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Monthly Archives: January 2017

At the laundromat.  §

If I ever propose switching away from my Galaxy Tab S again, someone needs to hit me with a bat.

Seriously, this is the best computing/writing/personal mobile device I’ve ever owned.

— § —

Tea. I drink a lot of tea. That seems to be all I do lately: drink buckets and buckets of tea, generally either Earl Grey or Chinese green. Buckets and buckets.

If I have one frustration, it’s how long it takes to make another cup of tea. I’ve considered installing an under-the-counter instant water heater just to support my tea habit. I have an entire cabinet full of tea, yet I came back from Canada with… more tea.

I currently limit myself to regular-sized mugs so that it doesn’t get out of hand, but I keep having the inclination to get 32-oz. or 48-oz. hot cups so that I can have larger and larger brews of tea.

Hope they’re right about it being healthier than soda because I have this year switched wholesale to tea without reducing drinking quantity almost at all.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

Chinese New Year come and gone. Actually it was “gone” while I was still in Victoria, but I sort of postponed admitting that until I got back so that I could—at the very least—send out for Chinese and watch My Neighbor Totoro with the kids (yes, you heard right, I am celebrating my Asian heritage with an “They’re all the same, aren’t they?” move).

Must do better.

Obstacle number one in all of this: do not speak or read Chinese. It never really occurred to me that the thing that would eventually get me to learn Chinese after all these years was children. But that’s what it’s coming down to.

I feel more and more as though I can’t be the father that I want to be unless I am a fluent Chinese speaker. Because the world is not going to do it for me. My kids are light-haired and light-eyed. If I don’t do something about this myself, this part of their identity is going to be lost to them.

That wouldn’t be good because it is such a huge part of my identity—as though, in a way, they can’t understand where they came from (in terms of me) without understanding where I came from.

So Chinese, here I come. Somehow. In the midst of all of the rest of this.

— § —

Meanwhile, I started stock photography as a sideline in 2002. It is now 2017. Fifteen years. I have a total of just over a thousand images on the market, many of them rushed and not my best conceptual, planning, or even execution work.

That’s like 75 mediocre images a year. If I had just managed one good, actually-with-effort-invested photo a day over that time—just one—I’d have four times as many on the market and a much more decent sideline income.

This is the importance of the “a little bit every day” approach to life, something that I still cannot for the life of me master, even forty years in. I am streaky, I do things in intense bursts.

Each one of my books was written over the space of about a week of intense, bleary-eyed, book-universe-dwelling. My dissertation was basically written in one summer. I do big things bigly, in tiny amounts of time.

This is not the right way to live. Especially with kids around.

Must change that as well.


Sunday morning at the airport.  §

Mornings at the airport. Been a while since I did one of these. The lines at any vendor selling coffee are endless.

I managed to incite a minor security panic through a combination of factors.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

First, I had a leftover bottle of mineral water (still sealed) that I carried out of the hotel. I’d intended to drink it as I drove to the airport, but I honestly forget that it was there closed in the top of my bag.

Next, in the discussion of which things needed to come out of my bags for scanning, I forgot that I also had a mobile phone in my back pocket. I dutifully got the laptop and tablets out, etc. but didn’t put my phone in the scanning tray—and didn’t announce that it was there before I stepped toward the scanner.

Finally, because it was bigger than the travel-sized containers of toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, and so on (though still under size limits), I’d packed my hair product in a different place from the other containers. They all fit inside a little zip pouch, but it was just too big to fit there, so it was rattling around on the side of my bag along with my jeans.

Put those three things together (big unnanounced jug of fluid, little segregated container of fluid elsewhere in a bag that is separate from all other containers, unannounced and unusual phone in back pocket, trying to travel to the U.S.) and what you have is a line of security agents who are positive you’re trying to accomplish something untoward and just a bit frustrated that they can’t seem to figure out what.

Anyway, I got the full-body patdown, partial undress, packing and repacking, and an interview. I guess it’s been a while since I last flew, or I’d have been far more careful.

— § —

Because I was working during the second half of the week in these distant and unfamiliar environs, I missed all of the Trump news, which (as I learn about it) is rather startling.

Times are troubled.

— § —

I don’t exactly dislike flying home, but it’s never as pleasant as leaving.

There is nothing new to experience, no new goal to reach on the return trip. You merely have to wait for it to be over, so each minute feels as though it’s being wasted for you by the laws of physics.

In an ideal universe, you would travel in the Newtonian space on the way out—feeling the exhiliration of movemet and machines, seeing lovely, new scenery, etc. on a “trip” with a determinate duration—yet afterward, when returning, zap home in an instant without having to wait through the interminable wind-down.

Victoria.  §

Here I sit in a hotel room just off the water in Victoria, about 20 years since the last time I was in British Columbia. Or Canada, for that matter. I want to say that not much has changed. The service is still excellent, the culture is friendly and highly solicitous, things are a bit bland and a bit slow—but they are awfully pleasant.

All images © Aron Hsiao / 2017

I suppose Canada won’t ever change. I suppose the U.S. won’t either. As cousins, Canada is the sensible, friendly one. The U.S. is the one that nudges you again and again to sneak out once the adults have gone to sleep, that somehow leads you to break into an amusement park after hours while you’re out, and that then ends up leaving you arrested and handcuffed by police as a result while it somehow gets away and apologizes half-convincingly, later, once you’ve been bailed out.

— § —

It’s been amazingly nice to finally meet the co-workers I’ve known in some cases for four years, but never had a chance to shake hands with. They’re a great team of people. It was also nice to actually do work in a work environment after years in the home office.

There are, of course, significant positives and perks that are part and parcel of a home office—but things can and do also get exceedingly samey at times.

It was good to join the crowd and work. But the introvert in me was starting to complain by day number three. It is now also very, very good to be sitting on a very clean hotel bed in rather spartan environs typing on an iPad in silence at 7:00 pm. There is nothing to do. Or rather, there is nothing that I want to do.

For a brief moment, for the first time in many years, there is nothing pressing on me, simply because there is nothing that I need to do that I actually can do right now. It is the rarest moment of peace. No significant other to have to worry about or stay in contact with. Kids too young for mobile phones and very far away. No pets to think about. Work done for today, and no work tomorrow. No house to clean. No shopping to do. No pending appointments. Nothing. Just… nothing. Just me.

It’s a strange and ecstatic moment. Is this what retirement is like? It’s not happiness or joy, or excitement, or anything like that. It’s just… relief. Like for a brief moment, the raging world has finally been shut off to cool down.

— § —

Some things:

  • At Seattle SeaTac airport, there is a little wing that I’ve never seen before that is more like a bus terminal than a plane terminal. There are lots of little planes lined up outside wing-to-wing in rows corresponding to matching rows of doors, and when you show your ticket to the gate agent, they just tell you which door to pop through (“Door number 7!”) and you walk out the door, across a bit of sidewalk, and climb up into the plane yourself, watching other people around you doing the same. That’s the sort of plane that I took to Victoria.
  • I’m told that somewhere there, there is also a terminal where you can catch a shuttle to a seaplane that will take off from the sea’s surface and then land in Victoria in the ocean, sidling up to the wharf. No doubt that is the route I’ll take the next time I come.
  • I’d never been to Victoria before. It’s either the biggest little city or the littlest big city I’ve ever visited. The downtown area is so small that you can walk the whole thing in minutes. I want to say that it feels smaller than Salt Lake City by surface area. But in said downtown area, it has the feel of a much larger global city—like Chicago or New York. Old, a bit dowdy, very diverse, bustling. Then, like five minutes by car from the wharf, it all gives way to green sleepies and a couple strip malls and gas stations.
  • For reasons I won’t go into, the whole experience reminds me of why I pursued a career in academia with such abandon just a few years ago. In the rat race, competition is the thing. You are either better than everyone else, every day, or you aren’t. I’d lost this perspective and now have it back again. It’s exhausting to realize, but it’s also important to realize, because that’s where I am. I do not currently have a career in academia, much less “tenure” or anything else of that sort that means that I can merely do a good job. In the real world, no matter how good you are, there is always someone gunning for you, wanting to be one notch better, because then they can and will have your job. This is good for productivity. It is bad for quality of life, and—I want to say—for the bigger picture of culture as a whole.
  • I can’t say much for the Chinese food in Victoria, sadly. Tried two places. Both were no damned good. The sushi, on the other hand, was excellent.
  • I should be using this time to read. Why am I not reading? Do I not read any longer? That would be bad, as you can’t possibly imagine that you can write unless you first continuously read.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017
  • There is a watch that I want that I simply can’t afford. I hate not being able to afford things. It makes me feel like a kid. At my age, and with my credentials, I should be able to afford anything and everything I want. Have to work on this. I am slipping.
  • Once, an old girlfriend wanted to take me to strip clubs all the time, but I never went with her. I don’t know why I suddenly thought of that. In any case, the usual line is that women are uncomfortable going to strip clubs with their boyfriends, but I was the man uncomfortable with the idea of going to a strip club with my girlfriend (or, in fact, going in general, but doubly so with my girlfriend). That was twenty years ago, too.
  • It’s not entirely comfortable to begin to realize just how many things are “twenty years ago.” That’s what happens when you age.
  • In keeping with that theme, I’ve also learned that I don’t have much stamina or patience any longer for “the night life.” During the day at work? Great company. After work, team goes out and hits the bars? I get restless and want to return to the hotel room and read a book (or, in fact, crash out and sleep).
  • If I had just averaged one submission a day since I started, I’d now have five or six times the number of photos in my stock portfolio that I currently do, and could expect to earn at least that multiple annually. This is another object lesson in “doing a little bit every day” that I very much need to learn. Regrets. That’s why I can’t afford anything. I need to learn to develop Calvinist work habits.
  • Tomorrow I drive and/or fly all day again. And then I am home. I can’t wait to be home. I hope the pets are fine. Those are the things that stick with me right now.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

— § —

Yes, I was on the road for Chinese New Year this year, so the kids and I will celebrate it when I get back. And then we’ll replace the images in the “season window” on the wall (the digital picture frame) to have something to do with whatever is coming up.

It’s supposed to be Valentine’s day, but I’m not incredibly eager to walk through that minefield with kids in the house first year post-divorce. So instead, I’ll probably just say that they’ll be doing the Valentine’s day stuff at school and we’ll jump straight to spring.

Love is overrated anyway. Not love between parents and children or love between friends, those are some of the best things humanity has to offer. But love between breeding partners, or romantic love between “mates?”

This stuff is just no damned good. At the very least, it’s in serious disrepair in our culture, and does not generally offer a good user experience. I’ve got a quarter century of personal stories on that front that tell me that “love” of the Valentine’s day variety is bad juju all around, and that the holiday is probably just making things worse.

Trouble ahead. And WOTD.  §

I’m troubled, as in personally, by what’s going on in the U.S. right now. On both sides. We had a campaign with two unacceptable candidates. Then, we inaugurated Trump, a tremendously coarse and backward-looking figure. Now, the nation is enthused by a massive protest action whose discourse is equally coarse and whose foundational principle is opposition, rather than affirmation or advocacy.

It is a time of negation, and of negations of negations. It is a time in which literally no one is taking the high road. Obama was a good man and a good president, but at the same time did not rise to the level of statesman. He was a moral, judicious technocrat—and we are lucky to have had him—but he was not a wise elder.

The wise elders seem to have disappeared from the nation, and thus, from the political process as well. I suppose the baby boomer generation is the problem here; they lack the gravitas of the World War II generation, as well as the generosity. They, too, were an in-opposition-to; a generation of negation, rather than of affirmation.

We are tearing the whole thing down, brick by brick, and pointing long, self-awareness-free fingers of blame at one another as we do it. It will not end well. I worry about my children.

— § —

Simple joys. The simple joys seem to be forgotten, lost to the culture. They are, ironically, considered somehow morally decadent. Our joys are meant to consist of electric automobiles, community organizing, exotic organics, cutting-edge crowdsourced recycling, and so on.

Speaking of, here is the WOTD: Orient Sparta EV0N001A. Maybe I’ll start posting these from time to time. © Aron Hsiao / 2016

There is little room on the moral calendar for such indulgences as a cup of tea. Making snowmen. Building little toys from wood. Wearing and winding a wristwatch. Reading a Robert Frost poem. Writing a letter to a friend.

These things were fine for those living in other eras, but now Rome burns. They must be stopped, by whatever means necessary. The world is about to end.

The stench of millennialism and the trappings of the apocalyptic cult are everywhere, with everyone vying to bring about their own image of the apocalypse.

For too many people, the world is devoid of simple joys, or at the very least, perspective has been lost on their centrality to being. Mortality has hidden itself away as never before; everyone is savior to the world, rather than a mere mortal who won’t live to see the second coming.

Chop wood. Carry water.

In good times, the people who focus on such things are seen as eccentrics. In times like these, they are seen as the insane and the immoral.

And that is bad. It is bad for everyone.

Frog and Toad.  §

I am compelled to write tonight.

The kids and I went to a performance by the local theater company, a small nonprofit like so many others across the U.S. dedicated to giving young people living in flyover territory the chance to participate in the performing arts by working with a few local talents that have seen some measure of success in larger markets.

But it was anything other than generic. It was magical.

— § —

First, Frog and Toad. And Arnold Lobel.

I know next to nothing about this author, apart from what is on Wikipedia and the kind of general familiarity with a name and a face that one builds after encountering them over and over again for years, beginning in grammar school.

Here’s the thing. Arnold Lobel is one of those national foundations that flies under the radar, largely forgotten and unheralded by the adults, the elite, or anyone but the anonymous community of underpaid school librarians.

But we all read him. Every kid for generations who grew up in America’s public schools would recognize the characters, and at least some of the stories, even if they were never big readers.

And the magic is that Lobel teaches, at a first grade reading level, nearly every foundational moral and interpersonal lesson that matters, in this or any culture—and does it in a way that is enchanting, amusing, often deeply moving, and deceptively sophisticated.

Arnold Lobel, whoever he was and whatever he was like, is nonetheless the type of person who—on the strength of his creations—tends to make one believe in God.

The Frog and Toad stories are amongst the most edifying bodies of work in all the English language, whether one is a child or an adult. I am profoundly grateful that he existed.

And the spirit of his writing is preserved in the two-plus-hour stageplay by the Reale brothers. How this is possible is beyond me, even after having seen it. Once again, one is tempted to refer helplessly to providence.

— § —

Next, SCERA.

This local nonprofit theater group makes miracles. Over and over again. This is a tiny, tiny market, particularly for theater. This is not a highbrow population. Neither is it a lowbrow population sprinkled throughout with elite benefactors from Ivy League schools who work hard to “make a difference” by bringing the best of their craft to local underprivileged folk.

It is a homogenous, largely uniform population of middlebrow consumer monoculture, the type that subscribe to cable and go to see blockbusters at the cinema, with almost no variation.

The theater is literally empty half of the time for their performances, and their performances are shockingly cheap. It actually costs more to take your kids to see Storks or Inside Out or whatever Disney or Pixar have recently produced.


And yet this performance was perfectly cast, expertly and creatively staged, and effortlessly executed. The singing and dancing and choreography compare favorably to what I’ve seen in much larger markets, yet with a much greater level of intimacy and genuineness.

The curtain comes down with a bow and by the time you have stood up, left your seats, and made your way back into the light, there the entire cast stands, on your way to the door, ready to shake hands and chat, all smiles.

This is what theater can be, ought to be. It is magical. SCERA is a gem. Top-quality theater at nearly-free prices in a community setting so intimate that you forget you don’t know them all personally.

— § —

Finally, the experience.

Only a few times in one’s life does one get the chance to experience one of those really special live performances, when magic happens and quite unexpectedly, the stage comes entirely to life for an evening, leaving audience and cast transformed and better people afterward.

It’s hard even to outline what causes this to happen. What are the necessary conditions? You can name some of them. They have to do with all of the things I’ve already mentioned—casting, stage and prop design, choreography and son on. But those qualities aren’t enough.

Something else has to happen—a kind of merging of the cast into one another, a losing-of-themselves in the work that then spreads to the audience, who in turn joins the cast entirely in the moment, and the whole room beings to live and breathe as a single, joyous thing.

I used to bristle at commonplace phrases like “a kind of magic happens,” and at academic elusions like “collective effervescence,” but the older I get, the more I get it. It doesn’t have a more descriptive or technical phrase associated with it because no one is yet sure just what it is or why it occurs—they know only how they feel in the moment, and how they feel afterward. They feel as though they have taken another rare step toward enlightenment, as though their humanity has been honored and served by their participation in something secret and beautiful.

— § —

Put all of these things together with my own life and where I am in it right now—seasons changing, as it were (if you’ll forgive the heavy and rather trite metaphor), time and change and yet also solidity and deep truths recently always on my mind—combined with the presence of my own two children, who grew up on my readings of Frog and Toad stories to them—and I exited the theater tonight deeply moved and quite literally changed in some way.

It has been a very long time since I felt so at peace, so fulfilled, and yet at the same time so unguarded and untroubled by the passage of time.

— § —

Frog and Toad are beautiful.
SCERA is beautiful.
Local community is beautiful.
Childhood is beautiful.
True friendship is beautiful.
Eternal truths of the human experience are beautiful.

A Year with Frog and Toad was beautiful.

Just beautiful.

Decades of activism is how we end up with Trump.  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

The entire point of political systems is to sublimate street-level conflict and turn it into stodgy process.

That’s the only reason it exists: because at some point, humans decide they’re tired of, or would like to avoid, open warfare.

— § —

So now we’re to have hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people marching in the street to protest Trump, objecting to his “blatant disregard for our system of government and institutions.”

How ironic and paradoxical.

Activism is what opened and opens the door for Trump. What does anyone think activism is, but “blatant disregard for our system of government and institutions” carried on by the public at large? One doesn’t want to work through the system the right way—running for office, engaging in persuasion, etc.—so one takes one’s positions to the streets and attempts to essentially blackmail the public, one inconvenienced person at a time, into doing what one wants. It is an end-run around the system.

Or, one doesn’t like what the system hath wrought and decides that its outcomes are unacceptable. The decisions of the voting public and the institutions about which they vote are to be disregarded. Again, take to the streets.

Activism is itself a profound rejection of the democratic process. It is the subversion of the processes of running for office, launching ballot initiatives, persuasion, etc. A few activists may think they’re engaging in “persuasion,” but the sorts of persuasion in which they tend to be engaged are the sorts that mafia enforcers use (again, “persuasion”), not the sort of deliberative discussion that is essential to democratic practice.

Evidence for this can be seen in what activists want people to do—not merely vote. They never march in support of the vote, or even in support of a particular voting position. They march for “change,” they march for “protest,” they march “to be heard” and so on. They don’t run for office. They don’t invite neighbors to events to create a space in which dialogue can occur.

Activists are activists because they have a blatant disregard for our system of government and institutions.

© Tony Webster / CC-by-SA 2.0

This culture, of course, spreads, because it is effective. Democracy is notoriously fragile; it requires conscious maintenance. And it was only a matter of time before it spread to every office in the land, including the presidency. The activist does not take “no” for an answer. The activist “never gives up.” The activist does not “accept the unacceptable” to themselves, even if it is an outcome duly decided by democratic processes.

And these days, everyone is an activist. The question is no longer ever “are you an activist,” but rather “what are you an activist for?”

Activism in general is considered a moral good, on both sides of the aisle. Nobody seems to notice that this means that anti- or post-democratic understandings of society are now by implication considered moral goods as well. So sure, march. March in the streets some more! The right-wing activists could not understand that Obama’s executive overreaches and rhetorical flourishes (many of which they disliked) were part and parcel of an activist culture and an array of activism(s) that everyone, including the president, could not just be expected to have, but would be applauded for having by anyone on their side. Now the left-wing activists can not understand that by marching in the streets, they reify the parts of the culture that they find most distasteful when embodied in someone from the other side.

How do you get the other side to stop crossing lines and return to pure ballot box and congressional floor activity, following historical norms? You don’t.. You can’t control others’ behavior. But so long as you are crossing lines and refusing to rely on the ballot box, congressional floor activity, and historical norms, the other side is unlikely to grant you a monopoly on this highly effective form of behavior.

Much has been made of whether other nations that we’ve engaged with have a culture that is “compatible with democracy.”

I’m going to stand up here and question whether or not we any longer have a culture that is “compatible with democracy.”

In fact, I’m going to say that we don’t.

Long days are long.  §

I’ve just knocked off work for the day. I shouldn’t but I’m going to. I’ve been working since 6:30 am this morning, the only breaks being to quickly throw together food that I ate at my desk, and to brew tea every now and then. That’s a 17-hour workday. On a Sunday.

Yesterday I worked, too, most of the day. On a Saturday.

Life in a management role.

— § —

I was going to write something today about so-called “intentional communities” vs. traditional communities, and about strong ties vs. weak ties. I had that bee in my bonnet when I woke up early this morning.

But there are some days on which you decide that you just don’t want to write a blog post after all.

Today is definitely one of those days.

Fake Orient watches and Linux (Fedora 25) on a MacBook Pro.  §

Everyone that is interested in watches is eventually going to end up with an unintended fake. But in some online forums, people say that nobody is going to fake brands like Orient or Seiko because there’s not enough money in it to do so.

Well the former happened to me this week, with one of the latter brands (Orient).

See, I recently got interested in the Orient Neo-70’s line. In general right, now, my watch aesthetic is trending ’70s. No, not John Travolta, more Al Pacino. But I digress. I went on eBay and had a model from the Neo-70’s line sent from Japan.

Now before you start going all “…” on eBay, I’ve bought and sold on eBay—including overseas—for twenty years without much trouble. And over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of direct-from-China stuff. That made me very happy. Some of it very, very happy. I heart Chinese sellers in the gritty provinces. Seriously. So in comparison, Tokyo is a safe bet, right? Stodgy, boring, honorable guys who even their rebellious periods were safe to take to visit grandma.

Those lume dots? They’re supposed to be exactly at the ends of the markers. Instead, they are all over the place, offset in different directions in each case. Look how, uh, lovely and straight the three o’clock and six o’clock markers are. And the seven o’clock lume dot is completely hidden by the hand—yet the market is completely visible. Fake? D’ya think?
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Or so I thought. Paid, got a tracking number of December 26th, and waited. And then waited some more. Tracking showed no package dropped at the carrier for shipment, a week later I messaged. I got a brusque response that literally said, “Hold on, OK!?!” then “explained” that “due to the holidays,” the entirety of freaking Japan was still backlogged four days into January, even in Tokyo (guess they party really hard) and it would make its way into the system in a day or two.

So naturally, it didn’t. A day or two later I wrote again and got message back annoyedly assuring me that the tracking must be wrong. It would be delivered on the 11th, they said.

So naturally, on the night of the 11th, I found myself writing again to say that not only had no package arrived, but the tracking information still showed that the local post office in Japan was waiting on the package to be dropped off for shipment.

Got a reply on the 12th with no explanation, but a tracking number for a FedEx overnight parcel. Well, that’s good, if a bit expensive for them, I thought. Would have been easier and ultimately faster if they’d shipped it properly the first time. Meh.

FedEx package arrived yesterday. I opened it. Then, I laughed. Then, I was annoyed as I realized that this pain-in-the-ass transaction would drag on. The pictures don’t do it justice. They really don’t; when you saw it in person, with lume dots all over in random directions, some clipped by the sub-dials—and the nine o’clock marker (not shown) rotated by about five degrees, you knew right away that Orient didn’t assemble it.

Gosh, no problem here. It’s only off by a full two degrees!
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

See, it’s a fake. But not just any fake. A hilarious, laughably bad fake. Not because the face says “Glorient” instead of “Orient” or anything like that, but because it was assembled by a drunken geisha rather than a watchmaker. The hour markers are more crooked than a Brooklyn camera store. The lume dots aren’t right at the end of the hour markers, like they’re supposed to be, but are wandering around looking for salvation. The whole face is about two degrees off of vertical, like it’s got vertigo. And the caseback was not screwed down tight. Despite being protected by brand new packaging, having full labels and manuals, and appearing to be pristine and unopened, the usual hologram sticker (standard fare with Orient watches, and damned hard to get off, too) wasn’t present.

So today, between a haircut and a many-hours stretch of weekend work time, it went to FedEx for a return/refund. Hopefully. We’ll see how this works out. Not well, I’m going to guess. But yes, for anyone that has ever wondered, there are definitely Orient fakes out there.

— § —

Sometimes, though, the genuine article is just as bad.

I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with Mac OS recently. It feels like it’s stagnated, and not just stagnated, but stagnated in a bad place. It doesn’t know whether it’s iOS or not. It’s not quite stable on Mac hardware any longer. All of Apple’s professional applications have been retired or versioned out and replaced by wads of tea-flavored cotton candy. So after I recently sold off an iPad Mini and returned to Android out of sheer and surprised iOS hate, and keeping in mind the fact that I haven’t used an iPhone in years, I decided to explore Linux again. After all, every time I fire up a terminal on my rooted Android devices, I get all warm and fuzzy about the OS that was my home for two decades.

So why not?

Why not indeed.

Here’s the deal. I left Linux because Linux had become a pain in the ass. A real one. Not like you sat on a pin, but like a motorcycle gang ran over your buttocks with their heavy vintage V-twins.

I was spending hours and hours every month diagnosing, scripting, patching, and trying to hold together my installations as every update seemed to break, well, everything anew. There were a million little irritating bugs, tics, and dysfunctionalities, and chasing solutions to them meant precisely the need to update a package—which then depended on 10 packages—each of which depended on more packages—all of them apparently in conflict with each other. So instead, I’d sit around and patch code by hand, compile it, rebuild packages to custom names, install them, blah, blah.

I was like a full-on distribution maintainer just to run my everyday computer and type a bunch of essays as a Ph.D. student.

So I left. After six books and thousands of articles and years as an evangelist, and with shelves full of free Linux software, plush toys, stress cubes, plaques, and other corporate swag (or is that swill?) marked “LINUX,” I left for Mac OS because I was tired of the nonsense.

Since then, I’ve been reading for the last few years that Linux is better. Gnome 3 finally became usable. KDE (apparently now called “Plasma Desktop”) finally became usable. Stabilizing forces like Google and Canonical and design-oriented forces like Elementary brought a new culture, and Linux was growing up. Hey, the success of Android (for the uninitiated: it’s just Linux with a thick coat of Google paint) seems to suggest that’s true.

So—as I was saying—when the iPad mini tucked tail and ran because I was about to throw it against the wall, I thought to myself, “Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I’m gonna do a proper, non-VM install of the latest Fedora or Ubuntu distribution and give it a spin again.”

I needn’t have bothered.

Here’s how it went: badly.

Scratch that.


Story time.

— § —

I made a few hundred gigabytes of free space on my Early 2011 unibody MacBook Pro 17″ laptop (macbookpro8,3), downloaded some live DVDs, and away I went—into a wall. None of them would complete a boot.

Now, this is not bad hardware. Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1.5 terabytes of internal storage, 802.11b/g/n, Intel and Radeon graphics, etc. And it’s neither obscure nor so new (six years old, in fact) that the traditional Linux “don’t have a driver yet” disease should have been an issue. But nonetheless, booting from the DVDs took me right to…a garbled white display and apparent hard lock with each live DVD I tried.

Gotta be a needed kernel parameter, right? So I took to Google and started hunting for “macbookpro8,3 linux” with various combinations of “won’t boot,” “garbled display,” etc. Slim pickings. Does nobody use Linux on a MacBook Pro after all? Or is it more that nobody uses Linux since the MacBook Pro, given that at about the time that I switched (2009-2010), a MacBook Pro was basically a Linux box in personality, but one that had seen a series of shrinks and was now in fact sane and working properly rather than suffering from murderous schizophrenia?

In any case, I took a bunch of them down, booted up to GRUB only to find out that… I couldn’t add kernel parameters. Ctrl-X didn’t work in GRUB and instead I got just “x,” meaning that I couldn’t even adjust the boot process.

So I went back to Google and found that this was a bug that people had been well aware of for several years, and was being tracked (oh, hooray!) but of course in several years hadn’t been fixed. Brilliant. Maybe it’s some weird Apple magic in the keyboard scancodes? I dug out an old corded USB PC keyboard that I keep around just to be ridiculous. Plugged it in. Still got just an “x.”

Now I was Googling for workarounds just to be able to try out my workarounds. It began to dawn on me that this was exactly like the old days and exactly why I gave up on Linux. No, it’s not down to the Apple hardware. This was what my experience had been like in 2008-2009 on my very commonplace Thinkpad T60 and on my very boring and vanilla white-box homebrew PC. The same shit.

Well, I did finally stumble across a workaround. Turns out, you can also hit F10. They just didn’t bother to put it in the GRUB docs, or in the GRUB onscreen prompts. That’s very Linux. There are two ways to do something. Bad enough. And only one of them is bulletproof and also requires fewer keystrokes. So naturally instead you document the failure-prone one that requires more keystrokes, because it looks more “Unixy.” That is so Linux.

Upside: I could add kernel parameters and try to get a working live DVD boot. Downside: none of them worked and I did not get a working live DVD boot.

Fedora 25 running on an early 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ laptop. Totally not worth it.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

More Googling. I’ll cut the story short here. Suffice it to say that it stretched on for an entire afternoon. Just like the old days, ma!

— § —

So here’s the solution. If you want to install Fedora 25 (the one I got working) on an Early 2011 Macbook Pro with Intel+Radeon graphics, here’s what you’ll need to do.

  1. Track down the netinstall ISO. You can’t use the live DVD, no not even from a thumb drive.
  2. Plug your MacBook Pro into wired ethernet before powering up. No, you will not be able to use WiFi, the WiFi on this machine apparently isn’t supported out of the box—as always with Linux, some assembly is required—and the ethernet driver only works properly if you have link integrity at power on. If you plug in afterward, it will stay dead, dead, dead. (How many minutes did I waste figuring this out? 10? 15?)
  3. Get it to boot. I can’t remember at this point (nor do I care) whether that worked eventually or whether I had to add “nomodeset” to my boot parameters. I do remember that for a while I was trying to track down a way to start the old text-mode Anaconda installer, so I must have had some trouble. Suffice it to say that there is a way to get netinstall to get to the visual installer. I’ll do a Linuxism (when in Rome, right?) and say here that “Google is your friend” if you’re having trouble.
  4. Be ultra careful doing a manual partition. This is not intuitive since the days of LVM, not to mention that Linux device nodes don’t line up to Mac OS device nodes, and if you want to preserve your existing Mac partitions, I wouldn’t trust the installer to “figure it out for you” in any way, shape, or form.
  5. Install workstation.
  6. When you get the lovely message saying that now you can reboot and use Linux right away, realize that this is the usual propaganda and, in fact, you won’t be doing that anytime soon.
  7. Power cycle and hold down your option key as you boot up because GRUB will claim to be able to boot Mac OS but will fail miserably. Boot into Mac OS using the option key method and download and install rEFIt so that you can have a proper boot menu that gives you Linux and MacOS. This step is left as an exercise to the reader. Realize that you’ll have to disable SIP to do it, which means booting into recovery mode. Also left as an exercise to the reader.
  8. Once rEFIt is in place to give you the security of a proper boot menu, boot to GRUB (it’s in about the middle of the seven or so Linux boot icons that you now have for some reason) and hit ‘e’ to edit your kernel parameters before you boot. Find the line loading the kernel image and add a space and a “3” to the end of it. Then hit F10 (the workaround I described above) to boot Linux into text-only mode.
  9. Don’t bother with /sys/kernel/debug/vgaswitcharoo/switch or whatever the path to the graphics switcher/multiplexer is (I forget). It won’t work; you’ll get odd permissions errors that nobody on Google is talking about (I know, I looked). You need to flip the Radeon off and the IGD on before you get to userspace. There are a bunch of pages out there that tell you to use GRUB to write some bytes directly, but they won’t work out of the box. I know, I tried.
  10. Do a “yum install grub2-efi-modules” to grab the parts of GRUB that for some stupid reason don’t get installed by default. Yes, I know that yum is now deprecated. It tells me that every time I use it. And then it proceeds to give me another command whose name I can never remember and which seems to have the exact fucking same use cases and command line options and arguments. Plus, when you call yum, it still works and calls this other command instead for you, passing along your arguments. Gosh, it almost feels as if there was no need to deprecate yum, particularly when you can still use yum exactly like you did before. This is so Linux it makes my head spin. But I digress.
  11. Now do a “cp -dpRv /usr/lib/grub/X86_64-efi/ /boot/efi/EFI/fedora” (if you’re doing this on a later version of Fedora than 25, you should probably check the contents of grub2-efi-modules with rpm to make sure the source path is still the same, and quickly ls to make sure that /boot/efi/EFI/fedora still exists as well). Now GRUB will have the full complement of commands, including outb.
  12. Now, finally, reboot. In GRUB, before the kernel load line, add the following lines that power down the Radeon during boot, then hit F10 to boot when you’re done:
    outb 0x728 1
    outb 0x710 2
    outb 0x740 2
    outb 0x750 0
  13. Voila! (If that is appropriate here…) You finally see the desktop manager. You can use Linux, at least on the IGD. Who knows about the Radeon? I’m not going down that rabbit hole. Intel is fine for me. I’m not looking for a religious experience.
  14. Of course, you won’t want to have to do that every single time you boot, so you’ll want to edit /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg to make it stick. Oh, and also /etc/grub.d/10_linux so that grub.cfg auto-regenerations don’t wipe the changes that you’ve made.

Of course, you’ve still got no WiFi. Yes, there is a solution to that. You’ll need to track down the firmware files for the BCM4331 chip from one shady, mostly abandoned anonymous FTP bucket or another, break them out with a utility whose name I forget, then plant them in the spot in the filesystem where the driver is looking to load them. Then reboot. Yes, I actually did this. I have no fucking idea why.

And I have to say that when I got into GNOME 3, it turned out to be just as unusable and bizarre as it was in 2009. I don’t see any difference. Just a few changes to the visuals and a lot of having to think out loud to do simple things like show a different window.

You either get no working boot options or you get 52 identical boot options amongst which one randomly works. How Linux is that!?
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

So I did a “yum install @plasma-desktop-environment” just to try out KDE 4. Which should be scads better by now, right? Nope. Still looks and works like a high school senior project, with mismatched visuals, weird cartoony elements, widgets that claim to do things but clearly don’t do them, and constant notifications popping up about critical, yet obscure and obscurely-named components crashing somewhere behind the scenes, without any mention of whether the service has been restarted or is now missing and you’re going to start losing updates to state information and corrupt your environment or something.

— § —

In short—it took an afternoon—but I finally got Fedora 25 installed and running on my early 2011 17″ MacBook Pro, along with GNOME 3 and KDE 4. And as a side effect, I am now fully cured of any desire to go back to Linux. It is exactly where I left it in 2009.

I won’t even use this install every now and then because the first time I have to run an update, it will no doubt break everything and I will be back to “can’t boot, must Google” again for a day. And I won’t, I’ll just wipe it the fuck out. And if I have anything stored on that filesystem, it will be lost. So basically, it’s DOA for me.

Yes, I know, freedom, and yes, I know, sysadmins who don’t mind having to pave their own way and appreciate max flexibility and blah, blah. I guess it’s just not for me anymore. When I was in my twenties, I could deal with this nonsense. Now? It makes me want to slam my head on concrete.

I guess I’ll check in in another eight years and see if it’s any better. Or maybe by then, we’ll all be using Android devices as our desktops. Problem solved!

— § —

As a final aside, this litany of fail is a continuation of what the start of 2017 has been like for me so far. Big ball of “WTF?!” rolling around smashing things.

This is not a good omen.

Welps! Whatevs.

Change, the people, the culture, and Thursday.  §

The conventional wisdom says that people don’t change, and certainly not fundamentally. Tiger, stripes, leopard, spots, etc. There are adages.

They are, of course, bullshit.

© Aron Hsiao / 2010

People change. They change radically, fundamentally, on a dime. They do it all the time. The tiniest of influences, placed properly, can transform a person permanently into an entirely new and diametrically opposed individual that is virtually unrecognizable to anyone who knew them just months earlier.

I have had the dubious pleasure of witnessing this sort of change repeatedly in my life, happening in people that were close to me.

The mechanics of this change involve, almost certainly, repression. Inside a person grows, for years, an alternate persona, set of values, set of habits and characteristics, that are not expressed but are rather repressed. They cannot admit the existence of these things even to themselves—but the pressure builds, out of view and unknown to all.

They fastidiously maintain stability and continuity until something—usually something small—a change in the fashion of their appearance, a comment from a stranger, a daily circumstance that is unusual—breaks the impenetrable wall and enables them to suddenly see not just the person that has been repressed, deep down, but also the new realm of possibilities that emerge if this person is set free, allowed to become a new “them” going forward.

And suddenly, the pull of non-repression becomes irresistible. Ahead lies liberation, the end of much unseen psychic toil, a new life, a new set and sphere of contacts, opportunities, paths ahead.

They are, in that moment, born anew. And from that moment, it will be mere weeks before virtually every social connection in their life is rewritten or replaced, and virtually every characteristic that previously defined them is forgotten.

People change. Oh, they change. They change “bigly,” and fast.

— § —

The most successful period in my life thus far was during the years from 2008 to 2010. It was certainly a pinnacle or a plateau. Living in the world’s most prominent global city, more work than I could accept, increasingly respected and contributing to “the conversation,” enjoying interesting projects, with a well-organized and rather complete life that was, at the same time, both comfortable and exciting.

The near-decade since has been difficult in that regard; it is never comfortable to backslide. There are a lot of “what-ifs.” What if I had taken the United Nations job? What if I had said “no” to the ultimatum? What if I had divorced the first time I thought about it, rather than years later, given the inevitability involved? What if I had been more aggressive in seeking professorships early on, rather than focusing on completing my degree? What if, what if, what if.

But it’s all on the books now. Now I look for another mountain to climb. That’s one of the tricks to success and fulfillment in life. Not only to enjoy the climb to mastery and the view from its peaks, but in the first instance to identify and locate a mountain to climb at all. You can’t ascend the mountain, take on the challenge of the climb, without first perusing the atlas and then presenting at its foot.

— § —

Intersectionality and critical race and gender theory have done a number on us as a society.

We have reached the point at which we are unable to see daylight between “disagreement,” “discrimination,” and “torture.” This is a particular disease of Generations X and Y, and to an even greater extent, Millennials.

© Bob Jagendorf / CC-2.0

There is no one who does not disagree with us who does not also “discriminate against” and “abuse” and “imprison” us unjustly; every gap between opinions is a slight; every slight is a matter of hatred; all of this hatred is rooted in prejudice; any prejudicial enunciation rises to the level of violent abuse (whether this “violence” is physical or merely aural) and the exercise of perceived structural forces in the interest of total tribal or sectarian domination. Claims of genocide, slavery, patriarchy, and any disagreeing party’s metonymic relationship with large-scale structural forces of injustice, etc. are everyday material. Ever more hysterical hysterics are par for the course.

In each case, the self-identified victims (which, ironically, typically include both interlocutors) pronounce themselves to be irreparably traumatized, rendered unable to function without being triggered, left permanently “differently abled,” and on that account all the much more vulnerable to further violent, prejudicial abuse and the reinscription of trauma (from, it goes without saying, a few more slight differences of opinion).

This cultural script is one of our dominant interactive scripts, right and left, and is the source of a great deal of trouble in our society. It was written by the theorists, locked away in their postmodern wings of social science divisions.

It is fundamentally anathema to democracy, or even to politics as such; it proposes to rule the world by religion and a particular Austinian magic of incantation-as-instantiation and a kind of primal eros that is in fact and ironically the very embodiment of the omnipresent will to power that it decries.

With apologies to the Pixies and some mangling:

We’re not just kids
To say the least
We got ideas
To us that’s dear
And privileged folks
They get us pissed
And stupid stuff
It makes us shout
Oh dance with me
Oh don’t be shy
Oh kiss the world
Oh kiss the sky
Oh kiss my ass
Oh let it rock
Of the April birds
And the may bee
Oh baby
It’s intersectional
(Repeat x8)
University of Massachusetts, please
It’s intersectional
(Repeat x4)

And what will we do once generations with any memory of other cultural scripts are gone from the earth?

— § —

That’s not an idle question. In my own family, more members of the older generation continue to disappear apace this week. The boomers are fading out.

The time when we Xers are “the older generation” is not far off.

And without the cultural memory, vocabulary, and canon of anything that happened before the ’70s, that leaves us in a precarious social spot indeed in the west, given the rejection and break that occurred midcentury. The boomers may have “rejected” cultural transmission, but in fact they still carry with them the previous culture.

Amongst their acts of rebellion and rejection, however, was a refusal to transmit it in its functional entirety.

Fragments remain, but they’re like iPad parts scattered around the pavement after a drop—to reassemble them into any sort of functioning unit at all (much less one that is identical to the pre-drop original) is a nontrivial and probably non-possible task.

— § —

Wednesday done, Thursday next.

It has been a busy week, and it will continue to get busier.

The books.  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2009

The books are piling up again. The arrive electronically and they arrive by mail and yet it has been weeks since I managed to read one. I tell myself to make time, but as has always been the case, my reading self has its own mind, and arrives to read on its own timetable.

Even the old books call to me, the books from my years as a Ph.D. candidate, and before that, as an M.A. student. I can’t bear to read them yet. They make me angry. They bring out feelings that will only serve to make my life more complex right now. I can’t face them because I am not prepared (I don’t mean this emotionally, but realistically and judiciously) for what they might tempt me to do and say.

So the books ae waiting. I hope they don’t have to wait to long.

Some of us humans cast our feelings about us in wild frenzy. Others let them boil under the surface for years and years. We buy books and store them up between the shelved pages, containment modules for rage and revenge with indefinite shelf lives, imagining that perhaps they will outlast us. Someone someday in the future will open their covers and the Pandora’s Boxes into which they have been made.

— § —

The snow is melting, but it’s a false thaw, the usual January thaw in which every sensory imprint of springtime is reinscribed before we plunge back into the frozen depths. I’m not fooled. I’ve done this before.

It does, however, make me wistful.

— § —

What it’s time for is a reading of the classics of literature. Proust. Dostoyevsky. Conrad. Melville. All of those works that have been proclaimed obsolete by nearly every one of the very serious people who lack all seriousness.

Perhaps it was a conceit to hope that a few of us could find a place in the academy and do something to save it from itself.

Certainly some of us have proven adept at self-sabotage by the very same cultural methods that the academy currently employs to haunt itself.

— § —


New tires. Grocery shopping. Water heater repair. Provo. It’s all the same, right? It’s all real life, I’ve been told.

This is sounding like a blog post from 2005. Funny thing, not much has changed, ultimately, since then. GIGO, etc.

GIGO and plebes and SJWs, holy trinitaria.

Normalcy. And things.  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2002
  • The first novel I ever read cover-to-cover in one sitting was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I started it on a lark (I’d been given it years before, but had never cracked it) thinking that it would be a good way to kill time until I dozed of. Sometime around 3:30 am I was reading the last page and it was beginning to dawn on me that I had to wake up and go to school the next morning. I probably owe a lot of things to Ms. Fitzhugh, particularly when it comes to my education and career. As an aside, I have never seen any movie adaptation of this book and I plan to keep it that way.
  • The most useful, most interesting quotes seem to come from college sports coaches. Whether this says more about them or more about me I’m not certain; I only know that it is so.
  • I remember life before the iPhone (it is the 10-year anniversary today). In a very real way, the iPhone ended a particular epoch of my life. Somewhere on Leapdragon 2002 (see my posts earlier this month for a description of this 15-year-old website), I wrote a “dream computing device” bit that described the iPhone in detail. For years, I’d run a quixotic quest to create my dream device, including getting ahold of my own RTOS, hacking spare component boards (processing, touch display, etc.) out of other devices, and writing my own code in C and soldering and awful lot and mostly failing to be satisfied. It was moving at a snail’s pace, but even with a world of Palm OS phones in the early ’00s, I still longed for the One Device to Rule Them All. Then the iPhone was released and someone had built it for me. These days I’m Android, but somewhere in my head it’s still a thing. Good thing or bad thing I’m not sure.
  • After many years alive on this planet, my impression of humanity is that most people seem to run unjustifiably hot and cold and lack internal self-consistency.
  • The end of another college football season. I don’t have all that many of them ahead of me; there are likely more of them behind me. The football season is one of the things that I unwittingly use to measure life, the passage of time. Others include the start of the school year, first snow, the rainy season, and my annual domain name renewals.
  • Someone posted on Facebook that they got lost in the city (e.g. here) and can they please go back to the countryside where they’re from. Perspectives are so different. To me, this is the countryside, and I’m constantly wishing that my life was such that I could go back to the city. Gulfs like this are probably why American politics are broken. I’m sure she’d laugh and say that this isn’t the countryside, let her show me the countryside. And of course I’d laugh and say that this isn’t the city, let me show her the city. Neither of us can conceive of the things in the outer parts of our mutual Venn diagram. It’s just beyond comprehension.
  • How many people get food poisoning from eating those ubiquitous roaster chickens sold at dinnertime at grocery stores? I’d bet it’s a lot. I buy them from time to time, and the one I bought tonight—like about the last three I’ve bought—was severely undercooked and clearly dangerous. If people eat these things without cooking them a second time, or they get the juices everywhere, I imagine the consequences aren’t pretty. I suppose this is down to low-skilled labor at said grocery stores running the roaster ovens in the meat and deli area.
  • Now that I think about it, they’re not ubiquitous but for in suburban areas. In urban areas, nobody would ever buy something roasted by a grocery store clerk and packaged in excessive rubbish packaging. They’d just hit a corner chicken shop if they wanted chicken. Boy, do I miss urban areas.
  • iPad Mini is sold and gone. There’s a part of me that’s sad about that, but I think it’s more sadness about the state of iOS, and maybe even tech, in general. Years ago it would have been miraculous. It’s still solid as a rock and a beautifully polished hunk of aluminum. It also just happens to be a crap device by today’s standards. There’s something sad about that, something that probably means I need to read more Zen Buddhism classics.
  • I need to get another dog. It’s time to get another dog. I will have to crack the (mostly empty) pocketbook.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

For a moment today, I had a flash of normalcy. You forget what it’s like when you haven’t felt it for a long time.

I was sitting on the couch, doing daily reading homework with my daughter, and looking out the sliding door in the living room at the very mundane backyard, where the recent piles of snow were gradually melting in today’s rain. The sky was gray and dimming. Nothing in particular was happening.

And suddenly, everything felt normal. It was gone in a flash, but it was there, if only for the briefest of moments. But for that moment, it was shocking. I haven’t felt normal in years and years, since New York at least. There has always been something on my mind, some state of emergency, regret, solution-needing, pending required action, etc.

Amazing feeling. Amazing.

No doubt that’s what one is supposed to feel when one retires, and why so many people pursue a comfortable retirement so relentlessly. For one brief moment, all was right with the world, and I was not bothered, worried, or strained in the least. I wasn’t anything at all. Just there, empty mind, empty everything. Rain falling.

Given everything on my plate and the state of things in my life, I suspect that it will be years until I feel that way again.

Hopefully it’s for more than just a moment next time around.

— § —

Incidentally, it is dawning on me that they were all wrong. Wrong.

I do not need to read less. I need to read more. Much, much, much more. Exponentially more. There are not enough years left for the reading that I want to do.

And a pox on anyone who has tried to convince me over the years to take my nose out of books an join the “real world.” A double-pox, in fact. And to think that I have, at times, nearly fallen for this idea. I am meant to be smarter than that. Would that I always was.

— § —

Oh, and the WordPress app for Android?

It strips out <div> blocks that I enter into the editor. With my own hands. As in, the app is completely useless to me because some idiot decided to fuck it up and pretend that people don’t know what they’re doing.

This is what’s wrong with technology. Oh, and with the rest of the world.

We have a society designed around people that don’t know what they’re doing, because that’s less “ableist” and more egalitarian and fair.

Not that I want to go all Randite on everyone here. Okay, maybe just a little bit. But seriously.

— § —

Pointless post, sure. But aren’t they all? You can spend a lifetime hunting in vain for the numinous, or you can just get the fuck on with it. I guess tonight it’s all about the latter.​

Fathers and time.  §

The extended family is getting together for my dad’s 70th birthday party.

For reasons that I won’t go into here, it’s impossible for me to be there, which is terribly sad and not at all right.

But in honor of his 70th birthday, and his many decades as the rock upon which an extended family was built, here are just a few memories of dad that deserve to be repeated and inscribed.

  • Fixing the car. It was a green ’74 Dodge Dart that we had as a family, when I was little. British racing green, in fact, though somehow Dodge dropped the ball and made the interior green as well, rather than the usual tan. That was the car that I grew up in. Bench, rather than bucket, seats. Vinyl. A hunk of steel. Must have weighed tons. Used leaded gasoline. Massively mechanical then, as cars were, rather than computerized and specialized—and dad maintained it well. The point, however, isn’t the car. The point is how many memories I have of working on it with dad, parked on the front lawn. He’d be wearing a mauve button-down shirt that to me was the “car work” shirt. The hood wood be open and the toolbox as well, sitting next to the car. I’d be there hovering—watching him and chatting with him as we cleaned spark plugs, changed oil, replaced the air filter, tested belt tension, checked the coolant and freon levels and did a dozen other little things that needed to be done. It’s a memory of sunshine, of tools, of chop-wood-carry-water necessity, and most of all of love. Dad loved me, I knew, because he made me a partner in maintaining the family car, it’s most visible and mobile asset—even if I wasn’t qualified (and I knew that I wasn’t) to help. To this day, the time spent next to dad working on the car isn’t just a fond memory, but is also a massively useful repository of knowledge. It enables me to maintain my own car, which (as is typically the case in American life) is the cornerstone of a family’s ability to get things done.

  • © Candace Hsiao / 1984. From the archives.
  • Learning to ride a bike. For Christmas when I was seven years old, I wanted—and got—a bike. A red bike with a red, orange, and yellow banana seat on it. (It was the early ’80s.) It was beautiful and somewhere there are photos of me standing in front of the Christmas tree next to my new and shiny red bike with a big smile on my face. There was only one problem. Though I was already seven years old, I didn’t know how to ride it. I was well behind the curve on the playground and on the street in that respect—all my friends already knew how to ride. So naturally, it fell to dad to teach me—and he did. Over and over again, he’d hold the bike up by the seat, tell me to climb on and pedal, and then run behind me while I pedaled, holding the bike vertically, maybe letting go for a moment, then grabbing hold again, until I was able to stay vertical and ride on my own. For many years I didn’t appreciate what an impossible feat this was. Then, I had my own kids, and they got their own bikes, and it fell to me to teach them to ride. I then discovered that this method is nearly impossible to duplicate. I have no idea how dad did it—how he managed to keep up as I pedaled, how he managed to maintain a firm grasp despite the bicycle’s wayward physics, how he managed not to get his feet and knees caught up in a melee of spokes and tires. But he did it, and I never once felt frightened or insecure as I learned. Because I knew that dad was right behind me, holding me up.

  • Fishing in the morning, in the dark. I was very young when dad started waking me up early in the morning—pitch black, in a whisper—to say, “Do you want to go fishing?” Needless to say, I did. I don’t remember ever turning him down. What little boy doesn’t want to be asked to join their father in the hunt, to be a part of the community of men in the family, fulfilling their responsibilities? Even if I couldn’t put into words just why, I knew each time he’d ask—in the dark, almost imperceptibly so as not to wake anyone else up—that I was absolutely eager. And we’d go. We’d drive for a very long time (a valley away, the better part of fifty miles, usually) and ascend into the mountains where the fish-laden streams were. I don’t remember what we talked about on the way. I don’t remember whether or not we caught anything. But I do remember all the time we spent squatting on large rocks or in the bushes alongside the streams, staying out of sight in the (by then merely) near-darkness as dad whispered words of fishing wisdom to me—not to scare the fish by being seen, not to make loud noises, how to bait a hook, how fish hide amongst the rocks and in dark areas because they school and because instinct tells them that it’s safest, and so on. He taught me that fish were living things that had a psychology of their own, just like us, and that we were honor-bound to respect that, yet also compelled by the necessities of life to employ it, for such is the chain of being. They were to play their role, and we were to play ours, and from mutual respect and presence in the world would come food for our family. This was my first taste of responsibility, and of manhood. I took it seriously, and the memories of those moments are still as clear as day to me.

  • Dragonflies as pets. When I was very young, nature was still nature and creatures still roamed the earth. It sounds melodramatic to say it, but to step outside these days is merely to encounter smoggy air and metropolitan bustle. Back then, backyards were akin to jungles and wildlife kept house alongside people. In fact, there were dragonflies. Many evenings, particularly in the summer, they would come and go in swarms. And though I doubt he remembers this, the memory of watching, chasing, and domesticating dragonflies remains with me, a kind of magic that is difficult to describe. I remember he and I standing in the backyard, or crouching on the patio, or in the garden, watching the swarms of dragonflies and deciding to capture them. We’d each use one of dad’s caps and we’d move around the yard quietly, “sneaking up” on them, then snapping the hats downward. But it was what happened after we caught a dragonfly that has mattered most for all these years. Our dragonfly was never destined to be run through with pins and put on a corkboard, rendered mute and inanimate. Instead, through some magic that is alien to the culture in which I was raised, dad would pick a long blade of grass from the tufts that surrounded the garden and would tie a tiny loop and knot in one end—then slide it over the dragonfly’s tail—and cinch it ever-so-gently to snugness. And then—for a few minutes at dusk—I would have a pet dragonfly floating along next to me on a blade-of-grass leash. My very-own-for-the-moment dragonfly, wild and weightless and beautiful, held captive not by technology, but by the gentle green of the grass that was its natural habitat. After a few minutes of play between and amongst species, outside of time, in the fading light of the backyard jungle, we’d untie it and off it would go—into eternity. We’d go inside. Have dinner. Live life. Not speak of it again. I’ve never heard anyone else tell a story even remotely like this. I doubt I ever will. But something in this memory is at the core of everything that I know and value about the world.

  • Me being impossible. It’s important at this point that I also go over a few of the things that I suspect dad remembers rather well—things that show not only what a patient dad he was, but what little boys (e.g. me) get up to as they grow. My habit of sneaking up on him whenever he was reading the paper—the one newspaper of the day, irreplaceable in a time before the internet—and suddenly savaging it. I’d slash, grab, rip the paper out of his hands, mid-sentence, rendering it unreadable just as he was finally relaxing after a long day’s work. The most he ever said to me about it was, “Hey!” I doubt whether I could be so patient. And of course there were the “picture moments”—dad holding camera, me obligated to pose and failing to do so. Instead, I was jumping, running, rolling on the ground, making faces, or simply having a wild, ecstatic fit, nothing but motion and noise. In retrospect, I know that dad must have been exasperated (I now have a little boy of my own, one that is rather the same) but in the moment, I was never yelled at, never punished. With the patience of Job, dad would firmly repeat instructions, then navigate me deftly into a moment—and of course only a moment—of calm. There are some pictures. And I have no bad memories of these moments. That’s a testament to dad’s ability to be a dad. Then of course there were all of those teen years, during which I made (nearly) every mistake in the book, many of them of the sort that are generally offensive and frightening to parents. Rather than being beaten, grounded, yelled at, punished—all of the things that I hear as stories from others in my generation—dad would could corral me into a conversation. He’d sit down with a napkin, a pen, and some wise words and reason with me. Share knowledge. Share experience. Ask me tough questions (that I often hated to answer or couldn’t answer). It’s important to me that dad know, now, that it all mattered. It was not time wasted. I was an impossible kid, often, maybe always—and now that I’m a dad, I’m fairly sure that dad must have wondered whether or not he was handling things in the right ways, at times. Well—he was. You did a good job, dad. An amazing job, really. Sorry for being such a handful. Thank you for your patience and for your love. I will try to pay it forward.

There’s not room enough in the world, or on a Sunday morning, to write everything that I’d like to write. But if there was, I’d also write about:

  • Making rope chains out of rubber bands
  • Being taught to weave gum wrappers into yards and yards of fabric
  • Hours and hours spent playing board games
  • Math, tireless teaching of math, from multiplication tables to trigonometry and calculus
  • Being kept involved—at great expense—with computing and technology, which became my career
  • Stories, made up on the fly, about animal characters living lovely adventures
  • Super supreme pan pizza for every holiday, and hearing dad’s voice as he ordered it by telephone
  • Learning to do push-ups and sit-ups in my pajamas, with dad’s assistance
  • Chinese songs that I loved to sing
  • Learning to write my Chinese name in Chinese characters
  • Dad’s supportive dubiousness about the Boy Scouts, which was later validated, validating me in the process
  • Much, much firm gentleness, and gentle wisdom
  • Generosity beyond belief, in all things, that continues to this day

So—on the occasion of my dad’s 70th birthday, I just want to say that I have come to understand that it’s now my time to try to be that ineffable thing that appears to be not long for this world: a father. Time has passed and is passing; one day, my time as a father every day, too, will be a matter of memories. But every day, as I do this, I think of you and the father that you were and are to me. Because it matters.

And thanks, dad.

Free will, beauty, everyday life, and Christmas decorations.  §

Post-holiday de-decorating for another year is now done. Everything looks very strange and spartan. I suppose we’ll get used to it all again. It will probably be easier for the kids to adjust than it will for me.

— § —

Every now and then I have this earth-shattering realization.

Today it came as I was carrying a garbage bag out from the kitchen to the large garbage can in the carport.

Few things feel as good, as right, or as edifying as simply getting your shit done. Your regular, everyday, nothing-really-special-about-it, shit. Taoism and Buddhism have long known this. Chop wood and carry water.

You forget.

— § —

Where have all the deep thoughts gone?

— § —

© JurriaanH / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Beauty is a matter of balance—polished and brushed chrome, thick toughness and flowing softness in leather, red and white and black, male and female, caring and rough edges.

The conventional eastern wisdom, which isn’t necessarily wrong, is that you can’t have beauty without ugliness because only given the one does the other become recognizable and exist as a concept.

I think you’ve got to go further than this and say that beauty is always essentially redemption. It is the only beautiful thing known to humankind; it is the essence of beauty and the essence of why it is appreciated—because it speaks to the possibility of our own redemption.

For this reason, for beauty to actually be beautiful, it must actually also embody, upon inspection, ugliness. Beauty has not just flaws, but evils, wrongs in it. Without these, we make the distinction that guys often make when talking about supermodels: “Objectively beautiful, gosh, so beautiful—and scary, cold, maybe even evil. Do not like.”

The reason perfection-as-beauty is ultimately seen with suspicious, fearful eyes is that it conveys the opposite message: “This kind of beauty can only be attained if no redemption is necessary.”

That takes it out of the realm of the human. Perfection is fine as perfection, but it has no resonance, no warmth. It doesn’t call do us. It isn’t that “warmth of the fire of one’s own mortality” that Benjamin talked about.

— § —

I have to read more Benjamin. I have to read more of everything.

I love kid lit. But also fuck kid lit.

— § —

Making choices is hard.

One thing rather than another. I mean, does it get more catastrophically existential than that?

Free will (or its illusion, if that’s what we have in the end) is a massive curse, the evil at the core of the human experience and at the core of the human heart. Who invented this shit? In the same eastern notes described earlier I’ll say that it would be better for all had it not been invented.

Leave us our mortality so that things remain meaningful, but free will? Only because it exists do we fear its opposite. But it does, and so fear it we do. But seriously, tyranny, crime, hate, immorality, etc. all exist only because free will.

Shitty substance.

— § —

I feel sorry for all these broken people I’ve known over the years.

Broken, torn apart, wrongheaded, suffering. Suffering deeply. Not even knowing it. So many people like that. I want to say that Los Angeles is composed almost entirely of people like that. Probably other places, too.

People whose own souls hate them, crying out in torment that the experience as doubt, and beat down and silence mercilessly. They are wrong, wrong about almost everything, both completely morally depraved and yet also, by virtue of ignorance, almost entirely innocent anyway.

You know that they are destined to suffer forever, that they are already damned. You can’t reach them, the real them, not even for a moment.

I don’t think there’s a name for it—I haven’t heard one—but it’s the quintessential modern disease.

— § —

I’m falling alseep. So that’s all.

Integration, solidarity, and their discontents.  §

Courtesy of Facebook

When the history books are written, I suspect that they will say that the invention and rise of social media in the United States brought about the ends of many previous forms of integration:

  • Many nuclear and extended families
  • Many local communities
  • Many configurations of civil society
  • The United States and others as nation-states

It is Benedict Anderson in reverse, or rather, with the directions of forces and natural boundaries re-written to favor alternate configurations.

It will be Zuckerberg whose legacy is the destruction of an entire epoch’s system of social order around the globe, at virtually every scale.

Early January stuff.  §

More effects of social media:

(1) An increase in reporting on the ways in which an in-group has been violated/betrayed/harmed by those not in the in-group; a collective increase in the fomenting and awareness of indignation—combined with…

(2) Self-segregation such that no alternative, humanizing, empathy-supporting viewpoints are ever heard, and much more importantly, no-one not in the indignant in-group is ever present or addressable, so that there is no ready target for the expression of this indignation—which leads to…

(3) An even greater sense of grievance and indignation at the inscrutability and intractability of the target, which is experiences as indignant helplessness in violation, i.e. victimhood, which is then circulated back through the in-group—return to (1) above, etc.

— § —

Few things seem as empty as the space left behind after a Christmas tree is removed in January.

Today was that day, and the tree is now gone. The rest of the “de-decoration” process happens tomorrow.

This year, for some reason, it’s a particularly poignant thing for me. I took much more care in doing it than I generally do, and I felt moved by a far stronger attachment to the tree than I have in years past.

I’ll even go so far as to say that it made me sad.

— § —

Tomorrow the iPad Mini goes out the door, sold on eBay. Good riddance. I didn’t realize quite how much I disliked iOS anymore until I had to use it every day.

Being back on Android is a breath of fresh air.

— § —

Things are busy at work. As in busy. It’s not that it interferes with my schedule or my parenting so much as that it leaves me with little of the “reflection time” that I thrive on.

On the other hand, “thrive” may be too strong a word given that this reflection time has led exactly nowhere over the last year or so.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2014

There’s a part of me that would like to garden again in spring. I’m not sure that this is feasible; my schedule and life are such that it seems like lunacy to even consider it. And yet I am considering it.

On the other hand, I wonder if it might not make more sense to adopt and invest our time in something community-oriented, come spring. You can’t meet many people in your own garden and I’m in a position in which I’d like to meet and regularly interact with more people.

— § —

Blah, blah, blah.

Once again I wrote about 10 good posts today while away from any ability to actually type them, and now that it’s late and I have a moment to myself to just type, I can’t remember any of them. If they reveal themselves once again, I’ll be back. Otherwise, I won’t.