December 3rd, 2005


on signature

My signature is an integral part of my identity. Anyone who knows me well enough to have seen me sign things would recognise this signature, even though it is not my "real" name, to be from someone who is either me or someone who is part of my family.

I'm very proud of my signature, and although there are probably people who could set about forging my signature, I consider the fact that I write my full name each and every time I sign something slightly more difficult to forge than a simple swept line that most people use to sign things. There are often dramatic variations in my signature, based on mood and inebriation and fatigue, but more often than not my signature says "me".

For the fourth time this year, I am "switching jobs" even though my title and responsibilities haven't changed. When my boss was given responsibility fo validation services, against her will, I was the only person who didn't recoil in horror. Pursuant to this, I have now participated in a validation of one of our other products, which is a integrated system for studying dosage response of drugs. There's very little "customizable" about this system, different from the modestly bespoke systems I usually deploy, because it focuses on this very tight market. Therefore, the usual service for this product is a set of standardized "scripts" which test almost evey aspect of the system.

Each script requires that you make some little change, and then report what changed or take a screenshot. Each 8x11 page of paper you produce is signed. Each time you hiccup with your pen, you cross with a single line, initial, error-code, and date. There's a log of signatures of people who have touched the scripts. The entire testing, filling eight to twelve or so three-inch binders, is usually performed over a three or four week period by "expert users" of the system. The binders are produced during FDA audits of drug manufacturers to "prove" that the automated systems and record keeping is accurate, secure, and intact. Because, after all, the profile of what happens to a drug once you put it into your mouth or prick it into your veins is very, very important.

Problem is, my company has either promoted or fired most of the people who know how to do the work for this, and as a result I (who will be formally trained next week) went on site with two people, one of which has performed this script once, and one who had performed this twice. I was still able to spit out almost two binders of documentation, mostly because the scripts could be performed by a trained monkey, and because I was testing pretty banal things like electronic signature (that is, click these buttons, and take a screenshot of the esig window that appears), then print the audit trail showing that you signed the action.

There's something about signing your name, for me, that is on such a basic level of what makes me human, that to perform this action almost once a minute, eight hours straight, for a week makes you think and feel a lot of emotions. A good portion of them being, "why don't I have a simple curly line as my signature?"

But, then again, I have this stubborn insistence on keeping my signature distinctive. I frequently get comments, from cashiers and wait staff, that my signature is "cool" or "awesome", particularly when they watch me execute it. There's this scene in the movie "The Last Seduction" where the protagonist signs her name backward/upside down, and the person watching marvels at her "neat trick". I know there are all sort of reactions to watching someone sign the way I do, and that as many people that are impressed there are probably many more who think I'm an arrogant, pompous ass.

I am, but that's beside the point. There's a difference between the sort of self-centered hubris that is a destructive force on the people nad environment around a pompous asshole, and the sort of self-centered hubris that is about being the person you what to be and simultaneously wanting the best for others and learning to respect their boundaries. I also believe that a sadistic, dominant personality like my own works best in the position of servant, because a servant controls the fate of the served far more than leaders or illuminati.

There's also something I've observed lately, about the difference between metric and mechanism, which has been a focus of my study of science and philosopy. One of the big flaws of people who write on these subjects is mistaking or conflating mechanism for metric: that which is underlying cause, and that which can be observed.

A recent issue of the New Yorker had an article about evolution and genetics, and the thing that impressed me about the article is that although it was a critique of these things, it did not at any time mention the favorite hullabaloo of darwinism vs creationism. It simply accepted "we evolve", and went from there. Science works best when it states its assumptions about mechanism in the form of hypothesis, a sort of fictional constuct which is used to have predictive power over metrics, observations. The problem is that all of philosopy and religion can also trace its heritage back to a similar origin as "hypothesis", in Plato's "forms", wherein he states that everything in nature is an impure form of a higher concept, called a "form". Via augustine and aquinas, these things that logically prove a God come into direct conflict with science when the overly hasty and rabid forget that all of science is a great lie, a simplicity that makes matrics predictable and useful. We would like to think that modern science presents hypothesis as mechanism.

For example, Newton's "Principia" is a brilliant lie, a lie that we only know to be so since it is largely supplanted by Einsteinian hypotheses about the cause of gravitation, which for non-relativistic conditions reduce nicely to Newtonian "laws" of gravitation. "Principia" says nothing about mechanism- it could be that there is no gravity, the earth simply sucks. But, it does so in a predictable way, an order to the universe that could be dispelled in an instant if a divinity so cared to do, but does not happen so in our daily lives.

How does all this relate to my job and my signature? In the field in which I am operating, there's nothing necessarily scientific and the work that is performed is never (despite my urging) up to my personal standard of how life and business should be conducted. I am continually deeply troubled by all the things I sign my name to over the course of a day. Not because I am untruthful or dishonest or any such thing, but because my signaure means, internally to me, so much; and the mad dash of business and profit and the Maimonedian proportion and balance between the great evils of the world causes me to constantly question and critique every little matter to herculean proportion.

Most people say to me, "chill out". I do take things too seriously sometimes, but never for the reason that they think. They think I'm an idealist, or a child who worries too much about bringing home a B+ when his parents "know" he could have made the A. In life and business it's not about the A but repeatedly churning out C work better, faster, and with more profit than any other competitor. It is left to the consumer to take the C work that they purchase and perfect it to the A that they desire, or as usual, to inflate C work that would be seen as A work now but in the lens of time will be seen for the inherent mediocrity. This is capitalism and democracy, as system that is the worst except for all the others.

I'm not internalizing my stress: I am quite capable of dissipating it. The price of other's medicrity, though, is that for each and every compromise that is forced on me, i will transmute it into something else. This is the philosopher's stone, that which converts base things into great wealth. Gold and diamonds are rare, but far from the most rare things in the universe. Rarer still is the artist or philosopher, who can take mere words and with them paint an entire new universe, with angels and devils, pedestrian and urbane, such that no other soul will ever see the same thing in something which is only one.

Our lives are a great lie, the metrics of other people and even ourselves, for which we know no mechanism. This great lie is the only truth I may ever know. But how to put pen to paper, to make that sensible and useful for others, and to know whether or not it can ever be useful for others?
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on aeon flux

There's probably a whole string of movies that most people don't like, the critics pan, and of whom I'm a huge fan. Clearly, this is going in that group. Collapse )
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