synthetic zero


December 30, 2001

If Carl Sagan had been British, he would have never made it to the big time... instead of "billions and billions..." he would have been forced to say "thousand millions and thousand millions..." (or the even worse-sounding "milliards and milliards...") which just doesn't have the same ring to it. Alas, he would have faded into obscurity, never to be heard from again.

Information design, interaction design, and web design patterns. (If you don't know what design patterns are: here's a FAQ.)

December 29, 2001

Heard an interview with Robert Fuller on KPCC, about his new book, Spiritual but Not Religious, an account of the history of alternative religious and spiritual practices in this country. Among other things he points out that our perception of our American history as having once been a nation of churchgoing Puritans is a myth --- during most of the Colonial period, only about 12-15% of the population attended church regularly, never exceeding 17%. Although Plymouth was founded by Puritans, The Massachusetts Bay Company and Jamestown were both larger and entirely commercial ventures. As we've all been taught, many of the Founding Fathers were Deists --- which is almost like being an atheist --- they believed that God created the universe but after that did not interfere or interact with the universe in any way. These days, Fuller says that 40% of the American public is not affiliated with any major religion, but they are nevertheless mostly deeply spiritual in one way or the other --- in what he calls an "unchurched" fashion.

December 28 (b), 2001

Flash things. I've never posted design candy things before, but Ruthie's Double (when is she going to start writing again? I don't know) and I were talking about Flash so I decided to look some up. Via brief glimpses of near perfection: hoogerbrugge, a lot of interesting Flash animation pieces. Then there's surface.yugop.com which has a fun Flash spatial flowery thingamabob on it, among other things. And: digitalthread's original web design gallery.

For no reason in particular, maybe it's the Christmas season, I was thinking of this: one day, when I was in the sixth grade, I was walking home from school when a friend of mine ran up to me and told me that a fourth grade bully had been trying to beat up my little brother (who was in the second grade). He and I ran to catch this bully, who was already being pursued by a bunch of our friends, including my brother. I am a pretty fast sprinter, however, so soon I left my friends behind, and I finally caught up with the bully several blocks away from school. I grabbed the bully and pushed him up against a street sign.

Of course, in elementary school a couple years makes a big difference, so I towered over this fourth grader. He was shaking in fear and kept saying "don't beat me up, please don't beat me up." I just laughed and said "I'm not going to beat you up." He looked shocked. I just told him what I was thinking. "Why are you picking on second graders? You're in the fourth grade. If you have to fight, it's absurd to pick on little kids. You should fight kids in your own grade." He just seemed flabbergasted. He kept exclaiming "thank you, thank you!" over and over. I let him go. I didn't have much faith that he would follow my advice, but I figured at least he'd stay away from my little brother.

Several months later, near the end of the school year, I was standing in the cafeteria line and I saw this kid again. To my surprise, he smiled and waved at me enthusiastically. I just sort of looked back at him, not really knowing how to respond. I just thought it was strange. A friend of mine who was standing next to me in line said, "you know that kid? It's funny, because he used to get into trouble every day. Every day they sent him to the principal's office. But then, one day, all of a sudden, he became a good student, and he hasn't been to the principal's office since." I was truly surprised... I even felt a bit sorry I hadn't waved back at him. I can't be certain that it was my sparing of him that changed his behavior, but somehow I think it probably was, or was related to it. It is amazing what powers of self-healing are possible in young children.

My thought was, at the time, that he might have been a child who had been getting abused at home; perhaps being hit was the only thing he'd ever known, and he beat up younger children as a way of dealing with the abuse he experienced there. A friend of mine, when he heard this story, thought that this was an example of the power of "grace". Perhaps it can work, especially if you're young enough to allow something that surprises you to touch you, to open yourself to new ideas of what is possible.

December 28, 2001

Last year I saw an experimental film by Micaela O'Herlihy at a Charm Bracelet show, and I mentioned her name on this site. A short time ago she put her name into a search engine and found me, and liked the site a lot, and we exchanged a few emails. She was in Los Angeles for the holidays so Susan and she and I got together for some dinner and conversation. She lives in Milwaukee now, and as it happens she saw Miranda perform The Swan Tool there, so we talked about that, as well as life and the art and film scenes in Milwaukee, Portland, Los Angeles, and New York, etc. She's good friends with Laura Klein, who showed films at that Charm Bracelet show and who lived in Portland for a while. Small world. As an example of the Milwaukee scene she mentioned Zero TV, which a lot of her friends are involved with... check it out.

December 25, 2001

I was explaining to Susan that Saira Shah, the woman responsible for the remarkable documentaries about Afghanistan Behind The Veil and Unholy War, is the daughter of the famous Sufi scholar Idries Shah. To elaborate on that, I mentioned that Idries Shah is the Robert Thurman of Sufism, to which Susan replied, "I guess that makes Saira Shah the Uma Thurman of Sufism?"

I looked up the word "peace" and found this: The United States Institute of Peace.

Via Geegaw (and inspired by it): lemonyellow.tensegrity.net, apparently the creation of Jim Flanagan (Everything Burns), which is the source of this lovable link: The Psychology of Weblogs.

I do want to say that the several days I spent visiting Heather Anne (for those who don't know, the author of the very sadly moribund Lemonyellow "Classic") were many amazing things, but among them it was something like getting several years' worth of her weblog entries compressed into a few days. I felt great, but also somewhat guilty because the rest of the world didn't get to share in it.

Though... in a way, I've been thinking about death, the foliation of causes as they expand into the universal future... yes, someday I will stop this blog (at the very latest, when I die), and though it will be preserved in the Internet Wayback Machine, eventually even there, no one will ever read these words again. However... just as there were many inspired by Heather Anne (including me), I imagine and hope that, to the extent that what any of us are writing is worth anything, that there will be those who are moved at least in some small respect by what we are writing and by our personal interactions, and they will write and influence others, and so forth, long after we die, into the hopeful future, until the heat death of the universe, and who knows, maybe somehow even after that.

Of course, to the extent that what we write and say and do is and should be discarded by history, I will hope it falls into oblivion quickly...

Equally true, however, this moment, now, will always be here, forever, as this moment of love and breath.

December 24, 2001

Being Japanese, I celebrated Christmas every year, growing up, along with most of the rest of America, without any sense of strangeness, even though we were not Christians. Since we weren't related in any way to the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic triad of religions, with all that heavy history, there was no reason for us not to engage in the Christmas events --- since it is, for the most part, a holiday that refers almost not at all to its putative Christian themes --- the tree, Santa Claus, reindeer, the star on top of the tree --- where's the Christianity there? It just seemed like a great excuse to exchange gifts. I can certainly understand Jews not wanting to celebrate Christmas, but for us, why not? It just seemed to us to be a funny American custom.

Of course, there was one year, when I was in the third grade, I think, and my dad was teaching art at a small-town liberal arts college in upstate New York, when I decided I was a Christian. Yep, the missionaries kept coming by and dropping off weird little Reader's Digest versions of the Bible, Oral Roberts was on the television telling us that we'd go to hell if we weren't Christian, and most of my friends often talked about whether or not we believed in God. I had decided in second grade that I was an agnostic, but a year later, after all this pressure, I decided, okay, I was a Christian. My dad's reaction was "it's just a phase." He seemed unconcerned.

This went on for a while, several months in fact, until one day my friend decided to take me to his family's church. I remember singing "Kum Ba Ya", which I thought even then was a little cheesy. But the turning point for me came during Sunday school classes: I had never been to a Sunday school class in my life before that. The teacher decided this was the day to discuss the origin of life, and she decided to use the question "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" as a way of arguing that there must have been a God that created chickens (or eggs) to begin the cycle of life. Well, even as a third grader I thought this argument was ludicrous: I confronted the hapless young woman with the idiocy of her "argument" and berated her for quite some time; she wasn't prepared to deal with me, a stubborn and indignant eight-year old loudly arguing "they obviously evolved gradually over millions of years!" The poor woman had no answer for me, of course, which naturally only made me more irritated at her. I left utterly disillusioned. It had never occurred to me that being Christian meant throwing out the theory of evolution. I was a rather naive child, and I assumed that most people had thought these things through, and there couldn't be intelligent adults who didn't believe that some sort of evolution had occurred on this planet.

Soon after I started to wonder about this going to hell business --- it made no sense that, say, Hindus in India who had grown up in a totally different culture would all be going to hell. I realized that the notion of a single religion being the exclusive province of truth must also be bogus as well. From there it was a short trip to confirmed atheism, which I retained for quite some time.

Of course, now I realize there are Christians who believe in evolution, and it is possible to be religious or spiritual without believing in any sort of dogma "just because." I eventually evolved out of my atheist stance to a much more religion-friendly (yet still staunchly anti-fundamentalist) viewpoint. Although I even can forgive the dogmas of the fundamentalists: evidently they are soothed by them --- it's fine for them, as long as they don't try to force their views on others.

December 22, 2001

My father likes to buy gadgets (like I do) and when our old TV in Los Angeles started to go out it didn't take much for me to convince him that buying an HDTV was a reasonable thing to do. At first we were looking at some of the fairly inexpensive projection units that have come out recently (for about $2000 you can get a 47" projection HDTV --- which may sound like a lot for a TV but it is nothing compared to the $10000 these units cost not long ago), but those would have been a bit bulky, so he decided to go for a 36" direct-view widescreen HDTV for about $2350. DVDs look pretty fantastic on it. However, he decided he also wanted to actually get an HDTV receiver, so after some research we got a Sony HDTV receiver with DirecTV (digital satellite) support. We switched our satellite provider to DirecTV. There are still only two HDTV channels on it: HBO and a network called "HDNet" which does some sports, events, etc. The HDTV receiver also decodes over the air digital television signals, however; CBS and NBC put on some HD programming in the evenings, and most of the other broadcast stations broadcast one or two digital streams (not high definition) which tend to look better than the analog broadcasts (though you can see some artifacts).

So there isn't much high definition broadcasting, though there is some. When an HD channel isn't broadcasting real content, however, it tends to be things like stunning nature scenes... it feels a bit like it must have felt back in the early days of film, when kinescopes were mostly just concerned with movement, the "wow" factor. There's a lot of that... "wow, look at that flower, wow look at the way the light hits that baby, etc." I have to admit that some film scenes on the HBO channel look pretty spectacular ... though there is some digital artifacting you can discern, still, there are moments when the picture really grabs you. It's hard to say why, but at moments it even seems to look better than it would in a theater.

Eventually HD production costs will come down, just as DV has made video production affordable... high definition might really make it possible to create, eventually, work that is film-like, with that ability to capture fine qualities of light, at a much lower cost than film. A possibly exciting visual medium... one day.

December 20, 2001

Another example of blowback: the CIA/MI6 overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq of Iran, leading to the dictatorship of the Shah, leading to the Iranian Revolution. Luckily for us the Iranians seem to be as tired of religious rule as the Afghans are, but their government is still paralyzed by the right-wing rule of the Ayatollah Khamenei, despite the reformist sentiments of President Khatami. In retrospect, an old-time democratic socialist like Mossadeq looks a lot better than someone like Khamenei. This just goes to show that realpolitik is and has always been short-sighted. Let people decide their own fate and let the chips fall where they may: whenever we try to impose our own agenda against the will of foreign populations, we (and they) reap the whirlwind in the end. It is not just that such operations are morally repugnant (which they are), but they never work in the long run. When we do intervene, our only goal ought to be the restoration of representative rule: and then we ought to get the hell out and let them govern themselves, restricting our meddling in their affairs to economic aid.

For this very reason I am quite nervous about the introduction of foreign troops into Afghanistan. I'm very happy the Afghans are rid of the Taliban, but we had better be exceptionally careful now. We ought not to be sanguine about the future --- we have made a lot of boneheaded mistakes in the past.

Subterranean Notes is back, in its old location, after a brief stint as Hypogee, then [sub]culture.

December 19, 2001

Researchers find no sign of the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is supposed to be needed to explain the mass of particles. Could it be that mass, and gravity, have something to do with causal feedback loops? I have been suspecting this for a while now.

IBM scientists run the Shor quantum algorithm to factor the number 15. Quantum computers are known to be able to factor large numbers in polynomial time, which would break all known public key encryption systems. The only problem is that building a quantum computer is very difficult --- but progress is being made.

Why consider moving to New York? I love the West Coast, Portland in particular, but I feel I need to move to a place where living is harder. Paradoxical as that might sound.

December 17, 2001

Thanks to those who have written me regarding the internal narrator. I've gotten email from a few people who say they, like me, do not have an internal voice when they think; and one of them, Richard, also happens to be a big fan of Lawrence Durrell, whom I mentioned below. I also have received email from people who have an internal narrator; Stephanie describes it as "jabbering" and "it has a mind of its own" --- Kat, however, says "I don't think it ever shuts off, either, but contrary to the experience of most people I've known I don't particularly want it to, either."

I'm seriously thinking of moving to New York in the near future. Anyone with leads on: 1) jobs (tech/art/software architecture), or 2) cheap apartments, please email me.

December 13, 2001

I met with Natalie Schulhofer, a 25-year-old who took some time off from college to get some life experience and is now back in school, finishing her undergraduate degree at Columbia. She's been reading my site for years, but she hasn't started one of her own... so we talked about that. She said she doesn't feel ready to air her thoughts in public ... I can understand that, but I also pointed out that I think we all tend to overestimate how perfect our work needs to be before we can expose it to the public. This is of course something I've talked about before, but I will say it again: it's not necessary to be perfect, or to compare our own writing with the quality we feel we see in others... we all tend to underestimate ourselves, what we are capable of, the quality of our own work. I know I think of my own writing, most of the time, as just random jottings, not necessarily that interesting or great, but I also know that many of my favorite people and writers have overly negative views of their own work. People sometimes tell me, which always surprises me, honestly, how much they appreciate my site... I don't entirely discount their views because I think they have good taste, ordinarily. They're keen readers of other people's work. But when it comes to their own, they often don't see it. All I can say is, don't be intimidated by how great you think other people's work is. Be inspired, just write. Okay, maybe there is a place for keeping things private sometimes --- I don't write everything in my life in this journal. It is better to get some work down, however, than to be forever putting it off.

Ironically I think it is those people with the most keen perception of quality who are sometimes the most reticent to contribute something of themselves to the world, because they are afraid they won't live up to their own high standards. Yet of course it is these very people who ought to write, create, make work, in order to offset the vast noise that is out there. Of course some of it might be bad. I think of 2/3rds of my own entries as mediocre or worse. But that doesn't stop me, and I hope it doesn't stop you. If you're reading this, I imagine you could be writing something interesting too. I want to be able to mention your name, with a link.

Oddly enough I received another email from a very old friend today just as I began to write about my conversation with Natalie, and she was expressing similar feelings of doubt which have deterred her from writing as well. This seems to be a common thread.

Heather Anne Halpert recommended to me The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, partly because I was telling her about the nonlinear quality of one of the stories I wrote a long time ago, and it reminded her of the structure of these Durrell novels, in which he focuses and refocuses attention on different details of the story, creating a giant web of interconnections by the time one finishes all four books. I like the idea of writing that doesn't simply exist to tell a single thread of one story from beginning to end; this is not how we think, nor is it how we remember or imagine.

Speaking of which, she and I were talking about the fact that neither of us use language while we are thinking. We don't have an internal narrator... except when we're talking or thinking explicitly about language. I told her that the vast majority of people do have an internal narrator... she was surprised by this, almost unbelieving. Email me your story: do you use language while thinking? Do you have an internal narrator?

December 11, 2001

Yesterday as I was exiting the subway on the way back to Heather Anne's apartment I saw something odd: as I was approaching the subway ticket booth on my way out, the transit worker who was inside the booth, a woman, dressed in uniform, suddenly got up from her post and walked quickly out of the booth and started bounding up the stairs. I followed her out (I was going up those stairs anyway) --- I hurried a little to keep up with her (I was curious) --- and when I emerged from the stairs I saw her walk across the street to an SUV which was sitting at the intersection, at the light, as though waiting to go across ... except the SUV had no driver. She got into it and proceeded to back up and park it. What odd sequence of events had transpired there?

Toadex stumbles across this by "mistake".

December 9, 2001

My friend Glenn Schiltz came up from Princeton to join Victor and Heather Anne and I to try to do an experiment in making a film in one day, which Heather Anne calls a "film charette". Basically we sat around for a couple of hours and threw out ideas, then spent the rest of the afternoon shooting. I think we will be able to make something interesting out of what we shot, despite making many rookie mistakes, but the most satisfying aspect of the charette was learning what not to do when making a film, and what to do. Also, the ideas we threw out could have made quite a few short films, and I want to make some of those later on when we have a chance.

I got an email from Melanie, who wrote to me suggesting a link to a site about a show that she thought was relevant to Kenneth's project (see below). She says, "The site is a bit lame, but the show was remarkable."

Today I received this in my email:

Dear The Jetsons webmaster,

After I did did visit your The Jetsons website at http://www.syntheticzero.com/apr2001.html I wanna ask you if you could place a link or box to our The Jetsons e-card service.

If you wanna place our e-card promotion box please place the following HTML code into your website: ....

If you prefer to place a link to our The Jetsons e-card service please point it to the following URL: ....

Of course, now that I've written that, I'm going to get another email about this page.

December 8, 2001

I really like maps for some reason. In a way I feel it is a sort of vice; because maps flatten out reality, they objectify it: one sees things from afar, disembodied, from a third person vantage point. On the other hand, there is something I really like about the economy of a point on a map; unlike directions, which only get you where you want to go from one possible starting point, a map can get you where you want to go from almost any starting point, any direction. One can meander around aimlessly, go off the beaten track, explore unfamiliar and unknown territory without having to know where you are going to go in advance. I like this sort of preparation: preparation which allows one to be free.

I met with Kenneth last night, we wandered into MOMA and had fun, meandering conversations... He is working on a project called the "Team Player Project" which is based on the idea of how people group themselves and identify each other in terms of "teams"; easily-identifiable by external signifiers, clothing, attitude, manners of speech. I won't reveal the details of the project since it involves a certain amount of stealth. We later met up with Heather F. and had a bite to eat. After Kenneth went home to work, Heather and I chatted a bit about a number of things, but one of the topics was the sad uniform of the well-educated elites of the latter 20th century, with which I happen to still be afflicted to some extent. Basically, it was (at least during the mid-80's when we were in college) more or less an unspoken assumption that the elites were supposed to dress down and look slightly unkempt; this was because wearing the old signifiers of the elite had gone out of fashion (because elitism was out of fashion --- if you've ever seen Metropolitan you know what I mean --- a film made by a Harvard graduate which perfectly reflected the attitudes of the time) --- even the rich kids I knew self-consciously dressed down, attempting to look middle class. Though a few clueless classmates continued to wear preppie clothing, the vast majority of those "in the know" knew how to dress casually (which, ironically, was an indicator of self-confidence) and not pay that much attention to their personal grooming. We talked about the fact that even those who might have had the secret desire to be the type of person that could feel comfortable wearing more dramatic clothing were discouraged from doing so, because to do so would, they worried, appear to be playing into the stereotype of their own class (i.e., elitist). None of this was anything that we really talked much about at the time, in college; there was no explicit discussion of the dress code --- it was just an unspoken group knowledge somehow. Those few kids who failed to grasp this principle seemed to be simply comical: strange anachronisms. These days, however, I often wish I had the time and motivation to overhaul my bland wardrobe; in fact I have visions of crazy flowing angular clothing designs which nobody sells except perhaps people like Issey Miyake and then he does so almost exclusively for women.

December 6, 2001

I am in New York, which for some reason, in an email to Kenneth Mroczek, I called the city of dreams, and then I wondered why I wrote that, and so Kenneth wrote this in response:

city of dreams

This city is an import or rather it is full of imports products ideas - people

new york city is a dream for its imports
some people come here in order grasp or recognize their dream
- there is no business like show business
success is a dream and many come here to locate its reality

people attract more people in turn attracting this dream of delirium
I can think of many ways in which this city can be a dream
sometimes it even feels like a dream and a movie

I was in the train today and - two acts one after another
the first
two mexican guys singing their version of la bamba with guitar and accordion
and then

two black young men putting on a dance act to some locally produced music - they turned themselves into a wheel and rolled down half of the car

Kenneth also wrote about a lecture he attended by Anthony Vidler on the Spatial Unconscious:
i saw this lecture on tuesday titled the Spatial Unconscious delivered by Anthony Vidler: as it was taking place I thought to myself I wish Mitsu was here listening to this --then I could talk with him about it afterwards ---

the ideas were intriguing and not too obscure -meaning I could relate to them or have had similiar thoughts about the spatial unconscious without defining it so.

Oddly, while searching the Internet for things about Anthony Vidler, I came across this quote, which may not be by the same Anthony Vidler, but it seemed somehow apropos:

Any precinct captain in New York could have told the grandmother that latches of that nature could not guard against the wolf.
It is blazing sun and at night, even hot. Not exactly what I was expecting, and I have been about the city sweating in my warm clothes which I wear just in case. Almost every time I travel this seems to be the trend: unexpectedly sunny weather.

My friend Tiffany Lee Brown issues another issue of SIGNUM, which contains as its cover story, coincidentally enough, a feature on the Bindlestiff Family Circus which I wrote about recently when I happened to see their Autonomadic Bookmobile in the street in Portland.

December 5, 2001

Sylloge is back! 'Nuff said.