fundamentalism shouldn't be a bad thing

Late last night in the haze of exhaustion I had a thought that went something along the lines of "fundamentalism shouldn't be a bad should be about getting to the fundamentals of an issue or ideal, distilling the essence of it.  Why is that bad?"  An example would be that (in my opinion) there are three Christian fundamentals: that individuals should come to know and love God, that individuals should love others in a God-like manner, and that Christ helps individuals achieve these through his teachings and his atonement.  Others may desire to include more things, but I think that all Christians would agree that these things are at least three of the fundamentals.  (If not, I'm sure a list of fundamentals which all Christians accept could be created with enough discussion.)

So, I asked myself, where does the negative perception of fundamentalism come from?  It makes sense that some people could declare a set of beliefs or ideals like I just did and that others would disagree, but who started calling them fundamentalists?  Shouldn't saying "right-wing fundamentalists" refer to people that have distilled a more moderate, all-encompassing set of ideals rather than people who have declared a more specific and less inclusive set of ideals?  Doesn't that make their beliefs irreducible (or maybe even radical) but not fundamental?

Wikipedia helped me out here, teaching me that the origin of its use as we know it today had roots in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in the 1920/30s within the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  Very curious.  Regardless, I dont like the contemporary use of "fundamentalist" as a pejorative term.  Aside from disliking name-calling in general, I think it's simply inaccurate.


The Privilege of Complaint

I've been thinking a lot about privilege recently, as it applies to both my personal life and western society as a whole.  In order to prevent potentially preachy-feeling conversations, I decided to do a series of three mini-essays on privilege to vent it out.

One common social mechanism is complaining; it starts conversation, brings groups of people together in their shared grievances, and it can contribute to inducing change on any level, individual to global.  Everyone who is capable of forming an opinion can bellyache and blame; though some are allowed to do so more freely and publicly than others, all can work through an internal dialog along these lines.

The world is massive; our potential experiences so innumerable that we can never do everything, have everything, or be everything that we could potentially desire.  Some dreams are simply mutually exclusive.  So if want is universal, and everyone can complain, then why consider it to be a privilege?  I would argue that it is not the act of complaining that is the privilege, but the very subjects of our complaints.

Students gripe about academic work, but they are lucky to have the chance to study.  Home owners moan about property taxes, but they have shelter.  A tech junkie might lust after the newest gadget, but he or she has the privilege of being able to consider its purchase as being in the realm of possibilities.

Consider the hypothesis that for every set of two people on this earth, there is something that one has that the other desires (and does not have) and vice versa.  It might be hard to imagine what a jobless individual in Somalia might have that Carlos Slim Helú might want: it might be as abstractly simple as youth or free time.  Proving or refuting this claim is pointless, but it serves as a mechanism by which we can consider our own blessings and desires.

Acting on want is needed in order for beneficial change to occur in our society, but not all want-inspired actions are good on all levels.  As individuals, we can reflect on our wants and the privileges that enable us to make our complaints.  We can renounce desires that we find to be unworthy and use others as tools for world betterment.  We can rejoice in what we have and share it as we are able.


building blocks of dreams

Recently I've been struck by several photographs, blog entries, and websites, all relating to interior design to some degree.  I'd thought I'd share them and muse about some dreams for potential interior spaces.

First, a selection of interior photographs by Don Freeman:

I love the use of wood and color, the mixed levels of simplicity and complexity, and the liveable feel of these spaces.  They are real spaces explored through photography, rather than picture-perfect poses.

Next, I stumbled on the work of Jennifer Post, who designs high-end minimalist spaces.  She's quoted in the NYSD as saying, "I always tell my clients this is a Bentley car – it’s not a f***ing BMW. It’s got to be a Bentley." I like the look of her work, but it's accomplishable without the Bentley price.  Keeping it clean, however, might require an army of perfectionists.

In the spirit of white and brown, I liked looking at this kitchen:

And finally, there were a few specific pieces that I particularly enjoyed: Flora Grubb's wall garden and hanging terrariums, and the Gary Weeks Rocking Chair.

In general, I think I like dark woods and very light or dark/rich walls--high contrast spaces are compelling.  One thing that I saw in a home once was a wall with very fine stenciling in shades of white; I'd like to try that someday.  Our bedroom is currently high-contrast like many of the above photos: light blue, light brown, dark brown, and near black.  Our living room is very middling, as is our kitchen, but the latter is harder to control in a rented apartment.  I'd love to have wood floors wherever we live next, but we'll probably stay in grad housing, which means linoleum doom...unless I break down and buy the faux wood flooring from Ikea, but I'm not sure if it'd be worth it.
Interior spaces are difficult to fine-tune, especially on a budget.  In this case, evolving towards a goal can lead to some pretty hideous consequences if one is not careful; everything needs to match with both the present and the eventual goal, which isn't always possible if one is revamping the entire look of a space.  Most likely we'll make the biggest changes when we move, since we'll have to tailor our decor to the new location anyway.  These changes are far off, but it's a semi-constructive day dream for now.


a frozen weekend trip

This weekend, N and I took a trip to northern New England, which involved many, many hours in the car, which was very, very salt-covered when we finally got home.  Salty roads aside, the trip was wonderful.
We stopped in Somerville, MA to visit N's brother-n-family.  Our nephew, who recently turned two, is finally starting to recognize us.  He was about to go for a walk for an "attitude adjustment" and when he was informed that we wouldn't be going with him, he became very sad and insisted that "both friends come."  It made my day.
We also took a day to drive up to New Hampshire in an attempt to get our much-needed mountain fix.  When I first saw the White Mountains from afar, I called them hills and was a little pouty (in need of an attitude adjustment myself).  I insisted on calling them "little mountains" as we got closer, but eventually gave in and appreciated their full beauty.  I might even say that I fell a little in love with them.
We stayed off the main highways and took brunch on the eastern side of Lake Winnipesaukee (above).  After a stunning scenic drive, we got a room at an inn in North Conway.  
There, we rented snow shoes and took to the trails, which had fairly deep powder.  It was my first time snowshoeing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Afterward, we found a fantastic Indian restaurant and spoiled ourselves with hot chocolate at the "Bavarian Chocolate Haus."  N took a second to count and then declared that all the splurging was in celebration of being married six months.
We returned to Somerville for a night and had an excellent potluck dinner with Swattie friends, and then headed home again the next afternoon with our well-salted car.  During the entire trip, temperatures were very low, so it was nice to get back to our apartment which is uncontrollably overheated by a central system.

Snow-covered stream boulders.

This was just a fun shot.  Alas, we saw no moose.

A lovely view from a pass in White Mountain National Forest.


on shoes, or setting a goal and whittling away

A warning: this post is going to explore possession minimization (specifically shoes) in excruciating detail, which may be quite boring and full of parenthetical side notes.

As with most pattern-altering goals, my success has been varied in my recent endeavors.  A few weeks ago, I spent some free time sifting through shoes.  As of the start of this year, I owned 26 pairs of shoes, which is really far too many for my needs.

Two pairs I listed on eBay in early this month and have since shipped them off--both knee-high boots, neither of which I have worn for a good while, and both of which were in excellent condition.  I tossed a pair of ancient, thoroughly-worn ballroom dancing heels (from high school) and the pair of Birkenstocks (right) that were well past their time and quite abused.  Lots of memories with those old sandals.  *Sniffle.*  When I bought my new pair of Birks this past summer, I learned how to take better care of them.  I should also get rid of my art/painting sneakers, but I haven't gotten around to it yet since they're buried in my art bin.  (Shows you how much I use them...I just paint barefoot now that I'm not taking any art classes.)

After taking care of those obvious four (sans the art shoes), I tried to think of all of the things I do and the various situations in which I wear shoes.  I created a minimal set of shoes--that I currently own--to cover it all.  Here's the list:

sandals - summer casual
ankle hiking boots - winter casual, garden work, hiking
waterproof mid-calf boots - snow, rain
nice flats - church, dressy casual
nice heels - church, formalish events
light-bottomed sneakers - sports
slippers - in-home

That's 7 pairs, still quite a lot of shoes, but they all have unique purposes.  The list could certainly be condensed further--if I were to buy waterproof high-top hiking boots, for instance.  Or if I decided I hated wearing heels (which sometimes I do) and never wanted to do so again.  But if I were to do that, I would likely come up with a scheme to make two or three pairs work for everything and I wouldn't really know what to actually do when it came to the remaining 22 pairs in my closet.  Little steps.

I'm still not going to go from 22 pairs to 7 instantaneously.  Two pairs are sitting in the donate/sell box in the back room, and a few in the closet are mentally tagged as shoes that need to be re-evaluated come summer.  Others (by the same mental tagging system) are doomed to some sort of destiny that doesn't involve being in my possession once they get their full wear or I replace the clothes that match them exclusively.  (Yes, I'm persnickety about my shoes matching, at least some of the time).

But as much as I want to bring down the number of pairs of shoes I own, part of me can't yet bear to get rid of several very pretty pairs of heels and some other fun shoes (left).  Given that, I've discovered it doesn't make sense to revamp my wardrobe all at once--it's paralyzing and can even be expensive if I were to insist on replacing honorably discharged items with more versatile substitutes (as in the waterproof high-top hiking boots example).  Instead, I'm letting the set of clothes and shoes I own evolve with guidance.  The list might very well evolve itself with time, especially if I need to replace one of the "needed" pairs.  I could also decide to dance more again, which means I shouldn't plan on going barefoot once my current pair of dance shoes wears out.  There are lost of possibilities.

Once thing I noticed about my shoe-goal (below) is that the shoes are all neutral toned or black, which is rather boring.  I could make sure other elements of my wardrobe are colorful, or I could just make sure to incorporate color into this set somehow--maybe swapping the black flats for their twins in red above.  Color is a lot less versatile, though, so it works against minimization.  Maybe all floors should be interesting so shoes wouldn't matter (*growls at the linoleum*).  I guess I have two forces at work in me when it comes to these kinds of decisions: the one pulling me towards fashion and the other towards minimalism.  If only my shoes could change color like the people's suits in Wall-e.

Regardless of how the goal may evolve (or cause fashion angst), when I have a target in mind (7 pairs of shoes), then I can refrain from worsening the situation (e.g. buying more shoes) and slowly whittle away towards the goal (e.g. giving away or trashing individual pairs as I feel ready).  Shoes is an easy example because they are much more modular in function than clothes, though the idea would still work there.  Setting a goal and whittling away toward it could also easily work for food (e.g. the goal to eliminate added sugar from your meals), crafting supplies, or any set of possessions that gets fairly regular use.  (Regular must always be defined in a reasonable scope: for a pair of shoes, I might want to use them at least once every month or so in their season, but I might need a different scale for, oh, say, Christmas decorations.)  And if a set of possessions doesn't get regular use, why have it in the first place?  (I'm lookin' at you, pile-o-artwork.)


not fast enough

Tonight I was working on processing data about a topic model on some 360 thousand documents from ASCII files into a database.  Bweh, what a task.  I started with a pretty naïve approach, and after getting it to work piecewise, I set it to run on the whole shebang.  After watching numbers fly by for a few minutes, I crunched some numbers and figured that it would take about 10 days to finish--not okay.  This was a piece of code that was pretty tailored to my task and would likely only ever be seen by me, and even then, only run this once; I didn't really want to sink a lot of time into it, but I'd like it to finish, in say, under 24 hours.

First was the problem of finding links to the documents.  Nature has this entire set online, but finding a link given a document id (doi) wasn't a find-and-replace task.  Take a look at this document on The Rockefeller Foundation (doi: 10.1038/147811a0), for instance.  Part of the doi is in the link, but there's also a volume number and one other number prefixed by n that makes the link unique.  And I didn't have those numbers, so I was querying nature for the doi and finding the pdf link on the search page (such as this).  Good for a handful of links, but not 360k times.  Turns out, I was able to find those numbers buried in my data, but it was pretty obscure.  Plug-n-play on the link took me down to 5 days.

Next, there were two types of data file about the documents, ones with a doi and an abstract per line and ones with all sorts of other info, including topic model data and also the doi, again one line per document.  The files themselves weren't one-to-one (there being 8 of one kind and 25 of the other), but they were one-to-one when it came to the relevant document lines: each doi had one line in each of the two file sets.  However, the organization wasn't intuitive and I wasn't about to pry through them by hand.  Instead, I noted that the matches occurred in groups, though again, not in any way that made logical sense that I could hard-code.  So instead of looking through all the other files for a match, I just had it stash the last-used file and look in that one first each time.  If it wasn't there, it looked in the others and updated the last-used file accordingly.  That took the expected run time down to under 24 hours, and I declared myself done for the night.

I guess the lesson learned was that even for simple pieces of code that are for private use and only to be used once, it's important to take the time to do things right instead of just the easiest/stupidest way possible.



Wanting to read some fluff the other day, I picked up Warrener's Beastie, which is a beast of a book in length, but easy to read.  Something gnawed at me while I read it, the same feeling that annoyed me when reading Ahab's Wife, which I never bothered to finish.  After thinking about it throughout this evening, it finally stuck me what bothered me about the two books: the author was ever-present.  It's a book, you may say, the author wrote it.  Oh, no--it isn't about the author's experiences or details from his/her life, but the feeling that their thoughts and ideas are made embodied in every character.  To some degree, they are too perfect, they speak with too much awareness, they don't particularly resemble the mildly selfish flesh-and-blood humans we actually interact with daily.  Instead, they are little authors running around spouting anachronistic modern rubbish, all working towards helping the main character along the path of the plot, which might very well be interesting in and of itself, but if I can't stomach the bland characters, I'll never find out about it.  I might just take some mental alka-seltzer and give it another go, just to see if it gets better, but there's only so much I can take plus so many other good books to read.


randøm stüf reħash (121-159)

The last of randøm stüf reħash!  I realized that I wasn't really adding links to this list anymore, so I'm taking it off the sidebar.  If I have an interesting link to share, I can just say something about it in a post or post a bunch of links directly.  Anyway, here's the backlog of links I never put into an entry.

to claire; from sonny
how to be alone
mini SF
US Religious Knowledge Survey
How Different Groups Spend Their Day
tilt-shift van gogh
mini graphite sculptures
some corporate logos
Collateral Damage in the Evolution of Language
city of toothpicks
skeletons of cartoon characters
marinades are good for you
feministhulk on twitter
BP oil spill if it were where you live
nutritional facts redesigned
color survey
colors in cultures
flowing data
The Alot
sometimes you just cant win
toki pona
income distribution by country
peepshi (peeps sushi)
500 worst passwords, illustrated
the robots among us
theme park maps
everyone the same height
tracking bugs to make art
radical homemakers
"my father's garden"
biking directions on google maps
top 100 sites as treemap
salad vs. big mac
Star Wars Mini Amigurumi
boat from bottles
maps, art, and lists by Neil Freeman
A Robbery of Three Liberal Arts Graduates
the power of pink

rambles about the color of man's nature

Having just read Steinbeck's East of Eden, I'm plunging with more focus into a book I received for Christmas and started soon after: When Souls Had Wings by Terryl L. Givens.  In doing so, I'm discovering how little I know of classic philosophy.  Plato, Socrates, Aristotle: I couldn't tell you who wrote what or had which thoughts or anything.  It's quite a gap in my education.

Aside from that realization, I was shocked at how related the two books are.  Steinbeck's focuses on men's inherent natures and that we have choices despite our natures--all told in a story, of course.  Givens' book focuses on the history of the theory of pre-mortal existence, which is really getting at the spiritual component of that nature.

All in all, it's been fun to read them one after the other, especially since N and I had an extensive nature vs. nurture debate regarding gender with his parents over the holidays.  Maybe I'm just wearing nature-colored glasses.  ...If "man's nature" had a color, what would it be?  Green?  Brown?  Red?  Upmostly silly digression.  Another moderately-less silly digression: wouldn't it be fun to have book lists organized like old-fashioned music albums, where the books flow together, sharing some sort of theme between each pair of consecutive reads?

Also wik: mini painting!  I'm on a roll!  (Though I like this one less.)


full of sky

I started and finished a painting tonight!  The composition is pretty simple, but it was fun to get the color blending just right.  Here's a picture of it drying.  I haven't signed it yet, nor have I decided what exactly to do with it.