blarg?

It is so hard to get motivated when the work that needs to be done
is so, so boring. Generating functions and breadth-first
sorting. Dijkstra’s Algorithm. This stuff is, despite my complaints,
really fun stuff, and normally I enjoy it, but at this point enough
is enough. Enough is luxuriantly decadent. I wallow in the crapulent
excess that is “enough”.

Arlene has gone back to Toronto, and as always our time has been
far, far too short. The clever schemes that we have come up with
to overcome this extremely-sucky part of the relationship, such as
bringing each other back with us in oversized duffel bags, hiding
out in each other’s closets or instantaneous intercity travel via
the DK64 “Bananaporter” have proven unfeasable. I’m going to have
to stick to my original two-part plan, which involves sucking it
up and not whining like a damn teenager.

One thing that happened this weekend was that in lieu of going out
to see a James Bond movie, I stayed home and made a very similar
mistake.

Now, I grew up reading comic books, and it’s been a great
disappointment to me to find out that my great hero, who
I still want to grow up to be, was the subject of a
truly terrible movie. It probably can’t be helped. Making
books comic or otherwise into movies has become, with
few
exceptions
, roughly equivalent to composting them. What you
started with hardly matters; the end product is inevitable. Movies
have the added benefit of charging you five bucks for a
coke while you’re there, though. Woo.

I’ve always been a fan of the kind of hero who has to work for his
edge. Let’s face it, Superman has it pretty easy; all he’s got to
worry about is fragments of his long-lost home planet, so if you
haven’t got a fairly rare, green-glowing brand of asteroid handy by
you can shoot him in the head with a diamond-tipped cruise missile
and cause him about the same discomfort you’d cause if you took his
parking spot. Hell, he usually doesn’t even tear his tights; for
the most part Superman engages in his heroism secure in a freedom
from personal consequence. That’s not heroism, really; Superman’s
just a dilettante, and it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for a
guy whose only real concern is that Lois Lane might find out he’s
not really an awkwardly bespectacled dork.

No, I’ve always admired the guys who have something on the line
when they put their thing down. Guys like Daredevil or Batman,
who get beat down every now and then and come back to work the next
day anyway, because for whatever reason, they have to. That, to me,
has always been the real deal. That and the being able to stick to
walls part.

So in short, I was really disappointed to find out that the
new Spiderman movie sucked. This is part of a long line of
Spiderman-related movies (and TV shows, and books, and…) that have
sucked, so I really should have known, but I had big dreams.

It turns out that when you break them, big dreams leave big
shards. That movie truly sucked. The dream is dead. I have no desire
at all now to grow up into a badly-drawn CGI character with with
crappy dialogue and a spineless simp of a secret identity. They
animated Spiderman using the same motion model they used for Woody
from Toy Story, for crying out loud. Why the hell would they do a
thing like that?

Oh, well. At least the Incredible Hulk movie is coming out in a
while. This might assuage my inner comic reader a bit; even though
Spidey is out of the question, I do still want to periodically turn
green and crush those who enrage me.

Too long between updates. Apologies.

Arlene is in town, and we’ve spent a good part of our waking
day downtown, getting a bite in the market and shopping for a
few things. This “shopping” process perplexes me, especially
around Christmas. Christmas gifts, if I read the manual right,
are supposed to be “heartfelt”. Whatever that means; if you give
somebody a nice new shirt, do you feel deep in your heart that
their current ensemble is sincerely inadequate? What if you
give somebody a book?

This is going somewhere. Bear with me.

Fashion has never really concerned me all that much, but what
is currently fashionable does bother me. Apparently it is now
trendy to buy clothes that look like they are thoroughly worn in,
“lived in” as it were. On our trip through the Rideau Centre I
discovered that this has gotten to the point that can buy ball
caps that are pre-ripped at the brims and jeans which have had the
upper front area one might wipe one’s belabored hands on pre-faded.
Pants are now pre-abraded around the seams, to provide one with
that coveted non-new appearance for which one pays, of course,
approximately triple.

This irks me for a number of reasons, the obvious first being that
somebody thinks I’m willing to throw my hard-earned cash money
at clothes that the Salvation Army would bag as unusable and turn
into dishrags. I wish I could say that this kind of thing doesn’t
bother me anymore but it does. I should by rights be inured by now,
for the same reasons that pop music and the Ottawa Sun should just
roll off my back – people who are stupid enough to exchange money
for that crap deserve what they’re getting, and should be separated
from their money as efficiently as possible so that society can at
least benefit from their taxes before they find their way into the
Darwin Awards. Don’t forget to spend the extra twenty dollars to
see the P.T. Barnum exhibit, I should be saying.

I can’t, though, because whoever thinks that is clearly right –
people are buying it. Huge numbers of them, of us,
are spending money on this stuff. Possibly because it’s nice to
look at but really, I think, because the Yin and Yang of popular
culture are that (a) if enough people are doing something that
automagically makes it a good idea, and (b) that every consumer
within three standard deviations of the mean is apparently
functionally retarded. Watching people shop like trough-fed pack
animals is disheartening enough but when they’re, we’re
emptying our wallets for stuff that’s already worn down, I just
don’t know how to react.

Fashion, I think Oscar Wilde said, is the opposite of beauty –
if the Fashion industry ever stumbled across something genuinely
beautiful, Fashion would end. The situation has apparently
deteriorated since he, or whoever, said it; fashion is now the
opposite of sincerity as well. It’s physically painful to watch
people who’ve never left their front porch trying to dress like
they’ve been around the block a few times. It transcends mere
embarassment into the viscerally disturbing, a faint echo of
the way sane people react to seeing over-made-up, underdressed
eight-year-olds strutting awkwardly around a beauty pageant stage. If
this was just a handful of overmedicated Eurotrash-wannabees wearing
the detritus of a Parisian catwalk idea that never took off that
would be some solace but when you see somebody, lots of
somebodies, spending $150 on artificially worn-out, chemically
sun-faded pants that say “dryclean only” on the tag, there’s not
much you can do that doesn’t involve staring at your hands for a
few hours or setting something on fire.

So, what do you do? Buying people little trinkets and pretending
they come from “the heart” as opposed to the more likely “Taiwan”,
“Indonesia” and “deep-rooted guilt” when fraudulence itself has made
the leap from bug to feature seems a little bit, well, problematic.
Even books and CDs seem iffy, like a cop-out – the go-to,
conveniently sorted by genre, for when you’re out of other ideas.

Me, I think I’m going to try to bail out of the whole process. I’ve
tried to divest myself of my oversupply of stuff this year, and
God knows, I’ve got a few things that have some mileage on them;
I think I’m going to start with those. I’m going to try to find
things of mine that I know other people like, and give them to
those people. Especially the things that are important to me; those
must go first. I think that seeing something important to me on a
friend’s bookshelf could be a lot more rewarding than not seeing
something there that never really mattered in the first place.

So write me a note if you can think of anything. There’s plenty go
go around though not, hopefully, for long.

Hey, it might work. At the very least those
artificial-authenticity-peddling bastards won’t be getting rich
off my sweat equity this year.

Apparently href="http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?id={957C1700-0BD8-4DDD-A850-4511F7F5C435}"
target="_top">“opening with the rock is typical of a novice
player”, or so they would like you to believe.

Dear God, I’m going to be glad when today is over. Networked
computers should not be allowed to crash, especially when your OS
Design assignment is hidden on one of them. Double-plus-especially
when the machine to which you electronically submit those assignments
obstinately refuses to be a good boy and break with the rest of them.

Wizard needs food. Badly.

UPDATE – Wizard has done something that would almost certainly get you
expelled from cooking school. If that cooking school was the famed
Cordon Bleu,
they would no doubt reel out a few more feet of that famed Cordon and
hog-tie me with it before throwing me in a river or, as they say
in France, “riviere”.

I have taken mushrooms, fried them up with garlic, liberally added
beer
just because there was one in my hand, fried that up,
took whatever you’d call that and added eggs, fried that
up and put it on to a sandwich, indeed several sandwiches
with Dijon and Gruyere.

I loved it. And if my stomach doesn’t successfully kill me in the
next few hours, I’m sure somebody French will try.

On the bus home, I overheard two of my fellow students discussing
the various social ills of the world, in particular suggesting
that minimum wage should be at least 15 dollars, ’cause,
like, you just can’t live on 7.50, or whatever it is right
now. Totally. Immediately following that, however, they
began discussing the terrible service they received at one of the
campus coffee shops, how the girl taking their order just couldn’t
get it right, and could barely speak english, and wasn’t that just
the worst?

Like, yeah.

There is very little I can say about that, except to say that if
you’re going to spend any time fighting for social justice, one
thing that might help is being able to deal with more than one idea
at once.

Tired. So tired, but cannot really sleep. Not eating right, drinking
virtually nothing but coffee and now that Ultimate is gone until the
dome is up and running I have had very little real exercise. I’ve
had plenty of the fake kind; if you haven’t heard of milkshakercise,
bussing-to-workercise and sitting-on-your-ass-typing-stuffercise,
well, that’s because I’m a man on the cutting edge of
modern pseudoscience. We’ve all heard the tired advice about how
you should “listen to your body”, but lately all mine does is whine
and complain. “Your hamstrings are still shot from spring tryouts,
Mike”. “Mike, this is your stomach talking, and if you pour another
coffee in here I’m going to strangle your liver with your lower
intestine”. “Dear Mike, negotiations going nowhere, you don’t treat
us with any respect, we’re going on strike, we hate you. Signed,
Your Knees. P.S: Please send ibuprofen.” Honestly, who wants to
listen to snivelling like that?

Work has stumbled into a financial crunch that has shortened my work
schedule from Tuesday-Thursday-Friday to just the first two. My boss
has been as good as I could have hoped for with the whole thing;
he was up-front with me about it, assured me that he was happy
with my work and that this was only because it was a lean time in
automotive-sales land, and so forth. Not an ideal outcome, but if
I’m going to have to hear that kind of thing I’d rather not
hear it from somebody who’s obviously struggling to sugarcoat it.
He’s hoping that in my limited time that I can work on some blue-sky
futzing around with Linux, with an eye towards saving on some of
the unbelievably, insanely large licensing costs involved in running
an MS shop, and I’m looking forward to giving that a go. More news
about that soon.

So that’s my day. I could complain, but if other people spend as
much time listening to my complaints as I do that’s probably not
a winning strategy. Instead, I think I can clevery conflate my
complaints and wind up a with mixed blessing – tomorrow, I’m going
to take my newly-free Friday, go the the gym and spend the morning
killing myself with free weights. Not double happiness, I guess,
but the happiness market being what it is some large fraction of
a single happiness will be plenty.

Rumble, young man, rumble.

I’ve just recently come across the Economist’s href="http://www.economist.com/library/StyleGuide/index.cfm"
target="_top">Style Guide, and if you’re looking forward to
that ambitious step up from pointing and grunting, I urge you to
give it a look.

My family had a dinner-table discussion today about the hard-cap
that’s been put on power prices in Ontario, that my Dad started
out with his finest provincial-politics imitation of Dennis Hopper
from Speed; “You’re in a newly-privatized energy market of your own
design, with skyrocketing prices and surrounded by angry voters! What
do you do, hotshot? What do you do?

Tough call not fair, I said, pretty much in one breath. You can’t
take somebody who’s spent the whole trip in steerage, put them at
the helm and ask them if they have any solutions to this unforseen
iceberg problem. Still, the appalling thing is that this is not
unexpected at all. It’s precisely what you, if you happen to be
a Conservative MPP, were aiming for in the first place. Market
forces are now hard at work! Huzzah! Surely we are en-route to the
promised land!

Hold that thought.

What amazes me about this whole thing is not so much that Big-C
Conservative politicians keep running this privatization platform
– they pretty much have to, if they’re going to keep their party
cards – but that people keep thinking will work this time. “We
believe in a leaner, smaller government. We’ll privatize things,
and that will lower your taxes!” Great plan. And if those services
were subsequently provided by the magical toil of generous, selfless
Hydro-Electric Fairies, the public might even experience a reliable
net savings. Woohoo. True on its face, though, and if you don’t
worry the extra bill that people will be getting or about what
purist capitalism tends to do to the poor you can probably even
get a decent night’s sleep.

Absent the utilities fairies, though, it’s back to Econ 101 –
supply and demand will dance their usual dance, and prices will
chart their waltz about the floor. They will go up and down. In
times when demand for electricity is high, for example at times when
Ontario residents feel that common love of not freezing to death,
prices will go up and up.

Free Market Economies! Competition! The promised land! We’re almost
there! Whoops, no, it turns out that people don’t like
having to pay market value for their electricity, especially when
“market value” turns out to mean “several times more than I used to
pay, where the hell are these savings I was promised?” What do you
do, hotshot? Do you (a) stick to your principles, or (b) shoot the
entire project in the head and hope that’s enough to get reelected?
Free hint: the person making this decision is a politician.

So, now we have a market in which you are free go go out of business.
Ever wonder why voter turnout is so low?

UPDATE – I’m reluctant to turn my beloved almost-daily log into the
kind plaintive, depressing cry
for help
you find all over the net, but if any of you
happen to be the kind of diligent, resourceful people who keep href="http://www.apple-history.com/270.html" target="_top">Powerbook
Duo parts stocked neatly on the shelves in your basement,
I’m dying to talk to
you
. I’ve killed my baby. You really don’t appreciate how gently
the aging, irreparable and irreplaceable ribbon cables in older
machines need to be treated until you completely goon up the process
of taking one of those old machines apart, dammit.

Though you wouldn’t expect it, Downtown Toronto can be an quiet
place. I started my weekend on the redeye bus, getting to T.O. at
five Saturday morning. My final destination was going to be Oshawa,
so I decided to hike down to Union Station to catch the Go Train
that would let me backtrack to my final destination.

That was a fascinating, eerily quiet walk. The stars over Toronto are
completely washed out, but the lights in the skyscrapers stay on;
the contrast is striking, and looking up from the sidewalk the sky
was so deep and black that it seemed like those towering, monolithic
buildings were about to fall back into it. I walked the ten or twelve
blocks between the terminals and didn’t see another soul, just one
street-sweeper furiously going the other way. Placid horror-movie
calm, Madame Tussaud’s special brand of stillness oozed off the
buildings. It was peaceful, like the space between the end of the
explosion and the start of the screams.

Union Station, if you’ve never been there, is huge. Vast, especially
when you’re the only person in it. Towering stone pillars and
an enormous arched ceiling, the whole place is a single room lit by
a single chandelier. You could never get a modern-day taxpayer to
spring for a building as majestic and imposing as Union Station,
the bunch of cheapskates. What a magnificent structure. Not many
ways in it to spend an hour waiting for a train, mind you, but if
you’re already ensconced in a piece of old-world architecture big
enough to hold an ultimate field or three, I think that asking for
a twenty-four-hour arcade or a newsstand might be a bit much.

This brought me, agonizing moment by moment, to my first Go
Train ride. The clock in Union Station does not tick – it sweeps.
Clocks must never be permitted to sweep, not at five in the morning.
The ticking clock still provides a space, a halting indeterminacy
that feels brief and interminable; time halts, and you can breathe
in that moment before it lurches forward again. Sweeping minutes hands
give you no moment for yourself, grinding mercilessly, horrifyingly
forward, and you are just grist for the mill. Look closer, and all
you get is a fine-grained glimpse of inevitability.

This is the kind of thing that happens to your mind when you’re
absolutely alone in a hive meant for millions. It’s one thing to be
dropped into an unfamiliar context, but when your context is dropped
into an unfamiliar context, your brain starts getting its advice
from whatever lizard part of it is afraid of things that go bump
in the night.

It gets worse. I now have very limited and very misleading Go Train
experience; it turns out that they are an eminently civilized way
of travelling, especially if you are the only person on the entire
train. This might not be surprising for 6:15 Saturday morning (Or
maybe it is. What do I know?) but it can’t be a common occurrence
for the mass transit system of Canada’s largest city. Either way,
getting to see the sun come up over Lake Ontario was a treat. The
only nervous moment was when I got on the first time – there is
a button on the outside of a Go Train that will let you in, but
there is no facility once you are in that Go Train to get
out. At 6:00 in the morning, you either do that right or you
presumably end up in Hamilton somewhere; once that realization sets
in, well, you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, horror
movie or no.

I got only a brief, snapshot view of Oshawa during my say, and
walking across town at 7:15 on a Saturday is hardly the best way
to learn about a city. Arlene and I didn’t even eat there, getting
a good dinner at a small Japanese/Korean place called Akashia,
on Kingston street in Ajax. That was a fine and reasonably priced
meal, which surprised my obviously narrow mind.

Sunday, after a morning that involved the kind of catatonia that
money just can’t buy, we met Antoine and Alethea for dim sum at the
Bayview Gardens restaurant in Richmond Hill. This was also good,
and it turns out that I’ve been there before a few times with
Arlene’s family. My memory is what it’s always been, I guess. It’s
hard to tell from here. It was good to see them, of course, though
too brief. The whole weekend was too brief, ending at 4:30 so that
I could engage in another useless battle with the school labs. Two
hours of sleep and 18 hours of SQL, User Interface design and poking
unceremoniously at the Linux scheduler, I’m going to sleep.

Assuming I can get to sleep. The “coffee” machine in the CS
department will sell you a cup of lukewarm lies for seventy-five
cents, something that tastes like pencil shavings brewed in
Kitchener tap water. But it does have the magic ingredient. Java,
and a whole new set of foundation classes now, for me. A-hunting
I go, in the hopes that the BigInteger classes aren’t as stupid as
they were in 1.3.

This is just a test. In the event of
actual interesting content you will hear
approximately half an hour of silence, followed by the honking of href="http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/k/kjv/kjv-idx?type=citation&book=Revelation&chapno=8&startverse=1&endverse=11">seven
really loud trumpets.

I’ve read another target="_top">Harpers this weekend, and it pissed me off again. I
talked my problems with it out with Nick, and I think I nailed
down what was bothering me about it; the articles in question did
not make what you would call an “argument”, per se. That is, they
(by which I mean almost all the magazine’s content) do not make an
claim and then examine the merits of that claim. Even the article
called an “essay” avoids this obviously dated approach.

Instead, the trick is apparently to first tell a little story
about yourself and some related “life experience” that leads up to
the point that, in little baby steps, you eventually get around to
making. It’s a variant of the previously-described Rootham Technique,
writ large; the idea is not to actually make an argument, but to
seduce your audience away from your argument and into a sympathetic
mindset. Then, when you actually get around to making some kind of
a claim, the critical faculties that readers would normally employ
to realize that the writer is talking out of their ass are busy
dwelling on the fact that boy, this author has had a tough life,
and I guess he’s justified in feeling this way, gosh.

To me, this is like listening to a squeaking door hinge or a whining
computer fan; once you’ve noticed it you can’t ever go back to being
unaware of it, and it gets more irritating the more you notice. My
problem is that I see it everywhere; it seems not so much like a
lapse in judgement, but like the whole idea of judgement
has lapsed. A “good essay” apparently doesn’t need to support its
claims; all it needs to do is convince its readers not to fight
back.

While this is no doubt old news to anyone who follows this kind
of thing for a living, it reminds me of the great “Science
Wars” debate from the mid-nineties; A professor of physics
named target="_top">Alan Sokal wrote a fantastic href="http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html"
target="_top">parody that was eventually href="http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/afterword_v1a/afterword_v1a_singlefile.html"
target="_top">revealed to be a href="http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/lingua_franca_v4/lingua_franca_v4.html"
target="_top">hoax after its publication in a prominent
journal of cultural studies. It is, I think, a two-step process;
the victims of Sokal’s hoax had already been sold on the idea that
everything is just a discourse, a “text”, and once you’re there
it’s apparently trivially simple to sell you anything that doesn’t
conflict with that belief. Sokal himself says it very well:

“The results of my little experiment demonstrate,
at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American
academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy. The editors of
Social Textliked my article because they liked its conclusion: that
“the content and methodology of postmodern science provide powerful
intellectual support for the progressive political project.” They
apparently felt no need to analyze the quality of the evidence,
the cogency of the arguments, or even the relevance of the arguments
to the purported conclusion.”

This kind of thing drives me nuts. I get frothy and I start
to twitch, I really do. Between that and the tooth-gnashingly
glib target="_top">Harper’s Index, it’s no wonder to me that the
U.S. government is going to be 100% Republican for at least two
years.

On a wildly unrelated note, I had a great conversation the other
day with some fellow geeks about the fundamental differences between
the nature of computer simulations versus real-world experimentation.
The conversation ranged over questions of experimental controls,
determinacy, repeatability and so forth, but it eventually degenerated
into a jokefest on the great and terrible things you could do if
there was good overlap between those worlds:

  • “Who are you? How did you get in here?” “I dereferenced your business card.”
  • “…It didn’t work. Just a sec. I’ll try it again.” “No, wait! Don’t!” “…It didn’t work. Just a sec. I’ll try it again.” “Break, man! Break!” “…It didn’t work…”
  • “I didn’t kill him, your honour – he’s just been suspended. I can get him back.”

Those of you who don’t know why, or even if, any of that is funny can
console yourselves with the fact that you’re probably right.

I had planned, this weekend, to go and visit Arlene in Toronto,
where she was hoping to have a weekend to stock up on winter clothing
before going off to work at her new rotation in Oshawa. This plan has
been thwarted by the fact that she’s actually on call in Oshawa this
weekend. This is pissing me off. Not only is she working three weekends
in a row, now, but whoever she’s working for hasn’t even provided
her with a clean apartment with a working phone in Oshawa.

Let’s be clear on this – I’m not angry at her, but I am angry
about the situation. It bothers me intensely that she’s a) cold,
b) without winter-wear and c) living in a shitty apartment in
Oshawa. What bothers me the most, of course, is that I can’t do
anything substantial about any of that, and I’m getting increasingly
moody lately about this kind of thing. My plans for the weekend,
which had seemed very promising, are now pretty bleak. I’ve been
invited to a party, Hallowe’en theme, dress up, yay, but I don’t
know if I’m in any kind of a mood for that right now. I think that
I’d rather just sulk until I can find somebody to punch.