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.

coping with existence

posted on November 29th, 2007

Level I

Not sure what exactly changed this evening, after I gave up with lying in bed, weary, defeated. Maybe it was the odd impulse to write this line on a random scrap of paper:

Let lightning strike me now!

Not sure what that’s supposed to mean either, but here we are.

Level II

The problem with existentialism (at least the Camusian variety) is that it doesn’t have any answers. It is, in a way, an anti-religion. (Although I am wary of saying that religion has any answers either.) Or, perhaps more accurately, it is a meta-religion.

Level III

I’m trying to find a satisfying explanation for the term religion. Like most -ion words in English, it’s from Latin, and [various sources][1] parse it to be re- and ligere or perhaps re- and legere.

Ligo, ligere, lixi, lictus, or perhaps ligo, ligare, ligavi, ligatus both mean “to bind,” and various Christian theologians use to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity. Interestingly, during the Roman Republic and then the Roman Empire, there was a governmental position known as the lictor who essentially seemed to serve as the bodyguard of anyone who held imperium. Lictor seems obviously derived from ligo, ligere, lixi, lictus, and may refer to the fasces, the “bundle” borne by the lictor, seemingly symbolizing imperium itself.

The fasces make me think of agriculture, and there is a lot to be said about the nature of someone who has the power to grow food, and how many early creation myths probably center around the harvest.

On the other hand, lego, legere, lexi, lectus is generally parsed as “to read” and it is where lex, “the law”, is derived from. Since the religions that Western Civilization are generally concerned with are all based on various sacred scripture, this would certainly fit as well. Legere can also be conjugated as lego, legere, legi, legatus, however, from whence legion is derived, and it means “to gather,” “to collect.” In this sense, religion can be seen as a collection of traditions.

When seen through a Christian perspective, the idea of gathering is very integral. One of the sacraments, Holy Communion, is based entirely on the notion of gathering together a community, and it is this sacrament that the Catholic Mass centers on.

Interestingly, the word lignum, meaning “wood”, also seems to be related. Whether this hearkens to some kind of tree worship (I immediately think of the Druids), or whether this is simply the fact that wood is something that is gathered remains to be discovered.

Level IV

Etymology non-withstanding, I was taught that “religion” meant “way of life” and therefore could be broadly applied to many philosophical systems that are actually deployed as solutions to the problems of existence, and thereby definitely including Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism.

So what I mean by “metareligion” is that existentialism doesn’t describe a way of life, per se, but rather can encompass any and all religions. In other words, just because you believe in God doesn’t mean you can’t be existentialist, or probably more accurately, just because you’re an existentialist doesn’t mean you can’t believe in God.

Level V

But this was all a segue to the matter at hand: at some point, you’ve got to make a decision. You can’t just sit on that existentialist point of crisis for the rest of your life. Either you make a decision, or the universe makes the decision for you.

(As an aside, existential hell exists because you can always revisit that point of crisis, even when the decision has already been made, even when it was completely out of your control. Case in point, from time to time, I still think about the point of crisis I had about 10 years ago, when I decided to tell A how I felt about her. This memory can still wake me up with a cold sweat, and I think a part of my soul withered after that day.)

But what is gone is gone. What never was, shall never be, world without end.

Level VI

So filled with the energy of existential release, I set myself to work on decreasing the amount of entropy filling my apartment. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for me to keep things in order. I suppose I just have too much stuff, and I would probably be well served by just throwing everything away.

One of these days, I may finally get everything into order, but it’s definitely not going to be any time soon.

[1]: “Natural Religion, vol. 1 1888–1892 Friedrich Max Müller”

a theory of miracles

posted on November 29th, 2007

I thought to myself this morning:

Miracles are more common than you might think. They are the temporary respite from the iron laws of thermodynamics, the quantum fluctuations that allow greater complexity to arise from simplicity and form grand systems such as the cell, that allow the void to tunnel through an energy barrier and create the universe, that allows matter and energy to arise from the nothingness of spacetime.

As the man with the funny hair once said:

There are only two ways to live your life. One, as if nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is.

A picture of Albert Einstein

grains of sand in an hourglass

posted on November 25th, 2007

Come December, and the end of the year is nigh
and though the air is dry and warm
the sky glimmers, shimmers with cloudy gray
and the waning sunlight casts long shadows
upon the cold blue sea

How many times have I come this way?
Down this dry and dusty concrete road
black with ashes of memories
and the soot of discarded dreams
past the island mirage, floating like a city of clouds on the sea
unreachable yet beckoning

It is not regret
for how do you regret what never came to pass?
Just this terrible weariness
the despair of the lost and forsaken
I may wander the world for a hundred years
and never find the right paths
trapped in these labyrinthine circles
I can hear your voice, and yet never come nearer

How many years must a man wait
before accepting that the answer is “No,” and “Never!”
before turning aside from his futile errand
to face the darkness
and accept his fate?

false etymologies

posted on November 23rd, 2007

I have a thing for trying to discover the underlying etymologies of proper names. It becomes a fun game to generate names in imaginary languages that have similar meanings to names in real languages.

Another amusing word game is creating kennings, which are essentially poetic but compact metaphors, but most often are used to express abstract concepts in concrete terms. An example of a kenning is “whale-road” for “sea”.

So in the midst of trying to figure out the meaning of someone’s name, I somehow stumble upon this comparative vocabulary list that includes words from different Austronesian languages. (One of the little side notes that I’m very interested in finding the source of is the idea that the ancestors of the Hawaiians came from near the Philippines.)

But what caught my eye is the comparisons for the word for “star”:

Javanese lintang
Balinese bintang
Sundanese bentang
Madurese bintang
Sawu moto
Toraja bintoen
Acehnese bintang
Tetun fitun
Tagalog tala ALSO bituin
Hiligaynon bituon
Maori whetū
Fijian kalo-kalo
Hawaiian hoku
Malagasy kintana
Rapanui hetu’u

I always thought that tala and bituin in Tagalog came from different sources, but tala seems to be the odd-one out.

In any case, looking at the words for “star” from the Central Archipelago, bintang may be the original word. And interestingly, in Tagalog, the Spanish word for “window” has been imported into the language. So ventana becomes bintana. While clearly there is no relationship between bintana and bituin (or bintang), I find it amusing to construct a kenning for “window” like this: bintana = bituin tanaw = “star view”

tired and weak but thankful

posted on November 23rd, 2007

Is this just pure sleep deprivation? Is this dehydration? Am I just hungry? Or maybe this is the characteristic post-post-call torpor? Paranoid thoughts about the H5N1 virus flit briefly through my brain, but the probabilities are pretty slim.

I didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving from 1999 to 2002. The first Thanksgiving I spent away from home was probably the most pathetic. I think all I did was watch “The Goonies” on TV and all I ate was a can of Campbell’s soup and spaghetti with marinara sauce for lunch and dinner, respectively.

I always figured that those sucky Thanksgivings would be preparation for having to miss Christmas and New Year’s, too, once I started residency.

But Fate (and the chief residents who have put together my schedules for the past three years) has been exceedingly kind. Somehow, I’ve always been able to make it to Thanksgiving dinner (although this has probably a lot to do with the fact that home is only a 1½-to-2 hour drive.) While it’s nearly impossible to get both New Year’s and Christmas off, I’m more of a fan of Christmas anyway, and I’ve managed to get Christmas off every year so far. And for the past two years I’ve had both holidays off. (This year, though, I only get New Year’s off.)

So yesterday, despite being post-call, I planned to take the train up to L.A. Now, granted, I was able to sleep for almost four hours on call, and we only had taken 6 admits and a unit transfer (out of the possible 10 admits and 2 unit transfers), so I didn’t really think I would be that tired. But even though the call rooms are much nicer than when I was an intern (I can’t believe I’m using the line “when I was an intern…”), it’s still a call room. With supreme effort, I wrenched myself away from my apartment and drove myself to the train station, finding a sweet parking spot, and hopping on the train.

This was the first time I decided to pony up the extra $14 and try business class, mostly because I knew that coach was almost guaranteed to be a clusterfuck, and I didn’t want to accidentally fall asleep on my neighbor’s shoulder, smelling of post-call goodness and funk. For the first 30 minutes of the ride, I found myself the only passenger in the business class cabin, which was quite peaceful if not a little lonely, but oh well, I always have my iPod.

A funny moment was when a young couple came aboard. They apparently eventually made their way to the cabin’s restroom and proceeded to have sex. I only suspect this because some time during the ride, I really had to pee. Not realizing that while the door was unlocked, the restroom was actually occupied, I was treated to the blinding sight of white man ass, jiggling as he scrambled to slam the door shut while continuing to boink his girlfriend. After the astonishment faded, I walked away laughing to myself (although by then I really, really had to pee.)

I made it to Union Station sometime after nightfall. My brother and my dad came to pick me up, and they had the radio on, and they were playing Christmas carols non-stop. I grew nauseated with the thought of having to listen to non-stop Christmas carols for the next thirty-two days. Is this some kind of Clear Channel scheme to assuage its Bill O’reilly-watching, neuropenic listeners that they weren’t going to give in to the anti-Christmas jihadists?

By the time I made it home, everyone there was already tapped out. There was still a good amount of turkey left, as well as mashed potatoes and gravy, and lots of desert. I stuffed myself silly and somehow managed not to pass out. One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to make it to Thanksgiving this year was because my cousin from Hawaii was spending her Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. The last time I had seen her was in 2003 when my sister graduated from undergrad. She’s now going to college on the mainland, although still a 2½ hour flight from L.A. She is also the youngest person in our extended family thus far (although I guess, technically, I do have a niece, but that’s another story) and she’s the only cousin who grew up in the U.S. who shares my last name.

Afterwards, we played with the dogs. One of the dogs (the older one) at my parents’ house apparently has eczema (just diagnosed at the vet’s office today.) My brother had been getting worried because the dog has been biting himself raw on his rump. A huge area of fur was matted, and you could see that the skin underneath was red and angry-looking.

We also watched DVDs that contained copies of some 8mm film that my uncle took when me, my brother, and my sister were little kids. What’s weird is that when I was a baby, my parents were my age. I find that kind of trippy. My dad grew wistful, wishing that there was some way to turn back the clock. For some reason, this idea was in my mind, too.

For some strange reason, I decided to glance at a computer magazine from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that was mouldering on the bookshelves in my brother’s room (despite both being in their late 20’s, both my brother and my sister are back living with the ‘rents, trying to figure out their destinies.) It’s odd how the vaunted retrospectoscope can change contexts. It definitely gave me this illusion of time travel.

On the northbound train ride, I found myself ruminating over the past 10(!) years or so, and how, despite all the great defeats, all the unrequited loves, all the unfulfilled wishes, all the buried aspirations, I’ve managed to achieve at least one of my goals in life. And while, even in the best of times, I’ve never been an optimistic man, I find that knowledge of this fact of achievement actually heartens me, and makes me believe that maybe, just maybe, at least one or two of the other things I hope to do with my life may actually come to fruition. And even still, I would never have made it even 1/10th this far without the hardwork and sacrifice and support of my family, and for that, despite all the rough spots and shouting matches and blows exchanged, I am extremely thankful. As I’ve said all along, family has always been important to me.

My brother, my sister, my cousin, and my cousin’s friend dropped me off at the train station around 10 pm. In all, I had spent four hours at home, which is kind of insane, but I’ve got this warm feeling inside, so it was worth it. My brother, my sister, my cousin, and my cousin’s friend then sped off to an outlet mall (either the Citadel in the City of Industry, Camarillo, or maybe even Cabazon out in the desert. Hmm, how alliterative) to do some midnight shopping for Black Friday. (I have decided to celebrate Buy Nothing Day from here on out. I have absolutely no desire to contend with the seething masses in this orgiastic bacchanalian of outright materialism and excess. Mostly because I can’t deal with driving around looking for parking, and I can’t deal with all the cranky babies and the irate adults. It brings out the worst in humanity, it does. Plus Christmas shopping always reminds of me of the time I got the chickenpox, and how I felt like I was going to die because I felt so sick, and it also reminds me of one of the most significant non-relationships in my life, but I digress.)

round corners

posted on November 20th, 2007

The round corners of the menu bar in Mac OS seem to be an artifact from the early 1980’s, when the 9 inch CRT of the original Mac 128k had rounded bezels.

Original Mac 128k

But apparently the Steve has a thing for roundrects, so it’s not surprising that they became an enduring feature of the GUI, present up to and including Mac OS X 10.4.11.

Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”

Like the typical Windows user, I once thought of the rounded corners as a meaningless affectation, another example of style superseding substance. Windows favored sharp corners. (Of course, Win 3.0 didn’t have a menu bar, nor a task bar for that matter.)

Windows 3.0 on Virtual

But with the release of XP, Windows adopted rounded corners for their title bars, and it actually took, since it’s also in Vista.

Windows XP


In an ironic twist of fate, Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” doesn’t have rounded corners.

Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”

Now, I’m a guy who likes to think that I’m above appearances. As long as the UI is usable, I can get by. I once used a computer with only 8 colors and no (built-in) GUI, after all. But the lack of the corners proved to be disturbing. I can’t explain it. Their absence seriously bugged me.

I can’t remember the last time a feature change like this bugged me so much.

Thankfully, there is

from there to here, from then to now

posted on November 17th, 2007

Seven years is slightly less than ¼ of my life so far, and exactly ¼ the number of years of memories I have tucked away somewhere in the eternal labyrinth of mushy grey stuff hidden away in my skull. (I remember my first memory quite distinctly. It is rather mundane and extraordinarily unremarkable, but I know it is the first. Me and my dad were driving south on Alvarado St. in Echo Park, past the Safeway just before Reservoir St. Why this sticks to me, I don’t know.)

Seven years—the duration of misfortune traditionally ascribed to breaking a mirror (and I’ve broken a few mirrors) In this time I’ve had almost all of my hopes completely extinguished, only to be rekindled again, unlooked for, and then smothered, but still smoldering.

But this flame won’t die. At least not quite yet. The fire of life. One of my teachers uses this common metaphor to accurately describe the physiologic processes of living, specifically, of respiration, of oxygen delivery and consumption, of what is essentially combustion. Nearly all of our trillions of cells each contain thousands of tiny microscopic internal combustion engines, and somehow the trite cliché becomes an accurate depiction of the molecular processes going on inside mitochondria.

And as long as the fire burns, it will be impossible not to hope.

Dum spiro, spero
While I breathe, I hope.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero

not a djinni in the lamp

posted on November 15th, 2007

Wow. I find the governor of Georgia’s attempt to ask for rain extraordinarily presumptious. What gives us the right to ask God for anything, really? I am reminded by a scene out of the Bible where the priests of Baal have a theological contest with the prophet Elijah.

But seriously, why should God help you if you’ve done absolutely nothing to help yourself? It doesn’t take divine intervention to start conservation measures: to not use your hose to clean the yard or wash your car, to plant drought-tolerant shrubbery, to not run the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Did the people of Georgia really pursue any of these things before demanding that their deity give them rain?

incomplete, unfulfilled

posted on November 13th, 2007

trip me up with the frailty of life
the inevitability of mortality
even at this height, I can see the deep darkness
of that impending horizon where no stars shine
and night is eternal

bereft, or is it untethered? from the usual musings
of the encumbered mind
bearing mundanity and micromanagement
saving pennies and clipping coupons

it isn’t that I’m above these things
it’s just that I don’t have the knack
the little things escape me
like innumerable pieces of quartzite rock
microscopic pieces of glass
loam and humus
the remnants of mountains and dinosaurs
the leavings of earthworms and microbes
fall through my nerveless fingers

in the little things, I have always failed you
that which makes this terrible pain bearable
that keeps us at ease moment to moment the currrency of daily living
and the discourse of civilized peoples
instead I remember the unsteady silence
lost in the nebulous dust clouds of my thought

even as you walked beside me

and if I had spoken my thoughts aloud
like some arcane incantation
the incomplete theories of Fermat
or like the mad ravings of Laoocon as Troy fell
the serpents’ venom turning his blood into syrup
into foam
would you not have fled
as far away from me
like a red-shifting quasar
on your fated path to the ends of the universe?

what is the price of knowing me?
for no doubt there is a price
that you are paying, still paying

the others will scratch their heads and wonder
I seem like a harmless fellow
I can jig and caper like the best of the jesters
tell ribald jokes and sing silly songs
if only to hide this roiling madness
held forth from the world by a thin veneer of sanity

and even as the unfathomable impossibilities
of you and I hand-in-hand
even as Orion dove headlong into the sea
and the fire burned low, with naught but the wind and the wave
and the deep silence between
even as infinities begot infinities
and maybe in a trillion dice rolls,
it would’ve come up but once

instead, I will always leave empty-handed
coins wasted on the casino floor
my dreams always ending
your hopes just beginning
at the least, one of us is happy

how dare I, how dare I, gainsay the rule of Fate?
(Oh, I but caper and jig, dance and sing
Can you strike down the jester while he plays for you?)
and even in this infinite impossibility, you still know who I am
you can pluck me from the snowstorm
with your graceful, slender fingers
even in this insane impossibility, you recognize my hexagonal form
my snowflakey uniquity
that might still bring a wry smile on your face
(I but dream, my love. It is only a dream.)

but even through my posturing
even through my helpless flailing
in my mind, you are my center
my compass
and I know this is unwanted, unwished for
(It is the price, my love.
for everything there is a price.)

and if I could disappear
not just to fade off into the sunset
but actually cease to exist in your worldline
I would do it if it would ease your care
and is that not the price
knowing that I would still, even now
I would do aught that you asked of me?
(I’m sorry. You did not ask for this.)

Still the years grow long
and even the sunlight ages
and even 2:30 in the afternoon
feels like 5:30 in the early evening
the days are old
my bones feel ancient
and yet time still sweeps us along
that linear curve around the gravity well

Yesterday I realized that I would die
without knowing love again

I did not weep. I did not make a sound.
I only stepped forward again, as I always have.
One foot in front of the other
up this lonely mountain
and then down again
into that final horizon

bleak and yet terrifyingly beautiful
the end-all, be-all
of all that I never was


posted on November 12th, 2007

Not sure where exactly this entire weekend went. My mind feels like it’s been liquified, and I’m not sure if I’m coming down with something, if I’ve grown allergic to my parents’ dog and my sister’s dog, if I’m suffering from really severe caffeine withdrawal, or if I’m quite possibly losing my mind.

I’m playing around with SimpleLog’s theming engine. I haven’t quite figured everything out, and I realize this theme looks pretty rudimentary. But I’m digging on the simplicity of Helvetica.

To do:

  • figuring out how to create a complete archive list in the sidebar. As an example:
    • 2007
      • November
      • October
      • September
      • August
      • July
      • June
      • May
      • April
      • March
      • February
      • January
    • 2006
      • December
      • November
      • October
      • September
      • August
      • July
      • June
      • May
      • April
      • March
      • February
      • January
    • 2005
      • December
      • November
      • October
      • September
      • August
      • July
      • June
      • May
      • April
      • March
      • February
      • January
  • making a list of tags
  • adding my entries (using javascript, I guess)
  • adding my Google Reader entries
  • lots of additional tweaking to the CSS
  • turning the horizontal rule \
    into a fleuron

I went home to L.A. this weekend because it was my Dad’s 64th birthday. (That Beatles’ song pops into my head.) We didn’t really do much except eat at Tony Roma’s.

I think maybe the fact that the sun hadn’t come out for like six days was really getting to me. I started feeling really weird today when the sky completely cleared up.

The other night while lying in bed I had this weird sensation of intense pain in my chest that I knew was purely psychosomatic. It was just this feeling of incredible loneliness, made manifest as physical pain. Somehow, I managed to ignore it, and was able to go to sleep, instead of ending up ruminating on all the wrong turns of my life, and remarkably, I was fine the next morning.

I don’t know. I’m too frazzled and fried for some reason to write coherently. I’ll try again tomorrow.

emo elvish poetry

posted on November 10th, 2007

Adding a few new feeds to Google Reader has caused it to dredge up a bunch of old entries, but I find this rather pretty:

Minniel arthon ere, gwannathon os-san ereb.
Having entered the world in loneliness, lonely I shall depart from it.

backwards compatibility with ms-dos

posted on November 9th, 2007

Yikes! Programming for Windows definitely has some harrowing pitfalls.

I’m reading about how Windows manages file locking (inspired by an article describing the FILESHAREDELETE flag) and find it mind-boggling. Not that file locking in UNIX isn’t complex, but I guess it’s more familiar to me since (1) UNIX was assumed to be the OS you were using in all the self-paced computer science classes I took as an undergrad and (2) I’m currently using a UNIX-like OS.

I know that it sounds like a cheap bash on Windows programmers, but it still surprises me that some of them write code like it’s 1989, with the assumption that their program is the only thing running on someone’s system. Kind of makes a pre-emptive multitasking OS useless, if you ask me. Still, I guess that’s what happens when you have to preserve backward compatibility to MS-DOS. Now, I’m just as nostalgic about the 8-bit golden age as the next geek, but I wasn’t quite expecting it to show up in modern day code.

yet another reason why san diego sucks

posted on November 9th, 2007

Today is the last day of the Stacy Taylor Show, the only local progressive AM talk show on the air here. They are being evicted by their corporate task masters, the evil empire known as Clear Channel. They give me yet another reason to continue pirating music, to bring these motherfuckers down.

The show may be gone come Monday, but Stacy Taylor is likely to find a new undisclosed steel-re-enforced bunker to broadcast from given his talents. I’m not sure what’ll happen to the domain, but I imagine news about where to find him would appear on the save KLSD site or on the KLSD Yahoo Group.

San Diego and Clear Channel, you suck balls. I hope you choke on them.

hasta la vista, baby!

posted on November 7th, 2007

More news about the Internet appliance cum computer: the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe sports a mini-OS called Splashtop, similar to the Phoenix Hyperspace Mini OS which I mentioned previously. The writer seems to be missing the bigger picture, which is that your primary OS resides on the Web. (Specifically, Google OS)

But I wonder if you could stuff a hypervisor into the firmware. This would be ideal. While Vista, XP, or Mac OS X loads up, you can continue to browse the web/run webapps with Splashtop or Hyperspace. The full OS would only be necessary when you needed that hefty app that doesn’t have an AJAX equivalent, like, perhaps, Adobe Photoshop, or Apple Final Cut Pro, or Apple Logic Pro. (Or perhaps Counterstrike or World of Warcraft.)

Considering that both Open Firmware and the Extensible Firmware Interface has direct access to the hardware without having to load up the full OS, I think it’s only a matter of time until the big Steve stuffs a stripped-down version of Mac OS X into the firmware.

But face it, even though the critics were wrong a decade ago, I think this is really finally the harbinger of the end of the desktop computer. Ubiquitous computing is the road into the future.

seven years of wandering the desert

posted on November 6th, 2007

Of note, yesterday marks the 7th anniversary of my blogging endeavors. Why is it that I always watch druggie movies in November?

Well, ain’t this a kick in Microsoft’s pants?

Gizmodo proclaims thusly: Launch apps without booting windows using Phoenix Hyperspace Mini OS.

So we’ve come full-circle, back to those simpler times when OSes lived on ROM (OK, technically, Flash RAM, but it doesn’t invalidate my point.)

Except of course, we now have the Internet, and we’ve come a long way from the days when an entire OS kernel could fit in 7 KB of ROM.

What this means is that the Google PC is now a reality. All the firmware needs to run is a web browser, and you can point it to Google Office. You could have an entire chapter written by the time it would take for Vista to present you with a log-on screen.

This comes on heels of the announcement that Mozilla Prism is available for Mac OS X and Linux. What exactly is Prism? It is the current incarnation of Webrunner, described as a “site-specific browser.” To cut to the chase, this allows you sequester particular websites (such as Gmail, Facebook, or your bank’s online bill paying service) into their own processes, meaning that you can ALT-TAB (or OPTION-TAB) into them, and if Firefox or Safari (or Camino) crashes, your instance of Prism will stay up. It’s still a prototype, and I haven’t used it all too much (I’m still waiting for the feature where it will turn favicons into application icons) but I’ve had a lot of experience with an already existing site specific browser called Mailplane, which is basically Webkit (the framework upon which Safari is built) customized to work specifically with Gmail, and I dig the idea. Now one might argue that this is merely a convoluted way to use bookmarks, and there’s got to be some sort of hit using multiple instances of Prism (instead of sharing a single process), but if you can spare the RAM, it’s pretty convenient.

And finally, all of this may well be superceded all ready. Maybe five years from now, no one will ever sit in front of a CRT or LCD and use a keyboard and/or mouse to access the Internet.

Google has announced the Android Mobile OS. While Symbian, Windows Mobile, and more significantly, J2ME, are the platforms of choice mobile phones, what Android has going for it that no one else does is the Open Source Movement. Specifically, Android is based on Linux. The SDK will also be open, so anyone can develop mobile apps. (Of course, the kicker will be the trust mechanism, because only a great fool would install an app that can’t be trusted, but we all know that the world is filled with great fools.)

Android is not without its detractors. This is the very first time that Google has announced a feature that is not quite yet available, and some have already taken to calling Android OS vaporware. But it’s only a matter of time. Much like Apple’s strategy of combining a Mach kernel with a BSD subsystem, and layering the NeXT environment on top of that to create Mac OS X, Google need only package and link pre-existing parts.

Ubiquitous computing, here we come.

Meanwhile, traditional media continues to implode. The writers’ strike is well underway and Hollywood is pretty fucking doomed. Goodbye, big studios. Hope y’all had a Plan B.

terrorism, drugs, and the prison system

posted on November 4th, 2007

Just finished watching “The American Gangster” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, which documents the rise and fall of the drug lord Frank Lucas in the late ‘60’s to the mid ‘70’s, concomitant with the Vietnam War era. (The New York Magazine has an article about him.)

The hilarious thing is that he gets his supply of heroin directly from the source, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and he is able to get a connection in the U.S. Armed Forces to smuggle the stuff for him in the coffins of dead servicemen.

Russell Crowe plays a cop appointed to head a division of the newly-created Drug Enforcement Agency, who comments sarcastically that the government probably doesn’t actually want the War on Drugs to end, since it employs so many people: cops, social workers, clerks, lawyers, judges, prison guards, wardens. He estimates that at least 100,000 people would be unemployed if the War on Drugs ever ended.

The Southeast Asia angle is kind of eerie, though, considering that we are engaged in a land war in Asia. (One of the classic blunders!) It’s interesting that we don’t really get any news about the war in Afghanistan. But I hear that ever since we invaded, the opium trade has increased immensely, with Afghanistan now providing 90% of the world’s heroin supply.

The War on Drugs angle is also still pretty evident. Sending people-of-color to jail is what keeps the unemployment rate low, and part of the reason why Walmart has such low prices is that they employ prison labor. (Maybe not the actual employees, nor the workers who manufacture their goods, but certainly the builders of their super-stores.) I have no doubt that the federal government intends to continue prosecuting this futile “war.”

What is even funnier is that when I was a third year medical student, I did a rotation at the County Hospital in Chicago. Now, apparently, every city has their drug of choice. For example, in L.A., it’s probably cocaine, in San Diego, it’s crystal meth. In Chicago, it’s heroin.

So this guy comes in for asthma (and after we discharge him, we find that he left behind an empty 40 that he had been drinking the whole time in the Emergency Department.) And as he’s wheezing and huffing and puffing, he’s explaining to me the history of heroin. How no one really shoots it any more except for the really strung-out junkies, because you can get it so pure that you can get high enough just from snorting it. He even explained that this increase in purity occurred back in the early ‘90’s, in part because the supply of heroin in the U.S. shifted from Asia to South America, making transport much easier, and everything became cheaper and purer.

revisiting crisis theory

posted on November 4th, 2007

I was actually first introduced to Marxist crisis theory while reading a fantasy novel, Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville. My simplistic one-liner about crisis theory is that it predicts that increasing prosperity actually diminishes the ability of labor to produce the same amount of profit, inevitably leading to a clash between capital and labor. But mathematically speaking, what this means is that the normal progression of a capitalist economy starts off high, but steadily declines, eventually approaching 0 asymptotically (although never actually reaching zero). There is probably a critical point where crisis occurs, and wealth becomes redistributed in some manner (usually violently.) This restarts the engine of capital expansion, which again inevitably declines.

 example of logarithmic decay

The human mind has no real way to intuit non-linear processes. By definition, these non-linear breaks are typically unpredictable. Hence, we end up with mathematical singularities. These singularities are where human knowledge and theory break-down, and they are present in all fields, from cosmology to technology to economics. Around and during the singularity, all known rules breakdown.

Ambitious physicists involve in cosmology believe that if they delve deeply enough, they might be able to describe these singularities, or perhaps even prove that they don’t really exist. Of all the fields, perhaps, they have made the farthest progress in trying to understand non-linear processes, but again, that knowledge is incomplete.

We just don’t understand the nature of processes that can’t be normalized to a straight line.

But I suspect that the singularity will forever remain unfathomable, except maybe in the retrospectoscope. We may very well eventually understand the history of the Big Bang at some point, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to successfully predict what will happen to the matter in a star after it collapses into a black hole.

It is interesting that so many apparently disparate fields can share the same mathematics. I was first impressed by this when I was taught the equations and graphs for exponential growth. Phenomena as diverse as the number of bacteria growing in a Petri dish, the number of radioactive particles in a chunk of uranium, and even the accumulation of compound interest can be modeled by these equations.

But humans seem to be most able to deal with equilibrium situations, or at least steady-state situations. When the slopes of these equations are the steepest, at the beginning of the growth or decay processes, we probably have the least amount of knowledge. When you are in equilibrium, any perturbation still favors the equilibrium state. The steady-state is more fragile. While some perturbations can still be rectified, others will cause the system to crash.

In these phases of rapid growth or decay, it is exceedingly difficult to predict what effect a perturbation will have. This is where evolving systems are most vulnerable. Too much a perturbation and the system will crash entirely.

Interestingly, what a capitalistic economy probably most resembles is the cyclic model of the universe‡, in which the universe experiences multiple cycles of big bangs followed by accelerating expansion. One way to look at such a universe is to imagine the plot of logarithmic decay (representing the vacuum energy as a function of time) repeating continuously, with a disjunct at the end of the acceleration phase. Here (again, still a mathematical singularity, unless you extrapolate to additional dimensions, I guess) the system resets.

‡ also called the ekpyrotic universe

Similarly, each cycle of capitalistic expansion eventually stagnates, until a crisis occurs (like the Great Depression, or WWII, etc., etc.) at which point the system resets, driving yet another cycle of economic expansion.

The laws of thermodynamics decree that both the universe and the global economy will always trend towards a state of lowest energy. In the case of the universe, it is vacuum energy that necessarily decays. In the case of the economy, what decays is the profitability of capital. This is encapsulated in such observations as the law of diminishing returns, and specific situations as illustrated by the Singer-Prebisch thesis.

I think thermodynamics is the biggest argument against a completely laissez-faire economy, because if you let the Invisible Hand manage things, the economy is guaranteed to always end in the shitter, usually in a catastrophic manner. I’m not saying that planned economies can actually prevent these catastrophes, but they can probably shepherd us through them in a more controlled fashion. If the analogy is to an explosion, laissez-faire would have all the pieces scattering all over the place, while a planned economy would be like an internal combustion engine.

hoping it isn't too late

posted on November 4th, 2007

As I drove through the hidden streets of L.A. yesterday, on the final leg of my trip back home from S.D., I found myself haunted by this song by Ben Folds, who sings a requiem to the late Elliot Smith:

The refrain really got me:

It’s too late
Don’t you know
It’s been too late
For a long time

As much as I’ve muttered and fretted about the emptiness of my life, and how, in the end, I’m not going to make it, there is still a little part of me that hopes that I’m wrong, that maybe there’s something I can do to salvage this, or maybe luck will smile upon me and save me from this wretched existence.

But I can’t help wonder if the decisions have already been made. The key defining points of my life have already passed, and it’s all about playing the end game, however long that might be.

the continuing evolution of google

posted on November 3rd, 2007

The transformation of the Matrix (also known as Google) is at hand.

The Internets have been agog with ongoing rumors about the Google OS, meant to be deployed on the erstwhile gPhone.

Wild speculation abounds, but I think Google’s movements over the past couple of years are finally making sense.

First there was all the speculation as to what Google was planning to do with all that dark fiber they were buying up.

And then there’s the fact that Google has had its own hardware for a while.

I think they’ve done an end-run around the telcos and cel-phone companies. They now have their own network. All they have to do is hook up a bunch of cheap routers and servers and provide 802.11n or 802.11y, and you’ve got mobile VoIP.

I bet that the gPhone will have WiFi SIP as its major feature. Although I suppose they can’t really abandon traditional cell phone technology yet, as evidenced by their bid for some of that 700 MHz spectrum.

Interesting times, folks. Interesting times.

the under city

posted on November 3rd, 2007

On the way home, I took a different route today. I absentmindedly stayed in the right-hand lanes on the Santa Ana Fwy going north, and ended up getting shunted onto the Santa Monica Fwy heading west.

It’s actually quite a dramatic approach to Downtown L.A. The Santa Ana and the Golden State Freeways loom high above, and the eastbound lanes of the Santa Monica Freeway tower over you on the left, but eventually the westbound lanes climb upwards as well, and the skyline seems to pop out of nowhere on your right.

I ended up exiting on Santa Fe Ave. This part of L.A. is mostly industrial, with warehouses and freight trains, but interestingly, it’s been one of the first parts of the urban core that have been undergoing gentrification. Interspersed between the abandoned warehouses are post-modern appearing lofts.

I was reminded by the increasing gentrification when I noticed white people actually milling around. There was a rather extensive art gallery as well. And as expected in L.A., there were plenty of production sets looking for additional crew members, in anticipation of shooting film.

One of the things about Chicago that made a strong impression on me when I first visited in 1998 was the underground areas surrounding the Chicago River, specifically, lower Michigan Avenue and the surrounding cross streets. Even though Wacker Drive was in the midst of renovation, I still got this impression of an entire subcity underneath the Magnificent Mile and the Loop, a hidden city over which another city had been built.

Mostly, this was a mash-up of my impressions of the NYC Subway system, particularly the enormous station at Times Square‡ that spans several blocks, and of the imaginary city of Midgar in the game Final Fantasy VII

‡The Times Square subway station apparently reminds a lot of people of the gun turrets that sit on the surface of the Death Star

But Santa Fe Avenue happens to sit on the western bank of the L.A. River, and the 7th Street, 6th Street, 4th Street, and 1st Street bridges cross overhead, as does the Hollywood Freeway overpass. Santa Fe Avenue eventually turns into Center Street, which eventually ends at Vignes St. From here, I made my way through Chinatown, turning north on Alameda St, and joining Broadway. I then turned west on Avenue 19, which brings to yet another industrial area that lies underneath the bridges of the intersection of the Golden State and Pasadena Freeways. This area and the nearby Taylor Yards have been metamorphisizing over the past decade. There are already lofts on the northeast side of the Golden State Freeway here (at this point, the 5 runs from southeast to northwest.)

But if I moved back to L.A., I’d probably want to live in one of these kinds of places. Urban grit, the hustle and the bustle of the city, but the curious desolation once nightfall comes.

asymmetric warfare (mozilla vs microsoft)

posted on November 2nd, 2007

The argument about ECMAScript 4 (the proposed next iteration of Javascript) could very well become quite interesting, although, realistically, this probably won’t be happening for a few years.

Mozilla wants to overhaul the language. Microsoft’s main goal is to preserve the status quo.

While I hate Microsoft a lot, their approach is probably more practical: keep backward compatibility intact, and if you want new features, deploy an entirely new language. Javascript++, perhaps. (Or ECMAScript++, to be exact.)

Either way, Mozilla will have the advantage.

Since the creation of the next-generation language will be governed by ECMA, it will by necessity be an open standard.

Given what I know about how fast Open Source projects can develop (when the effort is put into it), and given what we all know about Microsoft’s glacial development process (think how long it took to release Vista, or how Internet Explorer 7 still doesn’t support CSS 2.1), I would bet rather confidently that Mozilla will have Javascript 4 support long before IE ever does.

This scarcely matters, though, unless Javascript 4 has some features that are impossible or at least difficult to implement with the current version of Javascript.

But the asymmetry between Mozilla and Microsoft is what makes it interesting. Mozilla Firefox is available on pretty much every modern platform out there (specifically, Windows and UNIX/UNIX-like variants, where the latter includes Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, Solaris, and AIX. There are even ports for BeOS, RISC OS, and OS/2.) Meanwhile, IE is only available for Windows. While there are far more personal computers running Windows than all the other OSes combined, the big difference is that you have to pay for IE (since it only comes with Windows) while Firefox is completely free.

So if someone builds a killer webapp that requires Javascript 4, and only Firefox supports Javascript 4, there is really no barrier to using the webapp. Just download Firefox and away you go. Even if you are running Windows.

In contrast, webapp developers can’t really get away with supporting only IE. The market share of other OSes has been steadily increasing. While Mac OS X has much of the media’s attention, clearly Linux continues to be a player. Despite the recent brouhaha about Linux losing market share to Windows, even the most pessimistic estimates seem to peg Linux at at least 0.81%, which sounds pathetic until you consider that in 2000, it was estimated that there were more than 168 million computers in use just in the U.S., meaning that there are at the very least 1.3 million computers running Linux.

This means at least a million computers that can’t run IE, and I think the result is that most web developers have been forced to properly support open standards, specifically XHTML 1 and CSS 2.

In any case, very few people really developed only for IE anyway. For one thing, it took a long time for Netscape 4 to finally die. There are anecdotes of people still using the thing well into the new millenium. For another thing, Active X became a fiasco because of the Microsoft’s inability to build a platform that has at least rudimentary security. The news of IE’s vulnerabilities to viruses and trojans was broadcast even by the mainstream media, and many people started avoiding IE like the plague. If Active X hadn’t been hijacked by malware producers, Web 2.0 might’ve come much earlier (although it would’ve solidified Microsoft’s dominance and would’ve been extremely harmful to the Open Source Movement.)

When Microsoft discontinued IE for Mac, and when Safari came out, I think that pretty much spelled the end of vendor lock-in with regards to the Web‡. Mac users would certainly not put up with their favorite on-line store’s lack of support for their computer, and you’ve got to consider the fact that the average Mac user has money to spend. Don’t support Safari? It’s quite easy to switch to another company.

‡ I am of course completely ignoring the fact that by then, everyone and their mom (literally!) had a cel phone, and within a few years, they all became Web-capable. This is probably far more important than any of the petty OS or browser wars that I’m describing.

So if Firefox decides to start supporting Javascript 4, Microsoft won’t really be able to complain about anti-competitive behavior. For one thing, the standard is easily available on the Internet and if Microsoft wasn’t a monolithic behemoth, they’d be able to implement it before the decade was out. For another thing, the Mozilla Foundation isn’t making billions of dollars off of Firefox and would likely be very hard to prosecute under anti-trust laws.

And if Javascript 4 (or some even more featureful descendant of it) is what the Web needs to secure its place as the platform for application development, you better believe it’s going to happen. The road to the Vingeian singularity runs through the Web, and on to through ubiquitous computing. None of this will work at all without open, robust standards for intercommunicating, and Microsoft is certainly not going to be the company with the vision to take us where we want to go.