Wednesday, April 30, 2014

one picture

Giovanni dice:
What if you were forced – due to a material constraint that is pretty well unthinkable – to pare down your personal visual archive to a single picture? Which one would you choose? How would you operate that selection? What would that picture come to mean to you, and could you bear to let go of the others?
.. To have a single portrait of oneself means to have one more than almost all of the people in almost all of history.
I have many pictures of myself, entities multiplied beyond necessity, but none of them looks like me. Instead here is a truly single picture, my great-great-grandfather with his Crimean war medals. One of them survives and is hung at the bottom of the frame. Sergeant-Major James Kerr:


When that picture was taken, neither Denver nor Colorado existed, only the windy plains cut by the broad muddy river whose name is 'flat water' in most languages - Kíckatus in Pawnee, Nebraskier in Ota, Plate in French. The Arapahoe called it the Tallow River, niinénii niicíihéhe'. Tallow is a word Sgt. Kerr would likely have known, meaning the rendered fat of cattle, but I doubt the Arapahoe meant this: instead my guess is it meant something like the promised land, the fat land: plenty of buffalo to keep the tribe in a happy well-fed state of grease. Now the tribes and the buffalo are gone, and a singular picture hangs in the Denver suburbs at the end of its travels. My connection to it is through my mother and her stories, tenuous but real. My children have only stories of stories of another country and the past.

I have exhausted my knowledge of him, that martial presence standing lonely but assured in the empty palace of memory. His daughter by his first wife was Sarah McDonald Kerr, who taught at the Sabbath School of the Presbyterian kirk in town.


When her mother died and SM Kerr remarried, Sarah went to South Africa as a governess, taking with her a picture of her father and that Bible. The governed family was the Stevensons, who lived through the siege of Ladysmith, and had a street in town named for the father. There she met another vagrant Scot, Leslie Singer, a master stonemason and builder: who built the bridges on the old Delagoa Bay line; knew Percy Fitzpatrick and many of the hunters from the earlies; put up the stone lions couchant on Oom Paul Kruger's stoep.

They lived in Pilgrim's Rest to escape the fevers and morbidities of the coast. In the second Boer war he retreated to Durban, the family going back to Scotland. I hope SM Kerr met his grandchildren there. Meanwhile across in the Free State, another ancestor was fighting for the Boers; his family and small children swept up into the first civilian concentration camps of history, as Lord Roberts pursued a scorched earth campaign against the guerrillas.

The hatred of the English nurtured in these camps lasted well, so I met it when conscripted into the armies of apartheid in the next decade of the 80s. The Afrikaners were derogated as rock spiders, a term going back to that war: the Boers would not line up to be slaughtered with due process by the imperial soldiers, sensibly preferring to hide in the rocks and snipe from there. They called us rooinekke or blerrie rooinekke, red necks, from the sunburnt necks of those imperial troops. Wars last in strange ways. There was another term, soutpiel, meaning a salty organ of procreation: the idea being the Englishman had one foot in South Africa, another in England, and said organ in between washed by the salt oceans. This startled me with an unexpected note of fantasy. Before the Army I had not thought to hate the English for imprisoning my Dutch and Danish forebears. After that, it still seemed a bootless emotion.

Sarah's daughter Ellen married Gerard Bier, a descendant of several gloriously-named Hieronymus Biers. The house of the first of these still stands on a canal in Amsterdam. The second was a Boer, though his daughters preferred English. Ellen and Gerard lived in what had been Delagoa Bay, then Lourenço Marques, Gerard working as an accountant. His inkwell is another remainder, escaped alone from the erosions of time running down. Here it is on my desk, sharing the space with a computer monitor and these words on it. The inkwell stands as a memento mori, a reminder of other scriveners, and a blaze of silver light.


For some time they shared a house with the Anglican Bishop of Lebombo. Since it was the Bishop's residence, it became a Palace, though just the same wood and iron shanty as the other houses in town. My mother was born in the Miramar Hotel, as they felt the bachelor Bishop should not be embarrassed by these female proceedings.  

My mother remembered both of her grandparents fondly. Sarah was an intelligent kindly woman, though tolerating no kinds of fun on the Sabbath - Kirk followed by some light Bible perusal while clad in Sunday best, was about the sum of it. They had retired to Pilgrim's Rest by this time. The grandchildren found respite there from the jiggers, mambas and heat of LM during the summers. I have another picture now lost to everything but memory, of two little girls in bathing suits by the Blyde river. In the end Joy lived in the same retirement home as my mother. We went to lunch when she was in her 80s and my mother no longer grew older. Joy's stories of those days took the scenic route, up down and around through recollections of hills, forests, rivers, children and parents: yet invariably reached their destination in good order, winding up all the threads and gathering them back together. I was too young and simpleminded to understand this prodigious feat of memory, a lost world and its peoples held up and turned to the light for me: and thought Joy was wandering, though only one of us was astray.

Leslie and Sarah are buried together in Pilgrim's, in the new graveyard. Their little grandson who survived only a few days lies beside them. My mother wanted to be buried there as well, but by that time it had become a national monument with no new thing permitted, no longer that possibility we were. 

In the Ukraine where war is starting yet again, the child of her fathers and mothers looks at their one pictures, and speaks for us from the museum of abandoned secrets:
"I don't have it in me to resist the numbing spread of this insane, universal tenderness that pools under my skin like blood from a thousand wounds - this visceral, glandular pity for these dead, for their youth, their speech, their laughter no longer audible from where we are, their piercingly pitiful, childlike innocence to the impenetrable gloom that awaits them."





Friday, April 18, 2014

that possibility you were

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Wendell Berry

via

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

perchance to dream


Do Intel chips dream of Facebook updates ?

Yes, they do. Install that driver and your PC will wake itself up repeatedly to check for email, Facebook and Twitter updates; lathering itself into a frenzy, seeking hopelessly for validation. This is a problem if you'd rather have the machine sleep peacefully and cheaply through the night, waking cool and refreshed to do useful work.

When building my latest desktop I carefully did not install the suggested Intel Smart Connect driver. Still, there was something whispering in its ear to give it unquiet dreams. Gently put to sleep, tucked in with a comforting word each night, in the morning it would be up and humming busily. Maybe the NSA unleashed its robot crawlers to inspect my digital fewmets - questing, perhaps, for traces of renewed allegiances to those foreign princes and potentates whom I was supposed to renounce and abjure during the oath of citizenship.

It turns out there are many imps and daemons that are empowered to cause wakefulness, almost as many as hover about my own bed each night. Here's a swift trot through the ways to a better night's sleep, for your Windows 7 computer at least.

Deep in the bowels of the Windows install is a handy command-line tool powerfcg. Look for it in the folder Windows/system32.

Open a command prompt, run it with the -LASTWAKE flag, to see who it was the last time.

C:\Windows\system32>powercfg -LASTWAKE
Wake History Count - 1
Wake History [0]
  Wake Source Count - 1
  Wake Source [0]
    Type: Device
    Instance Path: USB\ROOT_HUB20\4&449fe53&0
    Friendly Name:
    Description: USB Root Hub
    Manufacturer: (Standard USB Host Controller)
Quite a few USB drives will install their own proprietary little driver, which wakes itself up periodically to see if there is any data to be moved around. Just plugging in a new USB can cause a sequence of sleepless nights.

Check to see who is empowered with the -devicequery wake_armed flag.
Wake armed ? like that bunch of lawless criminal deadbeat welshing rebels in Nevada ? No, these devices are innocuous in comparison with the America-haters.

Thus,
C:\Windows\system32>powercfg -devicequery wake_armed
HID Keyboard Device
ASMedia XHCI Controller
USB Root Hub
HID-compliant mouse (002)
Atheros AR8151 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (NDIS 6.20)

Off we go to go to Control Panel, Device Manager, expand each node looking for something that matches the device name as listed above, rightclick on that device name and select Properties, then on Power Mgmt tab for each of these, uncheck 'allow this device to wake'.

Looks like this,


 and then after the right-click, properties etc,


The keyboard was left allowed to wake, so a keystroke will awake it, but all other devices are disarmed.

Programs can also goad the exhausted boards back into action. See the Windows FAQ on sleep,
To prevent programs from waking your computer
    Open Power Options by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then clicking Power Options.
    On the Select a power plan page, click Change plan settings for the plan that you want to change.
    On the Change settings for the plan page, click Change advanced power settings.
    On the Advanced settings tab, expand Sleep, expand Allow wake timers, choose Disable for both when your computer is running on battery and when it's plugged in, and then click OK.

All our computers run a nightly backup job in the wee hours, to save data to a NAS drive. So I didn't disable the wake timers, as we need the backup tasks to wake up and run.

Similarly to the above, the power plan can be set so the computer will automatically go to sleep after some set minutes of idleness. If only this worked as well for my monkey mind.. but I wander. The problem now is sometimes it doesn't go back to sleep after running the backups.

To fix this, run the horrible new Windows 7 Event Viewer. Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer. Wait patiently for the immense gobs of .NET code to load and initialize. Then expand Windows Logs, select system, on RHS select 'Filter Current Log', pick 'Event Sources', pick 'Power Troubleshooter' to show all the wake events and their causes. Scroll through these to look for culprits.



Or, use the powercfg again:
powercfg -waketimers
shows everything with a wakeup,
powercfg -requests
shows what's keeping it up at night.
In this case,
DISPLAY:
None.
SYSTEM:
[DRIVER] \FileSystem\srvnet
An active remote client has recently sent requests to this machine.
AWAYMODE:
None.

There should not be any remote clients for this machine.
Who is out there requesting things I cannot deliver ?
Trolling through the dismal swamps of online forums suggests:
- Go to Services and disable "Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service".
Disabled, no change.
- Start, Control Panel, Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, Advanced sharing settings
Check under media streaming to block all sharing.
Nope, that wasn't it either.
- look for the Server service. I do loathe it when Windows names its services with these multivalent signifiers, so they look more like infections than reputable services. Apparently the Server service serves up a delectable dish of heaven-knows-what from my computer to random queries from heaven-knows-where. I can't think of a good reason for it to do that. Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Services, locate the Server service, rightclick and disable.

Now at least my PC has quiet nights. With Windows 8.1 you are back on your own, have not attempted to debug its insomnia. Time for my tryptophan..

A poem by Charles Bukowski, for the ancestor of my Intel chip.

16-bit Intel 8088 chip

with an Apple Macintosh
you can't run Radio Shack programs
in its disc drive.
nor can a Commodore 64
drive read a file
you have created on an
IBM Personal Computer.
both Kaypro and Osborne computers use
the CP/M operating system
but can't read each other's
handwriting
for they format (write
on) discs in different
ways.
the Tandy 2000 runs MS-DOS but
can't use most programs produced for
the IBM Personal Computer
unless certain
bits and bytes are
altered
but the wind still blows over
Savannah
and in the Spring
the turkey buzzard struts and
flounces before his
hens.