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16 January 2006 to 12 December 2005
Here is how I did on my three explicitly stated quantitative metrics for calendar 2005:  

Running  

I hit my distance goal of 1000 miles in early December, and even with an injury-constrained final month finished the year with 1052 miles. My average pace across all conditions and routes was 7:24/mile, beating my internal target of 7:30. I also wanted to be able to comfortably run 6:30/mile on 5-mile training runs, but I can't yet, and maybe won't ever. I can get under 7:00 without straining, but anything below 6:50 is hard, and 6:30 requires race intensity. I meant to enter a 5k this year and try to finish it in less than 20:00, but I never got around to it, and didn't really feel bad about that.  

Body Equilibrium  

My weight spent the year, as intended, within a couple pounds of 132. It's been there for two years, so I'm no longer really worried that there's anything tenuous about the state, but I still monitor it fairly closely. The degree of close scrutiny I applied to my bite-by-bite consumption in 2005 varied, but Bethany and my ongoing attention to our shared shopping/cooking/eating patterns is almost certainly more directly positive and ultimately sustainable than any rules applied at the point of chewing.  

Reading  

Hoping to get through 50 books in 2005 was easily the least realistic of my numeric impulses, and projections showed me missing it up until very late in the year, but after an epic transit of the complete Baroque Cycle I actually ended the year at 52 books and 18,232 pages. Both of these are ten-year personal highs, and more than double the woeful (reading-wise) 2002 and 2003 (which were attributable, oddly, to almost opposite trends elsewhere in my life). More significantly, in 2005 I actually read more than I bought (and was given), and so began, after many years of seemingly uncheckable increase, to decrease my backlog of books waiting unread on my shelves.  
 

These amounts of running and eating and reading all felt pretty good, so for 2006 I'm simply going to repeat all three goals, unaltered: run 1000 miles and maybe enter a couple races, gain or lose no weight, read 50 good books.The tempting thing to do with goals is always to increase them, but that's reliably at the expense of things that are harder to measure but more important to do.
Here are ten I feel different for having seen:  

1. Me and You and Everyone We Know
An intertwined miscellany of wounded adults and curious children try bedraggledly to break through their own and each others' patched-together shells. Undeniably precious, hyper-self-consciously eccentric, and to me unreasonably charming. Maybe the largest number of compellingly detailed characters ever packed into the least film time, and one of the rare movies in which even the characters with only one line usually get a good one.  

2. 3-Iron (Bin-jip, Korea, 2004)
Catch-and-release identity theft as the ultimate solipsistic performance-art. Ethereally understated, for long stretches enthrallingly wordless, and about as empathetic and complex a portrait of long-resigned and suddenly-fractured loneliness as film probably allows.  

3. Stay
A virtuoso weaving of the dream-logic associations of unraveling memory, and a case study in how few special effects you actually need if you know what people are really trying to remember or forget.  

4. Hana & Alice (Hana to Arisu, Japan, 2004)
Friendship, love and growing up are universal in aggregate, but unique in each subjective experience, and thus one of the most enduring things art can aspire to do is show us what it might be like to have been anyone else.  

5. Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai, Japan, 2004)
Four children, .04 parents, and no wishful magic.  

6. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Even more old-fashioned in comic dignity than in animation technique.  

7. A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles, France, 2004)
Amelie in wartime.  

8. Millions
Spy Kids with cardboard boxes instead of spy toys, a bag of expiring money instead of a robot brain, and grown-ups with even fewer secret powers than the kids.  

9. Krama mig! (Sweden via Montreal World Film Festival, 2005)
Maybe mundane life in a small town is only interesting if it's somebody else's town, but most towns are somebody else's.  

10. Bright Future (Akarui mirai, Japan, 2003)
Debilitating nihilism, fluorescent jellyfish and fabulous pants.  
 

I expect to also remember Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland, Good Night and Good Luck, Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl's Moving Castle), Hotel Rwanda, Kung Fu Hustle and Super Size Me.
The short version:  

1. Kate Bush: Aerial & Tori Amos: The Beekeeper
2. Low: The Great Destroyer
3. Waltham: Waltham & Tommy heavenly6: Tommy heavenly6
4. Imogen Heap: Speak for Yourself
5. L'Arc~en~Ciel: AWAKE
6. Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch
7. Yokota Susumu: Symbol
8. Zapruder Point: It's Always the Quiet Ones & The Frames: Burn the Maps
9. Tullycraft: Disenchanted Hearts Unite
10. 50 Foot Wave: Golden Ocean  

The long version:  

The Best of 2005
"I fall in love to you", she sings, in one of the few easy Japanese/English false-cognate errors. Five out of six words are right, and I know exactly what she means, but we have spent these centuries inventing ways that anyone other's sincerities and truths, from even the most trivial distance, can always be safely invalidated.

Luna, putting the finishing touches on an early interpretation of a false sense of security.  


Moki, compiling entry 237 in his bouncingly expanding encyclopedia of whether each object in our house is best suited to hiding under, pouncing on or falling off of.  

Adopted 5 Jan 06, birthdays (celebrated) 5 Oct 05.  

I'll get their email accounts set up by the end of the day.  

[Later]  


I guess they're settling in OK.
i can't really blame my mail program for thinking that a message beginning "Dear Sirs, I am an Eglish beef farmer with a young nephew who plays the fiddle" was probably spam.
I'm just settling into public-transportation commuting again, and I just read The Tipping Point, which has a chapter on the application of the broken-window principle to the subway in New York. The original observation is that in an environment where windows get broken frequently and are not fixed promptly, people are ambiently encouraged to act as if order is likely to be unenforced and inapplicable in other ways, as well. This makes somewhat better sense phrased the other way around: in an environment where obvious attention is paid to the smallest details of physical maintenance, people also tend to take the formal and informal social rules more seriously. In New York a rigorous campaign against subway-car graffiti and fare-jumping ended up causing (it is theorized) a dramatic decline in all kinds of crime on the subway. I was also recently in petty-crime-free Tokyo, where a whole host of social patterns are different, but among other things the subways and trains are operated to obvious exacting standards.  

Thus I am hyper-aware of what seems like an increasingly out-of-control plague of disrepair on the MBTA. Equipment as simple and presumably componentized as turnstiles and card-readers breaks routinely and goes unapologetically unrepaired for weeks. Torn seats are treated with electrical tape. Stair treads wear through the rubber to metal, and then rust through the metal to dank holes. Dismantled escalators sit in oily piles surrounded by desultorily drooping perimeters of creased caution ribbon. Floors are coated with a layer of grime that turns into viscous, clinging ooze in the gray ground-water that leaks out of the walls under the slightest weather provocation. Misaligned train wheels screech and clatter. The next-destination PA systems are usually off, and at least a third of the time when they're on they're unintelligibly garbled or simply wrong. The Authority publishes an official bulletin itemizing all the stations whose elevators are not operating, and it's only a matter of time until somebody notices that it would be more efficient to reverse this and list the ones that are.  

To be fair, though, the MBTA is really in no worse shape than any other aspect of the public infrastructure in Boston. The streets are poorly maintained, and traffic flow is irrational, largely unmanaged and often systemically unmanageable. Only the largest highways and smallest side-streets are reliably labeled, making virtually any navigation process into frustratingly inevitable trial-and-error. A constant flow of crap and its packaging debris spews out of fast-food and donut shops into pasty, lumbering bodies and onto the crumbly sidewalks, and in the winter it melds with minimally displaced snow to form rancid heaps as if the sewers are extruding sores up through the city's skin. SUVs sprawl out of cramped spaces in unrealistically lined parking lots, and their drivers swerve right out of left lanes, and vice versa, without turning the head to which one hand is holding their cellphone. The city could barely be more ruthlessly segregated by a formal initiative, the Red Sox fairy-tale has surrendered to the Yankee dollar, the record stores are just waiting to die, and in the winter it's really too damn cold.  

So, OK, maybe it's my tipping point I'm really approaching. But if I'm losing this city, I'm getting plenty of help.
 

glenn's: gold and Gibeon meteorite
Beth's: gold and Damascus steel  

Made and modeled by Bethany Ericson, December 2005.  

Designed, mentored, assisted and photographed by Chris Ploof.  
 

Superheroes at work:  

A while ago I mentioned CapitalOne's perpetual-finance-charge machine. At the time I'd just gotten off my second call to get them to stop pettily half-dollaring me, and had been promised that the problem was solved.  

Not only was it not solved, but where the first call had produced a $.49 credit that failed to counteract a $.50 charge, the second call ended up yielding nothing. The following month's statement contained no credit, and yet another $.50 finance charge. So I called again, this time explaining the original problem and the two failed attempts to fix it. This third call produced a $.52 credit, which wasn't the right amount but at least showed they were trying to catch up. I deliberately overpaid my bill for that period by a few dollars, too, figuring that at least I could eliminate the extra charge by brute force.  

But that didn't work, either. The next statement showed the $.52 credit and my overpayment, but yet another $.50 charge. On my fourth call I simply demanded to speak to a supervisor directly, and refused to get off the phone with that supervisor until they could convince me that 1) they really understood the problem, 2) they understood and could explain why the first three attempts to fix it didn't work, and 3) they had the power and the will to fix it themselves, personally, directly, and by "fix it" I mean "fix it", not "submit a request to have it fixed" or "credit me some other random amount in the hopes that that will fix it".  

Supervisor LQ54 did, in fact, do a credible job on #s 1 and 2. Purchases and cash advances are tracked separately, and those $.49 and $.52 credits had apparently been misapplied to my purchase balance, not my cash-advance balance. He claimed to be zeroing out my cash-advance balance directly, and then separately applying a $1.49 credit for the accumulation of unreversed charges. I couldn't verify this myself in real-time, but neither was there anything further he could tell me that would increase my confidence, so I'll see when the next statement comes.  

But even if my problem is now solved, the underlying behavior is bad. It looks to me like if you ever take out a cash advance on your CapitalOne card (and remember that in this case the whole thing was started by a vendor processing a payment as a cash advance without my awareness), they will immediately begin charging you self-perpetuating fees that cannot be eliminated by any combination of paying in full, overpaying, and normal complaints and credits. If you don't pay your bills in full, and thus have other finance charges anyway, this may be increasing your fees without you having any realistic way of noticing. The magnitude of the effect is small for any individual customer, but how large for CapitalOne as a whole? And at what point does this move from accounting anomaly to negligent design to systemic fraud?
I think of Social Darwinism as a paradigmatic intelletual error, confusing description with prescription, and natural existence with social morality. There is a Social-Darwinist extreme to software-design philosophy, too, in which it is sometimes hoped that sufficient iterations of usability testing can obviate the need for design decisions of any other sort.  

But evolution is slow, and its power should not be confused with efficiency or completeness. Iterative testing and adjustment is good for identifying and (sometimes) addressing specific execution errors, but largely useless for assessing conceptual shortcomings, much less missed opportunities and possible transformations.  

As a software designer, then, I'm basically a Social Creationist. I believe in people inventing things, and asking strange questions, and guessing and aspiring. I believe in experimentation as an artistic act more fundamentally than a mathematical one. I believe that you can accomplish far greater things by trying to tell your audience an inspiring and surprising new story of themselves than by the constant diligence of patching up the holes in the stories they have long since begun to wear out.  
 

And thus it occurs to me to wonder whether this opposition between evolution and creation, between the crawling struggle against entropy and the wildest wish to fly, doesn't pivot, of its own nature (or ours), around the axis between how we believe our environment is and how our society should be. Perhaps survival and intent are conserved in our beliefs. If you think the natural world was created in all its particulars by gods as living pedagogy, then it makes manifestly good sense to also believe that the subsequent operations of that created system are themselves intended and thus not to be much interfered with, and excessively detailed study of them is most likely to be a precursor to some evil. If you believe that the natural world is not authored, then the responsibility for morality falls entirely to its inhabitants, and every fevered curiosity is a spasm towards informing our own decisions by understanding their context and consequences.  

As therein lies the soul of our greatest impasses: some of us are trying to account for thermodynamics and live better before we die, and some of us are crossing our fingers and counting on the Rapture.
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