Sunday, September 14, 2014

Grown Back

Sometimes I cannot accept the changes that in my short life time have happened around me. I miss the dairy farms. There used to be two of them not far from where I live. One of them, which belonged to Brad and Carla Phillips of West Paris, used to be one of the best in all of Maine. Their high fields on a southward facing hillside were the envy of every farmer who ever set his heart on milking cows. Three crops of hay in a summer are anything but unlikely for the ambitious. Though the owners have become old, the buildings have been so well kept up the farm could go back into full production in a good summer. I think it has something to do with the work.

September 5, 2014

A cold front was passing through this afternoon, bringing in showers and a foreboding winter wind, but the rain stopped and Sunshine and I walked on the north, the downhill, side of Kittridge Brook Road, the dirt road my house is on. There used to be big fields in here. Jack Robert's father, a dairy farmer, once worked this land. But now the fields are all grown up to brush.

Sunshine and I got into the woods on a slash cut where there had been logging recently, and we missed the trail but there was a stone wall to follow and the stone wall crossed the trail again. There was a wire fence along the stone wall in the middle of the woods. To have these old fields all grown back is a hard thing to think about. I have some idea what it means to clear land. And now my own land is growing back because there is no crowd of animals to graze them any more.

I thought surely when I became retired my fondness for farm animals would encourage me to carry on. I have enough land to keep a small herd of beefs, maybe Angus, which would be worth something come time to sell. I wanted animals that would be worth something. I looked at Alpacas. Like dairy goats you don't have to take them to the butcher except in rare cases. If fact, I can't off hand think of a rare case that would prompt me to take one to the butcher. They are wonderful for their fiber. It is a fiber you can get into as deeply as you have ambition to, a fascinating study of a lifetime. My eyes are slowly declining, reading is becoming more difficult. I theorized once to a weaver-yarn maker that spinning might be easier on the eyes than reading, but she didn't have anything to say about my theory. I have heard that the expense of a sound animal is in the thousands of dollars; and I have heard that they are difficult to keep. They seem to stay solitary in herds and unlike Llamas they do not appreciate sharing a pasture. Llamas run beautifully among goats, and it is a sight to see. But that is a simple problem of fencing. I have heard that Alpacas are delicate. A sound animal in the prime dying suddenly is not a happy experience. I can tell you that from hard experience. Pigs are clever and stubborn. Get a herd of friendly ones, you will surely run across them in the garden. They are little bulldozers, clearing land. If you can't make money with pigs, so I have heard, get out of farming. Grass is another study. Birds. Farming for the inquisitive is the work of a lifetime. Cows can be dangerous. I think there comes a time when you have got enough of it.

Farming doesn't seem to jive with the times. Who knows where their food comes from? Even if you do because you have done farming, though as a sort of hobby or pastime, what you have just spent a summer raising, may not be what was sold back, once the colored slime is added, on your trips to restaurant or grocery store. Man, am I mad or does label reading seem discouraging, especially if you'd like to live for awhile before dying miserably with the c word. But it is not so much the product—everybody has got to eat—but the work that goes into the product. The work is outside, so you've got to like it; times happen when it is dirty, grim and dark. Pulling a dead calf out of a pile of prolapsed uterus is just farming. Cleaning pens, trimming the feet of an uppity buck, fencing, my personal pet peeve, are arduous work. Hardly any of the kids want to do it anymore, and when you find one who does, it is like running into a breath of fresh air. They are good with the financial vagaries. They know that if they are smart, stay sober and make do, they'll have a dandy herd of Angus calves to sell, and maybe a nice profit to bring home. I don't think most folks like to get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning any more, or spend Sunday afternoon out with the calves, trying to get them halter broke, rather than digging into NFL football and a six-pack. And, this is my personal opinion, hearts have hardened. Who wants to sit up all night working on a calf with a belly ache, and then come dawn watch her die spewing out green slime? I think I'll drop that idea. Sometimes, I confess, my heart stops beating for those two legged things, though a favorite doe who has barely survived a disastrous kidding can still bring me to tears.

So in the pasture behind the hay barn, which I slowly cleared myself over the years, a good big space, the brush have taken over. Used to be the bucks would clear brush but now we have only Johnny, a Nubian. It doesn't take long for brush to take over, three or four years. I should hire a bulldozer to level it off and clear the big boulders to make something of it; then fix the fencing and buy a little crowd of sheep to raise and sell. Sheep are too dumb to get personal about, not like pigs. You name your pigs and when, after a short summer, you send them to the butcher it can get personal.

I'll probably knock down more firewood this winter. I am getting older and my legs are not so good but I want to burn firewood. Pretty soon that's all there will be for me to do, cut firewood and take care of a vegetable garden. It would be nice to get a couple of years firewood ahead, maybe ten, fourteen cord cut, split and stacked. Then I'd burn like I used to, which is all the time. That would keep my open spaces—I almost said fields—clear. But it is much easier on my wife, who is getting old too, to run the furnace.

In Jack Roberts' backyard the pines and spruce have taken over, which must be the first cover toward a normal Maine woods before the leafy trees come in. Possibly the fact that the land slopes north reduces the number of leafy trees in this first growth because, of course, northward sloping land tends to get less sun. But once the leafy trees take hold in most situations where the ground is not too uneven, they crowd out the piny trees; the leafy trees, even the poplar, tend to be taller and their upper branches are more needful of light. I have observed that numerous times in old growth that has not been recently logged, at least here in the foothills, deciduous trees tend to dominate.

Now in this young growth there are few trees worth cutting down. Where we walked today Jack Roberts had laid out some large trees to work into firewood. But the trees had been cut from a place along the edge of the new growth. The logs looked like sick and broken down elms. Cows like to hang on the edge of the field on hot summer days for the shade under the big trees that have been left. Along the edge of the cleared land the farmers used to leave substantial trees. I myself have left a sturdy beech, for instance, which happened to be nice to look at, inside the fenced in area for that very reason—it would be useful as a shelter to the animals. But the animals interfere with the roots and sooner than you can imagine the branches were naked and the tree having ceased to flourish became dangerous enough so that you naturally cut it down. Hopefully the tree is not very close to house or barn. Twice in my life I have come uncomfortably close to felling a big tree on a house.

My opinion is that sun windows in winter are more valuable than shade is in summer. But creating sun windows for winter often leads to an adventure. I feel as we cross out of the new growth and brush into the fields that someone has kept open that same feeling of adventure. When the farmers cleared the land, it must have been something like a battle in war. These fields are like small battlefields. Woodsmen tell me about cutting on blustery Autumn days. You couldn't know which way the tree would fall. There were injuries, unforeseen accidents, even deaths. As I walk I feel the souls of these men so close, so close. They are very dear to me. How has it happened that so much has changed? I can think of hardly a person man or boy strong enough to cut down a big tree with an axe and dig up and pull the stump. What has happened to the dairy farms? I do not think this change or these fields grown up to brush could presage anything good. As I walk through I struggle in damp combat with contrary images of an American future I can't understand.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On Lying Your Ass Off

The thought behind the written word is one way or other to explain reality. There are all sorts of fancy words for it. I personally like to use the word document. The thought is, which may sound stubborn or presumptuous, that a certain time or period that the writer is familiar with may be preserved with words. But if you are lying your ass off or avoiding the prominent features of your times, how can that have a quality one might call documentary? If art is a lie, or too vague to attach any specific importance to, then why bother to pay any attention to it?

September 7, 2014

Another beautiful day, but hotter and more humid than recently. This summer has had better growing weather than average. June especially came with day after day of stubborn sunshine, moderate night temps and gentle rains to promote delicate seedlings. Later, just when the ground was getting dry, a good day of rain swept in. September has held onto a clump of summer, lengthening the season. Tomato plants are thriving. No hint yet of an early frost. It is the first summer for fifty years that I have not gone to work. I am retired. I still work but it is work at home, which is for some reason different than real work. Today I stacked firewood, a simple kind of job. I like to stack the sticks with space enough between so a rat can get in but not get through. Lately, I have come into a giant cache of apple sticks. The owners of the orchard died, and the orchard became run down and dead trees stood dead for five years before they were pulled into a jumble in a corner of the back forty where they have lain for five years or so since. Apple limbs are so dense that they tend not to rot. The limbs, shorn of their bark, stick palely out of the tall grass as if tangled in a battle. Each stick is a different size and shape. This wood will burn like the dickens, too hot I fear, so I have mixed in beech, red maple or whatever else handy. Though perhaps simple, the job deals in the concrete. I'm always touching something, naming something, for beech burns short, but the coals glow long, pople will start fast, cook your morning hot cakes in twenty minutes, then die fast, gray birch is almost as good as dry ash, it burns long and coals longer. How will this thick chunk of apple trunk burn? It is dead dry. I have never burned apple before. All this thinking is about a cold winter night maybe below zero, it is about the concrete. There is pleasure in this kind of thinking. Remember when Sam Spade pulled out the Smith-and-Wesson to do the dirty deed? It wasn't a gun, it was a Smith-and-Wesson.

Sam Spade's Smith-and-Wesson has bothered me for a long time. In the Hollywood Maltese Falcon it was a Webley, an interesting crock—that's Hollywood!—but don't get too hung up on the names, though less likely you can lie your ass off with specific names. Sometimes I prefer the clarity of the Smith-and-Wesson; otherwise, maybe the dark gun in the shadow. Which spews out fire and metal projectiles more effectively? Which of my firewood logs will burn best, and when? One day it is the dark gun; the next the shiny Smith-and-Wesson. What about spruce so dry the bark has fallen off; the next day it is that mysterious apple wood, said to burn "pretty".

Funny how you may run into another fellow who likes to think. Damned, you may run into them anywhere. It doesn't always have to be in a book. And it may not be a person who likes to write on his computer the way I do. The strongest general advice I have ever gotten was "Decide, decide!" You can apply it to anything. When confusion rules, "Decide, decide!" Applied to writing it means: you can't write short sentences and long sentences at the same time; you can't subordinate when you have already decided to co-ordinate; you can't depend on character to provide surprises when the plot has already moved from Duluth to Paris, France. So what about the Smith-and-Wesson? I'd better not say I don't know after all these years of struggling with the written word. I think it is easier to lie your ass off with the dark gun than it is with the shiny Smith-and-Wesson. The same as it is easier to get the house hot with a good dry ash log than a pople log twice the size, though both will warm the house eventually.

I think after all I do know. I have always thought good writing comes from the real and the specific. You'd have to argue with me for a long time to talk me out of it. After fifty some years of carrying on I guess I'd have to put the Smith-and-Wesson under the category of set in my ways. If I put a Westinghouse Pop-up Toaster in one of my stories it is because I hope to meet one day a like minded person who will say: yeah, I remember that one. It is black and silver. I always thought it worked pretty well. Everybody makes jokes about can openers and pop-up toasters. In writing finding an object with a specific name on it is a little like finding a sliver of gold in a rock slide. Perhaps the story might be about the toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made with the Westinghouse Toaster—think about it, it even sounds nice, Westinghouse—, how the toast delighted my tongue and settled my hunger so I could go back to work writing on my computer. That's all it is about, isn't it?

But don't think I'd put a Westinghouse Pop-up Toaster or a Black-and-Decker Can Opener just anywhere. I wouldn't put the toaster in Sam Spade's office, maybe the Can Opener or a Mr Coffee. I wouldn't waste my time trying to tell Sam Spade how to make a good, hot, smokeless wood-stove fire either. Why? Because it would not be accurate; it would be a lie. Putting a computer in Sam Spade's office would be a lie; unless he was a modern Sam Spade, a spiffy guy whose office was in a high rise, Rolex packing, maybe he carries a Smith-and-Wesson still, AK47 in the trunk of his Carrera Porsche—there's a wonder, does a Porsche have a trunk, better check it, get it right. On the other hand, maybe Sam Spade was a hincty guy who let himself out of his high rise only on rainy nights with the fog crawling across the streets from the bay. I wonder how much detective work he'd get done if he had to wait on the weather? Course, if you want to lie your ass off the weather could be like that every night. And better still a hincty blond bomb unnamed in miniskirt and shiny black raincoat bling spangled ring hooked to a nostril in a hushed hurry to meet Sam on the corner of Fifth and Broadway in the fog. See how the skirts of her raincoat turn up, reveal shapely raw shanks and ankles. Man, I love lies! I could lie my ass off all day! Sometimes you'd even swear it wasn't a lie, but of course it is, and who wants to hear told the same lie twice? I don't. Is it a good enough excuse that the first time might be a delight? The vagueness is clung to stubbornly. You have to be in the mood. Mood must be depended on.

After all, there is a vagueness that carries itself forward bravely, and that tries to be meaningful by creating a mood. Creating a specific mood or atmosphere, as it is sometimes called, such as the Bronte sisters, for example, were so great at, is rarely done successfully, and when it is done, it always, always produces classic artifacts. You can put it in your pipe and smoke it: a pure atmosphere is rare. Baudelaire was rare: an atmospheric poet who somehow developed an interesting way of thinking. I don't know how he did that. I have theories like the theories I have about how apple wood will burn, having never burned it before, though dreamed and wondered about it plenty. I personally operate under the illusion that what is rare is important.

Now, there are many other illusions than my own. It has always pleased me to know that there are illusions other than my own. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much variety in books or anything else. That would suck, wouldn't it? Considering we come to books as kids for the variety because we are lonely and bored. And since we write late at night on our computers for the same reason, wouldn't it suck if there were not numerous illusions around to pick from? Fact is, a lot of our words won't get read even by our wives. Lots of books aren't read, some of them good books, too. Their authors have different illusions; they may claim that in a hundred years, when they will be read, these details—the matter of the Smith-and-Wesson—won't matter because nobody will know what a Smith-and-Wesson is. What does that mean? I could sit here and think about that all day with pleasure, but not get anywhere. At least, if you were a nice person, wouldn't you let the scholars of the future have their day? Sometimes an illusion is like a stone wall you come up against. I wonder if anyone knows what the not very complimentary dictionary meaning of vague is?

When I think of the word vague, I sometimes think of the term unclear in the sense of distorted. I think I dislike distortion. When I engage in it to produce some cheap effect, I feel like I have sinned. Maybe that is unreasonable. If you go by my theory of the "itness", the direct sensory experience, as being prepared for art by a generalization, vagueness does seem to fit in. I wonder if vagueness was part of the theory behind impressionism. It can't be a virtue. I think even the impressionists painted a specific scene from the actual. There is something important in the actual. One must pay close attention to the actual in order to get it right before plunging onward with it. Without accuracy in the raw perception, there is no forging art, there is only a misleading into embarrassment, a distortion.

The "itness" is not necessarily a symbol. (To find out more about this concept go here.) A symbol has already entered the stream. The fact of the itness is its novelty. Remember, the itness has to be prepared before it can be used to communicate with. The itness is, therefore, a pre-symbol. It can communicate, one can give practical directions with it, but as such it is not ready to be used. The edges have to be drawn in such a way that there seems to appear a unity with other edges the same as a Smith-and-Wesson is unified by a pale hand in the fog.

I think about edges all the time, how literature sews them together, creating a unity. A communication happens when the inside and the outside create a unity. It is the kind of thing that happens only in art, nowhere else in the real world, and it pleases people. Truth is a unity, and this unity may as well be the Smith-and-Wesson in Sam Spade's pale hand in the darkness of a foggy night. At least I can be sure of it.

Now all of my numerous disparate sticks of firewood have been stacked into a line 16x2x4 in such a way that a rat can get in but never go through. Sam Spade's Smith-and-Wesson and his pale hand are in there somewhere.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

More PabloOS

Aug 23, 2014
Ever since I started writing on my computer, I became fascinated with the idea of building a system that would be perfect for the writer. I suspect that there are systems that work perfectly for programmers, and why shouldn't there be?, but every program or app that I have run across seemed to me deadly to the writer who was not a programmer and who just wanted to write novels, for instance, and other long works fast with no bullshit. I think in the last few years I have made some progress in this matter.

When I started writing on a computer, the app I started with, as did anybody else, I imagine, was Microsoft Word. About two weeks into it I thought: what is this, this is so backasswards, and it looks terrible, how can any fool expect me to stare at this all day, or long enough to write the huge, lengthy great American novels I wanted to write? For awhile I went back to the long suffering Selectric which had been banged on steadily for the previous ten years. The writing was tiring enough, but Word made every page an exhausting challenge. The media was making me work harder than the words! XP was the big thing then; and believe me I can see why. XP was very good, especially when the CPU's were dual core and 4 gigs of RAM became common with machines off the shelf. I think Microsoft has never come close to matching it. System seven passes, but neither XP nor system seven are good for me, who might stubbornly push out several thousand words a day. Perhaps good for little old ladies who like to look at baby pictures, tap out an email now and then, play a game or watch a movie, but not for me, who had my own specialized purpose. Almost all OS's are like that: they are not serviceable for workers in literature who spend many hours per day staring at a video monitor which is supposed to look good and be easy to read and not too hard on the eyes.

That began a five year walkabout through computer science. I tried everything, some apps that cost money, some apps that didn't cost anything. I tried very expensive hardware, a MacBook Pro, and hardware that I salvaged for next to nothing, and pitted them side by side in order to see which one I would grab first when I was determined to get something done. Whether hardware or software worked or tied you up in spastic knots of frustration seemed to have nothing to do with how much they cost. Some of the apps were more than apps, they were complicated writing systems, and every update was a boot to the wallet. Some apps were incredibly slow, hulkingly halting; others disappeared after the first update. If you didn't buy the updates, they ceased to work. The files, though I was smart enough to insist on basic .txt files, except for a short flirtation with .odt, which I am presently suffering for, were then a bitch to clean up and use, or rewrite five years later, as writers often do, and haul back into existence. Others were useless in the sense that they gave you a text file or a rich text file and not much else. It is very hard to make a typeset quality pdf or a decent html file unless you went to another app or unless you added the commands by hand, and then you would need another app to compile the commands with in order to take a look at the file. Numerous highly specialized apps sometimes lead to a very haulting work flow even if they all work. The process might be prone to error and downright dangerous. A round of corrections, for instance, accidentally deleted could set you back. The frustrations increase as five minutes become two hours. And worst of all, good running machines become obsolete as OSes and apps are blown up with inefficient and expensive junk.

And then, in the case of the PDF for example, you might have to shell out an amazing amount of money to make changes in the PDF file. HTML is better for the democratic man in that once the file is in the browser, in the form of a blog, for instance, changes are always possible and easy to make. But finding server space, in the case of a blog or wiki, costs money, more money, I think, than it should. Setting up your own server to run your own website and emailer is not a job for a beginner. Besides, the expense in terms of time expended in maintenance can be high. Not to mention the machine, whether a built at home box or store bought, has to be rather close to the top shelf. The parts for these 24/7 machines are not cheap. If you are busy, if you do on your computer actual work, if you are a writer, for example, as I am, there is no time for maintenance. In order to cut down on the maintenance you might get stuck with an Apple desktop. You'll be able to run Apple software on an Apple machine. But the bottom end is $3,000. IBM server boxes ditto. It is a big investment, but commercial OSes and commercial grade hardware mean less downtime. The time to master the equipment is much shorter, and in the end less time will be wasted dealing with broken hardware. That is the theory. Once you get into it and spend x-thousand dollars, it may take you a while to find the proof.

The big question is: what can you afford? A long romance with Mac equipment can lead to an eventual marriage, unfortunately, an expensive marriage. But if you can afford to budget $2,000 a year, then why not Mac, or an IBM server or some other top-of-the-line equipment? Or better still have a machine built by an expert. Chances are nothing will go wrong and the work you will be doing will go on uninterrupted from one day to the next. It's a nice feeling: sit down at the machine, boot up and know that in a few seconds you'll be hard at work. The trouble is, you may not like the damned machine, you may not like the apps, maybe the machine is irritatingly loud, or the apps are such that they are so painful to work with that you just do not want to go there. This I will tell you from first hand experience: Adobe apps don't work very well. And they are ugly, chaotic looking and generally unpleasant to have anything to do with. It is unbelievable to me that there are people who work with Adobe apps all day every day. And at the same time they pride themselves in the number of phony effects that they can get. Fortunately I got my deciding experience with Adobe inexpensively. Lots of people get robbed, purchase apps they use a few times and then avoid like the plague. DEVONthink cost me over $100. At that time I had just gotten the Mac and I was enthusiastic about collecting data which had to be organized somehow. So I dived in. It worked. It did as advertised. But it was so ugly and tedious to work with I had to give up on it. I found myself doing the same operations over and over, and at least for me, nothing seemed to come together. Besides my eyes were going and all those black on white squares and boxes gave me a headache. But then maybe I am not being fair because Emacs, even in the first few weeks, as I was getting used to my first computer, began to intrigue me. The number of keybindings dedicated to the cursor and the keyboard made plain typing difficult for awhile, but the end result was amazing. I got so I could type as fast as I could think. The cursor flew all over the window as I went back to make changes. With such a drastic increase in efficiency I found my output per day to have increased three fold. Instead of 500 words per day, 1500 was more the norm. Emacs is free. I also like Aquamacs for its beautiful Apple fonts and colors. But like in anything Apple there is a despotic arrangement going on. You can't get into things. Configuration files are generally off limits. Getting into a configuration file to make the app run the way you want it to run is habit forming. It is a heady experience. After awhile, you come to expect it. And then the romance of running a Mac wears off.

So this is what happened during a crucial moment of my writing life. I want to be as prolific as Balzac. Though it may be that I write junk, I wanted to write a lot of junk. I started this novel which may go to half-a-million words. Gotta make some progress every day. No time to fool around. I threw together some spare parts I had collected, a crumby old ECS board, six years old, a ten dollar used AMD dual core and I splurged on two beautiful Noctua fans and I even bought a new disk drive. I found an Alienware box somebody had junked. Eventually, after an odyssey through *NIX, which is another story, I ended up in a head-to-head battle between the junker with Xubuntu on it and the 2011 MacBook Pro with quad core, SSD and 16G of RAM. I attached them with a KVM switch so that to move from the one to the other was only a matter of pressing a button. At first OS X was flashy. The colors were nice, the fonts were beautiful, nice kerning. Emacs kept crashing, though I never lost anything, so I switched to Aquamacs. But at the same time I began to see what a smooth operation Xubuntu was. As I got more and more familiar, I discovered everything worked. I could stay in Emacs all day. It compiled LaTex with no irritating glitches. I could even stay in Emacs to view the .dvi or the .pdf. Changes could be made and viewed instantly. All free, free anyway you wanted to think about it. And better still, any configuration file was fair game, and Xubuntu seemed to run on anything, even my collection of raunchy parts. Needless to say, two months later I am looking to sell the Mac. A fifty dollar machine had beat out a two-thousand dollar machine! To be fair, the one is not portable, but I am a stay at home guy, and nice running core-two-duo Thinkpads can be thrown together for $50. Never ever another Mac. In fact, after awhile the MacBook became obnoxious to me, if you can believe that. I began to consider it a rip-off. OS X is not nearly as stable as I was lead to believe. I fought off the crashes, refusing to believe what was happening in front of me probably because I had spent so much money getting there. But when I went head to head, early every morning, before dawn, in a hurry to get something done, I booted up on the junker.

(Before I go on I'd like to give praise to two really good apps for writing and one OS that I thought was surprising. The two apps are Pyroom and Jer's Novel Writer. After trying out a hundred apps for writing, I found Pyroom to be the simplest, most direct distraction free app of all. It submerses you and never insists that you come up. I spent a lot of time on it. But now I can get the same effect with Emacs plus the Emacs keybindings. The distraction free element is not Emacs, which requires more self-disciple for those long thinkfests than pyroom. Jer's Novel writer was a great app for giant text files. Also it had numerous useful features, and little cubbyholes to put your notes in and margin notes. But the developer went to work for Apple and he ceased maintaining it. I have not looked lately to see what has happened to it. I had to stop using my copy because I could not trust it any more. The OS I found which was unusually serviceable for people interested in building a home server was Ghost BSD. It uses Openbox desktop. It is BSD, though, fun for the simpleminded. It's apparently a one man operation, but I liked it so much that I might go back to it again if I get set up for it: printer and Internet on a wire. Emacs and Openbox were made for each other.)

Now let's go on and think about that server you have been dreaming about for the past five years. What is holding you back? You can't expect to run your MacBook Pro or Imac as a 24/7 server. Anybody who tells you you can is either an "old hand" who knows something I don't, or kidding you. You can't run a server on an overload of junk parts. You can try, but it won't run very long. The 24/7 requirement is what will set you back. Running used parts that are designed to run 24/7 is a good positive idea but highly theoretical. If you don't mind the setbacks, if you are not frustrated to find your computer shutting down suddenly, no work today, a day spent in trouble shooting, then a used Supermicro board and two dual core Zeons bought on Ebay for $50 might be your answer. Pull out the back up box, switch drives and you're in business again, sort of. Get a box that will let you switch parts around without tools and bank up backup parts. It does pass the sanity test to operate that way. Insist on good new fans and don't get cheap on your drives. No bigger hassle in computing than a cheap drive dying. ECC RAM is nice, but unholy expensive. If you do buy new, my personal dream, expect the job to run about $1,500 and some change. A server box will run close to $150—if you want a nice box to show off your stuff, a Case Labs box will cost about double—, a Supermicro dual CPU board $300, 2 quad core Zeons, $500 (maybe) and the rest in ECC RAM. That's assuming you have all the other odds and ends, video, an extra drive for backup and whatever else floats your boat, such as dual power supplies. CPU's have no moving parts and if they haven't been burnt, if your used parts supplier is on the ups, what the hell. An eight core Opteron (AMD) on a single CPU board might pass the sanity test. You might be able to get down under a $1000.

Are you sure you still wanna do it? You could hire the cloud for $20 a month or so, more depending on how much memory you need. Blogger is free, fun, but limited. But if you really want something of your own, a true shack and clubhouse, weblog, wiki, blog, emailer, it wouldn't be hard to figure out quite a few things to put on it. Ubuntu has a server OS. There's plenty of documentation. It might not take very much expensive hardware, at least to get started. A normal, everyday machine might drive the thing for awhile. If you make some money, you can throw it into improvements.

So this is about where I have come to. I like my machine to write on. I have got a lot of work down on Xubuntu, and so far updates have been flawless. I look forward to getting up before dawn and writing every day in Emacs. I have mastered enough Emacs to defend myself, so I can write both HTML and LaTex with purpose. Just finished a swing through BSD UNIX. They are having the typical *NIX update and upgrade problems. I lost a disk in FreeBSD, which, of course, could have happened anywhere at any time, but they also are having problems with their new package system, pkg2ng. Virtually every flavor of BSD is built on FreeBSD. So when FreeBSD is having problems, they all are. BSD is built to handle the issues of multiple users on the same system. If you are working in a system with ten or more workstations, BSD UNIX is definitely where you want to go. If you are a hobbyist who is throughly fond of experimenting with backgrounds and configuration files and so on, then BSD is where you will be the happiest. The number of ports and apps you will have to play with is, so far as I can make out, endless. And if you really enjoy retro computing, there are still serviceable apps like ED and Mutt and Pine to download and use. Once you get Mutt, the old fashioned, handy-dandy email client, figured out and configured, you will have an email client that you won't hate, since most of them suck. That is something to appreciate. When you jump into an app that configures your emails exactly the way you want them configured and that looks like what you'd want an emailer to look like, not like a battlefield, and when after a few years, all your apps work and look like you want them to, suddenly you will find yourself struggling to find time to use your computer rather than looking for reasons to avoid it. Everything you do on it becomes twice as easy, a real pleasure rather than an annoyance. An email client, for instance, that ditches emails you decide that you don't need any more before they show up to bother you helps. You don't have to wait for the sender to act on your request: ditched and deleted. And better still it looks nice, too, and you can learn some vi while sending emails out to the family.

I don't really have that much to say about apps anymore since I spend 95% of my time on Emacs. But my idea of battling out OSes via KVM is still in the works. There will be Xubuntu vs Debian on outdated hardware. Which will get ditched? That's the next chapter in the story of PabloOS.

This above is a KVM switch. If you want to run two machines at the same time with your favorite keyboard, mouse, monitor and speaker combination this is the way to go. I have never been able to figure out why anybody would want to slow down their expensive machinery so drastically waiting for an app in another OS that has been loaded on the same drive, I don't care how you do it. You cannot even properly evaluate an OS that way, so most "reviews" of software are bullshit. The KVM is a much better solution. I'll blog KVM switches in a little while. A beginner can hook them up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Fifty-Million Dollar Question

June 27, 2015
This is the question I ask myself all the time. I tell stories. I can't help it. I think I would not tell stories if I could help it. I'd write but I would not tell stories. Is it okay to "make up" a story, or does it have to be the truth. I have been advised not to answer that question if asked and not to ask it of myself, as it is debilitating. But it is after all the fifty million dollar question. I don't care whether it is debilitating or not.

I have been thinking all day about what art is. It has nothing to do with data, everyday existential facts; these facts come from the multitude of sense impressions that contact or stimulate our senses as we go about our daily works. I've put this idea all kinds of different ways, and it seems to me a natural conviction. There are book length ways of thinking about data. What is the nature of data? How does it happen that one thing is unlike another thing? How for example do the edges of a color come into being and then cease being? What is being? What is error? Though you may think about these things all day it won't get you a cow or a barn to put your goats in.

I might not have ever said data has nothing to do with art. That is not what I mean. I mean the data in its simple "itness" has nothing to do with art. Before data can be prepared for art some of the confusions about perception have to be removed. That means that the dependence of the data on sense perception has to be reduced. Memory is an obvious way of doing that. Say we have moved out of one system of sense perception and moved into another. What we remember of the first system is now not in sense but in mind. In exchange for a loss of immediacy there is an increase in certainty. The all important question is now moot because it is unanswerable: did I see (or sense) right? If two people happened to be in the middle of the first scene, and because of the numerous inaccuracies in sense perception, one sees the scene differently than the other, they can debate it, but the debate is moot unless they both can somehow return into the same scene. I don't even know if that's possible in most situations, unless the courts can gather enough evidence, and then the courts tend to convict the poor and not the rich. In other words justice, for the most part, is what rich and powerful men say it is. Justice in law is by program. But art is different. Art cannot allow the lukewarm trepidations in a programmatic attitude. Still in memory the degree of certainty is increased simply because debate cannot be concluded. So why bother? In memory then itness is becoming prepared to be received into art.

If itness is prone to error and faults of various kinds, it looks like truth can come from anywhere, even when it is made up in order to fill in some holes in memory. But now what does the word truth mean?

Art must know itness is there in the data, but itness is merely art in the initial, subjective state. In order for this subject to be meaningful it must be transfered out of the subjective itness into the object; it must become objectified. I associate this process of objectification with common generalization which is everywhere and which often goes unquestioned no matter how inaccurate. There's a mystery about how exactly data becomes generalized and what happens to the usual ideas about truth when the process happens. Truth may or may not associate itself with simple data. But art does not work with the truth in the idea of perception, the raw data. It works with beauty which is a form of objectified data. How does the image of a chair become a clear and simple image of a chair with the characteristic four legs come to mind to a large number of people when the word chair is mentioned? Think of any noun: brick for example. If somebody says hand me a brick, you would know in general terms before you even looked for a brick what the brick looked like, and so you would look around and obtain it and hand it over. Simply, I believe, most chairs have four legs and bricks have a rectangular shape of a reddish color. The generalization that can create an object worthy of a word makes the object also worthy of art.

This is only the beginning of course. For instance, how one hands over the brick is included somehow in the set of data that the word brick conveys and is generalized from.

The other point I want to build on has to do with the phrase "made up". I have been advised to avoid answering questions about is it truth or is it made up. I could very easily ask, "But how can you make up something? And what does it mean?" But I'll try to explain what I think that phrase "made up" means. I think it comes from real life. In real life there is a notion called experience. When people talk about experience they use all kinds of different words. They may say, "When I get married and have children I will know more." A guitarist might say, "When I climb Rainier, I'll be a better man, then I'll play my guitar better." Drugs are also associated with increased or profound awareness even to the point of talking with God. These sorts of statements riddle the way people think about themselves and life. But what do these statements have in common? They are made up. They didn't happen, or they haven't happened yet. Even very intelligent and well educated people make up. They fill in holes in their reasoning by making up additional arguments. They may explain how they got to the airport this morning by providing transitional descriptions that make it easier to explain their present state of mind. These transitions, many of which are made up or exaggerated, happen all the time. In fact the set of truths that describe our days may contain so many made up transitions that truth and falsehood may be indifferent. If there are that many of them, how would you be able to tell them apart? And why would you want to, which is the reason you dream when you sleep.

The object of art is to make beauty. But considering all the generalizations necessary to make it, I would be doubtful that beauty depends on truth. Rather it depends on data that has been removed from the subjective and turned over to the objective.