Photos from Scotland

Sorry I'm not going into long essay-like details on the Scotland trip on this post. I will soon -- I'm under a huge crunch to get a bunch of stuff done. But there's a long, long, long essay thing about all the crap I realized and thought about and whatever while in Edinburgh on tap.

 For now, enjoy some fantastically wonderful photos from the trip. They're in a slideshow below, but if you're reading this on Facebook and can't see them, click here to see the Flickr set.

And before you say anything... Yes, there's a lot of pics of the castle. It was a pretty castle.


Postcard Update

This is the biggest response for postcards I've gotten since I started offering postcards when I travel -- over 100 in less than 24 hours.

Time has just not permitted filling out all the postcards and posting them while here. So, even though it's a little lame, some of you will be getting Edinburgh postcards that are mailed from Atlanta.

Feel free to email me if you think this is unacceptable and I'll issue a full refund for your free postcard with a nice castle on it.


Google Maps Can Be Kinda Stupid Sometimes

One of the down sides to travel -- I never get proper workouts in. In fact, I rarely get ANY workouts in. I should have been lifting and running every day this week, and instead, I slept and ate a lot of bangers and mash. Which, as good as it is, won't help me maintain my waspy figure. 

My good friend Colin Alan Ainsworth, who lives in Scotland, told me that one of the cool things to do about town was to hike Arthur's Seat. Arthur's seat is an extinguished volcano, and you can see it from most anywhere in the city of Edinburgh. It looks like a really cool place. In fact, it looks like this:

See? Purdy. And quite a good bit of exercise -- according to the hotel folk, it's about 3k or so from my hotel. That'd be a nice 3-4 mile walk. I think it'd qualify as exercise for the day.

So, I fired up my handy dandy iPad (which, by the way, you absolutely CAN get pay-as-you-go SIM cards for while in Europe. Do not believe the morons at the phone shops, go to a Curry's and pay 10p for the SIM. You can then browse anywhere. There's plenty of WIFI here, but you have to use loyalty cards for whatever place your in (Starbucks, etc) to even get on) and looked up Arthur's Seat. 

This is where we're staying, right off Princes Street at Waterloo / Waverly Station:

And by all accounts and looking at local maps, we knew Arthur's Seat to be in this general area (the blue dot below is the laundromat I'm writing from now, about a mile from my hotel... Not the highlight of my trip so far, but hey, the whites need doing):

It's slap in the middle of that green blob up there. 

So, to get walking directions, I did the sensible thing, and looked up Arthur's Seat. That's it, just Arthur's Seat. And this is where it dumped me: 

 In fact, it's this far away:

Not exactly close. It didn't even give me options -- it just zeroed right in there and assumed I wanted to be in South Africa, for whatever damn reason. So, yeah, screw walking there. I want to be fit and in shape and whatnot, but not so much that I'll do some death march through the Medeterranian into Africa and all the way through the continent. It's not so much the distance, I just don't want to be eaten by a lion. 

So to find the proper Arthur's Seat, I had to append "Edinburgh" to the search, which plopped me here:

That's a little more like it.


Want A Postcard From Scottishland?

Hey all,

As long-time readers know, I like sending postcards when I travel (when time permits). Time just may permit on this trip.

So, if you want a postcard from Scotland, simply email me your address and make sure "Postcard" is somewhere in the subject line. That's it. And if you want it to actually get to YOU, put your name in there as well.

I have to cut this off to preserve both sanity and money, so you have until noon Eastern time tomorrow (October 14 12:00PM EST) to send your infos. I'll fill out postcards tomorrow and get them in the mail for the weekend.


More Scotlandish Stuff -- Oddities (with pics)

 So, the first oddity we discovered while here is that the toilets have two flushers.

I don't understand why. I've tested both, and they appear to do the exact same thing -- evacuate human waste and other material down the chute. Can anyone explain this?

We met with two amazingly wonderful friends, Heather and Fraser, in Glasgow on Saturday. While in Glasgow, we passed a clothing shop that filled every single display window with antique sewing machines:

The rest of the store was a gross disappointment. It ended up being just a European version of Urban Outfitters (which they have here as well, which is sad).

Then, we went to Kelvingrove, possibly the coolest museum I've ever seen, ever. In it, they have a gigantic taxidermied elephant:

The beautiful lady in the green sweater is not the elephant. Anyone who attempts to conflate this post into an insult against my wife and post that I called her an elephant to Facebook will meet with harsh and swift consequence, which will in fact be name-calling and some random invites to stupid game apps.

I thought that storing "Creatures of the Past" in the female commode was a bit odd as well:

I do suppose that, should a female do a number 2, there is in fact a creature from the past there, if only for a moment.

Then, our wonderful hosts took us to a pub which used to be a church:

It was the most fun I've had in a church since I used to make my own vulgar flip-books in the hymnals at youth choir. 

Their graham crackers are called "Digestives" here:

You'd think they'd be less appetizing, but nope -- still yummy grahamy goodness. With chocolate on them, no less. 

And the folks responsible for introducing us to all this oddness that Saturday, Heather and Frasier (in that order):

The next day, we crashed. But then on Monday (yesterday), I had to get a new backpack due to one of my cats deciding to use mine as a toilet the morning we were leaving. Three wash cycles and a TON of bleach didn't get the odor out, it just kinda "mellowed" for a bit. But then it came back something hardcore over the weekend, and I had to scrap the bag. So we found a huge department store what carried the bag I wanted, and it also had a toy section with a huge display of Etch-A-Sketches, upon one I did this:

I rule.


Sitting at a Study On An Early Monday Morning in Scotland

I sit here, watching the cursor blink on my laptop.

It's 6 AM on Monday in Scotland. I've been here five days now. I can't sleep.

I've never been much of a sleeper. A few hours a night most weeks, and a few days of crashing over the weekend. That's life for me. Awake more than asleep, even when my body screams out that it needs to fall over and crumple into a ball and rest.

It's the jetlag, I'm sure. The fact that it's only 1AM at home, and usually at this time, I'm getting back up from going to bed with my wife. I usually fall into bed with her about 11PM, watch the local news, flip over to a recap of the day in hockey or football (or, if neither are in season, whatever horrible movie or show is on the deep dark recesses of cable channels no one watches, like Trio or Bravo or sometimes even the shopping networks, where I learn more about knives in ten minutes than I could possibly learn in a year at a cutlery shop). I get back up, I work; the sun rises and I fall over and wish I'd gotten more sleep.

She's asleep now. Tossing and turning as the sound of my typing sometimes gets a little louder than I want it to. She can sleep through most anything. Me? The light breathing coming from the vent where the fan is blowing out lukewarm air is what woke me. The hum from the wattage converter where all our electronics lay charging is what kept me up. That and the jetlag.

I stare at the cursor blinking again, wondering what words I should choose for this paragraph and the next. What combination of letters would best tell you how tired I am, while also conveying that I cannot sleep -- and don't really want to? Such is the pain of being a writer. No word is the right word; no combination of words does the feelings justice. I'm writing this to avoid writing a story for my next book, in fact. Avoidance is the key to creativity -- if you want to excel in a thing, plan to do something else and then work on the thing while avoiding all other tasks at hand. It's the reason we can all recite the lyrics to horrible pop songs while in high school, yet can never remember the capital of North Dakota.

Pop song lyrics get you further in life, though. If you're still in school, don't tell your parents I told you that. It's the Great Secret. Nothing you learn now will help you later in life, except determining the area of a room. Trust me, if you ever buy a house, you'll want to know that when it comes time to paint or lay floor. And if you lay floor, you'll also be glad you learned your angles. Cutting a foyer is much easier if you understand that 33 degree angles won't get you much of anything except angry.

I might as well make coffee. Thank God I brought my own. There is none decent enough to pass for actual coffee to be found anywhere in Scotland. And, from what I hear, the whole of Britain. Did you know that Britain is actually also the United Kingdom, and is not simply England? I always knew that the United Kingdom was more than just England (it's also N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales), but I always thought that Britain was just slang for England. Not so. Angry Scots will ensure you take that lesson home with you if you haven't learned it by the time you arrive.

My wife stirs. I should be in bed next to her. I should be scratching her back and stroking her hair. But she's asleep and has been the past four hours, which is the opposite of what I've been. And after the second hour of realizing that my killing time by trying to be sweet was actually just keeping her awake, I decided to come over to this study and stare at a blinking cursor and pretend that, some day, this work would eek its way out of me and onto the page and there'd be a finished product to be proud of.

Instead, I decide to write about not being able to write. Or sleep.

Kettle's boiling. Time for coffee.


Hello From Europeland

In case you don't follow the Art of Akira stuff I do, I'm in Edinburgh, UK for the next few weeks for Scotland Loves Animation

I'm trying my best to get past the jetlag. I'm sitting in, of all places, a Starbucks on Princess Street. It's quite beautiful here. The view is far better than the one at the Starbucks I usually write from. But the chances of a car crashing through the front window of the store is much lower (at least I hope -- I'm on the 2nd floor). Here's the view: 

Although I suppose it is possible that a disaffected youth could still chuck a cinder block through the window from here. He'd have to be an Olympic shot-putter or some such.

And since it's morning (most probably) for you, here's a beautiful pic of sunrise from our plane yesterday morning:

And sunset down Princess Street last night:

Sorry for the horrendous quality. It's a stupid iPhone camera, so it's not the best. But I found it beautiful nonetheless, and had to share.

So, as I say, I'm busting through jetlag by getting up nice and early, having my morning coffee, and heading over to Filmhouse in Edinburgh to set up the Art of Akira Exhibit for Scotland Loves Animation. And on my way this morning, I was greeted with this poster on a bus stop just outside my hotel:

Because it might not be too clear, it's a poster for Scotland Loves Animation. Very exciting -- even though DragonCon was huge for Art of Akira, we didn't have busstop posters promoting the event! So this is my first national festival. It should be pretty great. I'll get plenty of neat pictures and post them to the Art of Akira Facebook page the next few days, and try not to let it all bleed over into this blog too much, as I know some of you aren't big anime nerds. 

I'll do my best to get in the way of a taxi or have a dog urinate on my leg or something equally hilarious for your enjoyment soon. For now, off to go frame a bunch of art. If you're anywhere in the UK (or Europe in general), get your butts to Edinburgh the next 2 weeks and see this thing, and I'll buy you coffee. Probably at Starbucks.


The "Problem" With Stories (Or, Why Tyler Cowan Proved Himself Wrong)

My friend Alec sent me this TED Talk by Tyler Cowen, who tells us that "stories" end up destroying the details; they manipulate and dilute the historical importance of things that happened. In some portions, he actually argues that the use of "stories" to understand or learn about events makes us stupider. "You lose 10 IQ points every time you use the good vs. evil story," he says.

Here's the talk. This blog post will make a LOT more sense if you watch it. It's long -- 16:32 -- but a good talk, and the focal point of my points below.

(Can't see the video above? Click here )

I understand where Cowen is going here. He's saying that forcing events into a narrative trims them too neatly and discounts the fact that there is often, if not always, ancillary data attached to things that happen that affect it. To reduce timelines of events into stories -- either by streamlining them to talking points, or to embellish them or shape them into more entertaining or engaging tales -- devalues the truth.

Okay. I get that. And I can completely see how an economist will draw that conclusion. To become an economist, you have to devote a massive amount of time studying trends, data, facts, figures and other input which relies heavily on exact accuracy. Numbers don't tell the same story when trimmed, changed or embellished. Five is NEVER four. Ever. It cannot be.

And while our human brains like to diminish the impact of error in numbers by saying "well, 3,855,657.78 is ALMOST four million, so it's close enough..." This drives math brains crazy. It's not close enough. There is no such thing as "close enough" in math. It's the hardest lesson for humans to learn -- five is not four. Three is not four. Four is four. Rounding is not math. Rounding is actually a contextual move, not a data analysis move. We borrow from the "english" portions of our brains, rationalize a need to clean up a number, and then move back to math.

That said, it drives my anthropological brain CRAZY when I heard Tyler Cowan diminish the importance of "story" to the human condition. I get his point -- that to become agnostic to life is to live a more full life, to be at peace. To summarize the conclusion of his talk, he argues that accepting that life is a "mess" and not some story you have to live out, fufilling the archetypes of hero and villian, or quest, or drama, will lead to a happier and more open life. Without the trappings of what we feel we should do based on what we perceive the situation demands of us, we can actually relax and enjoy floating down the stream of life, and "story" destroys this. It forces contexts which don't naturally exist into understanding and action.

This is called morality, and it is the building blocks of culture. Without context, life is meaningless. And the quest for meaning in life is what has driven the human condition throughout its history.

By even suggesting a world that he'd like to see exist based purely on acceptance and "agnostic" behavior, Tyler Cowen actually betrays his entire point. He's experiencing a human moment -- he's wishing. He can visualize and conceptualize a world in which he no longer feels adherant to a pretext. And in that, he's told himself a story. He's written for himself a plotline of a life where there is no plotline. He's actually creating a hero's journey on an ultrameta level - the journey of a man seeking a life without a journey.

And if he succeeds in his daily thought patterns of scrubbing his mind of the daily consideration of the boundaries of human narrative, he will -- on a level higher -- succeed on his personal hero's quest of changing his life. And if he convinces you to do the same, well... That's yet another quest he's succeeded in.

Without these notions; without this exact context -- that life is more than a series of events; that there's meaning to it all -- we're automotons. We are robots. We are data processing units and nothing more. It's the emotion we infuse in our actions which drives us to aspire to greater.

Without a sense of right and wrong, no action has meaning. It's useless to hold doors open for ladies; it's ridiculous to give a loved one presents. There's no anticipation to reach the goal of any quest. For example, there is no impeteus to acquire, say, a college degree. Even in Economics. And there certainly isn't a need to go publish your big important thoughts, especially in a publication as prestigious as the New York Times. After all, life isn't a story. The importance of your journey to the point at which you're talking at TED and writing for the Times is now lost. So why aspire?

And even the most gothic, nihilistic and dark of us aspire. If we didn't have at least some notion of that which we are missing out on, we couldn't be sad. We couldn't write manic poetry in black ink on black paper in an all dark room while wearing our press-on Vampyre Fayngs about the endless nothing our lives are. The mere thought that you can contain the concept of "endless nothing" as you understand it proves that there's a boundary outside of which life has meaning. Which means you aspire, whether you like it or not, to greater.

Sure, reducing the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree transforms a series of nuanced events into a parable. But that's the point of context -- what does it matter what the temperature was the day Washington chopped the tree down? Was the sky partly cloudy? What color pants was he wearing? Did he happen upon the tree, or set out to chop that sucker down?

All of this is important, sure... In the context of which you want it understood. It all becomes a part of the narrative. And stories about history aren't meant to include every ounce of raw data - they're meant to illustrate purpose for the cycles of life we all experience.

Without stories -- both in our daily lives and in our understanding of history -- life loses context. A contextless life is rote and directionless. And without direction, there is no society. There is no advancement in technology or theology or political science.

Or Economics.