I just finished reading Ayn Rand’s beast of a novel, The Fountainhead. I enjoyed every one of this book’s ~800 pages and myriad of characters. Though I found some of the ideas put forward in the novel hard to agree with, and others downright baffling, Rand’s talent as a writer makes this book intoxicating.
Taken at face value, The Fountainhead is an impressive novel about a revolutionary (this word is never used in the book, can anyone guess why?) architect named Howard Roark who refuses to compromise his ideals under any circumstances. He is a champion for modern architecture in a society that is stuck on classicism. Architecture serves as the background of the novel however I felt that Rand’s descriptions of buildings and the architectural process alone made the book worth reading. Since I started the novel (a while ago, this is a long book), every time I walk down a street in San Francisco, my head eyes are always turned up. I don’t know why I never appreciated buildings as works of art with their own soul and grace given to them by an architect, but I do see them in a completely different light now.
The architecture makes this book good but it is the characters that make it great . The names Roark, Francon, Toohey and Wynand will likely never be forgotten by me. The amount of depth given to each character made them feel more real than in any other book I can remember reading. I felt heroic when reading Roark, pain and beauty when reading Dominique, powerful when reading Wynand and evil when reading Toohey. The monologues are great and the dialogue is even better. Although the characters are mostly unrealistic, it is enjoyable to fantasize about a world where such elegant and intelligent people could exist. I miss them already.
Now for the meat of the book – Ayn Ran’s Objectivist philosophy. Roark, the hero of the novel, is supposed to be the perfect man that fits in to the ideals of Objectivism. He is an extreme egoist in the sense that the world and it’s people do not concern him, only his sense of self and the integrity of his work matter. He is a man who takes what is available to him and creates things, but it is the act of creation that is important, not any kind of worldly rewards. He doesn’t borrow from anyone else and he doesn’t give to anyone either. Roark feels enlightened because no matter what happens to him he will always have the integrity of his soul which nobody can ever take away. This is the heart of the meaning to me: our sense of self and our own objective reality are the only things we truly own, and as long as we are content with them, we are content with life.
Rand also says that it is the people like Roark that create all the great things in the world, and the “second handers” are people who never create anything of their own, that live for other people, and that are parasites of creators like Roark.
It is hard not to admire this view of integrity. I honestly think I’m a better person for having read it. The philosophy breeds self confidence and self respect. I think it will be easier for me to stand up for myself in arguments when I know that I am right, and to do what is in my best interest instead of worrying about what other people think. There is a powerful dialogue at the end of one of the chapters in which Toohey, the villain who is trying to destroy Roark’s career and legacy, confronts him:
“Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
“But I don’t think of you.”
I think that pretty much sums up the egoist.
… and then things start to get weird.
One of the strangest parts of the book is the rape of Dominique Francon by Roark. There is definitely a sexual undertone to the entire novel and it seems to climax in a scene where Roark forces himself on Dominique, yet you can tell Ayn is enjoying writing it. So does the character Dominique. Afterwards she is described as not wanting to bathe as to “keep him on her skin” and as walking the streets wanting to tell everyone that she had been raped, but somehow glad about it. What the hell? The whole thing is just another metaphor for Roark the creator taking what is available to him and acting in his own self interest. But another person as the material for the creation? It’s absurd. Objectivism prides personal freedom and the rights of the self. But what good is it to take away someone else’s freedom? Now it is saying that it is not simply individualism that matters most but some form of survival of the fittest.
Another part of the philosophy that is downright vile is the view on nature. To Rand, nature is simply a resource to be consumed by man without regard to anything else. The scene directly preceeding Dominique’s rape is that of Roark as a drill man in a quarry (raping nature) and this theme repeats several times in the novel. What seems like a big disconnect to me is the idea that the “creators” creations are not bound by any limitations. It is true that it is the genius of a person that brings the creation from the mind to life but it is hard to create something out of nothing. If all the granite in all the quarries was to be used up, what would Roark build out of? Many would say he could find something else, but the earth is a finite resource. There is a limit.
Besides the handful of problems I have with Objectivism, I’ll probably continue to wonder “how can I be more like Roark” when thinking of my work. Speaking of my work, Roark would have made an excellent software engineer. In fact, he probably would have preferred it to architecture, considering you don’t need clients to build something cool.
I was sprawled on the floor today, feeling good about my sore legs from the race yesterday, about the fact that I get to stay in Fairfax for a week, and about the interesting show that was available via Hulu on the Xbox – Nova Science Now. In this program they featured a scientist who discovered the protein called PKMzeta that facilitates electrical communication between the neurons in the brain responsible for long term memory. He also developed an inhibitor, ZIP, which could block those communications and erase memory. Fascinating stuff.
In one scene the professor describes his experience going to a sensory deprivation tank, which are small, light-less enclosures that cut off all sound and feeling and are supposed to let your mind run free. He claimed that the tank helped him come up with some profound ideas. Later in the show, he explained how he takes long showers because in they also help him think.
Thinking man comes up with his best ideas in the shower! How cliche, right?
Ironically, I was thinking about this tonight, in the shower. And then I started to wonder, why is it some common that people come up with grand ideas while in the shower? And then I thought back to Mr. Fenton’s experience with the isolation tank. Showers are like isolation chambers – but without the fancy name. The noise of the water is constant and overpowers most other noise, the water is warm and hypnotizing and you are usually in a small space with nothing much to look at. So it’s no wonder that people come up with the best ideas in the shower. There is nothing else for your mind to do.
About a month ago, I started keeping a dream diary. Every morning I wake up and attempt to write down that night’s dream. So far it’s been both extremely difficult and eye opening (no pun intended). I’ll tell you what kind of dreams I have, but first lets explore some of my experiences with the actual act of recording dreams.
The first thing I noticed was how quickly you forget the details of your dream. I think it’s common knowledge that most dreams vanish quickly after waking, but I’ve found that details of a dream that I feel I have locked in my head can disappear literally faster than I can write them down immediately after waking up. I think I’m getting better at remember details though, as my entries have slowly been getting longer and longer.
Weird stuff happens when you record your dreams. One of the strangest phenomena are the dreams about writing down my dreams. Several times I have had dreams that I am recording a previous dream and then wake up in the morning confused as to why my journal did not yet have that night’s entry. Sometimes I just wake up to write down a dream because I am consciously thinking that I have to record it.
Those phenomena are actually quite encouraging because they feel like the first steps toward lucid dreaming. One of the reasons I decided to start writing a dream journal was because I read that they can help a person have lucid dreams, which I have experienced before. About 6 years ago, there was a time period of 4-5 days where I had full lucid dreams every night. Then as suddenly as the ability appeared I stopped being able to have them. I’ve been wanting to experience them again ever since.
I’m not going to claim to have any deeper understanding of my subconsciousness than when I started recording dreams, but it’s a possibility I can see having if I keep it up. When I read back on the last month I am able to discern a few repeating patterns, but nothing earth shattering yet. Most of what I see (or understand) is pure madness. This could be attributed to the fact that some dreams that make perfect sense are absolutely impossible to put into words. I think this is because dreams are just as much about feelings and, dare I say, it, even deeper subconscious thought (queue the Inception soundtrack) then they are just experiences playing out in front of your eyes. Also, my hand writing is damn bad first thing in the morning.
Some of my nightmares are so terrible that they are hard to write down. When I started recording there were some dreams in which I intentionally skipped details simply because they were so disturbing putting them down in to words was frightening. I think it was the idea of making the dream real – putting them into words and immortalizing something I could easily (and like to) forget. I’ve since gotten over that, it felt like cheating. I want the whole picture even if some of it is ugly.
Other dreams are a joy to write down because they feel like memories I would like to keep. I go through adventures, achievements and a lot of times, just hanging out with buddies.
Nobody can ever read my dream diary. There is some deeply personal stuff in there I don’t feel anyone else should read, or could even understand. So I won’t be publishing any of the actual text from the journal, for now at least.
Although I just started, it’s been an interesting experience. I’m looking forward to more insights and possibly some of that lucid dreaming in the future.
It seems like one of the biggest complaints people have when considering what they would like to do as opposed to what they actually do on a daily basis, is time. “If only I had the time to go the gym” or “If only I could find the time to read” it seems as if people like to believe that there simply aren’t enough ticks of the clock to cram a fulfilling life into one day. Whereas I’m sure there are people that really are just that busy, I’m going to take an educated guess here and say that it’s probably simply not true. Allow me to digress for a moment.
I spend a good amount of time in transit. I’m not just talking about daily commutes or vacations. Ever since I graduated high school I’ve been in a perpetual state of (locational) transition. In the Bay Area I’ve lived on the Peninsula, In Marin, and the East Bay. I went to school and lived in Oregon for several years. I’ve even lived in other countries: I spent 6+ months in New Zealand riding my bike around the country. Not bad for the last 6 years. For me, one of the greatest joys in life is experiencing a new place.
My latest pick-up-and-go has landed me in the charming small town of Port Costa. When I mean small, I mean small. Most people say a town is tiny when you can only find 1 Starbucks and people still walk to the post office . Port Costa has a population of 190 people, as of the 2010 census and has no Starbucks. No coffee at all, actually. Its a 1 street, one bar kind of town.
Whats so unique about Port Costa is how remarkably close to everywhere it is while at the same time feeling genuinely remote. The 2 roads that service the town are windy and narrow. It is surrounded by farmland. The train rolls through town a few times an hour – an abrupt reminder of the passing of time, you really can lose your sense of reality here. Yet, the town in less than 5 miles from I-80, a few more to I-680. Berkeley and Walnut creek are within a 30 minute drive away. You could throw a rock across the delta and hit Vallejo/Benicia. Still, for someone that works in San Francisco, like myself, Port Costa would probably feel like a far away place thats kinda close to other far away places. That’s fair, its true. Does it take a long time to get to downtown? You bet. But that’s the beauty of it – I feel that it gives me time rather than take away from it.
A lot of people ask me how I can stand such a long commute. It’s simple. I make the commute enjoyable, healthy and stimulating. Lets cut to the chase – I ride my bike to Lafayette, and take the BART into SF. What does this provide me? Round trip,
2 Hours on the bike and 80 minutes on BART, which translates to:
2 hours of solid exercise and 80 minutes of uninterrupted time to read whatever I want: books, articles or magazines.
As a bonus:
$0 in gas.
2 runner’s highs.
There aren’t any self-help books out there that would not recommend finding the time to do what I do just getting to work every day in order to be healthier and happier. Instead of struggling to find the time, I make sure I have no choice. Let’s face it, we’re all lazy. If I didn’t have to, I probably would get a lot less exorcise and read fewer books.
Try moving out to the boonies. You might actually find it gives you more time than you think.
6 months. 11 races. Countless rivers, towns, mountains and hours listing to Metallica in the car. A few too many tight corners and occasionally, one too many beers. The 2012 season was the kind of stuff that you live for, and today was my last day. After graduating from SOU last year I moved to Fairfax, CA where I lived until April when I decided a summer in the PNW was just too good to give up. And it was. The main focus of my time here consisted of racing bikes and good stuff that goes along with that.
Racing is amazing. Pushing myself so hard definitely puts me in a place that I rarely find myself in otherwise. It is an intense, raw feeling that I haven’t been able to find doing anything else. But the reason I really fell in love with racing was the whole lifestyle, which I didn’t know about until I participated in a few. I suppose I got a hint at my first race, the Cascade Chainbreaker, 3 years ago in Bend, OR: I woke up the morning of the race in the back of my car on the side of some dirt road in the middle of the desert outside of town. Cereal in a water bottle with some soy milk poured in, and shaken, was what was for breakfast. I then proceed to ride my bike as hard as possible for 3 hours for no real reason, at a far too early hour in the morning, and finish in so much pain I could barely stand. And we were in some cool town that I had never been to before surrounded by a bunch of cool people with cool bikes. The end result was the kind of weekend you talk about until the next one.
Fast forward 2 years and its that first race every weekend for the last 5 months. Except this time around school was not an issue for any of us, so the “weekend” races usually started sometime on Thursday, and ended on Sunday (but usually the wee hours of the morning, Monday) Although I started of the season strong with some XC races, the focus shifted mainly to Enduro and All Mountain races in which practice is crucial. I don’t think there was a single race we did not preride at least a day for. Some races we prerode for 2 or 3 days. All in different places, all with amazing trails, cool towns and cold water to jump in to. Hood River had the best food. Portland involved some firsts. Bend, the best locals. Downieville, also the best locals. Nevada City is home to the best river. And Ashland was home to me, I guess. But looking back, I didn’t really spend too much time there. When I was in Ashland, I worked. But that’s ok. I couldn’t think of a better place to call home base – you can even find some world class riding here!
I want to express how thankful I am for all the hardworking people that put on these races, and all the amazing and talented riders I met at them. It was great riding with ya’ll. I want to thank the BLM for providing most of my sleeping areas and taquerias everywhere for providing most of my meals. Most of all, thanks those couple of dudes I know for putting up with me through all of it. You know who you are. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again next season.
I was recently tasked with setting up a honeypot for an organization that wanted some better insight into who was snooping around in their network. For those of you too lazy to read, what is a honeypot? Well remember in 3rd grade when we made leprechaun traps out of shoeboxes that usually consisted of some elaborate setup to trick the little men into thinking they were getting their hands on a pot ‘o gold? Well think of it like that, except with computers. And networks. And hackers, espionage, subterfuge… etc. Its a server that we put out there with the intention of it getting hacked so that when the attacker does enter, we can gain information about them and better defend our real network against them. Basically:
This particular honeypot I was to set up didn’t need to be too complicated. Really all we wanted was to be able to listen on SSH and get notified if anyone connected – that’s enough because there would be no reason for any of use to ever connect to this server. That’s when I found Kippo. Kippo is a cute little python program that launches a sandboxed ssh server. It is semi interactive, meaning that to anyone who connects it would appear (at least for a while) that they have actually connected to a real server. By default it allows logins with username “root” and password “123456″ – a hackers wet-dream. What can kippo do once an attacker has connected?
Understands most unix commands. mkdir, ls, tar, cat, etc.
Has a fake filesystem you can actually read/write to.
Allows use of wget (!) and stores any files downloaded this way in a folder accessible by us.
Of course, logs all commands.
Cool tricks: You can create commands that do nothing but output text. This can make an attacker very confused. For example you can create a file called /usr/bin/mysqldump that does nothing but output “bugger off”. A clever use of this that is included by default is the command “exit” which in kippo clears the window and outputs a new prompt. This makes it appear that you have disconnected from the server back to your machine when in reality you are still connected to kippo and it is logging all your commands!
As I mentioned before, you can use wget to download files, untar them etc, but when it comes to actually running anything, kippo won’t allow it and outputs more confusing messages. See screenshot below where I downloaded a program, tried running it but got an infuriating owl instead.
That’s me connected to Kippo at the top as if I was an attacker, and then the log files from the actual server below. Good stuff. My only concern with this program is its security. Its a honeypot, but how secure is it? Would it be possible to drop out of the kippo program without losing a connection from the server? Or somehow execute commands from within kippo that can make it out of the sandbox? From what I can tell, it seems pretty secure, but it is hard to tell.
Damn funny though. So far I recommend it, and I’m thinking of setting one of these up in amazon open to the world just to see what kind of people wander in. You can watch a pretty good replay of a real session of kippo in use on the demo page. Grab the popcorn.
1988 was a good year and last weekend brought 23 years since then of me walking this planet. As my friend Matt told me, growing old is a privilege and I’m happy to have made it this far.
Age 22 was probably one of my best. It brought my last year of college in which getting all my classes out of the way early finally paid off – I got to mostly float through and have some fun. Socially it was a rollercoaster, both being gone every weekend for bike races and meeting new people in town.
How could I not miss the Haus? Living at the Bike Haus had its ups and downs, but mostly it was rad. I got to meet and hang out with so many people (hippies) just because I lived there, it almost seemed like cheating. The place truly was a community center for better or worse. Smelled like one too. I learned some important things here: how to clean insanely dirty dishes, to ignore the smell of body odour and to not let your roomates practice drums at 11:00 at night when you have anal retentive neighbours! Seriously though – clear communication. When your roomates do something that you perceive as wrong or annoying its better just tome come forward about it. Even if it is one against the herd and may cause an awkward living situation for a while. Especially important in precarious situations such as living in the Bike Haus. I haven’t heard anything about the place since I left, but I hope its getting used. R.I.P.
Racing mountain bikes was the best thing I could have done with my weekends in college and my only regret was not getting into it sooner or going harder. It was amazing for so many reasons. First of all, I never really had a competitive outlet in college – unless you consider pissing matches between comp sci nerds competition (which it is, but in a really obnoxious, annoying I-dont-even-want-to-participate kind of way) so it was great to get out there, lay the smack down and feel good about coming out on top – some of the time. I only got 2 podiums the whole season but it was all worth it. There is much to be learned in humility and defeat as well. It was also extremely physically demanding. While most people I knew were out every weekend getting drunk and feeling like shit – my racing friends and I were doing 9am bedtimes in order to wake up at 6:00am on race day. Everything changed – diet, sleeping habits, physical physique and attitude. I think I may have even considered myself an athlete and damn if I didn’t feel really good too – probably in the second best shape of my life just behind my tour in New Zealand. It was almost impossible not to feel slightly elitist when returning to school after a weekend of racing knowing that you just put yourself through more pain and suffering than most people in class sitting around you would in a year – and you liked it too. But everyone needs a bit of an ego and confidence boost every once and a while so I don’t feel bad. It definitely worked in my favour at the party and social scene too. But MOST importantly I learned that, and this applies to life in general, if you want one of these:
You have to go through a bit of this:
Trevor Pratt, destroyer of wheels.
And that just all there is to it.
As far as careers or whatever goes I guess that’s going pretty well too. All those years of being a computer nerd in High School finally paid off, because now I’m that same nerd but getting paid for it. I’m still not sure what to say when people ask me what I do for a living. My answer is usually “computer stuff” but in reality I do a bit of all computer stuff. No Im not making the new Facebook. Mainly programming (which I’ve gotten so much better at in one year) as well as some system admin type work. The jobs are challenging and the pay is good so I can’t complain – but I can’t let that get to my head. I will ALWAYS remember that I do this some of the time:
So that I can do this most of the time:
Because I’ve seen those commuters honking their horns, crowding on the BART, who have worked all their lives and I can feel the frustration and pain in them. I’ll never go there. Money can be a dangerous addiction and I’ve felt it try and grasp at me already, but when that happens I usually just say f**k it and go for a ride.
Heres to living the dream and looking forward to 23.
I’ve been spending more time you youtube lately, especially on Mondays while I recover from the weekend races. Here are a couple of bike related videos that really had me glued to the screen.
I didn’t even know what a match sprint was before I saw this video but after watching I want to head up to the Alpenrose velodrome and give it a shot. It’s old school, and I don’t think there are that many track stands in modern competition, but it is still very cool to watch:
Headbutting. I’ve got to try this. From last year’s Tour, Mark Renshaw headbutts the competition: