Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unstructured Slang

Slang has been with us since the origin of language (I imagine our proto-spanien ancestors complaining about the way kids grunt these days). The internet, being a meme engine, has added a lot of fertilizer to the environment of niche phrases and words.

Fortunately, for those of us baffled by such expressions as "My hed is pasted on, yay!" and "Ba weat grana weep mini bon", as well as more main stream offerings such as "fo' shizzle my nizzle" and "bling bling", UrbanDictionary.com gives us a way to keep up with all these strange linguistic permutations.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Say What!?

One of the first things I do, in the morning, is scan the headlines on Yahoo news. One, in particular, caught my eye:

IAEA Approves 'Non-Binding' Iran Nuclear Freeze

This refers to the International Atomic Energy Association; however, my morning-bleared eyes read that as "IKEA Approves 'Non-Binding' Iran Nuclear Freeze".

I knew the swedes made great, affordable furniture, but I had no idea that IKEA was so engaged in international affairs.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

On Blogger Burnout

Wired Magazine recently had a article on "Blogger Burnout". The articles focus is on why people who show initial enthusiasm for blogging often given it up not because they've lost interest in blogging, per se, but because they've simply reached a point where they're mentally and emotionally exhausted by the effort of posting entries.

Certainly I've seen signs of the phenomenon often enough. Some blogs start out at a furious pace of posting article daily or even multiple times a day. Eventually daily posts give way to weekly posts, then monthly posts, then posts on an entirely irregular schedule eventually followed by a persistent silence. Alternatively, some blogs start out on a regular posting schedule and keep it up for a fairly long amount of time and then just stop, one day, for no apparent reason.

I think that one of the problems of blogging is that it's very easy to come to think of it as an obligation. Once that perspective creeps in, it goes from being a hobby to being a task. Essentially, it becomes an unpaid job. One might well continue to post out of a sense of duty to one's readers but that can only go on for so long especially since such an attempt to post out of duty becomes, itself, progressively more of a burden. After awhile, it's inevitable that you're going to simply say "screw it" and walk away.

By like measure, a blog can be killed by a creeping sense of apathy. Most people who start up blogs come to the venture with a head full of ideas. Eventually, however, that initial stock of ideas becomes depleted and a person is left feeling that they either have to write about something that they don't really care about or, alternative, not write anything at all. Many blogs die with a shrug.

When I started Unstructured Musings I was mindful of both of these tendencies. The first and foremost thing that I decided was that I would write to an audience but that I would also write for myself. I want this to be an interesting and informative place for anyone who decides to look in here, of course, but even more important than that is that this remains something fun for me to do. My blogging is very much a hobby and, as such, ought to be a source of enjoyment (and believe me, it has been).

I deliberately started out slow with the goal of publishing an essay once a week on Sunday along with scattered missives, as they struck me, over the remainder of the week. As I grew more comfortable with the weekly posts I eventually added regular "fun" posts on Tuesday as well as samples of my poetry on Thursday. I decided to add those in because finding cool things on the web is easy enough and I also have quite a large stock of poetry (and an utter lack of shame when it comes to subjecting the rest of the world to it).

My biggest concern has been the essays. I enjoy writing essays but essay writing can be demand and I also recognize that every person goes through dry spells. My solution to this problem is two pronged. I publish my essays on a weekly basis but I write them as they come to me. Some weeks I'll only have a single essay come to mind, others I'll have three, and some I'll have none at all. The overall result of this is that I have a pool of pending essays to draw from. As I'm writing this particular essay, I have a further eleven essays in the pool "before" it (I don't always publish them in the order that I wrote them). As such, if I did hit a dry spell, I could go without writing anything for nearly a full three months before I reached a point where I wouldn't have anything to publish on Sunday. This also means that I can relax and deliberate take time off from blogging in order to allow my mental batteries to recharge, without any interruption to my readers, as I have already done at several points.

But what happens if I exhaust the queue? Well, if I run out of general topics, I can always resort to publishing book and film reviews (since I have an avid interest in both). If that grows boring, I can resort to the second prong which is, quite simply, to put the essays on hiatus.

I would still publish the Tuesday Fun and the Thursday Poetry Slam posts (giving my modest readership something to look forward to). In the meanwhile, I would continue to write essays as they came to me. If that meant going a year or two, so be it. Once I had another stock of essays stored up, I'd start publishing them again.

The bottom line, I think, is that a good blogger needs to be in control of their blog and not the other way around. If a blog starts to intrude upon family or work or starts to become a point of stress then, I think, the point of blogging has been lost.

I think that the very best blog strategy is simply to keep a sense of perspective. Being a blogger, there is a temptation to want to be a latter day Samuel Pepys but the truth of the matter is that the majority of blogs (and certainly my own) are only ever going to have a small audience. Some may find that disappointing but I, for one, consider it a liberation. I don't have a vast audience and I am not being critically judged by forces of history; therefore, I can write to my own interests and at my own pace.

I love blogging. I would encourage anyone who's interested in it to give it a whirl. All I would suggest is that you don't lose sight of your motivations for trying it out. Keep it fun and make it an enjoyment unto yourself.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Sacrifice

It's Thanksgiving here in The States. In honor of this day, I offer you this repeat. I hope that you enjoy it and, if you are one of the celebrants, may your turkeys be juicy and your stuffing moist.

The Sacrifice

A bloated thing
Blistered and blundering
To its sacrifice

Long hairs wicking
The scent of kerosene
Through wide nostrils

The shick-shick
Of long knives
Carve the air

Fallen to its knees
Waiting for the blade
Neck raised high

Fires Burning as
The priests exchange
Blood for rain

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Red vs. Blue

We've all see the standard maps of the latest presidential election that show a very "red" country with fringes of "blue" in the northeast and along the west coast. The implication being that only a few heavily populated democratic states voted for Kerry and that the rest of the nation was solidly for Bush.

Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan have produced some interesting maps that show that the actual breakdown, once you look past the winner-take-all results of the electoral college, are actually more complex and interesting and that the geographical political divisions are not so apparent.

There results can be found at Maps and cartograms of the 2004 US presidential election results

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Unstructured Lexophilia

I've been a lexophile since before I can remember. If you love words, too, there are few places as conducive to that form of enjoyment as World Wide Words.

Every week, the site's author, Micheal Quinion, posts fresh articles. His regular entries include topical words such as gravitas, weird words such as dactylomony, a Q&A section where he attempts to trace the history of a word, interesting turns of phrase such as "echo boomer", and reviews of books pertaining to language, such as The Power of Bable.

The weekly content is also available via a mailing list. I recommend this if only to get access to "sic!", which are samples of mangles english supplied by his readers. One such recent entry was an advertisement for a "Canoe and wine tasting" with the snarky commentary, "Mmm, Cedar, fiberglass and a hint of mud, with an impudent brackish undernote."

My stock of fun sites is starting to run a bit low. If you have a site, or several sites, that you particular enjoy, please email them to me at anrwlias@gmail.com for consideration. Any future Tuesday Fun entries that use your suggestion will credit you.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Beachfront with Deep Ones

Way back ago, this strip of beach was where the rich folk lived. Me and my kin lived inward to the slums. But that was before the Old Ones came back and all sorts of things came crawlin' out of the waters.

Ain't nowhere that it was good, after that, but the rich folk, as they do, moved to where things were, at least, a bit better. They moved in and we got pushed out to live next to the Deep Ones.

In the beginning there were some troubles. They raped some of our women and we hacked up some of them and ambushed a few more with shot guns. Eight months later some ugly babes were born and we bashed their heads in 'cause no one should be kin to things like that. After that, we had an understanding. They kept to them and we kept to us.

Ain't to say we haven't had an eye or two on them. When I was a boy, I'd sneak over by their camps and have a look in. Sometimes they'd be doin' these crazy rituals. Singin', kind of, and dancin' 'round this ugly statue like. Some times they'd go to the water and pull things out that'd make my eyes hurt. Most of the time they just fished and cooked and had chats with one to another as most folk will, though I don't really know what they'd say.

My grand daddy remembers from afore. Back then, he says, people could go where they wanted to. You could go up into the mountains and not get ate nor otherwise. You could go inland and come back the same person and not some sort of thing. You could walk from coast to coast, would you would. You could even fly, he says, but I think he was just havin' my leg.

I looked to the sky a once. There was something far way away. I couldn't rightly make it out except that it had a color that I couldn't put a name to. I looked to it and couldn't look away. I don't right remember what happened afterwards exceptin' that my folk say I was laid up for nine days with a fever or some such. I guess it was so 'cause they say it was so but I don't rightly remember except for the nightmares I sometimes have.

When I made twenty, my grand daddy gave me a thing he calls a talisman. It's a bit like a stick and a bit like a bone that's been bent funny. It feels sometimes warm and sometimes cold but always kind a sticky though it don't never stick to nothin'. He said I should always keep it and I always do.

No one goes to talk to the Deep Ones. Not never before, at least, though someone's just now come through who wanted to see them. He was tall and he had a robe like thing around him everywhere but his face. I think there was something in there with him but he looked most like a man, though you never know. I pointed him their way and gave my bye to him and wished him well 'cause there ain't no wrong in being nice... even if.

That was some hours ago and I don't know what happened to him. The Deep Ones are singin' loud and slow and there's a cold wind blowin' in from the sea. I don't expect it's nothing to fuss over, but my grand daddy's talisman is twitchin' which it ain't never done before.

I rekon I'll find out soon enough.

This story is part of the Cthulu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. The idea of a story set after the return of the Great Old Ones was inspired by J.B. Lee's story For Here They Shall Reign Again... although this is entirely my own take on the concept.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Rejection Letter

I'm still in the process of moving, so no poem for today. In lieu of that, here's a rather charming rejection letter that I got awhile back from Tomorrow SF

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for showing me "The Buddah in the Bathroom." It had many virtues, but selling to our audience is oftimes a matter of being clever in exactly the right way.

I'm sorry.


Algis Budrys

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Moving Day

I am in the process of moving, this week, so I'm afraid that the blog will have to go without updates until we're done with that. I expect to have fresh updates by no later than next Sunday.

I appreciate your patience.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Canis Maximus

To your dog, You are God.

You are the Bringer of Food,
The Opener of Doors,
The Summoner of Strange Lights
And Sounds.

You giveth him pleasure
When You stroketh his fur,

You taketh him to far places
Where he may frolick and run,

You maketh him to play fetch
In the yard and in the park.

You are the Lord of All Things
That Squeek, Roll and Can Be Chewed,

It is You for whom he wags his tail.

It is You for whom he waits,
In lamentation and vigil,
When You leave in the morning.

It is You that he loves
To the brim of his canine heart.

When you are a beast to him,
It is damnation.

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

This is True

There are a lot of "weird news" sites out there. What sets This is True appart is not only the wit of the sites owner, Randy Cassingham, but his passion over such issues as the foolishness of zero tolerance laws, his advocacy for tort reform, his efforts to help people fight spam, and his dedication to acknowledging the lives of the unacknowledged who, never the less, made a difference.

He also sells "Get Out of Hell Free" cards.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

On Death and Dying

One of the questions that atheists get asked a lot is the question of how we deal with death. One of the most common replies is that not existing after you die is no different from not existing before you were born. I think that this is a valid answer but I must admit that it also seems a bit glib.

I think that there is something disturbing about the notion of simply not being anymore. Part of that is purely psychosomatic. The brain wants to imagine an impossibility; it wants to imagine what it’s like to be dead. If death is, indeed, simply the terminus of being then there is, quite literally, nothing to imagine, but it tries to do so anyway. What we end up is the notion that we’ll be suspended in an endless darkness. Indeed, many of the early conceptions of the afterlife had precisely that kind of imagery, often coupled with the notion of being in an underworld (after all, dead bodies are often put into the ground, so an underworld is a logical place for the souls of the dead to go).

It is here that the comparison with our state before birth does help. Before we were born, we didn’t experience a grueling wait of billions of years to be born. We simply didn’t exist. As an atheist, I strongly suspect that this is the state of affairs that will follow my life. That, in itself, is a terrible notion. The idea that all of my experiences and memories, all of the beliefs and hopes, all of the things that makes me a unique thing in the universe will perish is tragic. The fact that it’s a common tragedy that is repeated hundreds of thousands of times a day does not diminish its magnitude. Death is unfair and we are right to think of it as life’s greatest enemy.

I have heard arguments that try to frame death as the compliment of life. I can go so far to admit that I would not desire immortality. A life that could not end would ultimately extend beyond the point where every possible state of mind had been experienced. Beyond that point, existence would become a vast redundancy. The quality of life would be reduced in an endless cycles of recapitulations. Even the most joyous of possible lives would become a kind of hell in the long run. The problem with death, then, is not that we die, but that we die too soon.

The average person gets about eight decades worth of life (discounting those who die young). The first decade is spent growing out of childhood. The second is spent growing into adulthood. The last decade is often spent in a state of mental and physical decline. This leaves us with a mere fifty years worth of time to live as qualified adults. In that time, we usually have the chance to pursue one or, maybe, two careers. We may take up a half-dozen hobbies. Most people only ever become experts in a single field with a few prodigies managing expertise in up to three or four subjects. In our lives, most of us only come to be good friends with, at most, a few dozen people.

I like to imagine a world where any person who was so inclined to study every single subject known to humankind to a PhD level of proficiency, where every craft and hobby could be tried and mastered, and where we had the time to know and love every single worthwhile person. Against this supposition, the span of our real lives seems to be paltry indeed.

This grim limit is compounded by the fact that the death isn’t simply a point that we reach. We die by degrees. There’s a profound moment in the animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn where an immortal unicorn is transformed into a mortal woman in order to save her from peril. She takes the form of a young, beautiful woman but her reaction is to hold herself and to cry that she can feel herself dying.

She’s right. By the time we become adults, our bodies have already started on the long, slow slide to ultimate failure. As we live, we accumulate irreparable injuries that place accumulating stress about the complex systems that keep us alive. It is, in fact, remarkable that can go as long as we do without dying. Most organisms have life spans that are measured in years, not decades. Our only competitors for longevity, in the animal kingdom, are some species of parrot, great tortoises and, perhaps, certain species of whale. On the scales of the natural world we do live long, just not long enough.

In many senses, we live too long. Outside of accidents, death rarely comes easy. Dying is often a cruel affair as one faculty after another succumbs to failure. Too often we are reduced to a nearly infantile state where we can’t even manage the basic necessities of personal hygiene. We joke about adult diapers because they are a humiliating, awful reality and humor is one of the few tools we have to cope with their terribly necessity. Worst of all is that many of our will have to experience the gradual loss of our very minds, the very things that make us who we are. The notion that our very self can be slowly ground to dust is almost beyond contemplate.

It is for these reasons that I can consistently say that I don’t believe we live long enough while, at the same time, asserting that I am more afraid of living too long than of not living long enough. It is my sincere hope that when death does come for me, I will be one of the lucky few who will be fortunate enough to have a death that is quick, painless and dignified.

I do understand why people consider death to be a challenge for atheists. Indeed, I would admit that, for me at least, death is a challenge. I view it, however, as a challenge to accept the world as it is. I do not want to believe something because it is comfortable and soothing to believe it. I have long asserted that reality has no obligation to match our expectations. The notion of an afterlife free from the depredations of aging and the limitations of premature death is certainly a tempting notion. I do not believe that afterlives are part of the real world, however.

I believe that death is unavoidable. I have confidence that our technologies will continue to improve and that our capacity to put off the end will increase over time. I hope that, eventually, we may be able to grant ourselves to live truly full lives and that, in the meanwhile, we should do what we can to make the process of dying less painful, less frightening and more dignified. I also think, more than anything, that the fact of death should motivate us to cherish our lives, and the lives of those around us, while we have them. Our lives are, quite literally, irreplaceable. Squandering a life seems, to me, to be very nearly an act of criminal irresponsibility. It is for this reason that I think we should strive to live them to the fullest of our abilities and to help our fellow human beings to do the same.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Zoroastrian Gentlemen

There were five Zoroastrian gentlemen
Waiting to talk to you today.

They were going to tell you all about
Ahriman and Ahura-Mazda:
Diametric deities
Acting like opposing plates
On an infinitely long scale.

They were going to explain
That every person,
By their acts and words,
Is like a tiny weight
Placed to one side or the other
Of this great device,
And that the future may well fall
To either side,
So do well and beware.

They were going to tell you —
Well, many things.
I was taking notes,
But the ink got smudged.

You would have seen them,
But you were so wound around
Your own worldview,
Not unlike a certain serpent
Around a certain forbidden tree,
That you missed your chance
To meet these five gentlemen.

They would still like to see you.

Should I take a message,
Or would you rather
I send them away?

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Unstructured Politics

In the United States, today is Election Day. In addition to making choices concerning propositions, state amendments, and sundry political offices, this is also the quad-annual election of the presidency.

Unless you've been living in a state of sedation for the last year (and lucky you if you have!), you are doubtlessly aware that this is an intensely close election. So close indeed that the infamous undecided block will play a critical role in swinging the vote one way or the other.

If you do happen to be one of those undecideds, I thought that I'd help you out a bit by pointing you to the Political Compass. The Compass won't tell you how to vote, but, if you take its test, it will give you a clearer idea of where you stand politically. (In the interest of full disclosure, my coordinates are (-1,-5) — which will make a whole lot more sense to you once you get your own results.)

If this still doesn't help you decide, maybe this latest cartoon from JibJab will do the trick.

what is this?

Tell me when this blog is updated. . .