Technology from Apple and Some Crazy Writing Considerations

I did a crazy thing. After years of avoiding Apple tech for very practical (and yet entirely biased) reasons, I bought an iPad Pro.

I did it for several reasons. One, the quality of the Apple Pencil, two the optimization of apps in the Apple ecosystem… In other words, Android app makers have the same problem as PC app developers. They have to optimize for a million different hardware configurations. Apple app developers have a finite number of hardware configurations to support, which means that for any given app, the iOS version will generally work better. Third is that there are apps available on the iOS landscape that don’t exist on Android. For the most part, these are “pro” apps in various disciplines that I need.

Two weeks later, the results are in. In terms of the inside the Apple box experience, Apple rocks. In terms of dealing with the larger world of technology, iOS is an utter mess. The walled garden of Apple works great if you have no idea what you are doing; it will protect you and keep you calm so that you can carry on. If you are trying to include Apple into an existing system, prepare for a fight.

For years, I have categorized user interfaces into two categories. One is self explanatory and lends itself to flow. It leads you to logical places and maps itself into your work as you proceed. The truth is that only a tiny minority of software works this way. However, a lot of people are working very hard on the concept, and the rise of mobile devices seems to be a spur to push interfaces into new modes. Some of the iPad apps have incredibly good interfaces. Unfortunately, most software still falls into a metaphor I call City Software. If you know the city you are in, you can access everything it offers and allows. If you don’t know the layout, you are lost.  In a real city, you wander the streets until you find your way. In software land, you push buttons to see what they do. In the Apple ecosystem, it’s entirely possible to push buttons that do things you don’t want to do, because Apple has built a meta game around iOS. In all honesty, if I knew nothing and had no expectations, I probably wouldn’t notice the problems until I had already developed the habits that Apple wants me to learn. I would be focused on the pretty hardware and the incredibly nice screen. Unfortunately, there are two major problems. I know entirely too much in the form of decades of tech experience. From Apple’s perspective, I have all the wrong habits. Problem number two is that the iPad Pro is being sold with the Pro moniker and with the touted expectation that it can replace a laptop. I never believed it could really replace a laptop; it’s a support device with some very good solutions to my common tasks. However, I did expect a relatively fluid capability for moving files around the way that Pros tend to do. The brand new iOS 11 was said to improve that capability, but those improvements really do nothing to open up the file system. The walls around the Apple walled garden are fully intact.

I understand the reasons, namely security, revenue protection, and the Apple “stuff that just works” ethos. I also understand the massive amount of effort that any opening of the iOS file structure represents, not just for Apple but for every app developer in the ecosystem. The benefits to the current system are plentiful, especially if you intend to hand an iPad to a child, or even a parent who has heard of this world wide web thing, but is probably never going to settle in front of a full computer. And why would they? Full computers are easy to break, even for people with years of experience. There are all kinds of concepts to understand, rules to follow, maintenance to keep in mind, cables everywhere.

If, on the other hand, you intend to utilize the “Pro” aspect of the iPad Pro, then you are going to reinvent your workflows. Hold on tight. Option one is simply don’t install any apps that duplicate the functions of apps that come pre-loaded. If you don’t have multiple apps that use the same types of data, then guess what? It just works. The problem is that Pros tend to have very specific demands, which means option one is not an option. Option two is to try to do your homework, choose the apps that cover your needs, and start figuring out how to move data around. While it is technically possible to do a great deal of work from start to finish on an iPad, and it’s also possible to combine apps efficiently to handle more complex workflows, the fact is that most of the “Pro” apps need some form of data sharing. If you use your device for web surfing, social media, and media consumption, none of my grumbles will affect you. At worst you just log into things on whatever collection of machines you have and everything synchs itself automatically. If you originate work on your iPad that will need to be finished on a full computer, or if you have a pile of stuff on your computer that you need to take with you, then the fun gets ramped up to 11. By fun, I mean pain, suffering, and generalized angst.

Here’s another set of options. You can plug your iPad into a USB port on your computer, fire up the crappiest old dog of software known as iTunes, figure out how to time travel back to 2006 and transfer files to your iPad. This has a few advantages once you poke around a bit. It’s fast, good for large files and large collections of small files. It has the ability to target SOME apps, but not all of them and certainly not the default apps, as far as I can tell.* The key to the pre-loaded apps, I believe, is to add stuff to your iTunes library, tell it what to synch, and off those files go, assuming iTunes didn’t crash and was able to find your iPad. ( I’ve seen both more than once) When that’s done you can open those files on the device, also assuming you want to open them with an app that starts with a lowercase ‘i’. That other app for the same files has no clue that they are there. The exception to this rule is that the photos library seems to integrate well with third party apps, and the caveat to this whole piece is that I’m a Pro at some things, but not Apple’s Way. *Those of you who can identify my ignorance, please set me straight!

Option two is embracing the cloud. I don’t like the cloud concept any more than I like software subscription models. Both take control out of my hands. But, I understand that the cloud is part and parcel of the modern Tao of Tech, whether I like it or not. So, having been broken to the bit, I now gaze at the sky and ask, “Which cloud?” It turns out that the answer quickly becomes, “All of them.” All the big names anyway. For me, it started with Dropbox, way back when. I think I have 5.15 Gigs at my command over there. Still free. I think their minimum is just north of $8/month, which seems mighty expensive compared to the others, and way too much for something I don’t like. Somewhere in the Windows upgrade march, the Microsoft cloud became a thing, and the Office subscription (that it’s impossible to live without if you work with a single human being who happens to be named “Not You”) bumped the cloud storage up to something large enough I’ll never have to think about it again. Then the Android smartphone combined with the Chrome browser somehow dragged me into Google Drive, which I actually use almost every day. A cheap Chromebook came with 100 Gigs that I thought was supposed to expire, but still hasn’t. 100G is more than I’ll ever write plus an airport shuttle’s worth of human genomes. I’ll take free as long as possible, because the only thing worse than something you hate is something you hate that has a billing cycle. Check that… I can’t really claim to hate Google Drive anymore; I just don’t trust it. And then there’s the iCloud. It’s new to me, but my wife’s old iPad has been quietly backing itself up for years and banging up against the 5 Gig limit, largely due to our rather excessive tendency to take dog photos. I found the family sharing option for iCloud and went ahead and bumped up the storage to a level that is epic for Sharon’s iPhone and old iPad, but for two new iPad Pros, one of which is a lovely shade of Rose Gold, well… I suspect we’ll cram that old iCloud full of dog photos in no time flat. Obviously, iCloud is the default option for iOS, but there are a few iOS 11/app combos that haven’t worked out the bugs yet. My highly informal and unscientific testing makes it appear that iCloud is much slower than Google Drive and Microsoft’s cloud was much faster. That probably says very little about how well they actually work and a great deal about relative popularity of the various services, especially over Thanksgiving weekend, when all those iPhone photos were flying into the cloud like crows being chased by a flock of really angry finches. Aaaand finally… As an Adobe CC subscriber, I have access to the Creative Cloud. I have some vague notion of what it’s supposed to do, but my ingrained Adobe habits of 21 years have kept me from even touching it yet – and by yet I mean a long time. I expect those programs are using it behind my back. I really don’t want to know. All those shiny iOS apps that appear to be pale shadows of the desktop versions, yet come with the subscription, will have me using that Creative Cloud soon enough. Yay, me! All geeked out. More clouds than a Puget Sound winter.

Some unnamed “Pro” apps of the non-Adobe variety seem to have a distinct preference for Dropbox. Of course they do. It costs the most. The real issue is that I have five clouds, a collection of apps that use only one or two of them, which means that eventually I will have to know which cloud to use from my computer to make sure the files end up accessible to the app I intended. This drops right back into the closed file system problem. On any other machine, including my Android phone and probably a Raspberry Pi, I can just dump a bunch of files into my current project folder and load them into any app I want to use at any time. The only drawback is that I can potentially lose track of an entire project folder, but it has not happened, ever. I have every project folder I’ve ever done, back to 1988. That’s my OCD, right there! Every once-huge set of files tucked away in microscopic corners of modern hard drives. The only exception is good old standard definition video. It lives on DVCAM tapes in a drawer underneath some articles of clothing that are almost as unlikely to be seen ever again.

Option three involves emailing files to a convoluted email address that somehow sticks it somewhere on my iPad to be seen by who knows what apps. There are probably some good use cases for this option, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I can use email and not use a puffy white storage network. The majority of files I generate tend to make email servers complain.

I thought I was pretty clever with Option four, but Apple hammered me like a rusty old nail. I bought the SD card adapter thinking it would work like it does everywhere else, as general storage for transferring files. Nope. You plug it in and the Photos app opens up. If the stuff on the card doesn’t look like a photo or certain flavors of video, then you can forget it. The good news is that for its one and only intended purpose, it’s still very useful for me. I have multiple cameras filling up SD cards on a regular basis.

Now, it may seem like I have buyer’s remorse, but that’s not true. The iPad Pro is a fantastic piece of hardware, and the Pencil works so well that I can avoid much more expensive options for the same purpose, in a device with easier portability and longer battery life. The apps I’m using are uniformly excellent and in some cases, inspired pieces of design. I did my homework. There are also certain niche apps that only exist on iOS because of Apple’s long affinity with creative communities. I can think of dozens of people who could literally take an iPad and replace a laptop. In my particular case, I can’t go that far. I do things that require some serious heavy lifting on a desktop machine. If iOS moves in the direction of the smoother integration I’ve been blabbering about, then I would probably never buy another laptop. I’d happily use the iPad like a laptop and the desktop for heavy duty work.

Laptops are great, but in my weird set of demands, they always end up dangling in the center of bad compromises. If I get one that can realistically handle the (non-writing) creative work, then the battery life is short enough that it’s not truly portable. There are exceptions out there, but I’m as likely to buy a $4000 laptop as I am to spend a million bucks on a car. Ain’t gonna happen. For writing, anything works great. For drafts, I’ll fire up Google Docs and start typing. My $180 Chromebook works for 11 hours and the screen is terrible, which is a strange advantage for old eyeballs, but that drab, low resolution viewport is comfortable for writing at on-the-couch distances. The keyboard is not bad, but most importantly, I won’t feel much remorse when I wear it out. And the Chromebook OS forces me to focus. That same crappy screen isn’t good for surfing the web. Web sites want higher resolution. I just open a file, hit the fullscreen button and start typing. And yes, the machine can do more, but really all it does well is Google Docs

My phone is a far more capable machine. If I were not the kind of person who drops right out of creative mode every time the thing makes a noise, I could hook it to a monitor, link it to a Bluetooth keyboard and type like the wind. Well, more like a gentle breeze, but still…

The laptop I have is getting older but it’s still plenty of computer, just as soon as I replace the non-user-replaceable battery. It’s okay, I have tiny screwdrivers. The problem with the laptop is that I can either plug it in, or spend time watching that infernal battery gauge. Because it falls on the performance end of the spectrum, I can’t really use it on my lap. Within minutes it’s ironing a patch of my right pant leg. If I don’t move it around, it will eventually start to burn it’s way through, and nobody wants that. If it’s plugged in, and I have it propped on something heat resistant, then two effects apply, I spend 5 minutes setting everything up, and just when I’m ready to write, a spastic Chocolate Labrador will get that power cord wrapped around her leg, freak out, and destroy half the room. In other words, my laptop is a skinny, self-contained desktop for a desk nowhere near that dog.

The iPad Pro, for writing, absolutely is a laptop replacement. It will last longer than I will, I can prop it anywhere, I can scale the type and brightness for Old Man Eye Syndrome, and as the cherry on top, there is an iOS version of my beloved Scrivener, which I consider the most complete and lovingly crafted writing app on the planet. Even the PC version, which is probably the ugliest of the three (the other is on the Mac), just makes me happy. I know that when I open it, I will not spend my time scrolling through an endless Word document.

I tested several keyboards and went with the Rugged Messenger by Zagg. I didn’t like the Apple version or the price. I’ve used a lot of Logitech stuff over the years and checked out their solution. It just looked heavy and clumsy. The Rugged Messenger has a back case for the device with a nice clip for the pencil. Trust me when I tell you I needed that clip, or that pencil would roam the house like a stray cat. The keyboard is Bluetooth and attaches magnetically – or not; typing with them separated works better than you might expect. The folding extension offers multiple angles using magnets in the case when everything is connected in laptop style. In another confession of weirdness, I have two quirks about keyboards. The first is that despite some big old hands, given the choice I actually prefer smaller keyboards for typing and full sized keyboards for controlling software. Two is that I rotate keyboards often. Multiple devices does the trick, and when I didn’t have that option, I’d just plug a different keyboard into my computer. If I don’t change things up, especially when I’m writing a lot, my hands will hurt. Eventually someone will use the word arthritis, I’m sure.

Sorry for the side trip into writer land. So, I like the iPad Pro, I hate the closed file system, and I hope that Apple devises a way to keep the functional stuff locked down while opening up the storage and the apps’ ability to access files in a flexible way that matches the workflows of most of the creative people I know. One last note. We all know that Apple has nailed the mobile device market. They invented so much of the definition of what a mobile device should be that even the best Android manufacturers are still using them as the benchmark. We also know that the focus that it takes to lead the mobile space appears to have stolen some of the thunder from the Mac side of the business. I’ve never owned a Mac, but I’ve been watching die hard Mac creatives drifting over to the PC dark side for quite some time now. My guess is that the biggest factor is some version of the value equation with an emphasis on the bonus points for having the best machine available. No matter how you feel about Mac OS, the latest and greatest Mac hardware is not the latest and greatest. And spec for spec, with very few exceptions, it costs a lot more than a PC machine with the very latest parts inside. The PC laptop makers chased the Macbook Pro for years, and in the same basic category, there are now twenty options for beautifully designed, high performance PC machines. On top of that, PC makers have been innovating with the basic rules of what a PC should be. Laptops that convert to tablets, laptops that flip backwards for different scenarios including a tablet form. Laptops with multi-touch screens, laptops with pens and pressure sensitivity, laptops in multicolored faux fur finishes. Nobody expects, or even wants, Apple to follow all these acts, but if they were to produce a laptop with Apple Pencil support, a flexible screen system with current spec parts inside, then Microsoft has left them a ton of room to set the prices high. Then they could make an ad about a true laptop replacement. Laptop, meet the new laptop.







The State of Jim

Those of you who are paying attention, and after all this time I expect that’s a low number, are probably wondering what the heck I am up to these days. I thought I might lay it out for you.

In my quasi-professional life, there is an axiom that has held true for over 25 years. If I’m working in technology, the client thinks there is a magic button that handles all the details, even if they are trying to sell 500 products. If I’m working in design, the client thinks there is magic button, that I have some software that makes all the decisions and pops out a nice, shiny result with no real effort on my part. If I’m working in industrial design, which I refer to as “engineering lite,” since I am not an engineer, although I play one on the internet, and I’m pretty good at faking it… Well, you guessed it, once again there is the perception that there is a magic button and that everything should be fast, cheap, and excellent.

Of course the old production rule is that you can have fast, cheap, or good. Pick two. I can tell you from vast experience that it’s almost impossible to get a client past cheap, and if you can, that’s a client you want to keep.

The interesting part is that client concerns are only part of my equation. The other part is my own narrative. Those of you who have been waiting for the rest of the Renewal, including my infinitely patient and likely disillusioned editor, probably think the client concerns come first, and they do in terms of daily survivability, but beyond that threshold, my narrative is king. A good question is why. Why does my narrative even matter? I mean, I’ve been soaking it all in for almost 51 years, and obvious patterns have emerged. We have issues, I would say. We know nothing, I would say, but I would also say that the minute we stop using the observations to drive our decisions into the future, we have lost what it means to be the leading species on the planet.

We could ask all kinds of questions about whether anything we say or think even matters. I cannot affect the political dialog, which I have come to refer to as “the face of madness.” I cannot groan at our President’s tweets without asking whether we would be in far worse shape under the power hungry, amoral alternative. I cannot live in Liberal mecca without keeping very quiet about the logical disconnects that drive the discussion. Someone would probably burn my house down. I cannot look at politics at all without asking the obvious questions about who our politicians actually work to serve, because it sure ain’t us.

The line between fact and opinion is so blurry that no one can realistically be expected to discern the difference. We are all too busy worrying about the vast detail of survival in the most complex system ever devised. Can you do your taxes on a postcard? Nope. Can you have a significant health issue without 20 calls to the insurance company? Probably not. Can you travel within the borders of our own country without being treated like a potential terrorist? No? Is it because we don’t actually have borders? Can you rent a car without a very specific type of plastic card in your wallet? Do your children have more schedule and legal requirements than you can track, much less actually fit into your daily routine? Well, guess what? The answer is, if you follow the herd, you probably can’t keep up. If you have managed to back up a bit and have actually examined the culture we have created, the answer is: possibly. I definitely know people who can spin a lot of plates, and those people are invariably good at knowing which plates need spinning at any given moment.

The end result is one of two things. Either you have no time to really examine the inputs to your belief system, or you check your facts with some level of critical thought intact. In option one, you choose a narrative and go with it. This is the easy way out. It works until it stops working and then you are you recovering from the shock and you go shopping for a new worldview. In option two, you live with the fact that no one’s narrative is satisfying. No one’s narrative answers the important questions. This, of course, leads directly into the pit of despair (Dilly, Dilly!). It invites endless cynicism and self examination, examination of the facts you can obtain, lots of hair splitting and qualifying of information, and frankly it’s hard work. Most of us are too busy dealing with the minutiae to engage in a rigorous debate with reality, and we choose option one. There’s no judgement in that, in my view. Here’s why…

When things get cloudy, I hit rewind. If I say something stupid, I rewind to some point in my life when I said something smarter. If I hit a professional wall, I rewind to some method or process that worked in the past and try to adapt it to the current problem. If someone does something I purely fail to understand, I rifle through the deck of old events and look for a pattern that may fit. The deck of old cards is our lifeline and our adaptive advantage. In tech terms, the value of those memories depends on how well we have tagged them with our own value system, but all of this process is only the first push of the rewind button. The second push involves history. Just like most of you, I sat through high school history half-listening to Mr. Hawkins (shout out to those who remember) drone on about things that I thought had zero value to my all important teenage life. I went on to college and spent more time watching my Western Civ professor (because she was attractive) than listening to the story of the victors she was spinning. My course of study was not history laden. I got the Cliff Notes version. Over time, I finally found the value of history in the practical, “doomed to repeat it” sense, and these many years later, I look back to realize that I am an ardent student of the subject. It comes in very handy when trying to make sense of the world we live in. In the broad strokes, history is a fabulous guide to human nature, which guides us to the depths of depravity and the heights of nobility before we even notice the difference. Push that old rewind button one more time and you can predate history altogether. This is also informative in very practical ways. For those of you who interpret belief to our creation in the knowable past, this whole thread breaks down quickly. I personally have no trouble blending my belief in the Creator with the evidence of deep history, but that’s an argument for another day. For me, it’s very useful to remove every advantage of civilization and to think of us as lonely tribes working hard to survive in a world that treats us no differently than it does any other species. It’s also interesting to note that there are still tribes that operate on that basis. I think it’s probably too much to expect that there are human populations that have had no contact with civilization today, but there are still people who have not been overrun by our modern systems. We can blithely sit back and judge primitive people, but you can’t really dismiss their own version of accomplishment at surviving without the internet, drive-through windows, or a global just-in-time supply chain. There are valuable lessons in the big rewind.

If you walk back through your own life, you will see the patterns. Good decisions, bad decisions, decisions that had a much bigger effect than you would have predicted when you made them. A narrative of your own life develops. You can chain together your own events in a way that has meaning. How you interpret that meaning is largely dependent on your values and beliefs. When you put it all together, you have a story with meaning. Think about it. Your life has meaning. I don’t care who you are or what you have done, if you apply a set of values over the events of your life, meaning emerges. I can sit back from my perspective and apply my own values to your life, and that has meaning too. As a believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, noting of course that goodness is a value judgment, I expect to find a meaning in your life that is worthwhile, and only rarely am I disappointed. Pretty cool, huh?

Where does that leave us? First off, we like to think we all operate from provable facts and logic, and that is patently false. We operate from belief. All of us, myself included, adopt beliefs for whatever reason, and bend the facts to fit that set of beliefs. I can prove this in the negative by saying that if we all operated purely from the facts available, we would all find ourselves in agreement. Two humans in total agreement is historically impossible, so we can safely say that we do not operate from facts and logic. We all have our beliefs, and we work very hard to twist the available facts to support our beliefs. Period. If you and I are sitting across the table at Thanksgiving and discussing world issues we will get along by belief, not fact. You hand pick facts to support your beliefs, and I can hand pick facts to support mine. If I’m feeling devious, I can support a view that I don’t actually believe. For clarity, an example… If you believe that prison serves as rehabilitation and I believe that prison is intended to be so painful that it will serve as a deterrent, then you and I will disagree on almost every point of what should be part of the daily existence of a prisoner. This example can be expanded to touch every point of life in today’s America. Policy, Culture, Procedure, Tax money, Expenditure priority, and so on…

But back to the state of me… I’m writing. So much writing… In fact, I’m busy thinking up ways to stuff more writing into my life. Let me be clear. Writing is a game of mind management. I suspect there are writers out there with much more practical models for what is worth writing. My motivation is mine. What makes a person sit down and think up an entire cast of characters, inject them into a plot designed to make a point that matters enough to the writer to keep going? I can think of a metric ton of motivations that work for me. Unfortunately, making money is not one of them, with apologies to my wife who has supported my bizarre worldview in superlative fashion. Here’s the thing. I care about the outcome. I really care.

What matters? Happiness, contentment, challenge, what comes next? Who really knows? One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word “experience.” Watch any block of commercials and you will hear the word “experience” these days. It has become one of those amorphous words that means nothing unless it motivates you to spend money in a directed fashion. Traditionally, experience was a lesson, something that happened that taught you something you didn’t know. Usually it came with a painful cost. Nowadays, it’s a cozy place in a totally safe, all-inclusive resort that teaches you that for that for the right price, life becomes idyllic. The worst that can happen is that you miss the bus to the other resort. That’s a long way from the version of experience that teaches you when to plant your crops.

What matters is, who are we? Where are we going? How do we gain the most from the benefits, and perhaps more importantly, the limits of human nature? I believe (operating from a belief model here) that human nature is not something that we can decide to ignore. It is inherent to our existence – for good or bad. I happen to encapsulate both. I am good and bad. If you happen to tip the scales into my version of bad, I will happily write you off. If you tip into my version of good, I will work my butt off to support you. It’s not for me to make the final analysis; I’m sure that at any given moment, there are people who judge me either way. My wife is much better. She begins with the assumption that you are good by her definitions and she will try to help you. I used to be that way, but I became more cynical and realized that I needed a harder filter. People are fully capable of the sublime, and people of are fully capable of the suck, usually in the same person.

One piece of human nature is sex. We cannot ignore it. It happens before thought even intervenes. It makes perfect sense. If sex were not inherent to our existence, we would not exist. As far as we know, sex is still the only way we make new humans. That serves as no excuse to the dirtbags who happily blend money and power into the sex equation in a forceful way. Those losers are bubbling up like the oil in the Beverly Hillbillies opening theme. Look it up, young’uns! In evolutionary terms, if you cannot attract sex on some merit that involves a woman choosing you, then you do not deserve to procreate. Speaking as a man here, which makes me the lowest form of observer in today’s model… A woman can choose you to fulfill any number of roles: friend, helper, supportive listener, protector, lover, person who agrees with her, her child’s father, provider, some subliminal chemical cue, whatever works for her; you do not have the right to subvert that choice through power. Men, be worthy. Women, pick your terms, but don’t be surprised if you fail to gain respect for your choices. It’s your right to say no, and men should absolutely respect that (even the dirtbags who don’t recognize the obvious fact), but it’s your burden to live with your ‘yes’.

Another aspect of human nature we can’t ignore is the big WHY. This is a question that exists on a million levels. If you don’t believe in a higher power of any kind, then it’s an existential dilemma. Literally every choice you make is universal. You can rail and shout at the sky all you want. The problem is that the choices are sitting atop the proverbial house of cards. I can sit in a restaurant and listen to people having conversations that sound like critical decisions in life. The tone is that of people trying to make life-scale decisions; the subject is which app they use on their phone, or what someone said on Facebook. Again, I’m not judging. It’s entirely possible that someone said something on social media that changes your life, but if that’s the case, perhaps you should just call that person and have a conversation. Better yet, meet that person and have a face to face conversation so that you can take advantage of all the non-verbal cues that come with actual human interaction. It’s all too easy to forget that we live in a world that depends on a lot of technological systems working correctly to derive meaning in our lives. If the person in question makes that impossible, then it is credible that a higher order of values come into play, and that person is no longer worth your time, attention, and concern. If you do believe in a higher power, then you can offload some of the outcomes to a greater cause. Is that cause intended to work out in your favor? It’s like the two high school teams who pray before the game. They are both praying for victory in some form, but only one will win on the scoreboard. What is the preferred outcome for your higher power, and does it supersede mine? I like to run with this concept. I’m willing to listen to your beliefs as long as they don’t directly involve harming people with other beliefs. The beauty of beliefs, and the risk, is that we can’t prove them in this lifetime. If we believe in an infinite creator, yet we live finite lives, then it’s fairly logical to assume that we don’t have all the facts. We live in a box of existence that is intended to be measured within the dimensions of that box. The creator of the box makes the rules. We don’t know the rules, and we can’t say that we are winning or losing until we escape the box. In other words, everything we decide is important is a box within a box within a box, ad infinitum.

Do we then fall to an innate sense of rightness? Is that a real thing? God, I hope so. Otherwise, we are lost. Without that sense of right and wrong, it’s all too easy to imagine that we don’t deserve to survive as a species. Using the big rewind button, we know that entire species have disappeared from the Earth. They are disappearing as we sit here, looking at our high definition screens. What if 65.1 million years ago, there were dinosaurs that had decoded morality completely. They had it figured out, and they were destroyed by a wayward asteroid. Does that mean that we are not intended to understand the big picture, or does it mean that those dinosaurs had it wrong? If we have it wrong, does the logic, the hard rules of the cosmos, mean that our view gets replaced by that of dogs? I mean, dogs are far more reliable than we are. If you were a god, choosing between our moral flexibility and the stalwart dedication of a dog, would you choose the random nature of human morality over a being that expresses dedication to its master in unfailing service? The life of a god would be far better served by dog values than human ones. On the other hand, perhaps the hierarchy was intended from the beginning. We serve a higher purpose, and dogs serve us. If that were the case, perhaps we are intended to learn from dogs even as we master them. It’s entirely possible that dogs serve as training for a low order of control over our existence. Which means that we should be paying attention… Just in case.

Control, as in that of a master over a dog, god over a people, or parent over a child, is a delicate balance. In any of those cases, pushing too hard results in rebellion. Those of you with teenage children are nodding your heads vigorously. Pushing your dog too hard in training doesn’t result in rebellion, it results in confusion. That dog is entirely willing to follow your lead, it is simply unsure of what you want. What if you believed in a god named Dewey, and Dewey’s commandments included a clause that required you to do a literal song and dance every time you crossed a threshold? This performance requires 3 minutes of your time, literally every time you moved from one room to another. The rebellion against this commandment would be that we all live in giant rooms to avoid the threshold ritual. We would forsake bathroom privacy to save those 3 minutes, four times per day. Our value system would be literally warped around Dewey’s rules. This is an entirely fictional and exaggerated example of how strong our belief systems are against practical considerations. If you are a parent, you already know these things. I have been a step parent but not a parent of my own offspring (why would I propagate heart disease and diabetes,  not to mention the lessons of my father?) , which means that my entire reference comes from being the offspring of typically flawed human beings. Grain of salt factor … As a side note, being married to a very intelligent and analytical woman means that I qualify every bit of data that I share. I may be guessing, fairly confident, or totally certain. I’ll qualify it in some way. As I tell my wife, if I don’t qualify it, you should treat it as the truth. As the ultimate hedge, my truth is probably not your truth. Luckily, I know my wife well enough to define the truth in her terms. She’s good that way.

I have wandered far afield. Let’s just call it an anchor in the “face of madness” of current events. What you really need to know is that I am writing in several venues. One is the Renewal universe, which is built on a lot of what I have shared in this piece. The biggest struggle with Renewal is that the reference line keeps shifting. 2017 is not 2011. As I wrestle with the story, I keep having to shift my focus into broader realms to accomplish what I intended from the beginning. The current truth is not the broader truth. Two is the Definition universe. It accomplishes a few things in my motivational structure. One is that I have a basic optimism for the future. Two is that historically and currently, we know nothing. This could be a very pessimistic view, but I see it as an optimistic view. If we limit our future based on what we know now, then it is very limited indeed. If we assume that we know nothing, then we have an unlimited future. I prefer that we will continue to re-frame our understanding until we open the doors to the universe.

Keep that in mind the next time you encounter the idiot who doesn’t know how to work a four-way stop.