Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   hard drive biology metaphor
Wednesday, December 24 1997

n the morning, Deya showed me a package that had arrived from "Uncle Jesse" (aka Jessika of Malvernia). It contained presents for all, mostly Barbie™ dolls, or rather, generic imitations of Barbie™ dolls. Mine was a black girl named Donna, no doubt a response to recent musings. Deya's doll was a blond hunk whose chest rippled with muscles. Matthew Hart's was the sexiest of them all, a vaguely Asian-looking wench. Before too long Deya's doll was romancing Matthew's doll doggie style on the coffee table.

Also included attached to my gift was a disgusting little transparent pod from which a mangled deformed face looked out with dread. Squeezing the pod caused "blood" to shoot out of his forehead into the surroundings of his confinement. The pod was cold from a night spent in shipment, and it was a horrible feeling to hold it in my hands.

I was doing some scanning for the Big Project, but my heart wasn't much in it. It was hard to figure out how to manage my time, since the process of scanning requires a certain amount of time during which the computer can be used for nothing else. I'm very multi-tasking when I'm in front of a computer, and being forced to desist from all computing activities was numbingly dull.

Downstairs, Matthew Hart and Angela were giving Shira the dog some sort of creamy worm medicine by mouth. The Christmas presents continue to accumulate in the space between Matthew and Angela. It's mostly liquor, I notice; fancy liquor, the likes of which we rarely see around Kappa Mutha Fucka. I guess it's hard to say "I love you" with a bottle of Bowman's Virginia Vodka.


  needed to get out of the house, away from whirring hard drives and whining dogs, and I needed both exercise and food. So I walked all the way down to the Fontaine Avenue Amoco. I might have ridden my bike, but the grey skies were spitting rain, and sometimes I like playing the role of pedestrian. At the Amoco I got some of their special fries, which I augmented with free (read stolen) chili.

There was an attractive red-headed woman there. For some reason, red headed women look really good to me in the light of winter. From a distance, I caught her eye, and we had this weird little moment between us. Later, when she was closer, I realized that she must have been in her forties. Or maybe not; I've noticed that the strong sun of Virginia ruins the skin of a red head a long time before it has much effect on someone with more substantial pigment. I wonder how old she thought I was. Nineteen, probably.

I had all the fries eaten by the time I got back to Kappa Mutha Fucka. By now Peggy, Zach and the Baboose had joined Matthew and Angela in the living room for yet more gift giving. The stereo played a recording of Zachary doing a slow version of his song, "Rain Gorgeous." For some reason, these couple make me feel like a fifth wheel. I feel like none of the issues important to them are important to me and none of the issues important to me are important to them. They're binary merged humans, aliens. I'm struggling through life deliberately alone, full of skills and options, while they've given away parts of themselves and entered this vaguely nauseating "other realm" of predictablity and security, trapped, playing house like adults without having any of the experience, skills or resources of a true adult.

I went up to my room to continue the numbing process of page scanning. I might have skills, but I didn't really feel like I was using any of them as I waited for the cold bluish white trace of the scanner to reach its proper end. That's when I heard the Baboose start bawling. He's one indiscretion I don't feel like paying for, so I turned up my fan full blast and lay face down on my bed. I was drunk from vino, and it was only 1pm.


nce Angela had gone off to work and my car was no longer blocked in the driveway, I made plans to drive back to Staunton for a seasonal visit to my parents. Shira, though, was demanding a walk. I had no idea whether or not the worm medicine was having a laxative effect, so I decided to be safe not sorry. So I took her the length of Observatory and back. I was disappointed that she performed no excretory function whatsoever.

As I headed west on I-64, rain fell harder and harder. It never became a true deluge, but as I climbed Afton Mountain, the fog grew so dense that I lost sight of all cars except for the one immediately in front of me and the one immediately behind. Some fool passed me without any lights on at all; he was but an eerie momentary flash of grey to my left. I allowed other cars to pass me hopes of putting lots of glowing red tails lights between me and this invisible mobile obstruction.

Panic never set in (like it has in the past on other foggy days crossing Afton Mountain), but I was definitely on edge. One of the country's largest chain-reaction pile-up occurred on this mountain not many years ago. Since then, the marker lights on the side of the road have been upgraded. But the minds of some drivers are still as irrationally macho as they were in medieval times. I know plenty of people who tailgate in conditions like this.


ack at the childhood home, I set about immediately to fix my mother's dysfunctional PowerMac. It soon became clear that the principle hard drive, a 3 gigabyte IDE, had accumulated so many errors that it would no longer mount on the desktop. Such errors result from crashes, and the computer has been crashing a lot.

But wouldn't you know, I'd brought the wrong software suite with me on my portable hard drive. I was forced to dig around through my floppy disk archive for such essentials as Norton Utilities, APS Powertools, and Compact Pro. The version I had of Macintosh Norton Utilities was on a DOS-formatted disk in compacted form. In order to copy it, I first needed to track down a copy of PC Exchange, a copy of Compact Pro, and perhaps a number of other things. Digging through boxes of archived floppies is not my vision of the perfect Christmas Eve.

I ran Norton Utilities on the drive for multiple passes. Each time, it found skads of errors. I propped a pencil against the return key to approve all the corrections as that dork Norton asked for the go-ahead. Having to do this, by the way, indicates poor interface design. All software written in this day and age should have a mode that allows me to start a procedure and walk away without being asked for approval of all the details. Sometimes I like to start up a task to run through the night, and nothing is more infuriating than discovering that a dialogue box popped up thirty seconds after I set a process in motion, and that the computer had sat there idle all night.

When Norton was done with the drive, it turned out that only about 20 percent of the files that had been on it had been salvaged. The rest had been lost in directory node confusion. Among the things that had vanished forever was the System folder, the Games folder, a collection of images, and a folder of Mathematics software. This would have normally been a depressing development, but I quickly came to view it as an opportunity for renewal. For one thing, most of what had been lost still exists in my floppy archives. And beyond that, very little of the lost stuff had been doing anything more than taking up space. A great deal of it was applications compiled back in the 80s, code that probably won't even run on a PowerMac. I'm a packrat, I'm afflicted with Taurus Rising, and it's impossible for me to throw things away. The only time I ever lose things is during a disaster.

Of course, my mother's system is more robust than most people's in that it contains more than a single hard drive. For example, all the documents created by word processors are stored on a separate volume, as are a number of other things. So almost none of the creative output of the computer was lost in the hard drive crash.

To make the computer even more robust, I partitioned the hard drive into three one gigabyte volumes, and I put the system folder essentially by itself on one of these. Since it is the system volume that does most of the crashing, I can protect my applications by putting them on other volumes.


s I restored essential applications (including a number of games) back to the hard drive, I thought about how the crash of a hard drive is similar to catastrophes in biological evolution. If you view the surfaces of the platters of a hard drive as a metaphor for the biosphere of the Earth, you can view programs and files (and their organizing file structure) as ecosystems. They don't evolve of course, but they do respond to selection. In this metaphor, I have the role of "God" or "survival." I look down upon the files and decide which can stay and which have to make room for better things. I'm a pretty benevolent deity all in all, and instead of killing files to make room for new ones, I usually arrange to obtain more hard drive space. This is something our Father in Heaven hasn't seen fit to do for us here on Earth. He has made other planets, true, but they're inhospitable to life, and in any case, He stopped making them a long time ago. Biology on Earth is caught in a Malthusian competition for limited resources and real estate while its supposed Creator seems to have washed His hands of radical new creative acts that would save us from our troubles.

But if I could obtain no more hard drive space and I were forced to pick and choose which files would stay, I'd definitely keep the ones I actually used. They'd be the fittest, and they'd survive. But now, what happens when disaster strikes? A hard drive crash is much like an asteroid slamming into the biosphere; it takes out fit files along with unfit files, leaving behind an arbitrary selection of survivors to fill the depopulated zones. If I didn't have backups of my essential applications on floppies, I'd be forced to use whatever files remained after such calamity. In the case of the recent crash of my mother's hard drive, WordPerfect would be a mammal, and Microsoft Word would be a dinosaur. While Word was wiped away completely, the entire WordPerfect directory stayed intact. This has nothing to do with whether or not WordPerfect is superiour to Word, it's all based on random circumstances. In Biology, then, calamities have the effect of throwing the dice on what taxa will come to prominence in a succeeding biologic age. This was the position of the late Stephen J. Gould, who carried this thinking to an extreme, arguing that survival of the fittest played a relatively trivial role in evolution. And while I agree with Gould that the replacement of taxa might be completely arbitrary, the evolution of structures and behaviours (such as the eye, the metabolic pathways, the mating instinct, etc.) relies heavily on the survival of the fittest.


hen my mother's Mac was finally working again, I connected to her Internet provider, CFW, to download more recent versions of Netscape 3 and Fetch 3. At about this time, though, something bad happened somewhere at CFW and their internet services became inoperable. Perhaps Santa Clause's sled snagged their T1 line and ripped it out. Dialing in to CFW became hopeless, all I could get was a busy signal. This condition persisted until some time Christmas afternoon. I was shocked by the casualness with which CFW maintains their internet service. Had such things happened at Comet, we would have been on the case immediately and probably had the matter resolved within an hour. I'm slowly coming to the realization that the attitude we had at Comet, that the internet is an essential utility that must be maintained much like electricity or telephone service, is still a rare attitude at most ISPs, especially in such backwaters as Staunton.

Connection by private citizens to the internet is still in its infancy in this country. This is an easy thing for me to forget, since nearly everyone I know has some form of access to the internet. Truth is, I have almost no interactions with the unwired world unless they come to visit me at my house, and even then, most of those people correspond with me occasionally via email.

But that's in Charlottesville, one of the more technologically advanced towns in Virginia. Over across the mountain in Staunton, Internet connectivity is not nearly as widespread. I can say this with certainty, because my mother, who, in connection with her new art gallery, interacts with a large number of wealthy educated people (the kind who normally would be "wired") says that she doesn't know anyone locally with an internet connection.


n the evening, my mother made pizza. It wasn't pizza as it is familiar to most people; on top of a thick dense whole wheat crust sat layers and layers of vegetarian toppings (including fake bacon and fake sausage), tomato sauce and cheese. It was delicious, but I doubt it would be popular with most people.

By the way, my parents aren't true vegetarians, but they have stopped eating beef and try to eat as little meat as possible. I can credit myself with being a radical influence on their dietary habits. They've always been interested in natural food, but following my aborted stint at Oberlin College, where I was exposed to vegetarian culture and novel middle eastern and subcontinental Indian foods, I showed them the way to further improvement of their diet.

I spent the night on the couch in the Shaque; I'm still scared of possible spiders in the bunk.

one year ago

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