Questions I Have For You, Part I

Life’s been a bit hectic lately so I’ve been feeling pretty dull. My hair doesn’t have that shine and bounce it normally does, you know? I don’t have too many answers right now so the typical blog format of “Semi-implicit question, long clever jokes about the answer” isn’t going to do it today. So here’s some questions I have, feel free to answer them via DM or email or whatever.

So first, do you like this song? How long does it take before you recognize which song it is?

 

Do you still listen to the radio? Do you have a car?

How does insurance work for folks who are unemployed? Does it change based on age, besides the 26 year old family cut off? How much does it cost for individuals to have?

Have you ever read any stories that could be termed political (science) fiction? I’m not too interested in Foundation series type stuff, but more like a story/guess about what American politics is going to be like in 10 years. Was there a science fiction writer who predicted trolling?

There is a mindset that argues that there is value in focusing in on the classics and the Great Works of Literature as a way of finding the True values in life. I don’t much subscribe to that line of thinking and I imagine there are others who don’t either. What’s the name of the school of thought that are against the Great Books type thinking? Also, when you don’t know the words to google for but are reasonably certain the material is out there if only you had the right keywords, how do you go about searching for those keywords?

Has touching a physical object ever inspired hope in you?

Which questions should I be asking but am I not?

By the questions I’m asking, what do you think I’m thinking about?

What part of the future are you looking forward to that you can’t experience now?

What part of the past do you think you can’t ever experience again?

Has programming ever felt stale to you?

 

Culture without Context

I’m looking for somebody to ruin some perfectly good books for me.

Google has bred a cautiousness in me I don’t need or really want anymore, that snuck up on me and everybody else all at once, a habit not so much to protect myself from anything in particular but born out of the easy access I have to all this information. I’ll look at Yelp before I go out to eat and figure out what to get before I even get there. I can’t remember the last time I read a book were I didn’t already know the gist of the plot beforehand. Spotify prepackages all the new music I hear by relating it to the similar things it has already shown me. Culturally, it all starts to feel fatalistic, small surprises here and there but still within the big picture that I had from before everything even started. It’s hard to be enthusiastic for experiencing something new when I’ve burned through the newness online for a cheap high.

What I really want is to block out all the metadata about what I’m about to experience and somehow prevent myself from experiencing it only through the shadow of its context. I don’t want to know how long an album is, or the genre of the music on it, or the artist or when it was produced or what other people thought of it. Who cares about what page I am on or how many more I have to go to get to the end. I’m an adult, I can make up my own mind about whether I like the food at a place without the help of Jimmy F. on Yelp. I spend more time thinking about which shows on Netflix I should commit to watch than I do actually watching shows on Netflix.

I want culture without the filters of Culture on it. Let me be my own filter and flex all those critical thinking skills I developed way back in sixth grade. I suppose this is the fault of the information technology folks myself, a known hell of our own devise. We’ve catalogued everything in the pursuit of efficiency and haven’t quite figured out how to convince computers to recreate the magic of discovery. With all this media and all these reviews at my fingertips, I get to indulge and be picky and shield myself from the risk of wasted time. But what’s the point of consuming only the finest of everything all the time? I’d like to imagine I would get bored of drinking nothing but the finest wine all the time, but if somebody wants to supply me in pursuit of figuring this one out, please, do get in touch.

What’s the point of the highs if you can’t anchor them relative to the lows? What’s the point of experiencing something when you know when the end is coming and have your eye on it the whole way through? I would imagine half the thrill of drinking one of those bottles of wine from the bottom of the ocean is knowing you might be about to throw back pure vinegar.

Speaking from something I’ve actually experienced though, when I watch videos of Super Smash Brothers Melee matches online, clearly it’s evidencing a profound lack of maturity and providing further disappointment for my dear parents in their manbaby of a son. Moreover, most videos of tournament Melee matches are from a set of best of five games. Once I’d watched enough of these videos, I started to get a really clear sense of why all those tinder dates had gone so poorly and I started getting a sense of how long the matches were going to last and what was going to happen. If somebody is up two games and there’s three minutes left, then it’s pretty unlikely that a stirring last minute comeback is in store. The excitement of the unknown future is drained out of the experience and it’s hard to experience that same thrill that the audience is viewing was in real time.

I’ve thought about asking friends to buy a copy of their favorite book, cut off the covers and all the fluff about publishers and the Library of Congress, take one of those big paper slicers and chop off the page numbers and the authors and titles from the tops of the pages, and then have them give me a chapter or a few pages at a time. Or maybe have them mail me mixtapes of their favorite music with nothing else. “Zack, go to this address, look for the restaurant with the red sign, don’t look at the menu and order a number 17.”

The key thing here is a friend willing to strip away the context from something. It’s not something I can really do myself. So if you’re feeling the same way or want to try experiencing some culture with minimal context, shoot me a message and I can send you purposefully vague recommendations and instructions in exchange for equally purposefully vague recommendations and instructions. I’d ask “What’s the worst that can happen” but don’t tell me actually, that’d ruin it.

Programming is a subjective experience

One time, I read Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, so I pretty much know everything anybody needs to know about philosophy. At least, I know as much as one needs to know to be able to make sweeping generalizations about such things. How do I know I’m philosophically wise enough for this? Because, how have I not made this clear enough yet, I read Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

With that settled, I want to explain why, for me, programming is a subjective experience. Before you try and back sass me, let me redefine some key terms, specifically subjective and objective. I do this mostly because it’s an easy way to win an argument, but also because I have, like, opinions man.

Think back to college. Remember that time when you made the mistake of talking to that particularly annoying Physics major, yes, that one, the one who needed you to understand that the Universe made Sense. He cornered you for twenty minutes,┬áproselytizing you to switch majors (but only if you were smart enough), so that you too could experience the beauty of understanding of how the world works. He’d talk about the math behind attractive forces and friction and black holes and are you doing anything later? He wasn’t wrong mind you, he just hadn’t learned yet that vector calculus wasn’t a viable replacement for charm.

There are rules and equations and math and shit that can be used to explain how tons of things in life work. If all you give me is an atom and a perfect vacuum, I can’t do all too much to surprise you if you know about the basics of physics. The rules are the rules and, given enough dedication, all the rules for how that atom and that vacuum interact can be written out and modeled and understood piecemeal. To me, that’s objective, where you can know all the rules beforehand for a situation and use them to make accurate predictions about what will happen.

Subjective is when you don’t know all the rules beforehand, can’t know all the rules beforehand, when you can only “know it when you see it”. You can try to write down all the rules and use them to make a subjectively good piece of work but then you’ll be called formulaic and fail out of your second MFA program. There are still rules when you are subjective, there’s always an explanation for why something is subjectively bad, but there isn’t an easy way to predict when something will be subjectively good. In some ways, the threshold between subjective and objective is determined by the number of rules involved. For physics, I could simplify down all the rules onto a single sheet of paper and roll from there. For art, it’s not possible to write down enough of the rules ahead of time to figure out what’s possibly going to happen. Subjective things reflect the complexity of life and the universe and how could all that fit on one sheet of paper, I mean, really?

To bring it on home, programing is subjective because we build up all these abstractions and layer them on top of each other, preventing me from understanding everything all at once. There are so many little rules and gotchas in programming that it’s not possible to know enough to predict what a computer will do ahead of time accurately. Everyday, I write programs that break in ways that I could not and would never predict to happen. Even though I could dig in and find an explanation for every thing the program does, in total, the program is an accumulation of rules that I don’t have the brain capacity to understand all at once. I can maybe remember python’s syntax, the basics of networking, the bare bones of the ftp protocol and the task at hand. The idea of trying to remember everything about how a computer works, keeping it fresh in my mind, while also trying to do anything useful is a joke. Computer programming is subjective in that I know when I’ve broken one of the rules but I can’t tell you ahead of time what all of the rules are nor whether I’m about to break one of them.

So, what I’m trying to say is that computer programming is like painting because one time I read a bunch of essays by Paul Graham and he gets this stuff deep man.