Archive for February, 2005

Piele met Wiele


“you can practice on cactus but just you be careful
of prickin’ your dick on a spine
no telling where else you can go dunk your biscuit
but don’t touch your sister, she’s mine…”

There are many things in life I would rather not have known, and what I learned today was one of them. (I’ll spare the details..)

QOTD: “That’s the thing about hammering things. You can’t un-hammer them. Hammering can’t be undone.” -Scott

To not exist (one day, for all (t)ime)

It’s not often that I *plonk* someone from my life. It really isn’t, honest.

Postcondition: For a couple bucks’ worth or less of gas (in late 2003 dollars), I have an attack lizard to guard my server. And a small amount of added experience dealing with my annoyingly nonlinear species.

QOTD: “Infected, pathogen spread / By something written, something said” – Me (Mindvirus)

Come Too Soon

Went out tonight cruisin’ for a rip-roaring LAN party. J.R. and I picked up some burritos and struck out for a mini gaming get-together with some Amazon Basin people. I only drove in circles a few times :-) (“But it’s off 2A, which is this way…” “But I know you can get there going this way…” “Shh, this technically isn’t a U-turn, because I touch this guy’s parking lot. *scree*”) Saw a pair of pencilnecked Tuff Guys revving and exchanging Tuff Guy Words from behind 2 tons of glass and steel (resisted the urge to follow and take down plates; replicating their driving to do so would have gotten us killed), and eventually found the house where everyone was meeting up. Humped a jillion (or approximately 20) pounds of computer gear up the steps, rang the doorbell, and…. nobody home. A little calling around and the discovery hits that this shindig starts tomorrow! Whoops. Anyway, the owners of the house were out to dinner but on their way back shortly, so we scarfed the burritos acquired earlier, came inside and hung out for a while. Saw the Most Pointless English Homework Ever, from the online university program the guy we were hanging with was in. (It consisted of being presented with two nearly identical copies of the same sentence, except for one of them containing an egregious punctuation error, and a checkbox selection for which was the correct one.) I tried playing some HL2 on the Lap And a Half, but only got an uncomfortably warm lap for my troubles.

QOTDs:
(scarfing Anna’s at lunch)
“How can you guys eat those things?” – MP
“Are you kidding? This is an orgasm wrapped in a flour tortilla.” – TG
“Then you’re doing it wrong.” – MH

“…lines that do (moving hand back and forth) rotary actuation, and
lines that do (spinning hand in a circle) linear actuation…
(cellphone rings, and he answers it)… ‘Motion Man…’ ” – Boston
area’s own independent motion-control sales dude,
wasting my time in a meeting. (At this phone greeting, there was a
mild rushing sound in the boardroom as hands rose up and smacked onto
faces to stifle giggling…)

More pineapple than one person can eat

Over to J.R.’s house to dispense with an impulse-bought pineapple that would have probably dissolved my tongue if I were to eat the whole thing myself. It turns out that pineapple + coconut rum = yummy.

Why are your kids so fucked up?

I had a dream last night. It was of a random summer weekend at my folks’ cabin in rural Morris, IL. The middle of nowhere surrounded by 23 acres of woods, hills and lake. It’s not often that I actually have a dream and remember it (especially in full-motion video), but I vividly remember myself and a couple Boston friends leaping off the end of a hill at an unreasonable height and into the water below. We swam for miles, down the entire fingery length of Deer Lake, with no destination defined, just enjoying the relaxation and natural beauty of it all.

I should probably just stop writing now while the image is still warm, because whenever I write about a dream it always ends the same way: me waking up, groaning at what graces our public airwaves, and killing my alarmclock for another 23 hours 59 minutes and 30-something seconds. This time I looked up and before I knew it, that warm happy image was overwritten by something contrasting; the view of fences after fences outside my bedroom window. I started to wonder if the increasing rallying cries of “kids these days are out of control” and our alacrity for fence-building, in both the literal and figurative senses, are not entirely unrelated.

I look at this row of fenced grass pens and wonder if generations to come will have any concept of such experiences. Bring home slimy and scaly and furry things, leaving a green bug-eyed blur destined to startle the next person who walks too close to the kitchen sink, or lie down next to a milkweed plant and catch an emerging butterfly at the moment of realizing what it has become. Or to climb, hand over hand, to the top of the tallest tree of the tallest ridge and look out aboriginally for miles through the branches at what lies below, knowing, just by knowing, that you are the first. Sure, many people have run up many hills and climbed many trees, but nobody, since the dawn of time itself, has stood where you are standing right now, nor seen exactly what you are seeing. This is yours and yours alone.

Sometimes I forget how rare it is for someone to actually have a place like this, to run wild and explore and lose themselves in for hours and days and years at a time. I think that deep down, there is something in all of us that needs this.

Occasionally at family gatherings, my older relatives, especially dad and uncles, would get to talking about their youths and the things they got up to. Of hours spent playing in “the crick” or in untamed fields, or a nearby forest, or pretty much any other place they could get to. But with each passing year there is less to explore as Progress marches across the landscape, converting even these last refuges to Starbucks and strip malls. How does a child satisfy this natural, unquenchable though the educational system will do its best desire in a locked-down urban jungle without generating howling from the owners of that jungle? Meanwhile, we’ve spread and sprawled, running asymptotically toward the point where there exists no splotch of land that isn’t owned by someone who will/can have you arrested for standing on it, paved the way for steel monuments to nature in privatized public space, then set aside tree museums and designated play areas in orange and green day-glo structure. What bothers me most is wondering, not if, or even when, but how that little piece of our species will die–whether it will go quietly, iteratively bred out amidst the prepackaged sensory nirvana of Barbie and drugs and television, or catastrophically, like the goldfish drying to a crisp in your shag carpeting, unable to spend another day in the known of its tiny bowl.

Maybe it is going too far to point at a No Trespassing sign and lay the blame for the downfall of humanity at the base of its weathered post. But maybe I just might be onto something, too.

Ronald McNutless

QOTD: “Yeah, I’m taking her someplace nice tonight… right to the stove, to
cook me dinner.” – JP, on Valentine’s day with the missus.

foreach $garden_center (@boston) { print “closed for winter”; }

We have another one of them manufactured holiday things coming up. As you may have guessed, I am less than thrilled by this. More like confused, actually. The traditions of this day typically involve passing around a lot of freshly-dead cut flowers, complete with a complex numeric and color code capable of representing every emotional state from undying passion to underdamped impulse response love at first sight to friendship to I hate your fucking guts and want you to die. I’m still not sure I understand the logic behind expressing our love by destroying something beautiful.

I actually orchestrated an elaborate and romantic (I think?) Valentine’s day night exactly once, with flowers, fine dining, the canonical(?) cabin in the woods, hot tub, strawberries and other things dipped in chocolate… It was fun, don’t get me wrong. But it was also kind of… expected.

Hallmark holidays and heavily commercialized seasonal events (and the marketing of same in particular) fall into another unwritten rant of mine, that advertising exists to create an unhappiness, then offer a product or service to take that unhappiness away. (“Did you know…? 95% of all Americans don’t know that their faces are too shiny. But luckily, our new…”) In essence, to give away the disease and sell the cure. I suggest that any noble purpose of coercing the bleating herd to give thought to the many people they care about, and those who care about them (and even have them dare to express this) is nulled away by having defined “a day” specifically for this purpose and making a societal expectation of same. Any would-be romanticism on this day is reduced to little more than an expected protocol exchange.

Hmm… at this point in my (unwritten-marketing-rant-being-written, sort of), it seems like no wonder there’s so much depression and general blah-ness going around during holidays. (Yeah, I know this started as specifically a Valentine’s day rant, but I’m pointing my biggest finger at the Decembery block right now.) But hey, who knows–maybe there is a collective societal need for depressing seasonal marketing to provide some form of common emotional reference. (” It’ll soon be Christmas, kids, take your Paxil.”) Can you imagine if everyone were unhappy purely on their own terms, rather than synchronized to a common blah clock? Utter chaos! In the biological sense, we’re already externally clocked by seasonal cues to some extent, so maybe that’s a logical extension.

Aaaaaanyway… My plan for this year is/was to not merely go softly into this dark night, ignoring this whole candy-foisting, prepackaged-love-card-making, flower-killing industry, but to actively subvert it by distributing pirated plants to everyone I care about. (No need to restrict this special day to girlfriends, because I don’t have onethere’s no reason to limit oneself to a single act of consumer treason.)

My efforts at violating the DMCA (Deliberate Misappropriation of Chlorophyll Act) and engaging in wild and rampant flower piracy, however, are being stymied by the lack of garden supplies in the greater Boston area during the non-growing-stuff season (as any DEA agent will have you believe, there’s only one kind of plant city dwellers ever grow in the wintertime indoors, and it’s a cash crop…), making it difficult to simulate the nutrient-poor, acidic soil of a Carolina peat bog for my most non-canonical Valentine’s day plant (currently spreading out of control, making me a little rhizome slumlord).

QOTD: “Even if all the snow were burnt, ashes would remain.” – Hans-Bernhard Broeker, comp.lang.c.moderated

QOTD: Of course, your species split the atom to make bombs and will soon clone humans, so you’ll probably need to stick your fingers in here, too. So if you really must risk your plant’s health in order to satisfy your insatiable curiosity, carefully dig the plant out of the ground. If the bulb is rotten, mushy, and smelly, you are the owner of a dead plant. Dang! If the bulb is crisp, your plant is sleeping. Only now your poking around has given it a damaged root system and possibly even cuts in the bulb. Fungal infection, rot, and death is now much more likely. Drat! (“Duuhh, maybe we shouldn’t have cloned humans after all…duuuuhhh.”) – Barry Rice, in the Carnivorous Plant FAQ

Woohoo, Manray

Out to Manray with J. R. + (No* + Ke*). Before this, some yummy Indian food, and before that, the hunt for fashionable attire. J.R. brought along a fairly convincing wig of long black hair and coerced me to wear it (haha, like I ever need coercing to do stuff). I looked eeevil! Or, just generally cool and studly. Speaking of coercing, J. R. was required to cover her shoes in black duct tape upon entering, because they weren’t natively black enough. (Considering the culture promoted here, this attention to detail seemed a little unusual.) Got in just in time to catch Malice In Leatherland (band one of No*’s friends is in) cranking it in the center room. J.R. convinced me to dance in the blinky room to the right (on the basis that bad dancing doesn’t look so bad at 3FPS…yay strobelights). Both of us tried throughout the night not to snicker each time we saw the guy wearing a small (marble bag?) over his hoo-hah, and little else. (What, this meets spec, but nonblack shoes don’t? “Sorry sir, you’re wearing way too much pasty white for a goth club…here’s your ducttape…”) At some point someone whipped out (no pun intended) purple LED whips, which got me spending a large percentage of available brain-time on novel, power harvesting clothing-embeddable blinky things. Maybe in sporadic, nondeterministic ways, just to mess with people (“did I just see that guy’s shirt flash out of the corner of my eye, or am I seeing things?”), or maybe synchronized with the actual beat (easy), or capable of displaying a realtime spectrum analysis (not as easy; juice hungry). Was mentally working out an addressable 2-wire interface for individual nodes (LEDs) on a chain or belt, when closing time was announced. Closing at 2:09am, wtf? She’s right, nightlifey stuff in Boston closes too early. But did manage to snag free demo CDs of the band before being scooped out the door.

Me looking devious
Me looking devious

QOTDs:
“Cycling isn’t a sport… it’s more like a leisure activity.” -Ke*
“You’re a leisure activity.” -No*

“Fine, I’ll just have to go and lick them myself.” – J. R., on the
question of whether licking a tennis ball would leave your tongue
covered in fuzz.

“Dancing…It’s a vertical expression of a horizontal desire” – J. R.
quoting her mom quoting who knows

(Acrony[m)ania]

@ MIT W20 w/ No* 4 DDR. And talk of world-taking-over (for completely benevolent purposes, I assure you) start-up ventures. And ice cream, spooky ice cream, killer ice cream from outer space, whose appearance can only described as ‘radioactive Play-doh’.

QOTD: “All I have to do is promise we’ll hang out this weekend. I promised, so now I can’t die before then.” – Me while eating the lethal-looking ice cream

“DO NOT IMMERSE SERVER” – Label on Dunkin’ Donuts beverage equipment

On an unseasonably warm winter night, do you offer your throat to the wolf with the pink pajamas?

Met up with Na* for the first time tonight, for lack of better things to do. This was simultaneously more and less than I had expected.

QOTD:
A*: Because Science… likes to analyis things tooo much….. i work with Forensic Scientists… and alot dont believe they believe we came from monkeys which come on God is more believeable then that

Grand non-unified dump of wakeup state, instabililty, and the questions of life / the universe / everything

I woke up this morning to the sound of some idiot bitching to some other idiot during a radio phone interview on a station selected for having the most signal strength where my alarm clock is located, with my head apparently full of the grindings of heavy grinding and with no covers left on my bed. It hasn’t happened in a while. That’s probably a good thing (this stateful, clutterbrained feeling is really annoying when you have actual work to do) …or maybe it just means I haven’t had a lot of heavy thinking to do in the past couple months until last night, leaving nothing for my brain to grind on while I dream. Last night No* and I got into a discussion about fate, and our purpose (if any) on this warm, cold little rock. I guess it isn’t often that I really, truly, give a long stretch of serious thought to things like that.

Leaving the house this morning, someone tapped me on the shoulder just as I was turning-while-jiggling the little lock switch in the center of the doorknob. Scared the hell out of me. I turned around and saw only a long stretch of staircase, not a soul in sight. It must be that today’s lock-jiggering caused a meta-stable crease in the stiff leather of my jacket to pop into a more comfortable resting shape on my shoulder, because that’s the most logical scenario. (“That which is simple is true.” – Me, oversimplifying Occam’s Razor in typical razorly fashion) At least, more logical than taking it as a supernatural sign that instead of heading out for another day of signal-processing excitement at work, I should turn around, crawl back into my bed and hope that the background job so rudely interrupted by my alarm clock would resume and continue to completion, leaving the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything sitting at the bottom of my brain like a Snickers bar against the trapdoor of a vending machine.

On patterns reflected, and reflection on patterns.
(“Everywhere I must declare I’ve got a flair for patterns…” – Wierd Al)

In those few barely-remembered moments as I came out of sleep, I remember feeling like a scuba diver, on the last breath in the tank, surfacing toward the murky light with one arm outstretched. Relieved at the clarity, blinking in the blinding concrete reality, but with the miasma of a thousand shattered pieces of thoughts still swirling around me.

For some reason I was back at Arisia, which turned this way and that, and with a bit of jiggling, collapsed like a camp cup into a dense little recursive space. I saw duct tape holding the stars together with great difficulty. Pining for a girl who isn’t interested, while being pined for by a girl I’m not interested in. The phone ringing while dialing the person causing it to ring. And in the middle of all this, possibly the same hour, my housemate–live together, parked together, cars towed together, hard disks failed in tandem…resulting in pi popping up to six sig fig, in the error message of an SQL query, matching the copy on the only person I could ever crack wise to in the form of an SQL query and actually get a laugh from. One sector, 512 bytes, of nulls strategically placed by a grown disk defect that knows the significance of this number better than I do. In those last few milliseconds of not-quite-sleep before my eyes opened, it seems that the usual web of thoughts and memories, forming routing meshes from one fragment of information to another, were instead forming loops. Beautiful, overlapping, inefficient, frightening little loops, wrapping back on themselves like field lines. All roads led to… well, not Rome, but the letter count matches. Maybe this is just the cyclical, patternful, and some might argue, perverse nature of the universe. If one were to find the seam where the whole thing was sewn together, and rip it open, would one see ‘Fractally Yours’ on the inside tag? (Or do I just need more sleep?)

(But at least it would compress well…)

On pre-ordained purpose, and getting hit by a bus.

Where was I? Oh yeah, we were talking about, among many other things, fate. Destiny. The idea that the set of all Things That Happen is, at this moment, already defined for 0 <= t <= infinity. How can something like that be proven, or equally importantly, disproven? I was pondering this on the way to work, shoulder-shaking jackets notwithstanding, and had the inexplicable urge to just run out into the street and jump in front of a bus. (All right…some necessary qualification here: not in the sense of “I considered really, seriously doing this right then & there”, more in the sense of “Hmm, I wonder what would happen if…”, and running kind of a mental simulation while safely on sidewalk firma. Call me sane or call me a wuss, that’s up to you.) Would I disprove the existence of my own fate by altering it, with this snap decision, right then and there? Or would that then will have been my fate all along? (Or however you would say that in Douglas Adams style time-travel-tense, where the present alters a past that hasn’t happened yet.) Let’s say that fate, by what I would consider the most common definition/behavior of fate, could not be altered by an arbitrary snap decision like that; that that decision itself was in fact pre-ordained by the initial conditions of the universe at time zero. (“Precognition is nothing more than sufficient knowledge of the initial conditions.” – Me) That would mean that this whole thing we call existence serves no purpose, like a simulation in which the final value is already known. It would also mean that my purpose in life was to turn 24 and get hit by a bus. (“I never want to live too healthy, because the univese has a sick sense of humor. If I ate nothing but tofu and bean sprouts on the basis that most everything else will kill ya, I’d probably turn 28 and get randomly hit by a bus.” – Me) That’s a sad and sobering possibility, especially if believing this in conjunction with a Creator: that we are no more than an experiment in a higher being’s fishbowl, to end once this force of creation has grown satisfied and/or bored with the results. If that’s all we are–a simulation being run for no other purpose than to verify that the simulator works–it almost seems sane to assume that the only information (data?) of real importance is a snapshot of the final frame, and if only the final frame is saved, everyone and everything that has lived and died before that time will not exist, will not ever have existed, and will not have needed to (as, surely, the exact state of that frame could have been arrived at via any number of alternate paths). That’s an angry little fragment of candy to swallow.

Which brings me around to the alternate conclusion, that randomness and chaos rule supreme, that we are free to think our own thoughts, and affect our own futures, no matter how many quotes about initial conditions I pull out of my situpon. But…but…if at time zero every spot of energy was accounted for, every particle had a position and a defined velocity, carried forward to time infinity, how can there be more than one outcome?…is it possible that we would owe the existence of free will to nothing more than a sort of cosmic roundoff error, least significant bits quantized away in discrete time and discrete space, or lost beneath the noise floor of the quantum foam?

All right, I’m not through with this, but I should probably go to bed.

(Ah, my bloggg… where else can the word “that” three times in a row still form part of a perfectly valid sentence?)