Saturday, April 30, 2011

Consequences - A Moral Dilemma!

Consequences - A Moral Dilemma!

I seems that one of my biggest challenges in life has been to accept the fact that when I pick up one end of a stick, I also pick up the other. When I jump off the diving board, no matter how high I spring into the air, I’m always going to fall and I really hope I planned ahead and made certain that there was water in the pool. Sometimes, I look ahead and make choices based on getting their projected consequences – consequences I want. I lock my car so my stuff will remain inside. I tie my hiking boots correctly and confidently expect my laces to remain secure until I untie them (and they have always stayed ties up for me). In spite of the fact however, that over the years I have made several very valiant attempts to alter the consequences of my actions, I have always been unsuccessful. 100% of the time. Perhaps it’s a good thing? Perhaps being able to accurately predict and count on a particular outcome is a wonderful thing? Why then do I sometimes want to manufacture inconsistent outcomes – inconsistent consequences?

I should be able to get what I want – right? At first glance, getting what I want sounds to me like the embodiment of the “Canadian Dream” (Of course, in the USA, it’s called the “American Dream”). After all, don’t I believe that I should have freedom? Who is it out there in this big old world that has the right to deny me of my personal right to get whatever I want in life – and out of life? Why do consequences often block my personal pursuit of happiness? Why can’t I just do what I want and have it be OK with everyone?

I have pondered these questions, as perhaps you too have pondered them. I find the questions to be intriguing. And I sometimes find them to be much more complicated than I’d like them to be.

A great many years ago, my associate Wade B. and I were discussing consequences, personal choice and religion. (A brain-full to say the least!) At the time, I was only 20 years old and Wade was 21, but we had a mature, adult moment that seemed to go beyond the wisdom of our young years. Wade and I talked about how all religions, when considered in combination, promoted a vast variety of beliefs – some the same, some only similar and some very different. We considered how some people felt that religion was restrictive, mind numbing and even claustrophobic. Some people seemed to be saying, “We want to keep on doing whatever we want - but we want to be able to get different consequences”.

Wade expressed concerned discouragement over the fact that there seemed to be an undercurrent, in some members of society around us, of opting out of formal religion and following their own personal belief systems – a personal, informal religious affiliation of one if you will. I agreed. The problem I saw with this personal religious affiliation of one idea was with the practice. After all, how do I settle on an appropriate personal code of conduct if my exclusive creative force is to allow me to do whatever I want and have it be OK? Even at age 20, the notion sounded rather selfish and self serving - not to mention arrogant.

Wade and I agreed, as you may also agree, that every human being will eventually settle themselves on a personal belief system and then at least try to live by it. Wade then, in complete facetiousness, offered a funny idea, but in the thirty years that have past since I heard it, I have often thought that he was onto something quite thought provoking. Wade jokingly suggested that we start a new church that would seem to meet the needs of all the folks who wanted to do whatever they wanted to do without the associated consequences – a personal religion outside of formal religion – a personal religious affiliation of one. Wade called his make-believe religion “The Third Church of the Stillborn Again”.
“And what is it‘s doctrine?” I innocently asked.
“If it feels good do it.”
“Wow!” I said. Does this church believe in baptism? Wade grinned and said, “If it feels good do it.”
”How about repentance of sins?”
“If it feels good do it.”
“Loving your neighbour?”
Wade grinned some more and said, “If it feels good do it.”
I laughed – we laughed together, but in the years since, I have often reflected on that day – sometimes with a smile and sometimes more seriously.

As my life has progressed, I have learned to like consequences more and more. I have learned that each and every action has a predictable reaction – a natural consequence that I may or may not like. I can always count on consequence. I have learned that while I can defer the arrival of a consequence of one or more of my actions, I will eventually have to pay the piper his full due – and if I defer, the price is usually higher. I have learned that my life goes better if I stop resisting natural law and just make choices based on their consequences. This is a no-brainer for some of you, but it took me a while to get to this spot in life – and I’m still working at staying here.

And so I return to my first question, “I should be able to get what I want – right?” My answer is “Yes!” - but I must make the choices that will ensure I arrive at my wanted destination. I have to base my focus on the results I want, not on whether something feels good at the time, or whether something is convenient, or whether taking the course of least resistance beckons to me with fair promises of success. Easy Street, in reality, is an overgrown dirt lane with vacant, weed-infested lots and not one liveable house in sight. If I am to get what I want, I have to think ahead. I have to plan my work and work my plan. I have to consider the complete consequence, not just the parts I like. I cannot cheat my way to a permanent positive result – no one ever has and I personally think that no one ever will (except on television - of course). A temporary high sounds more like an addiction than lasting happiness – you know, live for today and who cares about tomorrow. I think that it takes work to be happy – no surprise for some of you, but it was for me.

And here’s one final thought from the peanut gallery… I smiled a few days ago when I heard a friend’s definition of insanity – “Insanity is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.”

Now all I have to do is live by this wisdom!!! I will try, but it might be a while before I get my life to work as perfectly as my faithful bootlaces.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review of the Samsung Netbook Model N210

Samsung N210
I bought a Samsung N210 Netbook about a year ago and I love it. I’m an author on the move and really appreciate the very long battery life. I often sit in bed and type while my wife sleeps in beside me. In the dark, the lowest screen brightness setting is plenty bright. Even in daylight, I rarely use more than a 50% brightness setting.

I’m not a trackpad kind of guy so I immediately purchased a folding wireless mouse – which I love.

I’ve done slideshows on my big screen – the netbook plugged into the TV and the mouse on the couch. The system works great.

In all fairness to heavy Internet users, I do not use my netbook much online, but in the limited use it gets, the performance is acceptable. I’ve never seen a wireless laptop / netbook that could compare to the speed of a wired connection, so if I need to do big updates or downloads on my N210, I just plug it directly into my router.

The N210’s processor is a little slower than my Windows XP desktop with 4Gb RAM and a Pentium 4 processor. I recently upgraded my N210’s RAM to 2GB and that sped things up some. I installed Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 on the N210 and it works well, but it is a bit slow. MS Word and Dragon NS running together are real RAM hogs! The best way I’ve found to use Dragon is to record on my Sony IC Recorder, download the Mp3 file onto the N210 and then tell Dragon to transcribe the recording. The transcription process is silent and I can leave the computer to go do something else while it chugs away. The transcription is pretty accurate and I can then compare it to the recording and tweak any errors. The best part of recording my voice is that I can do it nearly anywhere and do not have to carry the computer – even though the computer is not very heavy. In this way, I get more out of my spontaneous thoughts.

Someone asked about how loud the N210’s keyboard is. In response, I visited the four keyboards in my house: my Samsung N210, my Sony Vaio Laptop and my two desktops. The desktop keyboards are two different models made by Microsoft.
What I found: the N210 had the quietest keyboard out of the four I compared. The N210′s keys have a very soft sound, not a distinct clicking, but not perfectly quiet either. As I mentioned earlier, I use the N210 beside my wife while she is sleeping and Diana doesn’t even hear the keyboard. (Diana is not a heavy sleeper.)

I always use a hard surface between the netbook and my lap, so the cooling fan (which I have never heard) isn’t restricted. I’ve been told that one of the fastest ways to wear out a computer is to let them get too hot inside. (My Pentium 4 desktop has lasted well over 5 years now probably because it has an extra cooling fan.)

In conclusion: I got my Samsung N210 to compose words, not to play games or surf the web. So far, the N210 is all I imagined my dream netbook should be. I definitely recommend it. I love the long battery life, the great look of the pure white case, the high resolution screen and the ease of it’s use. The keys are very comfortable to my touch. The only thing I don’t like is that the right ‘shift key’ is not quite in the right place and I had to teach my right pinky to reach out a bit further to activate it. (Good thing I can be taught!)

All in all? The Samsung N210 is fantastic and if I had to buy another netbook, I would get another N210. (And the red model would look very nice beside my white one!)

Read more reviews.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hiking / Backpacking / Camping - Dehydrated Ground Beef Recipie

In my backpacking adventures in 2009 and 2010, I used this recipe and loved it. I've never seen a recipe for dried ground beef, so I invented my own and thought some of you out there might like to try it. The dehydrated ground beef reconstitutes in boiling water in just a few minutes and is a great addition of protein and flavor when added to other dried foods in making soups and stews along the trail. If you are a fan of Oriental packaged soups like Ichiban Noodles, etc, then you'll be pleased when you add a little of this recipe to the mix. Enjoy...
Ground Beef – Dehydrated
Original recipe by Davis L. Bigelow

1kg Extra Lean Ground Beef (1kg = 2.2lbs)
½ tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp ground pepper
1 Tbs onion flakes (or 1½ tsp powder)
2 Tbs water
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground thyme
1 tsp marjoram
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper (more if you want the beef to be spicy)
1 bouillon cube (enough to make 1 C of broth)
1¼ tsp cornstarch

1. Cook meat
2. Mix in water, spices and bouillon (not the cornstarch)
3. Cook for 5 minutes
4. Drain juice
5. Cool juice and keep meat hot
6. Mix cooled juice and cornstarch
7. Add juice to meat and brown meat for at least 10 more minutes. Mixture will be dry, so stir constantly.
8. Cool for 20 minutes
9. Spread 1 C on each dehydrator screen (while loading screens, place a paper towel under the dehydrator screen to catch any juice that my drip through) and then dry until brittle - about 14 to 24 hours in a low humidity environment – longer if the ambient humidity is high. As an alternate to using a dehydrator, use an oven set to 150° F. Prop the door open slightly to allow moisture to vent.
10. Seal without air in the bag. Stores well in the freezer.

* 1 kg of fresh, extra lean ground beef equals 2 C of dry meat & 1140 calories
* 250 grams raw equals ½ C of dry meat & 285 calories
* When dry, ½ a cup of meat weighs 45 grams
* 454 grams = 1 pound
* Backpacking Chef has a great website with many more dehydrating ideas and tips. Enjoy...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Treasure of El Grado Escaso - My New Novel

OK, OK, enough serious blog posts. Several weeks ago, I mentioned my new work of fiction, and here I am, as promised, to tell you about the excitement.
It all began in November 2010, when my wife Diana and I went to Mexico with some friends. I went scuba diving 13 times and was awed at the sights and sounds of the southern Baja Peninsula, or "Baja Mexico Sur" as it is locally known. Before the trip, I wondered if my holiday should include doing a little research for some future writing, but when I was immersed in Mexico, my decision was obvious. How could I be surrounded by such an awesome place and not put pen to paper? 
During the vacation, one of our group coined the name of a perfect Mexican fictional character for my future writing pleasure - Rico Suave. I liked the name and as our time ticked by, I took more and more photographs to support my future creative writing. As our trip drew to an end, one of the group proposed a scenario where each member of our group randomly picked five numbers from 1 to 1500 (the number of photographs my wife and I had taken). I would then match the random numbers to the corresponding photos, put the photos together and then craft a story based on those photos. (I've included 12 of the photos in this post.) And who was to be the star of this crazy story? You guessed it, our fictional Mexican,  Rico Suave. I even got a title suggestion, "Los Aventuras de Rico Suave" - Spanish for "The Adventures of Rico Suave".
Well, the challenge was accepted and the story begun. I identified the 25 photos, added 5 of my own (not picked at random), and began to write. But the lessons I learned from writing "In Ravenscrag's Shadow" quickly rose to meet my excited efforts. Where is your plot? How do I incorporate these 30 photographs? Who is Enrico Suave? Who are the other characters? What do these people look like? What motivates them and drives the story forward? What kind of story is this anyway?
With these questions and more bouncing off my cranium like a surrounding barrage of attacks in the 1980's video game of Asteroids, I stopped writing and began preparing. First, I decided what kind of guy Rico Suave was. Then, I created a back story to support him. It took longer than I imagined it would, but when I was done, I had a deep rooted character of substance - a character that could last for a series of books - if I wanted him to. Next, I developed a plot, followed by a character arc for Mr. Suave. I then began filling in the other characters, giving them life and personality-fuel so they would add to the story. Next, I decided that because I had multiple story lines, that I needed a chronology to keep the lines separate in my head and to be able to mesh the contemporary story lines at the appropriate moments - you know, "we interrupt this exciting story line with another exiting story line". And somewhere in the middle of all this process, the title of the book changes several times. I finally settled on the perfect title, "Treasure of El Grado Escaso".
As I was working on the chronology (which I still am), I made the decision to incorporate as many actual facts into the story as I could. I am capable of making things up, but why do that when there are so many awesome things in the world of reality. And besides, when I read a fiction novel, I assume that a certain portion of the book is factual - and I very much like that. So I researched and researched and researched! I sent out emails to people who could expand my understanding of certain tools my characters would use (Like the versatile Foldspear my heroine will defend herself with or the very cool SOG pocket knife sported by one of my bad guys). I enjoyed researching, but was anxious to begin writing. As I worked on the chronology, I would catch myself writing expansions of the notes. I mean, how could I not. The scenes were just begging to be written - twisting my arms!
And so, here I am, my larger-than-it-should-be chronology is nearly done. My major characters are mostly complete (I've made character reference sheets for each). I have 30 great photographs, a great title, great back stories for my major characters, great locations for the plot to unfurl, great land and sea adventures in southern Baja, great gadgets, great bad guys, exciting treasure, great twists and turns, great romance, great heartache and of course, a great hero - and so far you only know the short version of his name, "Enrico Suave".
Stay tuned...
The adventure is only beginning...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Siamese Twins, World Peace & Homosexuality - The Davis Bigelow Test

Siamese Twins, World Peace & Homosexuality

Last week, I talked about world peace and offered my thoughts on how we can achieve it. In last Saturday’s post I said, “I think that tolerating and even encouraging reasonable differences in others are the twin keys to world peace.” I feel that these two keys are like Siamese twins that cannot be separated without the result being death. I believe that when world peace is finally achieved (and yes I think it will be one day) that it will be the collective and simultaneous embracing of the principles of tolerance and respect that will make it happen.

Last week, I also promised to tell you all how I think we can accurately determine what behaviours in others are reasonable, and should be tolerated and encouraged. The test I am about to propose is a two edged sword that cuts both ways. The test not only cuts through the rhetoric and emotion and personal preference and past tradition to reveal what behaviour is good and what behaviours should be encouraged, but it also clearly highlights behaviours that are not good and what behaviours should be discouraged. Are you ready to hear the Davis Bigelow Test? It is really quite simple and works best when applied to the jugular issues of life - especially moral and ethical issues.

Here is my theory: Take a particular behaviour – any behaviour, and by imagination, apply that behaviour (action or inaction) to every person in a society who is of the appropriate age to be included in the hypothetical test. (For example: 1st Grade education to 100% of all normal 6 year olds, or Marriage of 100% of all normal adult men to 100% of all normal adult women of similar age, or Homosexual relationships for all 100% of all normal adult men, etc, etc.) Then, in your imagination, project the result of the behaviour if 100% of the study group did it – or didn’t do it. Then, ask the tough, open-minded question. “Are the results positive or negative?” If the results are positive, then that behaviour should be encouraged and enhanced and incorporated. If negative, then the behaviour should be discouraged and quickly gotten rid of. It seems that the entire debate over what is right & wrong could easily be solved with this technique. What would happen if 100% of adults never told the truth? Or how about if 100% of all drivers displayed road rage? Or what would happen if 100% of all adults played video games for eight hours for each and every day? The list of behaviours that can be plugged into this test is vast, but each imaginer must follow some basic rules: 

1. The projected result must not be influenced by a personal opinion.

2. The projected result must be founded in fact and ideally should be based on actual, available data. (There are thousands of empirical studies to choose from.)

3. Some behaviours, such as, “Which side should we part our hair on?” (at least for those of you who have hair), are not significant enough to matter and should not be plugged into the Davis Bigelow Test. The categories of questions that will trigger the best responses from the Davis Bigelow Test are very toughest questions of religion, morality, sexuality, honesty, etc.

Let’s take the traditional marriage/gay marriage debate as an example. If 100% of all who wanted to marry, engaged in traditional marriage, what would be the result? How about if all we had was gay marriage – for 100% of all adults who wanted to marry? What would happen in either scenario? Would society benefit or not? The questions are not, “Would I benefit?” or “Will the result be what I personally want?” When I ask these last two questions, and I’m going to be blunt about it – I am showing my yellow belly of selfishness. I do not live alone; therefore, every choice I make in public or in private makes some difference to society, either large or small, and therefore all my choices are the business of everyone else. I have an obligation to tolerate and to give willing respect to others. And I have the right to be tolerated and respected by others. How about world peace? I think the 60’s song got it right, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!”

Sounds like the ultimate extreme adventure to me – and you know how I feel about adventure!