Thursday, December 20, 2007

This is the saddest poem I have ever read...

Time for a little perspective...I decided to write about Bukowski tonight. Charles Henry Bukowski's poem Bluebird is the saddest poem I have ever read. It may have a little to do with perspective; Bukowski is one of the most tortured poets of the twenty-first century, having suffered from acne vulgaris, ulcers, and tuberculosis to ultimately die from leukemia. This man faced all of these medical demons and kept on writing, while being inspired by drink and the race track. I recently watched Bukowski: Born into this and was ultimately moved by it, especially when the poem Bluebird was placed in perspective at the end of them movie. I had no idea how so much great art is inspired by so much pain and hatred, such sadness and loneliness.

Honestly, it scares me just a little.

It scares me because Bukowski went through some really bad childhood experiences and some horrible medical conditions to produce some amazing art. And it required the horrible experiences to produce this art. I hate to think about someone who went through so much pain to produce something that enriches society, because deep down, it means that I somehow have to pay this person back, but ultimately there's no way to do such a thing. Maybe this pain and suffering is allay-able; maybe it's something that should be prevented. But, in the prevention of such suffering, it would also prevent the production of such great art.

Seriously, read this poem at least three times. The first time I read it, I wept openly. Does this make me less of a man? Maybe. Does it define me as a human? Maybe more. Does it seriously mean that people must suffer for their art? It could be true. And that saddens me more than anything.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I listen to "The Big Lebowski" podcast (at as an entertaining discussion of the philosophy behind this rather creative movie. The most recent podcast as of this writing talks about Dude-ism, and in the process presents a website that details this odd religion (although it is more of a philosophy than a religion, but I like the joke). It really is a thinly-veiled homage to the Dude (semi-title character in the movie), but the site itself really prods some deep questions in me.

Religion for me is a touchy subject, and I don't plan to really expound here on my religious beliefs, other than that I do believe that religion is a very private agreement between you and your metaphysics, and shouldn't be aired, even if it influences your judgment. When a faux-religion pops up I do get concerned though, and maybe it's just a silly thought, but what happens in two centuries when your sarcasm is lost and people take it too seriously? At the same time, this is against the very notion of Dude-ism (from the first Dude-etude):
Confronted with this inflexible and unfeeling existence, the Dude in all of us will acquiesce, slyly scribbling a peace sign where a zero might otherwise suffice. “He who gently yields is the disciple of life,” wrote Lao Tzu. That is to say, he abides.

Let's just say that this is not a religion that encourages evangelical action. I find this encouraging. I agree wholeheartedly with the discussion of philosophy, explanation of theology, and exhibition of faith, but I am aghast towards the amount of religious flaming that is present these days, be it about metaphysics, politics, or programming language.

However, this is also not a religion that spurs action, either. One of the greatest promises of religion is its ability to inspire (literally to breathe life into, interpret the etymology as metaphysically as you wish). Dude-ism is actually void of this inspiration, unless you consider the Buddha (I don't mean the reincarnated one). So it instructs you in posture but not in direction.

When I think of my concept of viviomancy, that is one of the most important parts. I do believe in letting the winds direct me, but I also believe in letting the winds inspire and through serendipity excite me. Not all of that can be undirected and messy; as I discussed in my previous post, some inspired actions do take deliberate steps and discipline in order to accomplish. There must therefore be a balance.

While at first this is just a disagreement between my life-view and Dude-ism, it also for me disqualifies it as a religion, and as a philosophical entity loses its pragmatism. Taoism at least encouraged right action and discipline, even if it was restrained and seemingly lacking in form. Buddhism encourages strict adherence to the Precepts in order to encourage peaceful and harmless action.

Sometimes even action is required to abide.

Change in format and mindset

I have decided to start posting shorter posts, in order to get my writing more spurred. Lately I have lost the reason for the blog in the first place. The purpose is related to the meaning of viviomancy (as I discussed in Housekeeping) as "the act of falling into a vibrant life through serendipity or action through non-traditional reasoning". I haven't appreciated my serendipity recently and I need to recognize that. This is a complicated thought and this may be a longer post than I hinted to in the first sentence, but I need to clarify why I feel the way I do right now.

At first, a lot of my resolutions in my 43 things (look to your left) are the result of mindless desire and direction-less feelings. I don't really know why I wanted to learn Arabic, other than the fact that it looks cool and sounds neat. I really think that I set up my resolutions because I wanted them to come true at the time I made the list and it was more impulsive than it was directed. However, I also have resolutions that are very directed and entirely less impulsive. For example, getting a six-pack is also on the list, and this is entirely less impulsive of a thought. I also have duplicates in this kind of resolution (eat healthier and imporve my diet are the same thing).

In short, I have accomplished more of my impulsive resolutions than I have my directed ones. This is why I feel that I need a new mindset. I now feel that it is possible to "fall into a vibrant life" through disciplined thinking, as contradictory as it sounds. Maybe I'm trying to validate my impulses, but isn't that what life is all about anyway?

I have a big project finishing up pretty soon. I am developing a card game called Zombie which is an unholy mix of bridge, Magic the Gathering, and Trivial Pursuit (in the purpose of getting cogs, not necessarily the trivia). I am actually making it into a Java application, although I tested the game logic in Haskell. Hopefully you'll all get a taste of it soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On trivia!

All of those horribly wasted brain cells. Trivia has always seemed to be the "fat" of the brain's knowledge, all those things that are seemingly unnecessary. As Doyle so elegantly states in A Study in Scarlet:
His[Sherlock Holmes's] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”
“To forget it!”
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
Trivia as defined in the dictionary, means "something of small importance". I will wax trivial then and tell you the entomology of the word trivia. Trivia comes from the Latin trivium meaning "three roads". What the heck does that have to do with anything? Well, in medieval lore, there were seven "roads" to the liberal arts. These seven roads were called the septrivium (or "seven roads"). The seven roads were divided into 2 sections: the high roads of the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music), and the low roads of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic). The trivium were considered to be the lesser of the liberal arts and the use of the term stretched towards any fact that was considered unimportant.

When one looks at the quadrivium and sees that two of these arts have been absorbed into math, one is really physics, and the last is really a fine art and not a liberal one, the quadrivium really has no place in modern thinking. But, it is interesting to note the comparison of the natural liberal arts to that of the "man-made" liberal arts, and the relative importance placed on each. Also, logic is also absorbed into math, grammar is really an offshoot of language study that Noam Chomsky has also placed into math and is actually used in computer science, and that rhetoric is really an offshoot of psychology, so the "man-made" trivium is not really liberal arts either.

This all brings me to my point. I see so many of these studies being scientifically analyzed that our concept of "liberal arts" is really becoming the fringe divider between the scientifically quantifiable and the humanly expressible. So, where is the trivia? When I go to trivia on Tuesday nights at Tigin, they ask us questions that range mostly on points of knowledge, facial recognition, and current events. Literally, trivia has changed from the "ability to reason" which is present in grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and permuted into how many 0-dimensional facts that one knows.

All of these can and should be stored on the internet! I would claim that one of the quintessential tasks of the internet is the storage of extreme amounts of minutiae. So what happens when we find a way to link the internet to our minds to look something up at a moment's notice? No more trivia. It's already happening: Tigin puts on strict limits on the usage of cell-phones, laptops, or PDAs. This is because any of these are just appendages that limit the usage of the internet to "cheat" at the trivia competition.

But now is the time to come back to Doyle's passage. He's really and truly onto something: why store any of this useless knowledge in our brains when we should be storing it somewhere as a reference where it can be verified, compactly indexed, and quickly retrievable? Holmes is exactly correct; there is absolutely no reason he needs to know about astrophysics to solve crimes (unless his crimes occur on the moon or on Mars). And if Holmes needed to solve a stellar case, he could just look it up, know it for that case's time period, and then discard it.

Computers do the same thing: this is how cache works. They have a much faster memory on the CPU that they hit again and again when a piece of code is being repeated in a loop, or if a section of memory is being worked upon iteratively. It stores the hit from a previous lookup of something in slower memory (or worse, disk or flash memory) and works upon that, storing the real value on a different cycle later when it's no longer important. To a computer, the memory is filled with trivia, and the disk drive and internet are filled with obscurity. The only part that is truly important is what's currently on the computer's mind, which is in the registers and cache.

I now ponder what that elimination of trivia as a cultural activity will end up doing to society at large. It's an important and ultimately paradigm-changing consideration. People look up places on GPS; they no longer depend on the knowledge of maps, landmarks, and the like. These landmarks were important, but now they are trivia. Almost any programmer 10 years ago could recite you the powers of 2 up to 2^32: now it's not really that important to their tasks, and it falls back to trivia. Is it really that important to mathematicians today that pi is really really close to 22/7? How important is that estimation to carpenters and plumbers? Will the art of estimation be lost when we all have cranial implants that have calculation as a base function? In any event, the art of the bar-born trivia quiz will soon become a faded memory, as more and more people are able to just look up the answers without even blinking their eyes. I don't know what it all means yet, but it is definitely changing the landscape of knowledge, similar to the change in universities when the septrivium was eliminated.

Been a month...

And now I'll be back at the grind. Things have changed in my employment situation, and soon they will have shifted into new work. It should prove to be more enlightening. I also started competing on Topcoder again, and that was awesome. I will definitely continue to do that; it was as cathartic as it was interesting.

It's extremely difficult to motivate when your feeling of self-worth has been diminished by events that are way out of your sphere of influence. I guess my only way out of it was to prove to myself that I still had worth and purpose to the world, and to deny my 100% involvement in that worth and purpose was to deny society the many blessings it has bestowed upon myself.

That's a real roundabout way of also saying thanks to all of my friends and family who have helped me immensely in comradery, advice, and support.

Anyway I have a second post for tonight, and it surrounds one of my favorite topics. People say I'm good at it too. We'll see tomorrow night. :D

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bonus: Did I tell you how much I like music?

I have a new favorite band. Welcome to Yeasayer. Fish down the website to find the music, I would have linked to it directly but I make it a point to never link directly to the canker-sore of the internet that is MySpace. Too bad it's a convenient way for bands to advertise, but fight it anyway and listen to the song 2080. Wow.

In addition, if you're any kind of coder, you'll appreciate a song by Jonathan Coulton called Code Monkey. Oddly enough it was linked to the YouTube video I posted last week. Here's the acoustic performance I found. Seriously this song could be an anthem, and it has instantly entered my iTunes rotation.

On Perfectionism

K likes to remind me of how I love to be a perfectionist at certain actions. It's a valid accusation towards the infrequent updates to this blog, and it's my biggest stumbling block to happiness. For being a habit that's supposedly good to have, it has a lot of drawbacks.

You see, perfectionism is one of those things that make a person function and idiosyncratic and at the same time make them shut down. If you've never had the experience of meeting someone afflicted with this disease, let me elaborate. A perfectionist is someone who labors to remove all imperfections from a particular action before showing that action to all. In some endeavors, it makes sense; when you solder a circuitboard, perfectionism can make the difference between a circuit acting "glitchy" and a circuit working perfectly. Polish is extremely evident in writing, for it separates the haphazard writing of Palahniuk and Keruoac from the sublime of Pynchon and the terseness of Hemingway (sometimes it takes a lot of effort to say so little). These obvious exertions of effort make a perfectionist good inside when someone else picks up on it and compliments.

However, the woe of the perfectionist is multifaceted. For starters, perfectionists are avid procrastinators; they don't like to start because of the imperfection of the plan of action. They usually use excuses related to this lack of planning, situation, or energy to delay really important tasks (even mundane ones) and this leads to dysfunction or even despondency. Second, a perfectionist usually dreams big, because of earlier successes that promote the idea that more effort at perfecting a task produces unbounded quality. These big dreams fly in the face of a currently reasonable and sensible plan. In addition, usually these high expectations usually lead to internal rejection of an outcome that isn't as ideal as mentally pictured. Because of the relatively high frequency of this happening, this leads to depression, especially when the perfectionist broods over what "could have been". Perfectionists tend to dislike probabilistic concepts such as luck, fate, serendipity, and calamity because not only are these imperfect but they can spoil an otherwise perfect plan. Finally, procrastinators don't like to finish, putting in excessive effort beyond the point of diminishing returns, wasting so much quality time.

From start to finish, perfectionists set themselves up to hate the things they do except in that rare time when everything goes right, which they then obsess about and use it as confirmation bias for their admittedly illogical actions.

How does one break the habit? Simple. Do things you're no good at. It turns out that a perfectionist will truly enjoy activities where they believe that they have no vested interest to polish, compete, or succeed. It's the reason I got into karaoke, and why I still enjoy it to this day: my voice is nowhere near perfect, I don't look to perfect my singing (except I do want to increase my range, so there's more music available that I'll be able to hit the high notes on :D), and usually the involvement of a little grog makes me forget that I'm getting good at it. Recently I won this contest at a local bar which gave me a slot for a bigger competition. The night of that competition was the least enjoyable night of karaoke I've ever had. Why? Because my perfectionist side reminded me how imperfect my singing was, and I wasn't able to get "in the mood", even after a couple beers. After that I resolved never to take any singing event seriously, and I've had a good time at karaoke since.

Such as last night, which was at the same bar as that competition. There was no competition, only good time had by all. We all joined in singing along, and had a blast past midnight. I needed sleep that next morning, and wasn't quite the perfectionist at work, but I was also reminded how much more vibrant life can be when you're not so worried about how you can make life more vibrant.

And with that, I'm gonna go work on perfecting my Halloween costume. Er... or maybe not. :D

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Been a long time

since I've seen this video: It's wonderfully moving.
Granddaddy - Beautiful Ground
I could also read the code at the end, having coded on an Apple 2 like that one at school, and I know how hard it'd be to get the timing just right. I'm checking out the whole discography right now. :D

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quick Clarification...

In my review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I called it Murakami's Ulysses. I did not mean this as a disrespect. It's not unreadable like I remember Ulysses being when I tried to read it, but it is as reference-filled, just as long, and just as packed with meaning (as my friends who have read it tell me). Just because a book is dense doesn't make it obtuse or pretentious. Just because it's long doesn't mean the writer is overly verbose. Both of these are proved by this novel.

I just may go back and try to read Ulysses again. Well, after I finish The Crying of Lot 49 that is. Pynchon trumps Joyce these days.

Nobody can be truly supressed...

...or so Murakami teaches us in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" which is a wonderful romp through an "ordinary man's life". As I told my good friend 35 minutes ago, it is a haunted mystery tale on steroids with more than enough philosophy to fill books. This book is Murakami's Ulysses, filled with references every 5 minutes, all objects in place have meaning to the story (which is inconceivable from the first 300 pages), and the story-telling style is so interesting because I've now encountered it multiple times.

Boys and girls, the word for today is Epistolary.

An epistolary is essentially a collection of documents that tell a story. In my review for Pattern Recognition, I had commented on how much of the story is told in email and forum postings. Little did I know that this type of writing has a name. The book chosen for my book club, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is another epistolary novel. Many books have taken this form, such as Flowers for Algernon, which is told through Charlie's journal entries, and Haunted which is told both through narrator observation and short stories and poems the characters write. In fact, the very first epistolary novel would have to be the Bible (duh... the Epistles of Paul?), or maybe a less controversial choice would be The Canterbury Tales. Wikipedia has a long yet incomplete list of contemporary epistolary novels.

Anyway, back to The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. This is a polylogic epistolary about an ordinary dude in a marriage who leaves his job and then a month later, his wife leaves him. He then spends the rest of the book looking for her and himself. That's all I'll tell you; I really want as many people(well adults; it is a bit X-rated at points, but to good purpose) to read this book as they can, for it really is a work of art. To make this point short, I really connected with the story and went through the emotions with this dude to the very end.

Okay, I promised my friend I'd be brief, so I am. :D

Monday, September 24, 2007

Daily Habits...

are in fact a good thing. That's why I'm deciding to push myself into writing at least one thing every day. There was a post on one of the many blogs I read on a daily basis about a week ago that I can no longer find; maybe if I find it I'll post it. It spoke about giving yourself an interview, because sometimes the person you know the least is yourself. Well, I demonstrated this fact in two ways today.

The first was during yoga practice. Twice a week during my lunch break I go to a yoga class instead of my large lunch. It is a welcome interlude to the day and usually sets me on a good track to be more productive in the afternoons. Today our instructor taught us several mudras. A yoga mudra is a hand position that is used in breathing exercises or meditation. Let me first state that I am a practical yoga practicer, meaning that I don't believe in the spiritual side, but rather practice for the mental benefits of meditation and the physical benefits of the various positions. We were doing a meditation practice where several hand positions were held around the chest or waist, and by breathing one could feel the motion of the diaphragm. We entered one of the mudras where you make a double pointer shape with your hands (palms together, index and thumb extended, rest of fingers folded) and invert it, placing the thumbs at the bottom of the sternum and the index fingers against the bottom of the throat.

The moment I entered this position and started breathing, I started laughing. It was incredible, almost like a switch. I could hold the fingers half an inch away from the chest and be okay, but the moment I made contact with the chest I laughed. Honestly I was a little unnerved by it. Of course the yogi explained that it was possibly a freed energy center and that I was holding tension in that spot. Whatever. All I know is that my body has some funky wiring and when this mudra is performed I break out in laughter. I can still do it now.

The second thing I learned was while playing Big Brain Academy for the Wii. I rented the game through Gamefly to know if it was any good. It's interesting to say the least; the game has some rather challenging "brain puzzles" and although I doubt it's akin to an intelligence test, I can sense my brain straining (or at least flexing) when I play it. One of the puzzles is an art puzzle: there are two canvasses, one complete and one empty. The Wiimote pointer turns to a piece to be placed on the canvas to complete the picture. On the higher levels the picture flips. I am used to this: on a Playstation eye-toy game I once had, one of the games was to break small barriers in midair by coordinating your real-life movements with that on the screen, and every once in a while it'd flip the screen. Back to Big Brain, when you get to the highest level the canvas spins instead of flips. I can handle the flips just fine, but I can't get my head around the spins. I miss every one, almost like my mind has a mental block against solving it. Is it a form of dyslexia? I also had a similar problem with a counting puzzle where numbers rotated inside of balloons and I was confusing -68 as -89 and similar errors (which would be understandable if I hadn't missed it with the leading negative sign). The more I play that game the more I know my mental strengths and weaknesses. It's interesting to say the least.

Anywho, I'm out. Longer day tomorrow than today. But now that I'm dedicated to write about it, I'll start forming some new habits, and that's a good thing to shoot for.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review: Only Revolutions

I forced myself to finish this book, and was hoping for bigger and better things from Mark Z. Danielewski. Unfortunately, I was disappointed: half at myself for not understanding the story better, and half at Danielewski for not telling it better. For a book about dualism, I guess this is appropriate. So have an author fail this way is a depressing homage to all of the great experimental writers who failed in similar ways by concentrating on the form so hard that they eventually forgot they were telling a story first and writing it second.

Danielewski is a good author with big ideas and loves to toy with them. House of Leaves was a great book in this regard; his experimentation with colors, text placement, font choice, and manipulation of features like footnotes, bibliographies, and appendices are what made Leaves stand out. However, these "gimmicks" didn't make Leaves work. What made Leaves work as a book is that it told a coherent story with characters that we cared about, in situations that we could imagine in such a way that two people reading the same paragraph would render similar experiences, and these literary experiments worked to enhance this underlying story. House of Leaves was about a labyrinth, and the book taking this form is perfect for this story.

For exactly the same reasons that House of Leaves worked, Only Revolutions failed.

Once again, Danielewski is playing with form; this time, it's an epic poem told twice from the perspectives of Sam and Hailey. This dualistic poem concept isn't new: over 400 years ago John Milton wrote two poems about the same pastoral scene from two different perspectives: L'allegro and Il Pensoroso well before he wrote Paradise Lost. The beginning of Only Revolutions even speaks in similar couplet beat to these two poems. There is a ton of structure to the book: 360 pages arranged in 45 chapters of 8 pages each, each page has 180 words on it, 90 from each side, half right side up and half upside down. The stories are synchronized even for being 100 years apart, each page in the same section of the story as the alternate poem. A date appears on the both tops of each page indicating the date of that page for that narrator. The days decelerate for Sam who starts in 1863 and moves chronologically at a year/page until the end of his story when it moves at a day/page; Hailey's story starts on Nov. 22, 1963 (at the moment of JFK's assassination no less) and accelerates from a day/page to a year/page, ending in 2063. On the side of the poem are headlines from the day's events, and these also attempt to synchronize with the words of the poem alongside it. The first letter of each chapter also spells out "Sam and Hailey and Sam and Hailey and Sam and Hailey and" (also this is not new: Michael Ende started each of the 26 chapters of The Neverending Story with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, and Milton also used acrostics multiple times in Paradise Lost). Even the colors of the o's on each page match the eye color of the current narrator (extremely useful for remembering where you were). For a literary work, this book is an achievement in structure.

However, where this book succeeds in form it falls in substance. Sam and Hailey's story is virtually nonexistant, when and if you can pry it from the form that muddies the writing. Example of prose[sic]: "And allso their gyre's screw/Though I still tear loose of this crew./--Tootaloo girls!/ And Eighteen NewlyWeds wash pale while Double Dutching and buzzing YoYos:/--O hang on." Yes, Danielewski's using Carroll's word gyre correctly (meaning to spin like a screw). That's from Hailey's side; Sam's side is at first utterly incomprehensible until you compare with Hailey, a dictionary, and a lot of patience. Thankfully even Danielewski tires of this near the end, and the story makes a little more sense. Even with that, the events that peep out ramble more randomly than Allen Ginsburg. Multiple attacks from "THEM" (you think I'm kidding?) and "the Creep" add levels of allegory to suggest that Sam and Hailey are to represent the American Dream, always being sixteen and on the road. Now, don't get me wrong; I love allegory and satire, and when done correctly these methods of storytelling really push a point across. However, the allegory falls apart when it isn't hammered home. Imagine if Gulliver's Travels were told like this:
Samsarra Llemuel!
young sailor full of

life: --splayed on the ground in strife
TwoHundredThousand tiny threads of panic
and tiny voices of near static
Illusions of lilliputian eggs, and which side of budding wars
--Let go of me you whores!
I yearn to cross the See and be small

Allegory makes sense if you really understand the story and the unmistakable opinions of the author. Swift really hammered home his message, and it was unmistakable his impressions of royalty, politics, and human folly, and even when he abstained from opinion it was clear that he did so. Danielewski's impressions of the American Dream are anyone's guess. Let's throw allegory aside for a moment: even if all he was looking for was just a love story (yeah right), even that falls apart. The prose to one another is more over-the-top than any harlequin romance, sex scenes are raunchy and one-dimensional, and jealousy doesn't even make sense when you can't tell if a character is flesh-and-blood or really just a concept (I swear I read that section about New Hope/Old Hope/Dying Hope a hundred times).

One might argue that I'm just too dumb to understand the story, and that if I were smarter and tried harder to read it I would love it. That's the problem though: if a story's only theme is that it is told in obscure kennings, arcane language, and indecipherable metaphor, it fails to become a story and transforms into some form of elitist test that only "proper" readers should be able to comprehend. I have no problem with flipping the book over every 8 pages, or appreciating the word count, acrostics, font re-sizings, or circular chronology. I loved it when e.e. cummings represented a cricket's movement with a spaced out word, or when Calvino gets all metaphysical when writing a book about reading a book about writing a book, or Ende's clever use of italics to flip narrator, main character, and reader's roles. And I loved it when I was crawling through columns of words in House of Leaves, because I had a reason for doing so. Unfortunately, Only Revolutions didn't give me a gripping enough reason to delve into the prose, and thus it fails, even in spite of the obvious brilliance of its author.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pattern Recognition

This is one of Gibson's most clever works, and really gave me an idea of what I love most about his writing, more than anything he wrote in his Neuromancer phase. Gibson is a crowd watcher, as evidenced by the arcade-game styling of his code jockeys in his cyberpunk phase (as research for Neuromancer, he went to arcades watching people play intently, losing awareness of the world around them), or like several stories in Burning Chrome having that Stranger in a Strange Land quality of someone watching an alien world unfold and eventually embrace them. People recognize Gibson as a cyberpunk author, but that really isn't his world anymore, as evidenced by his later works.

I'd venture to call this his post-punk phase, with books like The Difference Engine and the Virtual Light series (only read the first of these). This book is totally stand-alone (although I understand that some of the characters come into play in Spook Country), and tells an intriguing story that feels more present-day than futuristic.

I must be careful about this, because it was written in 2003, so what I call present was future for him. In fact I have a hard time calling this book science fiction, because it's not futuristic, just highly predictive and plausible. Such short term future novels would be easier to write from simple probabilistic argument (much easier to predict out a few unmentioned years than it is several decades like his earlier work). He schemes a book that feels cutting edge and slightly off of the timeline, and beacuse of this choice it gives the book a mystical sheen that makes it always feel ubermodern.

This isn't his only trick though; his characters make this novel work. Cayce Pollard is someone you feel no immediate recognition for and yet she draws an immense empathy. Her mother's a professed psychic, her missing father was a CIA agent/contractor, and from the two she draws many of her personality traits, akin to a mystic practicality that guides her through this "rabbit-hole" of stories.

Cayce is very sensitive to trademarks and in some ways commercialization in general. She makes a living working for companies trying to pick out new logos and to figure out what the latest underground styles are. Her allergic reaction to the Michelin trademark plays a role in several sections, and sometimes "Bibendum" seems to be her anti-avatar, being one of the most globally recognized trademarks. Plausibility of such an "allergy", psychological or otherwise, Gibson pans this character trait to expose globalization in all of Cayce's dealings, and seems to be his method of illustrating the evils of commercialism. It is a clever device; near the end of the book you end up cringing along with Cayce when said trademarks or popular fashion enter the frame of the story.

However, it's easy to see how Cayce's idiosyncrasies could have flattened her character if Gibson hadn't tried as hard as he did to flush her out. Her interaction with characters like Parkaboy, Boone, Damien, Dorothea, and Bigend bring out more of her personality than it does them. Much of the story is told in email and forum postings, a very interesting device to use for conversation. Email is looser of a medium than snailmail, but more thought out than IM or IRL conversations, and also has this weird intimacy that shouldn't be attributed to a protocol more akin to electronic postcards than it is sealed bank documents. Through this intimacy Cayce talks about her parents, her fears, her emotions in a way that makes us also understand her mental state better than the omniscient author could have ever spelled out.

In fact, email plays as a central plot point, when Cayce is writing more of a cathartic letter to a central character, not meaning to send it, and accidentally sends it. I can't think of the many times this has happened to me, and the dread and wonderment that it causes. It's all of these tiny actions and expressions that makes Gibson's characters less futuristic and more presently human.

Ack, writing more about this book would reveal plot that is better left discovered. Let it be said that this is a very striking novel, and although it may lose its sheen in a couple of decades it stands today as one of Gibson's most clever novels.

Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release

My weekend was a bit of a one-note, although as shaped and designed as anything out of a synthesizer.

Roll back to Friday after work. We just packed up our section, as my team is moving from our spot to another one, which is kinda depressing; you become emotionally attached to any place you spend more than 40 hours a week at for more than 12 months, and I usually surpassed 40, and it was longer than 12. Same job, different surroundings. I left at 5, which was a break of sorts for me (usually only get out around 7 or 8).

I went home and got ready to run, leaving around 6. I only wanted to spend half an hour out running, but I got lost in several subdivisions, and when I reached the Merritt when I thought I was headed south, I knew I was kinda lost. I flagged down some people for directions, and didn't make it back until 7:30. At that point I debated the second part of my plan: to go to karaoke in New York. Having a lot of topics on my mind, I decided to clear my head and go.

There is an awesome little karaoke bar on 2nd Ave. between 43rd and 44th, called Keats. The staff there is really friendly, and the crowd is very laid back and enthusiastic. I had a wonderful time, not noticing the time until 3am. Whoops, trains back home stopped at 2. I decided to stay until they closed, and then find an all night diner (a great one is a few blocks north, around the 50s) to eat some breakfast and then get home. I made it home at 8am and then proceeded to crash for 8 hours, then eat and crash again.

I slept until 8 this morning. It was a total mind clear, and I feel much better because of it. Been cleaning the apartment, and then finishing a very clever book by Gibson called Pattern Recognition, which I'll review later on today. I may go running today as well, and this time in more recognizable territory.

I also plan to do some coding, making my sack lunch for tomorrow, and starting my next book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Murakami. I have read several others of his books, including Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (my first), his book of short stories about the Kobe earthquake which was fascinating, and A Wild Sheep Chase (one of his most haunting). His recent stuff hasn't hit any chords like his older stuff, so I'm going after his "classics". I plan to finish this, Kafka on the Shore, and Norwegian Wood by the end of the year, as recommended by the group of people who read his books on Goodreads. He almost has a cult status on the net, but have never met people IRL who were big fans of his work. The only other person I know who has heard of him referred to him as a Japanese Stephen King, almost derisively, which is IMHO an unearned title. Murakami has a mastery of prose that puts King to shame, and his books bear the soul of a writer that intimately cares about his characters as if they were his children, faults and all recognized and forgiven.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


About time I wrote another of these. This one is not mine, and it's not particularly difficult, but I liked it because it elucidated in my own head some properties about roots:

Let xi be the roots of the equation x5+2x+5=0. What is the sum of all xi5, without jumping to Mathematica for the answer?

I have another one, but I'm tinkering with this new operation I've been looking at that is commutative, not associative, nilpotent, and has some cool closure properties, and wanted to first come up with a problem that uses that operator. I guess the proper term for this algebra is a nilpotent loop, and it has some really interesting math behind it (not to mention some intriguing open problems in that algebra and some sibling algebras).


So my habits of procrastination happen in spurts and droughts. Hence the two week absence. The cool thing is that I have friends that I can depend on to kick my tail in gear when I haven't been posting (thanks K!). That and karaoke both helped to unwind the soul and get me typing again.

K also asked me about the name of my blog. Viviomancy is a made up word (because the squiggly red line tells me so), that I forged from three word stems. Vivi- means lively and vivo- means life (which are not quite the same thing: robots and programs can be lively without being alive, and some living people can be downright despondent!), and if these two had a bastard child it'd be named vivio-. -mancy is a root meaning divination, which can mean fortune telling, but the definition I prefer is "successful conjecture by unusual insight or good luck". Joining these definitions together, I define viviomancy as the act of falling into a vibrant life through serendipity or action through non-traditional reasoning. I shouldn't say "happy" here: nobody can guarantee that through action. I only hope to make my life infinitely interesting and energetic.

Originally this was a blog about my new years resolutions, and for the most part I've kept up with aspiring towards some of them. I do read a lot more (especially without cable, see below). I exercise more, and hope that next year I'll get into another open water swim (too late to do one this year). Karaoke was an easy one on my list. My diet is much better since packing my lunch, and twice as good since May (a watershed month for many reasons). I have finally owned up to my finances, and am making headway towards being totally debt-free. My Japanese is getting better, but my Arabic hasn't yet taken off. I am procrastinating less (even with the lacuna of the last two weeks, this is the longest I've ever kept up this kind of website) and I do wake up in the morning to my alarm clock. However, I am missing some things: I haven't skydived, seen a shuttle launch (only a few more years left for that), am nowhere closer to getting a PHD and only minimally closer to getting that six pack. I like the fact that I have a long way yet to go and still have accomplished so much.

However, even with all those accomplishments, I realized that I was missing the point of having those goals: to make my life infinitely more interesting. This would take a lot more redefinition and focus, and a realization that happiness wasn't the target (because it's always fleeting). I had to focus on bringing up my energy, my creativity, my drive. I may not always be happy, but at least I'll be satisfiably intrigued (or intriguingly satisfied?), and that's success in my book. There's no sense in boredom, even if such ignorance is bliss.

So, what am I doing to become more vibrant? My first step was eliminating the things that dragged me down, either through their incessant grabbing of my fleeting attention with banality or through their monolithic representation of some obligation that I must complete (of which it also dares me to ignore). The highest on my list was TV. I am in fact cable-less; I gave it up entirely a couple of months ago, and it has done wonders for my soul. I do watch my two favorite shows on iTunes: Lost and South Park. The rest was easy to give up. I get my news off the net through Google Reader or by glancing at news sites like Digg or WSJ. I also get audio versions of New York Times and some sections of the New Yorker as podcasts, for my walk to and from work. I'll talk about more subtle robbers of attention in future posts.

I have a lot more to write, but I also have real housekeeping to do tonight, and some sleep to catch up on. I will post a smaller math post not connected to this one, and call it a night for now. I will be writing on subsequent days on how I'm working towards this larger, overarching goal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stupid clouds...

have occluded the eclipse in Stamford this morning. It was a total eclipse too. Damn. And it was totally clear half an hour ago. I must remember to catch the next one on February 20 of next year.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Little hiatus...

Last week was interesting and took some time to digest. I decided to wait until tonight to update. High on my list is the concept of capacitance applied to daily life, and that will probably be the topic for tonight. But for now, I'm off for my morning run to work. I came up with my new system to exercise and at the same time not have to deal with the sweat while walking to work. I now run to work, taking a longer route each week. Not only does it more easily allow me to extend my run, but also since there is a UBS gym across the street from work, it becomes very convenient.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On cleaning clothes...

I was looking up what exact proportion of bleach I'm supposed to use on my whites, and I found this wonderful gem of a page detailing the ABC's of cleaning clothes. I'm sure there are more sites out there, but this one was pretty good. If only I had read this in college...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nonrestricted link to the article about audiobooks,,,

I just found a non-restricted copy of the audiobooks article Kristine pointed out to me on the NYT here: (Book clubs: Audio is copout). This is in reference to my blog post about this same topic here: (On audiobooks and book clubs). This way you can know what I'm talking about without paying the NYT extortion fee for the same words.

1211 stars...

...and only 100 more puzzles to go. My theoretical maximum of stars is 1811. For those of you who are not in the know, this is the game I'm speaking of. I've been playing it for over a year now, off and on. It's the best investment of $20 I've ever made. I was also curious as to what happens when you solve all of the puzzles. It takes so long to do so, and in the process you must get really really good at Sudoku. The maximum number of stars one can get is 2030. I sure hope to hell you don't need 2000 stars to unlock something, I probably won't get that far.

Thomas Pynchon in Semaphore

You have to see it to believe it: digital semaphore signals change every 8 seconds reading out the enigmatic text letter by letter. How could I make this up? Makes me want to go and read it, but not by semaphore of course. I'll leave that to Python and Wuthering Heights.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An early night is good for the heart...

I just had a wonderful evening. My book club threw a barbeque in a nearby park and we had a great time. I got to do some grillin', we played bocce and chatted it up until 9 when it was too dark to see out. Hopefully Beth got some good pictures and I can post to that as a visual record. Also, Carley pointed me to this wonderful website called, and I just spent 2 hours detailing all the different books I read in the first 30 years of my life.

What was slightly jarring about the experience wasn't how easy it was to rattle some book names off, but rather the many books I've read and cannot remember the name of the book or the author. This really bothers me for some reason; it's as if I didn't read the book carefully enough. I guess it says something interesting about reading. You see, goodreads makes an interesting assumption: once you've read something, you'll never forget it and you'll always have the same opinion of it. Example, I remember reading Greenwitch by Susan Cooper, but I scarcely recall many of the elements of the book, and only because of the context of the book in the series (which I highly recommend). I also recall it as being the weakest of the books in the series, and now I feel bad about it because I remember it with this negative mark but with none of the details of why I disliked it so much.

I think the other thing that bothered me was that on the list I could mark off 129 books at first sitting, but at first sitting at netflix I could mark off 500 movies. I may have read at least another 100 books, and I have seen over 1000 movies. I guess if you multiply out the time dedication it evens out, but it's still a little disturbing. I'll have to read more.

I'm also looking forward to writing a lot more reviews, now that I have a list of books to refer to in order to review. After my games night tomorrow, I'll be reviewing quite a few. I think there was another website I was doing this with a while back, and I'll have to refer to that as well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Work work work

I did nothing but work today. It was draining, and I plan to sleep shortly... Maybe I'll write more in the morning, when my brain starts working again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On audiobooks and book clubs...

So this goes back to a bookclub meeting I attended back in late July (during my hiatus I believe, that period of time as gone as Europe in Darwinia). The assigned book was A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (an excellent narrative btw, I may review it after Ender's Game). Since this was a first-person autobiographical narrative, I felt that the best way to take it in was by audiobook. This took some people in my group by surprise that I would do this, but after I explained my reasoning many agreed that I was in the right to do so. We had a great discussion about the book going on for many hours, and I was surprised at how many details I absorbed compared to the previous books I read for the group.

In general, I'm an auditory learner. I could hear mathematics from an early age, and although I could picture equations and graphs in later subjects, I often verbalized them before I visualized them. I didn't realize this until a much later age, and I wish I had realized this sooner. Actually, when I was first told this (I think while at the Academy) I denied it. Most mathematicians were visual learners, and being an auditory learner was considered a detriment to speed and accuracy. In fact IIRC out of the multitudes of mental calculators out there only two were auditory calculators (I believe both were Polish (my heritage), but cannot find a reference).

This prejudice carries over into the reading world, where in speed reading you are encouraged to avoid subvocalizing the word (i.e. reading aloud in your head), because the action of doing so causes nerve signals to be sent to the throat and back again, slowing the process down. In fact, they are right; when I skim articles for content because of this training I don't subvocalize at all, and it is very fast. But when I do this, I often read less carefully and can miss key points of what text I'm reading. When I read more slowly oftentimes I can imagine someone reading the text to me, or the book speaking to me as I read. This is just my habit, possibly spawned by my childhood experience.

My parents had a hard time getting me to read when growing up, mostly due to my stubbornness, but also my fascination with math. At 5 I could add two digit numbers on paper, but wouldn't read books without fighting. It was then that my parents did a cool thing; they got me audiobooks through Troll (Mom was a teacher so she got a discount through them). This is actually how I experienced the Hobbit for the first time; I remember spending hours upon hours listening to the story over and over. It is very endearing to me, more so than Lord of the Rings could ever be (which I read by book, slowly, methodically, and with much effort, even though I enjoyed it). Audiobooks are what finally got me into reading.

So I've never had an aversion to audiobooks or stories by audio. I often listen to Stephen Eley's Escape Pod for great stories every week, I subscribe to a ton of other podcasts, and I have several books on audio (one of which is still the Hobbit). I've even produced audiobooks for a school system before as part of my Eagle Project. So let's say I was more than a little shocked by the NYT (unfortunately now restricted) article Your Cheatin' Listenin' Ways. It amazes me in many ways how people could be so ignorant of the realities of audiobooks, and betrays some of the false reasons people attend book clubs. I'm glad that Kristine was equivalently shocked, and I'm about to provide my two cents worth. I won't be as caustic, but I also won't be as forgiving either.

First off, I'm not angry at the author of this piece, unlike Kristine who pointed this article to our group. He was simply pointing out the controversy, and it was good that he did. Personally, I wouldn't have picked up on it, and in a similar situation to Janice Raspin and Dane Frisby-Dart I would have defended the listener right there, probably to equivalent silence, or left the group if it was me who was being outed. It's a sign of a great book club that there is no derision in this regard. However, I don't think that the author of the piece has ever listened to audiobooks before. Some of the comparisons made by Mr. Newman were to the watching the movie attack, or to the privacy of being able to listen in the car, or anecdotes about the abridged version. These are comments that wouldn't come out of an audiobook listener.

Let's set in some of the real facts about audiobooks:

First off, no one who regularly listens to audiobooks wants the abridged version. This is similar to the sickening experience of picking up a book at a used bookstore and only finding out later that it was the Reader's Digest condensed version. If you've ever read both the abridged and unabridged version of anything, you understand completely what I mean. I cannot pick up an abridged version of anything and feel comfortable enjoying it; knowing that some other editor's sloppy hands has chopped the story from the version that the original author and editor had carefully assembled makes me feel cheated.

Second, it takes an equivalent or usually longer amount of time to listen to the unabridged version. This is because the average reading speed on an audiobook is usually much slower than the speed of your average reader. For a precise example, my unabridged audiobook of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is 17 hours for 480 pages, which takes 2 minutes 7 seconds on average to read a page. Usually when I read a book it take a minute per page. So by rough estimates, I'll read a book twice as fast as I can listen to it. Therefore, the arguments on saving time or effort to listen to the audiobook are misunderstood at best.

The argument on saving time is due to the perception that you can do other things while you listen to an audiobook, such as cleaning, grocery shopping, or walking. In fact I do listen to audiobooks or podcasts while doing each of these activities. But, the true number of actions that can be performed while listening to a podcast or audiobook are limited; only truly mindless activities are subject to being piggybacked by listening to the spoken word. The human mind is limited to the number of things it can concentrate on at any one time, and listening to something you've never heard before takes up a lot of that concentration. I would even question listening to audiobooks while driving anything but the most monotonous of trips. Your mind knows it too; have you ever turned down the radio when trying to find someplace you've never been before? That is because you know subconsciously that concentration is necessary for locating a new destination. Arguing that audiobooks require significantly less concentration than reading is as ridiculous as arguing that talking on a cellphone while driving is not dangerous.

Factor in the higher cost of an audiobook (usually 50% more than a hardback of the same book, even through iTunes), the longer amount of time spent listening to it, the amount of concentration needed, and the difficulty of finding unabridged versions, and you see that getting an audiobook for the same book is anything but "cheating".

I have a lot more to say on this subject, but it's late and I need some sleep. I'll return to it at some other time. I guess my point is that listening to an audiobook is just another way of experiencing the same book that requires similar effort than reading the book and results in similar, and sometimes increased comprehension, and shouldn't be treated so pejoratively. I have my theories why other book clubs are so against audio, but I'll save those for another post.

Sign of the times...

As stated previously, I love the weekend.

On some weekends, I go on romps through New York or exploring Stamford. On others, I'll be recovering from whatever gathering or party I was at on Friday or Saturday night. One constant remains though: I always have a cleansing day. Sometimes it's Saturday before I go exploring. Sometimes it's Friday, so I can get ready for an energetic rest-of-the-weekend. Most of the time though, it is Sunday, like it was today. I did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned counters, changed linens, scoured the bathroom, and cleaned the kitchen. Later on tonight I figure out what I'll be eating throughout the week.

It's good to have this quiet time: reflective, meditative, restorative, and energizing. It took my ascendancy into adulthood to learn to appreciate this recuperative phase. In college, it was simply the time without class, and usually included either Wednesdays (on a MTRF schedule) or Tuesdays and Thursdays (on a MWF schedule) so being plentiful, it wasn't appreciated. And earlier than college, I didn't need to recuperate so it didn't matter. It takes the management of a life to really drill into you the importance of learning to survive the long haul. My sister is just starting to learn that now, and when she's my age, she'll finally understand where I'm coming from.

The weekend is a great time to play catchup, or sometimes to get ahead. Finishing The Left Hand of Darkness was a great illustration of catchup in action. I tend to read little bits at a time, and while this allows me to devour at least three to four books a month, some books move slowly because of their deep content. I had lingered on Leguin's book for exactly that reason, and was forced to sit on it for an evening to absorb it in depth. This evening will be an example of getting ahead, when I plan (and for some, make) the meals I'll be eating this week. Anything that can make the week a little less stressful works to my advantage.

Revisiting emails was also part of this catchup phase. Our book club is having a fun little barbecue at the Cove, and helping set that up was something that I couldn't get done with hell week last week. One email commented on an article in the New York Times about audiobooks and book clubs, which I will be commenting upon in my following post. Of course this email was two weeks ago. Reorganizing my Netflix and Gamefly queues was another task; both had grown weeds and some of my choices were painfully outdated. Getting my iTunes library cleaned up was another priority (I'm the kind of video/podcast/audiophile that had all 80GB taken up on the iPod and needs to manage the mix carefully for my moods). Thank fate that I don't have cable, else I'd get nothing done. :)

Things to look forward to in future posts: I have Crime and Punishment, The Corrections, and Darwinia as well as my book club book on the reading list, so expect reviews about these books in following posts. I'll be watching Metropolis and Alphaville tonight (part of the dystopia series :D) before I send them back to Netflix. I may be reviewing other books that I read during my 2 month hiatus (Ender's Game is high on that list). I am gearing up my Haskell skills to create my first game in the language, more details to come on that. I am finally gearing up my swimming, and preparing for longer distances again (2 miles at a shot is not hard for me now, and is a common practice), so I may post more about that. All of my social circles are preparing end of the summer parties so that ought to make for some interesting posts (my Thursday post might be especially entertaining). In all, there's a lot to look forward to.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A long rest, a muted recovery...

Work was especially taxing these last few days. When I got home at 11 yesterday I had a couple of beers and crashed suddenly. Woke up at 3pm this afternoon. The rest of the day shot, I made the best of it and finished The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin. This is an amazing book, but my review will be most critical, and it follows.

The story is about an Envoy sent from a collection of planets attempting to make first contact with an unimaginably foreign civilization. The story is sometimes told from Genly's perspective and sometimes from his friend Estraven's perspective. The amazing part of this narrative is how Leguin is able to capture the culture shock between Genly and Estraven, and what it says about patriotism, jingoism, and xenophobia, similar concepts that by the end of the book are given sharp relief.

The story is told in 4 acts, but this is not evident at first glance, for the segments flow well from one to the next. This is both a benefit to the narrative and at the same time removes a clarity that is needed in as complex a story as this. I had a hard time reading this book; many times I had to stop reading and scan back to remember ideas of the culture, to catch details important to the story, or even to remember the first person speaker. This is in fact one of the worst features of the book; Leguin's quick change of first person without warning makes it extremely hard to follow unfolding events, and frustration at this tendency almost made me quit the book at several opportunities. I am very fortunate that I did not.

In several points Leguin breaks into Gethenian folk takes. This is not uncommon for science fiction about foreign or alien civilizations. What makes Darkness unique in this regard is the importance and timing; almost every single story is a foreshadowing or directly involves the plot. It is not as if they are thrown in for the sake of color; Leguin really wants you to understand what the motives of the characters are, and how influential the myths really are to Genly and Estraven. Not only does it add to the epic nature of the plot but also makes it understandable. It saves the book from incomprehension.

Another interesting plot point is the usage of foretelling. Early on in the book Genly meets up with a foreteller named Faxe. There are two different directions one can go in a precognitive narrative. One can allow the future to mutate (like a Back to the Future situation) or one could not permit the future to change (like in a Twelve Monkeys sense). Writers usually pick one side or the other, but will usually agree on the utility of being able to see the future. Leguin accepts the Twelve Monkey's perception of precognition, but doubts the usefulness of it. Faxe lets Genly know early on that his mission would be successful, but as Faxe says: "You don't see yet, Genry [sic], why we perfected and practice Foretelling? To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question."

Leguin hits upon many difficult philosophical questions in the narrative, which seems to small and complex to tackle them all. Admirably, she writes around what I would consider a crutch of storytelling in the late 1960s/early 1970s when this book was written, and that is the preoccupation with sex. Gethenians are neither male nor female, but rather permute their sex during a biorhythic breeding time called kemmer. If procreation is successful, the one who is female carries a child to term and stays in kemmer, but otherwise Gethenians return to a "neuter" gender. Many times in Darkness, Genly is pejoratively referred to as "the Pervert" because it appears that he is in permanent kemmer. I call this initially a crutch, because it was during the "Summer of Love" that too much attention was paid in science fiction to sex by the most prominent of authors. This obsession with countering the "obscenity" of sex would IMHO negatively influence stories such as Silverburg's The World Inside and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, or even movie adaptations of earlier works such as Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, which had broader themes that were unnecessarily shortened by the preoccupation with sex.

Instead of focusing on the sexual act, Leguin handles this topic brilliantly; while the gender issue and prejudice against Genly for this is a main factor of the plot, she never features any sexual acts and instead of dealing with the attitudes about perverseness, she focuses on two deeper points about gender commonly overlooked: an alien concept of duality that emerges from a lack of permanent gender, and the differences in a society that is rid of gender roles. Without a permanent gender, any Gethenian can be deemed ahma, or the "parent in the flesh". This encourages a number of concessions made by the community for procreation, not to mention a manipulation of many concepts that become alien (or at least muted) in Gethenian eyes, such as rape (sex can only happen while in kemmer, and when both participants are willing), incest (which is permitted as long as it's intergenerational), and seduction (which is impossible to engineer if cycles aren't in sync, although this becomes a plot point in the middle of the story). One of the chapters of the book is written from the perspecive of a scouting mission to the planet that discusses this subject in detail.

In that chapter about sex, two really interesting subjects are elucidated. Because of the lack of gender, the race of planets that Genly comes from (the Ekumen) are almost convinced that the planet is an experiment, and Leguin slips in almost slyly
"But not that there is evidence that the Terran Colony was an experiment, the planting of one Hainish Normal group with its own proto-hominid autochthones, the possibility cannot be ignored."
Although she doesn't comment further on how Earth was an experiment, she does tie in "creation myths" to the story that try to connect in some diagonal way the Terran experience to the Gethenian one, as if the existence of creation myths indicate a pre-engineered society. Secondly, the purpose of this experiment was theorized to be about prevention of conflict. As is illustrated throughout Darkness, this is ultimately a failure; where there isn't full-scale conflict, the jingoism and xenophobia are highly prevalent, and cause many deaths and atrocities, while not paralleled to full scale war, are indicative of the times.

I would go so far as to say that Darkness was more influenced by the Cold War than it was by the Summer of Love. This would put me in conflict with many other reviewers, who consider Leguin's novel to be mainly about the Genderless Experiment. In fact there are numerous comments made in the third act of the book (Genly and Estraven's trek across the northern Arctic region) that speak to the dangers of jingoism. My favorite quote in this novel comes from Estraven (a Karhidian):
"Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country or love one? ...I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks , I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name seases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing."
Leguin's main point is in this jingoism. The main purpose of Karhide's reluctance to submit to the Ekumen is the simple motive of it's national pride; by accepting their place among the collection of worlds they lose their dominance and importance on the world they inhabit. There are many discussions between the two main characters that separate jingoism (a warlike stance to assert one nation's superiority) from patriotism (a love of one's homeland). Genly comments about this near the end of the book:
As I ate, I remembered Estraven's comment of that, then I had asked him if he hated Orgoreyn; I remembered his voice last night, saying with all mildness, "I'd rather be in Karhide..." And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises: and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?
Politics plays center stage in the plot of this novel and Leguin shines in illustrating the subtle maneuvers performed by the (overly) numerous politicians in the book. The concept of shifgrethor plays a prominent role in Gethenian politics and is not completely explained. In one sense it is a level of honor between two people. In another, it is a mind-game of secrecy played in political dealings. In a third, it is a general sense of political power. This game that Leguin plays with the word shifgrethor is similar to Heinlein's trick of obscuring the meaning of the word grok. Unlike Stranger in a Strange Land, which places the concept of grok in the middle of a satire on American culture, Leguin's world makes use of shifgrethor in a more constructive fashion that adds more to the character development than the cultural and political argument the book makes.

In the same vein though, this also belies one major influence in the book that bothered me. It seems that Gethenian culture is borrowed (more than created) piecemeal from a mixture of Inuit and Japanese cultures. Many anecdotes are lifted from Japanese culture (or the American impression thereof) , from the mispronunciation of Ls (Genly is referred to many times in the book as Genry) to the concept of shifgrethor (which is very similar to the concept of giri, and similarly untranslatable). Leguin also refers to other Oriental concepts in the book, introducing the main Gethenian character to Go and the concept of the yin/yang. From the Inuit side, since Gethenian is a planet in the severe stages of an Ice Age, Leguin refers to the extreme survival tactics that are similar to Inuit experiences, creation myths that are very similar, facial and other physical features are disturbingly similar, and influences in language are plentiful (for example, there are multiple words for snow, snowstorms, and icy conditions). These cultural similarities could unfairly reflect on the cultures they're borrowed from if the overall perception of Gethenians were at all negative. Luckily it is not, but it seems a rather risky position to take. It could also be that these borrowed influences were unintentional, more from the research into different cultures than it was from stereotypical beliefs. This is my belief, but the overall impression cannot be ignored, and it did influence my perception of the novel just a little bit.

Overall, I do believe this novel to be a science fiction classic, and one that should be in the canon of anyone wanting to start reading this genre; however it does come with its problems. It is a very dense read, requiring concentration and slow reading, and may turn off potential readers in the first few chapters. Its very slow and suspense-less plot make it hard to become engrossed and involved in the story until at least the third act. Its Gibsonesque pseudovocabulary (like reading Neuromancer for the first time) makes comprehension frustrating. However, for the very same reasons this book shines. Its slow reading makes you think about the multitude of different topics presented, from dualism and patriotism to gender roles and cosmology. The characters are human, even for being alien, deeper that most science fiction novels permit. The diverse language of the Gethenians give life and inspiration to their culture. Finally, the book ends in Shakespearean fashion (the last chapter's name even quotes from the Bard), and forces you enigmatically to think about what just happened. The book is indescribably deep, which is both its worst failing and its strongest asset for this genre.

Wow... didn't intend to write a 2000 word essay... it just happened. I love the weekend.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wow, 50th post...

...but not enough energy to celebrate it. I just got back from work. I had an opportunity to see Don McLean but I was at work. I had an opportunity to croon some karaoke but I was at work. I could have spent today recovering and celebrating quietly, but I was at work.

Didn't realize how much of a dedication this job was until I had opportunities to weigh them against. Weird thing is, I still love it. It's finally nice to have an intellectually stimulating job once in my life.

Well gotta go to bed; I have to be in at 0630h tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Random questions on a random day...

The Mars Volta makes a great background for writing posts. That and some trivia with a little beer to loosen the thoughts. Work totally sucked so I'm releasing here. Did you know that Barney the dinosaur had yellow toenails???? I just learned that tonight. Our troop with the random name scored 70 against the leader's 76. Oh well; can't win them all with Kirk at the helm. I still can't believe I mixed up Jafar with Iago (think Disney).
Two women I met at the soirée last Friday (the one I crawled from) were at trivia tonight. One of them is really cute, the other one is kinda threatening. LOL and I'm 8 years older then both of them. Eriatarka is a GREAT song off of this album. There were only two Father/Son pairs for president, and only one pair was tolerable. What else did I learn? Harry Connick Jr. did the music for When Harry Met Sally. Foreman took the title in a fight called Bungle in the Jungle (at least it's not just a Jethro Tull song). Hitler killed himself on 4/20. Harry Karry announced for 57 years?!? Amazing. Also, John Carpenter (of Millionaire fame) lived in Connecticut.
That trivia night is too tough for one person, let alone a team. Take that last sentence as a full sentence or a fragment, whatever mood you are in. Tonight is made for stream of consciousness, and if fragments are good enough for Joyce, they're good enough for me!
Somewhere deep in my mind I am regretting that I will forget 5/6ths of the information that I tried to remember today. Hopefully the last 1/6th of knowledge will assist me in remaining happy. :D
Also, nights at the bar at the Sheraton (where they held the crossword tournament no less) just north of where I live are supposedly happening events. Who'da guessed???

Monday, August 6, 2007

Lead like the metal

Today my mind drifts towards pseudonyms. I think of Fake Steve Jobs and have to laugh; this guy has mad a cottage industry pretending to be someone who is venting his "real feelings" after pretending to be nice all day. Soon he'll be selling a book off of this "realistic" pseudonym.
Most everyone picks some fake name to jump onto the net with. This is firstly due to the nature of usernames(no spaces, restricted length, and small space of available, intelligible, and suitable alternatives). As soon as people picked names that weren't anywhere near their birth name, etymology forced the username to handle. It isn't the first time; CB and Ham operators altered names for similar reasons (namely the restriction of their media of communication). But it was this world that really breathed life back into the false identity and gave it a life of its own.
I chose my internet name to be an anagram of my real one; I felt that my internet presence would mean nothing if not at least tenuously attached to my persona. It couldn't be too closely attached; on the net one needs a firewall around their soul just as much as they do around their network. This correlates to the real hypocrisy surrounding blogs. No one signs on with their real name and yet they pretend to bare their soul. One cannot bare their soul unless their soul is attached. Even my own persona is a conceit behind the firewall of my username.
One thing that was funny about my pseudonym is that when I came up with it it was unattached to the net, but rather part of a scavenger hunt I put together during my more creative years. So I always spoke it. Leadhyena Inrandomtan, Lead as in paint and gasoline. It wasn't until I got online that people expected it to be Lead, like the head of a group.
The funny part about this is that anyone who's seen any nature show about Hyenas know that they are matriarchal, so the lead hyena would be female. After realizing this, this would make most heterosexual males choose a new pseudonym. Oddly enough, even after this possible misperception was pointed out, I still stuck with the name. I had too much persona invested in it to just change it. It's too much a part of me now.
That being said, I've been referred to on the phone as Leadhyena before. Even with the right pronunciation, it still sounds weird to me. I can only imagine the feelings that FSJ must be feeling now. Will people start calling him Steve? Will it get to him a little? Or will he be rolling in the dough too quickly to notice? Something must hurt if one of your personas, no matter how fake, is exposed and summarily sold. In a perverse way it reminds me of the horcruxes of Voldemort.
That being said, I have signed on some sites with my real name. I have an alumni address and my work email has my real name. I also have a different persona for Second Life (Inrandomtan wasn't an acceptable last name, so I shuffled together Thornn-Adenine Maladay, but I rarely use it). Some pseudonyms are obviously jokes, like WTFOMGBBQ or therapistfinder (read it twice if you don't get it), and are used for sites like Digg, Slashdot, Reddit, and Fark. I'd feel really uncomfortable under one of these pseudonyms because this seems too sharp a quartering of the personality to represent sanely (then again you don't post on Digg most of the time for sanity's sake). The really strange one is where someone will pick an entirely different yet human name, like John Sanders getting online and becoming Bruce Smith. It really happens, and you have to wonder if these people aren't criminally motivated what their angle must be. In fact I find that I have much less trust in a real name on the net (unless it's in the news or famous in the coding community somehow) than I do in at least a mutated one like billy13579 or Chr1st0ph3r.
It's an odd business, this projection of our false selves. I wonder if the effects have been good on society overall. Too late to change it now anyway. Or is it? Many places are asking for email addresses as logins now (they need email verification anyway), and some places I'll use my alumni address and others I'll use my gmail one. Will that become our next "real" internet name, once biometrics are attached to the login as well? Who knows. It's a deep subject and sleep is making me more and more shallow.

---No fake personas (except FSJ) were exploited in the writing of this blog post---

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunshine rocked! (or: why reviewers failed at logic)

Another week another post... eventually I'll get around to posting daily. At this point I'm sufficiently happy with posting weekly. This past week was busy busy busy! I had a book club meeting on Tuesday (A long way gone by Ishmael Beah) which was really good and I was glad that there were other people who had doubts about the narrative as I did (I'll reserve that review for another post). Wednesday I had karaoke, Thursday was Alive at Five in Stamford, and Friday I went to an incredible house party in Fairfield with some friends I met in a trivia team (that incidentally I skipped on that Tuesday to go to the book club :D ). On Saturday I rested.

Today, I cleaned, mentally and physically. This past week had so much stress it was incredible, and my events in the evenings brought me through it but only to sustain not to refresh. So today I scrubbed laundry, sporadically picked up, sparkled dishes, swept floors. I slowly meditated. I swam for sixty minutes solid. Then I went to some movies: The Simpsons and Sunshine. It turned out to be an S themed Sunday after all.

I went to The Simpsons first, because according to the reviewers was a good movie (I was highly entertained; the Simpsons writing staff has not lost any of their wit). However, I only went because I was preparing myself.

You must understand that I really love sci-fi (I had gone through a phase of being bored with it, and am glad to be back into it again (thanks Stephen Eley), and wanted this movie to be epic, but I had read that Sunshine was only good for the first two thirds, and that the ending ruined the movie. Surprisingly enough this was repeated en masse by Wired (sorry: could only find a small snippet of a snub right now), New Scientist, SmartCine, and even Slate jumped in with two stories, one intelligent inquiry and one panned review. Almost everyone commented that the "Freddy Kreuger" ending was enough to kill the film. Even so, I undauntedly saw the film, thinking that being double featured with something funny would at least balance things out.

I was therefore shocked to see such an incredible film, and equally as shocked to see all these reviewers not get it at all! I was as mad for believing them as I was for them trying to ruin this film.

At this point I will spoil part of the movie. If you want to be surprised, then stop reading now and take my word for it. If you don't understand the ending, come back here. For those who need reassurance, read on:

The story is about a second attempt to save the sun by flying up to it and dropping a calculated nuclear explosion at the core to restart a chain reaction. I say second attempt because the first attempt never made it to its destination. They pick up the reading from the first ship and decide to board (because if they can grab the payload then they'd have two chances to succeed instead of one). Now at this point you must be thinking what happened to the first ship. It turns out that the first ship's captain was a Fundamentalist who believed that the sun was dying because of God and sabotaged the first mission. Then being smart, he waited for seven years with the replenishing oxygen garden. Why? Because he knew that mankind would make a second attempt and that if he put out a distress beacon with the ship mostly intact, he could lure them in and sabotage the second attempt as well and bring mankind down "as God intended". So he goes a little crazy near the end while waiting and overexposes his skin to the sun in the Observation Deck (where he murdered three other of the crew), and this makes him look like "Freddy Kreuger". Even though this was foreshadowed in the movie (the psychologist in the second mission has a sun-fetish spending lots of time in the observation deck which they did a great job portraying in his pocked makeup), overusing this effect led to the misunderstanding. I would have understand if none of this was spelled out.

But, here's the thing that really angers me. They DO spell all this out: the physicist and the second lieutenant figure out at the same time that it's the captain from the first mission and say this out loud. This "monster" is no ghost, is no "Freddy Kreuger", he's just a religious zealot thinking he's doing God's will to undermine both missions. I repeat, they SPELL this out in the film, and the reviewers still say it's an unexplained monster. This is almost egregious in its misrepresentation.

Besides, there are other unexplained things in the film that are more misunderstood than this monster thing should have been, such as:
  • the event horizon [the physics not the movie!] general relativity effects that wouldn't happen unless the sun were three times as massive
  • disregarding the "monster", the last three minutes of the film (you'll know when you see it)
  • why a sun would be dying in the first place without going through red giant stage [dying by fire first then by ice]
  • why they couldn't automate many of the mission tasks, such as the calculations to recalibrate the shield, repair the panels, calculate the new trajectory, and command the final shot of fissive material into the sun
  • why airtight isolation of oxygen from the damaged oxygen garden didn't automatically kill the fire, but rather that it would burn for 6 hours (how they solved it was a bit too convenient for too many plot points)
Personally I thought the religious sabotage was extremely clever in comparison to all of that (even though it's been done before too, like Contact). It just goes to show that even a thought provoking movie can be attacked by people who just didn't get it. It just goes to show that you can't trust reviewers all the time, and that your personal experience of a movie could be loads different than the well paid reviewers who may not watch the movie as faithfully. With all that said, I don't think that the ending was well executed, but it wasn't ruined or horrible. It's not a perfect movie, but it's damn near close. Please go see this movie before it leaves the big screen.

PS -- the next reviewer who compares a sci-fi movie to 2001 I will never read again. 2001 wasn't even that good compared to the book.

There, I'm done ranting now. :D

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Okay so it's been two months...

It's funny how some habits are easily broken. I went from writing every day to not writing at all, and trying to reform that habit. I also went from 8 cups of coffee to 0 cups back up to two cups (man caffeine headaches really do suck). I have been reading voraciously though. Some of the many books I've read in the last two months:
  • The time traveller's wife
  • Absurdistan
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
  • After Dark (Murakami's latest novel)
  • Circuit of Heaven
  • Out (Natsuo Kirino's unbelievably dark crime novel)
  • Ender's Game
Other habit changes: I've canceled my cable, continued to swim through two sicknesses and a muscle injury, broke my eating habits, and became addicted to Meetup groups. It would be better if I could enumerate the continuum of these changes, but it's been two months and I don't remember all of it. I think my changes have been overall positive. There are failures, but I'm focusing on the good so that I can improve the good habits that are ailing and destroy the bad habits that thrive on my negativity.

Maybe I'll start writing more often as well. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

So I cooked tonight!

My next goal is to figure out how to post pictures here. I cooked a great meal tonight: lemon curry salmon, wild rice, and green beans. I will start recording my good meals, because I want to remember them. I think the secret to my perfect salmon was the marinade: curry, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice. Simple enough to be perfect.

POD #4 will appear tomorrow night. I am still researching the weird result behind POD #3: There are in fact counterexamples to p^q where p,q are prime. I don't exactly know the correct answer yet, and I will only progress when I have another question to post. I just want to keep the quality up.

Do any of you coders out there switch into vi mode whenever you start typing? I just did; every once in a while I'll want to alter a paragraph above me and start jamming ESC-kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk, wondering why in the hell the cursor is still in place. I remember a time when I hated vi with a passion. Now, I can't imagine writing code without at least gvim as an option.

Holy crap Lost just threw me for a loop. What a goddamned cliffhanger that was. But I still don't know where the polar bear came from, so I'm not completely satisfied. :) Night all.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blogger keeps mucking up my posts...

Ugh. When it comes to math blogging, Blogger totally sucks right now (until I learn some MathML). I always have some formula mutilated. Anywho, I am recovering from a trip to Tigin for trivia night on Tuesdays. I had a blast, joined a team, and had some fun. Met some cool dudes and some cute ladies too... It was totally fun, and will repeat next week. :)

LHIRT POD #3 Solution

Here's the solution to LHIRT POD #3, again written white on white (highlight to read):

According to Catalan, 2NCN = ∑I NI 2. Since N C 0 = N C N = 1, there’s where our 2 comes from. It turns out that N C x where 1 < X < N. Therefore N C I = 2 + ∑ 1 N C I = 2 + (N * k) for some k. This means that the remainder will always be 2. As far as the converse, consider 343 as an example. 686 C 343 (mod 343) = 2, and yet 343=7 3 and thus not prime.

One issue with this: I have yet to find a counterexample that isn’t in the form pq where p and q are both prime. Interesting?

Cool problem huh? Anyone want to conjecture on that final form of the answer?

Sunday, May 20, 2007


It's time for a little number theory for the POD:

Let nCr be the number of ways to choose r items from n objects (or "n choose r"). Assume p is prime. Determine what the remainder of 2pCp divided by p is, and prove it. For extra credit, is the converse true?

This one may be a little tough if you don't see it off the bat, so I'll leave it up for a while. Besides, I'm not entirely sure about the converse part myself. :)

Friday, May 18, 2007

LHIRT POD #2 solution

Solution for POD #2 below (white on white below):

Let the point on the inner circle be T. Because PQ is perpendicular to OT, OTP is a right triangle. Therefore OP2=OT2+PT2. Now, the true area of the doughnut is (π/2)(OP2-OT2)= (π/2)(OT2+PT2-OT2)=(π/2)(PQ/2)2.

Amazing, huh? Of course the smart-ass answer is that because a formula must exist for this area based on the length of that tangent alone (or else the problem wouldn't have an answer). Since the radius of the inner circle does not matter, make it radius 0, and the area will stay the same or just the area of the remaining circle. In a non-authoritative setting this form of reasoning is invalid, because you can't be sure if the questioner is being honest in implying the existence of that formula.

Another problem will be posted tomorrow.

Ha ha

It seems that I can't keep up with a daily puzzle, it is a lot of work and my schedule prevents it. I will be instead doing a couple of PODs (Problems of Difficulty :P) a week. This will also allow me to vary my posts more. There is too much in my life going on just to flood it with daily puzzles, no matter how much fun they are.

There's a lot of cleaning in my life recently. Recently I sold my PS2 and all games. I've vastly reduced my diet. My activities are paired down to affordable basics. My theory is that the less I'm invested in, the more invested I am in those activities. Maybe it'll pan out, maybe not, but it's something to try.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The problem derives itself from an old puzzle book that solves this problem in a very clever way. I am looking for the real solution, which isn't more difficult than the original method to solve it.

Take a pair of concentric circles, that share a center O. Take a point on the inner circle, and extend its tangent to its intersection with the outer circle at points P and Q. Given only the length of this chord PQ of the outer circle, calculate the area between the two concentric circles.

I will give both solutions in the morning, but I am looking for the one that does not assume that a formula exists in the first place.

Lack of acrimony...

Acrimony is the word of the day, and what's remarkable is its absence; it's amazing that even after all the stuff I've burroughed through in the last few days, that I have nothing sarcastic or cynical to think. My breakup with Dawn is prolonged and melancholy, but not sharp or critical. We just mostly avoid each other as she remains here until she moves in with a friend. Her boxes are piling up, the lacuna of her stuff more striking than the stuff itself. I just removed her from my Wii. I think that both of us are more than ready to have this over as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean we wanted it to happen in the first place.

The important thing to learn from all of this is that you have to be careful with whom you choose to live. What remarkable relationship you have with someone will be cast in a much different light once you share living quarters with that person, and no matter how great your link is with someone, no matter how much you love them and they share that love, you must accept the fact that some people cannot live with one another, and to do so will create great and miserable sadness that the love itself can not overcome. One should ease into these things slowly, carefully, and mindfully, knowing that some things are meant to be and some aren't, no matter how truthful that knowledge is.

Now that I've cleared my mind about said issue, I will speak of it no longer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Answer to POD #1

The answer is in white on white below, highlight to verify your answer. Surprisingly this didn't take me much time, so I'll continue with my questions tomorrow. I will have to qualify by stating that I may pose a problem that I don't know the answer to, and may pass on the problem until I can research it further. This is all but an experimental exercise. :)
Here's how you figure out the expected number of complete rows: there are five possibilities to consider, because you can leave anywhere from 0 to 4 complete rows. You cannot leave 3 or 4 complete rows because of pigeonhole principle: 4 is impossible after removing one, and 3 is impossible after removing 4 (because you can remove an entire row and have one more to remove, destroying another row). So, in all C(12,4) possibilities there are 3 outcomes: leaving 0 rows, leaving 1 row, and leaving 2 rows.

Case 1: leaving 0 rows... you can do this by choosing 1 from each row, or 3*3*3*3 of 81 possibilities.

Case 2: leaving 2 rows... you can do this by first choosing the rows that are complete ( C(4,2) ) then finishing by choosing what to take within the rows that aren't complete ( C(6,4) ) leaving C(4,2)*C(6,4)=6*15=90 possibilities

Case 3: leaving 1 row. First, choose the complete row C(4,1) then choose which 4 of the 9 remaining to remove. But, be careful: of those C(9,4) you must exclude the ones that leave a full row which is [choose first the row remaining then the 4 from the 6 remaining, or C(3,1)*C(6,4)=3*15 or 45] so C(4,1)*(C(9,4)-45)=4*81=324.

To confirm: 81+90+324=495=11*5*9=12*11*10*9/4*3*2*1=C(12,4)

So, now that we have all the possibilities, let's calculate the expected value E=(81*0+90*1+324*2)/495=738/495=1.49090909... so the expected number of rows is about 1 1/2 rows. More likely than not, you'll have 1 complete row remaining.

I had a really fun time tonight, scoring 46 points in the brainmaster's competition at Tigin. I must look up this website; it sounds like a lot of fun. But, it makes for a long night, and your dear author is too tired to continue. Will write again tomorrow.