Where has Mike been?

I’ve been here all along!  Obviously, it’s been many moons since I’ve posted; I intend to remedy that post-haste.  I don’t work regularly on RAS anymore, so I had been feeling that my well of ideas for posts had been drying up.  But I’ve been involved with a number of new projects, and new projects should mean that there are new things to post about.

I don’t think I’ve written Java code since Swing and Ant were considered the new hotness.  I’m now finishing up a Java-based GUI that leverages SWT, and realized that there were a few challenges that I had to pound through the old-fashioned way because, even with the very useful SWT snippets and Javadocs, there was little advice to be found online.  So that’s where I’ll start back up:  over the next few weeks, I will be posting articles that discuss these challenges and how I solved them.

Good Guitar Lessons in Austin

I’m just going to take a minute to shamelessly advertise for The School of Feedback Guitar in Austin, TX. I started taking lessons there a few months ago, and I’m now utterly addicted to this infernal instrument. It’s amazing that I can use these QWERTY-seized hands to cause a guitar to make sounds even close to what I’m trying to get it to make. If you are considering guitar instruction in this city, even if you’ve never touched a guitar before (or any other instrument, for that matter), I don’t know that you could do better. Dave Wirth is the instructor; stop by the school’s website to drop him a line.

Book Burning: It Might Be Okay This Time

Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, having produced perhaps the greatest corpus of the 20th century. But there is one piece yet unread, one piece that enlightens only the interior of a vault in a Swiss bank. That piece, unfinished, is entitled The Original of Laura. Nabokov left his son, Dmitri Nabokov, with explicit instructions to burn the unfinished manuscript upon his death, but Dmitri has been understandably hesitant to fulfill his father’s wish.

Though my vote counts for nothing, I will cast it anyways: destroy the manuscript. Sure, like so many others, I burn with curiosity at the contents of The Original of Laura. Especially when I read the following:

And yet Dmitri had himself fueled our desire to possess Laura with some of his comments, as when he called it the “most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity” and a “totally radical book.” Who would not wish to get even a sketchy glimpse of the omega point of Nabokov’s artistic evolution?

I think, though, that I offer a reason perhaps yet unconsidered for burning the manuscript: The Chilling Effect. Like so many authors, Vladimir Nabokov was paralyzed by the perception of imperfection. Realizing that the publication of a work exposes the author to public scrutiny, and possibly scorn, it is reasonable to allow an author to spend time in experimentation, frustration, and feverish reflection, with the guarantee that he or she will have the flexibility to tear apart failed experiments, eviscerate clichés, and finely machine metaphors. We have clearly moved towards a wiki/blog/forum world, with the consequential syndrome of so many words without thought, but it would be a foolhardy man indeed who would ink anything of complexity without the opportunity for rumination and self-editing. If every author wondered whether the words he is writing would be read, raw and incomplete, if he were to die just after writing them, perhaps the words would never get written.

We’ve been down this path before. Franz Kafka did not finish The Castle, and instructed his friend, Max Brod, to destroy all of his unfinished manuscripts upon his death. Instead, Brod chose to publish The Castle after heavily editing it (for acceptance by a publisher). The book ends, literally, in the middle of a sentence, which arguably works well given the themes of the book. However, I can’t help but wonder which of the words were Kafka’s and which were Brod’s.

One blogger suggests that, because Nabokov at one time was considering the destruction of the manuscript that would become Lolita, posterity would be well-served by the publication of The Original of Laura. The difference here is that Nabokov had the opportunity to recognize the flaws in what would become Lolita and decide that they were not insurmountable. Did he have such an opportunity with The Original of Laura?

Let purifying fire immolate the chilling effect. We’ve already been given more than we have the right to ask from Vladimir Nabokov; there is no need to neglect this one painfully simple wish.

The Esteemed Semicolon, Neglected

I have never used semicolons. They don’t do anything, don’t suggest anything. – Kurt Vonnegut

Those words probably didn’t single-handedly relegate the semicolon to the realm of suggestively-winking emoticons, but they seem to effectively reflect the zeitgeist concerning that beleaguered character. Sure, the semicolon is difficult to use: the clauses on each side must be independent, except when it is used to separate the elements of a list. If the clauses are independent, why not just make separate sentences? And why would one use a semicolon (rather than the omnipresent comma) to delineate the items of a list?

You may have noticed that I use semicolons. Frequently. Too often, some might say. For a while, it bothered me that I saw so many semicolons in my e-mail, but not often in the e-mail messages that I received. (Well, it didn’t bother me enough to lose sleep, but I digress.) Perhaps, I thought, the language of Henry James and Jorge Luis Borges was becoming archaic, barely translatable to modern language, like Beowulf.

And then I found a continuous and copious paean to the semicolon: http://www.oneletterwords.com/weblog/?c=Semicolon

I am buoyed by that blog. I will continue to use that most mysterious of characters, in all its wondrous glory, when the pause of the period is too pregnant and that of the comma is not pregnant enough, when the interplay, the tension, between two independent clauses is so overt that their separation does them a disservice.

Epilogue

And then there’s the two-spaces-after-a-period “rule” that seems to be falling by the wayside, especially given that web browsers, in a monomaniacal ambition to sanitize web corpora, will convert all double spaces to singles. (Unless you choose to use the ever so intuitive   sequence. (Hey! A semicolon!)) Some interns of mine a few summers ago did not even know that they were supposed to put two spaces after a period; presumably, they once learned it in seventh grade, but were never forced to apply it.

Though this conversion happens en masse, and without permission, I will continue to jab that spacebar twice in response to a period, and let the automation of modern editors and browsers erroneously sanitize them. A useless act of defiance on my part.

Pop quiz: how many spaces after a semicolon? Maybe that’s another reason that semicolon sightings in the wild have become so rare. (Answer: one space. But two spaces after a colon. Intuitive, no?)

Epilogue’s Epilogue

I’m not actually a grammar disciplinarian. The point of language is to communicate; living languages are vibrant, and adjust over time to reflect societal changes. Those developments should be accepted as inevitable, even enjoyed as the addition of a new flavor to an old recipe. I just find it to be a shame that certain characters fall into disfavor merely because they are slightly more difficult to use. Laziness has only rarely resulted in worthwhile mutation. (“O RLY?” you might reply. Yes. Really.) Variances in sentence length and structure are one of the things that can make language pleasurable, rather than strictly utilitarian.

Oh, and I find it easier to visually parse sentences when they are separated by dual spaces. Perhaps your experience differs.

It’s hard to say hello.

An all too common aphorism dictates that it is hard to say goodbye.  But any author will tell you that the first paragraph, the first line, even the title are the hardest words to finalize.  Many times, the title, the very first words read when you pick up a book, are the very last ones written.  When writing, you are struck by how difficult it is to just dive in and write; the action needs to be immediate and important, so that the reader does not become bored.  The tone of the entire narrative is set on page one, paragraph one, word one.  Given those constraints, it is perhaps more miraculous that wonders like Gravity’s Rainbow, Ficciones, or Pale Fire ever get written.

Surely you’ve noticed by now that I’ve managed to squeeze out those first words by merely babbling about the intransigence of first words; whether I’ve succeeded in setting the tone is up for debate.  Though I may lean by nature towards rampant verbosity, abstruse phraseology, and aimless diversions, this blog will primarily concern itself with Linux and open source, with the reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) of computing systems, and with the discussion about how those things (and others) relate to IBM’s POWER-based systems.