Jul 072003

(Warning: Meta-content ahead.)

I feel guilty when I go a day without posting, and I’m not the only one. My friend Mark Riebling says that he considers skipping a day on his blog a moral failure, which gives him a lot to answer for, although in Mark’s defense he has book contracts to fulfill and a full-time job to hold down. Say what you like about Bill Buckley’s writing — the man, well into his 70s, still hies himself to the keyboard seven days a week to knock out the daily theme. We can all admire him for that, if nothing else.

Now why should I feel guilty when I don’t blog? Why, when my girlfriend comes home from work and asks, “Did you blog today?” do I feel compelled to mumble something about “working on a couple big posts,” all the while feeling cut to the quick?

It’s not as if I owe my readers anything. Don’t get me wrong: I love, I positively adore, every last one of you, but you get what you pay for, after all. Character is habit, as Aristotle says, and the task is the thing. You set yourself to write a blog. Mirabile dictu, a few people come to read it, but that’s beside the point. Maybe other bloggers are different, but I would feel the same way if I resolved to a keep a journal and then didn’t write in it every day (and I have) or if I tried to put up a shelf or assemble a piece of furniture and wound up punching some holes where none should have been (and I have). It doesn’t matter if nobody reads the journal or sees the holes. You know the holes are there, and it bothers you, or it should.

So will I be posting every day? Not necessarily. Poor Brian Micklethwait must rue the day he made that deal with the devil, although he has kept his end up impressively, if imperfectly, considering he runs another blog and contributes to a few more into the bargain. But I do promise you this: I will be wracked with guilt on the days I don’t.

Jul 022003

It has come to my attention that in certain unswept corners of the Internet I have acquired a reputation for knowing everything. This is untrue. I have forgotten the specific gravity of feldspar, and I never learned how to program COBOL. My Welsh is also terribly rusty. Everything else, I know.

Jun 132003

My blogging holiday was lovely, thanks for asking. I spent a good portion of it trying to figure out how to use a remote Oracle database in a Microsoft .NET application, no easy trick because Microsoft’s support for Oracle is largely theoretical. They don’t really want you to use Oracle at all when you can use SQL Server, their wretched excuse for a production database, instead. Which is all neither here nor there. And now, drugs, which I assure you I was thinking about even before embarking on this excellent adventure.

Full Disclosure: I have a good bit of personal, if not professional, experience with drug use. Several of my friends were heavy users of alcohol, crack, and heroin at various times. I have myself indulged in — “experimented with,” if I were running for office — all of the major food groups at least a couple times. (Q: Mr. Haspel, how many times have you experimented with marijuana? A: Several thousand times, sir. Science requires replicable results.)

Theodore Dalrymple points out, by way of prologue, that heroin withdrawal isn’t all it’s, er, cracked up to be:

I cant tell you how many people Ive withdrawn from heroin. You never get any problems with it. Its not like withdrawal from serious drinking which can be, and often is, a medical emergency. From a medical point of view, Im much more worried in the prison when someone tells me hes an alcoholic. Im much more worried about the physical consequences of his withdrawal because they are really serious, and he can die from them. But nobody ever dies from heroin withdrawal. With the vast majority of them, you just take them aside and say: “Im not prescribing anything for you, I will prescribe symptomatic relief if I see you have symptoms, but what you tell me has nothing to do with it, Im not going to be moved by any of your screaming.” One chap came in and said “What are you prescribing me?” and I said “Nothing”, and he screamed at me, “Youre a butcher! Youre a f***ing butcher”, and he screamed and shouted and eventually I said “Take him away.”

In their more honest moments my drug-using friends have all acknowledged that Dalrymple is right: quitting, alcohol excepted, just isn’t all that tough. Most junkies have quit and returned several times when physical dependence was no longer an issue. I’ve quit smoking twice myself, suffering nothing more than low-level irritability probably indiscernible from my usual demeanor. The inner emptiness where nicotine once was never quite disappears, but whether that is physical or psychological who can say? So to me Jacob Sullum’s tale of the 44-year-old big-shot ad executive/weekend smack dabbler sounds utterly plausible.

Then why do so many people let drugs consume their lives, if it isn’t to avoid a couple days of the flu? Boredom, mostly. Human beings are goal-directed to such a degree that they will substitute a destructive goal if nothing constructive presents itself. Drugs fit the bill admirably. You think you need more, you want more, you have nothing better to do, and you go out and get more. Now you have a goal. Now your life has meaning.

This pseudo-meaning is enhanced by ceremony and ritual, a vastly underrated aspect of drug culture. Paraphernalia assume a mystical significance. Many cigarette smokers worship at the Shrine of Zippo. Some potheads of my acquaintance used to insist on using a particular double album, usually by Genesis, to clean weed. Cokeheads like to snort through $100 bills. Heroin users have the spoon, the tie, and the needle; crack users the pipe and the Chore-Boy (you trap the fumes and get a second hit by lighting it — less powerful, but included in the price). Psychedelics failed to achieve the popularity they deserved in large part because they have no paraphernalia; in cultures that supply a substitute, like peyote-based religious rituals, they are popular.

All-consuming drug use travesties purposeful behavior, the way the Mafia travesties legitimate business. And drug users testify, strangely, to the Misesian proposition that man is a being who acts toward ends.

Post scripta: Drug names are an excellent illustration of Hayek’s thesis about the collective wisdom of the marketplace that may not have occurred to Hayek himself. The market produces crack, smack, crank, ice, pot, blow, and X; committees produce — you can choose your own, but some of my recent favorites are Intuition (a razor for women), Deja Blue (bottled water), and Teen Spirit (a deodorant, God help us).

(Update: Eve Tushnet comments very nicely, but says I lack permalinks. It’s that little chain icon on the right. This from a Blogspot blogger, no less; ah, the irony.)

May 152003

I receive a suspicious number of hits for search strings containing “analysis” — “Emily Dickinson there’s a certain slant of light analysis,” and “analysis invictus” and “herrick virgins time analysis” and the like. (On the other hand, I’m #30 on Google for “bestiality tutorial.”) Finally, yesterday, “Alison” fessed up:

AAAAHHHHH somebody help-im reciting this poem sonnet for a speech and drama exam tomorrow, ive been trying to find info on Lizzy [Elizabeth Daryush, who may not have answered to “Lizzy”] for ages but cant find anything im so frustrated!! anyway id just thought id let you all know-some of your comments were helpful though! Bye

You know, Alison, in my day we didn’t have this new-fangled Internet thingy. We had to walk ten miles through a blizzard to the library to plagiarize Lionel Trilling. And we liked it!

Godofthemachine.com: helping high school students with their speech and drama homework since 2002.

May 032003

Friday, 9:04 AM: My Linux server goes blooey without warning. This means my site is down, the sites of several people I serve for are down, the source control for the project I’m working on is down. It’s a catastrophe. Software Boy springs into action.

9:06 AM: Call hardware guru. Get phone machine.

9:12 AM: Trying to restart the box with the case open, I spot the problem: the CPU fan isn’t working. OK, could be worse.

9:42 AM: Back from Radio Shack with new CPU fan, out $22.95 plus tax for an item that costs about eight bucks on the Internet. Another buck for heat sink epoxy at my local computer repair joint.

9:47 AM: Following the instructions closely, I manage to remove the broken fan and install the new one, jabbing a screwdriver into the motherboard several times in the process.

10:06 AM: Miraculously, the fan starts. The box, however, does not.

10:06 AM to 10:32 AM: Try to start the box a few more times; dead screen. Sulk.

10:33 AM: Software Boy’s got the problem sussed: the fan must have been broken for a long time, and the processor itself finally overheated. New processor, problem solved.

10:39 AM: Back to shop, where I discuss the matter with the Chinese repair kid, who agrees that it’s probably the processor. He generously agrees to sell me a new one, but suggests I check the motherboard to make sure it’s compatible. Do I happen to know the make and model of my motherboard? I do not.

10:54 AM: Home to check motherboard. Back to shop with the model number. Now the Chinese kid can sell me a processor, which he does, for $62.95 plus tax.

11:03 to 11:18 AM: Attempt to pry the new CPU fan off the processor. Fail. Enlist girlfriend, who finally succeeds, breaking off the fan’s handle and stabbing the motherboard with a screwdriver another half a dozen times or so.

11:19 AM: Install new processor, reattach CPU fan, reboot computer. Black screen: black despair. Gather up the computer and take it back to the repair shop.

11:28 AM: Chinese kid opens up the machine and notes that I’ve put the CPU fan on backwards. “What’s the matter with you?” he asks. He plugs it in, gets the same dead screen. He charges me $25 to leave it at the shop so he can figure out what’s wrong with it.

1:50 PM: Phone call from Chinese kid. The processor is fine, he reports, but I need a new motherboard. Decide against asking him whether it’s good for motherboards to stab them with flat-head screwdrivers.

2:02 PM: Back to shop to pick up computer. “By the way, your case is terrible,” Chinese kid calls after me as I leave the shop.

2:12 PM: As it happens, I have a spare motherboard laying around (don’t ask). Debate whether to install it myself.

2:13 PM to 2:47 PM: Prolonged sulk. Decide to install motherboard, since things have been going so well so far.

2:48 PM: Begin to remove old motherboard. Find out Chinese kid has removed half of my RAM.

3:12 PM: Chinese kid phones to report that he’s removed half of my RAM.

3:45 PM: Finally manage to wrench old motherboard out of case and put in the new one, this time installing the CPU fan correctly. Now it’s just a matter of plugging everything back in.

3:47 PM: Attempt to decipher Japlish instruction manual for new motherboard. Note dire warnings that pins must be placed at the proper polarity or “YOU MAY DAMAGE YOUR MOTHERBOARD.” I have one connector with a blue and white wire, one with a red and black wire, one with a green and white wire, and one with a black and white wire. There are no further indications of polarity.

3:48 PM: Ask girlfriend which is positive and which is negative. She suggests I call shop.

3:50 PM: Call shop. Chinese kid, stifling a giggle, explains that white is always negative and red is always positive.

3:53 PM: Plug in connectors and start box. For the first time today, a live screen. The new processor is recognized, and the screen hangs.

4:02 PM: Back to shop. Chinese kid returns my missing RAM and suggests I unplug all cards and drives and “refresh the BIOS.” OK, that’s software. I can do that.

4:14 PM: I follow instructions and sure enough, I get to the BIOS. I refresh it, taking all the “fail-safe default” settings.

4:16 PM: I plug in the hard drive and restart. Box recognizes processor and memory, and dies. Call hardware guru. Get phone machine. Call secondary hardware guru. He suggests I enter my exact hard-drive settings into the BIOS instead of using auto-recognition. This sounds like a lot of aggravation. I decide to sulk for a while instead.

5:26 PM: Instead of changing the BIOS settings, I opt for the magical approach, powering down the machine and trying again. For the first time today, Linux boots up. I shut down, replace the sound and network cards, and reboot. Black screen.

5:42 PM: I realize that I’ve jarred the video card loose when I replaced the sound card. I redo all the cards, screwing them down this time, and try again. The box boots up, I get Internet, and I’m home free. Almost.

6:08 PM: I reassemble everything, leaving only three screws unused, close the case, and set the box back up in its usual place. After I’m done I realize I’ve forgotten to reconnect the floppy and CD drives. I reopen the box, reconnect the drives, and actually remember to test it this time before closing the box. It works.

6:17 PM: Server back in place, with new processor, new motherboard, and new CPU fan. Everything is running. For the moment.

Now wasn’t that easy?

Apr 272003

The hit counter passed 100,000 this week. A poor week’s work for some, but not bad for ten months, considering my sometimes esoteric content, and certainly more than I expected when I began. Thanks to everyone who came.

Apr 162003

Jim of Objectionable Content, the Blogger With No Last Name, posts an amusing, if incestuous, history of the great Hugh MacLeod’s dizzying ascent from utterly obscure to moderately obscure cartoonist, all thanks to bloggers! And people say we have no influence. He neglects my own small but vital contribution: I too found MacLeod through his blog, and without my link to him my immediate family would never have seen his cartoons. I forgive him.

Mar 302003

I can’t speak for each blogger, but this blogger is really four:

  • The blogger who plays computer games instead of blogging.
  • The blogger who checks his reefer logs like a hamster on crank instead of blogging.
  • The blogger who, realizing that his last post could stand some polishing up, decides oh fuck it, hits the publish button and takes a nap instead.
  • The blogger who makes fun of chuckleheads who find the secrets of the universe in business books and use, without irony — or even with — terms like “proactive,” “synergize,” and “win/win.”

(Link from Andrea Harris. Gee thanks, Andrea!)