Writer’s Workshop: “Virus Of The Mind”

Let me preface this by saying that anytime I try to discuss memetics, I manage to, in the words of Andy Griffith, “catch my britches on my own pitchfork.” Years ago, I wrote about “the brain vs. the mind” and the difference between genetics and memetics. Both are important to your development as a person: genetics determines the physical you (your DNA), where memetics determines, for lack of a better term, the spiritual you (your culture, ethos, beliefs, etc.).

This has been an interesting year (as in “may you live in interesting times”), in that it’s an election year and a year in which there’s been considerable turmoil due to Covid-19, a very nasty coronavirus that has the ability to kill people. It has been, and will be, a time when a lot of messages about said election and said pandemic have been flying around in the media and online. The outcome of all of these things is going to depend on which memes, units of “cultural transfer” which Richard Dawkins first discussed in his book The Selfish Gene, are going to catch on and which are going to be rejected.

The book that introduced me to the notion of memes and memetics is Richard Brodie’s 1996 book, Virus Of The Mind: The New Science Of The Meme. Brodie advances the notion that a meme (for eample, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) works in much the same way as a virus does: its sole purpose is to reproduce itself. Whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, it “infects” a person and starts reproducing itself. The “infected” person then goes about spreading the meme, “infecting” others, until it’s “infected” as many people as it can. Where a virus such as Covid-19 makes people ill, even kills them, the meme makes people do and think differently. News broadcasts, political campaign advertising, pornography, and posts to social media are just a few ways these memes get started. I’m sure that the term “going viral” came from the way these messages replicate themselves.

I just started re-reading the book, because this year seems to be one rich in memes, with the election in November, the continuing battles against Covid-19 and the struggle to get things back to “normal,” either the normal we had before March or some form of new “normal” that grows out of everything we’ve learned. I made the comment recently that I’m less concerned about Covid-19 than I am about the “viruses of the mind” that occur as a result. I think everyone should be, and the way to do that is to learn to recognize the memes for what they are.

Writer’s Workshop: Long, Long, Long…

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

I’ve been getting the notion that maybe it’s time to deal with my desktop computer, a 2012 Mac Mini. Minis are nice, because they’re small (8″x8″x2″) and do as much work as a much larger (and much more expensive) computer. It has 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive installed, which was fine eight years ago. Unfortunately, the operating system has been upgraded several times since then, and with each new release of the operating system, the memory requirements have increased. It still runs, just a lot slower than it did when it was brand new, and as such some jobs that should finish in a matter of hours now finish in a matter of days. I attempted to do a full backup of the hard drive last night. I started it at 9:30 and, thirteen hours later, the job was less than 20% complete.

Unacceptable, I don’t care who you are.

I got a bee in my bonnet about it, and while it would be possible to ditch this machine and go with my laptop, I have so much stuff on this one that I need to be able to get at, and the hard drive in the laptop is half the size of this one. So that’s not an option. Buying a new Mini is not an option, either. So, I’m left with a third option: upgrading this one.

In the good old days, when I had the use of both hands, I would buy the new parts and whatever tools I needed, do the upgrade, and all would be well. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. However, I found a service online to which I can send my computer and who will do it for only slightly more than it would cost to do myself. What’s more, I can pay for most of it using cash-back money on one of my credit cards.

I’ll probably send it out next week. Keep your fingers crossed…

Writer’s Workshop: Bingeing on “Home Run Derby”

Well, you wanted to know the best thing to come out of my “stay home quarantine.” Truth be told, we managed to get out yesterday, for lunch at O’Charley’s, after which we stopped at our recently-reopened Starbucks, bought a couple of drinks through the drive-thru, then sat in the parking lot, in the car, drinking them. It was strange being a nearly-empty restaurant and sitting in the parking lot of a place we go all the time to sit for several hours, but it was nice to get out of the house.

When we got home, I sat and watched videos on YouTube, and discovered that someone had loaded all the episodes of the 1960 show Home Run Derby out there, and I’ve been binge-watching them. The players were the top power hitters in the major leagues in 1959, most of whom were still playing when I was growing up. Each match would pit two of the sluggers against each other, one of whom was the winner from the previous week. They would play a nine-inning “game” with each player coming up to bat in each inning. Only the home runs counted; anything else was an out. At the end of 9 innings (or 8 1/2 if the winner from the week before was ahead), the winner received a check for $2000, while the loser received $1000. Any player who hit three home runs in a row received an extra $500.

It struck me as I watched the games how different things are today. The players looked and acted the part: their uniforms were worn correctly, they were clean-shaven and generally without visible tattoos. More importantly, they were polite to each other. No trash talk, no heckling the guy from the bench, not badmouthing their opponent while they were talking to Mark Scott, the announcer, no arguing with the umpire. In short, they were gentlemen, shaking hands, wishing their opponent luck, being good winners and losers.

They played the games at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which was built to similar specifications as the one in Chicago (the Cubs had a farm team, the Angels, in Los Angeles before the Dodgers moved there). It was in the middle of a neighborhood, and you could see houses on the other side of the left-field wall. (I wonder how many windows the sluggers broke?)

While I and other baseball fans await the beginning of the season, watching old games and shows like Home Run Derby keeps us happy, and still connected to the game, and perhaps to our baseball heritage.

Writer’s Workshop: Pharmacy Phollies

Because it feels so good when I stop… (Source: Giphy)

My insurance company (let’s call it Tom) and my pharmacy (which we’ll call Dick) are both owned by the same company (which, as you probably know, I’m going to call Harry), which is a little like a personal injury lawyer owning his own ambulance service. Tom’s preferred pharmacy is Dick, for obvious reasons, so I’ve been using them for a couple of years now.

Every pharmacy in the country now has an automatic refill service, and Dick is no exception. Dick cajoled me into signing up for his automatic refill service, and up to now it’s been great: the minute I hit about 30 day’s worth onhand, Dick texts me to let me know that he’s filled the prescriptions and come pick them up. My prescriptions are issued every year when I have my checkup. So, when Mary picked up my last refill in February, I assumed that Dick wouldn’t do any more refills until I came in with a new prescription.

Well, you know what happens when you assume. Last month, I get a text message from Dick, telling me my prescriptions have been refilled. This puzzled me, because I hadn’t touched the refill that was done in February, but I assumed that I had counted incorrectly and had Mary pick them up. While Mary is on the way to see Dick, I get not one, but two irate calls from my doctor’s office (which I’ll call Devender, because that’s his name) telling me that the doctor has authorized the refill, but if I want any more I’ll have to make an appointment. Evidently, seeing that I had no refills, Dick called my doctor to get more, all without notifying me.

Today I got yet another irate call from Devender about another prescription, and after assuring them that I had scheduled an appointment, I decided that automatic refills were more trouble than they were worth. I went to Dick’s website to turn that feature off, and found that I couldn’t. I ended up calling their help desk. I spent half an hour on the phone before they had an agent available, who I could barely hear and who tried to convince me to keep the automatic refills going, but finally took care of it.

All’s well that ends well, I guess, but now I’m dreading my appointment at the end of May, because I’ll probably be lectured by the doctor about this whole mess.

Writer’s Workshop: The Green Limousine

A CTA bus. Source: Pinterest

Chicago has some of the best public transit in the United States. My grandmother, who rode the buses all the time, said that she could get anywhere in the city on a single fare. Things have changed since she (and I, for that matter) rode the buses. For one thing, it’s a whole lot more expensive than it used to be; for another, they’ve adopted a zone system for fares, where if you’re traveling to one of the more remote outposts of the city, you pay more; and the buses and trains no longer can be counted on to run at all hours of the day and night. Nevertheless, if you don’t have a car (and many Chicagoans don’t), it’s a pretty reliable method of transportation, especially if you live in the city itself. There are a few of the Rapid Transit (train) lines that go to some of the suburbs, and there are suburban buses there that can get you where you need to go, or at least close to it.

I didn’t drive until I was 28. I had a bad experience in Driver’s Ed in high school, after which I decided that I would see how long I could go without having a car or being able to drive before taking driving lessons and buying a car. Since most of that time I was working close to bus routes, it wasn’t much a problem, at least when the weather was decent. When we would get bad weather, it was iffy, especially if the bad weather involved snow. I talked about one particular misadventure here, in case you’re interested.

There are times I miss it, because it reminds me of a much simpler time in my life when I was young and slim and the world was bursting with possibilities for me. Then I remember the bad experiences: standing in the rain, waiting for a bus for seemingly hours, only to have two or three show up at the same time; having the bus break down and having to wait for one to come along and rescue me and the other passengers; having ten inches of blowing and drifting snow wreak havoc on my plans to get home; watching the bus I had to catch to get to work on time drive past when I was half a block away from the stop.

And yet, I still miss it.