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BY Conrad

04/01 Direct Link
They (I can't remember who -- maybe Frog Design?) made the hands of this fool-proof alarm clock longer than the face of the clock was wide. Both hands. So here's the thing: you set it for the time you want to get up, then put it on the floor. During the night, with the arms moving, it walks off, wandering around the room. When the time comes, it makes whatever racket. You can't just turn over, reach out, turn it off & go back to sleep. No way. You've gotta get up and find where the darn thing's gotten to first!
04/02 Direct Link
Two or three hundred years from now, there'll be children's books about lovable & bumbling terrorists. Kids on Halloween will wear Saddam mustaches and plastic razor-blade box cutters, or vests of bright red fake dynamite sticks, holding a fake button.

Think not? Imagine how people 300 year ago would regard the way that OUR kids think of the terrorists of THEIR day. The pirates destroyed, raped and killed not self-sacrificially for some higher cause they thought they were serving, but for selfish financial gain. Eye patches, pieces of eight, plastic swords in scabbards at their side. Shiver me timbers.
04/03 Direct Link
The TV shows are trying to tell me that Art Deco began in Paris in the 1920s. They're trying to tell me that Deco is all about decadence and sensuality and so on. But surely the origins are earlier. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Vienna people at the turn of the century were sweeping away Victorian era clutter and even Nouveau organic shapes (now there's decadence) in favour of the more stylized and geometric forms. I think of Deco not so much as decadence and wealth as discipline and restraint. Art Deco streamlining and stripes are part-way to minimalism.
04/04 Direct Link
Here in Britain, the words "at all" have lost their meaning. They started out in phrases like "any time at all" which means something like "any time -- even if it's very late or very early." Redundant, perhaps, but at least serves as some kind of emphasis: "any time -- and I mean any."

But I had a waitress ask "Would you like any drinks at all?" Now, what does that mean? "Any drinks, even those not on the menu?" or "Any drink, even if it's only like a half glass?"

Then, even worse, "Can I bring you your bill at all?"
04/05 Direct Link
Usually, I'm more of a "Boggle" boy than a "Pit" person, but it's one of my wife's family's favourite games. So there have been times I've been pressed, not too unwillingly, into participating.

In this card game, you win the hand, by getting a complete set. You gain your set through quick trading. "Two, two, two!" you shout, holding up two cards in order to trade for someone else's two.

One glorious day, I managed to acquire one of each type of card. Confident no one could now win, I just relaxed, sat back and watched everyone else frantically trading.
04/06 Direct Link
In our culture, duty is a four-letter word. The mood now is that no one accepts responsibility for anything without a jolly good reason to do so. This is most insidious when it also affects relationships. Even marriage is treated as if it was an agreement between individuals rather than a commitment toward a new union. For us, the individuals continue to exist primarily as individuals. So we treat titles like "husband" or "father" as clothing that we wear or discard rather than as roles into which we grow. "This crysalis isn't meeting my needs anymore," said the caterpillar.
04/07 Direct Link
Three reasons why the sponge & branch offered to Jesus on the cross wasn't the Roman toiletpaper sponge-on-a- stick:

1. The Roman spongestick stayed with the latrines, not with the individuals. It was left soaking in an urn of water.

2. The soldier ran to get a sponge (not spongestick) which was then soaked & THEN attached to a stick. So it was either a new, clean latrine sponge, or a different sponge.

3. If it was a used latrine sponge, the soldiers would have been unlikely to immerse it in their jar of sour wine drink (Jn 19:29).
04/08 Direct Link
So ok, so I know I'm at my best -- concentration-wise -- in the morning. What do I wind up doing first thing every morning? Working on the next book? No. Researching changes to next term's lectures? No. I'll tell you what. I'm making the kids' lunches, getting the one out of the door on time for her bus & walking the other to his school.

But surely then comes the creative work? But no. As soon as I get in to the office, some malevolent force compels me to wander round websites and check & reply to email. Why can't I wait?
04/09 Direct Link
I don't really need a jacket, what I need is the pockets. Those fisherman or cameraman waist-coats, though, are just too nerdy. I like the pouch -- the grenade bag -- and I have no problem about wearing it, but I don't like to have to carry something else as well, and I do frequently need to carry A4 sheets in a folder, or something magazine-sized. So the uniform turns out that a jacket for the Palm and wallet and pen pockets and either my Sendak "Wild Things" tote bag or the Tom Bihn shoulder bag for papers and books.
04/10 Direct Link
As if any of it meant anything. The kids are excited about candy and rap and dance. Big deal. The despot's soldiers used to let them shoot their guns. The kids liked that just as well. The grownups have been taught to cheer the evil dictator who held all the power; when a new group rolls into town with tanks what public face do you expect them to wear? For weeks Western journalists reported that ordinary people were scared to speak against Saddam. How likely is it now that we'll hear anything other than what the West want to hear?
04/11 Direct Link
Grape soda is rare in this country, but I found a bottle of it today and it started me thinking about artificial flavours. I used to think that scientists somewhere analysed natural flavours and then worked to reproduce these in the laboratory. I suppose I imagined the process to be sort of like copying a painting, but on a molecular level. Some of the "copies" succeed better than others.

Now I'm guessing that these flavours are things that are cooked up at random and that people taste them to decide what, if anything, they taste like in the real world.
04/12 Direct Link
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who can wake up in the morning remembering that there is leftover pepperoni pizza in the fridge but still not know what to have for breakfast. And then there are the rest of us.

The deepness of the human "urge for pizza" is a phenomenon that remains unexplained in evolutionary terms. As far as our current understanding of the fossil records go, it looks like our ape-like ancestors NEVER faced saucer-shaped mozzarella-topped prey. The only rational explanation, really, is some kind of extra-terrestrial contact.
04/13 Direct Link
Sports people call it "being in the zone," but it happens to other folks too. I think my most intense experiences of it have been while programming. Psychologists call it "flow" because that word comes up so often in people's descriptions of it: the work just flows, time slows down or becomes totally irrelevant and you're able to enter a state of intense focus and concentration. Writers can get that way too and the big question is how do you bring it on -- when you've got a project, how do you put yourself into the flow? Unfortunately, there's no answer.
04/14 Direct Link
But the deal is that working in the Flow is so amazingly productive (and apparently effortless) that anyone who's been there wants desparately to get back. Without any good theories about what causes it, most folks rely on superstition. It's not quite as bad as those athletes who wear the same socks at every important game, but it's close. You'll hear writers talking about their little rituals that and times and spaces. Sometimes it's even down to the genre of music played or the choice of breakfast foods. But most of them know it's mainly about sitting still and writing.
04/15 Direct Link
I can't blame him; actually it amazes me that the other doctors AREN'T as condescending. All these people come to you, right, obviously not taking enough care to exercise or diet sufficiently but with just enough care to be worried sick about the terrible disease they think they've got. And when it turns out to be something quite minor, your relief coupled with their ludicrous ignorance of the real symptoms of their imagined malady must make it extremely hard not to smirk. So I don't really blame the guy. I just hope I get one of the others next time.
04/16 Direct Link
How to play socialist monopoly.

1. Set up the board & bank as usual.

2. The players together form 'the Collective.'

3. The Collective nationalizes the bank & other game resources.

4. Since the Collective owns all properties and finances, hotels are immediately erected on all properties.

5. Players agree it is pointless to pay rents or fines to themselves or to receive financial prizes for beauty contests etc.

6. Freed from the compulsion to force their friends into bankrupty, players write poetry, compose music or paint.

7. The winner is the player who brings the most enjoyment to the group.
04/17 Direct Link
I had marking to do. It seemed a reasonable idea to go out for coffee, find a table and get on with it. But I couldn't bring myself to go to my writing cafe and despoil that now sacred space. Writer's superstition, I'm telling you! Who knows: if I started doing other things there, the spell might be broken.

So I went local. There is a cafe locally. I gave up the huge windows in order to sit at a taller chair with a table. Mistake! My achey muscles in that hard chair. I couldn't stay longer than 2 essays.
04/18 Direct Link
You are so, like, not going to believe this. But oh, like, 15 minutes after I rang you from the train, I'm walking home from the station, right? I had Dissidents or something on the iPod, right, slow beat, so I wasn't walking as fast as I usually walk; alright? So I'm walking and this guy goes like right by me. There's something weird about him. He's carrying shopping bags but that ain't it. Then it hits me. He's got nothing in his ears -- no phone, no earbuds, nothing. Poor guy; stuck with whatever sounds the things around him provide!!!
04/19 Direct Link
Yeah, well, chocolate is one thing, but you should try giving up something really hard for Lent, like mozzerella cheese. Weeks without pizza or lasagna or baked ziti: who could survive?

Or the letter "m." Could you bear to give up m for Lent? It isn't one of the most popular letters: ETAOINSHRDLU, but it'd still be tough to live without for any length of time. How about just in writing? You could still say it, just not write it. No?

How about the number 14? Or the shade of blue just darker than turquoise. Me? I've given up skipping.
04/20 Direct Link
The weather: so drab and murky. Always on the brink of rain, never quite managing it. You can't help feeling that Easter Sunday should be gloriously sunshiny magnificent blue sky and clarity of light. But get real. The resurrection of Christ wasn't a fairy story; life wasn't miraculously better & beautiful for the frightened disciples, huddled in some back room. I'll wager that the weather wasn't unusually fine that day either. The "good news" wasn't that all their worries were over. On one level, their difficulties began at that point. But they were no longer living on only that one level.
04/21 Direct Link
Programming a computer is an art form. OK, maybe it's not a fine art. You don't look at the code and find it lovely. Well, not very often, anyway. But it is an art the way that violin making is an art, the way that fine furniture making is an art, perhaps the way that architecture is an art. It's engineering with a necessarily aesthetic face. It's accepting the burden of absurdly rigid limitations (like C) and working within them to be creative, and just possibly, beautiful. Because it can't just be about the engines, it's also about the interface.
04/22 Direct Link
The most encouraging thing about this whole war thing so far is that the USA has not faked a chemical weapons depot. I really expected to see footage of bunkers or factories understandably off-limits for cameras & reporters. We've had a few sites reported as having been suspected, but the closest that the US has come to claiming finds are gas masks & chemical protection suits -- quite a different matter than finding weapons. It is somewhat surprising that this regime, painted as being so callous about these weapons, should refrain in a desperate last stand against overwhelming numbers of American invaders.
04/23 Direct Link
A good writer should be able to write a hundred words on just about any topic. Uh, let's see, how many's that? Stink, not even 25. Oh, wait... yes it is. Ok, let's take the topic of, um, I know: sandwiches. (42 now) A good writer thinking about sandwiches might start by talking about the noble function which rye bread serves, or the importance of lightly guiding the mustard around the bread's surface rather than pushing it in. Certainly it wouldn't be long, though before we'd be talking about the filling. Three to four ounces of ... wait ... out of words!
04/24 Direct Link
So where does the time go? I got a clear run at writing... from 8 or thereabouts when I get in till 11 with nothing on the agenda. And when 11 rolls around, I've opened the file once. Typed nothing, edited nothing, didn't even get much in the way of genuine work-related odds and ends done. Just nothin'. Where did the day go to? Checking email, updating device drivers, lunch with Brett... And will I get much of a chance to write this weekend? Doubtful. So much for finishing the chapter by the end of the Easter vac. *sigh*
04/25 Direct Link
Nothing kills your productivity like getting a new computer. If you're not interested in computers -- if you're the kind of person for whom they are mere tools, impediments you must use to manipulate numbers or compile words & images, then any change is annoying and gets in your way. You'd just gotten used to the old one, thank you very much.

On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who enjoys computers and programming and so on, then a new model is such a distraction that you find yourself totally unable to do anything other than tinker for days.
04/26 Direct Link
Take the guy in the supermarket. He's shortish and heavy and has a protruding lower lip. But looking at him this morning, I wonder if my suspicion of him has more to do with his clothes than his build or looks. He wears two of things -- two t-shirts (& a football scarf inbetween). And then two pairs of dark blue sweatpants. The outer one has a phone clipped to it, so the elastic waist sags to show the second pair underneath. And then topping off this ensemble are great black farmer-style boots. Now, ok, I'm no fashion icon, but....
04/27 Direct Link
I followed the arrow and got to the t-junction, joining the main thoroughfare in the parking lot. Painted on the asphalt ahead of me were double-dotted lines. And in big white letters, upside down, "No Entry." Behind me, on the archway I'd just come through were fastened not one, not two, but four bright red metal "Do Not Enter" signs. I'm waiting to turn right and follow the arrows around to the exit, when the guy drives up and wants to turn into the T intersection, giving me a dirty look for not leaving him enough room. Grrrrrr.
04/28 Direct Link
Richard Morgan's *Altered Carbon* is touted as a cross between Gibson-esque cyberpunk on the one hand and Chandler- style film noir on the other. I can see why the comparison is made. But in some ways I think it owes more to the action- adventure film genre than the noir. Not only are violence, drug use and sex more pronounced but, not surprisingly, the hero's own morality is lacking rather than off-centre or submerged. He has a few good, perhaps generous, instincts but that's about it. He's more like Jack Nicholson's *Chinatown* character Jake Geddes than Chandler's Marlowe.
04/29 Direct Link
The thing that makes "West Wing" work for me is not only the quick, clever conversations, although that sure helps. It's the combining of wisecracks with real intelligence and, more surprisingly, with an attitude of genuine respect. The fictional White House staff all know that their president can be pedantic & even boring. And they're usually willing to kid him about it, a bit. But they also respect and admire him, and he respects and values them. We believe that these are extremely smart and creative people and they like each other. What an unpromising premise for TV! I love it!
04/30 Direct Link
CS Lewis wrote that in Christ's resurrection, death itself began to work backwards. He probably based that on Matthew 27:51-52: There was an earthquake after Jesus died, and it broke open some tombs and people came back to life.

I find earthquakes particularly frightening. What's threatening you is something proverbial for security and stability: solid ground, bedrock.

But at this resurrection earthquake we're not told of death tolls or destruction of property. The only things destroyed were the tombs. The danger worked in reverse, and instead of a death toll, there was a back-to-life toll! He is risen!