A final farewell

The farm where I was born and grew up. (Open picture in new tab for large photo.) The picture I am talking about toward the end is similar to this but much older and taken from a higher vantage point.

Hopefully this is not a final farewell to my last remaining reader, although that is out of my hands. Rather, it was a final farewell to my last remaining parent in this life. And possibly, although I hope not, to the farm where I was born and grew up, and the people who live there and in the village in general.

My trip to the west coast of Norway went well enough. Travel from here to there is surprisingly difficult, because of the wild nature in Norway that tourists love to see. I took train to the east country, to the town of Drammen, then another train northwest to Bergen, then katamaran (a fast ship with two keels) to Askvoll. I arrived around 11 on Monday, and my youngest older brother came to pick me up. He is a farmer, so he is his own boss (although his wife claims to be his boss too, and the animals could probably have some claim there as well, at least when it comes to working hours.) This brother lives on the farm where I grew up, and where my parents lived from just after they married, many decades ago. All three of his awesome kids live there too, at least for the summer.

The burial went without any great scenes, but the coffin must have been made of really thick oak or worse, because it was disturbingly heavy. I don’t remember my mother, grandmother or grandfather being nearly that heavy to carry (physically speaking), and he was not a huge man even before his leg was amputated. I wonder if it is possible to request in advance that my coffin be made of balsa wood?

As a child, I knew this man as my father, but as I waited in the church for the rituals to begin, I felt very strongly that he was now my brother. As Jesus said: “You shall not call anyone on earth ‘Father’, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven.” My earthly father was baptized at the age of 76, declaring his allegiance in that respect. Of course, spiritually speaking, we all have our spirit from the Father of Lights, who is the origin of all that is called family in Heaven and on Earth, as the Christian Bible explains. The spirit of man is a lamp of the Lord. Well, all of this should be familiar, and I am not a teacher or preacher anyway, lest the dim be leading the blind.

Most of those who had found the way to the church also followed to the gathering afterwards in a nearby locale. Such memorial gatherings are common here in Norway, rather than the “wake” that is found in some allied cultures. There is a humorous belief that some people show up at these gatherings to get free food, and if so they were in luck, for the food was simple but excellent. A few friends and relatives (and mostly combinations thereof) spoke briefly about the good qualities of the deceased and their good memories. The most moving of them were however written by his then 15 year old granddaughter and read by her mother. At some point I realized that most likely, I was the one present who knew him the least. Because as I can attest, people continue to grow (well, at least in my family we do) well into old age, all the way until the brain gives out or death shuts us down. The old man they had known was a better, wiser and greater man than the one I grew up with, and that says something.

Although the occasion was far from auspicious in itself, I am glad I got to meet again many of my relatives. I know for many people, family reunions are purgatory if not hell on earth. But to me, it is closer to paradise. There certainly are some fringe cases further out in the branches of the family tree, but the close family and their descendants that I met are amazing in so many ways. But then, they “stand on the shoulders of giants”. I hope to stay in touch with at least some of them, to some degree. I know this will be a challenge, because this so-called real world is to me so much like a fog, and the people in it like shadows. But then again, under the eyes of eternity, so am I.

***

This being the last of our parents, we four brothers decided to share between us whatever earthly goods were left behind, and pay the bills. As fate had gone to great lengths to show me the week before, I am not really in a position where I should accumulate more earthly goods, quite the opposite, so I asked only for a few good winter socks that would otherwise have been thrown away, and an old photography of our farm that used to hang in the living room during my childhood but which he had brought with him to the assisted living home. I had hoped for this picture to be copied so we all could have one, assuming that it was even more meaningful to my brothers, but evidently they think I should have it, even though I have done nothing to deserve it except continuing to breathe. I let the picture stay there until we meet again, so they can still reconsider if they want to.

So, now I have winter socks to warm my feet. And memories to warm my heart. As my brother quoted from an old Norwegian song: “It is a great heritage for man to be born of good people.” And the more so, I would say, to be raised by them.

Slice of life and death

Seishuu (Handa) from anime Barakamon

I am a person who would die alone.

It seems that in Japan, dying alone is considered a terrible fate. Perhaps it is so here too. I certainly don’t want to die alone, but this is because I don’t want to die at all. Unfortunately avoiding bodily death seems not to be an option. I would certainly like to know that people at least try to keep me alive. But once that is no longer an option, there are actually very few people whose presence I would find better than nothing at my deathbed. By then, there is only one person I desperately want to be with me, and that is the Invisible Friend who has watched over me for all these years, living with me in my heart, or perhaps I live in His.

Even if You take it all away
I’ll wait for You
Even when the light begins to fade
I’ll wait for You…

I heard this song (Ashes Remain: Without You) on YouTube the other day, and wondered if that is how I will feel if my passing is slow and gradual. Also, at the same time, I wondered if this was how my earthly father felt before he passed away Wednesday morning. He had indeed lost many things: Most lately his leg, and before that gradually many of his memories, though not all. Already back in 2001 he lost his wife of many years. From my childhood I remember them as two sides of the same coin, different yet inseparable. And yet they were separated: Death did them part.

As I was about to leave after my mother’s burial, he said that he hoped it would not be until the next burial that I would visit. I did not think so, but that was exactly what happened. Or will happen if all goes according to plan, for tomorrow I have the tickets that should take me there. I really, really hate to impose on people, and I really really hate to travel, so it turned out it takes something of this magnitude to shake me out of my den.

***

Speaking of shaking and den … no, not an earthquake, they are rare and barely noticeable here. Rather, my landlord texted me on Tuesday and told me that there would be an inspection of the apartment on Thursday, and asked if it was tidy and clean? Well, there is a reason my website is called the Chaos Node … I imagined that the house was about to be sold suddenly (I got 3 weeks notice last time) and he was going to take pictures for the prospect, or even show it off to interested buyers. Probably the first, I doubt he has pictures from before I moved in. Now, the apartment does not look like a garbage heap, but there is a huge gap to the stylish, sparse pictures you see in prospects. Frantic tidying began forthwith. Then in the morning my oldest brother called telling me that dad had passed away. So yeah, Wednesday was pretty stressful, by my standards.

The landlord, being helpful, drove off nine big (but not overly heavy) sacks of stuff I had quickly reclassified as garbage, mostly paper and cardboard but ranging all the way to clothes that were too damaged to give away. It turned out that he was just getting a professional value assessment, so it was alright if the place looked lived in, as long as it did not look like a garbage heap. (The kitchen actually was a garbage heap last time he visited: The asylum-seekers living in the other half of the house had filled all the garbage bins, including compostable, for some time. So I had to store the garbage in the kitchen until the bin got emptied. We have gotten new asylum seekers since then, though.)

On the bright side, going through my belongings showed not only that I had things I could throw away (story of my life, literally and metaphorically) but there were also things I found that I did not know I had, mainly clothes. I may as well use them – last time I moved, I also went through my belongings and then the moth had eaten pieces of some of my best clothes. This is indeed a world where moth and rust are active, but then again last time I moved was from a place called Møll (the Norwegian word for Moth), so there is that.

Perhaps I should try to make a habit of going through my stuff and throwing away unnecessary clutter even if I am not about to move. It is not like I can bring any of it with me into eternity, anyway.

***

The plan is for me to travel tomorrow afternoon and the night by train, then in the morning take the boat from Bergen to Askvoll. The alternative is bus, but in my experience trains are better for sleeping. The doctor who had the same heart arrhythmia as I told me that I should avoid staying up all night, but it is kind of hard to get to the place I grew up without sacrificing some sleep. Still, given all the sleep my parents sacrificed for me when I was small and sickly, I really want to try this. And as it is written in the Christian Bible: “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” As my parents carried me when I was new in this world, so at least I should carry them when they leave it. On Tuesday, that will be the last of them.

And if I have not honored them enough to live as long as they did, then at least I am grateful that I survived them. There was much doubt about that when I grew up (and they were honest about it, too – I grew up knowing that I had only 50% change to make it to adulthood) but in the end, here I am, writing this. And it makes me happy not only for my own sake. I seem to have a surprising number of friends who have survived one or more of their children, even though we live in a time when we act like that does not happen anymore. That, at least, my parents were spared. I hope my brothers also can look forward to many good years. They are all better people than me, I believe, because they manage to bring happiness to people even outside their job. And so did my parents. To me, their lives were windows into a realm of light, to which I believe they return. After all, even if we live well into our 80es (as my earthly father did), in the end, it is nothing more than a thin slice of life.

Limits of book-happiness

Screenshot anime Hackadolls

We came here to advance you… with books!

Looking back on my entries from around 2010-2012, I can’t help but notice how upbeat and optimistic and confident they (and I) seem to be. A number of things came together to cause that emotional boom. And those things were not of a very personal nature, either.

For some years earlier, I had felt very unique. I was sensing in a shadowy way a great outline of a spiritual reality, or at least a reality of the soul, a pattern beyond the static of everyday flailing and busy-ness. It baffled me that nobody else was seeing this. I felt like when I am passing through town and suddenly see a bright rainbow in the sky. I stop and look at its beauty but at the same time I am aware of the hundreds of people around me who just hurry to their next destination or watch their smartphone or for any other reason never lift their eyes. I guess when they come home, if they were asked about their day, they will say: “I made progress on the contract”, “I had a difficult customer”, “I missed you”; while I would say: “I saw a beautiful rainbow”. So it is not either of us is lying, but we are looking at different things.

But then I found some people who were looking in the same general direction. First only New Age people, and … well, they did not strike me as the brightest candles on the menorah. Kind of positive in a Golden Retriever way, so not bad company but not like me. But then I found One Cosmos, the blog (and the book, which is pretty good actually) and this psychiatrist trying to look at spiritual experiences with fresh eyes, taking them as a primary experience of reality rather than trying to explain them away as being some kind of side effect of something else. But most interesting to me, he was a voracious reader and recommended a number of books on the topic. The books were kind of hard to read, although the more I read his blog, the easier it became to read the books he read. But something else happened at the same time.

I discovered the Japanese new religion Happy Science, founded by the remarkable genius Ryuho Okawa. At the time he had already read thousands of books and also experimented with various forms of contact with the spirit world, and synthesized this into a new religion. Eventually he kind of came the conclusion that he was God, something I found deeply disappointing. (I’ve seen people come to the same conclusion over in the New Age society, and it generally doesn’t end well. As I have said before: I have seen a number of guys say “I am God”, but I have never seen a woman say “My husband is God”. Sure enough, Okawa divorced a while later.) But before then he had written a number of very interesting books, and I was rather shocked to see that he described very clearly many of the things I had seen as if through frosted glass.  There were so many things I recognized when reading about them.

After having read the luminous prose of Mr Okawa, it became easier to read the heavier books by various saints and sages and the people who love them, and I was building myself a “Bookshelf of Happiness”. I had this grand dream that simply by reading enough books, I would become transformed to a higher being. Well, it felt like this process had begun at the time. Nor was it my first experience of that sort. When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad, popularly known as “Smith’s Friends”, I had my first and most important influx of spiritual understanding, in which the Bible came alive to me. (This kind of faded once my income grew, as the Bible had foretold.)

There were a lot of good books, some of which are referenced in my writing during those years, but eventually this phase of my life began to fade. Gradually I started to suspect that reading Books of Timeless Truth and doing Brainwave Entrainment was not enough to transform me into a weakly godlike superintelligence, as I had hoped. There is still this small, dark, noisy, seething little ball of selfishness, the ego or small self, which self-identifies as me and does not want to give me up.

It could certainly be worse. I live a decent life by human standards, but that is not what I was hoping to live and die as. As long as I remain at this stage, I am at great risk of disruption and unraveling, like any mortal. I am protected day to day from great calamity by the undeserved kindness of the Light, like a village idiot being gently but sometimes firmly turned away from danger. Well, that is pretty much the best possible human condition, but I had not expected to end my days as a human.

“I said: You are gods, all of you are children of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” -Psalm 82, verse 6-7.

Elephant heresy

Screenshot anime Ichigo 100%

“I want everyone in the world to know!” When we have experienced something amazing and life-changing, it is natural to want everyone in the world to know. We do not care how we look, we may not even care that others may be hurt in the process. The Truth must out! But sometimes that doesn’t end well.

There is a certain irony in this, given that I am considered a heretic even among heretics. I also wonder whether I have run off to proclaim on the Internet about too many things of which I know too little, without having the required 90% of the iceberg below the surface. But still! The world needs to know this too, right? “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are gone forever.” Although I wish someone else would say it.

What follows is an answer I gave to a question on Quora, the moderated questions-and-answers site. I have rendered the question in italics and my answer in bold.

***

Is it better to be a heretic than orthodox on religious matters?
Doesn’t being a heretic mean you had the mental and intellectual fortitude to defy commonly-accepted norms of belief (orthodoxy) in order to know God better? Orthodoxy is stagnation and conformist by definition, right?

Heresy could also mean – and I believe it often means – that you jump to conclusions based on a little experience.

You may have heard the metaphor about the blind men and the elephant. Each of them touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with his own impression of what an elephant is. This metaphor is sometimes used about different religions, or about the varieties of religious experience. But the interesting thing in our context is that a person who has never been within a continent of an elephant may still have a better understanding of it than someone who briefly touched the trunk and then ran away, his life changed forever by his personal experience of the living elephant.

When someone has a particularly intense spiritual experience or revelation, a temptation arises to reject tradition and focus on the one thing one knows with inner certainty, downplaying other aspects. But as a religion or sect acquires more members and exists over time, it inevitably grows into the same wide range of circumstances and personalities. Having rejected the old tradition, it is now tempting to fill the blank spaces with logical extensions based on the existing body of experience. But if you fill out the entire elephant with what would be logical based on the trunk, you end up with a very different animal.

Spiritual frogs

Screenshot anime

“It is Christmas, but Santa won’t bring me a girlfriend!” When the magic of religion fails to deliver material results, back into the pond we go to survive and reproduce.

It is kind of understandable that people turn to materialism. After all, spirituality borders directly on insanity. I still remember a young friend of me painfully insisting: “It has to be spiritual!” He was on leave from the psychiatric hospital, having had a severe breakdown some time earlier. He was one of the smartest guys I have met, and a very sincere Christian with high standards of morality, especially for himself. But he could not stomach hearing his friends and family talk and laugh about earthly things. “It has to be spiritual!”

No, it doesn’t have to be spiritual, because we humans are spiritual amphibians, like frogs. The frogs are hatched in water and grow up there, eventually being able to peek out of it, and they grow small limbs that grow bigger, while their fish-like tail shrinks over time. But even though they climb out of the water in their early youth, they never become truly independent of it as long as they live. They have to return to the water regularly, and this is also where they lay their eggs, starting the process all over again.

We humans are also born into a lower world, the material world. And we don’t outgrow it as long as we live. We need our daily bread, but we do not live by bread alone. If we do, we become beasts, much as some salamanders who spend their entire life in water like a fish. The frog spends much of its time in air, and normal humans also live in two realms: The material and the spiritual. You can live fine in matter alone, but then you are a human only genetically, if that. Most people who think they are materialists are actually far from it,

In its most extreme form, materialism is either stupid or insane. The stupid is when people say “the mind is a product of the brain”. This is about as intelligent as “My computer does not need software: I just turn it on and it works!” Before the computer age, we could compare it to a chemist who analyzes a book, finding only paper and ink, no magic component called “meaning”. If he were to weigh the paper and the ink before and after printing, he would be able to conclude scientifically that nothing was added by the printing process. In other words, reading is pure superstition, physically impossible. And yet it happens, because humans are not like your average animal. We live in an extra layer of meaning, which extends quite a bit beyond the “smell of food means food” layer of meaning we share with our furry friends.

In dogs, the sense of meaning can be extended a little bit, as in the famous Pavlov’s dogs. He would ring a bell before feeding them, and eventually they would salivate from the sound of the bell alone. But humans don’t just breach the surface of meaning, we tend to spend pretty much our entire day in that realm, returning only for survival and reproduction. My friend who insisted that everything “must be spiritual” had early developed a healthy fear of sexuality, as well he should: Few things can as rapidly pull people back in the material realm. In civilized cultures, the concept of “romance” – of spiritualizing sexuality – is one of the most difficult, and some never really get it. And this is also where a whole lot of people decide that the dry land is not for them, and jump back in the pond of materialism.

I believe it is a terrible mistake to push people into the spiritual. A lot of trouble comes from being too fast with this. Just because the tadpole has grown small limbs does not mean they should be pushed out of the water. They will follow the adults up in the air naturally, given time. But if we try to pull them up, they are not ready to live there, much less to wander far from the pond. When people move too fast and too far away from the material pond, insanity sets in, either personal or collective. Weird memes take root, and the sun and the moon are pulled across the sky by invisible pink unicorns.

Religion contains a lot of weird stuff, which is as meaningless on its own as the magical invisible component of writing is to our book-analyzing chemist. When we insist that the spiritual exist in the material world, we come up with magic. It is true that any sufficiently advanced spirituality is indistinguishable from magic, but we should take great care to not pretend that God literally “exists”. (Technically, existence is different from being.) For to say that God exists in the world would be to say “the house is in this room”, and this is both true and false simultaneously. This is why religion needs the incarnation, to represent the house inside the room of the material world. Although a philosophical religion such as Buddhism does not have incarnations, the large mass of simple Buddhists still see the Buddha as such. Some religions venerate holy books or other holy objects, or holy places. Material things imbued with the sacred. But to the salamander who never leaves the water, these things are pure superstition. And that is exactly correct, for them. If they were forced to venerate such things, it would be pure magic, like an illiterate person forced to recite the text of a book while staring at it, without having any idea of what reading and writing really is.

Spirituality is experiential. It is something you experience, or you don’t. If you have been exposed to an elaborate description of the spiritual realm while you were still a tadpole, it can actually keep you from seeing the real thing. While you are a tadpole, everything you learn about the dry land is only in your head, a mental model. And it is possible to grow up and expand and refine that mental model, becoming a theologian without ever noticing the reality of that realm, always thinking of one’s own mental model as the real thing. Even as an adult frog, living most of your workday in abstractions, you will still regard the magic system in your head as the spiritual world, and the material world as the real world.

But only an idiot or a low-functioning autist can actually be a practicing materialist. The moment we start believing in such things as truth or beauty or goodness, we start poking our head out of the water and enter a realm where our furry friends can never follow us. Certainly a dog can be more loyal than your best two-legged friend, but the dog has no concept of loyalty as such, even if he incarnates it. A bird that pretends to be wounded to lure a predator away from her nest is likewise a heart-rending example of love, and yet she has no concept of love as such. Only we can see such things.

“Proof of God is abundant for those who do not need it.” But for those who are smart and learn too much about the dry land when they are still tadpoles, there is a risk that they will first swim in the water insisting that they are on land, and later walk on land insisting that they are still in the water. And that is a damned shame, because both of these are beautiful worlds, and a mature human should live in them both.

Duolingo revisited

Screenshot YouTube / TEDx

Please apologize for your stupidity! The pitfalls of using machine translation on the Web. Instead, please enlist the French. There are a many thank you.

Back on February 23, 2013, I wrote about Duolingo, a website that let you learn a foreign language by translating the Web. Or that was the idea. I also mentioned that it had relatively few languages, all of which were cousins of English either on the Anglo-Saxon or the Norman side.

Things have changed a little, but Duolingo is still around, and there are now a few more languages. (You can learn Norwegian! So you can properly greet your new overlords when the longships come.) No truly alien ones such as Japanese or Mandarin, but a couple using Cyrillic alphabet, and Hebrew is in the works; there are also western languages for Arabic speakers, so the alphabet problem seems to be worked around. And there’s Turkish for English-speakers. While using a slightly modified Latin alphabet, Turkish is not an Indo-European language, meaning it is not visibly related to English and its neighbors. (Even Russian is much closer to English.)

Naturally I have started learning Turkish. Because I can. Or because I wanted to see whether I can learn a language from scratch, without even a seed of background knowledge. We had a smattering of French in school, so when I play around with French on Duolingo, I am never sure how much I am actually learning and how much comes back to me from our seemingly futile French classes, and how much I have picked up from French pop music and cultural references. None of those are particularly applicable to Turkish, because Vienna did not fall to the Ottoman army in this timeline.

***

Back when Duolingo was new, it had just the website (although it was surprisingly mobile-friendly for a site with so much interaction). Now there are apps for iOS and Android. They are similar to the website, but actually easier. In other words, I take longer completing the standard chunk of 10 XP on the website. This is partly because I downloaded the appropriate languages for my smartphone keyboard (I use SwiftKey, but this probably also works with Google keyboard). The keyboard helpfully corrects badly spelt words, and even proposes valid words if I get the first letters right or nearly right. In addition, the Android app is more likely to give me exercises of the type “tap the word pairs” or “select the words” instead of actual writing exercises.

The focus on translating the web seems to have receded a bit. The philosophy was sound enough: The server keeps track of each student’s competence level, and assigns sentences from actual texts that the company is paid to translate. If the sentence is short and contain only common words, it can be assigned to a newbie, while longer sentences with more advanced vocabulary are reserved for advanced learners. The same sentence is given to a bunch of different students, and if they agree on the translation, fine. If not, you may get to vote on which translation is correct.

The website has a tab called “Immersion” which does take you to the translation work, but you are not pushed into it early in the course at least. I still haven’t actually completed any languages yet (as if such a word even has meaning for a language). I am supposedly 25% fluent in French, although I suspect 2.5% would be a more accurate estimate. I am not entirely sure I can say “twentyfive” in French.

With translation somewhat sidetracked, it seems that the company Duolingo is currently living on investments while waiting for a buyer or IPO to go public. For now it is completely free, and this was important to the founders. But if it gets bought up, it is anybody’s guess how long it will be free. At the very least I would expect a return to focus on actually useful translations. But for now it is mostly fun and games.

***

Duolingo is highly gamified. That is, the learning is made as fun as possible. Completing exercises give you XP (experience points) and you level up by doing enough of them. When you have completed a topic group (like “food”, “clothing” or “animals”) you get “lingots” which is the currency of the game. You can use these in the “lingot store” to unlock optional features like “learn flirting”.

There are small chunks of exercises that normally only take a few minutes, and they are a mix of different types. In the case of French, I translate phrases and sentences from French to English, and from English to French. The French phrases are spoken as well as written. There are also exercises where I listen to a French phrase and write it down in French, and others where I listen and try to repeat a phrase. Sometimes I get to pick a translation of a slightly harder sentence from 3 alternatives in French. Sometimes I get 6 different words, 3 in each language, and get to sort them into pairs.

In the original version, you started with 3 “hearts” which would break if you made a mistake. If you lost all three hearts and made a fourth mistake, you had to redo that batch. But evidently that made people lose heart for real, so this has quietly been dispensed with. Now instead, if you make mistakes, you don’t make progress, or may even be set back a little, but nobody scolds you in any way. It just takes longer to gain your 20 XP (two batches of exercises) for the day.

There is currently a bug where, if you study two languages, Duolingo will count progress on one of them as progress on them both. OK, I am not 100% sure if this is a bug or a feature, but I am almost sure it is a bug, because it does track progress on both of them when I look at the daily reminder mail. But in the app and on the website, I have to keep track myself.

***

Duolingo is probably the most efficient way to get started on a foreign language today. (Science backs this up: A study showed that 34 hours of Duolingo was equal to a semester of beginner Spanish in college.) It may over-estimate your progress (it certainly does with mine), but you can’t avoid noticing when you don’t know something, so it is kind of self-correcting if it pushes you too far ahead too fast. And it is just plain fun to use. Not super fun like actual computer games, but I certainly wish my workday was like this! So more fun than reading the newspaper. (Just kidding, boss! ^_^)

So go get it while it’s free. Remember, being bilingual delays Alzheimer’s. We want to delay Alzheimer’s until someone has found a cure for it, OK? So here you go, now:

Duolingo – learn a language for free!

City of Heroes remembered

Screenshot

This was my home…
All this pain and devastation
how it tortures me inside;
all the innocent who suffer
from your stubbornness and pride…

3 years ago this day, City of Heroes closed down. It was the first, best and at the time still the largest online superhero game, and had features that were not available elsewhere, such as extensive player-created content. But more than anything else, it had a community of people who found it natural to roleplay heroes. A game where it was natural to reach out and help your fellow players, teach them the ropes, guide and protect them, answer questions that had already been answered a hundred times. It was not just the best of its kind, it was also the “goodest” in the sense of the good people it drew together.

Out of the blue, publisher NCSoft announced the closure of the game and fired the developers, Paragon Studios, who had been working on the next expansion up till that day, unaware of the troubles ahead. Needless to say, this caused a lot of negative reactions against NCSoft. I doubt many of us are ever going to touch one of their games again, let alone buy anything from them. The reaction not only from current players but from the MMORPG community at large was so strong that it lowered NCSoft’s share value for some time. I stopped following it so I don’t know if that was permanent; one can only hope.

So that is why, when I watched this video on YouTube, and saw the fiery destruction of the familiar landmarks, I vividly remember a similar scene from the animated movie Prince of Egypt where Moses sadly watches fire and ice hail down on Egypt, singing the lyrics I have quoted above. Stubbornness and pride indeed. Curse the darkness!

Fortunately, it did not take long before the former players started making a “spiritual successor” to City of Heroes. Unfortunately, they started making 3 different “spiritual successors”, neither of which is playable at this time. (Although Valiance Online was playable in pre-beta for a while, and looked quite promising and reasonably familiar. Here’s hoping it will come back one day.) (Of course, I would prefer if City of Heroes came back, but, stubbornness and pride, so probably not.)

On another reasonably bright side, I have more time for studying now. I never found another game that could fill the same place in my life, or forge the same online community. But I still sometimes stop by YouTube and watch movies that verify that yes, this thing of beauty once existed. This place that thousands of imaginary heroes once called home, and still would, if they could find a way back.

MS Windows troubles

Screenshot anime Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara

This morning was absolutely crawling with chaos. It started as I turned on my home office computer, which had installed updates at 3AM and restarted itself, as it frequently does. It seems like a good idea, to install updates while you sleep. After all, you would not want to miss the latest security patches and improved functionality.

Unfortunately, the new functionality was that I could not log in. Whether I picked my usual account or the betatester account I use for testing games, there was just a brief pause and then Windows returned me to the login screen. No error message. I restarted the computer and tried again. I did various things and tried again and again. No change. I restarted in Safe Mode. Same problem. I restored Windows to last good configuration. Still the same.

I installed Ubuntu Linux, which is a pretty good alternative to Windows for most people, and free. After a little while I switched to Xubuntu (it is really just a different setup, the core is the same as Ubuntu, but Xubuntu is more similar to old Windows versions). Ubuntu is free, like most Linux versions. I use to install it on old laptops when they become too slow under Windows. This is less of a problem these days, but it was a big deal back in the days of Windows Vista.

Xubuntu is nice enough, but there were a couple problems. I had used this machine to provide Internet access to my cabled home network, which includes a Windows 10 machine for playing games, a NAS (home server) for backup and sharing files, and a small old notebook computer for uploading and downloading to and from the NAT without taking up resources on the main machines. But now I could not get Linux to share the Internet. It should be easy, really, there is a choice for it. “Shared with other computers” it says, but that actually only lasted for a minute or so, then I got a message “Disconnected from Ethernet”. (Ethernet is the cabled network, to put it simply.) I did various things and restarted numerous times to no avail.

Eventually I found an USB wireless receiver and connected this to the Windows 10 machine, then told it to share its Internet. This worked well enough, except the NAS (Network-Attached Storage) server did not show up. After changing the workgroup name by editing a configuration file, I got it to show up. But as soon as I tried to copy a file to it, it hung up and show up empty until I logged off an logged on again. This repeated itself for as long as I bothered trying.

I was kind of in a hurry to continue working on my National Novel Writing Month story. Luckily that was saved on a disk I could access from Xubuntu. I copied it to a USB drive, in case I wanted to continue writing on it on the other Windows computer (the gaming computer). I installed WINE, a program that lets you run Windows programs in Linux. I had already read a few years ago that you could run yWriter in Linux this way. (yWriter is the program I use for writing novels. It is written by a programmer and novelist and fits my working style exactly.) It did work when started with WINE, and it found my novel in progress, but the spell check did not work and it did not recognize the names and locations. I downloaded the dictionary and manually copied it to the place it should be. Now it worked except it did not recognize words when Capitalized, such as at the start of every sentence.

Somewhere around this time I decided to reinstall Windows on one of the disks. (I am keeping Xubuntu on the other.) This took the rest of the evening and will continue into the next day or two or more.

Needless to say, there was no progress on the novel this day. But then again, contrary to the slogan of National Novel Writing Month, the world does not really need my novel. Probably.

Subjective time

Screenshot anime Nozaki-kun

The time measured by clocks is constant, but the time measured by the soul is bewildering.

Time is something we are all very familiar with, and yet some scientists doubt that it exists: The equations that describe the universe work just as well without time. It seems to be just a name we have put on the increase of chaos: Intuitively if we see a video of a glass assembling itself from scattered shards, we know that it is being played in reverse. And yet, arguably, for most of our lives we are such a thing as that glass coming together. Our memories come together creating a more or less whole and balanced self. Even plants that grow are such things, being assembled from tiny pieces into an impressive whole. Life is like a countercurrent in the stream of time.

Although recent science dismisses time, and classic science presents a clean arrow of time, most humans have a more vague sense of causality. Yes, causes lead to effects, the past creates the present and the present the future. But we also feel that the future is real and influences the present. In English we even use the same word, for instance: “The reason I get paid is that I go to work. The reason I go to work is to get paid.” How can the two things be each other’s reason?

Our mind seems able to travel through time to a certain degree. Through the power of our memory, we can revisit the past and relive the joys and sufferings, although we cannot change it except in our imagination. By the power of anticipation we look into the future, although a future that is less certain than the past, and we take with us information back to the present. We study the outcome of our actions before we even act. And then we decide: “No, it is not worth it” or “Yes, it is worth it” and so the future – which does not yet exist – changes the present, which definitely exists.

Time is weird.

***

Time does not always seem to move at the same speed, either. Objectively it does, or very nearly so. (It slows down slightly when we accelerate, or so the theory of relativity says. But in ordinary life this is not measurable. You won’t live longer by speeding on the highway, possibly quite the opposite!)

When we are children, time seems to move quite slowly. A summer holiday is an ocean of time and we arrive on the other side as a changed person. In old age, the same summer is like a puddle in the road that we step over, barely noticing. Or that is the general tendency. But do all of us experience time the same way? I don’t think so. I have a strong feeling that, for some reason, my subjective time runs less fast than others my age.

“If you are a lifelong bachelor, you may not live till you are 100, but at least it will feel that way” someone said when I was a kid. As a lifelong bachelor, I certainly agree with this, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. “Don’t kill time, it is your life” said the Christian mystic and teacher Elias Aslaksen. I try to not dissolve completely into my habits and obligations, but learn something new and be aware of at least some of what goes on during my day.

Part of my subjective feeling of slow time is that I spend a lot of time observing lower worlds where time moves faster. Most notably, I have read books since I was little, although I read less novels now. The experience of the book’s characters are added to my own, giving me a feeling that I have lived much more than I actually have. (It is not just me: Old people sometimes tell of something that happened to them when they were younger, which the bookish listener will recognize as having happened to a literary character.) I am not sure if the same applies to movies, in which case most people should have this experience. I don’t watch movies much, except for some Japanese animation.

As a (mainly hobby) writer, I create worlds where years pass over the course of weeks of real time. (Not all writers do this – some my spend a year on describing a week.) I also play games such as The Sims series, where simulated humans live, age and eventually die after some days or weeks of real time. Other favorite games of my past are the Civilization series, where entire civilizations rise and fall over the course of a few days. Watching this gave me a subjective feeling of old age, which blends well with my lifelong interest in history and my reading of old books. I know objectively that I was born in 1958, but a part of me feels like I wandered the streets of ancient Uruk before Rome was even a village.

***

Yet another factor that determines subjective time may be how fast you process information. The more data that passes through and is consciously registered by your brain, the more time would seem to have passed. We know that in certain critical moments, the doors of perceptions are thrown wide open and time seems to slow to a crawl. Unfortunately it is usually not possible to make your body speed up to the same degree.

In my fourth dicewriting story, which I stared just after my previous entry, the main character seems set to become a speedster. Not on the scale of The Flash from the TV series that I believe is still ongoing in America, or the comic books of the same name. Just … living faster.

In that story, speed is one of Erlend’s five specializations, and with an expected duration of 6 years this could make a big difference. I look forward to seeing how this will unfold when we reach the borderlands of human experience. How is it like when the world slows down to half speed and a day feels like it has 48 hours? How do you interact with the people around you? If it happens gradually enough, you probably adapt seamlessly, and don’t rock the boat by being too different in everyday life.

As it happens, I have a coworker of sorts – technically his company is the client of ours, but we work together and eat lunch together – and he is highly intelligent, possibly more than me. It is hard to say: While my intelligence is exceptionally wide, reaching into thoughts that most people never consider thinking, his intelligence is fast. Ordinary humans try his patience, because he knows what they are trying to say while they are still beginning to say it, and then they just keep rambling on, unaware that he already understands it better than they do. Usually he spends his lunch break reading his smartphone. The leftover attention is sufficient to keep up with what everyone in the room is saying.  This guy strikes me as a good match for a “near speedster”, someone who lives fast in a slow world. (Of course I won’t borrow any other traits from him. My characters are all unique, not based on real people.)

The clocks keep ticking, but perhaps we each hear them tick at our own speed…

Writing a twisted character

Screenshot anime Barakamon

My main character, who incidentally looks a lot like this too, is also a failure as a human being. Then again he is not entirely human, not that this makes things any easier.

My first two dicewriting stories more or less wrote themselves, but the third has taken longer time and generally felt much harder. I don’t think I can blame the skill specialization that I outlined in my June entry – in fact, I am quite happy with it and intend to keep it for my next story, although I can see some combinations being harder to write than others.

No, the problem is the main character. He is just not a very likable person, I’m afraid. Not to the people in his world, and not to me, and probably not to most of the potential readers. While the main character of book 1 was a gentle healer with a lot of empathy, and the second was more of a classical fledgling superhero type, Rune is a deeply conflicted person and a bit of a sociopath.

The conflict is between his home and his school life. His mother loves him unconditionally and considers him a precious gift to humanity. But at school he is bullied relentlessly for almost a decade. As a result, his basic outlook is a firm conviction that humanity consists of three groups: A precious few good and innocent ones, a modest majority of indifferent people who are just passively complicit in evil, and a sizable minority of nonredeemable villains who would serve the world better as dog food or compost.

This attitude is problematic under the best of circumstances. But Rune happens to be the son of an extradimensional super-wizard on the scale of Zeus or Odin, and over the course of the 87000 words story he goes from occasionally producing some almost symbolic magical effects to achieving casual mastery of cold, darkness and sickness. Toward the end of the first book, he is easily capable of killing anyone he wants in a matter of seconds – or more slowly if he so prefers – without anyone ever knowing. His conscience is not in itself holding him back: As far as he is concerned, killing bad guys is the fastest way to make the world a better place. The only thing that holds him back is the pleas of his mother, but will that be enough when facing people who are genuinely evil and proud of it?

I think what makes this so hard to write is that I understand the character all too well. I find it hard to argue against his view without resorting to religion. Specifically, I think you have to think like Jesus on the cross: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The moment you believe that humans actually know what they do and are in control of their lives, it becomes very hard to not condemn them. It is not a pleasant mindset for me to immerse myself in. I am rather happy to be seeing the end of this draft, finally. Hopefully Dicewriting Book 4 will be less disturbing.