log (2006/08/18 to 2006/08/24)

So I'm reading this book here, a paperback copy of John O'Hara's "Butterfield 8" (and I'm sure I'll write about it sometime after I finish it, or well not sure but at least it's likely, because it's incomprehensible in interesting ways), and at one point there's this character who's the branch manager of a manufacturing firm, and although he's not an engineer himself he ingratiates himself with engineers by knowing modest little bits of engineering culture like for instance:

Instead of handwriting he always used the Reinhard style of lettering, the slanting style of printing which is the first thing engineers learn.

And that's interesting because the Web has never heard of it.

Which means either he was just making it up (which would be endearingly brash), or that while it was well known in oh 1935 it is now entirely absent from the emerging Universal Consciousness (which would also be pretty noteworthy).

Or a little of both. Or I've overlooked something obvious.

We will break with long-standing tradition here by looking at some recent reader input. One or more of our readers write:

Your Woolf quote is more poignant that you can know. Live your life while you can. You won't always have the choice.

Incisively true. And I think that part of the point of the Woolf quote (and for that matter the Aster quote) is that living life while you can doesn't necessarily mean getting to particular places or hitting certain goals or seeing certain fish-spearings; but that at some point you say yes, this has been my life, this is still my life, and yes it doesn't have properties X or Y or even Z, and things would have been better, would be better, if it did, but still. Here we are. And there's the sunset, and the taste of apples, and the memory of a face.

Which is, I'm sure, much more comforting a thought in some circumstances than in others.

This reader is:

One who wonders what you do with your old (ie don't need to possess them anymore) books?

Well, what is "need", after all? Once in a great while I put one in the book-exchange rack at the Lab. The other week M and the little boy took several grocery bags full of outgrown kids books (but not, you know, the really good ones, the Patricia Polaccos or Jan Bretts) over to the library, where they apparently have a use for them. But mostly they end up upstairs, in the disorderly unheated room that we call "the library" for the obvious reason.

And this reader recommends:

"We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution." Ooh. Gotta love her. Just gotta!

I keep meaning to read that one myself...

Oh, Mrs Moffat, Mrs Moffat, I say, come and sweep it all up. Things have dropped from me. I have outlived certain desires; I have lost friends, some by death (Percival) others through sheer inability to cross the street. I am not so gifted as at one time seemed likely. Certain things lie beyond my scope. I shall never understand the harder problems of philosophy. Rome is the limit of my travelling. As I drop asleep at night it strikes me sometimes with a pang that I shall never see savages in Tahiti spearing fish by the light of a blazing cresset, or a lion spring in the jungle, or a naked man eating raw flesh. Nor shall I learn Russian or read the Vedas. I shall never again walk bang into the pillar-box. (But still a few stars fall through my night, beautifully, from the violence of that concussion.)

That from Virginia Woolf; my excuse for not having read everything she's ever written is that then I wouldn't have anything of hers left to read for the first time; she's amazing.

The sentiment is all too poignant, here in middle age with the foundations of the world having turned out to be more or less shifting more or less sand (and yes I knew all along that's what they were, but forty-odd years of non-shifting on their part had sort of lulled me, y'know?). Not that I'll never read the Vedas or see fish speared in Tahiti, or that I'd want to see a naked man eating raw flesh, but you get the picture.

Or to quote a somewhat less well-known author (of naughty stories in this case),

I think at some point in your life you start to realize that you aren't going to get to do everything that you ever dreamed of doing, and to stay sane and happy you have to start being glad that somewhere in the world someone is doing each of those things.

Not clear whether Woolf's Bernard would have been as comforted by that statement as Aster's Dale seems to be. (But still a few stars fall through my night, beautifully.)

I got to that passage from "The Waves" via Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift from the Sea", which I picked up by accident somewhere, and which is itself really quite good (despite having to bear some of the blame for many other books written after it that aren't nearly as good).

And I went over to Amazon and found a used copy of "The Waves" for like a buck plus S&H, and now it's sitting waiting for me to read it.

Today's search terms are, for no particular reason, sanran and konchin, which are surprisingly rare. (And see of course buji zen, on which we are still Google's Primary Authority.)

(And see also various interesting-looking zen talks that I hope someday to have time to read. Or if not, someone else will; this is in fact something of a comfort as it turns out.)

Random links! Courtney Love explains the basics of BGP! Cory Doctorow podcasts! MiniMicrosoft! RPG motivational posters! And the Baby Name Voyager! (Those last four all from Steve; the Courtney Love one from various sources.)

And in the category of things that I keep meaning to getting around to myself:

Polyworld is a cross-platform (Linux, Mac OS X, known to work) program written by Larry Yaeger to evolve Artificial Intelligence through natural selection and evolutionary algorithms.

So there we are. (Maybe in later episodes we'll get up from the cushions and look over the rest of the house. But right now we're enjoying the fictional rest.)

> look

You are on a hilltop. The world stretches away from you in all directions.

> look north

To the north is a line of green hills; a highway winds away among them to the northeast, between a light hill and a dark one. A walking trail goes down the north side of the hilltop here, toward the highway and the hills.

> look south

A wooded plain opens out to the south. A highway runs out of the hills to the north, through a cluster of commercial buildings to the south, and onward to houses and woods beyond them.

> north

You go down the hill into the trees. The path follows a stream for awhile, and then parallels the highway. Traffic is light. Eventually you come to an asphalt road that comes down out of the hills to the northwest and joins the north-south highway.

> look road

The road is narrow and worn, but the potholes have mostly been filled, and it is servicable. A ramp connects the road to the highway to the southeast, and the road turns a corner into the hills to the northwest.

> northwest

Beside the road around the first curve is a ramshackle garage; four cars and a truck in various states of repair are parked around it. The garage doors are closed. The road continues up into the hills.

> open garage

The garage doors are locked.

> up

You follow the road up the hill. After another set of curves, you come to a driveway that leads up toward a large grey house. The road continues to the north, and a slope leads downward to the southeast; you hear water. Between the trees to the east, you see the highway, and a set of transmission towers carrying power lines up the slope beyond it.

> driveway

You go up the driveway to the front of the house. The house is large and grey, somewhat in need of paint, somewhat weathered, but sturdy. There is a vegetable garden here, an old green truck, and a front door. A path goes around the house to the west, and the driveway goes down southward to the road.

> knock on door

You knock on the door, and after a moment Keda opens it and looks out at you.

> look keda

Keda is a compact woman of no particular age, with brown hair and brown eyes, two hands, a nose, and a mouth. She is wearing a brown sweater and brown cargo pants. She is barefoot.

> enter

Keda smiles and moves aside for you. You are in the common room of the grey house. There is a large butcher-block table, a number of chairs, an old overstuffed sofa, a black cat, and a white cat. Food smells come through a doorway to the west, there is a hallway to the north, and stairs lead up to a loft above. Keda is here, looking at you inquisitively.

> up

You go up the narrow wooden stairs to the loft. The loft is a fragrant open place above the common room. There are cushions on the ground, and a number of books. Tom is here, meditating. There is a bowl of nuts here.

> look tom

Tom is a man. He has light brown hair, two hands, a nose, and a mouth. His eyes are closed. He is seated on a cushion, meditating. There is a bowl of nuts beside him.

> eat nut

The nut is a peanut, roasted and lightly coated with wasabi. It burns pleasantly on your tongue, and spices the inside of your head. You sit down on the cushions; you think you'll just stay here for awhile.