tom thinks

date 2000-12-19:16:31
SelfConciousness I think I've finally found a Web browser that'll let me write this journal without crashing. Today I've tried:

Netscape (crashes with bus error when journal entries get long)
Lynx (textarea display does not wrap)
w3 (I hate emacs, crashes)
amaya (I can't tell if I'm editing the text or the html, crashes)

and at other times have tried:

Mozzilla (unusable, as is Netscape6)
HotJava (unusable--slow, ugly)

The browser I'm using now is w3m, a lynx-like text-based browser that cleverly uses and external editor for dealing with textareas. I've got it configured to use vi at the moment, which is not my favorite editor, but at least it doesn't crash!

This is a big improvement, although I've not tried publishing yet, so let's do that!
Play My attempts to build an ice-rink have yet to meet with any signficant success, although they've been an ongoing source of entertainment, especially to the kids.

Having failed to get the XYZ or whatever it is to freeze on my pastic rink lining, I've moved on to another approach. Off to one side of our property is a kind of swampy pond that drains into a gully through some segments of concrete pipe that lie loosely in a trough cut through the embankment that forms one side of the pond. Last summer I packed earth in more tightly around the central section of pipe and mixed some concrete left over from repairing the front step, in the hope of making the whole thing a bit more water-tight against the possibility that we might have a cold winter.

I didn't get around to blocking the pipe off earlier in the fall, though, and so the pond was mostly dry until the thaw we had last week. But it filled up a bit again, and I decided it was a good time to see if it could be made to fill. I blocked off the pipe with a bit of plank and packed wet, icy snow around the edges, hoping for a reasonable seal. I didn't get it. As near as I could tell, the flow rate at the outlet was completely unaffected. All I could see was a vigorous little rill eroding its way down the far side of the embankment, so I decided to climb down and have a closer look.

After falling through the roots and branches of a small cedar tree that has had most of its support worn away by the outflow, I could see that the water wasn't actually coming through the last segment of pipe at all. It was flowing down beneath the pipe somehow, and did indeed seem to be pouring out at an undiminished rate.

I reasoned that although the outlet was letting water through on all sides, the inlet and middle sections appeared sound, and so directed my attention to them. The pipe segments have gaps of six or ten inches between them where the water accumulates in pools between the banks of the trough. One of these gaps seemed to be the place where all the water was flowing, so I tried to seal it up. I first dug out all the rock and mud I could, working in the freezing water with shovel and bare hands.

I though I had everything cleared away and could see where the water was flowing out, and so tried to block it up, first with some flat rocks and mud, then with a plastic bag that I spread out to cover the whole outlet side of the pool. It was at this point I found out that the XYZ or whatever it is not only doesn't freeze, it also has zero viscosity, or possibly a molecular size that is so tiny that, like helium, it slips through the interstices of the most tightly woven net of atoms. So far as I could tell, the plastic sealed the leak about as well as seive would catch raindrops.

I had a couple of bags of mortar left over from another project, and at this point I was annoyed enough to dump them into the gap, hoping they would have some effect. They did--the flow at the outlet of that section of pipe almost immediately dropped to a trickle. The ultimate outlet flow, however, went sloshing on as merrily as ever.

I now believe there is a wormhole connecting the outlet flow to the middle of the pond via a hyperspatial shunt, and stopping up the pond will require a massive feat of subspace engineering that won't be possible until late in the 23rd century.

When I was a small child--certainly no more than eight or so--I remember building a dam across a pipe that ran under a road. It started with a framework of twigs at the outflow end. By adding sticks to the network I was able to slap mud and sand onto it fast enough to block the flow and then pack more on, finally ending up with a cap that sealed the pipe over entirely. The water slowly backed up, filling the pipe and creating a considerable pond on the far side, much to my delight. Then I took a tiny straw of grass--no more than a millimeter in diameter--and pushed it though the surface of my cap-dam.

A small trickle of water dribbled out, carrying a few more grains of sand with it, opening the hole a tiny bit wider. Then more, and more and more... within a minute or two the dam had collapsed and the pool was draining, flooding the ditch beyond.

Nature can sometimes sustain a static situation for a while. But most statis depends on a careful balance of forces, and when one of them is disturbed, even by a tiny amount, it typically throws the static system entirely out of equilibrium, until a new equilibrium is reached. The new equilibrium, like the flow of water, will almost always be dynamic, depending on the balance of moving forces, and therefore far more robust than the static equilibrium it suplanted.
Reading I typically have multiple books on the go at once. I get bored easily, and being able to switch back and forth between different works keeps me entertained.

I often have both "active" and "inactive" books. An active book is one that I'm reading more-or-less every day. An inactive book is one that I'm still current with in my mind, but not actually reading at the moment. Something I've started and intend to finish, but am not currently planning to spend any time with. A book can be inactive for a long time--years, even. I've been reading Canterbury Tales in the original English like this for almost a decade, at the rate of a couple of tales per year, as the fancy takes me. Any book that I feel if I pick it up, I don't need to start again at the beginning, is "inactive" rather than something I'm not reading.

Currently, apart from Chaucer, Spencer's Faerie Queen is on my inactive list. I'm stopped somewhere fairly early on, in the second or third canto, waiting on my knowledge of Elizabethan poetry, religion and politics to catch up to the text. St. George is in the convent learning the error of his ways. I found a reader's guide to the poem a short time after starting it, and a quick perusal of that suggested that I needed more background than I had on the Elizabethan scene to appreciate it properly. So I'm biding my time, but sometime fairly soon I think I'm likely to get back to it in a serious way.

On my active list, as well as the hateful Iliad and the increasingly turgid Tom Jones I've recently added a delightful little book by some Swedish guy, recently translated into English, that is the fictional autobiography of Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame. The translator has done a great job of catching the cadences of Silver's (that is, Stephenson's) language, but I can't help but wonder: how does an 18th century English pirate sound in Swedish?

I have visions of the Swedish chef from the Muppets wielding his cleaver like a cutlass...

My active non-fiction reading is still Melody Beatie's Codependent No More, which is full of good interesting stuff. I particularly like her take on emotions, where she argues for three aspects of emotionality, the first two of which do not reflect on our moral character. The first is simply the feeling itself. She argues that we shouldn't judge ourselves for having particular feelings--they are facts about us, but not the kind of facts we should morally judge, any more than we should morally judge how strong we are.

The second aspect is thinking about our emotions, trying to understand why we feel as we do. Here, too, there is not much room for judgement--feeling things for reasons we believe to be unworthy does not make us bad people. We'd only be bad people if we believed those reasons to worthy. We are not in conscious control of the internal logic of our emotions, and so should not hold ourselves directly responsible for it.

The third aspect is how we act in response to our emotions and our thinking abou them. Here is where moral judgement comes into play. If we have emotional responses that impell us to do bad things, and we reflect on them and decide that we have lousy reasons for feeling that way, and we still go ahead and do what they impell us to do, then we are bad people.

Growing up as a deeply emotional person in an environment where emotional expression, especially amongst boys, was derogated, it was far to easy to try to stem the "problem" at it's root and try to repress the emotions themselves, which short-ciruits the whole process Beatie is writing about. If we don't let ourselves feel our emotions, we won't be able to reflect on them and we won't therefore be able to act on them in the light of that reflection.

But we will still act on them, and that is a very bad thing.

Only by feeling and reflecting deeply can we do justice to ourselves, and others.

Find Enlightenment