aldelorenzo: ~/

Temple of the universe.

I went to what is called the “temple of the universe” yesterday night. Before I continue forward, I feel compelled to mention that my next entries will not chronicle my descent into a cult, regardless of what images the name “temple of the universe”, or the fact that I willingly went to it of my own free will may procure. No, I went because I am willing to listen to ideas, as long as I am provided the option to come  to my own conclusions. I don’t think that is what I found while after Mickey Singer spoke for over an hour.

The first thing you may notice when you search that name is the website of the “temple”. The second is probably and article about how his company defrauded investors. I will ignore this part of his character, as I cannot speak to it any more than you can read about it. Rather I can speak to my understanding of what he mentioned last night.

What I took from his hour was inconclusive. If I could distill what he said it he mentioned there is no good or bad: those are our concepts of reality, a reality that we cannot change. The concept of dharma was mentioned. All of what he mentioned made me think, but he drew conclusions from what he mentioned and eluded that he knew the truth of the matter. This was one of my two points of contention.

The other was because I was not presented enough information to come to my own conclusion. He had the power to come to conclusions because he had the knowledge, experience, or something that I can not presently quantify(if such a thing exists). If I wanted to understand that conclusion, I would have to attend again to hear more of his knowledge. If I were a cynic (which by the wikipedia definition I just may be) I would say that this was breeding a dependency.

Still, what he mentioned wasn’t outwardly idiotic. It was reasoned, and was at times based on popular scientific understanding of the universe. Despite what you may have taken from my rambles, I do not judge what I heard as anything but inconclusive. I was not presented with enough information to draw the same conclusions that he did so I cannot dispute or accept any finality.

Mickey speaks of zen, bhuddism, yoga, religion, god, spirituality, amongst much else. I see seeking knowledge and understanding as(which all of these things attempt to do) as a positive thing. However, I am a quantitative thing: I need to be able to test a hypothesis, and make sure it stands up to all scientific rigor.

Also on an only slightly related note, a slim pillow on the floor  as a seat is not confortable for any extended amount of time.

What the hell, guys?

I spent a few hours in a library yesterday. I generally find that these palaces of paper, these bulwarks of bindings are a wonderful place to spend some free time. I sat in a chair as I did some work (being int he same room as a hundred thousand books is enough to draw my wonder) as hundreds of college students were studying for upcoming tests, reading or listening to lectures, or finishing assignments due in scant few hours.

What I first noticed was the noise. I have been in a few server rooms in my few years associated with technology, and when my music stopped playing for a moment, or when my companion inquired about whatever her mind wandered to I was struck with a noise that rivaled the hum of a room full of racks of servers, and the massive turbines that cool them. It was horrific. I was told that this was only indicative of the first two floors of this library, but even that I couldn’t readily accept. There was a time when I was chastised for getting too excited about a book, or walking too quickly over the creaking floors of the small North Bennington library. Somehow, people were studying in this racket.

But once I manage to hurdle over this observation, I found myself smacked in the face with another: there were no guys in the library. I did a quick count from my chair and found that out of the 68 people that were within my field of vision, there were only 16 males including myself. Less than a quarter of the rooms’ occupants were of the genetically masculine nature. I can add some leniency to my figures, and I can perhaps assume that this sort of place is outside of the norm for guys, and maybe assume that they spend their study time away from this library. Maybe if I went to another library on campus I would have found that the figures were reversed.

My evidence my be anecdotal, but there is plenty of evidence that is not. Males are now the minority in college, and the trend continues higher degrees are attained. Perhaps I can understand- I was not the best student by any stretch of the imagination, and I cannot reasonably remember going to the library to study while I was FSU. I only visited the USF library a handful of times, and each time is was appalled by how loud the study areas were. Regardless, I had still assumed that the numbers wouldn’t be so obvious.

So, what the hell. Guys, let’s not rest on our laurels.

Absolutes, and adventures

I generally don’t like dealing in absolutes. I may have mentioned this before on this blog, or somewhere else in conversation, but I recently read an article titled “The Tesla Model S Is The World’s Most Expensive Beta Test” and it inflamed memories and opinions. Why does the Tesla have to be the most expensive? Surely we can consider a few other things more expensive for being only nearly ready for proper and safe consumption or usage. Off the cuff, I could think that there were a few Apollo missions that would be in the beta stage, if not barely experimental.

Usually I see these terms of absolute on products and services. Without anything more than anecdotal evidence, I would say that the poorer the quality of the consumable the more an advertisement for it deals in absolutes. The “best” attorney in town actually took a half dozen tries before he barely passed the bar, ‘first-class’ sushi is found in a gas station. I have noticed this rings truest in television commercials.

This past weekend was the fist time I watched television programming on an actual television in over a year. Apparently my guilty pleasures of ‘pawn stars’ is still showing episodes. But between the moments of history than I enjoy and bits of drama about some very obese idiots there are commercials. What I found in those few minutes was shocking. These commercials now seem like a blur to me, and even pressed I cannot remember the contents of a single 30 second spot but I can remember what I thought of them. They were horrid, and I hoped they appealed to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately if I assume I know even the slightest bit about marketing, I would say these ads appeal to the middle of the bell curve, to the average and grabbing as much o their demographic as they can.

Most ads were for the best thing in some category. You have a sedan that is barely distinguishable to its rival? It is now the best in class for headroom because the roof is lifted a mm over your competitors’. I suppose this has always been the case, and many notice these same things- but the shock of it all hit me quickly when I turned on the set after a very long time of commercial abstinence.

This all reminds me of why I was watching TV. I was sitting on a couch in the state of my birth, recovering from a day of skiing. That was a trip that I would say may be worth of an absolute. It was a great time, and was exactly I needed to relax. Being as eventful as it was, my extended weekend adventures will have to wait for another entry.

As always, more to come: these damn thoughts don’t seem to end.

Measurable Differences

I have had a habit of measuring myself against others, especially when it comes to matters of age. It is an easy comparison to make, and it is definite: I have spent 24 years on this ferrous hunk of metal, and I can compare that to anyone else’s amount of time on the same ball and tally accomplishments between the two of us(technically if I compare myself to an historic figure, I should have a few more hundredths of a second more than they- the Earth is moving away from the Sun, slowly).

I digress, of course. Additionally, let me take a moment to register an obvious fact: this entry will be vapid, self-involved and will probably be perceived as obnoxiously delusional. I am talking about me versus others and my first world problems which are insignificant if viewed with a wider lens.

To my point: I have now found it unwise to compare myself to others. I have never been pressured to compare my accomplishments to others’ in my memorable history, I have compared myself to others only because I have felt personally compelled to. Allow me to run through a few scenarios that I have compared myself to others:

I took the better part of six years to finish school. Traditionally, that accomplishment is completed in four years, in rare cases five, and hardly ever six. Because of my slow pace, I find myself in my first adult place of employment at 24.  By this time I have contemporaries that have been hired, then promoted, and promoted again before I first signed my contract.

Also, although I have always been fascinated by technology, I didn’t delve terribly deeply into web development until very recently. I did not know more than a markup language until I was 21, and am still pulling myself through some of the more obtuse elements of some languages, and I am even more lacking when it comes to my knowledge of backend web.

I never left the country until I was 23 (and that was a very late 23- I turned 24 in Paris under the Eifel Tower), and when at home, Irarely spent time outside my room let alone the vast world.

As you may have been able to tell, I have let these things fester for some time. When I notice these things, I furiously try to change and learn(especially when it comes to my profession) but in these moments of shame or comparison, I retain little from my scramblings. Comparisons have made me feel insignificant, for when I compare myself to a dozen others I don’t compare myself versus one, I compare myself to the summed total of the bunch. When that comparison is made there is no chance for me to level myself with them, even with my most optimistic mindset.

But this is unhealthy for me. Competition with others may fuel some, but it drains me. I find that if I am to singularly focus my energies on my internal expectations, the outcome is far better than what I could accomplish with competition. I do without expectation, disregarding the finish line at the end of the race so that I may be able to find a path more fitting to myself. So far, those wandering paths have found me in new places, with an open mind, and to greater internal and external effect.

Silence in the suburbs.

I have spent nearly a week here in the old family home in Wesley Chapel. Even my parents came back from Vermont- the first time the whole Delorenzo clan has been in the same place for an extended amount of time in years. It is good to see family, they tend to have a few good things to saw now and then, and are generally agreeable (and the youngest is fun to mess with). We laugh, talk, eat, all the required parts to a decent winter break. We even share some similar sentiments about the suburbs.

For instance, when we come into town we (at least my father and myself) feel.. wrong. When I took the exit to WC and saw the careless drivers and self-important slobs bumbling across the street I felt like I didn’t want to be here. The amount of gluttony here is appalling, and kids these days have no interest in the intriguing parts of life. We agreed that Wesley Chapel is not a place we would stay if the world were ideal. I realize I sound like a stereotype of a curmudgeon when I say these things, but I will manage to survive with that label and it isn’t my point either.

I took a jog around Meadow Pointe in some of my free time. I started out strong, finding rhythm with the fast-paced song that played into my ears from my phone. It was empowering, and kept me going for about half of my total run. At the halfway point, I was nearly dead. I am not a natural runner, and a short stint as an office worker has left me even more out of shape than I usually am. Two miles in I was heaving like an asthmatic carrying another asthmatic on their back.

After a few minutes walking to catch my breath I began again. Yet, this time I changed something. I cast off the headphones that had pulled me forward the first half, and began to listen to my surroundings. The streets were quiet. I had not expected this. I had the music blaring before because I wanted to avoid the commotion I knew would follow, that lives with these tightly packed houses with timed irrigation systems. The quiet was enveloping, even peaceful.

I made the second half of my run in a better fashion than my first. It was exhilarating. Birds followed my path, children laughed in the distance, and my feet padded along the road, content to push on embracing the environment I had attempted to block out with certainty. While I can’t say that it is ideal, I can see why people would manage to exist in this suburban sprawl. If they can find the beauty beyond the material, and past their own preconceptions as to what a suburb should be.

Or they could just buy more stuff and be happy with an even larger TV, or a new sedan with more options than the last.

Ownership

Recently, I received a notice in my email about a terms of service update from a company I purchased a product from months ago. There were no drastic changes in the terms, but I was compelled to read through them. I am not an expert in legalese, but when I translated the bulletin with the decoder ring I saved from a box of Lucky Charms from 1992 I was able to figure out a few things. Most of the terms seemed standard enough: they quashed my rights in many aspects, denied liability, and outlined how they would track my usage through cookies. But the one that bothered me the most was ownership. This was a printing service, and I had to provide them with the photo I was hoping to get published.  For them to agree to print this picture, I apparently agreed to allow them an unlimited license to use it for marketing purposes.

Facebook has an even more reaching license:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacyand application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).

Why do companies feel they can own your content, because they store it? Why doesn’t the manufacturer of my hard drive take the same liberties. I would reason these companies couldn’t do this if the goods they were using were tangible, but should that change the scenario? It would be a little more obtrusive if the mechanic you bring your car to demands the same terms- he would demand the use of your car for as many joyrides as he likes, because you paid for his services.

I wonder why these TOS agreements exist. In the case of Facebook ,he majority of the billions of pictures are without substance or originality, and none of them could possibly be used to earn for the social media site.  Still, they provide a free service to contain our massive amounts of terrible pictures and status updates about another rambling and incoherent blog entry, I can see why facebook would try and make money off our freely submitted junk. What can be said about a company that I have paid for their services, that has an obvious end to the transaction(as far as I am concerned)?

Can’t I just pay for a print and continue on my path?

Comfort

Comfort is a very pleasing word, and everyone has their own idea of what comfort is. Still, there are a few pillars of the word that resonate with most. The warmth of curling up into a warm bed, a sip of tea/hot chocolate, or anything else that suspends a normally adverse situation or day. Comfort can be the most welcoming sensation after many hours, days, or weeks dealing with the normal drudgery of life. I recently had the odd compulsion to get a massage, which conforts and relaxes most wonderfully. I backed out of this plan because I have no idea if getting a massage is an actual thing, or it is only a plot device in poorly scripted movies(I welcome recommendations in Gainesville).

But comfort has been adulterated. Comfort marketing is a popularized trend, but I would reason it is one of the most used marketing ideas, behind sex alone. Cars that are the most comfortable, the ergonomic chair that is the most comfortable for the cubicle jockey, even the burgeoning Aunt Jemima recreates the comfort of family.

It has recently been brought to my attention that I am become more consumerist. While it was startling to me, it wasn’t unfounded. I have a few more pennies in my savings account (or a savings account at all) and while I continue to live a spartan life, I reason it wouldn’t hurt to add a few convinces to my life. For example, I no longer toast my bread by turning on the over to broil: I have a toaster.

But on this binge of internet shopping exploration, I see the same word repeated for everything. All goods are now the mot comfortable. Pens can no longer be functional, they must delicately grip to our digits. Even worse, these goods marked as comfortable aren’t nearly as comfortable as the advertisements make them. I have tried a snuggie, and it accomplishes nothing it clearly states it can do.

Just as every song have been remastered to be as loud as possible, marketers have peppered any product remotely resemblant of comfort with its praises. Can we recognize real comfort when we are presented with it? Or, has the definition of the word been so butchered we can only find confort in goods, not experiences memories or activities. I have yet to find comfort as warming as a good conversation bathed in pale moonlight on a chilly night.

Literacy

I sat in my weekly scheduled meeting today, where each of the devs rehash their projects for the larger team. Each of us lists off the gripes we have about waiting for other departments, or how a simple project that could be completed in an afternoon with some redbull is sitting stagnant in a dark corner because a committee cannot decide wether a site should receive a top-level domain or other.

I informed the group of my current list of projects. I mention the difficulties of moving a site from a near ancient CMS to a new one, and refer to the person who sat at the desk I do now my their first name. I mention the code he wrote, and how I have to rewrite it to better suit the current and future applications it will support. It is good code, and has lasted years, but it will not stand forever.

Apparently I was talking about his code informally, as a colleague does another of his own when I had never met the man. My immediate boss said: “You didn’t even know him!”. It’s true, I have never met my predecessor. But, I have dissected his code, read his electronic handwriting, checked his documentation. Could it really be said that I don’t know him?

When I read a book I can sense who the author is. After all, this is what generally makes for a good author. The authors’ “voice” comes through, and if it weren’t written as it was, it would lose it’s “aura” or whatever else a dirty hippie would call it. The more code I look at, the more an individual is obvious. There are the obvious differences between a novice coder and intermediate, but once you crest past the threshold of the simple repeater you find nuances.

When you read Harry Potter, Robert Jordan, Malcolm Gladwell, you hear the voice fo the author. For someone like Gladwell, you read the book directly in his voice: Before I ever watched a talk from him, I read his books in his same energetic and slightly eccentric voice. While these authors and I have never met, is it so hard to think I have an understanding of who they are just by reading their lines of text? Is it so hard to think you can understand someone just by reading, and deciphering their code?

Condensation.

I posed a question on my facebook wall, that I have now put thought into myself. I asked a novel, and hypothetical question: If there was a restaurant that charged a flat fee that was based on the average value of the same menu the last night, would diners indulge?  Would they dine as if they were to pay for their equal share? Or would they eat as hedonists of antiquity and divulge, knowing fully that the diners who follow them will have to bear the burden of their lavishness?

In discussion it was wondered: Would the temporal distance between diners be enough separation to impersonalize the diners the following night? Probably. If you do not see the immediate effects of your actions, you are not likely to change your behavior to benefit another party. It is the same reason and problem that environmentalists face when they attempt to convince the world of the incoming effects of global warming, overfishing, pollution, or any number of issues that takes longer than a blink of an eye to notice. We societal  humans demand to see immediate effects of our actions. In the computing world, if you have a process that takes longer than a tenth of a second, you lose the participators focus- that’s why you see AJAX spinners and animated loading bars.

Now, back to this hypothetical situation. Believing that the diners will be insensitive, and living in an immodest society, I can say with a small amount of assurance that there would be a fair share of gluttons. The fixed price of a dining experience will rise nightly. This constant escalation will alienate the impoverished, and the restaurants clientele  will dwindle until there isn’t a large enough constituency to support the restaurant. Alternatively, the prices will rise but there could be a large enough group of ultra rich that the establishment can survive, turning a curious social meal experiment into a Veblen good.

To escape this outcome, I modified the experiment. The price you now pay is an average of the previous hour. When you are seated at your table you see the group that sat there previously, and you have the briefest moment of contact. Perhaps the server personalizes it further and mentions the names of the diners that sat in those very chairs but five minutes before your arrival.

Now the price is very human, and there is a personal consequence to indulgence. Your actions directly effect someone you know to be alive, and in your society. Some may draw on their limited knowledge of the concept of Socialism, and call this idea as such.

There are only two options I can think of. That is why I titled this post “Condensation”. Out of the vapors that exist in the entire galaxy of possibilities I have sucked them down and compressed them into two very polarized possibilities. It is how I continually operate. I see a situation, or dream of an idea and suitcase my thoughts into the few possibilities I can think of. Here I have taken a complex set of creatures (humans, and the society they live in) and can only offer two possible choices.

Shouldn’t there be a much more infinite array of choices? My thoughts become binary, where there is an on and off. They are the absolutes, and there is no splintering into the possible, but improbable. Pity, I would guess there is much else out there to be thought of that this grey mass of goo that often are dismissed immediately.

Haidt (pronounced height, not hate) Part 1

I was presented with the option to listen to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt speak @ UF yesterday. If you clicked on the link you may be disparaged as I was: his personal site leaves much to be desired. His site may lack a stylesheet or any of the usual accouterments of a recently developed website, but it contains a plethora of information without pretense. His website is a perfect analogy for his talk.

Haidt spoke on topics generally related to his new book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”. With this topic in mind he dived into his thoughts on the current political climate. I won’t go through the entire litany of facts, statistics, and ideas he brought up- I would recommend his book for that, but I will ask you the same questions I wondered as he spoke.

Haidt provided graphic representations of how ‘good’ we are living today, compared to every other time in history. The more our race matures, the better we get at raising the comfort of life. There have been a few hiccups when our race stagnated (recently about 1000 years ago when a plague wiped out 1/3 of all Europeans), but especially in recent history we have become exponentially more prosperous. Overall, humanity is better than it has ever been. For Americans specifically, there are plenty of statistics showing that we are slightly worse off now than 10 years ago, but for the rest of our countries’ young life we are fairing better than ever.

Still, politicians (on any side, with any creed) recall the ‘good old days’. Everything was better 60 years ago, right? Streets were cleaner, less crime, less discourse and hatred, dogs cleaned up their own excrement. Sure, the country was together during these times, but it was because there was a bad, bad man killing millions and planning on world domination. It turns out that when millions of Americans are being pulled into war, their hatred for their neighbors fades.

My point: we will never return to a post(or present)-war stability without another world war. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that we have an allegiance of sovereign countries to fight,  we all get along too well. There will be dissidents anywhere, but they are deep within the minority. Going back to those good days is a mantra that can be repeated that cannot stand, as it has no legs.

Haidt offered some solutions to our political woes, and I won’t paraphrase his ideas (they were articulated much better than I ever could). I made up my mind while listening to his talk: it requires a dialogue and some level of openness for this very vile and poisonous political climate to change. Haidt spoke of a few things that bring people together, that opens dialogue: bring families together (the overwhelmingly white suburbs do the opposite), talk over food (who can avoid reasoned conversation when there is good food around). The only time I have come to appreciate an openness is with a beer or four in hand, while sitting in a hot tub. Spending hours cooking in a human sized croc-pot levels boiling tempers and ideals. Partisan bickering is reduced to reasoned (if slurred) disagreement, but understanding.

So, I offer my own mind to an openness. Should I find a pool and a beer it would ease the conversation, but I cannot continue to take part in such a vicious cycle. The man yelling at you across the picket line is (probably) a reasoned person, with ideas that are different than yours. So? You have your convictions, and take them seriously. So? Politics has become a battle over morality. Why? What is more moral than the appreciation for the person walking past you.

There is much more to this conversation, that I wouldn’t mind having with anyone who asks a question. If you don’t find your question heading my way, perhaps you will find it answered when I get to part II of this post.