blarg?

beauty

For about ten minutes this morning I was in a beautiful relationship.

I bike to work in the morning, and I’m pretty aggressive about it. I’m one of the scofflaw cyclists people who spend a few hours every day slowly dying in traffic like to complain about. I move so much faster than traffic, though, that their opinions hardly matter. Off peak hours (whenever those are) you can make a case for driving, I suppose? But in general, in rush hour in this city, nothing is faster than me. Subway, Porsche, Ducati, doesn’t matter.

Today, though.

This morning I’m cranking down the road, not full out but sure not dawdling, when a woman about my age riding with fenders and a pannier – a pannier! Wicker! – blows past me like it’s not even a thing. Whoosh.

This cannot stand, of course; the machismo bullshit is strong with me at moments like this. It’s a rare day and a rare treat for me that I get a rabbit to chase on my ride in, so I can’t miss this; I gear down take off after her.

After a while I catch up, start drafting – the two of us are flying down the road – and then pass her, but I’m not shaking her, oh no. She was not having that. I beat her to a light by about two lengths but she timed it better, got out in front of me again, took a better line around the traffic and started stretching her lead. She was raising her game here, and I did not have an easy time catching up. By the time I do I’m feeling it, and looking over it doesn’t look like I’m pushing her anywhere near as hard as she’s pushing me.

We went back and forth like that for about ten minutes, past everyone, trading leads and drafting around traffic and go go go until finally her commute took her north near where I turned south. I was grinning like a lunatic at the end of it, and she seemed happy as well; we shared a nod and went our separate ways, and that was that.

Whoever you are, that was one of the best rides in I can remember. I hope it was as much of a blast for you as it was for me.

Well done, and thank you.

Leaves

In Tsukiji there’s a small, open-fronted shop called “Tsukiji Masamoto”, and it’s packed. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with knives in various wooden cases, row after row of every tool you’d need to separate one part of some animal from another.

Their shapes were unfamiliar to my western eyes, specialized tools for jobs I know nothing about. Even the local equivalent of the west’s workaday one-size-fits-all chef’s knife, the santoku, seems to come in more shapes and sizes than makes sense. The cleaver-like usuba bocho doesn’t have an obvious western counterpart, the hard angles of the usagisaki hocho, the “eel knife”, likewise. And the savage economy of the soba kiri or udon kiri – literally “noodle knife”, because that’s all they’re for – looks more like the business end of something stylized and cruel than a common household utensil in its own right.

Most striking is the maguro bocho, made for filleting four hundred pounds of tuna in a single motion; some seven feet long, five of it blade, they seem more like a Daimyo’s tool than a fishmonger’s. It’s hard to believe they’re useful until you see how big a full-sized tuna can be; the nature of the tool becomes clear once you understand the nature of the job, as usual.

When I visited there was a man squared up over a whetstone out front, a man who looks like he’s made out of old leather and dock rope. He was holding a hon deba to the wheel in hands you could mistake for a bag of walnuts. He seemed to have been there forever; as far as I’m concerned he’s probably still there, a small man who stands like an old mountain. Tsukiji seemed to have been built around him; I had the impression some shogun’s son had found him standing in front of that wheel when it was still called Edo and returned home to say, father, we do need a fish market, and there is a man already there sharpening knives. Respectfully, father, I don’t think he’s going anywhere for anyone.

As I was watching him work he lifted the hon deba off the wheel and peered closely at its edge for a long time before he lowered the knife and stared at the sky for just as long. For a moment I could almost see a hint of dissatisfaction and then nothing; he put the edge back to the wheel, I moved on.

I think about this a lot; I wish I’d been able to ask him what he’d seen.

This has been sitting around in the drafts folder for a while. I’m not sure why I wanted to finish it off tonight, but I want to get all these half-finished posts done. This seemed like a good way to knock off some of the rust.

Rust Never Sleeps

Occasionally when I’m in one of my darker moods I’ll fire up a game that’s meant to be multiplayer and walk through it alone, crawling around the fringes and corners to see how the game reacts to unexpected stimuli, looking for soft spots and exposed nerves.

I’ve always been a lurker in open worlds games, real life being no exception; I don’t remember when I started looking for the seams, the little gaps where the walls don’t quite line up or the high ledge that offers a long view, but it’s not a thing I can turn off. And when I’m in that sullen loner’s mood, sitting in the dark soloing multiplayer spaces is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two on just that sort of wallhack tourism.

Halo’s Spartan Ops, is kind of fun though not particularly replayable distraction. It’s a neat idea, and I sort of wish they’d done more with the idea of serving up Halo in smaller episodic doses. The environments, though… if you have the right eyes you can’t help but notice that built-for-a-shooter feeling that pervades the designed landscapes of that franchise.

Its not just the trademark gun-litter; whether it’s a forcefield deployed pointlessly in a cave, an otherwise-empty room with one door and twenty or so alien warriors milling around inside waiting to no discernable purpose or an massive structure of dubious architectural merit built by an advanced alien species whose accomplishments include intergalactic teleporters but not doors, you never have a moment to shake off the sense that the world is built entirely around sight lines.

Specifically, as they emerge from you.

This is a pretty niche failure mode, I’ll admit. It’s possible I’m the only person who will ever notice or care about it. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a space designed for a shooter that didn’t undercut any grandeur and greater aspirations the game might have. It maybe unavoidable; as lush as some of these environments seem at first, how do you evoke that sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself when everything is designed around you?

So much video game architecture fails that test of basic significance, worlds of outsized and beautiful physics-defying structures that don’t speak to any motive beyond themselves. Halo 4 is hardly the worst example, but the scale it aspires to makes this kind of anarrative laziness hard to overlook. This incredibly ambitious backstory, these huge structures and it’s all facade; there’s no “why”, because you’re there with the controller in your lap and you’re the “why” and there is no larger story than that.

“This place once belonged to an ancient and noble civilization, whose might and wisdom spanned the galaxy”, these structures say, “and as a monument to our glories we have built this: a monochromatic rhombus.”

Also I’m not sure how that Spartan Miller guy got his job, but he’s kind of excitable for an ostensibly hardened space marine.

But if you’re the sort of person who appreciates a jetpack – and if you’re not I don’t really see how we can keep being friends – then a lot of these arbitrary obstructions and forced perspectives are suddenly, inexplicably tractable. That extra degree of freedom is enough; in some places – Science Mountain is a good choice here – suddenly you can fly over a gate you were meant to fight past. And the game, of course, doesn’t appreciate being spoken to like that: Halo is on rails, and always will be thus! And you’re frightening the AI and this is just the way things are and I don’t care for your tone, young man. You can’t just leave the rails, that’s why it’s called “going off the rails”, and… hey, get back here!

And in this transgression, of course, Halo reveals itself for what it is.

You clear that gate, mop up a few stragglers and hop back to flip the switch to proceed. Enemies appear, less and listless. Defeat them, and now you’re alone. The next part of the sequence simply doesn’t happen. No-one else appears, no more doors open. Your team never contacts you and you, stoic and silent, never reach out to them.

There’s no meaning, there’s no more, there’s no distraction; there’s just reflection and just you, silently exploring a small corner of a deserted island intended only for you, forever. And there’s nothing to do but look for another seam, another glitch, to allow you maybe possibly move on.

It’s a weird, lonely feeling; kind of what you’d expect from soloing a multiplayer game alone in the dark.

Ready To Go

Maya packed her bag, put her boots on and told me she was ready to leave home this morning.

Well, that happened a little sooner that I expected. I suppose I’m going to have to get used to this feeling-very-proud-while-wanting-to-cry feeling.

Polaroid

I bought a beat-up Polaroid Spectra at a garage sale last week, and a single unopened package of Polaroid film in unknown condition. It cost me two dollars, and it’s the first time I’ve ever actually used one; I shot them all on the walk to the bakery with Maya, and she was confused and thrilled that the camera hummed and buzzed and spit out actual pictures. Physicalism! Imagine the novelty of it!

She was pretty sad after the tenth picture when I told her that no more could come out. Because cameras can take pictures forever, right? They don’t “run out” of anything, that’s ridiculous. She asked me if I needed to charge the batteries; the idea that a camera would just stop working is so brain-damaged and broken that it’s outside her understanding. I told her that the camera she was holding would never take another picture and she seemed genuinely hurt, like I was scolding her for breaking it.

“It won’t work again, Maya. Sorry.”

“Is it broken?”

“In a sense, yeah. In a lot of ways.”

“Oh. What happened to it?”

“I think, it’s … Progress, kid. Progress happened to it.”

I’ll try to explain it to her again when she’s older, but by then we’ll be playing so far past this that it’s hard to imagine she’ll care about it beyond humoring crazy old Dad while he’s telling one of his weird stories.

I have no sentimental attachment to the hardware, here – Polaroids are kind of dumb by 21st century standards, no matter what the fetishists tell you – but I have more than a little for my subject. So here you go, Maya. I’ve put most of these into a frame, for art’s sake; maybe someday you’ll like it for the kitsch value. Probably not; that is the way of things, but maybe. I’ll probably still be fond of it. Either way this is quite likely the last Polaroid I’ll ever shoot; I’ve always loved how much enthusiasm you can squeeze out of that smile.

The Last Polaroid I'll Ever Shoot

Switching Tires

Work

Seen here wearing her favorite Rocket Shirt, this is Maya is helping me change the tires on my car. It’s important to get kids started early on this sort of work, I think.

Bloor Station

Sufficiently advanced fashion is indistinguishable from cosplay.

The obvious corollary to that is: fashion that is easily distinguished from cosplay is insufficiently advanced.

I mentioned this to somebody in passing the other day; today, my goodness, the Internet Provides:

If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.

It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

The findings, on the Web site of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, are a twist on a growing scientific field called embodied cognition. We think not just with our brains but with our bodies, Dr. Galinsky said, and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Now it appears that those experiences include the clothes we wear.

See also, of course:

“It is a well known psychological fact that people’s behavior is strongly affected by the way they dress.”

But here, I’m going to do you one better: Have you heard of Endosymbiotic theory? It’s the idea that the internal structures in bacterium – and not just the bacteria in your gut, but the cells that make up a You – have evolved partly by absorbing other organisms and hosting their processes internally, a symbiosis that eventually makes them functionally indistinguishable from a single organism. Sort of the way you, looking through your eyes at this screen, feel like you’re functionally a single organism.

But you’re not. You’re colonies of symbiotic colonies all the way down. The consciousness you think of as you is an emergent pattern on the outside edge of fractal stack of organic Matryoshka dolls. A consciousness you can arbitrarily game with cosplay, letting you temporarily absorb the psychological practices of a different stack of Matryoshka colonies symbiotically into your own.

There’s no you. You don’t exist. It’s cosplay all the way up and colonies all the way down.

Dress up a little.