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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Tautness, tension, duration, postponement, pend  §

One block from here, in Astoria Park, there is a young-middle-age man that has been sitting on a bench wearing a coat, night and day, week after week, without interruption, since we first moved to this neighborhood in 2007. He disappears for a few hours here or there only when it’s raining very hard or during winter nights when it’s very cold outside. Immediately afterward, there he sits again, propless, without reading materials, television, radio, a suitcase, a shopping cart, or any indication of social or physical condition, attachment, or need.

Just a guy, his coat, and a bench.

At first we called him “Mr. Bum” but after talking to him a few times we learned his name, so we no longer call him that. We don’t say much to him and he doesn’t say much to us, but he seems to be a genuinely friendly, albeit very shy, isolated, and apparently freezing cold, guy. We have no idea what his story is. He looks like anyone else. Except—

Since 2007. Park bench.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and someone else is leave them the hell alone, stay the hell away, shut the hell up, etc. Pretty much every phrase involving “hell” and some sort of termination.

Because there exists a large swath of the world that unwittingly suffers at times for reasons that the remainder of the world can’t understand.

Really, it’s not such an incredible story; we all know this to be the case if we take half a moment to think about it. Most of the incredible things we’ve heard are the most obvious if we take a moment to think about them. That’s why they’re so incredible to begin with.

You do all this work, travel all these miles, maintain all this discipline for all these years, build this entire ecostructstem around yourself and carry it with you both metaphorically and physically and it becomes a kind of master narrative for which you serve as an anchor and synecdoche and then it’s late at night some night (it’s always the first time you’ve said or thought any of this) and you can’t imagine what it’s all for any longer, and you can’t imagine what it all actually is any longer and you have no idea how to conceive of yourself.

Or the things you think you’ve told yourself you do and like and think.

And then you realize the fire you’re playing with. You can’t de-essentialize anything, not even yourself, without risking a very, very bad and embarrassing joke that will stay on your metaphysical record forever.

So you pull your socks up, down the rest of your bit of heaven, and toddle. You blink over and over again and shift your eyebrows up and down bewilderingly as if this somehow expresses a lack of focus, capability, and intent that is precisely the opposite of the course you’ve just forbidden yourself from taking.

Broken chess pieces: aesthetic heaven.

The hinges on my latest machine are actually a bit loose and have been since I got it. Floppy hinges have always been one of my biggest, most aggravatable peeves, but somehow this time I can’t really bring myself to care.

I could replace them, and the spare parts are cheap online. But just the thought of having to do the work makes me want to roll my eyes right out the rear of my head. So much for the geek facet.

Maybe what has been missing over the last god-knows-how-long isn’t the right thoughts or the right motivation or the right environment but rather the right keyboard and the right display.

I spent nearly all of my academic life typing on Thinkpads. It’s not beyond the pale to imagine that it might impart some kind of subconscious or functional trauma to suddenly be sat sitting at a keyboard of different dimensions and arrangements and a screen with a different viewing angle, color balance, surface finish, and dot pitch.

Am I crazy to think this?

Does it matter? Things have been better and more productive ever since.

Note: Once you affix something to the wall it becomes ageless and immortal and breaks free of all temporal and spatial contexts. There it hangs, radiant, an exemplar of the virtues of taste and sociomaterial aggregation. It can hang there forever, unaccused, timeless, progressive.

The moment you take it down again, it reeks of the long-past fashion, long-worn clothing, and abandoned leftovers. You immediately hide it, embarrassed to have ever had it on your wall in the first place.

You hope nobody who has stopped by has ever noticed it was there. After all, all of their homes’ interiors are so well designed, so comfortable, so fresh. You’re sure they noticed.

You hope they have the good taste never to mention it and make you face up to the truth.

On any given Sunday the nation is awash in worn white tights and repeatedly stained ties.

On any given Monday I still live in New York.

Very mundane things  §

– Nothing can replace actual workspace on campus with students and books

– The ATI Catalyst drivers for Linux are a virus and can’t be removed easily

– Ironically, they work less well than X.Org anyway for both 2D and 3D

– It’s still tough to find a place to do substantive rather than meta academic work

– I really need an office

– In New York wardrobes change over the course of the day with the weather

– Empty space is of course not at all the same thing as place

– But apparently many suits don’t realize this

– It seems that I need a fan in order to work well

– It’s tough to find a place to try out a digital pen

– My boots are wearing out unevenly, right versus left

– This is actually a fairly critical process or quality control flaw

– I am setting a goal for completion of both field statements: Tuesday 13 Oct.

– I am falling-on-face tired

– I bought parking this morning before realizing I couldn’t use it

– I am more productive in Manhattan than I am in Queens

– I am more productive on Thinkpads than on other machines

– There are many mysteries in the universe

There is no place in New York  §

in which to work.

None.

Nada.

Impossible.

No space, unless you happen to be very, very wealthy, a member of the Wall Street class. This is a great mechanism for maintaining economic inequality. Ensure that anyone not already part of the capital class is forever stuffed into tight, sweaty spaces listening to endless streaming music and jostled by shippers and deliverymen.

No chance that they’ll ever manage to become productive and do any work.

And the wealthy with the workspaces, the Internet access, the silence, and the lack of any distinctly insulting smell will be productive in blissful, spacious silence, apart from the crowd, making more money, more money, more money.

I don’t know what I want more: to destroy the capital class or to destroy the public that isn’t a part of it.

Call me a misanthropist. I’d like to get rid of everything but the kangaroo rats and the juniper trees.

Prolificity  §

It’s not a word. This I fully realize. Nonetheless, I also realize that despite the fact that there is no such word, the non-word in question insistently describes that which I am meant, if I am to be a success of the most lucrative kind as an academic, to have.

I don’t.

I have to date never managed to have even brief periods of prolificity while working (or, as it were, claiming to work) in the humanities, social sciences, or human sciences. There was a period during which I wrote and edited a small pile of technology books, but that sort of prolificity isn’t particularly laudable to my eye and generated a fortune exactly the size of something tremendouly small indeed.

This, to cut right to the chase, has to change.

The problem is that I’m not quite sure how to structure my attempts. The logistics are something of a bugbear as well. Should I start immediately to write papers by the pound? If so, what about quality? What, too, about time availability? Surely there are other things that I need to be working on as well? But then if papers are not the thing, what is? Blogging? That would certainly make me “one of the boys” amongst the hip young scholar set, but I’d hate to lose this more personal blog (I couldn’t possibly carry on two separate blogs, even with disparate subjects, since I’m nowhere near compartmentalized enough as a person) almost as much as I’d hate to share my unfinished work with others.

But if not papers and not blogging, then what? Novels? Poetry? Surely I jest. Of course I do. Monographs? A bit early for that. Just a bunch of research notes, then? That, too, is likely to put my blogging out of business to some extent (not that it would be a tremendous loss to anyone but myself), but more to the point, it would also not really rise to the definition of the term that launched this little gem of a post, namely, prolificity.

Apropos of all of this, the germ of the inspired is a tricky character indeed. There are times, often when riding the subway, walking one brown dog, sitting to take in a speech, or even brushing teeth when it suddenly seems as though there are so many ideas and words bursting forth from my person that I couldn’t possibly keep up with them all even if I had a keyboard and display in front of me then and there.

And generally I don’t, then and there.

But even if I did, I’d likely be right and would fail to keep up with my fnges, and the thoughts would dissipate like so much smoke in a dizzy of wind.

Then there are the other times, when I sit down to “be productive” (something of a minor station along the way to prolificity, near the start of the journey) and have absolutely nothing to say, not a thought in my head apart from the vague desire for popcorn and a yen for the scent of fresher laundry than I happen to be wearing at the moment.

Is there something in between, and if so, will I ever experience it?

It sometimes seems to me as if I am a radical wrong-speed-thinker. I always and without fail think, cognize, experience inspiration at a speed and volume that are not conducive to prolificity, whether the mismatch in question is one of too-littleness or one of too-muchness.

And then of course there are days like today, which interrupt what appear to be a veritable launch into the outer space (or is it into the sunny Carribean) of productivity. For days I have been inspired, driven, working night and day (though it somehow still felt as if I wasn’t working nearly hard enough). Plans were made and projects launched immediately thereafter; parallelism overtook me and checks appeared in clusters to the left of task-lists; documents saturated with ideas and outlines poured from my fingers with a kind of gritty regularity and became natal projects in their own right.

And then I woke up today and somehow did nothing but walk the dog, groom my nails a little, buy a meal at a restaurant, take a nap, and watch television.

The death of inertia is a tragicomic thing to watch, especially once you reach what has been referred to as “a certain age” (this, I presume, meaning adulthood), and the fascinating thing about inertia (at least when using it in the metaphorical—that is to say, cognitive and behavioral—sense) is that it possesses little or none of itself.

That is to say, without any particular sense of irony, that interia can damn well turn on a dime. At my age, this is no longer shocking, though it remains a deep and meaningful mystery that I don’t ever expect to resolve.

This post has been one more step along the path to prolificity. Would that it were mile 900 in the thousand mile journey of some repute, but I rather fear it’s something more like step number 13.

Meanwhile, it’s raining outside, and before that, the park was conspicuously empty, as were the sidewalk seats at local restaurants. This on a saturday night.

Fall, it would seem, is here.

Such is the happy rhythm of… well, damn it, of us and of things and of today and of whatever else is fresh yet also reassuring. It is fall and it is good to be alive.

Drupal is absolutely remarkable  §

and not like anything that has come before.

It is the best rapid application development platform I’ve ever used.

What is missing, however, is documentation.

There is virtually none that is worth anything at all.

Once the documentation exists, I think that Drupal or something very similar to it will mark the computing paradigm shift for the next generation of platforms. It is a radically new form of social development that succeeds at crowdsourcing, fluidity, and openness in ways that even the highly successful “open source” Linux movement never did.

This is where computing lies in the future.

For just about 48 hours  §

I have been working on a project, maybe one of the most important projects of my life. I’ve been working on an archive, a custom-crafted database-driven environment to help me organize my academic life (papers, books, references, citations, ideas, progress notes, submissions, etc.)

It’s certainly not “done” yet in that there are about a million additional features that can be added, but thanks to Drupal and open source, I’m already pouring books and journal articles and citations and the related files into this thing, with everything getting categorized and tagged out the wazoo.

Technology is a massively remarkable thing, and modern open source Web 2.0 technology doubly so.

48 hours from concept to custom-formed relational database capable of organizing a budding professor’s life in a web-based interface. Thanks, Drupal, and all of the module builders.

Now I just have to be disciplined enough to use it and to get all my stuff into it!

(And no, it’s not online, I’m hosting it locally on my laptop, though I could theoretically take it online in an hour or so if I needed to travel for academic work and have worldwide access to my database.)

Well that  §

didn’t take long at all.

The New School has the remarkable  §

property of being a legendary graduate research institution without a single desk, chair, or table to its name. They did invest in a wireless networking infrastructure, which you use by standing with your laptop in one of the many foyers between entrances and elevators, with you back against the wall (to ensure that none of the people waiting for the elevator accidentally knock your laptop out of your arms in their rush to secure one of the rare spots on an elevator that comes around every 24 days).

I have, however, managed this afternoon to find a hidden cache of study space. There are four tables and about ten chairs in a random spot on the 8th floor of the 55 West 13th Street Jazz building, right across from the equipment maintenance and testing office.

Ironic that the best space for graduate work on this legendary campus is on the maintenance floor of the Jazz building. But that’s how it is. There are even windows and a view of the Empire State Building.

Lucky maintenance guys!

Transcendental, ever necessary for existence,  §

used to be easy. It comes, after all—or, at least, I used to imagine that I purchased it—packaged as a consumer product, from the world of bottles and boxes, easy, convenient, cheap.

The trouble with the transcendental, however, is that one builds a tolerance to it, particularly when it’s cheap and plentiful. Eventually, one is forced to return to the mundane.

One is forced to stand face-to-face with the mundane.

The moment at which the mundane achieves complete dominion, at which contact with the transcendental is lost entirely, is the moment at which the transcendental returns with a vengeance, perhaps inverted in valence, perhaps not.

The moment of final, fully determined failure is the greatest and most terrible moment of freedom; the moment of final, fully determined freedom is the greatest and most terrible moment of failure.

Every finality is a transcendental bomb, a metaphysical irony trap in which struggle intensifies the damage exponentially over time, but surrender allows the damage to arrive all at once.

The transcendentally mundane, it seems to me, can be experienced only through the indeterminate and mediocre.

I don’t know what I’m saying.

I feel surreal and worried and a bit alone, and it’s getting colder outside because Fall is coming.

One measures the passing of time  §

in a variety of units—years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds, etc.

What units, if any, are appropriate to the passage of life?

Wine corks?

Hospital visits?

Vexing fights?

Spectacular dinners?

Late-night bitch sessions?

Forgotten appointments?

Incidents of being caught in the rain?

Trips to train stations for journeys over 500 miles?

Errant thoughts that memory happens to capture?

It’s tempting to imagine that in order to unitize life, you have to know what it’s essentially made of, but of course time isn’t essentially made of hours, minutes, and seconds any more than life is essentially made of wine corks or dinners.

Both, so far as I can tell, are essentially made of too-convenient, generally misleading, but ultimately reassuring essentializations.

Well then  §

Well then.

Now we know.

And knowing is nearly the entire (not half of the, as is commonly misrepresented) battle.

On the endless road toward everything that is to come, that which has already come is relegated to the role of footnote, if that.

Except, that is, for those few things that are chapters, or books. Those get a few more pages.

Q, W, E, R, T, Y.

U, I, O, P.

A, S, D, F, G.

H, J, K, L.

Z, X, C, V.

B, N, M.

As always, I am a lone wolf.

iterate

resuscitate

dominate

eviscerate

contemplate

regurgitate

emancipate

..

.

…………………..

– k i l l –

Rather soon,  §

the time for this personal blog may give way to a new time—a time for an exclusively professional blog.

I can’t quite decide yet just how this will work, but several things are clear:

– I’ve navel-gazingly blogged most of my adult life

– My writing on them, however, has become less readable (tolerable?)

– I am less and less inspired by them

– I am in dire need of a professional blog/website/something with dynamism

– But professional blogs cannot sound like personal blogs

And so it is that I keep contemplating putting an end to the “web diary” and opening up that most boring and insufferably grand of personal projects, the “research diary.”

Gosh.

But of course that’s the destiny of every career-oriented individual that hopes to make something of themselves someday; the reflexive, impulsive, sensory self must give way to the careful, judicious analytically induced self for whom “feelings” are euphemisms for biological states and socially constructed processes—the self incapable of speaking truth but only facts, incapable of acting truthfully but only methodically.

The self is, after all, the last great refuge of the antisocial and normatively pathological, and such things have no place in the lush-yet-sterile foliage of career pathways.

We’ll see.

But tonight, certainly, I’ve a hankerin’.

I am digging through  §

all of the email that I haven’t really had the time to notice over the last several weeks. In the process, as is always the case, old email bubbles to the surface in the midst of searches and sorts. Interesting tidbits:

– In 1999 I turned down a book deal because I was too busy writing books

– In 2005 the U-Alaska Fairbanks ordered me a copy of the Field Guide to Writing

– I had the chutzpah to apply for teaching jobs right out of undergrad

– I continue to fail to keep up with personal networking in significant ways

For several days in a row now while I’ve been away from home I’ve had the distinct motivation to come back and make a pointed blog post about something—a motivation that was forgotten before I arrived home once again.

I have no idea what I’d wanted to say.

I regret this loss, since it implies a loss of memory. After all, that’s what this blog is: the repressed and administratively boring parts of my memory.

I wish there were RSS feeds coming out of some of these academic sources rather than email lists. Email lists are primitive and with my box(es) still getting on the order of many hundreds of messages a day, they’re too much to keep up with.

Upgrading once more  §

to a dual-core machine, finally. As a technology and networks researcher (via sociology), an inability to do cutting-edge stuff with my old machine was making it difficult to evaluate emerging circumstances.

This has been the hardest transition in some time to do smoothly. Some of it is PATA->SATA and figuring out the shifts in driver and abstraction layer dependencies, some of it is the switch in architectures, but a huge chunk of it has been freaking ATI Radeon and Xorg.

NVIDIA = just works, especially in Linux, even with the latest kernels and distros

ATI = good luck seeing if you can get it to boot at all, much less 2D, much less 3D

But an ATI X1400 is what’s built into this T60, so I’ve got to get it going. All I have to say is “Fuck you, AMD. In the future, given a choice, I’ll buy Nvidia.”

Just saw Kaufman’s “Synecdoche”  §

and then went and read through all the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. Like or dislike the film, two things about the critics (all of them but maybe two in the nation) jump out at me. Okay, they’re actually one and them same thing:

1. Nobody should be allowed to become a professional film critic without knowing what the word “synecdoche” means. Watching the critics flail about trying to find symbolism or Greek derivations in a simple, standard literary term is embarrassing.

2. Nobody should be allowed to become a professional film critic without ever having seen Fellini’s 8 1/2, which this film duplicates almost concept by concept, setpiece by setpiece, through the first 90 percent of its runtime. Watching the critics fall all over themselves trying to carve what they think is fabulously fresh and novel meat out of a standard film school lesson on one of the 20th century’s most famous films is also embarrassing.

No wonder nobody likes film critics. I’m just as qualified to be a heart surgeon.