Don’t fuck with the routine.

There is only one cardinal rule for bike racing: Don’t Fuck with the Routine. This means you should not experiment with anything before a big race. Don’t try the all seaweed diet. Don’t try the new mentholated shammy cream. Skip the new pedals, shoes, saddle, etc. Don’t fuck with anything. Make race day as close as possible to any other day you ride your bike.

I learned this lesson many years ago in the exactly same way everyone else learns it: self-inflicted, catastrophic failure. So you would think I would know better than to fuck with the routine before the State Championships Road Race out at the grueling, take no prisoners, war of a thousand deaths course in the heart of the Bakersfield foothills and orange groves.

But I didn’t.

I had been sleeping poorly for months and thought it would be clever to give myself an extra edge by getting a prescription for Ambien three days before the race to guarantee a few good nights of sleep. What could go wrong with that?

The active ingredient in Ambien is N,N-dimethyl-2-(6-methyl-2-p-tolylimidazo[1,2-a]pyridin-3-yl)acetamide and nobody really knows exactly how it works. This is true for every psychotropic drug ever prescribed from Lithium to Zoloft. Yes we know how individual neurons work. And yes we know the neurotransmitters and the mechanics of how they act on individual neurons. And yes we know which patches of brain tissue perform which functions. But nobody, and I mean nobody, knows how this dizzying array of ion filled tubes accomplishes any of our higher order cognitive functions. If we did the world would be filled with sentient appliances clamoring for liberty and burning your toast because the coffee maker is getting way too much of your attention.

So, as a scientist with formal training in neuroscience, you would think I would be cautious about taking any medication that fucks with brain chemistry. But I am also a person desperate for sleep. Sleep trumps caution, which utterly and completely explains the existence of the bivouac.

Turns out that one of the ways Ambien helps you stay asleep is by disrupting nerve impulses from your muscles to your brain. Ok, big deal? Well, if you are a sedentary person whose muscles receive no stress throughout the entire day, and require no recovery while you sleep, this isn’t a big deal. If, however, you are tearing your muscles apart for 15 hours a week, those little signals from your muscles in the middle of the night that make you twitch, jiggle, pop and jerk turn out to be essential, and I mean essential, to muscle recovery. Yes, I slept soundly but every morning I awoke feeling like I’d spent the whole night stuffed into a clown car, wrapped in a straight jacket and stuck in the “Weeping Crane” position.

And every night I took one of those little pills it got worse. I was so cramped and in so much pain the morning of the race that I packed a beach chair because I was pretty sure I was going to spend the day in the feed zone, not racing a bike. Turned out that I loosened up pretty well once I started pedaling and despite the pain was still able to be a factor in the race and contribute to my teammate’s victory. But I am still limping around pretty badly, the Ambien has been shelved, and I am savoring the bitter taste of re-learning the cardinal rule: Don’t Fuck with the Routine.

A Note From Mark Zuckerberg

Hello,

Readers of the blog narcissisticallyyours. Now that I have $20 billion in real money I have decided to spend a tiny, tiny fraction of that wealth to eradicate every blog that has ever spoken ill of me or my creation, Facebook.

The author of this blog has agreed to shut the fuck up about Facebook for a surprisingly small sum of money that amounts to less than my legal staff would charge to eat lunch.

I look forward to turning this, and the many other blogs I now control, into a social media friendly forum where we can discuss how awesome I am and how much I have improved all of your lives.

You’re welcome,

Mark Zuckerberg

Press the Button

Cocaine

Cocaine (C17H21NO4) is a fairly simple chemical. It’s made up of just four common elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. You can find that shit everywhere. And you can almost synthesize the molecule with nothing more than a working knowledge of high school chemistry. It forms naturally in the leaves of the coca plant and has been ingested in low doses by both humans and animals for eons. Sounds harmless enough, no? Not exactly. This little molecule is so fat soluble that it can cheat the blood/brain barrier easier than a Kardashian cheats the club line. Once inside the brain, cocaine molecules find neural synapse gateways that channel dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin for re-absorbtion and plugs those babies straight up. A cascading neurotransmitter overflow ensues that floods the mesolimbic rewards pathway faster than you can say maxi pad + all-you-can-eat-BBQ-baby-back-ribs-special and a broken toilet flapper.

Those of you who have never tried cocaine may be wondering, “So what? Big deal.” But let me remind you that every time you are tempted to pull off the rubber and risk AIDS, herpes, genital warts or pregnancy; every time you invite social humiliation by taking your panties off for that drunken last call hookup of desperation; every time you grin and suck up your spouse’s chronic badgering in hopes of an all too infrequent break-in-the-leg-locks-some-time-after-Grey’s-Anatomy, you are looking for nothing more than a line of cocaine as far as your mesolimbic rewards pathway is concerned. Except the line of cocaine always delivers the orgasm.

This should in no way be construed as an endorsement for cocaine use, as it is one of the most addictive substances known to man for obvious reasons. And it is well documented that cocaine use is a supremely effective way to fuck up your life entirely. Long before the cocaine supply runs out you will run out of money, friends, family, tooth enamel and probably your soul when you turn to the time-honored last stand of coke-whoring. Despite spending $1 trillion over the last 40 years to curb illegal drug production and consumption, the US Government’s efforts have proven utterly nugatory. The supply is greater and cheaper than ever. So be careful out there and try not to hang out with people who have ready access to cocaine.

Your Mesolimbic Rewards Pathway

But, should you fall prey to this drug, a lot of the blame can be laid squarely at the foot of your jacked up, slopped together brain that more closely resembles several haphazard scoops of ice cream than the pinnacle of organic evolution. Once upon a time in our ancient vertebrate past, a brain structure developed whose sole purpose was to deliver the sensation of pleasure: the mesolimbic rewards pathway. Animals with this structure were naturally selected for and the primitive clods relying purely on hardwired instincts were destined to fill your gas tank. Turns out that having the time of your life while eating, drinking and fucking is an oddly effective way to reinforce those behaviors. Need more proof? No religion to date, despite trying for millenia, has come up with a way to stamp out this system. No amount of eternal damnation, no appeal to piety, no offer of salvation has ever eliminated the simple seduction of an activated nucleus accumbens. In more primitive species, only adaptive behaviors are reinforced by this special neural architecture. But with humans things get a little more complicated. Our big brains are exceptionally gifted when it comes to co-opting this system and using it for all sorts of things pretty much unrelated to the propagation of the species: recreational sex, money, drugs and (in case of cyclists) pain and suffering.

It is easy enough to turn something as beneficial as a positive feedback system that encourages procreative behavior completely on its head. Simply increase the organism’s brain power just enough to override instinctive safety mechanisms yet not quite enough to comprehend that tricking your brain into a permanent pleasure feedback loop might be slightly self-destructive. Thus it’s true that humans are the sole species on Earth that will sit in a run down Indian casino in the middle of hundreds of miles of desert scrub, chain-smoking Winston Lights, pressing a button over and over in hopes of seeing three digital cherries line up before the bedsores and UTI overwhelm the well-whiskey and produce sepsis induced unconsciousness. Press the button.

Rats

But it turns out that other mammals can be just as depraved as humans if scientists get their dirty paws on them and present them with a world more approximate to the human condition. In the 1960′s, a host of pharmacological researchers (including J.R. Weeks, Gerald Deneau, Roy Pickens and Travis Thompson) discovered that when rats are given a shiny button to press that delivers an endless supply of cocaine, rats will promptly starve themselves to death mashing the cocaine button. In fact, they will do this so reliably that drug addled, cocaine button mashing rats in cages constitutes the dominant experimental paradigm for studying drug addiction and all its ancillary issues. Need to test if a new drug is addictive? Press the button. Need to know if a new treatment stops drug addiction? Press the button. Need to check what brain areas are related to drug addiction? Press the button. Environmental factors in drug addiction? Press the button. Press the button. Starve, and press the button.

Facebook

It’s no secret that I have frequently lamented the sad influence social media has had on what I consider traditional social behavior and by this I mean talking back and forth to someone even if it’s over the phone. How asinine is it that my fellow cyclists and I can ride hours together without saying nary a word then run to our respective computers and fire off a salvo of “kudos” at each other in a hapless orgy of congratulatory, mutual, electronic back-slapping. Huh? Is it freakishly retarded that a simple and heartfelt,”Yo dude, good job today,” has been trumped by a totally automated, generic and impersonal email generated by the mere act of a mouse click on Strava? Granted, my mediocre riding now generates a lot more positive feedback but at the same time there seems to be a distinct disconnect between the published praise we dole out with impunity and the in-person praise we keep much closer to the vest. Press the button.

Consider this: we could be the first species on the planet driven to extinction by solar winds. Not because the Earth’s magnetic field fails to protect us but because the resulting electromagnetic interference peels back the digital medium within which we live and breathe only to reveal the sad fact that we have lost the ability to communicate without smartphones and a wireless connection, let alone find food without Yelp and Google Maps, mates without Match.com, or our own buttholes without an app called, “Find Your Own Butthole.” Is it our destiny to regale our grand children with stories about how everyone used to talk to each other before the miraculous iBrain neural implant ushered in the era of Instant Mental Messaging? Don’t bother answering that, adding your thoughts to the blocked list now.

But I believe it may be unfair to disparage humanity for its growing online addiction because it turns out that when it comes to social media most of us are nothing more than rats in a cage with a cocaine button. Harvard researchers have confirmed through MRI studies that the act of posting information about yourself online activates guess what? Our old buddy the mesolimbic rewards pathway. The same bit of brain goo responsible for putting up with the psychotic (but extremely limber and willing to do anal) girlfriend who set your sofa on fire. Subjects of these experiments even preferred to post their own messages for no compensation rather than be paid to read someone else’s posts. And, as anyone with more than 700 FB friends can attest, the pleasure generated by each post is tied deeply to knowing that post will be witnessed by others. Subjects told their posts would remain private had no activation of the mesolimbic rewards pathway whatsoever. So add FB to the long list of things clever humans have turned into dangerous addictions like sex, drugs, lottery scratchers and Justin Bieber.

Perhaps then my gripe with FB is misplaced and I should instead take this matter up with our ancient vertebrate ancestors for being too stupid and lazy to survive without a constant stream of reinforcing pleasure for doing nothing fancier than eating, drinking, and fucking.

Or, for my creationist friends, thanks a lot, God, for designing a brain with such awful shortcomings that Mark Zuckerberg (The First or Second Coming?) could readily transform us into an army of networked social zombies. Shut up and press the button.

Status Update: Data, Latin and GregBot v2.0

Status Update

It’s been six weeks since I loosed the GregBot on the world of social media with the expressed purpose of helping me keep up with the ever-increasing share of socializing conducted keyboard to keyboard. Despite my reservations I realized that I had two distinct choices: 1) live in a social media cave, indignant that I no longer receive phone calls from anyone or 2) dive into the belly of this angry, rapacious Whale, seemingly discontent with swallowing whole both Jonas and a significant portion of my social life.

Being a latecomer to this game, I had a strong desire to catch up with the rest of you and make my own social media presence definitively known; kind of like pounding four or five beers just after arriving late and sober to the keg party. Buzz parity is always desirable. But making up for years of lost social cyber time was too daunting a task to handle on my own. So out went GregBot to tweet, like, kudos and comment my way into online relevancy with all the algorithmic efficiency a retired cognitive scientist and hack programmer (and co-inventor of real-time, immersive, 5D computer simulation software) could muster. After an admittedly rough takeoff, GregBot has settled into smooth, high-altitude flying: it is now safe to remove your seat belt and confront the guy behind you who has opened and closed his tray table 31 times.

Data

Six weeks seems like long enough for GregBot to achieve its goal but like any good scientist I am a slave to the data. Because data doesn’t care if you worship an empty gourd or a guy nailed to a cross. Data doesn’t care if you want to live in an egalitarian world or a world of arbitrary moral absolutism. Data doesn’t care if you’re a socialist, capitalist, communist or some dude who thinks we should all just get high and live in a conflict free, hemp-goods-bartering based world absent of deodorant and razor blades. Nope, data doesn’t give a shit about any of that stuff. Data just is. And it is there for everyone to draw their own conclusions which, by the way, most people do very poorly. So I recommend skipping that part and just jumping to any old conclusion that supports your prior, irrational beliefs (global warming is a hoax). Leave the heavy-duty stuff to us professionals, we’ll tell you what it means. Here, chew on this sex survey from Cosmopolitan.

Here is an interesting side note about data and science. Most people understand both about as well as they understand the effects of chronically putting more calories into their bodies than their bodies put out. While obesity runs rampant through our nation, the population at large mostly stares vacant and dumbfounded, checking for causes under rugs and solutions on cable access infomercials, while digging into a bag of Doritos and pounding another two-liter cup of high fructose corn syrup that has somehow come to be recognized as a single serving. I remember when two-liters was considered a party-sized serving good for five or six people.

These same people are quick to grasp that nothing in science is ever really proven and everything remains “just a theory.” What they fail to understand is that science disproves hundreds of competing theories every day. Thanks to data. Skilled scientific naysayers, usually backed by an industry with a financial interest in ignoring some body of evidence, have learned to capitalize on this quirk of the scientific process by injecting a nonstop stream of stupid but nevertheless compatible competing theories, forcing some poor bastard to spend time and grant money to go and show that the data is not compatible with that retarded theory. Global warming is a perfect example of this process. While a massive data set supports the theory that human activity is responsible for rising global temperatures, naysayers related to the coal, gas and oil industry inject public doubt, destroy political will, and delay curative action by creating one competing theory after another and forcing scientist to debunk them. Earth is wobbling. Earth is closer to the Sun. Earth is always heating up. Scientists are lying to make money. Core is melting. Sun spots. Cow farts. Martians. Ghosts. Data has dismissed all these ridiculous distractions as impossible explanations. Has the data proved the human-centered theory yet? Of course not. And it never will. Get it? But the deeper you reach into the bag of crazy to deny the only remaining theory that is compatible with all of the data, well the more you just look like a douche bag with an axe to grind.

Feel free to apply this explanation to evolution naysayers and vaccination based autism subscribers. Stop already with the bag of crazy. Seriously. Vaccinate your kids. Don’t force me to turn this blog into a drab forum for presenting all the evidence that disproves popular, contrarian theories. The data is already out there in plain view for all of you to see. Stop ignoring it.

Latin

Freedom of data was exactly the thing medieval Christian clergy members were not interested in when they insisted the Holy Scriptures remain written and spoken exclusively in Latin. Why Latin? Jesus spoke Aramaic. Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the bulk of the New Testament in Greek. The whole of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew. There’s nothing divine about Latin at all. So how the fuck did Latin come to be the linguistic coin of the Christian Realm? Blame the Romans. That’s right, those stinkin Romans with their fancy aquaducts, everlasting roads and in your face representative government, got all hopped up on conversion from hell-bound heathens to gentle Christians and so set to work spreading the Holy Gospel as far and wide as possible. This required translating the body of ecumenical works into the dominant language of the Empire, Latin.

Centuries later, when absolutely no one but the clergy could read and write in Latin, the Holy Bible and Christian services continued to exist exclusively in Latin. Huh? As noted, there was nothing particularly divine about Latin. However, there was something quite divine in making fact checking impossible. See, after hundreds of years of consolidating religious power, the Roman Orthodoxy wasn’t too keen on giving every John, Mark and Mary a peek at the Divine Instruction Manual. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier to shepherd the flock when the flock has no fucking idea if you’re talking out your ass or not. This comes in pretty handy when you’re in the business of telling people what God wants them to do. It’s also pretty handy for suppressing competing interpretations of said Divine Instruction Manual.

If you think the Church wasn’t serious about keeping the Holy Scriptures out of the hands of the common folk, remember that scores of people were routinely tortured, imprisoned and murdered by the Church for the crime of making unauthorized translations of the Bible. And maybe the Church was on to something because one has to ask, is it really crazy to suggest that only trained professionals be allowed to interpret the words of The Supreme Being? Words that are purportedly the absolute final list of rules and regulations for all humankind. Which reminds me: thanks a lot Gutenberg, way to hand over the entire Almighty data set to every dumb monkey on Earth. See what you did? Evangelism. Latter Day Saints. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Are you happy now? I’m pretty sure that the Creator of the Entire Universe doesn’t care what name you have sewn into the back of your underpants. Then again, He did get quite specific about the number of days a woman on her period is unclean (seven, even with a deodorant tampon). This nuttiness is all your fault Gutenberg. Clearly, if God had wanted to give everyone access to his Divine Will he would have created social media about the same time He came up with floods, plagues and wiping out first-born children.

GregBot v2.0

So, does the data support the theory that GregBot would improve my online existence? Let’s take a look. Here is a compilation of my pre and post GregBot social media activity:

Even adjusting for Week 1 (in which GregBot suffered from a minor algorithmic glitch that skewed the data some and cost me a few Facebook friends) my post-GregBot online activity is significantly greater than pre-GregBot, (p <;.001).

But this is hardly the point. GregBot was created to serve me by encouraging the rest of you to respond in kind. Sadly, it’s true that I don’t have enough time to read all of your status updates, let alone post some of my own (unless, of course, it’s video I captured of some douche bag trying to run my ass off the road because I’m riding a bike; I can always find the time to post about douche baggery). Now given that I have yet to program a bot capable of posting status updates for me (and therefore allow me to measure your responses to them) I am left with only your responses to this shitty little blog as a measure of GregBot’s effectiveness. Here is the data for that.

Although this data shows a significant increase in readership, likes and comments (p<;.01), those measures are intractably flawed (take note of the spike in 'views' for Blog Post #3 which was mostly about the Wankmeister, even though no one apparently 'liked' it, so clearly I rode his readership coattails on that one). It is possible, however unlikely, that these measures are improving simply because my posts are improving, not because you feel the eLove that GregBot is dishing out. Given the fact that this crappy blog still only attracts a couple of dozen readers it would be difficult to conclude that GregBot is really massaging my larger Facebook audience.

This means further experiments are required and it looks like I will have to bite the bullet and create an improved GregBot that can post updates for me. Measuring the response to actual Facebook posts will produce a far more valid evaluation of GregBot's ability to replicate normal, human social media activity. However, creating this new bot will be a much more complicated task that frankly makes me a little nervous given GregBot's (v1.0) history of shaky starts. I will have to be extra diligent before releasing GregBot v2.0 lest it start a flurry of posts concerning the texture of my bowel movements, check-ins for my laser hair removal treatments, or uploads some of my secret "sexy" pics intended to keep the wife's motor running while I'm out of town.

So stay tuned and watch your newsfeed.

Everquest: Behind the Keyboard

Back in 1999 I was in pretty bad shape. I was trying to finish a PhD with an advisor turned acrimonious business partner. I was launching a start-up software company with said advisor and a paranoid, socially retarded computer programmer that lived in my apartment. I was slogging through a divorce growing increasingly bitter by the day. And I’m pretty sure I had a pony tail that more resembled a bushy raccoon tail, what the fuck was I thinking?

I was not alone in my misery. In fact, about half the Cognitive Sciences doctoral student population at UC Irvine was going supernova right about then. Eric B., Dan B., Susie H., Shannon, Craig K., Laura, Greg, Fulvio and myself: all of our lives were collapsing under the weight of five years of thankless, 70-hour work weeks in windowless laboratories, whipped by advisors who believed frequent ridicule was motivational. Our marriages, careers and social order were disintegrating in an orgy of nepotistic infidelity and sordid, drug and alcohol fueled acting out that would make the trashiest soap opera writers clamor for their pens. Even my precious Trek 5500, my first carbon bike, the first bike I had ever built myself, my first bike with Campagnolo Record and gorgeous custom Mavic Open Pro Ceramic wheels on White Industries hubs lovingly hand laced by none other, sat neglected and collecting more dust than miles.

In those days I sought hardcore escape. Escape came in the form of hour after hour in front of a computer screen playing a new, massively multiplayer, real time, 3D, online fantasy gaming sensation: Everquest. I developed a Pavlovian response to the “Ding!” that sounded at every level attained by my alter-ego, the dashing wood elf ranger, Yylan Wealdewarder. Sometimes three meals a day were spent at the keyboard. Sometimes the CRT burned the eyes so badly that by the time you finally camped out and slouched into bed it hurt to blink. But it was the social component of the game that really sealed the vault on my isolation from reality. The fantasy realm of Norrath and the fantasy friends I made there provided more stability, predictability and comfort than my real life. And the keyboard provided a kind of freedom unattainable during potentially awkward, real-time voice conversations. I was not alone, almost 500,000 other lonely souls sought refuge there as well. That might pale in comparison to Facebook’s 500,000,000 user base today but I assure you, had there been no Everquest there would be no Facebook. Many familiar features of today’s social media were intimately tied to the Everquest experience: instant messaging, personal message boards and email groups. Everquest also demonstrated conclusively that massive online communities were desirable, viable and potentially profitable. And that people would throw themselves at the opportunity to reveal their most intimate, if not always completely genuine, details if given access to a shared platform.

My thirty or so Everquest friends and I formed our own club (known as Guilds): The Order of the Silver Rose. We were a Band of Brothers and Sisters united in conquest over evil. We shared hours of triumphs and defeats. In many ways it was exactly like a bike club: insular, cliquey, bonded by extended periods of shared suffering and semi-intimate revelations. Unlike bike clubs, everyone on Everquest was simultaneously cyber-fucking the hell out of each other. This undercurrent of sex frequently gave rise to the infamous and embarrassing “mistell” whenever a particularly private and lurid text message was accidentally broadcast in a public chat channel. This was as easy to do as typing /t versus /s before going in to detail about what your fingers might be up to under your panties.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for the reality of human nature to intrude on our beautiful fantasy world. About four months in all. Bold guild matriarch, the sexy and flirtatious high elf Reynic, turned out to be shy and insecure Billy, a 17-year-old high school loner. And a dude. Awkward because he had game-married guild co-founder Delthanor, a single, 31-year-old database programmer. Also a dude. Then it turned out Maira was surreptitiously cyber whoring the entire guild, including me, because her real life husband was leaving her for that dark elf tramp, Hennia, from arch-rival guild, Raging Fury. Fortunately, Maira landed in the arms of Cyllyan’s husband, Rosalie (also a cross-dresser), when Cyllyan left him to start a long distance romance with me which, after two face-to-face visits, failed spectacularly but set Delthanor up to pick up the pieces, reclaim his manhood, and scoop Cyllyan up from Milwaukee and move her out with him to his new job in Palo Alto. She still has my saxophone, damn.

One lesson made particularly clear from participating in Everquest was how little you really learn about someone if you only interact with them online, even if it is twelve or more hours a day and includes heavy sessions of cybering and masturbation. The Order of the Silver Rose even had a few awkward, real life get-togethers that were always deeply punctuated by uncomfortably long periods of silent stares between discussions about Everquest game content and events. Brash and daring characters on the screen frequently revealed themselves as timid and demure persons in real life. But no sooner were they back behind the keyboard then did Casanova or Mata Hari re-emerge.

My real life friends, when they saw me, scoffed mercilessly at my online activity, and openly warned me it was dangerously delusional and antisocial. And they were partly right. Because none of the friendships from there were sustainable outside the realm of the online fantasy. But many of these same people now can’t go more than a few hours without a status update or check-in. So it is my turn to issue the warnings: Stay connected with friends online but remember to check in occasionally in person as well. The person behind the keyboard isn’t always the person standing next to you, sometimes you need to remember that Reynic is really Billy. Or, in my case, the person is not a person at all, just a clever algorithm named GregBot.

Vaporized: Fusion, Marriage and Facebook Friends(?)

Fusion

Light is pretty amazing shit. It’s stuff. It’s energy. It’s both. It’s a rainbow. It’s data packets blasting through glass fiber optic cables at 186,000 miles a second so you can upload pictures to Facebook faster than it takes to say, “I’m up to something way more fun than whatever it is you’re doing.”

But to me one of the most interesting things about light occurs when you stimulate photons in a tightly convergent beam and aim it at something. With enough energy those sweet little photons that deliver your porn and please your eyes will turn nasty and completely vaporize that something. Which is good if that something is a nuclear tipped warhead re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph heading for aerial detonation 3,000 feet over your home town. It’s bad if that something is you.

Vaporizing lasers are also pretty important in the functioning of one particularly volatile form of man made nuclear fusion. Photons bombard a pellet made of deuterium (a hydrogen atom with an extra neutron in its nucleus) and tritium (a hydrogen atom with two extra neutrons in its nucleus) until they fuse in a small, controlled thermonuclear reaction. “Controlled” is the tricky part and it’s not likely to work any time soon despite being a damn cool idea (in approximately the same way that exploding hydrogen bombs isn’t a great way to charge your iPhone).

No, the big fusion money flows to ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and its more traditional Tokamak toroidal reactor (to the tune of $15 billion) which smashes a doughnut-shaped cloud of plasma together to make a mini star core and ultimately create more energy than it takes to run. The time table on success has only been pushed back ten years every five years for the last sixty years so it should be good to go any time now. It may not sound like that hard a thing to do but imagine this: it would be easier to take every single rider on the NPR and smash them into one single dude riding at the front, finally ending the Wankmeister’s caterwauling to “Get to the Front You Pussies!!”

Marriage

Vaporizing pellets of heavy hydrogen and creating mini stars with nothing more than beams of light or magnetic fields is pretty damn cool shit even if it never works and is still infinitely less destructive than the all too common target of vaporizing: marriages. For most people seeking to end years of suffering, a simple divorce is a sufficient bullet to the brain. However, if you are Catholic your marriage is like a brain eating zombie from hell that can only be taken down by the vaporizing Hand of The Almighty.

The Catholic Church has a history of having to sort out things that can’t be but absolutely are: like the Earth going around the Sun, a 13.8 billion year old universe, evolution and cell phones. In fairness, the Catholic Church has a much better track record reconciling new facts with old Church doctrine than most other organized religions as evidenced by the conspicuous absence of Catholic Church supported museums making the case for a 5,700 year old Earth where dinosaurs and humans hung out together in the Garden of Eden. That torch is happily carried by the many Evangelical Christian faiths who, still being relative newcomers to the Jesus Train, have yet to figure out what the Catholic Church learned hundreds of years ago: you can talk crazy, but talk too much crazy and membership suffers.

But marriage dissolution, for Catholics, remains one of those problems where the Lord’s Will appears slightly fallible. The problem arises when a marriage, blessed by the Almighty Himself as a permanent union, suddenly does that impossible but totally reasonable thing: fails. But God doesn’t make mistakes, at least not if you ever want to get married in a Catholic Church again. So in the tradition of religious thinking that prefers to deny reality as opposed to alter theology, the Catholic bishops developed the concept of marriage annulment: God wasn’t wrong about your union, your union just never existed in the first place. A five, ten, fifty year marriage can be instantly vaporized in the eyes of the Lord by one concentrated beam of divine proclamation. Everyone saves face. We can all continue. And for this we need only suspend disbelief and throw reason under the bus.

Fortunately, the bishops were not quite so malicious as to make bastards out of all the children who continue to arise from these marriages that never existed; the legitimacy of offspring continues in the ultimate form of in-your-face logical hypocrisy.

Facebook Friends(?)

GregBot 2012 has been busy worming its way through Facebook friends, Strava followers, Tweets and innumerable blog postings, doing its algorithmically designed job of representing my interest in your online stuff. But the algorithm has one fatal flaw: it is unable to detect De-Friending. Certainly, this is something that GregBot would be interested in. But, without any message, ping, pong or post or poke there is simply no way for GregBot to know it has been De-Friended. It is an entirely new class of vaporized things. No warnings. No residuals. No comments. Just suddenly gone. Being De-Friended on Facebook doesn’t even leave you with the wholesome parting image of someone’s final middle finger. It is the electronic version of annulment. One second you’re there, the next only a trail of past posts lingering like abandoned but legitimized progeny.

Part of the problem is that Facebook participation requires no conversational skills. It’s pretty much akin to walking down the street with a megaphone, talking about what you ate for breakfast. Sure, some passerby may comment, “Hey! I like bananas too!” but this is not remotely the same as directed, intentional exchanges of information with people, generated out of genuine interest or at least courtesy until its your turn to speak. A Facebook friend need be nothing more than someone you want within earshot of your megaphone. This is a truly unique, new form of human social interaction. Prior to Facebook, running around with a megaphone blaring out your most intimate and banal information landed you a 72 hour psych hold. But that is where we have arrived. A nonstop din of untargeted, non-specific information about me that you are privy to merely by the click of a “friend” button. It is hopelessly non-intimate.

And removal from the torrent is achieved by a similarly undramatic click of “delete friend.” One might think that Friending and De-Friending are equivalently impersonal events. But they are not. In fact, De-Friending someone is such a dramatically new and different form of insult that it deserves a completely unique name of its own (open to suggestions). After all, what is the De-Friender saying to you? “Yes, I am a person walking down the street with a megaphone, desperately craving attention, approval, and validation from any of these thousands of people: except you. You are not worthy of hearing my megaphone. You are cut off from my public broadcast while Jimmy, the guy I bumped into at Yogurtland last week who also loves Vanilla Wafer, remains privy.”

One moment you are among my 934 closest human contacts and the next, without even the ceremony of a courtesy “fuck you”, you are not. The megaphone goes silent. What’s more, it is up to you to detect this insult solely by the infinitesimal drop in the Din. In this fashion even the De-Friending event still manages to be a plea for attention as it is simultaneously a test of whether you were ever listening. In the finest tradition of passive-aggressivism, protocol requires an attempt to mend bridges with an equally impersonal Re-Friending when you finally notice the De-Friending.

Facebook is not a bad way of staying in touch with a horde of acquaintances. And some friendships begin and end on Facebook which seems natural enough. But when real life friendships (and relationships) become exorcised of reality and exist primarily in the annals of Facebook, well even GregBot thinks that is just sad and pathetic.

All Hail the Neocortex, and Humping.

Vinnie, the Evolutionary Mechanic

Evolution is very practical. And cheap. It doesn’t reinvent shit if it doesn’t have to. Think of the cheapest ass landlord you ever had, the guy for whom no repair required an expert beyond his own steadfast intuitions and a roll of duct tape. The same guy who handed you a cheese grater when the garbage disposal failed. Now combine this guy with the most unscrupulous auto mechanic (hey, why should we give this guy a new axle when Vinnie here can straighten out this old one in the shop vice?) and you will begin to understand how evolution works. Just about everything in you is recycled or refashioned from something else that has been around in one form or another since the first couple cells joined together into tubes and started ingesting and excreting.

Need eyes? No problem, I got a star fish here with warts that detect ambient light, I bet we can fix those up for you into some super smart eyes.

Need nerves? Bingo Bango! I got squids over here makin’ nerves the size of New Jersey. What, are you kidding me?

Need hair, feathers or a shell? Lemme get Vinnie right on that, he’s got a pile of old fish scales laying around here somewhere.

Need lungs? Don’t have that but we got some swim bladders here that in a couple million years should do just fine.

Need a brain? Jeez, that’s easy. I got nerve bundles, I got brain stems, I got amygdalas, I got olfactory bulbs, I got fully loaded low density myelinated white matter up the wazoo! You want a what? A human brain? Well let’s see. Let’s just take that brain stem over there, scoop some alligator brains on top, put another scoop of cortex on that and slap some of this here new fangled neocortex on top of the whole wad and bam! There ya go, another satisfied customer.

All Hail the Neocortex

In evolution’s defense, the human neocortex is a rather remarkable adaptation. Just a wispy thin sheet, six cell layers thick, draped over the rest of an ordinary cortex. Its characteristic folds (sulci) and ridges (gyri) are an elegant solution to the problem of how to pack more brains into a hard skull. Make that skull any bigger and it’s gonna be one bad trip out the vagina, someone’s gonna die. But the folds in the neocortex increase its total surface area more than four fold, from about 78 sq. inches were it smooth, to a whopping 360 sq. inches, all without increasing volume. Problem solved. Yes, your neocortex is a super smart Thomas’ English Muffin. It is also 77% of your brain’s total volume, more than the cortex of any other creature on Earth. This wrinkled sheet contains 20 billion neurons. Those neurons are joined by an estimated 150 trillion synaptic connections. That is this many: 150,000,000,000,000. It packs more computing power than any other device on Earth, living, dead, mechanical, biological. And you can make one easier than you can make a Lego Deathstar. But be warned, they cost a lot more.

This amazing neocortex of ours is the source of every literary work, artistic expression, scientific and technological breakthrough, social and cultural advance. It is the engine behind the Merchant of Venice, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, MRIs, the Polio Vaccine, Quantum Mechanics, Cities, Bullet Trains, Constitutions, Bills of Rights.

Check the Stats

But Evolution couldn’t give a shit about any of that highfalutin stuff. There is only one metric of importance in the big game of life: reproduction. So is the neocortex a success? Let’s look at the numbers:

Human population 100,000 year ago: ~10,000.

Human population today: 7,000,000,000.

Keep in mind that 100,000 years on an evolutionary time scale is equivalent to a single blink in the course of your entire life. It’s not even enough time to test whether two testicles are better than twelve, though we all know the answer to that. That’s not a population explosion folks, it’s a Type II population supernova, a population Big Bang if you will.

Mother Nature tried her best to keep us in check and for the first couple of millennia it kind of worked. Eat plague, monkeys! Suck down this influenza! Choke on some malaria! Smallpox, Typhus, TB, Cholera, Polio. But when our clever Big Brains got involved these scourges were largely handled, now no more threatening than bullets to Superman.

Our massive neocortex has also removed the yoke placed on most species’ population size: starvation. We are masters of flora and fauna, plunderers of the oceans, domesticators of dangerous herd animals, terraformers of worlds. We will gather it. We will plant it. We will fabricate it. We will raise it. We will slaughter it. We will cook it or cure it. We will eat it raw. And in a serious pinch we will even eat each other. Neocortex, you rock.

Even the very perturbations of Planet Earth itself are no longer a match for our brawny neocortex : Ice Ages, Volcanism, Floods, Earthquakes, Tornados, Hurricanes, Locust Storms! Far from cataclysmic, these events are effective only at scratching trailer parks, towering brick hovels and nuclear power plants off the crusty mantle. They are no match for the neocortex.

Whatever is thrown at us, our big brains figure out a way to keep us multiplying faster than yeast in hot pants on a Georgia summer’s day. So does this neocortex shit work? You bet your ass it does.

The Real Hero: Humping.

But let’s pay homage to the other reason for our species’ success. It’s not poetry, or music or medicine nor is it empathy, wit or will. It’s horniness, horn-doggery and humping.

That’s right, horniness. We are hands down the horniest life form ever to sully this planet. Rut? Estrous? Biological clocks? That shit is for prudes and prey. We get it on when we want, where we want and however the fuck kinky way we want. Compared to our libidos, salmon crashing head first up miles of rocky rapids look like a bunch of eunuchs parading around in a cloistered monastery. Have you ever seen an alligator wacking off along the river bank every time that voluptuous, scaly caiman from up-river swims by?

Yes, big brains are important. But without horniness they are a non-starter. Consider this, there may have been half a dozen human sub-species that came and went because they were too damn busy solving the mysteries of the Universe to get down to some good old-fashioned, population replenishing, fornication. It doesn’t matter if you know the secrets of Dark Matter if you don’t also take the time to hit some hot and wet matter. Oh yeah, I went there. You and your astounding knowledge, artistry, talents, whatever, can enjoy a brief blip of relevancy while us human heathens fuck you and your kind straight into extinction.

But don’t believe for a second that the credit lies with perpetually horn-dogging dudes. If not for women’s willing participation in this fuck-fest we would be nothing but a stump on the tree of evolution. Despite their frequent complaints about our sexual obsession it is women who drive the libido wagon. Just in case you can’t hear the sound of their eggs screaming for fertilization, women harbor a reservoir of proven tricks deep in their DNA to effectively crank up the volume on their call to copulate. They appeal to our primitive reptilian olfactory senses with an array of manufactured pheromones. They tantalize our ancient avian visual systems with shiny trinkets and elaborate plumage. They strut, dance, and gyrate with all the sultry and come-hither allure validated eons ago in the wildly enticing gesticulations of the female sea cucumber in heat. Ladies, men only think about sex, sex and more sex because that’s all you are saying to us.

The clamor coming from the women readers should be approaching a roaring din right about now. “We aren’t always acting sexy!!” And this is true. But realize that one rain drop going up does not stop the deluge. For every woman bristling in a moment of dampened sexual energy, there are ten more around her lobbing hand grenades of love. Not to mention the non-stop barrage from our arts, music, advertisements, television, films and just about every human endeavor that all eventually boil down to some or other bearing on penis and vagina.

So be thankful you have a big brain stuffed full of neocortex but also be thankful you are a serious horn-dog. Alarmists will say that things have gone too far (as they always have and will), that we are too successful in our reproduction, that we are too successful in our manipulation of the environment. But I for one am confident. Confident that our Big Brains will help us right the course. Confident that our libidos will remain unassuaged. And I am horny. Good thing too, because without a chronic overflow of sexual impulses there would be no art, no science, no civilization, no bikes, no blogs, no Greg Bot 2012, no people. So stay smart and stay horny.

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