Monday, January 29, 2007

another point of inflection

i suppose there are times when i must choose something just because i've got to be headed in a particular direction. however, can i expect to always see the important moments while they're happening? the larger changes i've experienced in the past couple years have probably meant a lot both when they approached and when they passed. i expect, however, that at some point i'll realize i've gotten into one situation or another and actually have to retrace things back to some mythical inflection point when it all began to come about. what will be more important? those moments perceived as most crucial, or those subtler changes that might end up moving everything to a new position. maybe nothing is determined by one particular moment. what if it's always possible to step back or to the side, so that no one decision has the power to send me forever in one direction or another.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

a couple for the ages

nonfiction is tough. when it's written poorly, it can be devastatingly hard to drag out the information you're seeking. when it's convincing, we start to wonder who's telling the truth. when it's revealing, we wonder how the author could really have known everything involved. still, the best nonfiction offers revelations about areas of the world and life we have never been. i make an effort to read a fair amount from the nonfiction shelf; here are the two i've just finished.

knockoff: the deadly trade in counterfeit goods
-tim phillips

maybe there are enough books already pointing out what's wrong with the world. who decides which things should be exposed? are authors motivated purely by altruism, or do some of them seek more to reshaped the world to their own liking. here, we learn where fake fashion, music, video, and other products come from and how our lives are effected by illegal use of intellectual property. although he trots out the terrorists and organized crime as orchestrators of much of the counterfeiting, phillips does a credible job of problematizing some of the sensationalism this invites. protection rackets, rivalries, and attacks on investigators are all revealed, providing plenty of reasons to swear off purchasing fake luxury items. even without the violence, there is plenty of scary stuff going on when you start talking about counterfeit prescription drugs. the writing never got in my way, and his britishness adds interesting personality in unexpected places. is 'garrett the ferret' a perfect rhyme? it is the way i pronounce those two words, but it isn't for phillips.

the looming tower: al qaeda and the road to 9/11
-lawrence wright

how close were we to spoiling the plot? sure, maybe you'll never know, but this book gives a tantalizing view of what went wrong. part history of al-qaeda, part critique of the intelligence services' pre-9/11 performance, it finds and follows a hero within the fbi, john o'neil. remarkable details of both government intelligence efforts and terrorist groups' history come out in boldly painted fashion. osama bin laden's family life, career, and descent into what might be arrogance, extremism, or excess are revealed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

the safety of strangers

monday night i was up until 1:30 or so after waiting an hour and a half outside for one of those cd release party/concerts at midnight. the band was not completely amazing, but word is their live shows are like that. i figured free was a good price.

the interesting part was the waiting in line. for some reason, i expected to meet some new people, and i did. there was this one girl who was talking to everyone, or at least to me and to the 3 people behind her and her friend. she also enjoyed shouting at people who tried to cut in the line. so this little group formed because one person was unusually boisterous. after a while, the other 3 got cold and left, and i ended up telling these girls all about my life and job and everything. i think i've had trouble finding people to talk to (in person anyway). then you just wind up somewhere and it doesn't matter what you say because they don't really know you. maybe it's just that they kept asking questions; who knows. still, the fallout that results from oversharing with strangers seems a little less than with friends. it's the best of friends who can take it and still love you, but they're harder to find. that's why they're so valuable.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the accumulation of stuff

i had the privilege this weekend to throw out mounds of old junk that my parents no longer wish to store for me. there were a lot of clothes from the 90s that look really bad now, so those were easy to deal with. the hard things are the ones that were given to me over the years - this or that memento of someone's trip, or other presents that were ornamental rather than practical in nature. i suppose the good thing about buying things like clothing is that it can be obvious when it's time to get rid of them. there is no purpose to a shirt that has gone completely out of style, but things that were essentially useless to begin with are harder to throw away. it's like the entire purpose of owning them is showing your respect for the gift giver. so today i was thinking about all the money one can spend on clothes which then become uselessly unfashionable, but maybe it's better to buy things that are easily discarded. that way, the piles of old junk are easier to manage.

Friday, January 19, 2007

many times your speed

slow motion can be beautiful. i'm turning into a plotter, a schemer, because things around me have come to a bit of a lull - a mysterious interval between significant events - where i may have paused my life for a little while. it's easy to plan where i want to be, and it's certainly worth the time. i have so much time i don't even know what to do with it. well, reading another longish book in a week because i can't renew it is one thing i've been doing. naps are another, comes along with the reading. i made (read: boiled) tortellini maybe a week ago. it was good the first day and flavorless a couple days later. i have no idea how the pesto filling lost its taste. i'm not up for bland , i'm afraid. i ate a ton of it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

expanding our orbit

i have been relatively trapped, or i have allowed myself to orbit one particular sun, for the past 3 plus years. sure, i've done a lot of things and travelled some and lived a few different places, but i have been doing the same job. maybe that's not a problem, and after all i am fairly good at it. however, at some point one has to step out of that role and move into something else. i do not at this point think that my future is tied up in any particular dimension, but my present is somewhat limited. going back to school seems like an easy way out. there should be others, and there are. i guess it comes down to daring to take a risk. i wonder often if i should just pack everything up and move, sans employment. who knows what the best idea is, that would be a tough choice but one that might bring me into an unexpected position. i like that part of it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

in which an excellent book is finished

as promised, i wasn't reading only junk.

family matters
-rohinton mistry

heard of him? i hadn't, but i don't know many authors. if you're like me, this guy might be one of the best writers you've never heard of. a family's relationships strain as they struggle to care for their aging grandfather. choices made by family forbears echo through generations in this evocative tale of love, anger, intolerance, and reconciliation.

which is worse?

there are several albums right now that i want to buy but have decided not to purchase in cd form. i think cds are great, and it is nice to have this physical thing, but then you have to move it, and i have a lot of those physical things already. i actually have so many mp3 cds left over from my freewheelin' days of marauding emusic's catalog that it's kinda annoying. then they went over to a 40 downloads per month limit and after getting annoyed with the results (they recommend an album, it stinks, and you're out a quarter of your monthly limit), i finally gave up on them. however, i have recently realized they have almost every one of the albums i want to purchase, and they still provide everything in vbr mp3 format. i find the subscription model, at this point, a bit vexing. they've dropped the download limit to 30, but i would agree that the now-humongous catalog makes it worth it. problem is, i don't want the subscription. i'd probably pay them like 75 cents a track even to download all the mp3s i cared to acquire. i'd also be cool with plunking down the $99 or so for a year's subscription if i could download all 360 tracks as soon as i wanted. alas, that's not how it works.

so the question is, would i rather have music from itunes that costs maybe twice as much ($10 for an album vs $10 for 30 downloads) and is drm'd, or nice clean mp3s from emusic and an annoying subscription. it's like another chore you have to go through at the beginning of every month - cut hair, update resume, return library books, buy the next 30 tracks on your list. the problem is, their business model counts on garnering an average price per download that's higher than what they nominally charge. like a health club, which gets your money whether you show up or not. so do i prefer my freedom from subscriptions, or my freedom from drm? not sure. in all honesty, apple's drm implementation won't give you headaches unless you want to depart the flock and buy someone else's music player.

Friday, January 12, 2007

pizza becomes our ally

last week, a couple coworkers and i wandered around for a few hours after the day ended and wound up eating some ex-sellent pizza. thin crust which managed to be tasty, with superb sauce and generous seasonings. returned this week, again a party of 3, minus one from last week and plus a newcomer. i only got one slice and made sure to get cheese this time in order to best measure the tastiness of the pizza relative to that of other establishments. it was super great. however, i was not blown away like last time, because the element of surprise was lost. still, pizza proves an excellent ally in keeping good friendships going.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

book it again

inside the jihad - my life with al aqaeda
-omar nasiri

refreshing because of its simple prose, this true tale of espionage and islamic extremism is most valuable in its even-handedness. the book provides a revealing and distinctly human portrait of the men inside the islamist movement. written by a believer, it helped me feel the author's passion for his faith. arabic words and phrases in the text are clearly explained while maintaining narrative flow. a great read, for its style as much as its content.

Friday, January 05, 2007

trial and error've noticed that the last few times i have been able to listen to all or most of an album before buying it, i have quickly decided not to buy it at all. i thoroughly support the idea of a band being brave enough to have the entire thing out there for people to hear, but really there's no way i am going to buy something lousy just because the people behind it are unusually nice. so here's the question: is it possible that i just can't properly see the value in this music because i had to pay nothing for it? i don't think so. i do have a few free compilations on the hard drive somewhere, and one or two of them is truly specacular.

i might make particular mention of starving but happy. i have the original starving but happy compilation and follow-up starving but happier. it was a net release but i believe a label later picked it up; it seemsthat i am correct.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

poetry mongers

i have been inspired lately, because i read about this place in seattle where you can go read bad poetry. i think the intention is that you're reading something you wrote in 8th grade. here's something i wrote yesterday.

make your way slowly
as she talks, he will to
ofrward, eyes drift higher,
left and didn't try to smile

Monday, January 01, 2007

a lousy book

i'm not reading all trash on purpose (awol), but i got another loser and it took me a little while to realize it was lame. i promise i'm reading something good, it's just long and thus a bit heavy to take back and forth every day.

the kid who batted 1.000
-troon mcallister

i've read good baseball books. this isn't one. funny, entertaining, but it just has this sheen of poorly written crudeness over it. most of the characters are stereotypes, charicatures, or exaggerations. i mean, this is a book where the minnesota twins have been sold and play in iowa. some other clubs have been moved around. the author thinks it's clever to put famous baseball quotes into the narrative by having his roughly sketched characters say them. famous wit loses a lot when it's divorced from the actual person who said it; the reason it's famous is because of the legend of that individual, not just the words themselves. baseball has a grand tradition, and i'm not sure the way to invoke that is to cherry pick one liners and recast them in a new historical context that only exists in your work of fiction.

not done ending the year

hard to say, but i can't really condemn 2006. i mean, sure there is some temptation to say it was a particularly not great year, but then on the other hand i've learned a lot this year. i think maybe the biggest thing is a sense of how far i have to go in getting everything together. it's tough to consider it all at once, which is why i often make no progress at all. i was thinking as i was walking over to a friend's apartment that she would probably notice my new sneakers. she did, and she thought they were cool. a fair number of people think i have cool shoes. you know why i have cool sneakers? it's because i spend inordinate amounts of time shopping for sneakers. i recently did a phone interview in a shoe store. that was actually brilliant, because i was at some huge record shop and there was no way i could do a phone interview there. i knew the shoe place would be relatively quiet; it was actually rather perfect. i found some amazing shoes there actually; they were like sneakers you can wear to work and get away with it. i'm going to have to go back and find those again.

the point i'm making, having judiciously abandoned the original topic, is that i spend too much time shopping for shoes. at least, that is, i spend more time shopping for shoes than someone who really had all his priorities in line. i think a lot of people might think i spend too much time listening to music, but lately i don't listen that much outside of office hours. the office is actually fun enough that i don't listen all day at the office either. as for the shoes, it's true that i am always looking for the next pair of awesome sneakers; this last time i bought essentially the perfect pair but 1/2 size too small because there was only the one pair in that style. the color was the key; green with pink highlights. i've gotten my money's worth out of these, but i'm conflicted. half the time i am sure they're gonna be fine, the other half the time i figure i need to stop wearing them before i do something weird to my feet. they've been so liberating though; for some reason i have no problem trashing these. a good sneaker looks best with some wear, but the last pair i had (blue with yellow accents) are made with nicer suede that i don't want to see all dirty. there was a point when i had to cut things out of my life; i took sports. i still haven't gone back to reading about sports as much as i would've 2 years ago, but it's come back because i've been too dispirited to go for the other hobbies. aren't you supposed to be artistic when you're down? i think there's a difference between depressed and dispirited. it's the best word i can come up with; anyway, i took about one tenth the number of photos in 2006 that i did in 2005. it's nuts. actually, maybe it's a a fifth. still, i find myself really wanting to buy a used video game system (yes i had one before the move, but didn't play often) because there's little to do. oh well, it's a step towards something.