Unconscious Inertia

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.

#100DaysToOffload #diary #family

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.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

#100DaysToOffload #books #reviews

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.

#100DaysToOffload #technology

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.

#100DaysToOffload #diary

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.

#100DaysToOffload #history #trivia

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.

So:

  • 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.

#100DaysToOffload #meta #software

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 of the protagonist’s life as Arha, and then, the re-beginning—or perhaps better said, the resumption of the beginning—of it as Tenar. 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.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

#100DaysToOffload #reviews #books

This is my tiny blog/newsletter. No one is sponsoring me, or would be interested in sponsoring me. This is not to make a request for, or even to express a desire for, sponsors.

But doing the 100 Days to Offload has me writing more, and so I naturally wonder what it’d be like to do this professionally. People do, to one degree or another. Maybe one day (or not).

Anyway, as I say, this is not a sponsored post, but I wanted to write about a product I use, just because I like it: HEY. HEY’s pitch is essentially “what if we designed the email experience from scratch, but using the lessons of the last 40 years? (and also blocked tracking pixels)”—and, just one man’s opinion, but I think it really does live up to the hype. It’s not free ($99/year as I write this), but I much prefer being a customer to being the product.

I don’t feel like I can do a better job than their own site does of showing off its features, so check it out there.

#100DaysToOffload #email

A few days ago, I had a conversation with my older kids—who, like me, are fairly voracious readers—about books, and one of the things that came up was how to think about the relative ranking of what we read. I can see myself using some of these posts to review or talk about things I’ve read, so before I do that, I want to give some context.

My contention is that the measure of a good book is how well it rewards rereading. Sudden plot twists and excitement are all well and good, but when rereading I often find they are, actually, cover and distraction for suboptimal writing or plotting. And it works! “Why didn't I notice this plot hole the first time I read this!?” has come out of my mouth more times than I like admitting. But a good book, I think, should be enjoyable on the third or fifth or twelfth read as well as the first—perhaps not quite in the same way, of course. But then, on the twelfth read, you’re probably not quite the same reader, either.

A corollary to this is that—contrary to what the Internet at large appears to believe—spoilers are good, actually. I don’t necessarily suggest that you go around telling the endings of things to people who don’t want to hear them, to be clear. That seems impolite. But a not-terrible heuristic for whether to keep reading a book is “Would I still read this if I already knew the plot?”

So, for what it’s worth, and in the hope that it would be useful to anyone else considering the media they consume, here is the rating scheme I use—and I’ve concentrated on books above, but (though I rarely watch anything) the same applies to movies, mutatis mutandis, though with movies the concerns are also more multifaceted. It is perfectly reasonable to, for example, thoroughly dislike the plot of a movie, yet still find it worth watching, and even rewatching,because of the acting, or the cinematography, or the sound design, and so forth. Substitute “watch” for “read” as appropriate.

  • ⭐️: I either did not finish this, or could tell without beginning it that I would not like it.
  • ⭐️⭐️: I finished this, but in some measure I regret doing so. It is unlikely I will ever read it again.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and do not regret it. It is unlikely I will ever read it again.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and will probably read it again if the opportunity presents itself.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: I finished this, and will definitely read it again. I want to own this, so I can read it whenever the mood strikes me.

Interestingly, I rarely find myself classifying something in the last category on the initial read: it’s much more often that I rank something as 4 stars—and then realize on the third or fourth read that it was actually 5 stars all along. Likely that says something about my self-awareness.

#100DaysToOffload #books #movies

As I write this, it’s 14°F/-10°C, there’s snow on the ground (a little bit, anyway), and both my driveway and the road in front of my house are iced-over and impassable. I know this is business-as-usual for January in many parts of the world, but for Mississippi, this is very much not normal. We laid in a cord of wood in preparation—experience has shown that at these temperatures the front room can be made bearable, if not pleasant, with a fire in the fireplace—but the power has so far stayed on (fortunately).

The school district has cancelled classes, as has my wife’s employer. I, however, am still working today, provided the power continues to hold up.

#100DaysToOffload #diary