Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Artistic transparency and author collaboration.

In Bookmark Now (my edition adds Writing in the Age of Information Overload to the title), Adam Johnson makes an interesting point.

Essentially, the book is a collection of essays by modern authors. They tackle various aspects of writing, addressing new authors and reader alike. The editor, Kevin Smokler, mentions how writing has evolved a lot in the time the internet has come to be a dominant force, and also how reading is still integral, despite youth reading "less" (i.e. fewer books).

Johnson points out that creation of art in this age is very different from previous ages. Art existed and each individual work had its purpose. By analyzing different pieces by the same artist, or by comparing one artist with one of his contemporaries, we can attempt to glimpse thoughts that he or she may have had while creating. The book, as a whole, mentions how in this age, the creative process becomes very transparent to the audience of a work of art. If you like one particular show, you can scour the web for blog posts by people involved, or for short behind-the-scenes clips. It's fairly easy to see the people involved in the production of something give their two cents' worth about their role. If you enjoy Battlestar Galactica (as I now do, courtesy of Darrell M. Stark), you can go online to Bear McCreary's blog and see how he went about choosing a piece of music for a particular scene.

In addition, collaboration is a big part of this. Whether it's an artist for one track, or two directors for a film, the results are always interesting. You may or may not enjoy the result, but you can not deny that the artist is affected. It really changes you to see someone else's take on something that you are working together on.

Johnson's insight is that writing, especially with regard to novels as a medium, is not something that this practice has pervaded completely. It's not that you don't have books with multiple authors, or collaborations. It's entirely different, however, to create stories on a normal basis with various people and get into the "nitty-gritty," so to speak.

It would be nice to think there was another model, though, one that could inspire a pair of young, edgy writers to walk along lonely railroad tracks, kicking rocks and running dialogue back and forth for the story they were writing. Or better yet: a husband and wife team in Nikes, debating about how to close a novel chapter as one folds laundry and the other changes a diaper.
The model Johnson is referring to here is the model of "how to tell stories that matter." And, personally, I love the idea of someday perusing the subtleties of a character with my wife. That's something to shoot for, isn't it? I mean, as long as we both enjoy writing, creating together.

It's great to use the individual talents of each person, and it's also poetic that each one will try to gain ground over a point of contention when both people are adamant about the direction of a story. To me, the most influential part of it all is the way you can witness the other's creative process, so similar in time and place, but so different in direction.

Two good friends of mine are both writers, and although they both write in different ways, I'd love to see them collaborate together on a project, especially after hearing both of their ideas and perspectives on a long car ride. And also, there's something romantic about two lovers writing their hearts out, together.

More subtle appreciations.

Things I Appreciate:

  • The way your hands tingle slightly after washing them in really cold water.
  • The way knowing something, after you've learned it just for the sake of learning it, makes you feel.
  • The sound of the pick hitting a string in a song that you listen to often, especially if you just noticed it after your five thousandth time playing it.
  • How when you take a really deep, slow, diaphragmatic breath, sometimes you get a really sudden shiver.
  • The way fiber-optic bushes look as they change colors after you relax your eyes slightly so that your vision blurs.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seeds of doubt and plants of optimism.

I just wanted to reflect on an interesting thought I had not so long ago (actually, close to when this post was supposed to be up).

In our various relationships with people, we tend to hold onto harsh words we've said to one another. Many times, instead of letting them go or discussing them away, we secretly remember them. Then, in fits of pain and anger, we unleash them, throwing them in each others' faces, as a way to justify our misgivings about certain things. Anger and fear are very related, and not just because they're emotions that have powerful physical consequences. They both can be very destructive to beautiful and horrid things alike.

A pleasant thought occurred to me in response to dwelling on that subject. Why not throw nice things at each other? Nice things don't hurt so much (mainly because they're soft and fluffy), and if we happen to be in bad moods, it's more satisfying to see nice things break. Compliment throwing mid-argument is great, and not just because it throws off your opponent. In important relationships, it serves to let your adversary know that you care about them. Depending on the compliment, it can even show respect mid-thrashing. It makes the bitter medicine easier to take and it makes our own dishes less bitter as well. It also cuts down the regret you may feel afterward or the pain in recalling - and apologizing for - misguided insults. If it happens to save them from coming out in the first place, then so be it.

East and West, knowledge and consequence.

Something interesting I've thought about numerous times is the consequence of knowledge. There's a very interesting distinction between knowledge and ignorance when you compare "Western" and "Eastern" traditions.

The West, heavily influenced by Christianity, we have a lot of influential thought about intention and innocence. If one commits a wrong-doing, but doesn't know that it's wrong, it's forgivable. Provided, that is, if one knows that it is wrong from then on and does not do it again. After all, if they didn't know, it's not their fault, right? Innocence of intention is really important here. It is much more heinous to commit a wrong-doing when one knows that it is wrong. Their intention here is not innocent.

In the East, heavily influenced by Buddhism, you have a different perspective entirely. Throughout life, knowledge is really important. Thus, it is more heinous to commit a crime when one is ignorant of it. The logic there is that before one does something, they should understand what it is that they're doing, and the consequences thereof. It's more forgivable to commit a wrong-doing if you know that it is wrong. That's because one knew it was wrong, and still brought himself to do it. He must have had a reason, and so from there, it's easier to forgive and repent, and to atone and move on. Ignorance is not an excuse. How intention figures into this is a lot more complicated, but suffice it to say, the perspective does not change as much as you'd think.

An interesting point of contention.

Internal dialogue.

Through life, and college, I've found languages fascinating. I've studied many, but the highlight, I feel, was taking a few linguistics courses my senior year at Rutgers. I had a great professor, Susan Schweitzer. She really gave me the tools I needed to change and expand the way I thought about language.

Language is a fascinating thing. Language, in many ways, is contrived. There's no direct link between spoken words and their meanings; these are arbitrarily links that need to be learned. Think also of made up words, or "standardized" dialects of a language. When you really think about, though, we often act as if a word concretely fixes - no, captures - an idea. It's arbitrariness makes it external, but we internalize it completely. We judge others often entirely based on their accents.

Living in Jersey, I see it all the time. Just by the way we speak (never mind everything else culturally) we should be two (or three!) completely different states. Then, think of the stereotypes associated with people who use "British," "Southern," or "Canadian" accents.

Old Avestan, a language in the Indo-Iranian language family and a cousin to both Old Persian and Vedic Sanskrit, provides a great example. When you compare the phonology of Old Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit, a clear distinction emerges. Old Avestan's consonants appear in "normal" and "fricated" forms. Vedic Sanskrit's consonants appear in "unaspirated" and "aspirated" forms. Actually, the two languages were so close that many texts could be "translated" into the other by extremely simple rules.

(Of course, I haven't cited anything, so please don't take this concretely; I'm merely using this as one of a number of examples as a basis for an opinion.)

When you look at the deities of the Avestan texts and the Vedic texts, and then look at what happens to the cults over time afterwards, it seems as though the speakers of each could've been from the same community at some point. After diverging (or, indeed, diverging because of it), each group praises the opposing deities. The Avestan-speakers praise the ahura-s, as opposed to the hura-s, and the Sanskrit-speakers praise the sura-s, as opposed to the asura-s. (One rule for transliteration between the two is a predictable switching of /h/ for /s/.

Some other food for thought is that "Sanskrit" means "polished." If this was the original meaning (not attributed later on by the priestly class), then perhaps the Sanskrit-speakers were just pronouncing things differently from the Avestan-speakers, in a more "polished" (at least to them) way, and then eventually they went their separate ways. Of course, this is all unsubstantiated, and just the musing of my mind. Honestly, I don't think we could prove any of this at all anyway. I think you had to be there, so you can't really pick a side.

Really though, think about it. You can see how Latin and Italian diverge, and then eventually how other romance languages come about. You can see it with the Algonquin and Odawa North American Aboriginal peoples, who spoke almost the same language and were two distinct, separate communities.

Lets bring this to modern times. When you call up Google's free 411 service (1-800-goog-411), a computer picks up what you say and attempts to interpret this. The technological challenge in this (aside from having to go through crappy quality phone signals) is that everyone speaks differently, so it's difficult to create a system that can differentiate this stuff. Actually, they interviewed a lot of people to do the "operator" messages for phones back in the day, and they went with the sort of "Standardized" American pronunciation, so everyone would be able to understand them.

Language is something that we so completely internalize that it's integral to us. I don't really think in "words" so much, though many people I know claim they think in complete sentences, like a commentary in their heads. We even acknowledge this, as evidenced by the adage that one truly knows a language when they can dream in it.

Something else that's really important: no language is inherently any better or worse than any other language. Really, it's a matter of opinion, which is usually based on the fact that they learned their preferred language first, or that there's a specific reason why they learned it.

I really believe that people die because of language. Language-based prejudice goes beyond all other prejudices, I believe. Languages can bring people of many different faiths and cultures, as well as "races" together. Look at Arabic, the language of Islam and Coptic Christianity, of "Arabs" and "Africans," and of people from all different backgrounds. And, in a foreign land, it's much easier to group with people who speak the same language as you, or one that's close. Even if, as many Indian-Americans and Pakistani-Americans can attest to, your homelands are on opposite ends of wars. Language can bridge gaps. It can also create them.

Just remember, language is no absolute. Take a look at polyglots. If they know a word in two languages, and they think of it, it's not necessarily in the language they learned first, or even in the one they know better. There's a lot of linguistic and psychological theory behind that. So think twice before you insult someone else based on how they speak, or if you yourself are insulted. Remember the bigger picture.

Not-so-subtle appreciations.

Things I Appreciate:

  • The sound of cloth tearing.
  • The sound of a fire crackling.
  • The smell of a cold, crisp winter night.
  • The patterns of clouds and light in the sky, any time, every time.
  • Properly pronounced Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit.

Horrible people see people as horrible.

Who are we?

A question that has plagued mankind from as long as we can remember. How exactly do we define ourselves? If we define ourselves based on our experiences, then what happens when we lose our memories? If we define ourselves simply physically, genetically for example, then what about our families, and what of cloning?

One very controversial thing we do is that we identify people with their behaviors.

If one in my group of friends does something really stupid, we call him stupid. Of course, he's our friend, so he'll just tell us to jump off of a bridge (in not so many polite words). Is that really apt, though? I think something we must force ourselves to do is separate the offender's action from their identity. If someone is defined in our minds by the actions they do, then how can they ever change?

A very wise friend of mine (who, unfortunately, I've since lost touch with) gave me advice once. She said that I do not allow someone to change, if don't make room for them to change, then how could I possibly expect them to change? Her advice was to stop expecting the same crap from that person. If I expect something, then any attempt made by the other person to change is trivialized by it. If it occurs, I would be less likely to believe it; I'd remain suspicious even if I did somehow manage to accept it.

With this idea in mind, we would greatly benefit from separating people from their actions. We'd allow each other more room for change. Now, I'm not saying that telling someone "You're acting stupid" instead of "You are stupid" is going to make all the difference, though it may to many people. What's more important is the way that we think of it. Language is an attempt to convey ideas, and if our ideas are properly conveyed, then the language can be de-emphasized. On the other hand, if we force ourselves to make a distinction in our language, then maybe it'll be easier to remember the distinction in our thoughts.

Along these lines, if we separate the transgression from the transgressor, then perhaps it would be easier to forgive them and allow them to change or usher them towards that change with support. Before we start going through our prisons, though, let's try to see if we can make this happen in our own everyday lives.

Another sort of "side-effect" of this line of thought is that we become more than what we think we are. We very often limit ourselves by our relations. Thoughts such as:

"I am a carpenter."
"I am a son."
"I am a cousin."
"I am a Christian."
"I am a lawyer."

So on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. What we fail to see is that who we are is only limited by what we do. If you are a carpenter, and you break your hands and you can't work, are you still a carpenter? This is something of a source of depression for many people, especially those in the working class who happily identify themselves by what they do.

We are not just the performers of our occupations, the actor of our actions. We are capable of much more than that. We should not limit ourselves to just how we are related to different people and ideas and actions. The truth is, even the sum of all of those relations does not add up to who we are. This is because much of what makes us who we are is beyond describable relations. Perhaps, in time, we can understand that, and that we may become better for it.

Choosing personality

For those of you who missed joke at the closing of yesterday's post, here's a link to the video: Anoop Dogg - Drop It Like A Fob

So, as we discussed yesterday, taking things personally is a somewhat odd habit of people. Here's the kicker: we choose to take things personally.

If someone offends us, we do actually choose to be offended. It's not as if you can't just dismiss the comment. No, instead, we identify the verbal attacker, and choose to think of what they're saying as having some sort of validity. Then, we get upset at the offender and take action from there. Honestly, it's really not that hard to just think about the comment.

Thinking about the comment gives us some benefit. We can be cool and calm, and think about the fact that the comment may, in fact, have some validity. We often immediately dismiss comments completely. This is not a bad idea, especially with derisive exclamations of the "f*** you" variety, which though they make the speaker feel better, they offer no sort of content to the argument at all. However, when actual content is provided, we need to sift out the attitude and try to empathize, so we can accurately judge our actions. After all the negative stuff is stripped, we can see if there is any small bit of truth to the comment, and from there we have a way to better ourselves. In this way, every insult (with proper form) can be an opportunity to better ourselves.

From there, if the comment does not have any usefulness to us (say, the person doesn't know you and made an incorrect assumption entirely, or it was of the aforementioned variety), we can dismiss it as insignificant. Why should we accept the insult? After all, so many of us are our own worst critics.

How many people do you know who hate compliments? Polite humility is one thing (and in many ways pointless, but that's a different argument entirely), but I know many people who hate having nice things said to them because they're insecure. They're so unhappy with themselves that they simply cannot accept the compliment as having any truth to it. It's really amusing to me, because I used to be very cynical. I mean, if most people are self-centered and conceited, how is it that so many people prefer to accept insults as truth and compliments as false? It's easy to find self-centered, conceited people. You don't need to see their self-praise to know how they are. On the other hand, it's more difficult to identify self-loathers, unless they take it to a very dire extreme.

Instead of hearing an insult and immediately going with "initial" feelings like hurt and anger, it's more useful to try to stay calm and analyze the insult itself. Just because someone opens their mouth doesn't mean you have to listen to them. It's much harder to do with people who know just what to say to get you pissed off, but really, isn't that a better opportunity to learn to control our responses?

Monday, December 29, 2008

On taking things personally

Okay, I'm starting to make up for (as of today) nine posts. That leaves us two weeks worth, two weekend "appreciation" posts, and one for today. Here goes.

A practical piece of advice: don't take anything personally. Really, think about it. Everything that happens to us in our day-to-day lives is important. We live for the small moments, and we try not to think about how much time we may have left too often. Not to say it doesn't cross our thoughts, but we look at its significance and then we shoo it aside for the time being. And, when we work long hours, after studying for years, we get to a point where we can barely sense the time going by. We take our joys where we can, perhaps due to a smile from the mailman, or the courtesy of the woman in front of you in the checkout line who let you go in front of her because she only had five items and you had sixteen, and she wasn't in a rush.

I guess it's only natural that if we do that, then we would also have a propensity to think largely of the small things that make us irate. After all, we like universal laws, don't we? It's easy to have a rule apply all across the board, and it's easier to keep track of things that way, without worrying about exceptions. Except, of course, for the undeniable fact that we are hypocrites, each and every one of us. Whether it's because we're rich, so we shouldn't have to pay the government (though the poor have to), or if it's because we're angry and the lady to our right cut us off, so we can flip her off (even though if we cut someone off, we flip them off for being slow).

The trick is to use that hypocrisy in our favor. We need to skew the scale of the things we find important. Something important that I learned in various philosophy classes was that if you believe in something, take it to an extreme and see if it still applies. Because that's a good exercise, I'll do it here. On my deathbed, will I feel that the lady who cut me off this morning is a horrible person who made me angry? Will I even remember that? Will I remember the kind act of the woman in the checkout line?

Back to taking things personally... Why do we do it? I distinctly see two sides to this story. After all, it takes two to tango.

When we do bad things, we have our reasons. We're in a rush and the other is taking his sweet time, and we can't put up with it because hey, he should be considerate to others. Couple that with a horribly angry boss back at the office, and an irate wife at home to whom you said you'd be home on time (and here it is, an hour and a half later), you have just cause for tension and anxiety, and even downright anger. And, this guy just happens to be in front of us now, and so why not overtake him with the bird flapping about? The perversity here has nothing to do with what we do here, but mostly with how when someone does it to us, we see it as a direct attack on us, rather than remember we do that sort of thing ourselves. Perhaps not exactly the same way, but yes. And you know, it's also perverse because it truly is easier to think that this person we don't know at all happens to know we're in a rush and is being slow on purpose, so he deserves the insult, rather than try to let it go. Those who remember the days of gigantic flame wars will know exactly how this pans out on a larger scale. We take this to heart and we don't forget about it.

The other side is that when good things happen, we tend to question. In the words of Dan Le Sac, "Thou shalt not think any male over the age of thirty that plays with a child that is not their own is a peadophile. Some people are just nice." (Courtesy of Youtube, video here: Thou Shalt Always Kill.) Now, yes, there are people with ulterior motives, but honestly, with simple gestures, we don't need to be suspicious. We should be appreciative, and return the favor ourselves. Instead, we tend to disregard those acts, because... Because, partially, we don't understand where they're coming from, and partially because we can't remember the good days we have that cause us to do nice things. And we do do nice things on occasion.

Here is where we need to adjust the hypocrisy again. We should be in favor of good things happening to us, and take them for what they are. A hedonistic stance, perhaps, but one that makes sense to almost everyone.

Think about it, take a second.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sorry for the delay..

I know, it's been almost two weeks since I've posted. As of right now, I'm seven posts behind. Rest assured that they're coming.

My trip up to New Brunswick last week tired me out, and when I started writing, my mom was sick. I took her to the hospital. Nothing to worry about now, it was just the traditional Indian "supermom" ailment: severe anemia, which leads to a low hemoglobin count. She's all better now and home again. Now that things are finally quieting down, I can finish up a few of those posts and work on a few new ones.

Once again, I shall refer to my friend Scott Smitelli's webcomic, Trigger and Freewheel. He's made up for a few weeks of comics, and as of now, he's only two comic behind. Expect a slew of overdue posts next week. I think that should make up for the long days' and sleepless nights' worth of running thoughts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Post

Sorry for the delay. I'm getting ready to go out of town to take care of some things, so I was busy. Also, expect subsequent posts to be after midweek, when I get back.

Things I Appreciate:

  • The sound of a glass bottle shattering in an empty parking lot, and how the sound reverberates through the air afterwards.
  • The feel of relaxing and defocusing your eyes while reading, after a long day of visual stimulation.
  • The feel, and sound, of cracking a joint that just doesn't feel right. It's nice with knuckles, but really satisfying when it's in your elbow or lower back.
  • The crispness of a really cold glass of ice water.
  • That clicking sound that occurs, when you use a remote to lock your car. Not the one that results from the locks turning, but the one that's due to the turning signals going on and off.
That's about it for this weekend. Enjoy your upcoming week!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Contended craving.

One of the most important lessons in life, I feel, is learning to be content with what you have. Of course, my background is founded in the eastern monastic life, stopping craving and all. The idea there is that desire is the cause of unhappiness, because we crave things and when we're not granted them we fall prey to unhappiness. So, we must learn to curb our cravings and/or make our happiness based on something else.

This also ties into action, as if we do things based on what we'll get from them, we'll be susceptible to fear and anxiety. Our expectation of our "reward," or whatever the consequences we want to come out ultimately taint our action. The idea here is to act without being attached to results. Do, for the sake of doing, and then if you get the action it's nice, but since that isn't directly dependent on what our own actions are we mustn't put crucial importance on it. For example, I will be applying to Medical School, and the results of that application process aren't up to me, so I must do so without solely focusing on getting in, but on doing it properly. This often has the added benefit (for many people) of taking away stress, making the "doing" part easier (though others prefer pressure to get things done).

Of course, the major benefit of being content with what you have is that you really spend time, money, effort, etc. on things you need, or want so badly that it makes it worthwhile. However, as most of us know, this is damn near impossible when buying gadgets.

The way things work in the gadget industry, you spend tons of time looking at prices for something you want, doing comparison shopping to find out where to buy it, and tracking it down there, only to get there (or get to a website) to find that there's something newer, better, and cheaper (or more expensive, which equally disastrous). Then you go track down previews, reviews, reports of issues, find out what's good and what's not, and you start the process all over again.

On the other hand, once you buy something, something newer and better comes out. If you buy something new, you very often end up being a beta tester for a product that doesn't function as advertised, or loses support, or ends up being really crappy in comparison to the competing products that come out inevitably the day after your return policy ends. This says nothing of the excruciating time you spend trying to make your new toy work, the yelling and cursing you do when it doesn't, the time you take to get help from anywhere you can (friends, stores, online forums, even books!), more of the yelling and cursing to find out that it's not what you expected, only to find a glimmer of hope or happiness at the first moment of it performing properly.

And there's more. There are those, who are like me, who wait upwards of six months to go through the studying process, to learn what's coming up, how it will be implemented in comparison to what you plan on buying, and where your product's pitfalls are. Then, you judge that based on when you want/need it, how much it costs and will cost in the future, and whether the next generation is worth waiting for (and repeating the process for). Then you buy it, and you love it and lament the fact that you spent so long deliberating over buying it. Or, you realize you made a dire mistake, but it's too late to go return it and get something else. Or, also like me, you realize you didn't want it that much in the first place and you don't buy it (hey, it's a great way to save money!).

Buyer's remorse is ever present, and if not, there's the constant fear of it lurking around every corner. And when you buy computers, oh God, there are so many options, and you have to decide whether you want something bleeding edge, or something established, or something cheap, and all have their own repercussions.

So how can we possibly be content with what we have? The easy (i.e. cheap) choice is to not want things, or more likely in practice, just not buy them. But really, the process is important. You have to come to terms with the fact that anything you buy is sure to come with many complications, likely to be reduced to a paperweight in months (if you're lucky), and that you have to do your homework before buying. If you don't wait long enough, you won't know how established the product will be, or the pros and cons. If you wait too long, you increasingly risk buying with something better on the horizon, or with your product being outdated.

It may seem like you have to attain a Zen-like state of mind while being plugged into the internet to find that optimal moment, and learn jump fast and high. Really, it's about patience. You can't buy on a whim. And, unless what you got is a complete lemon, it's about being content with what's in front of you. You're never going to have the king of all gadgets (not for more than a month at any rate), and everything has its limitations. More importantly, you have to come to terms with the fact that there's no catch-all solution, no epitome of "all-in-one" sort of product. There's only ones that serve you needs, fall short, or go beyond. And, especially in this economy, it's important to know when you need to cut back on the spending.

Still, I say being content is easier than it sounds. Take some discipline and apply it to your cravings. Eventually, and you may have to trust me on this, after an initial rush of craving more, you'll get to a point where you'll desire things less. Then, when you do want something, you'll know how to make it money well spent, and you won't feel so overloaded by the process. Who knows? Maybe we can all even begin to appreciate the old-fashioned way to go about doing things a little bit more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I was talking about how far technology has come recently, especially through the 80s. Arcade machines came up, and how the intense rush to get the high score and live in infamy was something unique, something that home consoles didn't provide, at least not to the same extent.

In those days, arcades were the hub of a lot of teenage activity, not to mention a real money-maker for the owners. Kids would compete not only with each other, but with the scores of those vague initials of no-show champions. Regardless of how many quarters it took to get the high score, it was a noble endeavor. A champion would emerge from any group huddled around a machine, and one cocky kid would accept any and all newcomers to take their part in joining an ever-increasing group of kids who lost.

One power surge, one outage, or worse-yet, one flip of a switch, and all of the machines would be off. Most machines in those days lacked the ability to save the scores without power. (This was something that The Legend of Zelda on the NES/Famicom was famous for: a small backup battery in the cartridge that allowed 'saving' of progress.) I've even heard of arcades that would purposely turn off the power at night, though it's completely understandable.

Elsewhere in the world, we have the Tibetan monks. We can imagine a snow-covered temple, monks inside studying scriptures and art, meditating, chanting and yes, even praying. One of their pursuits was designing mandalas (sanskrit मण्डल, meaning circular, round, ball, ring, orb, and also multitude, group, band, collection, whole body). Along with drawn and painted mandalas, they also did massive sand mandalas, though these were more famous after the Tibetan Buddhists came to other countries and areas.

The beauty behind the sand mandalas was the same as the beauty behind the handful of arcades who shut their machines down at night: the expression of impermanence. Sand mandalas, once made, were meditated on and often photographed by passersby, and then brushed away. Not so different from gamers working hard and getting a high score, only to have them lost to decaying ones and zeros on the circuit boards of a powered-off machine. The beautiful reminder that, while the good things in life end, the bad things do, too. It's an echo Solomon's silver ring, "This, too, shall pass."

Impermanence is an important lesson in life. I bet many of you don't know that it takes only five hundred years for reinforced concrete to give way to nature. A thousand years will render concrete into the soil, nothing remaining of the memory of human presence. And yes, while the pyramids of old still stand, we must remember that four-and-a-half thousand years is not much in the great scheme of things, including the history of humanity as a whole (unless, I suppose, you are a Creationist of the Abrahamic religions).

Think about that, the next time you go for a high score in whatever game you're playing, or if you try to have 100% completion files for all of your games. Feel free to delete the file once you finish. In doing so, not only are you freeing your memory card, but you're calling out an acknowledgement that most Buddhists share. You're breathing life into an ancient memory, though in a more technological, and not untrue way.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A long way in a short time.

A bedtime post. I thought I'd make a short commentary on technology tonight, in anticipation for the upcoming week.

Technology. Mention it, and the first thing that most of us in the older end of the "internet generation" can think of is, "We've come a long way. I remember when..." Many of the early teens out there probably know a lot about how their older siblings or parents had to deal with 14.4 modems, or how they could get free phone calls with Cap'n Crunch whistles. They probably haven't heard of the Bell Labs stuff, the beginnings of BSD, or vacuum tubes. My friend Casey recently moved out to California and had a professor who had to explain programming with vacuum tubes, and how punch cards worked. Even at (almost) 23 years, I feel old knowing this when so many of my younger peers don't.

The reason is that technology progresses, and at an increasingly more astonishing rate. Blah blah Moore's law, blah blah blah cheaper, blah blah blah blah blah, blah innovation blah.

Now, I'd like to call to attention an article from Lifehacker's Kelly Abbott, entitled "How Zach Braff (and I) Get Thank-You Notes Done." The article explains how both the auther and Zach Braff use an "old-fashioned" (compared to computer, I suppose) typewriter to personalize their own thank-you notes. Kelly Abbott contributes weekly to a series of articles called "Ungeek to Live" at I read it religiously.

In a time where technology improves close to light-speed, it's nice to take some time out and remember to do things slower. Not just remember, but learn how to, and why it's sometimes better to do things in a "dated" manner. I've taken up calligraphy, and I write things in an even more old-fashioned way than standard pen and paper. I've ground my own ink, fixed my own quills, and scratched a lot of paper before I learned how to "paint" words properly, and I still am nowhere near consistent. But talk about letting your emotions unfold! As I write, my hand gives words an incredible character, almost akin to changing fonts at will depending on how I'm feeling whilst I write, automatically. Quick, determined writing is scribbled in print, while poetic thoughts turn out with (attempted) graceful cursives bends. If I'm rushing, afraid, enthused, or bored, it shows up without me even having to. Or, should I so choose, I can make my handwriting appear to be any of those even when I myself am not.

Just an example. It's rewarding to take a step back from fast-paced everything (including progress) now and again. It's a "rebuilding" moment that gives you some room to prepare mentally, so that when you rush in again, you're primed. It has become a science in and of itself, much like a lot of the byproducts of habits in our tech age, like blogging and programming VCRs (if any of you still know what those are). For the first time, I see how new fields, subjects in school, and departments in universities pop up.

So, should you ungeek, or supergeek to live, take a bit of time to consider why the opposite is so important, and spend some time intertwining the two. I think you'll find that together, technology and nontechnology can go well together.

In retrospect, I should've alluded to the bauhaus again.

And, I realize that "Just an example" should have gone with the previous paragraph, as that would have been more proper. Screw prescriptive tendencies. I like my leftist writing style.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Weekend posts on things I appreciate.

I'm going to start a new habit of making a post on the weekends.

When I was in college (and it's so awkward for me to say that, since I've just graduated from Rutgers this past May), I took a psychology course called "Adult Development and Aging." It was taught by Dr. Deirdre Kramer, an amazing professor, who highlighted a lot of interesting points change that occur when we age. It was a really inspiring class, despite the fact that I only managed a C. Psychology's just one of those subjects wherein I don't test well.

One of the points she had brought up is that adults, in many ways, take their surrounding for granted. They don't take in much in the way of sensory experiences, at least not in the same way children do. As an example, she told us how many children walk down the hallway with their fingers up against the wall, feeling its texture. I remember doing that, and all of a sudden a felt a rush! She explained that children experience with their senses directly, and that if "older" people did that more often, they may feel more lighthearted, less burdened by stress, or just feel younger.

I started doing that from then on. In addition to taking in the usual sights and sounds, I started to experience things like texture, temperature, consistency, and taste/smell in a much more childlike manner.

I will post a short list every weekend on things I experienced that give me an intriguing satisfaction from said sensory experiences. Here's my list:

Things I Appreciate

  • You know those little plastic creamer cups you get at diners with your coffee? Take one of them, and roll it between your thumb and forefinger, causing the little plastic vanes to bend inwards and click. That click, along with the minute snapping of the vanes, is really satisfying.
  • The feeling (and sound, now that I think about it) of running your finger back and forth really quickly over something like canvas, or more preferably, those little cards you find that are semi-holographic, and have the plastic ridges. Mmm, yeah..
  • The flavor of whole milk. For you skim milk drinkers (blech), it does not taste like cream. Have you ever had cream? Cream's much sweeter.
  • The very satisfying crunch of a hard/crispy taco, before it breaks in half at the bottom.
  • The feeling in your forehead resulting from humming at low pitches. Or, better yet, the feeling in your neck from fricating your alveolar sibilant (saying "zzzzz").
Thank you. This has been, "Things I appreciate." I hope you try these yourself!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Haha, he said "touching!"

"That's what she said!" I love The Office!

Over the course of this blog, especially the last post, I've brought up the benefits of amassing a capacity for (the) human experience. Indeed, this is something people have been doing as long as we can remember, beyond even the first folk songs before the emergence of writing. Emotions are powerful, and often we use this fact to our advantage, for better or worse. We laugh at physical comedy, cry at melodramatic pain, and avert our eyes from the played-out joke of horribly "white" folks trying to beatbox and rap, only to fail miserably. But what makes us spread all of our wonderful and horrible experiences, stories, and opinions to others? What makes us reach out and touch people?

Inappropriate comments aside, the first thing I think of is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Which is fine. Though, one dimension I'd like to explore is that of anonymity. Actually, I think I'll prefer remoteness; no one's really anonymous on the web, even though we like to think we are. (Admittedly, that may be a touch of paranoia talking, but the fact remains.)

On the web, we scour and search for information, or what we think is information, and we're surrounding by a gigantic forum of people's work. I think it's true, you don't need to write to become a better writer, but you need to read. And, even with YouTube, Google's Image search, and Opera's text-to-speech capabilities, the web is predominantly a written medium. As we learn to scour and tunnel our way through the web, we pick up on others expressing themselves, process and analyze that, and continue on. As the cliché of the "information superhighway" beckons to us, we forget the more important part: a human touch. For worse, it's that the "information" we pick up isn't fact-based, but opinion-based. Often, it's the voice of those who have no basis for what they say. Young students writing papers know the story; you can't take what you read on the internet for granted. Who knows who said it, and how can you prove someone is who they claim to be? And yet, at best, it's the place we turn to for advice from real people who, despite never seeing the face of (at least in person), we can still trust.

My thoughts turn to motive. Tons of people go out on the web and voice their opinion, share their knowledge, and try to give someone else the benefit of their experience. Somehow, though, it's profoundly different from the way it's been done before. It's one thing to focus on the fact that you don't need to ever be in the same room with someone who's giving you advice. It's quite another to remember that you don't have to know them at all (aside from their writing, videos, or podcasts) to gain from their experience. It's not so much anonymity because you have some way of interacting with them. It's the remoteness that needs to be treasured. Not just the physical remoteness, either - that's not a novetly anymore - but it's the emotional aspect of it. We don't know anything about the other person aside from that which he or she discloses to us. (Our view is then necessarily biased by the author - think about that.)

We turn to our screens and keyboards (I, myself, don't like mouses - or is it really mice - much) and offer to others a little window into our personal lives. We hope to try to sway others into our lines of thought, hopefully to their benefit. We try to touch the life of someone else, however far-removed they may be from our own lives, with much success. And we do it without being asked. That's the really important part, I think. In the vast depths of internet, there's always someone out there who will find value in something posted. Unasked for but not unwanted.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. It's interesting to see things like the web-bot project (go ahead, google it, and have fun sifting through tons of info) pop up. Essentially, it scours the web and makes predictions based on linguistic analysis of data returned. I saw it on the History Channel, on an episode of "Decoding the Past" (I think). Along the same lines, there's the idea of the web as a physical manifestation of Jung's collective unconscious. Food for thought, even if it is all mumbo-jumbo. Of course, one of the problems with both of these ideas is that there's a significant portion of the world's population that is not linked to the web.

As our technology permits us further freedom, we use that freedom not just for our own benefits, but for the benefits of others. It's a tool to build some of our own altruism. Flame wars rage because people forget that there's an actual human being on the other end of these "intertubes" (how I wish I could find the appropriate xkcd comic), and simultaneously weblogs and podcasts are downloaded constantly because people remember that there are other people out there.

Whatever it is inside us that causes us, motivates us to share what we know, it's a treasure. Another imporant note is that knowledge isn't very useful unless it's applied. And, that, my friends, is the fact that will be our Phlegyas. It pushes us deeper into the realm of bettering ourselves, the realm of experience and knowledge, the realm of reaching out and touching the life of someone. You can't escape it. And why would you want to? This is one of the most direct ways we can improve the quality of life for other people, and the people we care about around us. Perhaps, most importantly, it lets us connect with those who we've never met, will never meet, barely know, and yet, still have some sort of connection with.

A final thought: "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You live and you learn, and sometimes you watch.

I realize that most of my posts are just ramblings of a madman, completely disorganized and indirect. I also realize that life presents itself that way.

The entertainment industry has a very practical purpose. I don't just mean to give stress relief or whatever. Really, it lets us experience life as perceived by other people in a very direct manner, and it lets us do it from the comfort of own homes (or theaters). It often gives us insight into experience we never would have a path to in our actual lives. The most important aspect of this? It lets us sit back and see things from the other person's point of view. We learn to be able to say, "Okay, I see where you're coming from." Regardless of right or wrong, it lets us see how people do what they do. Whether or not we agree with their actions and beliefs, we come to learn something important: empathy.

Driving down the Garden State Parkway, yelling at those idiotic drivers ahead of me, I often stop myself. I mean, they have to have some reason, right? How often do you do that? The problem's all about everyone's own free will. If we learn to stop ourselves and try to understand each other better, I'm sure we'll be less angry and more forgiving. At best, we make a positive impact on others, and spare ourselves unnecessary anguish in the process. At the least, we can hope to catch a break ourselves in the future.

Sometimes, people need to hear things from a specific person, at a specific place and time, in a specific way, to really get the message. After all, haven't we all been there? How many times have your parents told you one thing, only to find out 40-something odd years later that you understand. Even if you don't agree, and even if you do things differently, you at least understand.

A friend of mine gets really angry at people in general. He says people are dumb. I agree. He says they don't think. I agree. He wonders why they can't just be logical and wake up, and think for themselves. I don't. And the reason he's angry, is because he really cares. It's sort of counter-intuitive, but he would've made his peace long ago if he didn't really care. He'd be cynical and pessimistic and would take what he could, regardless of others. He's not like that. He's angry because he wants others to live better. In turn, that allows him to live better. The problem is, people don't get things like that right away. Some people need to hear it differently. I did, too. I used to be angry, too.

The beauty is there. And that's where our lovely system of movies, television shows, blogs, and weblogs all come in handy. We get to see things from others' perspectives. And it doesn't matter that we think they're stupid for not seeing something right in front of their faces, or that we cry and laugh right along with them. We don't need to agree. It's not about the result, it's about the process. As my pal Gerald (from Hey Arnold!) said once, "The journey's more than the destination, man." (It was from Downtown as Fruits, btw. What ever happened to great TV?) We have to learn to live life, and part of it is learning to live with others. Or, at least, trying to see where they come from.

I still hate soap operas and reality shows. But, I take comfort in the fact that somewhere out there, someone is learning a lesson from the stupidity of another.


I find television to be really amusing at times. Who doesn't, I suppose.

While watching "The Universe" (on the History Channel), I got to thinking as usual. The topic of the evening's show was about parallel universes, string theory, and the "multiverse." What astounded me was that during a discussion of "M" theory (branched off of string theory, focusing on 11 dimensions), the idea of constant universe creation came up. The amazing thing was that the idea of tossing nanobots with "DNA" of our universe into another universe was mentioned.. as a last-ditch effort to save humanity from our "inevitable" demise.

"Inevitable." Now there's a word for you. Inevitable comes from the latin in- , not, and evitabilis, avoidable. Evitabilis, in turn, comes from ex-, out, and vitare, to shun. So, it's pretty much "not able to move out of the way." (Thank you, Online Etymology Dictionary.) Now, if we're still conjuring ways to save ourselves, how is that inevitable? The irony strikes me.

In truth, I think that our "inevitable" demise is, in fact, just that. We, too, are bound by the laws of nature (no matter how much we try to deny it), and eventually, our species will become extinct. Or maybe we'll evolve and the rest of us will die out, only to have humanity (or whatever it can be called then) die out after evolving. My round-about point is: Why is it so necessary for us to survive? I mean, all things eventually end. Everything. Nothing is forever. Anything we think of as "forever" is only because we can't fathom, or last for, its true length. Relative to its own timeframe, any living thing will die. Eventually. Is it so hard to come to terms with that fact?

One important line that strikes me is from Fight Club, "On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero." Yet another quote from the same source: "You have to know, not fear, that some day you are going to die. Until you know that and embrace that, you are useless."

I know this is going to turn out as a really worn cliché, but the thing is, even if you hear something over and over again, it's not really cliché because you never really think about it. Or, maybe that's what makes it cliché, the fact that you hear it again and again, but you never really think about it, and that's why it has lost all of its meaning. So I say to you, open your mind and receive this, because if you just hear it, you won't understand it.

How many times have you put stuff off? Really, I mean we always say to ourselves that we'll get to the stuff later, "when we have more time" and "when we can really do it right." And anytime we hear of the untimely death of someone "young," we re-evaluate everything and stop taking things for granted. For a few months, everything is important. It's as if, in someone's death, we find that the big picture has come to us, and we work with it. That's until we forget. We're human, it's almost in our nature to forget. Women can't physically recall (to the full extent) the pain of childbirth. If they did, who'd have more than one baby? But then the problem arises agian: things are taken for granted.

Adi Shankaracharya (आदि शंकराचार्य, the first teacher Shankara) had an interesting perspective. He said that the only true friends on can have in life are knowledge and death. I think the part that scares people about death isn't the loss and the longing they feel about those who have died. It's the uncertainty, the fact that they don't know what happens after death. No matter how many times you hear a sermon, and regardless of your faith, when it comes to death, the jury's out. Everyone doubts. There's nothing wrong with that, really, because we strengthen our resolve through doubt. But, what else is there to take comfort in? In life, all we are guaranteed is that one day, just as we were born, we will die. It's the cosmic balance.

I've heard from numerous sources that death is a weird feeling. Most of them were only "near death" scenarios, but the point stands. "Everything just feels really comfortable all of a sudden," I've had it described to me, "and you just get really tired and sleepy." I think that's really poetic, though I haven't the foggiest idea why. But the fact is, when you have death on your mind, it really keeps big picture around. You realize what you need to do, and what you have to do to do it becomes trivial in ways.

We're dragged in this world kicking, screaming, and crying. Why don't we go out the opposite? I don't mean be totally complacent with death, but realize that anything you do in life is just a temporary deterrent. It puts things into a slightly more urgent perspective. There's a difference between "What's the point, we're all just going to die anyway?" and "No, I won't ever die, it's not going to happen." And, "I want to do change things before I die" is a different story altogether.

So again, what's so wrong with realizing our eventual, inevitable nonexistence? Or perhaps disexistence (dis-, from latin "seperate, apart" related to latin duo, english two) is more appropriate. I'm utilitarian, in many ways. If believing in a Heaven after death, or reincarnation, or whatever, prevents you from having a panic attack everytime you think of death, then go for it. If it helps you live to your fullest potential, what's the harm? But eventually, you will have to come to terms with things. It helps to believe what you need to, in order to get what you must done. (Wow, talk about an awkward sentence.) But come on, is it really that scary?

Death leaves no beautiful corpses, but perhaps, that is the beauty.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I watched Rosanne at 5:52 AM, and there's this episode on of Rosanne and Jackie going into this spa resort to try to get back in shape. After shunning yoga as "inhuman," they volunteer for past life regression therapy. It's so deliciously over-the-top, especially when you know how the series ends. People often go to extreme lengths to find answers to their questions of "Why?" It also makes me smile that the therapist's assistant's name is Yama. (यम is the God of Death, and is also a list rules of abstinence in traditional yoga. The attention to detail is great.)

People see what they want to see. "Perception is reality," so the adage goes. The pessimist's view of the half-empty glass leaves him feeling as ripped off as the optimist's half-full glass leaves him grateful. Another example is that seeing art is seeing through the artist's eyes. All artists leave a part of themselves in their work. I guess one could generalize this into "one's beliefs surround him." It happens all the time to me. Jung called it synchronicity. The Hindus (and Buddhists) call it karma. Others refer to "God's will" or "plan." Whatever it is, we have to understand has as much to do with our belief as it does in its existence.

Belief is important. It's a sort of testament of reliance on something. My good friend Josh referred to fear as a faith, as a belief in the existence of something, and that it poses a threat to you in some way. What's wrong with accepting the things that motivate us, and in turn seeing those motivators affecting other things?

Secularism doesn't really work according to this. If I choose a president who is of one religion, and I'm of a very different one, how can I be sure that the things he does are motivated not by his religion but by his position in office? I can't. When faced with problems, especially things like making hard decisions, we turn to our basic beliefs to guide us, regardless of what they may be. Even math is a belief. How many people do you know that look at statistics to make decisions? Now how many of you have insurance? I'm not suggesting it's the same. Of course, not all insurance agents give out plans solely on risk assessments, but it is a powerful factor. And while the president may be largely motivated by his responsibility to the people, he can't escape the entirely human quality that influences us all.

Once we can come to terms with this, and consciously make compromises with others, we can really progress. It's whimsical, but also useful, to think of people who put their own stuff up on the web and politely request donations as bhikshu's (भिक्षु, a beggar or mendicant; a characteristic aspect of the life of yogis and buddhists). I think donating to those who provide a service to a community is a great idea, and yes, I do believe that Randall Monroe provides a service to my community.

This is a time where we can reprioritize our goals and values, especially with regard to the internet and technology. We can choose to reward those who we deem are worthy of reward.

A friend of mine was in a car accident, and in lieu of suing the drunk driver, he's trying to meet with him whenever he can. He wants to talk to him and get to know him. The guy's got it bad from the other victims, so more money's only going to do so much. And, since my friend got lucky, he's trying to show some compassion. And, while my friend's motivations may come from his religious beliefs, there's nothing that says it's not entirely impractical as well. How many times have you wished you caught a break? How many times has someone not forgiven you because of a lesson you needed to learn that you already learned the hard way? There's a very practical result to applying the golden rule, one that even a particular insurance company has made light of with its commercials.

The way I see it, even if we had the authority to punish, sometimes punishing just doesn't work. Sometimes, you have to give people a break so that they can be motivated enough to do things for themselves, to make it worthwhile. This is one belief that I have seen before buying into.

Your beliefs color your vision, but sometimes it's your vision that changes your beliefs. That's the beauty of it, it works both ways.

The why of why.

"Why?" is an important question.

It lets us look backwards at the situation and try to see what happened to produce the current situation. It also is one of those questions that children learn very quickly, and learn to ask recursively.

When I was a kid, I often got "I don't know" as an answer to "Why?" and soon had to figure out my own way to learn the answers, not only in the pursuit of knowledge, but also in the pursuit of avoiding the dire fate that awaits most overly inquisitive kids.

What's wrong with knowing how things work? It gives us insight into how other things work, and lets us have our own understanding of the world. Science can be thought of as the application of "Why?" to everything, recursively. Think about it; science also involves faith in some part. Just because one person says something doesn't make it true, there's a whole course of experimenting rigorously, over and over, and then there has to be acceptance under scrutiny in the community, so you have to have take for granted that the community is responsible. Furthermore, once you come up with an explanation, you really have to question each step in the reasoning process, until you go far back enough that you're at the basics, you reach a level you have an understanding of, or you take it on faith that it's true and the facts are there.

Life also involves many instances of "Why?" "Why am I failing school?" "Why did my girlfriend dump me?" "Why do I have to deal with my problems?" "Why are we having pizza for dinner?" The trick is to learn when to follow up on these questions, and when to take it on "faith" that there's a reason. Let's deal with the former first.

"Why?" gives us an opportunity to reassess our situation. We can learn to see where things went "wrong" and where we can improve our views, actions, and selves so that they don't occur again. "Why am I sick?" is a great instance of this. Doctors will go step by step to see where the problems are and how to remedy them. The problem is that there will be times where we can't go back and find an answer. Either we just don't see where the problem is, or we're not the ones who caused the problem, or things were just always the way they are now, and there was no place that something went "wrong." What to do then?

The word "faith" has a lot of baggage, baggage I won't open and examine today. What I mean to say is that logically, we need to just let things be. When I say have faith, I don't mean believe in "God's plan." I mean that ultimately, you may not find an answer, and that's okay. You don't need to have an answer to everything, do you? Despite not remembering who said it, Darrell passed on to me a quote. It boils down to "humans have a tendency to name everything, as if it helps them understand better." Things happen that we can't account for, and that we cannot comprehend. It happens. Sort of like a "butterfly effect." To quote Vonnegut, "So it goes."

The thing we need to bear in mind is that despite having circumstances that we had no control over, we adapt. We did it at birth, and we did it while growing up. What's so different now, that we have abandon that completely? At the risk of jeopardizing my entire point, I will do something I don't do often: oversimplify. There are two paths people take to wrestle with life. On the first, people accept that they don't have control over everything, but struggle when they have complete control over something. On the second, people can't handle not having complete control over things, even when they recognize that control isn't absolute. On the first path, people struggle over their actions when they see that they're responsible directly for their repercussions, but relax when circumstances take care of things. On the second path, people struggle with the fact that they can't control many important decisions, but are comfortable in their own abilities when the control does come to them. Neither quite works.

We have to learn when to ask the questions, and when to listen for answers. We also have to learn that we can work and adapt without answers, because sometimes, the answers aren't that important. The Buddhists have a parable of a monk tending to wounded soldier. The soldier cries out in pain, asking "Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Why is the world the way it is?" The monk politely reminds him that in order to answer these questions, he has to have his wound tended to, so he should be asking where the hospital is. An interesting moral.

It's necessary to have something that allows you the ability to take a step back, unattached and unswayed by the things that happen to you, and to take as objective of a stance as you possibly can. Every once in a while. Too often and you'll lose you're grip on what's going on in your life; not often enough and you'll go crazy wondering "Why?" Life's like any other action: you have to learn how to do it. To what degree depends on how much distraction you have to put up with.

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I'm not responsible for any lives that are ruined, any hopes that are dashed, and any wills to live that are weakened, nor am I responsible for the damage that others may cause to you. We all have our own free wills, after all.

Feel free to email me with anything that should be removed, that is inappropriate, etc. if you should find something of that nature. Thanks, and enjoy!


Free and Open Source Software, for those of you who've never heard of it before, is a movement in the software development community that endorses "free" software. Not quite "free" as in "free beer" (though that is often the case, too), but "free" and in "free speech." It's not a new idea by any means, but it is something that people are often at ends about. Open source software means that the source code for the software is available to the user to see, modify, etc.

Why? Why is it that something so "obviously" beneficial (or dangerous) as free speech is something that often spurned by pundits (from Sanskrit पण्डित, "one who is learned")? To do that, we have to look at what aspects of open source exist. According to an article on open source, and Microsoft's interest in it (, there are three essential aspects to the idea of "open source." Firstly, there's the community, the people who believe in the idea of open source and who provide source, advice, opinions, and general patterns of practice. Secondly, there's the open source development model, which includes practices on how to develop code and build programs that are conducive to the ideas of open source. In short, it's making something that is able to be released to others so that the source is understandable and usable. Lastly, there's the stack, or the collection of software that actually exists (and, as politely reminds us) and competes with the big names.

On the one side, you have a group of people who offer their creations, much like art, to be enjoyed and improved upon by others. Each user is free to tweak things how they see fit for their own system. They also gain an insight about more complex interactions between software and hardware. And, while knowledge for the sake of knowledge is great, it's more practical to use that knowledge for other projects, projects that find their way back into the community for someone else.

Don't be under the impression that it's only for free (as in beer), too. There are many companies that provide source for their software once you buy it, and there are restrictions on redistributing that work as well. How much of that practice can be considered FOSS is debatable, but the practice persists. Why should it not?

And here's where the opponents come in. The programmers that work hard on their code deserve to be rewarded for it, and in a practical way, that reward must be cash. They have their own lives, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. If their company can't survive and provide a product, they're at a loss. Is it any different from paying for music? And for those that download, is that really fair to the people who created it? Then, there's the record company to be considered. It is, after all, their equipment that everything gets recorded on and put together.

Now you can imagine how big this is. It's not just about the people who run Linux and shun Microsoft (or Apple), and it's not about those who end up downloading DRM-free music instead of coughing up $0.99 a song on iTunes, even if it's cheaper than leaving a $20 donation at their band's website.

It's also not about who's right or wrong, the guy who programs so he can feed his kids, or the guy who just wants his computer to do what it should? It's about us, as people, and our desire to take what we're given and make the most of it. This applies to all of us, even if it's in such differing areas as money or philosophy. And, it's you who has to go to bed at night thinking about the consequences of your actions.

Something I've learned in psychology is the occurrence of "diffusion of responsibility." When people are in large groups and no explicit responsibility is given, people will often disregard things occurring. Murders even occur without anyone standing up to stop them. Heroes, then, can be considered those who will take action despite lack of support in these circumstances. And, for better or worse, we must also take action. It's important in the long run to pick a stance and go with it. If you learn something along the way, feel free to change that stance. But really, if you're not thinking about it, how can you expect anyone else to?

The words of Martin Niemöller come to mind. Of course, it's easy to cite something drastic to prove your point. Then again, I don't think history is made with moderate points-of-view.

As the technological "have's," we do have a responsibility to carry out this kind of thinking to the "have-not's." Or, to carry over some thought from them to our specific situation. There's not going to be an "anarchist coder" revolution, nor will there be the "iron fist" of capitalist programmers. But, does that really matter? If we don't speak up for what we believe in, how can we legitmately complain?

And, I'll leave you with one final thought: Is just anybody entitled to voice their opinion?

A post with an apology.

I missed a lot of posts (four, to be precise), and here's me making up for it.

I'm trying to take some sort of initiative, like my good friend Scott Smitelli, who has a great record for his comic, Trigger and Freewheel. It's not that he hasn't missed any posts, but he's made up for each one (and if I'm wrong, I know Scott will correct me on this). Every once in a while, after not seeing a few posts, I'll see a bunch at a time.

A lot of the upcoming posts will be taking ideas from discussions I've had over the "Thanksgiving" holiday week(end), and so I'd like to officially thank them all here. Hirangi Patel has given me a lot of insight into how and why people act the way they do, and how we should react as opposed to how we do. Sam Cohen's led a lot of discussions on science, based on his physics background and his trip to Fermilab, as well as a discussion on ethics in science. Lastly, I'd like to thank Darrell M Stark, for our conversation on everything from Battlestar Galactica, to comic-building, to animation, to memories.

I often hear that good conversations are hard to come by. I'm fortunate in that I have had (and will continue to have) more than my fair share.