Wednesday, August 30, 2023

There is no shortage of fascinating things to read about Rust

For example, here's FasterThanLime's collection of Rust articles!

The world of Rust grows and grows. I feel like I did in 1996, when I was just discovering Java, and every day seemed to bring something new to learn.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

A year in a day

As they say, when it rains, it pours: Photos reveal destruction of Death Valley roads after historic storm

After a year’s worth of rain fell in a single day, photos shared by the National Park Service reveal the level of destruction that the tail end of Tropical Storm Hilary wreaked on Death Valley.

The 2.2 inches of rain that swept through the driest swath of land in America on Sunday ripped up pavement on nearly every road, sent debris down rivers that appeared in the sand and compromised four utility systems.

I love the picture of them trying to use a snowplow to move the water off the road.

When all you have is a hammer...

Friday, August 18, 2023

Hurricane Hilary forecast

Wow this is an unusual forecast to see!

Possibility of 6 inches of rain in the Mojave Desert in a single week!

Sunday, August 13, 2023

To the Puzzles Editor of the New York Times, ...

Dear Puzzles Editor of the New York Times,

I wish to draw your attention to the "All or One" puzzle in the August 6, 2023 edition of the newspaper.

The puzzle rules are:

Place a digit from 1 to 3 in each cell so that each outlined region contains either all the same digit or all different digits. If two cells are separated by a bold region boundary, they must contain different digits.

Here is the puzzle solution, from the August 13, 2023 edition of the newspaper.

Please note that the cells at Row 3, Column 2, and Row 4, Column 2 (as numbered from the top-left corner of the puzzle) both contain the number "2", yet they are separated by a bold region boundary.


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Young Adam: a very short review

Can a book be both horrible and yet also magnificent?

I don't know, somehow it seems that the horrible must be strictly separate from the magnificent, and there can be no overlap.

But if you accept that the concept is at least plausible, then surely Alexander Trocchi's Young Adam is such a book.

Trocchi was Scottish, but he spent most of his literary life in Paris and New York, simultaneously celebrated and controversial. Much of his work, including an early version of what became Young Adam, was published under pen names, as it was deemed vulgar, even pornographic.

But Young Adam is certainly not pornography; it is something else entirely. Written entirely in the first person, it tells the story of a short period of a few months in the life of Joe Taylor. Joe is a laborer, but not a tailor; most of the book involves a temporary job he has taken working in a coal barge which is delivering a load on the River Clyde.

Things happen, not exactly to Joe, but also not exactly apart from Joe either, and those events, together with Joe's thoughts about them and reactions to them, fills the pages of this short book in a blurry, dreamlike, feverish way.

The things that happen are terrible, dreadful, vile things, and yet to Joe they are just the course of life, and his descriptions of how things seem is vivid but yet also distant and gauzy, as though everything is real and fantasy all at once. Here's Joe talking about what it's like to wake up in a bunk on a bed:

The slow lick of the water against the belly of the barge was still present when I awoke, as though during the night it had guarded the connection between states of waking and sleeping, the noise of the water only, for my cabin had changed under the pale log of light which entered at the port, defining clearly the greyness of the blanket, the chipped varnish of the plank walls which closed me in. Often when I woke up I had the feeling that I was in a coffin and each time that happened I recognized the falseness to fact of the thought a moment later, for one could never be visually aware of being enclosed on all sides by coffin walls. As soon as one saw the walls, as soon as light entered one would no longer be cut off and so the finality of the coffin would have disintegrated. And then I would be conscious again of the sound of the water and of the almost imperceptible movement of the barge in relation to it.

How masterful this paragraph is!

I can't stop admiring the exquisite skill with which Trocchi delivers this. At the start of the paragraph, we are sound asleep, having some sort of strange sensual dream about being our belly being licked by the water, being caught between life and death ("waking and sleeping"), frozen in an underworld vision. But it's not a happy dream! Joe dreams he is "guarded" from some "connection", and the horror of this dream is vivid and gripping: Joe is certain he is dead and yet somehow experiencing life from within his coffin. Even as he is waking up, he is still having nightmares: the light itself becomes a fantasy creature of some sort with its own agency; it is a "pale log" which has "entered". Then suddenly Joe is awake, and he realizes he was just having a dream, and now the "finality of the coffin" has disintegrated. At first he thinks it's the light itself which has done this, but then he understands that all of his senses are involved: "the sound of the water", the "movement of the barge", even the feel of the blanket on his bed is part of this blurry transition from the dreamworld to the real.

Joe sees the world through a strange and demented perspective, and yet in Trocchi's masterly handling you find yourself inhabiting Joe's mind, sifting through the perceptions he makes as he passes through life, having psychotic breaks that burst open and then vanish as quickly as the rest of us might take a breath or scratch an itch. Just simply doing his crew-work on the boat is a strobe-lit sequence of ghastly visions:

Up on deck the air was cool, cool grey, and over behind the sheds the brick factory stack was enveloped in a stagnant mushroom of its own yellow smoke. Leslie spat out over the side of the barge and put away his pipe.

I'll start her up, then," he said, and went below again.

I let go of the ropes and soon we had moved out into the yellow flank of the river into midstream and were heading for the entrance to the canal. The water was smooth and scum-laden and it seemed to lean against us and fall again, the surface broken with scum-spittles, as we made way. Now and again a piece of pockmarked cork moved past low in the water. There wasn't much traffic on the river. And then, under the dirty lens of sky, Leslie was looking intently towards the quay from which we had just pulled away, marking in his memory, I suppose, the stretch of water from which we had pulled the woman's corpse.

Now, it is boring when you get used to it to crawl along a canal, to wait for a lock to open, for water to level, but you see some interesting things too, like the cyclists on the footpaths where a canal runs through a town, and kids playing and courting couples. You see a lot of them, especially after dusk, and in the quiet places. They are in the quiet places where there is no footpath and where they have had to climb a fence to get to. Perhaps it is the water that attracts them as much as the seclusion, add of course the danger. In summer they are as thick as midges, and you hear their laughter occasionally toward evening where the broken flowers spread down the bank and touch the water, trailing flowers. You seldom see them: just voices.

Wow! How do you even start to comprehend this section? We start out in a "cool grey" industrial catastrophe, with smokestacks and sheds and a "stagnant mushroom". We can't really tell if this is really the docks by the river or captain Leslie's pipe. The odd repetitions of language ("into the ... flank ... into midstream", "lean ... and fall again") set up a metronymic rhythm that begins to thrum within us. There "wasn't much traffic", but the otherwise peaceful departure of the barge from his moorings then startlingly veers wildly from "smooth" to "scum-laden", with its "scum-spittles" and "pockmarked cork". And then, suddenly, out of the blue (or, rather, out of the "dirty lens of sky"), suddenly "the woman's corpse" is there in Joe's mind. And then, immediately gone again, for we're back to being "boring" as we "crawl along" and "wait ... for water to level". How much more boring can things be? It's like watching paint try. There are "footpaths" and "kids playing", and you "get used to it", emphasized by the rhythmic repetition of the "quiet places". And then, suddenly once more, "the danger"! With shock you realize that although there is "laughter" and "courting" and "flowers", we have crossed some horrible, horrible boundary (we "have had to climb a fence to get to" it!), and these are "broken" flowers telling you about the real "danger" in these quiet places.

Oh you simple-minded reader, who thinks that the peaceful riverside is a place of peace and happiness, what little you know of the demons in Joe Taylor's mind, and what he sees in this pastoral sweetness.

Near the end of the book, Joe goes on a tirade, ranting about the injustice of it all, watching the criminal justice system condemn an innocent man. But in fact it is Joe himself who has done this, and here he stands in for Mr. Everyman, blaming the "system" for faults that in the end trace back to individuals.

The social syllogism in which Goon had been unfortunate enough to get himself involved upset me deeply. If any act of mine could have destroyed that syllogism, I should have acted gladly. Go to the police? Confess? In practice I knew it would prove fatal to me. In principle it would have been in an indirect but very fundamental way to affirm the validity of the particular social structure I wished to deny.

Ah yes, practice and principle. Messy subjects. Joe's rationalization infuriates us and yet barely surprises us, having spent 150 pages deeply inhabiting his mind.

Reading Young Adam is a funny experience, for if you are as me you feel compelled to race along, to keep up with Joe's feverish descent into madness, to go there with him and experience it all unfold. And yet, it is all so vivid, and so bitterly and dreadfully immediate, with that "what's around the next corner" feeling, that you want to take the book as slowly as possible, and drink in every horrifying phrase and description.

If you ask me whether you should read this book or not, I don't really know what to tell you.

It was a deeply moving experience for me.

But you must make your own decision.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Backpacking 2023: Hogan Lake, Russian Wilderness

It was time to go, so we packed up and went.

As you'll recall, last year our trip was canceled by the McKinney fire.

But we still wanted to go on that trip, so we tried again. And this time everything was different. There was no fire, there was no smoke, there were no road closures. There was simply blue sky and clear air.

The Russian Wilderness is one of the smallest and least-visited of California's Wilderness Areas, for reasons well-described by its page:

Elevations range from 4,800 feet to Russian Peak's 8,200 feet. An extensive trail system generally crosses steep and rocky ground, difficult going for stock animals. Stock forage is limited in most of the lakeside campsites. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs the entire length of the area north-south for about 17 miles, but stays high with few campsites and snow until late in the season.

We visited the Russian Wilderness once before, eight years ago, and stayed mostly in the south-eastern part of the wilderness. On that trip we took a day hike and got to a spot on the Pacific Crest Trail where we could see the other part of Taylor Lake, which is the primary access point (besides the PCT) to the north-western part of the wilderness.

To get to the Taylor Lake trailhead, you first go to tiny Etna, CA, then you find the Sawyers Bar road, well-known among aficionados of crazy mountain roads.

The drop down the back side touches 18%. The road is very rough and mostly one lane. The speed is very slow most of the way, like 10-15 mph. The road is really remote and almost no services are available. It can get bloody hot on summer afternoons. Sound horn on all blind curves. Not recommended for campers, trailers, or drivers inexperienced in mountain driving. No services for 40 miles.

Happily, we didn't drive that section of the road, for the Taylor Lake trailhead is accessed by a Forest Service dirt road (quite the experience itself; watch out for the cows!) which splits off from the Sawyers Bar road just after you reach Etna Summit. We spent about 30 minutes hanging out at Etna Summit (which has lovely views), while we waited for our second vehicle, which had accidentally started off on French Creek road, which takes you to the other side of the wilderness area (luckily they figured out that mistake quickly).

The trail from Taylor Lake trailhead to Hogan Lake is not complicated to describe:

  • You first hike 0.3 miles, mostly flat, on a wide and well-traveled trail up to Taylor Lake.
  • At the fork, where the main trail goes around the east side of Taylor Lake and up to the PCT, you instead choose the trail around the west side of Taylor Lake, which almost immediately proceeds up a steep ridge to a saddle at just above seven thousand feet. During this part of the trip you gain about 500 feet of elevation, and the trail is clear and well-maintained.
  • Beyond the saddle, the trail plummets! It rapidly descends nearly 1,000 feet, snaking along ridgelines, blasting through immense fields of manzanita, hurdling immense basalt and granite boulders, vaulting innumerable downed trees. Quite the obstacle course.
  • But there are no more forks in the trail, you simply follow it to the end, where you find Hogan Lake.

The entire route from trailhead to Hogan Lake is about 4 miles, and with full packs it took us several hours, with breaks along the way to admire the views and have lunch and whatnot.

Because Hogan Lake is pretty much the only place you can easily go from Taylor Lake trailhead, it is relatively popular, and indeed we met a quite large group of "Dads and Lads" (as they called themselves) along the trail.

Happily, they were going the other direction on the trail, for they had just finished their trip, and for the most part we had Hogan Lake to ourselves.

Hogan Lake is relatively shallow, and was surprisingly warm and very pleasant for swimming. It was full of fish and frogs and tadpoles and what (I think) were California newts? (We chose not to sample the toxin from their skin to verify.)

On the internet, you'll find many articles about how to visit nearby Big Blue Lake from Hogan Lake, an adventure which requires ascending a 900 foot canyon face, with no trail, littered with huge fields of scree and sharp boulders, and no shade along the way.

We could see the canyon face clearly from our campsite near the lake, and we certainly wanted to see Big Blue Lake, so we bravely set out on the approach.

But we didn't make it very far.

In fact, even just traveling around the lake shore to the far side of Hogan Lake was quite challenging for us! Unlike many California mountain lakes, there were no casual trails around the lake through the thick and thorny lakefront bushes, and every step we took was fraught with challenge.

And Hogan Lake was so warm, and beautiful, that in the end we didn't truly regret that we couldn't see the other nearby sites; what we found there was pleasant and just what we needed.