Monday, November 30, 2009

Aaaaa too much!

Too Much #1: Information.

I think the main problem in my work is ... well, I don't know what it is! It's something between boredom and lack of concentration. Let's call it "frazzlement". Today I was working for a long time on a thing that took between 2 and 10 minutes to compile. I'd set it to go and then for 5 minutes I'd think about it a little bit and read the internet a little bit. 5 minutes later, I couldn't even remember what I was doing. Entirely frazzled. You can imagine, after a day of this, I'm fried to a crisp. My head is just spinning.

Those of you who have greater mental focus than I are probably nodding and saying "he needs to meditate more". Likely yes. (Check it out: I'm at a constant approx 2x10min per day! But it's chanting, which is maybe a little different?)

Anyway, tomorrow I will try an experiment: I will not read the internet at all. Even if it means I miss a Beartato.

Too Much #2: Food.

When I'm frazzled/bored, I snack on things, to the point where I can tell that my body is not super happy. I think that any degree of mental focus would help me with that. I'm not sure how to back up my assertion about this, because I am too frazzled to structure my argument well. Maybe tomorrow's experiment will bear fruit. If not, perhaps I will experiment with adding some for real meditation to the chanting. (or replacing it!)

Too Much #3: Worrying About Christmas.

Uhh here's the deal: I'm terrible at Christmas. I'm sorry. I'm sorry to the environment, to poor sweatshopmen, to rich unhappy people, to recently-bankrupt people, to hedonic treadmill runners and burned-out I-bankers, to priests and penguins, to oldmen who are wondering just why our society is so flashy and weird nowadays, for participating in this vicious cycle of consumerism. And I'm sorry to my family, to my friends, to tradition-lovers and genuine goodwill gift-givers, to retailers who want to make a living and parents who want a little magic for their kids, for worrying so much about the whole thing.

What's my beef with Christmas? It's not on the "giving" side, because I can control that. The only way the giving would be bad would be if I felt pressured to give someone something that I didn't want to, and I don't ever. It's on the "receiving" side; I don't want to receive a bunch of stuff. Why not? Is it the clutter factor? I can deal with that; give stuff away, etc. Is it the environment factor? Sure, but then, I do much worse things and much better things. Saying "my Christmas presents are killing the environment" is like saying "those four times I've smoked hookah in my life are killing my lungs". Is it the fact that people are giving their money to big soulless sweatshoppy corporations? Yeah, maybe, whatever, but goddammit, it's their money. It's not my responsibility, nor my right, to make them spend it fairly/locally/responsibly/etc.

So I hereby am resolving to try not to worry about Christmas presents at all this year. (did I say this last year too? if so, I re-resolve.) I'll buy you a present that I want to buy you. You can buy me one you want to buy me. Or not, that's fine too. Really. Honestly.

Too Much #4: computers today.

I do not want to count the number of hours I've spent staring at a computer screen today. Ow my eyes! Good night.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Widening the corridors and adding more lanes

Hey! It's that time again, when my music on my digital music playing device is all old. Because I get bored faster than an averageman, I want to seek out some new stuff now.

My musical tastes have remained largely unchanged for a few years: indie pop, with a good deal of electricity, happiness, and inventiveness. When I listed my top 10 most favorite albums over a year ago, they were: Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Broken Social Scene, the Knife, Arcade Fire, The Go! Team, The Fiery Furnaces, Of Montreal, and Architecture in Helsinki. If I remade the list today, it would probably be about the same. Maybe I would try to squeeze a Talking Heads album in there.

Can you recommend me something that is not that genre? Perhaps you like an entirely different genre: the hip hops or the technoes or the country or the blues or the experimental jazz. Maybe it's 18th-century harpsichord music or 5th-century Gregorian chants, or West African djembe, or Finnish seal-hunting war cries! Whatever it is, I am throwing down this pledge: you name me up to two albums (and/or copy or give them to me, that would be particularly delightful, but just the names is fine too) and I will give them a good honest listening-to.

I can also return the favor if you'd like.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Comically bad service: united airlines.

Good morning. It is 6:30 am. Did I mention it's 6:30 am? Oh my god it's 6:30 am.


So I'm flying on United Airlines on January 5. You may be aware that this is in the future. Quite a ways, in fact. So I signed up for "United flight alerts" or whatever so that they can call me if my flight gets delayed. I don't usually, but I figure, well I guess I will want to know if my flight changes.

I get a phone call at 6:30 am. I go straight from deep sleep to high alert, because I am on call right now for work. There is a possibility that an automated system from some unknown phone number will call me and say "wake up, Dan, time to fix Google!" Aaah, the call is from an unknown phone number! And it's a mechanized voice saying "fix Google"... oh wait, no it's not. It's United Airlines, saying there's a schedule change to my upcoming flight. ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff-- I didn't mean to type those f's, I am just so tired my finger fell on them and I couldn't pick it back up.

united airlines what is it! i am not flying within 24 hours. it is not acceptable that you are calling me at 6 am when it is not urgent urgent urgent. aaargh
but I guess I'm awake, I might as well figure out when the flight is. I'm listening, automated system, when is it? "please call United at 1-800-..." what? you're making me call you to find out when it is? aargh I will check online.
Online: what's your frequent flyer # and password? here. No, wrong password, okay, there. On the itinerary: "there has been a schedule change. please call united." Argh! You can't just tell me here what it used to be and what it is now? gggggg

Okay I call United. I tried to zero out their system by saying "operator" in my I-am-tired voice. It tricked me! "Before we can connect you to an operator, we need to know what this is about. Is it about arrivals and departures, frequent flyer, ..." it even got me playing that game for a while, before I realize "I'm still fighting with a menu even though I said "operator!"" So I groan again. Operator. Oh please.

A nice Indian lady answers, and I'm like "do not take this out on her do not take this out on her do not take this out on her" so I'm about to start a reasonable request but unfortunately the first thing out of my mouth is "It's 6 AM where I live and this system has just woken me up" and so whatever, now she's in for my whole sad story whether either of us wanted me to tell her. luckily it is a short story: "The system said call United to find out what my schedule change is."
her: "first of all I want to apologize that this system has woken you up, it's an automated system that just keeps calling people" etc
me: "okay, right, file a bug because this is unacceptable." (did she think I'd just say "oh well, those rascally computers"?)
her: "let me look it up, what's your confirmation number?"
her: "okay. while it's loading, would you be interested in something something rental car?"
At this point I bust out laughing. Somehow I manage to sputter: "No! I am-- I am-- very mad right now! And you're trying to sell me something--" "I'm sorry sir--" "No! No thanks. No rental cars. Oh my geez."*
her: "okay. your flight change is: " and she describes the change. My flight is getting moved back FOUR MINUTES. And so is the connecting flight! I cannot imagine who would care about this!
me: (laughs and tries to make up for being an angryman on the phone, because that's a lame thing to do), "okay, sorry to take this out on you, goodbye, have a nice morning, or evening"
her: "okay, thanks. yeah, it's evening."

* the frustrating thing about interacting with people on scripts is that you have to be on a script too. I'm sure there's something on her flowchart that says "you may only respond with apologies and restatements of the question. you may not move on with this conversation until the customer says specifically 'yes I want a rental car' or 'no I do not want a rental car'."

Anyway, everyone knows United Airlines is the Worst Company, unless maybe it's US Airways, and yet we'll probably keep flying them and cursing them because they own the airplanes. So it's not even worth cursing them out here, or trying to convince you that they're terrible, so, two points only:

There's something poignant, or whatever the right word is, oh my god I'm tired, about this huge brutal system annoying me in Seattle and making her put up with annoyed people in India.
Did she really try to sell me a rental car?!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

There's not one quotable Fiery Furnaces lyric for this title

And there are a lot of Fiery Furnaces lyrics.

I just got back from their concert. Ah! So good! It entirely held my attention the whole time, even though I know most of their music. I guess part of that is because it's at breakneck speed all the time. And sputtered lyrics too fast for the music, and loud and skronky, with meters that don't make sense and stuff. I mean, it's not even enjoyable to listen to. But something about them is really quite incredible; something between their lyrics and their musicality and their prolificacy and their straight up weirdness. Don't get me wrong, they can make a nice tune like anyone (see "Evergreen", say) but sometimes they just rocket into the far reaches of the world ("Borneo") or the seas ("Blueberry Boat" and "Quay Cur"), there's magic ("Duplexes of the Dead") and bizarre religious practices ("Staring at the Steeple") and and and ... Vietnamese telephone ministries and tropical ice-lands and the Garfield El and ... I could go on all night but I'm tired. Listen to them! I recommend "Blueberry Boat" (of course...) and "Bitter Tea".

But I just diverged into why their recordings are great. I can't tell you why their live show was great. It was objectively not great listening. But it was like memorizing the dictionary, and then someone picking out a dozen great words. Every time I'd understand what they were playing, it was like "oh hey I remember that song". Also, they're crazy. Matthew Friedberger, the guitarist and main songwriter, didn't say almost anything the whole time, until he urged us to give a "hip hip hooray" for the drummer and the bassist. Eleanor Friedberger, his sister, sort of blankly stared while rambling out way too many lyrics for the syllables she had. And there was this crazy dude in the audience who kept putting up three fingers, then two fingers, then three fingers, as if this was a common dance move.

A+, ladies and gentlemen. A show well played. Off to bed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

All over the place.

I've heard a lot of advice about how to find your true calling etc, and most of it is very sensible, and along the lines of: "find something that you think might be your true calling, and try it." But I'm a little scatterbrained. Every week I find a bunch more things that I think "oh hey this would be very cool"- whether they're software, somewhat related to software, or completely off the wall. My question: how do you find the time to do them all? Lest you say "stop thinking about doing something and do something", I am, in at least three areas: work, cooking, and languages. Perhaps that's all there is; keep trying and it'll work out. At least I'm fairly certain that it will involve computers, cooking, and/or travel.

Unrelatedly, I'd like to repost a couple things from my friend Aditya's blog, because I think they're very cool and you might like them too:

David Foster Wallace's commencement address to Kenyon in 2005, because what's more inspiring than a commencement address? Also, the idea that "your liberal arts education has given you the ability to decide what to think"... fascinating! Talking about deciding what to think approaches psychology, and then in turn philosophy and spirituality.

And then here's a thing about mindfulness, from a psychological point of view. So there are two modes your mind can be in, narrative and direct, and those who meditate (or practice, commune with God, pray, train their minds) often can distinguish between the two modes more often. Sometimes I wish I read more psychology so I would learn more of this kind of stuff! Also, the scope of this drives me nuts: how does this fit in with all the million other theories of the brain?

Furthermore, and unrelatedly once again, while I'm thinking about scope, I was wondering the other day if scope is the main thing that makes programming difficult. And by "scope" I mean "holding all these scopes, and what words mean what in which places, in your mind." I could make a long example but I'm tired, so I'll just say "ponder this." Like I said, all over the place.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What I like about places, by induction.

In Bratislava, there's a guy who sells real Soviet pins and badges and awards. His shop is the size of a closet. He's somewhere in the old town, but he's hard to find, because streets are all twisty there. His hours are more or less unpredictable. My friend Vic alerted me to his existence; I finally found him the last day I was there. I bought two pins: one was an award for "best lawyer", one for "best builder," and spent the trip back wondering which one my dad would like better.

There's an area of Tokyo called the "Golden Gai." Not quite secret (it's in the Lonely Planet) but it felt like it. There were a bunch of bars with room for about 8 people each. Most of them were closed. In the center of skyscraper city (near Shinjuku I think?) this little city block of old-looking sorta-shabby little old houses still survives. Thanks to Ram, we both had a great time there. And some terrible drinks. (Pickled ume in a drink? Really?)

London! You might be stumbling around right smack in the center of your Underground map, by like Holborn and Covent Garden, and you might find yourself in a place called "Neal's Yard," and all of a sudden the London grayness (or rather, "greyness") vanishes and you're in this flowery colorful courtyard! With vegan hippie restaurants and stuff! Maybe this is a well-known place even, but I did not at all know it, and I dug it for its unexpectedness.

In Boston, there's an alley with a ton of pictures of saints. I guess if you get there at the right time, a guy who lives there will come out and talk to you about them. 's about all I know.

But these places might help me answer a question that always has confounded me: what do I want when I travel? I mean, authenticity, of course. Seeing a place like the locals do. Real connections with people. But there's two things about that: 1. I don't know how, and I don't know anyone who knows how, to do it well in a short time; and 2. I can't shake the feeling that it's a little gawky-weird*. So in lieu of, and in addition to that, we have experiences like the four above.

* so I don't really want to get into this, but it seems a little weird, like imperialistic even, to talk like this about "the locals". Who are you, that they'll want to hang out with you? Sheesh. Granted, if someone met me in Seattle, and wanted to talk to me about what it's like to live in Seattle, I'd be thrilled and honored! But I can't help feeling so very white everywhere I go, and that my desire to, say, strike up a conversation with a guy at a roadside stand in India would be met with confusion at best. Maybe this is just my insecurity talking, and this is kind of a discussion for another time. Anyway...

What do these four experiences have in common? They're awesome, they're unique, and they're hidden. It's sort of like why I'd rather live in Pittsburgh than in New York City. If you meet someone in some random place and start talking about Pittsburgh, it's great! If you're from New York, well, sure, everyone's been to New York. If I talk to you about the Eiffel Tower, because we both saw it and it is big and stuff, meh. But if you also saw that dude in Bratislava, and talked to him in broken English about Soviet prizes, then we have a connection.

But it's not just for the talking-about-it that I like these things. There's something more there, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Something like "I am seeing this, and not many other people are, and it's amazing. I have discovered an untouched corner in the world. Neat."

So! You should come visit me. I'll try to show you some hidden parts of Seattle. And then I'll come visit you, and you show me the awesome hidden parts of your city. This will be so much better than going up in the Space Needle.

EDIT: I forgot, I wanted to include this in the discussion. I hope I find a Toynbee Tile someday.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Webcomics evolution wonder! Absolutely hooray for this!

Sorry, I'm just further scattering your brain, and not contributing anything useful but but but but (deep breath) this is so good.

Okay, so you know Dinosaur Comics.

And you know Garfield Minus Garfield.

Stop for a moment if you don't know Dinosaur Comics or Garfield Minus Garfield. You gotta know these. They're both genius. Read a bunch. Okay, now you may continue:

T-Rex is Lonely Comics.

SUPER YES. I am glad that the world of webcomics has come to this. It's entirely a webcomics inside joke. I feel like this must be how like Mondrian felt or something, when he just took some existing art and broke it down to its bare fundamentals and he's like "hey this is a tree" and everyone else is like "what are you doing." You look at T-Rex is Lonely Comics and you're like "what the hell" but it's SO GOOD because you know the backstory...

HOLD UP it just got better. I didn't realize they were munged from EXISTING DINOSAUR COMICS.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Daylight Savings Time Happened, and Overreading

Last night was apparently Fall Back night, of the "spring forward fall back" variety.

Time zones don't make any sense. You know? (pardon me if I've ranted this to you before. (they're particularly irksome to me due to a year-long bug at work. anyway:) Why is it that we all have to have the privilege of waking up at 8AM and going to sleep at midnight? Why can't we just say, okay, UTC (or GMT for you non-time-zone-wonks) is it, and maybe in Britain the sun rises at 6AM and sets at 8PM, but in EST it rises at 1AM and sets at 3PM, and here in PST it rises at 10PM and sets at 12 "noon". No worries, you'd get used to it.

Supposedly they exist to make the trains work. What?! That's the most nonsense: the only thing time zones could to trains is screw them up. Instead of "I'm arriving in Cleveland at 5pm" I'd have to say "I'm arriving in Cleveland at 5pm my time; that's 8pm your time"; and good grief if I'm in America talking to someone in India about a train in Europe. And yeah, they make extra complication in software, which is almost always bad.

And now Daylight Savings Time too, which makes things even worse. Longer evenings for farmers etc, and now we just like it because it's nice in the summer; whatever. All it really ever does is make us miss church one more Sunday every year. (of course I never reminded my parents.)

So what happens last night? DST happens. And because my only clocks are my phone and my computer, thanks to the internet, I don't even notice. Wow! Maybe technology can save us after all! (although it really feels like a band-aid instead of fixing the bug, which is also almost always bad.)

End topic one. Begin topic two. Dan's prediction of the day: information is the new food.

Remember back in the day, like all of human history until like 100 years ago for some countries, it was always a struggle to get enough food? And now we have so much food all the time, and we're just going on this raging bender and making ourselves sick? Look at information: until like 10 years ago, it was a struggle to get enough information, and now we have so much information all the time, and we're just taking it in, more and more.

After a point, I stop comprehending and appreciating. Reading RSS feeds does this for sure: I just click through and read them all because they're there. I often couldn't tell you what I just read. It's a kinda icky pattern; whenever I'm at a computer and not totally immediately gratified, I check my email, and if there's nothing there, I check my google reader. At the end of any given day, especially a work day, my mind feels all strung-out and awful. Sort of like overeating.

Diabetes is on the rise; how's ADD?

There are more parallels too: used to be that everyone made a little information/media: they told stories around the campfire or whatever. Then corporations got in the game and a bunch of Americans stopped making information and started watching TV. Nowadays, everyone can generate media again. Same as food: everyone used to cook, then everyone bought fast food, now people are realizing that's a bad idea and starting to make their own food again. There's junk information (say, People magazine, reality TV, arguably video games) just like there's junk food.

Subtopics for further discussion:
- where does Google fit in? Am I working for tomorrow's McDonald's? (I think not; if anything, I'm working for tomorrow's super-grocery-store. and while the farmer's market is better than the grocery store, the grocery store is sure better than the convenience mart, or no food at all.)
- would adjusting our information intake fix most of our scattered 21st-century brains, just like adjusting our food intake would fix most of our messed-up 21st-century bodies?
- has anyone else thought this?