Wednesday, November 26

So I was goofing off at work last night and found this scanner attached to a machine where I've already got an account. It is super sweet, because unlike basically every other scanner I've ever used, it doesn't take 8 grinding minutes to generate a picture that sucks anyway. It's just like vreeeet, virrrrrr and there is your image file.

It took a couple of tries before I realized that I could stick a folded up piece of blank paper behind notebook pages and avoid having the facing page show through, but now I have a routine method for making pictures to go on the web.

Ok, so these are pointless, it's true, but I have plans.

Tuesday, November 25

civil rights: still not a zero sum game

Monday, November 24

Am I a nerd, or a geek, or whatever the appropriately shaded term is these days?

Well, duh, I suppose. I mess with computers for a living. I spent most of my time before the age of 21 or so soaking up genre fiction, failing socially, and arguing about movies with swords in them. Today I am a 27 year old single white male who still has arguments about text editors. On the face of it, I was a hopeless nerd before it went mainstream, and I will probably be a hopeless nerd until I die.

I'm kind of tired of all this stuff in the air about what that means, or how important it is/isn't. There are all these free-floating schemas for being a geek, a fan, a hippie, a fundie, a stoner, a hick, a radical, an indie rock kid, a hacker, whatever. Shallow classificatory manias and desperate longing for community + status. Criminy. It's especially noticeable now that we have the great machinery of the internet for inducing the belief that x random trivial interest, fetish, or aesthetic preference includes you in a meaningfully distinct and organic subculture. Or maybe I just think it's especially noticeable because I'm noticing it now.

Anyway, I write this as a tangent to noting that I've been enjoying Ta-Nehisi Coates' ruminations on being a black nerd and similar things. Partially just 'cause I like Coates' writing, but also because I'm finding reflective ambiguity about notions of identity a lot more interesting (or maybe credible) nowadays.

Sunday, November 23

critter.

Saturday, November 22

In search of something to do this evening besides sit around the apartment watching my laundry dry, I saw Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

I am pretty much a sucker for the Implausible Scenario Romantic Wish Fulfillment Comedy.

It was pretty great.

Friday, November 21

Old Crow Medicine Show ticket

Thursday, November 20

I like webcomics. I'm not equipped to offer any kind of authoritative history or critique of the medium, because I get bored way too easily, but I really like webcomics. It is pretty clear to me that we're in some kind of Golden Age for the things.

Ok, actually, I don't give a crap about webcomics per se. I like comic strips. It's just that almost all of the really interesting ones are on the web now, where you can swear and know things about math and make quasi-Victorian robot porn, and you don't have to fight for space with the fossilized remains of Blondie or the lingering horror that is Cathy.

All you really have to do is make a comic strip, and people will probably read it. I'll bet this isn't exactly a bed of roses for producers, because making comics is suspiciously like work, and if you don't give your stuff away for free people are pretty much going to blink a couple of times and click their way over to Penny Arcade instead, and in order to continue eating regularly you probably have to either be really good at selling swag that no one (strictly speaking) needs or you had better hang on to that day job.

But it sure is a pretty great time to read webcomics. It's probably the best time to be a person who loves comic strips since whenever it was that people read Gasoline Alley and Prince Valiant on purpose. This could be the closest thing that actually exists to that story about the Internet coming along and resurrecting through democratization a medium long held hostage by a bunch of short-sighted, censorious, rent-collecting swill merchants.

Here's a disorganized and incomplete list of some comics I read or have read. Some of them might not be very good, many of them are awesome, a few might not even exist any more.

There's a fuzziness in whether some of these properly constitute "strips" or something closer to incrementally updated "books", but I think the reason that stands out for me is that I'm approaching this all as someone who came to comics through Calvin & Hobbes and Bloom County, rather than The Uncanny X-Men or whatever. I suppose if you take newspaper strips/panels and comic books as the basic structural poles of (American, mainstream) comics, then lots of webcomics gravitate towards a hybrid form where:

  1. Things that would once maybe have been newspaper strips now have archives to provide context and a more focused readership, so by default they can get away with heavier continuity and substantially more self-reference.
  2. Things that would once maybe have been books or self-contained graphic novels now get released to the public at a pace and in chunks that're closer to the daily or weekly newspaper comic.

Man, I should shut up before I make any more unsupported assertions.

Tuesday, November 18

So I was just thinking about this in the shower, and it came to me that the real connection between J.R.R. Tolkien and Led Zeppelin is not half a dozen lyrical references and thematic appropriations.1 It is that, in the end, each created a massively popular set of cultural artifacts, exerting enormous influence on entire generations of cultural producers — and that, to date, the bulk of their obvious impact on subsequent art has been pernicious.

1 Regardless of whether you think that "The Battle of Evermore" is a fine and fitting evocation of certain narrative moments, or an annoying piece of twee dorkitude.

Thursday, November 13

You ever have one of those days where you're up to your eyeballs in bush-league technology problems, and you think man, I should have just gone to Virginia to hear some bluegrass, get a little high, and spend a week helping Abe drive his new ride back to Colorado?

Well, I'm having one of those days.

Tuesday, November 11

11/11

It occurs to me that everyone I've talked to who could remember the Armistice firsthand is gone now.

a (reformatted) transcription of recent notes on AM radio

Coast to Coast.
Newsradio 850 KOA.
Bad love songs.
The sexual utopia
ESPN.

The BBC on NPR.
Quality Christian radio.
Hemorrhoids.
Fox News
"Barack Obama presses on..."
"Senator John McCain continues his road to victory."
Pollsters are confused.
Ted Stevens found guilty on all counts.

Faith in Jesus' blood.

Mostly clear and a low of 36.
Groups who should be immunized.
"Son, underaged drinking is dangerous."
Willie Nelson.

A time of jubilee is coming!

New improved version of the famous infra-red heater...

Risk free for 60 days.
There is no other way to heaven.
"I'm tired of Obama thinking the American people are stupid."

America, I love you.

Monday, November 10

somewhere in hell, a winged pig is shivering

Here is the World-Herald's piece on Obama picking up Nebraska's 2nd district.

Friday, November 7

why i am glad we have ron paul

H.R. 3835: To restore the Constitution's checks and balances and protections against government abuses as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. (Here's the thomas.loc.gov entry, full text available both places).

A lawyer I ain't, and maybe there are tactical problems with the shotgun approach, but I just read the whole thing (go ahead, it's short) and it sure looks like a fine idea.

blinking

I went to an Arduino workshop at SparkFun the other night. Arduino is a platform for experimenting and building stuff with electronics. It offers a simple IDE and a C/C++ dialect related to Wiring and Processing. You write some code, then hit a couple of buttons to compile it and transfer the resulting binary to a microcontroller.

If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, this is all way simpler than it sounds. The stuff we did involved manipulating the buttons, lights, and buzzer on (pretty much) the Simon game we built last month.

This turns out to be quite a bit of fun. The simple hardware makes for kind of an immediate, tactile vibe to the whole process, and there's a certain conceptual freedom in controlling the behavior of a little cluster of blinking lights instead of, you know, a keyboard + monitor + web browser. It reminds me a little of playing with HyperCard or QBasic, back when computing still felt like a question of "what can I make this thing do?"

Technology people have been lamenting the absence of a really good entry-level hacking environment for a long time now, and although the complaint is partly built on simple nostalgia, it's got some merit. Despite the much better free tools available these days, and the sheer number of computers floating around, I think lots of kids don't get much exposure to that real gut-level "hey I can make it light up, what if..." mode of thinking. A platform like Arduino could go a long way towards filling that niche, especially if it was used in schools, and especially if it was treated more like an art medium than another step-by-step procedural assignment.

Thursday, November 6

recently

So I wasn't being very coherent about voting and so forth the other afternoon. What can I say? I'm not all that used to projecting optimism, let alone the hope that change-for-the-better might somehow move through the channels of the American electoral process. I think there's plenty of time to revisit the argument for a selective willingness to participate in the machinery when it really matters, and the argument that it does matter, sometimes. Right now - I can't remember the last time I wasn't just angry and sad about my country, nevermind happy and grateful.

For quite a while I've held the simple (and probably obvious, outside of punditry and the Republican-by-default bloc) view that the best realistic expectation for this election was an Obama victory. The United States of America was never in any danger of electing a politician like Dennis Kucinich to the presidency, or indeed of really acknowledging his existence, and at least Obama was smart, informed, and meaningfully removed from the howling madness of the last decade.

But something happened in the last few weeks or days. Something crystallized that was about more than an expression of disgust with a vile, incompetent, and widely unpopular regime. Something that was about considerably more than the choice of a lesser evil. For a moment, at least, it was apparent how much better we can be. I'm not sure what happens now, and I'm still not harboring any illusions: The moment will pass, and Proposition 8 alone is enough of a reminder that the America of hate-and-fear has hardly left us. But I do not think this moment itself will turn out to be an illusion.

regional transportation district poem #1

waiting

bus stops and airports
in line for the movie that time
(you know they tore it down
and built a parking lot?)
arrivals and departures

for my girl to come
like in that song
by built to spill

for election day
for a revolution in human affairs
the return to normalcy
a rapture an apocalypse
armageddon

for the three-day weekend
for the chorus to come on back
around

Wednesday, November 5

God damn right.

Monday, November 3

situational ethics

Ok, so I'm going to say it: if you are an American citizen, I think you would be doing both your own country and pretty much the entire rest of the world a good turn by voting for Barack Obama, if you haven't already.

Look, I'm not buying in. I have friends who are convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that the whole game is rigged. Corrupt, corrupt, from the bottom to the top. A lot of days I can't help agreeing with them, and more often than not our only really disagreement is about the competence and unity of the machinery. I am not operating under an assumption that American democracy is anything but a disaster-in-progress, or that an outcome favorable to the slightly less reprehensible political party is going to resolve our big fat structural problems or most of the cultural ones. I don't have any illusions about the ability of any person in this thing to remain uncompromised. I see little reason to think that electoral outcomes in this country are not subject to considerable manipulation.

But here is a fact: There are a whole hell of a lot of people dead who would still be alive if George W. Bush had never taken office. They are not dead because of regrettable necessity. They are not dead because of a stroke of bad luck. They are dead because of arrogance and ignorance and cruelty and greed and corruption and indifference. They are dead because the wrong people were in power.

And if you think it doesn't matter, you're wrong.

You know what I want? I want a world without states, without borders, and without armies. I want locality and individual freedom and community and a civilization that takes care of people and treats the world as a place to live instead of a bottomless fuel tank, that treats people as persons and not so much fuel. Maybe all of this is a bullshit hippie pipe dream. I suspect that it doesn't really matter to this argument if my ideals are anarchic, libertarian socialist, or just kind of inclined towards everybody getting healthcare and having more vacation days and better beer. (I can admit it: This isn't even an argument in any meaningful sense.) What matters is, more or less, whether I'm willing to accept either or both of it has to get worse before it can get better and it doesn't make any difference.

I'm not, really.

We are not going to have a world revolution tomorrow, or the day after that, or just as likely any time this decade or the next. There's precious little evidence that if we did, we'd know what to do with it. What we will have tomorrow is an opportunity to tip the scales in the direction of sanity and decency. It's not much, but it's one small thing. And at this scale, small things matter.

 

While I'm at it, if you're in Colorado and you don't touch a single other box on the ballot, please go out and vote no on 48.