Sunday, July 30, 2006

Expensive Hobbies

I just picked up my second expensive hobby, depending on how you count.

Last time I went to Hawaii, I swore I'd learn scuba diving. I went snorkeling and I kept kicking off my snorkel and diving down just holding my breath. So, yesterday, I signed up for a scuba certification course, since Underwater Sports was having a big sale and the course was half off. That was all very well and good, but the equipment is expensive too. Just for fins, boots, mask, snorkel, and gloves, I paid about five hundred bucks (and that was with the stuff being on sale). I will still need to get tanks and a wetsuit and/or drysuit. Thus, I called it my second expensive hobby (the first was photography).

It occurred to me afterward that my bike had cost a lot more than that - so was that first, photography second, and scuba diving third? What about Burning Man? What about seeing concerts? Or taking massage classes? Those are all expensive things, but are they hobbies?

Being a hobby means some kind of active participation and gaining some kind of skill or knowledge associated with the activitiy. Cooking counts, but eating out doesn't. Maybe wine appreciation counts to some people; I'll leave that to them. Likewise, singing or playing an instrument is a hobby, but going to concerts is not. Burning Man is just in its own category, so I'm not going to count it either.

Massage I'm not sure about. I've probably spent almost a thousand on it so far, between two classes and a table. If I do the licensing program, then it goes from hobby to profession, and I would really like do to the licensing program... not even to do it as a profession, but because it would be interesting, and so I could give really good massages to my friends.

Biking counts, I think. You're certainly putting in energy, and it requires at least a little bit of specialized knowledge. So I guess I'm up to three. Singing and playing piano will probably count as expensive hobbies when I take up lessons again (especially if I get my own piano, which I probably will).

Last weekend I was actually considering getting sky-dive certified. That's a bit much. I might do it again, though. That'd probably be enough.

I'm not sure why I care about counting this sort of thing. Maybe because, after growing up in a moldy shed in a jungle, thinking the poverty line would be doing really well, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel toward money. Being a student was a step up in lifestyle. This whole not being broke thing is really foreign and awkward to me. I don't want to turn into one of those people who shows off how not-broke they are, but I sometimes catch myself thinking along lines that could only be prompted by trying to make up for something, and that bothers me.

I spend too much time thinking, really. At least I'm getting to do a bunch of things I've wanted to do for years, and for that, I really am grateful, even if parts of it are uncomfortable.


Actually doing stuff

Why is it so hard to open up that blank document and start writing? Why is it so hard to stop eating ice cream and go do something else? And why, of course, is it so hard to stop reading all your amusing mailing lists and get back to that coding project you were working on last week?

In my quest to get actual stuff done (like, you know, work, or just make* things), I've been thinking a lot about this question. Maybe my fundamental approach is flawed, trying to fix my problems by thinking about them a lot, but it seems to have worked on enough so far that I'm willing to keep trying. Maybe it is fundamentally at odds with solving this particular problem since thinking is, almost by definition, not doing. But, for what it's worth, here are the thoughs I've had so far.

For a good chunk of time in the past couple months, I've gotten to work on one nice, neat program that I started from scratch and have had almost complete control over, which has been great. Involved learning new technologies and producing a cool final project; few things could be better about that, right? Yet somehow, it was always hard to start working on it. Why? It seemed there was always this "sumbersion time", the time when you go from breathing air to breathing fluid (if you've seen The Abyss you know what I'm talking about), and your system freaks out and resists for a while during the transition, but you're fine once you get to the other side. It's like getting stuck in a local minimum. The dip over the next hill maybe lower than the one you're in, but there's still that hill in the way.

So, what's the hill? Why exactly is it so bad to start on something, even if you know there's a lower valley on the other side? Once you get going on actually doing something, it's better than goofing off, because not only are you doing something interesting, you have a nice productive feeling, and you don't have to worry about anybody getting mad at you for not having things done.

The hill seems to be that (hopefully, usually) brief time when you start working on something, and you're painfully confused. Maybe you have no clue about what you're starting on, and you start worrying how long it might take you to do anything, and questioning yourself, and feeling inadequate or stupid. Or maybe it's just looking at something that you used to know and now it's gotten a little fuzzy in your mind; it probably still makes you feel kind of stupid and mad at your own mind.

So, you're afraid of feeling stupid for a little while. That seems natural enough. But it's very short-term. You spend, say, an hour (maybe at worst a day or two, if it's something really new) feeling stupid. But then, after that, you've gained new knowledge and gotten something done, and that feeling ought to last a while. Should be a great tradeoff, right?

A couple of problems come in with this. One is that a lot of us (particularly Americans, it seems) are really trained to think short-term. Blame the marketing people who have tried their best to train us to use those credit cards for "something special to reward oursleves" and to buy all those candies and trashy magazines at the checkout stand. However it worked out, a lot of us have been wired from a young age to be very concerned with the short term. Of course, the problem is that the short term is more reliable than the long term - you know if you eat dessert, you're going to enjoy it. How many people on the Titanic passed up dessert on the last night? But the ship doesn't usually sink, and mostly, if you do things that will make your life better in twenty years, you'll be around in 20 years to appreciate it. Long-term thinking, like many risky things, can bring higher rewards. It's just a matter of getting into the right mindset.

Another problem is association. If you don't follow through enough to get past that initial uncomfortable stage, you'll never have positive associations with trying in the first place. I was this way about some projects I worked on in school - never really got going, so I had nothing but bad associations, which only turned into positive feedback to not work on them some more. And I feel just awful even thinking about them now. Getting positive associations is one benefit of following through on things. I had a great example of this from the handful of singing & piano lessons I took before my teacher went back to Russia for a month and a half (I'm going to pick up lessons again when she gets back next month). First lesson, she was brutally honest, and I thought good, this is just what I need, I'm going to learn a lot. Second lesson, I really felt like I was just being beaten down with no purpose and not being given a chance. I had one more lesson scheduled after that before she left, and I really, really didn't want to go. I really debated with myself about cancelling, saving the money for the private lesson (not cheap), and either giving up on the idea (who learns to play piano at 25 and gets any good at it?) or at least finding somebody whose goals fit more with mine (I did not want to be an opera singer; I'm just doing this for fun). But, I decided to go ahead, and was quite intent on not taking any more lessons from her after she got back. I must give the teacher credit as a marketer, though; I don't know if she picked up on how I was feeling or if she'd just thought more of the situation since the last lesson, but that time it was fun. Got to actually sing (rather than just try to make a few awkward high notes which I couldn't hit and am not really interested in hitting, since high notes always sound too screetchy to me), she said I'd made progress, and didn't bash me when I couldn't do things on the first try that she asked me to do. A good enough lesson, as you might have guessed, that now I'm going back for more in a month or so and have some hopes that it will get me somewhere.

So, here we have it. I've spent over an hour writing this, and who knows if it will help me (let alone anyone else) get any more real things done. But I've been thinking about this post (actually as two separate threads, which only came together as I was writing) for a while, so I guess it's good to get it out of my system, like using the Pensieve. If nothing else, writing gets out ideas you have rolling around in your head so the space is free for new ideas**.

You know, I feel weird writing stuff like this, like I actually know what I'm talking about. I'm just another kid, fresh out of school, and in a few years I will look back on myself now and think how foolish I was and how little I knew, just as I have always looked back and thought that of my earlier self, for the last half of my life.

* "If you're not sure what to do, make something." - Paul Graham, The Power of the Marginal

** Another idea said well by Paul Graham: The Island Test; read the section on carrying a notebook: "I hardly ever go back and read stuff I write down in notebooks. It's just that if I can't write things down, worrying about remembering one idea gets in the way of having the next. Pen and paper wick ideas."

Once a subset, always a subset

First let me say.... GRRRRRR! Firefox crashed when I had this post almost complete, and now it's gone. Hopefully it will be faster in the reconstruction.

Or maybe I'll just omit a bunch of excess backstory.

For so long, I've liked a subset of what everyone else likes that now I assume if I like something, everyone else must also.

This has happened with at least scents, food, and drinks. Sweet scents remind me of rotting fruit (the free layer of pavement at some times of year near my parents' house), and make me sick before long. It took me years to find scents I like, some non-sweet ones like lavendar, tea tree oil, or sandalwood. I took some of these to a massage class a couple months ago and was going to use them, when the teacher said, "no scented oils." I was rather suprised and only then realized my assumption that if they didn't bother me, they must not bother anyone else. (Actually, something like this had come up during choir last year - someone was bothered by a perfume I couldn't smell - but I didn't think about it because I wasn't the one bringing in the scent.)

Next was food. I only like a few bland American foods, and I used to like even less. People are always surprised that I don't like fish since I grew up on an island. Well, my parents never served the local food, and we never ate out, so what do you expect? I was also never much into veggies, since I associated them with nasty canned vegetables. Thus, I was sort of surprised when I found that some people are hypersensitive to certain foods, like broccoli or cilantro, which I either like or don't mind.

Most recently this happened with drinks. First rule out anything with alcohol, then anything with more than a little caffeine, and finally any soda, and you've knocked out most of the popular drinks. So, again, I figure if it doesn't bother me (with the exception of a few odd teas I like which I figure most people won't), it won't bother anybody else, but sure enough, I found someone who won't (or doesn't) drink anything at all carbonated. I figured my slightly carbonated juice mixture would be fine with everybody, but no.

Did I have some point in writing this? Hmm, good question. Maybe just becoming aware of assumptions.

Looks like I didn't leave out much backstory. Oh well. I think I still have a lot of writing to get out of my system. Maybe I miss writing fiction. I recently re-read "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov (just the short story; if I still have a copy of the novel, it's at my parents' house), something I'd vaguely remember reading when I was a kid, but Shauna actually found independently and told me about... ah, the hive mind at work again :-)

Friday, July 28, 2006


This was a post I made to a Burning Man mailing list, after some back-and-forth about how ethical it was to spend all this money on goofing off and being high and mighty about it, and about how, despite our 'no commerce' rule on the playa, there's a huge economy that goes on beforehand that a lot of people try to make money off of.


There seems to be this underlying assumption that Burning Man is frivolous.

This event has deep personal, spiritual significance, more than church to a lot of us I'd bet, but if somebody needed to raise funds to get to a church, we wouldn't dare call that frivolous.

This event has a lot of unique art, a lot of experimental technologies, yet mostly it's okay to have art fundraisers or to apply for research grants. Patents have been granted to things that were invented just for Burning Man, things that are now used outside as well.

Most importantly, this event has a larger impact on the public consciousness. Whatever you might think of American conservatives, they have gotten very, very good at impacting the public consciousness, and that's why they're winning right now (disclaimer: I'm mostly progressive, but I don't like either party; they scream too much without actually saying anything, nor really standing up for anything I care about). Read this, the first chapter of "Don't Think of An Elephant" by George Lakoff:

It's great not only because he gives a more fair consideration of both parties than most people who fall so clearly on one side (liberal, in his case), but also captures the importance of those psychological effects that are so often below the radar. Likewise, maybe Burning Man doesn't directly feed people in Darfur, but indirectly, it might save a lot more people from suffering in the long run, if we believe in it and promote the ideals it stands for. So don't say it's just


I got one reply of 'amen, sister', and another along similar lines. I don't think most of the participants believe it's frivolous; rather, a few people just take speculation ("would this money be better going to Sudan to feed children?") as a challenge instead of an opening for thoughtful discussion. Sigh. I guess if anybody in a group thinks this and is vocal, it's going to come up. If you're the type to be set off rather than thinking, you don't need much impetus, and you'll go off in any setting. Such is the way of crowds.



...spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam - spamity spam! Spamity spam!

If you are easily offended by explicit language, don't read this. It's just an accurate reflection of the spam I and people I know get. If you're online (i.e., unless someone else made you a printed copy of this post), you can't pretend you haven't heard most of this before.


I'm so glad I followed the advice of all that helpful email I got without even asking. These days, I sit in front of my computer and alternately watch hot barnyard action and search for some lonely housewives to please, and go to online casinos and gamble away that fifteen million I got from helping that nephew of the deposed Nigerian dictator. Of course, I didn't even need the fifteen million because of the other millions I made buying that stock I'd never heard of off a tip from someone I'd never met and had no credentials, but never the less had some great insider information which he broadcast to a huge mailing list. I didn't even need that much money, because I got myself an armful of replica Rolexes really cheap, and I saved all that money with that great ARM loan that I got from My mail-order Russian bride doesn't take much maintenance either; besides being from a poor country with low expectations that are easily impressed by our great country and virile men, she's too pleased by my 20 inch penis (which is able to knock down trees and beat people senseless) that puts out a gallon of semen every time. Not that I need the sex to be happy; now that I get cheap medz from reputable online Mexican pharmacies, I have all the prozac I want.


I figured if I was stuck getting spam, I may as well find it amusing. Just don't ever, ever click on any of it, for any reason. The only reason spam still exists is that some tiny number of people actually spend money on the things advertised.



I got a $400 free van. Yes, it's like tha barefoot boy with shoes on.

This means I technically have three vehicles in my name right now. Well, I'm trying to sell my old Mazda, and the van is not so much a vehicle as an accessory to an art project.

I had been thinking how I'd get my big pair of hands down to the Playa, and the cheapest way seemed to be to buy a van before the event and sell it afterward (renting a van from a rental car company for almost two weeks costs well over a thousand dollars, probably more like 1500). So, I finally got around to looking on craigslist, and found a bunch of promising hits for 1500 or less. That seemed okay, since I should be able to sell it at no (or very little) loss afterward, so I should just have to pay a few paperwork fees and some temporary registration and insurance. But I figured I'd try the British Columbia/Washington burners list that I'd just joined, to see if maybe I could avoid some of the paperwork and runaround and borrow a van from somebody, or, failing that, did anybody want space in the van I was going to buy otherwise?

That was Sunday night. Monday, sure enough, I got a reply from a guy (Randy) saying he had an old van that he just didn't have time to deal with anymore, and he'd sell it to me "EXTREMELY CHEAP." Upon further inquiry, I learned it had a leaky hose because a tire had blown and the flapping rubber had smacked the hose. I assumed this was a coolant hose, so I was having some trouble picturing the physical setup that caused that smacking, but whatever, this sounded good enough to look into. It turned out "extremely cheap" meant free, and the hole was in the gasoline hose leading from the place you put the gas in to the gas tank, and it was right over the exhaust pipe (gotta find the person who designed that and talk to them with a comment stick)... thus, we agreed that it should definitely be fixed before I drive it across the floating bridge. I was already in the city, and it was already 9:30pm (still a bit light out, though, I might add), so I didn't want to go home to grab tools. I headed over to Beacon Hill, where Randy lived, to meet the van.

So, not having the proper tools (really big pliers) on hand, we decided well, if we were going to replace the hose anyway, maybe we could just cut it in half and pull off the ends separately. After running around in the dark between a truck, two houses, and a shed, we found a big pair of garder clippers, so I went under the van, which was parked on the street, and proceeded to start trying to cut the old hose off. Randy, being a very nice guy, did not want to see me get run over, so he stood out and made sure no cars came to close. After much awkward bending, I got the hose off.

The next day (Tuesday), I took my hose specimen to Napa auto parts, where I told some of this story to the guy behind the counter, including that, despite the van's age, I trusted it for my purposes, since it had been used for the same purpose twice before - to drive down to Nevada. The guy gave me a look and said "Burning Man?" Turned out he'd been there a few times back in the very early days, and we both had a good laugh exchanging stories while he got the hose.

Problem was, my hose was 2 1/8, and the hose at Napa only came in 2 and 2 1/4. So that I could actually get it on, I went with the 2 1/4, and we figured if it's too big, it can be clamped down harder. He also told me that if it does still leak, put this magical glue called Seal-All, only available from 7-11 (not from real auto parts stores, of course), on it, since it was the only thing he knew of that he trusted to withstand the solvent powers of gasoline. Man, if I'd known that, I wouldn't have taken the old hose off... oh well. That old hose was nearly 20 years old, most likely, so replacing it wasn't a bad idea anyway.

Tuesday night, back I went to Beacon Hill, and attached my new hose to the van (more lying on asphalt with my legs sticking out into the street), got the van signed over to my name, and got the keys. This is where the slight disparity in price came in. I had been thinking I wanted to offer him some money for giving me this cool thing, and he had been thinking that the batteries and inverter alone were worth at least a hundred bucks. I decided to offer him four hundred, and since he'd seen my beamer, he didn't feel bad taking it. As he said, he loved his job - he made art for children - but he was far from rich off it. I feel like I got a great deal and he got more than he was going to ask for, so everybody was happy.

I had arranged for Shauna to be my second driver, but she was at a baseball game, and right as they were about to leave, they were going to throw away some beer, since it couldn't be taken out of the stadium. Rather than seeing beer go to waste, Shauna chugged it... and then remembered that she had volunteered to drive. We agreed to reconvene on Wednesday.

At this point, I should add some details about this van which was now officially mine. It is an '87 Dodge Ram, decommisioned ambulance (painted black, so it's legal). This meant it had not one, but two sets of backup batteries, an inverter, and all the ambulance lights, and it was well-insulated. Randy had driven it down to BRC twice, and it had obviously been there before that (I found stickers back to 2002). It was part of The Machine camp, which I remembered climbing on last year. It had big Machine logos painted on the sides, and it even said "Machine" backwards on the front. In short, this thing had some character.

Wednesday night, after dinner at Qdoba (kinda like Chipotle), Shauna and I went again back to Beacon Hill ("again" for me at least), where we tried to put some gas in the van, and found that it was dripping, of course right onto the exhaust pipe. On a scale of good to bad, we figured that was bad. And that we needed some Seal-All. First we parked the van (out of the gas station), and I crawled under yet again to tighten up the hose clamps some more. This seemed to work, but we figured we should find Seal-All anyway, and besides, it would give it some time to show if it was still leaking. We asked a random guy on the street (who had commented amusedly on our vehicle) where the nearest 7-11 was. We went, and no Seal-All. We figured maybe we'd try some other convenience stores. By then it was nearly 11:00pm. We tried a Lowes that had closed at 10:00pm, and were driving around further when I started to get these red and yellow ideas. I am not prone to having ideas that are just colors, and I couldn't figure out why I was then. Somehow, it hit me that not only might I already have a tube of Seal-All, but that if I did, it would be in my tool box, which was in the trunk of the car. Sure enough, we pulled over at a convenience store, opened the trunk, and there it was, right at the top of the tool box.

This really stands out to me as "one of those things". I don't even know where I got that tube, only that I'd had it for years. Maybe my old neighbor in Tucson gave it to me; I really couldn't say. But there it was, this same obscure substance, in a tube I had had for years without thinking about it.

So, back to the van. We elected against putting the Seal-All on right then, because the package gave perilous warnings about the flammable, hazardous, and did we mention FLAMMABLE vapors, and the tightening seemed to have worked against the leak (I had really cranked it down, with leverage this time, until the clamp screws either slipped or felt like they were about to). After some adjustment of the 'mirrors' (some reflective material one step better than stickers), we were off, with Shauna driving my new hulking black Machine. We figured at first that I would lead, since I knew the way better, then decided maybe it was better if I followed so I could keep an eye on the van and make sure nothing bad happened, like, you know, fire right next to the gas tank. This turned out to be a good thing, since the van did not have very good visibility with its makeshift mirrors, and I was able to move over into anther lane ahead of her and make space for her to switch. We were remarkably well coordinated for the ~15 mile drive back to my place across a couple of freeways with tricky entrances and exits. Hurray for the hive mind :-) I had a good time playing tug for the barge, a little black ninja bodyguard for the big, slow old hippy.

So, now the Machine vanbulance is sitting in a parking stall across the road from my apartment, and I'm sitting at home for the first night since Sunday I haven't been crawling under a car in the dark on a busy street. I must wonder what the condo association will think of this; they had already left a note on my Mazda when I hadn't moved it for a month, saying, in their friendly patronizing way, please get your old beat up car off our pretty complex if you're not using it - they even had a list of places to donate old cars. Bite me; I'm gonna get some money for that thing. Maybe not a lot, but more than the value of the write off. But, here we are, with four cars associated with this unit (three of mine and one of my housemate's), two of which are weird old beat up things that have more character than a grizzled pirate. But, the vanbulance - my vanbulance - is awesome... I really don't care what the condo association thinks.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dang, somebody stole my idea

I've been wanting to do this for years... and here it is, done awesomely, and dripping with Ajax-y goodness:


This might be the most awesome useful site I've seen since Google (or maybe just since GMail). Maybe that's just because I wanted to make it myself. Go forth, and find yourself some really good flights, without taking a couple hours to do comparisons yourself.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

So much to say, so little time...

I should post my full to-do list, just for kicks. At a reasonable (but not excessive) level of itemization, it would fill at least one page, only for things I really intend to do in the next few weeks. Just for a taste, here are a few things I still mean to write about:

  • The story of The Lamp

  • Other pictures and accounts from that weekend (quite an interesting weekend) (15/16th)

  • Getting a free van (I wound up offering the guy some money anyway, which he took... but still a really cheap awesome van); this is to drive to Burning Man

  • My art project for Burning Man, once I make more progress on it

  • Skydiving! (It was not what I expected, and I can see doing it instead of therapy.)

  • A bunch of other stuff that's been going through my head, including, but not limited to, the value of following through on things, meeting new people, getting more stubborn and picky in my old age, some comments on 'will power' prompted by a Scott Adams post, and probably a lot more I can't think of right now that may be lost forever because I didn't write them down.

I'm also selling my old car (finally posted it on craigslist; please ping me if you know anybody needs an old cheap car that's good on gas and has nothing to break), doing various other things to get ready for Burning Man, took singing and piano lessons (will resume when my teacher gets back in the country...), got a housemate, am taking a massage class, and am looking to possibly buy a house/condo. So if you don't hear from me... Don't Panic. Just make sure to have your towel with you. It would have been great to have an old towel while I was lying under the free van, in the street, replacing a hose. See, they're not kidding.


In a signature line:

Every facet, every department of your mind is to be programmed by you. Unless you assume your rightful responsibility and begin to program your own mind, the world will program it for you.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Interacting with people, part II

Years ago, I read a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. While it was not a great piece of literature, it did contain an important notion that kind of ought to be obvious: that different people express caring in different ways, and if you aren't doing what someone else perceives as caring actions, it won't be seen that way, even if that's what you intend. He divides these into "Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch" (yeah, I stole that from a review, but I would have come up with roughly equivalent descriptions... the categories have stuck with me). While everyone has all of these to some extent, some are stronger than others.

I don't remember all the details of the book (it was probably 2000 when I read it), but the main emphasis was doing things your spouse would see as loving actions. While it is certainly important to do to others as they would have done unto them (the golden rule is pretty flawed and self-centered if you look at it in this light), I tend to flip it the other way, that if your actions you intend to be caring are rejected, it's hard to feel you have a good relationship.

Now, having given all that background... I have noticed that I really like going out of my way for people. Put it in the 'acts of service' category if you like, but it makes me genuinely happy when I can help someone by driving 50 miles farther than I would have, give them a massage when I'm tired myself, or lend a sympathetic ear to someone who calls just needing somebody to talk to at 4:00am because their life just fell apart. You could call it wanting to feel needed, or some other unhealthy projection, but it really just seems like how I want to interact with people. And if I offer to do things like that, well, you know I consider you a close friend. And if I get turned down a lot when I offer to do thing, I feel decidedly rejected. This is how I interact, and if you turn that down, it's like saying you don't want to interact with me.

Maybe some people feel this way more toward family. I was never close to my family (geographically, and therefore otherwise), so maybe I transferred this kind of high-loyalty thing to my friends instead. It doesn't feel unhealthy, though.

It's two minutes after midnight. Happy Bastille Day. Somewhere, bromeliads are blooming, and tiny frogs are sitting in them under the quiet moonlight.
Why oh why does this have to be happening the same time as Burning Man?


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oakey is coming!

Now that I have tickets for myself...

Paul Oakenfold is playing in Seattle on Sunday night!!! (tickets)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Every time I learn something new about web programming, I can't help but think, "wow, that's a little bit more annoying I can be."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Interacting with people

Last post I mentioned I have this conflict of being an introvert yet loving people. When I say that I'm an introvert, I mean that it takes a lot of energy for me to be around new people, and I have a definite need for time to myself to reflect. On the other hand, I really need social interaction, and I'll go crazy without that too, so I need to put out that energy to meet new people, especially since I'm in a new place, and it really does seem Seattle is a particularly difficult place to meet new people.

One thing I noticed about how I interact with people as I'm getting to know them is that there's sort of a threshold people have to cross for me not to be bothered at them contacting me without a good concrete reason. There are degrees of this, but for the most part, I'm bothered if most people message (or worse, call) just to say hi. (Good reasons to IM/call usually have to include some plan to physically meet and hopefully do something interesting; interacting online only has limited interest to me, and I hate phones.) But the people I know well have sort of 'earned' the right to call and just see how my life is going. What's the difference? Maybe it's a matter of trust - I don't want people chatting with me just because they're bored. But I don't mind people asking if I know they're doing it because they're genuinely interested in how my life is going, and I guess I have to know people reasonably well before I trust they're really interested in my state of being. It doesn't necessarily take very long, but there definitely needs to be some kind of connecting period.

I suspect there are people who genuinely welcome any reasonable sort of contact, as long as they're not terribly busy. These are the people I'd call true extroverts. Maybe I'm wrong. But there must be a lot of people out there who like going to big loud parties full of people they don't know, and that's just beyond my comprehension, so they must be pretty different from me. Maybe these are the same people who go online and chat with people they don't know, another thing I can't comprehend. But even without that, even chatting with people you know, there's a wide range of what people expect - there seem to be an awful lot of people who expect anybody on a chat program to respond immediately and give the chat their full attention, and get quite upset if you delay in writing back. I can't really communicate with these people. We never get off on the right foot. I just don't take chat that seriously. It's closer to email than phone, meaning asynchronous, respond as you have time. (The interruption factor is a big part of why I hate phones.) Maybe that's the problem - if you like phones and think of chat in the same model as a phone call, I guess it would be easy to be offended if you get 'silence' on the other end.

I'm too tired and unfocused to write anything nicely right now, but I seem to have this big backlog of things I need to get out, so I'm going to try to make time for writing regularly until I've gotten that out of my system. Or maybe I won't get it out of my system. Funny how when you start writing you keep having more left to say rather than less - like last night. I feel rather naked after all I wrote; I don't know if I intended to say so much so personal, but I have yet to actually have anything bad happen when I'm open about such things, so I guess it's okay.

July is almost half over. Soon I'll have been at this job 5 months. It's really nice here, nicer than I ever would have imagined. But I don't think I'll ever feel at home here, like this is really where I belong. Or maybe I would if I could get this love of Silicon Valley out of my system. I'll work on that soon. Just give me time.

Remember, this too shall pass.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A few thoughts for the wee hours on a weekend

I haven't put any new posts here for a while because I've been spending time sorting through pictures and putting them up on my Picasa Web Albums site. If you want to know what I'm up to, look there. I have more to say than pictures, but alas, I haven't found much time to write lately, not to mention that I haven't wanted to publicly write a lot of what I've been thinking. As Robert Sheckley said, sometimes to get yourself to write a story, you must not think you're writing the story, but just a simulation, something that doesn't have to be perfect or even close to right. It turns out that the simulation is often very close to the real thing, but the psychological value of telling yourself that this in not the real thing gets you past the pressure or terror of the blank page staring back at you. And so it is that I'm here sitting at my computer at 1:30am on a Saturday night, writing something, rather than nothing.

Last night I saw Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. It made me nauseous. I'm not kidding.

I put a bottle and a half of spray paint on my old car today in an effort to cover the effects of 15 years in the Arizona sun. I couldn't help but feel, while I was doing it, that it was vaguely unethical, like I was trying to pass my beat up little student car off as a car that looked okay. But I don't really think it's unethical - maybe I should have done it while I was using the car; maybe I'd have kept it longer. But I really love my beamer. It's easy to love that car. It's easy to feel like it loves me.

The Mazda was a tool to me. Xanadu is more like a pet, a toy, and a servant. Maybe that's why she got a name, and my other car never did.

(Shauna, if you're reading this, skip this next paragraph. I promise it's nothing you want to hear.)

I feel lately like a lot of people are trying to talk me into living in the city. There's a balance here I want to keep. I don't want to live in a small town way out in the boonies. I'm not into that whole small-town spying thing (you can call it friendliness or concern if you like; it's all in the perception). But nor do I like cities. I like cute little down-town areas, like Redmond or Kirkland or Palo Alto. I wouldn't even mind living in the little down town areas, but I don't feel any need to; I really love driving (or better, biking) to work through redwoods. And I kind of like having big cities (like Seattle or San Francisco) nearby, like half an hour to an hour's drive away. But I really actively don't want to live in the big city. I don't understand the desire to. When I drive into Seattle, I quickly start feeling like I want to kill something. It's dirty and crowded and I don't feel safe. The buildings are moldy and falling apart and full of too many people jammed too close together. I feel like I'm going to get mugged or beat up or worse or something will get stolen from me. The streets are narrow and badly arranged and the cars are parked so densely I can't see to make turns and nearly get hit. There's no safe places to ride a bike. There aren't enough trees or waterways or clear views of mountains (although Seattle does pretty well on the water part). There are too many people doing too many stupid things. Driving around at night I see drunk people wandering in the streets. I just want to stay far away from all that. At least this is what I observe in Seattle. Pike Place and Pioneer Square are cool, but what I've seen of the rest of the city seems pretty unredeeming. I'd probably feel the same way about parts of San Fran too if it didn't have such magical status in my mind (and even still I don't really want to walk through most of it alone at night). And I hate commuting. So living in the city would be a negative in every respect for me. Please stop trying to talk me into it. I don't understand you, you don't understand me, and there's really nothing we can do to get past this, since we just have different axioms. So let's just not bring it up at all.

A lot of people seem to want what I'd call a neat little life. Grow up, go to school to get a postgrad degree, get a good stable job, get married, have kids, and generally turn into your parents. I would die like this. I want nothing to do with it. I want nothing to do with kids (really, don't argue; someday maybe I'll do long post on why, but for now trust me that basically no part of it appeals to me, and I mean this in quite an extended sense, and there's no way to rationally talk me into it). These days I'm even questioning this model of people going around in pairs (this is probably part of why I've been single by choice for over a year; there are other reasons, but as I've said, I've been thinking a lot of things I haven't wanted to post publicly). So what do I want, if not this neat little life? Adventure. Excitement. Doing something big. I want lots of friends. I want to start a company. I want to see the world. I want to fix its problems. I want to help those poor downtrodden disrespected mutilated women in Africa and the Middle East. I want to help smart kids not feel like outcasts in school. Heck, I want to overhaul the whole education system. I want to make teaching one of the best-paying and most-respected professions. I want school to be available to everyone and for it to enable them to be more fully actualized in what they really want to do. I want girls to be able to discover their love of technology. I want for gender not to be a hard line. I want happiness to be taken as a more important measure of a country's success than its material well-being. I want to climb through caves and jump off cliffs and go places just because I haven't been there. I want to build big pieces of art and set them on fire. I want to put on a gender-reversed Phantom of the Opera and play the Phantom-ess myself. I want to build a trebuchet. I want to go to Burning Man every year for as long as it's good. I want to run out in the middle of the street at night to take pictures of the huge orange moon setting over the city. I want to bike across New Zealand. I want to go to parties where everybody laughs at jokes about log files and cross-compilers without feeling either smug or ashamed, or really anything but just relishing life. I want to have fascinating conversations about how fake money is and why we find things beautiful. I want to go to the places I've heard stories about and meet the characters in the books I've read. I want to feel like there's nothing wrong with telling my own stories. I want to sing and learn to play piano and still be able to do the splits when I'm eighty. I want to run on a glorious golden beach looking onto pristine blue water - and eat really good steak when I'm done. I want to hike through Waipi'o Valley and up Mauna Loa and splash in the puddles of Hilo rain. I want to constantly be a sponge for information, to always learn more about all the amazing things that are out there in the world and in people's minds. I want to do things spontaneously - 'let's go to San Diego - right now!' - 'I wonder where this trail goes? Let's find out.' I want to go out driving or riding or walking and stop or go wherever the mood strikes me. This is what I call living - really living, so I don't feel like I'm missing something. Having a neat little job and house and family just doesn't do this for me. Maybe this will change when I'm older. Or maybe it won't.

All that stuff I just wrote brings up another thing I've been thinking a lot about lately: I have a lot of highly conflicting internal states. I'm an introvert, but I love people. I'm really ambitious, but also have this awful lazy streak (working on this is the biggest thing I've been focusing on for the last few months).

Sometimes people say it's selfish not to have kids. Funny, to me it seems more selfish to take up more of the world's resources making copies of your own genes and spending all your time for nearly 20 years taking care of at most a handful of people instead of putting your creative energy toward helping the millions of people already out there who need nuturing, who are desperate for help and hope. You can disagree, of course. But it won't change my mind.

There, that wasn't such a bad simulation of a blog entry, was it?