Wednesday, December 29

It's not that I have an overwhelming desire to take pictures of naked trees and drear winter landscapes. It's only that they are there.

more: frost

Tuesday, December 28

mug

Saturday, December 25

more: mas

Friday, December 24

Time and past for the mad scramble to move out of this grim apartment and make it to various homes for various Christmases and whatnot. Have a merry one, everybody.

sunday, december 19

cladistics

do you ever wonder, if you could graph
the tree of all your ancestor organisms,
where would its exponential
expansion backwards in time
begin instead to contract to the thin single
chain of that first minute pattern
which learned the strange trick
of self-reproduction?

saturday, december 18

so in my own life i think i'm losing the war,
if not every battle
but that's a lousy metaphor, because life is not so much a
thing to be won or at least not that way

and anyway i just dropped off my friend who is on leave from iraq
with his parents, who were always good to me
and the december morning sun is shining on all this
dead grass & road surface & illuminating the baseball
field, the overpasses and the railroad
there are a million contrails in the blue, blue sky and
the radio is playing 'my velouria' just as loud as i can take it
and i am fucking ecstatic, it makes me want to offer up some
kind of prayer of not so much request or gratitude
or even contrition as just acknowledgment, recognition,
awareness.

friday, december 17

a reflection on the thursday night bar scene in lincoln nebraska and my place therein, with consequences attendant

self-destruction is kind of a misnomer
because for most of us it carries at least the strong
delusion of being a group activity

i have the best friends in the world
(like opus said, clear eyed and aware
opening a fabricated christmas present
from his lost mother)
but sometimes what you need is exactly
what you can't ask your friends for

some of us just don't have the funds
to cover badly needed reality checks.

Thursday, December 16

if you don't know what i'm talking about, it's probably best just to walk away

(Alan just keeps a separate weblog for tech-related rambling. Maybe a healthy compartmentalization but I fear that would just suck me further down the dark path. I will probably try to keep this sort of thing from showing up on the front page in future, however.)

wala.cgi?PageIndex now contains initial letters, while each page contains a sidebar with backreferences to the pages that link there. It's messing with page layout, especially on the embedded link dump over there. ---->

I've been talking with Brent about this (since it's his code to begin with, and he's usually more wiki-obsessed than I am). What I would really like to do is set up a wiki for which (most of) the engine itself is user-editable Perl. I have no idea how you'd sandbox that well enough to prevent user maliciousness and/or user incompetence from completely hosing your server, but the appeal is still there. I could be like a LISP advocate - "My wiki was written in itself and is thus superior to all other forms of software! And sliced bread!"

These things in-and-of-themselves are not especially interesting, but the project of homebrewing a wiki full of stuff is kind of fascinating. Given that it's the aught-four functional equivalent of deciding to map out your entire life using index cards and little hand-made custom file folders.

Incidentally, I think that sliced bread is a good idea for only one reason: It enables toasters, and I like toast. I like toast a lot. When I was going to Wayne State College and eating in their raging mediocrity of a cafeteria (generally known as the Gag) whole wheat toast and black tea kept me alive for weeks on end.

wednesday, december 15

things from my wallet

id pictures.

tickets and things.

Tuesday, December 14

low-competence data collection

So three or four semesters ago, my good friend Levi (at that time the guy across the hall from me) asked if I could do a simple web-based survey for him. He'd foolishly believed me when I said I knew a little Perl, and he wanted to exploit some undergraduates for behavioral data. I said sure and didn't think about it much until the night before he actually wanted to run the thing.

What I then slopped together from equal parts of CGI.pm and fervent profanity was probably the most appalling mechanism I have ever committed to the use of actual human beings, but it worked. The Perfect, I told myself, is the enemy of the Good - and in three hours, after consuming that much yerba mate and using a keyboard the approximate size of the little flat box that Chiclets come in, the Good is the enemy of the Barely Functional.

    $id_num = int(rand(100000));

Anyway, since then, we've used basically the same framework to grab stuff from three or four hundred people. It has continued to work, just barely. So when Levi wanted to run that very first survey again with a larger group, I figured no problem. And it wasn't, except for the part where I dumped half of the data into overlapping files by forgetting to check if the random numbers I was assigning had already been used.

    until ( !(-e "data/$id_num") ) {
        $id_num = int(rand(100000));
        # make sure it's six digits by padding w/ 1's.
        $id_num = "1" x ( 6 - length( $id_num ) ) . $id_num;
    }

I'm not a hacker, but sometimes I play one in conversation.

Monday, December 13

status report

It's after midnight on the 13th of December, 2004. I, with a month's worth of untrimmed beard, swollen lymph nodes, and an irrational craving for chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, sit in front of a very old computer monitor (supported by an upside down laundry basket) with a keyboard on my knees and an afghan of many different bright colors around my shoulders. There is also a blue, grey, and black woolen blanket sitting on top of my feet. It is cold in here, for no obvious reason. The floor is covered in books, papers, and dirty clothes.

The afghan came from my grandmother, who insisted that I take it when she discovered that I had neither a blanket nor a pillow in my car. Later, two Japanese girls slept underneath it as I drove them back to Lincoln from Colorado Springs. When awake, one of the girls normally yawned a lot; the other was small and alert. While driving, I talked about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and agriculture with her boyfriend, whose name I forgot for months afterwards.

The blanket on my feet came from the Amana Colonies in Iowa, which were once a settlement of communalist German protestants and have become a tourist attraction and a brand of household appliance. You can get good German/American food there, in a place which sells gum and those corncob pipes with the yellow plastic stems by the cash register. I once cut a hole in the middle of the blanket and wore it, along with a leather hat that I bought in South Dakota, first to stand in line for an hour and a half for a haunted house I never actually entered, and then to a Halloween party at a (nominally) gay bar. The whole time in the bar, I thought that I was going to collapse from heat stroke. My mom later patched the hole with square pieces of old flannel shirts.

The books on the floor include the second edition of Running Linux, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, Gene Wolf's The Citadel of the Autarch (the unread third or fourth in a series which I started once and one day may finish), and River Teeth, by David James Duncan. Properly speaking, the Duncan book belongs to my father, since I bought it for him for Christmas last year.

My bedroom floor, and my bed - and in fact all my available surfaces - are similarly cluttered. I am living in my own squalor, a chronic slob, with the added chaos of being frozen halfway in the middle of moving out. My bookcase and my closet are half empty, my writing table gone, the bank boxes with their filing folders packed up and sent North. I still have far, far too much stuff. (Someday I would like to live in a single, well-lit room with one set of dishes, three changes of clothes, and a mat on the floor. The walls could be lined in alternating stripes of corkboard and bookshelves to hold all the paper.)

In the morning, if I manage to wake early enough and the hold has not expired, I will call a somewhat sketchy sounding flight consolidator company in California and finalize the purchase of a ticket to Christchurch, New Zealand. Then I will begin making serious plans for a trip which I've been talking about for maybe six months now. My plan is that I'm going to go to NZ and subject my whole system to some kind of shock that leaves me far less capable of tolerating bullshit in myself. Then I'm going to come back here, and move into a place where the walls aren't beige and write for a while. I'm going to write about a book's worth of material, and it will be sort of a manifesto, or maybe a set of hypotheses - something like that - and once it's written I'm going to go back out into the world and act upon it.

See, the thing about having a plan is not that you're necessarily going to follow the plan. Not at all. It's more that the plan might stimulate you to motion. And motion is the important thing.

sunday, december 12

"i love the world", a good friend wrote to me not so long ago.

this december sunday, the shoddy walls
of a huge apartment that i think never would
feel very much like home
rattle in a cold wind

not very far to the north of here
bland and unremarkable housing
gives way to the more subtle constructions
of this america - fields, fencelines,
shelterbelts and groves
gravel county roads and state highways
narrow in the headlights

(drive past the edges of your cities and towns
and out into the twilight middle winter world:
can you tell how much our peoples' coming
has altered this landscape?
how extensive the projects of agriculture
and mass transit have broken and recast
older living patterns?)

all these no less the products of industry
but spread across far more ground
hewn closer to the underlying shape.

the underneath bleeds always through
the over top: though it may be hard to notice
no matter how we push and pull the world
beginnings are important
and transformation will always
lie uneasy with our expectations.

this is what drives my hopes and fears:
i fear that my failures and weaknesses
are the stuff of permanence
but i hope for a world where the reality
i sometimes apprehend bleeds through
all the things our misunderstanding has ever built.

Friday, December 10

What follows is unfinished and not remotely cohesive.

The other day I read a really good essay on the subject of essays by Paul Graham.

Now, it might be that writing about writing is pointless at best and counterproductive at worst. Pointless is what I suppose most people feel in school. Counterproductive is how I often feel about my own work. But I think Graham's essay provides variations on the best response to both of those feelings. In school, we often have to deal with a system that (almost accidentally) keeps English literature in the same box as writing. Even outside of school, people cling to an academic model of writing that most of us don't particularly like - how many times, before you graduate from college, will you be told that you need a thesis statement, a conclusion that says the same thing, and a straight-line series of paragraphs between them? I like Graham's take on why this is and what's wrong with it.

If we take writing as a tool for thinking well and sharing that thought, rather than as the way one responds to literature or acquires a degree, then it seems justified to be reflective about the whole process, because you want to use it for something.

Why shouldn't writing share a box with English literature? The problem with applying writing to the set of "literature" first and foremost is that the literature which is worth studying is applied to the description of something much larger - namely, reality. Of course, literature itself is a part of reality - but by volume, it's a small part. Where it represents or contains the rest of things, it inevitably does so in a limited and second-order way. This isn't to diminish at all the value of literature. It's only to suggest that what we really want to do is make more of the stuff, rather than making more critical apparatus for what we already have.

(A very good way to approach lit that matters to you is to write about it; the very best way to write, however, is probably not through an approach to literature. None-the-less, contrast the idea that we are all stealing from the record and building on it. History, after all, approaches reality through extant "literature" - maybe the problem is that we need to use the broadest possible set of records.)

Critics of visual art talk about a variety of "art for art's sake" whose practitioners claim to be interested solely in process: The movement of a brush across some surface, a particular element of geometry or color. I think it tends to be shallow, if not completely masturbatory, but I won't deny that this sort of thing has artistic value. Often it can be visually stunning and appealing work, and sometimes it communicates. But for every big field of colored squares which makes you think "cool", several thousand others just suck. I suspect that understanding and valuing something as a process is not the same as becoming so absorbed in mechanics that your output is the large-scale equivalent of a marginal doodle.

(Also that a pretended fascination with process often conceals a failure to master it. There are few grounds on which one can say that a splash of paint-for-paint's-sake has missed its target.)

Thursday, December 9

So I just put a hold on a ticket from LAX to Christchurch, New Zealand, for the 19th of January.

Tuesday, December 7

i know hate is just no good
but goddamn, parking ticket lady
in your little white pseudo-jeep
with the flashing orange lights on top

in the five minutes after i noticed the
damp square of parking ticket paper
in the frost on my window,
goddamn did i ever hate you

oh, until i had stared at it long enough,
(trying to figure out what snivelling, prissy
little regulation i had brushed against)
all i really felt was contempt
but then i noticed the little checkmark
by 'expired registration'
and the '$100' circled, one column over

and then i hated you
because i do not have one hundred dollars
i do not even have the ten
you would have stolen, for some lesser offense
than being a target of opportunity with
my plates 7 days out of date

and let's be honest
parking ticket lady,
goddamn would it still
feel good to say 'fuck you'
once, decisively
and then slash the tires on
your little fucking buggy,
and smash the windows into so many
little crystal pieces on the
ground (like hail, or fresh
sleet) and, in some world
where you are not the apparatus
of the authority and the bloody
cutting edges that move just below
the collective delusion that this society
gives a good god damn
to care nothing at all.

 

this is the undertow
can you feel it? it's a current
made of money solvent in ethanol and
nicotine, its channels are city statutes
and posted regulations, closed circuit television
lotteries, mass mail, the debt you own and
the three credit card applications
every
fucking
day
it moves the limbs and mouths of
cops (nervous, angry, bored and righteous),
psychologists, preachers,
insurance companies

— but nevermind. there is no sense
in which i am really poor. i only wonder this:
a parking ticket, one too many beers before
the drive home, a dead alternator two
weeks before payday, a bounced check —
how many people ride this ragged edge
where checks and balances become
a thousand cuts, bleeding already from
their addictions and boneweary,
scrambling but also waiting
for some final blow? how many people
fall down where we don't notice,
can't see, won't hear,
never will?

 

anyway, parking ticket lady
i don't hate you any more
a month or two ago, i might have
taken your job - or one no better
and lord knows i am not unlikely
to get that far again
but i do wonder
why you all can't find something better,
somehow.

Monday, December 6

If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne's great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them.

In the things you write in school you are, in theory, merely explaining yourself to the reader. In a real essay you're writing for yourself. You're thinking out loud. If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne's great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them.

In the things you write in school you are, in theory, merely explaining yourself to the reader. In a real essay you're writing for yourself. You're thinking out loud.

Paul Graham

Sunday, December 5

A little work on a PageIndex.