synthetic zero


January 31, 2004

I finally finished installing my mail system on my new dedicated server --- took me a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. Note to anybody thinking of setting up a dedicated server: unless you're prepared to do a LOT of work, research, fumbling about, and experimentation, you should probably go for a server that has a commercial site management package like Plesk, Ensim, or CPanel/WebHostManager. Though this will increase your monthly fees a bit, it could save you hours or days of time. It is amazing, however, that you can get all of these quite disparate free software packages to work together in almost any combination... but this flexibility comes with a cost, which is complexity in setup. Much of this can be ameliorated with better documentation, which is somewhat lacking in the free software world (programmers are not always very good tech writers), but I've decided to share some of my experiences here for other people who might want to try what I did.

Most things on my Fedora Core 1-based server are relatively easy to set up using Webmin or by directly editing configuration files (I'm fairly comfortable configuring Apache, for example), but for some reason mail servers do not have a simple or easy setup option at least on Red Hat-based distributions. Of course, you can go with the preinstalled sendmail, but that does not handle virtual domains very nicely, and it has many other drawbacks. I wanted to have everything that I normally get with a CPanel-based setup, including virtual domains, SpamAssassin, Mailman mailing lists, etc. It took me a while, but I finally did it --- so, in the free software tradition, I decided to share my experiences for other people who want to try doing the same thing: Setting up Postfix + MySQL + Courier-IMAP + Mailman + vmail + Procmail + SpamAssassin.

January 30, 2004 (b)

My friend Yuri Ono has recently finished the website for the Olympia band Sleater-Kinney. A little while ago I saw an old tape of them performing live --- I really loved it, better than the music videos I saw of their songs back when MTV was playing them.

January 28, 2004 (b)

I read this today and it sent chills all through my body:

Now that my barn has burned down,
I can see the moon more clearly.

January 28, 2004

Sorry for the long delay in posting --- I've been working on my new server.

If you are going to be in New York on February 4 or 7, please come to our next loft event, featuring film/video by Melody Owen, Kyle Lapidus, Colin Beattie (with my help), Traci Tullius, Miranda July, John Weinstein, and others (to be confirmed), plus artwork by Linda Cunningham, Aristedes Logothetis, Lia Bulaong, Emily Gertz, and k--mroczek.

January 18, 2004

Sue and I were on our way back from meditating/listening to a lecture over the weekend with Peter, Jenny L., Sabrina, and Lisa, and we stopped at a mall in Springfield, MA, to get some stuff at Target. We decided to eat in the food court. Every place seemed to serve chicken with some sort of orange sweet sauce (something Sue hates). I got some "Cajun chicken" with carrots --- seemed innocent enough. I often get that in malls on the West Coast... but these carrots were covered with some sort of incredibly syrupy sweet sauce, and the chicken was similarly saccharine. Does everybody in central Massachusetts cover all food with some sort of orangy-sweet sauce? Is it a state law?

We realized that malls --- something you sort of take for granted as absolutely the same everywhere --- really aren't the same everywhere. Malls in Los Angeles are slightly different, somehow. They have a different feeling --- I realized upon reflection that however much the mall attempts to erase all individuality and sense of place, there is still a hint of their environs left. Only in a suburb could a mall serve food covered in syrup --- and Los Angeles is, despite its profusion of suburban fixtures (like malls), not a suburb. In a weird way, because Los Angeles is all suburb, it turns every point in Los Angeles into something that isn't actually a suburb --- it's something else. Not exactly an ordinary big city, but not a suburb either. Something hybridized and a bit bizarre.

I desperately need a massage.

January 17, 2004

Been moving my server --- finally getting a dedicated server to myself for all my various projects.

The virtues of being willing to lose: while having an online conversation yesterday I recalled the following story I once read in a book I found while staying at someone's house, many years ago (I am paraphrasing the story from memory):

A karate master had been hired by a prince who had specifically told him never to pull his punches when they trained. One day the teacher attacked the prince during a training session and injured him (I think he broke his arm). The prince was so upset he fired the master on the spot, despite what he had said earlier.

The master was then out of a job and wandering the countryside. He came upon an inn and went in for some refreshment. The innkeeper, who was also a martial artist, noticed that this man was clearly someone who knew something, and he wanted to test himself against him, so he challenged the master to a fight. The master kept trying to avoid the fight, but the innkeeper was insistent, so the master finally gave in and agreed to fight the next morning.

The two met out in a field. The innkeeper approached and saw the master standing there, not moving. The innkeeper proceeded to get into position, and then did a bunch of moves as a sort of demonstration of his skill, perhaps to try to intimidate the master. The master just stood there, not moving, not saying anything. The innkeeper was perhaps a bit perturbed by this, so he decided to show off some more moves. The master still stood there, not moving. Finally the innkeeper finished his demonstration. There was a pause, and finally the master let out just one intense kiai (shout) that (according to the story) was so loud it felt like it shook the mountains.

The innkeeper, upon hearing this, fell to his knees and conceded defeat.

Later, the two met up again, and the innkeeper told the master, "I am sorry to have challenged you. Clearly you are the superior martial artist." The master said, "Actually, you looked pretty good out there, maybe you could have defeated me. But the difference between you and I is that when I came to the battlefield, I was prepared to die if I lost. You, on the other hand, wanted to win."

"When I came to your inn last night I was feeling very sorry for myself, very angry. But when you challenged me I realized that I had the wrong attitude, that all my concerns were about trivial matters. I resolved then that I would be willing to lose, willing to die the next day. That is why I defeated you, because I was willing to lose, and you wanted to win."


January 12, 2004

Asha told me that she found a Canadian film in the foreign film section at Blockbuster --- in Toronto.

Today I felt astonishingly good, for some reason. The day was otherwise rather ordinary ... did some work, saw a movie (21 Grams --- quite good, though it's sometimes hard to really like Sean Penn), met with Melissa of the Bronx Arts Council about a website to promote artists in our neighborhood, surfed the web, etc. But throughout, I just felt really, really good, for no apparent reason.

January 9, 2004

There are these signs around the Bronx that say it is an "All-America City". Of course, the Bronx isn't a city, it's a borough of a city, but I guess that doesn't matter. I have seen these signs for a while but I only just now decided to look up the meaning. Is the Bronx really an example of civic excellence? How long does the Bronx get to keep the signs? Although the Bronx isn't a city --- it is a county. Yes, New York City is one of the few cities that is actually made up of multiple counties. I wonder if there are other cities like that.

The Nation publishes an article making much the same point about Dean that I made on New Year's Day.

January 5, 2004

A series of recent events (the details of which don't really matter), in which I observed behavior which, to me, exhibited a remarkable lack of awareness for the situation of the other person, has focused my attention on the issue of self-oriented versus other-oriented behavior. By "self-oriented" I mean behavior in which one places (stereotypically) one's entire emphasis on the well-being of yourself, or perhaps your close family members, friends, or "team", and by other-oriented, I mean behavior which takes into account the well-being of the other (person, team, family, etc.)

Of course, most behavior is a combination of self-oriented and other-oriented motives. Some would argue that other-oriented motives are an illusion --- that all other-oriented motivation is in fact self-oriented motivation in disguise. This may in fact be how many people in fact behave some of the time. However, I believe other-oriented motivation is in fact quite natural, simply because we have evolved as a species (and all species have so evolved) in such a way that we have built-in tendencies towards other-oriented action (as well as self-oriented action), because populations tend to thrive only when there is a combination of other-oriented as well as self-oriented action.

However, in many individual cases, people tend to exhibit self-oriented behavior, even perhaps to what might seem to be a shocking degree. For example, consider this article about a woman who bought a winning lottery ticket and then lost it --- the police find her story credible. In reaction, many people have gone to the area where she apparently lost her ticket, and have begun to search for it. At least one of them says that if she finds the ticket she intends to cash it in and keep the winnings for herself.

I find such behavior nearly unfathomably selfish --- yet so many people engage in such behavior all the time. The woman quoted there who would keep the winnings if she found the ticket --- though clearly aware of the anguish her decision would cause the original purchaser of the ticket, even though a simple solution (sharing the winnings) is available --- would nevertheless choose the maximally self-oriented choice. It's perplexing to me --- when the cost to the self of choosing a compromise course is relatively small, yet the cost to others (or to the fabric of relationship in which self-other rests, in some cases) of choosing the maximally self-oriented course of action is quite high, the simplest choice seems most clear, yet people choose (or want to choose) the other. Why?

More to the point, what is one to do in response to this? The American solution is to utilize the justice system: lawyers, lawsuits, contracts. I find such an approach monumentally distasteful, though I can see (given the propensity in this culture among many people to avoid due consideration of the other's point of view) why this is the case. The Japanese approach is to instill a perhaps in some ways admirable but in some cases neurotic emphasis on the group, but sometimes to the extreme which leads to too much self-abnegation in many ways. There must be a balanced way to live in the world, deal with people who think and act in a wide variety of ways, remain reasonably protected, yet avoid becoming cynical. I suppose it's crucial to realize that if one doesn't want to become part of the problem, one has to accept a certain degree of openness to risk. That is to say, without being willing to be hurt, it is impossible to trust at all.

January 1, 2004

(Website and email back up and running for the moment at least).

Happy New Year. Although I share my friend Caroline's lack of enthusiasm for the coming year --- it doesn't seem to me that it will be particularly cheery. At least I'm not feeling very cheery right now about the situation in the world or in the nation... Personally, my life feels back on track, but I feel a sense of foreboding in general about the long-term future of our country. It is as though there were this thin black veil over everything, and we're sort of playing out the last act of a play whose ending has already been written. We're continuing forward on the momentum of the past, but the future feels desolate.

I don't feel this sense of dread everywhere --- some places, in fact, I think will escape most of the damage that will come, at least that's the feeling I get. I get that feeling from, say, Oregon, and from most parts of Canada, and perhaps other places. Though right now I'm spending most of my time shuttling between California and New York, and both of those places feel strangely in their last days to me, in some sense, even though I don't know exactly why I feel this way.

On an optimistic note; a long while ago my friend Joe Tucker once noticed that in every election we could remember, at least in the television era, it was won by the guy who you felt could beat up the other guy. Think about it: Carter could beat up Ford, but Reagan could beat up Carter; and Mondale. Even Bush 1 could beat up Dukakis; but Clinton could easily mop the floor with Bush 1. Clinton/Dole would have been a closer match, but clearly Clinton retained the advantage. And Bush 2 clearly could have taken Gore (though that election came very close to upsetting the system, had Gore pulled off a win.)

This leads me to one particular realization: despite the fact that people are calling Howard Dean an "unelectable" candidate, think on this: just taking your immediate gut impression, who do you think would win in a Dean/Bush 2 fistfight? Despite Bush 2's height advantage, I think the winner is clear: it would be Dean.