In a Quaker State of Mind, or Why I Had Stopped Blogging

By and large, I don’t take truck with religion. Born and raised an avowed atheist, I had trouble understanding how it could be valuable — my knee-jerk reaction was that it does little more than narcotize.

Maturation is a wonderful thing — understanding the colors, shading, textures of what’s out there. Part of that maturation was to try to impose less of my notions on other things — to let them be. In the course of this, I became more aware of the Quakers (also known as the Society of Friends) and their approach.

The Quakers are Christians, but don’t hold that against them. From what I can tell, most Quakers can’t stand Christians, either. Quakers have no clergy. Quakers think that, yes, Jesus was a child of God, but hey, we are all children of God. He had some great ideas, but wasn’t particularly special. Quakers are pacifists. In American history, Quakers are often the first to do that which later on becomes understood as “right” — they were the first fiercest abolitionists.

A key element of Quaker practice is the weekly Quaker meeting. Apart from occurring on Sunday, it’s similarity to other Christian practice ends there. In Quaker meeting, the group sits, silent. Again, no clergy, so no sermon. The only time a Quaker speaks is when the spirit moves her. A Quaker is asked to speak only if it will improve upon the silence. This is a substantial threshold. Entire meetings may go by without a sound. A kind of group meditation. Encouraging real reflection.

In the chattering world that is media, internet, urbanism, that notion of silence becomes even more powerful, meaningful, useful. It’s made me wish that everyone took to heart that request — speak only when it will improve upon the silence.

(This is not to suggest that I follow such an axiom. I’m one of the worst silence-fillers I know.)

When I stopped writing on my website a couple of months ago, I was surprised at how… concerned some people were. “Why did you stop writing?” I realized that, at the time, I really hadn’t anything to say. I was posting out of obligation to an audience, not because the spirit moved me.

I was also growing increasingly frustrated with the echo chamber effect of weblogs. A meme drifts out there, and then 38 different people post their take on that meme, and they all link to each other, and, as a reader, you bounce from post to post, the semantic feedback growing until it’s deafening. I needed to remove myself from that for a while. To prune a tree. To look on as my g/f and another friend weeded my garden. To get licked in the face by a dog. To prepare my taxes. To watch work out while watching TeeVee.

I’m back. I probably won’t post as much as I once did. (Though today is an exception! Suffice to say that when you stop writing, the ideas well up.) I’ll try to make sure that, when I do, I improve upon the silence. And if you return to this site, and there’s nothing new, I ask you to reflect upon that, appreciate that silence, before you continue through your bookmarks.

All about the bass line

Growing up, one of the staples of household television viewing was Barney Miller, the classic 70s sitcom set in a police station. My dad was an early adopter of the VCR, which he’d use to tape the late-night syndication so that we could watch it with dinner the following day.

We stopped watching BM around the time I reached 12 or 13. I liked the show, even if I didn’t really get all that was going on.

20 years later, I’m rekindling my love for Barney Miller, thanks to it’s daily appearance on the TV Land cable channel. They play the episodes in order, and about a month and a half ago, the cycle came back around to season 1. They’re now just starting Season 3.

It might be an understatement to declare Barney Miller “amazing.” Pretty much from the outset, there was a style of writing and acting that set this apart from any other such work. It’s easy to forget that 95% of all that happens takes place in a single room (and the other 5% takes place in one other room). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more cleverly written episode than “Escape Artist” from season one, with a witty parallel of two men yearning to breathe free (Roscoe Lee Browne’s prison escape artist, and Leonard Frey’s bird man). Or a more heartfelt one than “The Hero”, where Chano deals with his gunning down of two armed robbers, while Harris attempts to set a kid (Todd Bridges, later of Diff’rent Strokes) on the right path. (“You ain’t no brother!”)

Watching Barney Miller conjures mixed feelings. The most obvious is joy at the laughter so easily elicited (yet I’m sure was so difficult to craft). The deeper is a sadness that it’s unlikely that such a production nowadays would get past a “reader” much less have a pilot or a series. This is a show about mostly unattractive men in their 30s to 60s. The setting is dingy. The ethnicities are mixed. The only references to sex are when the occasional hooker is brought in. Yes, it’s a TeeVee show, but it had a certain… authenticity, low-key believability, which you simply won’t find in current productions.

And no one has ever composed a TeeVee theme song as FUN-KAY…

Interface Geekery

So, like an increasing number of folks I know, I’m a Switcher. I forsook the Wintel way for a 12″ PowerBook, and have been quite happy.

Among the things that happy-makes me about OS X are the nifty shareware tools acolytes built for it. That was something I remember from being a Mac owner “back in the day” — a lot of the coolest stuff were wee add-ons created by crazed fanatics.

Among the most popular pieces of OS X shareware is the LaunchBar. It’s a utility that makes finding and launching applications and files in your system much easier — just type a few letters, and it ‘knows’ what you want, hit “enter”, and it’s launched. It’s surprisingly useful, and also somewhat shocking this hasn’t been thought of before.

Because I’m a total interface design dweeb, when using it, my first thought as, “This must be what the Canon Cat was like.” The Canon Cat was a computer designed by Jef Raskin around 1987, which was totally controlled through keyboards. Not like a normal command line interface, though.

The Cat’s user interface made this computer unique when compared to other computers. The user interface was based on a simple text editor in which all data was seen as a long stream of text broken into pages. Special keyboard keys allowed the user to invoke various functions. An extra key titled “Use Front” acted as a control key. You pressed Use Front and then a special key to activate a specific feature. For example, the L key was marked Disk, the J key was marked Print, and the N key was marked Explain (Cat’s context sensitive help facility). Other commands existed which let you change the system’s various parameters (Setup key) and reverse your last action (Undo key). (“Canon’s Cat Computer: The Real Macintosh”)

Using LaunchBar is something like that. It turns your entire system into a namespace which you can access through a surprisingly few keystrokes. It’s ease and obvious utility make it clear the Jef might have been onto something. (And it’s ‘smarts’ — the fact that the LaunchBar ‘watches’ what you do and adapts to your behavior — goes beyond the Cat’s capabilities).


I’ve typed “ENT” and it pulls up Microsoft Entourage, and other possible items of interest

It turns out the Mr. Raskin is also working on developing an interface. “The Humane Environment” or THE, to be exact. It’s sounds a tad mystifying.

The Blog Is Back is back on line. And while I had all sorts of high-falutin’ thoughts about how I wouldn’t blog again, I kept not getting around to the essay writing and other stuff I thought would take its place. I’m lazy, I guess.

I did, however, accomplish one thing I wanted to do before returning to write peterme. I launched the Beast Blog, a multi-author East Bay regional weblog. I believe that there’s a shining future in regional weblogs. They can be an amazing community resource. Particularly for communities too small to warrant a daily newspaper, but too large to be satisfied by a weekly 4-page newsletter.

And, so’s you know, I’ll be fiddling with for a while, evolving the design, etc. So it might look different every time you return.