strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

Month: January, 2011

a dedication to you, reader

To Peter Alexandrovich Pletnev

“Heedless of the proud world’s enjoyment,
I prize the attention of my friends,
and only wish that my employment
could have been turned to worthier ends —
worthier of you in the perfection
your soul displays, in holy dreams,
in simple but sublime reflection,
in limpid verse that lives and gleams.
But, as it is, this pied collection
begs your indulgence — it’s been spun
from threads both sad and humoristic,
themes popular or idealistic,
products of carefree hours, of fun,
of sleeplessness, faint inspirations,
of powers unripe, or on the wane,
of reason’s icy intimations,
and records of a heart in pain.”

–A. Pushkin

Of the 389 stanzas that comprise Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s dedication
to his friend at the beginning is my favorite. Start with the
beginning! Pushkin downplays the hell out of his masterpiece–the
masterpiece that Russian schoolchildren are forced to memorize in its
entirety, and claims that it still isn’t good enough for a man of
such rarefied sentiment and artistic ability as Pletnev. That he could
take a lifetime of experience, and distill it with the power of one of
the finest poets this planet has ever spawned, and still claim it’s
inadequate for Pletnev speaks of a platonic love that puts most
marriages to shame. I also really like how the tone of the dedication
darkens, as he begins with his most lighthearted sources of inspiration and ends
with the saddest. 

Pushkin. So. Good.

Most of the translations I’ve read, with the exception of Douglas
Hofstadter’s, have been very good. Even so, there are occasional
phrases that don’t scan very well, do not obey Pushkin’s original
iambic tetrameter, or are otherwise clumsy that make me think I can do
better. For example, “Heedless of the proud world’s enjoyment” is nine
syllables, not eight, and there is no stress on “proud.” There are too
many unstressed syllables between the first syllable of “Heedless” and
“world’s.” I was going to go through my copy of the Johnston
translation and fix every line that I found unacceptable, but I got
lazy and stopped with writing my own clumsy version of Pushkin’s
dedication instead. Here goes:

Before I came to work at Twitter,
I’d write a little for myself,
As the number following me grew absurdly bigger,
I thought I’d take it off my shelf.
So, read as you will these rambling posts
Born of restless nights ill-spent
On fever dreams and anxious ghosts
And little jokes of a darker bent,
My wheel’s song as I devour
Miles of a night-black road,
The bars I sing while in the shower,
And antics when I’m fully clothed,
The thoughts of others I’ve made my own,
The secret life that’s mine alone.

(Yes, I know, there’s a slant rhyme, the third line doesn’t scan, etc.)

a loveless love story: or, a droid review

I have a Droid now. Using the Droid fails to be a seamless experience
in ways that I find hard to articulate, but it has some nits that are
bad enough they bubble up into my consciousness to enrage me:

–The alarm volume can be changed from the settings menu, but if you
silence the phone, this menu suddenly becomes grayed out. This is just
poor encapsulation. Of course I can still change the alarm’s volume by
going to the settings menu for the alarm app, but I shouldn’t have to.
Graying out the alarm setting in the main volume control menu is also
inconsistent with the way notification volumes work. I can disable
that option, but still alter its volume.
–Having four physical buttons is too much. If I’m paying attention to
a touch screen, picking the correct tiny little physical button is
jarring. Some of it is the change in tactile sense–it is akin to
discovering a splinter in an otherwise polished piece of wood. The
fixed location of the buttons is also seriously annoying if I’ve
rotated the phone screen. Say I’m browsing, and I’ve turned the phone
90 degrees to get more lines of text onto the screen. Now the back
button, from my perspective, is in an entirely new place. If the back
button was a piece of the GUI and left up to each application to
decide, then it could rotate along with the rest of the GUI in a way
that makes sense on an app-by-app basis.
–To bash on phone orientation more, the switching around is jerky–it
pauses and suddenly does it all at once. I would prefer if it rotated
into place. I don’t care if it would actually take significantly
longer. The way it works right now, I’m always afraid that the phone’s
GUI isn’t actually going to rotate since it seems to be unresponsive
at first.
–Sometimes form fields get so covered up that I can’t tell what text
field I’m supposed to be filling out. This hasn’t been a problem with
any webpages yet, but filling out my information so I could buy apps
was a chore. I couldn’t tell whether it wanted my credit card number
or the first line of my address because all I could see was an empty
text box and the virtual keyboard.
–It is not intuitive how to configure that annoying notification
light. It is not a good sign when I get on to Google and people are
suggesting black electrical tape.

Droid, I’m annoyed at you. You shipped with an unintuitive interface
and no manual. If you’re not going to ship with a full manual and try
to get away with a skimpy “quick-start” guide instead, you’d damn well
better have an instinctive interface, but you don’t.

But then…I felt a little shock of electricity in my fingers as I
stroked your glass face. “DROID,” you said, trembling in my hands as I
pushed your buttons. My rage softened.

This was an arranged marriage, Droid. I chose you the way an Asian
mother chooses the colleges her children will apply to. Engadget had a
list of top ten Android phones, and you were number one. I refused to
do research. I was reluctant to burden my brain with the tedium and
indecision of choosing among many qualified options that all seemed
roughly equal, and I was paranoid that by making my own choice I might
be missing out on some crucial factor I failed to take into account.
Far safer to rely on a matchmaker. And that’s how we came to be

I admit when I saw your pre-installed bloatware, I had the reaction of
a girl sitting down to a blind date with bad breath and an annoying
laugh. Your UI still leaves a lot of things to be desired, and your
blinky little green light that lets me know when I’ve gotten a new
text or call was hideously inadequate and really annoying. Still,
while a little uncomfortable, your UI isn’t that bad, and you do
everything I require a smartphone to do, though the 3G is a little
spotty. Plus, there is that monster app store giving me access to
clever programmers with a much better sense of design than your
masters. I think, with a little sigh, of the iPhone and its polished
beauty still, but I’m happy enough to put you next to my pillow and
wake up to you saying “DROID” every morning. I don’t think I will be
truly happy (happiness is but a fleeting illusion, I tell myself), but
I think you make me content. And that is good enough to see me through
the next two years.

Goodnight, Droid.