it's where the hearth is
I have seen the future, and it is squishy.

Now & Then (a Log)

Thursday, February 27, 2003
Just Testing

I've been getting the dreaded 503 error in Blogger lately, so I've replaced my template. Just want to see if everything's working properly.

Monday, February 24, 2003
Sadly, Art Imitates Life

Once again, Matt nails it.

Lovely travel day today. I arrived at the Pittsburgh airport an hour before my flight was supposed to leave, which is usually more than sufficient. What I didn't take into account was the overflow of travelers from the night before, when many a flight was canceled. The serpentine line to the boarding pass kiosks cost me more than 20 minutes, and then the security line (backed up all the way to the entrance doors, for those of you who know this 'port) took at least another 20. Upon exiting the tram, I ran dutifully to the gate to find the door closed and the waiting area empty. Fortunately a helpful ticket agent was able to get me aboard in the nick of time.

Of course my travel troubles didn't stop there. At O'Hare I happened upon a bumb taxi driver who ran up over $80 worth of fees (and precious minutes of client-site time) trying to find my destination. Needless to say I didn't pay anything close to the full price, but hey, time is money. All of my travels woes were redeemed, however, when I arrived quite early for my return flight and scored a seat on an earlier one (since my own flight was delayed), getting me home an hour earlier than I'd expected. Karmic travel gods working their magic, or just plain good luck?

Friday, February 21, 2003
The Great Divide

Not sure why only one week's worth of archived posts are visible over there in the sidebar; I keep trying to republish them but they won't show up. Perhaps Matt will be kind enough to share his Blogger wisdom with me when he gets into the office today.

I've been reading John Brockman's "new humanists" propaganda at Edge. While his essay is a dangerously dewey-eyed paean to the primacy of science, some of the responses to it are well reasoned and worth reading.

I'm sorry, but I don't think the empirical approach of science can answer every human question, as Brockman implies, or that the only role of the humanities is to "evaluate, select, and transmit valuable knowledge," as Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says in his response. As some of the other responders pointed out, Brockman seems to be as ignorant of the interesting stuff going on in the humanities as he claims humanities scholars are of science. Sure, plenty of suspect scholarship emerges from the humanities wing of the academy, but it ain't all bad.

And wow... Jaron Lanier is a smart dude, but I must take issue with his statement about how scientists and technologists are "often enchanted with the beauty we see in nature—beauty that's harder for nonspecialized people to appreciate." As if his scientifically informed view of the natural world somehow means he's better equipped than the rest of us to appreciate it. Comments like this make the "new humanists" seem just as elitist and insular as their second culture counterparts. No wonder they have a hard time playing in the same sandbox.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Her name was Carol Wallace. On any given day she looked polished in a way only some tough girls are capable of achieving, with her meticulously feathered hair sprayed into a motionless parfait and her carefully selected clothing a close approximation of what the popular girls wore. Every day she stalked the cafeteria and surrounding area with her group of mindless girl thugs, order-takers, and hangers-on. And every day she made it her mission to torment a nerdy girl.

She'd pick a victim and go at her for days, sometimes weeks, first uttering a few rude comments as she passed by with her clan. The offhand comments then became insults, delivered in a haughty and increasingly loud tone, with perhaps an after-school following or two to rub salt in the wound. The culmination of her bully visitation was often a beating, as was the case with my friend Debbie, who was knocked down one day near the blessedly student-free parking lot.

Although I didn't receive a beating, I wasn't lucky enough for my own bully run-in to occur far from prying eyes. No, Carol had special plans for me; she'd honed her method of attack to guarantee maximum humiliation. And this new, insidious approach involved a condiment I now find so repugnant I can't bear to smell it, let alone eat it: ketchup. She had begun the assault in her usual way, feeling me out for days with casually delivered insults to make sure I didn't have enough of a spine to fight back. And then at lunch one day, in the courtyard, she and her friends surrounded me and pelted me with as much ketchup as they could squeeze out, all the while hurling insults. The only one I've retained had something to do with my "shit brown eyes."

Afterward I stumbled to algebra class, where Mrs. Slayton -- a large, black woman who, in her rather abrasive way, had tried her darndest to introduce me to a type of mathematics I refused to wrap my head around -- comforted me, as did my fellow nerds. (In Jr. High, they grouped us nerds together for every class, thus ensuring both zero exposure to the rest of the school and our grim reliance on each other.) I sat at my desk crying as people hovered over me, telling me what a bully Carol was and that it didn't mean anything. But I wasn't open to their kind-hearted words; I was so ashamed that I couldn't even tell my parents. My mom, sensing that something was amiss (or perhaps simply shocked that I was actually laundering my own clothes that evening) asked me what was wrong. "Oh, nothing," was all I could manage, giving her my best impression of the normal teenage sulk.

It doesn't seem so bad in the retelling, but at the time (eighth grade) I was devastated. I couldn't understand why Carol tormented nerds in the first place, and of course I couldn't understand why she had chosen me as her victim. Now that I'm older and wiser, and have entered a grown-up world where nerds aren't reviled but revered, I can appreciate Paul Graham's essay Why Nerds Aren't Popular, particularly this passage:
If it's any consolation to the nerds, it's nothing personal. The group of kids who band together to pick on you are doing the same thing, and for the same reason, as a bunch of guys who get together to go hunting. They don't actually hate you. They just need something to chase.
The essay is long, but well worth the read. Paul believes nerds aren't unpopular because the popular kids envy their smarts, but because nerds are too focused on other pursuits to bother with making the (considerable) effort to be popular. He delves deeply into topics ranging from the social structure of school clans to the ramifications of job specialization in our modern economic system to make interesting conclusions about why bullies feel the need to bully -- and why school is such a drag.

Sunday, February 16, 2003
The Accidental Diet

So I have real excuse this time for the lack of posts -- my first experience with gastroenteritis (AKA "stomach flu"). The affected organs seem to be functioning properly again, but I don't yet look forward to meals and I'm still quite tired. Also managed to lose some weight that people who know me would say I didn't need to lose.

One of the things I hate about the kind of sick that confines one to bed is the frustration borne of having so much time to just, well, think, but not being able to do so productively. And I'm not talking about when you're halfway asleep and apparitions from your subconscious meld with what's left of reality to produce a compellingly disjointed narrative. I'm talking about the stupid stuff your brain insists on torturing you with when you're down -- the mindless replaying of insignificant events.

More later when I'm feeling up to it.

Saturday, February 08, 2003
Branches and Leaves

I must admit, Dorothea's enthusiasm is infectious, and comes serendipitously at a time when I myself am contemplating graduate work in library and information science. Her interests are similar to mine, albeit more focused and better articulated. Her post-graduation plans to "create, manage, and expose for public use electronic-text repositories" resonate with me, as I'm looking for ways to combine my information architecture skills with an interest in humanities-based digital media. Granted, I'm not sure exactly how I'd like to do that, or what form it would take, but a grad program combined with some focused, independent research seems like a good first step.

In some ways I enjoy what I'm doing now -- project management and information architecture for corporate web sites, intranets, extranets, etc. -- but it doesn't give me the kind of deep satisfaction I suspect I'd get from working with information I actually give a hoot about. So I'd like to ditch the corporate thing in favor of helping to make humanities-based information more accessible and meaningful by, say, leveraging the power of hypertext to open connections between ideas that wouldn't have been apparent otherwise.

Before this starts sounding like an application essay, I'll close. But I must thank Dorothea for sharing her enthusiasm.

I won't even bother to apologize for the past week's sad lack of posts; the day job drained any mental energy I could have devoted to the log.

Sunday, February 02, 2003
Si, Neko

Forgot about this gurgle yesterday, but I want to warn fellow Pittsburghers away from the "Junior" wraps at Si Señor. I thought the Junior would be the perfect size for me since I can never finish the regular ones, but these things are tiny! And at a dollar less than the regulars (making them $5 a pop) they're a rip-off to boot.

I keep meaning to say something about the new Neko Case album. I've enjoyed her turn with the New Pornographers, and although this is more quasi-country than pop I'm enjoying it as well. Neko's songwriting is tight, the music behind it is delicious, and the voice bringing it to life is simply amazing. Of course, half the time I can't hear it 'cause I'm shamelessly belting out the tunes along with her. (I especially enjoy screeching along with "Runnin' Out of Fools," which is a pity since she sounds particularly great in that one.)

Saturday, February 01, 2003
Columbia Down

Wandered over to Making Light just now and got the bad news. Many people consider the space program a frivolous waster of resources, but the dreamer in me doesn't like the fact that Columbia's fiery descent will be another stumbling block on the road into space.

As usual, Teresa breaks it down (as little as one can at this point) with sincerity and style, with the help of an interesting comment by John M. Ford.

I should have eaten breakfast today.


Because it's been so long since the last post, this one is sure to be filled with a hodgepodge of unrelated gurgles (i.e., shouts and whispers, but mainly whispers). So let's begin...

Gurgle 1: The proprietor of WinePoetics is such a tease. Please, dear caretaker, reveal the Mystery Poet!

Gurgle 2: I've been reading bits and pieces of Cyberspace: First Steps, published in 1992. I think at the time the editor hoped the book would be among the first to map the ontological terrain of cyberspace, that wooly concept first popularized by William Gibson. The problem with attempting that at the time, of course, was that there wasn't much real terrain to base said ontological map on, and so the book today comes across as being really dated and pie-in-the-sky.

I remember when I first saw the book. We had ordered it for the media center at the museum, and the name alone ("first steps") made me feel all wiggly inside. I would recall the title from time to time after I left museum, to evoke the sense of wonder it instilled in me. (Yeah, I know this sounds incredibly cheesy, especially given the fact that I never actually read the book but was moved by its title alone.)

Reading through it now, after procuring a used copy, I'm struck mainly by what theorists at the intersection of critical theory and technology can get away with. But in the interest of Getting Ideas Out There, I'm not bothered by the occasional baseless logical leap or unrestrained dance into uncharted waters; heck, I welcome it. Leave it to firmer minds than mine to sort the gems from drivel. For now I'll revel in the unchecked wonder and heady optimism put forth by the anthology's writers.

(Aside: will Cory's notion of whuffie be as big as Gibson's cyberspace? I'm seeing it all over the place. Now that we've started theorizing about how individuals might contribute to a shared virtual reality instead of participating in one built by a god-creator, the concept of whuffie is gaining speed. Sounds better than karma, at any rate.)

Gurgle 3: Completely forgot to partake in the apocalyptic GNE festivities. I grew bored with it in recent weeks and didn't bother to visit. I am, however, looking forward to beta testing and the release of the real game, which promises a tenfold increase in stuff to do. It'll be nice to enter a hub and not be faced with locked properties.

Gurgle 4: An intelligent response to the His Dark Materials books from a Christian group in the UK. (Mom, this one's for you!)

This is the work of Abbi Ball, and is licensed under a Creative Commons License.