Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category.

I Am Loved

If any cause and effect is to be found in the impossibly complexitly of the world, my recent expiriments in cutting back have gone fantastically well. (Near total lack of harp practice notwithstanding.)

In my employement, I’m plugging away at our decrepit ERP facilities (with reference to the last entry, can you imagine a manufacturing company not keeping an eye whether shipping dates are being met?) and getting some thanks for it. I’ve also started an software department education program (perhaps more later), and despite some skeptisim, am starting hear some positive comments.

Meanwhile refocusing myself on technical matters is working back into my natural interests. The fact that I’ve been writting again might offer some evidence of this.

The condo association board was quite interested to know that I would be running again.

In martial arts, there are various indications of approval. For a while now, I’ve been given primariy direction over an advanced student to whom, well, the discipline and coordination of martial arts are not his primary gifts. The other day he gave me a thank you card, for no special occasion at all.

In short, while I’ve taken certain conditions as demands and stress, most of them also coming from people needing me. To some extect that is what love is – being needed.

I don’t want this to go to my head. Still, the combination of events, internal and external, has left me feeling like I am entering into the fullness of my adult power.

The Doctrine of Unoriginal Sin

This is something that has plagued me for quite a while. Almost everything I encounter is the work of someone else. There is nothing new in it. Whatever I may accomplish is only the result of a voracious appetite for input, and a steady reliance on Google. There is nothing new under the sun, and the ancients have stolen all the good ideas.

And anyway, who wants to compete with the not-quite-infinite monkeys trying desperately to stuff the internet pipe? ;^)

Well, I may not be the first or the last to encounter something, but by golly I did encounter it. I don’t know if I actually have anything to say, but perhaps I should leave others to make that judgment. If I actually manage to follow through on this, I’m afraid this journal will be a little noisier than you may be accustomed to. Most of it will probably about software, which will only interest some of you. Watch for tags like ‘life’ (is it possible to filter yet?) if technology doesn’t interest you.

“[T]he woods would be silent if no bird sang except the best.” – Henry Van Dyke

The Open Door

It’s not that I felt trapped, really. I’ve had little doubt that I would get along okay, if I suddenly found myself unemployed. This mental safety net being rather necessary to broaching a possibly unpleasant subject with my employer. It’s just that while I don’t worry about being able to go ‘somewhere’, I haven’t had any place in particular I wanted to go for a long time.

I got disenchanted with the video game industry when I begin hearing about the massive crunch time. Meanwhile I’ve discovered a definite preference for improving the place I’m at instead of picking up and moving someplace else.

After a while, Google seemed like possibility; they’ve been hiring aggressively (though often PhDs, so maybe I wouldn’t make the cut). I suspect I’ve suffered for lack of senior programmers to learn from, where I am now; it would be a good place to correct that, but perhaps I’ve stagnated without such influences.

But I found it. Intentional Software is building one of my ideas – a model-centric programming system. This is one of the things I would work on if money was no issue. There are probably some bright people there as well. And did you catch the inverted E and A in the name? These are the assertions ‘there exists’ and ‘or all’, concepts I’ve only come to appreciate, superficially yet, recently. (Principally through Inform and Godel, Escher, Bach) Intentional hasn’t talked about this in the blog yet, but I doubt this was an accidental choice.

I’m not going anywhere soon. I’ve still got my roots. But I’ve got a much stronger saftey net.

Mixed messages

I meant to continue sooner; last week Tuesday evening I found out I was flying out Wednesday-Thursday; Sunday was a martial arts seminar. No doubt general procrastination has had some effect too.

Anyway. you can’t make life style cut-backs without a few reservations. Mine are: why couldn’t I ‘cut it’? (to use a different sense of the phrase) At some level, when things came up, they got done, so why couldn’t I handle everything in the normal flow of things? Many people do more, yes? At some level it feels like admitting defeat and failing the responsibilities of daily life. This feeling is what held me back for a very long.

That comes from within. On the other side, is without. When I talked about cutting back at work, what I heard was that I was one of the few people who could be trusted with such an arrangement. There were other statements of which I’ve forgotten the specifics, but which I took as effectively praise. The effect was not dissimilar with the martial arts school, and the condo board seems to love me, even though the best things I can say of the process so far is I’m learning from my mistakes.

I think what bothers me is the disconnect in the messages. As nice as it is to hear praise, are people feeding me lines, or am i taking an unnecessarily dim view of my own actions?

There is Movement in the Heavens

I’ve ‘known’ for a long time that I’ve gotten a little over-committed. It often seems like I spend a large portion of my time building other people’s dreams, often operating in non-core modes while doing so. The fact that I haven’t done anything about the situation has had sort of a positive feedback effect, in terms of stress level.

I’ve made these kinds of changes before. Years ago I stopped using MUDs, for instance. But such low-hanging fruit got taken long ago. What is left are those things that have some fairly deep personal significance, and those which support some larger community.

Which raises the whole self versus community issue. (To an extent I already did this in with Knecht.) Surely the community would be more important as a higher form of organization. But a community is formed of individuals, and how can it thrive unless the individuals thrive? It is in some sense a false dichotomy. If we assume that a person always acts in his own self interest, then my continued participation in these various communities is proof enough that these things are important to me.

A few weeks ago, I was to leave for a trip at godawful-early, so I went bed rather early. to try and get some kind of sleep. I don’t think I got any actual sleep, but the rest probably did me some good. I spent a fair part of the night thinking the above thoughts, and it finally clicked: I’ve got to make some changes, and it’s come to shooting babies.

Pretty much everything is being effect to one level or another. I’ve stopped the harp lessons: for the level of practice I’m getting now, three hours of practice or reflection will probably do more for me than two hours of driving and one of instruction. I’ve stopped getting vegetables in produce deliveries; cooking takes time, and I’d gotten into a mentality of ‘disposing’ of things before the next shipment came; not a healthy relationship with food for many reasons. Board game design, languishing for months now, will not be subject of conscious effort for some time. (i.e., ‘I should do this now’; the ‘I shoulds’ are what is getting me down.) I’m also going to see about re-arranging my martial arts responsibilities to be more in line with my talents, so that it can energize me instead of draining me.

Am I becoming too materialistic?

(From the way overdue entries file – I believe I had this in mind at the time I posted the last one)

It goes back to the time when I first realized that my time/money ratio had inverted, at which point toll roads, while still annoying, became a reasonable choice. More recently it was the broadband, brought on in part by a music service. And of course, having a house has permitted the steady accumulation of ‘stuff’, most of which lies idle.

Perhaps I had more to say when I first thought of it. In any case this was my main reservation about getting the broadband – it felt too much like a luxury. On the whole I’ve been making the realization that money, in the small, really isn’t a problem, and I catch myself ‘acting rich’ in equally small ways – not searching for lower prices because that would take time and I have money, tipping generously to avoid figuring out the ‘right’ amount, (at least this makes someone happy) and so on. In a certain sense, the mortgage has been a comfort, reassuring me that I’m not excessively wealthy. What happens a few years when I no longer have that reassurance?

My candle burns at both ends

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Someone mentioned that poem a while ago (and I do mean a while – so I’ve been a negligent poster for a just a little while, and I rather liked it. The idea also fit me for a while – I was waking up early and going to bed late. There may have been reasons – one of my projects was truly balancing my checkbook for the first time in seven or eight years. A rather daunting prospect, made a little easier with some experiments in Ruby In the process, I discovered a few things – I was off by about $200 (thankfully such that I thought i had more money than the bank), when in doubt, the bank is right, and as to my original cause for inquiry, I was right. The invoicing was off for my organic produce delivery service. I think that they did not process the invoice for an accidental shipment. I informed them of the error and nothing happened, so either they didn’t believe me, or figured it was their mistake so the food was free. Of course I had to make a ‘free money’ entry (right after all the error corrections for the balancing) to offset my original deduction.

The other big event was attempting to change ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems at the company I work for. Unfortunately, the entire project was a little doomed from the start. A topic which, as I write, I see will turn into an extended digression.

So The Boss says we need change systems. Our current system is an industry specific package (I’m not going to get into the specifics), written in FoxPro. FoxPro itself, is, from what I can tell, fairly good system for database applications – on single computers. The model for extending it to to networks involves copying entire database files across the network – and if modified, copying them back to the server. This means it is both slow, and prone to occasional database error. The database is reindexed every night, and the program will actually warn you (with reason, we’ve found) if said process hasn’t run in 48 hours. Some errors still get through.

At least in the version we have; supposedly most of the problems have been worked around in the current version of the product. Unfortunately, in the murky past mostly before my time, the powers that be decided that the system updates were introducing more errors than they resolved and broke off relations with the vendor. Since then we’ve basically learned to put up with and work around the major shortcomings, and business gets done, albeit with vastly less efficiency then possible.

So, to recap, The Boss has realized that this can’t go on forever (hand crossed-out entries on accounting reports just don’t look so good, you know?) Meanwhile, I”m a little short on programming projects and see a problem to be solved. So begins a year or so of cursory evaluation of a good proportion of every system that might fit our needs. Of course, when you get down to it, I have no idea what I’m doing, nor does anyone else involved. Which isn’t much. The Boss decided it should be done, and I set out to do it, with some assistance from a co-worker. The rest of the people at the company aren’t bothered by the accounting errors much and have gotten used to the current system – support for evaluation and testing has been extremely minimal.

I’m wandering a bit, but I’m trying to keep a very long story not so long. We eventually choose a system. (Global Shop) It appeared to have a wide range of features, some of our people thought it looked best of the short list, and they had a quote to develop some of our industry-specific functionality. Of course, from what I’ve written above it should come as no surprise that we made at least our fair share of beginners mistakes in choose a system. To skip ahead a bit, Global Shop developed out of a metal job shop market. This a labor intensive type of business. We, as circuit board assemblers, are a materials intensive type of business. We knew this going in, but didn’t realize just how deep this issues was. In the end, the inefficiency of the stock room systems had us so far behind that we had to shut down they new system and continue on with our old one.

That was mid-January. The ‘go-live’ date handed to us was was the beginning of December. This of course made no allowance for the lack of testing support, or the incompleteness of data conversion. Actually the data conversion was ‘okay.’ I found a bunch of Perl database modules and set up a nice little conversion system. I also ran into a lot of Perl’s rough edges, and, provided equivalent modules might try such in thing in Ruby if starting it today (the regular expressions being a big draw to both languages)

But I digress. The point, at long last, is that there was over a month of system investigation, user support, live system data patching, and report writing. The great flood of issues nobody could be bothered to discover beforehand had me in early, out late, often in on weekends. The odd thing was I kind of enjoyed it; something, perhaps only a little, seemed like an aspect of my true calling. Something about people, who I know, suffering inconveniences (which I am in some part responsible for), which I, somewhat uniquely, have the power to resolve. As for the weekends, I would often get up and start trying to read something, only to find I was thinking about the current problems instead of what I was reading. If I was thinking about them anyway, I figured i might as well fix them.

Sometimes I think that my current practice of flitting from from one activity to another is sub-optimal; I often like to dive into a project and forget about the world for a while.

The Void

A while ago I had a small epiphany about the void as a fundamental creative force. I was thinking about my long term employed status versus some of the entrepreneurial enterprises I am involved in.

The place where I work would probably have to called a small to medium sized business; not huge but not ‘mom and pop’ either, probably about 80 employees in two locations. The business literally started in the owners garage. After a few jobs that didn’t work out and a few joint ventures that fell apart, the owner figured ‘Well, I can’t do any worse than these other guys’ and set out on his own.

Because that business has survived since, I’ve had a steady paycheck and a short commute for several years. My boss had a void to fill, I haven’t.

My martial arts instructor has a similar story. The martial arts school he started out in ended up closing amidst scandal – the certificates even turned out to be fake. He went to extraordinary measures to complete his black belt, and then floated around for a while, eventually coming to a series of teaching positions that got organized under the name his own school. If his original school had been stayed open, I might be training there instead, and the Academy of Hosinsul would never exist.

In the marital arts themselves, the void shows up. If you want to put someone on the ground, you often need to make a place for him to fall. A hole in one’s defenses could be described as a void as well.

Years ago, I did a lot of things to fill the void – programming and game design mainly. Now, my life is rather full, and these interests compete with myriad other pursuits.

Time alignment

Lately, I think I have become past aligned.

One of the in-numerable ways to slice and dice the world is to consider where one’s gaze lies in time. Some people look to the future. They speculate about the future, have all the latest gadgets, follow new research, and perhaps even produce it themselves. Other people look to the past. The answers lie in history, the old ways are often better than the new, and the futurist’s unchecked growth is destroying the world. Some people talk about the ‘now.’ They don’t believe in daydreaming about the future or pining for the past: just live.

I think when I was younger, I was more future aligned. I devoured Beyond 2000 and other shows about upcoming technology, dreamed of giant robots, and took to the emerging home computers. Sometime after college I started drifting the other. To a large extent I think it was a growing environmental consciousness. Suddenly the new technology was fraught with dangers, and many of the triumphs of the past had side effects that were only now being uncovered. Embracing the future didn’t seem like such a safe bet any more.

Does this matter? I think it might, for symbolic reasons: Life grows; it assimilates it’s environment (changing it in the process), it evolves, strives, expands, acts as a generative force. Death decays; it ceases activity, stagnates, decomposes into the base elements from which it arose. Death is past aligned, and what I fear is that by being too far past aligned, I’m being cut off from the vital force. Of course a little reflection on the predator-prey model will tell you that neither extreme is sustainable; I think that I don’t so much need to become a futurist as find a better balance.


A somewhat related note was sound by one of my recent audio books, The Time Traveler’s Wife. To a large extent I think that fantastic element of time travel could be removed, leaving a story of a relationship where the husband is disappears for uncertain periods of time for more mundane reasons. The theme of ‘time travel’ becomes the moral of the story however; there is a very explicit admonition not to live in the past or waste time waiting for some future event to come down upon you. The time traveler also describes how he is unable to change the past, and the future always feels unsubstantial – only in the present can he exercise free will.

The lost dramatic mood.

Whither now the poet?

Where is the passion in the voice and the fire in the mind? Drowned by cold reason and dialectical argument, does anything remain? Surely this person, this feeling, this mood, cannot be entirely absent, for it is I; that which is not separate cannot be taken away.

Call down the thunder!
Call down the lightening!
Cry! Cry out, cry tears, cry anything at all to peel back the suffocating darkness.

Meditating, meditating, the poet slumbers, as if enchanted in a long and uneasy sleep. Rise up, rise up, does this enchantment know no end?

Groggily the response comes: Poets do not come at beck and call, they do not come for show and tell. Obsession is their natural state, from which arises only thoughts unbidden, things which cannot be hunted down on demand.

Silence deadens. Play the music, the first music that I ever loved. So well that repetition deadened it’s power to surprise, a potent piece of the power of music, a power that is almost dead to me.

What was that I heard, mumbled in uneasy sleep so many years ago:

Twined about with moonlit ribbon….

Nothing more.

Suffocating…

But I shall knock again.