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A Computer-Generated Future -- Writer's Poke #449

Could a computer write a hit pop song? Why not? The Australian comedy trio Axis of Awesome demonstrated that many pop songs follow a basic four chord formula. If that’s all it takes, then certainly a computer should be capable of reproducing the formula. For all I know, maybe computers already generate all pop songs already.
If computers did produce the music you love to listen to, would it bother you? Maybe pop music doesn’t qualify as “art,” but what about traditional European classical music? Bach and Beethoven and Mozart were all geniuses, right? And their music isn’t just simply the equivalent of disposable plastic eating utensils; it’s the fine china of the music world. If a computer could compose original classical music, that would be a feat indeed, wouldn’t it? Would it at the same time diminish the genius behind the original human creations of the past masters?
The problem with computer-generated music – pop or classical – is that it’s all derivative. But perhaps that isn’t a …

The Failure of Will Alone -- Writer's Poke #448

Does failure result solely from the lack of will to succeed? That’s a rather provocative question, and to fully understand what it means, perhaps it would be a good idea to examine a few examples. Let’s just brainstorm and randomly see what develops.
1. The War on Drugs. Pretty much a failure, right? Why? Too much money in the drug trade; too much consumer demand for illegal drugs.
2. The War on Terrorism. Failure? The use of force exhibited in Boston after the Marathon bombings was impressive, but the lack of intelligence needed to prevent the bombing from occurring in the first place is less than impressive.
3. The War on Poverty. “If people are poor, then they should working harder and do something about it. It’s not my problem.” The lack of success resulted from the inability to overcome an entrenched attitude. 
We like to declare war on problems. No one ever declares peace on problems. “War” indicates we mean business, but unfortunately metaphorical wars lack set-piece battles. The…

We, As Humans -- Writer's Poke #447

I’ve been reading student essays for the past fifteen years, and I wish I knew how many times I’ve read students write the following: “We, as humans, ….” Most of the times I just mark out “as humans” and go on reading.
Quite honestly, I probably haven’t given the phrase any deep thought, but the qualification does seem to imply that the “we” the students speak of could be something other than human. What exactly could “we” be, if not human? Perhaps an examination of this question has merit.
Take, gender, for example. One feminist writer described gender as a copy without an original. Essentially, gender is “prescribed” – by culture, or religion, etc. What it means to be “male” or “female” are simply ideas, and all of us pick up on the particular ideas created by the group(s) we belong to.
Assuming this is true, it makes sense to suggest that what it means to be human works the same way. What does it mean to be human? Homo sapiens belong to the animal kingdom, but when people speak of …

Shakespeare Matters -- Writer's Poke #446

In high school I didn’t know much about Shakespeare, and I didn’t care. If we did read any of his work in any of my English classes, I’m sure it was Romeo and Juliet, which is probably one of his most “accessible” plays. I don’t recall if we read it or not, though, as I’ve done a fairly good job of blacking out all memories of English classes from high school.
My freshman year was my last year in Honors English. At that point in my life, I didn’t know the meaning of homework or studying. If I didn’t know something immediately, it probably wasn’t worth knowing, or so I thought. Besides, each English period was a perfect opportunity to work on my novel. I called it a novel, but it was actually just episodic scribbling. I spent an entire year working on my writing, but I have to admit it was crap. I wish I would have had more direction on how to write, but like I said, I wasn’t in the mindset to study craft. That wouldn’t happen until college.
By the time I reached college, I fell into be…

The Symbolism Response -- Writer's Poke #445

Murders are rare in Rochester, Minnesota. To my knowledge, only one has occurred in the past two years, and it took place in my neighborhood – about a ½ mile from my front door.
My neighborhood loops in a circle, and the backside of the circle is a crappy road surrounded on both sides by brush and woods. A few houses sprinkle these woods, but it’s basically an isolated spot.
Sometimes in the summers, we’ll walk the loop. I’m not paranoid, but every time I walk this section – even before the murder – I find myself wondering what I’d do if a car drove up, and the occupants inside started to mess with me. Would I stand and fight? Would I try to flee into the brush? Or would I just stand and wait to see my fate?
I feel safe where I live, but I try to be conscious of my surroundings at all times. When the young man was murdered – apparently the victim of a drug-related crime – no police officers swept our neighborhood looking for the suspects. In fact, we noticed no additional level of pol…

I Dream of India -- Writer's Poke #444

One of my fantasies is to visit India in July.
I dream it to be, well, hotter than hell. The upside to that, of course, is less tourists.
I dream it to be dirty, and I dream it to be crowded, and I dream it to be poor. On the other hand, I dream it to be the opposite of those things, too.
I dream of India because I have never been there, and I honestly have no idea what it’s like.
Why dream of India? Fair question, dear reader, but do you have control over what dreams invade your sleep at night? Neither do I, and neither do I have control, really, over what I dream about when I’m awake.
It’s a cliché to say that life’s a dream, but behind the cliché is at least some truth. While I dream of India from miles away, other people have taken the leap to experience their dreams in person. What do they see when they arrive in the place once only dreamt upon? Does the reality live up to the dream, or is the reality simply an extension of the dream – experienced as life, but actually no differe…

Liftoff -- Writer's Poke #443

I like to think I’m special, but if forced to examine what makes me special, I might have to be honest. I’ve had a lot of breaks and opportunities. You have, too, right? People that have had a chance to explore their specialness have been blessed with a luxury that other people all around the world have been denied.
Human potential. I strongly believe in it, but I also recognize that most people do not live in circumstances that allow them to realize their potential. I’m sure that many – probably all –kids born on May 24, 1973, have talents, skills, perspectives, etc., which make them every bit as special as I am. How many of them have already died before figuring out what made them special? How many continue to live in developing countries, spending most of their energies finding ways to survive from day to day?
At this point in my life, I don’t feel like I’ve reached my potential. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in that regard. I keep studying, and I keep thinking, and I keep wo…

Frank and Louie -- Writer's Poke #442

Frank and Louie is a two-faced cat. Or, to put it another way, Frank and Louie is a cat with two faces. Seems pretty freaky when you first see it, but my thought is simply this: Does it know how to use a litter box, and does it use its litter box each and every time it goes to the bathroom. If so, then that cat’s alright with me.
We’ve been keeping our cat, Turkey, locked up in the basement because she keeps peeing on our beds when she’s upstairs. She’s literally lived in a barn for the first few months of her live, and I suppose you can take the cat out of the barn, but you cannot take the barn out of the cat.
Last night I felt pity for her and I let her out of the basement. She was good all day yesterday, but this morning as I was running around getting ready for work, she peed all over my comforter. Maybe it was a relief for her, but it didn’t provide me with the same feeling. Needless to say, Turkey is now back the basement and will be for the foreseeable future.
While she’s in the b…

Lying About -- Writer's Poke #441

So how often do you lie? And what do you lie about?
1.“How are you today?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Maybe you’re not fine at all, but the social convention is to say that you are. It’s a friendly gesture, and it’s almost the equivalent of shaking hands and saying “hello.” But if you say you’re fine when you’re not, are you lying?

2.“Do I look good in this dress?” or “How do you like the meal?”
“You look good” or “It tastes good.” If these responses are not true, what is the benefit to telling the person the truth? Is it worth hurting someone’s feelings? Sometimes we lie to protect people we love from being hurt. Is this really a bad thing? After all, we know when the people we love want to know the truth, and we also recognize when they don’t want to know the truth, don’t we? The above questions may be examples of when people don’t want to know the truth, or at least don’t mind if we lie to protect their feelings.

3.“Are you hiding any Jews in your house?”
“No.” Think about World War II for a mo…

Click -- Writer's Poke #440

The X-Men Effect -- Writer's Poke #439

The Only Way Is Through -- Writer's Poke #438

If you visit Jamaica, you might end up at Dunn’s River Falls. And if you do, I won’t think any less of you. The idea behind this attraction is neat enough: Start at the bottom and climb your way to the top. Is it worth $50 a person for the experience? I’ll leave that up to you and your budget to decide; keep in mind that the cost includes the ride there and back, which can be a fun adventure in itself. However, it doesn’t include a lot of “hidden” costs…
Other than the high price of admission, the problems with Dunn’s River Falls are many. First, prepare for it to be insanely overcrowded. On days when cruise ships are in port, as many as 7,000 tourists will be trying to make their way to the top with you that same day. In other words, you will be holding hands with strangers from top to bottom, and you’ll probably be more preoccupied with people than you will be with the “amazing experience” you would be having if you were by yourself or with a small, intimate group. As long as you’re …

Happy Accidents -- Writer's Poke #437

Serendipity, by definition, implies “happy little accidents,” and no one plans for accidents, right? Accidents, by definition, just happen.
The serendipity of success, however, isn’t quite as accidental as it may seem. Success may be serendipitous, but if it is, most of the time there’s an underlying element of planning involved.
Successful people, in other words, work to be successful. They plan to be successful; they are motivated to be successful. Could someone accidently trip over success? Perhaps, but how likely is it that such success is long-lasting? Not very likely, I would say.
So how did the painter Bob Ross have so many “happy little accidents?” He had them by actively painting. He wasn’t seeking mistakes, but if he made them, he turned them into opportunities. Some people might immediately stop painting and start over with a new canvas. Ross didn’t. He simply incorporated the mistake into the painting, and the painting was inevitably all the better for it. 
This is a life les…

That Smarts -- Writer's Poke #436