Monday, October 11, 2004

Buzz words, sexy computers, and killer appz

Apparently I have just one linguistic nerve left and "getting the job done--" along with every other buzzword people slip into their conversations -- was just swinging off it like Tarzan on crack. Ergo, this is about buzz words, computers, and one really kick ass app.

Am I the only person in America that refuses to use buzzwords like "get the job done?" It was, apparently, Bob Costa's favorite new buzzword at the summer Olympics. During one evening's events, between Costas and the color commentators, I counted that phrase over 36 times in three hours. (That's 11 times an hour more than a human can bear. I get images of piping buzzwords into rat cages to see if it induces canniblism.) I thought I would have to bite my tongue in half trying to keep my mouth shut about it. By the third day they were all saying it, including Katie Couric. [Yes, I know I said I seldom watch TV but I always watch the swimming and gymnastics summer events and skijumping & luge in winter.]

I am currently reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. It is a vast repository of buzzwords. [I am so glad I am not in the private sector and in management, I don't think I could survive the coffee breaks without throttling someone.] Buzzwords spill out everywhere to boggle my pointy little head. There is the classic "paradigm shift," "Maxing output while minimizing input," "garbage in and garbage out," and the tired and worn out "leverage this" and "leveraging that." You know what I mean. The book was a best seller in the business community two years ago. Apparently it takes two years to get trickle-down from management to geeks in the trenches. Suddenly, everything is Tuscany! [That's my sardonic response to the latest greatest fad de jour.... remember when everyone had to have white cotton and terra cotta pots scattered around everywhere?]

Back to the book. I am only one chapter into it, yet I can see one major flaw in his "bottom up" approach: there is no way to prioritize an item via importance (in terms of both context and in urgency.) Now that's one seriously major flaw if you ask me. [Hey, did your paradigm just shift? No? Maybe it's all done with smoke and mirrors.] I am going to give it a solid read; I hope the remainder of the book can address this fundamental flaw.

On to sexy computers. [Marvelous segue, yes?]

One of the things I used to hear a lot of was some pencil-necked geek saying a computer was "sexy." My response was to sorrowfully shake my head and say, "you really do need to get laid more." My twin sister and I were talking about the new G5 dually 2.5's, they are sleek and beautiful, inside and outside. (I just set up three of them, 2.5 GHz, 1 GB ram, 250 GB hds, and superdrives in an AV lab at work.) The only thing I don't like is the plastic CD tray. Apple apparently bought the cheapest possible plastic trays available anywhere in the world. Adjectives like flimsy, carpola, junk, and flaming smacktard leap to mind. One bump should shatter it. Note bene: I said shatter not break. The plastic looks as flimsy and brittle as the kind Sony first used on their incredibly overpriced laptops. I have more confidence in a Styrofoam cup, which is a shame since the case is made of brushed aluminum and the door to the bay drops down inside the front, sort of very Agent 99!

I called my twin sister last night, you can find her here The Evil Twin, [insert wicked evil grin here,] and mentioned that I thought they new G5s were about the only machine I ever saw that I thought was sexy. Long pause (I could hear her wicked-evil grin over the phone,) and she said, mournfully, "You really need to get laid more." So you see, is it any wonder I don't discuss operating systems or politics with her? (Hey, they aren't as incongruent as you think on first glance. Think about it.)

And that takes me into the killer app. [Yet another free and marvelous segue! Hell, if Mirc$oft can trademark "double-clicking [tm]" I don't see why I can trademark "marvelous-segue (tm)!" Can you believe they allow verbs to be trademarked? The true apogee of stupidity.]

If you are an OSX variety MacHead, go check this app out: DevonThink. Check out the DevonAgent too, they are powerful by themselves, yet combined they can "leverage" your researching needs "to the next level" [recognize any annoying buzzword?] It's fairly solid and can crawl the internet with far greater accuracy than Goggle and even Dogpile (my search engine of choice.) While it's loading and crawling, you can examine any hits in a preview pane which resembles Simple text but offers highlighted keywords based on your search terms. You can also click on any link and DT's internal browser will leap into life. I started using the demo of both and got hooked, they are excellent for someone like me that works in educational technology.

DevonThink is your new brain, honest... trust me. Its a freeform database, an outliner, browser, and organizer all rolled into one $40.00 application. It can handle simpletext, Word docs, rtf, pdfs, images, QT movies, and sound files. About the only thing it doesn't support is Excel. Site-sucking? Yep, you could, if you had a large enough hard drive and massive bandwidth, probably suck up the entire internet [which was, as we all know, invented by Al Gore.] Now I am running OSX 10.2.8 because this is an older G3 laptop (firewire.) I can go to 10.3 but it just doesn't seem prudent to force an older machine, one that is the bottom-feeder and at the bare minimum on list of requirements, to jump up to Panther. Still, I have say DT to be remarkably stable, and hung on me only once -- and that was when I accidently send my entire user library/application support folder into DT at one go, lol. (I am on the Pro beta version that has remarkable stability for a beta release, it's only crashed in one week of heavy use & abuse!)

Did I mention this software is "intelligent?" It learns your category habits, and will classify based on how you sorted, what keywords you used. In a short time the process is automatic, just drag the file into the DT (mine is sitting pretty in my dock, snuggled between Photoshop and InDesign and that's saying a lot,) and it will organize it for you. The first couple of days it mismatched a lot, but now its rock solid.

I keep a massive archive of pdfs, and the files themselves are huge, I think it is currently in the neighborhood of 2.5 gbs and another 3 gbs on a LaCie firewire HD for holding and backup.) Everything from a manual for Unix to Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX tutorials (with templates,) weather data charts (for fly fishing and figuring out the hatches.) I think I have around 3 gb worth of pdf's already loaded. One of my taskings at work is to keep abreast of instructional applications and know everything about them, so I have a ton of pdfs on both laptops. [That's probably why people call me "the big giant head." I can, via Safari Services and some handy DT scripts, send entire page into DT with a click of a mouse, either whole sites, one page or just the url.

I am working with some fairly simple categories: work, web, home, play, projects etc. I am using a lot of nested folders within each broad category. I can't recommend it enough. The work folder has sub-folders based on either scriptiing or software documenation. I am also using it in conjunction with AquaMinds Note Taker software. I wanted to use NT for blogging and backing up my blog as per Kevin's website. He is using ecto and NT to post his blog. It's an impressive combination. I am still on the NT trial, but I ordered the software last week (I love an educator's discount!)

PS.. eventually an "enterprise" version will be released.

[Why all the braces? Consider it a sarcastic/sardonic alert!]


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

A decade of yesterdays

Memory, sand, and time. Remembering absent friends in Somalia.

I stare at the calendar, surprised that all those yesterdays added up, in a glacial snail's pace, and now it is eleven years, two days, and nine hours past. Each day is a casual sort of purgatory filled with ..... what? What words describe it? The thing I say to myself, again and again, is those four days sort of occurred outside of time, at least that's how it feels. I experience it as sharp and bitterly now as I did over a decade ago. They are with me still, the eternal present, and I expect they will always haunt my dreams. What words can detail everything that was Somalia? Give me some words that aren't clichés strip from either comic books or bad movies.

I trip over Mogadishu on a surprisingly regular basis. Once I found a Somali nickel, right here on Pearl Street pedestrian mall in Boulder. Another time I was flipping through a magazine, in the checkout line from Hell, and suddenly there was a picture of Randy Shugart's body being pulled through the dusty streets of Mogadishu. Then there was the store, a computer game store down at Flatiron's Mall, where I felt bitter rage boiling up when I saw they made a game of Mogadishu, it was all I could do to not explode into a mindless sort of rage and ruin. Once again I hoped Mark Bowden would rot in Hell. Like the book and the movie wasn't enough for him. Isn't it nice that people can reap an enormous profit from the pain and death of other people?

Unlike Mark Bowden, I was in Mogadishu when the events his book is centered on took place. I had been in country three months when it happened. I knew a lot of the men that died on Oct 3-4 1993. Except the killing started before that movie, well before. Start with twenty-five Pakistani's getting waxed in a single ambush and work your way up. The morning of Oct 3rd, three American's and a Somali National translator were blown to bits by a command-detonated landmine. I was one of the people required to examine the scene. Even this little bit of writing about it remains a struggle, sort of like that horrible plunging feeling you have in a sudden fall.

I miss you guys.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

Annie Dillard, Maurice Blanchot, and me

Were you ever jacked by a book? Have you ever read and reread a book that had layer upon layer of meaning, that forced you to work for every crumb?

I once read a book by Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (L'Ecriture Du Desastre,) that I thought was the most difficult book I ever read (in college anyway,) but I was wrong. To put this in context try and imagine a book composed of bullet statement commentary on everything from silence to the nature of complicity, and write it in French with untranslatable notions and a shy English translator, and just put it out there. Make it utterly obscure in the English translation and even denser in the French original. This was one of the texts I used for an honors project for my English degree. I was examining the role and nature of silence in works by Holocaust survivors, using a semiotic and metalanguage approach.

I remember countless frustrated hours, sitting in a Michigan library, trying to make sense of both the English and French editions. If you want to learn anything at all from Maurice Blanchot you have to suffer for it. He yielded no secret or context easily. Want an example?

"Effacé avant d'être écrit. Si le mot trace peut être accueilli, c'est comme l'index qui indiquerait comme raturé ce qui ne fut pourtant jamais tracé. Toute notre écriture — à tous et si elle est jamais écriture de tous — serait ainsi:le souci de ce qui ne fut jamais écrit au présent, mais dans un passé à venir."

I'm not much of a translator but here is how this passage speaks to me:

"Erased before the word can be understood, it's the indicator of that which would show erasure that can never erase what was never noted (or written.) All our writing -- with all that was never written at all -- would be as follows: the concern of what was never written at the present, but in a past that has yet to come."

That was simply one of thousands of typically cryptic bullet statements. Everything in the book related to everything and related to nothing at all. Within the dust jacket of that book was the meaning of silence, suffering, and the price of survival.

Fast Forward to Annie Dillard's For The Time Being. I have been reading and rereading this book for three years. When I travel it goes in a daypack with me, and a soft-covered Moleskine notebook with crabbed printing. The book goes fishing with me, tucked away in a Ziploc bag, I pull it out when sitting under a tree watching for a hatch. My copy of the book is underscored and marked up, crowded with notes in the margins, arguments continue on from the end papers to a moleskine notebook. And each time I pull it out and start at a random page, it feels rather like picking up a cherished arguement with an old friend. It all has great meaning together, but each morsel alone is a feast that could fill the world with meaning... if only I could break through the text.

The book has five central elements: meaning of numbers, a manual of birth defects, religion and faith (Judaism) throughout time, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's remarkable life's work and exile, numbers with and without meaning, personal meaning. The text seems to jump randomly from one topic to the next. There are no topical transitions. If you can't follow along tough noogies. This book is nothing like Dillard's previous work. I have read her since I was in my early twenties. The connection I shared with her was being around ten years and two miles apart. I grew up two miles from where she did, so her work has always been appealing to me.

The first few readings drove me crazy. I am a rather pedestrian linear thinker that wants books to move from left to right in an orderly fashion. After the second reading I was convinced she had just read Blanchot before she wrote the book. Each time I read the book, a secret part of me was certain I would suddenly transcend the text, that all meaning would suddenly connect for me. I still think that and it still hasn't happened. I was raised to believe tenacity is it's own reward.

I plan to keep returning to this entry as I find what is next around the corner.


Lists without context

Not that anyone cares, but I thought it would be fun to create a list and let the reader roll their own context. What are you waiting for? Time to get sort of surreal.

1. The screaming three year old, always behind me on a flight, who kicks my seat non-stop from New York to Denver.

2. Cats resemble commas as they curl in sleep.

3. Why can't I find decent borscht in Boulder?

4. [Insert mental picture of Dubya and a rock here.] "Bush, just like a rock, but dumber." (as seen on TV.)

5. Paragraph six of the United Nations Charter.

6. New York Time's Sunday book review magazine.

7. Kimchee.

8. Le film chinois « Combat contre les crues », film qui vient d'emporter le titre du meilleur film du Prix Huabiao.

9. 4 Star- Zwilling 8" chef's knife.

10. Why does this born-again church have a skateboard park on its property?

11. Flannel sheets.

12. Fritters.


Saturday, October 02, 2004

Dopplegangers to the top please.

On top of the Rockies, perched on a summit and surrounded by the great abyss, it's not a really good time to wonder if you and your twin are as close as you ought to be.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a twin? There are a lot of very strange and twisted notions on "twinhood" -- yes I know that isn't a word but it's my blog so it stays -- out there, and maybe in here as well. When we were in school we heard them all, and felt them even more. I can't tell you how many times people pinched one of us to see if the other would yelp.

My sister and I look the most alike when we are seen separately. Strange, eh? It's true, standing next to each other we don't at all look like twins. To be honest, I think when people view twins together they focus on the differences, whereas when viewed separately people try and find the similarities. Yes, I know that's obscure but I didn't make the world I just live in it. Most people think we're sisters and that's about it. That is until we speak. Our voices are what are identical, even we can't tell who is who on an old tape recording. When we are apart, people seem to know instantly that they have met one of us before. You see it coming with a frown and a baffled tilt of the head and gathering of the brows.

Our birth is a bit of a mystery, hidden away in Korea and onionskin, written in Latin and Korean. For example, we have no idea which of us was born first. I guess it seemed unimportant to them at the time. Throughout our childhood I was a couple inches taller, so of course I took this as proof positive that I was older, hence wiser, and always the boss of us. The funny thing is as kids we fought over who was born first. Now we have crossed into our forties, we fight over who is the youngest.

We're oddly different. She is a lefty and I am right-handed. I bowl better left-handed and she bowls better right-handed. She is better at speaking foreign languages, and is in fact fluent in four languages, and I am terrible speaking but learn to read them fairly quickly. I excelled in history and science in high school. She was the math whiz. We both swam on our high school swim team, but we did it flipped: I swam the 100-meter freestyle, she swam the 100-meter backstroke. We both tried diving and lasted one whole day at it. We both ended up in the military, I in the Army and she in the Air Force. We both saw and survived combat, RPGs, Mortar rounds, snipers and ambushes: I was a UN Peacekeeper in Somalia; she was with a rather interesting spooky group in Iraq.

We both are foaming at the mouth fourteen-hour-a-day fly fishers that fish hard and forget to eat when we are on the river. Give us two slimjims, a bottle of fruit punch Gatorade and some cheese sticks and we're good to go. We live in different parts of the country but manage to fish together fairly often, all things considered. This year we managed joint trip up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and rounded out our fishing by wetting a line Montana and Idaho. We're both happier chasing wild trout in out of the way streams than the big rivers.

I am a noon person, she is a night owl (Note Bene note I honestly admit neither of us are morning people, at least not without coffee.) Our politics and lifestyles are radically different, but we know the world is big enough to survive these common differences.

So as we stood on the summit, my sister holding on to my shoulders for balance as I sort of squated a bit for balance in the wicked wind, I wondered about how close we were as we balanced together at 12,476 feet in the air, I had to conclude we'd do just fine.


Mr. Poopyhead and me

This is the first time I played midwife to a cat. I held him from the second he was born, and he still thinks of me as mom. I confess in advance that this is a goofy entry.

This was the boy at eight weeks. He loved to swat at my fingers when I typed on the windoze laptop but, strangely enough, he didn't do this when I was on my mac laptop. He was shamelessly addicted to blueberry yogurt, cheese of any kind, and salads.

Mr Poopyhead earned his moniker at eight days of age. There were three very ugly white kittens that resembled white lab rats not cats. Mr Poopyhead started to "develop" first with a spot over his eye. He looked like one of his littermates had an accident and he got in the way. At two weeks of age he responded to the name and has been my baby every since. He follows me around, tries to take a shower with me, and loves to curl up on my chest when I am trying to type or on my laptop in bed. (That is the beauty of a laptop!)

I found this yesterday, it made me very wistful and slightly bitter that I didn't think to make Mr Poopyhead a tin-foil-alien-thought-probe-proof beanie with antenna! Anyway, the picture is a link to the Adorablog, a photoblog of kittens found abandoned in a box. (Personally, I think there is a very special place reserved in Hell for people that do nasty things like that to any helpless form of life.)

I occassionally write poetry, much of it intentionally bad (trust me, you don't want to know what I can do with haiku and a theme of toe-jam. It isn't for the weak-hearted.) My cat poem, for my oldest cat Pita, who never grew out of 5 month-old size, has a poem of her own. This was written in an on-line poetry SLAM. Its called:

Pita goes ballistic

You stand on my chest
in my ear
at five a.m.
(Where is my coffee?)

Points of contention:
new kittens
litter brands
the virtues of foil pouches over cans.
An erudite debate
you sing
whiskers back make the

And while we're at it
You express yourself
on my choice of music
leaving kitty surprises
landmines of displeasure
await me.

We negotiate:
Foil yes,
but the kittens stay,
if they rodeo
I'll give you catnip,
kitty heroin,
to soothe you,
while they stalk spiders
on ceilings
and scream their alarm.


Lying in Confession

This is a true story, I was eight at the time. All Catholic kids lie in confession. You don't mean to. You just get bored telling the priest, "I called Jimmy a bad name. I fought with my brother. I was disrespectful to my parents." I am sure they get tired of it too. This is the confession to end all eight-year old confessions.

When I was eight, I was staying up late, watching television alone. I heard a word that sounded like a wonderful sin for Saturday. I had no idea what it meant, but all the movie stars were suitably horrified. Yep. A good sin. I would use it.

So I went to 2 o'clock confession. Our church was old, dark and monolithic. It was a place you expected Thomas a Becket to be murdered in, and die, clinging to a cross while monks prayed over his lifeless form.

I sat in the pew next to the confessional. My legs were swinging. All the other good Catholic kids were in the pews around me, heads bowed, thinking about the Pirates' game that night.

The left confessional door opened. A child came out, not nearly looking sorry enough for his sins, I thought. He probably had really boring sins. Not like my juicy one.

I got up, genuflected and crossed myself, and primly went in.

I heard the grill slide open. Father Lutz said, "yes, my child?" His voice always had that deep sound of paper, heavy paper.

I crossed myself again. "Bless me father for I have sinned it has been one week since my last confession." (I could almost hear his eyes roll.) "This week I said a bad word. I fought with my sister. I sassed back at my mother."

I took a deep, dramatic breath, then blurted out, "and I committed adultery."

Dead silence. "Say that again?" He asked, clearly shocked.

"I said a bad word ---"

"No, child, skip right to the end." He sounded very strange. He was making these odd gasping noises.

"I committed adultery."

Long, long silence.

Then he said, "Are you truly sorry?" He choked out. There was a strange pause between each word.

"Yes Father." I answered.

"Very well. Say five Hail Marys, five Our Fathers. And try not to do this again." He was choking. I was worried but knew I was okay. I said my Act of Contrition and got out of there.

When I closed the door behind me I heard Father Lutz explode into laughter. He went on for a good five minutes. All the other children looked at me. No one played with me at recess for the rest of the school year.

(This was orginally written for a contest. So, you may have seen this before here.)