Archive for August, 2013

2013/08/29

Wilderness were Paradise enow as long as there is WiFi

This house has a big screened-in porch, to keep the mosquitos and black flies away and still let you sit out in the soft air, looking across the tidal river mouth to the next island along.

I think I’ve realized before in roughly this context that sitting down and writing about where I am and what I’m doing, and what I’m thinking, significantly helps me appreciate it. Which seems odd and even pathetic in a way, like the person in the joke who won’t know whether he enjoyed his vacation until the pictures come back. (Remember when you had to wait for pictures to come back? I barely do, some days.)

I tend to live, that is, mediated. Or maybe it’s just the part of me that writes weblog entries that tends to live mediated; an interesting and potentially thorny question. I should go sit for half an hour, and expose all the parts of myself to some unmediated experience (in some sense). Maybe I will in fact do that! See you in about half an hour, conditions permitting, in the next paragraph.

Okay, back! That was nice. And the little daughter sat (Sat) with me!

(So now I have six additional points in my Karma Pool, one for each five minutes, and since there were at least a couple of instants there where the Monkey Mind was not drafting and evaluating sentences for the weblog, I get two Prajna Tokens that I can use to advantage on future Insight Rolls. Zen as D&D subgenre: I wonder if anyone’s written that up. A quick search reveals only the predictable Zen Warrior. “[U]ses wisdom and inner spirit to enhance their fighting”, phleh.)

As long-time reader may have realized by now, it is Summer, and we are in Maine! All four of us, too, which has not happened since, um, the last time it happened!

(Weirdly, I have no computer-as-such with me, and am typing this on my “iPad”, which is like a computer only smaller and you type with your thumbs on the screen. But it can talk WiFi to the house’s access point, and thence into the Internets via a nice fast RoadRunner connection of some stripe, so yay.)

We arrived on Saturday after a fine drive up, and the car managed to make it to within a few yards of the driveway of the house before the engine mysteriously quit. I started it again and drove it actually down the driveway into the place behind the house that one puts the car in, and the engine mysteriously quit again.

That was exciting! So now we know the extremely nice couple that drives for and/or constitutes Boothbay Taxi, and the also extremely nice people at Dan’s Auto Repair just down the road, and at Hawke’s Auto Something down toward the Harbor, where you can pick up a rental from Enterprise (once you have taken a taxi there on Monday, after a very relaxing Sunday spent in the house and in taxis to and from the grocery for foods).

I am writing this on Thursday-already, having realized as above that I would appreciate things more if I wrote them down (roughly), so there are other days in between. Let’s see.

On Monday we took the one car in and rented this one here, and walked around town and had food at the traditional Lobster Wharf. Tuesday the kidlings and I went to the big sandy beach (the water was unspeakably lovely), and then back to the house where the ladies roasted veggies while the men went out hunting seafood rolls for the tribe. Wednesday was yesterday, and the kids clambered about on a big multi-level rope course with harnesses and zip lines and stuff, and we grups stayed on the ground taking many many photographs. Then we had another nice seafood dinner in town.

Some evidence of these and other activities may be found on the official ceoln Instagram feed thing, which I ought to link to from this weblog sometime. If I haven’t already.

Today is cloudy and looking like another relaxing not-doing-much day in the house. We might go to the very nearby Botanical Gardens, or to the grocery, or something. Or not. :)

Wasn’t that quotidian? Oh! This also means we should say Happy Fourteenth Anniversary to the Weblog!, more or less roughly; although for most of that time it was here, not here. (And boy is HTML hard to type on this little thumb-keyboard!)

Oh, and before the zazen I took a shower because M said I should even though we are on vacation and showers are boring (and you generally get wet).

I stopped as usual at the Library Used Book shed in town and bought eight books for two dollars, one of them Buber’s “I and Thou” which I suspect I’ve never read.

But even more than in prior years, the once-traditional list of all the reading materials lying about is sort of moot. F’rinstance, I was sitting here watching an episode of Whedon’s Dollhouse on the Net-Flicks, and the boyish mad scientist character mentioned a couple of times the gag reflex when eating sea urchin, so I paused and looked that up on the interwebs, and it turns out that that is a thing, but also that it is quoted in a book of essays about that fictional world, and a few thumb motions and ninety-nine cents Earth currency later, I had a copy of it here in Maine, on the i-Pad, all ready to read at.

So yeah. :)

While I was in the middle of writing all of that, somewhere around “once-traditional” I think it was, Dan’s called to say that the car was ready, with a brand-new distributor and a tie-rod while they were at it, so the little daughter and I went out and picked it up and turned in the rental and bought a few groceries, and then I went for a walk along the road and into the botanic gardens, which while not really arranged for visits by barefoot pedestrians, is quite friendly and pretty and upscale, and has all various plants and roses and stones and pieces of art and water-features and trails for walking on.

(From the northernmost part of the gardens one can in fact see this house we are in, although there is brush and/or deer netting and/or “Staff Only” signs in between. I got home by looking around surreptitiously, slightly lifting a piece of loose deer-net, slipping ninja-like under it, and hopping a low stone fence to the road near the house, rather than walking all the flipping way back south to the official entrance. So far the FBI have not embarrassingly appeared.)

So yes, I have been watching Dollhouse. It is good! There is significant good audiovisual work out there, it appears, which can be viewed without commercial interruption. Also good!

I think I will stop writing with my thumbs for a bit again now, and do other stuff. Maybe later I will tell you about this self-published author who, perhaps unwisely, offered me a free copy of his book if I would review it. Interesting things have ensued. For some value of “interesting”. :)

Back again! It is ummm Friday morning, and I’m sitting at the round glass-topped table on the porch, having slept deliciously late and then eaten food, immersed in the still-lovely air and watching cars go by on the road.

Last night the little daughter required everyone to drink alcoholic beverages. I had a bigger-than-shotglass of bourbon with an ice cube and a little Rose’s Lime Substance. And we all gathered around and watched tennis and things on the teevee. Extremely pleasant in all ways. But I think my insides are scolding me a bit today. So no more boozes for now!

And now it is Friday night, and I have taken the little daughter to the airport so that she could fly places on airplanes (apparently 23-year-old little daughters are allowed to fly unaccompanied on airplanes without any special arrangements!), and have watched another Dollhouse episode (and a Lost Girl episode, even though Lost Girl hasn’t really convinced me that it is good yet, but Ksenia Solo is cute), and the little boy and I shot off a couple of little boxes of Consumer Grade Fireworks that I bought on the way home, and we are watching Tennis on teevee again and I am sleepy zzzzzz…

And then it was Saturday, and now it is suddenly Sunday, and we are home after a shared six-hour drive (that was remarkably traffic-light even though Labor Day Weekend), and have slept and had Sunday Morning Bagels. And now I will read this over another time or two, and post it so that you can read it!

The further thoughts about self-published novels and stuff will have to wait. :)

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2013/08/07

Mach’s Principle

I wrote my 750 words again! (Answers to even-numbered exercises are in the back of the book.)

The blinking light on the side of your laptop computer actually represents the average heartbeat of every human on Earth who is within one mile of a monitoring node.

Which is approximately 45% of the population of the planet.

Most of the time it is rock-steady, as any excitement in one heart, or in one group of hearts, is exactly balanced through the vast mushy laws of large numbers, by the ebbing of excitement in the same number of hearts elsewhere.

And vice-versa.

But on some days, if you are watching the blinking light as I often do, you will notice it slowly subtly down, or speeding suddenly up, as somewhere there is a large anomaly, a sudden gasping, a thrill, an excitement, in the entire population of a small city in Rawanda, or every Girl Scout in the USA; or somewhere else an entire continent goes to bed, and on the other side of the world, due to an international holiday, their usual counterbalancers are sleeping in.

Because, vast and sprawling and numerous though we are, humanity is still finite. There are only so many left-handed people, only so many people about to open a soda can, only so many Lutherans. The number of religious sects is large, but smaller than the number of grains of sand on the beach, which is smaller than the number of atoms in one grain of sand, which is smaller than the number of possible Sudoku grids, which is itself still finite, and so smaller than nearly all of the positive integers.

Looking down Platform 29, across all those people waiting patiently, or impatiently, for the 6:45 to arrive, and thinking that each of them has a history, and a set of beliefs, a complicated web of preferences and fears, we are already far beyond the vastness that any one of us can comprehend (one, two, three, seven, many), but if all of those people were to vanish suddenly, spirited off by aliens or vaporized by more mundane means, the size of the world as a whole would be reduced by only an imperceptible fraction.

So your laptop’s light blinks, almost always, at the same steady pace, as all of our hearts (or the hearts of all of us within one mile of a monitoring node), average out into a signal with just one bit of content (“still the same, still the same, still the same”); all the complexity nicely smoothing out, a hill here balanced by a valley there, a hundred orgasms in one set of college dorms nicely making up for a hundred hearts drifting off to sleep in another set one time zone away.

Take a breath. Feel yourself breathing, and what it feels like to breathe. Feel yourself thinking, and what it feels like to think. If you are worried, feel what it feels like to worry. Feel your own heartbeat slowing. Look at the reflection of the blinking light on the Ethernet connector, or the shiny tabletop, or your fingernail. As your heart slows down, imagine that you can see the light slowing down, by the smallest imaginable amount.

Imagine that you can feel, somewhere deep in your gut or your inner ear, the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around.

It the Earth turning, or the stars? We know, these days, that motion in a straight line is relative; that jogger is the one who is moving, and I on the park bench here with my peanuts am the one sitting still, only because the math is simpler that way; but either one might be true. It’s not so simple for rotation, though, for things spinning around. Ernst Mach thought, at least if we listen to Einstein (and we might as well, since we listened to him on that whole “motion in a straight line” thing), that the universe has a large-scale structure (large as large, larger than anything), that determines what counts as spinning and what doesn’t; but I hear down at the corner pub that this is not true in all solutions to the field equations.

Feel your breath, and what it is like to breathe. Feel your heart beating, and what it is like to have a heart, beating. Watch the blinking light, and feel your heart beating with all of the other hearts (the ones within a mile of a monitoring node). Feel the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around you (with or without closed timelike curves). Be still.

2013/08/05

It was a red beach ball

I wrote my 750 words again! Haven’t done that in months.

And they sort of hold together (I wanted to avoid the “write 750 more or less random words as wordily as possible” effect this time, but still without taking much time or with the internal editor very active).

For what it’s worth…

In London, it was a red beach-ball, thrown over the heads of the crowds of commuters coming out of the underground station early on a Monday morning, and kept bouncing up in the air for long minutes by a few hundred different hands. All brimming with warm and vulnerable cells.

In Lisbon, it was a broken crate of plastic-wrapped tee shirts for a popular Indy band, left by the side of a building.

In New York, it was the liquid dripping from a hole in a black plastic trashbag swaying in the grip of a shabby man walking from Harlem to downtown and back over the course of the day, stopping for sandwiches, occasionally muttering to himself.

In the high Arctic, it was an explosion, a large one, that flung a quantity of earth and snow and other things into the air, where it was picked up by currents and flowed down in a dissipating waves around the globe.

Any of these things, by itself, could have started an epidemic, sparked chaos, begun the end. None of them did. All of them, together, pushed something subtler over the edge, and a dozen people, initially scattered around the world, began to see differently.

They would talk about it, sometimes, later on, up in one of their satellites circling in the airless sky, or sitting a late watch with the humming patient machines in some sub-basement in a secret room under an obscure street.

“Was it just a coincidence?”

“Was it something that would have happened, had to happen, eventually, and that was just when the day that it did?”

“Did someone, or something, plan it, intend it, make it happen, in a way that, despite it all, we just can’t see? Even though as far as we know we can see everything.”

What do you see? Whether your eyes are open or closed, whether it is dark or light, chances are that you see just whatever photons happen to hit your retina, and then whatever labels the quite dark parts of your brain sticks on to them automatically, so you see a redness that is (probably) a box, and you see things that are (probably) your hands, and probably a bus, and most likely the street.

And, as far as anyone knows, as far as they know even, that is mostly all that any of them saw, either, before that day. Most of them (ten of the twelve, if you were to pin them down and dig into the question) had had times, more or less brief, flashes where they saw more in the world than that. Where things came together and impressed themselves on them in a different way.

But then so had thousands of others, even just that same year, and none of them went over the edge on that day, or on any day since.

No unusual contaminants leaked from that bag, or spun wetly from that bouncing ball, spread with those gradually and guiltily unwrapped shirts, or flew into the sky from the high Arctic. But they could have, and that potential spread, and those four webs of spreading potential somehow came together in a dozen points in the world, in a dozen people, and they changed.

Were there more points, more knots in that global web of spreading might-have-beens, where if there had been a person that person might also have been changed, Changed, and become one of the twelve. Probably there were. They would know, but they are not telling.

What is it like, to see the world directly as connected bundles of meaning? To see potentials and relations directly, rather than colors and shapes and probable labels? They have tried, some of them, to describe it and write it down. Four of them have even published books, but they are generally acknowledged to be opaque, more or less incomprehensible. Two of them are highly regarded as poetry, and one is still being analyzed as a possible cryptogram.

More of them have written, or crafted, or constructed, internal memos, stored in their own network of computers, available onto to each other. These may be more successful, although they are surely less necessary.

When you can see it directly, what need for words?

What would you have done, if you had been one of the twelve? It’s impossible to say, of course, without being one of them. Even knowing oneself deeply, as who of us really does, it’s impossible to say how you would have reacted, without knowing what you would have seen. And they are still not telling us, for whatever reason, just what it is that they have seen.

This was partly inspired, I think, by Embassytown, which I recently finished and keep meaning to do some sort of writeup of, and which is also the reason I posted that old micro of mine the other day.

Semantics everywhere! :)

2013/08/02

Of Reprehensible Persons

rep·re·hen·si·ble (\ˌre-pri-ˈhen(t)-sə-bəl\)
adj.
Deserving rebuke or censure; blameworthy.

Just to give rebuke where rebuke is due. And/or to vent a little. :)

Anthony Weiner is a walking punchline, and should Just Go Away. If an oppresivist Republican was doing this I’d love it :) but Weiner is just hurting the Progressive side every time he (or his organization) opens its mouth. If he were a uniquely effective force on the side of good (see below) I would be more conflicted, but apparently he isn’t. (I am a bit of an Alex Pareene fan, I admit.)

On the other hand, Eliot Spitzer has been one of the few people in power willing and able to get all up in Wall Street’s face and at least threaten to bring some justice to the thoroughly entrenched criminals there. Which makes it sort of a pity that he’s an entitled oppresivist hypocrite who is willing, even eager, to prosecute people for things that he happily does in secret himself.

So what to do about Spitzer? It’s likely that he goes after Big Finance mostly because that’s his schtick, that’s the side he’s chosen as a path to fame and power, and not so much because he really believes deep down in justice, but still. I think I would be happiest if he apologized to the universe, declared his support for the legalization and effective regulation of sex work, gave his personal fortune to the Sex Workers Project or somebody, and went back to challenging Wall Street.

Given that that’s unlikely, unfortunately, I think it’d be best if Spitzer would Just Go Away also; we’ll have to find someone to fight Big Dollars who isn’t such a jerk.

Speaking of Wall Street, employees and management of Glass, Lewis & Co., as well as the owners of a nearby food truck, are obnoxious jerks. It is nice to see this going viral. Go and enjoy and contribute to the big Twitter flame-out before they notice and delete it.

(I’m amused by the lonely Twitter voice from an alternate universe shouting about how tips are only for exceptional service, and no one should ever be upset not to get one. That may be true on Planet Nebulon, but in New York City a tip of 15% or so means normal ordinary service, an amount above that is a compliment, and leaving no tip at all means that either (a) you forgot, (b) the service was so bad you had strong grounds for a civil or criminal case against the server and their entire family, or (c) as in this case, you are a total douchenozzle. It might be reasonable to wish this was not true, but… it is!)

Okay. Less controversially perhaps, the people (“people”) at “Project A.W.O.L.” are disgusting scammers. Given the numbers of people in the pictures on their horrible Facebook page, I’m surprised there isn’t more on the net debunking them; but maybe the pictures are all fake, and it’s mostly just a couple of douchenozzles spamming weblog comment pages.

I discovered this because one of the things they do (as well as putting up obviously fraudulent web pages), is Like and Follow random WordPress weblogs (I expect there’s software that does this for you?), and they’ve done that on this very weblog here. It’s a relatively typical Ponzi / Pyramid scheme (not exactly the same thing, I know; I think this has aspects of both), in which they convince some number of gullible people to pay them some amount of money per month for “secrets” and “tips” to “get rich online” and “make money with your blog”, whereas in fact the only Secret Technique they have is to convince some number of gullible people to pay you some amount of money per month for…

Yeah.

And there are all these different nearly-identical weblogs and scam pages and Exclusive Limited-Time Offers and things, and since all each one does is take money from people for enabling them to spread exactly the same scam further, you get a big rotting squelchy mess of stinking fraud and self-deception.

For instance, upon running across this awful thing on the weblog of an otherwise apparently well-meaning author who just wants to flog her self-published book on GoodReads, you have to wonder. Is she part of the scam? Or just a victim, fooled into reposting their stuff? (The two do sort of blur together of course; one of the things that makes the squelchy mess so foul.)

(I was able to find a smallish amount of actual information about the mess; see for instance Project AWOL is a scam, which leads to some other good material about the mess. And in fact even the scammer community seems to think that Project AWOL is a bit much. “Empower Network” seems to be a scam-enablement company that goes to some effort to skirt the letter of the law, and apparently they suspect that Project AWOL’s fraudulent promises of wealth might get them in trouble. It’s noteworthy the amount of frothing from perp-victims occurs in the comments on the various anti-scam posts, insisting that everyone is making tons of money and it’s not a scam at all; uh-huh.)

So that’s that. Ick!

Another scam I wandered into somewhere; the horrible and/or amusing “Power 4 Patriots” site and video, which is noteworthy mostly as an example of skillful Tea Party button pushing, where scary statements and images (Obama’s electricity monopoly!), sometimes entirely incompatible with each other, are used to try to sell plans for making your own homemade solar panels and wind turbines, which will magically protect you and your family against all possible disasters. It’s easy to just laugh at this, it’s so obviously pathetic, but we are not the target audience; this stuff is designed to appeal to people of limited reasoning and analytical skills, and often limited money, in order to scam them out of some of that money in exchange for stuff that will most likely help them not at all.

And that’s evil.

What else? There’s basically the entire Republican party and most of the Democratic party, of course, but that’s old news, and kind of generic. Let’s pick specifically on the reprehensible Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), who used a hearing to scold some nuns for not doing enough for the poor, and expecting the government to do anything at all. Words fail.

(And I admit I am rather a fan of Wonkette also, monetized and snarky as she/they/it is…)

So as not to end on just all these notes of negativity, we will point out in closing that while the Daily Mail is of course reprehensible in most aspects, Amanda (Fucking) Palmer totally rocks. :)