2020 October❮❮prevnext❯❯

photos of the month september 2020

October 1, 2020
Hmm, honestly not the best month for photos...

Open Photo Gallery

October 2, 2020

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I'd only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again
Well, I've got to ask
Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs (Continued)"

Atari Games that never were (via)

Me sowing: Haha fuck yeah!!! Yes!!

Me reaping: Well this fucking sucks. What the fuck.

its okay to have a bad week guys. its okay if you dont achieve anything for a month or three. it's okay if a few years are just a total write-off. it's okay to have a bad life . its okay to go to hell and squirm forever in the flames like a little rat

new music playlist september 2020

October 3, 2020

It's the End of the World as We Know It
Solid cover of the REM song, I remember when a Cleveland radio station played this for like 72 hours straight as it changed format - felt kind of apocalyptic.
I often poke around and see if Pomplamoose has done any good covers.

Nine Inch Nails - Closer But It's Funkytown By Lipps Inc.
William Maranci
Ha, such a mashup. In itunes I use the title "Funk You Like an Animal", suggested by a youtube viewer.
Random youtube recommendation.

Uh Huh
Jade Bird
I do dig this delivery of girl rock, or whatever a less sexist descriptor of it is - also the jaded attitude of the lyrics.
From Arun's collection.

Star Trek Theme w Lyrics
Tenacious D
Infamously, Gene Roddenberry penned lyrics to the original Star Trek theme in order to snag some royalties.
Cracked mentioned this Tenacious D version.
Daydream (feat. Alia Farah)
M. Ward
Sweet cover of the classic song.
Music behind a Stella Artois beer commercial
Addicted To Bass
So Very 90s.
From my buddy Arun.

Cock Block
Little Jackie
Whoa, delightfully vulgar lyrics ("My mind says no, my heart says maybe so / And my body says go go go go go / Sorry I can't see straight there is a cock blocking my vision")
Random recommendation researching last month's playlist.
Don't Worry 'Bout That Mule
Louis Jordan
Haven't heard enough Louis Jordan since that "Five Guys Named Moe" soundtrack I had. This video which also covers his more famous "Caledonia" has delightfully decorated instruments
A list of quotes from John Madden quotes mentioned “Who cares if the horse is blind? Just keep loading the wagon.” Found this trying to find out more about the expression.
Behave Yourself
Booker T. & The M.G.'s
Mellow R+B.
Found this video of Steve Cropper talking on the history of Green Onions.

It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop (Hip-Hop Remix)
Dead Prez
Great flow.
Walk-on music for the Dave Chapelle show. (I also love his African colors "C" logo)
Five Man Electrical Band
70s crunchy protest-y.
Guy at a Whole Foods protest rally suggested we do this one.
The Diarrhea Song
John Roberts, Eugene Mirman, & Bob's Burgers
cover via Bob's Burgers... I envy Gene's sampling keyboard, I used to have one (the "Casio SK-8") Don't know why they don't make them any more.
I always wonder about this song, like if started as a "camp song" or if there was another origin.
If and When I Die
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
Artsy, existential.
Saw a sweat shirt with the name band's name "The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die" at a rally and I had to find out what it was about.

Hitch It to the Horse (Bonus Track)
The Fantastic Johnny C
Harper's magazine mentioned a different B-side, "Cool Broadway", got this as another recommendation.

Oh, these are so good! Reagan Ray isolated the lettering of the artists' names on 100 jazz records. I've always loved this kind of design work.

(via kottke)
Happy German Unity Day! 30 Years Ago West + East Germany were reunited, a highpoint of Western Triumphalism and marking "The End of History" that... lasted about a decade? Maybe?
On my devblog: I just realized the breakout hit "widgetsmith" offers a version of the "time in words, roughly" time display that I was prototyping a decade ago...
kirk.is/drawing - my vacation project was a free, minimalist shared whiteboard webapp. (Worked to make sure it was reasonably mobile friendly) Basically if you're on a call and need to express an ideally visually, and both sides have a gadget handy, you can run here and fire up a new board. (Some messaging apps have something similar already built-in, of course, but I still think this might be handy...)

October 4, 2020

I spend a nice low key week w/ my Mom and Aunt at the family's vacation/retirement homestead at the Jersey Shore (Melissa alas had to stay in Boston).
So there is this set of songs that my grandfather Papa Sam would sing along with his daughters Betty and Susan that are part of my family lore (along with a few stragglers from summer camp) and so I enrolled my folks in a project to get them on video.
Entry 1: The song "Titanic", a light hearted but kinda macabre ditty:

O they built the ship titanic
to sail the ocean blue
and they thought they'd built a ship
that the water'd never get through
but the Good Lord raised His hand
said the ship would never land
it was sad when the great ship went down

O it was sad it was sad it was sad (too bad)
It was sad when the great ship went down
to the bottom of the
*husbands and wives little children lost their lives...
it was sad when the great ship went down

It was off the coast of England
and not too far from shore
when the rich refused
to associate with the poor
so they sent them down below
and they were the first to go
it was sad when the great ship went down


so they threw out all the lifeboats
to the dark and stormy sea
and the band struck up
O Nearer My God to Thee
Little children wept and cried
as the waves came over the side
It was sad when the great ship went down

(to the bottom of the sea!)

The [1980's Spring/Summer Football league] USFL was a modest sensation until Donald Trump purchased the league's New Jersey franchise and forced the league to abandon its spring schedule for the the fall in order to compete directly with the NFL. Not long after, the USFL collapsed.
From sports franches to casinos to nations, the man really has a reverse midas touch, every his hand rests turns to crap.

The Wikipedia page mentions the play may have been to force the NFL to merge - and they even won an anti-monopoly lawsuit against the NFL. And won $1. But under antitrust law, that $1 was tripled!

(Another fun detail from Wikipedia's page on the USFL: "Trump's failure to purchase the [Buffalo] Bills [in 2014] was cited as a major factor in his ultimately successful decision to run for President of the United States the next year")

October 5, 2020

Sam's Fam Jam Singalong Entry 2: "On the Dummy Line"

On the dummy line
On the dummy line
Rain or Shine I'll Pay My Fine
Rain or Shine I'll Pay My Fine
Ridin Ridin Ridin on the dummy line

There was a boy coming home from school
Saw a half dollar at the foot of a mule
scooped it up as slick as a mouse
next day there was a funeral at the little boy's house


There was a girl she used to squeal
had a face like a lemon peel
had a wart at the end of her chin
she thought it was a dimple but a dimple sticks in


There was a boy lived down on a farm
tried to milk a cow and he meant no harm
the cow kicked him right off of the bench
because he tried to milk her with a monkey wrench


I thought the whole joke was to insert names of people in attendance, but I guess "a boy" and "a girl" work as well.

Thomas wrote that [same-sex couples' constitutional right to wed] does not actually exist--and that, in recognizing it, the court implied that "those with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage ... espoused a bigoted worldview."
How on God's Green Earth is freedom of religion NOT the right to be free of someone ELSE's religion?

October 6, 2020

Hasn't aged entirely well, a bit cavalier in a Loony Tunes way about mental health etc, but not too too bad:


here comes my wagon my wagon
to take me to the nutty factory
here comes my wagon my wagon
I can hear my keeper calling me

folks have made me what i am
i hope they're satisfied
i may not be what they want me to be
but the good lord knows i tried

just like a nut that falls
I'm a little cracked that's all
dingdingdingdingding here comes my wagon...

(I love "i may not be what they want me to be / but the good lord knows i tried" - it's a tongue twister! also new to my Aunt who only knew the first and last parts)

I forget who told me this, but someone once said, "There's very little you can learn that isn't bad news." The older I get, the more I see the wisdom in that.

I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school, this isn't the let's-read-a-book school. And I get it and I understand it and it's a very interesting thing and I'm gonna be letting you know about it.
This statement says so much about his way of "knowing" the world. Screw the experts, at least 'til what the experts know - and are willing to share in books - screws you.

October 7, 2020

Here are the words, as we know them. I sure there's a lot of mutation over time. Also, it sounds vaguely like there might be something old-timey racist in its general vibe, but looking at the actual lines it's tough to see anything offensive... - "a for 'of"? "hallum scallum"? a "Buck" bowling 'em?

One sort, two sort
little jig'a'jam
bobtail dominick
little tory tam
virgin mary
hallum scallum
jingle 'em
jangle 'em
bowl 'em buck

william william
tremble toe
he's a good fisherman
catches hens
puts 'em in pens
some lay eggs
some not
how brow limble lock
sit and sing 'til 12 o'clock
the clock fell down
the mouse ran around
o u t spells out
What we call reality is just when we all agree about our hallucinations.
Baba Brinkman, quoted by Anil Seth.
This is after Harris quotes Chris Frith calling consciousness "a fantasy that coincides with reality" - the idea that we absorb raw sensory data but really live in our interpretation of that data, not in the data itself. Our day to day conscious life is closer to what we experience while dreaming, only hopefully a bit more well-grounded in the external objective world.
Contrary to what most people assume, we can echolocate to some degree. If you hold your hand in front of your face and hum and then move your hand back and forth, you'll notice that your humming reveals to you the location of your hand. So you can be a lousy bat whenever you want.
Sam Harris

[The Frontal Cortex] does impulse control, emotional regulation, long-term planning, gratification postponements, executive function. It's the part of the brain that attempts to tell you, "You know, this seems like a good idea right now, but trust me, you'll regret it. Don't do it." It's the most recently evolved part of our brains. Our frontal cortex is proportionately bigger and more complex than that of any other primate. And, most interesting, it's the last part of the brain to get fully wired up. The frontal cortex is not fully online until people are, on average, about a quarter century old. It's boggling, but it also tells you a lot about why adolescents act in adolescent ways; it's because the frontal cortex isn't very powerful yet. And that has an interesting implication, which is that if the frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully mature, by definition it's the part least constrained by genes and most shaped by experience. So the frontal cortex is your moral barometer, if that's the right metaphor. It's the Calvinist voice whispering in your head.
Robert Sapolsky
I think I have trouble absorbing the consequences of a brain that doesn't come into its own until later in life. Ever since I myself was a teen, my method of dealing with younger kids was to treat them more or less as adults, to take them seriously and with respect. (It's usually pretty effective, and the kids seem to appreciate it...but I think one ex properly sussed that it put me at risk for being the "buddy dad" type and leaving the more authoritarian stuff for "mean mom".)

I treat kids that way because my strongest emotional driver is the need to be compliant with objective, unemotional reality, and my intuition (which is pretty much wrong, but then again I've never put much stock in intuition...) is that rational clear reasoning is available to everyone. Also because it's often fun and funny to take kids seriously, and it feels like it's good practice for them. But I realize now that it's based on a false premise.
I completely agree. My MIT colleague Erik Brynjolfsson in our business school put this eloquently on a panel at a recent AI conference: "If we can't ensure that everybody gets better off after this huge explosion of wealth, then shame on us." Shame on us!
Max Tegmark, on what humanity might reap from advancements in AI and automation

Setting up a new webcam... I do love webcamtoy.com

When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it's easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label *racist* should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework–besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people–is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful.
Austin Channing Brown, "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness"

October 8, 2020

I've got a little pile of tin
nobody knows what shape it's in
got 4 wheels and a running board
it's a ford oh it's a ford
honk honk rattle rattle rattle crash beep beep
honk honk rattle rattle rattle crash beep beep
honk honk rattle rattle rattle crash beep beep
honk honk

(more of a camp song, and there's a "grandpa's beard is old and gray / it grows longer every day / grandma says it's good to eat / says it tastes like shredded wheat" verse I wasn't as into.)
Legos of the 80s, 90s, and 00s...

Growing up I loved Lego's "Space" series. And I've always loved robots. One of my first really big scores was this lovely beast:

I especially loved the arm / claw things.

Sometime out of college I got this fella:

Is it weird to point out its the resemblance to certain racial stereotypes? Hopefully they'd be a little more careful these days.

Finally, this one from the "Life on Mars" series.. at this point something has shifted... Lego now makes sets significantly cooler than what most kids (or at least I!) can... lots of joints and other weird but special use pieces...

October 9, 2020

I have mixed feelings about Dilbert (and about the Trump-friendly "facts don't matter, only persuasion matters" of its creator Scott Adams) but this strip from 1992 has really stuck with me; it's a very important point fairly well presented:

I have some quibbles (the "interaction of chemicals" is by no means "random") but it's important to know that action precedes rational thought and narration.

There are anecdotes involving hypnosis and split-brain patients that provide crystal clear examples of how the narrative brain will confabulate explanations for what the system as a whole (conscious/unconscious) has done - if a person acts because of unknown hypnotic suggestion or because of instructions given only to the non-verbal lobe, our inner narrator is rarely at a loss for SOME reason why it made sense to do whatever the body just did.

October 10, 2020

i'm a little acorn brown
lying on the cold cold ground
everybody steps on me
so i'm a little cracked you see
i'm a nut (*tck* *tck*)
i'm a nut (*tck* *tck*)
i'm a nut
Reshma Saujani's TEDtalk Teach girls bravery, not perfection (or if you prefer text, here's a
Great mini-honk-fest with School of Honk.

I rate it 10/10.

Or even 2020.

October 11, 2020

Sang this one as a call and response with my superniece Cora yesterday...

there was a man
who had a goat
he loved that goat
just like a kid
one day that goat
was feeling fine
ate three red shirts
right off the line
the man he grabbed
him by the back
and tied him to
the railroad track
just then a train
came into sight
the poor old goat
grew green with fright
he gave a sigh
as if in pain
coughed up the shirts
and flagged the train

though I mislearned it as "grabbed him by the neck" not "back", which might be how I end up teaching it...

October 12, 2020

Final Sam's Jam Fam: the sisters' salute to George M Cohan (with me on laptop percussion)

Includes: Grand Old Flag / Give My Regards to Broadway / Mary / Harrigan

They say it was a car trip favorite, like right before they got home (which is kind of interesting, the family didn't even have a car until the girls were teens...)
It's language that enables us to ask ourselves questions and reflect on our own experiences. Frogs notice all kinds of things in their world, but I don't think they can notice their noticings. I don't think they can dwell on them. That whole sort of stairway of curiosity that we have built-in doesn't exist for any species but us, and that makes a huge difference. Human consciousness is to animal consciousness roughly as languages is to birdsong. Birdsong communicates, but not much.
Daniel Dennett in Tufts Magazine, part of a response to "How do you define consciousness?"
I like that line about the frogs.
There's an old Maine joke that sums [our tricks for self-control] up. A farmer is in the outhouse, and when he pulls up his pants, a quarter rolls out of his pocket and falls down the hole. He swears and pulls out his wallet and throws down a five-dollar bill. Someone asks him later, "Why'd you do that?" He replies, "You don't think I'm going down there for a quarter, do you?"
Daniel Dennett in Tufts Magazine

October 13, 2020

Excellent Poetry Unbound podcast on Natalie Diaz' "Of Course She Looked Back", a poem about Lot's wife. It reminded me of Donald Justice's "There is a gold light in certain old paintings", the second stanza of which has a deep place in my poetic memory:
Orpheus hesitated beside the black river.
With so much to look forward to he looked back.
We think he sang then, but the song is lost.
At least he had seen once more the beloved back.
      I say the song went this way: O prolong
      Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong.
I've always been a looking back kind of guy.
Picture a coordinate graph. Time x versus money y, with a horizontal line at a certain y value that represents not only the worth of all the goods stored but also generously includes the value of all the labor it would take you to acquire their equivalents all over again. For many people, it would be hard to abandon ship even as time went by and the cumulative cost of renting crept upward across that line. As money becomes time, time itself becomes sunk cost.

Think of another graph. The x-axis is still just the unalterable fact of time. But the y value represents some combination of hassle, perceived or actual usefulness, regret, hope, etc. As the first graph grinds on, this graph, tracking the willingness to keep going, comes to look like exponential decay. You could say this graph reveals the half-life of attachment.
Rafil Kroll-Zaidi in Harper's Magazine Reason Not The Need: Self-storage and the dream of infinite space.
I've been thinking about decluttering lately especially in terms of "our office", which is my office space slash playroom slash wardrobe. Like my collection of about 60 or so Graphic Ts, most of which are pretty well curated already. It's still hard to get rid of them, or know what the ideal number of shirts to have would be. Each shirt is literally technically irreplaceable. And ironically, sometimes it's the second or third tier of shirts that's harder to get rid of "oh I can wear this shirt, since I'm stuck at home anyway and nobody will see it much, and then save the wear and tear on shirts I'm actually psyched for people to see." (I've gone on shirt purges before, however... taking photos helps lets go.)

We use a little bit of space in our apartment's basement, but overall I am dead set against ever using self-storage outside of special circumstances (like between houses with a gap). It's a line in the sand I draw between me and clutter...
For a hot second I got fooled by a phisher - a plausible enough gmail address for the minister of a UU church I used to be associated with (I think including her photo) and included the church's actual physical address in the sig. The first message was "write me back quick", the second was
Glad to hear from you Kirk, I'm in a conference meeting right now and only have access to email that's why i'm contacting you here. I would have called, instead of emailing you but phone calls are not allowed during the meeting.

I just need to get eBay gift card today for some women going through cancer at the hospital but I can't do that right now because of my busy schedule.

Can you get it from any store around you possibly now? and I will pay you back later in cash or check. Let me know if you can get the card for these patients.")
You can google most of that message online as a known scam, but I imagine for many a semi-plausible request for help from a religious authority for a sad situation is pretty convincing. I'm a little alarmed at how much I had to think it through.

on "The Suburbs (Continued)"

October 14, 2020
The other week I posted lyrics to Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs (Continued)". For some reason I wanted to take a deeper dive at deconstructing it. (Sort of a throw back to my English major University days, though maybe more subjectively than I was allowed to then! I once did a ten page paper on a 3 line poem.)

Acoustically the song starts by painting a broad soft landscape, gently sorrowful in tone, and taking up a full third of this song which is kind of a reprise of a longer piece.

The first lyrics start continuing the wistful tone set by the orchestration:

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted

...An impossible wish for having time again. The album this track is from (and that shares a name with it) has a strong apocalyptic theme. So the loss could be somewhere between the personal and the larger community scale - and maybe with a fear that people should have done more preparation when there was the chance.

I'd only waste it again

One thinks of the Tallulah Bankhead line "If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner" and similar expressions that can almost challenge the idea of free will - if we were the same person we were then, and in the same situation, of course we'd take the same actions and make the same mistakes.

But then:

If I could have it back
You know I would love to waste it again

A female voice joins in on the second line of this phrase - suddenly the "we" of the second line of the song (in a piece otherwise in the singular) gains a new depth. Not only do these lines mark a switch from the regretful to the wistful, but there is a shared sense of connection, a shared past.

Waste it again and again and again

A lovely mechanic of repetition here that mirrors the way time is 'wasted', especially with someone: over a series of repeated days, weeks, months.

What is the context of the song? There's a strong sense of loss here, whether it's in the apocalyptic story of the larger album or merely a failed relationship. (And for me it hits home - I'm at peace with my life, and not having made a traditional family, but I think for many there can be a sense of lost opportunity and wasted young adulthood.)

Well, I've got to ask

This is the only spoken line in the song. Who is the narrator asking? A divine figure who might be able to grant his wish to have the time back? Or maybe it's a hopeless plea to the other half of the "we" of the song, to rekindle a broken relationship. Wistful and resigned either way.

2022 Update: after watching Weide's Vonnegut documentary, I looked up this song and realized the lyric might be "I forgot to ask". Which still carries weight in the same way. Maybe even more poignant for me; Amber told me that it was me failing to ask her "Please don't do this" is what sealed our fate.

The song then continues with further repetition:

Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm moving past the feeling again
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm moving past the feeling again
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm moving past the feeling again
Sometimes I can't

The repetitions alternate between the main singer and the second voice until fade out. Are both parties surprised at their success in moving on? But the "again" in the line, along with the repetition of the lines themselves, points to it not being a steady sense of increasing equanimity - so is the surprise at just having the ability to move on, or at realizing the backsliding into feeling has happened again?

The song ends with a fade out - so it's ambiguous what the truly final line is, but "Sometimes I can't" works well, and ties into the confusion about if the singers have moved on or not.

This is an amazing 1:30 of music.
Life Lessons Learned in My 40's That I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year Old Self. Well-trod territory but good.

October 15, 2020

*Overheard conversation between 2nd grade boys*
"Do you think you'll ever fall in love?"
"I don't know. I think if she likes pancakes, then probably."

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceeds sciences which may be called "sciences as one would." For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.
Francis Bacon, Novum Organon (1620)
via Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"
Blast from the past:
"Truly [the small-town residents] were the salt of the earth."
"And why does one salt the earth? To keep anything new from growing."
Great comic - it ended but is on a long reprint stretch that should last a few years.
Worst photoshop I've seen in the wild:

October 16, 2020

Thoughtful piece on practicing mindfulness of death. I know with my "So You're Going to Die" comic, there are some people who are more comfortable with not thinking about the topic, but I do think keeping your eyes open and exploring the emotional space is a very useful thing. Like the Nikki Mirghafori says we are too often out of alignment with what we actually know our lives to be; something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. As Dr. Jenn Mann says "The unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between past, present, and future", so often the conscious awareness of the conclusion of things is jarring, but we can think and feel ourselves to a more honest and healthy and accepting place.

October 17, 2020

Whoops! There Goes Me Muff!

October 18, 2020
Growing up my family had The New Yorker Album of Drawings, 1925-1975.

So gorgeous:

I don't really remember this but I feel obliged to throw in this detail from Steinberg taking on the orchestra:

Finally, the one that really had me undertake this scanning...

For some reason that really hit with my family, maybe reflecting our juxtaposition of down to earth roots that still sometimes appreciated the "finer things" but sometimes we kinda stumbled over those roots... "Whoops! There Goes Me Muff!" became a family catchphrase. (Also maybe because "Muff" is one of those words that sounds naughty but isn't.)

I feel an intense pride, Robert, that I live in a country rich enough to have war and peace at the same time.
New Yorker Cartoon
This one I didn't recall, but damn if it doesn't describe the weirdness of the early-90s and mid-00s.

today's news as seen on ipads in 1995

October 19, 2020
In October 1995, Wired magazine had an interesting special issue: "Wired Scenarios 1.01: the Future of the the Future." One part that really stuck in my mind was "A Day in the Life", four two-page spreads with first person perspectives of people looking at October 19, 2020's - today's! - news on their distinctly iPad-like tablet devices.

The article says "Industrial Design and Alias work by Lunar Design" and attributes photos to James Porto. I can't find too much information on this article, or in fact, the entire issue --it seems like the thing was made when Wired was still uneven about getting its material online. The design work is pretty cool though -- with the exception of the "Porsche Cortex" they're not quite as grindingly minimalistic as the iPad. The Swatch one seems to be designed for bicycling, and the "SonyShack" device has a custom button for the wagering/betting that all the models support.

In trying to dig up information on this article I found a 1998 Digital Systems Research Center report on The Virtual Book, that reminded me the concept wasn't entirely new: the movie and novel 2001 had the "Newspad" (Commentators in February of 2010 loved pointing this "ripoff" out, making fun of the name 'iPad', and generally predicting it would be a big flop) and there was also Alan Kay's 1968 Dynabook concept. (Also some interesting contact between Kay and Steve Jobs...)

Of course, there was another, arguably more memorable feature in that article that seems weirdly on topic: the nightmarish semi-apocalyptic scenario "The Plague Years: 1996-2020" (with its (at times badly) photoshopped yet evocative images of a 747 being torched at Singapore airport (to try to contain the "Mao Flu"), corpses floating in a bay ala Katrina, and United Colors of Benetton ad sporting a rainbow of gas-mask/hazmat ensembles). Andrew Stern did a set of scans here

Chris Abani, "The New Religion"

October 20, 2020
The body is a nation I have not known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. 'The body is a savage,' I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, 'I am better, Lord,
I am better,' but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God's desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, 'Next time
I will send you down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger.'
Chris Abani, "The New Religion"
Via the Poetry Unbound podast. This one really spoke to me; I conflate the body with the subconscious part of the brain; the mind/heart split can be so pronounced that the mind can challenge the legitimacy of the heart; almost its existence. But what a thought: "For years I said that: the body is a savage. / As if this safety of the mind were virtue / not cowardice. For years I have snubbed / the dark rub of it, said, ‘I am better, Lord, I am better'" For someone like me, who as a child gulped drank from two vials, one "I am super smart" and the other "I have to control myself or I am going to spend eternity in Hell"... pointing out the dialog of virtue and cowardice that represents is a crucial reminder.
Just thought of the old Arabica Coffeehouse in Cleveland (at least in the late-80s and still there by the looks of it.) They were generally pronounced "air-uh-BEE-kuh", not like the coffe bean. But I remember someone mentioning nicknames for a few of them - Freak-abica for the bohemian neighborhood in Coventry, Geek-abica for the one near Case Western Reserve University, Chic-abica for one in an upscale neighborhood, and then there was some other coffee place the coffee cognizati called "Wanna-bica".

October 21, 2020

America can be counted on to take any good idea, or any bad idea, and absolutely run it into the ground.
George Carlin

O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
You who laugh with laughs, you who laugh it up laughishly
O, laugh out laugheringly
O, belaughable laughterhood - the laughter of laughering laughers!
O, unlaugh it outlaughingly, belaughering laughists!
Laughily, laughily,
Uplaugh, enlaugh, laughlings, laughlings
Laughlets, laughlets.
O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
Velimir Khlebnikov

Animator Chuck Jones once quantified the exact margin of error on one of his most famous jokes: Wile E. Coyote, when falling off a cliff, had to hit bottom exactly fourteen frames after he disappeared from sight. "It seemed to me that thirteen frames didn't work in terms of humor, and neither did fifteen frames. Fourteen frames got a laugh."
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

The ancient Greeks believed that the diaphragm muscle was the seat of humor appreciation, which is why the nearby armpits are the most ticklish part of the body.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Because a brief moment of happiness is pretty good. I also think that just focusing on making money and buying stupid things is a good way of life. I believe materialism gets a bad rap. It's not about the amount of money. Nothing's better than a Bic pen, a VW Beetle, or a pair of regular Levi's. If your things don't make you happy, you're not getting the right things.
The rest of the speech is even more bitterly sardonic.
'Every little bit helps,' as the old woman said when she pissed in the sea.

Certainly it's true that a little ironic distancing can work wonders as a coping device. At Groucho Marx's separation from his first wife, Ruth, for example, he told a joke. After many unhappy years, they had agreed to a divorce, and so she packed up the car and was leaving the house for the last time. Groucho put out his hand and said, "Well, it was nice knowing you . . . and if you're ever in the neighborhood again, drop in." Ruth laughed, and the tension was broken.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Finally, humor has the distinct advantage of overcoming power asymmetries: if protesters can drag a debate into the level of the ridiculous, the powers that be have much more to lose than they do. In his book Blueprint for Revolution, Serbian activist Srdja Popovic lists examples of what he calls "laughtivism": deflating authority in ways that are hard to retaliate against, because they provoke laughter instead of anger or violence: As the Italian situationists warned oppressive governments, "a laugh will bury you!" This line of protest seemed especially promising when it came to the thin-skinned Donald Trump. The marchers with funny signs may not have wounded him, but TV and Internet jokers realized that the president's massive ego, his own deluded mystique of mastery, was his greatest weakness. Jokes about the unimpressive crowds at his inauguration immediately produced defiant tweets and defensive press conferences. Jokes referring to White House aide Steve Bannon as "President Bannon" led to Bannon's swift demotion from the National Security Council, the New York Times reported. The leader of the free world could be manipulated into changing policy by pointing and laughing at him; this was either hopeful or horrifying, depending on your point of view.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

But satire and comedy haven't had a great track record against totalitarianism. Popovic's student movement in Serbia did actually help to topple the government of Slobodan Milošević, who ended up dead in a Dutch prison cell while on trial for war crimes. But there's not a long list of powerful people brought low by jokes. Putin and Assad have so far managed to survive the Ping-Pong balls and Lego sets strewn on sidewalks by their unhappier citizens. "There are those who thought that we could laugh Hitler and Mussolini out of court," remembered theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "but laughter alone never destroys a great seat of power and authority in history." This raises the possibility that subversive jokes might actually be counterproductive. What if they're just a convenient escape valve, a way for unhappy people to let off steam and feel better about their lot without actually fighting back against oppression?
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Jokes are thermometers, not thermostats.
Christie Davies
(Ken Jennings references this while explaining how sardonic Russian jokes caused Lithuanian emigre and political science Alexander Shtromas to predict the fall of the Soviet Union as early as the 1970s, but that the jokes didn't actually bring down the party.
Cold night in Fenway...
John Smoltz during game 1 of 2020 World Series, in an inning where Mookie Betts stole 2nd alone and then 3rd as part of a double steal, and got home because of his amazing reflexes and speed...

the quest for blankets

October 22, 2020
You know it's funny... I'd like to be a better blanket snob but I lack the vocabulary to describe what I like! Growing up I lazily used sleeping bags on my bed (I especially remember this Pac-Man one I got as an 80s kid - terrible fabric and a really bad smell out of the package, but man was it awesome) and later had pretty typical synthetic comforters.

In college a romantic interest introduced me to the pleasures of nice Duvets - and thus decades of frustration of the inner piece sliding all to one side.

Lately I've been experimenting with gravity blankets, and I find the weight pleasant but not strikingly soothing as some folks do - it's not like I tend to have problems falling asleep anyway. The two I've had have the same problem as the duvets, and all the weight ends up in one weird strip.

An ex left behind this great living room blanket, a dense gray textured thing... the label says "Eileen Fisher Home" and I think it might be this Rippled Organic-Cotton Coverlet. Seems like the inventory is running out, which bugs me, but for now the one I have plus a normal comforter might be a good winter combination.

The living room also has this one great quilt-ish thing, but all the label says is that the cover is 100% cotton, filling 100% polyester and it's made in china. Still it's notably more pleasant than the other throws, including the "sherpa" style one we have.

But the ultimate blanket is a bit of a family heirloom that a virtual cousin of mine has claim to... we call it the "Happy Blanket", it's this rich red, dense and luxurious thing. It's as heavy as a gravity blanket but the weight is integral to the crushed (?) style fabric of it. Looking at this blanket type guide it might be Chenille? It seems much thicker than that, and I'm not sure if I know what I'm talking about at all, fabric-wise. I might be willing to shell out for something similar, if I just knew how to seek it out!

I remember taking one (pre-quarantine) trip to Bed Bath + Beyond, but it wasn't as good a way of "browsing texture" as I'd hoped, there were just a few model beds out and everything else was safely in plastic.

UPDATE: I'm glad I posted this where some extended family saw this on Facebook - the "Happy Blanket" was a Korean (like, authentically from Cousin Jimmy who was stationed with the military there for a while) "Mink Blanket". Not actually mink, they are made of synthetics and are naturally heavy (not w/ like an inner weighted quilt of pellets like a typical weighted blanket). I've ordered what I hope is a similar one online.
This week I went to the polls in Texas. Truth be told, I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative. But, I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success, that education is the great equalizer, that climate change is real and that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy. Most important, I believe that America must lead in the world with courage, conviction and a sense of honor and humility.

If we remain indifferent to our role in the world, if we retreat from our obligation to our citizens and our allies and if we fail to choose the right leader, then we will pay the highest price for our neglect and shortsightedness.

I voted for Joe Biden.

RIP The Amazing Randi! NY Times Obit. STAY SKEPTICAL PEOPLE!!!

On the same day Republicans finish reversing unpacking the court with "no SCOTUS approvals in an election year" to "ALL THRUSTERS GO GO GO", we handed in our ballots.

Happy to see "Ranked Choice Voting" on the menu in the commonwealth! If we are ever going to put a dent in the crazily entrenched duopoly - this extra-Constitutional split that divides every part of our politics - this is where we start.

October 23, 2020

you've heard of existential dread and existential horror, now get ready for existential peace, which is that feeling when you stare up at the nightsky and think, "huh. i exist. that's pretty neat."
It reminds me how I - legit - want Vonneguts Last Rites of Bokoninism read at my funeral - at least up to the "good night!"
I've been told I really missed out by not having The Wombles in my non-UK childhood, but I get the feeling most of the episodes weren't as tuba centric as this:

October 24, 2020

Definitely been feeling this GIF lately...

Part of is fortifying my equanimity for an election result I may or may not like.

I know I may well be chastised for expressing this kind of burnout, for not acknowledging the dangers and overall shitness that could result if this election goes wrong, if the political party (the one that's so intent on undercutting voter participation at every level, to the point of almost making a catch phrase out of "we're not a democracy" to justify their minority rule) gets its way. And just how much privilege I enjoy in having - I hope - limited personal exposure in my day to day quality of life regardless of outcome.

Voting in general is weird. You gotta do it, but the power of votes is an emergent property; it only shows up in groups. You gotta join the team and pull together! But that us-vs-them mentality - sometimes feeling weirdly akin to team sports, like all that pointless anxiety and hope I felt about various super bowls and world series - is grinding us all so much. The stakes are more than civic pride here, sure, but there's a parallel.

I think of this quote:

Hmm, I don't know. I guess one person *can* make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't.
But of course, we shouldn't act on that! If everyone leans into that, the world is significantly shittier.

Heh, looking up another quote -- Natalie Goldberg's quote on stress ("Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.") made me realize I had this EXACT same set of issues 3 1/2 years ago - longing for.... almost permission, to have equanimity yet still have confidence that I'm taking the appropriate or at least reasonable amount of action. I don't think I have anything smarter to say about it now than I did then. Three and a half years ain't what it used to be.

my look for Extinction Rebellion's funeral for a sustaining climate ...

In general we can relax about COVID-19 and surfaces...

October 25, 2020

My friend Rayna Jhaveri asks deep questions on Facebook, tying in with her general interest in people as well as her consulting/coaches for the coaches gig. My dialog with her in response to "what were you like as a child" ("insufferable" was my first concise answer) let do this

I did this illustration for this blog entry - - basically, having parents who worked for a church - whose housing was provided by and whose city of residence was select by a church - gave me a pretty direct connection of authority, God > Church > Parents > Me.

I'm not sure who or what exactly informed my childhood views on the difficulty of getting into heaven. My parents were hardly fire and brimstone preachers, and certainly a lot of my peers seemed more relaxed, the "just accept Jesus into your heart and you'll be fine" view.

Hmmm. The Salvation Army, as a church, was designed around the "one time big repentance", you know? A street church, where people who were broken by demon rum or generally consumed by devilish things could have a moment of epiphany and repentance and then build from there. When I was in it, it was a bit more sedate (the "open air" street preaching was a bit pro-forma) but there was still regular altar calls - most meetings ended with an invitation to come to the altar and get right with God. Maybe it was that sense of repetition, and the suspected backsliding it implied, that worried me. It might be more or less ok to get knocked down, righteousness wise, but what if you fail to get back up? Or you die suddenly before the natural rebound occurs. ETERNAL HELL!

My claim that I wasn't interested in the approval of my folks per se, but rather them as manifest spokespeople for God (being both my parents AND my ministers) is a bit challenged by the decade or so after I lost faith (again, triggered by noticing that my faith's truth claimed to be Absolute and Universal, yet many people believed many other things, presumably making the same claim) - I was petrified of talking about it with my Mom, or her finding out. So that MIGHT be a need for parental approval for its own sake, but it could also be that "disappointing your parents is objectively bad"- or even a hubristic fear that my reasoning on faith - that these religions can't ALL be right - would be damaging to her own.
As I get older I'm starting to let go of the guilty urge to build permanent habits. Like, a while ago I decided I would start jumping rope every day. I did it for like three weeks and felt good about it. Then I got bored, because of course I did, because I'm a human person. So now I do a bit of kickboxing because that's what I like now. The other week I cut all sugar from my diet, just for a week, to challenge myself. Now I'm back to eating sweets but I don't crave them as much.

Growth is about stretching, trying new things, and setting small, realistic goals for yourself, not picking a "good habit" you've decided you *will* be doing always and forever from now on. That's not discipline. That's pointless self-torture and unhealthy resistance to change.

What's good for you today will not necessarily be what's good for you tomorrow.
This makes sense but I think I have trouble living it. The difference between trying some improvement and then dropping it because of lack of gumption is too difficult to tell from dropping it because I've grown beyond the need for it...

October 26, 2020

I always took umbrage at "both parties are equally opportunistic" in terms of gerrymandering and vote shenanigans. Somehow, when there are statistical anomalies, the weirdness always ends up favoring red.

Or even on the face of it- it's such coincidence that Democrats and Republicans have been leaning into their names so well to the extent that republicans remind us "we live in a republic not a democracy". one party pulls its strength from the majority, the other from protecting more rural areas.

more too in this twitter thread

Note to self: Oliver Selfridge's pandemonium theory seems to be a precursor to Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind".
This whole self-loathing a lot of software engineers engage in is entirely unproductive and is never going to be resolved. The idea that software development is a young industry and if we just give it another 30 years of ISO compliance or whatever rigor, we're going to arrive at a romanticized notion of engineering they have in aerospace, or elevators, or bridges... no, we're not. This is a fundamentally different domain that requires a fundamentally different approach.

We already have many of the answers. We're simply afraid of embracing them. For example, in traditional engineering estimates are a huge part. Things run on estimates and on critical path diagrams because that's simply the way you build a skyscraper. You don't get to reconfigure how the pylons go after you pour the concrete. Software development is nothing like that. Software in many ways is far closer to the creative process of writing, game making, movies. Experiences where you design the unknown and you don't know whether it's good or not until you see it.

Look at movie making. We've been making movies for a hundred years. Haven't we figured out the creative process yet? No! We haven't. You can take a great director, a great cast, and still make a totally shitty movie. Versus in building, largely speaking, if you take a great architect, a great engineering firm, and a great general contractor, you're gonna arrive at a building that works. You may make minor mistakes but the basic structure is going to be sound, unless someone makes a completely negligent error. In movie making, in music, in software things fail all the time. Even when good people who know the techniques of how to build things get together and work on something, they still end up failing.

Folks from my band BABAM has been participating in a weekly vigil in West Roxbury to support Black Lives Matter. Here's the crew that was there last week along with a bonus glitch-y photo of other participants.

Photos by Stewart Ting Chong

October 27, 2020

Bummed, along with most left-leaning folk, by the new SCOTUS justice, and Republicans able to do their own form of court packing by skipping approval of Merrick Garland for the better part of a year, then brazenly jamming in their own choice in the final hour.

One of the core pillars the justices lean on in their unevenly applied "strict constructionism" is states' rights. For years, I've always had federalist instincts, in part because I think it's too easy for extremists to gain power at the state level.

And we fought a whole damn Civil War over this. Slavery is a permanent mark on our nation's founding and one that has forceful echoes of injustice that are renewed every generation. As a nation, we had to fight a bloody war to tell certain states no - People cannot be property, you assholes, and an economy built on that kind of suffering and inhumanity cannot be suffered to persist.

States get nuts. As happy as I am to live in a moderately liberal commonwealth (and just look at all these Republican governors in MA - we certainly have our own political divisions) I am an American before I am a Massachussetian. The USA is a unique political entity and while I might disagree with folks on the right on the balance of Personal Freedom vs Personal Justice (or rather, Freedom To vs Freedom From) these issues are about our nation, not a bunch of states where gerrymandered districts (and voting shenanigans that weirdly always lean red) keep pushing us to more fringe candidates, since the campaign threats only happen during primaries, not in general elections.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
Philip K. Dick
Surprised I hadn't grabbed that quote before... (like when I grabbed (this passage on mortality).... more here.
the human stress response seems so maladaptive!

To be fair 99% of our evolutionary stress response was meant to deal with far more immediately conclusive scenarios than the tedious bullshit we put up with these days.

very very slow tigers are chasing me

not to leave a serious comment on a silly post but one of the best pieces of advice I ever got about stress was to SLEEP but secondly, when overwhelmed, lay in a bed and intentionally hold all your muscles clenched. clench EVERYTHING. hold it for a few seconds, then let go. It tricks your animal fight-or-flight monkey brain into thinking it had, and won, a fight, and some of the stress response will leave you

#turn a slow tiger into a fast tiger with this fucked up trick

October 28, 2020

Ric is, in fact, a huge jazz fan. He subscribes to a magazine about jazz and jazz musician. From what he says, most of the articles seem to be about jazz's waning popularity and the difficulty jazz musicians have finding enough work to pay their bills.

The magazine is called Downbeat, which seems fitting.

October 29, 2020

"CASH Our Growing Tech Company Will Pay You $100 Over & Ove again Starting Today". Sounds legit.

October 30, 2020

Republican friends, there are a lot conflicts about vote counting especially with potential COVID related delays. At every turn, Republicans want to count fewer votes and Democrats want more people's votes to count. What do you draw from that? That it's just warding off Democratic shenanigans? That voting should be tough, to ward off these barely informed or otherwise poorly engaged ignoramuses?

If your party's stances are such that your best policy is to get as few people to vote as possible, maybe it's time to try and make a bigger tent rather than throw up as many gates around the paths to both circuses as you can.
Need to rethink how I'm being updated about weather. Like I knew snow was coming, but didn't expect a semi-shovelable accumulation.
Ah time already for my two favorite season change activities- the "what is in winter coat pocket?" game (light gloves, a pen and valve oil) and "at long last- vindication for leaving the winter hat lying around on a hook all summer long and having snow shovels by the entrance way)

This is making the rounds: A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air - best tools for thinking about it I've seen

October 31, 2020

I'm talkin' necromancer, but in a hands-on kind of way. I'm talkin' rubber boots thick with freshly-turned mud. I'm talking palms all calloused from the effort of it all. I'm talking biceps. I'm talkin ruddy cheeks and a tan. I'm talkin shoving spell components into ratty overalls and scribblin' incantations in the old almanac. I'm talkin bringing back Patches 'cause the mice got in the grain and no one else was quite as good at chasin pests away. I'm talkin asking the old donkey if she wouldn't mind another spin, only the mare's just exhausted what havin just had twins. I'm talking grandpa said, before he went, that he felt he wasn't done, and he's really gonna miss the golden wheat under sun. And who am I, in the end, to deny a dyin' wish?

I'm talkin bringing a yellowed lantern into a field of moonlight and puttin up a scarecrow you'd swear just waved back.

RIP Sean Connery

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