Quarter Report 2017: Star Trek TNG, Quanta, a New Year, and More

Chicago: I rode the L!

Annnnnnd, we’re back to The Fast and the Furious. I’ve written in these pages at least twice about the character Dom Toretto and his special brand of wisdom. When I first heard Vin Diesel utter the line “I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” I knew I had encountered a bit of cinematic brilliance. Something on the order of Patrick Swayze’s (as Johnny Castle) “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Or my own personal muse, John McClane’s “Yippee ki yay, *Mr. Falcon*” (as it appears in the censored version of Die Hard 2.)

Much like Dominic Toretto, I tend to think, and plan, in terms of quarters (yearly quarters, not miles). Discrete, three-month-sized chunks. As I reflect on the third quarter of 2017, I find it’s been pretty eventful. Some of the stuff I’ve written about (the eclipse, our visit to New Smyrna Beach, hurricanes, the release of my novel), but there’s plenty of other stuff I haven’t. Here, in no particular order, are some observations, tidbits, and events that have been swimming about in my particular cosmos in Q3:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outside In Makes It So releases today! This collection of essays covers every episode of Star Trek: TNG, plus the movies. It’s commemorating the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere. I’m thrilled that my piece about the episode “Time’s Arrow” is included. You can find the anthology on sale here.
  • More about discrete chunks: While on a recent Internet search into famed physicist Max Planck, I discovered what he is most known for, and it’s this: quanta. Quanta, the root of the term “quantum.” As in quantum physics, quantum theory, Quantum Leap. Planck is credited with the hypothesis that the very nature of nature itself is not continuous, that change occurs in discrete increments. Regarding electromagnetic waves, he termed these discrete packets of energy “quanta.” This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize nearly 100 years ago. All these years of being fascinated and confused by quantum physics, and I’d never thought about the meaning of “quantum” before. And I’m sure some of you who have read this far are hoping you never have to think about the word again.
  • U2: I saw U2 in concert for the first time ever a few weeks ago. They are on tour, promoting the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree” album. (Discrete chunks of thirty years seem to be a theme, here. I also attended my thirty year high school reunion this past quarter). Anyway, U2: during my heavy concert-going years (when I was between fifteen and twenty-five, roughly), I would have definitely bought tickets to see U2, if they had come to my town. (In those years, it was New Orleans and Tucson, Arizona). But they never did. I was glad the band opened the set with really old stuff, songs from “War.” The songs I would have wanted to hear, if our paths had crossed so many years ago. All in all, very worthwhile—plus, Beck opened for them, and he was fantastic.
  • Rosh Hashanah: I’m a little hesitant to write this, since I’m not Jewish, but I really don’t see this as cultural appropriation. I’m Catholic, which is a Judeo-Christian religion, and I’ve always been a bit ecumenical in my practice, anyway. So, Rosh Hashanah—about fifteen years ago, after a particularly rough twelve months (four quarters), I decided to start my new year’s resolutions at Rosh Hashanah. To give them a sort of beta test-run before January. With all this “30-year” backwards staring, I’m grateful that the arrival of Rosh Hashanah last week has me looking forward once again.
  • Chicago: And, oh yeah, I spent four days in Chicago last week with my job. It was a good time to be there, if a bit unseasonably warm. The pictures in this post are from that trip.

Spirit of Music statue, Grant Park
View of Lake Michigan and Adler Planetarium (I think) from Grant Park


Going home, connecting in Nashville

Eggcorns and Engrams


I spent a recent down day watching TV and looking stuff up on the Internet. The television viewing consisted of three hours of classic Star Trek, amongst other things. (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, 1966-1969—that Star Trek, aka Star Trek: The Original Series.) I’ll get back to Star Trek in a bit; but first, the Internet.

My web searches revolved around the premise of cognitive dissonance. That thing Google defines as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

Speaking for myself, when faced with challenges to my view of things, my first instinct is to retreat. And use that space to gather facts, examine stuff, get to a better understanding of what formed my worldview in the first place. I’m definitely a “Shoot later, ask questions first” kind of person. Resistance? I’ll see that obstacle and raise it with my own powerful brand of diffidence.

Thus, the term “cognitive diffidence” popped up in my head. I thought it was quite clever, and thought it might make a good topic for a post; right here, as a matter of fact. Yet, I quickly discovered I was not the first person to come up with it. The top search result was a post from another WordPresser, put up five years ago. And not too much further down, a post to the “Eggcorn Forum” another four years prior to that.

What, pray tell, is an eggcorn? I had found my rabbit hole.

So, an eggcorn “is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect.” It originated with a linguistics professor back in 2003. And “cognitive diffidence” is considered an eggcorn.

While I’m no linguistics expert, I’m definitely interested in words. And coming from the South, I’m certainly aware of dialects (and how my own can be perceived). I’m facing a brand new bout of cognitive dissonance over the fact that I’ve never heard of eggcorns before now.

NPR even posted a list of top 100 eggcorns last year. Here are a few I hear fairly often:

  • Agreeance
  • Biting my time
  • Buck naked (apparently, it’s supposed to be butt naked. I never knew that.)
  • Expresso
  • Ice tea

I could go on about eggcorns, but I won’t. Now onto a word I heard as I caught the tail end (tale end?) of Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer.” That’s the one with the brilliant Dr. Richard Daystrom (played by William Marshall) and his M-5 computer. The M-5 goes all Skynet on some Federation ships, and Captain Kirk has to convince the M-5 that it should face the penalty for taking human lives. The M-5 shuts itself down, effectively committing suicide.

That’s the episode. But the word was “engram.” Dr. Daystrom programmed human engrams—his own—into the M-5 computer. Daystrom was on the verge of a breakdown, thus the M-5 picked up Daystrom’s instability.

Here’s the thing about engrams: while I don’t know much about Scientology, I know that engrams seem to come up a lot in that practice. Enough so that I thought the concept might have originated with L. Ron Hubbard. But the Internet tells me that is not so.

The term engram was coined in 1904 by a German biologist, Richard Semon, who did a bunch of research into the neurological origins of memory. He posited that engrams were a type of “memory trace” imprinted onto the nervous system.

On a sad side note, Richard Semon committed suicide, wrapped in a German flag, shortly after the end of World War I. He was depressed by the death of his wife; and it was also alleged that he was depressed by Germany’s role and defeat in the war.

Before I engender reader ennui over eggcorns and engrams, I’ll come to a conclusion. While I wish I could come up with some brilliant theme to tie them together, I cannot. So I’ll conclude with cognitive dissonance. Because it seems like it might have contributed to the ultimate demise of both the M-5 computer, and Richard Semon. In the latter case, we’re led to believe he couldn’t reconcile his nation’s part in such a horrific global conflict. He couldn’t erase his engrams.

My diffidence might save me, yet.