Friday, December 29, 2006

Whur U B?

Once more into the breach ...

November 17 was a bad day. I caught a nasty cold that lasted over 3 weeks. I only worked 12 hours the week of thanksgiving. I had to quit smoking for a few days to get rid of the background smoker's cough. Finally seem to be mostly well, everywhere you went people were hacking and coughing.

But the real Bad Day thing came when my youngest took my classical guitar off of the 3-way stand to play me a new song she had written (yay!). 5 seconds later, stand fell over onto the guitar still on it -- my 1961 Gibson Les Paul Jr. The nut hit the floor and the head shattered. The head had been broken off in the middle in 1969 (a frat brother sat on it) and I'd epoxied it -- and put a bolt through it. I had not done a lot of carpentry at that point of my life, so I did not know the love that wood has for glue, the bolt was a bad idea. Still, the guitar played well for 35 years after that.

Anyway, it is now at RS GuitarWorks, where by all accounts it will be restored to be better than new. Still, a definite blow to the psyche. I have owned the guitar since I was 14. I found out a couple of months that 1961 was the first year that Gibson made the SG body -- so this was an ur-SG. It was unbelievable how dry the wood in the head was -- but, 45 years old, not exactly inexplicable.

Did get my pedal steel back shortly after that, so I've been playing that a lot. It sounds pretty decent. I took it out to the Hideaway Lounge last Tuesday. Not sure how that went. My musical patroness Patty Butcher seems to be somewhat disenamoured of me.

Also 2 weeks ago bought a 1978 blond Telecaster. I had a chance to buy a blond telecaster in 1967 for $100 and didn't have the $100. I've always wanted one, so now I finally have one. Heavier than I would like (canadian 1st-growth ash body), but great sound.

The time I was sick, I kind of got television watching. I was surprised that I wasn't just tired, achy, etc, but that it also seemed like my will to do much of anything was totally sapped. So, watch old movies, veg, seemed about right.

But I did read a lot, and did not make it onto the non-fiction stack. RSN. The stuff I read seemed to have a real magical realism theme to it.

  • "Three Days to Never" by Tim Powers. Einstein's great-grandchildren vs mossad vs a secret mystical society vying for control of Einstein's time machine. Powers really has a way of making this stuff work. 4 stars.
  • "Strange Iteneraries", a collection of Tim Powers sparse short fiction. Nice reading, 4 stars.
  • "Eternity Road", by Jack McDevitt. Instead of astroarcheology of lost alien civilations, we have a post-apocalyptic treasure hunt on earth. Never quite sucked me in for some reason, 3 stars.
  • "Anansi Boys", by Neal Gaiman. An OK read, but didn't do much for me. Give me Tim Powers for magical realism any time. And, unlike "American Gods", this one did not have Odin and Loki in it. 3 stars.
  • "Enchantment", by Orson Scott Card (1999), which had been on my shelf for a while. Very pleasant read, "my mom is sleeping beauty", 3 stars.
  • "A Feast of Crows", by George R.R. Martin, the 4th of this series. Not nearly as lively as the prior 3 -- 300-400 pages in before anyone is killed. He may have exceeded the allowable thread limit. 1100 pages and you feel like not much really happened??? 3 stars.
  • "The Jennifer Morgue", by Charles Stross. The first story in this world by Stross was "The Atrocity Archives", which was Dilbert meets H.P.Lovecraft. This one is Dilbert meets H.P.Lovecraft meets James Bond. LOL in several places, and, weird, the middle half is set on St. Martin (6 weeks off). Stross now has 4 separate worlds running for his stories, go Charles! 4 stars.
Much new music as well:
  • Beck, "The Information". Good tunes, except for 10 odd minutes at the end 3 stars.
  • Ben Folds, "supersunnyspeedygraphic". The reigning smartass of pop music. 4 stars.
  • The inimitable Ben Lacy, "One Track Mind". Finally got a paypal account, so I bought Ben's CD. 3.5 stars.
  • "The Runners Four", by Deerhoof. Very odd stuff, very interesting, I almost reclassified from "Alternative & Punk" to "Unclassifiable". 3.5 stars.
  • "Music for Our Lady Queen of the Angels", by Garth Hudson. Airy, orchestral stuff by The Band's musical genius, won't get too many listens 2.5 stars.
  • Three CDs by Harmonica Red. I've played with Red a few times, he's an unbelievable harp player. The 1st CD, "Harmonica Red Vol I" (1987) I liked best, very listenable. 3 stars overall.
  • "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard", Paul McCartney. My youngest wanted me to get this. A few of the type of tunes that remind you that Paul was half of one of the greatest songwriting duos of the 20th century. 3 stars.
  • "The Eraser", Thom Yorke (Radiohead). Nice solo effort, 4 stars.
  • "Fever to Tell", the Yeah-Yeah-Yeahs. A couple of real nice tunes, my kids tell me they're mostly a live band. 3 stars.
Funny to me lately is the fact that the most fun I've been having is at work. Writing lots of fun stuff on our paradigm-shifting new product. What a geek, oh well. Been off this week, sleeping late, all four kids were back home (plus the lovely daughter-in-law), visited with my sibs Wed and Thurs, very relaxing. But, oh boy, back to the code next week.

The Democratic success in the elections and the seeming disgust that the entire US seems to be pretty much developing for W seem to have turned off my antitheism ranting and raving valve. Seem to be loathe to get back onto the non-fiction stack, though I think I will read Minsky's new book soon. Maybe finally giving up on messianism, my (ever-growing) gut is telling me, too old, time to just relax and enjoy what's left of my life. Thinking about teminating this exercise as well. But, no, I'll keep it up, worthwhile for everyone I think to have a medium to capture some of their thoughts.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rat Bastard Traitor

Cover article of the latest Wired is "The New Atheism". Extensive interviews with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, who I hadn't heard of, whose main idea seems to be that religion is too dangerous to continue to coddle; plus sidebars. The rat bastard traitor author (Gary Wolf) totally cops out at the end: "the fact that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we cold turn out to be wrong". What's this, the atheist converting on his deathbed, "just in case"? What crap. If I die and wind up before an angry jehobah (the child-killer) who sentences me to eternity in hell (or on Jupiter's moon Io, pretty damn hell-like), I would gladly accept the sentence and spent eternity plotting how to turn the tables on the genocidal mother-fucker and give him his well-deserved comeuppance.

But, the guy is right in some of his points. It is so easy to become bitter, harsh, shrill over the idiocy of religious beliefs. But, part of it is that I do miss the community that a church provides. It is a nice size between the family and the city/town. Churches are a great networking tool. I was sorry my children grew up without this social safety net, but the church of soccer provided a fairly acceptable substitute. But, still, I would like the community without the crap.

Speaking of which, my friend Patrick has started a Google group, The Antitheist League", in part I think to give me a place to rant away from the mild-mannered KASESforum teachers. So, I will now rant there as well as here, and limit posts to KASES to evolutionary biology/psychology or other science. One of the KASES guys has posted there, and I will use it as the repository of The World's Greatest Religious Jokes.

I was mentioning to my wife how I had read that some wealthy republicans had sponsored the candidacy of a Green party candidate in a tight Northeast race (I think). She immediately came out with, "The democrats should do that." And I thought, she's right. We need to get some wealthy democrats to pour money into conservative christian parties/candidates. Nader's Green candidacy in 2000 probably cost Democrat Gore the election, maybe some nice fundamentalist candidates could return the favor. And I don't think this is a "dirty trick". Creating more political parties that accurately reflect the beliefs and hot buttons of their constituents would be a good thing for America. For sure the current two party thing totally sucks. I would like to vote Green, as I do think that helping the world survive the coming ecocaust of the next 40-50 years should be the top priority of the human race, but I can't, because in doing so, I help fucking republicans win.

Read "The Year's Best Science Fiction" 23rd edition, edited by Gardner Dozois. Great reading as always, but no real standouts like Charles Stross, Robert Reed, and Octavia Butler in years past. A couple of good 1st timers who will bear watching: Hannu Rajaniemi (Finnish) and Dominic Green (Brit). Then tore through the magazine stack (my wife's working 3rd shift), and am now starting the new Tim Powers. Then something from the non-fiction stack, I swear.

Music-wise, right now listening to "The Runners Four" by Deerhoof, given to me by my youngest daughter. I have been tempted to give it the coveted "Unclassifiable" genre, but have settled for "Alternative & Punk". Very odd stuff, but lots of nice hooks, and 20 tracks. 3.5 stars. Also have the new Beck "The Information", nice, 3 stars; the new Paul McCartney (bought at the behest of my youngest) "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" -- it's OK (my youngest really likes it???), 3 stars. Also have Thom Yorke (Radiohead)'s "The Eraser", 3 stars. Needed 5 dollars for free shipping on amazon so bought Quicksilver Messenger Service eponymous. I had totally forgotten about their version of "Who Do You Love", octaves in the lead, and "What About Me" and "Fresh Air". Still mostly 2 stars, those 3 maybe 3 stars. Finally, got "Fever To Tell" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who my youngest saw in Austin TX recently. Somewhat disappointing, may wind up at 2 stars (doesn't go to the iPod.)

Had a good week playing last week. Tuesday night went to Around the Corner, a black club on the northside. G-busy, a harp player/singer/front man, had a gig there, and the standard crew, Lindsay on guitar, Matt on bass, Bob on keys, and Sheri on drums, were there. I started playing with them, with my Blues Jr amp, on the 3rd song, and wound up playing from around 8:45 to 11:45, with 2 breaks. Only sang 1, "Who Do You Love", but played pretty well the whole time. I was somewhat punchy at work the next day, but still went out to Lynagh's Wednesday. Left after my wife left for work (8:10), was fourth on the list to play guitar, didn't get up til around 10. 1st did The Band's "Up On Cripple Creek", 1st time I'd tried it, and it worked pretty well, Bob Hopps and the guitarist Gary both singing harmony on the chorus. I only remembered the words to the 1st, 4th and 5th verses, I'll get 2 and 3 the next time. Then did "Everybody's Got To Change Sometime", and finally "Wine". Wine came off I think the best it ever had. The last chorus, did a full stop, the whole band it sounded like sang the last line "Pass that bottle to me", then a single snare pop, then the elvis ending, 2-5-1 at half time. I was still kind of punchy and wasn't singing real well, but all three came off OK. I think I'm going to try Around the Corner again this week.

Friday, October 27, 2006

STFU

The KASES forum has had some discussion of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Dawkins' contention that we should quit appeasing the religious. I responded with a "call to arms" for atheism. One guy kind of responded, but overall response has been negative. My friend Patrick has accused me of militarism. Then I looked at the forum description, which ends:
'God OR evolution'is a false dichotomy. There is much conflict between science and religious fundamentalism, but there is no NECESSARY conflict between science and religion."
Appeasement all the way. Traitors. Heretics. PUT THEM ALL TO THE SWORD!!! (Just kidding ;->)

Meanwhile, two more republican "joke" forwards, the 2nd of which implies that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian.

Probably I should just pull a Nero and fiddle while Rome burns. Jam tonight was very good, we got into some really nice grooves, I played pretty well. My pedal steel is going back in the shop tomorrow, I have concluded that the only thing that could be wrong with the high E string is that the pickup is bad -- so, we'll see if a bar pickup fixes the problem. I have been having fun playing the pedal steel, if I can get the high E fixed, I'm taking it out in public.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Republicans Suborn The Mission

Grrr. The elections are, what, a couple of weeks away, so what do I get over the weekend?
  1. Two jokes from my conservative older brother, in separate forwards, one on how many prominent Democrats were born 9 months after roswell, the other on people donating gasoline rather than money to terrorists threatening to burn up prominent Democrats if a ransom is not paid.
  2. A "Halloween" web site with an animated short of a bat hanging from a lamppost and flashing pedestrians, who are disgusted, upset and knocked out -- by the Hilary for President poster being flashed.
Any doubt that the creation and initial distribution of these was paid for by Republicans? They clearly understand viral marketing and memetic warfare.

Grrr. What is going to take to get some liberal policical leadership who can reverse this endless butt-kicking?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jebus Was Gay

While we are in such a jolly blasphemous mood/mode:

For years I have told a story about one of the kids whom I coached in U8 soccer. He was on my oldest daughter's (27 YO) team. U8 soccer was still 11-on-a-side then, which made it easier for this boy to employ his special soccer talent -- which was to never be involved in the play at all. If the ball would start his way, he would magically melt away to somewhere else. He had a totally sweet nature, but, as a U8 soccer coach a big part of my job was to try to make these 6-7 year olds aggressive. Several times with this boy, I had the thought: "What am I doing? Here is this sweet, christ-like child and I'm trying to turn him into an agressive animal like the rest of them." Whenever I have told this story, I have always referred to the child as christ-like.

So, a couple of Sundays ago, there was an interview with this boy in the paper. He is a member/founder of Scissor Sisters, a glam pop group doing very well in the UK, and starting to get some traction in the US. In the article, it was mentioned that he was gay.

So, I got to thinking. Turn the other cheek, love those that oppress you, do these sound like anything that would come out of the mouth of your standard, heterosexual male (asshole)? Not very likely. A gay man tho -- it makes a lot more sense.

There you have it, QED. And I didn't even have to bring up the 12 "apostles" jebus hung out with all the time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Technical Difficulties and a Status Report

Work, work, work. I was working Saturday and made the same logic error three times and took 15 minutes of debugging to find it each time -- pretty lame. Getting tired, I've written so much code in the last few months I think that I am in a cache overflow situation, and it's definitely slowing me down. The worst should be over soon.

Re technical difficulties, I have had a report from one of my devoted readers -- devoted because he always calls me by my honorific, "Dumbass" -- that the archives are unavailable. I have found out this is true then you access the blog via the Atom feed. I sent an e-mail to support@blogspot.com with this info, to have it returned as undeliverable 4 days later. So, for now, please access the archives by going to the main blog link: http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/ -- they are accessible from there.

I received an outpouring of support for The Mission. Many submissions of God humor.

First from my brother the author:

1. Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic? He didn't understand all the fuss about whether or not dog really exists.

Q. Why isn't God circumcised?
A. Because he doesn't have a dick.

Very nice. And, from his daughter, also a writer:

Q. What do you call God's crap?
A. Holy shit!

A good first effort! From my baby sister:

God, Santa, and the Easter Bunny walk into a bar ...

This is very promising. I have a background job running to finish this one.

From my friend Patrick, a line of t-shirts:

One idea I had was to do a series of t-shirts, black with white letters with funny anti-religious statements, sort of vaguely based on that ole fuckwitted billboard:

We need to talk.
-- God

So along those lines, something like:

God?
Is that the best you can come up with?

God?
Just ignore Him; He'll go away.

God?
You've gotta be fucking kidding me.

We need to talk.
-- Nietzsche

And so forth. I think they would be sorta funny t-shirts, if "God?" or whatever was printed in big letters, and the "punch line" were printed a little smaller. And a t-shirt from his lovely, intelligent and charming wife:

Got Jesus?
They make a pill for that now.

Patrick also sends a link to George Carlin on God. Carlin has had some great rants here, clearly a good source for The Mission.

Finally, a reader points out:

Unfortunately, the world's funniest joke has already been created, and it does more than purge religion -- it's fatal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IysnS5wO60g

Once again thanks to all for the tremendous support for The Mission. I still need to find a static web site at which to distill The Work.

Finally off the magazine stack. Reading the new The Year's Best Science Fiction, woo-haa!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I Have A Mission

So, I've been thinking about religion, in light of the topics of Vernor Vinge's "Rainbow's End", blogged earlier. The next 40 or so years could be a critical period for the human race. Biotech and nanotech will be available on home computers. Roadside bombs are like mosquito bites compared to what terrorists could to with these.

*** Slight Spoiler Alert ***

The bad guy in "Rainbow's End" is having these thoughts and decides to take the facist route of protecting the race from itself by developing YGBM (You Gotta Believe Me) technology -- mind control by genetically engineered brain proteins.

Well, he is the bad guy, but he does have a point. These years could be critical, and could decide if civilization will continue to advance, or if maybe a large percentage of us get wiped out.

In this context, we could eliminate, what, 95% of terrorism if we could eliminate religion. Yes, I know religion is a source of comfort and strength to lots of people, but it's also a source of inspiration to a large percentage of the world's wackos, giving them a "get out of jail free = go directly to heaven" card which allows them to perform acts which any rational ethics would immediately identify as abhorrent.

So, how to get rid of religion? It is a powerful, powerful memeplex. It is a mental parasite with which a majority of well-meaning parents infect their children repeatedly and emphatically as part of their upbringing. Empirical evidence would say that the vast majority of people cannot shake the infection off on their own. So, how do we help?

We're talking memetic warfare here, so we have to choose a delivery mechanism for our counter-meme. I can think of only two possibilities here -- and it seems to me like this is major wishful thinking, to think one could develop a meme to combat years of religious brainwashing. But, what the hell, rational people have got to try something. So, the two delivery mechanisms are:

  1. Unbelievably catchy tune.
  2. The world's funniest joke.
The 1st one seems too hard. There are too many flavors of music, and it is normally not particularly cross-cultural. But, maybe this could be a distributed project. Come up with the pop version, then translate it into hard rock, country, hip-hop, opera, ska, middle-eastern, etc.

The 2nd one seems more promising. The idea is to come up with a joke or jokes which perform a total reductio ad absurdem on the existence of God. (Note, I will use capitalized God, which I normal avoid, to show that I am referring to the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe Jehovah/Allah worshipped by Christians, Jews and Moslems.)

I have a personal problem here, in that I am not a joke person. I am a spontaneously witty (smartass) person, I have always had problems remembering jokes. So I will need help here. Here's my first efforts:

Q. Why did God cross the road?
A. God can't cross a road, He's already on both sides.

Q. How may Gods does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. God doesn't use lightbulbs, He can see in the dark.

Q. If God can see in the dark, why did He create light?
A. Nobody knows.

Q. What do you get if you cross God with a human being?
A. God.

Q. What do you get if you cross God with the Devil?
A. God.

Q. What do you get if you cross God with a chimpanzee?
A. God.

The last three suggest God Math, which appears to be pretty much useless:

God + God = God
God - God = God
God * God = God
God / God = God
God + n = God
God * 0 = God (a miracle!)

I told my younger brother these, he liked the first few. My wife and youngest daughter found them stupid and unfunny. Oh well, clearly my work is cut out for me.

If you google "god jokes", there's a lot out there, some with promise. But more than half are actually "atheist in a foxhole" jokes, the opposite of what we need.

So, this is a targetted final product. I need to get a website for the work-in-progress of my Theory of God, which will show how ridulous the concept is. I was going to go to myspace.com, but then I thought, fuck a bunch of Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. I'll e-mail my son, he can probably point me to where google can give me a permanent website.

I have a mission ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Forum Post (mortem?)

I have been really somewhat befuddled, there has been some exchanges on the KASE forum re being very active in debunking Halloween "spiritualism". I posted:

I have been somethat puzzled by the enthusiam for Halloween debunking on this forum. I have always had a fond spot for Halloween as it is the only pagan holiday. Pagan polytheism is still theism, but I think it's a little more pluralistic and forgiving than the monotheistic memes that have mostly won out ("worship my god or die").

In Kentucky, we have (guestimates):

  • >90% of people believe in god;
  • >90% of people believe in the soul;
  • >90% of people believe in life after death;
  • >70% of people believe that jebus was the only son of jehobah and their personal savior;
  • >40% of people believe that the rapture is coming Real Soon Now.
Given this, expending energy to debunk Halloween ghost stories seems ludicrous to me. Low hanging fruit?

Plus, debunking Halloween they won't piss off the christians ...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Way Cool Picture

Quick hitter, here is a great picture from NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day", the most excellent site that my most excellent baby sister pointed me at, that I check daily. This shows the aftermath of one cluster of galaxies, the smaller one on the right, punching through the center of the larger cluster on the left. The magenta is X-ray imaging from the Chandra X-ray telescope -- clusters of galaxies are the primary extragalactic objects you see in X-ray. The cone on the right is the shock wave of the smaller cluster's passage -- unbelievable, a sonic boom in intracluster gas.

The blue is artificial, the cluster "dark matter" as inferred from gravitational lensing of background galaxies. This has gotten a fair amount of press as the first proof of the existence of dark matter, and shows that it is weakly bound by gravity, as it is not being affected like the gas (magenta) is.

There are cool animations of the collision here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Trip to the Windy City

Drove (the prius) up to Chicago the Friday before Labor Day, came back Monday. Went with 2 other couples. Stayed at the Hilton on Michigan Ave, great downtown location, lots of walking. Ate the 1st night at a french place Marche, most excellent. Night 2, Smith & Wollensky steak house, OK. Night 3, Chicago pizza at Lou Malnati's -- it didn't agree with either my wife or I.

1st day, took an architecture cruise on the Chicago River -- very nice, very interesting. Day 2, went to King Tut at the Field museum -- what a marketing job. Somewhat interesting, but nothing special, and the place was packed. "Reconstruction of what the face of the boy king looked like ..." -- who cares? Day 3, the aquarium. Featured exhibit, a komodo dragon. Well, it moved some. But, the signs said, max weight 150 pounds -- alligators can get over a ton (wikipedia), they would clearly kick this thing's ass.

The high point of the trip was definitely The Great Water-Spouting Gods of Millennium Park. Lots of LOL at the kids squealing in anticipation, waiting for the purifying and mystical water. I'd been talking to one of the other guys earlier, about what art was, and this was definitely art. I think art will be becoming increasingly participatory in the years to come.

No notable new music acquisitions. Reading-wise, still on the magazine stack, trying to get caught up. Jam wise, trying Buffalo & Dad's rather than Lynagh's -- Lynagh's is getting too successful, playing time is going down. I did bike the last 2 weekends after around a 6 week layoff -- 25 and 30 miles.

What fun, the pope decides to mix it up with the moslems. Moslems react to his reference to islam being a violent religion with violence -- as my friend David says, irony seems to be lost in modern times. I just hope that Pope Benny isn't working with the fundamentalist millenialists to encourage a nice mid-eastern meltdown so that we can get on with the rapture, 2nd coming, etc.

Monday, August 28, 2006

We Now Return to the Rant in Progress

Anyway, August issue of Scientific American had a very good article, "The Real Life of Pseudogenes". Seemingly they are a sizable part of our "junk" DNA. Points of interest:
  • Genes have a couple of ways of making copies of themselves in the genome, and probably happy to get away with it -- it's all about replication, yes? Various copies undergo bad mutations (imperfect replication) to where they can no longer produce their protein. But, they stay in the genome, happily replicating themselves.
  • One gene has 140 bad copies of itself in the genome. I guess it took the "intelligent designer" a few tries to get that one right.
  • Most mammals have about 1000 genes that produce receptors for different smells. Smell perception is very much lock and key, one gene per receptor per smell. Primates (including us) have only about 500 of these still working -- the rest are still there as broken pseudogenes. Apparently as we were making our transition to the highly vision oriented perception we use now (90% of our bitrate), there was no loss in survivability from the loss of the smell receptors. Crazy, with genetic engineering you could probably change just a few base pairs and get this back.
  • Most mammals can synthesize vitamin C. Around 40 million years ago, primates had a mutation that turned a gene required to make a protein in one of the last steps in the synthesis into an inoperative pseudogene. Again, apparently our ancestors were eating a lot of citrus fruits at the time for this not to have affected survivability.
  • Both these last two seem to suggest to me that we have definitely come through some narrow evolutionary windows. I guess like in the Stephen Baxter book "Evolution" blogged earlier, throughout most of our evolutionary history there was one individual who wound up being the parent of us all -- that's really counterintuitive to me.
I have noticed I have a definite hot button -- that is, questioning science. To me, science is the only system of knowledge in the history of our race that has proven to be able to produce describable, consistently reproducable results. I loved the junior year physics lab at MIT. For two semesters, we made the equipment (I remember turning pipe on a lathe to make a vacuum chamber) and performed some of the great experiments of physics: the Michelson-Morley experiment that shows that there's no luminiferous ether (no prefered frame of reference in the universe); the Milliken oil drop experiment that shows the quantization of charge; the Rutherford scattering experiment that shows the existence of atomic nuclei.

It is hard to choose favorites, but "The Republican War on Science" is yet another reason to despise the neocons. You wonder how many of these guys, in between attending prayer meetings, got modern liberal educations and were taught by fucking deconstructionists that science is "just a paternalistic, destructive way of looking at the world", no more valid than shamanism say. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Like the proposal to let non-evolution-believing people have their TB treated with the antibiotics of 40 years ago, which modern evolved (oops) TB bacilli eat like candy. Or like taking your car to a faith-healing mechanic. An airplane designed and flown by a shaman might be an interesting flight, but I don't think it would get you from New York to Paris.

I have recently flamed a sibling and a friend re their reports of Michael Crighton's latest novel where he "debunks" global warming. 15 years ago there was contention in the scientific ranks on global warming, it's been gone for around 10 years. But, I'm sure Crighton's data is as good as the Republicans -- i.e., nonexistant. How in the fuck did we wind up getting governed by Peter Pan and Tinkerbell -- "think happy thoughts, Iraqis will embrace democracy and global warming will go away"????

Last months Technology Review had an excellent article about "the most respected climate scientist in the world" and the Bush administration's attempts to muzzle him. He's been saying "global warming" since 1988. Note particularly the chart on p2, "C02 and the 'Ornery Climate Beast,'" PDF, 631 KB). The chart shows CO2 levels, ocean levels and global temperatures going pretty much in lockstep for the last 400,000 years. When I looked at it in the magazine, I thought, well, looks like we're at a natural maximum -- but then when I looked at the PDF online and blew it up, I noticed that the current CO2 level of 377 ppm is off the top of the chart (300 ppm). Pretty damn scary.

Now for some levity. My friend Patrick posted this hilarious link to the KASE forum:

http://www.armorofgodpjs.com

Tinfoil Hat of Credulity sold separately.

He had a nice aphorism too:

"Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

Nice ...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two More Books

I think I'll alternate between snappy and boring titles??

Forgot two books I had read last time. I think I will have to go back to leaving them on my desk until I blog them.

Read Charles Stross's latest "Glasshouse". Nothing much new from the rest of his latest stuff, but still a good read, 3 stars. It says a lot about the quality of Stross's writing that a novel this good was somewhat disappointing.

Better was

ARRGH-- after 1/2 hour of editing this entry, Firefox froze when I went to add a link to a site. Now getting to reenter, ARRGH! What a pain -- so much for Web 2.0.

Better was "Rainbow's End", by Vernor Vinge. A near future novel, Vinge definitely knows his computer science, which he should as he was/is a CS prof at UC San Diego. 4 stars. Seems nicely setup for a good sequel.

Well, I had a great discussion of an article on pseudogenes in August Scientific American, and a great rant on science, neocons, deconstructionism, and global warming -- but, I totally don't feel like reconstructing it now. So, hopefully this week.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hot Blog

Damn, it's been hot here, as I guess it is in most of the US. Finally cooled off a little Friday. I haven't biked in 3 weeks (slept til 11:15 last Sunday ?!?!?), did take a walk with my wife this morning.

Worked 11-6:30 yesterday (Saturday). Entering one of those periods generating a new product where I will be really cranking for the next few months. New product is pretty exciting stuff, could be slightly revolutionary.

Music goes well. My playing and singing are pretty good, and I am really surprised at how my ear is improving. I can hear songs in or out of my head and figure out the chords without a guitar a lot of the time now -- I never used to be able to do that. My youngest has sung 3 times now, generally well received. She did two of the Corinne Bailey Rae songs, "Like a Star" and "Another Rainy Day". The former worked better than the latter -- the 6/8 time there threw the drummer off. I think I am about full of the Corinne Bailey Rae album, I have been really preaching it for weeks now.

I did play downtown with "The Patty Butcher 4th of July Blues All-Stars" on the 4th. 3 guitars, sang lead on "Killing Floor", played 1.5 hours before getting rained out. Here's the proof:

I wore the "Liberal" t-shirt to offset the USA/flag hat that I had been wearing. The other guitarists are the most excellent Dale Dickens to my right, and Max Corona with the "B92" t-shirt on (he's a DJ there).

Also played a private party with "The Patty Butcher Blues Review" on 7/22. 4 sets from 8:30 to 1:00a. Went pretty well, I only hit 2 bad notes all night, got to sleep by 3:00, wasn't particularly a zombie the next day. Two paying gigs, who'da thunk it? I'm official now ...

Read a very good SF by a new author, John Scalzi's "Old Man's War". 70 year olds join the interplanetary marines in exchange for new, manufactured super bodies. As an aging baby boomer, I can definitely identify with that. I'm on to the magazine stack now, hoping to clear it this week before we vacate through New York, Maine, Boston, Connecticut, and NYC.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Music

The music seems to be taking over. I'm practicing pretty much every day now. My playing and singing continue to improve. I'm supposed to play downtown with Patty Butcher on July 4th, 4-6. Woo-haa!

My youngest daughter came out to the Wednesday night jam, now at Lynagh's Pub, and did one of her songs, "Saturday", and Jefferson Airplane "Somebody to Love". I was very unsure how the 2nd would come out, but I focused on the chucka-chucka rhythm guitar and the drummer Steve did a great job and it came out very nice. I somehow pooched the easy harmony on the chorus, oh well, I'll get it right next time. Everyone loved having Christie up there, definitely a nice addition to the normally all male ensemble. It was her first time playing with a band, she really enjoyed it. Hard not to, there is really an infectious fun playing with a decent band.

But, with the music, I'm reading, exercising and blogging less. Seems like playing in a blues/rock band is really not the best hobby for the twilight years, but what the hell, it's lots of fun. I had gotten up to about 35 miles biking, that last 2 weeks I only did 26 and 28.4. Somehow don't feel like killing myself anymore.

Got another new album from a Brit I really like, the first from Corinne Bailey Rae, eponymous, 4 stars. Not a bad tune on it -- seems like anytime a song is a little dull, suddenly a totally tasty rif or chord change shows up. Anymore I have to listen to a lot of new music 3-4 times before I can get a feel for if I will like it. This one, the first listen, I was going, holy shit, I am really going to like all of these after I get them burned in. Kind of like Norah Jones, but goes bluesy where Norah Jones would go country.

Read the third book in Charles Stross' Merchant Princes series, "The Clan Corporate". Seems to be one of those mid-series books where a change in direction was needed and pretty much everything goes to shit. 3 stars.

Also ready the 4th Orson Scott Card Ender/Bean book "Shadow of the Giant". A good read, I guess. How much longer is Card going to mine this?

I have been posting to the Kentucky Association of Science Educators (and Skeptics) occasionally. The guys seem like nice, mild mannered teachers, who I am trying to stir up to get mad and kick ass vs the ID fundamentalist dumbasses, without much luck. I'm sure they're thinking, who is this asshole? Here's my post there re Ann Coulters apparently excrable book "Godless":

Re ID vs evolution, there is no sense, logic, rhyme, or reason to be dealt with here.

Occasionally when talking to the religious, I try to do a quick survey to find out what they do and don't believe. It generally doesn't go far. The bottom line is, it's not about thinking. It's about running the jebus program, and having your "thinking" spoon-fed to you. My (raised atheist) children often commented that when talking to religious friends , if the topic turned to things outside their religious beliefs, their analytic minds (these were MSTC magnets at Lexington Dunbar) would just shut down and refuse to go there.

It is no wonder, that people whose level of fear, insecurity, loneliness, etc. are such that they need to run a strong religious program to get through the day, are readily influenced by the strident neocon demagogues.

Organized religion is probably the strongest mental program (memeplex) that the human mind has developed. The neocons, in their seemingly limitless cynicism, have become expert at hitting the limbic brain buttons, many of which are reinforced by religion: fear; desire for security (the 50's illusion version); and tribalism, in mindless patriotism, flag-worship, and gay-bashing.

Anymore I try not to think about it. But, sometimes there seems to be a level of naivete in these discussions, as if we were dealing with fellow rational beings of good will. We are not. The neocons most cherished value is to win at any cost. Who really knows how many of them are christian rapturists who can hardly wait for the world to end and jebus to return? As I said when I tried to orchestrate an intelligent discussion of evolution in the HL letters to the editor, as long as we don't realize the rules of the game (none), we are going to continue to get our asses kicked.

Where are the brain implants and mandatory software upgrades when we need them? Until then, we are facing a totally uphill struggle ...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Death to Jehovah

Doing some barroom philosophizing last night, I got onto Jehovah. I blogged before Richard Dawkins' characterization of Jehovah as "one of the most evil characters in all of fiction". I was expanding on that theme. Jehovah was a wholescale murderer of children. He didn't evacuate the children before trashing Sodom and Gomorrah; at one point he ordered the heads smashed of children born of the rape of Hebrew women by another tribe? Worst is the Feast of Passover, celebrated by Jews every year, where Jehovah ordered the deaths of an entire generation of children over a political squabble. I have proposed in the past renaming Passover to "the Feast of the Murdered Children".

My final conclusion was that we're lucky that Jehovah doesn't exist, because if he did, it would be our duty as moral beings to try to figure out how to track the sumbitch down and kill him. That didn't go over very well (duh). But, it's true.

Finally read the 2004 "Year's Best Science Fiction", edited by Gardner Dozois. Somehow I missed it when it came out. It started out with some great stories, particularly one about some nasty post-humans living in a totally trashed and toxic world that they are fine with because they can eat anything, regrow limbs, etc -- then they find a dog. But, some of the stories towards the end were kind of weak. Still, an annual must-read.

I seem to go through spells of music drought vs plenty. Definitely in a plenty period now. 164 songs in my unrated folder in iTunes. I'm thinking, surely all these can't be 3 stars (but I think that's where they will wind up):

  • Andrew Bird "& the Mysterious Production of Eggs" -- maybe 4 stars, very nice;
  • Flaming Lips "At War with the Mystics" -- unbelievable, a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that works;
  • Massive Attack "Collected" -- overlaps with "Mezzanine";
  • "Four Brothers Soundtrack" -- good Motown;
  • The Killers "Hot Fuss";
  • Dr. John "In the Right Place" -- his breakout 1973 album, I bought after seeing him do "Such a Night" in "The Last Waltz". BTW, I can't seem to google the lyrics for that song;
  • Donald Fagen "Morph the Cat" -- mostly not as sickly sweet as his 2 earlier solo albums;
  • Les Nubians "One Step Forward" -- not as good as their 1st;
  • "Les Nubians Presents: Echos - Chapter One: Nubian Voyager". Lots of poetry set to music (does that make it rap?), some of it is kind of interesting. Definitely conceptual tho;
  • Modest Mouse "The Moon and Antarctica" -- only glimpses of what became the 4 star "Good News for People who Like Bad News".
I have also been buying more singles of songs I want to work up, mostly old blues and rock: "Who Do You Love", "I'm Ready".

I did get the album from last week's iTunes free song: "Multiply", by Jamie Lidell -- apparently a Brit techno guy who decided to make a Motown R&B album. Some really nice tunes, I think most of this will get 4 stars.

This past Wednesday at the High Life Lounge Blues Jam, I sang a couple and did OK, but my playing sucked. I need do less working up songs and more practicing my lead licks.

High point of my reborn music "career" was on 5/10/6. There is a woman named Patty Butcher who has apparently been singing blues in Lexington for 20 years. She is really good, great voice and fantastic stage presence. She was 1st there 4/26/6 and I wound up playing rhythm guitar on the 3-4 numbers she did. She offered me a solo and I took a good one, nice expression. So on 5/10/6, she asked for me for her numbers, I sang some harmony, played some good rhythm and leads. As I was leaving that night, her manager/boyfriend/fiancee/SO told me she had a lot of gigs coming up and asked me for my phone number in case they needed me to play any of them!!! Woo-haa, I doubt anything will come of it, but, great to be asked.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

2 Books

I know, boring title, not too snappy -- but it is in Prince-speak, at least. I'm listening to "Kiss" as I write. I printed out the lyrics, so now I am committed to working it up ... OK, picked up the classical, it's in E. And the most excellent Wendy solo is an E9 with a G and then an F# played on top. OK, on to the books.

Finished "The Resurrected Man"(2005), by Sean Williams (Australian), a couple of weeks ago. There was a sophomoric quality to the writing that just wasn't working. I think that appendices of Acronyms and Foreign Slang are red flags. The way the suspense was held and the mystery's resolution both were not just up to paar. Where's Greg Egan (or Richard K. Morgan) when you need them? 3 stars.

Finished "A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness"(1999), by Nicholas Humphrey, a few days ago. I have read some of his stuff before, very well-written and insightful. He's somewhat of a protege of Dennett, hopefully that won't hold him back too much. A very nice read, written in the style of a natural philosopher, 228 pages. Some references to Oliver Sacks, skin vision, blindsight, and phantom limbs, otherwise straightforward reasoning from 1st principles. The basic contention is that consciousness arises from sensation, which is modal, not from perception, which is modeless -- medium neutral representation of concepts. The characteristics of sensation are (review p 192):

  1. they belong to the subject;
  2. they are tied to a particular site in the body;
  3. they are modality specific (pain is pain; smell is smell);
  4. they are present tense;
  5. they are self-characterizing in all these respects.
He contends that from an amoeba up, sensations are processed to produce reactions. Then, once there's enough of a brain, rather than just being simple feedback, the sensations are mirrored in a body image in the brain. There's a very unintuitive argument that, based on this feedback, sensations are a form of subjective mental activity. This feedback loop becomes disconnected from the sensations to form mental images and the mental narrative "I" (our inner voice), which are two of the main pieces that our consciousness are made of. The time delay involved also produces the "conscious present", (time 50-200 milliseconds?), in which we convince ourselves that we are conscious.

He introduces the terminology that this process produces "sentiments" that we process through the activity of sensing, "sentition". "I feel, therefore I am."

Two things I was disappointed he did not get into, that would seem to be germane to his arguments:

  • Sensory deprivation experiments. I would have thought there was a lot of info on this. If we are what we feel, what happpens when we don't feel anything?
  • Synestheasia. We read "Mind of a Mnemomist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory", by A.R. Luria (1960?) in a psychology class I took in college. The subject of the book's total recall seemed to be based on his having synestheasia, where all the senses are mixed, sights are smelt and felt, etc. Again, if we are what we feel, this would surely seem relevant (I 1st wrote "feel relevant").
I just decided, as above, to put year published in my book references. It do make a difference. One annoyance I have with iTunes is that they put the dates of when something is put on iTunes as the date of the music, rather than when it was created. I downloaded "Fresh Cream (remastered)" and "Disraeli Gears (remastered)" a couple of weekends ago and they came down with a date of 1998. Easy to fix, discographies google easily and give the proper years (1966 and 1967), but still, annoying.

Re Letters to the Editor, I sent an e-mail of encouragement to a professor at Lindsey Wilson College, a babtist school here in KY, re an article he had published in "Free Inquiry" on teaching evolution to babtists. He invited me to join the Kentucky Association of Science Educators/Skeptics forum, which I did. After the letter was printed, along with another rational letter on an Intelligent Design debate, someone posted to the forum, how nice is was to have letters that didn't require a reply. I responded:

Au contraire, I think my letter espousing neo-Darwinism does demand a response. It ignores Lynn Margulis' endosymbiotic theory, that eukaryotic cells, the basis of all more complex life, came about from the symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells (paste from Wikipedia). It doesn't mention prions, which seem to have figured out how to turn other proteins into prions without DNA based replication. It greatly oversimplified a complex and dynamic field of research -- tsk, tsk.
Somebody posted back, "What a wonderful world it would be if those were the arguments turning up on the letters-to-the-editor page."

I posted:

That is my idea exactly. I had figured I would pay attention to the letters for the next week or so and see what bible quotations would be thrown out as counter arguments, and give me a chance to reply with some more science. Wouldn't it indeed be better if instead there was a reply like the one below. Come on, can I get a shill?
But, no shills forthcoming. Too bad, we're fighting the republicans here, who have perfected "win at any cost". Surely an orchestrated intelligent discussion in the letters-to-the-editor would be preferable to the normal bible-quoting dumbasses?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Odometer Reading

It was a shocker, the Herald-Leader ran my letter pretty much as is, including the cheap shot at our guvnur. Only one dumbass reply. It might be because they ran it on Sunday, where they have a full page of letters.

Biked the last two weeks. It's a pain to reset the odometer on the bike, so I need to record the start point for the year: 657 miles. I thought I had done more than that last year, I guess not.

I biked with my wife the last two weeks. Our oldest daughter sent her a mountain bike she wasn't using, it really has trouble keeping up with my 13 pound road bike. 1st week, did 16 miles in 1h40m, this week 16.5 miles in 1h35m. Under 10 mph, I normally average 12-13. Need to get her a road bike.

Wednesday night jams at the Good Times Lounge have been going really well. Lindsay Olive didn't play last week (nor did the other unbelievable guitarist, David Ponder). I brought my amp to replace Lindsay's, so had to stay until 11:30 to get my amp back. Didn't get to sleep until 1:30, seriously dragging Thursday.

I got drafted to sing lead when they had a group up with no singer: "Little Red Rooster", "Move It On Over", and "Stormy Monday". I changed the line in "Stormy Monday":

Sunday I’ll go to church, and I fall on my knees and pray

to:

Sunday I don't go to church. There ain't no god, why should I pray?

Doing my part for atheism. I do have trouble singing theistic lyrics tho.

A country guy showed, did an upbeat Merle Haggard and "Folsom Prison Blues", but also did "Good-hearted Woman" and "Can't You See" and I sang the harmony -- both great harmony parts. I still prefer 1st harmony to singing lead -- but, I'm afraid I'm becoming a real blues singer, I can growl with the best of them. George Carlin says, no one white should sing or play the blues, too bad. I decided 6 months ago that I would take the playing as an emotional outlet, so I'm putting a lot of emotion into my singing and playing, I think it's working.

Reading stacks seriously backed up, spending too much time practicing guitar. I think of a song that would work at the jam, google the lyrics, print it out, take it downstairs and work the song out, write the key on the lyrics sheet. Up to about 20 sheets now, I'm smelling a band ;->

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Letter to the Editor redux

Well, I swore off letters to the editor (in this very blog) after they butchered the one I sent them, but I'm trying again. Too good an opportunity to try to poke a stick in the eye of our fucking dumbass (and a bad dumbass, not a good one) governor.

Letter to the Editor:

I enjoyed the article "Genetic code isn't perfect, after all" in the April 6 "Frontiers" section. It reminded me of the excellent book "Genome", by Matt Ridley, that I read a couple of years ago. Both touch on the fact that the genome itself is composed of genes and even smaller DNA sequences that reproduce with imperfect replication under environmental pressure, i.e., undergo evolution. The article and the book both show the beauty and, more importantly, the explanatory power of evolutionary biology. All that is required to create the chaotic complexity of the genome, or of all of life on earth, or of the human mind, is imperfect replication under pressure to survive (and billions of years).

This is why it is so saddening and discouraging when our governor proclaims that intelligent design (ID), which has no scientific beauty and absolutely no explanatory power, is a "self-evident truth". No one with any scientific training would ever utter such words. In science, everything is a theory -- but there are good theories and bad theories, and all theories are constantly tested by observation and experiment.

Evolution is one of the best and greatest theories of science -- generally placed in the top four, with relativity, standard particle theory, and quantum mechanics -- while ID is one of the worst, ignored by 99.9% of scientists.

I guess, though, that we can at least be thankful that our governor no longer practices medicine.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's All Out There

One thing I have been trying to remember to do for the last year or so is the following: anytime I am wondering about anything or don't know the answer to something, google it. It's amazing to me how I still sometimes go days or weeks, thinking "I wonder ..." about something -- then I remember to google it and the answer's there. Only one failure that I can think of: trying to find out the percentage of Indian computer science grad school graduates who return to India vs stay in the US.

Had a great google moment the other night. Somebody told me I should play "Hard Times", by Ray Charles, at the blues jam. So, I was listening to it on my iTunes and was going to play along on the classical guitar and found the guitar was way out of tune. So googled "e note", fifth entry, under "e note guitar", was this site. Sure enough, click the note for each string and it plays. Being the luddite I am, I saved the MP3 files to my desktop. So now I can just click and tune! Ain't technology great!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blah, blah, blah

What more can I say? Just finished "Code Reading" by Diomidis Spinellis. This book got good reviews, somewhat disappointing. Probably a good review for a young developer. I was reading it as one of my Q1 goals, I'm going to see if I can not get "Read and present a development book" the next quarter. I think about work too much as it is, and reading a development book for the last 3 weeks definitely didn't help.

I got a new position at the start of the year, and it has been working out well. For 5 years I was VP of Software Development. I started with development, QA, information development (tech writers), and IT, had 25 reports at the peak, got down to just having development, which grew to 17 direct and 3 indirect reports. I am now Executive Software Architect -- an official loose cannon, no one reporting to me. I am back in the code 70-80% of the time, doing the systems rationalizer thing, refactoring, modularizing and cleaning up dependencies. But, the code seems to really have an affinity for my brain -- likes to get in there and take over.

Got a new guitar amp -- a Fender Blues Jr. Took 2 tries, 1st one came in with inoperative reverb, 2nd one works great. Very nice sound, and 1/3 the weight of my Super Reverb, have amp will travel.

But, American Legion Monday Blues Jam is defunct, the volume was interfering with the bingo upstairs -- no joke, damn philistines. Lindsey Olive and some other guys put together a Wednesday jam at the former Lynagh's on Woodland, now "The Good Time Lounge" I think. I went to the 1st one last week, a ton of people, only got to play a couple of songs. Skipped this week, my wife works 2nd shift on Thursday, so Wednesday night is a slightly virtual Friday (she works so much you have to take what you can get). I'll go back this week tho, try to make some contacts for people to play with.

I was going to mention re Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" that he trots out the "brights" name for non-religious people. This came out in the secular humanist movement about a year ago, a term for rational, secular thinkers without the negative connotations of atheist. "Brights" totally doesn't work for me. I tell people that I am proud to be a flaming atheist, and I will continue to do so.

Still haven't decided how to move ahead after basically concluding that the human mind, language, and music have all evolved by sexual selection. Not sure where to go now. I have been thinking for retirement I would look for an open source AI project to work on. I should get in touch with the young guy who worked for me who was doing some interesting natural language stuff. I think my point is, I think I may have learned as much as there is to learn about mind at the high levels, may as well just start trying to build one.

My wife and I hadn't seen any movies for a while, so we binged a little. First saw "The Constant Gardener", a little to british; then "Flightplan", what a totally contrived plot; then "Redeye", the other airplane movie, worked better than Flightplan and came in at 75 minutes (movies are less disappointing when they're short). Saw "Syriana", re, US foreign policy sucks, a little dry and slow but well done, then "Lord of War", re, US foreign policy sucks. The movie we liked best was "Four Brothers" -- unpretentious, the guys came across as brothers, and a great sound track.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Blog and Winding Road

So, no entries in February. Mostly due to wanting to finish the serious book I started on the way home from our most excellent vacation the week of Valentine's Day to Grand Case, St. Martin, FWI. We stayed once again at the Grand Case Beach Club. It is so cool that my wife and I both really like St. Martin. From the beach club it's a 2 block walk to Boulevard of Grand Case, billed as "The Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean" -- 8-9 blocks of restaurants (mostly French), little shops, with a few houses (one complete with chicken coops). You cannot get a bad meal there. If you get tapped out from paying $100-150 for dinner at the French places, you can eat at the LoLo -- six little outdoor restaurants where they are grilling ribs, chicken, fish, lobster and serving sides bought from home: slaw, potato salad, baked squash, red beans & rice, spaghetti, salad, conch chowder. The last one we ate at, a big pile of ribs with all the sides was $7. The same with a chicken leg/thigh was $6. Rum and coke for $2.50.

The last time we were there, I couldn't figure out why most places would take cash dollars for euros. I think I get it now. It's a French island, so the official currency has to be euros, but it looks like the unofficial currency is dollars. About 1/3 of the tourists there are French, I asked if that didn't piss them off -- no, I was told, they change their euros for dollars.

My wife got to water-ski twice -- "Incredible" was the driver's comment. She also found a "professional" ski rope handle, wide enough for her to put her head through -- oh boy, more tricks. We saw Pierre, who drove her two years ago. He had his own business now, the "Leisure Master", renting boats, cruises, diving, etc.

We also took the ferry to Anguilla -- didn't like it much, it had that poor, British island feel about it. Our cab driver gave us a tour of one of the five star hotels there (Cuisinart), pretty posh I guess. But, my wife and I discussed a few times, how many of the people we know wouldn't enjoy Grand Case -- too many rough edges, not enough like Disneyland. But, to us, it's a real place. All the French wastrels hanging around reinforce it, the French invented wastreling.

We also took the big catamaran over to St. Barts, walked around Gustavia a bit, taxi-toured the island. Very chi-chi, I guess, if you want to go the Caribbean to shop at Tiffany's. It's still St. Martin for us. Talking to the captain of the catamaran, who had sailed it over from France (24 days, 3 with storms, his 13th Atlantic crossing), about favoring reality over american hyperreality -- "I don't need to go to Paris, I went there in Las Vegas". He said he thought that sailing across the ocean was about the most freedom you could find now -- nobody else's programs to follow.

Interesting, the boat trip was 2 hours each way over fairly open sea. 3 of the passengers (all French but us and 1 other) were badly seasick the whole way there. That evening I was getting some landsickness -- uh-oh. But, I would close my eyes, picture the boat on rough seas and then sailing into perfectly calm seas -- and the landsickness would go away. Oooh, mind over matter! Maybe I can try another cruise after all, test my new superpower when we get back.

We also went to Ile Pinel, swimming distance from Cul-de-Sac in the northeast corner of St. Martin. 40 yards off the beach, water waist deep. Nice trails, you can pretty much hike the whole island.

Reading on the trip:

  • "The Cobweb", by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederic George. Originally published under the pseudonym Stephen Bury in 1996. Weird read, given current events, about Iraqi grad students implementing the Iraqi biological weapons in the US midwest around the gulf war. Stephenson's dialogue is as snappy as ever, very enjoyable, 4 stars. Next out from them: "Interface" -- I have "Interface", by Stephen Bury, on my to-read shelf, woo-ha! My friend David gave it to me 7-8 years ago, I guess it's time to read it.
  • "Polaris", by Jack McDevitt. A good mystery, not his normal astro-archeology, a nice read, but I figured out the ending 2/3 of the way through. 3 stars.
  • "Blind Waves", by Steven Gould. I missed this somehow, had to buy used. A good vacation read, not quite as charming as "Jumper" and his others, 3 stars.
  • "The Translator", by John Crowley. Very nice, about an expatriate Russian poet and the female college student who translates some of his poetry, set in the early '60s. Crowley's hidden worlds, worlds within worlds, are there nicely. Very interesting, per the book you can never translate a poem. Too many idioms, double meanings, puns get lost. What you are doing is creating a new poem based on the original -- if you are lucky. My wife ran out of books to read, she has been reading it and enjoying it as well. 4 stars.
  • Finally, my serious book (so I wouldn't run out of reading on the trip home): "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon", Daniel Dennett's latest. Dennett used to be annoying by putting on his Professional Philosopher's hat and spending lots of words explaining why he is right and all his philosopher colleagues are wrong. In this one, he is annoying by addressing an imaginary religous reader and challenging them to question the assumptions of their faith -- yeah, right. It takes a very memetic approach to the subject, traces the development of the modern religious packages from early folk religions, and talks about various aspects of the religion memeplex, such as belief in belief, and the "you can't discuss this stuff, particularly if you're not religious" meme. All in all, somewhat disappointing. He comments positively on "Religion Explained" by Boyer that I have on my to-read shelf, I'll have to get around to that one. 3 stars.
Went to the wedding of a young coworker yesterday. Scripture reading talked about a braid of three strands being stronger than a braid of 1 or 2. I must have zoned out and missed some stuff, I was thinking "Whoa, what's up, who's the 3rd person, kinky stuff up?", then figured out the 3rd strand was god. Then at the end the minister says, "Jerry McGuire was wrong when he said 'you complete me' -- god completes you both." Seriously annoying shit. I really enjoyed the talk of the minister at my son's wedding (on the Radisson Niagara Falls package -- we were lucky to get to attend). I guess my son and his wife picked the non-religious ceremony. The minister (from Ghana, great James Earl Jones voice) talked for 10 minutes about the problems of maintaining a lifetime relationship, practical things about support, love, sharing hopes and dreams. It was very inspiring and uplifting -- and no trying to figure out how to shoehorn god in there somewhere. "The love of a man and a wife is like the love of jebus for his church" -- what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

I've really been enjoying the Astronomy Picture of the Day site I blogged earlier. There are so many great pictures out there of stuff we only had blurry images of when I was an astrophysicist 30 years. Google images is crazy, I looked for NGC 1275, one of my favorite galaxies, and got 203 hits. Really cool pictures, there's a spiral in the middle of that mess!

Haven't listened to much new music lately. I have a half dozen or so e-mails in my inbox (my todo list) with recommendations, have to start checking some out.

Impulse bought a Fender Blues Junior amp from music123.com (free shipping and a free guitar stand, who could resist) to help further my musical "career" at the Legion -- woo-haa. Really nice sound, but had to send it back, the reverb was totally inoperative. I didn't even know it had reverb, but still, for $400, you want all the features working. Hopefully it won't take too long to get the replacement.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Memory

I was thinking about the folk wisdom that we somewhere remember everything, and that we can recall it all under hypnosis. Seems to me to be definitely an old wive's tale. Short term memory is in the front of the brain, long term memories are formed in the back. It's well known that trauma can prevent the transfer from short to long term memory -- hence accident victims commonly don't remember much about their accidents. It also seems like we can't be remembering repetitive stuff, like the details of getting in the shower every morning, or, even worse, the activity of someone on an assembly line. Seems like the brain would reject the duplicate memory, or overlay or reinforce the preexisting one.

Finished my 5th library book (turned in 2 days overdue), Frederik Pohl's "The Boy Who Would Live Forever". It's a return to his Gateway/HeeChee stories, very meandering (new characters introduced over halfway through). I kind of like the meandering stuff, more realistic and life-like. I remember Bruce Sterling's "Schismatrix" was one of the 1st books that struck me that way.

Frederik Pohl has been producing nice works of sci-fi for decades now. I remember his novel "Jem" as being one of the most cynical novels I ever read.

My wife worked both days last weekend so I caught up on my comic book movies. Watched "Fantastic Four" and "Batman Begins". Both well done, #13 and #8 in box office last year (ain't the web great) so they will probably be back. Still, best comic book movies to date have been X-Men 2 and Spiderman 2 (and maybe Superman 2 -- hmm, maybe a pattern?)

Finally seem to have digested all the music I got late last year, ready for more. Downloaded "More Shine" by Si*Se, who was a iTunes free song. Listenable world beat (actually fairly western), 3 stars.

Cooking a pot of 15 bean soup, time to stir. Have to miss the blues jam tomorrow night for a business dinner. Only got to play around 1/2 hour last week. My chops are definitely getting better, the speed of both my hands is improving.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pretty Pictures

My baby sister sent me the link to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. The pictures are beautiful, some great Hubble shots. So far I have downloaded 3 and made them my wallpaper. My wife commented on how pretty the shot of M101, the Sombrero Galaxy, was -- this has always been a favorite of mine. When I was a kid, "The Outer Limits" used to show pictures of galaxies behind their credits, I'm sure M101 was one of them.

Looking at M101, you see the beautiful diffuse halo of stars. It's so amazing to see this mist and realize every spec is a star. I was thinking, those would be nice places to live, placid (no supernovas or spiral waves passing through), with a beautiful view of the galactic disk. Then I realized, these are all Population II stars -- formed from the initial primordial hydrogen and helium. So, no metals, no life as we know it. Life-bearing planets are most likely confined to Population I stars in spiral arms. These stars and their planetary disks include the material from supernovae, which is everything heavier than around nitrogen. "We are made of stars" -- the iron in our blood is only formed in supernovae. So, no life if it's too peaceful -- it seems only fitting.

Finished the 4th library book, Nancy Kress "Crucible". This was the sequel to "Crossfire", which I think I somewhat panned. This one, I just wanted it to be over.

Before that, read the 3rd of Walter Jon William's "Dread Empire's Fall" series, "Conventions of War". Hopefully this trilogy is done. Readable, but, why?

I have now been 4 times to play at the Monday Night Blues Jam Session at -- the American Legion. It's really fun -- ""Blueberry Hill" in G -- got it; "Knock on Wood" in D -- got it. The last 2 times, I got to play most of the lead guitar. I have improved greatly, still a long way to go. Still, it really resonates to do this. I remember that I was a professional musician -- I keep it sparse and simple, I will do more as my chops come back. There has normally been 6-10 musicians (drums, bass, keyboard, 3-4 guitarists), and maybe 10 people there. This past Monday, there were a couple dozen specators, and there was a good harp player who I've seen around Lexington before; a great black keyboardist / lead singer; and an outlaw guitarist / Johnny Cash type who was wild. Nobody knew any of the chords to the 2 songs he did (but we figured them out). My wife went and we danced to one when I was sitting out. She enjoyed it OK but it's a smoking place (woo-haa), and her eyes were burning. Still, I got to play the better part of an hour and a half.

Another milestone Monday: there was a guitarist there whom I was better than! Up to that, the other guitarists had seriously more chops than me. Dave Brown Sr (dad of my son's business partner), who got me to come, is an excellent player, and there's a guy Lindsey Olive who is unbelievable -- totally fluid. He has mostly played bass the last 2 weeks.

So, it's been really fun. The songs we play I don't know well, I come home and practice the chords. I'm playing 3-5 times a week, both my hands are getting a lot stronger.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: Jebus Says It's OK To Bite Your Enemy's Face Off

Wanted to see "King Kong" or "Memoirs of a Geisha", but no 7:30-8:30 playtimes. So, we went to see "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". I read the books around 30 years ago, OK but certainly not Tolkien. Anyway, at 2h12m, the movie went by fairly quickly given that it was relatively boring. Lately, I seem to have a problem with fantasy when it is entirely of an arbitrary nature -- like "what are they going to pull out of their ass next?" I think you have to stay very close to the archetypes for a fantasy to work. I think, tho, even worse, is when it is fantasy with a subtext, particularly when the subtext is christianity.

It is well known that C.S.Lewis was a christian apologist, and that Aslan is indeed supposed to be a jebus figure. *** SPOILER ALERT *** But, in a fantasy context, what a load of crap. The movie is full of Greco-roman mythological creatures, all of which christianity seriously suppressed. My favorite was the ending tho, where Aslan (off-camera of course) bites the face off of the White Witch. Which gospel is that in?

It was amazing tho. No show times for King Kong, and this thing was playing on 2 screens, and the theater was full -- of dumbass christians, sent by their preachers to enjoy the christian values of this "wonderful" movie. Fucking shit, these morons will apparently believe anything that anybody tells or even suggests to them. They started out the movie laughing aloud at not particularly funny stuff, and ended it with "Wasn't that just wonderful?", "Oh yes, wonderful.". Grrr. I'd say a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but I think that sometimes, when you raise people to believe instead of think, that not much in the way of a mind ever develops.

My friend David sent me this link to some great atheist t-shirts. I have to pick out a few and start wearing them to the Fayette Mall on Sunday.

Been on a science fiction binge since finishing "Meta-Math!". Read a collection of short stories by John Crowley, "Novelties & Souvenirs". These are nice stories, an extended time travel one "The Great Work of Time" is very nice. Crowley writes very well, i.e., almost serious literature. His early novels "Engine Summer", "Beasts", "The Deep", and "Little, Big" are most excellent. He hits the archetypes hard -- a very nice recursive turn in that they tend to be fairy tales where at some point the characters begin to realize that they're in a fairy tale. His newer novels, "Aegypt" and "Daemonomania" are very well written, but don't have the charm of his earlier stuff.

Then hit my excellent local library where I have not been in months. Interesting, "No Cell Phone" signs up. Picked up 5 sci-fi novels. First read one of Octavia Butler's early short novels that I seem to have missed somehow, "Survivor". Very nice read. I really liked how her first 5 or so novels had 2-4 intertwining themes, but done in a way such that you can read them all standalone. Her 3 Xenogenesis novels were very good, and her newer stuff is also very readable.

Then read Greg Bear's latest, "Dead Lines". So, as previously blogged, after having one character experience god in "Darwin's Children", now we have a life-after-death novel. I was wondering, is he just getting old -- checked, he's 2 months younger than I am -- so he's definitely getting old. Well, he has a new one out, "Quantico", we'll see if it has creeping supernaturalism in it as well.

Just finished yesterday "Reflex", by Steven Gould". This is the sequel to his 1st novel "Jumper", which I loved. It reminded me of a book I would have loved when I was 12-15 and 1st reading escapist literature heavily. Plus, the main character's superpower, teleportation, is reminiscent of Gully Foyle in "The Stars My Destination" (still no apparent progress on Russell Crowe playing Gully Foyle). Anyway, "Reflex" is a totally pleasant read, I was sorry when it was over. Gould's other novels, "Wildside" and "Helm" are also great reads, they do the same thing, somehow make me feel like I'm a teenager again.

Made a fire in the fireplace yesterday, 1st time in probably 15 years. Only 4 seasoned small logs, kept it going around 2.5 hours. Tending a fire is great stuff, I love the smell and the feel of it. When I'm biking and I smell woodsmoke, it really slaps my mind -- million year old circuits kicking in.

It's like walking in the dark. I have gotten to really enjoy that in the summer, it really wakes up your senses and your old, old brain -- you're back to being a primate who knew that there were lots of things in the dark that wouldn't mind eating you, better be alert. Like the time I was hiking in the Saguaro National Monument east of Tucson and Mr. Rattlesnake rattled "hello" from 18 inches away -- I was definitely more awake and alive for the next hour of the hike.

Time for lunch, then see if I can get a load of firewood delivered. High in the 50's today, but we should have some more cold weather before the winter's over, I am looking forward to more of the fire thing.