synthetic zero


December 31, 2004

A natural disaster is obviously something that one cannot avoid; it happens, and you simply have to accept that it happens. But what I can't understand is why we did so little to warn the countries that were going to be affected. In Hawaii, the NOAA made a few abortive efforts to warn the countries involved, but they were unable to reach them because "we don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world." This excuse strikes me as rather pathetic --- do they not have Internet access? Could they not have looked up the necessary contact information? Couldn't they have called the embassies of the threatened countries? They could have logged into Indian chatrooms and tried to spread the word, get someone local to contact government and media sources --- in an age of global telecommunications, it's incredible to me that nobody was able to warn the countries, even after the first waves hit Sri Lanka and they knew many more were going to be killed, and there was still time to issue a warning.

December 30, 2004

I just got through with buying my wonderous set of winter garments at REI and I have to talk about them, though this is slightly more of a technical fabrics geekout post than a fashion post, but whatever. I am a technical geek, so sue me.

One thing that New York lacks is REI. Polartec is not really considered hip here, but I don't care. I am from the West Coast and I want technical clothing because it is getting COLD in New York, yet I insist, stubbornly, on attempting to bike in the city despite the rain and snow and occasional Arctic wind, and biking in heavy black overcoats and/or thick down really just doesn't work. You end up totally covered in sweat and freezing as a result.

In California for the holidays, I visited my local trusty REI, and searched for appropriate breathable warm garb. My first instinct was a layered approach with a windproof fleece underlayer and a lightweight waterproof-breathable shell. Something told me, however, there might be a better way --- so I went to another REI where the salesperson guided me towards something I hadn't seen before: a new generation of highly water-resistant but stretchable windproof fleece that can be worn by itself (without a waterproof shell) as protection against cold, moderate rain, and heavy wind. It also is twice as good at keeping you dry from sweat than other breathable fabrics. I chose a lightweight jacket made of this new material, with a hood; it is comfortable, warm, and very light, for $100. I then picked up a skin-hugging regular fleece thermal "underwear" that looks like a sweatshirt (I tried it both under and over my shirt -- works both ways) --- that, combined with the jacket, is VERY warm; $50. I am hoping this will do for all weather condition, except driving rain --- in which case I'll wear my long microfiber overcoat on top of the fleece jacket (with or without the underwear, depending on how cold it is).

I also got some very nice gloves with wind block and a face/head thing ("balaclava") also with wind block that you can fold up so it covers everything but your eyes (yet it somehow avoids looking like a ski mask. Well, it looks like a ski mask, but a little less bank-robbery since your eyes aren't two cutout holes.)

All of these clothes are very lightweight and don't turn me into a giant Michelin Man imitation, they look cool (at least from a California/REI /outdoorsy point of view, if not a Williamsburg hip POV), and I think/hope they'll let me continue to be active into the winter.

Recently saw two good movies; the first, The Aviator, got me to thinking about the frequent proximity of brilliance and mental disorder ... why do so many great minds either directly suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD, etc., or have it very close by in the family tree? It sometimes makes me wish for more craziness in my own family background; but my family is relatively stable, for the most part. There is certainly plenty of neurosis to go around, but full-blown DSM IV disorder? Not that much in my close relatives (however crazy they may seem to act). Perhaps greatness or brilliance is aided by a slight push towards what we might ordinarily call madness; because one has to break out of those grooves of thought and habit that imprison us more than anything else.

The other film was The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou ... I liked most of Wes Anderson's films, before, but this one proves his genius, to me. He is a filmmaker who makes films about people like me, people like many of my peers --- not literally, but in spirit, so to speak. There's something so uncannily familiar about the sensibility in his films, and in Aquatic he goes all the way --- no apologies, full out. I can imagine many people not really appreciating this film, but I loved it.

December 23, 2004

Sometimes you meet someone and there is just this uncanny connection or something --- a resonance --- really strange, surprising, shocking. It's wonderful but disturbing, too, because it threatens the presumption that the universe is random, that you meet people at random, that people's lives vary randomly --- randomness can be very comforting, even as it is frighteningly chaotic, because it affords us anonymity. That sense that we can move about in the world and no one will notice us; it's liberating, too. But meet someone who shares certain things with you, more than you'd expect by chance, and suddenly it's as though you've been noticed by the world, and there goes your ability to hide in the folds of reality, unseen.

What's so great about hiding? You have the time to gestate, to wait, to prepare. But then sometimes it comes time. Time to be born.

The Peter Sellers biopic on HBO is quite good, self-referential, very interesting; catch it if you can.

December 12, 2004

I was in Denver last weekend because my grandmother died --- it was a rather emotional moment for the family, since she was a bit controversial and had engendered quite a few conflicts among her children. To me, she was always "Grandma," but I heard about her conflicts with her children from my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles... Many of us had already planned to go out there to visit her because we had heard she was dying, but she passed away before most of us got there. When we all gathered at the cemetery to pay our respects, people told stories about Grandma and her life. I wasn't sure what to say, but I finally said that I never had really experienced the "difficult" side of Grandma, myself, but I had heard about it from others, and I mentioned how grateful I was to two of my aunts for having borne the brunt of taking care of her all these years (and that was a rather large burden, given how abusive she could be to the people around her.) My uncle decided then to confess a few things (which I won't go into) and also express his appreciation for his sisters, from whom he had become somewhat estranged over the years in disputes over their mother's care ... they forgave each other and hugged, there were tears. It was a bit unexpected and dramatic.

While I was in Denver I also took the time to meet with one of my remote coworkers, Brianna Doby, and her husband, Mike. We ended up talking about poetry, architecture, Derrida, Heidegger, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, politics, etc., etc. it was really quite a wonderful meeting. I had always known she was smart but I hadn't really realized how wide her interests ranged; it was very refreshing and fun to talk. It's nice to find out that people have depths you hadn't experienced before.

It reminded me that my mind works best in conversation; I actually develop my thoughts far more intensely when I am engaged in discussion with other people. The context of conversation helps me to think better, more broadly.

December 5, 2004

Well, they stuck a catheter up through my thigh, through my heart, and into my neck, and then shot hot and cold contrast dye into my brain, viewing it with x-rays until they were satisfied: there was nothing wrong. Meanwhile the dye itself produced strange visual sparkling and pain in my scalp when they shot it into certain locations; more worrisome was the sort of shimmery rainbow that I saw after they were done, like a curved "C" shape, which the doctor said was typical of people who get migraines. He was surprised that I saw this, since I don't have any history of migraines. It's not good when your doctor is surprised ...

The rainbow faded but the next day I again experienced it, followed by a mild headache. Then another rainbow followed by an even milder headache, and today I feel a very slight headache in the same places it hurt when they injected the contrast dye, but so far no rainbows. Still, my vision seems slightly impaired ---particularly in my left eye, I feel my acuity in the area near my fovea is a bit reduced, I can sort of see periodic dropouts there at times.

All of these symptoms are relatively mild, so far, but it does seem ironic that a procedure that was meant to repair brain damage revealed that I didn't need it, but the process of finding that out might have caused some damage itself.

December 2, 2004

Well, I'm about to have "routine" surgery on my brain; an angiogram with probable embolization of an AV fistula that is probably the result of a car accident (someone ran into me from behind at 65 mph several years ago). The AV fistula is thought to be not that serious, but it could get worse, so it's worth getting it taken care of. Caroline says it is routine, they do it all the time, they can do it in their sleep... so I'm doing it. It should go well, but if I seem different (or have disappeared), maybe this will be the reason...