Archive for January, 2009

The Devil You Know

I think chains in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave may be nothing more than priming — the intimate relationship between expectation and perception. The problem is the prisoners don’t see the chains. Perhaps the answer isn’t to try and convince them to turn around, but to simply polish the chains to make them more noticeable.

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Seeds Of Destruction

One of the strongest calls I have to humility is my arrogance. When I interact with someone and know with some certainty that I could overcome their obstacles more easily than they can, I see that everyone has been unwittingly deceived about the world through the life they’ve lived and I am no exception. We’re all doing the best we can.

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The Day Of Your Death

Most people seem to be 100% certain they’ll still be alive in two weeks. I’m only 99.9999% certain, and it changes how willing I am to do things I don’t particularly want to and how willing I am to let opportunities pass me by.

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Cowboy Mouth

I went to see Cowboy Mouth again tonight. I think I want to write them a letter and ask them some questions. I’ve been thinking about what that would look like…

Dear Fred,

I went to see your concert tonight and I really enjoyed it. This was my fourth show over the course of almost ten years and every one of them can only be described as cathartic. It’s like pressure washing brain — intense and wild while it’s going on, and leaves me cleaner at the end.

As I was watching tonight, I was wondering about how you feel about your job. Every single time I have seen you, you have been going at it with what seemed like 100% of what you could put into the show. You opened by saying, “I’m here to see that you have a good time and I’m also here to see that I have a good time.” I liked that.

Can you do it successfully though? Do you ever just not want to go out on stage, but you have to because someone is paying you to do it. Is performing ever just a job?

I ask in part because I’m at a point (just turned 30) where I’m trying to find something to do that isn’t just a job. It seems like most everyone’s job is a bore part of the time though, so maybe my expectations are set too high. You talk a lot about being present and giving it your all, and it seems like a person who believes that way wouldn’t put up with much bullshit in their job. You certainly seem enthusiastic.

I hope that you don’t find the question insulting in any way. It’s just that I’ve asked probably 15 people, “What is your ideal way to spend your time?” No one has said, “What I’m doing now.” Almost everyone seems to want to be somewhere other than where they are. I know I sometimes only show up at the office to pay the bills. I’m only asking you if you really like your job 100% of the time because while you were on that stage, it seemed like maybe you do.

In any case, great concert. I felt like the Wildhorse was a big too big on a Thursday night to get the crowd as packed in proper, but still, as always, a good performance.


P.S. Does the star tattoo on your wrist mean anything special to you?

I can’t find any way to send them a message though on their website. That’s disappointing.

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My University Education

I’ve been thinking about my job again. I try not to think about my job because I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I have to do it. Even if I was willing to just walk out the door without a diploma (having wasted a year and a half in a really irritating way), I’m not really morally ok with abandoning the obligation I took on by agreeing to do it.

Because I lied and pretended to be more interested than I actually was, Julie made commitments she can’t change. When I got here, I didn’t say, “God’s honest truth, I really want a Ph.D. so I can teach. I don’t love robots, but Vandy’s a good school and hopefully I can learn to love them.” After my first year, I didn’t say, “I just got through doing a shit-ton of work and the vast bulk of it was a waste of my time. I’m mostly convinced this is the wrong place for me.”

I have spent hours and hours of my time learning the intimate details of shit that I really really don’t need to know that well. (It took a week to learn how to derive the ANOVA. I managed to retain it subsequently for all of four days.)

Not that depth isn’t vital for being a scientist. I’m in the process of learning about peer-to-peer cryptographic down to the bare metal. I will have read and written hundreds of pages of detailed descriptions to understand this shit by the time I’m done.

There’s a limit to how much I can learn though, and how much time I have, so what I choose to learn in great detail is important to the quality of my work. My problem with this University is that by and large they told me what was important to learn, and only showed a passing interest in what I thought was important.

That sense of being a professional being able to make adult decisions about what is and isn’t important was rarely encouraged by the University.

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A Personal God

Over beers tonight Kristen asked me, “you used to be a Christian, what was it that you liked about it?”

The God of my youth was a very personal God. Jesus loved me in a very intimate and individual way. Not that He loved me more than everyone else, but there is some best part of me that strives to be just, fair and respectful to everyone. I don’t always manage to show that part of me, because of fear or anger or often just bad timing and lack of omniscience. God though could see the person that I wanted to be and cherished that person.

It’s been a while since I’ve known that God. It troubles me because it seems at times that everyone around me wants me to just do well enough to get by. I lose touch with that best part of me. I forget what it feels like to be loved for more than what I provide and, more importantly, I forget what it feels like to love people for more than what they provide me.

In my sense of separation, I forget that, as far as I can tell, the best in everyone else in the world is much like the best in myself.

A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

Since then, it’s been wailing a tender agony
of parting, never mentioning the skill
that gave it life as a flute.

— Jelaluddin Balkhi (“Rumi”)

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A Socialist Tesla

[T]he job is not to see where “Marx was wrong” so much as to make a fresh application of his theory to the world around us as it is, not as it once was. To borrow a comparison from the field of physics, we need socialist Faradays and Maxwells or if we are lucky, Einsteins and Plancks, not people who confine themselves to knocking Isaac Newton.
— Harry Braverman

I like the idea of being a socialist Faraday. (Einstein was already a socialist Einstein.) Actually, I think I want to be a socialist Tesla — the quirky scientist motif always entertained me. I’m thinking about having mad scientist business cards made up to give to people when schmoozing in B’more.

At the very least, I want to help people realize that economics is a science. In various discussions, I’ve had six or seven people so far say, “that sounds like socialism, which has been proven not to work.” This one little patent oversimplification gets passed around making people sound like they know what they’re talking about, but hiding the fact that there are lots of economic options yet untried.

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At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
— Ernesto “Che” Guevara

I spent four and a half hours today watching Benicio Del Toro as Che Guevara.

It was a visually intriguing and well shot film. Conceptually, however, it painted him as a machine gun toting saint.

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It amazes me how often I manage to forget just how short this life is and how important it is that we take ownership of each and every moment.

I’m still trying to figure out why exactly getting fucked up in all its forms helps me remember this. I’ve got an unexpected scientific discipline applied to the problem though, and I strongly suspect I will make progress.

Now: dancing.

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Hardware and Software

Back in the day, computer systems were designed as combinations of logical gates. These were etched into silicon to create specialized computational devices:

Full Adder

Eventually the complexity of systems reached a point where we developed generic processors that could perform generic operations and the computational complexity was moved out into software that could be changed much more easily than rewiring circuits.

Consider results of an experiment found via the experience sampling method. In ESM, test subjects are beeped at random intervals and they conduct a short survey. The results were interesting:

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