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


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


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.