Lifetime Learning

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The boy and I went to a Frontiers of Astronomy lec­ture at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History tonight to learn about grav­i­ta­tion­al waves from Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann. Here’s a sim­i­lar ver­sion of her talk:

For a quick run-down about the im­por­tance of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves: Top 5 Targets of a Gravity Wave Observatory.

I’d for­got­ten how much I missed hang­ing around a cam­pus and go­ing to ran­dom lec­tures and learn­ing new things straight from the ex­perts. That was one of the high­light of at­tend­ing a uni­ver­si­ty. Plus the snacks af­ter!

It was my son’s idea to at­tend, and even though it was way past his bed­time, he learned a bunch, and even asked the as­tro­physi­cist an in­tel­li­gent ques­tion about the “pres­sure” of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves that she was able to ex­plain to a 3rd grader. It was def­i­nite­ly a more in­tel­li­gent ques­tion than the one about time trav­el. I’m su­per proud of him for hav­ing the gump­tion to ask a ques­tion when he was the youngest in a room with hun­dreds of peo­ple in it.

After the lec­ture we went up to the ob­ser­va­to­ry and got to take a gan­der at the moon. It was a first for both of us, and amaz­ing! Then we had the afore­men­tioned snacks, head­ed home, and he passed out in the car. I need to start loop­ing my­self in to the lo­cal lec­ture cir­cuit. There are too many col­leges around for me to con­tin­ue ig­nor­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties they provide.

I might even be able to haul along my son, since he seems to be in­to the sci­ence-re­lat­ed ones at least. I guess that runs in the fam­i­ly too.

Fashion

Sunday, 6 March 2016

I’ve spent the last cou­ple of years tak­ing a greater in­ter­est in dress­ing well — which has mor­phed in­to a greater in­ter­est in style — which has mor­phed in­to a greater in­ter­est in fash­ion — which is some­thing I’ve nev­er un­der­stood. Though, fi­nal­ly, I’m be­gin­ning to. I think.

There have been scat­tered mo­ments in my life where I had a well-de­fined per­son­al style, my cu­rat­ed EDM-hip­py vibe in high school (neon-print­ed ray­on shirts that glowed un­der black­light and vin­tage pants), pro­to-Zuckerbergian ba­sic neu­tral norm­core for post-col­le­giate of­fice work (khak­is, grey t-shirts, blue but­ton-downs), to my cur­rent ur­ban yup­pie pro­fes­sor dad steez (ubiq­ui­tous cor­duroy jack­et, flat-brimmed hat, worn-in selvedge, high tops).

If I had to as­sign three ma­jor qual­i­ties to clothes they would be ma­te­ri­al util­i­ty (what’s it used for?), qual­i­ty (how well is it made?), and com­mu­ni­ca­tion (what does it mean to wear it?). Traditionally, I bare­ly cared about any of the­se — al­though util­i­ty would be the clos­est, which is the sta­tus quo for most folks (men es­pe­cial­ly). I would buy the cheap­est clothes that would serve the great­est num­ber of pur­pos­es and cared noth­ing about fit, prove­nance, ap­pear­ance or style. So the world of high fash­ion seemed com­plete­ly lu­di­crous to me. I nev­er con­scious­ly con­sid­ered that cloth­ing could be art.

I am a per­son who ap­pre­ci­ates the well-craft­ed. I even­tu­al­ly grew tired of buy­ing cheap clothes that don’t fit my pro­por­tions and dis­in­te­grat­ed af­ter a wash or two. I’ve sought well-craft­ed, American-made cloth­ing for the last 2 years, and through the re­search in and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of that craft, I’ve been able to look to the next step to see fash­ion as art. The util­i­ty might be non-ex­is­tent — but there’s no util­i­ty to vi­su­al art, mu­sic, or cre­ative writ­ing ei­ther. I’m talk­ing ma­te­ri­al util­i­ty, not so­cial util­i­ty.

So now I pay at­ten­tion to my own dress, to the dress of oth­ers’, and to some ex­tent what’s abuzz in fash­ion be­cause I took the time to learn the lan­guage & what I say by the way I dress. A lot of it still seems like non­sense to me, but I’m will­ing to at­trib­ute that to my ig­no­rance. Here’s to fur­ther learn­ing.

Historical Footnotes

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

I posit that the event hori­zon of “his­tor­i­cal­ly im­por­tant” as a qual­i­ty of in­for­ma­tion is the point at which the dataset dis­ap­pears from liv­ing mem­o­ry. The mag­ni­tude of cer­tain events en­sures that they will be record­ed for pos­ter­i­ty, but even then, the rea­sons be­hind that record­ing fade as the peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced it die. I might be us­ing the wrong terms here. Maybe it’s not his­to­ry I’m talk­ing about, but an­thro­pol­o­gy. History is “the­se are the things that hap­pened”; an­thro­pol­o­gy is “the­se are the ways peo­ple act­ed.”

Living as I do, in a so­ci­ety where many peo­ple are ar­guably ob­sessed with record­ing and archiv­ing every de­tail of their lives, I won­der what meth­ods fu­ture historians/​anthropologists will use to sift wheat from chaff — es­pe­cial­ly when, as this post is ev­i­dence for, so much of what is shared and saved is chaff.

That’s long-term his­toric­i­ty. If his­to­ry is still be­ing record­ed 5,000 years from now, this whole epoch will like­ly be re­duced to a one-lin­er: “An age of tech­no­log­i­cal growth so rapid it’s ef­fects threat­ened to de­stroy civ­i­liza­tion.”

Specific to this is the rise of the au­to­mat­ed au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. People have been post­ing things on­line so long now that there are ser­vices to show us and let us share what we were do­ing to the day, 1, 3, 5, or 10 years ago. Is there a broad­er de­sire to con­sume the­se mini-his­to­ries, or do they just ex­ist to serve our need to feel more im­por­tant than we are? It doesn’t have to be either/​or. My bet is that it’s an ad­mix­ture of onanism, ex­hi­bi­tion­ism, and voyeurism.

Signal to noise de­pends on your ears.

Trash is trea­sure.

Ray Rice is just a symp­tom

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I’m not nor­mal­ly one to beat up­on a string of ide­o­log­i­cal ad­jec­tives when mak­ing a point, but late­ly it seems nec­es­sary.

Racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety trains us to think that the lim­it of knowl­edge is ob­tain­ing max­i­mum mon­ey — the most ad­mirable goal; and then does all it can to pre­vent mi­nor­i­ty groups from achiev­ing it. Racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety trains us to think that we are not peo­ple, but hu­man re­sources; (celebri­ties are not even hu­man — they ex­ist on­ly as a brand, a pro­duct) and then does all it can to make mi­nor­i­ty groups ap­pear gener­ic & cheap. Racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety trains us to think that ob­jects sold in the ma­te­ri­al world will sat­is­fy our de­sires, and, fail­ing that, ob­jects pro­vid­ed in the vir­tu­al world will do the same; and mar­kets to every­one so they will be­come more racist, more pa­tri­ar­chal, and more cap­i­tal­is­tic. Racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety trains us to think that its par­a­digm is the on­ly par­a­digm.

Ray Rice is a vic­tim of racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety. It has made Ray think he is a pro­duct shaped and re­ward­ed for his strength and skill at vi­o­lence. It has not re­ward­ed him for em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion, or wis­dom. It has sup­port­ed this train­ing by cov­er­ing up his vi­o­lent be­hav­ior out­side of the game he was paid to play. Ray Rice is a tone-deaf, un­re­pen­tant abuser — but he didn’t have to be.

Janay Rice is a vic­tim of racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety.  Orders of mag­ni­tude more a vic­tim than Ray. It has made Janay think that she should silent­ly ac­cept and ig­nore be­ing abused by her hus­band. It has not re­ward­ed her for au­ton­o­my, as­sertive­ness, or wis­dom. It has sup­port­ed this train­ing by blam­ing wom­en for every­thing that hap­pens to them: rape, vi­o­lence, stolen cell phone pho­tos. Janay Rice is blind to her op­pres­sion, but she didn’t have to be.

I am not as­sign­ing all blame for the be­hav­iors of Janay & Ray Rice to racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety. Despite what they have been trained to think, they re­main ca­pa­ble of healthy choic­es and healthy be­hav­iors. The tec­ton­ic weight of racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety has just made it much hard­er to be a healthy per­son and much eas­ier to be­have like a racist, pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist. That’s why it’s so eas­ier for po­lice to shoot & kill than do ac­tu­al po­lice work. That’s why some men think they can hit peo­ple & some wom­en think that be­ing hit is okay.

We are an­i­mals first. We re­spond to what is in front of us. We are out­raged at Ray Rice, the NFL, Janay Rice, the po­lice of Ferguson, MO. We re­act to stim­uli as we have been trained to do. We are sapi­ent sec­ond, and rarely. Though each in­di­vid­u­al is and should be called up­on to be less racist, pa­tri­ar­chal or cap­i­tal­is­tic — play­ing whack-a-mole each time we see an egre­gious ex­am­ple of our racist pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety does lit­tle to ef­fect change. Change re­quires ac­tion. Effective change re­quires know­ing where to act, and how. We can go on iden­ti­fy­ing the symp­toms, or we can try to end the dis­ease.

Best of 2013

Saturday, 21 December 2013

BestOf2013

Here are some of my fa­vorite songs that I lis­tened to this year. Click the im­age to down­load a ZIP file or get it here.

David Bowie

Monday, 4 November 2013

I used to play a pi­rat­ed copy of “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?” on my DTK 386 back in, say, 1994. This was when “pi­rat­ed” meant you just copied the files on­to one of those 3.5″ flop­pies that AOL sent in the mail every two days. Since it was a pi­rat­ed copy, I didn’t have the Fodor’s Travel Guide that you were sup­posed to use to an­swer the fi­nal ques­tion to move on to the next lev­el. It was al­ways “What State is on page {foo} of the trav­el guide? Me be­ing me, I made a list of all 50 States, and slow­ly worked my way through via guess­work un­til I had most of them down.

Now if you re­mem­ber this game, you had to track down crim­i­nals based on con­tex­tu­al clues left be­hind as to who they are, and where they are go­ing. It as­sumes some lev­el of ge­o­graph­i­cal and pop cul­ture knowl­edge. Geography I had down. Proud win­ner of the 8th grade ge­og­ra­phy bee, here. Pop cul­ture… not so much. One of the con­tex­tu­al clues was a David Bowie cas­set­te tape. You had to know what kind of mu­sic he made. I nev­er could re­mem­ber. (it was “rock”).

A year or so lat­er and I start get­ting mail from Columbia House and BMG. Notice I didn’t say junk mail, be­cause for me, Columbia House and BMG were pret­ty much my sole method of ob­tain­ing mu­sic that was new to me. I got in­to Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots, 311, and, on a whim, de­cid­ed to find out who this David Bowie per­son was. You could say I was shel­tered. That would be very tact­ful of you. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars sound­ed like a good start, be­cause I was and am still a huge sci­ence fic­tion nerd. It ar­rived, and, just a bit through the half way point of the open­ing track “Five Years” my mind was blown.

The al­bum it­self was near­ly 25 years old at that point, and there’s lit­tle young me, poleaxed. I couldn’t tell you how many times I lis­tened to it. And every mon­th, when my BMG or Columbia House mail would ar­rive, I’d get more Bowie. This was a good time for it, even though I wasn’t aware, I was get­ting the re­mas­tered Rykodisc ver­sions that were chock full of out­takes with dif­fer­ent lyrics, or rare live per­for­mances. I still have them all: Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups. Those al­bums all re­ceived mad play time. Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and Let’s Dance sig­nif­i­cant­ly less so, though now I have a more ma­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what’s go­ing on in those al­bums.

Earthling came out in 1997. The first al­bum of his that I had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to pur­chase in its nat­u­ral mi­lieu. I have to ad­mit I had ba­si­cal­ly no idea what was go­ing on with that elec­tron­i­ca drum & bass mad­ness. I still don’t. I’m okay with that. It’s a great al­bum for zon­ing out on a road trip. 1997 is, in­ci­den­tal­ly, the year I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Minneapolis. I got a chance to do a lit­tle shop­ping at a big city record store. On that trip, I picked up Bowie’s Outside. Certainly his most macabre, grotesque, baro­que work. The least ap­pro­pri­ate Bowie al­bum to pick up while in town with a ton of Catholic teenagers. Incidentally, on that trip I al­so learned that Tolkien cal­en­dars ex­ist.

I man­aged to see him in con­cert, on the Area 2 tour with Moby, when he was tour­ing for his al­bum Heathen (in my opin­ion, his best work in the­se lat­er years). I ea­ger­ly picked up Reality in 2003 when I was work­ing in New York, and I re­mem­ber play­ing it on the Bang & Olufsen sound sys­tem owned by the fam­i­ly I was stay­ing with at the time. The first song im­me­di­ate­ly called up mem­o­ries of the 2001 World Trade Center at­tacks, and the whole al­bum it an amal­gam of songs sift­ed from Bowie’s long ca­reer and new work.

For years I’ve been un­able to de­cide which al­bum I like best be­tween Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, but I’ve fi­nal­ly de­cid­ed that Diamond Dogs is my fa­vorite al­bum. The 8 – 9 min­utes of Sweet Thing/​Candidate/​Sweet Thing Reprise is my fa­vorite chunk of mu­sic.

The ver­sion from David Live is amaz­ing:

And I re­al­ly like the al­ter­nate lyrics to Candidate (re­leased on the afore­men­tioned re­mas­tered Rykodisc re­lease):

Bowie has been a con­stant in­trigue and chal­lenge to me as I’ve grown old­er, and he’ll con­tin­ue to be as long as he keeps putting out al­bums. I learned about Jean-Michel Basquiat by seek­ing out the movie made about him mere­ly be­cause Bowie played Andy Warhol. I dis­cov­ered the hor­ri­ble sack-swing­ing fas­ci­na­tion of his role in Labyrinth, and de­vel­oped a lit­tle crush on Jennifer Connelly. I be­came a fan of Nicolas Roeg af­ter watch­ing The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve be­come a fan of just about every band he’s ever cov­ered.

David Bowie was my gate­way from small town Indiana to the rest of the world. This young dude car­ried the news, so hey, man. Thanks.

Eating Better

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

There are lots of meth­ods that folks evan­ge­lize about in terms of eat­ing bet­ter. I don’t like to lis­ten to evan­ge­lists, I learn from mod­el­ing and men­tors. I learned some good things this sum­mer that have helped me eat bet­ter and they’re pret­ty ba­sic, so I want­ed to share. Not evan­ge­lize. I don’t ex­pect the­se things to work for every­one, but some of the ways of think­ing about food may help change habits.

My fam­i­ly is all in Indiana. They eat like ba­sic Hoosiers. Lots of meat and carbs. Basically every­thing from this cook­book would be right at home at one of my family’s din­ners. The on­ly veg­eta­bles like­ly to ap­pear are a sal­ad and green beans. But the sal­ad is a sev­en lay­er sal­ad drenched in ranch and cheese, and the green beans are in a casserole. I start­ed mak­ing fruit sal­ads to bring to meals a few years ago. I can tell whether my friends or my fam­i­ly post­ed some­thing on Pinterest based on a glance at the pho­to. If it’s su­per un­healthy it was post­ed by my fam­i­ly.

When I moved to Cleveland, I took a fan­cy to cook­ing. I en­joy it. But for years all I knew how to make was Hoosier home cook­ing. I slow­ly grew fat­ter. This year, af­ter top­ping out at 205, I de­cid­ed to lose some weight. I’m down to 185 now, and here’s how I did it.

  • Portion con­trol. I put my meals on sal­ad plates and on­ly fed my­self as much as I fed my son.
  • Tactical willpow­er. Instead of hav­ing to ex­er­cise willpow­er at home all the time by avoid­ing junk food, I just used that willpow­er at the gro­cery. Don’t buy it there, you won’t have to re­sist it at home.
  • Easing in­to bet­ter choic­es. I didn’t just go all veg­gies all the time. I start­ed buy­ing av­o­ca­dos, and eat­ing half of one with a meal. I’d roast car­rots and broc­coli. I’d make the eas­i­est sal­ad imag­in­able: a hand­ful of spinach, a small splash of bal­sam­ic vine­gar, a dash of Parmesan. All easy, tasty, and un-in­tim­i­dat­ing.
  • Learning by ex­am­ple. I learned a great many easy things to do with rice and veg­eta­bles in a very short time by be­ing in the kitchen with some­one who knew how to do things I didn’t. Finding a friend or mak­ing a new friend with some­one who is handy in the kitchen in ways that you aren’t is great!

That’s ba­si­cal­ly it. After awhile I start­ed crav­ing my now dai­ly sal­ad. I look for­ward to mak­ing an av­o­cado, beet and goat cheese sand­wich. Hell, you just have to steam, peel, and slice the beet. It’s not hard. The fla­vors take care of them­selves. And be­cause my por­tion sizes are small­er, and veg­eta­bles slow­ly in­creased in per­cent­age, I’m eat­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly less carbs and meat. I’m not be­com­ing veg­e­tar­i­an, but my di­et is much closer to a veg­e­tar­i­an di­et than it was. I don’t dis­dain junk food, the Pop Tarts I just had are proof again­st that. But the four lit­tle changes I made have added up to a big dif­fer­ence.

Food evan­ge­lists de­mand­ing a sea change in eat­ing habits did not af­fect me. Being around peo­ple who were good di­etary mod­els but not preachy about it and mak­ing my own small choic­es has made much more of an im­pact.