Monday, November 29, 2010

Why the big suit?

I was going to jam this into the last post, but it deserves its own.

Stop Making Sense by the Talking Heads is wonderful.

To be fair, I'm super biased, because I sweat David Byrne pretty hard.  But let me continue to make an argument that you should watch it.

- Although it's a concert film, nearly every song changes things up a bit.
- No encore.
- The second half is remarkably better than the first, even.
- The whitest kids you know + former members of Parliament Funkadelic.
- The feel is kind of creepy spooky.  Roger Ebert says shades of Metropolis.  Take that as you will, but there are definitely moments that make you double-take.  You're in a place where a floor lamp appears center stage and is danced with, where a crew guy walks around creating huge shadows with a big light, where words like "facelift" and "sandwich" appear on giant monitor screens.  It's half music, half Gilliam or Aronofsky movie.
- Towards the end, it introduces you to the Tom Tom Club, Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz's (drums) side project.  And reminds you how good they are!  And weird in their own way, which is the best kind of weird.  I'll link to Genius of Love here, but it has maximum impact after your mind has been blown by a dozen tracks of the Talking Heads.
- But let me just say one thing: David Byrne is the one who continues to resonate with me.  He's in his goddamn utmost rock star prime here, but his persona is not one who's in control.  (Does this not, or did this not, resonate with you when you are/were 24?)  He's confused, jittery, spastic.  He's vulnerable, supported only by a drum machine, in Psycho Killer.  He's creepy in Swamp, boneless in Life During Wartime, and lost in a darn big suit in Girlfriend Is Better.  And he is unparalleled in Once in a Lifetime.

Watch it.  At least so we can talk about how great it is.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Words words words

So I listened to the Radiolab about words, which ties together a few things I've heard about or listened to:

- Ildefonso, the guy who never knew language.  He grew up deaf and nobody taught him sign language until he was 27.  At that point, he didn't even know that language existed, or the idea that things have names.  When he learned this, it was a life-changing revelation.  He voraciously gobbled up all the words he could, was so thrilled to have this new thing, and couldn't communicate with his other languageless friends anymore.  When asked, he says he can't talk about his pre-language days, calling them "the dark time".

- Jill Bolte Taylor, who has something like the most popular Ted talk ever, about having a stroke and recovering without language for a bunch of years.  In the wordless existence, she was ecstatic, worry-free, and incapable of answering simple questions like "who is the president of the US?"

- Rats and pre-language children can't come up with the complex concept "left of the blue wall".

- In the development of a sign language among people who don't understand language at a school for deaf people, those who have used the language more are better able to understand concepts like "he thinks that his brother thinks that the toy is under the bed, while really it is in the toy box," as they have more words for types of cognition than just "think."

- Shakespeare created a lot of words by adding "un": unnerving, uncomfortable, unreal, unhelpful, etc.  But these are not just words, they are concepts, which are now firmly entrenched in our minds.


- Meditators refer to the "monkey mind" state- the one with the constant internal monologue.  It's an obstacle to your meditation; you can't concentrate if your mind is thinking all over the place.  Being able to pause your internal monologue seems to help.

- "Flow" happens when your monologue ceases. (I offer this entirely unsubstantiated.)

Jam these puzzle pieces together rather crudely and controversially:
Words help you learn new concepts and survive better.  Wordlessness helps you experience the divine.  Words are the classical, no-words are the romantic.  Yang and yin, etc.

So maybe:
- for better learning, I ought to name everything.
- for better meditating, I ought to do whatever I can to obliterate my language processing for a few minutes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Attention is the new money

Okay, this is not news, right?  Ads are all about getting your attention.  Companies give away products to get inside your mind.  Bands, movies, promoters, etc.

Someone I was talking to the other day was speculating: stuff goes online and becomes ad-supported.  But it's still all ads that end in purchases.  Company X wants you to see their ads so that sooner or later you buy their stuff.  What if, eventually, the money were taken out of the picture?  Ads became just a way to get you to look at more ads, to get inside your head more.

The most obvious application of this is political ads: people want you to spend money on candidate X, so they can buy more ads for candidate X, so more people will... like candidate X.  Eventually it's all about votes.

Besides the political ad situation, it's hard to think about how this would actually work.  Who would actually pay for attention if it doesn't end in a purchase?  I am confident, however, that someone will solve this question.  People are good at finding new ways to profit.  For better or worse, this is our future.

One nice property: we all start with a more-or-less equal amount of attention, unlike money.

However, a few bad properties, which make the attention-economy world kinda dystopian:
1. you can take my attention for free.  I might be reading a magazine, I turn the page, and bam! your ad has taken my attention!  Even if it's something I don't want!  It'd be like if people walking past you on the street could force you to buy things.  Very small things, but still.  See also: junk mail, spam.
2. you can't really solve problem #1.  What are you going to do, say "do you want to look at an ad for company X?"  At that point, you've already gotten me to think about company X and taken my attention.  Worse: you've taken more attention, because you've forced me to make a judgment and answer a question.
3. most importantly: your attention is one of the most precious things you have.  If you run out of money, that can be fixed (hopefully).  Ask friends or family for a loan, get a new job, etc.  (let's set aside all the class privilege reflected in this statement for a second.)  The point is, if you run out of money, or just have a small amount of money, you're not necessarily miserable.  If you have no attention, you probably are.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow snow snow snow snow

It's snowed about two inches.  I'm pretty excited.

Most of the talk about the snow today has been:
- "it's unusual to get snow in Seattle"
- "people in Seattle don't know how to drive in snow"
- "stay safe!"

To which I'd say:
- yep, it's unusual, but about a once a year thing, right?
- these are the worst 2 inches of snow for driving, because the roads are totally icy, and we still don't have trucks
- have fun!

For some reason, I really enjoyed the snow, even when it meant that I had to walk my bike home about 3 miles.  It is a special day!  And it's better than your birthday, say, because only you know that your birthday is special.  Snow day is a special day for everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dairy is magic

I had some leftover heavy whipping cream.  So I made heavy whipped cream.  Super magic!  For 10 minutes you're stirring a bowl of milk; in the 11th minute all of a sudden you've got bland marshmallowy fluff! Stir in some sugar and a little vanilla and it's delicious marshmallowy fluff!

I feel like it's the same as when you whip egg whites.  What the F, egg whites?  You're all liquidy and clear and gooey, and then you're a MERINGUE.  Wow.

No other food group is quite so goofy.  You boil carrots and mash them together, you get mashed carrots.  You stir up some oatmeal, you get stirred oatmeal.  If you stir it longer, then you have really stirred oatmeal.  Maybe you mash up some meat; then you have mashmeat.

Anyway, it was pretty delightful.  Perhaps I also made a delicious elegant pie to go with it and some freshly picked seasonal local organic free-range berries.  Or perhaps I ate it with peanut butter, all with-a-spoon-like, over three consecutive days, during each of which I felt kinda awful soon after.  I'll never tell.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I like fall and chilliness and apples and universities and wind.

I got all of these today.  The weather was super ideal for biking.  Cold enough that you're glad to get back inside again, but not cold enough to hurt.

I particularly like fall because it is the time that things begin.  Weird, eh?  For most of human history, fall is when things end.  But now for us young'uns, we get a good 17 years (at least!) of starting everything in the fall.

This year may have had the least things starting of all my years so far, and that's not ideal.  But no worries, there's still time.  And I probably have 7 falls-full-of-beginnings coming up, anyway, so a kinda flat fall is not a problem.

Completely unrelatedly, I've noticed a trend in my conversations with people I don't know very well.  Sometimes with people I know well too.  (and here's where I get a little autistic and start analyzing everything too much.)
Act 1: Greetings, pleasantries.  If you provide no hooks, conversation ends.  If you provide hooks (say, you mention you're going hiking for the weekend), we move on to:
Act 2: I interrogate you.  I mean to do this in a nice conversational way, but I feel like I'm winning as long as you're talking, so I make sure the focus is on you.  I'll ask everything I can think of about your hiking trip that wouldn't be weird.  This often doesn't take long (I am not very good at this) so we move on to:
Intermission (a little awkward pause) and then:
Act 3: I start to talk about myself.  I talk about when I went hiking last, or how Mt. Rainier is really cool, or how my uncle really likes hiking.  I keep trying to bring it back to hiking, because that's a thing we can talk about, and back to you.  This gets kind of inane.  "I went hiking like twice this summer.  Mt. Rainier is really cool!  But I'm not much of a hiker really; do you hike a lot?"
Sooner or later: Curtain!

Oh dilemmas!  The thing I do know is that when I get overthinky like this, the way around it is to just drop it altogether and do a bit of an end around, and next conversation do something completely different like concentrate on how my stomach feels or count backwards from a billion or challenge you to a fight or something.  ... I'm working on it.
Those of you who are wonderful conversationalists: got any tips?

At any rate, let's leave this positively: autumn is pretty nice.  Go eat some apples, they're still good.  Fin!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Might as well call me Charlie, 'cause I'm Chapelin'

I heard Stars were playing in Seattle on Nov. 6.  So I just went searching around, and their next tour dates are Nov 9, 10, etc.  But what about that show?  ... oh, that was last Saturday.  Bwah!

To misquote Modest Mouse, the days go fast but the years go so slow.  Time flies, kids these days, I remember you when you were this tall, oh my aching knees.  What am I doing with myself these days?
- work, y'know, like you do
- weekends I do the dumb things I gotta do, go to the farmers' market, do fun things with friends, drink some coffee read some papers (surprising myself with my studiousness even when there's no immediate gain to be had; this is a good sign for grad school), and think about travel
- and play a lot of Dominion!  This is a card game that I blogged about in... February.  I bought it and mostly forgot it.  Then restarted playing it, and I've been playing it about every other day since.  Mostly with Daniel, sometimes with Will, Grubb, and Mike Yin on the internet.  It's really good!  I don't often get so wrapped up in a game.  Something about how it moves fast, and you get to really follow your own strategy with only minimal interference, and you get occasional blasts of winning big!  (I like winning all at once, not a little at a time.)

It's nice that this has come about at a time when it's not irresponsible to play a card game all the time.

The mindfulness is on the up and up too.  Morning meditation is a daily habit.  I'm getting better at taking pauses to be mindful and at detecting emotions.  Sometimes I've meditated at work.  That actually turns out very well.  It's a bit of a scattershot approach, but I'm not sure how to structure it more, so hey, doing a little of everything can't hurt.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Experiments with anger

First of all, I can finally cook eggs in my wok!  I'm not sure if it's knowing the technique (let it sit for a bit and fry up and then you can touch it) or just getting it seasoned enough.  Either way, great!

Second of all, my bike front wheel and panniers were stolen the night before last.  You may know how I feel about bike thieves.  (you may also be saying "quit whining and park your bike somewhere else!"  I am doing that.  We'll see if this new place fares any better.)  At any rate, they're gone, and it's about $180 in damage, plus a new $35 lock to allow me to park in the new place.  Ugh.

But, well, it made me very angry.  So I yelled and cursed and kicked some walls for about a minute.  But then I remembered reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, and how he describes anger working like a series of events that build the anger higher and higher, whereas if left alone it will cool down.  More importantly, it's a lot easier to short-circuit this early, after one or two provocations, than to try to cool down once you're in full-blown rage.  (yelling and cursing and "venting" act as more provocations.)

Sure enough, doing some laundry to kinda take my mind off it for a few minutes worked very well!  I could see the happy truth of the situation (I'm making enough money to cover bad stuff like this, it could be worse, etc) and my thoughts of "if I find that guy" changed from "beat the snot out of him" to "really try to understand why he's stealing bike parts."  (granted, it's probably "he's desperate for money and not in the mood for a reasonable conversation", so this wouldn't go very far.  But it's nicer to imagine having a reasonable conversation than having a fight.  Also less likely for me to get killed.)

Also, I took a moment to feel the physical manifestation of anger and mentally describe them.  It's like electricity through my veins!  It's pretty intense, and really kind of fun, besides the feeling-angry part.