A reader thought I should go on Reddit and do an AMA, or “Ask Me Anything” event. I do have a Reddit account, but I’ve been far from active there, and I’m a bit dubious that I’m known there. It’d be pretty icky to do an AMA and not have anyone show up. But after pondering it for several months, I thought I’d do an AMA outside of Reddit, and invite the Premium subscribers to ask the questions.
It was set up using an online survey site so that it would be easy to make it anonymous (but questioners were allowed to leave their names if they wished), and promised to answer the most interesting questions in my blog.
The rule is, readers could ask “anything” they wish — but I didn’t guarantee answers to every question….
They had just under 5 days to ask their questions: from Monday evening to today at 1:00 p.m. (Colorado time). Each questioner was allowed to set their own level of anonymity. I figured that by limiting it to the Premium subscribers, there would be a manageable number of questions, and that turned out to be the case.
Questions — and Answers
All the questions asked are included below, unedited, and all of the questions have answers.
- Mickey: The only thing I can think to ask is not really any of my business. But I wanted to participate. The safety to you asking “anything” is the right not to answer. You don’t know how far you can go without trying.
- Tony in Georgia: Have you ever been the subject of a bizarre but true experience that is worthy of inclusion in This is True? Oh, heck yeah! I’ve spent a lot of years in the emergency medical biz, for one. One of my ambulance calls was so weird, it was reported on in Playboy’s “News Front”. Two groups of off-duty cops in San Rafael, Calif., got into a shootout — with each other. They both thought the others were bad guys. It was a case of overinflated egos, with inhibitions and propriety washed away with alcohol. My patient had been hit. As I was on the radio to the hospital, telling them that it was a “through-and-through” wound (there were both entrance and exit wounds), the drunk cop interrupted, screaming “It’s NOT through-and-through!” — he insisted the bullet was still inside him. (Nope.) Quite the fiasco, and yeah, it definitely hit the news.
- Anonymous: Where does a traffic sign take effect? For example: I’m driving along in an area where the speed limit is 40, and in the distance I see a sign that says SPEED LIMIT 30. Where exactly does it change? Common sense say that it changes at the sign since that is at a fixed location, not when I see it since it is seen by different people at different locations. But do I have to be AT that speed as I start to pass the sign? When my back bumper passes it? (Hey, I might have a 500 foot-long car, you don’t know!) Certainly it’s not how most people treat it, that is, to hit the gas the second they see a sign that allows a higher speed, and hit the gas after they pass a sign that mandates a slower speed. Clearly, I wonder about the oddest things. This is True! I always presumed (yes: when I presume, I make a pre out of u and me) that it’s when your car gets to the sign. But the real answer is, it’s where the law in your part of the world says it is.
- Space Cadet, Head of the Crispy Critters: Have you ever met Bill Fries (a.k.a. C.W. McCall, of “Convoy” fame), a former mayor of Ouray, Colorado? Ouray is our County Seat. While I’m certainly aware of who he is (and “was”), he has never been pointed out to me. I’d like to meet him, though. I should get going on that: he turns 86 this winter.
- Rollie in Austin: Would love to see some top 10 lists of your stuff– 10 funniest, 10 most poignant, 10 best unsubscribes, etc. Could even be done Letterman style across 10 issues (or 5 issues or 2 issues) That’s not a question. I do intend to do some “theme” books collecting stories, like the weirdest dumb criminal stories, the weirdest political stories, etc. But we have to catch up on the annual volumes first.
- Anonymous: What is your opinion of the New York City law that makes it illegal to own ferrets? Do you think ferrets deserve their freedom? That sounds contradictory: if they should be free, then people shouldn’t own them. I’ve never had one myself, even though I’ve been to NYC.
- Anonymous: What is your favorite thing to put in a burrito? Spiced meat. Mmmmmmm… moist, tasty meat!
- Anonymous: What is your favorite kind of pie? Probably pecan — but only when it’s made to my great-great-aunt Laura’s recipe, developed in the kitchen of her New Mexico homestead (where there were plenty of pecans growing) and handed down in the family since.
- BJ in CA: What is the most egregious misuse of “zero tolerance” that you have encountered? There have been so many truly horrendous ones, I’m not sure off the top of my head. The school board that declared even a letter from a doctor would not be sufficient excuse to allow an absence? The police force that decided they couldn’t release mug shots of escaped murderers because that might breach their “human rights”? (Which, by the way, is a great example of ZT getting outside the school system — and outside the USA.) The kid who was charged with a felony when he wasn’t even the one who set off a school fire alarm? The teen girl who was strip searched because of unsubstantiated allegations that she (gasp!) might have the anti-inflammatory drug Advil on her person? And those are just a few of the stories that made it into my blog. There are many, many more. It would take an entire book to go through it all (and my wife has been bugging me to write one).
- Tom Dilatush: You’ve mentioned your Mensa membership a few times in your writings. I’m curious what you find useful, interesting, rewarding, or entertaining about being a member of that group. I don’t know if I’d qualify for membership, but if I did, I don’t know why I would join! Frankly, I’m not sure I’d join Mensa again either. I can’t quit in protest over its political in-fighting, since I’ve already paid for a lifetime membership: they would get to keep my money to provide nothing in return. After speaking at the “Annual Gathering” (national convention) chaired by a friend of mine, I’ve not attended any of their events. Even their magazine is boring; Mental Floss is more intellectually stimulating by far.
- Anonymous: What do you think of an “instructor” that lets a 9 year old fire an Uzi? I don’t have a problem with it per se, assuming he’s a qualified instructor. One that manages to be shot to death by said 9-year-old girl because she can’t handle the recoil doesn’t sound “qualified” to me, but rather more like the hands-down winner of this year’s Darwin Award.
- SilverMarc from New York City: I expect you’re very familiar with the world of technology, and it seems you are also able to get to the heart of complex mechanisms. That said, (and if true) can you make BitCoins understandable to technically savvy people like myself who just can’t get to the heart of whether they’re a “good” or “not good” financial mechanism? I learn whatever technology needed to accomplish what it is that needs to be done. I know a smattering of unix commands to deal with True’s server, for instance. If it gets too complex, I either need to sit down and learn more, or make the decision to buy help. So while I can (for instance) create new web sites, move files around the server, set up spam filtering, and do other similar tasks, I hired an admin to do more complex, critical things like hardening the security against hackers.As far as Bitcoin, I haven’t studied it. I’d just have to point you to other resources to learn more, such as the nice summary on Wikipedia.
- Howard in California: What is the EMT thing you did that made you proudest? Sylvain in Beloeil, QC, Canada: As a first responder, is there an incident that you recall with the most pride for a job well-accomplished? “Saving a life” is what most people would say. The case I wrote about where my wife and I without a doubt did so isn’t my proudest case, since that was simply a matter of following really basic training. We did it efficiently, and by “being there” we saved his life, but it didn’t need something “special” to make it happen, so pride would perhaps be a bit misplaced. So my “proudest” moment was a case a few years ago, that I never wrote up. [Update: I have now, and that more complete story is here, so I’ve deleted the capsule summary here.]
- Kellie in pa: 1. Do you have a favorite story in true that just stands out for any reason 2. What are your political/religious leanings? I know you are against stupidity and seem about as unbiased as humanly possible but you have to have an opinion!Thank you for true. It has helped me become a fairer more openminded person and in my opinion that is one of the most important skills in life You’re welcome! I’m glad it has had such a good effect on you. As for your questions: 1. I don’t have one favorite True story. Different stories stand out for different reasons — great slug, hilarious facts, hilarious tagline, pointed tagline, thought-provoking, a terrific setup to make a point, and dozens of other attributes. Plus, one story isn’t enough: it’s when you have the full mix and see how they relate to each other that it really gets interesting and fun. 2. My main opinion is, politics and religion should never, ever mix: our Founding Fathers were extremely wise about that, and ignoring that wisdom is the road to ruin — just look at the Middle East.
- Anonymous: What is your advice if you get caught out in bitter cold? Call for your help on your cell phone before its battery dies! (Batteries, and some electronics, don’t like cold if it gets too bitter.) It might take someone awhile to get to you to help.
- Anonymous: When I renewed last time, I threw in a little extra contribution. Figured I had to, since I was one of those pressing you to accept same. Yet I was truly surprised to get a thank-you from you. Did you keep track of who suggested it, did you otherwise recognize my name, or do you really thank everyone who sends extra? Well, I don’t know your name: you left that blank here. 🙂 No one “has to” contribute, but it’s greatly appreciated. So much so that yes, I thank everyone who sends a contribution. I send them myself (they’re not sent by my assistant), with the sender’s name in the reply so it’s clear it’s freshly typed, not a canned response. You’re going “above and beyond the call” to support the publication, so it’s the least I can do in response.
- Sheila, Calgary: 1. What have you really wanted to do but have never taken or had the time and/or money for? 2. Who is / are your hero(es)? 3. What is your greatest fear? 1. Other than “write more,” I wish in childhood I had chosen the piano as an instrument to learn, instead of the trumpet, which really isn’t “me” (I gave it up decades ago). The piano is more versatile: playing keyboard allows one to play virtually every instrument known, thanks to advances in synthesizers. Too late now: it would impact my writing time to learn to play at this point. As for money, if I had enough, I would let everyone get the full True without having to pay for an upgrade. 2. The great coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” I expand on that: my heroes are people who strive to make the world a better place with little to no thought about what’s in it for them. In large part, that’s what is behind the Honorary Unsubscribe feature in True. “These are the people you will wish you had known” is what I say about those folks (and I’m grateful to have known a couple of them.) It’s really sad that not everyone reads those write-ups.3. That I’ll die (or, worse: be so incapacitated that I couldn’t write) without finishing making as much of an impact on the world that I can.
- JohannaMM in California: You are famously self-employed, with a tough boss who makes you work on Labor Day. I wonder how you have dealt with health insurance, retirement savings, and some of the other issues commonly handled by HR in a corporation. Yeah, my boss is a real bastard! Late nights and weekends aren’t enough: I have to come in on holidays too! But you have to remember that most of the job creation in this country isn’t from big corporations, which are better known for layoffs, but rather from small, independent employers, including local stores, consultants, handymen, and the like. We all have the same struggle to ensure we make enough to afford health insurance, retirement savings, and other aspects of living in the modern world. Indeed, those are less and less a state of affairs in the corporate world, too: self-employed or not, we all have to watch out for how we’re going to take care of ourselves in the long run: medical care, retirement, and more, because our employers are less and less likely to do so. “Job security” ain’t what it was in our parents’ time.
- Karan in California: How long have you been a volunteer medic? I was recruited back into emergency medicine in 2005 after a bad car crash nearby, and it took the ambulance more than 25 minutes to arrive. (Not because of any malfeasance; it’s just that this area is that rural.)
- Anonymous: Randy, you seem to have managed to find a healthy balance between your family, your volunteer work and your online business. Was that just a natural thing, or did it take some special refocusing on your part? Any tips you can offer to those of us that still struggle with finding that balance? It helps to be sure of what you want to do, and then making it clear you’re going to do it, period. For that, I have an understanding wife. Rather than fight it, she decided to join me in at least some parts of it: not just taking care of a specific part of my business, but she became certified as a medic too — and she loves it as much as I do. She understands that I have a mission in life, and that I need room to do the work to complete that mission. Sure she gets grumpy sometimes and wants more of me to herself, so I indeed work to keep that balance and give her time, if for no other reason than because of the need to relax and “recharge,” and spending time with her helps that. As the writer Leo Tolstoy supposedly said, “Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of intelligent women.”
- Anonymous: Are you registered to vote and, if so, to what political party do you belong? You’re darned right I’m registered to vote, and vote in every election. As for party, social commentator Will Rogers once said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” But I am not. Nor am I a Republican. Instead, I’m a staunch independent who thinks the parties are part of the problem. They work like hell to keep third parties out, since they understand they’ll lose their power if there’s a viable third party. Independents are the greatest voter’s block in the country. According to a January 2014 Gallup poll, only 25 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republican, only 31 percent identify themselves as Democrats; that leaves the largest percentage of Americans as other. Fully 42 percent identify as Independent (and about 2 percent as something else, like that smattering of Socialists, Communists, Greens, etc.) Yet pretty much all you hear about is the two parties. Well, more than 40 percent of Americans do not have proper representation in our Democracy. What’s wrong with this picture?! I vote for who I think will do the best job, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, or Other — and more and more often, they are “other.” I do this even if they have “no chance to win.” Why? Because if everyone did that, they’d have a very good chance of winning. Think about it!
- Jeff – Phoenix, AZ: Since when do you have Bible quotes? I have no problem with this – just curious. There was a Bible quote (“Romans 12:19”) used as a story slug in this week’s issue. Since when have I done that? Probably since 1994 — I’d be surprised if there isn’t at least one in the first year of stories. I don’t use them often, but they’re useful to point out when someone who says they’re religious doesn’t walk their own talk.
- ld: which would you rather make your living with: Editing/writing or photography? Writing, by far. I can express any idea needed in writing (even if some difficult concepts take a lot of work), but I’m not talented enough with photography to create a concept I can’t already see in front of me.
- Dick Bachman: Several years you ran a story on PETA’s hypocrisy in the killing of scores of puppies. Were there ever any prosecutions in that case? Could you send me a copy of the original This Is True article? PETA is much in the news recently here in San Diego. You have a good memory: that was nine years ago. The story, along with PETA’s fairly lame response, is at https://thisistrue.com/peta/.The original story reported the PETA employees involved were charged with 62 felonies. An update toward the bottom reveals they were only convicted of …littering. You have to read the update on that page to believe it!
- Deborah, formerly of San Jose, now in Kent, Washington: What is the most amazing/most favorite experience you have ever had with Kit? What is your favorite experience with This is True? My most favorite and amazing thing with Kit was on our first date, and she had the guts to say it felt like we were already a long-married couple — and rather than freak out, I agreed with her. My favorite, most amazing thing about This is True is its very existence and longevity: that there are enough people out there who support my mission that they’re willing to fund it to keep it going.
- Anonymous: Have you ever been nominated for a MacArthur Fellowship? It’s colloquially, but improperly, known as a “Genus Grant.” Improper since it’s not intended to recognize intelligence, but to “invest in a person’s originality, insight, and potential” with regards to creativity. It seems to me you have done a lot to spur thought, originality, insight, and potential in others, perhaps more so than previous recipients. I guess my real question, though, is if you did win the fellowship, what would it enable you to do? Well, thank you: that’s very kind. I don’t know that nominations are ever announced, but for sure there has never been even a hint that I’ve been nominated for that honor. As for what it would enable, I’d use some of the money to hire a second assistant to free me up from the rest of my admin work (including a lot of the marketing to keep the cash flow going), and use that time to write several more books, such as the one on Zero Tolerance mentioned above that my wife wants me to write. Whether that is more important than the work of this year’s MacArthur Fellows, I’m not in any position to say!
- Jason C in Indiana: Do you miss working for NASA? Definitely! I dreamt about it for some years after going full-time on True and moving to Colorado. On one level, things made sense in the dreams: there “is time” to do both, so why not earn a little extra money to put in the bank? But on another level, the dreams usually involved the tedious parts of working there: Dang it, I forgot my badge — how to get in the gate? Or I would realize that I had been there for weeks …but have never turned in a timecard. So yes, I miss working directly with such cool people, and on such cool projects, but I don’t miss big-city traffic, the ramifications of internal politics (and in NASA’s case, national and international politics), and other tedious aspects of working for someone else. I left to be more creative on my own terms, doing my own thing, even though if I had to work for a big organization, NASA was an awfully cool one to work for.
- Jim – British Reader: I would be keen to know what your favourite True Story and your favourite unsubscribe has been (to-date). See above regarding favorite stories. My favorite H.U. is a very early one, and is therefore in Volume 1 of the H.U. book series: Reynold B. Johnson. He was an engineer at IBM who not only led the team that invented the hard drive, but he also invented the “Scantron” test-taking form (“Fill in the bubble completely using a #2 pencil”), and he invented the videocassette, which automatically threaded the tape into the video machine (which is a convoluted process I can remember doing manually in the 1970s). All that, and surely many more accomplishments, all from the mind of one man. Incredibly inspiring — so much so, I didn’t have to look him up, I pulled all those details from memory, including his middle initial.
- Viktor in Boron: How do you put up will all of us nutcases? On the whole, readers are just fine. Most of the actual nutcases can’t stand the heat, and bail out of the kitchen.
- Scott in Northern Ca.: Since our national school systems are SO dysfunctional (my wife is a Teacher), What would you suggest to support the natural creativity and exploration of Children. I’d love to be a teacher, but I refuse to be part of the environment of teaching children only to shut up and sit down (not to mention Z.T.)… Too bad there wasn’t “This Is True” for younger audiences?… This is True is fine for younger audiences. To a point, at least: they have to be old enough to grasp what’s going on. Lots of parents read the stories to their kids. What better way to show them the value of thinking? So what would I suggest? Let them read anything they want — encourage them, even — and honestly answer their questions. Don’t ask “What did you learn in school today?” but tell them what you learned today, at work, by reading True, whatever. They’ll start to emulate that and tell you what they’ve learned lately. They need to learn how to think, not what to think.
- Angie, York PA: What has been your favorite story to rewrite to date? Every written about a family member? See above about favorites. A very distant cousin was once mentioned in a story; she was the voice of reason. I later met her, which was a treat.
- John in AZ: How do you deal with FF/EMS/other First Responders that never seem to help a situation (or even make it worse)? I’m sensing you’ve been in that position. Sometimes, as a Captain, pulling rank helps — I have the authority to fire the volunteers under me. Yes, we certainly will fire incompetent volunteers: the public needs to know they’re getting quality care in emergencies! If someone is truly incompetent, I help to make them competent. If that doesn’t work, I’ve built enough credibility with their boss to get them fired. Happily, we don’t have problems very often here, and I’ve never had to resort to that.
- Ron in Moose Jaw Sk Canada: As a medic, what are the top 3-5 things that everyone should have in their car in case of emergencies? The details depend on where you are — city, country, truly rural. But number 1 in every case is a way to communicate, which for most means a cell phone, and hopefully a way to charge it. A way to stay warm, if you’re in a cold climate (e.g., a “space blanket”). A basic first aid kit. And a way to get OUT of your car if needed. Can you get out of your seatbelt if you’re hanging from it upside down? (If you don’t have a cutting tool within reach, the answer is “probably not”!) Other items depend on where you live/drive.
- Elizabeth – Missoula, MT: Why do you do this to yourself? Not busy enough? What, allow people to ask questions? Because I thought there would be some interesting queries. And there are. It was worth the several hours of work to get this result (it’s nice to be able to write fast). And no one else is qualified to answer the questions, so they need to be answered by me.
- Chris in California: Which type of story is your favorite to run in “True”? As I don’t have a favorite story, I don’t have a favorite type, either. It’s all about an interesting mix. But there is this “favorite” happenstance: it’s when there are two (or sometimes three or four) stories that are very, very similar that happen very close together in time (though usually far apart in distance). You’d think that would happen rarely if ever, but it actually happens often enough that it’s really fun. Like what? The most recent was in issue 1041, and this time the similar stories happened to be in the same city, too: Portland, Ore. In the first, a man was running naked in early morning traffic …and was run over when he decided to drop and do some pushups. Pretty weird, but about 10 days later, a man “attacked” a car in early morning traffic with a sword …and explained he was a “high-elf engaged in battle with the evil Morgoth.” Either story is weird enough to run, but to run them one right after the other really adds a lot to the humor aspect.
- David In London UK: When you worked at JPL did what was the most spectacuraly funny mistake that you saw? When management went on their own Zero Tolerance-like rampage: they announced that the mere possession or display of any knife longer than 3″ would be subject to immediate termination. In a posting on our internal message board, I pointed out that they needed to terminate all the employees who picked up knives along with their forks and spoons in the cafeteria line. I don’t recall whether they amended the rule, but I didn’t get into trouble for saying that, and signing my name to it.
- Anonymous: What lead you to becoming an EMT? Originally, I followed a buddy into the business right out of high school. We had been in a crash together, and both needed ambulance transport. I had already been a police cadet, and had some interesting experiences as an emergency responder, but never had any inkling of what to do to help someone in medical need. I learned that formal training …didn’t really help that! (Training is much better now, but what it really does is give you the basics and a course of action, and then experience teaches you the rest.) I left the business toward the end of my college days, because I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do as a career: I had always wanted to be a writer, and learning about the business made me want to be my own publisher. (Writing medical reports definitely never counted.) After moving to rural Colorado, I got back into it because the new EMS chief in our county found out I had a lot of experience, and he recruited me to captain a new team. It was obvious that help was really needed, so I accepted and got recertified as a medic. It is awfully interesting and rewarding, and happily it’s not all that busy here, so I pretty much “can’t” get burned out. And it provides good stories to tell — within the confines of medical privacy, of course. 🙂
- Tony Starratt, Ontario, Canada: What was the most anti-climactic yet still satisfying emergency call you ever made? I don’t understand the question.
- Sam Iam – Whoville: If you were given three wishes with the proviso that one would have to benefit Mankind as a whole, what would that wish be? So, you assume that I wouldn’t already use at least one wish to benefit mankind as a whole? I would wish that every politician worked to achieve what is best for the country and the world, rather than what’s best for themselves, their party, or the deal they made with some other bastard. But then, this “wish” is like a lot of wishes: pure fantasy that I don’t expect to happen as long as politicians write the rules that govern their own behavior. More and more, they exempt themselves from the laws they write, and add rules that give themselves more power and money.
Note: The comments form below is to comment or get clarifications on the above, not to ask more questions. The “AMA” is over.