dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

social bookmarking

posted on February 27th, 2006

Man, the web is a weird wild place these days. I still remember when Gopher was the hypertext king, when Mosaic first came out, and when the original browser wars started, but even the more recent days when I first discovered Slashdot and when I first started blogging are now ancient history.

up until today, I had been using bloxsom 2.0 [my blog running blosxom], which is almost 3 years old, which is a long time on the web. I feel like moving to Wordpress is an attempt to catch up with modernity a little.

The other thing that I’ve started using is del.icio.us, which is (as I attempt to use the proper buzzwords) a social bookmarking system employing folksonomies. While I am for the most part a socialist democrat in my political leanings, I do have a libertarian streak, and the idea of voluntarily leaving a browser trail kind of gave me the creeps, but, what the hell, given my particular profession, I’m pretty much completely exposed to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and Mr. Alberto “I like torturing people” Gonzales, to name a few, what’s a few more scraps of evidence? (In any case, since this is the government that in five years, for some reason, has failed to find public enemy #1—Osama bin Laden—I’ve got to say, I’m not at all impressed. Sure, they could send some jackbooted thugs to my door right now to scare the crap out of me, and they’ll probably succeed, but other than that, they really haven’t got anything on me. But, as usual, I digress.)

I’ve always had problems keeping my bookmarks straight. I’ve also always wanted to publish my bookmarks on the web. All of this seemed to require writing inordinate amounts of code, not to mention having to learn yet another programming language, even if I used someone else’s GPL’ed code as a starting point. My bookmark bar has at one point consumed eight lines, which was approximately a quarter of my screen.

With del.icio.us, I feel much more carefree about tagging things. So what if I never plan to visit the site again? I think it takes fewer steps for me to post on del.icio.us than for me to add a bookmark to my browser, and I don’t ever have to worry about deleting it to make space on my bookmark bar.

The other beautiful thing is that there’s no need to worry about synchronizing my bookmarks. Especially since I have both a desktop and a laptop, and since I frequently browse the Internet from remote locations on—horrors—Windows boxes.

In any case, some people opine that del.icio.us is the end all/be all and everyone else should just quit and go home, which doesn’t seem well-based in how things usually work. I mean, did Microsoft quit and go home when Netscape had 80% of the market share?

Besides, I think he misses the point with things like Scuttle and SlashLinks which, while they are conceptually so similar to del.icio.us as to be almost identical, they are open source projects (Scuttle is GPL’ed, SlashLinks is released under the Creative Commons License) that allow you to host your bookmarks on your own server.

Now why in the hell would you do that? Probably the same reason why you would run Wordpress on your own server instead of using Blogger and Blogspot.

Anyway, whatever happened to the idea that diversity is the keystone to humanity’s success?

octavia butler - rest in peace

posted on February 27th, 2006

I discovered that one of my favorite science fiction writers Octavia Butler has died.

I first heard about her in high school while randomly reading How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (author of the classic Ender’s Game) He used a lot of examples of her writing.

I didn’t get around to reading Dawn (Xenogenesis) until I was in college, and I quickly ripped through it and into Adulthood Rites then to Imago. She was the first person-of-color science fiction writer I ever read, and looking back, I’m sure that reading that series impacted me greatly since, like many college students, at the time I was in the throes of trying to define my ethnic/cultural identity. Reading her books reinforced the notions I had learned from my A.P. U.S. History class (which also greatly affected my notions of this American Empire of ours—I feel like I’m one of the few people who actually learned about the Filipino-American War—not the Philippine Insurrection—in high school. It wasn’t just glossed over. We talked about it for one entire class period and went over the atrocities and treachery committed by the Americans and discussed the grotesquely racist nature of Manifest Destiny. That class was extraordinarily illuminating, but that is another story…) But the thing that her writing reinforced in me is the notion that the conflicts rooted in race, ethnicity, conquest, and imperialism are not at all simple things, and that, because of the polarizing nature of it, even people who are the same skin color and culture as you end up being not on your side. The Xenogenesis series really made me think about interracial cultures and thorny thicket of issues therein and the way trying to mend bridges ends up burning others. It also made me meditate on the fact that imperial conquest and colonization has already happened, slavery has already happened, ethnic cleansing has already happened. There is nothing we can do to undo these evils. We have to deal constructively with their consequences. We’re not going to do any good trying to fight hate with hate.

I can tell you that this is not a popular point of view as a person-of-color amongst other people-of-color who are also in the throes of figuring out their own cultural identities. Many of us were just coming to terms with how a lot of the ugly truths about America had been whitewashed by the elementary and secondary school systems. And some coped with it all by adopting ultra-nationalistic or ethnic-supremacist stances, reveling in quasi-nationalistic revisionist mythologies, and rejecting all things Western (read “white”) with utter contempt. This was especially apparent at an institution with an illustrious revolutionary history like U.C. Berkeley, particularly when extraordinarily anti-people-of-color legislation like Proposition 187 (which cut undocumented immigrants’ access to social services, health care, and public education) and Proposition 209 (which dismantled affirmative action) were coming to pass. (Looking back, I can’t help but wonder, what the hell was going on? I thought this was supposed to be California! Damn racist bastards!)

Still, like with Butler’s protagonists, attempts to deal constructively rather than destructively with race and ethnicity issues puts one in a position where you are really on no one’s side. I was very well aware of the fact that I wasn’t white, but I didn’t fit in with a lot of my brown brothers and sisters either.

I guess I still haven’t really ever come to terms with this issue. In some ways, this is because of my predilection for lingering in the periphery, but through the years I’ve really wandered far afield into a place where I don’t have a lot of peers who are people-of-color, or at least people-of-color who don’t fit into the model-minority stereotype.

But, yeah, this was somewhat of a snapshot of where I was in my life when I started reading Butler’s work.

Her role as a science-fiction writer who was a person of color, though, is inspiring and encouraging to me. Like a lot of the perceptual spaces I’ve tended to hang out, often just following my bliss, as it were, science-fiction is a place dominated by white men, and doesn’t really seem like somewhere that people-of-color typically aspire to. I can sympathize that this must be a lonely place. You don’t have a lot of sympathetic peers. So you end up having to be a pioneer, not for the sake of being a pioneer, but because you have to pursue the thing that you love.

I actually went to see her read at Midnight Special in Santa Monica a while ago (alas, the bookstore is also gone) but didn’t have the courage to go up to her and have her sign my copy of Adulthood Rites. Ah well.

Rest in peace, Ms. Butler.

trying something new again

posted on February 27th, 2006

So I think I’m going to try and use Wordpress after all. While I fondly used blosxom for almost three years [the beginning][the end…maybe], I found it got harder and harder to maintain since I have less and less time to write perl scripts. It has even got to the point where I find it cumbersome to sync my local archives (where I do my posting) with my live blog since I pretty much use both my desktop computer and my laptop for blog posting. I just don’t have the energy to dig through the man pages of rsync and cvs to try and figure out how not to nuke my file system.

But this could all be a temporary flash-in-the-pan fling. The last time I tried changing my blog engine from something that I could semi-understand to something more industrial strength, I chickened out, although, granted, this was before the current manifestation of blogging (and the now near-ubiquitousness of free or supremely cheap hosting) had taken wing, and everyone was really thinking of Slashdot-like forums and big time content management systems instead.

But as usual, I digress. (Hence the new blog title.)

Anyway, I’ve got to tell you that I’m still a little leery of storing all my content in a SQL Server. Thankfully, the beauty of having a major webhost like Dreamhost is that it’s not impossible to undo stupid changes you’ve made to your site. (Although how I revert a SQL Server is currently beyond me, and hopefully it’s not something I’m ever going to have to do. I’m crossing my fingers and knocking on some wood.) Not that storing all your content in a UNIX filesystem like blosxom does is exactly idiot-proof either, but it’s certainly more familiar.

Another of the reasons why I’ve changed my mind and am now willing to give it a go, though, is that I found this interesting—hmmm, what is the word for it—concept, I guess. First of all is the FUSE project, which is a framework that lets you create unique filesystems completely in userspace without having to muck around in the kernel (which, while theoretically possible in MacOSX/Darwin, is not something I would want to try. Hell, the thought of recompiling my own Linux kernel kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I used to do that, oh, once a week, whenever Alan Cox would release a new patch. Just for fun, like the sick little monkey that I clearly am.) Oh, sure, I know, you do have to patch your kernel to get it to work in the first place, so that also led me into virtualization so that I could try to run Linux on top of MacOSX. Unfortunately, Mac-on-Mac, which I would expect to be the most efficient, apparently doesn’t run on Tiger, nor can it run Tiger, making it less than ideal. I suppose I could try compiling it and seeing what sort of havoc it can wreak on my computer, but again, I just don’t feel as ready for this sort of misadventure as I used to be. Another cool sounding idea is Xen, which unfortunately isn’t really quite running on the PPC platform yet (although such a port is in process as we speak), and I can’t quite afford a MacBook Pro which in fact has an x86 processor (and in any case, I probably wouldn’t be able to run Tiger x86 in Xen.) So what I need is an x86 machine, or infinite patience and 40 GB more of hard drive space so I can try running an x86 Linux on MacOSX through QEMU [the main site][the PPC port][MacOSX application]

Anyway, the point. (Is there ever, ever a point to any of my blog posts?) Once I get a working copy of Linux patched with FUSE one way or the other, I can install BlogFS, which will let me see my Wordpress blog as a filesystem, thereby emulating blosxom, and coming full-circle in what must seem like a completely pointless endeavor.

Not so! This now gives me the transparency of the filesystem that I so adored in blosxom and yet allows me to use the advanced features of Wordpress, including being able to post in a webbrowser without having to screw around with another thousand lines of perl.

But that really does look like a good 60-80 hours of mucking around in source code (not to mention scrounging up free hard-drive space from somewhere) so it’s probably going to be a while before I get to it. In the meantime, I’m just going to stare at the shiny new thing that is my Wordpress blog.