strictures and structures

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

Month: March, 2011

Onegin waltz sonnet.

The music beats in three four time
The dancers’ backs are firm and straight.
Their bodies move in perfect rhyme,
Their steps are light, of feather weight.
Were this a footrace, I could win
It’s not a race–I try to grin
As guilt for failing burns my face
I’ve chained you with my lack of grace.
But still, you smile, you take my hand
And gesture towards the crowded floor
And ask if we can dance some more.
I think that now I understand.
The best dancers are not those with skill
But those with joy, and goodwill.

The traditional Petrarchian sonnet has a rhyme scheme of: ABBA ABBA
CDECDE. Shakespeare mostly wrote his sonnets in the form: ABAB CDCD
EFEF GG. Seeing as how “Eugene Onegin” has dominated my experience of
poetry so much, though, I decided to try an Onegin sonnet: ABAB CCDD
EFFE GG. It’s not perfect since I don’t bother with the masculine and
feminine rhymes, but English is hard, so let’s go shopping. I need
some waterproof pants.

An aside: Why do I give such a shit about “Eugene Onegin”? I think
it’s because the Falen translation is so damn catchy. “The seasoned
flirt will reason coldly/ But Tanya’s love is deep and true/ She
yields, without conditions, boldly/ As sweet and trusting children
do.” I just can’t forget it.

You can do almost anything you want.

You have an impossible number of freedoms. Consider, when you go to
the store, the overwhelming presentation of breads: white, whole
wheat, honey oat, nine-grain, rye, garlic, pumpernickel, sourdough,
gluten-free, baguette, raisin. Will it be Wonderbread from Safeway? Or
something baked by a local artisan?

Look in the mirror. Your choices here are also infinite. Put on a
collared shirt and a belt, and transform into a respectable
white-collar yuppie. Buy a skirt and a shawl from a Tibetan shop–now
you’re a bohemian, free spirited and creative. Showcase your
nerdiness, and signal your intelligence through an xkcd shirt. You can
shop at thrift stores, at Target, at high-priced no-name boutiques, at
Nordstrom’s, and take home clothes of linen, wool, cotton, silk,
angora, spandex, cashmere, polyester, and nylon that have been spun
into twill, corduroy, satin, brocade, calico, cretonne, herringbone,
and taffeta.

Pick a religion. You can be whatever you want in this country. Be a
Christian if you’re mainstream, Jewish if you like feeling special,
Muslim if you want to hint at your potential for terrorism, Mormon if
you’re too nice to be perfect, or a Pastafarian if you’re irreverent.
But you’re not limited to just Judeo-Christian sects and their
parodies. You could join Hinduism, Sikhism, Asatru, Zoroastrianism,
Jainism, or Shinto, and how could you ever leave Scientology off the

Who do you want to date? Filter your prospects by books, by movies, by
music. Indicate on your online dating profile that you want someone
six feet tall, who rock climbs, who is also vegetarian. So many fish
in the sea–you can afford to wait for the right blond bombshell, or
for the appropriately submissive Asian, a naughty librarian, a batshit
crazy girl with daddy issues, or a woman who could’ve been the girl
next door.

Choose your bread. Choose your identity. Choose your religion, choose your love.

But one choice is missing. Between you, and your daily bread, lies a 
machine. You need it far more than it needs you. You’re
disabled, and it’s the only caretaker in town. The secrets of raising
wheat are not yours. The land that is suited to growing wheat is not
yours. They belong to the machine. Can you even take care of a potted
plant? You are in a hopeless position. You are bargaining with the
machine for your very life, but to the machine, you only mean as much
as the plastic bag holding your sandwich bread means to you.

Revel in the choices that a specialized economy gives you. You possess
an infinity of freedoms, minus one: the freedom to leave.

doing good

i’m editing my sister-in-law’s journal article right now. she studies
stem cells at stanford. she just invented a new method for tracking
the differentiation of blood cell progenitors. this could help us beat
cancer, as it resembles stem cells gone amok in its behavior, and
of course, it will help us with applying stem cells to regenerative
medicine. maybe halt aging someday.

i’m an engineer at twitter. for every line of code i write, i affect
thousands or even millions of users. this is my day job.

but stem cells are going to save lives some day, absolutely no
question about it. every misplaced comma and obfuscated sentence
fragment i find and destroy helps my sister-in-law, and helps us all
get there a little sooner. it just occurred to me now that i may be
doing more good for the human race right now than i ever have anywhere

One perfect moment in San Francisco

It’s 8:00 pm, and brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook. I’ll be eating
dinner at 9 p.m., which has got to be unhealthy for my delicate gut. I
will stop for nothing and no one, I vow, as I swing my leg over my

One pedal stroke takes me past five cars, and another one would take
me past this yelling kid handing out pamphlets. I feel sorry for him,
though. I will stop for nothing and no one, but I don’t mind squeezing
the brakes, coasting close to him, and opening my mouth v-e-e-e-r-y
wide. Smart kid, he gets the hint. “Come watch Peter Pan!” he calls,
as I streak away, unable to respond, but grinning as best I can.

half a cure for insomnia

If you have trouble falling asleep, 0.25 mg of melatonin should be
able to knock you out, even if you spend the last hour before bedtime
shooting zombies. Take the smallest dose possible–melatonin can
affect the quantity of time you spend in stage 4 sleep, which is the
most restorative stage of sleep. Also, an overly-large dose will leave
you groggy the next day.

If you have trouble staying asleep…come back to me in a few years. I
may have an answer for you then. Or, if you find it first, please let
me know.

my theory on why nature only makes beautiful things and humans tend to make ugly things

nature and humans are both like compilers. humans will, for some
reason, accept crappy source code that isn’t even syntactically
correct and compile that crap anyway. nature will not only throw an
exception–it also finds the programmer and sets them on fire.