tuesday, november 30

there are one and a half hours left in national novel writing month

brennen@eris 22:32:59 ~/p1k3/archives/2010/11 $ dict surrender -d moby-thes

1 definition found

From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0 [moby-thes]:

  242 Moby Thesaurus words for "surrender":
     abalienate, abalienation, abandon, abandonment,
     abatement of differences, abdicate, abdication, abjuration, abjure,
     abjurement, accommodate, accommodation, accordance,
     acknowledge defeat, acquiesce, adjust, adjustment, alien, alienate,
     alienation, amortization, amortize, amortizement, appeasement,
     arrangement, assign, assignation, assignment, award, awarding,
     bargain, bargain and sale, barter, beg a truce, bequeath,
     bequeathal, bestowal, bestowment, capitulate, capitulation, cease,
     cede, ceding, cession, circulate, come across with, come to terms,
     commit, communication, comply, compose, composition, compound,
     compromise, concede, concession, confer, conferment, conferral,
     consign, consignation, consignment, contribution, convey,
     conveyance, conveyancing, cop out, cop-out, crumble, cry pax,
     cry quits, deal, deed, deed over, deeding, deliver, deliver over,
     deliverance, delivery, demise, desertion of principle, desist from,
     devolve upon, disgorge, dispensation, dispense with, disposal,
     dispose of, disposition, distribute, do without, donation, drop,
     dropping out, duck responsibility, dump, dumping, endowment,
     enfeoff, enfeoffment, entrust, evade responsibility,
     evasion of responsibility, exchange, forgo, forgoing, fork over,
     forsake, forswear, forswearing, forward, furnishment,
     get along without, get rid of, getting rid of, gifting, give,
     give and take, give away, give in, give out, give over,
     give title to, give up, give way, give-and-take, giving, giving in,
     giving over, giving up, giving way, go down, go fifty-fifty,
     go under, grant, granting, hand, hand down, hand in, hand on,
     hand out, hand over, handing over, have done with, impartation,
     impartment, implore mercy, investiture, kiss good-bye, lay down,
     lease and release, leave, leave off, letting go, liberality,
     make a deal, make a sacrifice, make an adjustment,
     make concessions, make over, meet halfway, mutual concession,
     negotiate, offer, part with, pass, pass on, pass out, pass over,
     play politics, pray for quarter, presentation, presentment,
     provision, quit, quitclaim, reach, reach a compromise, recant,
     recantation, recedence, recession, release, relinquish,
     relinquishment, render, render up, renounce, renouncement,
     renunciation, resign, resignation, retract, retraction, retreat,
     riddance, sacrifice, sale, say uncle, sell, settle, settle on,
     settlement, settling, sign away, sign over, spare,
     split the difference, strike a balance, strike a bargain,
     submission, submit, subscription, succumb, supplying, swear off,
     swearing off, take the mean, throw up, trade, trading, transfer,
     transference, transferral, transmission, transmit, transmittal,
     turn in, turn over, turn up, turning over, understanding, vacate,
     vesting, vouchsafement, waive, waiver, white flag, withdrawing,
     yield, yield the palm, yielding

Monday, November 22

8190 words since October 26.


I was reading back, and I started thinking "what is the difference between repeating yourself and revisiting a theme?"


When I was somewhere in my early teens, somebody — I think it was my buddy Mike, but it might have been a teacher or librarian — gave me a copy of Pawn of Prophecy, the first novel in David Eddings' Belgariad.

The Belgariad is (TOTALLY PREDICTABLE SPOILER ALERT) a pile of novels about a farm boy who unbeknownst to himself is really the chosen one and must fulfill his secret royal legacy while hanging out with sorcerers, a witty thief, a hot willful redheaded dryad princess, and a bunch of other mass-market Fantasy archetypes. After the first five books, Eddings1 pumped out five more with the same characters, shuffled things around a bit for a six-book run in a different but equally derivative universe with magical colored rocks, and then rehashed the backstory of the first two series from the perspective of his Gandalf standins Old People With Magic.

I read almost all of this stuff. I have forgotten many details, but it helps in commenting that everything after the first couple of books was essentially the first couple of books over again. Most of the names and incidents have gone missing from memory, but the flavor of the whole enterprise remains largely intact.

If it seems like I'm not very impressed by the late Mr. Eddings as a literary stylist or an original thinker, well, let's let Danny Yee take it for a moment:

David Eddings employs the usual fantasy stereotypes to perfection, with a collection of different characters on a quest, an assortment of magical items, and the clash of good and evil all pulled together in a simple and smoothly flowing narrative. The plot is so predictable there's no point giving it away — not just predictable in the sense of unoriginal, but predictable in that one could just about write the outlines for the last four books in each series after having read the first.

Eddings' characters are completely one-dimensional. They seem to have been created the way characters are created in some role-playing games, by amalgamating an assortment of attributes and character traits; there is no unitary vision of an individual anywhere. … Perhaps most worryingly, there is nothing in the entire series which will make anyone think; nothing happens that might disconcert the reader even a little.

This, and the rest of Yee's review, are sound judgment. On the other hand, perhaps the man is a little harsh. There's no doubt that Eddings' work is morally vacant, creatively shallow, and entirely unchallenging. This is not the Fantasy you go to Tolkien for. I remember liking those one-dimensional characters, and enjoying the time I spent wrapped up in their cardboard universe, but there's very little here to take up permanent dwelling in a reader's heart — unless it's a fading echo of some greater idea. Still, I doubt it's done most of its readers any lasting harm. And Eddings did accomplish something I can respect in the process of churning out all this formula: A lot of people read his stuff, and he made a living out of it. (If the amount of money he left his alma mater when he died last year is any indication, he seems to have made a considerably-better-than-average living.)


There is a lot of shit talked these days about writers like Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. It's almost entirely deserved — these are people who've ridden a torrent of bad prose and worse ideas to massive popularity, and it's always kind of annoying to watch this happen.

But, ok, I have thought for a while: If I was convinced I had whatever it is that it takes to produce several thousand pages of terrible, unoriginal novels intermixed with that strange, near-magical quality of readability that sells millions and millions of copies?

I would start that project like right now.


1 And apparently his wife Leigh, who was uncredited on early works but eventually started getting her name on covers.

Saturday, November 20

1:37pm. My sole intention for the weekend is to do nothing whatever in furtherance of my day job. I find that I am able to get just past noon before relapsing, and I manage to repress the impulse after only a few minutes. Clearly this is progress.

We indeed put up the new sparkfun.com on Tuesday morning, and the smoke is starting to clear, though a couple of things are still more broken than they ought to be. Despite the fact that the site looks much the same as it has for ages now, I guess the change represents and encapsulates everything of any magnitude I've accomplished in the last few years.

I just started working part-time at Sparkfun Electronics. It is by far the most SFnal work environment I have had (in the Robert Heinlein Engineering Story sense), although my responsibilities are in the relatively mundane fields of web applications and busted-ass workstations.

When I wrote that, SFE was 40-some people in a quarter of an office building. I'd just been laid off by that doomed startup, and was failing badly at the whole independent contractor bit. I saw this ad on craigslist, and I thought well, this sounds pretty mad scientist, maybe I want to work for these people. I came on for 20 hours a week to do desktop support on the cheap (everything was on the cheap) and hack some PHP.

Within a couple of weeks, I found myself without much in the way of permanent domicile outside of a high-mileage Toyota. I may or may not have slept in my broom-closet-sized office for a while before moving into quasi-temporary charity digs in a former co-worker's basement. I figured at that point I was going to stay in Boulder County until Christmas or so, just long enough to save up for a plane ticket the fuck out of the country.

Three years on, SFE takes up the whole building. There're a hundred people there now, at least. The IT department that used to be two of us faking it has turned into nine of us who know a fair amount about what we're doing. I spend a lot more time writing code than I do replacing the burnt-out power supplies on crappy bottom-shelf desktop PCs. We're doing a thousand orders every couple of days. I started an IRC channel on a whim a while back, and now a couple hundred people idle there most days.

The company makes less money in a year than some smaller groups burn through in investment dollars, but therein the crux: We make that money. Real stuff goes out the door to real people. Rent gets paid and groceries put on tables. People are getting married and having babies. None of this is predicated on a series of frantic lies to potential benefactors about a product that will never exist and wouldn't be worth anything if it did. We are making it up as we go along, but bit by bit we've learned how to get a lot of it right. It all still feels something like a Heinlein Engineering Story, albeit one with more metalheads and stoners and hippie freaks.

SparkFun has had its reversals and mistakes. It has got its discontents. There's an ethical & aesthetic mingling here with the anarchic & communitarian stuff that first drew me to Free Software, which surely matters, but I still wonder constantly what the hell I'm doing at a successful business, participating in some story about entrepreneurial drive, market dynamics, and a good brand identity. After all, one reality is that I pay my rent on the steady flow of cheaply manufactured goods from places with low wages, weak labor rights, and few environmental safeguards. I'm too lousy a capitalist to feel unimplicated by that.

On the other hand, everything is compromised. If my only apologetic is that, in the complicated and problematic world of technology, at least I work on the side of voiding warranties, crazy nerds in garages, and teaching children to take things apart — well, maybe that's good enough. For now.

Friday, November 19

In the immortal words of J. Lewis, some days last longer than others.

Thursday, November 18


Monday, November 15

All right, deep breath. Approximately midway through the month of November, I am sitting on about 7 thousand words. This is some literal tens of thousands away from where I should probably be if I were going to hit that 50k.

Defeat is in the air.

I got a trade paperback copy of Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers in the mail today. Those quotes have been bumping around in my head for years now, but I've never actually read the book. I did the first eleven pages on the bus home.1

It promises to be exactly the kind of novel I'll one day describe in a series of stoned conversations as "intense".

—You lousy fucker, how many times, five or six?
—Ah, grief makes us precise!

Anyhow, it's past time I was in bed instead of sitting here cranking out this drivel. In the morning we're going to deploy a completely rewritten version of the SparkFun site and hack frantically on everything that subsequently breaks. Once the smoke clears, I plan on noticing that my life's entire focus has become insanely reductive and narrowed, then resuming my existential freakout. This might be worth some amount of prose.

1 Eleven pages isn't much. I may have been a little preoccupied by the presence of one of those really beautiful women who no one who is not a total creep or already her boyfriend ever actually talks to on the bus, though you might briefly entertain the idea that she could get off at your stop and somehow this would occasion a conversation. Between this kind of thing, crazy people, and highschool kids loudly discussing strains of marijuana, I don't get a lot of reading done on the bus.

Friday, November 12


Thursday, November 11


Wednesday, November 10

the obvious

It sucks being a member of a captive constituency in a political system where a whole range of serious concerns and desperately important ideas are cut off from all representation at scale because the big picture demands solidarity (or at least collaboration) with the most conscionable side that stands any real chance of winning.

Of course, it's possible that the more thoughtful sort of white supremacist feels this way roughly as often as do, say, the pot-smoking some-time libertarian socialist or the gay hippie with an education degree.

Tuesday, November 9

And now, I give you the coat of arms of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands:

...courtesy Wikimedia Commons and some anonymous genius.

Monday, November 8

So about writing: What is the point of this exercise? I don't mean just this writing, but I'm also not asking about the basic utility of literacy itself. John Zerzan I ain't. For simplicity's sake, I'll limit the inquiry to writing that isn't purely conversational or basically utilitarian — writing undertaken, if not to address a general audience, then at least with a view to an audience of sorts. And my question is, well, why bother?

There's a real tendency (or maybe I should say temptation) to view this as a post-literary age, if not a post-literate one. It's been the era of television now for about as long as my parents have been alive. The developed world lives in the shadow of funny cat pictures and YouTube. Homeless guys watch porn on the public computers at the library while book collections slowly wither in the face of shrinking budgets and confused administrations. Newspapers and magazines are dying. The businesses of publishing, journalism, and full-time authorship are all from a certain angle looking about as shaky as the livery stable business must have been a century ago.

None of this is irrelevant, exactly, but I think it helps a lot of people to the wrong conclusions. The technology and the culture of writing are in the middle of a comprehensive upheaval, sure. But without doing the slightest amount of research, I'm going to hazard a guess that more text has probably been written since the introduction of the personal computer than during the entire duration of recorded history before then.1

To borrow a phrase, the volume of writing today is enormous. There's no easy place to divide that continuum between the "merely" conversational and the public/published/professional — every Facebook message between former or future lovers is a kind of performance, after all, and I've come to suspect that most writing with a mass audience has more personal targets than collective ones — but it has to be admitted that there's a vast, staggering, literally incomprehensible amount of writing intended to be read by thee and me. Or at least by people like us, for reasons that might be ours.

Everywhere you look, a sea of the stuff. Articles, columns, journals, blogs, comments, forums. Opinion, criticism, analysis, reporting, narrative, interviews, Q&As, reviews, sketches, essays, memetic horseplay2, flamewars, HOWTOs, encyclopedic broadsides and encyclopedia edit wars. Listserv discourse, e-mail forward chains. etc. ad infinitum/nauseum.

Part of this is simple: The Internet took over the world, and now the entire world is the September That Never Ended, in all its horror and occasional glory. But this is itself a symptom of something more fundamental. There are more of h. sapiens right now than there have ever been. We're part of a civilization that supports hundreds of millions with time to kill and lives full of electronics. There's a pretty good Mamet line about people who can tell stories being given dispensation from hauling wood and carrying water. The present reality is more that a bunch of people were given that dispensation a while ago so that they could work sitting down in buildings and watch a lot of television, and then some technology came along that would let them spray prose all over the place if they felt like bothering. Inevitably some of them did.

And while I maintain that Sturgeon was an optimist, this is not exactly a dismal state of affairs. A certain fraction of this stuff — and whether it's one percent or one part-per-billion, it is still more than you will ever even have time to skim — is really good. There are novelists and poets and essayists and reporters working today who are probably just about as good as anyone who has ever lived.

So the crux of it is this: What exactly can you possibly hope to accomplish by adding to the global slushpile?

I don't mean what can you hope to accomplish by writing a letter about the weather to your grandma, or a manual for the engine you just designed, or a hundred pages of heartfelt joy/desolation/boredom/whatever in the journal you keep by your bed. The utility of all this is apparent to me.3 It's more that it feels pretty hard to defend the idea that anyone Out There needs your novel, your collection of poems, your essay on the Rolling Stones, your detailed breakdown of just what is wrong with the the Democratic Party these days. There might be a Shakespeare or a Li Po in this generation, but you aren't him. If what you say is good or true or interesting, someone else still said it better yesterday and another someone is likely going to say it better tomorrow. Almost no one will ever read your work, and of the handful who do, most will only be looking for a place to hang some screed in response. It's one thing to quietly sketch these things for yourself, or work them out with a friend, but another altogether to project them, in their near-certain inanity, into all the noise and numbing profusion of the present discourse-cum-screaming-match.

On the other hand, Leonard Cohen:

If an unpublished poet discovers one of his own images in the work of another writer it gives him no comfort, for his allegiance is not to the image or its progress in the public domain, his allegiance is to the notion that he is not bound to the world as given, that he can escape from the arrangement of things as they are.

Beautiful Losers

Trying to publicly write out a sense of futility about writing in public is a good exercise in remembering why you do it in the first place. Or maybe not exactly in the first place. (When I started doing this I was a kid in high school with a bunch of short-shelf-life obsessions, we all thought the Internet was the Revolution, and I can no longer quite remember why I did anything.) But let's say why I've kept it up for 12 or 13 years.

You can understand writing a lot of ways. Importantly, as a way to reason and feel your way to some new state. A way to transmit this or that idea. A way to preserve the data of experience. But what subsumes and contains all that, I think, is that writing is an act: a motion, an undertaking, an assault on the arrangement of things. An assertion of the ego and an unbinding, however temporary, imperfect, or ultimately illusory, from the given world.

All of that can happen in various degrees of privacy. A lot of it is better left where it won't be so humiliating in the morning. But I've come to feel that the real work is more often than not the work that you attempt with and for (and often enough in opposition to) other people. Good musicians, by and large, play a lot with other musicians. The best play for a crowd, for and to an audience. In almost every field there are levels you will never reach unless you're already struggling to meet demands that are presently beyond you, approaching problems you're unequipped for. In technical circles, around people who make things generally, there is always the implicit question: Well, what have you done?

I'm not sure I have a good answer yet, but I'm starting to have an idea of what it looks like to work on one.

1 All right, I don't know how you'd even begin to quantify this, but someone must have ideas. Douglas Engelbart demoed the computer mouse and collaborative text editing, among other things, in 1968. Let's round up from there to 1970, the year of the Unix epoch, and use that as our dividing line. It's earlier than "personal computers" were available to the masses, but if you wanted to locate the historical moment when computer environments began to shape the literary world, you could probably do worse.

Ok, so is it terrifically far-fetched to think that the last 40 years have produced a greater volume of text than the 5000 or so before that? Maybe. Maybe even probably. I would welcome any pointers to relevant sources.

2 Substitute "horseshit" as-needed.

3 In order: In a given lifetime, there's a fair chance you should write to your grandmother(s) at least 3 times as often as you do, and if you can't write about the weather, you've already lost. Civilization hangs by the thin thread of a small residuum of usable documentation. If you put it in your journal, there's some hope you'll spare the rest of us hearing about it.

Sunday, November 7

It's Sunday afternoon and there are five of us upstairs at SparkFun.

I'm trying to work out a better way to map URLs like http://www.sparkfun.com/products/666 to the underlying code that (in this example) generates a view of a product. I keep rewriting this because my first effort was too complex to begin with and now I can't break the behavior because everything else relies on it.

Casey is sorting out the way the checkout process is supposed to gripe at you if you put in a bad address or credit card or what-have-you.

Dave is trying to build a better interface for editing the pages where we explain (in carefully worded sentences which almost no one will ever actually read) things like how one goes about returning a defective product.

Pearce is reading something technical with footnotes, and occasionally swearing.

Brad was grappling with some database schema or another, earlier. Now he's moved on to making custom fake Magic: The Gathering cards featuring various people in the room.

I keep scribbling things on paper and scratching them out, getting up to draw diagrams on the windows and getting distracted halfway there. Outside the glass, just past a foreground of office-park bullshit, there is as usual the kind of view that people in other places hang on walls. Something that's almost a storm has moved down over the foothills and is now dissipating across the valley to the north of us. A huge double rainbow to the northeast has just faded out. It's getting dark. I can hear keyboards, case fans, and the occasional tick of a small servo motor moving a dial to display the current load on our web server.

Against this backdrop, I can't decide if this is a vignette of grinding nerdery — a minor litany of stuff none of us would be doing right now if there was a girl waiting at home — or just a sign that we're all engaged, like it or not, in some process larger than ourselves. I guess this isn't exactly a binary proposition. You start to build a thing and it takes over huge chunks of your life. These are mundane efforts, but from any one of them you can extrapolate a small world, and because you can I'm not sure any of us have much choice as to whether we will. This is how it becomes dangerous to get more than a couple of us in a bar at once. You inevitably wind up with a jargon-laced collapse into some highly ramified but ultimately incoherent group tirade about problems of representation and expression.

Saturday, November 6


We found a couple more abandoned mines today.

I've read more than few pieces of genre fiction mythologizing mining in the West, but I've realized lately that I'm almost totally ignorant of the real history and technology. Still, I've gotten a lot better at recognizing the physical profile of the actual sites. Around here it seems to consist, approximately in the order they're usually encountered, of:

  • Decaying log cabin.
  • Big pile of stuff. (Waste rock, tailings, etc.)
  • Remnants of mechanism(s) for piling and/or smashing stuff.

  • Intimidating signage.
  • Hole in ground where stuff used to be.

In this part of the state, at least, the hole tends to have been filled in, collapsed, or sealed. Frequently by a state agency whose publications have a strong flavor of STOP THAT YOU ARE GOING TO FALL IN A HOLE AND DIE. I spent a fair amount of time as a kid falling through various components of rotting wooden agricultural buildings, which leads me to guess that their stated feelings on the matter have some basis in fact. Or at least a basis in not wanting to extract tourists with busted ankles from holes in the ground.

Friday, November 5

It's getting on towards midnight. We've given up on playing pool in seedy bars, and have moved on to sitting around in Ben's apartment playing with a pile of rare-earth magnets and ranting about jazz records, Pandora's recommendation algorithm, and whether it's possible for evolutionary processes to solve problems that aren't amenable to formal proof (or something like that). At some point, we may or may not drift into the territory of P=NP, one concept in a family of concepts in an entire discipline or two about which I am manifestly unqualified to comment. None of this will make any sense in the morning anyway.

Thursday, November 4

3951 words in, with the late October cheating. Approximately. Which leaves me at about half of what I ought to be at.

My fallback position for not knowing how to write about anything is writing about how hard it is to write. It's way too early in the month for that one, I suppose, but then again if I'm going to break it out at all I might as well just get it out of the way now.

Not very long ago, I was an undergraduate in History with a drinking team and a frisbee habit.1 It couldn't exactly have been a very demanding program, given that I got all the requirements in a couple of years and graduated with decent grades. What I recall though is that I used to routinely grind out these little 5 and 10 page papers in a night of furious and sometimes mildly intoxicated typing. They weren't exactly good — you don't have to read very many undergraduate papers to know that the only reason I got respectable grades for this crap is that the vast majority of 18-to-24-year-olds at your average state research institution are one tiny notch above functionally illiterate — but still and all, I'm pretty sure I've lost some kind of edge since then.

Maybe it's just that if I don't manage to meet my arbitrary wordcount goal for the night, nobody at all is going to be looking extremely disappointed while I bullshit excuses and ask for extensions. Maybe I just need more quiet judgment and tacit condemnation in my life.

Apropos of the other night's muddled ranting about Halloween costumes, I got to work this morning and Eric pointed me at a new interview with Berkeley Breathed, the man responsible for Bloom County. Here is the bit about deadlines:

RUSSELL: You've talked at length about your deadline insanity in "Bloom County"'s early days -- epic all-nighters, finishing comics on the plane ride over to the syndicate, etc. Did a passenger sitting next to you on a plane ever freak out to see you speed-drawing in the air?

BREATHED: They were understandably intrigued, and often peppered me with questions while I tried to work. Not so interestingly, it was usually "What's it like to be a cartoonist?" An impossible question to answer -- even while one isn't on deadline trying to ink on a piece of 28-inch-wide paper balanced on a 14-inch-wide airline table while going through thunderstorms over St. Louis. I remember answering it with, "Well, what's it like to be a nose picker?" It made no sense, but that was the point, and they'd usually go quiet until Washington. The good ol' days.

Breathed goes on to say that he got better at this with time ("After 20 years, it simply became too embarrassing to seem that much of a juvenile dolt about deadlines."), but I've got this sense that a general air of temporal madness and sleepless terror must be a huge chunk of the syndicated/daily cartoonist lifestyle for anyone who doesn't approach the thing with machine-like dedication. Then again, maybe everyone who can't ramp up to machine-like dedication washes out of the thing early.2

Comics, mostly in the form of newspaper strips3 and collections of same, are kind of important to me. If I were writing some kind of intellectual autobiography, I might start with Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, or Peanuts.


Interlude: I walk to the Southern Sun with Paul for $1 tacos and a couple of beers. This is what passes for a bar special in Boulder. And actually it is one of the better ones. They're pretty good tacos for a buck, though I can't help thinking about those 25 cent tacos at Knickerbockers in Lincoln, the ones where you'd get 7 or 8 with the "hot" sauce and a couple with the "mofo" (from the much smaller jar) to kind of round things out, and you'd drink pitcher after pitcher of Old Style or Pabst while arguing about the geographic location of Wyoming or the merits of the rumored upcoming indoor smoking ban.


More about the funnies later.


1 Badum-tish.

2 These days, when almost all of the interesting new short-form comics are on the web and the funny pages have pretty well ossified into a collection of insipid postage-stamp ciphers and inertial remnants of all those franchises that didn't have the good fortune to die with their creators, we get exposed to a lot of artists who can't stand up to the kind of time pressure that the papers have always exerted. A lot of them produce really beautiful work. Our lingering collective understanding of cartooning as a deadline-driven business is probably a good part of the reason why a lot of them also produce reams of textual excuses for not working faster. To which I say: People, relax already.

3 And one-panel cartoons like The Far Side. Here I am going to acknowledge that there's supposed to be a distinction between comics (sequential, etc.) and one-panel cartoons. I've read Scott McCloud too. Smart guy. Now that we've got that out of the way, I'm going to ignore it because I don't have any theoretical axes to grind and either way I'm talking about little pictures with words.

Wednesday, November 3

It's Wednesday night and we're sitting in the Mountain Sun again.

I've been drinking here for something like five years now. They brew their own, and it's good stuff in general — strong and hoppy but not absurd on either front, the kind of beer I haven't tired of in half a decade and would probably miss a lot if I left town.

For a while, I worked for a doomed startup in a renovated house about a block from here. I would hit happy hour at the Sun three or four times a week, often to stand around by the bar with coworkers grousing about the staggering inanity of the job and the unmitigated sliminess of our employer.1 Very occasionally these days, depending on the phase of my haircut, someone will notice I'm just familiar enough to skip the Boulder-standard "can I take a look at your ID" ritual, which is about the highest level of recognition I ever expect from a given establishment.

I keep glancing nervously at the door because I recognized someone leaving on the way in, and so I halfway expect to see at least one person I can't really deal with talking to.2 As per usual it is almost, but not quite, too loud to sustain an actual conversation at the table. Dave and Ben are talking about snowboarding. Me and Casey are talking about the sort of extra-temporal sensation that arises from the additional day off in three-day weekends.3 We are resolutely not complaining about work, although we are mere days away from releasing a giant pile of code which will in all likelihood consume our every conscious moment and stalk our very dreams through at least the end of the year.

There are babies and small children everywhere. Most of their mothers are beautiful, in the long-haired glowing-face knit-cap flowing-skirt/yoga-pants way of Boulder young mothers. Their fathers seem, mostly, somewhere on a continuum between quietly happy and beer-induced tolerant. While Casey and Ben are out smoking cigarettes, I'm saying to Dave that I've realized lately I'm never likely to have children of my own and I kind of regret it. Never say never, says Dave.

I go to the john and pull some dollars out of the ancient ATM in the hallway. When I come back, some little kid a table over is throwing french fries4 at my bike bag. His parents are profusely apologetic about this for some reason, but when they depart in a few minutes they're still going to leave a pile of cold fries and shredded cardboard coasters on the floor for the waitstaff to clean up. I sense again that there are aspects of the parental experience I shouldn't regret missing out on.


1 Morbid curiosity compelled me, just now, to see if their domain still resolves to anything. Much to my surprise, it does, complete with some contributions of mine — things like notes for tourists on the accessibility of restrooms at long-closed spas in neighborhoods that no tourists ever visited to begin with, and bad correlations of doctored stock photography of beaches with dangerously inaccurate textual descriptions of other beaches. Some desperate little tangle of licensing agreements and dirty hacks must keep this animated corpse of a web application shambling along, a fragile monument to millions of dollars and tens of thousands of man hours pissed into the metaphorical wind.

2 Boulder's a small place, both geographically and socially. The remarkable thing after this long here isn't how often I encounter someone with whom my personal history is basically fucked; it's that it doesn't happen constantly.

3 "What should I write about tonight?" I've asked Casey, and he's started explaining this notion of how a day like Labor Day feels like it isn't quite happening. Like how, this Labor Day just past, when the Fourmile Canyon fire started and this massive, apocalyptic cloud of smoke rolled out over the city, he wondered at some point during the day whether it could really still be going on the next day, or if the events of Monday would basically vanish into the ether once ordinary routine resumed on Tuesday.

I can relate to this question. I'm pretty sure I've lived most of my life waiting for (or in another sense, lived most of my life inside of) those weird, unmoored border times. Christmas vacations, snow days, county fairs, last days of school, airports on the way to strange cities. Skipping class the day of the total eclipse. Drinking beers by the train tracks on graduation night. A Lincoln city park at 2am. A Christchurch beach at 8am in the rain.

4 Ok, look, a note about the fries: Don't do it. Pretty much every other item on the menu is fantastic. High-quality hippie bar food at entirely decent rates. Burgers, nachos, and burritos all among the best you'll find in the state. Vegetarians actually treated like they might want to eat something besides fried cheese. Fresh ingredients, good flavors, etc. The fries... They're a soggy mess.

Sorry guys. Don't hate me.

tuesday, november 2

i've been off the sauce lately
but i'm making an exception for election night

Monday, November 1


Tomorrow's an election day.

In 1992, I went trick-or-treating as a Bush-Quayle campaign sign. I wish I could tell you that at the age of 11, in a Northeast Nebraska town of under a thousand people, I had acquired the awareness to intend this as the kind of "it's scary ain't it?" commentary that runs through my head when I think about it now. Probably I was just parroting the attitudes of the adults around me.1

For the better part of that decade, Clinton was an object of almost comically hyperbolic loathing for most of the people I knew who were inclined to express an opinion, and I have to guess this had already taken effect before the election. Then too, the first Gulf War had not so long before set off a brief but intense wave of militaristic patriotism in middle America.2 Little Desert Storm stickers were everywhere, and kids came to school wearing shirts that featured Saddam Hussein's head centered in crosshairs. I remember watching the evening news and hating Hussein pretty fiercely, probably in part because of stuff about killing babies in incubators, and probably in part because it just seemed like I was supposed to hate the guy, whoever he was. My memory of the time is (mercifully) hazy, but I'm sure this all played some part in my decision to stump for such a pair of unpleasant dweebs.

A wiser 11-year-old would have paid more attention to all those collected Bloom County strips that inhabited our bookshelves, but I suppose the wisdom of 11-year-olds, such as it is, is seldom able to usefully focus on such subjects as national politics. Even with Bill the Cat as a guide. At least I was reading Bloom County.

Anyway: Go out and vote, you bums.

1 And, let's be honest here, angling for more candy. I always had an eye for the main chance, when it came to costume design.

2 Well, you know, more intense than usual.