Monday, November 10, 2014

Snarky Side Notes

On this fine Monday evening, I am tired and cranky. Allow me to share that cranky with you fine folks, briefly.

President Obama came out in support of Net Neutrality today. I suppose that's pretty much the end of that, the megacorps have won again, because if there's one group that cares less about what's right for consumers than the corps, it's Congress, and because Not-What-Our-Opponent-Says seems to be the only political platform left in America.

That they call it "work-life" balance instead of "life-work" balance tells you pretty much all you need to know.

As a programmer with opinions about the tools he uses, I'm appalled that the business application world (the silent majority of programming) seems to be moving from the endless purgatory of C++ into the fiery pool of Javascript and CSS.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The 80s Make Everything More Epic

Here is one of the more nerdy pattern matches that my brain has ever inflicted on me. Ladies and gentlemen, how to use the technobabble from 80s cartoon Voltron (Lion version) as a checklist for starting your car:

  • Insert keys (keys)
  • Activate interlock (seatbelt)
  • Dynotherms connected (ignition)
  • Infracells are up (parking break)
  • Megathrusters are go (shift into gear)

And now you have something to look forward to as you go to work tomorrow.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quote of the Moment: An Apocalyptic Review

"Every generation conjures its own apocalypses and dystopias. They give us an index of the collective anxieties of the era."

The New Yorker takes a look at one of my favorite classic post-apocalypse novels, A Canticle for Leibowitz, examining how the author's real life experience with apocalyptic events (World War II) influenced the book and his life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

This Year's Halloween Costume

The time has come once again for me to pick my hypothetical Halloween costume. With wars and ebola stepping up the real life scary, I want something that will really upset people, maybe even provoke incoherent outbursts and irrational rage. The choice is clear: I will be a political campaign ad.

Bookworming: House of Leaves

House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski, **
How to start describing a book with a dedication which reads "This is not for you."? At it's heart lies the tidy horror story told in a documentary made by a photojournalist of what happened when he and his family moved into a house that was somehow bigger on the inside than the outside. Because of the edited nature of a documentary, and because the documentary is of the creator's family, much of the motivations of those involved are unclear. It's therefore a good thing that we the readers are presented this narration in the context of an academic examination of the film, covering copious theories, diversions, and many, many annotated footnotes. Except that this academic treatise is presented to us by a man on the fringes of society who found said documents and adds his own commentary in yet more annotations and his own pages-long narrative diversions. He quickly lets us know that the author of the extended essay appears to be making up many of his references, and in fact there is no evidence the documentary exists. And yet, the man's notes give more and more evidence of mental decline and obsession with the document he found. And if that weren't enough the book's "editors" chime in with the dark context of the compiler's history, leading to further questions about what might be real and what not.

The word "house" always appears blue.

And so goes House of Leaves: metaphor within metaphor, unreliable narrator within unreliable narrator. Narrative chaining to analysis chaining to footnote, footnote of the footnote, and reference to the copious, seemingly unrelated appendices. This is less a novel than a work of art trying to deconstruct a wide variety of writing styles from within. The central horror story is a genuinely great one which taps directly into a subversion of home being a safe place. The entire book seems meant to have a similar effect on book lovers. It is more than just a non-linear style fostered by the jumps from main content to footnotes to end notes and back, the portions that represent the visual documentary also take on the aspects of that tale, changing orientation on the page, even flowing "through" the pages at one point.

So what did I actually think of it? Well, it certainly wan't an easy read. I can appreciate the artistry of it to some extent, but I also suspect that I lack the literary training or exposure to really appreciate some of the levels of irony (or is it nihilism?) going on within the pages. In the end, I can say, yes there is a good story in here, maybe even more than one, but digging it out is work. Judging by the comments on Goodreads, it is work you will either find rewarding or utterly pretentious. The one thing I can confidently say: this was the oddest book I have ever read.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ten Ways the World Ends

A quick link tonight to io9's taxonomy of fictional apocalypses. It provides an excellent primer into the ways fears feed into setting choices in apocalyptic stories.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Quote of the Moment

Hopelessness is the limit and beginning of a new kind of hope. You have to keep going – not to achieve dreams of beautiful mountaintop forests, but because life is more powerful than death. Hopelessness makes possible a new hope, a faith in the basic tissue of life that is stronger than any disaster. This is how humanity survives. This is the strength that keeps us going.”
–Naseer Hassan, as quoted by Roy Scranton in “Rolling Stone” “Back to Baghdad: Life in the City of Doom”.

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Productivity

Another one of those posts came across Hacker News today. You know the ones, they promise dramatic improvement in your skills and/or your life if only you do some thing every day. Want to see the world differently and be a better artist? Draw every day. Want to be a better writer and and have more insight into yourself? Write every day. Want to be more productive and get things done? Follow (your choice of Pomodoro, GTD, the Seinfeld method, etc.) every day. Granted, all of these things are probably true. If you really want to improve, a disciplined, consistent pursuit of self-education via practice will certainly help you. However, I can't help but feel there is a downside to such advice.

Sure, I want to be more productive, to use my time better. I've never met anyone who doesn't. We all have finite lives, and most of us weren't born with the monetary means to do what we want all the time. But what happens if you really are too tired? What happens if doing X every day simply doesn't fit into your (or your children's) schedule? The desire to be more productive can change into guilt or depression over not checking that box every day.

As I approach what I hope will be the midpoint of my career, I find less and less time for my hobbies because I have a house to take care of, food to buy and prepare, clothes to launder, and work responsibilities that consume more of my time and energy than ever before. And I don't even have children. This, and repeated exposure to suggestions offered on the internet have lead me to seek my own answer to the question of becoming more productive. And since people seem to like to write these things down, I will share my secret with you today.

I believe happy, healthy, well rested people are the most productive. Shocking, right? So you want to be better at X? OK then, find a way to pursue it that does not impact your health or your happiness and does not drain away your energy. It works the other way too. If doing something has a positive effect on your energy, health, or happiness, then by all means find a way to keep doing it.

I want to be a better writer, so I started a blog. The archives clearly demonstrate that I don't write every day, and yet, I'm a better writer than when I began. Am I as better as I could have been if I wrote something every day? Nope, but that's all right. I don't get paid for this. There is no motivation here other than internal motivation, and thus, I can write whenever I wish and not write when I don't. This freedom from pressure makes me happier.

I want to be a better artist, but I've picked up my pencils maybe twice in the last three years, what does that mean? Well, it turns out that for me, drawing uses the same brain muscles as programming. Attempting to do it consistently makes me less capable at work because I'm mentally tired. So I don't draw much right now. That's OK, there will come a time when I am less mentally taxed at the office, and the drawing mood will strike again.

I want to be a better guitar player, but I do a lot of typing and have a tendency toward joint inflammation. Thus, I don't often play the guitar these days to protect the health of my fingers and wrists. And that's good, because being in pain hits all three of the negative criteria.

It may sound like I have essentially given up my hobbies, but that's not the case. I have given them up for now because I can not do them without impacting other more important parts of my life. As soon as I can alter my circumstances to enable me to start doing those things again, I certainly will. All of life is a series of choices. What do you prioritize? The choice is entirely up to you. For better or worse, the needs of my job currently dictate what happens during my free time, because I have chosen to allow it to do so. You too can choose what you wish to pursue, based on the priorities of your life. There is no need to pressure yourself over things that are ultimately secondary.

My method will not make you a super-multitasking productivity machine. It will not grant you all of the skills you want at an expert level. Heck, my method may not work for you at all. But that's OK too. If you find it doesn't make you happier, healthier, or more well rested, I wouldn't recommend it for you anyway.