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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tech guy?  §

Do you have a “go-to” tech guy/gal? That’s your friend or family member? That charges you nothing to maintain your computer, help you with upgrades, configure your tablet, back up your phone, get your Netflix account playing on your TV, come over and call tech support on your behalf when your broadband goes down and talk them through the problem, all that kind of stuff? That does it out of the kindness of his/her heart? That knows your technology more intimately than you do?

Here’s a peeve of mine.

Do you treat him/her like shit?

Have you ever bought him/her lunch as a thanks? Given one of your hand-me-downs to them, rather than letting them help you with the upgrade and data migration, then selling your old device on eBay and paying them exactly nothing for their labor?

Do you even smile and thank them? Or do you just bring your stuff to them whenever it’s broken, expect rapid service (“I really need my phone! How long is this going to take?”), blame them for anything that goes wrong (“What did you do? It was working yesterday!”) even though they’re probably doing the same thing for a dozen other family members and friends and have trouble keeping everyone’s devices straight, balk at their suggestions (“I don’t want an iCloud/Google/whatever account! I don’t want to change my password!”) in ways that will create more work for someone (no doubt THEM) down the road when something breaks again, blame them for limitations of the technology YOU chose to buy (“Well that’s a STUPID feature, I can’t believe that’s in there. I mean, give me a break. Who wants it to work that way. I’m not using it like that, I need you to fix it or make it do something different.”)

Do you even use your own failings to justify the way that you exploit them as you run, thanklessly, out the door after they’ve dropped everything to help you for an hour? (“Oh, I’m so dumb about this stuff! So glad I have you! Byeeee!”)

Here’s a hint:

– It’s YOUR technology
– It’s YOUR responsibility
– It’s YOUR data to lose
– It’s YOUR problem
– Other people BOTHER TO LEARN AND TAKE CARE OF their own stuff
– It’s your LUCK AND PRIVILEGE to have someone to help you

They are helping you because, presumably, they like/love you and are generous with their time.

If you treat them like shit as a result, you are not only ugrateful, but, basically, a self-absorbed ASS.

— § —

Someone once told me that it was MY fault that I was exactly this “tech guy” for 80 percent of the people that I know.

That it was MY responsibility to manage MY time and tell people “NO!” and that if I was helping people constantly and feeling a bit frustrated with how I got treated, it was my fault for being an emotionally dependent, non-confrontational person that couldn’t refuse.

It was the DUMBEST thing I’d ever heard.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

One in which everyone helps everyone as much as they possibly can, or one in which no-one helps anyone because everyone’s too self-absorbed to say thanks or value anyone else’s time, and thus, too self-absorbed to help others as well?

I’d rather live in a world in which I (and as many others as possible) help when they can. And yes, it’s a reality that help goes unthanked, and no, I don’t have a “right” to any kind of thanks. But it doesn’t make you less of an ass when you don’t give it, or when you treat someone that’s helping you like dirt in the process of their providing said help.

The problem, the weight  §

General malaise is creeping in. The Utah general malaise. The career general malaise.

Two years ago in NYC, I was motivated, driven, productive, ambitious.

Now I am struggling to care one way or another.

It is killing productivity. Not good.

— § —

Problem is, things don’t look the way that I want them to look, and I can’t quite see how to get back on track.

The goal setters say that you need to break things down into teeny, tiny steps, and then the big shifts and projects in life are more approachable.

All of this presumes you have some idea what the teeny, tiny steps ought to be. I don’t.

Just decisions that I’m not willing to make.

— § —

Not happy.

I have to get some guts and be proactive about something.

But I just don’t want to.

Really, I don’t.

That’s bad.

— § —

Some days I really regret that week in Queens. Worst week in my life, in retrospect. Changed everything, for the worse; may never get back on track.

Defeatist thinking, yes.

Feeling defeated.

Fuck this shit.  §

That is all.

Fuck this shit.

Parenthood  §

I’m sitting here taking stickers off of my wife’s old notebook computer, which will go up on eBay shortly, after a quick cleaning and a reinstall of windows.

And as silly as this sounds, it’s making my heart ache.

This is the sort of sentimentality that I used to make fun of my mother for when I was younger, but now here I am, thinking about how this has always been “mommy’s computer,” the one that we bought either any of the kids were born.

It has seen countless Skype conversations between our children and extended family members on both sides. It has shown them not just their relatives, but also videos, instructional materials, games—you name it.

Each of the stickers that I’m peeling off is a moment in time, a tiny moment of agency and personhood, in which a little human being acted in the world and left a mark.

Now I am erasing those marks. God help me.

— § —

Similarly, I look back at this blog reaching all the way into the 1990s, and I realize just how much parenthood has changed me, just how much parenthood changes a person, “grows them up,” turns them into something other than the presently culturally popular understanding of a “person.”

All of those feminist diatribes on maintaining personhood (and the similar things, though there are many fewer of them, for men) now seen so strange and misimagined. Kids are a part of your personhood. They are the most significant component of it. I can’t imagine things being any other way.

What do I care about as a person? Why, my children, of course. Everything else is secondary.

— § —

And all that righteous political anger that I used to feel about the abused, ignored, and dispossessed of the world?

I don’t feel anger any longer. What I feel is pain. Suffering. Empathy. Because now the bad things aren’t things that happen to other people on behalf of whom I have an opinion; they are things that could happen to my children, and that is intolerable.

It’s not anger any longer; it’s a deep, shattering shortness of breath and desperation that starts somewhere deep in your guts and spreads to every extremity.

Anger at the insanity of the world? How about sheer panic and fear?

Injustice is now a completely different thing. It’s personal. I’m not a crusader; I’m a victim-in-waiting.

— § —

They say that parenthood changes you, but that’s an inadequate statement. It’s better to say that after parenthood, you won’t recognize and will think far, far less of the person that you were before parenthood.

It doesn’t change you; it makes you, finally, after long years of infancy and infantilism.

Away  §

The thing that bothers me most right now in life is the pervasive sense that I have since 2010 become less like the person that I want someday to be than I was then.

I am backsliding in life, not in any particular numeric or measurable way; this isn’t about income or degrees or status or square feet in the house or anything like that.

It’s in terms of those personal goals that are the most personal. State of mind. Personality. Ways of thinking about and experiencing the world. Habits of thought. Self-identity. Alertness, motivation, and energy levels.

I just plain like the person that I was and that I was becoming in New York more than I like the person that I am today. Orders of magnitude more. I respected that person. I sometimes struggle to respec this one, not because of vices or moral failings or anything like that.

Just because there’s a limit to what you can be in a place like this. There’s only so much for your mind and body to do, to think about. It’s mostly empty space. And the thinly dispersed people are mostly empty space as well. Being an “average person” here is a fundamentally less impressive thing than it is there.

By and large, sorry to say, the people of middle America are just less. Less of everything. And not in the Zen way, or even the pop-Zen way. I’m talking about creativity, initiative, wisdom, sociability, ambition, faith, hope, smarts, desires, legacy, even taste and diversity of interests.

Less. They’re just less. They like it. They admire “hard, plain, simple folk who don’t waste words.” I don’t. I just don’t. I think that’s alternate langauge for what my wife would call, after Marx, one giant sack of potatoes. By and large, they’d like that description. And, after Marx once again, they’d do it individually and without any thought for anyone else or for what it might mean in the larger scheme of things. They don’t like larger schemes of things. They like the Sunday funnies and trips to the Wal-Mart and mowing the lawn and blowing stuff up on the fourth of July.

And the longer I am here, the more I am becoming one of them—that thing I always said, growing up, that I’d never do.

— § —

This is nowhere.

Parenthood and suburban life  §

Had the discussion with my wife again about suburban life. I’m convinced that it’s much more time-intensive than urban life, and that this is why urban areas are vastly more “productive” in economic and social and intellectual capital measures.

She absolutely doesn’t buy it.

— § —

Spent much of today fighting with cars, mechanics, and swamp coolers.

This is a car-mandatory area, and there are four of us, and our only car is in the shop for complex repairs. This means negotiating with a mechanic and doing research to find out whether or not he or she is scamming you, as well as (we’ve decided) trying to find an additional car that we can afford and that won’t leave us stranded somewhere. No easy task.

A few years ago, living in NYC, we didn’t even have (or need) a car.

The rest of the day was spent on the roof, jostling with a swamp cooler. The HVAC guys want hundreds just to turn up and do basic repairs, but it’s been hundred-degree-heat off and on over the last few weeks, so we need the cooling system working. Replaced the blower motor, the cooling pads, the water tree, the pump, and the switch, and redid some bad wiring. Back online.

We also didn’t have this issue in NYC.

— § —

Things you’ll do as a parent that you never imagined you’d do when you were younger:

(1) Talk through your kids to other people. For example, you’re in a restaurant and you turn to your children and say loudly, “Be patient guys. Just as soon as that couple over there finishes cleaning up their table, we’ll be able to sit down.” Translation of the message, addressed to the couple: “I can see that you’re done. Do you not see that I have kids? Stand up and go, please. Oh, and don’t leave your trash behind, I can’t cope with that as well.” Or, how about, “Wow, little boy, are you still pooping? I think you’re working on a poop!” Translation of the message, addressed to your spouse: “Don’t get annoyed that I didn’t change his diaper yet, please. Either I’m disinclined enough to wait and see or I really do believe that he isn’t done pooping.”

(2) Get up early. When kids are up, they’re up, and they’re going to keep you up, too, period. They’re pretty much biologically wired to be really good at doing so (no doubt to ensure their survival in the company of dozy early-morning parents). You never though you’d get up every day at six. Of course, you don’t; you get up every day sometime between four and five-thirty, and pretty much knock half the house down stumbling your way to the coffee maker as you also try to keep your (inexplicably energetic) morning-oriented offspring from knocking down the other half.

(3) Use your bare fingers to wipe up disgusting messes. Kids get goopy stuff on other stuff. Some of this stuff is unsanitary. And at the same time, they are curious and excited about everything in life. Very curious and very excited—and very fast with their hands. In the interest of insuring that goopy stuff of whatever variety doesn’t get spread across walls (and some of the varieties of goopy stuff really, really need to be kept from being spread across walls), you’ll find yourself using a finger or three to scoop as much of it away as possible as quickly as possible to prevent your kid from getting there first, or at least to try to minimize the mess until you can find a disinfectant wipe.

(4) Act like an uncool idiot in public. Who doesn’t love to skip through the mall singing Old Macdonald at the top of your lungs, then buy a hot dog on a stick and a lemonade and watch Barney on the television set above the food court? If only my friends could see me now!

(5) Forget to take care of basic personal hygiene. You tell yourself you’re going to get a two-minute shower in ten minutes, once things settle down a little and the kids are safely engaged in some activity or other. You tell yourself this all day. Then, you finally find the moment—aha!—and realize that it’s 9:30 in the evening and you’ve gone all day without a shower.

(6) Afford everything but what you yourself need or want. The $3.00 juice bottles at the convenience store? Two, please! Got thirsty, irritable kids out here in the heat! Diapers are how much here? Oh well, gotta have diapers and gotta have them now. Thousands per year for kid classes? Can’t be helped, they need the time, stimulation, and learning experience. A dollar for dental floss so that you can get breakfast out of your teeth? Can’t afford it. I’ll just pull on that piece of thread that’s been hanging off of my shirt for a month and use that.

(7) Become completely disconnected from the adult world. What happened in Egypt today? Fracking? What’s fracking? You got what kind of car? I didn’t even know that was a car brand. They found what out about the plane crash last week? I didn’t even know that a plane had crashed. The election? I have no idea who’s running. Wait, Michael Jackson is dead? Do any of these things have anything to do with Curious George or The Cat in the Hat? I can list every episode of Curious George and The Cat in the Hat by heart, does that get me anything?

(8) Lose touch with life-long dreams. I really want to be a tenured professor at a research university. What have I done in the last year to make that happen? Well, let’s see…I have consistently bought hypo-allergenic bubble bath and taken care to ensure that all eggs, dairy, poultry, and vegetables were organic. Also, I cleverly remodeled the playroom so that it holds 20 percent more toys than used to fit in it. Oh, and tomorrow we’re going to go to story time at the library. That ought to help me get there.

(9) Get excited about chores. I love washing dishes (with my daughter). I love mowing the lawn (with my son). It’s super fun to take out the trash (with my daughter). It’s a blast to wash the bathroom (with my son). Go to the latest action blockbuster? My kids can’t come. How can this possibly be considered “fun?”

(10) Collapse at 9:00 in the evening. An hour of work after they go to sleep? Are you kidding!? Fahgeddaboudit. Most I can manage is a couple hours in front of the tube watching something random. Okay, an hour. Okay, half an hour…Oh, thanks for waking me up. I must have fallen asleep getting ready to watch—I mean, I’m just gonna watch one episode of—OHMYGODIT’S2AMHOWDIDISLEEPTHATLONGIHAVETOGETTOBEDTHEY’LLBEUPATFOUR!

— § —

The originally-less-than-one-inch feeder goldfish that lived in a 5 gallon aquarium (with ample room) are now all over six inches and living in a 55 gallon aquarium that is rapidly getting tighter.

The return of the Newton  §

So I’m typing this on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (a ridiculous aborton of a marketing-department name if ever there was one) and I’m absolutely struck by how “just right” this screen size is for a portable device. Basically, it feels like the return of the Newton 2100, which is ironic since the iPad Mini absolutely doesn’t. Too bad for Apple.

The software, of course (Android 4.x) absolutely pales in comparison to Newton OS, and the design of the device and the positon of the onscreen keyboard (combined with Android’s typical piss-poor touch sensitivity and accuracy in comparison to that of iOS) drag the experience down, but there’s little doubt that this general shape, long perfected by publishers in paperback novel trim sizes, is ergonomically and interactively special.

If the Newton UX ever gets a refresh on a device sporting this form factor once again, I will be the first in line to pay whatever it takes or to donate as much plasma as I have to in order to own one.

In the meantme, seven-inch Android tablets will have to suffice, and they don’t do a bad job of it, all things considered.

Apple vs. and other nonsense  §

I really didn’t want to pay for an iPad Mini. But I really did need a small form-factor tablet, something in between a phablet and a full-sized iPad.

So, naturally, we’ve been on an Android odyssey.

We first picked up a cheap Chinese import $69 tablet on Amazon.com. Works as advertised, for certain values of works. The screen is relatively poor, reminiscent of first-generation active matrix color panels on early color laptops. Narrow viewing angle, low contrast, some flicker and ghosting. The multi-touch is fiddly and misregisters a lot of taps. The glass is mind-numbingly easy to scratch. The battery is good for a couple of hours. On the upside, we didn’t expect much. It’s the living room tablet. But for extended reading or serious, you know, work, it’s just not going to get the job done.

So finally I gave up on my search for a “cheap” iPad Mini on eBay (I’ve had very good luck with tech on eBay over the years, so don’t snicker) and realized that it was time to try to get a “brand name” Android tablet in the 7″ size range that would have better build quality, components, and so on.

First shelled out for a Nexus 7 at retail. This is supposed to be Google’s flagship device, now made by Asus. The thing creaked. Like, a lot. Like, tap on the left edge or pick it up by the left edge and it sounds like a frog. And on that same left edge, tapping visibly distorted the glass, as if there was no support behind it. Cue the broken screen in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Not to mention the gaps between the rear cover and the bezel that you could stick a dime in, or the generally flimsy feel.

The screen was beautiful to read on, very nice pixel density, contrast, and color rendition, I’ll give it that. But the creak? No thanks. And I could see it dying a sudden death in a month or two.

Took it back. Was going to exchange it, but went to the tablet areas at two big-box stores to look at their display units. Guess what all of the Nexus 7 tablets on display at big box stores apparently have? Crrrrrrrrrreak! So if the four that I’ve been able to handle by hand (the display at the store where I made my original purchase, which I assumed to have been rendered creaky due to excessive handling, plus the one I walked out with, plus two more at two other stores) have creaking and flexing glass displays, I’m guessing my chances of getting a solid unit—if they exist—are basically nil.

Got a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 instead. A little cheaper. Display not as nice, but build quality is much better. Problem: bright spot in the lower left corner. Has to go back.

Shelled out for a second Galaxy Tab 2 from a different retailer. I think this one will finally stick. Seems solid, and screen is nice and evenly lit.

But of course the Samsung is full of bloatware and will get updates slowly, and it’s much slower. You get what you pay for. At least I didn’t pay all that much, in comparison to what I’d have paid for an iPad Mini.

The lesson all the way around: Android devices are not Apple devices. Despite what the anti-Apple brand warriors suggest, Apple has the best build quality averages in the industry. Across four iPhones, two iPads, and two Apple laptops, I’ve never had a device that began its life with a single obvious flaw.

No retail return juggling to try and find a “good one.”

I guess that’s what you pay extra for.

— § —

Very weird day. Canada on vacation, so work was odd. Plus whatever did happen happened during the morning while I was teaching class. And class today went oddly as well. There are days when the flow just isn’t right, and after the better part of a decade in the classroom, you can start to recognize them fairly quickly during classroom time.

— § —

I did get another 5,000 words into the dissertation, though. The first half is nearly drafted, at which point I’ll take a moment, revise to something less than total crap, and send it off to my chair for a first real look.

It has been the biggest struggle in my life to get this thing to this stage. Somehow writing a dissertation is about a hundred times more troublesome and fraught than you imagine it will be.

If you walk around with confidence and go into things knowing that you’re going to come out on top, writing a dissertation may just be the thing to put you in your place and knock you down a few pegs.

That’s certainly been the case for me. All of my insecurities in life are wrapped up in it, and it has not once, not a single time, “flowed” in the way that my other writing does as it happens.

Humf.

— § —

In just over a month, we’ll have relatives here for a month.

And then it will be fall. Again. Already.

The tricky thing about life is, you can’t afford to spend time “working on” or “holding out for” what you want. Because you just don’t have the time.

Every pause is just plain lost time. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.

You get older and you can fucking lose years. Easily. I lost 2012 entirely. I have a sign on my wall, written to motivate myself, about what 2012 was “for.”

2013 is now more than halfway over and the sign on my wall from 2012 is still there, right over my desk, and not a single goddamned thing on it is done.

— § —

Before I know it, all of this will be over and I will be gone.

Every now and then that’s a fascinating sort of thought to have.