A Sort Of Introduction

Jan 1, 2020

I was home for Christmas and feeling a little melancholic thinking about my family getting older and time passing. While watching Elf with my mom and grandma I perused some domain names (as one does :). I recently lost olgapark dot com, a domain name I got for free through a scholarship program I was in during college. It was supposed to be for a personal/professional site but I already had one so I made a site for me and Olga’s park.

I started trying to figure out how to spell something using a combination of the domain name and the tld. A tld (top-level domain) is the thing at the end, like .com or .org or .uk. The domain name is the thing that comes before it, which is unique (unless there’s a subdomain, which would come even before that, as in {bl} and {bost}

A bit before this I’d been re-reading The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails because there’s a new volume. An aside: I think it’s best to describe TMWoQ as a sprawling behemoth of a series, if series is even the right term? It’s a remarkable read but also kind of bizarre. I talk about it when I’m insecure in social settings and want to seem like I’m not the kind of person who watches The Bachelor.

Anyway! I was thinking about the first passage of volume 1:

A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising and setting of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapor in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913.

There’s been a lot of discussion around the shift of this passage and the sort of tension between that which is scientific and that which is more… human? subjective? Anyway, I love the sentence “the isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should”.

a la google an isotherm is

a line on a map connecting points having the same temperature at a given time or on average over a given period.

and also a la google an isothere is

a line on a map connecting points having the same average temperature in summer.

I love how arbitrary it is that lines on a map denoting places with the same average temperatures have some way they should be functioning?

When looking at domain name options, I first perused top-level domains and thought .es might be a good one to use since so many words end in ‘es’. this converged with thinking about TMWoQ and so that’s how I found = isotheres.

Separately, this exercise was somewhat inspired by constraint-based creativity, something I’ve found I love in practice as a software engineer. Software engineering involves using frameworks that exist in rigid and defined ways to solve problems creatively. I think because the tools I have are constrained, it’s a lot easier to be creative in solving problems in the best and most efficient ways.

Once I bought the domain name, I wondered what I could do with it. I began to meditate on isotheres. I started with the sort of morphology of the word.

  • isothere
  • is other
  • iso theres

The last part made me think of my favorite poem, Bob Hicok’s Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem.

I like the idea of different
theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell.

this delighted me! Maybe in search of theres and elsewheres with the same average temperature during the summer :)

I started thinking about imperfect analogies. Knowing two places have similar summertime temps (e.g. Dar es Salaam, TZ and Columbus (Ohio), USA) tells you something, like Dar es Salaam : Columbus :: Vancouver : Copenhagen, but this is ultimately pretty meaningless. Dar es Salaam and Columbus are very different places (kind of funny: I flew from Columbus (to AMS) to Dar like 4 years ago in May or June) in many ways, so many ways in fact that to say they are similar because they have similar average July temps is misguided.

This reminded me of when I was a kid and there we would have worksheets for practicing our ability to identify analogies. I remember I would always overthink them and get them wrong. The question might be: eagle : fly :: dog : blank

I’d think: well, eagles can both fly and walk, but I suppose their primary mode of transportation is to fly? But I guess there’s no analogy for dogs since they don’t really line up. Dogs maybe run and walk but if dogs run and walk, I think eagles also probably do something that would be classified as running?

I still overthink analogies. Becoming more familiar with technical concepts as a computer scientist gives me new ways to understand things, but I always follow metaphors as far as I can until I find a flaw that renders them invalid.

I think despite the fact that similar summer temperatures don’t encompass enough to say two places are similar, it’s worth noting that (according to some weather forecaster on stackexchange) apparently isotherms are used often while isotheres are not.

I like the compromise that there can be similarities between two places on one layer that maybe sometimes matters, but doesn’t mean they’re the same on every layer.

As a somewhat other separate thread: one of my favorite things is when random abstract or not abstract ideas / experiences / places / feelings converge unexpectedly. Gödel, Escher, Bach is a great example of this (a la Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies).

I think there’s more here but I’m having a hard time synthesizing my ~ abstract thoughts ~ so I’ll leave this as “a sort of introduction” for now but maybe forever :).

click here to subscribe or leave a comment or question