living in a man cave

The apartment that Mrs. Geek and I share is far from being a man cave. There is a comforter with a duvet cover on the bed. That duvet cover matches the bed skirt. We have a real (though used) coffee table and matching end tables. Dirty socks and wet towels are decidedly absent from the living room floor. Art adorns the walls. Family pictures adorn the fireplace mantle and the tops of various bookcases. Lava lamps, neon beer signs, beanbag chairs, and wooden cable spool furniture are nowhere in sight. Heck, sometimes we even have fresh flowers in a vase on the dinner table.

This is not to say that our apartment is completely lacking in geek charm. We have our own LAN and a cable modem. We also have a pretty hefty home entertainment system. That system is the subject of my entry today.

I’ve been lusting after a home theater system for years, ever since I got a DVD player shortly after finishing grad school. I got closer to that goal almost 2 years ago when I inherited a 20 year old Hitachi stereo from Mrs. Geek’s Dad. Then I used some money from my tax refund earlier this year to get a new TV and home reciever/home theater decoder. About the only thing I still needed was new speakers.

I was finally able to fix part of that last week. As I mentioned sometime back, I recently got my first raise. It turned out that the raise was retroactive back to the beginning September and all the money was paid to me in my last paycheck. So, I found myself with an impromptu bonus this month.

After some discussion with Mrs. Geek, we decided together that I could finally get the speakers I’ve been wanting. I got two floorstanding speakers and a center channel speaker from Polk Audio. I’ll pick up a matching subwoofer later this month. They’re all pretty basic stuff (think more Honda Civic than Porsche when it comes to audio equipment), but, they’re a big step up what we were using before.

I think out of all the movies I’ve tried with the new speakers, I think that Gladiator sounds the best. I think its the soundtrack, swordplay, and explosions in the thick of battle. Yeah, the explosions. That’s it. Maybe there’s still a touch of the man cave to the apartment after all.

echos of the past

I feel I must first direct your attention to three other web sites:

I’ve been watching the new PBS documentary Broadway – The American Musical this week. While watching the first two hours, I was struck by the number of people they were able to find who were witness to the happenings of the early part of the 20th Century in the music community of New York City. Several Ziegfeld girls. Ziegfeld’s daughter. The artist Al Hirschfeld. People who saw George M. Cohan perform and saw the premiere of the musical “Showboat”. Maybe not the original movers and shakers (though I was struck by the reminder that Irving Berlin, who hit with the song “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” in 1911, only died about 15 years ago at the age of 100), but, people who were there with them and knew them well.

Those people represent a generation now fading away. It strikes up a desire in me to go out and ask “who are you? where have you been? what have you seen?” So much living history predating radio and television and barely recordable on the phonograph is about to disappear, once and for all.

I am reminded of my mother’s regrets that she didn’t learn more about our family’s past before her parents died. My grandparents were both born in this country shortly after their parents immigrated here. One of my grandfather’s brothers was actually born in Europe.

Because it was a world that the family had left behind, none of the my mother’s generation ever expressed much interest in knowing what happened to their parents or grandparents… at least until it was almost too late. My Mom and Aunt finally started asking questions as the last of their parents generation began to die… and renewed relationships with distant cousins who are also curious about how the puzzle of the family history fits together.

The results have been decidedly mixed. On the one hand, my Mom and my Aunt were able to visit the church where one set of my great-grandparents were married. On the other, we will probably never know where my grandfather’s father is from or where he married his wife… or even what my grandfather’s actually name was — people called him Fyodor, Fred, or Frank at different points in his life.

autumn time

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I think it is because of the turning of the seasons. Autumn weather has arrived here at last. Sunshine is more golden and less intense. The days are shorter and cooler. A coat is now a necessity whenever I go out.

Autumn is always an intimate to me. After the go-go outdoor days of Spring and Summer, Autumn is a time to return to life indoors. I find myself thinking about the pleasant idea of being curled up with a good book on the sofa while the stereo plays a CD in the background.The end-of-year holidays also loom, but are not yet oppressive. Good food and good company are just around the corner.It evokes childhood memories of the delicious smells of my mother’s cooking and quiet, lazy Saturday afternoons.

In particular, it always stirs memories of apple cider and doughnuts. There was this place called “The Mill” not far from where I grew up. I don’t know what the heck they did during the rest of the year, but come Fall, they always made fresh cider, sugar and cinnamon doughnuts, and candy apples once the apple harvest came in. It was always a popular field trip destination when I was in grade school. It was fun to see large machines wash and press apples, and see doughnuts get deep fried by the score through a window.

Apple cider was always a seasonal thing at our house. My Dad worked not far from there and would come home about once a year in the Fall with a quart or so of their cider. It was a treat, until you got more of the solids lurking in the bottom of the plastic jug. That jug would eventually be left in the refridgerator door with half an inch of liquid in it… and begin to ferment until it was thrown away. I think that Odwalla makes a cider to match it and drinking cider still takes me back to Autumns long ago.

Their doughnuts were different than most I’ve ever had. They were cake-like more than anything else… and a little crunchy on the outside. They were only available in plain, with powdered sugar, and with cinnamon. These too had a limited shelf life. They were sold and kept in paper bags and the jostling involved in helping yourself to one inevitably would shake the sugar off the doughnuts. In this world of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krisy Kremes, they seemed like a bit of an old fashioned anachronism.

Given uncertainties at work and an approaching national election that threatens to raise my blood pressure, such memories are a confortable refuge.

il n’y a pas de hors-texte and they have no freaking right.

I see this morning that the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver Colorado, has pronounced it a sin to vote for John Kerry. It is also a sin that his Eminence feels must be confessed before Catholics can recieve Communion.

This makes my blood boil! Is this not the 21st Century? Are we to put Catholics under Interdict for voting against war, the death penalty, and the reduction of government aid to the poor? Let his Eminence first fully explain to me how he and his brother Bishops let something come to pass that now requires the statement “proceeds will not be used to settle sexual abuse litigation” to be included with the Bishops Appeal notices I get in the mail… let him explain that and what his penance has been before he can tell me that I must confess my vote for someone other than George Bush as a sin.


In other news, I see that Jacques Derrida passed away. I have never really deconstructed a damn thing, but I spent nine years as a graduate student on a campus that seemed otherwise largely devoted to the idea. Speaking as someone with that experience, I can say that I find it important that Derrida’s phrase “il n’y a pas de hors-texte” (there is no outside text) underlines that the act of reading is inherently an act of translation. To deconstruct text is therefore to embrace the relativistic nature of the written word.

At the same time, deconstruction and its attendant relativism worries me. Literature is not merely a puzzle that must be decoded in order to be understood. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes an exoteric meaning is the meaning of the text. With the politically correct tendency to worship deconstruction, I fear that this overt embrace of relativism may cause some minds to forget that there are values worth holding on to.

On a completely different level, I think that early 90’s Internet writer RICHH summed all this up in this little essay:

     HAIR CLUB FOR MEN VS POSTMODERN FICTION AND CRITICISM

HAIR CLUB FOR MEN                      POSTMODERN FICTION 
                                       AND CRITICISM 
------------------                     -----------------------
Whether wet right out of the           Post-structuralist thought
shower, or blow-dried, it              feels about as natural as
looks and feels natural, just          circumcising (or            
like a part of you.                    mastectomizing) oneself  
                                       with a rusty can.
                                                                  
"Hair Club's new polyfuse              Derrida will often coin
method literally fuses                 new words "portmanteau",
top-quality human hair                 "pharmakon", "differance"
to your own hair."                     when the old ones aren't
                                       doing what he wants them to.
                                       This is a characteristic
                                       Derrida move and is certainly
                                       nothing to lose hair over.


POSTMODERN FICTION                     HAIR CLUB FOR MEN
AND CRITICISM
------------------                     -----------------
Feminists have borrowed from post-     "Even when you feel it, feel
structuralism the conviction that      around the perimeter of your
reality is inherently unstable and     head, you really cannot feel
the complementary claim that           anything in your hair."
language offers the only partial
truth of it that we may hope to
know--and they have expanded the
attack on logocentrism into an
attack on "phallocentrism".  Thus
the illusion that the human mind can
identify and understand an
independent reality becomes a
specifically male pretension to
intellectual domination, which must
inevitably end in the
marginalization and obliteration
of Woman, and all Western thought
becomes inherently "phallocentric".
One also notices in many of
Derrida's writings that he will use
what he writes in the margins to
comment on the body.

Derrida will often use a word and      That guy from "Eraserhead"
immediately cross it out to achieve    had really bitchin' hair.
a desired effect, a technique he
calls "sous rasure", meaning
'under erasure'

HAIR CLUB FOR MEN                      POSTMODERN FICTION
                                       AND CRITICISM
-------------------------              -----------------------
"It really gave me more ways to        Deconstruction is very
be able to do my hair, and I can do    fashionable.  Especially
it in more of a nineties fashion."     in France (snicker, snicker),
                                       and at Yale (double snicker).

A new healthy head of hair can         Postmodernism can dash
renew confidence and improve self-     what little self-esteem
esteem.  It may also bring out the     you may have to rubble
best of who you are.                   as you find yourself
                                       struggling to grasp the
                                       concept of the 'trace'.

Make sure you call Hair Club's         The Tel Quel group has no
toll-free number to make sure you      800 number but, to be fair,
receive their new brochure.            it's a post-modernist on most any
loaded with information so you can     900 line.
make the right choice for yourself.  
And by the way, Sy is not only the 
hair club president, he's also a 
client.

Sy Sperling boasts a lovely, full      Foucault was bald.  DAMN BALD!
head of hair.

A nice head of hair can add character. The writers, of the so-called
                                       'nouveau roman', or 'new novel'
                                       (Robbes-Grillet et al) pride
                                       themselves on eschewing
                                       traditional devices of
                                       narrative, such as plot,
                                       setting and characters.

a science discovery for the ages

Scientists at the Converse Institute for Advance Study today stunned the scientific community by announcing confirmation of the Goldfarb-Minsky Conjecture in an article to appear in the journal Nurture. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Fyodor Lem and Dr. Charles Taylor, Institute press spokesman Paul Childs clearly summed up the significance of the discovery:

Now, we can now say for the first time that the phrase “smells like sweaty feet” represents the most fundamentally effective way to criticize bad food.

The conjecture, first posed at an after-hours post-cooking lesson party in James Beard’s kitchen in 1967, had long been suspected to be valid by scientists around the world. Proving it turned out to be problematic, however. “The scientific tools we available at that time were just not up to the task,” remembered Dr. Georges Pied, a long time friend and colleague of Dr. Lem. “And we couldn’t even get a legitimate food critic to mention it in a column for years. How are we supposed to get funding and do experiments without public awareness?”

Fortunately, the spread of the Internet changed all that. Not only did the Internet prove to be an excellent tool for raising public awareness, it also turned out to be useful in developing the solution. Drs. Lem and Taylor commissioned the creation of the winFeet32 computer worm, a computer virus that infected millions of Microsoft Windows-based hosts last summer. The virus forced computer users to answer a survey about the imagery used to describe bad food. The data obtained from the surveys was then combined with recent advances in the bio-mechanics of smell and taste to determine that smelly feet is the most descriptive term for bad food available to food critics today.

Dr. Lem and Dr. Taylor also announced proof of the Perspiration Corollary to the Goldfarb-Minsky Conjecture, as well. It was suspected that removal of the word “sweaty” from the Goldfarb-Minsky Conjecture would result in a statement between 25% and 75% as offensive. Lem and Taylor announced that the resulting statement is actually 67.83% as offensive.

change is blowing in the wind…

Lots of changes are afoot here at Company O. Evidently my work to complete the test plan due last week distracted me from seeing that other things are going on. I’m reporting to a new manager now. I don’t precisely know if I’ll be reporting the same manager next week. What I do know for certain is that the team I’ve worked with for the last four years will be split up.

Not all the changes around here are bad. I completed my annual evaluation last week. I have been recommended for a change in title to the next rung up the employment ladder. That makes two changes in four years, a little ahead of the expected schedule. Although changes in title are not explicitly tied to changes in salary, I will also be getting a raise. This will be my first raise in my four years with Company O.

Still, the change has been demoralising on some levels. The fact that the group is being split up and changing managers is seen as a rejection of sorts for the manager I’ve had for the last two years. It’s underlined some of the things that I don’t like about being here at Company O. Our new managers are also revisiting some old questions in the sort of way that one attempts to re-invent the wheel. It is not like we found definite answers to those questions the last time around, but still.. it is disheartening.

To further complicate the picture, I’ve been approached by a hiring manager at another company, Company N. This is not all that unusual in itself; it’s just that the offers are usually for IT jobs in places that involve either blistering heat during the summer, near ice ages during the winter, or both. In this case however, I am familiar with Company N. and interviewed there once four years ago. The job description seems tantalizing… an opportunity to help develop new technology with the CTO. I’ve sent Company N. a resume and they immediately had questions about my refereed publications and the topic of my doctoral dissertation. We’ll see what happens next. I haven’t done any serious research in four years, and my dissertation is not likely to change the world any time soon.

So there is a lot going on in my life right now, some of it good, some of it not-so-good. I hope it all shakes out soon.