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.