Friday, March 27

Allegedly, March is the snowiest month of the year in Colorado. I had been having doubts, until yesterday.

For some reason, I'm going to Texas for the weekend.

Does it seem to anyone else like I've been posting a lot of mopey, melancholic sad-bastard BS here lately? Here, I will draw a line in the metaphorical sand: I'm going to knock that off.

Thursday, March 26

philosiraptor.jpg.

Wednesday, March 25

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  o---x  o  x---o 
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      / x x \
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    o    |    o
     \ - o - /
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     `\  |  /'
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        `='
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         ^
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         `-.,_
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              + `-._
               `-.,_

Tuesday, March 24

Scott Aaronson, the complement of Atlas Shrugged:

Mulling over this question, I hit on an answer: I should look not at what's in the book—whose every word is perfect by definition, to true believers who define 'perfect' as 'that exemplified by Atlas Shrugged'—but at what's not in it. In other words, I should review the complement of the book. By approaching the donut through the hole, I will try to explain how, even considering it on its own terms, Atlas Shrugged fails to provide an account of human life that I found comprehensive or satisfying.

Monday, March 23

Questions: Is there a useful distinction between bad code, the way programmers experience it, and bad software, the way users experience it? If so, does the former nonetheless lead to the latter? How?

Guesses:

  • Bad code makes software hard to maintain. Programs and systems that can't keep up with the world are hard on their users. And hard on the people who have to hack them, who might be thought of as a special kind of user. (Sometimes, as with libraries and APIs, this distinction vanishes.)
  • Bad code has spiritual, moral, and intellectual inertia.
  • Bad code leads to software that's hard to build on — software which has unreasonable expectations, breaks on too many edge-cases, chokes on its own accidental complexity, and plays poorly with others.
  • Bad code models the world not so much incompletely (completeness is usually a fool's game) as pathologically. Incomplete models are often useful; pathological models determine people's lives & work for the worse.
  • Bad code doesn't attract as many contributors. (Or as smart a set of them.)

I would like to think that good code (in the sense of clean, coherent, comprehensible, correct, well-crafted) is necessary if not sufficient for good software. I'm not sure I can support that strong of an assertion about the relationship. Lots of useful (and even beloved) software is probably stunning in its tangled ugliness, just below the surface.

Sunday, March 22

I am fiddling with my bike. The front derailer1 has been refusing to push the chain over onto the outside chainring, prompting me (genius that I am) to crank way too hard on the shift lever and bend the derailer. In addition to its failure to shift, it now catches on the chainring itself and makes a horrible grinding sound. I have less mechanical aptitude than your average six year old kid, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to wreck something before I even start. Somehow I manage to disconnect the cable, remove and clean the derailer, and re-attach it slightly higher up the tube. After much riding back and forth on a nearby path, I even get the stop screw for the high gear adjusted. Suddenly I am much faster.

No doubt I will have forgotten something. Perhaps I will throw a chain in the middle of traffic and die flailing beneath the wheels of a family SUV driven by a horrified mother of two.2

 

In the meantime, I've got wheels again. I'm trying not to drive before Wednesday, because I have $10 in the bank until then and gasoline costs money.

If that sounds like the usual sort of complaint about being broke, it's not. In fact, whatever kind of shitstorm is going on in the broader economy, I'm personally as well off as I have been since I moved out of my parents house. I have a job that ranges between tolerable and I cannot believe how awesome this place is. It pays better than all of the ones I ever hated.

I'm not even close to wealthy by American standards (let alone in Boulder County terms), but it's not clear that those standards are very useful. The only reason I'm temporarily broke is that I just spent hundreds of dollars on basically unnecessary travel. This is the kind of thing you only get to do if you have more money than you need or a good plan for cadging resources at the other end.

I'm not sure how to feel about this state of affairs.

On one hand, I'm not interested in romanticizing being broke. There's a lot of cultural noise about the interconnectedness of poverty, youth, and freedom. There's some truth in these ideas; it isn't hard to notice that standard modes of accumulating wealth and security involve a laundry list of compromises and resignations. There's a reason that when you're being a worthless, drunken layabout of a student, piling up debt and earnestly misunderstanding everything on a diet of bar specials, you will meet these guys 10 years out of school with a pretty wife, a couple kids, and $65 or $100k a year who tell you that these are the best years of your life. There's also a lot of candy-coated bullshit. I've never been genuinely poor, but I've spent enough time struggling to make rent to notice that money stress is a fundamental corrosive of human happiness, sanity, and relationships. In a society built on the cash nexus, money stress is everywhere when you haven't got the stuff. Food, fuel, shelter, healthcare, transportation.

All else being equal, I'd rather have some money.

On the other hand, it seems like a bad idea to get used to this. If I get too comfortable with new clothes and well-stocked shelves and full gas tanks, I might just lose whatever edge I've got left. As it stands, I need all the help I can get. And shouldn't I be getting up to something else anyway?

 

1 Well, the quasi-French version is harder to spell anyway.

2 She'd be on her way home from a yoga session, having just stopped to pick the kids up from their private kindgergarten. John couldn't do it because he had to work late all this week. Something about getting his presentation ready for the big conference. In the back of her mind she wonders about that, but the emotional trauma of running me down would distract her for weeks afterwards, deferring the moment when all of John's guilty glances at his iPhone and unnecessarily evasive responses when she tries to make small-talk about the trivialities of his day suddenly gel into the shattering realization that he's been cheating on her for months.

It would be a fitting end, I suppose.

sunday, march 15

i wake up at noon or maybe one
go down for coffee
sun out, blue sky haze
brown grass by the railroad track
check the mail on the way back
it's empty again

so i haul a bag of books in to the library
mathematics and bicycle repair
downtown they've packed up the ice skating rink
and the thriftstore has been rearranged
tapes are 5 cents each by the counter

we pile the bottles and cartons in the recycling
and start to get drunk
in the late afternoon suburban glare
sitting outside stealing wireless from the neighbors
we watch the mailman come and go
there's still nothing in the box
the neighbors yell at their kids and each other
good christ i hate this place

we go for pizza and bring it back to the apartment
i put on rabbit songs
CarolAnn reads about old hollywood
i just listen to the music
and peel the label off my beer

go to bed and try to sleep until at three
i give up on my sleeping bag and go out
to the living room wide awake, stone sober
try to write, try to hack on something
but none of it will take
finally give in, find the discs full of
photos, and sit until the sun is up, paging
through 2005, 2006, 2007

in images and in-between the lines i read
christmases at home
snow on rusting trucks
blacktop roads through kansas
antique stores and dormitory hallways
gravel under the tires,
doing shots and smoking cigarettes
beers on the the carved up tabletops,
ashtrays and hazy neon signs
drumkits and shuffleboard
alcoholic bartenders
dead trees and foot-thick ice
guilty as hell and getting out
the las vegas airport, slot
machines and sharp black shadows on the floor
smoking up with isaac in the morning
the shining ocean, backyard tents
new zealand sunsets
old dogs campfires, little kids, card games
small rivers cold water the ragged hills
streets at night the waves and seabird sounds
america los angeles albany ohio indiana missouri nebraska
colorado
who hasn't heard this story
who gives a shit
it ends,
whatever it is
and if you live you find yourself
with a life you thought was defined
by something that isn't there any more
nothing gold can stay, ponyboy
cry us a river.

saturday, march 14

at the end of the last summer i
spent at home, i visited a friend
who was staying in a nearby town
he was working the phones at a collection
agency, waiting to go to jail for a while
i forget just exactly why

we bought some beer and went to
a house party he knew about
it was a theater crowd,
kids in the department
at the local community college
and probably some highschoolers
there was something kind of 19th-century
about the ones whose parents owned the house
like there is about most midwestern kids
in a place like that with a doomed passion for
some marginal art
she was an actress
her brother played piano and sang

it turned out a bunch of people there
had attended a fundamentalist christian
summer camp run for years by the family of
one of my few childhood friends

he had since moved to colorado
and i don't remember if i knew it at the time,
but not many days later i'd be driving out to grand junction
to see a girl i'd met at his wedding there the summer before

at the party, i wound up laying on a trampoline in the
back yard talking to someone for a long time
i've never been able to remember her name,
but she was smart and sympathetic, easier to
understand than most people i've met before or since

maybe it was just that she wasn't skinny or crazy
or maybe i was being kind of a chickenshit
but i didn't try to kiss her, which i have
since learned just enough to understand
would have been the correct thing
in fact nothing happened at all that night
my friend went from drunk to please-go-away drunk,
so we left
and i drove him home

that night was heavy with coincidence,
and, in a way, freighted with potential
it might have meant something
but it didn't
and as far as i know my life is no different
than it would be if i'd stayed home
to listen to led zeppelin
and drink beers in the garage
like i did most of that summer
for some reason though, it's stayed with me
i woke up the other day thinking about it

and how so much of life eventually
collapses into the static of the past
its significance muted and mutually excluded
by succeeding events and successive losses.

Monday, March 9

I'm not sure quite what it is, but there is something about Helen DeWitt's writing about the more-or-less mundane details of her daily life, as in this entry about her bicycle and staying in bed and software, which is very appealing.

Saturday, March 7

Levente's in town from Budapest. Today we tire of the suburban apartment and drive to Lyons to sit in the Barking Dog. It's been months since I was here. I reflect that things were better before I got it into my head to move into Boulder, away from the foothills and the elk and the dead grass and whatnot. Not in fact because I immediately lost my crappy job and my woman lost her mind and her interest in me, or any of that, but because somehow it was another movement away from a life I understood & wanted.

My working theory of the structure of life is that lots of us — maybe even most of us who live in a country like this one and have the social capital to go off to college or whatever — will accidentally encounter conditions that feel right and good, or at least Real, and under which we seem to express the best versions of ourselves. And it is natural to say well, I've encountered the Good Life now. Things will be different. I am my real self, I am more or less fully alive, and this simple discovery will animate the remainder of my days.

And then, of course, just as accidentally, the conditions of life change.

Thursday, March 5

But then, I thought, maybe the general public does need a way to satisfy itself that its musical tastes are more sophisticated than mine. So I went ahead and got me a Last.fm account.