kirk.is | last weeks

January 21, 2017

I already reposted Richard Wilbur's poem Love Calls Us to the Things of this World".... here is the cover of the paper I wrote on it in highschool. Even now when doing the wash "Oh, let there be nothing but laundry!" comes to mind. (It was an injoke too with Marnie, whom I took the class with.)

January 20, 2017

GIFCities brings you back to those animated GIFs of yesteryear...

Such a funny little art form. Reminds me of the little bestiary I assembled on my old compsci server homepage

January 19, 2017

January 18, 2017

A few days ago I posted my Ed Emberley Tribute animal puppets on his official Facebook page and last night I got this email from his personal account!

Needless to say I am stoked!
Aww Mr. Rogers!

January 17, 2017

Maybe "insurance for everybody" is the new "you can keep your insurance"? A relatively sincere statement of intent, just don't take it so gosh darn literally. In Obama's case, the edge case where your insurance was basically in name only. In Trump's... well. We'll see.
"Music is just sculpted air pressure"
--/u/by a_carkhuff

"This is why I think Aerosmith is SUCH a great name for a band"
--/u/totalaj
"I'm not an expert on everything--I work as a grief counselor for robots, for god's sake. [...] People who aren't in the industry don't even realize grief is the main emotion that robots can feel. Robots are hyperaware of both death and obsolescence."
--Charlie Jane Anders, "Stochastic Fantasy", in Wired's Fiction Issue.
The Atlantic had a nice piece on Richard Loewy's design aesthetic:
Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. As a result, they gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Loewy called his grand theory "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable"--MAYA. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.
Interesting stuff. It reminds me of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and its description of how we know "Quality", the Tao, how something is good at being whatever it is, in a circular way: we learn define the quality as we recognize the quality in the instances of the thing we're defining.
"Serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are technically the only things you enjoy." --/u/McGerty

January 16, 2017

"There's so much stuff that matters, but so little of it matters to my well-being! You know what the real answer to Camus' 'Question of Suicide' is? Because I don't feel like it!"
"You're like the Raft of the Medusa, but piloted by Pippi Longstocking."
"Wheeee!"
Final 3 panels of this SMBC comic - the whole thing resonated for me deeply. (Not completely; like I think there is at least some meaning between life and non-life...) Admittedly I had to look up "Raft of the Medusa".

On my devblog, some thoughts on game design

January 15, 2017

Alright, jumping on that "10 albums influential to you as a teen, don't think too much"

1. All these classical and jazz tapes I tried to convince myself I liked, because I thought A. that's what smart people like B. I am a very smart person. This really set back my appreciation of pop music, which seemed beneath a kid of my intellectual stature. (ahem)

2. But "Weird Al" was my gateway back to pop music, starting with his self titled album, back when it was all accordion. I think I had every song on that tape memorized. (Shout out to "Even Worse" as well.)

3. "License to Ill", Beastie Boys . This album was my anthem of young teen disenchantment, I remember sulking and listening to it on repeat in the back seat on headphones. Later in a bit of personal Christian revival I destroyed the tape. And then after I got it again, though maybe not until college?

4. "Christmas Rap", a holiday tape with a ton of artists. especially the crazy mechanical looping beat of Sweet Tee's "Let the Jinglebells Rock", it really stuck with me years later...

5. "Basin Street" by the Canadian Brass. I remember listening to this over and over while writing a nerdy paper on Charles Babbage in middle school. It's not bad, but kind of feels rather square to me now . Saw them in conert a few times.

6. "Chameleon" by Maynard Ferguson. This is literally one of the first three CDs I bought when my family finally got a CD player - and the screaming title song is super influential in honk bands, and a staple of JP Honk.

7. Dirty Dozen Brass Band "New Orleans Album". One of the other first 3 CDs I bought (the other was a Glen Miller tape). Of all ten albums on this list, maybe this one stands up the best from a sheer music standpoint.

8. "Soundtrack to the Blues Brothers". Man, every stage/jazz band kid in america wanted to be these guys. We tried to dress like them, a bit, in Euclid High School's "222nd Street Jazz" Now it seems a little white guy co-opting, but back then it was just so cool. Worked up a version of Peter Gunn JP Honk sometimes does.

9. Ugh, reaching here. PID (Preachers in Disguise)'s "Back to Back". Christian Hiphop. And what good white christian in the late 80s DIDN't try to rap? Again trying to find something in the faith I had here. (Similarly- One Bad Pig's "Smash", Christian Heavy Metal. I remember arguing with my cousin about if that term was a contradiction.)

10. "Dr. Demento Bootleg Mixtape" compiled either off the radio or off the albums by Thomas Shenk. Made for my dad when he was sick, I listened to it a lot.

BONUS: EMF's "Unbelievable" single. A few variants. It was instructive that people in the band room didn't want to hear Africa Bambaataa's "Hip Hop remix" - they wanted to hear what they liked. (Runner up in the 'random cd singles' category - U2's "Mysterious Ways"

I guess this is all "middle school and high school". In college I'd be able to add The Beatles (missed them somehow growing up), Paul Simon's stuff, Deee-Lite, Ani Difranco.
animals.alienbill.com - I de-adventized my collection of Ed Emberley inspired animal puppets, to make it a less seasonal showpiece.
"You know how you *shouldn't* eat those hundred calorie snacks? Seven at a time."
--Melissa

January 14, 2017

"People who say 'everything happens for a reason' actually have no idea why it happened."
--/u/EricJonZambrano
To be honest I'm absolutely loving my extreme ambivalence about the Patriots. On the one hand - they're this town's team! And they win a lot so it's easy to be a fairweather fan, and Brady does great aw shucks talk. On the other hand both Emperor Hoodie and Pretty Boy Brady love Trump. So I'm not rooting against them or not, but I'm so much more relaxed about their fate.
(My cousin Billy wrote "Yeah, talk about ambivalence.....it is troubling." and I said "It's great! I wish I could be so disengaged but entertained by everything I A. am interested in the outcome of but with no big stakes in and B. have no control over whatsoever)

January 13, 2017

I've been tracking "Todos" on a gadget for two decades now, and it works pretty well for me. But in December I realized the number of due items had been creeping up... I like to keep it from around 10-20 and it was hitting 30, 35. For New Years I thought I'd resolve to keep to 20 or less. So of course now it's at 50.

the stuck-in-traffic problem

January 12, 2017
tl;dr: The traffic isn't against you. It's just the traffic.

In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut introduces the concept of a "wrang-wrang": a person who steers people away from a line of thinking by reducing that line, with the example of the wrang-wrang's own life, to an absurdity.

I'm trying to make Homer Simpson my wrang-wrang. Specifically this clip:


A sudden irrational and disproportionate fury at somewhat trivial things that are out of my control. In some circumstances I'm almost too controlled, many of my potential feelings of desire have to be vetted by my inner judge before they're allowed... but the feeling of "this is just wrong" rises up in a sudden furious tantrum, and I don't like that about myself. (It's gotten me into trouble in previous jobs; it's not that I rant and rave endlessly, it's just that one moment of exposed anger, even if directed at a system and not an object, can make people very uncomfortable.)

The issue has been on my mind for a while. In 2008 I wrote
"C'est la Vie!" / accepting that / "this should not be!" / but coping / more stoically; / philosophically-- / "C'est la vie..."

A few years later I read about William Irvine's modern application classical Stoicism, in "A Guide to the Good Life'; protecting one's equanimity and contentment at all costs, in part by triaging the world into things one has complete control over, no control over, and somewhere in between, and attending only to the first and last category, along with "negative visualization" - a meditative technique of thinking about how bad things could get, and then being happy when they're better than that; and realizing that you'd be able to cope even if they were that bad. So that was helpful, but just recognizing that a situation was out of my control didn't actually help my equanimity all that much.

Other approaches suggested themselves. I wrote this in 2015:
Recently a conversation with Derek gave me the idea of approaching the world with a kind of cheerful pessimism- assume that "a bit screwed up and annoying" is kind of the natural state of the universe, that things WILL be messed up, but generally not irretrievably so, and then be extra cheerful when the dice roll your way. "Lousy minor setbacks" that could otherwise be absolutely and inappropriately infuriating become almost soothing reminders that Murphy's in His Heaven and all's right, or wrong in the right way, with the world.

Again, that sounded better on paper than in real life, in terms of not being upset. I don't really want to be all that dour all the time.

In early 2016, I stumbled on "Amor Fati" - still a concept that resonates for me, a call for the cultivation of love of one's fate, even the parts that are unpleasant, that you wouldn't have it any other way. As Nietzsche put it:
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it--all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary--but love it."

I felt - still feel - that much of the problem is that our monkey brains are so good at daydreaming up these alternate realities that are just like this one, but better - this same roadway, this same car, not all these other cars - but those realities don't exist in our world, except for the power we give them to make us unhappy.

Later in the fall I also stumbled on the idea of using empathy to make situations more palatable. In its more extreme form, this is a kind of hippy-dippy "we are all one thing", but even without going to that extreme, if you see yourself on a common team of humanity, someone cutting you off might be a win you can share in. Of course, this doesn't apply to traffic jams so much, at least when everyone is equally stuck. (Remember- you're not 'in' a traffic jam, you 'are' the traffic jam)

But now I've found what seems the strongest counter-formula yet... the recognition of this weird animism humans tend to have, that we look for intent and purpose even in things that are just accidental and emergent. The first stage of the this realization was that "it is absurd to take traffic personally". And yet I do. Later, in the movie "Mistress America" I found the even wider application: "The path isn't against you. It's just the path." I've been finding that a very useful mantra lately.

The other nice thing is that these various view points are complementary, they don't really undercut each other that much. (I've been told that's characteristic of Eastern religions, in general they are less combative, and defensive of their "unique path to truth" sense, than many Western outlooks.)

The traffic isn't against you. It's just the traffic.

January 11, 2017

"America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."
--John Updike

January 10, 2017

The real way to get his attention, which I always wanted but only fitfully received, was through email, sent the way we all sent email on campus: telnet. It was black and white, devastatingly simple, with one-letter commands to delete, forward, reply. You couldn't attach photos, at least not without a great to-do; you couldn't use bold, or italics, or underline. The best feature was a secret widely told: FINGER.
You'd type in the command on the telnet homescreen, and then the six-letter username of the person you were trying to, uh, finger (the first four letters of the last name + first initial + middle initial). And then the screen would proffer the best/worst thing a lovesick college freshman could ever want: the date, time, and location from which person-in-question had last logged into their email account.
--from Anne Helen Petersen's thoughtful look at the internet of dormlife in the late 90s.

January 9, 2017

Happy Birthday iPhone!

from "the space merchants"

January 8, 2017
[The doorman] whistled up a two-man pedicab, and Kathy gave the lead boy the hospital's address. "You can come if you like, Mitch," she said, and I climbed in beside her. The doorman gave us a starting push and the cabbies grunted getting up momentum.

Unasked, I put down the top. For a moment it was like our courtship again: the friendly dark, the slight, musty smell of the canvas top, the squeak of the springs. But for a moment only. "Watch that, Mitch," she said warningly.

"Please, Kathy," I said carefully. "Let me say it anyhow. It won't take long." She didn't say no. "We were married eight months ago--all right," I said quickly as she started to speak, "it wasn't an absolute marriage. But we took the interlocutory vows. Do you remember why we did that?"

She said patiently after a moment: "We were in love."

"That's right," I said, "I loved you and you loved me. And we both had our work to think about, and we knew that sometimes it made us a little hard to get along with. So we made it interim. It had a year to run before we had to decide whether to make it permanent." I touched her hand and she didn't move it away. "Kathy dear, don't you think we knew what we were doing then? Can't we--at least--give it the year's trial? There are still four months to go. Let's try it. If the year ends and you don't want to file your certificate--well, at least I won't be able to say you didn't give me a chance. As for me, I don't have to wait. My certificate's on file now and I won't change."

We passed a street light and I saw her lips twisted into an expression I couldn't quite read. "Oh, damn it all, Mitch," she said unhappily, "I know you won't change. That's what makes it all so terrible. Must I sit here and call you names to convince you that it's hopeless? Do I have to tell you that you're an ill-tempered, contriving Machiavellian, selfish pig of a man to live with? I used to think you were a sweet guy, Mitch. An idealist who cared for principles and ethics instead of money. I had every reason to think so. You told me so yourself, very convincingly. You were very plausible about my work too. You boned up on medicine, you came to watch me operate three times a week, you told all our friends while I was sitting right in the room listening to you how proud you were to be married to a surgeon. It took me three months to find out what you meant by that. Anybody could marry a girl who'd be a housewife. But it took a Mitchell Courtenay to marry a first-class rated surgeon and make her a housewife." Her voice was tremulous. "I couldn't take it, Mitch. I never will be able to. Not the arguments, the sulkiness, and the ever-and-ever fighting. I'm a doctor. Sometimes a life depends on me. If I'm all torn up inside from battling with my husband, that life isn't safe, Mitch. Can't you see that?"

Something that sounded like a sob.

I asked quietly: "Kathy, don't you still love me?"

She was absolutely quite for a long moment. Then she laughed wildly and very briefly. "Here's the hospital, Mitch," she said. "It's midnight."

--from "The Space Merchants", by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. What Aldous Huxley did to Orwell with eugenics, this 1952 book does to Huxley with sheer capitalism - a semi-dystopia vision of a world of salesman run amuck.

This passage has stuck with me; the concept of "interim marriage" still sounds futuristic. But more than that, Kathy's protesting paragraph, that's what really has rattled around in my brain for a while. (Some parts more than others - being a guy who doesn't change much more so than being a guy who argues and sulks and fights.)

But yeah, the surgeon thing - I've been pondering about how admiration is an important part of romantic attachment for me, and how I can almost always identify the specific, objectively cool something that made each person I've been lucky enough to be with distinct from everyone else, the gray lining to that silver cloud is how sometimes I do it to show off - it sounds cynical to identify it, but I think it's a natural human trait to enjoy having a partner who boosts ones own status in your shared social circles.