ode to a keychain

Joseph S. Barrera III (joe@barrera.org)
Wed, 30 Dec 1998 18:16:27 -0800

I have a car with a remote control lock keychain.

Clicking once on the unlock button unlocks the driver's door.
Clicking twice on the unlock button unlocks all the doors.
Clicking once on the lock button locks all the doors.

When I lock the car, I always double-click the lock button.
When I do so, I usually think to myself how I'm using a less
efficient, but simpler, invariant:

Clicking twice on the X button does X to all doors.

And sometimes I start thinking of invariants as boundaries,
with precise invariants having less enclosed volume,
but much more surface area, than simpler but less precise

And sometimes I think of bounding fractals with curves
of finite surface area (can it be done? Do fractals have
spikes or dots arbitrarily far out from their center?).

And sometimes I think of the role of scientific theory,
where the more precise theories seem to get more and
more complicated (Newton's gravity v. Einstein's v.
whatever the GUT will look like).

So, like, what the hell's the matter with me?

(I mean, besides the fact that I'm crazy. I'm taking
meds for that that generally work, except
for the nightmares.)

There's a book I bought a while ago, that I periodically
pick up and read, called "How the Laws of Science Lie" by
Nancy Cartwright (I actually remembered her name correctly,
although I went to find the book because I was afraid that
I was mistakenly remembering the name of an author of
adolescent books -- but a web search informs me that I was
thinking of the character [not author] Nancy Drew --
did you know that there's a nancydrew.com web site?).

At any rate, from the back of the book:
"In this sequence of philosophical essays about natural
science, Nancy Cartwright argues that fundamental
explanatory laws, the deepest and most admired successes
of modern physics, do not in fact describe regularities
that exist in nature. Yet she is not 'anti-realist',
for she draws a novel distinction: theoretical entities,
and the complex and localized laws that describe them,
can be interpreted realistically, but the simple unifying
laws of basic theory cannot."

Somehow this seems the only rational response to the
message of Zen, which I interpret as, to speak is to lie.
You can never capture the truth with words. But nonetheless
(goes the response), one can fashion useful lies.

At any rate, this is a sample of the way I think. No wonder
I have such a problem communicating with others. I haven't
mentioned Infinite Jest for a while... so let me briefly
describe the opening scene. In short, the protagonist
believes he is communicating articulately to the
interviewing staff at a college, when in fact he is
perceived as... well:

"'What in God's name are those...,' one Dean cries shrilly,
'...those /sounds/?'

"'There is nothing wrong,' I say slowly to the floor. 'I'm in here.'

"I'm raised by the crutches of my underarms, shaken toward
what he must see as calm by a purple-faced Director:
'Get a /grip/, son!'

"DeLint at the big man's arm: '/Stop/ it!'

"'I am not what you see and hear.'

"Distant sirens. A crude half nelson. Forms at the door. A
young Hispanic woman holds her palm against her mouth,

"'I'm not,' I say."

...Indeed I'm not. I hope. I dearly hope.

I'm currently having to deal with a complete inability to
communicate with either my parents or my boss. At least I
know what to do with my boss -- produce glitzy demos that
he can show off to others to prove that I (and thus he) is
productive. (Long term research is great, as long as you
produce tangible results every month... evidently.) But my
parents -- well, my mother is much further gone than I am
(and she doesn't even know it), and my father just
codependencizes her. (BTW a friend forwarded a neologism to
me today -- "e-tailing" -- retailing on the web. Gad.)

Well, what the hell am I complaining about. I mean, except
for the nightmares that wake me up screaming and hitting
every night, everything's going great.

I believe it's time for another glass of sherry.

Talk to you later,

- Joe