Sunday, July 20, 2014

Nothing to Say Again ... Yet Again

I can’t think of anything to write about this week.

Well, actually, I thought of several things to write about, but all of them seemed like they’d be more work than fun, and, if I spend several hours writing something that I don’t enjoy writing, you’re not going to enjoy reading it either.  Trust me on that one.  Maybe next week I can get my thoughts more organized and actually complete one of the several ideas I have in my “topics” file.

So, this is the third time I’ve written a post like this, and I seem to have started a tradition of using these posts as a retrospective on the blog itself.  And far be it from me to dismiss tradition, even one that I invented myself, mostly accidentally.

So, my handy dandy control panel tells me I have 219 posts.  Checking how many of them are “interstitial” (that is, posts which mostly say that I’m not going to do a full post), I see 79, although some of those are more substantial than others (such as the very first “nothing to say” post), and of course 34 of them are posts over on my Other Blog.  Counting the Perl posts but discounting the remainder of the interstitials, that would leave us with 174 posts, which average around 1,500 words each.  At least, 1,500 is what I generally shoot for.  Why, you ask?  Well, I suppose it’s because I wrote my very first post, then went back and counted how many words it was, and it was 1,536, and I said to myself: that sounds about right.  Of course sometimes I fall short, and the post is only around 1,200, or even, very rarely, between 800 and 900.  But, then again, sometimes I manage to crank out 2,000-word monsters, so it probably all balances out.  If we figure 1,500 words as an average, that would be 261,000 words, which is pretty overwhelming.  If I just do a raw count of words in all the files in my blog folder (which not only includes several half-finished posts that haven’t been published yet, but also counts words in quotes and links and other thing which I typically exclude in my personal word count, and would also count the interstitials), I get 250,001, plus the chapters of my novel (in a whole separate folder) adds another 56,687 words, for a total of 306,688.  (Also, it might be that there are some posts which aren’t in the directory: the very first post wasn’t in there, as it happens, although I downloaded it so I could count it just now.  But there might be others missing as well.)

Either way, somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter million words doesn’t seem an unreasonable guess.  That’s a lot of words for you not to read.  I do continue to remind you not to read this blog, as if the title weren’t sufficient.  Occasionally I post links to this blog, especially on my other blog, when I don’t want to repeat myself and I’ve already expounded on a topic plenty.  Inevitably, this leads to someone’s smartass comment: “I went to the link you provided, but it said not to read it, so I didn’t.”  Oh ho ho.  Perhaps it actually does bear saying explicitly: I don’t particularly need you to remind me of the name of this blog.  I’m the one who named it.  If you’re confused about the name, please go back and read the first post, or even go back and peruse the first ”nothing to say” post, which contains some interesting meanderings about the nature of paradox and its application to a blog which I continue to write weekly at the same time I exhort the public not to read it.  Go on and read (or reread) those; I’ll wait.

Done?  Good.  Let’s move on then.

The name is really more of a warning that you have to make a conscious choice to read a post here, despite warnings to the contrary.  Perhaps a more realistic name would have been ”Warning: Management assumes no responsibility for any time wasted while perusing the content herein.  By continuing to read, you assume all responsibility for any crappy opinions you may encounter, any statements that may cause you to be enraged and/or disgusted, and/or any words that might be considered ‘bad’ by more sensitive readers.  The reader proceeds at his or her own risk.”  But, you know ... “Do Not Read This Blog!” just seemed shorter.

So I keep on writing and telling you not to read, and that’s unlikely to change.  After a quarter million words, why stop now?  I seem to have a winning formula going.  Plus, I’m starting to enjoy it.  At least a little.  Theoretically, you do too ... else why keep reading?  I doubt anyone is assigning you my blog posts as homework, so you’ve exercised your freedom of choice to read this far.  Said freedom of choice may realistically be better exercised elsewhere, if you ask me, but you’re a big boy or girl and don’t need my permission nor my advice.  In fact, you’re sort of ignoring my opinion to read all about my opinions on various topics.  And, at the end of the day, that’s the real reason this blog is named “do not read.”  Because, that way, if you ignore me and read it anyway, you’re forced to confront the fact that you can’t possibly listen to anything I have to say without simulataneously ignoring something I have to say.  It’s a great reminder that you should take crap you read on other people’s blogs with large quantities of sodium chloride.  And it makes you confront the paradoxes inherent in life by making you live one.  And you know how I feel about paradox.

So keep reading, if you must.  I’ll keep writing.  Except when I don’t.  It’s a crazy ol’ world we live in, but it’s the only one we’ve got.  May as well make the most of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Perl blog post #35

Today I waxed somewhat rhapsodic about a Perl-related Kickstarter project, over on the Other Blog.  There’s very little technical mumbo-jumbo, so feel free to pop over even if you’re not a fellow technogeek.  It’s mostly about the interesting choices that Kickstarter gives us techies sometimes.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Reflection on Self-Contradiction

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. [Emerson]

No doubt you’ve heard this quote before, although some people seem to miss the “foolish” part.  Emerson isn’t bagging on consistency here.  What he’s talking about is dogma: getting stuck on an idea and refusing to let go, even in the face of contradictory evidence.  Perhaps it would help to look at the context of the quote:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.  With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.  He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.  Speak what you think today in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.

‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?  Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.  To be great is to be misunderstood.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Self-Reliance (1841)

What Emerson is advising is to admit when you’re wrong.  To embrace change, even in your own mind, and to refuse to look back and second-guess yourself.  To be completely comfortable with contradicting yourself.

I especially love how he says that a foolish consistency is “adored by little statesmen.”  If you follow politics even casually (which is about all I can stand to follow it, myself), you know that if a politician today dares to change their mind, their opponents will leap on them instantaneously.  “Flip-flopper!” is the typical epithet.  Refusal to compromise one’s principles has become a virtue, although refusal to compromise should probably not be a virtue in politics no matter what exactly one is refusing to compromise.  But, if we look back to Emerson, we see that those who do not “flip-flop” are employing a foolish consistency, which then speaks volumes about the volume of their brainpower.

Of course, the smart guys aren’t typically the ones we elect.  Adlai Stevenson is a great example.  He’s famous for two things: being intelligent, articulate and erudite, and failing to get elected to the presidency despite trying 3 times in a row.  Stevenson once said to reporters:

Isn’t it conceivable to you that an intelligent person could harbor two opposing ideas in his mind?

Stevenson here goes a bit beyond Emerson, who talked about believing something today that was the opposite of what you believed yesterday.  Stevenson takes the next step and is perfectly willing to believe two opposite things at the same time.  For a Baladocian such as myself, this is an attractive proposition.

Of course, we needn’t limit ourselves to politicians—poets have weighed in as well.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

— Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself” (51)

In just a few words, Whitman takes aim at why we contradict ourselves, and why it’s perfectly acceptable to do so.  The landscape of the human mind is vast, Whitman says.  Just as one vista may contain both mountains and canyons, both ocean and desert, so too does a person contain many ideas which are antithetical to each other.  This often leads us to feel conflicted.  We should not.  We should embrace the paradoxes in our nature.  Stephen Fry (who is neither a politician nor a poet, but easily as eloquent as either) puts it thus:

So we have first and foremost to grow up and recognise that to be human and to be adult means constantly to be in the grip of opposing emotions, to have daily to reconcile apparently conflicting tensions.  I want this, but need that.  I cherish this, but I adore its opposite too.  I’m maddened by this institution yet I prize it above all others.

— Stephen Fry, BAFTA speech, 2010

Oscar Wilde (once portrayed by Stephen Fry, perhaps not coincidentally) was, as usual, more succinct:

The well bred contradict other people.  The wise contradict themselves.

And now we’ve progressed from self-contradiction being acceptable, through it being something to embrace, and ended up with it being a sign of wisdom.  Sort of makes you want to start contradicting yourself right away.

Or maybe not.

At the bottom, I think all of these great speakers were saying something about the human condition.  Which is perhaps all that any writer—whether of essays, plays, poems, speeches, or merely witticisms—wants to do.  You can write things that sound pretty, but unless there is some Truth in it, it won’t have much lasting impact.  We all search for insight, both internally and externally, and the thing we most wish to be revealed is ourselves.  It’s difficult to understand ourselves from within ourselves, just as the classic fishbowl analogy teaches us.  Those folks outside the fishbowl have a much different perspective than those of us for whom 115.5 cubic inches of water are our entire world.  So we want those people who have the ability to express themselves with some flair to express something about ourselves that we can’t see from inside.

Of course, we also hate to be criticized, for other people to point out our flaws.  Yet I think we crave it at the same time.  Just another example of our inherent tendency toward self-contradiction.

I know personally that I hate to be wrong.  Sometimes I’m accused of hating to admit that I’m wrong.  But that’s not the same thing at all, and I don’t believe I have the latter problem.  To work hard not to be wrong—to attempt to forge the future in such a way as to be as good and right as you can manage—is admirable.  To refuse to admit you’re wrong—to deny the immutable past in which everyone already recognizes your folly—is just self-delusional.  So is it self-contradictory to work overtime to prevent the future mistake, while simultaneously being completely comfortable with those in the past?  Perhaps.  If so, I don’t particularly care.  I’ve been wrong many times in the past, and I know I’ll be wrong many more times in the future.  That doesn’t mean I have to accept it meekly.

Willingness to accept your mistakes is also part of being human.  To consult one last great orator:

I am human, and I make mistakes.  Therefore my commitment must be to truth and not to consistency.

— Gandhi

Mohandas K.Gandhi often changed his mind publicly.  An aide once asked him how he could so freely contradict this week what he had said just last week.  The great man replied that it was because this week he knew better.

— a Detroit News editorial

Indeed.  This week, I’m ever so much smarter than I was last week.  Last week I was a moron.  By next week, I shall be a genius.  I’ll be different, but I’ll still be me.  Misunderstood, multitudinous, opposing, conflicted, occasionally wise, always human.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Perl blog post #34

For the past week and a half or so, I’ve been in Orlando with the Larger Animal and the Smaller Animal.  Last Sunday in particular, I was exploring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, so I missed a blog post for the first time in quite a while.  Sorry about that.

Part of the reason I was in Orlando was to attend this year’s YAPC, which you can read about over on the Other Blog.  I also spent some time with an old friend who lives about an hour and half to two hours north of Orlando, in the Silver Springs area.  Silver Springs is where you can take a glass-bottomed boat ride, which my grandparents took me on a few times as a child, so that was particularly awesome getting to share that with my children.  (If I know you personally, I’ve probably sent you a link to the many many pics I took while I was there.  I’ve just added the final pic and tweaked everything to perfection, but Dropbox apparently hates me at the moment.  It may take a couple of days before the final pics are there.  If you know me personally and I haven’t sent you the link, feel free to email me and ask.)

Traveling this year was particularly hideous, although much better on the way back than the way out.  Almost makes me want to stay home next year.  But I probably shan’t.

Anyway, read all about the conference if you like.  If you don’t like, you’ll have to wait until next week for further excitement here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Perl blog post #33

 Well, it’s almost time for another YAPC, so I’m firing up the tech talk on my Other Blog.  Pop over if you’d like to see me solve a little mini-mystery in Perl.  I’ll likely be doing tech topics for the next couple of weeks, assuming I survive a week in Orlando with my elder two children.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chapter 19 (concluded)

Johnny looked desperately back at the fins.  There had to be something he could do ... something with his new abilities, perhaps?  But, so far, every use of them had involved being in contact with something, or sensing something far away.  He didn’t see how any of that could apply in this situation.

Suddenly he had a brainstorm.  He dashed back into the stacks and located Roger’s crossbow.  Then he sprinted up the ladder to the flying deck, barely using his hands at all.  He fumbled for the cabinet where Roger kept the flammable items and pulled out one of the bottle-looking flares.  Slamming the crossbow down on the deck, he put both feet on the brace and yanked hard on the cable.  It only clicked once, but this was a short distance shot, so that should be enough.  He loaded the bottle and shot almost immediately—Roger had taught him not to overthink his aim and just trust his instincts.  The shot was true, and the flare entered the water just behind the lobster woman ... just in front of the shark and marlin.  Almost immediately the green and red lights blossomed, under the water.  The marlin-headed scala immediately surfaced and began flailing about; Johnny thought she might be temporarily blinded.  The shark’s fin, however, cut cleanly through the underwater fireworks and continued straight on to the racing swimmers.

The head of the demonic mermaids’ leader burst out of the water just aft of the lobster scala’s tail.  Her teeth snapped together thrice; the sound reminded Johnny of hearing bear traps snap shut on televison.  The lobster woman screeched an alien gabble and increased her speed.  The shark scala breached and dove; the brown fin sunk cleanly into the depths.  The “inspirational” message to her companion had cost her some momentum though; Johnny could see she’d have to work hard to catch back up.  He took the opportunity to slide down the ladder to the deck railing again.

His mind raced.  He could take over the wheel from Bones, perhaps steer the ship into the lobster woman.  But he couldn’t really see from back there, and the great craft was hardly a precision instrument.  He’d be just as likely to hit Roger.  “Can you make it rain, or snow, or something?” he asked Aidan desperately.

Aidan kept his eyes on the race.  “I could do better than that: I can make the water around our lobster friend cling to her so she can’t escape it.  The problem is, by the time I can do that, she’s well into a whole different patch of water.  I could do it ahead of them, but then how do I keep it from affecting the good captain as well?  No, Johnny, I’ve made her slick, and I stopped the octopus lady throwing her stones, and I held the lampfish one up long enough to take her out of it.  But unless their leader gives me an opening to interfere with her as well, I’m likely to be of little further use in this contest.”

Johnny looked toward the far shore; it was actually the nearer shore by this time, as the race was well past its halfway point.  Roger was still flying through the water at a speed that beggared belief, but the lobster creature was gaining.  Slowly, almost impercetibly, but gaining.  It seemed likely that it would catch her before they reached the race’s end.

Then the shark scala rose out of the water like something in a horror movie, directly in Roger’s path.  Teeth flashed and arms with long hands and twisted fingers reached for her.  Without slowing whatsoever, Roger turned her crawl into a sidestroke.  One hand flicked out, almost like a caress, and touched the shark woman’s cheek; blood began to spurt instantly.  The shark’s head lunged at her nonetheless, but Roger was already halfway past it.  She kicked at the scala hard, again using it to propel herself forward.  With an unholy screech, the shark crashed into the lobster.

After that, the race became pleasantly boring.

section break

At the finish line, Roger stood in ankle-deep water, bent over with her hands on her knees, dripping and panting.  The scalae were a few feet offshore, in deeper water, their terrifying marine eyes promising a slow grisly death if the opportunity ever presented itself.  Johnny sincerely hoped the opportunity did not.

Finally Roger regained her breath and stood up.  She was still naked, still unconcerned.  “A fair contest!” she called to the mermaids.

There was much grunting and squalling, but the shark waved her hand and they fell silent.  “You cut me,” she said in an inflectionless tone.

“Aye,” Roger agreed amiably.  “No rule against that.  No rules against anything, for that matter.  And I just nicked ye a bit.  Ye’ll survive, I wager.”  She stared a challenge back at the leader.  “A fair contest,” she repeated.  It wasn’t a question, but still she seemed to be expecting an answer.

The silence stretched.  The shark woman ground her hideous teeth.  Finally, she spoke.  “A fair contest.”

Roger and Aidan let out identical exhalations of relief.  “Was there some doubt about that?” Johnny asked under his breath.

Aidan answered likewise, in a half-whisper.  “No doubt about the reality,” he breathed.  “But the perception of a losing party is always an open question.”  Johnny nodded.

Roger shaded her eyes with one hand.  “Our opener then?”

The scalae pushed someone forward.  It was the blue-skinned boy (or boy-like creature) who had brought the starter shell.  He reluctantly trudged through the water to the shore.

His skin was a medium shade of aquamarine.  The dark, slicked back hair was almost a helmet; it was short, cut high above the odd earfins, with just the hint of a widow’s peak in the front over a high forehead.  The eyes were a pale, watery blue, the nose looked lumpy and squashed, the mouth was small, and the chin weak.  The black fins where ears should be opened and closed as if they might be gills instead of hearing apparatus.  Both hands and feet (which were bare) were webbed.  He had on a simple jacket and pants, black, trimmed with narrow yellow stripes.  The jacket hung open in the front, exposing a thin shirt which appeared to be just a shade bluer than his skin.  The wireframe glasses and a habit of drywashing his hands gave him a prissy air, as if he were an accountant or librarian, and, when he spoke, his voice was vaguely reminiscent of old Droopy Dog cartoons.  But still he reminded Johnny of a nerdy teenager more than a dusty old man, for some reason.

He splashed up to Roger and sighed loudly.  “Captain?” he asked.

“Aye,” she replied, her eyes sparkling.  “Opener?”

He sniffed.  “Welly Banks, ma’am.  At your service.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chapter 19 (continued)

The starting and ending points had been chosen, and they were simply opposite sides of the lagoon within the lagoon.  If the inner lagoon had been a clock with 12 at the point where it flowed into the bigger body of water, the race would have been from roughly 4 o’clock to 10.  The shore here apparently dropped off precipitously just after entering the water, so there were only a few feet of sandy shelf for Roger to stand on.  The lobster-headed scala, of course, could not stand; she lay on her side in the thigh-high water, her irridescent blue-green shell curled up under her belly.  Johnny could see what seemed like a billion little legs on the underside of the tail, wriggling tirelessly and making tiny whirlpools.

Roger raised her head, still completely unabashed by her nudity, and looked each of them in the eye.  “Remember, lads and lassie, ye may do anything in yer ken to aid me.  Anything.  Ketch?”  Johnny and Aidan nodded.  Larissa just stared back with her overlarge, liquid eyes.  Aidan whispered something under his breath and Bones flew off to the stern.

The shark scala was a few feet away, in deeper water, on the opposite side of the racing lane from The Sylph.  She said nothing, but the look she gave the lobster woman promised dire consequences if she did not perform.  The other scalas (or scalae) bobbed up and down behind her, making various tortured noises that Johnny supposed must be meant to be encouraging.

Roger called over to the shark woman.  “Ho there!  You have a starter?”

The shark mouth opened, the teeth still fearsome even after long exposure to them, and a weird gutteral cry came from its throat.  After perhaps half a minute, with the echoes of the call just starting to fade away, a blue face surfaced beside her.  This head was almost entirely human-looking except for its odd hue and the fact that it seemed to have black fin-like appendages where its ears should be.  The hair was black and slicked back, and an incongruous pair of wire-rimmed glasses sat upon a bulbous nose, their frames curled around the earfins.  This new creature raised an arm, showing that he was wearing a black shirt with yellow-striped cuffs, and extended a blue hand with webbed fingers to the shark woman.  In it was what appeared to be large snail shell.

She took the shell and threw it at Aidan, hard.  The blue-skinned boy—for some reason, he reminded Johnny of a pimpled teenager—started to turn away, but the leader of the hellish mermaids put a leathery hand on his shoulder and held him there.

Johnny glanced over at Aidan, who was examing the shell.  He held it out over the water, palm upturned, and closed his eyes.  His lips moved, but Johnny could not make out any chanting.  After a few seconds he opened his eyes and nodded at Roger.  She nodded back and rolled her shoulders while working her neck back and forth.  Johnny could hear the kinks popping out as she tossed her head.  Then she bent one knee and threw the other leg as far back as she could, reaching her hands out as though she meant to dive.  When she was utterly still, Aidan tossed the snail shell onto the shelf between Roger and her opponent.

The water was crystal clear, so Johnny could see the shell settle onto the sand.  He could see the lobter woman stretch her arms out like Roger’s and tense her tail.  He could see that the toes on Roger’s forward foot were curled firmly into the sand.  Roger and the lobster creature were both staring intently at the shell.  As they all watched, it began to jiggle.  Suddenly, the horns of the snail inside the shell popped out.

Then a lot of things happened at once.

Roger’s leg straightened like an uncoiling spring and she shot up into the air, but more forward than up.  The lobster woman flung her tail out straight behind her.  The engine of the The Sylph sprang to life, and it also started to move.  Roger hit the water in a smooth dive, but the lobster woman was suddenly on her back.  It tried to grab her and pull her back, or perhaps it meant to pull her down and drown her, but Roger was slick.  Neither the hard-shelled arms nor the dozens of tiny feet could hold on to her, and Roger shot out of the scala’s grasp and added insult to injury by pushing off its head with her trailing foot.  Now Roger was a pace ahead and gaining, as the lobster woman twisted her body around to pursue.

Meanwhile, The Sylph was keeping pace with Roger.  Still trying to recover from the violent start, Johnny looked around wildly.  “What can we do?” he asked Aidan over the roar of the fan.  And then, without waiting for an answer, “and who’s driving the damn boat?!”

The corners of Aidan’s mouth turned up slightly, but Johnny couldn’t really call it a smile.  “Bones,” he answered.  “And I’m trying to find something to do.  Unfortunately, my abilities are limited at this speed.  She can move even faster than I expected ...”

Johnny was still trying to process the first answer.  “Bones is driving??  He can’t drive!”

Aidan waved distractedly.  “As long as we’re just going in a straight line he should be fine.”  Still staring down into The Sylph’s wake, he slammed a fist down on the railing.  “Damn!  I can’t reach anything bigger than a pinkeen in this water.  The scalae have scared everything off.”

Johnny blinked.  “What’s a ... ?”

“Minnow,” Larissa supplied softly from his other side.

A loud screech-squawk came out of the brass speaker in the bow at the same time as a huge splash sent ripples against the side of the airboat.  “What the hell was ...” Johnny began, but in the next instant his question was answered when a second boulder the size of his head hit the water, this one much closer to Roger.  He looked back to where they’d left the scalae by the shore, but the only one visible was the octopus one, whose tentacles were wrapped around more rocks.  She was perfecting her aim now, and the third projectile looked sure to cave in Roger’s head.  Johnny heard Larissa hiss between her teeth, like a teakettle coming to boil, and just at that moment the moray woman surfaced from underneath Roger, her teeth flashing in the sourceless light.  Roger rolled smoothly onto her back, and the rock took the moray creature in the shoulder instead.  Roger kept rolling until she was back on her stomach without missing a stroke.  Still, the diversion had cost her: the lobster woman had halved the distance between them.

There was an unholy screeching noise from the direction of the shoreline, and Johnny glanced back to see the octopus scala covered in pinching crabs.  Aidan grunted in satisfaction.

But the shark fin and the marlin fin now crested the waterline, not far behind the lobster and gaining steadily.  “Good thing she didn’t challenge one of them,” Johnny mumbled.

“Choosing their slowest swimmer does have some downsides,” was Aidan’s sardonic reply.

“Wait, where’s the other one?”  Johnny had suddenly remembered the angler fish mermaid.

Aidan’s voice was strained.  “She went too deep.  I’ve got her.”  His knuckles tightened on the railing.  “Although I won’t be able to hold her long.  But, at this speed, I think she’s out of it now in any event.”