Month: March 2008

The Lost Painting (J. Harr)

I had the good venture of spending my high school years in Rome, just at the time when you get acquainted with the fine arts. My memories are still vivid with entering the churches of San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria del Popolo and seeing the Caravaggios in there.

They are an unforgettable sight. They hang high up, far out of reach, and you have to drop a coin to turn on the lights that allow you to see them. And when you do, get ready for them, because they are not what you'd expect in a church.

Caravaggio's paintings are spectacular in a way you can't readily appreciate, because they are so contradictory. They are vulgar in their depictions of the commonest things, and yet sublime. They are photorealistic, yet give up any pretension of accuracy when even major positional problems face the painter with the ugliness of reality.  


Open Services

Frustration is the mother of open source and has always been. You have a problem that is solved in a deficient way by the free market (which is not free as in beer or as in speech, it's free as in fall). You think to yourself: I can do this better. You start working on it but quickly realize you really can't do it by yourself. So you enlist a bunch of people to work on it for free (as in beer) in return for complete freedom (as in speech) to divulge what you have collectively built.

Frustration with the free market, though, is not limited to software products. Anywhere you find an oligopoly there is frustration, and that's pretty much in the entire community and culture these days. People express frustration about the art they are perceiving ("The Crap That Comes from Hollywood"), about the roads they are driving, but most importantly (because I have an idea on how to solve the frustration) in services.

If you've ever used a cell phone, please tell me how satisfied you are with your provider.  I am with Verizon, which has a decent enough network, but which thinks any reason is good enough to gouge my eyes out in extra fees. $3 for a ten second clip of a song as ring tone? Verizon, you should be ashamed of yourself! $36 for activating a phone? Boo! 


The Game Players of Titan (P. K. Dick)

Get ready for a flood of P.K. Dick novel reviews, since I am getting caught up on old reading. I even went out of my way to order all the ones I didn't buy yet on, and they are going to arrive any time soon.

The Game Players of Titan is the typical P.K. Dick novel: an uncertain society after a catastrophic development, extraterrestrial life (in this case not imagined), a mystery to solve, and an unusual setting with a great many surprises.

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second-largest moon in the solar system. It is quite notable because it's the only moon with a real atmosphere, and hence there has been speculation it might harbor life. In this particular case, it's life that (a) is silicon-based, (b) communicates between themselves and to humans telepathically, and (c) is not well disposed to humans, a race almost destroyed.  


Anthem (A. Rand)

There you go: buy a 400 page book, and then discover that it's a 100 page book plus 300 pages of "original material" with commentary and other stuff. Disappointing, not because it's really only 100 pages, but because I had packed it for the beach – and I can definitely read 100 pages in under an hour, leaving me without much to do but counting grains of sand and waves crashing onto shore.

Anthem is yet another one of Ayn Rand's messages of individualism. For those of you who don't know her (anyone?), she is a philosopher that created this school called Objectivism. The goal of Objectivism is to assert the individual's rights with respect to the collective or society and to affirm that it is immoral for society to downsize the individual for the good of the all. Worse, it is inefficient: society, according to Ayn Rand, grows faster and better if everyone is left to their own devices.


A Maze of Death (P. K. Dick)

Some authors you just love reading because they transport you away into another real world. As a writer, you need imagination and creativity to create a completely new world, and it usually ends up being something that is entirely invented – the more bizarre, the better. Take Tolkien, for example, or even Calvino.

Not so for Philip K. Dick. His science fiction novels mostly entail worlds that are "real" – they play in some distant future, but they have all the ugliness and baseness of our own world. Usually it is a catastrophe that forms the background of the story, something that humans have done to themselves. And on this background, Dick paints a subtle portrait of people just trying to survive, struggling to make ends meet, and somehow they always manage to touch the sublime with a fingertip, before they have to let go again. 


Coffee places in SoMa

I've been living here for about two months, and I have now visited my share of coffee places in SoMa. The following is a brief summary of my recollections – constantly updated as I find new places.

First of all, there is no dearth of choices here South of Market. The neighbourhood caters to two classical coffee addicts and is crowded with caffeine spigots. Yuppies need the jolt to get their head spinning all the time, and time wasters just have time to hang out, and coffee is just the excuse.

The quality of the coffee is steadily improving and getting more and more to a constant level. That's good: you don't have to fear terribly bad coffee anywhere. At the same time, things are getting strangely uniform and corporate. 



One of the things that has always puzzled me is just how adverse a reaction you can get to anything average. You'd think that something average would be ok – I mean, how could it possibly be bad to be like everyone else?

Instead, in all languages I speak, there is a common thread: words that indicate averageness have negative connotations. Let's see: mediocre (from Latin medius, middle); average; common; durchschnittlich (German for average). Even the very negative "mean" has a cognate that indicates averageness.

This is even more puzzling considering that, with the way we experience things, most of them are average. We find the actual mean value and then add and subtract a full standard deviation from it (that's why it's called that way), and that's what we consider average.  


Review: Kirkwood

{moszoomimglink:Cornice}Of all the resorts in the Tahoe area, Kirkwood has been consistently cited by friends as the one with the best snow. It is indeed in an odd location, about 40 minutes South of South Lake Tahoe, all by itself. The slopes face the East, which means they are shielded from the fierce West winds that bring all the powder with the winter storms.

I had not gone in the four years I had been snowboarding: I had always relied on season passes, and it seemed foolish to pay extra tickets and then go to a place so far off. Indeed, those that love Kirkwood all say that it doesn't have anything going on outside the slopes, unlike SLT, where you don't get bored no matter what time of the year. 


Back from Tahoe

{moszoomimglink:Advanced only in Squaw}Back from another snowboarding trip – this time to beautiful (though powderless) Lake Tahoe. It was the first time since I was a beginner that I went to Squaw Valley, and the first time ever in Kirkwood – and now I understand all the raving about the two resorts.