karlht: (Default)
(In writing, at least. Not so much in life.)

There are a lot of things going on with me just now. Both of my parents are having serious health and aging issues, I'm re-evaluating my roles at work and in my primary fannish activity, and my social life is slowing down after a year that was best described as a bit frenetic but rewarding.

If you were expecting to hear from me but didn't, please accept my apologies and get in touch again; I can only promise that I'll do my best. I'm not hermiting; there has just been a lot of change in a pretty short time.

Dreamwidth is going to continue to be my primary expression point online, I think. I do still follow my LJ flist, but I hardly ever comment there if I can communicate with folks by other means. Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr all remain completely opaque to me -- I don't have the time or the brain-space for them, and events there will totally pass me by.

If I do wind up writing up a BayCon 2012 con report, it will be published here. I make no promises about when (or even whether), however.

Please continue to take care of one another, and remember that love is a verb as well as a noun. I'll check in as I can.
karlht: (Default)
Naps taken: 2.
Friends seen: 4.
Productive thoughts about interesting problems: a whole bunch.
Incidents of anxiety, anger or raised voices: 0.
Snuggles given and received: lots.

More like this, please.

Happy New Year, folks. Thank you, each and every one of you, for your friendship and your love. Last year was a rough one, and this one will probably be even rougher. Let's do what we can to keep one another out of the Slough of Despond, eh?
karlht: (Default)
12 days to load-in for BayCon 2010 -- here are my basic tasks:

  • Import dealers list

  • Verify Programming Division's import of the Guest list

  • Email out to +1s, asking for names

  • Obtain and import Artists list

  • Test badge printer [DONE]

  • Transfer database to at-con server laptop

  • Find and kill that last client bug

  • Test clients to make sure they still work

  • Report final pre-reg figures to Chairman at meeting tomorrow

  • Make sure we have enough sheet labels to print pre-reg badges

  • Print proof sheets for pre-reg badges

  • Mail PDFs of proof sheets to Programming, Dealers, and Art Show, and have HR verify the Staff proof sheet

Well, that's a start -- when I get home from running around today, I need to organise those by deadline, and make up a plan.

Strangely enough, my posting volume here doesn't correlate with how frantic I am, so you lucky people may get the play-by-play as I prepare for my last BayCon before The Great Sabbatical.

Take care of each other, you lot. I'll be around and about.
karlht: (Default)
Holy Mother, where did all of this energy come from? I've made the most serious run at our kitchen that I've attempted in months, and put a huge dent in the Laundry Monster.

Don't get me wrong, the upside of the roller-coaster has its advantages, but if there's a crash coming, I had better hold on for dear life. This isn't just spring fever; it's an unholy combination of work stress, shifting relationships, oncoming BayCon, and the stupid cocktail of drugs that keeps me breathing as normally as I can, given 40 years of asthma and related ailments.

Not in a place where I can write deliberately or even particularly coherently, but I wanted to capture the moment so that if there /is/ a crash following, I can make an approximation of the timetable.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the notion of trying to map my own neurochemistry at nearly forty-five years of age. But if that's what it takes, that's what it takes.
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I've had this account since the beginning of May, and I've dithered about what to put here, whether to crosspost, etc. I'm sure many folks have the New Notebook Problem -- what do I put on that first pristine page? Does it have to be perfect? What foot do I want to start on? and so forth.

I'm no closer to an answer to that than I was two and a half months ago. But I will announce an intention: Twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, 500 words. Even if it's crap. And it will be crap, at least at first. I'm out of the habit of this writing thing, and it's going to be painful to get back in. But better to go through a few weeks of wince-worthy morning-page stuff than to go another year feeling like I haven't done any creative writing at all.

Things that have been on my mind lately:

  • Social justice in fandom: anti-racism, feminism/anti-sexism, and intersecionality among issues of gender performance, gender identity, self-labelling of sexual orientation/preference (gay, queer, lesbian, vanilla, pansexual, otherly-kinked), race, and peer-group identification (geek, fan, fannish geek, queer geek, nerd, slan).

  • The balance between being a welcoming, inclusive community and keeping members of the community safe. How do we decide when it's more important to tell our stories to each other with all the pain and blood and viscera intact and when it's more important to not trigger one another? How do we develop a set of spaces where both are valued, and the two needs don't trample on one another? How does privilege interact with who gets to tell which stories, and who gets accused of insensitivity to others?

  • I've been on the fringes of many communities for a long time now: SF/F fandom, especially as expressed by the BayCon staff/community, Buffista-dom and b.org, various corners of the Free Software community, Dreamwidth. What has kept me from participating in those communities more fully? How much of that is simply Impostor Syndrome and how much is a desire for drama-avoidance, an almost Buddhist belief that the more I invest in (get attached to) a community, the more heartache (suffering) it will bring me?

  • How can I gently begin to re-structure my life so that I spend less time being exhausted and more time feeling like I'm doing something meaningful, where 'meaningful' in this context means 'increasing the amount of love and well-being in the lives of people around me'?

  • How can I maintain a balance between remaining informed about the social/political issues that are important to my life, my family, and my neighbours and not succumb to primal despair about how utterly and obviously broken our current political system is? How do I find people who can help me make sense of this constant stream of completely ineffective outrage? And how do I keep it from smothering every bit of pride I ever had in this brilliantly deranged democratic experiment I call a home country?

Close enough to 500 words for me. Any and all comments welcome.
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The euphoria at feeling like we've finally gotten out from under the oppression of the last eight years of being ashamed of ourselves and our country. The outrage in the midst of that victory, that so-called 'Christians' could spend millions of dollars to 'protect' their institutions by denying recognition to a whole segment of society. My first physical exam in over a decade, and the growing realisation that not only am I not immortal, I have entered into middle age.

This has been what I used to euphemistically call 'an experientially-dense week.'

I have kept my head down for the past year and change for many reasons -- my creative energy has been at a low ebb, I have been wary of speaking out politically in a society that seems obsessed with wiretapping and privacy invasion, and I have felt that I didn't have much to add to a world in which every dingbat with an opinion has a blog. I'm also wrestling with the question of how much of my writing/data to keep on other people's servers (my mail has lived on Google's servers for over a year now, and I'm still not sure how I feel about that), and how much time I have to devote to my own personal computing infrastructure. Being my own sysadmin used to be fun; now it feels entirely too much like work.

There's also some perfectionism involved -- I didn't want to clutter my livejournal with memes and LOLcats and 'trivia,' but I'm beginning to realise that writing for livejournal is a very, very different thing from writing for publication, even when it's self-publication. It seemed obvious to me at one time that there are some things I write that should be hosted on my own hardware, and some that belonged out where my friends could see it easily, and I think I had some vain hope that RSS/Atom aggregation was going to save the day. But re-inventing infrastructure is so very 1990. And perhaps most important of all, it doesn't matter what you're using to publish if there isn't any content.

So I am punting the infrastructure question by the simple expedient of copy-and-paste, and folks who read me on LJ can comment there, and folks who have subscribed to Dragons and Elegance can comment there, and we'll take it as it comes. Because, after all, if I'm the only one reading this stuff, it makes no difference whatsoever. But if you have an opinion, please, share it and be welcome.

Every period of writing activity starts with a single post. This one may not be polished, or even particularly coherent, but it means I showed up to the page. Or at least to the Emacs buffer.

Be excellent and loving to one another, my friends. We've got a lot of work in front of us, but we don't have to do it alone.

karlht: (Default)
(Had my first experience with LJ eating posts earlier. Bleah. And as always, I'm convinced that post was more articulate and sense-making than this one will be.)

Briefly, I've been a bit of a hermit lately. If I owe you correpondence of some sort, typed or otherwise, I apologise. I'm moving around in a bit of a fog, and I don't have much idea of when it will lift.

I'm information-grazing, which is a good thing except when it isn't. Everyone has their ideal balance between reading and writing; mine has been tilted way over to the "reading" end of the scale for months now. I've been trying my best to "show up to the page," but it feels like I've spent weeks staring at empty editor buffers and browser text boxes. Coding isn't any easier than writing prose; my brain just seems sluggish in general.

About the state of the world, I have only two things to say: Canada is looking more like the U.S. every day, and not in a good way. And Venezuela, for which I had such high hopes, is showing distinct signs of authoritarianism. We get entirely enough of that tendency here in the land of the nominally free; if Mr Chavez is determined to be an alternative to American-hegemony-as-usual, couldn't he find a better way to show the contrast than by vigourously suppressing dissenting views? People will start to think that politicians everywhere are just out to keep power for as long as they can, and that way lies complacency and ruin.

About computers, software, and their ilk: Do I stick with the old tools (Tcl, Expect, OpenACS, text-only Web browsing, awk, sed, Emacs, C when absolutely necessary for speed, Lisp when dealing with large systems) because my brain is old and calcified, or because the new tools (Ruby, Rails, Python, Twisted, Zope, C++ as a 'system language,' ubiquitous JavaScript, and the behemoths: Java and Eclipse) are all part of the endless recapitulation of an industry that feels compelled to re-invent itself every decade at the very least? Every time I learn a new language, it feels like I'm going over and over the same old already-solved problems.

About people and relationships: Why is it that so many people seem to think that the surest way to make themselves feel better is to make someone else feel worse? I've been pondering that one for at least thirty years, and I'm quite sure I'm no closer to an answer.

If you're reading this, the odds are good that I love you. Please be so good as to treat yourself accordingly.
karlht: (Default)
Where is the love that will save us, now?
Be still and listen, for it beats within you.
Find a Muslim, a Jew, a young Christian and an old sceptic,
Take them by the hands and look deeply into their eyes.
Say the words: "You are my sister, my uncle, my grandma, my beloved.
You wear the face of the angels, of all that is good in the world."
And dare in your heart to make it true.
"What is love?" you ask me, and I have but one answer:
"The only hope we have, and the gift we must not forget."
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OK, folks, bear with me here. I've had less sleep than usual, and so this is going to be a bit more stream-of-consciousness (or perhaps stream-of-conscience) than my average entry. But I promise you it'll give you some insight into the dark recesses of my brain.

Last time I talked about television and information overload. One of the patterns in my life that really disturbs me is that I tend to use the Internet as a substitute for television, and abuse it in some of the same ways that television gets abused. There's such an incredible wealth of information out here, and I can browse until my eyes are square on any given subject. But in the end, all of that information doesn't make knowledge, it doesn't mean anything unless it is turned into tangible action. All of the political blogs I've watched over this past US election season, all of the outrage and passion for democracy that I've seen -- it's no better than television if it doesn't move me, if I don't decide to get up off my bottom and do something.

The same is true of the Free Software-related activities I've been part of for lo these many years. I've been using UNIX-derived systems since 1986, and running my own since I've had hardware powerful enough to do so. My opinion of the notion that I should have to pay someone to lease a program that I can't change, copy, or even examine closely without violating some sort of "End Users' Agreement" is very much like my friend [livejournal.com profile] elenabtvs's reaction to the thought that she should actually pay directly to see a doctor -- it's nothing short of obscene. In her case, it's a matter of "isn't that what we pay our government to provide?" whereas in mine it's much more like "isn't this what programmers and scientists do -- build on each other's successes, learn from each other's mistakes, and pass the results on to the next generation?"

I have benefitted from the contributions of thousands of writers, programmers, scientists, and hooligan-nerds who came before me -- their work has enabled me to earn a living, to communicate with people far-flung across the earth, to share joy and sadness and exquisite mathematics with a group of friends who care about computers and communication and ethics and love poetry and yes, even the occasional television show.

So what can I do, to carry on this fine tradition of putting words and expression and computer programs in the hands of people who will change them, copy them, and even examine them closely?

On my business card, there is a motto: making the magical world of computers and software gentler to human beings. That's my manifesto. Whether by coding, by writing, by giving lectures and seminars and workshops, or by methods I've yet to discover (and perhaps, if I am very lucky, some methods that you suggest to me), that is what I want to do with my life: Use these slabs of silicon and waves of electrons to increase the power of love in the world.

How's that for a pipe dream? Or a life's work?
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This year is going to be all about devoting time to what's important to me. But I can't do that until I determine what's wheat and what's chaff. So I expect to spend a significant amount of the winter in contemplation and meditation, asking the questions "What is really important to me?", "How does this help me live the life I want?", and all of those other horribly philosophical quandaries that sound alternately like I'm a navel-gazing yuppie or a neo-Classicist wannabe.

The thing is, the yuppie lifestyle just doesn't appeal to me. I'm terrible at being a materialist, I despise television with a passion that almost frightens me, and I don't believe in the power of unfettered capitalism to solve the world's problems. Hell, at this point, I'm not sure the world's problems can be solved.

So why all the introspection? Mainly because I'm tired of being depressed -- I've been in what feels like a hibernation-state since active development on my last real project stopped in March of 2003. The economic struggle has sapped my will in so many ways, and I'm tired of giving it that kind of power over me. So I want to rediscover my passion for things, for ideas, for people. Because I'm not going to get to do this again, at least not in this body and with these opportunities.

I expect that my contemplation will follow these general guidelines:

1. People are never chaff. Certain people may not be ideal to be entangled with, but people are never objects to be gotten rid of. I know it sounds simplistic, but it's a moral value, if you will.

2. Wealth and security are not synonymous. I'm not sure security really exists here and now, although compared to River in Baghdad, we're all pretty damned secure. I had an opportunity to work hard and neglect my family and brown-nose my way up once, and I didn't like the feel of it. Wealth in this country feels too much like keeping the boot of progress on the necks of those less fortunate.

3. Love is the most important force in my life. This has many ramifications; it also puts me seriously at odds with what seems to be the prevailing spirit of the here-and-now. Learning to say "I will not hate you, but I will not participate in this activity that I see as destructive to others and incompatible with loving my neighbour" may be the single hardest lesson of my life. Jean Chr├ętien's "We will not participate" may in fact be the most moral thing I've seen a politician do in the past decade. I expect I will be returning to this topic many times over the coming year. It raises all sorts of questions, mostly having to do with how many steps of the causal chain do I need to feel personally responsible for, and how can I make ethical choices in the midst of a society that endorses such practices as factory-farming and near-slave labour simply by its economic structure? How much of that can I bite off at once?

4. Technology has widely unacknowledged second- and third-order effects. While the widespread use of computers and the Internet has made possible at least part of Bertrand Russell's dream of unfettered communication between ordinary citizens around the world, those same computers are being used by oligarchies and economic powers to maintain their hold on the levers of power. As a technologist and a humanist, I feel I have a responsibility to benefit the little guy more than I benefit the big guys -- the big guy can get along just fine without me, but the little guy needs all the help he can get.

There, that's a good place to start. Comments welcome; I hope to refine my thoughts out here in this semi-public forum, and thoughtful criticism is always a help.
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5am, Monday 30 May 1988, Sheremetyevo Aiport, 20 km outside Moscow, USSR.

The grueling 16-hour flight from new York was finally over; my butt was still vibrating. My 79-year-old grandmother had made it through with surprising aplomb and energy, but she was still exhausted. We disembarked from the Aeroflot 747 and emerged into an eerie silence; the plane was the first one to land that morning, and the airport was very nearly deserted. An empty airport is a very different thing acoustically from a full one, to hear the echoes of your footsteps in an airport is deeply wrong in a way I am not sure I can explain. We descended a long, dim corridor towards the ominous-sounding Passport Control. No one spoke, and I wondered why, thinking perhaps they were too tired, too drained from the long journey. And then I saw them -- a line of about a dozen fresh-faced Soviet youth, standing at some approximation of parade rest, not looking particularly hostile or particlarly welcoming, with that blank expression that speaks volumes to those who have seen it, as some of my companions had, on a thousand borders all over the world. And each youth was holding an automatic rifle in an easy two-handed grip, very carefully not pointing it at anyone. It wasn't until after I had the thought, "Dear God, they could kill us all from that position; no one in the corridor would survive," that I realised they were in uniform. That was the moment when I realised how lucky I was, how safe my world had been to have never seen this before.

3pm, Friday 5 November 2004, 12th Street BART Station, Oakland, California, USA.

The group of policemen were gossiping loudly, in that hail-fellow-well-met sort of way that tells you that they've never been told to keep their voices down in their lives. They were standing to one side of the entrance to the station; there were six of them. Two armed in the way one is used to seeing transit cops -- flashlight on one belt hook, automatic pistol on the other side. The other four -- how can I describe them? I don't know guns well enough to tell you a maker or model, but I know these were fully-automatic rifles, the next thing to a personal machine gun. One of them adjusted his rifle on its strap, and though the muzzle never pointed at me, I found myself abruptly imagining what it would feel like to look down the barrel of it. I had seen the individual men in fatigues carrying these things at airports since 9/11, of course. But they tended to travel singly, or in pairs at most. Seeing four of them together, with their weapons casually slung, as if it were nothing that they could simply pull a little piece of metal and hold it down and everyone in this bustling plaza would either take a bullet or run screaming for their lives. And I knew in my head that I should be grateful that these were familiar American good-ol'-boys rather than silent, unreadable, unmistakably Slavic young men. But that didn't stop my heart from breaking.