Archives for the month of: October, 2014

I’ve got a 5 year old Lenovo s10e netbook that has been just impossible for me to give up. Lenovo makes the greatest keyboards in the world and besides, that little 10″ machine just keeps on ticking.

Just after I bought it I upgraded the RAM to the max – 2 GB (sigh). It has an early generation Intel Atom processor running at 1.60 GHz. So between the processor and the limited RAM it only stands to reason that my only real nag is that it has been impossibly slow.

Yes, it is my backup machine so it doesn’t see any day to day use but every time I fire it up – like to do updates or add data – the slowness kills me.

This tiny machine now has a 1TB drive in it and as such contains all my meaningful data including all my other machine images as well as copies of all the virtual machines that I run on my hand-built, quad-core, multi-drive, USB 3.0, app/boot SSD workstation running the best OS on the planet: Win 7 Ultimate 64 bit. And oh, yeah. It might be almost 4 years old but it still has major tech-stiffness my friend.

So anyway when Microsoft abandoned XP in April of this year I lovingly upgraded this old Lenovo machine to Win 7 Pro 32 bit. Sadly, I am one of those people that can’t bin something that works. I have always done my homework and then purchase only the best [value proposition] technology available. And then I stick with it as long as possible.

For example, I am still using my 5 year old Google Nexus One smartphone. I replaced the battery last year. It still makes calls and surfs the web so why replace it just yet? And besides I bought the latest Google tablet – the Nexus 7 – stuffed with all the latest technology, so portably speaking, I’m good.

But back to the netbook. So my only gripe with the thing has always been its slowness. But today I found a solution. Oh yes, a solution and a cheap one at that ($5.00).

It turns out that Microsoft  – way back in the Vista days – created an application called ReadyBoost. And ReadyBoost allows you to configure a USB or SD memory card as a cache device. This is pretty damn cool and it actually works. My machine is now way faster.

Here’s what I did. I bought an 8 GB SD card and stuck it in the 4 in 1 Memory Card Reader slot. After the netbook’s OS recognized the device it turned on Autoplay which asked me if I wanted to speed up my machine and configure the device as a ReadyBoost device. I answered, yes. It was as simple as that.

To test it, at Start – type in ‘perf’ then click on ‘performance monitor’ at the top. This launches performance monitor. Click on ‘performance monitor’ on the left to expand it. Then click on the green ‘plus’ sign at the top to add. Then on the left, click on the ReadyBoost ‘down arrow’. Click on ‘add’ at the bottom, then click on ‘Ok’.

Fire up some applications and watch as the graphically displayed caching functions change; meaning the device is working. But better yet, just sit back and enjoy your old machine act like a new one.

PS – A 32 bit machine like this one can only address 4 GB of space (2^32). I purchased the 8 GB card because it only cost $0.80 more which would have higher recycle opportunities if the ReadyBoost application hadn’t worked out.

 

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pcm@mira.net posted somewhere in some time faraway that, “elegant (and relevant) tools inspire the user to create elegant solutions.”

That myth has been with me for over twenty years. And from time to time I would re-examine it before faithfully filing it away; somehow never questioning the underlying premise of the idea.

The thought of it popped up during my run today to which it began to turn over and over in my mind until it finally occurred to me that it was pure and utter crap.

Linking elegant tools and elegant solutions is a lovely sentiment but the fact is that tools, elegant or otherwise, do not inspire elegant solutions. Now a tool might inspire a solution; but an elegant solution? Balderdash.

Example. You see that box of screws and a screwdriver lying on your workbench that you initially purchased to put up a shelf in the laundry room. Until at some point where like after about the 100th time you walk past it finally dawns on you that there lies the solution to fixing the squeak in the basement step. Drive enough screws through the step and at some point it will stop squeaking. It might not look very pretty when you’re done but at least the annoying squeak is gone.

It is a caveman, brute force kind of thing. You spend hours squatting by the fire every evening and your eyes are lovingly drawn to those four handmade tools that are stacked in the corner and eventually you are going to come up with new uses for them. Not very elegant, but some new shit does finally in fact get done.

Might we consider a Mont Blanc writing-instrument to lend, “effortless sophistication and timeless elegance?” I think their pens are pretty damn elegant. But will that little star on the nob make a poor writer into a better and more successful writer? Probably not.

But what gives a tool elegance anyway? Is it about things like handmade German knives, custom crafted shotguns, garden utensils over constructed from hand-forged Japanese steel?

I remember the SR-71 to have been one damned fine elegant airplane. But it wasn’t really a tool as such. The SR-71 really was something more like a bunch of really elegant tools all fitted elegantly together under the same titanium skin.

Did the SR-71 inspire elegant solutions? No, sadly just the opposite. The air force scrapped them, tore up the plans, and destroyed all the custom tools that it took to build them. Then they replaced them with pilotless drones composed chiefly of commercial grade electronics and polymer composites – and that’s plastics to you my friend.

Now, throwing in the parenthesis – “and relevant” – was a real ass-saver wasn’t it? So it seems elegant tools also have to be relevant in order to create elegant solutions. And using relevant tools is kind of self-explanatory meaning if one is intending to drive screws then a hammer shouldn’t be your first choice of tools.

Someone wisely addressed this conundrum – albeit tangentially – when they said that ‘when the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem comes to resemble a nail.’

So tools should be relevant. And it follows on that the mere possession of more tools increases the likelihood that you’ll choose the most relevant tool. I like that. That elegant expression – posing as an axiom – is now making a little bit more sense.

I’ve heard it said that a skilled old-school carpenter can build a house – that’s any house, up to and including a palace – with just four tools: a hammer, a carpenter’s square, a handsaw, and a plumb bob. Those are all pretty simple tools and are all about as elegant as a shovel and a pickaxe. Oh shit, here we go again.

Maybe we should start over and ask just what constitutes an elegant solution and then work backwards.
But let’s save that for later, okay?

He needs a worthy successor. Soon. But now would be better. When he was at the top of his game, his food shows shined a big bright light into each and every foodie’s heart. I used to love to watch his show during cocktail hour. The food images inspired me as well as helped me prep mentally for making the upcoming evening meal. And his conversation, sarcasm, and witty banter was done comfortably, which sometimes felt much like having a drink with an old friend.

He had three especially fine episodes: Madrid, another one he did in Spain, and the one in Rome. Food show classics.

But there were some failures. You can’t film a food show – albeit even if it is a food travel show – in a place that has no food culture. There isn’t enough bantering backfill in the entire world, or enlightening commentary on the local politics or customs, nor are there playful background stories sufficiently charming to hide the suspicious absence of food.

So who is presently out there that can fill the void?

Youtube’s ‘Munchies’? No. Who else but other egomaniacal twenty-something year olds would want to watch other equally young chefs doing the whole self-congratulatory thing backgrounded by their multi-tatooed hipster friends all doing the pose, looking cool and saying the word ‘fuck’ a lot?

Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern? Sorry. He does some things okay but his overall smarminess and ‘don’t try this at home’ attitude is a deal killer. Besides, how many times has he used ‘mineraly’ to describe a taste? Lame.

Rick Stein? Again, sorry. His accent makes me positively cringe. And he talks too much. Too many words, softly spoken like he’s a doctor who really cares. So much so that it’s condescending. And I can only watch a few minutes before wanting to reach through the screen and throttle the bastard.

Gordon Ramsey? No thanks. I don’t need a huge helping of anger and attitude with my meal.

Two Greedy Italians? Too much useless prattle and not enough food.

What we really need is a food show that is clean and lean. Less on the theatrics and more on the food. I have a couple of proposals that would include using an intelligent but mostly benign narrator.

Like how about a food series taken from literature? Like meals prepared from the novels of Hemingway? Or Ian Fleming? Zola’s ‘The Belly of Paris’? Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’?

M.F.K. Fisher anyone?

Or do an entire series on restaurants that does one thing really really well.

Or a series of a dozen or twenty-four episodes on ‘last meals’? Chefs always wimp out here and beg off to childhood comfort food. Me? I could throwdown an easy dozen last meals that would put your taste buds in a twist. Give me another hour and I could write you a dozen more.

Or a comprehensive series on countries that have a food culture. Japan? France? Italy? Yeah, it’s kind of been done but never done right. I refer you all to the splendid ‘Time Life Foods of the World’ series of books (24 of them) that were published beginning back in the late ’60s. Those books were awesome. And before I gave most everything away a few years back I had managed to collect all the important ones.

Regardless, someone – and someone soon – needs to rethink the whole food show thing and deliver up something that less resembles entertainment and more resembles food.

 

My neighbors picked these yesterday. And these big boys weigh in at a little over a pound a piece making them twice as big as the more famous Haas species. In another 3 days they’ll be ‘maduro’, ripe in Spanish.

Fuerte Avocado

The Fuerte Avocado

And unlike the Haas, these won’t change color as they mature. And while they will develop a delicious creaminess when they’ve ripened, they aren’t my favorite species of avocado.

Why? I really can’t say because I am merely a dilettante at this point. And Michoacán is famous for its avocados and honestly it really takes a local grower or seller who can speak authoritatively to the subtle distinctions of flavor and texture.

And not just are the local avocados Mexico famous, but famous throughout the entire world. And many aficionados judge them as the best in the world. But it gets more finicky than that. The locals here positively salivate over a tiny bi-annual crop that grow in nearby El Rincon. I’ve eaten them although I lack the experience to qualitatively being able to weigh in with an honest opinion.

I love avocados and due to their abundance, rich flavor, healthy fat content, and cheap price I eat them most every day. Many evenings I will take a light dinner of crusty fresh bread, chopped up avocado, diced onion, sliced hot chilies, crumbled locally made [unpasteurized] white farmer’s cheese, a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and maybe a little fresh herb like basil or rosemary that I grow on the terrace.

Importantly  – avocados are a local thing. Like carnitas. Or birria.

If I was back living in North Carolina then meals would be more about things like pasta dishes with locally harvested wild mushrooms. Or if I was back living on the gulf coast of Texas then meals would be centered around the local fruits of the sea.

Ever eaten a fresh oyster that’s been put in the center of a jumbo wild shrimp then wrapped with a slice of bacon then deep fried? That’s pure gulf coast heaven my friend.

PS – When one of my books sells and makes me a few extra thousand euros then I am straight off to Paris to live out my days as a gout ridden old drunk.

That is classic ambition from a century past.

 

 

123jpDonleavy1950s

Is still alive which is positively unbelievable considering that legendary Irish predilection for drink and the fact that his literary contemporary, Brendan Behan died at the rather irresponsible young age of 41 – of that same Irish malady – way back in ’64.

His ‘The Ginger Man’ is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. It was published in 1955 and its main character, Sebastian Dangerfield set what must be the all time high bar for misbehavior. In fact, almost 60 years on and Sebastian still ranks up with the very worst of literary miscreants. And the story as I remember it had me positively screaming out loud with laughter at behavior that can only best be described as cringe worthy of the most despicable kind.

And this, his first novel, should give hope to all us wannabe published writers.

It makes me very happy to discover that J. P. Donleavy escaped, while so many who lived that life died. And somehow I feel that rogue, Sebastian lives on too. This is something I need to celebrate.

Quandary: re-read the novel or wander down to the pub, get drunk, and start a fight…

PS –  This photo mirrors his debauched literary character, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

The Mexican fiesta, Day of the Dead is almost upon us; so sugar skulls and marigolds are dancing through my head.

That early 20th century curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce from his ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ defined

Dead, adj.

“Done with the work of breathing; done
With all the world; the mad race run
Through to the end; the golden goal
Attained and found to be a hole!”

He was later swallowed up into the immense maw of the Mexican Revolution so we will never know if that bitterly cynical definition matched his own end.

But however it turned out for Ambrose; whether it was a bullet, a bottle, some broad, or a knife leading to the hole of a shallow grave somewhere in northern Mexico, I personally believe that most of the rest of us Americans are also not on very good terms with our impending demise.

We Americans prefer not to think about death – at least not our own anyway – as dying possesses a highly negative coefficient value of entertainment. But when we absolutely have to, we like to think of death in an abstract way. Maybe that’s because we believe that for ourselves, death is so far out in the future that we can ignore it in the here and now. And when someone we know dies, we prefer to quickly dispense with the reality of it by consoling one another that they went to a better place.

And in case you didn’t know it, most everybody in America believes that when they die they’ll go to a better place. I like that. It is a huggy-warm blanket feeling that requires no thinking whatsoever. It’s also so morally inoffensive that it broaches no argument. Besides, who has time these days to either participate in or learn some really complicated belief system? And dying, going to a better place is really the ultimate happy ending. And we Americans love happy endings.

Someone whom I no longer respect the least little bit anymore –  a poor (poor) early role model – once infamously stated that “Death is the biggest trip of them all. That’s why they save it for the last.”

Like – just who exactly are ‘they’ anyway? And just so you know, that was a Peruvian born American educated anthropologist speaking who spent years masquerading as a Mexican-American shaman. And just how f**ked up is that anyway? But he’s dead so I guess it doesn’t really matter now. Although I do find some delicious irony wondering just how that philosophy is playing out for him these days.

All poking fun at dead people aside – do we Americans believe that disregarding death gives us license to titillate ourselves with the idea of it; meaning that we can choose to view death, killing and dying as entertainment? And is it maybe because death, like its first cousin, evil have been pushed so far to the fringe that their realities have traded places with conceptual parodies?

After all, our children listen to death metal music, we watch comedies about the living dead, and as we age most of us are deliberately steered into expensive and exhaustive medical treatment programs that terminate at some point in sterile white tiled rooms upon which time, the remains are burned.

So you might wonder how my Mexican neighbors view death? To begin with it’s really quite complicated; Octavio Paz wrote pages and pages about it in his collection of essays ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’.

In one place he writes, “Our contempt for death is not at odds with the cult we have made of it. Death is present in our fiestas, our games, our loves and our thoughts. To die and to kill are ideas that rarely leave us. We are seduced by death.”

But in short, they also celebrate it, kind of. There is a 3 day fiesta that involves the usual eating, drinking and the not so usual overnight graveyard vigils. And although it starts on October 31st, it shares nothing in common with the modern day celebration of Halloween.

 

I’ve just finished reading the first draft of chapter one of a friend of mine’s third novel. This first segment plays out in the Alaskan wilderness, a place with which we are both somewhat familiar.

One of the characters employs a chainsaw periodically throughout the chapter. I recommended that the author substitute the word, Stihl for the word, chainsaw in one place (and one place only). This resonated with the writer. He replied back that he agreed and said that it wasn’t about brand awareness but about quality. Yes, Stihl is all about quality but I’ve since concluded there is more to it than that.

On my run today my mind wandered back over another email conversation that I had with this same writer where he said ‘words have power’. And I got to thinking about Stihl in that context. And yes, Stihl is a brand. And yes, Stihl is the brand because of their company commitment to quality. But Stihl has become so deeply significant in a cultural sense that it’s developed a cognoscenti kind of thing.

I’ve actually owned a chainsaw; dangerous damn things. And if I never operate another one again for the rest of my life it would be fine with me. But it wasn’t a Stihl. I didn’t want to pony up that kind of dough because I knew deep down inside that I would never operate it enough to truly appreciate it. Like does the average household actually need that expensive set of handmade German knives? No. But that’s not the point I am trying to make.

Some words – irrespective of all of the ponderous nattering these days about Brands – do in fact have power. And the only meaningful thing that I have to say about Brands is that their owners spend big bucks every year to make their products register on our tiny little psyches as being culturally significant must-haves.

So on my run today I got to thinking about the power of words and how that power was intrinsically linked with culture. I am not talking about modern culture or necessarily about popular culture. But more about that sense of self and cultural identity that resides somewhere mostly inaccessible in our subconscious minds.

This morning’s sunrise.

Mountain, fog, clouds, church spire.

Convergence: sunrise, mountain, fog, clouds, church spire.

 

Despair puny humans and bow your mortal heads into the dust, knowing that the creation of such beauty is beyond your ken!

I’ve held onto this note for something like 30 years now. I found it on the sidewalk between our house and a nearby high school. It’s ballpoint pen on school ring binder notepaper written by some girl to her boyfriend. It’s a classic. It’s eternal. From the words, to the handwriting, to the very stained piece of paper that it is written on.

I’ve had it tucked away in various drawers over the years. And each time that I’ve come across it, either packing up the house for a move or just inadvertently, I hold it reverently as I re-read it. It is so charged with the meaning and angst of being a teenager.

After all of these years the paper is worn to a velvety softness and the writing has faded. But the words still maintain their confused honesty and I can’t help but wonder after this girl; like what happened to her and how her life turned out.

front page

front side

“…me all of the time, no matter what you have to say to me.
I want and need you sooo —- much. I hope that I am not ugly to you, am I? My psychologist told me I have low self-esteem, do you think I do? He also said that when something good happens that I need to be reassured, I know that is very, very, very true. Sometimes people say stuff just to say it, so I like to make sure that people don’t lie to me! I don’t know what is wrong with me today, I just feel totally terrible about the whole thing. I’m really depressed, I don’t know why, I have been all damn day. I wish I knew why. I just have been burned out all day, I don’t know what it is, I had a very, very, very, very bad dream but I don’t remember what it was at all. I feel like shit !!!”

back side

back side

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t exist. I don’t think many people would mind. I just don’t know about myself or anyone anymore. I am not going to do anything stupid so don’t think that, please. I’m not that dumb anymore. I just don’t know what to do or why I feel like this. The bell is going to ring so I’ll write more later. Bye. I love you loads.
Well I just smoked a cig. I was late for F&S. David didn’t go to school. He had a doctor’s app. He punched a truck twice yesterday and fucked up his hand. He broke it. There are so many things that I’d like to know about you. I love you so much it’s not even funny anymore. I just always want you to be here for me and to always be around to hold, love, and understand me. I just got a…”

PS – As I’ve been transcribing this note I have been listening to ‘Closer’ by the post-punk band Joy Division; their 2nd and final studio album released in 1980. Some reviews called the album ‘haunting’, ‘gothic’ and ‘claustrophobic’.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the author of the note wasn’t a fan.

 

I like boundaries. And for me certain disciplines require the rigor of definition. Maybe I picked up that persnickety habit from engineering school. I remember a particular class that I took called ‘The Physics of Semiconductors’.

When an electron moves through a semiconductor its absence leaves a hole. And that hole is just like any other hole – meaning the absence of something – yet however in the physics sense, that electron hole is treated as a true entity. Namely that it has quantifiable properties (namely a positive charge) much like the electron (negative charge) that vacated it.

A hole that is –  but isn’t.