Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Who is Aron Hsiao? ▼

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
Companies and Brands
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
On Google
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
7 Books
Thousands of articles
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

Nightly rituals.  §

This has become one again, thank God.

Whether or not there’s anything to say. I’m fine with that.

It’s good to have rituals. Rituals and rites of passage are the great missing elements in modern life, full as it is of “empty, homogenous time” (there’s that Benjaminian thing again).

Good place for a list. My gospels (or is it prophets?):

– Walter Benjamin
– Lao Tzu
– Blixa Bargeld
– Tu Fu
– Roberto Bolano

I know, no women. Call me a traitor to the enlightened present. Call me anything you like. It’s been a day. I’m off to bed.

— § —

No, wait.

There’s more.

Life is a hard problem to solve. Annoyingly hard. This comes from a longtime professional problem-solver. Take my word for it.

And social life? Thrice as hard as life itself.

In other words—discipline, boy. Discipline. Let’s not keep knocking over the same pins, day after day, even if it seems to be the only option available. Discipline and patience. Resolve once again, to be as smart as you are. Use that massive brain of yours to find interesting loopholes in the rules of the game. That is the path forward.

There are many weird situations in life. One of them is to be from a lower-middle-class cultural background with elite skills and training, neither one thing nor the other. Utterly wrong for the cocktail parties, utterly wrong for the dive bar as well.

Back to square one: my natural habitat (the only one) is the state university campus. Where smart makes sense to people, isn’t a force for isolation, and has definite value—but at the same time, where much of the interaction as “the smart person” can be with regular folk, and mixed-nature ties of that sort that are impossible and nonsensical anywhere else can be formed under the state university’s singular and particular phase of the moon, so to speak.

Enough of this cryptic bullshit.

Now I’m off to bed.

Eight years, nine months, three days.  §


It’s official.

I guess there’s nothing more to add.

Nothing, in fact, will ever be added again.

That’s life, I suppose.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Selfie of me on “the day.”

One more to add to the list.

What happens next? Who knows.

I consulted the I Ching on a lark, but it just said to stick to the plan.

As if there was one.

— § —

I feel like I’ve quoted this so many times before, but I’ll quote it again.

For the record.

“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

(Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History)

Boundaries, age, and time.  §

I started out writing another post on boundaries—in relation to divorce, in relation to careers, and so on. I think that in our society we’ve lost sight of them; all boundaries have fallen, or at the very least are under constant assault and must be defended, largely because we have made it okay—removed any and all related negative sanctions as a culture—to continously test and attempt to surmount the boundaries of those around us, even if they have drawn them consistently and repeatedly.

There was a time when this continuous testing would have been considered at the very least rude, and at most a sign of mental illness or inadequate social development, but our “activist” and “driven” culture has erased all of that.

Now if you fail to constantly push at every boundary you encounter, you are “not living your best life” and “allowing others to make the rules for you.” The sublimated warfare that is the body of social mores becomes ever-less-sublimated as a result.

Now look at me. I’ve started to duplicate my boundaries post again. That’s called a digression.


— § —

Tonight, for reasons related to a friend and their particular ailments, I’m thinking back to all the people I’ve known who have died over the years. All of the sickness and the hospitalization, all of the funerals and the sadness and the comments about how it was “their time” or about “what might have been.”

We all live very close to the edge.

At the same time, we all try all the time to push it from us. I’ve said here before that I think the west spends a great deal of its cultural energy secretly trying to either deny or defeat the fact of human mortality. It is the engine of our society, in many ways.

But I’ll admit that I, too, have spent a great deal of time in life trying to escape it. You keep thinking that if you just play your cards right, with determination and patience, you can “put all of that behind you” and achieve, finally, a state of safety and stability. Standing finally in this state once it has been achieved, you will be able to look forward to a long stretch of no death and no endings, the “regular life of adulthood,” in which you can forget about loss and about death for at least a couple of decades while you “live your life.”

Intellectually, I know that this is a silly sort of imagination. Emotionally, I think I do it as much as everyone else does. Trying to combat death and endings, to push them off into the shadows of decades hence, is a kind of fool’s game that everyone seems to play.

You can’t possibly win. So why do we continue to play? Why do I?

It’s a good way to waste a life, playing a game that can’t be won. And yet those moments of loss are so intense and unbearable that it seems nothing but sensible to try one’s best to avoid them, forestall them, subvert them somehow.

— § —

Another fall is about to begin. Time marches on. People suffer. People die. Things end. Yes, new things begin, but the older you get, the smaller the number of beginnings in the world that might actually in some way belong to you.

They belong to others. They belong to the young, which you aren’t any longer.

It’s a funny thing, aging. I can see why people buy sports cars and miniskirts even in the years when such things make them look ridiculous. You don’t imagine yourself to be “older,” and I can’t conceive of ever feeling “old.”

You like stuff. You do it. You buy it. Just like you always did. When you look at tomorrow, “your life” is still ahead of you, even if in some abstract sense you understand that this life is considerably shorter now than it once was. But you don’t feel yourself moving along the path of linear time, positioned somewhere in the middle or beyond, rather than at the beginning of the segment that happens to be your life.

You feel the now, and the presence of possibility that is the yet-to-come. Just like always.

But it is your responsibility as a citizen of the world to look at where you are, and to realize that even if you can’t feel it, your role in the world is changing, and to try to remain young despite your years is to steal youth, in a way, from those that—like you—didn’t ask to be born but are here—and young—right now. It’s their prerogative, not yours.

When you’re old, you have a job. Your job is to be old.

— § —

I want to age gracefully. I want to accept it. I reject as ugly the cultural admonitions (okay, let’s call them ads, for the most part) that this is somehow sad, and that the right position is to “fight it all the way.”

That’s the sad thing. Watching someone “fight all the way” in a game that they cannot win, that no one has ever won. It’s a waste of resources that could be spent elsewhere. And it tends to draw pity.

No, I want to be old and boring, not forever young (and expending more and more energy to appear so) and then suddenly dead, having never experienced much beyond youth and the fight to maintain it.

I’m ready to be late middle age. I’m even ready to be old, I think.

It will take me time to learn how to do it all properly, but I don’t plan to resist along the way.

Working iWidgets on iOS 9.x.x? It can be done.  §


So as a part of my rediscovery of Daedalus and Ulysses I’ve decided to move back to iOS. That sounds good, except for the fact that the one thing (a simple thing, really, but never underestimate simple things) that I am really attached to on Android is my control over the launcher—time, date, and weather widgets, plus the ability to organize icons to provide a visual cue for which screen I’m on and to help locate the screen I’m looking for.

So I desperately wanted to find a way to reproduce this on the iOS springboard (which I frankly hate) to make the switch more palatable.

I installed iOS 9.3.3 and used the recent Pangu jailbreak. So far, so good. And the Cydia Anchor app provided the ability to position springboard icons in the way that I saw fit. But despite my research beforehand, in practice I found that despite installing iWidgets, no time-day-and-weather widgets I could get my hands on actually worked properly. Apparently they used to work in an assortment of previous iOS versions, but despite installing and uninstalling lots of hacks, I couldn’t get them to work in iOS 9.3.3.

So finally I dug in and got my hands dirty, and this is the result:


So what was the problem? The problems are multiple:

  • The Yahoo Weather API, which (as far as I can tell) all of the previous generation of widgets relied on, has been closed, and significant updates are required to use alternatives. Such updates are not yet forthcoming.
  • GPS access is not automatic, but apparently requires the installation of a tweak that is no longer available under the name that most older tutorial posts refer to.
  • Not too many things on Cydia have yet been updated for iOS 9.x.x, and Cydia is of course a terrible mess anyway.

After a lot of chasing wild gooses around, here’s the process that I put together:

— § —

Caveat: All of the terminal stuff I did as root (using “su” command). I don’t even know if that’s necessary. But whatever, I was after quick and dirty and working, not fancy and clean and perfect. N.B. the default Apple root password is “alpine” for those that don’t know.

1. Install these via Cydia:

  • cycript — it’s a dependency for webcycript (not available on Cydia, you’ll have to install manually—more on this in a moment)
  • terminal — probably doesn’t matter which one; you’ll need the command line
  • iFile — says it’s not compatible with iOS 9.x.x but it installs and works, albeit with periodic crashes
  • wget — use it to fetch files from the web directly down to your iOS filesystem
  • unzip — use it to unzip any ZIPs that you download
  • WidgetWeather3 — new infrastructure for driving GPS (don’t even know if necessary, but I’m not messing with what’s working now)
  • iWidgets — for obvious reasons

2. Now, head over to this URL for the first “hard” step—getting the unofficial (i.e. actually works with 9.3.3) webcycript link. The instructions say to use Safari to download the file and iFile to install it. I couldn’t figure out a way to get Safari to download to the local filesystem (presumably this is another tweak that I’m unaware of). And it’s hosted on Dropbox so there’s no easy download URL. So I did this:

  • (desktop:) Download webcrypt.deb file to my desktop.
  • (desktop:) Get the file hosted somewhere with a URL. I used FTP to put it temporarily on my own domain.
  • (ipad:) Fire up terminal, su root, and then:
    wget http://url-and-path.tld/webcrypt.deb
  • (ipad:) Still in terminal:
    dpkg -i webcrypt.deb

3. That got me the latest webcycript with a version hack to enable 9.3.3 successfully installed. With that installed, I could head back to Cydia and download:

  • InfoStats 2 — new infrastructure for getting various kinds of information from your iDevice

Big note—don’t update webcrypt in Cydia, you want the modified version still installed until some future update of the package on Cydia.

4. Now all the infrastructure is in place. It’s time for some iWidgets. But which ones? The ones on Cydia all use old (and non-functional on 9.3.3 and in the post-Yahoo-weather era) resources. Turns out that for some reason (I don’t know the ins and outs about the iOS jailbreak/mod scene) all of the widgets at this URL appear to use the new stuff and to work properly.

That should be great, except that annoyingly they’re all distributed as ZIP files, rather than as packages. Okay, so for each one that you like, you need to:

  • Copy the URL
  • Go to terminal on iOS
  • Use wget to download the ZIP
  • Use unzip to extract the ZIP (they all have relative path information, thank god)
  • Move the extracted folder into Library/iWidgets
  • Remove the ZIP file so as not to clutter up your filesystem

Once you’ve placed the subfolders in Library/iWidgets, they all do appear when you try to add widgets to springboard (by long-pressing on an empty springboard area). Combine with anchor to “make empty space” for widgets, and you’re good to go.

Well, almost.

The new generation of widgets at the URL above are all also sized for phone devices, and are by default sort of tiny on iPad devices. Not to mention that many of them seem to be “in progress” with huge bounding boxes and lots of code that doesn’t do anything yet. Apparently their authors are all building big, complicated widgets that do all kinds of reporting on battery status and so on, and while they’ve implemented some of the HTML and code up to and including time and weather, the rest is yet to come—but they’re already bounded for the full monty, meaning they take up half your springboard screen with half-completed stuff or empty space. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Happily (well, sort of), you have the HTML in the folder for each widget you’ve unzipped. Now you dust off your CSS and coding skills and iterate with revisions, commenting out js code that isn’t doing anything much, HTML code that is displaying empty or half-completed block-levels, and rearranging CSS to your appearance preferences. And so on.

This is where iFile comes in—you can browse to the widget folder, locate the relevant script, HTML, or CSS file(s), and begin to hack around with the widgets (editing and saving in place) to enlarge their size or change their appearance. Great!

Only—another caveat—someone, somewhere is caching the CSS. So after you place a widget once, none of your future changes appear, even if you edit the CSS file. This makes it hard to iterate with your revisions. My solution?

After each new CSS save, I went back to terminal and just did an “mv widget-folder-1 widget-folder-2” (basically—I renamed the widget folder each time I made a change). The list of widgets is updated automatically, and you can try out the widget again (under the new name) in a way that will reflect your most recent changes.

The end result is what you see above.

Kludge city. But this is at least one way that it can be done, and that’s what I was going for. N.B. that if you’re not totally clear on things I said above, you should probably avoid this process entirely. A genuine comfort with the Linux/*nix command line, HTML/CSS, and with kludge work in general, is pretty much a must.

But it can be done by someone that isn’t intimately familiar with the off-the-path iOS community, if you have basic dev skills and a couple hours on your hands.

Behind walls.  §

I don’t know whether I’m more wary or more circumspect right now as a general rule, but certainly I’m not free and open and ebullient.

It has been a very long time since I was able to take life for granted and not live every day by manning the internal battlements. Others have sometimes suggested that I relax, but the stimuli have been external since last decade.

I wonder if the day will ever come when I feel as though I have a sorted and risk-free personal life that I can entirely take for granted.

That’s what I’m looking for—the chance to simply feel comfortable (no, I don’t mean finances or chair coverings) in life again. To be able to look at a day and think about opportunities, rather than hitting the ground running to fight risks and other dragons.

I miss that feeling terribly—the feeling of waking up to a world of endless possibility, untarnished by danger.

DVD-RAM reliability, failures, cartridges, and reading old data.  §

Interesting tech tidbit. Don’t know if it will be useful to anyone.

For a few years between about 2003 and 2008, I used DVD-RAM to archive data of all kinds. I had always adamantly relied on the cartridge-style media because I thought it would protect the discs better for archival purposes.

I eventually switched away because I started to realize that I was having trouble reading from some of the discs, and because it was so damned slow. Put the two together (slow and unreliable), and you have a real PITA on your hands if you need to restore data.

Well, this summer I’ve made a project of trying to get some of the data off of those old discs that is no longer stored elsewhere, and to re-archive it on other media (I now use DLT, though I’ve also thought about switching to LTO—another post in that sometime). It has been a nightmare.

  • Most discs won’t read cleanly. Of about 70 discs, I don’t think I’d had one that read without multiple failures (until today—more on this in a moment). Each time I try to read I disc, I’d get a few files, then some I/O errors, then a bus reset and an eject. And then I have to re-insert the disc and resume the attempt to read it.
  • At times the bus errors cause hangs in system applications (I’m using Mac OS) that can’t be handled with a “kill -9” to the hung processes. The “ps” command shows them either in the “U” or the “E” state, both of which are bad news if they remain that way and a forcible kill won’t work. The Finder process becomes a zombie, the system is beachballed, no keyboard input is accepted, and I have to reset. You can imagine how this multiples the PITA effect of trying to recover data.
  • Some of the discs won’t mount or be recognized at all. I have accumulated a stack of disks with a side marked by a pen-drawn star, indicating that this disc will have to wait until later to try more serious recovery methods.

Because of these issues, it has taken me weeks to plough through about twenty discs. If I get one copied off in a day, I feel like I’ve had a success, and it has to be nursed along continuously with command restarts or system restarts.

— § —

As it turns out, one recent disc wouldn’t mount. So I wrote a star on it and was about to toss it aside when I noticed some plastic sticking out of the cartridge door. I pulled it open and there was some debris still semi-attached to the cartridge, from an improper mold or cut or something like that. I didn’t think much of it because it didn’t come into contact with the disc (it was near the center hole) but just on a lark and in frustration, I broke open the cartridge, removed the DVD-RAM disc, and inserted it into the reader bare.


The disc mounted. Not only that, the whole thing (all 4.7GB of that side) copied off without a failure. I’ve now done three sides that way and only had to restart the “cp” command once after I/O errors. That is a significant improvement in readability by removing discs from their cartridges.

— § —

My conclusions?

  1. DVD-RAM is a fundamentally unreliable technology. While data survivability on the media is often specified as fifty years or more, I am getting read errors out of discs that have been in very reasonable storage conditions after just four to five years (note that I did still have a read error after removing discs from their cartridges as well). All of these burns were tested when made.
  2. The cartridges make things worse for some reason. Just why I couldn’t say—the extra weight altering the balance of the internal mechanics somehow? Something to do with airflow? I don’t think it’s friction, as I haven’t heard anything (or seen any scratches) that would support that hypothesis. But the fact remains that discs that wouldn’t mount in-cartridge are mounting just fine out-of-cartridge, and I’ve gone from 20-30 interruptions due to read errors per side to one interruption due to read errors every three sides. That’s a huge improvement.
  3. It’s not just one drive. For backup mechanism reasons I have two Panasonic LF-D211 units and one LF-D311 unit, all purchased at different times and from different suppliers. All have exhibited trouble in reading previously written media over the years. (I originally bought the second drive because I thought the first was failing, then bought the third because I thought the second was failing; then, over the years, I realized that it was just the medium in general that was flaky and each unit was probably behaving according to spec).
  4. It’s not just one brand, age, or capacity of media. I have a mixed bag of Maxell, Verbatim, Imation, OptoDisc, and unbranded cartridge discs with varying case colors and disc colors. They were purchased as needed over the years that I used DVD-RAM. They have all had the same issues, though the 2.6GB-per-side media have performed somewhat better than the 4.7GB-per-side media (again, leading me to suspect some sort of fundamental flaw or tolerance issue in the format).

In short, don’t use DVD-RAM for archival purposes, as they just don’t hold up and writes are unproven, even after verify—and if you have to get a bunch of old data off of DVD-RAM media and are struggling, try busting the discs out of their cartridges, as this seems to radically improve readability for some unknown reason.

Natality.  §

“To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

(T.S. Eliot)

Coda (standing in for tears).  §


I imagine my children, growing over the years, leaving their childhoods behind and becoming—day by day—people in their own right.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

And I imagine them living in a world in which their parents have always been apart, so far as they understand things, on a day to day basis. It is taken for granted. Normal. The nature of things.

And yet, I also imagine them having strange, fleeting memories now and then as they walk to the mailbox, perhaps, or as they put their cars into reverse to back out of the driveway, or as they slide into late sleep before another day of high school or college.

Haunted, fleeting, half-conscious half-images, faint recollections, unplaceable impressions of an ancient time, now lost to history, a dream world in which they lived together with both of their parents, in the warm womb of a family—of all of us in the same room, making pancakes, mowing lawns, tidying bookshelves, playing games—mornings and evenings in another life, a life they’re not sure they actually lived, that they can’t quite bring into focus, no matter how they try, no matter how they reach out to grasp.

A world that they can not be sure was ever real.

The line, I believe, goes: “Once upon a time, in your wildest dreams.”

I don’t know how successful we were at shielding them from the endless tension, frenetic raging, and silent seething that characterized the five years of our marriage after we became parents. God knows I tried my best, for my part.

But I cling to the hope that someday, in those moments when the ghost of the past whispers in their ears, what they will feel is a bittersweet longing for something beautiful—something magical yet forever lost—that they can’t quite recall. Not, I pray, a small-minded, jaded satisfaction at the end of the fraught home life that underlay their young childhoods.

Daedalus.  §

I forgot about Daedalus. How could I forget about Daedalus?

It speaks to just how disconnected I have become from everything that was on my mind just a year or two ago, and from everything I’ve learned about work and the way that I work.

This is what I meant when I said that I was afraid of losing my faculties.

How could I possibly forget about Daedalus? I wrote three-fourths of my dissertation with it.

iOS and iPad it is. The rest is the rest. Easy choice.

Anyone who writes: it already exists. Fire up the iOS App Store and install Daedalus.

Feeling like…  §


I have the incredible urge to go to the store, buy a stack of firelogs, start burning them in the fireplace, throw open the sliding door to the backyard just a few feet away from the fireplace, leave the door open, and sleep there, between the fire and the outdoors.

I won’t, but it’s what I feel like doing. But I won’t. And I’m actually a bit sad about that.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

What else do I feel like doing right now?

  • I feel like taking out the biggest loan I can still get and buying a classic car.
  • I feel like driving to downtown Provo and walking around pointlessly in the dark.
  • I feel like throwing out every single item of clothing and every toy in the house.
  • I feel like driving to a 24-hour store like Wal-Mart and buying a whole bunch of random things in the aisles that I never visit becuase I don’t need anything in them.
  • I feel like tearing out this massive desktop computing installation I have here at my desk, clearing the desk entirely, and putting nothing but my laptop in the middle of it.
  • I feel like putting on a leather jacket, driving to Salt Lake City, buying some Chinese take-out, and eating it sitting alone in Memory Grove.
  • I feel like shaving my head and my eyebrows again.
  • I feel like going out skating all night, nowhere in particular.
  • I feel like buying a plane ticket to some small town where nobody goes, just to find the local diner, have a burger, and then come back.
  • I feel a bit like I’m lost.


In ten years.  §


Okay, since I’m struggling to get myself to do this in private, let’s do it in public so that I know that I have to perform. Seems to be a quirk of mine—I’m far better in public than I ever am in private.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

Where would I like to be in ten years? A simple enough question, right? Not so fast! It really isn’t.

  • I’d like to be writing books again. I miss it. Preferably fiction—to finally deliver on some of that “promise” I was always told that I show—but I’ll settle for anything that gets me back on the shelves and back to churning chapters out.
  • I’d like to be living in a smaller house, that I actually own. I don’t know where. It’s tough to talk about these kinds of things without thinking of the kids, and that’s not by accident. The kids come first. I don’t like Utah, but Utah is their home. But at least a smaller house. Nearer the mountains.
  • I’d like to be financially secure. Right now I am not. I have relationships to thank for this. Every time I have a relationship (marriage or otherwise) in my life, it destroys me financially. I hesitate to make further comment here, but I’ll defer to others’ imaginations on what this says about significant others, and about me.
  • I’d like to have the academics question settled. Either I will be or I won’t be. I don’t want to still be dreaming of doing it someday; I want it to either be entirely out of my system or to have an office on campus.
  • I want to be single. This is tough to admit to myself. It treads on a bunch of insecurity-laden territory. Relationships are good for the ego. One worries that over time if one is always “the single parent,” that the kids will enjoy life elsewhere more, begin to see one as a bit less-than somehow. But at the end of the day, I am tired. I am tired of people my own age. I’ve had my fill. I have always been happier, in the end, on my own. It is time I admit that to myself. It’s not that I don’t have anything to give, or don’t want to receive; it’s that I’m just not highly compatible with most people, and the exercise is too expensive. I’m over 40. I have limited resources and years left. I don’t want to waste them on relationship nonsense, and I am blessed to be a person that doesn’t have to, even if it’s tempting at times.
  • I want to be the best damned father ever, with a central place in my my children’s lives so that I can be of support to them. But what does this mean, and how to weigh it, so as to do good rather than to do damage? Unanswerable questions. Frustrating, that.
  • I want to be me. I think the biggest fear in my life right now (apart from the general dread and anxiety that comes with the parent of children who will grow up in a divided family, with much troubled water under the bridge) is the fear of losing my faculties. Of losing all of that knowledge, all of the habits of mind, all of the familiar inquisitiveness, that are me. I have the strange fear that at some point I will wake up and want to do nothing other than watch television all day. That is a terrifying thought.
  • I’d like to be happy again. Despite the fact that my children are the most important things in my lives and have brought me untold joy, every other part of my life went off the rails the moment we became parents. Academic career fell apart. Marriage was instantly on the rocks and ultimately couldn’t be steered away from the ditch into which it ran. By ten years out, the kids will be in high school and thinking about college. By then, I’d like to feel as though something else is right in my life again.
  • I’d like to have a reasonable relationship with my STBX. The problem is that we exist in completely different emotional and cognitive universes. We can’t share joy together and we can’t disagree. Either brings tension. It’s like a problem in translation; neither can make any sense of the other and bad things result. I’d like to get to a place where it feels like we are not trying to avoid pushing each other’s buttons. I don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe we always will. I know for sure right now that she pushes my buttons when she opens up and stops tiptoeing around, and I suspect that I push hers when I do the same. It would be nice someday not to have to feel that way about each other and to have open, relaxed conversations, instead of strained bomb defusings of the same kind that we had to do fifty times a day while we were married and living together. Ten years?
  • I want to be doing something real. More on this later.

Shit. The list is a flop. Why?

It’s completely not actionable, for the most part. It’s all ephemeral, conceptual stuff. I guess that’s where I am in life.

Add this one:

  • I want to have found a balance again—the balance that I once found in Chicago and then again in New York—between the conceptual and the actionable in life. I have the bad habit of being trapped in conceptual space, as though it is enough in life to wrangle with concepts. Maybe this is also part and parcel of the cultural fabric—the schematic centrality of identity and identity-habits—that I have spent so much time complaining about here. But yes, in ten years, I would like to see more action—and I don’t mean women.

I wrote, some time ago, that when life gets difficult, it is time to take the big risks, engage in the grand actions, and that this is what separates one group from the other in life.

I have spent the last year and a half making good on that offer to myself. But I need to keep it up—and indeed to avoid the slide back into conceptualism.

— § —

Still a waste of space. Not good enough.

I’ll have to try again soon, and see if I have the balls to think clearly and speak clearly in public on any matters of importance, given that my entire life right now is that of a person precariously balanced on the edge of a precipice being buffeted by the wind.

Here’s the thing about kids.  §


Public domain

Why was I so hesitant to have kids when I did in life? Why did I think about it so long?

Because generational responsibility is encoded into the core of who I am. It has been the norm on both sides of my family since generations before I was born. It is at the core of the two cultures and extended families that generated who and what I am. I am nothing without it.

And at the end of the day, I believe that once you have kids, your primary responsibility is to them, first and foremost, and yourself a distant 99th or 100th. I knew, years before I became one, that as soon as I became a father my life as I knew it would be over, by conscious choice. I would take on a new role that was all-encompassing. I had to weigh that. And to make the decision to let myself, the old me, die away and become a memory.

That’s my belief. A parent exists for and only for their kids. They chose to have them. They took on the responsibility. At that moment, their kids became the people that bear the family name, that are people. And the the parent? They recede into existence as a part of the mere support system for those people that now bear the family name. The rest is nothing but the rest.

I realize that there’s a pretty big western tradition out there, including psychologists (who regularly refuse to see themselves as the highly culture-bound creatures that they are), who will argue that this is a false belief or unhealthy or blah, blah, blah. Sure, whatever. Tell me what you need to tell me. I’ll always listen to anyone. But don’t expect me to agree.

I’ll also say that I’m not here to force my beliefs on anyone. I’ll leave that to our modern cultural totalitarians on the left and on the right, who never met a moment for activism they didn’t embrace with a verbal barrage or seven.

My beliefs are mine and mine alone. But they are mine, and I, for myself, am compelled to be governed by them.

eMate, writing, hairballs, and divorce.  §


© Aron Hsiao / 2000


In my ongoing quest to try to identify the absolute best clear-head, focus-driving writing device in existence, I got ahold of an eMate 300. I used to write on my Newton 2100 devices and still like them a great deal, but the process of pulling out the external keyboard, plugging it into the dongle, plugging the dongle into the Newton, finding a place to set both free-floating devices, then opening the Newton door, folding it over, and getting it to stand up just-so is just a tad too far to go when you have to jot (read: type) and idea down.

You end up just not doing it because it’s a PITA.

So—the eMate. Built-in keyboard, clamshell form factor. Open screen and type. That’s the sort of thing I’m shooting for. On the other hand, the device is now twenty years old, give or take. It’s not exactly plug-and-play to make them go…and they have some typical deficiencies at this point.

  1. There is a well-known hinge problem. With wear, a spring in the hinge breaks free and punctures the mylar cable leading to the display. At that point, what you have is a dead eMate 300.
  2. Virtually any original battery is completely unlikely to work by now, and they shipped with proprietary battery packs (though built from a series of AA cells, as virtually all battery packs are these days).
  3. So I’ve just spent an afternoon with a soldering iron, a Dremel, and a bunch of tools and spare parts implementing the permanent hinge repair and a complete battery pack rebuild and replacement using modern 2400mah AA cells.

It was a lot more fiddly than I thought it would be, but it’s done. I hope. For the moment, I’m typing with no problems on battery power (yes, I’m using the device right now) and the hinge seems to be functioning (though it is much more stiff than it used to be).

What do I think, now that I’m laying here typing on this thing? (more…)

Kids, honesty, freedom, moments, and jams.  §


School starts on Monday.

My daughter, my first child, my little girl, is going to “big kid school,” starting kindergarten.

Sure, she’s been in pre-school for three years already, but this is different. This is every day of the week. Hours every day, every day of the week. And in a big class in a big building with kids of every age. And several miles from home.

At the same time, I know she’s ready. We went to the school pre-year picnic tonight and as I watched her run around with the other kids, it was abundantly clear: she’s a big kid, and it’s time for her to have more autonomy. It’s a good thing.

In a way it’s strange, but I’m quite proud of her. She is a force of nature, a being unto herself. She is great. And she’s going to do very well.

— § —

I think that at the end of the day, I’m a person who’s either naturally single or who has very, very specific needs in a significant other.

First and foremost is the freedom to be, think, say, and feel honestly and without guilt, regret, or worry—without having to grit my teeth or to hold back or to try too hard.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2009

What do I want out of the coming year? What do I want out of life?

Chris said it once on Northern Exposure. A great phrase.

All I want are “pure moments.” As many of them as I can string together. Other stuff is just…stuff.

— § —

Pure moment, today’s example.

We were at daughter’s school, waiting for her to be asked in for her pre-year ten-minute interview with her teacher to assess her academic readiness.

I, daughter, and son were sitting on tiny chairs at a round, wooden table. Somehow and at length, after discussing music instruments, I offered to “draw” us all some imaginary instruments with my fingertip if we could have a jam.

I “drew” a piano on the tabletop, invisibly outlining a keyboard. I “drew” a guitar in the air in front of my daughter, and I “drew” myself a bass.

And then, by god, we did jam. We jammed for a full five minutes, and it was fucking savage, right there in the hallway next to kindergarten and first grade.

Those are the moments for which life was invented.

More complaining, plus other stuff.  §


There are seriously very few adults in the world today. Those few that remain are dying off at an alarming pace. Replacing them are 70-year-old children, and to follow are those who are now 60-year-old children, 50-year-old children, 40-year-old children, 30-year-old children, and so on.

— § —

My life right now is littered with debris of all kinds—physical, mental, emotional.

A long-term project of debris-clearing is needed, but it feels almost insurmountable. There is just so much of it, everywhere I look. I keep arranging it and stacking it and trying to form piles and putting it into bins and so on…but it’s all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as they say.

© Aron Hsiao / 2007

It is underneath all of this debris of various kinds that the real things, and real living, can be found.

But clearing it all away is an undertaking that has to be worked in around the realities of everyday life.

— § —

At some point, you reach an age and level of experience at which you are pretty confident that you can do just about anything in your corner of the business world.

That youthful worry about your competence and the nervousness that someone might be looking over your shoulder and evaluating your performance—those things are gone. Now you know you can do it all, and do it well.

The problem then becomes one of prioritization. Instead of being blinded by your insecurity, you are now torn amongst reasonable options all the time, having to make decisions that never seem perfect, but always seem like compromises, then just getting on with it.

— § —

In fact, and sadly, that’s pretty much life. Having to make decisions that never seem perfect, but always seem like compromises. And then just getting on with it.

One of the most unjust things about reality is that there isn’t any time to really acknowledge or celebrate the meanings of things. And even if there was, you couldn’t do it, because such attempts simply don’t work.

Honors never are. Appreciations never do. They always fall short, seem hollow. Because as valuable as meaningful things are, they are meaningful in-themselves.

Any attempt at pausing to value them after the fact is a pointless waste.

— § —

My STBX always hated high English culture. I always loved it, largely because they undertand this, and they aren’t maudlin. Real emotion is deep and silent and solitary, utterly unshareable. At least that’s how I experience it.

I’ve been watching a bit of British television on the weekends again. I think my two favorite characters of all time, in any genre, come from British crime drama: Inspector Endeavour Morse and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway.

Realizing that they are merely fictional characters, seen in necessarily limited settings and character arcs, and that they appear in the form in which I know them on that most pedestrian of mediums, I nonetheless find very much in them to admire.