Category Archives: Essays

This is a very boring name for me writing about the stuff that’s on my mind. I strive to make the essays more interesting than the word “essays” and this description.

Revisiting the Threaded Thanks

We’re all connected, and I’m thankful for that.

Last year I wrote this piece on the subject, and this year I think the idea is worth revisiting because we’re much less likely to spew hatred and vitriol when we recognize our connections.

Consider today’s feast, if you’re an American participating in the feasting, or if you’re a human who happens to be eating: farmers from around the world contributed to the things on the table. If you’re enjoying poultry it may be local, but the spices applied to it were likely grown much further afield—Hungary for your paprika and Vietnam for the black pepper, to name two likely contenders.

Did anything sit in your refrigerator? Components for that miraculous bit of technology were built by engineers from many nations, using materials that include petroleum products and rare earth metals. When you open the refrigerator you’re operating equipment with bits from China, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia, the United States, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, and that’s the short list.

The “threaded thanks” exercise works in this way: Pick a thing for which you are thankful, and then read up on that thing. Where did it come from? Before it came from there, where did its parts come from? Who hauled it from all those places to the place where you got it? How were they able to make the trip? Find the thread and keep pulling, and identify as many connections as you’re able to. Then express your gratitude for each of those connections.

It might take a while. Probably don’t do this while others are waiting to eat.

There is no room for jingoism or any other dehumanizing belief system in this exercise. There were no “lesser” people involved in bringing you the things that made today’s meal possible. You depend on them, and when they sit down to eat, they depend on you. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that I depend upon you in some way for the meal I’m enjoying. My own living is earned in a massive web of transactions that include the streams of data moving to and from the device upon which you’re reading this text.

Last year at this time I described myself as a thankful person. To me, being thankful means acknowledging the countless hands that bear me up, and expressing my love and appreciation for them. It means being grateful, and learning to whom I owe the debt of gratitude. It means embracing the idea that when I pay for a thing and bring it home, the financial transaction is just one small part of the established connection.

We are all connected, and I am thankful for that. You’re part of those connections in more than just one way. I’m thankful for you, and the work you do to make our world a better one.




A New Common Core

There’s talk these days about college educations being too expensive—and by “too expensive,” some experts have said it’s simply not worth the money. I’m not currently working in the field I studied, but I don’t regret college at all. In part, I suppose, because it’s been paid for.

Of the many things I remember from my years in school, these two stick out:

  • “You don’t know how to think until you know how to write” (from Freshman orientation)
  • “There is more than just one way to learn a thing” (from an honors seminar on epistemology)

Those two points served me very well as I moved from career to career, and I think they can be expanded upon to form their own field of study. With a substantial portion of all human knowledge instantly available to us on our handbrains¹ it can be argued that the acquisition of such knowledge needs to be cheaper than a one-year service plan.

On the down side, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Per Sturgeon’s Law², “90% of everything is crap.” A formal education might be the best defense against inadvertently filling one’s head with digitally disseminated falsehood, folklore, and folderol.

The current model for formal education involves front-loading our brains with material delivered by professionals whose authority we’re not truly invited to question. They may teach “question everything,” but they never really support us questioning whether their class is worth our money.

That’s why I think that the class we all need, and which should likely be the first class taught to the rising generation, would teach the following skills:

  • How to gather information online
  • How to evaluate that information’s validity
  • How to make a decision based on the available information

Simply put, it is learning how to learn, and learning how to act on what we’ve learned. I imagine the class running for about three months, and presenting increasingly complicated problems for students to solve using online resources.

It may seem a little silly, and even a little too basic, because it’s an extension of what most of us already do. But as more and more information becomes quickly available to us, this process  will inevitably become the dominant mode for learning things. Doing it sloppily will be disastrous.

Obviously the things learned from online research will need to be supplemented with practical experience, but there are manifold paths open to us once we’ve figured out that first bit. It may be that autodidacts³ of the future will move directly into medical school, skipping the undergrad and pre-med programs on their way to becoming doctors.

Or maybe the doctors of the future will go to school for bedside manner and periodic maintenance of the surgeon-bots and all their super-precise robot friends who never forget to wash their hands⁴.

¹Have you ever had a professor quote to you from their own book, which you were required to buy as part of the class? I’ve always aspired to that level of grift. 

²What we call “Sturgeon’s Law” was called “Sturgeon’s Revelation” by Sturgeon, and he never got around to condensing it into six words of pith. 

³A fancy word for “folks who are self-taught.” Useful, but pretty much everybody I know has taught themselves a great many interesting things, so at some level the word “autodidact” simply means “human.”

Still a problem among modern surgeons. It’s the surgeon equivalent of using your turn signal when driving.


In-N-Out Redux: Next Time, Maybe Lead With That

Back in 2010 I tried In-N-Out, and did not like it. There was nothing setting the burger and fries apart from those served at other fast food restaurants, except that it somehow felt greasier.

I ordered the fries “animal style” because I was told to. As it happens, that’s an awesome suggestion for people who want a fried potato casserole, but it’s less awesome for people who like to eat french fries. Today I figured out that it’s almost certainly not what the In-N-Out apologists in my various feeds wanted me to try.

Today I asked for “animal style” on a burger. Specifically, I said “double double animal style,” and attempted to adopt a tone that suggested I was an old hand at this, rather than someone who had not ordered food here in six years.

What arrived was kind of amazing, with a flavor I hadn’t had before, and I can totally see myself getting that burger again. I don’t know what “mustard fried patty” actually means, but I can taste the scorched mustard under the other sauces, and their combination with the extra pickles and the grilled onions was quite nice. It stuck to the paper it was wrapped in, but rather than hold that against them I chalked it up to ordering cheese-infused food from a place that wraps its food in paper.

But I’m now led to ask this question: why isn’t In-N-Out leading with that sandwich? Despite being made of essentially the same stuff you’d find in any burger joint, the animal style sandwich sets itself apart from other fast food offerings by tasting different. It’s the sort of thing that foodies at fancy restaurants might call a signature dish. It’s a menu item that will bring people back to your specific restaurant, assuming they like the dish, and want to put it into themselves a second time.

It’s not quite good enough to send me code-diving on a voyage of exploration deep into the In-N-Out menu, but I can now see why folks might do that, and how this pursuit would lead them to acquire the taste necessary to zealously insist that In-N-Out is the best. I don’t agree, but the double-double animal style is a tasty sandwich I’ll be having again.

Some Windy Fun

Have a look at

Spin the globe, zoom in and out, click the overlays.

PLAY with it.

As you play you will learn some things about our world. Nifty things, trivial things, and critically important things.

Like, for instance, why humans finally decided that they’d rather dig a ditch through a continent than attempt to sail around it.




I’ve bookmarked the site, and will make it part of my trawl anytime something interesting is happening with the weather.  And anytime I want to see why there aren’t more pleasure cruises running between Argentina and Antarctica.