Life Linux Ubuntu

I’m generally not an early adopter

I know people who always manage to get in on things before they get big. You know, those people who loved Alanis Morissette before Jagged Little Pill went multi-platinum. They had iPods before iPods were household words. Right now I’m reading a book called Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America by Bakari Kitwana, wherein Kitwana discusses how white kids who got into hip hop in the 80s were early adopters and pretty serious about hip hop culture. I’ve never really felt that before. I’m not really a trendsetter. For most things—consumer-wise, anyway—I just follow the crowd.

I guess that’s why I blog about Ubuntu and am excited that I use Ubuntu. Desktop Linux (I don’t know if the big thing will be Ubuntu, but it’s looking that way) is on its way up. There may not be a “year of the Linux desktop,” but things are happening (even three years ago, I didn’t feel I could use Linux for my everyday needs; now I’m actually an advocate of Linux), and it’s exciting to be with something when it was just beginning to take full swing. Of course, I’m not like those “elite” Linux users who were using Linux before KDE and Gnome existed. But I still think it’s exciting to be part of this quickly growing phenomenon. Every day there are more Ubuntu users signing up for the forums, asking for help. Of course, some of them give up very shortly afterwards, but many stay and are grateful for the help.

I just hope I won’t be as annoying as those Morissette fans: “Oh, I remember the good old days before everyone and her brother was using Ubuntu. People thought you had to be a geek or a computer programmer to use Ubuntu in those days. You couldn’t even preview an image when you were uploading files using Firefox. Yeah, then Ubuntu got big and the masses have ruined it. It’s not ‘pure’ any more.”


Pets aren’t people… are they?

When I was growing up, I never understood why people would get so upset when their pets died. Of course, I never really cared for the pets I had—starved my hermit crabs to death; fed my guinea pigs but didn’t love them. I wasn’t sad when they died.

Then, years later, my then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I got a cat. We’ve had him seven years, and I can’t imagine life without him. Now, just thinking that we probably have only another seven to ten years left with him makes me sad. I know I’ll be shaken with grief when he dies. Cats and dogs are special pets. They really form a bond with you and you with them.

They aren’t people, though. I’ve noticed that. People seem to have very little problem neutering/spaying, microchipping, or euthanizing pets. (Apparently, though, it’s cruel to declaw a cat?) And, apparently, neutering/spaying, microchipping, and euthanizing humans are unethical acts, at least for most people.

It’s just one of those things, I guess. We’ll eat animals. We’ll befriend animals. We’ll spoil animals, but we won’t quite treat them as human. I think I’ll stop writing now… go have a conversation with my cat instead.


Enjoying the Car-Free Life

Even though I was the one who nudged my wife to get rid of the car, she seems to be appreciating it a lot more than I am. I love it, but she keeps remarking how good it is to be without a car—probably because until recently she was the main person using it. We both grew up in the suburbs, and both her parents and my parents had at least two cars at any given time. You had to drive to get to the grocery store, to get to the library, to get to a friend’s house, to get just about anywhere except the woods.

Once we moved to a city, we still needed a car. She was working in the city, but I was working about thirty minutes away by highway. Then, she was in school and needed to constantly lug things around, leave dangerous areas late at night, and be in several places around the bay within a short time period.

Now we finally both work in the city and can be without a car. We donated it a few weeks ago, and, as my wife keeps remarking, our life is a lot better (and less stressful) now. At a conservative estimate, we’re saving about $2000 a year (and we owned our car, so that does not include car payments). We walk more. My wife gets more reading done on the bus and waiting for the bus. I get dizzy when reading on moving vehicles, so I listen to music and just people-watch. We don’t have to worry about the car being broken into, the car not starting, the car getting ticketed (for street “cleaning”); the car insurance, the gas, parking, oil changes, registration, smog checks… the list just goes on and on.

If you live and work in a city and have ever considered going car-free, I would highly recommend it. I’d also highly recommend reading How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life by Chris Balish. We checked that book out of the library, and that was what assured us that taking that final step of actually getting rid of the car… wasn’t so scary after all.


Who are we, really?

I’ve heard it in movies, and I’m sure it’s based on real life: Why can’t you love me for who I am? or You don’t really love me for me.

Who is me? Who are we as people? Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’m single and really into a dyed hair phase. I’m digging red. I also happen to be a smoker at that time. I start dating someone who says she can’t date me because I dye my hair and smoke. Very likely, I would throw back those hackneyed Hollywood lines at her: “You don’t really love me for who I am!”

I’d probably have a point, but is that who I really am? What if it all was just a phase? What if I stopped dyeing my hair red and smoking after five months. Would it matter to me that much?

The truth is that we all change. We are different things at different times. We all go through phases. Some of those phases, even if they’re phases we regret, still feel a part of us years or decades later. I used to love G.I.Joe as a kid. Don’t really care that much for those war toys now. If someone said she hated war toys, would I take offense? I’m not sure. I do feel in some vague way as if those war toys were part of my growing up process, but I’m also not that attached to them.

So do people have to put up with our current phases in order to really love us “for who we really are”? What makes us us? What exactly are they loving? The fact that we can change? The fact that we go through phases? Sticking by through thick and thin, smart and stupid? And if so, isn’t it pretty arbitrary whom you love? Couldn’t you love anyone romantically?

I don’t have any simple answers for this. Of course, on one level, yes, you could love just about anyone romantically if you were open-minded enough about it. A lot of arranged marriages are successful because the arrange couple has low expectations and realizes they’ve grown to appreciate each other over the years. At the same time, I’m not going to fall in love with Stalin or Pinochet in the hopes that mass slaughter and torture will be just a phase I will embrace later as being formative in creating a wonderful person later.

It’s complicated. You are what you do. But sometimes you aren’t.


Living Cheaply

I have to say I was impressed when I saw Steve Jobs demonstrate the iPhone back in January (I didn’t see it in person, but it was impressive even on video). I’m not going to buy an iPhone, though. I’ve grown to appreciate living cheaply.

I don’t want to carry around a $500 gadget on me. What if I get mugged? What if I just leave it somewhere by accident? Do I want to be tied to a Cingular plan again? Nope.

I use a pay-as-you-go cheap-ass phone, an ugly $50 Sandisk player, and a beat-up wallet with little cash in it. My wife and I just donated our car (with most of the proceeeds going to our church), canceled our car insurance (which gave us a refund on the unused portion—if we’d known, we’d have donated our car weeks earlier!), and are going to get rid of our Costco membership, too (can you haul a huge bag of toilet paper out without a car?).

Living cheaply is great. I used to be fascinated by new things, shiny things. Okay. I’ll admit it. I still am. But I’m learning to appreciate old stuff. I drool over the new Dell Ubuntu computers , but I know I’m not going to be buying one any time soon. My current Dell (Inspiron 500m) from four or five years ago is still alive and kicking and runs Ubuntu perfectly “out of the box” (wireless, suspend, etc. all working without extra configuration). And, since I’m an email/ pictures/ music/ web guy, I don’t really need a dual-core processor or 2 GB of RAM.

Every now and then I’ll indulge myself in something new (and shiny), but I’m trying to look on the bright side of the cheap side of life, and it’s not looking too difficult to do so these days.


Pressure to have kids

There was an English teacher at my last school who tried to frame most literature discussions in light of what she called “the master narrative” (I’m sure she didn’t coin the term, though). The master narrative is basically growing up healthy, getting good grades in high school, attending the “right” university, getting a good job, getting married, having kids, buying a house, and retiring.

Growing up in suburbia, I faced pressure—perhaps not as much as my peers, though—to fit into this master narrative. In many ways, I have fit into this narrative, but not in quite the ways my parents had hoped.

Yes, I did get good grades, but I didn’t get great grades, mainly because I chose to enjoy my youth and not ruin it by spending all day and night studying for exams. Yes, I attended a relatively prestigious university, but my dad was disappointed that I attended that one in lieu of an Ivy League school I’d been accepted to. Yes, I did get married, but for the longest time I had not planned to get married; I believe this is in line with Biblical principles laid out by both Paul and Jesus in the New Testament. And, yes, I did end up getting a “good job” in my parents’ eyes (teaching) but then ending up quitting to go into admissions (which, for some reason, they don’t view as being “good”).

And, of course, we’re not having kids.

If you’re married and choosing not to have kids, you feel the pressure from all sides—sometimes heavy and direct, sometimes passing and indirect; sometimes from people who are closest to you, other times from strangers who have no business messing with your personal decisions.

My wife and I have experienced just about everything from bribery (“Here’s a gift of $100. Where’s my great-grandchild?”) to flattery (“You’d be such a great parent, though.”), and we’re a little sick of it. We know great childfree (or “childless,” if that’s what you want to call it) couples who have few regrets about their decision. They enjoy life. They go on vacations. They can babysit for other people’s kids. They look young even when middle aged. They’re happy.

Wait! This whole the approach is all wrong. We shouldn’t, as a couple deciding not to have kids, have to defend our decision not to have kids. It should be the other way around. People deciding to have kids should have to justify it to society. They should have to prove that they’re having kids for the right reason (not just to relive their own lives vicariously through mini versions of themselves—”I didn’t get into Harvard, but maybe my kid can…”). They should have to justify bringing another person into an overpopulated world.

But, no. Every time you see a pregnant married person, you’re supposed to say “Congratulations!” right away with nary a thought. When we announce we’re not having kids, do we get a congratulations? No, we get questions. Why? How can you be sure? You’ll regret it later when you’re older. But you’d make such great parents. Wouldn’t you love to have a little version of you running around? It’s so fulfilling. You won’t have grandchildren later. You won’t have children to take care of you when you’re older.

This obsession with having kids has got to stop. If people choose to have kids, they should have that right. But if people choose not to have kids, they should also have that right. If my wife and I later change our minds, it will be our own choice. It won’t be because people pressured us into it.

Mommy, why did you decide to have kids?
Oh, sweetie, we didn’t want to have kids. People pressured us into having you.
That’s so nice, Mommy.


What I learned about weddings

I’ve been to countless weddings, one of which was my own. This is what I’ve learned about them over the years:

  • Family will try to take over. If you’re lucky, you might get away from it; “lucky” meaning that you have enough money to pay for it yourself, aren’t that close to your family, have few surviving family members, or are just so rebellious you don’t care what your family members think. For the rest of us, the event easily gets co-opted to be a family affair, not a couple’s affair. As the head of the math department at my last school said, “The wedding is for your family. The marriage is for you.” That’s not how it should be, but for a lot of couples, that’s how it is. Somewhere in the mix, you try to find special parts for just the two of you… or you just elope and go to Vegas!
  • The people who care about you don’t get offended. Generally I’ve found that the people who get offended (because you didn’t invite them, or didn’t invite their spouses or children) are people who really don’t care about you. Your real friends are happy for you no matter what. That’s why, when I don’t get invited to a friend’s wedding, I’m cool with that. I still wish the couple well. I know half the seats probably got taken by some second cousin twice removed that neither the bride nor groom has met before.
  • Not attending can be a good thing. Before I had my own wedding, I used to feel guilty about not attending people’s weddings. I used to think the bride or groom would be sad I wasn’t there. I’m sure, in some vague way, they probably were. Now I know that it’s actually doing them a favor. Fewer mouths to feed, a more intimate setting. Even at our relatively small wedding (about 100 guests), my wife and I barely had time to spend thirty seconds with each guest. If you want to make the bride and groom feel special, send them a gift off their registry and, when they’ve returned from their honeymoon, take them out for a nice dinner some time or do some fun things with them.
  • The marriage is more important than the wedding. My wife and I will be celebrating our fifth anniversary pretty soon, and we do have some fond memories of our wedding. But no matter how much money and time you pour into making your special day… special, it’s still just one day. The whole point of a wedding is to celebrate the many years you hope to spend together afterwards—it’s about the marriage.
Christianity Life Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Musings on Making a Difference

A few Sundays ago, the pastor at our church gave a sermon about making a difference, examining how there are basically two approaches—institutional and personal. Institutional change seeks to change how society and laws are structured so that it affects the greatest number of individuals. Personal change is what he called the “grunt work” of change. You could also call personal works of change “band-aid solutions.”

Jesus, of course, did both. If you believe in traditional Christian doctrine, Jesus changed the entirety of humanity by instituting the forgiveness of sins and the accountability and sacrifice for those sins, abolishing the idea of earning one’s way to heaven. At the same time, he worked one on one with individuals, talking and listening, preaching and healing.

I’m no Jesus.

I don’t know where I fit in with change. Like most people, I have ideals. I want change. I’m not your traditional activist. I don’t go to rallies and protests. I’m not on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that deals with animal cruelty, environmental pollution, human rights, or boycotts. I also don’t help out in soup kitchens on a regular basis or give out sandwiches or money to homeless people I see on the street. Malcolm X would be disappointed in me.

What do I do?

I live life in accordance with my beliefs. I try to treat other human beings equally. Some people make a big deal about looking homeless people in the eye. I don’t see why. I offer them more dignity by ignoring them—that’s what I do to rich people. I don’t look rich people in the eye. Strangers are strangers. I try to be helpful when people ask me for directions. I donate what little money I can to causes I believe in. I write essays, hoping people will stumble upon them and think or learn something. I spend a lot of time online trying to help people adopt a computer operating system (not Windows) that stands for freedom. In my speech and actions, I try to model what I think are attitudes and behaviors that would discourage sexism and racism.

Sometimes it’s the simple things. I always use “she” when referring to the generic third-person singular. It’s not grammatically “correct,” but I don’t care. It gets people to think. It makes men feel uncomfortable. They wonder why they’re getting “left out.” If you use “he” instead, no men wonder why or if women feel “left out”—men assume women have no problems being “included” with the term “he.”

I recycle and try not to waste materials—that includes not making excessive photocopy or print errors at work. I swear that half the paper waste out there is from people not paying attention when printing or photocopying.

I believe we should each examine our own talents, resources, time, and inclinations, and we should see what can feasibly be done to make a difference. Will it be a difference in “the long run”? It may. It may not. Jesus stopping to talk with a Samaritan woman at the well may not have made much of a difference in “the long run,” but it sure made a difference for her.


Voting on TV v. in Politics

Recently, this letter was published in the Boston Globe:

‘Idol’ or idle time?

May 29, 2006

I WAS TAKEN aback after learning that more people voted for “American Idol” than for any president. I find this fact appalling. What could be more necessary then voting for our proper leader? But I think a lot of Americans have learned a valuable lesson from the outcome of our last presidential election. I hope and pray that we think about what is important and never forget our civic duties. If we do not invest in our society in this way, we are doomed and lost.


Why does this person find such a phenomenon appalling? There are a lot of reasons more people vote for American Idol than for the president:

  • Your votes actually get counted. A lot of presidential candidates who won the popular vote didn’t win the election. Stupid electoral college. If I know my candidate will win my state, what’s the point of voting?
  • There’s no age or citizenship prerequisite. Anyone can vote for American Idol. You have to be over 21 and a US citizen in order to vote for the president.
  • Registration not required. You have to register to vote in political elections. In American Idol, you just pick up your phone.
  • It’s easy. Likewise, you don’t have to go to a polling center or fill out an absentee ballot. You can just dial your phone from the comfort of your own couch.
  • The Supreme Court won’t overrule your vote. 2000 presidential election.
  • The candidates’ “speeches” are more entertaining. Would you rather hear good/bad singing or presidential candidate “read my lips” B.S.?
  • Idols keep their promises: American Idol contestants promise to try their best and entertain you—which they generally do. Presidential candidates will say just about anything to get elected, and they usually don’t follow through.

Luis Acevedo has to wake up.


The Context of Consumption

The recent trend in academia, particularly in the realm of film and literature, is to approach works of fiction with the postmodernist stance a work is best understood in relativist terms by examining the author’s time period, biography, and viewpoint in light of our current prejudices and values. What gets mentioned only passingly is the context of consumption—how we actually digest both literary and cinematic works differently even within the same time period, even within the same moral and social value systems.

I’m thinking, less loftily than in the previous paragraph, of the fact that I really want my wife to see Equilibrium, a film I saw earlier today and of which I didn’t have a particularly high opinion. In fact, the more I reflect on the movie, the more I realize it was just horrid—full of plot holes, lacking in character development and proper exposition, among other insufficiencies. Why do I want to see it again? Well, I think a work of art, particularly a film (as we do not often find ourselves reading a book together with several people or even one other person, excepting, of course, the odd chance we might be listening to a book on tape in the car with other passengers or reading a book to a young child) does not create a single experience for its viewer, even if there are “objective” aspects of which the viewer can rightly praise or criticize.

Sometimes, even when I’ve loved a movie, I can watch it too many times. My view of life and my moral values, even my artistic tastes, may not have changed at all, but suddenly the movie’s lost its charms for me “like a worn out recording of a favorite song” (quotation from Rupert Holmes’ “Escape”). Conversely, I can suddenly become excited again about watching a movie that I have seen too many times already, simply because I’m watching it with someone who’s never seen it before. The movie then becomes a sort of show-and-tell, where part of the experience of watching the movie isn’t just in watching the movie itself but also in anticipating the new viewer’s reactions and potential adoption of the movie as a favorite.

I’m not sure, though, why I would want to watch Equilibrium again with my wife, though, as I’m not cinematically “evangelizing” to her—I don’t want her to like the movie, as I didn’t even like it much myself. I have noticed, though, that in what contexts you consume a movie (on the big screen, in a crowded/empty theater, at a premiere, in a tiny room, with a bunch of friends) changes not the content or quality of the movie but majorly the content and quality of viewing experience.

Take, for example, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which now has a cult following and has midnight showings at which guests dress up, sing along, and perform various rituals in tune with the movie. The movie is no longer a movie but an event and a community production, with what’s happening in front of the screen creating more of an experience than what’s happening on the screen.

Likewise, when I saw the re-release of The Empire Strikes Back a few years ago, it was hard not to feel a rush of adrenaline at every fight scene. It was hard not to hold back my chuckle amidst others’ roars of laughter when Princess Leia kisses Luke Skywalker. Sure, it’d been a while since I’d last seen it, and I surely must have changed as a person, but the people you see it with make the movie.

Sometimes, it’s not the people. I’ve watched horror movies alone at night in a big house in the suburban wilderness and watched those same movies alone in the day time in the city, and the amount of “horror” in the latter scenario was negligible.

What I find most odd is how we can attach nostalgia to a really bad movie and still love it decades later, even after our tastes have changed, even after our values and appreciation for the arts has changed. I can’t count the times I’ve rented a movie that I absolutely loved growing up, only to watch it with some friends and have them say, “That was utter shit” (or something like that). Meanwhile, having matured over the course of decades, I’m still loving the garbage.

Even with books, I’ve found a similar phenomenon—not so much in reading with others but at least in having the context in which I read a book (Was it recommended to me? Did I find it myself? Am I alone? Is it quiet? Did I read it straight for hours all in one sitting or was it broken up into bits over the course of a year?). I’d like to see a little more talk about this from people reviewing films and reviewing books. The quality may come from the author’s perspective, but it’s also consumed differently by the viewer, even the same viewer, at different times and in different contexts.