The Sarmatian Protopope

his desires inscrutable but surely base

Misc Thoughts, and Teach Me About Facebook
The results from my two polls yesterday were interesting. I expected most people to be unfamiliar with Pushkin's work (I'll post about him shortly, if I can find the good translations I came across) and to never have tried Planescape or Kingdom of Loathing. I was surprised at how many people have a Dreamwidth account, or use Facebook for microblogging. As far as the social poll, I was pleasantly surprised at the proportion of people who were more or less content with the amount of sex in their life (matching up partners and libidos and workloads and schedules and hormones is not a trivial task! This is (part of the reason) why we evovled those big brains in the first place). And making friends (post highschool and college) is as hard or even harder; I think it's societally expected for it to just happen, with not much effort on our part.

But we have to put in effort! Most people have a lot of geographically scattered friends, but not that many satisfying local connections. (This is part of the reason we spend so much time and money on traveling, to see distant friends). And, having moved to a new area (Southern Maine) recently, we're working pretty hard (balanced against exhausting workloads) to meet people, both via natural networking, and cold-networking like going to meetups, starting an SFF Book Club on the island, etc.
I find shadesong's post, asking "What do you need?" to be utterly fascinating.

Ok, so many people said they use Facebook extensively.
Guys, Teach Me About Facebook! Specifically:

* Do you read it via the webpage (logging in and clicking on Home), or do you use software or RSS readers of some sort? (Especially curious if you use iPhone or Android clients for mobile).

* Do you read your friends' messages regularly, or casually, or not at all?

* Reading your friends messages, are there reading filters like on LJ, either on the web page or via clients? If not, how do you deal with the large amounts of updates?

* Do you have a large or small reading list/number of people who post?

* Are there posting filters, or just Friends/everybody? How do you deal with sharing things with coworkers and family members and various random people? Are you careful to post world-appropriate messages, or don't care, or have a small/intimate enough list of people reading that it doesn't matter?

* What kind of stuff do you post there? Do you use it the same as you would Twitter or LJ, or different?

Your wisdoms is appreciated.

On relationships and sex
Even more important poll, something I'd like to know about you.

Poll #1604607 Social Poll

As far as friendships and social obligations in your life:

I'm satisfied. Have all the social contact I can handle
I'm socially very busy, but it's somehow not right. Not fully satisfied
My friends are geographically scattered. I would like more local connections
I would like more friends, in general
I don't have much social contact, but I'm happy as is/don't have time

As far as your sex life:

I have all the sex my body/mind/schedule can handle. Content
I could deal with more, but I'm happy where I'm at
I would like more, plz (or any)
I would like less
I'm not really interested/am asexual

Informal Survey
chibi dima
These are the things I want to know about you.

Poll #1604600 Informal Survey

Do you like the work of Alexander Pushkin, the Russian poet?

Yes, I love it
I like it OK
Finding good translations to English is problematic
I've read him, and don't like his work
I'm not familiar with Pushkin

How do you feel about Planescape (the tabletop RPG/2nd ed AD&D campaign setting)

Love it
It is my favorite/one of my favorites campaign settings ever
I'm familiar with it, and find it merely ok
I don't like it
Never tried it
I don't play tabletop role playing games
Planescape broke my heart

Do you have a Dreamwidth (LJ-type blogging service) account?

No, but I will eventually, if LJ falls
No, never
Not familiar with it

Have you ever snorkeled (or SCUBA dived)?

Yes, I love it
Yes, and it's ok
No, but I'd like to learn
I can't swim or am afraid of water
Water is evil and must be punished

How about micro-blogging?

I use Twitter
I use Facebook to post messages (not games)
I play Facebook games
I don't believe in microblogging
LJ is just fine for my short message purposes

Have you ever played Kingdom of Loathing, the web mud?

Yes, love it
It was ok
Don't like it
Not familiar

[Diary] Wed 2010-08-11
Our housemates, mishamish and babymonkey, have moved out earlier this week. They're heading back to Cleveland for grad school (Misha is going to CWRU), and to help out with family.

The house is immediately emptier, stranger. I miss them already.

I've been mostly working on rearranging the house, redoing what was their room and will now be the guest room. Trips to Lowe's, taping, painting, assembling and moving furniture. About halfway there (and then, on to the dining room, kitchen, bathroom).

On the horizon looms Cat's trip to Australia for the Hugos, and my simultaneous trip to Spain with parents. We still have to arrange house(/dog/duck) sitters, but we've got several good leads.

No boat this year. Mom and Dad had to cancel their trip to visit us in Maine (and tow the boat over). A week before, Dad came up with an exciting Dr. House type of illness in his leg (cellulitis, apparently), and spent some days in the hospital. He still can't walk, but has high hopes for getting better before Spain. The boat will spend the winter in Cleveland, and I'll fly down and tow it first thing next summer.

Beyond that, I've been mostly focusing on the list of key habits that I need to install in myself.

I've got three of them down pretty well -- waking up at a fixed time every day (6am), running first thing in the morning, and then sitting down to code on my personal projects for an hour a day.

The next ones will take some work, though -- reading printed books for 50 mins each day, studying/memorizing Ruby/Rails materials (I'm using SuperMemo for software), processing my Inbox, and meditating.
I'm hoping to get through all (or most of them) before the end of the year.

Predictability, Emotional Rooms of the Mind, Meta-Brands
This post of Seth Godin's, The Places You Go talks about how, very often, emotions are like rooms in our mental houses -- they are places we seek out because we want to be in that state, rather than something that happens to us.

Being a marketing philosopher, he of course connects it to brands, and mentions that the best brands figure out how to supply those states, those emotions, to people that visit them.

And I couldn't help but think about books (and music, to some extent). How many of us return to (or seek out) a particular book for the way we want to feel, and build mental castles out of book spines, each room special-purpose, an emotional landscape we can return to and navigate over and over again.

I wonder if authors have trouble balancing.. the urge to experiment and play around with different kinds of books, and the readers' (and the publicists') wants for predictability and for stable brands. From the reader's perspective, navigating the informational space of book preferences is an incredibly difficult task, and having found an author that you like, you of course hope that their other works will be similar, will provide that same thrill or connection. You know that the book now became that one particular place where you go for a certain emotion, and you hope to expand that room, you hope that the author becomes a room like that (or a series of related rooms, maybe). And some authors have no trouble delivering predictability -- they build a brand out of schoolboy wizards or buxom vampire hunters or whatever (and often this happens under the not inconsiderable pressure from their publisher), and just continue writing in that line.

But other authors are more like those brilliant indie music bands where each album is genre-breaking, and completely unlike the ones that came before. And of course, I understand it from the creator's perspective, too -- I already wrote a novel about a wizard school for dragon fighter pilots/illuminati conspiracy/plucky multi-species debauchery and vampire hunting/etc, I'm done with that, now it's time for something else! How am I going to learn, how am I going to grow as an artist, if I don't experiment? Especially now, while I'm still young, and the pressure to stop experimenting and start pumping out similar hits is not as colossal (it's still there, but not as bad as when you'll be supporting villa mortgages and private schools and coke habits).

I suppose those artists, if they choose to follow their urges to experiment and diversify, succeed when they build meta-brands (or when they themselves, their personality, are the brands). Take Umberto Eco, for example. I keep wishing he would write Foucault's Pendulum again, or at very least a Baudolino. But although he doesn't, he's done with that, I still read all his novels, since I know what to expect of the meta-brand. It's going to be insanely well-researched and erudite, and meandering, and philosophical, and have Proustian levels of introspection and longing. Thomas Pynchon is the same way, for me -- though the subject matter of each book is wildly different, I'm still happy to read them all since the meta-brand remains the same -- it will also be well-researched and ultra-dense and full of in-jokes, and also subversive, and surreal, and feature more sex than Anita Blake ever dreamed of.

Now, those guys are mainstream fiction literary-acclaim powerhouses, so I imagine it's easier for them to write drastically different books. What I'm more interested in is genre fiction, and young writers who are still very much in the process of building their brands.

Specifically, I think about Cat Valente's/catvalente's brand and career a lot, in this context.

I'll always remember that one review of Palimpsest which consisted of the reviewer's bewilderment of "why isn't this exactly like The Orphan's Tales? I wanted fairy tales dammit!". It was utterly ridiculous and un-professional as a reviewer, of course, but it illustrates an aspect of a reader's relationship with an author, especially if they're new to the author's work. There is a level of investment, of emotional inertia, of having tried a delicious pastry and getting that thrill of, hey, there is a quality bakery right next to my house! Of course, then you find out that the pastry was an exception, and the shop is not a bakery but actually sells artisan anchovies, caviars and gourmet seafood. But I wanted a pastry! Yes, but notice that what the pastry and all the caviars and canned seafoods have in common, in that shop, is a wild, unorthodox use of cinnamon in the recipe!

Far-strung analogies aside, every single one of catvalente's books have been wildly different, written in a varying style, on different subject matter. You can't say that she writes nested fairy-tales, or urban fantasy, or about Japan, or medieaval myths, or Stalinist Russia, or early 19th century Italian villages. Can't say that she writes dreamlike Joycean prose (like The Labyrinth) or plain-spoken Young Adult (like Fairyland). To the extent that she has been successful, I think it's due to her building a meta-brand (and also herself as a brand, in the close relationship with her readers that she maintains through her blog).
Rather than a particular subject matter or series (at least at the moment -- narrowing of a brand can occur at any time, and perhaps she will become best-known for Fairyland, or some other future series, to the exclusion of all else, and like Anthony Burgess she will protest, 'Guys, I wrote other books you know'), what her books have in common are things like:

* Writing, even fantasy or scifi, has to be intense, personal, revelational, confessional. If it doesn't hit you in the gut, what is the point of it? And what do you bring to it, as an author?

* Each particular sentence should be as carefully crafted and well-worded as a line in a poem. Transparent prose is bullshit The insistence of "scifi/fantasy as a genre necessitates transparent prose" is bullshit. Prose writers should care about their word choices as much as poets.

* Trying to give voice to the voice-less. Given a particular myth or story, she often focuses on a character who is voiceless or neglected, who is mysterious, a cipher, but has very little lines. And then proceeds to tell the story from their perspective. She's done this in countless short stories, in The Grass-Cutting Sword, in Deathless (the book focuses on Marya Morevna and Koschei, rather than Ivan, the traditional focus of the story), and many others.

* The universality, timelessness, and relevance of myths and fairy tales to our daily lives. She constantly performs the act of translatio, updating old stories to our new lives (through the lens of her own life, often), saying, look, these things are still in effect and have a lot to teach you. She understands that as humans, we can only understand and navigate our lives through stories, that there is nothing else. Stories help us live, and survive. And when completely new things come into the world (this is the future, after all), that call for new and previously untold stories, well, that's what science fiction is for (which I am delighted she is starting to work with).

* The saving power of obsession and want. (See also the lyrics to "Sacred Darling" by Gogol Bordello).

I'm sure there's other themes that I missed. As always, I'm fascinated to watch how she develops as a writer.

iPhone Software
New iPhone (I've been with Palm OS the last 5-6 years) means let's load it up with software. Here's what I got so far (in addition to the default Map/Compass/Weather/Messages etc apps):

For Grocery List software, it was a tough choice between Grocery Gadget and SplashShopper (which looked like it was analogous to HandyShopper on Palm, which I loved using). Ultimately, most of the reviews (especially those switching from Palm and had the same thought) pointed out that SplashShopper got unusable-slow very quickly. So, I went with Grocery Gadget Lite, and so far so good.

I needed a good Outliner software (to replace Progect on Palm and FreeMind and ToDoList on PC, which is excellent by the way), for organizing thoughts, making checklists and so on. It turned out to be a choice between ZeptoLiner and CarbonFin's Outliner, and I ended going with the latter (the user interface looked slightly better). Love it so far.

As far as Password Manager software (to replace Keyring on Palm), a choice between 1Password and eWallet. I ended up choosing eWallet, since I liked the UI concept better -- I am actually using it to store the contents of my wallet, all the cards and passwords and business cards.

To-Do/Task Manager software was also a tough choice. I had to find something compatible with David Allen's GTD Method, but also with a simple 'Today' view, so I could focus on just a couple of tasks. (By the way, the Put Things Off app is really lightweight and hilarious, though I needed something more complex). Again, it came down to a two-way choice, between OmniFocus and Things. Both looked very good, both were recommended by David Allen for use with GTD, both had rave reviews. As one reviewer pointed out, the difference between the two, really, is this: OmniFocus is more context-based (it groups related tasks, so all the emails in one context, all the calls, all the office tasks, all the home tasks), and Things is more lightweight, and project- and focus-based. I went with Things, because I liked the user interface, and the fact that it had a Today view (which OmniFocus lacked).

To round out the task manager, I also installed HabitFactor (to track life goals and their supporing habits), and rapidrabbit's Pomodoro Time Management app.

Lastly, I have's money app, and MyNetDiary's calorie tracker for weight loss.

Remains to Research and Install:

* A good LiveJournal client
* A Google Chat client (preferably also handling AIM/Yahoo chat)
* A Twitter client
* An ebook reader/ebook collection manager
* Exercise/workout tracker
* Recipe software (will go with Epicurious)
* Drink/cocktail mixing software (like Mixology)
* SSH and VNC clients
* A running/biking GPS type tracker
* Ocarina
* Various games
* Sailing chart software (would be great to have hiking map software too)

What have I missed?

Happy Anniversary
D and Cat
Happy anniversary (from the time we started dating, for the puzzled), my dearest catvalente!

I love you insanely much. These past years have been the most intense ones of my life, and I want so many more.

my fandom saves itself
If I were to start praying, I would say only this:

I don't want to be saved. I want to be spent.
Oh please, world, only let me die with every last bit of myself, spent fully. All the strength in my muscles, all the focus in my brain, all the courage in me tried and tested to the last bit, all the sex and breath expended, all my thoughts written or said aloud, all the maps drawn, all the code I have to give to this world debugged and committed and open-sourced, and of those that I deeply crave, all the rivers sailed, all the games played and the books read.

Only moral that presents itself is: write faster, code faster, live faster and hungrier and more fully.

A Small Dream Come True, and an Extended Metaphor
Five years ago, I wrote a note to myself that said, dear self, "You are NOT an analyst from Stand on Zanzibar".

Except now, I kind of am. No, governments don't act on my advice to determine foreign policy. But it does mean that I can indulge in reading anything and everything, from scifi and fantasy to technology news to utopian studies, obsessively. Because, I'm married to a scifi/fantasy writer! She's always looking for idea mulch (or some filler detail, or a technical term), and I'm always happy to babble or brainstorm or advise.

I had no idea this kind of gig was out there, aside from in a scifi book. (And that is one of the many reasons that catvalente is a dream come true, for me). The idea that I can be an occasional boy muse for a female writer, that I can occasionally inspire or catalyze, is incredibly thrilling and satisfying.

Allow me to extend an analogy.

My knowledge, all of that useful and useless information that I accumulate in life, is like very crude oil.

It's about as useful (and useless) as crude oil, too. At best, in its raw form, maybe I can smear some of it onto an axle to grease a wooden wheel of an ox cart (which, I would probably have to pull myself, not having that many oxen). Or maybe drip it into a barrel in an alleyway, and light a trash fire and warm my hands by it.

But for personal development, if I really want to get to where I want in Life: the RPG, I not only have to create an engine/vehicle (out of my habits and skills and life circumstances), but I also have to learn to refine the crude low-grade knowledge of my life into some sort of usable fuel. I have to amass much more knowledge, and refine it and concentrate it (if we're talking about programming languages, then the knowledge has to go way beyond the basic syntax, but far into the language's internals, plus knowledge of APIs, best practices, rules of thumb, supporting tools and libraries, etc, etc ad infinitum, and also keeping all of it in accessible working memory, with fast recall). I'd be happy to get to a point where it's to the level of biodiesel I can pour into a converted beat-up Honda, to commute to the office. But of course, when I close my eyes, I dream of refining it into fuel for expensive stealth fighter jets.

So, it's a slow process, you have to be a small military-industrial complex all by yourself. Very necessary, though. I'm working on it.

But! These days, I find myself living next to a spaceport, a Cosmodrome! And over here, this gorgeous novelist is launching rockets into orbit. (She's building some sort of secret transhumanist orbital structures, I take it, for chimera and mermaids and malevolent AI drones to hobnob and go out on space-dates and drink space-beer and get each other pregnant. It's ok, though, I occasionally get tickets to orbit to attend really bitchin parties.) And like actual rockets, her projects are awe-inspiring and powerful, but also incredibly fragile and require a large amounts of infrastructure. Most of the time, they deliver their strange payloads to orbit (and sometimes, crash and burn and leave debris all over Siberian villages, and the locals pawn them for metal scrap, true story). And! Sometimes, I can provide the ignition spark. Or bring a jerry can of hydrozine, to be used as maneuvering/thruster fuel on some death satellite. And that shit is important, yo! I can contribute! And this makes me inordinately happy.

abandon hope
I seem to have achieved an iPhone, after many weeks waiting on the order lists.

I know I'll have much software questions, but the most important one is:

What's your favorite Outliner app for iPhone? (Extra super bonus if it has a Windows desktop client, too, or can sync with one). (Outliners are tree-based note-taking software, like checklists but with more features).

So far I've looked at: ZeptoLiner and CarbonFin outliners (both look decent), and the OmniOutliner (looks powerful, but possibly too many features for what I need).
On Palm, I used Progect, which also had a Windows desktop client it could sync with.

As far as notes, I've heard many recommendations for Evernote (Cat has it, and I know omnisti uses it).

How about general-purpose checklist or shopping list software?


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