prettyarbitrary: (Fuzzy Cthulhu)
Posted this in a comm I'm a member of, but I'll put it here too because it's interesting to me and I know smart people.

Somebody recently dropped a passing comment about their interest in the sentience of memes, and I thought about it a bit and then got super-curious about the theory behind it.

Unfortunately, attempting to Google for insight has mostly led to me heaps of joke websites that don't actually explain anything.

I can easily see a conception of memes as living...well, not organisms since they're not biological, but entities. Memes do spread a bit like a virus, and you could even argue that they evolve and seek to propagate by finding new hosts to infect (when you get an idea in your head, after all, don't you usually find yourself dying to expand upon and share it?).

I'm dying of curious about the sentience angle, though. How do you envision this? What's the reasoning? What are/would be the characteristics of a sentient meme? How would we be able to recognize if they are?
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Funny thing for a professed Christian to say, but yes. I just think that science hasn't necessarily caught up with everything. I mean, that's an awful lot of stuff. It seems pretty silly to assume that what we've worked out so far can cover every possible phenomenon.

In point of fact, there's an interesting branch of mathematics philosophy (yes, there is such a thing) that posits that math in its many and varied forms may actually be the language of the universe. See, for a long time we assumed we'd created match as a precision tool to communicate and describe the world without the hang-ups of context that go along with the usual sorts of language. Then one day, some guy wondered, "Hey, what if we discovered this rather than created it?" Lots of people scoffed, but some other guy pointed out that we would know the answer if math ever started behaving, well, weird. After all, if it's just something we made up, then it'll always do what we want, right? In fact, math might stop being a useful analytical tool in that case, because it'll keep representing what we want it to represent rather than what's actually out there. But if it's something we discovered, then at a certain point math will abandon our neatly ordered vision of it and start reflecting all the crazy crap that actually goes on in the world--the apparent contradictions, the folding out of space, the stuff that just can't be but it's there anyway.

Let's say somebody came along and built a building. This building is so big you can't actually see it all at once from anyplace you can stand. So clearly, the thing to do is build a small model of it so you can see what the real thing looks like. Now, it's completely up to you whether you accurately recreate the building. If you go around changing the measurements and moving walls, nobody will be able to tell you it's wrong. That would be the concept of math being a tool we invented--we could do whatever the heck we wanted with it. On the other hand, another way to get a clear idea of that building is to get in there and start bumbling around--discovering your way through it rather than trying to model it with a smaller fake version of itself. If this is the case, then you're not making anything up; it's already there for you to find and reason your way through.

And lo and behold, math does indeed get pretty darn strange out around the edges. Sometimes equations don't equal out, for example (can 4+5 = 15-3? Apparently so!). Sometimes variables randomly appear--or disappear. Constants change. That's not how math would work it we were making it up. Ask any mathematician. They usually don't go into the field because they're all into chaos and uncertainty.

So...what do you do with a universe like that? Where things can be described in a language that apparently existed before we got here? You keep trying to work it out, is what. And maybe, one day, we'll understand the language well enough to figure out how to converse in it....and who or what we're holding the conversation with.
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Yes, another sweeping LJ drama is rushing through fandom--and like the last one (that'd be RaceFail '09, for those keeping track), it's actually useful. This one is all about whether online writers ought to risk spoiling their stories by putting up warnings for things that could not only offend or disgust readers, but potentially actually traumatize them--for widely used example, rape survivors who stumble upon a story with rape in it.

(There's a thing that's lately known as "triggering," where a person encounters something that deposits them back into the emotional state they were in during a traumatic event from their past. I had always thought this was a form of flashback, but then this is why I'm not a psychologist. Either way, you can imagine it screws you up, and considering that various forms of sexual assault and other violence--think gaybashing--are sadly common, this is not a matter of histrionic theatricality. If you want to know about triggering, check out this post by a member named [ profile] impertinence--but be aware, her tale is graphic and potentially triggering in its own right.)

Anyway, the thing about warning labels. Some of these survivors think people ought to warn them before they dive headfirst into something that might end up being triggery. It seems that a number of writers object to this on the grounds that--well, on lots of different grounds. For example, some think it's too much trouble. Some protest that they suck at knowing what to warn against and would fail to accomplish anything anyway. Some think that this whole triggering thing is just a bunch of whining. Some believe it ruins the integrity of their story due to spoilers. (If you want to read about the arguments, you can start at this post by [ profile] lcsbanana.)

But I'm not here for that. I'm here to talk about the technology behind it all. )
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People who don't try it often don't realize that art is an encompassing discipline made up of many different skills.

I tend to have several skills I'm actively improving at any given time. I sometimes hit a point with one--say, drawing hands or using Photoshop layers--where I say to myself, "Hey, I'm finally getting good at this! I don't have to struggle with it so much."

I feel good about myself for a few moments...and then I look back on the time and effort I spent on getting to that point, and I realize that I've just spent a year or so mastering a single detail. >_< One down; only about a million more to go.

And I look forward at what the masters are capable of, and realize that "good" is a relative term.

Man, art is hard work.
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3) Reading Fanfic As Literature

Let's be clear: I'm not talking about the dreck that exists because somebody's too lazy to come up with their own ideas. But the fact that a lot of fanfic sucks doesn't change the fact that some percentage of it is quality work that deserves recognition not only for its own literary merit but also for what it brings to the text it derives from.

Yes, seriously. Some fanficcers write as a way of engaging with the original text ('text' including movies, tv, anything with the elements of a story). It's their way of teasing out the threads of a story and communicating their own experience of it, their thoughts on it, their interpretation of it. These writers use fanfiction as...I guess you might call it an allegorical form of literary analysis.

I need to get shorter with these. )

Anyway, that's why fanfic as literature: I see it as an extension, explication, and/or interpretation of the primary text, and as such, if well-constructed, it's perfectly viable as a secondary source with which to extend my understanding and appreciation of the work (though granted, not necessarily legally or academically viable--at least, it's not academically viable yet; wait for that one, guys, because there are young academics out there working to win its scholarly legitimacy).
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First, the worst, purplest prose in the history of the color purple. [ profile] coaldustcanary pointed me at this, and I realized as I looked at it that I had seen this book before! Someone had brought it to a party in order to read aloud from it and entertain us all. And it really is the worst. These pages? Not even the worst in the book.

Second, a passing nod to the Great Racefail '09. For those of you who've managed to miss it (which was not me this time! I didn't participate, but I follow [ profile] matociquala's (aka author Elizabeth Bear) blog, so I saw that a couple of days after it was posted and watched the upheaval unfold from there.

My two observations on the Great Race Fail: I don't know about anybody else, but I learned a lot just from keeping my trap shut and reading. I'll have much to think on for a long time to come. And also, Stupid knows no boundaries. Neither does Smart, for that matter. They are the great equalizers, and the proof that beneath everything else, we're all human.

I was mainly interested in the topic of writing Others (aka people who aren't like you...whatever you want that to mean), because I love characters who aren't like me. I read fantasy because I want to see new and different things, but also because I like it when things I read come back to enrich my perspective on real life. If all the characters are immediately identifiable, if I don't have to learn anything about them to get to know them, then they're boring--and probably cliched. Speaking as nothing but a fan of stories, I'll say it bemuses me that this topic came up so strongly in the fantasy genre, where I'd imagined it was a matter of course to at least make an effort to get into the heads and experiences of other cultures, other genders, other lifestyles, even things like dragons and vampires and alien species. But I guess there's doing it well, and doing it half-assed, and then there's doing it for critters you've just invented and there's doing it for characters that have some grounding in real life.

I just hope people've found the whole row educational (other than the requisite flamewars), and that maybe we'll get a more diverse array of writers being published out of this. My bottom line is that you shouldn't have to put up with crap for it, but it's boring when everybody's the same.
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Instead of bending knee to the tyrannical force of tagging, I'm going to do something different, but probably similarly educational about me because it shows the kind of things I think about on a daily basis.

You know what's weird about all our online Interests lists and "About me" memes? They're all meant to tell people about you, as if they can communicate the essential you in the absence of your physical presence. Do you think it works? Do you feel that, by seeing a list of educational history and work history and hobbies and musical tastes, you're getting to know a person you may never've met? When I first "meet" somebody online, I usually check out their Profile, because they start out as pretty much a blank slate and it's a way of filling in some identifiers. But while I feel more comfortable broaching a conversation with them once I feel I've got something to work with, I don't know whether I feel more familiar with them.

It's easier than meeting somebody in person, in some ways, where they're not walking around wearing lists of ice-breakers and shared tastes. And in person, people wear masks, don't they? Not necessarily to deliberately hide, but you pick and choose the aspects of yourself you present to any given person--the things you have in common, the modes of speech (watch your tongue with this friend because they don't like coarse language; can the nerd references with that one because they're not into Star Wars; put your best face forward on the phone with your mom, even though she can see right through you), mannerisms you've formed a habit of displaying to them...or the polite ones you're used to putting on for people who don't know you yet.

The Web is a different mask. In the absence of physical presence, you don't have to hide those cues that let somebody know the things on your mind that you don't want to reveal. You can be thinking how hot the guy next to you is while you're texting to your little brother, and you don't have to pretend you're not, because it doesn't transmit digitally.

It's all about filters. They come naturally to us, because humans have always filtered ourselves. Our technology is a mirror of us, the electronic brains of computers that function so much like ours (I think if we ever succeed at AI, we'll find we have much in common with our creations), the internet and its social tools that're mostly just digital versions of the tools we've used all along. So the question is, internet or not, when do you really know a person? What is the transition line between knowing *about* them and truly knowing them? And a subjective question, how well do you need to know someone before you can call them a friend? Before you trust them? And are "friendship" and "trust" synonymous for you? Do you need a physical presence to complete the process, or is it possible to stay entirely in this rarified cyber-world of the raw mind?

There are people out there who fanatically keep aspects of themselves apart online. They may have blogs and accounts to reflect the facets of themselves, and never shall those circles meet. I wonder if that's a reflection of their psychology, a dissociative inability to reconcile themselves with themselves? Could it even be a form of therapy, burning out the things they can't come to terms with until they find the key to accepting it? Or is it just a desire to create protected environments where they can follow their interests without having to be polite and restrained for bystanders?
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The Vatican's science programs

Now, that doesn't speak for the evangelicals, Protestants lacking a central authority and all (as a note, I am a Protestant, and we don't all hate science either). But it's a good article, and I figured I'd share it around to help set the record straight.

In other news, I'm shopping for a tablet pc, or a convertible notebook computer. At the moment, I'm eying the HP Pavilion tx2500, mainly because it's cheaper than anything else and nobody's complaining about it too much. Any thoughts?
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I've mentioned No Reservations to some of you as a show you should watch. It's one of those travel shows (on the Travel Channel, 10 pm Mondays and also sometime during the late afternoon most weekdays in reruns), where he spins across the planet, looking for interesting things to eat and interesting people to eat them with. So it's, like, educational. It's also one of the best things on television.

The thing is, it's not a show about the cheapest places to stay or the best restaurants or how gorgeous this place is that you'll never be able to visit on your budget. It's a show about what people are like all over the world, and what happens in one man's head when he goes someplace and it teaches him something. When Bourdain isn't being thought-provoking, he's being hilarious, perhaps kvetching about the rigors of smoking a cigarette at 10,000 feet or laughing at his cameraman for accepting every shot of ouzo their Greek hosts have handed him in the past eight hours. (It does have an "adult material" warning because Bourdain doesn't always watch his mouth, and...well, let's say dress codes aren't always the same in other countries.)

If you can't make the show, then check out Anthony Bourdain's Blog, where you can be entertained and educated by turns (often at once!).

Also, look for the "Anthony Bourdain in Beirut" episode. He and his crew arrived in Beirut just a few days before the Israeli/Lebanon conflict in 2006, and they remained there throughout the week, filming, because there wasn't anything else they could do. It wasn't like their normal episodes. They cut it from the material they had, of the attacks and the hiding and the evacuation, and they aired it because, well, it's one of those things. It's not full of blood or death or violence. There's no commentary on "us" or "them." It's just a show about people, and what happens sometimes, and the things we usually look away from.

Comments and reviews on the episode.


May. 9th, 2008 02:20 pm
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[ profile] x_los posted a conversation she had with a friend regarding steampunk, and I felt moved to response...which got too long to leave in her comments and thus got shipped over here.

Now, I'm not as much into the movement as some people. I do not, for example, have a steampunk costume (though, um, I'm trying to put one together for Halloween), but I dare to claim that I do sort of tap the zeitgeist. That is, steampunk speaks to me; I feel a visceral response to the aesthetic. So...barring somebody who is TOTALLYINTOIT!OMG spinning by to play the eloquent apologist, I'll attempt to speak toward the phenomenon.

X-los expressed curiosity as to what the driving impulses are behind the movement and why it's all came together the way it has, so I'll try to hit those as I see them, and also, concerned might not be the word, but potentially distasteful of the idea that steampunk may be an attempt to move toward the hyper-structured, ritualized society of the Victorian period, and its attendant, very formalized forms of repression and segregation. Military fetishism was mentioned, which is an understandable bit of confusion seeing as steampunk's look draws heavily on weaponry, equipment, and costuming elements from military uniforms.

In my experience, however, steampunk is exactly the opposite. )

In any case, I predict that you can expect to see a lot more of it around in the near future: more art, more costumes, more brass and wood. More video games and movies and books, and a whole lot more of this.  My god, I want that laptop.
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The other epiphany I mentioned deserves its own post.

My friend works in a unit of the library that hires a lot of students. Being, well, very Catholic, he walked in on their Chinese student the other day while she was praying the rosary over an elaborately ornate bracelet (traditionally, rosaries come in those necklace things, but beaded bracelets, rings, even belts and what-not exist; anything to help them keep count over the repetitions--the elaborate decoration on this one, however, was to disguise the fact that it was a rosary bracelet). When he apologized for interrupting her prayers, she kind of freaked out. Because China, as we know, isn't the safest place for people who don't follow state-approved religions.

He told me about how he chatted with her for a while. Her confirmation name is Monica; when she asked him what his "Christian name" was, it took him a second to realize what she meant, and then he explained that here, y'know, those of us with such things walk around with them on our name tags in the broad light of day. Because barring jackasses, nobody around here is going to whack you for being named Mary Agatha or David Joseph. Or Mohammed or Kadijah or Abraham or Rachel. Heck, even if you think Catholics or religion in general sucks, you're more likely than not to be coincidentally named after a saint or biblical figure.

Monica is Catholic because her mother is Catholic. Her mother, now, is the daughter of a family whose noble record of Chinese military service goes back to the time of the emperors, and her mother actually officially changed her legal name to her Confirmation name, which these days is less likely to get you instantly killed, but still. That takes the kind of guts that makes you think about how privileged your life is.

Which was really the point of the whole thing for me. While I think most of us know in a general sort of way (except for a few of you who are constantly surrounded by reminders), it's easy to forget, sometimes, how well off we really are: that there are people in the world (including here, yes, I know) who can't walk down the street without a blanket over their head, or use their chosen name in public, or reliably provide their families with enough to eat, or in some other way generally go about existing without immediate fear of death.
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Librarians are famous for loving their conferences. Thanks to the tireless nagging of our Associate Dean, Sally Kalin, the Pennsylvania Library Association is hosting their bajillion-and-second annual conference here at Penn State. It started on Sunday. They've never held it here before. It's always been in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or Pittsburgh. So, this is quite a coup--or something--and our particular department got volunteered to help make it as awesome and impressive and repeatable as possible.

Among other things, this means we've spent the last two weeks running around like we were fighting a zombie attack, designing posters, signage, banners (apparently they've never had a banner before, or a graphic theme, which leads me to believe that impressing the hell out of this group won't be terribly difficult), brochures, and whatever other printed materials a librarian's conference needs in order to function. Another thing we have that they've never had before for a PaLA conference is modern, standardized equipment. Y'know, laptops that dependably have functional software, that sort of thing. We also got volunteered as the A/V staff, since the conference center here charges extra for the service of their technical staff and equipment, and the PaLA doesn't exactly have an overabundance of money.

Most of which I mention because it amuses me.

Anyway, I'll be working A/V tomorrow, and alternately delighting in the chaos and screaming at the ineptitude of our Luddite bindery staff, who for some inexplicable reason our department head decided would be helping in the A/V duties (bindery supervisor managed to jam the blinds in one room through her panicked random button pushing, when no one had asked her to meddle with the blinds at all; God help us if she gets near an actual computer). But since Penn State's libraries have decided it'd be a crime for a locally hosted conference to go to waste, they're actually footing the bill for any and all library personnel to get themselves registered and attend at least a day of the conference on university money.

I went yesterday, and by God, it was actually a lot of fun. )

Humanity online and what could become of us? )

PrettyArbitrary dramatically switches gears and talks about her own future. )

* They say the hyphen is dying? Not on my watch!

Oh, I almost forgot! Two YouTube videos to amuse you.
Snowball the rockin' cockatoo--my sister sent me this.

Darth Vader turns out to be hip after all--this one is my dad's fault.

And! I forgot to brag. Our stove has been dying the slow death for quite some time, and then last week I...uh, kinda...set the washing machine on fire. Sort of! Okay, well really it was just smoking. They said it was probably the belt. ANYWAY! Point being that we've had our appliances attended to. Washing machine isn't fixed yet, but what we do have is a nice, shiny AWESOME new stove! Sleek black thing with a flat top range...our kitchen is now handsome. It cooks hot, fast, and, I gotta get to some baking.

Point being, I brag about the new stove. And also, our kitchen has, ever since we moved in, occasionally displayed an odd funk. Nothing we could pinpoint, not bad or strong, just...present sometimes. Well, when they pulled out the old stove, it turned out...(Kashyk, if you're reading this, you may just want to stop here).

See, the guys who lived there before us had a pet ball python. The python escaped and went missing at one point (you can tell this is going nowhere good, can't you?). It was never heard from again.

Until Monday, when they pulled out the old stove and found that it had apparently crawled up underneath to get warm, where it was...less mummified, more petrified, and proceeded to funk up the place for four years.

In other news, on Sunday I baked fresh bread (used kosher salt, turns out that in the future I need to be a bit more liberal with that as the bread ended up undersalted). I also pretty much invented a tomato sauce recipe. Well, less invented, more followed an age-old pattern using all fresh ingredients, starting with fresh-picked tomatoes. It went down a big hit with the roommates, so I'll probably tinker, work the bugs out and make it more regularly.

Perhaps I should add that both of those were on the old stove.
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I liked this. It's an editorial article from Discover Online. It gathers a lot of thoughts on psychology and science and religion and sociology, and ends up making a lot of sense to me.

Jaron's World: Peace through God

The tangled dance of science, violence, hope, and strange beliefs. )
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I like Shakespeare, but I always hated Romeo and Juliet. We read it in high school (I'll bet most of us did), and the experience scarred me. I suppose they thought we'd identify with the lead characters, in their PASSIONATE ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENT! But as far as I was concerned...two stupid teenagers determined to martyr themselves for their S.O.? No thanks, I had to swallow enough of that kind of angst from my classmates (and thus, I and everyone forced to endure the experience with me missed the key point, which was in front of our noses).

It took me years to figure out that this one play did not, in fact, suck. The teachers did. Such crimes are regularly committed against the Bard in schools all around the world. I've got a lot of lit-freaks on my f-list (not shocking, probably), and I wonder: how many of you got ruined for a Shakespeare play in high school?

But eventually, because I'm obsessive about these things ("I like all the other plays! What's wrong with this one?"), I figured out Romeo and Juliet. See, the play gets sold up as this great romantic love story. Well, Juliet might be in love with Romeo, but Romeo's mainly in love with love. Think back to what little you probably remember about the story: it's pretty much Romeo's brain-busting stupidity in the name of passion, right? Juliet's a planner; she wants this to work. If you can manage to plow through the lovestruck haze of a 14-year-old's crush, she may even be invested in this relationship. Romeo, however, is definitely more interested in crashing masquerade balls, making pretty speeches by moonlight, and plucking forbidden fruit. Frankly, I'm skeptical as to whether he gives a damn about Juliet beyond her stellar work as an object of admiration. Does he ever ask her anything about herself? Does he know anything at all about her? No, he prefers to swoon over the the thought of her face.

Now, back in the Middle Ages,we got the European tradition of courtly love--that bedrock of angst, emo, and all things mushy throughout the ages. For this, we can largely thank the Muslims who were tucked down in Spain at the time. Let's face it: nobody does ill-fated, fire-in-the-blood romance quite so well as the Arabs.

But if we zip back aaaaalllll the way to the Song of Solomon, we can see that all those pretty courtly love poems actually originally got their start as (oddly enough) religious writings! Passionate--even sensuously erotic--poetic imagery used as a metaphor for faith.

Alright, yes, a bit creepy, but moving on. They also made great wedding gifts. Now, move forward again a couple of millennia, and we return to courtly love, where the erotic religious poetry took on another edge--not only the spiritually ahem satisfying service to a higher cause, but also the temptation to seek a more ephemeral, fleeting version here on earth...and the temptation to lie to yourself that you're acting for all the right reasons even when you're really just doing it for yourself. The point was that self-restraint is sexy. The moral of the story was that you had obligations. Simply taking what you want (that hot young guy or gal over there, for example) is selfish and, in the end, empty. You can mess up your life, their life, and possibly the lives of all the people counting on you both in favor of a few moments of rollicking sex. In short, courtly love became about sublimation of the self in favor of a higher service (to God, to your lord, to family), and also about the destruction you courted if you threw over those obligations in favor of self-indulgence.

In other words? Death. Self-sacrifice and self-destruction. Courtly love was all about whether to take the hero's reward *eyebrow waggle* or the hero's path.

Now skip forward another couple of centuries to Shakespeare's time. Scope out Romeo and Juliet again with all that in mind. This isn't a story about teenage love. This is a story about a teenage death wish...and when you look at it that way, it rings true. Some kids who come from messed-up lives try to escape into anything from music to drugs. Some of their options are healthier than others, but it all amounts to a desire to lose yourself and forget about all the crap--in effect, a death of the self. This particular duo are choosing to throw themselves headlong into a destructive relationship--a cause they can conveniently hide behind as 'good guys' and tell themselves "It's all for the other person." And looking at their families, can you blame them?

Yes, what I'm saying is that Romeo and Juliet is all about two hormonal kids and their cry for help. But what's really timeless is the scene at the end that every kid dreams of: "Oh, if only we'd mended our ways and done what our kids wanted before it was too late!" C'mon, how many of us didn't have that little fantasy play through our heads at least once when we were young?
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Computer has now entered into a superior stage of borkdom. After restoring BIOS defaults, which didn't change things at all (except for saddling me with an annoying BIOS loading graphic), I spent some time yesterday reseating my memory and cards and so forth, in hopes it might simply be gunk or faulty connection. When I turned it back on, I got fans and lights, but no Real Computer ActionTM. I feel comfortable in ruling out the power supply--the fans run and the lights come on--but there's nobody home. This, I suspect, has more to do with me knocking a connector loose than with the problem I was previously having, but it is frustrating.

While it's definitely not the power supply, however, it may just possibly be the battery. I previously dismissed this as the BIOS had not been suffering the traditional loss of data and resetting of clocks, but new evidence has surfaced in the form of the annoying BIOS graphic that's supposed to go away after I've been inflicted with it once. Battery would be good as they're easy to deal with, but I'm probably grasping at straws here.

It's probably not the CPU. Even though I discovered that I just happen to have a CPU perfectly infamous for burning out when too enthusiastically overclocked, it's not really behaving like it's the CPU. Namely, my computer still functions. Well. You know. It did. Then again, if the CPU overheated, it might've affected something else in the case...even though I have three fans.

Still, it's behaving like, well, bad RAM, and I can't quite shake this thought. I could just be obsessing over a distracting pet theory, but it could also be good instincts. Note that I haven't just been getting random reboots, but hard lock-ups as well--something common to overclocking, except that I know now it's not the overclocking, since it didn't go away when I stopped overclocking. Both the crashing and the seizing happened mainly when I was doing something memory-intensive, like Photoshop. Perhaps most significantly, it tended to start happening not immediately, but after I had been using the program long enough to start building up a good-sized cache. In fact, this pattern nearly duplicated what happened the last time I had to go up my virtual memory paging file, which is exactly what I did last week when this first started becoming problematic. So it could definitely, absolutely, still be the memory.

I hope that it isn't the motherboard, but I cannot discount this.

Who will win this epic battle of wills? Well, I will, eventually. I hold all the cards, when it comes down to it (har). I have greater resources and more extensive equipment. But this grassroots guerilla warfare is, I must concede, highly successful in the short term.

But enough of my ongoing war. I bring you weirdness: behold, the Great Molasses Flood of 1919!

And also from Neil Gaiman's journal, in a thing about Dr. Who:
"And another part of the meme was this: some things are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. And, perhaps, some people are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, as well."

This is remarkable for putting into a single simple sentence something that has been lurking around the back of my brain for years.
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Ordered some stuff from Adagio Teas, which is an exceptional little tea website. I particularly like their sample tins, which let you try out different kinds of tea for about $3-$5. If anyone on my f-list has never tried Adagio and is inclined to give them a try, give me your email and I'll send you a $5 promotional gift certificate. Adagio gives a seemingly unlimited supply of these things to customers, which I suppose is an excellent way to lure in new blood.

I have the most awesome walk to work. It's about half a mile through a nice neighborhood, along tree-lined boulevards, and small, weird things constantly happen to me. I suspect I could turn this into a slice-of-life LJ if I just described them when they happened. They're not big, impressive things; just small, entertaining things that remind you how good and funny life can be.

There was, for instance, the day I walked past a peregrine falcon perched on a fence post about three feet away from me. He just stared at everyone who looked at him, head held high and arrogant, not the least bit intimidated. I suspect he might've been calculating how best to get to the eyes if any of us got too close, like a little secret agent.
Another day, when a shrub laughed at me, I turned my head to find a blue jay watching me with mischievous eyes. "Hahahahaha!" he went. "Hahahahaha!" I laughed back at him. "Hahahahaha!" he said again. He seemed very entertained. Silly blue jays.
Then there are always the crows. Crows are crazy, intelligent birds. You can tell by watching them that they're aware of themselves and the world around them. They have great presence of mind. I often see them hopping around in the road, strutting proudly off to the side if the car looks disinclined to slow down, or yelling at any human audacious enough to walk beneath their trees (they start looking sheepish if you stare at them and tell them how goofy they are; oh yes, they know).
One yard along the way is chock-full of dandelions and violets at this time of year...except that the violets aren't all normal. Some of them are these lovely white things, shading toward that beautiful deep indigo toward their hearts. They look like little stars fallen to earth. Every year, I notice the white violets have spread a little further.
There's a little pug dog that belongs to a girl living in one of the houses. This dog gets out sometimes, and no fewer than three times have I rescued the little sweetheart after finding her roaming around a few blocks down the street. Once, recognizing me, she ran up and hid behind my leg. And then I often pass various folks from the neighborhood, out jogging or whatever. I've come to know who lives where along these streets by walking to work for the past couple of years.
Sometimes, when it snows, the plows don't get out right away, so we have long unbroken sweeps of white blanketing everything. At these times, I feel as though I'm walking through the past, 80 years ago when people still rode in sleighs rather than cars (I shall have pictures of this phenomenon, if I ever remember to take my camera to the developer).

Many small beauties and adventures, all in the half mile to work.

Today, walking to work, I noticed that one fence post at the corner of a street has a shadow that points in a different direction than all the others. My first thought (after "What the heck?" of course) was that a reflection might be doing it. If the sun reflects brightly enough off windows or something, it can cause a secondary shadow. But no dice. I poked the post, looked around it, to see if it was leaning in a different direction, or if it was an effect of a warp in the concrete dice there either. It's simply a shadow that points in a different direction than all the rest. Isn't that bizarre?

Continuing into religous/spiritual babble that'll just annoy some of you Seriously, I'm warning you. It would annoy me if someone else inflicted me with it. )
Okay, the mushy embarrassing crap is over now. :)
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
It's been that sort of year. The wheel spins, and all you can do is wait to see where it lands you.

I figure that a couple of days after Halloween is an appropriate time for this. Wiccans, and maybe the oh-so-mysterious Celts before them, believe that Samhain is the day the year turns. Death and rebirth; that's why the veil between us and the afterlife is supposed to be so thin. They say that on Halloween, you're supposed to look back, and look ahead. Lay the past to rest, and begin your life anew. Because if you don't do it for yourself then, then one day, you'll wake up to find life doing it for you, and that's not likely to be fun.

Well, damn me if they don't have a point. They put it in mystical terms, but even the most pragmatic person can probably see the lesson behind the words. So often, we define ourselves by who we have been, looking to the past and our memories to know who we are. In truth, who we are is only what we've taken from those experiences. I am, if you can't tell, going through one of those periods that leads to epiphany.

I'm watching my childhood die. I'm 28, hardly a kid anymore, but not so old that I don't still look back with a bit of wistfulness. The sheltered little world I grew up in has been in its seniority for a while now, but until recently it was still there, like a safety net. I still had the people I'd grown up around, whom I could hide behind when life got too rough. I had the places that I identify as being 'childhood' and 'safe.' If I looked closely, I could see they'd gotten old while I was away. If I thought about it, they didn't have the strength they'd once had. But it was nice to know they were all still there.

But this year, I've been losing family members. I've been losing those places. It's hard to see them go, to finally know--to be unable to fool myself, if I want to be completely honest--that I can't go back. And yet, much as I'll miss them, the love and the happy memories, in a way I can feel that it's been good for me. It's like a final gift that they've given me in their passing. I can feel myself growing and changing. And from the ashes of the old rise the seeds of the new. The kids I grew up with, who've been like brothers and sisters to me, are sprouting families of their own. "Home" shifts, but it's still there. And suddenly, from all the chaos and uncertainty, I have things to aim for, places to go--a plan for the future, that I can act on whenever it feels right to. I have a way to take care of my mom, whom I've silently worried about for years. She's stoic and strong, but secretly there's always been a touch of emotional fragility and loneliness to her, and I don't like leaving her alone. But now I won't have to. :)

Truthfully, until now I haven't mourned the people I've lost. Honestly, I don't do much of that. Some people think me cold for it, but I was told once--and I realized the truth of it even then--that grief is really the process of feeling sorry for what we've lost. I have the sort of faith (I know some of you consider it foolish, while others agree with me) that permits me to feel that I haven't really lost them forever, that they have indeed gone to a better place and that someday I'll see them again. And logic tells me that if that's not the case, then my lost loved ones are hardly in a position to care. So mostly, no mourning.

But now, I also understand that grief serves a purpose besides selfishness. It hurts because we're sloughing off the past like an old skin, and when we're done, what we're left with is (hopefully) a clean and healthy new self. In a way, this is honoring those we mourn. It's accepting, finally, the lessons they had to teach us, the memories and strength they gave us, and incorporating those final gifts as a part of us that we'll never lose. So right now, as I type this, I'm crying like a little baby, and I share in hopes that it'll help those of you (hell, that's almost all of you--it has been a hard year, hasn't it?) who've lost someone or something precious this year. I'll mourn your loved ones too, because they gave something to me--stronger, wiser friends.

So. It's been that sort of year. Here's hoping that we're running on the Celtic calendar! But in any case, when you ask me how I am, now you know what I'm saying when I reply, "I'm okay." I am okay. I hope you are too. My love to all of you, and a happy Halloween.
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
WARNING: contents may be offensive to some readers, especially my European contingent, who may be quite close to the issue.

So, on DeviantArt, apparently there's been some stuff from people who believe the Holocaust didn't happen or something. A guy who goes by the handle "Jisuk" has created a petition to forbid such things on the site. I took a look at it, and then wrote this:

My 'Don't censor the Holocaust non-believers' letter. If that freaks you out, you're better off skipping the letter and reading my reasoning first. )
It shocked me that this was coming out even as I was writing it. And then I realized why: I'm so tired of people trying to censor things. As if it'll make any real difference. Just because they can't throw their hatred in your face, it fixes things? No. No, it doesn't. It just means that you aren't inconvenienced by hearing viewpoints that you don't like. Their hatred is still there, and they'll take it out on people just the same.

Refutation of the Holocaust is illegal in Austria, I know (and perhaps other countries; I'm not sure). And that's understandable; they're closer to it than we are. They've got the evidence sitting in their back yards, and there's a lot of very personal pain there. But...if there are people out there who really think this, that the Holocaust didn't happen or that black deserve to be treated as second-class citizens, or whatever other horrible hateful thing, how can we do anything about it if we don't engage their opinions? If we don't listen to what they have to say, however hurtful, and then answer them? Hell, it's not a fast process. As a culture, we're just finishing up with arguing about some things we've been debating since, oh, the 1950s. But what's the alternative? Commanding people to "think this way" and leave them to stew in silent resentment?

I've heard a lot of people say things like, "I was shocked to learn anyone denied it!" Well, they're out there. My roommate's boss thought the Holocaust must be a lie--not because she agreed with the Nazis, but just because it simply sounded so unreal to her. She didn't like to believe it. Friends and co-workers clued her in to a bunch of historical resources, and she has since changed her opinion. People like this can benefit from a free and open dialogue, and not just on this topic. We've got a lot of issues that could really use a good airing, so that people on all sides can pick up some education and come to a more informed decision. Maybe their opinions will change; maybe not. But it will help. But not if they're not allowed to talk about it.

Incidentally, if you do run into some of the idiots who believe the Holocaust didn't happen, here's a very good resource: The Holocaust History Project. (For White Wolf geeks, I believe I recall reading that they collaborated on Charnel Houses of Europe. Speaking of which, here's the link to the PDF of the first four pages of that, including the first picture, which you should see if you haven't yet.)
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
Working on more websites. I'm finishing up the one I mentioned way back when (hey, it's not my fault; the guy has taken forever to get his graphics elements to me), and tweaking a site for my brother's movie (Falling, if you're interested), and designing an interactive Changeling Map of the World forShadownessence's Changeling projects. Well, they're going to need some way of navigating around all that material they're coming up with.

Also, an actually good politics meme. No wonder I feel such contempt for almost everyone in government.

You scored as Old School Democrat. Old school Democrats emphasize economic justice and opportunity. The Democratic ideal is best summarized by the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Old School Democrat


Socially Conservative Republican


New Democrat


Foreign Policy Hawk






Pro Business Republican


What's Your Political Philosophy?
created with

The other 80% rating:
"You scored as Socially Conservative Republican. Social conservatives share a belief in traditional morality and social mores and the desire to preserve these in present day society, often through civil law or regulation. The government should use its influence in the public square to support traditional family values."

How can I possibly reconcile these? Because I believe those traditional values and mores apply to everyone. How is a loving gay couple not a family? I don't see what it matters if you follow Wiccan beliefs or Christian ones, or if you're a believer in Pastafarianism, so long as you're a good person who tries to do right by people. But there's not, more's the pity, an American political party for "TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY, F***ERS!" I like to think that if there were, it would be very popular. But I fear that, like Protestantism, it would result in a lot of people saying they belong without having the credentials to show for it.

Credentials, hmmm. Maybe if we required people to qualify...


Apr. 12th, 2006 03:18 pm
prettyarbitrary: (Default)
You want to know how I feel about politics?  Well, here it is.

Many Senators Developing Simple Tools For Governing

April 12, 2006 | Issue 42•15

WASHINGTON, DC—Scientists who study congressional behavior reported Monday that some senators are capable of developing and using primitive legislative tools. "We noticed about a month ago that an alpha senator and majority-leader silverback named 'Bill' had taken to banging his lectern with a hammer-like implement instead of using his fist or a leg of meat as the others do," said congressional anthropologist Allison Weathers, author of Rotundas In The Mist, the acclaimed account of life among the great congressmen of the Potomac River region of the U.S. "Since then we've seen multiple instances of tool use, such as small implements used for drafting and adjourning, as well as the rudiments of spoken language in the form of monosyllabic grunts such as 'aye' and 'nay,' common in group decision-making."


prettyarbitrary: (Default)

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