Being Social.

web Craft Beer Lives HereI’ve taken to taking weekends ‘off’ to a degree, which is likely a bit odd for many people who read this since the majority of people already do that, and have done it for some time.

Growing up, these days were days when I worked one way or another. Family businesses, and some companies I worked for, were service businesses to service businesses, where being on call 24/7 wasn’t a job, it was just life. So, even if I worked for a company that gave weekends and holidays off, I would keep myself busy somehow.

Hobbies. Rebuilding RX7s, taking Pine64s and making neural nets from them, hanging shelves, writing, experimenting with new hardware and software (and libraries).
Maybe because of this, over the years that part of me atrophied from lack of use. Maybe I just was implicitly part of a hacker ethic, or maybe, just maybe, I loved avoiding the drama associated with other people from being misunderstood, from getting into a pissing contest, or listening to someone blather on about things that I didn’t care about (a staple of many relationships).
Maybe I’m just not a people person. People I interact with feel otherwise, generally, but that’s part of the load of doing it.

If I have to interact with someone, I want it to be positive, thoughtful, and as painless as possible while being as honest as possible. This is not an easy task with most people. ‘Painless’ is a matter of someone’s sensitivity and the ability to apply soft enough words to make a point without getting a person in pain, or defensive (which is a reaction to previous pains).

It’s easier to sit down and write these things after some thought rather than to do it in person, because you can just sit and think about what you write, but in a tense human conversation it’s all about improv, and when people run out of improv, bad things happen. Sometimes bad things just happen, but with a bit of experience, these can be avoided if one pays attention.

In all, it’s a lot of work. For some, it’s all very easy, but for me I see it as a lot of work. And that’s how I tricked myself into doing it on weekends and on holidays.

World Changin’.

Dystopian Lego Future
HellsBells by ‘Crusty Da Klown’ on flickr Public domain. Accessed 24 Jul 2022.

There’s a sense that the world is broken, and we built this world. This got me thinking about when I was part of the team of, which started off strong but later would become a book. I didn’t agree with the publishing team at the time because I was perturbed that while they had agreed to publishing under a Creative Commons License with me, they never really posted the copyright notice for it.

That, and some disagreements about the Alert Retrieval Cache that became nasty, cinched it for me. Imagine my surprise when I was asked by email, and not by Alex Steffen, if they could use some of my articles in the book when I had made it a point that everything I wrote for was under a Creative Commons license. When I corresponded with Jamais Cascio about it, since he was involved from the start and he had brought me into the team as I recall, the answer was pragmatic. Do I think less of the team? Some of them. We had a good thing going.

Thinking of this, I visited the domain today and saw that it’s been repurposed to something about “Flexible Mobile Offgrid habits”. I checked the domain WHOIS, and saw the information is registered by Google LLC.

Like most things I’ve been a part of or worked on, it’s gone. It’s not really that big of a loss, the book was dated even before it was published. I never bothered with buying a copy, and I was never offered one either from those that cashed in from the publishing. It had a developing world bias that didn’t translate well to the developing world, in my opinion, which is another reason I left the team. At the core of it though, was a problem I was having with someone else regarding the Alert Retrieval Cache, which worked something like Twitter about a year before Twitter was formed.

In The Green Pen, the Alert Retrieval Cache was described as an offshoot of the blog when in fact that’s not what it was at all. The Alert Retrieval Cache (ARC) was attacked on the SEA-EAT blog at the time when I was trying to get a post done about it so that we could use it. One of the actors of the ARC at the time was busy self-promoting, and it certainly must have looked like self-promotion. There was, after all, a lot that could be done with such a combination of technologies, and he was busy trying to promote something when we were trying to test and build it in real time. It’s no surprise to me that Peter Griffin and Dinah Mehta may have misunderstood that part of history, but that and the issues on pretty much sank the project.

That, despite how it was done, was a good thing in my opinion. I didn’t see it at the time, but it was a good thing, and I’ll explain why.

After Twitter came into being, I was still toying with the Alert Retrieval Cache. Andy Carvin, who I would later find out created a Wikipedia stub on me as a way to promote the Digital Divide Network without my knowledge and causing a kerfuffle between myself and Wikipedia, asked me how Twitter could be used for disaster management. Someone from the U.S. Army, at around the same time, was also asking me about disaster communications (but as I explained to the Army, they had a nice closed system, so they didn’t need me).

The trouble that just about everyone has figured out since then was what I explained to Andy Carvin at the time. The trouble I anticipated was trusted sources. Now there’s much ado about misinformation, disinformation and propaganda on social media, but it’s too late, Pandora’s box was not only opened but danced around. Facebook’s algorithms are in overdrive while below quality, Twitter trolls right now are bad enough where NAFO has real people trolling other trolls, I know Instagram and Reddit have blocked the International Legion for Defense of Ukraine’s accounts… it’s all run amok.

The trusted sources issue is not an easy one to solve. I built some code to contend with it years ago, and I may revisit that in some Python I toy with off and on, but the reality is that people were so busy trying to make a buck while questioning other people’s motives instead of their own. Everyone was trying to claw ahead, some to get the next big story, some to put out fires, and so on. It was quite the mess.

Yet can we get trusted sources? Trusted by who? And therein is the rub. I look back on everyone who cashed in during that period and quietly shake my head because that’s the sort of thing that really bothers me. I was a true believer at that time, as were others. And those that cashed in on that are the ones I hold in the lowest regard because they did it on the backs of people who truly did believe that they were improving the world.

Yet here we are. The world is no better. The world has been changing, and not for the better.

Maybe there’s a link between my observations and that. I don’t know, but what I do know is that if there’s a group of people who truly want to improve the the world, the trust must be there.

A World Built, Part III.

Stonehenge in 1877
Picture of Stonehenge from 1877, public domain, courtesy Wikipedia

We’re not sure exactly how it started, this world we have now. Archaeologists and other scientists are still figuring that out, and they’ve got theories. Some of the latest at the time of this writing can be found in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, if you want to dive into it.

So far, the story of our past has been revealed as far as our origins and migration from what is now the Southern part of the continent of Africa. Were we hunters and gatherers? Were we tribes? Probably, though the tribes were most likely opportunistic in what we ate. The world provided. Migration was part of the survival of our ancestors, since we didn’t cultivate things.

While theories may vary, our ancestors wandered around, ate, and procreated. We figured out communication, and while we likely communicated about that saber-toothed tiger at the watering hole nearby, it’s also likely we communicated about what was happening in the tribe. “Biff is out hunting, so Alana is entertaining Atouk in the cave.”, perhaps with a knowing wink. Gossip, which supported the social organization of the tribe.

The Internet shows not that much has changed in that regard. In reading updates on Twitter today, in the middle of all the things about Ukraine, troubles of democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom, Russian propaganda and the latest things escaping China’s iron firewall, there was some silly article about someone I don’t care about wearing Versace. That it showed up in my feed is likely because other people I know found it popular enough that Twitter offered it up as something I might be interested in. It’s gossip about what people are wearing. Nevermind the odd fetish with Elon Musk’s every bit of reverse flatulence.

The point here is not what we talk about, but that we do. While times have changed and every now and then the metaphorical saber-toothed tiger pops up, most of the time it’s about other people. The technologies have shifted, from our discovery of writing, to radio, to television, to the Internet. We communicate about things that are important to us as individuals even though they may not be important at all, at least on the surface.

Let’s go back to those tribes migrating from what we know as the southern part of the African continent. Certainly, some left because other tribes were eating their own food, perhaps even establishing territories. Some may have left because they wanted to see what was over there, the part of us that enjoys exploring. Or maybe Biff caught wind of Atouk and Alana and, in an early version of a romance novel, they eloped and made their own way up north without Biff, forming their own tribe. Nobody really knows how that all went, and the likelihood is good we will never know.

This continued, trekking across land bridges, going here and there. Of course, Homo Sapiens weren’t Homo Sapiens yet, and we encountered variations of ourselves. We’re not sure what happened there, whether they integrated or not, but as an example neanderthal DNA has shown up in some people. We were busy eating and having sex in the caravan of life, scattering across the world for whatever reasons we had.

We would later figure out agriculture and form societies in place. This required more structure, and our language evolved as our structure did. Everywhere there were people, people did things at least a little bit differently, and having moved beyond basic twig technology, we built cities. Some of us built early ships to fish, or to see what was over there, or to trade. Trade likely happened before our societies became stationary, but it truly evolved when we stayed in one place. Some places had some things, other places had other things, and so societies traded. Currencies became a part of this.

Other things happened. We developed nations with borders that were usually demarcated by what we thought were permanent landmarks. Water was a great boundary, or so we thought. The border of Guyana and Venezuela proves that this is not so even to this day. Other boundaries were negotiated, agreed upon.

Borders are fictions we created to keep us from them. It’s territorial, and while a fiction it’s an agreed upon fiction. It’s real in that regard, but the concept of borders themselves is something we just made up so that the influence of the fictions of one nation don’t overlap into another. What’s more, it became recursive with personal property, where there are borders between properties, with associated drama. Currencies are much the same thing.

The laws societies chose to live by were also agreed upon fictions. Some would say that there was morality involved in these laws. Some theologians claim that the morality came from some omnipotent being that no one has evidence of other than someone millennia ago scribbled something down, and work from that faith – which is perfectly fine. I’m of the camp that morality is based on empathy, and theology reinforced it. Fighting over that doesn’t seem productive so I don’t bother. The point is that we found ways to live in larger groups rather than splitting off all the time into tribes that wandered off to find somewhere else to be – though that does continue to happen, albeit rarely and not in a while. The Mayflower comes to mind.

Our societies are based on mutual agreements, social contracts, that are mutually agreed upon fictions. We see this now as Russia’s unprovoked aggression continues to cost lives in Ukraine of not just Ukrainians, but people from around the world who answered the call for the ideals of democracy. Maybe it was too much Sesame Street. Maybe it was too much Disney. Maybe it was too much about how good democracy is when it’s just the best choice we’ve come up with, and we haven’t figured out how to institute it homogeneously. Where wars of the past have been less clear, the war for Ukrainian sovereignty has a ring to it that we find right, whereas the actions of Russia – unless you have a steady intake of Russian propaganda – are wrong.

This is an interesting example not because it’s happening now, or because I’m solidly in the camp of supporting Ukraine. It’s because for at least a hundred years, Russia has written the history of those within it’s empire which, unlike most European empires, was landlocked. Rather than going to visit old relatives and subjugating them, as European empires did, Russia’s history is one of picking on the people it could get to once the Tsardom of Russia gained prominence after the influence of the various Khanates that were derived from the Golden Horde were defeated or waned. The Tsardom was that of war and expansionism, Imperial in nature, and was brutal as most empires were at the time. What Spain was doing in South America in the 1500s against indigenous peoples, the Tsardom did to it’s neighbors to expand. This is a simplification. To get into it completely, I offer you should read any history about Eastern Europe not written by someone from Russia.

Empire is about getting rid of those that disagree with the empire, or subjugating them. Language, religion… all of these things are a part of colonialism that a large portion of nations suffer a hangover from to this day, with borders drawn by former empires that those who lived there had no say in. The history of Eastern Europe is largely overlooked in this context because the rest of Europe was busy fighting with their neighbors over lands far from their shores.

That colonialism extends to this day, though it’s more popular to talk about hegemonies now. Most of the world has moved on from colonialism though former colonies, their riches depleted by former empires, have not done as well – which is understatement.

There is something awkward about some humans using sailing technology to go visit old relatives and subjugate them, but then at the same time people were still figuring out that the world was not flat despite the protestations of religion. You’d think that might have made it into a religious text. Perhaps there will be updates on the religious texts soon, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

With all of this going on, people were forced to look at the world through the eyes of those that ruled them, and if you decided to go back to nomadic roots, you had to pick the place with the fictions you liked or, if you were lucky, go start your own somewhere – as happened with the United States.

Then we have the ideologies of government, with Communism, Socialism, and Democracy. Democracy, while imperfect and hardly standardized around the world, has been adopted by the majority of nations on the planet not because it’s the best but because it’s the best we have. Yet even in a democracy, the systems are gamed.

All of these things are, at their core, things we agreed upon to an extent. One may be better off having been born into a democracy by accident of geography, but that hardly means that what that nation does is something the individual agrees with because there are gaps in representation.

A lot of this is at least appears broken right now as the world, which doesn’t agree to any of our fictions, dances across borders with pandemics and climate change. When there should be more work as a global society, we see more isolationism. When our species could be considered an organism living in an ecosystem, we hardly act it.

Yet we remember how to play with toys and are guided by them, and our methods of communication are influenced by a few outside of democracy.

Maybe it’s time to revise some fictions.

A World Built, Part II.

mirror_universeIn Part I, I wrote briefly about how in building with toys, we learn to look at the world through the framework of those toys. We’ll get more abstract with software, which is a functional work and which has a few sides to it.

The Non-Technical Side

For the average person, software has come a long way since Ada Lovelace first wrote a way to calculate the Bernoulli Numbers on a computer that was never built. In fact, until the home computer began making inroads in 1977, very few people knew about software, and at the start software was published by articles in physical magazines, typed in and ran. If there was a typo, or an error, you had to figure it out or wait for the correction that would hopefully show up in the next month’s issue of the magazine.

By the end of the1980s, boxes were being sold with floppy diskettes to load into computers. Later, it became more sturdy diskettes.

Certain applications became very popular. Word processors helped with writing, the creation of VisiCalc brought the spreadsheet to home computers, educational programs began to show up for children and of course, the games. Much of these placed in boxes and sent out to stores to be sold. Some you could order through the mail. People began copying them at home, handing copies to friends openly. This rubbed some people the wrong way, such as Bill Gates and his new company, Microsoft, and thus began the era of ‘copy protection’ and ‘software piracy’.

It takes knowledge, time and energy to write software, and while Bill Gates learned to program by diving into dumpsters and studying the code printouts of others, he was not a big fan of other people doing it because he was forging a company out of that dumpster of knowledge.

Within that same period, the MIT AI Laboratory had a new printer installed. Previously, the code had been altered so that it would message people when their print jobs were completed and would message everyone with a print job if the printer was jammed. The new printer didn’t come with the source code, and from those roots, Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation which created the copyleft (The GNU General Public License, or GPL), a software license that required that the source code would be shipped with the software so that it could be modified.

Two main philosophies, one that focused on the people making money to not have their product redistributed or altered (proprietary) and one that was about allowing people to change the code for convenience, finding bugs and altering the program.

One had a bigger marketing budget than the other.

In an attempt to make Free Software more attractive to commercial developers, the Open Source Initiative came into being in 1998 and it focused on the ‘business potential of sharing and collaborating on software source code’ – building blocks, if you will, that companies could share and use. This lead to a bunch of different software licenses that weren’t as permissive to users as the original GPL but allowed different shades of how code could be used commercially.

One had a bigger marketing budget than the other. Well, maybe, I’m not as sure, but I know that they did a full court press on it and separating themselves from the Free Software Foundation. The Open Source licenses allowed companies to use such software licensed within their own software, which one can argue allowed more rapid development by those who used them.

With all of the different free software and open source licenses now including the proprietary licenses, there are a lot of options for re-using parts of the software the end user can use, but the final products are still, to this day, largely proprietary. People waited for bugs to be fixed in the next release, whenever that was and if the company was still around. New features were much the same.

As the Internet became more stable and commercial, software became available online without the boxes – but the prices remained pretty much the same. They still are. Software updates happened more frequently with the Internet, but downloading an application still seemed to make you pay for the box. The convenience was what we paid for, rather than a box.

Software as a Service (SaaS) sprung into being, which most people will know as the subscription model where you pay a software company money for using the software. In fact, writing this on, I’m using an open source piece of software (WordPress) to write this, with the ability of the site’s open source code base ‘unlocked’ the more I pay for the hosting and maintenance that comes with it.

We are allowed to use the software through the licenses that we are given, take it or leave it, and there’s not much we can do about it unless a product is actually a Free Software product, and sometimes when it’s an Open Source product.

Bear in mind, I haven’t written much at all about the Internet, which itself is filled with different software with different licenses, yet by reading this, you’re using all manner of software.

During all of this, something strange happened. People stopped looking for software that met their needs and were perfectly happy to have software companies define their needs. If you’re not a big part of the market and you want different features, it’s pretty certain you won’t get it.

The (Gentle) Technical Side

There’s no mistake that software is made up of existing pieces of software. In software engineering and programming, we have about object oriented programming which is not as new as we would like to think. Often enough, toys like legos are used to help us think of these little bits of abstraction. Rather than bore the snot out of non-software people about this, we’ll just carry on with that metaphor.

Most of the software we use today is made up of other pieces of software, smaller functional works that allow things like word processors, web browsers and apps on your phone to work. In doing it this way, if we have a piece of software that does something really well, we can simply reuse it. While we can copy and paste it, it’s generally given the equivalent of a street address, and the software will go to that street address as it needs to so it can do whatever task it has to do for us.

As an example, let’s say that we have software that asks users annoying questions, which seems to be trendy in software applications. We’ll say that we have this function, give it the address of 1 Annoying Question Street, and whenever we want to ask the user an annoying question, we tell the program to go to 1 Annoying Question Street with the question to be asked. When the stuff is done there, it returns the response to the annoying question so that the main program has that response. Like, “OK.”, or “Cancel”, or, “Why are you asking me this annoying question?”.

Now picture all the repetitive things a piece of software does being done that way. You now understand object oriented programming at a very basic level, though unfortunately I have no certificates to distribute on that.  It’s like Legos at this level of understanding, and if we dig deeper into it we can easily lose that perspective because it can get very complicated and convoluted.

Yet not all of the software components are compatible because of the way that they’re licensed, as mentioned in the non-technical part of this article.

Some of us may remember when word processors were much more basic, and the menu bar was not as overloaded with features as we see at this time in 2022. It wasn’t always that way. Over time, more and more features cropped into word processors to the point where you may need a team of archaeologists, or a 9 year old, to decipher all the hieroglyphics in the menu bar.

In fact, there’s this term we use, “Software Entropy“, which happens when a program gets so complicated as the developers do more and more that the complexity makes the software ‘rot’. This can also happen if the system the software operates in changes, which they always seem to because we’re always upgrading operating systems and computer hardware, be it on that mainframe computer that somehow is still in use at the bank (true!), or on your mobile phone. We blame the hardware most of the time when the software complexity itself is sometimes partially to blame.

To manage all of this, we put processes in place when writing software. In the early 1980s, a single software developer could write some software and sell it. Today, it takes teams to write software, a legal department to keep the software licenses in line, and an administrative team to run separate projects while a customer service department might report bugs, requested features, and smile at shouting people via email and telephone.

It’s a complex system, it’s a competitive system, and it defines a lot of what we do in our connected world.

Bringing It All Together.

When it comes to software, more often than not people ask about what they can do with software more than what they could do. The user base and the programmer base have moved far apart in a world that has become increasingly technical. It’s not just software. It includes broadcast licensing and geographical licensing (where where you are defines what you can access), as well as copyrights, patents and trademarks.

It’s no mistake that a Lawrence Lessig wrote Code Is Law, which is well worth the read, but this essay can be read to get to the meat of the ideas expressed. There’s no sense rewriting what he so well wrote on that.

We’ve covered toys and software so far, but these alone didn’t build our world. No, there’s much more, and I’ll try to round that out and finish an article tomorrow for the final part.

A World Built, Part I.

Lego Architecture Studio_A few years ago, I picked up the Lego Architecture Studio on Amazon and have not been able to play with it as much as I wanted to – it was an indulgence in simply having legos in the new place because I grew up with them, collected into an old pickle bucket my mother had found. In reorganizing, I rediscovered them within the dusty box, and the book that came with it.

One of the things I had been noticing over the decades is how the Legos of my childhood have made way for all sorts of specialized Lego sets. There were less specialized sets when I was growing up, and in an odd way, I found more space for imagination because of it. I recall spending a lot of time creating spacecraft that had engines, and of course weaponry because I had grown up in the era of Star Trek and Star Wars. I couldn’t talk too much or be seen playing with them in that way because at the time, we were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anything that went pew was forbidden. But I built them anyway, and convinced my mothers that the weaponry were headlights when she asked because, “Space is dark”.

There were other toys, like Capsela and Tinker Toys. For now, the Legos.

Legos allowed me to organize, build and imagine. I was left to my own devices with them. It was a framework I could build from, the then proprietary blocks allowing me to build what was suggested – and to create my own imaginary things. The new more specialized systems with their little special parts would allow more of that, but all within what the Lego framework allows to be possible.

Construction sets played a crucial part in shaping the modern world.
From within the Lego Architecture Studio Book.

When I looked in the book, it mentioned things in line with the things I am writing about in more of a long form. What we play with defines how we shape our worlds. We start with objects as children, connecting them together in ways through experimentation to build things. Sometimes we imagine them in advance. Sometimes we just want to see what happens. Sometimes we have no idea what we’re building until we are done – and sometimes we are never done.

This is what we do. Douglas Adams went further back, jokingly maybe, writing of ‘twig technology’. We started off with sticks and stones, poking and bashing things, creating tools that we then built further with to the complexity that we now have specialized tools that are put into stores which are full of such potential. We place them in stores, their smell of plastic and metal permeating the hardware, their marketing so good that we buy things on average that we rarely use, like electric drills.

All of these things give us biases in how we see the world. What we use defines how we see the world, just as what we observe does the same.

This, though, is only the realm of the physical world. We do the same with abstractions, and that’s where it really gets interesting.

We build with what we have, and we are biased based on how we are influenced. Yet, too, we are also limited by what we have and how our biases influence how we look upon them. It’s only when we understand that, when we can work beyond those biases and maximize what we have available on hand that we truly move forward.

Tomorrow, I’ll dive into the abstractions.

Short Rant on Digital Cameras.

Trinidad and Tobago Yacht Club at Dusk.

Once upon a time, I was enthused about photography, enough so that I got a Sony Alpha 6000 when they first came out. I’m not horrible at photography; I consider myself ‘semi professional’ since I have been paid for some photos I have taken. Others I permitted use for in academic publications at no cost.

While I was out with friends a few weekends ago, I encountered a professional photographer, someone whose work I know and respect. We talked a bit about cameras, and then I griped about how I bought a Sony Alpha 6000, and the very next year the upgraded camera used different lenses – and I just never bothered after that. It’s true. And for a while I beat the snot out of that Alpha. It was fun, but then when a DSLR gets orphaned for lenses a sense of, “why bother” permeated the phoographic aspect of my soul. 

Imagine my surprise when I was agreed with.

I did the image at the top of this post with a Samsung S22 Ultra, demonstrating it’s ‘nightography’ ability which seems to be a multiple lense HDR on low lit aspects of the image. It’s nifty, cool and… relatively inexpensive on something I have to upgrade every few years anyway. A phone.

It seemed intuitive that the standalone cameras would have decreased in cost while increasing in value, yet when I did a quick perusal on I was quickly disappointed. The cameras I would consider buying are over $2,000. With how quickly my camera and lenses found their way to antiquity, I simply don’t see spending that much to be relegated to a museum that quickly. It’s ridiculous for someone who is semi-professional if one gauges that the camera should pay for itself and pay toward another before it becomes outdated. It’s not worth it. Using two sticks to start a fire with your wallet seems much more understandable.

So, for now, I’m done with stand alone cameras in much the same way I stopped getting cable television with my internet access, or when I stopped having a landline when I got a mobile phone. I just don’t see it unless you are in a position that pays to have the cameras replaced that quickly and expensively.

The way things are looking, that’s not happening soon.

Sunday Lost, Sunday found.

Sunday LostIt had started the night before, when a friend asked me to stop by where he was, and so I did. He was visiting his inlaws, and through a twist of fate I ended up driving him home Saturday night which of course meant I would take him back on Sunday to celebrate his 12th wedding anniversary and his nephew’s 9th birthday. I would try to escape early, I decided, so I could get some writing done.

Of course, it wasn’t a straight path back on Sunday morning. There was the need to pick up balloons, beer, and associated paraphernalia, and a desperate and unfruitful search for ribbon.

I have never looked for ribbon in my life, but I know what it looks like and know we didn’t find any.

Along the way, the food was talked up quite a bit, as well as all the good things about the family members. We arrived, and I found myself employed with a Coleman blower, probably for an air mattress, that I held to allow for the inflation of balloons, dutifully holding one as the second of matching color was blown up in what seemed like a never ending stream of balloons. The seemingly unending supply of balloons was important to my friend. He wanted this to happen, so despite my inner protestations of temporarily filling rubber with air, I did it because it was important to him. He was quite the taskmaster on this, insisting later not to point the blower this way or that for fear of causing balloons to rub against walls and explode.

In my mind, they do that anyway, but this was important to him so I went along with it. It didn’t hurt me to avoid the potential cataclysms he saw in the carnage of exploding balloons. My experience taught me that they had a tendency to do so regardless of how much care goes into them. It wasn’t as if I were wielding pins and needles. Balloons are unpredictable.

He was quite micromanagerial about this, speaking more to his need to have the balloons last than in having them last. I’ve seen balloons made. It’s about as precise as you can get, but when the whole point is to blow up a piece of rubber so that you can see through it, it seems to me that all bets are off. People like balloons, they buy balloons, they blow them up, they balloons either leak slowly or disappear violently, transformed into hurtling fragments of rubber.

Balloons are suspended violence. If they were human, I would consider them passive aggressive and volatile.

This, then, called for refreshment, because filling balloons with a blower is hot work. We organized the area, sitting around and relaxing as time ground to a halt. I spoke to the dog, a Husky, and he spoke back. I don’t know what we were talking about, but he certainly did love the subject. He came untethered at one point and had his owner wandering around after him with a food bowl. At 1.5 years old, he was still very much a puppy, intelligent, and looking for fun in what his family considered ‘all the wrong places’.

I wasn’t writing. This ground on me throughout the day, but I pushed it from my mind and just lived the experience. At 3 p.m. or so, the food showed up and it was great – some curried alloo, chicken with a side of roti. There was curried crab, but my body decided at the age of 47 that shellfish were no longer a part of it’s menu.

All day, not much happened, but I was in my own way, listening, the interactions of arguments between people probably the highlight. I generally found myself agreeing with others rather than my friend, but I sat it out mostly. Underneath, the tensions seemed high, while there was a comfort between people that allowed them to exist. An odd but predictable balance. This is how they communicated. They were comfortable with it.

Time went by and the need for me to get back to writing was getting stronger. There are things I want to get out of my head and into little pixels. I had told my friend that morning when we left that I would not be hanging around long, and yet I had spent 6 hours already, and while people were beginning to show up from wherever they were freshly showered and dressed, I felt sticky and tired.

Finally, excusing myself after another friend showed up, I headed home, showered, and fell asleep only to wake up early this morning. I had written nothing yesterday, and this bothers me, but I have no regret of the time spent yesterday with friends and newer friends.

Writing about life without experiencing it is senseless, and what is writing anything but writing about life, be it fictional or otherwise? This sounds like an excuse, and maybe it is, but I know too how much I yearned for the solitude of my mind at points yesterday and I know, gentle reader, that it’s not an excuse.

Organization: Someday never comes.

Nowhere smallEvery now and then I have to get up and manage the chaos I live in. I call it nowhere‘.

Where are you?

Last night, the bedroom was ordered, the new shelf in the living/dining area is quietly being populated and organized even as the laundry on the bed found itself in temporary quarters, awaiting to be assigned whenever I call upon it.

The books have been problematic. Because of how I read, and because I read many books at the same time or reference many books at the same time, I end up with books all over the place with bookmarks, laid open, and sometimes with the pen I have been missing keeping a page where I had been making notes. Oh, and there’s that diamond headed drill bit I thought I lost propping open Gladwell’s, “What the Dog Saw“. I was looking for that when I put up the shelf. Maybe I should have organized the books before the shelf?

My father would shake his head at all of this. He was a steadfast person who left things in their place, and was not to be toyed with when his things were moved. My mother, on the other hand, would be as organized as required and let the chaos take on it’s own form and then organize that into something she thought was pretty.

My theory is that I leave things around because I have not found the best place for them to stay. Pens and journals are necessarily migratory, though I have been training myself to jot notes into my Samsung S22 Ultra… which has a bunch of notes that I have not yet imported. The tyranny of adapting to technology, once the curse of the generation before with blinking clocks on everything and requiring my generation to set the clocks… It’s not quite that bad. It’s a matter of finding an easy way to adopt it into my seemingly chaotic processes.

I am glad I found that pen though.

One of the pet peeves I’ve had is all these cables that seem to migrate of their own volition. However, I have found a solution for those of you interested in a neat little hack. I haven’t finished it yet, but picture suspended under a shelf a spring. Horizontal. Go to the hardware store if you have no springs laying around, as I do, and take a USB cable’s big end and find a spring that keeps it from falling when horizontal. I’m planning to mount mine below that shelf in the study. Cable management with an industrial look.

And why is this can of air here? Oh, it’s got that annoying amount left where it’s good only for a small job, but it’s enough to keep the can around. I desperately need to find something to use it on so I can get rid of it.

Oh. A collection of orphaned socks in the bedroom. These have been around a while with no matches found. They will now be permanently designated ‘rags’, and we’ll toss those into the ‘rag’ drawer. Diminishing benefit from waiting for their other halves to show up versus use as rags – rags wins.

How did it get this way? I know, and I try, I honestly do, to manage the chaos as it happens.

It will happen someday.

I should write about this.


The Umbilical Cords.

unlikely parentsEarlier this week, a friend of mine and I were talking on the phone and somehow we got to what happens after our parents die – when we come into our own, able to identify biases our parents instilled in us without the constant reminder. When my father died, there was much to unravel and I had to do it quickly because of the way my father handled some things that I inherited – and when it came to my mother, because of the way I grew up, there seemed less to unravel because of the way I grew up, and yet to this day, I’m still working on that.

We realize at times that the parents we had were basically children when they had us as we grow older than them. For some people, the parents did the best that they could with the tools that they had with the experience they had at the time – and if we were fortunate, they grew because of it.

Two days ago, I saw one of my neighbors that I had not seen in a while. She had been skinny, to the point where I wondered if I should take her food now and then, but now she was rounded out, her cheeks filled out pleasantly. We exchanged pleasantries, and it came to mind that I had helped her father, a few years my senior, with changing a tire on her car. The reality is that I simply did it because, as I found out in the conversation during, he had focused on his guitar while I was being indoctrinated into pragmatism and self sufficiency. I inquired about him, because he was a fun person, and she told me he had died last year.

I was shocked, conveying condolences and at the same time wondering how. He had seemed in good health. The local medical examiner, after an autopsy, said it was cancer in his lungs, while she was describing a sudden onset. Her mother, who I had also met, is presently fighting cancer with mixed success. I couldn’t help recall that earlier conversation I had with that other friend. This explained her weight gain, which I did not find bad or unhealthy yet, and I mentioned it and told her to take care of herself.

We have this tendency to forget about ourselves when we’re worried about people we love and in doing so, we sometimes lose our own centers. I speak from experience.

Yet another friend, whose wife just beat breast cancer, is now dealing with her mother and the ovarian cancer that is inoperative. There’s just a lot of cancer around me right now, for some reason. Maybe it’s my age group, and as I like to point out, modern medicine has allowed people enough longevity to get cancer in the first place where they may have died of other things before – which makes sense in the elderly, but not in the young.

We gain from our parents, even if we gain the wrong things. No parent is perfect, no relationship ideal, even in retrospect. It’s a part of life, and though we don’t want to hear it when the sting of loss is fresh, it allows us to find our own potentials and to grow beyond our parents. This is a deeply personal part of us, an intimacy that few share. It’s when we stop comparing ourselves to our parents and begin disregarding those that continue to compare us to our parents that we truly grow beyond.

We don’t talk about it, perhaps because of some taboo, but I had one cousin when my father died who told me that now that my father had died, I would grow in ways that I would not yet understand. I did not understand at the time, and even now, almost 17 years after his death, am I truly beginning to appreciate it.

This is a part of being human. A horse, in contrast, becomes a horse within moments of birth in almost everything but size, walking and finding it’s footing. We humans take longer, and we are born into a world of artificial constructs, fictions, about who we are, what nation we belong to, etc, which requires a lot more time to grasp and work within. Horses and chickens don’t need to worry about credit ratings or paying the rent, or which football team to support no matter how bad they are.

Unraveling ourselves, we either find our way or choke on the umbilical cords of our world.

AI and Writing

physicalwritingI’m ramping up on my writing, as the last few days have shown, partly because of the stuff I wrote about in Procrastination Complete, and also because I have clear goals regarding RealityFragments and myself. Not every piece has to be ‘perfect’ to me.

I’m also working on a book in the background, which is of dubious value since it is about the world today and how broken it is, why it is so, and maybe a better way to look at the problem(s) and thus come up with solutions. It may get abandoned, it may not, but it gives me a focus. Every day, I try to write at least a page, but it does get… well, it doesn’t feel that productive at times.

When that happens, invariably, we humans look for ways to boost productivity, which is a tyranny unto itself because we spend time being less productive to become more productive. As part of this procrastination strategy this morning I came across this article in Slate, “The Great Fiction of AI“, which circles the drain about how awesome some people think SudoWrite is. Curious, I checked the pricing for SudoWrite and found 3 options: $9/month (10,000 AI words), $29/month (50,000 AI words per month), and $99/month (200,000 AI words per month).

Considering the revenue one gets from writing, which isn’t that much, I boggled. We have this habit of buying things to help us become more productive that don’t, we have a tendency to spend money on tools that may not pay for themselves, and I’m not sure that I’d be willing to spend if I’m not going to see a return. So I did an experiment. There’s a free trial, so why not give it a shot?

I fed it the text from the above paragraph. It gave me two more descriptive options:

* Considering the revenue one gets from writing, which isn’t that much, I was taken aback. We have this habit of buying things to help us become more productive that don’t, we have a tendency to spend money on tools that may not pay for themselves, and I’m not sure that I’d be willing to spend if I’m not going to see a return. So I did an experiment. There’s a free trial, so why not give it a shot?

And this:

* Writing was not a profitable endeavor, but the lure of becoming a bestseller lured me in. I did not have the knack for it, like my mother, who had packed grocery bags with her self-published books and sold them for a dollar to people on the street and in bookstores every year. The thought of making a living from my passion had always been a mirage in my eyes. One day, however, I had learned that someone got rich from writing children’s science fiction novels. Since then, I had wondered how one goes about doing this. There were new age ideas that might help: office spaces that look like science labs and visual tools on the walls and houseplants to make us feel relaxed. I was close to shelling out two thousand dollars for one such office when I read about a free trial. I had almost forgotten all about it, but here was this sign, telling what time the free trial started and gave me the website address.

The first one made sense. The second one was… what the hell is that anyway? The first one simply replaced ‘boggled’ with ‘was taken aback’. That would seem more reasonable to me, and may even be easier reading for some, though I think it takes away the emotional level of being boggled, which in my mind is not as mundane as being taken aback. A style issue, really.

This lead me to question what the AI had been trained with. I found it in the SudoWrite FAQ:

“The underlying models were trained on the entire crawl-able internet (historically from 2011-2019) and tens of thousands of books. In other words, a large chunk of available human text.”

This means that it was trained on what was available on the Internet between 2011 and 2019 plus digitized books. There’s an implicit bias in that, with whatever was available on the Internet during those times and whatever books had been digitized – a problem of technocolonialism in that what is omitted is also omitted. I also have to wonder what happens when an AI is trained on what another AI writes, because we’re getting to that stage as well.

I’m not sure AI is ready to replace writers. It can augment them, as it looks like SudoWrite does, but Sudowrite does require at the least some words to get started. Is it worth the money to use? I honestly don’t know. I’ll have to experiment some more.

(If I use it on a blog post for the trial period, I’ll point out what SudoWrite was used to add.)