Quarantine, Day 23

There are many memes flying. Memes give some a chance to laugh, and laughter helps people deal with shit situations, especially the one we’re currently in with SARS-cov-2, or covid-19. Some memes just aren’t funny (the one saying how we “only” need to sit on our ass while other generations went to war) and others laugh at the devil (Gen X being “born” for the quarantine, since we were the Latchkey Generation.

And we grew up with another virus, one that killed many of our friends and family. During that one, the government also under-reacted while people died. But, if you weren’t gay, you were safe. (Not so much, we learned later.) There were ribbons, and quilts, and protests. Tom Hanks made a movie.

So, on the one hand, Gen X has nuclear apocalypse as a model. On the other, AIDS. I don’t think any of us thought we’d live to see our twenties, much less adulthood. No wonder we’re tripping and aren’t sure how to handle the situation we’re in. On Day 1 of the quarantine, I had all these plans for things I wanted to accomplish. Now? I’m busy surviving, since sufficient for today is its own evil. Maybe our kids won’t have worked through the entire packet provided from the school, work left undone, and duolingo abandoned. We made it another day, another week. God willing, another month. And you know what? That’s OK.

A world of 1-meter blocks



I resisted the allure of Minecraft for years. I was a happy Terraria player, and I thought there wasn’t much to Minecraft, which I played a web demo of the alpha version. For some reason, I happened upon the “Survive and Thrive” series that Paul Soares Jr did and decided to give a more modern Minecraft a try.

At the time, I was keeping the wolf from the door by writing for a content farm. It wasn’t difficult work, but it was soul-crushing, demanding, and killed what creativity I had. Normally, I use prose for keeping me creatively limber. With that safety net gone, writing music was an impossibility.

The content farm work was drying up, as these sorts of freelance gigs do, and with the last proceeds, I purchased Minecraft when the value of the Euro had plummeted and I could afford it. When you’re so focused upon subsistence living, sometimes you need a splurge once and awhile to cheer yourself up.

I think I died my first night in Minecraft. A creeper blew up my dirt hovel, as I recall, and I got lost getting back from my spawn point, losing all the items I’d created. (I didn’t know the trick of immediately making a chest or leaving beacons, much less how to install a minimap mod.)

There comes a point in Minecraft’s game, where all the struggle pays off and you don’t need to fear the creepers that lurk at night. It’s back-breaking work getting there, though, especially on survival mode without cheats. But soon you’ve mined enough resources for better tools and armor. Craters left by creepers can always be filled in. Or, if you’re short on dirt, you can make a nice fishing pond. Your dirt hovel suddenly has paintings and flowers around it, and living in dirt isn’t so bad. That’s a message I desperately needed to hear in the wake of the 2008 “Great Recession.”

This morning Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, announced that it had been acquired by Microsoft. I’ll admit feeling more than a bit of trepidation on the subject. If this is the end of Minecraft, I’m grateful for what it’s given me: a creative outlet when I needed it and a way to connect with my nieces while we’re 2000 miles apart. All things change, and all things end.

“And the game was over and the player woke up from the dream. And the player began a new dream. And the player dreamed again, dreamed better. And the player was the universe. And the player was love.”


An imaginary conversation inspired by weekly events

“What do you play?”

I played the violin for years. Yes, I was quite good. No, I don’t play anymore. No, this isn’t sad, because I hated every minute of it. I’m much happier being a composer, thank you very much. No, it isn’t a shame. Did you miss the part where I said I hated playing the violin? Orchestra rehearsals bore me to tears, even if it’s my piece being rehearsed. Fortunately, you’re only given 20 minutes, if you’re lucky.

“Do you play the piano?”

Only when I had to in order to pass piano proficiency exams.

“But then how do you compose?”

I open up vim and start typing. You didn’t think I actually use pencil and paper anymore, did you? Thanks to the industry domination of Finale and Sibelius, it’s expected that you produce some sort of computer-generated score, no matter how good a hand you have. I use lilypond. For computer music, I use csound and LISP. A conventional musical instrument would do me no good, anyway, since I haven’t used equal temperament in at least ten years.

Okay, look, the Holywood notion of the tortured genius slaving away with a quill pen, ink, and a piano is a myth. I guarantee if you’re doing anything with ink, much less an actual quill pen, you want a good, flat surface, like a table. If I’m copying music by hand, I’m using tech pens and a drafting board.

“Don’t you need to hear what you write?”

Generally. That’s why they teach score reading and ear training. You don’t need to read aloud to read something, do you?

“Do you write for movies?”

Hell no. It’s a different kind of skillset, and I’m no good at the kind of schmoozing and networking those guys do like breathing. Nor do I want to ghost-compose for the big names for a few decades until people get the idea I can write music. If I’m going to work my ass off and be poor for a decade or so, it’s going to be promoting the stuff I write, not for the latest Jerry Bruckheimer flick.

I understand that music education in this country is sorely lacking and that many people think American Idol is actually how the music business works. (Would you believe that most orchestra auditions happen behind a screen and on carpet so people can’t determine if the shoes people are wearing have high heels or hard soles, like women’s shoes do?) Most people think Mr. Holland’s Opus is how things are in music. Truth be told, American Pie got one thing right.

Impostor syndrome

I fixed my OS tonight, and I solved a problem.  Granted, it wasn’t particularly difficult:  I downloaded the official slackbuild, the new source, edited the version number in the slackbuild, then watched gcc spew.

But instead of being happy that I did a thing (and helped someone else), all I could think of was, “Well you just used Pat Volkerding’s script.  You didn’t actually do anything.”

Logically, I know there are many, many Linux users who can’t do that, for whom the command line is this nebulous thing of fear, and they’d never upgrade anything, unless it went through the software center or a repository first.  Logically, I know that up until version 12 or 13, I was already recompiling half my OS, anyway, to make it do the things I needed, including recompiling a kernel, which is the very heart of the operating system, itself.

But, yet, in the back of my head, my brain is saying, “Yeah?  You used ‘make oldconfig’.  You used the configuration of the kernel that was.  You followed AlienBob’s slack-doc, because you can’t remember how to do it off the top of your head.”

Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, a degree from one of the top performing arts schools in the country, and then a doctorate: no matter the bona fides, I worry that someday, someone is going to figure out that I’ve been faking it all along. I know the voice in the back of my head is lying, repeating past violence. It doesn’t make its sound any less strident.

Strange posts about hermits

So this article was published recently about a person in Maine that lived by himself in the woods for 30 years, supporting himself by stealing food, clothing, and toiletries. It’s about as balanced an article as one is going to find in mainstream media, but I’ve got a few problems with it.

Not all hermits are introverts. Not that my statistical sample is large, but I know hermits who’re introverts and ones who aren’t. While I’m at it, the “crazy” label has to go. Knight, himself, brings up the point that once he gets labeled as a hermit, his sanity comes into question. He was obviously sane enough to stand trial. It’s tiring to have people who don’t fit the status quo labeled as “crazy.” First, not everyone who’s the least bit “odd” is mentally ill. Also, this makes it hard for people who fit in, as it were, to seek help for what mental illnesses they might be struggling with. Mental illness is something affecting a large swath of people with a big enough stigma. Neither it, nor those who choose to live an eremitical life, deserve more stigma.

Not all people with Asperger’s or some form of autism act “weird.” The article just drops the possible diagnosis in, as if it explains everything. Again, my sample is not statistically accurate, but the folks I know who aren’t neurotypical try their damnedest to fit in. Not everyone who behaves oddly has Asperger’s or the like.

Finally, I’m bothered by the sentence. Yes, stealing was wrong, and I’m not trying to minimize the community’s fear, but it feels like he’s being judicially pushed into a society he doesn’t want to be a part of. If he wanted school or a job, he would’ve gotten one thirty years ago. It’s an indictment of our society if there’s no value placed on anyone who doesn’t directly contribute to the capitalist empire.

How Not to be That Linux Person, or: this is why they hate us.

Now would be a very good time to review the Geek Social Fallacies.  Lord knows I’ve been guilty of a few of these.  OK, more than a few.  While the Linux community, as a whole, has gotten better than it was in the 1990’s, it can still be a damn unfriendly place to be, especially if you’re new, on the fringe, or otherwise not “the norm.” 

1.)  Your choice of operating system is valid only for you.  You may be convinced of the brilliance of Linux.  You may think that everyone should be using Linux.  Your grandmother may be perfectly comfortable with Linux, but you and your granny aren’t the world.  Not everyone is familiar with the cathedral and the bazaar.  Not everyone cares.  The person you’re trying to evangelize to may be open to learning about Linux.  They may be trying to convince you of OS X’s brilliance.  Fact is, sometimes you have to agree to disagree.

1. a.)  A person is no less a geek, if they don’t use Linux.  My father-in-law is a genius at everything Mac.  He can make old macs run and new macs come back from the dead.  Knowledge of Linux?  About my knowledge of OS 9.  That is, nil.  

1. b.)  A person’s choice of distro means that they prefer that distro.  Look, I think Slackware is awesome.  I’d be happy if everyone used it.  That having been said, I’m glad there are ubuntus, Debians, Fedoras, and SuSEs out there.  They get people in the door and using Linux who might not necessarily use it, if their choices were Slackware, Arch, or Gentoo.  

2.)  Don’t assume that everyone you encounter has the same parts as you do.  “Bro” may be a term of respect or endearment, but the other person might not be a “bro.”  Yes, women exist in the Linux community. 

2. a.) We (women who happen to use Linux) are not obligated to be your girlfriends.  If we say no, back off.  

2. b.)  Making women prove their bona fides (in your mind) is a douchebag thing to do.  See also: the Fake Geek Girl fallacy

3.)  Don’t bag on someone else’s hobby.  You may think wargaming is stupid.  You may think video games are a waste of time.  You may think 2nd edition AD&D was the last good one.  Someone thinks you’re wrong.  

4.)  Someone always knows more than you.  Being in the music biz taught me this one loud and clear.  No matter how much you know, no matter how good you are, there is always someone who knows more, can bootstrap gcc/glibc in their sleep, and reads kernel source in the bathroom.

4.a.) Everyone fucks up.  Doesn’t matter who you are or what your knowledge is.  There will be a time when you do the equivalent of “rm -rf *” in someone else’s directory as root. 

5.)  RTFM might’ve worked for the 1990’s, but it doesn’t now.  Sometimes it’s still useful (like when you know the person on the receiving end should know better, or if it was spelled out in some documentation they should’ve read.)  But for complete newbies to Linux?  Douche move.  Manpages only provide information if you understand what you’re reading (or how to access them.)

So don’t be That Person.  

Salve orbem.

Musings from the Big U was begun when I was learning what it was to be a grad student and contemplative.  As I finished grad school, became a Camaldolese Oblate, and moved on, the blog ran its course.

So here I am.  New area, new life, no longer a grad student.  Where am I going?  Looks like we’ll find out together.