Archive for August, 2008

Things I read lately (poetry – 
’I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow’)

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

From Poem of the Week

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me, so take the lively air,

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.
-Theodore Roethke

IRC, the forgetting of things past, self and others

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures.

-William James

I saw the above quote today and I’ve thought many times how strange it is that some memories remain and recur so frequently while others fade to nothing or are only vaguely grasped at the corners.

There are things which reoccur to me semi-frequently for no reason that I can think of: snatches of song, bits of books, movies, memories which echo around in my head. They’re not necessarily about important events or profound or particularly funny. Often they occur to me in my in-between times when I’m not thinking but doing something routine — brushing my teeth, showering, etc. Some memories are, I suspect, distorted or blurred and many old ones gather and drag other new thoughts and associations along like hooks on ropes dangling below a slow boat – sometimes new bits of detritus get attached while others drop away.

I am used to a certain level of lack of a sense of solid ‘self’ even though (or perhaps one might argue, because) I am such an introverted person. In the famous “You can’t step in the same river twice” way I know the me that had the experiences I remember (imprecisely, with distortions, the old being cast into shadows by new thoughts and new knowledges) is not the same me as now.

What William James couldn’t take into account was how technology can in some ways flatten out the abyss. Some things aren’t necessarily lost but merely a few keystrokes away if you want them — provided you have good back-ups (though of course there’s always the option to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind /delete things too).

I’ve noticed when searching IRC logs to confirm a phrase or find an old link that I’m sometimes surprised to read something and realize it was me saying it. It’s not necessarily that I disagree now with the me from then but more a kind of bemusement in realizing it seems alien, like something someone else thought and said. I have those “How am I not myself?” moments often enough already and to read the words of a self from which I am disconnected by time and imprecise memory is a curious feeling.

I just spent an hour or so re-reading weeks and months in the past from my IRC logs. I don’t think that I have a particularly good sense of how I appear to others so it ended up being interesting to read myself as a mostly dispassionate observer. In my every day life I worry I complain a lot, and well, yes, I do complain and I know that I go through periods of sadness or just plain crankiness but I noticed other things too like that I quite often make jokes — though why this should be surprising to me I am not sure.

I often (and I’m kind of embarrassedly aware of this too) ramble or expound on a theory or just natter. I think what I didn’t see as clearly before is how most of my friends more often that not respond in an interested way to most things I yammer about as easily and unconcernedly as I am interested in what they say (of course I’m interested, they’re very interesting people!).

I’m really struck by what wonderful, clever, funny and kind friends I have and how lucky I am. It’s fascinating to re-read old conversations and jokes, to re-live little joys and sorrows, to see some circumstances of our current lives first mentioned or wondered at, to see how old pains or worries or angers have faded away (or how they haven’t) and to see the day-by-day links of our friendships of years. I’ve long know how much these conversations meant to me, how interesting and funny and poignant they were (and every so often exclaimed: “You should blog this!” but that the same time, knew that it was likely no one would because, well, it had been said and understood already, why repeat it elsewhere?) but now I realize that we have been writing a kind of book of our lives minute-by-minute and that it is actually pretty amazing.

a tiny cape and crown of its own

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Cracked’s writers tend to race past humor making rude gestures as they pass; through bad taste pausing only to wallow and roll around in it; and then often tumble off a cliff into ‘no, really!’ territory – but sometimes they manage to continue on to something almost sublime:

Chuck Norris decided that wasn’t enough, and outdid everybody by cultivating arrogance so magnificent it wears a tiny cape and crown of its own.

5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity

This week’s mega-blockbuster

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Ah… how fondly I remember the year Iron Man came out. Wait… that was this year! With a new blockbuster arriving each week I had a (very likely unoriginal) thought: I want to see well-respected actors playing ridiculous parts.

Of course, it turns out that this is already happening. Robert Downey Jnr as an action star? I wouldn’t have believed it 5 years ago (although at that time I probably believed he would be either dead, in prison or a washed-up drug addict). It’s not that I didn’t think he could do it – quite the opposite – he’s such a fantastic actor I bet he could play the part of a black male by undergoing a controversial skin-darkening operation, or better yet, play the part of an actor who does it, which he does in this week’s blockbuster movie opening.

I want to take it a step further: get famous but wimpy-looking actors playing tough roles. For example, Hugh Grant as a boxer, Reese Witherspoon as a ninja assassin, Jim Carey as a female ice truck driver. Let’s see how good they really are.

Part of me worries that this will eventually be an unavoidable reality. We’ll get 50 blockbusters opening each year and “quality” actors will chase the money into bad roles. In fact, I assume that is what Tropic Thunder parodies (I haven’t seen it yet), as well as the opposite: action movie stars taking on dramatic roles in search of critical acclaim (the fake movie in Tropic Thunder is offending the retards who are offended by the word retard).

This is a blog post, and blog posts must be worthless, so I don’t feel bad about having neither a point nor a conclusion. Instead I’ll just make a list.

  • Tom Cruise’s next movie will have him play a (good) Nazi with an eye-patch
  • Keira Knightley, who is so skinny she has to jump around in the shower to get wet (cha-ching!), has played a few non-wimpy roles: as a warrior princess Guinevere in King Arthur, the real-life bounty hunter Domino and as whats-her-face in the Pirates movies. Although, in the latter she’s starring next to Orlando Bloom, who’s super sexy but not exactly throbbing with toughness.
  • Christian Bale lost 63 pounds to be in The Machinist, then followed it up with his first action role in Batman Begins. With The Dark Knight he’s probably the biggest star in the world at the moment, in a film that follows the other big trend in movies today: a sequel, or in this case a sequel to the reboot of a sequel to a sequel to a sequel of a reboot of a tv series (that was also a film) based on the reboot of a comic story that’s had many sequels.
  • I sometimes wonder what will follow the trend of constant blockbusters. It can’t last forever. Will it be hundreds of Disney-like movies? Camp Rock, HSM3? If you don’t know what HSM is, then you are definitely not cool.
  • I’m flying from USA to Australia tonight. I leave on Wednesday and arrive on Friday. My birthday is Thursday, but it doesn’t exist!!! Will this give me super powers? You’ll find out in next year’s blockbusters.
  • Blockbusters is a fantastic word. Busting blocks.

If any of the three people out there that read this crap feel like commenting, don’t bother. I won’t read it. You’d be better off doing something more useful, such as watching the international pharmaceutical convention that’s currently being broadcast from Beijing, where you are a complete disappointment if you somehow don’t break a world record. As I said to Max today, they’ll have to start filling the pool with honey soon. No super suit will help there! Also, all these medals… only rappers should wear that much bling.

[The author returns to edit the post. I’m back because I had this nagging suspicion that some random person would accidentally stumble across this page by googling for the Jonas Brothers and think “Jim Carey is not a respected actor”. Dear random person, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and The Man on the Moon. Subtracting one for the whole talking out of his bum act still leaves two.]

attention, illusion and magic

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

I found a recent article: “How magicians control your mind” on magic and neuroscience more interesting in its exploration of visual cognition than its take on magic – the explanation of the pin-point nature of attention and how we essentially make up reality, especially.

…a new model has arisen over the past decade, in which visual cognition is understood not as a camera but something more like a flashlight beam sweeping a twilit landscape. At any particular instant, we can only see detail and color in the small patch we are concentrating on. The rest we fill in through a combination of memory, prediction and a crude peripheral sight. We don’t take in our surroundings so much as actively and constantly construct them.

“Our picture of the world is kind of a virtual reality,” says Ronald A. Rensink, a professor of computer science and psychology at the University of British Columbia and coauthor of a paper on magic and psychology that will be published online this week in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. “It’s a form of intelligent hallucination.”

The benefit of these sorts of cognitive shortcuts is that they allow us to create a remarkably rich image of our environment despite the fact that our two optic nerves have roughly the resolution of cell-phone cameras. We don’t have to, for example, waste time making out every car on the highway to understand that they are, indeed, cars, and to make sense of how they are moving – our minds can simply approximate from the thousands of cars we have already seen in our lives.

But because this method relies so heavily on expectation – not only to fill in the backdrop around us but to determine where to send what psychologists call our “attentional spotlight” – we are especially vulnerable to someone who knows our expectations and can manipulate them, someone like a magician.
– Drake Bennett “How magicians control your mind
The Boston Globe

Visited 21 countries (9.33%)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
Visited countries: 21 (9.33%)

Visited countries: 21 (9.33%)

I added Czech Republic to the list of countries I visited. That was last Summer. Updating the map of visited countries is a pretext really, as I meant to blog about travels, after chatting with an old friend of mine.

He realized he didn’t know me as well as he thought when I told him I wasn’t actually seeking to travel. I consider myself extremely fortunate that my work took me to many incredible places. And I’m very grateful to the friends and lovers who engineered my personal travels.

I like to be somewhere else. It is all that is around travelling that is stressful. Getting used to the idea of it first, which takes some time. It is like a quiet struggle between the curious me and the stay-at-home me. This struggle may last until the very last moment. The curious me knows it is going to be wonderful and how this should be a motivation. The other me knows it will be tiring, expensive. The other me knows the amount of work that will await upon returning.

Then there is packing. An additional burden that would not happen if I were to stay home. I pack lightly, quickly and most of the time efficiently. I have learnt that after years of travelling for W3C. Of course, unpacking is equally burdensome. It means laundry.

Also, there is the stress of the journey, be that flying or driving or else (we took a ferry recently for our holiday in Corsica and Sardinia). Flying is the worst. Not that I’m afraid to be on a plane. It’s rather that I hate airport so-called security. What a gigantic waste of time and what a monumental buffoonery. I am exaggerating for emphasis.

At least, none of my anxiety was ever turned towards dreading any danger, or fearing I wouldn’t like the place. I have enjoyed all of my travels so far.

So at last, there is being somewhere else. Enjoying different settings, foods, climate, a different culture, sometimes a different language. Taking photos. Thinking how incredibly lucky I am to be there. Enjoying the compagny. Taking a break from the everyday life. Feeling how tangibly time passes faster.