Monday, December 22, 2008


I saw a video today of Randy Pausch's last lecture. He talked about achieving his childhood goals and the importance of inspiring the next generation to dream of doing great things in the future as well. One of the things I would like to do is take my time and learn how use wood in the building of useful things, nice things like furniture, like Roy Underhill or Norm Abram makes. I enrolled in a woodworking class in junior high school (a sort of right of passage in America) and didn't really take it seriously. There is a lot to learn, but I only want to learn as much as I need to do what I want. The first thing I'd like to build is a nice aquarium stand for a few aquariums. I looked up do-it-yourself articles on how to make one, and they range from the extremely simple stack of cinder blocks approach through to the use of some joinery methods. I might use commercially available stand construction as a guide. The cost of building versus buying pre-made might be interesting to find out. I could take my time and make something nice. The key it seems is to use good materials, like straight wood, and measure accurately for each cut. Now that I think about it, there are actually at least 12 things I would like to make... this could take a while. To the drawing board!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

a convenient fiction

On my way to work today I was listening to "O Holy Night" on a local radio station that plays Christmas music nonstop this time of year. It is a beautiful song that was composed in 1847. The religious subject gave me pause for thought and reason for hope. Religion can only be enjoyed by suspending rational thought. I cannot pretend it is still alive and well in the world today. No, it is sick and diseased. It cannot withstand the assault of criticism, a fact that atheists take much sadistic delight in pointing out. Reformationists like John Shelby Spong and Gretta Vosper are engaged in a futile struggle to salvage anything after allowing criticism to do its work. Christianity will not survive, it is an anachronistic world view, a misrepresentation of reality, and faith in it can be a very dangerous thing to have. We should never mistake illusion for reality, or place our faith in something that has no rightful claim to it.

But we live in a world of illusion, not just in religion but everywhere. And though we try to escape it by pursing physicalism, the philosophical perspective of science, I think honesty demands we admit that illusion pervades everything. It may be true that all we can be assured of in life is naked experience, but I think illusion is not something to be ostracized from our minds. It should be acknowledged and enjoyed for what it is. Illusion is, after all, the mother of reason. This Christmas season, I plan to acknowledge illusion and enjoy it. If believing religion is reality has led humanity down the wrong path many times before, perhaps believing it is illusion will take the teeth out of it and prevent us from doing so again. We don't need to get rid of it or substantially change its content, but just change the way we look at it. Then we can still enjoy it in much the same way we did before. Fact or fiction has little to do with pleasure.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

concentric spheres of social groups from local to global

I was thinking about how my life is fairly well laid out before me and I like what I see. It seems to be just maintaining and improving what I already have at this point, to a large extent. I was reviewing a workbook on citizenship completed by one of my students and began to reflect on the inclusion of this value in most ethical systems. Off the top of my head the definition of citizenship that comes quickly to my mind is a quote from Spock in The Wrath of Khan: the needs of the many usually outweigh the needs of the few. You're right, usually wasn't part of the original quote, but I don't think it is an absolutely true statement anyway. So what does it mean to be a citizen? A lot of social service organizations are built around this ideal, and I think Thomas Paine along with many other early writers had a lot to say about this subject. Incidentally, recently a civics class has become a requirement in the UK educational system. Is citizenship the same as patriotism or nationalism? No. Further explorations may be forthcoming...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

gift me, and gift me again

May I advocate intelligent gift giving this holiday season? An online gift registry that allows the listing of items from multiple retailers is ideal. It could even allow several people to contribute money towards the purchase of more expensive gifts that are often passed over by gift buyers with a fixed price range and no means of contacting others with whom they could collaborate.

Here are the features of one application, Family Gift Exchange, available on the Internet:
View and manage your:
Wishlist - The items you want
Non-wishlist - The items you don't want
Recommendation list - The items other people think you want

Have your own individual login
Indicate relevent website or purchase location for gifts.
Make recommendations for other users.
Choose whether recommendations are visible to the person you are recommending a gift for.
Approve or unapprove the (visible) recommendations made for you.
Indicate to other users that you have purchased an item on someone's list (without the recipient being able to see that you have purchased it).
Customize site colors, logo, and family name for your own family or group.
Easy to use. Even has a HELP page.
No longer just for weddings and baby showers, gift registries are for any gift giving occasion, including Christmas and birthdays! Why not? Wikipedia has pages with descriptions and examples of gift registries and online gift lists.

fairy flies

Fairy flies (Mymaridae) caught my attention when I saw a micrograph of one and was immediately struck by the unusual appearance of the wings. They looked more like small feathers. Due to the extremely small size of these insects they have a different approach to flight and would appear to be at the mercy of the slightest breeze, like any aeolian plankton. Not surprisingly, they can be found just about anywhere on Earth. Next summer I think I will take more notice of the chalcid wasps around my home, the broader taxonomic group to which fairy flies belong.

Monday, December 8, 2008

infinite food chains

What you eat is only as good as what it ate, which was only as good as what it ate, which was only as good as what it ate, which was only as good as what it ate, which was only as good as what it ate...

Yet another (potentially) infinitely regressing cycle! You can thank Ned Rozell for bringing this poetic theme to mind in the latest installment of his always interesting column, Alaska Science Forum.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cordwood Sauna

There is a book by Rob Roy called The Sauna that gave me a great idea. He is probably the most well known popularizer of cordwood masonry construction, and in the book he describes how he built a round cordwood masonry sauna (about 12 foot diameter) with a relatively flat sod roof. I had recently admired adobe buildings with flat roofs supported by "vegas", or log beams, so this was nearly identical in appearance. I already have a lot of poplar logs that I can use for this, and poplar is actually a good wood type to use. I was thinking that instead of mortar I could try to use cob. The loess soil here is very hydrophobic when it dries, so I wonder if it wouldn't be suited to the purpose. I already plan to build a shed first, as a sort of proof of concept before actually building a sauna. All in good time.

I had always thought that cordwood masonry looked ugly - like the bastard child of a brick house and a log cabin. But now I think that it is a very flexible building method that can accomodate a wide range of plans. In addition, what has been called "cobwood" makes it look even more attractive, as the concrete portion of the wall is replaced by cob, reducing the embodied energy in the wall (see more about this alternative in Rob Roy's book Cordwood Building). As far as I can tell, cob is indistinguishable from daub, as in "wattle and daub". I don't know enough yet about its structural properties.

A cordwood masonry building can be round, which is a beautiful thing. It could have a reciprocal frame roof, also a beautiful roof. But I will build a rectangular shed with a 1:12 pitch shed roof, as rectangular buildings provide the best use of space. Maybe later a round building.

Additional resources:
Youtube user Tony Wrench, author of Building a Low Impact Roundhouse.
Build Your Own Earth Oven - someday it would be fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Since I've thinking a lot about the physical body lately, I recently focused my attention on one of its organs - the heart, which is the theme of this post. I heart my heart (actually I have suspected that my heart was my favorite organ since 08 July 2007 when I longed to buy a heart rate monitor to use while biking).

Heart disease - biggest killer.
American Heart Association - sponsor of campaigns to raise awareness and promote healthy hearts.
Obama - Health care is a right!
Electrocardiogram - visualize it on your laptop.
ECG tattoos - creative.
Heart Rate monitors - wear them like a wristwatch.
Heart Math - profiting off of cardiology research.
What is an angiogram? - see one here.
Where does the blood flow? - diagrams here and here.
What does a beating heart look like? - computer animation here.

I really can't recommend that animation highly enough, it is worth the look. Now I am off to take better care of and appreciate the amazing organ that rhythmically pumps in my chest.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mind body dichotomy? Perhaps no.

"The absence of an empirically identifiable meeting point between the non-physical mind and its physical extension has proven problematic..." This is the source of the concept of a mind-body dichotomy. But I think this problem in the philosophy of mind will be resolved with further experiments on cockroaches someday. Or fruitflies. Just as the compound word "spacetime" has replaced a distinction between space and time, so too is "bodymind" removing another outdated distinction. But what does this mean conceptually? Are the properties I have assigned to one or the other in reality mutually shared by each? The lines are blurring even more.

Sometimes it seems as though my mind would rather not take care of my body. But I could also think of this as my bodymind unsuccessfully searching for an easier way of life that may or may not meet success in the long term (though it hasn't much improved things in the short term). It is interesting to reflect on what the evolution of the human bodymind has led to so far. But beware; evolution is more notorious for its failures rather than its successes, decisively favoring the most resourceful members of a population. During my imaginative tangents in life, I should do well to remember the tried and true basics of survival, which may, in the end, prove to be the most radical method of all, as I am sure Lao-Tzu would agree.

The concept of artificial consciousness seems based on the presupposition of a body-mind dichotomy, so far that a consciousness is conceivable without more than a passing regard to the composition of an originating material body, organic or otherwise. If it were instead based on a bodymind foundation, artificial consciousness might be conceived of differently (i.e. natural bodymind vs. artificial bodymind, assuming the terms mind and consciousness/awareness can be used interchangeably). Mind without body is like time without space.

References: Wikipedia's Mind-body dichotomy article.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

the body

How does one take care of one's own body? I put together a list of six common items for responsible self-care. Can you think of others that should be included here?
1. Eat well balanced meals.
2. Exercise on a regular basis.
3. Get enough sleep.
4. Live in a warm and sheltered place.
5. Practice good hygiene.
6. Have access to health care services.
I addressed this question as part of an inquiry into how the body affects the mind and what the mind's relationship to the body really is. Is the role of the mind solely as a servant to the body? In other words: Does the body use the mind, or does the mind use the body? Perhaps this is a misleading question. Linji Yixuan (d. 866) had a few thoughts about the mind/body relationship. He is recorded to have said "Over a lump of reddish flesh there sits a pure man who... comes in and out of your sense organs all the time." Linji was concerned more with the mind than the body. There is a very obvious reason to be concerned with the mind (though this one may not have been shared by Linji). Even if the mind is only a servant, it must function at its best to ensure it's continued survival. Higher brain functions are a luxury that can be sacrificed to maintain survival of the body under conditions of extreme stress or injury. Keep the body happy or the mind will have no peace. But will merely keeping the body happy provide the mind with peace? That is an an unexamined assumption held by many people that I intend to test.

Citations: A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, p. 445

It is interesting to note that this sounds very similar to Epicurianism, which is a form of hedonism and a materialist philosophy. Modern adherents have included many recognizable names including Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Hitchens. The famous statement Carpe Diem ("Seize the Day") was by Horace, a follower of the teachings of Epicurus.

E2S2H2 is an abbriviation for the items listed above: Eat, Exercise, Sleep, Shelter, Hygiene, and Health Care. These seem so intuitively simple, but I think they are really far more abstract. How is each accomplished, but through a litany of many smaller and diverse actions and a variety of methods.

- last edited 19 November 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

hawt n cold - sauna

A grindbygg is the acme of innovative large timber construction methods, in my opinion. It is an art form. But it has few if any advantages over light frame construction when it comes to its capacity to provide for efficient insulation. The ease of basic stud framing techniques make it the preferred choice.

I love my house, however the survivalist/appropriate technology enthusiast in me wants an emergency shelter that depends on little more than my sweat to keep it operational. A sauna, with an attached changing room, greenhouse, and watertank room would be ideal. As a tribute to the form, the building itself would adhere to classic grindbygg proportions with a 1:1.5 (34 degrees) slope gable roof. A dry/wet sauna with wood heater would form the engine of the building, with wall construction accordingly to allow high humidity levels. Next to it would be a windowless rainwater tank building, adjacent though separate from the sauna. One of its main functions would be to recover the heat energy left in the sauna after its use by means of a radiator/heat pump device. Next to this would be a greenhouse, used to start garden plants to extend the short growing season and house various tanks for a small aquaculture/aquaponics hobby. Perhaps space for a well-fed compost heap could be incorporated somewhere into the design as well. The changing room would be exceptionally well insulated, thus serving as an emergency shelter.

[Editor's note: Realizing that I may not be reaching enough people with standard English alone, I have decided to translate the following portion into lolcat for your reading pleasure.]

in sauna u git hawt. but coolin down iz an equally important part ov teh sauna cycle - cold watr immershun, rollin around in da snow nakd, or exposure 2 cold fresh air. once u begin 2 shivr, thaz teh signal 2 go bak 2 teh sauna. dis cylce has been shown 2 reduce stres hormonez, lowr blood presure an improoov cardiovascular condishuns. perhaps 4 dis reason, historically saunas has been teh most sacrd placez aftr teh church, an most haus which cud afford 2 build sauna had wan. it wuz often sed "if booze, tar, or teh sauna wont halp, teh illnes iz fatal."

- edited 6 November 2008

I thought a wood yurt of the sort that Bill Coperthwaite makes might be a reasonable way to make a sauna or banya (the Russian term), as many have. Plans are available at just $25 dollars. But I am having second thoughts, as it is a departure from the simplicity of basic grindbygg design. Yurts are designed to be made using small strips of wood, not larger sticks and beams.

- last edited 19 November 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

what is equanimity?

There is no such thing as a slow day at work. And so, last night was the end of yet another long day. I relaxed by catching up on the latest updates to my favorite blogs and reading any mail I might get. I eat a little food. I tend to spend too much time doing this, reluctant to go to sleep. In the end I face the next day deprived of rest and with indigestion. When I thought about how self-defeating this was, I reflected on the importance of responding to stress with equanimity. That doesn't mean blocking out my feelings when something happens to me, but behind it is a realization that coping with stress by craving for pleasure tends to be counterproductive. So how does one maintain equanimity?

Creating a task list was not an entirely useless exercise. Looking over it, I see an eclectic mix of activities, all of which point to developing a more peaceful life in tune with the world around me. But I don't have to do any of them in order to have peace. A big part of equanimity is knowing that everything you need you have right now. Through the clouds of greed and ambition, people have been saying this for a long time.

"I've all I need. There's nothing I lack."

Diogenes had equanimity, but I seldom find myself at peace with this feeling. Nonetheless, I need it if I am to be able to plan for tomorrow. And I need to know what I will do tomorrow if I am to have any peace for today. It's a positive feedback system; peace is in many ways a sense of security in the future.

This last Halloween I was Garth (of SNL's Wayne's World), but next year I might try to dress in costume as Diogenes of Sinope wandering the streets with a lamp during the day looking for a human being.

-edited 04 November 2008

Having learned about the therapeutic properties of hot and cold cycles in traditional sauna use, it seems very clear that a sense of equanimity is not arrived at purely through a change in mind (perspectives, concepts, etc.). Perhaps even more importantly, it requires positive changes in one's physical body (nutrition, fitness, organ functioning, etc.). The combination of both being optimal.

-last edited 07 November 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

anicca, dukkha, karuna

Just as all things end, so too does suffering. Without this important understanding, compassion will quickly wither and die. And so today I came to realize the wisdom conveyed in Palden Gyatso's words when he connected several key ideas: "When we are able to perceive all things as impermanent, then we can have compassion." Enemies become friends, friends may become enemies, nothing stays the same, everything is transient. Even the worst situations change, and that allows me to feel compassion for them. If they did not, I could not have compassion for them, it would be intolerable.

Few people love stress, disease, or suffering, yet alone willingly welcome any of these into their lives. Compassion, the genuine desire to remove harm and suffering from others, seems to be the most rational response when confronted with these undesireable facets of life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A prayer

May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food;
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.

May the forlorn find hope,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.

May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose;
May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.

May the poor find wealth,
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power
And may people think of benefiting each other.
Adapted from chapter ten of Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The spirit of compassion

Whenever ideas are translated from one language to another, or one culture to another, or even one person to another, the difficulty lies in ensuring that the essential meaning survives the transition. So of course, the words themselves are not as important as the notions they carry. In the same manner, the word "compassion" is not important either so much as the idea that it is the wish that others be free from suffering. It is a hope that is not exclusive to any single virtue, but shared with and incorporated into many. A few years ago I was interested in negative consequentialism, the idea that suffering can and should be prevented, with the emphasis on prevention whenever possible. It's an idea that has taken root in some contemporary policies such as the "Precautionary Principle". Though it is desireable to anticipate and prevent problems before they arise, that isn't always possible. Author Sharon Salzberg once wrote that strength arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world, and bearing witness to it without fear, whether it is in ourselves or others. This strength is the ability to act with all the skill at our disposal to address it. There is an established practice called Tonglen that appears to effectively convey the spirit of compassion.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book review: An Open Heart

My children caused me to think about compassion, appropriately enough. One morning, about two weeks ago, I was lying in bed, exhausted and wanting to sleep in. As usual my kids woke up early and were not interested in going back to sleep at all. My son, less than a year old, is hungry and needs his diaper changed. I saw that more than anything else it takes compassion for me to meet his needs as well as my own. A profound, calm, abiding compassion.

I was pleasantly surprised when I read "An Open Heart" by the Dalai Lama. I was looking for information about how to develop greater compassion in my life, and this book was a direct answer to that question. When I had briefly looked at other books under his authorship, I dismissed them as having a lack of depth and looking like a lot of other new age nonsense. (I am especially critical of anything that generates wide spread acclaim or appeals to a popular audience.) But now my opinion has changed. In this book at least, the Dalai Lama provided a detailed presentation of the mental techniques used by Tibetan Buddhists to increase virtuous thoughts and responsible actions. The explanations behind why they are used reveal an apparently rich understanding of the way the mind works. This may all be pseudo-science, but if nothing else it is at least a window into the cultural and religious history of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to the Dalai Lama, in order to generate genuine compassion, one must combine a feeling of empathy for others with a profound understanding of the suffering they experience. Empathy is generated by reflecting on the kindness of others, and recognizing how our fortune is dependent on the cooperation and contribution of others. We can extend a recognition of our own suffering to the suffering of others. (Suffering is a word that I dislike. It conotes a sense of graveness that I feel only the most extreme situations warrant. So I offer "stress" as an appropriate substitute henceforth.) The Dalai Lama identifies three kinds of stress: the "stress of stress", the "stress of change", and the "stress of existence". I will spare you the details here, but that pretty much covers everything.

I got about twenty pages to go before finishing the book (it isn't very long). As an important political as well as spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama cannot avoid getting his hands dirty in these two most contentious human institutions. That makes the book all the more interesting. And oddly enough he has been in the news just today with doubts about his physical health as he has been in and out of hospitals. But at 73, physical problems are not unheard of for anyone.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies - ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.'
- Kurt Vonnegut

When we are able to perceive all things as impermanent, then we can have compassion.
- Palden Gyatso "From torture to tolerance: A Tibetan Lama's survival under Chinese occupation" Friday, Oct. 28, 2005

The exercise of compassion is what matters in our world.
- Karen Armstrong, Parabola magazine vol. 31 no. 3
Compassion is something that I need in order to help others when at the same time I need help myself, and to help myself when I'd rather let myself go. But having compassion is not always easy in either case. I think a view to personal benefit is not inherently inconsistent with compassion, whereas it would be with altruism by definition. Is it possible (or even desireable) to have compassion for everyone? I can't answer that. And does a desire to be compassionate require a desire for suffering since without suffering, there is no need for compassion? But I think this is not so, because suffering is an unavoidable part of life that needs no invitation.
"Many contemplative traditions speak of loving-kindness as the wish for happiness for others and of compassion as the wish to relieve others' suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion are central to the Dalai Lama's philosophy and mission," says Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. "We wanted to see how this voluntary generation of compassion affects the brain systems involved in empathy."
Matthieu Ricard participated in this study involving fMRI brain scans to see the effect of meditating on compassion. This is all very interesting. I think it is somewhat similar to prayer in the Christian tradition. The primary motivation for many prayers is compassion.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

teach the controversy (but try a few others too)

The phrase "teach the controversy" has gained considerable currency in the media lately, and usually refers to differences between evolution and creationism. While some controversies are real, others are created where in actuality no controvery exists. But whatever. So, without promoting any single viewpoint on the issue (anekantavada, gotta love it) I would like to present two additional perspectives on life, one from St. Francis (cue music from Enigma - "Return to Innocence"), founder of the Franciscan Order, and another from Mikhail Bakunin (cue Mussorgsky - "Pictures at an Exhibition"), Russian revolutionary.

First, the Friar:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

And next the anarchist (from "God and the State"):
The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice.
Unless, then, we desire the enslavement and degradation of mankind... we may not, must not make the slightest concession either to the God of theology or to the God of metaphysics. He who, in this mystical alphabet, begins with A will inevitably end with Z; he who desires to worship God must harbor no childish illusions about the matter, but bravely renounce his liberty and humanity.
If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist.
I defy anyone whomsoever to avoid this circle; now, therefore, let all choose.
(Um, Voltaire, a deist, was a bit more charitable.) Aha! The controversy: How could anyone fault St. Francis for such noble sentiments, which have been embraced by many from AA to Mother Theresa? And what of Bakunin? Surely he has found some reason to express these thoughts.

Wherefore the difference? Can none say?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Critics, flowers, and violins

Critics are everywhere! No one can escape criticism! Two thousand years ago there were critics, one thousand years ago there were critics, five hundred years ago there were critics. Today there are still critics. By way of example, in the late 14th century Jeong Dojeon felt that Buddhism would "destroy morality and eventually humanity itself", so he wrote a book outlining why it was bad. If you aren't familiar with Buddhism, let me introduce Charles Muller. Professor Muller is your average scholar of East Asian thought who works at a university in Tokyo. He has translated a number of Buddhist texts into English, including the Diamond Sutra. His translation is interesting in that it seems obvious what he considers to be the essential teaching of this particular sutra, namely the following lines:
All conditioned phenomena
Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow
Like the dew, or like lightning
You should discern them like this
I'm guessing that Jeong Dojeon doesn't fully agree with this sentiment, as romantic as it sounds. Somewhere in his book he probably says it isn't right to think of everything as an illusion, in fact it is plain stupid. Or something like that, after all he's a Neo-Confucian and they have a different way of seeing things. I don't actually know what he says, but whatever he says I am sure it sounds smarter than that. The Buddhists might counter (if they ever did counter him) with something about infinite regression, or maybe they might say that... well they might say a lot of things. It is interesting to view an argument when you don't have a dog in the fight.

But as for me, I like critics, in fact they make me excited! Seriously, always have. My position: If you think I am wrong, then tell me and be honest please. How can I ever improve if I continue to be wrong? Wouldn't you want to know if you were wrong about something? That is why I like critics. Shouldn't everyone? Yeah, when you prove that I am wrong, I will flinch slightly at the sting, I will lick my wounded ego, but then (and this is the crucial part) I will get back on my horse 'cause I can take it. My sacred cows might not fare as well though.

Why should women get to claim all the symbols that are delicate and beautiful, such as flowers and butterflies, for their own? 'Cause you know, sometimes I feel like a flower, or a butterfly, or maybe a butterfly on a flower. It's like those big buff guys who have a tattoo on their shoulder that says "mom", because inside, they just want a hug. On the other hand, I like big scary animals too.

I drempt I played a violin, but instead of drawing a bow across the strings to produce sound, I used another violin. Now that I think about it, wouldn't that be hard to do?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What election? -- Task lists

On November 4th there is one candidate you won't see on the election ballot. That candidate is "none of the above". In Nevada (of all places!), one can select "None of these candidates". Why not have this option available nationally? Right now the next best option to this is voting against the candidate you like the least, as opposed to actively endorsing someone you do like. But this is not an encouraging situation. Disillusioned voters should have a clear and unambiguous choice available to them, eh?

There are many effective ways to delay getting stuff done. One of the more popular of which is to create a task list. Anecdotal evidence on the interwebs suggests that these lists are simply more time and effort than they are worth. Having earned my black belt many years ago in the fine art of procrastination and the allied skills of deceiption and redirection, about a week ago I decided to make a collosal task list of my own big enough to eclipse anything of the kind I have yet made. It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to see what I haven't done yet - there is a palpable feeling of untapped potential. It doesn't matter than I don't know when I will become fluent in a foreign language, be able to play a guitar like The Edge, or create a monumental work of art. I've carefully noted each of those on my task list along with about ninety other things. It's not pedantic (though I'm not ruling that off out of hand). Honestly, brainstorming my future goals is kinda cool and fun.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

To be a satirist

"I must answer my calling to be a satirist!" I wonder if anyone ever woke up to that realization. I think rather that they fell into it as the most expedient method for conveying a message and getting a reaction from people who are otherwise unreactive to a more conservative treatment of the subject. Either that or they are all just too chicken to say what they really think! But personally I am no fan of the dark side of humor. It's distasteful, and it creeps me out. I prefer good, clean, simple jokes, like "There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can't." LOL! Who gets tired of that? And besides, can you name even one famous satirist?

There are actually discussion lists on the web where people get together and debate theories of humor. A quick glance through a few of the posts at one of them led to a simple definition: humor and the vocalization of laughter are most easily understood as an aspect of play, the function of which (need I name one?) is to improve survival in a competitive world.

I've been getting some flack for my "nutritional anthropology" posts. Now some of the highest praise this blog has received were because of those entries, but if you thought those were bad, you should've seen the ones that I deleted!

On a more serious note, I just learned that I can build a house out of fungus. Ecovative Design is a company formed around the invention of what they have given the name "greensulate". This is great news. I will be the first to welcome and help usher in the great Fungal Awakening that awaits us in the 21st Century. Applications in the field of construction are only the beginning. We have yet to realize the true promise held in the complete integration of fungal technology across the wide spectrum of human activites. If you think I am kidding, just ask yourself when the last time science hasn't made good on it's predictions of the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


In Japan "oyaji" jokes are simple lame jokes made by old men. I'd like to find a book about them since I am so good at making them- my cleverest jokes are always unintentional.

I saw a video of Thich Nhat Hanh doing walking meditation with over a thousand people on the UCLA campus. Walking meditation, what a pompous sounding label, it's really just slow walking, like you were looking for a lost earing. But that's part of the whole idea- paying close attention not only to the environment around you but also the simple action of walking. You know walking is not only a great way to measure a distance (you've heard of pacing off a distance, right?) but it is also a great way to measure time.

Let me backtrack a little... A few years ago I tried sitting meditation for about a month then wrote it off as a waste of my time. For anyone who seriously tries to meditate, meditate alone that is, one of the challenges is to know when to stop meditating. You lose all sense of the passage of time during sitting meditation. So, I bought a vibrating alarm clock to, as unobtrusively as possible, let me know when I have finished meditating for the time I set aside to do it. This is why walking meditation is so much better- if you know your speed and distance, then you know how long you've been meditating, no clocks needed. So if you see me walking like a zombie or as if I had dropped my car keys somewhere, you'll know what I'm doing.

In humor research circles, it has been proposed that laughter is our response to the moment we understand an incongruity between a concept and the actual situation it relates to. (It's a good thing I don't have to explain this every time I try to make a joke.) In my job, I need to develop a rapport with my clients, and being funny is the method that works best with the majority of them. Some people really enjoy the attention that being funny gets them. Let me rephrase that, there are times when we all want attention, even if they are only few and far between. At my work, getting attention is the only way to coordinate a large group of people. Get ready to laugh, or groan, or a little of both.

I hate information. I eschew all forms of news. But no matter how I try it always breaches my defenses and I learn about the outside world. What's going on? I could care less. But when I am driving home after work for half an hour I need something to keep me awake. So I turn on the radio. Thank God for Clear Channel radio stations! Their mindlessly repetitive popular songs with no sense or actual resemblance to anything like music are completely devoid of intelligence. All I need to do is turn the volume up so loud that the speakers rattle and I am doze free the whole ride home.

I love my kids. They are wonderful. My daughter is so cute, she has no limits to her creativity. The other day we were listening to Afro-Pop on NPR and dancing in the living room. She picks up a plastic brontosaurus toy and moves it rhythmically to the music, then says through her pacifier "dinosaur dance!" Wow. I love the way those two everyday words sound together, she really brings them to life.

I don't like jokes. They are cheap, and like belly buttons, everyone's got one. But, and this is a big but, they are a better social lubricant than alcohol.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A speech by Kabat-Zinn

I tried to wrap my head around a few ideas that were once inspirational. This morning I watched an online video of Thich Nhat Hanh, then a related video of Jon Kabat-Zinn describing Mindfulness to a room full of Google employees. Hahn and Kabat-Zinn are easy targets for criticism, quite honestly, and I have a few points I'd like to level at them. But Jon Kabat-Zinn makes a good polished presentation and it is hard not to like the guy after hearing him. His speech is liberally laced with anecdotal references. At one point (15:45 in the video) he gives a humorous, though very illustrative, anecdote when he quotes an old teacher who while meditating says through broken English as he slowly exhales "Who am I?... Don't know..." And he is not afraid to use self depreciation to remove any defenses people put up in the face of strange ideas. At one point (36:24) he begins to speak about awareness in somewhat flowery language, then adds "and not in any grandiose new age bullshit kind of way". I was reminded of Janwillem Van de Wetering, who during an interview (6:00 in the audio recording) described the monks he stayed with while in Japan as a bunch of wise guys. He actually liked them quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

contrasting perspectives

Faced with finite resources, what do you do? You hoard. Jump into action and get as much as you possibly can. This aspect of human nature has been demonstrated many times, and described as the concept of scarcity in economics.

Faced with unlimited possibility, what do you do? Nothing.

My reasoning may be imperfect, but it seems to me that Buddhists are leaning towards the side of infinite possibility. Thich Nhat Hanh on the subject, from a selection I originally posted in 2005-09-15:

The Third Door of Liberation is aimlessness, apranihita. There is nothing to do, nothing to realize, no program, no agenda. This is the Buddhist teaching about eschatology. Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don't have to run anywhere to become someone else... There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become... Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. ...there is "nothing to attain." ...enlightenment is already in us. We don't have to search anywhere. We don't need a purpose or goal... We are at peace in the present moment, just seeing the sunlight streaming through our window or hearing the sound of the rain... Aimlessness and nirvana are one... The practice of apranihita, aimlessness, is the practice of freedom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

dealing with discomfort

I came across this quote on a webpage a while back, and recalled it recently.
"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science."
-- Carl Sagan
So what should one do with them? If they are relevant to any discussion, talk about them. But what really made me remember the quote was when I thought about feelings (sensations), not ideas. The word mindfulness comes to mind, as a way to deal with changes in life that aren't always anticipated or welcomed. Life is a process of change, the better you are at working with it, the better your quality of life will be.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The commission of C. G. Jung

During an interview by John Freeman of Carl Jung, which later aired on the BBC televison series "Face to Face" in 1959, he asked him about whether he believed a third world war was imminent. Keep in mind that this was during the climate of the then ongoing Cold War. Jung replied, in part:
"We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil."
What did Jung mean when he used the word evil? According to Genesis, evil was brought into the world when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Christianity agrees that man is the source of evil in the world. But here the similarity begins to break. Christianity has a list of sins that I doubt Jung is as concerned about, especially when we consider the context of this statement. I like how Jung indicts all of man. It isn't just one segment of the population, or a few nations. In like manner, Christianity assents that all are guilty under the law. But, whereas Christianity provides a simple solution to the problem of evil freely available to anyone, Jung, however, leaves us with the problem and says the solution is to study human nature, and particularly the psyche of man, presumably to understand how to prevent the evil that may come from a lack of knowledge. In the final analysis, there isn't a simple solution, but Jung did recognize the problem.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Water water everywhere!

Today it has been raining off and on, and after coming home from work this afternoon I decided to clean around the house and noticed that the rainwater tank had finally overflowed! Then it began to rain again, but the gutters were overflowing. Why? Suspecting the downspout was clogged with leaves, I hooked up my extension ladder (which had been taken apart for "walking ladder" practice a few years ago) and cleared the hole. A great gush of water momentarily overwhelmed the pipe delivering the water to the tank. With the steady rain, the overflow from the tank poured out water like a bathtub faucet. Even knowing I had saved 1500 gallons, I didn't want to waste any and quickly filled up nearly 30 gallons of water in buckets. Had the holding capacity been larger, I am sure that many more gallons of water could be collected during the coming week. It is still raining steadily outside.

Friday, July 25, 2008

bike stuff

I still would like a fixed wheel bike, but there are a lot of considerations that make me think it won't happen anytime soon. 1) Monetary investment - the several hundred needed for a new bike (or parts for an older bike) can be spent on other things like vehicle maintenance, loan payments, food, college tuition, that are more important by comparison. 2) Functionality - while I like the uniqueness of a fixed wheel bike, it may not be suitable to the terrain, the slope of my driveway and other hills is very steep. 3) Time Investment - Learning how to convert an older bike from free wheel to fixed wheel would be fun, but could take many hours and days, time that could be spent reaping a larger rewards by doing other things. So I think I will put this to the side and use my low bottom bracket recumbents (with geometries like the BikeE, Tour Easy, the list goes on and on) to get around and out of the house, they have consistently been able to meet my needs for comfort and speed like nothing else. The BikeE is the best I have since its BB is lower than the EZ-3 trike. Of course, standard diamond frame bikes have the lowest BBs, but comfort is lost as soon as one leans their body forward and rests their weight on the handlebars instead of the seat and/or backrest. I am open to trying the RANS crank forward bikes, they fill out the spectrum of BB to seat height ratios, bridging the gap between diamond frames and recumbents (the BB is low enough that you can still stand on the pedals while riding).

There are many considerations important for bicycle comfort, among those I rank highest include: 1) sitting ergonomics/ pressure location (partially influenced by the degree to which legs straddle bike saddle/seat) 2) relative height of seat to bottom bracket and 3) angles formed by body and thigh across the pedaling motion. Randy Schlitter with RANS, more than any other person, has really created an ideal bike. I see a lot of people riding mountain bikes or cruisers with high rise handlebars, trying to get the same comfortable riding position of a recumbent without actually going 'bent. I tried that setup, and it was okay, but it wasn't reclined enough for me. As I need to remove things from my to do list rather than add to it, I'll be content with the bikes I have right now - if I ever get out and ride them!

Yesterday I made the first cuts for the grindbygg, partially finishing a stav and bete (post and beam). I realized I need another saw. It will take a lot of spare evenings and weekends to finish. I plan to finish the lawn work this weekend and determine which college classes could fit my schedule, but that is... another story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mid-July report

It must be summer, I saw two daddy long legs outside yesterday while working on the lawn. Now my usual checklist of summer arthropods is complete. I scooped them up and placed them in a gallon terrarium for further observation. Though you might not believe me, when perched on a clump of moss, they really have a fairy tale aura about them. The fragile long legs, the intricate pattern of chevrons on their back; to the careful observer they are incomparable. Rounding out the list are the mosquitos and black flies that attacked me a few weeks ago and the dragonflies whose wings glanced my skin as they dove after the feast that I attracted to myself. I wish I could hire a mercenary army of them to protect me and dispense with the bug dope all together.

The lawn is halfway finished; and very soon I will begin building a grindbygg. I prefer to flirt with several ideas at once - I'd like to take steps towards finishing my BA in philosophy this fall, if the usual constraints of time and money allow. I'm embarrassingly close to completion already, and I feel the time is right. I would like to add a new bike to my already large stable. I don't have a fixed wheel bike, and they sound like fun. Sheldon Brown, the late famous advocate of fixed wheel bikes had a mountain bike that he converted to fixed wheel for winter riding. A fixed wheel bike with the geometry of a mountain bike (comfy seat, handlebars) sounds like a real treat.

The only way to get one is to make it myself. Sure, the Felt Dispatch is nice (with the easy 39x16 gear combo for 700c tires), but there is no other way to have an intimate understanding of a bike than to put it together oneself. A few tools, a few new parts, a used frame, a few DIY guides (1, 2, 3, 4), a lot of trial and error, and it is within the realm of the possible.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How to/Parenting topics

How to stay on top of pet projects. (Answer: Try to make a schedule and stick to it.)
How to get your child to bed on time. (Answer: here.)

Some questions are more complicated though:
How to instill a love of art, music, and culture in your child.
How to instill a love of math and science in your child.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jumping spiders

Is collecting photos of local jumping spiders an unusual hobby? The first is Sitticus finschi, which I took last year. The second is still unknown, but definitely a jumping spider all the same. I think it is Eris militaris based on a few sources 1, 2, 3.) I took that picture on the 4th of July, just a few days ago.

If I ever get a macro lens I could take pictures like this, or this, or this.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Race

I am of average physical fitness, maybe a little above, but not much. Nine months out of the year I run/ski/bike about 4 miles a week (two miles, two days) in a three months on, one month off, repeating schedule that coincides with my work schedule. After the end of a three month period of exercise I am at my best, and I am at my worst following the one month of no exercise. May was the no exercise month. My only training strategy was to get eight hours of sleep the night before. So there's one strike against me.

June saw a sweep of illnesses in my family, last hit was me, and I am still recovering. I have a normal 40 hour work week, but also two little kids and hence less than optimal sleep at night. Strike two (and three?).

But I was looking forward to the 10K Midnight Sun Run yesterday. Last year I did a one mile road race, so this was the next logical step, right? Mostly, this was a fun opportunity that I didn't want to miss. I guess about 3500 other people felt the same way. I had a few goals I set for myself: avoid injury and beat two of my friends, who were also in the race.

It is too bad they didn't offer split times for each mile, that would really tell the story of my race performance the best, but I can provide the details myself. The start seemed chaotic - a hoard of people gathered on the road, then seemingly without warning a shot went off and we surged forward. I said good bye to my friend and trailed another person as we passed people by. Eventually I stopped passing people and they started passing me. A man stood at the first mile mark reading off the time. Seven minutes 15 seconds as I passed him. Not much later I began to wonder if I could last the remaining five point two miles. My stride shortened and I just kept determinedly throwing one foot ahead of the other. In the back of my mind was the most recent running advice I had read. Halfway through the race my right leg was getting sore. Then by mile five the pain was too much too ignore and I knew I had to walk. "You don't have to win, you just have to finish." I heard people say on the sidelines. The spectators were great, offering water, water hoses to cool you down, music to pump you up. Some of them looked a little smug and lazy. Here I was running my legs off and all they did is sit back and watch, it seemed a little unfair. When I began to walk I knew my time would really suffer for it, but better my time than my body. It was an interesting experience actually. I remember seeing runners crawl across the finish line in pain in some of the televised marathons. Would that happen to me? A few people asked if I was okay, I assured them I was. Once I got to the last fraction of a mile I again tried to run. My calves immediately cramped up. No striding allowed. Taking a cue from a runner ahead of me I began to run in short quick steps, as if I were pogoing to the finish. My last glance at the clock on the finish line showed just under an hour and two minutes. I wanted to get under an hour, but I'll take it. Past the finish line a few tables were piled with sliced oranges and watermelon - the sweet taste of success. I grabbed a juicy slice of orange and spotted one of my friends. To our mutual surprise he beat my time (we saw each other when he passed me as I walked). I got some ice on my leg from a sportsmedicine table at the finish line, caught a bus back to the start where I parked my car, picked up a few groceries, then went home.

After the finish, despite the pain in my leg, I felt good. And most of that was simply because I did it, last year I didn't. That day of the race started early for me, I took my daughter to the clinic to have her ear examined; went to a downtown Summer Solstice festival and ate cheesesteak sandwiches and berry smoothies; did a little shopping. I also visited friends who recently had their first child and met their boy for the first time. On Monday they are packing up to leave town for a new job location so it was a good bye too.

You have to be healthy to run, but you don't have to run to be healthy. While at the race I met a guy who ran it in about 44 minutes. He loved running. I am not sure I love running as much. There was a time when I did, and maybe that time has passed. Or maybe I just need to train more beforehand. My official time was 1:01:52.5, I know I can beat that next year. Either way, a 10K is the most I ever plan to run!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


The Alaskan Husky is not a standardized breed, but a dog more defined by its purpose than any physical trait. Here is a picture of two adult huskies that really show the variation in size. On the left is Kavik, a 14 year old male husky owned by a friend, and on the right is Maxine, my about two year old female husky. Kavik is clearly much much bigger than Maxine, his pedigree may include larger breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, and likwise Maxine's pedigree most likely has the influence of a smaller breed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

wildlife around the house

I think it was about a week ago, on 11 June, that I saw a nice female jumping spider near my house on a pipe leading to the rainwater tank. Since then I have seen a smaller male in the same area. It was last summer that I recognized the first jumping spider I ever saw, Sitticus finschi, but these spiders I've seen this year are a different species with some different markings. The female has two rows of three yellow/white dots on the back of her abdomen, the male's pattern was less noticable overall but both have an attractive mottled grey background. As with all jumping spiders, watching them move about is a lot of fun. I was thinking dressing up as a jumping spider for the upcoming 10K Midnight Sun Run would be a good costume. Or maybe attach some big fake spiders on my clothing and declare that I am the infamous comic superhero. Now, where did I put my toy spiders?

There are a lot of other neat animals around. I've seen a great grey owl silently flying through the forest, a red fox, voles, wolf spiders and web-building spiders, fiery searcher beetle (genus Calosoma), and carpenter ants looking for a new nest site. This year has seen a bumper crop of Whitespotted sawyer beetles (Monochamus scutellatus) in the area. They are easily recognized by their big size, with white spots on a black body and long antennae. This is in contrast to the extremely low level of spruce budworms - and the spruce trees look beautiful because of it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Plumbed and Ready

On 9 June we finally had the rainwater harvesting system fully installed. For the time being, the filter is pantyhose leg. The pump sits on the ground, I am going to put a cover on it to prevent any chance that it might get damaged in the rain. In the winter it detaches and comes inside. I need to buy a pressure switch for it and ensure there is water in it before I start it. We did plug it in briefly to see if it works, and it does work well. Of course, I am already thinking of improvements that I can make to this setup. The filter should be improved, and the pipe delivering water from the downspout may need to be redesigned with a better seal.

I don't know if I should I be concerned about leaks from the top of the tank. Teflon tape was not used on the threaded ends of the standpipes where they screw into the top of the tank. I have several options to see if this develops into a problem: (1) Allow the water to remain at the height of the overflow pipe for a few weeks, then dig down and see if the ground is noticeably wetter at the base of the pipes or (2) Once the pipe is full to overflowing, insert a float attached to a string into the overflow pipe, this will allow me to measure the water height. If the float indicates the water level is decreasing more than can be accounted for by evaporation alone, and water is not added or removed from the tank during this time, then there is a leak from the pipes. If there is doubt as to how much evaporation is normal an identical pipe could be placed nearby to which water is added that can function as a control to the experiment. If there is a significant leak, then I will put the Teflon tape on.

In the meantime, let it rain!

Monday, May 26, 2008

construction diagram

A friend stopped by and showed me a few tools and methods for working with logs. He made it look like quick work!

I created a few diagrams that contain all the information needed for joining the three main structural members of a grindbygg together, in a relatively simple version of grindverk that I would like to use. I did not include the diagonal braces or notches for the rafters in this picture, although these are indispensable. Dimensions on the members are not proportional, some should be larger or smaller, and in some places wooden pegs or nails are necessary to hold pieces in place. Unlike the post and tie-beam, which should never exceed the length of a single log, the rafter-holder may do so. Two variations of the rafter holder are shown, one is solid, the other is where it joins another section of timber to continue its length.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

shed progress

I think I have all the information on building a grindbygg that I can practically get without actually traveling to Norway. The book I ordered from Norway, Grindbygningen, arrived yesterday, and I saw two books through ILL at the library. While the books answered several questions I had, they also posed new ones.

The post, tie-beam, and rafter-holder are the three most critical structural members. While the cuts are placed so as to stabilize their interlocked arrangement, too many cuts can compromise their strength. I have decided to take a middle path between the design of a primitive longhouse and the fully developed grindverk construction method when I build my shed. This photo illustrates how very few cuts are made to these three members - the post and tie-beam are obviously cut in the traditional grindverk method, but the rafter-holder has no visible cuts aside from diagonal braces (though not visible I assume they are present) and no coresponding cuts are made in the post and tie-beam to accomodate the rafter-holder. Instead of cuts used to hold the rafter-holder in place, it is wedged in place using an additional piece of wood that is fastened on the tie-beam next to the inside of the rafter-holder. Simple and effective.


I have since (as of 5/22/08) come up with a plan that utilizes additional grindverk techniques, while allowing for strength where there are lap joints along the rafter-holder.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Living water

There are a few things that a person can't live without. Fresh air, water, food, and shelter. If you've read the news lately, count yourself fortunate to have these. I like water, and not just because I drink it, or because I use it to water plants. I like water because it supports life in all its variety, because it bubbles up in springs, flows in rivers, fills the oceans, and falls from the sky. It is a beautiful, dynamic substance, and has more uses than I can list. According to Chinese philosophy, water is a symbol of yin (as in yin and yang), and it is associated with the Taoist concept of wu wei. When I was young I learned about the less obvious qualities of water - dissolved chemicals and gases, biofilms, etc. - through keeping aquariums. Changes in these often mean the difference between life and death. In my eyes, water is a living substance.

I've wanted a rainwater collection system for my house (about 1080 sq.ft. of roof area) for a long time. Last year I watched on TV the installation of several systems. This summer I met a landscaping contractor who has put in a basic system before, and offered to do the same for us. I shifted into high gear to figure out the best setup for our house. Rainwater comes into contact with a lot of things on its way to storage, and can carry things to the tank along with it, so some sort of filter is almost universally recommended. The question becomes then: which filtering method is the best?

I found a very effective and simple filter that requires cleaning only once or twice a year. It is made by the company Wisy in Germany and attested to by thousands of satisfied customers. Of the other parts to the rainwater collection system, the only electric one is the pump that pressurizes the water so you can spray it out a garden hose. If I leave for several months in the summer, the rainwater collection system will use absolutely no power and the excess stored water will simply exit out the overflow pipe (or into a second tank).

Without any vegetation around the house yet, this is the best time to excavate a hole for a 1500 gallon underground water tank and put in the collection system. I know what parts I will need for the system, I just have to find the best source for them (I have a few ideas). If it isn't too expensive then I will put it in. Next is seeding the lawn (with the free source of water to help it grow). I can then move my focus to other summer projects of varying importance.

Water has so many potential uses, it will be a very satisfying thing to know that I will always have a ready and growing supply of it on hand for any project I can imagine!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I was reading the latest Circus of the Spineless and came across a post about ctenophores. A recent scientific paper has placed these animals, also known as comb jellies, at the base of the animal tree of life. This is surprising since until the present it was assumed sponges were the basal animal form. But this research makes sense to me- I vaguely recall that prior to early extinction events in Earth's history, during the Ediacaran Period, there were a lot of strange animals, some described as "immobile bags" and "mattress-like forms". Most of these animals were soft bodied. Could ctenophores be a window into this ancient world? Look at videos of comb jellies on youtube (two I liked: gooseberries and beroe), they remind me of spaceships, but any way you look at them they are very interesting animals.

Links to source material and images:
Diagram of evolutionary relationships: Check it out!
Ediacaran biota
Circus of the Spineless #32
Cthe Ctenacious Ctenaphore: A story with a moral.
Interpreting the data: Long in-depth article

Dunn et al. 2008. "Broad phylogenomic sampling improves resolution of the animal tree of life". Nature 452, 745-749 (10 April 2008)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A few more nice photos of grindkonstruksjonen. The first is sod covered and used for outdoor entertaining. It is very nice looking and I would love to try a sod roof sometime. The second is built lightly out of smaller diameter poles. This smaller one is a great size for me to test out the construction methods used in these buildings. These examples are from the website of Nedre Jolster Bilelag.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Norwegian sheds

I have found a great example of craftsmanship in the construction of Norwegian sheds of the kind I would like to build. The first photo shows a building in Telemark. The second photo shows an interior view of a same shed once it was finished. And the third and fourth photos show the nice and close fit of joints. Following is another basic description of the construction of these buildings:

The ’grindbygg’ or stave technique, is a post and tie-beam technique that was the most common way of building barns in the Norwegian west. It was also applied to scullery huts (eldhus), stables, boathouses, forges and other small buildings. A ’grind’ consists of two vertical posts (staves) connected by a tie-beam (bete or slinder). The ’grind’, or more correctly several of these frame structures, is the supporting element in the building. Each ’grind’ with its diagonal braces is prepared in advance on the ground. Archeological sites show evidence of this type of construction going back 4000 years.

Literature and references:
Hilmar Stigum: Byggeskikk. The Institute of Ethnology, 1972. The illustrations are by Torill Sand.
Anna Helene Tobiassen: Byggeskikk i norske bygder. Compendium of lectures. The Institute of Ethnology, the University of Oslo, 1984.
Lars Roede: Grindbygg og bindingsverk. 1998, Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning (NIKU) hoved-kontor, Stiftelsen for naturforskning og kulturminneforskning (NINA-NIKU): Fagrapport, 3s. Distribuert av Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning (NIKU)

Sources for this entry: 1, 2, 3, 4

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Shed development

Thought pattern overview:
Growing forest -> Pole construction -> decorative Hawaiian lashing techniques -> Japanese minka houses -> longhouse -> Viking langhus.

A longhouse is probably the simplest timber frame building, though it may also include lashed members as well. In the development of early wooden structures, the rectangular longhouse was directly preceded by the circular earth lodge. The primary benefit of the longhouse was its easy expandability. Variations on this basic structure exist in indigenous cultures throughout the world. My favorite examples are of the Viking "langhus". At Qassiarsuk in Greenland there is a reconstructed langhus (interior1, interior2). The method of construction of a Viking langhus is called "grindverk", and is intended to provide a strong frame. The basic repeating form, structural honesty, usefulness and durability of a longhouse have made it a favorite for centuries.

For more information:
Grindverk (langhus construction) and page 2
Langhus adapted for camp use
Fachhallenhaus (German longhouse)
Diagram of joint as cut from poles
A site with pics of sheds and page 2
Prosjekt Synleggjering, very nice

High quality examples:
Norse Longhouse
Germanic Longhouse
Framework diagrams
Joint detail
Idyllic and sod covered

The buildings... are constructed using the ancient "grindbygg" technique. Timber post, "stav", and beam ,"bete", corners are braced by crossbeams, "broddeband". The frames form gate-like parts, the "grind", thus the term "grindbygg". These gates are raised up, (like in the Amish barnraising seen in the movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford), A beam, the "stavleie", lays across the tops of the gates connecting them, and then the roof beams, "sperr", are placed with corner frame joints at the peak. Then a plank roof is put on, followed by several layers of birch bark, topped with sod... The foundations of this post and beam, timber-framed building are usually a few flat rocks under each post... This whole building can go up with only a few workers and very little noise... The building is not tied into the ground at all. The foundation is basically non-existant. The whole building is instead self-supporting, made like a piece of furniture so it acts as a unit, like a box sitting on the ground.

Source: Norwegian Wood 2006

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A menu

Humans do not eat single organisms in our meals, we eat multiple organisms in what we call “dishes”- the traditional means of serving food. Dishes are in turn separated into several broad categories. Hence the layout of restaurant menus and cookbooks. And therefore, an understanding of human food will have to take into account this holistic approach in addition to my previous reductionist methods.

Here is a selection of some of the entrees I have eaten this year. I have included a few words about my impressions in parenthesis alongside in some cases. I think the creation of a list such as this is another step forward in improving my understanding of food.


Sourdough Pancakes
Steel-cut Oats (very good)
Cold Cereal
Fruit Smoothie (very good)
Apple, Carrot & Raisin Salad (very good)
Toast or Bagel
Eggs (good, especially when free range and served w/ fresh bread)
Raspberry and Strawberry yogurt parfait
Yogurt (always good)


Cranberry Sandwich (cranberries! yum)
Rueben Sandwich (very tasty! Love sauerkraut)
Grilled Cheese
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Tuna Salad Melt
Chicken Parmesan Sandwich
Subway Turkey Sandwich (lots of veggies, usually bought)
Quizno’s Veggie Sub Sandwich (usually bought)


Meatball & Hakusai Miso Soup (very tasty!)
15 Bean Soup (LOVE beans)
Tomato Soup
Split Pea Soup (a hearty lunch)
Home-Made Mushroom Soup
Cabbage Soup
Cream of Turkey Soup
Turkey-Pork Meatball Soup (tasty!)
Chicken Gumbo (lots of veggies, sausage, okra! yum)
Sausage Lentil Soup (lentils! yum)
Vegetable Barley Soup (barley!)
Curried Barley and Mushroom Soup (very tasty!)
Cilantro Chutney (eaten w/ curry) (zingy!)
Corn and Cheddar Cheese Chowder
Vegetable Chowder
Salmon Chowder (salmon!)
Kimchee Hot Pot (kimchee and vegetables! yum)
Salmon Hot Pot (very good)
Udon Soup
Somen (sp?) (cool lunch on hot day)
Miso Soup (classic breakfast)
Potato-Miso Soup
Miso Shifu


Date and Fig Bread (tasty!)
Cranberry Bread
Raspberry Bread (with cocoa!)
Fruitcake (delicious recipe with walnuts)
Banana Coconut Bread
Banana Bread w/ Chocolate Chips
Sourdough Ginger Bread
Sourdough Friendship Bread
Raisin Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread (cinnamon! yum)


Steamed Broccoli and Cauliflower (good)
Broccoli and Cheese
Steamed Chicken w/ Vegetables (tender and tasty)
Daikon & Carrots
Poor Salad (bean sprouts! yum)
Macaroni Salad
Pasta Salad
Lasagna (rich and filling)
Cucumber and Tomato Salad (fresh!)
Couscous w/ roasted peppers (very good!)
Spinach Blue Cheese Salad w/ Dried Tomato Vinaigrette (zingy!)
Salad (with romaine or spinach)
White Rice
Spaghetti Carbonara
Spinach Cheese Pie (classic combo)
Ginger pork (tasty!)
Pork w/ prune (tender and tasty!)
Beef Brisquet w/ Beer (parsnips! yum)
Nikujaya (tasty and filling!)
Iridori (tasty and filling!)
Sausage and Sun Dried Tomatoes (LOVE tomatoes)
Beer Bratwurst (classic with sauerkraut)
Cole Slaw (cabbage! yum)
Vegetable Meatloaf
Pot Roast (slow cooker favorite!)
Chicken Curry
Fried Chicken (tasty!)
Halibut w/ Cheese
Baked Salmon
Sake No Yakizuke (salmon! yum)
Kimchee (yummy!)
Sweet Potato (sautéed!)
Sweet Potato soufflé (hearty!)
Green beans (with black sesame)
Baked Potato (always good)
Mashed Potatoes
Potato Salad (tasty and filling! hot or cold)
Zucchini quiche (tasty!)
Asparagus Tart


Apple Pie
Cherry Pie
Bread Pudding (walnuts! yum)
Chocolate Orange Cheesecake
Orange cake
Sourdough Brownie
Key Lime Pie
Chocolate chip cookie



Thursday, March 6, 2008

reading lessons

I want to propose something old that has always been with us, and rephrase it again - mostly for my own benefit. The literary tradition of humanity is enormous, but it is a wealth of knowledge that, is still insufficiently tapped, I think. It isn't necessarily the amount of printed or electronic media that is lacking, it is in how it is accessed and used. A few days ago when I read "To Kill and Elephant", "The Iguana", and "This Pen for Hire" an amazing thing happened. It has happened before though at the time I didn't recognize its significance and potential. First of all, it was a humbling experience to read such great works. I was awed by their ability to communicate the reality of their experiences so well. I really felt a sense of mutual understanding, as though they knew me, without us ever meeting. Second, a phenomenon I can perhaps best describe as entrainment occurs. Before I enter the thoughts and lives of these authors via their stories, I am in the world as I live it, and see things as my mental faculties and processes allow me. Like all people, I have "defense mechanisms" for lack of a better term, and more than a few that have been, frankly, used destructively and habitually. It is difficult to stop avoidance and intellectualization. It is very difficult to stop one's brain and redirect from within (external intervention is another matter), but by entering the mind of another person and following their thoughts and decisions when faced with situations that are familiar to me, my thoughts become entrained with their thoughts and it becomes easier to make decisions as they have, if I am willing to do so. It is a form of education. Stories like these model healthy thinking, and by degrees cause one to even think in a like manner.

As I said earlier, this use of stories has always been with us. The human mind evolved in a cultural context of oral traditions, myths, fables, and religious stories. The strength of religion may be due to its social story telling aspects (like a "Bible club"). Telling stories to children is an important part of their early education. And of course, there are stories that model destructive thinking, but these are usually understood to be cautionary tales (if not strictly for entertainment purposes).

What evidence do I have to support my claim that stories can encourage healthy adaptive thinking and behavior and lessen destructive patterns? After reading "This Pen for Hire" I stayed up all night and finished a big project that I had put off for months. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe the connection I am drawing is real, but not generalizable in the manner I have outlined here. However, I think I can generalize a connection between stories an thought that is capable of affecting behavior. To this end I want to pay closer attention to stories and the real messages that they contain for today. And record these in journal like fashion to commit to memory. Messages in metaphor like "Shoot not the iguana" - removing a beautiful thing from its context and its beauty fades and disappears. Or when Eric Blair shot the elephant, it died a long torturous death that certainly did not have to happen, though once set in motion could not be stopped. And when Abigail pulled all nighters on average twice a week to finish papers and earn (illegal) money, it makes you realize that maybe one all nighter a week isn't as bad, even if you'd rather not have any.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

sharing their stories

It was the right moment. I read some: Isak Dineson's The Iguana, George Orwell's To Kill an Elephant, and Abigail Witherspoon's essay on writing other people's term papers. I knew, in a general sense, how I wanted all my stuff arranged in my room. I decided not to use my aquarium, having thought that no enclosure completely contained separate from the outside environment could properly care for its inhabitants indefinitely. Animals, wild and domestic, need to live outside at least part of the time, that is the only humane way to see them. I decided to work through the night, and I did until 5:30 the next morning, to get it all done. Earlier in the day I had laid out my collection of books and magazines to see what I should store and what should be displayed. After I finished cleaning the den, which had been delayed in its completion for some two months, all that remained was some minor organization (both inside and out) and the purchase of some mattresses for children and guests. I need to build/buy some furniture as well.

The food research has been going well, I have all the information from Feburary and only need to input it into my excel worksheet format. I have also a collection of complex food recipes that I should place in a system to familiarize myself with them more and use as an expandable reference. Spring is on its way in and I need to learn more about local resources for vegetating bare ground. I will also learn about building outdoor storage, tents/sheds and turning my logs into a split rail or log fence of some sort. Eric Sloane may have some books that could describe some details of construction. Then there is also work and taxes to think about. But things are moving forward, and it is always nice to read nonfiction stories like those of Dineson and Orwell, in whom I really feel a kindred spirit, people who, across time, see or have seen things in the same way I have and continue to. It makes the work surprisingly easier.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January food

During this month beginning on 01/04/08 and ending 01/31/08 (that's 27 days) I ate the following foods. The list includes scientific classification (kingdom and class or family), common name when available, and day it was eaten in parenthesis.
  • Plantae
    • Poaceae
      • wheat (04 thru 31)
      • corn (04, 07, 08, 10, 14 thru 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • rice (04, 09, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 28, 29, 31)
      • oat (12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27)
      • barley (06, 20, 23, 25)
      • lemon grass (26, 27, 31)
    • Apiaceae
      • carrot (04, 05, 07, 08, 10 through 17, 19, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • celery (04, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • dill (07, 08, 10, 14, 18, 19, 29)
      • fennel (10, 11)
      • cumin (16, 18)
      • parsley (16, 18, 23, 25)
      • cilantro (19, 20, 21, 22)
    • Alliaceae
      • scallion (05, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26)
      • onion (04, 08, 09,10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • garlic (10, 11, 14 thru 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Convolvulaceae
      • sweet potato (22, 23, 24)
    • Solanaceae
      • potato (04, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 13 thru 20, 23, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • tomato (04, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 31)
      • pepper (10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Fabaceae
      • peanut (07, 18, 22, 29)
      • bean (15 bean soup) (06, 07, 28, 29)
      • green bean (04, 14, 22, 23)
      • azuki bean (04)
      • pea (09, 28, 30, 31)
      • soybean (05, 06, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30)
      • guar bean (14, 15, 16, 17, 25, 26)
      • mung bean sprouts (20, 21)
      • licorice (26, 27, 31)
      • gum arabic (29)
    • Cucurbitaceae
      • cucumber (08, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28)
    • Brassicaceae
      • cabbage (05, 26, 29, 30)
      • cabbage (var. hakusai) (05, 06, 12, 13, 15, 30, 31)
      • broccoli (06, 08, 14, 15, 18, 19)
      • cauliflower (06, 08, 18, 19)
      • daikon (11)
      • mustard (04, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 28, 30, 31)
      • rapeseed oil (var. canola) (17, 22, 23, 28, 29, 31)
    • Asteraceae
      • lettuce (var. iceberg) (14, 24)
      • lettuce (var. leaf) (27, 28)
      • safflower (26, 27, 31)
      • sunflower oil (28, 29)
    • Amaranthaceae
      • spinach (22, 23, 24, 31)
    • Vitaceae
      • grape (04, 06, 07, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Ericaceae
      • cranberry (04, 06, 17, 19)
      • blueberry (07)
    • Pedaliaceae
      • sesame (06, 08, 12, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31)
    • Piperaceae
      • black pepper (10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Juglandaceae
      • walnut (06, 07, 10, 20, 21)
    • Myristicaceae
      • nutmeg (06, 07, 10, 16, 18, 19, 20, 27, 29, 30, 31)
    • Euphorbiaceae
      • cassava (23, 25, 29, 30)
    • Lamiaceae
      • thyme (10, 11, 17, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • sage (10, 11, 16, 18, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • marjoram (17)
      • oregano (27, 28)
      • rosemary (28, 29, 30, 31)
      • spearmint (26, 27, 31)
    • Myrtaceae
      • clove (06, 07, 10, 11, 20)
      • allspice (30, 31)
    • Zingiberaceae
      • ginger (09, 10, 11, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31)
      • tumeric (23, 25)
    • Lauraceae
      • cinnamon (06, 07, 10, 11, 12, 13, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31)
      • bay leaves (10, 11, 16, 18, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Musaceae
      • banana (09, 11, 12, 13, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28)
    • Rutaceae
      • grapefruit (09)
      • orange (05, 06, 10, 12, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31)
      • mandarin orange (30, 31)
      • citron (12, 15)
      • lemon (12, 15, 18, 19, 22, 23, 27, 29, 30)
      • lime (14, 15, 16, 17)
    • Rosaceae
      • rose (26, 27, 31)
      • apple (04, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 25, 27, 30, 31)
      • pear (04)
      • peach (04)
      • apricot (21)
      • almond (21)
      • umeboshi (21)
      • plum (10, 11, 29)
      • cherry (21, 29, 30)
      • strawberry (12, 13, 30)
      • raspberry (12, 13, 23, 27)
      • blackberry (26, 27, 31)
    • Bromeliaceae
      • pineapple (25, 26)
    • Orchidaceae
      • vanilla (12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 26, 30, 31)
    • Theaceae
      • tea, green (04, 06, 20, 29)
      • tea, black (29)
    • Oleaceae
      • olive (27, 28)
      • jasmine tea (19)
    • Malvaceae
      • cottonseed oil (14, 15, 18, 22, 29, 30)
      • okra (17)
      • hibiscus (26, 27, 31)
    • Sterculiaceae
      • cocoa (12, 13, 20, 21, 26, 29)
    • Sapindaceae
      • sugar maple (05)
    • Moraceae
      • fig (16, 17, 25, 27)
    • Arecaceae
      • coconut oil (14, 15, 16, 17, 23, 25, 26)
      • palm oil (14, 15, 16, 17, 23, 25, 26)
      • dates (16, 17, 25, 27)
    • Bixaceae
      • annatto extract (17, 23, 25)
  • Animalia
    • Mammalia
      • cow (04 thru 31)
      • pig (08, 09, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31)
    • Aves
      • chicken (04, 05, 08 thru 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
      • turkey (04, 05, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Actinopterygii
      • salmon (07, 08, 10, 12, 13, 14, 24, 25, 29)
      • tuna (04, 14, 16)
      • bonito (22, 30, 31)
      • mentaiko (23)
      • anchovy (23)
    • Insecta
      • honey (12, 13, 15, 18, 29)
    • Cephalopoda
      • squid extract (30, 31)
    • Bivalvia
      • oyster sauce (19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26)
  • Fungi
      • yeast (bread, wine, sake) (05 thru 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Homobasidiomycetes
      • shiitake (L. edodes) (05)
      • mushroom (A. bisporus) (15, 16, 17, 19)
    • Tricholomataceae
      • oyster mushroom (12, 13)
    • Marasmiaceae
      • enokitake (12, 13)
    • Eurotiomycetes
      • mold (A. oryzae, in miso, sake, soy sauce) (05, 06, 12, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31)
  • Bacteria
    • Bacilli
      • lactic acid bacteria (sauerkraut, sour cream) (05, 13, 14, 18, 19)
      • lactobacillus (sourdough) (09, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 29, 30)
      • Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
      • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
      • Lactobacillus acidophilus (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
      • Lactobacillus casei (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
      • Lactobacillus rhamnosus (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
    • Actinobacteria
      • Bifidobacterium bifidum (yogurt) (10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 25, 26, 27)
    • Alpha Proteobacteria
      • acetic acid bacteria (vinegar) (05, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31)
    • Gamma Proteobacteria
      • Xanthomonas campestris (xanthan gum) (14, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 25, 26, 30, 31)
  • Protista