Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Giant Leap

Never mind the political jerking off inevitable in almost every 'news' item from Reuters, but the essence of this (more info) is momentous far beyond myopic retard politics. Seems to me like the great longevity enterprise—that humanity embarked on thousands of years ago, and which is kind of heading toward a major breakthrough of sorts—isn't just on-target, but ahead of schedule.

Very, very cool.

Moving (Part 7 of X): Counting Down To The End

I may have mentioned that, from a purely have-to-do-this-crap point of view, moving is a real pain in the ass. It takes up your damn life. And the way we're doing it...

Well, on the other hand—and I'm kind-of wondering if we're not actually doing it right, but don't appreciate it—we're undertaking this massive logistic effort in the minimum of time possible. If we had done this more leisurely, I suspect that much more time would have been spent on second-thinking this and that, while right now it's like "you've got seven breaths to decide on this major issue; and that's that." The bottom line is, I think, more intensely used time, which is exhausting but...

Well, it had some definitely good aspects. Like I've lost something like 6kg in the last 8 weeks or so. After checking with my doctor to make sure it wasn't something bad it turns out that it wasn't; just less time to eat crap, more metabolic energy turned over, more exercise on a continuous basis. Which goes to show yet again how truly bad and awful the office lifestyle is. Even if you are a gym-bunny, the fact is that humans are designed to move about and physically do stuff; not to sit on their butts and stare at monitors—which is was office-life is almost invariably all about these days and in our societies.

I knew this well enough, but, let's face it, when you earn your living doing this stuff you really have little option. I'm wondering whether it wouldn't in the end be healthier by far to become an Outback tour guide or something like that. Of course, it probably pays Sierra Foxtrot Alpha; and there's the rub, right? Still, one of these days—and who knows when with our newfound adventurous disposition—it might end up that way.

Back to moving and bodily circumference. I make it a principle never to buys clothes that fit comfortably or are loose. The reasoning behind that is that as one matures—yeah, good word that!—one tends to grow into these 'fitting' garments; and as time goes on, said growth requires more 'fitting' garments, which will be bigger, and so on.

Bad idea! Buy them tight, so you need to shrink into them. By now I've actually reached a stage where they ended up loose—which is a bit of a novel experience for me. But good. A golden opportunity to keep it that way!

So, there's the moving-cloud's silver lining!

This evening I'll have to heave—bit by bit!—something like half a ton of rubbish into a skip; which will be my exercise for the day I suppose. One of the last big jobs to be done before I leave here on Sunday...

So, yes, counting down we are. Unfortunately the house isn't sold yet, so my wife will have to stay behind to handle that. And right now I don't have a job yet. But I sense that I will soon enough.

Yeah, I know: gotta be careful that what you 'sense' isn't just crappy wishful thinking...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Go, Skype - Kick Some Ass!

I am going to submit this to my readers without a comment.

Skype encryption stumps police

8:13AM Friday November 23, 2007
By Louis Charbonneau

WIESBADEN - German police are unable to decipher the encryption used in the internet telephone software Skype to monitor calls by suspected criminals and terrorists, Germany's top police officer said.

Skype allows users to make telephone calls over the internet from their computer to other Skype users free of charge.

Law enforcement agencies and intelligence services have used wiretaps since the telephone was invented, but implementing them is much more complex in the modern telecommunications market where the providers are often foreign companies.

"The encryption with Skype telephone software ... creates grave difficulties for us," Joerg Ziercke, president of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA) told reporters at an annual gathering of security and law enforcement officials.

"We can't decipher it. That's why we're talking about source telecommunication surveillance - that is, getting to the source before encryption or after it's been decrypted."

Experts say Skype and other Voice over internet Protocol (VoIP) calling software are difficult to intercept because they work by breaking up voice data into small packets and switching them along thousands of router paths instead of a constant circuit between two parties, as with a traditional call.

Ziercke said they were not asking Skype to divulge its encryption keys or leave "back doors open" for German and other country's law enforcement authorities.

"There are no discussions with Skype. I don't think that would help," he said, adding that he did not want to harm the competitiveness of any company. "I don't think that any provider would go for that."

Ziercke said there was a vital need for German law enforcement agencies to have the ability to conduct on-line searches of computer hard drives of suspected terrorists using "Trojan horse" spyware.

These searches are especially important in cases where the suspects are aware that their internet traffic and phone calls may be monitored and choose to store sensitive information directly on their hard drives without emailing it.

Spyware computer searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive about police surveillance due to the history of the Nazis' Gestapo secret police and the former East German Stasi.

Ziercke said worries were overblown and that on-line searches would need to be conducted only on rare occasions.

"We currently have 230 proceedings related to suspected Islamists," Ziercke said. "I can imagine that in two or three of those we would like to do this."


Monday, November 19, 2007

Moving (Part 6 of X): People Who Will Miss you, And Those Who Merely Say They Do

It's one thing to leave somewhere and figure out whom of the people you know you'll actually end up 'missing'; that is, you will feel an existential void, of grater or lesser dimension, at their non-presence in your life. With a bit of introspection you'll probably figure it out. I've decided that there's a handful, but that just about covers it.

Much more interesting and difficult is the figuring out of who actually cares and to whom it'll make a difference that you have gone. Or who is actually glad to see the back of you.

The latter is possibly the easiest. Personally, with my propensity not to leave people in a state of 'indifference' about me, there are a number who will heave a sigh of relief, though they probably wouldn't admit it, because that would be admitting that my presence troubled them. I suspect that this includes some people who are not obviously in that category. I have my suspicions about who's who and what's what, but will wisely refrain from giving any hint that such suspicions exist in this particular case or that one. Oftentimes surprising degrees of resentment lurk and fester under very carefully constructed facades of benevolence. This may well come more to the surface now that we're leaving because we're leaving; for while it is regarded by a lot of folk as a little crazy to pack up and ship out as we're doing, it will also be a source of envy for some; occasioned either by the fact that they simply can't do the same though they might like to—as we couldn't have until recently, really—or that they would think that they'd like to but haven't got the...whatever...guts, go, gumption, recklessness, sense of adventure. Whatever you want to call it. The critical drop of gypsy blood, I guess. Jack Vance once wrote, in one of his short stories, of the superiority the settled man feels over the wanderer. Well, I think there's envy, too.

Most of the people I know, however, fall into the category of 'hard to tell'. This is a nebulous set of judgment criteria anyway, as is usually the case in human affairs, and maybe to speak of 'categories' makes little sense. As someone who is 'professionally' interested, as one might say, in matters of human behavior and relationships, I'm observing these folks with interest, and occasionally spend time picturing and extrapolating to their future and what difference my/our absence is going to make to them. More often than not the difference is so close to zero, after an initial period possibly of "hmm, I wonder why they left" or "hmm, that's a bit inconvenient, because... A, B, C, D..."

Then there is the lot of "oh, we really must see you/get together before you go", but who will make scant effort to adjust the course of their own lives for the space of a few hours to take account of the fact that our own is rather madcap right now, with little time to play around with. Not that I expect them to adjust their lives; it's just that it places their relationship to us into perspective. It is, if I may say so, a sobering experience. Not a surprising one though.

The ones who stand out are those to evince signs that they do care; that they do want to help and actually offer it; and who, when asked, don't find reasons why they can't do it then or there; or give off signs, subtle or more overt, that it is inconvenient; or who do it not least because they're getting something out of it. These nice people occasionally come from quarters I hadn't anticipated, and I would probably have added them to the vast middle ground of the basically-indifferent. And so this is a pleasant surprise, and a heartening one, and it tells me something about people and life and stuff I have to learn about them and it.

As for other matters, we just had a weekend where people invaded our house to give it anything from a cursory inspection to the kind that borders on the invasive; though in some instances I believe it was done for the perfectly valid reason of wanting to know just exactly what kind of house it was they were looking at, and if they really might want to consider forking out a heap of money to buy it. Which is perfectly OK, as I probably would do the same. Yet I am under no illusion that there probably were also those for whom the label 'nosy' would be the mildest way to describe their disposition and motive to come to these 'open homes'.

It reminds me how precious our privacy is, and how it goes far further than that whose loss we bemoan when we fret over the invasive nature of modern technology and governmental and other agencies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Moving (Part 5 of X): Doing Things For The Last Time, And The People I Will Really Miss

One might argue, not without significant merit, that whenever we do anything at all, we do it for the first and the last time. For every 'doing' is unique, set in an unrepeatable context of time, space and circumstance.

Still, this is a narrow view; for we could not possibly survive if we looked at life that way every instant. We look at 'doing' something with repetition, implying that the following 'do' is somehow 'the same' as a former one because it shares certain properties that we consider essential and more important than the vagaries of contextual contingency. A good example, coming to mind because it is on my mind, is a teaching session at the dojo, and especially one where you're the teacher. There are two things in relation to this I'd like to pause and reflect upon.

First of all, I would like to debunk sensei-dom as it is practised in the context of the martial arts. Actually, it should be debunked right across the board, for I think the whole 'teacher' thing is pretty much bunk, not just the 'sensei' version. Still, I don't have the time, so let's take martial arts context as an example.

Maybe I should also mention that I have little or no respect for 'authority' per se, or just because it is 'authority' or because some f-tard says so. For someone to have 'authority' over anybody or anything, and especially me and mine, they have to prove it. Of course, some 'authority' is implicitly imposed in practical social terms and that's OK; but that's authority-by-power-and-social-contract and it is a necessity of social existence. That's very different though from someone telling you 'believe me, because I know' without necessarily having provided one with sufficient and credible evidence that he or she actually does know. As for me, I will bow to no one, except those who have earned my respect and proved their valor; or, alternatively at the gun-point of necessity and expediency. Please remember that when I come to the end of this blog.

Back the martial arts. I deny utterly and completely the validity of the concept that when a man—Pace, ladies! I am being gender inclusive. Just trying to avoid awkward phrasings. But, let's face it, a male 'sensei' is still much more likely than a female one; a situation which I would like to see changed, but remember that you have to be the change you want to see in the world, if you actually want to change it—steps from his everyday identity onto a dojo floor to teach martial arts and assumes the role of 'sensei' he magically becomes 'more' than he usually is; that the context and the role somehow add something to him.

It's bullshit, plain and simple. For all he does is assume a role. He may become something 'different', but 'more'? Hardly. If he isn't that thing he is on the dojo floor also in life outside that context, then he's just faking it. If he however is that thing also in ordinary life, then stepping into the role of sensei on the dojo floor is actually becoming less; for he is reducing himself to the role he's assuming at that point, having to discard aspects of himself that he would bring to his interactions with people during ordinary life. The first casualty is a certain kind of sense of 'equality' with those of lesser rank attending. These people are usually known as 'students'.

I always disliked that reduction of oneself—applied to myself, of course; for what others do with themselves is their business!—and as time went on I have come to dislike it more and I simply won't tolerate it in my classes. I refuse to do it either to myself or those coming to learn during my classes, and especially the ones with whom I develop what you might call 'long-standing' relationships. You see, people come to a dojo usually not because they are compelled to do so—as are, for example, those going to school, who are effectively drafted, press-ganged into the service of a deity called 'education', but which is really a cleverly-disguised demon called the 'education industry', who is, to quote one of Georgette Heyer's enchanting phrasings—magical prose that could have flowed from the pen of Jack Vance—from one of the first chapters of The Black Moth (Amazon link here), 'florid of countenance, portly of person, and of manner pompous and urbane'. And that's being kind. Very.

People come to the dojo for any reason you care to dream up, and then some that you won't, but in almost all instances it is done by choice, not coercion. Those who stick around and who continue to come to one's classes because they find something to give them sufficient reason to do so may be expected to... Well, they should, especially if they pay their fees on time and do other useful things to express their appreciation, be able to expect more than some functionally-reduced version of the person who's showing them what's what. Learning sword stuff is basically a head fake—which is a kind of Kansas City Shuffle—because what you learn isn't what you're being taught. Evereybody looks left and you move right

Note how I avoid the word 'teacher'? Deliberately so. The term 'sensei' hasn't figured into this either yet, but I am going to introduce it now, but in the more literal sense of describing someone who has already gone along a certain path or segments of a path, through his life and maybe your own, insofar as it is a similar path. But that is all. The sensei doesn't necessarily as 'knowing more' even; it just so happens that with regards to particular aspects of...well, 'life' I guess...he's been where the one who calls him 'sensei' is yet to tread. Therefore said 'sensei' can point out some of the features of the 'path', if you will, that will hopefully empower the one who comes after to tread it with more preparedness than s/he would otherwise. But that is all. It doesn't make the sensei wiser or better or more 'authoritative'. It just so happens that he has had a chance and taken it to walk that kind of path. And if he's trustworthy, then why not pay attention to what he's seen along the way?

And that's all.

And now, to an unnamed person I take a bow...

... for she has earned my respect—and that usually takes some doing.

She'll earn even more of it, I'm sure, because I assume that she will, unless she stumbles or forgets, my last bits of advice during our final dojo session and always have the presence of mind to remember that ultimately she's the one who needs to observe and police herself, so that she knows exactly what she is doing with her mind, her body and her sword at every moment. For nobody is going to do it for her. Teachers—who should be senseis in the sense above, but rarely are—by and large suck at this job of pointing out some important aspects of the path, while at the same time leaving those who trod along it after them, or a similar one, to make their own decisions about what to actually do. This is known as 'empowering', and it can be difficult, because the temptation to make the damn horse drink, too, by shoving its face into the pond or other ignoble and possibly futile means, is great. But that's not empowering, which is all about enabling and encouraging people to make decisions and know they are making decisions, rather than finding excuses why they do this or that, or why life is giving them a hard time or whatever.

I hope this little bow of respect and acknowledgment of mine doesn't go to her head, for she has got a long way to go to get to the stage where she knows enough about the mind-body-sword thing to be able to claim that she 'knows' something substantial. But she's just started, and so I hope that her current attitude, which in certain regards qualifies as 'ornery', will see her through the traps along the way. That and an inherent earnestness, which is quite remarkable. 'Earnestness', as one should maybe point out, is different fron 'seriousness'. Give me a choice and I take the 'earnest' person anytime. By and large they are the ones you can rely on, and if you need a friend, earnest is very good indeed. And we all need friends. Real ones.

Anyway, this is one person whose presence I will definitely miss. And to her—in a paternal and respectful, but definitely 'friend' kind of way, for I regard her as such as well—I would like to say, as I have done to my daughters more times and in more ways than I can count, to always derive style from substance. It is possible to infer substance from style, of course, but the inference is usually tricky and laden with pitfalls—and is inaccurate much more frequently than it is not.

How to discern the 'substance' of any given thing? Well, yes, but who said it was going to be easy? If it were, many more people would do it, and not be who they are or do what they do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Moving (Part 4 of X): Disposing Of Possessions And Other Uncontrollable Events With Even More Uncontrollable Outcomes

Two basic polarities of possible answers:

  • "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot are you talking about? Of course you can control it, you 'tard!"
  • "Duh! What else is new? Nothing's ever under control."
The truth lies, of course, between those two extremes. Somewhere between them, who knows where and depending on the context. Intelligence may be measured by the degree to which a person—just a person; not talking about non-people here—is able and prepared to assess just exactly where that truth lies in any given situation, and to adapt their behavior accordingly in order to maximize the benefit to them and theirs.

This 'moving' crap is a classic case in point. House-selling is a major one: you can lead the horse to water and all that shit. Since said house is a major possession of ours and since we really can't actually control anything but the 'leading to water' bit, here's a cause for major stress and impatience; with 'faith' being sorely tested: faith that we're doing the right thing.

Ahh, faith. Usually and by the time it gets to this point—wherever that point is we're at right now—it at least appears entirely evidentially flimsy, to say the least. Sometimes, I guess, you just gotta hang in there. Actually, I take that back, you've always got to 'hang in there', because that kind-of the prerequisite for everything else.

And, yes, a decision was made, to take certain items of furniture that have been with us for decades; because ultimately we could never replace them, and even if we replaced them with crap it'll cost us much more than transporting it across the Tasman will. So, there's one lot of possessions we're not going to let go of. We were seriously thinking about it, but there's also the factor of selling this stuff, which could become quite a pain in the ass, and would probably have ended up with us being very unhappy about getting a pittance for what for us has some historical context-meaning. But this instantly doubled the volume of stuff we're taking. So much for living out of two suitcases!

To end with, allow me to change perspective from mundane matters of moving: to nudge some people I care about into directions I think they need to think about—and, yes, I know: you can lead a horse...blahblahrhubardrhubarb...—here are a few quotes from my current list of favorite sayings, some of which come from Randy Pausch's last lecture at CMU; some from other places. I know, they're just quotes, but they're good ones. Those to whom they are addressed—some of them to myself, as I don't mind admitting; but some definitely to very specific people—will hopefully understand that it is they I am talking to. So, here's to wishing they're reading and damn-well listening!
  • We cannot change the cards we're dealt; just how we play them.
  • Things more important than your childhood dreams: wife and kids.
  • Most of what we learn, we learn by learning something completely different than we think we're learning.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want something; and to keep out those who don't want it enough.
  • Wait a little longer and most people will surprise and impress you. If they're not doing it, it's possibly because you haven't given them enough time.
  • It's very important to know when you're in a pissing match; and it's very important to get out of it as quickly as possible.
  • You have to be lost to find a place that can't be found.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Experience Is What You Get When You Didn't Get What You Wanted

This is a line from Randy Pausch's final lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, at Carnegie Mellon on the 18 Sep 07.

It's such a good line that I'm not going to say anything further in this blog.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moving (Part 3 of X): The Rest Of The Junk

The garage sale done, now there are the leftovers, many of them destined for 'charity'. This includes everything from crummy furniture that should have been gotten rid of ages ago, as well as things like miscellaneous pieces of wood, plank, board and a gazillion cans of spray-paint that weren't used completely, to clothes. Moving from the very changeable climate of Dunedin, a minimum of two seasons in your average day, to, initially, Brisbane encourages one, even females, to look at one's extensive wardrobe with different eyes. I have a quite small personal 'wardrobe', much to the chagrin of my wife who would like more variety and imagination there I suppose, but even I was able to produce a small mountain of clothing of the why-do-I-still-have-this kind.

The purge continues, but I really want this part finished by next week, so I can focus on the next part, which is...more purges, of course. Like the wardrobe in the study, which isn't a wardrobe but a 'storage area' for documents, stationery, photos, plus a miscellany of things that will need to be taken, but should be sorted out.

Yeah, sorting out. Our lives are going from an emphasis on 'painting' to one on 'sorting out'. Time, methinks, to also decide just exactly what it is we're going to put into our hand-luggage. The weight there won't be clothing, not for the 30-odd degrees Celsius of Brisbane, but two laptops, a MacBook and a (secret and powerful ward-off-evil-sign placed in this position in the blog) Compaq Windoze machine, plus some external hard-drives, plus my Sony FX1 with the essential accessories. My graphics tablet. Some essential documents. My iaito, though I'll probably ship the bokuto with the bulk of our stuff. Doesn't sound like a lot of items, but everything is heavy and together we only have 40 kg allowance, plus whatever we can sneak in hanging from our shoulders as 'cabin baggage': that would be the laptops and the FX1.

Still, somehow all this pales into insignificance compared to something else: the need to sell our house and preferably soon. It's 'out there' now, www and Otago Property Press, and there will be a sign outside today or tomorrow.

OK, House, so please find yourself a good home. And do not dally!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Moving (Part 2 of X): Bargain Hunting Freaks

So we had this garage sale last Saturday. And I remembered why I don't like even going to garage sales. I guess it must be because I'm not of a disposition as most of those showing up: picking over people's possessions, which they're selling for whatever reason that's entirely their own business, and trying to get them for nothing.

OK, so I admit, I have been to garage sales, but it really isn't my scene. I don't think I've ever looked in a newspaper for whatever sales are 'on' and then try to go there for the specific purpose of seeing what I can get, preferably for next to nothing. In fact the only thing of any value I ever got at a garage sale, was in Atlanta Georgia, where I think my wife and I came quite late in the process; and I saw this watercolor painting, which not only was just $2—or maybe $5; it's been a while—but it instantly touched me; and I was telling myself "Why is this guy selling this for this kind of money? Doesn't he know what it's worth?" And, yes, it may indeed not be 'worth' anything much in monetary terms, but I really like it. The picture below doesn't do it justice, of course, but maybe you get a faint idea of why I was attracted to it. It's been with us ever since. I took it out of its crummy frame to scan it and then used Photoshop's 'Photomerge' to join the bits together. Works like a dream!

[Aside: Click on the image to see a larger version and scroll down to the bottom, where the signature is. Anybody have any suggestions what the actual name of the artist appears to be?]

Did I say anything to that guy who thought he should let it go for $2 or whatever? No. It was his choice to not appreciate what he had there, and I told myself that this total 'steal' went somewhere it was appreciated. And I was surprised that it was still there and someone else had not grabbed it well before we came along. Maybe nobody saw the value. Maybe the garage sale crowd was looking for something else. Not treasure but 'stuff' to be got cheap. But not everything is—in fact very little is—measurable in terms of monetary value. But at this garage sale at our place I saw far too many people who did think only that, and who came there to get something for nothing or next-to-nothing. Yeah, I know, what else is new? But that doesn't change the fact that I find it a sad reflection of futile materialism.

There were notable exceptions. Some really nice people showed up, too, who were respectful of the fact that this wasn't a shop, but a private place, and who stopped to chat about things other than whatever it is they wanted to scrounge. Some of them even gave me good advice on how to dispose of stuff that might be left over. To them I owe, because they were gems in a torrent of quarry rocks. And then there were a couple of buddies from work, who helped to carry stuff and kept an eye out while I wasn't able to look. To you, too, thanks. I'll make it up to you.

In other news: our house is now on the market and you'll find pics here. They'll be up for as long as the house is on the market; after that the link will not point at the right page anymore, I guess. Want a really lovely place In Dunedin, New Zealand? Here's your chance!

And that's all for today, because I've got far too much to do to be blogging.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Moving (Part 1 of X)

The technicalities of moving are, not to put too fine a point on it, a pain in the ass. Both buttocks, plus some choice jabs in other places.

This time it's harder than ever. This time we've been put for enough years to have accumulated so much junk! junk! junk! that it's like wading through...ahh, words fail me.

'Junk' differentiates itself from 'valuable things' by several sets of criteria; which are occasionally mixed up, as is usual in this untidy activity we call 'life':

  • monetary value
  • 'memory' value
  • 'might-come-in-handy' value
  • 'object per se' value
The money thing works like this: Is item X worth taking—cost and effort wise—or can we buy it at the other end? Do we actually need it anyway? Will disposing of it (maybe selling) and having to re-acquire it or a similar object, mean a lesser or greater cost, in monetary and/or practical terms than shipping it?

Memory: Does it 'mean' anything to us or our kids? Does it qualify as 'irreplaceable' in terms of what it is?

Might come in handy: A classification admitting an infinite variety of what is junk. Hence the best answer is: who cares? Still, sometimes the argument is pertinent and must be considered. Still, going to Brisbane taking thick woolen pullovers for those few days that the temperature might just drop to the point where they 'come in handy'...well, that seems kind of pointless.

Value per se: Like my set of the Vance Integral Edition, such objects may well have a monetary value; but the deciding factor is, again, what they 'mean'—in this case not in terms of 'memory' but whatever other value might be attendant to them. Since it's really an emotional value-judgment all sorts of objects come under that heading.

Such considerations right now are being applied to just about every one of our 'possessions'. Some are easily decided upon; others require more extended consideration.

Moving as we do is an exercise in serious possession purging; including my customary 1/3 of current books in my library; some of which have already been sold on TradeMe, New Zealands national version of eBay, just like my old eMac, which has now found a new home in Christchurch. Other books will hopefully go tomorrow at our massive garage sale, and the rest will be donated to some good cause like the traditional Dunedin Regent Book Sale.

Looking at the pile of stuff we're going to try and sell tomorrow from our driveway, I ask myself: how did we get this overloaded with junkjunkjunk?