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Thursday, January 2, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Happy New Year!

All sortsa stuff I sorta feel like writing down, but I seem to be fresh out of Narrative Frames (have to put them on the grocery list), so I'll just list (some of) them at random:

  • Weekday readers should note that there are Saturday and Sunday entries below (and pretty good ones, if I do say so myself).
  • I was gonna get out Photoshop and some GIF animation program, and make some moving "2003" logo for the lefthand margin there, but then I thought "would that be the best use of my time?".
  • It's very nice to be back in civilization, although the DSL line seems awfully slow qua DSL line (both subjectively and according to various speed tests, which have been clocking it at like 270Kbps for the last couple days).
  • We made dumplings again, and we're having them for breakfast and lunch and dinner again. This year we made 163, which is amusingly close to the 167 we made back in Discover Card.
  • Just before we were supposed to leave for the wilds of Concord, M opened the door to the basement to do the laundry, and there in the basement looking up at her (and then darting away into the shadows) was a cat (almost certainly one of the probably-wild cats that live in the neighborhood). Further investigation revealed that the cardboard I had duct-taped over that d-rned broken basement window pane had fallen off (or been pushed) again. I screwed a board over it instead, and searched around vainly for a cat. The folks next door who were kind enough to pick up our mail while we were gone were also kind enough to put catfood and water in little bowls down there, but reported that they were untouched, and we've seen no cat-signs since. We seem to be forced to the unlikely conclusion that between the time M saw the cat and the time I closed off that pane, the cat jumped up onto the old pinball machine, climbered up the back panel, and leapt out the (narrow, awkwardly placed) missing pane. We certainly hope so, anyway.
  • For Christmas I got (among other things) the DVD of Mulholland Drive, and Blue Velvet, and the complete first season of Babylon 5, and the book "Lynch on Lynch", and this lovely little edition of "The Library of Babel".
  • I also got 100 feet of cat 5e Ethernet cable. I feel like such a geek! *8) It was on my Amazon wish list.
  • For Christmas we gave various relatives a really nice 30-page book of pictures of the kids (real genuine hardcopy made of atoms came in the mail bound glossy paper book) that we (M) designed and sent off for printing right from iPhoto. We made one for ourselves, too; they're very cool. I think I'll use some of my Christmas money to do one (maybe a slightly shorter one) with some of my pictures of nothing.
  • I stayed up late last night fiddling around and watching the first episode of the first season of Babylon 5. It's bizarrely different from the usual Star Trek and/or Star Wars (and/or Lost in Space and/or Space 1999 and/or...) stuff. It's not episodic in the Star Trek sense (i.e. each episode decidedly does not end with the universe restored to exactly the same state it started in). The plot is obviously complex and mysterious and thought out in depth and detail. On the other hand some (lots) of the dialogue and acting is an utter hoot. Commander Sheridan is a parody of himself, as is Garibaldi. (Kirk was, too, but you could tell he knew it; Sheridan at least seems entirely unaware.) The aliens are better (although they suffer from Prosthetic Forehead Syndrome in the extreme). Still, it was fun and I look forward to the rest of them.
  • Latest observations from WordUrl: ambush.com is mysteriously password-protected, and ButtonWeed.com is still available. Act now!
  • I realize that in Saturday's entry I referred to a certain Boston eatery as "China Perl". Is that a problem?
  • So right now I'm at the little boy's basketball practice, hoping none of these eight year old boys misses the basket badly enough to like cream the laptop with a ball. Remind me to stop on the way home and pick up the little daughter from her friend's house, okay?

Sunday, December 29, 2002  permanent URL for this entry


Now that's poetry.

It seems that there is, distressingly enough, a consensus interpretation of Lynch's Mulholland Drive (about which we enthused the other day), which more or less explains almost all of the film in terms of relatively ordinary reality, and is probably what that reader meant the other week when e said "there is a story, it's just out of order and rather badly tied up."

(As I noted yesterday I'm still more or less offline, but sometime after writing this entry I used the native "dial up" to find this and this, which give similar accounts of the interpretation in question. I recommend not reading them unless you've already seen the movie, or don't plan to see it, or don't mind missing the experience of seeing it without expectation.)

I don't like this consensus interpretation, for a handful of reasons. In the large I don't like it because it's too pat, it explains too much, it reduces the movie to a cutely disguised version of a single story that could have been told straightforwardly if Lynch had been in the mood, and removes the feeling that as a work of art it has transcended (or at least avoided) the whole business of singleton "meaning".

(If there's a consensus interpretation out there somewhere that reads Mark Leyner's "I Smell Esther Williams" as like a detective story or something, I don't want to hear about it. Or actually I do, but I hope I don't.)

At a slightly smaller scale, I don't like the consensus interpretation because it reduces the entire first half of the movie to something less than real, or at least to something unreal. I should watch it again (I got the DVD for Christmas, but I didn't bring it to Concord) with the consensus interpretation in mind, and see if I can read it as something more than, rather than less than, reality.

Down in the details, I see two problems with the consensus interpretation's actually working as a full reading of the film: it requires a character to have a dream or fantasy that is influenced by the details of her own death (tough to fit into ordinary reality), and I'm pretty sure (but prepared to find myself mistaken on a careful rewatching of the relevant scenes) that the Blue Key shows up at least once in a place where it couldn't be under the consensus interpretation.

But who knows; maybe when I watch it again with this reading in mind I'll still like it, for reasons similar to and/or entirely different from the reasons I liked it the first time.

Speaking of liking things, I read John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas" the other day. (That was John Grisham, wasn't it? See how insecure I become when I can't get to Google?)

M thought it was a fun novel, and would probably call me an old curmudgeon if I told her that I found it horrible.

Oh, the writing was adequate, and it had funny and warm and genuine moments. But there is an icky underlying message: that attempts to escape from the expectations of conventional society are doomed, and that only once you see that and conform will you be happy, and once you do see that and conform, everything will go well and everyone will love you, including the people who were rotten to you while you were nonconforming.

One crowning moment of the icky message was in the midst of the "Wonderful Life" scene, when everyone has rallied 'round the protagonists and welcomed them back into the folds of convention, and everything is going right, and one of the wonderful things that goes right is that our protagonists discover that the man from Peru with whom their daughter has fallen in love doesn't have dark skin.


At the other end of the spectrum, I also read Iain Banks' "The Wasp Factory". The message here was not ideal either; given my current status on the side of order and prosperity, I cannot wholeheartedly endorse the whole "sympathetic portrait of a murderous lunatic" genre. On the other hand I came out liking the book; Banks is a far better word-arranger than Grisham, and the strangenesses of the island and the Factory and the omens and powers and flaming sheep were far more beguiling to me than the triumphant conventionality of "Skipping Christmas".

(Here's a quibble, though, just because I love to quibble: "Wasp"s protagonist, once the Big Secret behind eir life is discovered, goes far too quickly into "insightful diagnosis of the person I used to be" mode; I think in real life this would take a couple of days at the very least...)

Some recent search terms:

meat pie machine
medial pictures of a clitoris
medieval doctors pictures
megalomania games
meme graviton
merpeople sex life
mery pictures love women
metaphysical solipsism

pictures of "medieval doctors"
pictures of Christina Aguilera's dad
pictures of chess pieces
pictures of clitoris
pictures of comedy & tragedy
pictures of feet
pictures of love making positions
pictures of milk from Safeway
pictures of naked girls
pictures of naked nigerian women
pictures of naked women and airplanes
pictures of nude female doctors
pictures of plantation mistress
pictures of tragedy and comedy

But my favorite search term that led somewhere around here recently:

When liquid splashes me, none seeps through. When I am moved alot, liquid I spew. When I am hit, color I change. And color, I come in quite a range. What I cover is very complex, and I am very easy to flex. What am I?

I'll bet if I'd read "Finnegan's Wake" without knowing that there was a consensus interpretation (that whole "day in the life" thing), and then found the consensus interpretation, I would have been distressed by that, too. I wonder why I'm so fond of unresolved clouds of meaning?

Saturday, December 28, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

We're currently on location in the wilds of Concord, Massachusetts, a place where broadband is still unknown and the natives connect to the Net, if at all, via a primitive makeshift device known as "dial up". There's no telling when I'll actually be posting this, so I'll stick on some random date from the interval.

(At least one company from the outside world is working on bringing the Net to Concord, and there is even a grass-roots effort by the locals to get their tribal council to provide last-mile fiber, but so far nothing has come of either.)

Later: took the T into Boston for lunch; dim sum at China Perl in Chinatown. Amazingly good food, and as noisy and chaotic as you could ask a dim sum place to be. Easily worth the twenty or thirty minute wait standing on the steep and chilly stairs, especially since the stairs were also full of the coming and goings and greetings and murmurings and cellphone conversations of the other diners (and staff, and delivery men, and lost people), in a spicy mixture of English and Mandarin and Bostonian and who knows what all.

I do love cities. At least in small and infrequent doses.

Undying fame: M and I are on the DVD of Paul McCartney's "Back in the U.S.A." tour, standing at the head of the crowd behind those makeshift "Do Not Enter" signs as chronicled at the time, waiting to get into the bowl at Madison Square Garden, right there on camera in two different places on the DVD, just barely recognizable, for a total of maybe as much as half a second.

Pretty cool.

So I've been thinking about fame and its undyingness. On the way from civilization to Concord, we stopped at Traveller's Food and Books as usual (and it took us over an hour to get our food because of some problems with "the slip printer", and the waitress was really really sorry, and also extremely cute despite a small but somehow disturbing facial piercing), and they're having a special between now and the end of the year where you get three (count 'em) books free with your meal instead of the usual one.

One of the books I took was (is) "Nods and Becks", a collection of essays and poems and miscellany by one Franklin P. Adams ("F. P. A."). My better-read readers may have heard of him; I haven't (and being away from civilization, as mentioned above, I can't conveniently look him up). The first essay in the book (copyright 1944) is all about the origin of the "Information, Please" radio program, a sort of reverse quiz show "stump the experts" thing (that I'm sure you can Google up all sorts of information about, sigh), and among the people he mentions in connection with it are some that I've heard of (Fred Allen and Gracie Allen and Wendell Willkie and Clifton Fadiman (who I admit I've mostly heard of because of his literate daughter)) and lots and lots that I haven't, all in the same breaths.

And reading that essay made me think about the literary circles of the past, the little (or large) groups of congoscenti who all knew each other and were prominent in each other's eyes at various times and places in history, and wrote their own and each other's names in books and essays and talks that were entirely worth reading and writing, and how from each of those groups none, or one, or maybe sometimes a few, names and reputations and habits of thought have made their way to me here (sitting in front of a fire in darkest Concord with half a finger of single-malt Islay scotch in a water glass at my side), and how on the other hand most of the names and reputations and habits of thought have vanished entirely into the depths of time, or are at any rate not immediately to hand, and therefore likely to vanish into those depths in the not too distant future.

These thoughts were hastened onward by randomly opening this book that my host (that one of our hosts) is reading, "Linked: the New Science of Networks", and finding a little section about computer viruses, and finding in that section a reference to a paper by one Steve R. White, mentioned in passing as having helped to inspire a certain other paper about scale-free networks (which I recall having read and not frankly been all that impressed by).

So maybe the sobering thought, or one of the sobering thoughts, is that in terms of sheer number of bits experienced by sheer numbers of persons, I probably had more impact on the world by my choice of what to wear that day in April when my image was captured for that DVD, than by anything I've done in the way of professional or scientific work, or even weblogging.

(Easy-to-measure bits, anyway; there are an awful lot of bits in the kids, but it'd be hard to count them, or to prove in a court of law that I was directly responsible for any of them. Thankfully.)

How much of what comes down to us, of what we remember and record and talk to each other about, from the past is actually the most significant stuff from the past (if there is indeed any plausible objective measure of this sort of significance), and how much is just whatever someone randomly decided fit nicely in their "best of the year" article, or their fifth-grade textbook, or their Economic 301 syllabus, or their book of riddles?

But anyway. The other two books I took free from Traveller's (Travellers? Travellers'? Traveller?) were the user manual for some ancient DOS anti-virus program called "Viruscure plus", and a report from the Technical Information Center of the United States Department of Energy dated September 1979 and titled "CONCEPTUAL DESIGN OF A LARGE HEAVY WATER REACTOR FOR U. S. SITING".

Fascinating stuff.

I am for some reason reminded of a Caterina entry that I happen to have jotted down here:

I just recalled the list I wrote around this time last year of the books I wanted to read in 2002 of which I have read very few. This list was culled from books I already owned but hadn't yet read. Instead of reading these, I acquired even more books, which shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen our apartment lately.

Misery loves company.

Now the little daughter wants me to try to figure out how to get the natives' "dial up" thing working so she can read her favorite website, so I will close, and probably not upload this, but maybe write another entry tomorrow, and upload them both sometime later.

Or something.


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