synthetic zero


December 31, 2002

Happy New Year's Eve. Been vacationing in New Mexico and Arizona, visiting old friends, and generally speaking having a great time. Apologies to Kim for not realizing that there was a time zone change!

One thing I've really noticed is that state boundaries really have a huge impact on the culture and feel of the cities within them. Arizona has its own distinct feel (the smaller towns often, for example, have tons of old rusted-out junk in the yards, and generally speaking the state really does have this Old West feeling in the countryside), quite different from New Mexico (many adobe houses in pastel pink and green colors, and most of the small towns have a "cute" feel that is often lacking in Arizona). El Paso, which is much closer to New Mexico than it is to most of the rest of Texas, nevertheless still feels solidly Texan: giant restaurants (giant everything), people who say "y'all", etc. Why should political boundaries have this much impact? It's quite easy to travel and move between states, yet state lines change things radically.

December 25, 2002

Merry Christmas.

Got an email from Enrico G. Botta, who found my site somehow. He's working/worked on some very interesting-sounding projects, including what he calls Quantum Architecture (using a non-deterministic and acausal methodology) and Chronos vs. Uranus.

The Bush Administration is yet again mishandling foreign policy in not just inept ways --- in exceptionally dangerous ways, both for us and the world. The rapidly deteriorating situation in North Korea needs little comment --- how could it have come to this? It's mind-boggling how bad this adminstration is at foreign policy, yet the public doesn't seem to see it --- yet. I believe it is quite possible that this Administration could lead to either the destruction of our country or at the very least to massive casualties for us perhaps never before seen in our history. They are actively bad at leading our country, not simply passively misguided.

December 21, 2002

Christopher Hitchens is a blithering idiot. He goes on and on in a completely pedantic diatribe about the word "multilateralism" as though issues of war and peace and diplomacy were merely a matter of winning some moronic debate with your junior high school nerd friends. But whether we move multilaterally or unilaterally has grave, life-and-death consequences not only for the world but for ourselves --- these real-world issues are precisely those he utterly ignores. You cannot stop terrorism solely through military means. The only way to do it is to marginalize your opponent. Terrorism is information warfare: it is not a military strategy in the ordinary sense of the word. To defeat terrorism you have to defeat them rhetorically as well as militarily --- this is, actually, true of any military victory, since even totalitarian states depend upon the cooperation of their own people --- if everyone in a country suddenly decided to stop going along with the repression, that would be the end of it (and that is the end of every repressive state after a while). Similarly, we need to move on information fronts more than we need to move on military fronts --- to decrease sympathy for terrorists, to decrease their ability to recruit, and to improve our ability to recruit agents of our own.

I got this new little Sony Clie gadget, the NX70V, mostly because a friend of ours might be doing some projects with it that we might work on (yeah, it's for work!!) It's fairly expensive but then again fairly nice. My main complaint about it is lack of memory: only 16 meg, with actually just 11 meg available after the OS takes up its chunk. One of the particularly nifty features is this little built-in camera with a tiny pinhole-sized lens --- at first I thought it would be merely a novelty, but it actually has a nice useful wide-angle and while the pictures are somewhat grainy and only 640x480, it does a surprisingly good job capturing snapshots in many varied lighting conditions. The above picture I took of myself in the Heaven Cafe (which has free wireless Internet from Portland's Personal Telco Project, by the way), in Portland, last week.

December 17, 2002

Scientists observe that sexual attraction and love have very different brain signatures. I've always felt that love isn't simply amped-up sexual desire. In fact, romantic love is, to me, far more interesting a feeling than sexual attraction, and it's in some ways, to me, quite independent. There is some relationship between the two --- but they're neither extensions of each other nor simply variants. They're closely coupled yet independent feelings/processes/relations.

David sends me this link to a NYT article, The Mind Explains it All:

If you activate the area of the brain that generates laughter, for example, the subject may happily "explain" that his hilarity stems from an overly earnest looking doctor or an odd diagram on the wall.

Neurologists also happened upon the mind's tendency to concoct explanations for puzzling events. In rare instances when the left and right sides of the brain become disconnected, the verbal left half seamlessly fabricates stories to explain actions initiated by the right half.

Apparently, the mind abhors an explanatory vacuum and rushes in to fill the void, with no compunction about creating "reasons" out of whole cloth.

As the Zen master Seung Sahn put it: "only don't know." We are always trying to know everything, and we fail to realize that what we think we know is often far more of a construction, an overlay, than we ever begin to conceive.

I was watching these construction workers digging a big hole in the road, right next to a huge backhoe operating right next to them. The backhoe moved like a human hand --- at that moment it struck me how easily we human beings transfer our sense of physical embodiment into the machines we use. When we drive a car, we quickly lose the sense that we are manipulating the steering wheel and pedals and only through a complex cascading series of mechanical relationships are directing our car to accelerate, turn, brake... we become the car itself, it becomes our body, in some sense. That's probably where road rage comes from: we feel physically threatened, directly. The mediating steps disappear, we're out on the road, ourselves, in some sense, putting ourselves on the line.

December 13, 2002

Saw the opening event of Matt McCormick's film festival --- it was fun to see Brad's and Melody Owen's piece, a video of giant snowflakes falling onto a road in one room and ropes that went into simulated holes in walls in the next, as well as a couple of ropes that got attached to people (on one end) and then to holes (on the other) that you could move around with you. I got my rope from John of Gracie's and gave it to a little girl who wanted to know why her mother thought it was so funny when I "attached" myself to the edge of a circle of light spilling off of a dome-sculpture. Brad later told me that she kept asking "what does it mean?"

In a Portland bar (Muu Muu's --- one of my favorites --- for the food), they have a chalkboard, I guess to deter people from writing graffiti. It's an implied social contract, and people go along with it. Latest comment seen there: "If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?" I thought it was funny, even though I don't eat red meat (I don't eat mammals --- I just decided a while ago that if I wouldn't eat a dog or a cat, why would I eat a cow or a pig? I decided that I will eat a chicken, since I think any animal that can run around without a head isn't that high on the evolutionary scale. It's a compromise, but it's one I've decided to live with for now...)

December 11, 2002

In Portland this week and really busy, so it's difficult to write much, even though much is happening.

Over conversation with Jen, we talked about a number of things, but in particular the issue of different ways of learning. Jen learns from the bottom up: details first, then the big picture later. I am exactly the opposite: I have to learn everything from the top down --- starting with the big picture, then getting into the details. I even learned to read this way: my first book was a little book about a mouse --- I learned to read it first a page at a time, then a sentence at a time. I had basically memorized the book, but I was using the written sentences as hints; it was only later that I learned the words independently of their context. I do eventually get down to the details --- but it takes a long time. When I do finally master the details, I get them down quite well. Jen, on the other hand, was saying that when she tries to understand something, she has to understand every detail from the beginning. If even one detail is unclear, she can't go on to the next thing. This is metaphorically a depth-first versus as breadth-first search.

Met with Miranda July today. She's been having some intense experiences surrounding the issue of being with people as opposed to being alone --- within the context of that peculiarly intimate way of being in the world that can come from a participation in a meditative practice. The interesting thing about this way of being --- directly present and aware --- is that it is about other people as it is about yourself --- becauase other people and yourself aren't, in fact, separate.

We also talked about the virtues and drawbacks of living in Portland as opposed to New York. To love New York is to love the people in New York. Portland is just so physically pleasurable to be in that one cannot compare it to a city like New York, no matter what its charms. Still, I know many more people who I consider interesting or friends in New York than I do in Portland, despite the fact that I've spent five years in and around Portland and only a few months in New York. At what point do people compensate for lack of environmental comforts?

Matt McCormick is doing another experimental film festival in Portland, this time much bigger than earlier years. It should be good. One of the great things about Portland is the quality of the cultural life here, despite the smallness of the city.

I want to talk about the fantastic technology of new road bikes, but I must get some sleep. Suffice it to say I bought one and I am very happy with it. Susan also bought one. These things are really, really fast. I had no idea bike technology had evolved quite so much.

John/Zuma mentioned my reverse links list on his El Coronado BBS, so here's a link back (he's linked to this site before as well).

December 6, 2002

Susan spotted this on a shopping bag for a local Japanese superstore today (Gardena, where I am at the moment and where I mostly grew up, is the largest Japanese-American community on the mainland): Where East meets West for Less!

December 5, 2002

Okay, I decided to mine some of my reverse links and recent incoming clicks and came up with some of the following sites who have linked to me at some point in the past, whom I haven't linked to at least recently and who aren't already on my links page. The theory here is that people who would link to me have got to be interesting. There are many obvious difficulties with this theory, but at the very least I find most of these sites interesting or noteworthy, so I share them with you:
abuddhas memes - wonderful weblog with wide-ranging tidbits
raccoon - Jeremy Bushnell's personal site (I've linked to his group blog, Invisible City, for a long time, but I haven't linked to his site directly before) (also check out his dream log)
Feral Living - famous for his shoe project and chaos calculator
nycbloggers - directory of New York City bloggers by subway station
cheesedip.com - Manila (as in the Philippines) blogger who is in New York now
DISASTRO - a great name for a weblog (based in Austin)
Disenchanted - interesting findings with automatic reverse links
recorder v2 - he not only linked to me, he praised me embarrassingly. Columbia student with (evidently) very good taste...
BertramOnline - Danish blog with a political bent
momus - Momus (yes, the musician) linked to me on his page
lonetreepoint.net - fantastically stylish blog by Toronto girl
fifty cups of coffee - eclectic personal weblog, movie ratings
Dear Internet Abyss,* - infrequently updated interesting entries
liquidgnome - devoted to finding news stories to poke fun at
Lisa Central - the home page of Lisa, who, incidentally, was my first girlfriend (we're still friends)
milov.nl - wonderful Dutch interaction designer posts beautiful images &tc
mimi smartypants - she likes WFMU and is all wiggly and squirmy right now. what more could you ask for
Mindspillage - a student with a fine mind
Outside Counsel - weblog with a legal bent
solublefish.tv - very visually-oriented blog, nice images
stumpshaker - personal blog. recent link: My breast flipped inside out so my nipple touched my heart.
Suspension of Disbelief - site with multiple branches, including Entropy, Essays, Think, and Photolog.
orangepeeler - not sure how to describe this. here's a recent post
Cardhouse - whimsical.
turbo ornery tithing - "insantized for your protection"
TigerLily - Dutch artist site for those of you who can read Dutch
weblogsky - Jon Lebowsky's weblog, with science, tech, art, and culture links and commentary
speedysnail - personal weblog, author of Walking West
follow me here - science, news, and culture links and commentary
danklife - many-sided cool weblog shape
brushstroke.tv - beautiful artist site
UFO Breakfast Recipients - the name speaks for itself
The Obvious? - personal weblog by the "number one Euan" (which makes me look: yes, I actually am the number one Mitsu)
douze lunes - a weblog for francophones (though the French-impaired can always use the crutch of babelfish)
misnomer - politics, new media, culture, philosophy, tech
giantkicks - big pictures and tiny type worth squinting to read
obscurantist - many wonderful images of lots of obscure patterns of reality
tangled.org - writing
Ethel the Blog - mainly political commentary and links
magdalen sez - the famous writer and editor Tiffany Lee Brown's weblog
dumbmonkey - multiplicity of links to cartoons, news, and miscellany
blogtree - I discover my site on blogtree so I add my entry to it
Wild Green Yonder - I discover this is one of my "child" blogs (via blogtree)

December 4 (b), 2002

Yes, I went to Harvard. It's not something you brag about, however; not that I think there's anything particularly bad about the school, it's a perfectly good school as schools go. But there is something uncomfortable about the whole reputation of the school, the kind of elitist air which no longer resonates really at the school itself, but somehow lingers both in popular consciousness and, unfortunately, in the attitudes and behavior of some of the older alumni, and bastions such as the astoundingly tacky Harvard Club of New York. It's certainly no wonder that these Ivy League clubs are failing to attract younger alumni --- it's a clash of elitisms. The old Harvard elitism was drenched with money and power --- since the 60's, however, Harvard and every other Ivy League school increased their financial aid tenfold, and the population of the school changed accordingly, becoming far more diverse economically and more capable intellectually (for example, the average SAT scores of Harvard students shot up 100 points each in math and verbal --- not that SAT scores are that important, of course, but it's a data point). The elitism of many Harvard students today tends to be more populist and/or smart, implicitly looking down upon the elitism of wealth and privilege. The old, wealth-oriented style is still there, of course, but it's on the defensive.

This isn't the first time such an anti-ostentation elitism has cropped up in human history. The samurai of old disdained overt displays of wealth (with the eventual consequence that they ended up increasingly impoverished, in fact, despite being in theory at the top of the social hierarchy.) I suppose I carry with me this inherent distaste for displays of privilege --- one reason I chose Harvard over Princeton, for example, was precisely because I had heard that Harvard, despite its reputation, had less of this than Princeton, with its eating clubs.

Since graduation I haven't thought that much about my alma mater. But David sent me a link to The Harvard Independent Film Group. Though I find the whole idea of an event restricted to Harvard alumni and "guests" to be a bit weird, I thought, hmm, maybe it would be interesting. Then I saw their next speaker: Arthur Hiller, the director of Love Story. It's not that I don't think Arthur Hiller ought to be able to give talks --- but at an event that is specifically restricted to Harvard alumni --- it just seems strangely inappropriate to have an exclusive, elite event to hear from... the person who brought us "love means never having to say you're sorry." Is this what really goes on in the back rooms of what remains of the old boy's (and, now that Harvard has been coed for a few decades, girl's) network? Perhaps I caught the "group" on a bad day, but the whole thing is embarrassing, and makes me want even less to admit I went to that school.

December 4, 2002

Suppose you were watching a screen filled with totally random dots. Except, you're sitting in a room in which, without fail, in some instantaneous way, if what you're looking at doesn't correspond to a shape that looks like a square bouncing off the edges of the screen, the room will kill you. Now, imagine that, a la the old Everett Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, every possibility happened. There would be some universe in which you survived indefinitely, watching what appears to be a square, bouncing off the edges of the screen. You might measure the square's trajectory and conclude that it was a law of physics that made the square move that way --- but in fact, it's just that in the universes where the square turns into random noise or fails to move according to certain rules, you simply get instantaneously killed, and therefore don't have the time to discover the violation of the law.

I believe, in some sense, that's what spacetime is like. We think we live in spacetime with many well-defined properties, when in fact it's just that in a world where there appears to be spacetime, one can have ongoing awareness. We "die" in the other directions, so to speak.

December 2, 2002

One of my favorite films is Sex, Lies, and Videotape: a simple, spare film that a friend of mine calls "the perfect film." It's not the most complex or deep film ever made, but the editing, camera work, and pacing are absolutely precise, down to the millisecond, or so it feels. Soderbergh, however, never recreated the early promise of that work --- film after film of his haven't managed to recreate the same intensity and timing of his first major film.

But then along comes Solaris, still not up to the standard, but closer than he's been since the beginning of his career. I was expecting something quite a bit less than the original Tarkovsky masterpiece, but it was surprisingly good. The pacing was somewhat erratic but nevertheless not as hectic as I'd expected from the short duration of the film --- the cinematography is the best work Soderbergh has done since his first film. The look and feel of the film have impact, even if the script and dialogue could have used a little work. Perhaps because I was expecting so little, I enjoyed this film from beginning to end, so was somewhat surprised by the dismal audience reaction to the movie. It's not a perfect film by any means, but it is far from an "F" --- I don't really know why audiences hate this film so much. Perhaps it was the marketing --- the previews make it look like a horror film, which it definitely isn't. I guess that's the danger of trying to market an art film as a major release.