Monthly Archives: March 2002

simple, yet seminal

the myriad distractions of modern life drive our attention away from the things that are important. perhaps the most critical of these things are the people we call friends, lovers, comrades in confusion and joy.

without a feeling of duty associated with work, i am constantly focusing my attention (and numerous spare moments) on the people in my life. connection becomes an ever-present necessity, instead of an unfulfilled desire. our relationships are the things that survive any employment chaos, any strife. in fact, they are the things that help us to rise above any challenges that we face, whether personal or professional.

ryan hoguet and i spent this evening in a sci-fi universe- a nerdy pleasure, to be sure. such simple things, a little star trek voyager, followed by starship troopers, with intermingled dialogue about the politics of warfare and post 09.11 malaise. and maybe some slightly drunken ramblings about how these bits and pieces connect with the other parts of our lives and our world views. before this, a day spent with elaine traveling through time to see the thoughts and ideals of the dadaists and surrealists, followed by an indian feast fit for kings.

i would not trade these things for the greatest treasure. i am a lucky man. i hope that i never lose sight of these gifts.

noe valley parking

after that last deeply philosophical entry, a light entry seems appropriate, something to cleanse the mental palate (or scrape off the burned noodles, as it were). i was looking for parking the other day, and it occurred to me there are several laws at work when it comes to parking here (and maybe elsewhere):

  1. desperation breeds failure when it comes to parking.
  2. after parking your car, a closer space will always appear as you walk to your destination.
  3. if you have to drive around the block or make a u-turn to get a spot, you won’t.
  4. any spot that looks too tight for your car is.
  5. assumptions are usually misplaced when it comes to the charity of towing-hungry homeowners (see previous law for corollary).

  6. tickets for street cleaning violations are dispensed with 100% efficiency, counter to all known laws of physics and human behavior.
  7. the more you have to carry, the further you will park from home.
  8. the likelihood of forgetting where your car is parked is proportional to the probability that you will get a ticket before you remember.
  9. on any day when you can’t recall on which side of the street your car sits, it will always be on the side where street cleaning is happening that day (see previous law for corollary).
  10. parking is still better in noe valley than it is in the Haight or North Beach.

and so i circle the streets with the other residents of noe valley, sharks in search of the perfect prey – a big spot, with clear curb cuts, close to home.

prophecy and free will

Frank Herbert’s Dune has been fueling my thoughts lately. it’s been twenty years since i first read it, and i’m finding it well worth a second visit. the themes that strike me hardest now are those related to time and the course of events, and how prophecy, religion, imagination, and free will are players on those stages.

prophecy is prediction, bounded by physical possibility, and it soothes fears of unknown futures. the prophet, whether tool or visionary, becomes an avatar bringing messages from that unknown future, and gives light where there was shadow. only gods (or our conception of them) could presume to grasp the chaos of connectedness in our world, to divine how that chaos hardens into an immutable past. the prophet and their prophecy are thus bound in a Gordian knot with religion and mysticism.

imagination, on the other hand, gives birth to a brilliant zoo of ideas and visions, some of which may exist, many of which do not. unlike prophecy, it isn’t bound by possibility or time. the only limits imagination knows are those created by collective knowledge and the mind’s ability to dream. imagination has no need for religion or politics or physics, because there is no expectation that the fruit of imagination need bear any resemblance to reality. a crucial point, however, is that we can constrain our imaginations to the possible or the real if we desire it; we can create boundaries to make the imagined thing more plausible. we can imagine a physics or politics or religion that entertains and inspires.

imagination and prophecy intersect where the imagined thing lives in the future, where we dream of what could be. in this sense, i think imagination can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. our imagination spawns a beautiful thing (a flying machine, a space craft, a world filled with peace), and then our bodies strive to create it, to make it real. the dreamer becomes a prophet, yet not one bound by religion or mysticism.

the third lover in this menage à trois is free will. prophecy seems to deny free will on some level, since it posits a pre-determined future that exists and can be predicted. on closer inspection, and with the multiple-world theories of quantum mechanics in mind, maybe it’s better to say that prophecies harvest the tree of all possible futures, and reveal one or more likely branches. free will still exists in this world of prophecy, since our actions can lead us down one branch or another. imagination, and its transformation into self-fulfilling prophecy, all but requires the free will of an individual to mine the creative depths, and to proactively direct the course of events.

In Dune, Paul Atreides gains visibility into multiple possible futures, and directs his actions to avoid the less desirable ones. he is a prophet, and yet he is not spoken to by any visible gods. his consciousness has evolved to the point where he is no longer shackled by the manacles of the present. Arrakis and the fantastic world of the Fremen comes from the imagination, and speaks of prophecy and imagination and religion itself, a never-ending self-reference. who can say whether anything like Herbert’s dream will come to pass?

fight entropy

there is a silent enemy at work in our universe, a misanthrope who toils over his trickery in the shadows. the patience of ages is His, as He weaves a cloak of chaos and disorder through the fabric of our lives. many know His name, yet He is misunderstood and often simply tossed aside like so much high school physics. His name is Entropy, and He will dance with us until the end of time.
His greed is boundless – there is nothing He can’t touch, no trinket beyond His wandering eye, no task too great. He wears your car down. He makes your hair drop out. Stars and galaxies fall under His spell like fair maidens under a vampire’s gaze. His allies are everywhere – the snickering dishes in the sink, the dust mites on the floors, the pile of disorganized photos in the closet, the luggage of friends that explodes to fill the house.

armed with vacuum, spray cleaner, and anal-retentive genes, i dance with Him, and he whispers illusions of order in my ears. but then lassitude strikes me, and He smirks as my laundry piles up to the ceiling and my garbage overflows.
someday i’ll go over to the Dark Side, and revel in the supremacy and beauty of His chaos, but for now, i’ll keep my vacuum cleaner handy.

upwards and sideways

i wasn’t really going to write about the fact that the layoff grim reaper finally caught up with me last week. it’s a reality that a lot of other people have faced, and under more challenging circumstances, so i’ve got no business complaining. it is a little harder to digest than i thought it would be, though.

sadness and loss, coupled with a lot of unexpected relief, are there, but the real issue for me is direction (or the lack thereof). up until a week ago, work provided a one-way road through life, with pretty good signage. weekends and occasional evenings allowed for convenience-store stops and exciting detours, but the path from point A to point B was always pretty clear. for me, being laid off is like being drugged against your will, then dropped in a foreign country without a map. you find a wad of welcome cash in your pocket, and the locals assure you that a good time can be had, although things can get a little sketchy in some places. enjoy.

i had conveniently forgotten that life comes without maps – no “lonely planet for the unemployed” or “fodor’s wasteland”. so now, i’m trying to get the lay of the land, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. there is a seemingly endless array of lazy rest stops, some good camping spots, a few beaches, and a lot of terra incognita. time to become friends with ambiguity and start down the road.

if you happen to find a map of terra incognita, could you send it my way? i’ll be checking my email pretty regularly.

academic babble

i came across this word while thumbing through the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. it refers to a technique devised by linguists in the 1940s which determines the rate at which a language has changed over the centuries. while i definitely fall into the everything-about-language-is-cool camp, it just struck me that they couldn’t have come up with a more pedantic, impenetrable, academic moniker. i’d like to see one of those linguists tell one of their buddies what they do over a pint at the pub: “i’ve been working on this new thing … it’s called lexer … uhhh … statisstiticial … (burp) … glockenspoo … eh, forget it. another pint of guinness?”