February 1, 2001

Midnight (or thereabouts) Ramble
Ahh, my free-floating neuroticism has found its latest idea to latch on to. Looking in the mirror, I thought I saw a wrinkle. Not much of one, a little crease on one side when I smile, above the cheek. If my cheeks weren't so full to begin with it probably wouldn't even be there. But they are, and it was, and it set me to thinking.

I've come to terms with mortality, I think. But when you think you see the effects of time it's tough to accept. I'm kind of perversely lucky in that I've never been in really good shape, so I'm more able to make actual improvements in my body over time, without the glory days to have fallen from.

I guess I shouldn't have too much trouble dealing with this, at least not for a long while. I can see that it's really a subset of my general mortality fears, or at least secondary to them. It is kind of funny that it's not just eternal life we crave, but eternal youth. (Isn't there a myth about the guy who asks for eternal life, but forgets to ask for the youth. and just gets older and older and more horrible and decrepit?) Understanding that I'm physically different as I approach my late 20s than I was in my early 20s, and that, aside from the efforts I'm making now (yey stairmaster) it will always be more or less downhill-- it's tough.

And I mentioned this to Mo, and she says she says "Aw crap, we're gonna get old someday" and I tell her that she'll be beautiful when she's old, and I believe that she will be even if she isn't, but still, it reminds me of the powerlessness we sometimes have to make the world a good enough place for the people we love. That's another really hard truth to accept.

Link of the Moment
Science Says Women Dig Fast Cars in Wired News
Hooray for Science!
Luckily Mo seems ok with my Honda Civic Hatchback. Though I have memories of at least one commencement-era romantic interest impressed that I was getting my life together enough to get a car, have a job.

an open letter to robert abbottramble

March 20, 2002

A while back, an essay by Robert Abbott titled Video Games Are Incredibly Stupid! made the rounds. (Parts of today's entry won't make sense unless you have read his original essay.) It was a strident argument against modern video gaming. It provoked many responses including mine, which he reprinted under the "mixed responses" category. I've added a few screenshots just for fun.

mario kart, multiplayer fun
As I'm sure many people have pointed out, you paint with a very broad brush when it comes to videogames. I speak as a gamer who has collected "classic" games for a long while, but mostly enjoys modern multi-player games, with 4 people dueling on screen at once.

Classic Games are interesting to me in the way they had to create microcosms from scratch; thus, there was some more flexibility in the worlds they gave the player to interact with, along with fewer expectations about how good things needed to look (one programmer could do all the code, the sound effects, and the art). Some of this has been lost as games have grown in complexity, but I think your view of modern video games is very limited. You mistake some of the dominant trends for the whole thing. Yes, 90% of modern games are derivative crap, but that's been true through many eras of gaming. Do you know how many Space Invaders and Pac Man clones there were? No, because they've properly fallen into the historical dustbin, of interest only to fans of the history of the field. (Actually, it's probably more like 95% of games are derivative, and half of those are crap, and the other half provides decent experiences for fans of the genre.)

battle chess
Picking on Battle Chess seems a little silly. It wasn't very realistic at all (little in that era of games was); in fact, the little "piece takes piece" animations were modeled after some of those same "silent comedies" you later so freely praise! It was broad, physical comedy. At one point I went through and ran all 8x8 "Piece X takes Piece Y" combos to see them all, but still I don't think it was a "quest for realism" that brought this game to market.

As for the "In fact, to this day no one has made a movie as funny as the silent comedies," I don't know if I agree. I think the audience reactions you describe have as much to do with audiences of the era than with the content itself. I haven't watched many silent films, but it has been my experience that some of the comedies from the period right after in a similar physical style (Marx Brothers, Three Stooges) aren't laugh out loud funny for modern viewers.

robotron: too much for 3D?
I don't think striving for realism is as negative thing as you do. (Though I've read where Eugene Jarvis shares your opinion about 2D-ish overhead views vs more limited first person perspectives. Robotron would be a pretty tough game, or have far fewer enemies, if he had to give it the first person perspective.) For one thing, it's not pure realism people crave in general, but detail--they want to play a Space Marine or drive a car REALLY fast or Kung Fu Fight, not be a clerk or be stuck in a traffic jam or wander a mall. Having games get closer to what it might "really" look like, rather than depending on the iconic representations that were all the classics could muster, is an interesting and worthy goal for gaming in and of itself.

the new zelda, aka 'celda'
Also, the quest for realism isn't the only force in the industry, though it is an important current source of conflict. Notably, Nintendo is bucking the trend...and sometimes being mislabeled as a "kiddy game" company because of it. One of the most notable examples of this is the upcoming installment of "Legend of Zelda." The earliest samples showed a very realistic looking combat, but it seems Miyamato is looking to buck the trend, and later movies of the work in progress show a very cartoony look. Many fans were horrified (mostly the teenage boy brigade that you like to pick on) but--and this is my main point--there is more to modern videogameing than these boys and the games that cater to them.

You might think that Miyamato is the exception that proves the rule...after all, he's an old-schooler himself, having made games starting with Donkey Kong and moving into the future...but many game houses are experimenting with looks and styles other than "as realistic as possible." There's an interesting trend using "Cel Shading" that provides some very interesting new looks. Still 3D, but more animation-inspired. And even old school game style and variety is making a comeback in "party games" such as "Mario Party" or "Fuzion Frenzy," that bundle many small and unique classic style games in a single graphical and gaming context.

So in short, while I somewhat agree with some of your opinions about industry trends, I don't think you've looked deeply enough at the trends you disparage, or to see what else is going with video games.

--Kirk Israel

with a little help from my friendsramble

November 2, 2002

So Ranjit rightfully pointed out that he has a strong claim for the original inspiration for gamebuttons after I had made the original 4 non-interactive animations as this May 22 AIM chat shows: (he also later came up with the brilliant term "dashteroids".)
ranjit: i wonder if pong could be made into a real game? using ' - and , for ball, or something, P b and for paddles...
kirk: what the hell is that last letter?
ranjit: Icelandic lowercase thorn.
kirk: sounds like the name of an art band
ranjit: heh heh

Link and Ramble of the Moment
Geeks and the Online Aliases they choose. If you're in a hurry, just check out mrcurtain's story or the story of the Dans from crisper's tale.

I've never been big into choosing evocative aliases. Most often I stick with my unix username "kisrael"...for example, this site.

On AIM I use "kirkjerk" (a name that I started using in 1997 on a great online car-race-with-guns Death Rally...it fit the style of that game as well as its 8-character limit.) though I've also used "kirkamundo" and "thegreatkirkini". In videogames now I'll use "kirkles" if there's enough room, or "KRK" if it's just initials(I used to always sign games "Z", which now strikes me as pretentious)..."Kirkles" has a history of its own, in high school, friends would tease me and my then girlfriend Lynn by imagining us murmuring "Oh Lynnie-Poo" "Oh Kirkles". (I was always bummed that that friend Mike "Woodchuck" Witczak ended up with the more pedestrian nickname "Mookie" when he went to college.)

There are many interesting names used on the loveblender, though there I'm just "Kirk, Blender-Keeper". I have to admit I remember people who post good stuff and have an interesting alias more than people who just post good stuff.

over the limitramble

January 31, 2003

I've been thinking about anxiety. You know when I get most anxious? It happens sometimes after I manage to lose myself in a movie, book, or video game...I start thinking along the lines of "huh, I've been really into this lately, it's like the outside world doesn't exist" and that makes me start getting meta-worried about the job market and big terrorist events, my two current neurosis-fodders. And that "worry I wasn't being worried enough" is much worse than my usual baseline concern.

The thing I'm starting to see is that worry--once you've allowed it to set some sensible precautions that hopefully you've overcome intertia for and acted on--just doesn't help. You might as well assume the best and be happy. And train yourself to appreciate what you've already experienced in this life and the memories you'd have even if some of the worse-case-scenarios did come to pass.

Man, Middle Class Americans are such wusses. Folks in Iraq have to worry about the barrages of cruise missiles that are likely to be headed in their general direction soon, folks in Israel (Israeli and Palestinean alike) are in daily fear of getting blow'd up, folks all over the world just don't know where their next meal is coming from, past generations of Americans (including my younger self) had much bigger fears about nuclear armegeddon, and I'm mostly worried about having a job that pays enough to pay my mortgage and keeps me sufficiently entertained.

Funny of the Moment
Reading our morning paper (La Presse, Montréal, Canada), I came across this comment by Pierre Foglia concerning the Washington snipers. They are being tried in Virginia because this is where there are the greater odds of a death penalty for Malvo (17 years old) and Allen Muhammad under two statutes: a state anti-terrorism law and one prohibiting the killing of more than one person in a three-year period.

My 13 year old son's comment: "Wow, Virginia has a bag limit on people!"
--Nerrivik Consultants, via rec.humor.funny

pulling the plugramble

July 26, 2003

So, I've taken a boldish step at work: all of our web access is through a proxy server, and I've taken the step of disconnecting from that server during the work day, disabling my ability to get to the web. I put it back during my lunch hour and at the end of the day, and if I have a legitimate need to look something up online for my project, but besides that, nuthin'.

It's a radical step, and I've only been doing it for a few days, but I've found myself having trouble focusing on the tasks that I'm paid (and pretty well!) to do. When I'm on a "cool" project, I have little trouble applying typical geek focus and working like a maniac, but when the project is more grueling, when I'm not learning anything new tech-wise, when parts are difficult, but in a "there's no way to do this quite right" rather than a "challenging, let me think about this and find a great solution" kind of way, I can get a little... intimidated, frankly... and I start craving distraction. It's kind of a form of occasional writer's block, and being able to browse the web is just dangerous at those times.

I've learned a couple of things that make this switch-off more palatable. One is, most things on the web will be there in a couple of hours when I get home. Two is, I don't get that much important e-mail during the day (and thanks to my antispam whitelist, I can postpone deleting the spam without the good stuff getting buried.) Three is I should stop being less dependent on CNN.com anyway; ever since 9-11 I was craving any information about possible terrorist activity (and a few years before then, it was information about what Y2K was going to look like...I'm a bit neurotic) but knowing about any event 15 minutes before word gets around the office isn't going to help me that much. Finally, I want to be trustworthy. Someone in a professional position should be able to be counted on to stay on target. It's cheesy, but I printed "TRUST" in a big font on a sheet of paper and put it on the old cube wall: corny, but it helps.

So, especially if anyone from my company is reading this, I don't want to give the impression that prior to this I've just been a giant click monkey day in and day out, but there was room for improvement of focus.

Office Observation of the Moment
On a related note, I've made Kirk's Early Exit Observation: if anyone leaves the office before five PM, no matter how blatantly obvious it is that they're going home (bags carried, coats worn, car keys jangled, etc,) they won't say good night to anyone. They feel guilty! Or maybe they think no one will notice. I do the same thing.

Games of the Moment
I already posted this over a year ago, but Orisinal has added even more great games with a beautiful sense of whimsy and motion. (This preview trailer is cool too.)

TV Quote of the Moment
"Hey, uh, is it horny in here or is it just me?"
--Dave in The Naked Truth

rambling ambitionramble

November 3, 2003

I've been navel-gazing lately, and I realized that one of my defining characteristics is "lack of big ambitions"--but figuring out the root of that, and what the implications are, has been a bit enlightening.

Spun one way, I think the "lack of ambition" comes from this tendency to not want to play when I think I'm unlikely to win (which isn't the same as its inverse) I don't even like setting goals unless I have a handle on what the risk factors are. This goes way back, come to think of it...I remember strongly objecting when my mom would suggest academic goals along the lines of "X number of A's, no more than Y B's". I'm much happier with an approach of putting in a good, honest effort and seeing where I end up. I have enough confidence in my abilities that I tend to assume I'll end up in a good position...and so far it seems to have worked out pretty well.

Another facet of this outlook, and I don't know if it's a cause or effect, is that I have an almost Zen-like (or maybe more properly "Taoist") materialistic acceptance of most situations I'm in. I sometimes attribute this to "moving around a lot when I was a kid", that I've learned to be content wherever I am...which isn't to say I can't judge my circumstances, or make adjustments and improvements, but I don't have aspirations to, say, a bigger house and a better car. I mean, I know I'd like to be wealthy, and achieve immortality through my work (or by not dying, like Woody Allen suggests,) but I think those are pretty long odds, and I don't want to get worked up worrying about them; I'd rather spend my time and energy and resources on the things I find important to me here and now: Mo, my websites, good books, programming, spending time with friends, playing games.

I dunno. Is everyone like that? How typical is this outlook?

On another, completely unrelated note: fractions. Lately I've been thinking how "1/2" doesn't sound like that much, exactly as much yes as no, but "2/3" sounds like a lot, a clear majority. But broken down into decimals, there's only a 16 or 17% difference between them, which sounds like practically nothing, statistical error almost. So something must be slightly broken in my intuition about fractions, or about decimals. Maybe 16.66666....% is more than I give it credit for. Maybe 2/3 isn't that much. I'm not sure.

Vietnam of the Moment
Number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last two years : 354
Number who died in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964 : 324
--Harper's Index, October 2003. I remembered that little statistic this morning after reading a Salon piece on Oiling Up the Draft Machine (subscription or day pass required for the whole thing)--there aren't active draft plans yet, but they might be quietly gearing up so that it would be an easier thing to turn to if needed.

The funny thing is I've previously liked the idea of making young people do military service or volunteer work; though of course I formed that opinion in a different political environment, assuming it'd be more like Germany (where they have it but it would be political suicide to use it) and less like Russia (where they have, and used it, ala Afghanistan and Kashmir.) With these guys in office though...

Article of the Moment
Slate says Stop calling firefighters "heroes"--they're brave men with a dangerous job that helps our society...but it's a less dangerous job than many others (including pizza delivery) and the men (and women) aren't above emphasizing and getting perks from their heroic perception. (I know at WTC, there was some under-reported resentment at the treatment remains of fallen firefighters got, relative to other victims. And that's further complicated by the way a communication failure was responsible for a large number of the deaths.)

"i'm afraid. i'm afraid, dave. dave, my mind is going. i can feel it. i can feel it."ramble

January 29, 2004

You know, here's something that's started to concern me a little lately: I find my brain doesn't make context switches quite as cleanly as I use to assume it did. Like if I'm reading a book in the same room Mo is watching a movie in...I'll be immersed in the book, I'll glance up for a second, get into the movie, but I'll expect to see traits, moods or other factors, from the book in the movie, just for a split second. Then I think "no, duh, that's the book I'm thinking of." Or I was watching the dvd "Sirens", and a woman is having an affair with a blind man, and in one of the next scenes where she's talking to her husband, I realize I'm expecting her to act as if her husband was the one who was blind, because the earlier scene had got me thinking about what it would like to be blind.

So I dunno. Overall, I'm much more aware of my mental process than I used to be, so it might be this phenomenon has always happened but now I'm more aware of it. Which would be a positive thing. Or maybe it's just me getting older. Or maybe it's premature dementia. Or somewhere in between! Still, any time you notice your mind ain't what it used to be, it's potentially very scary.

(Huh. I was thinking that, along with all of this, I'm more aware of becoming immersed in books and video games and what not, and worried that it was a new phenomenon, but now I can remember in sixth grade or so...I'd really get into books, to the point where I wouldn't notice people calling my name. So I guess brains change, not always for the better, not always for the worse. Also, I am more likely to notice this kind of thing lately. Rather un-Zen of me, I'm afraid.)

Anybody else get this kind of feeling?

UPDATE: speaking of random brain functioning: in the morning on the drive to work I was feeling really up: energized, ready to take on the world. (Now there's a word that never looks like it's spelled correctly.) Shortly thereafter, the opposite. But it doesn't feel like it's associated with any particular thing, even though it would seem like I have a lot to be depressed about these days. Mmmm, borderline manic-depressive. (Well, not even borderline, some kind of "shadow syndrome" if anything.) Guess I'll try self-med'ing with a 20 oz bottle of Coca-Cola...I find myself craving that, even though I always drink Diet...

Link of the Moment
Not quite as funny as last year's installment, Business 2.0's The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business is worth a quick skim. Best headline: (which is where most of the funny bits are) "61. Soon to be replaced by 'You can't take it to the grave, so you might as well buy a damn watch.'", for Timex replacing "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking" with the utterly depressing "Life is ticking." Not as funny as the headline series I quoted when I linked to last year's edition, but still.

Dialog of the Moment
"Believe me, friendship lasts much longer than love."
"Yeah, but it ain't as much fun."
--Sadie and Sgt. O'Hara, Miss Sadie Thompson

Game Links of the Moment
Do 3 non-stellar, related links put together equal one really good link? Well, here goes... Sports Blooper Reel, 8-bit Nintendo style. I think more than anything it shows the comic power of "Yakety Sax". Paule Neave has put together (yet-another) set of Flash version of arcade greats. I liked Hexxagon, a hexaganol port of Attaxx, but mostly I loved the mouse-wobbly border of the site itself. (For some reason, you have to download the games rather than play them online.) Finally, an interview with Wes Cherry, the creator of Windows Solitaire. I like how he sounds a little bitter about "FreeCell".

behold i have become shiva, remover of booksramble

February 1, 2004

Rabbit Rabbit. And Go Pats! We'll see how it turns out...

Melancholy of the Moment
So, continuing my decluttering effort, I went through my book collection, and tried to separate the wheat from the chaff. This here is a picture of the chaff...any friends of mine in Boston, feel free to arrange a time to come over and browse and grab before they make their exit to...I dunno, a used bookstore or a thrift store of some kind. I always feel guilty winnowing out books, they really shouldn't be subjected to such Darwinian forces, but these just weren't paying their rent...these are the ones I can't justify packing, carrying, unpacking, and finding the right shelf for once again.

In other melancholy news, Mo and I made some final arrangements about the house. I'm going to buy her out for a fixed amount, with an eye towards selling it quickly. A little bit of risk on my part, but it would be very surprising if I get a poorer end of the deal. Hashing out the details in the dining room made me sad though, and turning around, this view out the window made me sadder. Just the wintery drabness of the scene, combined with it...being a yard, actually. A yard is one of the big things about having a house versus renting an apartment, and owning this house was one of those big things that was near the center of my life with Mo.

Tying those last two paragraphs together, two book I found were one of the few chances I might've had to "read between the lines" with Mo and realize there was trouble brewing. Last year, for Valentine's Day, or my birthday, or our Anniversary, or something, she gave me I Can't Fight This Feeling ("Timeless Poems for Lovers from the Pop Hits of the '70s and '80s") and more significantly The RoMANtic's Guide ("Hundreds of Creative Tips for a Lifetime of Love ") The latter...I dunno, it was so undeniably cheesy, so different from where any sane person would think Mo and I were coming from, that I took it as a bit of hint but it didn't make much of an impression. But isn't that the most pathos-laden thing in the world, to think that Mo might have been trying to send me a message, but an unfortunate choice in the specifics of the medium (i.e. this cringe-worthy book) meant that the message was lost?

Link of the Moment
Coolest. Coffetable. Ever. Drift over the British Landscape from the comfort of your own living room...

Quote of the Moment
"Life span is not the only virtue. If it were, we'd value turtles more than butterflies, oak trees more than children."
--Jon Carroll, via Bill

Update of the Moment

ramble of the momentramble

April 22, 2004

So I spent all last evening straightening up the house in preparation for the pre-openhouse cleaning. Man, what an emotionally draining task...all the fun of getting ready to move with the undercurrent of reminders of the divorce. There's a ton of crap that isn't exactly mine but isn't exactly Mo's either...the result of some clutter synergy two people have when living together.

Mo and I have been e-mailing a lot over the past few days. It's been painful on both sides but I think overall it's been worthwhile. The new thing I learned is that she really feels she put in effort over the course of the relationship and marriage to make it work for her, and to get me more engaged; overall, probably more work than I did. But the thing is for me, she never communicated the significance or severe importance of what she was doing, what she wanted me to do. When she finally talked about how precarious the situation was, last October, I started making some strong efforts to step up to the role. In retrospect, these efforts seem sad and pathos-filled. Not necessarily too little, but too late; I think Mo had already moved on in her own mind, even if she didn't admit that then. So a lot of this was a massive systemic failure of communication.

Though, maybe not. There's another divergence in viewpoint that might make one of those infamous "irreconcilable differences"...she looks for a relationship to be...an answer to some of the existential questions of life, I think I'd say. And I don't; I think those questions need to be answered on one's own. Like Henry Miller wrote in "Tropic of Capricorn":
There are no 'facts'-- there is only the fact that man, every man everywhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the long route and some take the short route. Every man is working out his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous, and patient.
And I think that is related to what I look to receive and give in a relationship, being kind generous and patient. I think it's about support and feedback, security and sex, making good times and good conversation and muddling through the not-so-good-times. A good relationship is an end unto itself, but there's this primary role as a means to other ends, more personal projects in life. I need to find out if I can find someone who shares that outlook, or if I need to be resigned to remolding my attitude about this, or just giving it all a miss and being alone.

One other issue, and Mo says it's a viewpoint that some of our mutual friends share though it irks the hell out of me, is that I'm looking for a "mother figure". Maybe I just don't "get it", but to me that charge reeks of the cheapest, most-facile armchair psychiatry possible. Yeesh, sometimes I don't even think I want my own mom to be a "mother figure"...yes, I like feedback when I've done something good or cool, and yes, I tend to defer on making decisions, a funny kind of conservatism where I usually like to adapt myself to the situation rather than struggle to get the situation to adapt to me. And I like to spend the minimal amount of time on keeping body and soul together, because to me that seems secondary to the interesting things in life. But beyond those, I don't see where that charge really applies.

If anyone would like to explain more about people's perception of the "mother figure" thing, or talk about any of this in general, the Comments section is as open as always...

Summary of the Moment
Slate reads Woodward's new book for you! Pretty good summary and some other coverage is kicking around the site as well.

had a long talk with eb last nightramble

June 18, 2004

Had a long talk with EB last night. He's a more insightful guy than you might expect. One of the main points was he thinks I need to get better at recognizing competitive situations, and then decide if I'm going to compete or disengage, but if I do the latter, do so more knowledgeably than with my usual fear-of-losing redefine-the-competition approach. In some ways, sometimes for better but often for worse, that fear-of-losing thing is a defining characteristic of my life. It's kind of a misapplication of that old "better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt" saw...except in my case, it's more about better to give a half-hearted effort and see what comes up than to have one's limitations outlined in stark relief. At its heart, it's a terrible ego thing; I think I'm subconsciously convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I'm always the smartest guy in the room (and when there is evidence to the contrary, my belief in the theory of multiple intelligences--which is actually a nice multipolar way of looking at the world--lets me redefine "smart") and work to shield myself from anything that would prove me wrong on that.

One unpleasant side effect of that is I'm not a good loser, at least for stuff I've worked at at all. (Like, a board game I don't like, I have less stake in, so I probably preemptively disengage a tad, and can just follow the rule of "if you can't do something well enjoy doing it badly".) When a video game or round of darts is going badly, I'm the most sometimes angry and sometimes whiny (and sometimes both) S.O.B. around. Why is that? Dunno. Historical evidence suggest EB and I are fairly evenly matched in both fields...(Hmm, one thing I didn't think of last night is I am a bit better at say, multiplayer video games when things don't go well. Unfortunately, either because I have more experience at the specific games, or just spent more years at gaming in general, I'm usually better at any given game than many of my gaming buddies, but most of them take it with good grace.) Why should it get on my nerves that I might not be the best darts player in the car, when I so freely admit I'm not the best on in Cambridge, or Boston Metro, or New England, or any other reasonable level of competition?

So I'm trying to figure out where all this comes from, both the general overview and the sense of whiny rivalry. EB has a few theories, from what he knows of my background. One of the most interesting is--and even if it's not quite the root of this, I think it might start to answer some questions I was recently asking about how my father's debilitating illness and death when I was a teenager affects my way of dealing with others now--is this concept that I never got a chance to "beat Dad" at stuff. EB recognizes that Oedipal Conflict and Freudian thought in general is out of vogue, often for good reasons, but still thinks there's something to a normal male development stage of gettin' better than yer old man at something, whether it's one-on-one basketball or academic pursuits or what have you, and the time of doing that directly was denied to me. (I guess this presumes it can't easily happen posthumously...my dad raised a pretty high bar in the way he went from a bit of a backwoods boy to a very refined and educated man, collecting art--prints,mostly--in a meaningful way, doing national championship level needlework, and generally acquiring an amazing set of skills and diverse cultural interests. (Come to think about it, I did a write up on those things a year ago that tried to do justice to what he accomplished.))

Another place it might come from is not wanting to admit the world just isn't fair. (And EB thinks a certain kind of Christian upbringing, extremely egalitarian, might feed into this.) Somewhere out there, there's someone smarter, richer, better-looking, more-well-hung, better-adjusted, a better writer, more creative, luckier...and, undoubtedly, all of the above, and more...there's some growing up I have to do about making the best of the talents I do have. And I the problem isn't those talents per se; I definitely have a lot of raw intelligence and creativity and many other things; the problem is I have such a mixed record in the "making the best of" department. Sometimes a desire not to know my own limits has led me into a kind of drifting lack-of-drive, lack-of-competition way of being that in some ways has worked out ok for me, but in some ways hasn't.

Yikes, this went on for a bit, eh? Let me know what you think.

Sellout of the Moment
Wow. I had gathered that Garfield was pretty commercial and made by committee and by-the-numbers and all that (despite liking it a lot when I was like, 7) but I had no idea it was always so planned...

Stupid note of the moment...I would have said "when I was like 8" but the 8) looked too much like I was trying to make a glasses-wearing smilie.

enraging enronramble

June 19, 2004

Political Music of the Moment
Eron's Got The Power...those recent taped Enron-daming phonecalls set against Snaps "I Got The Power".

Geek Link of the Moment
Slashdot linked to a look back at "The Mythical Man Month", one of THE most important works in computer engineering even though it was written like 30 years ago...the article shows what's aged well, and what hasn't. That book gave us ideas like "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later."

Reminds me of my other current favorite "The first 90% of a project takes 10% of the time. The last 10% takes 90% of the time, too."

Car Thoughts of the Moment
So I'm getting closer to make a decision about a car, I think. Interestingly the top contender has changed... I test drove a Scion xA the other day. Unlike its more popular brother, the uberboxy xB, its design really appeals to me, strong-looking without being overbearing. Scion is a new division of Toyota, just Honda has Accord and Toyota also has Lexus, but geared for 20-somethings. It is a little odd to me that the most appealing car is actually cheaper than the one I bought 8 years ago, but still...it's modern euro in styling, and I've always liked the "miniminivan" hatchback look (I actually looked at getting an Eagle Summit back in 1996, but I doubt it would have lasted as well as the Civic hatchback has.) For worse or probably better, Scions are "no haggle" set priced, like Saturns.

The MINI Cooper is still a posibility. It has a "ooh I wanna see that" factor that chicks might dig, and Scion is still in the "what's a Scion" stage (and with much more attention being paid to the other two models.) But Mike cautioned me about the reliability of MINIs, and Consumer Reports says they're the pits in terms of problems so far. (Scion is too new to have data on, but given how well the other Toyotas rank, I wouldn't be too worried.) Another advantage the xB has is having 4 doors plus the hatch...I don't drive groups a lot, but if I got a MINI...the leg room for people sitting in the back is just cruel and unusual.

Other cars I've thought about: the Toyota Prius is a decent idea, but the styling is too "space buggy" looking for me. I think in general I like hatchbacks: some cargo ability, but it's still a car, as opposed to even those small little SUVs. (I've come to realize that, just like a felt like a goon for being a single guy in a whole house, driving to work in what wants to be a truck feels wasteful as well.) I've thought about some other vehicles: Consumer Reports loves the Ford Focus, but I guess I don't get good vibes from American cars. I even toyed with a Jeep Wrangler, but, besides feeling a little like a poser for having such an outdoorsy thing, it's not recommended as a great highway vehicle.

I also glanced at a nice used car place. Eh, my instincts are saying new will be better.

Ultimately, of course, this is my decision to make and live with (and I am getting better at getting the gumption to make big decisions and accepting that the responsibility is all mine, and that I'm not a terrible person if I do make some dumb moves.) Still, I'm glad Mike pointed out the MINI's possible issues...so I gotta ask...if the main reason I'd be getting a MINI Cooper over a Scion xB is because I think chicks are more likely to dig it...is that likely to be a big factor in those crucial first impressions women will make about me? Could my appreciation of oddball car design hurt my potential dating life? (Yeah, yeah, anyone I'd want to get serious with wouldn't care about that, blah blah...but I mean really...)

ramble regarding romance day 2ramble

August 10, 2004

So, like I said....today I need to consider strategies in the harsh world of dating, Internet and otherwise.

I think that the problem with "otherwise" is...well, it sounds really cool to meet people "out in the wild", and it can get urge you to get involved in some cool activities, but unless that future-beloved is willing to smack you in the face with a clue-by-four, you're going to miss them unless you're awfully alert. And if you're that alert, you're goint to seem annoying and needy and desperate, and that's a bad thing. The thing is, in the real world of interesting people, Murphy's Law of Dating ("she already has a boyfriend") holds sway.

So like I've been saying, it seems that rather than going and meeting interesting people and hoping they're single (and interested in not staying that way), it makes more sense to go where people already admit they're single, and looking, and then hope that they're interesting. It just seems like the odds are better. And I don't think Internet personals have the stigma they once might've at, say, the turn of the millennium or so.

So that means...I have to get good at the art of the Internet personal. And navigating the whole space. (And maybe try speed dating; when you're attached, it sounds like the coolest thing to be able to do, a neat competition, but when you have more of an active interest in the result, it's a bit more anxiety producing. (Anecdotally, one friend says that with speed dating for straight folk they have to balance the number of men and women and, unusual for most dating type services, the men are the limiting factor. I've gotten the impression that most other services, there are more men with their ears to the ground than women.))

So besides honing up my prose to make a good profile, and also whatever kind of initial contact notes people write, I need some good photos of me. Ideally, of course, the post makeover me. And there are dang few of those around.

So I had a coworker friend try taking some, but I wasn't really ecstatic about the results. It's all a bit of a forced setting. The first batch looked like mugshots or passport photos or something: (Click for larger)

I'm trying to decide if I look too...I dunno, broad across in that second photo. And then we had the "at the cubicle" series which was too backlit, and the middle one was a a bit-- sell we say, "foppish" looking
Of course, if I'm willing to throw in a pre-makeover picture, I have some "hey, I'm a fun geek!" options:

Part of the solution might be to go out with some friends to an interesting locale, just for the sake of making some better pictures of me. I dunno. Thoughts on which of these to use if it came to that? Thoughts on where to go to make entertaining photos? (Hell, I wonder what the hourly rate for that photojournalist-style wedding photographer we used is...or is that just way too much trying too hard?)

And any thoughts on what Internet place is best? Match.com seems to be a bit of a standard. Eharmony and that new "true" one (with those kinda creepy "we check to make sure they're not married or a felon so you can be safe!" popup ads) might be appealing to a certain kind of women at least.) Nerve/Onion/Salon personals (all interconnected I think) seem kind of hip. I've also heard of some successful matchups with Yahoo! personals...huh. And is it better to go with one, or a more scattershot approach? That seems exhausting, but heh...in the search for something like "the one", you worry about all the possibilities you're closing out by trying to stick with only a single site.

And real world options...I know one guy who met the love of his life at the MFA singles night. That's kind of cool in a way. And like I said, speed dating sounds like it would be entertaining to try once. Any other ideas? (I know, I know. "Take a class". "Join some groups". Etc etc...)

So let me know what you think. And don't worry, I don't think I'm going to have any more days of this kind of ramble any time soon...

Quote of the Moment
"Love is like eating mushrooms--You never know if it's the right thing until it's too late."
--Ira Gershwin. (via Bill...I'm always on the look out for possible loveblender quotes...)

Toy of the Moment
Imagination is one of the prettiest interactive toys I've seen in a while.

Article of the Moment
Slate on "The Magic Shirt That Makes You Stronger" and weightlifters who are approaching the 1,000lb barrier for the Bench Press...without these new "Bench Shirts", they max out at about 713. But when you read what the shirt is, basically they're giving themselves a temporary exoskeleton. Seems like cheating to me! (But I wouldn't tell them that to their faces...)

furniture that looks like it has been placesprojectramble

August 24, 2004

Project of the Moment
So, FoSO and I worked together on an interesting furniture project. I think the idea was mine, but the details and the lion's share of the labor ended up being hers. (Which is good, because I'm lazy, but also bad, because I didn't learn quite as much as I had hoped.) My bathroom is desperately short on selfspace, and I'd always been trying to think of a cool project to utilize these beautiful authentic travel stickers that were attached to a crumbling valise I got at an estate sale kind of thing. So, a bunch of slicing, scanning (just in case), staining with wood stain, gluing with Mod Podge, coating with polyurethane, and touching up with a hand sander later, and this is the terrific result:
Front      Inside

Progamming Thoughts of the Moment
Been thinking a little bit about programming rules in general. Here are some rules I've decided I (and maybe everybody) should try and follow...I welcome feedback from my fellow coding geeks.
K.I.S.S.: Don't over-engineer.
I have seen so much over-designed stuff, with layer after layer after layer. Following the programming execution over a single call becomes an enormously difficult task. If any given interaction goes much deeper than 3 or 4 levels, something might well be wrong.
Keep a clean modular approach to your systems.
Have a core engine that drives everything and uses the rest of the system as an API. Think Unix's philosophy of "do one task and do it well"...this guideline comes from stuff I'm dealing with at work. They've developed these APIs, but the APIs are so tightly integrated with the logging and configuration, it's sick. For example, they made a wrapper to a Castor routine that converts an object into an XML representation. You would think that if your central program says "make me an XML representation of this object and put it in such and such a file" it would do just that, right? But no. See, it goes ahead and checks the configuration on its own accord, and then might or might not do the conversion. And whether it tries or not, or if it succeeds or fails with some error, it will do so SILENTLY, catching any exception that occurs, because heaven forfend that the main program has to worry its sweet little head about everything collapsing underneath it... Hideously redundant, impossible to follow.
Keep a devnotes.txt file
I find it useful to have a single text file where I jot things down as I figure them out...usernames, passwords, techniques, etc. It saves me a lot of time.
Consider disabling web access during the workday.
Sometimes it's easier for a programmer to get distracted, especially when things aren't going well. The worse things are going, the more slashdot and various techie websites beckon. ("This task at hand isn't working out but maybe I can learn something else new!"). If your main browser is IE, the easiest option might be to go into Tools|Internet Options|Coonections|LAN Settings and setup a bogus proxy server. Sometimes just putting in that little gatekeeper is enough to make me reconsider a wayword path.
Keep your unit tests close and your smoketests closer
If your environment is at all complex and N-tiered, avoid the trap of your system breaking down and you don't know when and you don't know why by setting up good smoke and unit tests and running them extremely frequently.
Product of the Moment
Making the rounds is this story about a cellphone based Virtual Girlfriend product...unfortunately (or fortunately for the company) you spend non-virtual money to buy her presents and what not, otherwise she gets all mad and sulky.

Man, what a potential goldmine if they find guys who get really into this. Being able to sell trivial virtual goods for real cash...there's that other company that lets people buy each other little iconic gifts, I heard it's a reasonable hit...it becomes a social thing I guess, if you can show off your gifts like some kind of trophyroom.

Strange world.

"i'm either the most or the least enlightened guy i know"ramble

August 30, 2004

Philosophy of the Moment
Huh, thanks for your comments.

I'm trying to figure out if there is any established belief system that comes close to matching my piecework one: Eh, that's where I am right now...I guess finding some organized beleif system would kinda..I dunno, justify it or something.

I don't like the Bhuddist idea that everything is suffering and longing, or the Daoist notion that one's instincts are always trustworthy....

Thanks for listening to me ramble,

--I'm not sure who exactly I was writing to last November, but I still feel that's a pretty good summary of my core beliefs.

Photo of the Moment
--Hard to see in all the glare, but according the the Salem Willows' Arcade's Love Tester, I "HAVE 'IT'".

Article Quote of the Moment
But the sad truth is, the real difference between Democrats and Republicans is that their celebrities are, like, actually famous and ours are, well, singing weirdly erotic songs about Our Savior.
--Rob Long (a republican) on The "celebrities" who love the GOP and the general weirdness that is Christian Rock. I heard Evanescence, who do two very good songs ("Going Under" and "My Immortal") used to have more of a Christian vibe, and sometimes their lyrics have that same odd ambiguity.

say it loud...agnostic and proudramble

November 4, 2004

I want to say...and I know this might hurt some people I love, and offend many others, and I'm sorry for that, but this election has made me really, really despise, distrust, and fear organized religion in general. Well, mostly Fundamentalism, but I think the whole exercise is tarred in some ways. Especially because people I'm politically for have no choice but to kiss religion's butt left and right...I don't think any politican can make it without talking about faith in what ends up being the Abrahamaic God, because "doesn't believe in God" (put in terms like "doesn't share the faith that the rest of us do") is just a giant hammer for opponents to wield.

It really makes me want to start a big anti-fundamentalist "YOUR BELIEF IN GOD IS A GUESS" campaign, not that it would help matters anyway...hardly anyone changes their viewpoint thanks to a slogan. (But think about it..."faith" is all well and good, but think of all the other "faiths" your putting aside. Like the old Atheist saw about "so which god aren't you believing in?")

I guess the problem is Fundamentalism as a practice is more self-consistent than a more liberal religous viewpoint. Once you're convinced that your religion is correct, and you've taught yourself to ignore every other religous belief as misguided at best and evil at worst, which is actually a tremendous leap of faith that millions and millions of Christians and Moslems have no problem making, than of course you should act on those principles and work to enact them in your society, and not in a pansy-ass, liberal "can't we all get along" kind of way. I mean, you don't need commonsense and generally humanitarian principles to guide you when you have someone who is willing to give you a very specific and direct singular interpretation of how to to act on your holy book.

In a day where science has done so much for us, where a rational understanding of public health has expanded all of our lifespans and a skeptical, put-everything-to-the-test worldview has let us see the history of our species, planet...universe (and not in a dogmatic way!) people's willingness to accept a literal reading of the Bible kind of floors me. "God Said It..I Believe It...That Settles It" indeed.

I think people of faith are so defensive because of the promise of eternal life. The idea of getting into Heaven and not really having to face their own mortality is their Binky, their safety-blanket, and they'll put aside rational, skeptical thinking so that they can keep being convinced that they and their deceased loved ones will all meet up in Heaven. Fear of the reality of death gets people to shape their entire belief system around some thought like that. Sure, some people come to their faith throgh a thougtful, rationalist process, but I'd be willing to bet that's a minority compared to people who just believe like their parents and friends do.

It's easy to forget that Religion doesn't equal Fundamentalism. I was floored when I heard about some of the liberal Christianity in like, England...there are people there, clergy even, who accept things in the Bible as poetry and myth, but still find it a good general social and cultural construct to base their lives on.

I wish I had a better historical understanding of how religous zeal and fundamentalism waxes and wanes in a culture, because right now right here it's definately on the rise, and it's hard to remember there tends to be a cyclical nature to it, that many generations are less religous-oriented than the previous one, not more. As much as the fundamentalists are shaping the world into a big Christianity vs Islam clash, the world has been a fundamentalists vs. secularists struggle...and the latter group is losing, badly. Except maybe in Eurupe.

I welcome feedback on this, and I hope we can keep it friendly and respectful, despite my obvious emotional view of all this. How does your religous faith influence your politics? Why do you believe what you believe, and not something else? How do you feel about all the other people who have a strong faith in a competing belief system? If you feel that you're a moderate, how do you feel about people who have an extremist view within your system?

Proposed Redistricting of the Moment
--via Bill the Splut, original here, I think by Dave Ruderman.

Followup Thought of the Moment
There's something about the rise of puritanical thinking that makes me want to rejoice in all the things they wring their hands over...yay more smut on TV and in movies! Yay violent or sexually-suggestive video games! Yay for recreational drugs! Yay for cussing!

How many votes were discarded in Ohio? How many of those were cast by minorities? Why is it such a big secret?

Of course, it can never come up, because of the public and media backlash against any party who would want to investigate. Maybe it's just liberal wishful thinking. Maybe it's too sinister for words. If Nader really cared about our political system, he would be just the person to spearhead an overhaul of the voting technologies used all over this country.

Jeez. Thinking about it, will the need for anonymous voting always mean the system is subject to abuse?

axe the saxrantramble

November 9, 2004

Most overrated musical instrument: without a question, for me it has to be the saxophone.

First off is how corny the thing's origins are. While Adolphe Sax's motivations aren't clear...maybe he was worried about some weird clarinet "overblowing octaves" things, maybe he was just looking to let woodwind players make as much damn noise as the brass...the indisputable fact is he named the stupid things after himself. If I were to make a whole new instrument I hope I could come with a better name than "Kirkaphone". It's just self-aggrandizing egotism, is what it is. (And of course, the instrument always gets abbreviated to "playing sax". That's like saying you're "playing Jones" or what not.) And the guy's almost supernatural ability to tick off other instrument manufacturers made the instrument a pariah for years, and that's why it's not a part of classical music from the 1800s. Or maybe those composers just knew something that later music guys forgot.

Second off is just the playing of the Sax, especially for beginner players. I hate instruments with reeds, they're always cracking and the players are always running out, or having to work to keep 'em damp. Any instrument where you're supposed to keep part of it moist doesn't seem like a good instrument to me. Plus...well, I was a brass player, and I'm kind of grateful that the mouthpieces for those instruments are concave. Freudian symbolism aside, it's kind of nice to not be required to place part of the instrument IN your actual body. And speaking of beginning players...man, no instrument sounds as bad in the hands of a novice as a sax can. That squeaking and squawking was the bane of my middle school Wind Ensemble years.

Then there's the music that is made with saxes. They say that the saxophone is one of the most expressive instruments, capable of providing a huge variety of moods and sounds and that's why the jazz guys dug it so much, why it's almost like the human voice almost and blah blah blah, but really, there's only two types that you run into: the brash, honking stuff, and the smooth, corners-free "Kenny G" crap. I guess the honking stuff is ok, I'm as amused by a good round of Yakety Sax as the next guy, but that Smooth Jazz crap is really the stuff that aesthetic crimes against humanity are made of.

And, finally, while on the topic of aesthetic crimes...why the hell is Saxophone the only instrument culturally linked to coolness that's not an electric guitar? They're right up there with "throw on a pair of sunglasses" in terms of hackneyed visual signifiers of "cool". Sometimes I can't believe that my political allegiance to Clinton survived him playing saxophone with sunglasses on on national television--for a guy so in touch with the Black community that he put his office in Harlem, he is as corny as all get out. Plus, the way saxophone players feel compelled to duck and bob around during any solos they might have, flapping their elbows like they're doing the funky chicken...man, it's a nightmare. How they still manage to culturally read as "hip" is beyond me. Not to mention that retarded pun "Sax Appeal" that always seems to rear its ugly head.

Now, fair disclosure: my opinion might be biased by the bitterness of years of playing tuba. The only thing lower down on the cultural totem pole than the tuba players might be the accordionists. And yet, years after I stopped playing I had to confess that the reputation is not completely undeserved: they aren't a good sounding instrument by themselves. If you can hear a tuba do anything besides providing a general "bass" foundation, you're probably regretting it. Unless it's Dixieland. Dixieland is kind of fun. So maybe I'm jealous of all the attention the saxophones got, but still; Saxophones are completely, completely overrated.


November 14, 2004

Here's a thought: I've been taking some yoga lately. (Though even more lately I've been inclined to blow it off.) One of the big themes in yoga and other forms of meditation is quieting the mind, stilling all the endless chatter and, at least for Zen Bhuddism, leaving nothing behind. It seems almost every Eastern philosophy and many of the Western ones see a calm mind as a benefit. For a long time I took it for granted that it was a good thing. But lately it's been occurring to me: I love the way my mind wanders. I really enjoy having it zigzag from one thought to another, how sometimes it'll land at a meme, I'll start thinking "Now how did I get to thinking about that?" and can enjoyably trace the steps back. I'm a tangental thinker, pretty good at making connections, twisting concepts slightly and then examining the results...why on earth (or in heaven) would I want to lose that? (Of course it is annoying when your brain fixates on a single meme over and over, whether it's a song or a bad joke or what have you.)

I suppose there might be some health-type benefits. A static mind is more relaxed, it's not going in any anxiety and neurosis-producing places (and I sure as heck have enough of those) and so I guess for blood pressure and what not it's a good thing. But for my money, nothing beats a good leisurely mental ramble, a thoughtful ponder. It's where some of society's big breakthroughs have come from, and I can't see why giving that up is such a big plus.

Actually, it's funny how much of this goes on in the hindmind without the conscious mind being aware of it...sometimes a vague emotion will be the main residue that my aware mind can follow to figure what the rest of my head is up to (To quote They Might Be Giants, "Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of"...or what it is thinking of, in this case.) For instance, I'll be trying to remember something I was supposed to do...I'll feel a slight sense of...I dunno, nervousness, or pride, and that will be the hook to let me recall the core idea. "Why do I feel nervous? Oh right, there's that project that's almost due and still needs a lot of work." Does anyone else function this way? My brain is a brain of associations, I think a bit more so than with some people, which lets me more clever than average in some ways, but it has handicaps as well.

on multiple intelligencesramble

November 20, 2004

It's a kind of self-evident idea: most people know that you can be smart at one thing (like taking standardized tests ;-) and dumb at other things, but we still tend to measure smarts on one scale and call that "intelligence". The theory of multiple intelligences just says that there are different ways of being smart, emotional and what not...

Actually I just realized I've been using the term loosely... A google search came up with http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.htm which lists 8 specific ones:
Linguistic intelligence ("word smart"):
Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
Musical intelligence ("music smart")
Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

At one point back in school, when I was still using the term loosely, I thought there should be a similar concept for art and literature. It was in an early black literature class, and I was noticing the circles some of the academics were running in to justify studying some of these novels that really weren't "very good"; schlocky and corny, knockoffs of the white novels written at the same time. But they were worth reading, because of who wrote them and when they were written. I realized a "theory of multiple intelligences" would do well to analyze what makes a given work worthwhile.

And what I thought is it doesn't have to preclude pointing to some things as "great works", it doesn't have to be some egalitarian equality of all books; even a dimestore trashy romance is "good" at provoking a certain response in its audience, via titillation and/or something emotional; it just is more likely to be bad on the other fronts. Something like Shakespeare, on the other hand, is much more likely to be effective on a bunch of these hypothetical levels, and that's why we consider it great.

--I wrote this to someone last January, not sure who, but grabbed it for future use here. I think people forget that there is hardly ever a single axis of "good" for anything, there are almost always tradeoffs between different alternatives.


November 24, 2004

I've been thinking more about "equanimity around success or failure", something I also kisrael'd a month ago. There's a friend of my family named Robbert (yes, with two "b"s), a European guy who makes big money doing SAP stuff. (I think he once mentioned some huge financial rewards if I wanted to work in Kuwait for a while...this was back when I was just out of school '96 or so.) Anyway, at Sunday family pub night my Uncle Bill mentioned one anecdote, where because of some scheduling mixup he had to leave some luggage outside of someone's apartment, and when he got back, a nice camera had been stolen, and he took it totally in stride: "ah well, easy come, easy go." It's been on my mind ever since, what an amazingly phenomenal attitude that is to have. I mean I know I would be really upset and ranting against the world in that scenario. Must that kind of tranquility be innate, or can it be learned? Maybe it does have some genetic component, Uncle Bill also mentioned a time when Robbert's son wouldn't pick up his toys, Robbert calmly played the "well you have too many toys, so we will trash these" card, the son calmly removed them from the trash a bit later, put them away, and that was the end of the problem.

I was going to say there's also a financial component, if you don't want to worry about losing an expensive camera it helps to be comfortable financially. Though I think unless I managed to make "I could retire right now" dough, I'd never be able to achieve that kind of balance, even though I'm doing pretty ok for myself right now.

Do people who are that calm have everything worked out? Like they know what they want out of life, and that they're working their way towards that, and so these little hiccups just ain't a big problem? Or are they just calm by their general nature? To what extent could I will myself to further calmness?

Sometimes I think I was happier and more generally relaxed before I started sweating Y2K. Seriously. It's like it broke something in me, or at least bent it. And before that I was neurotic about nuclear war; I guess there was this brief time after 1992 and before 1998 where I could just chill out. Post-9/11, who knows if I'll ever see that again...

Bad News of the Moment
Speaking of anxiety producing things, Economic `Armageddon' predicted by Stephen Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. "In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants. [...] The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded." One odd factoid from the article: "Nearly half of new mortgage borrowing is at flexible interest rates" Seriously? With rates so low weren't all sane people going fixed rate? Am I missing something? Do people think this guy is onto something?

As a guy who has managed to get out of debt and has some savings, is there something I can do to brighten my own prospects? Buy Euros or precious metals? (Hey LAN3, what do you think of this slate bit on those wacky Bush claims of supporting a strong dollar?)


December 28, 2004

Things have hit kind of a rough patch with me and Ksenia. I'm not sure what the future's going to look like for us. I still have hopes and know there's a ton of potential there, but it was a tough extended weekend.

But anyway.

Even before the rough patch I had been thinking about what Issues I have with relationships. I think one of the biggest is that I have a serious aversion to dependence. I don't want to be dependent on someone else, and I don't want someone to be dependent on me, even though I work to be a very reliable person relationship-wise.

It seems like this is a barrier to intimacy, though my "rational" self doesn't think that it should be; my ideal model for a relationship has always been two strong people, sharing and cooperating on important issues, meeting many each other's emotional and physical and spiritual and financial wants and needs. Maybe it's odd that I can draw a distinction between meeting each other's "needs" but still not being dependent; I guess I have this idea that two people should be strong enough to be on their own if it came to that, and that that's good because it means a relationship is a choice, not some kind of forced neccesity.

Of course, I have no evidence that this is a viable model for romance. It's probably what I fell into with Mo, and it wasn't enough for her, though she wasn't able to put that feeling into words soon enough to possibly make a difference and adjust our heading before hitting the rocks.

And I would imagine this dislike of dependence extends to other relationships as well, friendships and how I deal with my relatives. Maybe it's why I tend to feel a bit squirmish about the pretty normal verbal reminders of affection from my mom or aunt. And saying "I love you" in the context of a romance doesn't seem natural for me. (And looking back at an old loveblender essay I see that that's been a problem for a while, though my thinking about that has changed in the six years since.) To me, saying "those three little words" can seem too much like...I dunno, like you're saying "I'm dependent on you" or "I want you to be dependent on me" or both. Though Evil B. brought up a good point, that sometimes it's not (just) a reminder to the people hearing it, it can be a reminder for the person speaking it as well...

I still think it's useful to figure out where this comes from, if only to figure out what I should do with it, try to accept it and work within its parameters, or if it's something I should try and "grow out of". The usual "culprit", of course, is the death of my dad when I was 14. Sometimes I wonder if that's the real trauma that has shaped so much of my emotional landscape, or just a kind of catchall excuse. Possibly some of my previous failed relationships? The German gal heading back home after the high school summer, the one I pursued in college, a big carousel of romance that finally stopped, or even the drinkin' buddy friendship that got parlayed into a (finally failed) marriage.

Maybe my outlook is not as uncommon or weird or possibly unhealthy as I fear, maybe there are other people out there looking for the same kind of "secure base" relationship that I think is best...the secure base that lets both people find balance and support, a relationship that's important for what it is itself and for how it lets you move forward in the outside world. But my fear has to be is that isn't the way hearts and minds really work, that you can't build a permanent relationship within the boundaries that non-Interdepdence is going to imply.

Feedback welcome, especially from people who know me "in real life".


February 16, 2005

Lately I've been thinking about love vs. friendship.

I realize that in many ways, my former marriage just about met my ideals for a good marriage: a secure base that met many needs and wants of both people, but it also was a platform for two independent lives and sets of interests. In the long run, this turned out not to be enough for my ex and it occurs to me now that I was caught so offguard by the marriage's collapse because it did seem to be just what I would have hoped for.

But I have to admit, a marriage like that does look like an "enhanced friendship"...an extremely strong friendship with an additional layer of physical intimacy. It has quantitavely more closeness than even "best friends", in terms of sharing plans and finances and housing, and I think part of the question is do those differences add up to a qualitative difference--or is it just a big spectrum of gray?

Sometimes I feel like a monster just for thinking of the question in these terms, that something is missing or so damaged in me (and has been since before my former marriage) that I have to pontificate about what comes naturally and instinctively to almost everyone else. (On the other hand, I've met enough people with whom I vehemently disagree who "just know" that they're right that I have a strong distrust of intuitive knowledge.) Or should a hunt for "true love" be to keep searching until these feelings show up?

Romance has a lot of traditional boyfriend/girlfriend patterns that friendships lack. Are these cultural artifacts or just what come naturally, or some combination? Sometimes I feel like I'm "going through the motions"...but I'm usually happy to do this because I really don't want to dissapoint the other person. And trying to meet the other person's needs and wants is a big part of what passes for romance for me--I didn't have an overwhelming want to be married, or to buy a house, but I was perfectly content to throw myself into both because I sincerely cared for Mo, and it seems like that's what she needed for her own happiness.

I'd welcome thoughts on any what makes romance romance relative to the other types of close relationships we have.

ordinary worldramblehistory

February 23, 2005

Lyrics and Ramble of the Moment
But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive
--"Ordinary World", Duran Duran.

I got into this song lately because there's a decent "house" cover of it in a "Dance Dance Revolution" game I picked up recently. The lyrics have that nice melancholy vibe I'm so fond of. But when I finally thought about it... I dunno, somehow marriage seemed more like the "ordinary world", and now I'm in this kind of uncertain territory, with fewer constants to rely on.

It hit me yesterday when I was having tea out of one of these blue oversized mugs I have. (After a divorce, that whole "I don't remember how this item entered my life" mystery thing becomes a little more poignant.) They're really good to eat cereal out of, and I used to like doing that, and even drinking tea kind of reminded me of the sense-feel of it. I don't have cereal now though, I purposefully try not to keep a lot of food in the house, because either I like it and will eat a lot of it, or I dislike it and it'll spoil. But with married life, there was cereal and milk around, and it was ok.

Which brings me back to the whole time management thing...like I've already griped about here, it feels like I don't have any free time...specifically, it starts with not having much time to spend unwinding via random websurfing. That then generally leads to not having time to work on one of my backlog of "projects I want to get around to doing real soon now." Sure, I do have some time, but currently I have the theory that I'm not just lazy in these cases, that I do actually need some recharging time letting my brain play over the web or a decent book or a videogame, and only when that's done will I be able to get onto the "projects" horse.

A social/romantic life cuts into that time pretty badly (and I think my yoga class moving to midweek and about half my Tuesday nights having UU activities doesn't help either.) I guess my daily routine involved mostly hanging around my PC in the evenings. But with that out of the way, it was easier to go out or have a video game night in with friends or to do stuff with Mo or to work on my own projects and not feel pressured for time.

And I say "do stuff with Mo" but I'm not sure if there was enough of that. She certainly ended up thinking that there wasn't, though she did a really poor job of explaining that to me at the time. One of the saddest things I remember her saying post facto was that sometimes she had had a weird dream of having a daughter so that she'd have someone to do stuff with. She mentioned that in context of the gardening she had been doing in the little plot at the side of the house, an idyllic mother-daughter scene/fantasia ...I had helped her a little, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it, and I might've griped a little. Not much, I did try to get into it, but it really wasn't my thing, and I didn't pretend that it was.

So....does that mean I was a lousy husband? Mo felt profoundly lonely. I didn't. I didn't really get that she did. And for those reasons, maybe she was right to split. I didn't even think about it at the time, but the relationship was molded to what I still think might be my "ideal", this idea of being a rewarding and valuable and giving foundation for all the other interesting stuff in life. A means as much as an end.

Heh. You know, Mo suggested (getting the idea from her mom, I think) this Khalil Gibran reading for our wedding:

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow

I voted against it at the time, it seemed a little too negative or nuanced for a wedding, but in retrospect, it really speaks to what I think marriage should be, and I guess I assumed Mo felt the same way.

Ah well. Live and learn. It's like what Richard Feynman wrote:
"I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you."

3, 5, 7, 11, 13...that's enough for nowramble

March 8, 2005

Minutiae of the Moment
In making an as-yet-unpublished essay for the site, I started writing down what, exactly, are the projects I would like to spend my freetime on in the near future...here's the list, in a very rough order matching that in which I'd like to tackle them. (These are all the fairly concrete, often computer-oriented projects, and don't include vacations I'd like to take, some personal-growth issues I have, and other stuff like that.) UPDATE: August 12, 2008 I came back to this page, struck out more stuff I had done, and started using italics to indicate things I no longer care about, either the context has changed, or my level of interest.

The list probably isn't complete, but it is a good start. So when I complain about not having enough freetime for "projects", this is what I'd like to be doing.

Maybe I should make a special link to this page, and update it, so that every thing I get done gets crossed out once I do it.

I think I do carry this not-particularly well-founded belief that if I just get this stuff done, my life would bliss and easy from then on in. Heh, though having that kind of freetime would be pretty blissful...

It's funny, when I think about what I really want from vacation time, it's not to go some place nice and isolated and get away from things...it's being someplace with a good net connection and getting lots of time to work on this kind of stuff and still goof off a bit.

Quote of the Moment
"I think prime numbers are like life.
They are very logical but you could never work out the rules,
Even if you spent all your time thinking about them."
--Mark Haddon (via candipox)

event things and thing thingsramble

April 2, 2005

So, lately I've been thinking about what I spend my leisure dollars on.

I declined an invitation to get tickets to see Lewis Black live, in part because the tickets are $42. And, leaving aside for a moment the risk of me being a serious cheapskate, it got me thinking about what people are willing to spend their entertianment dollars on.

Roughly, there's a great divide of entertainment "things": one time "event things": trips with hotel stays, live performances, restaurant meals, movies at the cinema. Then there are "thing things": books, DVDs, CDs, video games, assorted toys.

"Event things" tend to be ephemeral; you experience them, and then you have mostly memories from then on in. (Though sometimes there's a chance to buy or make a memento, like taking photographs.) In general, their value is that hopefully, they enrich part of your life, or do a really good job of entertaining you, in the case of live performance. And that's one issue with "event things": our own memories are so unreliable (or at least mine is) that unless something makes a really deep impression it will likely not come to mind except when explicitly triggered. That's one of the reasons I keep a daily journal as well as a separate "media consumed" record, though those cover both "event things" and uses of the "thing things".

Hopefully, say, live performances entertain you more than the equivalent "thing thing" media representation....I think one of my hesitations with Lewis Black was the thought that I could probably buy a DVD for one half to one fourth the price. And indeed, I caught an older performance on Comedy Central the next day, for "free". But, in retrospect, I probably didn't laugh as much on my own as I would have as a part of an audience. There's definitely an enjoyable kind of synergy that goes on with a bunch of people laughing at the same stuff...hence laugh tracks (I've read that they were introduced so lone home viewers didn't feel so lonely.) And there are other intangibles: possibly socializing with a big group of like-minded people, bragging rights. I'd say that in a capitalist society, paying a premium price for a ticket is a kind of like voting, a small way of expressing support in the cultural marketplace.

So, back to "thing things". I will spend money on the first release of a video game I really like, currently that's around $50. That's a bit more than the Lewis Black ticket, but, assuming the game isn't a dud, it's many more hours of entertainment. (Counterpoint: it's often a lot of padding and plodding as well...and shouldn't hours be reckoned as part of the cost, not the value, of a game? Depends on how entertaining it is and how satisfying it is to complete.) Also, it enters my library of games, and I can repeat it in the future, or lend it to a friend, and of course if it has a great multiplayer mode, it can remain valuable for a long long while.

Books have similar value propositions, and building a library is a pleasure in and of itself. Public Libraries lack that, as well as being generally less convenient, often with a wait for the book that you want. Also with books you get "bragging rights" and hope of "life enrichment", very similar to what you get with "event things". With all of that, it's pretty strange to think about how many thousands and thousands are invested in my book, music, dvd, and game libraries. On the other hand, they do form my cultural identity, and they tell guests in my house a bit about who I am...and the guests can borrow from them as well.

And with all "thing things", there's the prospect of clutter. That's a big issue with me. Not only did I pay to assemble my libraries, I keep paying for it: pay enough rent to have space for it, it adds inertia to changing living quarters, and adds to the intangible cost of having a less zen-like life.

I guess one place you see "event things" and "thing things" go head to head is the battle between watching movies in cinemas vs. DVDs, especially now that cheap DVDs and decent home theater setups bring the costs more in line. Cinemas offer a bigger screen, but mostly I think it's the chance to engage in the cultural conversation while it's still a hot topic. DVDs offer better seating, normally-priced food, and the ability to pause, along with the "library" factor I mentioned above.

Heh, one thing about me in this debate...it's much easier to grab a great quote from a "thing thing" than from an "event thing", where often I'm stuck with a paraphrase. And grabbing a funny or smart quote from something is a great way of extracting and preserving value.

Just some thoughts. One other note/gripe: I went to see "Sin City" with friends last night, and it was very good...violent in parts, but the superpower/Noir thing was extremely cool. But as I noticed in the parking garage there at the Fenway complex, they should really consider labeling themselves something more than "Fenway Theater"...another couple looking for the movies shared the same uncertainty I did...without the phrase "cinema" or "movie theater", we suddenly wondered if there was a stage-performance area there instead, and that we had to keep searching for the directions to the movies.

"mass exodus"ramble

April 17, 2005

It feels like nearly all my close friends are thinking about leaving this 'burg, and it's bothering me a lot.

Dylan went to San Diego years ago.

Sarah went back to California, wound up in Florida.

My freshman roommate Rob, I was in touch with him for a while, forget where he headed off to.

ErinMaru is in filmschool in one of them Carolina states.

Lupschada went home to Baltimore, though that friendship is a casualty of the divorce.

And now...Sawers is heading to Florida in a few months, my umm-cousin Llara just got a job in DC, Evil B and wife are thinking Seattle might be a more reasonable place to settle down and setup home base, and Andy has even more immediate plans to go back to his college gang who have hung around Atlanta.

There's all kind of reasons. Moving for a romance, heading home to refortify during a terrible job market, heading away to a new job opportunity, getting out of the rent and career pressure cooker of Boston...Andy thinks that people from here who go down south and say "I can't believe how friendly people are!" have it backwards; the disbelief should be for what self-centered jerks people are around here.

And there is that weather...perhaps Andy's observation is explained by self-described "Swamp Yankee" buddy Gowen's thought that "People in New England will generally scowl when you walk through the door because you probably also let in a gush of freezing air."

But today is absolutely insanely gorgeous. But maybe Boston is like a redneck wifebeater, all gentleness and warmth after such a beating of a winter.

Still, after a decent decade run, maybe people are finally escaping the post-college Boston gravity well.

And Andy...heh, he was supposed to be one of the...well, not the replacements, but at least a refutation of the idea that you it's so difficult to make good friends after college.

But he says when he visits Georgia he feels like it's going home. Me, for the longest time I felt pretty hometownless. I do feel ties to Cleveland still, but 6 years of adolescence there isn't the same as really coming from someplace. And now I'm worried that someday I'll move somewhere only to find Boston has managed to take that role. But I dunno. Just like I see a home as a place to keep your stuff, maybe a hometown is just a place to keep your home.

Maybe making new friends isn't that hard. Maybe it's just getting out there, doing stuff, joining interest groups like darts teams or looking for gaming buddies on Craig's List, then really making the effort, asking someone to dinner or to hang out even when it feels a little awkward. A friend of mine, then officemate Habib did that, and in retrospect I really appreciate it, though of course now he's back in Morocco.

And just like I've been questioning "what do I want out of romance?" after the divorce, this wave of friends heading off makes me ask the same thing for friendship. I think there are two sides of that: you want friends who will take your side, will watch out for you, generally offer support and companionship and concern. That's probably harder to generate than the other side, which is shared activities. My friendship with Andy had its roots in bad movies (we were introduced at our mutual friend Jim's "bad movie nights") and video games. And you know, it's not the bad movies and the video games that matter; it's the snarky comments and the trash talking.

Thought it would be unfair to think of it as only an activity-based kind of friendship; I really appreciate how when I need to recruit some volunteers to help with the Salvation Army coat drive, Andy, Jim, and his wife Sam answered the call, and together we joined with a force to move and sort 20,000 coats for the needy.

Ah well. I don't know. I think about moving someplace warm. And I need someplace with a good tech industry. Andy thinks I should give Atlanta a try. Heh, and I could get an insta-social-group made of his buddies...and San Diego is tempting. But it's impossible for me to grok how many people I do know in this damn neck of the woods, how alone I might be even with a small group of people I know, how far away I'd be from my family. You know, that's one plus marriage has: you can bring the person you most care about with you. (On the other hand, a marriage might also make you more stuck to your hometown with two sets of extend families and friendgroups to consider, or maybe even drawn to someplace that's their hometown, not yours.)

Sigh. I dunno, but the prospect of all these people moving is really painful. Not sharp and cutting like a divorce, but a great big dull ache.

age of anxietiesramble

April 24, 2005

Ramble of the Moment
I made the mistake of bringing What the #$*! Do We Know!? for psychotronic movie night the other week. It turns out it's a big infomercial for "Ramtha" and related thinking...Salon magazine really rips it a new one, and although it was a bad movie, it was great movie night fodder. Though too many of the laughs might've been cheap shots about the Marlee Matlin, the deaf actress for the main character. (I was amused to see Ramtha has his own IMDB entry..."Primary Photo Not Submitted" indeed.)

Anyway, the film really took too many liberties with "quantum physics", but one idea I've been thinking about is being addicted to certain behaviors. They gave a neurochemical explanation that I don't know enough about to really judge, but sometimes I think I'm addicted to anxiety, in a real and physical way.

It's not fun. It's not like I'm happy to be anxious, except maybe on some weird meta-meta-level I can't even feel. But it feels like I have this free floating need to be worried and some vague concern--generally something real, but distant or unlikely, or something small but likely that I'm blowing out of proportion--

I wonder when this started? Because around 1997 or so, I remember people commenting how "up" I always seemed, just whistling and bopping along. I still bop along, but I think there's a lack-o-lacksadasicalness I no longer pull off very well.

My personal crackpot theory? Y2K's too blame. Not since my parent's not letting me watch the post-nuclear-war miniseries "The Day After" was I that fearful. I read too many of the wrong websites and had too much faith in the reliability of systems in use (i.e. so reliable that backup plans and workarounds weren't available) that I thought some serious chaos was likely. (Here's my September 1998 Loveblender Ramble trying to spread the bad word.)

Around that time, roughly at least, my blood pressure went up--from something surprisingly good to pretty mediocre. For a long time, I sardonically noted that this also corresponded with me going to the gym regularly for the first time ever, but now I wonder if it's just plain old anxiety.

After Y2K, it was mortality in general...barring some surprising advances in technology, I will be shuffling off this mortal coil someday. Now I'm proud of my response to this anxiety, I reconsidered my philosophical outlooks and really worked to get a sense of perspective and came up with The Skeptic's Guide to Mortality. Then of course WTC gave everyone a case of the willies, as much for what could happen next than what had already happened.

Since then...eh, it's been a few things. Every once in a while I'm grabbed by something really "menacing", an EMP strike that melts all the electronics in the hemisphere, the asteroid strike, the supervolcano, etc etc. But more often it's just the fear of job loss, or...hmm, come to think of it it's that job loss thing that really gets to me, even though I know I do have potential Plans B through G or H or so that should do ok at keeping me from utter destitution. (Sometimes just the specter of a forced lifestyle change seems absolutely haunting!)

Logo for the "Nuclear War Fun Club"--detail from a notebook back cover I decorated in high school... using hypothetical branding to cope with big dreads! (Linked image is a little large, but potentially interesting)
Though I can think back to some elements of this that precede my awareness of Y2K...dread about nuclear war (oh man...I forgot that for years any loud airplane sound scared the bejeebers out of me...maybe that was the missiles coming in? Later, after I had matured past the concern, my buddy Mike pointed out that the missiles I should worry about travel much faster than the speed of sound. Though the Emergency Broadcast Signal can still make my heart leap into my throat.) And in college I remember wanting to find out, is there anything about the make up of AIDS-like viruses...deadly, but with hugely long dormant periods...that makes them less likely to be spread like the flu? So it's always been an element to one degree or another.

Sometimes I wonder if anti-anxiety medications would be a reasonable "life style" option, something that would actually improve my general sense of well-being (or maybe just my blood pressure!) without bringing on a whole host of problems on its own. (The latter being Evil B's take on it.)


April 28, 2005

So lately I've been thinking about how everyone has to select (or they find have selected for them) the values that are "axiomatically good", things that are just spending our finite lifespans pursuing, and resist further justification, or make it irrelevant. I don't think most people will have just one.

For a lot of people, that's "kindness"--you can only push the "golden rule" so far, at some point you think you should do nice things even when you're not expecting to get similar treatment back. For other people it's "beauty", or "sports", or "God"--following religion even beyond the threat of hell or the hope of Paradise.

As I've mentioned before, one of my personal axiomatic goods is "interesting". It's more nebulous than some of these concepts, but its pretty definite for me, and a driving force. When I see art, it doesn't matter if it's beautiful and inspiring, more if it's clever or thought-provoking.

That's why I love the web so much, it's a great big cornucopia of stuff that meets my criteria of interesting. And this site is an attempt to capture that, and to post the stuff I find interesting, and sometimes make some of my own.

And things that I don't find interesting...sometimes I have trouble getting behind it. For instance, home ownership wasn't "interesting" to me, and so while I tried to live up to my responsibilities to Mo, and also show appreciation for the things I liked about having a nice comfortable house, some of my efforts were half-hearted, because the whole affair wasn't that "interesting". (And nowadays, I'm realizing that sometimes I resent things that siphon time during the week away from my pursuit of the "interesting".

So I've been mulling this idea for a while, and last night I had an epiphany of sorts...I think this concept of "interesting" is so ingrained in me, it might just explain why I'm so bad at remembering names but so good at remembering aspects of people's lives that they share with me, like jobs or anecdotes. Names usually aren't that "interesting", unless they're distinctive or have a cool backstory they're just tags applied to people, but a career or anecdote usually has details my brain will latch onto. So this whole "interesting" thing seems to be deeply mapped into the day to day functioning of my brain.

Anyway, that was the new thought. I don't think I've rambled about this before, but I'm not sure, it sounds familiar...anyway, what do you readers find to be the "axiomatically goods" of your life?

UKism of the Moment
Iraq War Legality Row 'A Damp Squib', Says Blair. Never heard the phrase "damp squib" before...turns out a squib is firecracker, and/or "A broken firecracker that burns but does not explode". So I guess it's something that seemed to have potential to be metaphorically explosive but will fizzle out instead. Now you know.

the pursuit of metahappinessramble

July 18, 2005

Last December I rambled about a happiness hypothetical: if you could have some sort of procedure that was guaranteed to make you happy but dumb, would you do it?

This morning, musing about some of the recent sidebar talk about video games and other distractions, it occurred to me that it's a decent thinking point, but might be better if it was less blunt, more true-to-life. Hypothesis: "True Happiness" requires an alignment of happiness and meta-happiness. You want to be happy in "real time": entertained or just content. You also want to be happy "for the right reasons", happy in ways that seem philosophically or socially acceptable.

Something that works at the base "plain happiness" level but not above that is a "guilty pleasure". I don't think we have as good a label for the opposite, but I think many of us have felt that "I want to like this more that I actually do" feeling...when I was a pre-adolescent I tried to foster an appreciation for classical music and later jazz but in reality I didn't really have a feel for either. It took me years to admit myself I only like either when it's fast, has a lot of percussion and/or "hooks".

I guess there's a choice to be made, assuming we're not lucky enough to have the two levels in perfect alignment but smart enough to be bothered by that: There is a lot of back-and-forth between the two levels. Veg out in front of the TV and you'll enjoy yourself, and it's easy to justify that on the meta- level by the very real need to "just unwind". However, keep at it too long and the gradual decrease in the meta-satisfaction can taint the base level, and you won't be happy. Similarly, cleaning your house can be an absolute grind but the meta-rewards, and the satisfaction goes well beyond just have an orderly environment...you probably feel like you've done what you should do.

In practice, for guys in modern times the base happiness level often involves following "adolescent" pursuits like video games or even skirt chasing. The meta-happiness involves "growing up", getting a good career, being a good family man. (In its negative sense, being a "geek" (in the Star Trek-lovin', fat slob never-talk-to-a-girl-without-a-credit-card stereotype) is all about the former without being tempered by the latter, and society is pretty damn harsh on that path.)

For me right now, it seems like I'm more inclined to stake out the former path; do what I like, then figure out the justifications. My key to fostering a sense meta-satisfaction from my pursuits is that they are some times "creative" (or, rather, "creationary") and the idea of "creating" ranks highly on the meta-level. I play video games (not as much as I used to) but I also create games. (Though I've also developed some pretty decent justifications for why gaming interests me so much.) Kisrael.com also provides a framework for two other pursuits of mine, musing and browsing, and lets me produce a tangible reward for it, something that other people seem to enjoy as well.

What about being a family man? I don't know. I understand that it can entail a giant sacrifice of most of those "trivial pursuits". I've also been told that having a child the most cosmic thing a guy can do, I guess the meta-satisfaction is so overwhelming that it gushes over into the base levels of happiness. That seems like a giant leap of faith though, and I've never been crazy about irrevocable choices that pursuing that life would entail. On the other hand, I know I've enjoyed working with kids, seeing how their minds work, teaching them and also witnessing the world through fresher eyes.

Philosophically it's almost a dead heat; my tendency towards anxiety and a cheerful nihilism makes it easy to explain not wanting to bring a child into this world. On the other hand there's a fear of long term regret, that some day I'll look at my amusements and accomplishments and ask "was that all worth it?"

Well, let me know what you think. (Interestingly, there are very Google few hits for "meta-happiness" or "meta-satisfaction", either given as one word or two. Is there another word for the concept that I'm not thinking of, or is it relatively uncharted territory?)


August 17, 2005

Political Observation of the Moment
It is interesting to note that in Germany only people critical of capitalism use the term "capitalism", while in the US only people critical of socialism use the term "socialism".
--from Axel Boldt's A subjective comparison of Germany and the United States. Not the America-slamming I thought it might be, pretty well balanced, and with some things I knew, some things that were new to me, and a few things I just hadn't thought of.

Here are the "Factoids about German Life:" I recorded when visiting V in Germany in late 2000... The kitchens, stores, autobahn, and Uni situation are mentioned in the article, but the other stuff is new.

only suckers pay retail?ramble

August 26, 2005

At the risk of thinking in stereotypes, if there's one thing that confirms my uptight WASPness, it's my absolute discomfort with wheeling and dealing at retail outlets.

Last night I did some quick price comparison before getting a camera for my mom. Staples, Target, and Best Buy all had it at the same price, but Staples was offering a free 128 meg memory card. I mentioned that I found that deal elsewhere to the salesperson at Best Buy (mostly to explain why I would be buying some accesories there but not the camera itself) and she said she thought they could match it, if I'd tell them who it was so they could verify the deal. And that's exactly what happened, she played dumb "Uh, yeah, does it come with the 128 disk whatever?" over the phone, and then knocked the price of the card off of my purchase.

For some reason that seems so strange to me, a little seedy somehow. Especially at a big retailer; I would have guessed that the price is handed down from on high from a corporate office. I've never worked retail (except for a bit of counter work at a pharmacy during middle school) so maybe I'm not aware that there's (a fixed amount of?) wiggle room in the price. Maybe I'm afraid of being thought of as "poor"? Maybe I'm afraid I won't be able to haggle well, that I'll have no response if they say "no sorry that's the final price" other than a sheepish "can't blame a guy for trying"? Maybe it's just my sense of order of the universe, that in a retail place, the price is the price is the price? I don't know.

News Headline of the Moment
The United States shut its consulate in [Nuevo Laredo] for a week early this month after drug gangs fired bazookas and raked each other with machine gun fire in a street battle.
--From this Reuters Oddly Enough on Nuevo Laredo offering tourists armed police escorts.

Bazookas! In street battles! Life imitates "Grand Theft Auto"...who knew?

It reminds me of my 1988 trip to Mexico City, with a church band group...I was kind of nervous when the cops wanted to play tourguide, but they were just in it for the store kickbacks. I forget if they wanted tips or not.

at the risk of opening up a big ol' can of worms...ramble

August 27, 2005

So yesterday I made an innapropriate remark (since largely edited out), and FoSO (living up to her moniker which stands for "Female of Strong Opinion") called me on it, and rightly so. (For the record, and I do apologize for it, I claimed I knew I was goyim (gentile, non-Jewish) because of my unwillingness to haggle, the inference perpetuating a stereotype about Jews; in googling up references I came across this blog entry that pointed out what seemed like a harmless if tasteless bit of joking can be the root of truly despicable stuff, such as providing ideological support for a German boycott of Jewish businesses in the 1930s.)

Of course, I have an unfortunate history of offending Jewish friends with my blog, mostly by stating my discontent with people assuming that my name indicates that I'm Jewish. I swear up and down it has nearly nothing to do with the risk of experiencing prejudice or the relative merits of the culture, and more of a geekly dislike of incorrect categorization. (Being categoryless is fine, but mislabling is Not Right, and I'll argue against it just like I argued on behalf of other high school students who incorrectly answered a misleading question that I got right because I had thought about it on a meta-level. Yes, I was a tremendous pain in the ass in high school, why do you ask?)

And at the risk of not heeding the ancient wisdom of "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging"...I feel that my immediate family feels some level of connection with its Yiddish/Jewish past, even though it's several generations back and we have Protestant clergy in between...this might lead me to feel an innapropriate familarity with humor that might be ok intra-group but isn't acceptable from an outsider. Which I am, so the joke ain't funny.

It makes me wonder about humor based on stereotypes in general. On the one hand, there are a lot of downsides. People's feelings can be hurt, and if a stereotype is pervasive it might well influence people's decisions, from job hiring to how they generally treat others. It also causes people to make assumptions about others in a prejudging kind of way, which is wrong.

Conversely...well, I dunno. The old slogan is "Celebrate Diversity!", and it seems a little pollyanna to only be able to recognize the positive. "Diversity" is usually recognized as working on a cultural grouping level, not just appreciating everyone as individuals, and if people are allowed to take pride in their cultural heritage, as well as appreciate the collective accomplishments of other cultures...shouldn't we be able to admit to struggles different cultures face, problems they have, ways that their outlook always isn't helpful? (Of course its possible to make the positive view a bit ugly, like with Reggie White's infamous comments about Hispanics and the Japanese.) And if that's the case, is humor always going to be inappropriate to deal with it? I find humor to be a central, almost defining part of the human condition. Losing a sense of humor is a terrible thing.

Of course, I'm talking as a priveleged, educated, middle-class white male. There are some jokes made about "us", but not that many, and culturally speaking it seems to be an easier life than most. So it's pretty easy to say people should be less uptight about stereotypes and jokes and being PC, because I haven't had to bear the brunt of it.

occam's shaving gelramble

September 7, 2005

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear."
--Thomas Jefferson, via Lex's blog

It's an interesting thought, and a good response to Fundie Christians who assume the founding fathers thought the way Fundie Christians do now. But it falls prey to a certain fallacy, the "I used to think that the brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, 'look who's telling me that.'" problem that Emo Phillips set forth.

Isaiah 55:9 has God saying
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I used to think this was a great big copout. But at the risk of taking a sci-fi and/or transhumanist approach to this...if God is a system outside of our system, if our universe is the equivalent of a petri dish, carefully isolated and exceedingly more limited than the one God works in (an idea which, interestingly, diminishes God along with us, for God might just be a small part of some even larger system), then who's to say that logic and rational thinking amounts to a hill of beans? Maybe the rules that run the universe, despite seeming to line up fairly well to logical analysis, really do have threads (supersuperstrings, I guess...) that are so outlandish, that extend to something so far outside of our system that we'll never have a hope of understanding it.

(Of course, this "meta-rationality" is just a brand of rationality itself, recursively suggesting its own demise. Still, it's interesting that Thomas Jefferson doesn't acknowledge the risk.)

God doesn't have to play fair. Maybe he simply demands "blind faith"...either because it follows some consistent rules that we'll never be able to fathom, or just on a whim. As for the multitide of religions...maybe we just need to pick one, and stick with it. Then would agnostic skepticism be less acceptable than one of these faiths? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? (Of course there's always that one rhetorical trick, maybe the afterlife is whatever you expect it to be. In that case, I better start thinking in terms of paradise for everyone, including a lazy bum like me!)

This would seem to be a disregard for Occam's Razor, that we must avoid "needlessly multiplying entities". But who's to say what "needless" is? You could do a lot of great science just in using Newton's beautiful and elegant laws, before realizing the need to use more and more complex rules once things really start speeding up and getting large.

I guess you could always try a utilitarian approach...if there are questions about the hereafter that won't be answered in this world, then we might as well live by the advice in Vonnegut's Book of Bokonon:
Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy
According to that page, Foma are "lies" or "harmless untruths". There's something to be said for that. There's still the meta-problem here, to what extent can the tolerant be tolerant of intolerance, since it's such an assymetrical situation? (The old Onion.com ACLU Defends Neo-Nazi Group's Right to Burn Down Its Headquarters dilemna.) So many other people--especially in the United States and the Middle East--feel that their belief system needs to be all-encompassing or else it (and society) all falls apart...I guess its ground I've covered before...search this site for "fundamentalist" to see more about that, lest I repeat myself more than I already am. Oh what the heck:
"Since there is no higher authority than God, and, since there can be no higher priority than obeying him, the entire notion of separating politics and religion is inherently troublesome to the fundamentalist mind."
--Andrew Sullivan.
Boy howdy!

noodle noodle noodleramble

September 30, 2005

I found out that my company's parent company offers some free mental health counseling sessions. You call an 800 number for an assessment and then you have the option of setting up sessions with a local counselor or even scheduling further phone appointments. Since by the end of the assessment I had already rambled at the guy and it seemed easier to not have to travel to some office and back, I went with the phone option.

It's been interesting. Something Kevin (the counselor guy) has picked up on is how I subject almost everything I feel to an intense bit of rational inspection. He put it in terms of "shaping and hammering at an emotion until it becomes a thought"...an oddly poetic idea, the possibility of one being transmorgified into the other.

To be fair, I've been able to wield logic like a weapon since I was 9 or so, I have memories of mounting an argument about the immaculate conception vs Mary and Joseph just fooling around, deliberatly forcing the woman into a high stakes all-or-nothing position when it comes to traditional Christian faith. I remember her saying I had won her over by the end of it.

Kevin had another neat insight...I was talking about one not-useful behavior I'd been getting a handle on lately: endlessly returning to the same 2 or 3 websites--frequently-updated websites, but not as frequently as I'd been bouncing back to them--as a way of avoiding tasks that I didn't have confidence in solving. I had been labeling this behavior "noodling" after the musical "noodling" I've heard at Johnny D's jazz brunch, where some guy on xylophone and another on guitar just kind of sloppily and casually jazz around, noodle noodle noodle, no hooks, barely a rhythm.

Drawing the parallel between my negative behavior and that jazz stuff had been helping me to mend my ways, but Kevin was more interested in my disdain for free, light jazz improvisation. Based on other things I've discussed with him, he sees insisting on structure and order in many aspects of life. (Now, this might amuse some people who know me, because the first thing that comes to mind when seeing my desk at work, or (often) my living room is NOT "structure and order", but still...I think that might be an issue of "things whose structures matter, really matter, and things whose don't, really don't"--and that time and energy can "better" be devoted to other pursuits.)

This could also tie into the way I get really angry at some things that aren't the way they "should be"...traffic jams, computer hardware or complex system failures, or even some broken computer code that is resistant to analysis and repair. I've learned how to real this rage in, sometimes even surfing it and laughing at myself, like when I work to channel my aggression into a big continuous stream of non-repeating swear words. Overall, though, it's not one of my favorite things about myself.

Going further out on a limb, I wonder if the desire for logical order is tied into my intermitent problems with pointlessly exaggerated anxiety. My thinking might be that if this contains some new unexpected problems, who knows what kind of further unexpected problems might be waiting in the wings to blindside us? And who knows if we'll be able to cope. Could this have its roots in a childhood full of moving around every year or two, a certain instability? Or the death of my dad when I was 14? I don't know...though like I said, there's evidence that the "rationality" predates the loss of my father.

Of course the ability to analyze and think about emotions isn't all negative...it lets one isolate causes and effect and make specific positive changes. The question is figuring out when it becomes negative, creating a feedback loop where emotion becomes thought which then bends back and squelches or warps the emotion. Actually, there's even the question if a deliberate (and rational) effort can do much to change that loop, or if it's too ingrained than that.

Hmmm! Sorry this got so long! I'll try to get back to your regular scheduled kisraeling tomorrow.

Quote and Article of the Moment
But the critics are missing the beauty of this new theory. Because the really great thing about intelligent design is that it takes all the awkward uncertainty out of science. It says, "You know those damn theoretical gaps and conundrums that send microbiology graduate students into dank basement laboratories at 3 a.m.? They don't need to be resolved at all. Go back to bed, sleepy little grad students. God fills those gaps."
--Dahlia Lithwick, Mind the Gap, a pretty scathing attack on ID, Intelligent Design. Also in Slate, William Saletan wrote a more relaxed piece on how "there's no there"...ID is just a negative response to Darwnism, it only pretends to explain anything.

tarawa 1943ramble

November 12, 2005

Veterans Day Thought of the Moment

A while back I took this photo of a car in Salem...the sign says Tarawa 1943, "We Kicked Their Ass"...the license plate had a similar theme. I admit my first reaction was kind of snarky...the bellicose tone about a very old battle, the use of "there" for "their" in one instance.

But, it was enough to make me wonder about "Tarawa", and do a little web research. To say it was a terrible battle is an understatement...it was truly hellish, a brutal, chaotic amphibous landing by the Second Marine Division after a huge amount of naval bombardment over razor-like coral and heavy defences. (The bombardment proved to be less effective than it looked.) The Marines lost 3,0001,000 men. The Japanese lost almost 5,000, and the fact that their were only 17 Japanese survivors showed their willingness to fight to the last man.

Yesterday, Veterans Day, the Vet was standing on the same corner as this photo, holding a poster about Tarawa (complete with the ass-kicking slogan) with some people honking their support and thanks. I decided I'd like to double back and talk with him, and I'm glad I did. Oddly, I neglected to ask his name, but he was happy to chat a bit. He mentioned that he fought with Eddie Albert of "Green Acres" fame (who was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions there.) He noted (with a hint of bitterness, I thought) that despite the huge cost in securing the island the U.S. Military never did followup with the plan to use its airstrip during the war. He also said he'd been back to the beach, and you can see grenade pins on the ground to this day.

I expressed my thanks for chatting, and he thanked me as well.

Oddly enough, I kind of purposefully parked a bit over because I wasn't sure if he would object to my Japanese car, though going back to this photo I see he drives a Hyundai...not a Japanese brand, but still.

He reminded a bit of the Vonnegut novel, how some people can get "stuck in time"...he was only 17 when it happened, but maybe in someways its been a centerpoint of the rest of his life. In any event, his dedication to his fallen comrades is remarkable...I was grateful for the chance to learn more about Tarawa, as well as grateful for his willingness to put his life on the line when his country asked.

corpse brideramble

December 15, 2005

So I was in yoga class tonight. Class always ends with the instructor walking us through "the corpse pose", a step-by-step walk-through all the parts of our body, letting each relax in turn. He urges us that if we have a thought to just let it go, it will be there when we're done. Also, he says we should try not to fall asleep, which is pretty easy to do when getting that relaxed...ideally the pose requires as much focus as any of the more difficult twists and bends and what not.

Of course, neither of these instructions are particularly easy for me to follow... I mean, I really like those little thoughts I have, I find them very interesting and ultimately a very rewarding pat of my life. (Sleep ain't that bad itself, come to think of it, though realizing you were just snoring is kind of embarrassing.) So last night during the corpse pose I had a thought (which I tried not to dwell too much on)... that I could use some kind of admonishment, like this:
This time doesn't belong to those little thoughts.
This time belongs to your body, for it to relax.
This is not the time for your mind to relax into sleep;
Your mind is needed to guide the body's relaxation.
Well, the first two lines are stronger than the last two, and it's a bit corny, but still...I think the idea of "ownership" is powerful in this case. I know to often in life I take my body, such as it is, totally for granted. I'm totally dependent on it, but because I wish I wasn't, I'm usually reluctant to give it some of the attention it really deserves.

Link of the Moment
The Movie Spoiler just discusses the happenings of many movies. Good if you think you'll never see the film anyway, but are kind of curious to know what it's about.

peace be upon himramble

February 3, 2006

Golly, I'm feeling pretty stressed these days.

I have to wonder if I miscalculated with my new job, or if it maybe it's some kind of growing pains. Originally I liked the idea of travelling to clients, it seemed like a way of checking out different parts of the country, and generally a good skillset to have career toolbox. But...ugh, something about it isn't right for me. It's kind of like the pressure of a new job repeated in a more condensed form, all the unknown expectectations lurking in the corners again and again. Clients can be painfully aware of what they're being charged for your services in an hourly kind of way, and so unless you're really an expert in the task at hand, you have to fake it. And I'm not terrific at faking it, the geek sin of preferring directness over spin coming to haunt me.

It's a challenging role. While I think I'm a smart guy, and I'm getting to know our product well, I'm also asked to achieve results quickly in platforms that are new to me, and I guess I've always been a guy preferring to do things from scratch in a language I know inside and out than apply another new toolkit.

Some of it might be a particularly pushy and demanding client my first time out... this trip to Washington DC is with a much better known quantity to my company, a long relationship with friendly people. Still, I'm almost wondering what I'm going to be doing there for a full damn week...I mean I assume some of that is just getting started on work that could theoretically be done back at the home office, because I think afew days is going to exhaust what I'm bringing to the table. (Luckily there will be a veteran from my company there for the first two days, just like Texas was with two other guys.)

Heh, I remember back in 2000, there was this consultant from the big Java company BEA...call him Joe. Joe knew about EJB, and could show us that (even though it was probably too late in the project for us to switch to that technology (thank goodness, but that's a different story)) but seemed to be kind of fumbling in most other things. I'm really worried about coming across as another Joe.

And that worry...I'm getting a fair-sized stress reaction, "stomach" upset, tightness in my lower back, some sleeplesness. I don't know at what point I should be worried for my health with this...I'm half tempted to go buy a blood pressure monitor just to make sure I'm not doing too badly in that department. My family noticed darker rings under my eyes...

...and it's tough to know what part of that stress reaction is justified, and how much is just circular logic. I think there are logical reasons to feel more confidence than I generally do in many of these cases (but not all! Which makes it tougher.) I almost wish I could find courage in some kind of convenient pill form. Prozac Nation or what not. But then there's a part of my that rails against that kind of thinking, that good old will-power and/or logic and/or some sort of environment change can get me out of this funk.

Some aspect of it too seems to be the Winter, S.A.D.-lite. In a way I hadn't observed in myself before, I generally just want to sleep. It's hard to tell how much of that is seasonal, how much is from some stress-y nights of less sleep, or what. It's starting to irritate Ksenia though.

I have no idea if it's even an option, but Mr. Ibis (I think) once mentioned his company is hiring, down in Florida. I get weird fantasies of moving down there and having a "perfect" sunny life for a while, even though it's not like he's not working hard at his job there too. (I've worked at companies with him before, he's a lot of fun.) I know this outlook is just escapism, a total denial about how stressful a big move would be, completely missing the point of how many people I'd be leaving behind, especially my family, Ksenia, old school friends...in exchange for being in close proximity with two or maybe three close buddies. And the sunlight. In a cultural...well, maybe not a wasteland, but it ain't Boston either.

So it's a learning time for me. Maybe I'm learning I like bigger companies that don't ratchet up the pressure quite so much. On the other hand I know at those companies I can start to drift and not get enough work done. (On the other other hand... we only get one life, if you can mitigate a 9-5 job by pursuing slackish asides...maybe that's a bit of a blessing. Albeit one you don't want to rely on too much.)


Observations and even advice welcome.

News of the Moment
So there's that big flap over some cartoons depicting Mohammed in Europe. I know I'm at risk of being culturally insensitive here, but it just seems so odd... They say that for some sects, any likeness is forbidden, though it would be disenguous to say that the pointed satirical nature of the cartoon isn't adding a lot of fuel to the fire. I mean it's not like there's anyway it could actually look like the prophet, given that it's forbidden to reproduce his image for so long. (Which would indicate that a stickfigure with an arrow saying "this is him" might be problematic.) Theoretically the taboo arises from the need to prevent idolatry, though in practice it doesn't sound like the masked gunmen are really concerned the faithful will begin worshipping a cartoon.

Then again, "sacredness" is not a concept that I generally have a strong intuitive feel for, so maybe I should leave the topic alone.

todo tadaramble

March 7, 2006

Kirkminutiae of the Moment
Ways I've had of organizing my ToDos, ending with a new system I'm particularly pleased with...
Stickies and Spindle
I'd right things on stickies, and then stick them on a spindle when they were complete.
PROS: Visceral pleasure of impaling stickies, can use physical placement of stickies to makes subasks or to re-arrange priority, have tangible record of what was done.
CONS: stickies don't stick to cube walls that well, so I had to designate deskspace as "sticky land". Also, generally disorganized looking, and it got pretty easy to loose stickies.
I do tend to keep my personal ToDos on Palm, and a while back I thought about what my Ideal Palm ToDo app would be like
PROS: With me all the time. Very neat and orderly.
CONS: Old tasks tend to linger-- too low of a "nag" factor, and not much to show other people. Clunky reordering, and no concept of "subtasks". Plus, completed tasks pretty much go away when you "purge completed tasks".
PROS: Kind of fun, and you can be very expressive in terms of priority.
CONS: Tough to reorder. Bad marker smell. Old tasks tend to accumulate, surprisingly. Almost a little too visible to coworkers. And at my previous job, I didn't even have my own whiteboard, though maybe I could have asked for one.
Small .txt files and notepad.exe
Sometimes I'll still use this when I have a lot of things to do during a weekend: creating a list, and then cutting and pasting from a TODO section to a TODONE section so I can feel good about getting through stuff. (In fact, I posted an example a while back.)
PROS: Readily available, easy to put in priority order and then re-arrange on the fly
CONS: Doesn't travel very well, too easy to forget to save file.
Graph Paper a Day
The latest and my current favorite. Originally I was stealing printer paper, but graph paper has some advantages as described by this Book of Ratings entry. For over a week now I've been starting the day with a fresh sheet, dating it, transfering any previous undone tasks to it. (On the previous day's sheet, I circle things that were undone but passed forward.) Then as I get things done I cross 'em off with a big bold stroke of the pen.
PROS: Many! Each day is a bit of a blank slate, unlike the whiteboard, but the discupline of transferring undone things urges me not to let them linger. You can group things into subtasks. Plus I have a nice historical reference, good for both personal satisfaction as well as having to record "hours worked". More viscerally satisfying than the electronic based systems. CONS: Not much...sometimes I come close to running out of room on a single sheet.
Any one else have a system they want to share?

lonely the onlyramble

March 23, 2006

Hey does anyone have a Windows 98 CD about? I'm trying to get some old hardware up and about.

Ramble of the Moment
Lately I've been thinking about how being an only child, along with living in some neighborhoods without many kids my own age, might have molded me, and what influence it might've had on my introverted streak.

I "moved around a lot as a kid", and it was always just me and my folks. From the ages of about 4-8 I lived in a little town called Salamanca, and as far as I can recall was mostly on my own in terms of freetime...I think before and after I had more friends contact, but after, it was generally having one or two close friends at a time.

Maybe though I have a kind of unrealistic vision of other folks' childhoods, running around in "Li'l Rascals" type groups, learning through experience about all kinds of social rituals that I'm still a newbie on. Maybe most people tend to have one or two close friends besides their usual schoolmates, and the tribalish neighborhood gang thing is the exception. On the other hand, a lot of people have siblings.

I can think of a few implications of this kind of background, though I can't always be sure about the nature vs. nurture aspects (as far as I can tell, a kind of "attention seeking introversion" runs through my family a bit.) For one thing, a lot of my pleasures are solitary (no, I'm not talking about that one)... I think in my current relationship with Ksenia, I feel more drawn to doing couple-compatible-things, like watching a video, even when I'd much rather work on my independent projects. It's not forced by her, it's not even quite because of guilt, but kind of a feeling of...I don't know, responsiblity, or what "should" be done. Not that I mind watching the videos or anything. Also I think sometimes she wants a kind of coupley snugglehood that just doesn't come instictively for me. I can undestand it but I don't grok it at all.

The other thing implication, and this comes somewhat from those "birth order" books, is how being a bright beloved only child got me used to being both the center of attention as well as not having serious competition for most achievements. The unfortunate side effect of this is I usually try to avoid "contests" where I don't think I'm likely to "win"...like I've said before, I hate things that remind me I'm not the smartest and bestest guy in the city. I prefer the illusion that I would be crownable as God-King of the Universe, the Watchman of Wit, the Vishnu of Videogames, the Programmer Papa Smurf, the Crowned Champ of Creative Expression, if only I really set my mind to it. But I can't be bothered, so I'm just here at my station in life.

Link of the Moment
Oh look, as if we only children didn't have enough already, our own website complete with a list of famous only children. (Yeesh, are we in that much of a minority?)

the designers of diabolical dumbthramble

March 26, 2006

So, I felt as if I'm at a bit of a loss for content today... nothing wallowing in my backlog jumped out at me.

Here's something that was near the top of my backlog, but was more there for convenience than something I meant to post: The Designers of Diabolical Dumbth List. A bit like This Is Broken or We Hates Software, but more personal, a list maybe I'll just keep editing in place in this entry, like my Project Todo list.

I want to focus on things that just seem stupid, for which the mitigating factors are weak or non-existent, and that have made my life worse in some small fashion. Alright, that's it for now. Feel free to chip in with anything you've seen that drives you nuts....

it all adds upramble

May 20, 2006

I've noticed that for every current front page entry, I've had a bit of non-"of the Moment" rambling. I know I've fretted about the balance of quotes-and-links to Kirk's ramblings before (and that that navel-gazing fretting probably doesn't make the most exciting reading) but I think for a while I'd like to make some non-"Moment" content a daily occurrence on this site.

Yesterday our lead engineer Tim was talking about his ADD and the ways he has of coping with it. He mentioned a bit of "self-medication" with caffeine, and it reminded me of Mo saying how stuff like Ritalin calms a person with ADD down but has the opposite effect on people without the condition. Same with caffeine, though "opposite effect" isn't quite accurate in either case. I only sort of remember Tim's explanation of exciters and inhibitors in the brain chemistry but it seemed to make sense of that counter-intuitive idea.

Tim's geekish computer metaphor for his head was like a terrific multithreaded processor without a scheduler, or with a poor one. One trick people with ADD pick up on is "self-medicating" with something distracting to occupy one of the threads that would otherwise start pushing the rest of the brain around, looking for something to do... he talked about how his own son will play contentedly with Legos for hours if there's a TV on, but turn it off and he'll wander off within minutes. Same goes for the daughter of a friend of his and having music on while doing homework.

He also mentioned how for someone growing up with ADD, things change as the brain matures and gets older, and that made me think about some differences I've noted in my own ability to focus. I don't think I have ADD proper, but might have had a bit of a similar chemistry especially when I was younger. But I've noticed how I used to like random music on when I wanted to hunker down and focus, but now it has to be music I'm very familiar with... preferably energetic, so I can tap into the energy as well. Tim also talked about how he's gotten very good at balancing his own head, but sometimes he'll get virtually indistractable as every thread gets focused on different elements of the same problem. I remember something like that happening when I was a kid, where I'd get so engulfed in a book that I'd ignore my name being called, though I haven't noticed that happening to me so much lately.

Video of the Moment
Wow, BoingBoing's description and photo of this golem suit was impressive enough, but check out the video. D+Dish geekery at its very finest!

I'm very impressed with youtube's performance. They seem to have great bandwidth and/or efficiency, because videos seem to always start right up, and because of their custom player, there's never a hassle with drivers...I guess the downside is there might not be an easy way of saving a video...

brigadier frank moody, 1912.07.28 - 2006.05.28ramble

June 25, 2006

Yesterday was the memorial service for my Great Uncle Frank Moody. We learned he used to quip that with a name Nathaniel Francis Moody he had all his bases covered... Nathaniel the disciple of Jesus, Saint Francis so revered among Catholics, and the great protestant evangelist DL Moody.

He had been cremated, so there was the urn (a sealed green marble box) at the front, with some photographs of him...when he was young he looked a bit like Valentino, actually. He was a Brigadier in the Salvation Army and so the service was Salvationist, with a small brass ensemble, and everyone singing... the upbeat rendition of Beulah Land with clapping during the chorus (after the presiding officer mentioned Uncle Franks love of shaking a tambourine to that song) was really moving, I think more so than a somber song would have been at that point.

Afterwards I got to catch up with the Scheinfeldt cousins, always a blast. I learned some of them check out this site from time to time, guess I have to watch myself in this place.

Sometimes when I hear scripture these days, I'm struck at the similarities among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam... sometimes I realize that the tone of the Bible is often closer to its "desert religion" roots than the Westernized interpretation I grew up in, a little more harsh, a certain Middle Eastern spiritual vibe. It's hard to put my finger on exactly.

Actually, something in the service made me think about a theological point. One of the readings was from 1 Corinthians, about the resurrection of the dead at the world. But also during the service, the idea that Uncle Frank had already received his place in Heaven was expressed. I've definitely heard more about the second idea, from cartoons about people up at the pearly gates to words of comfort during funerals. The two ideas aren't easily reconciled, though I guess they don't quite contradict each other either.

I got to talking to Ksenia about Russian Orthodox thought. It has a few interesting ideas...after someone's death there's a 40-day period before the person's fate is determined. Friends and Family can pray and try to help the person get into Heaven and not Hell...but then, it sounds like that's not the eternal reward or punishment, but just what goes on until the end of the world, at which point the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ should allow everyone to live in the new kingdom. It's an interesting idea, and I appreciate the relative lack of eternal hellfire.

In reading the full 1 Corinthians chapter, it resolved one thing for me... I that that bodily resurrection is an important idea for many sects, which is why some shun organ donation (that shunning is a tremendous humanist sin, I'd say) and cremation. But verses 35-38 cover that, and use a metaphor how just like you plant a seed, not wheat itself, to get wheat, there might not be a 1:1 correspondance between this body and the next.

Tangent, in writing about this I wanted to find out if the traditional Jewish dislike of tattoos has any roots in an idea about resuurection and I found this page. Ideas like not wanting to echo the tattoos Holocaust as well as "this body is like a loaner car, you want to keep it in good condition" get more play than any talk of resurrection. But I did learn that there's Jewsploitation band, probably a parody of the White Supremicist group Skrewdriver, called "Jewdriver".


begining to give up her fightramble

August 12, 2006

There's no denying it, while I was in California New England switched from blistering heat to a definite feeling that summer is thinking about packing up the beachtowel back in the canvas bag, taking down the umbrella, and trying to think of a nice place to go for dinner, some place with decent wine, or maybe just good sangria.

FoSO and I had this exchange,starting with me:
I don't dig the end of summer. Just because I'm so mediocre at taking advantage of the season as a whole.
what a strange reason. i don't like summer because it's generally too hot and sticky. fall is what i'm all about. that end of summertime feel to the air makes me all nostalgic for school and new jeans and notebooks and pencils. and i can't wait for apples and fall leaves and all that goodness! mmmm.
For me Summer is all about long days and doing whatever the hell you want for most of it.
It's the smell of sunblock and sweat after a day of roller coasters and fair food, the girl in the tanktop, rubbing in aloe to soothe the touch of sunburn and huddling together under a comforter to hide from the just a bit-too-much-AC room while watching some vageuly-artsy comedy movie on video.
Fall is...well, early fall is ok, where it combines the long days and energy of late summer with the clean slate of a new school year, but then the season progresses and nature sheds its lushness and gets ready for hibernation.
I guess it almost strikes me as odd that people can have different favorite seasons, given that I see summer as such a clear champ. So what about it, what's your favorite season, and why?

(Speaking of seasons, today is the final in the "Where The Heart Is" series, which means I should go ahead and make that calendar program I was planning to with it...)

Art of the Moment

click for fullsize

"December", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.

Game of the Moment
DICEWARS is a nice little Risk-type game. It's pretty much self-explanatory, except you get extra dice armies based on how many connected territories you own. <SPOILER type="strategy" method="highlight to read">the trick is to play it pretty defensive for the most part. Always putting up a good front is more important than maximizng territory</SPOILER>

a grand unifying theory of kirky's brainramble

August 19, 2006

This might be another one of those big old self-centered introspection rambles. Actually, it feels like I haven't done one of these in a while, but I'm not sure. Oddly, that uncertainty ties into the theme of the ramble: I'm vigorously trying to figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of my brain, and from there, me as a person (in particular, as a techie kind of person.) And I know from experience that I don't always have the best recall of what I've written, or sometimes what I've read, even when the topic was that topic of greatest personal interest, Me. (In the year or so after the divorce, I think Mo might have gotten the worst of that weird forgetfulness, and she ended up feeling like I was asking her to say the same things over and over again via e-mail.)

It's surprisingly difficult to objectively determine my strengths and weaknesses. Whether that's just a fundamental limitation of self-aware beings, or from years of going through a school system that sometimes valued self-esteem over personal achievement, or self-evaluation being one of my personal "weak" areas, or what, I'm not sure.

What started me musing on this lately is this dumb Atari Age flamewar. "Random Terrain" (who reports to have Asperger's Syndrome) thought that my dislike of pretending that the ship in Asteroids was actually piloted by the Star Wars guys, or thinking that "Pitfall!" might not have been inspired by "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because Pitfall Henry has none of the visual cues of Indiana Jones implies that I suffer from a certain rigidity in thinking (a condition he has himself struggled with.)

This accusation irked me to no end. And so I've been trying to think of solid examples of good flexible thinking in my life. Of course, the first things I think of our my limitations. Like listening to Paul Simon... I feel like there's a tiny chance I could have picked up on "Slip-Slidin' Away" as a lyric, but I don't think I could have thought to follow it up with "The nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away." Tim points out that trying to go against Paul Simon as a lyricist is kind of like berating myself for not being able to hold my own against Michael Jordan in one-on-one, but still. (I don't have the book in front of me, but one idea in Horby's "Polysyllabic Spree" that blew me away is that he thinks it's not coming up with content that's difficult, it's the writing itself. The main reason I don't write much fiction is that I can't think of the plot, or the point of what I want to say. And if writing is though part, why does so much literature feel semi-autobiographical?) )

These ideas really seem to important to me as my profession as a software developer, since in some ways it is the "life of the mind"... the geek mind, but still the mind. On many fronts I suffer in comparison to Tim, who has a very powerful recollection and an ADD-fueled ability to see the forest and the trees at the same time. I really envy his memory sometimes; mine seems terrible, and I'm constantly having to supplement my own weak one with written text files and little databases. (Of course, he rightly thinks that my biggest problem as a developer is lack of confidence, which ties into how I get intimidated by any project that might show I'm not as smart as I like to assume I am.)

But... I fancy myself a smart guy. But if it's not memory, and if I'm not particularly good at puzzles, and maybe not even imaginative thinking, what the hell am I good at?

I think I'm good at seeing connections. My thought patterns tend to be tremendously tangential, so it stands to reason that I might be better than average at tracing thoughts and seeing connections.

Mentally, I'm pretty fast. They say there's a tremendous correlation between reading speed and standardized test scores. I always had time to go back and double check every answer, and then some.


You know what that means? Maybe I'm smart in the same way a computer is good at chess. Not really smart-smart, not particularly great with patterns or new ideas, but able to spin out a whirlwind of permutations and combinations and tangents, discarding bad ideas with filters on the fly, and fast, fast, fast. Maybe this IS one of my introspection Holy Grails: the Grand Unifying Theory of my brain. I'll have to live with this idea for a while and see what I make of it over time. I know it help explains a certain type of joke I make frequently, where I mishear something, autocorrect it, but notice that the misheard version is a bit funny, and then act as if that's what I thought was said.

This really gets me wondering, how different can brains be, like on a physiological basis? You hear stories where people lose half their brain matter, but the rest learns to compensate. And because we have so much in common, language, human experience in general, it's easy to think that the processes underneath those layers are pretty much the same. But who knows... maybe as we construct our brains growing up (a biological constructive imperative, like a spider is compelled to make webs), we end up with brains that are really quit different, even if they all fit somewhere on the same bellcurves of multiple intelligence.

in the zonesramble

October 4, 2006

For a while now... maybe since Dylan moved to San Diego... I haven't had any trouble keeping Timezones straight for the USA. But yesterday one of the guys at work gathered people for a teleconference 4 hours too early because he did the math wrong for the Mountain time zone. (subtracted 2 when he should have added)

My trick involves a certain physicality: in effect, it's as if I'm overlaying the United States on the top half of a clock:
Then, it's easy to grasp how a mental timezone journey's west sets the clock back one hour. Each hop to the west has a matching hop backwards on the clock. (Hopefully my super-crude diagram makes things more clear, not less.)

Prior to this, I also mixed up how many hours back to go for, say, California time... I have little problem recalling that the country has 4 timezones, but before this "3 hops back system" it was easy to make what computerists call a fencepost error and subtract 4 instead of 3.

PS Am I crazy in remembering that Windows used to have a much niftier "timezone" interface that would highlight the area of the timezone as you selected it, and maybe even let you select a timezone by clicking on your area? My install of XP has a select list and then a static map of the world beneath, with no obvious interaction between the two. It almost feels as if some retarded patent stopped Microsoft from having the niftier UI.

Quote of the Moment
"I read the book of Job last night. I don't think God comes well out of it."
--Virgina Woolf. Synchronicity: David Plotz' Blogging the Bible makes it sounds like the book of Joshua can have a simlar effect.

music and meramble

November 10, 2006

I've been thinking about my relationship to music.

I've taken pride in my music collection, (ironically, both for its selectiveness , and for its bulk) many many CDs currently residing in 4 massive black binders, even though it didn't really get started until college. I made some great mixtapes back in the day, if I do say so myself. And it all seemed to jive well with my band involvement, and singing a cappella w/ sQ, the whole idea of me being a "music person".

The first step was admitting to myself that I really don't like jazz and classical that much, even though I had been trying to force it since fifth grade or so. Like it says on my bio page, I've managed to distill my appreciation of music into 3 broad ideas: lyrics, rhythm, and clever hooks. Since jazz and classical generally miss out on the first of those, a work in either genre has to rely on 2 and 3 if it's going to capture my interest. I have little patience for slow classical or noodling jazz.

But then over the last decade, I really cut back on how much I listen to music. Judging by the increasing density of my CD binders I'm still purchasing CDs, but I' not going back to old CDs all that much. These days I largely treat music as background. Most of the music I listen to is the high energy, non-distracting "party mix" stuff I find immensely useful in aiding in focus as I work. (Recently I bumped up from a 1.5 hour party mix to a much longer 8.2 hour mix.)

Theoretically I'm open to a wider variety of music as I drive, but that's stunted by my forgetting to refresh the pile of CDs I have in the car, and then often preferring some variety of news, sports, or talk radio when I'm driving on my own. (I had an iPod for a short while, but I've come to the conclusion that it'd only be useful for me on a public transportation commute, and even then I'd rather have a good book.)

Another admission, and judging by the success of iTunes, I'm not alone in this, is that I usually only like a few songs per CD. Most of the rest feels like filler, though one man's filler is another's best song ever. Sometimes friends offer to share their entire MP3 collection with me, and...wow. It's almost tough to admit but I have so little urge to bring new music into my life in a wholesale kind of way. In general, I'll randomly hear a song (or see a movie with a good soundtrack), buy the CD, listen to it, and find maybe one or two other songs I like besides what I bought it for. So being shoved into a realm of thousands of new tunes just seems... overwhelming. A vast amount of someone else's coal to find a few potential diamonds.

I'm feeling the urge to try to make the canoncial distillation of my CD collection, MP3s of just the stuff I like (and wouldn't skip if it came up in a random selection) and skipping the filler. On the one hand, if I was succesful with a project like that, I'd be worried because the songs that didn't make the cut that day would be almost totally ignored. On the other hand, it's worlds better than the status quo, where only the songs that had made it onto my "party mixes" or into the smaller CD wallet for my car get regular attention.

Once I had that "best of" collection, I'd further need to winnow it down to "party/work", "potentially sensual", and "other". And that would be it. I worry about the amount of effort it would take though... I'd have to trust in my ability to quickly judge a song by just hearing the begining and maybe a chunk in the middle. Which is actually pretty reliable, though I'm sure a few good songs would slip through the cracks. The BIG problem comes from the songs that are luke-warm, neither hot nor cold...

Toy of the Moment
Speaking of all things musical, or at least audio, the Whitney Music Box is a cool (if somewhat repetitive) series of toys exploring the relationship between sound and spiral space. Very Space Age!

Video of the Moment
OK, this is a video of someone doing very well at the "Home Run Contest" in Super Smash Brothers Melee, where a character has to beat up a "heavy bag" and then use a power move to send it flying for distance:

But it's probably the most concise video showing for showing something that drives me NUTS about the game... in the final "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" countdown, I swear that the announcer's pronunciation of "five" sounds more like "three" than it does "five". Can people weigh in? Is it just an aural quirk of mine, or is it spoken kind of oddly? (Another odd thing is I don't remember noticing it for the first few years I owned the game, but now it grabs my attention every time.)

on sirlinramble

November 29, 2006

The other day in a GamersQuart thread about Smash Brothers and "being sporting" and shunning weird and obscure tactics vs just playing as hard as possible, someone referenced Sirlin.

He argues that playing to win every time is the best path, and that people who don't are "scrubs" who don't know what they're missing and who will be forever limited by their own choices. He presents some compelling arguments, and is worth the read, but I had a few objections I'd like to bounce off of people here:

First off, Play to Win exhibits great faith in game designers, that in "99.9%" of the situations, there isn't a simple strategy that wins over all others, or that the community will serve to eliminate those games that do fall to a simple pattern. So therefore, any arbitrary restrictions by "scrubs" are largely pointless and out of the true spirit of gaming. But Sirlin himself points out some exceptions to this, cases where the "Pros" agree it is justified. Essay 1 talks about Akuma:
But the first version of Street Fighter to ever have a secret character was Super Turbo Street Fighter with its untouchably good Akuma. Most characters in that game cannot beat Akuma. I dont mean its a tough match--I mean they cannot ever, ever, ever, ever win.[...] the community as a whole has unanimously decided to make the rule: "dont play Akuma in serious matches."
Also from the mailbag
Roll canceling is a bug requiring difficult timing that allows a player to have many invulnerable moves that the game designers never intended. [...]Should roll canceling be banned? Im pretty sure it meets the standard of "warranted" since Im satisfied that under serious tournament conditions, the game completely fell apart into a joke
So, there at least some cases where restrictions are acceptable... therefore, the question is just one of degree.

Then, in describing his own feats he talks about his moves of doing a defensive move until his opponent finally does something stupid:
For example, an opponent faced with my "jumping straight up and down Zangief" could simply decide to back off and wait. What he might not realize is that I have unlimited patience. Since my brick wall in this case is keeping me even (Im not falling behind) Im happy to do it forever, which is probably much longer than hes willing to avoid the battle. Most opponents lack the will to avoid battle forever, and will eventually enter into it at a disadvantage out of impatience.
I assume the game would time out if both players took this kind of tactic, and it would end in a tie (correct me if I'm wrong) So Sirlin is relying on the other player having slightly more devotion to the game not being utterly pointless, while all he will ever care about is winning.

He makes a bigger philosophical defense of the pursuit of the truly optimal strategies
Imagine a majestic mountain nirvana of gaming. At its peak are fulfillment, "fun", and even transcendence. Most people could care less about this mountain peak, because they have other life issues that are more important to them, and other peaks to pursue. There are few, though, who are not at this peak, but who would be very happy there.
I think his assumption of it being the "happiest" peak is unfounded (in fact, elsewhere he argues that amateur chess players have more fun thatn the pros) but at least he also points out the possibilities of other peaks. (Also, there's an interesting dependency, then, on being surrounded by similar caliber players, and possibly even doing research out of the game, like online...)

He puts forward some thought-provoking ideas, and I've even put his book on my Amazon wishlist but if taken too seriously, he can be almost Nietchian or Ayn-Randian in outlook. It's a short hop from him applying this kind of gamesmanship to the show "Survivor" to thinking about how the ideas might be applied to real life. And that leads to some profound questions, what's really worth pursuing in life? and how do you tell if you succeed?

There are some "obvious" possible metrics, like money. So maybe everyone should work to maximize their money. And some people do. But that leads to smack into a fundamental issue with the outlook, the "Tragedy of the Commons". Case in point: Spam. Spam, to some large degree, is effective, and people following this kind of "screw everything else I'm gettin' mine" outlook make life a bit more miserable for everyone, filling inboxes to overflowing and turning innocent folk's PCs into spam-spewing Zombies. Clearly, this isn't the path to the best balance in life.

(In practice of course, some of this all comes down to me being total crap at the type of fighter games he's so good at. In fact, a lot of what he describes requires an ability to emulate and even visually observe that I'm not sure that I have. The first mountain for the newbie player to climb is recognizing what the opponent is doing and how, and that's actually pretty tough in and of itself.)

more longwinded angst, delivered right to your door!ramble

December 5, 2006

Last night I had another small introspective break through. Lately I've been thinking about two central and separate concerns:

One is that I employ several non-helpful, fretful and angsty avoidance strategies to put off work that I feel even remotely insecure about. For a while I've been working with the assumption that this springs from a need to protect a weirdly inflated subconscious image I have of myself of being the smartest guy in the room.... that it seems better to not try and have something fail than to give it my best, still fail, and then be "dangerously aware" of my personal limitations.

Two is an abject fear of being helpless, and also being unable to help someone else who is helpless. I've always though this might have sprung from seeing my dad get sick and die when I was a young teenager. It's almost a little trite to blame the death of a parent, but still that was a very harsh lesson that things don't always work out for the best.

But...what if the self-limiting behaviors of the first point spring less from this inflated ego thing -- because I know I'm at least consciously able to have a realistic idea of my place under the bell curve, despite being an only child -- and are actually just a response to the fears of the second? Could there be this element that I'm afraid a given tactical situation, like at work, might be "the one", the intractable problem that just can't be solved by me, or the group, within the parameters of time and resources of the assignment? That I'm not seeking to avoid knowledge of my own limitations, but of the fact that the universe has no obligation to seem "fair" to me?

I guess the negative behaviors probably spring from both concepts, protection of an inflated ego, and from knowledge of an callously indifferent world. But the thought of a "fear of helplessness" might have reverberations even in my day-to-day worklife was a wake-up.

I guess that's an advantage people with faith in an Activist kind of God have: a fallback position that no matter how craptacular any given situation seems, someones got their back, or failing that, it's a negative part of some positive master plan, or failing that, it doesn't have too much of an impact on the only thing that really matters, which is one's eternal fate.

Icons of the Moment
So I'm heading to Delaware tonight. I'll be staying again at the Brandywine Suites, near the trainstation there. I just have to say, I enjoyed this big mass of icons that shows up on their "Check Availability" page, even though there are some repeats. It's just such a nice study in minimalist iconography.... each icon is on a little 13x13 canvas, and I know from experience that that's not a lot to work with.

high hobby horseramble

January 29, 2007

Decluttering. It's kind of stalled and I no longer have the excuse of job interviews and stuff like that. It had been going so well though! Must willpower my way through this.

Next target: a milk crate full of neglected Atari 2600 games that I generally have emulated as well. The only thing I want to keep around are multiplayer games (admittedly a bit optimistic, but I hope that retro vibe can hit now and then among some of my gaming buddies) and the hardware itself.

On a video game message board, one that's prone to over-analyzing and sometimes pretentious pondering, "Nana Komatsu" wrote (in a thread on looking for "spiritual uplift" in games)
I've found that we sometimes outgrow our hobbies and yet because we feel attachment to them we try to find things that are not there.
Boy. Ain't that the truth. Like Arlo of "Arlo and Janis" said:
As I get older, I don't enjoy the same things I once enjoyed.
But I enjoy new and different things!

I just don't enjoy them as much as I used to
enjoy the things I no longer enjoy.
I think that can be part of a defensive mechanism as well. Hobbies help form our identity; unlike family and job and even friends, a hobby is a deliberate choice, a specific and focused decision to divert attention and resources into an idiosyncratic pursuit.

Sometimes I feel as if turning my back on old hobby is a rejection of the "old me".

Sometimes I feel like rejecting the "old me" is more difficult than it should be, that it forces me to admit I'm fallible in ways I'm not entirely comfortable dealing with. Which is a pathologically off-kilter way of being, but I don't know if a force of will could shake that, and I'm afraid of what kind of external event it would take to put me on sounder footing.

(Which is crazy, right? I mean I admit that I'm wrong all the time, but I think it's some kind of subconscious effort to lose the battles and win the war, of some sort of insane superlative pedestal my self-image tries to insist on.)

Any of you know what I'm talking about there? Is it that unusual? Some sort of horrific side-effect of being an only child growing up in neighborhoods without a lot of kids?

on "a short history of myth"ramblecomic

February 25, 2007

Trying to channel pre-new-job nervous energy into straightening the apartment. The problem remains the same: pick a task, finish a task even when I the task takes me to a different room where other tasks start beckoning.

Essay of the Moment
I just finished Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth". (I was supposed to read it for my UU Church's Science and Spirituality group, but then the Florida trip came up, so I read it in the airport and the first leg of the flight and wrote this.)

So her final chapter argues that the West is really hurting from its lack of mythology; that logos, thought/reason, has reigned surpreme for a long time, and while in many ways it has made life better for the people of those cultures, it hasn't been providing the ultimate answers that those people, neurotic and confused as we are, need.

She seems to especially criticize the attempts to reconcile rationality with myth, claiming that these were paths tried and found wanting in Judaism and Islam, but that Protestant Evangelicalism carries on the hopeless and painful struggle.

That certainly rings true with my interpretation of the tradition I grew up in. I've heard it said that if Christ has not literally risen from the dead, if other events are allegorical instead of literal, if the Bible has not received special divine protection in every verse, than the whole game is up. (Actually the Bible verse is "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:14))

That's a very brittle kind of spirituality to have, if you take the obvious literal reading of that line.

And then, even within Christianity, there are things I've been taught that only now do I realize aren't considered fundamental Christian tenants. Armstrong argues that the Orthodox, for example, haven't embraced the rationalist doctrine, are content with a great deal of Mystery, don't buy into the whole original sin idea, and maybe God would have come to us in the form of Jesus even if Adam hadn't sinned. (On the other hand, when confronted with someone looking to pick a rationalist fight, they'll mention this annual Easter candle lighting miracle that takes place in the Holy Land. Given that the person channeling the miracle is searched to not have any lighting implements before going off in secret but that self-lighting candles have been known for a long while, I'm a little skeptical.)

(remake of an old comic of mine)

So, I'm struggling to understand how people accept things that are mythically true, but not factual "reality". I guess it's harder to do in a highly connected world. Historically, you experience myth by soaking it in as your immersed in your culture... but when you start to notice that other peoples believe other things, your own beliefs might start seeming arbitrary. Maybe even evil! Decartes was driven to hunt for first principles when he noticed he couldn't know if his whole external experience was really the result of a demon trying to trick him. (And I know I started to stray from my Protestant heritage when I started realizing that if I had grown up in an Islamic tradition rather than as the son of Protestant ministers, I'd probably be just as fervent about a totally different belief.)

Armstrong thinks that we look to find our myths in cultural figures, like Elvis and Princess Di. And maybe retell our mythologies in great art, like Guernica and "The Wasteland".

Maybe the purest modernist mythology we can have is science fiction. By telling stories of the future, we can escape our paranoia that the stories aren't "really real", because they sit in the realm of Might Be rather than Was. (For the record, this is also the explanation I gave for preferring "space" Legos; cars in the present and castles in the past don't have little dots all over them... but the spaceships of the future might.) Of course, this is slightly more true for Star Trek than Star Wars, the latter just seperating itself by being "a long time ago in a glaxy far far away".

I dunno, just a thought. It certainly puts the hard core fan in a new light. Maybe the overweight fanboy in the full Klingon regalia, browsing memorabilia at the local convention is really a shaman for the modern age.

february stumbles to an inglorius endramble

February 28, 2007

Whoo, what a day, Dow dropping, Cheney ducking, Iranians thought to be scoping out the Big Apple.... that last ones kind of spooky. Sees like any war in Iran might be brought home to us. Reminds me a bit of WW2 worries about German saboteurs.

Ramble of the Moement
One thing about travelling... it gives me time to read, and also tends to give me ideas to write about. Which might be a result of the reading, or me just turning into some kind of Andy Rooney like crank about travel, as per my earlier ranting about how irritating airlines can be. Who knows... maybe finally returning to a public transit commute (wow, since before I started journaling on kisrael instead of my Palm pilot) will encourage me to be a little more externally reflective.

Anyway, Mr. Ibis suggested Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" (a book that roughly lived up to its title in terms of how quickly I got through it. Grumblesmurf.) It was a neat book about the snap decisions we make, with lots of amazing anecdotes, like how the "Pepsi Challenge" gave Coke the terrible idea to make New Coke, not realizing that the sweeter first anonymous sip of Pepsi gave it an edge that wouldn't last for a whole can, and how this one researcher John Gottmann can watch a few minutes of couples arguing (in an odd bit of synchronicity, hypothetical couples in the book had the name of my Aunt and Uncle (page 19) and then my grandparents (page 60)) and reliably foretell the relationship future of the pair.

One interesting bit was how some "gamblers", asked to pick at whim from a red deck or a blue deck, the former stocked with big payouts but, in the long run, bigger losses, and the latter being the only sustainable-y good choice. According to various sweat sensors and the like, the subconscious started realizing the problem with red before behavior changed, and way before the person was able to talk about the difference. I had a similar situation with the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andres". When you flip over to the map screen the game shows the player's position with an ornate "gang tattoo gothic arrow". I was kind of irritated that the game used an artsy icon rather than something simpler that could show which compass direction my player was facing. BUT... I realized that I was making a much than chance guess at which way I was heading. The ornate arrow was re-orienting itself to point the way, and my hindbrain knew it, but my conscious mind didn't! (This, of course, also points out the odd occasional rigidity of my otherwise tangental thinking; of course they wouldn't rotate a fancy arrow, games like this don't do a lot of rotation of 2D bitmaps, only 2- and 3-D polygons.)

So you start the book, and the opening stories make it sound as if it might be an optimistic "trust your instincts" kind of tome, but with a few exceptions (like students reliably able to gauge the effectiveness of a teacher after just seconds of video footage, and the thing with the cards) but then there's a cavalcade of counter examples, from the snap judgment of the Amadou Diallo slaying to the election of pretty boy Warren Harding. So the lessons I actually took from the book are: So it's not all that useful. Though it seems like that kind of relationship assessment test could be an enormous boon to humanity, though of course it would be devastating to couples who did poorly, with a 10-15% false negative rate. There's gotta be some money in that.

I think I should be less concerned about snap judgements about music, however. Listening to a few moments of an MP3 I've heard before should let me figure out how to categorize it.

So overall the book was interesting enough to be worthwhile, but I kind of wish it hasn't been 2 years and counting waiting for a paperback version.

and time... go-o-o-es by... so slowly...ramble

March 1, 2007

I don't know if it's the stress of a new job or what, but MAN is this week crawling by.

But... it is March!

Tribute of the Moment
Today we take a moment to praise the accordian.

Here is a picture that includes my mom playing the accordion. I believe this is some kind of mission work from the School for Officer's Training, the Salvation Army's version of seminary.

The accordion is in that category of comedic "no one really wants to hear it" instruments, alongside the bagpipes and to a lesser extent the tuba. This is why in his early days, "Weird Al" mined the thing for comedic gold.

I'm not sure why the instrument is so disrespected. Both tuba and accordion may be tainted by its association with Polka, a lively folkish tradition music that now seems unbearably corny in the modern vernacular.

But the accordion is a terrific instrument, combining the melodic capabilities of the piano, the polyphonic chordal ability of an organ, and the emotional expressiveness of a string instrument, where the player has great control over the volume and feel of the sound through the physical control over the bellows.

Plus, it's portable in a way other (non-electronic) keyboard instruments aren't . When my folks were stationed at Salvation Army churches that lacked a pianist she would haul her accordion out for all the Sunday School Songs.

So, a little love for the accordion, an instrument that gets the kind of derision that should be reserved for the saxophone.

Link of the Moment
"Boston PD: Putting the 'error' in 'terror.'"
--As Bruce Schneier helps to point out, if the Boston Police say they think it was a bomb, someone must have tried to make them think it was a bomb.

and this is what i had for lunch todayramble

March 2, 2007

There's this theme that's been recurring in much of my recent reading, especially Oliver Sack's "An Anthropologist on Mars", how there are some non-subjective elements to life out there, universally human factors, like flow... in the sense that some people who seem to have profound deficiencies in, say, completing tasks, in being functional in the world, in putting one subtask properly after another, can sometimes get by if they put it to music, or if they are working with some other art form that has a certain internal consistency or logic... a flow.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I was reminded of that with how I was arranging my keys as of late. For a long while, I've been able to limit the keys in my pocket to a clicker for my car, a large-ish car key, and a smaller house key. My new job gave me a key to the restroom, and I really had to think about what kind of arrangement of the three keys was most intuitive to me , so I wouldn't have to think about it. The house and restroom are both unlocked with the teeth face up, so that was the first step of the arrangement. The clicker goes in my palm. Putting each small key on either side of the big key was too symmetrical. Then I thought the most intuitive arrangement was to put the house key next to the car key, since the house and the car are in closer proximity to each other than the job is to either.

But that was wrong... the best arrangement is with the restroom on the "inside" of the other two keys, since I'm already inside (a hallway) when I go to use it, and I'm standing outside when I use the housekey. That seems to be the logic my subconscious mind is using, and life has better flow when I respect that.

I'm aware that by itself "this is how I put the keys on my keyring" sounds like the worst kind of "who else in the world cares?" blogging, but that's just because I'm not doing a good enough job of going into the sense of "flow" that it represents for me, and the implications of that.

Images of the Moment
--Leave it to the Germans to do photoresearch into that age old question, What's the last thing to go through a bug's mind when it hits your windshield?

Dumb Question of the Moment
"...You ok?"
--Jonathan King and Michael Holmes, after Holmes fell about 12,000 feet when his parachutes didn't open. The video shows Holmes checking his altimer, saying "bye", and then his perspective under from under his failed chute... then you see the same scene from King's perspective. It wasn't QUITE freefall, but man...

what should a key-guard function do?ramble

March 12, 2007

AARGH! What's the one thing a cellphone's "Key Guard" should do? How about GUARD THE DAMN KEYS from registering presses?

Dang this makes me more angry than it should.
It's like phone designers have no common sense whatsoever.

I'm currently avoiding using a high-end PocketPC (for which I extended my contract with Sprint) because of a similar issue; it had a great big touchscreen, and the "key guard" was the power-off button. Which would have been great, had the phone not always been turning itself on to tell me about an alarm I set. Or some other alarm. Or no particular reason... thus giving me, or rather my pants, a reputation for calling people at odd intervals.

That's a personal and professional embarrassment, not to mention an annoyance for my friends, so I went back to my core principle of "I won't by a phone that's not a flip-phone" (with the keys safely inside the closed unit) and got a nice Sanyo Katana. It has volume buttons and a camera shutter on the outside, but it of course has a key guard. A key guard that goes away by the simple expedient of holding the volume button down. And then you're one convenient keypress away from doing a redial of the last number you called. So Matt had a nice conversation with and a fascinating voicemail from my pants.

WHAT WHERE THEY THINKING? I could see having a key-guarded key still turn off a ringing phone, because people want to do that in a hurry. But to design as if all accidental keypresses were just temporary little things? Do phone designers realize people have pockets, and sometimes people want to put their cellphone in their pocket? You'd think that would be somewhere in Cellphone Design 101... "people put cellphones in pockets". And then "Phones shouldn't make calls on their own accord".

To be fair I don't think this is going to happen very often with this phone, but still; this kind of blatant technological misdesign feels me with rage, just the sheer lunk-headedness of it, a proactive attempt to make things "better" (by including some weird-ass "I want to call the person I just talked to but I can't be arsed to actually, you know, open the phone") when the blatantly obvious thing to do, the logical default, would have been perfect and taken less work besides. It is so not the Right Thing (the caps are important)... it's the Anti-Right-Thing. I despair for the state of product design in general. (I've heard that Motorolas have a similar problem, except they'll cheerfully let you change the ringtone, and make it extra easy to turn it to "silence" with realizing it.)

Thanks for letting me vent...

Quote and Political Sniping of the Moment
"If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much."
--Donald H. Rumsfeld. This was the "Quote of the Day" on the Google startpage feature. I'm sure right-wingers take solace in this kind of thinking, but it kind of ignores its counterpoint "if you are being criticized, there's a chance you're doing way, way, way too much". Especially in the whole nation-invading and regime-changing business. Or, not giving generals the number of troops they think they'll need because of your misguided "new army" idea.

on benjamin franklin and his most excellent autobiography, the intentionality of desert areas, and assorted other topicksramble

June 20, 2007

So, some closing thoughts on Ben Franklin's Autobiography. (That's a link to the Project Gutenberg etext. It makes me wish print books were more searchable! But, the ASCII text drops the italics.)

I had no idea about Ben Franklin, Swimming Instructor:
On one of these days, I was, to my surprise, sent for by a great man I knew only by name, a Sir William Wyndham, and I waited upon him. He had heard by some means or other of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriar's, and of my teaching Wygate and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons, about to set out on their travels; he wish'd to have them first taught swimming, and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not undertake it; but, from this incident, I thought it likely that, if I were to remain in England and open a swimming-school, I might get a good deal of money; and it struck me so strongly, that, had the overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.
It makes me want to posit some crazy alternate history where Ben Franklin stayed and became a swim instructor, and somehow that caused monumental changes in the landscape of international relations with the Revolutionary War being replaced by some kind of swim-off. Ben Franklin-led squads of English Aristocratic swimmers vs a George Washington-coached ragtag squad of Americans... the minutemen, who could swim 5 boat-lengths in that time, or some such, with the fate of colonial independence at stake. (More on the history of swimming strokes, includes a reference to Thévenot, whom Franklin namedrops.)

A recurring theme was about how to conduct oneself during a debate:
I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this charge in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly.
Now, that's my default way of arguing... except I think my reasons are less valid. I'm deathly afraid of being wrong, so I'll weasel my way into an ultimately unassailable position, hiding behind the final refuge of only describing my subjective observation. (I was also truck by the use of the word "positive", meaning "assured" as opposed to "good"... this usage predates, and preemptively argues against, the philosophy of "positivism" that would emerge later.)

That said, I think I am willing to admit when the thrust of my argument has been thwarted. And sometimes I learn something. This weekend working in Rockport the song "Missing" came on, with its lyric "And I miss you / Like the deserts miss the rain". It's a lovely lyric, but I always wondered if it was reasonable to think of deserts as "missing" the rain. I mean, aren't they in their own way viable ecosystems? EvilB countered with a description of the amazing and awe-provoking flowering that occurs in desert areas when a rain does come, even in regions that have gone for years and years without water. That was an excellent point, but then made me wonder if it's fair to use "the deserts" when you mean "the biomass of the deserts"... he countered with, well yeah, but "and I miss you / like the biomass contained with desert regions miss the rain" just doesn't scan. That got me wondering about what is the intentionality of desert regions? If they have one, than I'd say their longing is to grow, to devour more former woodland and pastures with sand and aridity... in which case they wouldn't miss the rain at all. (They might miss the wind, though, if it wasn't around, to help blow the sand and extend the borders.)

Silly argument, but a fun bit of deconstruction to go along with stripping paint off of deconstructed window moldings, and making it that much more agreeable. (Later he reacted negatively to my saying that he "brought up some good points" as debat-team-ish damning with faint praise, but I was being absolutely sincere.)

Finally, back to Ben and forming an early fire fighting company:
Our articles of agreement oblig'd every member to keep always in good order, and fit for use, a certain number of leather buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for packing and transporting of goods), which were to be brought to every fire;
I guess that speaks of the improvements of fire fighting technology over the years, that you'd see situations where there'd be a fire at a neighbors, and the safest thing to do is to bug out with your stuff, but you need something to pack it in. (Though as he noted: "since these institutions, the city has never lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time, and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began has been half consumed" - that's actually quite a record!) It also reflects how consumer goods have become much cheaper in the meanwhile, and, I think, buildings more expensive.

(Heh, even when I write this, I have to remove many instances of "I think" and "I guess". I shouldn't hedge my bet quite so often when I write, but it's my nature to do so.)

Now Reading: Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland

PS After the video I posted the other day, EvilB wanted me to assure his wife that those balloons, having had a happy time celebrating their daughter's first birthday, were old, sick, and tired, and despite the growling and goofiness, it was actually euthanasia... see, balloons don't want solemnity and dignity when it's time for them to move on, it's just not in their nature.

universal healthcareramble

August 9, 2007

This was my response to a post on a small private-ish conversation website a friend of mine runs... the original poster linked to this article on the need for universal healthcare. Many of the posters there seem to be libertarian in leaning, and so that influences my tone a bit.

Canadian's healthcare seems reasonably popular among most Canadians I know personally, though there's certainly a group of loudmouth activist detractors from the area.

Public health and sanitation has done more to increase life spans and quality of life than most other individual advances in medical technology, no matter how many anecdotes you think of to the contrary.

I certainly think the freemarket isn't living up to its hype when it comes to say, researching new drugs: the incentive is for companies to tweak old formulas and spend bajillions promoting the hell of stuff (including almost bribing doctors) before it becomes generic, so relatively little money and effort is spent on original, risky, ground breaking research, in lieu of these minor patentable improvements and marketing, marketing, marketing.

(generics; an interesting area for the laissez-fairest. Should we have drug patents or let anyone make any product they can figure out how to duplicate? Who will then bother to research new products? Should the protective role of the FDA go away, replaced, hopefully, by some private concerned folks looking to make a buck? Or just rely on quackery and reputation of medicine providers?)

For myself... well, if I had a reasonable healthcare system to fall back on, I'd feel a bit less constrained as to career paths. Right now, I don't consider any job w/o a big package of medical benefits, but if there were an acceptable fallback, and I mostly had to just plot out rent and food, my life would more free.

One time my doctor (whose practice is an awesome blend of hardcore western medicine rounded out by a respect for and use of some of the best of that hippy stuff; the dude was also my yoga instuctor for 3 years) complained that people accept that they might have to pay a couple hundred for a new exhaust system, but are very uptight about the same kind of money for appointments and treatment and what not. I pointed out to him later that, that's because car costs are ultimately bounded, but health care is not. Worst case scenario, a car is totaled and you have to buy a new one. For medicine though, even if "regular maintenance" is affordable, if something goes wrong, it might go really wrong, and since you can't buy a new body, you're going to be desperate for any treatment that holds promise to fix you. This is why people cling together for health insurance, and why some people think we might get better value-for-money and economics of scale by doing so on a national level.

winning: everything or only thing?ramble

August 18, 2007

So last night I'm helping to watch a five-year-old cousin of mine, enlisting my Aunt's GameCube as co-babysitter. Caleb likes two player games but is absolutely shameless in asking to swap controllers whenever I get the least bit ahead.

My Aunt says he reminds me of him at that age.

So despite that, or possibly because of that, I try to help him get a sense of perspective.

"Hey, you know what happens if you lose?"
"Nothing! I still think you're a good kid. But you know what happens if you win?"
"Still nothing! It's just a silly game."

But winning in and of itself was more important than game logic to him and he freely reveled in victory even if it was the result of a last second swap. For some of the latter games I would quietly let him win, but still I wonder which is the best stance to take: to play along and make him happy, or to try and help him put losing a game into perspective.

For if I wasn't letting him win he would have LOST. Oh yes, he would have lost, and sweet victory would have been mine!

something to think aboutramble

August 24, 2007

Philosophy of the Moment
Why is it nice to think [that human qualities such as creativity, intuition, consciousness, esthetic or moral judgment, courage or even the ability to be intimidated by Deep Blue are beyond machines in the very long run]? Why isn't it just as nice--or nicer--to think that we human beings might succeed in designing and building brain-children that are even more wonderful than our biologically begotten children? The match between Kasparov and Deep Blue didn't settle any great metaphysical issue, but it certainly exposed the weakness in some widespread opinions. Many people still cling, white-knuckled, to a brittle vision of our minds as mysterious immaterial souls, or--just as romantic--as the products of brains composed of wonder tissue engaged in irreducible non-computational (perhaps alchemical?) processes. They often seem to think that if our brains were in fact just protein machines, we couldn't be responsible, lovable, valuable persons.

Finding that conclusion attractive doesn't show a deep understanding of responsibility, love, and value; it shows a shallow appreciation of the powers of machines with trillions of moving parts.

--Daniel Dennett in this essay on the 10th Anniversary of Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in chess.
Dennett is right to point out that saying "Deep Blue wasn't really playing chess, just running algorithms" is bunk. I also buy the idea that Kasparov is doing a similar search (albeit "chunked" differently, with more familiarity with patterns on a more macro scale) and that neither Deep Blue nor Kasparov are that "conscious" of their analytical process as it is happening. But even though the popular culture has an irritating tendency to keep raising the bar of what "Artificial Intelligence" is as soon as the AI researches come up with an approach that beats it, I think Dennett is a bit misleading in painting a symmetry in the training the two "thinking machines" have received:
Much of this analytical work had been done for Deep Blue by its designers, but Kasparov had likewise benefited from hundreds of thousands of person-years of chess exploration transmitted to him by players, coaches, and books.
It's quite reasonable to admire the human as a (for now) unique general purpose learning machine over a one trick pony like a chess-playing computer. Kasparov could probably learn to play a mean game of backgammon in short order, which is more than could be expected of Deep Blue. And even though I think the world champion of Backgammon is yet another computer program, if an entirely new strategy game were to be invented, Kasparov would again have the upper hand in picking it up.

There's an analogy to be made with flight, I think: humans playing chess are the Wright Brothers, learning how to fly. A computer that has been coded to play chess is akin to a bird, shaped by millenniums of evolution that it knows nothing of.

I don't think the difference is permanent: over the decades, we should learn to make better general-purpose learners, and their have been some interesting approaches to building a learner from the bottom up, like Cog and Cyc. Of course, as soon as we build a computer that can design its own smart sequel, we'll hit that Singularity Vinge and Kurzweil are on about.

(That singularity idea is fascinating, as it makes some of those corny old scifi "the computers are out to get us!" clichés a little more plausible, in much the same way I never would have expected a Star-Trekian "the computer is processing so furiously that it's draining the power from the lights!" to be echoed in the battery life of my laptop doing processor-intensive tasks.)

I liked the idea of Fischer Random Chess that Dennett mentions, although it seems a little less amazing to realize it only represents 960 different possible starting positions. (Still, in theory, that would be a 3-orders-of-magnitude increase in the "book") My intuition is that such a game would favor the way computers run through possibilities over the way human grandmasters do it, but maybe that comes from a shallow knowledge of simplistic "look ahead" algorithms.

the barometerramble

October 30, 2007

In his LJ, Mr. Ibis posted an old gem about finding the height of a building using a barometer. The following was my rather long-winded response:

Ok, at the risk of spoiling a lovely story:

First off, I love this chestnut of a story. It's a terrific study in lateral thinking.

I think the "Neils Bohr" bit is a retcon; previously I saw it end on the "I will give you this fine barometer" line, which is a bit punchier.

But now I'm musing on the ending. I've been thinking about "bubble tests" lately, the SAT etc. I did very well on those, which was a lovely ego boost and a boon for college admission. I'm totally willing to believe there's only a so-so correlation between these tests and "smarts", but I'm unwilling to buy into the idea that "the only thing they test is how well you take tests". My current favorite (untested, but anecdotally supported) theory: there is a surprisingly strong correlation between reading speed and test scores. A number of people who I think of as clever, but they did poorly on the tests have said they aren't such fast readers. (Not sure if it's correlation or causation, but there are some arguments for the latter including being more able to check your work.)

But anyway, that's a tangent. My point was this: when taking a test it's good to be meta- about it. Often a thought about WHY they're asking a particular question, or providing those possible answers, is extremely useful. And I used to be a fighter; if I saw 2 choices that met the question as it was asked and got the right one based on a reading of the metaquestion, I would FIGHT for other kids who got the other "correct but not the right" answer, just because of my sense of justice and fair play.

So, I think asking a question with an "obvious right" answer isn't so bad. I would say that Bohr's other solutions all rely on having other props (a long rope, a stopwatch, a sunny day and a ruler, chalk and idiosyncratically architected stairs, string, rope AND a stopwatch, or a friendly and unusually knowledgeable superintendent.) Plus, several of them would probably cost you the barometer. I think the "correct" answer only requires the barometer and some knowledge. And roof access. But you get to keep the barometer.

Video of the Moment
I don't care who you are or what your life is like, it almost certainly doesn't have enough ninjas on roller skates:

attack of the speedbitchramblegames

November 24, 2007

For over half a decade EB and I have been playing head-to-head Tetris Attack. (With a recent trend towards 3-player Dr. Mario when his wife wants to join in, a game also favored by my Aunt and Mom.)

EB and I have noted a difference in our approaches to this kind of game. EB is a more deliberate planner, aiming to set up longer combos and chains and then sending over many damaging "garbage" blocks all at once. In recognition of my approach's humbler yet annoyingly effective nature, I've taking to calling what I do "being the speedbitch". I favor speed over cleverness. Over the years, as our Tetris Attack arms race increased (at this point we're both past our primes, not sinking quite as much relaxation time into the pursuit of rising blocks) I would of course add in new "types" of move to my arsenal, but at its core I'm all about process efficiency. (I'm also oddly blind to certain clear-outs, especially horizontal ones.)

It might not be too much of a stretch to see an echo of the speedbitch vs. the planner in how EB and I live our respective lives. I tend to shun most long-range plans-- which can go wrong, after all-- and seek to maximize short- to medium-term contentment. And I'm good at recognizing and optimizing for that. (A parallel ability to refactor and re-engineer to increase usability and efficiency is also one of my programming and UI strengths.) EB is more of a planner. There have been times (when Mo and I seemed to have found something stable and pleasant and possibly edging him out salary wise despite his equivalent smarts and having stuck around for his Masters degree) where my pseudo-Dao-ist, aimless approach irked him. Now that I'm a single guy, in a bit of a pleasant career rut, and he's accomplishing life goals in family-making as well as moving up to management (which, for an engineer, isn't all peaches and rainbows, but still) the strategic comparison has a different tone.

(By a curious bit of synchronicity, recently I've found out that a parallel "supply chain efficiency" is one of the things Nokia does really well, and has helped it achieve an international market percentage in the high-30s. They make beloved-high-end equipment too, but they're able to retail some of their bread-and-butter phones for less than some companies can make 'em.)

Like I've rambled about before, I'm increasingly of the opinion that I'm not that smart, just a very quick and somewhat tangential thinker with a fragile ego and poor memory for disconnected detail.

oh you're just the smartest bestest cleverest kid in the whole worldramble

November 30, 2007

Yet more self-involved blather, very loud introspection. But there's a very good video after. You might want to skip to that.

Man, this Scientific American article on The Secret to Raising Smart Kids rang more than a few bells for me...
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability-- along with confidence in that ability-- is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
That's similar to something I wrote a year ago.

So: It's not the self-esteem, stupid! Maybe we have too much of that, with our kids who are, internationally speaking, among the worst at math but think that they're the best.

I think almost any kid who is the smartest kid in his peer group ends up thinking they're the smartest kid, period. Even as they grow, and are smart enough to intellectually realize the absurdity of this thought, they don't feel it.

As crazy as it is, it's still a bit of a problem for me. But I managed to shake it off in a lot of ways and think I should be proud of that. I think back to my school history: skipped second grade, got put back when I changed districts... in sixth grade I started doing well on standardized tests but was always in the mid-quarter "D&F Club" after school program. I managed to get some level of a work ethic through middle and high school, though it didn't really gel 'til college, with most visible bumps in high school classes that required the work of memorization, chemistry and calculus.

But it's not like I blame my folks. I remember fiercely resisting my mom trying to get me to set specific goals during middle school... I much preferred a promise to put in a good effort, and seeing what came of that. Now I see what a defensive strategy that was. If anything, I suspect schools aren't particularly well set-up for "Gifted and Talented" programs: smart kids don't get the challenges to put their abilities in a reasonable context, and it's likely that recent standardized testing initiatives is making that problem worse, with school districts having to do more scrambling for tough cases (no matter how poorly motivated or difficult the student) as well as having the smart kids feel like frickin' geniuses when the normalized tests seem like a breeze.

Now I'm still pretty "risk adverse". I can be a good worker, but sometimes my diligence is inversely proportional to the chance of failure... if I'm not confident of it being a cakewalk (even if a long and tedious one) I'm more likely to start employing avoidance strategies.

Marching Band of the Moment
--Thinking of school days... the Cal Band rocks! Such a damn clever program! Especially the first bit, 0:40-1:30. Too bad it's shot from the Visitor's side. (There's also this right-side-up but skewed and partial view of the same show.)


March 6, 2008

So the other night I got accused of being incredibly self-absorbed.

(The irony of taking the time to write up a big blog entry on protesting being called self-absorbed is not lost on me.)

This isn't the first time I've been accused of this. And it is a vexing accusation! To some extent it's of course true, but... I mean, are there really people out there so selfless as to put themselves way behind their interest in everyone else? That seems unlikely. Is the implication, then, that I lack the ability to be appropriately concerned for and interested in other people? That seems an unfair accusation! Or deficient in interest about things in general, I dunno, politics, pop culture, science, etc? That seems blatantly untrue. And despite all this, I'm willing to accept that there's a problem here.

So what is it? Previously I've heard it put that I have trouble talking without sentences that begin with "I" or "Me". I would say that to whatever extent the I/Me thing is valid, this aspect is going to be exaggerated by my rhetorical caution; I hardly ever assert something to be objectively true, I tend to couch things with things like "I think" or "It seems to me that". But that's probably beside the point, the issue is: I talk about myself a lot. (Like, that's what brought this up last night: it was a discussion where I tangented to mentioning playing tuba in church during a poignant pause (actually in response to an observation that something went over "like a fart in church" in a serious conversation. I was trying to be funny, but admittedly it was a story about me.) )

So yeah I talk about myself! I have stories to tell. But I want to hear every one else's stories too! In my interpersonal relationships I tend to have three goals:
A. I want to tell you my stories
B. I want to hear your stories.
C. I want to experience things with you that we can tell stories about.

To me this is a central part of the human condition.

Richard Feynman said that he didn't mind dying so much because "...When you get as old as I am, you start to realize that you've told most of the good stuff you know to other people anyway." Story- and Anecdote-related interaction is a side effect of my "Interestingness-as-Moral-Good" escape from the existential "why bother" hell I might other wise be in. You want to see cool stuff, and then through the power of communication, you can hear about other cool stuff you haven't seen, and return the favor.

But still -- some people, including people I care about, and whose opinions I care about -- see this as a problem. Even to the point of suggesting therapy! Which, as a way of fixing a problem of being self-absorbed, reminds me a bit of California fire fighters setting fires to try to preempt a larger firestorm, but I guess that's why you shell out the big bucks to be able to do in that magic 50-minute span.

As far as I can tell, this isn't a universally recognized problem; I believe that I have an OK relationship with others of my friends, possibly story tellers themselves, they seem to cope with how much I talk about myself and in turn believe in my legitimate interest in them. So is the issue in recognizing people who don't share this brand of mutual extroversion? And how then should I act? Try to tone down the quantity of anecdotes? Be more proactive in expressing my interest in what's going on with them? Just shut up for a change?

Would therapy be able to answer this question? Or is this just the symptom anyway, and therapy should somehow break me free of an underlying condition of needing attention the way fish need water?

I do value candid feedback on this, especially from people who know me in real life. (That I think is one of my positive character traits: I freely admit my flaws even as I consider triaging them into things I like the way they are, things I can change, and things that I don't like but know are here to stay.)


May 14, 2008

The other day I thought of all the things I'd like to take from various faiths: Along with my homebrew sense of "interestingness as a moral good". Ideally maybe I'd even find some kind of therapist who was into all of those, especially the first few, though I always feel I'm on shaky ground (no pun intended) taking on the faiths from Asia.
So those are the ideals... then it hit me that I'm more dealing with Do any traditions have a good sense of whimsy? I'm thinking maybe Wicca but I'm not sure, sometimes they seem to take that hippy stuff pretty seriously. Maybe Zen, with the koans and all.

Video of the Moment

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.
--via Mr.Ibis who points out "it all starts as Alien Bill" -- pretty much does! The whole video is pretty amazing. I love how it "lets the strings show" in terms of the erased part from previous frames...

Quote of the Moment
"Your problem is that your inner child is a bit too outer."
--Ksenia, a long while back. Now THAT'S what I call SUCCINCT!

does myspace have all that playing around crap facebook does?

the pollyannappreciation principleramble

June 6, 2008

In a Gamer's Quarter thread, jjsimpso was talking about the use of numeric scores in game reviews. He refered to an older "games studies" dichotomy between "narrativists" (who place video games in a tradition of storytelling) and "ludologists" (who place video games more in the tradition of other forms of gaming... I guess the term is related to a Greek word for "play" and the similarity to "luddites" is just an unfortunate coincidence.)

jjsimpso proposes a two-score system to match this dualistic line of thinking, L-scores (for the mechanic and design) and N-scores (for the story, art, setting, etc) It immediately made me think of that passage Robin Williams' character has his student read aloud in Dead Poets' Society, allegedly from "Understanding Poetry, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D."
To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech. Then ask two questions: One, how artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered, and two, how important is that objective. Question one rates the poem's perfection, question two rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining a poem's greatest becomes a relatively simple matter.

If the poem's score for perfection is plotted along the horizontal of a graph, and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron may score high on the vertical, but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.
The movie uses this passage has a strawman to be knocked down, that poetry can only legitimately be felt, not analyzed.

I guess I disagree... I think the basic concept is sound (even if exact quantification is a bit odious), but you need many more scales for it to be useful, two dimensions just aren't enough. This would bring this kind of thought into line with my idea of Multiple Intelligence Theory for Art.

Just for kicks: I say 2 dimensions isn't enough, and have previously talked about Multiple Intelligences, but don't go into detail about what they might be... (a bit of a dodge on my part!) So for fun, what do I think some should be? The Pritchardian "importance" could more or less stay, except maybe it should be "subjective importance" and "universal importance"... "artfulness" is way too simple... there's "adherence to formal structure", "comprehensibility", "subtley", "cleverness"... then there are other traits like "humor", "thought provokingness", "emotion provokingness" (I'm sure there are more succinct words for many of these)... something that takes into account the "context of the authorship" (in general a decent work written by someone in pressed circumstances is more interesting than a work of equal decency written by someone in comfortable circumstances)

In short there is a multitude of possible scales, and I think people are free to come up with a subset of all possible scales they value most highly in art appreciation. For me, the most important take-away concept is that very little art or craft is valueless, so we should always hesitate before condemning a work with too heavy a hand. I dub this thinking "the pollyannappreciation principle".

(A nascent form of this thinking led my fellow a capella singers with Tufts sQ to saddle me with the unwieldy nickname "Kirk 'c'mon guys, it wasn't THAT bad, was it?' Israel" after a particularly brutal round of poor auditionees.)

Video of the Moment
With the Celtics lovely win in game one over LA, I'm hearing more about the chant "Beat LA!". To summarize, it comes from Celtics fans the final game 1982 Eastern Conference -- where the Celtics were just about to get beat by the 76ers...

It's considered a nice bit of sportsmanship by the Boston fans (not always known for being that classy, really.) I guess too though, LA can't object to it too much, even as its used in other sports (like the SF Giants against the Dodgers) since it does paint them as the city to beat.

has basketball always been this endless parade of fouls? seems like the flow is so broken.
wikipedia's "A cappella" page, collegiate a cappella section is a seething bed of shameless plugs. A whole paragraph on South Asian? Jeesh.

masters of my domainramble

June 16, 2008

Was chatting with MELAS (My Ever-Lovin' Aunt Susan) last night and an idea came up, not a new idea, but kind of a new context: should I go ahead and seek a Master's degree?

Old contexts would have included (A) a general nudge from the family and its respect for education as something worthwhile, almost for its own sake and (B) something that would make for a more solid résumé and generally crank up my earning potential. But (A) wouldn't really be enough by itself, and I've interviewed enough well-degreed folks who seemed to be complete programming imbeciles that I don't put a lot of stock in (B).

So the new context is opening up the possibility of teaching, like maybe at a small college or as an online instructor. MELAS feels this has worked well for her... the money isn't fantastic, but she finds the traditional 9-month Academic year to be very pleasant, and the work can be rewarding, and generally not overly strenuous.

When I went to college I had the idea of training to be an English Teacher -- Tufts had both a top-notch English program and a great Education program, but then as computers and not English seemed to be academic forté I made my "other major" Computer Science instead of teaching.

(I felt guilty about that for a while, though my beloved high school English teacher Mrs. McLaughlin consoled me by pointing out that I might not be a great teacher because I might be impatient with students who are slower to pick something up than I feel I would have. So that sounds a note of caution for my current thoughts.)

To be clear, my current debate is "shall I get a Masters" (and have more career options) and not "should I change careers"... having drifted from one (generally pretty well-paying) job to another, and not being driven to corporate leadership, I don't have a ton of options stretched in front of me.

One issue is with Computer Science: there are kind of two camps in it as an Academic pursuit, and there's a lot of tension. The first camp sees it as a part of Mathematics, and is very much about the theory and the beauty of computation. The second camp tends to be more Engineering in its outlook, and see it as more of an applied art, maybe even a bit of a craft. People in the former see the latter as wanting to make trade schools, people in the latter see the former as having their heads in the clouds.

I'm in the latter camp, no question. I find that computer programming is a lovely way of making new things. So that might influence my decision of school and program.

I have no idea how tough it is to get into programs (actually I heard there's an inverse relationship between the health of the job market and the number of people going into school.) I graduated Summa (thanks to grade inflation and some blatant begging) and with a 4.0 in my major, and I generally have done well on bubble-type tests.

Thoughts of places to go would be Northeastern, a decent school that I think is oriented towards careers and people who are studying while working and is about 3 or 4 blocks from where I live, and my alma mater Tufts which is pretty prestigious and I know some folks.

The idea of being a teacher is a little daunting, of course. Actually I wonder if being as public as I have been on this site and other places would be a drawback? It's easy to forget teachers are people too. But I think I'm good at breaking down problems into explainable parts, and maybe I could learn to fake the gravitas required...

As always I welcome thoughts and feedback!

Random followup: decided to click around Northeastern's website a little... I realized that there Digital Media sounds a lot more compelling to me (after, you know, 20 seconds of poking around their webpage) than traditional Computer Science, a way out of the whole "CS is math"/"CS is craft" dilemna. Conversely, I don't know if that would mess up the teaching idea.

Link of the Moment
Cute Flash Animation vs Animator movie, kind of in the spirit of Stick Figure Death Theater. (via Bill the Splut)

Yeah, I'm a homer who doesn't know basketball, but the hell is up with these refs?
pentomino "we pass the time to forget how time passes" - Amelie. A little bit less morbid!
WOW, did I really just find myself saying 'Oh look, another jerk with an iPhone'?
MELAS and I agree: time spent just fiddling around expands to fit the shape of its container.
Note to self: mojitos: tasty (even when just premix :-( ) but not a boon to productivity in the evening.

"yeah, I think people are just getting stuper. stupider." -scottramble

July 12, 2008

So a few weeks ago that Atlantic Is Google Making Us Dumber? article was making the rounds. I finally read it, and wasn't crazy about it. The background was excellent, and talking about how technological changes modifies our way of thinking, like how touchtyping let Nietzsche avoid migraines and start writing more in bon mots, was great. But the final conclusions weren't solid.

There seems to be two main lines of attack: one is that Google is making us soft, that we're going to retain less in our heads since such vast amounts of information -- no, not just vast amounts - terrific methods of getting to the right, small bit of information, with connections to more - are always at hand.

The other line of attack seems to use Google as a convenient shorthand, or possibly whipping boy, for soundbite culture in general. That so many of us our losing our ability to focus for medium or long stretches.

(Disclaimer: I'm increasingly aware that I might not have a "representative" way of thinking, and that too often I'll forget that not everyone approaches problems like I do, and therefore my analysis is suspect as I start to apply it generally.)

Trying to get to the root cause of why having access to lots of information can lead to shorter attention spans is tricky. I think of how I approach long books, on "interestingness density". A really long book better have MANY interesting ideas, or otherwise the return on time and thought invested suffers.

Regular readers of the site will know I've been formulating this idea of "interestingness", sometimes even "interestingness as a moral good", for a while now. Maybe I then owe it to myself to try and peel back the layers of it, find out what makes interestingness interesting, or if there's a way to define or predict what is interesting besides "I know it when I see it"...

Interestingness can be shallow, that's for sure, prefering a great paragraph to a good essay, and the novel and the nifty over the prolonged and fretted-over. But it doesn't have to be; a good technical account can go extremely deep and still maintain a level of novel ideas, or rich and non-intuitive but useful metaphors that make the subject fascinating.

Bringing this back to the main attention span issue... maybe people are using this same kind of lens to judge how long they want to look into something, because something more interesting might be just around the corner. Or maybe we've become more demanding consumers, and getting the gist of something is enough.

Also: I'm more aware of how I tend to speak in parentheses. So often the parenthetical aside is the loveliest part of a multipart thought.

Quote of the Moment
I am nuts for information-- as are we all, I suspect, most real men and women. I can't get enough of the stuff. When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits. Yum! Whether it's reading the cereal box or scanning the advertisment slide show some genius thought to project on the big screen at the movie theater, my appetite for information is unquenchable.
--Joshua Quittner. Actually I first recorded this in 1998...

Google Feature of the Moment
Speaking of Google, Anthony gave me a tour of the NYC office on my way down to VA, when I stopped over to pick up a copy of Wii Fit he graciously had located for me. He pointed out that Google DOES have a feature I was looking for, namely providing date-ordered search results when you're searching a site that has a blog-like format, but you have to click on "Blogs" under "More" to activate it. I think it should be an option whenever you do a "site:"-specific search, and that site in question is known to have a Blog-ish format.

Wii Fit's bad posture, jutted hip model is much sexier than the same model standing w/ good posture. Also the voice is Navi meets GlaDOS.
moving on

on hawkins, intelligence, and searle's chinese roomramble

July 23, 2008

So I've been twittering about Searle's Chinese Room lately, might as well ramble about it at more length and get it out of my system... (kisrael.com, come for the quotes and links, stay for the long pseudo-intellectual grumblefests!)

I'm reading Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence", and from what I've heard it seems pretty promising... with ideas that the core of intelligence is a memory-prediction system, and that AI researchers do themselves a disservice by not looking at the actual physical mechanisms of the brain, just like neuroscientists do themselves a disservice by not trying to take a step back and focus on the large process rather than specific subsystems. That all seems really promising.

So far he has two points I disagree with... one is that Searle's Chinese Room is a satisfactory demonstration that "behaviorial equivalence is not enough", that you could somehow fake intelligence without being intelligent. The second is this idea that intelligence is strictly an internal property. He might be not too far off on the second idea, but from a utilitarian standpoint, a 100% internal intelligence is of zero interest to us... one could imagine this group of hyperintelligent rocks, all with this rich internal state that is this lovely model of the whole environment, able to make simulations and predictions with stunning accuracy, but if there is zero interaction with the outside world, who cares? These smartrocks are indistinguishable from, you know, rocks! (I remember writing a poem about this in high school, a rock that figure out world peace and all that, but couldn't tell anyone 'cause it was a rock.) Down this path lies stuff like Greg Egan's "Permutation City", where a whole field of floating dust specks might be intelligent, if we just knew how to interpret /communicate with it, a kind of weird pantheism, or at least beleif in pan-intelligence.

So...the Chinese Room. You can read Hawkins restatement of the thought experiment here. He concludes that "no matter how cleverly a computer is designed to simulate intelligence by producing the same behavior as a human, it has no understanding and it is not intelligent".

I find this conclusion absurd. First, while this is an abstract thought experiment and thus a huge amount of handwaving is permitted, it's important to note how hyper-complex the "big book of instructions and all the pencils and scratch paper he could ever need" would be if the setup is going to effectively simulate a person conversing intelligently in Chinese. It's an important thing to note, because part of Searle's argument is secretly an appeal to intuition, and lines like "after all, it's just a book, and books can't think!" will come up but that is terribly misleading because ignores the overwhelming scope of that book... it needs contains "simple" abstract symbol manipulations that can "fake" someone who has a deep knowledge of the world, Chinese culture, history, itself, the laws of cause and effect, a sense of humor, what it means to be in love -- in short, everything necessary to convince the person passing in the notes and reading the responses that there is a Chinese speaker inside there. That book would need to be almost unimaginably huge and complex to pull this off.

But say we grant the theoretical possibility of this book. There is a perfectly valid answer to "where does the understanding lie in this scenario?", a reply formulated shortly after the original idea was proposed, and it's called the "Systems Reply'... the man inside might not understand Chinese, and a static book and pile of scratch paper certainly doesn't understand Chinese, but the System as a whole... man, book, paper, room-- absolutely does. For me this is one of those ideas that I almost can't believe isn't intuitively and universally obvious.

Searle's response is to say, ok, well what if the man memorizes the book, and has a good enough memory to do all the steps in his head... There! He now can speak Chinese without knowing Chinese! (As I think Dennett points out, he now knows Chinese but in the "wrong way".) Going back to the idea of the room, I guess the idea is that because there are certain things the odd intelligence of room, man, book can't do, we're not counting it as "true intelligence". Oddly enough, for me this goes back to the idea of the hyperintelligent rocks, in that the issue is one of information getting in and out. Ask the Chinese Room about a beautiful grassy meadow, and it talks about the meadow. Searle seems to argue, though, that it doesn't really understand what a meadow is, it's just doing abstract symbol manipulation. But if enough is going on inside that you can ask it ongoing questions about the meadow, what it feels like, how the grass gently floats on the wind, etc, and are satisfied by the humanness of the answers, to say that there's no "real" understanding on all that scrap paper, or in that book, or with the diligent, boring work of that man is just being ornery, and terribly biased against ways of being intelligent that don't physically resemble our own brains. So just like the guy who 'internalized' the Chinese Room might not have access to his understanding of Chinese like someone who learned Chinese the usual way, we might not be able to comprehend the internal states of the physical Chinese Room, but I can't see there's any way of deeply faking understanding without having understanding.

(Someone on the Wikipedia page comments points out how, sadly, too often school can look like a big Chinese room, where a kid might be given a statement like "the heart is associated with the flow of blood', and later be given a question like 'what is the heart associated with the flow of? A. snot B. blood C. poop'... thus becoming a simple Chinese Room that can answer a basic question about biology by pattern recognition, with no true sense of meaning or depth.)

So I'm still optimistic about Hawkins books... he may be more concerned with the layman's understanding of computers, and arguing that an intelligent system will operate very little like the main part of a computer does. (Even if the end result was some kind of "brain simulation" that happens to run on a traditional-style computer, kind of a neuronic VR... I'm not far enough along to know if he would accept the plausibility of that or not.) Still, his begging the question of whether a Chinese Room would have understanding rankles me a great deal.
firefox spellcheck FAIL: temprement -> procurements, procurement, procurement's, premenstrual, excremental, Add to dictionary. Yeesh.

everything matteredramble

July 24, 2008

So, following up yesterday's rant about the Chinese Room...

Reading further into the book, I see what Hawkins is up to. Around 100 pages in he writes
If Searle's Chinese Room contained a similar memory system that could make predictions about what Chinese characters would appear next and what would happen next in the story, we could say with confidence that the room understood Chinese and understood the story. We now see where Alan Turing went wrong. Prediction, not behavior, is the proof of intelligence.
So now we see where Hawkins went wrong... Turing specified a judge looking to determine if the conversation partner is a human or a computer, and is permitted to ask questions that could not be answered without having a normal human's ability to predict the flow of a conversation, to fill in the gaps. Thus Hawkins use of the Chinese Room is a giant strawman, where he might be using the room as a stand in for "computers as they are generally used now" (with a CPU, long and short term memory, following programs step by step, etc) and a weak form of the Turing test (fooling a Chinese speaker who probably wasn't having that deep of a conversation to begin with) and saying that this test can be passed by a machine that isn't really thinking, which is view so weak it's tough to argue against.

For Hawkins, and I think he makes a strong case for this, prediction - a non-stop giant flow of expectation and comparison with reality - is the tool and hallmark and perhaps even necessary component of intelligence. He is probably taking for granted Searle's idea of "Strong AI" vs "Weak AI"; some proponents of the former would argue that even a simple thermostat has a (extremely) rough form of consciousness, that it in effect "wants" the room to be a certain temperature and "acts" according to that desire. Hawkins sees a bigger, unbridgeable gap between that kind of simple mechanism and generalized intelligence, rather than a continuum, and feels that he has isolated the crucial difference.

I like when I read a book about how the brain and consciousness might function, and suddenly I feel more self-aware of my own internal thought process.

Quote of the Moment
"Sure it mattered. When you get to my age you discover that everything mattered. Life isn't a series of good and bad choices. It's harder to steer it one way or the other than most people think. You just get pulled along. You look back and you wonder 'could I have changed the course of my life?' Maybe you could've ... but it would probably have taken a tremendous force of will."
--Old Man in Seth's "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken", a graphic novel I just read. The man was a friend of "Kalo", a New Yorker cartoonist the main semi-autobiographical main character is trying to find information about. (It turns out Kalo is made up by Seth (pen name of Gregory Gallant), though he throws in some convincing mockups of Kalo cartoons at the end that really make the quest feel real.)

I think I should let myself be hungry more -- "full" as default is probably not good. Conversely... diet coke and creme de menthe altoids?

boston area dabbler and pseudo-intellectualramble

August 14, 2008

Reading "The Tao is Silent" has made me curious about how Taoism is practiced in the West, and I found a site The Tao Bums. This is my introductory note, though I still haven't figured out if it's a kind of place for me...

Hi there --

Reading around for a bit, I think my approach might be different than most folks on the site, so I appreciate any pointers to parts of the forum that might be more my speed...

I come from a Western pseudo-intellectual tradition... Christian upbringing with a teenage embrace of rationalism and noticing how much environment + upbringing seems to determine faith (as opposed to some kind of Universal Truth) that I embraced a kind of mushy agnosticism. (Luckily my parents, despite being protestant ministers, were fairly liberal, so the backlash didn't become a "hard core atheist" kind of anti-faith.)

I've sometimes associated with the UU church.

I find elements of many Eastern traditions more appealing than many of the West, but know that my view is very limited, reading some (I think) good books, but they view things through a Western lens, and not so much into the real practice:

Zen Buddhism has an appeal (and more on how I've found the Western philosophy that seems very much in accord with it's lack of sense of self), but I've never even engaged in a Zazen practice. I got introduced to it through "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones", and then learned a bit more through some "Zen for Dummies" book, which despite the title (which, if you squint, really is just an overly self-deprecating way of saying 'for the beginner's mind",maybe) seems to be a pretty fair introduction to the Westernized form of the practice. Also "Thank You And OK!" which is a great account of an American trying to find a place in a more ritualized and traditional community, and "The Dharma Bums" (I think recognizing the name of the forum drew me here in my Google searching.)

Taoism... sometimes I think I'm more naturally attuned to Taoism than anything else. (But I've come to learn that some of that is me being a bit of a drifter, and one who avoids challenges because my fragile ego really detests failure, and if I'm not careful, the ego will have be not play rather than risk losing.) My first exposure was "The Tao of Poo", I was very impressed by the path to the Tao that "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" found, and now I'm reading the lovely work "The Tao is Silent".

I've even found some charm in Shinto practice; I have a hunch that it might be a great choice for computer programmers, where the often opaque and surprising internals of the computer might best be treated with the same kind of ritualistic respect and deference of, say, the ancient Japanese had for wood they chopped for construction. Here my exposure is most limited, helping a friend in a Japanese studies course, and the lovely films of Miyazaki.

I'm also fascinated by Western theories of mind and consciousness and where they overlap with Eastern ideals. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is one of my favorite works, and it's underlying idea of a rejection of sneaking in Cartesian Dualism anywhere, and that there might "be less there, there" than we assume is profoundly Zen-ish. More recently I've taken in Hawkin's "On Intelligence", and its idea that most of what makes us conscious beings is the incredible workings of the neocortex, a magnificent, hierarchical pattern recognizer, rememberer, and prediction machine. I feel that this might be how the Tao does its work in humans, if it can be said to Do Work... that we experience the universe, we see patterns, we predict patterns, and the Uncarved Block might find its substance in that flow of observation and prediction, modeling and action.

So, as might be obvious, one reason my few attempts at Zazen and yoga-based meditation don't work so well is I get so much pleasure in the meanderings of my mind, and the joy of working things out.

That's where, and (kind of) what I am. Does this kind of dialog happen here, or are the underlying assumptions a bit too different?

What's on Michael Phelps' iPod?
I am increasingly disturbed by the mustache of the Pringles guy, especially as he bops around in this one disco themed commercial.
(on using a ballpoint pen to open a box) "...you really have to love a problem in the morning where the correct answer is 'more stabbing!'"
actual quote: "I have to get less stressed about this stuff, I'll be dead by the time I'm 30! Oh wait..."
Laser pointers: disappointment to my inner 8-yr-old Star Trek watcher. Look! A red dot! You can amuse a cat or hang your pictures straight!
cmgaglione re: cats and laser pointers... but wouldn't THEY rather have mice vaporizing laser BLASTERS?? Won't somebody think of the cats!

a kirk by any other nameramble

August 15, 2008

I was thinking about aliases I've used over the years... (warning, some of this preadolescent stuff is cringe-inducingly dorky. And this whole entry is a bit overly self-centered...)

When I was a kid and got a high score in an arcade game I'd enter a single "Z" in lieu of initials. It seemed Cool and was easier to enter. (In the years since I've decided it's moderately cooler to leverage having a short name and will enter "KRK" on the few games that still have the option.)

I also had a few pen names, as well as names I'd use if I were making video games. "Lord Logan" (Logan being my middle name) comes to mind, an alliterative nod to "Lord British" who made the Ultima games. Also I vaguely remember a "Troll" character... I think I remember making up sprites for it (a version shown here as well as I remember it now) and going so far as to scratch the name into my desk and getting yelled at by my mom. Also, the name "SPAZZ" comes to mind though I don't remember for what.

Probably the biggest experiment was going by "Logan" in middle school. I was unhappy about moving after sixth grade, and I think the name change was an expression of that, also the usual teenage self-dissatisfaction (around the same time my dad was sick.) I changed school districts during high school and quietly went back to Kirk, though this created some confusion at my church, where they decided to split the difference and call me Butch. (Or, in full, "Kirk Logan Brother Butch Israel Brother")

Also in high school I picked up "Kirkles", the alleged term of endearment "Lynnie-Poo" had for me, according to our mutual friends. And in Spanish class my name resisted Spanishization so I went by the (allegedly an actual nickname) "Nacho"

Later in high school I do remember enjoying picking callsigns in the game Wing Commander... I think "Metropolis" and "Whiplash" were my favorites.

It was around this time I also used signature characters, signing highschool notes with characters who would sometimes hold up signs of commentary ala Wile E Coyote. Zinger the clown, shown here, was first, but he was quick supplement by Alien Bill who has been with me ever since. Alien Bill Productions was also my default company for games or programs I'd make in college, marginally classier than "Barking Spider Productions" that I used in high school. Neither Zinger and Alien Bill are actual aliases, though sometimes people get confused about the latter.

In college I picked up "kisrael" in the classic Unix tradition of "first initial and last name" -- I was just pleased that since my last name starts with a vowel it makes a nice name in all. "Kirkjerk" was when I was looking for an appropriately menacing, at-most-8-character name for when people were playing the game Death Rally at work. I also went through a series of AOL Instant Messenger names before remember my kirkjerk password, including kirkamundo and thegreatkirkini.

I guess for the most part I'm pleased with my first name and like variations on it. Also I'm never compelled to do much role changing online, or that whole projective AOL-ish "HotStuff74" or whatever (and isn't it odd how so many people, some of whom might otherwise be a little coy about their age, tag on their birth year?)

Video of the Moment

--Since today's ramble was kind of dull and kirkcentric, here's something pretty cool...

the mental butterflyramble

August 18, 2008

It's been enlightening pondering the difference and similarities between EB, his outlook and ways of thinking, and my own.

Not that the SATs should be the end-all be-alls that we treat them as (And by we, I'm at risk for meaning "people who did well on them") but I was surprised he did better in the Verbal than the Math, though combined I technically beat him by 10 points. But given how entrenched he was in engineering I had always assumed he was more of a math guy, despite admiring some high-falutin' prose he had pulled together on the old tufts.general newsgroup.

But more to the point, I have a mind that enjoys flitting from thought to thought, where as his methodology is more of a focused charge. (This weekend he was a bit tired and preoccupied, which led to a higher number of half-finished thoughts and barely started sentences as different concepts fought to claim the focus of the track of his mind.) Historically, I'm almost able to keep up a conversation while enmeshed in a heated round of Dr. Mario or Puzzle League, while he greatly dislikes distraction.

Which isn't to say my tangential mind is inferior or superior to his goal-oriented approach. I envy and fear his long term game strategy making, to the point where I tend to dislike games that don't favor my scattershot, fast methodologies.

I'd like to think of other implications of this dichotomy. One is this: when I hear about articles along the lines of Is Google Making Us Stupid? it doesn't bother me too much; usually such an article isn't about being "stupid" per se, but retaining fewer facts in our heads that can easily accessed electronically, and indulging in a low-attention-span, high-connectivity (i.e. tangential links) form of mind play in lieu of the good hard think. But since this is how my mind seems to operate, and since I think I have a decent mind, I don't see it as much of a problem.

Another implication: decluttering and straightening up is an almost comically disorganized "oh do this no do this no that" for me where a dozen tasks get started but almost nothing gets done.

So how about everyone here? Are they more of a goal-oriented, focused thinker like EB? Or kind of a thought butterfly like me? Or something else?

Photo of the Moment
--I love this shot from an article on Phelps' Miracle Finish... from what little I've learned about sports in casually watching the Olympics, one bit is the final touch of the wall is hyper-important.

I also liked Usain Bolt's agenda (and his name!) on the day of his world-record beating time...
"Woke up at 11. Had some lunch -- some nuggets. Watched some more TV. Went to my room, slept for three hours. Went back, got some more nuggets, then came to the track."
What would just be a slacker's morning for anyone else sounds unspeakably cool when you're really achieving something special!

Weird dreams- MMORPG world where an emperor CEO had commanded mass suicide. People choosing whether to join in leaping off a 'scraper
On Friday's rainout at Fenway, the Hot Tamale Brass Band was one of the few silver linings, other than the pleasant hanging out w/ friends.
Using my ATM-card as credit card for a bit; w/ that and direct deposit, risk of nil budget tracking, just a money pile that waxes and wanes
Forbes still does these autoadvancing slide shows. Quaint-and annoying, as if I'd rather sit + wait then just click. Probably good for ads.

to professor couchramble

August 19, 2008

Continuing my recent habit of taking something I wrote somewhere else, failing to get much of a response, and reposting it here... Alva Couch was this amazing Professor of Computer Science I had at Tufts. Realizing I needed to poo or get off the pot when it comes to deciding about graduate studies, I wrote him for advice... unfortunately his mail autoresponder told me he's on the road for a few weeks at least, and then is on sabbatical for a year, so I don't know when I'd hear back. But I welcome feedback and advice from anyone here as well...

Hi Prof. Couch!

I hope you are well.

I'm writing you as an early step in some academic planning I'm thinking of... I've always valued your opinion and I loved your classes as an undergraduate, though I'm also open to your suggestions for other people to talk to.

I am - in a not particularly well-fleshed-out manner, at least as of yet - thinking about pursuing some graduate education, probably in an after-hours kind of way.

One possible school for this would be Northeastern; my take it doesn't have quite the academic reputation as some other places, but it is almost directly between my current job at Nokia and my apartment in Roxbury Crossing. In particular I was considering their MPS in Digital Media program.

My goals would be twofold, and I'm trying to figure out if that kind of program is the best bet for either of them: one is to do interesting things, possibly "indy game movement" related. (You can see a small portfolio-ish page at http://kirkjerk.com/java/ -- mostly in Media Lab's "processing" language, geared at artists.) The second would be to open up teaching as a possibility down the road, maybe on a Jr College-ish level.

I recognize there might be a conflict here, in terms of it might not be the right degree for teaching. I think to be honest, I don't love computer science for its own sake, the more math-ish side of what's computable, and how long is it going to take, and how we can do that better or prove that we can't. I do deeply like Human/Computer Interaction and UI, as well as having an affinity for information and data display. And so I'm wondering if those would be a better balance between fun/cool and academic than "Digital Media".

Other schools I've been thinking about (but done even less research on) are Harvard Extension, and of course Tufts.

If it matters, I graduated summa in '96 with a double major in English and Computer Science, with a 4.0 in comp sci (a little less in some of the math). Since then I've mostly been drifting as a Java and Perl coder, with some touches of architecting and team leading.

Thanks for any advice, or any suggestions on other good people to talk with!


"I don't have any smiles" -- comedic great Danny Kaye to my mom, after acquiescing to a post-speaking photo but declining to smile...
Odd having rating a lunch interviewee under the Nokia values "Engaging You", "Very Human", "Achieving Together","Passion for Innovation"
Mailing cd-rom, anticipating "anything dangerous?" question from USPS- gee, I guess in prison someone could make it a shiv, does that count?
Orbit Sangria Fresca gum (along w/ their Mojito flavor): When you'd like to get drunk at work but all you can do is chew gum. Tasty, tho
"You have good taste, except sometimes you choose the stuff that's a downer" --FoSO, just now

on the vinegar tastersramble

August 20, 2008

Lately I've been thinking about the following passage from the end of Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues":
In a place out of doors, near forests and meadows, stands a jar of vinegar - the emblem of life.

Confucius approaches the jar, dips his finger in and tastes the brew. "Sour," he says, "Nonetheless, I can see where it could be very useful in preparing certain foods."

Buddha comes to the vinegar jar, dips in a finger and has a taste. "Bitter," is his comment. "It can cause suffering to the palate, and since suffering is to be avoided, the stuff should be disposed of at once."

The next to stick a finger in the vinegar is Jesus Christ. "Yuk," says Jesus. "It's both bitter and sour. It's not fit to drink. In order that no one else will have to drink it, I will drink it all myself."

But now two people approach the jar, together, naked, hand in hand. The man has a beard and woolly legs like a goat. His long tongue is slightly swollen from some poetry he's been reciting. The woman wears a cowboy hat, a necklace of feathers, a rosy complexion. Her tummy and tits bear the stretch marks of motherhood; she carries a basket of mushrooms and herbs. First the man and then the woman sticks a thumb into the vinegar. She licks his thumb and he hers. Initially they make a face, but almost immediately they break into wide grins. "It's sweet," they chime.

I realize now, though, I was getting it mixed up with "The Tao of Pooh"'s telling of the story this drew from, "The Vinegar Tasters". Tom Robbins took out Lao-tse, gave his role to the couple, and added in Jesus Christ, with an interesting reference to the idea of divine sacrifice.

Something weirdly worldly in splitting a bottle of white w/ an old flame over dinner, later bar cocktails w/ my uncle. Like bad Hemingway.
Gee, how can I resist a come-on (in french) from a skype bot named "! sex - sexy gazelle ejaculation feminine sexe"?

oh you lucky chip!ramble

October 23, 2008

Finished Douglas Hofstadter's "I am a Strange Loop", a big study on how self-reflective systems are the key to understanding consiousness. It had this facetious passage:
"Oh, you lucky chip! If I eat you, then your lifeless molecules, if they are fortunate enough to be carried by my bloodstream up to my brain and settle there, will get to enjoy the experience of being me! And so I must devour you, in order not to deprive your inert molecules of the chance to enjoy the experience of being human!"
I went from being really excited about getting ready to read this book (when I was finishing up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), from worrying that it was recovering territory I'd seen from Hofstadter before, to really being touched by the turn it took, where he has excerpts from letters he was writing to Dan Dennett processing his grief over the sudden and tragic death of his wife.

Those letters cover an idea that I've been mulling over, his stance that people's consciousness might well live on in other people, and not merely in a poetic sense. To really accept this view, you probably have to have "drunk to kool-aid" about Consciousness as being largely a matter of pattern, and convenience, and that the typical, layman "sense of self" is rather illusory in nature.

I've drunk the kool-aid, via various books. Probably the most important was Dennett's "Conscious Explained". Another more recent one was Hawkin's "On Intelligence". Some of the concepts have also shown up in some science fiction I've read... Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep (SPOILERS, highlight to read:) which does a FANTASTIC job of describing a single individual consciousness "shared" by a pack of animals), Greg Egan's "Permutation City" extends some What-Ifs and Thought Experiments about being able to make accurate models of our minds in cyberspace, and where the people thus transfered were also more free to modify their inner makeups (you could make yourself content in any activity, one guy made chair legs for virtual decades, then rewired himself to get the deepest possible satisfaction about climbing an endless rockwall), and even Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" explored some implications of being able to make a backup of your brain, which you could then throw into a newly cloned (and quickly matured) body. (The protagonist is assassinated, but was a little lax in making backups, so upon "resurrection" has "lost" a few weeks... he's a bit unnerved by watching security camera footage of himself, and his assassin, events he filled happened to "him", but... not.

I'm still pondering on this.)

Photos of the Moment
Some lovely behind the scenes photos of Obama.

UU group talked def'n of Home.Nice to say "the people" but-I've lived alone, with var.loved ones-its the stuff (esp. books) thats constant.
So Nokia announced austerity policy. Not nec. a prelude to badness, but- recruiters are still pretty active, tho, and I pre-hunker downed.
masukomi Hofstadter says "there is something it is like to be that machine" (on machine's inner life or lack thereof) is hard to translate
Has Google maps always had shadows for its speech balloon-like callouts? Kind of menacing, zoomed out its shadow is the size of Rhode Island
CNN:"[Greenspan] said he was 'shocked' when that system [of lenders being self-regulators] 'broke down.'" Shoulda been "shocked, shocked!"
I have been doing well at fending off the cold everyone is having. A small chance it's that "moderate exercise boosts immune system" thing?

below good and evilramble

November 11, 2008

Something I've been thinking about lately (and I know it's a bit ridiculous to be tackling this kind of profound in a lunchtime blogpost--) is a variant on the old Question of Evil-- I've expressed a belief that hardly anyone is the Bad Guy of their own story.

EB (despite the joking "Evil" part of this site's nickname for him, but I don't think he puts the Evil into EB anymore than I put the jerk into kirkjerk) disagrees. I don't want to try and fully represent his viewpoint here, but I think it's safe to say that he feels people know the difference between Good and Evil and sometimes will choose the latter.

But the important thing to note in my formulation is "their own story". Within a person's value system there are different, sometimes competing priorities -- some with moral weights attached -- and within that system, almost no one will choose "to do evil". However, from a viewpoint outside of that system (including ones that might include moral standards that are well-nigh universal) those priorities and actions might be evil to the point of reprehensible villainy.

(Of course, guilt and self-recrimination exist, and are important tools in bringing our value system into better alignment with the more Universal principles. But they too exist not in "the story" of that moment, but rather a crucial postlude, or perhaps some "sequel" -- out of the "value system" of that moment. So someone might recognize themselves as having done evil, but that is dependent on a sense of continuity of self which most people take for granted but I believe isn't the experiential space we can actually live in.)

This is some of the weirdness of a "postmodern" age. But I think postmodernism, with its hallmark lack of a universal set of standards might just be an inevitable byproduct of a culture realizing that hey, there are other, long-standing cultures around with worldviews around that agree with ours on many points but disagree on many others. (This sense of inevitability of a postmodern-ish outlook, as a result of a kind of birth of metacultural thinking, is postmodernism's view of itself. Metapostmodernism?)

Most traditional religion says that there is indeed a set of universal standards, generally from something "outside the system", often literally supernatural, though in some more recent viewpoints, "merely" transcendent and emergent.

My feeling is you kind of got to play it as a game of statistics and common sense. What do traditions agree on? What makes sense? A kind of enlightened Golden Rule, Do Unto Others As You'd Have Them Do Unto You, but with an enhanced view of the "Tragedy of the Commons". Maybe Kant's Categorical Imperative, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law", is a bit more complete.

There is the Utilitarian view that we should maximize happiness for as many people as possible. There's a counterview that argues of course not, because if 3/4 of the people can be really happy at the cost of 1/4 of the people, that's morally unacceptable. But I wonder if that could be tweaked with the addition of a constant, call it "S", for "screw factor", that you multiply the amount of unhappiness a decision would cause. So the formula is
(how much happiness) * (# of happy people) - S * (how much unhappiness) * (# of unhappy people)
See? Simple math. If the value is positive, do it, if negative, refrain.

Quotes of the Moment
"There is a right and a wrong in the universe and that distinction is not hard to make."
--Mark Waid, in the comic "The Kingdom" (he's making an homage to a very similar expression by Elliot S! Maggin in the novel "Superman: Last Son of Krypton".)

"It is absurd to divide people into good & bad. People are either charming or tedious."
--Oscar Wilde.

Whew! Which viewpoint to adopt... personally I think our country gets into trouble when it embraces the first one. One man's evil guerilla terrorist is another's freedom fighter...

Plea of the Moment

--Keith Olbermann with a moving explanation of why California's Prop 8 is just terrible, terrible, terrible. I'd say that Prop 8 IS evil for the reasons he eloquently explains. FoSO is encouraging people to LA Gay + Lesbian Center to overturn this. I was on the fence but after this video I sent $100.

And now I see "Madonna's IQ = 140". That much smarter than Obama, who knew? Thanks annoying Web Ads!
Always feel like a bit of a chump when it seems like every other company has a holiday...at least the subway's not crowded.
I love all the little streets with names like "Public Alley 438" around my office.
Wow, the Boston Salvation Army has thw red kettles out already? Probably a symptom of the rough times- a lot of food+shelter places taxed.
A big feature on screenshots of both Windows Vista and Google Android is a big old analog clock. That's not just retro, it's meta-retro.
Maybe when I'm trying to use music to focus, it would be better to stick with my smaller "Psyched" playlist; faster, fewer=less distracting?

video and ramble of the momentramble

November 23, 2008

--Aurora ft. Naimee Coleman's cover of Duran Duran's Ordinary World

I encountered this cover in Dance Dance Revolution Max. In fact, it was annoying, because a few years ago I paid import prices for the "DDR Max soundtrack", mostly for this song, and it only had an abbreviated version of this track. I don't think it even made the artist clear, so I couldn't easily seek this longer version. So, youtube for the win.

In general I'll try to pay for a song from Amazon's MP3 feature, but if that fails, I'll rip it myself off of Youtube. And it's surprising how many songs are lurking there... it's kind of a stealth Napster in the works, though I don't know how many people know about it. (And somehow ripping from youtube feels less pirate-y than using BitTorrent.)

So in general, I prefer this kind of cover to the original. For a while I assumed it was because of the "high contrast" electronic beats, but I'm realizing a lot of the covers I like (like that Jan Wayne "Mad World" cover) have a female vocalist, and I guess I prefer listening to women sing over listening to men.

More rambling... I've been trying to isolate and classify the type of beat I like. There might be a parallel to saturation in visual imagery... I like big thumping bassdrums and tight high snares, doing interesting funk-tinged rhythms. Sometimes when I try to pick apart a drumtrack that doesn't interest me, I can hear what a boring, repetitive, acoustic muddle it is.

(Side note: previously I talked about the music service Pandora that uses the Music Genome project, an attempt to classify music on a variety of scales and properties. Wikipedia has a nifty list of Music Genome Project attributes.)

Anyway, I hope I know what I'm talking about with recognizing "highly saturated" images. Like there was this one from a suicide girls set:

I think that's the quality of image I'm thinking of, those nice intense blues and greens. Can someone confirm that it's "saturation" I'm looking at here?

You know, last night's energy boost might have been rooted in listening to loudish music I like in the car. Self-medicating with MP3s?
Do you think Lisa Loeb thinks that in a better world she'd be a romantic interest for Superman?
Helped a friend move. I have a strange affinity for landings at the top or middle of stairs; lying back on the landing, feet over the stairs

duh. i wonder why i can't make her do what i want.ramble

December 13, 2008

I'm not sure if I'm finished fiddling with it, but I finally got around to making the frontpage of this site smart enough to know if you're viewing it as kisrael.com or kirkjerk.com, and added a new graphic for the latter case:
It has kind of an "evil twin" vibe going, relative to the kisrael.com header:
Not sure if I should try to better coordinate the fonts or not.

Reading of the Moment
A long time ago I...well, kind of stole, but technically it's back in her brownstone... a book from my Aunt, Word of Mouth: 150 Short-Short Stories by 90 Women Writers. In trying to locate the source and phrasing of a quote (for this musing on Mario's "Princess 'Peach' Toadstool's hair and her role as object of sexual pursuit) I reread the collection once again.

The quote I was thinking of comes from the opening paragraph of "Animal Instinct" by Camille Norton:
She's more or less the blonde version of the French cousin, sparrow small, bronzed, all muscle and heart. There are, you say, two versions of the French cousin. You are the dark, lean kind, the sort that is mistaken for a boy, the sort that wears striped pullovers and sunglasses while running along wharves in Truffaunt films. You're the type who's always stealing something, she's the type who's always stolen or stolen upon. This is because she bleaches the crown of her hair, the animal sign for femininity.
Another great quote from the same work: "In graduate school, I learned that it is a simple thing to take coffee with people one neither likes nor trusts."

Another phrase forever stuck in my head is from "Soaring" by Marilyn Krysl, where a kind of post-hippy mom is defending her kids' education in both Non-Violent Protest and Karate:
"The human being is a very complex organism. They can handle contradiction."
(Also the kids are named "Sky" and "Ocean", and "Sky" is still near the top of my names-I-like-for-kids list.)

In "File 13" Jocelyn Riley plots her revenge on a office jerk who has been sexually harassing her:
Less than a year from now, a message will come up on Oscar's screen first, and then on everyone else's screens, that will say "Leslie was here." The dates of my employment will be right there before my name, like the dates on a tombstone.

Inside the box will be a drawing of a man, his arms draped around a computer monitor, his head resting on its top. He'll look down at the computer, not as though it were alive but as though he were afraid of it, "Duh," he will say in a little cartoon balloon, "I wonder why I can't make her do what I want." The computer blows off smoke.
I, you know, try to take it easy on the sexual harassment, but some days when the whole programming or PC configuration thing isn't going well, I feel just like the guy in that cartoon.

Finally Amber Coverdale Sumrall's "Siesta" has a lovely reminder from the young narrator's grandmother:
"That's why we're born, honeygirl. To learn how to love each other. And it takes all the time we've got. Some folks never get the hang of it."
In retrospect, I'm amazed to recognize how influential this book was on me, how much of my writing it influenced, how many concepts I (consciously or not) lift and massaged into my own short writing. Now I'm wondering if it doesn't strongly color my editorship of the Blender of Love, that I'm ok with poetry but what I'm really after is prose in this taut and emotionally loaded style.

"The Fall".... Princess Bride meets The English Patient, or maybe Pan's Labyrinth meets Wizard of Oz... visually lush, though, like The Cell
Is there a word for "writing-only dyslexia"? I need to chill and stop scouring my typos for signs of incipient mental degradation.
I can even debug the typos of my brain:"I amazed" I wrote. Of course, because with "amazed" you already have the m-sound, so why type it?
realized why I stopped at a combo long john silvers/ taco bell; faintest hope that someday USA can do fish fastfood like Nordsea in Germany

simply monstrousramble

December 29, 2008

At some point in the late 90s, I moved all of my CDs into 4 monstrous black folders, along with the booklets (and the card from the back of the jewelbox if it had a tracklist that the booklet lacked.)

The massive folders were divided roughly and labled by genre. So for 7 or 8 years, my music was sorted into So, when I actually wanted to locate a specific disc, I had to think about it in terms of this categorization.

I used this structure when I ripped all my CDs into iTunes. (Though I kind of overdid it in the folder structure...
C:\data\media\music\MONSTROUS\MONSTROUS 2 - rock rap novelty
is 2 or 3 levels too deep.)

I'm thinking about switching primary computers, and they say that it's much easier to keep the ratings I've laboriously applied to every song if I let iTunes rearrange the folders on its own. I'm oddly reticent to do that. I have this weird, nostalgic attachment to my old, hamfisted way of organizing my musical life, even though it hardly ever comes up when I'm using iTunes or my iPhone.

Information Nostalgia and Clutter! I need to fight it.

Chargers 8-8, in playoffs. Pats, 11-5, not in playoffs. Stinker! http://tinyurl.com/suxforpats
Can you break New Years Resolutions before you actually make them?
"I don't think you can have ambiance without setting something on fire." --Green St. last night

true love glances impatiently at its watchramble

February 5, 2009

On the dating site OKCupid I've been e-mailing with one gal who probably runs a bit more conservative than I do. She brought up some of the sex lessons that had been brought up in a youth group she went to: how blue clay and pink clay is inseparable once mixed, and if it mixes with too much just turns brown, the construction paper glued together that can't come apart without ripping. This is some of my response, it's been a while since I've monologued here, and also I wouldn't mind to know where other people are coming from with this.

Object lessons can be powerful, but ultimately they are just similes. I mean, lesbian pink clay would never get brown, no matter how much other pink clay it rolled around with! And I had heard about the glued construction paper bit. But people are - obviously - not pieces of paper, and once you get past simplified and visceral lessons for teens, I think it's worthwhile to think clearly about the underlying message -- and I'm not taking the stance that it's an incorrect message, just one that people don't necessarily think of deeply enough.

I've encountered two main themes in "true love waits" kind of messages; one is fundamentally Theological: sex and our bodies are sacred, marriage is an institution established by God. The other aims at being more pragmatic (and sometimes uses its pragmatism as support for the idea that it is Divinely mandated by a caring God); there are nasty viruses and unplanned pregnancies; youth in particular may not able to make mature decisions about who they do and don't sleep with; in the case of the clay and paper metaphors, that it is fundamentally wrong to achieve that kind of connection in a relationship that in all likelihood is not permanent.

(There's a great Garrison Keillor quote I couldn't quite find, but paraphrased it's "when I was young there was a fearsome raging river between us and the promise land of sex and only the church had the keys to the ferry boats; these days the river runs smooth and narrow and there are all kinds of rowboats and what not and at some places you can even wade across")

Historically, the Church had established a principle that only sex that was aimed at-- or at least not hostile to-- making babies was acceptable, that the pleasure that accompanies the act was a bit suspect, but maybe a gift from a God who urged us to be fruitful and multiply. This view is now only generally made explicit these days in certain Catholic quarters, so it's not necessarily fair to let it be used as a strawman for the views of pro-Abstinence type people, but I think it is fair to note that this kind of thinking still informs the "Pro-Traditional-Family"/"Anti-Gay-Marriage" and "Gayness is a Fixable Condition" groups.

So what are the arguments on the other side, for a more relaxed outlook? I see two main branches: the Hedonistic and the Hippy. The Hedonistic view points out the obvious; sex (can) feel really really good, and if we're creatures on this Earth only for a while, other factors aside more pleasure is better than less pleasure. (Though it's also reasonable to expect one to take a reasonably mature view of pleasure as a goal, and strive for a balance in that as in most things.) The Hippy view says that the traditionalists are right, that a strong connection IS made during sex, but the arguments for restricting that strong connection to a once-in-lifetime partnership are weak, that we should embrace the chance to connect to other people on such a fundamental and important level, and that that's part of the human experience.

So, that's where I'm at. I guess I'm at risk of becoming one of those "the way it happened to me is how it should happen to everyone!" - high school romances with fooling around but no sex, sex for the first time during a fairly important college relationship, and then as part of future relationships once they start getting "serious". I'll be frank, the last few intimate relationships I've been in, I think I've tended to be a bit of a slowing force in terms of how soon sex was part of the connection; between concerns about diseases and birth control and then even a bit of recognition of the fundamental connection-ness of sex (as probably being of greater import than the relationship might be having in its early days.) What I've found though is a woman who likes me enough to want for us to share our bodies like that is a bit impatient with my neurotic and post-Sunday School/"Hippy" yammering (and is possibly concerned it is cover for a rejection of her in toto) and my willpower ends up yielding to the moment. But I'd be reluctant to go the chaste "'kissing, hugging, holding hands' - all ok; anything else, not ok" point of view; I do think high school /college set my vision of the ideal; a ramp up to increasing levels of intimate contact, but sex still on more of a pedestal.

The impulse items next to the Microcenter check out lines is a geek wonderland...
http://fmylife.com - f*** my life, twitter meets a raunchier "curb your enthusiasm". Amazing reading-there's a french version, viedemerde.fr
"We're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town." --Obama on D.C.'s wimpy snow reactions. Great phrase!
Getting a strong visceral negative reaction to unknown phone #s calling me. I'm busy looking into personal contact leads; hate more pressure
Ugh, one of those "it's almost 2 alreday?" kind of days. Exercised, finished laundry... phonecalls w/ recruiter types are so draining.
AHA! The stupid scrolling widget that shows up when I mean to center click is Firefox specific: "autoscrolling" under Advanced Props- b'bye!
(Seriously, for me reading is jumpy, not gliding along at steady (if adjustable) rate - that firefox scroll widget was just annoying.)
Using my tablet PC's handwriting recognition. It's surprising how good it is. Weird to be handwriting a twitter.

bricklayer on the tower of babelramble

March 15, 2009

In early February I spent some time showing Leonard some parts of Boston. (Incidentally he and his wife Sumana are collaborating on editing Thoughtcrime Experiments, a very cool exercise in "best of the sci-fi 'slush pile'" excavation.)

The conversation was great and wide ranging-- Leonard's an author (both technical books and sci-fi) and that set a neat stage for some of our talk. (The mandate to write about the following has been haunting my Todo list for over a month.)

I feel like I have two problems with writing, and why I feel I'm so poor at coming up with plots:

The first is... I dunno, this air of "inevitability" I get when I read summaries of existing plots. I get this a lot when I read through TV Tropes (currently my favorite way of entertaining myself via iPhone.) It's an odd sense of fate, a feeling of "Es Muss Sein", it must be, this story could not be otherwise. So it was written, so it was done. (Maybe this creates the frisson I get from reading "alternate universe"/"elseworlds" type stuff) This sense creates a bit of writer's block in me, because I want to make something new, but I don't know how it has to be, and I'm worried I'm going to get it "wrong".

The second is a tendency to fall back to the same story/plot... I find myself inexorably drawn to the theme of people working on some corner of some great task, a task so monumental that none of them can really grasp it, and maybe none of them will see its completion. You really see this in the poem Bricks that I wrote in college, about a bricklayer on the Tower of Babel. (This may have been heavily influenced by a story from Omni magazine, a realistic account of the building of the Tower, and they hit the dome of the sky (holding back the deluge, the same used to flood the Earth in the Noah story)) It also shows up in Young Astronauts in Love.

There is a subtheme of this, the idea of being the "other man", the one doing some interesting artistic work, but the one who loses the girl and the fame to the real genius. I wrote a Loveblender ramble about that in 1997 (!), seeing it in both of the movies Henry & June and Backbeat:
What struck me about both films was the accomplishments of the 'supporting characters'. Both works end with texts going over the lives of the people portrayed. Anais' husband Hugo, portrayed as a loving but stifled banker, was an experimental film maker whose films are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Klaus Voormann, who loses his 'soulsibling' Astrid to the loose-cannon artistry of Stuart Sutcliffe, went on to create the cover to The Beatles' Revolver album (OK, not my favorite piece of album art, but still...) and played Bass in Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. To me, these ending texts are really the saga of the other men, the ones whose loves might've been the ones immortalized in film decades after the fact, if only fate had been different.
I guess it's not quite the same as the Tower of Babel plot, but they might spring from the same root, the acknowledgment that I'm not headed for greatness or cultural immortality, but the hope that I can contribute to some overall project and theme.

Leonard shared his "go to plot" with me, a melancholy "we had something nice, and it's nobody's fault, but it's all messed up now". We're not quite sure if this is the one he cited back in February, but it's a powerful idea, a kind of bittersweet failure of synergy. He uses it on a personal scale in Mallory and on a planetary/cosmic scale in an upcoming work about a planet of dinosaurs.

Does everyone have an overarching plot like this? A narrative that they find compelling above all others? Does it seem to spring from reality, or does it inform how you view the world you're in? (For many I think Religion tries to provide this for its followers.) It's the story you tell about yourself, it's the story that lets you make your own world, it's the story you use to make up new worlds.

So...what's your story?

"Only what can happen, does happen."
--Dr. Manhattan, in the Watchmen movie. Compare to "Nothing unreal exists", part of Spock's re-education in Star Trek IV. Though JZ thinks it sounds more like the original Murphy's Law "If it can happen, it will happen"
Last night during Watchmen I jotted the todo note "united states chef". I wish I had some idea what I meant by that.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
--Thomas Edison
http://www.arschkrebs.de/watchmen/ - the Annotated Watchmen (notes for the comic)
http://deadeuclid.blogspot.com/ - sigh, a whole little blog charting the decline of my high school-era hometown.
Do you think America's goal of an egalitarian, up-by-your-bootstraps society is tied into how English dropped the you/thou distinction?


March 29, 2009

So. Tuesday, for my 35th birthday, I'm getting a tattoo.

earliest known extant alien bill
It's going to be Alien Bill, on my side shoulder (right shoulder, so that he's running the same direction I'm going) not much bigger than I draw it, and covered by a short sleeve shirt.

I've thought about it off and on for many years. I've been drawing Alien Bill since 1990 or so, he was my first webdomain and my production company. There's a bit of personal mysticism with him.... I don't quite know what he's all about, if there's some cosmic or psychological significance to him always being in motion, or with the one large eye. (Though I do know he was cribbed a bit from some earlier sources.) He's not me, or my avatar, but he is my totem.

Also: I know I have trouble making decisions, of being deliberate when I feel like I'd be at fault if it goes wrong. I want to see this in the mirror and know... I made a deliberate decision. I'm sure my mom (I kind of wussed out and took up my Aunt's offer of mentioning it to her) might counter that the antidote to not making decisions isn't making bad decisions, but still: I want a reminder that I can take accountability, that some choices I make will be with be forever, but I can be something besides a pseudo-Daoist drifter.

I'm getting the work done at Fat Ram's Pumpkin Tattoo in JP, a place that has a very good reputation. Here is the artist, Alex, along with a reversed detail from Toyohara Kunichika's woodcut of Nakamura Nakazo III:
(Alex doesn't look like that quite so much in real life, still, I think the focus and concentration exhibited is a good sign.)
One advantage of unemployment: without an alarm clock, you get that early morning doze time that can be very creative. A few days ago I realized what I really needed was a pillow that could encase the top part of my head, acting as a comfortable light blocker while still letting me breathe. And this morning I had the oddest dream where a friend of mine was really getting turned on as I dissected and grilled an old pocket watch.
Yesterday JZ and I were at Micro Center getting him a screen for his projector. We grabbed some of the energy drink "Bawls". As I was carrying the screen in its long cardboard box back to his car, the following double- (or single-) entendres followed.

"So how are you doing with that long, heavy thing?"
"Pretty good! Just keep handling the Bawls and I think we should be fine."
"You think we'll be able to get the whole thing in?"
"Well it'll take some work, but yeah... but I'll be honest with you, I don't think it's going to be very comfortable for either of us."
The arcade cabinet has become a rare site in the United States, but in their best year, coin-operated games collected quarters that, adjusting for inflation, sum to more than twice the 2006 sales of U.S. computer and videogame software.
--Montfort/Bogost, "Riding the Beam"
The store Cache at northshore mall is using live models in their storefront window. Creepy-ish!


May 15, 2009

My friend, an old high school buddy, with the Nome de Web JacquesDemain, runs a small private forums. It runs a bit libertarian, and someone posted the following link to a big PDF paper... this is my long winded and rambling response, and I welcome any feedback here as well.

bladwintm wrote:
As for the Europe thing: I'd much rather have American Taxation than European Taxation. (see http://www.timbro.se/bokhandel/pdf/9175665646.pdf to see why.)
So I read through the paper. Here are my thoughts as I went through it....
"GDP is the commonest way of measuring material prosperity and the only criterion for which there is widespread consensus and co-ordination regarding the measuring procedure to be followed."
Translation: GDP is easy to measure, so we're going to measure it. To their credit, and a bit of my surprise, they do address the criticisms of this yardstick on the next page but their fundamental course is set. Jumping ahead, they feel free to inflate the importance of this metric into statements like "Connecticut, for instance, has almost twice the material prosperity of old European great powers like France and the UK." But of course in that same graph, Washington DC is LITERALLY OFF THE CHART in material prosperity, over twice the nearest state. Strangely, Weirdly, the authors, who go to HUGE lengths about the importance of a 20% difference in GDP between the USA, and explaining that Luxembourg fits between Delaware and Connecticut (all the foregin capital) are silent about this elephant in the room. So clearly we want every city to look like Washington DC, don't we? That gunfire in the background is probably gunfire of CELEBRATION!
"various indexes aimed at measuring other aspects than GDP alone. These indexes also factor in equality, for example, in a calculation of total national wellbeing. The obvious problem about them is that they are extremely sensitive to the choice and weighting of the variables included. In other words, these indexes are extremely arbitrary. In Sweden, for example, an index of this kind presented recently by a statistician of left-wing persuas- ions showed Bulgaria coming higher than the USA in terms of wellbeing. Such methods and indexes are patently absurd."
I honestly don't know much about day to day life in Bulgaria, but this sounds suspiciously like condemning the methodology in large part because they don't like the result.
"So much for GDP comparisons. Private consumption is another important welfare indi- cator. Basically this is a question of people deciding their consumption for themselves, the possibility of riding in a new, roadworthy car, the food we eat, the number of pleasant and time-saving restaurant visits, the possibility of experiencing creative leisure, and so on. Access to the new products of technical progress is every bit as important today as it ever has been. Take, for example, the importance of having access to a computer and the Internet, or being able to 'buy time' by consuming good precooked food or services."
So, in this viewpoint, TV dinners and "time-saving restaurant visits" are automatically the signifier of prosperity. Clearly, we all eat like this because we wish to make time for our productive leisure activities, and that a quick run down to the 24-hour Taco Bell after work bodes better than taking the time to cook and make a nice meal with our loved ones.

This was made in 2004, before the latest "OMG economapocalypse!" (which I'm hoping was a bit over-stated, but we ain't outta the woods yet) One of the takeaways from this downturn was hey, maybe we shouldn't be collectively running our credit cards 'til the numbers wear flat to live like this. I'm reading on, wondering if the authors will address the big debts folks in the USA carry, or how in this time so many of us were apparently banking on house prices going UP UP UP! (to my meager credit, I heeded the murmurings of a bubble and got my butt out of home onwership the instance my life circumstances changed and a home wasn't where I actually wanted to, you know, live.)

Also, I'm wondering if this paper will take on income distributions. I'm still wondering about the giant spike of Washington DC on that chart... if the USA's averages are dragged up my a small number of supermegahyperconsumers, with F.U. money to burn, do I really care, does that really form a metric that makes USA me certain I'm better off than poor ol' EuroKirk?
"The higher level of retail consumption means that the Americans have more 'gizmos' than Europeans"
(Better Living Through Gadgery! My favorite part of that chart, besides the obviously dated ~1.2% penetration rate for cellphones in the USA, is that while every country has a mid-90s or better % of households with TVs, "TVs per 1000", USA dominates all comers. IF A TV IN EVERY ROOM AIN'T LIVIN, I DONT KNOW WHAT IS)
"For several centuries Europe led the world in terms of prosperity and progress. As little as a hundred years ago, much of the American continent was virgin wilder- ness. Today, a hundred years later, the USA has completely overtaken Europe to become the unrivalled leader of the world economy. Most Americans have a standard of living which the majority of Europeans will never come any where near. The really prosperous American regions have nearly twice the affluence of Europe. It is worth reminding our- selves what this means. In these regions the average American can get exactly twice as much of everything as the average European. Which goes to show the importance of an economic policy to stimulate growth"
HAHA, Wow. At first I was going to put "In these regions the average American can get exactly twice as much of everything as the average European." right after that "gizmos" line as pointing out the crazy bias of this kind of research, but... jeez, do you think maybe BEING a virgin wilderness, and having tons of natural resource to exploit, rather than having supported centuries of relatively crowded growth, might actually be a net plus when it comes to making a century of economic progress? Or maybe having relatively docile neighbors and big wide oceans and not getting bombed nightly in giant World Wars?

C'mon! Our unique position in the world is only in part due to economic policy.... and if you're charting our growth over 100 years, maybe you'd do well to see how much of that growth happened after those dirty rotten commies like FDR starting marching us down the road to Socialism,. (Come to think of it, a much more interesting topic would be comparing the USA's path to say, Brazil -- as they self-deprecatingly put it "Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be")

UPDATE: and the more I think about it... "average American" seems to be playing into that fallacy that tends to think of "average" when "median" would be more appropriate! 99 hobos plus Bill Gates is on average a really rich guy, but the median is still "just a bum". What weasel words, especially when framed with a pompous "it is worth reminding ourselves what this means."

I admit I started to glaze over a bit during the next section. Diagram 3:4 is interesting, the one plotting per captia GDP vs % of households of incomes under 25K... it's visibly a looser correlation than some of the other charts, but I can almost see it as the corner of an elbow curve, that % below 25K (and a relatively coarse measure to begin with) isn't gonna sink below 20% no matter what kind of Washington DC-esque rich bastard super-GDPers a state is swamped with.
"The media image of the American poor is that they have great difficulties to contend with, that they are dossers, junkies and in various ways marginalised."
Here there are some more compelling ideas, that it's not so bad being poor in the USA... they might not have health care or retirement but they sure have a car (kind of necessary in a wide open country with generally spotty public transportation) and a *color* tee vee, by gum! (For reals. It's funny that they bother to list "color" even as their chart also makes the distinction of "wide screen") But again, it's telling that thus far, they are setting up "they're poor but not poor like you probably imagine it", and citing a lack of data to explain why they're not doing comparisons against the poor of Europe.
"The average American household has a home that is 80 per cent larger than its average European counterpart. Europeans, in other words, are more crowded in an American perspective."
Gee, it's almost like we're only 100 years away from having been virgin wilderness or something.
"BY ANY METHOD OF MEASUREMENT, EUROPEAN economic development has been relatively poor over the past thirty years, which of course prompts one to ask: Why?"
Again, I think they should insert "that we found convenient to use" at the end of the first clause.

To speak with authority that the numbers they elected to use are therefore proof that the USA has the best model, where I assume they're going with this, is a bit of a stretch.
"This, of course, is because, the higher the tax burden and the larger the public sector become, the greater will be the power of political decision-makers and public bureaucra- cies. Private players, consequently, will have less scope for deploying their in-comes and assets as they themselves wish to. High taxes also generate counter-incentives to work and entrepreneurial initiative."
So, here's where the rubber meets the road, with Conservatist truisms. They're not 100% offbase, but it ain't all gospel.
The liberal, of course, might point out that some decisions made in the public sector are for the benefit of the public, as opposed to the laissez-faire world where decisions are generally made to the benefit of making more money...and hopefully that averages out and does more people good, and we don't get to stuck in tragedy of the commons situations, and people as individuals achieve broader thinking (the sort of thing where, it makes sense to fund a general fire department rather than a subscription based one, since if your neighbor gets cheap and lets his house burn, you're in more danger than otherwise... or we might be building up McMansion ghettos and horrendous schools, but as long as I can send my kid to private school from my gated community, I'll be A-OK")

And then there's the "counter-incentive" argument. "WHY WITH THESE HIGHER TAXES I'LL ONLY MAKE 200K RATHER THAN 300K...DAMN, MAYBE I'LL JUST TAKE IT EASY THEN" This does seem to correlate to a real world. In fact I think you have to at least argue a bit why the opposite isn't true, maybe an entrepreneur has a certain financial goal in mind, a fixed dollar figure that they work even HARDER for because they know a certain larger percentage of their gross is going to be taxed away.
"The further equali- sation goes, the less difference there will be between economically efficient and inefficient behaviour. It is our hypothesis that in large parts of the overripe welfare states of Europe the incentives for choosing behaviour that is good for growth are simply not big enough. This applies, not least, to Sweden."
I still think there's a presumption here that the important difference is absolute cash amounts, and not percentages.... in much the same way people will elect to be poorer but richer than their neighbors than richer but a bit poorer than their neighbors, some common-sense truisms in this field deserve to be challenged, and here they are often taken for granted.

The next section starts talking about "Americans work harder", but the LS ratio seems like an odd duck:
"The LS ratio (labour supply ratio) relates the actual number of hours worked in the economys regular employment sector to the number of hours which would be worked if all individuals of adult age (16-64) worked full time, apart from taking five weeks holi- day."
Five weeks of Holiday? Man, that sounds practically european in its decadence!

More to the point, I don't know if I trust this metric and its muddling of unemployment with, you know, how many hours and how hard and long Americans vs Europeans are working, and the quality of life is issues that I find most interesting.

In short, Jacques, not too impressed with this paper.
http://www.slate.com/id/2218360/ - Obama as parallel-parker; "pragmatic" and "moderate" are music to my ears.
"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
--Pablo Picasso
Thinking of a September Euro trip. Friends in Switzerland, Germany, Portugal all sound hearteningly psyched about hosting me a bit :-)
Dear makers of CSS:sometimes you just want a table as a grid with non-chiseled borders, not a pile of bordered boxes. Please make this easy
CSS: So the "solution" is to use a dark background for the table, light for each cell, and use cellspacing for the border width -- primitive, but otherwise you have to play dumb TD style games.
"Oh it was partially set in New Zealand! No wonder it was an even better movie than Lord of the Rings!"
"Lord of the Rings was a much, much, much better movie."
"Did Lord of the Rings have a heroe with retractable forearm claws? I think not. Game, set, match."
Note to future self: the setting for not letting a jostled mouse wake Windows are under the mouse, not the power settings.

confidence: the ultimate essay collectionramble

August 14, 2009

It's a bit amusing, or possibly deflating, when you double check and find out you've pretty much written a ramble for your blog before. A lot of the links here are from searching for "confidence" on this site's search engine...

What's on my mind is my job. We're starting up with a new client, and one of the company's partners talked with the tech lead on my first gig at the company. In general I came out pretty well with that, but I guess in early days I come across as "too deferential" - and I think that is a good term for my issues with projecting the front of "can-do" confidence a consultant is supposed to have. As a consultant you're often asked to clean up a messy situation. My knee-jerk reaction is to give the people who worked on it before the benefit of the doubt, figuring I'm not THAT much smarter than them, if at all...and I have trouble with the default assumption of "this is a solvable problem", or at least, "this problem is solvable by me with the time and resources I'm likely to be granted for it.". (In January 2005 I express my general sense of "maybe this technical problem IS going to kick my ass".)

This piece from February 2006 lets me see the parallels with the consulting job I had then and the situation I'm in now. Then though, I had some more senior techies to defer to, and with my current gig I might not have that safety net.

(My boss mentioned that some of the people he's talking with to come onboard from our mutual dot-com company have often been at product companies and are eager to try a consulting role... in my heart of hearts I'm worried I'm feeling the opposite. At a company with a core product (and maybe side projects) there's a sense of "we're in this together" that a consultant doesn't have. Also, when there's a fixed technology base, you can dive deep into a smaller number of toolkits, rather than having to fake expertise in whatever fool thing is coming down the pike. (And while I do feel I'm an excellent techie, especially with the core Java/J2EE stuff, I'm having to play catch up with some of the toolkits that are emerging as possible "winners"))

Right now I don't have a ton of confidence. I'm bright, but it seems like I am slow to pick up new technologies -3 years ago I was kind of interested in what I think I actually AM good at, technology and other-wise. I also dislike setting goals, like I mentioned all the way back in November 2003. Back then I looked to some childhood examples of my resentment of goals that might not be met. Then in December 2006 I point to some early factors that might be cause or might just be fellow effect: this ridiculous ego thing - and in November 2007 I find an article describing it as par for the course for clever kids:
The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
I also point to the death of my dad as early(ish) proof to me that sometimes the worst-scenario plays out, that things don't always get better, that situations might be as bad or worse than you think. Right now I'm not sure if this was as formative as an event as I tend to assume, or at least not formative in this way.

Other factors: like I mention in January's "25 random things" list: "A theme of my life seems to be not wanting to be responsible for something going wrong. So I'm very slow to pick up new commitments, but once I have them, I'm very committed". This might just be a variation of that other stuff, or it might be... I dunno.

Finally I wonder where my big anxiety-ish times tie into this. In April 2005 I thought Y2K anxiety might have broken something in me in the late-90s, causing me to not lose a kind of happy-go-lucky demeanor. And then I got spooked about EMF pulses, but finally I got to grip with that kind of fear by thinking and writing the content of my guide to mortality... once you accept the end, it's easier to live with what comes before (even though some lives are much more unpleasant than others.)

That last links touched on thoughts of "anxiety as addiction" (a line put forth by the "Ramtha" folks). And not to use random theories about brain chemistry to dodge personal responsibility for keeping our own heads in order, but yesterday there was a that Slate piece on 'Seeking' behavior, how studies on mice might explain why Google and Twitter, with their frequent intermittent, small and non-satiating nuggets of information might be as addictive as crack for our distraction seeking heads. Combined with my desire not to remind myself how challenging some work things are for me, there are times when it's a struggle to control that stupid, angsting cycle.

Sigh. It's difficult to remember how good I have it on the scale of human history, how luxurious my life is compared to the sweeping bulk of humanity through history. Kate made a video about the show "Being Human" that kind of rants against cubicle life. I think she misses the point, though, that work is generally a part of life. It can be defining, it doesn't have to be. Like Rob said of office work though, "It ain't heavy lifting" - us geeks should be suitably grateful for that. Yeah, I which I was rich, I think I'd be able to handle early retirement more gracefully and productively than many, and no, I'm not certain if the standard work week (plus) is the right trade off of time and money for me, given how I don't have a commitment to making a family at this point. Still, there are much worse ways to live.

Alright. Believe it or not getting this stuff out on screen helps, so thanks for putting up with it! I didn't take a lot of time to go back and edit...

"shaping and hammering at an emotion until it becomes a thought"
--Kevin the Therapist in 2005, describing what I might be doing. Poetic for a therapist!
Samsung: nice monitor, but a smooth, featureless "glide touch" button bar, with buttons labeled dark grey on black? Artsy, but annoying.
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/re-enable-hibernate-option-in-windows-vista/ - how to restore Hibernate in Vista- I find "sleep" tends to wake itself up.
Maybe I just fixed my iPhone's ability to place calls ("call failed" errors) by calling it from a different phone?
http://wayofthespatula.wordpress.com/ - miller is starting a new food blog! Seems very friendly, instruction-wise.
80s Transformers- remember the rub signs? guess they woulda been kinda sorta ok, just a bit lame, if they didn't have the grey border...

borrow some wabi-sabi sauceramble

August 15, 2009

Mr. Ibis posted the following recently, his comments below.

I found this arresting image online somewhere and I just had to save it. It captures so many facets of existence in one image. Overall, it has a very Wabi-sabi (侘寂) feel, which is an aesthetic I'm particularly drawn to -- impermanence, natural decay, the sorrow of the ephemeral. At the same time as this photo is pointing helplessly at sun-faded childhood dreams, it also affirms the power of nature to triumph over the works of man. And that, in the end, is a comforting thought. Not only for the health of the planet, but for the health of my soul. My impermanence is part of the natural order, and my own passing, and the passing of things that I love, is not to be mourned.

Fantastic thought, it really gave me pause. I'm not intuitively drawn to nature enough to have previously thought of the possibility of applying a satisfaction with the impermanence of all things to humanity in general, even though I'm a bit down on our long term chances. And by down, I kind of mean for the interesting idea of civilization that I so cherish, rather than our species as a whole. Or even an idea like "mammals".
A woman on the subway had a "Piggly Wiggly" plastic bag. Odd, probably aren't any around here. In fact once I iPhoned Amber noted that the list of states with Piggly Wigglys has a near 1-to-1 correspodence with her mental list of states she doesn't want to live.

the theory of potbelliesramble

August 19, 2009

Slate had a piece mocking bogus trendspotting including "potbellies are hip", and they quoted this bit between Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros, who I've had a crush on since "Henry and June") and her boxer boyfriend Butch (Bruce Willis) in Pulp Fiction:
"I was looking at myself in the mirror."
"I wish I had a pot."
"You were lookin' at yourself in the mirror and you wish you had some pot?"
"A pot. A potbelly. Potbellies are sexy."
"Well, you should be happy, 'cause you have one."
"Shut up, Fatso, I don't have a pot! I have a bit of a tummy, like Madonna when she did "Lucky Star," it's not the same thing."
"I didn't know there was such a difference between a tummy and a potbelly."
"The difference is huge."
"Would you like it if I had a potbelly?"
"No. Potbellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla. But on a woman, a potbelly is very sexy. The rest of you is normal. Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round potbelly. If I had one, I'd wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to accentuate it.
"You think men would find that attractive?"
"I don't give a damn what men find attractive. It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same."
You can see the clip here starting around 0:30.

It's a funny little bit of dialog. I think Fabienne overstates the case at the end, but for a while I've been thinking about a disconnect between wanting to sneak a glance at something or someone sexy, and then actually envisioning or even wanting to "do something about it". Like things that read as sexy kind of exist in isolation, and it would take an act of will to form them into a more cohesive spectrum of sensuality. Or something.

(Fortunately I find Amber pleasing to the eye and to the touch so it all works out that way anyway.)

Sometimes I feel like a lab subject, like those female widowbirds attracted to the super-extra-long glued-together male tails, or those guy fish driven nuts by the crudest simulacrum of a gal fish, just the naughty bits exaggerated to impossible degrees. I can kind of feel the zing of some attractive body bit, the urge to sneak a quick glance, and usually I'll give into it, but it's weird how it then dissipates and has little connection to my future desires. It's kind of like a mental M+M, a quick jolt of sweet crunchiness that doesn't have all that much to do with actual meals.

(You know this might not be unrelated to that Seeking Behaviour Slate mentioned recently, and the split between the pleasures of "seeking" and "satiating"...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZzgAjjuqZM - missed the "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism" video the first time. Secret to comedy: stingers!
People don't dig the heatwaves of summer but at least you don't have to shovel sunshine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok - do people in general know about the scifi verb "to grok"? Good wikipedia entry, anyway.
iPhone technogripes: 1. I crave a way to say "just fix spelling typos, don't "correct" my capitalization. 2. If you accidentally hit shift in the middle of a word, go and delete the offending letter, it "helpfully" has the shift key activated.
It seems like he moon could be a little better, if I looked like something. We say Man on the Moon but not really. The French say a cat??

yo logo!rambledesign

August 21, 2009

I've been thinking about the Logo design of the some of the toy lines of my youth. (The best image of most of these online seemed to have black backgrounds, so I'm experimenting with colors here.)

Arguably, the most notable was Transformers, Autobots vs Decepticons:
(Despite their being kind of silly summer fare, Amber found the Transformers movie grabbing enough that she wanted an Autobot sticker for her car- but she didn't grow up with this stuff, so she had to double check that she was getting the right one. I had kind of assumed it was "obvious", the good guys have a softer, rounder kind of mask face, the bad guys are more sharp and wicked and pointy, and there might be some intuition to it, but only once you know what to look for.)

The toys all sported the badges of their particular faction, and for a while it was good, but then they added these "rub stickers", kind of heat sensitive, that were more or less opaque 'til touched. That would have been ok I guess (if a little non-sensical story-wise) but unlike normal stickers, the rub stickers were in grey boxes which were an aesthetic mess on otherwise cool robot toys. (I guess Hasbro wanted something for its toys that the knock-offs couldn't have.)

Arguably the very coolest logo of the 80s was for the G.I Joe bad guys, Cobra:
I've seen that as a tattoo.

(and then of course there was the time they teamed up with the Transformers bad guys:)
Weirdly G.I Joe itself didn't have much good logo work going on - maybe a traditional US military star, or sometimes the whole name of the group (what's that kind of logo called, when its just a stylized rendition of the name of the thing?)
(Of course in the cartoon, there was also the "audio logos", G.I. Joe's rallying call of "Yo Joe!" and Cobra's warcry "COOOBRAAAAAAAAAAA!")

I've seen this one floating around, I don't know if it is new for the movie or what:
Also, there's this modernization of the old name-as-logo:
Actually this page was kind of inspired when I read up on Cobra Commander's ally Destro, remembered how he's always sort of had his own organization, and wondered if they had a logo. I found this:
A little heavy handed, but not bad.

I'd argue that even back in the day this kind logo work set G.I.Joe and Transformers apart from some of the other toy lines. Like, compare some of this cool iconic stuff to johny-come-lately MASK:
It just seems so pedestrian.

Hasbro (or whoever) kept up the canonical mask idea for later toylines, like in "Beast Wars" where it was Maximals vs Predacons:
I don't think I have to tell you who was good and who was bad...

http://daringfireball.net/2009/08/the_android_opportunity - Can Android be saved? I worry the AppStore might make iPhone's early lead even tougher to overcome because people come to rely on specific apps.


September 9, 2009

Today my dad would have turned 60.

6 years ago (six! wow, what a number - college plus half of high school! The speeding raceway of time reminds me why I was so anxious to start dropping these daily bread crumbs for later leisurely perusal!) I had noted I had lived as many days with him as without him, and wrote a kind of tribute that I probably shouldn't try to top here. In 4 years, May Day 2013 (assuming the 2012 doomsayers prove as wrong as every date-based doomsayer has been thus far) I will be as old as he was when he died. I guess I should get over it some time? Or maybe parents are just that kind of thing you never have to get over - maybe especially if you haven't had kids of your own.

(Again, you can calculate your own happy or sad little milestones with that date toy tool I threw together in 2001.)

I've tended to express my regret in terms of be being a graceless adolescent when he died, that so much of the becoming I've done, that I'm most proud of because of its deliberate nature -- I think before you're a teen, you kind of just are -- happened after he passed. But now, coming up to the ages I have memories of him being at, I can think too about how many interesting paths could have been before him... I listed a bunch of things he'd done in that essay, and sometimes I'm still in a bit in awe.
One interpretation I tend not to over-emphasize is that of all the people who've been in my life since his passing, I think I most saw echoes of a kind of insecure, maybe-compensating but still admirable use of books and diligent study to achieve various expertise in Mo. And their style is in contrast to my own too-smart-too-young, ego-protecting comfort zone I drift in when left unattended. I mean, there's a lot to be said for low-hanging-fruit, but over the past few years I've been working on putting up more of a fight for "stretch goals" that seem worthwhile.

Heh, it's another dumb little milestone today - the tenth anniversary of the 9/9/99 release date of the Dreamcast, a video game system beloved in the hearts of fanboys, but ultimately walloped by the DVD-playing, somewhat-more-powerful Playstation 2. I wonder what my dad would have thought of me and video games - not that it's such a big, time-consuming thing for me these days, but over the years I've sunk a lot of dollars and a lot of hours into them - but they were pretty primitive back when he was watching my early fascination with them. Lately I've been pleased by one thought though... here's a (pooorly photographed) example of some of his cross stitch (an inuit design I believe)

Man, what is cross stitch and needlepoint if not a crazy kind of folksy pixel art? So our interests maybe weren't as far apart as all that. (Hell, we might've collaborated on some of this stuff, I'm sure modern stitchers use all sorts of scanning and conversion high tech tools, rather than being solely reliant on the type of pattern books my dad had (and I remember being kind of fascinated by as a kid.))

Sigh. Guess today I'll fire up the old Dreamcast and... I dunno, try to have some place that cooks hot dogs in beer or something, like I think my Dad said they did in Ohio...

Miss you, Dad, Happy Birthday.

it's been a fast four yearsramble

October 26, 2009

Amber and I got to talking last night. At one point she put one of the differences between us starkly; her gaze is more to towards the future, I tend to dwell more on the past. I think this makes us a nice complementary set, but it also puts up some challenges in terms of expectations we have for each other.

Kirk as Buddha. Fun fact: one of my parent's earliest nicknames was "Buddha", and their friends thought they were odd enough that maybe that was my real name!
Like I've said before, I'm either the most or least enlightened person I know. I find my thinking naturally falls in tune with a lot of Buddhist thought-- be in the moment and enjoying it, restrain your desires so that you don't end up miserable about what you don't have rather than appreciative of what you do-- but it comes from kind of a bad place, a desperate psychological need to not be responsible for making bad decisions that mess things up.

We got to talking about some people I know, both women, both close to JZ, who both independently felt the need to pick themselves out of the life they had here around Boston and move elsewhere in the country -- neither had clear job prospects or housing arrangement plans. If nothing else, that's some bravery! The desire to do that is really foreign to me, but again, that makes sense given my reluctance to make big, risk-filled decisions in the first place.

I don't know if that feeling is strengthened or weakened by my moving every couple years as a kid. But it also seemed a bit of an extreme, youthful impulse to Amber, even though she made a big move not too long ago, from Indiana back to nearer her roots in New England. And she thinks I might have an easier time of making a new social life, since I'm a bit more extroverted (or at least more of an attention-seeking introvert) than she is. But even I'm very wary of how friendships don't come as easily and maybe as deeply as they did back in the day, and that is one of several factors that keeps me rooted in Boston. (Actually when I think of some of the friendships I have developed, some of them come from the other person kind of pushing, sometimes suggesting get-togethers that seemed a little forced -- but almost all of these ended up being among the deepest and most important friendship I've had.)

Still, there was a wistful note Amber sounded that broke my heart when she spoke of her time since the move and said "it's been a fast four years". And in her voice I thought I could hear things: a bit of pain over the breakup with the person she moved back with, a bit of loneliness over the difficulty in making a deep set of friends, a bit of uncertainty about the best path for the best way to shape her apartment and career and everything else, but most of all a bit of melancholy about the fleeting nature of time and memory. (I might be projecting, or at least guessing, a bit here.)

And it broke my heart that I don't have a fix for that for her. I have ways around that for myself: my daily journaling (both public and private), my retrospective nature that counts passed days as a credit, not just a debit - but I recognize much of that just isn't in her nature, and she's going to have to find her own path to reconciliation with some of the tough existential truths of life.

I guess all of that is some of the pain of loving people, of not being able to make everything all-better, of not being capable of shielding them from a harsh and unfair universe. (Especially for guys, who tend to only value pragmatic, cause-effect fixes over more touchy-feely talking and listening.) And sometimes you need to just give them room to find their own path... I'm reminded of this old quote from Dymphna Willson's "A Different Drummer"
That's the whole point; at least I think that's what Bethrah was saying although it's difficult to accept. I mean it seems horrible that the most you can do for people you love is to leave them alone.
But of course it's not just leaving them alone that we need to do -- like Harvey Pekar said "This is a tough world, folks. We all need help t' get by so help yer friends an' make sure they help you or know th' reason why."


(Probably that's some of the solace people find in religion. Humble yourself before God, and you might feel like you have someone not just watching out for you, but for your loved ones as well, and also then hopes for the eternal can provide a sugar coating for even when terrible, terrible things happen to your good people.)

But I dunno. I think the undertone of sadness under "it's been a fast four years" is going to stick with me for a long while.

I've read, and am willing to believe, that brains can become physically addicted to worrying. And I'd like to quit, but how do you go cold turkey?

faith and science, religion and logic, mythos and logosramble

November 5, 2009

I've been listening to Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" on audiobook. It takes a lot discipline to listen to stay focused on a non-fiction audiobook, something akin to what you need during meditation.

She asserts repeatedly that ancient peoples had a clear split between Mythos and Logos (an idea first introduced to me in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"). Some cultures had multiple creation myths geared at explaining different aspects of the human experience, and none of them were expected to hold up to a literal interpretation as historic events. The book doesn't really cite evidence, though (at least not the audio version, I don't know if the real thing has endnotes or something) so I'm left wondering if maybe folks were just, you know, gullible back then. I mean, I'm sure some of the hoi polloi took the stories at face value -- I can't believe the question "mommy, did that really happen?" is new, created by our modern culture.

On a friend's private message board, he quoted slain politician Pim Fortuyn's line about "I don't hate Islam. I consider it a backward culture." My response was
I'm starting to think that the the backwardness of any given culture is in direct proportion to the degree the Fundamentalists (be they religious or atheistic, like the commies) hold sway.
And of course one of the traits of Religious Fundamentalism is that it demands to be thought of as scientifically, historically accurate and true. I'm not sure if Literalism is always a requirement, or if some branches of Fundamentalism admit to a poetic reading of parts of their scriptures.

My friend asked me to put my concluding statement on the site's quote board:
Fundies have this brittle need for the Mythos to be backed by Logos, but trying to back Faith with Science is bad for both faith and science.
This is what we see in America today. Evolution really shouldn't be a question... but it's also not an answer, a fact we saw demonstrated by the Social Darwinism and Eugenicist movements.

Of course, non-religious Fundamentalists have the inverse problem of Logos minus Mythos (Man, it's annoying that "Logos" looks like the plural of "logo"). At my UU Science and Spirituality group I said of Dawkins and his crew that I believe them to also be Fudamentalists, the difference is they probably have the facts on their side. But what they need to accept is those facts probably aren't what really matter to the human experience, and science is notoriously bad at showing us how to live, or why.


You know, some of the issue with a Mythos/Logos split is why should anyone believe one thing rather than another? Atheist Fundies seem to be worried that people would start to believe any old thing, which partially explains mockery like The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster... I don't think that's how people actually work, however.

So why do people believe what they believe? Probably because it "feels right" - but what feels right is probably what they're used to, and what they're used to is probably what they grow up with.

(Tangent: in some ways, this is parallel to the kind of accountability that is what attracted me to a rationalistic outlook. I seem to live in subconscious fear of being called to account for why I make certain decisions, like if they went wrong, and just saying "well I went with my gut feeling" might not cut it, even in this hypothetical scenario. Being able to present the logical steps that led to my conclusion, though, seems like a much stronger defense -- even if I was wrong, I put in a good effort, and wasn't "just guessing".)

So is "culturally established" truth inherently suspect? Sometimes I wonder if it isn't like Warhol's "Art is what you can get away with" line, that the demonstrated longevity and strength of a form of Mythos in YOUR culture is a greatly determining factor. (Isn't there some quote from the Dali Lama about how you probably shouldn't try to switch to Buddhism if that's not what you grew up with?) Still, noting that I believed what I believed because I grew up immersed in one religious culture, and that if I had been born the child of an Imam rather than a Sweet Talkin' Son of a Preacher Man I'd most likely be struggling to be as good a Moslem as I had been trying to keep true to Christianity, was a huge blow to my faith, one that I'll probably never fully shake off.

Hmm. Still, it's weird how the Scientific Revolution probably helped inspire so many Christians to insist that their outlook was just as backed by Logos as it was by Mythos, and that leads us to the culture wars this country has today.

The "just" in the phrase "that's just a myth" is a terrible, terrible word. Myths can be True even if they're not true. Can people accept that? Like Bokonon said, as channeled in Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"
Live by the foma [Harmless Untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
Maybe they're doesn't need to be much more to it than that.

You know what description you never want a woman you've slept with to apply to your sexual technique? "Baffling."
--Mary Elizabeth Williams, How not to make love like a porn star
Congratulations to the Yankees. They finally got the team they've been paying for all along...
Q: Why did the tachyon cross the road? A: Because it was on the other side.
-- http://twitter.com/siwisdom
Now John Henry said to the inventor,
"All your tubes don't mean a damn.
All your wires and your circuits
They are just a modern quirk. It's
Never ever gonna beat a Thinkin' Man.
"They are never gonna beat a Thinkin' Man."
--The Thinking Man, John Henry (via http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1769868/posts )
Developer Rant: God damn, I'm so sick of editors that auto-close tags, quotes, curly-braces, and parens. They screw up more than they help.

what's the big todoramble

March 9, 2010

Five years and one day ago I posted my "big project" Todo list. A year and a half ago I went back to that page, crossed out the stuff I had gotten done, italicized the stuff that didn't matter to me any more.

Time to remake that list! Now organized by site/field of interest.

kisrael.com random projects games loveblender.com improvements
ATT slogans for Bos/Camb: "might as well get the iPod touch" "5 bars, no service", "works in more places like ScrewYouiPhoneExclusiveIstan" (Actually, it's weird: popular sites seem to load OK on 3G, obscure ones time-out. Wonder if AT+T just has retarded server problems.)
ATT slogan: "Cannot Open Page Safari could not open the page because the server stopped responding."
"RE @ATTNews #ATT recently released a new study into causes and solutions for the dropout crisis: http://go-att.us/e556 -oh SCHOOL not calls-"
Man- earbuds are a bit gross, even for the reasonably well Q-tipped. On the other hand, dunno if I wanna be "that guy" w/ the DJ headphones.
Just finished "Look Me in the Eye", an Aspergers memoir. Two thoughts: A. These folks are "logical" but miss enough details that they're not always 'rational' B. I think I would be good at explaining things to people with Aspergers.

when can i shut up about the ipadtechramble

December 14, 2010

My brain often has a specific "flare stack", a burn off of (hopefully) extra mental cycles. Like, before and after I bought my car, I was intensely into a few automobile blogs. Lately, though, its been how gosh darn awesome the iPad and iPhone are.

I'm always on the lookout for things that justify or explain this obsession. The link Amber posted the other day on devices as literal extensions of our brains. And that helps explain the iPhone I think -- for example I get a little rush of dopamine when I use the Todo app to keep myself organized or jot a memo to preserve a bit of information or make a datebook entry to nudge me at some future moment. It's not a new phenomenon for me, I got the same thing with the Palm Pilot, but the iPhone absolutely upped the ante with Internet connectivity and general slickness.

So an important part of the "brain extenstion" explanation of the iPhone is the portability/pocketability; if it's going to be part of my mental whole, it needs to be at hand pretty much all the time. (Not ALL the time, much like I'm often (clearly) not engaging all the parts of my brain all the time.) But the iPad doesn't have this excuse: sure it's nice and portable, but no more so than a small laptop. So why does it feel so much better than a laptop, while being a bit less capable in may respects?

Amber's article explains that too, I think...it talks about how people who "talk with their hands" aren't just talking with their hands, they're probably thinking with their hands as well. (For that matter, speaking is more a form of on-the-fly thought assemblage than we usually acknowledge--) The physical body becomes the medium of computation. And iPads allow for a deeper physical communion than a keyboard and mouse or keyboard and touchpad. (And more so than the iPhone, even, since the throughput of the larger screen is that much greater.) A barrier to the closed loops as "gadget as extended nervous system" is knocked away, and the result is an almost tangible sense of pleasure at our newly enhanced and extended brain.

We tend to think of ourselves as beings of pure mindstuff (or soul or what have you) inside a bodily shell, but our bodies are part of us, and iPads tap into that in a way few other products can hope to. And connectivity to the Internet is another part of that... iPad eases the way to the groupmind that is the modern net.

The whole app model reflects this. Frankly, interesting computer applications are few and far between. I look what I install on every new PC I get - browsers, paint programs, text editors, IM, programming environments (even cool ones like Processing) -- it's not very interesting, all the action has moved to the browsers. iDevices get past that though, and suddenly apps are interesting again. I would look askance if a bank or entertainment website insisted I use a special application on my Windows box, but with the iDevice, it just kinda makes sense... and it has to do with how the whole iThing seems to transmorgify into a new device, and so that whole eye/brain/hand/screen loop has a new toy to play with, without the klutzy old keyboard or intermediary, one-removed mouse, or other distracting windows to interfere.

TOMORROW: how Google's CR-48 laptop gets it wrong, wrong, wrong.
My buddy Beau is doing a Salvation Army virtual kettle - I split a few hundred tween Boston + Cleveland- HUGE need these days!
"Brownies in the kitchen!"
"Alright, You talked me into it, I'm off-"
"He twisted your rubber arm, eh?"
"Well, I like Brownies more than I like dignity."
--Pedro, Me, and Jon
http://www.cracked.com/article_18927_6-bizarre-ways-architecture-designed-to-ward-off-ghosts.html - I love stuff like this. Plus: ghost-diagrams!
First few real flakes of snow, near Arlington T stop. Damn.
Are cats impressed by our ability to use lights? When I come home to a dark house are they all "Behold! It is Kirk Dispeller of Dark!"?

can i helpramble

May 1, 2011

Amber and I had been working on straightening up the place a bit before our trip in 2 weeks. I was taking a break and lounging as she walked in looking a bit more on the ball than I was feeling at the moment, and she was then amused when I asked "How can I help you? Err, how can I help us?"

I realize that in that kind of situation, where I'm looking for guidance on how I can be useful (since I know I'm not always a great self-starer with the domestic stuff, what with my generally bachelor-ish standards of household cleanliness, poor organizational skills, and being a bit lazy) I often catch myself a bit because I'm thinking of this old Doonesbury comic:

Sorry for the poor scan... it's from "The Big Book of New American Humor", a giant yellow tome from 1990 that was wildly influential on me in high school... I often see it at half-priced book places (like the basement of the Harvard Book Store) and it's well worth the price of admission.

It also reminds me a bit of this old Star Trek quote:
"'Let me help'. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words over 'I love you'."
--Captain Kirk, "The City on the Edge of Forever"
Amber, I dig helping you...

blind to nuance, alive to detailsramble

November 17, 2011

New navel-gazing, the latest in a search for a KUT (Kirk Unified Theory):

I have a very good memory for certain details I find "interesting", but also a disdain for, or at least disinterest in, other types of nuance.

I think the details that interest me, that have hooks my memory can grab onto, are the things that describe how an object interacts with other objects. Previously, I've seen this as appreciating the verbs of something over nouns. (Recently on my tech blog I put the implication for this in my work as "People and computers should be judged by what they do, not by what (you think) they are.")

In this world view, a nuance that's only a quantitative and not qualitative difference doesn't matter all that much. But of course there are shades of gray: The difference between two admittedly similar fonts, say, Arial vs Helvetica, will never matter to me, but I can appreciate how two radically differently weighted fonts will look different when piled up into a body of text. Eventually the quantitative changes add up, it changes how the object interacts with other systems, and that's how a qualitative change is born.

(A bit of weirdness is how a measurement is some usually a form of interaction. I think this might be why I better thinking about things that have a quantitative hook, it's clear how the thing interacted with the measuring system. When I gain or lose weight, I might notice pants or shirts are tighter or looser, but I never look that different to myself. So I depend on a scale to keep me on track, because otherwise I have no idea; degrees of chubbiness are a non-interactive nuance.)

I saw this in school a lot: classes where you had to learn a few basic ideas and then apply them in real time, I did well in. Physics, I was fine in; 4 or 5 equations explain so much. Chemistry I struggled with, there was just so much to know. Foreign languages were disasters. Math up until Calculus was easy but then suddenly there were SO MANY equations you just had to know... History classes were a seeming exception. I would have guessed they were full of dates and names to remember, but I think now since there were hooks and anecdotes about what the people did, or how they interacted, I was pretty good at it.


Lately I've begun to think that my difficulty remembering faces is part of this. A curve of cheek or a shape of nose is hard for me to remember because there's no interaction there, it doesn't change how people or things interact with it (until you get into the extremes of beauty or ugliness.)

This feeling of separating the sheep of details from the goats of nuance shapes how I read as well. I read at a breakneck, almost skimming, pace, but then I have time to go back and jump to the difficult or important parts. (This was a hugely valuable skill for many Standardized Tests.) Conversely, it is INSANELY difficult for me to take in spoken words in real time, like with simple directions, or even somebody spelling a word out loud. (Seriously, I hate when somebody thinks they're helping me by spelling something out loud, I get lost after the second or third letter.)

I NEED things written down... not because I think in pictures, but because I think in interactions. Come to think of it, words ARE better at describing interactions than pictures! It makes me think that labels like "thinks in words" need to be more specific... I don't remember seeing categories of learning or thinking style that quite get the noun/verb, interaction-centric system that I now see is so crucial to understanding where I'm good and where I'm bad at coping with the world.

(Another wacky anecdote, where I can see my thinking is verbal, but not audio or visual: spelling. I'm OK at remembering the spelling of words in terms of the consonants, but once it's a blend of vowels, forget it. If it doesn't come out in how I say it, I'm not going to remember what it looks like on the page. Amber had to learn that it wasn't just my usual laziness or a lack of attentiveness that was causing so many typos... she knows at a glance that a word is spelled wrong -- I think the hook is visual for her -- while it is physically much harder for me to get the vowels right because of no mouth-interactive consonants to grab onto.)
I think of the iPhone (and before that the PalmPilot) as an almost literal extension of my brain. Kinda funny how I can go ahead and look at a bit-o-brain.
"It's a fast paced, complicated world, baby.
Understand something or have an opinion on it.
There's no time for both."
--A Softer World


March 8, 2012

Problems are inevitable.
Problems are soluble.

I just finished David Deutsch's book "The Beginning of Infinity". It's a fun read, infuriating at times, but still full of a great optimism.

These two sentences from the book are forming a bit of a mantra for me. I have some deep-seated issues with task-related angst; if I'm not assured of easy and straight forward success, I tend to dillydally and divert my attention to easier, lower-stake wins. But the double promise of this couplet: that yeah, issues almost certainly arise when I'm doing something worthwhile, but you know, they will almost certainly have decent solutions... it's soothing to me, for real.

My inner geek wants to nitpick and say "sure, but there's no promise you're going to LIKE the solutions", but hopefully I'm getting wise enough to squelch that inner naysayer.
On hold with the Mass RMV, using my headphones (w/ mic.) It's like the worst streaming music service ever. (Plus the per minute charge)
"My pencil and I are more clever than I."
--Albert Einstein
11:11 make a wish.. I wish for pizza and sushi.. time to go upstairs to the caf and make my wish come true

the pr3vent trilogygameramblevideogames

April 19, 2012

So Anna Anthropy has written a book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. As you might guess from the subtitle ("How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form") the book is a rallying cry for the idea that everyone should make games.

I liked the book a lot, but there was a point of emphasis that didn't resonate for me, and I decided to try to put my response into game form. Actually, I was inspired to write not one, not two, but THREE games! I present the "Pr3vent Trilogy: DESPERADO DORIS, PEACEMAKER, and NERD NEEDS IDEA, BADLY". You can play any one you want, and I hope you pay attention to its message, whichever one you choose:

OK, so what's this about?

In her book Anthropy writes about the game: Calamity Annie (which is terrific btw, and you should go download and play it immediately)
Theres a videogame about a dyke who convinces her girlfriend to stop drinking. Mainstream gamer culture by and large does not know about this game. I know about this game because I made it.
The thing is I was lucky enough to be a playtester for this game (though admittedly never hunkered down to get good enough at it to see the plot conclude) but if someone asked me what it was "about", I would have said it was about gunfighting (the primary "play mechanic" is a very clever translation of the good 'ol Western gunduel into mouse-and-screen form, where you have to keep your mouse-driven crosshairs holstered 'til it's time to draw.) The story was a nice touch, but at the time I considered it mere "flavor text", the stuff that often adds layers of meaning to a game, but could be taken away or radically modified without changing the game's core.

In the book though Anthropy emphasizes the story-telling aspect of game-making and she has lead by example (her very personal dys4ia- another game you should play online right now, and this one you don't even have to download, just play online) but as a gamemaker, I just want to say: it's ok if the story is an afterthought, and it's valid when the purpose of making a game is to explore gameplay rather than to model to an external theme. My impression from reading the book, especially the lovely and poetic section What to Make a Game About? which begins
Your dog, your cat, your child, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, your father, your grandmother, your friends, your imaginary friends, your summer vacation, your winter in the mountains, your childhood home, your current home, your future home, your first job, your worst job, the job you wish you had.
and continues for 10 more paragraphs and well over 100 more suggestions, is that she considers this central to the gamemaking mandate, and I'd just like to remind folks: it's ok if your game isn't "about" much of anything at all. (Personally, this is why I think videogames are interesting-- you can tell stories in many media, but only with videogames can you make real time, viscerally pleasing interactions.)

So, that off my chest, I want to ramble about one more thing: this book talks a lot about how gamemaking is a possibility for nearly everyone, and that you can make many fine games and tell many crucial stories as a lone auteur, or with the help of a few friends-- and I know the author's disdain for most big-budget "AAA" titles. But still, I have to grapple with the limitations of the tools the amateur has... there are certain kinds of game experience that are still far removed from what an individual can make on their own. In particular, there is a certain thrill and meaning present in games that strive for "living breathing worlds", ones that can put a player in a world close enough to our own that the empowerment ("I can fly!", for example) and differences (the permission to have a casual disregard for life and limb and property, for example) have greater resonance. These games have something you can feel in your gut in a way you won't with a retro, 2D, or otherwise iconically presented game.

I was trying to think of where the worlds of what an amateur can do and full, rich worlds overlap. The mod-ing community comes to mind: people who rip into the binary guts of, say, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and make it more their own. If I try to envision a more general purpose "gameworld construction kit", something with the open-ness of ZZT but a world more like our own, it ends up looking a bit like "Second Life" which as far as I can tell is the most dedicated attempt to make Cyberspace and VR as presented in 80s and 90s cyberpunk a reality. I've never gotten into that realm, though I appreciate how it has been open to people creating in it, and sometimes even being financially rewarded for their creative efforts. (Though in practice I think the appeal is more for people who really dig creating an alternate persona for themselves than for 3D-physics junkies like me.)

Anyway, go get this book, and then go make some games!
"Life is an illusion, but an illusion we must take seriously."
--Aldous Huxley

how am i not myself?ramble

(1 comment)
August 25, 2012

Last night we watched "I ♥ Huckabees" -- its tale of a married couple of Existential Detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) and their battle for a holistic, everything is meaningful world view vs a French rival's jaded, almost nihilistic everything is meaingless outlook , all in rapidf-fire David Mamet/Aaron Sorkin dialog is probably about to be come a new favorite of mine.

Probably my favorite quote from it was
"There's no such thing as nothing."
but Amber liked this one: Earlier that day, I had heard part of a radio interview with David Eagleman, who just wrote the book Incognito: the secret lives of the brain that talks about a model of the self that I happen to subscribe to; that internally, it's kind of like a multiparty political system, with each party wanting what it thinks is best for the whole, but with a lot of disagreement about what are the priorities that should be first attended to.

So I suspect I have a different feel about "How am I not myself?" than some people. My answer is more like "Well, I'm not that much of a self"... vs an interpretation of the quote that's wondering how someone could be "untrue" to a monolithic, essentialist "myself".

A billion dollars from Samsung to Apple? More than the money, it's the validation of the strangling patent system that I hate.
"The function of freedom is to free someone else."
--Toni Morrison
http://twentytwowords.com/2012/08/21/al-rokers-hilarious-response-to-savannah-guthries-holy-spirit-joke/ - Al Roker does the best dead pan ever.
Is there a name for things you're oddly dreading starting? Oddly in the sense of you're pretty sure you'll enjoy it once underway?

meta! the history and turning points of kisraelramblemeta

September 23, 2012

So I've decided its time for me to shift this blog once again, and indulge in some self-absorbed reflection...

I started keeping a "quote journal" in early 1997... it was a series of text notes on my Palm Pilot (loved that thing) and I called it KHftCEA, or "Kirk's Home for the Chronically Easily Amused". (It was never really meant to be public, but some time after letting a few close friends into its digital pages I decided to post the whole thing online.)

In late-2000/early-2001 I decided to start one of those new-fangled Weblog (or "'blog" for short) things. (For a few weeks I kept up both web and Palm, but then the Palm version seemed redundant, and I dropped it.) Pretty quickly the blog morphed into its regular format: a "clever" title, a general paragraph of chatter, then a series of "____ of the Moment" entries. And it was very important for me (I called it a secular spiritual practice) to put up something interesting every day, as well as act as a bit of a hub for some of my friends.

Meanwhile, Facebook happened. I think Facebook has had more of a change on how people socialize on the Internet than any other website, including Google (there were always search engines, just not as good) and Youtube (the scale of Youtube still astounds, and it was a new fun online activity, but not as social.) I'd say Facebook has drained away much of the importance of my site as a way of finding and sharing interesting stuff, since FB is more egalitarian, and has a much better comment and community sense. (I prefer to "blame" facebook for the shift away from people commenting on my site (as well as the decompression of Loveblender after some explosive growth) over thinking people just don't like me as much as they used to...)

Of course, Twitter also happened. Twitter also has a back-and-forth aspect that my site lacks, but I still like having kisrael as my "site of record" so in 2008 I established an "of the Moment" section to more easily mirror what I was twittering. Soon after that, I shifted the main part of each entry into a "one interesting thing a day" mode, often a video or big image from someone else, or a project I had worked on.

So now I'm thinking of getting rid of the "one big thing". I'll still post stuff as I find it, but I'll stop hoarding stuff away to post on a rainy day, and I hope the site will become more immediate, more in the moment like my early Palm stuff.

Again, I'm not sure how many people will even notice the change... I don't know how many folks come here for regular entertainment (In which case Facebook and 22 Words are probably better bets, with a little BoingBoing thrown in.) I'll still be posting interesting links and videos as I find them, and we can just take it from there...
"Tommy, Tommy, everything is connected and everything matters. There is not an atom in our bodies that has not been forged in the furnace of the sun -- now isn't that cool?"
--I ♥ Huckabees
http://www.walkscore.com/ - cool way of getting a feel for how walkable a neighborhood is.
Someone is aiming to be geek daddy of the year:

I love how well paced (and cleverly animated) the video is... it really tells a sweet story.
Xcode is so weirdly difficult. I want to add a new .js file to a phonegap project... put in anywhere but the project root? UNPOSSIBLE!
Those one-piece metal bend/flex snap hair barrettes are great things to fidget with, like external knuckles to crack over and over.
http://www.thisismyjam.com/kirkjerk - Yeah, co-opted an overplayed but "I Got You" is amazing
"Why should a man give a woman a useless diamond engagement ring when he could buy her a nice big potato, which she could at least eat?"
--Geoffrey Miller
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind."
Man, I have never heard a whole stadium united in the a chant of "BULL-$#!7" Wacky calls both ways in the Pats/Ravens game.

needing is one thing, and getting, getting's anotherramble

April 13, 2013

I remember seeing this video but not paying it nearly enough attention; both the video and the song are terrific. (You can get an MP3 from the video version, which I find a lot more viscerally appealing than the (also good) studio track.)

Its chorus "Needing is one thing, and getting, getting's another" brings up a point that might sound pedantic as hell, but for me is serious, and existential, and came close to disrupting a romance of mine at one point. (And I found out while writing this, might echo for my vision of relationships to this day.)

What does it mean to "need" something?

Some part of me (a well-meaning yet still smart aleck inner child part) wants to say it HAS to be existential; without the needed object, the needing subject would fail to exist. "You can't live without me? Why aren't you dead yet?"

But that seems a little blunt. Some old guy might need his meds, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'd die without him, or right away. As a young man I needed my dad, but I survived his passing. (The romance I mentioned stumbled (but recovered, for a long while) over my reticence of using that kind of "I need you" language; I think I might have used that logic of "I survived my dad's death, so I guess I'd survive you leaving me or something happening to you." For a guy who runs loveblender.com I really have my moments, or lack of them.)

So is it just a form of "extreme want"? Or to avoid the side effects of not-having? That seems to lack a certain rhetorical punch...

OK, I think I figured it out, and actually figured it out for the first time, after pondering it a few days, while writing some disclaimers as a now-deleted second part of that smart aleck paragraph, which I then decided to save for this conclusion: properly used, "need" IS existential, not necessarily in terms of life or death, but a true need is such that lacking the needed object the thing needing would become a whole 'nother thing. I survived my dad's death, but I'm not nearly the same guy I would have been with him, I think. The old guy without his meds just isn't the same person.

(A "needed" but lost romantic interest, then, should leave a husk of a man or woman behind. He or she may grow back into something stronger, but it will be strong but different. Hmmm... This may be why I find "I want you" sexier than "I need you". I worry I had my "need" romances in high school and college and what's left, the me that is... doesn't want to need, or be subject to the responsibility of being needed. I guess I prefer love that springs from a rich luxury of two self-realized and independent people over a "need" that is tough to separate out from codependence, or other types of dependence, like financial.)

Thanks for reading. Writing helped me figure some stuff out. Let me know what you think.

seven things i might have learned in alaskaramble

August 28, 2013

  1. While global warming means many coastal areas have to worry about the encroaching sea, Alaska generally has the opposite problem: relieved from some of the massive weight of glaciers, that part of the world is rising, and sometimes at a surprising clip.
  2. I say "I'm worried that..." way too much, and worry too much.
  3. In the town of Gustavus, almost universally drivers and pedestrians do a little finger wave in passing.
  4. I am much, much, much, much less of an athlete than Riana. She bikes everywhere including work and swims every chance she can get, I ... don't. But she was taking on big sloped hikes and even when I joined her, what was a stroll to her was leaving me sucking wind.
  5. Juneau has a streetcleaner running at around 4:30-5am that sounds like a banshee.
  6. I start a lot of sentences with "Man...", or at least I do around Riana, who started pointing it out by saying "M, A, N!" when I did so. But it's a useful phrase for expressing wonder or irritation.
  7. Southeast Alaksa is clear skies and warm 7 days out of 8! (This is probably not a safe bit of knowledge to walk away with, but it's rather more true this summer than most years.)
This trip to Alaska was an experiment for Riana and me, sort of a more concentrated version of what dating is trying to figure out in general, or if she needed someone with a more profound need to be in nature, and similarly for me if we were pop-culture compatible.

Like any good scientists, we had to acknowledge when the experimental results didn't match our hoped-for hypothesis, and so-- we're not dating any longer, but it's very friendly. She needs a full on partner in driving to get out there and hike and camp, and I need someone who, like once a week or so, would be with me to chill and unwind with some movie or video or something on a screen, and that's just not her. Put another way, she's too much of an outdoor cat and I'm too much of an indoor cat.

(Which isn't to say I had an amazing time in Alaska... EB's mom pointed out how animated I was bringing her through the photos.)
Syria. Jeez-loweez. There's so much hubris here, in terms of, humanitarian and WMD-use concerns or no, if we thought Syria could really strike back at us in our homeland, there is NO WAY we'd attack.

We're playing policeman for the world, but we're kind of corrupt.

September 3, 2013ramble

(1 comment)
http://www.romanization.com/books/formosan_odyssey/footbinding.html Man -- if this article is onbase, footbinding might not have just been torturous for women, but something that (in an oddly meta kind of way) reshaped Chinese infrastructure and zeal to explore as well.
oh, and RIP Seamus Heaney.
In Alaska, I had some good and thoughtful discussions with Riana and reached some new conclusions. It's a tangle of old and new thoughts, and unclear setups of cause and effect, but: for me, somehow implanted at a deep and defining level, Verbs trump Nouns. What you do, how you interact, is the critical defining factor, and pushes what one might "really be" to near irrelevance.

There's a downside to this concept: nobody -- myself included-- has intrinsic value. (Note, I'm not really defending this value, but talking about my recent discovery as it as a foundation to a lot of my moral and psychological landscape.) In this view, if you do nothing, you're worth nothing.

There are consequences to this view: I think it means I don't have a solid core of real self-worth, and so a rection formation grew up around it: as a kid, I was precocious, and I think that got parlayed into a need to be the bestest, smartest kid in the world, because that was the only game in town. Early on this led to ugly consequences: my young rage at losing a board game, say. Looking back, maybe that's because that was upsetting the natural order of the world with me at its pinnacle... but even more scarily, if I wasn't the bestest, what was I? Maybe nothing! So of course I fought against it.

(There's a seeming contradiction here -- 6 years ago I was looking at a Scientific American article about kids who get the idea that intelligence is innate and fixed, and so the important thing is to always look smart. ( http://kirk.is/2007/11/30/ ) You might think that would lead them to self-confidence, an unassailable bit of ego core, but instead it brings on fear and strategies to avoid looking like anything less, like a mere mortal. And I think that's because if they (and me) aren't the greatest then they are worth nothing.)

The other side effect of not having a sense of self-worth is I tend to be a goodie-goodie rule follower, but I think that's less of a moral sense than a fear that if I don't follow the rules, I'll be rejected and maybe thrown out, because there's nothing fundamentally worth saving.

Often getting over-intellectual about something is helpful for me, because I can purposefully use my intellect to overcome my gut feelings. This one is tougher though because, intellectually, I don't what the answer that tells me "everyone has intrinsic worth" is. Existentially speaking, the idea that people's value comes from interactions with Everything Else has a lot of appeal.

One possible intellectual out came to me in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a great bit of fanfic speculating what would have happened if young Harry Potter had been raised not by the Dursleys but by an Oxford Professor and his supportive and loving and intelligent wife... at one point, in explaining that there was no simple way of conclusively demonstrating that he (Harry Potter) wasn't the next Dark Lord, Professor Quirrell explains
"The import of an act lies not in what that act resembles on the surface, Mr. Potter, but in the states of mind which make that act more or less probable."

Harry blinked. He'd just had the dichotomy between the representativeness heuristic and the Bayesian definition of evidence explained to him by a wizard.
So there might where the answer is: yes, what's important is what we do, not what we are, but what we are goes a long, long way to determining what we do-- and from there, intrinsic value can be potentially found.

Still, it's a long way from a weak intellectual defense to really "getting it" and living it, and nearing some kind of midway point in my life, I have to acknowledge that a lot of my grooves are kind of set, and it may always take a big dose of mindfulness to see that I'm worthwhile and can and should take on even challenges that may leave me frustrated and looking less than stellar.
This is beautiful. Make this jellybean count, people.

November 13, 2013ramble

(1 comment)
I just realized that a bit of philosophical and personal growth I'm trying to muscle through is recapitulating the whole Calvinism movement in the Protestant tradition. (No relationship, or not much, to Calvin + Hobbes)

The short version is this: I have trouble subconsciously accepting the idea that I will always have intrinsic value as a human -- it's a classic thing for smart kids (I think i need to read Carol Dweck's "Mindset" about fixed vs growth mindsets- http://qedfoundation.org/fixed-vs-growth-mindsets/ ) where you think the important thing is Being Smart, or Being Good, and if you don't throw off enough signs that your smart or good, you risk being cast out or rejected somehow.

There's a weird parallel with (pardoning my oversimplifications here) Calvinism: a Calvinist believes there are the Elect, who are predestined to be saved, and everyone else, who won't be. This stands in contrast to (again, pardon oversimplifying) a Catholic way of being, where people's works and deeds are pretty important to directing one to heaven or hell, and getting forgiveness for the inevitable straying is very important.

You might think the Calvinists would then have a free and hedonic life style: either I'm saved or not, the die has already been cast, might as well party it up, and the Catholics would be prim and proper and on the straight and narrow, when in reality the opposite is more true... it feels like Calvinists are wanting to demonstrate their gratitude at being one of the elect (or maybe demonstrate they they are indeed in that number) by being uptight. Similarly, while Catholics have their own special blend of fear and guilt, they are often more comfortable with pleasures of this world, including drinking, gambling, and other visceral pleasures.

If the Calvinist veers from the straight and narrow, it might be them displaying they are irredeemably beyond saving. The Catholic point of view has a lot more room for making things right -- and there's a core there that's worth fighting for.

So I think somehow I internalized a Calvinist view, even as I don't hold with its supernatural origins, and actually find philosophically disagreeable. But I think now I'm finally reaching the point where I can think I have value as a person that will be there even when the telltales of Good Deeds and Smart Actions aren't there; the Deeds and Actions are the traffic, not the road signs.

on Fixed vs Growth "MindSet"rambleintrospection

November 21, 2013
tl;dr: Challenge for its own sake *is* probably pointless; but challenge for the sake of getting better at meeting challenges is good, because life is challenging.

I just read Carol Dweck's "MindSet"... in all the books I've reading during this self-help kick, I think its identification of Fixed Mindsets vs Growth Mindsets is the most useful concept.

Precocious kids are prone to developed a Fixed Mindset, feeling that their intelligence and abilities are intrinsic, critical to why they are special, maybe even why they are loved. While that's not a sure recipe for unaccomplished lives, the tendency to seek only those activities that will validate their self-image, and also to lash out with anger at the external "causes" of their failures, is painful and ultimately self-limiting.

Describing the core of the Growth Mindset is trickier... and I don't think that's just because it's not my native outlook (for most things, anyway) -- its a more nuanced belief. It holds that the value of life is in the process, that abilities and intelligence are plastic and that constant growth and striving are the hallmarks of a life well-lived. In some ways, it's the opposite of a "goal-oriented" outlook; rather than apply a cost/benefit ratio like I always do, favoring low-hanging fruit, a person with a good Growth Mindset will reject things that are too easy as unworthy of their time and attention; much better to get a good challenge that can teach, even if the "good" results are less assured.

(One of the implications of a Growth Mindset is that maybe a bit of masochism is a good thing! And I can certainly see traces of my own Fixed Mindset in stuff like exercise... huffing and puffing during an activity that someone more fit would find easy is humiliating, and that's what I would focus on, rather than believing in a capacity for physical development.)

For a long time, I thought Challenge for Its Own Sake was borderline psychotic. But now I can see that challenge for the sake of being better at rising up to meet future challenges is probably crucial, because LIFE IS CHALLENGING. No matter where we are with intrinsic or developed abilities, whatever accomplishments dot our portfolios, the world can provide interesting challenges that we shouldn't shirk from for the sake of our precious egos.

So, changing my mindset is going to be... a challenge, Meta-ly enough. But I might be well placed; I've always disliked "trusting my gut instinct", and learning that my gut-instinct fear of having my ego bruised is masquerading behind an intellectual mask of "cost/benefit ratio" is empowering.

It's also a mindset I'd like to help instill in the brains of my friends' kids. Most of my friends are pretty smart, and their kids have lots of potential, and are probably already ahead of their peers in a lot of ways. Instilling the love of the struggle is tough; it isn't as easy to admire a struggle as it is to just say "you're smart!" and "you're so talented!" but I think the end result would be worth it.
Why I make Terrible Decisions; or, Poverty Thoughts Simply and clearly written and eye-opening. (Cracked.com actually has some similar pieces, thoughtful but in a more juvenile style: http://bit.ly/1cHLl0U ) I've got friends going through the muck of this and I don't know how to help them find an exit.
"'Embarrassment is ignorance leaving your body.'"

February 24, 2014rambletech

"Let me explain. For some of us, it is hard to hear 'I love you' - because to us, it suggests you don't know us as well as we'd hoped."
http://www.lostinmobile.com/ - heh, I've loved this little UK-based mobile/gadget blog for a while, and they promoted a longish comment I made (on a previous story about who is "more influential", Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates) into a top level story.
here's the comment:
In some ways it seems unfair, because the jury is still out on Gates, but certainly his foundation is out to make some awesome change.

In terms of "computers to the masses"-- the thing is, maybe there's more a feel of inevitability of what he did? IBM decided to make a "Personal" computer, risking their golden goose of big hardware to make sure they didn't get left behind home computers. (Which, come to think of it, was primarily the Apple II) Gates was savvy enough to catch that train with super clever licensing of someone else's DOS... but someone would have done that if he didn't? Similarly, it seems likely some form of Xerox -> Macintosh WIMP interface would have gained traction in the 90s on PCs even in a Gateless world.

So looking at what Gates did, it was that clever licensing where he could make money selling DOS to PC clone manufacturers... that was the world changing bit, perhaps? This was all in the wake of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which provided a window for Home Computers to really take off. But the Apples and Commodores and Atari 8bits (while running rings around PCs in terms of fun, graphics and sound) lacked the gravitas of IBM for business. So it was a combination of the reputation of IBM, Gates clever licensing, and good ol' free market competition on the hardware that pushed to make computers so ubiquitous.

But Jobs did more at the leading edge of technology -- all with a little (lot of) help from his friends. With Woz, the Apple II made the home computer happen. With Xerox, the Macintosh brought WIMP UI to the peoples. Jump forward 2 decades, and he made the next level of touch screen computing on ubiquitously connected devices occur. Jobs led Gates et al on all these things.

From the first world perspective then, Jobs without a doubt - if Gates hadn't existed, someone would have done most of the same stuff, but Jobs changed things with a personal vision and sense of design. (who knows, maybe a world where IBM clones hadn't strangled the market in the 80s and 90s, with a richer variety of products from Amiga and Atari and others, would have been cooler?) From a global perspective, the Gates Foundation will really help more people, with the focus on medicines and education. So is that "influential"? Maybe. Mostly it was one great idea, licensing the software so the hardware could have competition, that made him a ton of money, and that he then turned into helping people.

(Side note, it's interesting thinking of that summary and, say, the launch of Windows 95, and the INSANE amounts of testing of Win 3.1 software they did, and the hacks they put in place, to ensure that no one would have "well my program doesn't work on the new system" as an excuse not to upgrade. That was a consequence of "Microsoft on All Hardware". It's also important to remember how untouchably powerful Microsoft seemed in the late 90s, that they had enough cash to buy anyone who seemed like a threat. Luckily, they never saw the threat the Internet would be...)

verbs and icons and my dadramble

May 20, 2014
My mind seems to be wired in terms of verbs: the roles things play, versus an essentialist notion of "what they are". This is a powerful way of thinking about the things, but it can have some odd side effects. For instance, I am surprisingly slow at recognizing certain icons and associating them with the software functions they go with.

To the right is my OSX Dock at work. Most of the images are relatively associate with their function: Sourcetree looks like a file tree, Stickies looks like post-its, Terminal looks like a terminal window. A few others, like Chrome and and Vidyo (the isomorphic cube) make up for the lack of use-association with great big hunks of color. (Finder I remember because it's always at the top of the list - that's the same kind of positional memory I rely on in iOS. Again, it's not that I can't hunt and find icons, I just don't want to have to for the icons I use the most.)

This little guy has always proven problematic:
It's for the (very good, and free) "Komodo" Editor, and I guess it supposed to be a dragon or lizard head. I don't use it as much as I used to, though.

But lately, my recognition nemesis is this guy:
That's for IntelliJ by JetBrains (hence the J?) the editor I spend most of my coding time in these days. But that icon... though the other day (and I'm chagrined at how long it took me) I realized I could use another hook. Those are the initials of my dad, Jim.

Obviously, there's no particularly strong natural association between my deceased father and a code editor, but in this case the other connections I have are stepping in and making me think of James Israel when I sense myself hunting for the right icon... I actually enjoy the little tribute of it, as weird and idiosyncratic as the connection is.
"I dont think you have to believe the Bryan way in order to be a strong evangelical. But this is Bryan College, and this is something thats important to us. Its in our DNA. Its who we are."
--Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College, defending its decision to double down on literalist theology by viz a viz Adam + Eve. The irony of him citing "DNA" is almost palpable.

The real issue is literalism and fundamentalism; this point is it's just a way of drawing culture war lines, you could certainly be a non-Genesis-literalist Christian.

September 29, 2014ramble

Homer Simpson -- "Lousy minor setback! THIS WORLD SUCKS!"

From I Am Furious (Yellow)
(as I said the other day: I use "Lousy Minor Setback! This World Sucks!" as a mantra, sometimes, to remind myself that I'm crazily over-reacting to whatever little inconvenience is irking me just then, like a broken escalator. ("Mantra" is the wrong term... what's the word for a cross between a catchphrase and a koan to set one's thinking on a better path? Sort of a catchprahse wrang-wrang, to use Vonnegut's bokononism terminology.))

October 29, 2014ramble

I am trying to extend my palette by learning to enjoy sugary sweets in with the savory. Today: Sweetgreen's "CURRY CAULIFLOWER + QUINOA SALAD" -- curry cauliflower, cucumber tahini yogurt, some kick with the siracha, and dried cranberries.
Philosophical debating with EB. Part of its trying to flesh out my concept of "non-trivial novelty" as a kind of existential moral good, an objective "point of it all", at least for me. (I started calling it "novelty of pattern" - EB thought maybe I meant "novelty in non-trivial subjects", when really I was just trying to say that the output of a random number generator wouldn't be very novel in the way I was thinking)

EB argues (and I may or may not be doing his view justice, but I'm trying) that since some failure is well-nigh inevitable in getting to that end goal, it is an inherent and essential characteristic. I kind of chafe at this; I think just because its damned likely doesn't mean it's inevitable, and therefore can't be a defining part, just an unfortunate side-effect that we'd avoid if we could and do avoid when we can.

As we argued on about this, we refined to a pretty specific gap in our outlooks: for me, definitions spring from theory, for him, definitions spring from practice. (So "risk of failure" would be a more acceptable candidate for part of the definition for him.)

I was sort of surprised to realize this aspect of my outlook. I mean, on the one hand, it's obvious, I seem to have an almost pathological need to be able to rationalize and justify my actions to some kind of unnamed higher, objective authority. On the other hand, I'm a strong descriptivist when it comes to the world of English and Grammar, and I think stuff like "the universe of platonic ideals" or what not is nonsense; what we see is what we get, universe-wise, and when we're lucky we can see and name the patterns.

So definitely an interesting potential inconsistency in my outlook. I'm still sticking with my guns on this definition though, since it seems like the definition should be reversible (If A = novel pattern results, and B = failures getting there, A implies B, but B doesn't assure A! And I can visualize -- as unlikely but not impossibly unlikely -- novel patterns without all the failure, but it seems like EB's definition rejects that.)

November 12, 2014ramble

Oh man, Morning Edition is talking about this medical worker going off to fight Ebola, and keeping an audio diary. Hasn't he played, like, Bioshock? Having an audio diary for the player to come across later is a kiss of death!
But imagine if marriage didn't exist- and you're a guy, and you ask a woman to get married. Imagine what that conversation would be like. You'd be like:
'Hey, so, y'know, we been hanging out together, spending a lot of time together and everything--"
'Ya ya, I know!'
'I wanna keep doin' that 'til your DEAD.'
'I wanna keep hangin' out with you 'til one of use DIES. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.'
'Wha- Wha--- Who's that guy?'
'It's a priest. I want you to swear to God you won't back out of this deal.'
'Wha- What's he wheeling in?'
'It's a cake with two tiny dolls that look like us. EAT A SLICE... now feed a little bit to me [CHOMP]'
'Uh-h-uh this is really strange, why are we doing this?'
-Aziz Ansari, from his special "Buried Alive" (I posted it last year.)
Sometimes I think I'm weirdly boolean in my thinking. A friend posts about a week being "frustratingly annoying" (and yet only Monday) and you know, rather than assuming a reasonable "sub-optimal, but readily survivable and there will be better weeks ahead" somehow I go 0-100 and figure things are gloom and doom and terrible. It's hard to grasp how many shades of gray (we need to not give up that phrase despite unfortunate literary reference) there are just in what things ARE.

Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. And every Designed Thing is a compromise in competing priorities - I mean, it's not all relative, some designs and ideas are better on so many important fronts that it would be silly to not think of them as objectively "better overall", but sometimes - not so much.

This comes up in programming. Its sometimes difficult for me to have enough faith in a given toolkit to accept not knowing it 100%, just enough to get by. It's a knack. There are some lousy programmers who are always content with the 10% knowledge, but the quest for knowing ALL about something before you can use it is hopeless.

I imagine parenting would have some of the same pitfalls, at even greater stakes.

nuh-uh, didn't say the magic word!ramble

March 7, 2015
I decided to tear directly into the second Second "Science of Discworld" book when I realized it deals heavily with matters of mind and consciousness. It also talks about magic (here, in the Arthur C Clarke "indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology" sense) but ties in "magical" technology with the poor understanding of cause and effect we all tend to have as children:
Parents and carers are always transmuting the child's expressed desires into actions and objects, from food appearing on the table when the child is hungry to toys and other birthday and Christmas gifts. We surround these simple verbal requests with 'magical' ritual. We require the spell to begin with 'please', and its execution to be recognised by 'thank you'.
Coming home in the car and clicking the garage open, clicking the infrared remote to open or lock the car, changing TV channels - even switching on the light by the wall switch - are just that kind of magic. Unlike our Victorian forebears, we like to hide the machinery and pretend it's not there. So Clarke's dictum is not at all surprising. What it means is that this ape keeps trying, with incredible ingenuity, to get back into the nursery, when everything was done for it.
(Later they point out that you don't need high technology to continue this "making wishes" form of life, just lots of money -- "Feudal societies have a baronial class, who are in many respects allowed to remain in their nursery personas by being surrounded by servants and slaves and other parent-surrogates.")

I liked the reminder that the Victorians liked to expose the workings and fine engineering cleverness. But more than that, I was struck with how my preferences in software development are Victorian, in that sense. I prefer systems that "show their work" and expose the plumbing. That doesn't seem to be the dominant trend in the industry, however. In the late-90s, early-00s it was "Unix vs Microsoft" in development style, the latter giving you very powerful toolsets that a developer might not ever quite understand the flow of. Things "just worked" and coder life was productive and grand. Or they didn't, and coder life was misery and suffering. That Microsoft style seems to be seeping more and more into the stack that is still more at home on Unix-like systems, despite the culture those systems came from, the culture of relatively easy to understand and decoupled parts communicating, ideally via pipes.

There's a reductio ad absurdum of this, of course, that says why should I be uncomfortable with this kind of abstraction in technology when I accept so many others underneath it? I took some elementary assembly language in college, and even programmed an Atari game... but the amount of abstraction embedded in this laptop I'm writing this on is unfathomable. Just thinking about what's going on to get pixels glowing on the screen, the number of interlocked electronic subsystems in constant communication, a weird dance of impulse and intent... but, it's pretty reliable! It's acceptable to me because it hardly ever fails in subtle ways - or at all, for that matter. This is in contrast to these newer "framework of the months" for software development... if I'm coding with my preferred Imperative style of simple code, libraries for the tough stuff, stack traces that make sense... I know I can do pretty much anything a browser can allow. When using one of these magical frameworks, I have to see if the framework permits it, or if I'll be given the extra burden of working around it to meet the specification.

But, I persevere. Because these tools are powerful, and when I take enough time to really learn and get to know a toolkit, I'm empowered. Also, because my real goals are to do make interesting things, and a lot of the people with interesting things for me to make (and the budgets to pay me to make them) love these toolkits, and I want to be easy to work with.


The book extends some related ideas that to my ear starts leaning to Taoism:
A Spinozan view of child development sees the opposite of wish-fulfilment. There are rules, constraints, that limit what we can do. The child learns, as she grows, to modify her plans as she perceives more of the rules. Initially, she might attempt to cross the room assuming that the chair is not an obstacle; when it doesn't move out of her way, she will feel frustration , a 'passion'. And throws a paddy. Later, as she constructs her path to avoid the chair, more of her plans will peaceably, and successfully, come to fruition. As she grows and learns more of the rules - God's Will or the warp and woof of universal causation - this progressive success will produce a calm acceptance of constraints: peace rather than passion.
(I had to confirm I knew what "throwing a paddy" meant from context... and like I feared, it's a bit racist.)

I hadn't heard as much about Spinoza in a while, I think I dig that kind of pantheistic outlook.


march blender of love

March 16, 2015ramble

I do like Japanese infinite toys. I remember bringing a bunch of the bubble wrap back from Japan.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLH8BX9-z5w shameless pandering for people to go to youtube and Thumbs Up this video I have a cameo in! A friend is campaigning to be a playtester for Exploding Kittens, a new game tied in with The Oatmeal...
Follow up to yesterday's note on "expecting to be annoyed"... on FB David H said the attitude might be called a form of "realist optimism" and Tim K wrote:
t could also be seen as a sort of Zen-like acceptance. Truthfully, I think the real wisdom of not allowing oneself to be stressed by or overly focused on things outside one's ability to control or influence is an element of just about any philosophical branch. It's sort of one of those universal truths, that is expressed differently in different contexts, but boils down to the same thing in the end.

My response was
Tim you're right that it's a fairly common sentiment, but some of the nuance is important. For instance I dig neo-stoicism (see http://kirk.is/2010/11/10/ ) over Zen because of how it doesn't discourage embracing of the pleasant (unlike Zen's encouragement to detach from positive and negative-- and usual disclaimers about my understanding of Zen apply)

In this case, it's the setting of expectations that is useful for my temperament, in a way mere acceptance in real time doesn't. Lower parts of my intellect get flustered and worried when things go wrong, and I become so aware of "THIS COULD BE OTHERWISE AND THAT WOULD BE BETTER FOR ME" that I'm prone to immature outbursts of anger. (Homer Simpson's stuck-in-traffic "Lousy Minor Setback! THIS WORLD SUCKS!" sums it up pretty well.)

With "mere acceptance", I can quickly quell the outburst, but it's more effective to have prepped the landscape with the expectation that things will utterly fail to live up to my self-centered ideal for them.

Just like Homer Simpson provides a good model for the rage, Garry Gergich from Parks & Recreation is a good model for calm acceptance of terrible and stupid things happening to one. (To borrow TV Trope's term, he's the Butt Monkey of the show, but then the writers make it up to the character by giving him an amazing wife and family situation.)

So we got the record for snow (funny, I remember 92-93, my freshman year, a bit more strongly than the 95-96 previous record holder, even though 92-93 is only like 7th on the list now) but the more amazing bit was how much of that was in one month. But of course, Capracotta Italy is making us look like rookies.

We're going to be amazed at how calm and gentle our environment was for us, in retrospect.
"I think dead is really a thing just like alive except you have less choices to make."
--Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig, in this interview

on albert ellis and not being miserableramble

June 6, 2015
Lately I've been on a "self-help" book kick. I started with Albert Ellis' "How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-- Yes, Anything!" (The title just rolls right off the tongue!) Ellis draws our attention to a pattern of irrational thinking that I recognize in my own life--a habit of exaggerating the impact of a dreaded event, or of parlaying a small setback into general feelings of self-worthlessness. He's worried about the anxiety and dwelling on thoughts of "must" :
"If I lost my job, as I must not, I could never get a good one again, and that would show what a wholly incompetent person I am!" "I must have a guarantee that my mate must not die, for if he or she did, I couldn't stand being alone and would always be miserable." "It's absolutely necessary that I not lose my sight, for if I did, my life would be awful and horrible, and I could never enjoy anything again!"
Ellis has a pretty heavy hand with the italics! But he argues that for much of the time, our FEELINGS of anxiety and misery have their often hidden roots in (often irrational) THOUGHTS about situations present and future, and that by practicing thinking more realistic thoughts we can prevent these misery and anxiety causing emotions ... for example, a person feeling shame for not being able to stop smoking:
"In no way am I, a total person, stupid and worthless because I keep doing a stupid act like smoking. My act is foolish but that hardly makes me a worthless fool, only a person who is now acting foolishly, who may act less foolishly in the future, and who does many other intelligent things"
But- like all changing habits, switching thought patterns and recognizing unhelpful and irrational thoughts takes a lot of practice. I know one irrationally exaggerated fear I have is "being incorrect" (Or as Ellis would probably have me think: "now, it's hardly desirable to be incorrect, but if I'm wrong or don't see the other side of a given situation, that doesn't make me a horrible person, and I will certainly be able to have a more empathetic view in other situations!") though compared to a lot of other problems I and others will get through, it has a bit of a first world problem feel.
A real tour de force about the numbers lost in WW2, vs before and after.

(Ironic that the thumbnail uses an American flag, because it's not hard to see how lightly the USA got off, relatively speaking.)

But the infographics elements and use of sound and motion are subtle and great in this.

on the realities of retrogamesvideogamesramble

September 9, 2015
This past spring I had an online dialog with Chris Federico, keeper of Orphaned Computers & Game Systems and author of The Classic-Gaming Bookcast - $0.99 well spent for any fan of old games.

One way he adds to his enjoyment of games is to make up his own backstory for them - for a great example of this kind of thing, see his co-author's Adam Trionfo's "Before Reading the Manual" on their review of the obscure Spectravision game "Gas Hog". At one point in our conversation I explained my own reasons for why that seemed kind of alien to me. Recently he mentioned some of my ideas had stuck with him and he asked if I would explicate, possibly for partial inclusion in a future edition of his "Bookcast"... this is what I came up with.

There are two ways to think about the story behind specific retro videogames... for some players, the pixels and bleeps and blurps of an older game are like the shadows in Plato's Cave, technology used to crudely reveal a bigger, "more real" story going on. (The manual might give one explanation of the reality thus represented, but there's nothing stopping players from constructing their own, as you've demonstrated in your bookcast...) The screen for Intellivision's "AD&D: Cloudy Mountain" may just be showing some green and yellow squares (like a kid might have made with graph paper and some markers) but this type of player can see the slime-covered stonework, hear the echo from some unseen dripping water, smell the smoke of the flickering torches lining the walls in their metal holders. And these players' experience is probably the richer for it.

For me, however, the appeal of old games has always been their self-contained aspect: each Atari cartridge in the large collection I lucked into was its own microcosm with its own rules of physics and creatures and boundaries. The eponymous Superman of the Atari cartridge wasn't just a reflection of the muscled, flying hero of the Comic Book; he was a new pixel Superman, fighting crime in his limited pixel world, jailing pixel Lex Luthor and getting kisses from pixel Lois Lane. He's unbothered by Mister Mxyzptlk not because the programmer chose to direct his programming "camera lens" on a particular day in the life of the comicbook hero, but because for Atari 2600 Superman, this is the full extent of what the world- what the universe- is.

The advantage of this less literary, more literal approach to game story is that it embraces the limitations of player action, it doesn't have to explain it away: Take Crossroads, for the C=64; your little guy fires down the corridor. If a bullet wraps around the screen and hits him in the back, he takes damage. He doesn't have the option to hide against a wall, to maybe dig a trench for protection, to play with ricochet or shoot out a light or light a torch, or to do anything but shoot at a 90 degree angle directly down the hallway, square in the center. The universe, the range of possibility, is fully circumscribed. Of course, it's not devoid of higher-level interpretation: I see a little man, I see a bullet, I see various monsters duking it out, I don't just see splashes of pixels following abstract rules and displaying the results of various computations... as a player I bring recognition and thus a kind of meaning to the display and to the interaction, but that's my understanding from a privileged, god-like view into a self-contained universe, not the recognition of the pixels of a retelling of some other, more visceral fiction.

A damn stylus, thanks Apple! To quote Gruber: "Finally"

November 17, 2015ramble

"How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite."
--Jake Gilbert. That's his start to my favorite poem ever. Lately I've been thinking about the power of words. It's this feeling I'm growing increasingly aware of of fundamental weirdness: how someone can choose to say something, and it (most likely) reflects the universe as it seems to them, though they might be being deceptive). But there is that choice of what and how something is said, and what is left unsaid, and from that choice some limited ability to shape the perceptions of others...

(Ironically, or appropriately, it's not easy for me to put this vague feeling into words...)

I find subtitles in movies distracting, especially if the written version precedes the equivalent from the actor's voice, which is usually the case. It throws the whole farce of cinematic and theatrical productions in sharp relief: these characters have no agency, they, and the people typing in the subtitles, are mere outlets for authorial intent, their words (and by extension: their thoughts, their feelings, their experiences, their whole being) preordained in some script.

But we have no such script. We are actors and authors all at once, at once the product and creators of our environment. (Even with faith in the Almighty, the ultimate Author, there's a lot of free will to be exercised locally.)

How astonishing!
Fun Montreal Fact: on the Montreal Metro, doors open and passengers disembark as the train is still gliding to a gentle stop.

December 15, 2015ramble

advent day 15

Tonight we had our last UU Covenant Group of the season/year, and I'm given my participation a rest, at least for a while.

Covenant groups are a special type of discussion group some UU churches run... they meet on a monthly basis, and often have a "check in", a reading, and then a go-round and discussion. I've been participating in my group for about a decade! And led it for maybe half of that (sometimes in a co-leader role) so letting go is a tough thing for me.

And appropriately, the final topic (as picked by one of the leaders of the other groups) was "Change". Purposeful change can be difficult for me, because it feels like it has to be either A. a refutation of my past self ("boy what was I thinking? good thing I'm so much smarter now") or B. Just a bad idea in general. (But of course, this is symptomatic of the all too human tendency to try to squish the grand diversity of life into a single spectrum of better/worse, and so be unable accept "different: better in some regards, worse in others".)

Several people in my group had a negative reaction to tonight's opening reading/quote:
"We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better."
--C. JoyBell C.
I was thinking about why that seems so problematic. Some of it is it's just insulting to one's personal history, like too much embracing of that "refutation of my past self" -- oh, stop digging here and start digging there - there's probably a whole gold mine right there you've just been too afraid to dig there, or stupid, or something.

So why is that gold mine so unlikely?

There's a kind of parody rap artist called MC Hawking, using a copy of physicist Stephen Hawking's electronic voice something to deliver science-related hiphop. His song entropy Entropy has this verse:
You ever drop an egg and on the floor you see it break?
You go and get a mop so you can clean up your mistake.
But did you ever stop to ponder why we know it's true,
if you drop a broken egg you will not get an egg that's new.
And why is that? The answer is entropy - I'm not qualified to explain it well, but the whole egg has more order; and in general, you have to put energy into something in order to counteract the tendency towards disorder and randomness.

And that's what the JoyBell quote is leaving out: all sorts of change IS possible- and it's important to remember that. But almost every change represents some kind of tradeoff, some kind of sacrifice: if anything was an obvious no-strings-attached win, we'd have been doing that already. But all these changes reflect some kind of sacrifice, some kind of cost. Which isn't saying net improvement isn't possible - but - the entropic universe being what it is - it will absolutely take the mindful application of effort and energy.

February 12, 2016rambleintrospection

"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."
--Nietzsche... I enocunted the concept of "amor fati" the other day. Roughly translated, it's "the love of one's fate". More roughly translated, it's an admonition to love this life, this circumstance; it's the only one you're going to get.

I feel like in the mid-90s; somewhere between the end of the Cold War as we knew it and before I started listening to the Y2K worrywarts, I carried myself with a bit more joie-de-vivre; I remember a receptionist commenting on how I was more likely to walk around with a boppy little song.

More recently, I've been so frustrated with my own sense of rage at minor inconveniences, like bad traffic, or recalcitrant computer hardware and software. I wonder if really embracing Amor Fati could help with that.

I think it would make a good tattoo. But maybe I'll start with my phone wallpaper or my next custom case.

Photo semi-related -- Tempus Fugit has some similar implications, but has more anxiety producing potential. But I really liked the design, by Bnomio

The Scots-Irish or "American" whites who see Trump as their champion are profoundly different from the metropolitan whites who dominate the upper echelons of U.S. society--so much so that the convention of lumping them together as "white" detracts far more from our understanding of how they fit into our society than it adds to it. J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a forthcoming book on the place of Appalachian whites in modern America, estimates that roughly one-quarter of whites belong to the Scots-Irish tribe that has embraced Trump. If we were to separate out these Americans as a race or ethnicity unto themselves, Vance writes, we would finds rates of poverty and substance abuse that would shock our national conscience. But we don't generally collect detailed statistics on the Scots-Irish. We don't have a clear sense of how their labor force participation or disability rates compare to those of other Americans, including other white Americans. And so their experiences and their collective traumas blend into whiteness, where they can be safely ignored. Whites are privileged, after all.
--Reihan Salam in I Can't Hate Donald Trump Subtitled 'I do hate the Republicans who've enabled his remarkable popularity.'

That may be a rather profound point about "whiteness" in the USA. I mean I think there will always be some privilege from, at a glance, looking like the privileged class, but it might not be as much as us city slickers assume.

There's a lot I agree with with David Brooks on Bernie's Danish Dream and a lot that I don't.

February 18, 2016ramblehistoryvideotuba

"Awlaki was, to a certain cast of mind, a mesmerizing preacher. This world is but a station, he proclaimed. It is the next station, the Hereafter, that matters. 'We do not belong here. We are travelling. . . . We need to prepare for death.'"
--William Finnegan in the New Yorker, Last Days: Preparing for the apocalypse in San Bernardino

I think this is problematic with a lot of faiths, especially with an emphasis on a supernatural hereafter, and in fact the Awlaki quote reminds me of messages I would get from time to time in my Christian church upbringing. Why give a damn (so to speak) about anything around us, what in the finite can measure up to the infinite that awaits? Yeah, some faiths say God wants to be good stewards, but why worry about the planet when we're careening toward the apocalypse? (Revelation was written 19 centuries ago, and still waiting, but it must be around the corner now...) Some religions emphasize charity and kindness in the here and now but those goals have to be weighed in the balance of spreading the word and fighting the fight.

I understand faith adds to the lives of many people. On the one hand, a more mature faith is balanced by basic humanity concerns, but if you start using "basic human concerns" as a litmus test for your religion, you're down the path of admitting they might be more important than religion... that it's something with common values that might transcend which of the many, many possible faiths we cling to. I wish establishing that common ground was the priority - it seems a lot healthier than this "people of faith, any faith no matter how mutually incompatible" lined up on the righthand sheep side against the skeptics on the lefthand goat side..

I know in some ways science - or rather, what science thinks is most likely true about how the universe functions, for now - requires some kind of faith. I've often longed for a good kitchen-sink science demonstration of atomic theory! (And one of the things I found bugging me most in the Scalia retrospectives was that he thought evolution was just a theory, and a crummy theory at that.) But why science differs from most other faiths is that it offers a method of its own correction; its core is coming up with ideas, and putting them to the test, and letting other people put them to the test. Knowledge is painstakingly grown, not handed from on high, or merely homegrown in our hearts. (And science doesn't tell us what to do - you can't get ought from is -- that's the job of moral philosophy, and when people try to shove science into that role you get crap like social darwinism.)

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens I'm less interested in the rags-to-riches-to-rags aspect than the general take on tumblr culture; admittedly FB has been a better mirror for my old (and ongoing) kisrael.com but I really appreciate the "relatable" style culture, relative to other cultures (twitter or especially chan/twitter) it is very human.
Wow, an insult that bugs that Short-Fingered Vulgarian.
In 1990 my high school marching band travelled to Detroit for a band competition and the parade... jump to 27:50 for some fine tuba, cymbals, and majorette dancin' to "My Sharona".

Good for anyone who has a fetish for badly lit vintage shots of the Henry Ford Museum.

amor fatiramblebestof

February 23, 2016
"Apes don't read PHILOSOPHY!"
"Yes they do Otto, they just don't UNDERSTAND it!"
--A Fish Called Wanda

For a few weeks I've been rolling the concept of "Amor Fati" -- a love of ones fate, the good and the bad -- around in my head, and been finding it comforting and energizing.

The thing is, I find its meaning a little difficult to describe to others, to put into words - and Melissa pointed out that's not a comfortable feeling for me. (Also, it's a little weird that its popularization comes in part of Nietzsche...)

"Amor Fati" is a complementary fit to other part of classical stoicism, with that philosophy's encouragement to divide events into those that you have control over and those that you don't. That's a good start for me, with my deeply embedded need to not let a situation go pear-shaped if I can be a martyr and "save" it. "Amor Fati" somehow completes that; not only can I recognize things are out of my control, but I can learn to embrace the circumstance in its entirety. (Embrace this circumstance, 'cause it's the only one you're gonna get!)

There's the obvious objection to loving the bad as well as the good... if you were really good at that, could you greet a stubbed toe or traffic jam or lost job with as much enthusiasm as a great movie or a raise? And so, without that general motivation to make things ("objectively") better for you or those around you, wouldn't you let things ("objectively") slip and get worse? I don't have a great counter to that, just an intuition that A. yeah, I don't think I'm likely to reach that kind of zen equanimity and B. accepting and loving that there will be more pleasant and less pleasant outcomes breaks through fears and anxieties about the latter, and those fears tend to be more stifling of positive action than tranquil, passive acceptance .

As with most of my attempts to find comforting philosophy, there can be a "first world problem" aspect to it, and I don't know how well it extends to truly trying circumstances. I do enjoy finding some parallels in other places though. At one point I learned the trick of recasting anxiety as excitement - physiologically their pretty similar - and "Amor Fati" helps with that, because you will love even the bad outcome you're nervous about. In the military, they talk about "embracing the suck" and even get a perverse pride in what they've muddled through. Finally, I guess "Amor Fati" is kind of a secular version of believers who find consolation in sad things as being part of "God's Will" - those believers tend to count on a divine plan that's ultimately for good in a way I can't, but I'm guessing it's a similar feeling in the meanwhile.

Anyway, I commisioned the designer Bnomio to recast this work on "Tempus Fugit" as "Amor Fati", and it's currently my iPhone wallpaper... (it will be my phone case when it's time for a new one.) Having this reminder literally at hand (combined with things I already like about the iPhone's PDA/organizing part of my life) is great, the phone becomes a worry stone... a non-worry stone. The ship may be foundering, our ultimate end has always been visible in the distance, time can tick away - but I love it.

"There may be more beautiful times, but this one is ours."
--Jean-Paul Sartre... heh, two years ago I posted the perfect complement quote to today's essay.
People might know that 222 is my lucky number. So I was pretty psyched yesterday at 2:22, it being 2/22 and all. Obviously I'm looking forward to 2/22/22 ... especially because it's a *Tuesday*.
I hearby proclaim it PENULTIMATE TWOSDAY and plan to have a big party. (sadly, ULTIMATE TWOSDAY, 2/22/2222 will be a Friday.)

March 4, 2016ramble

Random thought I had the other day...

I place a lot of my own self-worth in being valuable to others.

I get a lot more engaged in a group if I feel I'm critical to that group. For example: on summer I started attending Sunday services at my local UU church. Its scraggly, sparsely-attended meeting felt kind of familiar to me, and I thought I might find a home there, take up a common cause. Then fall arrived, and I found out that many New England churches kind of "pause" for the summer, but in autumn the spigots get turned back on full blast. Much of my urge to go to church left me. (Also: lazy Sunday mornings are kind of fantastic.) In part, I felt lost in the crowd. But I also felt like I would be "needed", was unlikely to be critical to the group.

(Another example: switching to tuba from the smaller baritone horn in the sixth grade, because a trumpet player had switched to baritone, and I liked the nature of being the only player of an instrument in a group.)

So I tend to be very reliable with this kind of thing, stalwart, which is a good thing but it comes from two weird places: the first is, maybe I don't feel like I have a ton of intrinsic value. (Conversely: do I feel most people do have intrinsic, part of the human birthright? It's a pretty basic humanistic tenant but I'm not sure it's one that I've perfectly embraced.) The second is: if a group doesn't NEED me, then why should I bother? (I mean, except in the ways that it's entertaining for me.) Life is full of a lot of potential demands for my precious time!

Some of it's just the binary thinking problem - oversimplifying, binary thinking is one of the biggest issues I see in the world, and I'm dismayed that I'm plagued by it too. People don't want a multidimensional way of taking things in, acknowledging that everything has parts that are good, less good, great, terrible - we want a single spectrum of "good" or "bad", and we don't even want a spectrum, we want to say good OR bad.

It muddles my thinking. It's just hard to wrap my head around ideas like "this effort - where I'm useful now - would be ok without me, but different".

(Of course a while ago I wrestled in a variation of this, the "If you 'can't live without me' why aren't you dead yet?" type thing. The best answer I remember coming for that was that - well, they wouldn't DIE die, but you're critical to them being the best selves that they are now, that at least in that sense the person they are now wouldn't be around.)
One part of humanity's moral growth will be the recognition and acceptance of people determining the timeline for their own ends.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Alewife, the station I arrive at nearly every day to begin my day's journey, is ultimately named after a type of herring.

April 8, 2016ramble

"Today's 22/23/24 if you didn't know."
The Price is Right Theme 800% Slower:

"Slowed down 800%, this song becomes an ambient, lush and soothing experience"
My slow plan of self-improvement continues. (Sometimes I try to remember if I engaged in similar plans in my 20s and 30s. I should check my old blog rambles and see.)

Recently I started embracing "Amor Fati", love of ones fate, embracing the circumstance because - regardless if you can dig up a silver-lining for it or not - it IS The Current Circumstance, there is no other. This is painful for us to believe, because or imaginative brains are SO GOOD at thinking up hypothetical alternate realities-- realities much like this one, but a bit nicer: without this badly designed redlight holding us back, without this T pass lost, without this toe stubbed. Those other realities simply don't exist, and we must learn to love what actually does, because it does. ("People don't think it be like it is, but it do.")

In practice, though, it's not always easy to dredge up that feeling of "Amor" fast enough, so I've been exploring supplementary models. My current favorite has to do with an illformed memory of a friend describing someone else: "he's just like, you know, 'super chill'?" Some how I find that phrasing weirdly evocative, despite its lack of detail. I can think of various tropes and characters from literature that exemplify that.

I doubt that "Super chill" is a phrase that most friends would use to describe me, but I still, I would like to be more unflappable, taking things more little pitfalls in stride. In theory I have enough existential philosophy to back that...("in theory, Communism works. In theory.") But mostly it's a model I can quickly apply - I feel a flash of anger or fear, I think "what would this like, super-chill guy do?" and try to be that. There's still that flash of negative emotion of course, but maybe in time that can be quelled a bit, much like my libido seems to have to get pre-approval before it can make me even 'feel' anything...

When I think about self-improvement like this, I always have a note of caution. There's the thought that being uptight and anxious may have served me well over the years, given me a backbone to not give into more of my baser instincts; maybe my ingrained, apocalyptic fear of eternal hellfire has done me a service, keeping a bit closer to the straight-n-narrow. But now, at 42, I think I'll be ok. And there's always the hope that I might be even better, that if I can shake my flinchy fear about "well what if this next technical bit doesn't work out and I don't know how to fix it???" I can achieve more and more interesting things.

Also, I wouldn't want "super chill" to swamp my general happiness and enthusiasm for things I like... I don't think they're incompatible, though there's some creative tension there.
TIL (reading an Updike novel) that, shortly before the assassination, JFK and Jackie had a son, but who died after 2 days after being born premature.

I'm not sure what feels weirder to me; not having heads of this or just the idea of having a child while being president.

September 10, 2016ramble

I've been fascinated by the left brain / right brain split lately - the weird tales of how a split-brain patient seems to have two utterly independent selves living in their skull - and in those cases how cheerily the verbal left brain will make up the oddest stories to justify what the half of the body controlled by the "other brain" is doing, in order to maintain an illusion of unity of purpose, and self. (I'm convinced everyone get tons of practice making up those stories every night as we dream, that dreaming is an exercise in the left brain making up rationalizations and interpretations of much less ordered sense impressions/illusions.)

I'm trying to read up on the topic (haven't found a really focused book yet, though I'm optimistic about one of them) because I know I'm currently tempted to make up unverified "Just So" explanations, and attribute to my right brain every impulse my rational analytic self doesn't approve of - such as my desire to snack and eat unhealthily (and the absolutely scary "junkie reasoning" my subconscious came up with once after my analytical brain said "look, I'm not really hungry, and I'm not even craving anything in this fully laden vending machine of free snacks, I should walk away" -- "well, that's just why it's OK to indulge in it - because you *don't* have that pressing desire for it!" was the conterthought, rising up unbidden from the mental depths.)

But why the desire to attribute unwanted feelings to a physically distinct part of my brain? I mean does it matter that it's physically separate? (As opposed to the model of the mind as a cacophony of "virtual" subconsciousness, subconsciousness where it doesn't matter precisely *where* each is firing neurons in the brain... this is the view I tend to hold to, and it's more nuanced than the mere 2 part split this split brain "Just So" story implies.)

I understand the temptation for my analytic brain to declare itself the "real me", even as a higher part of me (or, lower?) understands that that's not correct. "The impulse came from my right brain", then, is kind of akin to "The devil made me do it!", a kind of rhetorical distancing from things I don't like about myself, and undeniably originate from "me"

I wonder if "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" gets into this?

September 17, 2016ramble

Lately I've been thinking about forms of empathy in everyday life, of whether an assumption of competition vs cooperation is good for us: pragmatically, but especially emotionally.

The examples that come most easily to mind are traffic-related. You're stuck behind some left-turner, look for your chance to scoot around to the right lane so that you can go straight, and some putz from behind you zips on up and takes your chance. It's easy to feel frustrated and annoyed by that, and to feel that you've somehow "lost" to that person. But what if you were able to view it as a little victory, either for them, or for local car-driving humanity in general?

Stupid? Naive? Maybe. I mean, from an evolutionary standpoint, we have a lot of cooperation in our history, but also a mandate to be on watch against cheaters, people who will take advantage of us, people who carry and struggle for their own agendas that we may actively disagree with, maybe even people with enough awareness of our own Kumbaya that they can leverage it for their own purposes with a blatant disregard for reciprocity. And few of us want to feel like that kind of fool.

Still, I think it might be a useful attitude to carry. I've been finding ways to douse "road rage" with thoughts like "Waiting Is" (time stuck waiting is still time, it's not some untime that is inherently valueless, even if we are impatient to get to somewhere else, eager for some event to occur) and adding in a dose of perspective - i.e. keeping in mind Homer Simpson's reaction to a traffic jam, the utterly furious "Lousy minor setback! This world sucks!", and how that's a kind of natural but short sighted way to be... and being aware how my brain is SO damn good at coming up with "alternate realities" that remove those little inconveniences. All that helps, but that feeling of "losing" to the other driver still stings. If I can share in their victory, or see it as a general positive for driver-kind, I'll be a happier and more generous person.

I'm not there yet, but hippy and Eastern ideas like "we are all one" make more sense to me, even if I have to wade hipdeep through my flavor of Western Rationalism to get there.

October 8, 2016ramble

"Live by the foma [Harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." --Bokonon (via Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle)

A few weeks ago I was talking about trying to apply more radical forms of empathy in some of the small, mostly anonymous interactions of my life - someone cutting me off in traffic, say - to somehow be happy for the other person, rather than focusing on my almost neglibly small, yet still annoying, "loss".

In the meanwhile I've tried to apply another, rather Eastern (or at least Western Hippy) metaphor to it; that somehow I and the other person are part of the same body, and so while the situation, or even their actions in the situation, my frustrate me, I can still get a sense of a common good being shared. I can get frustrated with my lower back when it twinges, or annoyed that my elbows will get all patchy if I don't attend to them daily, or wishing my vision was perfect, or that there wasn't a part of my subconscious out to fatten me up at every opportunity, but still there's a shared sense of togetherness that keeps my anger and irritation in check.

I recognize that this view doesn't hold up to some kinds of scrutiny; that one of the defining factors of a singular being or body is there's a specific someone/something driving the show and defining the overall purpose, and that's not really a stance I hold now. Actually, a workable, morally useful metaphor, not 100% grounded in physical reality, is part of the definition of most religion, I'd say. And by acting on this kind of outlook, we make ourselves vulnerable to people who take unfair advantage of our view (I mean, the whole history of evolution is, in part, the story of cooperators vs cheaters.)

For all its parts, good and bad, I find the bodily metaphor useful, and am gonna run with it.

(Heh, JP Honk used to have a "shared skirt" we'd being to events, where 5 or 6 people could wear the same garment... I see a parallel in that skirt and this philosophical lens, I think...)
Hm. So I'm looking forward to marching in the parade with JP Honk and then some stuff tonight and tomorrow with School of Honk, but I know in some ways I'm not taking full advantage of all the HONK! fest greatness. I mean I'll be having fun with the horn, but could it be said that I'm... Sousaphoning it in?

Ok, sorry for that one.

October 17, 2016ramble

Dream Thought: With great power comes great responsibility, but considering my main power is flaring my nostrils at will vs inhaling them closed...
"[face pressed against the glass case in the butcher shop] This is a bad zoo"
"After the Titanic sank, rich people got their revenge by spending the last hundred years melting all the icebergs."
In Search of Basho is an intriguing webcomic- sort of Maus meets A Softer World -- they just posted a guest post they asked me to write for them:

In 2000 I had some terrible anxiety about the prospect of dying. I did a lot of thinking, talking with people, and reading, and I came up with some ideas that I found helpful and soothing and consoling – so much so that I haven’t had a recurrence of those sleepless nights since.

I put those thoughts in the form of little essays on a website. More recently I put those essays in the form of a comic (you can see the rough original version at http://mortals.be/comic/ or the result after I hired a real artist to draw it at http://soyouregoingtodie.com).

I put these ideas in comic form in the hope of reaching people who have similar fears.

Now, I have a new idea, and I’m planning a new comic.

But I’ll tell you that idea now. Its formulation comes from Nietzsche, of all people, and he calls it amor fati, the instruction to “Love Your Fate”. He wrote:

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.

But why should we love fate? I mean, sometimes our situation kind of stinks, doesn’t it?

Is it searching for silver linings to whatever dark clouds? That’s part of it. There’s almost always something wonderful to be found in any circumstance we find ourselves in. If nothing else, we have the rare privilege of being “sitting-up mud”, the small bit of matter in the Universe that gets to bear witness, to be part of the process of the Universe figuring itself out.

Is it because we might as well choose to be happy, at least as much as we are able to make that as a choice? Sure; feelings of love can increase our happiness, and so the more we can get there, the more content we can be.

But more than those, I think we should love THIS fate because it is THE fate. The Circumstance. There is no other. Our monkey brains will make us miserable thinking of alternate realities; maybe worlds just like this one but THIS STUPID TRAFFIC IS MOVING!!! Or one like this one but where we didn’t just slam our toe into the bedpost. Or one where the beloved didn’t get away, or where our job pays 50% more and has half as much work. 

All of these worlds, these fates, these circumstances, these timelines, can be interesting to think about, and maybe even inform our present choices as we look to our future creature comforts but… they don’t exist. Our past is fixed; we are here, and it is now. If we can love this moment, we will be better people. It is one of the best philosophical practices I can think of.

Tomorrow I’ll be adding a rough paraphrase of this philosophy (loosely translating “AMOR FATI” as “THIS FATE” - I feel more true to myself sticking with the one language I know) to the one small tattoo I already have. I want this message to be part of my bodily self.

dear coraramble

November 9, 2016
I've been writing my superniece Cora every time after we visit. I write in a little private online site, and then print them up annually-ish, and will give them to her when she's in her teens... 15 or 16 maybe? Old enough to be thoughtful, young enough that her course isn't set. They chart her development (as I've become more of a personal archivist, sometimes I wish I had a similar history for me- though my moms saving and then binding like EVERY school and church related paper she had saved from preschool through some of college comes very close), let me pontificate a bit, and feel a little self important where someone in the next generation might be interested in me if I write well enough.

In general I'll keep them private, of course, but tonight I felt like sharing.

November 8 2016

Dear Cora,

Hello from a weird time!

It's election night 2016.

Right now it could go either way, closer than expected. Probably won't go well.

If it goes for Trump- I dunno. It won't be great - it's such a bad message, about human rights, about who we are, about how a guy who just doesn't want to learn anything and is so full of himself can take the presidency, about how we have to wait for a first female president. But life will be ok, and I'm sad because so many of my friends have forgotten that. It has been such a rough campaign, really brutal. Trump has done and said so many ugly things. The other side really thinks Hillary is corrupt, but that's not fundamentally true; she's just a connected politician who has been the target of 40 years of Republican attacks. But overall, we'll get through. It'll be easier for me and my demographic, white, straight, reasonably comfortable, christian background; for gay people and people of color and moslems, they're not going to feel as welcome. Maybe things will happen to some of them (the supreme court will be borked up, and things for abortion rights are definitely under threat) or maybe not, but some of the worst of it is that the guy who might be winning did so in part saying it's ok to say the country should be white and facts are optional; his fans say we're the greatest nation on Earth and get mad if you decide to bow out during the National Anthem but then say "make America Great Again", like it's not.

I guess I gotta hope many of the liberal fears are overblown, but even that's kind of a bad sign, like how we just amp everything up and and demonize both sides.

I know your Mamas are wary of the legal status of families like yours. At a minimum I think Massachusetts will be ok, besides being a leader in gay marriage, and there being at least some push towards "state rights" in these things by conservatives. Other states might make harder time, but despite setbacks, the path is in the right direction about LGTBQ, and will keep going that way as older more conservative generations die out.

But I'm writing you now, on a night when I'm kind of scared. On top of everything my sweetie Melissa and I are going to Malaysia tomorrow for 2 weeks vacation... I was joking that it was to celebrate or flee the election, but I really wasn't expecting the latter. Should be an amazing trip anyway. Also I'm switching jobs, always a bit of a stressful thing even when all the signs look promising.

But I want you to know that things tend to work out ok - we get so scared, we think about things being somewhat worse than they are now and it just freaks us out. Some things we're just helpless to help, and we need to learn to accept those, but we can then take solace in how we can endure. Dreading is worse than living through.

A good quote:

"Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important."
--Natalie Goldberg

Lately I've been thinking about stress and anxiety; is it always bad? Does it get me to make wiser choices and work harder? Can I just be smart and calm and choose to do what I know is right? It's a toughie.

It's funny writing to you. I tell you stuff I don't know if I'd be ready to really grasp as a teenager myself. Of course maybe I'd think I was ready for it as a teen... and maybe I'd be right? Or not. I dunno. Sometimes I underestimate my teen self. Sometimes I feel like I've recently figured some stuff out, made great progress in thinking and feeling as a grownup, other times I worry I worked some stuff out before, like maybe in my 20s, and forgot about it. Sometimes I wish I was writing to you as a fellow forty year old! But by then, any advantage I can give you might've passed.

Ugh. So much trouble focusing this night. I've reread what I've written so far like five times. (Hanging with Melissa, watching random tv shows on "hulu", periodically look at news websites)

Alright. Anyway, had a nice afternoon with you and your Mamas last Saturday. Played blocks, made a stuffed snake and a turtle box from a monthly kit called "Koala Crate", had spaghetti and meatballs, did some fun tumblers and horsie rides- especially you and your Mama C. You're getting a little sassy here and there, talking back to teachers a bit (not entirely in a bad way), and after the end of Daylight Savings Time took an hour of light from our nights your Mama K posted: "mama the sun is asleep.It's not bedtime. WAKE UP SUN!" This should be an interesting season.

Your Mama K also posted this photo, and said This might be my favorite picture ever. Supergirl power pose. Fierce Cora.

Uncle Kirk

PS Quote I've been liking lately (pardon the cussing)

Tennessee Williams once wrote, "We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." In a certain sense, the playwright was correct. Yes, but oh! What a view from that upstairs window! What Tennessee failed to mention was that if we look out of that window with an itchy curiosity and a passionate eye; with a generous spirit and a capacity for delight; and, yes, the language with which to support and enrich the things we see, then it DOESN'T MATTER that the house is burning down around us. It doesn't matter. Let the motherfucker blaze!
--Tom Robbins

"If this is the country that elected Donald Trump, it is still also the country that elected Obama."
Wait But Why's It's Going to be OK This is pretty good. I've been engaging with some trusted conservative friends, about the potential they see in Trump, and while there is a buttload to despise about him and what he says and what groups he's not rejected the support of and his lack of experience, our view of him has been bent to almost the same degree as us liberals and moderates think the view of Hillary has. I don't think he has great action plans for fixing what ails the rural / post-manufacturing areas, but he's making them a part of the conversation in a way they often aren't. Anyway, this article was the second best thing I've had to those conversations.

I'm really tired of the us and them of it all. We've made such villains of each other.

the stuck-in-traffic problemramble

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. Similarly, when I get mad at a malfunctioning device or app, I should give it some sympathy, or even empathy; it's doing the best it can, you know? It has no sense of mischievousness, and it's more accurate to presume it would like to be doing a good job for me than whatever its current results actually are.

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.

FOLLOWUP (2017.02.27): Whether I'm furious about it and making myself angry or accepting of it, the traffic is still there. So why be furious? The only counter-example is if my rage now helps me avoid future bad traffic. But I could probably do that via rationality, not just gut level rage...

March 19, 2017ramble

I felt stressed this morning, juggling thoughts and preparation about moving together with Melissa (things are actually going well there, knock wood we are signing the lease on a terrific place Tuesday or Wednesday but of course planning a move is a walk through a forest of a thousand trees of things that could go wrong and might even be my fault for not being smarter about moving) and a BABAM band gig I was running, our traditional under-rehearsed ad hoc selves playing indoors for change, which somehow feels like it should raise the expectations.

A lot of situations will come up that we find stressful. Some of our emotional responses to those can be so stupid -- to quote Natalie Goldberg, "Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important."

Now, *existentially* she's right (John Maynard Keynes: "But this 'long run' is a misleading guide to current affairs. 'In the long run' we are all dead.") -- but there is a subset of these issues that A we wouldn't have control over even if we were our best selves and B ARE pretty damn important, relative to the group of all concerns we have in this life.

And yet; our stress-tastic emotional responses (at least for the stuff that has now snowballed into a life of its own) are only useful in very small ways, just to the extent they can make us more thoughtful and attentive to preventing those situations, whether we're talking fundamentally life-altering things, such as a break-up, where maybe we can be wiser in how we love, or for the merely transient and infuriating, where maybe an alternate route or departure time would avoid this damn traffic.

But in general, we can rely on the higher, more rational part of our brains for that kind of bad-situation-pre-emption, and the stress just makes us miserable, and often dumber. Like I said at the end of February, whether I'm furious about it and making myself angry or accepting of it, the traffic is still there. So why be furious?

There's a menacing line from some belligerent military group "Don't Run, You'll Only Die Tired". The problems I'm facing now aren't gonna kill me... but even if they are, why should I die tired?

I have this version of my best self walking around, taking situations in hand. Hell, recognizing in a lot of ways I'm doing super well, healthy, sweet girl friend, well-paying job I dig, good friends, meaningful camaraderie and ego-gratifying work in my band music making. Sure I could switch scales and compare to some out there "best case of every scenario" version of life where, I dunno, I'm like a mix of Obama, Steve Jobs, Grace Hopper, Isaac Asimov, and Mr. Rogers, but that life doesn't exist, but the one that does has a lot to say for it.
Quote I was reminded of while writing that: "One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!"
--Winston Churchill

April 15, 2017ramble

A friend's online moot/mute swap typo provoked me to write the following, clearly I'd been looking for an outlet for this ramble...
I make all kinds of phonetic typos (where I'll end up typing a third word that sort of sounds like the others), and then this odd m/b swap where I'll switch "me" for "be" say, or vice versa. Not mute for moot for some reason, I guess for me the vowels are less "swappable" than they are for others.

Lately - hopefully without raising too many questions about my mental health- I've been thinking a lot about this subconscious me, how there seems to be almost a personality in here, different than the rational / inner voice me (the one that tries to take credit for BEING me, though I think I got over that via Dan Dennett's "Consciousness Explained")

This "other me" might correspond a bit to the Id as drawn by Freud - or the pop culture "inner child", one that throws tantrums when things seemed aligned against it - that thwarts my attempts at smart eating by provoking cravings - and, FINALLY getting to the point - I wonder if it's the background processor that lets me read (well, skim, but with good absorption rates) and write very quickly, but not always accurately ("I want to live life like I type; fast, and with lots of mistakes")
This other me - under certain states of sleep/awakeness, I feel like I've had glimpses of him. Sometimes I think it might be a multitude, I've gotten this impression of a skull full of colorful worms, or lets say "sock covered slinkies" because worms are gross. (It looked a bit like this kinetic digital art piece I made, paintbars.) The fugue-ish state with that visual also gave me the idea that the worms are a little bitter because they're generally not in control, and short lived and forgotten, and that they can generally only communicate via emotional post-it notes. (Ever get that? Like I'll get a sudden stab of, say, melancholy, or relief, or something, and have to sit a moment and trace back where it came from.)

Also when I was a kid, twice when I was going through anxious times (moving to a new city) I had a dream about this "alternate me". For a while I thought he was supposed to be my opposite - skinny when I was chubby, wearing the other half of the pajamas I had on, and silent where I would be talkative - except then as we wrestled I went to scream, and couldn't, classic sleep-paralysis. This might be looking too much into it but now I wonder if he might be a manifestation of this other part of me.

There's a whole type of therapy, popular in New England and maybe not so much elsewhere, called Internal Family Systems that encourage recognizing similar sub-parts, and roleplaying engaging with them as full-fledged people. (So closer to the silent kid than the skullfull of worms) The practice talks about specific roles (Managers, Exiles, Firefighters) that I'm not sure feel true to me, but it might be an avenue worth exploring.
"Spiders are really tiny 3D printers"

April 20, 2017ramblefav

Just when you start to think the RMV was getting it- a painless online address change. Just to find out from the city office that that did f***-all to change where the car is "garaged", which the RMV website doesn't mention when you change the address? What's the point?
My company CarGurus has been named "Online Auto Shopping Brand of the Year" in the 29th Annual Harris Poll EquiTrend Study, unseating our longterm rivals. And they asked me to plug it on Social Media so here we are.

It really is a pretty sweet company, and a great place to buy a car, especially used. Techies should definitely hit me up if they see something on our jobs listing that seems like a fit.
"Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part / that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of"
--They Might Be Giants, "Where Your Eyes Don't Go"

Serendipity brought me to Cormac McCarthy on The Kekulé Problem - (the title comes from the premier example of "the answer came to me in a dream / flash" ) and thoughts on what the heck this unconscious is. This directly ties in with what I wrote about Saturday and have been a little obsessed with for a week or two.

(McCarthy calls it the unconscious; I think of it as the subconscious, a subtle but possibly important distinction.)

McCarthy concludes wraps up saying
The unconscious seems to know a great deal. What does it know about itself? Does it know that it's going to die? What does it think about that? It appears to represent a gathering of talents rather than just one. It seems unlikely that the itch department is also in charge of math. Can it work on a number of problems at once? Does it only know what we tell it? Or--more plausibly--has it direct access to the outer world? Some of the dreams which it is at pains to assemble for us are no doubt deeply reflective and yet some are quite frivolous. And the fact that it appears to be less than insistent upon our remembering every dream suggests that sometimes it may be working on itself. And is it really so good at solving problems or is it just that it keeps its own counsel about the failures? How does it have this understanding which we might well envy? How might we make inquiries of it? Are you sure?

I'm not as convinced as McCarthy that dreams are always so deliberate and purposeful from the subconscious; I accept they can be a communication pathway from the unconscious to our rational selves, but sometimes it's a bit more random and chaotic than that. (And I am always shocked at how whatever part of brain that says "this can't be real" is so much more asleep than the rest of us.) And man, now I really am wondering about whether the unconscious knows that it will someday die and how it feels about that!

I feel like I'm gathering more instances of the subconscious as having its own personality and- all too often- separate agenda. I've started thinking of it as my "inner toddler", but I'm a little wary of thinking of it in such disparaging terms - like it might grow to resent me, and that would be pretty bad for my overall mental wellbeing. Still, there's a stubborn petulance there. Like, it's bad enough that I eat my desk at work, but there's even less dignity when I start digging in while still walking from the damn kitchen. So yesterday I apply some willpower and hold off chowing down 'til I'm safely seated. Great! And then today... I don't even make it out of the kitchen. My inner toddler sees the taco in my hand, recognizes it as delicious, and I've had a bite or two before my rational self is fully aware of what's going on. I've witness that "backslide/backlash" factor before. (I also wonder if my inner eater is just a more well behaved version of the inner demons that are so destructive in the life of

McCarthy writes "the fact that the unconscious prefers avoiding verbal instructions pretty much altogether--even where they would appear to be quite useful--suggests rather strongly that it doesnt much like language and even that it doesnt trust it." My first instinct says that it's not a matter of disdain, but it lacks language as a toolset. I can't tell my inner toddler to "use your words" because it doesn't have any! Of course, this seems to contradict my earlier theory that this subconscious was my "fast reading/skimming brain". But perhaps words can come in, but they can't come out, and the "jist" that my fast reader is so good at providing my rational self is more based on images and feelings than I realize. No wait - I got started last Saturday by trying to explain the subconscious process that was making my typos, especially my oddly-phonetic-almost-dyslexic swap of "m" and "b". So words go in and words go out, but they aren't its native language. (So to speak.)

And so it might be a mistake to think there's only one subconscious entity. Or it might be hard to understand in general. Especially right now, I feel like I might be back to conflating my "self", my consciousness, with my "inner voice" process using words. (To quote Emo Phillips, "I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.")

I wonder if I'm on to something here. It is very odd to think of an internal part of oneself as some kind of (at times, childish!) companion rather than... well, than as ourselves, but I think it suggests a whole new set of promising approaches for self-therapy. I think every successful weight-loss I've had has had to cope with this inner toddler, for instance! (And again, I wonder if I'm risking further resentment by calling him that...)

Of course sometimes it's like this Id/subconscious self is the only part of me that knows how to enjoy anything! Sometimes I think the only pleasure my ego/rational self gets in life is...well... ego stroking...

(and btw, it's so sad that googling topics of communicating with your inner child are so often about coping with buried past trauma and backgrounds of abuse and neglect.)
I do wonder - is it like this for everyone? Are McCarthy and I outliers? Are he and I and some others somehow less coherent and unified people than most? Why aren't people talking about this more? Is it different for them, or is it just to painful to admit we're not as singularly in control as our rational selves would like to be?

I've seen many rube goldbergs but nothing with this kind of narrative! Lovely!

April 21, 2017ramble

(tl; dr: maybe I'm so damnably bad with names is because my main processing part of my brain is separate from my verbal inner voice part of my brain.)

Weird possible introspection revelation, tying into yesterday's Cormac McCarthy link about how the subconscious talks to us via images and dreams and not words.

I had some early morning dreams that were about me going on a white river rafting trip, modeled after one I took a few years ago. For some reason it was stuck on the preliminaries rather than the rafting itself, but whatever -

As I stumbled through that murky twilight of half-awake, I realized the one thing that was missing from my understanding of that dream narrative's was a description: i.e. the words "river rafting". I can't be sure of the dream production process, but it often feels like some part of my brain, the subconscious, spits out feelings and images, and then my verbal/inner-voice/narrator weaves it together into a more coherent story that it can understand. (The McCarthy article speculates a bit about this process as well)

I feel like my subconscious can *understand* words - in fact it's the subsystem I use to skim read quickly, and it gleans the relevant bits for the narrator brain (and tells it to go back for the tricky bits for more careful review) but the subconscious doesn't use words and labels much - it relies more on a wordless understanding of how things interact.

This felt like a revelation, or maybe half of one. I have long suspected I'm bad with names and faces because they don't change how I interact with that person. A person could interact and be the same person under a hundred different names and still be the same entity from an interactive standpoint. (This explains that old "remember people's names" trick of associating it with some semi-arbitrarily selected mnemonic - like picture Francis in a beret with a baguette, just to engage these other parts of the mind and not just the verbal narrator)

So the other half, the new half, of this revelation is maybe that is so difficult for me because I rely more than most folks on the part of my brain that doesn't have any facility for names. I might just be making an excuse for myself, trying to to justify a kind of laziness and disengagement, but I think fully recognizing the source of a problem is both a key to making excuses for it and for fixing it.

(The revelation also provides a path to reconciling some seeming contradictions: on the one hand I'm what my friend Tom Kermode has called a "cruxian", the thrust of things is what matters to me. I like art and music that engages in broad strokes, and a dual insensitivity to details / nuance and indifference to interior life that doesn't come to the surface. On the other hand, one of my arguing partners frequently gets annoyed when I correct his vocabulary, and insist on a precise selection and usage of words (but, to his chagrin, precise in a descriptivist, how it's actually used kind of way, not in a word-history arm-chair etymologist kind of way) - at a shallow level, word choice seems very much to be about nuance. I think the contradiction is resolved in the interplay between the desire for two people's subconsciouses, the ones doing the deep understanding to communicate but they have to filter through the rational verbal narrators - the surface characteristics of the words are all they have to work with, so the wrong or misleading word can lead to big problems indeed.)

This all reminds me of that bit from "Through the Looking-Glass":
'This must be the wood,' she said thoughtfully to herself, 'where things have no names. I wonder what'll become of *my* name when I go in? I shouldn't like to lose it at all--because they'd have to give me another, and it would be almost certain to be an ugly one. But then the fun would be trying to find the creature that had got my old name! That's just like the advertisements, you know, when people lose dogs--"answers to the name of 'Dash:' had on a brass collar"--just fancy calling everything you met "Alice," till one of them answered! Only they wouldn't answer at all, if they were wise.'

#321 formation of a committee to determine the plausibility of "aggressive passive" behavior; for example, furiously hammering water (for my work's slack channel #stupid-idea-buddies )

April 25, 2017rambletuba

I've been thinking that maybe I could get my inner toddler to become, like, an inner precocious teen (though it's odd to think that I can't tell it "use your words!" because that's not how it operates) but I'm concerned I might lose some kind of vitality in that process, some part of essential Kirkness.

And also concerned that I'm not sure what to trust to tell me if that is a risk of being the case, because I don't know to what extent the inner-narrator/rational self vs subconscious self is the same for everyone. Various paths of self-improvement call it different things (the Id, the inner child, the right side of the brain, the unconscious mind, etc) and imply different functional relationships.

Even something like meditation has contradictions in advice about its methods and goals. Like, is it to have that zennish empty mind, where my verbal inner-narrator is finally silent and my whole self can enjoy purer sensation, unmitigated by simplification into verbal simplification and categorization? Or is it to be 'mindful', and allow that inner narrator to calmly process and analyze and pontificate but without encountering spikes of anxiety and other disruptive emotion? (Which, in my current way of thinking, tend to emerge from my inner toddler.) I kind of prefer the latter; it's less work and a lot more fun.

In "Eat, Pray, Love" Elizabeth Gilbert writes
Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind"--the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but--whoop!--how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry, blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

The thing is, to me it feels backwards... like the thoughts are the slaves to the emotions, and then I'm the slave to the thoughts. Or something. But basically, the process is more my inner rational narrator teaching my wordless sometimes-raging sometimes-fearing sometimes-frolicking subconscious self about the world. You know, it feels a bit like the relationship between Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller.

So I feel there's lots of room for that inner toddler - who will probably never grow up to have words - to mature, and develop a real camaraderie, rather than the current paternalistic relationship. And without assuming that subconscious part of me is only feeling, not thinking. I suspect feeling and thinking are the same thing but at wildly different time scales, feeling taking in the long term evolutionary wisdom and near term immediate reaction, with thinking occupying the middle ground.

Also through all this, I feel my rational, verbal, narrator self is trying to reassert the throne of being "The Actual Me", the real me, that it lost when I read Dennett's "Conscious Explained". I think it's time for a reread of what I pin as the "most important book I read", even though it's mighty long.

June 21, 2017videogamesramble

Wrote this on my devblog the other day, a tribute to the artists behind SimTunes and the core of Magic Pengel, reposting it here:

I've always liked software that let the user make something - from Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set to the make-a-game fun without programming Klik N' Play, there have been some great examples of that over the years.

I want to write briefly about two creators, Toshio Iwai and Takeo Igarashi both of who made original UIs letting users exercise their creativity. Each creator's work was then used in separate commercial products in the 90s and 00s, products that deserve more recognition than they get.

Toshio Iwai is a multimedia artist. He may be best known for Electroplankton, a fairly early but very limited release for the Nintendo DS- his name appears on the packaging for it, an unusual-for-Nintendo recognition of singular artistic creation.

Electroplankton is not quite a game, not quite an instrument... it consists of ten different interfaces for making music and sounds of various types...

This was not Iwai's first multi-part collaboration with Nintendo - that would be the 4-part Sound Fantasy. One of those parts was based on his earlier work Musical Insects. This concept, 4 musical bugs, each one playing a different instrument that sounded at various pitches as the bug waddled over different colored tiles laid out on a blank canvas, got parlayed by Maxis into a nifty package called SimTunes. I guess this trailer gives you the overview about as well as anything:

This program was a terrific and playful mini-sequencer and paint program. Kids and Adults could focus on the sound, the look, or both. Just out of college, I remember setting it up with versions of Groove is in the Heart and "Alphabetter", a replacement for the alphabet song that I hope catches on but I'm sure never will. I appreciated that it had different palettes - for example, limiting the painted notes to a specific scale or modality, such as my favorite "Blues Scale" and an aspiring kid or adult could easily apply music theory they had or learn something new.

More recently Iwai collaborated with Yamaha to make the Tenori-On, a sequencer grid of lights. (I was almost ashamed at using a ThinkGeek knock off called the Bliptronic 5000, 'til I realized it was about 1/10 the price... and about 1/10 the functionality, but still.) I also found this overview of his art installations.

Takeo Igarashi seems to be more of a computer scientist than an artist, but his UI implementations are at least as impressive.  His academic homepage is of the ancient variety, and sadly most of his demos are a serious pain to get running in this day and age where Java on the desktop is all but forgotten. Still, his Smooth Teddy interface is remarkable; the user draws basic 2D shapes that then get rendered into 3D shapes.

The most straight forward descendent of the "Smooth Teddy" family is MagicalSketch 3D for iOS, a somewhat pricey (by app standards) tool, but one that promises to be an easy path to modeling for 3D print. (I haven't played much with Microsoft's "Paint 3D" but I think they would be well-served licensing out the core model.)

The finest rendition of this concept, however, is Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color for the Playstation 2. I feel it's a shame it didn't go by a more direct translation of its Japanese name, "Doodle Kingdom", because this project (a joint production with some collaboration from Studio Ghibli (of "My Neighbor Tortoro" and "Spirited Away" fame) deserves more attention than it ever got. (A "Pengel" is a Pen-Angel, I think a little helper sprite in the game. I'm not sure to whom they were trying to market with a name like that.)

Because not only can you doodle in 3D - your creations come to surprisingly charming life. Here's a Let's Play of it:

The editor works by letting you indicate what you're drawing (body, arm, wing, etc) - this knowledge is then incorporated to inform various animations (Walk, Tackle, Jump, Dance, etc) and the effect can be stunning- here's what a talented artist can make with its editor:

It's so delightful to sketch something out and then have it frolic around the "practice field".

Unfortunately, the game is horribly marred by ... well, too much game-ness. In some ways the body you construct doesn't do much to determine how your creation interacts with its virtual physical universe, it's just raw numeric material for a probability based monster battler ala Pokemon, with Rock-Paper-Scissors type strengths and weaknesses. Also, they limit the amount of "ink" you have to draw lines with, and then make the game about fighting monsters so you can get more ink to make your own creations that much more powerful, rather than creative.

There was a semi-sequel for the Game Cube called Amazing Island and one for the PS2 called Graffiti Kingdom. I remember getting absolutely stuck early on in Amazing Island and some utterly crap minigame, and if memory serves, Graffiti Kingdom tried to codify its editor too much, and lost much of the organic charm of the original.

Finally, I'd like to make one honorable mention for a game with a kind of brilliant editor built-in (though I don't believe there's a singular artistic vision behind it) - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts + Bolts:

 This is by far the best "game" of everything I've talked about here - it starts with a gorgeous Mario 64-esque hub (looking like someone said "what if we ran all those pretty colors of the N64 into the kind of engine we can make today?)  with all these delightful themed subworlds, but each as if you can see the gears behind the walls work. Each subworld has multiple challenges that you build various vehicles to beat: cars, of course, but also boats and planes and flying balloons and sumo-karts etc. At first I thought all the creations were ugly and orthogonal-looking (VERY reminiscent of the old Capsela toys) but then the delight of making a car where the design really matters in a cartoon-physics kind of way takes over (and you can put on enough bolt-y bits to improve the look quite a lot.) And as you get more parts (there's that game-ness) you can go back and try for higher "medals", but the challenge level is generally well done, and the level of backtracking needed is negligible.

(And a small group of super-hard-core fans have really stretched the editor system to the limit, making these absurdly heavy jet-powered walking mechs in a game that was never meant to have any such thing...a joy to behold.)

Anyway, I love stuff like this, making a easy enough for a beginner but rich and engrossing enough to reward continued play (rather than a quick doodle and a "meh") is a tremendous feat. (Though I did once get a few people digging my own online Jack-O-Lantern maker) Both of these people and their works (and Banjo-Kazooie) deserve much admiration.

July 21, 2017ramble

UX Design and the most brilliant idea for a toaster improvement ever.
I listened to Sam "Waking Up" Harris' podcast where he interviews Scott "Dilbert" Adams about Trump. Adams is relatively pro-Trump, but more to the point, he seems to be more pro-"Persuasion" over unearthing and acting on the facts as objectively as we can.

One of his favorite things to pick on is "analogy" - he thinks it's a terrible, limited way of knowing things, forever an imperfect mistaking of the map for the territory. (Err, to use an analogy, I guess.) I think it's kind of a dick power move, frankly. The Persuasion shtick - and Adams mentions how he was a trained hypnotist - is all about elevating authority and truthiness over trying to empower people to get through to the facts themselves. The Objective Truth is unknowable, so why not give up trying to know it and just Trust Me?

When I was searching my own website trying to find some half-remembered bit about how analogy-based thinking was probably the key to "real" artificial intelligence, I found reference to a book I only barely remember reading but I think may have been mightily influential on me: Hofstadter and Sander's "Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking". Given how often I annoyed my estranged talking companion EB by realizing I tend to be focused on interactions at the surface and he seem obsessed with the supremacy of the essence, the core of what something "really was", that book seems like it had quite an impact on me.

Anyway, getting rid of analogies is nuts; you can barely have a conversation without 'em, and I am deeply suspect of Adams' desire to go without.
All that said, it would be good if the left wasn't so cartoony in its portrayal of Trump.
"Impressionistic sounds affect our subconscious and our state of mind. This is due possibly to the fact that sounds, if present, are continuously entering our mind whether or not we are actively listening. Visual inputs, on the other hand, require the user's attention. If we are distracted from the TV set, we cease to concentrate on the picture and the image leaves our mind. Sound therefore offers the programmer a direct path to the user's mind--bypassing his thought processes and zeroing in on his emotions."
--Chris Crawford, in "De Re Atari" (via Jamie Lendino's "Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation")
"[Buddha visits Geek Squad]
IT GUY: So all your files are in one huge folder named 'Temporary.'
IT: ...
BUDDHA: [nods peacefully]"

August 7, 2017photoramble

when the hat matches the tuba

One of the few tuba shots here that's not of me, btw
Great take down of that anti-diversity memo at google, from a guy who just recently left the company, and so can talk a bit more freely. (Update 8/17: Another take from the Economist)
A few days ago I asked on FB
Is there a single word for "able to readily be put into words"? Like "quantifiable", but about words...
My friend Anne suggested "articulable", and that seemed to be the best bet. ("Describable", as in the opposite of "indescribable" missed the mark somehow, and I wrote a follow up:
See, The opposite of "articulable" (or its maybe more flexible usage, "can't be articulated") has some interesting differences with "indescribable" and "ineffable". Those two so often get into supernatural woo-woo and the like; to some extent they deal with what can be "truly known".

I suppose there's something too with the practical opposite of "articulable" being along the lines of "can only be intuited". I guess "indescribable" is often implying "can only be known via direct revelation". So it suggests a epistemological triangle: knowledge that is articulable, knowledge that can only be intuited, knowledge that relies on direct revelation.... and each corner has its own words to describe it (and its opposite). Also, one of these corners is not like the others - only articulable knowledge is amenable to meaningful debate.
Come to think of it this was some of the sticking point for me and my erstwhile discussion buddy EB. I place probably too much emphasis on the articulable corner, and sometimes doubt the validity of the other corners. There's another aspect too, of how stuff is learned; EB emphasized the "body memory" aspect of things, like how taking the time to think and reason can get in the way of muscle memory and true mastery. You can get from "articulated knowledge" to deeper forms of knowing, but it's a slow tough process.
This looks cool

August 22, 2017ramble

Was playing with the idea that all our energy for action - ALL of it - comes from emotion, not from thought and cold rationality. We can shape ourselves so that we have emotions that support rationality so that we act in ways that are in accordance with it, but it's not the logic itself driving things.

One of the occasional participants in my UU "Science and Spirituality" is a therapist who describes her practice as Freudian, and of course she's well aware of the issues with some of his views, and how that kind of practice can seem oddly quaint and out of step. But based on my layman understanding of Freud's ideas, I think there really is something to the Id/Ego/Superego division - a division that is often under the radar of everyday life, but that emerges with sufficient introspection as seeming likely to be an accurate and useful model. (In much the same way you can kind of shove your way into some level of grasping "the self really is illusion" concepts of Buddhism through thinking along side the more traditional practices of meditation.)

For me there's a tie in to Superego and the sense of Objective Truth. Though I guess Superego provides a host of "shoulds", while Objective Truth just says what is. And you can't get ought from is directly. But in my life, one of the highest moral goods is pursuing the most accurate level of shared understanding of Objective Truth, foregoing judging of the should levels. "Whatever works!", objectively, is generally ok by me. I guess that view is what cost me my simple religious faith; the multiplicity of beliefs was on the whole incompatible with singular Objective Truth, and my duty towards that (and my humbleness in thinking 'what were the chances that the faith I was born into was THE one that was correct? Pretty small') caused me to drift from the church of my youth.

But I dunno. I guess there's an obvious parallel in that emotion/thought divide as there is with faith and then the cold dispassionate description of the Objective Truth - that I'm incorrect in thinking I have a pure method for aligning my life with being correct in the objective sense, because it will always be tempered by my subjective experience, what I was taught, and what I feel...
"If only one person in the world had a sense of humor, it would probably be labeled a mental illness."
"One of the essential qualities of liberalism is that it always disappoints. To its champions, this is among its greatest virtues. It embraces a realistic sense of human limits and an unillusioned view of political constraints. It shies away from utopian schemes and imprudent idealism. To its critics, this modesty and meliorism represent cowardice. Every generation of leftists angrily vents about liberalism's slim ambitions and its paucity of pugilism. Bernie Sanders and his followers join a long line of predecessors in wanting liberalism to be something that it most distinctly is not: radical."
--Franklin Foer, "Why Liberalism Disappoints"
"If you're OK with Waltham... you're OK"
--Proposed City Slogan by Johnny Boom-Boom and me

August 25, 2017ramble

Pondering about "Personal Growth", and my relative skepticism thereof. Growing up as a precocious kid with a big dose of "fixed mindset" (i.e my worthiness was rooted in being such a darn clever little guy, an intrinsic trait) I've grown up into someone who's totally tonedeaf when it comes to, say, character arc in a novel, because I figure everyone's pretty much the same core person their entire life, they might learn things and act a bit differently over time, but it's kind of superficial. At no time is it clear that a bunch of quantitative changes in behavior and outlook become a qualitative achievement of "growth".

(Come to think of it, all those positive personal developments seem to need tending, lest backsliding occur! Why do we always hear about "personal growth" but not "personal shrinkage"?)

It's weird, for a guy who is kind of skeptical about having an immortal soul, or anything independent of the body (save for a poetic sense of the impact we can make on other people) I certainly tend to act like there's a core, unchangeable essence of identity that has a few soul-like properties...

I'm thinking about how I've developed along with my main band, JP Honk. I remember a few years ago we were almost on the verge of adding a semi-regular other tuba player, and I was... I don't know, bothered by it, a bit jealous. I think I was insecure with my place in the band, and so the same sixth grade "I want to be on a unique-in-group instrument" vibe that caused me to switch to tuba from baritone in the first place reared its head. I knew that feeling was pretty and stupid, but it was still there.

I think since then I've gotten over it, and I welcome any addition to the bass part in any group I'm in. Part of that is confidence, and having done more leadership in my group, I know I'm useful and important in multiple ways. And some of it's just security about my relationship to HONK in general, and learning how to better apply my general sense of Feynman-ish "What do YOU care what other people think?"

But... is it growth? Personal development? How do you categorize it, and does it matter?
Best eclipse video:

August 26, 2017ramble

Following up to yesterday's rambling. David Parmenter said "I'm not with you" on that, in terms of him being a big believer in personal growth. Fair enough - I see my inability to grok personal growth as a problem myself. But it was funny how much his comment bothered me for a second.

Lately I've been thinking of how I operate with a two-layer view of reality; simple objective reality, the first level of facts, and subjective interpretation, the second level of judgements. My emphasis is on supporting a shared understanding of that first objective level; to the extent that most of my "judginess" involves things that block understanding of that factual leve (in other words, people with agendas that make propaganda that distorts the underlying facts) and I also have a severe reluctance to judge people's behaviors in typical ways - since if I start judging on that second level (with its proclomations of what people "should" do) it increases the chance I might be incorrectly working based on assumptions about "facts on the ground" that I'm wrong about.

So, I'd like to think that David's comment bothered me because of how it might be indicating that I'm just objectively wrong. But there's the conservative-related view that no, I'm bothered not because I'm wrong, but because someone in my peer group thinks I'm wrong. Rightwingers have really leapt on this concept of "mere virtual signaling" - they are awfully dismissive of most attempts to say the right thing, because they find it likely to be insincere. This accusation is at risk of mixing up the medium (other people's opinion) for the message (a description of objective facts-on-the-ground reality - or in the case of judgement, an opinion most likely and widely agreeable (i.e. the facts about what personal growth is and isn't.))

In this "fake news" age of "truthiness", I'm a liberal in part because I think liberals are more humane - who look to expand the "circle of empathy" - and because they are also amenable to level one reasons - especially in terms of science - in a way conservatives ain't - especially with their emphasis on faith. Now, the conservative view might point to examples of liberals desire to be humane distorting their interpretation of plain facts, and in some cases that's true, but I find in general liberals have the edge in not going for "if the facts don't match the theory, change the facts". (Hm, I think this is why I find the self-appointed name "objectivism" so objectionable, with it's dubious claim that there's an ironclad connection between level one facts and level two interpretation and recommendation for behavior that "objectivists" have unearthed.)

Yesterday I was listening to a 2015 podcast where Marc Aaron interviewed President Obama. A quote that struck around 42:30 "But the truth is though, it is accurate to say I believe in reason. And I believe in facts. And I believe in looking at something, and having a debate and an argument, but trying to drive it towards some agreed upon set of assumptions about what works and what doesn't."

Maybe there's a correlation with my "profound shallowness". I don't trust things that aren't directly accessible. For example, I don't like music that demands (and hopefully rewards) deep and attentive listening. You can take my "recently added playlist" and with very little further curating have a good mix for a party. My view is if there's an art form that demands you work to understand it, that "sophisticated" audience is now vested in promoting its quality (if not of the individual artwork, than of the worth of the format as a hole) because it justifies the effort they put into learning how to appreciate it. I like video games with physics engines rather than story, I like board games that are about performance and creativity and not strategy and planning, because the appeal is visceral and harder to deny, rather than cerebral and debatable and more prone to subjective uncertainties.

(PS speaking of that first level/second level stuff - notice how I hedge almost every paragraph? "I think" "is at risk for", "might", "maybe"... is my habit of couching things that way acknowledging the difficulty of getting to objective truth and the uncertainty of any position at the second level of judgement? Or is it me just covering my ass so none of my peers can say I'm wrong? Or both?)

August 30, 2017ramble

The other day I realized there's a weird parallel between stoicism and its concept of "attend to that which you have control over, and ignore the rest" and some types of eating disorders, where people curtail their eating as being an exercise in something they can control.

A few weeks ago I snagged this link about the "voices in our head", the parts of us that are us, but separate from our main, self-narrative-constructing selves. "To achieve their goals they lie like crazy. They know you -- have been around you a long, long time." Mine seem to be the form of inner-children, loving sweets and creamy textures and demanding to be shown how they're just the smartest, most-creative beings in the world, and pushing me away from tasks that are might reveal my need to grind stuff out.

Combining these concepts: having control of stuff appeals to young children, who live in a world where they have relatively little agency, and are generally at the whim of the grownups. I wonder if the rational me can get more desireable results over these inner-children -- the indefatigable-snacker me and the angsting away from doing productive-but-not-ego-affirming work me -- by showing these toddler how this IS something we can have control over, that we have great (if incomplete) power over these parts of the world. They can be in their glory like the little 4 year old waving an imaginary baton to conduct the actual band, and I can get some damn work done.
"You can't do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can't do much thinking with your bare brain."
-- Bo Dahlbom

i teach you the spongemanrambleessay

September 2, 2017
A while ago my erstwhile debating partner introduced me to Rapoport's Rules, guidelines for criticizing the argument of an opponent. As formulated by my favorite philosopher Daniel Dennett, they go:
  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, "Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way."
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Another term for this is "steelmanning" - in contrast to "strawmanning", where you knock down a lightweight representation of the opposing argument that's designed to be knocked down, here you make an effort to really understand and then gird it in rhetorical steel and state it back to them.

On some levels the rules' concept is appealing, but also - unlikely, I guess I'd say, for people who have are arguing sincerely. If you could whole-heartedly restate your partner's (or as the rules put it, "target's") view, you'd pretty much have to be believing it yourself. That "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way" bit is also weirdly condescending - your displayed mastery of the domain is such that your "target" will humbly thank you for your cleverness of the restatement? For something that you still don't believe? What kind of insincere sophistry is that? Like a suit of armor, I think this kind of steelman will ring hollow.

My erstwhile buddy didn't really grasp my objections until he listened to Hannibal Buress on the Sam Harris podcast. (Admittedly Buress might be a little drunk, but I appreciate his sincere points) Around 29:00 minutes in, Sam Harris says

Here's a bet, here's a bet: I could summarize your view of me in a way that you'd agree with. You couldn't return the favor. You want to take that bet? I'm absolutely sure I can articulate how you view your side of the conversation in a way that you'd sign off on. I have absolutely no faith that you could do the same for me. That's a problem, we're not successfully communicating.
My buddy had an even strong reaction against Harris there than I did, that he saw Harris using the "I can see your side" concept as a bludgeon.

My counter-proposal was "spongemanning". The best we can do is try to absorb the other person's argument, then wring ourselves out, restating the argument as best we can, and have our partner comment on the drippings, to see how much of the salient info we had actually taken in. Spongemanning offers more substance than the superficialities of steelmanning, and it is more respectful than steelmannings "anything you can think, I can think better".

At its very best it invites participants to think about where their partner is coming from, and what are the headwaters of their current flow. (At the risk of straining the wet metaphor.) One of the few things I like about Ayn Rand is her alleged greeting of "What are your premises?" It's rather belligerent, but it gets to the heart of why sincere people who keep faith in the methods of rationality and discourse as a way of understanding the universe can still disagree... they have different starting assumptions and then differing concepts on what is best prioritized in life. By trying to absorb what your opponent is saying, you might better identify and catalog those sticking points - fundamental areas of disagreement where "agreeing to disagree" isn't throwing out the whole kit and kaboodle.

Behold: the spongeman! (With normal, double-tube-shaped pants)

Huh. After listening to an Atari podicast, I just now realized I know "Douglas Crockford" from two different contexts, Atari 8-bit demos and Javascript: The Good Parts...
I just found out the music composer for the new Mario/Rabbids crossover is named "Grant Kirkhope". That's a sentiment I can get behind.

September 8, 2017ramble

"He who says, "Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!" merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys. He cannot imagine any one questioning its binding force. For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world [...] It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher."
--William James, "The Will to Believe". I have such a difficult time really absorbing this. My best model of my person epistemology and morality says there are two levels: the first of simple objective facts, the second of interpretation, goals, and "shoulds"... and that the second layer is vaporously thin, and I feel ill-suited to judge anything - except to that which seems to interfere with a clear view of the underlying objective layer. There I judge like a mo-fo. At least that's why I think I am like I am; sometimes I wonder if it's just me needing to be a perfect little beacon of truth for my ego's sake. But no... I think it's more accurate to say that accuracy about the basics is a hugely important thing for me. I am a proud member of the "reality-based community" Karl Rove mocks, and when Scott Adams says no, all that's important is persuasion, I'll try to persuade anyone I can that that attitude sucks.
Man, Florida's looking to get Chinese Hoaxed to pieces.

September 17, 2017ramble

Article on the background of "woke". I hate false symmetries but I've been thinking about some of the parallels with "taking the red pill" and "being woke". I'm wary of most claims of group-cohering revelations and special knowledge, but at least "woke" carries a sense of being aware so you can do your own thinking, whereas red pill draws more of a knowledge injection.

Still love that @mlliondollameat tweet:
wife: go see if the baby sleeping
*walks into baby's room*
baby: corporations exploit our insecurities for profit
me: no babe she woke af

6 Things Juggalo Culture Teaches Us About Trump (Ad-heavy Cracked link, their "Cracked Lite" app might be a better bet)

James Harvey linked to it, focusing on it's thought that ""People tend to interpret bluntness as candor and eloquence as dishonesty". I rambled about the whole "they're stealth Christians" angle that was there for a while but maybe didn't end up really applying (and how easily a group like U2 can mask a Christian heart from me with artistry and simple tricks like a gender swap for the Holy Spirit in "Mysterious Ways" - the Evangelical music I grew up near was pretty damn hamfisted) but then I thought more about the article's point.
This may be disingenuously sophomoric, but I think the "world hates us" perverse pride that powers Juggalos/Deplorables cohesion all comes from the human need to slap value judgements on everything. Things can't just be, or can't just be evaluated and valued for their objective productivity, people are desperate to figure out what the "shoulds" are, and then paint was is overall better and overall worse. (For people who fancy themselves clever it's very easy to conflate intelligence with human worth) So the privileged groups parlay their objective advantages into snobbish looking down at everything, and ICP and Trump is the reaction, like the article sets out.

I guess this is just a goofy pollyanna call for kumbaya, see-the-good-in-everything, but just now I noticed it ties into the idea that everything needs to be measured on many different dimensions but there's a human tendency to smush that into a single dimension of good/bad, or worthy/unworthy, which is one my earliest philosophical / existential morality cornerstones - an idea that's "sophomoric" for me in a very literal, second year at college sense.
Here's a 2004 retelling of that idea history, inspired by "Theory of Multiple Intelligences".

Blender of Love

"Why do we like sports or movies? It's just incredible that a trillion-synapse computer could actually spend Saturday afternoon watching a football game. It's a colossal phenomenon that needs to be explained, and I'm not joking."
--Marvin Minsky

October 11, 2017ramblediet

On "Shower Thoughts" I saw "Trailers would be so much more appreciated if they didn't reveal most of the plot of movies/series..." Also last night Liz and Melissa and I watched "The I.T. Crowd" including the episode where Roy is trying to find a nice big screen to watch a "Tarantino South Korean zombie movie" but frustrated because his would-be watching companion keeps trying to guess or spoil that there will be a twist at the end.

There's probably a spectrum - and possibly a bathtub-shape curve with most people on one side or the other- of how much people care about plots being "spoiled" by trailers or online discussion. I know I'm at the far end of not caring, at all - maybe even liking them.... the slow reveal is absolutely not what I'm watching the movie for.

Being the indefatigable naval gazer I am, I'm trying to figure how and if that fits into other things I know about how I tend to view with the world -

It sort of ties into how I'm a shallow/skimmer. If I think about I realize I don't closely watch most movies, don't have much facility for keeping labyrinthine plots in my head, and when I really lose track, I just let go and enjoy the ride. (This happened a bit during the new Blade Runner.)

Also I probably have a preference for knowing where a story is going rather than being in suspense, because I like paying attention to how they do what they do, and not what they do. Maybe that suggests a new descriptor for that interactionalist and anti-essentialist vibe I've talked about before, where I care about how something is interacting now and now what you think it is: I'm a Why and How person, now a What or Who person.

Or- I'm very much about transparency, and err on the side of too much information (like this post, say!) I don't want to keep something to myself in case it turns out keeping it withheld was a mistake, and I'm solely on the moral hook for acting on that information. And I hate, hate, hate not knowing - almost any bit of not knowing feels potentially more threatening than any known issue. Hell, in some of my breakups, it wasn't the infidelity so much as the secrecy that killed me. So I like knowing things, like spoilers, but I also enjoy seeing how they make their broad strokes happen along the way.

How about you - do you hate spoilers, or don't mind them, or like them? And do you think the reason why someone is on that spectrum is an interesting question?

Latest diet thought (proven effective for at least one day...) -

I should eat so that a casual spy on my life, like someone reviewing a video of my day but no special insight to my intentions and inner-monologue - would know that I was dieting / trying to eat well. Or at least not be surprised to hear about it after!

Appearances are important - even appearances to ourselves.

Religions know this, and a lot of religious education I've seen emphasizes how God Is Watching. The Islamic salat has a part that acknowledges ever-present angels recording every deed.

For people who have their doubts about supernatural witnesses, everpresent or otherwise, maybe we can be our own witness.

In fact there's psychological research that says a displayed image of a pair of watching eyes can lead to better behavior... so this might all represent a kind of self-hack to take us out of the maelstrom of id and let the super-ego hold more sway in a way that is good for our longer term goals.
Dance like there's nobody watching, but diet like there is.

October 18, 2017ramble

I just listened to "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. (audiobook- I still so miss having time to sit and read.) His project is to try and help liberals and conservatives understand each other a bit better.

The author starts with the elephant/rider metaphor he presented in "The Happiness Hypothesis" - the elephant is our big emotional/intuitive self, the rider is our conscious, our narrator self that can kind of guide the elephant, a bit, but isn't providing the motive force and in fact is mostly just making up post facto rationalizations for decisions that the elephant has already made.

I mentioned this to my therapist who I saw for the first time in a while last night, and tried to make the elephant metaphor jive with my self-image of a guy who has an above-average seeking of objective truth, even at the cost of having to withhold value judgement - sometimes, even without being able to state a simple fact ("your keys are on the counter") without disclaimer framing ("I think your keys are on the counter").

At first I thought that meant my elephant was better cajoled by my rider, cowed into submission, but another way of thinking about it is that my elephant is driven by the need for being unfaultable and therefore righteous. Being that kind of correct is somehow one of the most critical things of my sense of self. (This need is what caused me to lose my religious faith - the preponderance of other religions being a sign that my faith system didn't have the quality of uniqueness that was necessary for being True, and that my being in the church I grew up in, while other people were in the religion they grew up in, was also "suspicious") My elephant - or I guess it's the rider talking -
doesn't quite get that other people's elephants don't feel the same, and how value judgement flow so freely all over the discursive landscape.

So, back to the book. The book lays out Moral Foundations Theory - first the 5 the author originally indentified (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) and then a 6th to explain Libertarianism, and how it is distinct both from Liberalism (as the term is used in US) and Conservatism. Haidt argues Liberals put most of the weight in Care and Fairness, while Conservatives have a more even spread over the 5. This gives conservatives politicians some advantages, as they have more "hooks" for their audience. I guess some of that rings true to me, as a guy who leans liberal - Authority and Sanctity for their own sake alone, elevated to a moral good, seems foreign to me. (Huh - though I guess I might have a big emphasis to "Loyalty", at least on the local level, since being reliable and dependable is critical to my self-image.)

The author used a lot of thought experiment questionnaires to get at what people's elephants were really thinking, and to artificially provoke people's riders to scramble to explain why the elephant finds something repulsive even when no one is coming to harm. One example was about sibling incest; it squicks most people and they will call it wrong, even if the story deals with all of the surface objections (the brother and sister described love each other, it will deepen their relationship, they keep it a secret, and they are perfectly careful with birth control.) But a series of this and similar taboo-probing questions made me realize how phoney and artificial the stories are. They presume an isolation that doesn't exist in the real world - the siblings in the story might be found out, and they will have to live in a world that judges them harshly, and so keep their feelings hidden forever - a psychological burden for anyone! So you can't even say there's no pragmatic harm that's done. Similarly, many psychology lab experiments along the lines of "do you want $20 now or $30 in a month" presume perfect trustworthiness and stability of the system the test itself is in, which is just nonsense. We have brains designed to deal with a messy uncertain world, and just because it's easier for the experiment to claim total reliability so the test can be run free of noise, that doesn't mean people are irrational when they don't fully believe the experimenter.

Also the book was needlessly harsh on meme theory. The author gets kind of loose with his arguments - he points to the (widely accepted) similarity between memes and viruses, but then states meme-proponents would say that viruses (including "mind viruses" like religion) should be flushed out and removed like any flu or cold virus. I think most sophisticated meme-proponents would say, look, we're walking biospheres with countless "other" critters making the flora of our gut and elsewhere - religion might (or might not) be one of those helpful ones, and the presumption that all memes are bad for us is preposterous, whether or not you think it's useful to see memes as pursuing their own reproductive agenda.

In the end I appreciate Haidt's attempt to reconcile and appreciate what both Conservative and Liberals bring to the culture, but I think he's a little too kind to Conservatives. There are tough-to-reconcile contradictions with the Conservative "foundations" of sanctity and authority with diverse cultures (again the same contradiction that drove me from evangelical Christianity). I would say that he shows why Liberals need to wave the flag more and emphasize the E Pluribus Unum, and how being a real American is accepting the diversity. But all those diverse groups also need to signal their affection for that greater group project.

At the risk of digging myself into a bigger hole - there was a politician or public figure (wish I could remember who) who got ripped a while back for some naive statement saying (roughly) how all the different groups had different strengths, how like the Chinese or Japanese can put a television set in a watch, how the Puerto Ricans have strong family structure and can put a whole family in an apartment, etc - and I mostly understand why he was so ripped into, that those "strengths" aren't equally appreciated, in fact having to put a family in an apartment is not really good thing on different levels, and how its harshly and idiotically reductionist to put wide groups in stereotype boxes. I guess the thing is humans rate and judge everything. We seem to have a need not just that things be different, but rated as better or worse. (Smart people do this with smarts. It's all too easy to start to conflate smarts with human worth! While it's important to foster smarts in a community to make certain types of progress, that needs to be put in balance with many other concerns for the human project.) I think it's a reflexive defense against the implied "hierarchy of worthiness" that causes us liberals to rise so strongly against that kind of stereotypes, rather than the point that when you paint with a broad brush you're going to get many individuals labeled incorrectly (and also that many brushes are suspect because they DO come labeled with value judgements)
Another example of thought experiments I find false in the presumption of perfect, trustworthy knowledge: the trolley problem.
A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
At its heart the question is meant to point out how passiveness is different than proactive responses, how somehow we feel more responsibility for deciding to "kill" one person than "letting" 5 people die, but - c'mon. That's not how trolleys work, even in thought experiments. You're probably a lot more assured that that fat man will die than the other 5 will be saved! Or if the problem is setup so you have to throw a switch on the tracks, 1 vs 5, what kind of melodrama cliffhanger crap is that? The dilemma would more be "do you set up a posse to hunt down the evil mastermind psychology researcher who contrived to make such a weird example real and do vigilante justice or just leave it to the relevant police authorities..."
This kind of thought experiment seems parallel to the tricks Casino's bank on - artificial environments where are instinctive understanding of things are shown to work only in relative and not absolute terms.
A post on recent findings in dyslexia got me thinking about my own typos, which I sometimes think of as "pseudo-dyslexia". I put this comment on this blog article, one of the highest ranked results for "phonetic typos"...
Sorry to be commenting on such an old post, but this article has high Google juice for "phonetic typos".

My main mix up has weird phonetic swaps between existing words – especially ones that start with "m" with "b", in particular "by" for "my" and "me" for "be" (it seems an oddly bidirectional switch, either) I heard somewhere that "m" and "b" has similar "mouth feel", so I probably have some neurons wired together from way back, along with evidence my typing systems piggybacks on my speaking system.

Other ones are "numbers and the sounds they have", so I read a poster for "5th Element" that said "IT MU5T BE FOUND" as "muft" – ignoring the visual pun for the acoustic part. And my first name is Kirk, and I have something I wrote as a toddler: KI4K"

So it's infrequent enough to be a mild annoyance, though I'm trying to figure out if it's getting worse with age.
These seem distinct to me from mere homophone swaps, their vs there vs they're and its vs it's...
"Friends say President Donald Trump has grown frustrated that his greatness is not widely understood"
--Josh Dawsey in Trump gives his own performance a Trump-sized endorsement
"[Trump] weaponized [the power of positive thinking]"
--Trump Biographer Gwenda Blair, via this article