Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Most Outclassed Video EVER

A Brief Letter to Would-Be Video Artists,

Never accept a project that'll require you to use some college's cheesy old AVID system in support of vocals like these.

Seriously. It's just embarrassing(except, possibly for 2:38-2:41 - if those 4 seconds can possibly count)

Carry on.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Yay, Beer!

Believe it or not, I'm still maintaining "The List". I've read (but, sadly, not blogged) The Name of the Rose, The Black Swan, and Lies My Teacher Told Me. I've also added (and begun reading) a number of books: Beyond the Hoax, the first volume of Coppleston's History of Philosophy, and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace - all without taking any notes.

I stand self-chastised. Hopefully, I'll actually do something about it. In the meantime, I'm posting on something that's only somewhat unrelated to reading: Beer!

Those who I interact with regularly know I've assembled a small brewery, the first products of which I'm currently enjoying. I have managed to concoct a tasty little hefeweizen, using only water, barley, wheat, hops, and belgian candy sugar. It's not precisely the flavor profile or mouth feel I prefer (the mouth feel's a little thin for a hefe, the hops are a little more noticeable than I prefer for the style, and I believe the live yeast is still contributing more to the flavor than it will once it flocculates); but for a first shot at an art that literally predates written history, I'm calling this a smashing success. Especially since the beer's not techincally done - the bottles have only just finished their first week of secondary fermentation. The last of the yeast probably won't complete its work for another week or so, during which time the overall feel and taste of the beer will continue to mature (hopefully for the better). Plus, it's got some serious wins: the smell is truly delightful, the carbonations seems to be coming along nicely, and it's a tad more alcoholic than my original gravity measurements indicated was likely.

Fortunately, it's quite drinkable. I say "fortunately" since I've now got 4 or 5 gallons of the stuff, and I'd hate to feel like I completely wasted the 16lbs of grain spent brewing the batch. Anyone care to join me for a potluck?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Embracing haeccity

Ok, I know - 4 months without a post is ridiculous; but I have used the time well. Aside from a number of fun trips to visit great friends (and even some great family), a move, cultivating new friendships, holiday decorating, and generally digging deeper into myself, the list has grown even longer! Ok, some of the books I've added I've also finished (although, oddly, I've not finished any of those that were already on it - going to have to work on that)

Anyway, this week sometime I'll post the updated list and some brief summaries of my thoughts on those books that are immediately scratched off

In the meantime, I have an Affligem Noel in my hand, a purring tabby in my lap, and it's Solstice!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The List - it lives, it lives!

One more addition to the list:

Summaries (Or "Examples of Lazy Blogging")

It's been a busy time for me, so my readings have all been "catch as catch can". As usual, that means I've not done a particularly good job of noting my impressions and reactions. Hopefully I can dredge them up as I write this - otherwise this post'll be more of a note taking session than anything.

In keeping with that jar it loose as I go approach, I'll start with an overview of the chapters I've read - hopefully I can return later to backfill any areas I don't do justice (of course, we all know how well I follow up on that sort of resolution).

The prologue, aside from introducing we readers to Nassim's voice and some of his attitudes towards formality, prepares readers to look skeptically at certain kinds of knowledge and some of the assumptions that come from the sorts of learning that I've been most used to. In retrospect, I wonder if some of his overweening sense of self-superiority isn't actually a calculated teaching tool - a way of providing readers with a sort of security blanket in the form of a (hopefully) temporary authority to cling to as they begin scrutinizing authorities they've formerly trusted. But there I go, trying to rehabilitate the voice of the author before I've even finished the book. Time, and a couple hundred more pages, will tell.

There is one specific key point he makes in the prologue: he introduces his use of the term Platonicity to describe
our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well-defined "forms," whether objects ... or social notions

Chapter One.
In which we learn how our hero came to commit his genius to studying this most valuable and esoteric field. In all seriousness, this chapter's interesting in a few ways. Nassim's wasn't joking when he said he'd attack the narrative arts using narration. He introduces readers to his views and interests by walking us through a brief summary -- almost (dare I call it?) an executive summary of his young adult years as they pertain to his "Black Swan" analogy. It's a reasonable device to use, but one that I'll want to talk about a bit later.

I suspect a rhetor would notate the hell out of this chapter - without the benefit of such a background, all I can but point out that Nassim uses this narration to cement his conspiratorial rapport with his readers -- establishing both a "street cred" with his alleged assault on a police office (nudge, nudge) and a more traditional set of credentials when he introduces us to his grandfather who alternatively held roles as Lebanon's minister of defense, minister of the interior, and deputy prime minister (although, I feel it's only fair to point out that I've proudly touted my own family's previous involvement in a small country's past governance - I suppose this is what hypocrisy feels like).

At the same time, Nassim makes some interesting observations and reveals something of his personal priorities and values. He has some historical observations about Lebanon that I found engaging in and of themselves. As a product of a Greek Orthodox family, I found it notable that he had some fairly critical things to say about the assumptions held by many Lebanese Christians about their centrality to the Lebanese nation. He also casts a jaded eye on the very concept of Lebanon as a nation - insisting to use the term Levant and its derivatives (a conceit that provided me a little chuckle when I considered it in the context of his jibes against the French - is he having a little fun at his own expense, there? I'd like to think so)

His narration begins poking at the human proclivity for narration towards the end of the chapter, when he talks about his youthful discovery of William Shirer's Berlin Diary: Journal of a Foreign Correspondent. At this point, he talks about how diaries (even those edited after the fact) point out the weakness of our desire to believe we understand the past as manifested in our habit of building stories out of those facts that best reinforce our particular view of what happened. This is an observation that's particularly potent to me, as I'm guilty of constructing self-reinforcing and aggrandizing narratives of my own past AND I've had an intimate view on the sort of jarring experience that a person can have when they come back years after the fact to revisit their journal entries on an event that was particularly central to their views of themselves. This plays well into Nassim's favorite neologism (platonicity). To extend on his map analogy, a journal is analogous to a travelogue whereas a history is more of a map - both are descriptions of territory, but a journal doesn't purport to have a whole understanding of the historical landscape it's author is exploring.

He wraps the chapter up with a brief description of how he parlayed an early sense that the only predictable characteristic of the past is its unpredictability into a chance at real freedom. His concept of the stuff that makes up true freedom is surprisingly similar to Virginia Woolf's, but it seems characteristic that Nassim's version of Woolf's "500 pounds a year and a room of one's one" is "fuck you money".

Chapter Two
is basically a brief tale that I believe Nassim spins more to show the ways that people fool themselves into believing the past was inevitable and (by extension) predictable.

Chapter Three
gets a bit more interesting. Nassim frames it largely as a description of opportunity. He talks about advice he once received (and took to heart) that it would be best to choose work that is scalable - meaning that the pay scale isn't tied to the scale of effort or any other physically limiting factor. He (and probably most white color workers) found this eminently reasonable. After all, why lock yourself into having to do more work to make more money, when people will keep paying you for work you've already done or will pay you extra for work you had to do anyway?

Interestingly enough, he argues against the wisdom of this view. He points out that scalable work tends to only work out well for a small percentage of people - you end up with a couple of giants in a land of pixies. He digs into the entertainment industry to further illustrate the point - as film has occluded theater, a handful of superstars make lots of money; but the local theaters struggle even more than they used to and noone can make a living as a local actor. The big winners take it all. He argues that security can only be found in the nonscalable work - if you HAVE to be their and exerting effort for the work to get done, you're more likely to be able to find paying work even if you're not at the peak of the industry in question. Not that Nassim's getting all Marxist on us - he seems, at this point, to be simply describing what is rather than prescribing a solution.

Chapter 4
Here we've got a description and history of Hume's problem, including some noteworthy comparisons between the development of ancient Arab and European takes on the matter.

So far much of what Nassim's put forth is fairly self-evident, but he has some interesting ways of looking at it (not, perhaps, as interesting as he thinks they are, but maybe he's got a trick or two up his sleeve). I'm still quite curious about where he's going with this. Stay logged in -- I'll have more to say on these chapters as time permits.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Reading List, redacted

Thankfully, reading lists don't shrink - they grow! After my Boston trip, I've got some additions. Here's the full list, at this point:
Don't hold me to that particular ordering.

As promised

Let me start by saying that Nassim Taleb is an utter ass. He places high value on his own intellect and seemingly no value on the feelings of those he encounters. He is, however, both reflective and interesting. I'm intrigued by many of his observations.

He begins his prologue with some self-protection that's understandable from an academic writing such a piece. He frames his work as an essay of personal narration, stating baldly that he intends to attack the "narrative disciplines" using their own tools. While so doing, he equivales densely citing texts that support your thesis with selectively providing only that evidence which reflects well on your paper - labeling both, naive empiricism.

Here's a quote of his that, to me, represents many of the tradeoff's in Taleb's message:
... certain professionals, while believing they are experts, are in fact not. Based on their empirical records, they do not know more about their subject matter than the general population, but they are much better @narration -- or, worse, at smoking you with complicated mathematical models. They are also more likely to wear a tie

He regularly takes an almost gleeful delight in crafting his often insightful observations into polemic insults. In so doing, he tempts the reader to join in his sense of superiority - after all, he's let us readers in on the joke with him. Yet he manages to continue to provide enough food for thought to keep my curiosity at war with the cold feeling this assumed complicity conjures in the pit of my stomach. I'm glad to have picked up this book - it promises to raise some worthwhile questions!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Epistemological Ornithology

Since it appears that some people are actually checking this blog from time to time, I just thought I'd say this:
No, I'm not dead
As anyone who's checked out my latest travelogue will know, I've been busy. I haven't however, stopped my reading project. I'm largely through the Gore book, but I've recently misplaced my copy (huge surprise for anyone who knows me). Given that, I've moved on to the next book in the list, "The Black Swan", which is already proving thought provoking. I'm working on my initial post, but some hardware woes limit the personal time I've got online, this week.

More to come!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Someone else's thought

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Numinous game of Rock, Paper, Scissors

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend of mine. It covers a section of the book that's earlier on than my most recent points, but I thought it'd make a good posting nonetheless:

While reading "An Assault on Reason" I came across this passage:
The Relationship between faith, reason, and fear sometimes resembles the children's game of rock, paper scissors. Fear displaces reason, reason challenges faith, faith overcomes fear ... for many people, a balance between reason and faith is a better guide than either alone ... despite the many clashes between reason and faith, these cohabit much more easily in the mind than do reason and fear.

Perhaps it's just a measure of how poorly I relate to religious belief, but this observation resonated deeply with me. I've long been aware of research that suggests a need to believe in something larger than ourselves - a need that's most frequently manifested as belief in a deity - is fundamental to the human condition; but I've had trouble looking at this need as a strength. That difficulty's been alleviated with a few short sentences. After all, as suspicious as I am of universal statements, I think everyone's susceptible to some sort of fear. Some people may be able to rationalize their fears away longer than others; but I think a bad enough situation will scare anyone to the core. The ability to believe in something stands as a defense against just such a situation. Given, I doubt that belief has to be in a god - but a well considered religious belief seems like it could serve quite well.

What do you, fellow readers, think of this perspective for understanding religion's relationship to rationality? Do you see any flaws or points of concern?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sudden Direction

If I were to have a reader or two, and if they were to have followed my earlier allusion to this site's dusty old shelves, you might have stumbled across my blogiversary, I've learned that I do the sort of writing I was thinking of in other venues instead.

So, what to do with the blog? The world doesn't need another collection containing no more than some numskull's nuggets of narcissism. I need another focus for this space. So I'm going to see how it works as a place to discuss my reading list with myself and anyone else who stumbles along.

At the moment, I'm bouncing back and forth between a few different books:

  • The Assault on Reason, Al Gore
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • The Stone Canal, Ken Macleod
  • The True Knowledge Of Ken MacLeod, Andrew M Butler
  • Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart
Since that list is roughly in the order of priority, so there's gonna be lots of Al! I'm about halfway through it, so I'll probably backfill with some of the notes I took on earlier chapters. Since this post is already running a little towards the longside, I'll just jot down one of his contentions I'd like to revisit in future posts:

Gore connects the wide spread and relative low cost of the printing press with the suddenly increased value placed on individuals. He contends that, by taking publication out of the hands of an exclusive, privileged class and spreading it to a more widespread citizenry the printing press took the evidence of an individuals value out of the control of the few and placed it in the public domain.

Citation? Discussion?

Saturday, July 07, 2007


The weekend is here. Despite the weather, this is summertime: time for picnics, patios, museums, and film! My topsy-turvy life being what it has, of late, I've fallen woefully behind on cinema - I'm looking forward to catching up.

Aside from a used-DVD run, there are all sorts of theater going opportunities out there right now. What say you, non-existent intraweb audience? Should I start with You kill me? In a lighter vein of comedy, there's always Eagle vs Shark? Hmm - you say that'll play just as well on the small screen? Possibly, wise non-reader, possibly.

Ok, well there's Zwartboek. I mean, seriously, when Paul Verhoeven directs a Gestapo romance; my morbid curiosity isn't just piqued - it's damn near slain.

And then, there's the most recent musical. Maybe I should go see them all, say hey? So long as I don't miss the jazz in the park....

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dribs (but never drabs!) from the front

In my ongoing conceit that there are actually visitors to this site (there have actually been no fewer than 7 discrete visitors to this site since mid-spring - and I must apologize to the poor soul who came here looking for Battletech related materials but "Venotar's World of Battletech" was last maintained back when I was still a work study student at a local community college computer lab in geocity's heyday), I thought I'd post some actual information.

I don't believe I've ever come out and said it; but I'm sure anyone who peruses the archives'll quickly deduce that The Lady and I have been dating for a while. Bittersweetly enough, that's no longer the case. Still, her name's likely to come up from time to time, as she continues to drop glibly sophic bon mots and insights into our conversations.

Much of my lengthy silence has been put to good use. I've been reconnecting with old friends and heretofore distant family members while discovering new compatriots in the most unexpected of ways. The last few months have been full of excitement, tumult, and self-revelation in a way that's delightful if sometimes painful. Yay learning!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Hope

This is one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time

Thursday, April 12, 2007

One of Nature's Irrational Moods

Believe it or not, I'm not dead. I've actually got a couple of dozen half-finished blog posts to prove it, but I've let my nitpicking conspire too closely with my demanding schedule to prevent me from actually finishing any of them. Enough! I WILL complete what I begin - even if it takes me weeks.... So, here's the ramblings I began last week, while wrestling with some frustrations:

I've long loved my Texas springtime evenings. Clear sky's behind distant horizons delightfully backdrop greenery that will bake into a dusty brown crust in the next eight or nine weeks, not to be seen again until next year. Breezes that actually refresh instead of oppressing whisper promises of libations sipped among good company on shady porches in evenings lengthened by Daylight Savings. Berries and melons ripen, flowers bud, and festivals open; all to entice you to slow down, drop the top, inhale the esters, and give your soul a chance to really breathe.

Why wouldn't I adore my Texas spring evenings? The question would never have occurred to me, particularly among the first truly vernal days of the new year. Until, that is, I learned their power to taunt and depress – about when I started this post.

But now that I've spent an hour and a half of my first real spring night sipping a DOCG that's perfectly matched to this cantaloupe (which couldn't be riper without rotting on the grocer's shelf)? Now that I'm sated and more than a little soporiferous, can I really whine about rushing off to work in the midst of sunrise, only to finally settle down fifteen minutes after sunset? Should I ask what I do it for when certain gentles I know and respect are nearly desperate for the opportunity to do the same?

Of course not. After all, I was that hungry, arrogant 23 year old who left academia behind to do
“something that really matters”. Informed by my vast experience, I chose to trade structure for freedom – an etiolated freedom that feeds on my time. Even if I didn't yet understand the value of the currency I was spending, I new the price of my decision and thanks to either that knowledge or blind luck, I was never bankrupt by my choice. As my priorities make themselves better known to me, I can change my mind and opt for a new set of trade offs. Maybe, if I hold true to myself along the way, I can give someone some meaningful help. After all, there's no use in complaining that I wasn't helped if I haven't helped; and if I can help, what's there to complain about?

Spring's nights may not be as warm as her evenings, but they're every bit as breezy and they do have a calm, quiet quality all their own.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In which scientists stereotype "Cat People"

I simply had to point out an article I stumbled across in livescience today. Apparently, toxoplasma gondii is an infection that people can contract from cats. Essentially benign (although contracting it during pregnancy is apparently a Bad ThingTM), it has some interesting effects:
  • Lethargy and slowed reactions
  • Neuroses
  • Self-doubt
The author of the piece believes widespread toxoplasma gondii infection has affected whole cultures.

This would explain so much.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Raincheck on Winter Wonderlands

"If I possessed both Texas and Hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell"
~General Philip Henry Sheridan

I don't know much about Sheridan's time in Texas, but I suspect at least some of his sentiment can be attributed to the fact that his stay predated the invention of central air conditioning. Some ills, however, can't be masked with industrial technology. Certain kinds of warm weather are delightful, but even I find it a little ridiculous that my air conditioning fired up this morning. My thermostat is set to trigger "cooling" at 80° F. Many of the trees in my apartment complex have finally donned their autumn grandeur. These non-native trees actually pause on their hike through the color spectrum at the gold and orange range, rather then jumping straight to brown. It makes for a nice show, and promises some wonderful, rustly ground cover before too long.

The upside to all this, however, is that I'll certainly enjoy the cooler temperatures when I head up to the frozen tundra this week.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Today, on the request line...

Since I'm such a sucker for her requests and the Lady asked for photos, here are a couple snapshots of The Furball:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Living in My Head

More so then any other time in my life, the last 6 years have been about personal growth. When I think about who I am, what I'm doing, where I'm going, and how I've gotten this far, I rarely look any further back then my college graduation. It's as if I was incubating in some sort of cocoon for the previous 24 years. I've always been that person who performs 90% of their work when the deadline looms near. College graduation was the ultimate deadline. I could no longer wait for life to happen - I had to start living it.

That sense of compressed time that most people associate with their teenage years began in my early twenties. In my case, the stop-motion sense came from the need to squeeze my exploration into the precious few free moments away from work rather then out of radical physical and social changes.

So, now I'm well into polishing the various facets that make up my gem of a life: participating in the communities that interest me, cultivating my career (both during work and personal time), nurturing my long term family and friendships, and learning outside the bounds of my career. In the middle of all this, I've suddenly begun learning how to improve the luster of each pursuit in fitting proportion to the overall whole while still finding time for relaxation and basic life-maintenance.

I didn't discover the beginnings of this balancing act of my own volition. Oh no - left to my own devices, I'd still have a laser focus on one pursuit or another until boredom, frustration, or a landslide shifted my attention elsewhere. I blame much of my sudden attack of sanity on the orange fur-ball who's currently trying to decide whether he should attack my ankle or shred my carpet.

That's right - I'm now sharing livingspace with a cat. Not an altogether unusual turn of events, and I'm certain I'm not the first person to find their life changed by such an experience. Still, I suspect it's not so commonplace to have a feline friend's introduction coincide with increased stability in one's life.

I suppose I shouldn't be completely surprised. Up to this point, my apartment's been a convenient place to sleep and store sundry personal items: books, clothes, random memorabilia, and the occasional beer. I'd check in for a few hours to square away the daily ablutions, catch some shuteye, and maybe fire up my laptop long enough to plan the next outing. I've entertained 19 guests - 9 family members, 3 coworkers, 5 family of coworkers, and 2 woman friends; only one stayed longer then 40 minutes. There wasn't call to use the space for much else.

Now there's this fur-friend, who I enjoy spending time with and who wants some of my attention. This new found excuse to spend time at home, combined with the reemergence of my authorself and the subsequent time spent either staring off into space or writing about staring off into space has me making strange new accommodations in my life. Suddenly, I've actually made good on my resolution to awaken an hour earlier then my timely arrival at the office requires. This last weekend I only left the apartment for about 3 hours, total .

Since I'm now actually living and writing in this space that I've called my own for the last 9 months or so, I'm manifesting ancillary behaviours: for instance, I'm tidying up more regularly. Not that my desk and table aren't still covered in books and papers or my laundry still in desperate need of attention, but suddenly the floor is clear and swept, the counter-tops are passably neat, and my scant few dishes are in some semblance of order.

Of course, the festival season is now largely over (except Tx-RennFest!), so this newly noticed balance and relaxation is just as likely to be a seasonal affect as the result of the little tiger's appearance. Last year at this time I was commuting between SAT, Austin, and D/FW in my job search while ramping up for a trip overseas; so autumnal patterns would have been lost in the flux.

I suspect if The Critter hadn't shown up, I'd probably be taking the fall slowdown between events to explore this huge sprawling Metropolis of ours. While certainly a worthwhile pursuit, no city discloses it's full personality overnight - trying to cram the whole process of discovery into the free weekends scattered throughout a three month period is a lot like visiting 7 European cities in 3 weeks. If I pace myself, I'll be better able to soak up the experience, and it'll seem all the fresher when The SO is in town and looking for a distraction.

Since the The Hairy Roommate is here, and whether or not he's helped me notice a pattern emerging in my free time, a gentle intermission between weeks has been a delightful turn of events.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to rescue one of my couch cushions from The Little Predator's loving attention. Take this opportunity to check out the newly inaugurated Minneapolis Public Library. I want one.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hell Week

8 days without a post - and post worthy things happened over the weekend. Unfortunately, that pleasant weekend has been buried in 72 hours of frenzied workplace stress. Fortunately, labor day weekend will have freetime and relaxation enough to take the edge off any tension.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In Soviet Russia, The Role Defines YOU

Pausing at the front of the building, I look up at a white stone facing, cut to look like it could have been quarried near Dover some 200 years ago, and fire-retardant petrochemical shingles, molded to resemble Cornish slate on an 18th century Irish dwelling, assembled into peaked roofs bracketed front and back by square protuberances designed to recall woodfire chimneys. Artificially weathered brick trim wrapped around incongruously modern steel framed glass storefront sprouts plastic light fixtures painted to resemble wrought iron and cast after gas lamps from the 19th century. Muzak emanates from one of the white "stones".

Walking through the shiny glass doors into a foyer of bright reds and yellows, I'm greeted by three smiling teenagers and a decorations sporting cute sayings about healthy living through fruit consumption ("Your body is a temple: No littering allowed!")

While waiting fro one of the bright faced teenagers to mix up my $5 puree of fruit and ice (no preservatives! all natural!) I flip through the marketing material that's been labeled "nutritional information" and chained to a bright yellow tabletop.

Buried behind the all fruit confections and the dairy based parfaits I stumble across the ingredient lists for the baked goods. Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Hydralized Yeast top several of the lists.

As I leave with my legal cup of chilled crack cocaine in hand, one of the bright faced teens cheerily sent me on my way with a goodbye and a half-hearted attempt to pronounce my name off my credit card slip.

Later that day, I pull into the parking lot of the local Central Market. Exiting my vehicle, I grab a pencil and a notebook before wading past the Hatch Chile Festival signs, the peppers roasting in a giant mesh bin, and the lines of suburbanite "foodies" patiently waiting for their Hatch Chile Burgers.

Having survived the entrance way gauntlet, I grab a small cart and meander into the produce section, pausing in front of a wall of apples. No less then 6 varieties of New Zealand apples of various sizes and assorted red and yellow mottling are stacked in bins against the wall. Each bin sits under a sign with a name, price, description, and product number. Each apple has a sticker reiterating the product number.

I read each description and looked at each bin for a few seconds. Shrugging, I placed one of each in a plastic, printed up a label at the fruit scale, and affixed it to the bag. Pausing, I glanced down at the apples in my hand, before nodding with a small smile and reaching for my notebook.

As I jotted down the name, description, and code for each apple an elderly lady came up and asked me:

"When do the Mackenzies become available?"

Wiping the furrow from my brow with a shrug, I responded:

"I'm sorry, I really don't know much about fruit growing season."

"Oh - you don't work here?"

With a smile and a shake of my head, I returned to my notebook. Within a minute, a trim, bald-headed man in a green apron stepped behind my right shoulder:

"I can't have you copying down prices"

he said, staring up at my ear.

I turned my head to the right, cocked my eye, and peered at him over my glasses:

"I'm not"

As I resumed scritching in my notepad, he persisted:

"What are the notes for?"

Without looking up:

"So I can recall the names of each type, in case I decide to buy more later."

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed him frown and lean in:

"Then why are you writing down the PLU code?"

Still buried in my notebook, I closed my eyes, and took two measured breaths:

"They all look alike - the stickers make it possible to associate a particular apple with a particular name"



He cleared his throat:

"Where are you from?"

I looked up, eyebrows raised, and cocked my head to the right again:

"Dallas, mainly, although I've been quite a few places over the years - why?"

"I mean: 'where do you work?'"

My brows lowered:

"Oh - an investment firm."


"Are you sure?"

I closed the notebook and turned to face him completely:

"'Unless something unexpected happened in the last 24 hours"

"Are you sure you don't work for Whole Foods - or maybe Sprouts?"

I stepped past him and put the offending notebook back in my cart:

"Well sir, I'm certain someone as deeply immersed in the cutthroat world of agricultural counter-espionage as yourself will realize that I'm far too tactless to be an agent of the organic insurgency"

Stymied by my Holmsian cover story, he finally turned away. I grabbed his elbow:

"Hey - what's Sprouts?"

That evening, as the sound of four fat guys belting out a rendition of The Flinstones theme song on tubas waddled through the muggy twilight, I leaned back on my picnic blanket and savored the taste of Apples (Washington Fuji and New Zealand Braeburn) from Central Market mixed with watermelon, bananas and yogurt from Sprouts (my new favorite produce grocer). Watching a man and woman engross themselves in one another on a blanker near me and indulgently pining after the Lady, a precocious toddler caught my eye. Having had enough of exploring the familiar territory that is the underside of his parents' canvas "captain's chairs" ($29.95 at Walmart) and decided to go in search of less suburban fare.

Striding with uneven purpose to my self-involved neighbors he toppled into a sitting position with a solid thunk, leaned back against the woman's rear, looked over his shoulder and - catching the couple in mid-canoodle - said:


Looking up from the object of his preoccupation with a wide eyed start, the polo clad Romeo cast about for a moment and came up with a small box:

"I'm sorry, bud, but we're out of cheese - would a bunny cracker do?"

It apparently would.

I don't recall the toddler's name because I was already two thirds of the way through a bottle of sparking wine, which I'd bought across the street from Sprouts, when his mother noticed him missing and relieved the romantic duo of their uninvited guest. Whatever people call him, I hope he never learns to grow comfortable defining his identity in terms of his role.

Monday, August 21, 2006

And the greek chorus says....

Wow. I love it when people bolster my optimism (as if it really needs much bolstering). I will certainly be referring back to this one in future posts.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back from LA

I stand chided. It's true, I've been silent for the better part of a week. The bonds of modern technology bar my travels as an excuse, but my head is still bloated and fecund from a concentrated discharge of experiences. The colorful new personalities, nearly forgotten smells, bright tastes, and rich textures are slowly assembling themselves in my head. These memories squeeze themselves into my memory's creaky scaffolding and then begin to slowly reshape my mind's old shelves around the demands of their alien structures. Ow.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer Breeze

The shocking chill of damp steel massages skin wherever the matte black painted slats of the park bench come in contact with clothing. Ant bitten toes break free from the bonds of their sandals to wriggle through the damp grass, bright green after the unseasonable rain. Eyes lose their focus in the bloody swath the recently set sun has cut through the cool blue underbelly of the departing cloud cover.

A smattering of fellow urban brick-cave dwellers begin to emerge, their passing marked by the clanking of dog tags on leashes, the scuff of sneakers on flagstone, and the murmurs of what distant conversation manages to rise above the ever present hum of otherwise hidden traffic.

No world worries tonight, no mind-wracked diatribes. Just thunder-scrubbed breezes, buzzing park lights flickering to life, and the fleetingly lush aftermath of a rare storm's intrusion into summer's sweltering realm

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Week Without A Blog

Yes, I know. It's been almost precisely seven days since I've updated this blog. Any chance I can book a cell with a window?

Fortunately, my vast audience of 3 will be pleased to know there's been reason for my silence. I have been writing, but the entry I'm currently working on is proving far less tractable then say, a homestead in Oregon. Beyond that, my ongoing homework assignment to find blogs that are bringing people's community building efforts together continues to bear wholly unintended fruit. I've not yet settled on any particularly good blogs, but I recommend checking out the neweconomics.org links I've added to my "Save the World" Google notebook.

And yes, I will eventually tame this unruly article and post something at least moderately readable

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dogma Geeks

This is the second part of the two part post that started with Extremist Lexiconography

The fourth Canadian edition of "Readers Choice" begins to define jargon in commonplace terms:

Jargon is the special language of a certain group or profession

The authors don't simply stop at defining the word. They move on to make this observation:

When jargon is excerpted from its proper subject area, it generally becomes confusing or meaningless, as in "I have a latency problem with my backhand" or "I hope we can interface tomorrow night after the dance."

As a technology worker, I'm immersed in specialized lingo that enables me to communicate concepts and ideas more efficiently then common English, so long as I'm speaking with someone who's conversant in the jargon of my field. I'm also regularly surrounded by people who are so intensely focused in their area of expertise that they choke the life out of the voice of their empathy, handicapping their awareness of the people around them and their own ability to connect with an audience that's at all alien. In short, computer geeks.

We geeks can often be seen holding lengthy conversations in which nouns all show up as cryptic acronyms. Those of us who fail to cultivate interests outside of the narrow realm of our technical expertise gravitate towards others who share that one interest rather then learn how and when to switch to a more general lexicon. This creates a feedback loop that encourages us to choose isolation from mainstream society and, with it, our best chances for recovering some balance.

In recent months, I've come to question how I had slipped so easily into these antisocial circles. As my relationship with myself has grown, I've learned enough to know that I treasure my connections to the people around me. How, then, wasn't the teenaged me jarred when he began to circulate amongst people who have such difficulty connecting with anyone on a purely personal level?

Now I find myself wondering if it wasn't simple familiarity.

"Well, Pop, how do you even get saved in Islam?"
~Teenaged Me, making an abortive attempt to understand my father's views

Jargon increases efficiency, but it doesn't end there. If you use it without consideration for the person listening to you, it confuses the uninitiated and garbles your intent. The miscommunications that spring from indiscriminately wielding technical dialects encourage more antisocial behaviour - both driving the geek away from alien people and encouraging her to treat them more forcefully when she must interact outside her intellectual tribe.

"Saved from what?"
~My Father, providing me my first illustration of religious language barriers

And so we lecture, instead of discussing. We seperate ourselves into sophistically armed camps, always watchful for the chance to lob a verbal volley at anyone who sounds like they might disagree with us. Amongst computer geeks, this shows up in T-shirts with slogans deriding the very people we sell our services to. Dogma geeks, on the other hand, end up trying to encode their beliefs into the fabric of their nations legal systems.

"You just need to get your heart right with Jesus"
~My Mother, signaling the beginning of a "discussion"

Please repeat after me:

"Treat people like people"
"Give people the benefit of the doubt"
I may need to add "Listen" to the official list of mantras.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Extremist Lexiconography

Today I was glancing at a family members calendar and saw the following note:
meet on X days through Y month and maybe even into Z month, if He wills

For those of you not down with the lingo, "if He wills" refers to either Yahweh, Christ, or some combination thereof (it's too early in the morning to begin parsing trinity dogma).

My brain momentarily came to a screeching halt at the "if He wills" part. Or perhaps screeching pause would be more accurate? As my anemically decaffeinated neurons found the connections necessary to dredge up a glimmer of understanding, an unbidden smile leapt to my otherwise drawn and morning-weary face.

Apparently, I've been outside the sort of circles in which people sprinkle their daily speech with religious jargon for sufficiently long that I'm no longer fluent.

Once the warm glow of this realization faded, I began to consider technical jargon, the way it's used, and what the use of technical jargon amongst religious adherents says about the speaker.

Stay tuned for more

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Insert Marketingdroid Slogan Here

I saunter quietly through life. I don't subscribe to cable tv. After the occasional romp accross the carpet with a pet, child, or sanely playful adult; I pull my Homer Simpson "Rock and Roll Jelly Roll" trucker cap down over my shadowy brow, slip into a well-worn pair of sandals, and stroll out into the evening.

Shoulders thrown back, thumbs caught in my jean pockets, I walk a meandering path from one shade tree to the next, pausing to exchange smiles and the occasional pleasantry with everyone who meets my gaze. A little elderly lady glances away and doesn't respond. A smile ghosts across my face as I give her some space. A lanky, scowling fellow with a loosened tie and sweat stains under his arms hunches his shoulders forward and increases his pace a bit as he walks by. I shrug and move on.

Until I'm ensnared in a marketing campaign. Captured by some inane homily that shamelessly strives to play with peoples emotions, my frustrations get the best of me. The other day, I happened by one of those little bar and grills that present themselves as a cross between a boat house and an Irish pub while spreading machismo as a marketing ploy. As I passed, I glanced across their patio, pausing as my survey brought me to a the centerpiece of one particular table. Nestled between a plastic squeeze bottle of Heinz Catsup and a tin menu holder a little placard stared me down. "Quench either your masculine thirst" was printed over a picture of a pint glass containing a fresh pour of black and tan. Below the beer, a picture featuring a bottle of Kendel Jackson Cabernet Savignaun and a half full wine glass says "or your feminine thirst".

I peer at the advert until I notice that some of the patrons are glancing at me oddly. Wiping the sneer off my face, I wrestle my gaze away from the offending foolishness and move on. I shouldn't take this product of some third tier, off-Madison Avenue marketing team personally; but it grates on my nerves. Like most advertisement, it makes a ham handed grab for stereotypical emotions and tries to peddle a product by associating it with those emotions. I'm bothered by the fact that someone thought this would work on me. I'm bothered because it leads me to believe the technique does work on many people. I'm just bothered.

There are marketing campaigns that don't affect me at these levels, but not many. I don't react well to ideas that people present neatly packaged in some ripped off advertisement's verbage; so I pay attention when such a parcel manages to slip past my ever vigilant prejudices.

"That's what I hate about these vanity publishers"

I'm paraphrasing The Lady, here, as my runtish memory can never give her eloquence sufficient justice.
"Their potential is completely wasted. Instead of securing deals with publishers who can't afford to keep their back-catalog in print, they prefer to exploit authors who haven't been able to publish through any other venue by running off a print they know full well will only sell to the author and a few close friends."

The Lady's argument was, of course, impeccable. Practically mumbling into the cell phone, I weakly rejoin:
"Well, it's inevitable. I know there's a demand, I've seen people willing to pay a reasonable price to acquire a book that's no longer in print. Where there's a demand, someone will eventually see a business model"

She pounced: "I hate it when people wait for the market to get things done. That kind of thinking prevents change. You know what? You should just do it. You should start a publishing company that specializes in out of print material"

I've no idea how the smile that suddenly tugged at my cheeks was able to fit on my narrow face. The Lady has a proven talent for catching me off guard that never fails to brighten my day. On that day, she was no less then the third person to give a similar exhortation within my earshot, so her utter contentiousness obliterated any barriers that my sloganophobia may have erected to "Just Do It".

The echoes of that breach continue to knock around the inside of my skull. It touched closely on a personal weakness. I'm intensely aware that I pontificate. My mental masturbation puts me at risk of talking a problem to death. At the very least, putting so much time into talking about problems steals energy I might otherwise spend solving problems.

“People artificially inflate the barrier to involvement in social change. This leaves us starved for participants”

Pulling up to the stoplight and closing my eyes, I could practically see the NPR guest. I envisioned him waving his finger at the host, his eyes wide, and his brow creased.

Still, his point would come back to me as later amused myself with the ridiculosity of over analyze my inclination to over analyze things. Rather then truly generating solutions, endless pondering can make a problem appear overwhelming. To misparaphrase Al Gore, my behaviour could easily me to jump straight from apathy to despair on a problem without any productive time spent in hope. While I'm not one prone to despair, procrastination doesn't require hopelessness.

How do I avoid the procrastination? How does a talker start doing more? Talking's fun, and inevitable – but talking needs to be active. I now believe that good ideas call out to be recorded, considered, and used. My quiet walks through the evening are healthy – they are a relaxing way to keep active, they ground me in my local community, and they force me to see my surroundings

So, now that I've circumnavigated the globe to reach my destination, I find myself next door to my starting place: my walks can be used for far more then controlling my heartrate and greeting my neighbors. If I've recorded the random ideas that filter out of my conversational masturbation, I can apply the otherwise unguided contemplation my life's measured pace provides to working out plans of action.

And then? Why, then I save the world.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In other news

Don't forget to look in on my public notebooks from time to time.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Lady and The Elder

The elder swallowed a piece of the chocolate tart I'd bought her, looked over at Sarah, and tossed a grenade out into the middle of the table:
"I do it on purpose. Once I'm close enough to someone, I'll find a way to get them really angry at me so I can see their reaction. That way I can tell if they'll ever kick me when I'm down."

I'm fond of re-gifting stories, anecdotes, jokes, and the like. My only defense for this deplorable behaviour is that I learned it on my father's knee. I grew up on a handful of oft repeated and much abused "witticisms" that still bubble to the surface of my porridge-like brain at the drop of - well, just about anything. The one that's currently lurking about in the murky shallows of my mind goes something like this:

"You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your...."

Presumably you can see where that ends up. Aside from the hopefully unintended effect of permanently damaging my sense of humor, my father's primary purpose in wielding this particular epigram was to stress the importance of family ties.

His point? Family is forever. (Double edged sword, anyone?) Practically speaking, he is correct. Regardless of preferences, family's not something that you can leave behind. Try as you will, those relationships run deep and leave a lasting impression on your life. Although he spoke of friends, my understanding of my father's world view leads me to suspect that he meant this lesson to apply to blood relations. My views, however, are a bit more inclusive.
It wasn't until the elder's glance in my direction froze and she burst out laughing that I noticed the complete slack in my facial muscles. Closing my mouth, I glanced over at my sister. Sarah's eyes were wide and unblinking. After a beat that went on for a couple of centuries, she turned to me, took a deep breath, and lowered her head towards her hand. As she massaged her temples, I removed my glasses and looked back at the elder. Her smile was starting to slip a bit.

I see two varieties of family member. Those you choose, and those you don't. The bonds between family members of the chosen variety are vastly different then those connecting you to the family with which you're raise. Neither sort of relationship is inherently stronger then the other, despite voluminous propaganda to the contrary. I'd be surprised if the cruelties shared between family members were in any way outnumbered by the life changing sacrifices made for close comrades and friends; but such sacrifices do exist. I've seen them.

"So, I really could have handled that better"
Having said all I could about my latest encounter with the elder, I took a couple of deep breaths and cocked my head sharply to the left. If the snapping sound crackling up from my spine was audible over the phone, the lady on the other end didn't mention it. Instead she slowly started in another direction:
"Do you think it would have made any difference?"

I've had the good fortune of sharing deeply intimate emotional attachments to some of my blood relations, but I have other family members I only keep in my life out of willful stubbornness. On the other hand, I have lasting family that I don't share any pedigree with. Nurturing the loving relationships of both sorts has taught me that it's not genetic connection that make a family. Family's are built out of shared experiences and interests, unswerving loyalty, mutual concern and the loving respect that springs from these qualities. No matter your genealogy, you pick your family. You pick it every day with the decisions you make about the people around you: how you treat them; the value you place on their opinions and concerns; and the loyalty you choose to afford them.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Quietly killing misanthropy

Yesterday evening I stepped into my favorite bar to take advantage of a weekly special that's gained my interest. I entered the enclosed front porch without so much as a pause in my advance on the front door. Eye's slipping over the familiar territory without focusing on anything in particular I passed through the front door into a wall of noise that halted my progress as completely as any brick wall ever could.

After my pupils dilated in the sudden darkness of the main dining area, I looked around and took in the crowd for the first time. Not a seat was empty, that I could see. Not even the couches around the TV were open and a few people were actually starting to mill around in front of the bar, looking expectantly at anyone who shifted in their bar stools.

After glancing about for a few minutes I shoved my hands in the pockets of my jeans and proceeded at a more sedate pace over to the ordering computer. After fishing my wallet out of my pocket and angling my membership card into the narrow mouth of the computer's scanner, I trolled through the menu interface for the special of the day, hit the print icon, and waited. And waited. And waited. And - you get the idea. Eventually the laborious little machine completed whatever intensive math that's required to print up a seven line receipt. I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders, and turned towards the bar just as a thickset pair of grey haired fellows slipped off their bar stools and slowly, deliberately made their way towards the front door and (unfortunately) their awaiting vehicles.

Smiling, I levered myself up to the bar, submited my order ticket, relinquished my credit card, set my novel on the bar (thank you Joy!) and cracked open the little leather journal I was carrying. The white noise of more then a hundred garrulous beer drinkers cocooned me from even the scritching sound of my plastic pencil's scribbles. Periodically someone would detach from the milling morass behind me and pass a credit card over my right shoulder in exchange for a drink. Thirty minutes, half a pint, and countless such transactions later, a different motion caught my eye. My eyes slid to the right just as the pale kid sitting to my right finishded moving my book closer to him. With a cocked eyebrow and a slight shrug, I dove back into my journal. Two beer passes later, he did it again. For the first time, my eyes settled on the pool of condensation that had been slithering towards my book, escaping an apparently abandoned pair of glasses on the bar between us.

As he stood up to leave the bar, my pasty benefactor shifted the trade paperback one last time - closer to me and completely out of the path of the water. Unacknowledged and without a peek in my direction, he grabbed his beer and melted into the crowd.

Thanks for having my back, brother. And people wonder how I come to be such an optimist.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Yet Another Beginning

Periodically I'm inspired to awaken my dormant inner writer, encouraging him to stretch his legs and maybe even take in a little sun. I've done this frequently enough that evidence of previously aborted attempts to keep my little writing friend from retreating back into his hibernatory cave are strewn throughout my life.

Reporter style flip top notebooks full of fragmented ideas tumble through my drawers from past periods when he would jot down random thoughts, anticipating the next opportunity I'd grant him to explore a bit. Little leather journals half-filled with dryly recited litanies of daily events are stacked in my closets from times when I'd pay him only half-hearted attention. Computational notebooks with a handful of fervently scrawled diagrams and notes are occasional reminders of those happy moments when he'd awake of his own volition and lend his abilities to whatever other passion was engrossing me. From time to time an oddly named text file clutters up my search results with partially completed essays and articles he would worry over while we basked on a sunny porch.

So, here I stand, peering into the mouth of his cave once more, trying to catch his attention. I'll tell him how I've grown older, and gained some hard won experience. I'll argue how I understand myself much better and have learned how to hold up my end of our relationship. I might even show him some of the ideas that have been percolating in my head since he and I last shared quiet observations about the world around us. As I ramble on, I hear something suspiciously like a shuffling noise in the dark shadows of the cave. One or two of my comments seem to be slightly echoed by the occasional snort - perhaps a guffaw? Eventually I must either charm or irritate him enough, because the messy little fellow finally sticks his head out, blinking against the glare of the light.

And so we begin again, he and I. Full of high aspirations and lofty intentions. We'll change the world, or give up trying. No one will contemplate their own navels so thoroughly as we. We'll help people talk, and read, and think. Maybe even about something worth their time. Hubris? No, of course not! Sure, no one will notice right away, but certainly some one, someday, will pay some small attention. How can they but help it? He's jumping with all the energy of a 3 year hiatus and I'm brimming with the optimism of a new turning point in life.

A fresh faced graduate student searching for the theory that'll make his name; an established voice in the field who's looking for deeper insights into her own area of expertise; or even a piece of software scanning the kazillabytes of data for keywords like Family, Iran, Middle-Ages, Oligarchy, Culinary Taboos, and Traffic Laws (won't that list confuse the poor AI?) may never find anything meaningful in the products of our relationship. Still, we'll have explored ourselves a littler more thoroughly. Our opinions will be a bit better formed and our passion will be better focused.

And so it begins. Again.