April 1, 2007

The Joy of Weather, Writing, Music, and Software

Category: Academic,Canada,Edmonton,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 2:57 pm

Spring has arrived in many parts of North America. But in Edmonton, North America’s largest and most northernly city, spring has sort-of-come-but-not-really as it recedes fairly quickly. There will be a day of “explosive” warmth (you know, a balmy 45-55 F) and of course locals strip down to near nakedness, wearing shorts and, the more flamboyant will don an 80′s inspired cut-off tee. Hot. This sartorial statement says WE are SO ready for the long winter to leave … for good. Despite the collective sentiment, which is probably shared by 99.999999% of Edmonton’s inhabitants, the winter cold, snow, and breeze are indifferent to our deepest pleas and they come right back, making us sport at least a few layers of winter clothes.

Within this dance between winter breeze and spring warmth, I have spent most of my time staring at my computer doing everything possible to transform half-baked ideas, hunches, sentiments, and theories into coherent words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters for my book. I am working on it full-force and am enjoying it more than I have in a year though from time to time I get fed-up, lost, sick of it, and my writing soul descends back, deep into one of Dante’s infernal rings, where I fester with my frustration, convinced that I should have become an organic flower farmer/acupuncturist that I almost became (well not really, but I have always fancied that combination as an ideal and fulfilling career path). Slowly I usually make my way back up, brush off the cobwebs of despair, and proceed anew.

Within this highly secluded life of monastic-like repetition, thankfully, I have been enjoying some new things this spring. Once a week I head over to an University of Alberta off-site library facility to pour over archive material for a new project, which I am not going to talk about here (it is super-duper-top-secret) but it has been interesting working at an archive, especially one that is housed in an old Ikea.

Since I am one of those right-brained people, I like to listen to music while I work, and lately I have also become pretty obsessed with house & electronic music, mainly thanks to a local DJ, David Stone whose weekly radio show on CJSR, BPM, is simply the bomb. He claims to bring the “latest and greatest of electronic dance music from around the world” and I think he is totally right. If you like this type of music, do catch his weekly show on Sat nights at 6 PM (MST).

I sometimes get a little sad when I listen to some good music or see some stellar performance because it reminds me that what I may one day have to offer to the wider world—an academic book and article here and there—simply cannot bring the type of joy that musical performance and other creative expressions can bring. While you can listen to songs and over again, a book, if it is really superb, may attract a second or third reading. An academic book or article may at times light an inner light of joy, but let’s face it, it is usually a pretty cerebral light oh’ joy, leaving untouched those part of the brain, soul, heart, where more visceral, mysterious, yet fully self-enveloping feelings of joy reign high (but I am trying my hardest to stick a funny section or two in every chapter to leave a trace of laughter because if I can’t manage that with an ethnography on hackers, I will have failed miserably).

Every track David Stone plays is something I want to listen to over and over again and thanks to mplayer stream dump function, I can. And funny enough, is that in the last month software—believe it or not—has brought me much joy as of late. I have been using free software since 1997 and I used to get A LOT more annoyed—no make that a downright frustrated—with programs (or lack of programs) than I do now. In fact, now, I am simply stunned whenever I upgrade to a version of a program. For example, Word Press 2.0 is like so much nicer in terms of usability and functionality than 1.5. The same goes for Open Office, the Gimp, and even Firefox, which has some bugs, but is so much better than its predecessors.

I once described free software using the well-worn cliché as “the gift that keeps on giving.” And I think that this is becoming more and more true. And like wine, with the passing of time, these gifts usually get better and better. And like a unexpected present that arrives on your doorstep, these software packages induce some joy, because it is actually pretty neat to see these programs develop and grow into something stronger and more useful; so thanks to those who spend their time hacking away at making and improving this software and thanks to those (you know who you are) who helped with my recent WP upgrade!