Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Story


by Mike Howard, (c) 2009

How it Started

The day the Lemmings ran over the cliff, Herman forgot and went to the park.

When it got dark, he went home – but there was nobody there. That’s when he remembered about the Big Cliff Run.

They were all dead now.

That’s the way it is with Lemmings. He remembered.

Then he cried.

The next morning, when he got up, Herman remembered.

He couldn’t understand what had happened. All his life he’d been taught how to be a good Lemming. Maybe he wasn’t a Lemming?

He felt himself. Felt like a Lemming.

He looked in the mirror. Looked like a Lemming.

He was hungry – just like always – and just like a Lemming.

Then how come he’d forgotten the Big Cliff Run? Wasn’t that supposed to be Instinct? Wasn’t it built into his Jeans? (or was it Genes?) Wasn’t it Inescapable and the Source of All Sorrow?

How could he just forget something that was as much a part of him as his nose?

Something was wrong.

So Herman set of to see Marvin – the big, bulky Lemming On the Hill. Marvin knew everything. Marvin knew all the Old Stories from the Old Times by the Old Lemmings who Knew Everything. Marvin was a Great and Good Lemming. The Greatest and Goodest.

Marvin was so Good that he didn’t go on the Big Cliff Run. It made him ever so miserable not to Go – to hold himself back – but he did it for the Good of Every Lemming!

He had to. He couldn’t let Lemmingness be Lost! Someone had to sacrifice for the Good of All Lemmings. Someone had to tell the Stories. Someone had to make sure All the Lemmings made the Big Cliff Run.

It was a Heavy Burden, but Marvin kept the Faith and Did His Duty.


Marvin wasn’t happy to see Herman. In fact he frowned and said something Herman hadn’t ever heard before (which was good, because then Herman didn’t understand what it meant and didn’t know how angry Marvin was).

“What happened,” Marvin asked.

Herman blushed under his fur. “I just forgot,” he said.

”!!!!!,” Marvin exploded!!!!

Herman stuttered, “I just woke up and it was so nice and sunny and so I though ‘I’ll go to the park’ and I didn’t think anything else and so I went and it was nice and the birds were out and singing and the grass was soft and . . .” It all came out in a rush.

Marvin glowered.

“Don’t you remember your lessons?” he asked. “Didn’t I tell you to repeat the Lemming Mantra every morning and every night?” “Didn’t I”

“Yes,” said Herman.

“Well? . . .”

“I just forgot. It was such a nice day, . . . and I just forgot,” Herman said lamely.

“Hmmph!!!” said Marvin.

As Herman trudged down the hill he saw Lonny, Marvin’s apprentice and student dragging a big bag of Cheetos up the hill. Marvin was too fat (oops! too important) to go get his own food, so everyone brought him what he needed. Lonny and Marvin were great Lemmings to hold themselves back and stay alive year after year, thought Herman.

Sighing, Herman walked slowly home.

“I’ll remember Next Year,” he though as he sadly trudged along.


Over the next year, the few surviving Lemmings rebuilt. They had new babies who quickly grew up and had more. Marvin and Lonny were busy teaching and preaching. Herman attended all the lessons. He worked very hard at fixing himself so he’d be a Good Lemming. He repeated the stories over and over again. He repeated the Lemming Mantra extra times every day.

But Herman loved going to the park and watching the clouds. Every day it was different. Every minute even.

He marked Big Cliff Day on his calender and as it approached, he worked extra hard at thinking Lemming Thoughts. He Felt the Sorrow. He Felt the Doom. He was a Lemming. He knew what had happened last year – he just hadn’t taken it seriously enough. Hadn’t filled his mind with Lemming Thoughts. He hadn’t repeated Over and Over again what a Lemming did and how a Lemming Thought and how Inevitable everything was.

Lemming’s can’t Change! It’s how they’re Built. It’s Innate. It’s Inevitable. It’s who we Are. It’s Lemmingness!!!!

The night before the Big Cliff Run, Herman worked extra hard at remembering. He laid out his special shoes and everything. Then he went to bed.

The next morning was a beautiful day. Herman woke up earlier than usual. Earlier than everybody else, in fact. Since he was early, he decided to go to the Park One Last Time. So he did.

It was so nice. The clouds were making beautiful swirls. It was almost hypnotic. Lovely. Beautiful. Peaceful. Happy.

Herman woke up suddenly.

He remembered – that he’d forgotten again.

He went home.

Everyone was gone and he was alone again.

This time, Herman sat down and shook his head.

“Something isn’t right,” he thought. He started to go to Marvin, but then stopped. He had an idea – well maybe just the start of one.

Could Marvin be wrong? No!

The Idea

Herman thought and thought and thought and thought and then fell asleep. Thinking is tough work and he wasn’t used to it. All his life Herman hadn’t actually ‘thought’. He’d been a Good Lemming and he’d only repeated what he was told. He’d been told Over and Over what to repeat, so he did it. He repeated the Lemming Mantra. He repeated the Song of Sorrows. He repeated the Five Reasons for Melancholy. He kept the Record of His Life in a little book – where he wrote down Every Bad Thing. He read the book from cover to cover every week (it took longer and longer the more he wrote into it – in fact it was getting to where he didn’t have time to do much else)

Herman did his duty and met with the Other Lemmings. They all took turns telling about the Bad Things, reminding each other how terrible life was. Over and over. And when one of them saw something nice and beautiful, they made doubly sure that everyone took a turn telling what was bad about the Nice Thing and how disappointing it would be. They were very, very good at protecting each other against the Unbearable Pain of False Hope.

But as the year wore on, Herman noticed how much work it was to remember to feel bad. He was tired all the time. He didn’t go to the Park as much.

After a while, he found himself just sitting in his chair looking out the window. Not repeating the Mantra. Not reading the Bad Things book. Just sitting and looking.

That’s when he started really thinking.

What if . . . what if . . . what If . . . WHAT IF LIFE REALLY WASN’T SO BAD?

He used to like going to the park. It was fun. It was fun because he wasn’t Thinking the Bad Thoughts. He wasn’t Remembering the Sorrow.

He had the Thought!

“Maybe thinking the Sorrow Makes the Sorrow.”

And then the Discovery.

“Maybe if I don’t think it all the time, it will Go Away”

Interlude (again)

Herman didn’t know what to do. He’d never had a thought on his own before. He worried and worried that it was Wrong. Marvin Thought and Marvin Taught. Lonny will be the new Thinker and Teacher – once he’s ready. “I’m not Smart enough,” thought Herman.

But the Thought wouldn’t go away. It kept coming back.

It was strange because Herman didn’t have to work at thinking this thought. It just kept coming back. Not always the same and not very clear. It was more like a feeling that said “It doesn’t have to be this way” and “That’s a nice thing, let’s think about it for a while”.

It wasn’t so much the Things he was Thinking about, but how the Thoughts felt. Like the nice fluffy clouds and the warm sun. Nice and peaceful. Calm and serene. Not at all strong and hurting – like he was supposed to think.

Herman finally decided he needed to see Marvin.

So he went.

Marvin was even more displeased. He barked and preached at Herman for over two whole hours. He wouldn’t answer any of Herman’s questions - in fact he just ignored them. Then he told Herman to Go Home, Believe, and Behave.

As he trudged home, he say Lonny dragging another bag of Cheetos up the hill to Marvin. Lonny was tired, so he was happy to stop and talk. Herman told him everything he’d tried to tell Marvin. He finished up with “I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand. I just ,” at which point Lonny interrupted him.

“Look, Herman,” he said, “I like you, even though you’ve got some screwy ideas and I wish I could help you. Marvin’s getting kind of old and he just doesn’t have the patience he used to have. But I don’t have the time right now – but if you’d like to borrow my Book, I’ll let you have it for a bit. I’ve got to have it back on Tuesday, but maybe it will help.”

A book? Herman had never heard of the Book before. He knew how to read and write – like all good Lemmings, but he didn’t know there was a Book. He thought Marvin had learned the Stories from his Teacher and his Teacher from his Teacher and like that.

Lonny was holding out the Book, so Herman took it, mumbling something to cover his embarrassment, and scuttled home.

The Book

When Herman got home, he opened the Book and started to read. It made his head hurt because it didn’t make sense.

“I’ll never understand this by Tuesday,” he thought, so he decided to make his own copy. He got to work, copying the Book.

After that, Herman spent every day reading his copy of the Book. He kept looking for what Marvin had Taught him, but it never really seemed to fit.

He read “Our Thoughts make our World, so Choose your Thoughts Carefully” and he remembered how Marvin had droned over and over what thoughts to think. But it just didn’t feel right because the book said, “The Thoughts you hold Dear will Be your Life – so Think Thoughts of Peace and Joy”.

He read and read and thought and thought and became more and more confused. He thought of going to the Great Marvin, but that frightened him. Then he thought of Lonny. Maybe he could explain it.

So, the next day he waited for Lonny to come by on his daily quest for Cheetos for the Great Marvin.

“Excuse me Lonny, I have some questions about the Book”

Lonny stopped and looked puzzled – or maybe was shocked and stopped so he wouldn’t fall down.

“What Book?” he asked.

“The one you lent me and I copied,” Herman replied.

“The one you copied?” asked Lonny. “That’s impossible. There is only one Book. There can’t be two – it’s Forbidden.”

Startled, Herman looked confused. “But I had to copy it so I could get it back to you on Tuesday. I couldn’t understand it that fast.”

Lonny looked worried. “Please don’t tell anyone.” (meaning Marvin) “Please don’t, tell me you won’t.”

“Sure,” said Herman. “But will you help me?”

“With what?”

“Well, I know what I was taught and I know what the Book says and they’re not the same,” Herman began.

“Oh yes they Are!!!” Lonny said. “You just don’t Understand. That’s why there’s only One Book. You have to Taught How to Read It.”

“Will you teach me?” Herman asked.

“I can’t. You’re not the Student – I am,” Lonny said. “I can’t Teach until I’m the Master and the I can Only Teach the Student. That’s how it is.”

“Well, the Book says that the Master taught his students,” Herman began.

“That’s Right,” said Lonny, “and that’s why there can only be One Student and No One can Teach except the Master.”

“But, it says in the Book that the Master taught lots of students - not all of them learned well, of course, but he taught everyone. I don’t understand.”

“That’s right, you don’t. You see, the Master could only really Teach the Students who learned, not the other students. And those other students went around teaching others Wrong Things.”

Herman scratched behind his left ear. “Hmm. So now the Master doesn’t let anybody else Teach or read the Book because they might get it Wrong?”

“That’s Right,” Lonny replied.

“And Marvin knows How to Read the Book because . . .” Herman trailed off, confused.

Lonny sighed and sat down. “Look,” he said, “Marvin’s Master Taught him and he had a Master who Taught Him and so on – all the way back to the Master who Wrote the Book. That’s how Marvin knows how to Read it and How I’m Learning too.” Lonny looked compassionately on Herman. “You’ll just never understand.”

“Will you help me?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” Lonny answered.

“Well, how about just one question then,” Herman asked.

“OK. Sure. But, just one.”

“Marvin teaches us to remember the Bad things, to Write them Down in our book of bad things and to read it every week. And anytime someone thinks that Bad won’t happen, it’s our Duty to remind them of All the Bad things. The Book says that what we Think is our World. Doesn’t that make our World Bad instead of Good?”

Lonny sighed. “See, you just don’t understand. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you?”

“I really don’t know,” Herman said.

“Think about this: suppose you thought you would get a great big Strawberry Shortcake for dinner tomorrow. You’d spend the whole day and night just thinking about how great that would be. You’d plan the whole next day how good it would taste and comfy and fat your belly would be. Can you imagine that?”

“Oh boy, yeah. I can almost taste it now.” Herman started to drool.

“Ok,” Lonny continued, “now think about how disappointed you’ll be when you don’t get it or if it’s filled with ants or the Strawberries are rotten. Think about that.”

“Yech! That’s terrible,” Herman responded. His fur actually started to wilt.

“So you see,” Lonny lectured, “it’s much, much better to never get your hopes up because that makes it so much farther to fall down. You see thinking Bad Thoughts protects use from disappointments like that – and even worse.”

“That’s why thinking Bad thoughts is Really Good,” Lonny finished. “I hope that helps. Do you see why someone has to Teach you How to Read the Book? And why it’s not Good for You?”

Herman just mumbled.

“Well, I hope that helps you – but I have to go about my duties,” Lonny said, standing up and starting to walk away. Then he stopped, “and remember, please don’t tell any anybody.”

Herman started. “Oh, sorry. Yeah, thanks. No, I won’t tell anyone. Bye”

So, Lonny went off to do his important tasks and Herman sat and sat some more. And thought and thought some more. What Lonny said made some sense, but something just didn’t seem right.

Herman went on like this for a long time. Reading the Book and thinking about what he had been Taught and what Lonny had said. His fur got dull.

One night, very very late, Herman snapped. “I’ll never make sense of it,” he said out loud.

From that night on, Herman quit trying to be a good Lemming. He stopped doing what he’d been Taught. He forgot about the Book. He’d decided to just live the best he could.

Herman no longer wrote in the book of Bad Things. He no longer recited the Lemming Mantra. He began to forget the teachings. He didn’t read the Book – in fact, he forgot about it.

Each day Herman went to the Park. He looked at the trees and the grass. Slowly, the Bad Thoughts didn’t come so often. They didn’t Stay so Long. He didn’t feel so bad. The Great Sorrow lifted.

The Realization

One day Herman saw the Book. Wrinkling his brow, he picked it up and opened to a page at random. It made sense. It was simple. Why hadn’t he understood it before? You really are what you Think. And you can Chose what you Think.

Lonny was Wrong. Marvin was Wrong. Thinking Bad Thoughts didn’t Protect you, it made a Bad World. If the Strawberries are rotten, then just forget about it: there will be fresh ones some day.

The Answer is to Forget about the Bad and Think about the Good!

Herman couldn’t wait to tell everyone.

He ran outside.

The End

Well, I won’t tell about how everyone laughed at him. How no one believed. How Marvin was even More than Displeased (luckily he was too fat to move or he might have squashed Herman flat). Or Lonny’s look of pity.

Nobody believed him. After all, the were Lemmings and he was only a lemming – not a Real Lemming At All. He didn’t understand the Burden that came with Lemmingness – the Great Sorrow – the Inevitability of the Great and Senseless Death, crushed at the bottom of the Big Cliff. He didn’t understand.

On Big Cliff Day, Herman walked out to the side of the road and shouted to them as they ran by: “You don’t have to go! Just go to the Park! Just Forget the Bad Stuff! You have a Choice!”.

The ones who heard him clapped their front paws over their ears so they couldn’t hear – which made it very hard to run with their noses in the dirt. But they didn’t care. They wrapped their misery around themselves proudly and – bleeding and with broken teeth – plowed on toward the cliff.

All the while, Marvin sat on his hill – praising their Lemmingness, while he ate his (final) bag of Cheetos. He would not live to see another Big Cliff Day. It was now Lonny’s turn to be the Master.

It slowly dawned on Herman that they would defend their misery with their last dying breath rather than change their minds. “They think they are Lemmings,” he said, softly, under his breath, “They think that if they change their minds about something, they won’t be themselves.”

So, Herman walked to the Park and watched the day go by.

He was sad.

Then he realized that, while he now knew, he couldn’t help them. They didn’t want a better life. They wanted to feel secure in the life they already had – so they only listen to Lemmings who will tell them that they are right. Lemmings who confirm their misery. He was just a lemming.

But that’s OK.

So, he decided – right there – that if anybody asked, he would tell them, but that he wouldn’t bother anybody any more. (the thought of those Lemmings pushing their noses in the dirt was just too much to bear, even though it was kind of funny)

The End

Why XHTML is Wrong and HTML 5 is Right

I'll admit it: I fell for the XHTML hype and I've tried to convert myself to writing XHTML rather than HTML. The argument sounded good, but . . . I was wrong.

Then about a month ago I read almost all of the HTML 4.01 spec - not the digestions that you find in books like Everything You Ever Wanted to Know to Be an HTML Expert!!!!! in 5 minutes a Day!!!. I read the real spec. I actually spent about 1/4 of my time reading the DTD.

[I thought I needed to write an HTML parser in PHP - but that was just another programming hallucination which I solved in a much simpler, but vastly more limited and restrictive way]

Anyway, while doing that I realized that writing an HTML parser is Hard. Whereas writing an XML parser is EASY.

And that - in a succinct nutshell - is the only argument in favor of XHTML.

And, along with everybody else, I blindly followed that Pundant-centric reasoning.

But lets think about it: How many times do you Write an HTML Parser? For most of us, it's Zero.

OK, how many times do you have to read and understand HTML? For most people it's still Zero, but for a Lot of Us it's 'All the f****ing Time!'.

So - should (X?)HTML be Human Parse-able or Machine Parse-able?

That is: Should (X?)HTML be Easy for Us to Read or Easy to Write simple Parsing Programs for?

If you don't know the answer to that one, ... I was about to write something insulting, but that's not fair. Let's look at some history:

1. RPN [that's Reverse Polish Notation]. It's easy to parse, but hard to read. It has a long history, but even the original HP calculator [showing my age] which was a commercially successful RPN calculator had to succumb and convert to algebraic notation. (and as far as I know, the only commercially successful one)

2. The FORTH family of languages. Apparently this never really dies. FORTH was a stack based language which is really easy to write a parser for, but almost impossible to understand. Why? All the operations either push something on the stack or pop some stuff off, transform it and then push it back. Us Humans are NOT Stack Machines, so we can't track the state of the Stack.

3. Postscript - Same problem as FORTH, but it's successful as an intermediate language to describe a rendered document. Nobody actually programs in Postscript - we all use tools which output to Postscript and then feed that to a Postscript interpreter. [anybody every try to read that stuff?]

4. Etc

Point Made?

But, you say, HTML Sucks!!!


Lets get behind HTML 5 and Fix it. XHTML Sucks too.