Archive for 2004

The war against time.

I think the war against time started the summer I stayed at college as a summer system administrator. (Interestingly, this is also the first time I was more or less on my own, with something like a full time job.) Casting my eyes about for a little more time, my gaze settled upon the hour or so (I’ve forgotten how much) I spent on a MUD everyday (Cheese boy having gotten me hooked a year or two earlier.)

The trend continued. Gradually, though less conscious, I bought fewer and fewer computer games. E-mail slowly piled up as conversations died of inattention. As the people I was role playing with moved farther and farther away, I eventually had to cut out that activity, trying to get back an evening and stabilize my sleep schedule along the way. For a while I went to a board gaming group, but the curiously frequent demand for Thursday night eventually felled even that.

Of course other things have filled in. Martial arts, having established a beached at one hour a week grew to eight (plus travel, cleanup, and seminars) I’ve also made a number of ‘slow’ lifestyle choices: I avoid fast food, often cook for myself, and ride or walk places when I can.

Whenever I cast my gaze about me these days, I come back to a few common themes: I chose, and continue to choose, the lifestyle mentioned above; any ‘efficiency expert’ would label me with poor time management (an ongoing battle); and I spend the greater portion of my waking hours trading time, that which I feel I lack, for money, something which, mortgage notwithstanding, far exceeds my needs on a month to month basis.

Several months ago, the final mental straw was laid, and I decided to renegotiate the terms of exchange for a four day week with reduced pay. However, to put it frankly, I was insecure. I went looking for information, guides, success stories, and pitfalls to avoid. So, for a while I read and gathered, found if there were any existing company policies, and wrote up something of a proposal. Ultimately I realized that it was irrelevant to my situation though; that would be appropriate for a bureaucracy, but I work at a small company, a single proprietorship where I talk to the owner on a semi-regular basis. Of course this is probably more a problem than anything: Imagine asking a workaholic to turn his attention away from a number of projects (all behind), with the continual threat of interruption by pressing concerns, to ask him about working less ;^) Which is a long winded way of saying a few more months rolled by. In the cumulative effect of it all, we went from relative idleness and makework to having a real project with a tight deadline (there’s a moral about procrastination for you.)

For any who would blame fortune, give it due credit as well: The Wednesday before christmas, the company put on a catered lunch and then most of the people went home. Myself, looking a long absence (I had more vacation days left than I had thought, and they evaporate at the end of the year. Given my feelings about time, I couldn’t not take them) and staring at a thorny problem stayed working on it for a while; indeed until I got locked in the building ;^) Here I cite the consolation prize for working weekends: a door key and security code ;^) But that seemed like a pretty song signal that it was time go home.

In my fluster, I forgot a tray of leftovers from the catering that I had grabbed when no one else wanted it. I had also heard my boss say that he would in catching up next day, and I had hardly left off in an ideal place in my work. So I came in the next day and spent a few hours cleaning things up and getting the code into a more reasonable stopping place. And then, at work on a company holiday, nobody around, nobody answering the phones, I had about the best opportunity I was ever going to have to broach the subject to my boss. He is open to the idea, but wants to put off further discussion until after the holidays.

My cynical side says he is hoping I’ll rethink it. I won’t, of course; I can’t. Baring significant new information, the best way I know to fight procrastination and improve confidence is to follow through and finish what I started. Which isn’t to say I don’t have some reservations, but sitting on the fence doesn’t make for forward progress.

It comes back to the deeper issues of the war against time. When I was hired (at which time, and for some time thereafter, there was a little more bureaucracy and I didn’t even know who the owner was) the expectation was stated (within flextime) as about 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The contract was defined in terms of time, rain or shine, booming business or makework.

Not that it has been totally constraining; I’ve worked long hours, and I’ve worked weekends; I’ve also left in the middle of the day to run errands. But always the clock is king: If I don’t leave hours after I arrive, I’m losing; if I don’t stay that long, I’m cheating on my contract. My basic discomfort with the four day proposal is that it isn’t fundamentally different. Time is still the unit of measure. 32 instead of 40. It is progress; it is change, it is testing the waters. But for all that I try to adjust my thinking from time oriented to task oriented, the terms of the contract are still time based. Ultimately the problem may be in my own head: the time anxiety is win-lose thinking. Writing this down makes it seem more evident that I should try to bring this up when we get to discussing the details. Perhaps that is why I wrote it at all.

Real reading

I finally finished Rules of Play, an academic work about game design. It casts a broad net in several ways. Thus, much of the opinion I heard about it wasn’t good. Board game people were turned off by all the talk of digital games. Digital game people may have been turned off by the included paper games by ‘board game people’ like Riener Kinitza(sp?), Richard Garfield, and James Earnest. The coverage of subjects is also extremely broad. the books schemas are broken down into ‘Rules’, the down and dirty mechanics, ‘Play’, the experiences of the game, and ‘Culture’, the interaction of games with the wider world.

It is also very theoretical, which may have disappointed people looking for more practical advice. What the authors present are a system of schemes, or ways of thinking about games. Things like probably systems, psychology and motivation, narrative, and so on. This type of material appears to be geared more towards generating deep insight than helping out with routine problems. Sadly, I haven’t take time to really think about the material yet.

Now I’m working through Edward Tufte‘s books, which I got at the seminar some month’s ago. Having heard the core ideas in said seminar there is nothing revolutionary so far, but the wealth of examples will probably repay review when I have some actual information to present.

Reading (Well, Listening)

I finished the audio book of Victor Hugo’s Les Miseriables recently. Finished being the operative word: at 3 volumes of 12-15 cassettes each, it took awhile to get through this one. On top of it’s intrinsic size, I also listened to some other pieces in between to space out my library visits (just under 20 tapes per batch can be done comfortably)

Beyond a storyline that spans nearly 20 years, Hugo makes frequent and extended use of historical vignettes. It would probably not be hard to accuse him of presenting all the background material that authors are supposed to have but not belabor their readers with. However, much of this material is actually welcome context for someone far removed from early 19th century France. The vignettes are also artfully integrated; most are presented just as the become relevant (that is, the history of a location just as the character enters it.) Other times he blurs the magic circle of the story by integrating the story time and reader’s time. For instance, an extended description of the battle of Waterloo relates only in one small detail to the story proper. Yet it is presented at a time when years in the story are elapsing unseen – by the time that the text returns to the main narrative, time has passed for the reader as well as the characters. Furthermore, the connection with Waterloo only become important later in the story – by which time the description of the battle is in the distant past, just as it was in history.

Meanwhile, amidst the extensive historical accounts and occasional preachy events, are some artfully constructed situations. One character is held paralyzed, witness to a crime that he could stop at any time, but is unable to as he is torn within between loyalty to the past and the terrible reality of the present situation. In another a character who embodies the relentless application of law is discontented – indeed, destroyed – by encountering a situation where the most just action ran counter to the law. Hugo, through his character, ponders whether right action is following the law of god.

In between volumes, I also read (or heard) Darwin on Trial. It proposes that the theories of natural selection and evolution are just that – theories. While they may be the best theories that we have, the available evidence does not support them as anything like the given facts they are usually presented as. For instance, the fossil record shows long periods of stable life forms, rather than the continuous stream of incremental change evolution predicts.

Most recently was Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural. What I took away: Lincoln was a deeply religious man who struggled with the conflicts between his personal beliefs, his oath to the constitution, and the inevitable coming of civil war. In his view, the war was punishment from god visited upon both parts of the country for allowing slavery to exist, and a necessary stage in removing slavery.

Next up: Brave New World and Shindler’s List

I am on fire.

From the great big backlog of things I thought about writing but never did.

I am on fire.

I take in fuels, among them oxygen. I give off heat and light of reason. Out comes so much carbon dioxide and ash. A walking conflagration in the shape of a man, hottest at it’s center with flows and circulations running wildly about within. Each cell is a miniature furnace, a great engine consuming it’s fuel to it’s own specialized end. To look at my hand is to behold an inferno, a continual blaze burning slowly towards it’s end – when at last the source is exhausted, and the fire goes out.

Borrowing.

Sometimes, I get conflicted about possessions. To live well or to live lightly? Certainly I could be living it up a little more; yet so many struggle to feed and shelter themselves. Even living lightly has it’s conflicts. Should I hang on to everything in the hope of reusing it, and not having to buy something new? Or try to de-clutter and have less stuff around? I have however realized that zero use is an impossible goal.

Water.
Carbon.
Calcium.
Iron.

I am my environment. To say that there is nothing dedicated to my exclusive use is to deny that I exist at all.

Of course, there is still a wide range between the aesthetic with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the dictator with multiple palaces and a legion of servants. Still, the impossibility of absolute zero makes the scattering of humanity elsewhere along the scale seem a little less like some kind of cosmic injustice.

Call of the other.

Or, revisionist history ;^)

The latest issue of Parabola is ‘Friendship.’ One article discusses the idea of the call of the other – that a person wants to be heard, wants sympathy, wants to connect with someone. Another relates an experience of loving one’s neighbor. Talking with a friend, the author was overcome with feeling of love, which lasted for a few days.

A little later wandering thoughts connected to some of my own experience. Once in college a woman dropped unexpectedly by my room. I didn’t really know her that well, so it was a little odd. The conversation was nothing special; just a good social visit. But it was such an odd event I got wondering. Why this visit out of the blue? Was she interested in me? (An even stranger event to be sure.)

I found out later that she had just been dumped by her boyfriend. I found out even later that a lot of her friends went with the boyfriend. I sort of understood why she was going around visiting people, but I still didn’t really get it until just recently. She had just been somewhat traumatized, many friends had abandoned her, of course she was looking for company! The other was calling – and I think I heard the call. In a kind of conceit I took that call for romantic interest and perception of it as a response in kind. She was looking for help, and the only thing I could think of was myself.

The story has a kind of happy ending. I started hanging around trying to get to know her better. Later, she told me that having someone around when so many people had abandoned her was something of a godsend. They say it’s the thought that counts, but in case, thankfully, it didn’t.

Velomobiles

Whatomobiles?

I have thought from time to time that winter wouldn’t be nearly such an obstacle to bicycle riding if only I had an enclosed bicycle. (Accumulated snow would still be an issue of course.) Finally, some time ago, I went and looked to see what the web had to say about it. Properly speaking, the are usually called velomobiles, and typically are recumbent tricycles.

Velomobiles, for the most part, are only available in Europe, and even there only in small, usually hand-built quantities. They do occupy a rather uncomfortable middle ground. Usually too big for bike trails or sidewalks, and too slow for most roads. Owing to the small scale production, they also tend to cost nearly as much as the cheapest new cars. (Never mind shipping from Europe…)

The end result is that I won’t be getting a velomobile any time soon. I may check back every once and awhile to see if the situation has improved. The speed problem for one may not be insurmountable – the human powered speed record could technically get a speeding ticket on any road in Illinois. This of course is a competition racer, on a smooth protected track, in a racing vehicle – designed for tight aerodynamic form and light weight – not for carrying groceries.

Oroborus

Once upon a time, children learned by playing. They experienced the world. In many cases they even got jobs. The were able to “see and do”.

Then came school. Children “read and write” about things while they sit in a classroom. Understandably, some people questioned this.

Along come video games with “credible simulated environments.” Now some people are very excited because children will be able to “see and do” instead of “read and write”. While sitting in a classroom.

(And, incidentally, experiencing the crafted virtual world created for them instead of the real world of experience.)

Today’s small rant courtesy (registration required):

http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=2

Ewww…

Or, digging up overgrown Baobaos.

A few years, ago, someone dropped a fork in my garbage disposer. I’ll grant him that one doesn’t usually expect forks to fall apart, but even with sturdier forks slippage is always possible, so I’ve never considered doing much of anything near a running disposer terribly wise.

Anyway, the result was the disposer banged and vibrated a lot more than it used, even after we got the fork out. I did some asking about repair services a while ago, but the end result was that the disposer sat unused for a few years.

Finally, Saturday, I just pulled it out and started poking around. Essentially it had been for several years an environment that was moist, but never really had any significant water flow. So thinks stunk a little. Mostly it was the trap just below the disposer, but the disposer itself had some fairly icky grime on it. After getting it wiped off a bit, and dried out a little on Sunday, I’m pretty the turntable and grinder are severely rusted and falling apart. They are also pretty solidly attached to other parts, which may make replacing just those part difficult.

Five long years of procrastination….

…is drawing to a close.

(I have a cheap camera, so the picture isn’t that good. I can say that the JPEG compression didn’t improve the picture, but it also didn’t affect the content value (garbage in/garbage out?))