Needing to kill some time before the store opened, I visited Shady Lea in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on the last day of November. It consists of a small pond next to an even smaller parking lot immediately adjacent to busy route four where it meets route one. In addition to the scattering of picnic tables and fire pits, there is a small brook running around the perimeter and a pretty nice boulder to sit on and watch the ducks. At least, I think they were ducks. It was hard to tell at that distance. I began writing my account while I was still there:
I hear birds in the trees. Birds are often surprisingly hard to find. I can hear them and narrow down their location by sound alone to within a ten-foot radius, but sometimes I still can’t see them. I don’t understand. There are practically no leaves here for them to hide behind. The trees are very nearly bare. Maybe the birds are invisible. Oh, I see them now.
This is a simple place. There are no mysteries here – no great discoveries to be made. Everything is out in the open. There is nothing but trees and stones.
I walk around. The ground is covered in a thick layer of oak leaves. What is underneath? I suddenly step into a depression in the ground and feel my foot go down into the leaves. The leaves are eight inches deep here!
I must know what hides underneath! Treasure? Lost cities? Monsters? Something killed that deer. I have found a mystery at last! I clear the leaves away with my foot. Slowly but surely, I get closer to the underlying substrate. Finally, I see it. Under the leaves are mud and roots. I have solved the mystery!
The greater mystery now is what lies under the mud and roots…
Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards.
Chocolate chip cookies were invented by mistake. They were a failed attempt to make chocolate cookies, but Mrs. Toll made the best out of the situation and introduced to the world a new favorite.
Sometimes when doodling alien creatures I mess up. When this happens, I can usually think up a way to salvage the picture and make it more interesting than it would have been originally. Could those stray marks on its back be gills? Genitals? External parasites? Some of my most creative ideas have been mistakes.
The ancient Israelites failed to take the city of Ai because of the sin of one man. Once dealt with, they attempted again to take the city, pretending to retreat and leading the enemy into an ambush. Winning this way would have been unlikely had they not lost the first time.
When I was nineteen I unwittingly insulted a friend of mine and she was rude to me in response. Unable to bring myself to apologize first, she did, I returned the favor, and our friendship was stronger after that than it would have ever been otherwise.
When things go wrong, don’t be discouraged. Instead ask yourself, “If this had been my plan all along, what would my next step be?” There is a way to fix any mistake. All things can work out for good. Even when we fail to do this, God can fix anything. It is never too late.
So, if your current situation had been your plan all along, what would your next step be?
Beavertail Park covers the southern tip of Conanicut Island. Over the years, I have been there several times with family. It is a fantastic place full of geological oddities, including an arch and pools full of pebbles. Water leaks from the sides of cliffs and rocks come in every color and texture imaginable. To the north of the park are trails cut through the woods, sometimes in the form of tunnels with branches wrapped overhead. It is often windy and this is the place I once saw a bird flying perfectly sideways, unable to move forward against the wind. There are also some grassy areas, a lighthouse, and the remains of a fort or something.
I had planned all year to visit, but never got around to it, so when my aunt and mother invited me in September, I tagged along, hoping to get pictures of all these things for the first time. Unfortunately, the problem of going with other people is that nobody ever wants to stay long enough for me to see everything. I left early before I had covered more than a third of the place. Here is what I saw:
Purple And Green Protists:
This Impassible Gorge:
And This Path Leading Out Of The Park Altogether:
Where does it go?
Well, I didn't go as many places as I wanted, but it was still an interesting year. My grandfather had me trim the hedge, which is how I found all kinds of new insect friends. At different times, I saw a caterpillar, a dragonfly, and a praying mantis. In the flower garden was another dragonfly.
I also found evidence of other potential friends.
There are so many wonders around us that are hidden unless we cut things open. Trimming the hedge is how I discovered that yellow wood really does exist.
One day I saw patches of frost in the grass - even though it was late July. The ground below was black. What is that stuff? Mold? It was gone days later.
Another day I discovered a patch of wild mint on the edge of the yard. At first, it smelled and tasted exactly like basil before it matured and became mintier. I put it on my noodles.
The neighbor's yard developed several gigantic growths of fungi in a matter of only four days! I photographed the first to come up from the south and north and then again at the end of the four days when it had matured.
Then I saw a bunch of other stuff:
Even when I stay inside I see interesting things. This intruder was resting on the screen of the guest room window:
This one was in a gas station:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!
Disclaimer: The following is my analysis based on dozens of books and magazines I have read and pieced together over the years. Most of the concepts I’ve never seen related together before. Most of it I think I understand pretty well, but I have been wrong before. Some of it I know I don’t understand. Input and corrections are welcome.
No one likes to die. Humans take grand steps to avoid being killed. Most religions hold that some form of consciousness outlasts the death of the body and that the soul lives for eternity. How might such a thing work? It would seem to violate physics.
Medical science may one day progress to the point that the physical body can be protected from aging and almost any disease or injury. It might also be possible to upload copies of our minds onto more durable, artificial bodies, or onto multiple, wirelessly connected bodies in case one of them is completely obliterated by a bomb or something. To avoid supernova-sized catastrophes, our bodies could be spread across multiple star systems. This way, something of us would always survive.
If possible, these methods might keep us alive for billions of years. However, we would eventually run into the problem of entropy and heat death. One day, all useable energy will be gone; everything will be homogenous and uniformly heated. Then nothing will ever happen again. By carefully slowing our rate of energy consumption, we could theoretically extend our lives indefinitely – but could our state then legitimately be called life? Awareness requires thoughts, and thinking uses energy. Slowing our energy consumption also slows our thinking. It is not enough for us to live forever in time on a finite amount of energy if our thoughts also become finite.
No one really knows how consciousness works, but one Scientific American article I read long ago suggested that thought rate was proportional to the volume of the brain, while energy use was proportional to the surface area, meaning that we could in fact experience an infinite number of thoughts on a finite reservoir or energy – albeit at a progressively retarded rate. This is very encouraging.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. Heat loss is also proportional to the surface area, meaning that a continually-running brain will heat up. It must be periodically shut down so it can cool. Since the rate of heat dispersion depends on the difference in temperature with the surrounding environment, as the brain uses up energy, the universe will become even closer to equilibrium, and the cooling time will become progressively longer. This requires some sort of “alarm clock” to wake the brain at the appropriate time and no such mechanism is 100% reliable. Given an infinite amount of time, it would eventually fail us and we would never wake again.
There are other limits on time as well. In accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is always a non-zero probability of measuring any object to be in a different position than where it was previously measured to be. On the scale of atoms, this manifests as a lot of “jumpiness.” On the scale of people, planets, and galaxies, it means that given enough time there is a statistical certainty that one day they will simply leap across the universe far away. It is much more likely still that only small parts of them will be similarly transported, which in the case of humans can be deadly (imagine if your heart suddenly vanished). This is called quantum tunneling. On infinite timescales, the entire universe could suddenly pop into a different configuration, with a new arrangement of matter and new laws of physics. There would be no way to survive.
There are also limits on space. It is not good enough that we have an infinite number of thoughts if we do not retain them as memories. Is it really life to just have the same two thoughts over and over? What are we if not our unique path through history? If the original body is not important, and memory is not important, what is to separate us as individuals? Otherwise it could be said that we have survived so long as someone else survives. Who is to say it isn’t us? Memory storage requires space. Even with combinatorics, infinite memory storage requires infinite space.
Even assuming the universe to be infinite in volume, we know from observation that it is expanding. Matter is thinning. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes. Galaxies far enough away recede faster than the speed of light. Light from those galaxies can never reach us even in principle. Nothing can go faster than light in space (the receding galaxies are following the flow of space, not moving in it). This means that an infinitely-sized (or at least continually-growing) brain will eventually be pulled apart by the expansion of the universe and its various parts will lose contact with each other. The only ways around this problem are to use faster-than-light communication (impossible), reverse the expansion of space (good luck with that), or to find ways to store ever-more information in an ever-smaller volume.
Unfortunately, there is a maximum limit on how much information can be packed into a given space. Counterintuitively, this limit is proportional not to the volume it is packed into, but to the surface area of a sphere with that volume. It is called the holographic bound. Holograms have some weird properties. Information in holograms is spread around such that a small part of the hologram can be used to recreate the whole picture – though at a lower resolution. They are also able to hold in only two dimensions the information to recreate a three-dimensional image. I don’t understand very well myself how this works, but it is made possible by quantum entanglement. Since every particle in the universe has interacted directly or indirectly with every other part, in a sense the entire universe is entangled and therefore should also have holographic properties. This is why some physicists have suggested that our four-dimensional spacetime might be a “simulation” running on a computer in a three-dimensional spacetime. Thus, the amount of storage space available is proportional to a two-dimensional area and not a three-dimensional volume.
Probably not coincidentally, the holographic bound of a cache of information is the same as its Schwarzschild radius. Information is stored on matter and increasing the information density to its maximum can only be done by increasing the density of the material. Squash a material enough, and it will collapse into a black hole. The volume of a black hole is not proportional to its mass, but rather needs to be ever larger with every addition to still be called a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth needs to be roughly the size of a golf ball and therefore very dense, but a black hole the size of the solar system need be only as dense as water. The observable universe is so big that to be a black hole it need be only as dense as roughly what we measure it to be. We might be inside a black hole now! To retain an infinite memory, we must grow an ever-larger brain that also grows ever-thinner to prevent gravitational collapse.
Even assuming we find a way to halt the expansion of the universe or a way to send signals faster than light in order to keep different parts of our brain in constant communication (or both), we will eventually run into a math problem. Any finite set of matter only has so many possible configurations. Given an infinite amount of time, something must repeat. Given an infinite extension in space, this means our superbrain will be filled with copies of the same sequence over and over. Some of these sequences will be whole universes just like ours and contain fully functioning organisms with brains themselves – believing themselves individuals distinct from their surroundings. Maybe that’s what we are. Maybe we are already part of a superbrain that has already lived forever.
Related Post: Where Is Heaven?
Sixty Symbols is a YouTube channel featuring interviews with scientists speaking about science history, the details of how science is done and what it is like being a scientist, and the latest developments in theoretical and experimental physics, astronomy, and cosmology. There are videos on the peer review process, measuring gravity in previous centuries, the case for string theory, and how to get the most out of our telescopes. It’s worth checking out.
Soon after leaving Blue Pond, frustrated at my inability to find it, I stopped further down the road so I could take the Narragansett Trail past Yagoog Pond at the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut. It was a very hot August day and no one else was stupid enough to be outside. It was very quiet. Never have I felt more alone and at ease about it. I walked for a long time.
The first section was dominated by rhododendrons and descended downhill. I saw a lot of fungi, mostly of varieties I had not seen anywhere else – including just down the road. These walks never get boring simply because there is always fresh variety. This late in the season, the fungi was already dying and being cannibalized by other fungi.
This section of the trail was joined by countless side trails, some of them almost invisible. Some of these side trails also had invisible side trails. It was down one of them that I found a rock cliff overlooking the water. I felt like I had stumbled across a secret lost kingdom that I could claim for myself, so I did. It’s mine now. :P
Further down, I walked along the edge of the pond (more of a lake), which was continuous, smooth rock. After this, I veered away from the water and continued to find side trails, some of which ended in clearings with clear signs of human habitation. Who dares to trespass in my kingdom?
Eventually, I reached the road to the north and decided it was time to turn back. I had to go find a queen to share the place with.
I have so much I want to accomplish, but I can’t seem to prioritize. Thus, nothing is ever finished. Every time I make a schedule and tell myself to focus on one thing, my mind refuses to cooperate, wandering away into every other aspect of my life. It won’t stay on one subject long enough. Lately, I’ve even started to think all my projects are equally important, making it even harder to settle down. I have so many distractions.
On top of this, I also have slumps lasting for weeks wherein I am inexplicably tired, both physically and mentally. I can force myself to follow a routine, but I can’t force myself to be creative; creativity doesn’t work that way. I have time, but I don’t use it for anything productive. I don’t even read.
The Life Of Nate: Since 1993 I have wanted more than anything else to write a science fiction adventure series about a man named Nate. I now have accumulated more than six hundred story ideas, and while each one would make a good novel, I have decided that the best thing to do is to write them as a collection of short stories spanning three books called The Champion Trilogy. This is still a lot of work. The biggest problem is coming up with endings that are satisfying and realistic yet surprising and twisty. Sometimes I just don’t see a way out of Nate’s predicaments.
This project is important not only because it is close to my heart and is the life I always wanted to have, but because many of the concepts I illustrate are unheard of anywhere else. Nate not only encounters interesting biology and technology, but downright weird physics, math, philosophy, culture, psychology, and more, while surviving largely by his wits. The stories are too good to keep from the world.
Champion Of The Galaxy: While I am still writing Nate’s later years of life, I thought I would begin publishing sample stories to a blog one-at-a-time. ChampionOfTheGalaxy.com is important because it will help me build up a fan base for when the books are ready to be published. It has also been fun to work on.
I also thought the stories would be best paired with cover art – what I imagine the covers would look like if the stories were ever turned into full novels. This way, the stories would take the form of a webcomic.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working out. I haven’t been keeping up on the stories, drawing has turned out to be more time-consuming than I thought, and I continually wonder whether the drawings are good enough (even though I have seen other webcomic authors who are very successful with inferior drawings). Then just recently, I read through my work and decided that almost all the early stories need to be rewritten and they need to be longer. Everything is now on hold.
Flora And Fauna Series: Another of my great loves is exobiology. I keep having new ideas all the time. I have long wanted to write a series of books featuring alien plants, animals, and microbes in the same style as Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition. I have plans for about thirty distinct ecosystems. Each world would be a separate book. A simple plot would tie together the diagrams and descriptions, which would be drawn in my distinct style and the cover art would be the same. This series should be easier to write than The Champion Trilogy and it could keep me busy indefinitely as I create new worlds. I simply can’t decide which series is more important to me, so I have been working on both.
Flora And Fauna Blog: Since there are many other exobiology creators out there and I have always wanted to encourage the growth of this genre so I can collect the books, I have started a blog at FloraAndFaunaOfTheUniverse.com to promote the work of others. The secondary purpose of the blog will eventually be to promote my own work too. Unfortunately, nobody currently seems interested in writing guest posts or publishing books for me to review. Because I have nothing to post right now, no time is set aside in my schedule for this blog.
Book Promotion: On top of this, I already have three books published that feature my character Nate. I’m not sure how to promote them and now I am having second thoughts about some of them. Based on what will tentatively be the 111th story, The Spider, The Witch, And The Spaceship is perfect. I love everything about it. Based on the 1st and 2nd stories, Terror Of The Fun Sponge and The Gorilla With Twenty-Four Heads are branding nightmares. Are they part of a separate series? If I continue calling it The Nathaniel Series, how does that fit with ChampionOfTheGalaxy? How do they fit with The Champion Trilogy? I think their existence will confuse people. The relationships between the books and blogs are not obvious and hard to explain.
Furthermore, the first two books feature the time of Nate’s childhood, and are therefore of a very different style that could set up false expectations for the others. They also feature plants and animals I would very much like to use in the Flora And Fauna series. They also use cover art very similar in style to what I want to use for the Flora And Fauna series, possibly adding further confusion. I’m thinking of pulling them off the market. Modified excerpts may be released as short stories in the future, but I really want to get rid of them. Advice?
Philosophy: I also have a book in the works covering the intersection of politics, morality, spirituality, math, and physics. I know I’m not anybody special, but I think I have a unique insight worth looking into. The real-world concepts also complement some concepts found in the stories from Nate’s later life and vice versa in such a way that they help to explain each other. While it is not absolutely necessary, I think the book is important enough to keep writing.
Living With Gramps: As if I didn’t have enough to do already, my parents want me to journal my time living with my grandfather. They believe our interactions and antics are rich fodder for comedy that will sell and will also be a good biography for the family. I couldn’t say no.
WayOutLife: This blog is the most time-consuming of all. First, I have to leave the house to visit a park. Then I have to write about my visit. Then I have to edit what I’ve written and upload my pictures. Then I have to post it all to my blog, along with my musings and observations (many of which are already written), and I have to go through and fix the paragraph spacing and hypertext the links. Each of these three steps can take a whole day, sometimes longer if I’m interrupted.
Yet, I can’t bear to give up on it. Writing about my adventures reminds me how good my life is when everything seems to be going wrong. Writing down my musings helps me to stay positive and faithful to what matters. Writing down the bad stuff helps me detach and put things in perspective. The blog might help others, but mostly I write it for me.
The Understanding Project: I stopped writing my old political blog in 2016, but looking over it now I think a few things could be stated better. I’d like to clear out the junk and while I’m at it add a few new ideas I’ve had since. The blog supplements some arguments I make in my 2011 book, The Nutcase Across The Street, so it is important to maintain and keep relevant.
Product Reviews: In the meantime, I’m not making any money. When I look at others who seem to be wildly successful from doing almost nothing, I wonder why I can’t do the same. I see people who post only one or two videos a month to YouTube and in less than four years have over a million subscribers. Sometimes they have one or two helpful tutorials for some skill they’ve developed, but most of what they do is talk about themselves. Some of these people are more interesting than others, but I am more interesting than all of them! My father and I are working on some ideas of certain products I could review so I could make money as an Amazon affiliate. I’m not yet going to tell you what kind, but you will be the first to know if I do end up doing this.
Patreon: I am no longer maintaining my Patreon page. I never did get anyone to sign up and I think producing extra goodies for paying fans would have been too hard. The reason I left is that the website continues to be very glitchy. I cut the company some slack at first because they were growing so fast, but I thought by now they would have solved the problems. I had trouble separating free content from paid content, trouble contacting tech support, and now I can’t even log in to cancel my account. A great idea has been killed by bad execution.
Stuff: Adding to all this is that I have chores around the house. I do the laundry, make dinner, wash dishes, balance the checkbook, drive my grandfather to appointments, read the newspaper and the bible to him, cut his hair, help him cut his nails, buy groceries, trim the hedges, and a bunch of lesser things that seem to keep popping up and each takes longer than it should. I also have roughly thirty books to read and another thirty I would like to buy when I have the money. There also exists a need for rest and unstructured time so that creativity can flourish. I have additional ideas for short stories that do not fit with either Nate or exobiology. I have already drastically cut back my play time on FaceBook, Twitter, DeviantArt, and the conceptual evolution forum, but it seems I just started watching more YouTube to compensate. I also have to eat and sleep and it takes me a long time to get to sleep. I have too much to do, yet over and over I find myself doing nothing. Nothing is what I spend the most time doing.
I have too many projects.
“…Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” – Hebrews 9:22
I have a theory that the real reason for Jesus being crucified was not that God demanded blood in order to forgive us of our sins, as I have always been told. It seems to me that a loving God would simply forgive us anyway (though he may still punish us lightly for our own good). I know that I have loved others like this, and I very much doubt that my love is greater than God’s. I think the cross was meant as a message. If God simply forgave us and then told us we were forgiven, we would not have believed him, but if God proved his love by sacrificing his own life, it makes his message much more believable. It also creates an example to be followed. We cannot become loving without first seeing an example of what true love is. When the bible suggests that repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, I suspect that “forgiveness of sins” actually means our forgiving ourselves (and each other) and accepting that God has already forgiven us. In other words, the life and death of Jesus was a “word” from God declaring his love.
“In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God.” – John 1:1
What do you think?
I’ve been distracted by YouTube a lot over the past few months. When I’m too tired to write and don’t feel like reading, sometimes I like to waste time watching old SNL skits, though most of them are so dumb I end up feeling worse than before I started, and then I feel guilty for wasting time on top of it.
Fortunately, when I stay on YouTube long enough, following recommendation after recommendation based on what I’ve viewed, eventually I find some gems. In the past few months, I’ve been watching amateur scientists do backyard experiments. Most of the experiments are done knowing ahead of time exactly what will happen, but in many cases the specific details are new and they are adding to the general knowledge of the world.
The Backyard Scientist explodes melons with molten salt or casts delightfully artistic sculptures by pouring molten aluminum into them. He also works on a lot of mechanical projects. My favorite video is his explanation of how he made a Nerf dart break the sound barrier.
The Slow Mo Guys use a powerful slow-motion camera to capture extremely brief events, such as the shattering of a Pyrex cup, the spinning apart of a record, the overinflating of a football, the collision of fruit with other fruit, and the driving of a truck into a bridge. They have also created a fire tornado, played tennis with jelly, explained how a television works, and dropped ink into water to watch how it dispersed. Very pretty!
The King Of Random plays with dry ice, gallium, tastes gross stuff, boils kinetic sand, and makes art from milk and soap or by mixing superglue and baking soda.
The Action Lab is probably the best in this category. His videos are the most polished, he explains the science behind everything, and he carefully measures his results so that something is learned. He teaches chemistry, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, how to make very dark spots, how the brain perceives colors that don’t exist, checks whether spiders get dizzy, cooks with sound, tries to take the color out of Coke, and explains why you can’t melt wood. My favorite video – and definitely the coolest thing I have seen all year – is his attempt to make black fire.
In addition to these four channels, there are many others who do less precise experiments, with little foreplanning, research, or followup. Their experiments are less scientific but no less fun.
How Ridiculous drops objects from tall places onto other objects to see what it takes to break them and which object is toughest. They have dropped anvils, bowling balls, bicycles, and armchairs onto trampolines, bulletproof glass, and oobleck (a non-Newtonian fluid made from cornstarch and water). They also do dart tricks and play around with the magnus effect (the reason that spinning objects moving through a medium feel a sideways force).
Jogwheel asks, “Is it a good idea to microwave this?” Usually the answer is no. They have microwaved eggs, glowsticks, and compact disks. This is the only channel of this type I was aware of before this year and I went back for nostalgia reasons. They no longer upload on a regular basis.
Sometimes I just want to see something destroyed – and who doesn’t love a satisfying crunch? There are many channels to serve this function and I am sure I have not found them all. They are also very similar to each other to the point that one could probably claim trademark infringement. Most of the hosts do not show their faces or speak and they play the same music while objects are destroyed. They use the same shredding machine often. They often replay the same event from different angles, including from below, and have slow-motion capability. The videos will be labeled as featuring one thing, but then be compilations between ten and twenty minutes long featuring multiple things.
MrGear not only uses a shredding machine, but also sulfuric acid, liquid nitrogen, hot knives, and the infamous thousand-degree metal ball. Watermelons and Nutella jars are favorite objects of his wrath. He also posts many videos showing how to build various things in unconventional ways with limited supplies. He posts crafts, pranks, magic tricks, life hacks (some better than others), and creative ways to tie shoelaces.
Life Hacks & Experiments feeds his shredding machine with toys, food, batteries, bullets, and household items. He also uses a chainsaw, waffle iron, thousand-degree metal ball, hydraulic press (heated and unheated), and hydraulic guillotine. He posts life hacks too.
The Crusher uses many of the same tools to destroy many of the same types of things, plus he will also play the video in reverse to show things come back together. Gojzer does the same. Experiment At Home does the same. Collectively, they destroy pencils, pens, Rubik’s cubes, lighters, phones, a VHS tape, an (American) football, a bowling ball, breakfast cereal, crackers, and Orbeez. Will It Survive? has fewer videos than the others, my favorite of which is Jawbreaker Meets Blowtorch.
It was in watching these videos that I was first exposed to the term ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Apparently, just as most people feel an unpleasant tingly feeling when nails are dragged across a chalkboard, some people feel a pleasant tingly feeling when hearing whispering, crunching, or other sounds, or watch something very repetitive and methodical. It is believed to have therapeutic properties. Unfortunately, it seems to have no effect on me.
Interestingly, there are those who associate the feeling-inducing videos with sexual eroticism, though there are others who deny any connection. It just goes to show that pornography is very hard to define and what might be pornography to one person can be totally devoid of such associations to another. I have also heard for the first time this year the terms “food porn” and “inspiration porn,” which further dilute the definition into total meaninglessness.
Press Tube does a lot of metal casting and also uses a kinetic press to destroy things, meaning he drops a large weight from a tall height. He has also fed his shredding machine real lava!
The best in this category is Hydraulic Press Channel. It is run by a husband-wife team from Finland who place objects under a hydraulic press and crush them. They are the cutest couple ever and bring a huge amount of enthusiasm to everything they do. They have exploded wood and ball bearings. They have made a knife out of compressed toilet paper and a frying pan from compressed aluminum foil. Using a piston head with extrusion holes in it, they have turned hair into powder, gummy bears into gummy worms, found the fastest way to make salsa and coleslaw, unmixed oobleck, and made beautiful worms out of soap, crayons, ballistic gelatin, play dough, and candles.
They also have a second channel called Beyond The Press, on which they seem to like to blow things up. It is just as good. They have a third channel called Anni Vuohensilta, on which they vlog about their life. They are fun people.
Sometimes I’m happy that I wasted time.
The map of the Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island clearly shows two trailheads for Blue Pond off of Canonchet Road. I could only find one. The map clearly shows the trail loop all the way around the pond and return to the road via the opposite trailhead. It also shows a crosstrail connecting the two sides of the loop. I could find none of this. Instead, I followed a trail that began almost as wide and clear as a dirt road that gradually became narrower and harder to discern before terminating in a large field of tall reeds. A small pond was in the distance. I considered crossing the field to see if I could pick up a trail on the other side, but it was mucky and wet in places and I was already hot and tired.
I spied a couple of “islands” in the field in the distance – small hills rising above the reeds, covered in trees and thick brush. I thought how cool it would be to explore them. I could build a secret fort on one of them, or spend all day relaxing in the shade isolated from the world and completely hidden from the outside. I could be king there and pass whatever decrees I wished! I made a second try to wade through the tall plants, but it was just too tough, too wet, and too slow.
Turning back, I went down the only two side trails I could find – one to the right and one to the left. The one to the right gradually disappeared into ever-thicker brambles until ending completely. The one to the left crossed mud and rocks until there was nothing left to follow. In both cases, I went beyond the end of the trail as far as I could go without getting lost to see if I could pick it up again. There was nothing. The ground was so uneven and the vegetation so thick that it was clear there had never been a trail. I had to go back the way I came.
While finding and circumnavigating Blue Pond turned out to be impossible, the trail into the woods had many treasures to share. Seeing a gap in the bushes to one side, I was able to find a clearing with a stone structure. It’s some sort of fireplace. It is very nearly hidden from the trail despite being right next to it. To one side of the structure (not in picture) is a long, low boulder several people could theoretically sit on or lean against to watch the fire. Who built this? Who uses it? Do they know where the Blue Pond is?
There were other signs of human use as well. I found a large iron pipe half-buried in the ground running perpendicular to the trail. It didn’t show itself anywhere else that I could find and there were no human structures to be seen. It reminded me of the wire I found in the dirt at Dyer Woods.
Just as everywhere else I went in Rhode Island in August, fungi was everywhere. I kept seeing new varieties. This yellow, spongy mass was on the underside of a tree limb:
This preposterous-looking being I thought for sure was a fishing lure before I picked it up and realized it had been attached. The top half was very soft while the bottom half was rubbery. It smelled just like freshly-peeled corn. According to Plant Snap, it is an elegant stinkhorn, so now I feel stupid.
I also saw this clear mushroom and this tubular fruit:
Okay, maybe I am stupid…
Here are some other things I saw:
Do you know where Blue Pond is?
Please read this through and tell me what you think.
In the past couple decades teaching others to practice optimism has become extremely popular. There is a lot of good that comes from being optimistic. It can give people the energy to solve and overcome problems, whereas pessimism can cause one not to even make the attempt, thus ensuring failure. There are also rare cases when a pessimist may involuntarily self-sabotage out of fear even when they do make the attempt. Even while a problem remains unsolved, an optimist will feel better about the future than a pessimist, making the problem less of a problem. However, I see these days more often than not that optimism is misapplied and only makes situations worse.
It is fine to dream of the great, bright, fantastic future, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in your way you will never get there, and you can’t remove obstacles you won’t acknowledge the existence of.
I find that self-described optimists often refuse to even listen to the potential challenges to their plans. They tell those who bring attention to problems that they are simply being pessimistic. Optimists believe everything they think of is perfect. When they push through their plans without vetting them, they only make things much worse. They don’t worry about it; they just come up with even worse plans to fix the new problems they just caused. This is true in business, churches, and especially in government.
There has to be balance. Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends. Too often optimists treat their plans as if they will permanently end our problems, while pessimists hold out for a perfect plan that will never come.
Positive thinking only takes one so far. You can choose to ignore your problems for only so long before they will make themselves undeniable. Eventually one has to have a genuine solution.
I once too fell victim to the illusion that my emotions could be controlled. Whenever confronted with an unpleasant stimulus, I quickly told myself that I was too strong to be bothered, that there are always ways to fix problems, and I reminded myself of everything good in my life to take my mind off it. I told myself that things would be better in the future. I was better than anyone I knew at “seeing the silver lining.” As the years passed and my problems remained unsolved, I found that my continual efforts to control my emotions were only serving to remind me of why I needed to control them in the first place. The more times my rosy predictions failed to pan out, the less I found myself believing my next predictions in spite of my best efforts. I simply couldn’t keep up anymore and I was completely worn out. I later learned that the path to healing is first not to deny reality and to allow myself to be upset sometimes. This is only healthy.
One can choose to avoid that which he dislikes, but one can never choose what it is he dislikes. One can never choose to be happy.
Optimists say, “You can’t control every situation, but you can control how you feel about the situation; you are in charge of your feelings.” There is a grain of truth to this. After all, you can pound a rock with a hammer all day long and the rock will never feel a thing. This is because a rock has no nerves. However, if you pound on a puppy with a hammer, the puppy will feel pain. It is not your actions alone that cause the pain, but the combination of your beatings with the way the puppy’s nervous system is designed. In other words, the puppy has only himself to blame. This is exactly how most optimists talk.
One need not be physically beaten to feel pain. Because humans are designed to connect with others, they inevitably feel lonely when they are unable to do this. It is a fundamental need. As often as not, I see positive thinking used as an excuse to bully others. I have known bullies to verbally abuse others only to turn around and blame the victims for their feelings, adding insult to injury.
Complaining is good. Complaining makes others aware of problems so that they can be fixed. Complaining allows us to vent so that we might better endure. Complaining about our common struggle is how people bond. Don’t complain about people complaining.
Obviously there are some who complain too much, keeping the attention on themselves and away from the good news that might lift people up, but in my experience it is those that complain about other people complaining that complain the most by far. There has to be balance. I have met many who are so sensitive to hearing bad news that they hear it when it isn’t even said. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with these people for long before they start angrily lecturing about the dangers of negative thinking and making everyone else feel bad for having legitimate problems that they were already dealing with quite well. There is nobody more negative than a positive thinker.
Sympathy is a basic human need, but when people are attacked and their problems belittled it only makes them feel worse, which will only make them more desperate to get sympathy somewhere else. Sometimes those who seem to complain too much only do so because they were first attacked for only complaining a little bit. After years (or even decades) of abuse, they become very needy people that will not simply get better overnight. They need more help than even they know.
Sometimes people need to vent. When people feel they have been listened to, they are able to be much more patient. This is one of the reasons we have free speech in the United States. If people are prohibited from expressing frustration verbally, eventually it will be expressed physically. This is true in the workplace, family settings, school, and in politics. The only way to prevent the use of “second-amendment solutions” is by the tireless pursuit of first-amendment solutions.
There is nothing more discouraging than yet another word of encouragement when a hardship has persisted for too long.
When someone says, “I can’t do it,” they are rarely being pessimistic of the future; they are usually just expressing their frustration of the present. However, this is all it takes for the optimonsters to strike. So often I see people encouraging/bullying people into being more optimistic and less pessimistic. They act as if they think they are helping. Some people actually thank them for helping. I wonder, though, what if we actually helped to solve the problem? We may not be able to solve everything, but what if we at least listened and gave advice? What if we at least did something nice for someone or told them some good news to help make them feel better while they suffer? Getting after people for expressing themselves doesn’t help.
Points to ponder:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.,’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” – James 2:15-16
We are told if we want something to go out and make it happen, but for those things we want and need the most (love, respect, understanding) there is nothing we can do. Love is by definition that which is freely given. If it could be earned or compelled, it would not be love.
There are some things that one can never achieve, yet the optimists keep pressing us to try. They are incapable of understanding that some things should not be attempted and they never listen. Even of those things that can be earned, it does us no good to earn them if we are continually cheated. You can’t force customers to buy no matter how good your product. You can’t force an employer to hire you no matter how excellent your qualifications. You can’t force your crush to like you back no matter how true your love. Life is already too frustrating to also have to listen to the cheerleaders on the sidelines telling us to go out and make it happen, blaming us for our problems and doing nothing to help. Sometimes there is nothing more to do.
Optimism And Religion:
The optimonsters are even more dangerous when they use religion. In Christian circles, we are told that our prayers will not be answered if we ask with a doubting mind. We are told that God wants to grant us our desires and if he does not it must mean we didn’t have enough faith. In other words, the reason you have trouble is that it is your fault. What do you do if you need more faith? Pray for it, of course – this leading to an insidious feedback loop of despair when one realizes that they doubt whether they will ever have enough faith. What sort of a God who loves us enough to die for our sins would then demand faith from us in order to meet our needs?
Among those with new age tendencies, they speak of the law of attraction, of positive visualization, and of “vibrating on the same frequency” as that which you want to come in to your life. This is nonsense. I don’t blame anybody for falling for this; it takes years of testing and a very open mind to be sure it doesn’t work. I am sure it doesn’t work. The best things ever to happen to me and the worst things ever to happen to me both came as complete surprises; I neither visualized them nor prayed for them. At the same time, those things I have visualized and prayed about for decades have still failed to pass as of this writing. Positive visualization is complete nonsense.
These have been my experiences with the subject. Tell me about yours. Who do you know that uses optimism to cover for their lack of empathy?
It often happens on my adventures that I see an insect or arachnid I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I make a lot of internet searches using descriptive words, but sometimes I just can’t find what I’m looking for. This is why I recently bought the Insect Identification app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the dragonfly above are practically identical. Apparently, it is called the black saddlebags dragonfly.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying insects by taking a photograph of a single one so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The trio of beetles on the tree it identified as carrion beetles. The photograph it provided was the spitting image of mine.
While Insect Identification works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all insects are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The animal on the ground it recognized as some sort of cricket. I still don’t know what it is, but I think it might be some sort of dipluran. The picture the app provided was not even close.
The bottom line is that Insect Identifier cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is easier and faster than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
Clothing is very helpful. It can protect me from scrapes, from biting bugs, from the cold, and it allows me to carry all sorts of gadgets and things in pockets. I love clothing, but sometimes I wonder how it would be to go exploring naked (I wonder about a lot of weird things). This is why in 2011 I visited a clothing-optional beach for the first time to find out what it was like. It was crowded, steep, and shifting stones filled the water. The next day I visited a smaller beach equally useless. I cannot recommend either. Besides, I soon became so busy I never had a chance to go back. Finally, in August of 2018 I visited the Dyer Woods Nudist Campground in Foster, Rhode Island to see what it was like. I considered it my job as an explorer to learn what people do there. I think it’s probably something everyone should do at least once. This is my report.
Unlike a clothing-optional site, nudity is mandatory there and it is not free. They also frown on photography and I didn’t want to risk any trouble by taking pictures of fungi or trees. As a result, my report is rather colorless. It’s a pretty nice place. There is a pond for swimming surrounded by a grassy slope that people put their chairs on. The people that day were very friendly and laid back.
A decent-length trail runs into the woods around the perimeter of the property that I decided to take barefoot. While the ends of the path where it meets the camping area are covered in hard pebbles, most of the path is covered by moss. It was perfect! In one spot, it passes by a picturesque pond with several boulders jutting out of it. Along one side is a ridge of stone. There was a lot of fungi about. One stump was coated with a tiny forest of tiny, thin-stalked, bright orange mushrooms. Another mushroom must have been at least nine inches across.
There are a few benches, a cemetery, and a hollowed-out mound left by who-knows-who. Not far from this was a wire running across the path. It was firmly buried at both ends and there was no sign of it anywhere else. I was probably a third-mile from any machinery or modern human structure. What does it serve? I forgot to ask.
After exploring the trail, I sat around the pond and wrote in my notebook while dragonflies landed on me. The shore was guarded by small frogs. Finally, I had to leave and this is when I got in a brief conversation with two guys and a lady sitting on the deck. All four of us were completely nude and it felt like the most ordinary thing in the world, finally confirming what I had always known.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.