Archive for July, 2006|Monthly archive page

Divas at the Cot-tage

Monday, July 31st, 2006

We were well-stocked for a good weekend: about 11 bottles of wine, some Chivas (which is my rye, despite was Melle says), some Glenlivet, some gin, candy necklaces, eggs and bacon, books, trashy mags, and chips.

The first night was just three of us, who, upon arrival, grabbed some travellers and went to the beach to catch the end of the sunset. Then we wandered back to the cottage for deep discussion, much laughter and debate. About five minutes before three, our hostess had a panic attack:
H: We have to go to bed!
Us: Why??
H: Because it’s five to three in the morning!
Us: But we’re still drinking!
H: Oh. Carry on.

We also got the bright idea to call another diva since she couldn’t be there. Damn girl was bright and chipper after three in the morning!

Saturday saw the arrival of two more, but also lots of rain. Upon noting a bank of orange clouds approaching like the four horsemen, we saw fit to go inside, which was probably a good idea. The horsemen turned out to be driving winds and a torrential downpour. Spectacular to watch from the window with drinks.

We played the original version of Trivial Pursuit, and have some helpful tips: when in doubt, it’s Captain Stubing, Sammy Davis Jr., or Marakesh. Saturday night was a little quieter, but good talking nonetheless. We did get round to trotting out our “drunk and naked” stories for amusement.

Melle and I went for a walk along the beach on Sunday morning–the sun was out (finally), but I did see clouds rolling in yet again as we packed up to leave.


Good looking, pleasant AND a lady

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

So, recently, I was dropped by my doctor who is “narrowing” her practice (yeah, whatever). In this part of the world, finding a new doctor is very difficult – it took me 3 years to find the first one.

Aaanway, when I got the letter, I immediately went online to look up doctors accepting new patients. There was one listed, but the listing said that she graduated in the late 50′s. Okay. I called her and a woman answered, and I asked for Dr So-Fa-Me-So (she had an absurdly long and Germanic-sounding name). This is the doctor, she said. Answering her own phone, cuz her assistant was out for lunch.

I explained my predicament, and that I am on medication right now, and that a doctor really is required, and that it took me 3 years the last time, and… But you know, she said, I bet that you can find a doctor younger than me who is taking on patients. Go to the yellow pages. But don’t start at A, and don’t start at Z, start at, let’s say, S.

I’m a conspiracy theorist from way back and I recognize code-talk when I hear it. So, I thanked her and went straight to the yellow pages. Called the first doctor on the list. No hesitation.

Well, well. Dr — is taking a few new patients just as of this week – how did you know? heh. Luck, I said.

Which brings me to my medical records, as in I picked them up today from my old doctor to bring to my new doctor. Of course, I took them home first to see if there were any “Elaine” evaluations (“hard to work with” or something).

I seem to be a healthy specimen overall, but was amused to read a formal evaluation from a specialist I saw a few years ago:

Patient is good-looking and pleasant. Thank you for the opportunity to look after your lady.

Charmed, I’m sure.

File under “Signs of the Apocalypse”, or the 75% Rule

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

New wax display of Jolie-Pitt baby


Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Have you ever had a strange series of coincidental references to an idea or person or place?

  1. Just finished reading The Girls by Lori Lansens (beautiful story; review to follow), which is about conjoined twins.
  2. Was flipping channels the next morning and they were listing famous “duos” and flashed a picture of Chang and Eng Bunker, the famous Siamese conjoined twins.
  3. Started reading Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, featuring the story of Reba and Lori Schappell, the conjoined twins who probably inspired The Girls.

I’m trying to figure out what the significance of this might be. Assuming that it’s done–since there were three items (which, odd maybe, since a factor of TWO might be more appropriate).

Book Review: Dodecahedron or A Frame of Frames

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Author: Paul Glennon
Scotchneat Rating: 4/5 buckyballs

While not everyone’s test, cerebral fiction is something I quite enjoy. Glennon’s work, which smells of Saramago or Borges or someone equally South American, is austere in some ways, and fleshy in others. A nice taste for the reading palate.

A dodecahedron is a Platonic solid composed of twelve pentagonal faces, with three meeting at each vertex. It has twenty vertices and thirty edges. As the title makes clear, this collection is a set of twelve stories, within which certain themes are repeated and refracted: the vertices of the shape of shapes. Each story is a different author, genre and even geography/world.

I like the austerity and the muted feeling of the landscapes in the stories. There are humans, but much of their emotions are tied up with paper and writing–so perhaps it’s the academic in me who identifies. There’s the little boy who eats his missing father’s special books to both gain the knowledge in them and block that knowledge from a man he thinks is out to get his father. In another story, a man learns that his father died alone in the Arctic because they couldn’t find him–the knowledge was hidden in his special books. There are many glances and maps and letters in bottles. And secret societies and religious groups who landed in America long before history records it as so. And drunken monks generating the word of god.

My favourite piece in the collection is probably the first one: “In My Father’s Library”–the one in which the young boy seeks to protect his father by eating his secret stash of books. Woven into it is a feeling of Nazism and a secret about the discovery of America. I liked also the story about a wealthy man who collects bottles with messages in them–and is duped, and in turn dupes, one of his employees with messages.

Through all of the stories, the concepts of truth and history and story are turned and refracted as they project from the facets of the dodecahedron. A man who is alone in the arctic talks with a young boy and tells him of penguins and cares for his cough, but we come to know that the man is really alone and was making up a son. Back to the son who protected his father. The last genie speculates on the story that will capture him (for, it is by writing a genie that he is captured). Back to a genie who was captured and bottled and sent out to sea, and to a group of indigent Americans who speak Breton and are afraid of a cursed message in a bottle that must never be opened.

In my own mind, there is a link between this collection and the concept of the quantum holograph, bound by the shape(s) that this author chooses to impose on it, and where experience and totems and fabula are a wave across twelve discreet narratives.

Book Review: Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Note: I’m consolidating book reviews into Wot-a-Jot. This review was completed in January, 2006

Author: Jay Ingram
Scotchneat Rating: 4 cortexes and 3 million neurons

With over 20 years in pop-science, Jay Ingram has a real knack for combining the two. At best, the real-world examples make complex biochemical processes more accessible to laypeople (the experience of “peachness”, or examples of qualia, say); at worst, they verge on slightly condescending and predictable hooks into the subject matter (the whole introduction, say).


Based on Ingram’s say-so (which I’ll take for well founded), serious, experiment-based consciousness research is really in its infancy–around 20 years or so. Studying consciousness, or the mindness of the “mind”, is often an exercise in sideways glances and inferred processes. Think about it: I will say I am conscious, I know I am “me”, but I also know that there is a myriad of biochemical processes going on in all parts of my body that are the hard science of what “me” is. And yet? And yet the biochemical does not explain the mindness or the ephemeral. Ingram discusses the possibility that the mind is actually a separate entity, perhaps a non-physical entity, separate from consciousness. This approach is known as “dualism”.

As with much of science, we resort to analogy and metaphor by way of explanation for these things. In this case, one can choose to see it as a “theatre of the mind” where only a few key ‘actors’ or foci are on the stage at any one time (active consciousness) while myriads of other potential foci wait in the wings. The audience in this case is our subjectivity, and possibly other foci. There is also the concept of the homunculus – a little ‘man’ in our brains that is complete and whole in control of the processes we conceive to be our self. Based on the title of the book, seems fair to say that Ingram goes for the former. And in fact, when I saw him speak on this topic, he used the stage he was on to demonstrate it.

Dreaming: Consciousness At Work or ?

From everything that the research on dreams and dreaming has shown, it is a definite that dreaming is a “conscious” process. But it is one that is operating without sensory input. Seems a simple statement, but it was a pause for me. I think it’s fair common knowledge that humans suffer physically and psychologically without dreams; ergo, there’s some good reason for them. But in this case it’s consciousness at work for itself, not us, since we aren’t using it, per se, to interact with the world (which is actually the product of sensory input and our “mindness” that creates our subjective experience).

Ingram includes a whole chapter on dreams. One interesting bit is that dreaming doesn’t seem to achieve full adult form, characterized by complex levels and a more negative tone, until we are about 12 years old. As Ingram asks, why or what needs to be there before we can dream fully, since full adult active consciousness seems to be in place by 4 or 5 years old.

Neurochemically, the contrasts between active consciousness and dreaming are striking. When active, the frontal areas of the brain–those responsible for “self-reflection, time-keeping, abstract thinking, logical decision making and memory retrieval” (226) are to the fore. When dreaming, they are not reactivated with the cascade of neuron activity that signals the onset of REM. Things are still pretty jiggy at this point though, as chemicals are on the
go, and some areas of the brain that don’t normally turn on together get turned on, and vision and emotion circuits are also active. But without sensory input, what is all of this for, exactly? Ingram gives a few ideas as to what that might be. His preferred explanation is “rehearsal” – i.e. we can plan out events or potential challenges (physical, emotional, veiled in Freudian symbols) and are able to determine courses of action. This explanation works nicely if you want to understand dreams as an evolutionary advantage as well.

That Consciousness? Not So Smart.

One theme that comes through very clearly in this book is just how inadequate consciousness is. Joking aside, it really is the case anecdotally that conscious is what gets in the way of the unconscious. Example: when you reach for a cup of coffee, how does your hand know the right “width” to open the fingers to, to grasp the cup just right? In explaining it to someone, you would probably talk about thinking or measuring or something. But the studies show your unconscious and hand already “know” what to do. Any thinking that goes on is really just subjectivity taking the credit. An intriguing experiment showed that the unconscious processing in the brain (or at least processing at some level below what we “think”) can know and recognize meanings of words flashed so quickly that subjects won’t even acknowledge that they saw a word.

Split-Brain Research = Wow.

Maybe it the cog psych student in me, but I find this stuff fascinating. I was glad to see Ingram dispel some of the left brain/right brain myths – we are able to do some language processing on the right side, for example, dependent on when a split might occur, our own development and so on. Having said that, the overwhelming dominance of the left side of the brain for language processing makes for some interesting results. Can’t really analyse dream content because LS kicks in before we can “tell” it or “explain” it. LS and RS can “see” different things – as indicated by what the hands do in split-brain research (so we can process two different things – and how do we decide what the prime is?) It’s also possible to have the LS and RS fight.

There’s a lot more information in the book, and I it was a good read, if a “light” read. This isn’t the book for you if you want stats and long latin words. I also like that Ingram is not afraid to go cross-body, so to speak. Perhaps because he is not a fully enculturated member of the scientific community, he sees fit to enlace science with literature, philosophy and folk wisdom in his writing–a more wholesome approach to any attempt at understanding something, if you ask me.

Recommended Activities

1. Describe the itchiness of itchy in a way that your toaster will understand.
2. Split your brain or have a friend do it for you. Ask both of your hands
to write down what you want to be when you grow up.
3. Conduct dream experiments on yourself or a loved one and record the results
in a dream journal (or poke the loved one when you see their eyelids moving-their
body should be ‘frozen’, so it will be all kinds of fun). Try a weird cheese
just before bed. Play talk radio while you sleep. Sleep facing the wrong way.

Dear Internet,

Monday, July 24th, 2006

It exists! Apparently, this is a part brainchild of Neil Gaiman’s son.

The Internet knows…

WalMart’s EnviroReligion

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

Salon article:

The gist of it is that H. Lee Scott and Robert Walton Jr have a plan for WalMart, including:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing stores by 20% by 2012
  • buying and selling more local produce
  • reducing packaging, using biodegradable packaging and forcing their mammoth supply chain to do the same
  • increased organics in everything from food, to bed clothing to t-shirts.

If they some of this, there will be a measurable positive impact on the environment to be sure–the WalMart supply chain is a large autocratic mammoth. Doesn’t change the facts of their dictatorial standards, famous anti-union stance, gender inequities and so on.

The most interesting part of the article is the author’s take on Al Gore whipping up the troops to religious WalMart cheers and ecstasy, and his comparion of what they might do to the triumph of the Allied forces.

And this:

And by taking this climate crisis on frontally and making this commitment, you will gain the moral authority and vision as an organization to take on many great challenges.

Moral authority?

Alternative universe

Friday, July 21st, 2006

I appear to be in one. It’s a bit disconcerting to see a procession of dump trucks, tractors and box vans all driving backwards down one’s street.

Was there a memo I missed?

Rethinking pagination navigation

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Check out the Humanized Reader.

Multi-page content is manageable, but if you want to find something on Page 4, or you get to Page 4 and realize you need something from a previous page but don’t remember which one, you spend more time clicking through pages than you do interacting with the content.

The creators of this beta news reader have figured out a way to just keep adding content to the bottom of the page. Give it a try. I think it’s rather intuitive and useful…