Category: Sumana Harihareswara

Monica and Sumana came to visit! In the same week! It was a very full week, but I am still very fortunate to have had both my pretend big sisters come see me. I got to meet a nontrivial fraction of the Geek Feminism crew and attend the Beard Team USA National Beard and Mustache Championships, of which, yes, pictures will forthcome. Now: to sleep until August.

One of my favorite things of the many, many I’ve stolen from Sumana is the notion that blogs get a “house style.” This, for the record, is the reason long works (novels, movies, etc) get capitalized but not italicized on NFD.

The dark side of self-exposure

Sumana called me out on my 2007 goal-announcement entry and asked what the follow-up was for 2010-2012. First, HOW IS IT 2010 ALREADY. Second, I thought I’d already done an update on how those goals went, but I can’t find it if I did, so here we go:


  • Get driver’s license


  • Everything else

Okay, so at 28 I have managed to just reach a 16-year-old’s level of basic competence. Right on track! I got accepted to Clarion but couldn’t afford it, and GSP gently declined my teaching application: this indicates an unsurprising trend of nonprofit programs being happier to take my money than to give me more. I stopped running not long after I posted that entry in 2007, but I struggled into reasonable shape last summer and might be able to get there again now that I own an inhaler.

So. Let’s try this again.

My goals for 2010 are to script a graphic novel and run a half-marathon.

My goals for 2011 are to write a novel and publish a computer game.

My goal for 2012 is to be out of non-student-loan debt.

In which I pick on a universally-beloved mute cancer survivor

This essay presents me with problems, because I agree with its hypothesis, but not its premises or its conclusion, so, er.

I’ve said before that snarky writing is weak writing, after which a conversation with Holly led me to reduce my stance to “snarky writing is comorbid with weak writing.” Ebert and I concur on this. He goes on to state that blogs devoted to pure snark are dumb, and that gasping about the “gayest Oscars ever” because Hugh Jackman sat in Frank Langella’s lap is equally dumb; this is also true.

Then he defends Joaquin Phoenix’s current performance art spectacle as an “accomplishment,” and as “committing himself as an actor.” Sorry, Roger, but acting isn’t art in and of itself, and acting like a bewildered person with nothing to say, without letting other people in on the joke, is no achievement at all. (I have similar problems with Andy Kaufman, but at least he brought a Duchamp-like duplicity to the exercise.)

More essential to his argument is his assertion that the snarkers should leave! Oscar! Alone! Sorry again, but a critic of all people should understand that you don’t get to just declare that it’s not for you. Joaquin Phoenix and the self-righteous pomp of the Oscars deserve no better than snark, because they’re functioning on the same level. Scrape away the ornamentation, and there’s nothing worthwhile underneath.

But that doesn’t mean that snarkery is a noble satirical endeavor. Sumana (via John Hodgman) provides a better argument than Ebert: snark is just “meh” without the benefit of brevity.

Leonard was here for a week! It was great! I didn’t blog about it because I was too busy hanging out with Leonard. Leonard didn’t blog about it because he apparently spends two weeks out of three on airplanes, to the point that travelblogging has become passé. The world demands Leonard.

Kara and I tried to show him the good side of the city: we ate at a lot of restaurants, played a lot of games, climbed a waterfall and discovered that happiness comes in gourds. Leonard also fixed my stupid hard drive (twice!) and helped me find a new grip on a game design problem that’s been bothering me for months. I can only assume that when Sumana visits in November, she will improve my gas mileage and teach me how to get free money from the government.

By the way! Kara and I are dating, in case you care but are not on Facebook. It is also great! Dating, I mean; Facebook is mostly okay.

White pepper is awesome. Also, this is sort of about faith

I’ve reached the point, in my autoeducation as a cook, where I no longer really measure spices or indeed many liquids. This is great for saving time and for not having to rinse a measuring cup every time I need a quarter-unit of something. It is less great when something I make turns out well and I want to write down the recipe for the future. “A bunch of white pepper,” I find myself writing. “Like, as much as a good cook would put in but then also some more.”

If I could always trust myself to make the same judgments based on words like that I wouldn’t have any problems, but I have no faith in Locke and therefore I am not even sure I’m the same person who started this post, much less the one who cooked a pretty good spaghetti nonbolognese earlier tonight. Also it is probably going to be unhelpful in my inevitable cooking blog.

The (thoroughly hidden) point I wanted to record here is that I’m kind of a good cook now? I’m still working in a very small range, but I keep trying new things and they keep turning out pretty okay. I think cooking is, like kissing and biking, essentially a matter of confidence. The food will believe you’re in charge if you act like it.

I learned to cook spaghetti in ten-gallon vats, almost exactly ten years ago, when Jeremy Sissle got me a job at Fazoli’s. He was also the one who trained me on pasta-cooking rotation. We got to the end, and he hauled out the hose, sponges and soap. “Turn on the hot water,” he said, “and fill the bucket, add about this much soap, and… I mean, you know how to clean stuff.”

I still recite that sentence to myself in scary and uncertain places. It sounds stupid, but I did know how to clean stuff, and remembering that snapped me out of the standard lost-and-seasick feeling that everybody gets from new jobs. (At least, I assume everybody else gets it too.)

The other half of my cook-with-confidence mantra was posted by Kevan, years ago, in a comment on Leonard’s site: “I’ve only recently stopped… expecting food to be an inedible, inert, black lump of Syntax Error if I get something slightly wrong.” It’s so true, and such a perfect encapsulation of the way programmers approach other disciplines: raised by severe machines and math problems with one answer, we expect frustration as a punishment for the smallest mistakes (and indeed, with computers, that often remains the case). But once you realize that the notion of discrete measurement is a consensual hallucination, you find the world a more interesting place. Screw Locke. I’m glad I’m not the same person I used to be.


Sumana has managed to combine almost all the reasons I read her blog–inspiration, clarity, critical appraisal of systems and examination of self–into one spectacular post. You should read it.

There’s a quote from Count Zero about being taken up from a low place, rotated through “invisible stresses,” and emerging changed. It’s actually kind of negative in context so I’m not going to reproduce it here. But at some point I have to write about how my interaction with propelled and propulsive people has changed me: how my internship at Dixon Design, followed by meeting Leonard and Sumana, followed by living with Kevan and Holly, reshaped me into someone who no longer fits anywhere outside the self-determined life.

I would have to actually achieve that life first, so I’m not writing it yet. But Sumana’s post brings up another connected point: work that matters for its own sake is superior to work that matters by fiat, which is to say that academic work is worthless in the short or long term, which is to say that I think the lecture-test educational system used in the United States (and, in my understanding, most of the rest of the world) is a sham, a wreck and a hindrance. I graduated with awards and honors from a large public high school and an elite private college, and I still say the system failed me. The intersection of what I learned in classes and my work, play and continuing interests is almost nonexistent; meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the fear and shame endemic to those institutions, and the ways they damaged me.

Under all that I continue to grow more absorbed with the idea of having children someday. I’m starting to consider my life choices in terms of where they’ll grow up, how I’ll support them and how they will learn. (How I’ll actually go about having them is almost secondary.) Could I in good conscience send them down the path less traveled, without having checked it for perils myself? Could I ever prepare them enough for the perils of the path I did take? Sumana again: isn’t it possible to sidestep the bad parts, with enough planning? Well, no, Brendan. Don’t deny the imaginary kids their own invisible stresses.

But if I start seriously working on my own propulsion, maybe my example can reshape someone else.

A Better Way Backward

Hey, remember QTrax? There were plenty of other sources reporting on its old-school dotcom launch party, as well as the subsequent Apollo 1-level launch disaster, which featured even their putative deal with EMI vanishing like a booth babe at midnight; I honestly felt too bad (well, apathetic) for them to join in the kicking when they were so clearly down. Today Sumana pointed out that the service is now in the annals of vaporware, just below Duke Nukem Forever. According to that article, the few songs they did try to offer were skimmed off Limewire and then DRMed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try to start a service so completely benefit-free.

It’s 2008 now, guys. Last year half of the future’s audience didn’t buy a single CD; does anyone really think that audio media featuring any kind of encumbrance are still going to turn a profit? It’s time we started treating music delivery as a resource, not a service, and that means you have to get a lot better at it before you can make a living on the gouge.