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January 16, 2001 ... I gave in to the Dark Side today. Brace for commentary on the news.

But first ... IT'S A FUN TOMORROWLANDS QUIZ! (It requires Java to give you your score. But don't worry. If you don't have Java enabled, you can still give it to your dad or mom to grade it for you.)

Yep, in the same vein as the Dungeon Crawl Preparedness Quiz, this will quickly and accurately rate your innate knowledge and ability. In this case: Can you do science as well as a typical American eighth-grade student?

Don't bother getting out the notepad for this one; it's only got one question:


Which of the following two photographs is a picture of a silicon crystal?

[Image: Linda Ronstadt]
[Image: Silicon Crystal]


(SOURCES: Left-hand picture, Henry's Gallery. Right-hand picture, WebElements periodic table. Test idea, an AP story in the Seattle Times, which you can read here on CNN.com.)

So ... how'd you do? Feel like a little bit of extra credit? Then tell me ... which picture is Linda Ronstadt?

Oh my god, my nation's schools suck.

January 17, 2001 ... It's never the news on the front page that affects your life the most.

Yesterday, I made note of some egregious errors in science textbooks in schools around the nation; I picked the story up off of the front page of the Seattle Times. Buried at the bottom of page A-4, though, was a brief with far more terrifying implications, and one that will certainly affect our nation's students more than finding some errors in textbooks that everyone already knows are shitty anyway.

Guess what, kids? There's now a short and fairly accurate tobacco test available. In a recent study, doctors gave teenagers a short questionnaire and a urine test; they were able to identify 92 percent of the group's smokers. Even if you don't smoke, this should scare you. I'll tell you why.

Firstly, because teen smoking is identified as a problem in this country. That practically guarantees that this test will be appropriated to solve the problem. Not to mention that underage smoking is illegal, so nobody's going to be pulling any punches.

Secondly, because the test is simple. Answer a few questions, piss in a cup. This makes it significantly easier to justify doing to someone who isn't exactly volunteering for the thing: "Sheesh, it's five minutes of your time. It would take longer to complain about it than to actually just do it."

Last, and most importantly, because minors in this country have no civil rights. Are you under 18? You know what I'm talking about. You can't do jack, not legally. (Except for drive if you're 16, and even then, only if your parents spring for insurance; I'm 23 and still feeling the pain of age-based insurance rates.) You practically can't pee in a public restroom without a signed permission form from your folks.

Are you already enduring locker searches at school? Metal detectors? Zero-tolerance rules? Do you know anyone who's been suspended for owning a Swiss Army Knife? Have the teachers warned you about yours? (I know I walked that edge.)

Well, guess what. If your public school administrators are already throwing hissy fits about drug use, the furor over cigarettes isn't going to be any smaller. And, oh, wow! Look at this! There's a simple test for tobacco use now ... it starts with a questionnaire! Let's just have all of the kids fill it out one day, don't tell them what they're doing, we'll go over all of the answers, and those that rate high on the quiz, we'll just haul them into the office for a random urine sample. We can suspend anyone who fails, because after all, the test is ninety percent accurate, right?

Oh my god, my nation's schools suck.

(Baxil would like to state, for the record, that he has never smoked.)

January 19, 2001 ... Despite its growing general popularity, the Internet is still largely a medium inhabited by geeks. So it's not particularly surprising that the vocabulary of the 'Net is dominated by geek slang.

One of the more interesting terms, I think, is the verb "/.". It's pronounced "slashdot," and conjugated in the practical way: /.ed, /.ing, etc. "To /." means roughly "to overwhelm a site by posting its URL on a popular public forum, so that all of that forum's readers will try to access the site at the same time, generating more requests than the server can handle." /. is, unsurprisingly, named after the site slashdot.org, which is a source of technical news read daily by hundreds of thousands of people and which is (also unsurprisingly) the source of many /.ings.

So anyway. I got to thinking recently, given the definition of "to /.": What's it called when you refer a small army of readers to a site with no appreciable impact on its server status?

To date, I haven't heard any term that fits this definition yet. I think there should be one. So, I'm going to shamelessly propose one myself: "To bax." It's very natural to name this phenomenon after me, because I learned from Survivorerer that I have a very small army of loyal minions, and I bet if I gave them a link and told them it was interesting, they'd click on it. Like this: Frink! It's interesting. Click on it.


I bet you clicked, didn't you? See? Now, I'm assuming I have on the order of a dozen or two readers per day. (I still have yet to check the server logs.) So I've probably sent at least ten people to that site's servers, albeit with no appreciable effect on their server's networthiness. I've baxed them.

The power! Mwa ha ha! Like Slashdot, except ten thousand times weaker!

So now you know. There's your vocabulary word for the day. The next time someone comments, "Gee, Sluggy Freelance sure is loading at its usual pace today," you can inform them that the site must have been baxed.

January 21, 2001 ... One of my roommates walked in on me in the bathroom today.

Our downstairs bathroom has no door lock; the only way to really tell if someone's using it is to check whether the bathroom light is on. Of course, this doesn't always work, especially if the person outside the bathroom is on early-morning autopilot. I'm generally conscientious enough to knock if the light is on, even though (most of the time) someone has just forgotten to turn the light off after abandoning the bathroom, but then again I'm paranoid above and beyond the call of duty on such matters, and not everyone has that patience.

So it was that I found myself, having just left the shower and dried off, standing in front of the mirror. I was in a state of dress which some Wiccans endearingly call "skyclad" -- which is to say, having just exited the shower and not having felt the need to wrap a towel around my waist, my only concession to modesty was a closed bathroom door. I was concentrating on swabbing my ears out with a Q-Tip when that concession was unexpectedly removed.

He quickly apologized, in that typically overreactive "Oh my god, I didn't mean to see you naked" way, and backed out to let me clean my ears in peace. One rather interesting fact quickly occurred to me: That the episode had been notable for my complete and utter lack of embarrassment.

Now, it's not like I expected this of myself. First of all, I consider the roommate in question a friend at best; it's not like I was secretly excited to have him see me naked or anything. (If anything, I was slightly annoyed, but what was running through my head at the time was, "It's a mistake, no big deal, boy would I be embarrassed in his shoes.") Secondly, I am (from personal experience) rather a prude. I won't go out shirtless in public (except on occasions where swimwear is appropriate), despite the fact that I by no means have a poor figure. Talking about sex makes me blush. I've been trying to loosen up for years, but for me to treat something of this magnitude so nonchalantly was, well, a surprise.

It's kind of gratifying that I handled the situation so well. On the other hand, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it, what this tells me about myself. That I need to give myself more credit for level-headedness, maybe.

January 22, 2001 ... Was yesterday's journal entry a sign of shamelessness?

Or maturity?

Or just that I can get so absorbed in little fascinating details that I let huge, glaring social factors go unnoticed?

I wasn't expecting quite such a strong reaction to what I posted. Apparently talking about such an experience is just as titillating -- and thus subject to the ravages of societal mores -- as undergoing it. Or maybe we've just been so well-trained that, even if someone actually is undressed, talking about it is the worse crime. "The Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome. I completely fail to see how "I was standing skyclad in the bathroom after taking my shower" falls in the same logical pigeonhole as "graphic pornography", but apparently the wet blankets of morality are broad by their nature.

Maybe I just sent the wrong message. I was trying to convey my surprise at my lack of embarrassment -- not the lack of embarrassment itself. (In the same way that this post, really, is about my surprise at people's reaction to my lack of embarrassment. I think there's a touch of irony in that one, but it's a little too late at night for me to pick it up clearly.)

Or maybe, as Thea says, it's just fun to watch me squirm when I try to semantically dodge around R-rated situations with PG-rated language. Jyhanhen's tooth, I haven't even used the word "naked" yet in one and a half days' worth of posts about the topic. I might as well get it out of my system: Naked, naked, naked. I was naked in the bathroom. There. Are you happy?

... Okay, probably not; I can see some of you looking nervous out there. If it makes you feel any better, this isn't going to be a trend, but at the same time I don't want to write off potentially awkward subjects as off-limits; part of my goal here is to make people think, after all, and if I can get some minds cranking with it, it's probably worth the potential alienation. (I just want to mention that I'm referring here to the act of writing about less socially polite areas of my life; whether I wear clothes behind closed doors or not is my business.)

And for what it's worth, I still don't feel embarrassed about what happened. Which still weirds me out.

January 23, 2001 ... There's a song by Don Clifton that starts:

I wish I had big muscles /
drove a fast red car /
and I wish I could turn your head /
make you whisper, "oh my god," to your friends /
"there he goes, the man of my dreams." /
But I'm just me, ugly, dull and boring.
I think, like all aspirants to popular success, he's got it half right -- the half that doesn't count. So close, and yet so far. All the more pity.

Of course, with the world's tendency to crucify anyone who approaches it with something serious to say, it's not hard to believe that the song started with some semblance of value, and that it got lost somewhere along the way before delivery. Besides, I refuse to let myself think that anyone who has the good taste to pick up an acoustic guitar could be that naturally shallow.

The real message, I would like to believe -- the one that didn't make it through the "That won't connect with your audience!" censors -- the message that was first set down to paper before a few choice tamperings reduced it to rubble -- was this:

I wish I could grow big muscles /
and rent a fast red car, /
and I wish you would turn your head, /
roll your eyes and whisper, "oh lord," to your friends /
"there goes the sort of man I have nightmares about," /
so I could throw away all that shallow shit /
and know you loved me for myself.

January 24, 2001 ... I finished Chrono Cross last night.

Yay me, I suppose. It's a little awkward to pat myself on the back for having the "patience" and "persistence" to while away 60 hours of my life playing a game. I would like to talk about the game some, though ... from a writer's perspective.




  (I'm going to be talking about the endgame plot quite a bit here. Be warned.)

I must say this, as a writer: Chrono Cross disappointed me. (Granted, I haven't played through to the alternate endings yet, and that may change my general opinion; but the game as a whole has had a disappointing story.) There are two main reasons for this. The game suffered from a bad case of sequelism, and an aggravating lack of main character development.

The second is easy to explain, if you've played it. The main character, Serge, is described in his status screen as "Silent Protagonist." This is an in-joke, really; the main character in Chrono Trigger never spoke either. While there's a little bit of humor value in that for fans of the series, and while I got a chuckle out of it the first time I saw it, it ended up hurting the game.

It's not that Serge doesn't speak, it's that he also doesn't emote. You don't see him angry, sad, shocked, happy, or anything else ... there's just one big void where a person should be, except on the (very) rare occasions where his teammates cue off of his hypothetical reactions. ("Hey, guy. Is something wrong? No? OK.") Chrono Cross makes up for this a little bit by involving you in the dramas of a cast of 44 ... but the game's biggest revelations ultimately center right around Serge, and this makes the game aggravatingly hollow.

This really struck home when I was talking with the kids on Opassa Beach right before confronting the end boss. "Oh, by the way, Lynx was actually your father" -- and the ensuing explanation -- was delivered with the same unintentional casualness as J. Random Townsperson's "The sun is shining brightly today!" Serge didn't even say "...!" in typical Squaresoft Silent Protagonist fashion; he didn't react in any way; the conversation just ... kind of ... continued. Never mind that Serge killed Lynx four scenes ago or that Lynx was a pivotal character throughout the game. The line was practically an aside.

I cry foul. That just sucked.

It's not events or circumstance that humanize characters. It's their reactions to those events. It's emotions. Squaresoft knows this, and to have one of the pivotal scenes' emotional impact ... well, "ruined" is not too strong of a word here ... like that should be beneath them.

The second factor, sequelism, didn't really fully sink in until I got online and read a game FAQ. Of course, along with every RPG fan in America, I knew that "Chrono Cross" was a sequel to the classic "Chrono Trigger" -- but what I didn't know was that there was a second game in between the two, released only in Japan and called "Radical Dreamers." That game's three main characters were Serge, Kidd, and some other guy called Magil; it's strongly hinted that CC's Serge and Kidd are in fact Radical Dreamers' Serge and Kidd in an alternate dimension. This explains quite a number of things, including that utterly indecipherable console text in Chronopolis. This also leaves me wondering just how many "Radical Dreamers" references I missed. Especially considering that CC's plot is so strongly wrapped around CT's that one FAQ author has said, "Kid's true identity, Schala Kid Zeal, is ... the crux of the game. If you haven't played Chrono Trigger, you'll probably be cheesed off to learn that the point of [Chrono Cross] is to restore a minor character from the previous game to her true self."

Again, I was really hoping that Squaresoft would know better. Sure, sequels can work; I'm not arguing that every game has to be completely self-contained, like the Final Fantasy "series." What bugs me is that CC was horrendously selective about its sequel status -- and couldn't quite get away with it.

Is it a stand-alone game? Then why does the game revolve around Kidd -- who is a clone of Schala from the original CT -- and, ultimately, around Schala herself? Why is Lavos both CT's and CC's end boss, and (in the form known as the "Frozen Flame") the major impetus for most of the game? And why can't you understand his powers without the backstory of CT? Why is there so much exposition on Lucca and "Prometheus" (CT's Robo) when CC never includes them in the game storyline? No, I don't buy it.

Then is CC a sequel? If so, why in hell isn't any of that brought up until over halfway into the game, in the Dead Sea? (Yes, you meet the Frozen Flame and Kidd earlier on, but there's not even a suggestion that they connect with the original game until well after Dead Sea time.) Why is there no tension built up on the very issues which the game's climax resolves? How come such issues as Schala's fate (and her identity relative to Kidd) are brought up, in passing, five minutes from the end?

No, Chrono Cross isn't fully either one of those. It is, instead, a stand-alone game that turns into a sequel halfway through. I will concede that including sequel elements in an otherwise unrelated game does allow the game designers to clear up some of the unresolved issues from Chrono Trigger, but really. That's not "loose end resolution," that's poor storytelling. Take a stand and stick with it.

I've other gripes, like the frequent lack of a clear short-term goal and the horrendously small world map, but those are more game design than story construction. And there were, in all fairness, many things that Chrono Cross did right. I just wish it hadn't come off as such a shallow game.

January 25, 2001 ... The sky, today, looks like someone was playing around with Photoshop.

Above our heads, it's cloudy and grey. At the horizon, the late afternoon sunlight has created a band of subdued yellow. In between, it's a brilliant pastel blue. The three colors fade into each other with gradient gracefulness.

The tree right outside my window hangs its branches in silhouette against the vibrant sky. My window faces north, so those branches get no direct sunlight. Yet they are fractally feathered by pine needles, which seem to serve no purpose save catching the wind; even the slightest breeze excites the branches into a mesmerizing sway. Beyond the glass lies a world of perpetual movement.

Late at night, on those occasions when I stay at work to play Counterstrike, sometimes the wind kicks up. One of the larger branches rests right against my window. In strong winds, it will scrape back and forth. This has caused me occasional consternation when I'm sneaking around a corner in the game, and suddenly I catch a blur of motion in my peripheral vision -- snap my head around to see a green monster clawing at the window, and by the time I reorient on the game, the opposing sniper has found his mark.

Obscured behind the tree, on the left side of the view, is a three-story white building. Some office complex down the street. I have no idea what they do, who works there, or whether people in the building's few, low windows occasionally stare toward me and wonder about us. I do know that someone there flies model airplanes; shortly after my company moved into this building, there were several strange people snooping outside my window one day, and ultimately several of my co-workers helped them in their hunt to find a plane that had apparently gone down on or near our roof.

To the right, I have a clear view out to the hills in the distance. At least for now. Over a small rise is a large, flat dirt lot, a construction site of some sort. Trucks and machinery occasionally trundle past; I see their tops creeping by, beyond the hill, and on still days, their white exhaust clouds hang in the air. They have been working for months, and yet I can't see any visible sign of progress on their project ... which feels like an apt metaphor for what goes on inside the window, far more than I'd like to admit.

January 26, 2001 ... One of the great truths that writing has taught me is that life is fundamentally boring.

This is practically axiomatic, but it can be hard to realize. Consider, though: Life is all about the triumph of pattern over chaos. Our bodies are intricately organized systems in which billions of cells work together, all relying on the assumption that other parts of the body, specialized in different ways, will do their jobs so that the whole can survive. In other words, we are one big breathing pulsating bureaucracy. On a more macroscopic level, civilization is fundamentally about making life predictable so that we don't have to worry about starvation or marauding neighbors. And post-Industrial Revolution life is based on the work week, which is designed to bring us together on a common time cycle and make us spend five out of seven of our days performing tasks that stay the same for years on end.

On the other hand, as sapient creatures, our brains desire stimulus. Our intelligence is not engaged by sameness; without things that are new, we mentally atrophy. But our entire way of life is designed to create sameness in order to aid our survival. And so life is boring -- not by accident, not by some principle of unfairness, but by design.

Writing teaches you this, because after six months of finding something new and different to say once every day, you start repeating yourself. "Write what you know" isn't good advice, it's a statement of fact; you can only really describe those things you experience in your own life, and because life is fundamentally boring, sooner or later you've begun to exhaust the possibilities of the life you've led. Just because we sleep one-third of our lives away doesn't mean that the act of sleeping is worth writing about more than once or twice.

Careful observation or deliberate effort can prolong the period during which you generate "fresh" ideas -- perhaps to more than the span of a human life, in cases like Isaac Asimov -- but it's a wall every writer faces, and it's what makes good writers such fabulous (and occasionally envied) sources of entertainment. They've stared that boredom down, and profited thereby.

Or, sometimes, they merely find their fame by quitting while they're still ahead. That's a skill I have to respect.

January 29, 2001 ... I would like to thank my father for providing me with the heads-up for the following link, thereby proving that he is the coolest dad in the universe.

Have you ever wanted to use a fake animal testicle as a fashion accessory? Me, too. That's why I'm glad to have found out about Neuticles.

For only $24, you too can order a solid silicone cat or dog testicle on a stylish chain! The attractive unisex design complements any outfit. Have you ever worn a fur coat that just seemed incomplete? A Neuticle necklace is the answer. And for only an additional $20, add a second testicle for that "fully endowed" look!

So go find out about the product that Rush Limbaugh has called "just plain neat!" Make a fashion statement with Neuticles today!

(NOTE: The preceding three paragraphs were NOT a joke. In my humble opinion, they really should have been.)

January 30, 2001 ... Hi, everyone. Thea here. :) It's now way late at night, and Bax ran fresh out of ideas for a journal entry, so he called me in as a substitute writer, hoping that I'd have something more cogent to contribute. No pressure. No pressure. (Silly Bax.)

Well, technically, there is no pressure, 'coz the filler file's not empty. But the idea barrel, I understand, has been pretty empty lately. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that tonight's entry is going to be about fingers. I promise.

Bax's fingers seem awfully long. I say this because they look terribly big and kind of ungainly. When he used to take piano lessons, his teacher would occasionally comment enviously on his reach (an octave plus three on a good day, if he remembers correctly), so there is probably sufficient anecdotal evidence to say they are long. But, at the same time, they feel rather natural; a consequence, I'm sure, of decades of body familiarity.

The fingers are also well-honed machines, little paragons of precision. It's easy to associate them with the almost continuous drone of fast typing; when the thoughts do form and flow, they leap on their own to the proper positions to turn those thoughts into words. It's a little bit more awkward to actually see them at work, but there goes that visual bias again; and there, too, the slightly unnerving idea of having to keep track of eight things at once -- all moving in different directions -- gets in the way.

Watching the fingers, actually, interferes with speedy typing; as any pianist or touch-typer knows, the fingers seem to have a "memory" of their own, and it's a lot easier to just send down the command, "type 'introduction' " than it is to say, "There's I, on the upper right; go hit it. N is two keys down and a little bit offset. T -- oops, going to need the left hand for that one ..." and so forth. It's kind of interesting how often that applies, actually: the idea that thinking about what you're doing screws you up. Try tying your shoelaces step by step sometimes, actively pausing between each knot, crossover, or yank.

Truth be told, it's also very fortunate that this occurs. It's no fun to be channelled and then to have to deal with the disorientation of an unfamiliar body; being able to rely on the body itself to take care of the details eliminates a lot of the worries, and lets you get down to the fun stuff right away.

Also, for some reason, his fingers look shorter with gloves on.

January 31, 2001 ... It's been five years now since I've worn a wristwatch. I migrated to a pocket watch, on the recommendation-by-example of two college compatriots, some five years ago ... then the one I owned gradually fell apart, and I never really replaced it. I've been timepiece-free since about early 1999. It's quite a liberating feeling.

The two paragons of timelessness who shaped my life -- who, incidentally, graduated from high school together; this is highly remarkable, given that one of them was my roommate and one of them was my boss at the college newspaper, and neither of them knew that I was a mutual acquaintance until months afterward -- were both very vocal on one point: that there was a difference between knowing the time and being controlled by the time, and pocket watches sat on the correct side of that line. I still remember talking to Marc about it at work one day, the day my heart became set on owning one.

"With a wristwatch, checking the time becomes a reflexive action," he explained (and be aware that I'm liberally paraphrasing; I didn't have the foresight to take notes at the time). "If it's there on your wrist, you can't help but look. Every time you're running across campus to class, your eyes flick off to the side, and you're trapped in the web of time. Your life becomes ruled by how many minutes you've got until your next commitment.

"But with a pocket watch, you have to make a conscious decision to know the time. You have to take it out of your pocket, you have to open it, you have to fold it back up and put it back. You start to notice how much worry deadlines create in you. You start to pay more attention to what's going on, instead of where you have to be in five minutes. You take life more seriously."

Five years later, having long since stopped agonizing over those five-minute hair-splittings, I found an old wristwatch of mine in a pile of stuff at my parents' house.

I'm actually carrying it around with me now, again. (In a pocket.) With my old pocket watch having gone AWOL, it occasionally helps to have some way to know the time. In that capacity, it has served me well. It's even waterproof, a big bonus in rain-soaked Seattle.

A few nights ago, I tried it on.

Have you ever seen a cat with tape stuck to its paw? A dog trying to adjust to a new collar? A bird with its head stuck through one of those plastic six-pack rings? That's how I felt. There was this weird and unfamiliar thing on my wrist. It was itchy. When I walked, it slid around on my arm. It weighed me down. I had to literally restrain the urge to rip it off and swat it away for trying to attack me.

I'm still twitching.

I have nothing in particular against time ... I just cannot go back to being a slave after having tasted freedom.

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