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(3) : On The Mic: Sumana performing standup several years agoToday, when I was really glad to have made someone else laugh, I thought about how important that is to me. I think my values might go something like:

  1. integrity
  2. compassion
  3. independence
  4. making people laugh
  5. impressing other people
  6. work ethic
and then other stuff like patriotism, actual intelligence, tidiness, beauty, efficiency, health, justice, transparency, courage, and so on.

In fact, it is so ingrained in me to jest that sometimes I put service providers (waiters, doctors, dentists) in a tough spot when I joke with them; if they don't think a customer's joke is funny, and don't laugh, the customer might pout and be a jerk about it, so they feel pressured to laugh. So I should be more considerate about that. Was it the boss from The Office who called himself primarily an entertainer? Yeah, I shouldn't do that.

Sumana performing standup several years agoI started the workshop "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy" (notes, slides, more notes) with some reasons to learn and perform stand-up.

One is pragmatic: learning some stand-up improves one's public speaking abilities across the board.

Another is philosophical. You are human and nothing human should be alien to you! Specialization is for insects! Dilettantism as ideology!

alt="SumanaAnd another is rather more disturbing. Stand-up comedy is the most manipulative art I know. If I'm doing it right, you're enthralled. There's no conversation, just your helpless response feeding my hunger for power and control. It's tarted-up tickling. Don't you feel spent and high when it's over, when a really good comic has had her way with you?

So that's the last reason to learn stand-up. It's a safe refuge for the power-mad, so that we can keep ourselves from turning into control freaks and prima donnas in the rest of our lives.

I'll happily teach private lessons.

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: GNOME Journal: PHP-GTK, Shotwell, Nokia, & More: While I was gallivanting around to conferences, a new GNOME Journal came out, shepherded by new Editor-in-Chief Paul Cutler.

Enjoy! The Shotwell piece is useful (Shotwell now joins gthumb & F-Spot in my Apps menu) and the Gil interview is thought-provoking. I'll recuse myself from praising Paul's letter and my interview.
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: Roll For Ballot Initiative: Yesterday around 1:30pm I thought, "Oh, I'm already in Manhattan and have some free time. I should stop by Midtown Comics and catch up on my trades."

comics & magazines I bought yesterday, except the Vinge, which I had brought with me

(New DMZ and Ex Machina, new MAD and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and some new things to try: something about a Russian WWII aviatrix & Laurie Sandell's The Impostor's Daughter (kinda like Fun Home, starts out in Stockton so I have some hometown interest). I'd brought the Vinge with me.)

character sheet for Trapo, an eleventh-level human male thief, with pencil and dice

One thing led to another, and I ended up spending the afternoon and evening playing AD&D (2nd Ed.) in a conference room at Google.

Lessons learned, postmortem, & takeaway:

using snacks and snack paraphernalia for ad hoc sitrep modeling

As I'd suspected from an Amar Chitra Katha fable, dweep is indeed Tamil for "island."

some useful diagrams re catpeople, squid, beetles, and a palace

Until yesterday, I think I hadn't used "circumference = 2πr" for three to ten years. (I had a bag of sand, about thirteen pinches' worth, and could direct each pinch of sand to transform into 20 square feet of quarter-inch-thick wall. I used this to spring up a wall around the circumference of the towertop, a space ten feet in diameter, so that our enemies had a harder time directing magical attacks at us from other towers. How high was the wall? Left as an exercise for the reader!) (Turns out it was moot; if you have teleported in to the top of a tower to rescue some hostages, your enemies may just decide to topple said tower while you're in it.)

dice, books, and mug

When you're in the middle of fighting a giant monster, and someone calls you on the phone, just tell them "I'm in the middle of a D&D session and we're fighting a giant monster." Either the caller gets it, and will leave you alone, or they don't get it, and they'll really leave you alone.

: Constant Off-By-One Errors (i.e., "One More Thing"): Columbo is still amazing. My parents were right to love it! The sixth and seventh seasons (1978-1978) are great; "Old Fashioned Murder", "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case", and "Make Me a Perfect Murder" have far better tension, characterization, performance, complexity, and general quality than I'd expect from a TV movie. "Make Me a Perfect Murder" specifically has cinematography that takes it up to the level of a classic noir.

Also, "Make Me a Perfect Murder" stars a frustrated female TV executive with a flighty singer/actress friend and a sorta-mentor, sorta-rival male boss, so Leonard kept reimagining the story with 30 Rock characters. Then "How to Dial a Murder" centered on a status-conscious pop psychologist, so we had fun pretending he was Frasier Crane. Perhaps for every NBC sitcom there exists a Columbo episode in which the premise's frustrated tensions come out as murder.

(2) : The Dangers of Metadata: When I'm in a bad mood, sometimes I forget to do the things that will help me feel better. (A short list: Tea, a funny podcast or short story or TV show or blog, sunshine, seltzer water, doing a quick mindless yet productive task like cleaning a particular spill's stain residue off hardwood floor or organizing the t-shirt drawer, hugging, peppy music, exercise, making a list of things I've accomplished this day or week, talking to someone whom I impress, smiling, deep breathing for a minute, dark chocolate, helping someone.)

So I created a playlist called "sumana-cheerup" on the entertainment center's jukebox and filled it with songs I like. I often play it because, hey, songs I like! Then I found out Leonard thought I only played it when I specifically needed cheering up, viz., when I was feeling down. Uh, whoops, rename time.

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(1) : (I Say, While Reading About Zombies): Last night I was told that if you read Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France side by side with Paine's Rights of Man you get two different perspectives on the French Revolution and it's really cool. When I say this it sounds like I'm recommending putting pop rocks in your Diet Coke, doesn't it.

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(3) : To A Glass, Brightly: When Leonard and I first moved in together, I asked him to get rid of those big pint glasses he had. They were chipped and scratched, but that's not what I minded. I just didn't like dealing with glass, because glass breaks. Anything glass is on loan from a jealous God. I feared the inevitable smashes, so goodbye glasses.

Years passed.

Somewhen I found myself thinking, so what if the glass breaks? There's a saying that you must drink from the cup as though it is already broken. Maybe I'd just had enough hard knocks to appreciate ephemeral joy and function for what they are, instead of clutching them so hard they fall apart. Maybe I'd had enough hard knocks to know that I won't fall apart even if a glass does.

There's a Jorge Luis Borges quote:

Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
So now I've bought a few commemorative pint glasses, on trips. One from Pacific Standard. One from Borderlands. One, from an art shop in Providence, featuring two astronauts in love.

We drink water from them, mostly. The clear round glass admits light, lenses it, lets me see a dream of what's on the other side.

They are for him. They are for us. They are for me. They are whole, and someday they will be broken. Not "but," but "and." But I chose them, so I can distantly imagine even cherishing the memory of their deaths.

: Announcement: I've had a family emergency and will be intermittently away from the net for a few weeks. I will not be at GUADEC and I will not be part of DebConf.

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(19) : RIP S.K. Harihareswara: My father died on Thursday night of a massive heart attack. He'd just had dinner and was washing his hands when he slumped against the wall. He died very quickly in my mother's arms. He was 74.

I'm in India now, alternately engaging with and hiding from the constant flow of people and food and emotion. I saw his corpse yesterday. Tomorrow we'll start going to orphanages and retirement homes to feed people in memory of my dad. That's what he wanted in lieu of the standard prayer rituals.

In the coming weeks and months I expect I'll write a lot about my family. Right now I just wanted to tell you what's up. Your condolences are welcome in comments, emails, or instant messages. But I especially encourage you to comment with happy memories of your own family -- or, if you have none of those or none that you want to share, happy memories of any sort.

: From My Father's Library: 20th Century Kannada Poetry (Selections)
Edited & Translated by Sumatheendra Nadig

M. Gopalakrishna Adiga
"A Common Man"

How dare you call me Common Man; Your dad
is common, in the company of my father
your grandfather and your great grandfather
                   who are dead.
Hey you, tell me if you know my name. Does
                   your father own
this face, this stance and this lashless
God's-eye mind of mine? Faraway you sit in your
airconditioned room and conduct
my funeral rites with your generalisations.
If you have any guts, come out
and look at my palm; look at the
unique mounts, crosses and lines. I will show you
how in this broken lantern the sooty wick
lifts up its burning head.

You are the wooden handle of the axe
which has forgotten the flowering, fruit bearing tree.
For you everything is the same. A group
means a flock, a flock means sheep
and sheep means mutton. Where is the humanity
in you to call each one by name, feed
and fondle it with endearing words? you know
only to number us and fill up the trucks by the
meat factory. You know only to apply the
same brand name to all the cans. You dream
of tasting me only from the can.
For a piece of bread, you bastard, you
have allowed them to scrape off your nose and face.
You are the tailless fox for whom variety
is sour. You hold the foot rule and
Scrape off everything until it becomes common.
You, worshipper of the shapeless black money's
jingle, what is the name of the machine
in your chest? Come on, breathe out.

Everything that can breathe has its own history,
its special smile, its own evolution
and direction. It will escape your map
and lift up its flag of individuality
until it can build a tower of light.
I may be an eczema-stricken farmer in torn cloths,
                part of a chorus,
or a come-what-may-I-don't-care factory
                worker in sooty clothes,
or a limping thrusting-forward beggar on the street.


Did you call me a common man? You are mistaken.
Beware, I don't stretch my hands for the handcuffs.
I will bite and tear the noose round my neck
while I close my eyes and muse. Your pistol may
threaten me to march to its tune but I
will be dancing to a different tune in my mind.
I am a free-born soul.
You, worshipper of commonalities who has scraped
off your face to wear the mask of Hiranayaksha

Your only ambition is to stick to your chair,
Therefore either you chisel off the faces of others
or keep them in jails. But look, look! there
the great boar is sharpening his tusks,
waiting for the proper time.
I am the Narasimha caught up in a pillar.
I am also waiting
for a proper time.

It's uneven but I love "Everything that can breathe... / ... tower of light", "Beware, I don't stretch my hands for the handcuffs", and "I am the Narasimha caught up in a pillar."

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(3) : Two Business Ideas: First:

I am wearing a lot of long tunic-drawstring pants-sash combination outfits here in India. Depending on where you are, you call them "pyjama juba" (whence comes the English word "pajama"), "salwar kameez," or "chudidhar." Women in India often find ourselves scrambling around with two-thirds of a matching outfit. It's especially common to find the shirt and pants but not the sash ("dupatta") because it's fallen somewhere. Someone could make lakhs with a tracking or storage solution that keeps the three pieces together or otherwise manages inventory. (Somehow the safety pin hasn't proven sufficient.)


Today my sister, aunt, mother and I served lunch at a school for deaf and blind children. My mother was exhausted so she sat as my aunt and sister and I passed from plate to plate, placing Mysore pak (butter + sugar = dessert) and bonda (spicy fried snack) on each. Caterers served out the bisebelebath (spicy veg-rice stew) and yogurt rice. Just as in ASL, deaf Karnatakans wave and wiggle both hands above their shoulders to signal applause.

If we had been performing the post-mortem rituals traditionally, each of these days we'd have left a meal outside for crows to eat. Evidently you simply have to sit nearby and wait and wait for a crow to show up and partake; you can't just leave it and hope. We made a plate of stew and yogurt rice and bonda and two desserts and left it on a patio, and sure enough within minutes a crow flapped by and grabbed one of the sweets.

But what if you're not so lucky? Mayhap there's a market for a keeper of trained crows to guarantee quick eatin'.

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(5) : Method Of Loci: I sit in my father's old office, in the chair his typist used when he came every morning to take dictation (memoirs, articles, essays, books, email, whatever struck my father's fancy. We kept telling him to concentrate on the memoirs, but he always had some new project to push).

The great big shelf built into the wall above the door was nearly full of newspaper-wrapped bundles of books, packed in batches of five or ten each. Nearly all of them were copies of books by my dad. He was, I realize now, our household's own Asimov, prolific and polymathic. He wrote about the history of Kannada, about the Bhagavad Gita, recently a set of essays about sparrows in literature and the word "sparrow." Today my sister and I used the ladder and brought down about eight hundred books, our fingers turning black with newspaper ink. We'll be giving a lot of these away at the service on Sunday.

I hear rain outside. No surprise; it's monsoon season. I can't see it, since it's 1am -- just the reflected shadow of the curved metal bars in the diamond-patterned window panes, by the light of two white fluorescent tubes above. Every so often the power fluctuates and various devices beep.

To my left and behind me are five dark gray metal bookcases, reaching nearly to the ceiling. Each case has nine shelves, including the top, bolted. I think these are the sturdiest bookcases I have ever seen. They are completely filled with books. Nearly all the titles I can only sound out slowly, since I barely know Kannada and don't know Hindi. It looks like he had a complete set of F. Max Muller's Sacred Books of the East.

Just behind me is a pink plastic chair. I think Dad sat in it while dictating. Three thin cushions lie on the seat, and a green acrylic blanket slumps over the back.

Of course there are closets set into the wall, also filled with books, and a computer desk with books and notes on every free horizontal bit of wood, and a dining-style wood table in the middle of the room, piled with books, surrounded by upholstered wooden chairs whose seats serve as book-pile pedestals. Rounding out the table's inhabitants: notes, a phone that doesn't work, a white-and-maroon mug of pens ("First West Coast Kannada Sammelana: April 1996, Los Angeles"), newspapers, a magnifying glass, folders, plastic bags ("plastic covers" they would say here) full of who-knows-what. Under the table and in the corners, cardboard boxes sit, half-full of office supplies, brochures, clippings, I wish I knew because we are going to have to sort all this out.

My dad got broadband, at my sister's cajoling, in case she and I had to suddenly drop everything to visit them. If the house switched from dialup to a speedy Internet connection, she reasoned, we'd be able to work from India remotely. Now that's come true and he can't appreciate it. He'd been asking in recent months for us to set up Skype (he called it "Spike") on his computer so he could video chat with his daughters. I put it off.

While debugging the wifi the day I arrived, I pulled out my blue Ethernet cord (don't get on a plane without it) and plugged it into the router. The wifi works now, but I like sitting in the typist's chair in the office, plugged in. My sister gives me a look of disbelief when I say I'm going to go do my internetting in Dad's office. "It's so crowded," she says. "Aren't you uncomfortable?"

She forgets that I'm the girl who loved to take stacks of "Jack and Jill," "Cricket," and other children's magazines into a cardboard box and sit for hours, reading. I once moved the box into the closet, leaving the door a crack open for light, and got so absorbed that I didn't hear them calling me, and they thought I was missing. My mother hated that. She told me I should never get so lost in something that I couldn't hear someone calling my name. I might have learned hyperfocus if it weren't for that, I think bitterly, unfairly. "Code fugue" is what we called it freshman year of college, in Freeborn Hall, when hackers lost themselves in the trance state. I bet my dad found himself in code fugue many a time, when he was developing that Hindu astrology starchart-casting program in GW-BASIC. I think I helped with the colors.

One reason it's unfair to resent my mother is that her edict is probably not the reason I'm not a hacker -- the true bottlenecks were elsewhere, I think, but that's not what I mean to dissect now. And another is that the Harihareswara children had one excuse that absolutely, without fail, got them out of chores, eating, or nearly any other obligation: "I've been struck by inspiration and I have to write this down NOW." The parent always retreated so the child could return to that struggle we all knew, instantiating the private golden world onto the unforgiving page. She and I remembered this a few days ago while telling visitors about our childhood, and looked at each other, realizing with a start that we'd never abused this privilege.

What did it do to us, growing up in a household that put out a magazine every other month, edited anthologies every year, organized book tours for author friends, accumulated boxes of books in the garage the way some families end up with seas of cheap toys? We learned to treat writing as sacred and easy.

If I am sitting in the typist's chair, then I can imagine my father sitting behind me, reading something, taking longhand notes, looking around for Post-It notes to annotate the text. I don't hear him, but then I am wearing headphones.

I wish he were here, to organize his damn notes, to tell us what his system was. But he would have been impatient with us. He had things to do.

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: Important Distinctions In Kannada: "Kaali" (empty) vs. "Ka(r)li" (a goddess of death). "Thali" (plate for food) vs. "tha(r)li" (necklace married women wear). The (r) here indicates just the slightest hint of an "r" before the L; linguists, feel free to remind me of the proper term.

"Chinna" (gold; "chinnu" is an endearment) vs. "chunni" (dupatta/sash)

"Bejarru" = sad or bored; "kopa" = angry; "hedthrike" = scared; "thoondhare" = troubled/troubling. When I was growing up, I thought "bejarru" meant "angry" and "thoondhare" meant "scared." Then again, when I was growing up, I basically heard all these as functionally equivalent: "If/when you do [thing you want to do], I feel [negative emotion]."

I also thought "mamouli" meant "trashy, dirty, or disgusting." Turns out it means "ordinary, common or usual." There is a slang derivative, "mamoulu," that (to be simplistic) means "bribe."

"Barthini" = "I'll be coming" or, idiomatically, "See you later," since traditionally when leaving someone's house you are making only a provisional goodbye. Leonard compares this to "au revoir." Many people say "hogi barthini," meaning "I'll go and come back."

While "santhe hogu!" is sort of idiomatically equivalent to "go to hell!" or "piss off!", and includes "hogu" which is the imperative second-person for "to go," "santhe" actually means "market," not "hell." "Go to the market!"

"Oota" is a meal with rice. Lunch or dinner would be forms of oota. "Thindi" is any other meal or snack, such as breakfast, that might have rice-derived foods in it but doesn't include actual cooked rice grains. Leonard immediately got my drift, which is that a host will act like, oh, you aren't hungry? You can't possibly eat any oota? Well, surely you could have some thindi, though, right? Just a little thindi... and then foist upon you a meal's worth of food items that somehow don't count since they aren't rice.

Legends whisper that Kannada has words for "enough" ("saku") and "a little" ("sulpa" or "wundh churru"). You can use the "a little" words and phrases as softeners when making a request, which confused me when I was a kid. "Will you, a little, turn that light on, please?" doesn't imply "somehow conjure that binary switch into a dimmer." Anyway -- perhaps "saku," "sulpa" and "churru," as modifiers on food-related information transactions, rarely work for me. I like pretending that they are archaic or ultra-formal or only understood within a certain dialect of Kannada or something. In fact, of course, it's just the rhythm and etiquette of this community's hospitality that devalues these requests. The host offers, the guest initially demurs, and they play out an enjoyable dominance/submission ritual that builds and reinforces trust and affection. In theory.

You'd think that "sum'nay" ("only" or "simply") would be easy to mishear as my first name. That doesn't happen, thank goodness. Girish, Nandini's friend (a native Kannada speaker) who's helping me keep this entry accurate, pointed out the doubling-for-emphasis construction "sum-sum'nay" which leads native Indian English speakers to literally say "sim-simply." This reminds me of x, gix.

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