Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I took that picture while biking to work on March 22. I'd known it was foggy before I even left my apartment, of course, but when I was stopped at that light on Pennsylvania Avenue I was struck by just how foggy it was, so I got out my phone and took that picture. I was at 9th and Penn, 10th at the furthest, less than a mile from the Capitol, and look, you can't even see the top of the dome! Wow!

One nice surprise about biking to work is that it's just plain fun. Like I said, I was surprised by how starting the day with light exercise actually felt nice. In addition, my route is a fun ride. It's downhill most of the way in, and about two-thirds of the way through my commute the lights are timed so that if I push myself I can just barely race through five or six blocks all without stopping. And after that I'm on Pennsylvania Avenue, with dedicated bike lanes down the middle and well-timed lights and that nice view.

That picture was taken way back in March, though, and while the view is better these days, some things aren't. Sweating in the morning is a problem and getting worse; I'm seriously considering wearing shorts to bike in the morning and leaving a wardrobe at work. And another problem is kind of funny: other people taking pictures. On the way home, more often than not I have to dodge at least one pedestrian standing in the middle of the street to take pictures of the Capitol. It's annoying.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's times like this that I really appreciate having a boring, simple, low-stress job.

The house-buying process is a mess. I'm sure it always is, but there's at least one unusual part that made our lawyer groan when he heard about it.

T. and I had been planning to go to Comic-Con this summer, and just yesterday we found out about a policy change of theirs that will make it much harder for us. One thing on my agenda for today is researching the odds that we can still go. If not, it would be annoying and frustrating because it will probably only get harder to go in future years, but I have to admit I wouldn't mind having more time and less expense this July of all times, what with the house.

A good friend of mine is getting married soon. Yay him, good news, that's cool, et cetera. The bachelor party is coming up. Cool. It'll be non-traditional. Cool. I admit I'm a tiny bit disappointed by the lack of the stereotypical hedonism, but his best man is planning a LAN party, which the groom is definitely much more suited for and I'm probably a bit more suited for it myself. So, cool. The game we're probably playing is something I'm interested in myself. Cool. But here I finally hit a snag: I'm not sure my computer can handle it. It's a new game, and my computer is four years old. Going by the numbers in the system requirements, I have more RAM than I need but less processor, and comparing my video card to the recommended one looked like apples and oranges. After a fair amount of research, two different sources tell me my video card is OK, but I'm still trying to be more certain. And I still need to look into the processor. Exactly how important is the difference? Can I easily upgrade my computer? If not, what should I do?

We're supposed to close on the house in less than a week. The bachelor party is weekend after next. The current plan is to do some repairs on the house in June and move at the start of July. Comic-Con is in the middle of July. I've been dealing with unpredictable, high-stakes, important personal stuff since we started negotiations for this house at the end of March, and that will continue through July at least. Argh. So while I don't want to be at my current forever and it certainly has its problems, I'm really glad that right now it's easy to send a bunch of personal e-mails during the day and take time off freely and so on.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Twelve megabytes of RAM, five hundred megabyte hard drive, with built-in spreadsheet capabilities and a modem that transmits at over 28,000 bps!" Chandler Bing,
Episode "The One With The List", first airdate November 16, 1995. Those specs were good at the time.
It's stunning how much things on a computer have replaced real things. I'm not used to it despite how much I use computers, and I'm not sure I should be, because it's weird!

Two recent discussions with friends both reminded me of that by circuitous routes. One about mementoes of exes, one about the cultural impact of the old TV show Friends. People got to talking about when and if and how to save stuff, and independently about the show, and that reminded me of one episode of the show about that topic: the girls all happened to be single during a Valentine's Day and were depressed about it, so they decided it would be cathartic to ritualistically burn presents from exes. Hilarity ensued, of course.

That got me thinking that I should do something like that myself: cull my heap of souvenirs. I wouldn't get rid of everything, and I wouldn't do anything as farcical as a fire, just take stuff to the trash. I'm in a serious long-term relationship right now (so serious, by the way, that we're buying a house together! We feel better about it now than we did here), some such mementoes might actually be incriminating and several more would simply be embarrassing, and I just don't feel like I need most of it any more; I've stumbled on this stuff by accident now and then but it's been years since I sought it out for some reason. I should throw some of it out and put the rest in one organized place.

But the thing is, A lot of this stuff is on a computer - old e-mails, jpegs, text documents, etc. I have lots of other stuff on computers too, and storing stuff on my computer is actually the more discreet option in some living situations, so why not? - and when and if I get around to this culling it wouldn't feel right with computer files.

Even if every bit of it was in meatspace I wouldn't burn anything like on the TV show, of course, that would be stupid. I'd sort it carefully and throw it away, maybe in a trash can a few blocks from my apartment and/or after tearing stuff up first if I think I need to be really careful, but I wouldn't bother with anything more than that.

But on a computer I can't do that. Moving files around a computer is moving files around a computer. There's no purifying ritual to it, no break from routine, nothing different from sorting treasured mementoes of my first love and making a new playlist. And when I sort meatspace mementoes I'll do it at home and have until I walk away from the dumpster to reconsider, but on my computer I better be really, really sure about everything, because the "empty recycle bin" button is just another button.

As for the stuff I'd like to organize and keep long-term, what are memories, anyway? I'll be able to look at a handmade card and reminisce for as long as I'm capable of holding and reading a piece of paper. A computer file, though, who knows? It's hard to lose a box full of stuff, but some of these files are already deep in sub-sub-folders, and if I happen to get another computer before I finally do this culling, it'll be worse. What if there are backwards compatibility issues? What if I screw up my computer the next time I upgrade its video card? I know from experience that floppy discs deteriorate; how long does a hard drive even last?

And while I'm at it, what are we? No sane person is so materialistic to say that you are what you own, of course, but other two leading answers seem to be "you are a soul" (and I'm not religious) and "you are the impact you make on the world." That's usually enough of an answer for me - leave the world a better place than you found it, that sort of thing - but so much of my stuff is digital that what, exactly, am I leaving to my heirs, biological or otherwise? Doing puzzles or playing board games with meatspace friends is easier than playing computer games with them. Pictures on a hard drive and books on a Nook make poor heirlooms.

Well, that's so meandering and mystical that it's hard to believe I'm not stoned at the moment. Realistically, I own plenty of meatspace stuff, and I've almost never felt as maudlin as this sounds and certainly don't right now. I just think it's weird how much of myself I'd put into this digital world. Not just in the sense that I have a blog, but in all the other ways I didn't think about until I had been using them for years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A hardcover fiction book usually seems to cost about $25 at a bookstore - maybe a little more, counting tax, and the MSRP may be higher if it's a popular book, but then again maybe less if it's on sale or from a discount seller. A paperback book costs about $8, again with some variation. In e-book format, the prices for new books are similar, maybe a buck or two cheaper. There's something weird, though: while prices seem pretty consistent for conventional books regardless of age, for e-book editions of books first published more than 90 years ago, prices top out at about $2*. If I want cost-effective entertainment, it's easy to do the math.

All this is because of how copyright law works. To make a long story short, once upon a time, works of intellectual property were held by their creators for several decades during which they alone could legally profit from them, and then "fell into the public domain," meaning that anyone could use it. But to protect the profitability of companies like Disney, copyright is almost eternal these days. It would raise Constitutional questions and start an incredibly complicated debate if Congress every actually passed a law saying "copyright shall no longer expire" or retroactively granted copyrights to something already in the public domain, but they get around that by extending it for just 10 or 20 years at a time**.

Smarter, better educated and more monomaniac people than I have had a lot to say about this, but I got to thinking about it in a bookstore over the weekend***, and I began wondering just what it'll mean in the long run.

I'm not even talking about government IP policy or the viability of bookstores at the moment. How's it going to affect me if I start spending so much time reading such old stuff? Maybe venerable classics, maybe just pulp fiction from way, way back, but either way, stuff written before the existence of television or women in Congress. I already feel left behind by culture and technology now and then; am I actually going to regress?

And how's it going to affect culture in general? Intellectuals of all kinds have always stood on the shoulders of giants, but it seems weird that there's a dividing line of a specific year before which you can freely reuse content, but after which you can only be "inspired" by it. Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was almost unique the way it throws together characters created by a dozen different writers****. That kind of thing can never be sold using anything published after the magical year of 1923.

* Project Gutenberg and similar services make public domain books completely free, but it took me a while to find that and sometimes I've wanted to buy something on the spur of the moment, and e-book software makes it trivially easy to download from the content provider, so why not pay a buck or two.
** It's too complicated for me to understand all the details, and even if I understood them it's too complicated for a blog post, but I think that's basically accurate.
*** The one mentioned here, oddly enough. It's kind of funny, because I've only been there twice and I've been to other bookstores half a dozen times since then - several dozen times, if comic book stores count - but both times resulted in deep thoughts and blog posts. Maybe there really is something irreplacable about jumbled, idiosyncratic bookstores. Or then again, maybe it's just the reputation of that relatively famous place getting to me.
**** Yet again, it's more complicated than that, but anyways.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I wonder if anyone has ever rigorous studied traffic at lost and founds. What's the most common item to wind up at one? Do people lose things when a routine gets out of whack, or when things get too complicated, or when someone else borrows something and the lender forgot, or what? How often do people go to lost and founds to find things that they'd never lost, just forgot where they put it?

I'm curious about this because I just did that. Last week I was on the bus in the morning and couldn't find my Nook and the last time I remember having it was in the locker room at work, so I figured, uh oh, I must have taken it out to move things around my bag and left it there. I couldn't find it in the locker room, so I checked the lost and founds around my office (there are apparently at least three places lost items may be taken, which seems like bad planning), and found nothing. I was getting worried. But when I got home, there it was safe on the windowsill. Oops.

The funny thing is, it's the second time I've done something like that. Some time last year I couldn't find my driver's license and figured that I'd dropped it on the bus, and left no stone unturned... except for a pocket in my wallet I never use that I'd absent-mindedly put it in. That was really embarrassing, after I'd bugged several people asking if they'd seen it.