Friday, October 26

technical notes for late october, or it gets dork out earlier these days

Read this:

  • Anno NTK - “from the people who gave you NTK: exactly the same thing, 15 years late.”

Worth investigating:

  • jq, a command line JSON processor.
  • dochub.io, quick documentation search for various web things.
  • circuits.io, PCB design sharing.
  • sqlsurvey
  • Zombie.js - “a lightweight framework for testing client-side JavaScript code in a simulated environment.”

Color schemes I am actually using:

  • Tomorrow Theme - Supports lots of editors. I particularly like the Tomorrow-Night variant.

Things we sell at work I’m actually playing with:

  • MaKey MaKey - Actually a decent starting point for an easy custom keyboard input device.

Sunday, October 21

So I picked up some things at one of the used bookstores over on Main last night - John Barnes' Kaleidoscope Century, Jo Walton’s The King’s Name, and Douglas A. Martin’s Your Body Figured. I really appreciated Barnes' A Million Open Doors a decade or so ago, so I read Kaleidoscope Century before I went to bed. This turned out to be not a great idea for either of falling asleep or waking up in a useful frame of mind.

(Spoilers follow.)

My advice to anyone else thinking about it: Yeah, don’t.

Coincidentally, the first review I found when I went looking this morning was by Jo Walton. I find it difficult to add much to her take, though she’s kinder to the work than I can really manage. It’s periodically smart, interesting, and scary where it feels plausible, but I don’t feel like any of this bears the weight of its sympathetic portrayal of a mass-murdering serial rapist with an on-and-off gig steering his civilization into anomie and general horror.

I’m willing to admit that this reaction may mark me an unsophisticated reader. It’s one I’ve been having more and more often lately to this or that cultural product. I decided to try some Iain Banks not all that long ago, because everyone seems to think that Banks is pretty much the cat’s pajamas. He may well be, but I gave up halfway through Consider Phlebas, which was inventive and contained interesting big ideas and still felt like its main offering was a dreary, grinding series of exercises in the construction of sadistic little set pieces full of shit and blood and purposeless agony.

Of course, the history of the human species as a whole is full of awfulness. You can’t even start to approach the reality of the 20th century, nevermind all those that came before it, without accumulating a sense of abject horror as one of the common denominators of human experience. Evil and madness are if not constants then at least certainties. It’s not that I don’t expect fiction (or art generally) to grapple with that reality, but I guess it starts to seem like deep, focused invocations of it outside the realm of documentation and history might need to be pretty goddamned extraordinary, transcendent, lucid pieces of art before they are really worth inhabiting as a reader.

Thursday, October 18

It’s late again. I am eating dry Cheerios by the handful and sitting on my couch messing around on the Internet.

A personal trajectory, re: what I am doing instead of sleeping when I really should be sleeping: I used to be reading a book, and now I am quite often aimlessly refreshing the same half dozen URLs.

This thing about books: When I was reading, I inhabited a place bigger than immediate circumstance. For better or worse, I spent my time as much in the experiential universe created by all those pages as I did in the objective structure of rural Nebraska. I still feel this way if I read in earnest now. I’ll finish a book and go around for days or weeks after with the nagging sense that something important has happened to me which I should tell everyone about.

This thing about the Internet: It too used to seem vast, something like the pages of a book with no discernible beginning or end. Or rather, something like the space inside of the experience of a book, of many books. It used to be a frontier, an unknown city full of the sound of construction, a series of doors opening onto strange corridors, a shifting surface through which other minds could be seen moving in realtime, could be approached and known.

The ‘net of 1996 was not a thousandth the physical size that it is now. It was probably not one millionth as big as it has become. It permeates, it suffuses, it attaches itself to every event and every physical place. It’s likely that before long average first worlders will actually be cognitively impaired in its absence.

And somehow, in this science fiction now, it all feels so small so much of the time. So flat and full of static. So shallow. Almost frozen.

What happened?

Monday, October 15

A miracle, in fact, means work

So maybe you hit a certain point in life, and you get kind of blindsided by the slightness, the sheer inconsequentiality, of everything you’ve ever accomplished.

Or maybe that’s not what happens to most people. Maybe most people are either building something they feel has got some real heft, or they just aren’t that interested in the question. It would certainly be easier to be disinterested.

Me, I am looking around, and I am thinking what exactly have I got to show for a decade and a half of being cognitively developed enough to string one word in front of another. (Or two function calls in a row, for that matter.) How different would it be if I made 80? What did I ever build while I knew how to swing a hammer? What type did I set, volumes bind, fences stretch, ditches dig?

I know it’s so much accumulation of dust, so much momentary sackcloth and ashes, at best. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair - all of that is pretty much a given. Probably it’s a fool who believes his work will last. But good Christ do I want to make something. To offer entropy a proper doomed resistance I guess: To feel like I moved in the world for a second or two. Like before all the nothing that comes I laid down something in the dirt, set the posts and leveled the frame and trued the joints.

I’d like to work like something could last.

Saturday, October 13

It's Saturday afternoon. It's cool outside, wet from sporadic daylong rain. The sun is going down fast over near the mountains and the clouds. Out here on the flat, when I get as far as stepping out of the door, there are dead leaves heaping up on my lawn and the smell of neighborhood woodsmoke, unnecessary at this temperature but no doubt comforting to someone in a ritual way.

I feel like hell. I am something like the inverse of high; not precisely sober or clearheaded; unparticularly filled with a certain disquiet, floating through the afternoon in one of those states that veers between physical unwellness and emotional desolation, certain that there are a hundred things it would be good to do and unable to rouse myself to doing any of them.

Some of this is no doubt crude chemistry. I got up midmorning and made a lot of strong coffee and drank all of it, then followed up, for no special reason, with a glass or three of bourbon. I used to do a lot more of this kind of thing, but it's tailed off this last year or two. I still drink too much, by any reasonable standard, but I cripple myself with it less than I used to. I'm pretty sure that most of the way I feel is just straight up depression, of the kind that you can get diagnosed and medicated for if you're so inclined.

I'm not really sure what to do about this. At 31, I am despite my own best efforts a technical professional with a steady gig, no significant material wants, and better health (for the moment) than I probably deserve, given a decade and a half of unwholesome living. I'm on good terms with my family. I like the people I spend my time around. I care a lot about my work and feel reasonably good at it. I live in one of the most beautiful and prosperous places in the country. There's a certain important sense in which I'm basically happy and fulfilled, and I don't harbor the faintest shred of an idea that I've got it bad in life — I'm a member of most of our society's basic privileged classes, and there's no real way in which I'm unfairly put upon or abused or even especially inconvenienced by anything I encounter in my day-to-day life.

It just happens that I feel bad all the time. Or more exactly that I feel bad when I'm not writing code, riding my bike, or hanging out with my friends. It's not constant, exactly, it's just constantly waiting for any moment I'm awake and stop moving long enough to notice it. It's in every weekend afternoon I spend at home alone and every solo interstate road trip and every 3am staring at my ceiling.

I know pretty well that this is a mental illness. My brain is just a certain kind of broken. It's not the kind of deep, escalating crazy that I've watched destroy a lot of other lives, at least not right now. I haven't wanted to die, even a little bit, in a long time. But I'm kind of tired of the whole thing. I'm tired of being tired of it. I really wish that it would stop, even as I've basically given up on the idea that any change in my life will do more than hold it at bay.

I know a lot of smart and well-intentioned people would tell me that I should just seek treatment. Maybe they're right. I'm just not all that keen on the idea. I've spent more time in the realm of therapy and diagnosis and pills than most people, and I can't muster any interest in going for a repeat ride. My life is divided, in memory anyway, into the time before I got an adolescent taste of what it's like to be well and truly inside the mental health system, and the time after that, when I had concluded that I would do very nearly anything necessary to avoid coming to its attention again.

 

The sun is down. I have gotten entirely sober, but may remedy that shortly. This concludes our confessional introspective blog bullshit portion of the evening.

 

I'm listening to this band called Trampled by Turtles. If you haven't heard of them, they are really pretty great. They play fast and tight and raw, something in the vein of a Split Lip or an Old Crow Medicine Show (bands whose work I love basically without reservation), but also entirely their own thing, and I have really been digging it since I was in Budapest in February and my good friend Levi turned me on to their stuff. Every one of their albums is just chock full of legitimate songwriting and playing-for-keeps playing.

2012 has been a shitty year for me and mine, in a lot of ways. We lost some people and it hurts like hell and I'm too aware of the fragility of everyone and everything else I've ever held dear. And this of course is the concrete reality once you make it out of your fortunate mid-20s alive. Everything is shot through with entropy and whatever you might gain, loss is this basic fact of the experience of survival, at least for as long as you've got memory, which is itself subject to constant attrition.

Music this year is something I can't complain about even the tiniest little bit. I heard so much good-to-great music this summer I don't even know where to start talking about it. I went to Red Rocks like four times. I saw Wilco for the first time since they were touring behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I'm somewhere in the sea of people in this Mumford & Sons video. RockyGrass had Trampled by Turtles on the bill, but it was also the second time I managed to see Punch Brothers this year, and then Ralph Stanley, a bunch of the McCourys, and the Seldom Scene, who are sort of quietly legendary. I danced myself into complete exhaustion there and later on at Kinfolk, with a bunch of other ridiculous and profoundly stoned hippies. I saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse play this loud beautiful drawn out guitar rock show. I heard Gordon Gano do "Blister in the Sun" as an encore at a really good Ben Kweller show, and Jeff Mangum do basically every Neutral Milk Hotel song. I walked around Winfield all high in the drizzling rain with the campground lights shining and the roadside jams and unamplified stages radiating the indescribable noise that only happens in places full of their own strange power, somewhere just outside the bounds of ordinary life.

This doesn't even touch all the recorded stuff that I had never known about before this year that is becoming part of my permanent internal soundtrack. There are entire kinds and families of music that I am only beginning to notice. Also it turns out that we live in a technological moment where I can basically hear anything I want to hear whenever I want to hear it, and where anyone who can scrape together like fifty bucks can gleefully indulge an impulse as absurd, on the face of it, as listening to a whole bunch of vinyl records. There's so much to listen to, so many avenues and frontiers and deep archival wells, that it's almost physically exhausting.

We are basically living in a golden age, is what I am trying to say. There is so much good shit. So much incredible shit. If you think that I am deluded, if you think that modern music that is being made right now just pales before some mythical lost golden moment, or that the dying spasms of pop radio somehow invalidate the unbelievable wealth of really good art being made, I want you to shut up for six months and listen to things and go to shows and hear people jam and get back to me. If you are still having a bad time by then, I will tell you to shut up because you are still wrong.

tuesday, october 9

i am a stateful machine
i exist in a manifold of consequence
a clattering miscellany of impure functions
and side effects

Wednesday, October 3

notes to my six-years-younger self

First, the left in America is going to be its own worst enemy not for as long as its most passionate constituents demand radical change, but for as long as they refuse to acknowledge real differences in likely outcomes.

If you believe in the good, and make an enemy of me because I prefer actually available incremental goods to actually likely evils, you are not advancing the values that we share. If you believe that your values will only be advanced when a catastrophic reversal of the actual, everyday good triggers a revolutionary overthrow of the existing dispensation, you are courting a lifetime of disappointment.

A Miller High Life is not a high-end single malt, but neither is ordering one at the bar at parity with huffing gasoline in an abandoned parking garage.