December 27, 2009

Since the dawn of self-reflection, I have been an inert gas,
Other atoms’ interactions mocking me, as I flew past.
Every time I saw two bonding, I would quickly look away,
My full outer shell reminding, solitude is here to stay.

Looking at those lucky ions, never did I see the facts,
Never did I grasp the science, one who gives, and one who takes.
Can the atoms both be merry if their dipole is so charged?
Or do their nuclei carry hearts that shattered into shards?

I have circled a few atoms, now that I can speak their tongue:
Those with brains looked unimpressive; those with good looks sounded dumb.
Those with both were cold and distant, their electrons long since shared,
Atoms much stronger than this one waiting for their chance with her.

Now you beckon me with riddles, and all of this is so new —
Our polarity is brittle, and I don’t know what to do.
But regardless of what happens, Heisenberg remains unkind:
One of two forever present: thirst of flesh, and thirst of mind.

Meaning by Surprise

August 2, 2009

I think people are color-blind in the morning. When I wake up and look out the window, I can’t tell if the sky is blue or gray. Likewise, I can’t tell which way this day is going to take me. And sometimes a bit of grogginess is all it takes for a thought to take me by surprise. Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s Random Firefox Trick…

May 22, 2009

… you can select non-contiguous regions of text by holding Ctrl while selecting with the mouse! (If you have a table, it will select a rectangle instead.)

Paper Towns

January 9, 2009

papertowns-rightJohn Green’s latest and greatest novel. After an inspiring debut and a less relatable second novel, Paper Towns was a very pleasant surprise. It is definitely the best young adult book I’ve read this year; and it will be interesting to see if another will take its place as the year unfolds.

In the first part, the book takes us on a dizzying to-do list of adventures (I tend to like novels that contain lists). It promises to be a page-turner with tons of fun and no  deep moral. But the second part makes a character disappear, veering away from such a prediction completely. There is a lot of meditation on understanding other people, and in particular, on misimagining others by seeing them as idea[l]s.

The hunt for clues left by the missing person continues almost until the end, making this another novel for whose answer-in-the-lack-of-answers ending I feared. Although the characters do finally reunite, the message Green sends out is not one that inspires comfort. Basically, he puts Maugham’s tower of brass into words intelligible to the impatient Google generation. True and complete understanding between people is impossible; you cannot be someone else.

The novel ends with a brilliant metaphor about human suffering and understanding.

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Dear Loneliness

September 25, 2008

Underwater, day 31

Dear Loneliness,

I hope my missive finds you in good health. I regret I cannot convey this to you face to face; I hope you are not offended.

My memory fails me when I ask it to reconstruct how we met. Perhaps if I knew the precise minute or year you came into my life, I could better understand you; but I’ll tell you what I did puzzle out. You first winked at me out of the pages of a book. Then you whispered to me from the notes of a song. Then you gained substance through the dial-up modem. Then one day I woke up and you were my shadow, and you never asked for permission. Or did I become your shadow?

Old pal, allow me to applaud you slowly for your cunning. It has undoubtedly taken you years to perfect your art, but your most brilliant stroke was yet to come.

And you will surely deny this, my friend, but I am pretty certain that my reasoning is valid. You knew you ran the risk of being exposed sooner or later, so you transformed your presence from desire — to need. You made yourself so soft and comfortable that even the slightest disapproval from the world outside made me run back to you for cover. You have always been the one to pat my shoulder and my ego whenever I got humiliated or criticized, and you conveniently forgot to mention that trial and error were part of life, too. You silently encouraged me to surround myself with weak, lesser people, people I could dominate; and cringe away whenever I felt inadequate. Of course you never told me that the top of the mountain was the worst place to be. Instead of teaching me to observe and learn and be humble, you advised me to find flaws and smirk and deny.

It is but righteous fate then, my friend, that turns my smirk at you this time.

You see big L, you gave yourself away. Perhaps your fate was set in sparkling stones light-years away, or perhaps you carved it yourself, though I am clueless as to why you would… and who am I to tell you who to be? You showed me your greatest flaw, and it took me so long to understand what I saw.

I was walking in the middle of the street, noises flying past me, counterclockwise. The two yellow lines under my feet seemed to stretch ahead endlessly, and I was just thinking that if they were a large enough circle, I would never find out. Then a lamppost walked past me, in the opposite direction. And suddenly you were on the street in front of me. I don’t know what drew my eyes towards you, my shadow, but I saw something extraordinary. There was another shadow on the asphalt: someone must have been walking on the sidewalk. And you shadows were holding hands.

You fascinated me in that moment. I wanted to stop and see if you would go on without me. But since you didn’t seem to notice my startled gasp (I still don’t know whether you are deaf, my quiet friend), I just went on like nothing has happened.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since, Loneliness, and what it meant. Today I think I am close to the answer. Perhaps an outsider would call it obvious, but nothing is obvious unless (or until) you believe it. Anyway my friend, here is my greatest complaint to you. You are lonely.

You want a shadow friend more than anything else. You’d even sacrifice your carefully built facade just to be with her.

Which makes me wonder: why are you lonely? Are you blaming a shadow too, like I am? Will someone some day blame me for their loneliness? I dread the day I receive this letter.

So what now, you ask? My friend, I do not know. But I shall be looking for a new shadow.

Fare thee well!

P.S. Stop trying; I changed the locks.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

July 15, 2008

by Stephen Chbosky.

Here’s how the novel starts. If such a beginning can leave you indifferent, you’re very unlike me.

August 25, 1991
Dear friend,
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.
I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.

Charlie is a high school freshman caught between the colliding forces of inner turmoil and outside influences. The novel tells the story of a year in his life, in the form of letters to an anonymous friend. While it was difficult, at times, to believe that such deep thoughts could have originated from a 15-year-old, that didn’t stop me from feeling and relating with the character.

One could say the novel is a testimony of the friction between two desires: to embrace life, and to run away from life. But it is discussing a lot more than that. Since I have not grown up in an American high school environment, I cannot think of this in terms of “realistic” or “non-realistic”, but it certainly opens a clear and honest window into the world of a teenager.

I find it very lucky, if not downright miraculous, that Charlie manages to find a mentor (Bill, his English teacher) and friends (Patrick and Sam), who are older than him. Bill tells him to participate and stop using thought to remove himself from life. V fubhyq yrnea fbzrguvat sebz gung…

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HOWTO: Read Vista-burnt UDF DVDs on Ubuntu Linux

June 14, 2008

Recently I got my hands on a DVD which I couldn’t get to mount. The message that appeared consistently in dmesg was:

UDF-fs: No fileset found

Searching the forums I found out that this is a widespread problem. Vista uses some kind of non-standard UDF which only Windows can read. I was very tempted to run to the Windows PC in the other room and let it eat the disc, but I was curious if there was any other solution.

Many suggested mounting manually with -t udf, but that didn’t work. Another suggestion was patching and recompiling the kernel. I was obviously NOT in the mood to do that. Digging a bit deeper I found that there is actually a less greasy solution. The two relevant links are one and two. I will describe now the exact procedure I used to get my Linux box to recognize the Vista-burnt DVD. Note that, because of the rapidly changing environment, this will probably NOT work on anything OTHER than *Ubuntu Hardy with kernel version 2.6.24.

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