Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog

October 30, 2002
This is your brain

Google really has become an almost inextricable part of my personal memory. It works so well that I can get obsessed when it doesn't work. The other night when I should have been sleeping I was searching Google for a web page I'd run across during a whimsical search for old guitar amplifiers. The page had an evocative name that I still can't remember, something like "ray dream / sun fighter". The sun dream links were the detritus of that lost hour.


You know, diatoms make interesting desktop wallpaper (for a few minutes anyway).

October 29, 2002
The School of Velocity

I was in a local sheet music store for the first time today. It's found down an inconspicuous brick alley, one level below the street. It's poplulated almost entirely by sweet wise-looking little music-teacher women. Being on the tall side, I felt like a vertical phenomenon there in that low-ceilinged room, and was asked several times to help fetch a book from the upper shelves. The amount of music represented in that small space -- and the amount of work it would take to learn a fraction of it -- is staggering.

Looking through piano books, I saw a title that spread a big midwestern grin across my face: The School of Velocity, a classic by Szerny (you pianists are smiling at my na´vetÚ). Naturally it's been taken as a band name, since that was my first thought. Charles Baxter even wrote characters that liked the real-world band.

October 28, 2002
A&L redux

A&L Daily is back. Thanks to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Click their ad! Subscribe even!. (learned via Santeros)

October 25, 2002

October 24, 2002
Widening gap

Paul Krugman in NYT (via Media Unspun): For Richer

Yet glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and tasteless don't necessarily add up in people's minds to a clear picture of the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the distribution of income and wealth in this country. My sense is that few people are aware of just how much the gap between the very rich and the rest has widened over a relatively short period of time.

The concentration of income at the top is a key reason that the United States, for all its economic achievements, has more poverty and lower life expectancy than any other major advanced nation.

October 23, 2002
Word of the day

This morning's first snow inspired a feeling that calls for the word 'sublime'.

It started with a sleepy-eyed peek out the window and a shout to the kids "it's snowing!" and all the childlike joy that followed. Later, on Totten Pond a heavy white mist floated, driven straight through with whiter flecks of wind-whipped snow. The water was a choppy roiling gray, and the peak-autumn leaves all around were coated with white snowdust. In my car a shout rose in me and came out as a giant whoop. I had a vague thought of all this as the word 'weather' rolling in the mouth of the Great Poet.

On the radio (WERS) I heard the announcement that Rachel McCartney, a superb local singer/songwriter, would be there for an interview soon, so after I arrived at work I borrowed my friend's radio and tuned. Rachel started with a new, beautiful song called 'Gracefully'. She's used the word 'grace' effectively in another song, and it struck me that she carried herself through the nervously scripted beginning-interviewer's questions with a steady, experienced grace herself. She ended with the song 'Once Again', which struck a chord that reverberated right down through my feet as I gazed out the giant clear window into the infinitely layered mist of snow falling on trees. [Rachel is at Passim tonight in what should be a great show.]

October 21, 2002
Kurt's rejoinder

I asked Kurt about his lost archives, and he gave me this link for reference. I hadn't had the chance to read his long post 'The Big Picture'. The post on faith at the top is also excellent.
Using that post title got me wondering about the source of its use on Brian Eno's Before and After Science. I found it:

Kurt Schwitters "Ursonate" ("sonata in prime sounds") is, along with Satie's "Vexations" and Messiaen's "Modes de Valeurs et d'IntensitÚs", one of those mythic pieces that most people have heard about but never actually heard. Schwitters-better known as a major painter, sculptor and key figure in the post-Dada movement- recorded his epic forty-two minute sound poem in 1923, but to the best of my knowledge that version is not available on disc (though bits of it were swiped by Brian Eno for use on the track "Kurt's Rejoinder" from his 1977 album "Before and After Science")...

Wolfram algorithm still running

David covers Wolfram from PopTech (you don't need me to tell you that) as does a Nobel Prize-winning particle physicist in the New York Review of Books (brought to my attention on a mailing list). And I still haven't gotten through the book. I lost steam as I waded into the far-overreaching and unfounded suggestions in the section on biology, which physicist Steven Weinberg spikes in section 2. My take: even if on the minutest scale the pheonema can be modeled by cellular automata, there are vastly more interesting things going on at larger scales. And you can't simply show me the shapes of leaves and the outcomes of CA algorithms and say "see, it's obvious". The repetitiveness of Wolfram's style led me to think that near the end he'd reveal that the book was generated using his main thesis as the initial condition of a CA algorithm. Now that would be a substantial example.

Humanitarian dilemma

Good article in the Globe on David Rieff's book that examines humanitarian organizations' treading of the line between neutrality and attempting sociopolitical influence.

October 19, 2002
KM ain't

Note to self: read this, because 1. David mentioned it, 2. It's a subject close to my interests in the QuickTopic world, and 3. As of now it has only 930 page views, so I'm sure to be the first on my block to read it.
...OK, done. Hint to readers: skim for the funny parts and read the conclusion.
[Update: But wait! Might this article be more engaging? From Peter O'Kelly's weblog, new to my blogroll.]

October 18, 2002
Bumper sticker: Labels are worth the price of the sticker they're printed on

The pattern standing out to me today in the entries at Philosophy & Literature is the failure of labels.

I want easy political labels and I'm frustrated when I they get fuzzy. Yikes -- I need to consider issues and who the major views are attached to, and try to discern patterns and draw connections among them, in order to decide how to vote, what to buy, and how else to live my life. That's way complicated. (Whew, at least it's obvious to me who not to vote for.)

The short hagiography of Paul Theroux (and desultory review of 'Dark Star Safari') says

You can sympathise with the strangers who have wandered across his path in the course of his travels and been pinned to the page, like broken butterflies, with a sardonically turned phrase. You would not want that to happen to you.
Aw, c'mon. If I saw something familiar, I might laugh. If it drilled to the obvious faults I'm blinded to, I'd thank him. But at best it'd probably be clever bumper-sticker labeling, and I'd need to continue the hard work of living through the human subtleties we all work to discover.

But Mr. Theroux makes me work too. The guy who drives a luxury SUV says this about a certain stage in his African journey (sans SUV)

'In general on this trip, I didn't care whether it ever ended. I just felt, I'm going to head south for as long as it takes and I mustn't be impatient, because if I'm impatient I'm going to be angry and I'm going to blame people. So time went out the window. And that way I was able to enjoy living in the moment.'
... a reminder not to carry my loathing of the vehicle over to the whole person. [Which reminds me of a post I've been wanting to do about my car -- a really shallow subject, but maybe it can be mined. And yeah, it's shallow of me to be caught up in a visceral reaction against a certain configuration of iron and rubber.]

And then there's... whoops, I'm now reading the rest of the articles with an eye to slapping the label "failure of labels" on them.

October 11, 2002
Media Unspun: Press Pumps Gas

This kind of reporting is why I pay for Media Unspun : "Irony alert: While GM was getting credit for small and distant gains in fuel economy, it scored a huge boost in its legal fight to resist major improvements in the area."...
"We know there were loads of reporters jammed into the Capitol yesterday, covering the House of Representatives' decision to give the president authority to use force against Iraq. Was no one left to tell the story of U.S. automakers and administration officials fighting to protect our federal right to guzzle gas? - Lori Patel"

October 10, 2002
Vernon Smith and Experimental Economics

Learned via Media Unspun:

Vernon Smith shares the Nobel prize with Daniel Khaneman for his work in experimental economics. The award brings fully to mind the fact that this field is fascinating to me, and gives it a name I can cite when applying for the job in my next life :-)

I wonder how research like this is actually applied and on what scale, and then I read at the bottom of his page "He has served as a consultant on the privatization of electric power in Australia and New Zealand and participated in numerous private and public discussions of energy deregulation in the United States. In 1997 he served as a Blue Ribbon Panel Member, National Electric Reliability Council."

I'm actually most interested in modeling, like Robert Axelrod has done. Susan Woodward first got me interested in economics during the fascinating talks she gave to a small lucky group of people at OffRoad Capital. And just to weave a thin thread through the blog, she's also CFO at CyberEditions, where Denis Dutton is Executive Director.

October 08, 2002

A call to arts! I'm stunned that Arts and Letters Daily is gone. I'm writing to Denis Dutton as soon as I get his email address to see what we can do.

Wait! I see at wood s lot that that Denis is active with a recreation at Nevertheless, I think we should do something to assure its continuation. Don't you?


Just noticed that David said things similar to my 'Critical boomerang' post, a day earlier and on a global scale.

Dream with Plant and Father

I dreamed last night of my plant--the scraggly sprawling five-leaved plant that's in reality been with us for about 15 years. I was in a college-living kind of apartment and the plant was at one end of a long empty room with a hardwood floor. In the next scene the plant had fallen or been bumped over and hastily scooped together and righted. Roots were showing above the orange clay pot and I had a feeling of resentment of the negligence that caused this. I had to hurry on to something else.
Next I was in a station wagon with a few men--in their forties maybe and older than me. We were going golfing and my plant was also in the car, in the back on its side, dirt spilling. The driver explained that the course in our original plan was closed so we were going to Huron Hills (an Ann Arbor course my dad frequented as an alternate to his favorite). The car careened down a wooded lane, around winding hilly curves as we descended and my plant spilled more of its soil.
We ambled onto the golf course over a small hill (not by the main entrance, but directly onto a fairway), and my dad, now present, was explaining that the designer and owner of the course had battled prostate cancer as he worked on its design and construction.
I finally became incensed enough about my plant that I needed to go back to the car, my dad accompanying me with fatherly understanding and support. The car was now a long narrow wooden box with a clear glass top strewn with dust. The plant was inside, but now inaccessible, perhaps in the care of the greenskeeper. My father helped me wipe away the dust to see. There was a feeling of remorse for the neglect of the plant.
I woke and as the dream shuffled into place in my conscious mind, tears overflowed my eyes.

October 04, 2002
And the reverse

I'm designing some software, looking at a piece of paper and talking through the flow aloud to myself, as I often do. I look up out my ground-floor window and a big sloth of a guy walks by sort of talking to himself. No he's not talking into an ear-implanted phone (which always looks equally suspect to my eye, in a different way). I smile thinking how my actions are somehow similar from the other side of the glass.

October 02, 2002
Kurt's net

Whoa. Kurt casts a loose net on the other side of the boat and pulls in a huge catch. I'm referring to two posts, really: this poem, which made me literally gasp at its tragic geopolitical acuity, and the previous post, so rewarding in how it blows open the closed lid of my statement of the problem. This ties in well with my ruminations on Joe's "sartrean freak-out about aloneness": viz. that language, in all its weakness, is one extremely powerful thing we have to bring us together, across great distance and, most incredibly, (if the hermeneutics are blowing right) over centuries.

Kurt also links a couple of blogs that I'll need to add to my blogroll.

Critical boomerang

There's a little critic in my head who mutters about other people's flaws: the guy who swerves onto the exit ramp ahead of me or the too-typically suburban neighbor. But if I pay attention and catch this, and pay attention a little longer, I often get this karmic tweak: I find myself in the same situation within a few minutes: absentmindedly making a driving move that can surely be taken as rude or mowing my lawn in some software company's t-shirt.

This leads me to believe that I'm constructed to be most sensitive to the flaws in others that are really my own. Some defensive part of me doesn't want me to see them. When I see them in someone else, that's when I really get annoyed -- they're getting too close to revealing what I don't want to see.

Franzen on isolation, writing, and reading

From the Guardian via A&L Daily, Jonathan Franzen writes:

In a suburban age, when the rising waters of electronic culture have made each reader and each writer an island, it may be that we need to be more active in assuring ourselves that a community still exists. I used to distrust creative-writing departments for what seemed to me their artificial safety, just as I distrusted book clubs for treating literature like a cruciferous vegetable that could be choked down only with a spoonful of socialising.

As I grope for my own sense of community, I distrust both a little less now. I see the authority of the novel in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an accident of history - of having no competitors. Now the distance between author and reader is shrinking. Instead of Olympian figures speaking to the masses below, we have matching diasporas. Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.