Saturday, December 31, 2005

Short Posts

I've been spending time lately on my travel blog[1]. One thing that I've noticed, even at this early stage of writing, is that there really isn't that much to say on a daily basis. Nothing in my life changes that fast.

So, for the end of 2005, I'd like to leave you with this little, brief, and probably crappy haiku:

A year is ended
Glasses of champagne are drunk
A year is begun

Happy New Year.

1. I feel like I'm becoming a master of the subtle self-plug.

Friday, December 16, 2005

On a More Personal Note

Since this blog is particularly dedicated to essay writing, I've started a new blog concerning my entry into vagabondage. The intention of the new blog is to chronicle the activities leading up to and through the act of leaving work and traveling abroad for several months on end.

Does this mean I will stop writing essays? Not a chance. I'll be doing nothing for the month of January but planning, thinking, sleeping, and drinking.

It'll be good times.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ballroom Dance, Revisited

A long while ago, I mentioned that I take a ballroom dance class...and enjoy it.

It's true. Really. Damn lot of fun.

The class I take is social ballroom dance through the Ballroom Dance Club at the University. It's a great way to meet people, get to know people, have something in common with them, have an excuse to interact with them.

Taking these lessons has done several things for me. First, I've become remarkably more balanced and lighter on my feet[1]. I walk more on the balls of my feet, rather than on my heels. I feel like I move with a little bit more grace and ease, I feel more comfortable with my step, more sure of where that foot will land.

Friends of mine who have studied martial arts of various sorts say the same thing about their balance and surety of step. They speak of how the are more aware of their physical self. Martial arts also tend to add a grace and beauty of movement to the practitioner. The similarities end there, however. Where ballroom is an dance of graceful seduction (if apply to that end), martial arts is a dance of graceful violence.

The second things that I've really gotten out of the class is a bit more ease with the opposite sex. I've always been a bit awkward in my interactions, unless I become friends with a woman, which in itself is a whole other story.

The class is configured as such: the leads all stand in a line on one side of the gym, the follows on the other. The steps are taught to each side individually, and then the follows are told to find a partner. The pairs dance a for a bit, familiarizing themselves with the move. After a few moments, they are told to switch partners and the follows switch down one partner.

So what does this have to do with me becoming more comfortable with woman? Every semester I dance with forty different woman, some I know, most I don't. I have to make them comfortable with the idea of dance with me, even if it is only going to be for a moment. I doing so, I also have become more comfortable with asking my classmates to dance - there are occasionally open dance periods. It all stems from confidence gained from becoming slightly more skilled at this whole thing.

Granted, I've become a bit of the old man in the group. This is, after all, a University club. Many of the students are undergrads, and, more so, freshman undergrads. I'm older then most by about ten years. Not really an issue, since I'm neither creepy nor obsessive (nor ugly, if I do say so myself).

All in all, it has been a really good experience for me. It's a great skill, although, one that has is harder and harder to find the appropriate social situations in which to use it. It's a great social tool, enhancing interaction, and a remarkable amount of fun.[2]

[1] Now, I'm not using the phrase "light in my loafers," if that's what your thinking. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

[2] As you can see, I'm still really lax on the art of the conclusion. It's as if I start these things with very little idea as to where I'm going. I know that I've had this discussion before, but I'd like to point out that I'm pretty much writing my essays in the same format as I learned in high school. You know the format: an introduction, two to three middling points, and a conclusion. This format is rather tried and true at getting one's point across.

Let's look at this essay a little more critically, through the lens of the high school essay format.

First off, the introduction makes not point at reference what it's going to talk about, other then ballroom dance. No mention of physical movement or opposite-sex interaction. So we're left wonder where the hell is he going?

Secondly, how are these points tied together? Did the art of physical movement affect the author's opposite-sex interactions? It was described as a dance of seduction, if applied correctly. Has the author applied it correctly? If not, the author should supply us with a story of it applied incorrectly, described with great flourish, humor, and self-deprecating commentary. If there is no story, the author certainly hasn't been doing this often enough.

As for that conclusion, holy crap, it's lame.

My advice to the author: don't quit your day job.[3]

[3] Hey, now, I appreciate your criticism, but let's remember, this is just an exercise. I'm just writing about what I know and feel about a particular subject. There isn't necessarily supposed to be too much connecting either part.[4]

[4] Well, look at it this way. Your now having a public dialog with your internal critic. You've just bumped up against the crazy ceiling. I was just telling you what I thought about your writing, but now I think you've slipped into something more along the lines of a crazy nutter.[5]

[5] I was merely responding to your criticism, and here you go responding with name calling. How's that for being the internal critic. Not very constructive, mind you. Not helpful at all.[6]

[6] Bloody crazy nutter, you are.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Force Feedback

So I posted a little note from my BlackBerry (which, I'm now of the opinion, are the spawn of Satan) the other night. It started me thinking on how easy it is these days to upload real-time information about the inner most thoughts of any human being.

Why does that seem like an incredible waste of technology?

There are some impressive possible uses for the instant access to the journalistic tools. The most obvious one being journalism. Having a journalist in the thick of things and sending in a story, written as it happens is wonderfully powerful. The reader can be connected instantly to the joy, unrest, terror or mundane of the world.

There are two issues with this. The first being the problem of aggregation. Mobile blogging or instant journalism has created an explosion of information and opinions on the events of the day. Collection, assessing and absorbing all of this information becomes an huge task for any one person. Data aggregation is becoming a big focus of development efforts (Google Reader is a good example). Even still, there's a wealth of information that comes in a daily basis.

Does this wealth of information allow us to live our lives in any better fashion? The answer is yes and no. Having access to those pieces of information that directly relate to you in a timely manner is valuable, of course. The problem is that the much of the information isn't directly applicable to one's current affairs. The reader may actually spend more time familiarizing themselves with the news of the day from Joe Blogger[1], reading about Joe's life and spending less time going about their own lives.

Mundane was mentioned early. This is really the second problem with the instant upload of news and information. What is considered news by some is incredibly boring and useless information. When some one blogs about the fact that their friend is in trouble or they had a great time at a concert. All these things may be interesting to four or five people, but, on the whole, generally dull and uninteresting to the rest of mankind.

Which brings me back to my BlackBerry post. I posted that entry about the simple fact that I had a BlackBerry and wanted to write about it. Which really is the most boring, mundane and useless piece of knowledge that I can provide.

[1] Right. So I know that Joe Blogger hasn't actually updated his blog in quite some time. In fact, I just made a wild guess that someone out there actually had created a blog, originally called JoeBlogger for a real sense of anonymity or average Joe quality. It does fit the bill for my point. It's a bunch of small, useless tidbits about a the life some Joe somewhere, telling us all about how his life is going. Is it news? Probably not.

Then again, neither is this.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I've been given a blackberry handset by my work. Interrestingly enough, I find myself already attempting a blog entry.

Here's a question: is too much rapid access to one's personal information?

Perhaps. But, the keyboard is damn slow. More on this in future posts.

Posted from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Compile Time

I've been spending too much time at work. I don't mean that I've been putting in a lot of hours, I've just been spending too much time there. It's time to move on, spend my time elsewhere.

I've been working on a few ideas. Things are compiling. We are, however, talking about old-school compile times. Punch the cards, submit them to the terminal, and go and get a cup of coffee. It'll be a while before the results come back and we know that we have a working program, or a mess of errors to be debugged and tried all over again.

So it brings me back here. Ideas are great if you start to let them out. They have to be placed on paper (or, in this case, electronic media) and given form. They can be massaged, managed, organized, discredited, scrutinized, honed, and finally given their chance to make it.

I haven't been writing much, since I have been transitioning away from being a grad student. I gave it a shot and found it's not really for me. I found that I really was enjoying the time to be creative, write, read, think. So in this transition, I became stuck in a rut. Work was a concentration for me (which is odd, considering how much I despise my boss). It's become more so lately, as I have been given more responsibility over a particular aspect of the product (which has led to some of the ideas that are, at this moment, compiling).

So part of my scheme is to simple quit. I would like to return to that time of thinking, evaluating. Go walkabout, mentally. Really get back to dreaming.

If I can keep to it, I'll keep writing until that point. I need to tap the rust off the old brain and get back to scheming on paper (err...electronic media).


I spent the last two weeks hiking in Glacier National Park. After having been out in the back country for almost a week, I was less inclined to hike with the group of friends I was traveling with. I was also a bit antsy; I needed to move. So I went on a day hike alone. It was nice to be walking alone again. Most of my vacations up to this point included a lot of walking by myself.

During this hike, I started thinking about the concept of walkabout. I realized that I know absolutely nothing about it, save the bits and pieces that I'd seen on TV. Oddly enough, there's not a whole lot out there on the internet that boils it down to a simple set of descriptions. There's a really brief entry here, and stuff about some movie, but other than that, there seems to be few direct descriptions of a walkabout.

Walkabout is simply as it is described. A person on walkabout is doing just that: walking about. Australian Aborigines went on walkabout to search for new food and water sources. It's more analogous to the long hunts of the Native Americans.

Western traditions seem to have latched on to the spiritual aspects of walkabout. There is an attraction to "go walkabout" and leave one's job and life behind, all in an effort to find oneself, or confront one's problems. It's been converted into something akin to the spiritual quest of the Native American.

Perhaps this generation, having no really defining challenge, is constantly in need of stepping back and evaluating their existence. Not having a "purpose" leaves one asking the questions "why am I here," or "am I doing what I 'should'". There's a sense that one gets a bit lost in the details.

Walkabout provides a way to step a way and view things from different angles. The perspective is changed when distance is applied, and the details disappear. The view becomes a big picture, with parts of one's life painted in larger brush strokes.

To interject a little of my own opinion here, at I've said it before, this is how I view a vacation. It's a chance for me to step back and evaluate what's going on in my life, my relationships, my work, everything. The view from the distance provides a startling clarity and insight. I return, usually, happier and with a better sense of where I'm going.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Joy of Vacation

I just returned from a vacation. Two weeks in beautiful Glacier National Park. I spent the time with some friends hiking in the back country, away from work, technology, the concerns of daily life. It was a great reprieve from the ordinary.

Two weeks is important as far as vacation times go. I've heard it said, and maintain the philosophy to this day, that two week vacation is really the minimum time one should spend on a trip in order for it to be considered true time off.

There are several reasons for this. The first, being that one doesn't really stop thinking about work, etc. for at about a week. There's always that little piece of work left on one's desk that seems to sit in the back of one's mind, calling, whispering, trying to gather the brain's attention for just one more moment of processing. It takes a week for that thinking to just be deprioritized.

The best way, in my opinion, to help along this depriorization process is to keep one's brain very busy (or at least very tired) through a lot of activity. Spend the first week going to the museums, walking the streets, seeing the sights and enjoying the food. Exhaust one's self.

Now, the second week comes along. One has seen many of the sights, walked dozens of miles, and pretty much worn out feet, limbs, etc. Normally people who only take a week off have to head back to work come Monday. But those who still have that next week off can begin to relax. Now is the time to go to a cafe and enjoy a three hour coffee whilst reading a novel. It's the week to enjoy sitting on a porch and savoring a well earned beer while watching the world go by.

That first week as taken all the thoughts of work and the real world and replaced them with the new experience, the sights and sounds of the foreign place. It broadens the horizons and opens up new avenues of thinking. It makes for a wonderful time to starting thinking of new projects, such as ideas for that business one would like to start, or a new novel, or a new painting, or, perhaps, just a new way to rearrange the furniture.

This leads to a question: how are people supposed to have the ability to take this extended vacation and still be able to take time off for the little things. The majority of US companies only give two weeks of vacation. Employees need to start working towards getting more vacation, instead of working towards more money. A large portion of quality of life seems to come from quantity of free-time, not just quantity of free spending cash.

As for me, I find that after a vacation, my writing level tends to spike. I get about four good months before things start to fall off. So a two week vacation every six months seems to be a really good idea.

Oh, where to go next...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hey, Here's an Idea...

I had come across this idea in another article (read "industry flame") called A Gamer's Manifesto.

Where's the game where we're a castaway on a deserted island and the object of the game is to find food and clean water and build a shelter, a game where we can play for one month or six months, because whether or not we get rescued is randomized? Where every time we restart we get a different island with different wildlife and vegetation and water sources?

Well, I think it's a rather good idea. It's nothing terrible sophisticated, at least on the surface. Here are the complicated bits:
  • Animal behavior
  • Weather
  • Time passage
  • Physical wear and tear on the user's "body
Not to say this is an easy to do thing for me. I've no experience with computer games. This seems like a really good place to start. I'd need to up my C++ skills, maybe work on some artistic skills, learn some new tools, that sort of thing. I would really like to script things in lisp, though. Not sure why, but it just seems like a really good language to script AI (for the animal behaviors).

So far in the mentions of the idea that I've had, there's been a few positive responses. I think the appeal of a game like that is the tomogochi-type game addictiveness. The game would involve the survival of an avatar, but from a first-person perspective. I think that adds a bit more to the addictiveness, in that it is about virtual survival of self.

It might be pretty interesting.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Decline and Fall (Wait, no, It's Summer)

There's been a noticeable decline in the blogging space. It's seems as if the fad has begun to run it's course. There was a Doonesbury comic this morning that high-lighted this fact, which says to me that the whole situations, well, reached comic proportions.

Even the bloggers are starting to realize this fact.

I'd give this decline several reasons. First, and foremost, it's a fad. In the way that social network sites had a spike in membership, so have blogs. Everyone needed to have one, and realized that writing about their lives really wasn't all that interesting to them. Millions of people tried it out and found that it just wasn't for them.

Now the internet is full of blog sites that are never updated, nor cared for, nor visited. It's a bit like the clutter that built up after the internet's first fad stage: the personal website. Blogs have made it remarkably easy for a person to have a professional looking website. The only thing needed is content (like a bare-bones computer needs a CPU or a Chia pet needs water).

There will probably be some sort of great Blog Rapture, where the gods of the blog servers while choose those blogs that will stay and those that will be damned to the hell of the Way Back Machine. Until that time there will be a huge number of orphaned blogs out there.

I think the second reason for the decline in blogs has been that the mainstream media has co-opted it for their own uses. I know that statement has a conspiratorial tone to it, but I merely trying to think like the vast number of dedicated bloggers out there. They feel that there job is to bring the real news and really happenings to light. Now with the mainstream media grabbing hold, it's no longer seen as a tool of counter-culture. In other words, it's now a tool of the Man.

Lastly, and this really is only a personal opinion/belief/hope-for-the-survival-of-all-man-kind, is that it's summer. People have more interesting things to do, than sit on the computers and write about what they did today, which amounts to writing about there day. This may only be the case in the part of the world where I live where there is only about four months of good weather.

So get outside, enjoy that strange scent called Fresh Air.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Windy Season

I've been a bit distracted lately. You see, it's sailing season. I sail on a regular basis, starting with twice a week, and ramping up to around four, once I get my own boat in the water. Pretty much that seems to sap all of my energy. So where does that leave me for this? Pretty much out to sea...

Wow, ok, that was a bit cheesy. See, it's sapped all the creativity as well.

Why does it grab my attention so? It's one of those sports that requires an amazing amount of focus and subtlety. Usually these are two athletic skills that I lack. With sailing, when I'm at the tiller, I have tremendous focus.

This might be more true in light wind. That's where the subtlety really comes into play. The tiller only needs a soft touch to get it to point higher or bear off. In those conditions it's easy to over-steer, and when there's light wind, it may be very difficult to actually get back to a preferred course.

Tactics are important in those wind conditions, as well. The job of the tactician is not only to be aware of the other boats, but to be aware of the wind conditions on the course. He or she needs to spot the areas of stronger, larger, more consistent pockets, all of which help to gain speed over the other boats in the race. A good tactician can make the race.

In the heavier air races, it's seems to be more a question of sailing skill. The tactician is still valuable in picking the favored side of the course, and in dealing with the other boats, but much of the time is spent sailing well on a long beat. Speed is maintained on well-executed tacks and mark roundings.

To see where I stand in all this, check out the Black Bear Yacht Racing Association's (BBYRA) race results. The boat I race on is called Improv. Great little boat, with not so great little racers.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Oddly enough, I think that I've gone to exactly the place in blogging where I hoped not to go. I'm free writing.

Damn it. Really, this isn't the time or the place for it, especially if I want to seem semi-serious about the whole thing. It's just that I haven't had to many ideas for essayable subjects. Perhaps I should be putting this sort of writing into a story or a novel or something (that thing that I really want to do).

This basically puts me at the same place that a vast majority of bloggers are at: self-indulgent forms of flattery. Look at me, I'm so good.

I'm not saying that about myself. Usually I describe it as total crap. Oh, maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself.

The last post I put up was just that. I was just trying to hard to come up with something to say in. In the end (since it was through multiple sittings), it merely meanders (albeit, briefly) through a start of one subject and a discussion of another. I probably shouldn't have even have posted it.

Ah, who knows.

Friday, May 20, 2005

More Transitions

Here's a great way to start out the summer: go back to work.

Kids have been doing this for years. Schools out and one needs a little more spending cash. It's that unfortunate catch 22 of the summer. To have fun you have to work.

Although, it seems that once schools out permanently there is actually more free time. Not having homework at night opens up an amazing amount of time. This, however, causes a problem.

Many young people (myself included) seem to have a lack of purpose. They lack drive. They need something to get them from this point A to some other point B with out going through all the strange, meandering points in between (like X, Y and Z).

The question is, where am I going with this? I ask myself that question all the time. I always thought that the older one gets the more clear things will seem. This is, of course, not true. It's one of those great truths, really. The stability and composure that many of our parents conjured really just masked their own insecurities as human beings. They did it all for our benefit. Amazing really.

It's difficult to mask these insecurities. Many time they sit on the forefront of our minds. Am I doing the right thing? Will people like me? Should I really have worn the pink shirt with the beige trousers or should I have gone with black?

The interesting bit is how we deal with these questions. There's two ways to answer them. First one can simple become paralyzed by the questions, continually answering them in one way and then the other. It becomes an infinite loop of yes or no, stay or go, pink or black. The questions merely reverse for the new answer.

Or we can simply accept our first instinct. We've made this decision and we should stick with it. Come what may, it's the path we've chosen: Yes I'm doing the right thing; who cares what they think; damn it, I look good in pink. Now what we're left with is waiting and seeing what the results of our actions are. Then there will be a new set of questions and with them a new set of answers.

So what does that leave for the summer? Just a set of questions about what to do with that little bit of time left over after we've earned a little bit of spending cash.

Minor Editorial Note: I do not, in fact, own a pink shirt. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I just don't think it's my color.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I'm writing this on my new Mac PowerbookTM. I've finally made the switch. It's not all wine and roses.

I'm finding that there's a bit of a transition. In the back of my mind I new that would be the case. There's different key strokes, different button locations, different keyboard. The Software's all slightly different. The organization of things is very different.

Take, for example, the fact that there is no delete key. I don't mean backspace. I mean delete. You know, the one that deletes characters in front of it? I find that to be a highly useful key. I'm sure there's a way to do it. I just haven't found it yet.

But as a user it will be an interesting change. It's the first time in a while where I need to learn the fundamentals of the system again. There's a bit of joy that comes from discovering how to do things the quick way (like with a key stroke) versus the easier to find slow way (menu navigation).

It has me excited, though. As a developer, it has a lot to offer, mostly in the stability and performance areas. There's a lot of little places that I can get my feet wet. If I was ever so inclined, I could also help out porting existing open-source Unix applications to this platform.

That requires some interest and need for those applications, though. Otherwise I won't ever work on the projects. I've noticed that the best way to drive development is to write a tool that I need. Second to that is writing a tool that someone else needs (this is called business).

There will be a lot of tools that I'll need here in this new world, so I'll need to get cracking.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Points and Lines

Every now and then (sort of like my need to examine the state of my Religiosity), I need to sit back and look at why I'm doing this. It's been a few months now since I've started this blog, and so I thought I'd reexamine my purpose.

It seems like I've become an essayist. Somehow that doesn't seem quite right. I never thought about becoming an essayist. I never wanted to become an essayist. I never sat up, late in the night, gazing at the stars, and whispered into the darkness "I would like to write the Great American Essay."

What did I want? Well, I've always thought about becoming a novelist. Barring that, a screenwriter (OK, so who hasn't thought of that. I think my mistake - or success - in not becoming a screenwriter was despising LA and being unable to afford life in NY). There's a lot of glamour in the screenwriting business, or at least the fantasy of seeing your work up on screen.

There's a very similar desire to see a book on a shelf in a bookstore with one's name on it. Being a novelist really should be about telling a story. A story of a man. A radioactive, wait that's been done.

Ay, there's the rub. Much of it's been done before. Or at least that's how it seems. Perhaps it's just a bit daunting to get started. That blank page makes one both fearful, nervous, yet ready to fill it with words. Hopefully words full of meaning and theme and Great-American-Novelly-type things. In other words, a grandiose tale of men (and women).

It usually ends up being a page of crap.

That page of crap is important, as I've said before. That becomes the first draft and the house of ideas in which one can raise a story.

So here's where I put myself after these few months blogging. I find that the barrier to putting words down to be thinner, taking less effort to overcome. I can sit down and bang out an essay. It's usually crap but now I accept that part of it. The crap becomes part of ideas and elements that perhaps I can use later.

Now, as far as writing a novel goes, these ideas aren't necessarily worthwhile. There not even good. But, I have been leaving out my fiction ideas. There's two reasons for doing that. First, they haven't quite gelled yet. There's still some ideas of plot, character, setting, style, pacing and that sort of thing that needs to be worked out. Secondly, its a matter of having no idea where to start.

The essays are easy. Even if it's about something I'm not too knowledgeable about, I'll look it up. That's what many of the essays have been: short explorations of an idea. Fiction has to be made up entirely. Write about what you know, they say. If I did that, it would be terrible uninteresting. So I need to really figure out how to imagine people and places and situations, before I can sit down and write about them.

Lies are all in the details, and so is fiction.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Astonishing Principle

There is a very strange informal scientific principle know as the Principle of Least Astonishment (also known as the Principle of Maximum Boredom). This principle states that "the explanation which is the least astonishing and which is the most boring is usually (but not always) the right one."[1]

Often one is using this principle when, upon coming to a conclusion, begin with the phrase "surprise, surprise, it turns out that..."

More often than not this principle is a very good starting point for prove things. Since you would be very surprised if it turned out to be incorrect, you already have a goal in mind. Sometimes actually proving that the assumption is true can be much more difficult.

Take, for example, the Fermat's Last Theorem[2]

xn + yn=zn

has no non-zero solutions for n > 2.

What's is wholely remarkable about this particular theorem is that it would have been incredibly surprising to find that it was false. But finding a correct proof of this theorem took centuries and the cumulative work of many mathematicians.

There is another application of the Principle, which lies in the software space. When there is ambiguity, the software should do the least surprising of the two actions. An example of the opposite of this is an instance where a dialog pop-up appears asking the user whether or not they're really, absolutely sure they want to do that. The user is given the option of yes, no or cancel. Clicking cancel exits the application.

Very surprising.

It's point in UI design is intended to guide a developer to make interfaces that are moderately intuitive. Given it's other name, it certainly sounds like it has very boring outcomes. However it's a good road to happy customers, which means the software producer will never be bored, racing down the highway in his fancy, expensive sports car.

[1] Absolute Astronomy Reference

[2] Fermat's Last Theorem

Friday, May 06, 2005

Classical Journalist

Whatever happened to the old-time journalist? Tie, crappy suit, typewriter. Did it all go out with the advent of the computer and under-arm antiperspirant?

I'm sitting here waiting to head off to a fancy dress thingy. So it makes me wonder, whatever happened to the suit at work? I know that people seem to think that having to dress in one particular way seems to disuade creativity. Why is dress so important to creativity? Is there a psychological impact to dressing the same (relatively) as everyone else.

Here's a little tidbit about uniforms in schools: Schools that have uniforms have lower incidents of crime. Kids are no longer have the distraction of the coolest clothes or shoes. There is no have and have-nots. Everyone is sporting the same dress style. Sounds communist? Not really. It actually improves the sense of community as well. Kids feel like they belong. Sounds like something kids need in that awkward stage of life.

There's also a dark side, so to speak. A study into sport team uniforms saw a statistical trend that the teams that wore black uniforms were more aggressive, more penalized (probably due to the higher aggression) and more feared (they're perceived as incredibly aggressive, so the opposing team should "watch out"). The most interesting point was that this is even the case when, in football, the players are wearing their home-team white. The authors of the study theorize that it's due to the primary color of the team (i.e. black), which is shouted by the fans.

They do concede that there is a tendency to recruit the more aggressive players for these teams. The Oakland Raiders are a great example, most recently with there acquisition of Randy Moss (formerly of the Vikings - go Purple).

But what about in the office environment? Here's an excerpt from an Psychology Today:Mar/Apr 95 issue (yet again):

Corporations that have bought into informality have looser hierarchies; people are more apt to call each other by their first names. Meetings are more conducive to free thought and risk taking. People's speech, posture, and manners change; they feel free to interrupt each other--circumstances more akin to brainstorming, observes [David] Morand, from Penn State.

This works well for software companies. Mainly because we're all a bunch of children. But for other corporations like
banks, insurance firms, and law offices, industries that thrive less on creativity than on routine, detail, and logic.

There formality works better, even if employees wish they could be a little more laid back. Formal dress codes generate sober attitudes and a cool social distance between workers. That same social distance is what makes it easier for your local bank officer to refuse a friendly customer like you a loan.
So, for now, those of us who don't mind wearing a tie will just have to either wait until for the second coming of 1950's IBM, or we'll have to just become bankers.

Another Brief Note on the Previous Post

I think I've satiated my need to discourse on the subject of religion, for now. It's one of those life long issues.

But I will be back to discussions of travel, music, and literature soon enough.

Schroedinger of the Divine

Note: This is merely the opinion of the author. It is based on his own personal religious experieces and musing. Any offence taken is your own damn fault.

Part I: Schpatz Goes Holistic

It seems like everyone I know is upgrading there computers lately. Some drastically, some incrementally. A friend of mine just wrote me about buying a new laptop. That's drastic. Another friend of mine just upgraded his graphics card. That's incremental.

I'm not sure which actually ends up being worse. I've found that if you upgrade one part, there's always something else that becomes the bottle neck. I upgraded the graphics card on my desktop a while ago. Now my biggest complaint is the processor speed. Everything seems a bit slow. So now I'm thinking I should get a new CPU. But that would work better with faster, new memory, which needs a new motherboard, which would have a new kind of graphics card interface...

You get the idea.

Oddly enough, with my laptop, I find that the slowness doesn't bother me. It must be due to the fact that I can't upgrade it. Sure, I might be able to add a little more memory, replace the DVD drive, but those things will only help a little bit. The only reason I'm looking to replace it is that it's starting to go. It's "like a military academy. Bit's of it keep passing out."[1]

Part of the reason for not feeling the need to upgrade the laptop is that I can't. I accept it as it is. There's an old prayer (Catholic, I think) the asks for the wisdom to accept the things that I cannot change, or something like that. This acceptance of what the laptop is has allowed my to use it with very little complaint.

The same sort of thing should be used in our interactions with people. We shouldn't try to change people. We can only be ourselves, and hope that, by example, people may change. That's always seemed to me to be the main point of Christianity. From a philosophical stand, the concept of "love thy neighbor as thyself" is to live an example to others. Love thyself means to accept yourself, faults and all. Therefore, one must do the same with others.

Accepting the things we can't change. This doesn't mean that people shouldn't fight corruption or injustice and that sort of things. These are things that can change. They just require more people, more ideas, more social power (i.e. masses) to enact that change.

People are, however, unchangeable. They must choose to change. They must enact the change themselves. They have to replace their own parts, and upgrade their own thinking.

It's choice.

Part II: Where am I going with all this

Every very now and then I get religion. Not in the "Praise Jesus!" sense, just that I start thinking about it philosophically and sociologically. I'm still trying to figure out if it has a place in my life.

This stems back to the fact that I went to Catholic School. Only through the eight grade, mind you, but long enough. I suppose though that is the only reason I even think about it from time to time. It's sort of embedded that sense of social connection that religion provides. As well as that guilt, but that's another story.

The other thing that it's done for me is that I still like all things Catholic. There's something exceptionally profound in all that pomp and circumstance, the ceremony of it all that gives it that feeling of the divine. I never get that from non-Catholic preachers (and I don't mean Lutherans or Anglicans; they seem pretty similar). Their's is more of a "spread the good word" sort of Christianity.

I've also developed an almost morbid fascination with it. When I travel abroad, some of the things that I enjoy seeing is the old (and I mean old) Christian relics and tombs. These things are so bizarre, so occult, that it makes Christianity seem almost pagan. In some ways it could be seen that way, when looked at from afar. Catholics (which, when I'm in Europe, I'll use Catholic and Christian interchangeably) worship and pray to saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and, of course, God. That's quite a pantheon.

I'm quite sure that I'm being a bit naive in my view of it all. I'm sure there are some very sound theological arguments for it all.

This is, of course, one opinion from years of very limited observations.

Part III: What's with all the God Talk

Religion has been a bit on my mind lately. I recently spent a weekend at my sister's in Dubuque. Any weekend spent with my family usually means a trip to church.

Now, I don't usually think about religion, unless I'm confronted with it. More often then not, I think about the humanity of it all. What I mean by that is that religion, in the organized sense, is built up by man. It's an arbitrary construction of rules, built around the shared idea that there is something greater than ourselves.

I don't discount the possibility that there is something greater than ourselves. Call it God, if you will. I'm an agnostic, that's certain. I've never considered myself an atheist. Just as the devout Christians, Muslims and Jews have faith in their belief in God, Atheists have faith in their belief that there is no God. This always seemed a bit strange to me. I've heard atheist sound just as fanatical about their beliefs as a fundamentalist.

Not entirely arbitrary. Every religion seems to have a bunch of similar rules. Don't kill people, for example (although there are often some exceptions to this rule, which in itself is a bit strange). These rules, I think are generated out of the social contract. The social contract of all societies has been to not get in the way of other people trying to get by.

I'm also not against the value of religion. There seems to be this built in need for human nature to feel connected.

There are three different theories on why religion exists (that I agree with anyway), all three of which are somewhat right.[2]

The first is from a French sociologist, Emile Durkheim. His definition of religion is as follows: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden -- beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” [3] The sacred and the profane are two things that oppose each other. This creates a series of rites and rules around protecting the sacred from th profane. This collection of rites and the community of practitioners becomes a religion.[4]

The second is from a Romanian historian, Mircea Eliade. His notions are similar to Durkheim's – the sacred and the profane - but lack the deconstruction of religion into a merely sociological construction. Religion is based on “Timeless forms”[5]. Every religion is built upon the same set of underlying forms. Oddly, enough this concept, reduces all religions to a simple construction of these forms. He makes the point, though, that there is a fundamental similarity of the human condition across cultures.

The third is from a professor in Anthropology at Fordham University, Stewart E. Guthrie. Guthrie proposes that religion is a result of anthropomorphizing nature. This is central to the creation of religion. As for motives of things supernatural, it's attributed to the following:

“Uncertain of what we face,” he writes, “we bet on the most important possibility because if we are wrong we lose little and if we are right we gain much. Religion, asserting that the world is significantly human-like, brings this strategy to its highest pitch.” His ‘tendency,’ then, is, according to Guthrie, more a survival strategy than simply a proclivity.


If such wagers are correct, the payoff is large. In the case of religion and the belief that the spirits have wills, it means either eternal bliss of some sort or a relatively lower level of anxiety here on earth. Both options have their appeal.[6]

Basically, what he's saying is something very similar to Pascal's assertion about religion, which goes something like this: if I choose to believe in God, and it turns out to be false, I've lost nothing. If it turns out to be true, I've gained eternal rewards. On the otherhand if I choose to not believe in God, and I'm wrong, the rest of time will be particularly unpleasant.

These theories (and me coming to this conclusion after several hours of intense study) really describe different aspects of the same thing: the why of religion. As in everything societal, it is a question that's answer is wholly complicated and can't really be distilled down into one theory.

Part IV: Conclusions

Having done the slightest bit of research leaves me with a few questions on the subject of my own belief in God. Where does the Agnostic fit into all this? We're sort of stuck in the middle, a Schroedinger experiment of the divine, where God is in a state of both existence and non-existence. That is, until we open that box.

[1] The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. I've been re-reading and watching the BBC series recently. Possibly in anticipation for the theatrical film. Possibly to completely ruin my viewing experience of the film, in order to have something to bitch and moan about for the rest of the summer blockbuster season.

[2] "Explaining Religion," Austin Cline

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Emile Durkheim, 1912

[4] Summary of The Elementary Forms of Religions Life, Robert Alun Jones, 1986

[5] See [2]

[6] Review of Faces in the Clouds, a New Theory of Religion, Russell T. McCutcheon, 1994

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Brief Note on the Lack of Posts

I've been wrestling with some posts for the last week or so. I think they'll get merged into one longer post. They touch on some topics that I don't normally write about (religion, God, etc), and so I want to get them right.

Imagine that: me, editing.

Reluctant Expert

Everyone and their grandmother seems to be asking me questions about computers (well, at least my grandmother, anyway). It must be upgrade season.

Upgrade season happens every eighteen months. This is, I've read, the average time it takes for someone to become dissatisfied with there computer. At least this is true with the PC world, Macs are different.

There are several reasons for this. One is software related, the other is hardware.

Software bloat is one of the causes of dissatisfaction. Users aren't dissatisfied with the software, however. They're bothered by the way it runs on their PC. Software, through patches, feature creep, and the philosophy of jam-more-crap-then-the-other-guy, tends to require more CPU and memory over time. The programs are simply bigger. Take windows, for example. I've used the same set of software on my PC's for years (Java, a Java IDE, a browser, Civ III). Yet every OS upgrade has expected more and more from the PC. True, the applications have also required more (Java is notorious for being a memory hog), but it seems like some time could have been spent on performance enhancements for windows.

Games cause another level of software-related dissatisfaction. Games are the industry's cutting edge, in terms of pushing the envelop. The effect of this envelope pushing is that they bring along with them the need for the newest graphics hardware and CPUs. It's seems that every year, a game developer puts something out that finally requires the advanced GPU technologies that were developed last year. I've never recommended that anyone be on the cutting edge of graphics technology. Games are always six months to a year behind. But still, that's an upgrade that can be worth while, even staying behind the curve.

Hardware has it's own cause for needing upgrades: it breaks down. My brother-in-law's motherboard decided to do a little agricultural realestate deal recently. My laptop's starting to go. Both of these particular examples were very old, relative to the eighteen month curve. Here's where one needs to ask the same questions as one would with a car. When does it stop paying to upgrade, and just buy a new PC. For myself, I may replace the CD-ROM in my laptop, so I can put Linux on it (I'll still replace the whole thing, I just don't like old hardware to go to waste). For my brother-in-law, it was buy a new PC.

When all's said and done, I don't have a whole lot of knowledge about computers. I just work with them often and am not afraid of opening then up. This is where I get the expert status. It's not so expert. I've had worse luck with computers I've built myself (maybe there's some sort of infection from having it open for so long. Maybe I need to push antibiotics after the surgery...). They often fail faster and in more severe ways. Yet, people keep asking me questions.

Fancy that.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Language in Decline

I've noticed lately a certain problem with language and its usage. It seems to be on a downward spiral into simplicity.

There are words that should be considered easy to understand in conversation, that get a blank-stare response. Recently, a friend of mine gave me the example of the word "antiquated". I was surprised by the fact that this word was questioned and denounced as "too big a word" (a label which is often used for a word that someone doesn't understand). There seems to be a lack of contextual inference. For example, the sentence "Young people have trouble understanding older generations due to the antiquated nature of their language" gives us very good hints as to the meaning of antiquated.

Secondly, there seems to be a lack of meaning-deduction from the word structure. Many words, like antiquated, contain roots that are easily recognizable. If a sentence without contextual information was used, there still is a possibility of inferring the meaning of the word by it's structure. For example, in a conversation where one is describing a record player, the listener may respond "that's antiquated." The root antiquate- and it's similarity to antique may guide the first converser too infer that the listener has just said "that's old-fashioned" or "I really don't care what your saying because what you've just described is something I threw out ten years ago" (the two meanings, of course, depend on the tone used when the response is uttered).

There are other types of words that have come up in conversation that have been questioned. These words have unfamiliar roots. I used the word "paradox" a while ago. Now the receiving converser had never heard this word before. There could be a few reasons for not knowing this words. First, she was a college freshman, a new one at that. Second, and this only occurs to me know, is that a paradox is more often than not used as scientific and mathematic lingo. It is still a very descriptive word for the types of situation it describes.

(A little context around how the word paradox came up in said conversation. It was a question of why there were less men then women in the ballroom class. My response to this was that dancing is a bit of a paradox with guys. They don't want to embarrass themselves by looking like a dancing monkey, and therefore drive away the women on the dance floor. On the other hand, they know that women like guys who can dance, and therefore the should dance to attract women on the dance floor. This is a paradox in that they attempt to do neither. So the resort to the common method of restoring balance and sanity to a paradoxical universe: they drink large sums of alcohol).

This decline of language can be attributed to two causes. First is newsprint (and via evolution, webprint). The language used is meant for the least common denominator which is the fifth-grade reading level. Apparently, in these days of much-lauded need for higher education journalism does not assume that anyone has made it out of the fifth grade. I think print media has had these accusations thrown it's way ever since the first English-speaking newspaper rolled out in 1622[1],

The second reason, and more powerfully so, is television.
The Department of Education states that language skills are best developed through reading and interactions with others in conversation and play. Excessive television watching can impede this development. Hours spent watching TV make risk-taking and social relationships difficult for many children. [2]
Television viewing is up, much of which (and here I start to make some rash generalizations, unfounded by the fact that I am neither a sociologist, nor a parent) is probably due to the rise of the two-income household. In many of these households, the time spent between when the child gets home and the first of the parents get home is spent watching TV or playing video games. There is little physical activity as well as very little social interaction involved while TV watching is in progress. The social interaction, especially at a young age, is very important for developing good conversation and language skills. Much of a child's early language development is learned through example.

When it comes to conversation, though TV is not the only detractor. I've encountered one child in particular whose language skills were very weak, in terms of pronunciation. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, who was also very careful about regulating the child's TV intake. However (and this may be due to a certain amount of shyness), her pronunciation of words was terrible since she lacked interaction with other children. Her pronunciation was never corrected by her parents because they understood her; there was no need to correct it. Essentially she had developed her own dialect. Needless to say, I felt like I was talking to someone from rural New Zealand, or a Cockney Londoner: I required a translator.

I find that fact that I'm interested in the use of the English language very amusing. I'm a mathematician and computer scientist by trade. Almost as a rule, we have very little formal training in written (and verbal) communications. Many of us do a lot of reading, which is a great way to research writing and language usage. The only thing missing from this sort of research are the formal rules that back things up (like the use of it's versus its, something I needed explained to me to start using them correctly). Still, we're also very good emulators. Much of our sciences are learn-by-example types of sciences. Another reason that we're a lot like little children.

[1] The first English language news pamphlet was The Weekly Newes, published in London in 1622. This wasn't a daily, but was printed whenever there was an interesting event. The first daily was the London Gazette, published in 1666, which is widely considered the first true newspaper. A Brief History of Newspapers, Phil Barber

[2] How Television Viewing Affects Children, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Monday, April 25, 2005


I read a lot. More so ever since I've reduced my TV intake to about 3 shows a week. The problem with that is there is some much to read and so little time. I know, everyone says that, but for me it's actually a problem.

It seems like the more you read and are seen reading, the more people have a book that they think you would enjoy. Or it is, in fact, a book you would enjoy. It gets loaned to you, or it sits on the shelf at the bookstore with that little voice saying "buy me, buy me. I just want to be read." And so forth.

So I have more books than I know what to do with.

I'm currently reading three. One lightweight one: the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I picked that one back up because it was late, I couldn't sleep and a really needed something that I wouldn't have to really think about. Also with the movie coming out in a week, I thought I would remind myself that it really is a good story even if the film people haven't a clue.

One Shakespeare play: the Tempest. I've never read it before nor seen it performed, so I thought I'd pick it up. Also, I was reluctant to go to class and needed something to read for an hour. It was $1.95. cheapest interesting thing I could find. To say a vast understatement, it's pretty good so far.

One tough book: Godel, Esher and Bach. It's a book about mathematics, knowledge representation, thinking and machines. Weird. Fascinating. Well written. Pretty much all that I would love to write myself. It uses an allegorical device for describing concepts between chapters. This makes the material surprisingly accessible.

Now I just got a fourth book. It's a loaner. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a novel. The thing about loaners, for me anyway, is that I have to read them right away, otherwise, it will never be read. This is true for any book I own, even one's that I've started. If, for some reason, I have to stop a book for an extended period of time, I may never come back to it. Also if I don't start it right away, it will never get started, due to the fact that I may no longer be /in the mood for/interested in/care about/ the book.

So, for now, I have a fourth. It's going to be a busy Spring.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Fits and Starts

I really enjoy working in the start-up environment. I love the pace, the energy, and the enthusiasm, as well as the crap that goes along with it. There's also a camaraderie that forms, when the chemistry is right. Many solid friendships are formed out of these environments. The common struggle to make a name/fortune/killer-application seems to bond people together.

We all like to think that it's just a job. It's a lifestyle.

It allows a developer to be as creative as possible in there work. More often than not, the problems are second only to university research programs in terms of cutting edge. One can push the limits of the technology. Often this is just to be cool, but, just as often, because there's no time/money to really get bigger, better hardware.

There's a joy in putting as much into it as possible. There's also a joy, if it's a product company, of knowing that a customer uses the product. It gives a true feeling of accomplishment. Certainly, customers are a pain in the ass, but the feedback is really valuable. It can become a real partnership in developing a great application.

They can get really stale, though. That's the problem with start-ups. There's a point between making or breaking that the creativity can stagnate. Whether it's waiting for success or waiting for the next round of funding, there comes a point where things can't move forward with out a change.

It's also the point where every start-up executive believes that it's time to become a "real company." This means lots of process, documentation, managers, managers, managers. As a developer, and (at least I'd like to think) a creative one at that, this can become very stifling. I've been in, but never through, all the stages. That last one's the toughest.

Much of the cause for being stifled is our training. Many developers (I won't give myself the moniker "hacker") have been trained as Computer Science students. In a majority of the programs there is very little time spent on how to be a good software developer in industry. Its all very academic. The focus is on solving little problems with little solutions. This requires very little in the way of documentation (the code speaks for itself. Usually it has a terrible slurred voice and speaks in guttural, single letter words, but nonetheless...). Students don't have any deadlines aside from a due-date.

Students (at least student hackers) are also still in that stage of discovery. They are really enjoying learning about languages and what can be done with them. What are the limits, what are the benefits and the detractions. They are in those ivy halls of innovation, where limits are pushed and broken every day (I'm not say that the academic life is all wine and roses. There's a lot of shit work being done: getting grants, getting published, departmental politics, that sort of thing).

This feeling can be found in early-stage start-ups. The bounds have not been put in place (again, exceptions made for money). Much of work is research and development, writing prototypes and throwing in something really cool. It means late nights hacking and beer. There's is a fair amount of beer.

Beer (or alcohol of some form or another) is a really important part of the start-up process. The lubrication provide lets loose ideas. The mutual inebriation of the team generates excitement as the ideas pour forth. Like any ideas formed when alcohol is involved, ninety percent of it is total crap. But there are a few gems that come out of those discussions.

It's in these wonderful, free conversations that a real camaraderie is formed. Often these are discussions that include most members of the company, including the founders/CEO/top-dogs. It helps in developing a certain loyalty to the management. Like officers in the trenches, the infantry starts to believe that they'll be taken care off when they're sent over the top.

Often a false belief. Here's where I inject a slight note of cynicism. Unlike army officers, execs are out for themselves, just as much as the developers should be. They'll lay employees off, in order for the company to survive. The are officers of the company, and the company is not its employees (although, I believe this is a fallacy on their part). No loyalty should overlook the fact that the developers need to watch out for there own needs and happiness. Chasing the big bucks is tempting. It's glitter can be blinding.

That being said, it's worth the risk. I'm shopping around for something new. I miss the fresh start provided in a start-up, the cutting-edge, the do-it-yourself feeling. I miss building something new. I miss working on things I've never done before. I've toyed with the idea of starting my own.

Now that's the ultimate risk.

Lot's of reference and reverence to Paul Graham, who writes some great essays.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Radio Renaissance

Radio has recently had a renaissance in Minneapolis.

The launch of The Current has revitalized radio on the FM tuner. It brandishes independent music with skill and wit. Playing both local and international groups with equal zeal, it's helping to familiarize listeners with more new music than ever before.

Play on the station has received both acclaim and criticism. The music ranges from Bob Dylan to The Shins. The Current has been lauded for its variety and chance-taking. After playing a new song, one DJ actually apologized and said he would never play that one again. Criticism falls on the station for its choice of playing predominantly white music, with the majority of African-American music coming from early jazz and blues singers.

On top of the variety, the station keeps the locals informed of Twin Cities-area music. Bands, like the Olympic Hopefuls, are getting more airplay than they otherwise would on the nationally run radio stations. It's also valuable to here about concert schedules for bands that the listener now may have actually heard.

I can't help comparing the station to one of my favorite stations in the independent music world, KEXP of Seattle. The Current has a diverse selection of music but much of it is very mellow. KEXP, on the other hand (particularly the morning show), provides both high-energy music as well as mellow moments. The combination of both provides for more variety of mood than the new Minneapolis station. I hope that as the Current matures it will provide more variety of musical styles.

To say the least, it's still a vast improvement over the standard radio fare.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Fortress of Solitude

Jonathan Lethem, in Fortress of Solitude, has created a tale of growing up in Brooklyn that is a love-hate relationship with the city. Coming on the heals of his previous novel, Motherless Brooklyn, Lethem delves deeper into his love of the city. Having been raised by a similar set of parents as those portrayed in the novel, one may speculate about how much of his own childhood experiences have been weaved into the story.

Fortress of Solitude is divided into two parts. The first follows the childhood of the story's main character, Dylan Ebdus as he navigates the world of Brooklyn in the mid-1970's. He chronicles both the creation of his meek (white) personage, and that of the confident, strong (black) character of his neighbor and best friend, Mingus Rude. The color of the two character's is an undercurrent of the novel. That distinction is one of the sole things that sets each on their paths.

Dylan is moved to Brooklyn by his hippie mother and artist father, Abraham. His mother is complex, explosive, brooding; essentially a manic-depressive woman. Abraham is a dedicated artist, always in his studio working on his art. The manic-depressive nature of the mother leaves the reader with a constant feeling of abandonment, eventually resulting in actual abandonment.

Rude is the envy of every kid on the block. He is at ease with anyone. Correctly respectful to those respect is due, and street savvy in the situations that require it. His connection with Dylan is based on their motherlessness. Dylan learns much of his street wisdom from Mingus, and in doing so, develops a boyish crush (for a lack of a better way of discribing it).

Each boy is being raised by an increasingly isolated father. Mingus' father, Barris Rude, Jr., is a jazz singer whose star was fading, isolates himself in a world of drugs and parties. Abraham isolates himself with his art. Both fathers, in their ways, still strive to provided for their sons. Abraham provides the means for good schools and a good life, even by sacrificing his art. Barris provides Mingus with with all the elements for partying: money, space, and drugs.

The first half is written in a vibrant style, with an almost stream-of-consciousness method. It gives the time frame of childhood the feeling of free flowing memory. It treats the events and happenings in the same fashion as one treats their own childhood memories. Lethem spends time on those events that are significant to the character: time spent tagging buildings, sessions of drug abuse, summers. Apart from the introduction of school's terror for Dylan, very little time is spent on his school experiences. For Dylan and Mingus, school is merely a holding pen, a prison, before release into the wilds of Brooklyn.

There is a wonderful divider, separating the two halves of the book. Written as liner notes for a boxed-set of Barris Rude, Jr., it is a fantastic way of relieving the suspense that is built up at the end of the first half. It creates a very real history of Rude's career in music that brings a new life to the character.

The second half takes place in the present. Dylan, living in California as a music journalist (the liner notes were "authored" by him), is still reeling from the effects of his childhood. His past has permeated his life through a severe, unacknowledged depression. It is now written in a first person perspective with a more journalistic style. The remainder of the book follows Dylan's attempts to reconcile with his own past. While this is well-written and well executed, it shadows the first half of the book, in terms of story.

Overall, Fortress of Solitude is a marvelous picture of growing up in a city that is at one of it's darkest points. The characters are deep and moving, the imagery is wonderful and the style of the text is great. Lethem excels in his style, as always.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Performance Blogs

A short follow-up to a previous post (though, now I can't figure out what the hell the title was supposed to mean).

A decent list of blog fiction is here. It has a rather diverse selection of works that are currently active. (I, however, am not responsible for lost or stolen links. Any content that is found to be offensive is your own damned fault. Why are you so easily offended?)

Also, a rather interesting one is The Mexican Year, a story about two people and the Mexican border. This work is structure with almost serialized chapters, each one told in the perspective of the main characters.

One of the interesting things about most blog fiction that I have noticed is how their blend of fiction with the blog format has created something that is often hard to distinguish from reality. Most of the sites have very little in the way of admission that is a fictional piece. Often times, even the about page is fictional (She's a Flight Risk, is a good example).

This adds a certain quality to the story. It makes it almost a piece of performance art. Subtract away the physical of a performance piece and what you are left with is the dramatic portion, a player immersed in a character or set of characters. The reader is, like all good fiction, almost believing it, even though he/she knows that it is not real.

It can be imagined that the author sits down before there computer and gets into character, as any actor would. What is then presented is either a great set of improv, or a well-planned and well-timed performance. Either way they assume their role and take the stage, giving their all.

Sunset on the Bosphorus Posted by Hello

In The Next Issue...

Generally, my brain works as follows: I think of an idea, I like it, I nurture it, I have visions of grandeur, I promptly forget it. If I don't write it down, I never think of it again. If I do write it down, I usually return to it a little while later to realize that the idea is total crap. Well, not total crap, but just not as cool as I thought, and usually devoid of endings.

So on that note...

Some future things that may potentially be considered for the possibility of be written about:

  • Music: I listen to enough music, but have never tried to put anything down about it
  • Fortress of Solitude: a review
  • Fiction of Everyday Things
  • The Current: a review
  • Wedding DJ's: the time warp they're stuck in and the people who love it
  • Travels in Turkey (which has been on my list of things to write about for a freakin' long time, I just haven't really sat down to write about it)
  • Startups: Surviving, bailing and generally enjoying the rush
Seems like an ample set of topics for the rest of April. As I'm always reading, I really should start posting more book reviews (write about what you know, they say).

Friday, April 15, 2005

My PR Guy

Cover letters are that PR guy for the resume. They come in, make up some snappy phrases about one's abilities, gloss over the failures (or spin them to some effect), and general try to make something incredible mediocre seem incredible.

I know. I'm friends with that PR guy. He's really good at what he does. Unfortunately, I have to do the cover letter writing.

I'm no PR guy. Notice my profile.

I do, however, have a book. It's one of those books with a bunch of cookie-cutter cover letters. I know that I'm supposed to concentrating on improving my writing, but I do need to be serious about the cover letter. I don't want to come off as an ass or a nut job.

Imagine my writing a cover letter like I'm writing this particular post, in a more stream of consciousness style with a brevity of editing.

Dear So-and-so,

I've had a lot of experience in my field. The sort of experience that makes me a great potential employee.

I've excellent communication skills. Just take a look at my blog. I mean, really, if you'd look at the writing there, I should be shoe in. It's amazing how well I can get my point across.

I look forward to hearing from you, when and if you ever pull this out of your legally-required resume archive.

Mostly Sincerely,


That might not go over so well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sweeping the Nation

Mac mania has returned.

My laptop is on the way out. It has given me a good couple of years, but it's time to have it put to sleep (or at least put Linux on it). It has numerous problems: screen goes red, DVD rom doesn't do anything but spin, that sort of thing.

For the past year or so I have been thinking about getting a Mac. This thought has been a low-priority thread in my brain. It pops up to do some processing only when something new goes wrong with my laptop or I reinstall the OS on my desktop.

I really confirmed this think by a few really interesting essays/interviews that read recently (referenced from the venerable Slashdot).

The interview with John Rentzsch convinced me through the following: "...Each major OS release makes my old hardware go faster -- not exactly the way to push newer hardware, Apple" I really like the idea of being able to use my computers for the lifetime of the hardware. The way I do this now is install Linux on the older hardware (see above), which helps to get (a) some more life out of the hardware, and (b) a playground to do stuff I wouldn't normally do on my every day hardware (I don't like to burn out my laptop, its too important).

Additionally, I'm a java developer. In theory, this means that I can do the same things that I do now, only on a better OS. I don't limit myself to just java, however. I dabble in other things, like lisp, or nesC. Given that the OS is based on FreeBSD, it has been much easier to port open source implementations of compilers and interpreters for these langauges. Consequently, the are ports of many open-source applications. The gain here is openness and flexibility.

Paul Graham, a lisp advocate/author-of-books-and-essays-on-the-subject-of, wrote one of the most convincing arguments: "The reason, of course, is OS X. Powerbooks are beautifully designed and run FreeBSD. What more do you need to know?"

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Author's Note on Electric Mythology

Strangely, I seem to have gone on a rather holistic approach to understanding the effects of the Internet. One thing that seems to be happening in our society (or at least the scientific/technical part of society) is a move away from religion. Simultaneously there is a move toward religion by those who, I think, are afraid of change.

This is not a Bad Thing. This is how Humans have behaved for thousands of years.

This is the reason that the internet will some how evolve and entwine itself (or be evolved and entwined) into the spiritual side of society. As it grows more complex and difficult to understand, some parts of society may turn towards some form of religion.

As in the previous post, this is already happening. But it isn't out of lack of understanding. At least, not yet. Like traditional pagans, which involve nature as their main point of worship, it has merely added cyberspace as an "natural" element.

Researchers are working towards making cyberspace more like an alternate reality. Massively-multi-player games (like Everquest or Star Wars: Galaxies) are a prime example of this. They are simulated realities were a player is a simulated version of themselves. The ideal evolution of this concept is that cyberspace itself is one massively multi-player experience.

Once it simple becomes another form of reality, religion will follow en masse. The underlying aspects of the cyberspace universe (or universes) will be understood by the hackers who created it. That still leaves millions (billions?) who would be left with the same problems and issues the have here in the real world: social problems.

Social problems have social solutions.

Electric Mythology

I recently re-read William Gibson's Count Zero. The novel, written back in the late 80's has the internet (Cyberspace, or the "Matrix", as he puts it) containing constructs of a spiritual nature. These constructs are independent entities derived from an fractured AI. From the ashes of this fracturing, they've created themselves as deities from Voodoo religion.

I found this to be an incredibly interesting idea, and began to wonder about the existing Internet. Could it possibly advance to a point where software could obtain this level of sophistication? As the Net becomes a more immersive experience, how would we observe these software constructs? In the context of Cyberspace, would the become gods?

I was curious to see what the current state of Cyberspace was, in regards to this. Is there a mythology of the Internet?

Interestingly, there are two.

The first is a rather mundane form of mythology. They stem from the use of the word myth as a misconception or a popular belief. For example, the myth of that an eighty-hour work week for internet programmers is necessary for business. These myths are more related to a persons actions or existence in the real worlds, but really has no bearing on their cyberspace existence.

The second is a little bit more bizarre.

During the early days of the Internet (and probably ongoing to this day) Mark Pesce attempted to inject Paganism into Cyberspace. As he put it, "Without the sacred there is no differentiation in space; everything is flat and gray. If we are about to enter cyberspace, the first thing we have to do is plant the divine in it."[1] The pagan belief is that "experience of the divine comes from the human mind."[2] Applying Paganism on top of Cyberspace was a simple step forward. Cyberspace is, in essence, a sum total of human knowledge; an outward presentation of the inner workings of the mind. It's information, pure and simple, but applied to network by human devices, and therefore, the techonopagans would argue, a path towards the divine.

Interestingly enough, most of these folks were equally inspired by Gibson's seminal work, Neuromancer. As he describes it: "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination...A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data." In this complexity, there lies the beginnings of a mythology. The Net is a wholly complex system, and becoming more so each day.

In complex and chaotic systems there is the concept of emergent behavior. Informational systems possibly follow the same chaotic rules (sounds like a bit of an oxymoron). As Cyberspace moves toward being the sum total of human knowledge, the emergence of divinity and spirituality in and around the network is real possibility. It has a greater potential of emerging, since there is also a social need to share in a collective divine experience.

It will be interesting to watch and see.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

First Round Draft

There are two opposing views of how a writer (or aspiring writer) should go about the business of writing. One, from the book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, involves constant writing. Write at consistent time. Don't worry about the content. Just write. This is the first draft. It's crap from the beginning. The good drafts are the following ones. Each pass through the material edits, enlarges, trims and otherwise improves the overall quality of the piece. The important bit is to write and practice.

The other, to quote a writer friend of mine is [the lack of caps is due to the author]

write. if you want. don't force it.
let the creative energy come out of you.
Find the right time to write for you in the day. All that can be done in that time is to open the window and let creativity in.

The major difference here is the reference to creativity as a driving force of the initial draft. The first opinion seems to place the creativity in the whole process. The second seems to place much of the creativity in the beginning. Knowing my friend, I know that he puts a lot of stock in the rewrite phase, but what he is advocating is that one can only write when they are creative. This thinking is usually the kind that results in self-inflicted shotgun wounds.

There are, I think, two kinds of writers (I know, I know. People who put people into two categories are small minded): those need to be creative from the get go, and those who don't. Those who do can get blocked for long periods of time, affected by their mood or environment. My friend is one of these. The other set of writers use techniques to generate creativity: free writing and other tools.

I certainly sound like I'm advocating the first opinion. I'm definitely using that reasoning for writing daily and publishing daily (well, almost daily). I do need ideas to begin with. Many of these essays start with an idea. I'm comfortable with my environment and mood right now, which might be why the ideas are occurring on a regular basis.

For example, the kernel for this particular essay resulted from the writing of the previous. The content didn't trigger, but the fact that I was not happy with the result. Now the plan for it is to let it sit for a while, and come back to it. In other words, it needs to go through a second draft phase.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Why, Oh Why, Do I Love Paris?

(I apologize in advance for the lack of accents on the French words that may follow. I don't know how to put those into this document)
I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

- Cole Porter
I love Paris. It's it a beautiful city. Possibly the most beautiful in the world. Certainly the French would say so.

I spent two weeks there in early January. If you've thought to avoid Paris in the winter, don't and do go. It has a kind of beauty against the grey winter sky. The cold air makes the cafes all the more inviting.

I really needed a break. It had been over year since my last vacation. Too long. It had been a hectic fall with a heavy graduate school schedule and continuing to work part-time. This trip was about two things for me: relaxing and taking pictures.

Paris, as big cities go, is surprisingly relaxing. It is an incredibly laid back city. This is remarkable for a city that is in the statistically most productive country in the world.

Some of us find wandering about in museums to be relaxing. Stopping at a painting or a sculpture for a moment to appreciate its beauty or message can be quite relaxing. Paris is a museum. Not because it is old, but because it is art. It is a wonderful city for wandering. Wandering the neighborhoods, one can stop and admire a building designed to inspire awe, or designed with a practical beauty. One can appreciate any one of a multitude of statues erected to honor of some historical personage.

I spent a few days wandering in Montmartre. It became one of my favorite neighborhoods. First off, it is on a hill. A tall hill. Not San Francisco tall, but tall for Paris. That hill makes for fantastic terrain on which to build a neighborhood. Stairs join streets at various levels, giving Montmartre an incredible pedestrian feel to it.

Paris, aside from being a museum, contains some of the world's finest. The first time I was in the city, I missed out on the Musee d'Orsay. The building alone is an amazing piece of architecture. It is in a former, nineteenth-century train station. The main hall is will lit by a ceiling of opaque glass. This makes for fantastic viewing of the impressionist sculptures. The paintings housed there are wonderful. Not normally being one for modern art I enjoyed the works immensely. I think this was due to impressionism's proto-modernism. The art was still contained images of reality (of sorts).

As a single man, Paris is an exceptionally beautiful city. The women of Paris (that sounds like a pin-up calendar) are amazing. One thing that stands out in European cities as that people, women especially, know how to dress. Even in what appears to be casual wear, they look sophisticated. Because of this, one might make the assumption that they are all high-maintenance. Not having truly met any of them, I would still say this is probably not the case. I did have some rather pleasant interactions with a young women working in a pattiserie. She was very patient with my oh-so broken French.

Ah, Paris.

One of the benefits of staying in hostels is that you meet an incredible set of people. The first week I was there, I met New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians (so foreign) and the occasional American. I really like the Kiwis. As backpackers go, they are some of the most friendly, outgoing people I have ever met.

Aside from just meeting new people from other parts of the world, the hostel-goer picks up a lot of tips on what to visit and where to eat. The best tip I received, was to visit Shakespeare and Co, an English language bookstore on the Seine, for tea. This was one of the more surreal experiences of the trip. The people in attendance where the strangest collection of English speakers, and possibly mad, as well. Especially the old English woman with the one-eyed dog. All of them threw around philosophical keywords, as if it were a meeting of Karmic venture capitalists, each trying to impress the other more. No one was listening, everyone was speaking.

Those of us listening, me a computer programmer and my two companion lawyers, took it all in and found it to be hilarious. Enough so that we returned for a poetry reading the next night. There was only one poet with any talent, and she wrote marvelous poems out of here life experience. It would have been nice to pick up a copy of her work. The rest was amusing drivel, causing me to leave the room, for want of bursting out laughing at their belief that they were profound.

(I'm not implying that I have any more profoundness then they do, only the fact that I know that I don't).

My trip to Paris wound down with the feeling that it was either time to go home or time to find a job and stay for the duration. I felt familiar with the city and with the culture, at least a little bit. I had enjoyed the atmosphere of the place.

Still, I think that I should have stayed.

Ah, Paris.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Fruits of Habitual Rapt Attention

Most of my ideas for things come right before I go to sleep. When I turn out the light, it's as if that change in lighting triggers some synaptic firestorm; my brain's attempt to ward off the impending darkness. I let it do it's thing, and then promptly role over and go to sleep.

Since I've been thinking about writing lately, in particularly the self-publishing space of blogs, my latest late-night thought regarded this subject.

Which I promptly forgot.

Fortunately, my morning ritual of reading the paper help me remember. I'm a print-news junkie. I need my fix. Sure, there's news sites on the Internet, but I like feel and smell of the newspaper itself. Not that the news tripped my memory back onto S. Idea Way. The only section of the paper that I read with habitual rapt attention is the comics page.

So here's my grand idea:

Artists could use blog software to post up a daily web-comic.

Ok. So, it's not so grand. Most ideas are merely an integration of existing ideas anyway. Bill Gates is a fabulously wealthy individual because of this.

The reason I think it is a pretty good idea is that the blog software provides much of the infrastructure for publishing, hosting and archiving of the material. Images can be posted very easily. Good blog software provides a way to publish to a particular server if one would want to control the hosting environment.

A few friends of mine have attempted to do this. They usually quit after a while due to complexity (ok, perhaps also due to artistic flame-out). Perhaps removing some of the technically hurdles would make it easier to get started.

I did some searching for this and, as far as I can tell, no one is doing this. People write about comics (rather like I write about writing), but no one uses blogging as a medium for comics themselves. As with serial fiction, it could be a place to use some very interesting comic formats.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Part of a Balanced Breakfast

I've been reading a lot of Alexandre Dumas recently. Well, up until I started reading Louise de la Valliere, which is a court novel and absolutely boring.

The fact that the novel is boring isn't quite my point. Dumas wrote all of his major novels (The Three Musketteers, The Count of Monte Cristo) as a serialization in one of the Parisian papers. This brought me to wonder if there was a place for this type of fiction in the new medium of blogs.

(An aside on the word blog: I'm not sure I'm a fan of the new word. It seems a bit crude, but I suppose that words that are basically slang usually do.)

I first I thought that perhaps I had come up with something rather new (almost slipped into a pun). But I immediately rethought this idea as it is the 21st century and therefore there is nothing new. So I did a brief search on Google to find out what's out there.

Here's a few (I've only read the authors' introductions to their works, so I can't attest to the quality of the works):

There are, as well, a few sites out there that blog about blog related fiction (again, that word).
  • Blogfic - which has much more interesting things to say than I do
  • BlogNovel - which is like that guy at a party who the only thing he does is introduce himself, otherwise he seems to shy to interact. Maybe he'll warm up.
There are other forms of blog related fiction which may seem a bit more creative. This is the use of the blog as fiction in the form of a blog. There are similarities to the use a letter as a way to advance the story; Mary Shelly's Frankenstien is one good example. The story proceeds in what might feel like real-time to the reader. The author, on the other hand, probably has a pretty good idea.

One thing about writing in this fashion is that, in order to publish on a regular basis, posts are short and first-draft-like. I consider this a downside. I think there needs to be a reasonable amount of polish on a work. This allows the author to tell a complete story. If it is serialized into very small chunks, as a real-time blog would appear, it becomes difficult to keep track of. Again, Blogfic puts it better:

Serial fiction can get harder to write as you get further in, with plot threads left dangling and more characters than you can remember without a Rolodex. It can get just as hard for the reader – especially the non-dedicated reader who doesn’t want to start at the beginning and read a year’s worth of blog entries just to catch up. If your blogfic sells itself on the strength of an ongoing story, you’ve got challenges in making that story clear to the reader, and making sure that any given entry will hook them enough to want to read more.

The more I look at this subject the more interesting the area becomes. The medium of hypertext alone provides interesting ways to right a story. The concept of hyperlinking a story is something I haven't seen before. Parts of a story could be leaped, skipped, and repeated simply by the way the author uses these links. It like the "choose your own adventure" novels. There definitely could be some interesting ways to use the technology.

I don't plan to leap out into this new and uncharted fictional medium. I'm still a pretty crappy essayist. No sense in becoming a pretty crappy fictional blognovelist.

I revised my search in this subject, thanks to Ten Reasons Why, and The Synthetic Cafe.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ah, Paris Posted by Hello

Practice Makes Perfect

I've found that the best time to write is in the morning (not surprisingly, the book I've read on the subject seemed to say the same thing). Moreover, I've found a place for it.

I can't write at home. Maybe it's because I live in a one-bedroom apartment. Given my part-time schedule, it's beginning to seem like a small one-bedroom. What it really doesn't allow me is a place to work without all of the distractions of home. My office is in the dining area. My dining room table is in a corner of the living room. My living room has the TV. You get the idea.

On my days off, I go to this coffee shop down the street. Wi-fi and coffee, the two things I need. I also find the noise to be useful. It's sort of a curtain from the quiet. The quiet is my distraction. I have a really difficult time concentrating when my brain is allowed to go where ever it likes.

This all comes back to time and place. I've decided to try and go the coffee shop every morning. Big sacrifice, eh? This requires an earlier morning, but I'm hoping that the daily practice will improve my writing. It's the one thing that I think the books on writing have right: daily practice will improve one's writing.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Round World Jump-Around

I'm doing a little jump around on my travelogue writing. I'm working on a brief summary of my recent trip to Paris. I know it will be brief, as it was a moderately uneventful trip.

It sits at the forefront of my mind, though. I've been thinking a lot about moving. Paris is beginning to top my list. I don't speak French. I don't know anyone in Paris. I just love the city, I love the people. On the whole, it would be a fantastic place to live.

I wonder if the Parisiens think this. I know they have large amount of civic pride (hard to imagine this is true when they let there dogs and drunks piss in the streets). Some might say it is arrogance, but I'm starting to think it might be well deserved.

The problem, as I see it, is that it would take the willingness to up and move to another country. I really think I could only do this if I had a job to start when I arrived. This, I hear, is difficult to get these days. The EU has made it very difficult for foreigners to obtain work visas. I've haven't done a lot of research in this area, but I should really give it a shot.

Here are the steps (according to
  • Find a job
  • Obtain a work permit
  • Obtain a visa de long séjour
  • Go to France
  • Apply for a carte de séjour
For anyone outside of the EU, finding a job in France is extremely difficult, for the simple reason that France has a very high unemployment rate and will not give a job to a foreigner if a citizen is qualified. France's membership in the European Union adds another twist to this: France gives first priority for jobs to French citizens, then to EU citizens, and then to the rest of the world. In order for, say, an American to get a job in France, s/he has to prove that s/he is more qualified than anyone in the European Union. Therefore, the people with the best odds of working in France tend to be those in highly specialized fields, as there may not be enough qualified Europeans to fill these types of positions.

It sounds like I have my work cut out for me...