2019 July❮❮prev

on reading, and writing

July 1, 2019
Thinking about my reading habits. One of the downsides to tracking all the books I've consumed (for almost two decades now) is the tendency to "gamify" reading. I started the practice to try and remember the books (along with movies and games and what not) of my life, but now that there's a yearly number to it, it's hard not think in terms of the tally - whether for "bragging rights" or just to get a feel for how I'm spending my time over the course of a year, and how that number varies over the course of a decade.

That leads to a few knock-on effects, like how I'm more likely to follow a mediocre book to the bitter end, or less likely to start juggling several books at once, partially for the pressure of adding to the tally.

For a while I admired and kind of imitated people saying "Oh, I only read non-fiction, really." Isn't the universe rich enough that we should focus on what is, rather than people who are making up more of it? But now I'm thinking I want to recant on this idea, and focus more on fiction.

I'm a fast reader (and so, secretly a skimmer) and so I tend to read for substance, books presenting superficially interesting and novel ideas. Or better yet, and maybe this is where novels can best produce novelty - books that give me a new way of interpreting the otherwise too familiar.

I read through Kris Gage's 8 Things I Learned Reading 50 Books A Year For 7 Years (Tangent: this article was a recommendation from Firefox's Pocket, the first "let us be your homepage, we'll show you interesting stuff" portal widget I've seen that actually seems good.) The author quotes this lovely passage:
We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.
Rebecca Solnit, "A Field Guide to Getting Lost"

Arthur C. Brooks in the Atlantic on Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

It's an intriguing article that starts about professional decline with age, with a sudden veer into a call for spirituality and finding a role in being a mentor. "Corpse meditation" - a practice of literal encounters with the remains of the dead - is touched upon; to me the "exposure therapy" it offers (similar to the "negative visualization" suggested by modern forms of stoicism) is much more satisfying than a life of avoidance...

Interesting wrapping this into where I am now - my long term lack of career ambition (long term ambitions in general, actually), combined with my mid-life rediscovery of community through band, and my version of a spiritual quest in terms of helping people cope with their own mortality, as well as figuring out the sense of ultimately unrealizable but existent and relevant objective truth that has driven me so many years.
So much of my writing is made worse by me trying to say too many things, either to show off my smarts or to acknowledge the validity of people holding conflicting opinions... even before I've stated my own.

Or the fear that if I leave out a detail, it is gone forever, without hope of later retrieval as needed.

"Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity" and you can leave off two of the Simplicities...
Is life fair? Short answer, no. Long answer, nooooooo.

new music playlist june 2019

July 2, 2019
Pretty good month for new music! Felt really packed. A lot of hiphop. List below is newest first, 4 star stuff in red.

Diane said her primary interest is where I discover new music, so I tried to keep closer track. Not sure if there are real surprises- soundtracks (esp commercials/trailers and HBO shows), random tweets, tumblr entries, personal recommendations, youtube recommendations, or random impulses.

July 3, 2019

Having a lovely time at the Jersey Shore, days at the beach, then back with my mom and Aunt Susan ... Aunt Susan's traditional "Kirk's arriving, going to oven fry up some chicken for him to consume cold like an animal at any odd hour" is great, I think only my Grandma's Meatloaf on a white bread sandwich with too much ketchup holds a higher place in my personal family food lore. (huh- both of my favorite dishes are best best day from the fridge...)

Also I love seeing fireflies here. Hope they find an ecological niche in whatever our world turns into.
her lips were netflix red

This medium story resonates for me in two directions; one is it being about the semi-defunct (but revived) GameLab game SiSSYFiGHT 2000 (I knew the coder for it) and the other is because it's about mourning a dad who died in one's youth, and seeking any path to getting to know who they were a bit more.

July 4, 2019

'What does Mammy always tell you, Aidan? About the dark? Can you remember?'

'Tell me again.'

'There's nothing there when it's dark that isn't there when it's bright.' This was the line her father had always spun in her childhood. She'd never found it remotely comforting but had appreciated the effort. Aidan had never before even deigned to respond. But this time, he did.

'No,' he said. 'No good. A monster could be not there at the day and then sneak in at night-time when you can't see him.'

This was a better argument than any she'd ever put to her dad. Through her irritation and exhaustion, she felt a faint glow of pride.
Damien Owens, "Married to a Cave Man"

Had an odd dream last night, I think I saw it as a possible script for a sci-fi comic book or video game- it was about a specially DNA-tweaked intelligent species designed by humans to survive the rigors of space travel, there to tend the colony ship until the planet to seed with "normal" humans who were riding in cryogenic storage. The caretakers were supposed to end their own lives at the end, I guess, but one of them resented that fate and so was trying to sabotage the mission...

I'm currently wonder if most consciousness-altering states (whether drowsiness or dreams or drugs or drink) are suppressing subsystems of the brain, so that parts that are usually constrained or repressed have more free reign. The weird dream drama seems to be the underbrain throwing out (often emotionally laden) sparks and other parts of the brain trying to turn that into a somewhat more cohesive narrative - and then applying feedback loops of interpretation and action as well.
Beachfront fireworks like Asbury Park's are the best. One guy yelled "Take that, England!" at an opportune moment, surprised I haven't heard that line before, it was pretty good!

from "Normal People"

July 5, 2019
Quotes from Sally Rooney's "Normal People":
He shrugged. Idly he wandered over to the bed and sat down. She was sitting cross-legged, holding her ankles. They sat there in silence for a few moments. Then he got onto the bed with her. He touched her leg and she lay back against the pillow. Boldly she asked if he was going to kiss her again. He said: What do you think? This struck her as a highly cryptic and sophisticated thing to say. Anyway he did start to kiss her.
Her breath sounded ragged then. He pulled her hips back against his body and then released her slightly. She made a noise like she was choking. He did it again and she told him she was going to come. That’s good, he said. He said this like nothing could be more ordinary to him. His decision to drive to Marianne’s house that afternoon suddenly seemed very correct and intelligent, maybe the only intelligent thing he had ever done in his life.
He told Marianne once that he'd been writing stories, and now she keeps asking to read them. If they're as good as your emails they must be superb, she wrote. That was a nice thing to read, though he responded honestly: They're not as good as my emails.
By now the unspoken consensus is that Helen and Marianne don’t like each other very much. They’re different people. Connell thinks the aspects of himself that are most compatible with Helen are his best aspects: his loyalty, his basically practical outlook, his desire to be thought of as a good guy.
Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.
Sally Rooney, "Normal People"
A terrific fast read, and it's easy to place bits of one's own weird high school and college experiences of on-again, off-again romance into it - I certainly have had the feeling that the email I was writing to try and woo was better than any of the stuff I made for my fiction or poetry class, and I recognize that the desire to be seen as a good guy is a big driver in my life. (For me it's a sign that I am most likely a good guy, objectively, since I trust people's opinions.)

The book was recommended by kottke who did a better job of with excerpts from it than I have here.
Bummed MAD magazine is becoming a zombie. I've fallen off the bandwagon, but when I buy the occasional issue I appreciate the work they seemed to be doing with indie comic strips.

MAD introduced a lot of kids to a lot of pop-culture, and had a terrific mistrust of authority stance.

Never woulda thought the Cracked brand would have become more vibrant (though I think the connection to the old faux-MAD print version was tenuous.)

This is how the world ends: "not with a SPLITCH but a doop"

July 6, 2019
We now live in a time when everyone's a spitballer, from the president of the United States on down. America elected the world's oldest seventh-grader in 2016; we knew what we were getting from the earliest days of his campaign. Asked about one opponent, the successful business executive Carly Fiorina, Trump replied, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?" He bullied the rest of the field with stupid nicknames. The hijinks continue to this day. Recently, Trump play-scolded Vladimir Putin as the Russian president smirked in reply. "Don't meddle in the election, please," said Trump -- as if the two of them had been caught giving wedgies and were forced to apologize. What, us worry?

In the 19th century, physicians discovered morphine and heroin, which suppresses coughing at its source—the brain.
Old wiki-page on The Smith Brothers, linked to via catlezzer who writes "why is this sentence written with such perfect comedic timing"... (I would note that posing a question and dropping the question mark adds to the deadpan timing, too) (via)

Sometimes it's so hard not to shoot the messenger, when the message is the world is not perfectly tuned to bow to your every whim. Or to quote Homer Simpson, "Lousy Minor Setback! THIS WORLD SUCKS!"
If you can't handle me at what you have mistakenly assumed is my worst, then prepare to be unpleasantly surprised in the immediate future.

it don't mean nothin'

July 7, 2019
Yesterday I saw today's Doonesbury (it always seems like odd magic when my mom gets the Sunday supplement a day or two early.) "It don't mean nothin" is an interesting fatalistic line, up there with "it is what it is" (as the comic points out) or "this too shall pass". I think it's wise to incorporate that into one's outlook, but to finesse it so that you're still fighting the good fights - don't let some of level of acceptance become apathy, but also don't burn your rage candle at both ends.

2019 has been the year of tending to my old blog entries, a process about halfway through, since it's early July. Over the years I've been (along side the typical blog-ish writing) collecting quotes, posting links and embedding videos I've come across, putting up little virtual toys and games I've made, and posting photos. This year I'm adding demarcation to the quotes, find replacements for videos that have been taken offline, relinking to the javascript version of old java toys and games, and putting photosets with 4 or more entries into thumbail galleries.

Every morning of 2019 I load up kirk.is/thisday/ and do the necessary for this date over the years I've been running the blog. Of these tasks, the quote thing is the most significant. Somehow it feels just right to me to have a bit of design that concisely says "I'm quoting here, not composing"

My blog, following in the "commonplace book" tradition, is becoming more deeply rewarding to me as I keep at it - now reaching the end of two decades of activity! From seeing glimpses of my past self to being able to find the exact version of almost any quote I remember hearing and liking, it's terrific. I think nearly everyone should keep a journal and a commonplace book, even if it's not public - and they should probably do it in a way not dependent on any one company like facebook, tumblr, or blogspot.
'we love the sea because it's where we come from we fear it because we left so long ago', I say suddenly, startling myself, and the waitress


July 8, 2019
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
K.P. Kavafis, "Ithaka". Via a person from Greece I knew once upon a time.

on blogs

July 9, 2019
Two decades in, I'm in a retrospective mood and I've been thinking about what blogging means...
The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999.
Thinking about it, I guess "blogging" can encapsulate many or all of many different kind of activities: There's a lot of overlap there, but it's amazing how versatile a medium "Blogging" is.

Social Media covers many of those same outlets for many people. A while back I wrote on The Facebook:

But Facebook banks on one brilliant idea, one other sites leverage as well: empowering users to assemble a collated page/wall/feed of content from people the user finds interesting. Sites using this trick -- Tumblr, LiveJournal, Twitter, Instagram and FB all had different hooks (visual collectors, diarists, pithy bon mot makers, snapshotters, and people you know, respectively) and of all of those FB's "people you know in real life" seems to be the most compelling in a universal kind of way.
Those are all legit outlets, but I am wary at having my content potentially lost to corporate mishandling or malfeasance . I come from the DIY oldschool - a group privileged enough to have the knowledge and freetime and funds to build the tools we use to post stuff. The barrier to entry is high there, but there's almost total control over the results. But then again I end up mirroring nearly everything I post on my blog on Facebook, because that's the only way I have of getting feedback. (And it hurts when you realize how few people any individual post gets put in front of... feels weird to have to sort-of go viral just to get a piece of content in front of the majority of your friends and family)

The other element is the private/public aspect. For many folks, many of those categories list, especially "Dear-Diarying", Commonplace Booking, and Scrapbooking, might be better served with private tools - maybe even paper! Personally I've always been more interested in attention and knowledge sharing than privacy, but I know different people manage that balance differently.

(Last year kottke collected 3 interesting essays, Did blogs ruin the web? Or did the web ruin blogs? - worth checking out.) RIP Ross Perot. I sometimes wonder if his 1992 campaign denied re-election to the elder Bush, and if the backlash about losing what was "rightfully" theirs spurred the "Contract With America" (brilliant piece of propaganda, that) and from there it's all been more and more unlikely extreme swings. Also in a day and age where executives seem unworldly tall, a 5'5" guy becoming a self-made billionaire is a good story.

8.4 little birds

July 10, 2019
Trying to adapt songs:
Rise up this mornin,
Smiled with the risin sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin, (this is my message to you-ou-ou:)
Singin: don't worry bout a thing,
Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Or, rather, every little thing is gonna be what it gonna be.
Within your ability to withstand it,
but not necessarily to your preference,
and sometimes pleasant if you pay attention to the right details.
And if you look you'll see you're on a hedonistic treadmill
and will get back to your happiness setpoint soon enough
but if you cultivate your focus and your expectations
maybe you can grow your contentment and courage
and bump that setpoint up a few notches.

That is why I'm not a songwriter, I guess... but mostly, I don't have an intuitive understanding of people finding the sentiment "it's gonna be ok" comforting, at all. When I find someone trying to soothe me like that, I get MORE worried that the external objective reality must be REALLY bad and they're blowing smoke to get me to calm down. I always want as unflinching and uncompromised view of likely outcomes as possible, with the reassurance applied to the idea that I'll be able to adapt.

I mean- I sort of get it. "It's gonna be ok" has that mix of authoritative confidence and reassurance about external things, kind of parental - and maybe that faux-parent is seeing things that the scared inner child can't. And most people aren't as entangled in an obligation of seeking unconfirmable ultimate objective reality as I am. "It's gonna be ok" is fighting fears that aren't in the realm of the rational, so for many folks it's ok to fight emotion with emotion.

RIP Rip Torn. I just like saying that.
Hi, its God. Sorry I missed your call because I'm everywhere but I'll get back to you, maybe in strangely fitting words from a coworker or a dog's smile

O Celia, You're cuttin' some farts

July 11, 2019
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!
A poem I read in class, though I don't recall if it was high school or (more likely?) college.

I also like the opening "Five hours, (and who can do it less in?) / By haughty Celia spent in dressing;" but overall the misogynistic bend of this poem is very ungood. (And was called out at the time, see for example Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's The Reasons That Induced Dr S To Write A Poem Call'D The Lady's Dressing Room that suggests Swift was bitter and looking for something to blame for not being able to perform with a prostitute.)

Also this poem showed me that "Betty", my mom's name, was once upon a time the stereotypical name for a maid, a fact that bothered my mom not at all.

Everybody poops.
Rob Plath, back cover of MY SOUL IS A BROKEN DOWN VALISE:

"a very nervous and skinny version of Pocahontas (1000/24th)".... do you think it would be too much to ask that the guy with the nuke codes could understand fractions? Do you think.... Obama knew fractions? Bush?

July 12, 2019

I'm a bit older than Melissa. Usually close enough that we're on the same page pop-culture wise but I remember this add and she doesn't:

"You're just in time..." "Uh oh-" "...for my Chicken L'orange!" "Ooh!" "And my biscuits!" "Ahhh!" "And my-" "-ring around the collar..."
Finally watched "Captain Marvel". Dig that they didn't soften her edges to make her "likable" or whatever. Also, noticed the arcade game in the orbiting hideaway was Centipede, one of the few games of that era with a woman programmer (Dona Bailey), and one of the first designed to attract women players. (Trying my hand at updating the IMDB trivia page for the movie)
I almost hate to say, because having a functioning home office printer is such a damn sign of being grown up, but the Brother HL-L2300D - black and white, laser-jet, does double sided printing, is fast... is good to have. The toner just lasts and lasts, I'm no more subject to extortionately-priced color ink packs.

Of course even writing a post like this reminds me this old Onion, from when Steve Jobs was resigning from Apple for the last time - New Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'I'm Thinking Printers'

July 13, 2019

I love how the summaries from these vintage Star Trek Trading Cards all sound a bit off, like they're written by a neural net or something.

And then the fun for fans is trying to figure out the episode!

from Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running"

July 14, 2019
from Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running":
Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy.
I'm struck by how, except when you're young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don't get that sort of system set by a certain age, you'll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.
In every interview I'm asked what's the most important quality a novelist has to have. It's pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don't have any fuel, even the best car won't run.
I don't care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I'll ever be able to run the way I used to. I'm ready to accept that. It's not one of your happier realities, but that's what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do. Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it's been moving ever forward without a moment's rest. And one of the privileges given to those who've avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.
On the body of the bike is written "18 Til I Die," the name of a Bryan Adams hit. It's a joke, of course. Being eighteen until you die means you die when you're eighteen.
Emphasis mine on the bit on aging.

I was most struck by the bit about talent as an intrinsic property... sometimes my employer talks so much about "we have a growth mindset" that I feel a bit called-out, or like as a person with fixed mindset I should be able to file some kind of discrimination suit...

Not really of course, and they probably are using a looser term of "growth mindset" than I am - but yet, I'm aware I have fixed mindset, it protects me in some ways, throws up roadblocks in others, and I try to act to mitigate its disadvantages while enjoying some of the psychological reassurances it offers.

It does strike me that there's an amusing meta-issue here; someone with a "growth mindset" is OF COURSE more likely to believe that switching mindset is possible than someone starting with a "fixed mindset"...

She told him that she loved him.
I wonder what other languages that works with...

from Sally Rooney's "Conversations with Friends"

July 15, 2019
from Sally Rooney's "Conversations with Friends":
I felt restless, the way you feel when you've already done the wrong thing and you're anxious about what the outcome is going to be.
I knew Bobbi would know what to say in this situation, because she had a lot of opinions about mental health in public discourse. Out loud I said: Bobbi thinks depression is a humane response to the conditions of late capitalism.
All I could decide was whether or not to have sex with Nick; I couldn’t decide how to feel about it, or what it meant.
At some point the chocolate cake was gone. I looked into the box and saw crumbs and icing smeared around the paper rim that I had neglected to remove. I got up from the table, put the kettle on, and emptied two spoonfuls of coffee into the French press. I took some painkillers, I drank the coffee, I watched a murder mystery on Netflix. A certain peace had come to me and I wondered if it was God’s doing after all. Not that God existed in any material way but as a shared cultural practice so widespread that it came to seem materially real, like language or gender.
I closed my eyes. Things and people moved around me, taking positions in obscure hierarchies, participating in systems I didn’t know about and never would. A complex network of objects and concepts. You live through certain things before you understand them. You can’t always take the analytical position.
After enjoying Normal People I went back and read this, Sally Rooney's first novel. I guess I enjoy reading stories of the romances of academic people. (heh... I guess to be honest I ended up treating my undergrad degree in computer science as a high-end trade school... and the English major I kept up to go with was a bit perfunctory...) This one told some of its story in quoted emails and going over old text messages, I really appreciate when stories do that... maybe it gives a smidge of validation to my own archiving with very occasional review.

FWIW The scene of people hanging out at a wealthy european's beach dwellings reminded me a bit of Martin Amis' "The Pregnant Widow"

--Panel from this Oglaf comic riffing on Hamlet - Oglaf is such a raunchy, fun, goofy, R-rated romp (maybe even NC-17) of a fantasy cartoon. I really like how it celebrates the joy of gettin' it on across a wide range of genders and sexualities.
French Inventor Totes Rifle While Flying Turbine-Powered Flyboard at Bastille Day Celebrations - word is previous Bastille Day stuff inspired Trumps' Campaign-Rally-With-Thanks July 4th ambitions. How long 'til he says we need one of these?
School of Honk on parade with "Rock Anthem" - at 4:06 you can hear me leading the call in the call/response:


July 16, 2019
You are a fluke of the universe. You have no right to be here.
Deteriorata. Deteriorata.

Go placidly amid the noise and waste,
And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.
Avoid quiet and passive persons, unless you are in need of sleep.
Rotate your tires.
Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself,
And heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys.
Know what to kiss, and when.
Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do.
Wherever possible, put people on hold.
Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment,
and despite the changing fortunes of time,
There is always a big future in computer maintenance.

Remember The Pueblo.
Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate.
Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.
Exercise caution in your daily affairs,
Especially with those persons closest to you -
That lemon on your left, for instance.
Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
Would scarcely get your feet wet.
Fall not in love therefore. It will stick to your face.
Gracefully surrender the things of youth: birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan.
And let not the sands of time get in your lunch.
Hire people with hooks.
For a good time, call 606-4311. Ask for Ken.
Take heart in the bedeepening gloom
That your dog is finally getting enough cheese.
And reflect that whatever fortune may be your lot,
It could only be worse in Milwaukee.

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether you can hear it or not,
The universe is laughing behind your back.

Therefore, make peace with your god,
Whatever you perceive him to be - hairy thunderer, or cosmic muffin.
With all its hopes, dreams, promises, and urban renewal,
The world continues to deteriorate.
Give up!
National Lampoon's "Deteriorata" See this page for the original it parodies as well.

This image is part of my inkjet printer's built-in print test and I genuinely find it very moving

I think the way to be a successful human is to not give yourself too many roadblocks to happiness -- and a hot warm tortilla, you know what? Don't think too much about it, just put that right in your mouth.
Addy discussing the non-vegetarian nature of proper tortillas, on the podcast she runs along with my buddy Dylan, Jump the Snark

[At MIT in the 1950s] there was a Tech Model Train Club, where they had the people who were like "let's look at the top of the table, and make the models, and make the trains and make the things and everything pretty!" and then there were the people who were like "let's look at the bottom of the table there where all the switches are, and the electronics, and do all the tinkering" - and that kind of divide between "I'm looking at the flavor", vs "I'm looking at the systems"... FF Tactics is like the hard-core systems game.
Shivam Bhatt on the Retronauts episode on Final Fantasty Tactics. That's a fun analogy I haven't thought of in a while. (Many of us were introduced to it via Steven Levy's book "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution")

apolloinrealtime.org/11/ Wow. And to think...50 years. Man, our relationship with space is sad. It's just a challenge we're not up for, and so we'll sit here til an asteroid takes us out, unless the climate gets us first.
from The Atlantic The 2019 Artistic-Swimming World Championships

Just finished all the available levels of "Mr. Bullet", a pretty decent little puzzle game for smartphones. Each level is a tiny puzzle, where you play a shooter doing fancy trick shots (with lots of cartoony blood). Then they have variants where you throw grenades, or have to NOT hit hostages, or where finally you're not longer magically invisible to your own bullets. Each puzzle is so bite size, and none of them are too grindingly difficult, that it's a great pick up and play and then put down game. The model of "free with commercials, or a couple of bucks to just play" seems pretty decent to me.

July 17, 2019

What did the average ancient Roman apartment look like? I found this Quora response one of the more interesting ones I've seen, I almost want to find a good kids book on the subject of Roman city life. When you read about how many assumptions about "your place" and use of shared, public things it's quite striking - switching to ancient Greece - it's sort of like reading the original versions of Aesop, and the way people have very different concerns about honor and friendship.

That all makes me think about how Christians treat their scriptures, and the cultural context they were written in. For many believers, they grow up so close to the Bible stories (if not actually reading the book that much) and they're so use to regarding it as the foundations for correct modern behavior, that that sense of estrangement is lost.

I recall years past, feeling a bit Christian-hip, and in on secret knowledge, in understanding that early Christians were setting up communes, it seemed a strong rebuke to the materialism of current-day capitalism and its accompanying consumerism, but now thinking in terms of this Quora, maybe the early Christian setup wasn't quite as much of a stretch from its surrounding context as I used to think.


20 hours to anything

July 18, 2019
20 minute video about 20 hours by Josh Kaufman:

In a nutshell, he's saying that the "10,000 hours" rule is over applied - it talks about the people at the tiptop of a specialty, pressing on to an elite place way out on the learning curve. Kaufman argues how 20 hours is often enough for a solid amount of competence.

It's a great point! Reminds me of Jake the Dog:

But those 20 hours are not a walk in the park. Kaufman ends with the slide:

The major barrier to skill
acquisition isn't
it's emotional.
And then he says
We're scared. Feeling stupid doesn't feel good. In the beginning of learning anything new, you feel really stupid.
Especially for people with Fixed Mindset - folks so skilled at finding low hanging fruit of stuff that are variants on what they're already good at, and so much in the habit of moving on and considering the difficult task unimportant - those 20 hours are going to be a slog! And 20 hours is a longer time than might first appear, especially if you're setting aside big swaths of dedicated focused and thoughtful practice...
You might want to cmd-+ or ctrl-+ your way to zooming this to 200% to take it in, but a Magic Eye of Bob "Church of the SubGenius" Dobbs in ASCII is pretty amazing....
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!.   \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//       \\=//   .!
:    U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/        U/_/     :
@/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&~  @/      \&
Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S\ /Y/\.::./\S

So near the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, lets not forget the software engineer who made it possible - she has some lessons for the coders of today

You know how you can make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell. [...] He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.
Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN on December 8, 2015

Back in the day you could get something called "Weslyan Tetris" for Macs... it had really annoying sound clips that would comment on your performance, and then sometimes it would "nyah nyah nyah" and cheat...

As soon as we started programming, we found to our surprise that it wasn't as easy to get programs right as we had thought. Debugging had to be discovered. I can remember the exact instant when I realized that a large part of my life from then on was going to be spent in finding mistakes in my own programs.
Maurice Wilkes, 1949

from Annaka Harris' "Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind"

July 19, 2019
Harris' book is a pretty decent survey over research into the problem of consciousness, and she cites some fascinating research... often pointing out how our (mis)conceptions of the world radically distort our view of some otherwise promising theories.
[Neuroscientist Anil] Seth refers to our experiences of ourselves in the world as a kind of “controlled hallucination.” He describes the brain as a “prediction engine” and explains that “what we perceive is its best guess of what’s out there in the world.” In a sense, he says, “we predict ourselves into existence.”
We make a map (our experience) of the territory (reality) and it is damnably easy to mistake the map for the territory.

She then talks about some of my favorite bits of mind-blowing research:

The split-brain literature contains many examples suggesting that two conscious points of view can reside in a single brain. Most of them also topple the typical notion of free will, by exposing a phenomenon generated by the left hemisphere that Gazzaniga and his colleague Joseph LeDoux dubbed “the interpreter.” This phenomenon occurs when the right hemisphere takes action based on information it has access to that the left hemisphere doesn’t, and the left hemisphere then gives an instantaneous and false explanation for the split-brain subject’s behavior. For example, when the right hemisphere is given the instruction “Take a walk” in an experiment, the subject will stand up and begin walking. But when asked why he’s leaving the room, he will give an explanation such as, “Oh, I need to get a drink.” His left hemisphere, the one responsible for speech, is unaware of the command the right side received, and we have every reason to think that he does in fact believe his thirst was the reason he got up and began walking. As in the example in which experimenters were able to cause a feeling of will in subjects who in actuality were not in control of their own actions, the phenomenon of “the interpreter” is further confirmation that the feeling we have of executing consciously willed actions, at least in some instances, is sheer illusion.
There's so much thought talking trying to describe this phenomenon of our other selves - elephant and rider, id/ego, inner-child - it makes me think there's something to it. I am convinced that our physical brains (and the nervous system of the rest of our bodies) are the medium for multiple entities - deeply connected, but still with their own agenda and point of view. (I'm not sure if that split is strictly hemisphere-based or not, or how much it might vary from person to person.)

For most people it's the narrative self, the inner voice, that is the most "us" - the part of our brain that uses its unfair advantage of language, the scaffolding to build magnificent structures of thought, and a habit of justifying the whole's actions to others - and to ourselves - to claim to be the true us. It plays at being the competent Dr Jekyll to the rest of the brain's Mr Hyde.

To navel-gaze a bit: I wonder if this distinction, this dual-life, might be especially heightened in me, personally, relative to most people. Evidence for thinking I'm such a weird dual snowflake follows:

When I read, I read fast, which means I skim - I've come to realize it's like a whole level of my brain absorbing the words from a page or screen and then efficiently summarizing the content to a higher level of awareness. This silent, speedy skimmer system has shown to be so salubrious for me on standardized tests... and it leads me to think of myself as a truly "deeply superficial" person.

(Furthermore, this voiceless low level reader system is most attuned to seeing how systems interact... and so the internal essence or superficial aspects that don't really change how the object of the reading material interact don't even get reported to the higher brain! This is coupled with my just-so story about why I'm somewhat faceblind - the details of a face just aren't that important to me, because they don't change how I'll interact with it...so at the higher levels I don't even see those details. I am terrible at spelling for similar reasons - twisty little vowel combinations don't change how the word sounds much, so they are devilishly hard for me to remember.)

The other part of this silent system is - my inner child as shown by my "inner snacker" - is especially difficult to control. It's a bit embarrassing really. I mean I know willpower in terms of food is tough for many people, but when I observe how I will chow down on snacks at work - if there's like an array of cookies, it seems like I will not be sated until I have sampled one of each. And I haven't witnessed quite the same level of that with other people. I'm not as much an outlier here as I am with the skimming/reading thing, but I think I am on the far side of this bellcurve as well.

But, countering what I think might be a particularly active subconscious - my religious upbringing has left me hyper-vigilant about keeping myself in accord with How Things Should Be. An early fear of eternal damnation and hellfire kind has constructed a system of rational vigilance, a gardener of the emotional garden. Almost every sprout of a feeling is inspected, and if found to not be rationally justifiable, it's plucked from the soil before it has a chance to grow. With lust, my physiological response is repressed unless my narrative self is convinced it's a safe and reasonable thing. I'm not even sure I love like other people seem to - I admire like hell, but I haven't had a "Crazy in Love" feeling in a long, long time. (My theory is, though, people search for that crazy in love feeling especially in the early days of relationships, because it puts the feeling out of the reach of market forces, that irrational love will better weather the travails of life and stress and aging and not be on the hunt for any better offers.)

And I think the two systems of me have warped each other a bit, goaded each other on. Like, my inner snacker is super quick in driving me to grab a tasty food on impulse, because that silent system knows that the inner narrator is on patrol.

If this two-entity model of myself is correct - it's a little scary. My narrator self - which is in many ways dominant, which is writing this rambling essay - is worried that my silent self may become sullen and resentful and uncooperative. In fact, when I think about my skullslinkies incident, where in a chemically induced state I had a clear picture of my those inner, short-lived thought processes, clear of the influence of the narrator self and finally able to express some of their resentments...I'm further driven to try to find ways to get my parts to be content and in harmony. And it feels like if I ever have some kind of psychotic break, this divide might be where the fault line lies, and that perhaps I'll never be as well-integrated as most people.

Phew! Back to the book...

Harris takes a lot of time defending panpsychism - the concept that consciousness sorta exists in almost every system - maybe even clusters of atoms. While this can sound like new age woo-woo, or a kind of Western shintoism, she defends it - not that she's fully convinced about it, but it isn't as nutty an idea as it might seem. A thermostat has a kind of awareness of the world around it, albeit just the ambient temperature. Personally I am comfortable with thinking of that as the tiniest glimmer of consciousness. I think full consciousness involves having a rich model of the world and of the self as an actor within that model, and if you have a system with those characteristics, you probably have consciousness...

Finally, Harris reminds me of some of the absolute, batshit weirdness of the implications of the double-slit photon experiment - how light is a wave or particle depending on if it's being observed (meaning observation - which might be inexorably deeply linked to a concept of consciousness - might be a weirdly causal part of reality) and not only that, but a 2007 experiment confirmed John Wheeler's prediction that the effect seems to go backwards in time. At trivial scales of time, or unimaginably vast ones:

You can now ask, for each photon that comes to me, whether it came from the left [or the right] side of the gravitational lens. [Let’s say] I decide to measure which side it came from, and I find out that it went on the left side. That means I can say that for the last ten billion years, that photon has been on a path that started from the quasar and went around the left side of the gravitational lens. But if, instead, I had chosen not to make that measurement and just measure the interference pattern, it would not be true that for the last ten billion years that photon had gone [down a path] around the left side. So the choice I make today determines the ten-billion-year-history of that photon.
Mind-bending stuff.
I had to draw a wildebee

2019 July❮❮prev