flow and the religious upbringing

For my science and spirituality group we are reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". I haven't finished the book and am still playing around with tangents of those ideas I have encountered so this might be even more ramble-y than usual.

Some of the book's "autotelic" (activities pursued for their own purpose, vs for some later goal or validation) thinking emphasizes the seeking of challenge for its own sake. Which I'm bad at - my ego and fixed mindset don't encourage me to undertake tasks that risk invalidating my sense of competence. So I often look to be clever with what I can accomplish with the tools I know well rather than pushing my skills. This is probably a big factor both in my programming and my musicianship - the useful or fun programs and websites I like writing, and the kind of music I encourage my bands to pursue (pieces with good energy and audience connection, with a requirement for technical skill being a liability rather than a plus.) This all reflects well on an idea I previously had; "You have to realize that the point isn't necessarily to be good at The Thing, the point is to get better at leaning into challenges" - because life seems to be willing to serve up more challenges than we'd necessarily prefer. (For both programming and music, audience appreciation is important, but maybe more in a sense of affirming my worth in the world objectively rather than for its own people-pleasing sake.)

"Flow" talks about how a family's "autotelic" stance is a huge formational factor, and I'm trying to figure out how my upbringing in The Salvation Army weighs into that - how my family's life was shaped around service to God - half the time our home was literally physically in the church. But more pointedly - how my own youthful sense of keeping in accord with the God's Eye View of things was what was going to keep me from eternal punishment in hell. (Which is kind of the opposite of "autotelic" service for the sake of service.)

So like even if I'm a bit of a skeptic now, having not been gifted faith in the usual sense, should I be grateful for or resentful of the big dose of fear of hellfire I made for myself as a kid? When I compare my emotional stability to some of my skeptic/humanist friends, most of whom weren't quite as swamped by the religious stuff as a kid, I think I'm doing pretty well. (But I dunno, I guess there's more to life than "emotional stability") On the other hands, I take fewer big swings in terms of making a family or curating a career than they do.

More and more I think the single biggest dialectic is this: which matters more: individual's feelings and preferences or the objective truth of things? But the synthesis from that thesis/antithesis is complex; the objective truth of how things should be is an emergent property of how people feel about them.

For me, in the day to day, people's feelings are mostly valuable as signposts to what truth has emerged from everybody's feelings. Other people might be concerned about making others angry or happy, but for me someone's anger or happiness is only valid if it's in line with the objective truth. But that (potentially arrogant) sense of "objective truth" is tempered because A. I really believe no one can be certain they know what the truth is and B. the way that truth (of how things "should be") arises from people's feelings.

I suspect I can trace all that back down to a relatively chill family environment, when I didn't live in fear of my parent's emotions or judgement and instead could look to what I was told was on God's mind.

So I'm left with trying to figure out what recommendations I have for raising young people - how do you thread the needle that there is no single knowable objective truth, but also that the individual's feelings and preferences can be arbitrary and not the supreme arbiter of how things should be? Maybe the liberal wing of UU church, the "multiple paths" approach, has the right idea - you look to various faith traditions with respect and for knowledge, but you don't get too hung up on any one set of supernatural explanations or doctrines. (You might still wrestle with the Paradox of Tolerance, but that seems a bit more manageable than some of these larger epistemological issues.)

the realm of freedom begins when the realm of necessity is left behind.
Marx, paraphrased

November 19, 2022

Two of Deans favorite spots both in the office where I am most days, the infamous butterfly chair but mostly the Ikea box that holds my boxers.

November 19, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse:
USA! land of lots of guns, and no consequences! (if you're white)

November 19, 2020

Thought of this poem I wrote in college (trying to woo my crush) which made it onto my "PalmPilot" journal but I also have deeply memorized:
A fire knows
But one sensation
And cannot dream
Of its own cessation

But ice knows
Many voices
Ones that sit stolid
And one that rejoices
The same Palm journal entry has this
Had a bit of an existential crisis last night. (Why do these things usually happen in bed? Guess that's what I get for trying to go to sleep too early.) It framed itself in terms of "I might be dying and aware of it someday"- of course, I'm dying right now, but (relatively) slowly. The thought might have been brought on by Mo's observation that one of us might have to live through the other's death. Which bothers me, but doesn't grab me as much on the reptile brain level. Mostly it's the thought that interesting things will happen and I'll have lost my chance to see them. On the other hand, the planet and even the universe probably aren't immortal in any meaningful way either. Possibly dying on my own time means I'll avoid dying on somebody else's, some giant tragic disaster. 00-3-7
That was probably the train of thought that ended up as my Skeptics for Mortality webpage and then the So, You're Going to Die comic.
Balk's First Law: Everything you hate about the Internet is actually everything you hate about people.

Balk's Second Law: The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything.

Balk's Third Law: If you think the Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.

grandma + grandpa, a long time ago...

Taking a quick minibreak with my Mom and Aunt in NJ (thanks, use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy :-D ) ... I'm raiding my mom's photo collection a bit, so for the next few days I'll be posting some of the highlights of what I liked in her collection.

The Garbers were farm people...this is my grandmother Mary as a young'un.

John + Mary!

I think the impact of superheroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today's franchised übermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs. Primarily, mass-market superhero movies seem to be abetting an audience who do not wish to relinquish their grip on (a) their relatively reassuring childhoods, or (b) the relatively reassuring 20th century. The continuing popularity of these movies to me suggests some kind of deliberate, self-imposed state of emotional arrest, combined with an numbing condition of cultural stasis that can be witnessed in comics, movies, popular music and, indeed, right across the cultural spectrum. [...] I would also remark that save for a smattering of non-white characters (and non-white creators) these books and these iconic characters are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race. In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation as the first American superhero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.

a small purple artichoke
in its own bittered
and darkening
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet

patience, I think,
my species

keep testing the spiny leaves

the spiny heart
Jane Hirshfield, "My Species"

November 19, 2018

From this Moose Allain tweet: A page of text where I have removed the words so you can just enjoy the punctuation.

I got one of those "100 Movie Bucket List" scratch-off posters- I was sort of pleased to have already watched about 2/3 of 'em. Last night Melissa and I watched "From Russia with Love", the old James Bond film. It was just barely ok, I thought - not sure if that sentiment offends any Bond fans here, but it wasn't clear why it would be on anyone's Top 100...

November 19, 2017

Trying to declutter but Marie Kondo is too pile-centric or mumbo-jumbo-y? Arrange all your possessions in a long straight line ordered by how much you want each item, make a perpendicular line at the cut off point, and discard everything to left. DONE AND DUSTED.(Note, you may still have to dust, especially around those shelves where the cluttering items used to sit.)

malaysia 2016: langkawi lounging and the night market


montreal photos 2


Was looking into why my iPhone image/video file name counter had been set back to 0001, 0002. It's because it rolled over from 9,999... yeesh.

November 19, 2014

If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.
Carrie Fisher

The fact of the matter is, Greg was a lot of fun-- especially for a Republican, and he had great stories. I mean, this is a guy who had shared an office with Bush. But a long time ago. When Dubya was just George Sr.'s son. So they shared this little office and Greg once told me, "You know what Bush has as one of his many gifts? He can fart on command (in keeping with his jolly-college-good-old-frat-boy persona.)" And Greg said that what Bush used to do -- when Greg would be expecting people for a meeting -- W. would come in and fart in the office and then run, leaving Greg in the midst of it. Like someone in a cloud of marijuana smoke. And then the people Greg was meeting with would come in and, of course, they would find Greg surrounded by this awful smell. It's not dissimilar to what President Bush has done to the country.
Carrie Fisher, "Wishful Drinking"

The snow in Buffalo is kind of making me nervous.

whoops there goes another rubber tree plant

Do you know the Sinatra song "High Hopes"? I thought maybe I'd grab it to go along with my general efforts of admiring persistence and mental stamina over relying on "innate talent". But-- and I'm only 1/3 joking here-- in a post-9-11 world, this song is TERRIBLE.

Everyone knows about the single ant persevering to take out a (innocuous, and presumably useful) rubber tree plant, seemingly out of sheer personal bloody-mindedness, not even to help support its colony or anything...

But the really bad part is the lesser known second verse: instead of being set in a forest or plantation that can weather the loss of a few trees, the scale is a "billion killowatt dam", demolished by the persistent, tireless effort of a small group -- in this case a seemingly unstoppable solitary ram. Besides the possible human toll of the likely resulting deluge, the impact to the regional electrical infrastructure must be incalculable!

This song carries lessons we should not be sharing with our children-- or maybe as a cautionary tale about the dangers posed by small, determined, destructive groups who "just want to see the world burn", no matter how much co-operation and toil went into constructing something of value. Certainly it's a mistake to treat it as a jovial tune of encouragement. To quote Marge Simpson: "I guess one person can make a difference. But most of the time, they probably shouldn't."
Nightmarish photonegative and soundwarped version of Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball:

November 19, 2012

Mike Tyson as photographed by Howard Schatz, from this slate piece on his new book with photographs of boxers:

ESPN Football Coverage and Princess Bride Reference, dig it!

Kyrie Irving's Dunks for Footlocker:

the typewriters of our fathers


--My mom recently found my father's old typewriter... it predates him, coming from the late 1930s. I brought it to the Cambridge Typewriter Co. during their "Type-Out" event, and left it their to be cleaned up. It looks great! Such a funky piece of machinery, like having a small print shop on your desk. (The tab stop setting and using is especially retrocool.) Some quirks to the typing (I think pretty common for machines of the era) like where you use a lower case "l" for a 1, and ' and . to make an exclamation point.

wham zoom sploosh fwoom

--xkcd has mentioned their thrice weekly schedule may slip due to family illness, but this week of backlogged "five-minute cartoons" are some of his freshest stuff in a while.



--Man, I love the excitement you hear from the crowd!

This morning, singing to Amber, I was surprised to realize just how much of the "Diff'rent Strokes" theme song I recall- pretty much all of it.
Amber sent me this link, which seemed like a diagrammatic version of
And I am reminded of the great Sultan who asked his Sufi master to provide him with a special gift. He desired a gift that would make him content when he faced despair, and humble when overflowing with joy. The master came to him and brought a simple silver ring. 'What is this?' the Sultan cried. 'How can a mere ring perform such a feat as I require?' The master replied, 'Sire, read the inscription engraved thereon. And remember it for it will bring contentment out of despair, and humility our of unrestrained rapture.' The Sultan read the words: 'This too must pass'. And I too am travelling with hope and humility. However my journey ends I know: This too must pass.
That's the conclusion of this webpage, and the contentment/humility is a better way of stating the goal than the King Solomon version "If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy", because unhappiness for its own sake seems perverse.
My coworker has this "Dream Aquarium" screen saver for Windows running on a spare laptop - I'd like something similar for iPhone, but the apps all seem to lack the soothing mellowness of real fish-- (gazing at a big ol' aquarium was a serious de-stressing therapy my former boss, a pharmacist, used when his mom died.)
Kate found http://www.talusfurniture.com/watch/ -similar idea to my http://kisrael.com/2009/03/13/ which I'd like to put on hacked GBAs...

this is still the world and you are still in it

Poem of the Moment
It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week--
Three fine houses sold to deserving families--
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don't want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
A few months ago the mantra "THIS IS THE WORLD AND YOU ARE IN IT" was in my head. I think it was kind of a refutation to the kind of thinking that this poem explores... there is no other Universe. The past is set. The future doesn't exist. Is playing a game of "what if" and "if only" good for us? The Buddhists say no. We may long for It to be otherwise, but whatever is, is.

The reality or fictitious nature of free will is another issue. We don't act, we react. We respond to stimuli before our sense of self has any idea what's going, but that sense of self hurries up and adds the component of conscious decision making that was never quite there in the sense we assume. Such is the nature of Strange Loops, the self-observing systems that Hofstadter has convinced me we are. But this strange system builds itself, we build our brains, responsible for our quick, "unconscious" response as well as our slow thoughtful musing, instinctively in much the same way a spider builds its web without "knowing" what it's doing.

Local News Bummer of the Moment
Harvard Square's iconic Out of Town News may be on its way out. And some of it might have been due to the recent construction, besides the obvious challenges of being in an area where more and more information is discovered online.

pentomino Oh great, now you've *loudly* done it. (don't sweat it!)
Found my Aunt's "Wireless" catalog--haven't seen one for decades (is it NPR or PBS affiliated?) but it's still "Lillian Vernon for yuppies"
The difference between what is / And what could have been will remain alive for him / Even after you cease existing
Y'day's work paranoia is a new found, hush-hush team of very hip coders. You can tell by the transformers T and expensive Vans sneakers.
Facebook's UI is kind of bad. I want to reply specifically to a "Wall" comment by XYZ-- click on "Wall-to-Wall" or "Write on XYZ's Wall"??

lets go atari

Busy and sad day.

Trivia of the Moment
A few days ago I posted some Pac-Man sketch banners that I put together for Gamers Quarter... here are some I made a while back, from an Atari catalog, some Atari Force comic books, and the manual for Centipede. The cropping was really kind of difficult, but fun. (Click for full size.)


I had an oddish, but amusing dream last night. It starts where I'm watching some kind of porno film... (stay with me, here, it doesn't get too bad)... I catch the ending where a very light gal-on-gal tie-up scene morphs into a really cool Cirque-de-Soleil like bungee trapeze chase. The movie then ends but starts again, and the beginning is very odd. The introduction has a bit on how these eccentric rich people are looking for a "leaf identification program" for their son... in that, if he's kidnapped they want a tree leaf that looks like him so they can show it to people to help find him. And they have their staff working on this. The funny thing was how it was presented: first you see a groundskeeper in the background pick a leaf out of a pool, look at it, and then put it back. You don't think anything about it, assuming it was just a mistake in making the film, then you hear the announcement of the "identification program", and a bit later you hear an off-camera "overheard" comment along the lines of "so they're sending a team of us to Norway, where there's that lighter type of foliage that might be a better match."

I thought it was amusing. And in my heart of hearts, I think cirque-de-soleil-style bungee trapeze porno drama sounds pretty cool, actually.

Music of the Moment
I got to thinking about bugles yesterday... specifically what what the relationship between its notes were (the same as a trumpet when you don't press any valves.) The most common notes (on the C scale) are C,F,A, and the C above that. Research indicates they're all integer multiples of a base frequency of the horn, which makes sense to me now.

I'm not sure the Boy Scouts would appreciate being placed on the same page with a reference to "cirque-de-soleil-style bungee trapeze porno drama", but I found their page of bugle calls with sheet music and sound clips. I remember about half of the calls from my days at Salvation Army music camp. (You haven't lived 'til you've heard "To The Colors" played on tuba. Well, actually, maybe you have.)

Chance of the Moment
Wow. Ohio State Buckeyes beat their rival Michigan 42-39, and guess what the "Pick 4" comes up with that night? Reminds me of Euclid High School billing ourselves "God's Favorite Marching Band" (as exemplified by a performance of "Carmina Burana's O Fortuna" on a rainy night where the heavens opened up with the opening cymbal crash and the downpour stopped before the song's end)... come to think of it our fight song was Ohio State's as well.


Man. I need to have a very unslacky weekend.

Videos of the Moment
Big-Boys.com is now Break.com... it's still a site with many funny videos and a bit of HAWT GIRLS, but much less raunchy overall than other sites in the genre. This video they captioned Hot. But Not Smooth is the funniest thing I've seen all week. The Thousand-hand Bodhisattva dance is amazing in a different way...

Financial Question of the Moment
I see more and more poeple using debit cards at stores. For some reason I always use credit card. Actually, and I have very little idea where this bias came from, using ATM cards in stores always seemed vageuly low-class to me. (Maybe it's some weird side effct of the En Vogue "Free Your Mind" lyrics "So I'm a sistah / Buy things with cash / That really doesn't mean that all my credit's bad".)

Do you use credit or debit for most purchases, and why?

Doodle of the Moment
"The Romance Between
A Canary and A Goldfish"
--Someone mentioned this line at the September meeting of my UU "Science and Spirituality" group...

what is wrong with everyone nowadays?

Rant of the Moment
"What is wrong with everyone nowadays?

Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?

This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure.

People think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability.

This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history."

There's been a bit of a backlash for this anti-egalitarian screed, but I wonder if there's something to it. I mean, it's kind of ironic for a member of the royalty to kvetch about "putting in the necessary work" (though I assume he assumes "having natural ability") I think what does raise my hackles in this is the "contradict the lessons of history", which for me is usually a tipoff of some overly constrained thinking.

I've heard American kids rank low in actual math skills but high in math skills confidence, and that's the kind of thing that seems messed up. Kids...in fact, any healthy individual...needs some amount of self-confidence, but can it be taken too far?

gay wedding day

(1 comment)
Another odd anniversary today: The first date listed in my PalmPilot based journal is March 22, 1997. I started the web version December 30, 2000. (Once I realized how redundant they were, I gave up the Palm version.) That means, give or take a few weeks, I've been doing the web journal thing as long as I was doing the Palm journal thing before that. Which is odd, because I felt like I had been doing the Palm journal thing forever, but the web thing seems a lot more recent. (As always, my javascript date toy makes figuring out this kind of anniversary thing pretty easy.)

Sometimes I wish I had avoided the urge to start December 30 and 31st, which I did just so i could say "yup...been doing this journal since Y2K!". Like, on the archive by month, December 2000 is just this lonely little entry....

News Commentary of the Moment
So, Gay marriage is the big news in this state. Funny how its taken over talk radio, even the sports stations, at least sometimes.

The arguments against gay marriage usually are some variety of "slippery slope". "Why, if we break the 'traditional' man/woman thing because of this idea that everyone deserves equal rights, how can we stop people who want to, I dunno, marry their dog? Or a corpse? Or a child? Or their sister? Or many people at once?" First off, I find that many of these miss one basic criteria: the ability of all parties to give meaningful consent. (This is besides the fact that it's a shameless attempts to get people who might be more or less ok with gay unions to associate them with things they do find distasteful.) A dog, corpse, or child cannot give consent in a meaningful, legal way. The polygamy argument is a little more subtle. Frankly, I don't have a real problem with it; I know in practice, it often shows unequal power relationships and has other structural issues, but in theory, if everyone's an adult, why not? If you need a stronger, legal differentiation between granting gay marriage and polygamy or polyamoury rights, then the issues is that marriage involves the rights of exactly 2 people, so does gay marriage, but polygamy and the like implies creating new structures.

Other arguments are "for the children" variety; "because every child deserves a mother and a father" (as if having loser parents of both genders would be better than two caring and concerned gay individuals bringing you up) or otherwise invoke children, as if straight couples who decide to remain childless are hacking the system somehow. In general, when people start talking about "the children" and not "future generations", watch out.

Oy. It'll be an interesting 180 days.

For Your Eyes Only
--from an oddly compelling slideshow video of characters in Bond films Click it and see.

Exchange of the Moment
"Since the minute you were born I knew I would never take another easy breath without knowing that you were alright."
"So I'm like asthma?"
from "The O.C."
Never watched an episode, though for a giggle I did some testscreening of a promospot for it, got asked to when walking through that semi-stripmall accross from the Arsenal mall.

i dine on swine

Quote of the Moment
I mention Red Robot in the other day's backlog flush, and bacon is one of those 'inherently funny' concepts. I remember one summer Tufts had its own Cult of Bacon, and they had one or two big bacon fests. That was odd.

Site of the Moment
I Used To Believe is a really cute idea, people send in the little weird beliefs they came up with when they were children.

Mine was this: I thought I had a family of frogs in my belly...I think this belief came from the expression "frog in your throat", and I thought they must have moved down in to my tummy to live.

They liked to eat oyster crackers. And I got really upset when some other kid punched me in the belly, because of what might have happened to the frogs.

Headline of the Moment
Mystical Creatures Can Now Live Happily Ever After Thanks to CITES...seahorses are "mystical"? I know it's not quite the same thing as saying they're "mythical" (unles you have a bad lisp) but still...mystical?

Meter of the Moment
Slate presents The Saddameter, measuring the chances of a US invasion of Iraq. (4 dears ago they did a similar thing for impeachment and removal from office of President Clinton.) Today's Chance of Invasion: 58 Percent, a number that sets Blix saying things can be ok so long as Iraq co-operates against the US claiming that Iraq shooting planes patrolling the No-Fly Zone represents a breach already. (Which is stupid; the UN didn't set up those Zones, the US and UK decided it would be a good idea. I'm (semi-)amazed at how little coverage that little tidbit gets.)


Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. They do however fall down off of high objects, for example the kitchen table. When I was a kid I thought that fact should count against that marketing claim.

Quote of the Moment
If you're such an 'expert' at being a lesbian, why are you turning me on???

"Knew someone in the pagan community who asserted that for the majority, Jesus Christ was the god of minor injuries and household emergencies..."
Capricorn: (Dec. 22--Jan. 19)
Cheer up: Nobody ever died of a broken heart. Unless, that is, you count suicides, depression-related anemia or heart attacks.
Lloyd Schumner Sr. at The Onion
So, if happiness isn't being rich, then it's probably not being middle class, which means you're just as likely to find it at rock bottom, which doesn't require all the effort, and hell, I'm already there.
--Jake, "Staggering Heights"
Wow! E-mail from Greg points out that this is the last day until 3111 that has all of its digits odd- my last odd day.
I love how execs doing a presentation ask a question then answer it. It's like when a baseball throws up a ball and hits it to give the fielders practice.
Dylan's not as cool as me or else he'd be writing his grocery list on his pilot.
"I'm throwing away 3 eggs."
          "Don't throw them away, cook me an omelette."
"Eggs are gross after 6 months."
          --Murray and Israel