Archive for March, 2006


March 25th, 2006

It's a Saturday morning. I woke up at 9, it's now 13 and so far today I've done...nothing. Nothing good, nothing bad, I'm not happy, I'm not sad, I don't have to be anywhere, I don't intend on going anywhere, I didn't plan anything for today, it's entirely my "free time". How I loved free time in the past, free time meant doing everything I wanted to do when I couldn't. Nowadays, free time has become polarized. When I don't have free time, I wish I had free time, I have ideas about what I could do with it. When I do have free time, I have no ideas and I basically waste it on nothing. And nothing illustrates that outcome better than the summer. If I do have something planned for the summer, I end up doing that. Otherwise I end up doing nothing. And it's much the same kind of feeling that has filled many summers as I have right now, a feeling of nothing at all.

What happens is that I methodically reject every option open to me. I try to get some work done, half an hour into it I'm bored with it, I have no drive to work. I start a book, I get sick of the book. I watch some tv, I get sick of tv. I run through the bookmarks in my browser, exhaust everything of interest there in 40 minutes. I check my email, nothing new there. I start randomly clicking through my filesystem, hoping to find something interesting, but of course I've seen it all before. And so on and so forth. Instead, I wish there were *something* meaningful that I would like to do right now. It doesn't mean there isn't anything worthwhile to do, there just doesn't *seem* to be anything. It's a problem of being entrenched in my own world, people try to help and suggest things to do, but of course those suggestions sound no more interesting to me than the things I've already conceived and rejected myself. And someone trying hard to sell an idea that isn't actually very good, piling on false enthusiasm, just makes me want to ignore them.

When I was a kid and I got in this situation, sometimes I would ask people for suggestions. Invariably, those suggestions rarely opened my eyes to anything I hadn't thought about before, or they would be variations and combinations of my own ideas, things that were already painfully obvious. What I'm really looking for is new impulses, distractions maybe, to guide me in a direction I hadn't seen before, that I didn't know existed. That's the only way I get interested in doing something.

Is it a necessary part of life to feel emptiness ever so often?

the irrational mind

March 24th, 2006

Well, trying to understand the mind is a oxymoron in the first place, granted. But do we ever let that stop us from trying understand ourselves, at least the general patterns which guide us? What seems to be self-contradictory from our point of reference may as well turn out to be perfectly logical from a higher perspective. With that limitation stated up front, the scene is set for this entry.

Do you ever find yourself thinking at opposite ends of the spectrum in cases which really do not seem very different? Most of the time, when facing a significant problem, I don't buy into quick solutions, easy fixes, tweaks. I analyze the situation and draw conclusions which factor in a range of small things that affect it, knowing that no one little thing can tip the scales in the long run. When I'm stuck and I present my reasoning to someone who's eager to help, they will almost always pinpoint the small, simple steps that I could take immediately to lighten the load a little for the time being. Well, I know about them, they are already part of my analysis, I know that they solve nothing in the long term. It's like if you struggle to motivate yourself for a test in high school, it does little good to come up with some solution to get past that one test if you recognize that you still have several years of college ahead and you need some more reliable method of motivation for that. Now you're thinking long term strategy, looking for solutions which will stand the test of time. And most of the time, I do just this, I'm skeptical to solutions which only work this one time. Cynical if you like.

But then the opposite happens sometimes. It is rare, but in some cases I do see a facet of life in terms of one single problem. And for some reason I think if I can get past this issue, if I can conquer this obstacle, suddenly everything will be within reach. As if to say that the first step is the hardest one, then gradually everything becomes easier. And that's completely unrealistic, it's completely incoherent with reality. Whenever I do solve that first problem, inevitably I face the next problem, which is just as challenging. And once that happens once or twice, I do begin to see that my view on this was all wrong. But why do I believe that in the first place? Why do I stray from my realistic approach and buy into a fairy tale? I don't understand why this happens.

Is this some kind of fantasy we have that we want to believe in a fairy tale until reality puts a stop to it and we can no longer convince ourselves that it's true?

card games

March 23rd, 2006
  • suffering a temporary loss of hearing
  • taken hostage for a day with 3 other people whose language you don't speak
  • moments before your imminent execution

Perhaps you could help me think of more scenarios in which a game of cards sounds like a wonderful idea? Seriously, in our generation, which grew up with computer games, how could you possibly sell card games to a person? Yeah, I know what you're saying, you spend half the day playing solitaire at work, but that's because you have few [no?] options. I'm not talking about dead time you *have to* kill anyway, I'm talking about free time. Who the hell would play cards in their free time, my god how dull! Invariably, from time to time we are trapped in a situation where there's nothing happening, let's say a rainy night in a tent [/caravan/hotel room/whatever], and playing cards seems to be the only option. But why would you then ignore the sparkling imagination and intellect of the mind as a means to a fulfilling conversation in favor of switching to a mechanical, sleep inducing process? It's like trying to convince people that hand sewn clothes are much better than factory made clothing, and we should thus all sew our own clothes. I'm sure you'll find some romantics even in that area who'll be happy to rain some of their gospel onto you, but would you really take to that approach? I think not.

To top it off, they recently introduced poker on tv as a means of entertainment. As if playing poker yourself wasn't boring enough, now you can relax from all the stress and just sit and watch as someone is doing it for you. Clearly a sign that your bed time is overdue.

Ps. I will give an allowance for bridge. I don't know anything about bridge, I've never played bridge and so it may just be an exception.

class A asshat

March 22nd, 2006

59 days. Almost two months. What am I talking about? Oh, I didn't say? It took almost two months before I would have something to say about Dutch politics. See, I just caught the appearance of one Geert Wilders on BBC Hardtalk as I was surfing the channels and it took me about 2 minutes to realize that the guy is an asshat. Yes, I know what you're saying, "you don't even speak Dutch and now you're going to bash this politician you know nothing about because you happened to hear him speak English". Yes, you're damn right. In this society of public correctness, it's amazing sometimes to hear people say things that are so blunt that you think they have no awareness of public opinion.

Let me reiterate some of his stand points for your pleasure.

  • if you wear a burka, you will not get a job, you will not make Dutch friends and ultimately you will fail to integrate into society
  • in these times of insecurity, noone should wear clothing which covers their face, everyone should be able to identify everyone else in the street
  • if you have dual nationality, of which one is Dutch, and you repeatedly commit a crime, you should be stripped of your Dutch nationality
  • it is unacceptable that the major Dutch cities are becoming dominated by citizens of the faith of Islam, this country should be dominantly white/Christian/Jewish
  • if Turkey, a moderate, democratic Islamic state joins the EU, the Netherlands should leave the EU

everything was fine, then came the internet

March 20th, 2006

As a teenager, I used to be very introvert. I didn't have a lot of friends, I didn't need a lot of friends, most kids didn't really seem worth spending time with to be honest. They didn't share my interests, they were immature and very fickle, there were a lot of phonies out there. Meanwhile, I was content to be on my own, I played computer games (to the point of addiction), I played with computers and I loved to play sports (but strictly the sports aspect of it, I never felt like part of a team, they were just people interested in playing the same sport and so we came together for that purpose only). I also played the violin for a while, but again I never bonded with anyone at orchestra or any of the social gatherings. Was I happy? I didn't ask myself that question at the time, I was content to be on my own and do my own thing, nothing felt more natural and right for me.

Then came the internet. I won't say that it was a big change, that my world was transformed overnight, nothing like that. In fact, it's only now in the last few years that I understand what a big impact it has had on my life, but the seed was planted some 10 years ago. As I try to remember how it all started, it's a foggy recollection, but one of the first things for me was trying to put up my own website. This was very fashionable in 1996, those of us who did felt like we had established ourselves on a level that most people didn't even know existed. Seeing those websites today would trigger some serious booing, by today's standards those personal websites were of stone age quality. Hell, animated gifs were all the rage back then. This was back when Netscape 4 was "the browser" (although since there was just one we didn't call it a browser), IE was somewhere in v2-3, email was huge and things like gopher and bbs were just becoming artifacts.

Right from the start, email became a really exciting new channel of communication for me. I didn't have a lot of people to email, most people weren't online then, but in 1997 I signed up on the ISFA Juventus mailing list. I think that's when email was really established as a technology for me, I would get daily updates about the club, I became friends with one of the people on that list (I even tracked her down some 9 years later, by which time she had moved across the Atlantic, married and settled down) and I would read opinions of people who shared my interest. A second communication tool was icq. I knew about irc, I wasn't a big fan, but icq was great. It had everything msn has today (and more), only it worked better and was far less intrusive and annoying. (May I remind you this was almost 10 years ago.) Again, I didn't know a lot of people on icq, so I didn't use it that much, but from time to time when some friends were online, it was really fun.

Why is it that email and icq was so much better than face-to-face contact? For one thing, once you start talking to someone you have something in common with, you may actually find the conversation stimulating. But crucially, the online channel would bypass all the bs of the real world. Everytime you talk to someone in person, you will have moments where the conversation runs short, where you don't know what to say, where it gets awkward, where you're wondering "is this over or should I try and change the subject?". The signal-to-noise ratio can be appalling at times. Especially if you're both awkward teenagers with little to say in the first place. When you meet someone online, you don't have to say "how are you", "what are you doing here", exchange troubled looks, no you just dive in and start a subject with no qualms. *That's* what makes online communication so great.

And that's where it all started, learning that there was a channel of communication greatly superior to real life, where I could encounter interesting people and enjoy myself. That's not how I looked at it back then, to me the internet was mostly about technology, about building websites and such, but the social aspect, as a digression, was there to stay. And it was a lot more rewarding than social interaction at school.

A few years down the road, after experimenting a great deal with web sites in various forms, I decided I wanted to consolidate two of my interests and build a website about Juventus. I had the experience to do a decent job and eventually Juventuz became the biggest English language Juventus fansite known to me. It was mostly about technology, but a bit about sports as well. Then something pretty insignificant happened, which would come to make a big difference in the long run - I started reading Xtratime. I was still on the mailing list at the time (in fact I only quit it last year, after 8 years), but the online forum, that was new to me, new and appealing. Here's a new way of talking to people that is more interactive than email, because on the forum people would often stay online for a while to read replies to their posts. And at the same time it didn't require the commitment of icq, of adding all these people to your list, then they would see you online and you would in some way be obliged to talk to them. But more importantly, the conversations developed in a different way than they would on icq or the mailing list, it would be an ongoing exchange of opinions that could go on for days. I didn't dive into forum life, I started gently and I was mostly just reading at first. But it appealed to me, mostly in a way of bringing more people to my website, so I decided to start a forum on Juventuz.

This was the start of something big. I didn't know it at the time, but the forum was about to engulf me. All I really wanted was people to come to the forum and keep coming back, I had no real vision about building a community out of it. That is, not at first. But once people did start to visit (and I basically spammed Xtratime, the mailing, bigsoccer and any other source I could think of on opening day to attract people), it became apparent that I would have to develop some philosophy. It didn't happen in the way that I describe it, as a necessity, it just felt natural for me to start thinking about what kind of forum I wanted to run. As much as I had never before done anything like this - keeping people together, encouraging them to get along, reprimand them on bad behavior - I got right into it as if I were destined to do this all my life. People did start to gather and pretty soon our small, tight knit community showed signs of anarchy. It was time to go beyond the case-by-case intervention, I wrote a set of rules for the forum. These rules stood for 5 years with a handful of tweaks along the way, I had captured my philosophy quite well. I really lived the forum, I knew everything that was going on, I knew everyone, every conversation, every problem. My goal was to keep the level of interaction at a high level of respect, to promote intelligent discussion, to eliminate juvenile behavior (from which I knew the road to taking liberties wasn't a long one).

It was just before I started the forum that I met Lisa, and we both played the role of moderators in that community. I was the host, the founder, the boss, I made all the decisions. But I wanted to consult with her as much as possible, her opinion meant more to me than anyone else's. For some reason or another, she was fine knowing that whatever I said was final, we always agreed on everything anyway, but what I posted was official policy. At the same time, I wanted to be a friend to everyone on the forum and I think I succeeded in that quite well, although people knew my word was law, I never abused that, I never made it personal, I got along with everyone. Well, inevitably, there were a couple of exceptions, but my success rate was very high. It was quite empowering for a 18-year-old, socially awkward high school kid to be *the* authority among say 50 or so regular visitors of all ages. But it was never about power, it was a passion for me to keep the forum friendly, respectful and above all, classy. It wasn't a VIP club, everyone was welcome to join us, but I made it quite clear what was frowned upon. And more than my influence, after being around for a while, people would embrace that culture and perpetuate it themselves. It was about getting the best out of people. It was a community where we all knew that although we could choose to "let ourselves go", it would be disrespectful to everyone else, and so noone did. At the time, I was so into this that I felt I could write a book about how to run a community, how to interact with people and influence them to give their best and how to handle and prevent conflict.

Of course, there was occasional dissent, people trying to rebel just to see if they could beat the system, there's always an instinct of anarchy found in us all, even if the moderators did a great job in keeping people happy, keeping them from seeking rebellion. But the rebels were never successful, we saw right through their actions and when you confront a troll, make the person aware that you know their game and talk to them intelligently, most people respect themselves enough not to perpetuate very juvenile behavior knowing that everyone knows what they're up to, it's no longer clever, it just looks dumb.

There is a lot to be said about years spent in a community, where I lived and breathed forum life, but this is all I will say. Lisa was the first person I really learnt to trust, I felt like I could tell her anything, and that was a magnificent change from my life before I met her. I was 18, she was 27, bright and classy, everyone respected her greatly, both on Juventuz (where she was authority) and on Xtratime. We really clicked. Before knowing her I wouldn't spill a word of my personal affairs to anyone, I was a master at keeping people from knowing me. Then she gave me a confidence to confide in her, made me feel comfortable and convinced me she could appreciate my problems. In the end, we parted on bad terms, but knowing her was an experience (quite aside from my forum life at the time), which changed how I looked at my life. I won't overstate the importance of knowing someone for about 2 years, but a lot of processes were set in motion in that period. And after Lisa, I found a replacement confidant, several in fact. This was effectively how I learnt to trust people with my innermost problems. Problems which were no greater in the scheme of things than anyone else's, but being so adamant about keeping my affairs strictly private, it was a monumental step for me. It was also a great relief to find that someone I *could* share with, feeling safe that she would understand and that noone else would know.

I made a lot friends through the forum, most of which have moved on, and as that became more important to me, my passion for running the forum was on the wane. After 2-3 years, I came to a point where I didn't care much about how things were in the community, the dozen or so people who really cared about the forum had all practically left. And since I couldn't find anyone passionate enough to take my role, noone really cared anymore. That was the beginning of the forum's decline and if you ask me what I think of the quality of the community today, it's shit. But I was entering a new phase of my life, I was seeking online relationships which surpassed the forum, real friendships. I was ready to trust people, to be open about myself, I had tried it several times and it was working. This was the point in my life when I had the most faith in online relations, I now actively pursued them. I also made an effort to meet some of these people in real life, to bridge the virtual/real gap and make the friendship more "authentic". My success there varied, it certainly was nice to meet the people I had spent hours engrossed in discussion with, but the fact is that they aren't the same people, online they will show you a different side of themselves than they will in real life, you're not meeting the exact same person.

But after doing this a few times, and notably one historical meeting in Stockholm, I stepped onto a path of gaining confidence in my social being. It was the first time I really felt socially capable and successful. Coupled with my addiction to stand-up comedy (and thus being able to recite quite a few bits, matched with a given situation), I realized that I was starting to become capable socially in real life, gradually to the extent that I had been online. To this day, I still am better at online relations than real ones, due to the mentioned 'no-bs effect', but I no longer stray from meeting people in real life and in fact I enjoy doing so. Which 10 years ago would be inconceivable.

What I have described, of course, is not the full story, merely bits and pieces of the most crucial factors which have led me to whom I am today. So what is the problem? Well, if you really take to something, you may realize that you come to depend on it. The social part of life has become so valuable that there are moments when I wish I could have the best of both worlds, where I could go back to being content being by myself, rather than wishing I had plans to meet someone and thus feeling unfulfilled. And what do I blame this on? The internet. :D