Archive for July, 2014

In Memoriam, William F. Ryan, S. J.

I attended a memorial service today for perhaps the most important teacher I’ve ever had. Fr. Ryan was not only phenomenal scholar and instructor, but one of the kindest, funniest men I’ve ever had the honor of knowing.

He taught me many important lessons, but one that has stuck with me most keenly has been his warning against the existential vacuum of purposeless life. Man must have meaning in life. We must, each of us, have something towards which we orient ourselves, and for which we strive. I know that for Fr. Ryan, the education, development, and flourishing of his students was one such goal. And for that, I am immensely grateful, and deeply humbled. His dedication to education (along with his charm, wit, and incisive intellect) were incredible to behold.

I say with absolute certainty that the world will never see his kind again, and that we are all poorer for his passing.

But we’re all richer for his having been on Earth.


Becky Stern on Disruptive Wearable Tech

“You’re so wrong. God, I love how wrong you are.”

Given that I’m a sucker for an unreliable narrator, a book composed entirely of dialogue between unreliable characters should be like catnip for me. So I’m a little surprised at how ambivalent I am about Dave Eggers’ newest book, the exhaustingly-titled Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?.

On the plus side, the book is engaging, well-paced, and genuinely funny1. I’d read almost half of it before it even occurred to me to put it down (being trapped on an airplane at the time helped), and I found myself genuinely identifying with many of the characters. In particular, Kev’s softly-softly attempts at getting Thomas to make a mistake and the congressman’s apparently genuine concern for Thomas not to get himself killed came across as honest, very human responses to an implausible, inhumane situation.

One thing that’s not in question is Eggers’ stylistic skills. The characters in the book are remarkably complex and well-rounded, despite existing only in intermittent, strained relation to the protagonist, Thomas. The dialog (which makes up the entirety of the book), is pleasing blend of punchy and plausible. The characters react convincingly to the situation of being chained to posts in disused Army barracks by an otherwise kind, but unstable young man.

Where the book starts to go off the rails is when Eggers tries to hard to drive home a message that his protagonist can’t fully articulate. Perhaps the scattered, inchoate rage is meant to be a message all on its own, but it comes across as a bad combination of sloppy and preachy. Thomas seems obsess with meaning and message, but when it comes to articulating his own purpose in kidnapping a series of notable characters related to his life, the best he can muster up by way of unifying thesis seems to be, roughly, “someone else should have given me a purpose.”

In a way, though, that might be praising the book with faint damns. To find a crazy main character’s message itself coherent and sloppily presented is probably more of a reflection of the strength of Eggers’ characterization, than any weakness of plotting. And while there are certain other elements of the book that seem ad hoc or unnecessary (the whole section with Hansen is a good example), it’s possible that the disjoint and unreliable message actually makes for a better book. On that point, I’m not yet decided.

One thing I am decided on, is that it’s an interesting book, and well worth reading. If nothing else, it’s damned funny and very well written, and to see a novel so unusually structured pulled off so well is refreshing.

In short, it’s definitely worth your time, as long as you’re prepared to be preached insensibly by a crazy serial kidnapper.

1 It’s a strong early contender for “Best Comedic Use of a Taser, 2014”.

“I said kiss me, you’re beautiful and these are truly the last days”

This was our weather today in Seattle. In July.

It seemed eerily appropriate, given I’m still listening to “Dead Flag Blues” on repeat.

(Timelapse credit goes to /u/acidmonkey on Reddit.)

“The skyline was beautiful on fire”

“Standing by the front door, she turnd for one last look, aware that she would never be coming back. The thought made the apartment appear unbelievably shabby, like a prison that only locked from the inside, bereft of any picture of vase. The only thing left was the bargain-sale rubber plant on the balcony, which she had bought instead of goldfish. She could hardly believe she had spent years of her life in this place without question or discontent.

‘Good-bye,’ she murmured, bidding farewell not so much to the apartment as to the self that had lived here.” – Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

The British Electrical Plug as Design Marvel

Well damned if this isn’t a masterclass on design for nerds. Seriously, anyone who cares about making stuff can learn a lot from this video. After all, most of the features he talks about here come down to two of the cardinal rules of functional design: 1.) Make it hard to do the wrong thing. 2.) When you fail, fail safe.

Living in the Future: Explaining Amazon Fresh to a Cat Edition (with Apologies to Randall Munroe)

I’m spending the evening using a metal rectangle full of little lights to prepare a presentation for my colleagues. The presentation is about a horrible failure in the way our light-boxes share patterns with one another. It allowed them to know each others secrets! Patterns of lights were seen where they weren’t meant to appear! While I change the lights in my presentation, I realized that I was low on a few essentials, including black pepper and diet pepsi (two of the foundation stones of my food pyramid). Fortunately, we have a whole army of light-boxes whose whole job is to use light patterns to signal a fleet of pickers, packers, shippers, and drivers, to deliver essentials right to my apartment at short notice. And so, with a few deft flicks of the lights, I signaled what I needed and scheduled a convenient time for them to deliver it, less than 24 hours in the future.

Our light-boxes may not make us as happy as a cat, but they sure can solve a lot of problems for us. (When their patterns aren’t all wrong and causing us tons of grief, that is.)

Return top

Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.