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.


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


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.