Archive for the ‘Vagaries’ Category

Products, States

28 September 2017 Leave a comment

Sales is politics. Politics is anarchy. 

Categories: Vagaries

Windows, Frames

19 September 2017 Leave a comment

As I reduce the size of the line of text under the slide-title, the women walk by. I read the banner behind them, through the glass behind my monitor. This has happened before.

Categories: Vagaries

Real World

29 November 2016 Leave a comment

Yang said that he wanted to focus on experimental and applied problems, staying away from theory.

Ye Wenjie recalled her father saying, “I’m not opposed to your idea. But we are, after all, the department of theoretical physics. Why do you want to avoid theory?”

Yang replied, “I want to devote myself to the times, to make some real-world contributions.”

Her father said, “Theory is the foundation of application. Isn’t discovering fundamental laws the biggest contribution to our time?”

Yang hesitated and finally revealed his real concern: “It’s easy to make ideological mistakes in theory.”

From The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, trans. Ken Liu.

Categories: Vagaries

Manchester (Day 2): Chestnut Tree

19 September 2016 Leave a comment

In Nashville, I made my way across town from the Megabus stop to the Greyhound station. The ride to Manchester was about an hour.


Tennessee, from the Greyhound.

The plan had been to arrive in Manchester the day before the festival, and take a hike to the festival grounds. I’d printed out the map, and it looked like it would be a two-hour march (5 miles = 8 km = 2 x 4 km, with equipment).


I’d verified that the festival grounds would be open, and I hoped to arrived by evening to find a good spot to pitch my tent. I knew that most of the arrivals would be on the morning of the following day (the first official day of the festival), and that most people would be driving in to the festival.

Regarding the tent, I’d obtained it for the grand sum of $10 at the thrift store in Northfield, which amounted to accommodation costs of about $2 per night – plus a couple of dollars for things like the inflatable pool mattress (a handy hack I read about on Reddit) and the butane stove.

The thing about old tents is the smell – fortunately I’d found this out before the trip. I’d laid out the components for my own inspection after purchasing it and been knocked almost bodily back by the odor; the smell was somewhat improved after I aired and sunned the canvas and groundsheet.

I also had to figure out, by trial-and-error, how to pitch this particular tent. In keeping with my sergeant-ly approach thus far, I did a tent-pitching dry-run on a sunny afternoon, on the grass outside Watson Hall. I was slowly fumbling through the possible configurations of parts, and finding that the set likely had elements from more than one source, etc., when I was greeted by two people curious about what I was doing, and who very helpfully stuck around to help me figure out how to set it up; I promised T. and T. that I’d write back about how the festival went, and this series could be read as my long overdue response.



I would have checked in directly at the festival, that is, if I had not met S. and J. (see previous entry) in Chicago.

In Chicago the Megabus coaches stop along South Canal St. People filter down the length of the sidewalk, trying to figure out which knot of passengers is the right one to join. I met S. and J. while looking for the south-bound bus – like me, S. and J. were transferring from the bus arriving from the north (me from Minnesota, them from somewhere in Wisconsin). We matched up because I heard them asking for which bus was headed to Bonnaroo. When they found out that I’d also decided to take the long bus journey from up north (me from Minnesota, them from Wisconsin), that I was headed to Bonnaroo for the first time, and that I was otherwise on my own, these veteran Bonnaroovians effectively took me under their wing.

I’m going back in time, here – this was technically just after midnight, right at the beginning of Day 2. I arrived with my new friends in Nashville after about 11 hours on the bus, and we ended up having tickets for the same Greyhound to Manchester as well. We arrived in Manchester some time in the early afternoon.

Whereas my initial plan had been to hike from the bus station in Manchester to the festival grounds, S. and J. knew that there would be golf buggies for hire at the bus station to take people to the festival grounds. We ended up catching one of these instead, after a stop for groceries (bread, beef, beer). The golf buggies were my first glimpse of the unofficial economy that annually springs up in Manchester around each iteration of Bonnaroo.


I also mentioned that I’d initially planned to check in at the festival grounds (‘the Farm’), but here, as well, my new friends’ veteran status opened up other possibilities. Our golf buggy drove towards the farm, but we got off a short ways before the main gate – rather than pitch our tents on the open un-shaded grounds of the farm, instead we pitched up in the backyard of a house on a plot adjoining the festival grounds.

S. and J. were known to the house-owners, presumably from having stayed there during past festivals. After a short chat with the domestic authority, we were cleared to stay. We picked out a spot under the chestnut tree (good shade), and commenced clearing the ground of half-buried chestnuts, which would dig into your back if you were unfortunate enough to have pitched on top of some. (In fact, the tree-trunk you might have seen in the picture of the tent is this tree’s.)

I don’t remember doing very much after pitching up – I’m pretty sure I had a beer, and I may have eaten – but I quickly inflated the pool mattress, put my sleeping bag on top of it, and went to sleep. I do know I was probably exhausted from being on the road for about 30 solid hours, because I slept solidly from that afternoon until about 2 p.m. the next day.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: ,


“Starbucks with breakfast at O-Week? This is the high life.”

I suppose, five years ago, that I must have been much more excitable.

But I was excited to start university. Life in the army camp had been richly educative in its own way, and although I eventually found my groove, I’d had to flail through many stages of it; I hoped that university, in contrast, would be a challenge more up my alley.

Still, this was an abstract anticipation.

I’m writing this at UTown Starbucks, sitting outside and looking out across the Green. I remember I spent a number of hours here in my first and second years of school (diurnal and nocturnal hours, respectively).

It was also here that the feeling of looking forward to university life first went from abstract to real for me. It might have been the second or third morning of O-Week, and I’d just jio-ed some guys to go buy coffee.

Not that I was consciously thinking this way at the time, but in that moment I’d just translated familiar things from my life-context – tapau-ing food and drinks for friends, buying Starbucks – into the context of my life beginning at NUS and UTown.

I’d not call it a decision, but I think of it as a first step taken into the new situation. I’d taken something I knew how to do, and put it into the routine of a new community of people –  perhaps the first step onto a slippery slope, since before I knew it I’d signed up to be Ops Manager for the next FOP.

Since then I’ve put more of myself into this place, but I’ve also come to experience new and different things – ‘takeaways’, I suppose you could call them, though it’s usually more of a give-and-take, isn’t it? I’ve also generated routines that are going to be associated with this place; if they crop up again somewhere else, maybe I’ll remember how I used to do this or do that at school. 

But whether at that first O-Week, or during the long days and nights at Cinnamon College, a lot of what I will remember will be of the me- and the you-among-us, e.g. ‘Remember when we met at that event where so-and-so did that thing and we laughed so hard?’

So I commence.


Categories: Vagaries

On Performing Social Identity

2 February 2016 3 comments

In a moment of winded loopiness, after a hard run, I thought to myself: “Who is —?”

The next thought that came to mind: “Who are —’s friends?”

The idea that identity is performed, perhaps out of a library of mini-scripts, is one I find useful. We take our cues from our environment (the physical situation, the social situation), and select our scripts accordingly1.

Turning back the clock about five years, I think I had developed some idea about what my peer group was, who I wanted to be friends with, &c. Time, naturally, changes things, and people drift together or apart. I’ve seen and done quite a bit in five years, and I think the rate at which I’ve made acquaintances has only increased.

Which brings us back to the questions above. As much as identity is something we think about in our moments alone, with our selected mental audience, identity is equally something we play out in front of other people. In fact, for most (if not all) of us, we often re-create Other People as members of our mental audience.

It is true that not all of these Other People are friends, necessarily, and depending on your temperament or where you are in life, friends may be more or less important an audience than other possible groups.


For me the question reduces to (a) whose opinions I am prepared to regard seriously, and (b) who I interact with meaningfully or regularly. In the past year or two I’ve narrowed down (a), while (b) has narrowed itself down.

Common cultural references are a contributing factor, but I’d add that (1) this will be true for many people, (2) the choice of cultural references will powerfully influence your results, and that therefore, employing a range of references well is the meta-heuristic.

General intelligence (is there a non-general kind?) is also a contributing factor, but for both this factor and for common cultural references, it’s not a strictly applied rule. I guess this would be some basis for saying that the heuristic for determining membership is multi-dimensional, a result which I would be quite pleased with – the caveat being that I’m probably blind to the action of some factors as well.

Moving on from thinking about common factors to changes over time, recent trends indicate that more weight is given to philosophy and social orientation, than factors like intelligence or achievement in given areas. This sometimes leads me to judge harshly people who’ve suspended reflection on these things for more-or-less legitimate reasons like the stress of great demands on energy and time. Another reason I think I might be being harsh is that, I believe maintaining a particular philosophy or social orientation is a conscious act, one we’re not always able to perform.

Another thing that comes to mind: manipulation is not something I necessarily view negatively; I tend to judge the outlook or goals of the manipulator more than the act of manipulating. The impact on people still matters to me, however.

Social media and other forms of technologically facilitated communication are media I frequently use to perform identity. Here my instinct has been towards a kind of catholicism, though the caveat I applied above about blindness would also apply here. There is an instinct towards the outré, but it’s very selectively applied; there might even be the opposite tendency, to find things with unexpectedly broad acceptance.

That’s all I’ll set down for now.

1. And sometimes we don’t.

Categories: Reflection, Vagaries

Northfield to Manchester (Day 1): Field Trip

22 December 2015 1 comment

(A post about the start of summer break in 2014, after my final term at Carleton.)

I remember the last day and night of term being a crazy rush to finish up my assignments, pack or discard all the things I’d brought and accumulated over the year, and to say goodbye to the friends I’d made.

After all that, I slept only about an hour, since I had a 7:20 a.m. bus to catch. The eventual destination? Manchester, Tennessee, for the Bonnaroo music festival.


(With stops in Minneapolis, Chicago, Bloomington, and Nashville.)


In total, I was on buses or in transit for about two solid days. I don’t remember it being particularly painful, actually; owing to my lack of sleep, I was able to spend much of the time snoozing.

Another impression people seem to have of cross-country bus-rides in America is that things tend to be at least somewhat dodgy, if not dangerous – menacing strangers on the bus, illicit activities at bus stations, etc. I fancy that, like ghosts on Pulau Tekong, not looking out for these things was easily enough to steer clear. (We did, however, have our bags searched at Nashville for drugs: cops savvy to the crowd heading to the music festival.)

More generally, I think people increasingly rely on bus lines as a low-cost and efficient mode of transport; AMTRAK is honestly inefficient, and air travel is not exactly fuss-free (and how much faster becomes less significant over a moderate distances). As fellow travellers on a long road, for the most part, I actually found it quite easy to be friendly with people I met on the journey.


This picture was taken in a sports bar at the bus station in Chicago. You can see LeBron’s face on the screen. I was watching the NBA playoffs with somebody I met at Minneapolis.

Later, while in the line for the bus to Nashville, I met two men from Madison, WI, who were also on the way to the festival – veteran Bonnaroovians, it turns out, whose paths would run with mine for the next few days…


For food and other reliefs, other than bus stations in the big cities, we had truck-stops; the memories are of fast-food breakfasts (mm, McGriddles), brushing my teeth, bottled water, and a few minutes to walk around and look up at the sky.


This was lunch on Day One: bottled coffee and PB&J sandwiches I’d packed from the dining hall from the previous day.