Homeless in Abdera

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 005/???

To tell this story I must confess. I didn’t really pay for another week of rent. I couldn’t afford it. I was kicked out of my apartment.

OK, I’ve confessed. Now I can tell the story.

I had a run-in with a security robot last night.

I kinda’ve already been scoping out potential places to sleep even before I got booted. I always knew I only rented for two weeks. I don’t know why I lied about that. Embarrassed maybe?

Anyway, I’ve been identifying likely places to crash. I found a place near an underpass. It’s this weird concrete alcove in the middle of a multiple crossing streets and highway overpasses. It’s invisible from the roads, but hard to approach and isolated. It was kind of OK, but I was feeling pretty down about things.

Somehow I’d managed to fall asleep. I had a sleeping bag, and used some rolled up jeans for a pillow.

I have no idea what time it was when I heard a voice telling me to come out. I was confused and it took me a minute to remember I was sleeping outside. I moved to the light with my hands up.

I was busted.

That’s when I learned that Abdera has robot security guards. The security robots look like a 4-foot high white cone topped with a rotating blue light and four flashlights facing in four directions. Across the chest is lettered SURLY SECURITY.

When I came out the robot killed its light and said, “OK, kid, tell me your story.” I wasn’t sure if I should keep my hands up or not. What is the protocol when encountering a security robot?

I slowly lowered my hands, and told it my story. When I was through it told me how to find some help with temporary housing and food resources for the indigent. And then it left. I didn’t get arrested!

The next morning I followed its advice, got some food and a shower, got a super tiny apartment for a week and went to my first day of work.

I’ve been working for a week and have to go there now, but next post I’ll tell you about Val the dishwasher.

The Chinese Century

Random reminder that while the US is so dysfunctional it can’t even keep its government functioning, China is on the Moon.

“The first spacecraft of the program, the Chang’e 1 lunar orbiter, was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on 24 October 2007, having been delayed from the initial planned date of 17–19 April 2007. A second orbiter, Chang’e 2, was launched on 1 October 2010. Chang’e 3, which includes a lander and rover, was launched on 1 December 2013 and successfully soft-landed on the Moon on 14 December 2013. Chang’e 4, which includes a lander and rover, was launched on 7 December 2018. A sample return mission, Chang’e 5, is scheduled for December 2019.”

China is also immersed in a long-term program to improve trade. The Belt and Road Initiative invests money in infrastructure projects (roads, schools, airports, etc.) in locales desperate for economic growth in exchange for long-term trade agreements.

They’re spending money on improving trade, advancing science and technology, and building relationships with the nations around them.

While the US, on the other hand, are tightly bound to a war economy, and are arguing about border walls.

No real point. Just daydreaming of a different world.

My First Job in Abdera

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 004/???

I learned so much talking to Teresa. My first friend in Abdera!

First, she prefers Reza. Second, I’m a shitty tipper. And third, the diner is hiring. Dear blog, I got a job!!! I start tonight.

She also has a soft spot for stray dogs, she told me.

In other news I learned my rent is due every week, not every month as I believed. I thought I paid two months in advance, but I only paid two weeks. When my landlord courteously informed me I should pay the fuck up or get the fuck out I paid rent for the next week, but I’m going to run out of money soon. I wonder how long before I get paid at my new job.

No More Stories From the Menu

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 003/???

I learned who writes the history bits for the menu! Her name is Teresa and she works at the diner. She’s been my waitress for breakfast and lunch and refilled my coffee cup a dozen times. Today she had a very nice conversation with me about “plagiarism” and “reproducing other people’s work without credit” and “stop copying my stuff for your stupid blog”.

I have so many questions about how she knows so much about my adopted city. Perhaps I’ll ask her tomorrow while she’s at work!

UPDATE: It turns out Teresa does not like to answer questions like mine at work. Through diligent perseverance, however, she has agreed to meet me after work to “explain some things” to me. Maybe I’ll see about getting a job as a reporter.

The Ghost of an Object

This morning I went down an internet rabbit hole when learned of the existence of “Thing Theory.” (Wikipedia. Original article.)

I’m pretty sure the example I’m about to give is a “thing,” but it’s a ghost “thing.”

I go to a bar most Fridays for happy hour. For years they had a sign hanging over the middle of the bar with an arrow pointing down and the words “Order Here.” Months ago, maybe a year ago now, the sign disappeared. And yet, people still line up in the same spot to order.

Part of this is that the regulars got in the habit, and newcomers quickly saw where the line was forming and followed suit. The system is slowly breaking down, so I note that more and more often people will approach the bar like most bars. Sidle up to an empty spot, get the bartender’s attention, and order. However, if they see a line has formed, they get in it.

This behavior is controlled by a sign that no longer exists. We were once guided by an object (the sign saying “Order Here”) but when that sign vanished we were still guided by its echo.

If “an object becomes a thing when it can no longer serve its common function” (according to the Wikipedia distinction between object and thing) then is this sign a ghost thing?

How many ghost things influence our lives?

Dr. Bloodorange and the Independent Hotel

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 002/???

You’re not going to believe this! There’s a new menu out today! Most people probably wouldn’t even notice, but I have really strong detective skills. (I’ve been thinking about becoming a detective. I don’t think I’m going to make it as an Uber driver.)

Here’s this week’s Menu Story:

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Dr. Bloodorange’s Independent Hotel

In addition to buying and selling real estate, William Bloodorange was one of Florida’s most successful optometrists, and an early innovator in franchising vision health stores. In the boom years after the second world war, Dr, Bloodorange built The Independent Hotel between the Tamiami Trail and the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of the grandest of its era, and notable for its Renaissance-era baroque architecture. Dr. Bloodorange meant for the hotel to spark the tourism trade in Abdera.

The structure was beset by problems almost from the very beginning. In 1958, only five years after the grand opening, the hotel burned to the ground. Bloodorange vowed to rebuild the Independent bigger and better. And he did. The gala opening of the new Independent Hotel in 1961 was one of most celebrated events in Abdera history.

The tourism trade never caught on in Abdera, and since Dr. Bloodorange’s death in 1971 the Independent Hotel has passed through numerous owners, and for a few years in the early 1990s sat empty. In the mid-1990s the city council nearly purchased the hotel to destroy it. A last-second intervention by New Moon Properties to buy the hotel and restore it gave the Independent a new lease on life. Currently the Independent Hotel is half permanent residents, half hotel, and the first floor has been renovated to allow for a dozen small shops to serve the Shoreside neighborhood.

Some claim they can still hear the ghostly screams of those who died in 1958 fire.

I was wondering what that building was! It’s amazing the things you can learn if you just keep your eyes open.

A Joke

I feel like I’m in the middle of an elaborate version of the aristocrats joke. Right before Trump leaves office I expect him to turn to the camera, do a little flip of his hand, and say… The aristocrats! Turn away and leave the public eye forever. Take that, Gilbert Gottfried!

For those missing the Gilbert Gottfried reference, here’s some background.

I also highly recommend watching The Aristocrats the documentary.

My New Town Has a Weird History

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 001/???

I arrived in Abdera, Florida on January 3, 2019. I guess you could say I moved here and live here now. I needed a change of life and picked a town at random. The following story is printed on the back of the menu at the diner I’ve been frequenting. I’m copying it here so you can see some of the cool things about my city. I’ve decided that in addition to driving for Uber I’ll also set up a blog to make money that way.

Here it is:

Fun Facts About Abdera!

One of North America’s earliest robot-builders once lived off the coast of Abdera, Florida. Professor Stella Surly lived on a tiny barrier island, which she named Surly Island, between 1888 and 1921. Initially serving as her vacation home she moved there permanently after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Surly exhibited a gift for technical design since childhood. She attended Vassar College after the Civil War and pursued a successful career in commercial art. She made a fortune, however, with various martial inventions. Surly remained ambivalent about her contributions to improving the tools of war, but made herself a millionaire several times.

While living at Surly Island Stella spent her time developing animal automatons. Her dream was to create a robot army that could take the place of human soldiers. Local citizens remember seeing her in town showing off her latest ‘bots (or auto-animals as she called them), a variety of automaton cats and dogs. Some even remember her guiding through the streets an automated alligator she controlled with a radio-control device!

Unfortunately, the 1921 hurricane not only destroyed Surly’s house, but the tremendous waves demolished the small barrier island on which she built her home and laboratories. None of Surly’s work remains today, but a few Abderites still remember watching the lady artist/scientist walking the streets of Abdera with her pet robot dog.

Intellectual Humility

Brian Resnick at Vox just posted an essay about intellectual humility in the sciences. It’s something I think about a lot when it comes to education.

I used to, when I had a class with Veterans or non-traditional students, talk about the importance of intellectual humility and the real challenge of having the courage to change your mind. When you learn you literally change your brain. You literally change your mind. When you change your mind you are changing yourself. Changing yourself to be a different person can be scary and takes real courage. Without intellectual humility you’re never really going to learn anything, because you won’t be open to changing into a different version of yourself.

Then I talked to them about research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re intrinsically motivated to learn (because you are legit curious) it will stick with you a lot longer than if you are only motivated by grades or getting a diploma (extrinsic motivation).

I don’t do this anymore because there’s no time to focus on anything other than the practical basics of using the library resources.

One tool I use for my own intellectual humility is to assume, whether I believe it or not, but to assume for just a moment that the idea, belief, or conviction I’m hearing is held by somebody smart, honest, and sincere. Then I ask myself – How would a smart, honest, and sincere person come to that conclusion?

For some things, like climate change denial, I have a better understanding how people hold on to those beliefs, though I remain convinced they are wrong.

On other issues, like race, gender, and identity, I learned that there were significant elements of the discussion of which I was ignorant. Once I began addressing that ignorance I started to change my mind, and so changed myself.

I keep thinking about this exchange between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris:

Sam Harris
I get that, but not in precisely the ways you think you do. I’m in the, once again, having the bewildering experience of agreeing with virtually everything you said there, and yet it has basically no relevance to what I view as our underlying disagreement.

Ezra Klein
You have that bewildering experience because you don’t realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but you’re not, that that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
Well, no, because I know I’m not thinking tribally —

Ezra Klein
Well, that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
In this respect because, no, because I share your political biases there. I would line up with you completely. If I gave into my bias, my social bias I would become, I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to recognize that Nisbett and Turkheimer are reasoning better than anyone else in this field. I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to realize that Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man, was right on the money.

Ezra Klein
I don’t think it would be a relief to you at all. Because the thing that you said when you, I feel like now we’re just getting back to the beginning and we should let this go and I’ll let you get the last word after this, but right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said, you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you. I think the really.

Sam Harris
It’s not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public.

Ezra Klein
We all have a lot of different identities we’re part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneous, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information. I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mobs and —

Sam Harris
That is not identity politics. That is my experience as a public intellectual trying to talk about ideas.

Ezra Klein
That is what folks from the dominant group get to do. They get to say, my thing isn’t identity politics, only yours is. I will tell you, Sam, when people who do not look like you hear you telling them that this is just identity politics, they don’t think, “God he’s right. That is just identity politics.” They think this is my experience and you don’t understand it. You just said it’s your experience and they don’t understand it.

Sam Harris
You think that’s Glenn Loury’s view of it, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s view of it, or Maajid Nawaz’s view of it?

Ezra Klein
I think that you have said publicly that you would not have a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, because you think he just plays identity politics.

Sam Harris
Yes, I think he’s, it’s the same reason why I didn’t want to have a conversation with you, honestly, because I think that it doesn’t become fruitful. This is a postmortem on our collision, and I think it was useful to do, and I can only hope our audience sorts it out for themselves in ways that I think will be accurate.

This exchange, I think, gets at something important when it comes to our Current Situation. Harris’s inability to recognize that he is part of a tribe is something you see over and over once you start paying attention. White guys (and others whom the power structures favor) are incapable of seeing how the system privileges them and their ideas. And, until they are able to recognize their cognitive blindness, they’ll continue reinforcing societal structures that diminish their capacity for compassion and empathy.

It’s disconcerting to see a group of people I generally admire (like Bruce Sterling speaking to the Long Now Foundation) and realize it’s all white men. (Even worse, looking back over the history of speakers at the Long Now Foundation, they’ve all been white (with the exception of a lone Indian woman). What kind of future is the Long Now Foundation planning when they listen only to white people?)

One method I (a middle-aged cis white guy) use to interrogate my own privilege is reading (and listening to) people who don’t look like me. I’m intrinsically motivated to better understand the human experience. I’m always working to read more people of color, more women, more LBGTIQA+. I make an effort to read people from different nations, especially the global south. For most of my life I read mostly straight white men without even realizing what I was doing. Those were the easiest voices to locate, and I presumed that they were unbiased vessels transmitting a clearly accurate understanding of the issues.

They are not.

When I started reading outside that cluster of thinkers I realized that they really are part of a tribe. Sam Harris, no matter how much he denies it, is part of a tribe, but the bonds of that affiliation are still invisible to him.

Here’s hoping that in 2019 more privileged folks become aware of their invisible bonds and learn to break them. Learn, change your mind, grow your heart.


I love New Year’s resolutions. For much of my life I was indifferent to resolutions, but then I made the life-altering decision one year to resolve to eat more pie. Suddenly, a whole new world of resolving/self care opened up to me.

Last year’s resolution was to ask friends out for a beer more often. Be more social. Connect more IRL. That mostly went well. The stress of house buying/selling, dissatisfaction at work, international travel, and the flu disrupted it somewhat in the last few months, but it’s a resolution I look to continue in 2019.

Two years ago my resolution was to be more in tune with the moon. Just to be aware of when it’s full moon, what stage the moon is in, where and when it will be rising. That was a good one. I let it slip a little last year, but I still a lot more conscious of the phases of the moon than years past.

This year I resolve to be the Year of Baking. For what inscrutable purpose I’m not sure, but JB has started binge-watching the Great British Baking Show. Having this constantly on the periphery of my attention has inexplicably prompted an interest in baking. Within the last month I’ve already made a pizza crust, a carrot cake, and some chocolate chip cookies. Since I’ve already started I might as well commit. Next up will be a pie, followed soon by bread.

I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.