Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thinking about Thinking

No work is being done on the train during this "dead time" between Xmas and New Years, so I took advantage by watching part of Waking Life on the train this morning. It's a movie about a person trapped in a lucid dream, and encountering all sorts of people that rant about interesting philosophies. One of my favorites is when the main character is jostled by a female who insists that they interact in a "real" way rather then just following "ant-like" social conventions, and they relate this story (paraphrased from the movie):

D.H. Lawrence had an idea where two people meet on a road, and rather then just pass and glance at each other and look away, they accept what equals a confrontation between their souls. Like freeing the reckless gods within us all.

Which is both an interesting thought (especially for a commuter) as well as a good example of what watching the movie is like: 90 minutes of coolly freaky animation filled with thought experiments like this one. (See here for some text from the film.) Can't wait for the snowy train ride home!

How'd you spend your Xmas?

This is how I spent mine: Resting up from bronchitis.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Deep Thought

As much as I find physical CDs to be almost worthless now (I listen to music via iPod 99% of the time), I do miss getting music for Christmas.

Santa's smaller then I imagined him to be...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Love it

This is hysterical.

First line of The Master of Petersburg

"October, 1869. A droshky passes slowly down a street in the Haymarket district of St. Petersburg."

- J.M. Coetzee

Yea, it's two lines. So sue me.

Cough Update

Because I know you're all worried about me.

I was told a few weeks back that I had contracted viral bronchitis and that there wasn't anything I could do about it. The doctor gave me some codeine-laced cough syrup (not as fun as you would suspect) and sent me on my way. Two weeks of sleeping on the couch later, there was no improvement in my cough, so, sight-unseen, they prescribed me a five-day Zpack of Azithromycin, an antibiotic for bacterial infections. This, combined with my uncle's advice (he's an Otolaryngologist) seems to have finally cleaned up the problem.

I'll blog more about this later, but my uncle thinks that the coughing was related to my acid reflux. The reflux tickles the throat, causing even more coughing and further aggravating the bronchitis. Taking stronger reflux medicine seems to have done the trick.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It didn't take long... squash the optimism expressed in my previous post.

Food we can believe in

I'm finding the ongoing efforts to introduce more sustainable practices into American agriculture fascinating. My introduction to these efforts, other then the stuff I pick up by osmosis by buying organic, was from Barbara Kingsolver's great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which inspired us to make our own cheese).

Now comes news of a grassroots effort to influence Obama's Secretary of Agriculture so that the USDA might start promoting sustainability rather then simply promoting the interests of the large corporate farms. Here's hoping it works.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Cover

Thomas Pynchon's new novel is really coming! I'm extremely excited. Click here for a view of the cover.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Viral Bronchitis

So today I was diagnosed with viral bronchitis, an inflammation of the upper lung passages for which, alas, there is no course of treatment. So the coughing and lethargy will continue indefinitely until the 7-21 day time period for the virus passes.

It's funny because it's true

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I keep hearing so many good things about 2666, Roberto BolaƱo's posthumously published, 900-page novel. The latest instance is this fantastic review from Brendan Kiley.

The quotes people pull are beautiful and moving, like this: "The University of Santa Theresa was like a cemetery that suddenly begins to think, in vain. It also was like an empty dance club."

However, i've been burned before. So i'll keep my eye out for it, perhaps in paperback, but i'm not going to buy into the hype this time. Sorry.

Where is Help 2.0?

I empathize with the ambivalence Tom Johnson feels when completing a help system/manual. Since no one is every satisfied with "the manual" these days, it makes the technical writing job that much less fulfilling.

He references Alan Porter's fascinating Move over DITA – Chaos Is Coming! article, where he realizes just how out of date the current help paradigm is by observing his daughter research for a school paper. The money quote:

"In fact for most of my working life to date, the technology I used at work far out paced that I used outside of work.

But not any more."

It's a sad truth, and one that will mean more painful discrepancies between user's help expectations and companies delivery methods until it can be resolved.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Inherent Vice

Looks like Thomas Pynchon's got a new novel coming out, a mystery called Inherent Vice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

brutal sickness

Caught the latest flu going around last week and still haven't really recovered. These sickness just seem to get worse and worse with every year (or is it just that I'm getting older?)... regardless, i'm heading back to the couch for more healing vegetation, so continued radio silence for a while.

Friday, December 5, 2008

a way out of loneliness

While a bit overwrought, this DFW obituary has some interesting and brilliant observations, including some tough-to-take facts about DFW's crippling depression.

Showering and the "Creative Pause"

A scientific explanation as to why some of your best ideas seem to you in the shower: Why thinking in the shower may be an ideal model for "creative pause"

More reasons to like Kelly Link

Sentences like this one, from Monster in Pretty Monsters:

"[The monster] had a voice like a dead tree full of bees: sweet and dripping and buzzing." p.203

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Minimalist Documentation

Here's a good summary of some of the presentations of the ISTC conference took place in Nottingham, UK, 23-25 September 2008.

In the "Minimalism in complex knowledge domains: can it be done?" section, there's a discussion of minimalist documentation. I've always minimalist idea intriguing, but have never been able to recognize it myself for a number of reasons (software is too complex, need to explain general processes in detail, and the requirement to document around bugs).

However, I liked this:

"Galyna says that minimalist documents should not only contain procedures. Users need more information. As with all types of documentation, two problems that technical authors have are deciding on the level of detail and organising the tasks."

This is the crux of technical writing: you want to provide the steps to help the user solve their problem, but you also need to provide the bigger picture. Galyna's advice seems to be moving away from minimalism, but I think that's almost unavoidable for most application help.

More Cuteness

I'm not a fan of the word cute, but there isn't really another word to express how Hunter's been acting lately.

- When picking him up from day care today, on the way home he stops his random singing and says "Good to see you!"

- Lighting up a fire tonight, he looks at the flame and says "beautiful".

Good times. I'm trying to enjoy every minute.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hunter thoughts from Florida

Some Hunter observations from our recent trip to Ruth's place in Bonita Springs, FLA:

I love it when Hunter has an announcement to make. He'll stop, lean his body forward, screw up his eyes in concentration, and raise up both index fingers and say "Wait! Hunter will be right back!" or whatever important think that's on his mind.

We were putting him down to sleep on a twin bed, so I was lying next to him one night, rubbing his back, when he started giggling hysterically. His eyes were closed, but something was amusing him, because he was laughing on and off for a good five minutes. Then he passed out, just like that. What a way to fall asleep - happy and laughing.

In Florida, we obviously didn't have all of the toys that we do in Ashland, so we had to be a bit creative when coming up with stuff to play with. The most amusing thing was water bottles. We drink a lot of bottled water when we're down there because the house's well water just doesn't agree with me, so we've got large gallon+ bottles for the house and smaller bottles for trips in the car. Well, one afternoon Hunter literally spent two hours playing with water bottles. He'd get daddy to fill up the smaller bottle from the pool, and then sit down next to both bottles. Then he'd count with his inexact command of numbers, always starting with three: "three, pour, six, sephen, eight, GO!" and quickly unscrew both caps, then pour the water from the smaller bottle into the larger one. This happened a few times before he would upend the by-now relatively full larger water bottle, spilling water all over the pool deck and himself (he spent most of his pool time naked) and cheering loudly.

Another good activity was throwing balls. Hunter would stand in front of the garage looking down the slight incline to the other side of the cement driveway. The balls could be throw or rolled but they would end up in the grass, be collected, then tossed back to the garage where another round of throwing would commence. Occasionally, the balls would be thrown up in the air, or he would gather them all up in a stroller and then walk the stroller around the driveway.

As Hunter gets older, he's expressing his opinions more and more. Our current favorite is when he'll stop in the middle of something and just say "I happy." Another example is when we were flying back to Logan, he kept repeating "Boston" and was so excited to know where we were going and to be going back home that he would say: "Boston! I love it!" He's been telling us when he's having a good time by saying something like "Having fun, Mommy!" or even just stopping what he's doing for a "love you daddy". it's really fun to see him coming into his own. The night after the first day back at day care, he was excitedly telling me that "I played with friends!" and listed them out for me: "I played with Gabby, Danny..." Etc.

Probably the most amusing thing that occurred recently are his imaginary phone conversations. he'll steal a cell phone and walk around the house "talking" on it. When traveling, this distraction can be a godsend, so in the car at one point, he was talking on the phone, but this was a real conversation; he was pretending to talk to "JenandMax":

"Oh hi Jen, [unintelligible murmur] Max [la la la], Dave, oh wow... cool!" And then he hung up the phone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

RIP Buffalo Bills

The Bills, as if anyone doubted, are officially done for the 2008 season after their embarrassing loss to the 49ers. The Democrat and Chronicle attempts to inject some black humor into their coverage - the only type of humor you end up with as a Buffalo fan.

The other Buffalo hallmark is to have your hopes built up only to have them crushed in the most debilitating manner possible. After all the promise shown by their scrappy season last year, and then this season's 5-1 start, this season ends up like the rest: a depressing whimper with promises of next year. Not sure why I subject myself to this year after year.

Quote of the Day

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.

- Mark Twain

HT: Tom Tomorrow

Monday, December 1, 2008

First Line of Oakley Hall's Warlock

"Deputy Canning had been Warlock's hope."

So far - i'm halfway through it - Warlock is a fantastic book, if a bit unrelentingly grim (I know the hardscrabble life was tough, but no one joked at all back then?) It's about a small mining town's efforts to install "law and order" and what that means. Thomas Pynchon, as usual, has the best take on it.

Orwellian Blogging

This is amusing: Orwell's 1938 journal in blog format.