Tuesday, October 21, 2014


We all have our good and bad relationships with dogs. Sometimes the dogs belong to us, other times they belong to someone else. Sometimes dogs belong to themselves. It is fun when they are friendly, and yours and theirs and themselves get along with friendship and well being. Otherwise it may not be fun. But dog lovers are as different as breeds of dog. I personally will never understand why anybody would want to risk their neck for any length of time with a pitbull, but pitbull owners don't understand me either. We just naturally don't get along. Instead, I prefer the owners of little brown hotdogs.

September 20, 2014

There is a small brown dog that belongs to a neighbor on Tueltown Road. He is as short as he is long. His tiny legs move along with the enthusiasm of a centipede. He appeared initially as a boyfriend for my old comrade Sunshine. Sunshine took to the little critter affectionately. They played together: they forgot the problems of the real world together. Then as soon as Cricket, my other dog, we have two, who is a Rat terrier, began to get into heat, oh-no. Cricket is ten, and a litter would kill her. The business of getting litters from a small dog that you'd like to keep alive any length of time has to start young. When they are four or five, they are too old. And that's not promising anything. So now Cricket has to stay in, while Hotdog has taken over the porch. He makes forays against our chickens as if he owns the place. He has become a youthful terrorist. I see him smiling behind the brass of his swagger. He has taken over my favorite porch chair. You know the type, toothy grin, AK-47 butt on knee, barrel waving upright. They'd take over the world if you let them, while believing the world has suddenly run into some good luck. Possession means everything unless someone else possesses it then it means nothing. Like Hemingway's Pablo or Babel's cossacks, their stolen horses acquired a new ownership worth fighting over surprisingly swiftly, as soon as the next day, the next sunrise.

But now, doesn't he look silly? Already a fat cat. I'd like to explain to him his situation. He is sitting in his grandeur atop the cat food bowl regularly visited by a gang of ten wild cats any one of which is apt to become in an instant agitated. Frankly, I doubt he'd stand a chance. Here they come now. Not a break in stride they hustle forward. I wish these terrorists would understand that in the grand scheme of things, they are not much. Well, that didn't take long. He is off to somewhere, leaving the wildcats to their chow. But that is not the end of him. I see him in the trees, having switched to gorilla operations. Now the wildcats will have their way. No matter, time for Sunshine and I to take our walk.

So on the walk Hotdog followed Sunshine and me down Tueltown Road to his house. I asked one of the kids, a fair haired, spectacled boy, to tell his mother I wanted to talk to her. Kids and dogs poured out the front door and strong shouldered, round faced Mom and bearded hubby. I explained the situation, that we thought the colorful little dog was fun, but my ten year old rat terrier was gonna get impregnated if this continued. I assumed the little dog had not been fixed. "No," the mother said. So I hope that solved the problem, though with that many kids, I imagine we'll see him around again soon. Kids have a way of losing track of things.

He is a fearless little dog, but not friendly. He won't come up to be petted even if you turn round, cluck and smile pretty. He wanders all over the neighborhood. He followed Sunshine and me back to his house I thought rather proudly, as if he had captured us, and was returning us as prisoners to headquarters. When someone opened the door he rushed in without being called. I think if it was not for Cricket, I'd have not bothered. It is funny watching the little brown squirt chasing the banties. He barks and runs like hell, but he is nowhere near quick enough, and the banties toy with him. Still he chases undaunted, as if Jason hell for leather in quest of the golden fleece. He is a brown, insignificant lump of nature chasing what nature would never be so stupid as to let him have. But try telling him that.

Next day Hotdog reappeared around supper. This time he was acting so obnoxious that when I took Sunshine out, he followed along snapping at his heels. Sunshine turned around becoming irate. He barked loudly, while little Hotdog, the brown turd, bounded around with rebellious pleasure. Now Sunshine became increasingly stubborn and would not move. I had to bring her back in to the house. I jumped into my Oldsmobile and drove down to Hotdog's headquarters. The flock of children reappeared, Mom following, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Did I see rabbits bounding past the front door? I was becoming increasingly fond of these people.

"I'm still worried about my ten year old rat terrier," I said. "I don't think it would work out if she had a litter right now."

"No, it wouldn't work out."

"He's over at my house. I can't get near him."

"Alright, I'm coming."

She was barefoot. One of the kids brought out her slippers so she could drive the car up Tueltown and down Kittridge Brook to my driveway. I was a little worried Hotdog may have vacated the premises. But no, he was sitting on the porch still in my favorite chair. Tail wagging, entire rear end wagging in fact for his tail was hardly more than a small stump, he came off the porch to greet his master. But he wouldn't get close. She called to him. Nothing doing.

"When he is inside he comes and he'll look to snuggle, but when he is outside, he is a brat. But he will follow me in the car."

"Well, with all the kids you've got, I'm glad we aren't dealing with the two legged kind."

"That's for sure," she laughed.

She said that she hadn't counted recently how many there were, between animals and children.

So she backed out of my long driveway, and little brown hotdog chased her beside the car. I have expected to see him back, but I haven't, don't know what she did. I should stop by some time to find out. Cricket is not in heat any longer. I miss not seeing him around. I hope he is still okay, though maybe not being such a brat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Advice to Aquamacsen

I have had to give up on Emacs in OS X (Mountain Lion), which has been crashing all the time, way too much, almost every hour, unclear why. I tried the nightly, since the download here is sort of old. Then I littered up my Mac with Homebrew, and that version was no better. So I took the advice of somebody on the net and I went back to Aquamacs. After setting it up, I abused it all day, and so far no crashes. This blog post is for the few who are between the rock and the hard place, who love to write with Emacs as much as they love their Macs. My Macbook is to me a sickness like heroin addiction. There are the fonts, the colors, subtleties in the OS that you almost don't notice, but the latest versions have not been stable with Emacs the way anyone would like. Instead of looking for love and beauty in the real world I am holed up like a rat in a closet with my Mac writing about anything I can think of to write about, doesn't matter what. This is how I set up Aquamacs.

October 14, 2014

If you have a little bit of experience with Emacs, though you are not a programmer, you will notice that Aquamacs seems uninterested in dot files. I don't think they are "deprecated" exactly, it's just that you don't have to use them. This is a good thing you should take advantage of because finder is uncooperative with dot files, a real problem at times to non-programmers who are unversed in the rituals of the terminal. Of course, if you are a non-programmer who has ruined her life by obsessing over configuration files, try *NIX and give up on Mac. Your Mac will limp along on something else. Some say Slackware, others Fedora. In so doing you leave behind Apple fonts and colors. When I switch over to Ubuntu, which runs on my desktop, although fonts and colors are much better in Linux than they used to be, the general washed out appearance drains all the blood out of my forehead. Back I go to suck on the nipple of my crashing Mac. And in my case Aquamacs instead of Emacs. (I haven't saved for awhile, and I just had a terrible thought that Aquamacs was about to crash on me.) It is a sickness. Emacs never crashes in Ubuntu. Not once in an entire year.

Since the Aquamacs experts have decided to make it possible to run Aquamacs without dot files you can do everything, at least everything that I know how to do, in finder. Here are the two places to go to. (Forget .emacs and .emacs.d. Just don't use them.) When you install the Aquamacs DMG, Aquamacs will create in ~/Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs/ a file called Preferences.el. No more .emacs. You can use finder to get to it, open it up with Aquamacs or Textedit, if you like, and you can load in whatever you have a mind to. I have my Preferences.el (notice the cap P, I don't know why they did that, but I wouldn't recommend changing it) in Bookmarks so I can get to it any time. It's about the only file a non-programmer can play around in on Mac OS. It makes for some comic relief. There is another file called customizations.el. I highly recommend, at least for the finer things in life, that you use custom as much as you can figure out how to. But avoid this file like the plague. When you open it it looks like somebody dropped a pot of spaghetti on the floor. If you take it upon yourself to edit something in the fonts section, for instance, and end up with an error message "won't load customizations file", don't say I didn't warn you. You can just delete it and start from scratch; the more often you blow it, the more you'll learn how to avoid blowing it. Also, be aware of the Options tab in the thingy up above there. Lots of good things to click on, as you get into it and want to change appearance or font. If you write like I do, and you're staring at the monitor all day, you are gonna want to change up the looks of things. Incidentally, the ugly drooping tool-bar can be gotten rid of just by clicking on it and picking the "hide toolbar" option. One other thing, Aquamacs has tabs by default, which is in my opinion a good thing.

Also, Aquamacs has spelling that actually works. And it is by default. In Emacs, spelling can be a hassle, but not Aquamacs. Spelling is NOT in Tools (the thingy up above), as it is in Emacs, it is in Edit. It is all there, spelling just works out of the box. If you are the worst possible speller, then you might want Aquamacs to check spelling as you go along. If not, you might want an occasional spell check. Just leave the cursor at the end of the word and key C-$ (that is control-shift-4). If you are working on an older Mac, then key the spellings, if you have a quad-core, 16G of RAM and an OWC SSD extreme, then nothing you do matters very much. If you want completions I have set up a function key for it on F2.

(global-set-key [f2] 'ispell-complete-word)  
Just drop it in your Preferences.el, and restart. But I admit, being into text 99% of the time, I have dis-functioned all of the default Mac function keys. To do this go into System Preferences > keyboard > keyboard shortcuts and every place you see an f, uncheck it. I have a keybinding for everything I do more than twice a day. But nobody would be interested in my keybindings. I just put out the one above as an example. There are many experts on the web, among them ErgoEmacs—to utilize this fine and fanatical man on this subject and many others go here. Once you get into making your own keybindings, things will speed up real fast.

I admit that what I have here on my Mac is a stripper. This is because I fear crashes. On the other hand, the Emacs I have on Xubuntu is very expansive. It is set up for AucTeX, which runs very well, except for a few discussable downfalls, I also have a complete set of yassnippets, zoom-frm, sublimity mode, deft, writeroom, and numerous color themes, too numerous to mention. But Emacs on Xubuntu never crashes. Anyway, I can't remember the last time I had to deal with a crash. On Mountain Lion Emacs crashes all the time, as I have said, and I CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE ANY TEXT. Therefore the stripper. Though Aquamacs, they are close relatives. But since I am most often writing in raw HTML, as I am now, or raw LaTeX, I really don't need a lot of stuff. Org mode and Muse mode are occasionally useful. Markdown mode is also occasionally useful. As it is I rarely publish in both HTML and LaTeX, and on those occasions that I do, a search and replace or two usually does it, with the help of yassnippets of course.

I believe that AucTeX is most often the principle reason why Emacs crashes in OS X. I don't have much proof except the personal kind, which is: every time I go near AucTeX, shit starts to happen. You can write .tex files all day, but I have no idea how anybody can run AucTeX in Emacs on OS X and not suffer multiple frustrating crashes. (No, there is nothing wrong with my machine. I believe there is one hell of a lot of loyalty to the cause going on in Emacs. Also, most people don't get too annoyed with crashes because they really don't do that much on their machines. Maybe a report every now and then or a school theme.) When I finish a .tex file and I am ready to make the PDF, I just open up TeXshop, make the PDF and launch it, usually in Skim, and start my correction rounds. On Xubuntu I might peek at whizzy-tex, just to prove to myself that the coding here and there is right, then I'll open a DVI and start my correction rounds. You can write notes on Skim and save them and make corrections once the reading is over, which makes the correction process slightly easier.

What you really need, and there is no reason to use Emacs or Aquamacs without it, is yassnippet. And you also need the tab key to expand your snippets with. Otherwise, in my opinion, pack it in. Try something else. The rumor is that yassnippet does not work in Aquamacs, and the tab expand is buggy. But here are the facts. Yas does work in Aquamacs and the tab expand works fine, too. You can get the folder from Elpa or you can steal the folder from a friend. If you steal the folder, or get it from Git or anywhere else, the folder goes into /Library/Application Support/Aquamacs Emacs/Elpa. If you don't have an Elpa folder, make one, or, I guess, you can call it site_lisp if you like, the traditional name. You may have to add a few lisp phrases to your Preferences.el.

(add-to-list 'load-path
     "~/Library/Application Support/Aquamacs Emacs/
elpa/yasnippet-20141005.124") (require 'yasnippet) (yas-global-mode 1)
Remember your Preferences.el is in /Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs/. And as I have said, there are no dot files, so you can find the file in Finder, open the file and paste it in. That's as simple as it gets. Restart Aquamacs and yas will work. If it doesn't work, send me a dirty email. One other thing I'd like to point out which has been very helpful. This I borrowed from ErgoEmacs. Everything I have ever gotten from him has always worked1.
(when (>= emacs-major-version 24)
  (require 'package)
  (add-to-list 'package-archives' 
("melpa" . "http://melpa.milkbox.net/packages/") t) )

Add this above to your Preferences.el. Melpa packages usually work out of the box. If there is anything that needs to be added to Preferences.el, they will tell you about it in the notes. By the way you get to Melpa by keying M-X list-packages.

So far so good. No screens of garbage, no crashes. More to come on the differences between Emacs and Aquamacs.

1. He is one of those weird, strange characters who being completely without greed make it possible for shit bums like myself to write books and self-publish efficiently without ending up in the clutches of such behemoths as Adobe who want every drop of blood they can get out of you so their executives can all become billionaires.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


For some reason I have been running into rants lately. I don't dare speculate why. So far as I can tell they are normal, hard working people, taking care of themselves day-to-day in the real world. Maybe they are having a bad day. I don't care what their motivation is. I wish I had a tape recorder so that I could listen to these explanations over and over. But, of course, the spontaneity would suffer. Obviously, they wanted to explain something. I write them down immediately after they happen so they are probably fairly accurate in phraseology, and do not represent any personal slant of my own.

Business Owner:

"... in fact everything that is wrong with this world comes from the computer."

(This is the opinion of many rural people, not just this business owner, and some of them are quite well educated.)

"The kids these days can't add and subtract. A young fellow the other day came in wanted to buy a rifle to go hunting with. It just so happened he had the cash. I don't know where he got the cash. I can guarantee he didn't work for it. It took him forever to count $350 from the cash he had. Eventually I had to help him. And they don't see the bills as being real things having value. It is like a computer game. Once those bills are gone you press a button and the bills reappear and spending them is a game you can start all over again. Besides that, they don't want to work. You talk to small business owners, they'll tell you how hard it is to get help. Why is that? And if you do find somebody, they don't care about the job, they don't care about anything you tell them to do ..."

(Another very common opinion: the young are completely ignorant about the boss/worker arrangement.)

"In fact, they are almost happy when you have to let them go. They seem unable to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes. I can't tell you how many ten, twelve hour shifts I have worked. These kids, five hours maximum. If you get them to do anything for say an hour, and then time for a break, a smoke, a drink whatever, and you point out to them that work lasts till five, there is plenty to do to keep busy, they have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I can't have a guy toking medicinal or not for lunch with all these guns and machines around! I'd be crazy. I believe they learn all these things in school..."

(Another common opinion: that in school they teach that it is okay to smoke dope all day, that it won't hurt you and it won't lead to a negative influence on your life, and they teach that most people don't work more than a couple hours a day, if they do, they become stressed out. Work related stress is a big motivator for smoking marijuana, whether medicinal or otherwise. In fact, the schools teach that nothing is so important that you should get stressed out about it, even the every day business of taking care of yourself. Remember: they don't have tests any more, they don't have report cards, and so on. Kids graduate from high school and they can not read. These above in parens are impressions he conveyed to me without going into detail. I admit that if I had pushed he might have branched off.)

"Anyway," back to the small successful business owner, "I don't have anything to do with computers. I don't even have a debit card. Basic math skills aren't there any more. They think if they punch up certain buttons, even if they have made a mistake and punch the wrong button, what shows up on the monitor is the right number, and you can stand around all day trying to explain that the number is wrong because it doesn't add up."

(He made a big point of this. The computer is not supposed to be capable of making a mistake. The thought that human beings are capable of making a mistake is stressful, therefore the above.)

His last point, I assume, came from a direct, recent personal experience. "I hired a guy, a young fellow, he appeared qualified. But he didn't have a car. Just so happened he lives not too far nearby me, so I went by to pick him up. I have to stay late a lot of times, one of the other fellows was taking him home. Anyway, on the drive to work, he chain smoked. While he was chain smoking, I was pointing out cars in the lots and in front of houses up for sale. 'Don't you want a car?' 'No money,' he says. So I explained to him the notion of saving money to buy things. 'For instance,' I says, 'if you quit smoking. How many packs of cigarettes do you smoke per day? He said rather proudly, I thought, that between him and his old lady probably three packs a day. So figure fifteen dollars a day go up in smoke. That's conservative. Seven times fifteen is over a hundred dollars a week. That's four or five hundred a month. You could buy a hellova used truck for that kind of money.' But of course it was all useless. The idea of not spending money to save up to buy an important item in order to stop making a fool of himself was incomprehensible to him."

"I bet he still doesn't have a vehicle," I said.

"He doesn't have a job either."

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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Common Sense Backups

What about backups? Glitches happen. A dust widget has fallen into the disk drive; your fingers got mixed up, hit the option key twice; this app has taken on a mind of it's own; it has taken over the whole desktop; nothing works any more; shut the computer down and you lose an hour of changes because you haven’t saved since way back when. Modern programming is to me wonderful, but still the unpleasant fact is that bad things can happen, big chunks of data lost in cyberspace, where only a highly paid expert who sees you coming can find it. Apps, even the ones you pay for, may not have been adequately tested, may not have been tested at all.

I do backups every night. I also do weekly backups, and sometimes a monthly. And last but not least, I am not so lazy that I can't put my finger on the save button every little while. The app I use most frequently, Emacs, auto-saves every five minutes. Emacs has never let me down.

I don't like carrying snap drives around, though for a long time I carried around a 16G SD card in my wallet. In this digital age people naturally have on their computer precious files. It can be 2 or 3G of family pictures, the babies growing up. It can be a precious journal, or a novel once written and fondly remembered. An accident, a careless deletion, and these files may be lost forever. I have always been astonished how quickly major deletions happen. There is no time for a second shot. You press the button and it is gone. A fire, a big storm can make you naked fast. For once the word devastating truly applies.

Many millions of people carry around their backups on snap drives. They put these drives and disks in wallet or pocket book or on key chain because they don't know what else to do with them. Of course they understand that these cherished drives are as apt to get stolen as the house the machine is in is apt to burn down. On the other hand, if the house is burned down, the drives are safe in your pocket in Walmart, where you are shopping; and if somebody steals your pocket book, the drives in your machine are safe at home. To both lose drives and machines at the same time is hard to imagine; and frankly in my opinion not worth thinking about. If you are that unlucky, be happy you are still alive. But that is not the only snafu.

I am a writer, for what it is worth. It's a habit, and for about the last ten years almost all of my writing has been done on a computer. Recently I lost a disk drive. I had a plan in place and everything worked, but it took me a week or so to get back up to speed. I got the stuff I was working on going again pretty fast, but to return configuration files and settings exactly how I wanted took awhile.

I love to write on my computer. Since I have been retired, I do not much else. Actually, modern computers are not built for writing with. There are hardly any good programs or apps for writing. A lot of people will consider that statement to be rather dumb. But that is because they may write an occasional email or a report for school. If you sit down in front of your machine with the notion that you'll write a six-hundred page novel, or four or five of them, you will soon know what I mean. I have tried every app I know about. Most are painfully slow and difficult to use. There are writing systems involving multiple apps. They are useful if you think a lot about writing but never quite get there. Distractions are deadly. The screen gets overloaded with multicolor charts, outlines, time lines, plans, notes, and the first word is yet to be written. However, there are a few apps that work okay, that encourage you to get started now and not confuse yourself too much. One good one, if you are in ⋆NIX, is Pyroom. It is blazing fast, won't waste a second of your time; another, if you happen to be on the Mac is good old Bean. These two, I can tell you, if you have a big project in mind and want to get through it will always be there to focus your concentration.1 But though they work okay they won't support much else besides an rtf or a txt file. If you are lucky enough to have a publisher or an editor, they probably will want a txt file anyway. But most serious writers blog or they self-publish. I love the idea of self-publishing. I don't want an agent or an editor. I love the whole process from the creative writing to the published book. I love to write raw LaTeX or raw HTML, dabble in CSS, and so my writing app of choice is Emacs. When I am writing on the Mac, I like to use Aquamacs, and when I am writing on BSD I use Emacs. Whichever I use, I think about backups all the time.

Now in my case, the disk drive did not suddenly cease functioning. It proceeded along slowly toward a condition that ended up being non-functional. The drive was not even a year old. I thought my FreeBSD system was the culprit for several days. In ⋆NIX X-windows is always playing tricks. It is always the shakiest part of the system simply because it plays the largest part. I convinced myself that what was giving me trouble was X-windows. Besides, I've never had a disk drive go on me in 10 years. Anyway, I got to a point where I couldn't startx anymore. UNIX is wonderfully clever about allowing you to get back into the system in single user mode. The system lets you boot up to a root terminal, and mount whatever directories need to be rescued. It was either the disk or the system that was broken. I had just done a backup of my home directory, so all I needed to do then is mount one folder and get out a couple hours work, and I would be in the clear. If you do backups of your home directory, date them and hang on to three or four of them just in case. Of course, you must know that these backups will be useless if you don't load them on a separate media, a snap drive or SD card or external disk or something. If disk or system is dropping off to digital mystery land, obviously then is not the time to back up. Get out, boot into rescue mode, save the files you need to or can, and hope that they have not caught the general malaise.

I still did not know what was going on for sure. With everything off my system, I started an upgrade. But the upgrade acted funny immediately. Then I loaded a brand new fresh squeaky clean system. Still nothing worked. When I installed one of my spare hard drives, that solved the problem. I should have known, of course, but for me it was a first.

The point I want to make is that there is no ultimate solution; the only other solution is to backup the backup, and that is not the ultimate solution. Even a RAID system if your OS is smoldering, something surprising is going on during an upgrade or update, for example, is not going to help you out. If your OS is smoldering, has caught a bug, for instance, and you are running a RAID, both drives, if it is a RAID 1, which is most common, will be smoldering. Then all your planning will just reward you with two screwed up drives instead of one. This is true with hourly updates to the backups. If you are in a system that is having problems, and you forget to turn off the automatic updates, you are updating your problems.2

Fortunately, there are as many ways to back up as there are ways to avoid backing up. The common user who does not back up at all may not be dumb. If there is nothing to back up, and everything can be easily replaced by another download from the net, why bother? One recommended way of doing an upgrade, for instance, is to back up the home folder, and then ditch the system and reinstall. Why worry about losing stuff you can easily replace? The general rule is to focus on stuff you can't replace. Everybody knows what is precious and what is not. Simple backups of files and folders to a snap drive may be the answer. One very intelligent woman I know, who has many precious files to watch over, wraps her drives in a colorful handkerchief and they go with her in her pocketbook. She insists on the above, that either the computers will be safe or the snap drives. It's her way of doing it and for the great multitude of computer users, this may be the answer. You need not go to any further expense. How long does it take to throw a file into a snap drive? Seconds, maybe. I put my main replacement drive, which I back up to once a month, in a fire safe. This drive, incidentally, is bootable but bootable only on another Mac, a fact I don't like, but I am stuck on Apple and though I tell myself how crazy I must be, there you are.

About snap drives and SD cards. When I finally bought a 125M snap drive a long time ago, that, I felt, was a game changer in computing. Even fussy old folks who had cherished photos and manuscripts locked away in safes had a strange feeling that these new memory devices might work. And maybe they could go out and buy a computer and learn a little bit and sure enough, they wouldn't lose anything. Before that I had backed up lots of things on floppy drives. But honestly, 1.4 megabytes? How should I be impressed? You could really put some serious stuff on a snap drive and not see that dreaded "no more space available" message. And no moving parts! I fell for the hype, but since then nobody has been able to convince me that snap drives are failsafe. What are you going to do when you plug it in and nothing happens? On the other hand that floppy I have in my hand which I just took out of the same metal case I used for my note cards in high school? Either the data is on the damned thing or it isn't. And besides that I have about ten usable floppy drives to plug in; and five more usable CD RW's; all collected at the dump. And they are free however you want to think about it. I have been looking with fascination at tape drives too. There is a ton of info in UNIX docs about how to do a "dump" to a tape drive. Again, the same case: it's either on the tape or it ain't. Eventually I'll find an LTO somebody has junked. CDs can be organized into loose-leaf books with notes and all kinds of other rif-raf. Besides the digital journals on my computer, my collection of CDs from my old OS hopping days when I went exploring with the DV7 has copious written notes. There are lots of ways to go, and I guess it comes down to what is most convenient for you.

Now, suppose you hang in there, become an ancient, it's now twenty years down the line. Rather than become less precious, those files have become more precious. That picture of your daughter graduating from High School valedictorian makes your eyes foggy with delight. By now those journals are your flesh. Lose a word and that is your flesh flushing down the toilet. Praise to tell another Steve Jobs has come along who has put his manicured finger on a super drive connector that is like a USB but on the other hand not like a USB. You know all those memory devices that you have collected? They don't work any more. I know it won't be exactly like that in the real world. (I wonder how close? I hope not too close.) Suppose also those digital wonders degrade with time, and your beautiful photos have lost every other byte so you can't see them any more. Video is the worst, harder to save and back up in such a way that you can expect it to last. What's your plan for that?

Apps change. Who knows if in ten years a .txt file will work on your computer? If you are as compulsively against typos as a conscientious farmer is in rooting out weeds, do you really want to know that a bad crash can rip big holes in your files? Or that there is such a thing as byte rot? I personally will continue to do my backups. The Selectric is in a corner of the hay barn where I put it a long time ago. That's where it will stay. But a wise person might certainly think twice. Good luck. I still have manuscripts from 40 years ago. If they had been digital files?

1. To give due props, there is an app called Jer's Novel Writer. It is the world's best dang word processor. Last I heard it is no longer maintained. The author of it got a job with Apple. I'll try to do justice to it one day.

2. This is of course way over simplified. We are just little people trying to hang on to our precious files. I wouldn't be writing this if I did not think it could be done.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Just Simple

One day a couple of years ago, I was haying a field on the hillside across the valley from the hillside I live on. An old geezer, whose house was similar to a shack, owned the field. But the shack stood in the middle of a beautiful, well tended garden. There was a curious blend of vegetables and flowers, as if he could not figure out which he wanted to grow, and decided to throw in some of both. Perhaps he did not want to decide, that being part of his simple life, not to debate this or that when either would be to the good. He kept the grass around the house and garden nicely mowed, if not pristine. Certainly he was in no hurry to give the house and grounds a manicure. Wouldn’t that be too complicated? The house stood in front of the trees on the western edge of the field, a good place in Maine for both summer and winter. In summer the house was in the shade all afternoon, while the large garden in front of the house, would remain in the sun all day. The other smaller gardens were a bit closer and to the south of the house so that they would enjoy shade in the afternoon, nice for those beans and a good number of fern and flower plants. And, of course, in the winter the thick woods to the north and the west were a protection against the blunt, frozen westerlies that afflict the mountains and foothills for day after day in late winter. An ample chimney stuck out of the steel peaked roof, but the house was not much for size and a bit discomforted at the windows and doors. Still overlapped pine boards sided the house, and the eves and edges were straight and plumb. Already, and this early in haying, there looked to be five cords of bone dry hardwood, most of it ash, stacked nicely but left uncovered for sun and wind to dry as the old folks used to do in the summer in days past. On the whole the house appeared such that it might put up with a Maine winter. As I worked, I took repeated side ward glances to refresh my mind for thinking about it. Oh yes, it occurred to me to look for an electric line. There it was. But on the whole hard to imagine a simpler arrangement. Took me two days in marvelous early summer weather to bale that field. I saw the old fellow. Don’t disappoint me by wondering if he owned a Victorian Mansion in the flatlands and used this as a summer get away. Apparently not. I never did ask. He seemed happy to get his field mowed and didn’t say much. He wore green working man’s khaki, like they do up here, a wide brimmed tan hat to keep the sun out of his eyes, the garb of a monk of the woods. He was a pale faced old codger. By god, he must lead a simple life, I thought. No funny business, no popup toaster. My personal fantasy was that he had a place in the corner of the house to kneel and pray. Or maybe he did his sacraments kneeling beside a blossoming Cauliflower. From the looks, the old man was hard on weeds as saints on sinning. He seemed surely a bachelor. Never a woman or a visitor popped in, at least that I noticed.

Later on my friend Bob showed up to help me load the trailer. Bob wondered if he did not winter in Florida. We debated the possibilities of a winter in that house. Bob doubted the house would have stood up. Bob also craved a simpler life. But in the middle of his craving, after a divorce, Bob married again. He and I are about the same age, but I don’t know about divorce. I think of loss, giant sums of money gone to the wind in exchange for a new woman, maybe, not that much different than the old one.

“Why does he need a house?” Said Bob. “An RV will do. Get sick of one place, drive to another. You sit too long, things are bound to get fouled up.”

“What do you do with the garden?”

Bob’s opinion was that when you got married, because you couldn’t help it—getting married seemed like the natural thing to do—the simple life went out the window. He thought that even that house, or whatever it was, was too big, too complicated. One thing though, no visitors. Having visitors was the sure sign of a woman instructing the premises.

“Yes, a good RV would be the way to go,” Bob said.

Though Bob dreams of a simple life, like me he has never managed to get there. He seems to prefer sleeping with somebody. But you look at it objectively and suddenly it seems scuzzy, I mean not the married life but the life of a monk in the trees. The monk’s life may be nice for a man and God, but I am blowing in the wind about it. What does it all mean? Does God reward such things? Maybe the fellow has done his best in the real world, and decided to retire after his time, before he will become ill and make a damned fool of himself. How can that be wrong? But why should a retirement end up THERE? Old folks still should have a thing or two to say and do. But on the other hand if you want to go deep, somehow you have to limit the distractions. Best wear down the distractions—and the abstractions!—before you make the philosophy. When you live in the west reaching shadow of Mount Tom, and you go into the garden in the morning, after a few hours, maybe you will come back to the house proffering more than an armload of vegetables, rather a thought, something to write down and put away to document a life that must before long end in dust. An idle hour sitting under a shade tree beside the garden; the full moon in the summertime heat gleaming over the fresh mowed grass; snow whirling in the blue norther’s gale; a long walk through the damp spring woods to gather Fiddleheads for dinner; an entire evening solitary awaiting the shrill whistle of a thought in the silence of dusk. A simple, complete thought ever come?

After finishing loading I went up to the house. I asked him if everything was all right, and I wondered about coming back next year, or later on for second crop.

“Sure,” he says.

“Thanks,” I said.

There being between us an unspoken agreement not to talk too much, I left, thinking he might one day become more friendly. But we never did speak. The next year no trespassing signs up everywhere. Private property. Bob said the old man had died. Never did get a chance to ask him if he had decided anything living that simple way he did. Wonder if it might have been that he had to.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tough Landladies are Best

    Jimmy Freeman always felt in Central Square in Cambridge Massachusetts a certain remote magic that was hard to explain.  There were lots of bars in the neighborhood, there were numerous strange stores, an organic grocery, for instance, in the cellar of one of the buildings.  In Central Square there seemed to be everything you'd want or could think of, so there was something for an outsider like Jimmy.  The closest other place to that feeling was Newbury Street in Boston.  And, of course, at this time in the morning, Massachusetts Avenue and the big sidewalks were bustling.  Big crowds were energetically popping out of the underground T station, busses stopping and people coming and going.  Where were the people coming from, where were they going?  Famous Harvard Square was just up the street.  Jimmy had worked in a couple of the restaurants in Harvard Square.  He had wasted many an afternoon looking through boxes in the used book stores.  He was just old enough to stop in a bar and drink beer.  But Jimmy preferred Central Square to all other places.  Each time he went to Harvard Square, he went through Central Square.  In Central Square there were educated middle class people living beside regular factory workers, real people, all shapes, sizes, colors.
    This day Jimmy and Neal took their time walking through Central Square.  Jimmy stood in a quiet corner in the shadows near an alley thinking about work.  Neal, a huge, majestic Great Dane, Jimmy's friend, Roger's, dog, sat on haunch having his thoughts, too.  Roger hired Jimmy to walk Neal during the week days.  Jimmy wasn't a big fan of work in the first place.  He just did it in order to avoid being hungry.  But as he considered the subject of work he wondered how it had come to be that work was so boring.  Most jobs even simple jobs, while you were doing the job, there was no time to do anything else.  But here with Neal, you could walk, mind that everything was going okay, and while you were at it, there was always time to think about whatever you wanted to think about.  Jimmy was always feeling his mind wandering.  It was hard for him to fix his mind on any one thing for any length of time.  He was thinking about somebody behind him like a shadow who had a notion of what Jimmy should do with his life but the shadow had not revealed it to Jimmy yet.  He often pondered this mysterious thought.  And then he was thinking about walking onward to Harvard Square where he might visit his favorite used book store, whose owner and chief employee, an enthusiastic dog lover, would be overjoyed to see Neal, because he often had a big, sweet Doberman around.  Jimmy liked to talk about dogs with him while he was looking through the shelves, and digging into the unsorted boxes of books stacked up everywhere.
    "I think I know where there's a pal for you to hang around with for an hour or so," Jimmy said to Neal.
    "We're talking four legs?"  Neal wondered.
    "Why not?"
    "Thanks, pal.  No offence, but that would be almost too good to believe."
    So Jimmy and Neal were taking a break from their walk, enjoying their thoughts and soaking up the mild hard working vibes that prevail in Central Square when two shots rang out.
    Jimmy knew instantly that these sounds were gun shots, not a motor backfiring, not anything else.  When he was little he had lived with his grandfather on a working farm, so he knew gunshots.  Then two shrouded ski-masked men ran out of the bank across the street, and they jumped into a car and sped off toward Harvard Square and took a hard right a couple of blocks up the street.  Just as the car was disappearing around the corner, a third shrouded ski-masked man came out of the bank.  He seemed astonished that his fellow patriots had already taken off.  He was standing alone; people who happened to be passing by were giving him plenty of room.  Then he was standing completely alone, nobody nearby, nobody looking at him, a mushroom on a stump in a field of daisies.  He stripped off his ski mask, his robbers' shroud, kicked them under a car parked empty at the curb, and then proceeded to slip into thin air.  A cop car pulled up to the bank, siren blazing, another and another, and cops jumped out and ran into the bank.  This while Jimmy and Neal were trying to follow the stranded bad guy slipping up Mass Ave toward Harvard Square.  He walked peacefully, and a block away he turned as if by magic into a tourist just passing through, and he crossed the street, retraced his steps, coming back toward Jimmy and Neal, who were watching him approach in all good curious seriousness.  Now a crowd was gathering along the street nearby the cop cars.  The emergency medical truck loudly pulled up also.  And the ex-bank robber couldn't have been cooler, more casual as he wafted his tall scrawny body along the sidewalk toward Jimmy.  Then almost brushing shoulders with Jimmy he turned sharply and walked into the shadows of the alley, sat down on a trash can and sighed.
    Jimmy looked at Neal.  Neal looked at Jimmy.  Both of them turned around, wandered into the shadows.  Jimmy sat down on a trash can opposite the man.
    "Wow, did you see that?"  The man said. "Somebody tried to rob a bank."
    "We noticed."
    "I think I'll hang around here for a little while, if you don't mind."
    Jimmy shrugged.
    Then the man's eyes fell upon Neal.  "Say, that's some fine looking dog."
    "He's something isn't he?"  Said Jimmy.
    So the robber stared into a contemplative shadow, woke up abruptly and said.  "When the crowd clears I'll move along.  That's one thing about me, I've never liked crowds very much.  Most everything I've tried to do in my life worked out fine so long as nobody was around.  I guess that is the opposite of how just about everybody else does things.  The less people know about what I'm doing, the better I like it.  So what are you guys doing today?"
    "Oh, just out walking.  That's Neal," Jimmy said, nodding.  "He's taking care of me."
    The man stood up, took a look around the corner, squinting.  "I imagine.  A fellow shouldn't get into trouble.  You eventually go away on a long vacation just to relax and think about things.  Lord knows, the wonderful fellows you run into."
    "I've often thought," Jimmy replied, "going to jail would be an interesting thing to get into, I mean just for the experience.  Course, you have to do something wrong, usually, don't you?  I don't know about doing something wrong."
    "I think so, usually, unless you get framed.  You'll learn a lot.  They are wonderful fellows in jail.  Next thing you know, they are hanging around for a lifetime."
    "So what happened in the bank?  I hope nothing too serious.  I mean, we heard the shots, but nobody got killed, I take it?"
    "You saw me come out?"
    "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"  He wondered, calmly.
    "I don't see any big reason right now to do anything immediately.  I don't think anybody saw you leaving in the mix up.  So you've got a little time to figure out your next move."
    The man laughed.  "What would you know about anybody's next move, kid?"
    "Well, you must have a next move, right?"
    The man was laughing outrageously now.  "Next move?  Convince you to put on my clothes and go to jail for me?  How does that sound?"
    "What happened in the bank, mister?"
    "Nothing much.  No big time serious stuff that I know of.  Lord knows what the other muck-a-lucks were doing while I was looking around for the money.  I got into a big stash, and we were outside our time frame.  So they left.  I've got at least twenty-five grand on me."  So the man eyed Jimmy and Neal in silence.  Then he perked up, "Say, wonder where you live?  Maybe we could make a deal."
    Jimmy giggled, "There are about a dozen good reasons why that can't happen not the least of which is you'd never get past the landlady."
    "Really?  You don't know me, I guess.  Wouldn't you like to have a couple of grand in your pocket right now?  Tell me where the place is, stay away for say two days, and I'll be cleared out, and you'll never hear a thing about it."
    "One question I would like to ask is, how did you get into this fucked up situation, I mean what happened?"
    "It occurred to me early on that thieving works, or I wanted to make it work.  It's just like anything else in life.  There's a notion behind it, and then you try to make it work.  I can't tell you exactly when the notion came to me or why, it just did."
    "So it always worked out so well it never occurred to you to stop?"
    "There were exceptions.  But why stop?  You've gotta be positive about these things.  So what do you say?  Three grand?  I've gotta get on the move now.  Once I'm in the subway, I should be able to get clear for awhile.  Then I need to hole up, and with any luck...they'll be chasing the other guys, then...I'm not in too bad shape."  He thrust out a jumbled up wad of bills.  "Sure?"
    Jimmy knew that in just five seconds he could change his life forever.  Neal growled softly.
    He was a handsome, soft-voiced fellow, slick and he had a persuasive way about him.  Jimmy knew that he could go off the grid for the next six months, or at least all summer till winter.  The big woods of northwestern Maine near the Canadian border had been calling to him lately.  It was a woods he knew well.   Or he could hide out in the Boston Public reading room for a couple of days.  And then carry on.
    "What's the matter, kid?  They're all small bills."
    "The matter is that you'd never get past the landlady..."
    "Oh, some old woman.  She'll never know anything."
    There were some old women who were landladies and there was Mrs. Wheeler.  That's who Jimmy thought about, he thought about Mrs. Wheeler.  Jimmy didn't think of any moral principles or theories why he couldn't get mixed up in this, not the law or the way society was put together.  He thought about how Mrs. Wheeler had helped him out getting a library card and he didn't want her to be angry with him.  As silly as that sounds, that's the way he felt about it.  There wasn't any principle to observe and obey.  Just Mrs. Wheeler and the fact that she had just got over being angry with him for something he had done and he did not want her to get angry at him again.
    "Besides, why should you ever have to see her again?  Even if she does happen to spot me, which I would be stupid to let happen.  Give me the key and take the money and run.  Come on, last chance, I've got to go."
    Neal picked up, rolled eyes, turned around a couple of times, head to tail, dropped down, yawned and curled up and eyed Jimmy amused, as if to say, "Come on, Podnah, you can't figure this one out?"
    Jimmy thought: somehow this seems so far away from everything that is real!  And the more I think about it the less real it seems.  Of course, that's the way it is with your errors, you don't run into these situations every day so they never seem quite real.  They seem more real the more often you run into them.  He quickly calculated how long he could hang out in the big woods on three grand.  Then suddenly he decided that he didn't want that, he didn't want to hide out, he wanted to figure out something to do.  It just made more sense.  That was as far as he got with it.  It just made more sense to worry what Mrs. Wheeler would think.
    "Okay," the man said, who had just robbed a bank, but who didn't look like you'd think an evil person would look like, who didn't look like anything different.  "Now's my chance.  Gotta go."  Then he was gone round the corner toward the subway station.
    In those few seconds Jimmy had become bathed with sweat.  His face was red and bloated.  Neal mirthfully eyed him and said, "Please don't bother to tell me that was hard."
    "That was hard, I wish I knew why.  If ever there was a ditch to jump in, that was it.  And where were you, good buddy?  Where were the acrobatics, the run around?"  When Neal was trying to get Jimmy's attention, he often jumped up and did crazy run arounds.
    "Why?  You didn't need me, and there was no hope for that guy.  He was in way too deep."
    "Isn't it awful to think that you might get stuck on something that is no good for you?  I mean the idea of it, and not be able to let it go?"
    "That's why dogs say their prayers, you know, 'deliver me from evil'.  Any dog will tell you, sometimes you can't do it alone."
    A few minutes later Jimmy managed to calm himself, and he said in a soft voice, "Let's get out of here."  He thought he might be able to walk it off but he never did.  Not in his whole life.