Thursday, November 29, 2007

Parallel Lives, Parallel Universes, Redux and Amazing Stats!

It's pretty incredible what being linked from The Guardian (even the arts blog) will do for one's statistics. It's nice getting so much UK traffic for an earlier post on this BBC documentary on Hugh Everett's Many World's theory. Hosted by Eels frontman, E, the reviews have been very good. Now I need to figure out how to actually get a copy of the doc here so I can watch it. There is an 8-page spread in the latest Scientific American on Everett and the importance of his work.

Here are a couple of YouTubed promos for the show. Here and here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stocking Stuffer

Not that kind!

Every year I get an email from Laura Bush about the lovely Bush/RNC calendar! You too, can count down the days until Bush is out of office.

2008 Official RNC Calendar: Keep track of important dates with the Official 2008 RNC Calendar filled with full-color photographs of President Bush, the First Lady and Vice President Cheney. Each month features fascinating GOP Presidential election “trivia” with which you can share your friends and family.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

R.I.P. Zero

I had to have my dog put to sleep yesterday. Too much suffering caused by her kidney function eroding made it the right thing to do. But there's a lot of sadness around here. Being an atheist it's hard to take comfort in the "she's going to a better place" or stories about the "rainbow bridge" where dead animals wait for their owners o pick them up on their way to heaven together. That was a new one for me but a coworker told me that's what she believed.

I will take comfort in her ashes being put at the base of a tree in her favorite place in the world...her own yard.

I'm resisting the urge to put up a really sad song in honor of Zero. The melody from hallelujah by Leonard Cohen keeps running through my mind. Instead I'd like to offer up this more joyful paean with background vocals toward the end by Zero's hero, Bobby Jr.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Life, Love, Art, Death

It's a weird convergence of events. Today's my birthday. I've never been one to be too worried about aging. Probably because most people say that I look about 10 years younger than I am. But today feels different because I'm watching my beloved dog as she goes through what may be the final stages of her life. Her kidneys are failing. After a couple of days at the vet on an IV she is now home and being pampered to see if she responds to the new special food and the extra attention. I'm just glad she has been able to come home to be in her house, her bed, her yard, as she goes through this. And I'm also trying to remember that 5 years ago when I adopted her she was on death row at the animal shelter in Sacramento. She has had a wonderful second act to her life that few animals in a shelter end up getting. Sidenote: Support our local humane society! I do.

It's strange how this event has coincided with my work. In one of my classes we have just been discussing the most famous speech in literature: Hamlet and the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. If you need a reminder it is all about not only the prospect of killing oneself, but also an examination of mortality as we slip off this mortal coil. More eerie is that my 9th grade honors class just read the third part of John Steinbeck's, Of Mice and Men. In case you don't remember, this is the part where Candy's old dog is taken out and shot to "put him out of his misery." Strange how these things come together at this particular moment in time.

I've always been one who believes that life is for the living. You only have so much time to enjoy so make the most of it and try not to look back. I think we can all learn something from these folks!

If you'd care to send a positive thought out to my dog it would be most appreciated.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is the End Nigh?

This paragraph from the Salon cover story on Amy Chua's "Day of Empire," popped out at me:

"...imperial powers have universally thrived by accepting and accommodating cultural diversity, at least in relative terms. On the other hand, when imperial societies have turned inward, closed themselves off from the outside world and retreated into ethnic or cultural chauvinism, the end was generally in sight. Indeed, she finds in history near-inevitable progress from monster A to monster B: Nations rise to global hegemony by being extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant, but such imperial expansion eventually reaches a tipping point, triggering internal conflict and xenophobia, which leads to imperial decline."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Morning Music - The Magnetic Fields

From "I Don't Want to Get Over You"

Or I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus,
Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth like I was 17 that would be a scream
But I don't want to get over you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Love My Bikes Too...Just Not In That Way!

I'm not even sure what to make of this so I'll let the article speak for itself.

Bike sex man placed on probation

Cleaners caught Mr Stewart simulating sex with a bike
A man caught trying to have sex with his bicycle has been sentenced to three years on probation.
Robert Stewart, 51, admitted a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex.

Sheriff Colin Miller also placed Stewart on the Sex Offenders Register for three years.

Mr Stewart was caught in the act with his bicycle by cleaners in his bedroom at the Aberley House Hostel in Ayr.

Gail Davidson, prosecuting, told Ayr Sheriff Court: "They knocked on the door several times and there was no reply.

"They used a master key to unlock the door and they then observed the accused wearing only a white t-shirt, naked from the waist down.

"The accused was holding the bike and moving his hips back and forth as if to simulate sex."

Both cleaners, who were "extremely shocked", told the hostel manager who called police.

Sheriff Colin Miller told Stewart: "In almost four decades in the law I thought I had come across every perversion known to mankind, but this is a new one on me. I have never heard of a 'cycle-sexualist'."

Stewart had denied the offence, claiming it was caused by a misunderstanding after he had too much to drink.

The bachelor had been living in the hostel since October 2006 after moving from his council house in Girvan.

He now lives in Ayr.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What did the elephant say to the naked man?

"It's cute but can you breathe through it?"

This joke popped into my head when I saw the new bike rack on first street. Myrna from over at Renodiscontent mentioned the rack to me a few days ago. Since I was heading down to see the new Wes Anderson film, Darjeeling Limited, I thought I would check it out.

No one could be happier than I when more bike racks start showing up in town. Particularly in the downtown area thus encouraging more folks to ride their bikes down to enjoy our thriving little scene.

But one can't help but wonder why it is that yet another bike rack that is more "eye-pleasing" to the casual observer also turns out to be good for maybe attaching a couple of bikes to it without forcing the bike rider to rest their bike, metal to metal, against the rack. If you've read this blog awhile you already know that this is a pet peeve of mine.

So, in the end, it's cute but....

P.S. Another visit to Wes Anderson's universe turned out to be a good thing. I was having flashes of my time spent in Sri Lanka.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Soldier's Things - A poem for Veteran's Day

Davenports and kettle drums
And swallow tail coats
Table cloths and patent leather shoes
Bathing suits and bowling balls
And clarinets and rings
And all this radio really
Needs is a fuse
A tinker, a tailor
A soldier's things
His rifle, his boots full of rocks
And this one is for bravery
And this one is for me
And everything's a dollar
In this box

Cuff links and hub caps
Trophies and paperbacks
It's good transportation
But the brakes aren't so hot
Neck tie and boxing gloves
This jackknife is rusted
You can pound that dent out
On the hood
A tinker, a tailor
A soldier's things
His rifle, his boots full of rocks
Oh and this one is for bravery
And this one is for me
And everything's a dollar
In this box
--Tom Waits

Stuff Stuff Stuff

This article came through my mailbox and it's hard to ignore the validity of the author's point of view. Especially as we enter the shopping for crap season. Even as an English teacher I question his assertion that books are somehow different "more fluid" than other possessions. I like having books around but over the last few years have donated boxes and boxes of them that were holdovers from my grad school days. Our accumulation of STUFF is all wrapped up in our media driven culture, our sense of our identities (or our perceptions of our identity) and the notion that stuff will help us find meaning in our lives. When all is said and done, I need to be better about the stuff I'm accumulating. As the author, Paul Graham notes:

will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?

Reprinted here in its entirety but there are other cool articles and resources if you follow the link.

I have too much stuff. Most people in America do. In fact, the poorer people are, the more stuff they seem to have. Hardly anyone is so poor that they can't afford a front yard full of old cars.

It wasn't always this way. Stuff used to be rare and valuable. You can still see evidence of that if you look for it. For example, in my house in Cambridge, which was built in 1876, the bedrooms don't have closets. In those days people's stuff fit in a chest of drawers. Even as recently as a few decades ago there was a lot less stuff. When I look back at photos from the 1970s, I'm surprised how empty houses look. As a kid I had what I thought was a huge fleet of toy cars, but they'd be dwarfed by the number of toys my nephews have. All together my Matchboxes and Corgis took up about a third of the surface of my bed. In my nephews' rooms the bed is the only clear space.

Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.

That was a big problem for me when I had no money. I felt poor, and stuff seemed valuable, so almost instinctively I accumulated it. Friends would leave something behind when they moved, or I'd see something as I was walking down the street on trash night (beware of anything you find yourself describing as "perfectly good"), or I'd find something in almost new condition for a tenth its retail price at a garage sale. And pow, more stuff.

In fact these free or nearly free things weren't bargains, because they were worth even less than they cost. Most of the stuff I accumulated was worthless, because I didn't need it.

What I didn't understand was that the value of some new acquisition wasn't the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It was the value I derived from it. Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don't have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

In fact, worse than worthless, because once you've accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn't retire to the town they preferred because they couldn't afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn't theirs; it's their stuff's.

And unless you're extremely organized, a house full of stuff can be very depressing. A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

(This could explain why clutter doesn't seem to bother kids as much as adults. Kids are less perceptive. They build a coarser model of their surroundings, and this consumes less energy.)

I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I lived in Italy for a year. All I took with me was one large backpack of stuff. The rest of my stuff I left in my landlady's attic back in the US. And you know what? All I missed were some of the books. By the end of the year I couldn't even remember what else I had stored in that attic.

And yet when I got back I didn't discard so much as a box of it. Throw away a perfectly good rotary telephone? I might need that one day.

The really painful thing to recall is not just that I accumulated all this useless stuff, but that I often spent money I desperately needed on stuff that I didn't.

Why would I do that? Because the people whose job is to sell you stuff are really, really good at it. The average 25 year old is no match for companies that have spent years figuring out how to get you to spend money on stuff. They make the experience of buying stuff so pleasant that "shopping" becomes a leisure activity.

How do you protect yourself from these people? It can't be easy. I'm a fairly skeptical person, and their tricks worked on me well into my thirties. But one thing that might work is to ask yourself, before buying something, "is this going to make my life noticeably better?"

A friend of mine cured herself of a clothes buying habit by asking herself before she bought anything "Am I going to wear this all the time?" If she couldn't convince herself that something she was thinking of buying would become one of those few things she wore all the time, she wouldn't buy it. I think that would work for any kind of purchase. Before you buy anything, ask yourself: will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?

The worst stuff in this respect may be stuff you don't use much because it's too good. Nothing owns you like fragile stuff. For example, the "good china" so many households have, and whose defining quality is not so much that it's fun to use, but that one must be especially careful not to break it.

Another way to resist acquiring stuff is to think of the overall cost of owning it. The purchase price is just the beginning. You're going to have to think about that thing for years—perhaps for the rest of your life. Every thing you own takes energy away from you. Some give more than they take. Those are the only things worth having.

I've now stopped accumulating stuff. Except books—but books are different. Books are more like a fluid than individual objects. It's not especially inconvenient to own several thousand books, whereas if you owned several thousand random possessions you'd be a local celebrity. But except for books, I now actively avoid stuff. If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I'll take services over goods any day.

I'm not claiming this is because I've achieved some kind of zenlike detachment from material things. I'm talking about something more mundane. A historical change has taken place, and I've now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it's not.

In industrialized countries the same thing happened with food in the middle of the twentieth century. As food got cheaper (or we got richer; they're indistinguishable), eating too much started to be a bigger danger than eating too little. We've now reached that point with stuff. For most people, rich or poor, stuff has become a burden.

The good news is, if you're carrying a burden without knowing it, your life could be better than you realize. Imagine walking around for years with five pound ankle weights, then suddenly having them removed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Zoot Suit meets Urban hipster

I wonder what my students would think if I showed up at school in this outfit? From the catalog:
The cycle suit tailored by Kashkets is designed for the urban cyclist. Using the Urban Check tweed design which is from the reflective LumatwillTM range. This tweed has the added benenfit of Teflon coating, which prevents the tweed soaking up water if one gets caught in a shower. The design includes specially cut cycling plus 5s which button up the sides, and a very clever action back to allow one to bend over down over the handbars when pedaling hard.

I'm happy to preach the benefits of cycling knickers but this seems a bit overcooked.

The World's Friendliest Bike Cities

How does Reno rate on the 5 "E"s listed in this article from Wired?

1. Engineering (bike parking, designated lanes, etc.)
2. Encouragement (events and campaigns)
3. Evaluation and Planning (ongoing political bodies that make changes to existing laws and plan for the future)
4. Education (bike maps and awareness campaigns)
5. Enforcement (making motorists heel)

Not bad in a couple of categories in my opinion but my gut reaction as a long-time commuter is that we're pretty weak on number 5. The sense of "entitlement to bully" that many drivers feel towards cyclists is troubling to say the least.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's not often...

that I get to compliment Bicycling Magazine. They've mostly given up doing much of anything but pushing crappy products over the last few years. But I must compliment them on their latest issue which includes a profile of anonymous bike blogger, Bike Snob NYC. He's even more of a curmudgeon than I am!

The mag also has a nice feature on the best bike catalogs in the industry and they couldn't get away with not mentioning the great Rivendell Bicycle Works catalogs. Whether you agree with the rivbike philosophy or not, the catalogs are a great read. I'm probably 90% in the Rivendell camp regarding bikes for regular (albeit reasonably well-off) folks. Lugged steel frames and wool bike's hard to go wrong.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Need to Brush Up on My French

Juliette Binoche makes a person happy to be alive whether you're a straight male, lesbian, bi, ... or just human for that matter!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Morning TV

I've been a little obsessive about the new TV show, Pushing Daisies. This is saying something since I'm not a huge tv viewer. But the writing is so clever and acting so wonderful I can't help but grin like a goof while watching it. It's created by Bryan Fuller, the same guy behind Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me.

The biggest criticism I've heard is that it can be a little too "precious" at times. But I say, we need a little more emphasis on the whimsical in our lives. Here is an extended preview. God bless Kristen Chenoweth!

Trouble on the Trails

The RGJ cover story brings up a lot of interesting points about trail use in the area and particularly up around Peavine. There are many cyclists much more involved in trail issues that are better versed in the issues surrounding land use so I won't say much about that except to share a small anecdote.

I'm not much of a mountain biker. I find the trails around Reno either too dangerously rocky or boringly manicured. I'm from the midwest and mountain biking was an entirely different and pleasant experience there. Anyway, in an attempt to compensate for my lack of skills/experience with our terrain I bought a nice full-suspension rig (although I had previously ridden my cross bike up Evans and Keystone canyons). I figured it would allow me to enjoy and explore the more varied, shall we say, trail conditions up around Peavine. Besides, I'm pretty adamant about my rides starting and ending from my door. I hate driving to a trailhead. Unfortunately, my first dozen or so trips always left me feeling frustrated and annoyed. This quote from the piece hints at the problem:

It's apparent at Reno's Peavine Peak, where years of unmanaged motorized recreation has resulted in a spiderweb of trails that widened with continued use, spilling eroded sediment down the mountain's flanks.

This "spiderweb of trails" left me continually wondering which way to go, circling back on myself, dead-ending at a ravine, etc. I have found the whole experience somewhat frustrating as a cyclist. Not to mention the obvious issue of erosion. No wonder I haven't gotten on the mountain bike in 8 months. Is it time to sell it? It's hard to justify having a $2000+ bike hanging in the basement. Yet I hold onto it because of the occasional trip to see relatives in southern Utah.

Ultimately bicycling is 90% transportation for me so I'm less inclined to worry about bikes that are clearly meant as offroad recreational toys. Frankly, I'd be just fine if Peavine was limited to foot traffic. How much animal habitat have we encroached on in the last decade with all of the building? It's probably a good thing I'm not involved in trail use. I can get a little crotchety about it.