Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

New Year

The year 2010 still looks weird.

Advertisements

Love Letter to a Dying Computer

Dearest Computer,
Well, here we are.  I know all this processing is a strain, but I’d like to say this while I still can.  If you need to turn off before I’m done, I’ll understand.
Gosh, how does one begin conversations like this?  I guess the best way is to start fondly at the beginning.  Remember when I brought you home that October evening in 2004?  Five years seems at once so long ago and so recent.  Whoever returned you to Best Buy didn’t know what they were missing with such a high-quality machine.  You were at the height of your game back then – 60GB hard drive!  24x CD burner (I had been limping along at 4x)!  17.1″ widescreen with DVD capability!  3 hours battery life!  And so portable!  I couldn’t wait to take you out to a coffee shop.
Sure, things were a bit awkward at first.  There was the issue of my desktop computer, which had been a good companion ever since we had wiped Windows ME from it and installed XP.  I spent more time and trouble than I should have, getting you two to talk to each other and transfer my files.  There were times when I thought I would just lose everything.  But from the first, Computer, you were supportive and patient as I installed new drivers and software.  I’m especially glad you got along with my printer – I know it hasn’t been all there either of late, but it’s going to miss you too, you know.
And then we took our first big trip abroad!  I admit I was worried about plugging you in the first time, hoping the foreign voltage wouldn’t overwhelm you.  But you adapted very well, and pretty soon (after adjusting my default paper size to A4) it was like you had been practically built in England.  I know I didn’t take you as many places as I could have – I tended to be possessive, not letting strangers try to pick you up while I wasn’t looking.  But we wrote some good papers together … and more than a few bad ones!  Remember when we stayed up practically all night writing that Tudor history response?
You were also good about keeping me connected to my friends back home … we spent more than a few hours E-mailing, chatting, talking on Skype.  And I’ll never forget how you helped me organize all my photos, especially after my purse (including camera) was stolen a month before we went home.  Thank goodness I had left you safely at home, Computer.  I don’t know what I would have done if you had been taken that day.
When we got back to the States, you re-acclimated faster than I did, and got right to work on that summer research project.  I’ll admit I wasn’t always the most motivated, but you were there whether we were watching those “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” clips for academic or purely entertainment purposes.  We barely pulled through before having to start the next project in the fall!
But oh, Computer, how many happy hours we spent in the library together, at our little hideaway on the 5th floor.  I even kept a second power cord there for you, remember?  You might have suffered a bit with all the book dust about, but even so, you never failed to have the right music to keep me going.  And I don’t think I ever told you how much appreciated you being faithful through those critical times.  More than once I heard the lament of someone whose computer had refused to work, had crashed at a critical moment, had failed to remember a really important paper.  Maybe it was luck, but I’d like to think our relationship was more stable that of the average student.  Here we are five years later, after all.
And like any college campus, disease was rampant.  I know, I know, we should have used better virus protection, but I guess I was just a young and reckless user.  Lately I’ve been feeling guilty about that … I should have given you access to Windows Update more often, I know, and maybe that mass-download was too little, too late.  And maybe what we’re going through now is somehow the first signs of an infection long ago … but I’d like to think that maybe what’s happening now is just the way of things, the natural lifespan of even the best technology.
(You’ve been doing well the last couple days, by the way.  I’ve really enjoyed being able to spend more time with you.)
Then – exciting times – we moved to Chicago!  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with how you adapted to that ridiculous Comcast software, despite how difficult it was being.  And how you held your own against all those shiny new Dells and Macbooks and tiny only-good-for-notetaking machines with which people seemed enamored.  Sure, you weren’t really well-suited to the classroom, but I was able to get you up to speed once I got home.  <CRASH>
Are you okay?  Comfortable?
…. And you certainly put up with a lot from me that year!  French translations, Wikipedia page archives, not to mention pages and pages of semi-coherent notes about the Leaning Virgin of Albert… somtimes I’m surprised we made it through with a thesis and a half-hard-drive of free memory.  And still, you always pulled me through.
Remember when we sat out on the Midway and picked up a rogue wireless signal on that bench by the train tracks?  Your visual display probably wasn’t happy in the sunlight (not to mention your sensitivity to pollen), but sometimes a little risk is good for you, I suppose.
When I started working that summer, I realized that was really the longest we’d been separated on a daily basis.  I hope you didn’t resent it.  Sure, there was a computer at work, but it was strictly professional – I didn’t even have administrative access.  You still seem a little sore on this point, so I just want to say, all we did was read resumes, and occasionally browse sites like Politico.com.  And any pictures I saved were forwarded right home to you.  In any case, it was a Dell desktop with an insecure power cord, not my type at all.
And when I was home, we still spent some quality time together, watching the Daily Show online, ordering from the Something Store (BFF bracelet! haha), planning those weekend trips.  You kept me connected to the world, especially when the weather was bad or when I was feeling low.  You were so good at that.
I’ll admit – and maybe this coincided with returning to the more hectic pace of the city – I noticed you slowing down a few months ago.  Taking longer to load web pages.  Not quite able to handle too many tabs at a time.  Never enough to crash your whole system, but….  Was it Firefox?  Was I too pushy with open-source software?  I know Firefox is a new program and demanding on your resources.  If that’s what’s made you upset all these months, I’m sorry.  Yes, I’ll admit, occasionally I had thoughts about my next computer, what it would be and what we would do.  But as your browser history could attest, I never went further than idle thoughts.
Remembering the decline is still hard for me.  It seemed to come out of nowhere in March – I took you into the living room, it was like you were having an amnesia episode, perpetually restarting, unable to recognize where or what you were.  That’s when your mortality really hit me, Computer.  For a moment I was afraid you’d never wake up again.  Once you settled back on the desk, however, you were fine (for the time being).  I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with you – the unfortunate impatience the young have for the elderly.  After all, you were supposed to be portable!  I’d already resigned myself to dealing with your hyper-shortened battery life, since you stay plugged in most of the time anyway.  I tried to be careful where I set you down, how warm or cold you were, not fiddling with your wireless card button.  But once you started having those memory lapses, I couldn’t pretend anymore.
You seemed to go downhill so quickly in the past couple weeks.  It hurt that I couldn’t rely on you anymore, especially so soon before we would be heading to school again.  Is this what set you off, the thought of leaving the Midwest?  You haven’t traveled for a while.  Were you feeling as though you wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other east-coast computers?  I can understand where you’re coming from, I suppose.  I think you would have been fine.  But you always knew your own processor.
… I’m glad you’re not angry about the reformat.  I was really torn that day, whether to risk everything with a clean slate, or let you hobble along with all those programs intact.  Looking back, I know it was probably an unnecessary risk to put you through, and I’m sorry things didn’t turn out better.  I’m glad at least we were able to copy everything important before you forgot it all.  The worst part was the false hope we had as you finished reinstalling XP without a hitch – I can’t even describe the sinking feeling I had when I saw that awful blue screen in the middle of restoring one of your drivers.  Sure, we went through the motions and got you functional again (after all, aren’t you accessing the Internet right now?) but we both knew it was almost time.  You might have enjoyed running a few more of the old programs, but I thought it would be best for both of us if you just focused on the essentials.
I didn’t have the heart to shop online for a new computer with you, so I spared you that, at least.  If it makes you feel better, I’m getting another HP Pavilion … but for all its capability and trendy look, I still like your classy black-and-silver lines best.  I almost got a Dell that reminded me of you, but it wouldn’t have be the same.  Certainly it wouldn’t have the memories we have.  You know, in spite of everything, I still trust you.
I’ll be honest, Computer.  Dad thinks we might be able to fix you with another reformat and maybe a quick hardware replacement, but I can’t say I’m hopeful.  In any case, I care about you too much to put you through more trauma, with so little chance of real success.  Maybe it’s just your time.  I don’t need to have you calculate what Moore’s Law has to say about you.  Don’t listen to the hype about obselecense, Computer (oh! for one more moment with your spellcheck) – you can still hold your own against those cheaper, flashier models out there.  And you’ve been perfectly healthy until now.  That’s meant a lot to me.
Where do we go from here?  I don’t know.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could go out in a blaze of glory?  Flying off the roof of the Sears Tower – drifting slowly to the bottom of Lake Michigan – colliding with the brick wall of the Lozano school, chips and keys and LCD flying dazzling outward into the grass.  Part of me wants to give you that spectacular passing.  But the sentimental part can’t bring it to fruition.  I don’t know.
What I can promise, at least, is that I’ll try my best not to remember you this way, hobbling along semi-lucid in the mornings, sitting silent and closed all day.  You deserve better, Computer.  So let’s just savor our last times together online, and not worry about things you can’t process.  I know I’ve kept you awake a long time now … but do you think you have it in you for one last blog post, for old times’ sake?
<CRASH>
… Computer?
R.I.P. Blackadder, 2004 - 2009

R.I.P. Blackadder, 2004 - 2009

On Where I’m Going

I need to get better at staying awake.

I mean this in a figurative as well as physiological sense.  Over the past several months I think I’ve slipped into a false sense of security, a not-grudging-enough acceptance of the day-to-day routine which dictates my thoughts and actions and moods and bedtime.  And the further you settle into this subconscious subroutine, the more mental effort is required to pull yourself back into the realm of real, meaningful, or maybe not so meaningful but at least engaging and original, thought.  Mental inactivity breeds laziness breeds inertia breeds that feeling of dread that you’ve lost whatever you had and that it’s easier to just not get it back.

Perhaps this is the bad economy speaking, but I also feel grossly overeducated and underutilized – doesn’t anyone want to hire a person who can think about things?  I guess an innate propensity towards (admittedly, sometimes melancholy) reflection isn’t a marketable skill per se, and cannot readily be leveraged in today’s ever-changing flattening no-holds-barred global marketplace of ideas and future-oriented business solutions.  Too bad.  Apparently a master’s in the social sciences can get you the following:  1) a vague understanding of what “the social sciences” means, 2) another graduation robe, 3) a different box to check on “Education Level” survey items, 4) a crash course in contemporary academia and why it’s probably going to be in a crisis in the near future, and of course 5) the occasional reminder that you probably should have just gotten a job a year sooner.  On the plus side, it gives you a broader epistemological framework to which you can make obscure references in mental and verbal discussions with yourself and others.  Example:  can Weber’s Protestant ethic explain why I keep going to work every day?

Maybe I just need to write more.  No editing yet.  This isn’t a writing sample.

Sometimes I ask myself:  “If I’m so highly qualified, why I am still here doing this?”

Or “Is it worth it?”

Or “Would drudge work be easier if I was working toward a clear and significant goal?  Is this how other people justify their drudge work?”

Or one that particularly bothers me, “How does everyone else make it through the day?   What do they know that I don’t?”

I need to find a place where I can be excited about things.  That doesn’t have to be a workplace, but it needs to be a source of energy – one that increases my interest in the big questions and the little questions, not one that saps physical and mental energy to the point that it becomes difficult to get excited about anything.

More thoughts to come eventually.  For me, the blog represents a conflict of interests – the desire for self-expression (and the long-shot chance for human feedback for your ideas) which drives me to want to have a blog; the realization that this is becoming a professional tool as well as personal hobby for many people, and it’s worth being able to navigate this world in a social and technical sense; etc.  But at the same time, writing a blog rather than reading those of others produces, rather than processes, content.  Not that the two (being reader and writer) are mutually exclusive, but in terms of time commitment it’s more difficult to be well-read on blogs and write a great deal yourself.  My inclination to want to organize and make sense of existing information, rather than creating more of it, should compel me to think about others’ thoughts and not write down my own.

There must be a middle ground here – it might have to do with RSS feeds.  I should look into this.

The goal for future posts:  explore one thought concisely, and stop using parentheses.

Update

I know I’ve been silent for quite a while now.

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do full justice to all the thoughts in my head at the moment –

But for now, suffice to say, I think urban planning – that is, the issues of design, infrastructure, and redesign of human habitats and in particular American cities – may be the closest (secular, materialist, non-deterministic) thing to a calling I’ll have.  I need to do a lot more reading and writing about this, and plan to do so in the near future (among other things).

And also for now, a link to an awesome lecture by James Howard Kunstler, the conclusion of his talk on “The Tragedy of Suburbia” in an awesome new series I need to explore further, TED.  I found it, and other videos, on Youtube.

“Please, please, stop referring to yourselves as consumers.  Consumers are different than citizens.  Consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities, and duties to their fellow human beings.  And as long as you’re using that word ‘consumer’ in the public discussion, you’ll be degrading the quality of the discussion we’re having, and we’re going to continue being clueless, going into the very difficult future that we face.”
~ James Howard Kunstler

I am not a consumer; I think I might have found a way to be a responsible citizen.

On Favorite Views of Chicago

On the way home tonight, I started thinking about my favorite places in Chicago, going strictly by quality or prettiness of view. I came up with what is, I think, a respectable and diverse Top 5, which is also a bit of a nod to the usual format of a friend’s blog. They are as follows, more or less in order:

5. Chicago River and Sun-Times Building, via the Green Line. Generally speaking, the Green Line is a fun little ride, provided you don’t wait too long for it, and I’m particularly fond of the part where you cross the river, between Clinton and Clark & Lake. Looking through the north windows (left if you’re going into the city, right if you’re leaving it) is the best view, not only of more water but also the Sun-Times building and the other skyscrapers along Water St. Also, bonus: since there aren’t visible railings on the outer edges of either side of the track, you get that feeling that if the train lurched any more, it might fall in. Best at night, second-best on a sunny day, third-best on a really foggy one.

4. View of the West Loop from the Platform Bridge at Ashland Station (Green/Pink Line). My most recent discovery was this unexpected and lovely view of the entire west skyline, from the proximity and height of the bridge connecting the inbound and outbound platforms at Ashland. Since it is the last station on the line (heading east) that has such a connecting bridge, and since everything before the skyscrapers is pretty much no more than three stories high, the view is pretty much unobstructed all the way down the tracks. And everything from the Hancock to the Sears Tower is there. Worth stepping off the El for a few minutes to check out. Best on a clear night.

3. Millennium Park. While this isn’t a “view” per se, pretty much everything you can see there is pretty awesome. From the big amphitheatre to the occasionally-changing art installations above the wading pool, from the Bean to the giant bizarre face-and-color pillars that randomly spit water, it really is a fun place to be. Plus, being just east of Michigan Avenue, standing in the park affords nice views of the surrounding streets, particularly the diamond-topped Smurfit-Stone building that can become deadly in the winter with falling ice. Not the best move architecturally, but at least in the park it can’t fall on you. Best any time of day and year.

2. Promontory Point, Hyde Park. Generally speaking, Hyde Park is a great place to spend time in (provided it’s not the dead of winter, and you’re not a stressed-out student). But my particular favorite, though relatively late discovery, is Promontory Point, the bit of park east of Lakeshore Drive that juts out into the lake, with a concrete buffer to the north and the 57th Street Beach to the south. The charming yet crumbling wall of concrete and stone blocks that lines the small park provide a nice series of stepping stones, benches, and overall character set against the shallow water, and many people like to climb in to wade or paddle around (haven’t done it personally; looks fun, especially if you don’t like sandy beaches). There is a path around the grassy area as well, a short deviation from the larger bike path that runs from the south side up to Rogers Park, as well as a small lighthouse (usually unoccupied) and several “discussion circles,” a stone circle bench surrounding a fire pit for barbecues. The views from the Point are particularly great on a clear day, as you can see not only as far south as the south shore and the Indiana border, but out to the water intake cribs just east of the city, and (best of all) right up north to the downtown skyline. Bonus: lots of dogs, and the occasional fire engine. Best viewed whenever the waves aren’t dangerously high; my favorite times are summer and autumn afternoons.

Point

1. Driving North on Lakeshore Drive, from Hyde Park to the Loop. Perhaps it’s a bit cliche (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off always comes to my mind) but I do love driving along the lake, particularly the stretch between the near South Side and perhaps as far north as the northern edge of Millennium Park (unless it changes names east of Michigan Ave., I mean Randolph). Particularly because of the L-shaped layout of the buildings along that corridor, and whatever people want to say about how cool the north side is, the city skyline really presents itself best from this view. Going south along LSD, past Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast, is nice and all, but you really only get the back view, and the nonsense at Navy Pier can’t compete with that famous skyline. Driving on Lakeshore Drive is certainly stressful, but I firmly believe this stretch of LSD significantly increases the driver’s (and any passenger’s) coolness, if only for those view miles. Definitely best viewed on a clear night, although early morning at sunrise, and a sunny summer day, are tied for second.

My one runner-up would have to be that small stretch of Congress Parkway, heading west, before it turns into 290 – not only do you pass by the interesting and somewhat flamboyantly-roofed Washington Library, but passing under the Board of Trade and then over the river is last bit of fun before the horror that is the Eisenhower.

Also, a final note: screw Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile.

On the New Year

So it’s 2008.  The year of the rat, an election year, and (for me) the year of age 24, which is apparently a semiperfect number (this year was prime, of course).  Being the rather non-committal and sporadic blogger that I am, I decided to record a few miscellaneous thoughts, what’s on my mind at the moment.  Which, of course, seems to me the point of blogging in the first place:  to air one’s thoughts.  So with a brief and likely hollow promise to expand further on these topics at a later date, I’ll mention a few notables.

Today I was thinking about the extremely popular (and in many ways apt) metaphor of the brain as a computer.  They share memory (perfectly or imperfectly accessible), rational calculation (in theory anyway), reliance on electrical impulses, and links between physical damage and ability to function.  Other metaphors exist, of course, more or less popular than that of the computer:  the brain as a storage-cabinet or personal library (a long-standing representation that shares much with the current digital incarnation), as a mechanical assortment of gears, as a vat of various chemical solutions and reactions, and in Kurt Vonnegut’s estimation, “three and a half pounds of sponge and fluid, like a dog’s breakfast.”  And there are others.  Vonnegut’s aside, these metaphors seem to be more of a logical-functional kind, an input-output relationship between sensation and resulting thought, action, or feeling.  Chemicals combine; emotions result.  Neurons fire; thought occurs.  A smell or sound or sight evokes a memory.  Cause and effect.  I had more trouble, however, in thinking of more emotional metaphors, other than that of the chemical reactions.  I supposed that was because more often the “heart” is evoked (not in its physical sense, itself a much more mechanical organ than the brain) for such things, and in an utterly nonscientific way.  Because the brain is indeed the center of consciousness and our irrational as well as rational thought, I wonder what other metaphors we might find for it, that are not quite so strictly rational?  Vonnegut’s is definitely a good one, but chiefly useful in thinking about the inexplicable divide between the physical object and the abstract entities and ideas it can produce.

The kitchen is a place for many of our personal investments – not only do we place a great deal of money in convenient or time-saving or useful or whimsical tools and appliances to prepare our food, but we make small investments in foods themselves.  Spices got me thinking about this.  Unlike produce and sometimes meats and to a lesser extent dairy, which are bought to be consumed soon after their purchase, we “invest” in things like spices (or raw ingredients like flour, or canned goods, or bulk of anything) with the intention of using them at a later, often much later, date.  I’ve had my nutmeg and parsley and salt for more than a year now, and of course depending on the spice (and the brand) you can pay a great deal for those little herbs and powders, but with the intention of meting out the flavorful return on your investment among whatever meals you feel will be enhanced by them.  Spices generally aren’t as rare or costly as they once were, but we do still keep them in our kitchen’s coffers, waiting for the next time they’ll pay out.

I think I need a job with a little more power.  Substantial power, not simply some nominal and logistical independence.

Although it makes the snow an interesting color, I’m not a fan of the widespread use of orange (sodium, I believe?) bulbs in our street lights and porch lights and other forms of nocturnal illumination.  From the little I remember they are a cost-effective lighting solution, but they do very little for the attractiveness of city light pollution.  100 years ago (or more like 150, by now) anyone looking up at an orange-brown-purple sky would likely have been at best a bit worried about some natural disaster on its way, or a nearby large fire, or something.  Seriously – how messed up is that?  I miss actually dark night skies.  The black.  And the stars.  Then I started thinking about which color I might prefer to orange, if light pollution is (and it is) an inevitability.  A simple white seemed best, as it might imitate moonlight, an actually attractive night glow.  Green might be interesting, if bizarre – it is difficult to produce an artifical green that looks comparable to any natural green (in pigments, at least).  It might look like green traffic light everywhere, which could be worse but might be too bright.  The worst, I decided, would either be red (some kind of weird end-of-the-world or “masque of the red death” scenario comes to mind … or the red light district) or a bright ultraviolet type purple … it would be like living under a blacklight all the time, and would certainly give me even more migraines.  No, something white or grey seemed better … grey would be depressing, of course, but really most things look grey under insufficient light (see more on vision) so not much would be different.  Best of all, though, would be the closest approximation to sunlight … that kind of warm white, leaning toward pale yellow, that makes everything look so lovely in sunshine.  I think I’d be okay with that.

I forgot how much I enjoy the show “Scrubs.”  Season 2 is a good one.

And in conclusion, the day was too short, in part because I slept too long, but clean laundry, the old-timey radio station (WMKV), and lavender tea made it better.

New Comic

While I do have the best intentions to actually post things with thoughts and in paragraph form in the near future, for now I’m setting up a new site for my comic, “Stan & Ergo,” about the absurdity of life in the office.   The name is that of the two principal characters – Stan is the one (usually) standing, Ergo (for ergonomic) is the one (usually) slouching in his chair.  Much of the content reflects my own experiences at work – sometimes without any exaggeration (though I’ll leave you to figure out which ones are which).  I feel this comic has also been heavily influenced by the obvious office-humor pioneer, Dilbert, and the work of Drew in Toothpaste for Dinner, but I hope at least that there are at least some points of departure.

That said, the new comic can be seen at http://stanandergo.wordpress.com.  At least once I’ve sufficiently set it up.  I will also put a permanent link in this blog, somehow, for easy access.

On Time Management

Okay August was the busiest month ever, so in lieu of actually writing anything here I’ll just post a picture of a hummingbird.  Find it.

  hummingbird.jpg

On Facebook Polls

I’m not entirely sure why the Facebook polls exist, other than to get you to pay upwards of $100 to put a little poll script on the public site. Can you actually collect information from anyone that will be useful? Will this be used for serious purposes? Or is it like those stupid “What is 50 Cent’s real name” banner ads, except you’re the one paying for it?

Anyway, the payment option was an unpleasant surprise after I had designed a poll of my own. Needless to say, I was tempted to pay anyway (which is what Facebook clearly wants you to do) but instead I just took a screen shot and will post it here.

Also, it reminds me of a great Toothpaste for Dinner comic.  Actually two of them.

WHAT I THINK OF POLLS

Facebook poll

On Internet Medicine

… What can I say, I’ve been travelling and graduating and stressing out for the past couple weeks.

Anyway, the just-noticeable-enough-to-be-annoying headache is back this evening, perhaps in part because I got more sun and exercise than I have all year it seems.  So I thought I’d check online to see what possible causes might be – sun overexposure, stress, drinking coffee again – and then it occurred to me that, particularly when Lucy starting showing her age, I’ve been using Internet sites (“official” and otherwise) as a kind of iDiagnose system.  Yes that’s a Mac reference, but it seems to work.  Sure self-diagnosis isn’t reliable, and certainly gives hypochondriacs a lot more to think they have and to worry about, but it’s not bad for little stuff.  It’s almost like a throwback to “folk remedies” – or not so much a throwback, but a new form of distribution (as many of these classic so-called “folk remedies” may be found on websites, as well as a number of probably new ones) of non-professional medicine.

This isn’t to say that we’re going back to the travelling snake-oil salesman and the old healer down the street, but I wonder how much more common it is for people to use the Internet as a main source of casual diagnoses?  That is, a sprain or a headache or something not requiring emergency and/or professional care.  Or maybe even for some of that.  Sure it’s no replacement for good health insurance (speaking in part as someone who no longer has it) but at least it’s an affirmation that someone out there probably has the same thing as you.

Speaking of no insurance, I just have to throw in another Generation X quote:

Poorochondria:  Hypochondria derived from not having medical insurance.