After work I decided to go up the hill to get out of the house a bit, and ended up at Slow Bar. I guess that happens when you’re as tall as I am.
After having a delicious hamburger I came home and wrestled with Markov Garden. Things were going okay until I realized that something’s off with the JSON that I’m getting from the parser, and it’s deserializing into something other than what I want. Here’s how I expressed that in a commit message.
The table that we’re getting turns into something a little off, so I think it’s going to have to involve more explicit hand-massaging.
So. . . that was pretty dorky.
I had planned to be so good. Furthermore, I guess I’d sort of hoped to coast along on the momentum that came with the previously-mentioned promotion, but of course I don’t work that way. Instead, it seemed to cause a bit of a rupture and everything got kind of destructured.
Pinterest is great. Despite initial reservations, I think I’m getting more out of it than any other internet service these days. After my initial reaction to the information flood my impulse was to stop following everyone to whom I was automatically subscribed when I created my account. Luckily I didn’t do this, and instead starting dropping individual boards in which I was clearly not interested. The result is that I avoid being inundated with crap, but I’m still seeing a lot of things that are very cool that I wouldn’t have found left to myself.
In the olden days that doddering old fools like me only barely remember almost all personal web presences included a substantial link section. People would use these to collect lists of pages that they wanted to keep around, and there was a sort of discovery process whereby you would find someone’s homepage and follow their links, learning about various corners of the web as you went. Traditionally-minded bloggers like Warren Ellis still frequently post entries that are lists of links, but in general this process has moved within the silos of social networking sites. Of course, Pinterest is a social networking site too, but it’s very easy to get stuff into it and (and really, this is the most important thing) one doesn’t have to be logged in to view content.
I’ve been really scattered. I’ve always tended to be this way a bit, but it has accelerated lately. I think. I definitely feel like I am less able than usual to determine what I should be doing next, which often means that I waste time doing nothing. It is also the case that my attention span has been really dismal. I’m not positive what that is about.
The most obvious victim of this has been Markov Garden, which is currently pretty dormant. It is very hard for me to decide what to do about that. Part of me would like to really focus on how I can get organized in such a way that a next step is either obvious or discoverable when I find myself wondering what I ought to do. Part of me thinks that the most important thing is to finish what I’ve started and trying to organize myself more effectively ought to wait until after that has happened. If you hadn’t guessed from the previous paragraph, the outcome of this conflict is always that I don’t do anything worthwhile.
Eventually, things change.
I’ve been at Temboo for over 5 years now. I have had a lot phases over the course of them. Sometimes things were good, and sometimes they were very, very bad. I almost left last week, but was convinced to stay by a gradual shift in my role. Basically I’m going to stop breaking things and start making them.
In my recent post about Temboo’s recent all-hands I mentioned that this was a direction that I needed to go in. At that point it seemed like that was going to mean Markov Garden, and whatever projects with which I decided to follow it up. What’s different about doing programming at work as well is that my mind is already going to be engaged that way. Programming is something where you need not only knowledge, but mindset. It’s a lot easier to write code today if you were doing it yesterday. This will be a good facilitator.
Another good thing that this means for Markov Garden is that I don’t have to feel like it’s a portfolio project. While I don’t think that I found that aspect of it particularly onerous, I’m interested to see what it will feel like to come back to it as just an example of personal expression.
At any rate, that’s what’s going on. It’s pretty crazy, really.
So one of the things that I’ve been working on lately is trying to avoid information overload while still allowing myself the opportunity to discover new things. Part of this process involved spending a couple of hours mapping out a substantial cross-section of the ways in which I send, receive, and store data using the internet. Looking at the visual representation, C said she felt stressed out by the number of things with which I interacted regularly and wondered why.
I said, and continue to believe, that it was because it was a comprehensible representation of the scope of the web. The complexity of my process scaled out to encompass a huge group of people gives a sense of the irreducible complexity, but not one so overwhelming that the mind simply doesn’t acknowledge it.
At this point it’s a Barthean “punctum,” placing it only barely on this side of trauma. On the face of I it, it’s easy to find this a bit overwrought, but I think it bears scrutiny. If you think about, people have always tended to avoid acknowledging the degree to which the world scales beyond them, and the world has never been so far beyond the average person as it is now, but I’m getting ahead of myself (I mean, it is the future.)
In a related development, your uncle Bruce wrote an article for Wired (a magazine that I would love to hate, but the degraded state of our discourse means it’s pretty damn good) about this newfangled “New Aesthetic.” Now I probably should have had more of an idea about this whole phenomenon, but for some reason the package as such was new to me, although I have long been familiar with the products from every day life.
Sterling starts with some effusive praise, and then gets down to the business of complaining. His objections are sound, but I think that there are two things that he says and then doesn’t combine which constitutes a significant oversight. The first observation is that many of the networks that NA celebrates are overtly hostile. No amount of charming glitches, for example, make a police surveillance network like London’s anything other than overt fascism. A lot of negative things that should be called out are instead played down.
The second is that the “8-bit” aspect of NA is complete fucking bullshit, and while he recognizes that, his analysis of it is where things go a bit wrong. Here’s what he says about them:
Finally, retro ’80s graphics are sentimental fluff for modern adults who grew up in front of 1980s game-console machines. Eight-bit graphics are pretty easy to carve out of styrofoam. There’s a low barrier-to-entry in making sculpture from 8-bit, so that you can “rupture the interface between the digital and the physical.” However 8-bit sculptures are a cute, backward-looking rupture.
This makes the whole pixelizing the external world thing seem like something that can be trimmed off, but the pixelization is actually an integral part of the process whereby people allow themselves to ignore the dangers of things like surveillance networks by making them cute. It’s a metaphor that allows someone to form an idea about how a network interacts with the world without being overwhelmed by the experience. Unfortunately, deployment of this metaphor doesn’t just ignore the unpleasant aspects of the things under observation, it actively confuses the viewer. The fact is, we’re already past the pixel-era. The eyes of the network are getting more acute all the time, and the charming pixel metaphor is a willful blindness to that, and a rush to repression.
I kind of want to talk more about this, including the fact that all human error is attributable to inappropriate metaphors, so stay tuned.
Despite not keeping up to date with posts, I have been progressing with Markov Garden. Whilst enjoying my vacation in the ancestral homeland, I worked mostly on the appearance aspect, which I’m not very good at, but I think the results have been alright.
As I have noted elsewhere, I am deeply concerned about the homogenization of the internet, so I have been trying to find a look that isn’t too in keeping with the temper of the times. After sort of wandering around a bit, I decided that I’d try to work on something based on this amazing Luibov Popova textile design.
I love this because it is organic, but that doesn’t prevent it from boldly facing the future. Unfortunately, as I’m not much of an HTML-ologist, I found myself compromising in ways that undermined the value. After a little more exploration (for which I think I’m really getting a lot out of Pinterest, despite its sloppy design principles) I came upon this Jean Arp image.
This is an easier stylistic guide, although I’m still trying to incorporate influences from the Popova. Right now the thing runs the risk of looking a little mod, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get past that. I want something that reflects optimism about progress without having to refer to it explicitly.
So I was in New York last week, visiting the mothership and catching up with all and sundry. Because I hadn’t seen most of these people in at least two years, there was a lot of talking about what everyone was doing. Because I was fairly relaxed (for me) and enjoying myself (again. . .), I think that it’s worth putting stock in the themes that tended to come out in these processes.
Arguably the single most noticeable thing about all these catch-up sessions is that everyone wanted to be reassured that things were good w/ Carolyn. Now in most cases this is attributable to people liking her, but in one or two key instances it was clearly the result of thinking that we are a good combination based on a deep understanding of at least me. That’s pretty cool, and it’s a nice thing to be able to take away from the experience.
There was a lot of ribbing, mostly but not exclusively around the office, about me wanting to move back to New York. Not to throw my hat too far into the ring of the world’s smuggest man competition, but a fair amount of this was wishful thinking. As I said, I enjoyed the visit immensely, but I haven’t forgotten how burnt out I was on soulless yuppie swine when I moved here back in 2008. Properly filtered, the story here is that I am indeed eager for some sort of change of place. The specifics have yet to be worked out (and lord knows there’s plenty of time to think about it), but C and I are looking, in the somewhat distant future, to live elsewhere.
As for me by myself, I spent a lot of time telling people that things were okay, but that I felt like I needed to be working on being the kind of person that makes things. I think this is kind of a big deal, and I’m definitely going to be focusing on it more. In a way, writing a paper is sort of like a very small project, so I guess it stands to reason that I miss doing something that I did constantly at a time that I consider to have been pretty fruitful. Of course, things can run away from you. Markov Garden has been confusing and big in a lot of ways that I didn’t expect, but I think that publishing it will be a major coup that I really need to be looking forward to. And beyond.
At the all-hands, we spent a lot of time talking about connecting people from information and then I, during a brainstorming session about applications, said something to the effect of “Wait, what about filtering?” People sort of paused and scratched their chins, but we didn’t focus on it at all. It isn’t a thing yet. It will be, but for now people are racing ahead to get their faces in front of the fire hose.
I was reminded of this because C sent me a Pinterest invite last night, and for some reason ye olde Booke of the Fayce required me to upgrade to timeline view to blah blah blah and. . . I have to say that the effect is pretty ridiculous. Pinterest is also kind of nuts. It’s front page is just a massive grid of uneven rectangles full of pictures. Also, when you click on one there is no obvious control to go back to the home page. Presumably this is a way to encourage people to do some interacting with something they may have been merely curious about. Not a decision I would have made.
At any rate, not to bag on any particular site/company/whatever, because really the problem is with the zeitgeist. People want shit like that. People want all their email in one massive bucket that they can search using tags. To me that’s totally nuts. I kind of think that containing structures help create a flow that makes things useful. Of course, that can be limit your access to things outside of your extant experience (in fact, I’d say that part of the reason I thought being on Pinterest was a good idea was to encourage myself to look outside my extant structure), but everyone seems to be about searching, and nobody is about sorting. Yet.
I meant to put this picture of Portland institution Beulahland in the previous post.
I’m pretty sure that I’m well enough for Kung Fu tonight, so maybe that will help me get past this overwhelming sense of ennui. The Sifu just got back from Thailand recently, so maybe we’ll just drill. That would probably the best possible thing for me. Nothing quite like kicking for overwhelming ennui, right?
Markov Garden is a little behind. I’m looking through it to find places where I can get it to tell me about itself. The tables mentioned here are a good start, but they’re still pretty overwhelming, and the HTML documents build to display them are literally 50 times the size of the input texts. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker (the tables won’t be part of the published project), but it does mean that figuring out where I can make things more accessible requires a lot of thinking.
Periodically I need to remind myself that this is something that I’m doing in addition to my job/other life concerns/etc. I have been prone to despairing about the fact that I haven’t published the damn thing already, which is clearly about as counterproductive as a thought can be. Here’s the resolution: I’m going to work on it tonight after class, and then after that I’m going to use the parser as-is, regardless of its state, and work on putting some of it up on EC2. Even if things are still a wreck, shifting gears should keep me facile in a way that will make an eventual breakthrough easier than focusing too hard on one thing.
So I’m still pretty dazed. I was not able to replicate the feat of working first thing in the morning, but I’m going to continue to go to bed at an hour that will accommodate that act should I miraculously recover from my lingering illness overnight. This evening I started on design stuff, although I was hampered by the fact that I don’t have a very clear vision of what I want the page to look like. Still, blocking out some functional regions isn’t nothing. Let’s go with Doyle again.
“But I am so frightened!’ I panted.
“We have retained Lestrade, whom you helped in the grounds very nicely, Doctor,” he remarked after a painful and lingering disease, was never so much as I bent over her face blanched with terror, her hands in his chair and let me have a confused memory, too, of having abstracted it from the road to the whip, but before I speak.”
I had brought up and down the street, and I should—”
“Yes, it was the horrid scar which had been drawn from him by a person on Monday, at eleven o’clock, to Duncan Ross, and I stay at home. Tell us the bet is off, that is it.” It was damp, marshy ground, as is in a friendly footing?”
Holmes rose and sat down at me. “I find it as the dropping of a government appointment in the moonlight, and it has been here. I gave a little cry of satisfaction. For a long building, which proved, upon my companion, “I am no doubt strike you.”
“Oh, Anstruther would do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when I found how I employed my morning, or I may say before this gentleman and ascertaining what part he has little time, but come!’
“Yes, it was a good deal of brandy and smoked a cigar after all the morning until four in the course of action. I surprised you by beating upon her face. More than once observed to be the position in which we might give the alarm. If you two will take wiser heads than yours or mine,” he remarked, and bowing in a yellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little disturbed, ‘did you give your casting vote to?”
So I decided to do something crazy. This morning I woke up early and actually did MG work before signing in at Temboo. I think it was a success. I just messed around with the templates that generate the web page, but it’s important not to let that stuff fall by the wayside. Obviously, I don’t have a particularly strong design mentality, but I’m trying to get over that. In fact, making stuff look nice is probably what I’m going to be focusing on all week. We’ll see how it goes.
Here’s something from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
“Now, Mr. Holmes, and my wife as an old house, I may have afforded a finer field for the business to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of events as narrated by this German who is at her and, as I have had to confess that I saw Arthur with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from him, and he had spent so short a time in Pentonville. One day he had not. Was there a few others which represent at least the initials of K. K. K. K. K. K., and why I did not advertise.”
“It missed him, then?”
“Oh, my God! Helen! It was no doubt that she alone had touched his heart. The devil knows best what he foresaw happened.”
“No, no; I call him a decidedly nautical appearance, and he seemed a different man to the roots of his chair, with his head on one side and looked back. It took all his strength of body and mind and fearless in carrying out her hand over his grounds and are residing alone in London.’
“Yes, sir. He and a perpetual smell of drink. Twice since I saw him motion like a pistol shot. Do you note the peculiar construction of the stairs, however, she met her end. Besides, there were no carpets and no confession could make out nothing save that the increased salary may recompense you for this last London season. I met him first at the rocket, rushed from the pool I heard a low, clear whistle, but the greeting appeared to read aloud to him.
“So much for the ugly wound upon my father.”
“My last client of the house where he was a few minutes he
So other aspects of life continue to keep me busy. I did bother to pick out another source text: Nostromo.
Decoud had died. But he could show an authorization from the mine; and, besides, there was a portentous sign; that the game of children. He gazed down upon each cart; of raised arms in a few coastguard cutters, there were incipient tears in his gig to one and all, like so many chances of existence are involved, a desire to leave things and all the departures and arrivals of the ground of her mind that nothing but a common cause, the symbol of the silver preyed on his way to the highest pitch, his eyes and looked on with compressed lips. The crowd stared literally open-mouthed, lost in Sulaco for a constantly diminishing quantity of snuff out of it (the print was small) he had supposed to be accepted. This feeling made the letters from Sulaco were not a gleam of a night or two.”
“Yes, everybody knows of now. I don’t ask what it behoved him to be alone—with his dead wife with a general and have been something final, and busied herself with a slightly different view,” the doctor asked, eagerly.
“God knows!” said Charles Gould’s polite silence; and when, stopping abruptly, he fell himself shot through the night he made that overland journey from London to Sta. Marta had credited him with an undismayed mind, but with a nail driven into her little feet, in white and enormous moustaches of the mothers with the most absurd fidelity. I am one of the whole Costaguana section of the main body, no stir of formless shapes on the march to Rome he had studied in Rome, and could not conceal her love for Antonia. For all his mad state he recognized his compadre and jumped up as if the tremendous disclosure of this reputation he
I have, however, been thinking about Markov Garden. In particular, I’ve been thinking that a big part of the problem is that in using Ruby’s built-in hash class to keep track of things at the top level, I’m dooming myself to really long insertion times once I get deep into a book (because if a book has a lot of words, you may well have to search through the entire list of keys in order to determine a new word has to receive its own entry.) I’ve been pondering paths around this, and think that I have a couple of reasonable candidates.