Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Trust the Work

”Present your work to the public. Some people change their work to meet what they believe their public is. Well, that might work for a while, but I have no idea what my public will want, so if I hear something, I follow it. If I see something, I follow it and present it to the public, trusting that there will be a sufficiency in order for a supper to arrive. And historically that’s worked. Some times have been better than the others, but riches and popularity have never been on the top of my to-do list.”

– Robert Fripp

House of Pain

“What is the law?”

By the time an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi utters those words in “The Island of Lost Souls,” an absolute masterpiece of horror from 1932, you have already seen things you wished you hadn’t. Things that will haunt your nightmares for many years to come.

I last saw this film over 30 years ago, and I remembered it as very creepy. After watching it again last night, I was struck by what a queer piece of art it was. For anyone who thinks films from this period are so dated as to be unwatchable, I would say, watch this. That is, if you can.

Charles Laughten’s performance as Dr. Moreau is Brando-like 20 years before. I make that comparison not because of any physical similarity, rather because the actor’s choices are so bizarrely unusual and effective. It’s a great script, but you can’t write what Laughten does with the role.

Erle C. Kenton’s direction and the cinematography by Karl Struss, together with some very surrealistic set design, creates an uneasy atmosphere of mounting dread. This is a pre-Hays Code film, so expect to see some surprisingly shocking images and unsettling themes explored head on.

To wit: The human/animal hybrids, lurking on the edges of many scenes, are sure to disturb you in a way that won’t be easy to forget. Let’s not even discuss The House of Pain. Seriously.

The mutants, headed by Lugosi as “The sayer of the law,” along with their creator Laughton, will haunt your mind like a fever dream.

“What is the law? Not to spill blood, that is the law.

Let’s see how that works out.

Waterfront at Night (Part 2)

We are living in a transitional period in human evolution; more specifically, the phase in AI development where it begins to appear everywhere, yet, for the general public, it seems almost transparent. Like it’s not really that big a deal.

But it is a big deal. One AI researchers already don’t fully understand. Case in point: DALL-E 2.

Yesterday’s image “Waterfront at Night,” was created from a short text prompt by the Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) model initially developed by OpenAI in 2018.

After getting access to the free program, this was my 8th attempt to have the algorithm generate something cool. It’s so simple a child learning to read could use it.

Because it uses machine learning (I.e. it teaches itself by analyzing input, in this case over 6 million images), the designers can’t reverse-engineer how it actually creates a specific image.

In other words, humans created this thing and then gave it the ability to recursively teach itself – so unless it tells us, we don’t know exactly how it makes its decisions.

And yet here it is, in the wild, happily teaching itself how to become better at what it does. To OpenAI’s credit, they’ve tried to limit its capabilities (no porn or violence), but at the end of the day, good luck with that.

Welcome to the future. Ready or not, it’s here and raring to go.

Or perhaps I should say, it’s here and raring to show us what it can do.

Hunter S. Thompson (Part 1)

Here’s how you open a non-fiction piece of political coverage:

I feel the fear coming on, and the only cure for that is to chew up a fat black wad of blood-opium about the size of a young meatball.

What kind of editor would approve that for print? Jann Wenner, of course!

Out to Lunch (Part 2)

ERs are the only unit in a hospital that has no limit for the amount of patients admitted.

Say what?

That’s right. We basically take patients until the whole system breaks down. First we put a stretcher in every nook and cranny of open space. Then we double up every room. Then we take overflow from units that are “full.”

Speaking from experience here folks. It ain’t pretty.

Welcome to American health care. I know you’re not happy, but I’m doing my best.

Sociopath

“This was the first time I’d murdered someone, and I was surprised to find I didn’t feel any different than I had before. I didn’t plan on ever killing anyone again, but not because I felt remorse.

The truth was I didn’t feel anything.”

Not What it Seems (Part 1)

Declan walks in and sees Knobby emptying the safe deposit box into a canvas bag. “You really think you’re going to walk out of here with that?”

Knob looks up. “How the fuck did you get in here?”

“I don’t think that’s the right question, mate.”

“It’s not, is it? Well suppose you tell me what the right fucking question is?”

The two men stop and stare at each other, weighing their next move.

“You remember that time at Crowley’s Circus?” Declan reaches in his pocket and lights a cigarette. “Back in the day?”

Knob stands still as a statue, his face expressionless, impossible to read. An interminable silence leads to an almost imperceptible beginning of a grin. “Carswell. That right prick. Thought the threat of the guv’nor would have us pissing ourselves. What a misguided cunt…”

Good Sentences (Part 3)

“The witch’s mask was still clasped in her waxy, pale hand, her mouth slack, an open portal of death.”

“The crickets chirped, and the night creatures roamed, and sleep fell over me like a shroud.”

– from ”Lost on the Wilder Shores”

More Than We Bargained For (Part 1)

“Wanna come to a party?”

We were returning from a lecture George Martin had given on his work with The Beatles, and it was still early, maybe 10:30 on a beautiful cool fall night in Boston. I’d driven in from New York for the event after he announced this would be his last public appearance. You were beside yourself with excitement and bought two tickets as soon as they went on sale. Both of us being musicians obsessed with the Fab-Four, this would be as close as we would ever get to hear an eye-witness account of history. We’d stopped by a Store-24 for ice cream and beer before heading back to your apartment when a young woman approached me at the checkout.

“What kind of party?” I said. May as well hear her out; I wasn’t young; the days had long passed when this sort of thing happened as a normal course of events.

“Follow me; I’ll tell you outside,” she said, smiling and motioning to the parking lot.

You were waiting in your car when I approached with my new friend. Clearly not amused. She checked you out, took a second to run some mental calculations, and decided you passed muster before spilling the beans.

“It’s a private sex party; you guys’ll have fun. “You know know,” she winked. ”B & D, that kind of stuff.” Something about her was off, making the whole thing even more enticing.

Always down for weird experiences, I wasted no time. “Sure; how do we get there?”

After giving us directions and a secret password, she got in her car and drove off. I looked at you with a shit-eating grin, my Haagen-Daaz already getting soft, and said, “C’mon — we’ve gotta check it out! We’ll leave if you’re not into it.” Of course, you didn’t want to go, but I was relentless. My plan wasn’t to have sex with strangers, I just wanted to check out what sounded like a freaky scene. I could tell my wife I was doing research. Maybe not the best plan, whatever; I’d figure that out later.

Humoring me, you begrudgingly went along. By the time we pulled up to the address, it was brutally cold. Boston weather’s like that, always changing on a dime. The place was a massive old candy warehouse in an industrial district that seemed to be deserted. We’d been driving in alleys, passing empty loading docks that looked like they hadn’t been used in a while when I saw someone go in an unmarked doorway.

“C’mon, this must be it.”

Oh, this was it, alright. You were my best friend, and this would turn out to be another memorable night in a long line of memorable nights stretching over decades before you passed away seven years ago today.

I loved you, my brother, and still think of you every day.

Rest In Peace.

Literary Pickpocket

”Writers don’t read the way civilians do. Civilians read to enjoy. Writers read to steal — to find some style or fact or device they can use in their own work. As the narrator puts it in Wallace Stegner’s novel “Crossing to Safety,” his English professor friend “came to the tradition as a pilgrim, I as a pickpocket.”

– David Brooks, “How to Find Out Who You Are

If We Can Alter Our Genome, Why Can’t We Control Monkeypox?

We all saw this play out in March and April of 2020 with COVID, yet here we are again, making the same mistakes with Monkeypox. Caught up in the last mess as an ER nurse, It seemed like we failed completely. How could we have been so unprepared?

Watching the current crisis unfold, it occurs to me I wasn’t factoring in one important variable.

Solving problems in the lab is very different than solving them in the real world. Once your cohort becomes the entire population of the country, much less the planet, it becomes exponentially more difficult to control.

Labs are orderly. People are messy.

This is not to make excuses for the apparent failures of our government and public health agencies. Rather, it’s just an acknowledgement of why the problem of controlling viral outbreaks seems to fail with depressing regularity.

It’s true we eradicated smallpox and polio, but that was in a time before the Internet, and both of those initiatives took years, if not decades, to implement.

Of course, back then there were no social networks, no tsunami of misinformation, and no ability to attempt to fact-check epidemiology much less immunology. Two topics, BTW, that cannot be fully understood by trained medical professionals, much less the population at large.

Sadly, controlling global populations seems to be a fools game at worst, or a process taking years at best.

In the meantime, try to avoid skin on skin contact with other humans.

The Falling Price of Technology

In 1983, Yamaha released the DX7, a groundbreaking new form of synthesis. The first affordable digital synthesizer, it would help define the sound of pop music for the next decade. It cost $1,995.

In 2002, Native Instruments were the leader in developing software instruments. Some were original designs, some recreations of hardware. That year they released their emulation of Yamaha’s DX7, calling it FM7 and adding many new features that wouldn’t have been possible in hardware. It sold for $350.

Today, I got an email advertising a sale. Native Instruments FM7 is now available for $10.

Yeah, you heard right. $10.

Keep Moving

So you’re working on something, and now you’re stuck. Maybe it’s a startup, maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s just an idea and you’re not even sure where to begin.

Just keep moving. Do whatever seems to be the best choice, even if it turns out to be wrong. You can always correct course later.

Here’s why this is so important: it’s in the process of trying that the correct solution will present itself.

Stasis equals certain death.

Chaos

Honest to God chaos. No room to walk. Can’t hear yourself think. Just people everywhere in various states of need. Some patient, some quite angry. “Go away or I’ll kill you.” Mental note: needs Haldol. Five milligrams. Stat. Maybe two of Ativan for good measure. No need for anyone else to get hurt.

Who gets seen first? The sickest ones. Broken bone ain’t sick. No pulse = sick. Kidney stone not as sick as O2sat of 78. No pulse = dead but maybe we can get ‘em back. Top of the list. O2 sat of 78 next.

Angry man with homicidal intent?

Security will handle that. Mental note: fresh-baked cookies for security this Christmas.

Ever Wonder Why Nurses Leave the Profession?

”I love swimming laps for exercise and do it regularly when I can. Imagine, though, that the water at my regular pool was suddenly so cold that I could barely stand it or, alternatively, so hot I felt myself overheating to the point of being unwell. Doing laps might still be good exercise but it wouldn’t feel good and would be harder than necessary.

Imagine if I complained about the temperature of the water and was told that maintaining a working thermostat for the pool wasn’t in the budget. Then picture how I would feel if the time available for swimming kept getting shorter and shorter, and when I complained about that, I was told that I just needed to swim harder and faster in the lessened time available. Add in that every swim required a long computer assessment, and the time it took to complete the assessment came off the time allotted for my swim.

Finally, imagine that the pool fired all the lifeguards to save money and one day, another swimmer got into trouble and drowned, and I tried to save them but couldn’t get to that person in time.

If after all that, someone asked me, “Do you want to keep swimming for exercise?” I would of course answer yes, emphatically, but not in that place. The problem is, from what I hear anecdotally, working as a nurse in so many hospitals right now is very similar to swimming in that underresourced pool.”

– Theresa L. Brown, PhD, BSN, RN

Here’s an Idea

What if you just start with nothing and see where it goes?

Like maybe the best shit is just waiting to come out without you getting in the way and fucking it up?