^zhurnal v.0.29

This is volume 0.29 of the ^zhurnal --- musings on mind, method, metaphor, and matters miscellaneous ... a rather cluttered set of sporadic Good Mistakes. What's it all about? Maybe "... to create moments of philosophy --- that is, to pass from opinion to thought ...." It's also the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann. See the ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki experiment. For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes 0.01, 0.02, ... 0.40, 0.41, ... Current Volume. Send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com". Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2004 by Mark Zimmermann.)

Present Imperative

Recently I've noticed a sharp increase in the use of "be" as part of a command, especially on the radio: "Be well, do good work, ..."; "Be caller number seven and you'll win ..."; etc.

Of course, this mode of speech has been around for a long time, and there are countless classic sayings that apply it: "Be my Valentine", "Be prepared", "Be a man", and the like. But maybe the pace has accelerated during the past few decades, after the slogan "Be all that you can be" caught on? I don't know.

But in any event, if you don't want your prose to sound clichéd, be careful ...

(see also My Ob (18 Aug 2002), ...)


- Sunday, June 01, 2003 at 06:33:07 (EDT)


Matrix Hype

Three people on the planet haven't yet read a Harry Potter book or watched a Harry Potter movie; I guess I'm one of them. (No hurry; I'll get around to it, some day, I promise. If something is really important, then it can wait!) Nor, until a few days ago, had I seen The Matrix --- the first installment, that is, not the recent sequel. Hence, perhaps, my quasi-oblivious cluelessness with respect to some mass entertainment phenomena that seem to be a dominant part of today's economy. If I don't notice it, should I worry about it?

Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist, argues "Yes". In a Sunday 25 May 2003 essay ("There's No Exit From the Matrix") Rich suggests that the same dominance of the media that a few companies now wield is also behind some major problems in politics and other important social arenas:

... We reward mediocre movies with record grosses. We reward tabloid news epics with high ratings. We reward dissembling politicians with high poll ratings. We expect our journalistic media to fictionalize the truth. As others have noted, the most dispiriting aspect of the Jayson Blair scandal may be that even the subjects of his stories usually didn't bother to complain about the lies The New York Times published about them; they just assumed it was standard practice. One way or the other, we all inhabit the Matrix now.

Frank Rich sees the media giants as orchestrating coverage of recent international events --- mass indoctrination into what he calls "sequential amnesia". Sadly, he's probably right.

And returning to The Matrix the movie, part the first, I enjoyed it more than I expected to ... though as I watched, I covered a napkin with a scribbled list of better books and movies that it seemed derivative of. (Vernor Vinge's True Names, Samuel R. Delaney's Nova, William Gibson's Neuromancer, several Gordon R. Dickson Dorsai stories, Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, ... plus TRON, Star Wars, Soylent Green, Fight Club, Alien, The Great Escape, Dark Star, Galaxy Quest, Forbidden Planet, Die Hard, The Golden Child, The Last Action Hero, Men in Black, Dr. Strangelove, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Ghost Busters, Snatch, ... and the cheap sf/humor TV series Red Dwarf)

As for the philosophical content of The Matrix? Rather disappointing --- it seemed mostly to consist of sophomorisms and (to quote from the fine movie Mystery Men) "terribly mysterious" pronouncements ... which simply served to separate long fly-by-wire fake kung fu foolishness and poorly-motivated nick-o'-the-nanosecond escapes.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood ...

(see also Mines Of Metaphor (28 Sep 1999), Power Distortion (12 Feb 2001), Our One Ring (18 Dec 2001), Make Money Whisper (9 Nov 2002), ...)


- Saturday, May 31, 2003 at 12:23:22 (EDT)


Mystery To Me

I just love things that I can't understand --- and since there are so many such things in the world, I'm usually a pretty happy camper. Two examples, inadequately explained because, beneath the first few millimeters of their surface, they remain quite opaque to me:

Some day, if I am lucky enough, I'd like to know a bit about what the above really mean ... not in any great detail, but enough to be able to be able to talk about them semi-coherently. For instance, I would like to know what the sentences after the first three mean in Ron Soloman's paper "On Finite Simple Groups and Their Classification" (Notices of the AMS, February 1995) when he writes:

The pace of the Classification in the '70s was exhilarating. Not a single leading group theorist besides Gorenstein believed in 1972 that the Classification would be completed this century. By 1976, almost everyone believed that the Classification problem was "busted". The principal reason was Michael Aschbacher's lightning assaults on the B-conjecture, the Thin Group Problem, and the Strongly p-embedded 2-local problem. Also, in 1976 Timmesfield announced a breakthrough in the "O2 extraspecial" problem. ...

Greek to me --- I sure wish that I could learn a little Greek! (And the above, of course, are trivial compared to comprehending people ... including myself.)

(see also Mysteries Versus Secrets (23 Sep 1999), Personal Programming History (2 Apr 2002), ...)


- Friday, May 30, 2003 at 05:36:21 (EDT)


Free Library

Fortuitously the other day I discovered a real-world example of rational self-interest --- a scarce commodity these days! --- embodied in the "Baen Free Library" (http://www.baen.com/library/). It offers a variety of science fiction stories published by Baen Books, not in strip-tease glimpses but as full texts, easy to download in a variety of formats, with helpful background commentary and supplemental material. And it's not a flash-in-the-pan fuzzy-minded potlatch experiment. The BFL has been in operation since late 2000, in a small and healthy way.

"First Librarian" (an sf in-joke) Eric Flint offers (in his essay "Building the Baen Free Library; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet", http://www.speculations.com/freelib.htm) hard-headed quantitative evidence of the success of the BFL. Book sales go up, measurably, as people sample an underappreciated writer's works and decide to buy more. Readers get a chance to stretch their wings and fly beyond the narrow nest of celebrity best-sellers.

And in addition to the simple moneymaking rationale for turning the usual mine!-mine!-mine! intellectual property selfishness on its head, Eric Flint concludes his commentary by suggesting an even better reason to share:

I personally believe it also places such authors on the side of the angels in this dispute. For me, at least, this side of the matter is even more important than the practical side. It grates me to see the way powerful corporate interests have been steadily twisting the copyright laws and encroaching on personal liberties in order to shore up their profit margins, all the more so when their profit problems are a result of their own stupidity and short-sighted greed in the first place.

It's a start at taking the conflict out of the writer-publisher-reader triangle ...

(see also Trading In Ghosts (1 Oct 1999), Public Domain (13 Feb 2003), ...)


- Thursday, May 29, 2003 at 05:38:16 (EDT)


Posh Becks

Cathy Horyn, in a delightfully arch article about Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) and David Beckham (soccer demigod), tells of the pair's recent publicity promo visit to the Big Apple, part of a shameless campaign to increase media awareness and build themselves as a brand. For example:

"They have a sense of humor about their relationship," said Bill Prince, the deputy editor of the British edition of GQ, adding, "with no deep reserves of irony." In a recent television documentary in Britain about the couple, Mr. Beckham is heard to complain, "Everyone thinks I'm stupid." To which his wife consolingly replies, "Well, they're all ugly."

(see "Posh 'n' Becks Hear America Calling", New York Times, "Sunday Styles" section, 25 May 2003; see also Celebrity Immunization (26 Mar 2000), Pyramid Peaking (26 Aug 2000), Anti Quaintances (18 Feb 2001), Fan Fare (26 Apr 2003), ...)


- Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 05:28:37 (EDT)


Thank You, Bell Labs

Bell Labs is fading away, as perhaps all good things must. During its heyday it made countless contributions to the well-being of the world, largely by giving away knowledge. The enterprise was funded by an invisible tax on most of the telephones in the USA. A sliver of regulated monopoly profits were diverted to pay scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and a variety of other folks. They worked not on short-term moneymaking products, but on things that just might some day be important ... like transistors, information theory, and the cosmic microwave background radiation left behind by the birth of the universe. "Stuff", in other words, that doesn't show up on next quarter's profit-and-loss statement. Would that today's monopolists could make such contributions to humanity, and that dot-com dilettantes could lift their sights to such higher pursuits. Perhaps there's still hope for some of them.

But meanwhile, I owe a belated thanks to Bell Labs for a couple of small personal presents:

So, some decades later, thank you, Ron Graham, Ken Thompson, and everybody else at Bell Labs. I didn't come up with any breakthroughs from your gifts, but others did --- and your generosity made that possible.

(see also Caissic Metaphors (8 Jan 2000), Personal Programming History (2 Apr 2002), That Depends (9 Sep 2002), Dead Beginnings (28 Sep 2002), ...)


- Monday, May 26, 2003 at 14:09:19 (EDT)


Sky Lights

For an infinite number of reasons, skies enchant me. Maybe it's their openness ... perfection ... freedom ... the magic of their never-changing always-new faces ...

Songs that touch the heavens touch me --- from classic Bob Dylan ("... but for the sky, there are no fences facing ...") to today's Nathalie Imbruglia ("... Iím wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn..."). Literature likewise shines for me when it turns skyward. And the science of the cosmos sends my spirit soaring.

Why? All I know is, I love to look up ...

(see also High Glider (8 Oct 2000), Dream Bird (16 Jan 2001), The Brink (3 Apr 2001), Zhurnal Three (4 Apr 2002), Rainposts And Godrays (23 Sep 2002), Morning Mourning (23 Oct 2002), For Us (31 Dec 2002), Crane Story (2 Feb 2003), ...)


- Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 20:26:06 (EDT)


Socrates Dissatisfied

In recent correspondence with a new comrade (SM) I was reminded of a remark by John Stuart Mill. In Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism Mill writes:

Whoever supposes that this preference takes place at a sacrifice of happiness --- that the superior being, in anything like equal circumstances, is not happier than the inferior --- confounds the two very different ideas, of happiness, and content. It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

A fascinating thesis, particularly because it is so debatable. Can a person truly know how a pig feels? (In the words of the famous philosophical puzzle, "What is it like to be a lion?") And is it truly better to be despondent yet deep than it is to be ecstatic yet shallow? Hard to say --- especially as one moves away from the most extreme cases. And shouldn't a genuine Sage be extraordinarily sad, since s/he will be able to conceive that much more clearly the potential higher states of mind which s/he can never achieve? Overall, I tend to agree with Mill (hey, he's my hero!) --- but there are also good points to be made on the other side.

And as for the immediate context that provoked the above musings: my poor memory garbled the words, as well as much of Mill's meaning. Until I looked it up I thought the crux of the aphorism was simply, "Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied". SM complimented me in an earlier note by saying that I seemed "very contented". I thanked her, pled guilty to trying to reduce stress and unhappiness in my life --- but then played the torn and tattered JSM card from my mental deck.

An old Carnation Company advertising slogan claimed, "The Milk From Contented Cows". But maybe too much contentment is dangerous (if not cowardly!?) for somebody who wants to lead at least a semi-examined life ...


- Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 09:37:01 (EDT)


Beneath Notice

Some things are important, for some people, some of the time ... but in the Grand Scheme there are many other things that need to be overlooked so that proper attention can be paid to more important higher-level issues. If I get bogged down pondering which fingers need to twitch to hit which keys, for instance, my typing will grind to a halt and I won't get anything substantive written. If I start to fret about which neurons are firing in which parts of my brain, or which electrons are transitioning between which subatomic states, I won't be able to think about ethics very effectively.

Yet it's still crucial to have somebody who has tunneled down to the lower levels of reality. There needs to be an "evidentiary chain", if you will, of validated connections between infinitesimal ur-events and everyday perception (and up to the heights of not-everyday grand philosophizing). It's analogous to the rŰle of fact-checkers in journalism, or controlled clinical experiments in medicine. Without a solid foundation, all we have is wish-it-were-so-ism ...

(see also Messy And Neat Categories (30 Jun 1999), Know How And Fear Not (19 Nov 1999), Altered Native (24 Jan 2002), Think Again (29 Aug 2002), Invisible Web (8 Dec 2002), ...)


- Friday, May 23, 2003 at 06:22:52 (EDT)


Silly Anniversaries

Just because we have ten fingers and use decimal numbers, people have a funny propensity to think of multiples of ten as important --- hence, the brouhaha surrounding one's 30th, 40th, 50th, etc. birthdays. Mathematically, those numbers are no more magical than 24, 33, 49, or any other (nonprime) count of years. It's simply an excuse to party.

But the foolishness doesn't end there, especially when money is involved. Commemorative coins have been issued to honor the sesquicentennial (say that three times fast!) of various historical events --- the passage of 150 years --- and for other multiples of 5 and 10. The real motivation? Fund-raising for a politically popular cause.

What's the all-time World Record for the Most Arbitrary Numismatic Celebration? I nominate the 38th anniversary of the Korean War's ending. In 1991 it was used as a thin excuse to mint a coin, ostensibly because the 38th parallel of latitude figured prominently in that conflict. Ignore, please, the utter lack of connection between 38 revolutions of the earth around the sun and 38/90ths of the angle between the equator and the north pole ...


- Thursday, May 22, 2003 at 05:44:17 (EDT)


Diffuse Consciousness

The ending of True Names, a short sf novel by Vernor Vinge, includes a delicious image (mild spoiler warning --- stop reading now if you don't want to know) of a character's effective uploading of her personality into the global computational network. From that new location "she", in a sense, will outlive her physical body, diffused across the matrix of the 'Net.

It has not escaped my notice that the ^zhurnal, in a similar sense, is growing into an image of my consciousness. It's a highly impressionistic or maybe pointillistic simulacrum ... it's fragmentary, incomplete, idiosyncratic, and disorganized (as I often am in person!) ... and it's static most of the time, mere lifeless symbols.

But --- as in the yang-yin dance of data and program --- when another mind reads and responds to a ^zhurnal musing, there's a little bit of my consciousness that comes alive for a moment ...

(see also Data Versus Program (1 May 1999), Bits Of Consciousness (21 Jan 2000), Cold Hard Mind (9 Feb 2000), Thoughtful Metaphors (8 Nov 2000), Dream Data (22 Mar 2002), ...)


- Wednesday, May 21, 2003 at 06:07:40 (EDT)


Montgomery County Coin Club

There's a new domain on the Web --- http://www.montgomerycoinclub.org --- with a tiny story behind it. The Montgomery County Coin Club has been around since 1959 and, in contrast to many numismatic organizations, is thriving in its own modest way. Coin collecting is a graying hobby nowadays, and many clubs have died as their membership has.

But the MCCC has managed to attract new participants, including a significant number of young people. (I define "young" as "younger than myself"; note that at 50 years old I still pull the average age down when I arrive at a coin club meeting!) The MCCC has ~100 active members, perhaps a third of whom show up at any given monthly gathering. The club offers a mix of history, bargain-hunting, education, and cameraderie. Fun, in other words, at a relaxed pace that contrasts with the rest of modern life.

So why should, or shouldn't, the MCCC have an Internet presence? The issue was debated last year (see http://www.montgomerycoinclub.org/MCCC/club_mccc200206.html#feature) without resolution. I won't repeat the arguments here; I found pro's and con's generally balanced, and refrained from voting either way. A club domain could attract a few new members, or it could be a small waste of time and money. Like so many things in life, "That Depends" ...

But at a Board of Directors meeting a few months ago, after some rather heated discussion, the bullet was bitten --- and now the Club owns "montgomerycoinclub.org". Will it make any difference? Check back in another 40 years to see if the MCCC is still around ... and if the Web is too!

(see http://www.montgomerycoinclub.org/MCCC/club_mccc_current.html for the latest monthly Bulletin of the MCCC, and see also Numismatic Ramblings (7 Aug 2000), Numismatic Luck (19 Sep 2000), Coin Club Conjunction (22 May 2002), ...)


- Tuesday, May 20, 2003 at 05:32:51 (EDT)


Flying Finn

During my teenage years jogging was popular, perhaps due in part to the infectious influence of Kenneth Cooper's book Aerobics. It offered a linear point-count system of health and fitness. For instance, one could earn six points for doing an 8-minute mile, and more for going faster or farther. Cycling and swimming, the other members of Cooper's "Big Three" of exercise regimes, similarly translated into numeric values. At a lesser rate so did walking, playing tennis, etc. The worth of a given form of exertion was somehow based on oxygen consumption. At the end of a week, if you racked up at least 30 points you were deemed to have done enough physical activity to be "fit".

All well and good --- and certainly appealing in a quantitative way to a mathematical mind such as mine. For several years I ran along the roads in my neighborhood, calibrated my velocity on measured tracks, and logged my mileage. I suppose I enjoyed it well enough to keep doing it, though I can't find any specific pleasurable memories recorded in the old gray cells ... only vague recollections of trotting alongside various highways in northeast Austin, around the Rice University campus in Houston, and along the streets between Pasadena and Sierra Madre in the Los Angeles basin. But fun? Not really.

What a contrast to the running experiences of the past year! I now go an average of ~25% slower but ~400% farther every week. And happy observations come at what I would estimate at >100 times the pace of decades ago. Almost every mile reveals something worth remembering:

And then there are those momentary glimpses of beauty in its countless other dimensions, sublime and mundane, natural and human. Somehow they seem heightened, amplified perhaps by the mildly altered state that exertion evokes.

Maybe when I was younger I should have taken my time and focused more on seeing rather than on blasting along. And maybe I should have paid more attention to the stories, rather than the mere speed records, in the biographies I read of Jim Ryun, Emil Zatopek, and (my favorite because of his nickname) Paavo Nurmi, "The Flying Finn". At least (as long as my knees hold out) it's not too late for me to open my eyes ...

(see Topic Running for links to records of some specific down-memory-lane imagery plus related ramblings ...)


- Sunday, May 18, 2003 at 09:06:10 (EDT)


Quarter Jinx

A sinister pattern is emerging in connection with the US Commemorative State Quarter program. Consider, please:

Where will this Curse of the Quarter strike next? Is the famous painting (New Jersey) of Washington crossing the Delaware starting to peel? Will the (Maryland) Annapolis Statehouse dome crack? Might the (New York) Statue of Liberty drop her torch? ...


- Saturday, May 17, 2003 at 14:19:31 (EDT)


Better Writing

Sometimes people indicate in their letters to me (I get a few, not many mind you!) that they find bits of the ^zhurnal well-written, perhaps even delightfully so. I'm tickled and flattered, obviously, to hear that. I'm also embarrassed, especially when I look back at some of my worst failures to craft what I consider even marginally passable prose.

What really makes me blush, however, is the occasional implication by correspondents that what appears here is extraordinary or out-of-reach, something that they couldn't do themselves. No! Believe me when I swear that the primary author of this stuff is an ordinary person, quite as mortal as thou. I admit only to have worked sporadically for some decades on my writing --- though work is far too strong a term. Perhaps, like "The Mailman" in Vernor Vinge's novel True Names, I've achieved semi-conscious self-awareness for intermittent moments during those years; at least, I fantasize that I may have.

Writing resembles physical exercise: improvement is invisibly slow day-by-day. But wouldn't it be disappointing if one couldn't measure some small progress after months and months of labor?

Like my attitude about running, I have the hope someday to write almost well --- if I'm blessed with time and strength to tap away at the keyboard long enough. Meanwhile, also like my runs, I find what fun I can along the way ...

(see also Dear Diary (19 Mar 2001), Writing Rewards (9 Jun 2001), ...)


- Friday, May 16, 2003 at 06:17:50 (EDT)


DetectiveWork

When something goes awry in the loo at our house --- when the toilet is left in a clogged state, when someone has used up all the paper and not replaced it, etc., etc. --- what do we call the method whereby we deduce who's to blame?

[drum roll]

Process of Elimination!

(see also Correspondence Principle (4 Mar 2003), ...)


- Thursday, May 15, 2003 at 06:01:17 (EDT)


Minor Imp

Some turns of phrase have origins that can never be traced; others have at least partially documented family trees. A local case in point: last month I was writing to a friend (KM) and successfully provoked a chuckle from her with the parenthetical aside:

... (As you know, my Powers are quite limited --- something like those of a minor imp at best, rather than anything approaching the Great Satan....) ...

I was attempting a self-deprecation riff, alluding to the "Great Satan" image that folks in various other countries have on occasion used to describe the USA.

But my mental jumping-off point for the jest was actually a remark made last October by Bo Leuf (host and administrator of http://zhurnal.net) who, when I asked whether he could set up sub-accounts within the zhurnal.net domain for my wife Paulette & daughter Gray, replied with a wink that I could already do that myself. Bo observed:

Even as The Almighty when Creating delegated Manifold Responsibilities unto the Hierarchies of Archangels and Hosts of Angels and other myriad minions best left unspecified; why should a lowly Webhost Root Mage presume do do less ...

I responded with the demurral:

I prefer to think of you as Lucifer, and myself as a lesser demon (or maybe just an imp) ... (^_^)

It was that exchange --- floating about months later in the womb of my mind, fertilized at an opportune moment by the "Great Satan" label --- that came forth as the quip first quoted above. The unusual factor in this metaphorical birth was that I could consciously identify the specific immediate sources of the concept.

In general, I suspect that a key aspect of what we call "intelligence" (or at least wit?) is simply a good memory combined with a good ability to cross-link appropriately yet unexpectedly.

And as for the earlier ancestors of my personal bent toward silly word play, I can finger at least one parent: a walk back to the Caltech campus with some fellow physics grad students in late 1974. We had just been to the Burger Continental to eat greasy food, and Comrade CMC was engaged in a comic rant about Richard M. Nixon, one of his favorite bÍtes noir. CMC held forth on Nixon's then-recently-diagnosed phlebitis, which he transmuted into "flea bite-tis" in the course of his routine. The rest, as they say, is history ...

(see also Genius And Complexity (25 May 1999), Ideas Like Sparks (4 Sep 1999), On Sharpness (14 Nov 1999), Intelligence Augmentation (25 Aug 2001), College Collage 3 (29 Sep 2001), Read Well And Remember (31 Jul 2002), ...)


- Wednesday, May 14, 2003 at 05:58:16 (EDT)


Elusive Pimpernel

Foppishness --- how appealing it can be! I still recall with fondness the exaggerated airs put on by the "Scarlet Pimpernel" in one of the classic movie treatments of the book. At one point the principal character (in his regular-life non-heroic rôle of Sir Percy, an upper-crust twit) is describing in verse, with ostentatious limp-wristed gesticulation, his secret alter ego:

    "They seek him here, they seek him there,
     They do not find him anywhere.
     Is he in heaven? Is he in ----? [pauses as he points downward]
     That demmed elusive Pimpernel!"

(... precise lyrics vary, depending on the mood of the production; above from memory ...)


- Tuesday, May 13, 2003 at 06:09:35 (EDT)


Chivalrous Reasoning

OK, I can read some of your minds (you know who you are!) --- and I see that you're annoyed at the feminist tone of several of the little notes here. You've come up with three hypotheses:

Well, the truth is, respectively:

Actually, I'm sincere. John Stuart Mill said it all far better than I can; see On the Subjection Of Women. There's such an incredible waste of potential energy when half of the people on the planet are kept in boxes because of custom, ignorance, fear, and selfishness. Not to mention injustice ...

(see also On The Subjection Of (21 Aug 1999), Our Stonehenge (3 May 2001), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), Women And Men (20 Nov 2001), My Ob (18 Aug 2002), Envelope Pushing (24 Apr 2003), ...)


- Monday, May 12, 2003 at 06:07:55 (EDT)


Rat Tales

Two memorable characters:

And I shouldn't forget King Rat, James Clavell's first novel ...


- Saturday, May 10, 2003 at 08:49:17 (EDT)


Forest Primeval Pedestrian

"Ouch!" says I to myself as the scraped heel of my left hand brushes the corner of the keyboard. "Ow!" as I shift in my seat and the bruised corner of my, uh, ego makes sudden contact with the chair. Then it's my turn to groan inwardly as a purpling thumb and index finger throb.

I don't usually have this kind of achy aftermath to report from a jogging expedition; at worst, a blister may annoy or a knee may complain the next day. But yesterday an exploratory jaunt turns into a tiny unanticipated adventure. I survive with minor abrasions, waterlogged socks, soggy shoes, and a ding on the old GPS receiver's antenna housing.

The story begins early that morning. Daughter has a violin lesson at University of Maryland --- wife will drive her --- hmmm! I sense an opportunity to go there on foot, via woodsy trails along backyard suburban streams. Funsies!

So I consult a Park Service map. It indicates that the Northwest Branch Trail extends almost to the Beltway, at a mile marked 7.0. Could I get to UM via a new and shorter route? Hitherto I've gone half an hour along Sligo Creek to mile ~2.1, then back up the Northwest Branch to University Boulevard at mile ~4.3, from which it's another mile to the school. Might I instead travel downstream?

A street map shows winding neighborhood lanes that curve tantalizingly close to the waterway. Wishful thinking fills in the rest: surely there must be paths that bridge the stream and reach the trail, eh?!

So off I go, first following a known route, vectoring along Colesville Road to Franklin Avenue. It takes me across University and suddenly I'm in terra incognita. I jog past a school and onto winding residential lanes. The GPS receiver that I carry is of no help, since I don't have coordinates for my goal.

I navigate crudely eastward, based on the angle of a morning sun half-visible through fog and clouds. A friendly guy in his front yard can't advise me how to get to the creek when I ask, but he vaguely indicates the direction that I'm heading anyway. I turn onto a no-outlet street. At the dead end circle a lady, loading kids into her minivan, says that I can go downhill through her back yard. "Thanks, Ma'am!" I reply.

Five minutes later I wonder if I've made a mistake. The yard is nice enough and leads to a steep slope covered with damp ferns and bushes, shaded by tall trees, punctuated by occasional rocky outcroppings. The Hill of Lost Balls I name it, as I spy basketballs, soccer balls, and other deteriorating sports equipment wedged among the roots.

"Wonder if there's poison ivy here?" The answer is surely "yes", but it's early in the season and perhaps I'm still safe --- the ground truth will emerge in a few days on my legs. Spiderwebs crisscross gaps between tree trunks and shrubberies. I shift my water bottle to the hand holding the GPS, to free my other hand to grasp at saplings and prevent a fall.

"Gotta get down," is my mantra, and down I zig-zag. It's a more dramatic hillside than I anticipated, over 50 meters elevation change. Yeah, I should have checked a topo map, but now it's a bit late. Beltway traffic noise from my left and shadows at my feet confirm that I'm still heading east and south.

At last the Northwest Branch comes into view below me. It's 10 meters or more wide and is flowing noisily through a rocky channel, fed by yesterday's heavy rains. So where's the trail? There's no sign of human activity on this side, not even the usual urban trash. Is that a dirt path on the farther bank? Or wishful thinking again?

Fantasy or not, I need to cross. The underbrush on the western side where I find myself is too thick to permit much progress. I don't fancy climbing back up from the notch to civilization, where I'll be at least an hour behind schedule on my journey. By process of elimination, the east bank is the lesser evil.

Big stones poke their noses up through the rapids, but much too far apart to permit me to get to the other side without impossible leaps. Maybe to the left, upstream a bit? That looks more promising, where the water pours over a slight ridge. So I scramble cautiously along the edge of the flood.

Suddenly, Oops! --- a rock that seemed merely smooth turns out to be teflon-slick, and in less than a reaction time I've fallen ker-splat. Arggghhhh! I take quick inventory: nothing feels broken; left hand is scraped and oozing blood; GPS has taken a nasty knock and turned itself off; cellphone in my fanny pack is fine, but there's no signal down here in the depths of the valley; and those most important parts of the body (quiet, you in the back, it's not what you're thinking) --- the legs --- are intact.

So is it time for Plan B? Naah, not quite yet. Let's continue, but slower and more cautiously. I start talking aloud to steady myself ... "slippery" ... "take it easy" ... "watch out" ...

I'm at the candidate ford without further mishap, but it's obvious now that the water is a bit deep between the stones. How deep? Visions arise of slipping, hitting my head, getting washed away by the current. I reassure myself that crossing a busy street is riskier. Sure ... but I have far more experience with that, and can manage the danger better.

OK, how to minimize or at least control the hazards here? First, give up the idea of dry feet. One is already wet anyway. Wading looks pretty feasible at this point. I eschew the stepping-stone scenario, shift bottle and GPS receiver to the left hand, and step in. The water is nice and cool, flowing fast but not impossibly so. A couple of strides and it's over my knees; it levels off mid-thigh. This I can handle. I steady myself with a free hand on an outcropping and keep going slow.

Then it's shallows again, and then I'm out. Shoes squish, socks are saturated, cellphone still has no signal, and GPS receiver's display is misty. But the unit powers up. It can't get a fix through the foliage, a not unexpected phenomenon. I take a drink and use some more water from my bottle to wash off my scraped palm.

And --- Good News! --- there is definitely a beaten track here on the east bank: damp dirt, well-packed, clearly defined, leading south. I start jogging along it.

No mileposts yet, but a few minutes later after stepping over a couple of muddy rivulets feeding in from the side I see the path widen, then become paved. A gravel side trail slopes up to the left; perhaps it's the connector shown as a dashed line on the Park Service map that I looked at a couple of hours ago? In any case, I trot onward. Excelsior!

My confidence grows as I pass a morning walker, then meet a dog and his owner. The trail becomes increasingly well-maintained, and finally I see a footbridge to the opposite shore, a mile below where I had my mini-adventure. From here on things become as expected ... markers point the way to neighborhood streets ... flat concrete spillways spread waters of tributary streams so they're easily crossed as they drain into the main flood ... the trail dips to crawl under a couple of major roads where they bridge the creek ... and at last I see a mile marker, number 5.5.

The GPS has by now seen enough sky to pick up four satellites and get a fix. I capture coordinates and punch my watch, only 47 minutes and 33 seconds after I left the last waypoint on Sligo Creek Trail. Less time by at least a factor of two than it felt like while it was happening.

Whew! Euphoria gives strength, and I cover the next measured mile in 9:20, a brisk pace for me. I pass another runner, sweating and laboring up a hill. "Great day, isn't it? You're looking strong!" I lie to her. She knows it's poetic exaggeration for encouragement, and grins back at me.

And it's on past a tiny park, an old mill, a community recreation center, and I'm back to terra cognita. I turn uphill toward the University and run on the shoulder of the road while speeders zip past at over 60 mph. I wait to cross at the lights, cut across a field of dandelions, climb a hill, and there's the inverted keel of the Clarice Smith Music Center. Eight miles to a happy ending, framing a few dozen yards of tension midway.

"Hi Paulette!" I fetch dry clothes from the car and change in the men's room, where I wash my wounds in the sink. Then hot coffee and a Clif Bar, and until Gray's lesson ends there's time to read the introduction to Njal's Saga, a millennium-old Icelandic story recommended by Merle. More on that anon, if I make some progress in it ...

(see also Anacostia Tributaries (28 Jan 2003), Jog Log Fog 4 (20 Apr 2003), ...)


- Friday, May 09, 2003 at 08:35:54 (EDT)


Faces, Minds, and Forms

A science-fiction story, read decades ago and author/title long since forgotten, wrestled with the question: What defines a person?

Is it the physical shape of the body? The ancestral line of descent? The DNA? The brain structure? The learned social/cultural heritage of a civilization, plus some or all all of the above?

And if space-alien ultra-chemists used raw materials to fabricate a precise copy of a human, would it then be a human? If they simulated a human's thought processes accurately enough in some hyper-computer and loaded it with a human's personality, would that artificial intelligence then be a human? And would other humans then have the moral obligation to rescue and defend that constructed entity?

These are fascinating philosophical questions, especially since they invert and predate much of the current debate on what isn't a human being, e.g. in the context of abortion, euthanasia, etc.

The old sf story began by quoting a poetic fragment that has stuck in my memory banks over the years:

"To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what form he wears?"

Sounds possibly profound. But recently I looked for it again and, thanks to the miraculous power of today's search engines, I found the source: Ambrose Bierce's famously cynical Devil's Dictionary.

The lines I remembered turn out to be a wisely-selected couplet from the beginning of a piece of doggerel in the definition of the word "absent", attributed by Bierce to "Jogo Tyree" (is that a made-up name?). The entry in its entirety reads:

ABSENT, adj. Peculiarly exposed to the tooth of detraction; vilifed; hopelessly in the wrong; superseded in the consideration and affection of another.
           To men a man is but a mind. Who cares
           What face he carries or what form he wears?
           But woman's body is the woman. O,
           Stay thou, my sweetheart, and do never go,
           But heed the warning words the sage hath said:
           A woman absent is a woman dead.  
              -- Jogo Tyree --

Rather less profound than I had thought; or perhaps the science-fiction author (or his editor? was it John W. Campbell?) did a rather better job than I had thought when s/he springboarded off that fragment to write a speculative fantasy ...

(see also College Collage 1 (29 Sep 2000), Plastic Memory (10 Jul 2001), Half Remembered Worlds (18 Feb 2002), Something To Say (13 Apr 2002), ...)


- Thursday, May 08, 2003 at 05:49:36 (EDT)


Very Good Day

A 1993 For Better or For Worse comic strip, by Lynn Johnston, has been posted in a quiet place of honor on the side of our refrigerator for the past decade. The newspaper clipping is yellowed and torn. It has outlasted one refrigerator and is now onto its second.

The strip begins as the protagonist tries to hail a taxi one evening in a blinding snowstorm. Eventually he succeeds.

"Boy, am I glad I'm not driving! What a rotten day!" he says from the back seat to the cabbie.
"It's a very good day to me, Sir," the driver replies.
"That's because you drive a cab!"
"No, it's because I'm Ethiopian. It can rain or snow or freeze or fry ... it's always a good day to me. In my homeland, I have seen my friends and my family shot. If I had not escaped, I'd have been killed too. I have a wife I have not seen for 3 years --- and a child I have never seen --- but here I am safe. I can provide for them, and soon I will bring them here. So you see, Sir, the weather doesn't matter. Every day is a very good day to me!"

When he arrives home the protagonist hangs up his coat as his wife, holding their baby, greets him.

"Hi, honey! Horrible day, isn't it?" she says.
"Actually," he responds, as he hugs them, "it's a very good day to me!!"

(see also Optimist Creed (16 Apr 1999), Good Will (25 Dec 1999), Good Day (25 Jun 2002), ...)


- Wednesday, May 07, 2003 at 05:50:41 (EDT)


Capital Crescent Coordinates

A sampling of sights and sounds from last Monday's pedestrian ramble:

And the context: 28 April offers a surprise opportunity to go out for one of my now-favorite activities --- jogging along creeks and through woods --- combined with another peculiar passion, coordinate-collecting. I come home early to take Daughter Gray [1] to a late-afternoon music lesson and discover that Wife Paulette [2] needs to go downtown as well. She doesn't mind driving.

So off set I at 3pm, with Global Positioning System receiver clutched tight in one hand, water bottle in the other, and mini-pack strapped around my waist. It holds a pair of spare batteries for the GPS plus a pair of Clif bars for me to nibble --- and, to ward off emergencies, a calling card that gives ID information, a cellphone, and a few paper towels (don't ask!). A zippered wrist pack contains another ID along with some spare change. Be Prepared, you know ...

Simple Plan: follow an arc, proceeding from home through the woods of Walter Reed Annex to Rock Creek, downstream half a mile to the Georgetown Spur, and then along the Capital Crescent Trail [3] through Bethesda to the Kennedy Center area of Washington DC on the Potomac. From there, assuming my body doesn't betray me, I can jog north along lower Rock Creek past the National Zoo to the Levine School of Music. Roughly 17 miles total, a not-unreasonable distance if I go slowly enough from the start. All asphalt or crushed stone ... smooth, with few major hills ... sporadic water fountains ... some pathways new to me, some segments traversed before ... and plenty of pleasant scenery, both natural and human, along the way.

Simple Works: three hours later I arrive at my destination. The sunny spring day is slightly too warm for comfort at the start, but an intermittent breeze and trees along the course make conditions tolerable grading into comfy as shadows lengthen. I religiously record times and coordinates at every half-mile post along the trail, and force myself to take at least a 45 second walking break as I do so. Apparently this isn't quite enough of a rest, given my current pitiful physical condition. My pace averages ~10:40/mile. A least-squares fit indicates that I slowed by ~2.5 seconds/mile/mile during the journey. That's not the acceleration that I was aiming for.

But I survive --- somewhat exhausted, walking most of the final mile, with a couple of small blisters --- and feel relaxed and quite happy overall. It's been a good day's jaunt. And for those of a quantitative cartographic persuasion, coordinates (WGS84 datum) for the markers along the Capital Crescent Trail:

Latitude Longitude Remarks
38:59:49 077:04:13 Milepost 1.5 - west of Jones Bridge & Jones Mill roads
38:59:39 077:04:41 2.0 - just west of Connecticut Avenue
38:59:19 077:05:03 2.5 - after the trail cuts through Columbia Country Club
38:59:01 077:05:24 3.0 - before the tunnel under the Air Rights Building
38:58:45 077:05:49 3.5 - near water fountain and historic display
38:58:23 077:06:05 4.0 - Bethesda Pool and Little Falls Branch Park
38:57:57 077:06:12 4.5 - near the bridge over River Road
38:57:34 077:06:26 5.0 - before the Massachusetts Avenue bridge
38:57:13 077:06:44 5.5 - middle of Little Falls Branch Park
38:56:49 077:06:56 6.0 - by the connection with Little Falls Trail
38:56:24 077:06:54 6.5 - after the Dalecarlia Tunnel
38:56:04 077:06:50 7.0 - near the Potomac River above Chain Bridge
38:55:37 077:06:35 7.5 - approaching the Arizona Avenue trestle
38:55:18 077:06:14 8.0 - before Fletcher's Boathouse
38:54:55 077:05:57 8.5 - continuing parallel to the C&O Canal towpath
38:54:34 077:05:37 9.0 - further down the Potomac
38:54:22 077:05:08 9.5 - more good river views
38:54:19 077:04:36 10.0 - after intersection with Glover Archbold Park trail
38:54:17 077:04:17 official endpoint on the Georgetown waterfront

Miles 0 through 1 are on the eastern side of Rock Creek. Last year I recorded them as 39:00:07N 77:02:42W and 38:59:52N 77:03:43W respectively. Construction is now underway to rebuild the damaged railroad trestle bridge near mile 1 --- thanks to fine work by the government and citizens of Montgomery County, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association [4], the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, and others of good spirit ...

(see also Coordinate Collection (19 May 2002), Rock Creek Trail (31 May 2002), Marathon Coordinates (3 Oct 2002), Marine Corps Ordnance (1 Nov 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Anacostia Tributaries (28 Jan 2003), Edwards Folly (13 Apr 2003), ...)


- Monday, May 05, 2003 at 05:59:43 (EDT)


Wiki Compiler

Wiki, classically, is an interpreted system: pages are stored in one form, and every time one is summoned for display a process converts it into the actual HTML that gets fed back to the client browser.

But might not there be advantages to a compiled Wiki? The vast majority of the hits on a Wiki server are simply requests to fetch a page. Why not precompute the HTML for all pages and save it, ready to deliver with no further ado? Would Wiki response time be noticeably faster? Would significant system processor resources be saved?

But what are the potential downside issues to worry about? The main one, as far as I can tell, is the need to change existing pages when a new Wiki page is added (or, rarer, when an existing page is deleted). Links which were formerly unfulfilled suddenly become real (or vice versa). The "Save" operation for a Wiki edit might therefore be slowed, since to maintain consistency it would require a search for backreferences on other pages. At the cost of complexity, those searches could be replaced by a lookup in a precomputed index table of cross-references among pages. Alternatively, a master update process might take place every so often to recompute and confirm all Wiki links, at the risk of inconsistencies in between updates.

So is it worth exploring a Wiki compiler? Maybe yes, particularly for larger Wikis with many users; probably not, most of the time ...

(see also Zhurnal Wiki Preview (22 Jul 2001) for an outline of some related issues, as I saw them a couple of years ago, )


- Sunday, May 04, 2003 at 07:03:07 (EDT)


Logo Vision

The most brilliant yet overlooked corporate symbol of all time? There are many fine candidates, and tastes doubtless differ. But my favorite remains the extraordinarily powerful, peaceful, primitive image that I first saw several years ago on a "Pharmacia & Upjohn" box of medicine. It looks like this:

... a rough outline, suggestive of cave painting or petroglyph, with three crude icons stretching upward:

star
bird
hand

Nothing more. Just a blaze of simplicity that still haunts my thoughts.

Pharmacia & Upjohn no longer exists: the company (as the name suggests, itself a product of merger) was taken over in 2000 by Monsanto, then acquired by Pfizer. Or maybe I've got that backwards? No matter. Regardless of commercial use or disuse, the logo remains proud and lovely and true, like a mathematical theorem, in a space of its own.

In an excellent 1997 article Tony Spaeth writes about corporate identity change as demonstrated through logos. Of Pharmacia & Upjohn he observes:

Stockholm-based Pharmacia and Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Upjohn chose neutral ground, London, for the new companyís headquarters and for similar reasons considered only British identity designers. The result (by Newell & Sorrell) is indeed very British both in being figurative and narrative (meaning it is not simply visual but requires verbal explanation); the hand, bird, and star are meant to signal "humanity, hope, and inspiration." Others might see charity, hope, and faith, or even a Trinity. At small size, the symbol is a blot but, blown up big, appears to be a photograph of an actual flat rock, the shapes outlined in confetti. And to be even more different, the rock is purple.
This, too, is thinking outside the box --- way out, with a Stone Age feel closer to faith than science.

See http://www.identityworks.com/Articles/1996arti.html for a copy of Spaeth's essay as it appeared in The Conference Board Magazine, February 1997, under the title "Identities of the 1990's". Here's a somewhat larger, black-and-white version of the symbol:

My spirit is profoundly moved by the connections that little hand - bird - star iconic triptych conveys: man, life, and universe ... technology, nature, and ideal ...

(see also Flying Eagle (16 Apr 2002), Ceramic Mantra (25 May 2002), Achieve New Balance (17 Jul 2002), ...)


- Saturday, May 03, 2003 at 09:24:09 (EDT)


Pike's Peek 2003

A fingernail-clip crescent moon hangs low in the east as I set off pre-dawn to my first assignment as Course Marshall. The "Pike's Peek" 10k race won't begin until 8am, but I need to be at my post by half past six. The mission is a simple one: Keep cars away from runners!

As a first-time volunteer race official I'm a bit nervous. John Sissala (director and founder of the event) gives a group of us a pep talk the previous day. "Drivers may curse at you," he warns good humoredly, "but just keep 'em moving." He reassures us that if we simply give people helpful detour directions and send them down the road, then they will be happy. "They'll also become somebody else's problem!"

John Noble, team captain of the course marshalls, is similarly comforting in his instructions to the novices. "We can't let you have a flag," he apologizes with a grin, "since the State says that you need eight hours of training before you can use one." But we all get bright orange-red vests, along with commemorative t-shirts and detailed map handouts showing our assignments. Free refreshments are a welcome bonus.

A race with thousands of entrants needs a lot of help to execute. Alas, volunteers are always scarce --- so I sign up to cover two posts, one near the start and another half a mile from the finish line. At 6:15am when I get there I find that kind earlybirds have already put the first barriers in place across the side street where the race will begin: white sawhorses with "High Water" painted on them.

I stand nearby, ready to let officials pass if needed. Ed, my partner at Post 2, arrives and takes turns with me as we inform drivers that they can't cut through. We tell each other stories about past races, and joke about police and early morning coffee-and-donut shops as we watch lawmen come and go.

Motorists all seem to be friendly, tolerant, and respectful this morning; a reflective vest can apparently give just about anyone an aura of authority. One county bus driver hasn't gotten the word and insists that she has to drop off her passengers at the usual Metro stop. We direct her to the next corner where she can vector into an alternate entrance.

As the time approaches increasing numbers of nervous erstwhile racers drive up, hoping that they're not too late. We send them to the next corner to park and wish them luck. Other tense runners jog back and forth, aiming to warm up yet not burn off too much soon-to-be-needed energy. Everybody is cheerful. The weather is near-perfect, cool and clear with a slight breeze.

Half an hour before starting time the Cone Truck appears and gives us a few dozen shiny plastic traffic cones, heavy new ones, along with a "Right Turn Only" sign to use across the street. Then the police cars, assigned by law to every intersection with a traffic signal, pull up with their lights flashing. Rule Number One is "Do whatever the police say!" --- so when the cops alter the plan to create a left-turn lane Ed and I comply with alacrity. These officers of the law have been helping at Pike's Peek events for several years in a row, and they have good instincts on how to keep the autos flowing smoothly.

A few hundred yards up the blocked road a peaceful mob begins to assemble at the starting line. We check our watches and, with police permission, array our traffic cones across the highway and move our barriers to make a smooth curve for the contestants to follow as they round the corner onto Rockville Pike.

They're off! First a pod of elite runners, potential winners, blast past. Then comes the next wave, and the next, in staggered starts designed to maximize efficiency and enjoyment for those of varying paces. Electronic chips attached to shoes capture individual timing information as the runners cross sensor mats.

We applaud everyone as they zip by. There are young couples and families clustered together ... team members with matching t-shirts ... a gentleman holding high a big American flag on a bamboo mast ... and on, and on. People laugh and chat with each other as they navigate the right-angle turn from the start onto the main part of the course, a straight-line six mile shot to White Flint Mall.

A few minutes later the flood of humanity thins to a trickle and ends. Ed and I scamper to stack our traffic cones by the roadside. We haul the sawhorses similarly out of the way, and jump into our cars to zoom down the Pike to our next assignments five miles further south.

As I drive along in the lanes parallel to the course I get to view the race in reverse: first the slowest folks, some already taking walk breaks, and only then the faster people. The leaders cruise along at a sub-five-minute-mile pace. What's truly astounding is how smooth their motions are: long, silent, gliding strides --- apparently effortless. A lovely illusion.

Then it's the three mile mark and I'm in front of the race. A police motorcycle squadron idles along the other side of the roadway, ensuring that no rogue driver penetrates the course and perpetrates a disaster. I reach my second post, a minor crossover between two major intersections, and park in front of the adjacent strip mall. I wait for a gap in the traffic, jaywalk into position, unnest the prepositioned traffic cones, and arrange them artfully to preempt any thoughts of U-turns onto the reserved lanes by wayward motorists.

A photographer crouches on the median near me, camera ready to capture images of the runners as they crest the hill to our north. We chat, and I direct a few cars onto alternate routes when they stop to ask for directions around my blockade. The morning is quiet.

Suddenly the speediest racers appear, still cruising along at an incredible pace. I clap as they pass, but they ignore me, totally intent on their work, oblivious to any distraction. Then after a pause come the flying masses, increasingly grateful and talkative in an inverse ratio to their velocity. "You're at White Flint Metro," I shout, " ... almost done! ... half a mile to go! ... downhill after the light! ... looking strong! ... way to go! ... good form! ... Bravo! ... "

All true, and all much appreciated by dazed joggers who are starting to glimpse the finish line in their exhausted imaginations. One exuberant passer-by holds out a hand for me to high-five. Another abandons a water bottle on the roadside; a later dessicated person pauses and takes a drink from it to recharge her batteries for the final sprint.

The crowd of participants is a delight to view in its multifarious variety of ages, sexes, colors, and costumes. One male runner is at this point shirtless, panting, torso glistening with sweat. His stars-and stripes bikini-bottom shows the flag in more ways than one. "Go sergeants!" I cheer chevron-clad members of one training program. "Go Maryland!" greets those who wear UM logos.

"Didn't I see you near the start?" several racers ask me. "Yep," I admit; my long gray beard is somewhat distinctive. I salute the patriot with the big US flag on the pole as he strides past. The slowest racers seem to be the most polite. Many thank me for helping with the race. "Thank you!" I respond.

My hands tingle from nearly-nonstop applause as the last of the pack crawl by. They're nonetheless proud, deservedly so, as they approach the finish line. Then comes the famous Cone Truck with its pickup crew. I help load my traffic barriers, turn in my red vest, and head for home. Being a race volunteer is its own reward, better than a medal.

(see also the Montgomery County Road Runner's Club (MCRRC) at http://www.mcrrc.org and Soggy Jog (29 April 2002), a report on last year's Pike's Peek from my back-of-the-pack novice runner's perspective ...)


- Friday, May 02, 2003 at 05:53:11 (EDT)


Hello Sailor

What's the motto of France's navy? It's derived from the stirring call that summons those seamen to their ships:

To the water! It is time!

In French:

A l'eau! C'est l'heure!

(Say it aloud, and consult the title of this item as necessary; sincere apologies for my low multilingual punnishment. This joke has been bouncing around inside my neural network for decades now; something very like it appeared in a "rec.humor.funny" posting by Gavin Burnage long ago, and I suspect that was the source of the meme infection. No insult intended to the glorious nation of France, her people, or her armed forces. See also Charles Lambiana, (24 Oct 2000), Meta Joke (18 Oct 2001), Correspondence Principle (4 Mar 2003), ...)


- Thursday, May 01, 2003 at 05:51:05 (EDT)


Swaying Musicians

We need to develop a taxonomy of the superfluous motions that accompany the performance of music. Pianists, trumpeters, violinists, flautists, and so forth all have their individual frillishes. For starters, I've observed:

Quite a menagerie. And then there are those mysterians who twitch to the asynchronous tapping of an inner rhythm section, apparently without connection to the piece that they're playing ...

(see also Buechner Magic (27 Oct 2000), Seven Manes (9 Feb 2001), Piano Recital (22 Apr 2002), ...)


- Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 06:02:20 (EDT)


Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sunday I picked up a copy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen --- a "graphic novel" (aka comic) in collected paperback book format, promising on its cover "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture". I bought it not so much for its content, though that seems droll enough, as for its title. Certain phrases just grab my ear and won't let go. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen proffers that perfect tone of Victorian formality ... like the Ganymede club for gentleman's gentleman Jeeves and his fellows, cupbearers to the drones of society ...

(see also Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), ...)


- Tuesday, April 29, 2003 at 06:33:30 (EDT)


Cacophony Music

Last night Daughter Gray and I attended a concert. The technical quality of the performance was outstanding --- but alas, the compositions chosen for the first segments of the show were utterly incomprehensible to me. All were 20th Century pieces, and all had what I can only describe as a total lack of necessity. Change any note, change any dozen notes, and the music would sound the same --- a pointless progression of tones, without theme or development.

I was inspired during one of the works to write a poem that captured the feel of the moment:

 Cow, Calf,
    Phony Moo:
 Sick!

For an exegesis, see the title of this item.

Blessedly, the evening was redeemed by the last presentation --- a Beethoven piece, String Quartet in C sharp major, Op. 131 (1826). In her program commentary Bonnie Jo Dopp hit the bullseye when she observed:

"... the seamlessness of this grand work, played without pauses between movements, is one of the elements (along with thematic and key relationships) that gives the variety it contains the coherence of single-minded deep exploration of complexity so characteristic of Beethoven's musical imagination at the end of his life."

Coherence --- precisely right. I found the music hard to understand, but if I listen to it again and study it, I am confident that it will make sense --- unlike those pieces that preceded it.

But really, I shouldn't fret! Not only were there no frets on any of the instruments (^_^), but already all the silly noises of the early evening are forgotten.

What persists? Form and structure. Simplicity within complexity. Patterns of beauty. Years from now (centuries? millennia? more?) the essence of essence will remain. There will be Bach ...

(see also Buechner Magic (27 Oct 2000), Creative Devices (1 Jan 2001), Awesomely Simple (26 Jan 2001), Art And Ideas (1 Sep 2001), Oceans Of Notions (10 Dec 2001), ...)


- Sunday, April 27, 2003 at 19:23:11 (EDT)


Fan Fare

The usual distribution of celebrity (celebrityness? celebrityhood? celebritiation?) is far too sharply peaked. Excessive numbers of people focus their attention on the same famous favored few --- and so many others are overlooked who deserve watching.

Everybody should be a fan of at least a few somewhat-obscure individuals, places, activities, groups, topics, and so forth. I have my own list of forgotten faves: Arnold Bennett, coins of 1852, running along creeks in the woods, wiki, etc. (And then there are my ongoing love affairs ... a few of whom are witting, but most of whom I hope don't realize that they have me for a secret admirer.)

Contrariwise, everybody should have at least a few fans --- and to deserve them, should invest time and thought to cultivate them, correspond with them, and reward them for their respect.

(see also Topic Bennett, Celebrity Immunization (26 Mar 2000), Numis Trivia Of 1852 (4 Jun 2000), Pyramid Peaking (26 Aug 2000), Usual Suspects (15 Oct 2000), ...)


- Saturday, April 26, 2003 at 14:17:50 (EDT)


Unimaginable Timelessness

A friend (RD, who knows how much I enjoy this sort of thing) tells me that he heard a radio/TV "reporter" gush:

"I can only imagine the unimaginable anxiety that you must feel ..."

during a recent interview.

And that brings to mind the classic advertisement cliché-phrase "timeless beauty". I'm still hoping to see an ad in some slick 'zine which applies those words to a fancy wristwatch ...


- Friday, April 25, 2003 at 06:05:44 (EDT)


Envelope Pushing

At my office I try to dress decently enough to seem more-or-less "professional": a conservative shirt, slacks instead of jeans, etc. But above the collar I'm pretty scruffy-looking --- probably one of the top 0.1%, if not the absolute champion, in unkemptishness of hair and beard.

Perhaps I'm naïve, but I've always felt that the things that should count are one's creative ideas, relevant skills, productive behaviors, collaborative talents, and general willingness to get the job done. Looks should be utterly irrelevant. So should race, sex, religion, speech style, etc.

But of course, that's in an ideal universe. In real life, to be taken seriously one has to adapt to one's environment. Protective coloration is occasionally needed, especially to overcome barriers of prejudice, perhaps more often during interactions with outsiders or members of older generations. Women seem particularly vulnerable in this Darwinian competition, at least in today's corporate culture. A comrade who is quite short found that she wasn't respected in her mainstream occupation; she had to become a technologist to locate a niche in which she wouldn't be dismissed due to an at-first-glance somewhat childlike appearance. Another friend had to adapt a uniform of skirt and business suit; if she wore pants people assumed she was a clerical worker. And many younger women find it necessary to disguise any feminine characteristics, lest they be leered at and categorized as bimbos or worse.

So I've come to believe that my minor personal scruffiness is a tiny public service --- it at least may make a tiny contribution to pushing the envelope, opening doors, and broadening the bell curve of expectations in the organization. I do admit to wearing a coat and tie, back around 1989-91 when I was a mangager for a hellish 18 months. And I'm willing to bend my principles if there are foreign dignitaries or other august and inflexible personages visiting ... though come to think of it, I can't remember any such for at least the past decade ...

(see also Doctoral Envy (3 Jan 2000), Barry Laws And Precepts (18 Aug 2001), ...)


- Thursday, April 24, 2003 at 05:53:52 (EDT)



This is volume 0.29 of the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... musings on mind, matter, method, and metaphor ... new posts every few days ... since April 1999. See ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki experiment in shared thought. For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you!