Saturday, December 6, 2008


Many thanks to Phil L. for purchasing my Dog Fart Christmas cards from CafePress. Tis the season to be shopping, folks. Think about stopping by my store, ordering gross cards (or nice ones, if I have any), and sending them to your friends. The ones with a sense of humor, anyway. Be careful about sending the Dog Fart or the Santa Squirt or the Lion Chomp cards to your grandmother.

I've also got mugs, tees, sweatshirts, Walk-related products, and more (including my book)! I'd feel guiltier about plugging my wares if I thought I could get rich off all this, but when you've got as much scholastic debt as I have, you've got to be practical.* Unless someone comes along and buys 100,000 copies of my book, I'm in no danger of getting rich anytime soon.

*Hey, I'm not ashamed to admit to having scholastic debt. I've had zero credit card debt since the beginning of 2007. How're you doing on that score?


mini language rant

People who begin a paragraph by writing "Too"-- with a comma-- should be dragged out and shot.

Oh, yeah-- about people who misuse "anymore": folks, that's a word that should only appear in negative and interrogative constructions. The term you're probably looking for is something like "these days" or "nowadays" or "lately." "There're a lot of people in the stores anymore" makes my ears bleed.

I'm aware that the above misuse of "anymore" qualifies as "dialect" in certain corners. In other words, the guilty parties are aware of the misuse and would never write sentences abusing "anymore." My feeling is that some regional turns of phrase are cute, ungrammatical though they be, while others serve only to grate. "Anymore," misused, is one of the latter types. There's nothing cute about it, as far as I'm concerned.


Does Big Bad Bill come around anymore?
Jill doesn't eat chocolate anymore.
Kevin's not as ornery anymore.


It's gotten windier anymore.
Kevin's ass is bigger anymore.

Be careful: "anymore" is different from "any more."


I don't want any more tea.

This makes me want to rant about the widespread confusion of "everyday" with "every day," but I've done that rant several times elsewhere. Some folks who call themselves English teachers routinely make these basic mistakes. For shame!

Thank you for your time. I'll crawl back into my cave now.


canine dreams

We're once again dogsitting Sean's obsidian chihuahua Maqz; Sean's got a gig in New York, and he reasons that Maqz misses the pampering he gets from Mom. Maqz is happy that the parents have a new bedroom; he flopped onto their bed and went to sleep next to me. For my part, I wasn't asleep: I was finishing up The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and noticed at one point that Maqz's tail was thumping the covers-- hard. I looked over at him and saw he was still perfectly asleep, so I can only assume that that part of his dream must have been truly pleasing. His dream went on for a while and must have soured, because several minutes later, he whined loudly and piteously, then woke up with a start.

I wonder whether Maqz's dream formed a coherent narrative. I wonder whether dogs have any concept of narrative. Dogs obviously have memories (e.g., growling at someone who's done them wrong) and also have some notion of the future (e.g., becoming alert when you're about to throw that ball), but for the most part they seem to live life in the present tense.

For a radical version of that sort of present-tense life, see this post by Malcolm, which is a nice counterpoint to the post just before it.


Friday, December 5, 2008

the dangerous side of Oregon

I've gotten to know several hundred miles of Oregon and have met plenty of interesting people along the way, but I never had more than a passing acquaintance with the state's water deities. Unfortunately, this bride-to-be suffered their wrath. Horrific story.


something resembling a bedroom

We managed to move the bed (with frame, headboard, mattress, and box spring), the armoire, two nightstands, a dresser, and assorted sundries back into the parents' bedroom-- a sure sign that things are finally beginning to settle down. There's a long way to go, but at least the parents can sleep in a normal bed again.

The deck, meanwhile, is tantalizingly close to completion. I'll be devoting much of Saturday and a good part of Sunday to it.


Mom makes YouTube

Dad calls her Rosie the Riveter. In this vid, Mom uses the renovation crew's pneumatic hammer to secure some joists in the deck. Vid is from late October. Enjoy.


where'd the meritocracy go?

Brian reports on a disturbing phenomenon.


true names

I have a few geeky friends who would probably like this for Christmas.


like an episode of "Junkyard Wars"

The long-expected sundering of the Anglican Church has begun. For years, the disputing parties have been racing toward each other on the railroad track of doom, and their engines have finally collided. I've been watching this from afar, but now that the first major intra-Church collision has occurred, I find I'm as wide-eyed as a kid on his first trip to a candy store. So many pretty colors and smells! think I, while blood and gore fly everywhere. It's not often that one gets to see the breakup of a major tradition. This is history.

(Part of my brain is whispering in reply, "This is Protestantism." So true: splittism is in our blood. Don't like the way things are? Start your own group!)

UPDATE: Excellent metacommentary over at Get Religion, especially here and here. More posts later as I try and wrap my brain around the current situation.


Zen haiku

ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha hee hee ho ho hu
heh heh heh heh (frrrrrrt)


Thursday, December 4, 2008

a confession

People used to gasp when I told them I'd never seen "Gone with the Wind." Many years ago, I finally saw the flick, which effectively turned all the gasping into moans of carnal pleasure.

But another group of people might be scandalized to learn that, until recently, I had never completely read Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'm about halfway through it and will probably have it finished in a day or so.

Yes, you may gasp. If you're cute, send video.



Over at Get Religion, a discussion of the reasons behind the Mumbai attacks-- specifically, why the terrorists targeted Jews.

I'm sorry, but news like this can't be dismissed as the product of a lying press. I won't go as far as Malcolm in contending that the violence is indicative of an inherent problem in Islam, but the correlation between global terrorism and Islam is undeniable. A history of poverty and brutal oppression fails to explain all the violence and death perpetrated by certain Muslims on the global scene: if those factors were sufficient, we should routinely see international terrorism by Hindu hijackers angered by the memory of the British Raj, as well as African Americans exacting a bloody vengeance on white Americans for all the long years of slavery in the New World. In neither case do we see such violence, despite the fact that poverty persists in India and racism continues to bedevil blacks in America. No: the terrorists don't get my sympathy, and I've never bought the Edward Said school of thought that paints the Muslim world as a rape victim ravished by the rampant West. Oh, would that things were so simple.

But Islam isn't inherently violent. My take is that it's not inherently anything: Islam is as it's practiced, a refrain you've read before on this blog. Peaceful Muslims incarnate a peaceful Islam; violent Muslims incarnate a violent Islam. What Islam is is therefore a complex matter, not easily reducible to a fundamental this or that. Christianity has a blood-soaked history, too, and it's primarily Christians today who are doing most of the tut-tutting about Muslim violence. Personally, I see Islam as going through a nasty phase in its history, and the end result will be, I hope, something far more peaceable on the global scene. If Islam doesn't help itself toward a more irenic orientation, non-Muslim parties will grimly set about the task of helping Islam along, and that's not going to be pleasant for anyone.


well, nuts

I was hoping to write a book after finishing my walk, but...


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

seeing clearly

With many thanks to Mom and Costco, I've got new contact lenses. This is my first time ever using disposables; I opted for the "monthlies" (i.e., you change pairs every 30 days). Just about everyone claims disposables are better than the old standard "daily wear" lenses, but I've always found disposables both ridiculously expensive and a pain to store, because you have to store more than one pair of lenses. The doc assured me, though, that my disposables wouldn't take up much space during my hike. I'll have four boxes of them to haul with me when the time comes to mosey on.

But not yet. My lenses will be in the store next week. Today, I came home with only a "trial" pair, which the doc says are as good as the normal disposables. The eye exam set Mom back $89, and a year's supply of disposable monthlies cost a cool $160-- Costco, indeed. The exam took nearly an hour and involved a battery of tests. When I compare these facts with my experience getting contacts in Korea, well, there's no comparison. In Korea, I was in and out within about 15-20 minutes. The doc used a low-tech but effective pair of tests to determine my prescription strength, and didn't ask me to remove my lenses. The cost for the exam plus the lenses was something like $70. Compared to spending $250 (thanks, Mom), $70 is a steal. To get such a price in the US, would I have to visit some shady character in a back alley?

Part of the reason why eye care is so cheap in Korea has to do with the preponderance of bad eyes over there. Eyewear shops can be found on practically every corner of downtown Seoul, as well as in the shindoshi (new cities) around Seoul. I imagine the same is true in other Korean cities and towns. Koreans necessarily take eye care seriously, and such seriousness is routine. Here in Costcoland, by contrast, you pay through the nose, waste a lot of time, worry about legal issues, and don't even get your lenses the day you do your exam.*

For most of my walk, I was kicking myself for not having gotten new lenses while I was still in Korea. I ended up wearing my Korean pair, acquired around Christmas of 2006, until just today. I had no real problems with them-- no serious protein buildup, no irritation, nothing. Even today, they were going strong. Seems a shame to toss them, but the doc thinks I should. Maybe I'll toss them tomorrow morning, after a proper goodbye. I can't bring myself to do it tonight. Chucking perfectly good contacts is almost as painful as euthanizing a healthy pet.

The doc also notes that I'm on the borderline for glaucoma, but that's old news; I've heard that "You're borderline!" warning for years. Of more interest to me were two other things the doc said: (1) I've got larger-than-normal optic nerves (sometimes associated with glaucoma, but I choose to view them as a sign of awesomeness), and (2) because not enough oxygen is passing through my corneas, I'm right on the brink of some nasty trans-corneal neovascularization-- the formation of new blood vessels that penetrate the cornea in an attempt to acquire more oxygen. I've seen pics of blood vessels actually woven into contact lenses, bolting the lenses into place. Not pretty.

The new disposable lenses are supposed to help this latter problem; they're made of some sort of hi-tech breathable material that makes them much more permeable than previous soft lenses. As for the potential glaucoma issue, the doc gave me the name of a specialist to see. I doubt I'll see her anytime soon. You know: money, insurance... all the stuff I had as a member of the work force in Korea, but lack as a Kwai Chang Caine-style itinerant here in the States.

All the same, I'm happy to have new lenses after two years' waiting. Better lenses than Lasik (pronounced "rah-jik" in Korean-- sounds a bit like "logic"), I say: $2000 for eyes that will need surgery again in a few years is too steep a price to pay. If Lasik were only $10 per eye and could be done in a department store booth, I'd look into the procedure right away. For now, though, lenses will do just fine.

*In all fairness, this may depend on the store. I remember an American optometrist in a mall not far from my parents' house who provided lenses the very day of the exam.


shopped out

Spent the day with Mom on errands. She and I don't shop together that often (I still have nightmares about clothing shopping when I was young... leave me in a bookstore any ol' day!), but today was a Costco and commissary day, with a side trip to a flooring store to pick up extra bottom molding for Mr. Lee, the floor guy.

In other news: the LG microwave oven's door was replaced today; there was a defect in the previous door involving the keyboard: you'd press the keys and there'd be no response, but if you tried again by pressing the space to the right of the key, you'd get results. Obviously not good, hence the replacement.

Dad, meanwhile, has nearly finished the deck planking. Until we use our spacers (i.e., nails placed between boards to give them a bit of breathing room and space them out evenly) to make sure the planks are down correctly, we won't know whether we'll need to slap down two final planks. It may be that enough planks are already down. When properly spaced out, they may cover the entire deck surface. If not, we might need to lay down two final planks (one north-south, another east-west) to fill whatever space is left over. Nightmare scenario: we'll end up needing to "rip" a plank-- that is to say, cut the plank along its long axis-- to fill in the remaining gaps. Ripping isn't easy with a handheld circular saw, and we no longer have a proper sawhorse and clamps with which to bolt a plank down.

Tonight, we might start moving furniture back into some of the upstairs bedrooms, beginning with the computer room. The object of the game will be to use "gliders" (soft feet for furniture) to slide heavy stuff home without damaging the spanking new floor. Wish us luck.


deck progress

As you see below, the deck's coming along.

There's still plenty to do. We've got to complete the railing, finish fashioning and screwing down the planks, and straighten out one of the steps (one of the boards is slightly warped and needs to be re-fastened to the stairs). We've also got to attach the white paneling that'll cover the exposed wood of the deck and make the whole thing look less like playground equipment and more like something you'd stroll on, martini in hand.

Contrary to Mr. Jeong's cheerful prediction, deck assembly hasn't been easy or quick. It requires a good bit of patience and care; measurements can't be made in haste, and you learn quickly that, when you make a mistake while cutting planks down to size, it's usually better for them to be too long than too short.

But we're nearing the end, now. One other deck-related piece of business is that we have to return and exchange our post sleeve caps, which have turned out to be the wrong size (no size is listed on the box). The caps are supposed to slide into place atop the deck's fence posts, protecting the posts from the weather. The caps are brown, pyramidal, and made of a heavy plastic reminiscent of Tonka toys.

Once the deck is done, we'll be able to concentrate on getting the interior finished. We still need kitchen counters as well as plumbing for the sink and new fridge; we need to replace some of the shelves in Mom's new kitchen cabinets; we need a proper sink and counter for the upstairs bathroom; we need to switch out some old 2-prong sockets with 3-prongers; we need to buy new and better blinds for the upstairs windows; we also have to purchase some sort of cabinet or armoire to replace the now-defunct hall closet (which used to be the omnibus repository for towels, hair products, medicine, shoe polish, toiletries, etc.).

Once all that's done, we can start moving ourselves back into the house. I'm beginning to wonder whether this will all be done by Christmas. We'll see.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

new tee shirt design!

Now available in the tee shirt section of my CafePress store is this design, inspired by my brother David's insistence that I draw this as a two-frame scenario:


for your amusement

I made my mother say it aloud in front of my father and my brother David.


lunch break thoughts

I've got mixed feelings about this: a self-powered cell phone. When developed, it'll be able to recharge itself through sound vibrations. Nifty, eh? But this simply means more damn cell phones, which makes me unhappy. (Yes, yes, I know cell phones are great for emergencies and make it easier for people to find each other when they need to meet up in an unfamiliar place, but I still can't stand them.)

On the bright side, the technology will be applicable to more than just cell phones.

On the "philosophy of mind" front: scientists induce the illusion of body-swapping. Not being a substance dualist, I don't subscribe to the notion that we have detachable minds or spirits. Whatever mind is, it arises out of matter; without matter, there's no mind. We could go on and on about whether this means that consciousness is somehow inherent in matter, but the basic point is that mind and matter are not-two.

(Hat tip to Malcolm and his blog's sidebar, which contains the link to PhysOrg, the site at which I found the above-linked articles.)


a new era

The renovation crew has pulled out most of their equipment in order to start a project somewhere else; they've left us one circular saw and the router to allow us to finish up work on the deck. We won't see most of the crew again until Saturday. The floor guy, however, is here today to complete his task: there's still a lot of molding and trim to nail into place.

So I'll be outside for most of today, working on the deck. We've got the computer set up again, so I might even be able to take and upload pictures for you.


Monday, December 1, 2008

maybe not this time around

My buddy Mike's been talking about flying off to spend Christmas in Venice.



I finished Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy last night, then was scandalized to read, a few minutes ago, that the US version of the trilogy's final book, The Amber Spyglass, underwent censorship by US publishers to remove passages about the female protagonist's budding sexuality. How silly.

The series deserves a lengthy examination, but I can't offer one just yet. I can say, however, that the books were well written, though the trilogy wasn't quite as emotionally engaging as the Harry Potter heptalogy. This might be a simple consequence of the Big Ideas that Pullman is wrestling with, not least of which is the need to overthrow divine authority in favor of a more humanistic, existentialist approach to life.

The trilogy contains little hints of Buddhism (e.g., every human being is particulate, as is consciousness itself), but is otherwise exactly what the critics have said it was: a reworking or outright subversion of the story in Milton's Paradise Lost, with an infusion of Gnosticism (Pullman's "Authority" sounds a lot like the Gnostic Demiurge at times).

Wikipedia describes Pullman's trilogy as part of the "steampunk" subgenre of science fiction. Steampunk is retro cyberpunk: imagine 1860s-era technology and civilization giving birth to Rube Goldberg contraptions that allow hyperspace travel and man-machine fusions. The His Dark Materials story definitely straddles the borderline between sci-fi and fantasy; it was, at times, reminiscent of a Tom Robbins novel, but without all the sex and drugs.

If I didn't like Pullman's trilogy quite as much as Rowling's work, it's probably because the final book, hewing to its "multiverse" theme, gets ontologically messy. Once you've reached a point where doors between universes have opened into each other, where angels are fighting angels, ghosts are fighting Spectres (children of the Abyss), humans are fighting the angel Metatron, and armored polar bears are rampaging through it all, you may find it a bit hard to suspend disbelief. Sure, sure: it's a children's book, for God's sakes. I know. But still.

I'll write more on this when I have time and can better organize my thoughts. For now, I'll finish this post by recommending the series.


science and religion redux redux redux...

Another chapter is added to the neverending discussion about the relationship between science and religion with this article over at Get Religion. Interesting snippet from an interview with Marilynne Robinson, in which Robinson says:

The New Atheist types, like Dawkins, act as if science had revealed the world as a closed system. That simply is not what contemporary science is about. A lot of scientists are atheists, but they don’t talk about reality in the same way that Dawkins does. And they would not assume that there is a simple-as-that kind of response to everything in question. Certainly not on the grounds of anything that science has discovered in the last hundred years.

The science that I prefer tends toward cosmology, theories of quantum reality, things that are finer-textured than classical physics in terms of their powers of description. Science is amazing. On a mote of celestial dust, we have figured out how to look to the edge of our universe. I feel instructed by everything I have read. Science has a lot of the satisfactions for me that good theology has.


more art on its way

I'll be slapping up more art for folks to look over and purchase pretty soon. Meanwhile, check out Kevin's Wares or visit my CafePress site and grab some Christmas gifts (my book, a nifty tee, a bumper sticker, a Bodhidharma mouse pad, a gross Santa card, a mug, etc.).

Ordering online means no stampedes and no shootings.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

worth your while

1. A Canadian comments on one form of Yankee stupidity. As a Yank, I'm used to hearing all manner of critique from non-Yanks, but in this case, I'm inclined to agree with Skippy.

2. My buddy Charles makes the acquaintance of Stephen King. I was pretty sure, while reading the first part of the essay, that Charles would say that King is an excellent writer; Charles and I have similar tastes in many respects, and I find King exceedingly readable, so it was no surprise when I came across this part of Charles's essay:

I went on the next story, called “The Man in the Black Suit.” As soon as I began reading it, I got excited—King was writing a folk tale of the “meeting the devil in the woods” variety. I devoured it whole, and as I read, I could no longer deny the realization that had been creeping up on me: I had grossly underestimated Stephen King as a writer.

How could I underestimate a writer I had never read? Well, that’s easy. People do it all the time. For me, it was a combination of my dislike of “horror” and my impressions of King, which were primarily that he a) wrote the type of horror I disliked and b) pandered to the lowest common denominator. I figured that anyone who sold so many books and had so many of those books made into films had to be a lowly panderer, right? Or, um, I guess he could also be a really good writer.

King often gets a bad rap among the literati because his writing strikes the elitist, Don DeLillo-loving crowd-- the people partial to unreadable prose-- as too common. But the truth is that King's easy command of narrative structure and his ability to make a story compelling, all while preserving clarity-- a quality often lacking in postmodern works that promote style over content-- point to the fact that the man's a good writer. Sure, he may need an editor when it comes to his longer novels, but as Charles writes, King is self-disciplined enough to write great short stories, which are indeed a better measure of writerly mettle than novels are.

3. Over at Conscious Entities, Peter explores the question "Is Intentionality Non-computable?" The post discusses the framing problem along with the halting problem and the tiling problem, and bears directly on the discussion I had with a few commenters over at this post of mine. Affirming my own sentiments, Peter writes:

Let’s consider the original frame problem. This was a problem for AI dealing with dynamic environments, where the position of objects, for example, might change. The program needed to keep track of things, so it needed to note when some factor had changed. It turned out, however, that it also needed to note all the things that hadn’t changed, and the list of things to be noted at every moment could rapidly become unmanageable. Daniel Dennett, perhaps unintentionally, generalised this into a broader problem where a robot was paralysed by the combinatorial explosion of things to consider or to rule out at every step.

Aren’t these problems in essence a matter of knowing when to stop, of being able to dismiss whole regions of possibility as irrelevant? Could we perhaps say the same of another notorious problem of cognitive science - Quine’s famous problem of the impossibility of radical translation. We can never be sure what the word ‘Gavagai’ means, because the list of possible interpretations goes on forever. Yes, some of the interpretations are obviously absurd – but how do we know that? Isn’t this, again, a question of somehow knowing when to stop, of being able to see that the process of considering whether ‘Gavagai’ means ‘rabbit or more than two mice’, ‘rabbit or more than three mice’ and so on isn’t suddenly going to become interesting.

Quine’s problem bears fairly directly on the problem of meaning, since the ability to see the meaning of a foreign word is not fundamentally different from the ability to see the meaning of words per se. And it seems to me a general property of intentionality, that to deal with it we have to know when to stop. When I point, the approximate line from my finger sweeps out an indefinitely large volume of space, and in principle anything in there could be what I mean; but we immediately pick out the salient object, beyond which we can tell the exploration isn’t going anywhere worth visiting.

The suggestion I wanted to clarify, then, is that the same sort of ability to see where things are going underlies both our creative capacity to spot instances of programs that don’t halt, or sets of tiles that cover the plane, and our ability to divine meanings and deal with intentionality. This would explain why computers have never been able to surmount their problems in this area and remain in essence as stolidly indifferent to real meaning as machines that never manipulated symbols.

None of which is to say that humanlike AI is totally out of reach. My point in the original post was that it's simply a long way from fruition. Personally, I'm sympathetic to Kurzweil's "Strong AI" functionalist camp.

4. Malcolm discusses ideas, emotions, respect, and tolerance.


view from the 12th floor

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wishing you a good morning from the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City

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