Friday, December 22, 2006

Can you write a little louder, my hearing isn't that great

Ever audiobook? You know, listen to a recording of a book being read.

I was never a big fan, but my iPod - Boris the Black - has helped make a fan of me. Boris likes the idea of just playing for long periods of time without me messing about with him to pick different stuff.

Anyway, Boris and I have been on a bit of an audiobook spree of late. We've been through Robert Ludlum's, The Ambler Warning, and Neal Stephenson's, Snow Crash, of late. The Ludlum book would have been better to read - it would have taken me a third of the time - but it was entertaining.

Snow Crash, on the other hand, was great. Snow Crash is a great book to start with. My friend Josh gave it to me to read a long time ago and it took me forever to get past the first chapter. Once I did, it was amazing. Hearing it read reminded me how truly groundbreaking some of the ideas in it were for when it was written. He really nailed a lot of our current technology and computer trends. If you haven't read it, you can't really be considered a cybergeek and we all know how cool it is to be a cybergeek.

I've also been listening to Immersion German off and on. It's just German conversations done at normal speed and then slower and then normal again. The only English is a brief introduction at the start of each one to set the scene - basically, 'Gunter and Heidi are at home. Gunter is watching the end of a soccer match and they are trying to decide what kind of food they're in the mood for and what restaurant to go to...' Of course, I can't understand much of it, but that's sort of the point. You just listen to it over and over and it begins to make sense. A bit like learning language as a kid.

Anyway, the other day I downloaded another cool book, The Areas of My Expertise. It's free at right now and is pretty darn funny - in an offbeat sort of way. It's by John Hodgman. You probably know him as PC in the 'get a Mac' commercials.

I got the link from my good buddy Neil Gaiman who said, "You need this free audiobook. If you think you don't, you are wrong. Trust me. It's funny. Also, it's free."

Okay, that's sort of a lie. I don't even know Neil Gaiman - I've only been to his website. He is responsible for the bold statement though and he's right about the audiobook. You can follow this Boing Boing link to the audiobook on iTunes.

Anyway, the audiobooks have been keeping me entertained during the long hours of work tedium and boy does that make me happy. And, it's keeping Boris happy too which is always a bonus. But, I do have the hankering to sit down and do some reading. I'll never get tired of flipping through real pages in the wee hours of the morning and not getting enough sleep because the book was just too good to put down.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Budget me this Batman...

One thing about the information super highway is - well - there's a lot of information out there. Some of it is amusing. Some of it is deep and though provoking. Some of it's both.

I found one that's sort of both here. Frankly, it would be more amusing if it didn't have such a real impact on most Americans (those who aren't blessed with multi-million dollar fortunes that is). It's a look at how the Democrats and Republicans stack up on the economy, size of government, expenses of said government.

Keep in mind while you're trolling through this that it is dealing with the modern era, but doesn't include the current Bush administration's fine stewardship. The numbers run from Kennedy through Clinton.

By the way, the numbers were originally compiled on this guy's blog, which looks like it's full of some interesting thoughts - or spotlighting of some interesting facts and tidbits, at least.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fun with 3D

Been playing with a 3D program a bit. It's fun to mess about with, but it's a resource hog. To really have some 3D fun you need to have a blistering quick machine with tons of memory. Until that happens, I'm contenting myself with sticking to making some still pictures.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Question this answer

Do you want answers or do you want questions? The answer to this will say a lot about you. All of us, at one time or another, will want one or the other but most of the time will seek one more than the other.

Take the internets and some of the things found in its tubes - things like wikipedia.

A while back, wikipedia came under attack by some who said that it was full of errors and that a system that depended on a group of people to write collectively of about such a huge range of subjects could never be trusted. Most of the argument was centered on the biography of an individual who was erroneously dipicted in a harsh light. Later, several studies were conducted and it was found that wikipedia was actually more factually correct than a certain, highly-respected encyclopedia.

The argument continues, but I think that ultimately it comes down to a difference between those who wish to have only answers and those who wish to face questions.

Stepping back a bit, I should explain that this whole thing started with a few minutes on Dbackdad's blogsite. He's got a little 'what I'm reading now' section and I followed the link of one of the books, Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid to a wiki on the book. From there I clicked over to a wiki on Zeno's paradoxes. They're a series of paradoxes proposed by Zeno that mathmaticians and physicists believed were resolved, but it turns out that on a quantum level it is impossible to resolve them.

My favorite is Zeno's arrow paradox.

"In the arrow paradox, we imagine an arrow in flight. At every moment in time, the arrow is located at a specific position. If the moment is just a single instant, then the arrow does not have time to move and is at rest during that instant. Now, during the following instants, it then must also be at rest for the same reason. The arrow is always at rest and cannot move: motion is impossible.

Whereas the first two paradoxes presented divide space, this paradox starts by dividing time — and not into segments, but into points. It is also known as the fletcher's paradox."

My second favorite is the dichotomy paradox.

"Suppose Homer wants to catch a stationary bus. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.

This description requires one to complete an infinite number of steps, which Zeno maintains is an impossibility. This sequence also presents a second problem in that it contains no first distance to run, for any possible first distance could be divided in half, and hence would not be first after all. Hence, the trip cannot even begin. The paradoxical conclusion then would be that travel over any finite distance can neither be completed nor begun, and so all motion must be an illusion."

Zeno - it turns out - is fun to ponder. Fun, if you like to find questions and ask them. Not so much fun if you like answers. How can you - if you like answers - like something that says that there might not be an answer?

It's probably not hard to see that I fall into the seeking questions camp.

Anyway, it occured to me that there is something at work that runs through our society itself. It is these two different world views. Those who crave answers and those who crave questions.

To simplify it, some people want - in fact need - to have the world boiled down to simple answers. Uncertainty creates tension and anxiety in these people. Uncertainty is to be avoided, explanations need to be found, and order imposed.

On the other hand, are those who need to question. Uncertainty is part of life for these people and often the idea of arbitrarily imposed order runs against their nature. For them, paradox is understandable because it is not understandable. Order isn't bad in itself, but applying it simply for it's own sake is.

I think this root difference is the basis for our current culture clash, particularly as it being played out in the religious arena. It's nothing new. Take the early Jews who were divided into several groups with different worldviews - the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes for example. Without going into much detail, it could be argued that these three groups provide excellent examples of answer people and question people - the Pharisees and Sadducees being the answer folks and the Essenes being the question people.

And to generalize a bit more, the Pharisees and Sadducees (who were extremely order and rule concious) are the rough equivalant of today's Evangelical right. For these people, specific rules are more important than general concepts. The contemporary counterpart to the Essenes would be those Christians who believe that the general concepts of Christ's teachings are more important than specific rules.

When the statement is made that Christianity is under attack today is made, it is really more that the worldview of the modern Pharisees is what is being attacked. Presenting a paradox to a Pharisee is the same thing as attacking their worldview.

The same scenario can be seen on the political stage as well.

The Bush administration can easilly be seen as answer people - Pharisees. They have proposed rules or maxims and those rules are more important than generalities. For these answer people, to even question the rules is to question their worldview. Their rules must be defended because their worldview depends upon it. In fact, defending these rules is part of their worldview and has become an ingrained principle.

They have counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum too. There are those with politically liberal viewpoints that will defend their rules just as staunchly.

A fun aside, at this point, would be to ponder a little paradox I like to call Shawn's Hippy Uniform Paradox which asks:

"If wearing a uniform makes one part of the establishment, then does the fact that hippies dress alike make them part of the establishment?"

More on this paradox on a different day.

In the mean time, ponder - if you will - whether you fit into the question or answer camp. I believe that most people fall somewhere in between and sometimes lean one way or the other, perhaps depending on the circumstances or the facet of life being considered. I also believe that we all tend to lean one way or the other to varying degrees.

As I've said, I know I tend to lean pretty far towards the question camp. Paradoxes interest me and I believe that life itself is a paradox of sorts. I seek answers, of course, but to me it's the asking of the questions that's important.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


It's weird how the idea of Big Brother watching was not that long ago a scarey thought and is now a reality that no one seems to even be aware of.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fun with Photoshop

Okay, what's the greatest computer program ever? It's a tough question, but on a personal level I think Photoshop is pretty much tops.

It's not just fun to play with, but it's extremely powerful too.

I'm always amazed at what can be done with just a few clicks. It would be hard for me to even imagine not having Photoshop on my computer. There's always The Gimp for those who can't spring for the big dollar Photoshop. The Gimp is open source software, so it's free to download and use. The Gimp is nearly as potent as Photoshop is, but it's a slightly different interface and I've been using Photoshop for a lot of years. So, for me it's Photoshop.

Anyway, it's fun to play around with cool programs.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Here and now

Warming but not warm sunshine, faded blue sky, pale patches of clouds like bleach stains on well-worn Levis, a brown, strong coffee and Ottmar Liebert's guitar coming from the speakers of my computer.

Leafless trees ouside my window stand as quiet obseververs of the world, only the barest hint of a breeze moving them.

Snow is piled up by the roadsides. A newly painted garbage truck rolls through the neighborhood gathering the piles and bins of recyclables.

This is my morning.

Forty minutes - forty miles - away my Dad is lying in a bed under the same old-Levis sky. The beeps of the monitors sounding nothing at all like flamenco guitars, evoking no thoughts of Spain and summertime.

While I sip my coffee and savor the flavor, he may be coming out of a slumber and hoping that today they will remove the plastic tube from his throat and he might be able to speak. Worrying around his bed, my Mother has no thoughts beyond the hope that her husband will soon be coming home.

I'm torn between talking about my Father and talking about the many times that Liebert's 'Nouveau Flamenco' has played the part of background soundtrack in my life.

Maybe both, or maybe they're the same thing - even though they're not at all the same.

I first remember hearing Ottmar Liebert at a little restaurant and bar a couple of friends ran in Bend, Oregon, called Monet's Garden. Gene and Jane spent countless hours remodelling and painting before they were ever ready to open the doors. It was their dream to serve nice, light fare, good wines and have live music on weekends. My Dad was helping them as a consultant - setting up their books and setting up business accounts.

Gene was the music fan - or fanatic. He loved most music, but saved a special place for reggae. Nice enough, but Gene was the prototype for the credit card hippy - a guy who wore the trappings of the Woodstock generation but put his bar tab on a gold card instead of paying with change dug from the seats of a ratty VW bus.

Jane was different. She was an artist. Beautiful, tall, blonde - a girl who you could either imagine twirly barefoot in a field or floating into the sitting room to welcome you to the family manor house.

While Dad coached Gene as best he could, Mom became friends with Jane helping her with the menus, decoration and hanging Jane's paintings. I was, of course, dragged in to help pound some nails and frame some of Jane's stuff. That's when I first heard Liebert - helping out at Monet's Garden.

Then, when the place finally opened, Jane would often play Liebert's music in the afternoons. I would stop in and have a wine with her and we would listen to the music and fold napkins for the dinner rush.

It was nice.

I enjoyed just being around Jane. She was one of those rare, ethereal souls that seem ill-made for the real world and belong in a novel, a poem, or a song. I think she welcomed the break from the looming clouds of a marriage doomed to fail.

Occasionally, over the years, Ottmar would come out and I would listen. It always soothed, but rarely transported me to a better place anymore. Gene and Jane were divorced and Monet's finally closed it's doors. Liebert was quiet memory tucked in the back of my mind.

Until I met Stephanie that is.

Steffi was another soul out of place when I met her. In the heat of a sunny California day at a yoga ashram in the Sierra foothills, Steffi appeared like a dream. She took shape slowly, from the edges of my sight - a warm glow that finally focused when we found our way into the same room to watch a video about the place.

We started talking, tentatively at first, like shy schoolkids. Soon though, the video was forgotten and the words tumbled out. She was stranded it turned out - or nearly stranded to be more exact. She was travelling by car with a couple who were feuding and making life miserable. All she wanted was to get back to Los Angeles, pick up her bags and go home to Germany.

Sometimes you meet people and know it will be okay. I guess this was one of those times. I knew I had to help her and she knew that she was safe with me.

She stayed at my bare place in Grass Valley. I had just moved there for a newspaper job and almost everything I owned was in storage. We bought food and wine for dinner and I snuck utensils up to the register, unwilling to let her know I didn't even have forks or spoons at home.

We spent one night and one day together - twenty four hours that changed my life for the better. She both healed and broke my heart.

Later, when I went to see her in Germany for the first time, she played Ottmar Liebert while she cleaned the vegetables we had bought at the local market. The same album I had listened to several years before. It became part of the tapestry of that trip. We listened to it a lot. Food, wine and Ottmar Liebert colored everything for two weeks in Bavaria.

Like a familiar smell that returns me to childhood or a sight that sparks a thought or memory, Nouveau Flamenco has gained the power to move me somewhere not here, not now. We all, I think, have things that do this for us. And, sometimes, we need to have them - need to be not here and not now.

Outside the pale blue sky has turned dull grey and large flakes of snow are falling and rising and floating sideways in the air.

And in these moments before the sky starts to really release its white bounty, I can't help but wonder if my Dad would like Ottmar Liebert. Back again in the here and the now, I wonder whether I'll have the chance to ask him and hope quietly that I do.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow day...

On days like this, it seems like a good idea to just drink some coffee. These are the kind of days that are best spent with a warm java and a good book. Reading and getting snowed in - sounds pretty good.

Sadly, I'm going to have to go out in it later this afternoon. I had a morning job, but it was thankfully moved to later in the day.

Funny thing is that a couple of days ago the temperature was up to nearly 60 degrees. It was warm and nice.

I should write down my predictions because I knew the temperature was going to plummet and it would start to snow in two days. Well, I was right about the cold and about six or eight hours off on the snow. Not bad, eh?

Anyway, it's still coming down outside. The world seems very quiet too. Not many cars out on the road, the plows aren't scraping by and the snow has been muffling most of the sound out there anyway. This is the best part of a good snowfall - the quiet that puts the world on pause for a little while.