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There was a time, several years ago, when I was constructing a set of names to be used in a memory system I was working on, I needed a male singer whose work lay in, roughly, the country–pop-folk spectrum, and I gave serious consideration to the name Neil Diamond, as the name fit certain phonetic criteria I'd settled on.

The only problem was, I could not recall a single song of Diamond's off the top of my head, and I had no idea what Diamond's face looked like, so including him in a memory system didn't make much sense.

So I ditched the phonetic criteria for this single instance only and settled on... Glenn Campbell, whose music I considered to lie in roughly the same spectrum (if I am mistaken, so be it), and more important, whose Wichita Lineman was securely burned into my consciousness because back when my Marine Corps MOS was 2511 (wireman, in my era; today, it's been changed to 0612, field wireman), I trained to acquire pole climbing skill—one in which, in the end, I was proud to have gained experience—and Campbell's song sort of became a "mascot" tune for me, linked in my mind to that skill. And so, in system, my image for number 27 is the fella wearing rhinestone-studded jeans (Rhinestone Cowboy was another of Campbell's hits) while singing, playing a guitar, and wearing climbers.

I enjoyed quite a number of Campbell's other songs, too, including Gentle On My Mind and By The Time I Get To Phoenix in particular.

Sorry to see you go, Glen.

Memento Mori...
alexpgp: (St Jerome a)
It was reported today that Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn has died at the age of 89, of acute heart failure.

I would venture to say that if Westerners know the names of any one contemporary Russian writer or of any half dozen Russian authors of any era, his name is very likely to come up.

I was never became a big fan, although I still remember the impact that One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich had on me when I read it in high school, and although I bought and read most of the first printing, by YMCA-Press, of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago in Russian (and the rest, in the English version, as the going was - for me - quite slow), my interest fell off about halfway through the second volume as I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of despair that life could ever be good or, at times, that it could even be lived.

Still, those first few lines of the first part of Archipelago grabbed me as no other lines have grabbed me since. Here's the Russian, followed by my translation:
     Как попадают на этот таинственный Архипелаг? Туда ежечасно летят самолеты, плывут корабли, гремят поезда -- но ни единая надпись на них не указывает места назначения. И билетные кассиры, и агенты Совтуриста и Интуриста будут изумлены, если вы спросите у них туда билетик. Ни всего Архипелага в целом, ни одного из бесчисленных его островков они не знают, не слышали.
     Те, кто едут Архипелагом управлять -- попадают туда через училища МВД.
     Те, кто едут Архипелаг охранять -- призываются через военкоматы.
     А те, кто едут туда умирать, как мы с вами, читатель, те должны пройти непременно и единственно -- через арест.

     How do people end up in this mysterious Archipelago? Planes fly, boats sail, and trains rattle on their way there hourly, but not a single sign on them indicates their destination. And both ticket agents and representatives of Sovtourist and Intourist would be puzzled if you asked them to sell you a ticket to go there. They know nothing of the Archipelago as a whole, or of any of its countless small islands; they never heard of it.
     Those who go to operate the Archipelago end up there via MVD academies.
     Those who go to safeguard the Archipelago are drafted by military enlistment boards.
     And those who go there to die, like you and I, reader, those must - without fail and exclusively - be arrested.
For some reason, it never stuck in my mind that by education, Solzhenitsyn was a teacher of mathematics and a physicist. Perhaps, when I get back home after this campaign, I'll go dig up and dust off some of his more recent works that my old man had in his library when he died.

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I first heard of Randy Pausch in connection with his giving a "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon - a fairly common phenomenen in the academic world, generally speaking, where professors hold forth on what is of greatest importance to them, as if it were their last opportunity to communicate with an audience - with the ironic twist that, in Pausch's case, his might well have been such a last opportunity, as his doctors had predicted he had three months left to live before the pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver killed him. (In the end, he lived longer than the doctors had guessed. Good on him!)

When I heard of it, I downloaded that lecture, and was imspired, and I later saw him on an episode of Oprah, and was inspired again, and then I read his book and kept trying to remind myself of the truth of his observation that none of us know how much time we have on this earth, and that we must make the most of that time, while we can (and I'm certain he wasn't talking about to-do lists and work productivity).

Right now, all the issues in my life seem pretty... petty. The key question is: Can I profit from his example and focus my attention on making the most of time I have left? Can I keep the flame of inspiration burning?

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Soon after joining the microcomputer revolution with my first "real" computer (an Osborne 1) I acquired a 300-baud modem at a garage sale near where we lived at the time, in Jacksonville, Florida. The modem was positively antediluvean, equipped with rubber cups so as to better hold the phone handset in place during use.

Some time soon after going online, I was invited to join the Byte Information Exchange, which was intended to compete with fledgling online services such as The Source and CompuServe. As an on-and-off writer for Byte, I rated an invitation to the system while it was being beta-tested, and a comped account afterward.

One of the names I kept running into on BIX in those days was 'hkenner' who could always be counted upon to say something brilliant. I later learned that the writer was one Hugh Kenner, whose knowledge of literature, and of Ezra Pound, and James Joyce in particular, was superhuman to begin with. And if you were to throw his not inconsiderable math and computer skills into the pot, the resulting stew was quite potent, indeed.

Somewhere in the late 80s, on a trip to Atlanta, I managed to arrange my work schedule so as to meet with Kenner, who had invited me to come dine with him and his wife at his home, should I be able to find the time.

I remember a tallish, slim man who smoked, and who introduced me to my first vodka martini. I haven't had many such martinis since (I'm more of a gin-and-vermouth kinda guy), but when I think of that evening, it is with fondness.

Learning of his death - even though he died over 4 years ago - has put me back into that pensive state that I've been trying to avoid of late.

I should try to unearth Mazes, a book of his essays, and crack it.



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