Tuesday, August 14, 2007

the wind river range

My family backpacks, as an annual vacation; instead of hotel rooms, tents; and instead of Italian restaurants, dehydrated bean soup and potatoes. Escaping work, my dad would fish each stream and lake in the Wind River Range till he ran out of flies, or until my mom decided that the thunderstorms were becoming a problem. This summer, we explored the Whiskey-Creek basin. My parents are still up there, in the Wind River Range, for the rest of the week. My sister and I hiked out before we got to see Bomber Basin, a relatively unexplored area that (supposedly) still hides the remnants of a WWII plane, that crashed in the mountains decades ago.

I swam every day for 60 seconds in water that increased my heart rate to aerobic workout standards. The change I felt in my lungs (after 7 days living above 10,000 feet in elevation) was dramatic. Whiskey-Creek is one of the lower basins we've visited; still, as I circled a lake, climbing over large screes, I felt the tingling in the bottom of my feet and the ends of my fingers that says "We are not getting oxygen!"

At night, you can see meteors. Sleep is something that saves you from the wind. In the morning, my feet always hurt from the day before, and putting my boots on makes me wonder if I spent the previous night karate-kicking cinder blocks or something. By 8 o clock, or after breakfast, I'm acclimated and limber, even mentally alert; sometimes I go entire workdays in a state of mental detachment!

Camping isn't about camping, really. It's about the rest of your life.

I am indoors a lot. On a daily basis, I get served a lot of things, turn a lot of keys, press a lot of buttons. Consider how much forethought you would put into a day spent entirely alone, outside on your front lawn. If you couldn't go inside for 24 hours, and if your girlfriend didn't cook you dinner, what would you bring? I gawk at how much I depend on simple things like a porch light, dry furniture, and windows.

Windows? ...so you can choose when and which and how each outside element effects you.

I also decided to undertake Moby Dick, buying a paperback version at a small bookstore in Lander, Wyoming. As I was huddled up in my sleeping bag, listening to the wind (which had already blown the stakes out of my tent) and the stream (ten yards from my feet) I read this, and went to sleep:

"To truly enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself... for this reason, a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal."

...Such a cute example of a concept pastors try to teach their churches, parents try to teach children, and martyrs try to teach themselves! True appreciation comes only through some element of disregard, suffering, or loss. "Nothing exists in itself." Well put!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

the NW passage of knowledge

Ursula LeGuin writes in her book "The Dispossessed," that hierarchical power only exists in order that certain people can tell other people what to do. Her example is the military (an easy one): a character foreign to anything but an anarchist society tries to understand why groups of soldiers follow orders--specifically orders that normally would trigger a moral dilemma for the individual soldier. For example, how are large-scale massacres not met with resistance by some of those holding the guns?

By retaining multiple layers in a hierarchy, LeGuin argues that any member of a command chain assumes responsibility only to follow the orders of his immediate superior. This method defers ultimate responsibility for any action, often indefinitely. But more dangerously, it convolutes. For a subordinate, the chain of command relinquishes his need to justify his actions, because his superior, and his superior's superior, make decisions for the subordinate, based on their "larger" scope of the issue.

I think Ursula LeGuin well illustrates her point through her military example. But I think that—because the military conjures such volatile reactions (pun intended)—LeGuin's example overshadows other important elements in the way humans communicate with each other. Here are what I consider the important questions raised by LeGuin's example:

1. Why do certain people obey others?
2. Why do certain people give orders the way they do or at all?
3. How does our method of communication (the way we transfer knowledge) systemically effect the community at large? and why?

The first two questions are most obvious, although not near as important as the latter. The latter question helps show that "obedience," "orders," and "communication" are all the resultant effects of knowledge. We obey our parents, order our co-workers, and communicate to our roommates based on the knowledge we possess and how we want to reveal that knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the military provides a rigid approach to the passage of knowledge. But how is this subject prevalent in our day-to-day lives?

Well, of course I wouldn't post a blog if I didn't have some egocentric BEEF to expel, and today is no exception. I would love to begin with no presupposition that we serve our interest best by either withholding or disseminating information. However, as I get older, I see more and more examples of "bottled-up" knowledge in my day-to-day life, and it increasingly frustrates me. So, as much as I wish to remain neutral, I'm afraid I may not be.

I recently embarked on a very fun adventure of fixing a broken Leslie speaker and connecting it to a Hammond m100 organ. The parts were corroded and old, a couple of them broken, and the electrical stuff looked a little sketchy. Through the wonder of internet, I found most of the information I needed to fully understand the workings of a Leslie speaker, including a complete schematic of the amp, a separate schematic of my Hammond amp, and several discussions or tutorials illustrating how to connect them. So far my journey had involved no *real* human interaction! Great!

I needed two new bearings, a new tire for the bottom rotor, and (most importantly) a very interesting 6-pin connector/cable for the Leslie amp. Of course, I found all these things immediately on eBay. But they were expensive. Does anyone do this locally, I thought? Maybe I could even find someone to geek out with, fuel my excitement, and (fingers crossed) give me some pointers.

No way. I called three Portland shops that serviced Hammonds, asking first for parts, second for advice, and lastly for service. I was flatly refused on the first two requests at all 3 shops. It wasn't just the refusal that irked me, it was the attitude. Not only would local shops refuse to sell me the parts (without service), they made me feel stupid for asking. When I asked "What would cause a belt to slip?" I received vague answers like, "...could be a lot o things," or "I wouldn't be able to tell without lookin at it..." ...which is complete bullshit. Later, when I finally ordered all my parts and got advice from a campy website I found through a web-forum, I realized how simple my questions were, and how easy my repairs could have been with some good advice.

At this point it dawned on me how interesting it is: that I can research, order, troubleshoot, and successfully rebuild almost ANYTHING without even talking to a human being (provided I have enough time and willpower). Again, the wonders of this Age of Communication! Hmmm. Well, a different sort of communication. Remember those small-town yarns about the Gas-station Mechanic who tells the traveler how to fix a water-pump, then feeds him dinner, then gives him a self-written pamphlet on do-it-yourself car-repair tips for the road? I rarely experience that. Even with fellow musicians, I am reluctant to tell my secrets. Why?

It's because I'm afraid I'll become obsolete. I have a determined amount of ability, and I refuse to share it. If I do share, you might steal it, and then I'll have to find another unique ability. Remember my experience with the piano-tuning supplies several months ago? Same story. The piano-tuners guild is a PRIME example of an industry taking great pains to keep their knowledge (and gear) secret. The issue isn't as dramatic as the Army's rigid chain of command, where generals, colonels, and the president keep their plans and motives secret by virtue of convolution. This is much more obvious! Here, I have an organ-repairist looking me in the eye, saying "I refuse to give you the information you want."

What is the effect of this on me, the consumer, the artistic participant? I learn quickly that knowledge is value-rated, and highly valued knowledge should also be highly protected. But, in a starkly different illustration, if diamonds weren't highly protected, would they be so highly valued? Perhaps not. Protection, dissemination, determines value. It should not. Practicality should determine value.

If diamonds were not so highly protected and regulated, they would not be so expensive, and they would definitely not be practical. Their value would decrease. But unregulated knowledge on Leslie speakers would never diminish a Leslie's practicality to organists. In fact, it would probably foster interest in Leslie speakers, which would foster interest, which would mean increased business for those involved in the trade.

At least, that's the debate. How do we rate value? How do we value knowledge? How closely are our actions dependent on our knowledge, and—therefore—how do we ensure that our actions retain value? For example, is unregulated and un-copyrighted music just as valuable as copyrighted music? If anyone has made it to the end of this jaunt, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.

Love, -BF

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

daddy mac

Personally and professionally, I have been working on Mac OS and Windows platforms simultaneously for the last 6 years. Recently, I've seen a lot of Apple marketing (outside the iTunes world) that advertises simplicity, elegance, and security (all features that basically result from making highly proprietary machines). Now, aside from overcharging, Apple has done a pretty good job at providing support for it's hardware. But any company trying to accommodate both hard and soft technological needs is going to run into problems, and Apple has recently tasted sexy iTune success and is taking Carl's Jr-size bites without a napkin. Apple is trying to make waves as a 3rd-party software vendor for other platforms, but they don't have the in-house technical support to BEGIN. In other words, now that Apple has decided to make its software available to other platforms (iTunes), they can't reap the benefits of the proprietary and compatibilty marketing campaign they're still trying to sell.

As an example: Yesterday I called Apple support and tried to find a knowledgeable resource for some issues I have with networked Apple products. I tried to start with iTunes. I've got a domain full of Windows users, all of whom use iTunes, some of whom want to share their libraries, etc. All I want is information on global settings and group policy options so that I can maintain consistency among users. (Without tools like these, iTunes is a network administrator's nightmare: users deal with ridiculously frequent and large program updates, shared libraries, auto-archiving and moving large files, and a virtual memory problem to warrant my granddad's. Sorry Hal.)

The first person I spoke to wanted me to download Quicktime. The third person I talked to transfered me to Sales. The first "iTunes Technician" I spoke to told me that I needed to authorize my machine before I could share .m4p files. Hahahaha! shut up. It gets better though. He transfered me to "accelerated support," where I could speak to a Genius. Unfortunately, the Genius said, iTunes does not support global settings. ...you are only able to buy songs from the United State, not internationally. Did I have any other questions? Hahahahaha! shut up.

In all, I spoke with 7 technicians: Jet, Jared, Kris Venditti, Glenn Esser, Joe Fleck, Bill Foster, and another guy who responded via e-mail. His response was good: he told me to download the newest version of iTunes and "have i checked out apple.com/support?" Oh my god, I totally forgot to use the web as a resource! As an IT professional, I usually spend my time on a typewriter, using my rotary phone, dreaming about a future of flying machines called airplanes and SHUT THE FUCK UP.

This is just one teensy issue I have with Apple.* I'm not trying to indict them for creating sub-par products; generally speaking, I like their machines and will probably continue to buy them as an end-user. It's Apple's deceptive "we're so slick and invincible" marketing that irks me. I suppose this blog is directed more to my friends who are Apple proponents or users, if only to reiterate that--no--Apple doesn't suck, but--yes--I will continue to complain about Apple as much as I complain about machines running Windows platforms.

Should I sign my name now? -BF

*Oh yeah, one more thing. Last night, one of my LaCie hard drives (supposedly Mac-friendly devices) failed. OSX's disk-utility app is really elementary. I can't find much information on my drive, and I definitely can't repair it. If anyone has any info on drive-restoration, let me know. Same goes for any other advice on networking Apple apps...