Notebook of Sand



Curriculum Vitae

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

March 2004
2004: Earlier | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2005: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2006: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2007: Spring | Summer - Summer 2008 | Spring & Summer 2009 | Now
Tao of the Babelfish
Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I was at the Norfolk "Nauticus" maritime museum over Spring break, wishing I wasn't. An entire cruise ship had docked at the museum (of all places!) and there were over a thousand senior citizens swarming the place, rooting through their luggage, looking for Elvira or Maud or Horace, and generally just loudly getting in the way. After all, they had paid good money for the cruise. They needed service...

I nearly suffocated as I wound around the crowd, trying to get through without inadvertently tripping over a cane or a suitcase or a walker, only to be acosted by the glaring eyes and righteous anger of so many wrinkled arms, for 'assaulting someone my elder'.

I couldn't get in. So I stood for a time in the only place with standing room, next to this weird clear tube of a fishtank. It was almost glowing -- gotta love synthetic coral and carefully-placed lighting. So I pulled out my digital camera to try to catch some of the fish. It's impossible to turn off the autofocus, so timing photos is difficult. Out of one eye, I looked at the fish in the tank. The other I pressed to the viewfinder. Then, like a ball gunner in a WWII superfortress bomber, I tried to time and predict the path of the fish.


The fish turned away, and I got a picture of glowing coral. When it did work, the shutter speed (fixed) was too slow. I got blobs of yellow, smears of blue against a glowing brown background.

"Why don't I try to move the camera with the fish?"

I tried it. It worked. The photo you see is a result of that experiment. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't do it again.

That photo is one of the coolest flukes that's ever happened to me :-)

Transitions in Last Night's Fun
Monday, 29 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

From Last Night's Fun, In and Out of Time with Irish Music, by Ciaran Carson...

Similarly, you get to know the various dimensions of window-ledges round the town, where three or four musicianers can wedge themselves and set up an impromptu session. Punters gather in a semi-circle, till from the street the players are invisible; and in this respect, I remember how old punters would perch their antiquated ghetto-blasters on a window-ledge and give the crowd the benefit of their prized recordings of the fiddle competition. From beyond the semi-circle, it looks just like a session, to the extent that I once observed an ethnomusicologist holding her Nagra mike above the appreciatively nodding heads, the ears cocked to one side, while she footered with her levels and her headphones.

It's possible that such a tape of a tape resides, once or twice removed, in the hermetic archive of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Not for the first time, I wonder about hte coupling of 'folk' and 'transport', and am reminded that here, 'folk' is mostly 'material culture' -- cottages, a spade mill, stone walls, a schoolhouse, handlooms, churches, and a water-mill. Of particular interest is a bleach-green look-out post built like a birdwatcher's granite sangar, from which the unseen sentry could observe the linen-rustlers, then step out and boldly sound the early-warning system of his pawl-and-ratchet, whirligig-type rattle. It reminds us that Ulster culture resides more in what you do than what you say or sing or play: O linen-weavers, builders of barns, rope-winders, intricate masons! It is but a short step to the vehicle: O makers of motor-bikes and tractors! Builders of the Belfast and Titanic! Constructors of the Harlandic diesel electric locomotive commissioned by the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway Company! Perfectors of the four-cylinder, triple-expansion, steam-reciprocating engine!

I love how Ciaran does this marvelous transitions in Last Night's Fun. He has clearly been reading a bit of James Joyce -- we sense the stream of consciousness influence here, but there is more.

The obvious transition sentence is this:

It's possible that such a tape of a tape resides, once or twice removed, in the hermetic archive of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

This sentence bridges between the scene of the window-ledge session to the archives of the Musem. But it's not just a normal transition. First, it's not transitioning between two obvious scenes. The second scene is more of a catalog of items. It paints a view of the archives, but rather than describing the archives themselves, Ciaran starts talking about the things in the archives. We realize that the scene is not actually the archives, but the metaphysical space of an idea. The place where the ideas of 'folk' and 'transport' come together. So rather than talking about the sights, smells, and events in this scene, Ciaran lists items, puts them together to see what they result in. And we come up with "Ulster culture resides more in what you do than what you say or sing or play", an unusual conclusion for a book about music. But then he brings it back into song by mimicking the style of Carl Sandburg's great poem about Chicago:

O linen-weavers, builders of barns, rope-winders, intricate masons!

But enough about the second scene. The previous scene, while a full scene, with setting, with action, with all of that stuff, is more than a scene. It's a transition setup scene. He's been talking about the experience of finding a place to play for the whole chapter, and he wants to transition to a musem. So he includes an anecdote. The anecdote paints the session scene with Punters and all, not by describing it, but by describing how something similar could be mistaken for it. He then talks about the researcher, setting us up for the transition sentence. As in all good stream of consciousness, he introduces the theme of research, archival, and study, and then trips the lever and we're suddenly on that track, transitioned smoothly and believably. It's ever-so-smooth with Ciaran because he sets us up for it well in advance.

It would be easy to let the section on the museum stand out of place in this chapter, but a few pages later smoothly joins back with the swirl of ideas relating to sessions...

Everything is analogue, and looks like something else. Everything is deja vu.

This final sentence ties everything together, from the confusing night-time mind-game of appearances -- finding a good place to play (or a good place to listen) -- to the steel needles set in plate glass dials on machines in the museum. Even the ethnomusicologist is unwittingly taking part in a comic case of deja vu.

RSS Feed Available
Monday, 29 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Breaking news: The Notebook of Sand now Sports an RSS Feed. If you're unfamiliar with RSS, you can read my too-brief, too-shallow article on Sitepoint that gives some basic info on RSS and points out some popular RSS software. Remind me *ahem* to never send in a piece without a title again :-). If you're like me, and my article isn't enough for you, check out the birds-eye view of RSS at Faganfinder.

The Bag People
Saturday, 27 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Do you ever wonder why people dream, set goals, and live such miserable lives in the hope of finding a life they may never see? We are just bag people, transients, watching the grand carrying-ons of the universe as we hold onto our ever-petty collection of select posessions. And yet we ourselves are just bags of fluids, bones, and tissue.

Bags of silly-putty tubing -- a machine of infinite complexity, yet so fragile.

Photo Credit: NOAA

Sometimes, I can feel the colored liquids -- a rainbow of foul-smelling blessings that never see light, not until the end of the tunnel -- move inside me. I open my hand, the tendons operating smoothly on the levers of my jointed fingers. Ball joints turn, lymph nodes send out their white armies, gall-bladder, liver, glands great and small, the capilaries, carbon and glucose and water are all tireless as they live, die, synchronize, and finally synthesize into the music of a living soul.

I put one foot in front of the next, and electric impulses shoot through my body. I can feel them. I am nervous, I am grinning, laughing, crying, fleeing. I have a headache and I know that my brain is just a sticky blob of cholesterol inside a calciate chamber.

Why do we dream, most marvelous of this world's automatons?

The Johnson Effect
Saturday, 27 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

It is happening again. No, not visions of grandeur, not thoughts of great accomplishment, but that miasma of inner creativity that Johnson experienced often, fought through, and observed in Boswell.

Put quite simply, I am bored. Is it that I have rushed madly to accomplish things, and I am now done? Is it the change in weather? Maybe. I rested well last night, ate nutritionally the last few days, and even exercised a few times. My mind even feels sharp.

But I am bored. I feel the strain of the large amount of reading, the lack of focus that has been forced upon me by so many classes. Is it possible or sane to honestly read so many works of literature in so little time? Is it even honest to come so low that I must read Frankenstein in 2.5 hours? I could spend a year just studying what I have learned in the last month. And I would be much better for it.

Yet we steel ourselves for the second half of the semester, and more insanity.

As active as it seems, capable as it appears, my mind is unable to focus on anything right now. I am bored with being a human computer, with processing large quantities of data. Is this what it is to learn?

I am quite bored by the shallowness of my studies. And yet there is no time to go deep. No time. No time for anything. No time, no time.

True genius is to still accomplish, still attain, even during these troubling times. Right?

Whether by brute force or by stimulus or by letting go I do not know, but I suspect that raw discipline and brute force are what is needed.

Besides, I always despise myself after I (inevitably, as I always do) just let go, or watch movies, or play games for a week.

I always slack off, no matter how hard I try to be diligent, and I am always discouraged.

And yet, I haven't taken a true vacation in nearly three years. The closest thing to vacation was my visit to Virginia, my visit to seminary classes all morning, as professors spoke in foreign languages and drilled students.


This time it will be different. This time, I'm pushing through....if I can.

Geek Cruise 2002
Friday, 26 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I bless your honeymoon, my child.

Yes, Andrew. I approve of Cozumel. Especially now that I know that Linus has walked on its shores. And Eric Raymond.

O Island, may you be forever blessed, your sandy beaches clean, your coral bright, teeming with tropical fish. May your geeks be brilliant, and...

  • looks around*

"ummm. Nobody saw that, right?"

  • goes back to programming*

In Defense of the Juggler
Friday, 26 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Internation Jugglers Association World Championships, Reading PA, 2002"You would not believe," a prof remarked, "here was this guy with a doctorate, and he listed Juggler on his resume."

This made perfect sense to me.

The conversation soon moved on, but I remained surprised. For me, to meet a juggler has always been to meet an intelligent person. In fact, to know that someone juggles is to instantly know that he/she is a competent, creative person in a skilled field which requires high intelligence. Juggling is the best way to tell.

The best programmers I know are all jugglers. Many amazing musucians, writers, scientists, engineers, and artists are jugglers. In fact, my time at the world championships was a revelation. I had never been in the company of so many professionals from around the world before. In fact, I doubt that I have kept such auspicious company since. I would venture to guess that I met more amazing people at the annual world championships than I did at the annual National Collegiate Honors Conference.


I suppose I can understand, however, why people would misunderstand juggers. When they think juggling, they think clowns, balloons, and cotton candy. At best, jugglers are thought to be the kindly but ignorant circus folk in Dickens's Hard Times. At worst, they're petty performers. Because jugglers do crazy things, we're thought to be crazy.


My friend Sarah is a juggler. She also happens to intimately know several ancient languages, programs computers, writes for a few magazines, and somehow finds time to be a master at Tae Kwon Do. She used to work for the Civil Air Patrol, but now she's looking at Oxford and beyond.

Sarah took an award in her category at the world championships.

My friend Jonathan Brownell is a juggler. In fact, he is a member of the Corvallis, Oregon Juggling and Unicycling Club. That's right. He can unicycle as well. But my friend Jonathan is not just a juggler. He's a concert pianist, a successful entrepreneur, an amazing writer, and a wizard computer programmer. When he was younger (he's a college graduate and a well-paid HP employee at 20 -- or is he 19?) he won his state's youth chess competitions many times in a row. In fact, his siblings pretty much have the state of Oregon all to themselves when it comes to chess. Incidentally, they are all jugglers.


Juggling is the secret handshake of highly intelligent, creative people. If you want to meet multitalented, focused individuals who have a real care for others, talk to jugglers.


Juggling takes a lot of time to learn. Learning to juggle is a solitary act in most cases, one that requires high mental focus and a will to improve. Thus, jugglers are almost always self-motivated people. They push themselves farther and farther, honing their skills to a high level of performance. And they love every minute of it.

But jugglers aren't only introverts. To be involved as a juggler, you need to learn how to juggle with other people. This highly intricate task requires a honed sense of teamwork. Most jugglers work well with others and can coordinate cooperation up to a high level of precision and efficiency. They realize the need for everyone to take part, the need for no one to take too prominent a place. Jugglers realize the complexities of the world.

Jugglers have fun through their efforts. This is why jugglers are most usually creative people. They take the effort, the practice, the precision of it all, and they turn it into something that's a little oddball, displays splashes of color and movement, involves performance and choreography, and makes people smile. Many of us juggle to relax from our day jobs. When I worked at HM Consulting in Lancaster, I would juggle every afternoon break. Juggling was perfect; I exercised, entertained, practiced, and relaxed by focusing on keeping the pins in the air.

Finally, Jugglers don't keep it to themselves. They love sharing the joy of the things they have discovered. Most jugglers are teachers of juggling. I am not surprised that the most intelligent programmer at HM Consulting took to juggling immediately. He was not surprised I was willing to teach him.


Juggler on the resume is an asset. For to juggle with someone for a short time would communicate more about the person in an hour than anyone could learn in days of questions or auditions.

Buddhist Economics and the Shoe Event Horizon
Wednesday, 24 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]
Many years ago this was a thriving, happy planet - people, cities, shops, a normal world. Except that on the high streets of these cities there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary. And slowly, insidiously, the number of the shoe shops were increasing. It's a well-known economic phenomenon but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make and the worse and more unwearable they became. And the worse they were to wear, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops proliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops. Result - collapse, ruin and famine. Most of the population died out. Those few who had the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds who cursed their feet, cursed the ground and vowed that no one should walk on it again.

--Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Much of the American economy is dedicated to keeping the American economy running. Like the bird people in Adams's shoe event horizon, we have entered upon a recursively-slippery slope that sends us plunging who-knows-where, and the only means we think we have to escape are the means that compound our problems.

This year, those running for president will talk about creating jobs. This is rather odd.

" President Bush's top economic priority is the creation of more jobs for American workers."
"Kerry has proposed creating jobs through a new manufacturing jobs credit, by investing in new energy industries, restoring technology, and stopping layoffs in education."

scan of an engraving depicting a huge 19th century crowd engaged in some massive building project

Photo Credit: NOAA

A couple hundred years ago, we created labor saving machines to allow us to do more with less effort, with fewer humans. We are still engaged in this process, in the process of reducing human effort and involvement in work. But we were excited back then, happy that we would be able to create a common life, a life of ease once we had created machines to do our work for us. And the vision wasn't just one of American dominance and ease; it was one of global benefit. And now we complain that the global job market is equalizing? Or is it that we prefer to send charity to other countries, but not real work, not the means for a real life?

Why are we complaining that we have succeeded? If we now have come to the point where our efficiency in meeting human needs has outstripped the need for humans to be involved, this is a great good for society! This means that we all have to work less, or can work at jobs we consider fun.

But we are complaining because our success is bitter. Sorry, utopias. You can change the entire environment, the living conditions, the quality of life, but you can't change who we are. And we're greedy. Now, maybe not really really really greedy, like the other guy, but we are moderately greedy enough within our own culture to be willing to bulldoze the other other guy, the one without a roof over his head. The one who would be glad to get half of what we have.

In the struggle to get ahead, we must always leave someone behind. This is our folly. Getting ahead is pointless. But people forget, and sacrifice their own contentment for unknown future pleasure, sacrificing everyone else's contentment with it.

We don't like to step back, to settle for a little bit less. Most expect to get at least as much stuff as their parents. Nobody thinks of living with less so someone else may have some joy, some comfort, a piece of a stable life. Equilibrium has no definition in the mind of the American individualist. The proposed means to a better life? Lift yourself out, get ahead.

If everyone worked hard to get ahead, then everybody would have enough...laziness causes economic hardship...

Really? Then why not be pleased with outsourcing, which gives people in other countries the opportunity to get ahead?

If grammar were a source of wisdom, as the logicians say, we could also say this: if everyone worked hard to get ahead, we would nullify each other's actions, all be behind, and nobody would be satisfied. But can we trust grammar?

Workman, do you like to grow things? Let the robot fill your place in the assembly line and go to the garden, cultivate the food supply. We have robots to turn the tomatoes into tomato sauce, machines to mix and cook and organize healthy diets. So go to the garden, and be content.

This will never happen. No, we have invented ourselves out of employment, but we have kept the old rules in place. Now we must invent ourselves into employment by asking our leaders to create jobs. And millions still starve.

All this I knew. In fact, all this I argued before.

Then I read Buddhist Economics by E.F. Schumacher, a well-organized, well-written analysis of Western economics. Although I may disagree with Buddhists on religious topics, I agree with the idea of one's religion pervading one's entire sphere of life, a not-so-popular belief these days. But first, a an overview of Schumacher...

Schumacher suggests the following ideas about Western economics:

  • the modern materialist way of life has brought forth modern economics
  • Economists... normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any presuppositions

He then launches into an attempt to understand modern Western economics. It goes like this:

  • the fundamental source of wealth is human labour
  • labour is merely a necessary evil
    • from the point of view of the employer, it is ... simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automaton.
    • to employees, it is a "disutility"; to work is to make a sacrifice of one's leisure and comfort...wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice.
  • Thus, everyone wants production (for this is the only viable reason to work in a Western society) to be more efficient. Everyone wants assembly lines or robots.
  • The result: employers hire fewer people and those people are less skilled
  • The effect? Workers are unhappy, because they're losing jobs and becoming more bored at work, while the employer gets richer.

This is my father's experience in the factory.

In a way, my father is glad that he is a hispanic and receives fewer opportunities. One day, soon after he first began to work there, he was sweeping the floor around the workshop where he repairs the factory machinery.

A chief engineer rushed frantically into the workshop.

"Hey, give me that broom!"

My dad was surprised.

"What do you need me to sweep for you?"

"No! Stop sweeping! I want to sweep the shop." His face twisted in despair.

"But you're a chief engineer."

"Look, just give me the broom, Ok? I gotta do something useful today. If I don't sweep, or do something, anything, I don't know how I can live with myself. You don't understand! I just want to know that I did something useful today."

More thoughts will follow on Schumacher and his idea of living a whole religious life, not one of these segmented, postmodern ones that people seem to think is one's moral obligation. But that will come later. That issue is even more complex and important than economics, although economics is the perfect arena to examine it in.

I want to think about it some more first. Because this post just outlines a problem. The solution (if there is one, depending on who is to live the solution), of course, is much more complex.

It Begins with Food
Wednesday, 24 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I refused to eat the night before, well, except for a last cup of hot chocolate. See, I had been trying to skip a meal all week, but starting with Sunday's spaghetti, I was going down fast. What can I say? Spicy meatballs and fine-grained parmesan dusted lightly on the rich sauce were beckoning.

I couldn't help myself.

Then there was Abbas. He invited me to the cafeteria. A curse be upon every all-you-can-eat establishment. So I got a salad. And eggs. And an english muffin topped with a scoop of galactic spawn sauce. Oh yeah, and hash browns.

After that night, I ate nothing but fruit, toast, and a few crackers....ok I admit...and that chicken parmesan at the honors dinner-- but at least I had a salad with it.

To play the trumpet well, I need to have a nearly-empty stomach. Not empty enough to make it complain, but empty enough for it to keep a low profile beneath my liver and lungs. I don't need it to puff out my chest, bragging about the attention I give it. Because I need to puff out my chest for other reasons; I need to be a windbag.

To play the trumpet well requires really good lung capacity. To play the trumpet clearly, smoothly, lucidly requires relaxation and ease. The easier (physically) it is to play, to breathe, to move, the better the music sounds. Minute strain in a finger, toe, or eyebrow will somehow filter into the airstream and devastate the sound.

I have only rarely been fully relaxed, hearing the clear sound of strain-less (not effortless, for to play well takes extreme concentration and focus) music stream out of the end of my trumpet bell.

I am naturally predisposed to indigestion. This is annoying. A full stomach is the greatest personal obstacle I know to playing well.

So every concert, I play a weighing game, not with my feet on the scale, but with my mind in my stomach, evaluating how quickly the food will digest, how its chemical makeup will affect the stomach acids, and what I should eat next. Citrus drinks, for example, are great in the days before concerts; they help break down the food. Cheese is sometimes good, when I've reached equilibrium early, and I want to shut down the digestive system so my stomach doesn't grumble while I perform.

Am I obsessed? Yes. Does it work? You betcha. This week, I timed it perfectly; although I didn't play a perfect concert (which many have been kindly overlooking), I at least played the key solos well (Notes: A. Expression: B. Tone Quality: B+).

Next time, however, I'll drop the hot chocolate.

Emerging Through a Black Hole
Wednesday, 24 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Whoosh! The passengers emerged from the black hole; for some miraculous reason, they passed through the center of its torus shape, shooting straight through, gaining speed, gaining speed, going faster, faster fasterfasterfasterfastfastfast.....

They had swung around and the ship was slung at speeds higher than any craft before it. And there they were, passing by Alpha Centauri at a blink, past all the galaxies they had dreamt of visiting some futuristic day, miraculously missing major asteroids, planets and stars as the universe flew by like a gentle spring rain.

After years of applying the brakes, they finally arrived. To their surprise, there it was, the Terran system, their home. Had they been dreaming? Or had they actually done it, looped around the fabric of the universe, ending up where they began?

The next few posts will focus on my experiences over the most insane weekend of this semester, which felt very much like falling into a normal-flavor black hole. I'm still surprised I'm not ...splat... a mere dot on its surface still.

Blessing or Bane
Saturday, 20 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Near China's northern borders lived a man well versed in the practices of Taoism. His horse, for no reason at all, got into the territory of the northern tribes. Everyone commiserated with him.

"Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing," said the father.

After a few months, his animal came back, leading a fine horse from the north. Everyone congratulated him.

"Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a cause of misfortune," said the father.

Since he was well-off and kept good horses his son became fond of riding and eventually broke his thigh bone falling from a horse. Everyone commiserated with him.

"Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing," said the father.

One year lated, the northern tribes started a big invasion of the border regions. All able-bodied young men took up arms and fought against the invaders, and as a result, around the border nine out of ten men died. This man's son did not join the fighting because he was crippled and so both the boy and his father survived.

Huainanzi, from 100 Ancient Chinese Fables, translated by K. L. Kiu, Hong Kong, China

Dark, Unassailable Doors and Wireless
Thursday, 18 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

The eyes peer at me through the mirror, lit from below. Two eyes, an angularly-shadowed nose, and the lights from distant buildings are all I can see, the two pinpoint candles in the eyes burning, burning, burning as they sink into the darkness.

The eyes are mine, and in the hazy-red darkness, I decide to feast on unexpected dinner.

It began like this: I forgot the key to the front door.

It ended like this: "Auuuuugh!"

And in the aftermath, I sit in my tiny car (the motion detecting lights have long gone off), updating my website via the house's wireless base station, looking at my eerie visage in the rear-view mirror, lit from below by the laptop screen.

Life is weird. I was going to make a sandwich inside, but I think I'm going to eat out now.

Good thing I have money in my pocket. I'll come back after dad comes in from work.

Writers Create Language
Thursday, 18 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Personally, the hardest task for me is to create language that wasn't said before to describe things in new and insightful ways. (aka, Virginia Woolf's commentary on Words)

Creating figures of speech, etc, is hard.

1. All writers are involved, in some way or another, in thinking of new (to them) figures of speech. An example, from Ciaran Carson, about music, is that lyrical music is like a celluloid ball on a jet of water.

Language is a funny thing. I haven't studied it thoroughly, but from my limited knowledge and experience, older versions of languages are very literary, full of metaphors, similes, and turns of phrases that have now been shortened and cropped into single words. While this is more useful and efficient, it makes it harder to think poetically. On the other hand, our lack of poetic language is what gives poetry value beyond everyday speech.

Perhaps then,

2. The process of language begins, organically ( like the succession of plants in an area that moves from stream or rock or dirt to flower and grass and meadow tree to forest ) with figs of speech and what we now call poetry to describe things that do not yet exist, then proceeds to the creation of efficient words.

If this is the case, then we can continue to move on in our understanding of language to make a few conclusions.

To be a writer is to engage in the creation of language. To be a creative writer is to be there at its base, at its beginning. While people who coin a word might be considered the creators of language, but the people who create the poetic descriptions, whether they stick or not, are there, at the microscopic interplay of simple beauty, flowering interactions, the bustling beginnings of the ecosystem of language.

Words are complex. They must be learned. Terms are smaller, like icebergs on the ocean. They seem small, but their base is the underwater etymology, the bacteria, the minerals, the veins and cracks, blue and green and rusty, coloring and supporting the weight of the term that seems to sit on the surface.

To be a writer is partly to strip off the layers, shave away the top, until you get to the core, and regain, unlearn the sophistication of terminology, and reach that colorful land teeming with poetry.

Or, of course,

This could just be the random musing of someone who's read too much theory

In the end, it's much more useful just to think about what works, what sounds good, what you like to read, etc. At least, if you want to actually write anything.

Lothlorien's Trumpet, Someone to Watch over Me.
Wednesday, 17 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

On Saturday, I will don my subtly pin-striped, jet black suit, my well-polished Honors Program lapel pin, and a very smart, satin bow tie. I will carefully set an orange kerchief in my left breast pocket, breath deeply, closing my eyes, and pick up my trumpet to perform a Rafael Mendez arrangement.

I will also be wearing Arwen™ ears, a green felt hat, and pointy green shoes, the bells on their tips tinkling gently.

And the children at the open door recital, including those who are still beautiful, even if they live in adult bodies, will have seen the friendly, noble characters of myth, and smile and laugh and clap. I'll smile back, maybe with an elfish grin and laugh myself.

For a few brief hours I will be an elf. There is so little joy, so little laughter in this world. Maybe I can change that, for a few brief hours.

The next afternoon, I will be sitting, in the same suit, the same bow-tie, but I will no longer be an elf. If all goes well, clear, melodic, bold, and lyrical music will spring around the audience from the band as I weave in an out, here playing a supporting role to the bass, to the clarinets, and to the tuba, then, in a sudden weave, emerging myself to play a note, a phrase, or be accompanied in a solo by the whole band.

For us all comes liquid emotion, perusal and forgotten smiles flowing back, a memory, a sorrow maybe too, but always a pleasure.

For a few brief hours, I will be a herald, a street-musician, an old man in a deafened room, and someone watched over by, watching over the beautiful voice of an amazing singer.

In the meantime, it's all work and no play. Hope to see you there!

Whiteboard Vermin
Tuesday, 16 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I enjoy ephemeral art. Whiteboards, instant messages, on-the-spot verbal quips, musical improvisation, and other easily-created, easily-fading media strangely attract my effort.

In response to a whiteboard reading "UGH", I wrote the following poem:

... UGH ...

said the joyful bug
as he lilted and lifted his mug
in praise, to toast
tall days, to boast
of his beautiful, darling slug.

The Most Precarious of Times: College
Tuesday, 16 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

College is such a precarious time. Intense opportunities tantalize from all directions, causeways and eddies so hard to navigate... the currents flowing in many ways. Unexpected sandbars. Rocks. Storms and sunken treasures, sunken dreams. Quiet erosion, and the deafening revs of the ocean's engine blast our lives, and sediment, bits of life from all over the world settle, compress, and synthesize into solid stone. On reflective days, we unearth fossils, or the sand blows away to reveal shipwrecks and monuments alike.

The real trick is to become, to remain, not an honorable person, not an honored person, but a thoughtful person, a kind person, a humble person above all. Not to be humble in attaining, or in the learning and experience that should be gathered frantically, carefully stored while it is plentiful and used wisely. No. Not humble in striving, but humble in attitude, to develop a deference to others.

In the ecosystem of life, we can compete with other species, fighting over every last calorie, every shelter, every stream and spring. Or we can cooperate, sharing the resources with others, yet using our own resources to their maximum, and sometimes for others. We must keep focus, nurture drive, and yet remain aware of the needs of our fellows.

I am saying this to myself.

Is it possible to go back to the way things once were? Perhaps not entirely, but it can be done in part. Maybe this is wisdom, to choose things that do not come naturally. Lately, I have been less-than-myself outside the class yet have greedily slurped class time. A symptom of growing confidence, one that has flexed its new growth in not-entirely helpful ways.

I should not feel insecure or inferior in my abilities. But kindness does not only exist in the absence of wisdom. And wisdom never exists in the absence of kindness.

Dimlit Feet a-Flashing
Sunday, 14 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Images in the mind.

Posing in the dark, hand outstretched, fingers open. Grasping what? Nobody knows.Can I have reconfigured the nature of my brain so easily? For years, my mind worked in words, in text, in semantics. In meanings, in connections, in logic and phrasings, my thoughts processed, ground, synthesized, analyzed, and compacted neatly into boxes carefully filed away. Is this why I liked computing? Why I like programming? Maybe.

When I chose to phase out of programming, did I realize it would change the very nature of my mind? I hoped so, but I didn't know what I wished for.

I have, over the last year, slowly begun to arrive at a personal epoch in my thinking. Not so much one of ideas and opinions, but one relating to the basic mental framework that I operate in. It's like opening one of the crystal canisters in Avernum; I find myself changed, but not in a particularly put-your-finger-on-it way.

But why do I mention this?

Almost instantly, one knot of the crowd unravels and this old man in a topcoat and a hat and big boots tied with yellow laces steps out. From another dark annex of the carpark, his counterpart appears. By the time we hit the last part of the first part first time round, they're poised and ready -- arms not stiff and rigid like the modern over-educated dancer, but relaxed, palms held outwards in a gesture some way between a welcome and a challenge. They face each other, one foot pointing outwards, while the crowd has shifted and coagulated round them in a focus of attention.

For some reason, after I read the first sentence in the previous quote, from Ciaran Carson's Last Night's Fun, In and out of Time with Irish Music, I had an image of an old man. He didn't appear, but rather emerged. Someone had begun to attempt to dance first, a younger one, not as deep in the lore. It was inside the pub, and voices called out for a bit of a dance in-between the cigarette smoke. He was reluctant, or seemed so, until they drew back into a circle.

When the old man came out, he was brilliant, his limber body slapping his shoes to the ground at all angles and tempos. Here, I see the aged, unstained, dry, worn floorboards and his shoes, casting a dim shadow that darts in and out like a knife, and hear the report of the leather on wood, the smart whip-slap becoming a minnow in the lucid stream of limber melody . A knot of men circles around, enjoying the scene, contentedly puffing away, or sipping at whatever happens to be in their mugs. Dim, but vivid.

Where did that come from?

There it is, in all of the cinematic wealth of experience. I first assumed the image came from a movie. They always do. Perhaps it's the programmers mind that too-neatly categorizes, that keeps ideas on paper and images on the television and in photos and in real life. Nearly all of the images I have ever seen in my head have come from sight, either from the television or from daily life. (I can think of one, of seeing a woman that could be my grandmother trundling a heavy wastebin, bending down to pick up trash in a factory whose screeches would overpower the most consciously dead metal music.)

I can't think of a movie the scene appeared in, and I must conclude that it's from a book.

This is earth-shattering. This is only the second time it has happened to me, and it's the first time I've visualized something vividly enough to describe it, knowing that it came from a text of some sort. I have forgotten the text, but the image remains.

Fascinating. This will take some looking into. I think that maybe listening to audio drama has helped (although I still can't visualize it), or that enough reading has really changed the fundamental structure and nature of my thoughts. Of course, it could be my focus on nonfiction writing.

More on this later, to be sure.

Note: As I edited this post for spelling and wording, I suddenly remembered where I got the image: Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village. Woah.

Biking to School for Want of a Smile
Thursday, 11 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

One week ago, I drive home from Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Today, I rode my bicycle to school.

What's the connection? Here goes...

I was coming into the Chesapeake tunnel. I had just passed a "Lancaster Food Supply" truck, as I zipped along the bridge in my well-laden '89 Plymouth Horizon hatchback (good gas mileage, low emissions. Good price). The Chesapeake tunnel is unlike any other tunnel I've been through. Going into New York City, the imposing facades stick out, and entering the tunnel feels very much like entering one of the tunnels on the PA Turnpike, the ones that bore through the Appalachian Mountains.

Instead of driving into the side of the tunnel, one's car descends into a hole in the ground. One moment, you can look out over the side of the bridge at the shining bay, and the next moment, the bottom falls out of your vehicle, and you find yourself on an incline.

If you're me, on Thursday, March 4, you also find that the traffic inside the tunnel has come to a stop.

I was able to stop my car in time, but the guy behind me didn't. So now my rear bumper is frowning to the right a bit. I'm not exactly smiling about it either, but at least it got me back on my bike.

Instant Message Poems
Sunday, 7 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

November 9, 2003, a day after I bought my Airport card at the Apple Store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, I was sitting in the hotel lobby wondering what to do. I had already packed my luggage, and my books were neatly sealed away. The others were still asleep

My laptop detected a signal, but only if I was sitting in one particular couch. I didn't want to look at my email.

A good friend's name shone green in the iChat list. This was odd, because the clocks back in Pennsylvania were reading 6:30AM. I was surprised to see her up so early on a Sunday morning.

So I started to tell her about the trip. Soon, her away message popped up, and I realized there must have been some glitch.

I didn't stop typing.... the experience was amazing. Because I was writing an Instant Message, there was an immediacy to what I was writing. I couldn't mull over things or edit them. They just went out, and I kept moving. Soon, what I was writing began to take on a rhythm. I started to realize that I had something unusual on my hands. I kept typing, and a general direction/thesis/flow for the messages began to come together.

It was an Instant Message Poem, but I didn't realize it yet.

This Spring, Patty mentioned that she kept the file, still surprised that I would write something like that into iChat. I had also kept the file, and I took a second look at my old message. Then, today, I created a series of Tinderbox macros to draw iChat-ish boxes around bits of text.

These macros came together to make "Chatting from the Palmer House" a reality.

Has anyone done this before? A precursory googling turns up plenty of poetry chat rooms, but no mention of formatting poems as chats.

Know of any examples? Have any ideas? Send me an email at

Cascading Into Style Sheets
Sunday, 7 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I just spent the whole day wrestling with the site's layout. Am I being too ambitious? Everything was designed perfectly, it looked perfect in every browser I got my hands on.

And then I sat down at a Wintel machine, and Internet Explorer.

Explorer refused to render my HTML properly. I had done it perfectly, but for some reason, it likes to ignore table cell dimensions in certain cases. Instead of nicely placing the box at the top left, I was getting an extremely long,


So I redesigned the layout. It worked better. But even as I pushed in one end, packing the site together carefully, something on the other end would break.

I exhausted all of my design knowledge trying to put together this look with regular HTML. And it can be done, just not in Internet Explorer.

So I caved. I'm not sure if this is even the proper way to put together a CSS site, but I've done it. I've built my layout completely in CSS. Sorry, Generation 4 Browsers. I don't have a copy, and I can't check. Sorry, Dillo users. The site looks rather silly without CSS.

Of course, I might just completely redesign it again. Argh. It looks so nice as it is, I would hate to do it.

But I don't want to have to mess with it much longer.

Update, 9:31 PM. I messed with it some more. It's now back in tables, not nearly so spectacular, but much more browser-compatible. *sigh*

Confidence in action through Christ
Saturday, 6 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way -- in all your speaking and in all your knowledge -- because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

I Corinthians 1: 4-9

Woah. If I only lived every day as if I have all the spiritual gifts, all the power I need to accomplish everything that God has for me. All the blessing, the joy, the triumph of Divine power is right there, at my fingertips. Even the endurance; God is able to keep me strong to the end. I don't have to worry about disappointing God, I don't have to stay under the overbearing weight of my weaknesses, or remain engulfed by the oppressive, suffocating failures of my life.

We can be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder Paul eagerly waited for that day.

DesignHarbor is Down
Thursday, 4 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Today, died a sad death. Hard drive failure. Don't worry. I have already obtained backups of the database, and I have the code and datafiles backed up on CD.

But it's a sad day. Patrick Giagnocavo at ZillNet had been doing a heroic job keeping the site running, as a memory of the good times I had with Jonathan Brownell and Sarah Pride in my very first business. I still chuckle when I realize that I began the site over five years ago.

I feel old. I feel like an old friend is dead, if I can feel that way never having lost an old friend.

I have begun to post my articles on this site in the Design Harbor Area. Until this morning, I didn't realize how much writing I did for that site. Wow. I guess I was focused. Of course, the pay was really good. For a while, Sausage Software paid for targeted advertising. Those were fun times, when I could work myself to the bone and revel in the work and in the reward. Now I just work myself to the bone.

While I putter around trying to get things back into shape, feel free to peruse an earlier version of the site, Abscissa Tech.

Bread and the West
Wednesday, 3 Mar 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

After reading through The Story of Bread, marketing material from Sunbeam now published in James Lileks' Institute of Official Cheer, I composed the following sublime syllogism.

Note: I wrote a blog entry on The Institute a couple days ago. Note: I really must send this syllogism to Sunbeam to find out what they think about it.

1. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

2. Bread rises in the east.

3. Bread rises in the West.

4. Therefore, bread is not the sun.

5. However, Sunbeam is bread