Thursday, March 27

recent notes

Once you learn how to read it, it dawns on you that the vim documentation is a heroic achievement.

I think JavaScript’s modern ascendence is the first time I’m truly on the “but I wanted better!” side of the worse-is-better argument. (I ain’t talking shit about JavaScript so much as I’m feeling a premonition of obsolescence.)

It suddenly, for reasons I can’t quite explain, feels like a golden moment to be writing code.

I bet there were a lot of department secretaries with highschool diplomas in like 1983 who were totally cool with more Unix than your average freshly-minted Computer Science PhD is these days.

Sunday, March 23

Erik Winn was tall and skinny and had skin like tanned leather. He wore glasses and shaggy sweaters and tall leather boots. His teeth were terrible, until he had them all out and got dentures. He smoked constantly – hand-rolled cigarettes from a big can of American Spirit tobacco. He rolled more expertly and effortlessly than anyone else I have ever met. He drank coffee, slowly, all day long. He seemed to live on peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, now and then a baked good from Trident, where he was very nearly part of the physical structure of the place when he was living in Boulder. He was, whatever else my description might suggest, a handsome man, and I know there were women in his life before I knew him, though by the time we worked together he was almost monk-like in his ascetism and claimed variously to have given up on love, on art, on a lot of what my Christian heritage is always calling the things of the world. He played classical guitar, skillfully, and sang, though I always had a hard time getting him to start.

He was an unapologetic radical in most things, unconventional even in his radicalism. He was a genius, a self-taught scholar, a philosopher, a technologist, and a crank.

He wrote object oriented code of a kind deeply concerned with ontologies and proper names. He made terrible puns in the comments, insisted on Hungarian notation, hacked with a kind of ragged yet controlled intensity. He was a Free Software zealot, helped run a free computing collective in Portland, worked on Debian, and argued fiercely at SparkFun that we should embrace the ethic of open code. Only a handful of people working there now likely remember who he was, but he shaped the entire thing all the same. Nearly everything we do with a database still flows through a handful of his lines; most of the code I’ve written in the years since is informed one way or another by a reaction to his style and concerns.

He lived somewhere on the other side from me of a lot of Buddhism, somewhere way out beyond the Marxists on the political part of the spectrum, in a neighborhood adjacent I think to the anarchists but too rich in the experience of defeat to sustain very many illusions. He was suspicious of orthodoxies and pieties to the point of a nearly crippling refusal to accept consensus reality. He was bitter and jaded and laughed a lot, went on extended tirades and wanted us all to be kind to one another. He was funny. He was decent, from a deep-down place, to everyone I ever saw ask him for anything, except maybe when the bullshit of the world and the sheer folly of everything were too much for him to function.

I will not forget the story of the truckload of weed out of Kansas that they lost after someone in a random parking lot circle passed them a joint and when they got out of jail the truck had just vanished. I won’t forget the stories of the squat in Portugal, of Boulder in the 1980s, of the life at the edges of things and just a little outside the lines of the sanctioned order. I won’t forget all those rides down the Diagonal back into town in that beat-to-shit little Honda with the sun going down behind the mountains and the wind through the windows. All the time he lived in that van in Casey’s driveway, watching our drunken antics and ridiculous arguments with a quiet amusement. The winter nights and summer afternoons we talked for hours about what the good life might be.

For a long time, I was afraid to talk to Erik, because I was afraid that in talking to him I would feel like a fraud and a coward and a sellout. And now he’s gone, and I won’t ever talk to him again, and this is what that kind of fear gets you. I should have been a better friend to Erik. I’m grateful I knew him when I did. I wish we lived in a world he could have more easily reconciled himself to.

Tuesday, March 18

Some important flavors, arranged chronologically:

  • Sweet corn (fresh, garden grown)
  • Melted Velveeta
  • Red Jell-O
  • Saltine crackers with peanut butter and marshmallow
  • Heinz Ketchup
  • Split pea soup (Campbell’s)
  • Sugar cookies
  • Juicy Fruit gum
  • Peppermint
  • Cheddar
  • Stamps
  • Bad cigar tobacco
  • Standard-issue Missouri-Synod Lutheran communion wafers; Mogen David wine
  • Miller Hi-Life
  • Cannabis
  • Paprika

Saturday, March 15

"Like a parasite, cash has consumed the mental faculties of my society and left only a suicidal husk."

thursday, march 13

the poem and the song
the essay and the photograph
these are the forms i've come
to really love
the ones that can
inhabit some
moment place or idea
with a sometimes
nearly unbearable
subjectivity, with
an interiority which
is also universal
which at least hopes
for some universal
echo

*

it's probable that
subjectivity is necessary to any
sense of meaning in the experience
of life

whether this is merely the home
truth of a certain kind of nihilism
or a cause for some guarded hope
depends entirely on whether you
believe that interiority
carries some greater weight
than the sere numeric totality of
objective fact

which is of course a mystical
proposition, at heart
and as such is essentially folly

of the kind i can't quite shake
however hard i try

Wednesday, March 12

Writing OOP using OOP – this made me a little smarter.

Why Atom Can't Replace Vim – domain experts may quibble with the details, but this is a respectable defense of vi's most important legacy.

Tuesday, March 11

Reading: Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Mark Doty:

Here and gone. That's what it is to be human, I think—to be both someone and no one at once, to hold a particular identity in the world (our names, our places of origins, our family and affectional ties) and to feel that solid set of ties also capable of dissolution, slipping away, as we become moments of attention.

We think that to find ourselves we need turn inward, examining the intricacies of origin, the shaping forces of personality. But "I" is just as much to be found in the world; looking outward, we experience the one who does the seeing. Say what you see and you experience yourself through your style of seeing and saying.

Someone and no one. That, I think, is the deepest secret of these paintings, finally, although it seems just barely in the realm of the sayable, this feeling that beneath the attachments and appurtenances, the furnishings of selfhood, what we are is attention, a quick physical presence in the world, a bright point of consciousness in a wide field from which we are not really separate. That, in a field of light, we are intensifications of that light.

I've rarely been transfixed by a painting the way that Doty describes in this essay, but that matters hardly at all. Interest in the point of departure isn't all that relevant in a lot of the great ones. This is a kind of prose poem on memory, on love, on grief, on death, on poetry and vision and the human in the things of the world, on the inner light. It is modest, brief, and moving.

I'm sad I left it on my shelf for so long before I picked it up, because it is that rare kind of thing that helps explain to me not exactly the world, but rather how I am in it.

Monday, March 10

notes: SXSW 2014

  1. “The National Beer of Texas” should make me hate Lone Star, but somehow it does the opposite.

  2. Austin might not be as weird and quirky as Austin thinks it is, but then neither is Boulder, and meanwhile there’s a lot to be said for any town with this many good bars.

  3. Why cannot I buy breakfast tacos everywhere on the planet?

  4. If I hear the word “influencer” in an actual conversation between actual human beings one more time I’m gonna start throwing bottles.

  5. I actually, sincerely believe that most people can learn basic craft skills, and three days of showing small children how to stitch an LED to some felt with conductive thread did nothing to change that idea. On the other hand, it made me realize that I’ve spent my entire life around people who are enormously more competent than is normal in American society. There’s a weird kind of privilege in this. A couple of generations of adults in this country are now mentally unequipped to sew on a button.

    Sometimes I can get pretty cynical about the whole d.i.y. trip and all of this twee, sloppy nonsense it can foster, but it’s useful to remember that the politics of the thing aren’t just rooted in putting birds on stuff. Forget for a minute the hilariously delusional root idea of all the recent STEM-mongering that we can solve the fundamental problems of late capitalism by turning every schoolkid in America into a programmer-engineer. There’s just a crying need for people to have some control over the basic material elements of their own lives.

  6. I went to a giant industry conference and instead of going on the company dime to expensive sessions by high-paid neckbeards, I ran my ass into the ground for three days helping people make stuff in a free-to-the-public tent. This ain’t precisely charity work, but it still feels incredibly redeeming.

    Maybe it’s also worth saying that I really like and respect the people I work with, which is unfortunately a rare and precious thing in this life.

  7. About driving in Texas: America is never ever going to stop running entirely on cars. Not until it kills us. Not even when it becomes completely obvious even to Republicans and retirees and farmers that it’s killing us. We just don’t care. We aren’t even capable of imagining caring. We are going to drive until there is nothing left for driving to destroy, and then we are going to drive some more. The last American will die alone, huffing gasoline in the front seat of a late-model Toyota the size of a city block in the center of a vast, oil-stained pavement stretching from horizon to horizon.

    (I suppose to be fair the same goes for living in a picturesque town 20 miles from anything and flying all over the place all the time to drink too much in different cities and put birds on stuff. I AM THE PROBLEM.)

  8. There are people on this plane out of town more hung over than I am, but not very many of them. There are also people who are not hung over at all, but, again, probably not very many of them.

Saturday, March 1

Sometimes I’m going along on a Saturday morning, still a little dazed from the night before, and I think something like “I should just go write a detailed analysis of hooded sweatshirts”. Mostly these thoughts don’t survive contact with an actual keyboard. It’s almost certainly for the best.