December 31, 2006
Although I am on vacation, the stress of not working seems to be worse, in a way, than
working --- I keep having dreams which are somehow related to all the work I could be doing. This morning it was
in the form of endless math problems I was supposed to be solving. It will be a relief when
I get back to work and can release all this pent up pressure. I sleep much better the more work
I've done that day, oddly enough.
Tonight I saw old friends from college and high school; David Cohen, who required, let's
say, some cheerleading with a personal organization project... Jenny Cool, who is starting out
on her doctoral dissertation, and will soon be Dr. Cool... and Liz Losh and her husband Mel Horan
dropped in while I was visiting Jenny, along with their talented kids. A good way to ring in
the new year.
December 30, 2006
Saw Children of Men tonight --- a cinematographic
tour de force, at the Century 15 theaters in Century City. But what I'm writing about is the
theaters --- newly renovated, and super glitzy. Seeing movies in Los Angeles is somehow
more intense and exciting than seeing them anywhere else. One might think that the excitement
would be less in this company town, but if anything it's greater. Every movie feels like an event.
December 29, 2006
For some reason today I feel quite nervous and not at all rested, unlike yesterday.
December 28, 2006
This morning I had a dream I was kissing Scarlett Johansson. It seemed very real, very vivid,
and I carried the pleasant feeling with me the whole day. What did it mean? Who knows?
Did some hiking, then
later in the afternoon, visited Doug and Arun
with Susan, and saw some awful art. A man obsessed with what he's working on, yet strangely,
he seemed mostly unaware of most of the stuff that has happened in the art world over the
last hundred years. He positioned himself as a revolutionary, yet it was both mildly interesting
and comically clueless. I don't really know what else to say about it, except that it seemed somehow
lazy and disconnected. I feel a bit guilty, however, for being so judgemental; the man
was so enthused and sincere, and what is quality, after all? He was trying so hard to communicate
something. Aside from that it was a fabulous evening of conversation and food.
December 27, 2006
At this point, I use my Blockbuster Video card almost only a couple times a year --- during the holidays.
December 26, 2006
Letters from Iwo Jima was very well done,
an ably constructed film that shows the war from the Japanese perspective. It's a shame
that not too many Americans nor Japanese are likely to see this movie; it sheds a great
deal of light on the subject. It's interesting that, as one reviewer pointed out, it's
the first major film in Japanese made on the subject of Iwo Jima, and it was made by an American.
December 25, 2006
San Diego is in reality the way the movies often depict Los Angeles:
laid-back, surfers, beach people, sand, bikinis, relaxed, vivid colors, lagoons, waves,
ocean, ocean, ocean.
December 24, 2006
So my father wanted to upgrade his speaker system;
at one point we sort of stumbled onto a store that was open on Christmas Eve, which was odd
since most of the other high end stores weren't open, but this one was and they had these speakers
available for a discount since they had just been replaced with a new model. They sounded
fantastic, and weren't that expensive (about $1000 for the whole set). I said, "isn't it
strange that we just saw this store on the street at random like that." My dad said, "of course,
that's the way it works; you know I don't think things are really real, I think we're just making up
this reality as we go along."
At one point, while we were driving around, out of the blue my dad started to talk about this film, Ugetsu,
which is a Japanese classic. It's about these potters who leave their wives for life in the big
city; one of them to try to become rich by selling his wares there, another who wants to follow
a samurai. In both cases the potters learn to regret their decision and realize, too late, that
they should have stayed behind with their wives to live their lives as ordinary potters.
My dad started to talk about how, while in American culture they sometimes depict wealthy
people as acting in an irresponsible or criminal way, they rarely have characters, as they do in
Japanese culture, in which poor people are shown as strong and self-confident.
Poor people in other cultures are often depicted sympathetically, but usually as victims of
oppression or otherwise needing money in order to be saved or redeemed (i.e., It's a Wonderful
Life) In Japanese culture, however, there are often characters who are both poor and
confident, living lives which are seen to be in many ways superior to that of the wealthy
or powerful, or at least, given the right levels of resourcefulness, not inferior.
December 23, 2006
Flying from New York to Los Angeles when it is 55 degrees on December 23 doesn't feel quite the same as flying to
California when it is freezing and you feel like you're escaping to paradise.
The constantly warm weather in the city is both comfortable and gives me a
feeling of dread, as it seems a harbinger of doom...
December 22, 2006
Eros is strangely driven -- by attraction but also strangeness, by mystery but also trust,
by mutuality but also tension and uncertainty. It seems to be dissipated both by too much familiarity
and too much conflict, but both conflict and familiarity are essential for its continuation.
Love can survive the dissipation of eros, I think, but a life together needs it...
December 21, 2006
Heather Anne has been making some remarkable porcelain ceramics recently:
Also see this and this...
She said that when she wrote about them in her journal last year, she had
all sorts of thoughts about "motherless propagation, speechless creatures, families
without hierarchy"... I love these creature/plant/families.
December 20, 2006
I was going over my entries regarding the Iraq war again recently... starting around
February 2003; I was at the time thinking this war would be the worst
foreign policy mistake in the history of the country, something that might actually undermine
the very foundations of the republic; most of my misgivings about the war, mirrored by many
others, have proven correct, of course, though I somehow felt relieved after Bush won reelection
in 2004 --- that the worst case scenario was unlikely to happen, at that point (had Kerry won,
in fact, the worst probably would have happened --- as conservatives would have blamed Kerry for
the mess Iraq would have inevitably become no matter who was president, and our country would
have failed to learn its lesson).
I haven't written much about Iraq recently, mostly because what was once my somewhat minority
opinion has now become widespread --- but as Sue and I discussed the other day, one thing that
puzzles me still about all this is why the disastrous nature of this intervention wasn't completely
obvious to most people at the time. Okay, before the invasion, one can understand a little
naive optimism, but even a year afterwards, as the many mistakes and strategic and tactical
errors became painfully obvious, there were still many people who didn't see the monumental mistake we had made.
This ought to be a prime case study in an investigation into the ways human beings can make systematic cognitive
mistakes. My current hypothesis is that it has a lot to do
with the well-known phenomenon of people ignoring information that violates their preconceptions;
but there are probably many other interesting factors that weigh into this large a mistake.
December 19, 2006
At our company Christmas lunch today, conversation veered onto subjects such as whether
or not cultural and biological evolution are part of the same process or not, or what is the
nature of intentionality, whether civilizations are doomed to be short-lived (i.e., why are
we not 50 million years into civilization, looking back, rather than only a few tens of thousands
of years into it?), the origin of language, etc. Not exactly what one might expect at a typical
tech company lunch; an interesting bunch we have for a staff.
December 18, 2006
The Holy Grail of software development is dramatically accelerating both front and
back end development. Based on the ideas we've been playing with here at work,
I am beginning to think it is actually possible, through a deceptively simple yet powerful
approach involving abstraction and visual and cognitive metaphors. It's quite amazing what you
can do with well-designed, yet outwardly seemingly simple, techniques.
December 17, 2006
Today I decided not to do anything: just stayed at home, didn't go out, just caught up with
various things I'd been meaning to do over the last few months and never set aside the time.
Sometimes it's relaxing not to try to exert too much effort to enjoy yourself on a Sunday.
December 16, 2006
Katharine is unbelieving that I actually think without
words, but: it's really not all that hard to believe if you reflect on it. Consider the thoughts you have
when you first walk into, say, a party --- you don't actually wait until your internal narrator starts
to talk about what you're seeing before you have already put together a vast array of information
about what you see --- the types of people in the room,
perhaps some sense of their personalities, etc. Yet the narrator picks out just one
tiny fragment of that and might start commenting on it ("Hmm, that guy over in the corner looks
interesting. I wonder what he's eating. Maybe I'll check out the snack table.") Everyone's thoughts
in general I think tend to precede language --- though I would agree that without language, it is
sometimes difficult to become totally conscious of what you're thinking. Because of Katharine's
objection I made an effort to verbalize certain fleeting moments of nonverbal thought, and I
was surprised at the sorts of crazy free association and wild images I had --- most of which I
probably would have simply forgotten, otherwise (they are often dreamlike, even when I am awake,
if I really listen to them ... I look at the carpet and imagine it as the top of an infinite semitransparent column that
reaches into the earth, etc.)
December 15, 2006
Battlestar Galactica, with some wobbles, remains
December 14, 2006
I love The Office, and I really enjoyed the
last episode of the show, A Benihana Christmas, but there was one particularly annoying thing
they did which deserves to be mentioned. Much of the show takes place at Benihana, where the
protagonists are shown flirting with two Asian waitresses; but then, when the action shifts back
to the office, the two actresses playing the waitresses are suddenly switched for two completely
different Asian actresses, with no explanation or comment. At first I thought, okay, maybe they
went back to the office with different waitresses, but a comment near the end of the episode makes
it fairly clear these were supposed to have been the same women all along. One of the jokes of
the episode was Michael's inability to distinguish between the two waitresses --- but apparently
the producers thought that the audience can't tell the difference between Asians either.
It makes one feel rather uncomfortable to realize that the majority of people around you
tend to think of you, at least visually, as interchangeable with other people from the same
December 13, 2006
I haven't had words in my head when I am thinking ever since I purposefully dropped that
when I was in the tenth grade. I've been discussing this online recently with some people,
and the whole topic reminded me of this
article on Virginia Woolf which I linked to back in 2000. A quote:
Woolf, like Einstein, was late in learning to speak and admitted that as an
adult, words sometimes seemed like meaningless sounds to her. This suggests
that, like Einstein, Woolf retained and, indeed carefully cultivated, the
ability to resist formation of the simple cartoons of thought; instead she
flooded her brain with the emotion and sense data of pre-thought, what is
sometimes called intuition. In fact, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West she
described intuition in terms of the rhythm of a deep emotion, and her
description fits quite aptly Gray's and LaViolette's idea of the complex of
emotional nuance that lies behind cognition. She wrote:
Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A
sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words
to fit in; and in writing... one has to recapture this, and set this working
(which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and
tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit in.
December 12, 2006
The Heart Sutra rarely fails to bring tears to my eyes:
...there is no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation
of suffering, or of the path. There is no wisdom and no attainment
whatsoever. Because there is nothing to be attained, the Bodhisattva,
relying on prajnaparamita, has no obstruction.
December 11, 2006
There's something immensely satisfying about finishing a crazy short-term emergency project,
even if it isn't something you want to plan to have popping up on a regular basis.
December 10, 2006
There is a strange intimacy to online chat environments --- how quickly one can feel a sense of rapport
with someone you have never met and cannot see. I happen to think this might be natural and beneficial;
sometimes you can make connections with people which can last a long time, and who knows, perhaps it allows
serendipity and fate to play themselves out in a larger way.
December 9, 2006
Katharine asked me the other day why I find it so
interesting to show other people's work; I've been doing that ever since I was in high school and I
put together a zine exhibiting the writing, drawing, and photography of other people; she showed me
a self-published book she made in high school of her own drawings and writing. Nowadays I put
on these shows --- it's not that I don't have my own ideas I would like to
share with people. I think about that quite a bit. But I suppose I find myself motivated to create
spaces for interaction, for images, ideas, inspiration to flow out into the world; it helps me feel
more vibrant and alive to think I am part of a larger context --- ferment --- and that means more than
just being a consumer of culture but also a facilitator. But I don't want to merely make my own
shows but encourage people to have a more relaxed attitude towards showing their work --- I feel
other people ought to make shows, too, just for fun, with friends --- it shouldn't be just something
for galleries and museums or other big institutions. Host an event in your living room, show
experimental film, make art happen in your own spaces right now. It doesn't have to be something
overproduced and excessive. So I want to be not only a facilitator but a catalyst for a more relaxed,
more broad-based notion of curating and sharing artwork.
December 8, 2006
One day, years ago, my mom and dad and Sue and I were walking down the street in San Francisco,
and Sue and I were walking ahead of them, and I saw this round loaf of bread, that had been kind of
mushed on top of a fire hydrant of the same diameter, like a little cap. It was kind of funny; most likely
someone had done it as a joke. However, Sue was about to touch it and I said, only half-jokingly,
"Don't touch that, it might be a bomb." Of course the chances of it being a bomb were miniscule,
but I figured, if someone were going to plant a bomb, that's the sort of thing they might do...
My mom and dad, who had been a block or so behind us, came walking up. My dad spied the loaf
of bread and said, "Don't touch that, it might be a bomb." I exclaimed to Sue: "See where I get it!"
Of course, this isn't to say that I believe one should live life avoiding all risk. In fact, I'm all in
favor of taking risks when there's the potential for reward; in fact, I recall reading about a study
in which participants were asked to choose between a safe and a more risky strategy, one in which
the risky strategy had a much higher payoff, but a lower chance of success. It turned out that
people tended to choose the safe strategy over the risky strategy until the risky strategy had
double the expected payoff of the safe one --- that is to say, people usually double the apparent
risk of any strategy before they're willing to try it. This is, I think, why people tend to live
highly controlled, somewhat overly safe lives, not trying new things or breaking out of their
ruts and habits --- even when the potential rewards are great, they overestimate cost.
Still, though, it's one thing to try things that might be risky; it's another to be gullible in exchange
for potential material wealth --- as I wrote about a little
while ago, the fact is money is one of those things that gives diminishing returns; it's simply
not the case that, for the individual, twice as much money is always twice as good. Yet people
are constantly fooled by laughably transparent scams
that hinge on their greed, which is doubly stupid: not only are the scams obvious frauds, but the
reward (money) isn't remotely worth the obvious up front cost. It's breathtaking to me that there could be anyone stupid
and greedy enough to fall for some of these scams. I'm not claiming I could never be fooled by an elaborate con, but
give me a break... (one of the victims of one of these, quite hilariously, said "I don't like being a fool" --- which is too
bad, since he is a fool.)
In real life, however, there are plenty of situations in which
one can play both sides: take a risk but spend a small amount for insurance against the worst case,
which is sort of like leverage, in that it increases the risks you can afford to take. The tragic
story of the death of James Kim (an acquaintance of an acquaintance of mine, as it happens), reminds
me of this. I've actually gotten stuck more than once on those treacherous mountain roads in
Oregon --- there are no signs warning you that the roads are closed or impassable in winter.
However, just as a matter of habit, I always carry with me some recovery equipment: chains, a shovel,
warm clothing; later, I got an all wheel drive car, tow ropes, a come-along, a jack, and
a GPS. All of these items have relatively low incremental cost, and I've actually had to use all of them at different times to get myself out of a jam in
the mountains. Yet, ironically, it's these little precautions that allow me
to take greater risks and be more spontanous while remaining reasonably safe at very little additional cost.
Small cost, large payoff in increased ability to try apparently risky things.
December 7, 2006
Pretty much as everyone probably expected, including me,
the "day that will live in infamy" has faded considerably from the American imagination at this point.
Maybe it will stage a bit of a comeback after the cacophony of our current ongoing disaster dies down.
Somehow, though, I suspect the vividness of all the events of that time will be replaced by the
consequences of what many people now unabashedly call the worst strategic mistake the United States
has ever made. It's strange, because our other mistakes, like Vietnam, etc., in retrospect seem like
relatively contained disasters, yet it's hard to shake the strong intuition that the people who are
calling Iraq our worst mistake ever might well have it right.
I personally think it will be remembered as a mistake that could have had disastrous consequences,
but I think we might be able to pull it out in the end. Not success in Iraq in the near term, but
by being defeated we might find ourselves regrouping in a way which is much healthier for us in
the long run. The question is: how long?
December 6, 2006
Inspiration and magic can coexist with logic. But logic should never supplant or replace magic: logic should
always be used in the service of (subordinate to, supporting, and helping to bring into being the promise of) magic.
December 5, 2006
Yesterday, I felt awful, I think still from the aftereffects of jet lag (my circadian rhythm is
definitely free falling forward, and I now think my "natural" bedtime is somewhere between 10am and 11am),
and Heather Anne mentioned that she, too, had difficulty sleeping and felt like she had a hangover
in the morning. She emailed me saying, half-jokingly, that maybe her insomnia was somehow in sympathy with me.
What if it were really the case that even when we think we're in private, at home, our friends and
loved ones actually can be affected by what we think, feel, and do? What if the effects of our inner
or private lives can't be entirely hidden or masked from others? It's both comforting and a bit scary to think
that we might not be entirely independent of the world around us; it would have big implications if it
were really true --- what we do in private, even what we think and feel in our own minds --- what if it
affects the world around us, the people around us, more than we might imagine?
December 4, 2006
For some reason I'd always visualized Ohio as being very far away ... yet, in fact,
cities like Akron are only six and a half hours away from New York by car. It's just the
next state over after Pennsylvania.
December 3, 2006
This is really quite interesting --- apparently physicists now believe that information is not
destroyed when things fall into black holes --- and what's more that things can be in
"two places at once" --- I think there are some fundamental issues that go along with this,
which have to do with the relationship between the observer and information:
According to his theory, a black hole, like everything else, has an alter ego living on the boundary of the universe. Black hole evaporation, it turns out, corresponds to quantum particles interacting on this boundary. Since no information loss can occur in a swarm of ordinary quantum particles, there can be no mysterious information loss in a black hole either. "The boundary theory respects the rules of quantum mechanics," says Maldacena. "It keeps track of all the information."
December 2, 2006
Walking through the Strand today, we were looking at various art books --- I kept
wanting to find a particular kind of book, something that would transgress boundaries, that
would be illuminating, exciting, that would open up new possibilities, suggest new worlds ...
but I couldn't find that book. Here and there would be a cover, a theme, a look that would
seem promising, and there were some that really seemed to deliver on their promise (such as
Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels...) but none that had all the qualities I was hoping for;
something that pointed in between the known and the unknown, the logical and the sublime.
Of course, it's one of those things: I'm not sure what I'm looking for but I have a feeling I'd
know it when I saw it.
Then I thought, I shouldn't be so lazy: I should write that book myself... (file this under
one of the many things I should do ... someday).
December 1, 2006
I think while I was in London my circadian rhythm just freely cycled forward (as it sometimes
does if you attempt to shift it too suddenly), so I am now
completely out of phase with the normal day in New York. I'm not quite sure what to do about
this other than be totally bleary and exhausted during the day. Perhaps I will try taking
some melatonin tomorrow evening...