Nov 28, 2011


a discussion in the car during a long drive back from new hampshire brought this back to top of mind, where it should really always be.

One tires of living in the country, one moves to the city; one is tired of one's native land, one travels abroad; one is europamüde, one goes to America, and so on; finally one dreams of traveling endlessly from star to star. Or the movement is different but the same. One tires of porcelain dishes, one dines off silver; one tires of that, one dines off gold; one burns half of Rome to get an idea of the conflagration at Troy. This method defeats itself: it is the bad infinite. What did Nero achieve? Antonine was wiser; he says, "It is in your power to review your life, to look at things you saw before, from another point of view."

The method I propose consists not in changing the soil but, as in the real rotation of crops, in changing the method of cultivation and type of grain. Here, immediately, we have the principle of limitation, which is the only saving one in the world. The more you limit yourself, the more resourceful you become. A prisoner in solitary confinement for life is most resourceful, a spider can cause him much amusement.
søren kierkegaard, either/or
also relevant: renunciation, words from a totem animal, hugh of st. victor, the inner chapters, little gidding, and ithaka. below, the original german:
Diese Wechselwirtschaft ist die vulgäre, die unkünstlerische, und hat ihren Grund in einer Illusion. Man mag nicht mehr auf dem Lande leben, und reist deshalb in die Residenz; man mag nicht mehr in seinem Vaterlande leben, man reist ins Ausland; man ist »europamüde« und reist nach Amerika u.s.w.; man schwelgt in der schwärmerischen Hoffnung einer unendlichen Reise von einem Stern zum andern. Oder die Bewegung nimmt eine andre, wenn auch noch extensivere Richtung. Man mag nicht mehr von Porzellan essen, man ißt von Silber oder von Gold; man brennt das halbe Rom ab, um den Brand Trojas zu sehen. Diese Methode hebt sich selber auf. Denn was erreichte Nero? Nein, da war Kaiser Antonio klüger, er sagt: anabiônai soi exestin; ide palin ta pragmata, hôs heôras; en toutô gar to anabiônai.

Die Methode, die ich vorschlage, liegt nicht darin, daß man immer neues Land nimmt; man würde dann auch bald am Ende sein. Die wahre Wechselwirtschaft besteht darin, daß man bald diese, bald jene Methode wählt und mit der Saat wechselt. Und da haben wir auch gleich das Prinzip der Beschränkung, das einzige, welches uns retten kann. Je mehr man sich selber beschränkt, um so erfinderischer wird nun. Ein Gefangener, der sein ganzes Leben in einsamer Zelle zubringen muß, von allen andern Gefangenen abgeschlossen, ist sehr erfinderisch; eine Spinne kann ihm die größte Unterhaltung sein. Hier haben wir das Prinzip, das durch seine Intensität, nicht durch seine Extensität Befriedigung sucht.

Nov 27, 2011

thanksgiving readings

Nov 15, 2011

a step forward

Going back to a simpler life is not a step backward.
yvon chouinard [thx josh]

[The Tarahumara] know that every step forward, every convenience acquired through the mastery of a purely physical civilization, also implies a loss, a regression.
antonin artaud

Preparing things simply is deceptively difficult, since there is no way to cover up our mistakes.
edward espe brown

Understanding evolves through three phases: simplistic, complex, and profoundly simple.
william schutz
on this, also see the old days.

Nov 13, 2011

a marvellous stage

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the forms of things. By the time I was fifty I had published an infinity of designs, but all I produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-five I have learned a little about the real structure of nature—of animals, plants and trees, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence when I am eighty I shall have made still more progress. At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at a hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvellous stage; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do—be it but a line or dot—will be alive.
katsushika hokusai
on this, also see the true names of things, wheatcakes, and a certain atlas.

Nov 9, 2011

freedom, and how you can achieve it

instructions on how to buy an inexpensive but decently built and swiftly unlockable smartphone and switch to a low-cost pay-as-you-go cellphone service.

you, like me, could soon be free of the iphone's tyranny and AT&T's colossal rip-off cellular service (so bad it would be laughable if it weren't also tear-inducingly frustrating, inconvenient, and expensive).

update: t-mobile unlocked the phone after 60 days of active service.
update: grooveip works fine. it is a bit buggy but i use voice sufficiently infrequently that it doesn't matter to me. (last month, my total talk time was 33 minutes using both the t-mobile network and grooveip). jacob h-a has been fooling around with a combo of sipdroid and that he says is working out well for him. no doubt he'll send an update once he's figured it out completely.

my new t-mobile unlimited 4G data and text plan (with 100 voice minutes a month) costs $30 (prepaid, no contract). i use it with the admittedly absurdly named samsung exhibit ii 4g: a $200 phone (without contract) that isn't perfect but, in the many ways detailed below, is probably the best compromise handset to come onto the US market in the last 12 months. the current setup is an exhibit ii 4g, t-mobile's new $30/month prepaid unlimited data plan (approx $53/month less than my current data plan with AT&T), my previous AT&T number ported to google voice and forwarded to the new t-mobile number, and my previous google voice number retained as a second number.

  1. i will save about $53/month ($1250 over 2 years) in service costs compared to renewing my 2-year AT&T contract. my total startup cost was $252.37, my monthly payments will be no more than $30. 
  2. i don't have to tell everyone and their dog what my new number is—they call the old numbers, my new phone rings. all my voicemails and text messages can go to email if i desire it. 
  3. i can travel easily with my phone without extortionate roaming fees. 
  4. once i unlock the phone, i can discontinue service at any time and resume it with t-mobile or any other provider with almost no disruption in how people call me or send me text messages.
this is better than the iphone on AT&T in every possible way relevant to me.  

there is much conflicting information on the interwebs about setting up this brand new wal-mart t-mobile plan. there are hundreds of phones, most of which suck for one or more reasons (on which, see below). consequently, setting up the phone and related services took 4 hours of research instead of 15 minutes. finding the phone took weeks of research.

we stand upon the shoulders of those who go before us (or, more precisely, those who stand underneath us). below, i provide excruciatingly precise detail on what to buy, where to buy it, and how to do everything you need to do to replicate my current situation of cellular blissall in the interest of human progress and freedom from digital tyrannies. and because i care about you.

first, the caveats. this scheme is ideal only if you
  1. use data intensively and send text messages all the time
  2. barely use voice calling
  3. are off contract with your current cell service provider
  4. have a google voice account
  5. don't really need domestic data roaming
if you wish to proceed, do the following in order (full disclosure: some of the links below will send me referral dollars if you buy through them.):
  1. a final caveat: you may face a termination fee if you port your phone while your contract is still in force. google voice's porting process may get fubar-ed (horror stories abound). in the grand scheme, these are minor annoyances for which i claim no responsibility.
  2. get a phone: purchase an off-contract prepaid-service t-mobile samsung exhibit ii 4g at wal-mart or online (see below for why it is the best compromise phone available today). amazon has the cheapest handsets and fastest fulfilment too. if you want to be nice to me, buy it through this link. important note: you cannot purchase your phone or activate it in a t-mobile physical store location if you want the $30 unlimited data plan described above. while the plan is marketed through wal-mart, it appears to be one of the t-mobile monthly4G plans and is available on any newly activated monthly4G SIM card, as long as activation happens on
  3. switch the phone on: when your phone arrives, insert the SIM and battery and begin to charge the phone. 
  4. activate cell service with t-mobile: have the ugly pink box handy and go to t-mobile's prepaid service activation page. enter the activation code (on a card inside the box) and the IMEI and SIM serial number (both listed on a sticker on the box), choose the $30/month prepaid plan with unlimited data, and complete your activation process but skip step 5 (funding your account). write down the new phone number which t-mobile assigns to you.
  5. fund your account: buy your account minutes from callingmart instead, which often has standard discounts on t-mobile prepaid service, in addition to a host of coupons (like these). again, if you want to be nice to me, please use this link to buy your minutes from callingmart.
  6. forward google voice to your new t-mobile number: go to this page and click on the link to "add a new phone"
  7. port your current cellphone number to google voice: if you are with AT&T, find your AT&T account number and PIN number ready, as well as the exact address and telephone number AT&T has on file for you (you should sign into your account at AT&T to check all this). then, go to this page, click on the link to port or change your number, and follow the quite clear instructions. if, despite entering the exactly correct account number and other details, the google voice workflow tells you to "Please fill out all of the required fields," be persistent and check for extra spaces and that you have the correct case. once you get to google checkout, pay the $20 port fee and confirm the port request. (you will note that there is no field to enter your AT&T PIN.)
  8. wait for the porting error message and fix it: eventually, google voice will send you an email titled "Oops! Issue with your Google Voice Number Porting Request." click on the link in the email and enter your AT&T PIN number. 
  9. make your current google voice permanent: when the port is completed, you'll get an email titled "Google Voice Number Porting is Complete!" rejoice, then go to google voice again, click on the link to "make permanent," follow instructions and pay another $20.
  10. unlock your phone: if you purchased your phone for full price, you can request that it be unlocked immediately. full details here.
  11. bask.  
why, you ask, would i go through all this hassle? 

about 6 months ago, i began looking for a new cellphone. my AT&T iphone 3GS was junk after almost two years of use. to be fair, it was a revelatory phone when i first got it and it saved my life once, but five things chafed more and more as time went on:
  1. it's locked to AT&T forever. i took a second phone with me whenever i was out of the country, so i would not be subject to AT&T's ludicrous roaming prices.*
  2. the silent-mode toggle switch is broken, but works unpredictably. this is always awkward in meetings.
  3. there is no way to shut off the shutter sound on the iphone camera without resorting to jailbreaking and doing other silly workarounds.*
  4. the battery life seriously blows.
  5. dropped calls all the time. all. the. time.
  6. i regularly used a small fraction of the hundreds of minutes i paid for on even the least expensive AT&T iphone plan.
every alternative phone i looked at was deficient on at least one of the following dimensions:
  1. screen too big = device is enormous (bigger than iphone)
  2. screen too crappy
  3. looks like a sex aid
  4. way too expensive (>$200)
  5. CDMA-only 
  6. not 4G-compatible in the US
  7. not world GSM-compatible
  8. processor slower than molasses
  9. obnoxious colour
  10. no front-facing camera
  11. not warrantied in the US
  12. battery cannot be replaced by user
  13. lousy battery life
  14. soon-to-be obsolete operating system
  15. locked to one carrier
this samsung handset is the only one i have found that has none of these deficiencies. it has a screen of modest but acceptable size and quality, a decent camera and front-facing camera, a modest but acceptable processor, runs gingerbread. all this is contained in a chassis the size of an iphone. it accepts regular-sized SIM cards and can be used worldwide with prepaid voice/data/text services from other service providers. intended as the mid-market member of the galaxy family, it is not ridiculously expensive. see reviews here and here, and full specifications here.

* yes, i jailbroke it but then that broke voice reception. and i was on a baseband that didn't have an easy unlock strategy. anyway.
** the W, in case you are wondering, stands for Wonder.

Nov 8, 2011

a mystery apple

this time of year, there is nothing more wonderful to eat than late-ripening, fresh-picked, crisp, crunchy apples. the early apples are still decent but are growing mealy after over a month of storage.

the apple of this very moment is either a brock or a northern spy—so say the labels on the apple bins at the kimball farm stand at which i have been buying these apples. the problem is: most variegated red apples look the same to my untutored eye (apple nerds, please withhold judgment).

the apple itself is about the size of a softball, a little flattened, with shallowish floral and stem depressions where there is some russeting (but not much). a little bit of ribbing, but inconsistent across the four specimens so far. it's yellow-green with zones of transparent red (the two i have here are speckled all over with little bits of russeting), the flesh is bright white with green tints close to the skin. the peel is tight and snappy under your teeth, the flesh crunches, the juice is abundant, there is sugar, there is much acidity, there is a bit of sap and quite a lot of mouth-clearing tannin, there is the flavour of a good oolong tea. it's winey, the way a winesap is.

clearly, we must get to the bottom of this.

update 1 (11.7.2011): happened on another of these incredible mystery apples in the back of the high-humidity zone of the refrigerator. the red zones on this one are so transparent they look almost orange. the apple is of medium-large size, and have little russet flecks all over that i have since learned are lenticels. it tastes just as described above, and the acidity and tannins dry my mouth out just enough that i want to eat these all year. this apple looks just like a brock, inside and out. thinking that i'd stumbled upon the answer, i took a known brock and sliced it open. you can imagine my disappointment when the two apples that looked alike tasted nothing like each other. the one i know to be a brock is insipid and has a crunch filled with initial conviction but lacking, unfortunately, in stamina. could it be a macoun, at the height of its season, a revelatory apple? the search continues. i must find a pomologist.

update 2 (11.7.2011): mystery apple photos!

update 3 (11.8.2011): though it was painful to do so, i left a slice of yesterday's mystery apple uneaten, to see how quickly it would oxidise and to what extent. the result: very little browning after 30 minutes, no additional browning even after 24h.

update 4 (11.8.2011): another of the mystery apples! perhaps, anyway. this one is labeled king luscious, but has the same flavour profile as the other mystery apples (see above). trouble is, it is not massive, and the red portions of the peel are more orange than the blue-cast red of the king luscious. i begin to suspect that the labels on the bins at the market are part of the problem. 

Nov 7, 2011


it's great when your ethics and your hedonism converge.