Ravens are not crows

I guess I wish something in the middle: that the words remain, probably because my brain cannot conceive inexistence, and the closest I’ve been to talking with dead people has been in books, so why not try to stretch consciousness beyond death by duplicating it in other human beings through my written words. But I also wish that the words would vanish as soon as I write them, so that I could write freely and without the burdening thought that what I’m writing could be read in the future1.

  1. We believe that this fragment tried to convey one of Ni Das philosophical obsessions, that the feeling of freedom and the loss of fear of death are related in a deep existencial sense, so much as to be treated as the same concept in old philosophical traditions. The piece, although poor, has a deep historical significance, as it is the first fragment of his work to be commented by himself, as he would eventually do for the rest of his time as a teacher  in the hills of Sirdonia.

I like to connect the numbered-dots cartoon extending on the fabric of time with these crayons’ colors: I don’t write often. I’m a doctor anyway. And I fucking hate english. But, hey, look! Don Masochismo is here right on time to save us, again!

“Push yourself always in the direction you are least likely to succeed, while dreaming every day over office coffee with the pleasures that successful life would provide you.” —Don M.

Or it could just be that I have nothing to say.

My life’s pretty dull, actually.

 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

“From studying the outcome of past expeditions, he believed that those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.”

Imagination, one of the wheels of literature, is never absolute. It is, after all, taking place in/by a human, and thus bound to be a reflection of a particular mind. History, culture and future all go through a body before being splashed into the text. But maybe even more important, because of its immediacy, is the position of the writer itself: a man, sitting in front of a desk, struggling with his thoughts in active meditation. A body, essentially made to move and explore and attack, founds itself static, dominated by mind. The expression of that repressed desire is inevitable; there is hardly an inventio more spontaneous than travel and adventure; it is the desire of movement affecting the imagination.

Reading adventure is a pleasure for similar reasons, we are both calm and warm in our chairs (even better if it’s raining outside, as it makes us feel even safer), while also in some way experiencing movement, the new, discovery. It tickles both of our deep desires for safety and exploration at the same time. In the edge of that pleasurable contradiction we can spend hours, just as under the almost burning shower.

(Eventually books erode, and then El Quijote begins, and then Faust begins.)

But what if I told you that the story that you are reading actually took place? You can then leave behind all that heavy baggage that you carry when reading fiction—the goggles, the masks, the pikes—and travel even lighter. You will get less tired, there will be less things to worry about. All the fiction struggle would eventually seem so unnecessary, as just history itself, the acts of fellow humans, can fill and surpass our imagination. But only, if… the story is good.

And by Holy Probability!, you will struggle to find a story more impressive than Shackleton’s trip to Antartica.

Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction

What scares me the most is that it cannot longer be told if it is the stage that mimics humans or humans that mimic the stage. The two phases are so interwoven that they are mostly indiscernible. How much of our behavior is actually a representation of a representation? Not only subconscious reenactions but direct quotes, dialogue, vestment. So much of our speech takes place in the movies and in literature that art itself had to scape from our own common behavior, by creating that trend which we call realism, that is, the look for that of life which has not been tainted by art already.

(Heidegger would definitely have something to say about this, but ain’t nobody got time for that.)

And it scares me so much because the ones that don’t participate in the representation of the representation are excluded from the every-day, through simple but violent ostracism. This is the terrible alienating consequence of art: its world-creation is so powerful and eventually all-encompassing that it replaces even the deepest of customs. From the avant-garde, to the cliché, to the every-day, the process is subtle but inevitable. It hurts, as it does when we see in film that joke or that subtle mannerism that we though we only knew, but now it’s there, represented and thus, if worth it, destined to become cliché or eventually, even worse, to be forgotten by it being so common, trivial. Art, thus, aims for the common.

Yes, the book… I also read The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Goffman this year. I loved it, and after the two essays in Encounters… I must say I’m still convinced. Two ideas captivate me. The first one is the atomistic belief that sociology could learn a lot from the study of the basic interactions of humans beings. If someone tomorrow would tell me that my mission for the next 10 years is to write a sociological study, I would start with that premise, a reduction not to individuals and their passions, a la Locke and others, but to the basic interactions between humans. I would do this mainly because I’m a scientist and I thus have a completely irrational belief in reduction. But also because studies of the everyday will definitely be more relevant for—guess what—the everyday of common people, and could even get to be useful. Actually, one direct consequence of reading Goffman is a notorious alteration of our social interactions. If our mind happens to remember anything that we read from him when in the middle of a conversation, or say while playing a game—the situation covered by the best essay of the book—then we’ll be immediately transported to a new dimension of thought, where we’ll almost be able to hear the coughing of the audience looking at us, at the stage, representing.

The second idea that convinces me in Goffman’s writings is precisely this, its mapping of human interactions to theater. It doesn’t follow the obvious route of personality and characters, but a more broad and spacial aspect of stage, audience, entrances and exits. It goes beyond one-to-one, more psychological relations to explore the dynamics of our roles and the conditions and consequences of absorption; how we constantly play with our  level of involvement, a sequence of layers that seem to lead to essentially theater itself: the game of endless masks. It’s a seductive read, a bait for the mind suggesting a new world of ideas with which to sprinkle even the most boring social situations; it is even inspiring for anyone who still, maybe, perhaps, believes in change from bottom-up; but, as I said in the beginning, it’s also quite scary.

Critique of Everyday Life

“A man’s consciousness, his condition, his possibilities, do not depend upon a relation with some timeless Reason, a permanent human nature, a ready-made essence or some indeterminate freedom. His consciousness depends upon his real life, his everyday life.”

Coincidently, as my life converges into an overall pleasant routine, and I start to live the life of all men, my appreciation and interest for the every-day raised. “Coincidently” meaning here that I desperately needed something to give meaning to this material situation in which I suddenly found myself in. Or if meaning was too much to ask, then at least I was looking for a way to criticize my life smartly and thus live as a satisfied intellectualoid: comforted and bitterly. Once again, I underestimated literature, as I found so much more than consolation reading Lefebvre; strange thing in me, I found ideas which I’m willing to follow and preach. Finally, a book that fills me with hope. A discourse I feel eager to commit myself to.

Everyone, in its quest to make sense out of this skydive-without-parachute experience called ‘life’, creates a personal mythology. We elaborate, some with more craft than others, a divine collage of our own history and social ideas that carefully hides the unbearable senselessness of existence. The social aspect of this is, in brevity, a collection of doctrines, usually condensed in words that Plato would love to show us we don’t really understand, but that anyway have a profound influence on our behavior: liberty, freedom, democracy (the American holy trinity), and a big and interesting etc. Lefebvre’s suggestion is revolutionary for a marxist intellectual: ignore and avoid such concepts, as they only lead to alienation, unless we are able to find them ourselves in our every-day life. Start, that is, from the beginning, ‘you’ and ‘what you did today’. Take a step back from the empty intelectual world of grandiose words and observe how your daily actions are both cause and effect of the social. In sum: understand from your particular.

I believe that interpreting the everyday on an ideological level is a powerful start to, first, construct any new social structure, as anything that is not based and sustained on the daily material world is bound to collapse under the immense power of customs and routine: man is a creature of habit. And second, to improve our lives, by living in concordance with society and carefully aware of our own actions; to descend from the world of ideas into the cave, set the fire, sit down, relax, and think deeply about the things that matter, the daily.

An excellent read for the 30 year olds in crisis. It is unfortunately too marxist at some spots, mainly because of historical reasons, but the book is otherwise filled with incisive insights that suggest a new way of thinking of ‘the social’ that seems, surprisingly, to have a future.

(Comments on Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1 (1947) by Henri Lefebvre)

Las ciudades invisibles

De entre mis sueños recurrentes, los que más encienden mi imaginación son aquellos que podrían llamarse arquitectónicos. Me encuentro a menudo envuelto en construcciones minimalistas, envolventes, por supuesto imposibles, proyecciones al mundo de la forma y el espacio de ideas o miedos fundamentales. Escaleras, ventanas, muros infinitos en ángulos imposibles, nada que no se pueda encontrar en el repertorio surrealista; lamentablemente no recuerdo si primero lo soñé o lo vi en aquellas pinturas o películas, mas no importa sino para la inapropiada causa de las causas.

El tedio de la rutina y Sísifo en las escaleras, a veces interrumpidas por abismos que crecen cuando intento saltarlos. Sobrios muros convergiendo en la fuga, cruzados por polígonos puntudos mutando como si vivieran en dimensiones superiores, que tanto me producen maravilla como un miedo arácnido, angular. Cuevas subterráneas, madrigueras proyectando la seguridad del hogar, por supuesto sin salida, claustrofóbicas. Y tantas otras, indescriptibles, y por ello olvidadas.

Las ciudades invisibles vive precisamente en ese espacio de tránsito donde la literatura me parece más poderosa, bajo el portal que otorga sustancia al sentimiento inefable. Calvino ataca en sentido inverso, armado de un lenguaje exquisito, buscando libremente en el espacio de las ideas y del sentir universal todo aquello que sea posible transmutar a la forma de la ciudad. El truco genial es su habilidad para mantenerse siempre en medio, sin caer hacia ningún lado, manejando con maestría circense el equilibrio de la ambigüedad. Construye así un inmenso jardín para la imaginación donde es posible dejar libres nuestras ideas, nuestras geometrías esenciales, incluso nuestra propia historia. Materializadas como cristales de humo es posible observar lo que intuimos en sueños, en viajes, en la similar soledad de la cama y el turista.

Suerte la mía, encontrarme este libro que logra materializar mis sueños favoritos. Volví a sentir como que leía a Borges por primera vez; más grande elogio literario no se me ocurre. Ahora por supuesto correré a leer más de este Calvino que hasta ahora era simplemente un nombre familiar. Les cuento.

(Comentarios sobre Las ciudades invisibles por Italo Calvino)

DOTA

Yesterday I played DOTA (a video game, yes). I’m pretty sure that I’ll uninstall it soon, but Luca The Italian insisted that I should give it a try. Already the idea of him shouting to me what to do with his hilarious accent made me laugh, so what the heck, why not.

It was incredibly confusing. I spent most of the time just fighting with the interface. I got annihilated several times while trying to drag items from the ‘stash’ to my ‘inventory’. I had no time to read the descriptions of what anything did, so I found myself just practicing the basic moves, and mostly trying to avoid death, which from my gaming days I learned is the first thing one should master in any online game. All the time I just kept wondering how was is it that a game with such a Heaviside learning curve ended up being so incredibly popular. It is somewhat true that good games that are hard to master take a while to become popular, but stick around for a long time (e.g. real rogue-likes, the Civilisation series, Counter-Strike.). Also good but idiot-proof games, on the other hand, seem to linger for just a few weeks and then they’re quickly forgotten, if just because there is nothing more to talk about them anymore.

There is some underlying truth to the fact that hard things are more rewarding. A good bait is fundamental though, the promise of a good treasure (the princess) at the end of the adventure that makes the pain tolerable. Usually we know of this just from vox populi, or more generally, critic. I saw The Mirror by Tarkovsky last week, recommended by the internet. It was a painful experience. I had to struggle with my thoughts ‘common Nico, you should be able to get surrealist films by now!‘ And even though my first reaction was to consider it completely over-rated, since then it has constantly popped up in my thoughts, kind of like a trauma. And I’m starting to like it. If I knew more about psychoanalysis I’m sure there would something deeper to say about this. My image is: only traumatic experiences have enough power to leave a mark in our mind, and there’s intrinsic value in survival, like that object that we love just because we haven’t lost it for 20 years.

common Nico, you failed nerd, you have be able to kill at least someone in a Moba!’

A name for identity

How valuable are words. Reading this excellent article on Quantum wierdness (from Nautilus, of course) I stumbled upon the word ‘haecceity‘,

(/hɛkˈsiːɪti, hiːk-/; from the Latin haecceitas, which translates as “thisness”) […] denotes the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing which make it a particular thing

I feel that this concept now serves me as a firm, indivisible pilar on which I could edify more intricate ideas. The wonderful utility of succinctness; my mind being so limited I tend to value as treasure those things that can save me expensive mental steps. Now I just don’t want to look at it too much, as I know it will eventually disintegrate, like all mediaval stochastic philosophical terms should. Let us for a while asume that haecceity has some haecceity.

GitLab with Apache and Ubuntu

Let’s make it ab ovo. Big Boss wants to keep track of The Code bug, objectives, and whatever else somehow nicely, and after a few ‘I don’t know what is the best solution’ I got the hint: I should investigate myself and just do it™. We both agreed on using GitLab (I’ve never actually used it, but I like GitHub and Git), but Big Boss was not so sure as he’d had problems before installing it next to an Apache server. As our server still hasn’t arrived, I decided to install GitLab on my own machine, a Linode server on which basically all my academic life depends on. It is already running my personal website and some svn/git servers, so it was no option to use the out-of-the-box solution from GitLab, which includes its own Ruby server.  So, that’s why, here, a quick guide to install GitLab next to an Apache server running on Ubuntu:

  1. Get the last version of GitLab Community Edition (CE) through their repository. For this, I just followed the instructions on the GitHub website.
  2. When that is finished, GitLab should be installed and there should be a conflict between Apache and the server used by GitLab, Unicorn. First we have to reconfigure GitLab.
  3. Find the gitlab configuration file gitlab.rb, in my case in /etc/gitlab/. Edit (or uncomment) the following fields:
    external_url "http://gitlab.mydomain.com:80"
    nginx['enable'] = false
    ci_nginx['enable'] = false
    web_server['external_users'] = ['www-data']
    

    Where gitlab.mydomain.com should be the host of your GitLab code. Port 80 can be changed to anything, but then keep that in mind for what follows. Also, www-data is the username used by your Apache configuration; this is the default value.

  4. Reconfigure GitLab:
    sudo gitlab-ctl reconfigure
  5. Next, we need to create an appropriate Apache config file. Luckily, the guys of GitLab provide one. I used gitlab-apache24.conf, but they’re all pretty similar. There are some things that need to be modified in this file, basically just replace all appearances of YOUR_SERVER_FQDN with the host address, gitlab.mydomain.com.
  6. You probably need to activate the necessary modules of Apache. In the terminal:
    sudo a2enmod rewrite
    sudo a2enmod proxy
    sudo a2enmod proxy_http
    

    Most probably the two first ones were already activated.

  7. If you’re running Ubuntu, then the Apache configuration file needs to be placed in the right place. In the Apache config directory (usually /etc/apache2), move gitlab-apache24.conf to sites-available, and rename it to reflect the domain name:
    mv gitlab-apache24.conf /etc/apache2/sites-available/gitlab.mydomain.com.conf
  8. Then enable the site:
    a2ensite gitlab.mydomain.com
  9. That should actually be it. In my case, I was struggling for a while with a 504 error. All I had to do was go to the DNS Manager of Linode and add a CNAME Record for my new virtual server. And then, back to The Code.

Greece and the growth cancer

It feels like a 70’s gangster movie. The rich guy lends money to the greek (immigrant) not knowing that the greek is actually lying. At some point he finds out, gets angry and decides to ask some questions, “well Tsipiras, who’s going to pay me now, ah?!”

It feels like a 70’s gangster movie. The greek (immigrant) lies to the rich guy to get money from him. He has this big money opportunity that can’t fail. The rich guy eventually founds out that he’s been tricked, gets angry and decides to ask some questions, “well Tsipiras, who’s going to pay me now, ah?!” The greek fails to tell a convincing story, so the rich guy decides to go to the modest house of the lying bastard. “Nice TV you have there, Tspirias. It’ll look great in my living room. Nice electricity grid, Tsipiras. Nice salaries you have there… whoops! I just sold them to my guys. You know what? I feel generous today. I believe in you. Here’s more money. Fix your shit, Tspirias. And call me when you’re done.” Make the ‘rich guy’ a woman and you have a box office hit.

Cute Europe, old Europe, always so polite, always so pretty; I love how you look after 17 hours of meetings. How did you end up looking so wasted? First bad decision: doing business with ‘the rich’ based on falsified information. Repent of your sins, Greece; you were not the first, but you misjudged your leverage to pull it off. Second bad idea: waiting for the 300 billion euro elephant in the room to disappear. What a huge spectacle of miss management we have seen for the self-proclaimed most civilised appendix of the world. Ten years of plain denial of the problem, pushing it like I thought only we south americans could do. Why didn’t anybody do anything? Suspicious; my conspiracy obsessed self-hippie wants to believe that Deurope knew from the beginning and saw the opportunity to grab those shiny power lines whenever Greece exploded. Or, as it is now probable, they just want Greece out but “make it look like it was their fault.” It’s hard to believe that nobody saw it coming, but then again, humans constantly overestimate humans.

Welcome, Greece, to the club of countries owned by other countries! (Round of applause, please)

The most fantastic scene of the show was sleepy Merkel feeling proud that the european ideals won. Is that it, really? Is Europe only about closed-door antidemocratic big money talk? Is this the Europe that billions of modern slaves are supporting? Give us back our gold and silver, guys. We wanted something more than puritan-work-ethics fanaticism.

Discussions about Europe will now inevitably lead to my-god-is-better-than-yours kind of arguments. One is always tempted to think that the root of the problem is ethical: do we strive to touch God’s finger through hard work and frugality? Or become an angel of Marx by enjoying as much as we can the company of our comrades? Both false, outdated questions; the ones who cut the cake follow just one idol: growth. It is an obsession, and before any national spirit is invoked to provide us with an explanation, I would like to propose that the origin of evil is something we all have seen an experienced: the blindness of ambition. It has never been shown more clearly than this past week: over democracy, over socialism (whatever that means), over any form of trust or compassion, give them the three percent return and they’ll buy and sell anything. Expect the problem to become increasingly acute as only the obsessed, or the blessed, are able to cope with the ever increasing rhythm. This is a non-ending marathon: last man standing wins, if the world doesn’t burn before.

I don’t believe anymore on the growth discourse; the only thing growing is the cancer of ambition. The irony is that the work-freaks are so obsessed with producing more and more, that they don’t even enjoy their comfort. Millions live in hunger so that northerners can work more. It’s a vicious cycle, and part of the solution is to STOP WORKING SO MUCH! Relax, wash your brain from propaganda and realise what makes humans happy. Trade your iPhone for some time with your friends. Enjoy, and don’t forget to share, as we have more than enough.