrong drugs, like someone wandering around in sandals and a toga in the middle of winter muttering to themselves.

Perhaps you think that living in a rich country, you would buy a big luxury car or wear lots of gold rings and jewelry. Well, there are some pretty nice cars around, Tesla in particular are fairly popular. But luxury brands are quite rare, and not because of crime, which is fairly low here. Rather, it is seen as vulgar and crude to display your wealth with extreme luxury. Sure, buy high quality and keep up with the neighbors, but don’t go over the top, or others will laugh at you behind your back and say that your head has become a balloon and you are flying in the skies. The same goes for excessive jewelry, especially gold. Traditional folk garb that is now used for festive occasions can be decorated with quite a bit of silver, but gold should always be displayed in moderation, and jewels even more so.

Of course, there are other ways to signal that you are well off. A common use of money is to vacation in faraway places. “Oh, you went to Bali? Yes, I hear there have been quite a lot of people going to Bali lately. Me, I was in Myanmar this year. Fassscinating place! Hardly a tourist to see. I’m thinking of seeing Nepal next year. I hear it is really difficult to get in there.”

In addition to their house in or near the city, most self-respecting families have a cabin (“hytte” in Norwegian). Originally a simple wood structure without electricity and water, usually in a remote location in the mountains or by the sea. In recent years these have become larger and more convenient, and there are whole villages of them.  It is increasingly common to have two, one in the mountains for winter skiing, and one by the sea for bathing and sunbathing in the summer. Normally the cabin is close enough that you can drive there on weekends. The cabin is also used by teenagers who want to have sex without their parents listening, or just to get to know each other better. Even though many people outside the city center have a free-standing house owned only by their family, it is generally frowned upon to have a huge manor, plus it is a lot of work since you don’t have servants. It is better to have a normal-size house and then a cabin or two.

(Me, I am barely even working class, so I have none of this of course. No house, no cabin, no car, no boat, no vacation travel. I rent the house and take the bus if it is too far to walk. People would pity me if they thought of me at all. “What’s wrong with that guy? Does he have a lot of kids he is paying child support for, or is he not right in the head?” Well, the last part is not too far off, I guess, by local standards. But I still work full time, thanks for asking.)

***

Speaking of people who are not right in the head, these make up a significant portion of the truly poor here. It is not like everyone is living in luxury. Some people are unable to work because our workplaces are very demanding, especially on the mind. Due to the high salaries, you are not employed at all unless you can add significant value to the workplace. Public sector is a little easier in that regard, but it is still pretty intense these days. So a number of people are on disability pension, and many retire early. Still, pensions are usually enough to assure a comfortable life. Those who experience abject poverty are usually those who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse, and who are therefore unable to handle money in a reasonable way.

One result of this is that helping the poor is not something you can or should try to do impulsively. Unless these are old friends or relatives (and sometimes even if they are), you may need to be a trained professional to know for sure whether they can tell you apart from the orcs and aliens that haunt their inner landscape. And if you don’t know what you do, you could bring great harm to yourself, to them, or to random bystanders.

The sane poor generally get help from the government in various ways, and consider this a right rather than some kind of gift, charity or pity money. Many of them would indeed take offense at random gifts or offers of help. That said, there are charitable organizations that make life easier for those of limited means, such as the Salvation Army which sells used clothes and furniture without racking up a profit. (I have a nice living room group that I bought from their outlet. Good enough for many more years.)

***

I hope this gave you an interesting glimpse of life in a “rich country”. As you see, it is not so much that everyone is like the rich people in a poor country. It is a completely different culture and way of life.

Incels and other in’s

Screenshot anime 3D Kanojou

In general, people like me will never be taken as a partner. (And the other way around.) 

I am still alive, long may it last! So I should pay my due to humanity by sharing my wisdom with the world, right? Well, there is pearls before swine, but I like to think that fairly few swine find their way here. (Not counting the repeated Google searches for “anime babes” and such. I don’t think they stay long.)

Recently I learned a new North American word, “incel”. It is a shorthand for “involuntary celibate”, and evidently in recent months some of those folks have decided that this is sufficient reason to rape, murder or just be a public nuisance. And of course giving a bad name to celibate men everywhere.

So, let us look at this from a place far above the dust clouds of the news media.

***

Of course there are many men who are involuntarily celibate, and this is pretty much normal for much or all of your life. We know this because if we look at the human genome, you have roughly twice as many female ancestors as male ones.

Wait, that can’t be right, can it? After all, you have one father and one mother (dead or alive), two grandfathers and two grandmothers, four great-grandfathers and four great-grandmothers. In each and every generation, it take exactly 1 man and 1 woman to make a baby.

True. But once you start looking back through your ancestry, you will find male names popping up in more than one place. It may take some time, but if you have a large and complex map of your ancestry, this will increasingly happen as you go back in time. And a map made from genes will show more of this than one made from church books. The reason for these duplicates is that this guy had kids with his wife, but also with his servant girl (or slave, or prisoner of war, or some other woman he had power over). These kids, when they survived, made their own branches of your family tree, and after some generations they forgot that they were related to the main family (if they even knew).

In addition, some men also had children with other men’s wives, but this is actually less common than I expected – it seems that women are not more likely to have extramarital sex during their most fertile days, despite predictions by evolutionary biologists that this would make up almost all of their fence jumping, while they would have sex with their beta husbands the rest of the month to keep him paying the bills (or chasing away cave bears, in our distant past). Turns out women aren’t usually that focused on getting the “alpha” genes for their babies, to the big surprise of theoretical biologists.

Going further back than the last few generations, there is rather a lot of slavery and servitude and serf-i-tude with the slave owners, the rich and the nobles having a field day with the women who served them. That’s when we don’t have outright polygamy, which was common in the Bronze Age and for some time afterwards.

There was a brief interval in the 20th century when monogamy was seen as so much of an ideal that a higher proportion of the men were married than today, but the servant girls still got pregnant with their masters (or the master’s son). They just weren’t supposed to talk about i.

Anyway, being celibate whether you want it or not is perfectly normal and a fairly larger percentage of the male population will be in this situation for years on end, and some for life.

***

Labeling yourself as “involuntarily celibate” when you are 19 is about as ingenious as calling yourself “involuntarily poor” when you are subsisting on student loans. You aren’t supposed to get everything right away. Sure, all the guys in your high school class were going on and on about the awesome sex they had with named girls pretty all the time. But you know what? Unless you live in Scandinavia or some such, a lot of them lied. Possibly even there. You really ought to know that: After all, unless you were seriously God-fearing, you probably did the same yourself. Boys lie about how many girls they’ve slept with, and girls lie about how few guys they’ve slept with. We know this because if we interview enough men and women about their sexual history, the numbers don’t match up at all. Even in anonymous surveys, there is still a substantial difference.

***

Once you’re a working adult, we can start talking about being involuntarily celibate. But then, we can talk about a lot of involuntary things. Like involuntary poverty, for instance the couple billion people who can’t eat whenever they want to or wear shoes whenever they want to. But you don’t compare yourself to them, do you? You compare yourself to the rich and famous. After all, a thousand advertisements have told you that you deserve the best, even though the objective fact is that you aren’t the best, far from it. How about you compare yourself to the involuntarily blind, the involuntarily deaf, the involuntarily wheelchair-bound, the involuntarily missing fingers and broken spines. I guess involuntarily stupid can be combined with incel, though. So there is that.

***

“Involuntary sex is no worse than involuntary lack of sex” is a valid hypothesis. But as always in science, you need to run tests of  both scenarios. I am sure going to jail as a rapist will help you test out your hypothesis right quick. Being a whiner in prison should be a good way to attract involuntary sex, at least in America. And involuntary violence as well. It can’t be worse than involuntary lack of violence, can it? If someone wants to fight with you, why should they have to restrain themselves? After all, it is fun for them, so they would be suffering if they had to concern themselves about other people’s feelings. Lack of pleasure is suffering now, evidently. Such a terrible suffering that the world needs to know.

***

Basically, we are all suffering involuntarily in many ways. As the Buddha said (loosely translated), “life is suffering”. There aren’t many things we know for sure, but some things we know for sure: We will all lose our youth, our health, our family, our friends, our belongings and our life. Some will lose them one by one, others will lose them all at once. Me, I am involuntarily mortal, and it bothers me a great deal. Celibacy not so much. Definitely less than involuntarily not playing City of Heroes. Luckily, if I stay alive till December, I should be in on the Ship of Heroes beta, which is widely expected to be better than sex. (Your sex may vary.)

Life in tutorial mode

Screenshot The Sims 2

Happiness abounds when you are playing an easy game and have someone to help you who knows the game much better than you do.

Watching my own melodrama about a normal human jaw infection, I am reminded of a humorous essay I read in Reader’s Digest as a child, called “There is nothing as sick as a sick man”. (Or husband, the same word is used for both in the Norwegian translation.) The gist of it was that her husband would react to the slightest physical ailment by going into full patient mode, lying down and demanding attention, nursing and special treatment.

In real life, women are far more likely to see a doctor than men, and men are more likely to die than women until around the age of 90. But of course there are ways in which women are tougher than men. As I thought to myself as I clutched my hurting jaw: “At least I’m not bleeding from my genitals.” And childbirth not only feels like you’re going to die: It still happens, although the incidence is much reduced, especially in the developed world outside the USA.

Not without reason did left-wing writer John Scalzi write that straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. He was wrong about that, but not by much. Of the reasonably large categories, it is surely true. (Unless you have very specific life priorities, like being approached romantically by members of the opposite sex with no initiative needed on your side.)

But below the easiest normal difficulty setting in some video games, like “Settler mode” in Civilization, there is sometimes also a tutorial mode, for the absolute newbie who not only needs the game to be easier than the easiest setting, but also needs to be explained in detail how to go about the basic tasks of the game. And this, dear reader, is how I’ve largely lived my life. Or so it seems to me.

***

Let us first look at the difficulty level. There is white privilege, and then there is the whitest of privilege: Being ethnic Norwegian in Norway, a country routinely declared the best to live in by the United Nations. Pretty much the richest country that is not a gentlemen’s club with a flag, it is also known for all kinds of equality and small differences in income. Actually I am not rich by Norwegian standards. In fact, my income is barely working class despite now working full time. I am not unionized, so I have basically only had cost-of-living-adjustment during the almost 40 years I have been employed. I’m still pretty well off by global standards, but more importantly, a lot of things don’t cost noticeable amounts of money. Education didn’t, on the contrary I was paid for it for a while. Health care? Just a symbolic sum to keep hypochondriacs like me from circling around the clinics like moths around a lamp. Pensions savings? The state does that.

But as I say elsewhere, socialism fails because it can only redistribute money, and money is not really that big a deal except when you don’t have it. The state cannot redistribute health, intelligence, beauty, strength, endurance, wisdom, charisma… OK, I think I veered a bit into roleplaying game territory there, but you know what I mean. Not all of us are born with the same stats, and then there is the whole thing about being raised by sane adults. No, I don’t have maxed stats all across the board (strength is pretty low, and I’m not exactly attractive) but I got a large helping of intelligence just at the start of the time when that has become useful. It must have happened during my childhood, I guess, because most of my classmates clearly hadn’t gotten the memo until middle school.

In addition to general intelligence, always a good thing to have, I was also born to be hyperlexic. Autism spectrum hyperlexia is listed as disability actually, and in its most extreme forms that can be true. I got away easy though: I am nearly faceblind so I don’t recognize my coworkers if I meet them outside of work for instance, and I have a hard time meeting people’s eyes without creeping them out. Evidently there is something alien about me. But on the plus side, I could read at near adult level when I started school, and I have kept reading until now (although lately it has been less books and more Internet). I can’t speed read, but reading at a decent clip I can absorb pretty much anything just by plowing through it once, if I have the basic background knowledge to understand most of it.

My health was pretty bad in my childhood due to exercise asthma. Not only was it scary, but it set my physical development back by a couple years. I actually reached puberty quite a bit after my classmates, and was slow and weak and clumsy compared to them all the way. But after puberty this problem disappeared, and my health has been tutorial mode too for the most part. The fact that a mild jaw infection makes me start mourning myself should be proof enough of that, I guess.

Finally… I hesitate to even bring up this, but evidently my sex drive is actually lower than usual, not higher as I thought when I was young. It was actually lower then too (perhaps especially then) but I did not know, because I was generally surrounded by extra pious Christians, to whom chastity was very important. It was not a matter of whether or not to have unmarried sex, but whether you could always avoid looking at the opposite sex with the intention of desire, as Jesus admonishes us. “Extra virgin”, as they say these days. So that is how I spent my best years. By the time I was in my 20es and realized that I was not going to marry (out of consideration for the poor wife if nothing else) I already knew that I could live without sexual intimacy. (Also, how to wash my own clothes.)

***

But apart from being ridiculously easy, tutorial mode also has the benefit that some person who is not actually there – presumably the maker of the game – is teaching you step by step how to do things, from the simple to the more advanced. And true to form, the helpful Presence from Heaven (I assume that’s where it is from at least, strange as that might seem given my level of virtue) has been watching over me for decades, commenting where needed and pointing me in the right direction. I don’t actually hear voices, which may be just as well, it is more a telepathic thing, like sharing of mindspace? I guess you’ve got to have been there.

Anyway, this is not really something that should be talked about in detail, it is too intimate for that. But the point is, I usually don’t need to be in doubt. Sometimes I am, but then I often realize later that I was in doubt only because I did not want to follow the tutorial. Generally though it is incredibly carefree to have an invisible, loving older brother watching over you like that. (I actually had a loving older brother when I was a kid, the second oldest one. He’s a living saint as far as I know and there are definitely some similarities there. Maybe psychologists will decide that I created my invisible friend in that image, but I doubt I am such an awesome person that I can create someone wiser and more conscious than myself!)

And that is why what I truly fear is not death itself, but being separated from the one who has loved me and guided me all this time. If the universe is a fair and just place, I have hell to pay after a life like that. For despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode for all these years, I have accomplished nothing of value. That said, I have enjoyed my life greatly. When I play The Sims, I guide them in such a way that they can accomplish their goals that give them lifelong happiness, while at the same time they have all their needs met and have a good time along the way. And I take a sincere joy in seeing the little imaginary people go cheerfully about their worthless lives in unshakable happiness thanks to my guidance. I can only desperately hope that my own higher-dimensional guide feels the same way about my own happy but ultimately insignificant life. And, of course, that I am saved in the Cloud when the hardware eventually breaks down.

A small, late repentance

Screenshot anime Kamisama Memo

The voice in my head sometimes just… slips out. And that is the best part of me, I think. People seem to find it valuable, which I can’t say about my life as a whole.

I was thinking of buying something non-food today, and noticed myself thinking: “Nah, let’s first wait and see if I survive this week.” And that’s when I realized I should probably write a bit again.

Actually it is not statistically likely that I’ll die soon, it is just a bit less unlikely than usual. It is not like I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness or have decided to row across the North Sea. It’s just an upper jaw infection that has shaken off one antibiotic and is now barely contained by two others, while I wait for a jaw surgery on Friday. Also, when I had the same surgery on the right side, I had an adverse heart rhythm reaction. I survived that, but that was five years or so ago. So yeah, it should be interesting. A reminder of the mortality of body and soul. Spirit not so much. And I should probably say what I think about that, just in case.

***

To be honest, I think there is a fairly large risk that my soul will perish in Hell, for certain values of “soul” and “hell”. Now, this may not sound like a glowing recommendation of my doctrine, but think about this: How much of a connection is there really between self-esteem and actual performance? If you have been in the workforce for almost 40 years, as I have, you should have learned that this is a pretty shaky link. In particular, we have what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, namely that truly ignorant people don’t even know enough to know that they are ignorant, and truly unskilled people cannot estimate the skills of others, or how much skill they lack themselves. As the joke goes: “Do you play the piano?” “I don’t know, I have never tried.”

This seems to also be the default position of the religious person. I read in passing some years ago that the average American was far more certain of his own salvation than that of Mother Theresa. (And this was before the atheist campaign to portray Mother Theresa as a terrible person who misused large amounts of money and caused untold suffering to promote her own glory.)

And I started out no differently: As a child, I have no memory of my parents teaching me about religion, let alone hear them pray or see them read the Bible. I tried to read in my grandmother’s Bible, but she got very upset and made sure that never happened again. But at one point during my childhood, I found an old Bible on a dusty shelf in a room we mostly used for storage. It was in archaic language and even the typesetting was unfamiliar, and some pages were missing. But I devoured it. I read about the prophets of God and decided to become one. (A prophet, not a God. That came later.) The appeal, in my vague memory, seems to have been the work benefits more than the final reward: Being able to call down fire from Heaven or summon bears to tear apart those who insulted me. (Elijah and Elisha respectively. I loved that part of the book.)

When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad and their message of becoming perfect according to the conscience, it seemed a great match for me. I wasn’t perfect yet, but it wasn’t that far off, I thought. I certainly had a solid lead on most other humans, surely?

And so I studied the Bible again. This time, after drinking of the spirit that was in the Church, I was able to also understand the New Testament, finally. Well, with the exception of the Apocalypse. I am really not sure why that one was included and the apocryphal Book of Wisdom was not, I would have swapped those. I was quite enamored of the Book of Wisdom and of wisdom as a whole. And so I prayed sincerely to God, as Solomon is said to have done, that God might give me the Spirit of Wisdom from Heaven. This also came to pass, or so it seems to me. In the decades since, when someone asked me or talked with me with sincerity – whether it was about the Bible, or some deep matter that is not directly covered by the Bible, or about their personal life, or even about work – the benevolent Divine Presence would reveal to me what was needed, then and there. I would be amazed at the depth of wisdom and insight, because it would often be new to me as well, or at least clearer than I had seen it before. There seemed to be no end to this, like a well that refills itself no matter how much you draw from it.

But the truth is that this was not my personal, acquired wisdom. I now believe that what I had received, and what I had truly desired, was what the Norwegian Bible calls “visdoms tale” (wisdom’s speech), as in 1. Corinthians 12: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit.” And if you turn over to the next chapter, there is a harsh lesson on these things:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That doesn’t mean it didn’t work or wasn’t true, but it was a gift of grace that just passed through without any merit to me, because it was not my love, only God’s.

That is how I see it now. And Christ himself is quoted as saying: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” That doesn’t mean the prophecies were false or the demons were not driven out, necessarily. But it did no good for those who did it, evidently.

So yeah. My optimism is somewhat muted. That does not mean that I don’t believe in what I said. I just don’t believe in myself. I really ended up doing very little for others, despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode. In the end, I do not know whether I did more harm or more good. I suppose if there is a reckoning for me in the hereafter, I will know for sure. I am honestly not sure what way those scales would tip. But the real problem is my sins of omission, the endless list of good things I could have done but didn’t.

***

This isn’t depression. I have no desire to kill or harm myself. I don’t want to curl up in bed all day. I don’t suddenly start crying. I don’t lack energy. (I mean, sure I am lazy, but I usually walk for half an hour or two on a nice day, and am usually busy reading, writing or playing rather than staring at moving pictures for hours on end.) It is just that the snow has melted, the white fluffy cover that made everything look so clean and smooth. And beneath is the dead grass of last year, the rotting leaves, the sticks and stones and the trash that was left by the wayside and covered by the concealing snow of grace.

And in this lies my hope, in the warm sun that melts away the fluffy illusions I love. If I were to choose to believe what is comfortable, if I were to continue thinking that I’m at least better than the publican and the sinner and the pagans and the gays and the sluts – as if I had walked even around the block in their shoes – then I believe I would be truly lost. But there is still the tiny voice inside that cries: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and “Remember me when you come in your kingdom!”

But my soul in the sense of my personality, my habits, my accumulated choices, all those things that were called by my name, all I cherished and took pride in… I think that will all shrivel and be undone. You may call that Hell, I guess. It is not a Biblical word after all, just a loose translation of many things: Sheol and Hades, the grave and the fading memories of life. Gehenna, the continual dumpster fire where corpses of criminals and unclean things are burned. Like the pages of a worthless book that shrivel and burn, one after another, until there is only ashes left. Looking back on my life, this seems to have already begun. Page after page shriveling and turning to ashes. And that may be a good thing. Whether this week or in the middle of the century, my body shall return to the dust; but I believe that my spirit shall return to God, who gave it.

And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

Others can’t self-help you

Screenshot anime Aho-girl

Even death can’t cure idiocy! Well, I am not eager to try that. But self-help books have been tried by many people and the effect is sporadic and moderate.

I sometimes say that if self-help books worked, I would be surrounded by demigods, or “weakly godlike superintelligences” as my old comrade in cerebration (and more recently, published author) Alistair Young sometimes says.

Clearly, most of us are not surrounded by that kind of amazing people. Occasionally there is an amazing person, or at least I have met some fairly amazing people. Some of them are not even relatives. One of my coworkers on my old team is fairly amazing. I suspect he is smarter than I am, as he thinks more quickly and accurately within our shared fields of expertise. That said, it is hard to compare since he is a more proactive person by nature and surrounded by experts, while I am deeply introverted and working in isolation. Still, I suspect he may be more intelligent than me. I hope so. We are not spiders, the stronger spider eating the weaker. I have nothing to lose by having smart coworkers, smart friends, and smart relatives.

It would be wonderful if the people around me could simply buy a self-help book and read it, then instantly (or at least quickly) become more intelligent. Or if not more intelligent, then better at using their abilities in their work or in their interpersonal relationships. It would be good also if they could benefit from the books about how to become healthy, or even happy. All of those things would benefit me even if that was not their purpose. When an individual improves, it benefits his or her allies, even if the alliance is remote and accidental. So I wish that all those around me would become healthy, happy, intelligent and productive.

In reality, the world is more like a hospital run by the patients alone, searching in vain for a doctor or even a nurse to help lessen their pains. Even in Norway, where most of us are rich by world standards, and where money is well distributed and there is good health care and education available, there is so much lack and want. People are lonely and insecure at heart, they crave love but often feel disappointed. And when they get more things, they crave even more, their eyes always on something ahead, like the headlights of a car always staying ahead of you no matter how fast you drive.

***

When someone is very successful, he (or occasionally she) always seems to know the reason. But the reason seems to vary from person to person. It is rarely something obvious, like: “I had good parents who gave me smart genes and a wise upbringing.” Actually, I had that, but it makes for a very short and lousy self-help book if that is all you can think of. “I was born white in a good family and had good teachers” is also pretty poor food for self-help books. Instead, people tend to credit certain decisions they made or habits they built.

Certainly, habits contribute a great deal to the outcome of our lives. But a habit can be good for one person and bad for another. For instance, many highly successful people sleep only 4-5 hours a night. And in some cases, it is even true. Scientists have found a gene that let these people thrive with much less sleep than others. When transplanted to mice, that gene caused the mice to also need less sleep. Mice don’t read self-help books, so it is a safe bet that it was the gene. If you try to sleep less without the gene, you will lose willpower and clarity of mind, you will make more errors, your health will worsen and you may fall asleep at the wheel and kill yourself and others. So what brought success to one person brought ruin and death to another.

What I generally see is that even if a very successful person shares the secrets of their success as objectively as they can and in enough detail to fill a book, very few of the people who read the book become successful, and almost never to a high degree. Certainly many of the highly successful people learn from other greats, but usually they adopt useful practices or principles from different sources and keep those that fit, rather than copying one other person in a kind of “apostolic succession”. Even when working together in a direct mentor relationship, it is rare indeed for the disciple to become like his master.

***

I am not opposed to self-help literature in principle. It makes up some of my favorite literature, and works that made an impression on me. Arguably works like the Dhammapada, the Tao Te Ching, and the Analects can all rightly be called self-help books. Improvement of the reader is also a stated goal in much of western religious literature, included holy Scripture. Indeed, the New Testament blatantly aspires to make its followers perfect, in that exact word. Perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. So not just “weakly godlike” even, but strongly godlike. But alas, those who are surrounded by Christians will probably agree that this has not generally been highly successful. (Although I had the pleasure of spending some of my best years with Christians who had a very positive outcome from their Bible study, which is certainly not something you can take for granted with every denomination. And it still took an almost unimaginable dedication.)

It is said that against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain (“Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.” -Schiller) and it certainly looks that way when we look at the wider religious communities. So it is no wonder if today’s heroes of thought, from pop psychologists to billionaires, also fail spectacularly at improving the overwhelming majority of their readers.

In the first place, I think most of those who want self-help do not actually want to help themselves but rather to be helped by others. In a metaphor, they want the fish, not learning how to fish. They want the apples, not learning how to grow an apple tree. Those who achieve success usually do it not because they seek the trappings of success (wealth, fame, power) but rather they are desperately dedicated to accomplishing something greater than an ordinary life, even greater than themselves. They want to make the world a better place, or at least a sizable subset of the world. And they want it desperately, to the point that they make sacrifices for it on a regular basis, and make those sacrifices without tears and as a matter of course.

I am not like that, and most likely neither are you, or you would not waste your time on an overly verbose online journal written by some mostly unknown person who, by his own admission, is not entirely neurotypical. But perhaps you see some things more clearly when reading some of my posts. I know I do. So at least I self-help myself. ^_^

Why not February?

Screenshot anime Hyouka (OP 2)

Am I pretending nothing happened in February for five years? The screenshot is from the second opening scene to the anime Hyouka, which I wrote about back in November 2012, about living on the other side of the glass from the world where everyone else lives.

As I uploaded my previous entry, the upload tool presented me with an alphabetical list of folders. I noticed to my surprise that there was a gap from “feb13” to “feb18”. Yes, that means I had not uploaded any pictures (and therefore probably not any main journal entries) in February since five years ago. That’s quite a bit of time! I know I have uploaded other entries from time to time, so why not February?

Perhaps it is something about the season: Winter in Norway is cold and dark, and in most years February is the coldest month of the year. So far it seems that I am pretty much immune to classical depression, seasonal or otherwise. There is an increasingly widespread theory that in men, depression can take the form of a feeling of disconnect, so there is that. But truth to tell, I suspect I feel a lot less disconnected than I am in the eyes of other people, in so far as they give me any thought at all. Being single and childless and 59 years old, I certainly should qualify. But it is my brother who has struggled with depression, even though he is a great guy and has a great wife and kids. Life is not always fair, and depression, in particular, strikes me as cruel and capricious. The people who could need it are not the ones who have it.

Be that as it may, looking at an entry I wrote in February last year and never uploaded, it details my discovery that I was actually strikingly and obviously evil inside. For some reason, I had failed to notice this particular detail. I can’t attribute that to depression either, as it was more like pulling off the mask I had worn in the mirror for many long years. Ever since then, I removed the “good” trait on my self-sim in The Sims 3, although I did not go so far as to replace it with “evil”. Rather, I replaced it with “gatherer” (more like collector in the Norwegian version), which I for some reason had not found room for in the past even though it is a constant struggle to not fill my apartment to the rafters. Well, the current apartment is for sale so that may help a bit right now.

There is really a lot of things I could write about, both about my life and my interests, if I had continued in the way I started for the first ten years or so. But I think the time for that is long past. We have social media now, where crowds of people are eagerly photographing their food and throwing out bombastic opinions based on their emotions, and there are even people who play computer games on YouTube for everyone to see. They are topping me like the Himalayas top a small hill, in the kind of things I used to do when the Internet was new, back when it was rare to get a chance to look in through the window to a stranger’s life and heart.

Writing Grammarly

Screenshot anime Amanchu

If you struggle to express yourself and put your thoughts into words, Grammarly might be a prized companion. For me who have at times struggled to stop putting my thoughts into words, it is just a curiosity.

I love living in the future, and I particularly enjoy all the new tools and toys and combinations thereof. In the latter category is Grammarly, an app/service that promises to watch over all your online writing and then some. (There is also a Windows app that can be used to write or proofread texts that are not meant to be shared online.)

One potential problem comes to mind immediately: What if your writing falls into the wrong hands?  We are not just talking about your love letters getting the wrong audience or the manuscript for your new book suddenly appearing written by a competitor. Any app that reads your writing could, in theory, also harvest passwords, credit card numbers and such. It was, therefore, an easy decision for me to not be among the early adopters of this software. But years have gone by and there has only been one scandal, which turned out to be overblown, and it had nothing to do with passwords and such. So as of today, I have Grammarly on my writing machine.

Grammarly promises to discover both spelling and grammar errors. The built-in text editor in Vivaldi (and Chrome) also catches spelling mistakes, but not grammar mistakes. (In the previous sentence, Grammarly wants to change “catches” to “catch”, presumably because the browsers Vivaldi and Chrome are two. Unlike me and you, it cannot see past the “and” to realize that the subject of the sentence is the text editor. Artificial intelligence is still no match for natural stupidity, as the saying goes.) Luckily you can tell Grammarly to ignore such a find, much like in Microsoft Office. Actually, in my experience, Microsoft Office is even worse at parsing grammar. But if you do all your writing in Office, you may not feel motivated to convince two grammar checkers that they are wrong and you are right.

Back in the good old days when I lovingly crafted my journal by hand in Notepad or some other pure text editor, it was common for me to find spelling errors when I read through my entry one year later. (Back then I linked to the year-ago entry because I wrote virtually every day.) When I read through them two or even three years later, it was not uncommon for me to find more errors. This is a human tendency: We read what we meant to write, not what we typed.

At this point in my entry, Grammarly has found one spelling error (I misplaced an “i” in Artificial) and two grammar errors that were not. It also disagreed on my comma usage in three cases, which I gracefully conceded, albeit under doubt. So I am probably not in the target group for paying customers. If you want to try for yourself, you can go to grammarly.com or just wait for one of their innumerable ads with which they flood the Internet.