Observations 1-12-21

  • Kitch-iti-kipi spring.
    • The crystal-clear, still turquoise water.
    • The sharp fallen trees in the water’s rim, like pirate ship bowsprits.
    • The huge, prehistoric-looking trout in the basin’s depths.
    • The sand swirling around the outlet of the spring.
  • I Love You” by Lou Reed (via Dad).
  • Feeling frustrated that “Big Tech” is suddenly (as of a few years ago) a flagship issue of the Right, because I don’t think they sincerely care or deeply reflect on how tech platforms work and what their consequences are. Nor are they the people who stand to be hurt the most by it all. (For more sincere criticism I look to Evgeny Morozov, Liz Pelly, and Peter-Paul Verbeek, among others.)
    • I have a feeling and a hope that when it comes down to the real work of reigning in tech, young “digital native” congresspeople and leftist academics will do the bulk of the legwork.

Observations 1-11-21

  • Casey’s birthday!
    • The apostrophe a local bakery put on her cake: “Casey Rock’s!”
  • Tom Junod, poetic as ever in The Atlantic.
  • The distinction between Republican “gamers” and “breakers” as described in “The American Abyss,” a helpful lens.

Observations 1-10-21

  • Casey and me replacing the lightbulbs in a fixture in our rented cabin with warmer ones because we’re light connoisseurs.
  • The moss on the roof of the cabin next door.
  • Walking on a frozen lake with Casey and, separately, Basil in a doggie backpack.
  • Taking my pumpkin pie fate into my own hands — finally eating some after a holiday season without any.

Observations 1-9-21

  • The concrete coring service called Core-Vette Concrete Coring Service.
  • Pouring water into my cupped hands for Basil to drink while Casey drove us down the highway.
  • An essay, “An Engineering Argument for Basic Income” by Scott Santens:
    • “We wouldn’t create a life support system on a space station where in order to receive oxygen, one would need to work to obtain it. Life support is life support. Dead people can’t work. So make sure people get oxygen so they can stay alive. Living people will do much more work than dead people.”
    • If your main objection to universal basic income is that it will disincentivize people from working, you ought to reflect on whether the fear of death is an acceptable incentive to dangle in front of people in the first place.
      • (I would also say to those critics: Do you work because you fear poverty? If you have savings, you probably don’t. You probably work because it’s fulfilling, or because you want more than the bare minimum your savings would offer. So what makes you so different from people without savings, whom a UBI safety net would save from death?)
    • Too much of an engineering mindset can confine our vision to the internal concerns of engineering, ignoring the ideas and pleas of real people. But I think Scott’s essay is interesting and convincing.

Observations 1-8-21

  • The permanence of Tr*mp’s Twitter ban is what makes it feel relieving. A temporary suspension, yet another “You better get your act together!” slap on the wrist, would have felt like authorities still don’t understand the threat.
  • Watching interviews of Capitol insurrectionists, feeling disturbed about how they think they’re helping. It’s one thing to cope with and understand people who are trying to harm; it’s another to cope with people who harm while claiming they want to help. (Of course, I don’t believe their intention are really so good. But even the lip service they pay to a helping spirit is disturbing.)

Observations 1-7-21

  • The ornate, carved wooden boxes in which the Electoral College votes are kept.

Observations 1-6-21

  • Chuck Schumer thanking police for returning the Capitol to its “rightful owners” after the attempted insurrection of the afternoon. At first, that struck me as weird, since congresspeople aren’t the “rightful owners” of that building; the People are. But in that congresspeople are the People’s representatives, and the insurrectionists are no one’s representatives but their own, the Capitol was returned to its rightful owners. The insurrectionists don’t get to speak for all of us. They don’t get to selfishly seize the government or any symbol of it. If they reflected on America and weren’t blinded by racist anger, they’d see that.

Observations 1-5-21

  • The Senate wins in Georgia! It had been so long since the Senate felt within reach, I had forgotten how crucial it was. Thankfully Stacey Abrams and others hadn’t.

Observations 1-4-21

  • It seems like digital platforms should be required to set up a user data trust plan with governments when they reach a certain size. Some services grow to be huge cultural caches and it’s not right that their parent companies have unilateral control over them. End-user license agreements don’t seem like enough.

Observations 1-3-21

  • At 6AM: Basil peeing outside with light fluffy snow falling all around him. Angelic.

Observations 1-2-21

  • Shopping at Lowe’s for what felt like an entire year, all of 2021.

Observations 1-1-21

  • The high-pitched patter of the rain falling on icy snow.

Observations 12-31-20

  • The Christmas-decorated yard with what appeared to be Santa’s head on a stake.

Observations 12-30-20

  • The mental condition of “samaritrophia,” coined by Kurt Vonnegut’s Dr. Ed Brown in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

    “Samaritrophia is the suppression of an overactive conscience by the rest of the mind. ‘You must all take instructions from me!’ the conscience shrieks, in effect, to all the other mental processes. The other processes try it for a while, note that the conscience is unappeased, that it continues to shriek, and they note, too, that the outside world has not been even microscopically improved by the unselfish acts the conscience has demanded.

    “They rebel at last. They pitch the tyrannous conscience down an oubliette, weld shut the manhole cover of that dark dungeon. They can hear the conscience no more. In the sweet silence, the mental processes look about for a new leader, and the leader most prompt to appear whenever the conscience is stilled, Enlightened Self-interest, does appear. Enlightened Self-interest gives them a flag, which they adore on sight. It is essentially the black and white Jolly Roger, with these words written beneath the skull and crossbones, ‘The hell with you, Jack, I’ve got mine!’”

Observations 12-29-20

  • The snow made everything brighter. There’s more light in the windows.

Observations 12-28-20

  • Our personalities show in the way we pet animals.

Observations 12-27-20

  • The difference between cuts with kerf (such as those made by a table saw through wood) and cuts without kerf (such as those made by scissors through paper).

Observations 12-26-20

  • The little ramp in the artificial pond, for turtles and ducks and any other water-stranded local citizens.
  • Pixar Soul. Beautiful animation with an even more beautiful story.

Observations 12-25-20

  • Delicious tostones and arroz con gandules made by Kiki, Kristin, and Casey.
  • Live Nation’s new $500 million investment from the government of Saudi Arabia. Upsetting… on at least two levels.

Observations 12-24-20

  • Decorating Christmas cookies with Casey’s family. Baby Yoda ones, lizard ones, oops-I’ll-just-douse-it-in-sprinkles ones.

Observations 12-23-20

  • The tiniest tumbleweed blowing across the highway.

Observations 12-22-20

  • Sammy’s twenty-first birthday. 🥳
  • Another episode in Chicago North Side bigotry: Talking to a local house paint seller about music in Chicago, and him replying, jovially, “Let’s keep the rappers on the South Side [of Chicago], right?”
    • I said, “That’s a super racist thing to say,” and he went the peace-preserving and cowardly “I was totally joking” route.
    • Which, on one hand, makes his racism seem shallow — as if it’s only about trying to build camaraderie with other white guys like Jason, who was there, and me. But I know it’s not shallow. Or that we can’t allow ourselves to see it as shallow — because he can actually hurt people.
    • And how any shallowness is belied, anyway, by the full-blown, paternalistic insidiousness of it: “let’s keep [them away].”
    • I was unsurprised but angry and disappointed, especially because he had asked about upcoming Chicago artists earlier in the week, I had told him about Sen Morimoto, and he had actually gone home and listened. So I thought, Here’s an open-minded paint seller. It turned out his mind only seemed open, to me, because I’m white.

Observations 12-21-20

  • Rory Ferreira addressing critics and fans as “beloved” when setting the record straight or giving advice — something that could be seen as passive-aggressive, but which I really think is gentle and sweet, and for that I love it.

Observations 12-20-20

  • Getting threatened by an anti-masker customer at — of all places — our sacred Superdawg. I asked him to put a mask on in the enclosed carryout area, and the next words out of his mouth were “I’ll fucking drop you.”
    • He was spouting off about “you voted for [unintelligible]” and “you little fucking punk, open your mouth again and I’ll fucking knock you out.” He got so close to me, to do one of those primal “you wanna go?” chest bumps, I had to put out my forearm to block him. Then his buddy told him to calm down; I got my family’s food and left; and hero Superdawg kicked him out.
    • I think such an abrupt jump to blind hatred would be shocking for anyone to experience, but it’s especially shocking when you’re as sheltered as I am. I’ve had to deal with practically zero behavior like that in my life. So the moment stuck with me for days. How do you cope with that? With the humongous, practically universe-wide chasm between how you see yourself and how someone chose to see you, based on almost nothing, at a split-second’s notice?
  • Petting Casey’s cats while she’s away, then going to my grandpa Zaid’s house and petting (massaging) Zaid. (To Zaid: you’re not a cat, but the acts of caring for you and for the cats bore an undeniable similarity today!)
  • How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the documentary about the Bee Gees. So great.

Observations 12-19-20

Observations 12-18-20

  • I know that fonts aren’t what makes the country better/safer/fairer for those who need it to be, but it is nice to soon be led by people who care about these details (and collaborate with super-dedicated artists to manifest them).

Observations 12-17-20

  • The abandoned-looking playground toys strewn about a preschool’s side yard.
  • The contractor talking about the Christmas tree he bought this year — complete with train set underneath — as a “stupid, costly idea.”
  • Imagining Dust-to-Digital as the WorldStar of musicians. e.g. you’re playing a wicked solo on a makeshift drum set and people around you start yelling “Dust to Digitaaaaaaaal!”

Observations 12-16-20

  • Beethoven’s 250th birthday, and my 25th. 😎
  • Waking up to a Grogu-themed birthday display and gingerbread cookies, both by Casey. 👶
  • The surprise Zoom with friends that Casey organized for me… and which made me cry. 😭

Observations 12-15-20

  • Good Zoom fortune: two good meetings and a therapy session in one day.
  • R.A.P. Ferreira’s virtual cafe promoting his upcoming album, bob’s son. So cool and inspiring.
  • Even more concrete grinding philosophy, if you can bear it:
    • The status of “cleaned” concrete versus “not cleaned” concrete is not binary. It takes dozens of passes, over minutes, to remove the mastic or whatever type of schmutz from a given patch of concrete floor. And even then you can’t really be sure that some trace of the mastic doesn’t persist in the concrete’s porous surface. So concrete grinding is a matter of pragmatic best-guessing. You grind until it looks clean enough.
    • Compare that to scraping paint off glass. The glass isn’t very permeable so it’s easy to see when it’s gone, and it usually only takes one pass. That feels neat, while concrete grinding feels messy. We want to know when the job is done.
    • But I wonder whether they’re really so different. If you took a microscope to the glass surface just after cleaning, wouldn’t you still see some paint residue? No? Never mind. Yes? Well, then cleaning glass is a matter of “clean enough” too.
    • Then things get really weird when you think about computers. In graphics software, for example, every “object” is discrete and absolutely knowable. You can tell everything about them, exactly, at any time: where they are on the plane, the exact colors they’re filled with, and anything else. And that seems like glass, not concrete; the shapes are either there or not there, red or blue. Nothing like the world of “clean enough.”
    • But even those discrete shapes are undergirded by continuous, unstable, physical phenomena. Computers are made of electrical components that have thresholds. That is, they’re not either “on” or “off”; they’re “off until a very specific amount of electricity is provided to me” — and from what I understand, the amount that component “wants” may not even be the same every time (depending on temperature, manufacturing impurities, whatever). So the discreteness and the absoluteness of the shape on the screen are fictions facilitated by things that are messy, the way all physical things are.
    • So what? This makes me think about what things we do, if anything, without doing them long enough or enough times to get the result we’re looking for. Or things we do without enough visibility into the process to see when we’ve reached “enough.”
    • And it makes me think about permeability. I said the concrete and the glass may not be so different, but they definitely feel different to work with. And that’s meaningful. So what acts or goals or whatevers feel different because their materials are more permeable, hanging on to and being suffused with whatever stuff they’ve come into contact with?

Observations 12-14-20

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