Friday Notes (May 13, 2022)

Not that anyone should care, but it’s Friday the 13th today! More to the point, it’s Friday, and I’ve been remiss about Friday Notes this year. The one last January is the only one I’ve posted so far. Big part of that is having, at long last, reduced my note pile enough that I don’t feel so (word) pressed.

Some of it is the ongoing problem of ennui. The eleven-year blog anniversary is approaching, and that tends to ignite old questions about why I bother to do this. By now I’ve left some sort of small scrawl on the internet wall and explored many of the topics that drove me to blogging.

On the other hand, the pile isn’t by any means gone, so let’s get to it…

I’ve often said that, while I greatly respect Jerry Seinfeld and his comic intellect, I don’t much care for his standup routines. Recently, on Netflix, I watched an older show of his, I’m Telling You for the Last Time (1998). I love good standup, but here I was left dead and cold.

My problem is that it’s the comedy of an ignorant, self-absorbed narcissist. It’s a point of view coming from shallow cultural tropes and clichés. It presents an uninformed idiot and, as such, it’s often just flat wrong in what it asserts. In fact, it’s the exact point of view shared by his character and friends on the Seinfeld show. (This was filmed shortly after that show ended.)

And I hated those characters. Could not stand them. (The finale gave them a fitting end, though. Just desserts.) But the writing was so inventive and different that I couldn’t not watch the show.

The standup show’s opening bit was cute; it was fun seeing all those comedians. And the one gem of the show was the bit about “up” versus “down” — word play and acute observational comedy that didn’t slam something or someone.

It was bad enough that I was moved to jot down notes, the penultimate of which says, “Wow… show ended abruptly. It’s like he knew it wasn’t landing.”

The last note observes, “Ha! Also [gave a] thumbs down on 2020 show, 23 Hours to Kill.” After watching this, I’d noticed that show in the listings — and the thumbs down I gave it (this one got one as well).

I think that makes it official. I am not a fan of Jerry Seinfeld’s standup comedy. In fact, safe to say I rather dislike it.

§ §

I have a YouTube channel mainly so I can have a Watch Later list along with various Play lists. It also serves as a platform for the rare videos I make from time to time — nearly all animations of some such thing or another (and some videos of Bentley).

Recently, much to my bemusement, one of those videos went ever so slightly viral, at least in terms of anything else I’ve ever uploaded. In fact, even in terms of this blog. No single post here comes close to having the 21,000+ views collected so far by this video:

I created it for a post I did almost two years ago as part of my sporadic series about tesseracts.

Considering it has mainly happened since March 1st, it seriously outshines my whole blog. (Which, no, does not thrill me. Again… why am I doing this? Funny thing is, I went to college to learn to make movies, and it was my first life goal.)

The rush actually started last July (a year after I published it) when the count was still in the low hundreds (which is pretty good for my videos; less than 100 is more the norm). By October it had risen to 4,300 and there it stayed until this March. Then zoom!

The curve is sharply upwards and doesn’t seem to be leveling out. I had no idea the unfolding of a tesseract would be so interesting. (It certainly is to me, but I’m not used to others being that interested in my interests.)

§ §

I keep seeing instances of how we’re the victims of our own success. Examples: various forms of pollution (water, noise, air), climate change, over-crowding, garbage and recycling, resource destruction, etc. In all cases, they’re problems because we’ve been such a successful chimp.

Recently, another one occurred to me. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime (and YouTube TV). I could subscribe to Apple TV, Paramount+, Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. All fruits of our technological success.

I’ve lamented before that our glut of content sinks the chance for any one thing to become a monster success. I’ve asked whether we’ll ever again see a band the likes of Fleetwood Mac. Not in terms of the music, but in terms of the ability to take over the world for lots of years, in terms of being a focal point in the industry.

I think a big part of the problem is that we all sail the internet now, and that river is fast, wide, and deep. It’s washed away all the old familiar landmarks. The vast mass of content that floats past us today is far down river by tomorrow.

So, it’s hard, if not impossible, to hold on to anything. The river constantly shifts around us, always bringing something new, something new, something new. (And most of it crap, crap, crap.)

Because the digital world has been so impossibly and astonishingly successful, today everything sifts through our fingers like water. Here today, gone tomorrow, a faint memory within a moon, ancient history by next year.

§ §

When I look back at a life of designing, coding, building, and writing, I’m struck by how much entropy I’ve displaced in a lifetime. Human existence is an example of how rules, materials, and energy, can lead to increasing complexity in apparent defiance of entropy. Now that we exist, we do that many times magnified.

Our actions due to our intelligence, and the machines we build, allow us to shift massive amounts of entropy. We do it by designing and creating complex structures (such as books, buildings, software, videos, music, and much more). These processes all create noticeable waste heat — the shifted entropy.

A key reason for this blog was to memorialize some of my organized structures. To record a lifetime of shifting entropy.

Because I know that all my papers, designs, software, and so forth, won’t really survive me. There’s no progeny to hand anything down to, and certainly no library would be interested in my papers. (Par for the course, few of us are historical. Most of us are lost between the pages.)

Which is all to say it’s time to get a lot more aggressive with spring cleaning. If my little corner of reduced entropy is destined to be randomized, it might as well be me that does it.

Still, I sometimes think the real tragedy of my life is that I’ve discovered the world is a really interesting place, and I’ve learned a lot of wonderful things, but I have no one interested in sharing them or that I can pass them on to. Drat.

§ §

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the James Webb Space Telescope and the successful start of its journey to the L2 Lagrange point.

It’s big! And full of stars!

Since then, it’s gotten there, everything has gone smooth as silk, and they’ve reached the final stage of deployment, the commissioning of the science instruments. Science might begin as early as July. They’re already getting amazing pictures.

§ §

Why Terry Pratchett is my favorite author bar none:

I had long admired Granny Weatherwax’s response to the assertion that morality was complicated. She countered that it was simple, just don’t treat people like things. I thought that was a bullseye. As it turns out, so did Kant when he said morality was treating people as ends not means. Same thing, but Granny said it better.

Granny Weatherwax is a witch, one of Pratchett’s main recurring Discworld characters and, I’ve always thought, one of Pratchett’s key self-voices (Commander Grimes being the other).

Another favorite bit comes from Hogfather, when DEATH’s granddaughter Susan, in her job as a nanny, tells her concerned parent clients that, “Fairy tales don’t tell children about monsters. Children already know about monsters. Fairy tales tell children that monsters can be killed.” That struck me as an important insight, a human truth.

That rascal Pratchett. Turns out he’s re-voicing G.K. Chesterton this time:

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” ~Tremendous Trifles (1909)

That’s a pretty nice piece of text, so I can’t say Pratchett said it better, but I would say he summed it up succinctly and perfectly.

I have a related sentiment regarding all stories. I don’t need stories to tell me what stupid, ignorant shits humans are; I already know that (all too well). I need stories that tell me what humans can aspire to. I need stories that show what we can be, not what we are. I need a St. George.

§ §

I watched part of a PBS Nova episode the other night. It was about animal weapons, claws, stingers, fangs, etc. Turns out the most peaceful species have the deadliest weapons. Ritual behaviors and posturing — along with a keen awareness of who has the bigger claws — means actual deadly fights are rare.

It reminded me of the famous Heinlein quote, “an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

Which reminds me. I don’t think I’ve ever posted about L. Neil Smith and his alternate history books, The Probability Broach (1980), The Venus Belt (1980), and others. In his basically crime-free alternate reality, everyone is armed and learns to shoot from an early age. The oft-expressed logic is, “Who’s going to shoot little old granny when she’s certain to be packing, willing, and able to shoot back?”

Fun books. Beloved by libertarians (like me) everywhere.

§ §

Stay shifting entropy, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

16 responses to “Friday Notes (May 13, 2022)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    That was the second invocation…

  • Matti Meikäläinen

    I enjoyed your Friday dispatch. I must, however, add to your critique of Seinfeld. I agree that his stand-up is at best sophomoric. However, the TV series was, in my opinion, a humorous essay about the all too common dysfunctional people in our modern (post-modern?) world. The writers I think tried make sure we knew they were all hopelessly dysfunctional personalities—including Jerry himself. I thought that was funny. Older sit-com usually had one or two dysfunctional characters. In Seinfeld the whole cast was in need of therapy. I also thought it was cleverly funny because many in the TV audience did not get the tongue-in-cheek writing and thought these were “normal” people, so the joke was on them as well. The TV show that I hated with a white hot passion was “Friends.” Talk about superficial and self-absorbed narcissists! In that series the writers seemed to convey the impression that these were “normal” people. And maybe that’s true nowadays. It would be very sad if that is so. And it’s good incentive to move to a cabin high in the Himalayas!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I completely agree about Seinfeld! It was brilliant writing. I posted about it many years ago, how it added “soup nazi” and “sponge-worthy” to the vernacular and went places no sitcom had ever gone. They did an episode that consisted entirely of them standing in line at a restaurant. TV execs thought the script was missing pages — they couldn’t believe the whole thing was just them standing around talking (mostly complaining about waiting). A huge part of my respect and regard for Jerry Seinfeld is based on that show. (And about good things I’ve heard about him as a human being, and from a half-hour special he did with Bob Costas analyzing the comedy of the Abbott & Costello routine, “Who’s On First?” Seinfeld has a deep understanding of how comedy works.)

      Ha! I confess I watched Friends when it was on, but I never understood how some people I knew were so into it (a co-worker told me it was his favorite show; he bought all the DVDs). The actors were all very pretty, but the writing was geriatric. I’ve never thought about it before, but you’re right to compare and contrast them. Both shows about shallow narcissists who are both ignorant and stupid, but one based on tired cliches versus one based on ground-breaking comic writing.

      These days those characters all seem pretty benign and almost quaint. A gentler time. Totally with ya on the house in the mountains. Although I learned to love the desert when I lived out west, and I’ve heard a beach house in Mexico is pretty affordable…

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Wow. That tesseract video is up to 24,000+ views. Quite a few comments and questions, too. (One more indicator that long-form blogging seems moribund whereas videos remain the golden ticket.)

  • Friday Notes (Jun 10, 2022) | Logos con carne

    […] other thing is that, as I mentioned in the last edition of this series, very much to my astonishment, I have a YouTube video that’s gone mildly viral. This […]

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