Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ministry & Poetry

"Teaching children..., when it's done right, is more than craft; it's also partly ministry and partly poetry."

- Jonathan Kozol, as quoted in Kyo Maclear's article "Degrading our Children"

Friday, March 30, 2012

Trey's Theme Song

Trey loves to jump. Given any provocation, he'll start bouncing up and down. He bounces when you give him milk. When it's dessert time. When it's time to go outside. At times, it doesn't seem like the reason really matters: he just wants to jump around! Which is why his theme song is Phish's infectious "Bouncing 'Round the Room." It's filled with joy and innocence - just like my little guy!

Technology and "The Hunger Games"

Discovery News takes a look at technology in The Hunger Games movie, and ponders the implications of the technologies that were chosen to be part of the story's environment:
Some question why a post-apocalyptic North America filled with futuristic technologies would still rely upon coal for its electricity needs; others wonder about the story's complete absence of the Internet. One character in "The Hunger Games" books complains about "forgotten" military technologies such as high-flying planes, military satellites and robotic drones, even as he rides inside a hovercraft.
Such "gaps" in technology don't necessarily represent plot holes, according to historians of science and technology. Real societies have adopted or rejected technologies based on whether they suited their particular economic, political or cultural circumstances.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More SciFi in SyFy, Please

I haven't watched anything by SyFy in a while, and Alyssa points to what might be the reason why: they're showing a lot of fantasy to the exclusion of SciFi. She makes a compelling argument that there's a lot of interesting science fiction to be presented:

There’s nothing wrong with fantasy, and fantasy can set up moral dilemmas as well as science fiction: power is power, and decisions about how to use it can be fascinating whether it’s a new scientific discovery or a newly discovered supernatural ability. But, ... There are so many pressing questions that would also make for fabulous entertainment. What will it mean for space travel, something we once thought of as a scientific frontier and an escape hatch for humanity, to become a luxury tourism industry? What will it mean to be human as we’re increasingly integrated with our technology, perhaps to the point of having smart implants, like Ender Wiggin in Speaker for the Dead, or a bunch of the characters in Kim Stanley Robinson’s forthcoming 2312? How will technology, medical advances, and the ability to augment ourselves exacerbate our class divides?

These questions are imminent, not theoretical. And they all lend themselves beautifully to television devices. You could do an office comedy about running a space tourism company, or a drama about corruption in the industry and an interstellar land grab. You can have chatty, snarky AIs as characters, or show humans growing overly invested in their technology—Apple clearly means for us to attach to Siri, and as she works better, I can see that happening. When there’s this much potential available, there’s something kind of unfortunate about turning away from the possible and the probable to the purely fantastical. Fiction doesn’t have an absolute responsibility to help us work out our problems, but it’s an incredible tool for helping us think through them. For a network with the motto “Imagine Greater,” that ought to be an exciting prospect.
I love it. If they follow up, I might actually end up watching non-sports TV again on a regular basis. Until then, i'll stick to my books and Dexter. Unless anyone out there has any good recommendations?

Unwrapped Like Pink Cakes

"The nicest girls at school were the misfits, the ones who wore black and seemed at least to have been bruised by life, instead of being unwrapped like pink cakes every morning before school, fresh and stupid and untouched by human hand."
- Hari Kunzru, Gods Without Men, page 298

This book is absolutely fantastic. I'll have some more thoughts about it later, but for now i'm enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

$4.00 Gas!?!!

I love this Ed Stein comic. Feels representative of the mindset of today's typical commuter. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Former Self is a Fool

"Those must have all been important to me once. What I am now grew from that. A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any kind of cripple, would you?"

- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, page 660

Basketball Officiating

I love basketball. I always have. It was the first professional sport I watched with any regularity. I spent countless hours as a kid shooting hoops in my driveway pretending I was Larry Bird. However, with notable exceptions (the Celtics championship runs of 2008 and 2010), I rarely watch basketball anymore. Why is this? In a word: officiating. Basketball officials have WAY too much power. The given vagueries of a referees foul calls often dictate the pace and outcome of a game more than the play of a superstar. They turn the ending of great basketball games into boring trips to the different free throw lines.

It was with great chagrin I saw this play out yet again in the Syracuse/Ohio State contest on Saturday night. The foul calls came fast and furious, often for nothing more than incidental contact, making what could have been a magical matchup into a long slog whose biggest suprises came when someone would score a basket without a foul being called. As put it:

The Orange, who committed an average of only 15 fouls a game this season, were whistled 29 times tonight, while the Buckeyes were called for 20 fouls. ...
Of the 16 players that took the floor, three fouled out, 10 committed at least three fouls, and everyone committed at least one foul.
With Sullinger sidelined for most of the first half, there was a huge chunk of the game where the best player on the floor, one of the best players in college basketball, was unable to compete and showcase his skills in front of a national audience.
The same goes for Dion Waiters, and also Rakeem Christmas.
Even when the team’s best players were on the court, many were reluctant to play with a smidgen of physicality.
And that's a shame. I don't know much about Ohio State, but it's been a joy watching Syracuse play this year. Despite their many flaws (overconfidence, inability to rebound, maddening tendency to fall asleep at the most inopportune times), Jim Boeheim assembled an incredible team whose depth made them more multi-faceted then 99% of college basketball teams. And when it counted most, they couldn't play their game. Not because they tried and failed, but because they were denied the opportunity to play the game as they had played it throughout the rest of the season.  And that's a damned shame. Hopefully Syracuse will be back in the Elite Eight again next year (even if Dion Waiters, arguably their most skilled player, won't be with the team), because it'd like to see more of them - and this time, it would be nice if the refs would let them play the game.

Friday, March 23, 2012

First Lines of The Hidden Reality

"Maybe... the familiar notion that any given experiment has one and only one outcome is flawed. The mathematics underlying quantum mechanics - or at least, one perspective on the math - suggests that all possible outcomes happen, each inhabiting its own separate universe. If a quantum calculation predicts that a particle might be here, or it might be there, than in one universe it is here, and in another it is there."

- The Hidden Reality, Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene.

So it's not really the first lines of the book. But they are the most fascinating ones in the introduction and the first chapter.

Happy Birthday William Shatner!

The man turns 81 today. May he be continue to be with us for a long time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Running the Half of Quincy

Pacing for the Half of Quincy
I've read that for those of us new to marathon training that it’s a good idea to run a half-marathon about two months beforehand to get a feel for long-distance racing. Since the Burlington Marathon’s at the end of May, I signed up for the Half of Quincy – a new half-marathon / 5K race that was held this past Sunday. The race had the added benefit of being on the water (always nice) and being in Josh's hometown , my old college roommate and a longtime friend who also happens to be a speedy runner.

It hasn’t been much of a winter this year in New England, and this Sunday was no exception – it must have been 55 when we lined up to start and rose into the 70s as the day wore on. Still, it was March, with a chilly wind off the water, so Eric, Josh and I lined up in shorts and long-sleeve shirts. Eric and I started out slowly, quickly losing sight of Josh in the crowd, because we had both stated our intention of treating this race as a training run and because I was fearful of aggravating the strange right-calf pains I'd been experiencing the last few weeks. However, the great weather and competition meant that after the first mile I felt comfortable enough settling into a comfortable 7:30 pace. I was loving not carrying the hand-held - many thanks to the volunteers handing out water! - and the flat course. Training on Ashland’s hilly terrain really paid off here, with a max elevation gain of 100 feet - and all that within a mile - I was able to keep a faster pace for longer than I normally do. 

Most of the race, I was by myself, although afterwards Eric told me that he was on my tail for a long time before I had to stop for a quick bathroom break at 7.5 miles. The crazy thing was that when I started running again I passed him at some point without even noticing! At that point, I was locked in – I had changed my music from my typical ambient downtempo (The Orb, mostly) to straight rock and roll, and  suspect that I passed him when Zevon was pounding out "Boom Boom Mancini". That song energized the second half of the race for me – and between the toons and my stop, I felt very strong, and started slowly increasing my speed, becoming ever more confident in the health of my calf.

I finally saw Josh up ahead of me around 10 miles and worked steadily to catch up. I caught up with him after mile 11, with Eric (unbeknownst to me) right on our tails. I said Hi to Josh (and our families, who had come out to watch) and, not wanting to lose the great feeling in my legs, took off for the finish line. While I didn’t finish with a kick, I slowly sped up to a 7:00 minute mile pace as I crossed the finish line in 1:37:51. Josh was right behind me at 1:38:32, with Eric on his heels at 1:38:39. An excellent effort by all! We celebrated with bananas and coconut water, I gave my medal to Hunter, and enjoyed the incredible food provided by the Culinary arts program at Quincy High School - homemade cookies, chicken and minestrone soup, and wraps - before heading back to Josh's house for cold beers.

All in all I couldn’t be happier with my performance. My calf injury not only appears to have cleared up but I was also able to run much faster than I had hoped (I was anticipating finishing in 1:50; certainly no faster than 1:45). I’m feeling much more confident in my ability to tackle longer distances, which is good, because the next few weekends are going to be filled up with ever-longer distances (this Sunday I tackle 16 miles!) And, most importantly, it was an excellent time on an amazing day with some of my best friends. I look forward to running it again next year!

Cross Posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

My First Exposure to Dystopia

From September 1981's episode of The White Mountains
As a Cub/Boy Scout, I was an avid reader of Boy's Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. Being a kid, not many specifics of the magazine has stuck with me with the major exception of a cartoon that ran on the last page called The White Mountains. For years, I retained vague memories of this monthly picture into a a future world where alien tripods ruled over an enslaved earth, while a small band of boys struggled to stay free and find the rest of the freedom fighters.

Because the internet is awesome, I was able to find a complete collection of the comix strips at the Haunted Closet. Looking at them now, the comics don't have the same magic as they did back in the day - Frank Bolle's drawings are relatively pedestrian, and the pacing is breakneck in order to fit in enough information to keep you coming month to month. Still, to a young, impressionable kid, this was a first tasty exposure to a dystopia - and I liked it! It was a gateway drug into even more entertaining and disturbing scifi stories, while also fueling my love of graphical stories. It's nice to be able to see them again, and learn that the comics continued for years, covering all of John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy: The White MountainsThe City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire. Enjoy!

Monday, March 19, 2012

First Lines of "Gods Without Men"

"In the time when the animals were men, Coyote was living in a certain place. "Haikya! I have gotten so tired of living here-aikya. I am going to go out into the desert and cook." With this, Coyote took an RV and drove into the desert to set up a lab."

- Hari Kunzru, Gods Without Men. An extremely entertaining book so far. An episodic book, but one that on page 71 doesn't really show signs of meaningful connection. I'm curious to see if the author is looking to blend things together David Mitchell-style or is just building a collage of sorts. Either way, its fantastic reading. h/t to Eric and Joel for pointing me at this one.

Psyching Yourself Up

An excellent video of performance anxiety followed by the ecstasy of accomplishment.

H/t Boing Boing

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sibling Deidentification

I didn't know it either: It's a fancy term for not doing the same stuff that your brothers and sisters do:
The idea is that siblings need to avoid competition.  Sibling competition is nothing to take lightly.  Sibling colonies of bacteria secrete antibiotics that kill each other off.  The first African black eaglet out to hatch of its egg pecks the second one to death.  A quarter of spotted hyena pups are killed by their siblings.  The siblings are competing for their parents’ resources and attention, of which the parents have only a certain amount.  So the siblings are operating in a closed system...

But Cain and Abel aside, we humans can’t go killing off our siblings, so we agree to go our separate ways, we deidentify, we stake out separate niches.  To be honest, I don’t see how that makes the pie bigger or the parents have more resources; it just keeps us off each others’ backs...

And here’s the charm of it: a closed system might be lethal for competitors but it’s golden for cooperators. If my brother and I are one system and he knows statistics, I don’t need to; any statistic that needs to be done, he does. ... Closed-system cooperation is a great labor-saving device.
It's an interesting explanation for the differences between people that usually have essentially the same initial upbringing. I see this personally: my brother and I are very similar at our core, but have very different personalities and interests. Ann Finkbeiner goes on to say that the theory extends to spouses as well, which means that it's something that's learned, not hereditary. Fascinating. I'll have to ponder this more.

Five Strikes and No Internet

This seems like a lot of power to be putting into one person:
Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, has reminded the nation that at his instigation, the largest ISPs in the USA are set to disconnect their customers, and their customers' families, if the companies that Sherman represents makes a series of unsubstantiated accusations of copyright infringement against them. The ISPs came to the agreement after pressure from the Obama administration. This "five strikes" rule is the same system that has been decried around the world -- including in the EC and the UN -- as being a gross violation of human rights.
I'm amazed I haven't heard about this before. The new rules go into place on July 12th. After that, look for your ISPs to monitor your data even more than they have before to make sure you're not getting anything for free.

Looking at the Sun

Bad Astronomy has some incredible pictures of the Sun's surface.

It's the intricacy of the natural phenomena combined with it's sheer scale that kills me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


"When the mind is in a state of uncertainty the smallest impulse directs it to either side."

- Terence

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tab Dump... In Space!

The darkness, that's what matters. That's how Adam Frank puts Dark Matter and Energy into perspective:
"Dark Matter is a form of mass (some new kind of particle) that simply does not emit light. Dark Energy is some kind of cosmos-filling field capable of doing work that is also invisible. But Dark Matter and Dark Energy are very different.
They were "discovered" in very different ways. The only connection they share is their ability to move stuff we can see around in detectable ways, while remaining resolutely in the shadows themselves.
They're the definition of mysterious. ...
Data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) shows that most of the universe is made up of Dark Energy, supplemented with some Dark Matter and a dollop of atoms.
The "dark universe" — the sum of Dark Matter and Dark Energy — is pretty much THE universe. Observations put the dark universe at about 95 percent of the total. That means our kind of matter and energy — the stuff you see, touch and experience every day — is a mere 1/20th of the cosmos."
The Universe Is In Us.

More Brian Cox:  a fascinating video in which he explains the Quantum Physics idea of interconnectivity to the common man. As Mario Popova puts it:
"Cox turns to the Pauli exclusion principle — a quantum mechanics theorem holding that no two identical particles may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously — to explain why everything is connected to everything else, an idea at once utterly mind-bending and utterly intuitive, found everywhere from the most ancient Buddhist scripts to the most cutting-edge research in biology and social science."
Check out Brain Pickings' good summary of Cox's book written with Jeff Forshaw: The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen.

Ethan Seigel paints the picture of our place in the cosmos:
In other words, you and everything you know resides on a tiny, wet rock nearly a million times less massive than the star that powers it, in a solar system one ten-millionth the diameter of our galaxy, which contains at least hundreds of billions of stars not so different from ours, in a Universe filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies, and maybe perhaps more.
Timelapse shots of the night sky from Joshua Tree National Park.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So Long Moebius

Moebius, the technically precise, surrealist French comix artist, has passed away. It's hard to find any of his books these days, but if you can - pick it up. You'll like it. Eulegy from Neil Gaiman here.

Update: Boing Boing points us towards a good documentary of the man.

Friday, March 9, 2012

First Lines of "The Savage Detectives"

"I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way."
- Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives.

I'm 206 pages into this book (plane rides do wonders for your reading velocity) and while I can't say I truly get what's going on, it sure is entertaining. My only complaint is linked to my complete ignorance of the many, many poets that are all mentioned here; without knowing these writers, i'm letting the endless names wash over me, missing (i'm sure) something integral. Still, at the end of the day, this is a book about passion and poetry and how reality doesn't match up to either, and that's coming through loud and clear, in fascinating variety. It's written in the same style as Bolaño's incredible 2666, but without, so far, the variety of subject. To that end, it's a bit static so far - there are only so many conversations about poets you don't know you can read! - but i'm going to stick with it at least until the setting leaves Mexico City and see what happens.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Russian Bookselling Bots

A funny if unsettling tale from Carlos Bueno who explains to us the shenanigans of  “...bots that infest the Amazon Marketplace, pretending to have used copies of books, fighting epic price wars no one ever sees.” The whole thing is worth reading, if only for the story about “...a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.”

Best Description of Cyberpunk

"There is, however, an aspect to the "punk" in cyberpunk that can't be reduced to a fashion statement: its acquiesce in the amoral sharkpool politics of the '80s, its acceptance of urban squalor, global pillage, and systematic criminality as the facts of life."
- Thomas Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, page 219.

This book is simply fantastic. Review coming shortly.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

First Lines of "The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of"

"America is a nation of liars, and for that reason Science Fiction has a special claim to be our national literature, as the art form best adapted to telling the lies we like to hear and to pretend we believe."

-   Thomas DischThe Dreams Our Stuff is Made OfHow Science Fiction Conquored the World.

The book is, so far, a comprehensive, insightful, relentlessly cynical of SciFi, and I can't put it down. So far I've gone through Disch's analysis of Poe as SciFi's "embarrassing ancestor" and his reading of the bigger meaning of the rocket. Eye-opening and deflating all at the same time.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The years have passed and so have I...

Davy Jones died the other day of a heart attack at the young age of 66. It got me reminiscing, for I listened to and watched more than my fair share of Monkees as a kid. Before you laugh, hear me out: they really are an underrated band. Give some of their songs a listen (here's a good start) without thinking of them as a teenybopper band. There was certainly that element to them, especially in the early days, but like their TV show, they ended up subverting things from the inside and sneakily produced some solid works of art. (For those of you that want to follow up, bone up on Michael Nesmith's solo career.)

While I can't say that Davy was my favorite musician - in fact, his contributions on Monkee albums typically ranged from the maudlin to the cloying - but he did have his moments. My favorite side of him was his demented showman act, shown at its peak in the trippy video above. It's from the Monkees one and only feature film, Head, watching which was one my most bizarre experiences I've ever had in front of a television. Dig that dancing! He's really working it here, and you can't deny that he's not only got moves but that the song is stellar (although I could do without the overtly dramatic last verse which, on the soundtrack, was of a piece with the rest of the song.) "Cuddly Toy", his highlight from their 1967 Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.  is another good example of this type of song. I also like his completely forgotten duo with Dolenz - the 1969 Changes LP that, while nothing special, is just filled with fun cornball music.

I'm always complaining that rock music isn't innocently fun anymore. People like Davy Jones used to make it that way. I'm sorry that he's gone.