Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Letting Go

Hello to my loyal and patient handful of readers. On the writing front, the novel Of Questionable Veracity is almost ready to start gathering rejection letters. Kat's made a huge editorial pass, and a loyal circle of readers have made other contributions about the plot, tone, characterization and so forth. Everyone has been tremendously supportive.

*waves to his friends*

I'm terrified anyway, of course. Particularly because the story arc stands incomplete: I have rough drafts for two sequels awaiting similar editing, but I need one final book to finish the whole thing. I know how it all needs to wrap up, but not having the draft in hand makes me so very nervous.

*deep breath*

With all that fear, I'm doing what any reasonable person would do in the 21st century: I'm blogging about something else.

As previously discussed, I'm agnostic. Once upon a time though, I was Catholic. I went to a school with real live nuns from 5th to 8th grade. I was an altar boy too, one of only two in the church. Rang the big bell, carried the big cross up in the procession. Got to swing the incense. How I left is a story for another day, I suppose. At the rate I update this blog, 'never' is a distinct possibility. ;)

What's on my mind today was a story that I heard there, though. I apologize for not having all the details, as this was over twenty years ago:

Once upon a time, there was a man who loved Texas. It was his home all his life. He had a ranch and cattle, and really? Nobody could blame him. Upon his deathbed, all he asked for was to have a handful of soil from his ranch to take with him, wherever he was headed. His family obliged.

When he died, he found himself at the Pearly Gates, facing Saint Peter. Peter told him that he'd been a good man: gone to church, done right by his family and neighbors. He hadn't lied in any terrible way, he hadn't stolen anything. Peter said that all he had to do to step into Heaven was to let go of the handful of soil in his hand, as nothing of Earth could be taken inside.

The man said that it couldn't truly be paradise without a piece of home, and politely refused. He had a seat on the cloud outside, and... time passed. Eventually, his children lived and died, and they passed on to Heaven too. His daughter took a moment at the gate to plead with him to come with her, but he refused.

And so the man sat, forgotten and alone. He would've stayed that way forever, but one day, his hand slipped. The soil fell from his fingertips. He looked down in shock, and Peter swept him into Heaven.

Inside, the man found Texas, just as he'd left it. I forget if the storyteller mentioned him crying or not, but I imagine he probably did.


As linked to above, I don't believe in Heaven. I'm not concerned about all of that in the least. I like the message here, though: holding onto something that's broken can keep you from finding it again.

This has been on my mind because I lost a friend about three weeks ago. We'd known each other ten years. Been through thick and thin. But the past couple years were very bad, and I knew we couldn't be in touch forever. I stayed as long as I could stand anyway. Held on for dear life, like I do sometimes.

It only made stuff worse. Walking away has been good enough that I almost feel guilty. Despite our differences, I hope that my former friend feels the same.

Just wanted to share that, in case anyone else has a burden that they're not sure how to handle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011



I meant to write about this on or about Valentine's Day. You know, be all timely. As it turns out, I was busy doing the most romantic thing I could think of for my girlfriend instead, (Hi, Kat!). Then, I was busy finishing up a complete rewrite of a novel that's been stuck in my head. The first rule of novels is that if you're not finished, keep writing. Darned thing won't write itself.

So I finished the novel earlier this week. One little sentence is still bugging me, with many implications, but it actually has to do with this blog I meant to write. I can justify a pause here as sorting some stuff out in my head.

If there's one thing that the 21st century seems to be pushing, it's the notion that everything's better with an audience. :)

So. Like the subject line and the Valentine's Day lead-in indicate, this is about love. There's a lot of confusion about love in our culture. It's a vague, vague word, you know. Normally, we're not supposed to be so ambiguous in our meaning. Like, if you asked me to describe the Atlantic Ocean, a cactus and your mom, I could say, "Well, they're all mostly water."

It'd be technically correct, but it's a ridiculous thing to say.

Despite that, I can say: "I love chocolate," "I love a good book," "I love my girlfriend," "I love my family," and nobody seems to think that it's odd. We all take it on faith that we understand each others' underlying nuances when making those statements, and then we wonder how we fail. :)

In the name of clearing that up for myself... a few thoughts:

The first is that I love Dune, and I love Kat, and on the one hand, those feelings have about as much in common as a cactus and the sea, (I'll leave your mom out of this, from here on out).

Dune is a jaunt away from real life. You get to spend a little while somewhere else. Someplace where interesting things happen, and maybe you learn a valuable lesson about something-or-other. (For instance, Dune taught a lot of us that if you walk without rhythm, you won't attract the worm.)

Kat is someone I spend ungodly amounts of time with: we talk, we do stuff. We help each other. We're building a life together.

In either case, I appreciate them for what they are. I don't wish they were something else. I don't read Dune and think to myself, "This is fine, except that there aren't any giant robots." I don't look at Kat and think to myself, "Man, if only she had red hair."

I like them. Just as I found 'em. To me, that's the basic, water like commonality inherent to all love, whether it's for a friend or a piece of chocolate.

Of course, this leads to the second big problem, here:

In aggregate, people are meant to be together. We are social animals. The greatest man or woman in the world still couldn't accomplish what they do without the help and support of others. We all get lonely, and none of us could do everything needed to sustain ourselves with a decent standard of living, (although that's a blog for another day).

In the specific, though... no pair of human beings were actually meant for each other, no matter how well they get along. No married couple was 'born to be together.' We come with different desires and baggage and a million barriers to getting along, especially in a space as close as 'the same bed every night.'

Kat and I had a brief fight about something stupid yesterday. Didn't last and it didn't matter, but it did happen, and we're so sweet that I'm pretty sure we disgust casual passers-by.

The whole thing takes work.

Of course, we don't like to talk about it in those terms because it sounds sort of horrible. Like, if I say, "Baby, I love you, I just have to really put my back into being around you," well...

Doubt there's anybody here reading this who doesn't know me, but that's one of my problems getting along with people: I almost always tell the truth, but I have a gift for making it sound a lot worse than it is. It's why becoming an economics major was such a good fit for me: I'm sure I could make 'profits rose,' sound like an excuse to jump off of something. (That's the great thing about economics: it probably still is.)

I don't mean this in a bad way, though, so I'm going to stretch a little and try resorting to a metaphor, here:

Having a relationship with someone, whether it's sexual or friendly, close or distant, is a lot like sharing a garden with them. You have this shared space, and it's, you know, nice. At the minimum, you can come in and smell the flowers. If it's a really nice one, maybe you can pick some fruit.

In one manner of speaking, the whole thing is free. There's no charge for admission. You don't pay a dollar to pick an apple. That would make the whole arrangement something unsavory instead.

However, that doesn't mean that a garden bears no cost or responsibility: gardens need to be tended. You have to weed and water and plant and make sure there's enough sunshine, or the whole thing will be ruined. More than that, if one person does too much of the work, they'll get bitter and kick their partner out. People have different strengths and weaknesses, too: maybe one person likes to dig, and one person likes to weed.

More than that, you have to agree about what goes in it: there's no one flower bed that would work for every two people, and the only way to figure it out is to ask.

So that's why I wasn't here with bloggy things to say on Valentine's Day: I was gardening, so to speak. Kat had a new video card, but she doesn't really know how to install them. I do, but I hate mucking around inside of computer cases, and I'll admit that I was putting it off. So I took her computer apart, and that's what we did: we figured out how to get the stupid thing working together, and now she has it.

Another girl might've wanted flowers and dinner, or a movie. If I were with a girl like that, that's what I would've done. This is what Kat actually wanted, though, and she's still all tickled about it.

It was a good day.

Oh, one final thought, while I'm on the topic of 'things I love and why:'

My dear friend Denise plugged my blog just recently, and I wanted to do the same. Not as a quid pro quo, but because I really love what she's done with the place. It's funny and honest, which are my two favorite things. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

R-dy R R

Hey, all.

So, I haven't been by in some time. Sorry 'bout that - you know, to my four loyal readers. :)

I spent winter break taking a class on a scripting language called R. That was a kick: two weeks to try and learn the language, the basics of LaTeX (a typesetting system), and how to get the two to talk to each other via a process called 'Sweaving.'

Also, as 8 days are such a long time: introductory spatial statistics.

Needless to say, this didn't go as planned. We all tried very hard: I pulled a lot of sessions staying up 'til midnight, and I was far from alone. The instructor's wife had a nightmare that he was cheating on her with a woman named 'R,' from what I heard. Part of the trouble was that everyone was deficient somewhere:
  • Poor Professor Rogers had never even taken a computer programming course before
As a result, he wasn't expecting all the difficulties with different machines. We had Macs, Windows XP through 7, etc. Not everything worked the same on every platform, naturally. I warned him this would never get better, with systems constantly changing. (One poor guy had a tiny little Asus machine that couldn't run the regressions for our final project.) We could use the school computers for R, but not LaTeX/Sweave.
  • The class only required entry level econometrics to get into, so all the students were unprepared in some required area.
For most of them, it was computer programming experience. I actually had the most experience in that area, which is a scary thought. Nobody else really knew anything at all, and I used to doodle games on my TI-85, way back when. (I did get the little thing playing Tetris, but I'm not exactly a code monkey. Never really did anything with C++ or anything, and all my exploits are over a decade old.)

In my case, the weak spot was econometrics: I hadn't even heard of most of the techniques we were supposed to be expanding on, while most of them were comfortable there. Lots of Criminology PhD students. I guess they do that stuff a lot.


Needless to say, I had a blast. It was just like old times: obsessive focus on a single subject, no time for anything else. Didn't write. Barely remembered to eat. Loved it. I think I was the only one who did. I have some fellow students in the current term who are all treating it like a traumatic experience.

Now that it's over, I'm continuing to try and learn about all this on my own, and just wanted to post about it here, (partly as a reminder to myself to actually come here and post more).

I'm trying to learn some of the basics of social network analysis, just for kicks. I found an online textbook, and my beginning project has been to try and map out the connections between the people who play on my girlfriend's favorite MUSH. They maintain a wiki for it here.

So far, I have learned enough to construct a simple adjacency matrix and run some plots of it. I haven't had time to make them pretty, but here are a few samples of what I've done just to peek:

For the more technically inclined, I stripped out vertexes that didn't have at least one two-way connection to another vertex, just to keep the scale manageable. Looks worse with isolates included, and it's hard to zoom properly in the rgl window.

The end goal is to try and embed the 3d object in a pdf, but that appears to be dishearteningly complex with the tools at hand. I have created an R script to just peel the links out of any arbitrary html page, though, so that's something. I could maybe create the crayon version of a spidering/pagerank system, between the two elements. (I'm not sure if it's obvious there, but I scaled the node size by the number of edges connecting to it.)

Anyway, I hope to be back with more stuff soon. I've been writing, too, now that I'm free. :)