synthetic zero


August 31, 2006

Katharine is back from Russia, and has posted some beautiful photographs, including, in a rare move, a complete picture of herself.

August 30, 2006

Feel a little better today. I had some ice cream at Mary's, which is always satisfying. Feels more on track today, still dangerous.

August 29, 2006

Wow, feeling a sense of forboding today --- it's been increasing steadily for a week or so, but today it has really hit a peak. The strange thing is --- I'm not entirely sure why.

August 28, 2006

For some reason, some of CNN's stories right now remind me of The Onion: People using cell phones to tell time, and Users say BlackBerrys improve life:

Weintz, 37, said he recently abandoned his trusty Swiss Army watch and now relies on his phone to tell time. "The time is right there," said Connecticut-based Weintz as he drew a palm-sized cell phone from his shorts pocket. "And it's all around us in this digital age. Plus, if I see a chick I like on the street, I can ask her the time (with no watch on his wrist)."
That's some hard-hitting investigative journalism. I want to see them do one about how people are using Google to look stuff up instead of going to the library.

August 27, 2006

Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, says violence is decreasing:

"The violence is not increasing. We're not in a civil war. Iraq will never be in a civil war," he said through an interpreter on CNN's Late Edition. "The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing." ....

... Iraqi officials have said about 3,500 Iraqis died violently last month nationwide --- the highest monthly tally of the war.

It's always great when leaders look the hard truth squarely in the face.

August 26, 2006

After much careful research, I finally decided to order a MacBook Pro, partly because my Thinkpad is disintegrating, and partly because I need a machine to do video editing and compositing with --- and, ultimately, the best compositing tool is Shake, and that only runs on a Mac (or Linux -- but there's no really usable Linux-based HDV editing solution that doesn't require working with uncompressed HD video, which is way too storage heavy for my current budget). It's a big purchase: MacBook Pro, Final Cut Studio, Shake, and some extra add-ons (more RAM, external hard drive for video, etc.), but these are essential tools for me to do video editing. At some point I will probably also transfer my work environment to the MacBook, as well --- since it can run Ubuntu, Mac OS, and Windows, as my Thinkpad is having problems (hinge broke --- I can still use the laptop but it needs repair, soon). I've more or less concluded that I need to start working more robustly using visual, moving forms, as part of my project in attempting to explore the evocation of things that are difficult or impossible to express --- and these are, I think, the basic tools I need to work with the Sony HVR-Z1U HDV camera I bought several months ago.

I considered every Apple model: the MacBook, the iMac, the Mac mini, and even the new desktop Mac Pro; ultimately I decided I wanted the option of getting a very large monitor someday, and only the Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, and iMac had graphics hardware capable of driving the largest monitors. And, while the Mac Pro was tempting (for less total cost, it would have been more than twice as powerful as the MacBook Pro), I decided I also wanted portability (essential particularly if I integrate video editing with my work needs).

August 25, 2006

When it comes to the inconceivable, it seems impossible to convey --- but, perhaps it is possible to show.

August 24, 2006

I'm rarely affected by horror movies, and in some sense I think that the world as it appears to us never really existed in the sense that it seems to. But one thought does tend to frighten me a little: musing on what if there were nothing... i.e., not just nothing in this universe, but no universes, ever? Nothing, period, with no possibility of anything ever, and no one to ever know that there might have been something... that image does scare me, a bit.

August 23, 2006

Heather Anne (Halpert) and I went to lunch today (it's wonderful to finally be working with her on a daily basis, since she's agreed to join me at Temboo --- I've worked with her before on discrete projects, but never so continuously before). She was telling me that she likes to read in the dark... I used to do that all the time as a kid. My mom had made me this incredibly intricate yarn blanket which was very comfortable (although, ultimately, fragile, since one break in the yarn would quickly unravel into big holes, though for a long time we managed to keep the blanket alive by tying the broken yarn ends), but, most wonderfully, the blanket let enough light through that I was able to read, yet at the same time it was very difficult to see through from the outside. Since the hall light was always on at night (at my insistence) and my door was open, I could read, undetected, under my blanket, for quite a long time... Later, I used to use the LEDs from my TI calculators (starting with my SR-56 programmable calculator) --- putting all 8's into the display (x10^88th power, of course), allowing me to read: one line at a time.

August 22, 2006

Katharine is in Russia to attend a scientific conference. Her cell phone works, but it costs $5/minute to use her US plan there, so she is sending only text messages, which cost 50 cents, as long as she doesn't go over 160 characters. So, she has to sum up whole days of her trip in 160 letters or less, as in:

Hermitage and ballet were fantastic. Had one of the best meals of my life. Ppt almost done, paper sortof.
Going to peter the great's palace today. Got antibiotics for stomach. Water isn't safe. Really like it here otherwise
Brief, yet you get a vivid picture of a fabulous trip (going much better than she had feared beforehand -- except for what seems to be some uninvited bacteria...)

August 21, 2006

I had a dream once that these evil spies or something had removed my sense of human sympathy, and were attempting to convince me to harm my loved ones and family members. I was playing along, but I secretly thought: these idiots don't realize that even without an emotion of human sympathy, I would still not harm people --- because my sense of ethics stems from another source, it comes from a coldly rational calculation that I don't identify my self-interest with my "self" or ego --- how small people's imagination must be to simply do things for "personal" gain: you have to believe in the unitary self, which is an incoherent philosophical position -- and furthermore, ignore the fact that altruism and compassion are perfectly rational strategies if you identify yourself with something transpersonal, which I do (again: for coldly rational reasons). I chuckled to myself at how stupid these "spies" were to think they could turn me to their side just by removing my emotional connection to other people --- if the only reason you're ethical is because of emotion, I thought, that's a very shaky, unstable, and easily corrupted form of ethics.

Of course, if the spies could convince me that my family or friends were systematically harming the world, then I might act against them (more likely, though, just abandon them) --- because harming the world, ultimately, is less interesting than helping it. And, sympathy or no, I am in favor of a more interesting, more varied, more creative world. It's so much harder to build than it is to destroy, so I am, in general, in favor of building. Sometimes building requires some destruction, of course, and there are times when letting go of some structures is needed to allow new things to grow. But the people close to me are not causing harm in a big way, and they are in fact contributing wonderful things to the world --- so the evil spies of my dream --- they were never going to succeed in their plan.

It reminds me, though, of my overall motive for ethical behavior --- it doesn't depend on sentimentality. I am loyal to the people I am loyal to for complex interconnected reasons, including feeling --- but feeling alone isn't nearly enough. My friends and family have flaws --- but I don't abandon people just because they have some flaws --- all things considered, their contribution to the world is a net plus. But not only this --- my family members subscribe, for the most part, to a similar ethics --- one not based on dogma or sentiment, but something both simpler and deeper --- and for that reason they are trustworthy to someone like me. Lapses on their part would be due not to malice but to a failure of competence or an error in judgement --- but those are not entirely avoidable. On the other hand: I recall an old Kurosawa film in which one of the generals decides to abandon his side and defect to the other --- normally a serious breach of bushido code --- but in the context of the film, it made perfect sense. His lord had so dramatically violated the spirit of what it meant to be samurai that he had no choice but to defect. Loyalty not to a person or to a tribe but to reality. For me: that's always paramount. For example, America, right or wrong? No: if America is wrong, I lovingly attempt to bring her back around by arguing against her disastrous mistake. Because, ultimately, mistakes harm the one making the mistake; sometimes worse than the victim.

August 20, 2006

Helped my housemate Teresa build her room this weekend --- she's been living behind screens, but now she gets a real room. The space will be a lot more open when it's done (ironically).

August 19, 2006

If each time I pressed a key on my laptop keyboard, an explosion were heard in the far distance, I wonder if that would change the way I wrote? By "explosion" I don't mean that something was actually blowing up, but rather, a thunderous sound would be rumbling, and the earth would gently shake, but while things were clearly being rearranged, nothing and no one were obviously hurt, at least not in the sense of bleeding and injury. The rumbling thunder would be, perhaps, the sound of history and time changing itself, lives appearing and disappearing (not because they would be gone or born, but that I would be shifting with them and into different worlds) yet the impact would be at the periphery of my awareness; a changed color in the window of the store I passed yesterday, a different pair of socks on my neighbor's sister's feet, a community shifted to have different ancestors, though not all different. Silent rumblings, in fact: I feel them now. Perhaps it has always already been happening. What if every moment we lived didn't merely add something new to history, but also changed history, slightly, just beyond our ability to perceive it in an obvious way? Yet if we really, really paid attention ... perhaps we'd be able to feel it change.

August 18, 2006

When is the moment when you should give up on someone? The strange thing is, the people you would never give up on are often the ones who need the most reassurance. But there are other people for whom it's a choice: they can decide to take a risk and expand their world, or not, and I'm willing to go the extra mile, but not ten extra miles, for people like that. At some point it's best to just cut your losses.

ps I'm not talking about you.

pps Really; it's not you --- it's no one I care about, believe me.

August 17, 2006

My friend Emily writes:

August 16, 8:46 pm, F train at the Second Avenue station. Conductor comes on the PA:

"I would like to say this is an F to Coney Island. But I'm not sure. Stand clear of the closing doors."


August 16, 2006

Even in the absence of a message, one can sometimes, it seems, feel people who are far away. You want to talk with them but even without hearing them, they seem to be present, and so you don't worry or feel separated.

August 15, 2006

For some reason, slept very well last night. Exhaustion that had dogged me for a few days, culminating in yesterday's extreme tiredness, is gone. I feel so much better.

Exciting news about loop quantum gravity: they've finally worked out how it could generate some of the particles of the Standard Model, including electrons, quarks, photons, and the W and Z particles.

In Markopoulou and Kribs's version of loop quantum gravity, they considered the universe as a giant quantum computer, where each quantum of space is replaced by a bit of quantum information. Their calculations showed that the qubits' resilience would preserve the quantum braids in space-time, explaining how particles could be so long-lived amid the quantum turbulence.

Smolin, Markopoulou and Bilson-Thompson have now confirmed that the braiding of this quantum space-time can produce the lightest particles in the standard model - the electron, the "up" and "down" quarks, the electron neutrino and their antimatter partners

Loop quantum gravity, unlike the conventional formulations of the more popular string theory, doesn't presuppose space and time, but rather space and time fall out of a theory which is at its root merely a network of relationships. A wonderful idea and very promising --- I've always felt that space and time should not be considered mere givens, but should be consequences of a much more fundamental theory. (I also think awareness/mind will turn out to be involved --- not in a woo woo sense, but in the sense of information processing loops --- I've talked about this before).

August 14, 2006

Exhausting, strange day, today. Felt awful, and so tired I could barely stay awake after I got home.

August 13, 2006

How to speak about, or relate with, the inconceivable? Can we think of it only in negative terms (what it isn't, that is it isn't limited) or in vague positive terms (wholeness, completeness, vastness)? There must be more that is possible than just this.

August 12, 2006

The interesting irony of the smouldering remains of what was our Iraq policy (if one could even call it a "policy", as it was so poorly conceived it might as well have been called a hazy, fevered daydream, a puerile fantasy inexplicably placed in incompetent command of real American military power) is that it has vastly increased the relevance and importance of the United Nations. Whereas Bush attempted to use the United Nations before in a transparently obvious (I'll bet Bush is a horrifically bad poker player) move to legitimize a policy which he had already committed to --- now the world finds itself turning to the UN, and, for a world body that has, in its history, often issued resolutions devoid of much more than symbolic significance (or otherwise used primarily as political staging for policies that had already been decided) --- it's strange and refereshing to see how it now finds itself playing a pivotal role, the place where major players have engaged in critical negotiations over a matter of great difficulty and pressing importance --- and, somewhat surprisingly, we find that the antagonists in the conflict are both, at least at first, agreeing to the brokered deal rather readily. There is a symbolic power to the UN, even if the two primary countries involved in the negotiations (the United States and France) are both Western powers --- as I've argued before, in war as in many things, symbolism is in itself powerful; in the long run, the most powerful element of war. Wars are constrained by logistical and economic factors, but they are sustained and motivated, ultimately, by politics, and thus political symbolism is paramount when it comes to conducting and resolving armed conflicts. The recognition that we need some sort of diplomatic, multinational venue (regardless of the UN's architectural and institutional flaws, it remains the sole world body at the present time capable of playing this role) to deal with conflict is a salutary development, and hopefully the world will learn something from this --- it took decades for the UN to finally come into its own, and perhaps, ironically, it will be as a result of one horribly failed attempt to circumvent the UN by an Administration that appeared hellbent on dismantling it that the spirit of multilateral diplomacy will begin to gain its greatest legitimacy. This is a valuable first step: actually using the architecture of the UN as it is now to seriously resolve a major conflict at a relatively early point. Let's hope the effort succeeds --- I suspect it may not ---- but it is at least a good sign that we've realized that the UN, flawed as it is, still represents to the world a multilateral venue for dealing with conflict, and thus we have no choice but to turn to it in times of extremity.

August 11, 2006

The political debate in this country is really sad ... it continues to be about hawks versus doves, when it should be about who is going to secure the country. Security does not equal eagerness to go to war --- any true strategic thinker knows this. Security is a matter of knowing when to use force, knowing that one should be very reluctant to use force, and knowing that when you do use force, you had better win, and win decisively. This is almost laughably the opposite of what the Bush Administration has done for us: gone to war with the wrong enemy at the wrong time, and then botching the job so badly that we have a very real chance of losing. How much more obvious does it get than this? Yet the Democrats still fail to take up the position of being stronger on national security than the Republicans --- when now is the perfect time to do so. This isn't about who is for war, and who is for peace: it should be about who can maximize the chances for peace by maximizing our security; who is willing to go to war but only as a last resort, who is willing to use this terrible but sometimes sadly necessary instrument, but only at the right time and place, and only with great force and effectiveness. To see the Bush Administration and their infantile and ineffective approach to war and geopolitics --- it should be easy to see that they do not represent security, they represent immature adolescent bluster. The debate should be about who is more likely to win when we do use force, and who is more likely to know who to use force against --- not who is more willing to use force at the drop of a hat. This idea sounds simple, yet it seems to elude politicians of either party.

August 10, 2006

You don't have to become the big giant you, you already are the big giant you. "Become" is really just a word to describe the slow process of realizing that and relaxing into it.

August 9, 2006

Action and non-action live in a very delicate space together. By non-action I mean it in the Buddhist or Taoist sense: not inaction but a way of being that simply flows naturally without a certain kind of narrowing effort. The idea isn't that you literally do nothing; in fact you could be doing the most gargantuan project imaginable in a wu-wei manner (in fact, it is a lot more efficient to "do" even the hardest tasks this way). But what does that mean?

Natalie called me about this the other day; she had just read my July 29 post about a similar subject, and said that she was very intrigued by this idea, but she was frustrated --- how do you do it? That's the question: there are a lot of answers, ranging from "you don't do it at all, it's already happening" (a sort of semi-glib answer which is true but perhaps not all that helpful at first) to things like "open up to the larger reality you're already in," and so forth. It's natural, of course, to focus in on the details of what you're doing, and then to open back out to a larger context; sort of like breathing, we do it, in and out, all the time. The problem happens when we get stuck in a smaller position and we forget that there IS a larger context. The world becomes very small, and our small problems appear insurmountable.

My family history is samurai, as I've noted a number of times, and one of the curious paradoxes of the samurai attitude at least in my family is a combination of being very relaxed, yet poised for action. I'm like this, my father is like that, and so forth. We love crisis! Well, not exactly love, but we will jump into action in an emergency --- time slows down, we go into a whirlwind of very precise activity, maximizing what absolutely has to happen in the minimum amount of time to get whatever we need to get done, done. The rest of the time we are relaxed, scanning the horizon in an almost lazy fashion, looking for potential far-off dangers or problems, and preparing well in advance for them. Even though we can shift to suddenly totally alert and active in an instant, most of the time, we're pretty laid back --- partly because we're reasonably well prepared for disaster (including being prepared to accept the worst at any moment --- that our preparations might prove inadequate).

But also: it takes a certain relaxed, open attitude to be able to see a picture big enough for this to work. Of course, one of the problems is that because it is so easy to get lost in the weeds when you get too attached to a project, there is a tendency to be very averse to acting in too intense a way. There are dangers in "doing" too much --- however --- it is possible, if you pay very close attention, to retain your connection to the larger unknowable even in the midst of "doing" things --- you just have to remember it is there, to feel it even as you narrow down to focus on a task. It's tricky, but it's possible. I've decided I'm going to allow myself a larger scope of activity in the world; might as well go ahead. I have to remember to stay relaxed and alert while I am "doing" things... It's sort of like having an expanded depth of field... you can see clearly what's in front of you, but the whole is also still there.

Very lightly do great things.

August 8, 2006

Katharine sent me this in response to my post:

All I knew was what I wasn't, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means.

-Joan Didion, from "Why I Write"


August 7, 2006

Please write to me! You know who you are. Yes, you.

August 6, 2006

Posting more frequently, I find myself somewhat a little surprised at what I've been thinking over the last few weeks. How better to find out what I'm thinking than to write it down? Otherwise, it tends to disappear (though, of course, disappearing has its own virtues).

August 5, 2006

Biked down to The Kitchen to see Harrell's show and, unexpectedly (this is starting to become a pattern), ran into Yuri Ono as well as Astria Suparak, (as well as Harrell himself, not unexpectedly). What's more, one of the students in Harrell's program was Elena Tejada-Herrera, someone whom I've exhibited before at one of my events (she had actually emailed me that she was going to be participating in a program at The Kitchen but I didn't realize the program she was talking about was being directed by Harrell). Really liked the exhibit of the work done by Harrell's students --- I encourage you to check it out, it's in the Kitchen's upstairs gallery for a while.

Afterwards, at St. Mark's Bookstore, I happened to spy a copy of Uovo magazine, which looked interesting. I opened it up and started to flip through it, and of course there was an interview with Miranda July in it (yet another unexpected meeting, though this time not with the actual person). One thing that struck me about the interview was the part where she talked about one major facet of her work, particularly in the movie, centers around the experience of people in relation to their time as children, and the strange way we, as adults, live in a certain way cut off from that childhood world; she also referred to the fact that we all have fuzzy memories of that time. When I first met Miranda I had many dreams about being in nursery school again --- dreams I only later understood more clearly. Unlike Miranda, though, I actually have very vivid memories of being a young child --- in fact, I have strong memories going back all the way until I was about one year old. If anything, my memories of my early childhood years are more vivid than many of my adult memories. I rarely meet people like me, with clear memories of their childhood, but when I do, I feel a great deal of affinity for these people. Miranda said we tend to think of childhood as a time when we were all in a different world, but somehow together --- but I never felt I left that world. I still think of people around me, adults and children, as living in that same world. This isn't to say I shun adult things, because I obviously don't (well, for the most part --- I never got over my childhood aversion to cigarette smoke or things like alcohol) --- but most adult things don't seem particularly separate to me from the things I appreciated as a child. I think the strict distinction between the two worlds has always struck me as somewhat artificial. When I see people, when I interact with them, I still feel together with them just like when we were all children. I realize now that this is perhaps one reason why people sometimes feel very comfortable with me right after they've met me, but they also occasionally feel as though I've intruded a bit too much into their world, past their boundaries. I don't have those boundaries, at least not the same boundaries most "adults" have.

August 4, 2006

Decided on a whim to go to the Kamp K48 exhibit, and, strangely enough, met Kenneth Mroczek there; this is the second opening I've been to where I meet him unexpectedly, because he's in the show (though I hadn't known that either time). This particular show had a few good things in it (including Kenneth's little butterfly) --- I also liked the buttons, the angry screed, and the jumpsuit with cups for hands and feet --- but I didn't think the show was, overall, all that super-interesting (though the band was good, at least). Meanwhile, Kenneth told me about something that Harrell Fletcher is doing at The Kitchen tomorrow; I think I'll drop by and take a look at it.

August 3, 2006

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
don't make any sense.



August 1, 2006

Please feast your eyes on my lovely, meditative rock garden.


August 2, 2006

I moved this post below my rock garden, above, since the garden seems to look better up there...

It was so hot today that I found myself riding my bike at "near standstill" --- basically: applying as little force as possible, and coasting as much as I could, to avoid building up any effort that might create sweat. To my surprise I actually managed to go relatively fast that way --- it's kind of interesting that the difference between a tiny effort and a lot of effort on a bike produces only an incremental increase in overall speed (but a massive increase in the amount of sweat produced on a day like today). Still, it's more fun to sprint like mad --- most days. But today was not one of them. Tomorrow seems unlikely to be, either, though it promises to be ever so slightly cooler.

Caroline thinks my lovely, meditative rock garden is the funniest thing I have ever posted. But I thought it was so serene!