A couple of weeks back I was sitting at the curling club after beating up some old men and — for reasons I can’t begin to guess — one of them asked me to ‘explain blogging.’ Naturally, I provided a thoughtful, balanced and insightful opinion:
“It’s about narcissism.”
“Is that all? I thought there’d be more to it.”
“Not really. Everyone has at least one thing they can drone on and on about until they fall over backwards. Fortunately, the world is a big enough place that there are bound to be a number of folks out there who are willing to subject themselves to your babbling. Narcissism comes in when you realize exactly how small that number is.”
“My number or my ‘thing’? You may want to consider the phrasing of your answer.”
“Your… er, ‘subject’.”
Which was, of course, the stumper — that’s a question I’ve attempted (multiple times, with a nagging lack of success) to answer. So I just told him ‘public urination’, ate my sandwich and changed the subject. But when I eventually arrived home and collapsed (gracefully, always gracefully) into the Green Chair of Thinkitude I got to (duh) thinking. (Or at least ‘thinking.’) What were the things I talked about the most?
Well. This time I thought I’d use Technology so I could get Numbers. Because I was trained as a physicist and physicists are extremely (perhaps unnaturally) fond of numbers.
First of all I contemplated asking the weeb. I found several promising-looking possibilities (search-fu not totally pathetic) but most weeb programmers these days don’t comprehend plain text and I decided that in any case I wasn’t sure I wanted to hand my accumulated maunderings over to, well, J Random Website. (Plus, of course, it’s a little annoying to cut-and-paste 22,000 lines of text. That may have been the clincher. Laziness is, after all, a virtue so I embrace it whenever I possibly can.)
I then moved on to the old standby of an editor macro. That, of course, worked (because it always does) and I learned (heh) what I wanted to learn. At which point I had a brief flashback to chapter 8 of The Unix-Haters Handbook:
I was happy. I thought it was over.
But then in the shower this morning I thought of a way to do it. I couldn’t stop myself. I tried and tried, but the perversity of the task had pulled me in, preying on my morbid fascination. It had the same attraction that the Scribe implementation of Towers of Hanoi has. It only took me 12 tries to get it right.
tr -c '[:alnum:]' '[\n*]' < blog.postings | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr | less
which I think we can all agree is pretty close to what I want and besides, it fits on one line.
And what did it tell me? Well, the most common word (6767 of them) is ‘the’. Hardly surprising and not particularly enlightening. Next is ‘I’ (5681) (which, I guess, is numerical confirmation that it is about narcissism after all). Then comes ‘a’, ‘of’, ‘to’, ‘that’, ‘and’, ‘it’, ‘was’ — all thoroughly unsurprising and equally unremarkable. But down a bit are some potentially illuminating results — ‘curling’, ‘software’ and ‘learning.’ Well, I’ve mentioned curling and used software, but what about ‘learning?’
Some months ago, Ms. Rose and I ventured to the left coast to visit and annoy old friends (TV and LM), admire their orange yurt and remind them why the decision to move 5000 kilometres away from me was a sensible one. While we were there I had four learning experiences (five if you count ‘you can grow a tree on top of another tree‘).
The day after the tree-on-the-tree encounter the four of us visited a park near Victoria. From the parking lot it was just over a kilometre downhill to the ocean. Parts of the trail were wide and easy, other parts… not so much. It was nice but when we reached the bottom all I could think was ‘that’s going to be a long climb back up.’
Fortunately one of those learning experiences was waiting at the bottom: as we arrived a group was just starting its ascent — in the group was a little old man. He was significantly littler and older than me.
He had a cane.
He was also smiling.
So not only did I learn something about the nature of the human spirit in the face of adversity blah blah blah, I also received a healthy jolt of encouragement and motivation: if he can do it, I can too.
It made the climb easier.
On the way up, where the trail narrowed and skirted the edge of the gorge below Sitting Lady Falls, we passed a young couple descending. The young lady was obviously happy and relaxed (more relaxed than I was, certainly — the trail wasn’t that wide and it was a gorge after all).
She was also blind.
So again, human spirit, adversity, strength, yadda yadda yadda and, more importantly,
If she can do it, I can too.
I made it to the top in reasonable time, due in no small part to the inspiration provided by the old man and the young girl. One gets one’s inspiration where one can, I guess.
Speaking of which.
At this time of year I play hockey twice a week. Some days, though, it’s hard to muster enough inspiration to lug a large, heavy, smelly bag to the car and dodge everyone leaving work early just so I can be humiliated by people half my age. Sometimes extra motivation is called for; when that happens, I frequently think back to a softball game Ms. Rose and I attended on the trip. TV was playing (and of course I made every possible effort to put his play in the proper context but alas, for an old guy he’s pretty good) but the player I remember most often is the woman who played catcher and didn’t run. Because before the game she had told everyone
My nitro is in my purse.
So when I’m feeling lazy (a virtue, remember) before hockey (or whenever, really) and dreading the exertion, mental pain and exhaustion it will bring, I think back to the old man, the young girl, and the lady with the nitro. And then I get off my ass.
So I learned a bunch of things, things that are actually useful in everyday life. Which is totally cool. (Well, the you-can-grow-a-tree-on-a-tree thing hasn’t really come in handy yet, but hope springs eternal and all that.) Even better, everything was in some way positive: human spirit, motivation, life, growth, overcoming obstacles, fainting goats, stuff like that.
But of course not everything in life is uniformly positive. Was there nothing negative on the trip? Despite the absence of tech support, phone companies and middle managers, yes there was. Because there was…
Which history tells me is always likely to teach you something unexpected and unpleasant. And it didn’t disappoint. (Well, it did but it didn’t, if you know what I mean.)
The last ‘leg’ of the trip west was a short (25 minute) flight from an airport with good doughnuts to one with, well, I’m not sure — we weren’t there long enough to form an opinion. Being a short flight, we were on a smallish (50 passengers or so) flying death tube.
In row 13, our paperwork said.
Now, I know a thing or two about numbers. In particular, I know that 13 is one more than 12. (I went to graduate school. I know things.) So Ms. Rose and I headed down the tiny (slightly narrower than… well, I can’t think of a suitable metaphor, but it was sure narrow) aisle toward the back of the plane. We got to Row 12 and then there was…
There was no Row 13. Well, that was unfortunate. Did they not know how many seats were on the plane? Well, that would be a believable level of ineptitude, but this aircraft has been in service for more than thirty years; even an airline would have figured it out by now. Did they sell us seats that didn’t exist? I’ve seen that in a sporting venue but in this context it seemed… unnecessarily dickish, even for an airline. Did they switch planes on this route to one with a different number of seats? Without telling anyone? That seemed just dickish and inept enough to be a workable theory.
So. The next step seemed to be ‘talk to someone in a uniform’ and, as luck would have it, there was more than one. But getting to them required navigating up the ridiculously narrow aisle, past all the other passengers who were understandably peeved at someone going the ‘wrong’ way. It took a while but at the front we found
- Row 13. (In front of Row 1.)
So I learned some totally unexpected math:
Apparently airlines have the same attitude toward math as Barbie.