Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life."

- Catechism of the Catholic Church 533

I'm reminded of a mealtime conversation with friends. There was clearly some tension between two parties, but not between a different combination of parties. Cultures clash; in conversation, some people are interruptive, others are interruptible (though possibly in the passive-aggressive sense). Some people listen well, others not so well, and still others need to be listened to. These factors can create disharmony - even one-sided or perceived disharmony.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"... but Catholic Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy staunchly hold to his Real Presence in the Eucharist ... So the Eucharist ... warrants the same adoration and worship given only to God."

- Catholicism for Dummies

Monday, November 20, 2006

Father George is giving a homily at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto, California.

(On a passage from Revelation) Tough, scary words are actually a message of hope.

Father George seems to be saying that the fire and brimstone is symbolic, representing the trials of daily life, and the Second Coming is literal, to be looked forward to with hope. I may be mistaken in how I understood the homily.

* * * * *

God seems to have two faces. There is the God of Henri Nouwen, the tender, motherly God who cares for his little children. Then there is the God of St. Alfonso Liguori, the angry, emperor God, who is not averse to sending his servants to the lake of fire for punishment. The first is the God of the moderns: Katherine Norris, Anne Lamott. The second is the God of the ancients: St. Térèse of Lisieux, The Cloud of Unknowing.

Which is the reality: the tender God or the stern God? I hope the first picture is the correct one, but so many ancient sources attest to the second that, with some fear, I cannot dismiss it.

I am sitting inside a restaurant called Buca di Beppo in Palo Alto. My eyes feel a bit strained, but in general I'm pleased with how the day is going. I've got my Javascript / PHP code basically working, but there's a long ways to go yet: CSS styling, cross-browser testing, and integrating my changes with the version-control system. I truly understand that article about the difference between the amateur programmer and the professional programmer - the professional must worry about all these details, after the coding is "done".

Chirpy accordion music; the couple beside me are discussing RSS. I'm going to take a taxi to confession at a nearby church, but first I need to stop by the office to ask our designer a question.

"Holy Communion given to a dying person is called 'viaticum', which is Latin for 'something for the journey' ... The Catholic Church suggests that a dying person have a crucifix nearby to meditate on, a rosary, a Bible, holy water, and candles ..."

- Catholicism for Dummies

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"It is easier to say 'no' when there's a deeper 'yes' burning inside."
- Stephen Covey

Every person has their temptation. Covey's words occupy my thoughts at present. In the blindness, in the rush of living, it is easy to make the poor choice, the less edifying decision. And if you are fortunate, you will see something to snap you out of your reverie; you will hear something to remind you of days long ago. And you will be reminded to make the correct choice.

I am wandering the adobe-lined streets of downtown Palo Alto; pulsating music throbs from the Noaa bar. I wander the streets searching the air for ideas.

Above all, what I wish to know is if the idea of a "close circle of friends" can be achieved through technology, for people separated in space (and, perhaps, in time). Or is the impossibility of it inherent in the technology?

Phone calls help to bridge the gap; IM too, better in some ways, worse in others. But at best, IM seems to do no better than maintain acquaintanceships, not the close friendships we are after. And the phone is only moderately successful in maintaining close friendships. What better modes are available to us?

The close circle of friends often sits literally in a circle, sits on the ground sometimes. They are forced together by some circumstance (school), and have found each other to have compatible temperaments.

The dispersed group of friends finds itself in different locations, even in different timezones. Communication is asynchronous (voicemail, email). The synchronous communications of phone or IM can be inconvenient, a source of irritation. What new or hybrid modes of communication can help here? Does the web offer us new modalities? Will traditional letter-writing be a part of it?

I'm away from home for three weeks. I leave a voicemail; my mother leaves me an email. Somehow, it is not enough - what mode of asynchronous communication would offer a greater degree of "presence"? Is asynchronous presence possible?

Does hearing and seeing constitute presence? If so, then reading and writing is a poor shadow of presence, and the phone is only half effective. Would video communications be a significant enhancement? Video conferencing, or even video mail? Or at the very least, audio email and audio comments (aumments)?

When you can actually hear a stranger speaking to you, even from half a world away, is that not the beginning of friendship?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I am seated in row 21 on an Airbus A319, squeezed between two other passengers. On the earlier connecting flight I was surprised to find myself nauseous and perspiring. It was, as the flight attendant observed, "moderately turbulent."

But on this larger plane, the flight is as smooth as a bus ride. Face is dry; stomach is in place.

I was called away from home on short notice to my company's headquarters in Palo Alto, California. This city is home to a number of famous technology companies, from Xerox PARC to Facebook (which is across the street from us). So I'm a bit excited to visit again.

It's a longer trip this time - three weeks. I will do my best to eat healthily and thriftily, and to exercise (I've printed out some DDR stepcharts so I can continue to practice). A few days ago I decided on a new mandate for my work: in addition to that of Engineer, I believe I can help my company significantly in the role of Dreamer; quite simply, to think independent, fresh, ambitious ideas - something I occasionally engage in, but just being more conscious of this talent.

And evening dreamwalks - ambling about idly, head in the clouds, dreaming up new software ideas.

And of course staying in touch with my mother and the few others I am in close contact with. It was a lot easier for me to make close friends in a school environment, when you are thrown into the fire with a hundred others - you're bound to find people you like. But after you leave that environment, the ties are strained, and soon the last tie severs. These days I have a hundred weak ties, which are alright as far as they go, but I miss the close circle. Wonder if technology can create close circles; or perhaps the weak tie is inherent in electronic communication, systemic. I hope not.

Spirituality - this is another fundamental dimension of life - what role will technology play here?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Again I felt part of the long journey of the people of God through the centuries."
- Henri Nouwen

After squandering the first seven hours of the day playing the video game Syberia, I now sit in St. Andrew's Cathedral, with my mother, in our usual pew near the back right. To me the day truly begins now; the past seven hours are dead to me. May this day be one of peace, solitude, quiet, rest, and family. And prayer.

I feel moved when I read Nouwen's words about being connected with people across the centuries. That is important: timeless things, ancient places. This aspect of my religion - that of being a part of a movement that spans thousands of years - this is what I will think on and be proud of today as I recite the ancient words during mass. To stand on a foundation that spans ages past, and to reach to the skies of ages to come - this is a good way to live.

* * *

Father Joel is giving the homily now, on the poor window. My eyes started drooping - writing seems to wake me up. Giving money bears little fruit from a spiritual perspective - it must be accompanied by true compassion. Secondly, giving must be a sacrifice. These two messages appear contradictory; perhaps I need to think about them some more.

Perhaps the highest form of giving combines both aspects: cheerfulness and sacrifice. Grudging largesse, and easy token giving - both are inferior to truly willing sacrifice.

I gave in to temptation and bouqht a video game. It was only ten bucks. Called Syberia, it has won numerous awards from the video-game press. According to what I'd read, the number of hours I could expect to waste would be around 15.

Well, I spent about 5 hours that day playing it. It was frustrating at times, when it wasn't obvious what to do. It was drudgery work. After completing the first of five objectives (assembling a robot and boarding a train) I felt frustrated, weary, and brain-numbed (and this is intended to be fun?). I suppose the brain-numbing was valuable, as it cured my hunger to play adventure games, at least for a while.

I have added a new component to my mission statement: "Dreaming life-enhancing software." Sounds a bit awkward, but I couldn't think of a more fitting word than "Dream" – to cogitate an idea into reality. "Life-enhancing" – this captures both software that helps people in a small way (assistive) and software that helps in a profound way (superhuman).
So my mission statement continues to grow organically – phrase by phrase. It now reads: Engineering beautiful software; dreaming life-enhancing software. Cherishing my family. Random acts of heroic kindness. Being conscious of my human journey.
I believe my company needs me to dream. At the minimum, to do good engineering, but at my best, to dream new things.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I was reading Road To Daybreak and Nouwen made reference to a sculpture, "Christus auf Palmesel", and goes on to describe it. How I wish I could see that sculpture he describes, I thought. Then in struck me, I could, and without having to go to Germany. I simply typed the title into Google Image Search, and instantly before me I saw the sculpture Nouwen referred to.

It struck me then the awesome power of this medium. The web gives us power - instant access to the shared knowledge of humanity.

I am currently reading Henri Nouwen's "Road to Daybreak" and Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline". I constantly pick up one then switch to the other, so the spiritual book and the book of business intertwine their thoughts in my mind. Indeed Nouwen laments his worldliness, and Senge talks of the importance of spirituality, so the two books play off and chase one another.

Both books talk of slowing down to see past the firefighting of the moment - to see reality, the bigger, transcendent picture. I sense a need in myself to introspect, to remind myself of my purpose and values. I remind myself here:

- engineering beautiful software
- cherishing my family
- random acts of kindness
- being conscious of my human journey

At times, however, the books are completely opposed:

"Competition, which literally means "striving together" ... is one of the best structures yet invented by humankind to allow each of us to bring out the best in each other."
- Peter Senge

"Human glory, based on competition, leads to rivalry; rivalry carries within it the beginning of violence; and violence is the way to death."
- Henri Nouwen

Part of me wants to retreat from the world for a day, or two - to walk outdoors where nature is thicker, to contemplate my life's purpose, to introspect.

But another part of me is afraid that I will soon grow tired of this exercise, that I will need the stimulation of entertainments, of books, of ideas from the internet.

My daily life is already a retreat, in a shallow sense. It is a retreat from television and from society. But in my daily life my mind is continually absorbed in computer programming or reading or learning - very little time is spent contemplating the great mysteries of one's own existence

Saturday morning in Victoria, British Columbia. Pale sunlight on pale green grass; the houses and the day have a bleached look.

Present sounds: a flutey note from the bus engine, a quick ticking in the ceiling, rising and falling pneumatic cries, a raspy mechanical exhalation, crickety creaks in the seats, a vibrating metallicism.

I am now standing in line in the foyer of St. Andrew's Cathedral, awaiting my turn for confession. There are some things I need to move past, some feelings of guilt that I want to clear away. I've written down what I will say - it will be brief. I find I communicate best in the written mode; introverts prefer to weigh their words. For me, the advantage of writing over speaking is that it gives me time to pull out my deepest and most considered thoughts from the depths of my brain.

Behind me a woman whispers prayers; I hear the silent clinks of rosary beads. Outside, AC/DC plays from a passing car. The person in front of me glances at my PDA.

30 years old - hoo boy. This life is moving fast. I remember hearing a conversation behind me several summers ago: "I'm 30 and I've never felt better." "Me too." They sounded a bit unsure, afraid but putting on a brave face.

I was once the prodigy among older faces - the young man in his early twenties working alongside the elders. That is no longer the case. Now I see in my face the face of my father, the face of my mother.

I am one person away from the confession door. There is a heightened sense of nervousness among us at the front. But we've all done this before.

Now I'm at the front.

Done. I can live an open life again.

I am now standing in Mayfair Shopping Centre, in front of the Stich It tailor shop. The air is rich with conversation, although it is hard to make it out:

"The food court was *too* busy."
"They have lots of cool stuff in there."
"Has your mum called and asked us to ..."
"Wanna take a look?"
"We're like - everyone else is like ..."
"And I'll send it over to *her*."
"Oh I know where you can get them."

Is this the distraction from the dread of mortality of which Becker speaks in The Denial of Death?

"Uh oh, you're gonna fall out, you're gonna fall out!"
"Excuse me!"
"... a space here and a space there."
"Yeah I know."
"So, one of the tickets is ... "
"... nothing to do with it. But it is a really nice ..."
"Sneak in here, check one?"
"... little less than ten minutes?"
"Nine dollars. Two for fifteen."
"They don't have a flashing sign, eh?"
"It's a really good idea."
"... just kind of stagger ..."
"And the rest in loonies, like three loonies."
"Two minutes."

Friday, November 10, 2006

"The feedback perspective suggests that everyone shares responsibility for
problems generated by a system ... [implying] that the search for scapegoats
... is a blind alley."
- The Fifth Discipline

Hence, blaming is counterproductive.

The seething swirls of anger, the flames of anger, the whirlwind, the whorls, in which you must grasp the table's edges, clutch to hold yourself steady, to avoid the vertigo, the absurdity of anger, the irrationality, the indignity. Above all, maintain your reason.

And then, having served its purpose, it abates, it dissipates, and is best left alone as it evaporates.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It has been a mostly lazy Sunday; mostly restful and relaxed, though there was also a software emergency to investigate. And now, the return of calm. I look out the window at the dewy, bryoidic cold of our rainforest landscape. I have not ventured outside yet; in a half hour I will be travelling to the cathedral with mom, followed by a quiet dinner at some restaurant.

* * *

I am now safely seated near the back of St. Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia. The air has the quaint scent of smoke and wood. The squeak of wet shoes on hardwood echo behind me to my right. A whistle, a cough, more squeaks. The hum of machinery in the background as usual. Kneelers creakily lowered to the floor with a thud.

And conversation. "Argh, it's pretty wet!" Low murmurs.

I will do my best to be attentive this mass; to hear every word in every formula. To "participate".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Curiously, the melancholia is rapidly abating, and litheness of spirit, bravado, arrogance, and aristocratic foppishness are taking its place. My spirits were low at mid-day, but I recognized it for what it was and thus simply pressed on.

I was hoping the spell were a few days longer; already, at Evening Prayer my eyes hurry over the words without understanding, my brain abuzz, eager to finish and *do* things. Alas, the inventor bids the poet adieu for now, hoping for a longer future visit.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I believe I am in one of my melancholy / poetic moods (as opposed to my creative / exuberant moods). Which is good - it means I can write more poetry, and see unobscured the bowèd spindles on which is perched the nubile Earth.

So this anxiety, this Dread, isn't necessarily about tomorrow's difficult programming project. It's just my melancholic worldview that visits me from time to time. Melancholy and Exuberance each have their advantages - stark realism on one hand, raw energy on the other. The Poet and the Engineer, each eccentric in its own way.

One of the best parts about Melancholy is that you are more attentive in prayer. When I read Evening Prayer, I consider the meaning of nearly every word - one hangs on to any word while leaning away from the edge of the cliff, while dangling above the lake of fire. Suffice it to say that words take on new meanings that one cherishes with reverence.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A contradiction?

Henri Nouwen wrote "that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God."

I find it difficult to reconcile this stance, which I would very much like to accept, with the "mean" concluding words of Psalm 95, read each morning in monasteries around the world:

[God] said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways."
So I swore in my anger,
"They shall not enter into my rest."

Objectively speaking, these do not seem to be words of unconditional love, but of a love that is conditional. The "anger", the denying people "[entry] into my rest" – these are words that evoke the "fear, isolation, or despair" that Nouwen asserts are "not something that comes from God".

Or could the psalmist be mistaken in attributing these thoughts to God?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Today I had a bit of a scare. I couldn't find my keys in the basket I usually put them in, nor in my pants' pockets where I sometimes leave them by accident. Calling upon St. Anthony, I looked in various rooms of the house.

To my relief, after twenty minutes of searching, I found them in the sink. They must have fallen out of the pocket of the pants that I forgot them in. Phew!

Gentle reader, may the loss of keys never befall you, or may you at least have a happy ending as I did.

Friday evening. My mind is frazzled from a constant all-day stream of programming work. I sat down on some steps and read Ender's Game for three hours, enjoying the escape. I must learn to pace myself better - to leave some work for tomorrow instead of pushing myself to long hours of work. Balance in all things.

It is midnight. I'm going to relax with a couple more chapters of Ender's Game before retiring at half-past twelve. Then on to some additional work tomorrow morning, followed by a trip downtown, to the library.

Autumnal rains. They've soaked into the toes of my shoes. I have a gnarly software problem waiting for me at home, but for now my thoughts leave it as I step out into the drizzly day. When you work from home, days can go buy between excursions outside; to step out into the open air is a welcome change from the indoors. Despite the autumnal rains.

A fellow traveller greets me as he steps into the bus shelter. Relations are more cordial when the weather threatens.

Saturday today. Plan is to head to the library downtown, pick up ten books, purchase miscellaneous items. These errands are a pleasant change of scene.

"If possible, live peacably with everyone."
- Paul, Letter to the Romans

It is easy to grow angry when criticized. And who would not fight back when barbs are being sunk into one's skin? Who would remain still, receiving the stinging thorns with stupid stoicism? Or flee as a coward?

And yet, there must be a third way, a more intelligent way. It is delicious to fight back and win; it is something else to understand and be understood. Not the passive-aggressiveness of a deadly silence, but not weakness either. I am not yet fully certain what this quality is, nor how to enter into it, but I do know that it ennobles the human being above the level of the animal.

"There is a third way to negotiate, a way neither hard nor soft,but rather both hard *and* soft."
- Getting to Yes

Friday, November 03, 2006

Phantasmagorical comic strip

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Phantasmagorical comic strip

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Phantasmagorical comic strip