The Hive

I'm just another dude with too much time on his hands. It really doesn't have anything to do with ants.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell

I'm reading a lot of Malcolm Gladwell right now. It's really good, to the point where I've actually read a few of his articles years ago, like professors gave them to our class to read, and the fact I can't remember exactly what class or prof it was for or from is frustrating me, because I remember them and want to know how they were relevant to whatever we were discussing. He writes really well. He talks about some pretty interesting things, too, and even though most of it's based around complexity/network theory without ever explicitly referencing it, it gets into a lot of the more practical applications for the theory than most of the more technical books on the subject attempt.

My only problem with him is the structure of all his New Yorker articles is identical. I could lay it out right here:

1) Start by describing the life or work or innovation of a single person, a person and work that's trivia, someone widely unknown or completely forgotten

2) Pull back to broad discussion: the context of that person's life or work or innovation, or the larger system it existed within

3) Continue that discussion, sometimes digressing to focus on another individual who made a big impact in the same area, often in a completely different manner, style, or philosophy as the original person, then working back out to the big picture

4) After talking so long about other people and huge societal ideas that we may have forgotten how the article began, swoop back to the original person, apply the conclusions we've reached in the body of the article, and conclude that, because of who that person is and the way the system around them worked, their contribution and the way it changed us was nothing short of a miracle

Traditional beginning-middle-end stuff, but the elements of drama it carries--the personal narrative to kick it off, the mano a mano of the original figure vs. the second figure (always individuals, always somehow philosophically opposed to each other), the inevitably redemptive qualities of the ending--they get a little old after a while. They're extremely effective, it's like combining what could be dry, airy intellectual subjects with the lure of fiction, the telling of a story and the clash of personalities, it's stimulating all over the place. But after reading twenty or thirty of these articles in a row, their structure's become predictable, to where those dramatic elements work against it, because I'm frustrated that I always know where I'm going to be taken next.

Admittedly, they were written as separate magazine articles, as things to be taken one at a time over the course of years, and in that context they're liable to retain their freshness for much longer than when you read them one after another on a webpage. Still, I'd hope a writer as obviously talented as Gladwell would learn to mix it up a little more.

What the fuck is the internet??

I can remember around my sophomore year of high school, it must have been 1997 or '98, and I was watching TV and a Crest commercial came on. It was a normal commercial, except at the very end it had "www.crest.com" before it went to black. I sat there and thought, "crest.com? What the fuck does toothpaste need a website for?"

Not very prescient of me, that moment.

The most interesting topic of all time

I had stopped my car at my mailbox, a series of key-entry steel boxes at the bottom of the hill to my trailer park. It was raining outside, and hailing, and kind of snowing; I’d just gotten off a long, boring day at work, and, encouraged by the freight train of "It’s the End of the World as We Know It" playing over my car radio, I'd driven home in a hurry, eager to change clothes, eat some dinner, and watch some TV.

When I got out of the car the radio immediately dimmed like a switch had been thrown. The stuff hitting my face felt like slush, like something that pours out of a gas station beverage machine. No wind, though: just cold and wet, and three Netflix DVDs waiting in my mailbox. I ran back around to the driver's side, got into my car, out of the cold and wet, into the pounding guitars that were instantly five times louder.

At that point I should have been stabbed or strangled, maybe even decapitated, because it was clear I was living a scene out of a horror movie. Not like I was sad or angry or otherwise feeling nightmarish, but just because that scene—guy's rocking out in his car, guy gets out of car, rock music suddenly fades to the background and he realizes he's out in the rain and the dark and some dude with a chainsaw's just over his shoulder—is one I've seen dozens of times in dozens of movies, to the point where I knew it so well I knew I was living it before I got back in that car.


That was two days ago. The next night I drove Ken home after we watched The Salton Sea, one of those movies that makes you wonder why Val Kilmer doesn't do more serious acting. It had been snowing all day, but it had been too warm to stick until after we’d gotten back to my house. Then, for a few more hours, it snowed and hailed in equal measure. Sometimes it was completely silent outside, sometimes you could hear all that hail pinging off the roof of the trailer.

The roads, they were bad. The city's usually pretty good about getting wintry stuff off the road, but tonight it was if they’d be taken by surprise, or just weren't able to quickly scrape away the half-inch plate of ice that was frozen over everything. I got Ken home and got back okay, but my place is midway up a steep hill, a hill inclined at about 15-20 degrees, and I just parked my car at the bottom and walked back up to my house.

Only I couldn't. Halfway up, it was just too slick to walk. I'd take a step and slide back down to the spot I'd just left. I tried moving over to the shoulder, but it was too slippery there, too. I had the sense that, if I kept trying to walk, I'd end up falling over, and I'd end up just as bruised and humiliated as I was cold.

It was windy, too. Really windy; they'd been talking about wind warnings on the radio that evening, gusts up to 60 mph, which is fairly common in the Tri-Cities but still nothing you’re really ever used to. Up to that point I'd been able to keep a hand on my head to keep my fedora in place, but with all that ice I had to keep my arms out for balance, and while I was standing in the middle of the road, halfway between my trailer and the bottom of the hill, my hat blew off my head and rolled across the street.

Running after it was out of the question. Even walking sideways across the road, I discovered, was impossible. All I could do was get down on my hands and knees, crawl over to my hat, then crawl back across and up the rest of the way to my house. Literally crawling. Sometimes the wind gusted up and I had to put a hand on my head and duck-walk on just my knees. When I got to my yard I was exhausted, I was freezing, the tips of my fingers on the hand I'd been using to support myself against the ice were so numb I couldn’t feel them for twenty minutes.

I've had to chase my hat into snowdrifts as tall as me before, but I've never had to crawl across an icy hill to get it back. The weather here is weird.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Heh

So I'm rereading my book, which is something I do when I'm working up the inspiration to do something new. This used to be a grueling task, torturous even, what with all the botched sentiments and clumsy sentences, but these days, after it's all been rewritten at least twice and in some cases as many as four or five times, I honestly like it more than I dislike it. I'm even surprised now and then by something I've written, like in this bit from a scene where someone's trying to convince the narrator to kill his wife for money:


"Ten before, forty on completion." Kiev laid his palms out on the desk like a straight flush and tilted his head forward until he was able to watch me over the lenses of his glasses. "What does your license have to say about that?"
"Nothing relevant, I'm sure." It was one thing to poke that kind of figure around the old mental abacus; it was another to hear it out loud, to know that such an offer existed. I supposed it would be similar to finding definitive proof of Bigfoot, if Bigfoot were made of solid gold.


Heh! "...if Bigfoot were made of solid gold"!

It all comes from the revisions, though, that's what I've learned. Cause basically with each revision, you're cutting out the worst, most egregious stuff and replacing it with stuff that comes with all the experience you've gained since you originally wrote it. End result is a significant improvement with each rewrite.

Mouse War update

Well, it appears I haven't added anything in a while. I blame working in shipping during the holidays; I only had two days off between December 1 and Christmas Eve, and also the media.

So the other night I shot a mouse with a pellet gun. I've been embarking on a de-mousifying project ever since my roommate moved out about three weeks ago, but still hadn't gotten around to a few parts of it, like starting. Heh, I'll be here all week folks. Seriously though, there was still some trash and unprotected food lying around, and thus it was no surprise when I heard a mouse rustling around in an old Jack in the Box bag a couple nights ago.

My roommate still hasn't moved out all his stuff, and among his various remaining possessions is a pellet gun. Not a BB gun, but a pellet rifle: the kind that is essentially like a .17 caliber air-powered rifle, one that will shoot halfway through a roll of toilet paper (what I was practicing on when I was figuring out how to use it) or knock holes in the wall (what my roommate shot one night when it seemed like the thing to do). Well, I grabbed that thing, stealthed my way into position, and to make a long story short, shot that mouse.

Which, and I am sure this is no exaggeration, was almost as distressing for me as for the mouse. The first shot only winged it--it was deep inside the bag and blessedly ill-lit, but I could still hear it twitching around, forcing me to load up another shot and offer it a coup de grace. Or should I say coup de GROSS! The stupid thing practically exploded, various frown-inducing reddish globs bursting across the inside of the bag's magical paper containment field, the only silver lining to an otherwise horrendous experience. Well really there were two silver linings: the mouse's numerous bits stayed completely inside the bag, and also it provided the necessary motivation to immediately take out every piece of trash I could find. Once that odious task was up I went back to watching About Schmidt, but the spectre of all that miniature carnage threw a serious damper over the rest of my evening. Also I had a nice little realization I'd die in like three hours if I were ever lost in the wilderness, because if I feel bad about killing a mouse there's no way I'll be able to bash in my sherpa guide's head and eat him as the situation demands.

Cut to yesterday. I come home from work laden with breakfast foods, which the enlightened will recognize as the finest of all foods. I haven't eaten all day and am seriously enthused about cooking up some homphables when I open the fridge to put away the eggs and milk only to realize there is a mouse inside my fridge.

Judging by the horror movie-esque scene of gnawed butter, cracked eggs, and shredded cardboard, it'd been there a while, too. With the benefit of hindsight, I'm guessing it snuck in there before I left town for New Year's weekend (our fridge door closes right up against the wall, so sometimes it doesn't shut all the way and I don't notice till later), but at the time, I was completely aghast, thinking a) there must be a hole into the fridge and b) there is no WAY I can shoot a mouse in the place I keep the stuff I eat, despite my loud promises to "fucking murder [its] stupid ass" mere moments before. So, utterly helpless even with my giant monkey brain and murderous technology, I just shouted more obscenities at it and pulled drawers out of the fridge till it jumped out the front and scuttled behind the fridge.

After cool consideration, though, I've realized any mercy I may have shown these mice after the gruesome shooting of Tuesday night is right out the window. I am going to fucking punish those little vermin. Not so much because a few pieces of food were ruined. I don't really care about that. But because there is mouse shit ALL OVER THE FRIDGE! Is this civilization? Didn't storing food in places mice are free to defecate get stamped out, like smallpox and chamber pots. Because I thought it did. I thought indignities like that were behind us. It is the 21st century.

Admittedly, the fridge did need cleaning. But it just needed a little garbage-tossing and scrubbing where old roommate-food had gone bad. This is going to require taking literally everything out of it, spraying the fridge with some kind of serious disinfectant (preferably a flamethrower), then going through the Seinfeldian process of determining what needs to be tossed even if there are no obvious signs of contamination and what is worth dying of hantavirus to continue to eat. Box of roommate's girlfriend's chai cider? Gone. Same with old pizza boxes, 2-liter bottles, leftover curry, well-aged fruit, etc. But the jars of Schooner Bay mustard, the delicious stone-ground stuff from Maine? Literally the best mustard I have ever tasted, high in the running for best condiment all-time? I can't replace that with $0.79 and a trip to the store. So I am afraid that will continue to have to be used on my sandwiches, risk of incurable hepatitis or not.

Good God, I don't even want to think about the whole thing. It's one of those domestic disasters where I immediately knew the only solution was to seal up my fresh-bought bacon in a big ol' ice tea jar, close the door, then wait till Friday, when I can buy some Captain Morgan's and get seriously drunk. Pirates probably brawled with rats all the time for rock-hard bread and shriveled limes, so I'm pretty sure a set of gloves, a bottle of bleach, and a serious dose of Vitamin Rum will be enough to see me through this.

All right, enough thinking about this trash, it's time to go write a marvellously artful short story. But first: The Office and My Name is Earl!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Unpackin' my bags

I'm back from Aruba. In response to everyone who asked me how it went, no, I wasn't abducted. People don't really get abducted in Aruba. It's actually got a great economy. The fact one girl was kidnapped ever doesn't suddenly mean everyone on the island is stuffing everyone with blonde hair into the trunks of their tiny, tiny Dutch automobiles.

On the two-day trip back (I'm not sure what's worse, taking a redeye through three airports and sleeping 15 hours the next day, or having to fly halfway back one day and halfway back on a second day) I read two novels by Kazuo Ishiguro. One of them was Remains of the Day, the one made into a movie in 1993 with Anthony Hopkins about the uber butler, and the other one was the one just published this year, what was it called, Never Let Me Go. Both of them were quite awesome. The especially impressive thing about the butler one was it's essentially just melodrama, like the underlying plot is the cheapest of sad romance novels, but it makes so much of that between kickass writing and tone. Then Never Let Me Go fucking rocked because it was 85% literary and 15% sci-fi, yet it couldn't exist without the sci-fi part. Books that mash up genres and take the best from each are probably the greatest books in the world.

Unfortunately, both of them were serious downers. Like, after reading those books, all you want to do is brood. Like not in any seriously depressed way, but you read Remains of the Day and really the ideal response is to turn off the lights and sit in a chair with the TV and radio off and just sip on some scotch and stay up way past your bedtime. Because that isn't right.

Aruba was fun, though. So at least there was that.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Packin' my bags

And heading to Aruba for the next week+. I doubt whether the barbaristic practices of the Oranjestad Marriott will have changed in the two years since I've been there, so I probably won't have internet access during that time.

Aruba's a pretty interesting place: pretty much right off the coast of Venezuela, and unlike the rest of the Caribbean, it's all arid and totally not rainy. It's also only got like 100,000 people in an area of like.. well I dunno, 60 square miles or something, which is small enough to at least see pretty much the whole place in a single week. There's a pretty cool mix of Hispanic cultures with Dutch and Indian as well. The highlight of my first trip there was most definitely eating superb but modestly-priced Indian food and matching it with a crazy 11-ounce bottle of Heineken straight from Dutchland.

Anyway, I've got to pack up some more junk before heading to work. From there, I pick up Ken and drive to the Tri-Cities, where I should have roughly an hour to repack and get my car down to the snow tire place before we head to the airport and spend however long to fly all the way down there. It's a 3-4 hour time difference and probably three separate flights, so I bet we won't roll into Queen Beatrix Airport till about 10 AM tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Injury index

One of the many benefits to working with your hands all day, particularly around sharp-edged boxes (seriously, cut cardboard cuts YOU), box cutters, and jerry-rigged packing peanut hoppers with nails and wires sticking out of them is you accumulate a pretty nice collection of minor arm cuts and abrasions. For instance, right now I'm sporting the following:

- Modest cut on back of right hand from a concealed nail in the peanut hopper

- Couple small scrapes on back of right wrist, origin unknown

- Peeled skin on palm of right hand, too much jerking--no wait, this time it's from constructing odd-size boxes; part of our instructions in the building phase is to press down on a glued seam and rub until your hand gets friction-burned, which usually just results in pleasing exfoliation but occasionally causes a layer of dead skin

- Numerous bloodless scrapes up and down my inner wrists and forearms from carrying heavy boxes around. Could potentially be mistaken for old suicide tracks, but as they mostly run across the veins instead of alongside, it would either be a cry-for-help suicide or proof I'm stupid

My left hand seems completely unharmed at the moment, but that's no big surprise given I wear a single white goatskin glove at all times.