№ 16: A Brief Update

It’s been too long since I’ve updated here, so I’m not even going to try to include everything that’s happened since then. I do have good intentions about posting more often (I will have to, if I want to actually complete my goal). Of course, let it be said, I also had good intentions before.…

The biggest thing this week is that the school year is finally winding down for everyone. The eldest three girls are exempt from their exams, and so are already done. Gabriel had too many absences this year to be exempt, so he and his brothers still have a couple days.

It’s been a week for community, too. After church on Sunday, the Sunday school teachers organized a kickball game for the students (and pressed me and some other dads into service as umpire and coaches, respectively). Even the kids who were too cool to actually play—some of them mine—came out and watched. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, particularly, but the kids had a good time, laughing and carrying on and arguing good naturedly. Just a bright moment to remember.

Not quite as special but still nice, today my employer had a crawfish boil for the employees assigned to the office and those remote employees (like me) close enough to come. I don’t much care for crawfish, but it was good to see people and catch up in person, not only in instant messages or video chat.

It’s of things like these that community arises. Just people, talking to each other, doing things together. Doesn’t really have to be anything important, or special, as long as it’s actually together.

№ 15: Makeover Edition

Things are different now!

  • The site’s now static pages generated with Nikola.
  • The look has changed (I think for the better, though you’re welcome to disagree).
  • I’ve jettisoned all pre-2024 content. (There’s an argument to be made I should have jettisoned the rest, too.)
  • At least for the moment, I’m not hosting it on a server at my house.

There are a few things to do yet—the display of posting dates and times is messed up, for instance, as I write this—but it’s close enough to done that I’m going to call it a night.

As always, if you notice anything awry, contact me.

№ 14: You Had One Job

When we bought our house, we borrowed the money through the Mississippi Veterans’ Home Purchase Board, which is a state agency—ultimately, the loans are backed by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. The process wasn’t without its hiccups, but overall it was fine—no worse than the loan for our previous house with a commercial lender.

So imagine my surprise when I received a short email yesterday from VHPB with the following:

The VHPB has recently launched a new servicing software to better serve our Veterans. Due to this change, reporting to the VA was temporarily interrupted. If you have received a letter from the VA stating your account is delinquent, and you have made your monthly payments, please disregard this notice. We are working to rectify the situation and submit a report to the VA to update their records. (Emphasis mine.)

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, unacceptable.

As a former state bureaucrat myself, it’s not too harsh to say this is a perfect example of why people distrust government, despise the bureaucracy, and see government workers as lazy and incompetent. This state agency literally has a single purpose: to “obtain VA backed mortgages for the purchase of the Veteran’s home.” Whatever value the “new servicing software” will bring to me and other veterans—and I can’t know that, since the above email was the first time I’d ever heard of it—if so narrowly-focused a government agency can’t plan and communicate adequately, what chance does an agency with a broader mandate have?

I am not one to argue that government ought to “operate like a business.” This line is trotted out in politics, but in fact there are good reasons why it’s not desireable, at least not without a lot of caveats. On the other hand it’s obviously true that if VHPB were a commercial entity, its failure here would probably have essentially immediate financial effects—loss of customers, lawsuits, failure to garner new business, and so forth.

In the event, I suppose I’ll just grit my teeth and bear it.

№ 13: In Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

Back in 2019, our dishwasher failed and flooded the kitchen. We got new flooring out of that, and a new kitchen island my brother made for us.

I discovered this morning that the replacement dishwasher we bought then has now itself developed a fault—fortunately, not in a way which leaks water. We had purchased a more expensive, higher-end brand then, thinking that the availability of parts and a repair network would mean that when this day eventually came, we could fix it, or pay someone to do so. In practice, not so much.

I began to see the writing on the wall for this idea a couple years ago when the top cover bracket, the part that encases the display, came loose and got bent out of shape. It’s just a thin piece of metal which should be easy to replace, so I tried to order a replacement. It was not to be found. The manufacturer, which sells plenty of other parts, apparently doesn’t sell that part. But of course, it was mostly cosmetic—you just had to make sure to close the dishwasher a particular way: annoying, but bearable.

Fast forward to today, when the machine is not merely annoying, but non-functional, and we’re forced to consider repair versus replacement. Can it be fixed? Are the parts available? How much will it cost? And lastly, but most importantly, how long will it take? Ten people create a lot of dirty dishes! And how long will it be before we’re in this spot again? With those ten people’s dishes, we’re washing loads three and sometimes four times a day. Will the next dishwasher even last as long?

So we will probably just go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, find a new one that isn’t terrible, install it, and throw the old one out. This is problematic in lots of well-known structural and systemic ways (waste disposal, environmental concerns, supply chain, planned obsolescence, and so on); but it’s also likely the rational choice for us. I wish that weren’t true, because I like the idea of well-crafted, repairable machines. Maybe one day.

№ 12: Lyorn

Lyorn, just released yesterday, is the seventeenth and latest of Steven Brust’s fantasy novels about Vlad Taltos and his world of Dragaera. I’m not sure quite when I first read Jhereg, the first in the series, but judging by my memories of which library I checked it out from and the room I read it in, it must have been 1992 or 1993. Over the years I’ve read all the other novels (including another Dragaera series not featuring Vlad), many of them over and over again. They are books I keep repeatedly coming to, because I enjoy them and they reward rereading. I was never not going to read Lyorn.

Well, I’ve read it now. It was okay. These are just some initial thoughts which I haven’t thought about deeply.

I didn’t feel like the setting worked particularly well; it seemed forced like it had been “oh here’s a neat idea” that Brust then was stuck with after it’d worn out its welcome. The epigraphs (generally a Brustian strength), clearly allusions to various songs from musicals in this case, were too long; and I found them boring: if they had points beyond the joke of filking real songs, I missed it, because I skipped them. Several characters’ appearances seemed shoehorned in for no particular reason, or rather simply to check the box.

I did like some things: it was nice to see more of Deregar—and thereby to deepen Kragar’s character—and to be introduced to Nikka. The essential coldness of the Jhereg, both Left and Right Hands, as they pursue their goals, was absolutely on point: it gave them a more realistic presence. Vlad seemed less witty, but more honest, to himself and his interlocutors. The setup at the end gives me hope for the next book (there are supposed to be two more, I think).

Definitely not one to start the series on.


№ 11: History through Clothes

While working from home today, I got a little cold. Rather than adjust the thermostat, I just dug in my closet and found…a Blogger hoodie. Blogger you’ve probably heard of, but it wasn’t always a Google product—originally it came from a startup called Pyra Labs (courtesy Wikipedia):

Pyra was co-founded by Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan…. Their coder Jack Dorsey altered an ftp program to work on a web page, enabling online users to upload to a webpage web-log…. The [Blogger] service was made available to the public in August 1999…. Initially, Blogger was completely free of charge and there was no revenue model. In January 2001, Pyra asked Blogger users for donations to buy a new server…. On February 17, 2003, Pyra was acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum.

I was one of those users who donated in 2001 (my memory says I gave them $100, but that could be wrong). When the Google acquisition happened, they sent us a hoodie as a thank you (the sleeve says “Powered by Google”).

So yes, in a small way, Twitter and Medium—both later founded by Williams—are in some sense my fault. Sorry about that.

The hoodie’s warm, though.

№ 10: A Long Week

This is the first week of Lent for Orthodox Christians—see Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s post on the date of Pascha if you’re curious about the difference from Catholics and Protestants—and it’s been a busy week for our family, with church services every day (including today: shortly after I post this, we’ll head off to Vespers). It’s a lot of effort, and I don’t just mean the services themselves. There’s also the planning and coördination it takes to even get our big family (or sometimes, just most of it) there to church. There’s the changed, essentially vegan, diet of Lent—all kudos to my eldest daughter for taking charge of planning out this week’s meals—both in terms of adjusting what we eat, and in some cases cajoling the younger children into eating it. Sometimes America’s fusion of cultures leads to combinations our forebears might have squinted at, but I don’t care what anybody says: spinach/tofu spanikopita with soy sauce and sriracha is good.

Most emphatically, though, especially as we close out one week and look to the next, there’s simply the tiredness from all the above effort. As every church service comes up, it’s hard not to at least think, “Maybe we’ll skip this one.”

When I was a little boy, my dad always used to say, “One step at a time, put one foot in front of the other: that’s how you get up a mountain.” It used to drive me nuts! But he was right; that is how you get up a mountain, and it’s how we live in Lent. Things will slow down a little bit—not quite so many church services in the coming weeks—but we’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s all we can do.

I ask your forgiveness and prayers.

№ 9: Parents’ Influence on Their Children

This is just a little trivia I picked up over the weekend.

Peter Kropotkin was, for a brief time, one of the more influential men of philosophy in Europe. A Russian—technically, a prince, though he repudiated the title, descended from the Rurik dynasty—who had gone to live in England, he wrote extensively about his vision of anarchist communism, differing from Karl Marx in that while the latter wanted to harness the state (at least for a while), Kropotkin felt that the state should be immediately abolished, in favor of voluntary associations. Although in the Russian Revolution of 1917, Kropotkin’s ideas lost out to Marx’s, he did go back to Russia, where he was—somewhat begrudgingly—tolerated until his death in 1921.

Kropotkin had a daughter, Alexandra. After her father’s death, she came to the US, where she lived the rest of her life, writing various articles and books, and trading on the Russian title her father had given up. Near the end of her life, in the 1964 US presidential election she supported—Barry Goldwater.

№ 8: Still Alive

My plan to update twice a week has, clearly, not borne fruit.

One big—essential, even—part of being a technically-oriented person who is trying to write is consciously ignoring all that technical stuff, because it’s solely a distraction. It’s incredibly easy to get bogged down in the weeds of getting the production pipeline exactly right in each jot and tittle. It’s like a car mechanic spending so much time trying to get optimum performance out of his engine that he never actually, y’know, drives anywhere. So on the one hand, switching from Technology A to Technology B for this blog has little value if it means posts don’t get published.

On the other hand, part of the reason I haven’t been writing posts anyway is because of my dissatisfaction at dealing with Technology A. It’s nice to have an application I can just put words in and hit Publish, but the price for that is a certain lack of flexibility and frustration (and also some bugs).

So, last weekend, I experimented with a Technology B, which would be greatly more flexible—but importantly also comes with some good defaults so I don’t have to reïnvent the wheel on everything. (When I first began this project, I considered writing my own blog software. I am strictly speaking capable of this, but decided against it, as, again, it would leave me no time to actually write posts.) In particular, I looked at how much of a pain it would be to lift-and-shift existing content. It turns out that, though a bit of manual work, it is not that difficult or time-consuming: essentially, copy-and-paste. This means I can easily and with a clear conscience continue to write in Technology A until Technology B is fully set up and running.


  • Look for changes in the website coming Real Soon Now.
  • Those of you reading via email subscription can ignore all the above, because that’s handled separately, and in a way that it doesn’t even matter what is used to generate the site.
  • Not that anybody cares, but Technology A is WriteFreely and Technology B is Nikola.

№ 7: The Tombs of Atuan

I recently read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan. This was technically a reread for me, but the last time I read it, the century had not yet turned—and in any case, I remembered nothing about it, other than something about a cave or tunnels.

The Tombs of Atuan is quite good, but I see why it is, perhaps, less popular than some of Le Guin’s other works. It’s a sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea, but where Earthsea is practically a fairy tale in tone, stylized and sonorous (which is an endorsement, not a criticism, by the way), Atuan is more directly a “fantasy novel.” It is not, however, a comforting one, not one where all the pieces fall together nicely, everybody’s problem is solved, the main characters fall in love, and so forth.

It is a story of beginnings, I think: first the interruption of the protagonist’s life as Tenar, her rebirth as Arha, and then, the re-beginning—or perhaps better said, the resumption of the beginning—of it as Tenar again. The quest which is completed, for the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, is Ged’s quest, not Tenar’s; and as such is mentioned only in passing, only enough as needed to satisfy plotting, since this is her story, not Ged’s. She escapes: with his help, she sees through the lies and shackles laid upon her as Arha, and so she sails with Ged to his own lands, where he has promised he will make a place for her, first, temporarily, with the “princes and rich lords” and eventually, more permanently, with his own master and teacher, the wise mage Ogion, none of whom she has ever known. The book ends as they have sailed into the harbor with the Ring, whose magic promises peace and order:

Tenar sat in the stern, erect, in her ragged cloak of black. She looked at the ring about her wrist, then at the crowded, many-colored shore and the palaces and the high towers. She lifted up her right hand, and sunlight flashed on the silver of the ring. A cheer went up, faint and joyous on the wind, over the restless water. Ged brought the boat in. A hundred hands reached to catch the rope he flung up to the mooring. He leapt up onto the pier and turned, holding out his hand to her. ‘Come!’ he said smiling, and she rose, and came. Gravely she walked beside him up the white streets of Havnor, holding his hand, like a child coming home.

She may be like a child coming home, in the sense that, having begun her new reassumed life, she must trust him, and he leads her, but the irony is that however much like that child she may be, she cannot go home, for at this point in the story she has no home. Nor do any of those purportedly “joyous” actually know her; they only see what the ring she wears represents. All that she had is gone, and even Ogion’s wisdom is only a promise for the future. For her, however gravely (and bravely) she faces it, there is no indication here of what happens next—her quest has just begun.

Compare it to the ending of A Wizard of Earthsea, where Ged, having sought and defeated the “shadow” with the help of his friend Estarriol, returns to the latter’s home island, where his sister waits for them.

[T]he voyage to Iffish was not long. They came in to Ismay harbor on a still, dark evening before snow. They tied up the boat Lookfar that had borne them to the coasts of death’s kingdom and back, and went up through the narrow streets to the wizard’s house. Their hearts were very light as they entered into the firelight and warmth under that roof; and Yarrow ran to meet them, crying with joy.

This is the end of the arc, not the beginning. It’s a quieter but more real homecoming, to hearth and family and the promise of belonging. The contrast to the end of Tenar’s story could not be more striking. She has only possibility, and hope.

Besides what I’ve noted above, there is another aspect to the book’s realism, too, which Le Guin herself notes in the afterward in the edition I have.

Some people have read the story as supporting the idea that a woman needs a man in order to do anything at all (some nodded approvingly, others growled and hissed). Certainly Arha/Tenar would better satisfy feminist idealists if she did everything all by herself. But the truth as I saw it, and as I established it in the novel, was that she couldn't. My imagination wouldn't provide a scenario where she could, because my heart told me incontrovertibly that neither gender could go far without the other. So, in my story, neither the woman nor the man can get free without the other…. Each has to ask for the other's help and learn to trust and depend on the other. A large lesson, a new knowledge for both these strong, willful, lonely souls.

Not really in line with the sort of individualistic ethos which held sway when Le Guin was writing, and still holds most of society in its grip today.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, my point is that The Tombs of Atuan disappoints, potentially, both those who loved A Wizard of Earthsea and wanted more, not something different, as well as those—though surely the groups aren’t mutually exclusive—who want escapism, not realism, out of their fantasy. (Not that Earthsea is escapist in that sense either.) But even if those describe you, I still think you should read Atuan. Just know what you’re getting into.