Fire is the enemy

I said this to a friend recently.  Fire is the enemy.

I had been wondering what I should write about next.  And then, this past weekend (4/28) happened.  My son’s apartment building caught fire and is in total ruin.  As I wrote in Inspired2belong, this is the second fire my family has experienced in 5 to 6 years.  In many ways, it was different.  In some ways, it is the same.

It is odd that I just quickly responded with “fire is the enemy.”  I live in an area that is prone to tornadoes.  I don’t say, “air is the enemy.”  I have lived through 7 hurricanes if I recall right.  Certainly those were also with more frequency than I have experienced fire.  I don’t say, “water is the enemy.”  There was once a minor earthquake where I live.  I definitely don’t say “earth is the enemy.”   I worship a sun goddess whose very symbol is a burning ball of gas.  Fire shouldn’t be an enemy; it should be a friend.

Many of you reading this are probably my SCAdian friends and nothing is finer than gathering around a fire, telling tales, and drinking homebrews.  I enjoy it too.  And yet, I do believe fire is the enemy.

Of all of the “natural” disasters, fire feels the most personal.  In urban life (wildfires are different), fire disasters are all man-made, either through carelessness or design.  The smell of burning construction materials is pervasive.  We stopped by my son’s apartment building to see if we could get in.  That smell that I will never forget was there.  Fire changes what it touches.  Beauty becomes ash.  Soot stains all it touches.

Fortunately, we all had a sense of humor about it.  I remember joking with the firefighters years ago.  My son asked his friend, a math major, what are the odds of someone dealing with two fires in so short a time frame.  The answer is 1 Rowan (his name).  But that smell reminded me of the night of our house fire.  That wasn’t a time of humor.  I stood and watched my house burn to its shell.  The firefighters saved some of our cats.  My wife and youngest (I think) left with them to a friend’s house.  After a bit, my oldest went there too.  There was no need for them to stay around.  I stayed.  I watched and prayed that somehow these firefighters would get ahead of the fire so something would be saved.  They didn’t.  They worked hard.  I wrote a letter praising them to their chief and the local paper.  But fire is the enemy and it only reluctantly gives up ground once it advances.

For weeks, I would have to enter that house, smell that smell, to salvage what we could, to catalog what we couldn’t.  It took months before I stopped waking up at 3:00 am, the time the fire started.  Any siren was intrepretted as coming to me again.  This time at least, none of us stood watching it.  But too soon, Rowan and I will smell that smell again.  It is easier not having watched the fire burn.

Last time, we made some good lemonade from it.  We got the house we wanted.  Unwanted items became money that could become wanted items.  We lost some of the things we would not have chosen to lose.  I think the cats were highest amongst those. We were changed in a various ways.  I think I become more thoughtful, more truthful.  More forgetful too.  I can’t speak for the rest of my family.  But I think they changed too, much for the better but some for the worse.

Anyway, while none of us are hurt, and only a few things were lost (in the grand scheme of things), it is like going through it again. Fire changes what it touches.

Uncategorized, Vinegar

Starting Bourbon vinegar

Let’s go back to a safe topic, vinegar.   I started some new vinegars this weekend.  On the left is the bourbon vinegar.  The bottle of Jim Bean Maple said it was 70 proof so 35% ABV.  It was a 750 ml bottle so I added four cups of water (~ 1 liter) to drive the ABV down.  It should be about 12% or so.  I may need to cut it further.  The bacteria should be able to deal with less than 20% ABV but they really like it below 10%.    The middle one is an Orange Pale Ale.  The mother is floating.  That is always a good sign.  The right is a sake.  I added the same volume of water as the sake.  Should be around 8% ABV.



Care and feeding of the soul – game theory and forgiveness

Last time, I spoke about the importance of the soul and why you should care about it.  Now, let’s talk about how you should react when pettiness comes at you.  This is on a personal level.  Societial level still needs other levels.  But you could do worse than below.  It applies to any direct interaction you might have with another person, SCA or otherwise.

One of my great loves is Classical History and part of that is moral philosophy.  None of that fancy German stuff for me.  Aristotle, Plato, Epicurius.  Technically, I have elements of both Stoic and Epicurean philosophy at my core with a good bit of Aristotlean ethics.  That said, there are solid non philosophical reasons to behave a certain way.  Here is a good example.

Let’s explore a variant of the prisoner’s dilemma.  This is a game theory thought experiment.  And this flash game by Nicky Case does a wonderful job of demonstrating behaviors.


For those who don’t want to trust the link, here is the summary.  Imagine a machine.  You and another person have the option of putting a coin in the machine.  If you each do (i.e. cooperate), you both get 3 coins back.  If one of you doesn’t put in a coin (i.e. cheat), the other gets 3 coins and you get nothing and lose the one coin you put in.  If neither of you put in a coin (both cheat or refuse to play), neither of you get any coins.  For this experiment, don’t worry about where the extra coins are coming from.

So how should you approach this game?  The most advantageous method for you is to cheat.  If you cheat, you lose nothing but gain 3 coins.  And in a world where there is no consequence, maybe that is what you should do.  But this game tries to simulate real life.  There are consequences, even if they are just social consequences (I would argue that social consequences are probably more important than legal ones).   The game goes on.   Let’s define some types of people you might play against.  These people have their own motives.  There is the copycat.  The copycat starts by cooperating then does whatever you did last turn.   The next guy is a cheater.  He always cheats.  The next guy is a nice guy.  He always cooperates. The next guy is a grudger.  He cooperates until you cheat then he cheats all the time after that.  The last is a the detective.  He tries to figure out what you are.  He cooperates, cheats, cooperates then cooperates.  If you cheat anytime in that, he goes copycat after the sequence.  If not, he cheats believing you to be a nice guy.

The flash lets you then play these characters against each other in a tournament.   And guess who wins?  The cheaters eliminate the nice guys by taking advantage of them.  Then the copycats eliminate the cheats by punishing them.  So what is the life lesson in that?   Cooperate until someone does you wrong then retaliate.  Is that the kind of world you want to live in?  That is the world it SEEMS we have gotten to.  Especially online.  I will play nice until someone says something mean, outrageous, or dangerously wrong.  Then I will cut them down to show everyone how great I am.  Trouble is, the other guy is also a copycat.  He is going to try to tear you down.  Each side engages in an arms race until no one wants to participate anymore.

You can play around with popluations and how many times the characters play each other.  If you only play a few times, it is better to cheat.  Online too, right?  You don’t know these people (or don’t care about them) so it is better to flame war from the start.  But the moment the tournament goes above 5, the moment when you have to interact for a moderate to a large amount of time, the cheaters lose.

You can play around with the values for “cooperating” and for “cheating”.” If the cheating reward is one less, nice guys and copycats win.  If the cooperative reward, is one less, the cheaters win.  But in a “normal”(where cooperating is worth one less than cheating) game, the copycat wins.  But still is retaliation the answer?  Because there are other motives than deliberating cheating.

Oftentimes, the “cheating” is a mistake.  It is a word spoken in anger.  It is a misunderstanding.  It is a miscommunication.  It is someone walking away because of another situation.  It isn’t a deliberate insult or “troll bait”.  What happens then?  Well, in the base game, a mistake is punished at the same level as a deliberate cheat.  An vicious cycle ensues.

So the game introduces a 5% chance of a mistake.  Any character regardless of their programming might “cheat” 5% of the time by mistake.  And we will throw in some new players.  Copykitten will forgive one mistake.  That is, he only cheats back if you cheat twice in a row.  The simpleton will start with a cooperate.  If you cooperate, he will do the same thing it did last time, even if he made a mistake.  If you cheat, he will do the opposite of what he did last time, regardless of what it was.  And random will do whatever.  He is random.

In a world with mistakes, the Simpleton wins because he exploit the nice guy.  But let’s make a mean world with some copykittens. Copykittens and copycats wins.  The forgiveness that the copykitten brings allows for people to get out of the cycle.  There is a limit to mistakes though.  Above 10% mistakes, the cheaters win.  At 50% mistakes, no one wins at all.

So that is the game part.  How does this fit into real life?  What should we do?  How should we act?

The game shows us that when mistakes are few, we should forgive.  That is the best policy outside of morality or philosophy.  But most philosophies tell us we should always forgive?  Can that be right?  Well the game shows us that without any forgiveness, all you get is a vicious cycle.  It doesn’t matter why the other person interacted poorly with you.  A world without forgiveness means that retaliation is always the right choice.  It is the viper in the breast even if no one ever cheats, mistake or not.

But mistakes are going to happen.  Your best option is to forgive the slight, not assume the worst motive, and continue interacting.

The game author tells a story about the Christmas Truce in 1914 during WWI.  The Allied troops and the German troops were told not to interact with each other.  The truce was called and many groups, independently, decided to cross no-man’s land and interact with each other.  They gambled, celebrated the season, whatever people might do.  They didn’t shoot each other.

We will be interacting with each other.  We might not like each other but that doesn’t enter into it.  The game theory doesn’t posit whether you LIKE the other person; just that you must interact with them.  The best choice is to be a participant, cooperate, and forgive as long as it not a constant condition.  That is the world I would prefer to live in.




In the end, only the soul matters.

Here is one that doesn’t fit into any category.  I mean it kind of does, in that it can be part of my SCA Life tag but it is about everything.

I have seen several posts from friends about “fake” friends, about “haters”, about negativity.  Let me share some life lessons.

I don’t know that my life experiences have been unique (insofar that each life is unique) but I do think they are not usual.  I grew up as a military brat.  For those who don’t know, that is slang for I was a child of military parents.  For much of that time, my parents were officers.  I have lived in North Dakota, Pennsylvania (while Dad was in Vietnam), New Mexico, Massachutes, Northern Florida, Alabama, Southeast Virginia, different part of Northern Florida, college in Pennsylvania, summers around the DC area, grad school in Pennsylvania again, then finally here in Central Illinois.

Up until college, I moved about once per 4 years.  My earliest memories are from Massachutes. My favorite memories are from Virginia.  My most painful memories are from Alabama.  My lowest point in my life memories are from the second stay in Florida.  I say I grew up in Northern Florida.  I went to 5 different schools before college and two different high schools.

So that is the back story, so what is the point?  I got to reinvent myself roughly every four years.  My mistakes, in general, didn’t follow me.  When we moved, no one knew who I was, so I could be whomever I wanted to be.  No one knew what mistakes I had made, so I could pretend they didn’t exist.  I rarely kept touch with my former friends and it is to the point now that I can only remember the names and faces of less than a dozen of them.   To an extent, that was similar when I moved out to Central Illinois.  No one knew who I was or what things I had done so I could be who I wanted to be.

Except this time, I wanted to stay put. I didn’t want my kids to have my kind of life.  I wanted them to see the world or at least the country and we have done some of that.  But I wanted them to have a stable group of friends, people they had grown up with, things I didn’t.  And I wanted them to have to live with who they were.  That sounds cruel, doesn’t it?  I really believe it is for the better.

Like I said, I was used to morphing myself whenever I wanted to.  Any mistake I made would soon be forgotten.  My early career in Central Illinois quickly reinforced that I couldn’t just run when I wanted to.   There are times that I lied at work.  It was mostly to cover that I had forgotten something but would soon put it right if only someone didn’t look too closely.  They did.  I was arrogant.  I believed I was smarter than anyone else.  And if I wasn’t, I could fool them long enough that I would be gone before they figured it out.  It didn’t work that way.  And since I never really had close friends, that I didn’t need close friends.  It didn’t matter, people would come and go but I was constant.

These mistakes and the fact that I could no longer run from them meant I had to figure out who I was.  Deep down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think I was ever a BAD person.  Flawed, certainly but not BAD.  But I had done bad things.  I had actually, physically hurt people.   So I started learning from my mistakes.  Perhaps I should have learned some of those lessons earlier in life.  But since the easy path for me was to run and hide until no one cared, I often did that. I didn’t need to learn when my past could be erased.

Kids changed some of what I was.  I had to morph again.  I had to be the Dad I wanted my kids to have.  I was mostly there.  Divorce changed more of it.  I had to learn some big lessons there.  Getting remarried, that changed more still, for the better I believe.

MMO’s and RPG’s still allowed for some more morphing.  I remember Ordan.  Man, was he an angry young man.  The arrogance hadn’t quite gone away yet.  Viv was a lot more fun and responsible.  I liked being Viv.  Some days, I miss being Viv.  Then came the SCA.  Another chance to be whomever I wanted to be.  I like Oswyn.  I see Oswyn as a better Sean.  I stopped wearing my wedding ring and started wearing the simple woven wire ring Oswyn has as a reminder to me in my every day life to be like Oswyn.

Then the fire happened.  I could have, I mean there was a significant chance, I could have lost everything.  The fire started right outside my oldest son’s room.  It burned through my wife’s closet in our bedroom.  In all likelihood it was the solid oak bookcases stuffed with books that actually bought us the time needed to realize what was happening and get out alive.   This was a life lesson.  What is really important.  What is worth saving.

We replaced many of our favorite books.  Amongst them is a series by Eric Flint on what would have happened if Belasarius had to fight against a cyborg from the future.  It is actually pretty good.  In that series, Belasarius brings over some Kushans to his side and also another excellent Hindu/Buddhist fighter.  One of the sayings these characters often said was ,”in the end, only the soul matters.”  Yeah the fire drove that lesson home.  Christian philosophy touches on this too, “what good does it a man to gain the whole world, if he loseth his soul?”  In the end, it is the soul that matters.  I learned to forgive.  Really truly forgive.  I spoke to my ex-wife shortly after this and forgave her for our troubled marriage.  I let go of hate.  I don’t care what people say about me or do to me.  I am lucky to have the things that matter to me yet.  Why waste time or brain power on these lesser things?  Do I back slide?  Sometimes but at least I have goal.  I have a measure of what I should be.

Ok, still where am I going with this?  Look at your lives.  Look at the lessons you should have learned.  In the end, it is your soul, that intimate part of you, that matters.  Is pettiness worth your soul?  Is politics (real world or SCA) worth your soul?  Is being less than you can be worth your soul?  Is being a false friend worth your soul?  Is worry about the above things in other people worth your soul?  You are what you want to be and what you put energy into.  Form your soul into the best version of you you can think of.  My faith teaches that the world returns to you what you give. It makes sense then to give the best of you so that you get the best in return. It also follows that if you give the worst of yourself, you will get the worst in return.  Karma = female dog.

The Egyptians believed that at the end, your soul would be weighed against a feather.  If it weighed more, it was cast out and fed to a crocodile.  In the end, truly, only the soul matters.

Clothes, Gertie

Educating the coworkers

One of the things my work did do was make space available for people to display their art.  I did a few such displays.  My coworkers are very aware of my hobby.  I bring it up often.  Here are part of the display that you might find interesting.


I also maintain the bulletin board near my office.  For the summer, I put up “how I spent my summer vacation” for anyone in my department to add photos too.  Last summer, I did this collage.


I want to focus on something here.


My wife makes almost all of our garb.  That dress hanging up was inspired by that old Dutch painting.  (Abelard I think).

Here are more photos of her work.  Gertie does good work 🙂  She also has a companion.  Matilda the gertruden ratzen.

Persona, SCA Life

Two pieces that say a lot about me.


The first is my arms with a motto.  The colors of my arms are no accident nor is the symbol.  The problem?  My subconscious picked them and it took a while for my conscious to figure that out.  I will give you a hint, “My cloak is blue as sky in summer. Or green as grass. Or white as lime.”  The feathered bird is no accident either.   The motto is a paraphrase of something I say often.  What I say is, “it isn’t Art until you bleed on it.”  The motto on the arms translates as “Blood makes Art.”  It is a little vampiric but the Latin of what I actually say is awkward and lengthy.

The other piece is my Dragon’s Heart medallion with something extra.  I don’t know who made the copper hearts.  I am going to guess Coresande but I really don’t know.  The center bit is a crude fused glass piece to represent my Evergreen.  The whole thing is to symbolize that the core of my service is my art.  I give away a lot of what I make.

SCA Life

The SCA is Legion

Two unrelated thoughts.

First thought.  I think I have some small understanding now of my friends with anxiety and depression.  I am not saying I have full understanding.  I don’t suffer from these things.  But I have found that the SCA is probably like having rabid brain weasels.  Let me explain.

Any question or thought you throw at the SCA will result in EVERY possible answer coming back to you.   It is what I imagine the guy possessed by Legion must have felt like.  Pieces of thought and advice without any internal consistency bombarding you.  Much of it contradictory and of widely different volumes.  How do you decide which advice to take?

The only answer I have to that is do your best to find a small number of voices that you trust.  Voices that support you. Voices that lead you to a path that makes a better you.  In the cacophony, block out the rest and heed these voices. These are the people who want you to be you.  And a side note: they are often the quieter ones but not necessarily.


Second thought.

I am going out on a limb here. I am not casting aspersions at anyone nor railing against anyone.  It is just a thought I had in the shower.  Who else ends up with deep thoughts in the shower?  Raise your hands. Good!

It seems to me that the service in the SCA operates in a scarcity environment.  And that seems weird.  What do I mean?  Service in the SCA seems to think there are limited opportunities.  And the other parts of the SCA operates in an abundance environment.  Let’s look.

Fighting, rapier, archery, thrown weapons, basically all of the martial activities want as many people as possible.  The more people doing the thing, the more people who can do the thing.    Even the service side of the martial activities is abundance; the more marshalls, the more people who can participate.  And since the majority of marshalls are also people who want to do the activity, there is no overlap or competition.  Too many marshals that day?  You get to fight or whatever.

Similarly on the arts side, it is an abundance environment.  There is no such thing as too many blacksmiths or too many people making trim.  There is no call of “what do we do if so-and-so stops smithing?”  There is no call of “I wish so-and-so would let others weave for a change.”  The SCA can support as many people doing as much or as little art as they want to do.  In part, that is because there are just SO many arts that it would be almost impossible to find someone to do each of them.  But the rest is that there just isn’t a limit.  You can make as much art as you want and the A&S community will cheer you on.  The only limit I see is that if you want to connect to a certain teacher, that person might be limited in terms of how many people they can mentor.  But for the most part, I haven’t seen this as problem.

So Service.  Why is it a scarcity and more importantly, should it be?  That is what I would like people to think about.

To an extent, I think there are some limits that we impose.  We only want one Kingdom Seneschal for instance.  Some positions require or at least work better with specific skill sets that not everyone has.  But also, some positions carry prestige and/or power.  And that is not present in the other parts of the SCA.

Service gets tied up with other things too.  There is need and desire.  Let’s imagine a quadrant graph with need and desire on the two axes.  When jobs are both desired and needed (Q1), lots of people want to do the job.  When a job is desired but not needed (Q2), there are still plenty of people who want to do the job but the job is not very fulfilling because it is not needed.  If the job is needed but not desired (Q3), there are few people who want to do it.  And lastly, if it is both not desired and not needed (Q4), there are no people for that job but really, we probably don’t have those positions because they are not needed.

In a scarcity model, let’s take these kind of jobs.  The highly desired and highly needed jobs are limited in a scarcity model.  We only need a few of them (or one of them) but lots of people want to do them.  The highly desired but not needed jobs are also limited in a scarcity model.  We don’t need those jobs (or not many of them) but we have lots of people for them.  The highly needed but less desired jobs are self-limiting.   We need people in those positions but we have few people who want them so we may have beg but they get filled.  And lastly, the less desired and not needed jobs are self-limiting.  We don’t need those positions and no one wants to do them.

In an abundance model, Q1 jobs are great.  We need them and people want them and because we work in an abundance model, we have as many open positions as we want.  The Q2 is the same as Q1.  Yes, we don’t necessarily need that many people to do the job but we can make many positions if called for.  Q3 is about the same as under scarcity.  We need people to do these jobs but they are not as desirable so we probably have enough people.  We can still make more if we need though.  Q4 is the same as well as they just aren’t needed.

Lastly, I see in service that it is viewed as a sacrifice, a burden.  The whole idea of “need” also implies burden.  “Someone HAS to do this job.” “We don’t want you to burn out.”  No one tells fighters they fight too much or artists that they make too much art.  Heck even the symbol, the pelican in piety is about sacrifice.  “This must be done (feed the chicks) so I will give of my own life for them.”  What if the symbol for service was something else?  An otter frolicking in the sea with its raftmates.  “I have fun so others can have fun.”  Would our view of service be different?

I don’t have an easy answer.  For the sake of efficiency, the number of certain jobs is limited. But is there a way to push service into an abundancy model?  That all who want to serve can serve?  That more jobs can be Q1 jobs, that are both desired and needed?  That service isn’t seen and talked about as a burden?  Something to think about when you are next in the shower.