Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conference Calls

Todays B.S. was brought to you by the letters C, Y, and A!

It's interesting how somewhat loose business acronyms frequently stand for foul language, especially where it butts up against the geek realm.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why I Write

Venn DiagramAt least this most recent Brian Singer film falls short of being overtly self-congratulatory (unlike some films); and that's about the best thing I can say for it.

I was greatly disappointed by the picture. It made frequent un-subtle alliteration to the original motion picture, attempting to attach itself to the bygone sentiment and show its "roots." However, said roots were completely disconnected from the meat of the new narrative and incompatible with the advancement of the story, feeling tacked-on and pointless.

Everything went downhill from there: The original Christian allegory (as voiced by Brando and reused verbatim) was taken too far in both imagery and recitation (especially given that the Man of Steel apparently fathered an illegitimate child), feeling disrespectful in light of the fact that nothing in the film made me want to care about, respect, or hold any affection for the characters and thus their association with those things I do respect sullies the esteemed principal rather than redeems the character. The new plot, attempting to portray itself as epic in scope, moved slowly and never once inspired a sense of danger or immediate peril (nor long-term peril). The displays of physical jeopardy were trotted out and predictably resolved, even re-using gags in the process and holding all of the supposedly tense moments for several beats too long. Physics, of course, were completely disregarded - which is fine in a superhero flick, but I do expect some measure of internal consistency and found none here.

Which brings me to Why I Write: too often I cross paths with this kind of mediocre creativity and find it frequently lauded as success. I'm a terribly harsh critic, though not because I lack compassion or a desire for entertainment: there are those works which satisfy and I deeply enjoy them. Most simply fail to live up to my expectations of quality and originality (read nothing penned by Kevin J. Anderson, I beg of you). My goal is to compose something which does meet with my standards for approval, if only to put my money where my mouth is and justify my armchair editorials. Once I walk that shodden mile I hope to be either humbly corrected or vindicated in my judgments.

In the mean time, to anyone with $204MM laying around: there are far better investments than handing it over to the likes of Brian Singer. Please do collective humanity a favor and put culture ahead of profits.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lessons Learned

Apple's default keyboard sports 55 screws and a surprisingly low tolerance to even small amounts of regurgitated formula (which, coming back up out of a 6 month old, would only contain traces of mild acid).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Homebrew Tameshigeri

While not a "nut," per se, I have been somewhat of a martial arts enthusiast for some years. This includes a combination of Japanese styles, both soft and hard, and their respective weapons. A favorite of mine amongst these weapons is the sword, the traditional Katana.

Learning to wield one of these competently without doing serious harm to oneself or others is best attempted using the training analogues, the bo ken or shinai (depending on whether one is practicing kata or kendo). On occasion though, there's no substitute for some live steel.

Pumpkin and unsheathed katana - 1.4M
A favorite among my personal collection is this sword, the unfortunately named Samurai 3000 Katana by United Cutlery. It has its pros and cons: a high-carbon, flexible blade with laser cut die and even bevel to a very sharp edge. The balance is beautiful despite departing from the traditional placement, putting the pivot at a point within the top of the hilt instead of 1/3 the way out on the blade at a defensive position. This does change the muscular dynamics of some of the movement, but also makes the one-handed equivalents much more effective.

In the con section, some of the highest leverage cutting surface has been abandoned for decorative purposes, and despite the handle-biased weighting they still went with a rat-tail tang. Almost nobody produces a full-tang katana, and this one makes up for that short coming in small measure through the tight tolerances of the orthogonal tension in the hilt. The traditional curvature has also been altered, and while the carbon content is high it is not technically "combat grade" - which wouldn't cause it to shatter under the blows of a higher grade opponent (at these concentrations the true strength differences can only be expressed by either deliberately abusing the weapon or exerting more force than humans are typically capable of), but it would certainly lose its edge faster.

That's all just the boring preamble meant to indicate that "yes, I know my sword and I know what I'm doing with it." Anachronistic or not, it's a fun skill to have.

Tameshigeri is the art of cutting with the katana. Targets are usually standardized around rolled straw mats, but I felt like finally doing something useful with The Pumpkin. I never did get around to carving it, instead leaving it intact as a nice fall decoration for my wife to use. I'm surprised it lasted this long: the specimen was still ripe and firm, giving no indication of spoilage or bruising (and it was on the floor in an area which is high-traffic for our young daughters, so that's saying something).

Time to turn it into deer food.

The gourd was placed there on the edge of the retaining wall at chest height, in the position and attitude shown here, and not touched with hands again until it was time to dispose of it. I faced it flat in a right-forward stance, blade raised between medium- and high- en garde (chudan- and jodan- no kamai). I lightly touched the offensive last-quarter of the sharpened edge against top of the pumpkin before drawing it smoothly back and around in somewhat of a lateral 'J' directly through the target from right to left.

Katana and sliced pumpkin - 1.4M

Most of the way through the cut, the sword began to level out to a more perpendicular angle with regard to its travel. This made its incision less efficient and as a result, imparted some of its force into the rind on the left interior. This caused the detached cap to lift slightly and shift in the direction of the sword, pulling it off into the leaning position in the picture (with added black-bars for a more "cinematic" effect). It's a cool place to have it land, but I was honestly hoping to leave it perfectly undisturbed and later move it manually to demonstrate the wickedly sharp edge. Perhaps, had I more time to practice, or had I remembered to step into the cut or to kiai, I may have maintained both angle and speed sufficient to do exactly that.

The astute observer will also notice that the hemisection does not appear to be perfectly level, even self referentially. That is, the back is raised up in a fashion not indicated by the attitude of the closer portion. This is due to "winging" - the distortion of the flexible blade in response to the whipped movement (reviewing these sorts of things from high-speed video capture reveals an astonishing amount of unintended flexion). Simple put, the sword was slightly bent as it passed through. The back (of the pumpkin) also has a bit of a flat face, bringing it visually closer and exaggerating the effect.

Cut pumpkin close up - 1.2M
Speaking of video, I have none. Which is all well and good, since the reality of this performance is quite dull and short. Perhaps, had I made repeated successive passes through the ever decreasing remainder, it would be worth while. Or, had I succeeded in capturing high-speed close-ups. Instead, I performed all the photography for the event using my wife's discarded Olympus E-20n (a well performing camera that she has since upgraded in her Wedding Photography business). I took only 5 pictures, and didn't even think about shooting directly down into the bowl of the pumpkin until someone asked if I had. Darnit.

That's pretty much it. Yes it was one swipe (most frequently asked question), and no I didn't have to put it somewhere else to do that well.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Household Name

I work in the technology biz; I have since before completing my secondary education, plying God-given talents to make my way and eventually establish a career and support my family. As such, I am constantly surrounded with reminders of the increasingly wired nature of society in all its facets and interactions.

Despite this immersion, even knowing how most of it all works, I have not ceased in my amazement. I pursue gadgetry to enable my hobbies and lifestyle, ever-reducing the amount of effort required to do those things I like and need to do.

This last weekend, however, surprised me at just how unique this isn't. How completely the advances have ingrained themselves into even casual patterns. Because of that pervasion, I'm certain most of what I say here will seem unremarkable.

My wife has been on the lookout for a new entertainment center - something with cabinet enclosures for the television and which plays well with corners. Buying these things new is a cost-prohibitive affair even without looking for quality. To ease the financial burden, she's been combing the local craigslist several times daily in order to pounce on the freshly listed items. She found and we subsequently purchased a 3-piece cherry wood (stained laminate) set much nicer than our old one.

After coordinating via cell-phone and email, finances were handled through a credit-card draft and cash transfer via third party (PayPal), and to make sure the larger item would fit in the intended space? I nearly-effortlessly whipped up a three-dimensional representation of the designated corner of our living room and dropped the figures in (all with Google Sketchup) to prove the viability of the arrangement.

The reality matches almost perfectly, though I did put the oak-outcropping of the mantle a little too high and none of the colors are very close.

Excepting that last ├╝bergeeky exercise, none of this really raises an eyebrow anymore. 5 years ago the entirety would have been almost unfathomable, or at least unreasonably expensive and unfamiliar to the layman. On the front-line I still stand here having this, "back in my day..." episode now, when my daughters will be raised in the environment when all this was tedium.

I hope they will also be amazed.

In a brief self-edit of this entry before publishing I'm appalled at the poor composition and frequent sentence fragmentation. While I can recognize it, I don't think I feel up to doing anything about it; which means I knowingly thrust this tragic text upon thee.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Whiny Health Crap

Yes, a little bit more of it.

A quote from a journal of mine, concerning the continuing physical struggles:

"A lot of it is due to the fact that I've started working out again. My body's demands for oxygen and other blood carried nutrients increase, though they don't get them! Tests have always revealed a heightened level of whatever felt was [lacking], though the surrounding tissues still lack - the answer? They're not moving out of the blood." - Book X, pp13-14 (emphasis in original)

The ambiguous pronouns refer to both those specific compounds or gases desired and transmitted by blood, and pockets of tissue intended to receive them (not in that order). Not well written, I'll admit; also not the first time I'd postulated the theory, but it's one of the earlier occurrences I can find in writing.

It also happens to be dated November 22nd, 1998: A momentous day in its own right, since later that afternoon I would meet my future wife.

The "tests" to which I made reference were an arterial blood gas (ABG) sample and a cardio-pulmonary stress workup which were done nearly a year prior, before I moved out of Washington State. The results specifically showed physical deconditioning in that the stressed systems exhibited a switch over to anaerobic activity at only the 70th percentile of the bell curve for my age group and lifestyle; the ABG indicated superb oxygenation, however. I'm not sure what the pH levels were, but knowing what I do now I'd love to go back and get my hands on the figures to see.

These two facts seemed to me to contradict one another - why would I fall back to anaerobic metabolism under marked exertion while the materials to support continued aerobic performance were abundantly available?

The Dr., who I never felt was really listening to me (likely under pressure from family to dismiss the issue), just told me I was out of shape and that was the end. This, despite the fact that at the time I was a svelte 145 lbs with lean muscular build (obviously no bulk at that weight, which was possibly too light - but also had a phenomenal general metabolism, so gaining weight was difficult) who had been at peak capability in several high-demand activities up until 18 months before, and only sought medical advice because I found my stamina inexplicably waning. I was not out of shape.

So instead I formulated the theory stated above - that something wasn't working quite right in the periphery. I knew what I was experiencing, and that it was abnormal - but ran out of money and insurance in the move to Utah, and had to let the matter drop. Later, after marrying someone wonderful who also happened to work for the largest insurance provider in the state, I was able to look at things a little more.

The tests were repeated, although the ABG failed this time (technician goof). It was also augmented with echocardiograms, both resting and stressed, and a lung capacity and nuclear perfusion scan. The results in this case were similar, but the same party did not score them together. The answers where given to me as, "we suspect reduced cardiac output" and "your heart is just fine - and your lungs are almost off the charts." I interpreted this to mean that though physically underperforming (the reduced output), there wasn't a good explanation for it.

It was not until working with my current Dr., who pulled the results and added them together for a more comprehensive evaluation, that the answer becomes clear: the stress test measures output gases (hose strapped to the face) as a secondary indicator of heart stroke volume. If the left ventricle does its job right, the freshly oxygenated blood is sent coursing throughout the body to be picked up by those areas in need. This (obviously) increases in frequency and volume under stress, which is why good exercise gets the heart up. In my case, the measured gases indicated that not enough oxygen was being taken up. This was originally interpreted to mean that the delivery mechanism wasn't fulfilling the requirements, thus the diagnosis of insufficient stroke volume.

Viewed in concert with the stress echocardiogram, which specifically measured those parameters in a precise and targeted fashion, this is not the case: the heart does its duty well. Good oxygenated blood is getting where it needs to. The answer, then?

I was right: the periphery is failing to make use of the available materials, and there aren't many things which can cause that. All this time spent looking for other answers has helped to weed out and reduce some manifest symptoms, but the original condition is still what I'd suspected. And this time, I have a Dr. who agrees with me - not because of my tale of woe and long-suffering theories, but by reaching an identical conclusion through separate analysis.

After starting the CPAP therapy a few months ago, to reduce the fractured REM from mild apnea, I was able to concentrate better and found myself more able to be physically active. Together with the proton-pump inhibitor (which satisfied the acid reflux which you may recall was causing referred chest pain) I had some exercise tolerance back. I used it to its fullest, running through every kata I'd ever been taught until perfectly drenched with sweat. I didn't much remember sweating back in the days near the end of my good activity before, and it was pleasant to go through it again and again, daily.

This lasted 2 1/2 months before the amount of sweat began to be reduced, and instead of feeling invigorated I became groggy massively fatigued immediately, followed by an affected night and even into the next day. I've had to trail off again in order to avoid triggering those episodes which I could only manage through frequent naps last time.

Going back to the recent conclusions, this is because systemic metabolism has increased once again beyond the body's ability to supply for that demand. The harder I work now, the worse I'll feel.

Next up we'll be looking at those few things that can cause this particular coincidence of symptoms. My guess is the post-exertional malaise has a flavor of metabolic acidosis to it (which is why I'd love to see the pH levels in earlier tests), caused by the output of cellular metabolism switching to glucose for energy instead of relying on the ATP output of the mitochondria (which require oxygen to do their work properly), in turn because the mitochondria are malfunctioning. The two concomitant conditions (metabolic acidosis and mitochondiral cytosis) are capable of producing exactly the scenarios I endure, and correspond to the available data.

Another option would be some neurological factor that's causing temperature dysregulation et al, but there are other indicators in those cases which would be expected to be present that have never been manifest (no ultra-dramatic sudden onset of muscle weakness, no visual disturbances). Which is good, because the ones capable of doing what I am experiencing might be some precursor for MS (not too keen on that idea).

I'm going to place my bet on abstract mitochondrial myopathy for now, and let you know how it turns out.

This text is in need of editing, but I don't plan to do it. Too much else to take care of.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Strontium 90


A little something I created for a PhotoShop contest at Worth1000 in November of 2003.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Creative Hesitation

Ah, the agony of a blank canvas. In this case, the orange skin of the favorite seasonal gourd.

Years past I've done a spider (apple corer carved eyes, thin slits cut from the flesh of the sides and rotated to protrude as legs), failed adventurer (leather fedora, coiled whip at the side, and an expression of mortal dismay cross-eyed toward the sword blade running it straight through), various ghouls (the most grotesquely deformed specimens I can find whose peculiarities are adapted into distorted expressions worthy of Bill Waterson), and a demon whose slanted eye leftovers were implanted at the temples to become horns.

In 2001 (the year of the spider) I wanted to try out the "first-time/last-time parachuter," vertically bisected and tipped face-down into a puddle of innards on a sheet marked with a bulls-eye. Unopened chute still attached intact. Unfortunately, I'd settled on this design in early September prior to the WTC attacks, and thought it would be in pour taste given the fresh images of the tragedy. I'm tempted to revive it now, especially with more surface area on the front walk at this home.

However, I'm also interested in being lazy. Working solely with the pumpkin, or with as little accessorization as possible, is more appealing to me. I can always fall-back to a popular theme applied unusually, such as a pirate-o-lantern, but it lacks that slight edge of perversion I normally look for.

For now it sits there, mocking me: all 26.72lbs of spheroid vegetable matter. But my day will come...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Stoking the Furnace

During the Liang dynasty, Daruma Taishi sought to teach Chan Buddhism to the Shaolin monks in the Henan province of China. Owing to the sedentary nature of the scholastic life, the monks were unable to withstand the rigors of the ascetic practices which Taishi used to help focus the body, spirit, and mind along with his teaching. He overcame this by introducing exercises based on a system of fighting so that both body and spirit could be strengthened in tandem and a greater depth of religious understanding attained - for how could the mind, housed in a fragile body, otherwise be so controlled?

Or so the records on the history of karate would have us believe. There are some variations on the contributions of Taishi (also the Bodhidharma) to Shuri-ryu, recorded both by the Chinese and Japanese styles which have descended therefrom.

Regardless of the details I like this interpretation, as there is certainly truth to be had in it. Sleep has only been the first part in the equation of overcoming my long-present mental fog. As my rest has been improved and some other nervous (literally "of the nerves," not "anxious") agitation has been reigned in, my ability to focus has improved considerably, along with my exercise tolerance. When I perform that exercise, even in small portions, the benefit of the refined sleep is magnified.

I spent several years avoiding the triggers to my suffering, structuring my life as to be uncomplicated by it. In doing so I also robbed myself of the necessary stresses to maintain sufficient physical conditioning in a no-win situation: any attempt at vigor cost me dearly in the very near term (24-48 hours worth) as pain, extra fatigue, etc. Instead, I fell out of shape and had to live only with a reduced stamina.

Now I'm faced with my history of increasingly large pants and a daunting goal of working my way back up the chain to something I'm more comfortable with. Engaging metabolism while still retaining enough energy for the day (the intolerance is decreased, not removed) is a balance I'm still trying to find. I'm very grateful for the chance to try, though, and in keeping with my personal philosophies that means I must do, within reason, all I can to seize that opportunity.

Especially as I now have a child in school, and traces of every conceivable communicable disease will be wafting in the door behind her this winter, resulting in many a sleepless night for children and parents both.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More on Writing

I lacked the time this weekend to make significant headway on the story. I did get a few notes in here or there, and was able to rework some dialogue that wasn't sitting well with me (the feel evolved into something incongruent with knowledge already in the possession of the characters).

As usual, the new draft elements are very rough and reflect the specific frame-of-mind in which they were written - a context unintentionally projected into the voicing that has to be torn out and changed during editing into the larger scene. But the raw materials are there, so that's what really counts.

I did strike up a minor side project that was far more tolerant to frequent interruption, however, and added a new page to my site reflecting on the writing process, and the tools available to the combination of creative author and Linux geek:

The Writing Page

I've also retooled the color scheme. I don't know that it's as easy on the eyes, but it reflects a growing mood and preference that's being applied to more and more of my devices.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Riding the Rail

I deeply adore the written word (the topic of my last handful of entries here), and have been devouring it since it first began resolving to more than unintelligible patterns of ink on otherwise useful paper. My self-guided literary tour has wandered through landscapes both familiar and foreign, instructing me in the authors' visions of humanity and grand concourses of "what-if."

And for now, I can't touch a drop. I've had to let it alone, cold turkey. I may take an occasional whiff from some technical resource or retelling of current events, but the good, hard prose is off-limits.

If I ingest any of it now, I fear I'll begin unconsciously incorporating themes or elements into my own work: an unintentional homage, and perhaps dilution of the originality of my own material. Enough of it is in my system on a permanent basis that this is already a concern, with my only hope that I might be objective enough either during composition or review to recognize and tease out the hidden sources. Make them talk, and give them either due credit, or the boot.

Films aren't safe either. I once became so engrossed in the A&E mini-series production of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice that all my email for the following two days carried the tone and grammar of 18th century snobbery.

The last book I let myself (re)read was Frank Herbert's Dune. Even from nearly two months away I can still smell its influence on my brainstorming, though I'm confident my well-conditioned averse reaction to its presence ensures that the offending particles are screened out by the time I've struck the concept onto paper.

This self-editing is a worrisome process in its own right. The taint of another's creativity may not be independently original, representing instead additional facets to timeless memes and archetypes. The coincidence with my efforts may be just that simple of a relationship and therefore not meritorious of exclusion. Then again, I might not be able to tell the difference - and by my strict avoidance of commingled appearance end up etching an anti-novel, as much defined by its circumvention of something as would have been the case were I to abandon the censorship.

I live a good life that this topic occupies my mind enough to spend time displaying it here. Or, this could be a farcical charade and I'm lying to us both.

Assuming the former, I'm stuck in dry-country until the novel has enough support under its frame that I can resume my indulgence (in moderation) without compromising. Dedicated to the proposition of completing the work, unable to deviate. Fixed, as it were, to the unbending course of a rail to its end.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Celestia

Anyone who ever writes for a space setting needs Celestia. This is an open source, free to use, free to change (but need to share your changes) piece of software capable of rendering any known celestial object under any specified parameters. It does this in ways that are beautiful, accurate, easily controlled and comprehended, and beautifully performant on modern hardware.

Just a few clicks apart I was able to produce this view of the earth from moderate lunar orbit (low resolution export):



And a comparative view of Terran and Martian orbits on 2 different time scales, with an ideal trajectory for the protagonists to depart the distant outpost on 2152-07-29 (that's a date), arriving on the Moon on 2152-10-21 just 84 days later (image is squished here, click for full [still low resolution] view):


The distance traveled of ~0.68AU (64,000,000 miles) would require a mean velocity of ~14k/s in this time frame, well within human tolerances and even current technology (the vessel in question is a simple emergency craft as well, so it's not going to be sporting the shiny He-3 fusion drives available elsewhere). A surprisingly short trip, considering that they start out 1.9635AU (16.3299457 light-minutes) apart. Quite fortunate.

Aside from the purely geeky aspects of accessible stellar cartography, this software can serve as a marvelous introduction to any skill and educational level of the much larger universe. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Still Writing

I'm still writing frequently, just not here. Whenever my composition picks up heavily in one area, it drops in others. Previously this was a conflict between journal and blog, but now I've added book to the mix so both of those are suffering.

And will continue too, I'm having too much fun with the book. I will leave a little teaser though, a favorite line from the end of the prologue:

The General did not close his eyes as he lay slack against the op-center chair, exhaling a final shallow rattle and starting his body on the long decaying journey of uninhabited flesh.

Cheery, eh?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Touch of Moxie

What makes a person believe he or she can attempt something truly outrageous and accomplish it? I've asked similar questions in the past. This tendency can be seen as bravery, foolhardy, naivete, even presumptuous ego or pride, and contempt for others to conceive of being so individually deserving of esteem or accolade.

At times in life I've been labeled with all of the above, simultaneously admired and despised from differing vantage. My intent never differs however: seize the chance to make the most of myself, to grow in experience. Compelled, as I've mentioned before, by personal philosophies.

Not to upstage or overshadow the work of others though (an accusation I've suffered now and again); my aim is not the spotlight, only the pinnacle of my own self. That peak may exist in the dark unknown to the world, but with the drive satiated I am whole and at peace.

The limited accomplishments I've enjoyed serve to encourage me, upping the octane on the already highly charged entrepreneurial fuel. If the Nth-of-a-percent possibility of success is truly out there, wouldn't it be great if...? This is why I've gone so far as to verbalize DaVinci, and why I now pour energy as it flows freely (at times unbidden) on a new series of ideas for (at least) a trilogy of novels.

I've allowed this to derail a few other long-standing but steadily moving objectives for now. The transcription of one of my piano compositions, notes on a short story and prior novel concept I've been refining - the DaVinci initiative itself. Too many irons in the fire, maybe? I won't argue. But so long as they make progress, however scant, they serve their purpose of offering me refinement.

I'm just nuts enough though to believe that this latest idea has sufficient merit to survive to some stage of completion, and to become profitable. The original concept began life as a classic sci-fi "what if," with an added flavor from the writer's dream-book of untamed scenarios. Highly implausible, but too tantalizing to drop immediately out of hand. I began to think backward into what arrangement of the stars and fates might conceivably produce that rare intersection of realities able to stand with only standard-issue Suspension of Disbelief.

The prologue resulting from the exercise is tantalizing in its own right, suitable to bring to life as more than back-story and extending the potential tale by a book to a book and a half. Copious material has come along with it to round out the original "what if" into a more mature and engaging proposition. I've been slamming it into every device within reach, onto every page in uniform but inscrutable scrawl, outlining and drafting and spewing pieces to a large and unorganized puzzle. The challenge now is to complete the assembly with a glue of prose entertaining to a reader and capable of carrying the complexity which has resulted in the abstract rough-draft of the following timeline:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Activism Redux

I am reminded again of just how strongly I want to get into politics every now and then.

This morning during the commute I tuned into NPR as usual, catching the unfolding news of the day and looking for the subtle indicators which delineate the pulse and sway of the represented corner of humanity.

Not long into my audienceship I felt the urge to demonstrate a vulgar but futile gesture at the tuning controls (but refrained) and instead switched over to classical music to soothe my now-incensed disposition. The music worked only slightly, though did prevent me from seething too deeply; not enough to erase it from off the current stack though, which is why you get to hear about it here.

I am not normally given to emotional upset at the words or actions of others. To do so is to be within their control by abdicating my own responsibility and creates situations of desire and conflict upon them of which they are not aware, nor to which they bear any true ownership. I much prefer the closer-to-Zen philosophy of a Persian proverb:
He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool. He who takes offense when offense is intended is usually a fool.
Though I strive to overcome the "usually" in that second portion of the phrase.

This morning differed somewhat in that I did allow arousal of infuriation as I heard values of tolerance maligned (perhaps unconsciously) by those placed in positions of influence by their various constituencies. I believe the weight of representation and voice placed upon those politicians to have been betrayed by the stupid catty remarks and positions they are choosing to take on a topic of some importance.

The catalyst for my outrage is this: Yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki, current Prime Minister of Iraq, participated in a press conference with President Bush in what was orchestrated by the present administration as a symbolic hurrah of flag waving and international solidarity. However, when P.M. al-Maliki was asked about his views on the situation between Lebanon based Hizbollah and Israel, he provided a view point which differs somewhat from that of Pres. Bush, stating that he believed the best course would be an immediate cessation of hostility followed by diplomatic communication; contrary to the position of justification in Israel's overwhelming response and futility of a cease-fire until diplomacy is already established held by the U.S. Government.

This difference of opinion has prompted some of the participants in our diplomatic process to call for a boycott of P.M. al-Maliki's speech today, or even for the leader to publicly alter his belief to be more aligned with their preferred stance; that, "a cease fire would accomplish nothing." Even going so far as to say that somehow the Prime Minister's words mean that he does not feel Israel's response is appropriate or that they "have a right to defend themselves."

It is this display of ignorant indignation (and inference, just to round out the upset "i" words) which I have allowed to rile me. Here, a man from an allied nation whom we purportedly support, expresses the wisdom of his station in a region continually awash with bloodshed and all accompanying pains. Knowing that the prevention of loss of life on any side is in itself an accomplishment and a valid first step in reducing heartache and destruction.

The response of those trusted officials to suppose opinions not stated by assuming the most negative conclusion, and even request that he change his mind to appease them, is fantastically close-minded. It feels like the "rich old white-guy" kind of ignorance of blind, untested belief in principles of their own somehow justified supremacy simply because they're not the ones getting shot at.

Walk a mile in his war-torn and bloodied shoes, gentlemen. You can still disagree with him, but don't dare disrespect him in our names.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Slush: DaVinci Part II, 17 1/2 teeth, Misc.

Re:DaVinci - My expectations of ever actually fulfilling that are quite low. Which doesn't mean I won't put forth effort and move along with it so far as it will go, even prodding it energetically if it slows down (just to make sure it's sill breathing, or to know when to abandon). I figure there's nothing in the experience which won't be beneficial to personal and professional growth.

The way the math works out, it would be basically equivalent (to the investors) of hiring an executive over on R&D division on a roughly $300K salary plus discretionary project budget; not that far out of sight of current trends (or my own experience and qualifications, I hope), and with far fewer hang-ups than would normally be involved at that level of employment (not looking for stock options or extra perks, or even to maintain an inordinate amount of control over... well, anything really).

I also plan to do most everything on that list anyway - some of the business ideas are a little more time sensitive, based largely on the current climate and evolution of related fields, and will naturally fall by the side into that bin of vindication labeled, "I Thought Of It First" (or the companion, "Boy I'm Glad I Never Tried That"). I, like I'm sure many if not most of the populace, have enjoyed seeing a number of my ideas come to fruition over the last several years through the hands of others (Surface-conduction Emission Display [SEDs] being one of the best - came up with that on a walk home from school once, though I'm sure long after the folks at Canon & Toshiba had started trying to prototype it). My goal then, in asking for the cash is to get a head start on things - but not anything I'm not shooting for regardless.

Re: 17 1/2 Teeth - I've long had some small measure of bragging rights about my arduous dental (mis)adventures. Enormous infant and baby teeth which left little room when the adult versions began to make their appearance, an extra tooth (perfectly conical fang, almost dead-center of the top row: turned one of the others sideways and sent a chain reaction all the way back), and malformed wisdom teeth so deeply impacted that their scraggly roots started to merge and almost pincered together. I had 8 baby teeth pulled to help make room for the adult teeth, the fang, 4 more adult teeth to make room for the crowding wisdom teeth, and then said wisdom teeth. Grand total of 17 teeth removed from my mouth over the years (and 9 years of orthodontic work to boot, with headgear!) in an attempt to soften the influence of my ancestry from across the pond.

This last Monday the crown was finally installed over the root canal I've undergone; a temporary had been molded and placed with milder cement while the nice porcelain cap graduated from a contracted lab. In order to provide the correct surface to bond to, however, the tooth (now pretty much hollow) had to be tapered and plateaued. A large amount of the material is now completely missing beneath the shiny new exterior.

I can still only cite 17 teeth pulled - but can up the count to 17 1/2 that have been removed.

Misc. - Acute anterograde amnesia. I've recently learned of a family of pharmaceutical chemicals with the ability to inhibit the formation of (most) new memory during its administration without impairing the existing or short-term memory, or cognizance of the subject. This plays very beautifully into a variety of thought experiments, but mostly as fodder for a story concept I've had on a back shelf for a while: The Washhand Murders. It's a working title, be nice.

The premise is simple enough - a contract agency coordinates to take out a hit on an individual of your choosing, for a price and a favor. They help to establish a firm alibi and reduce the potential indicators of motive, and commit the acts so anonymously that a long string have never been effectively connected to one another (admittedly, a fair number of them do look like horrible accidents). In working out the contract, enough incriminating evidence is gathered against the client to be able to wield influence and leverage of an uncomfortable and desperate sort: enough to have them, on the agency's behalf, carry out one of their staged murders (presumably for another far-removed [for now] client).

Pushing a person effectively to that limit without exposing the organization has always been a point of implausibility I've been trying to work around. Looking over this pharmacology though, how far do you suppose a person would be willing to go if they could be absolutely sure to never remember any of it? The possibility is also now open to more securely anonymize the identity and nature of the organization, were they to discriminatingly administer the agent prior to key conversations and events. I'll leave off here for now, my own thoughts are still simmering and not particularly well organized yet - but they smell good on the stove.

That's it for now - it's late and I'm tired. G'night!

Monday, July 17, 2006

DaVinci Initiative

I want to be the recipient of $2MM USD in venture capital - with as loose of strings as possible. A discussion as to why (aside from the obvious) follows:

A common passive-aggressive tendency decries the fortune of wealth and opportunity of others as an unfair distribution, insinuating that were such splendor bestowed more equally or fairly (i.e., upon the complainant), similar "worry-free" success would naturally result. To this type of personality the grievance is a means of absolving responsibility for actual achievement by placing it upon the distant real or imagined figure; removing the requirement to make attempt without damaging the pretense of unbridled personal potential. This case does not, however, diminish what may well still be an accurate observation when viewed from a less self-oriented perspective: that the undeserving are at times seemingly afforded greater means while other more worthy candidates remain unpunished.

"Undeserving" as a title carries tremendous amounts of baggage. I believe it to be most commonly implicitly bestowed (as opposed to expressly remarked upon) during the expression of other related grievances. Perceived incompetence (especially of hierarchical superiors in business, or loathed celebrities), gross opulence or conspicuous consumption, or insensitivity to the under-privileged: the long-lived missquote, "Let them eat cake," aptly embodies all of the above. Conversely, the honestly endeavoring character of misfortune evokes deep sympathy and natural generosity (the reason this role is so classically successfully employed by con artists). Middle-of-the-road examples and extremes of the blessing of the worthy and cursing of the vile also abound.

Altogether, this roughly computes through an internal and social algorithm to determine the opinion of how deserving or undeserving a person (or creature or abstract entity) is of their current station, and provides justification for response and behavior toward that person. A stereotypical mid-life crisis, in this terminology, would be an attempt to reconcile the lack of deserved success upon the worthy yet somehow overlooked self.

The full exploration of the applicability of the assumptions I've just outlined is beyond the scope of this article, however.

I'll leave it at (and segue with): honest results from hard work are rarely challenged. The dumb luck aspect invites the true cynical scrutiny, and my requesting a windfall of cash should do just that. What audacity inspires me to think I should be given nearly boundless resources to pursue my own ends, and what measure of work can possibly justify and off-set the suspicion? The specifics will be reserved for the official solicitation/proposal, but the gist of it is thus: I have too many ideas I want to get more than a small start on, and a number of "distractions" I would like to get out of the way in order to do so. That idea bank is comprised of several business initiatives requiring due diligence and a budget, a few inventions (less likely I'll be exploring those though, based on lower ROI expectations) and software packages, and a prose novel or two. I have no illusions that I would be set for life (that's not the goal), or that I would not be required to make repayment based on the success of these projects: venture capitalists are not strictly philanthropists, after all. The probability of the endeavors bearing fruit greater than the invested moneys is the real question; hopefully I can convince him/her/them that the answer is a qualified and unequivocal yes.

The five-to-seven year plan starts with a large bonus to the sole proprietor (me) sufficient such that after taxes and charitable tithes the outstanding debt on the house is erased - quite a hefty bonus. The remainder would be used to establish an institutional trust out of which I would continue to draw less than half my current annual salary (seeing as I really wouldn't need more without the mortgage) and which would be used to fund the aforementioned undertakings (acquisition of materials, talent, advice, as little travel as possible, etc.) as approved on the basis of individual proposals.

The first 2 years would see implementation of a pilot program from one of the more promising business concepts and the simultaneous completion of the first novel. This is assuming an overhead of up to 30-40% (in terms of time) spent in communication, reports, and analysis of other ideas put forth by the investor(s) - myself acting as an entrepreneur-in-residence. I would contract with other resources as necessary to assist me in reaching the ambitious goals (well, except for the book - editors maybe, but no ghost writers).

In return for the funds, any and all rights and ownership (including copyrights to creative works) of these creations reverts immediately to the control of the financial contributors. Similarly, at the sole discretion of investor control the income from projects will either be reinvested into its origins, in order to prove self-sufficiency, or be used toward repayment.

At the conclusion of the 5-7 year span some non-exclusive rights would be returned to me (to allow me the use of characters and material from creative works should I decide to continue a series), but the disposal of all other ventures would be at the whim of the owners, who would of course be free to retain my involvement under newly negotiated contracts should they wish to do so. I'd also be keeping notes and journals about the whole exercise and attempt to distill the experience into an Entrepreneurial Handbook of sorts fo subsequent publication.

The reason I've been referring to this intrigue as my "DaVinci Initiative" is due to the multiple disciplines involved, and because of visions of unfettered creativity and (hopefully less cryptic) notebooks packed with the exploration of bringing imagination to reality. No delusions of grandeur - at least, not many - and not attempting to classify myself among the true masters through such ad hoc association by any means.

But with the explosive wealth of information readily available to the common man, one could reasonably expect a new renaissance by now. Let's have at it, shall we?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sensationalism

I'm going to take a moment here and go off on the stupidity of the mass media. It's nothing new, everyone knows the willful ignorance is a shallow dig for viewers, and I doubt anything I say here is new. But I am annoyed enough to say it.

Worse yet, my gripe is about a simple, petty story, too: not some national, international, or global issue about the evolution of humankind's insensitive and barbaric relationships with one another (though the lack of coverage on these types of concerns is just as emotionally inflammatory). It's about a teenager who happened to be struck by lightning while wearing an iPod.

For one, the pseudo-celebrity status of the novel iPod brand is almost the only reason this is being covered: the uniqueness of the combination of elements barely comes in first if at all. The sensational aspect of this is the emphasis that one with an iPod must somehow exercise greater caution as they are seemingly placed in a higher risk category; supported by the fact that there were taller trees "nearby" (we're not told how near) which were un-touched.

The graphic imagery is trotted out of a burned line down each side of his head from the extreme heat generated when the electricity discharged through his ear-bud wires and miscellaneous other minor burns. His mother is cited as believing that the cords acted as an antenna and attracted the lightning to him.

It all sounds like a setup for lawsuit from the nearly implausible event.

Very few sources I've seen on this yet have made mention of the comments of qualified meteorological personnel that the device probably had nothing to do with it, and then only in a line or two blurb near the very end of the text. Televised renditions have been completely silent on that observation, as well as the following facts and details:
  1. Lightning arcs to the ground in order to dissipate - the only way it could actually have struck the iPod is if it contained enough electrical potential (several hundred millions volts) of an opposing charge to the static building up in the atmosphere to be able to satisfy the difference.

  2. Much of the damage suffered by lightning strike victims is based on the thunderous concussion of rapidly expanding air, leaving many deaf from the event. The fact that the current had some place to travel more efficiently than ionized air means that the local effect of the thunder was likely significantly reduced and may have softened the blow to his hearing (possibly to be destroyed again by the high-gain volume of an iPod in the future? - as reported in other recent trends). As my brother pointed out, when lightning does discharge through a person (rather than the more typical "flash-over" event, which travels across the surface) it uses the circulatory system and places the heart at significant risk. Thus it may also be argued that an additional life-threatening risk was completely mitigated.

  3. The victim was MOWING THE LAWN. Hanging on to a large hunk of metal much closer the earth, making far more use itself of electricity than was the iPod and even generating atmospheric static with the rotating blades - although any effect those would have had is minuscule next to that of the metallic content.

  4. The lightning didn't come out of nowhere: proper caution was not being shown in the first place.
I wish him well in his recovery, and am sympathetic to the harrowing ordeal he's been through. I fully expect these feelings of good-will to vanish if someone decides to sue Apple or the hardware manufacturers and distributors; making them (the feelings) conditional and perhaps petty of me as well.

I normally try not to apply contingencies to my sentiments, as it causes me to be subject to forces beyond my control (having surrendered them). I'll work on that in this case, too - but will still in all probability be annoyed for a while all the same.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Root Canals and Face Hoses

I was an excellent couple of hundred words into what I consider to be a beautiful post this afternoon.

Then looked up a factoid in support of said post on a separate Firefox tab. Unfortunately the resulting site contained adverts in a format with which this champion browser couldn't cope, and after I switched back to the Blogger tab the whole thing froze, and had to be put down.

This is a lesson to me that I need to resurrect my "save early, save often" habits from back when I used Microsoft products: I can't trust the web.

But I still want to write, so I'll put something in here:

I had most of the rest of the follow-up on the root canal. The rest of the stuff was hollowed out and filled, and the tooth tapered and plateaued to be able to accept a crown. Said crown is being crafted at a lab to be fitted in another week and a half after which I will be done with the rest. I stand by my original statement that it's really not that bad, as far as dental procedures go.

More interestingly and completely separately, I've had a chance to follow up somewhat on the sleep study. I still haven't met with the specialist who reviewed it, but he's sent me through 2 other hoops in the meantime based on his review of that data I have yet to see (the last study I had done approximately 5 1/2 years ago revealed ~200 waking episodes a night, but only mild apnea if at all - it's any guess what's in this one). One of those hoops was a CPAP titration which has left me with a device to strap on my face every night, forcing air into the nasal cavity and keeping airways open. Results have been slightly mixed, based on compounding factors of allergies and having a 7 week old at home; but overall have been quite positive. Mild to moderate exertion isn't coming back to incise my posterior, the ability to focus is retained past 10am, appetite has decreased and hunger now comes with weakness instead of fatigue.

And the chest pain? Turns out there was massive acid reflux into the esophagus which had eroded enough to impact a shared nerve, causing referred pain deeper into otherwise unrelated areas of the chest cavity.

That was my first experience with referred pain - which was confusing, because even my deep hypno-meditative states indicated separate pin-point areas which one wouldn't think of having anything to do with stomach acid. Furthermore, while I did experience frequent heartburn, it seemed to have more to do with how well rested I was and how hard I was working - a pattern that didn't match the arbitrary on-set of the other acute discomfort.

The second experience with the mobile anguish was the root canal: I could have sworn is was my back tooth on the top right. Would have bet $100 on it. Dentist took a good look at it, tapped on it, and failed to elicit a reaction. Tapped the one directly below it - not next to it - and my head promptly exploded. Was the darndest thing, since my jaw hadn't been bothering me at all.

I suppose I've had one instance before either of those, but which I designated "phantom sensations" instead. That was while healing from a knife to the hand (self inflicted in an accident during which I wasn't doing anything with a knife - it was the process of "sitting down" actually) which had severed a nerve in my thumb. The exterior of my right thumb lost all sensation but the wound site, roughly halfway between the base knuckle of the thumb and the wrist, could be jostled (unintentionally - no way would I ever cause myself that kind of grief on purpose) and create excruciating pain and conflicting signals regarding the insensitive area: crushed, ground, burning and freezing in an electric current that brought dark stars and tears to the eyes. Instinctually grabbing and nursing the "affected" area yielded nothing, since that's not where the sensation originated regardless of where my neurology manifested it.

Brought new dimensions of physical understanding to my life, such as few events have (which can probably be listed on one hand).

I'll go spend some more time with the family now - I'm still enjoying the transition from Director to Skilled Grunt and all its accompanying surprises.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Parkour

As I've alluded to in the past, I used to be quite athletic before my current profession and medical discomforts transformed me into the... well... "well-rounded" specimen I am today.

During that athletic period I had little to no access to professional training or organized opportunities - it was more of "just something I did." As such my actual capabilities were very limited to that set of techniques I could conceive of and practice effectively on my own with no spotting or equipment. What resulted was a semi-gymnastic style of movement that lent itself especially well to climbing and cross-country running on rough terrain; particularly deep forest and beaches mounded with driftwood.

I lived in Washington State at the time and so had an abundance of my preferred environments to hone whatever craft I possessed. Or perhaps the craft and the environment only existed in tandem, and had there not been the one I never would have pursued the other. The climbing was a little more varied, lending itself well to either trees (90'-150'+ evergreens) or (sub-)urban structures. At my peak physical condition there were few places I couldn't get to so long as I could place at least 2 or 3 fingers on it in some fashion, or jump a reasonable distance (no more than about 2 meters down and/or 1 to 1.5m lateral depending on configuration). I was especially fond of rock-chimney style ascents and poles (anything 18" diameter or less, free standing or attached to some construction) for their speed and ease of use to gain access.

I had fleeting dreams of becoming an actual gymnast, but really my motivation was just to move: mind and body in perfect balance. Maybe to escape something, maybe for the thrill; probably a combination. Naturally I used this for absolutely nothing productive, and on occasion found myself narrowly escaping mischief of a more intense flavor than was my usual.

Fast forward a few years to my jotting down thoughts on a novel (still in the works) taking place in the semi-near future. Part of the setting involved the over-urbanization of some influential cities, to the point that there really was nowhere to go but up. Or to bring "up" down to where it was accessible, since foot traffic continues to be a phenomenal way of traversing most metropoli. The answer was the introduction of the "Gridway" - a series of walkways in parallel to sidewalks placed at 3 story intervals on building exteriors with occasional lifts and staircases. The result (in this fiction) was a range of 3 dimensional movement that played havoc with the local retail real estate markets (who'd pay for a street level storefront when you can overlook the bay?) and greatly augmented the mobility of the general populace. For safety and liability purposes the Grid-walks were all enclosed in chain-link mesh and reinforced with banisters and other supports, of course.

This gave rise to a new sport - "Railing." This being the act of traversing the exterior of the structures by climbing, grappling, and jumping; but primarily through a barely controlled fall clinging tenuously to some conduit or other (since they were strung during the Grid's construction to increase the service capacity of the municipality in terms of electricity, bandwidth, etc.), perhaps with the aid of a hook. A particular quirk of the protagonist was to be his penchant for going up instead, finding calm rooftops (the majority of which are still just as utilitarian) to overlook the city landscape from a removed perspective - a direct reference to my identical semi-adolescent activities.

This was long before I became familiar with "le Parkour," French for "freedom of movement." Videos of its practitioners (and those of similar disciplines such as Yamikasi [not Japanese, despite the sound], "Free running," etc.) have recently swept through portions of the Internet to bring what is sure to be a brief spotlight to the practice. To see what had been an intimate act and imagination writ large and even codified has been vindicating. I'd thought my hobby peculiar but not remarkable, and am now pleased with the level of interest it's garnering - short-lived or otherwise.

I should also clarify, I wasn't as good as many of these individuals are. But I wasn't far off, nor would it have taken much to get there. Now is a very different story - but I'm still working on that. In the meantime I'm deeply satisfied that I can look back to the time when agility and strength weren't in question and knowing that I made the most of it: it's gone now, but at least it was here, and here in force.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Emergency Root Canal

I'd always expected a root canal to hurt, having heard it so often used as a superlative event in the discussion of pain.

While not a walk in the park, I think it pales in comparison to the reason for it in the first place. In my case work isn't actually finished yet - just the emergency prep work. The rest of it will be completed in a week or so, after the medication has a chance to do its stuff.

Whereupon I reserve the right to adjust this statement to incorporate new experiential data.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Doc P"

About 4 months after I met my buddy Mike on the job at Overstock, he began referring to me as "Doctor Pedantic," or "Doc P." for short. This was due to his observation of my continual search for just the right word for any given expression, often leading to obscure and less accessible language compared with more standard conventions. Not to be pretentious, but in search of accuracy in the flow of communication of often complex ideas and impressions (or reaching for understanding from those of others).

English is funny in its way - so many distinct flavors for almost any class of word, usually with differing origins and etymologies despite similar meaning. A tremendous and exceptional mish-mash of multicultural contributions that lead to rich but potentially convoluted phraseology. I rather like it: so many nuances can be deeply (referentially and intensely) represented with precision and passion through the selection of the appropriate tools of verbiage. Imagery can be invoked and passed on through simple (or not so simple) text, transmitting intimate constructs to the minds of others.

I exposed myself to much of this landscape at a young age as a voracious reader, seeking out and attaching to literature wherever I could find it. Much, if not most of it, stuck with me and found use in my conversation. To the point now where the composition of sentence and statement is probably more akin to the scrutiny of a fine Swiss-army style knife for the perfect tool, than to reflexive recitation of culturally or habitually influenced patterns (not that there's anything wrong with that - if it works, run with it).

I've recently begun to wonder though, if this habit of linguistic peculiarity might have been reinforced through other means, and not simply the product of precocious reading behavior.

In my renewed medical investigation of the various discomforts which have plagued me for the last decade, a new candidate has emerged as a possible explanation: the somewhat misleading designation of "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome," also known as CFIDS, myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalitis), and a few other names and designations. Very likely due to a chronic inflammation of the immune system leading to a host of symptoms, most of which I encounter on a regular basis (while I'm pleased to have a better explanation of what has been the cause of so great misery, and with a prognosis other than eventual death as is the case with Pulmonary Hypertension, I'm still left in an unresolved and dissatisfied state - but more on that later).

One of the prominent symptoms is that of cognitive impairment, often affecting speech (expressive rather than receptive aphasia). A lost feeling of "looking for the right word," or having something on the tip of the tongue, or some sensitive differentiation recently forgotten on the edge of memory. This happens to me a lot, along with its cousins of stuttering, poor short-term memory (I have to screen my emails and blog posts multiple times during composition to reduce and combine similar language and statements even from one sentence to the next), object or name recognition difficulty, etc. Difficult and frustrating, yes, but possible that the speech patterns I've cultivated are a coping mechanism as a direct result thereof. To create and torture an analogy, if I'm looking for an arrow in my quiver but can't find it, it's nice to have several others close at hand.

Regardless of source, the tendency causes my work to be almost immediately recognizable (and hard to hide) to those who know me well, and becomes one of my more remarkable attributes (more than one of the interviewers during my preparation to leave the last job asked if I had other educational background in language). Possibly born of frustration, hopefully it has and can continue to serve me well throughout my admittedly odd existence.

Likely to also provide amusement and ammunition to those who see it as a competitive or egotistical trait, eager to see one living by the Dictionary and Thesaurus such as myself tangled up in our own attempted pedantry. That's cool too.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Amanda

I have been, I think, understandably occupied this week.

I don't start my position at the new Company until next Wednesday. This was largely planned to allow me to be home with my darling wife and daughters as the latter became slightly more plural.

Our newest addition, Amanda Melody, came into our family at 11:38am (snicker - "1138") on Tuesday, May 16th. She was 6 lbs 11 oz, and 20 inches. She delivered one week before her due date, the same day for which we had an appointment to be induced, but it turns out my wife went into labor anyway.

Both are doing well adjusting to life back at home, and our other children are providing plentiful sisterly attention. Our cats are either completely non-reactive or delighted that a new source of soft chewy toys (pacifiers, bottle nipples, oral syringes) has been imported to ensure them steady supply - our dominant cat greeted her by literally pawing through her car seat in search of such.

Below are some delightful but low-quality images snapped shortly after the delivery, between 15 min. and 2 hours old. I think they excellently demonstrate why people choose to have children.



It'll probably be at least a week before the next post, owing to all of the above.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I Quit.

Today marks my last as a Director of Software Development for Overstock.com.

I've tried to avoid naming names of employers or potential employers while I've been writing here, but figure it was warranted on this occasion.

For now I'll leave it at that simple statement, with a smile.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Epic"

Eight years ago I composed "Epic" - a 4 minute piano solo that was my release [cathartic release, not label or media production release] for a time.

I have recently transcribed this into updated sheetmusic and put it and an MP3 online, both free for personal use on paultomlinson.net.

While this piece is fairly simple, it helped serve its purpose and has sentimental value as being the work I was practicing when I met my wife 7 1/2 years ago.

And that's it for this post - short and sweet self promotion. Cheers!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Doth Not Make It So

I'm finally working again with medical professionals on the diagnosis of the long standing mysteries which have made my life difficult for the past decade. As much as I'd like to believe I have a good idea of what comprises the various discomforts, I'd rather not go too far off on my own without a chance to garner the opinions of those wiser and more informed than myself in what is unquestionably a complex discipline.

It's taken me some time to become comfortable with the idea of investigation and treatment of symptoms. Investigation no - that's the process by which the causal factors can be identified. Treatment, yes - I am uncomfortable here, or at least have been. With my background in behavioral psychology, leaving the originating tendencies untouched and simply removing the current manifestation will only prevent that one outlet. The pressure which first caused it will remain and then continue to build until other habits and conditioning break down and a new pathway is forged - sometimes explosively - to release it.

In the case of medical practice, the symptom is often the beast which must be dealt with. One cannot cease to age, but the process can be softened. Likewise, I may not now nor ever know what leads to the fractured sleep. But I can seek to alleviate that indication regardless, without the worry that I'm simply ignoring something (so long as I dutifully continue digging into the matter to a reasonable conclusion). Psychiatrists often assist the process of mental recovery by introducing chemical management as a dissociative buffer, taking the bite out of the problem until it can be progressively resolved. Same with hypnosis - other analogies like an electrician disconnecting the electricity to make repairs and a plumber turning off the water also fit well here. Treating physical symptoms goes way beyond these however, and can rightfully be considered an effective long-term strategy for improving the quality of life without worry that the unknown source will suddenly sprout other miseries.

I say that, but I'm still not entirely satisfied with the prospect of unresolved elements of my own body. It feels like relinquishing control, and admitting that I am so flawed in mortality as to allow unknown elements of my own being to have sway over what I do and how I feel - essentially, who I am. The illusion of separation between mind and brain is an empowering one, but is an arrogant presumption. I do believe in an immortal spirit inhabiting a briefly organized tabernacle - but that same soul is only as good as its tools, and if upset or tampered with the impact can truly be devastating. This is a bitter fact that we, in this culture especially, would rather not be party to.

The point of my post and inspiration of this title though was not meant to be such a high review of the morality of psychology and medicine.

In that renewed exploration of health, I have been prescribed new medication to assist with my sleep. Last night was my first live trial. I had no reason to expect immediate success given my excessive accumulation of sleep debt, and firmly believed that this would be a small, first step at best. Or rather, I reasoned this to be the case.

Subconsciously I was betting on waking up with all neurons blazing away and feeling truly on top of my game for one of those few moments which I cling to every year or so. I was not immediately aware of the depth of my own passion for this to be the case until much later in the day. I do remember still waking multiple times throughout the night, which frustrated me, but was still able to arise earlier than is typical for me without much of an issue.

It wasn't until the afternoon when I became so distractingly drowsy, once again, that I was forced to nip off for a quick nap in order to retain any semblance of focus. That brief sleep helped more than such episodes usually do, but I awoke very agitated at what was turning out to be a failure of the new approach. Moreso than I thought to be appropriate or could readily explain, given my previous rationalization.

Even as I write this, the frustration continues: feeling dissatisfied, betrayed, spiteful, and infantile. Producing this depth of emotion in a way my higher consciousness feels is inappropriate means that I have come to a point of conflict which inhibits the Gestalt I'm normally able to achieve. I will most likely need to engage in deep meditation to get it all straightened out - in the meantime I'm becoming dissatisfied with myself as well, which is serving only to sour the mix.

If, however, simple thought and belief could control (or at least largely influence) all emotional states, then the mind would have no committee of balance, and we'd have much larger issues at hand.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

From Philosophy to Frenzy

I was not of particular privilege as a child. Well enough - cleaned, clothed, fed, taught. Comfortable but no thought to luxury or excess. This, I'm sure, had a very positive effect on my development, responsibility, and ambition. Well, maybe the ambition. It's served me well in many respects, but it has also created a measure of drive which has been self destructive.

I can trace the origins, with some chagrin, to envy. As the not-overly-privileged youth, I encountered many who were. Acquaintances which had an abundance of the latest toys and technologies, every opportunity (as I saw it) to do and enjoy more. These were the same that were typically unhappy and bored with the same, which frustrated me to no end: how, with these resources at their disposal, could these other children be dissatisfied?

I set forth then that, were I to be blessed similarly, that I would make the most of it. Eventually I began to see this as a responsibility: if I found myself possessed of any opportunity then I owed it to others who would kill for the chance (and didn't get it) to make the most of it myself so as not to fall into hypocrisy.

The philosophy has taken me pretty far, and I've gained some fun skills and experience along the way, and also been able to add an altruistic bent to it - both literally and figuratively leaving the campground cleaner than when I found it, as it were.

Monday night's meditation touched on some of the negative aspects though - an almost frenzied push to perform, a scramble up a sliding slope of too much to do and too many things to care about but an unrelenting urge (and fear of failure) unsatisfied with anything other than progress. I've encountered this before in various flavors, and had to make adjustments to my expectations regarding my own performance. This most recent episode put it an interesting way, a visual dream-like analogy.

This thought, that I must care so much about everything and never let slip an instant, has created an environment in which there are too many Priority 1's. Too many issues which must be attended to, cannot be let go, and due to the subdivision of attention and energy will also never be resolved. I would think this lends well to visions of drowning, or running escape from some relentless pursuit.

In may case, it came as a belt. I thick leather belt, probably 2" wide with sturdy brass hardware. Extending up from the belt was a brass and leather breast-plate in an inverted "V" - rising to a point about mid-sternum. The plate was bowed outward somewhat in order to allow it to carry a payload on its interior and keep it pressed tightly against my abdomen and torso. It carried several live coals, all orange-white hot and each representing one of the continual cares that could not fail. I saw myself as a figure, clutching the breastplate tighter to myself and hunching over on knees as additional embers fell around me (though sparsely) on a dark landscape.

Occasionally the figure (me) would allow the breastplate to fall open and stare despairingly into the interior, feeling overwhelmed and incapable before hugging it back flush to feel the uncomfortable heat.

The heat did not burn, though it was hot. It primarily fed the urgency and need for a sense of movement and action, like stoking a fire under a steam engine. Combined with the depression it created a sick feeling of Rock vs. Hard Place - a need to move, and the inability to do so. Move, in this sense, meaning to make progress on attending to the coals.

The vision was malleable, allowing me to manipulate the same setting with narration and "what-if" and rewrite or change my perceptions, habits and subconscious behaviors - the whole point of hypnosis, self administered or otherwise. I was made uncomfortable at the thought of attempting to extinguish or douse the fire to any degree: they exist legitimately for their own purposes regardless of my attachment to them. The answer then was to change the nature of my relationship with them instead.

I removed the breastplate and belt and left it unceremoniously in a small clear pool of water - with a concession to the rules of this universe that the coals remained burning bright, undimmed. A small side of water has often been used in my mind's landscape as a place to put things to discard them with a healing intent - removed, neutralized, and soon to be forgotten, but at the same time inhabiting a place of life. It's a deeply layered theme beyond this entry to explore, so I'll move on.

I then introduced the concept of the craftsman: a busy and wiry figure completed by accessories and tools including a jeweler's eyepiece and a number of small, hard, sharp-tipped implements. The figure sat at his bench, intent on a single coal grasped expertly between thumb and index fingers on the left hand. The right hand worked deftly to etch intricacies into the surface before holding it up complete, burning brighter (the self illumination obscuring the detail, since no shadow or light difference existed to define it). An unseen wind then whipped it from his fingers off into some existing stream of movement before he turned back to work on the next one.

This serialization of the effort led to a greater attention to detail, an intensity in concentration, and actual movement: albeit of restricted overall throughput in that only one was being attended to or would ever be attended to at a single time. Net gain though, since it actually moved now.

My answer from this is to make my focus singular, and though working earnestly to have a realistic expectation of what I as one man can reasonably accomplish. Does admitting my limitation and setting my bounds absolve me of the requirement to continually push and do? Surprisingly, yes, to a degree. I'm certain there are other areas of my mind and behaviors or even beliefs that will still need to be rewired and may cause me some grief and recidivism as old worn paths of the mind are walked by habit.

It's a step though, and one I'm pleased with in my course of personal growth and improvement; however inapplicable to the reader.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hackmuch?

Every now and then my home network goes crazy - but only those machines wirelessly connected to it. Apparently someone is saturating the bandwidth with attempts to brute-force a connection to the WAP, despite being encrypted.

I'm not too surprised, honestly. Before I rerouted off the default ports for SSH I was averaging 60,000 unauthorized login attempts a week according to the logs.

This one feels a little more personal though, because by definition proximity has to be involved. The attempt could be coming from another compromised machine within range though - anything with wireless. Maybe even a WAP itself, if it supports bridging. I could still be feeling the effects of scum from far off places.

Then again, I can also detect a WAP in range whose SSID has been changed to "r00t3d-by-ex0de," so it's anybody's guess.

Either way, I've been the victim of impersonal fraud in the past and I can expect it to continue. Being a faceless number in the world at large helps to depersonalize and automate the crime, identities stolen and lives ruined with a few pushes of the button and some social engineering (it doesn't even need to be very bright, people are just unsuspecting and desperate).

I should probably take this as a note and be more paranoid generally, checking my credit history regularly, etc. I will, but I'll also be annoyed while I'm at it.

Searching for...

I had a much longer post drafted up to go, full of typical introspection.

I found near the end, however, that it led me to self-centered conclusions eager to place the responsibility of my happiness on others - simultaneously fingering them as the culprit for any current dissatisfaction.

I'll take this to mean that either A) I'm actually doing this (making them responsible) which will never provide me with what I seek, or B) I'm tired and have expended much energy where it also will not satisfy - and am looking for a culprit.

I hope for B, I fear I'm doing A, and I am definitely tired - both physically, and weary of many things to which I am nevertheless subject.

The resolution is either to recommit, or to abandon: crap or get off the pot. I will take charge of my own condition, insofar as is possible, and affect change myself.

Thems that wants to know can ask.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Guilty Pleasures and Morning Coffee

OK, here goes: "I read webcomics." That's "reed" not "red" - active verb, present tense.

Not many of them, mind you. There are quite a few of them out there, but very few that have managed to keep my fancy despite introduction to a broad range. These are the ones which keep me coming back daily for the new installment:

Top on my list: SchlockMercenary.com - a far future sci-fi series with a comedic (and surprisingly clean) mercenary bent. As is typical the drawing starts off with... issues, but eventually the artist hits a stride and things flow easily thereafter. Howard Tayler has managed to hit that stride, so much so that he was able to leave Novell to pursue the comic full time. Aside from merely being envious of his ability to make that creativity a constant part of his life and spend time with his family, I am willing to make contributions of support to work of this caliber and have pre-ordered the first book to be produced. Should get here in a month.

The second, but not by much, is Sluggy.com. This one has a nice off-the-wall-but-still-somehow-attached-to-your-reality flavor to it which is familiar to me because of the many odd-balls I grew up with and around. The utterly outlandish escapades of the core character set do much to promote their ultimate sense of humanity despite the combination absurd/mundane universe they inhabit. Same issues with the earlier artwork, but Pete Abrams has been at it longer and became nicely refined some time ago (shortly after abandoning direct violations of the 4th Wall), and is also supporting his family full time. While I've not purchased any of the many Sluggy books, I have made direct donations via PayPal as appropriate.

These are what I have sometimes referred to as my "morning coffee." I don't actually drink any, but these suffice to form a bit of a daily routine as I boot up and log on to do productive work. I minor distraction (and thus guilty pleasure), but I think well worth it.

The worst was when I first stumbled onto them, and read the entirety of their archives to that point. For daily comics which comprise multiple years of history this does take a pretty sizable chunk of time, and at the end of it all the adaptation back to a daily flow (from the addictive geyser) is a tough transition. Well worth it though, and I continue to patronize these 2 regularly - a few others on the side here or there, but not enough to really give them a plug.

These ones I highly urge you to read deeply, panel for panel, all the way from the beginning (not necessarily in one setting, and I apologize ahead of time for just how long this may take - but urge it all the same). Support the authors if you enjoy them, to ensure the steady flow of new work and keep the habit satisfied.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

LilyPond

Over the past two weeks, I've been stealing small moments here and there to score an original piano piece (nothing new - a piece which was completed 8 years ago save for very minor tweaking) in a new package of software. The experience has been rewarding and revitalizing, and is one of the few even semi-creative works which can be done in such a halted fashion and in brief episodes.

The software in question is "LilyPond." This is actually a phenomenal front end to the LaTeX typesetting engine. Neither of these are intended for general audiences and take some time to work with well - programming knowledge of the PostScript standard helps too. A number of front-end GUIs are available for either, but being the geek I am I forewent these crutches and dove straight to the markup by hand.

I'm rather glad I did - though challenging, there was at least one issue I encountered that I don't think any of those front-ends could have coped with. As of last night at entirely too late an hour I finished transcribing the notation. I still have the articulation, dynamics, and other general expressions that I need to insert, and then crown it all with a few minor tweaks to the layout and non-musical content and it'll be ready for prime-time.

To clarify, I already had this music written down. Eight years ago I used an outmoded (even then) piece of software originally designed for Windows 3.x, and on my little Frankenstein laptop (a whopping 12mb RAM and a 540MB HD running a pre-release of Windows98) plunked through to at least get something down on the page. The results were somewhat cartoonish and unfortunately proprietary - I didn't have PDF rendering capability at the time. Eventually all that remained of the effort was an old inkjet print-out which is showing its wear. I have no idea what the current state of the laptop or its original contents is now - I handed the entire thing off to my tech buddy Mat. I doubt any of it survives to this date, but now I'm off topic.

I've taken that original print-out, and making several improvements to the quality of the original notation (some styles were changed previously to accommodate failings and conveniences in the software) have inserted it into the new source. The output is of higher quality, definitely more to my liking, and produces PDF by default making it much more likely to survive the digital advance.

I'll be showcasing the piece on my site once it has reached maturity. The current state of the project, which may or may not match the inarticulated state mentioned above, can be seen both in its source text file (with comments): Epic.ly(10k) or print-ready Acrobat document: Epic.pdf(341K).

Please save artistic criticisms for a different forum - I know the piece isn't for everyone and may have its issues. Here I'm still just geeking out about the technology behind it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm a real boy!

I've finally decided to begin "solidifying" my online presence. In quotations because nothing online is concrete or permanent in any sense, but at least there's now something there which defines the space and ties my internet activities together.

Though still somewhat bland, I've followed the latest standards in assembling something which works for me. Whether or not this will ever lead to anything productive beyond simple experience and exercise is unknown - I'm treating it with professionalism regardless. By professionalism I mean my distinct version of it, which can also be self-effacing and tongue in cheek. It also has a particularly geeky bent, which I don't mind but am not going to over-emphasize as a defining character trait.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome, especially regarding content which you may expect to find but is currently absent: I'm still fleshing it out, and ideas would definitely help.

Go there now: paultomlinson.net

Friday, March 24, 2006

Staying the Course

Having just re-read "Exceptionism" and "Repressed, renewed..." in context with one another, I'm surprised at the prescience and solidarity demonstrated by my subconscious.

The similarity and reiteration of themes is impressive to me. One of the first areas to suffer as a result of my sleep disruption is memory - my journal especially reflects this, with repetition of large areas and ideas across multiple entries even chronologically close together. Can't keep it straight for some reason, and/or should start to re-read recent entries before I try making a new one (which isn't always possible).

Back to this, though: somehow the underlying currents remain true. No matter how scattered I may feel on the surface, the deep water currents have a unified and predictable flow. This makes me happy, and gives me hope that some anchor will prevent me from drifting too far, and a proverbial compass (to make the analogy complete) guides my course - even if I'm a little to dumb too see it on a day to day pace.

I should spend some time far removed from the cares of my own life, get a high level view on things. AKA, I need a vacation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Exceptionism

I was thinking yesterday on the drive to work, about the nature of writing. Why writers do, what it means to them (I don't feel qualified to say "us" by a long shot), and what it takes.

As I settled onto what it takes, I realized that many of my recent attempts at prose have suffered from a need to perfectly craft the entire story: setting, characters, plot elements, all requiring an airtight intersection and agreement with one another. I've struggled with this before, but more from a perspective of accusing myself of procrastination - an inability to actually commit to the movement of the pen (keyboard, whatever) until I had everything in place, and the ability to keep that goal line perpetually extended into the future.

This never felt quite right though, because I would put in the effort - a mind-numbing amount of it on select details and tangents of exploration and research, hunting for that minutia which would make my crafted reality indistinguishable from any other. The thought being that at a book signing, were this to scale up to a novel, readers would approach and naturally ask, "Where's ?" Then act all surprised, confused, and disillusioned when the character turns out to be, no really, completely fictional.

A mildly delusional fantasy, I know. Maybe not just mildly. Whatever the case, in order to imbue the elements of the story with that kind of identifiable humanity, I want to have them polished as they're created. Which is completely overboard - a sculptor, for instance, roughs out the entire form from his stone at the same rate of completion. Which only makes sense, as then during the evolution of the piece all areas can be weighed relatively to one another and appropriate adaptations made as they may be required.

So why have I insisted on going to a polished state early on? Probably because I lack the real experience in the value of the rough draft. And, that I fear a loose thread left anywhere, and any stage of completion, could cause the whole thing to unravel and the work rendered null and void. And lastly, that the work would be somehow flimsy and insufficient without it, repelling readers as a piece of worthless writing. Which reader in this case would be me: I'm merciless in my dissection of the written word, often to the point of precluding my ability to enjoy the work for what it is. Same for most creative works, actually; I've probably spent too much time focused on the defining elements of quality expected in software development, focusing on that flawless analytical bent and carrying it with me into the more creative, less scientific endeavors.

I am finally brought to the origin of the title for this entry: I have decided one of the defining characteristics of writers is the ability to make complete exceptions for themselves. To be able to say to the world at large, "That's fine, but it doesn't apply to me." A certain bravado that tells the rest of the world to go suck it: either you can accept the work I've created for what it is, and understand the meaning I have chosen for it, or you're really just not worth the effort.

Throughout my life I've felt guilty for being the exception to many rules. I've enjoyed significant success and after felt the fruition of my labors was unwarranted, or unfair in my favor. That still doesn't fit well with me, and I have to find ways of justifying it to myself by what I do with it afterward - which is usually to enlarge my capacity and capability through refining my resources, unfortunately resulting in somewhat more success. There's a lot of guilt that ends up in my life - hopefully I can turn that into humility rather than loathing.

Here at the same time, I'm talking about an ability to indiscriminately give the world the literary finger. I don't desire dissociation or any kind of social disconnect from my fellow man. But I also have no reason to subscribe to their bias (which as I mentioned above, may in truth be entirely my own, simply projected outward), or be controlled by their prejudices for what makes a fine piece of literature. I must arrogantly throw to the wind the fact that so many people smarter than myself have gone before and written - and do it anyway, despite the formulas for perfection they may have ascribed to (if at all - again, I'm projecting a lot of my own prejudices out there).

My prior perspectives on the subject have always been from the consumer perspective. I've been able to transition between consumer and producer before, where it comes to a few other pursuits (most specifically software, as I've mentioned). So what if I end up with a few bugs in my writing? They can be worked out - it's more important to rough the entire shape with increasing refinement than to pretend I can perfectly predict the end state from the beginning. The writing should be a journey for me as well.

And if someone else has used this or that meme, or knows how to construct this phrase better, so what? Screw'em, this is my book.