Archive for August, 2008

Owning Stuff

Been hanging out with my parents for the last couple days catching up on all the family gossip and making plans for the future. Last night my mom and I were out on a walk and had a bit of conflict about mine and Jenni’s wedding. (Not sure exactly when said wedding is taking place yet, but we’re starting to discuss details.)

Both Jenni and I are wanting to take the good wedding bits and keep them, but not be bound by tradition to do anything that we don’t particularly like. It’s a tricky row to hoe since weddings have quite a few interested parties and many of them have a pretty clear picture of how things should go down.

Last night I was discussing with my mom the procedure for getting gifts. The way a wedding is supposed to work is Jenni and I pick out a whole bunch of stuff that we want to have then people show that they care by buying stuff for us.

The one problem is that Jenni and I are currently living apart and running two entirely separate households. We have enough stuff already for the two of us apart, we are almost certainly going to have lots of extra stuff when we merge houses. I have an emotional aversion to the thought of getting even more stuff and I have been trying to figure out why.

Part of it is what Paul Graham says in his essay Stuff:

Stuff used to be rare and valuable… Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven’t changed correspondingly… Most of the stuff I accumulated was worthless, because I didn’t need it.

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My Summer At Sun

I’m home again after my time in Boston with Project Aura. As I look back over my summer I am certainly nowhere near where I expected to be at the outset.

One part of the difference is simply that once I took the concrete step of saying “I don’t like robots and am going to actively pursue finding something I really do like,” it shifted how I see the world significantly. That process has largely been internal, but the external experience of working for Sun and being an intern was also significantly different than I expected it to be.

HR sent around an intern survey to ask us about how much we enjoyed our work experience and how we would rate the organization and whatnot. I filled in the blanks and was not looking to make any serious commentary. At the end, however, the survey wouldn’t let me finish without putting something into the blank for “What would you recommend that management do to make this a better place to work?”

The problem is the question is not a simple one to answer, so as is my wont, I gave them likely far more information than they wanted:

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Why Live With Me?

Things are wrapping up at Sun and I’m getting ready to head back to Nashville for my next semester at Vandy.

I have the slight problem of having no home anymore in Nashville. Wayne, who served as stellar housemate and chauffeur for my first year has now relocated to New Haven, and the reclusiveness that came from having my ass handed to me by my first year left me with relatively few new friends.

So, I’ve been on Craigslist hunting for a place to live.

Honestly, I like having a roommate and don’t particularly want to live alone. It’s something of a feat though to convince folks via the internet that I’m an entertaining enough person to want to see every day. There’s always that “female only” ads for various reasons, but I’ve also seen a couple ads that say they’re looking for early 20-somethings. I’ve never been too old before, if only I had half a chance, I’m sure I could convince them that I’m not terribly mature despite my advanced age. ☺

I’m usually so occupied with living my life that I don’t really look on it as a whole. It’s an interesting process, so I figured I’d record it here so I can look back in my 50’s and remember the person I thought I was.

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Aim At Something High

I’ve been continuing with my reading of Walden. Thoreau spends about ten pages complaining about fashion and how people waste time and energy chasing the latest trends.

On the issue I think he overlooks is the social function that clothing serves. It is simple to dismiss clothing as mere materialistic waste unless one considers the necessary information it conveys about the wearer. That isn’t what I want to get into here, however. What interests me is how he closes:

[A]s far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched. In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

Thinking this area, I wandered around for a while asking people:

Imagine that you somehow come to have $500 million. What would you do with it?

The problem is I kept getting answers like, “buy real estate” and “invest it.” Answers that essentially were about taking a bunch of money and making it into even more money. So I started telling an old joke about a guy who walks into a bar with an ostrich.

I’ll not take the space to tell the whole joke, but one of the pieces of setup is every time he reaches into his pocket to get the money to pay for something, the exact amount he needs is there. Be it a piece of gum or a new car, he can buy whatever he wants whenever he wants it.

This idea fascinates me. I wrote a while back about being King of the CVS and the idea that letting go of scarcity puts a person in a fundamentally different frame of mind. The form of the question I like now is:

Imagine that every time you reach into your pocket there is the exact amount of money to pay for whatever you want. You can have whatever you want, what do you do?

Would you go to your job tomorrow? Would you just go sit on a beach somewhere? Would you give bunches of stuff away? What would you do with your freedom?

I went to see Batman tonight and really liked it. I want to talk about it for a bit, so if you’ve not seen it and want to be surprised, you best stop reading now.

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A Deliberate Life

After a recent visit to Walden Pond, I’ve been reading Thoreau’s thoughts on living a deliberate life and they really seem to fit with where I am right now:

[E]verywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways. … I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. … Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? …

Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. … [T]he laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; … He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance — which his growth requires — who has so often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.

The point that I think Thoreau is driving at is not simply that an obsession with works cuts us off from our deepest natures, but that one can become so focused the minutiae of daily life that we actually lose the ability to discern those desires.

For the last year I have been with the HMT lab at Vanderbilt. I applied to several schools with only a very vague idea of how graduate school worked or what I would like to study. I have wanted to teach for a long time and was very happy to be accepted to the program.

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Coup In Mauritania

Well, it seems as though Mauritania has had another coup.

After the coup while I was there, there was a real potential for instability and a power grap for the newly deloping oil money. I was proud of Mauritania as a country when the junta responsible for the coup disallowed themselves from being a part of the elections and a new president was chosen in peaceful and free elections.

The current controversy seems to be over an innappropriate exercise of “personal power” having to do with the President and his cabinet. I attempted to get more info from my favorite paper while in Mauritania, the Nouakchott Info, but the site is down at the moment (and I don’t really speak French anymore in any case).

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Blog Rises Again

After two weeks of massive failure (which apparently comprises a medium severity problem for Dreamhost) they have restored my site from an offsite backup.

I’m certainly going to keep this in mind for the future when I have sites that actually need to be up. Two weeks is absurd for just about any problem short of your facility burning down (which theirs didn’t).

A few interesting things happened in the last couple weeks, mostly my weekends one of which was a huge hippie love-fest in woods (which made me realize how much I enjoy the hippies) and massive amounts of sociology which I have some more analytical thoughts on that I’ll post about later.

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