Monday, December 26, 2005

memoirs of inauthenticity

Before seeing Memoirs of a Geisha I thought my objection would be the de-Japanification of that exactly most specifically Japanese of all topics--geisha, for the sake of commercial viability. I was wrong, that is only one of my objections.

The movie plods oh how it plods. The Chinese actresses who play the three main characters do their best but have been cast only with an eye to box-office appeal. They are all better draws even in Japan than any Japanese actress. Though fabulous, especially Gong Li as "Hatsumomo", they don't look Japanese, or convey geisha or Japanese-ness. They can't. It's not simply a matter of acting. Is this a quibble?

There is the language problem. Dubbing and subtitles are box-office poison of course but this alternative, in which everyone speaks English in a slightly British, over-deliberate halting manner, abstracts the characters right out of their setting. Japan without the Japanese language misses most of the point of the place.

The conceit is that you are equipped with a universal translator, or that it's just a really good dubbing job. This conceit breaks down if you introduce actual English speakers into the movie which they do. When the Yanks arrive Sayuri speaks English to one of them (hey, it's Stottlemyer from Monk!) without missing a beat. Huh? Michelle Yeoh speaks beautiful real English to Ziyi Zhang who is obviously just speaking English phonetically.

I used to watch Sumo on NHK TV. You could hear the commentary in Japanese or in English. Even though I couldn't follow all of the Japanese commentary, I couldn't bear to listen to the American announcers. It was excruciating, because a Japanese art, minus its native language, becomes a travesty. The language is woven into the art.

People wonder why Americans can't tell the difference among Asians. We often just use the term "Chinese". But Asians here will mix it up if there's a buck to be had in the blurring of the lines. Chinese restaurants serve cheap sushi and sake at their luncheon buffets. Few of the knife-twirling cooks at Bisuteki are Japanese, but they pretend they are. We are none the wiser. Who cares, a bit of non-threatening faux-exoticism is enough for us. Beyond that and whoa, easy on the details, Poindexter-san!

This would all matter less if the story itself were not so leaden. Eight-year-old Chiyo falls in love with the "Chairman" after a five-minute exchange? How old is a Chairman? It is absurd. Fifteen or whatever years later, after surviving the war, she is now in her mid-twenties, so he is now what, sixty? Chiyo has grown into the adult Sayuri, while Ken Watanabe looks as if he has aged about a month. An apparent 30-year age difference is reduced to a more palatable say, fifteen-year difference at the end, but if you do the arithmetic, the result is preposterous not to mention creepy. Will she be happy for long, spoon-feeding him his tofu in his dotage?

Hatsumomo and Sayuri get into a fight and start a fire in the okiya. Hatsumomo further lights the joint up by spilling oil lamps, and...nothing? The whole neighborhood would have burned down. What happened?

The deprivations of war changed everything, forever, says the narrator. World War II is a picturesque distraction consisting of a couple of trucks rolling through "Gion" or Thousand Oaks, CA, and a shot of planes overhead. These years pass in a minute. Then we see Michelle Yeoh again, expecting her to have aged terribly. But she too seems to be little the worse for wear, having also aged about a month. Her deprivation seems to consist of changing to a modest gray kimono and leaving her hair untended for a day or so.

Bah! Too bad. Compare this turgid plod to Kar Wai Wong's hallucinogenic 2046 also starring Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang, and the House of Flying Daggers, to see what Zhang is capable of. And of course, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to see Zhang and Yeoh fly.

My favorite Asia-through-the-eyes-of-clueless-Americans movie is Green Berets made in 1968. Starring John Wayne, and featuring such local talent as Jack Soo (Det. Yemana from Barney Miller), and George (Mr. Sulu) Takei playing South Vietnamese Army officers. Wayne, Aldo Ray and a crew of paunchy, freshly shaved and scrubbed middle-aged farts lumbering around Georgia among the arid pine forests playing soldier in the jungle. The pine jungle. It looks about as much like Southeast Asia as Norway.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

before you begin--oops, too late!

Here is email to first time users of an online course, with instructions on how to get started:
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
You have been enrolled at OnlineExpert. You may log on at http://computer.expert.com
Your logon e-mail address is: xxx@xxx.com
Your password is: xxxx

For first time users, before logging onto your course, please do the following:
This.
That.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This drives me bananas. Put the thing you have to do first, first. Here is the correct sequence:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
You have been enrolled at OnlineExpert. First time users, please do the following:
This.
That.
Then, log in at http://computer.expert.com/
Your logon e-mail address is: xxx@xxx.com
Your password is: xxxx
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the first, stupid case, I start to log in assuming that the first thing they tell me to do is the thing that I should do first. Then I get to the next step, which says to do something else before doing the first thing.

This mail is generated when you register. It's only of any use the first time, when you need to do the extra steps. If I'm not a first time user, the mail is old and doesn't contain any steps I must do--it just holds the access info.

Asking the reader to skip ahead past an unnecessary step is okay. Asking the reader to go backwards to do a step before they have already done a step is not okay.

This is a variation on the inane Before You Begin syndrome. If I'm reading your Before You Begin, it's too late, I've already begun. Name it something else.

Before I began, I was in the kitchen eating a peanut butter sandwich.

It's as if they were writing the steps then somebody said ooh wait, they have to do this first. No wait, they have to do this too, and this! And the writer didn't make the effort to rename the steps. Writing by afterthought. Thus:

1. Before the Before the Before You Begin
2. Before the Before You Begin
3. Before You Begin
4. Begin
5. Do this before beginning
6. Do this step first.

Do not put anything before the beginning. Before the beginning there is nothing, by definition.

Begin at the beginning, and nowhere else.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

bartleby otsuka pynchon RAQ

Bartleby the Scrivener is a short novel by Herman Melville written in 1853, about an office clerk famously known for his refusal to do work by repeating the phrase, "I would prefer not to." Blog commenter Bartleby has twice now expressed curiosity about how certain entries in this blog relate to certain lyrics found in Japanese pop music.

The first comment to "Brother Linus channels the SubGenius", posted on 11/01/05:
Interesting. Can you explain the significance of the lyrics "Koi suru onna no ko no Victory" by Morning Musume?

The second comment to "A is not Q's patsy", posted 12/20/05:
But how does this relate to Otsuka Ai when she chimes "waratte waratte kimi to ashita aitai" ? Could it be related to the crying of lot 49?

I will address the second comment first due to a mood of LIFO-ness.

The line is the chorus from Otsuka's single "Smily", which has sold more than 300,000 copies:
"smile smile, I want to see you tomorrow"

Otsuka Ai or Ai Otsuka when she's filling out her US visa app, is a highly-popular, 23-year-old typical 95-lb super-cute ("kawaii") J pop singer. "Kawaii-sugi" (too cute by half) if you are as sick of "kawaii" as I am. But that's the mold. She'll be a beautiful woman someday if she ever grows up. She has that thin nasal voice demanded of the genre, but plays the piano and writes her own lyrics at least. The Smily video is online. There's even a Smily ringtone!

The Crying of Lot 49 is of course the trippy convoluted '60s Thomas Pynchon novel, assigned to me in senior-year English class at St. Newt's Prep. (How did Bartleby know this?) Like most books assigned at school, I never got through it, but remember its later fame for being among other things the source of several references in the '84 movie The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension ("no matter where you go, there you are"). Mostly notably perhaps, the Yoyodyne corporation, workplace of the Red Lectroids. The protagonist in Lot 49 was Oedipa Maas, a young woman (like Otsuka--hmm...) who inherits her boyfriend's estate when he dies. Lot 49 was an auction lot containing her boyfriend's stamp collection. "Crying" a lot is what they call the bidding at an auction.

But this is all preliminary. A complete explanation of the relation between Q is not A's Patsy, Otsuka Ai's Smily lyric, and The Crying of Lot 49 will require months of further research. Until that time you may amuse yourself by looking at my old Tokyo home, which I shared with a certain Chris Bartleby among many others, and which could have fit into a Pynchon novel, no problemo.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A is not Q's patsy

(In which A responds to perceived bullying by Q and rejects one of Q's criticisms of the FAQ.)

A. I don't answer to you, you pompous windbag.
Q. How dare you?

A. Your questions serve only to advance your narrow agenda, not to provide illumination.
Q. You presume to lecture me?

A. Indeed it is in the answer that the knowledge lies, not in the question.
Q. Are you questioning our arrangement?

A. The question is subordinate--merely the path to the answer. The answer is the destination, the goal.
Q. Do you seek to undermine my authority?

A. The phrase "asked question" is not necessarily redundant.
Q. But did I not force you to agree, that unless a question is asked, it cannot exist?

A. A statement is only truly redundant if it is redundant from every possible perspective.
Q. What are you talking about?

A. Though a question must be asked to exist, it is also valid to consider, for example, how often the same question is asked. One question may be asked rarely ("Where are the Crispins of yesteryear?"), while another may be asked frequently ("Where did I leave my goddam keys this time?").
Q. What is your point?

A. Distinguishing between questions that many people ask, and questions that few people ask, and answering the former, is not only an efficient means of conveying information, it is also a non-redundant perspective on the phrase "asked question".
Q. Can you run that by me again?

A. Unless the phrase is redundant from every possible perspective, the phrase is not redundant. I have provided a non-redundant perspective of this phrase, therefore the phrase is not redundant.
Q. Do you think anyone will listen to you?

A. Indeed "asking" a question, is the most common thing people do with questions. In fact, since someone must ask the question for it to come into being, it is not only not redundant, but necessary.
Q. Surely you don't think you can get away with this, do you? How will people pronounce FQA?

A. To ask the question is the most common way to convey it. For example, you ask "Where are my keys?", and you can ask the question "Where are my keys?" (Redundant, or not? you be the judge!), but you cannot just question "Where are my keys?".
Q. What about posing a question? Pondering, bringing up?

A. Yes, and you can "question" authority. But authority is not a question. I need only demonstrate that "asked question" is not redundant from every perspective. My work here is done.
Q. Wait, don't go. I'm not done! Don't you want to hear my next question?

A. In conclusion, unlike your questions about the redundancy of the phrase "asked question", your questions about the hypocrisy of the FAQ writer just making up questions with no idea of their actual frequency, showed promise. Perhaps some day you will ask questions (!) worthy of my answers.
Q. Can we meet again?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

CL smites the defilers

The Catholic League is shocked (shocked!) at the defilement in the South Park episode "Bloody Mary", described in control my life, please.

In a news release, they request of the nearest available Catholic, Joseph Califano who is on the board of directors of the company (Viacom) that owns the company (MTV) that owns Comedy Central, that he intervene to get an apology to Roman Catholics and a pledge that this episode be permanently retired, and not made available on DVD. Failing that they ask that Califano issue his own statement of condemnation.

Take that, Butters! But if the Queen Spider couldn't stop Red Hot Catholic Love from getting on DVD (season six--in stores now!), probably Califano won't be able to stop Bloody Mary, either.

And not a word about the point of the show which was the ease with which we give up our self-determination in favor of relying on whatever hint of a greater power happens along, no matter how ludicrous.

Oh that's right, encouraging the worship of Mary's face in a window stain or a bagel is the business they're in.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

the why FAQs suck FAQ

Q. Isn't the act of asking a question, what makes a question be a question?
A. Yes. It is the asking that brings the question into being.

Q. Can an unasked question exist?
A. No! For it is in the asking, that the question comes to be. Left unasked, it does not exist.

Q. Isn't, then, the phrase "asked question" not only redundant, but downright stupid?
A. Yes.

Q. There would be no point, then, in creating a FUQ, for frequently unasked questions?
A. As a Zen koan, perhaps. And it would be more fun to say than "fack". But though an amusing concept, such a list would be impossible to create due to the metaphysical contradiction alluded to in the earlier questions.

Q. Would not "FQ", meaning "frequent questions", be a better term?
A. The purpose of the A in FAQ is to provide pronounceability of the acronym. "fack", though a hideous word which sounds like you are ejecting a hairball from the throat, is easy to say. "FQ" is too much trouble to say. Redundancy and stupidity is the price we pay for this convenience.

Q. "Frequently asked" implies some mechanism for sending questions to you, the FAQ owner, such that you can tally them up and answer the ones you receive most often. Is there such a mechanism?
A. No. The implication is deceitful.

Q. How then, do you know what questions are frequently asked? Or even asked at all?
A. One question at a time please. The answer to both is the same. I do not know.

Q. Are you just making up what you imagine people might ask, because you have no way of actually knowing what they might ask?
A. Yes it is true. I make the questions up because I have no way of actually knowing.

Q. Are you aware that the practice of providing a FAQ with a new product is inherently dishonest, because a new product has not been available to those who might ask questions about it long enough to count up the questions to determine their frequency?
A. Boy you got me on that one.

Q. How do you live with this hypocrisy?
A. It is a source of unending shame.

Q. In fact is not a developer the worst person to come up with the questions in a FAQ, because that person knows the product too intimately to put themselves in the position of the very person who needs the FAQ the most, a person who has just come to the product knowing nothing, who looks to the FAQ for informational sustenance?
A. I am forced to admit that you are correct.

Q. Is a FAQ just a lazy way of writing your documentation, because it's too much trouble to organize the information logically, by topic?
A. Yes, it is true.

Q. Is the real reason you have a FAQ, in spite of in your heart knowing it is deceitful and lazy, that you think people expect you to have one, because everybody else does?
A. Yes my friend. You have revealed the truth.

Q. Are you aware of the fallacy known as ad populum or "appeal to popularity", which states that because most lemmings approve of a claim (in this case, that a FAQ is necessary or good), that the claim is therefore true?
A. Yes. At one time most lemmings thought the world was flat. But that did not make it so.

Q. Do you resolve then to get out of the FAQ-writing business, and pledge yourself to righting this wrong by being honest with your readers?
A. I so resolve. Henceforth I pledge to write either proper topic-based documents, or provide the less pronounceable but more truthful QIGPMABIFHNFIITW--Questions I Guess People Might Ask But In Fact Have No Fucking Idea If They Will.

Q. When encountering a new object, what do you suppose is the most frequent first question about the object?
A. What is it?

Q. What is GlassFish?
A. I don't know. The question is insufficiently frequent to be addressed by a FAQ.

the GlassFish breathmint floorwax dilemma

After a couple of months I have begun to dip my handsome new toe back into Java. It's a world where words mean anything--how I missed it!

"GlassFish", for example. What is it, exactly? Go to the GlassFish page and figure it out.

First, the page header is "GlassFish Community" but you are in the Projects tab, not the Communities tab. You might think, naive you, that they would explain what it is, not who they are. (A rude secret: I do not give a shit who they are--I only want to know what it is!) They are a community! But it looks like a project--there's a button on the left after all, that says GlassFish Project Home. Maybe it'll say what it is there! Click on it and surprise, it goes back to the page you're already on, the community page! So I guess it's a project, about a community, that is building a server.

Maybe the FAQ will explain what it is. Hmm the first question is not what is it, which would seem to me to be frequent question Number One, but rather, where can I get it. [12/17/05 Since modified! Now they say, What is Project GlassFish? first--still not What is GlassFish, but closer.] No worries, I see on the FAQ, a "New to GlassFish" link. I'm new--I want to know what it is. Follow this link and hmm...this link says it's a project, after all. I can introduce myself to others participating in the GlassFish project, I can become a part of it, I can even request a feature!

The GlassFish project provides a structured process...

So, I know that its community is building a server, and its project is providing a process. I just don't know what it is.

Let me click on the Communities tab at the top, to get my bearings. To see a list. At right is the list of communities but what's this--GlassFish is not listed! Ack where the hell am I? Thank goodness for the Back button.

Of course, I am being coy with you! I know what it is--it's an application server. They re-use the name of the community, and the project, for the actual thing. And not just any server, but an "Open Source Java EE 5 Application server". Which I installed. At least I think I did. When I run the server, the title is:

Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 9.0

Uh...did I do it right? Do they have enough goddam nouns in there? Sun is the noun string champion. "Platform Edition"--what's that? Is it like the "Platinum Edition"? Is this in fact "GlassFish"? If so why doesn't it say so? Otherwise why did they bother to call it GlassFish in the first place? Where's the little fish logo? And on the bottom of the Welcome page is a link to Project GlassFish "Sun's open source application server", with no acknowledgement that this is that server! Isn't it?

Oh how I remember now, why I fled screaming from these semantic tanglers. Where Apache is a software foundation, a project, and a web server and it's up to you to figure out which one they're talking about at any given moment. How about "Apache Tomcat"! It's why so many people think Tomcat "runs on" Apache. Why isn't it "Jakarta Tomcat"--it wouldn't be confusing enough?

How can such brilliant people be so lousy at explaining themselves? Why are they so willing to attach the name to the community and the project, and so timid about attaching the name to the only thing that actually matters. Come on then, out with it. It's: the GlassFish Application Server! And put the name in the product! If GlassFish is not its name, then don't call it that in the install, and toss it on the dustheap of useless terms like "Jakarta".

Here is my suggestion. The most important information to convey about a thing is, what is it. Not who are the nice people in the community that builds it, and not that the project provides the nice process that helps you build it. But, WHAT IS IT. Say that first.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

toe job

Upon deciding to "retire" I quickly contacted an orthopedist in Brookline (reminiscent of J'aurais voulu avoir un marchand d'├ępingles a cheveux en Belgique--I would like to contact a hairpin salesman in Belgium) to whack off that cause of much pedestrian grief, the excess bone at the base of the right big toe, that looked like a bunion but was not. Known as a "dorsal" bunion because it looks in X-ray like the dorsal fin of a fish, it is not in fact a bunion at all but rather a bone spur, a byproduct of hallux rigidus which is Latin for "stiff toe". Latin can make anything sound impressive.

So it is a faux bunion. Change the first and last letters and you get a Paul Bunion. (Ya I know, he was a Bunyan.)

The deed was done as an outpatient, at a remarkably efficient orthopedic clinic/factory (saws buzzing, knees, feet and elbows flying every which way), on Sept 13, using local anaesthesia. I was able to recuperate on the company nickel with a few days off, followed by a few days of "working" at home.

The picture at left was the unveiling two weeks later.

The surgery fell into a gray area--not cosmetic, but strictly speaking not necessary either. "Elective"--the sort of thing you could live without, if you don't mind wearing sneakers for the rest of your life. How about showing up for that job interview in sneakers! Well Mr Keefe we would have offered you the job but your footwear, I'm afraid, does not meet the high standards we set here at Bratwurst, Longjohnson and Feen... However it is cosmetic in the sense that it does not repair the underlying ailment, which is arthritis of the joint, and of which ze bump is but a mere symptom.

I had had the left one done two years earlier, by a different hairpin salesman. The most famous victim of this ailment is Shaquille O'Neal.

Now a mere 90 days later, I hobble carefree again! Well not quite. The joint still hurts when wearing shoes or standing en pointe in my tutu, but tant pis, more motion is gained, and I was sick of looking at it anyway. And if not then, never. Complete benefit of the surgery takes six months. I got some Percocets out of the deal at least and the urge, for some reason, to toss high-school French about.

Meanwhile other arthritis advances. Gains a toehold. The neck is going a bit stiff when turning to the right, a condition most obvious when backing up the car. Soon I will be one of those old coots who backs up using the rearview mirror instead of turning around to look.

Attention, un vieil imb├ęcile conduit!

Monday, December 12, 2005

control my life, please

In the South Park episode "Bloody Mary", the sensei lectures Stan's karate class about "serf-disciprine". His dad Randy then gets pulled over for drunk driving while giving the kids a ride home. His sentence includes attending AA meetings, where he is forced to engage in the twelve-step program. Step One is to admit that he has no control over his alcoholism, because it is a "disease".

Since he has no control, he confines himself to a wheelchair, continues to drink, and waits for the only possible cure, divine intervention. He is finally "cured" by visiting a statue of Mary that is miraculously shooting blood out of its ass. It is then revealed that the statue is not really miraculous (!) and that therefore Randy must have, albeit unwittingly, cured himself. Stan suggests to his dad that this is perhaps an indication that the cure for overcoming a personal weakness is to be found within oneself, by means of "serf-disciprine".

Funny, I have the same objection to AA. Step One: admit that you have a "disease", so are powerless and must rely on God to cure you.

My brother went to AA meetings for ten years till he drank himself to death at the age of 39. But, AA was and often is the only game in town. What about alternatives? How about Rational Recovery?

My mother went to a few Al-Anon meetings, for the relatives of alcoholics, but she did not gain comfort from listening to more of the travails of families with drunkards. She needed less, not more exposure to the problem--perhaps "Al-Anot"--meetings of people whose relatives were not alcoholics. If such people exist.

The closest I've come was attendance at satsangs or devotional meetings, for the followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji who was quite big in the 70s. Once at UMass on a lark, and again when I lived in Sydney. A neighbor, relatively sane for a cultist, was a devotee who, tired of my ridicule said that I shouldn't poke fun unless I saw for myself, which, after taking steps to assure that I would not be murdered and sacrificed to the guru, I did.

Devotees took turns rambling on with the familiar tale of redemption--how they were lost, helpless on their own (sound familiar?) until they found AA I mean the Maharaj Ji, and how he had changed their lives since.

Later back in the US my housemate's brother moved in with us, and satsanged about the Maharaj Ji over the phone for hours each night, because he couldn't reach the meetings because he didn't have a car because he couldn't afford one because he couldn't hold down a job because he was out of his fucking mind. He was also a rare male anorexic, who ate according to the dictates of Arnold Ehret's Mucusless Diet Healing System, until he died.

Alcohol, Maharaj Ji, Jesus, the Pope, the will of Allah, mucus avoidance...is there no end?

Relinquishing our self-determination to whatever "greater" power happens along during a time of weakness, is humanity's most compelling urge....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

sunk cost

Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice (which I finished so can cross off my list), talks about "sunk costs". He mentions those expensive shoes you bought that are sitting in the back of the closet. You keep them even though you know you're never going to wear them again, because to get rid of them would force you to acknowledge a loss.

Similarly, people hold on to stocks that have decreased in value because selling them would turn the investment from a potential loss into an actual loss.

What should matter says Schwartz, are the prospects of future performance, but what seems to actually matter is the level of previous investment. He believes that "sunk-cost effects are motivated by the desire to avoid regret rather than just the desire to avoid a loss". "Regret avoidance" is a stronger demotivator than simple "loss avoidance" because taking the corrective action forces you to acknowledge the source of the regret, which is your personal responsibility for an initial decision which has turned out to be flawed.

His final example is Vietnam, and is apropos of the suddenly-legitimate argument, thanks to Jack Murtha, that we should get out of Iraq quickly:


And arguably, why did the United States persist as long as it did in Vietnam, even when it was plain to virtually everyone involved that no good outcome could result from continued involvement? "If we get out now," people said, "then all the thousands of soldiers and civilians who have died will have died in vain." This is thinking in terms of the past, not the future. Those who had died were dead and could not be brought back. The questions that should have been asked (all moral and political considerations about the appropriateness of the war aside) concerned the prospects of soldiers and civilians who were still alive.



Maybe we should leave Iraq soon, or maybe we should remain "as long as it takes". But the reasons to stay should not include that otherwise those who died did so in vain. Or that leaving would force us, or more specifically the President, to acknowledge and therefore take responsibility for, the error of the initial decision.

These are powerful, but not valid, reasons to remain in Iraq. They represent the fallacy of the sunk cost.

Friday, December 09, 2005

purity of essence, webcam division

The Globe having published a cool article about how to build a better webcam, I followed the procedure at Dennison Bertram's site.

Simple! Just build a 3"-square box. Well, not so easy for the slovenly woodworker. The first attempt, done in a cavalier manner with power tools was charming in its primitiveness, but unsuitable for mounting a lens. You cannot or at least I cannot cut square 3" pieces of wood only 1/4" thick with a table saw or circular saw--an exercise similar to whittling toothpicks with a chain saw.

After gouging the iron patio table twice, and the aluminum top of the table saw once, with the blade of the errant circular saw, I finally took a look at the blade--oh my. Really ought to change it every ten years or so, or after every second attempt to drive it through an iron table. The blade of the table saw was likewise missing a few teeth and sporting a fine coat of rust. Maybe from that summer it sat outside...

Attaching the metal ring from the old camera onto this flimsy wood was a challenge. The ring has holes for screws which must be small enough to lie flush, otherwise the lens won't screw on, but have enough bite to hold the ring tight in the soft wood, to withstand the sideways pressure of twisting the lens in.

The whole lot was held together, barely, with carpet tacks. The pieces were off-kilter at every angle possible. The spot at the bottom is blood from a stuck thumb.

This travesty led to a realization. I had visions of Zen and the Art of making a 3" Webcam Box but when it came to actually doing the work, realized that I am a slacker content to do a lousy job.

This haphazard little pile of sticks had turned into a metaphor for my haphazard approach to life. Leading to a visit to the garage in search of better tools and more important, purity of essence. And to the library to read up on woodworking. Where I learned things like using separate blades depending on what you're cutting, keeping your power tools out of the rain, and wearing safety glasses. Boy those guys are so fussy! But they have purity of essence by the bucketful, with their hours of fastidious blade sharpening, jig assembling, and fine, ever so fine, cabinet making. They had so much purity of essence they kept extra stored carefully in cool dry places, more than I could ever hope for.

My tools on the other hand were lying about neglected, covered in years of rust and grime. Like my personal finances, my clothes, my books, my hair, my garden, my fishtanks, my computer programs. All in some manner of mess--in piles, dirty, or held together with carpet tacks. Zen and the Art of Being a Fucking Slob--that was my book.


The second attempt, which began with a week of garage cleaning, then tool cleaning, fared better. It included a satisfying contemplative three-hour stint sorting a mountain of random bolts, screws, washers, nails, twigs etc, aided by the powers of concentration afforded by two Percocets.

V2 was built with hand tools and glued together. No tacks. And included long machine screws in back to set the focal point of the CCD chip to the correct length from the lens. The result is mechanically solid but has a focal point too distant for my purpose (hah--as if there was a purpose to any of this)--it can read sheet music 20 feet away, but I want a wider view and greater depth of field. No matter--for now the carpentry is under control at least, and I can swap lenses out, if I ever get another lens. My plan now is for this to be deployed out the back garage window, pointing to the neighbor's birdfeeder. A purpose if not exactly Zenlike, at least frivolous.

Pieces of the original box were then redeployed to a structure more appropriate to my skill level, "Casa Bella", which thus far Bella refuses to enter, but enjoys chewing at least. We'll see what kills him first--the acrylic paint, or one of the cats. When he dies the wood can be redeployed yet again, as a parrot coffin.

(Tip o' the pin to to Gen. Jack Ripper of Dr. Strangelove, for "purity of essence".)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

network this

Fresh from a two-day "How to get a job" class at Root, Foonweather and Lemming (ROFL). I am not looking for a job now, but the class is a benefit that expires, and I'll be looking for a job eventually, when the kids get a little more gaunt and we run out of furniture to burn to stay warm.

Casual assertions mixed with false specificity brought corporate Powerpoint presentations to mind:

  • 64% of jobs are gotten through "networking"
  • 80% of people don't like their jobs
  • 25% of your job is what you are actually good at or like
  • the chances of getting a job via the "internet" is 16% or 4%, depending on the day of the seminar, and is greater if you are "technical"

It is apparently insufficiently authoritative to say that "many", or even "most" jobs are gotten through people you know as opposed to "cold" contacts--it has to be backed up by a "statistic"--64%. Whose specificity (not 61%, or 66%), and presentation as a pie chart, implies that quantifiable data is available to prove the point. When in fact 64% is simply shorthand for "many", or "most". The problem with saying "many" or "most" is that the statement is then self-evident. Of course most jobs are gotten through people you know! Thus the old definition of sociology as the science of belaboring the obvious.

The term "networking" is bloviation--so nebulous as to be useless. As evidence of its value we are asked in turn how we got our current jobs and sure enough, for the most part we got them through somebody we knew. But hearing about a job by chance, a common occurrence 20-30 years ago during various hiring booms, and actively hunting down leads now in a diminished job market through your various contacts, are quite different activities, and should not both be called "networking". The former (hey they're looking for people with a pulse at DEC!) should not be used to pad the "statistic" of the likelihood of success of the latter.

And the question is posed, if 64% of jobs are gotten by networking, and only 36% are gotten by other means such as the "internet" or cold calling, why do people spend a disproportionate amount of time pursuing these unlikely means, rather than on networking?

The "pie chart of shame":

To which we answer, slightly ashamed at having been exposed foolishly looking for jobs in the wrong place duh, we don't know...but the question is an assertion we didn't agree to in the first place. Who says people spend more time doing cold calls or looking on the internet, than "networking"? Where did you get this statistic?

When, at the risk of seeming to be a churl or an ingrate, you challenge the premise behind these assertions the response, in a patronizing manner, is well for you technical types, we realize that the whole thing is more an art than a science, and that these numbers are just to "give you an idea". As if you were a geek wearing a Star Trek uniform and rubber Spock ears shouting in an adenoidal whine, "statistical anomaly! statistical anomaly!"

A company such as ROFL whose business is coaching the art of the job search must for credibility's sake appear to be scientific in its approach. Just don't look too closely.

This is not to say that you should not pursue leads through the people you know. This is to say that it is obvious, and that we should stop using the term "networking" to describe this self-evident activity.

Monday, December 05, 2005

the other dirty weed


This is a 10 cigarette-pack dispenser--a carton's worth. It is a relic of the 1940s and maybe older. It's on the wall next to the laundry room in the basement. Attached is this bit of doggerel, quite popular in its time:

Tobacco is a dirty weed: I like it.
It satisfies no normal need: I like it.
It makes you thin. It makes you lean.
It takes the hair right off your bean:
It's the worst darn stuff I've ever seen:
I like it.

-Cornwall Industries

It looks like a coffin standing on end. Maybe that's part of the joke.

Though the folks at Cornwall Industries didn't see fit to provide attribution, it was written by Graham Lee Hemminger in 1915 for his campus humor magazine, when he was 20. It was widely reprinted.

This insouciant attitude is rare now--we live longer than ever before, but are nervous health nellies. Living forever is serious business--no jokes allowed. A hundred years ago, if you lived long enough that it was tobacco that killed you, that wasn't too bad.

Aunt Ella, a heavy smoker, got cancer of the jaw in 1961 but after they removed one side of her jaw (I'll never forget the "unveiling" afterwards), lived another 30 years and eventually died of just being ancient. Aunt Betty who did not smoke but lived in the same smoke-filled house got cancer of the tongue but died of being old and fat (I believe the medical term is "diabetes"). Uncle Walter smoked cigars and died of heart failure. My father didn't smoke but drank too much and died of colon cancer.

Hemminger lived to the ripe old age of 55.