synthetic zero


June 28, 2002

Here at the retreat we're staying in these little funny hobbit-esque yet also science-fiction-y "dome" huts.


June 26, 2002

I have a bad habit, which could be summed up by a cartoon in which I am standing there with a giant open mouth and angry expression, yelling "LIGHTEN UP!" in huge letters. I think I ought just stick to saying it with a smile, and perhaps a little more softly.

On the other hand, I like it when other people do that to me: yelling at me (metaphorically speaking), "WAKE UP!" I like the reminder. Most things that people yell at you "for your own good" are not really meant for your own good, but for their own good --- but this is one of those things that really is for our own good.

June 24, 2002

I believe in metaphysical minimalism: that is to say, as few a priori assumptions as possible. All theories ought to be held provisionally: one can only trust what one finds through direct investigation, and even then, one always should question it --- how sure are you that X is true? What do you mean by X? We tend to make a lot of unquestioned assumptions, such as our ideas of space and time, our personal history, and our "situation" in the world. All of these things exist within a set of assumptions which are themselves worth questioning.

Sometimes it is best to let it go when attempting to explain or argue for certain difficult things, and wait until a better moment -- or perhaps wait forever. It is useless to struggle too hard with explanations.

June 23, 2002

In the mountains near Grass Valley, CA, on a week-long meditation retreat. Had a dream last night I was reading a poem (when I woke up I realized it was inspired by Eliot's Four Quartets). It seemed very appropriate.

I doubt Dante himself realized this, but when he wrote that the gates of Hell were labelled with "Abandon All Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here," he probably didn't know that those words are better taken as good advice for those in hell, not a statement about the impossibility of escaping it. What keeps us trapped in hell are our constant attempts to grab at a way out --- the only real way out is through a sort of giving up. By giving up, one gains the universe.

June 20, 2002

Remember that study published by Kraut et al in 1998 regarding 200 people in 93 Pittsburgh households who were given online access, who turned out to be the most depressed and lonely in those households? Well, what wasn't reported as widely was a followup study a few years later which shows the heaviest Internet users are now the happiest and have the most social contacts, on average (although the Internet didn't benefit everyone). This jibes with my own experience: as time has gone on, I've found my Internet experience has become a community-building reality. Not only do I meet quite a few interesting people, but my weblog is an excellent way to get to know more people and for people to get a sense of me. It has certainly not been an isolating experience at all.

Samantha Randall is back (for real).

Keep writing everyone. Please.

June 17, 2002

Read on Geegaw today, belatedly, about the horrible plight of Leslie Harpold who had her domain, hoopla.com, stolen from her via some forged documents, and even though Verisign/Network Solutions admits they probably made an error, they aren't rectifying their error and returning the domain to its rightful owner. What dweebs. (You can help in your own way by contributing to Textism's Google bomb campaign to get the attention of... Verisign.) Unfortunately I am not as shocked by this as I should be, mostly because I had long ago concluded that Network Solutions had absolutely atrocious processes that were simultaneously utterly insecure and incredibly difficult to deal with. I switched all my domains away from them a couple of years ago, and I heartily recommend to ALL of you that you do the same. Not only are they the most expensive registrar out there, they also provide the worst service, and in some cases, they even aid and abet forgers and criminals --- we at least know of one case where this is their official response. Wonderful.

June 16, 2002

This article made me cry and cry. Not tears of sadness, but tears of happiness. I don't know why this moves me so much, but this sort of story always does: when people realize there is a better way.

"We want to believe the person on the subway next to us is somebody who would've helped us out of a burning tower or would've been willing to give their life for us," said Chris Owens, a former board president of Community School District 13 in Brooklyn. "That's a beautiful thing. That's a powerful thing. That's where people's heads are."

....For the first time in 14 years, a majority of respondents of all races to the poll said racial relations were generally good in the city. Specifically, the poll found that 53 percent of blacks, 56 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of whites believed that race relations are generally good. By contrast, just two years ago only 16 percent of black respondents characterized racial relations that way.

Yes, it's not all roses, and Muslims and South Asians are feeling some negative pressure. But overall I think this is still an improvement over things the way they were. The moment you see someone as human who was once just a symbol or cipher ... that's the moment that can open up the world to more possibilities.

June 15, 2002

I had this dream this morning that I was a member of a team that was designing a workplace in a city (where I also worked). The difference is that we entered the building virtually, like in the Matrix. It had some bugs. Some people liked to "bike" to work, so they rode their virtual bicycles to the building --- a couple of them stopped me on the stairs, carrying their bicycles, to tell me that there was no way to get to the basement --- I said yes, that's right (looking down the circular staircase, one could see it went down forever, into darkness...) "It's a bug --- the stairs going down are an infinite loop. But," I told them, "you can take the elevator!"

Paul turns me on to the hilarious Strong Bad's Email.

Several years ago I ran out of gas on the freeway, and pulled over, late at night. I had this sudden excited feeling, a rush of adrenalin or something. Before, I might have gotten out of the car, but I decided, instead, to wait, see if I could coax the car forward using the starter motor --- I was almost to the offramp.

I saw some headlights in my rear-view window. The last thing I remember, I was thinking to myself "he's going to hit me." The next thing I remember was lying on a stretcher, being carried into an ambulance by the paramedics. I bantered with them on the way there. For some reason, I wasn't really traumatized (mentally) by the accident. As it turns out, however, the guy had hit me at full speed --- probably going 60 or 70 mph. He was a bouncer at a bar and had just gotten off work --- the police thought he wasn't drunk, but he was at least sleepy, and he'd seen my blinking hazard lights and decided to "follow" them. The force of the impact was mostly absorbed by the crumple zones of the back of my Subaru Outback (I bought another one after the accident, because the first one had protected me so well), but he hit me at a slight angle so I hit my head on the top of the driver's door, causing a depressed skull fracture of a centimeter and a half or so.

I still have this fracture, it's a little dent in my skull. The doctors said they could repair it, but the literature showed my prognosis wouldn't be any better, and we all agreed it was safer to avoid the surgery. The only major long-term effect has been my right hand --- I can't feel as well as I could before; it's like wearing latex gloves all the time. At first I couldn't control the muscles in my right hand, either; but after a while I got back maybe 50% of my control, so I can type (for a while there I was quite a good left-hand typist...)

What's odd, however, is that the reduction in sensitivity of my right hand isn't uniform. It mostly feels like wearing gloves, but more specifically it feels like a "fuzziness." For example, if I reach down and feel the carpet under me, I feel a very distinct, carpet-like texture, just as I do with my left hand. The difference is that instead of also feeling the detailed structure of the carpet, I just feel the texture. The same goes for feeling metal, or concrete, or tree bark. The textures feel just as vivid as they ordinarily do --- but they are not specifically localized. It's as though I feel a fuzzy blob of "carpet texture."

This leads me to think that we tend to turn texture into something akin to color --- in other words, when we feel texture our brain turns it into a "single" thing. We can also feel the details, but that's an add-on. My right hand has difficulty feeling details, but the textures remain, like blobs of color with fuzzy edges and no clear outlines or specific details.

June 12, 2002

It's important to remember to play, if you're really serious about living. Play all the time, even when working. Another way of saying this is: we all need to understand the deep principle behind the word "relax."

The nature of time makes us think of "next, next, next." Let's try to stop time and see what "happens" then... Life happens.

June 10 (b), 2002

Proof that Ralph Nader is a small-minded hypocritical egotist without a shred of personal responsibility. His Green Party is actually fielding a candidate against Senator Paul Wellstone, the most progressive senator in Congress and one of the only Democrats to publicly praise Nader's role in the 2000 election. That election is likely to be decided by a narrow margin, and because of Nader's absolute egomania, could well cause the Republicans to gain control of the Senate.

The Green Party strategy is supremely ridiculous. It has been said before, but I'll say it again: the only possible effect of the Green Party is to push the other two major parties to the right, not to mention pushing the policies of our government to the right. Even if the Green Party managed to say, get half of the people who currently vote for the Democrats, the only possible effect this would have is ensuring that Republicans will maintain control over Congress and the White House ... forever.

The only possible rationale for the existence of the Green Party is to be a gadfly intended to shift the Democrats to the left, at which point the Greens ought to pack it up and go home. But the fact that the Greens are fielding a candidate against Paul Wellstone just shows that the Green Party has become an irrational cult of personality surrounding a delusional egoist who I would never want to be my president much less the leader of my political party. What's even more tragicomic is that the candidate they chose is actually to the right of Wellstone. Yet they're still fumbling forward idiotically, supporting a guy who might well ensure Republican control of the Senate. Way to go, Nader, you small-minded fuck. You are a small man fighting for a great cause which deserves a hell of a lot better than you.

If the Green Party can't even muster the votes to win a Democratic primary, what's the point? Progressives can and should work to elect progressive candidates --- which means win Democratic Party nominations. With a mere 25% of the vote they could manage this --- that would be a real way to make a difference. If they're too scared to compete against Democrats in Democratic primaries, what the hell are they doing ensuring Republican victories in the general election? Nader is a coward. With pseudo-progressives like these, who needs fascists?

June 10, 2002

In different places I have a different public structure, that is to say, people place me differently. I think since I grew up mostly in Los Angeles I have adopted the appropriate signifiers for California, and people seem to know how to place me. They tend to assume I am probably someone who knows what he is doing, somewhat creative, somewhat technically proficient, a programmer (of the "cool" variety) or a musician or something like that. It's funny, I've had these moments in Los Angeles where someone would salute me or wave to me or nod in a particular way which basically was saying --- I see you and your signifiers and I tip my hat to you. People are never entirely sure exactly who I am, but the overall gist is there: they tend to assume I know what I am doing and despite my long hair and casual clothing, I haven't dropped out of the system --- rather I'm probably in some sort of alternate system which is respectable yet not too corporate (which is in some ways even more respectable, in the same way Hollywood, despite the glitz, also respects, even if not so much funds, indie filmmakers).

In Oregon, my signifiers draw a more mixed response. The long hair might make people think I am a hippie, which I am not, really, though I don't have the animosity towards hippies that some GenXer's do. On the other hand I wear California-style casual, which confuses people because most of the urban hipsters here tend to wear stylish retro or something along those lines --- and they are much more particular about the way they dress than I tend to be. I admire their fashion sense, actually, but it's hard to overcome old entrenched habits, especially ones picked up while growing up and reinforced in school and college (this California-style casual was also quite prevalent at Harvard when I was an undergrad --- particularly among upscale students who wanted to appear more fashionably middle class --- since being middle class was quite fashionable when I was an undergrad). I'm not wearing the cool clothing of the hipster nor the raggedy granola look of the hippies --- maybe I have some of the outdoor chic (with my collection of Gore Tex and so forth) which also exists here. In any case, I tend to be greeted relatively warmly by both the hipsters and the hippies, but with some reservations in both cases. But police might see me as an anarchist, or some sort of anti-WTO protester, and I've gotten treated poorly by some cops as a result. I try to whip out my cell phone or my Palm, for no reason, as such encounters start to heat up, which changes the tenor of the whole exchange very quickly.

In New York, my signifiers seem to simply mean nothing whatsoever. I fall into an uncharacterizable "what is that?" default, perhaps mostly due to my hair. Reactions to me seem to vary wildly, with no apparent pattern. Sometimes women in a subway station will purposefully walk a couple of train cars out of their way to avoid me --- perhaps they think I might be some sort of sexual assailant or something. Other times people approach me in a friendly manner, sit next to me, etc. I can't really tell what I am doing differently, if anything. Wandering into technical stores like J&R doesn't elicit the usual sense of recognition that I am probably a programmer or someone otherwise technically capable --- the salespeople treat me neutrally, without any recognition that I probably know what I am talking about. Only when the context has already been set out (a business meeting, for example), do people treat me clearly in a role they can understand. I realize if I dressed in black or in a suit (with a ponytail, perhaps) people would then begin to react to me in some well-defined way --- but I don't like either of those styles. So what to do? I suppose I'll just continue on in my California ways until I figure out something reasonable, a compromise of some sort.

June 8, 2002

Had a dream yesterday about these large serpent-like creatures (in their real form), who appeared in human form to us. A couple who were thought to be statues, but were actually timeless beings who were last in the temporal world in 1902. I was trying to convince them to re-enter time, because New York was a fun place to be these days, in the 21st Century. I think I am looking forward to going to New York.

June 4, 2002

I never read these poems by T.S. Eliot before, but they clearly indicate that he encountered near the end of his life a profound connection with something that I normally would associate more with sages. It begins:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
And he concludes with:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Portland is one of the cleanest cities I have ever lived in, visited, or even imagined. Everything sparkles. The parks are lush and well-maintained. The streets are glistening and shiny, surrounded by growths of trees, pleasant juxtapostions of architecture from many eras, always looking good. New York, on the other hand, does not strike one as a particularly clean city, for all of its other charms and greatness. In fact, clean is perhaps the last thing that comes to mind when thinking of that city. Yet in New York, they clean the streets every week, everywhere --- causing great inconvenience to anyone who parks a car in the city. But in Portland, street cleaning comes only a few times a year. I smell some sort of scam here. ... And, for a city so obsessed with "street cleaning" --- why don't they bother to repaint the subway stations more than once a generation? Something's a little funny.