July 25. Went up to the land today. A few days ago we had a huge windstorm, and two big trees have fallen across the access road, just a few hundred feet from the edge of the property. I'm thinking of leaving them there to keep people out. I'm also thinking, since the land only costs me $250 a year in taxes, I'll hold onto it, still sell my truck, and just only go up there when I have visitors. Some happy links for the weekend. A month ago there was a great reddit thread, What's a joke so clever I probably won't get it? My favorite: Kurt Gödel walks into a bar and says, because we're inside the joke we have no way of knowing how funny it is. Also on reddit, two days ago Jeff Bridges did an AMA, one of the nicest ones I've seen. Someone asked for some wisdom and he said this:
Open at your own speed, but open. Dig what's happening to you. By "dig" I mean get into it. There are lessons for you there. And when it gets uncomfortable, that's an important time to open and dig.
Here's a short, inspiring article about GoG.com, a company that makes old games work on new machines and is committed to never using digital rights management, and never forcing you to be online to play them. By the way, today a reader asked if I'm ever going to make a page about my favorite games. I don't know, but I can tell you that my favorites on GoG are Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and Lords of the Realm 2, and I have Ascendancy on my wishlist. And I haven't played it in a while, but I continue to be excited about the development of Starsector. Finally, check out these geometric beehive sculptures:
The artist first builds transparent polyhedrons and cubes with an inner framework of wooden dowels, at the center of which he places the queen. After introducing the rest of the hive, he then rotates the sculpture every seventh day based on the roll of a die.
On a similar subject, there's a new
Update: on the same sort of subject, there's a new subreddit post by a guy who was convinced by reading Quinn and Jensen to turn his life away from what he felt like doing, to what he thought he should do. I hope my writing has never had that effect. Probably, worst case, I convinced someone to do something they felt like doing that ended badly. But it occurs to me, if Quinn and Jensen were truly radical, they would never line up with should. Only when an ideology becomes dominant (if not in popular culture then in a subculture) will it have the moral force to stifle excitement.
July 23. Related to Monday's subject, I got this email:
We are Tim and Noah Hussin, documentary filmmakers who are presently developing a television show concept for a major network. The show focuses on 'backcountry philosophers,' and we are looking for potential subjects who live away from the urban and suburban expanse of the United States who offer provocative perspectives on life and whose perspectives are expressed through their daily motions.
I probably won't end up on the show since I live in the city, but they wonder if I know anyone who would be a good subject. If any of you are interested, or know anyone who seems like a good fit, you can email Noah Hussin at his name (first and last names as one word, including both h's) at gmail.
Also here's a trailer for their previous project, a movie coming out next spring called America Recycled, where they ride bikes across the country talking to people living on the fringes of society. The message seems pretty close to what I was thinking ten years ago. Now I think, however you choose to live, you should do it because it's enjoyable on its own terms, because it makes you feel alive, not because you think it's necessary for survival, or because you think you're on the vanguard of a revolution.
July 21. The other day on the subreddit, in a thread called Talking down to Ran, a reader said that I don't always practice what I preach. This is an interesting subject, because I've never even tried to practice what I preach. Instead I try to preach what I practice: I figure out how to live through methods that are mostly intuitive and non-verbal, and then I use words to describe it, explain it, or -- a big mistake -- justify it. To justify yourself requires a surrender to dominant value systems: your unfamiliar and unfashionable behavior must be presented as familiar and fashionable, which means presenting it as myth. One of my college professors used to say that you make more noise blowing into the narrow end of the trumpet, and this holds for both fiction and non-fiction: it's more effective to write about the honest experience of particular people, and allow that to resonate with many readers, than to start with universal ideas and work to particulars. I'm not sure if I ever actually said that society is bad so we should all live outside it, and I certainly never said that living inside the system is immoral, or that living well is about avoiding guilt, because those ideas are repellent to me. But those ideas are part of the popular myth of the counterculture. If you draw the lines a certain way, people will subconsciously fill in other lines that aren't there, unless you specifically prevent it. The popular myth that is closest to your actual lifestyle is your worst enemy, and my mistake was not actively contradicting lifestyle puritanism from the very beginning. This issue reminds me of two different Ribbonfarm posts. Acting Dead, Trading Up and Leaving the Middle Class explains Bruce Sterling's dead great-grandfather test: that you're wasting your life trying to use fewer resources or do anything that your dead great-grandfather, in the grave, can do better than you. A better post, The Quality of Life, explains the concept of fuck-you money: the most important way that money buys happiness, is to free you from the demands of people who want to pay you to live their way.
For the record, here's what I practice and preach: 1) Make money the easiest way available to you, short of crime. 2) If you radically reduce your spending, you will not have to make as much money, and you might find that the sacrifices of low spending are more meaningful and empowering than the sacrifices of high earning. 3) The most valuable use of money, after basic survival, is to carve out a small space where you can pursue quality of life on your own terms.
July 18. A theoretical phyisicist explains why science is not about certainty. You probably knew that, but he also makes a subtler point: scientific revolutions do not come from changing theories, but "changing something in the conceptual structure we use to grasp reality." His first example is Anaximander discarding the idea that things fall from up to down, and replacing it with the idea that things fall toward the Earth. His second example, not as well explained, is Einstein changing how we think about time. This reinforces something I've believed for a while: when we talk about "paradigm shifts", we are not being nearly ambitious enough. On a whole other subject, a good psychology article, How we end up marrying the wrong people. It's mostly about our lack of awareness of ourselves and others, and how marriage flipped from 100% practical to 100% passionate and we need to find balance. This is my favorite bit, condensed:
We recreate in adult relationships some of the feelings we knew in childhood. But the love we knew as children may have come entwined with other dynamics: being controlled, feeling humiliated, being abandoned, never communicating. As adults, we may then reject candidates, not because they are wrong, but because they are too well-balanced (too mature, too understanding, too reliable) and this rightness feels unfamiliar and alien. We head instead to candidates whom our unconscious is drawn to, not because they will please us, but because they will frustrate us in familiar ways.Related, a reddit comment about why people stay in abusive relationships. It's all worth reading, but this is the core of it:
From the victim's point of view they are with a person who loves them so, so much, and wants them to be happy, and wants to be good to them, but they (the victim) are such a bad, useless, stupid, worthless, annoying person that their loving partner can't help but get angry and abuse them.
Wow, that's depressing. I have to end with something happy for the weekend: Camper Van Beethoven - Good Guys and Bad Guys
July 16. A couple weeks ago Gabriel sent this link to the Clover Food Lab blog. That's the first post six years ago, and if you're interested, it's followed by about a thousand more posts (no joke) about how this guy started a food truck business and built it up into a chain of healthy restaurants. To navigate them one by one, start at that page, find the grey link that says "Puddle of sunlight", then the link that says "Why the name Clover?" and so on.
My thoughts are on a different tangent: How does he have the time and energy to not only do all the blogging, but all the work that the blogging is about? And I know we're nowhere near being able to genetically engineer more people like him, but if it ever becomes possible, won't every parent want to do it for every child? And what will these billions of uber-achievers do with all their energy and drive? Not many of them will do something as benign as starting healthy restaurants. It reminds me of this quote from Masanobu Fukuoka: "The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity's trying to accomplish something."
July 14. Stray links. On reddit, a game designer comments on the dangers of virtual reality, basically that companies like Facebook will try to hold us in addictive virtual worlds where they drain our money. Farther down the comment thread, someone argues that the real action is not in virtual reality but augmented reality. And someone else points out that immersiveness is not the same as addictiveness. For example, I remember being addicted to the non-immersive Mattel football, and at the other extreme you could have a non-addictive world that seems completely real. Related? Human props stay in luxury homes but live like ghosts. It took me a while to figure out why this is so interesting: it's like a metaphor for the entire upper middle class universe. People who romanticize the lifestyle of the wealthy, but can't afford it, can hollowly simulate it by hiding all evidence of their aliveness:
All surfaces must be regularly cleaned; weeds eradicated, car oil spots removed. Clothes in closets are to be organized by color, and contestable items - heavily religious books, personal photos - must be removed or neutralized. Every item has a rule, and everything must be exact: the rotation of pillows, the fold of towels, the positioning of toothbrushes. Even the stacks of novels casually left on the bookshelf are placed and angled with pinpoint detail.
One of my favorite themes is how a skilled person using low tech can outperform an unskilled person using high tech. How to Write 225 Words Per Minute With a Pen is about a 19th century writing system called Gregg shorthand. A seemingly fair overview of the latest Israel-Palestinian conflict, posted by an Israeli on the Arabs subreddit. This article, Why It's Worth Paying More for Legal Pot, describes the unprecedented detail in the labeling, including the strain name, the genetic background of the strain, where it was grown, how it was grown, when it was harvested, and the percentage of five different cannabinoids. Personally I'm not going to buy any until the outdoor harvest comes in and the price drops. But I can't think of any other product that gives this much information to consumers. One of my utopian visions is that every time you buy food, you can see a live video feed of the farm. By the way, after a three week break, Saturday night I took nine vaporizer hits of Jack Herer and spent a few hours thinking about hypotrochoids as models for intersecting parallel worlds, something that did not seem nearly as profound the next day. My most valuable insight was that the Main Title Theme from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is damn near Bob Dylan's best song.
July 11. The other day I mentioned that people were writing about me like I was a teenager and they were my dad. It occurs to me that it's my fault, for an honest mistake I made ten years ago. Why does your dad, when you're a teenager, mistrust and second-guess your lifestyle decisions? It's because he has an emotional investment in you living a certain way. If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of writing advice, it would be: "Never write about your lifestyle in a way that makes anyone feel inspired." It's not just that people will get an emotional investment in the way you actually live -- it's even worse: they get invested in a mythologized version of the way you live. For example, Thoreau gets a lot of crap for accepting food and money from his family, but that doesn't contradict anything he wrote or actually stood for -- it just contradicts the unrealistic lifestyle puritanism that modern middle class people project on him.
Anyway, moving on, some culture for the weekend. I know that musical taste is largely subjective, but to the extent that it's objective, my girlfriend has the best musical taste in the world. She's been repeatedly playing this crazy experimental one man band song, which sounds better as you repeatedly play it, and the video is great too: ICHI - Go Gagambo. And my favorite recent discovery, White 4, is a brilliant Arabic-sounding psychedelic jam by a Polish band called Innercity Ensemble. The rest of their stuff is more jazzy but still pretty good.
We've also been watching Twin Peaks on Netflix. I remember when it came out in 1990 it seemed like the best thing ever. All previous continuing-story TV shows were trashy, and in comparison Twin Peaks was high art. Rewatching it now, the characters are more weird than deep, the narrative is clunky, and the sets and costumes are both ugly and too clean.
That's because fictional television has continued to get better and better. We've just watched season one of Orphan Black, and I can hardly believe how good it is. Even the best American TV shows, like Fringe and Grimm, have a lot of one-shot episodes that do little or nothing to advance the continuing story. In Orphan Black, made by the BBC in Canada, there are only ten episodes per season, and every one is top-notch and moves the story significantly forward. Tatiana Maslany gives an almost impossible performance as a bunch of clones who have such different and sharply-defined personalities that you forget they're all played by the same person.
Continuing Monday's subject, there's a thread on the , titled "Ran's next adventure", in which several readers are talking like I'm a teenager and they're my dad. [July 10 update: there's some good stuff there now.] And big thanks to moderator puck2 for styling the subreddit to match the blog.