Friday, January 31, 2003

Here it is, the last day of the first month of the new year.

I had intended to focus this blog on my 'deep thoughts' about technology, psychology, and economics. Instead, it's turned out to be something quite different. In any case, I am posting (below) a poem I found in the Oxford Book of English Verse. It is a wonderful poem, and while its title is "The Door," it could equally refer to portals, which takes us to the Web (and thus may represent my opening volley into the playing field of 'deep thoughts' about technology, communication, and culture).

The Door

Too little
has been said
of the door, its one
face turned to the night’s
downpour and its other
to the shift and glisten of firelight.

Air, clasped
by this cover
into the room’s book,
is filled by the turning
pages of dark and fire
as the wind shoulders the panels, or
unsteadies that burning.

Not only the storm’s breakwater,
but the sudden frontier to our concurrences, appearances,
and as full of the offer of space as the view of a cromlech is.

For doors
are both frame and monument
to our spent time,
and too little
has been said
of our coming through and leaving them.

Charles Tomlinson 1927-

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Tout d'abord, j'ai trouve' que mon Francais n'est pas aussi mauvais que j'avais autrefois cru.

This sentence, to a native French speaker, may prove itself to be utterly incorrect. However, it does accurately represent my conclusion after attending this excellent class. (BTW, what I wrote, or intended to say, was: "First of all, I found that my French was not as bad as I had thought.")

Did I ever mention that I spent my fifteenth summer (1971) in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia? That's where I learned French.

Quite the experience, je dois dire (I must say). The city was surrounded much of the time by the Khmer Rouge. We had no TV, just a few books (primarily cookbooks), no telephone, and my three brothers and I had nothing much with which to entertain ourselves--although I did have some fun conducting 'chemistry experiments' with U.S. Army K-rations. My parents were desperate to find something for us to do (think about it: they had four irascible children, ages 9-14, in the house--in the middle of a raging South Asian war).

My father then came up with the brilliant idea of sending me to 'une Francaise de Provence' to study French. Halfway through "Le Petit Prince," I caught on. After a few weeks, I was dreaming in French.

Re: my brothers. One was sent after a few weeks to an English missionary school in the Himalayas. The other two continued to pitch rotten eggs at the Soviet embassy residence, situated katty corner to our house. Note that this was not done out of patriotism. Au contraire, it was the somewhat unusual 'treatment' for a very particular form of ennui.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

I am off this morning to a full-day French immersion course at the Alliance Francaise. At one point in the distant past I was almost fluent in French. Now, my knowledge extends primarily to just how far my skills have fallen. I almost feel tempted to study, but somehow that just doesn't feel very French. Since drinking a glass of wine at 7 in the morning might improve my willingness to take risks with the language but would also send me right back to bed, I will turn to plan B. That is: I'll listen to "Les Nubiennes" in the car on the way into town. There. That's the ticket. (Voila. Cela, c'est le billet. ??)

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Lest anyone wonder why Refdesk is, in my view, one of the best sites ever-- I offer the following from its featured 'thought of the day':

"A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own." - H.G. Wells

Yes it's a quote--but the choice speaks volumes about the sensibility of the chooser.

Monday, January 20, 2003

It's MLK day: The Martin Luther King day of service. Soon, my son and I will go out to volunteer. My husband and daughter have been out since 7:30 am (given their traditional orientation to early morning commitments, this is truly a statement!). I know a lot of people are at work--mostly people who have a choice in the matter. I think they (at least the ones I know) believe it's a testament to their superior work ethic. Other, lazier, people are taking off, but these conscientious souls have their noses to the grindstone.

Well I beg to differ. They might think they are being virtuous, but in my 'world', they are being insulting. More than most national holidays (with the exception of Labor Day and Memorial Day) Martin Luther King's birthday has real meaning to real people now. (This is not to say that George Washington was not a laudable person or that he didn't do important things. I just doubt that most people feel a close personal connection to him based on the direct impact he had on their lives.).

I really don't care whether people go out and volunteer, or whether they sit at home enjoying a day off. I just want us all to take the day seriously, and to say a quiet "thank you" to King. He gave his life to a cause that matters to all of us--whether we know it or not. He and all members of the Civil Rights movement, whether tragically martyred or alive and thriving, demanded that our country behave in a manner consistent with its public statements.

I was just a little kid, but I feel thankful for their sacrifices every single day. I do want to live in a world where people are judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," where there is equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal access for all. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights matter. Now more than ever, it's clear that we need to fight for them, defend them, and demand that those in power adhere to them. Words matter, but actions speak louder.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

It is completely frigid here in Philadelphia. I do not like living on the tundra and far prefer a tropical clime. The French West Indies hold a great deal of appeal for me on numerous fronts: the language, the food, the Caribbean sea, and so forth. I once spent a week on the Ile des Saintes, a teensy French Caribbean island so far out of the mainstream that the airport staff in Antigua had never even heard of it. Almost no one spoke English. It was sublime.

Back to reality. My son, age six, fancies himself to be a pro skater--a la "Tony Hawk, Pro Skater Two." He is "grinding" (sans skateboard) here in the living room as I write. Just a little bit distracting......

Meanwhile, I am planning to start up the furniture factory. I bought a garage full of decrepit antique Chinese furniture for ridiculously low prices--mostly in the low two figures but I did buy one piece for $3. Yes, the low price is in direct proportion to the high degree of decreptitude. But when they're done they will be beautiful. It's kind of therapeutic to work on this stuff, and besides, I love wielding power tools.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Well here it is, January 13. My 12-day hiatus is due primarily to a major snafu. I completely scrambled my own hard drive, just as my office was shutting down the server, changing the phone system, and moving to a new address. Not a recipe for system coherence. Because I was too embarrassed to ask for help, given my pack-rat tendencies (yes, in cyberspace as well as RL), I tried to fix it myself and made it far worse.

However, because each new crisis in my life seems to result in my developing new computer skills, I became obsessed with redressing the situation, to the extent that I was a) partially successful (successful enough, in any case) and b) I learned a lot about how the system is configured. For instance, I did not previously know that folders could have particular properties in their own right(s) or that to be able to work properly, certain files had to go into particular folders, or that libraries were not just a bunch of old books but that they actually contained necessary instructions. (You can see from the detail in this description just what a total mess I made!).

I am quite completely disorganized in RL, although I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to organize myself. The last six weeks have been particularly bad. During my computer crisis, I somehow started thinking, "I wish there were such a thing as file compression for my closets." (I have some really nice clothes but many of them are currently lying in a tangled mass on the floor).

This led to a startling revelation. I (cerebrally and organizationally) have a system configuration problem! The 'operating system', 'applications,' 'extensions,' 'folders' and 'files' are all jumbled up. Instructions (e.g. "put your sweaters on a shelf.") are issued, but the files aren't in the right places, so the 'orders' are filled partially if at all, with a good bit of energy wasted churning in wrong directions before any connection is made.

That doesn't necessarily improve the state of my closet--but it makes me feel better to have a framework for understanding my dilemma. Very nice, too, since it is not based on the medical model (focused on pathology) or deep Freudianism (focused on sexual repression).
"Nothing's too good for a man my age"

.....title of a song created by my six year old son.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

January 1, 2003.
This is the first time I've written that.
Weather is cold, rainy and utterly gloomy here in Philadelphia. The entire family is in a funk, mental, physical, and/or both. Yes, that includes me. I have just now retired to the living room to brood.

Moments ago I read Halley Suitt's proposal for "re-branding" 2003 and, for the record, I completely endorse it. For me, 2002 was a roller coaster ride through the Divine Comedy (Dante's) during an earthquake. These piddling year-to-year (2001, 2002, 2003, etc.) incremental changes are insufficient. I would prefer to radically improve the frame. While I ponder the question, "to what?"-- which could take some time-- I will make four notable observations about my day.
1. I fixed the dryer. [Very impressed with myself over this].
2. I went to a party even though I didn't feel like it (normally I would just decide to not go and make up an excuse). I had a pleasant time.
3. I made a phone call I was dreading, without procrastinating, and it turned out to be quite benign.
4. A man at the party asked me "are you one of those geeks?" and I was totally flattered.
Bonne Annee