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.

imagining the aftermath of war

posted on July 27th, 2007

While I’m sure that W+Co would love to have the war in the Middle East metastasize and essentially last forever, there is such a thing as finite resources, and either the occupation of Iraq will end soon, or we will find ourselves sending an significant chunk of an entire generation to their needless deaths, and throwing away taxpayer money to the point where our infrastructure will start to suffer. (I imagine that Hurricane Katrina is only a foreshadowing. And keep in mind that we have yet to institute any actualy measures that would keep us safe from terrorist attacks.)

Not unexpectedly, a good number of the people who are invested in the idea of Eternal War™ fought in past conflicts, and have moved on to bigger and better things—namely, fighting as <s>mercenaries</s> security contractors (the most prominent of these involved in the war in Iraq being Blackwater USA)

Which always leads to the (literarily) interesting question as to what happens to soldiers once their tour of duty is over. The violence of war marks people out from normal people. People who have never killed anyone find it hard to relate to people who have.

Obviously, my take on the matter is exceedingly biased, since I regularly work with veterans who are suffering from the sequelae of armed conflict. In my eyes, it seems like very few people make it out of war unscathed. Lots of people make it through without physical harm, but not too many make it through without psychological harm. I need to meet folks who have been through Operation Iraqi Freedom and who have been able to successfully integrate back into society.

The reason why all this comes to mind is that I found myself watching a bizarre trilogy of otherwise unrelated films. The first was “Under Siege” starring Steven Seagal, but also featuring Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Erika Eleniak, and Colm Meaney (you’ll know who he is if you’ve watched too much “Star Trek”) Steven Seagal is an ex-Navy SEAL who now works as a cook. Jones, Busey, and Meaney are part of a cadre of mercenaries (Jones plays a guy who is ex-CIA, and Busey is a corrupt Commander.) Their goal is to take over a Navy Battleship and sell its armaments on the black market.

The second movie was “Commando” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Governator himself), Rae Dawn Chong, and Alyssa Milano, where Schwarzenegger plays an ex-Army Special Forces soldier whose daughter (played by Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped in order to convince Schwarzenegger to go down to South America to assasinate a head-of-state. Naturally, Schwarzenegger finds a way out of his predicament and tears off to save his daughter by blowing-up and/or killing anyone who gets in his way. (I still can’t get used to the fact that this guy is governor of California. I mean, it’s really weird.)

The third movie was “Serenity”, the culmination of the short-lived science-fiction series “Firefly”. Judging from the wikipedia entries about Joss Whedon’s universe, it seems to be an analog to the post-American Civil War period, i.e., Reconstruction. The behemoth central government is called the Alliance, echoing the Union (and perhaps subtlely co-opting the association with forces of Good™ first fomented by the Allies of WWII, and solidified in George Lucas’ use of the Rebel Alliance.) Much like the modern-day U.S., while the agents of the Alliance are for the most part attempting to be benevolent, they nevertheless require the exploitation of the peripheral systems (read, the Western Frontier, or perhaps even the developing world) in order to continue the lifestyle to which citizens of the Alliance find themselves accustomed to. And the Alliance is not chary of using black-ops to achieve their objectives.

Two of the crew members of the ship are veterans of the Unification War (read, the American Civil War) and they were on the losing side. With the collapse of the Independent Systems (read, the Confederacy) and resultant absorption into the Alliance, they are forced to eke out a subsistence existence, freighting cargo and transporting passangers. The plot of the movie hinges upon unintended blowback from Alliance attempts at social engineering, and the ensuing attempts to cover-up the incidents reawakens the characters’ antagonism to the Alliance. (Interestingly, some viewers have interpreted the mindlessly violent Reavers as Native Americans. In my own reading, the implication is that like the Reavers, the indigenous people were not innately violent, but the ensuing colonization and social engineering caused a push-back effect. The analogy is extremely awkward, but one could argue that as the Union continued to expand, they forced the indigenous people further and further away from their ancestral lands, and this naturally resulted in increasing hostility and violence against the usurpers. However, one cannot really ascribe a similar phenomenon amongst the Reavers, except their origins are an excellent example of blowback—unintentional negative consequences from attempting to do good, not unlike the ruinous attempt to subjugate the Iraqi people under a “democracy”, resulting in increasing violence.)

(Unfortunately, this interpretation hinges too much on the concepts of the “white man’s burden” and/or the “noble savage,” which are diametrically-opposed oversimplifications of the plight of the indigenous. Interestingly, the wikipedia article on “Serenity” notes the Shakespearean allusions, specifically to The Tempest. From this work comes the phrase “brave new world,” which was the basis of the title of Aldous Huxley’s technodystopian novel, and which, naturally, features a character only known as The Savage, who embodies the stereotype of the noble savage entirely.)


So what will be the Fate of the soldiers who are fighting this futile war?

if there were no revolution

posted on July 26th, 2007

It occurs to me that July is pretty much over, and August is close at hand. This summer is flying by, and I kind of feel like I’m having to hang on tightly, lest I end up falling on my ass.

I sort of wonder what life would be like if blogging never existed. Would writing down the weary sorrows of my tired soul into a battered notebook have the same kind of feeling of quasi-catharsis?


Everyone talks about how the world is now hyperconnected because of cel phones, the Internet, wi-fi, etc., etc., but I’m definitely feeling the flipside of all this, possibly more isolated than ever.

Part of it is my lifestyle, specifically, the fact that for the past three years I’d been working an average of 80 hours a week. Part of it is the firehose of information I’m presented with everyday. Probably, part of it is that I’m kind of a sucky friend

In 1994 I used to keep in pretty decent touch with people through e-mail. Then the experience got ruined because of the goddamn spammers. In 1997 I kept in touch with people on IM. In 2003 I sent people messages through Friendster and Myspace.

There used to be people I would talk to at least once a week. Now it’s possible for me to go weeks without talking to anyone, aside from consumer transactions or work.


I don’t know what my point is. I guess it’s always a little lonely at 1:20 am when you can’t go to sleep.

Actually, one of my favorite “there are wizards among us” stories is entitled “El Regalo” (The Gift) by Peter S Beagle (of The Last Unicorn fame.) Part of his anthology The Line Between, Beagle chronicles the misadventures of a 15 year old Korean American girl named Angie and her 8½ year old brother named Marvyn, both of whom come to discover that they have magical powers. In this tantalizing tidbit that is just calling to be expanded to a full length novel, they find themselves pitted against an ancient, malevolent sorceror only known as El Viejo, The Old Man.

The multicultural environs necessarily places this novella in a major metropolitan area. Given my Southern California-centrism, I immediately imagine that this is L.A. (Beagle did write a novel entitled Unicorn Sonata that was set in L.A.) But I suppose this could just as easily be NYC, particularly since Beagle grew up there.

Which leads to why, of all the fantasy series that I’ve read, The Earthsea Cycle exercises such a strong hold on my imagination.

Never mind the wonderful elucidation of the system of Magic, the interweavings of Taoist philosophy, and the beauty and the lyricism of Le Guin’s writing. True, these alone make the series worth reading. But as a person-of-color who aspires to be a writer of speculative fiction, the fact that Ged is a brown guy is awesome.

Pam Noles’ essay on how groundbreaking it was to have a non-white major character pretty much encompasses anything I have to say about the subject, and is far more articulate than anything I could write. But suffice it to say that I was eminently saddened by the Sci-Fi Channel’s wanton rape of Le Guin’s material, of which UKL herself has much to write about: (1) A Whitewashed Earthsea: how the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books (2) Frankenstein’s Earthsea.

But Earthsea resonates with me and my cultural heritage far more than just due to the coincident skin color. I ought to write UKL some day to ask her if certain concepts were deliberate. Like Ged himself, my parents come from an archipelago. My distant ancestors were all seafarers, some of whom braved the open seas, reaching as far as Madagascar to the west and Easter Island to the east, and some even theorize that they might have actually made it to the South American mainland. And in the beginning of certain Filipino creation stories, just like the creation myth of Earthsea, there was only sea and sky.

The Old Powers recall the indigenous animistic beliefs of Southeast Asia. And even the magic system, where to name something is to bind it, resonates.

(Not that this has anything to do with it, but the concept of the Verdunan, the Division, is key to the final book in the cycle. For some reason, I automatically think of the Ati-Atihan, which is a festival on the isle of Aklan which supposedly commemorates the arrival of the Borneans and their agreement to share the land with the indigenous Ati. And these are probably just false cognates, but what if Ati is related to the word “hati”, which means “half” in some Austronesian languages. Given the typically diminuitive stature of the Ati, does this connote “halfling”? OK, I’ve probably read way too much J.R.R. Tolkien. But getting back to the Verdunan, what if the Ati-Atihan is actually hati-hati’an, meaning “division”, which makes sense if the festival commemorates the partition of the island between the Ati and the Borneans. Anyway.)


In summary, The Earthsea Cycle inspired me to find my own authentic voice with regards to speculative fiction, to leverage my unique cultural background in order to build worlds that have not yet been described. I have yet to actually take pen to paper. And while I lament that there have yet to be any Filipino Americans to brave the genre of science-fiction and fantasy, I know that there are writers out there, some of whom are writing such stories. And I can’t really say much unless I’m going to put in some effort, too.

scattered thoughts (spoilers!)

posted on July 26th, 2007

It’s ironic, really. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series for the past 7 years (I was gifted the first three books in 2000), I never really held it in high regard, especially in terms of literary merit. To me, it was the fantasy equivalent of a romance novel: lots of fun to read, but not something you would read again. As I’ve mentioned before, the only books that I’ve managed to read more than once have been The Lord of the Rings, The Last Unicorn, and The Wizard of Earthsea. (Actually, digging around in my memory, there are a few more: some of Madeline L’Engle’s books, in particular A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters; and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy series by Douglas Adams.)

The concept of a supernatural world embedded in our mundanity has been well exploited in literature. Leaving aside comic book heroes, several authors have done good work with regards to magical realism. The most prominent and lyrical to come to mind is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which takes place in London, where a parallel supernatural world co-exists. He does something somewhat similar in American Gods, where gods from various pantheons roam around American cities. (The action starts off in Chicago, for example.)

Interestingly, I first ran into the concept of pagan gods wandering around modern cities in Douglas Adams’ lesser known Dirk Gently series.

Other examples of this type of magical realism that I’ve read include So You Want to Be a Wizard published in 1982, where a thirteen year old girl finds a library book that instructs her on how to become a wizard, and leads her to a parallel version of NYC. Then there is Tom Holt’s entire series depicting the office of H.W. Wells, a company dedicated to getting supernatural things done. My favorite novel of his, however, is not related to H.W. Wells. Entitled Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?, it describes the reawakening of an entombed Norse king and his champions, who resume their ancient war against the Sorcerer-King, who has managed to become a high-powered CEO ensconced in London.

And in terms of a wizard school, I still feel like not enough credit has ever been given to the Isle of Roke in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea.


But nevertheless, after reading Deathly Hallows, I am stunned. The character of Severus Snape just leaves me in awe. My heart is seriously breaking. Who’d’ve thunk that what seemed like a throw-away fantasy series would actually generate a character that I can keenly relate to?

Snape seems to exemplify a phenomenon similar to what happened with “Star Wars.” For example, while in the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), Luke Skywalker is clearly the main character, it becomes eminently clear by the end of “Return of the Jedi” that the series is really about Anakin Skywalker and his redemption from the Dark Side of the Force, a theme which George Lucas eventually bludgeons his audience with when he came out with the prequels (Episodes I-III.) (It ought to be realized that when “A New Hope” was written, no one had any idea that (1) Lea was Luke’s long-lost twin sister and (2) Darth Vader was actually Anakin Skywalker, the presumed-to-be dead father of the twins.)

In the same way, while the Harry Potter series is ostensibly about, well, Harry Potter, by the end, it becomes clear that the overall plot hinges on Severus Snape and the reasons for his repudiation of the Dark Arts.

We seem to always be intrigued by the anti-heroes, the bad guys who end up doing good. The simplistic way to look at it is that we are people who are intrigued by evil. But a more nuanced way to look at it is that we realize that the most fully formed characters are neither entirely bad or entirely good.


But what haunts me the most about Severus Snape is his enduring love cum obsession with Lily Potter neé Evans. He had been in love with her since they were like 9 or 10 years old, where apparently they lived in the same neighborhood. She seemed to be his only true friend at Hogwarts, and from the brief snippets that J.K. Rowling cobbles together near the conclusion of the book, it seems that she genuinely cares about him—I suppose in a platonic way—but she nevertheless does love him. Certainly she cares about him more than anyone else ever does, including his parents.

But, I guess, just like Anakin Skywalker, Snape turns to the Dark Side, only Snape realizes his mistake when the Dark Side threatens to harm the woman that he loves. (I seriously cannot wait until 2010 to watch Alan Rickman depict these scenes from the pensieve. I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t be heartrending.)

But Lily is killed anyway, and Snape endeavors for the next 17 years to keep her son safe from harm, in concert with Dumbledore, only to have his actions seemingly become meaningless when Dumbledore reveals to him that Harry must die to vanquish the Dark Lord. And Snape dies without knowing that Good indeed triumphs over Evil.

Who, except for Harry, and except for thousands of adoring fans, will mourn the passing of Severus Snape?


In the final analysis, it’s kind of pathetic. Here you are, a powerful wizard, mooning over a woman who just doesn’t look at you in that way, and who ends up marrying a guy you can’t stand. And this stays with him for, what, almost 20 years? Living alone in a run-down shack in a sleazy part of town, hated by pretty much all the students at Hogwarts except for the Slytherins, and even they probably fear you more than actually love you, your only friend who ever gave a crap about you dead.

And so you dedicate your entire life to protecting the son of the woman you love, who was your only friend in the entire world, only to die realizing that he has to die anyway. Talk about feeling like a miserable failure.


But I’m glad that I’m not alone in feeling this way about Snape. Just check out YouTube for all the Severus and Lily tributes, and the heart-felt comments that people have been posting.


(Oh, but to know, truly and deeply, that you are loved. That someone has a part of their heart staked upon your existence, your triumph, your failures. To know for a fact that, yes, someone actually gives a damn. It’s been a long time. My heart quails at the loneliness yet to come….)

magic: earthsea, middle-earth, et al.

posted on July 25th, 2007

I think The Earthsea Cycle will always have a place in my heart. The three key fantasy novels/series that I am heavily influenced by are The Lord of the Rings, The Last Unicorn, and The Earthsea Cycle. And because of the accidents of time and space, I think I will never escape the popular culture influences of “Star Wars” or of the Harry Potter series. Not that the latter two don’t have any merits. It’s just that I simply don’t consider them to be in the same class as the first three.

The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly a trite reference. Any fantasy writer born in recent times cannot help but be in debt to this master work of world creation. I mean, I guess I can see the point of people who don’t get much out of LotR, though, because the best parts of the magic are in Tolkien’s mythology, which he casually tosses tidbits of in the trilogy. Places like Gondolin, people like Fëanor and Ëarendil, stories like the tale of Beren and Lúthien, the lost land of Númenor. This stuff was gold. And these were just small crumbs of the entire legendarium. If you were so inclined, you could dig through strata after strata of interwoven legends, stories, and prophecies. Entire histories of ascendant and fallen nations. I mean, seriously, it has taken me nearly two decades to read through a good chunk of all the stuff he came out with, and I’m still not done. So no matter what, this will always be my point of reference, for good or for ill.

The Last Unicorn came out of the blue for me. I don’t really remember how exactly I came to read this book. It may be simply because Peter S. Beagle wrote the foreword to the first copy of LotR that I ever read. There is a chance that I might have watched the animated film first, all because of my sister, who naturally had a thing for unicorns and flying horses and ponies. (Think “Rainbow Brite” and “My Little Pony”. Disturbingly, there was a point in my life where I had a dream that melded plot points of “Rainbow Brite” with those of “Robotech” and “Voltron”. Which, in retrospect, might not make a bad story, though…) But Schmendrick is definitely one of my favorite magicians. And the story of Prince Lir, and even King Haggard, get me right there.

I suppose I was young when I first saw them. Now I must be old…at least I have picked many more things up than I had then, and put them all down again. But I always knew that nothing was worth the investment of my heart, because nothing lasts, and I was right, and so I was always old. Yet each time I see my unicorns, it is like that morning in the woods, and I am truly young in spite of myself, and anything can happen in a world that holds such beauty. … King Haggard from The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle.

Even to this day, I keep learning new things about this story. First off, Beagle started off entirely in a different direction, more akin to the magical realism embodied by, say, Neil Gaiman, or (surprisingly) Douglas Adams (in his Dirk Gently series), or even J.K. Rowling. For starters, the Unicorn finds herself in present day England, wondering what the hell happened to all the other unicorns. She meets up with a two-headed demon expelled from Hell, and they run into other demons who resemble nothing less than cruel, heartless, calculating corporate types and marketroids, or perhaps members of the current Bush administration. I think it would’ve been interesting to see where he might have gone with that, but, then again, I guess we wouldn’t have the classic tale that he ended up giving us.

And, naturally, when I first ran into the story, I didn’t think much of the budding romance between Lir and Amalthea. But lately, I think about it, and it seriously just gets me right there. Talk about not being meant to be.

Which makes it all the more poignant in Beagle’s novella ”Two Hearts”, which brings us back several decades after The Last Unicorn, and King Lir is an old man who cannot remember where he is. The fact that the Unicorn still loves him, despite the fact that unicorns do not, cannot, fall in love with mortals, broke my heart.

But this post is getting overly long, and so I’ll stop here and talk about Earthsea later.

I’m still ruminating about the end of the Harry Potter saga. The mainstream media’s reaction has always interested me. They continue to be bemused by the idea of a novel taking the world by storm, and infiltrating popular culture. Never mind the fact that people were writing “Frodo Lives!” on subway walls 40 years ago, or the fact that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was extraordinarily successful, and, as far as wizards go, Gandalf the Grey is as well-known as Merlin, and is arguably the favorite and most-beloved of wizards amongst nerds and geeks world-wide.

I’m not trying to take away anything from J.K. Rowling’s accomplishment. It is not an easy thing to write one book, much less seven. And to have them become extraordinarily popular is a wonderful feat.

A quantitative comparison of the Harry Potter series versus the Earthsea Cycle.

Harry Potter series
by J.K. Rowling
 
titlepage ct
Sorcerer’s Stone 309
Chamber of Secrets 341
Prisoner of Azkaban 435
Goblet of Fire 734
Order of the Phoenix 870
Half-Blood Prince 652
Deathly Hallows 759
 
TOTAL 4,100

The Earthsea Cycle
by Ursula K. Le Guin
 
titlepage ct
Wizard of Earthsea 192
Tombs of Atuan 192
Farthest Shore 272
Tehanu 288
Other Wind 224
TOTAL 1,168

Contrast this to The Lord of the Rings, which is only a measly 1,216 pages including the Foreword, Prologue, and Appendices.

Sources: amazon.com, wikipedia

But I think that literary debts need to be accounted for. Whether intentional or not, Hogwarts owes a lot to the Island of Roke, the center of Earthsea, which is the world created by the inimitable author Ursula K. Le Guin.

Interestingly, the titular character of the first book, Sparrowhawk, later known as Ged the Archmage, has a lot in common with Harry Potter. Which therefore means he also has a lot in common with Lord Voldemort. In fact, it seems more apt to compare Ged to Voldemort. Both were orphans, both were born with incredible power, both had massive egos, and both screwed around with the Dark Arts. But while Ged learned his lesson about playing with the Dark Side, and with this hard-earned wisdom eventually became the Archmage of Roke, slaying dragons, restoring kingdoms, returning balance to the Force, umm, to the balance, and even settling down with a woman, Voldemort went on to be a ruthless mass-murderer and was generally not a nice guy.

Which brings in another comparison: Anakin Skywalker. I suppose he falls somewhere midway in the continuum. While not an orphan, he was born to pretty crappy conditions, considering that he was a slave. But like Ged and Voldemort, he was born with incredible power. Like Ged (and presumably, like Voldemort), he grew impatient with his Master and felt that he was being held back. Like Ged, this eventually leads him to dabbling with the Dark Side of the Force. But whereas Ged learns the error of his ways, Anakin gives himself up wholly to the Dark Side. But whereas Voldemort dies a wondrously anti-climactic death, still convinced that he was going to win, Anakin redeems himself by showing mercy to his son, and, naturally, in the process, ends up dying.

To go full circle, you could compare Anakin to Severus Snape. Both grew up, again, in crappy conditions. Both were extremely gifted in the Force/in magic. Both (probably) turned to the Dark Side both to escape the fear, ridicule, and distrust of their peers, and probably to win back/save the woman they loved. But whereas Anakin marries Padme, turns to the Dark Side, contributes to the cause of her death, gives himself wholly in service of the Dark Side and the Emperor, then attempts to capture and probably kill, or at least pervert, his kids, Snape loses Lily to James, turns to the Dark Side, contributes to the cause of Lily’s death, but then ends up switching sides completely, giving himself wholly in service to Albus Dumbledore, and attempts to protect the son of the woman he loves. Both are killed by their respective Dark Lords (Anakin by absorbing all that Force Lightning from Palpatine, Snape by getting killed by Voldemort’s pet snake.) And while both end up redeemed, I think Snape gets the raw deal here. Anakin got what he deserved, but Snape just ends up screwed.

(For some reason, finishing Deathly Hallows has only reinforced my belief that I am going to someday die a pointlessly violent death.)

There was a point to this post, but it seems to have eluded me.

This is just a quick outline of the steps I took, which I hope to fill in as time goes on.

This route is really circuitous, mostly because the migration script included with Typo is apparently very CPU/memory-intensive, and Dreamhost’s sentinel processes always ended up reaping it before it could even import a couple of blog posts. It also requires the installation of random pieces of software you probably won’t normally use on your local machine. Be forewarned.

NOTE: My desktop computer is a Mac Mini PowerPC G4 running at 1.25 GHz with 1 GB of RAM installed, running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. These instructions should be equivalent for an Intel-based Mac, and should be reasonably adaptable for Linux, BSD, or other UNIX/UNIX-like systems. Unfortunately, I haven’t run Windows since 1999, so I can’t really help you there.

  1. Export your Wordpress database using whatever method is most comfortable to you. I used myPHPadmin which is available by default on Dreamhost. Transfer the resulting flatfile to your local machine.
  2. Make sure you have MySQL running on your local machine. Of interest, MySQL is installed by default in the Server version of Tiger, although turned off by default. It should be pretty easy to install MySQL on any respectable Linux distribution. On the Client version of Tiger, while you can build mysql using Fink or MacPorts, the easiest thing (read: the thing that involved the least amount of thinking and/or compiling) was to just download the binary distribution from mysql.com. The stable version as of this writing is 5.0.
  3. Install CocoaMySQL. Obviously, if you’re quite familiar with dealing with MySQL on the command-line, there’s no need to do this, but since I’m not, this was the easiest thing to do.
  4. Import your database from Dreamhost into your local copy of MySQL
  5. Make sure you have a functioning copy of Ruby installed. Tiger comes with an old version of Ruby installed, so I tried compiling the newest release with Fink. Unfortunately, there are still some issues with compiling Ruby using gcc 4. While it will build without problems, Ruby will segfault randomly when run. Since I didn’t really want to screw around with compiling with gcc 3.3 and making sure all the relevant dependencies would play nice, I ended up installing Locomotive, which lets you run Ruby on Rails applications in a sandboxed environment.
  6. Install Rails. Again, Locomotive will take care of this for you, but if you’re running Linux, or you manage to get ruby correctly compiled on Mac OS X, you can just install the gem like so: gem install rails --include-dependencies
  7. Make sure you have svn installed. Subversion, a version control system, is readily available on all respectable Linux distributions and can be compiled without incident on Mac OS X via Fink or MacPorts or even just from source.
  8. Download typo via svn. You can pretty much install Typo anywhere you like. Once you’re in the directory (folder) of your choice, type: svn checkout http://svn.typosphere.org/typo/trunk typo (see the Typo Trac for more info about grabbing the trunk versus the 4.1 branch.)
  9. Create a new database for use with Typo.
  10. Configure Typo to use the new database Edit config/database.yml (relative to the directory you downloaded Typo to) so that it’s pointing to your new database.
  11. Format the new database with Typo’s schema. I used rake db:migrate Other ways (not sure if this is up to date) are described on the Typo Trac. These should work just as well on your local machine as it does on Dreamhost’s servers.
  12. Run the Wordpress 2 → Typo 4 converter script. (If you’re using Locomotive, at this point you’ll need to create a new project and point it to where Typo is living, and start it.) Type db/converters/wordpress2.rb --help for help with the syntax with converter.
  13. Export the Typo database on your local machine.
  14. Create a new database on Dreamhost for Typo.
  15. Import the flatfile from your local machine into the database on Dreamhost.
  16. Install and configure Typo on Dreamhost exactly as above. From what I can tell, Dreamhost now has a current enough version of Ruby (1.8.5) and Rails (1.2.3) to run Typo properly, but if you must have the newest versions of everything, you can build it all in your home directory.

At this point, you should be able to point your browser to your site and create an admin account. All your Wordpress posts will be there, although the converter script turns all your entries and all your pictures into separate blog posts.

Right now, I’m running Typo out of the box without having to put in the hackery used to avoid getting 500 errors. Compared to a year ago when I tried Typo out, it feels a lot faster and more responsive, although it is still kind of slow. We’ll see how it goes.

One thing that I found irksome, and for which I couldn’t find an easy solution to on Google, is that Typo’s permalinks are formatted like so: http://domain.name/articles/yyyy/mm/dd/slug In contrast, Wordpress’s permalinks are http://domain.name/yyyy/mm/dd/slug. Personally, I feel that articles is unnecessarily crufty, but I couldn’t figure out an easy way to get rid of it. I couldn’t get Apache’s mod_rewrite to work with Typo either. So this is what I ended up having to do to at least keep my Wordpress permalinks alive. (Derived from WordPress to Typo Migration, Part II.)

In config/routes.rb, add this:

  map.connect ':year/:month/:day/:title',
      :controller => 'wordpress_url', :action => 'redirect',
      :requirements => {:year => /\d{4}/, :month => /\d{1,2}/, :day => /\d{1,2}/}
  

This will require you to create a new file in app/controllers/ called wordpressurlcontroller.rb

app/controllers/wordpressurlcontroller.rb contains the following:

  class WordpressUrlController < ApplicationController
     def redirect
        year = params[:year]
        month = params[:month]
        day = params[:day]
        title = params[:title]
        url = "/articles/#{year}/#{month}/#{day}/#{title}/"
        redirect_permanently url
     end
    def redirect_permanently url
      headers["Status"] = "301 Moved Permanently"
      redirect_to url
    end
 
    private :redirect_permanently
  end

Now, I’m a Ruby/Rails newbie, so if there is a cleaner way to do this, or if there is a way to get rid of articles from the permalink, suggestions would be appreciated.

severus and lily

posted on July 25th, 2007

oh, and btw, a change

posted on July 23rd, 2007

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve once again changed blogging engines. This change differs from previous migrations in that I actually imported my old posts. Of course, I haven’t sifted through the old posts yet, and I’m pretty sure a lot of them are pretty broken. I can’t believe I wrote 400+ posts in the past year and a half. Can you imagine if I actually dedicated this time to writing a novel or a book of poems instead?

I tried installing Typo about a year ago, and I eventually got it to work, it was painfully slow. So I slogged on with Wordpress which is actually a really good blogging tool that seems pretty easy for newbies to use.

There are, however, two problems I ended up having with Wordpress: (1) it is painful to write custom themes and (2) PHP is an ugly language. The two problems are not unrelated.

I admit, perl is also an ugly language, but it’s not trying to be a templating language at the same time, either. (You have to install extensions for that sort of madness.) Which makes sense, since PHP uses a lot of perl concepts. And while ruby also owes a lot to perl, ruby can actually be quite elegant in a non-obfuscatory kind of way. The difference between perl and ruby is that in perl, you can write almost any program in one line. In ruby, you can also write almost any program in one line, but you can also actually read it, too.

The other thing was that I had the vain hope that using embedded ruby would allow me to avoid the dreaded nested angle-brackets. Alas, that is not the case, although if I want it badly enough, I can always use embedded ruby to actually build an XHTML element so that I don’t have to nest angle-brackets, which is actually how XSLT handles things. Maybe you can do that in PHP, too, but I really got tired of trying to separate logic from presentation. And the prospect of duplicating code for the index view and the single post view was quite daunting.

With Typo, you can just deal with the templates, since all the logic is really in Rails itself, and what elegant logic it is too. You can create beautiful things when you don’t worry about CPU cycles, you know? (Did I mention that Rails, and therefore, Typo, is slow?) Thanks to partials, you can avoid redundancy. (Although I feel that XSLT manages to avoid redundancy, too, and it’s XML-compliant from the get-go, although most sane people I’ve met don’t care too much about that as long as the eventual output conforms to XHTML and XML standards.) No editing multiple template files for me. Just zoom into the spot and go to it.

But, anyway, we’ll see how things go. The only thing that creeps me out is the fact that using an RDBMS as storage leaves me vulnerable to lock-in. Mostly because I’d rather not (re)learn how to interact with an RDBMS, and screwing around with SELECT statements seems to be the only foolproof way to actually get my data out of there in the eventuality that I want to move to yet another blog engine. Luckily, most of the major players have conversion scripts, although, as you might notice (for now), the Wordpress 2 to Typo converter isn’t exactly a finished product.

On the other hand, I have yet to try to migrate the files from my own hand-rolled static blog engine (mainly because I accidentally nuked the source files a long, long time ago and will therefore have to scrape raw HTML. Bleh.) Moving the blosxom stuff will probably be easier. It’s been trivial to convert a blosxom blog entry into an actual XML document. Now all I have to do is learn XML-RPC (yay) and the MetaWeblog API, and then I’ll be golden. (Yeesh!)

drag-and-drop goodness

posted on July 23rd, 2007

Now, granted, I’m no impartial observer. I’ve hated Windows since the 1998 iteration, and haven’t looked back. I used Linux as my primary OS from 1999 to 2002, then finally ended up buying an iBook and switching to Mac OS X (which was at version 10.1 at the time.) So I am confused by the outrage generated by drag-and-drop “installation” that is the method that Apple recommends to all developers. The article itself discusses the rationale for these guidelines, which I won’t regurgitate, but which I will refer to.

I do have to use Windows once in a while at work. But luckily I have no power to install or uninstall apps, and am glad to let the IT guys do their job. I do have a burning hatred for the pile of excrement known as IE 6, but unfortunately, one of the key apps we run depends on Active X, and the IT guys are (I think justifiably) paranoid about migrating en masse to IE 7.

Still, I was (until they stopped allowing writing to the Desktop, which makes it rather awkward to read research papers in PDF format, but that’s an entirely different rant altogether) able to download and install Firefox rather easily, since the installer allows me to arbitrarily choose any folder and doesn’t require write-privilege to C:\WINDOWS. Once I got into the habit of taking my USB Flash Drive with me everywhere, I just installed Firefox onto that.

But there are plenty of crappy Windows apps out there that require write privileges to C:\WINDOWS. And many of their installers have no way of specifying an alternate directory from which to run. Personally, I think this sucks.

In those barbaric pre-Windows days when I ran MS-DOS 4.01(!), I grew into the habit of creating my own custom file system hierarchy. C:\UTILITIES was in my PATH and held all my commonly used utilities, like PKZIP and grep. C:\WORDPRO contained WordPerfect and MS Word 5.5 for DOS. C:\PASCAL contained Turbo Pascal 7.0, which was my language of choice at the time. (Of course, there was GW-BASIC, and with MS-DOS 5.0, QBasic, but you couldn’t really write command-line utilities with those.) And of course, there was C:\GAMES.

So when Windows 3.0 forced me to stick all my crap in C:\WINDOWS, that made me unhappy. I tried to fight it as much as I could, but in the end, I gave up. Worthless apps, their directories, and their DLLs accumulated as I upgraded to Windows 3.11 and then eventually Windows 95, and very quickly DLL hell forced me to reformat and reinstall. Little did I know that this would become standard procedure for dealing with those damned BSODs.

My experience with uninstallers have pretty much been mostly unhappy ones. They’ve deleted DLLs I needed to run other apps. They’ve munged my registry so that I couldn’t easily boot back into Windows. They leave all sorts of worthless cruft all over the place. In an era where 120 MB of hard drive space was capacious, all those random useless files made a big difference. Especially since a 4-byte long file would consume an entire cluster. The thought of all those hours I wasted pruning my C:\WINDOWS directory to gain a few megs of hard drive space makes me feel nauseated.

But the back-breaker was DLL hell. I think this is the main reason why I hate Visual Basic and anyone who uses it as their primary development language. VB apps proliferated like E. coli in a Petri dish, and each app thought it would be best to install their own version of key DLLs, frequently rendering my system unusable. (Can someone tell me if they finally decided to do DLL versioning in Vista?) Random crashes from old and incompatible DLLs made me scared to install new programs. Although I guess it wouldn’t really matter all that much. The next reboot-and-reinstall cycle was only a few days away anyway.

Eventually, I grew weary of it, wiped my hard drive, and installed Red Hat Linux 6.0. Granted, it took me about a week to get PPP working and get back on the Internet, but installing X and Netscape was actually not too bad. I would break my system frequently by screwing around with configuration files, but I figured that if I had to deal with frustration, at least I was learning something.

Interestingly, it was Windows that made me decide to get a Mac. I figured I needed to get a laptop, but in 2002, there were very few laptops that would actually run Linux reasonably well. And the idea of buying an x86 laptop and have to pay for Windows, even if I wanted to run Linux, made me sick. So it was inevitable.

Now packaging systems are all well and good. I wrestled mostly with RPM back in the day, and these days I mess around with the apt-get-derived Fink Project (a system of ports of open source packages to Mac OS X) There is great satisfaction in being able to confidently uninstall an app you don’t want anymore, despite its files being scattered across the multiple directories of the file system hierarchy standard. A single command and it’s gone. No obsolete dynamic libraries to worry about. No cruft you need to get rid of manually, except maybe in your home directory.

Still, you can easily run into dependency hell, particularly if you downloaded stuff from third-party repositories because you had the burning need to run bleeding-edge software. You could avoid all this if you stuck to your distribution’s standard repo, but there was a lot of cool stuff you’d be missing.

The other solution was just to roll your own. Write your own spec files and build your own packages. Nice if you’re willing to do it, but probably not newbie-level kind of stuff. While the standard UNIX incantation should be easy enough for a newbie who doesn’t have a phobia of the CLI, the problem with ./configure; make; make install is that you just can’t easily uninstall that.

So: the concept of bundles. Like most of the nice things about Mac OS X, this was actually already a feature of NEXTSTEP. Everything you need to run an application is stored in the bundle. Don’t like the app? Toss it into the Trash Can. Or type rm -rf Random.app if you like. No harm, no foul. No accidentally deleting system-critical DLLs or trashing the registry. No having to uninstall all the apps that happen to depend on the library you want to get rid of.

In other words: simple.

Now you may wonder just how efficient this is, to require every single app to contain every single library that it needs to run. In terms of disk space, not very. But when the smallest hard drive you can buy on the market is about 300 GB, who really cares?

In terms of RAM, apparently the OS is smart enough to recognize when a required shared library is already running and to make sure that it’s actually compatible with the app. So: most of the benefits of shared libraries. None of the potential for versioning disasters.

If you’re telling me that dragging an icon into your Applications folder (which happens to be standard in every Finder window, and as many have pointed out, is usually symlinked in the DMG file itself) is more complicated than running through an opaque installer, then clearly your definition of “complicated” does not coincide with mine.


In the end, I think it’s just a culture of groupthink amidst most Windows users, given that they happen to be mostly in the corporate sector. There is something “official” about an installer. It makes people feel like your app is legitimate. That the developers know what they’re doing, and who are we to question the developers? Never mind the fact that it’s all too easy to perform nefarious deeds in the name of installation. Or that most installers are putrid piles of feculent vomit that generally do the wrong thing and end up violating the integrity of your OS (and Mac OS X does not, by any means, escape this tendency.)

These are the same guys who will turn around and bend over and pull their pants down just because someone flashes a badge.

Although I guess it does explain why America is as fucked up as it is, but, again, that’s another rant entirely.

I can’t seem to get over Snape’s forlorn and hopeless devotion to Lily. On one hand, it’s really sad and pathetic. On the other hand, it’s heart-wrenchingly awesome.

In a way, the last thing Snape sees before he dies (quite horrifically and with much gore) is Lily’s eyes.

I suppose the thing that really gets me is that I can relate.

Carrying a torch for a lost cause for 10+ years? (And in Snape’s case, it really is a lost cause, considering that the woman he loves is dead.) Sure. It happens. Like I said, it’s sad and pathetic.

Sacrificing your life—not just dying, but giving up your every waking hour as a sacrifice—in the name of your unrequited and yet enduring, impossible-to-quench love? Oh, man.

I can’t wait to watch this part in the movie theaters, in three years or so. I hope they don’t cut it. This entire scene should be perfect.

Lily Evans and Severus Snape

“You never saw Snape cast a Patronus, did you, Riddle?”

Voldemort did not answer. They continued to circle each other like wolves about to tear each other apart.

“Snape’s Patronus was a doe,” said Harry, “the same as my mother’s, because he loved her for nearly all of his life, from the time when they were children. You should have realized.”

(P.S. No, Harry is not the product of an affair between Snape and Lily Potter.)

spoilers

posted on July 21st, 2007

I:

“If she means so much to you,” said Dumbledore, “surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”

“I have—I have asked him—”

“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore…. Snape seemed to shrink a little. “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you have what you want?”

Snape said nothing, but merely looked up at Dumbledore.

“Hide them all, then,” he croaked. “Keep her—them—safe. Please.”

“And what will you give me in return, Severus?”

“In—in return?” Snape gaped at Dumbledore… but after a long moment he said, “Anything.”

II:

“I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter—”

“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”

“For him?” shouted Snape. ”Expecto Patronum!”

From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Snape.

archetypes dying in media res

posted on July 21st, 2007

Because of the release of Deathly Hallows today, I had to catch up and read Half-Blood Prince. One of the reasons why I had decided to put off reading it was because everyone had ruined the “big surprise,” which was the death of Albus Dumbledore.

I suppose the death of the great wizard has been a staple of fantasy for quite a while now, at least ever since Gandalf the Grey plummeted into the trackless depths of Moria, and since Obi-Wan Kenobi met his end from the blade of his former apprentice. (In fact, I almost feel like every fantasy series that has hit the mainstream has been some bizarre hybrid of the ideas of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas: an inconceivably powerful artifact that tethers the Dark Lord to existence in this material plane, a Chosen One meant to restore the balance. But I digress.)

I guess it’s probably just a function of when I read The Lord of the Rings. Even to this day, even though I know that Gandalf the White comes back, I always get a little misty eyed when I read about the Fellowship of the Ring traversing the orc-infested Mines of Moria. I used to feel a little pang of sadness when Obi-Wan Kenobi was cut down by Darth Vader, but unfortunately, George Lucas makes him look decidedly less regal in Episodes I-III that he sort of lost part of his mystique. But when Severus Snape blasts Dumbledore out of the tower, I don’t know, I guess it would’ve been better if I didn’t know.

Still, hands down, the part of The Lord of the Rings that really gets me right there is when Merry has just finished helping Éowyn kill the Witch King of Angmar, and no one seems to notice that he has been deathly injured until Pippin stumbles upon him, and he ends up trying to drag him to the Houses of Healing. Merry ends up asking him, “Are you going to bury me?” and if I’m in the right mood, I can get all teary-eyed.

And now, a spoiler: I just finished Deathly Hallows and Severus Snape’s part in the story was just, wow. He is now definitely my most favorite character in the series, and even though we all know that he’s not the one-dimensional villain that the characters want to believe he is, I was still surprised by how poignant the entirety of his tale is.

nerd dreams

posted on July 13th, 2007

I swear. Who dreams of particle accelerators?

I’ve had this recurring dream of running around the inside of a particle accelerator, usually involving trips into alternate dimensions. I mean, is this supergeeky or what?

The largest supercollider built thus far is the Large Hadron Collider on the border of Switzerland and France.

Geographical Extent of the Large Hadron Collider

I keep dreaming about the tunnels, though.

The LHC hopes to find particles hitherto undetected, but predicted by current theories, specifically the Higgs boson. Other questions that are hoped to be answered are whether or not supersymmetry is true, and whether or not we can detect the extra dimensions required for string theory to be valid.

Some people have speculated about possible disasters caused by activating the LHC. These scenarios seem pretty unlikely, considering that cosmic rays with 20 million times the energy that will be generated by the LHC constantly bombard the Earth and we’ve never seen any of these effects. But they’re pretty interesting ideas:

  • generation of a stable micro black-hole: if Stephen Hawking is wrong, and black holes don’t evaporate, then a micro black-hole would eventually turn the Earth into Swiss cheese as it rotates.
  • triggering a transition to a different quantum mechanical vacuum energy level: if the current theories regarding inflation are true, this would essentially mean generating a Big Bang. In practical terms, we’d probably be vaporized, but what effect it would have on the universe at large is quite unknown.

A decade ago, I remember reading a short-story piece about the abandoned Superconducting Super Collider in Texas, which was going to be even bigger than the LHC. The denouement of the story was the creation of a stable black hole and the resulting destruction of Earth.

ok computer: 10 year anniversary

posted on July 11th, 2007

Radiohead *OK Computer*

Oh, sure, everyone knows “Creep” and “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees”, but Radiohead didn’t capture my consciousness until OK Computer came out. In retrospect, this album helped define the existential angst of my senior year in college. It is the simplest and one of the most enduring of my memories from that year, reminding me of working on {m}aganda magazine (interesting, when did the curly-brackets become intrinsic to the name? I credit JRM)

Tempus fugit, indeed. So now it’s been 10 years since OK Computer first came out. Each song is carefully etched into the inside of my brain. Most vividly are the memories of this album that came from the early ‘00’s, when Kid A and Amnesiac came out. The seeds of these two albums were born in their predecessor. Despite all the new material, I still listened to OK Computer fervently.

I watched Radiohead perform at Shoreline Ampitheater in the San Francisco Bay Area (was it 2000? 2001? Is it really that long ago?) But memories of cities are all jumbled up in my mind: L.A., S.F., Chicago, NYC, Miami, San Diego, Sacramento.

The most easily accessible are the memories of travelling either by train or car down to S.D. to visit my sister. It always seemed to be February. The sky was the indistinct grey that reminds me so much of OK Computer’s cover. Easily my most favorite song, “Paranoid Android” captures the ennui and alienation of being an outsider caught up in the maelstrom of the Hollywood lifestyle. This is the dark side of L.A., often ignored by the city’s boosters, but revelled in and frequently mentioned by the city’s detractors. (I don’t think it’s an accident that L.A. is the setting of the future dystopia depicted in “Blade Runner”.) It also captured my loneliness and sense of being abandoned as I slogged through a depressive episode. And I can’t help but think of Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a robot with major depressive disorder.

Marvin the Paranoid Android

Has it been 10 years already? While I’ve somehow ended up sort-of where I wanted to be, I definitely took some unexpected ways to get here. If I had a time machine and could meet my younger self, I doubt I’d have any wisdom to offer that would allow myself to avoid any of the unpleasant experiences I could’ve done without. I’m not really sure that I’ve learned anything practical about life, really.

In any case, there are two tribute albums available for download as (mostly) mp3s (A track or two are AACs, I think)

stereogum · OK X: A Tribute to OK Computer

hypeful · OK Computer turns 10

(Links from ”Ear Candy with Travis Hay”)

fear of success

posted on July 10th, 2007

Oddly, my horoscope gets it right:

The nearer your destination, the less sure you are that you actually want to arrive. Hey, that’s normal. Sometimes the fear of success is a lot stronger than the fear of failure. The goal will be worth it eventually.

Hmmm.

Still looking out for signs. This, despite the fact that I have no faith that things ever happen for good reasons.

random epiphanies

posted on July 9th, 2007

Now I’m not one of those sad-sacks who comfort themselves with the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” Lots of things happen for no good reason. Irrationality rules the day most of the time, and if everything in the universe were really premeditated, then God would have to be a psychopath, no question.

On the other hand, I suppose everything has a cause. (Notice the important difference between reason and cause.)

Physics pretty much dictates that there is an orderly sequence of events, all the way back to the first few infinitesimal fractions of a second right after the Big Bang. Now, Einstein’s theories tend to turn orderly sequences into ribbons. You can watch them flail helplessly in the vacuum of Space-Time, straddling space-like and time-like curves. The concept of simultaneity isn’t really what you think it means. (Einstein’s theories also tend to make convoluted loopty-loops into straight lines. Go figure.)

But most so-called sane people believe in causality. A leads to B. B leads to C. C leads to D. Never the other way around, even if you’re traveling at or near the speed of light.


But this is neither here nor there.

What I realized is that I’ve been living the last decade of my life with resigned acceptance, accepting that everything that happens to me is mostly random, occasionally nudged along by my pathetic flailings here and there.

I have no illusions of control.

But no one wants to hear about reality.

Random sequences of events strung together chronologically does not an interesting story make.


So if the goal is to have a story to tell, I’ve got to come up with something. The best stories are always made post hoc anyway.

I need to come up with a narrative.

When the flesh is finally stripped clean of my bones, when even my bones finally crumble to dust, if I want to have some pathetic simulacrum of immortality, I’ve got to piece this all together into a story worth telling. The whole nine yards. Themes. Grand motifs. Archetypes. Plot.

I also know understand why I have the damndest time figuring out a plot. It’s really hard to find an expository direction when you believe that life is random and meaningless.


So my resolution is to come up with a narrative. Never mind the fact that I don’t believe things ever happen for a good reason.


The other thing that seems to be creeping up on me is a name. I don’t know why this name seems to be popping up more and more often. Is this the name of my soulmate? My nemesis? The name of a hyper-advanced artificial intelligence that’s trying to contact me from the future?

Like most things, I am predisposed to believe that it is nothing more than random coincidence. As I’ve said before, the human brain is a pattern recognition machine, prone to bouts of apophenia—of finding patterns that aren’t really there.

Until n>100, it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to convince me otherwise.

Call me doubting Thomas, if you must.

Unfortunately for me, I’d rather be right than happy.

the epitome of pathetic

posted on July 9th, 2007

OK, folks, I think I’ve reached a new low here. I opened a tin can of beans with a hammer and a screwdriver. Supper of champions.

what's right vs what works

posted on July 8th, 2007

I seem to revisit this topic from time to time. Usually in the context of trying to struggling through someone else’s code.

Now, the standard disclaimer: I am not a programmer. Or, more accurately, I don’t write code for a living. (We are all programmers now, are we not?)

But I continue to struggle with the ‘right-thing’ vs ‘worse-is-better’ debate. On one hand is the fact that I learned how to code of textbooks, and the readability of code had high priority. Clean algorithms and appropriate commenting (enough, but not too much) naturally leads to readability (or so they say), and also make maintenance less of a chore.

On the other hand, no one likes vaporware, which is what following the ‘right-thing’ philosophy frequently leads to. Witness the GNU/Hurd, for example.

But the history of information technology has many examples of ‘the right-thing’ pitted against ‘worse-is-better’. Mac OS vs MS-DOS. Pre-emptive multitasking vs cooperative multitasking. RISC vs x86. HURD vs Linux. GNOME vs KDE. Lisp vs C. C vs Java. ObjC vs C++. The list goes on-and-on. If ‘worse-is-better’ wasn’t a winning ticket, Microsoft would’ve gone bankrupt decades ago.

Why do I wax philosophical?

I’ve stared at the monolith codebase known as Wordpress and have fled in fear and horror.

Oh, Wordpress works, all right. I’ve been running it for several iterations now, for well over a year. But all I wanted to do was write a simple custom theme.

Horror of horrors.

The thing that I like about my kludgy XSLT/Makefile/perl script homebrew, and what I liked about Blosxom (after you installed the ‘theme’ plug-in) was that it was trivial to convert an XHTML design into a blog template. Throw in a few conditional statements here, a few variables there, and voila, you’ve got yourself a theme.

Screwing around with Wordpress is a little more involved than that.

For one thing, the template is strewn across multiple files (which was something that I loathed about Blosxom without the ‘theme’ plug-in) Sure, at the bare minimum, you could get away with just style.css and index.php, but then it gets kind of ugly, and most sane people include header.php, sidebar.php, and footer.php as well. Not to mention comments.php. I’m sure there are a few more I’ve forgotten to mention, but I’d rather not wade through lines of PHP right now.

For another thing, I find PHP aesthetically displeasing. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s a templating language (like the Perl Template Toolkit, MASON, or XSLT) or if it’s a full on scripting language like Perl, Python, and Ruby. And the syntax shows it.

For some reason, I really detest nested angle-brackets. I can’t stand stuff like this: <a href="<?php echo $url ?>" title="<?php echo $desc ?>"><?php echo $link_text ?></a>. Call it a pet-peeve. Call it psychosis. Whatever. But this is common practice in PHP, and it makes me feel the same way that scratching fingernails across a chalkboard does.

But the scripting/templating schizophrenia makes reading code a chore, and it has taken me a good while to follow the logic of the templates themselves, much less actually understanding the functions I’m supposed to call.

Now the functions. Ugh. To be fair, Wordpress has existed in several incarnations, previously known as b2 which was released back in 2001. Since it’s debut as Wordpress in 2003, the code has gone through 2 major revisions and several minor revisions. The latest iteration is version 2.2. It’s extremely popular and many webhosts have it installed for your immediate use.

Digging into the code, you can almost see the different layers, kind of like an exercise in paleontology. Strata after strata of heaped-on code. Lots of inadvertant redundancy.

The thing that started driving me crazy was that there were functions that returned actual values, and functions that sent direct output. Some of them followed a certain convention. (If there was a function x() that displayed output, then usually there was a function get_x() that would return a value.) But God help you if the function you wanted didn’t follow that convention. Usually there is no recourse but to read the source code itself, which can get tedious, to say the least.

At first, I started mucking around with the template code just so I could understand the logic. For one thing, the way PHP can switch in and out of templating mode confused me (and, in all honesty, continues to confuse me, even though I know it really shouldn’t be that confusing.) For another thing, I wanted to see if I could get rid of the nasty nested angled brackets. I’m slowly finding out that this is almost, but not quite, feasible.

But before I realized the futility of separating code from presentation, I had this grand scheme of building a template engine, such that you only had to change one file to customize a template rather than screwing around with all these subfiles. One include and I could be home free and have customizability galore. But wp_query stopped me cold in my tracks. I would have to learn Wordpress’s object classes and methods. Shudder.

So on one hand, I could just give up and stick my HTML into the proper places in the template code, and give up on readability. As long as it works, what do I care, right? On the other hand, it’s clear that, short of complete rewriting the codebase (I never did like the reliance on a SQL database, and I might as well rewrite it in Perl or Ruby if I’m going to do something insane like that), I’m not going to find the Holy Grail of easy template editability. It may be time to move on to yet another blog engine. Or chase that unicorn of writing my own. Double-shudder.

sunlight

posted on July 8th, 2007

streaming through the windowpanes
torrent of brilliance
gouts of blinding light
so bright
leaving phosphenes dancing in my eyes

the sea, and distant tidings of sorrow

posted on July 7th, 2007

The Internet is a convoluted web, and I still marvel at the deftly woven connections between strangers, and I wonder how one can be touched by someone who you never knew, at least not in “real” life.

And with sadness, I gaze at the blaze of photons that reck of finality, of words that will now never be spoken, of songs that will now never be sung, of visions that will now never be imagined, and I think to myself, how many times, and no matter who, no matter how many, no matter how close, no matter how distant, it will be a long time before it will cease to ache at least a little.

[1][2][3]

all we need is time

posted on July 7th, 2007

in the fog of indecision
the clarity of the dawn
in the anxious disappointment of missed chances
the cold, hard certainty of inescapable destiny
in the silence of defeat
the distant roar of victory

grip tightly, the snare slips
accelerator to the floor
expect long delays
memories fade
the heart forgives
but the soul remembers
the wound does not heal

we plunge head first
into this muddled sea of dreams

so sick

posted on July 7th, 2007

Maybe I just need to get into a rhythm. Usually I look forward to the summertime, never mind that I rarely get time off anyway. But I just feel, I dunno, bleh.

It’s only been a week since I was working a fucked up schedule, and that’s historically been how long it takes me to get back to “normal” (whatever that might mean, especially in my case.)

I’ve realized that having July 4th on Wednesday really sucks. Even when you’re working a relatively normal work week, you won’t get a long weekend. It’s just this random day off in the middle of the week, making it even harder to get into a decent rhythm.


Oh, man. I can’t bear to look at the big picture right now. It’s just day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Can’t I just watch music videos all day and let my brain rot?


Just one last cryptic thing, though: Skies the limit, my peeps. The road is wide open.

insensate

posted on July 6th, 2007

I find it interesting that I searched for the word insensate and Google’s adsense popped up the following:

I suppose I find it somewhat discomfiting that it seems like a computer deigned it necessary to try to cheer me up with cheesy platitudes.

small frustrations

posted on July 4th, 2007

unexpected traffic. Sunlight fading. Visions remote, receding, flashing quickly through my field of vision. Hoping to get lost in familiar territory.

then maybe not

posted on July 3rd, 2007

Not so still, perhaps. But just as hopeless.

pivot

posted on July 3rd, 2007

I would say that it’s a sense of foreboding, but I don’t want it to all negative like that.

My soul roils. Portents abound, uninterpreted.

The Republic has fallen, on the eve of its 231st anniversary.

I feel nothing.


When was the last time I took the time to get to know someone? When was the last time I cared about anyone besides myself?

Will this change? Or as time marches on, does my heart turn to stone, setting like concrete, dried out, dessicated, insensate to the concept of love?

Is this the stillness that I’ve been seeking? Unmoved by longing, shrugging off fantasy and desire like so much dross?

I don’t know the answer, and I’m afraid of what I’ll find.

What is the meaning of life? How do I go on living?

What does it mean to live life to the fullest?

The thing is, without any of the chasms, there are no heights. Without a nadir, there can be no zenith.

What do I wish for? Where do I go next?

So many goddamn questions, and never any answers.

future megalopolises

posted on July 1st, 2007

Or megalopoleis for the pendantic.

I remember reading Neuromancer and being entranced by Gibson’s vision of the Sprawl, or more verbosely, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis which can be acronymized as BAMA. This is really not that far off, since BosWash (which includes Boston, NYC, and Washington D.C.) has been considered a megalopolis for some time now.

So I thought of what the equivalent would be on the West Coast and came up with SeaSanD, which is basically the I-5 corridor, therefore including Seattle, Portland, the S.F. Bay Area, L.A., and San Diego. But ignoring international boundaries, you could really go from Tijuana to Vancouver, B.C. (Isn’t it random that both ends of the I-5 leave the U.S. and enter a province abbreviated as B.C.? Baja California in Mexico. British Columbia in Canada.)

San Diego as the southern nucleus of a West Coast megalopolis is kind of misleading. As of 2005, the city of San Diego had an estimated population of 1.25 million. The entirety of San Diego County had an estimated population of 2.9 million. In comparison, the population of Tijuana in 2005 was estimated to be 1.47 million. San Diego’s land area is 372 square miles while Tijuana’s land area is 246 square miles San Diego’s population density is 3,360 people/square mile while Tijuana’s population density is 5,975 people/square mile, nearly twice as dense as San Diego. One could argue that Tijuana is really the core city, and San Diego its most populous suburb. Or at the very least, it would have co-center status, the way that the San Francisco Bay Area is centered around both San Francisco and San Jose—while San Jose is the larger city, San Francisco has the cultural cachet.

The megalopolis that exists now on the West Coast has been called Bajalta California, which includes L.A. San Diego, Tijuana, and Mexicali. This is, however, an urban studies term. The more colloquial term is probably just Southern California, or alternately, SoCal (which I think is most popular among my generation), or, as the local news networks put it, the Southland (although I think this is generally restricted to the Los Angeles-Orange County-Riverside consolidated metropolitan area and typically does not include San Diego or Imperial Counties)

This conurbation could actually be defined by the convergence of now obsolete routes, namely US-101, US-99, and US-80. All these routes have been decommissioned (While US-101 still exists north of L.A., it used to go all the way to the border.) US-101 and US-99 meet in downtown L.A. US-101 and US-80 meet in downtown San Diego. US-99 and US-80 meet in El Centro, which is just north of Mexicali.


Having grown up in L.A., you tend to get the myopia and narcissism characteristic of anyone from a major metropolitan area. New Yorkers are notorious for this kind of provincialism. In any case, for the longest time I’ve thought of San Diego as the southernmost suburb of L.A., and Las Vegas as the northeasternmost suburb of L.A. My conception of Southern California has been thus: San Diego to the south, Ventura and Santa Barbara to the west, Palmdale/Lancaster to the north, Las Vegas to the northeast, San Bernardino and Riverside to the east. In contrast to other metropolitan areas, where the downtown areas are incredibly dense and then the density tapers off quickly as you reach the periphery, something which I noticed of New York and Chicago, Southern California is almost of constant uniform density from core to periphery. Except for Camp Pendleton, you can drive from San Ysidro at the Mexican border all the way to Santa Clarita to the northwest or Palmdale/Lancaster to the north without once leaving the city. To the northeast, you only really enter the desert once you leave Barstow. To the east, you have to go as far as Palm Springs. To the west, it’s not until US-101 bends from east-west to north-south.


L.A. is often wrongly impugned as the origin of sprawl, but interestingly some observers actually consider it the most densely populated metropolitan region in the U.S. The population density of the urban core of the Southland is about 7,000 people per square mile as of 2000 (still more than twice as dense as the fourth largest city in the country, which is Houston, a far better example of sprawl gone wild), but there are neighborhoods where the density is as high as 36,000 people per square mile (in particular, Westlake, the next district west from Downtown.) This is half as dense as Manhattan (which has 67,000 people per square mile)

But it’s mostly the impression I get when I fly into LAX. I recall flying into O’Hare or JFK, where all you see is farmland, and then all of the sudden, the huge dense urban district pops into view. (The view of NYC from the sky still amazes me. It’s just miles and miles of huge buildings.) When you fly into L.A. from the east, the urban area starts when you’re still at least 30 minutes out, and this doesn’t even take into account delays and circling around. The urban carpet just goes on and on and on. Most cities, you can see the borders from the air, where suburbs give way to farmland, but L.A. spreads from horizon to horizon.


There is also the putative megalopolis called SanSan that basically includes all the urban areas of California, from San Diego to San Francisco. It’s hard to make the argument that there is a continuous urban chain from S.D. to S.F., particularly if you follow the I-5 corridor. But the (former) US-99 corridor is actually growing quite rapidly. You could make a case for a continuous chain of cities from L.A. to S.F. via Santa Clarita at the I-5/US-6 (now California 14) split, north through Palmdale/Lancaster all the way to Mojave, then east to Bakersfield, north on US-99 (now California 99) to Fresno, the largest city in the country not served by an interstate highway, through Stockton and Sacramento, and finally west to the Bay Area. While I wouldn’t say the urban presence is continuous, I can see how it might eventually become so after a few years. The US-99 corridor is growing fast.

You finally leave civilization entirely just north of Sacramento on the I-5, and there’s a huge gap between Sacramento and Portland, as well as between Portland and Seattle. It’ll take decades or so before those gaps ever fill in, but it might be quicker than I think.

where are they now?

posted on July 1st, 2007

My sister informs me of the fates of a couple of child actresses from the Shelly Long movie ”Troop Beverly Hills“←[1][2]

Jenny Lewis is the lead singer of the indie band Rilo Kiley.

Aquilina Soriano is on the Board of Directors of the Pilipino Workers’ Center, whom my sister met during her stint at SIPA.

Others:

  • Ami Foster, who was on “Punky Brewster”
  • Carla Gugino, most recently on “Entourage” on HBO
  • Kellie Martin, who played a med student on “ER”
  • Shelley Morrison, previously on “Will and Grace”, and who parodies the classic line from the Humphrey Bogart movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” (My 7th grade teacher liked that line that goes “It’s 110° in the shade, and there ain’t no shade!” but I’m really wandering far afield now)
  • John Kricfalusi of “Ren and Stimpy” and Spumco fame, who did the opening animation for the movie. Mr. Kricfalusi even has a blog.

rss promiscuity and why nofollow is cool

posted on July 1st, 2007

I find myself commenting a lot on how stupid Digg is. Not the concept itself, which is basically Slashdot evolved and on steroids. The problem is that the average posters are morons.

It is a well established fact that the louder you are, in general, the lower your intelligence is. It so happens that smart people tend to be introverts. They put their thoughts in writing, and if need be, they will write substantial essays/blogposts on subjects near and dear to them. But their thoughts are always secondary to whatever their passion is, whether that is coding, poetry, health-care, TV, science, sailing, art, Star Trek, the Simpsons, Apple fanboyism, etc., etc. Introverts are unlikely to leave inane comments floating around the Internet (except when they’re drunk.)

In contrast, since most people are extroverts, there are, by sheer statistics, more stupid people in this particular group. You know the type. The folks who are always jibber-jabbering away about nothing in particular. You know, obsession over American Idol, or defending the profligate behavior of Paris Hilton. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if they’re hopelessly narcissistic and just like the way their voice sounds. Yap, yap, yap. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

These are the folks who leave their stupid spoor droppings on Digg, with undescriptive titles and pointless descriptions that say “title says it all.” They’re the ones who leave the ignorant, ill-informed, rude, and contentious comments, the ones that are patronizing, the ones that ineptly describe some well-known cyberspace phenomenon, apparently unaware that there are lots of people who have been on the Internet way before 2006. I mean, you can feel the neurons in your brain apoptosing if you read too many of these comments. And these are the ones that aren’t dug down into oblivion!

So why do I subject myself to it?

I blame RSS.


No, seriously, RSS has been a godsend. Instead of having to keep a bloated bookmark file of my favorite blogs, I can just load them up into my RSS viewer. Instead of clicking on every bookmark one-by-one, seeing if someone has updated, I can just watch the ever-flowing stream of posts scrolling down my screen, like an intelligible version of the display on “The Matrix”

What this convenience gives me is that I have a lot more time to read random blogs. I’m following something like 450 sites or so, and it still takes far less time to skim through the headlines and teasers than it would be to click and check maybe 20-30 blog sites.

So I’m pretty easy when it comes to adding someone to my RSS feed roll. It’s easier for me to branch out, read blog posts from people who have clearly different sensibilities and opinions from me. I have even added 1 or 2 intelligent conservative sites (just this close from being a complete oxymoron), partly because they articulate their opinions smartly, and partly because it always pays to see what the other side is thinking. And this is the rationale for keeping Digg in the list, no matter what sorts of nonsense happens to come by.

But, seriously, headlines matter. If the headline is unhelpful or, worse, badly-written, as in, me-no-speak-English-good (or any other language for that matter), there’s no way I’m going to read the teaser, much less the article. (Although I must say, one of my other pet peeves are sites that only give you teasers. I rarely add sites like these to my RSS feed list, unless they’re simply impossibly brilliant.) Digg is by far the worst offender in this regard. I can scroll through an entire page of Digg postings and not find anything of interest.

The signal-to-noise ratio is discouraging.

And yet Digg offers a window into the brains of 13-24 year old gaming nerds, a perspective that I otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to, so I always hesitate whenever I see a really stupid post that makes me want to just expunge this idiocy from my consciousness.


Anyway, the above expository rant was provoked by this particular post on Digg: NoFollow Just Isn’t Cool. Allegedly written by an SEO schiester, it details why this comment spam deterrent is “unfair,” citing a bizarre interpretation of the nature of free speech, and an even more bizarre interpretation of when reciprocity is expected.

Now, I admit, I don’t know why I respond to this kind of drek, but, well, I guess I’m just not one of the smart ones I was talking about, tending to lean more towards the morons of the world. Whatever. May God have mercy on my soul.

But I’ll actually take this post seriously. For those who aren’t in the know, the nofollow attribute is an attempt by Google to prevent the gaming of their PageRank system, which factors in how many links a particular site has pointing to it, in order to calculate how popular a site is, and which ultimately determines how close to the top the site appears when a particular search query is entered.

Thanks to brilliant solutions like Akismet, which is setup by default in Wordpress, the scourge of comment spam is nowhere near as bad as e-mail spam, but machine intelligence will never outdo human intelligence, and enough comment spam comes by that even the typical blogger who posts for the benefit of two or three people gets bothered by advertisements for Cialis or Russian mail-order brides. It’s all probability, I guess. Bother enough people for enough time, and a few are bound to actually want to buy things from you.

Personally, I think spammers should be classified as unlawful combatants and interned at Gitmo, but that’s just me, and you spammers out there should be thankful that I’m essentially unelectable to public office. Because you scum would be on the top my agenda, and certainly on the top my mafia hit list.

But I digress.

But what the technique really entails is posting spam comments all over the place, loading up as many unique URLs with links to your shady prescription drug selling site, so that the Googlebot awards you hella points and gives you a massive PageRank. And when someone types in “Viagra” into Google, your site will be on the front page for all the sad impotent bastards in the world to see.

So what Google did was suggest the nofollow attribute. Googlebot ignores any links that have this attribute tag, and thereby awards no points, and thereby fails to inflate said PageRank. Some sad fucks still keep trying despite the fact that Wordpress adds this tag by default, but it’s decreased the utility of the so-called Googlebomb.


Now, I have no problem with this. For one thing, it’s your site. While I’m a strong proponent of freedom of speech, technically, a blog is not a public commons, not the way that a courthouse or a town square is. It’s a private (virtual) location that the owner graciously opens up to people who he/she expects will abide by common courtesy. It’s like any place of business. The owner can always reserve the right to deny service or even access. So if you’re acting like an asshole, there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that gives you a right to continue doing so.

Now given this framework, I find it extremely offensive that someone should assume that because they posted to my blog, I owe them a link. Fuck you. I didn’t ask you to comment. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, I’m giving you the privilege to add your own thoughts to my site. There are no rights involved here. I’ll delete your shit if it’s ignorant, offensive, or otherwise worthless, and that’s too bad for you. The hell I’m going to give you any Googlejuice.


The organic way to gain page rank is to impress a blogger so much that they add you to their blogroll. Or at least maybe put a link in their blogpost pointing to you. These links are supposed to be followed by Googlebot. And this provides more realistic data about how much other people actually find your site interesting.

And if you think about it, the reciprocal mechanism for sharing thoughts was not supposed to be primarily through comments. Comments are really more suited to responses that don’t warrant an actual blog post. And obviously, for people who don’t have blogs, this is the only way to go. (Come on, who doesn’t have a blog these days?) But people who have blogs? The mechanism that was supposed be used was the trackback. So when you saw a blog post that you wanted to respond to at length, instead of posting a little comment, you would write an entry in your blog and add a link pointing to the blogpost you are referring to.

But sadly, spammers fucked that up long ago, and trackbacks pretty much went by the wayside. Thank you for that, goddamn spammers. Way to go.


Bottom line: no one owes you anything on the blogosphere. If you’re doing something expecting some kind of reward, or return, you’re just deluding yourself.