November 2009 archive

Water fell out of the sky yesterday. I like when snow stays on the mountains where it belongs I moved out of San Francisco twelve years ago. I had left for Thanksgiving Day 1997 what I thought were the last few odds and ends of boxing things up, what I thought would be an easy day's work.

(You know what's coming next.)

I'd underestimated the task, and was busy with boxing and carrying things from 9:00 Thanksgiving morning until 4:00 the next morning. The high point of the day was being brought food from a friend's Thanksgiving dinner (thanks, Sasha!).

After not much sleep, I went to pick up a truck. "We're in a delay pattern," said the guy at the U-haul counter. Where do people come up with phrases like that. Translation: they didn't have the truck that I'd reserved. I rented a truck from someone else and loaded it with the help of friends. A much-appreciated full night of sleep followed.

The next day's plan was for two of us to drive to Lone Pine, one in the truck and one in my car. I awoke to find that the car had a flat tire. I got a new one and made the drive only a little behind schedule.

My car had another flat tire the next day. (No, the tires weren't even close to being worn out.)

The truck's accelerator pedal linkage came apart a few days later when I was taking it back. By that time, so many things had gone wrong that I was no longer surprised at one more. I had one spare item lying around the truck, to wit: a bungee cord. It was enough to hold the throttle cable to the gas pedal for the rest of the drive. My favorite dog figured in a dream I had last night. She had come back from the vet after surgery that had the side effect of leaving her with the ability to hold a conversation in English.

"You're the first dog I've met who could speak in complete sentences," I told her. Someone's review of a DVD I watched today:
Really great performances. Excellent cinematography. A script that has brilliant moments. Why then did I not love this movie- why in fact did I walk out muttering to myself? No redemption, no resolution, an abundance of ridiculously long and over-mannered speeches, and an ending that had me literally raise my hands asking, "is that all there is?". In the end, while the pieces are brilliant, I'm mystified by the critical acclaim for the whole.
I loved the movie in question. It's visually stunning, masterfully written, and disturbing in the way I want a movie to be, i.e. that leads to reflection. It's strong in enough ways that I can easily forgive its flaws. If anyone wants to guess what movie it is, I'll narrow the field down by saying it came out in the past four years.

"No redemption, no resolution"-- well, life is like that. Does every movie need to have a happy or tidy ending?

Central to this movie is a real-world problem for which no resolution is in sight. The last movie I saw that dealt with the same problem had the obligatory hopeful moment at the end that was (in my opinion) one of the least genuine scenes in the film.

I'm big on movies that take on thorny issues. The eye focuses images on the retina, the optic nerve sends signals to the brain, where just what really happens? Imagining that someone or something inside is watching a show as if it were projected on a movie screen is the homunculus argument, which leads to an infinite regress (how does that internal spectator apprehend images?).

If Atlas bears the heavens on his shoulders, what holds Atlas up?

If life forms are too sophisticated to not have been designed, can't the same be said about their designer?

I'd been looking for a good term for this type of fallacy, something more derisive than "infinite regress". Just today I came across turtles all the way down, which I think has a nice ring to it. It appears in a 2006 US Supreme Court opinion, with this explanation in a footnote:
In our favored version, an Eastern guru affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger. When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant; and when asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle. When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback, but quickly replies "Ah, after that it is turtles all the way down."
Happy nineteenth, everyone. It must be great to have a taste for sappy or farfetched or lightweight or overdramatized movies. There are so many to choose from. In 2008, Tommyjournal pages were topped by a (wiiiide) photo with the blog's name overlaid in white. For 2009, a computed pattern took the place of the photo--but the white text motif remained.

I used white text partly to play with the notion of foreground and background. Books have us accustomed to dark text on a white background: text is a presence, white space an absence. That point of view is ingrained enough that first-time authors of HTML or PostScript can easily make the mistake of coding 0 for background color and <max value> for foreground when they wanted the reverse.

It's tempting to deem one convention or the other to somehow be more authentic. If photons are what counts, dark is naturally zero and light is naturally nonzero. And why shouldn't photons count? Isn't being more significant than not being?

"How biased--just what you'd expect from a human being," nothingness would say.

Absence can have force. If you've ever been infuriated by silence used as a passive-aggressive tactic, you know what I mean. If you work with semiconductors, you know about holes as charge carriers. Time, so the saying goes, heals all wounds. It can also transform mistakes from annoyances into sources of amusement. Indeed, some of the best mistakes are those that provide fun stories to tell after their annoyance has faded.

I remember once having not quite a job interview but rather a preliminary meeting with a potential employer. The manager I met with asked me to keep our discussions confidential because he was friends with my then-current boss. If and when he made me an offer and I changed jobs, he would deal with any issues caused by him hiring away one of his friend's employees--but until that point, he asked me to keep our discussion quiet. I assured him I would.

That not-quite-interview happened early in the morning, and I drove from there to the job I still had. On my shirt was a visitor's badge I'd forgotten to take off, that bore the name of the (competing) company I'd just had the not-quite-interview at. The first person to see me was my boss. Ouch. That mistake had me annoyed with myself for the rest of the day and beyond.

An uninvolved bystander might've immediately found such a mistake amusing. With the passage of time, I enjoy the same detachment; the person I used to be has become someone else.

All this reminds me of the opening sentence in Bertrand Russell's essay Do We Survive Death?, which reads
Before we can profitably discuss whether we shall continue to exist after death, it is well to be clear as to the sense in which a man is the same person as he was yesterday.
The letter f appears as the first letter of a word in English text 3.779% of the time (so says
Wikipedia). Initial u, 1.487%; initial c, 3.511%; initial k, 0.690%. The product of those four values, roughly 1/7345683, estimates the probability of a four line paragraph--as in the governor's letter a few days ago--unintentionally yielding the acrostic fuck.

A three-letter paragraph will yield you about 1/66270 of the time. Comments are enabled again. I've made some changes to better detect and deflect spam.

I've seen comment systems (e.g. Haloscan) on other blogs be unavailable from time to time. I used to be proud of my system's reliability, but I'm humbled now that I've had this lapse of about a week.

I still don't have the level of security that some other systems have. I'm taking one step at a time and watching what unfolds. I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoy this game of cat and mouse, but some aspects of it are interesting.
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