Archive for ‘randomosity’

2015/11/07

The dreams of my cellphone

So my cellphone of course has predictive input, as cellphones do, where it guesses three words that you might be planning to type, and displays them so you can choose one if you want (or just keep typing otherwise).

And one fun thing is that even if you haven’t typed anything yet, it will still predict what you might be going to type, because why not.  And once you choose a word it will suggest the three words that you might want next, and so on.

So you can drive the predictive model forwards without input, by just (for instance) picking the first suggested word repeatedly, until say you get into a loop.  And at the moment if you do that with my phone, you get this:

If the user to be in touch and I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

and then it loops I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

And if you choose the second, middle, one over and over you get:

I am not sure if you have any questions or concerns please please please please please.

in which it is notable that the second suggestion after “please” is “please”.  :)

Repeatedly choosing the third one gives this:

The first week and then the following file and then the following file.

and then the following file and then the following file.

Choosing the first then second then third, then first then second then third:

If you want me to be in the future of the day and I have to be able and willing I would like the one that you have any further information please do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest and relaxation and then delete it immediately by return mail to you by the way you could send you the best time for the first one is in a few minutes ago and he said he will have to do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest.

A still more complex pattern, one-one-two I think it was, produced this still more substantial chunk of text:

If the reader is not the named recipient only for use by others or forwarding of any action taken in reliance upon the contents to anyone else who might be a great day of school and the other day I can do to get a new email address is the best of my life is a good day for me know what you are hereby notified with the site and the rest is fine with the following link if I can get the chance of the individual sender and destroy all electronic mail message by mistake please immediately by return to me know what I can get the chance of the individual sender.

You are hereby notified!

I don’t know if any of the prediction there is learned from my own writing, although it doesn’t seem likely.  I don’t write about named recipients much, or in fact at all.  So most likely it has been trained on some standard body of text (including some legalese!) and either it doesn’t change that with experience, or my own writing patterns (I don’t write all that much on the phone after all) haven’t provided it with enough information to change the model substantially.

The rest is fine!

2015/10/21

“All Ravens are Black” — a meta-investigation

Technique 1

Observe a sufficiently large number of ravens, and determine whether any are non-black.

Examples 1

Raven 1 – black
Raven 2 – black
Raven 3 – black
. . .
Raven N – black

Technique 2

Observe a sufficiently large number of non-black entities, and determine whether any are ravens.

Examples 2

White Snowball 1 – not a raven
Red Pepper 1 – not a raven
Brown Bag 1 – not a raven
White Snowball 2 – not a raven
. . .
Yellow Yield Sign N – not a raven

Observations

It may be necessary to make significantly more observations in technique 2 for the same degree of confidence.

On the other hand, it will be significantly easier to find appropriate entities for observation in technique 2.

When stating the results of technique 2, it is good practice (although not strictly required) to observe a single raven*.  If this is not done, the statement of results should include, for clarity of communication, the statement that the observations made do not establish that any ravens in fact exist.

* Note that it is not necessary to observe the color of the raven in this case.

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2015/10/06

Gang aft agley

I have slowly come to the theory that other people plan (and make plans, and have plans, and do planning, and so on) in ways that (quantitatively and perhaps even qualitatively) I don’t.

I tend to operate by occasionally looking around to see where I am (in the broad sense), and then doing whatever seems appropriate.

Other people (some? many? most?) seem to tend to have a sort of prediction, in more or less fine detail, of what is going to happen in the next N minutes (for N anywhere from smallish to quite largish), and put quite a bit of mental effort into polishing that prediction, and comparing it to what is actually happening, or what seems likely to happen, or what they would like to happen, and so on.

Or perhaps the prediction is what they would like to happen (from among the most plausible alternatives?), and they compare it to what is likely to happen?  I’m not clear on the details.

At one level this seems like a lot of effort, to me, given how hard it is to predict stuff.  We (the culture that the planners and I share) have sayings about this; the “gang aft agley” one, and “life is what happens when you’re making other plans”, and so on.  Given that we know it doesn’t work, and that it takes effort, well…

On the other hand I’m sure that at some level I do it, too, at least in that “doing whatever seems appropriate” probably is somewhat driven by doing what seems most likely to lead to desirable future situations, and that might be seen as a kind of prediction.

Also there are some times when there is a complicated multi-step process sort of thing, and I have to like remember all of the steps in order to get to some desirable end through the process.  When that happens, I tend to write the list down, because otherwise I will forget.  Sometimes I forget anyway.

It’s certainly easier to fit the unplanned approach into the “this present instant is all that exists” idea that I’m working with. Since this present instant is all that exists, all that one can do is notice the present instant, and do something based on it. But if one is a planner, many of the things that exist in this present instant, and that one can be aware of (and even identify with, which is where I might claim some of the trouble arises), are plans; plans as ideas, as mental constructs, as expectations and desires and even fears, as worries.  And then one does things based not only on what is true in the actual world right now, but also based on what one imagines or expects or hopes or fears is true, or might (or might not) become true.

Not that I don’t do that.  It would be (what?) overly dramatic of me to claim that what I do is never driven by hopes or fears or expectations about the present or future.  It’s pretty hard to describe anything significant that anyone does without some sort of reference to those things, at least indirectly.

So it’s either that I’m just more or less ignorant of my own plans and expectations and hopes and fears (where “I” here means the conscious entity that currently has control of my typing), or it’s that I actually have fewer of those things and/or am less impacted (by which I mean either effected or affected, I can never remember) by them.  Or, quite plausibly, both.

I do think about what’s likely to happen in the not-too-distant (or even in the distant) future, but generally it’s more like a daydream than a plan.  Speculative fiction, so to speak.

Boats, Spuyten DuyvilAnd that’s perhaps why I can occasionally be found, say, driving in entirely in the wrong direction in the morning (toward the place I worked for the 33 years before 2013, say), or standing on the platform at the 72nd Street C station, not entirely sure how I got there or exactly where I ought to be going next.  But enjoying the flow of cars or faces going past, and the light on the boats in the river.

This is coming out sort of “look how admirably spontaneous and adorably absent-minded I am because of my Buddha-like wisdom”, I realize.  This was not my initial intent!  :)  There are probably all various advantages to making and having and following plans, and I probably do it even more or less just as much as anyone else.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way!

(Then there are these “beliefs” that people apparently “have”… hee hee)

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2015/10/05

Interesting things

So here are some interesting things that have happened lately!

(I mentioned that whole “suddenly being in the U.S. Virgin Islands” thing already, right?)

I was sick for some number of days starting the Thursday after I got back; that is not all that interesting, though.

The other day, when I was standing on a Manhattan street corner fiddling with my phone, a man with wildish white hair and a beard and clothing perhaps a bit down-at-the-heel strode past me, and said not loudly not softly, “Ah, the matrix has got you”.

More recently, walking up 8th Avenue on the way to work, I put a dollar into the cup that a youngish man had put out, along with some packaged cookies and clothes and a skateboard, and somehow we got to talking.  I spent something like twenty minutes talking to him, and he told me that he was a Swiss Guard and a Mason, had taken a vow of poverty, and paid children to read various holy and spiritual works, and he read to me the part of the Koran (in English) that talks about the birth of Jesus, and he read to me a chapter of some epistle or other of Paul (I vaguely think it was Ephesians chapter 4, but reading it now it doesn’t sound the same; maybe it was a different translation, or just the context), and talked about how semen and (I will use his phrase) pussy juice are the most sacred substances (he got a hole all the way through his foot once, climbing a fence looking for a particular skate venue, and the juice healed it right up), and how everyone needs air, water, wisdom, and Woman (or Man, if you go that way), and when you’re depressed you need air, water, tobacco, and weed, and the whole time he was smiling and clearly having a good time.  I asked him if he’d read any Buddhist scripture, and he said yeah man, they’re my favorite!

While we were sitting there talking, two rather unkempt bearded guys sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk of 8th Avenue, a man came out of the little deli or bodega or whatever that is there, and looked at us, and went back inside, and shortly after came out with three sandwich-sized things wrapped in aluminum foil, and asked us if we’d like some sandwiches.  I said I was okay, but my interlocutor said sure he’d eat one, and he’d give the other two to people who needed them.  Which I can’t help but feel was wonderful all around.

(And then when I got into work 20 minutes late I discovered that I was just about to start an on-call shift, but it wasn’t until noon, nearly three hours away, so that was okay.)

And even more recently, having dropped M off on the G train to go to a class in Brooklyn, and riding back and forth between Grand Central and Times Square on the Shuttle just to see what that felt like, I met this amazing couple of little kids, the boy maybe 11 (maybe; I am terrible at estimating ages) who was rapping for tips when the car was full, and otherwise talking and bouncing around and doing pullups on the subway car bars, and asking me why I wasn’t getting off (“waiting for my daughter to text me back and see if I need to be anywhere”, I said, which I was), and his little sister maybe 9 (maybe), who he said a guy who was painting faces in the next car had rudely shoved aside and he’d better not try that again or he (the brother) would do him violence.

So many people!

And there are lots of metal rods with these plastic clamp-things on the ends on at least one platform in Grand Central, which I think are new (click for extra-giant version):

Clamp thing

I find myself not really approving of the plastic in terms of long-term durability, but that may be an irrational prejudice.

So how’s things?

2015/09/24

This present moment is all there is

That’s the phrase / idea / thought / truth / falsehood that I’m currently working on (for some value of “working on”).

It’s especially interesting / challenging because it’s so incompatible (in some sense) with pretty much all of the tools of language, and even of thought, that we have available to bring to bear on it.

Perhaps relatedly, on Tuesday (which was my and Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthdays!) I went for the first time to the Village Zendo, which is a ten-minute subway ride from the office, and treated myself to an hour of zazen (two bells, thirty minutes of sitting, one bell, a few minutes to stretch one’s legs, thirty minutes of sitting, three bells and done).

The space is lovely.

the Village Zendo

Here also is a picture of a pretzel:

pretzel

In other news, most of the team at work and I spent two and two-halves days in St. Thomas (!!!), which is unusual.  Some very random observations:

  • It was prettier, but unbearably hot, when the sun was out.  Mostly while we were there the sun wasn’t out, and it was quite nice (and still quite pretty).
  • Some kayaks are very much like canoes, and much less tippy and all than the kind that you basically wear.
  • During The Season (which had basically just ended) they have like three to five cruise ships a day, adding several thousand (!) to the population of the island.
  • If you are trying to sell a random tourist who is looking at the vendor stalls some illicit substance, you should probably speak loudly enough that they can hear just what the substance is.  Not like there were any police around listening.
  • In St. Thomas, you drive on the left (because of Danish heritage) but use cars with the steering wheel on the left also (because of USAian present).  This is terrifying.  Even for just the passengers.
  • Free Rum Punch in the lobby!
  • Instead of rabbits, say, they have iguanas.  Startlingly large ones!
  • I got a great hat.

And finally in news of other worlds, something for those of my readers who have yet to grok the whole Second Life thing: there is this set of videos / documentaries called the Drax Files, that feature all sorts of ways that Second Life can positively impact Real Life people and things (and they are pretty short!).  I recommend them to all; the latest episode covers a number of people who make movies in SL (“machinima“!).

Fuller coverage and more links over on the secret Second Life weblog.  (The present frame is all there is!)

2015/08/29

Summer 2015

I think I’ve speculated before how long it would take, in a significantly long stretch of leisure, before I had had my fill of utter idleness, and started spontaneously doing other things, thinking new thoughts, writing new things, and generally being creative. Available evidence suggests it’s more than a week.  :)

It’s been a long time since an August hiatus in my weblogging could have meant anything (beyond “it’s a day”) to even the most devoted reader.  But this particular August hiatus, the hiatus that this entry will end once I actually post it, is because we are once again up in Maine, sleeping late, eating lobster, listening to the plashing of the surf, and generally being blissful.  It’s now been sixteen years since we started this Maine-going stuff, and this web-logging stuff; one more year than last year.

We have a number of books lying around, as always, and we may list them later on in the traditional way.  But this decade (and I expect I’ve noted this down before) there are many books and book-like things inside of smallish and flattish silicon-based devices here and there, and those are good hooks for writing down things also.

On this Nexus 5 or Something Cellular Telephone that I have here, for instance, when you hit the little square button thing area, it goes to a view that shows a big scrolling Rolodex-like display of all of the roughly six zillion things that the phone is in some way aware of me doing.  Some of them are open just in case I want to go back and look at them later; so I can write those down in the weblog here, with clever observations on life and the universe more or less related to them, and then I can close them in my phone, and that will be good if only because then I can find the non-closed ones more easily.

Let’s see what we got, here on Tuesday night of the vacation week.

  • Twitter.  Well, that’s Twitter (where I exist as my Second Life persona for historical reasons), so we’ll just close that.  (I could write about how and why I use Twitter, and what effect it is having on the global unconscious, but instead I will just recommend the feed of A Bear).
  • Instagram, where I exist as the name of this very weblog, and where you can see various pictures, some of them from Maine (and one of them being a selfie with Felicia Day, because she did a booksigning at work which was extremely cool; she says that lots of people around her are playing Final Fantasy XIV (or perhaps 14) these days); we’ll close that, too.
  • Chrome.  That has eleventy-seven tabs of its own active inside it (because I configured things that way somehow sometime), so we’ll leave that open for now.
  • A search result for “soft shell lobster“, because we were getting lobster at the usual place, and they had both kinds and I didn’t know the difference.  The little boy and I shared a pair of soft-shelled (with corn on the cob); they were delicious.  And ethically troubling.  As usual.
  • The Wi-Fi settings control, because the marina right next to the Lobster Warf has a friendly open signal.
  • GMail, because I was checking my email.  We’ll close that.  It was mostly spam.  (Does the Clinton campaign really think I would be extremely psyched at the idea of flying out to some random place to have lunch with Hilary?  I mean… no.)
  • A search result for “tom collins ingredients“, because the little daughter was urging alcohol on us at the Warf, and I asked for a Tom Collins, and apparently this is an Obscure Old Person Drink or something, and the little daughter wasn’t sure the bartender would know what that was, so I looked it up.
  • An instance of Maps along with the search result for “google location history” that spawned it, because I was mildly curious when we’d gotten there.  This was also very useful the other day when we were in town, and we couldn’t remember how long it’d been since we’d parked in the “2 Hour Parking” place, and I remembered the extremely useful Google Location History aka Google Maps Timeline; try it yourself!
  • An instance of Hangouts, ’cause we’ve all been IMing each other and sending around photos and stuff in the modern unWired manner, and this has mostly been working even though they are all Apple-ish and I am on Android.
  • Search results for “weather linekin” and “seagulls sleep”, from being down on the dock lifeguarding while the little boy, and then also the little girl, swam about in the apparently-not-incredibly-freezing water, and it rained a little and we wondered where seagulls sleep.
  • Another instance of GMail; that’s weird.  We’ll close that (and everything else we’re mentioning except for Chrome, so far).
  • Google Play Music, because I was playing some music.  (Have you seen the Airhorn version of “Take On Me”?  It is ossum.  Although it is a YouTube thing, not a Google Play Music thing.)
  • An instance of the 2048 app, where I got up to 4096 (and a 2048 and a 1024), which is pretty good, but only 74424 points and far short of my Personal Best of 103964.
  • Some more weather results; it’s been foggy, cloudy, and/or raining for much of this Maine vacation so far, but that’s okay!
  • A search result on “ofay”, which turns out to be a (derogatory) slang word for white person, which I looked up because I am reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, which I got for fifty cents at the Friends of the Library book sale, and which is an impressive and significant book that everyone should read (because of and despite issues of misogyny and homophobia, and it being from the 60’s, when the issue of race was different from and similar to how it is today).
  • A search result on “noetic” because the little daughter asked what it means, because it is in a book she is reading about Jewish panentheism.  (Also it is reminiscent of the title of Lower Dens‘ second album, and they are a favorite of hers.)
  • News and Weather, because as well as the weather I was mildly interested in the Stock Market Crash and subsequent recovery (someone made an obscene amount of money on that).
  • A search result on Chris Lovdjieff, who appears in Soul on Ice, and who is known to the web for nothing much else as far as I discovered.
  • A search result on Windows 10 Browser, I forget exactly why.  I am interested to see that it is supposed to have collaborative annotation features, which sounds interesting.  It has also been tried many times before, and never caught on; it will be interesting to see if it does this time.  If the new browser does it in some open way that other browsers can join in on, it might.  But, well, haha…
  • A search result on “i like beer sing”, which was a typo for “i like beer song“, but Google found the song I was looking for anyway.  I played this for the amusement of the family while we were having a lovely dinner of wine and cheese from Eventide and clam chowder from the Warf, out on the porch overlooking the bay, yesterday evening I think it was.
  • Search results on “coffee” and “the red cup” because we were looking for a place to have coffee in town, but the Red Cup was closed for the day already.
  • A “Sign In To Network” page, because the WiFi network here is a Linksys Smart Something with a silly portal login page that wants the password typed in again more often than one would really expect.  While I am here, though, I will brag that when we discovered that the WiFi covered only one small bit of one side of the rental house, I deployed a clever range extender (possibly not that one, but one very like it at least) so that now it covers nearly (but not entirely) the whole house.
  • Search results on “eldridge cleaver’s lawyer” and “fsm 1960’s”, again from Soul on Ice.  It turns out that in the 60’s, “FSM” stood for “Free Speech Movement“, not “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.
  • A search result on “Melismas intro“, because in the cool art store in town, they were playing a track from this, and I liked it, and noticing that the album could be bought for slightly less than I had in my Google Play account (entirely thanks to answering questions about myself in Google Opinion Rewards), I took that as a sign and whimsically bought it.
  • Some random uninteresting search results, and yet another instance of GMail (that’s weird), and Netflix (where I have been binge-watching among other things ancient episodes of Columbo from the 70’s which are wonderfully retro).

Whew, and that’s just the beginning.

This is a notably short and fragmented way of writing down things!  Which is perhaps appropriate for the modern age, and for the first thing on the list up there having been the Twitter and all.

One doesn’t have to bother thinking up unifying themes and following them to a logical conclusion or anything!

Books are more unified that way; longer, and in some sense fewer of them.

I’m reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, from the used book sale, as I mentioned.  Also reading Jessamyn West’s “The Life I Really Lived”, which came with the house here (and that I’d therefore better finish this week, come to think of it).  I picked it up because I recognized the name of that Jessamyn West from having read this Jessamyn West since the early days of the Web Logs, and her having mentioned her namesake (namesake? something like that) once or thrice.

It’s a good book, although like Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” (or at least the adaptation I recently read) and for that matter quite a few other works, significant parts of the theme can be summarized as “people sure used to be weird about sex”.

Just now I’ve been typing this while sitting around with the family watching the first season of Pokemon on the Netflix, which is great nostalgic fun (James’ voice is so different!).  And there is an odd fog horn or something hooting periodically outside.  And the plashing of the surf.

I think I may go to bed soon, and write more of this tomorrow and/or after.  (Tomorrow we are going to Portland to put the little daughter on a short-range airplane to head home because she is so busy, and to bop around in Portland, but in the evening we will be back here.)  Sleep well and so on!  Not that you’ll be pausing for a night between paragraphs while reading this.  Unless you want to of course!

Dot dot dot.

Now it is Wednesday night, back at the rental house by the foggy bay, after a long day in Portland starting from dropping the little daughter off at the Portland Jetport (whose terminal seems unnecessarily long by a factor of about five), and including buying yet more books at Longfellow Books because of course one didn’t have enough books yet.

The two I bought: “Sherlock Homes: Fact or Fiction?” by T. S. Blakeney, and “The Two of Them” by Joanna Russ.  Both shortish, both used, both somewhat odd, both two dollars.

(Well, for clarity, each two dollars.  It’s funny I had to make that clarification only there.  If I had said they were “both under 200 pages”, would you have thought I might mean their lengths added together totaled less than that?  Probably not.  But the price seems at least ambiguous.  Perhaps because we think of a set of books as having a salient total price, but don’t normally think of a set of books as having a salient total length?  Although we do think the latter in some circumstances, and even there I think the “both” form doesn’t achieve ambiguity for word-length.  Odd.)

My phone is over there well beyond my reach, having its electrons moved further from its positively-charged bits, so I won’t go back to commenting on the still-incredibly-many unclosed tab-like-things quite yet.  I will just write words (2000 of them already so far, says the helpful modern WordPress editor control thing), for the pleasure of writing them and perhaps of reading them later, and perhaps for your pleasure, even you who aren’t me, at some point.  (The little boy mentioned the other day that he’d been reading through my old weblog accounts of previous Maine summers; this was unspeakably gratifying.)

I haven’t read any old ones myself (this time, yet, recently).  Even last years’ seems mysterious to me, in that I don’t remember what I said at all.  Presumably I mentioned having made the Big Change Of Employers, because that was even more recent than it is now.  It still feels quite recent, both because nearly-two years is rather an eyeblink compared to nearly-thirty-four, and because the learning curve at New Employer is, if not dauntingly steep after the first few weeks, always dauntingly high.  Everything is always in motion, always either not-done-yet or old-and-deprecated (or both); the wry internal slogan “some documentation may be out of date” is funny because it is so often (despite a deep and sincere institutional respect for documentation) such an understatement.

I understand from Twitter that the stock market has been bouncing up and down alarmingly (or perhaps uninterestingly), and that people have been killing each other and themselves in awful and distressing ways.  I feel permitted, by being on vacation, to find out less about these things that I might normally.

Dot dot dot.

Now it is Thursday morning!  The little boy and I are considering, in a relaxed sort of way, taking one of the touristy Cruises around the Bay.

Is it bay-side air, or water-side air, or Maine air, or just vacation air, that feels so sweet and soft and beguiling?

I have here a CD called “Swamped” by Johnnie Mac, bought from the artist himself for five dollars (plus a dollar tip dropped into his bag before I noticed that I had a five and he was selling CDs for that), where he was busking on the street in Portland.

So now I have to find something with a CD ripper to make it into usable music with.  :)

Portland elicited a number of dollar bills from the pocket where I keep dollar bills normally for the buskers and the apparently needy and/or homeless of Manhattan.  The street people in Portland are like the ones in Manhattan, but I think markedly whiter; perhaps street people of color, being less likely to have ancestral ties to the area, tend to move the heck out of Maine, to somewhere warmer.  Or other more complex reasons.

Some more Android Rolodex tabs (I may be opening new ones faster than I’m recording and closing them):

  • “Settings” and “Phone” and search results for “cruises boothbay harbor” because we looked up some cruises and called one of them about reservations and left a message, so I turned up the ring volume on my phone in case they call back. But probably I will just call them again soon.
  • Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, and GMail again, as usual.  Also YouTube, where I was watching this McWhopper thing.  For some reason.  (Actually lots of interesting analysis to be done on that little brand interaction, if you’re into such things.)
  • Search results on “over at the frankenstein place“, because some phrase involving light went by, and the song got stuck in my head, and then I had to play it for everyone.
  • Search results on “what is the Methodist method“, because we passed like the East Boothbay Methodist Church and I was curious.  (Turns out it’s a John Wesley thing; “Holy Club”, eh?)
  • Search results on “who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop”, because I wanted to see if asking that question by voice of my phone would elicit any snarky Siri-like remarks.  It didn’t.  Hey, come to think of it, let’s try Siri herself on that question!  Well, she sends it to Wolfram Alpha (???) which responds with but a single pointer to the song; a weak pass (my phone did of course a full Google search, and came back with a variety of links to choose from).
  • Google Keep, where I had a grocery list (we stopped by Hannaford on the way home from Portland last night and bought everything on it; so I suppose it’s still there, just empty; imagine how many empty grocery lists there are out there!).

Dot dot dot!

The little boy and I went out on a sailing cruise, while M (not a big boat person) enjoyed town.  The cruise was great, the quiet of the sails and the water, just the two of us and a family of three and the Captain and a deckhand.

And the phone is upstairs charging again, and I’ve been lazing about long enough after we got back to the house that it is getting on dinner time.  So nice and lazy.  I think I will read more of West for a bit; she is good.

(Oh, and I guess I haven’t mentioned?  That Mysterious Illness that I had the other week?  The final verdict, not definite but at least plausible, based on the eventual discovery of both Escherichia coli and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron in my blood, was diverticulitis with septicemia (i.e. there was a little hole in my intestine somewhere, and some gut bacteria leaked over into my bloodstream), which is relatively life-threatening compared to most routine daily events.  So I am even more grateful than usual for M deciding I ought to get to the ER, for antibiotics, and for continued life in general.)

So now it is Thursday evening, after dinner, and we’re sitting around talking about what to do tomorrow (nothing, for instance, or the beach), and listening to a very miscellaneous Bandcamp track found while searching on “little shop of horace”, “little shop of horus”, and so on.  Very idyllic!

And now it is Thursday evening after a walk down to the end of the road (house for sale on 1.5 acres and 600+ feet of shoreline, just under a million and a half US$, which is lots of money, but less than a medium-size condo in Chelsea, which is only a piece of a building, and has no shoreline at all).  I have showered the tar off the soles of my feet (from road repairs that I blithely walked over barefoot), and am about to lose myself in West’s story again.  Lovely evening.

Dot dot dot.

And now Friday morning.  I could have written here, instead of this entire entry, just “the secret of being on a floating dock in a quiet bay with the full moon above”.  But then I wouldn’t have gotten any phone tabs at all closed.

Jessamyn West is still very good.  I may not finish the book while we’re here, because I keep napping, and playing SimCity BuildIt, and occasionally writing in the weblog here.  I hope I remember in that case to leave this instance of the book behind, and to get one of my own.

I see that last year I mostly posted some pictures.  I’ve taken some pictures this year, but for whatever reason I amn’t posting any here.  I might still, you never know.

We are thinking, the little boy and I, about going to the beach today, the last full day of the week.  It’s a bit cold for the beach really, and it’s lovely and relaxing here.  But we still might.  What time is it now? Just gone noon.

Sometime a little after dawn some loud grackling birds woke me up, and I went down the old cement steps (inlaid with decorative stones and shells) down to the sand.  The tide was out, and it was beautiful.  Then I went back to bed for a few hours.

This is being an extremely long entry!  Maybe I should post it as a Part I and a Part II, so y’all could digest it in multiple smaller pieces.  Or I could not do that.  :)

And now (dot dot dot) Friday evening, lovely and cool, almost cold in the wind.  No going to the beach happened, but the little boy and I went swimming (and walking, the tide being out) in the bay off of the dock; very refreshing.

The long drive home tomorrow!

And now (a last set of dots) we are home and the little daughter is with us again, and we are looking at old photographs and generally being happy and domestic.  I will put an appropriate picture at the end here, and post this now (probably without proofreading the last bits, ’cause I am tired).

Happy year!

Evening on Linekin Bay

2015/08/02

American Express is weird

Alternate Title: chaos reigns.

So I got a hardcopy made-of-atoms letter via the United States Postal Service back in like May, on American Express letterhead, saying that with respect to American Express account number ending in nnnn (nnnn being the four digits that my AmEx card does in fact end in), they didn’t have my birthdate, and I should call the number on the back of the card and give it to them.

Seemed legit enough, given that they said to call the number on the back of the card, so a mere three months later when I found the letter again, I called them.  The nice lady with the Bangalore accent had no idea why I would have gotten such a letter.  And then it got weird.

Nice lady: What is your date of birth, sir?

Me: [gives date of birth]

Lady: Thank you, sir, I will just put you on hold for a moment here…

Me: [on hold for not too terribly long, but surprised I would be on hold at all]

Lady: Okay, sir, what you need to do is mail or Fax us a copy of your birth certificate or other legal document showing your date of birth.

Me: Um, no I don’t.  Why would I need to do that?  You’ve never asked me to do that before!

Lady: It’s for a security measure.

Me: No, it’s not.  Making me send a copy of my birth certificate to some number is the opposite of security.

Lady: Well, sir…

Me: What will happen if I don’t do it?   Because I don’t want to.

Lady: Just a moment, sir, I’ll have to put you on hold briefly again.

Me: [on hold while she no doubt finds the same clueless supervisor who told her to make me Fax them my birth certificate]

Lady: Sir, you have only the one account with us, is that correct?

Me: Yes.

Lady: In the letter that you got, did it show the correct last five [sic] digits of your account number?

Me: Let’s see, I think so, yes, the correct last four digits.

Lady: [typing, muttered conversation in the background] Okay, sir, it’s all right, we have your birthdate as [my birthdate] so it’s all fine.

Me: Okay, thank you!

Lady: Just one more thing sir, I want to check if… [typing]

Me: [surprised I am still on the phone] Yes?

Lady: I see you don’t have Membership Rewards activated on this account, sir.  It’s a no-cost program that lets you earn…

Me: Sorry, I didn’t call to be sold anything, thanks for your time!

I’m guessing that some random data-validation program hiccuped and sent me the letter more or less by accident, and then the phone support person and the supervisor were equally clueless about why I was calling, and the supervisor fell back on something in some manual that says that if a customer needs to legally prove their age for some reason, they have to Fax in a legal document, etc.

If I were (even) more cynical, I would guess that they just send these letters out at random to get people to call and get persuaded to sign up for Membership Rewards.  But if that were the case I would have thought they would have just accepted my birth date to start with, and not gone through the unpleasant “Fax us your legal documents” part.

Internet Research reveals that I’m not the only one.  I bet there is a bug recently open somewhere in their tracking system that says “Spurious birth-date letters sent to customers”, but it’s really low priority to track down and fix…

2015/07/10

Not a good comparison

97

My mind is like the Autumn moon
Shining clean and clear in the green pool.
No, that’s not a good comparison.
Tell me, how shall I explain?

Han Shan, Cold Mountain (trans. Burton Watson)

I dreamed last night (or I probably did; see below) that I was with some people, and we were laughing about someone who claimed that they’d been officially declared Enlightened by some mystical Teacher, and someone asked me, hey, you’re all into that Zen stuff, I’d think you’d take this more seriously?

And I nodded and said something like:

You know, except for a few annoying [something] sects, it’s not like you go to your teacher and show how you’ve progressed and eventually the teacher says “okay good, you’re enlightened now”.  They might say “okay, keep going” or “okay, here’s what you should work on next” or even like “okay, I think you are ready to teach some students of your own”, but never “okay, you’re enlightened”, that would be just…

and I shook my head and laughed.

(Where the [something] was some Japanese or Chinese word, maybe kensho, or RInzai (no offense to any Rinzai folk in the waking world), or some dream-word entirely, but there was a word there.)

The reason I say above there that I probably dreamed this last night is that it’s like the most literal, ordinary, realistic, unadorned dream I can recall having had, so it’s not by any means impossible that it wasn’t a dream at all, but actually happened sometime recently, and I’ve just lost track of the actual time and place and details and who was there and what that missing word was and all.

It all sort of blurs together, amirite?

So I say to you,
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:

Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.

ol’ Buddha, the Diamond Sutra (right at the end there)

2015/06/28

So many all sorts of things!

This is another of those posts that starts out all meta, noting how long it’s been since I posted last (and in fact meta-meta, since I’m talking about being meta (and in fact…)).

So much has been occurring!  I’m sure there was some stuff longer ago that I could mention that I’m forgetting, but we went to foreign countries!  Which is not a thing we do very often.

First M and I went to “England” for a week (“London”, in particular).  Here is a picture of Buckingham Palace:

Buckingham Palace

and if that doesn’t give you the full flavor of the experience :) M has done a great thorough set of writeups on every day of the whole thing (with perhaps more stress on yarn and fabric, and less stress on random blurry things, than a hypothetical similar series here might have offered).

Then after that, M went back home, and I went to “Dublin”, in “Ireland”, on business.  Here is Ireland (it is green):

Ireland

All I saw was Dublin, mostly the “Silicon Docks” area and the part of downtown in front of Trinity Library, and the 20-minute walk between them.  But it was cool.  I was there entirely by accident on Bloomsday, and saw some people dressed all memorably, although I was not forward enough to take pictures of them.

Another notable fact is that a vast alien mothership has landed in the middle of the city, and apparently there is some mind-control field that prevents anyone but me from seeing it.  Here is a picture (although if the mind-control lasers have gotten to you also, you may just see an ordinary little line of Irish flats):

Giant alien mothership, Dublin

(Not Photoshopped, promise!)  So that was notable.  Various random things:

  • We stayed in a tiny flat off of a garage off a a mews just North of Hyde Park, which was pretty awesome.
  • There was a local pub right on the corner, The Mitre, which was very genuine (in the sense that for instance if you just wander in as an American there’s no clue what you’re actually supposed to do in terms of sitting down, obtaining goods and services, and so on), and (once we figured it out) had good Guinness and Fish-and-Chips, and all like that.
  • We saw All The Things, Big Ben, the Eye (from below, we didn’t go up in it), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Tower, the East End, big famous stores and shopping streets and things whose names I’ve forgotten (see link to M above who covers these things coherently).
  • The Underground is great, if confusing compared to say the NYC Subway.  When you land at Heathrow, they will make it Very Very Easy to buy a ticket into London on the Heathrow Express, which is very convenient and fast, but costs basically infinitely more than the Piccadilly line in the normal underground.
  • The Underground is not great in that figuring out how to pay for things is Incredibly Baffling.  Again the NYC Subway is a model of simplicity here: you get a Metrocard of any kind at all, and you pay either nothing (if you have an unlimited card) or $2.75 to get into the subway system.  And that’s it!  In the Underground you can buy either a ticket or an “Oyster” card, and the “Oyster” card can have a TravelCard “on” it in some logical sense, and there is a deposit associated with the card that you can get back only after the card has expired, and you can get it back from a machine if it’s under a certain amount, and otherwise you have to take it to a hidden office in the London Sewers that is open only alternate Wednesdays in February.  Your Oyster card is charged (or not) both when you enter the system and when you leave; if you don’t have enough money on it to leave, you can still leave, but you can’t enter again until you “top up” the extra amount from when you left.  They have people stationed at every set of payment machines, who attempt to explain to tourists and Londoners alike how much it will probably cost them to do various things, but those people seem only slightly less baffled than the people they are advising.
  • Although you aren’t supposed to take pictures in Westminster Abbey (for reasons I can’t really understand), my phone seems to have accidentally gone off a few times, and I have some pictures of M’s feet standing on various famous names in Poet’s Corner.
  • Lots of other stuff.
  • The last day, when I’d dropped M off at Heathrow and had a couple of hours to get to London City Airport (the London Docklands is a really interesting area!), I went and sat in Hyde Park in one of the folding chairs that are all over the place, and as it was raining lightly (we had great luck with the weather, that was the only rainy bit) I put my umbrella up over me, and just sat there watching people go by for awhile.  That was nice.
  • After awhile of that, there was this very loud noise out in the street of chanting and marching and things, and eventually this roused me and I went up to the street and there were all of these Hare Krishna folks marching and singing and dancing and conveying a big colorful float, and a smaller float with a loudspeaker, and satellite folks going among the people on the sidewalk giving out literature and taking donations.  They were, it seems, going to Trafalgar Square for an annual vegetarian feast and festival.
  • So I ended up with a Hare Krishna book and have read much of it.  It starts out well, with good basic spiritual insights about the world and stuff, but then goes off the rails (as so many do) about how true knowledge can be obtained by chanting certain words, and we should believe specific things because the Vedic Literature says it, and anyone who believes otherwise are Lower Than The Beasts and blah blah blah.  Which was sort of sad.
  • And many many other things.

Outside of us travelling about wildly, other things have happened that you may have heard of from other sources:

  • omg #LoveWins.  What a world!
  • And Tony Scalia has completely jumped the shark; I really ought to write a weblog entry about that.  Ages ago I used to grudgingly admire him for at least being consistent and mostly rational, if from odious underlying assumptions and principles.  Awhile after that I wrote about how I’d become disenchanted, noting that his not even acknowledging the possibility of (rather obvious) alternate views was either oblivious or hypocritical of him.  And now he seems like just a frothing loony.  (And given the “applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery” in his latest, one has to wonder who in the world he hangs out with.)
  • Also ObamaCare is still legal and all, which seems good (I am such a Progressive these days!).
  • The Republicans continue to be the Party of Crazy.  I still think we will probably get a Clinton vs. Bush in 2016, with a close Electoral College and a Democratic popular vote.  But Jeb has been pandering to the loonies more than I would have expected, and I’m not sure what that means.  (Trump!  Christie!  hahaha!)

Other things I would like to write about someday:

  • All of these tabs that I have open on my phone and in Chrome (both to talk about them, and to write them down for myself so I can close some of them!),
  • The Monty Hall Paradox thing, for which I have what I think is a very insightful observation that doesn’t seem to have been made much, that explains why it generates so much strong feeling and all.

But not tonight!  :)  In fact I think I will post this without even a thorough proofread; enjoy the typos!

2015/02/06

Warum ich ein Schicksal bin

(That is, “Why I am a Destiny”; it’s the title of one of the sections of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo; other sections have names like “Why I am so smart”, “Why I write such good books”, and so on. Interesting guy, ol’ Neitzsche.)

The Invisible Masters have been using me a little more blatantly than usual lately. I wrote about the cute older couple with cellphones the other day, and now I have another story this morning.

The doors between cars on Metro North are a test of both brain and brawn. They have four handles, one of which actually unlatches the door so it can be opened, and the other three of which are deadbolts that lock the door closed (which is kinda puzzling to me, because they have handles on both sides of the door, and so can’t be used to actually lock anyone out, but whatevs). And they have very strong hinge-springs.

So a typical person wanting to open a door may turn one of the wrong handles, locking the door, and then maybe try the right handle, but the door is locked so it doesn’t work. And even if they do figure out the right positions of the four handles, they still have to be strong enough to get the door open.

This morning I was on the usual train to work, sitting in my usual seat in my private office at the conductor’s end of the car. It’s a nice seat, with a little extra privacy and space, and inter alia allows one to become well-versed in how the door works, and help people with it now and then.

This young and rather grumpy-looking woman came up to the door this morning, somewhere south of Ossining, and fiddled with the handles and vainly tugged at the door. I reached over and opened the door for her, and she stepped through and struggled vainly with the door to the next car.

“How many stops does this train make?” she asked, stepping back into my office.

“Nothing between Ossining and Grand Central.”

“No, I mean, how many other stops.”

“None; it’s an express.”

Sighing, “I think I’m on the wrong train.”

“You should talk to the conductor, he can… be helpful.” I said, although I figured that meant he could tell her what train to get at Grand Central to get back up to whatever station she was headed for.

“Yeah, but he’s,” she nodded toward the next car, “and that door’s locked.”

So I disentangled from the Internet and extracted myself from my phone, and opened both doors for her, and felt virtuous.

But here is the Schicksal part: not too long later, a bell rang, and the train rolled to a stop at Yonkers. Out the window I saw the woman looking around, and then going through an open door into the train across the platform. And the Express rolled on.

I had no idea they would do that. :)

2015/01/07

The Universal Postal Union as Global Superpower

In random rambles related to yesterday’s post, we have been reading various accounts of various alternate realities, and some of them are really quite endearing.

The ones trying to obtain money by lying to people, of course, not so much.

But some of them appear plausibly much purer than that; here:

…[C]ongress passed several laws anterior to the third day of March 1825, when an act, entitled “An act to reduce into one the several acts establishing and regulating the post office department,” was passed. 3 Story, U. S. 1825.

It is thereby enacted,
1. That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.

We need to take notice where the commas are placed on that last sentence. “That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.” When I set off a clause with commas, I make sure that the sentence makes sense without that clause. Taking out the set-off clause, we read . . . “the seat of the government of the United States under the direction of a postmaster general.”

The creation of the Post office occurs before the creation of the seat of the government, and is placed in authority over the seat of government.

Yes, there should have been an “at” right before “the seat” there, and the writer is clearly living in a fantasy world, but who among us can honestly say that we are not?

And this fantasy world is especially appealing, at least to us bookish nerdy types. The Postmaster General in charge of the government! The placement of commas vital to the proper interpretation of documents and other magical spells!

And behind it all, the Universal Postal Union…

The UPU (Universal Postal Union) in Berne, Switzerland, is an extremely significant organization in today’s world….
The UPU operates under the authority of treaties with every country in the world. It is, as it were, the overlord or overseer over the common interaction of all countries in international commerce.

The smiling blue-uniformed postman, with a satchel instead of a gun, benignly overseeing all interactions between countries. How lovely!

And then, the magical instruments of the Post, those beautiful, alluring, dream-tempting stamps…

Involving the authority of the UPU is automatically invoked by the use of postage stamps. Utilization of stamps includes putting stamps on any documents (for clout purposes, not mailing) we wish to introduce into the system.

Put a stamp on anything, mail it (or even don’t, apparently!) and you’re automatically entitled to free dispute-resolution services of both your national Postmaster, and the mighty UPU itself.

For instance, if you post through the US Post Office and the US Postmaster does not provide you with the remedy you request within twenty-one (21) days, you can take the matter to the UPU.

Now if one were to actually visit the UPU website, and observe for instance the announcement from the Postal Operations Council that the “next POC session (2014.2) will take place from 27 to 31 October 2014” (i.e. several weeks ago), one might come away with some doubts about the ability of the UPU to come quickly to the aid of global stamp-users.

But that’s why fantasy is so wonderful!

Just by putting a stamp on a thing, and signing across the stamp, we can all become Postmasters ourselves, and thus part of the benign rulership of the world, able to summon our fellow Postmasters into any court, to testify on our behalf about the importance of not interfering with our (properly stamped and signed) documents.

Since autographing the stamp makes you the postmaster of the contract, anyone who interferes is tampering with the mail and engaging in mail fraud. You can then subpoena the postmaster (either of the post office from which the letter was mailed, or the US Postmaster General, or both), and have them explain what the rules are, under deposition or testimony on the witness stand in open court.

And those boring red computer-printed things that the government and corporations use instead of our beloved stamps? They are, as I think we have all long felt in our hearts, just frauds.

In addition, most of the time when you get official communication it has a red-meter postage mark on the envelope rather than a cancelled stamp. This act is mail fraud. If the envelope has a red-meter postage mark on it, they are the ones who have engaged in mail fraud, because there is no cancelled stamp. It is the cancelled stamp that has the power; an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

There is a lovely truth: an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

I’m reminded inevitably of Thomas Pynchon and “The Crying of Lot 49”; the central and mysterious role of postal services in his world, the global reach of Thurn und Taxis, the secret rebellion of W.A.S.T.E..

He knew then how much romance there is in words, letters, envelopes, the Post. As do these stalwart tax-avoiders!

Don’t Ever Annoy The Horn

Post-horn, that is…

2014/12/01

Not sure if that counts…

2014 NaNoWriMo winnerI declared victory on National Novel Generating Month 2014 tonight, it being the end of November; I only got around to a few of the features I’d thought about, but hey, it meets the requirements! I think.

On a whim I also entered it as a National Novel Writing Month novel, although I’m not entirely certain that it counts. Here is the summary page of all my NaNoWriMo novels (I had to enter all but last year’s incomplete attempt from scratch; carrying over data is hard!).

So here is my official Wri/GenMo 2014 novel “Gazanduwo U“, for some reason on Google Drive (I should make it a txt file on davidchess.com as usual, but that requires remembering how), and (more importantly) the very awful source code. Which takes all the mystery (if any) out of it, but there you are.

2014/11/16

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep

A long time ago, and I just remembered it recently for some reason, when I used the Opera browser for awhile, there was this lovely odd thing.

For some reason (and I’m sure that I did it somehow by accident, but I never did figure out how) whenever I had the focus on a text input box (or something like that), it would offer me a default value to fill in, and that default value was:

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

And that made me smile every time I saw it.

I kept it as an enigma at the time, and never looked up the phrase, or the part of the Opera documentation that would have told me how it got there.

I still haven’t done the latter :) but it turns out that the phrase is from Cold Mountain. No, not the film, or even the novel; the poems of Han Shan.

I’ve been wanting to go to that Eastern cliff,
To the present–for innumerable years.

So yesterday I came and climbed up through the vines,
But halfway there, I was hampered by mist and wind.

The path was narrow–with my clothes it was hard to advance;
The moss was sticky–my shoes could not go on.

So I stay at the base of this red cinnamon tree,
Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

I will attempt to resist talking about what it might be “about”. :)

That particular text seems to be poem number 295, in a translation copyright 1990 by one Robert G. Henricks; I found it today on Google Books.

It looks like we know nothing of Han Shan besides what is in the poems; in fact “Han Shan” is likely not his name at all, apparently it is just the words “Cold Mountain”.

I love the thought of the unknown hermit-poet’s words coming down through the long years, and somehow ending up embedded in my Web browser.

2014/11/05

Before I forget

  • As I mentioned, I did that Zen thing the other week, and it was great, and I haven’t gotten around to writing any more about it, but at least I have that unordered list.
  • One additional thing on that: what I asked Ryushin Sensei at dokusan was “Why can’t we see out of each other’s eyes?”. We had some good talking about why that is.
  • I’ve been to Greece! Rhodes, Greece, in particular. That was great also. Here is a Faceface thing where I mention it, and there are a bunch of related pictures (with some narrative, even!) in the Insta-gram (you’ll probably have to scroll down to a greater or lesser amount to encounter them, or you could maybe jump in here say).  We passed through London (England) on the way out and back, also, so I have all them stamps in my passport-thing.
  • Relatedly, I have now been parasailing! It turns out to involve no skill whatever, and to be surprisingly peaceful!
  • Speaking of The Face Book, I have posted various things there!
  • I think I have decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I have just discovered this wonderful thing (and also posted it to Facebook): National Novel Generation Month. Here is my statement of intent; I can definitely write a program to generate a 50,000-word novel sometime this month. What fun!
  • The Twitter is full of wild enigmatic things; one of them (Two Headlines) is done by the same person who thought up NaNoGenMo (and who does all sorts of cool stuff); another, MEDDLING HETERO FOOL aka direlog_ebooks, is just a mystery.
  • The Republican Party won lots of elections yesterday, as I (or my Second Life secret identity) predicted; here’s hoping this results in the obvious progressive victories two years from now.
  • I apparently have a Moto 360 now! It is a sort of a watch! Or a smallish watch-shaped secondary I/O device for one’s phone! I can’t think of anything much that it’s actually useful for, but that’s what I would have said about smartphones not too long ago and now I use mine all the time, so Ya Never Know.
  • And I’m sure lots of all various other stuff that I should try not to forget, but right now I am going to go off and think about automatic novel generators; be good!
2014/09/28

not-yes, not-no: Answers to Common Koans

Koans are puzzles or problems that are presented to students in some branches of Zen, to loosen the mind of concepts and attachments, and hasten enlightenment. Students can spend months or years on a single koan, before the teacher (called sensei, or for teachers who are more senior or are politically connected, roshi) judges the student to have “passed” at a dokusan (face-to-face meeting), and to be ready for the next koan.

But for the busy student who cannot afford to spend months or years on some weird riddle, we present answers to a few of the more common koans here as a service.

(Holding out the shippei, the teaching stick.) “What is this? If you say that it is a shippei, you negate its essence; but if you do not, you deny the fact. Now, what is it?”

This is an elementary koan, intended to determine whether the student can move even a step beyond words. The proper response is to reach out and grasp the shippei yourself, and give it a firm shake. The teacher may yank the stick away when you reach for it, but persist! Higher marks will be given the more doggedly you pursue the teacher and the stick around the room, and even out into the zendo if necessary. If running is necessary, be sure to hold your robes high to get maximum speed.

A monk asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?” Joshu answered, “Mu!” Now show me this Mu!

This koan tests the ability to go beyond words in a way that spontaneously reflects the student’s inner nature. Accordingly, you should spontaneously do whichever of these best reflects your inner nature:

  • Say “No monk, no Joshu, no dog, no Mu” (avoid smugness),
  • Sit silently until the teacher relents and admits you have passed the koan,
  • Scream “Mu!” in a loud harsh voice, while doing that thing with your arms and shoulders that monsters always do in anime,
  • Strike the teacher in the face (always satisfying, and applicable to nearly any koan, but do not use it more than once),
  • Flash your boobs (most commonly used by female students, but if you are a male student and it reflects your inner nature, spontaneously go for it).

“Why did Bodhidharma come from India to China?”

The proper answer to this koan depends upon the season.

  • Spring: “The sun shines, and buds appear.”
  • Summer: “Water flows cool in the night.”
  • Autumn: “The wind blows, and leaves rustle.”
  • Winter: “Damn, it’s cold in the zendo; I’m freezing my ass off!” (note that if it is winter and you are not freezing your ass off in the zendo, it is not a real zendo, but some Disneyfied version, and you will pass the koans regardless of your answers, because they want good reviews on Yelp).

“Find your original face, before your parents were born.”

This is a very difficult koan; accordingly you should fail to pass it for at least a month (or at any rate at least a week), or Roshi will be suspicious. After several dokusans at which you admit you have not yet found your original face, you should either burst into spontaneous open-hearted laughter (best with the “jolly” or “nurturing” teacher), or suddenly strike the teacher in the face (or, if you have used that answer previously, strike yourself in the face).

Some teachers will pretend that the student has not passed the koan even when the correct answer has been given once; in this case give the same answer again at the next dokusan, and the teacher will pass you this time, thus appearing especially enigmatic.

Wuzu Fayan said, “It is like an Ox that passes through a latticed window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. So, why can’t its tail also pass through?”

There is no correct answer to this koan; it has been assigned to you because your teacher hates you.

Next week: “Spirit in the Stillness: Tips on flirting during Sesshin”.

This is of course satire, poking fun at the idea that koans have straightforward answers; it is not intended to poke fun at Buddhist teachers or students or anything. Not that there’d be anything wrong with that. In a nice way. But anyway, the reader is advised not to try using any of these on actual Zen teachers; results are unlikely to be pleasant.

I’ve never done koan practice of any kind, and have a hard time imagining what it’s actually like. Presumably rather than looking for any particular answer, the teacher looks for something in the face-to-face interaction that shows that the student has achieved some particular level of insight from working on the problem. But I dunno! The silly paragraphs above just popped into my head while doing normal ol’ zazen last weekend; they sounded funnier while revolving in my head when I should have been just letting them go, but here they are anyway.

:)

2014/06/16

Flying theatrical pirates!

And now, the weblog entry I know you’ve all been waiting for: the next episode of “So, I had this dream the other night…”!

So, I had this dream the other night.

I was at home, in the driveway (it was like the driveway of the house that I grew up in, not the one I live in now), and these two door-to-door salepersons came up, and they were selling cross-stitch supplies and something completely unrelated to that (motor oil or something), and I told them that they should wait until M got home, and she might be interested in the cross-stitch supplies.

Then I was driving somewhere in the car, and the salespersons were there in the car with me, and I thought “oh, wait, why are they here in the car with me? I was supposed to leave them back at the house to wait for M, oops”.

And then up in the sky I saw all of these people sort of floating there in a long line stretching off into the distance. Since I could fly myself in the dream (as in many dreams), I wanted to go and join them and wait in line too (perhaps I hadn’t known until then that other people could fly; not clear), but what about the car?

So I gave the salespersons the keys and had them promise to drive the car home to wait for M, and not steal it or anything, and I floated up to get in the line.

And although the line looked very long, it must have been moving very fast, because soon I got to the front of it, which was in this wooden structure (up in the sky presumably), where there were lots of theatrical pirate supplies (hats with feathers, odd baggy pants, unconvincing swords, etc), because we were going to be pirates.

Flying pirates!

And I think I spent the rest of the dream happily playing with and trying on the supplies.

And there you have it! :)

Be sure to tune in again next time…

Update!!:!:: As I somehow forgot to mention but a commentor inadvertently (I assume) reminded me, M and I had just seen Monty Python’s Meaning of Life on the Net Flix, so there is an obvious connection with the Crimson Permanent Assurance. Which didn’t fly, but still…

2014/05/25

The Daisy Knitter

Because everyone’s schedule was actually going to be in sync, we had all four of us planned some time back to go down to the Zoo today. We recently realized that it was going to be Memorial Day Weekend, and were a bit worried that the Zoo might be unpleasantly crowded.

We needn’t have worried, because as it turned out the Zoo was completely inaccessible.

(After an hour or so waiting in traffic, we got within shouting distance of a parking lot entrance that was closed with a LOT FULL sign. A topless young man jumped out of the car ahead of us and went over and talked to the people in orange vests near the sign; as he was coming back M called out the window to him “What did they say?”.

“We’re fucked!” was the metaphorically accurate reply.)

So we drove Northward a bit to Peekskill, had coffee and hung out at the Coffee House (I got a tee shirt!), took pictures on our cellular phones, looked at lots and lots of books at The Bruised Apple, had yummy little pizzas, I mean flatbread, at Gleason’s, and (not in this order) wandered through the Flea Market buying random things.

The most notable random thing I bought was this:

artifact

(shown larger than actual size).

When I asked the owner of the case it was in (with various pieces of costume jewelry, old pocket knives, police whistles, compasses) how much it was, he said “Ah, you’ve got a good eye, look at this”, and he showed me that, if you twist the knob in the center, a stubby bit of wire pokes out from the end of each of those ribs you see radiating from the center in the picture. “That’s five dollars.”

A bargain, clearly! So I bought it.

(Here is an image of it with the wires extended, too.)

And, this being the future, I was able to type the patent number into my cellular telephone while standing there at the Flea Market, and determine that my new possession is technically speaking a Former for Artificial Flowers, patented by Antonia Dolia in 1930 or so.

Turning of the disc on completion of the operation varies its position and withdraws the wires 5 within the casing, the formed flower being thus free for removal to leave the device free for further manufacture.

So with that, and having a nice day in the car and in Peekskill, in lovely weather, with the all-four-of-us family, this has been a lovely day, despite the inaccessibility of the Zoo.

Now the little daughter has gone for a quick tango-related jaunt into The City, and the little boy is off somewhere with his chums, and M and I are sitting here typing on computers and watching people hit tennis balls about on the television.

Earlier I was reading Fred Pohl’s “The Annals of the Heechee”, but got really really tired of being told like three times per page about how Robinette Broadhead is a computer program, and how that means he is so much faster and more parallel than meat people, that I put it down to do something less tedious.

You can therefore partly thank Pohl’s bit of Mary-Sue-ism for this weblog entry. :)

Him, and the (patented) Daisy Knitter.

Now I am thinking of taking this plain grey tee shirt that I have and maybe tie dyeing it with bleach or something. Or maybe a nap…

2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2014/02/02

Super Bowl subway iconography

So here’s another funny picture from the Subways of New York.

This is on the inside of a subway car that was entirely decorated in Super Bowl related Pepsi ads (or perhaps Pepsi related Super Bowl ads, who can tell?).

Subway Icons

Now is it just me, or is that a cross and a couple of crescents?

I suppose maybe it’s a piece of a stylized slider on a stylized mixer which is part of a stylized “we are cool like DJs who use mixers” image-set or something. And some abstract bubbles with lighting effects that look like crescents.

Or something.

But it looks like a happy little gathering of religious symbols to me.

Subliminal symbols to draw the favorable attention of Christians and Muslims to the ads for fizzy sugar water and violent war games? Some artist having fun sneaking weird stuff into the campaign art?

‘Tis a puzzlement!

2014/02/01

Cold Weather Reporting Center

So somewhere in the labyrinth of the NYC subways, under Grand Central I think, there is this door.

cold_weather

And I passed it the other day when it was so extremely cold outside, and I muttered under my breath “hello, I’d like to report some cold weather!”.

I wonder if they get people knocking on their door and saying that very often…