on singular focus

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

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ode to a Cat

Twelve years ago, one of my high school English teachers congratulated me on graduating, and gave me a thoughtful gift that I still appreciate – poems by Neruda. Now its cover is warped and pages are faded, but I’ve nearly memorized my favorite verse from the collection:  ‘Oda al Gato’ For no reason other than cats are awesome, here’s a (translated) excerpt: “your kind need not puzzle us, surely – you, the least of the mysteries abroad in the world, known to us all, the pawn of the lowliest householder – or they think so! – for each calls himself master, proprietor, playfellow, cat’s uncle, colleague, the pupils of cats or their cronies. Not I: I reckon things otherwise. I shall never unriddle the cat. I take note of the other things: life’s archipelagoes, the sea, the incalculable city, botanical matters, the pistil, the pistil’s mutations, plus-and-minus arithmetic, volcanoes that funnel the earth the …

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before ‘Felina’

There are absolutely spoilers below. Do not read, if you have not watched the Breaking Bad series in its entirety. I plead.  The joy of episodic narrative is that the audience gets to play the guessing game. We get to suppose what is coming next, week after week, testing our theories and validating our assumptions and essentially judging our own intelligence or predictive abilities. We take joy in the cliffhanger endings, that lead to cold opens, jumping to our own conclusions about what will come next, trying to stay a step ahead of the participants. But Heisenberg, both the real quantum physicist and television’s Walter White, will not let us engage our prophesying peacefully. Heisenberg, the real-life physicist from whom the fictional Walter White took his pseudonym, is credited with discovering the Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics, which states… The more precisely the position (momentum) of a particle is given, the less precisely …

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on Walter White and ‘Offline’ Identity

I’m apologetically writing this well after it originally aired, but I’ve been watching Breaking Bad for the first time. (Spoilers will be small and few, out of respect for the uninitiated.) Instead of offering my own full-bootlicking about how amazing the show actually is, I’ll simply quote from, and agree with, these words from the AV Club’s review of the episodes ‘ABQ’ and ‘Full Measures’ – “…this show has been one of serialized drama’s greatest accomplishments.  Television itself suddenly seems to have an expanded horizon of possibilities — for characterization, for juxtaposition, for thematic depth.  Whatever happens from this hellish moment, the long descent to this point, with all its false dawns and sudden crashes, was singularly awe-inspiring, uniquely cathartic. People living through a golden age often don’t know it.” “Extraordinary flowerings of art, technology, culture, or knowledge are obscured by intractable problems, crises, declines in other parts of the society… It’s easy to look at television, …

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on 15,000 Steps

It was only three or four steps to get to the bathroom when I woke up, late, Sunday morning. The grey light trying to force its way in through the blinds, the cat looping acrobatically beneath my drowsy gait. Since Christmas, I’ve been wearing a FitBit Force on my wrist, tracking every move I make with it’s fancy digital pedometer and accelerometer and altimeter and estimated calorie-burn computer and alarm clock and sleep timer. A trip to the bathroom in the morning becomes a matter of consequence, a record of competition. The conservation of my physique is now the ward of a few megabytes, transferred via low-energy Bluetooth. The gadget comes programmed to push me towards 10,000 steps as a daily goal, so I’m following its request, making the effort to walk at least five miles as often as possible. I’ve hit the 10k mark twelve times in January. My …

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Delillo on Memory

After posting my recollections of being a Redskins fan yesterday, this quote came to mind, from Americana: “If I could index all the hovering memories which announce themselves so insistently to me, sitting amid the distractions of yet another introspective evening (ship models, books, the last of the brandy), I would compile my index not in terms of good or bad memories, childhood or adult, innocent or guilty, but rather in two very broad and simple categories. Cooperative and uncooperative. Some memories seem content to be isolated units; they slip neatly into the proper slot and give no indication of continuum. Others, the uncooperative, insist on evasion, on camouflage, on dissolving into uninvited images. When I command snow to fall once again on the streets of Old Holly, my father’s hands curled about a shovel, I can’t be sure I’ll get the precise moment I want. A second too soon …

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Sketches of Redskins Fandom

Football is a game of numbers, statistics, metrics, predictions, analysis, massive crowds, huge salaries, gigantic men. My relationship to football, my personal connection to it, is far different – its basis in the intimate and not the organized – I never played for or cared about my junior or high school teams, but spent afternoons in the neighborhood, running post routes in the street, tackling my friends into piles of dog shit; and Sundays on the couch, shouting at the TV. My perspective on the ‘big picture’ is ever evolving, during some seasons I get in such a disgusting funk over the whole thing I can’t bear to watch, other seasons it’s all I can do not to replay a game three times during week. I’ve at times been casual, meticulous, and absent in my fandom. I’ve been zealous, and then skeptical, and then angry, and then glad. It comes …

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Three Books About Computers

I’ve been reading some more essays on software engineering and computer programming lately, from the three following books. Here’s a brief synopsis and some of my thoughts on each: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age – Douglas Rushkoff The back jacket of this book describes Douglas Rushkoff as an author and media theorist – not as a programmer, which should be a yellow flag for anyone coming to this text looking for pragmatic programming advice. That said, he offers an easily digestible summary of trends in internet technology, and where he thinks society as a whole would benefit most if certain standards of thought were subscribed to in the future. Many of his concepts are agreeable, if a little alarmist. (Which is okay, because I think I might be turning into a bit of an alarmist myself.) I think the most important message Rushkoff is trying …

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the Fictionalizations of ‘the Google’

I had a colleague a few years ago who joked about how his aging parents always referred to Google, the search engine, as “the Google,” as if the internet giant had become an entity of such massive, generic proportion that it deserved its own “the..”, like “the city,” or “the ocean,” or “the internet.” The Google. Popular culture has been producing fictionalized narratives about what life at Google might be like, to complement the hordes of reportage documenting the reality of the company. For an account of how it came to be, and an outsider’s view of the founders, Ken Auletta’s non-fiction book “Googled” tells a fascinating story. But the real story of Google is about the people who work there, and what they are trying to accomplish. There are plenty of imaginary guesses as to what that’s like – in ‘The Internship,’ actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn actually …

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