Sunday, November 24, 2013

All is Lost

This is not narrative. You have to watch it hard to make poesis happen. You will feel it near to happening to you. It will not carry you along to its conclusion.

Like I am sick. Very very sick. My disease will kill me, but not tomorrow or the next day. These are emotional illnesses, in the plural which all now have physiological solutions for the hulk of me. I eat too much, and it's not a matter of my appetite. There is some emotional lack; some craving. I drink too much, especially when up against it and in need of my full wits. I am self-indulgent. I stop at 35 pushups now. Schlump. It will be sad to watch me sink were I the one doing it.

Not so sick, at least not anymore, that I need some Prozac-descended magic, but you know I'm sick the way that the earth is sick. Not twelve-step program sick, but moving in that direction. We all know what we should do, but we can't do it. Walking out of the United Nations talks on global warming because nobody will make a decision and we're too powerless to make a decision. All of us, even collectively or especially collectively. Our leader is a disappointment. So was Lincoln (I watched that film again last night with malice aforethought).

Certainties fall like the price for computing cycles per nano-second. I'm so certain that Google is brain-dead fixated on an old Platonic dream of virtual reality made real, just like Richard Swinburne who I saw the other day. Some supposed brilliant analytical philosopher who's still wondering if God is necessary. Innocent of all physics which solves Zeno in a much more clever way and not as Swinburne had to suppose since logic dictates ever more minuscule divisions of time or space. Reality denied. There is no perfect conveyance for our soul.

Innocent of anything Eastern, and so just rehearsing one among infinities of mental chess matches which can be deployed by the adept. But I was just too certain that Google was truly pursuing a self-driving car because we just can't let go of our individualistic personal God cares for me individually drive which will destroy the earth, most especially if we find some really cheap form of heat-energy.

But I read this New Yorker article about the Googleplex (just how do they keep their peculiar tone across so much time and so many different authors?) and it seems maybe they do have a vision, Google. That we won't need individually to own cars when they can drive themselves and we can just use them when we want to and fly in flocks to advantage the drafting the way bicyclists do while racing. I'd thought they weren't even working on networking the cars, but of course, duh, cars are merest analog for smart network packets.

But these dreams are of what? Sure I always want some newer and better gadget, but isn't there so much noise that my actual being can't hold that proverbial candle to off-the-grid? Or afloat alone beyond the horizon? How can they double my internet bill for loyalty! I was a sucker in the beginning and now they own me.

The geneticists were certain too until they took a good look at dog and goldfish breeding and had to wake up to the evident fact that these massive phenotypic variations were taking place in time slices far shorter than evolutionary. And that even certain acquired or learned changes can be inherited by mechanisms of enfolding.

And surprisingly enough again once we start cataloging the human genome, we get symbiotic parasites along for that ride too when we start checking out the bacteria inside us and then discover, say, that the contents of our stomachs might have something to do with our personalities, and so God sure is a trickster when he cares for each of us, soul-wise, if we can be so different according to what we eat or maybe how our emotions change the chemistry of our stomachs. You get the point.

And how can post-post critical theorists go gunning for the Nobel prize, I really want to know. Because, I mean the anti-prior-knowledge anti-privileging of point of view goes so anti-individualistically against the grain for prizes. But the world is mostly irony, and so I suppose must God be. Still.

My problem is that I'm just not sufficiently money-motivated, or else I'd have some. I'd still have my boat afloat. But really you know I have enough, and too bad if I go and make crazy decisions like going back to make another attempt at a Ph.D. at my advanced age, as though it could do me any good. But I don't do it for me, I do it for you, you know, which is pretty damned cheeky of me if you were to ask me. As though the certificate actually means something as sound as a dollar.

Money is a life-force, at least as much as bacteria in our guts, the way it manipulates hormones and mediates so much that no matter how much style we have we still all look the same and will never be so bold as to look the way that indigenous people can without the imperial us behind borders that individualize even as they homogenize. Ironic, no?

Well, and my abstracted memory sucks too. I hardly ever remember if I saw that movie before, and which of my loves among the spectrum of children through friends and lovers I saw it with. Or visited which place, though if I un-abstract my memory by travelling the literal memory lane it's all still there. I've tried it. It's true!

And still I throw things out, which is pretty much the same then as discarding myself or allowing those digital photos to continue to pile up though I never ever look at them. Do you?

I mean, if there isn't something at my core and center then there is no I there, but still I can lay no real claim to genetic ownership of the family tree if its all mitigated by freaks of accident. And why choose this narrative over some other? It's the bugs talking. Listening in.

At the core of humanity, there would be God, analog to Chinese heart-mind though that particular locution is a radially humanistic one and not divine. You have to work for it. Which is back to my disease of self-indulgence; a treat for the fictional "I" that has no right and plenty of work to do now. But I'm really smart and so entitled and why should I have to earn my keep when looks alone suffice? If you're Robert Redford, maybe.

But we don't even allow for the existence of emotion apart from some human birthright, and how ironic that I do, cosmically, acknowledge the primordial existence of emotion even apart from humans right alongside fundamental particles which aren't even particles or even strings so much as they remain projections of conceptual certainty no matter how complicated and outered the machines for their detection since we can't quite disimplicate our selves. Nor draw a boundary where we end.

We are infiltrated, and pure full-blooded Americans are exiled away to Mexico because they don't hold patent papers on their precincts and are supposed to belong there, just like the criminals in my genetic past. Right?

I did watch, and oh how self-indulgent or maybe it's just my age cohort now since it was before 11 AM, that new Robert Redford film of the old Robert Redford. All is Lost, right?

I've seen that movie before. It's my life. I've drowned. I've died. It's your life if you're still alive because there have been so many close calls. But the sailboat, not quite up to perfect snuff and Redford old and tired, and you really can't tell if he just doesn't care to live or if he's too tired in a physical way.

My absolute favorite scene is when he shaved. Like at least you don't have to wonder the way that I always do how come the desperate guy hasn't grown a beard after so many days. And it explains why his manual bilge pump has lost its lever, or he just hasn't gotten around to replacing it.

None of it matters until it does, and boy let me tell you I did things a lot stupider on my old boat than Redford did on his there, no matter that shore was just over the horizon for me it was still to far to swim for. Or cold, he was never cold.

But we will all get to that point soon, and I don't suppose the Googleplex will clever us out of it, since they're not really all that clever. They can't be. They're too young and have spent too much time on things that aren't quite real. And then there's the money. A drug which prevents real search. Research. Which is why you hire youngsters in the first place. Callow cleverness is so cheap.

I mostly hear Johnny Cash on his final cut. Standing in for beauty. We have to feel and want our future if it is to become real. And I'm still too damned lazy to ride a bike to work. No time to train. I startle myself awake, like Ambien against thought-coma. And so attenuated from what I never was again. Give me a hand.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Not for Want of Love

No longer willing or able even to aspire
To make connection
Across years through text
Not with their author, purported only
But together with that end toward which
We two yearn
But for the long unregarded stacks
Or clicked on legalese which
Were it read
Would count to hundreds of actual meaningless pages
Of words never read even by their writer
Were there one
The flesh withers and retreats even from climax
How can one care anymore
Never achieved, as though that were the right term
Hallelujah approximately
There is never any want for meaningless flesh
Who wrote those words?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Windows 8 Hate or How I Learned to Love the Bomb

I just have to take a (long) moment here to comment on Microsoft's new operating system. Just like I finally did buy a new car (and still regret it) I'm going back to school and so I decided to buy a new computer.

Before abandoning my old laptop, I had to make one more attempt to convince myself that it really couldn't be salvaged. You see, I'm driven by abhorrence of waste, by frugality and by the mandate to be self-made. I mean really driven, like my car had 333,333 miles on it (I made up the number because it was easier to type, but it's true in round terms) and I seemed also to hold a rough estimate in my head of how many dollars that saved me and how much easier on the environment than to buy a new Prius too frequently - I tally the total of resources and energy used, including in the manufacture.

This is a dangerous compulsion. I have to fix what's broken and I feel nearly sick spending money on frivolous returns. This doesn't help my own bottom line, you can be sure of that, maybe since I'm equally frugal on demanding returns for my own investments in my work, but that's another story.

Combined with this brand of eco-frugality is just plain old frugality, and so when Microsoft was offering me a $40 upgrade to Windows 8, I thought I could do a test drive on my really old and really wimpy little laptop before making my decision to buy a new one. I wanted to be sure I was going to like the new OS which would come with the new PC. 

Plus, I surely didn't want to spend good money on something basically identical to what I had except shinier and newer and speedier. You can see how that goes for me with cars and boats and things - I get attached. New to me has to be new, like getting a computer after no computer. I spent $5,000 on that once. Or getting a color monitor, or moving from ascii command-line DOS to graphics and Windows. I wasn't going to buy a new laptop unless it was substantially different from the old one.

Like a lot of people without much cash or with a pathological trash-conservation mentality, I'd harbored some iPad envy rather than to indulge it. So I wasn't sure I shouldn't shift to a Mac plus iPad strategy. Say the lightweight Air - the one about the same size as my little old laptop. I like the form factor and the weight, but what I really like about my old one is that I'd only paid $333 for it maybe 4 years ago. And like my car it is still perfectly serviceable. (Also like my car, I'll probably foist it on my sister who's even more frugal than I am, once I do manage to pry it from my own grip).

I've had the chance to slake my iPad envy with a little Kindle Fire, which I justify because of my fairly voracious reading appetite (It's hard to keep at bay the nearly panicked knowledge that it cost fully half of my full-blown computer budget - but I carry an iPhone, which costs more and so there really is no accounting for one's predilections . . . except that work paid for the iPhone).

Well, much to my amazement and contrary to my jaded certainties, the new OS actually did give new life to the old laptop! I deployed some of my lingering techie muscle to trim things running in the background, and I also know that a new installation to replace a never-refreshed 4-year old OEM installation of Windows 7 didn't hurt. But I was frankly astounded that the old machine worked better and more smoothly with the new OS. That simply never happens.

Apart from the strange pricing of IT machinery these days, here's what confuses us all: Why does a tablet or even a smartphone seem to have so much more immediacy in response as compared to a full computer OS?

Sure there's the fact that the more compact form-factors are always on and don't seem to require that incessant mind-erasing updating. But even when the laptop is up and up-dated and running and even though it has a way more powerful processor, what gives? Why does the tablet seem to render things more quickly? Why is it so much less burdensome to go to when you don't want or need to get down to work?

Of course I get that there's more going on in the background and during startup and that the video expectations are richer and more elaborate, but still it's annoying.

So with my old laptop and without touch and after the cheap loss-leader upgrade, I learned to master the new Windows 8 keystrokes which - though they're almost Mac-like in their arcane resistance to remembering - can replace the gestures you could if you did have touch. and decided I really really did like Windows 8.

The thing that Apple did with its mini-devices is to foreground what you're doing, and effectively prevent things in the background from detracting from that. They weren't focused on the geeky elegance of their OS so much as on the styling experience of it.

So I like what Microsoft did with memory - during startup they pull a cached rendition now of all that time-consuming hardware abstraction which has to happen before the OS loads. You know, the boot-up; first you have to shim the BIOS between the physical hardware and the more uniform hardware model, and then you load drivers and so on until you finally get your "desktop." Well, indeed why not assume that the hardware across those two levels hasn't changed since the last time you booted. One wants to say duh! right?

(oddly, they reserve the full legacy startup for a "restart" which might seem odd, but it makes sense in the same way that the now gone cntl-alt-delete made sense)

And the other thing they did - with their new app model - is to allow a (once again iOS-like) background suspend, to forestall those mysterious goings-on which have always made the foreground in Windows frustratingly subject to mysterious trudging. (And so the relentless hardware arms-race to keep ahead of the terminal frustration - see there's the "bomb" in my title).

Anyhow, refreshing my old laptop both brought it back to life and made me lust for speed. I was too tantalized on the old hardware by what the new software could do on an up-to-date machine. I figured that the sometimes unconscionably slow slog-to-readiness of the new apps and the occasional dysfunctional background seeming-death of what I'd left running would be solved by new hardware. Mostly, I was right.

Of course I wanted it all, so I opted for big-time compromise. I wanted touch and I wanted compact and I wanted tablet all in one. I wanted something substantially different in more than just speed. So I got a marginally bigger-than-the-Air, marginally heavier, and marginally too-big-to-be-a-tablet Lenovo Twist. Cheap enough (at $750 -  sale-priced because maybe no-one else thinks like I do, gracefully) considering I got touch and a few other bells and whistles I'd been missing.

It feels durable, and you already know that's my number one requirement.

Mostly I'm pleased, but here follows the substance of my review of Windows 8, and I can preface it by saying that while writing this I had a kind of virtual hang. Upon restart I discovered that indeed there were latent Windows updates chomping against my work. Nothing's poifect!

I'd been treating my computer like a tablet, leaving it suspended for the sake of instant return to where I was and that seems to create a kind of metaphor for all the compromises. The thing is neither here not there, quite.

So, you don't really have to leave it suspended since a start from shutdown is nearly as fast as a wake-up from sleep. Plus, as bonus, many of the apps, including IE 10 go right back to where you left them, even though you shut-down in between! Anyhow, tablet or smartphone-style always-on doesn't quite work. Maybe shut down at the end of each work session, but you're back to that burdensome cost of entry.

As regards the good stuff Microsoft cooked in, there's always a flip-side, and in this case it's the evident fact that sometimes IE 10, for instance, goes into suspend in the background and you lose your authentication which might matter if you're doing banking or email or social networking (which I never do!). If you didn't lose your authentication, that would be cause for a bigger sort of worry.

Some of the apps are seamless, and the background suspend is transparent the way it is in iOS.

But some really do need to run on the legacy desktop. I think that's why my new Office 2013 or 365 or whatever they call it still runs on the desktop. You'll think I've totally bent over for M$, but I actually do like the subscription model. I'm all in - it's cheap enough and perpetually updated and even the install was seamless. I could start using it while all sorts of detail was happening in the background and rest relatively confident that it would all work out and it has! No disks, no clicks beyond the initial ones nor pause between my credit card and up and running.

But it has to run on the [legacy] desktop (meaning that it doesn't run as a Windows 8 App) for the same reason that you should do your banking and blogging from the desktop (even though I don't) because for critical work you really do want to know that it's actually still running in the background and not subject to some foregrounding pre-emption. You need to know it will still be there when you get back around to it, and not have to wonder which of the now many states of save you left it in. Suspend? Autosave? How many caches?

OK, so onto the touch side, I confess I do convert my little twisty laptop into a way-heavy tablet and I like it. I really do. But it's not quite as responsive overall as my little Kindle Fire. The combination among the position sensor and the multi-direction hinge on the screen and the sheer bulk of the OS destroys just a tad of the immediacy I'm looking for.

And really the bulk of the laptop at 3.5 pounds pretty much destroys the pleasant reading/browsing experience of the iPad. But I can put it behind my cereal bowl in the morning with the keyboard as either tent-back or reversed behind the screen, and it's better than a tablet. Honest! I don't have to fumble, I just eat and poke and read.

My bottom line is that I think they're on to something. In laptop mode, this machine is nearly perfect for me (I actually bought it for the keyboard, plus I've already memorized the many new keystroke combos so I do fine on Windows 8 without the touch* which would require awkward reaching over the keyboard - the reason I didn't buy a touch-enabled non-convertible laptop) The tablet mode is enough of a bonus that I find it far preferable for reading/browsing, even when I'm lounging in a chair. Having the keyboard out of the way makes it so much more like reading a book or a paper. and bending it under means you can get the angle right while the machine is sitting on your lap.

But mostly what I really love is the disappearing windows. Gone are the buttons and controls and taskbar. You get the whole screen! All on all the time.

(Granted, you have to know some keystrokes or gestures to find out what time it is [which has made me late on more than one occasion, and I haven't either looked for or found a transparent hovering clock which might or might not be possible with the new OS model . . .] )

The big question is whether this all promises something that's less of a compromise at some unknown future date. Whether the "desktop" can and will morph to the Google Earth kind of geographic metaphor or, say Prezi-style where you can keep in your head where things are floating and what to foreground and they come wheeling in from some definite direction so you can retrace it. I want to zoom in zoom out and have my foreground click into position with some satisfying detent.

Can't you guys just do that!!?? Hello! Apple? Microsoft?

Of course this is where the patent process has become so dysfunctional. Or is it just that Microsoft is too stodgy in precisely the way that they are locked into the slide-model of PowerPoint and so all the incredible bells and whistles just beg the question of how and why not just get rid of the basic metaphor so you don't need all those bells and whistles. Because PowerPoint destroys rather than enhances face-on presentations no matter how clever you make it. It's too linear.

And Windows 8 is still too boxy. I think I should be able to lay-out my apps in some virtual space. I don't miss the start button and the hierarchal list of programs, but I still need some way to find them. I think I want style relational bubbles, and I want them more near or more far from my focal point according to how often I use them, with perhaps some automated and dynamic reconfiguration. And I want to be able to draw some kind of circle around the ones I need to stay awake and multitask with me without having to worry about them suspending in the background if I do too many other things.

But you will know that the metaphor I've now slid back into involves cars again.  It becomes political somehow, just in the sense that no-one knows how to solve our transportation issues. For me here in SoCal a car is an incredibly massive and expensive inconvenience because it's virtually impossible to get around with all the traffic and you spend all your time in the car instead of where you want to be.

No matter how incredibly comfortable and connected your car is it's just miserable. And I mean miserable, and scary to boot. How much more pleasant is Manhattan, and how much more pleasant would it be here if you really require the weather and the views and the now-mostly-clear air to breath if there were frequent fast trains and no traffic? How about monorails, if you need them both? Get on the train and then move to the car which will detach to your home destination and then relax. Hint: self-driving cars are the wrong metaphor too! They solve the traffic problem, maybe, but not so much the energy and cost problems.

Man, do I get distracted. But back to the main point, it's almost here, the perfect OS is. I think that Mac has been left behind unless they have the perfect machine I just described in the near-term works. Who knows whose patents I've been guessing at, or if someone will steal my idea and get rich off it because I'm too lazy to think it through myself.

I think I've described what I have going on in my own mind up against the reality of what Microsoft delivers. Name-based search is marginally better than hierarchal lists if the PC is quick enough. The tiles on the new start screen can approximate a mental geography. And the distinction between the legacy desktop and the new App model can draw a virtual line around those app(lication)s you want Windows to handle for you, and the ones you want control of.

And I can still hope that Microsoft will perpetually update what I have until it really does work. They only need to change the wrapper and expand the zoom metaphor for the start screen to something less boxy and more fluid. To where I have a near-bodily understanding of how distant I left that app - where the foreground is a zoom function and everything really does stay where I can find it easily and off is just a state of mind. We need to sleep and we need to be away from our devices, which is why I can't quite get into social networking . . . .

So I have a virtual machine in my mind against which the hardware reality falls slightly short. But it's not bad. I see the vision. It changes the way I use the machine. Let's see what Apple comes up with and when I get rich I'll think about it, but for now I'd say advantage Microsoft.

*  a side note on the keystroke combos - they are a massive kludge between preservation of legacy Windows keystrokes and new approximations of what you can do with the touch-screen. That, combined with a touchpad which wants to emulate touching the screen can lead to some mis-cues which can become almost terminally distracting. The touch-pad is infinitely configurable, so that you can do away with the touch-screen emulation, but that particular kind of infinite makes it a perfect toss-up as to whether you want to devote your time to practicing keystrokes and padstrokes the way you might practice the piano, or whether you want to invest the time in testing all the configuration options. For instance, I swipe in from the left a lot, and am annoyed, distracted and surprised by the scroll-through of running apps when all I wanted was to get the cursor back from over there. And scrolling does a back and forth kind of dance between pulling down the way you would touching the screen and mousing down to make the screen move up. You can actually do both or either depending on two fingers or one along the edge, and in almost precise analog with the control key versus the Windows key and the combinations to go with it - for my mind at least - there's a near guarantee of miscue. But I guess solving that problem is like getting rid of the QWERTY keyboard, or the automobile. There's nothing quite attractive enough as an alternative to let go of what works and satisfies well-enough and what the body remembers.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Re-membering Me on Easter, as always, anon

I do wish I knew how to tell a good story. I don't. I fail in its elements.

My own life's story seems interesting, apparently, sometimes to some people, but then I'm not much better at living it than I am at spinning a good yarn. Imagine a protagonist dogged by hard luck and no resolution beyond simple finality. There would be no moral to it, and no reason to turn the dull pages.

And what if the bulk of the actual narrative as trued to the normative history outside it consisted of the man turning pages in books? Or staring at screens?

In ways that show up in the life as lived, and beyond the simple aging which we still honor sometimes? Would that change him? I have a very hard time remember the books I've read, what they were and when I read them. I always have, but still it may or may not relate to age.

I have a hard time with history too, though at least that's out there to be reconstructed, improved with age sometimes as scholars sift through the predations of previous generations of motivated researchers privileging their local slant. Our time finally is without agendas other than for truth. And utter science-mediated technological annihilation. Ommmmmmm.

Yet I do live on. I know that my consciousness excludes most of the facts of my life, perhaps especially to myself. I know this first-hand from various near death or after death or return from death experiences (depending on ones point of view), but I also know it from glancing reads of  neurological studies. I know it sometimes from the way that others seem to see me.

Death is a catalytic happening. At once it collapses all the things you might have been and puts an end to all that you were. (drowning once I really was present in the replete presentation of all that I had lived until then, it's true!) To the extent that there remains consciousness, it becomes summative, and  present to the you that might yet be gone are seemingly all the memories; the facts about what had happened to the you which until that moment was still conjectural.

I know from travel into the geography of my own past, including collections I've made of things of words of petty accomplishments that my memories reside outside of myself, or at least of that self on which I can assert conscious control. Meaning that I can't remember these things until I quite literally find them, seemingly attached in my mind as triggered by the artifact, but as much therefore in the artifact as in my mind.

All that I can do is to direct not my attention which seems to have insufficient power, but my actual physical meanderings, even if and when these involve motions of my eyes only. I seem able to decide which way to turn, but as often in remembering of myself as in forgetting and moving on to something new.

There is a toward and from in love with oneself, and yet the pages, sorry, of my life do keep turning or have so far. The book randomly composed, although - more apologies - it does become me.

These memories must recompose themselves each time I sleep for there are also inward motions confirmed by direct readings of the brain, I hear. These are only as-if motions, what is now termed virtual. And don't we all worry about the self that we might have been or become once the tracings themselves require the as-if-alive energizing of some circuits. I mean electricity is all. In constant motion, or the facts stay dormant. Reassuring just to be there. Eventually waxy bloated and no different from a carved statue, cinnabar infused. Worship the baby, Jesus it's Easter and I forgot!

Who keeps albums of pictures anymore, themselves virtual enough from about the time of our civil war when war was first brought home to roost. The cost of their taking is so reduced that we compile indecipherable troves and neglect, perhaps forever, to organize them into albums. Indexed only by dates and more recently places if you use a phone which enables GPS meta-data. Isn't it all meta, really?

But the meaning captured therein or thereupon is buried in the noise of just too many un-culled images and so I don't really take pictures anymore.

I suppose I once did start memorializing them on Facebook, as I did my reads on Goodeads (which now returns to the jungle of Amazon, and perhaps darekest oblivion of another sort). And yet my attenuated-by-migration bookshelves by their actual presence provide more solace. Though as often as I scour them for that book I thought I'd remarked as valuable I find a gap and it troubles me the way that memory loss must. (I did find a book on memory - No, I mean the book is about memory - which was listed on Amazon for almost the price of this laptop, which I've been fretting about paying for. Hmmmmmmm. I don't always know how to balance those values.)

As money is evermore the scorecard, my worth, on balance, is depleting. I have nothing to show for myself, although I could now cash in some of that life-insurance which was required by children now grown. I hate to rob the grave that way though; the discount for actual life so severe!

When I said valuable, there above, I meant as books to me for reading. I was shocked to find a gap filled by a book worth actual money. Those collectibles I've had over the years seem always to disappear when they're worth money. Or I give them away in squander. Neglect. I forget about them.

There is no geography of virtual space yet, Neil Stephenson. There are file-names and computer names and archival excursions which would require more intrepid resolve than mounting Everest or travelling again to the South Pole. The landscape along the way would be as bleak.

But this is boring now.

What choice is there, really, about which way I might turn, which path I might take? And when I do make those choices now there is that much uncertainly to accomplish whatever objective I set for myself as there might be going backwards.

I cannot recover myself any longer, for I have been and the being was never so bright!

For me the turning forward proves the moral equivalent of turning back. Once again, my love, I would plant a tree though it be the end of the world because how would one know? Were planting a tree worthwhile in the first place.

No, I mean really, I'm heading back to school to complete a Ph.D. which can not possibly be worth anything to me at my highly advanced age if not accomplishement, and still I'm confident that the directed actual study will bring me - my boring un-narrative mind, doncha know - into some actual resolution. Some catalysis not yet death.

And I am sure, gentle reader, that you are just dying for that! Some conclusion, finally to endless ramblings on increasing nothingness without time, especially, to edit. Without narrative shape - a story - it is just random troves of meaningless words; the swirl of memories in my brain without likelihood of conscious retrieval. Of ordering into something worth following!

And so I wander and meander seeming random in the paths I take. Is there choice in them or remembering, because sometimes I do remember myself where I'd thought I might be breaking new ground. And if remembering can also lead toward the future then what is it or who? it I could remember but the one I love, or left in his true season?

There is a terrible discomfort with paradox, I discover, among almost everyone with a scientific bent. As though it is the burden of science to remove such things. I know for a fact that there is not room in my mind at once for even two competing thoughts, let alone two incommensurate ones, but that thing which I call my mind is never just one thing either. It scintillates, the way you can when gazing at some gestaltish shifting shape which might be a woman young or old, but never both at once. You hold them in your mind as it were as promise that the shifting can be accomplished near at will.

Each time I coalesce from the seeming swirling mass of facts competing for my attention (as if the facts themselves might have compulsion?!) I collapse the myriad other narratives which would construe them. Those might-have-beens move, rather, to my peripheral attention. Not gone, perhaps, but attenuated and eventually lost to a geography which may or may not persist beyond the geography of my own mind.

The world will end along with me surely if I don't do something about it. That would be the moral of any story well-writ.

I do know that if I don't do it myself, there will be nothing left of me among the digital repositories of those words and pictures I have taken. Which matters not a whit but that they compose me and therefore I must be letting myself be subsumed into someone else's data whose prominence will render my presence, well, peripheral.

Unless I make connection, which is why the story counts.

And so it begins.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memory and Memories

Do I have Barbara Streisand going in my head? I think it  was Sinatra in the shower, where my mind goes into fugue and I make all these brilliant connections I'm going to write about.

But the actual writing slows them down, or at least takes them over in a different direction, and so the seeming thoughts I had while showering are no more real than other phantasms; ghosts of thoughts I once thought I actually did have.

As you may have noticed, I've had blessed little time to write for quite a while. While I could and might and probably will blame it on my workload, it also represents a kind of choice. I have canned quite a few drafts, and never quite muster either the courage or the necessary editing time to move from draft to commit.

Then there has been the pure friction of the technology I've been stuck with. As you may have seen yesterday, I took a plunge to buy a new computer. I think I've also gotten a kind of courage infusion from a couple of different directions: the first is a bid to go back to graduate school. I'd previously written off that possibility, since there would be little benefit in it at my advanced age. The second has been a kind of muscling beyond my limit at work.

The work is plenty hard, but that's not the limit I'm writing about. As do many of you, I'm sure, I work in an environment characterized by bullying. In simple terms, this means that the workplace tolerates behaviors which couldn't and wouldn't be tolerated elsewhere. Oppression breeds oppression downward as Master Freire would tell you. Without enlightenment.

Since I'm not - by far - a member of any "protected class" there is no recourse in law for this condition. Certainly nobody's victim myself, the problem is that I'm surrounded by people who are victims. Many of them don't know it, and wouldn't admit it if they did, but plenty do. Some have power.

Sure, one has to follow the boss's dictates anywhere, and it's always less comfortable than you might wish. But there is also a point beyond which the organization as a whole suffers by the destruction or restriction of creative and productive capacities which are repressed beneath dysfunctional structures for bullying. Pushed beyond my edge, I must protest. If not me, who? If not now, when?

So here I am back in my little blogosphere, frequented largely by bots as far as I can tell. It's never been a comfortable realm for me, but just as I don't have the time to edit when I choose to be oppressed by work, I surely don't have the time to compose writing for publication, so this is a kind of liminal realm between.

(not that I would be capable of 'writing for publication' but I do know the work which would be required, and I simply don't have and haven't had the means)

What interests me here is whether there is any room for any kind of real "creativity" by which I think I mean that there should be the possibility for me myself to return to what I write and find there things to surprise me; evidence of a muse among the controlling impulses of my own bullying mind.

But here's the thing: How am I to tell the workings of a muse apart from the deterioration of my memory?

Quite often actually, I do run across something I've written and find that I need to invest nearly as much effort as you might to discern what it was I thought I was getting at. I have no clear or distinct memory of having written the thing and even sometimes it's pretty hard to discern myself in what I'd written.

To put it another way, if someone were to forge the provenance of what I'd written I might never claim it as my own. Plus there's that uncomfortable border between the self you cringe at and the one of which you might be proud. After all, reaching for something difficult to accomplish will surely expose foolishness faster than many other activities.

Among the things I haven't done for a while is to post the books I've read on Goodreads. Now I don't know where that compulsion ever came from, but somehow there is a mix of obligation to some phantasmagorical "public" and an obligation to myself.

You see, I am the type who rather embarrassingly often starts watching a movie only to realize I've actually seen it before. That can happen a distressing distance into the film, and even with films which I then remember I'd thought at the original time had had some significant impact on my soul.

Same thing with books. So Goodreads is a way to keep myself honest. I know I dropped off at some progressive rate as this job I do kept getting harder and more stressful (even as to the extent I don't show the stress at work, they seem to think I'm not working hard enough - I have no idea how 'never let them see you sweat' became a mantra of mine . . . well, I do , but I won't waste your time about that here just yet). But let's say I've left off for just a year - I have almost no confidence in my ability to reconstruct my reading across that time. And that's despite the fact that I've had blessed little time even to read, much less to write about it.

But I do know I've read a few things at least. One, ahem, memorable book has been Moonwalking with Einstein. You'd think I'd remember it because while I was reading it I kept talking about it as though it were the most important book I'd read.

It was about memory, and how we no longer teach the necessary techniques for remembering. It touched on the ways that various communications technologies, starting with writing and paper, mitigated the need to work on memory. Just now, for instance - and I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this - I depend utterly on some kind of smartphone (now just as likely to be the built-in web capacity of my up-capable Kindle) to make my references and definitions on the spot.

I even convince myself that this is improving my mind; and that the mitigation of my need to remember is minor compared against the vastly expanded scope in context for my reading. (I do remember the physical hassle of reading next to Websters, and then cataloguing mentally how many times I'd looked up that word I still couldn't quite place) But I'm not always so sure!

By the end of the Moonwalking book, I'd gotten jaded I must say. It was yet another callow Yalie presenting to the world his brilliance. He had provenance in parentage, worth at least the million dollar advance he'd gotten for the writing he would do.

Sure he presented and represented himself just the way I do, as someone challenged in the memory department. Making it all the more amazing that he became a champion in the memory Olympics. Or not. For sure, just as I lack confidence in my ability to craft publishable writing, I lack whatever work-ethic he must have to accomplish so much so early in life. Right?

But wait! I work damn hard. I guess I'm just not smart enough. But wait! I'm a Yalie too! OK, so I don't have the provenance. But wait! Among the books I've read is one I retrieved from Buffalo while there over Christmas depersonalizing the old space I'd lived in (It still looks like me, so I guess I'm not very good at that either). It's a genealogy compiled by my now severely memory-challenged Dad (he's housed in a "memory unit") about one branch of my illustrious family, twice-connected I remind myself, to those who came over on the Mayflower. Among those I descend from is the fellow who coined the term "Freeway" which somehow makes me feel more at home here in SoCal.

And he's by no means the most illustrious of the bunch. Lots of Harvard, lots of invention, lots of smart engineering, all things I claim - sometimes when I'm feeling feisty - as my heritage. But nobody giving me a boost when I need it. No current coat-tails. Well, plus a positive ethic against them.

Dad truly enjoyed telling about the $500 plus "good luck" he got when he turned 18 or so. A good academic record plus the bad eyesight to keep him away from frontlines in war and the GI bill got him through college and Harvard Law. Where he had the better record compared with famous classmates, dontchaknow?

I did actually travel Back East over the holidays in some conscious appreciation of that Einstein book, which recalls the techniques once taught alongside rhetoric to keep things precisely in mind. In brief, these involve a mental architecture and landscape which you populate with memorable things relating according to some code to the words you must remember.

My older daughter's now at Yale law (see, I can't really help myself) and I hadn't been back there since leaving in ignominy well longer ago than she is old (as Dad would always let people know upon his presentation of me, I did leave in ignominy rather more than once). So we took a little time, and she gave me well more than a little indulgence, to review and revisit those places I'd once inhabited.

Some tiny details were out of place, and some places were now shut off by the ubiquitous electronic barriers of our age, but it all came back. The boatyard where I'd rebuilt my now departed sailboat. Bits of carpentry miraculously still intact (I'm plenty proud of that piece!). We even got ourselves into the stacks at Sterling, by a kind of persistence I'm known for, after being rejected by the first officious minder (there I was only a little bit distressed by how many of my secret precious finds had been removed to offsite storage, perhaps for their preservation).

We rode this memory lane all the way back to Buffalo, where I continued across the much-delayed process of cleaning out files and bookshelves (I haven't the means in either time or money to travel back there, and so these things just sat). I've been through this all a distressing number of times, and feel as though I've written about it (you tell ME - I'm guessing it's sitting in some unpublished "draft" here in the blogosphere). I've moved rather a lot as I try to recalibrate my life without children to keep me focused.

But each little piece - some persist across serial and increasingly frequent cullings - does retain its memory. These provide some reassurance that I still persist to some greater extent than Dad does. I finally did have to enlist my younger daughter to throw stuff out, looking the other way and only butting in when the pain became too great. Little things, like the clay pipe issued when I finally did graduate from Yale. In a box somewhere in Mom's attic now while she still has one.

Now I'm reassured by an old friend who came to visit - the place I live in among old-folks because it's all I can afford - manages to "look like me." Yeah, well, I sometimes try to change and sometimes not. I have neither attic nor basement, and so the cullings have been as severe as the Southwest Airlines two-free-bag limit, which is a different blessing of sorts (cheaper to ship me than my stuff, haven't I already told you?).

So back to the point, assuming I still have one. I'm never sure if the writing I do is to keep my mind or to lose it. To build it or recall it.

I do know that without some sort of constructive thinking, most of the reading I do won't "go" anywhere. In the end, that's why I want to go back to school. And if I do write, maybe I can bring something to it that must go wanting when younger and more callow minds do their thing.

I mean it could be true that there is such a thing as just so very much brilliance that it's worth Zuckerberg-sized amounts of money. But it could also be that the rewards we give reflect a kind of compulsive systemic need to hold onto the structural components of our lives that we need most strongly to believe in. And who can tell the charlatans from the real deal? Better have some provenance.

(At some point one might hope that Zuckerberg would look in the mirror and gasp 'my god am I worth that much' and know the absurdity and injustice of it. But I guess he's no more likely than a prince is, or a Mafia chief or some one of China's politburo. I mean who elected you, right?)

Pay me and I can do good work too, if we could just get dumb luck out of the way. And so could you.

But well, here's the thing. My words are not the sum of me. They also cut me off from things that are or were. And those things which can be preserved digitally would never even instigate any recollection of myself.

You know, just now this morning I do ponder what I should and must do to move over the profile from my old PC. It carries in its belly those files that I had retrieved from computers which had held other living archives, and I never could muster the energy to go through them. It's not the same as the shoeboxes full of photos. Hell, now that my digital camera is long-stolen and I can rely on the work iPhone, every damn time I synchronize it, I get a different and differently redundant set of photos than the ones I got some other time across some other OS or iOS update, and who could possibly have the time to de-duplicate (or trust the software that I once investigated?)?

What parts of me are floating around Facebook or Goodreads or in some file-cabinet I forgot about or neglected or trashed? Does it matter? Will it go up in the smoke of my various passwords as I forget those? Does it matter?

See I cannot finish. It's more work than I can afford. But I can tell you that love is the secret (not to my password!). It's the only thing which gives me any coherence, and you know without my daughter there, I might never have paid a visit to myself either.

And so I will muster the courage to resist what they would have me do for money, or against the pain to live without it. I will recall my mission in life, and be glad I have one. And I will do my very best to be sure you here (???) about it. And I will do my very even better to be sure that it's worth hearing about and not some self-aggrandizement for the sake of my private castle in the sky or elsewhere.

I do declare . . . . what a mess!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Hath God Wrought

I think it may be true that the only times I've found to post for quite a while have been holidays. I might have thought that I was inspired by the holiday, but more likely it was simply that I had the time.

This time I'm posting because I took a rare day off from work due to illness. Not the dread flu, which was all over the airwaves, if not in the air, but an ordinary cold which was compounded by the peculiar overwork I suffer.

It's not that I'm taking sick time to write. What I actually did was to take time at the end of being unable to move this past Friday to buy a new computer. And hence the occasion to write, maybe just a little bit like a holiday. Whee, a computer which actually works!

I'm more than a little bit embarrassed about how much time I've spent on this purchase. It started with a desperate attempt to find a way to keep using the old and even originally very cheap little laptop which has been my only such tool for maybe four years. You may recall, gentle reader, that I did hang on to my old VW until it had at least 330 thousand American miles (and my sister still drives it). I still regret letting go, although praise be to the gods of technology, the new one was cheaper and slicker and had all the bells and whistles (plus bluetooth!!) for no extra trim-package!

Bizarrely, since Microsoft was offering an upgrade for a price I couldn't resist, an installation of Windows 8 gave the old machine a new-ish lease on life. This is perverse in the arena of technology, but true for reasons I could but won't bore you about just now. Anyhow, something about the attractive nuisance of a touch screen, combined with inevitable thrashing-hangups on the old one and the fact that I have new plans to return to school rationalized a new computer. Passive voice.

And of course I want excuse to try it out! [sic]

Meantime, being sick, I also started reading What Hath God Wrought as recommended by a friend. Typically for me I have a few books open (virtually, since they are largely on Kindles these days) at the same time; the other one being Visions of Technology (come to think of it, this is a paper book, literally open) which is a great reminder that all the things technological that we obsess about these days have been obsessed about throughout most of the previous - that's the twentieth - century.

So I'm just beginning the book about the period between the Spanish-American war and the Civil War, which focuses on the communications revolution which characterizes that time-frame. Together with the other book, it makes a pretty good reminder that as excited as we might be about the supposed technological revolutions we currently enjoy or suffer - depending on point of view - there isn't much very revolutionary about them. At least not on the scale of the truly revolutionary new technologies of the nineteenth century.

We are, you know, still stuck in the old metaphors of speed and action at a distance and bulk transfer of text. Only the speed and volume have changed, which is a very bad thing if you are, as I am, concerned about global warming.

Somewhere recently I was reminded - I truly don't think I'd learned if for the first time, though there was apparently something new about it - that insects and birds and even cats find their way across the globe in unfamiliar territory by means of the stars and the earth's magnetic field-profile. So that this is programmed in, as we like to say, to the DNA.

Well sure, right? Somehow these critters must learn to migrate with the seasons, and there are enough of them and they breed quickly enough that they can internalize the patterns of survival right into their collective being, given that the patterns in the world about don't fluctuate too awfully fast. (One must wonder, for the stars, what happens with light and other forms of pollution, and with the magnetic field, about the grid)

We once were better wired-in to the environment ourselves, I'm sure. But that the written word detached us. Downloaded into consciousness those things we once knew with certainty because we didn't have to - nay (!!) couldn't - think of them.

There is nothing now we can't (and won't) think of!

Which is precisely how we're blinded. The revolution taking place now, beneath our consciousness as it were, is the dawning realization that we are not discreet thinking entities at all, but rather participants in a global consciousness of written records. We will, we shall, submerge, and once again align ourselves with stars and magnetic fields. Collectively, you know?

 . . . because the barriers of identity between us will and must and have already started to dissolve. We have forgotten how to remember, we have no need to calculate, we can consult our smartphones to keep our dates and revive our references.

But these technologies upon which we so very much depend are the last gasp of the nineteenth century revolution. The one about to envelop us (I almost said 'descend upon us!') is about identity or its absence. We are as one, no matter how hard we try to distinguish ourselves. No matter how hard we try to preserve that sense of freedom embodied by the automobile (or absurdly in California, the lane-splitting motorcycle) and that sense of individual isolation. It's gone.

I do declare!

Well, back to my reading. It looks as though this new communications device is a keeper.