18 November 2014

The wires inside are burning

"The gentleman who first saw it says the wires inside are burning" says the guy taking a smoke break on the steps of The Pine Box. The gentleman, he's a homeless guy spending the night under a quilt draped over the sign that's restricting the parking on Minor.

What he's saying, it's all nonsense until one sees that the pole supporting the traffic light at the intersection with Pine, behind the now-removed maintenance panel, that in fact the wires inside are burning. They burn with the same smell of the time I shorted out a variable resistor, or the same time I plugged the front USB port into the IEEE1394 header on a First International Computer motherboard and left a black scar the length of the PCI bus. They burn with the color of some element we burned one day in sophomore chemistry, but not any of the ones you'd think of.

The gravity of the situation is only truly apprehended on observing that the traffic light at the corner is, in fact, not functioning, because the wires inside are burning. A car passes through the intersection (in contravention of the rule that at a non-functioning traffic light, one should treat the intersection as an all-way stop) and crossing it it is natural to think "now surely I will die". But I do not die and failing to perish it is observable from a vantage point past the intersection that smoke is pouring from the top of this pole.

As the smoke billows, fire engines are heard in the distance because the wires inside are burning.

12 September 2014

Fresh Pond Photography

So my girlfriend Rachel and I often take walks/jogs around Fresh Pond, which is a small pond/reservation (much of it is fenced off, including the pond itself) by the Belmont/Cambridge border with a paved road going around it. This place generally has a ton of people walking their dogs, and there's a little mini-pond which is not fenced off where they let their dogs go swimming. It's a pretty cool place with some very scenic spots.

Often, while going around the pond, we'd notice an older guy walking his dog and taking photos. One day when we were walking Rachel's dog, the two dogs got in a classic leash-tangle and we talked a little with this guy, Richard Gardner. He gave us a pamphlet with a bunch of links to his photography and related stuff.

Richard Gardner's Flickr account has over 500,000 photos. His YouTube channel has several thousand videos. Some of this stuff is really, really, really good. Some of it has animals we've never seen at Fresh Pond, and we've been there a lot. There's also a compilation of his favorite photos.

I saw him at the pond again today and chatted with him a bit. He's gone to Fresh Pond every single day for the past decade or so, missing only four days in that decade. He spends three to six hours there on a typical day. From the perspective of doing photography as art, the idea of doing it in a single place with that kind of dedication is really interesting to me. It reminds me of an article about street food in Southeast Asia. The idea of this article is that there are these street vendors in big cities in Asia who make the same dish over and over again for decades, and the result is that they become masters at making that dish, and if you go and have street food from these vendors, the quality of that food is going to be better than the food you'll find at fancy restaurants, because those restaurants don't have cooks specializing in a single dish for years and years; they have multiple dishes, the cooks come and go, the menus change, and so on. It's really cool that this guy can take hundreds of thousands of photos of the same half-mile-in-diameter pond, and continue to find interesting things to photograph and create compelling photography.

Also for any computer nerds reading, apparently he used to work at MIT way back in the day on a modular operating system called Multics.

04 September 2014

Southern California Baseball Report: Baseball is Played at Petco Park in San Diego

Game Summary
The San Diego Padres walk off and defeat the Diamondbacks by a score of two runs to one run! Pinch hitter Cory Spangenberg hits a walk off homer with one out in the bottom of the ninth off Brad Ziegler.  But before that happens, a man named Odrisamer Despaigne starts for the Padres opposing a man with the considerably more spellable name of Wade Miley. Other than Miguel Montero driving in Cliff Pennington for the Diamondbacks and Alexi Amarista driving in Rene Rivera for the Padres, and an inning where the Padres had runners and first and third and with no outs but neither scored, the game was a quickly and crisply pitched affair by the starters and a bunch of again remarkably anonymous relievers.

Graph form:
The Padres and Diamondbacks and third and fourth in the National League West, respectively, and considerably back the Dodgers and Giants. Whether either of them is in sniffing distance of the wild cards is not something I'm going to bother looking up. Who cares?

Rooting Interest
Padres. See below.

The Stadium
Excuse the gushing, but this is basically the perfect baseball park, maybe. It's located in what appears to be an erstwhile warehouse district that now appears to have businesses and apartments abounding. There's a trolley line that stops right outside the park. Even for the car-bound like myself, I was able to park at a meter in what looked like a slightly more run down part of town, pay a quarter, park for the whole game, and need only to take a 10 minute walk before and after the game. Take that, Anaheim.

The park itself is slightly subterranean. The area around the park is access-controlled and your ticket essentially lets you into a plaza with the ballpark in the middle of it and various vendors and activities surrounding it. To find your way to your seats, you walk outside the stadium in this plaza, as the various areas of the stadium do not appear to be fully interconnected on the inside.

After the game, the neighborhood around the park appeared to be busy with people enjoying bars and restaurants. I had to drive an hour and a half back to Costa Mesa and was unable to partake in said festivities.

 In an entirely uninformed and most likely incorrect opinion formed over perhaps six hours spent in the city, Petco Park indicates to me that San Diego has acknowledged that car dependence is an unsustainable problem and at least some surface level measures are being taken to combat it.

The Seats
I was in the front row of a section called the Toyota Pavilion which is one deck above the field level. This section is on the third base/left field side. The seats are smartly angled towards home plate, minimizing the amount of neck craning that must be done.

Though the sun was still out at the 7:10 PM start time, the seats were nice and shady. This was actually nice due to a prior day's sunburn. The temperature, as I'm lead to believe it's wont to be in San Diego, was perfect.

A bargain for just $10.

The Food
I was pretty full when I got to the ballpark, having indulged in tacos earlier in the day. Nevertheless, by the eighth inning the allure of ice cream grew to be too much. One giant vanilla chocolate swirl soft serve later, I was sated.

Though I debated getting my soft serve in a plastic cap, I relented because having two plastic baseball caps would cause too much temptation to get two dogs rather than a more reasonable one dog in the future, as the proper resting place for a plastic baseball cap is clearly on the nearest dog.
A dog wearing a plastic cap that at one point contained ice cream.

"But, Matt," you ask, "aren't those miniaturized batting helmets, not caps? After all, they, like batting helmets, are constructed from hard plastic rather than a cloth blend." No, you are, unfortunately, incorrect. After all, if they were batting helmets they would would have an earflap on one or perhaps both sides. If anything, they are most properly described as John Olerud helmets.
A man wearing a plastic cap that at no point contained ice cream.

The Fans
Few. Quiet.

Seated next to me was a teenaged girl and her father. She appeared to be quite passionate and knowledgeable about the following baseball and the Padres' players and history. She carried on a running dialog on basically everything that happened in the game with her father, who would occasionally respond, but more often with herself.

A feel bad about having this feeling, but I pretty strongly dislike when people are passionate and critical about baseball while also being poorly informed about the analytics of it. Like calling an intentional walk a good idea because the batter was one for three in the game (minuscule sample size!) rather than merely getting a handedness matchup. Or using batting average to criticize a pinch hitting choice (really incomplete information!). To me, being critical while possessing considerable misconceptions shows a lack of self-awareness about the degree of one's knowledge. If you don't care be knowledgeable of what factors correlate most with winning games and the amount of uncertainty each of these factors have, you're of course welcome to enjoy the game, but you're not really in a position to criticize the decisions being made on the field, even if they are incorrect. Question your assumptions, do research, learn, and just enjoy the spectacle.

And honestly even if you do remain at the forefront baseball research, being overtly critical of the players and decisions is still in poor taste. Even the most current baseball information is sure to have glaring flaws. Plus, you're watching people who are the absolute top of their field being pushed to their biomechanical limits, and you're criticizing them for making one mistake or misjudgment in a career that will result in thousands of chances at redemption? It just seems so unwarranted.

At the same time, though, if being critical is how some people people enjoy the game, why am I being critical of them? Maybe it's just fun to scream at millionaires.

But that's kind of a critique of baseball fans in general. Padres fans are great, largely because at this game the wave was not performed at all. This may be a first.

An Observation
Pikachu.

31 August 2014

Southern California Baseball Report: A Baseball Game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Game Summary
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim defeat the Oakland Athletics by a score of eight to one. Scott Kazmir of the A's gives up six runs in the second inning, including walking in two, maybe three, runs before being lifted from the inning. Matt Shoemaker continued to excel at baseball at the expense of his nominal craft, giving up no runs over seventh innings, but also making zero shoes. Other meaningless runs were scored off of largely unrecognizable relievers on both sides. Remember when the names of relievers didn't surprise you? I do.

This win probability graph was egregiously stolen from FanGraphs to summarize the game in a numerical fashion:
With the win, the Angels have a five game lead in the American League Western Division.

Rooting Interest
Angels. Sorry A's, I like the recognize undervalued talent and succeed on a low-budget model over the pay out large sums of money to players that used to be good also draft the best player in baseball model, but not enough that I'm going to stick my neck out for you in someone else's house.

The Stadium
Angel Stadium of Anaheim is ringed with parking lots. Whereas many stadia create a lively atmosphere pre-and-post-game on the surrounding streets, this is not an option here. Instead, pre-game festivities are largely limited to standing in line and post game festivities seem to largely involve sitting in traffic and locating one's car in the parking lot.

Your parking pass has a small area to write where you parked, but there do not appear to be any sort of labeling in the parking area. So I did the next best thing and took a picture of the stadium from where I parked, hoping it would allow me to generally gauge where I would be.
Observe that one hat is pointing towards you and the other is perpendicular to the imaginary line between you and the former. To understand the issues with using this image to locate your car, imagine you can rotate the image about the Z-axis. Now rotate the image 90 degrees (π/2 radians) to the right. Now combine that with a misconception that cameras reverse the image that you see. Search for your car in entirely the wrong lot. Later observe that the apartments on the left appear to have been replaced by mountains and a freeway. Now, go to the other parking lot and find your car.

The Seats
Three rows back from the field, just past the right field foul pole. How these are $15 seats is beyond me.

One activity that I have grown to enjoy is baking in the sun. These seats were absolutely perfect for generating a good thorough sweat, with just enough breeze to not be overwhelmed. My skin enjoyed this activity far less.

The Food
As an All-American gentleman I enjoyed an All-American baseball fan's meal of a hot dog and a Bud Lite. The fact that craft beers were being sold for $12.95 may have had something to do with this. My Washington license was greeted with sheer glee from the cashier, who had seen many out of state licenses on this day.

The Fans
Fans were fairly sedate overall. Many showed up late. Angels fans outnumbered A's fans probably about 10 to 1.

Things got more boisterous later in the game, when A's right fielder Josh Reddick repeatedly had his name called in a distracting fashion (Jossssssshhhhh, Josssssssshhhhhhh, Josssssshhhhuuuuaaaa) by Angels fans. He was also implored to check his glove by these same fans, largely because he earlier happened to look at his glove.

Things were further escalated by the arrival of a midriff-baring, heavily sun-damaged, middle-aged woman. While imploring the child in her care to use a cardboard cutout of Mike Trout's head to shade himself from the sun, she informed us the fans (and Josh Reddick, repeatedly) to 'break out the brooms' because our Angels were on the precipice of a sweep. An Oakland fan getting kicked out of the game was also well received, so much so that mustachioed usher in a Panama hat had to give several Angels fans what looked like a terrifyingly stern talking-to, presumably when they said something uncouth to the departing man.

An Observation
The ball attendant warms up the right fielder in this Stadium, presumably because neither the bullpens nor the dugout is close to right field. This leads to an odd scene when the opposing team is in the field.

A Missed Opportunity
You will probably see the following image, and think of it as being of no importance.
But then you use computer technology to magnify it.
And you realize your author has missed his big chance.

18 July 2014

Your car looks ridiculous

Your car looks ridiculous I want to say. After all it's an el camino on farcical rims. But instead I look too long. Your sunglasses--it's 10 pm--meet my eyes and all I can do is nod.

23 June 2014

On not being able to say what you were looking for until you find it

It has to be sometime in 2012 and KEXP has begun playing some song what seems like nearly every morning. It's not an amazing song and I'm waking up to music at this point, so I'm listening to it half-awake at best. Some songs reliably give me goosebumps, others I will hear and feel mentally jostled. This song is not one of them. But as I'm walking to the gym one day, I find myself attempting to recall a different song. I can't. The only song I can pull up is that song I've been half-awake hearing every morning. It's not a bad song, I realize, and now I want to hear it again.

That day, I go home and look through KEXP's playlist for that morning, in the time I could have conceivably heard it, the hour after my alarm has gone off. I go through what seems like each song, putting the name into Youtube, listening to a couple of seconds, and finding none of them to be what I'm searching for.

But I'm by no means defeated, as this song has been playing every morning. Unfortunately, in the next couple of days I never hear the song again. The days become months.

At this point I'm occasionally whipped into frenzies where I can't get the beat of this song out of my head. Unfortunately, because I was listening to it so passively I have no idea what any of the lyrics are. I hum parts into websites that claim to be able to identify songs based on this. On others I tap out the beat on the space bar in further desperation. All of these endeavors are in vain.

And then I'm taunted. On a rainy day in Capitol Cider after a softball game I hear the song and ask the waitress if she can identify that song that's playing. She says the iPod connected to the speaker system is in a locked closet. Then I think I'm getting coffee one day and hear an acoustic version. I strain to hear a lyric that I can write down and search for. But the song is far too quiet. Then it's my birthday and I hear it. Several beers deep, I make it known that I need to know what this song is. Phones come out, but the loud bar defeats several attempts at Shazaming. It's discouraging. It's fucking discouraging.

And then, one day, at work I'm listening to KEXP and 

It's sometime in 2010 and I'm back in grad school, cooking. I'm listening to the radio. The radio market in Massachusetts is pretty lousy. It's nearly all bought up by media conglomerates that invest minimal effort and largely will play a very limited collection of songs over and over again. But I've found a station called WRSI that's at least not bad. One day they played Gimme Shelter and Reckoner back to back and that was pretty cool. On this day, WRSI played some enjoyable, funky song. I pay it little mind.

I got into Pandora radio a little after that and no matter what seeds I gave it, it would inevitably find its way to playing some song off of a Radiohead B-side called I am a Wicked Child. The more I hear it, the more I realize that the guitar part, with tempo and speed changes, would be remarkably close to that of song I heard one day on WRSI.

And that's where the addiction begins. I find myself regularly needing to convince myself that the song I heard wasn't just I am a Wicked Child misremembered. I go through grad school never hearing it again.

But then, in the spring of 2012 I'm visiting my parents. I'm sitting in the back of their car on the way to a restaurant and against all odds 

At some point though, I hear, of all things, a Lynyrd Skynyrd song that employed, again, a very similar guitar part. But unlike these other stories to this day it has eluded me. I've had the displeasure of listening to 30 second bits of so much Skynyrd, all without the desired effect.

It's frustrating. It's frustrating to be so hamstrung by a complete inability to describe music. Lyrics can be tough to grab in real time and transcribing music on the fly, well that's the domain of the very talented. But the beats, the rhythms, the sounds of the instruments remain embedded in the mind. But they're trapped in there, largely inexpressible.

So really what is there to do? You wait. You wait. And you wait more. That's all you can do.

22 June 2014

In My Head

I am in Stockholm. I went into the city and walked around a little in the morning. I sat quietly in two different coffee shops. I went on a free walking tour. I'm now back in my hotel room, early afternoon, with a headache I have no means of correcting. This is my life headache. It does not fade on any drugs, or sleep, or a cold glass of water. It will be until it decides, for the moment, it's been enough. In the city I looked in wonder at new architecture, I felt excitement at seeing new things and new culture, and now I have a headache. This is expected cause and effect for me.

I had someone I called friend, I don't anymore, but I did, who said he didn't believe in antidepressants. Which I think is a silly claim to make. I can prove them to someone with a quick look in my cabinet if they so desired. But he clarified that he thought that when people use antidepressants, there's some other life problem they're smothering up that should be dealt with. And in some cases that's true. One can duplicate the effects with vitamin deficiencies, and lack of sleep, and shitty jobs. One can also have a physical condition of depression, which is difficult to deal with when the approach to dealing with it is "so, we know your problem IS depression, so what's your problem?"

I don't have lingering ailments of thought. PTSD is not something that afflicts me. I'm not at constant risk to be distracted from the reality at hand by former events of suffering. I am fatigued because that is my physical state. And I don't need to find a hobby or interest, because, from a theoretical standpoint, I have those. I know the things about economics, or role playing games, or movies that interest me, but I find after reading a page, or sinking a few minutes, or hell, usually just in the act of thinking ABOUT doing those things, my physical state follows a mental one that simply has nothing to give. My head aches, I become nauseous, I feel a panicked need to just be 'somewhere else,' which is never anywhere specific, I just want it to be a place of calm, where I won't feel a need to tear up at what it means to just be for me. And this occurs when my base constant state was one of fatigue and anxiousness to begin with.

I fight it. I've invited people over for board games or movies, hoping that for once I won't feel like I'm tearing apart after the first 10 minutes of sustained focus, forced to endure the rest of what I brought people together for without it being known. I live in a limbo of wanting to try the challenge again, because I want so much for it to not end the way it always ends, and just not being ready to try it again.

I think I understand why adolescents can be more likely to commit suicide when on antidepressants. I don't think it's a direct mechanism of the drug. I think after feeling so terrible for so long, and having the possibility of that no longer being the case dangled in front of them, and then having had that not come to fruition, I think the chasm of hopelessness can only grow. At least, I feel that way sometimes. But I know overall suicide rates drop as antidepressant usage increases (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3071298) despite the potential chasms, so it seems that overall they should actually be reducing chasms. I hope.

I've sometimes wished to just have ONE good day, but usually I immediately scrap the plea. It seems, given the situation, having an actual good day would be a curse all of its own. Something to look back on and lament all I didn't do on that one day I had the chance.

I think empathy is the ultimate goal I can strive to achieve. Maybe because it implies little action on my part, and I find actions enormously difficult. At the very least though, if someone tells me they have a headache, or are tired, regardless of how many days preceding they have said this, I will believe them. No one expects an arm to just grow back, I wonder why people have such different expectations of the brain. That comparison is not fallacious: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1557684/ . That was just the first hit, but the correlation has been proved time and again, as well as showing that stress in formative years likely causes the permanent state: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12450959.

As a result of my empathy goal, I used to proclaim that I wouldn't wish my state on anyone, because I can't believe that anyone deserves this. But bit by bit the world changes me. People change me. I want to have thought about my beliefs. I want to be good, and I want to know why the things I might do or think would make me that way. So I shift. Now I think I may have been short sighted. There are people who "don't believe in antidepressants." There are people telling other people they can't be tired since they haven't done anything today. And that has great potential to harm.

People don't seek out antidepressants, it's not crack. When someone is cycling through psychoactive drugs with the advice of a medical doctor it's because in general people are bad at saying "well, I guess that's it, no more life for me." Instead they're doing that thing you do instead. Telling such a person you don't believe in antidepressants is saying you think that person should stop trying to make their life worth living. If there are people who are really so deficient that they can't imagine another person's suffering without their own parallel, well then, maybe I do wish such people would suffer in the same fashion. And I would wish that they would suffer for as many days necessary to realize every day sucks as much as the last. But no, what I really wish is the only thing reasonable to wish, that no one had to feel that way.

22 May 2014

Seattle, baby

He looks like a homeless version of any member of Aerosmith, sitting under the awning of the dry cleaners and shouting

SEATTLE BABY! SEATTLE BABY!

SEATTLE BABY!

14 May 2014

Mystery

I had a dog for three weeks. I no longer have a dog, but that's not something I'm writing about here now or maybe ever.

But I had a dog, a dog named "Sunshine". "Sunshine" is an odd name for a dog that I'd own, largely because I'm not a 6 year old girl, but I am a pessimist. But also it's not exactly a common name for a dog either. But she came that way, and I figured one fewer change wouldn't hurt.

So about a week after I "rescue" her, I'm walking the dog on the streets surrounding my office. It's a little after lunch. I hear a woman's voice, presumably from a car judging from the rate of speed at which it faded away, yelling "SUUUUNNSHIIIINE". I immediately turned around and tried to find the source but was unsuccessful.

And it's weird. I'm not from Seattle, I didn't grow up here, or go to school here so I don't have a large network of acquaintances. If I were in my home town, I could conceivably expect for some classmate or cousin to call out my name and I wouldn't be able to place the voice. But for someone to yell the name of the dog I've had for all of a week, and had taken to work one time, well that's the domain of a limited group of people. I feel as though I could easily recognize the voice of any of my friends and I also think that they would tell me if they saw me. As for female acquaintances that would know my dog's name, I've run through the possibilities and the only person who I think it could be would be a neighbor. The time of day makes that seem very unlikely.

So after thinking about it a little more, there's another wrinkle. Maybe the person who yelled out the dog's name didn't know me at all. She's a distinctive looking dog (says everyone who's had a dog, about their dog). Maybe a previous owner recognized her. I have no idea what the dog's history was, so who knows. But especially as a previous owner myself now, it's remarkably weird to think about.

09 May 2014

Genius Friend

I had a friend who I thought was a genius. I ceased to be friends with him when he did something that showed a reprehensible lack of empathy.

I realized he was a genius one day when we were drinking at a dive bar after work. He, a colleague, and I were at the bar. He and his colleague were mostly talking among themselves and I was talking to the bartender about a local music act. Eventually the colleague left, and my friend joined the bartender and me in conversation. We continued to talk largely about music, but she dropped a reference to her boyfriend, well not really a boyfriend, don't call him that. As though we would.

The heralded non-boyfriend showed up, and our bartender's eyes lit up. She was immediately and totally enthralled by him. As she fawned over him, my friend and I continued to talk. The level of our beers got lower and lower and the bartender showed absolutely no interest in attending to this. There was a palpable, unspoken sense of resignation between us.

I left to go to the bathroom. When I came back everything was on its head.

My friend was talking to the bartender's non-boyfriend, who was absolutely captivated. The bartender was storming around behind the bar, visibly annoyed about no longer receiving any of his attention. Taking it in, I felt a strange sense of glee--a sense that I had seem something amazing and unexpected; a sort of reversal of a power dynamic that I had no idea was coming.

I wanted to leave, just so I could get out of earshot and ask my friend what happened. When we did leave, I gushed about the genius of it. He had exploited the bartender's insecurity--her feeling that her interest exceeded her potentially future boyfriend's--by driving him away from her, at least temporality. He drove her from a position of glee to one of simmering anger and self-doubt while elevating himself from boredom to amusement. Complete and thorough peripeteia. Even some notion of justice being served. He didn't have much to say about that, only saying how easy it was to flirt with boys. His thoughts seemed thoroughly focussed on the mechanics of his actions, not on the consequences rendered.

And it's not though I regret that I felt that his actions were genius. I actually don't think I've changed my mind at all. Let's divorce the action from the individual; let's suspend our notions of morality for a second. What he did was perhaps the most effective way to take control of a situation that would seem, at surface level, entirely beyond our control. He took actions that entirely shifted the world in his favor, granted to the direct and immediate harm of another person. But, ignoring that last clause, it was genius.

A couple months later he again took actions that shifted the world in his favor, to the direct and immediate harm of another person, and it did not seem genius at all.

And that's problematic. Can I be a person with a well-formed and consistent sense of morality if I can take two actions which match the same pattern and find one genius and the other reprehensible? I suppose I can claim a small moral victory by at least understanding and giving some weight to the notion that actions have consequences that may hurt others. I suspect that at least the latter eluded my genius former friend. But that sucks, right? Behaving in a non-sociopathic way lands you with this moral ambiguity when forced to value actions that pit one's happiness against the happiness of others.

Let's assume I'm not morally bereft. Let's say it's fine to have very different opinions of these actions based on the magnitude of the consequences. So then there must be some acceptable threshold of prioritizing personal gain over consequences rendered towards others. It's just not something to be taken lightly but it's ok to think long and hard about the repercussions one's actions have on others and decide that some amount of harm is worth it, right? So mentally I must have drawn some line. But it's beyond conscious grasp, so ill-defined, that if forced to confront it in one's own decisions, on repeated viewings, it never looks the same way twice.

Best Plumbing

Usually when you hear someone scream 'god dammit!' just past 11 PM on a Friday night you sort of snigger because you suppose it's some kindred spirit wandering home from the bars.

But then you see a light in the back of the box truck. It's one of those headlights a miner or a jogger would wear. 'Best Plumbing' is written on the side. You hear tools drop. Even now, the responsible adult world is happening too.

You write your proposed last sentence multiple times. It's unclear how you feel.

03 May 2014

On Reflection

Something I miss from, let's say, the late high school early college era of my life, are personal journals on the internet. Your LiveJournals, Xangas, WordPress instances running on a repurposed 486 desktops; shit like that. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I get the feeling it's getting sparser out there. I don't know anyone with a regularly updated one. Clicking the "Next Blog" link at the top of this site has led me to mediocre at best baseball blogs, collections of photographs terminated sometime in 2009, blogs about someone's huge and painfully religious family, but very few things that I would consider to be a person publicly reflecting on the events of their life and their feelings about them.

Now let's not get crazy here and consider anyone's high school LiveJournal to be high art. But fundamentally, these type of journals tend to be very reflective and I find reflection to be a compelling and maybe even beautiful thing to consume. Part of my enjoyment of it could be non-sexualized analogue of voyeurism, if such a thing exists. You end up getting insight to what can be very private elements of someone's life: what things have made them happy or sad, their doubts, their hangups. And you're able to do this without paying the price of expressing any interest or having to ask probing questions. It's especially poignant if you're familiar with the person in question. You get to peak into their thoughts on shared experiences or find out about elements of their life that you did not know about. And all this is laid before you: normally private thoughts, publicly free for the taking.

But that doesn't really answer the question of why I find it to be this enjoyable thing. I think it helps me build a more complete mental model of people, especially people that I know. I find the contextualization of behavior--really just acting differently based on who is around--to be a very frustrating quality. It interferes with the ability to understand how a person operates and what motivates them, what are the important tenets of their life. Mystery sucks, predictability and consistency are golden. Some behavioral contextualization is probably necessary for society to function; still, it annoys the shit out of me. In a public journal, the behavior is presumably less influenced by surroundings as a person is likely alone with their thoughts. This is far less annoying.

So where'd it all go? Probably the easiest explanation is just time. As students maybe people had more time to explore and record their thoughts. With more severely limited time reflection falls off the end of the list. That's not at all interesting to think about, though.

I wonder to what extent modern social media plays a role. With things like Facebook and Twitter serving as outlets of expression, is journaling online no longer as appealing? If this is true, I think it's kind of a shame. There's a certain polish that a Facebook status or Twitter update has. You're looking to make a short announcement in an attempt to get attention in a sea of other short updates. Whereas in a long-form online journal, there is much less of an emphasis on grabbing attention. Twitter and Facebook tend to show people at their best. Journals show people at a level that's potentially more honest and unrefined.

Another component may be a sense writing one's private thoughts publicly is a childish thing. What today seem like merely strong emotions today may seem embarrassing and misguided later. Sharing insecurities is probably unwise when it's trivial for someone to find them and possibly exploit them. I've felt this way in the past, destroying a college-era blog primarily because I would be embarrassed not by the things I had written, but by the things I contemplated writing and decided the next day was glad I didn't write about. A better example of this is the LiveJournal of a friend of mine. Heavily embarrassed by personal information that he shared he gutted the journal and very infrequently shares the details from this era.

Thus, in attempt to see ourselves as having grown beyond that, leaving this childish behavior behind, we cease to behave this way publicly. And that makes a great deal of sense to me. Sometimes I view the reflection that I do here as melodramatic. Multiple people have pointed to the writing here as concerning: evidence that I am not happy or not even satisfied with the life that I live.

But that I dispute. What we strive to accomplish through writing--just having written language--is to actually break down and understand complicated, ambiguous things. Mostly, the things that make us happy are not complicated. Writing about them serves nothing but to preserve them, and more than likely they will be preserved in our minds anyway. It's the complicated things--the events that we don't fully grasp, the things that make us feel ways that we can't express in few words, the weird unspoken parallels that exist between events-- that benefit from being written down. We take our thoughts and actually transcribe them into a wholly different form of expression. Though that process, we come a little bit closer to understanding. It's evidence that we're actually trying, and often failing, to comprehend the world around us.

So of course we're going to look vulnerable, unpolished, and childish. That's what we're supposed to write about. That's what makes people actually interesting. So why not do it in public?

25 April 2014

Holidays that have declined in importance as I, the author, have become a person in his late twenties, single, living on the opposite side of the country as all family, not employed by a government

5. Columbus Day
This one was never super important (sorry Italians) and I can't even remember if we got it off of school. Just recently, I forgot this holiday even existed until I checked a list of American holidays. Calling that a decline.

4. Valentine's Day
I used to get candy from my mom on this one.

3. Washington's Birthday (Presidents' Day)
Did you know that this one is officially in the books as Washington's Birthday, still? Presidents' Day, as any self respecting person calls it, was basically the start of school vacation week. Except remember that one year Framingham public schools decided to be all hipster and too cool for that shit and have one vacation in March and then the teachers were all mad because they had to arrange childcare for their own kids during the normal school vacation week? Of course you don't, you're either not from Framingham or normal.

This is another holiday I forgot about.

2. Flag Day
Man, this one. This one.

We (in the sense of we the nuclear family that I grew up as a part of) used to have, what I remember, to be a pretty bomb ass barbecue on Flag Day. In retrospect, this might have happened only once because, shit, one time I thought I wrote all these stories throughout my childhood and then my mom told me that my sister and I just like fucking back to back to back to back dictated these stories in a one-week span when we had the chicken pox. Seriously, the fuck.

That being said I remember making and trying to sell edible Creepy Crawlers. Remember that shit? Also someone's dog wandering into our front yard? Wearing a hat? Was that a thing?

Then there was no barbecue in subsequent years, but the town still had a parade which I complained incessantly about going to (both as a spectator and later as a member of the marching band) because I was going through an adolescence-long phase that basically involved not wanting to do anything.

Now it's just June's version of 'Why is there a flag on the Space Needle today' day. Or July. I can't remember whether it's in June or July.

1. Easter
Ok so Easter was never a huge holiday in my youth, but I definitely remember the whole routine of looking around for eggs in the living room, getting dressed up nice, and going to Church. Then maybe a trip to a relative's house and eating ham or chicken cutlets something. There were Easter baskets and shit, and those required a whole trip to the attic to get them. And then there would be like horrid pastel tinsel being found all over the house for weeks after. And that weird egg thing. Not like dyeing eggs, but like wall-papering them? A thing that existed? One can never know for sure.

The conclusion I'm driving at was that even though Easter wasn't huge, there were things and activities that were Easter-centric and required effort to do, and they were done. Last week when someone asked me what I was doing for the then-upcoming holiday I thought he was referring to 4/20. Whatever, Easter's for kids.

Special Bonus: 
A holiday that has increased in importance as I, the author, have become a person in his twenties, single, living on the opposite side of the country as all family, not employed by a government: 

Thanksgiving
Though I sometimes doubt my contributions to adult society, the fastest way to make this disappear is to cook not a but the turkey.

06 March 2014

At 4:52 AM

At 4:52 AM you make the sudden realization that the root 'cameral' of bicameral and unicameral refers to chambers. The shared etymology seems so obvious in this moment, though it completely eluded you before. You write this down, hoping this is in fact what was preventing you from restful sleep.

It's probably not.

01 March 2014

The Car Named "Adult"

"Once upon a time there was a car named 'Adult'". This is the first sentence of a story told by my sister and written down by my mother. When I was young, I would dictate stories to my mother. Typically the stories would be about a car engaging in some activity. In my stories, the cars were very thin avatars for myself as I wished to be: they'd get a pet lizard or learn to play musical instruments or meet up with a truck and a train, become friends after a brief argument, and eventually live in the same house (don't spend too much time analyzing the last one).

The cars in my sister's stories were a little bit different. My sister is a couple of years younger than me, so while many stories copied the notion of having a car as a main character, my sister's cars were a little bit less refined in their character department. They basically did random shit. Adult, for example, "swatted a cat", "drew up a frog", and "drank pink inks"*. My sister's cars were actually quite awesome. Rather than reflecting the mental state of a preschooler already (somehow) insecure, unsure, and awkward, they behaved with childlike spontaneity and the stories never had any resolution because no problems came up to resolve.

But the car named "Adult" is a very interesting case to me. Nominally, in the actually most literal sense of the word "nominal", the car named "Adult" is an adult. But in deed, he is not. In addition to his previously described escapades, Adult's story ends with him announcing, to no one in particular, "I love mommy and daddy and all my friends"*. Not very adult.

I'm getting to something, really.

Sometimes I think of myself of encompassing the duality of the car named "Adult"**. Nominally, I'm an adult. In terms of age, I am irrefutably an adult in the eyes of any legal system. I have all the legal rights, privileges, and responsibilities of an adult. Additionally, in a professional situation, I am given the responsibilities of an adult. I have control of software systems that a failure thereof has implications far beyond my own life. I'm expected to make responsible, rational decisions because of the impact the choices that I make have. I also pay all my bills, cook my meals without burning my place down, own mutual funds, hold down a job, pay my rent, contribute to a 401k, have a fantastic credit score, and generally do not live in total shambles without supervision.

But at the same time, sometimes I have no idea why I'm entrusted with these responsibilities. I'm petulant, sullen, and grouchy when overwhelmed. I fantasize about taking irrational risks. I'm spastic when I'm around people I like, sometimes I struggle to have coherent conversations when in groups, and my primary way of interacting with friends involves what is probably best described as a game of chicken that starts at good natured ribbing and goes further and further into dangerous territory. Certain social situations and mores continue to throw me for a loop. Sometimes I stay up late for no reason. Sometimes I'm hung over when I go to the gym even though it makes it suck so much more. I used to not buy bread because I love bread and eat it in ridiculous quantities when it's available. Now I buy it, but freeze it, hiding behind four pound bags of chicken breast.

Part of this behavior comes from a life philosophy that's somewhat un-adult. I feel as though a large portion of enjoyment comes from the divesting of responsibility rather than the addition of it. I can't image having children mainly because all the additional work that it would entail in addition to a full time job. I'm reluctant to add structured responsibilities and obligations and prefer spontaneous activity.

But that's dangerous stuff. While it has the potential to be fun and rewarding, there's a huge risk of it backfiring and making me look like a giant manchild, someone whom no one actually respects. The other day I went to the gym, took a spontaneous two hour drive with no destination in mind, took a nap on my couch, and then joined friends for dinner. I reflected on the day not sure whether such a purposeless use of the time was awesome or pathetic. I wasn't sure.

That's the problem. There's no resolution. I guess the only thing left to say is that I love mommy and daddy and all my friends.

*I might actually be misattributing these actions to the car named "Adult". There was also a car named "Poopoo Head" who engaged in similar antics in another fictional work. My similarities to that car are beyond the scope of this post.
**This is most ridiculous sentence I have ever written. I will most likely come to regret it.

20 February 2014

A museum of the ordinary


Let us coexist at a Cloud Control concert

Let's coexist at a Cloud Control concert. The venue (the subterranean, vaguely nautical Barboza), is crowded. There's a lot of head bobbing. Some lateral movement, but largely the conditions are not right for it.

You're flailing your arms around in my face.

You've been doing it since the beginning. During the opener--an unambitious trio, perfectly coiffed, overly supported by a MacBook Pro, with nevertheless incredible singing voices (and a pretty amazing cover of Hounds of Love, I grudgingly admit)--I saw you up front dancing like a maniac, elbows everywhere. He's going to get into a fight, or kicked out or something, I remember thinking, maybe even hoping.

Now you're flailing your arms around in my face. I deserve this, maybe.

Is this a power play? Do you want my spot? Your elbows are kinda intermittently colliding with me, but I'm going to hold my ground.

Who are all these languid concert goers but a bunch of buzzkills, I guess you're thinking? You're flailing your arms wildly, and yet somehow are managing to not strike me in the face. Your friend, or maybe your brother--there's a lot of similarity there--is dancing like an arthritic chicken pecking at feed, but to a song 30% faster than the one currently being played. He's cleared himself an impressive little dance floor in the dense crowd. Those drunk thirty-something women celebrating a birthday don't seem to mind your antics, probably because you were all cheers and high-fives when they spontaneously screamed out an announcement of the birthday of one of their crew.

People yield to you. Eventually you make your way closer to the stage, somehow carving a path through the thick crowd. I feel a palpable sense of relief. The women are unfazed either way.

But it's a weird sense of relief and maybe I'm wrong to feel it. The band is killing it and no one's gotten hurt. You, the screaming drunk women, me, we're all apprehending this ridiculous thing in different ways, acting in totally different ways, and somehow we're all coexisting. So who am I to judge?

14 February 2014

Today is Balentien's Day

It's Balentien's Day! "But wait, Matthew," you say "clearly you mean Valentine's Day. You know the day in which the lovers of the world celebrate romance. You must be familiar with it; they descend on our restaurants, their chocolate-grimed hands clutched together, their empty eyes staring lustily at one-another, fornication the one thought on their red wine-addled minds. ("Whoa, that's awfully negative!" I interject at this juncture). You know the one, it's named after St. Valentine, the third century saint who purportedly married Catholics against the interdict of the emperor."

I don't because, yeah sure it's Valentine's day, but that's kinda old hat. These days other people are not denying marriages to Catholics (in fact you could say Catholics are denying marriage to other people (oh snap whaaaaaaaat?)) and like really just the fact that some people are couples mean they have a holiday? Let's celebrate something of importance.

Let's celebrate Wladimir Balentien.

Wladimir Balentien is a one time fringe major league baseball player from Curaçao who has achieved great success playing in the Japanese baseball leagues. In Balentien we celebrate failure alongside success, persistence while still giving up on one's greatest dreams. Now that's a fine framework for a holiday, but let's get into the real details of this day. Clearly, the idea behind a named holiday is celebrate the traits of that person, and what more genuine way to do that than emulation. So here's how to celebrate.

Break the Japanese Baseball League single season home run record
The Beastie Boys may have more hits than Sadaharu Oh, but only Wladimir Balentien has more home runs in a single season. What better way to celebrate than to, like Balentien, break this record. Well there a couple problems here, none of the show stoppers. First, baseball isn't really in season currently so there's no way you're accomplishing this today. But maybe today's a good day to start training? Well, actually sorry it's probably already too late, because right now you're reading this instead of hitting the batting cages and this stuff takes a lot of practice. Also talent. Also you're probably not a child, and thus you'll never learn anything resembling proper baseballing mechanics. Trust me on this one.

Add to this the fact that a Japanese baseball team can only have 4 foreign players on it. So unless you're from Japan, your odds just went down a whole lot. Oh also when previous players have tried to break Oh's record, managers would just have pitchers intentionally walk them. So you're gonna have to look like you're going to exceed it by a good bit.

On second thought, this may not be a great way to celebrate.

Be from Curaçao
On this surface this one seems kind of absurd. How can one be from anywhere other than from where one is from. So unless you're from Curaçao already (hello, diverse international readership) this one is going to be tough.

But remember, our socialist Kenyan president has pulled off this stunt against da greatest nation in da world, so like defrauding some little island can't be that hard. You're just going to have to get a little creative.

Oh wait, people finally moved on from that? Ok, ok, ok this one isn't looking good either. Well I guess as a consolation prize you can give yourself a Curaçaoan name.

Commit domestic violence (allegedly)
On January 13th 2013, Wladamir Balentien was arresting and accused of breaking into his now ex-wife's home, grabbing her by the arm, and locking her in her bedroom, all with their young daughter present. You should not do this.

Well, in conclusion this holiday seems like a real stinker. Holding oneself to impossible standards, tricking people, committing heinous acts. Hmm. Nope. Not a good holiday.

05 January 2014

It's just different

It's the same road actually, I-90. And once you get into the suburbs, be they of Seattle or Boston, the character of the road is largely the same.

But you're doing 80 in the center lane really honestly just keeping up with traffic and without signaling any maneuver whatsoever someone bombs up behind you, passes you on the right, and zooms off never to be seen again, you see it's different.

In this world, whether you get caught or not is less about adherence to the law and more about the proper technique. Strength in numbers. Luck of the draw. Are you exposed? You're hypervigilant for the outline of a police car. Any American-made car is a potential undercover. But on a good day, with clear weather and no staties you fly.

It's just different. It's not better or worse, but it's just worth knowing that the way you know is not the only way. I certainly didn't know.

02 January 2014

(NOTE: Web-based addresses are not accepted)

I'm taking a two-week vacation where I'm staying at my parents' house. Today, snow has been falling all day and I've had laundry to do, so I've been sitting around the house. Whenever I'm here, I naturally feel a sense of regression to childhood. I don't cook, I stay up late and sleep in, and I tend to reflect on things from my past. Just the other day, my computer lost power and crashed hard while it was suspending to disk. When I started it back up, the date had been reset to December 2000.

I've been thinking awhile about how the internet has changed, and this jump back in time got me going again.

In December 2000 I was amidst what seemed then to be a critical decision. I had been following this Pokemon message board called Azure Heights for about six months, without registering or posting on it. It was a bit of a revelation: here were motley assortment of people who shared a love of the Pokemon games who collaborated to essentially reverse-engineer the game mechanics and devise some really clever strategies for Pokemon battles. That critical decision: Whether or not a could join them.

There were two hurdles, however. One was purely the fact that I would be intruding on sacred ground. In the moment, these people were kind of my heroes and I worshipped the ground they walked on. It wasn't just the awe that these people were accomplishing analytical and strategic feats, to an awkward middleschooler, these people seemed to really be owning their lives. Many of them were in their mid-teens, though some were even older than that. They balanced what was usually a secret love of Pokemon with otherwise normal lives. There was a group from Kansas who would regularly get together and battle. People would get together at Pokemon tournaments to actually meet the same people with whom they discussed strategy over the internet. And there was a real close-knit feeling to it. The number of users was far closer to one hundred than one thousand. As much as I hate the word 'meme', the board developed an assortments of memes that at the time I found absolutely hilarious. Plus, plus, there was a rumor, a rumor, that a forum member was the recipient of a certain sex act while playing Pokemon Blue. Slowly I was able to get over the hero worshipping hurdle though, mostly because I really wanted my Pokemon team to be rated--that is, its battle-worthiness evaluated by the users of the message board.

The second hurdle was purely logistical. The forum required an email address to register, and that email address had to be your email address with your ISP. The board administrator, a legit sysadmin by day, did not want to deal with the people getting banned and retaliating by registering new accounts. This required him to hand-approval new registrations by looking at the domain name of the email address. I didn't have my own email address with my ISP, honestly I'd be surprised many kids did (was this a clever scheme by the older administrator to try to minimize the kids on his lawn?). I had a mac.com email address at the time, which I thought this would be sufficient. After all these were limited to one per operating system install as far as I remember. But when the account sat in approval-limbo for several weeks, it was pretty clear it wasn't working.

And I really wasn't sure what to do. I thought maybe I could use my parents' email address, intercept the registration email when they were not around, and then switch the address on the account to my actual email address. I really didn't want my parents to know about this, fearing they wouldn't approve. My parents were very hands-off about my internet usage, but this message board, I figured would really get them worried.

I've always struggled to explain internet message boards to people, I did then and I still do now. They're the sort old school internet thing that I imagine seems sort of inscrutable to the non-technical. They're not the friendly, Facebook-like, your real life extended onto the internet, thing that's characteristic of today's internet. Instead, they're a sort of semi-anonymous, non-real-time discussion among people who share a common interest, but who rarely know each other outside of the electronic bounds of the message board. People have usernames, but in those days, for someone to even hint at their real name in their username was exceedingly rare. They're egalitarian: it's not as though some people are producing content and some people are commenting on it. Moderation is up to the whims of the administrator. While finding them absolutely incredible, I interpreted them as exactly the sort of thing my parents would fear: a place where talking to unvetted strangers was the norm and the rules were haphazard.

So eventually I worked out a technical solution to what was really a sociological problem. A British company used the same domain name for their ISP customers and their free web mail customers, and I got an account approved with that email address. And joining the board was fairly anticlimactic: I was basically a nothing there and was still too intimidated to post much. But it did trigger me to join other message boards, including one called Marble Palace where I eventually became an administrator, developing a friendly rapport with many of the staff and users along the way. And if my parents knew, they never let on that they were any the wiser.

I largely fell out of the online Pokemon community when I went to college. I wasn't really playing the new games, Marble Palace died, Azure Heights atrophied. New Pokemon message boards sprung up, and I found myself registering mainly out of habit but posting so infrequently that I lost contact with many of the people I knew. Many of them had done the same, anyway.

Sometimes, in the slow and uneventful moments like these on my vacation, I find myself Google-searching '"marble palace" pokemon'. I'm really not sure what I'm expecting to find. I think I do it because the words themselves evoke more that just a Pokemon message board. They represent a time in my life, a mindset I held, and a group of people that I felt close to then. If I search these words maybe I can find evidence that the people that I posted in the same discussion threads as, chatted with, and battled with-- now adults, likely gainfully employed, maybe with families--ever find themselves doing the exact same thing, in these same sort of moments.

Or maybe I'm just the type to dwell.