Thursday, January 29

A sinus headache is quietly undermining my sanity.

Elvis Presley's first 45 RPM single was a blues number called "That's Alright", played without drums on upright bass, electric lead, and Presley's own acoustic guitar. When it came time to record a B-side, he chose a song called "Blue Moon of Kentucky". A song by Bill Monroe.

Other people already knew this, of course, but for me it was one of those everything I know about music is wrong moments.

Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennet from Rilo Kiley are playing an acoustic show tonight at Duffy's. I expect good things.

more: notebooks

Wednesday, January 28

One can't found a good life on falsehood.

Contrast: Big Fish, the drive to process life through writing and talking, the mechanics of oral history.

And yet: Didn't you ever find yourself bothered by English professoresque assumptions that our lives and our relationships are narratives? Yes, I have stories. Sometimes I am in stories. Do I really need to be a story?

I read John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar the day before yesterday, and found myself less impressed than I wanted to be. The Shockwave Rider is still one of the most amazing pieces of SF I've ever read, in terms of technique and content both. The other three of his (non?) novels I've read have me pretty convinced that Brunner tended to undermine his own brilliance. Which is a damn shame, because he was brilliant.

It's not that Zanzibar is by any means a total failure. Elements of its plot wander into dead ends, and it ultimately seems flattened by the dreariness of some of its conclusions - but that's not all that's going on. Brunner calls this a non-novel, and for a good part of its length it is something experimental. The experiment tends to work.

This old alt.cyberpunk post says that Brunner was doing a riff on John Dos Passos, who I've never read but maybe should.

Wednesday, January 21

Patrick Nielsen Hayden responds to the Bush space exploration thing:

The phrase that summed up my reaction to Bush's grandiloquent announcement last week: I felt trifled with. I wanted to say, this is stuff that matters, you lying sack of shit. Okay, obviously that's not really a cool-eyed and dispassionate take, and I realize that smart friends and acquaintances of mine are right now combing through the fine print and making plans to use this "initiative" as a platform for good. I wish them well, but I don't feel very optimistic.

Meanwhile, in last night's State of the Union address (as PNH points out, an address conspicuously lacking any mention of space), we get

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. (Applause.)

Somebody stop the nation-state. I want to get off.

Tuesday, January 20

[standing]

i think i've written more in the past few months
than any time before that, ever
except maybe when i was caught in a
correspondence that was somehow self-sustaining

i wonder what it says that my life
is bracketed and defined as much by
exchanges of letters
as anything else

these days i'm not happy with the words
i guess part of that is practice -
you can reach a place in doing anything
where you know what good is
better than you know how to make it

but bigger,
the other thing is that i keep forgetting
how to tell the truth
maybe it's easier to lie
when you're mostly talking to yourself

maybe i should abandon language altogether,
and take up drawing with such intensity
that i learn the shape of the world all over.

things

It's four-thirty in the morning, and if I'm not quite wide awake, then I'm still closer than I ought to be.

A surprising number of people come here from search engines these days. And while I am past being especially obsessed with hit counts and page views and so forth, I continue to be fascinated by what they're searching for.

Eventually Cornfed Ultimate Frisbee will have a semi-official home here. Yes, it does need a lot of work.

Levi has a weblog. Those of you who read Hungarian may find it enjoyable.

Fascinating stuff over on Edge:

By the 1970s, Seymour Papert had even small children creating little programs with graphical outputs in his computer language "LOGO". The operative word is "little." The moment programs grow beyond smallness, their brittleness becomes the most prominent feature, and software engineering becomes Sisyphean.

The responses get even more involved.

more: searches

Monday, January 19

Girl,

I saw Big Fish tonight. I enjoyed it, a lot.
You were right, Helena Bonham Carter is sort
of wonderful. It seems odd that I had never
noticed that before.

I wrote the eleventh page of a letter to
you today and realized that I had said almost
exactly nothing I wanted to say, and had
said it in almost exactly the way I had wanted
not to say it.

I doubt you are surprised.

I remain, as ever,

Brennen

Sunday, January 18

Alan is a bright guy, which makes talking to him pleasant and occasionally enlightening. He keeps a blog called the world has turned and left me here, which is reminiscent of his conversation.

Six points if you saw that title and started playing air guitar. Eight if you played air guitar while remembering an ultimately disastrous entanglement with a member of the appropriate sex.

Now that I think about it, I don't actually suppose that being bright is what makes many people worth talking to. It might fall under the heading of Necessary But Not Sufficient, since capability (if not always quickness) of mind is a trait of most people I enjoy interacting with, but even that would be a dangerous assumption.

Saturday, January 17

In the afternoon, we drove to a part of Lincoln I've never been in. One of those little urban bubble regions caught somewhere between modern stripmall decay and old-school town center. We found a used book & record store, an acoustic instrument place, a dusty, dim-lit luthier's shop. After the stores, we sat and drank coffee and talked about Led Zeppelin while the streets outside slid into wet and murk.

At the luthier's, there was a stack of newsletters from the Walnut Valley Association, the people who put on the festival at Winfield, KS every year - bluegrass and kindred musics, campgrounds and countless jam sessions. Later that evening I was going through a stack of Levi's pictures and there was one I snapped in the near-dark at Winfield on Saturday night while other people made music. Part of a moment I figured was lost to everything but my memory, outlined in the flash. I wonder about the dangers of obsession with record-making - all of those parents with camcorders, washed out altar-level footage of weddings, history built of bad photo ops - but I have to see the value in a picture like that.

Even important stuff you forget, because forgetting is in the nature of things, and then you look and it comes back - not the way it is in the photograph, because cameras lie as sure as anything else most of the time, but something like the way you saw it and if you're lucky you saw it for what it was. It's not that the picture makes it any more real, only that it can help you hold the reality again for a little bit.

Every time I walk in the door of a guitar shop I feel that strange tension between wanting to take those beautiful objects down off the wall and make noise, and the certainty that I would only make a fool of myself.

Strange, I'm not too much afflicted by that fear here, justified as I would likely be.

Friday, January 16

ars amatoria, or, i hate the subjunctive

First, I have learned that Ovid was an impressive poet. Second, that Latin is wonderfully capable, with its cases and declensions and whatnot, of complex and nuanced expression. Third, that even for a casual second-year student of Latin, my command of the language is appalling.

If that last changes, I promise that I will write Latin verse, and that it will show up here to receive whatever public ridicule it deserves.

ad astra, or, space travel gives me wood

Meanwhile, President Bush wants the U.S. back in space. There's been a lot of noise about this, for pretty obvious reasons, but as yet I haven't taken the time to get a handle on what's happening. Brent writes:

I am thrilled we're making plans to return to the moon.

Why? Lots of subtle reasons. Space is far more than the "Earth's backyard" that a lot of people seem to think it is. It's not just another place to explore.

As Solomon Short wrote, "Space is not the final frontier. The final frontier is the human soul. Space is merely the place where we are most likely to meet the challenge."

As James Lileks wrote, "Not because it is easy, but because it is hard and expensive and boring and lethal and just might – might – give people something to watch that's more important than Paris Hilton pitching a fit because she chipped a nail."

My attitude towards George W. Bush and his administration skews more towards contempt, suspicion, and disgust than does Brent's. So, unsurprisingly, my secondary reaction was the phrase "dog and pony show" flashing through my brain followed in short order by every bread-and-circuses metaphor I have in stock and a healthy leavening of dark thoughts about defense contractors.

But all that was forced to follow on the heels of an upward leap of the heart and a lot of hopeful expletives in my best giddy-as-a-schoolgirl voice.

There are not a lot of ideas about the human future, the actual no-kidding I-mean-this destiny of humankind, in which I place much faith any more. But I know, with more certainty than anything else I have never touched, that we have to make it out past low orbit, out beyond the places we have already left footprints, out into the darkness and across it and to every world we can reach. Between the certain death of our every meaningful legacy and the expansion into space there is simply no middle ground.

...and I could phrase the central question here as being whether our species and our kin and eventual descendants will live or die, and that might be sufficient justification for my belief that we have to go to the stars. And yet, long term there's damn little choice but to admit that everything dies. So maybe there is room yet for an argument that it's not worth the cost, that how we live is more important than how long, and that the real impact of a successful space program - or the impact of its potential failure - outweighs the gains we would make. Or that humility and simplicity call us to only accept the little piece of the universe we have been given and steward it quietly, making our way with one another as best we can and giving ourselves up to destruction when the time comes.

I think I stopped fearing my own death in any intellectual sense as soon as I realized it was possible to want to commit suicide, or to welcome the end of a life made unbearable by physical pain. The possibility of my own oblivion is a thing I believe that I can accept, something I could welcome. And it's true enough that the human species as a whole is no less doomed than I am - on a long enough time scale, everything living is going to die; whether or not death is the end of being, it is a certainty akin to almost nothing else.

So the question isn't whether we will live, it is only how, and where, and for how long. And I believe that the only answer is as well as possible, on every height we can scale, for as long as we can draw breath. That what we have been given holds more than just this earth. That to die a billion years hence, my footsteps scattered on ten thousand worlds, would be worth it all, but that so would working quietly for a lifetime without every setting foot off-world, or dying tomorrow, in order that some of us would have the chance.

Is this President representing that possibility in any meaningful way? Or is this only a cheap election-year stunt, another bone tossed to some friendly industries, a lower-key version of the international pissing contest that made the first space race a reality? I don't know, but I'm pretty damn sure it matters.

Thursday, January 15

Sweeping changes in design around here. You will have noticed the new title text color, a measured, reflective, and yet forceful statement of my recent shift to a more organic aesthetic sensibility. And of course the decision to embrace consistency more fully and render the links in the (re-arranged, you'll note) sidebar the same classical blue as those in the body of the text will not have gone unremarked by readers as astute as mine. I think, however, that the change I am most proud of is the new spacing between elements of unordered lists - two tenths of an em less may seem a drastic alteration, but I am confident that the coming months will justify the decision.

Sorry. I won't do that again.

I have been fiddling with my stylesheet and thinking about design again, because it is one of those things I can do (and write about) when more personal subjects refuse to submit themselves to the written word. Or, in other words, when I'm just feeling like an ass.

Don't get me wrong. I do think that design, as a general field - and as it applies to the domain of, say, electronic documents - is worth serious consideration. But for me, at least, this is something which can absorb the surface of my attention and a lot of nervous energy without requiring the same reflection that most writing would. I suppose it is a lot like the loopy, mostly decorative doodling that fills the margins of my homework.

Anyway, p1k3 is pretty far from perfect, but aside from some structural things I haven't gotten around to fixing yet, like a few navigational links between entries and better integration of graphical elements, it fits most of my own criteria for a good web page. (Form-wise, if not yet content-wise.) Namely:

  • It's pretty simple.
  • The text isn't too tiny.
  • New stuff is on the front page, first thing you see. Old stuff is easy to get to, or it will be once I tweak a few things.
  • There's not a lot of crap on the top or sides of the pages.
  • The URL scheme is consistent and short.1
  • No popup windows. No new fullscreen windows. No hijacked scrollbars or fixed widths. Nothing that deliberately messes with client side controls.
  • Most of it doesn't contain any images, and they never dominate navigation elements or page layout.
  • Of a host of stupid innovations still lurking from the first few explosions of browser features, it uses no: Frames, scrolling or animated text, rollovers, other pointless scripting, really pointless embedded applets, plugin specific content, or animated .gifs. It doesn't even use tables for anything but, well, tables - and tables weren't even that bad an idea when you think about it.

One of the satisfactions of having watched the web change over the past ten years or so is that the last item on that list is the now the least significant. People have learned to stop doing a lot of really dumb stuff even as it's become easier. It was certainly possible to abuse the features of Netscape Navigator in 1997, and many did, but the browsers of early 2004 represent an almost unprecedented canvas for potential awfulness.

Yet the web is getting better.2 Some things, like frames, are mostly restricted to places (like Google's image search) where they make some kind of sense. Others, like scripting, have become less obtrusive and actually found a few legitimate uses. (Working around stupid browser layout bugs or adding useful feature tweaks to browser toolbars are the ones I've noticed most.)

Some of this is probably due to the near market3 saturation of two or three dozen varieties of Internet Explorer. I think a lot of it is more about people slowly figuring out how to use the web. Just like it took time for people to realize that the specific conventions of live theater didn't apply very well to movies or TV.

1 And works like a command line parameter, which it effectively is. This is pretty basic, and I wish that more developers, both server side and browser UI people, would catch on. It would be worth developing the idea that the command line is still a dominant interface and a key element of most user experience.

2 Outside of the admittedly massive porn sector, at least. I wouldn't want to imply that porn isn't the most successful application of the web to date. (Probably the second most successful of the Internet as a whole, right after e-mail, depending on how you define success.)

3 But is it really a market? Really? Doesn't the idea of a market imply that some sort of decision or choice is being made by consumers who realize that they're exchanging value for a product or service? Suddenly I have a hard time believing that the present state of browser software represents a market much more than, say, the state of your average totalitarian regime. I'm not hostile to the idea of markets, but I'm starting to find some of the applications of the idea a little suspect. And I fucking hate being a "consumer" all the time.

monday, january 12

you have to choose, she said
will the world live, or will you unmake it?
you have the means in your hands
we will wait

so he looked at what they had placed in his palm:
a vast dark shape, expanding constantly
so that he could feel nothingness being created at its edges,
new vacuum and elementary particles
rustling against his fingers so that
cupping the universe in his hand
was like holding a restive hedgehog,
and when he looked deep inside —
faint whorls and splotches of light,
billions of suns birthing and dying
trillions of living beings following in their wake

sweet christ on a cross, he thought,
and then one of the others,
stocky and dark skinned, tossed him something
else: a wreath of sorts, woven out of canes
from some bush or diminuitive tree

later that night, driving home
with a dried out crown of thorns
rattling on his dash
he admitted to himself how easy it would have been
to just set the universe on the ground
and stomp once, hard.

Friday, January 9

I've been sliding back into reading more weblogs and journals and things, because really there's a great deal of wonderful material out there, and since I have finally accepted that I'm never going to know about all of it, it seems all right to pay attention to little parts of it.

In consequence, I changed my meta page a little, adding some links to stuff I like and migrating the technical bits over to a colophon for p1k3.

The best thing I've discovered today is Everyday Matters, a very illustrated sort of weblog full of drawing and journals and cool notebooks. It is this sort of thing that leads me to interpret the shelves full of blank books and journals now found in even the least impressive mall chain bookstores as one of the few indications of real hope for the human species I have seen lately.

Monday, January 5

bark

It's a cold, windy, fresh snow night. Mostly clear sky. Enough moon to radiate off the landscape and cast light into the windows of the house, make strange woodsmoke shadows on the ground. The dogs are restless.

Mandy is old, arthritic, shaggy, cocklebur-matted fur and gray muzzle. She sits on the scavenged couch cushion just outside her house and peers in the direction that Gus indicates with his barking. Gus is young, bristle-furred, longtailed, stretched out and skinny. He stands on the strawbale next to his house and glares through the chain-links of his kennel, barks, jumps and runs back and forth in his narrow space. She should just crawl back in and go to sleep, but pretty soon she'll trudge out through the snow and investigate. Nearsighted, nearly deaf, but it's funny what she'll see or hear. Might be that black shaggy dog from down the road is back again, and she'll chase him, faster than she should be able to move. Maybe it's just a weird piece of snow drift, or the way her voice echoes back like a challenge.

It's hard to tell with dogs.

origin

i stood with my sister
where two fencelines meet
near the top of a low rise
and we discussed
whether we were at or
near the geometric center
of the section.

we could see the houses
of most our neighbors -
each with its driveway
shelterbelt and outbuildings
in varying stages of disrepair

the church on the corner,
its former parsonage next door
now a rental
where a good friend once lived
until he up and moved to colorado.

like many places in this country
the low hills here are gridded out,
a fiction of squares
made imperfectly real
in the roads they built
ditches dug and trees grown old,
creosoted posts and poles,
barbed wire and electric lines.

(raggedly cartesian, maybe
i would rather use polar coordinates:
pick a direction, and tell me
how far you want to go)

snake not biting tail

different, this time
the new year an artificial division,
sure, but natural too after all
we swing around this
great godgifting blaze of
cosmic fire and in our falling,
cycles get to be implicit

it must really be in the marrow of the universe,
not a closed loop but a waveform

and here we are written in blood and bone
turnings figured in the tides and seasons,
sundowns and shifting starlight
gave us birth
the wavefront of all creation

anyhow, last spin around the fireball
things sure got different.

sunday, january 4

addiction, a hypothesis:
in one sense,
i don't have enough music
that is going to be true no matter how much
electrically fossilized noise i collect,
what jangling or percussive motions
i commit to memory

but it will be true in the same sense
that i don't have enough oxygen
or enough good friends:
as long as i have breath in my lungs
the occasion of your voices
some good sound trickling
through my brain

the endlessness of my need
is only an assurance of its worth.

Saturday, January 3

Poetry, like history, has become more real to me lately. That is, it begins to seem like a thing that real people can and should do.

There is some amazing poetry available on the web. In fact, there is more than some. There is almost an overflowing wealth of the stuff, if you have the patience to look around a little.

Lately I have been amazed by Robert Pinsky and Tom Sleigh.

Friday, January 2

Eric called and left a message, said the server was acting strange. When I logged in, a few hundred instances of the script that glues this site together were churning through infinite loops, whirring along in perplexed expectation of an entry I had failed to create for 2004.

It would be easy enough to draw a parallel to my own recent state of mind.

 

My sister's in the other room watching on The Two Towers with the audio commentary on. I walk through every once in a while and listen - it's fascinating, but I think she might be a little obsessed. I think that's probably ok - not to spend some part of your life going a little mad with Tolkien is to miss out on beautiful things. The films have become a part of that, I think.

Some of my friends have problems with the movies - I suppose I understand that, but ultimately they are such beautiful expressions of so much that I love in The Lord of the Rings, and such amazingly crafted works in their own right, that my lingering impulse to carp is overwhelmed.

 

I have been listening to some new things lately. Glen Phillips, for one - I never paid that much attention to his old outfit, Toad the Wet Sprocket, but now it seems like I should have. If you watched Leno the other night, he was the guy on the acoustic doing backup vocals for the Ataris. The wonderful people at archive.org have a bunch of his shows up.

Then there is this disc by the Willard Grant Conspiracy, 3 AM Sunday @ Fortune Otto's. I bought it because it was in a simple brown cardboard sleeve with a simple green logo on the cover, and because inside it says "Anyone who tells you they played on this, probably did." I don't know quite what I should make of it, or the half an hour of firecrackers and drums that fills the last track. I think I like it. It makes me want to know where they went next, and because it is their first album, I guess I get to find out.

 

While I wasn't looking, someone went and published Robert Heinlein's first novel, a manuscript rejected by publishers in the late 1930s and subsequently lost.

Sooner or later I'll read it.

Right now I'm reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. These are becoming parts of what I think about history, and history, while I would not claim that it is making more sense to me, is making itself more intensely felt than it has before.