30 December 2008

My Generation

My generation was among the first to grow up with television and certainly the first to grow up with satellite and cable television, and lately I've been thinking of what an impact this has had on me and my peers. It's made some of us very unique people but it's spawned a generation of people who are capable of carrying on entire conversations completely comprised of quotes from 1980s and 1990s television shows.

I don't feel like I need to apologize for that though. My generation's appreciation of campiness and irony is part of what I love about it, not just an annoyance to me. People in my generation are extremely comfortable relating to each other via television shows they watch. At first I found this revelation disquieting, but now I realize maybe it's not that bad. I might say the same about previous generations and sporting events or soap operas. I really wonder what my generation's "who shot JR" would be. Maybe the "who shot Mr. Burns" cliffhanger from The Simpsons? Remember that episode?

Stay tuned, space cadets.

28 December 2008

Looking for Toynbee idea tiles with my mom

I spent the few days before xmas at my mother's in Saint Louis, and in the process I got out for a while with my mom to look for Toynbee idea tiles downtown. I'd previously, through my own research here in Chicago, learned of a handful down there, and my mom had photographed some. 


Pictured above is a particularly wrecked up tile. There are more photos available on my mom's flickr set, and in particular I think it's fascinating how the older tiles seem to have decayed. Here's one that's a little bit more intact:


This one's missing the paragraph at the bottom but it's completely together as if it was meant to be there. That's what's so striking about them: they fit in perfectly but they're so alien. Walking around downtown Saint Louis you might never notice them, but your eyes glance downward and you see that what you thought was just random schmutz on the pavement is actually this colourful tile full of bizarre nonsensical rhetoric.

They are all placed in such busy places though, which is the most frustrating thing about the whole affair for me. The only one I could find in Chicago was in one of the busiest areas of Chicago—at least as far as foot traffic goes. So not only does this mean that whoever placed these tiles had ninja-like powers of invisibility, but it also means they are very difficult to examine in much detail. They're all in the middle of the street, usually on crosswalks, typically visible easily from the curb, but I've still never really been able to get really close to one. Partly that's because I'm not really into squatting down and closely examining parts of crosswalks while I'm supposed to be walking across them.

I took photos of my own which are available on my flickr page, too. More info here or on my flickr page as I look at the photos some more.

Stay curious, space cadets.

16 December 2008

New Car

Bought a new (to me, anyway) car over the past weekend, a 2006 Suzuki Aerio. So adorable. It even behaves itself pretty decently in the Chicago winter, with the exception of a couple of ice-related glitches. Next investment is definitely one of those little scraper doohickies. Paid for part when I got it on Friday and the rest today. It was no easy job, either; the roads and the sidewalks are extremely treacherous today.

( continued the following day )

The roads have been cleared mostly so I think tonight is a good night to go to Fry's and buy a new hard drive for Biscuit. I need one of those doohickies for clearing snow off your car first though! Little Suzi's pretty well buried out there and I dunno if I can dig her out by hand so effectively.

Already having a car has afforded me a level of freedom that, honestly, would have been totally worth the hassle of keeping my Mercedes in the first place. C'est la vie, I guess, and many lessons learned. Living in a city is absolutely wonderful until the Winter hits. Chicago's winter is a grand equalizing force in that she inconveniences all of us the same no matter where we live. The hardest parts of your commute are always getting to and from that train station, and you either trudge through snow or make your way across vast sheets of ice that seem to love to cover sidewalks especially. If someone were to make a sort of "urban crampon" for urban exploration on ice, they'd make billions probably, 'cause nobody ever salts the sidewalks. Worst yet, a lot of people salt them and don't clear away the dirty melty snow byproducts. Chicago's winter has already claimed at least one pair of my shoes (my first pair of Doc Marten boots, being not of the steel toed variety, were far weaker).

Here in the Chicago winter only the strong survive, and it's only just now beginning. Stay warm, space cadets.

04 December 2008

New Eee PC

Got an Eee PC 900 (linux) the other day and I've been tinkering with it since then. Mine's the 900 (nine inches wide, 900MHz processor, 2GiB RAM, 16GiB SDD, cute as nails).

I have to come right out and say it, the operating system that comes with the linux Eee PCs is absolutely terrible. Xandros, as it is known, is such a failure in every possible sense of the word. It's clearly intended for either small children or extremely casual PC users (web and email, mayyyyyyybe a document written every once in a rare while). Changing anything about the operating system or it's programs is difficult to say the least. Programs are categorized according to "work", "play", "internet", etc., but the taxonomy is hardly specific enough to be useful, nor generic enough not to get in your way. One example of many questionable choices, the filesystem browser is filed under "work", for some reason (presumably because Xandros's committee of architects have never had to move files around for non-business purposes). 

Don't get me wrong. Xandros's simplicity could be its strength. It is based off Ubuntu but uses its own apt repository, which for such a special-purpose computer as an Eee is a great idea. Seriously. Maybe the trouble is that Asus hasn't really put a lot of thought into what should go into that repository. While I recognize that the desktop UI, which looks straight up lifted from something Apple tried back in the bad old times of the mid-nineties, is good for newbies, it leaves a lot to be desired from the power user. The main advantages to Xandros are that it comes with working Flash, sound, and Wifi drivers.

Which brings me to the resolution of my adventure: Xubuntu Eee. Super ridiculously easy. You boot from a liveCD on another computer, use a program included on the liveCD to load the operating system and installers onto a USB drive, then boot the Eee from the USB drive. Amazing. Details courtesy of Ars Technica.

Later, space cadets.

22 November 2008

Seasonal Affective Disorder or just general-purpose malaise?

Now that I'm back to working from home this past month, it's been really weird for me. Much as I hate commuting it forces you into a daily routine, which is somewhat comforting particularly in the winter time. Ironically that's also when I hate the actual process of commuting the most. The combination of working by myself in my apartment and being really unable to get anywhere except by bus makes for a pretty depressing situation sometimes.

I mean I'm here... and I'm working. I could work elsewhere but that means trudging through and then standing in the cold to go to a café where I could maybe spend 2-3 hours without severely overcaffeinating myself, then I'd need to trudge home. It doesn't sound like a big deal but being out in the cold can seriously tire you out. Just the process of being out and staying warm is exhausting sometimes.

I've been working too much and being lazy too much, and my apartment's still not fully organized. Having a car will help because I can go pick up some essentials that are missing, but even the process of looking for a car is made more difficult by my location. Being far from public transit and not already owning a car, it's difficult to go searching for one by my usual means (craigslist), and I refuse to go to a lot. 

The overall result is just this general-purpose malaise that the weather certainly isn't helping. During Chicago winters I usually stay in as much as possible, taking occasional breaks to go out and drink alcohol to keep myself warm. I fear this winter won't be too different from that. We'll see.

Hibernate 'til spring, space cadets.

09 November 2008

RubyConf 2008

I'm finally back in Chicago after a long weekend in Orlando, FL, at RubyConf '08. As my first large-ish conference I really don't have a lot to compare it to besides Great Lakes Ruby Bash earlier this year, but I've gotta say it was a pretty great time. There's something about Ruby programmers, I think, or maybe it's something about us that makes us want to become Ruby programmers. It's really very simple: we're doing this because we love it.

We do. Programming PHP was a job to me. Programming python was a slightly more enjoyable job but it still felt like work. Programming in Ruby feels as relaxing to me as painting does. It's not just a job to me, and I'm passionate about it; I get the feeling that I'm definitely not the only one and that's pretty cool.

All around a pretty good crowd and a pretty good weekend. A lot of scotch and bourbon was consumed. I'm glad I made the decision to avoid the free beer Saturday night on account of everybody was way too hung over the next day and I felt just fine. Had a good time anyway, paid far too much for some bourbon at the hotel bar, and observed the bizarre crowd at the hotel bar. I don't think any of those people were prepared to see the hotel lobby filled 24/7 with bearded nerds on laptops, but whatever. We're cooler than the tanning bed convention folk anyway. 

Once I get some of my thoughts together on the conference and the world I'll write some more. Ciao ciao space cadets!

30 October 2008

Leaping from the Edge of Earth

My esteemed colleague Nick shared this Boards of Canada video with me earlier. Part of the footage used is from Joseph Kittinger's famous Project Excelsior flight.

The more I think about it and the more I watch the footage, the more strikingly amazing this achievement is to me. From an open gondola 102,800 feet above sea level (that's about three times the altitude of Everest's summit and more than twice the maximum cruising altitude of a commercial airliner), he jumped with a parachute strapped to his back. From that high, the edge of the Earth's atmosphere is clearly visible against the black background of empty space. From that height, when you jump, you can't hear air rushing past you for several seconds because there is none.

When you describe it at first, it sounds so violent and terrifying, but I imagine that moment as being most tranquil, those few quiet seconds before the hot roar of reentry. You would drop for miles before your parachute could even function properly, and then thousands of feet before finally reaching the ground, but I think those first few seconds would last forever.

Just thought I would share. Until we meet again, space cadets.

20 October 2008

Living in the Fake America

Okay I don't really write about politics here very often, but this is something that really pissed me off as a city dweller and as a man who makes his living pushing pixels.

I am so tired of this mentality, put forth by the likes of John McCain and especially Sarah Palin, that because I'm a liberal (though I prefer the term "progressive") and I live in a city I'm not part of the "real America". It all started when Sarah Palin said "We grow good people in our small towns". Oh yeah? Well we grow good people in our cities, too, missy, and we grow more of them! We have hundreds of thousands of people in our big cities. In fact, most of the population of this country is in cities. Being as we have a democratic government of a sort (it's a republic but whatever) it would seem that since there's more of us city folk we should definitely have a voice in the way our government is run, and the direction in which our country is headed.

I live in Chicago, which I believe to be one of the best cities in the whole world. I love it here. I don't have a blue collar job anymore. I used to (printing press operator, screenprinter), but I don't now. I'm a pixel pusher and bit twiddler (designer and programmer, for those who can't understand the vernacular), not an unlicensed non-union plumber. I feel, though, that as a citizen of this country my opinion should still matter. I still vote and I still pay taxes, so I should have a say. That's how it works.

If only people who live in small towns are the "real America", if only rabidly anti-choice people are the "real America", if only young-earth creationists are the "real America", if only people like Sarah Palin are the "real America", then count me out. I have news for you, Sarah. We city people run this economy, we spend most of the money, we pay most of the taxes, we have the most people. Your "real America", though it takes up more actual space, is actually quite small. I don't think I'm any less "real" than Joe the fake plumber or this Joe Sikspac Sarah Palin keeps talking about.

We all have our idea of what this country ought to be like. The beauty of our system is that no one person gets to decide that. We all decide it together. If that's not good enough for them, then maybe they should go start their own country, oh, right, Sarah Palin already wants to do that.

Pay attention and stay strong, space cadets. Over and out.

30 September 2008

Trash-Talking the Competition

Look I'm not gonna bullshit anybody here; I'm going to come right out and say this. I believe that I have found the worst website on the Internet. It is the 2Advanced Studios website. Yes that's right. The worst website in the world is for a web design firm. Oh the sweet sweet irony of it.

On loading the website you're treated to a bewilderingly long eight second load animation. It's hard to imagine many company websites that are worth an eight second wait, but I was willing to live with that. The landing page is an expansive Aztek-inspired cityscape that looks like something that would be airbrushed on the side of a conversion van in Tijuana. Okay. That's fine too. It's not my style but it's gotta be someone's.

The first thing that I would say was morally objectionable web design is the navigation. The navigation is not normally expanded, and once expanded gives you a few options. Each of these opens the next tier of its hierarchy in the next column, and the next tier operates the same way. If you mouse off of the menu it vanishes to give you a better view of that futuristic Tenochtitlán. Cool, right? So to navigate the site you have to hit a series of 10px tall targets in sequence or have to start all over again. Clicking on any of these will result in another load animation and a change of background. The common theme seems to be Aztek pyramids. Oh and check this out! The best part is that every page has a "hide/show content" button you can press if you wanted to check out that sweet background just one more time. 

This website is upfront and unabashed about it's, if you'll forgive the pun, flashiness. Being a man for whom having flash-based navigation for a website is a cardinal sin, I frown upon such flashturbation. It cheapens the whole industry.

Here's what I don't get, though. If their website is to be believed they have tons of cred. They list an impressive list of projects they've worked on and a decent list of clients. There's even extensive awards and magazine articles. Recent ones, too, but I hadn't heard of any of the magazines. Their work is mentioned in a couple of books on Flash design, too. It's puzzling to me because their portfolio is filled with the most gaudy and disgusting examples of flashturbation, and their own website is just terrible. If these guys can somehow make it then maybe I've got a chance in this business after all.

Wish me luck, space cadets.

27 September 2008


I've always been intrigued by culture jamming and graffiti, and I love mysterious things, so it's inevitable that some day I would come across Toynbee idea tiles in my daily musings. I'd read about them a few months ago I think on Damn Interesting or, more likely, on the Wikipedia category for mysteries, which I frequently read. After a hiatus I became interested in them again, this time searching for a list of known tile locations. I found one, but it was on the now-defunct toynbee.net. It is still available through the gracious services of the Internet Wayback Machine though.

After work one day last week I didn't quite feel like going home, so I walked up to the shopping district around the Hancock building. It was a spontaneous outing but my current contract is very close to that area of Chicago, just a few blocks. As I got closer I started to get kind of excited though. I'd been in the Hancock/Water Tower district of Chicago many times but had never really paid this much attention. I found myself looking down at my feet while I walked over every crosswalk, stopping sometimes to inspect an anomalous bit of tar on the asphalt. As I walked around, passing intersections I knew once had tiles, I could see tiny remnants at best. I found myself questioning whether I'd seen what I'd seen, little scraps of blackened tar without the distinctive lettering of one of the tiles. All the while I was marveling at how many people were surrounding me, how many cars were passing, and just how busy this part of Chicago is all the time. How could he, the one responsible, have successfully placed so many in this, the busiest part of Chicago? It truly is an amazing achievement that he was never caught in the act. All we have of his identity is whispers in the media from the 1970s and an address in Philadelphia (from the Santiago, Chile tiles) that is probably wrong.

I was close to giving up on the search. The city of Chicago has stated that they see the tiles as vandalism (a difference of opinion they have with Philadelphia, the likely birthplace of the tiles, where they are seen as being worthy of some preservation), so most likely they were all destroyed by the time I set about my search. I did find one, though, at the next-to-last location I would search. Just barely visible on the northmost edge of the northmost stripe of the crosswalk between Water Tower Place and the Hancock building were the words "TOYNBEE IDEA".

It was that moment that I had been seeking, the moment when this phenomenon I'd only read about became a real, tangible thing. I don't know how old the tile was, nor how just that one line of it had survived and the rest had gone away, but I was thankful to see my momentary obsession rewarded. The tile looked like it was made with hardened modeling clay and despite its age the colours in the type still contrasted neatly with the white of the crosswalk stripe, and with the white backing of the tile. I knew from my research that it was made of true linoleum—apparently difficult to come by in the United States—and despite the sloppiness of the letters they were at least consistent across tiles. They looked as though they'd been fabricated and placed very carefully just there. There was purpose to it, as though the tiler had wanted his work to be as visible as possible. Yet he put them all on streets where no one looks down.

If the tiler was indeed insane—and I think by the paranoid inscriptions frequently found beneath tiles he probably was—I would at least like to know what idea it was he was trying to spread. The idea of resurrecting the dead on Jupiter is so outside the realm of possibility that it bears no consideration, but what if there's a shallower meaning behind all of it, and the tile text is inconsequential to that? Perhaps it's his attempt at metaphor.

I don't think we'll ever know.

16 September 2008

Tearing Down the Enterprise

I've been working as a contract web developer on and off for a couple of years now, and I've seen some pretty bizarre enterprise applications in my day. I've worked with Microsoft business applications before and now PeopleSoft for time reporting, and I've got to say...

We deserve better.

I don't mean "we" as in contract web developers or even "we" as in freelancers in general. I mean that the entire business as a whole deserves better, freelancers, companies, and full-time employees. If, in 2008, these applications are really the best that is possible, that just makes me want to cry. Let's look at PeopleSoft since it's the freshest in my memory.

Absolutely every interaction with the page (it's web-based) generates a post-back, which just seems unnecessary. I know it's mostly a consequence of using Microsoft technologies, but it's really annoying when merely reloading a page or hitting your browser's "back" button can completely hose whatever it was you were doing. To enter hours, you have to scroll horizontally (a huuuuge inconvenience for anyone who doesn't have a mouse that scrolls sideways), and furthermore not all the information you need is in one column so you have to scrub back and forth sometimes. Also, there is too much information on the page, your changes aren't autosaved even though with postbacks clearly that would be possible (it appears to have been omitted intentionally), but that's not really the problem here.

The problem is that there's too much information in the system, there's only one path to each page in the system, and none of the steps to get there are named intuitively. This is a huge problem. Web applications especially need multiple paths for each process. You need to be able to get to the timesheet application multiple ways. It sounds silly at first but as you use the web and use computers more you realize that not everybody does things the way you do. I use my keyboard almost exclusively but I know people who are much more comfortable actually browsing through menus rather than remembering keyboard shortcuts. This is an important distinction and if an application were to omit one of these methods half the people would feel alienated. I would personally hate having to browse menus for things all the time and many others would hate having to remember tons of key combinations. These are the people who would rather use WordPad than vim or emacs. And you know what? That's fine. There is no "right" way to interact with an application. Don't impose one on your users.

The naming and clutter are serious problems. As a contractor I do not need to see the options for vacation time. Also, it doesn't make a goddamn bit of sense that the area for me to enter my hours is under "Travel and Expenses". I am neither traveling nor am I expensing things. As a contractor, in fact, I am an expense. Further complicating the process is that even the travel and expense center is under "Employee Self-Service". I am not an employee, so this wasn't really the first place I looked when I was first using PeopleSoft.

I think the true gauge of the success of an application is how much training is required to use it. Obviously this isn't true of specialty applications like Photoshop or Illustrator or even things like vim. These are applications that you have to learn to use, and that's fine because if you're learning to use them clearly you have a task that requires them. For an application like this that a wide variety of people must use—and use quickly so that it doesn't take up a significant portion of their day—it is absolutely unforgivable that it be so complex it requires training of any kind. A contractor should be able to come into a system, enter his/her hours, and get out so quickly and intuitively that s/he hardly notices the task. Entering hours is not hard work, so it should be a trivial part of your day.

Something must be done about this situation. It should never be the case that you're spending significant amounts of your time cursing your software. The software should be a transparent layer, an extension of your mind into the abstract world. You shouldn't even notice it.

My point is that the world deserves software that is enterprise-capable, but not enterprise-like. The world deserves software that works with users not against them, that knows when to assist and when to get out of the way. All it'll take is a couple of companies seeing their productivity suddenly jump for the change to start.

I'll see you all at the enterprise revolution, space cadets.

07 August 2008

Moving and an Unexpected Time Capsule

I just finished moving. Just now. Mere moments ago. It has been a crazy adventure. I would've liked to have stayed in Wicker Park until I could buy a place but, well, shit happens. My landlord wanted to move the rest of his kids into the building and normally I would've protested but Jay's been a really great landlord. He's been really tolerant when I've been late on my rent, and he and his family have always helped me out when I've needed a hand with something. So, honestly, who was I to protest? At the time I had been meaning to buy a place anyway but we all know what happened there. It's alright though. I got myself a nice new apartment with new stuff and an adequately sized office (!!!). It's the kind of place that probably would house two people, but it's just me and Villainous Industries over here.

To do the final push of my move I borrowed a Honda Element from iGo Cars. If you're a Chicagoan and you don't own a car for whatever reason, it's a pretty decent option for quick trips to and from the grocery store or, in this case, moving a desk and some random crap. The iGo cars actually come with CDs of music from local Chicago bands on them, which is awesome, but I've already heard all those bands so I browsed through my old CDs. I found this old mix that I used to run to. Really wild. My first thought was, Wait... I used to run with CDs?, but after that initial reaction I popped it in and was immediately taken back through time to when I used to run a couple of miles every night and listened to a bizarre mixture of punk rock and electronica.

It's so weird how you change through life, and how you always listen to the same music but the particulars change. I've been into these same genres of music nearly as far back as I can remember. I remember the first time I heard hip hop: my father was really into it when it was a new thing. De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising was the first hip hop album I listened to. That was in my CD case too.

Mix CDs are such an interesting thing and it's so easy to discard them as ancient technology. If you want to burn a CD of music now (a CD? How very quaint!) you can fit hours of music on it. If you're into burning DVDs and have a car that can read them, you can fit days of music on one. I have a music library that would take months to listen to all the way through, yet on a day to day basis I listen to what I'm listening to around that time. It's whatever's new or whatever I haven't heard in a while. My iPod is never on shuffle, and maybe it should be more often. Sometimes I'm surprised by terrible music that someone else has uploaded to my server, sometimes I'm surprised by some little nugget of awesome that I've accidentally overlooked or haven't heard in years. It's kind of wild. So, I don't think it's a trick I'd pull at a party unless it was a pre-approved playlist, but it's something I'd try walking around. I think I'd have to skip if it landed on John Cage or Frank Zappa's seminal piece, "Lumpy Gravy". Actually no. I'd wait 'til the end of the main theme then skip "Lumpy Gravy".

31 July 2008

Some New Sites

For your webernetting pleasure, I have launched three websites last week: one for my portfolio and two side projects.

Seeninchicago.com is a photo sharing site with an emphasis on the geography of Chicago, dreamt up by my friend Sarah and me. There's the possibility of a national or international launch later, but for now it's just interesting stuff that people have seen in the city of Chicago. It's still very much a work in progress so be nice and keep checking back to see what kinds of cool stuff we come up with.

Fortunator, currently residing at dangerouscuteness.com is an experiment to see how varied the fortunes in fortune cookies are. If you have fortunes to enter in, please do so and, once I've added support for it, tell me where you got them. The eventual idea is to be able to connect chinese food restaurants across the country using the fortunes they offer. Stay tuned for some support for geocoding and possibly reviews.

My design and development portfolio is now available at max.dangerouscuteness.com. It's still incomplete but some of the more significant stuff from my portfolio can be found there. I'll be adding more to it soon, too. 

22 July 2008

Your Next Favourite Band

max thom stahl
2:15 yeah.....
2:16 One of only three or four really famous things to come out of UCSC.
2:16 The others being David Huffman and the Human Genome Project.
2:16 Oh shit. I think I just named my next band.....

2:16 Hahahaha

max thom stahl
2:16 holy shit.
2:17 All our songs would be written in such a manner that they could compress really well.

2:17 I will totally get in on that, son.

13 July 2008

The Protomen Rock; That is All

Ok. So.

The Protomen fucking ROCKED, but let me back up for a second here....

I went to view two apartments today. One of them I was pretty set on but the other one I was kinda so-so on. The second one got shown by this guy Kyle who's just getting into the real estate biz. We got to talking about my Tetris machine and such, and he told me I should go to this Protomen show, so I did. I got there way too early though 'cause the website was all jacked up and said the show started at 7 when it really started at 9.45. So I hung out at the café nearby for a while and overheard people at the table next to me talking about The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which is a pretty goddamn awesome documentary about Steve Weibe. Steve Weibe now unofficially holds the world's highest score at Donkey Kong (officially second of all time), generally considered the hardest of all arcade games. Pretty impressive.

Anyways so I parted ways with the café crowd but they were at the show later AND they knew Kyle too. So I met up with all of them at the show.

The show was unbelievable. The lead singer wears a motorcycle helmet with a microphone embedded in it and holds an arm cannon made out of PVC pipe. There's a guy with a silver robot mask that occasionally walks through the crowd and gestures at people (and I suspect he was one of the people in the balconies of the church playing the horn). Oh yeah did I mention this was another show at that abandoned church on the south side? Yeah, so there was that level of awesomeness added too. 

Anyways there were about 12 people on stage, including four female vocalists forming a choir. The guy in the megaman helmet played keyboard and sang and all the other people wore crazy silver makeup. The minute the lead singer busted on into a screaming keytar solo, I knew I was in for a show that would tax my ability to handle awesomeness. 

After the show Kyle, his roommates, all the people from the café and I got provisions at a local 7/11 then headed off to Kyle's apartment to watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and get drunk. I ended up spending most of that time talking to a freelance film guy who's also a tremendous comic book geek and also lives in Wicker Park right down the street from me. 

Amazing. It seriously is amazing how unbelievably random life can be and how the sheer randomness of it all produces such symmetry. Seriously once in a while there's an epically random night like that where I think the Universe is just a pretty awesome place to be. 

25 June 2008

The Most Asinine Thing Ever

Got a phone call early this morning (9am) from Wamu saying they couldn't issue my loan, even after all the paperwork had been shuffled around and I'd spent a month assuming that whole mortgage thing was well in hand. Their reason: not enough units in the condo building had sold yet. WHAT? Seriously? I mean... really? The phone call woke me up, so I had a hard time processing it, that somewhere on the other end of that telephone call there was someone saying this with a straight face. After a couple of questions to confirm that the lady at Wamu wasn't just yanking my chain and making shit up, it appeared that it really was like that.

I sprang into action, making some phone calls and emailing people. Got in touch with another mortgage broker with whom I'd worked before getting bamboozled by Wamu. He seemed optimistic until he found out that I lost my job a couple of weeks ago. I am absolutely confident that I'll be able to pay my bills just fine but it's hard to transfer that confidence to a lender in this market. I understand that. But still, I really do feel like none of this was my fault and I've just been royally screwed. I have put months of effort and a non-trivial amount of my time and money into this venture and now it is folding because of a bank's incompetence combined with Fave Media's decision to let me go, which I also contest.

I don't really know what to do right now. Go back to school? Get another full-time job that I'll inevitably hate after just a few short months? Try to work for myself (in a rented apartment... grrrrrr) and make it really work then buy an apartment two years from now—inevitably in a less favourable market? None of the options seem so great.

The Fave thing still really burns me a little. I just really feel like my perspective on what was going on was never really consulted and when offered it was never acknowledged. We all have our own opinions of what people can be expected to do for what amount of money, and for me I thought I was a programmer who would be doing a little bit of systems administration. As a sysadmin I think I did a really great job, and as a programmer when left to my own devices I think I performed similarly. The work environment at Fave, the requirement that I be in the office during business hours when the other programmer had no such requirement, the constant interruptions, and the increasingly unreasonable demands that I fix all the windows PCs in the office, were all very detrimental to my productivity.

I don't know if that perfect work environment for me really exists or if I'll be able to sufficiently convince the proprietors thereof that hiring me would be a good idea. I hope it does, because it's not my fault that I can't sleep at night and it's not my fault that four years of college for theoretical computer science didn't teach me how to set up printers in Windows XP. When I'm in a cooperative environment with coworkers that I like and respect, where I'm not interrupted often and where I'm not spread too thin, I absolutely excel. When I'm in an environment where I'm absolutely everybody's first-tier tech support guy, I don't, and I think that's perfectly understandable. 

This whole thing just leaves me feeling ill.

09 June 2008

to the asshole in the lexus

You know. The one that zoomed past me while I was waiting for the bus and summarily transferred the entire liquid contents of a muddy puddle from the gutter to me. Yeah. You, asshole. Not many of the people you splashed today can memorize the license plate of a car while it's still speeding away, but at least one of us can. 

The fat man walks alone. Your days are numbered, Lexus.

01 June 2008

Space-Time Inflation in a Shrinking World

I was in another of my very pensive moods this weekend. I realized very suddenly, for not the first time in my life I suppose, that there is a disparity between how much of my time I spend in the real world (meatspace) and how much of my time I spend in the virtual world. When I was little my imagination ran wild, hopped up on pulp science fiction and cyberpunk literature, envisioning a world where very little of your interaction with the outside world would be so personal. Rationality would reign supreme and—this is getting a little personal over here—my own inexorable evolution into a breathing machine would be socially acceptable.

We're all humans though. We are social creatures and we interact most effectively in person. 93% of communication between us is non-verbal in nature. The gestures, the facial expressions, the subtle and almost imperceptible changes in our posture as we talk, are all so essential to sociality that we feel isolated and estranged without them. I feel isolated and estranged. I have friends all over this country and in different parts of the world. These are real people that I have spent significant amount of time with, but we do not live in the same location anymore. Some of them we never lived in the same place and we know each other mostly through this medium: text.

When I went to Santa Cruz that last time, I found that everybody had changed in ways that were difficult to see in the text that went back and forth, even in the phone calls going back and forth. There were people to whom I'd spoken regularly who seemed like strangers to me when I arrived. Their views on the world had changed; their views on me had changed. I was so sad. Obviously I couldn't expect to leave a place and have it in a deep freeze until I went back. I couldn't expect that at all, but it still surprised me how much had changed, and I came to a conclusion. In the absence of sufficient social information conveyed in conversation, you assume people feel about you how you feel about them. I think this is just a baseline human condition and I got royally screwed by it.

This is a weird time though. It used to be when you went off to school you might possibly keep in touch with one or two friends via postcards or hand-written letters back and forth. People would keep their letters and if you were famous they'd get published after you died as your complete correspondence. I have a few such books (most enjoyable among them: Hunter S. Thompson's complete correspondence). Now we have the Internet, and the world is smaller and smaller all the time. We can get anywhere in the world within a couple of days by plane or by train. For a while there we had supersonic flight available for the general public but now we just have ridiculously overpriced regular flights, and they're getting slower and more expensive because of the price of oil. We can keep in touch with an unlimited number of people though. People who knew me when I was in grade school  can find me on Facebook, read my blog, follow me on Twitter, and see what I've been browsing on my Del.icio.us links. It's amazing, but it also provides me with this profound sense of isolation. The people that I love the most are everywhere but here, and that is sad enough to me right now that it is not offset adequately by the fact that I have more friends total than anyone fifty years ago would ever have time for. But how well do I know them all? How well do they know me?

I had friends in California that I cared about a great deal when I was living there. Those feelings have deepened considerably for some of them since then. For some, they have dampened and now I no longer feel that way. But my perceptions are my own and can't really be mirrored in the other person exactly so. I wish there were a way to figure it all out but there isn't really.

I swore I wouldn't go back the last time I went. I swore it was my last trip to Santa Cruz, and maybe it still should be. Absolutely everything possible went wrong that trip, including flight mishaps, lost work time, and crippling computer troubles. On top of all that I just really didn't have a good time. I didn't see all the people I wanted to see, didn't do anything that I wanted to do, and the whole time I was haunted by the spectre of work. I need a real vacation. I have actually never had one since I've begun my career. I need a real vacation where all I take is a couple of changes of clothes and a cell phone, which will spend most of its time switched off. I might need to take a vacation to somewhere I've never been before, too. I just need to pull myself out of this funk I'm in, this rut. I just need to escape.

24 May 2008

i am the greatest!

Got this week's #1 high score at Fairway to Hell, a flash game available on Adultswim.com

Fairway to Hell High Scores

Oh yes that's right. Number one! Booyah!!

20 May 2008

goddamn raccoons!

I volunteered to help my friend Steve shoot some stills for a school project he's doing. We chose this one park north of Belmont at the lake shore that was alongside a golf course as the location, set up, then waited for dusk. The scene the stills were for was at night, so we needed it to be super dark out and take long exposures. As we were walking down the path . . . we heard all manner of scurryings coming from a nearby bush. I looked over there and dozens of raccoons stared back. I was so creeped out!

We took five seconds worth of stills in the dead of night surrounded by raccoons. I'm still a little shell-shocked.

09 May 2008

Saving the Precious Internets

As I'm sure some of my readers know, even the best networks are fragile things. The slightest thing from someone tripping over a cable in the dark to something as simple as a tornado can bring them down. I had a mysterious issue with the Fave network earlier this week that was infinitely perplexing.

I have been in the process of porting all our phones from one VoIP provider to another, and in the process have ported about 1/3rd of our phones. Very suddenly the other day all of the phones from the old provider went down simultaneously. My initial thought was that the T1, also from that same provider and through which all those phones worked, had gone down. I rushed down to the Haunted Basement to investigate, leaving a network tracer in the server room. When I connected to the T1 box downstairs the connection was good. Despite red lights on the T1 terminus itself the connection to the internet from there was good, too. I was mystified.

When I reascended to ground level things got weirder. The internet connection for all the desktop computers had gone slow, and the VoIP phones from the new provider were dropping out, breaking up, and generally sounding like cell phones circa 1998. Bad times, to be sure, but what was the cause? After conferring with the T1 provider to check if they had full connectivity to our router and firewall on that side of the network, then after speaking with our shiny new IT consultant, Joe, it became apparent that our big network switch may have been at fault. Power-cycling the switch would fix the problem for a few minutes but then seemingly random ports would lock up. Finally I went back to the server room to look at the switch to see what she was up to.

Pandaemonium. Utter and complete chaos. Every single collision light was flashing as fast as possible in unison, indicating that something somewhere was broadcasting packets like a messenger, hopped up on speed, who'd panicked and lost their way. It was exactly as Joe had predicted. So I began unplugging each of the 24 ports on my main binding post one by one. When I got to port 4, all the traffic calmed down considerably to the network equivalent of a dull roar. Looking at my port map, I saw that port 4 was in the old creative closet—a tiny room where all the Creative department used to be. It is now only used as a sound studio and occasionally for cold-calling potential clients. I rushed back there.

The room was empty save a couple of phones and one of our sales intern's laptops, which was shut down. I picked up the hub that was connected to port 4 and found that its collision lights were going crazy like those in the server room's main switch. Intriguing! On closer inspection, there were four ethernet cables plugged into it, and only an uplink, the laptop, and one phone to account for. On even closer inspection, the "PC" port and "WAN" port of the phone were both plugged into the hub! The phone was in a perpetual state of colliding packets with itself, constantly retransmitting its own requests to the network and to itself. Since these were keep-alive signals to the network at large they weren't stopped at the switch level and were getting passed along, thus completely and totally hosing the network. I unplugged the cable plugged into the "PC" port and saw the hub's lights immediately glow green. Going back into the server room I saw green lights all around with a slow rhythmic pulsing of amber collision lights.

When I returned to the main room of the office, there were green lights on every phone, two or three people noticed an immediate speed-up in the network, the next phone call I made on my desk phone was crystal clear, and all was right with the world of Fave.

26 April 2008

Ennui and the Struggle to Get Things Done

Feelin' kinda strange lately. It's a combination of different factors that have been in play for a long time now I guess. I have this terrible habit of beginning projects and not finishing them. Frankly, I'm a little tired of it. This year I've been really trying to wrap all these projects up in a hurry. Since I've got some free time now (thankfully!), I've been doing some work on them.

Stay tuned for a new and innovative way of finding respectable chinese food restaurants, a superbly useful way of designing and sharing programs that recognize patterns in input (regular expressions, parser grammars, etc.) as well as a way of exploring different flavours of programming, and a multitude of ways to show the world your more Villainous™ side. In addition, I've resolved to begin writing again, which includes this and other blogs, as well as the possibility of a screenplay with one of my coworkers. I hereby declare this the Summer of Max.

The house hunt continues unabated. Well, maybe a little abated. I've been lazy about it because it's just so difficult. It seems so adult! I turn 25 this summer and by that time I will own my own home, be it a condo or a loft or some kind of bizarre industrial space. That last one has proven to be incredibly elusive but hopefully I can track one down. Another option is to just settle for a nice condo somewhere and then constantly be on the lookout for the perfect space. I really just need a place with a lot of room to spread out and compartmentalize my space the way that feels most natural to me. I keep going over in my head all these things about my current apartment that I don't like and how I could fix them in the next. It's a good exercise but it's setting me up for disappointment pretty much everywhere. The cheap places are all separated into rooms in a way that makes little sense to me and I know would end up annoying me. I don't want a place that's cute with little nick-nacks on neat shelves. I want a place with exposed brick and ductwork that I can hang stuff off if I want to. I want high ceilings and big windows. I don't know how easily that's going to happen but here's hoping.

And hey. Maybe I'll have an apartment situation I won't feel ashamed having people over to. We'll just see, space cadets. Later on.

15 March 2008

Ridin' the Fave Wave

Hi there space cadets! It's a beautiful new season here in Chicago and it's a brand new Fave website, too. The new design and new data set are both online right now. The new design is thanks to Steven Weber, one of our video folks, with the assistance of extensive cajoling, ridicule, and mostly constructive criticism from me. Site front-end development from me, and our shiny new indexing engine and extensive site optimizations thanks to the tireless efforts of our very own Sanjay Kapoor.
I've gotta say. I feel really excited about the new look, because the old one was... well... not so great. Now we have a professional—albeit corporate-looking—site that we can show the world, and hopefully in the process get funding and parties and all kinds of fun stuff! Startup life, y'all!
I will continue to deliver updates via this blog and via Twitter whenever anything cool happens. I think now is the time to temporarily become Irish for the St. Patrick's Day parade. Ciao, space cadets.

09 March 2008

Our Busted-Ass PC Market Part I: Windows

PC users, I am finally getting around to calling you out. I want to know something....

...Why do you put up with the deficiencies in Windows when there are superior alternatives that would only cost you a little extra money (OS X—and honestly the "extra cost" is debatable there depending on how you determine cost) or a little extra time (Linux)?

This isn't going to be yet another Windows-bashing article. Seriously. I'm going hold back on the name-calling. I'm going be methodical about this. I'm going to be as nice as can be. Let's get started.

the interface
My biggest pet peeve with Windows is the interface. Part of that you may feel absolutely free to chalk up to my computer experience, which I will admit is not ordinary at all. I started using UNIX at an early age and grew up in a house with Macintosh computers, beginning with Mac OS 5.5 back in the early days. Yes that's right. Anyways I look back on my experience and I see that UNIX has remained rock steady my entire life. Commands I used on the command line as a nine-year-old still work and still do exactly the same thing now. UNIX and pretty much any POSIX-compliant environment remain absolutely true to the adage that if something ain't broke you don't need to fix it. Mac OS has a similar history but it's been more of a slow progression with intermittent leaps forward. Today's OS X is a completely different animal than even OS 9 was. There are intermittent pieces of continuity among all of the versions but the interfaces are only similar in their operation the same way Windows and Mac OS X are. That being said, let's have a look at Windows XP vs. Windows Vista vs. Windows 2000.

Between versions of Windows absolutely everything moves, and to this day I'm not entirely sure why. This would be like car manufacturers deciding every year to move all the controls around, just to make sure that no driver ever gets used to them for long. Not just this but the names of things change, and where they are. Mapping a network drive in Windows XP is an entirely different sequence of mouse clicks than doing the same exact operation in Windows Vista. So, if you were accustomed to Windows XP for these past few years and you switch to Vista, you have to re-find everything. This may actually be less annoying for people who use Windows as their primary desktop OS, but for those of us who rarely have a Windows interface in front of them it is maddening. As an IT worker bee, I sometimes need to lay hands upon a Windows box and it is really embarrassing to have to poke through menus for ages to find where to ask it to re-acquire a network address through DHCP.

The story's the same for where the network connections are, where the filesystem can be accessed, where you go to change system settings, etc. Who is it at Microsoft who's so against consistency between versions? Seriously it's absolutely the most annoying thing ever. I've got a lot of material to go through here though so let's move it right along.

slowing me down
I think there's one thing about Windows that slows me down more than anything else, and it's kind of cruel to bring it up I guess because it seems that Microsoft really likes this kind of a thing. I'll demonstrate with an example: networking.

Let's say I'm on my mac and I want to connect to a new wireless network. I can do this one of several ways. I have the little airport icon in the menubar of my mac, and I can just click on that, bringing up a menu that has all the available wireless networks in it. I click on one of those, enter the authentication info for it (WPA/WPA-PSK/WEP/whatever) which is usually automatically figured out by the operating system, then I'm on. It just works. This is truly beautiful, because I frequently dart back and forth from one network to another, like my home and my work wireless networks, so having it just automagically do whatever it needs to do to connect to a new network rocks. If I have to do something like VPN or something really exotic like that, I tell the operating system what I want, because obviously I know what I'm doing. If I didn't, I'd use the network setup assistant (Mac equivalent to a "wizard" for you Windows people).

Now. That's all well and good, but what happens in Windows? Well, whereas Mac OS X will allow me to just get my shit done and get out, because I know what settings I want, Windows does not. I must travel through the menus and consult a Wizard. I'm not going to get into pedantic details, but Windows's interface for system settings and pretty much everything is based on presenting the user with a list of things that they may want to do. This is just stupid, because there is no other interface for making changes to system settings until you first get past this point. In Windows 2000 Pro, it was pretty easy to get to the TCP/IP settings. You right-clicked on Network Places on the desktop, choose "Properties", then you're presented with a listing representing the network stack. A little cumbersome to users who aren't exactly great at these kinds of things but at least you could get to those precious settings within a scant three to five (depending on what you were doing) mouse clicks. Now, when you try to do that, Windows will bring up a wizard. The wizard will ask you what kind of network you're setting up. Are you setting up a home network? An office network? Are you connecting to a DSL modem? Are you doing this? Are you doing that? SHUT THE FUCK UP. Seriously. What does it even mean that you're connecting to an office network rather than a home office network? What if I'm connecting to a token ring network, at home, that has a DSL modem connected to a router? What then, O Great Wizard? Okay. So that was kind of cheating because it's been a solid decade since I last set up or even saw a token ring network, but still!

Quite frankly, for a power user who actually knows what he's doing with networking and pretty much anything else that's not specific to one operating system, it is incredibly frustrating to work this way. It all boils down to this: real operating systems that are designed with respect for the user's time in mind let you tell the operating system what to do, whereas Windows will ask you questions to try to divine from these what you want to do. Weak sauce, people. Just let me do what I need to do and let the ordinary users learn how to use their computers rather than confusing them with these prompts.

there are how many different versions?
This has less to do with the actual operation of Windows and more to do with how it's marketed. There are so many different versions of Windows I can't even keep track of them any more. There's Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate, as well as a handful of special-purpose versions for media center or tablet PC or whatever (wiki wiki). THAT'S TOO GODDAMN MANY. Seriously. Too many. What's the difference between them all? Nobody knows! Besides the usual reasons that too many choices can be a bad thing, there's the fact that it's nearly impossible to market multiple products all at once rather than focusing on just one. Will everybody spring for the Ultimate version? Doubtful. I think a lot of people ended up with Home Basic and went home disappointed with it, because it's definitely missing some pieces.

Here's a novel idea. Why not make just one version of the OS? For servers there's already the hopelessly dated Windows Server 2003 (seriously, just go with linux for your server environments), and for home and business users why should they be different? What do business users require that home users do not? Taking it another way, why should home users be left without features that business users get? Taking it yet another way, why deliberately create multiple versions of an OS by removing features? It just seems counterproductive.

On the other side of the battle, Mac OS X comes in only two flavours: regular and server. I would wager that the vast majority of Mac users don't even know that OS X Server exists, and honestly they don't have to. They have the regular version that came on their computer and that really does have all the features they would need. Users who need the extra features of the server edition (domain administration, a much more intricate Apache setup, all kinds of other servers like mail and iChat and such) can buy it. Oh and how about this: the regular version of OS X ships with SSH, FTP, SFTP, and Apache servers. What does Vista (even Ultimate) ship with? Only Jack and Shit servers.

my advice
You didn't think this was just a rant where I wouldn't offer any solutions, did you? For shame!
First, ditch the multiple versions. I'm serious this time. Get rid of them all and just have "Vista" and "Vista Server", or continue to keep the regular and server branches branded differently. The point is to have one version of the operating system, and this is the right one for business users, for home users, for owners of tablet PCs, for owners of laptops, for anyone who is interested. Even if the price point was set a little high I think this would be a win for Microsoft if they could just pull their heads out of their asses and make it happen. Given their history I just don't think this will happen, but it'd be really nice!

The other thing is immediate bug fixes for all users. If you're a regular user you have to wait 'til Patch Tuesday for your fixes, but what if you've got an open vulnerability in the OS that needs to be patched right now to avoid an exploit? Tough cookies? Unacceptable. Also, while they're at it, they really need to not take for damn ever to patch zero-day exploits. "Zero-day" means "people can use this to pwn your box right now", so hurry it on up.

While we're on the subject, Microsoft needs to ditch its fetish for backwards compatibility in the form of ancient, unsandboxed code. Remember the wmf exploit in Internet Explorer a while back? That was because, in the days before the internet, it made sense to someone at Microsoft to be able to include executable code in image files. WHY DID THIS CODE MAKE IT INTO XP??? It really, really, really shouldn't have. Ever. There is simply no excuse for that.

Also, it's time to scuttle Vista. It was released way too hastily and it was obviously hampered by way too much bureaucracy in the corporation. The whole thing reeks of design-by-committee, and it's time for a do-over. While you're at it completely de-couple the internet browser from the operating system. It doesn't make a goddamn bit of sense to have IE not only bundled with the OS but also fused into the OS itself. That is just a really stupid idea and it's a giant hole that malware and spyware can just jump straight through. Get rid of it and migrate your user base to something that more accurately renders the web, or spin it off as a separate project so that it can get the attention it needs.

Last but not least, and I'm sure you all saw it coming: embrace open source. There are thousands of open source developers like myself that form a supportive community that is reliable and strives for rock-solid code. Why do we do this? Because we work with this software every day and it's in our best interest that it be the best it can possibly be. When you start to release software with the mentality that your payment is better-performing software, magical things happen and you get such great things as Apache, MySQL, Ruby, Rails, SQLite, and of course the Linux kernel. You don't have to open up the entire Windows kernel (although that doubtlessly would improve it over time; I'm sure a LOT of developers would jump in and make improvements) but a lot of the problems with Windows could be solved by substituting open source libraries for Microsoft ones. It'd mean a serious overhaul but I've already said that a serious overhaul is necessary, and I think a lot of IT professionals agree with me.

Will Microsoft ever follow my advice? Unlikely, as I've never really been a customer of theirs (I have one legal license of Windows XP and that's hopefully going to be the last Windows I need to buy). A man can hope, though. Sometimes that's all we've got.

Until next time, space cadets.

Upgrading the Server

Went on the dorkiest date EVER with Leila on Friday night. We went to Fry's and bought hard drives. Apparently she'd been shafted at the Tiger Direct outlet the other day when they didn't even provide cables to connect the drive (!!!). So lame. Anyways Leila bought a PCI SATA interface just in case her motherboard didn't have one (turns out it did, so now we've got a spare) and some cables—which were UV sensitive, rice rocket style. Truly a classy move. Of course I shouldn't talk: the big fat linux server at Fave, Darling, totally has neon and a window (even though it's not being used for anything right now; ugh too many servers!).

So Biscuit's got a new half-terabyte drive in her and that'll be the new /home partition just as soon as I can copy over the HUGE amounts of data that resided in /home before. I'll have room for a separate /tmp partition now, which should be handy. The old drive will be used solely for system files and will, aside from the /tmp partition, be pretty closed off to normal users. So, for my users, this will result in a better, more secure Biscuit. Soon as I can afford it there'll be a RAID. I've got room for two more drives in there, so getting two more 500GiB or 750GiB drives is not totally out of the question. We'll see.

On a somewhat unrelated note, has anyone else seen these commercials where a burly lumberjack looking dude interrupts couples in their most romantic moments to tell them to put their gear to good use in Ontario, Canada? It just seems so rude! Also, why does the guy not say "Put your gear to good use in Ontario, eh?" He just doesn't seem Canadian enough....

Also, who has any good ideas about how to make Biscuit an easier tool to use for Windows users? I'm all out of ideas now that I know it'll be decades before anyone ports FUSE to Windows. SFTP seems too hard for people since it's a pretty ghetto enterprise in Windows.

12 January 2008

I've just finished erecting the world's shittiest bookshelf ever. I question whether anyone is really so stupid that they can't operate a screwdriver, yet the design of this bookshelf is specifically targeted at this woeful (hopefully) minority. Seriously, every aspect of its design was not just tweaked but wholly worked around the idea of not using tools. Seriously people, get a fucking screwdriver. It's not that hard. You push and twist. Push and twist. Oh well. It will last the few more months that I'm going to be living in this apartment, then it'll go to the great big alley in the sky.

Among the first items to go onto the bookshelf were the contents of a box my sister gave to me before moving to New York City, artifacts from my father that I'm pretty sure she didn't even bother looking through. Among them are some books of guitar tablature and sheet music, and half of the baseball collection my father helped me amass in elementary/middle school. But there are two items that gave me pause and for which I am writing this entry now. My apologies for anyone who actually reads this blog for my tech writings; I've deviated quite a bit from those in recent months. I'll get back to it when I feel like it. Right now this blog is for me, not you, and I've got to write this.

There is the "A–Ameri" book of a set of 1986 Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopaedia. Why only one book, you might ask? Looking through the long lists of consultants and writers and researchers in the introductory couple of dozen pages, my father is listed: Steven A. Stahl, M.A., Ph. D. I remember once in Athens he'd bought just this one book, 'cause his name was in it. He didn't want the volume that actually contained his work, just the one that credited him, because he thought it was hilarious. He told me he'd put the "funk" in "Funk and Wagnall's". Say what you will about us jewish boys, but I definitely inherited my soul from Dad. So silly to have just volume 1 of an encyclopaedia on a bookshelf, but there you have it.

The other is a passover hagadah. For those not in the know, passover is a pretty big holiday for us jews. It's a feast to celebrate our deliverance from the pharaoh of Egypt in the book of Exodus. I always hated it in Georgia though because everyone kind of associates it with Easter just the same way they associate Channukah with Christmas. They're completely different holidays from completely different cultures celebrating completely different things people! But whatever. People are just ignorant as hell and there's not a whole lot I can do about that except to note here that teaching others is among the greatest of mitzvahs. Maybe I, like my father before me, will eventually become a teacher. Maybe I already am in a way. Life's weird like that.

Anyways this particular hagadah is very special, because it was my father's hagadah when he was a child. Its pages are worn from dozens of passover seders, with a couple of dog-eared pages (a practice my father absolutely forbade in his home!) just to give it character. It smells like old book, and rifling through the pages I can see my father's characteristic scrawl on the pages. His handwriting was as unmistakable as it was incomprehensible. He could've been a doctor with handwriting like that. On the cover, though, in forced D'Nealian cursive, are the words "Property of Steve Stahl — President, Treasurer, Secretary of Steve Stahl, Inc." and near the top "From the desk of Steve Stahl". It's so funny. When my dad was a kid he wrote his lower-case "d" nearly identically to how I do it now. And, I mustn't forget, it also says "Copyright © 1962 MCMLXII All Rights Reserved".

Though I am happy to have found these little things, it just seems so unfair that this is all I have left to remember Dad by. Of course I'm never going to forget him completely, yet as I keep living my life without him he fades just a little bit year by year, and every time I notice this decline I sadden just a little more. Children are supposed to outlive their parents, such is the way of things, but I still feel cheated. I feel cheated out of the extra couple of decades I could've enjoyed with my father had colon cancer not combined with a sociopath second wife to take him away from me.

It hardly seems fair that the most vivid memories I have of my father are of his decline or of the breakdown of my parents' marriage. It just doesn't seem fair at all. And people will tell me they know how I feel and maybe if they've lost someone close to their heart they do, a little, but everyone's feelings are theirs and theirs alone. True perfect empathy is an illusion and it's really just something you say to someone because you want them to feel just a little better. It does make me feel better when I know I'm not the only one suffering, but I have no comfort to offer others. I've been dealing with this for three years and seven months and a week or so and it still hurts like hell every time I'm reminded of it. I've been sitting here for an hour thumbing through these books and listening to music and, every once in a while, crying. I'm just so struck by the enormity of it some times, that this spectre of cancer that we know so little about was able to swoop in and take my father away from me. I am left with these books, some artwork, and myself, being nearly identical to him in appearance and eerily similar to him in demeanor. I have my memories, too, even if they fade a little.

02 January 2008

Death of a Wicker Park Legend

I was sad to hear earlier today that Gene Lee, our own Wicker Park dancing man, took his own life recently. There is a brief note on Gapers Block and an entry on his myspace blog, written by his family.

My condolences go out to his entire family, in which I am presumptuously including all of Wicker Park. Gene, we will all miss you, and I think that is a gross understatement.

For those who are unfamiliar, I wrote a myspace blog entry about Gene back in 2006.